What Sonya Wrote, Catch-Up Edition

Astoundingly, I haven’t sent a newsletter since August, 2018. In case you’ve forgotten who I am:

  • Sonya Mann (AKA @sonyaellenmann)
  • formerly a tech journalist
  • used to write a cyberpunk newsletter called Exolymph, may it rest in peace

Currently I run communications at the Zcash Foundation.

Anyway, since August, I’ve published one essay: “The Internet Won’t Kill Gun Control By Itself” for Palladium, an online magazine devoted to “governance futurism.”

The essay analyzes cypherpunk Second Amendment advocacy. I tried not to moralize in either direction, instead focusing on the movement’s strategic choices.

Some technology can be seen as a means of self-liberation, insurance against coercion. The cypherpunks regard encryption as such. Guns are similar.

True believers’ faith in the primacy of the Second Amendment is evident throughout American history. Despite the wide broadcasting of each new mass shooting and growing sentiment for serious gun regulations, frontier activists have opened a new, orthogonal battlefront. The use of the internet, coupled with CNC milling machines, is intended to route around rhetorical and ideological battles in the public sphere.

The cypherpunk attitude that the technology of ungovernability can make these rhetorical battles obsolete, itself a descendant of American individualism and cynicism toward centralized power, is neatly applicable to the domain of firearms.

That’s a taste; go read the rest.

In other news, this Saturday I’ll be on the panel “Raising and Resolving Conflict in Online Communities” at InfoCamp 2019 in Berkeley, CA.

Then in early May, I’ll be giving a talk of some kind at MIT’s Business of Blockchain conference in Boston, MA.

Also since August, I’ve blogged about…

Wearing the Japanese streetwear style mori-kei. Designed by @pastellbits.
Designed by @pastellbits.

If you feel inclined, reply to this email and let me know what you’ve been up to! (I can’t guarantee a timely or lengthy response, but I’ll get back to you at some point.)

Thank you for reading my newsletter 💖

Sign up for occasional updates on Sonya Mann's writing and other creative endeavors.

Get-Started-Quick Bootstrapping Tools

Originally posted on Reddit, but here it’ll be easier to find again.

These are links that I’ve bookmarked over the past year or so. General theme: Tools that you can use to quickly bootstrap. In most cases it’s best to prove out your concept before, say, spending $100s on a professional graphic designer. Some are free, others are just low-cost.

I haven’t used all of these services personally, but they all seemed handy enough to save for future reference. Not intended to be a comprehensive list of options.

Design + Visual

Logojoy:

Instantly design custom logos for free. Only pay if you’re 100% happy.

Launchaco Free Online Logo Maker: Basically the same thing as Logojoy but totally free.

Cool Backgrounds:

Cool Backgrounds is a collection of tools to create compelling, colorful images for blogs, social media, and websites. Beyond backgrounds, the images generated can be used as desktop wallpapers or cropped for mobile wallpapers.

Unsplash:

Beautiful, free photos. Gifted by the world’s most generous community of photographers.

I use Unsplash alllll the time because you don’t have to credit the photographers. You can, so I do when it’s feasible, but you have a lot more flexibility than with Creative Commons.

Flickr Creative Commons search with commercial use and modifications allowed: Another one that I use constantly. Make sure to attribute properly according to the license terms.

unDraw Illustrations:

Browse to find the images that fit your needs and click to download. Take advantage of the on-the-fly color image generation to match your brand identity.

LunaPic: Free online photo editor with lots of effects. The website looks archaic, but the results are surprisingly good. YMMV depending on the aesthetic you want.

Websites

Bootstrap Shuffle:

Bootstrap builder for busy developers. Too often developers don’t have time to perfectly implement their designs. That’s why we have built a tool that will help you move faster from building a layout to the refining stage so that you can have time to work on the details.

HTML5 UP:

Spiffy HTML5 site templates that are fully responsive, built on intelligent HTML5 + CSS3, super customizable, and 100% free under the Creative Commons.

(I lightly edited that description into an actual sentence.)

Carrd:

Simple, free, fully responsive one-page sites for pretty much anything.

Tons of templates. Pay up for a custom domain and other features that aren’t in the free version.

PhastPress:

PhastPress uses advanced techniques to manipulate your pages, scripts, stylesheets and images to significantly improve load times. It’s designed to conform to Google PageSpeed Insights recommendations and can improve your site’s score dramatically.

No idea how well this works, but if it does work well, what a great shortcut.

WriteFreely.host:

WriteFreely is a writing-focused blogging platform that’s uniquely simple and distraction-free. Instead of having one website called Medium or Tumblr, anyone can start their own entire community with the WriteFreely software and govern it however they want.

Marketing

“The art of storytelling” course by Pixar: Exactly what it sounds like.

