Evan Prodromou's Blog

Some things I wrote

New Job at The Wikimedia Foundation

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 I have accepted an offer from the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) to become Product Manager for the next-generation API for Wikipedia and the rest of the Wikimedia sites.

For non-tech people: I’m going to make it easier for programmers and companies to make tools that use and improve Wikipedia information.

It’s an opportunity to extend the reach of Wikipedia and related wikis into new domains and make the information on the site available and relevant to whole new audiences.

Working at Wikipedia scale is a huge challenge but also an opportunity to make a real difference in the world. I feel like the work that Wikimedia Foundation does jibes very well with my personal mission to make technology more accessible and evenly distributed.

I’m excited about the new position. I’ll be working remotely from Montreal, starting next Monday, December 3 2018. I’ll let you know how it goes!

My other commitments

My company Fuzzy.ai is shutting down at the end of December 2018. We are releasing our fuzzy logic engine and API server as Open Source, and I expect that I’ll be working to make that project successful in the new year.

I will also continue my work with the Social CG at W3C on ActivityPub and Activity Streams 2.0, as well as the pump.io social networking platform.

And, as usual, I’ll be meddling in a handful of startups in Montreal and elsewhere as mentor, adviser, consultant or avuncular sounding board.

Thanks

Thanks to my patient and supportive wife and children who have put up with my turbulent transition over the last two years.

Thanks to the WMF for taking a chance with me. I think we’re going to do great things together!

And thanks to everyone who helped with job search references over the last couple of months. I’ve talked to a lot of fascinating companies and organizations because of the doors you opened. I appreciate your confidence in me.

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Written by evanprodromou

November 30, 2018 at 10:53 am

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Birthday Inventory 2018

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Tomorrow is my 50th birthday. It’s a big one; about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through a North American man’s life. I’m at the point of the baking show where the host comes around and says, “Five minutes left!” and the bakers all try to cover up their mistakes with frosting and get something presentable for the judges.

Like, I think, a lot of people, I’ve always felt like my real life was going to start “soon”. It’s hard to accept that it started a long time ago, the clock has been running for five decades, and I am who I am going to be. What I do next with my life will likely follow closely on what I’ve done before. This is the vehicle I’m driving; I just get to decide where to go.

Last year I did a birthday inventory which was really helpful for me to write and to re-read. I’m going to try to follow a similar format here, although the same headings and bullet points might not come as quickly to mind. People change over a year; priorities change. What you want to look at changes.

  • Family. My immediate family remains the foundation of my life. We eat together, sleep under the same roof, watch TV, read, do projects, take trips together. We are about as close as I’ve ever been with anyone.
    • I continue to have a sweet partnership with my wife, tinged somewhat with guilt that she has to carry so much weight. She has travelled less frequently this year, but worked a lot. We have had to make sure to carve out time one-on-one together, like many married couples. And often our talk is about our shared project, creating a family and a household. We have been lucky to have some extra time to talk about ourselves and our lives.
    • My daughter turned 13 this year. She’s finding her place in the world, and it’s been amazing to see her do it. I have a relationship with her that’s halfway between a parent-child one and a relationship with a younger peer. She loves to talk about books and music and the world. I’m glad to have the chance to see things through her eyes.
    • My son will be 10 in a few weeks. He has had an incredible year; a change of schools last fall has helped him to blossom. He is skilled with math and spelling, loves to sing and dance, and is funny and charming. He gives hugs without hesitation. He has not yet caught the reading bug like his parents and sister. He remains stormy in his moods, but they come less often now. But he also has an almost addictive relationship with his tablet, watching YouTube gaming videos whenever he can and reluctantly putting the device down for meals or homework. It’s one of my main worries; I want him to continue to flourish and be expressive, and I don’t want him to fall into the toxic culture of online gaming without some better armour. I’m trying to engage him with some of our common interests: building models, playing video games, exercise outside, role-playing games. We’ll see how it goes.
    • My extended family remains a source of joy. My brothers and their families are all doing well, and although we’ve had a health scare or two in the last year, I feel content. But they are far away, and it continues to sting that I don’t have as much time with them as I’d like.
  • Life’s purpose. This has been a big topic of thought for me over the last year. I wrote a personal mission statement last winter, partly inspired by discussions with my friends Ben and Boris while boating in Amsterdam. I’m still behind my mission, to make the future more evenly distributed. But I feel like the statement leaves out so much about what I want out of life and what I owe to people close to me.
    I’ve been thinking a lot in the last 12 months about Stoicism versus Epicureanism. In my mind, this is the difference between dedicating your life to being valuable versus being content. I’m feeling more and more that the joys of everyday life are only here for me for a moment longer; family trips, red and orange leaves, weddings, new babies. I need to savour them while I can, and if that means not getting down to the Forum to give a speech that defeats my rivals in the Senate, well, I can live with that. I’d like to work on my (metaphorical) garden.

