Archive for 2020

The Tricky Triangle

Chicken John tells the most real, most vital stories.

Find out about him and the San Francisco Institute of Possibility at his website

Here’s his Holiday Letter

 


December 22, 2020:
HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM CHICKEN
So I invested some money in a novelty game called The Tricky
Triangle. It was a thing you bought bulk for distribution. I was done with the moving company, living in NYC in my $200 van, and I got a windfall of money selling my phone number to a rival
moving company. I sold a bunch of musical equipment and other stuff in preparation for my move to the West Coast. It was all the money I had, and I borrowed some: $8,500.

I got 10,000 Tricky Triangles. My plan was to get a vinyl sign made and sell them in malls or flea markets. They came 250 to a box. There were 40 boxes. So many, that with all my other stuff I had to sleep in the front seat of the van.

Tricky Triangle Great Stocking Stuffer

You already know how this ends up. It seemed totally reasonable. Totally doable. For $8,500, I got 10,000 of the product I could
easily sell for $3 to $6. At an average of $5 each, I would only need to sell 1,700 to make my investment back. If I could sell 50 to 100 per hour and there were 45 hours of holiday shopping for three weeks, I would sell out.

I ran the math over and over again. “What if I only sell 25 an hour?” Well, then I only make like half my investment back this year, and can try again next year. See, that’s the appeal. To break into a market to see what is what. I needed to make a living and I was very interested in stuff that was winter or Christmas-based, so I could be free in the summer for circus or other stuff…
I thought that if it got tough, I could go door to door. People did that back then. Go door to door in December selling stocking stuffers. People do that, right? I worked the numbers. Thinking of places that would be good to “set up” at. What kind of place would generate what kind of sales. I went over it again and again. I said to myself: “They are gonna stuff those stockings with something, right?”

Right?

You already know how this ends up. The feeling of failure and self loathing when I put 15 of the boxes on the curb next to the garbage cans so I could sleep laying down. The dejection. The emasculating horror of 100% rejection. The bitter cold of winter. The bald tires on the van in the ice and snow. Actual hunger but too proud and stubborn to admit to anyone (at the time) that I hadn’t sold a single one.

I thought for sure I was a natural for the flea market. For selling stuff. For 10 years I tried to sell things. On and off. I even had a junk store on 28th street in SF for a year: Shuck and Jive. Anyone ever go to that? Selling at the flea markets and doing sales requires you have certain ruthless traits. I possess not a drop of ruthless.

It was a cataclysmic mistake. I let more and more boxes go over the years. I have one Tricky Triangle left. I’m gonna put it in
Edsel’s stocking someday when he’s old enough to understand what it’s like to make an actual, tangible, shit just went sideways mistake.

I can’t remember 1990. I was a high-functioning drug addict. I have phone message pads that my moving company office took, and I have the job logs. So I can actually look through and see where I was on a day to day. I can’t remember any of it. Addiction is weird like that. It seems so impossible that I would gamble the last of my money with no way out on a stocking stuffer. I was truly out of my fucking mind.

Here it is, The Tricky Triangle for sale on Ebay in England for the equivalent of minimum wage in 1984 ($3.35). THIRTY YEARS LATER.

May 20th, 1992 was the first day to not do heroin on purpose. Some days we were doing other drugs. But when I knew it was the heroin that was the problem, I was shocked to find out that I was addicted. Because we were snorters, we didn’t think we were junkies. It’s kind of amazing that I wrote the date down somewhere. That it followed from one calendar to another. So I have that information now. Miraculous.

I’d like to think that it was the drugs that made me invest in the Tricky Triangle. I pepper any/all decisions I make with it’s spice: “the same mind that is making this choice also invested in the Tricky Triangle…” Ask my wife, she’ll tell you.*

So this is your Christmas Spirit holiday spotlight. Do you have a Tricky Triangle? Of course you do! I wanted to share something about the true meaning of the magic of the holidays, which is what is most important is that we are all here. Together. Laughing at our inabilities and our limitations. I didn’t make any money with the Tricky Triangle, but I learned that I could live in a van, and because I could do that, I did the circus. I didn’t have a wildly successful moving business, but I got good at moving stuff and I use those skills every day. I can’t remember 1990 but I can totally remember 1991, and that was an awesome year… I played with GG in that year and toyed with the idea of monastic training to be a Buddhist cleric: at the same time! It’s all just a big mess.

I hope your life is a mess too. This time of year is a great
opportunity to fuck everything up. If you are ending up with good stories, you’re doing it right.

Chicken

* Don’t actually ask my wife, thanks…

Can you help fix my domain’s email?

[Update 12-30-20: Fixed!! See below]
Can you help fix my domain’s spam reputation problem? I’m happy to pay for professional help.

Whenever I send email to a new person at gmail from my domain name, Lee.org, it falls into their spam folder. After they mark my email as “not spam”, recipients can receive further emails.

This is probably happening because, until July 2018, my domain was being used by spammers to send junk mail. I have since fixed the email settings (SPF, DMARC, DKIM, Google Postmaster Tools) to keep spammers from spoofing my domain but the reputation damage has been done! Mail hosts apparently still don’t trust me! My domain (Lee.org) is definitely not generating any spam and the volume of email sent is very light, there is only one user, me!

Do you have any suggestions as to how to fix my email reputation problem?
I found some random coders on fiverr.com that might help but I’m reluctant to give all my passwords to random people on the internets!