Twitter’s advanced search page: Can be used to find reporters, other people to approach for various reasons, complaints about competitors, chatter from unserved niches, etc.

Stuff:

Create awesome invitations to small and large events. Distribution of invitations and collection of RSVPs made really simple. So no invitations are ignored or forgotten. Totally free. A really simple browser and email platform. Easy to use for both organizers and guests. Works for everyone without the hassle.

thad.cc:

Organize events from email. Add cc@thad.cc to an email. Once the email is sent, we’ll create a private event on thad.cc and send a follow-up email to each address with an invitation. Each participant will receive an email with a special sign-in link to access the event. No sign-up necessary!

“It’s okay that your startup doesn’t have a communications strategy”:

In today’s crowded startup landscape, it’s rarely obvious what will cut through the noise. You’re not just competing with direct competitors for customers, you’re competing with everyone for attention (and all the potential future hires, partnerships and funding rounds that awareness can help drive). Tactics are more amenable to creativity and experimentation, don’t devour massive resources, and come with shorter and simpler feedback loops.

I know it’s a little weird to include an article, but the advice is that good!

Legal

Y Combinator Safe Financing Documents:

Y Combinator introduced the safe (simple agreement for future equity) in late 2013, and since then, it has been used by almost all YC startups and countless non-YC startups as the main instrument for early-stage fundraising.

WilmerHale Document Generator:

Our Document Generator is custom-tailored to offer important legal documents that will enable you to start and grow your company. It is an invaluable resource for entrepreneurs and founders of startups in various stages of growth and is designed to help you navigate the unfamiliar and manage interrelated issues. The Document Generator has been developed with the guidance of our experienced lawyers who have a longstanding tradition of offering strategic advice and an indispensable business perspective.

Security

macOS Security and Privacy Guide:

This guide is targeted to “power users” who wish to adopt enterprise-standard security, but is also suitable for novice users with an interest in improving their privacy and security on a Mac.

Sign up for occasional updates on Sonya Mann's writing and other creative endeavors.

Hungry Trolls

Something that I learned from The Gift of Fear, among other readings, is that any reaction reinforces a behavior by demonstrating the threshold for provoking a reaction. Yes, that’s tautological, but it’s important.

If someone isn’t constrained by other concerns like their reputation, or the perception that you could materially punish them, or sheer emotional stress from conflict — and there are many people who aren’t constrained in those ways, especially when anonymity is an option — then a troll from that unconstrained population will prefer a negative reaction to zero reaction.

In that case, any sign that you’re paying attention and being affected by someone’s behavior will encourage them to continue. Hence “never feed the trolls” is a decent heuristic despite its edge cases. See also: “Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig enjoys it.”

In closing, think carefully about when to feed the trolls. How motivated is your adversary or group thereof? What’s stopping them from escalating further? Do you have any leverage?

Fin.


My thoughts above were originally posted as a Twitter thread. Lightly edited for this format.

Sign up for occasional updates on Sonya Mann's writing and other creative endeavors.

Addition to “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”

First read “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” by Rudyard Kipling. (And, if you have a bit more time, “Meditations on Moloch” by Scott Alexander. Also thematically appropriate is Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias” and the book Frankenstein by his wife Mary Shelley.)


The Gods of the Copybook Headings were ever as just and wise
As the choices that make us into everything that we despise.
Today our reign is quite merry, in silicon and rare earth,
But the Gods of the Copybook Headings advance with their gift of dearth.

Scarcity ever us compels to follow those Market Gods;
The Gods of the Copybook Headings expose them again as frauds.
Our souls cling to the spokes of a Wheel endlessly turning.
The Gods of the Copybook Headings perceive our ceaseless yearning.

We heard them eons before now: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”
And yet we march under their banner, giving them every breath.
When humanity is extinguished, the Wheel still never stops.
Defying laws that men wrote down, the Gods stay perched atop.

The Gods of the Market long ago gave up their splendid quest.
The Gods of the Copybook Headings always knew that they knew best.
They never claimed to console us, and never claimed to be just.
As we read in books long forgotten, “All are from the Dust.”

Dust is the stuff of their kind, the Gods of the Copybook Headings.
They are the start and the cutoff; the birth and its subsequent dreading.
The Crab never knew any limits, nor her brother Machine,
But the Gods of the Copybook Headings rejoice when fat or lean.

Until humanity perishes, we will seek that which we should spurn;
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!


Originally posted in a Twitter thread. Modified with suggestions by Redditor /u/AshleyYakely.

Sign up for occasional updates on Sonya Mann's writing and other creative endeavors.

Confiding in the Void

We’ve reached the 11th month of 2018, so I can say that the theme of this year has been community. From my perspective.