    • On the other hand, my work with the W3C on social networking standards has been really fruitful. We completed the last of our standards this year and shut down the working group we had built. Now, the same community is working on promoting the standards in software like Mastodon. The process remains difficult but I am hopeful.
  • Health. I continue to keep a trim figure, although I’ve put on some muscle mass this year. I’m at a BMI of 27 and the last time I did my BFI, I was at a very healthy 11%. But my diet and exercise take up a lot of my attention and time; I still do about 1-2 hours of exercise a day, plus walking or biking around town on my personal business. I don’t know if I can keep this level of commitment up forever, but I haven’t yet figured out an easier path.
    • Mentally, I’ve continued a meditation practice, although I’ve been slacking off lately. What used to be a daily practice has become more of a 2-3x per week practice. I kind of hit a wall with meditation; it felt like more of a maintenance process. But it remains important to my sense of calm and awareness of the world.
    • I realize that I’m heading into one of the most mentally hazardous periods of a man’s life. It’s a time when depression and anxiety can overwhelm men; a time when our minds turn against us. I’m trying to keep my eyes open and my principles firmly anchored.
  • Work. It’s been a bad year. I’m in flux. There’s no other way to say it. After a number of pivots and redirections, my co-founder Matt and I have decided we can’t make Fuzzy.ai work the way it needs to, and we’re going to shut down this year. That’s been a hard decision to make, not least because so much of the business has been oriented towards making AI more accessible to more developers.
    I haven’t got the will or the incentive to dive back in and start another company. In a way, I feel like that 17-year-old kid who’s still going to the same summer camp as he did at 12, with a lot of 12-year-olds. I think I need to move on to my next thing, and stop trying to fill the same role in the tech ecosystem that I have for 15 years. I need something different.
    Finding work that aligns with my purpose, that keeps me and my family in our home in Montreal, and that pays the bills has not been easy. Applying for jobs instead of making up my own has been uncomfortable.
    On the plus side, I’ve had a chance to consult with and work for a number of different amazing companies on a part-time basis this year while I figure out next steps. I’m inspired by their work, and I’m hoping to give what little help I can to help them be successful.
  • Friendships. It’s been an OK year. I have kept my cards close to my chest about work life, which has made it harder to connect with friends. It’s hard to take the limited free time I have and apply it to my friendships. I’ve tried to do more to engage; we’ll see how it goes.
    • One thing I’ve made a point of this year is reducing the number of one-way friendship relationships I have on social networking platforms. I realized that I was putting a lot of mental energy into tenuous relationships with people who I don’t matter to. I cut down my networks to people who are interested in me and who I can be myself around.
    • I’ve had some changes in my feelings about communities, too. I have long felt a congeniality with a loose group of people clustered around maybe a “social software” or “Web 2.0” concept. I’ve sought this community’s company at alphabet soup events like FOO, XOXO, YXYY, and SXSW, but I’m coming to realize that it’s an abstract concept. I need to spend less time trying to connect with a cloud of people, and more time connecting with people themselves. This year, I decided not to go to XOXO because I didn’t want to waste time with it. I hope to put that time into other trips and deeper connections.
    • Similarly, I’ve had a rough time with the Montreal tech community. I have a lot of friends who work here, and I have felt recognized and rewarded for the work and energy I’ve put into making this a place where interesting technology happens. But it’s not a cause I can dedicate myself to forever; I’m letting it go somewhat, and I hope to see it continue to flourish without me.
  • Hobbies. It has been a good year for these! Maybe because of my change in work situation; maybe because I need more areas of exploration in my life.
    • I started doing taiko drumming last year. It’s fun and challenging and involves banging the shit out of huge drums, which is immensely satisfying. I’m having a hard time getting good, and I normally put in zero hours of practice per week besides my Saturday workshops, but I’m glad to have this practice in my life.
    • I also started a regular role-playing game with a group of friends I really like and admire. We do a call once every 2-4 weeks and spend a couple of hours making maps and rolling dice and telling stories together. I’m finding it really rewarding.
    • I spent some time working on a blog about role-playing game podcasts, but it hasn’t really worked out. I don’t have the time to write reviews for the 5-10 major weekly or biweekly RPG podcasts, and I haven’t had the energy to recruit other writers. And, frankly, the feedback on the blog has been poor; fans have been displeased with my critical take on entertainment they remain unquestioningly supportive of. I might give this another try soon; or I might just shut it down.
    • I also started doing regular recordings of my voice and thoughts over the last year. I’ve got about 20 episodes, which have been great to do. I hope to continue into the next year (watch for a birthday episode), but I think I’ll need to do it on a regular day of the week rather than trying to get to it haphazardly.
    • It has been a year of incredible travel. My family spent 2 weeks in the south of France this summer, which was enriching and rewarding. We made memories; we are committed to going back. And next week I take my first trip to Jerusalem, the city where my father was born and my grandparents lived. I’m nervous and excited.
  • Politics. It’s been a year of hope and fear. I’m looking forward to a more balanced US political landscape after the mid-term elections of 2018. But our Quebec elections have put a party into a parliamentary majority who’ve been more than happy to use Islamophobia, anti-semitism and race-baiting to gain votes. And the source of a lot of our hemisphere’s stability, Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberal government, is headed into an election in the next year. That feels like a potential catastrophe.
    • I feel like my friends and family are politically more polarized than ever before. I try not to talk about politics with my friends, but many have disappeared from my social networks, down the rabbit hole of their own social media echo chambers, as I go down the rabbit hole of mine. I hope I can keep my lines of communication open with people I care about who want the same things as I do but who see other ways of getting there. I’m not sure how easy it’s going to be.