Update 12-30-20:
I wrote to Dreamhost and they responded, essentially, “Sorry about that, we fixed the thing that you couldn’t have possibly known was broken. You’re good now”

Some time ago, we started using a service called MailChannels to help us with our incoming and outgoing spam filtering. It looks like for some reason, your SPF record hadn’t been updated to authorize MailChannels, so, considering your DMARC settings, normal messages being sent from DreamHost were being marked as spam. I apologize about this, I’ve taken the correct steps to fix this and it should help with your outgoing messages not being marked as spam in the future.

I sent a few emails to friends (thanks Kayte and Carol!) and yeah, lee.org is now sending emails to not-spam-folders again! Hurray!

Vacation to the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Just got back from a really enjoyable trip to the Sierra Nevada mountains with podmates. Feeling a bit more relaxed. Hurray!

The Pleiades peeking out from behind the trees at our place in the mountains

Zoom tip: Turn on Keystroke Suppression on Your Computer’s Microphone

This will make it so your microphone doesn’t pick up all the clicky-clacky while you’re on Zoom calls. It uses a little CPU to do the audio processing but works pretty well.

Turn on keystroke suppression on your computer’s microphone. This works for the Lenovo Thinkpad T470s and maybe other computers.

Tap the Windows key. Type “control panel” and hit Enter. In the search bar in the upper right, type “audio” and hit Enter. Click on “Manage audio devices”. Double-click on the “Recording” tab. Click on the “Microphone Array” icon. Click on the “Enhancements” tab. Click on the “Keystroke Suppression” checkbox.

Abigail at School

Ok, this is a ridiculously long image but it’s a beautiful view into Abigail’s (not technically) Kindergarten at Step One!

Maybe right-click and open link in a new tab. then click on that image.

Muting and Unmuting Zoom Participants at School

I recently found this setting on Zoom for our school district and found it tremendously helpful! The host of a Zoom meeting can mute and unmute the participants in their Zoom classroom after changing a setting and getting permission from the participant. Here’s a video tutorial I made showing how to do it: https://youtu.be/j96BJcho_ec. Make sure to ask permission so the students don’t see this as an invasion of their privacy. Share this tip as you choose, some teachers will find it indispensable.
If you can’t find the “unmute” option in the menu, you probably need to upgrade your Zoom software. It’ll take just a minute: In the Zoom program, click on your face in the upper right corner of the window. Then click on “Check for Updates”.  Then do the instructions from the video above.
The unmute feature probably isn’t available if you are using a personal license of Zoom.

Lest We Forget The Horrors

Early in President Trump’s term, McSweeney’s editors began to catalog the head-spinning number of misdeeds coming from his administration. We called this list a collection of Trump’s cruelties, collusions, and crimes, and it felt urgent then to track them, to ensure these horrors — happening almost daily — would not be forgotten. This election year, amid a harrowing global health, civil rights, humanitarian, and economic crisis, we know it’s never been more critical to note these horrors, to remember them, and to do all in our power to reverse them.

Find the list here

A local copy here

 

(via JWZ)

Happy Thanksgiving

We managed a happy Thanksgiving with our podmates. Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving as well!

Ripping DVDs To Use On Plex

I only have one DVD drive in the house and no DVD drive connected to our new “smart” tv. So here’s how we watch DVD movies on the Smart TV.

First, set up Plex It’s a Windows program that let’s you serve videos around your house. They’ll also rent you videos and such. I leave the computer running all the time.

  • Use DVDDecrypter to rip a copy of the DVD onto my computer. I use the rip below and also save it since the DVD format with commentary and extras isn’t saved perfectly in the next few steps.
  • Sometimes DVDDecrypter craps out. When that happens, I try using MakeMKV to rip the DVD. Failing that, I try using VLC. Failing that, I get a copy from ThePirateBay.
  • Point MakeMKV at the rip and turn the DVD into several .mkv files. The big file (usually 1-6 gigabytes) is the movie and then there’s often extras like a Making-of and such.
  • Move the big file directly into my Plex movies folder
  • Use MKVToolNix GUI to merge all the other files together into one because I like having a “Movie” and a “Movie extras” file but having 5-10 “extras” files is just a cluttered mess.
  • Look at the created “extras” file and make sure it worked. I don’t know exactly why but some merges don’t work. 1/2 way through the merged video, the audio or picture will crap out. This might be because the merged files were in different formats or something. If it doesn’t work, I abandon the “extras”, I haven’t figured out how to fix that problem.
  • Some videos have trouble fast forwarding and rewinding on Plex, especially on my Visio TV. I found that if I transcode them into H.264 using Handbrake (mp4 format, Align A/V start (dunno if I need it but it doesn’t hurt)) I don’t have that problem any more. I’ve had this problem with some videos downloaded from the internet. H.265 makes the smallest files but Plex handles H.264 natively so it doesn’t have to pin the CPU on the server to transcode it on the fly. It takes 1-5 hours to transcode a movie in Handbrake, depending on your settings, so set up the Queue and run it overnight!

Notes on above:

  • The rip takes about an hour. The other steps take just 1-5 minutes total.
  • To use MKVToolNix GUI: drag the first file onto the Source Files area. Then grab the rest of the files and drag them there. It’ll ask how you want to add them, choose “Append to an existing source file”. Then push the “Start multiplexing” button at the bottom. It might throw an error and refuse to merge the files. This is because the files are, in some way, not the same type. Look in the error log. A common error is “The number of channels of the two audio tracks is different.” To fix that, I use Handbrake to transcode all the files, making sure to set the audio “mixdown” to “stereo”; that way, fancy Dolby 5.1 audio is pushed down to stereo. This doesn’t always fix the problem. I haven’t figured out all the fixes yet, sometimes I just bail on putting all the extras into one file.

 

A Return to Political Civility

Here is a political message for people tired of political messages. Hint: a return to civility.