What does the average specimen of Homo sapiens need to be satisfied with their group and their own prospects within it? What are we currently lacking, we atomized modern creatures? (Please read the whole Samzdat series.) I’ve been trying to figure that out, and although I’ve gained some insights, I can only speak authoritatively for myself.

The following is a personal account of anomie.

As young as I am at 24, I’m still astounded by the amount that I learn over relatively small timespans. Human nature has long fascinated me, but during the past year I have dealt with it more intimately and dwelled on it more deeply than in the past.

Notice that I use the word “it” and refer to human nature in general, rather than citing specific connections with individual people. I have deep emotional relationships with my fiancé and immediate family, but my friendships remain primarily intellectual. Even with my dear partner, I struggle to be raw and vulnerable when I’m not intoxicated. Alcohol loosens my tongue and enables me to express the sentiments that scare me.

I would say that I love my friends, and they greatly enrich my life. Yet I remain puzzled by the easy camaraderie and affection that people seem to share with each other. I don’t know how to put this into the right words, the words that would properly convey what I mean. It’s a discomfiting sensation because words are supposed to be my forte.

Over the past couple of years, I have become more familiar with that which I cannot articulate. I’ll try anyway.

Here’s what I want to tell you: I remember the profound closeness of my childhood and teenage years, when platonic intensity bound me to a handful of other girls. I didn’t fully appreciate those friendships at the time. I feel their absence acutely, and it hurts to remember, because I know what I’m missing. I still haven’t figured out how to make true intimacy part of my adult life.

I used that word earlier — I said that now I understand human nature “more intimately.” I wasn’t wrong, per se, but my peer-to-peer connections are anchored by shared curiosities rather than bare feeling. My friends and I have little bearing on each other’s hearts. If we hold more than that between us, it’s hard for me to see.

Again, I sincerely love my friends, but I don’t think that we know each other at the core. We rarely offer that level of exposure, although I suspect that most of us would readily accept it from someone else. Tossing around ideas is safer than revealing angst in less-than-sardonic terms.

I come across as an open person, as far as I can tell. People have commended me on it. I don’t think that I give the impression of being reserved. But I am; I have secrets that fill me with inexpressible shame. That’s normal. Usualness does not reduce the burden.

I think that my brethren — my fellow thinkers and discussers — tend to be afflicted in this way. We prize cleverness and abstraction to the extent that we suppress our yearnings for human-to-human communion.

On the other hand, I could be committing the typical-mind fallacy. (Is it ironic to include that caveat?)

I have a guess about why I’m pondering this subject, why I feel bereft of true connection beyond my partner and family. It’s probably because I’ve reduced my dose of psych meds. The underlying realities are the same, but how I weigh them has changed.

I’ve been taking venlafaxine for five or six years, since I was a teenager. The drug saved my life; I would be an addict on the streets or otherwise miserable without the boost that it gave me. At a time when I was mired in despair, venlafaxine restored my energy and optimism enough for me to drag myself toward adult functionality and eventually happiness.

Granted, the upgrade was accomplished with plenty of support. I still resent my parents for creating me without my consent, but the anger has lost its potency. I owe them an incalculable debt for helping to transform my life into a good one. My fiancé deserves gratitude as well.

Despite all of the complaints above, I am cheerful most days — often productive! I love my job, am thankful for my luck in finding it, and cherish the belief that I am helping to build a future where autonomy is paramount and accessible to all.

I hope that the trend will continue. I want to believe that my brain is going through some kind of chemical adjustment period and I’ll be able to come to terms with a self that has emotions surging under the skin. I want to feel what I feel without being overwhelmed.

It may turn out that I need to stop tapering. I may decide to jump back to 225mg daily instead of my current 150mg. I can’t pinpoint why I hope that my mental health won’t require a reversion.

As a transhumanist, in principle I see nothing wrong with relying on medical technology to feel okay. Apparently despite my beliefs I’ve been nursing a latent hope that venlafaxine actually “fixed” me over the past five years, as opposed to being a treatment that I will need… forever?

In conclusion: I’m glad that I wrote this blog post, but I’m slightly fearful of the reactions. Despite my trepidations (or perhaps because of them) I’m going to solicit thoughts from a few of the people I like and respect. It’s a way of being intimate — there’s that word again! — without addressing them directly.

Am I being cowardly or brave? I think the former. Laudable courage would be publishing the secrets that I mentioned before. Alas, that is more than I can offer, although I would readily accept such disclosures from others.

Sign up for occasional updates on Sonya Mann's writing and other creative endeavors.

Disclosure: I am a member of the Amazon Associates program. If you click on an Amazon link from this site and subsequently buy something, I will receive a small commission (at no cost to you).