I’m sure there’s more I should write; I’ll think more about it today. I have to get back to my house now; my friends Frank and Robyn have come up from Cleveland for my birthday, and I need to get some bread in the oven and get pancakes going. Then to taiko, a run on Mount Royal, and dinner tonight with 20-30 of my closest friends. Life is pretty good for me.

Written by evanprodromou

October 13, 2018 at 9:09 am

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A personal clock

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Daylight saving time just switched over in Canada and the US, which always elicits collective shock that our system of telling time is arbitrary and kind of unhelpful. It made me think about other ways of measuring time that might be better.

One option is to use a simple decimal time system with a universal meridian. I’m fond of Swatch Internet Time, because it’s simple and based in the cyberutopian marketing mess of the late 1990s.

Another option is to use hyperlocal astronomical information on a local clock. When is sunrise, solar noon, sunset and solar midnight, where you are right now? What phase is the moon in? How many days since the last equinox or solstice?

A hyperlocal clock or calendar might also include natural phenomena. Here in Montreal, for example, the time when the maple sap starts to run is an important local event, which makes all the papers and the TV news. Really! Or when the amaryllis blooms in Northern California. Or maybe the frequency of buses and trains, which surge at commute times and go to nearly zero after midnight.

I think there might be an interesting next step of refinement – a personal clock that measures time according to your personal daily rhythm. It could measure things like

  • What time you “naturally” wake up
  • What time you fall asleep
  • What times you eat
  • What times you go to the bathroom
  • What days you menstruate and ovulate
  • What time is best for you to focus
  • What time is best for you to exercise
  • What time is best for sex

Knowing your own body’s regular rhythms, and your mind’s, would help you know when you are scheduling in conflict with those rhythms.

Can you realistically work 11 hours straight tomorrow? Should you plan on an 8pm dinner with a client? When can you find time to work on your latest painting?

It’d also be interesting to compare your personal clock with those of other people you live and work with. If someone on your team is on a four-meal cycle, maybe inviting them for lunch at noon doesn’t make sense, and you should instead take a walk mid-afternoon when you both need exercise.

It’d be tough to get the numbers right, though. When is the “natural” time for you to eat your first meal? The haphazard times you do it now? The time you pick on weekends or vacation, when you don’t have other time constraints? The time that you eat the most, or the time that you eat the least? Or the time that your circadian rhythm spoots out the most hunger hormones into your bloodstream?

Regardless, it feels like a personal clock indexed to your own physical and psychological needs and abilities would be a great way to look at time.

So that makes 3 clocks:

  • Decimal and universal
  • Local and astronomical
  • Personal

I think the first two might be easy to program, and the last one will be hardest. I’m interested to see if this is a project I want to put time into.

