Most of us take the web and websites for granted: we rarely think about the costs associated with setting up, running, and updating servers, or ensuring that the pages we visit will work reliably and safely. These are costly operations and the more users a web service has the higher the costs. It’s fairly safe to assume that if Google, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Reddit charged users even a fraction of their costs they would have been unable to become the giants they are. Unlike in the real world, we have come to expect information and services on the Internet to be free. For most for-profit businesses this leaves little alternatives for profit outside of advertising. I don’t want to comment on the ethics, legality or impact on privacy and society that such advertising has. We know it’s pervasive and with the marriage of ever-improving algorithms and more time spent online, it will probably continue to become even more so. But advertising is one of only three ways (that I can think of) to make money on the Internet. The second is, of course, selling something whether it be e-commerce or a SAAS or anything else that individuals and companies are willing to pay for. The last way is the traditional non-profit model, however, it no longer powers charities and churches. It’s proven to be the most lucrative and the most viable.
Think about the last time Wikipedia adorned their header with a fundraising banner. If you’re anything like me you’ve probably closed that modal about a dozen times over the years without thinking twice. Yet, I use Wikipedia almost daily and have for years and they have never served me an ad or enforced a pricey subscription fee. We all use Wikipedia, don’t even try and deny it. What about Khan Academy? What about other non-profits that you may not think of? The Apache Foundation? Linux? Mozilla?
For at least 10 years I’ve used an FTP client called Cyberduck to maintain my website, every time you exit the application it asks for a one-time donation. I must have closed it hundreds of times without ever giving. About two years ago I bit the bullet and actually donated about $50 to Cyberduck, as a student it felt like a lot but I wanted to give back to a program that had given me so much. However great the sacrifice of $50 felt at the time, considering how long I’d been using the software it equated to a subscription fee of $5 a year! Not such a big sacrifice when you put it that way especially considering David V. Kocher and Yves Langisch probably spend more than 10 minutes a year maintaining Cyberduck.
This innovative model extends beyond just services and software products it is also applied to the content. More and more I’m seeing YouTube channels featuring a link to their Patreon accounts and why not? Making videos takes time and resources and making really good videos takes more time and more resources. If you really a channel’s content and are a regular viewer consider giving the creators a bit of compensation especially if they’re not big enough yet to be making a lot of money as YouTube partners.
I’m not saying that advertising is wrong or a bad model only that there are alternatives. One alternative is funded by your generosity, without which the lake of alternatives grows ever and ever drier. So this week give a few dollars to a non-profit website or service you use regularly and make it a monthly habit.

Good artist copy, great artists steal.

-Travis Fantina

This is an oft-quoted saying, perhaps originally coined by Pablo Picasso but it’s hard to say since I’m willing to bet he stole it. But it’s not just a humorous saying, what Picasso was getting at is deadly serious. (In this post I’m going to talk a lot about art specifically but these principles can be applied broadly to any field where you create something, baking, software engineering, or laying bricks).

Within each of us, I think there is an inherent drive to create something new, to do things that no one has done before, or to take something that exists and twist it into something that did not exist before and is arguably better. This is not only the basis for creative expression but all progression generally. So, naturally, when seeking to exercise whatever creative instincts we have been gifted with we generally want to create something new, original and wholly our own. Today, I’d like to make a slight argument against this; this week take a work you admire and copy it 100%.

Seriously, lift someone else’s art, music or design this week. I’m not saying you should sell it, distribute it, or claim it as your own, that’s highly unethical. But I am saying that you should copy someone else’s work for your own personal education. You can burn if afterwards if you wish because the value of this exercise is in the creation process, not the final product.

I think it would be difficult to become a great artist in a vacuum, there is just too much to discover without help, I’m confident that any living artist would not be remotely as good as they are without generations of influences behind them. But studying the masters of art will only get you so far. From an artistic perspective, there is no substitute for putting pencil to paper and copying someone you admire. You will learn things that you could not have otherwise known from even the motion of your hand as you sketch.