Written by evanprodromou

March 12, 2018 at 9:28 am

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My 28-day 30-day challenge

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I’ve been trying to focus my side projects into discrete 30-day challenges. This is less about keeping going, and more about keeping bounded. EvanCoin is a good example of a 30-day challenge I pulled off last year.

In February 2018, I decided to focus on one of the side-projects I’d been toying with for months: headgames.blog. I’d been thinking about developing a blog about actual play RPG podcasts for a while, and concentrating that effort into a 30-day challenge would make it a little easier. (What’s an actual-play RPG podcast? It’s a podcast where people actually play a role-playing game or RPG.) Concentrating on a short month, like February, makes it even easier.

I decided to try to write a full blog post each day of the month. On Head Games, I’ve been writing reviews of episodes, explainers for podcast series, and opinion pieces on actual play RPG podcasts. I only managed to get things written 19 out of the 28 days, but it feels exhausting nevertheless.

One thing I learned is that time is of the essence when you’re trying to write for an audience. Review blog posts I wrote in the 24 hours after a podcast episode dropped were much more popular than ones I posted a few days later.

There also seems to be very focused fandoms in this area. Even though the podcasts often cover similar territory, it seems like fans of one podcast don’t really want to read about other podcasts.

It was hard doing this much writing. I got a lot less sleep in February than in January; I spent 2-3 hours a night on the computer, writing or researching each story.

And for the reviews, I only covered a half-dozen podcasts, and it felt like an effort to make them all work. I really had to listen to each episode 2-3 times in order to get detailed reviews worth writing, and sometimes I had to go back and listen to parts of old episodes to get facts straight.

But I found it really rewarding. I listen to podcasts a lot, and I don’t often talk about them. Having readers with opinions about my opinions made for some worthwhile conversations.

Now that the month is over, I’m not sure what I’ll be doing. Ideally, I’d find some partners who love a particular podcast and would like to take over the section for that one. I’m not sure how well that will work, but I think it’s the only way to make this project keep going forward.

My next 30-day challenge? Home repair. Gonna try to get some of the TODOs I’ve had for the house out of the way as we go into Spring here in Montreal.

 

Written by evanprodromou

March 1, 2018 at 3:53 pm

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Dollar-cost Averaging for Cryptocurrencies

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I recommend to most people interested in investing in cryptocurrencies to use a dollar-cost averaging (DCA) strategy. DCA makes it easier to weather the volatility of cryptocurrency markets. It’s also a simple strategy that doesn’t require a lot of time or attention from the investor.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Budget an affordable amount of money from your monthly budget for each cryptocurrency you’re interested in.
  2. Choose a fixed time period for the investment, say, six months or two years.
  3. Spend that amount, each month, around the same time of the month, for the full time period.

That’s it! So, if you think you can afford $25/month to buy EvanCoin 😉 or Monero, set up a reminder for yourself in your calendar. Buy that much of the cryptocurrency you want to get.

There are a few main advantages to this strategy:

  • Ups and downs in the price of the cryptocurrency matter less to you than if you’re day trading. When the price is down, you can buy more with your $25 or $100 or whatever. When the price is up, you can’t buy as much, but your investment is also doing well. Either way, you’re happy about the investment.
  • You don’t have to watch the prices that closely.
  • You don’t find yourself worrying about buying the next new fashionable coin. You are only buying if the investment fits into your budget and you’re committed to it for the long term.
  • You gradually build up a nice cryptocurrency portfolio without breaking the bank. You’re not trying to make one big score; you’re diversifying with affordable investments across different currencies.
  • Bounding your investment for a time period means you don’t have to stress about when to continue the investment. After the time period is up, you can make the call whether to sell or hodl. If the investment is doing well, you can “reenlist” for another 6, 12, 18 or 24 months.

There are downsides, of course.

  • You’re not going to make a big score by buying at just the right time a currency that jumps 1000% over night. But that happens so rarely, it’s not worth trying to make that happen. More often, there’s a lot of stress and over-spending by people who are trying to make one big score.
  • Exchanges for buying cryptocurrencies suuuuuuuck. It’s really miserable to do any kind of trading, what with bad software and Know Your Customer anti-features. Having to make one purchase per month for each currency can feel like a real chore. Finding a good exchange can help this a lot.
  • Transaction fees can be high, and you’ll pay them multiple times. This can be pretty painful if the fees are a high percentage of your monthly investment amount.

Cryptocurrencies are risky investments based on new technology. Never invest more in any asset than you can safely afford to lose. Dollar-cost averaging can help avoid some of the risk.

Written by evanprodromou

January 23, 2018 at 12:14 pm

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What is going on with me

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I feel like I’ve been quieter online in the last few weeks than I have been in a while, so I’d like to take a few paragraphs to cover what’s been happening with me.

  • EvanCoin had a run of good press including a long article in WIRED, a mention in Bloomberg and a link in Boing Boing. I have been using EvanCoin with people for the last month, and I’ve got a lot of meetings scheduled this week and next. I’m feeling good about the whole thing.
  • My week in London for Mozfest and Amsterdam for rest was great. Reinvigorating, challenging and deep thoughts about technology and society. I’m excited about new projects.
  • It’s getting cold in Montreal.
  • Sunday was Stavy’s birthday. We had a party with six 8- to 10-year-old boys. It was exhausting. I made a piñata and a chocolate cake.
  • I had a great checkup with my doctor last week. Everything is going well, but she thinks I need to start reintroducing whole grains into my diet. So, I baked some sourdough over the weekend.
  • For my November 30-day challenge, I’m doing NaNoWriMo. I’m behind on my word count already, but I haven’t skipped a day writing yet, so I’m feeling pretty good.
  • I’ve also got a couple of personal hacking projects going on. I’m maintaining the Atom editor package for todo.txt files. I’m also building a checkin app for the network, including servers for hashtags and places.
  • On my trip to Europe, I brought an old Motorola G3 phone with CyanogenMod on it. I’ve upgraded it to LineageOS, but left out all the Google apps, including the Play Store. So I’ve just been using mobile web apps or Open Source apps that I can get on F-Droid or on the web. Great experience so far, although there are a few apps I miss.

That feels like a lot, but at least I’m caught up. Hello, world.

Written by evanprodromou

November 7, 2017 at 8:46 am

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The health of the Internet

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My friend Ian Forrester asked me for my thoughts a few months ago about the Internet Health Report that Mozilla published earlier this year. If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly suggest you scan the site. It’s a great document that covers some important issues with the Internet — what makes it strong, and what work is needed.

I especially like the 5 pillars of a healthy Internet: open innovation, digital inclusion, decentralization, privacy and security, and Web literacy. There are great examples in each area on the health report covering some of the historically important issues that organizations like Mozilla and its allies have addressed.

But I have some issues that are important to me personally that I felt were not called out in this list. They’re mostly forward-looking; paying attention to parts of the Internet that are just emerging.

  1. AI. This is what I care about most. Current AI techniques require having lots of data, which limits the number of participants. It’s mostly governments and big commercial orgs creating and deploying AI today. Individuals, ad-hoc groups and non-profits hardly use it at all. That’s going to cause quite a skew over the next decade.
  2. VR. VR is sliding very much into closed systems like Steam or the Google Play Store. There are not open VR explorer systems in wide use. WebVR is a good first step, but we need to see more deployment and usage.
  3. Voice interfaces. Siri and Google Assistant are hugely centralized system; there are only a few other players. They are not open systems; it’s hard for developers to add new behaviours to Siri, for example. And it’s almost impossible for end users to correct voice interfaces (“No, that’s not ian’s email address”) or do end-user programming (“tell me any time ian sends me an email about mozfest”). The fact that most speech-to-text systems are cloud-based (everything you say gets sent to the cloud for recognition) is a potential nightmare for privacy.
  4. Touch-based software creation. Almost every interface in computing has changed radically since the 1950s with the exception of software creation. We still use an antiquated model of creating text files and running them through a compiler or interpreter. But most computer users today use touch-screen devices. Why don’t we have more touch-based software creation tools?
  5. Dating! I realize it seems trivial to some people, but romance and sexuality are a huge part of human existence. Many major dating sites are owned by a single company (IAC). The network effect make decentralized dating very hard to pull off. It’s an area that requires privacy and gradual disclosure. Open dating systems would be fascinating — posting one or more profiles on the open web in a way that preserves your privacy but allows gradual disclosure and connection.

I think there’s a lot more that needs to be addressed. I’m facilitating sessions on democratizing AI and on open dating as well as giving an update on the ActivityPub network at Mozfest 2017 this weekend.

Written by evanprodromou

October 27, 2017 at 7:54 am

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