Your results won’t be of much value to the world, selling them or passing them off as your own would be plagiarism. Even your most of your friends will look at your masterpiece and say, “Hey cool, but I like Turner’s better”. But that’s not the point. You’re not making this for the world. If you’re serious about your craft and you actually want to progress rather than remain stagnant it’s worth putting in a few hours a month to copy a work you like and in the process you may even teach yourself (without an expensive online class) some of the very techniques that the master originally used in creating the work.

Copying something will help you to familiarise yourself with the conventions of a genre.  For example, I’ve long been fascinated by the advertising of the 1920s and 1930s. For example, the beautiful Grand Prix posters created by French illustrator Robert Falcucci. As much as I love this style, I couldn’t possibly create an ad like this, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.   Largely, because I just don’t know the conventions of the era. These designers, illustrators, and printers were constrained by numerous factors, from the medium they used, to the cost of the commission; even what society considered to be an “acceptable ad” was a constraint.  I have no idea about any of those things but by attempting to recreate my favourite ads from the time I have learned to see the world a little bit more like those who were originally creating these beautiful ads. By so doing I have in a small way become like those designers and am now slightly more capable something original in that same style.

So if you admire something but it boggles your mind, spend some time this week copying it. You won’t realise it at first but next time you sit down to create an original work you may well have, inadvertently, “stolen” a little of a great artist’s technique.

Below is my attempt at Robert Falcucci’s masterpiece as viewed by an iPhone.

The original Falcucci poster was taken from Benjamin’s Flickr account and is under Creative Commons Licence.

Earth Hour 09' I’m a bit late on this one. Just a reminder today is Earth Hour so between 8:30 PM and 9:30 PM turn your lights off get out a candle and read a book! It’s really amazing to see how many cities have gotten behind Earth Hour this year, I’m not sure of the exact number (2,700 maybe) but I know it’s a huge increase from last year.

That is all for now.

If you are a citizen of the United States let me say something important; VOTE. Do it tomorrow, get out and vote, check what time your local polls open and close then VOTE. Your vote counts, just look at the last few elections, in Ohio, it came down to about 9 votes in each precinct. So yes your vote does count! It’s important and cool.

Vote and then where that sticker with pride.

On Monday we took a little trip to see Barack Obama speak in Chester Pennsylvania. It was an 8-hour drive from Kitchener to New Jersey (where we stayed the night) then we stood in the rain/snow for two hours waiting for him but it was totally worth it. The speech/rally was amazing.

Below are some of the best pics from the rally and the drive (sorry about the quality of some of the photos).

Barack Obama-Change Rally

We were very lucky to be this close.

Barack Obama-Change Rally; we were lucky to be this close.
Stood in the rain/snow for a total of three hours but I’d do it again.

Barack Obama-Change Rally; Despite the weather there were some 9,000 people!

One of a couple camera banks (yea I'm a camera nerd).

The car this morning.

The car this morning.
Stopped at a hotel last night and this morning our car was pretty much covered.

A wonderful trip, despite the less than amiable weather (which was beautiful but frigid), we saw some friends and family but Barack Obama’s speech was the absolute highlight.

Today is Blog Action Day. For those of you who don’t know Blog Action Day occurs every October 15th each year with a new global cause for bloggers to discuss and hopefully raise awareness about. This is something that I support because I think it helps to raise awareness in a way that would be impossible otherwise. With thousands of blogs, the message can be spread to groups who may not usually focus on that particular issue, or even know much about it.

This is the second this year and as you may have guessed the theme this year is Poverty. I don’t pretend to be an expert on poverty or the issues associated with it, however, I have made it a point to educate myself on this topic as best as I can over the years. So while I speak with no real authority on this subject my opinions are carefully constructed by what I’ve seen, read and been involved with. So please read my opinions then do your own research find out what experts are saying.

There are two things I wish to focus on more than anything else, Water and Education. (Both these fit in with the first two points on Millennium Promise’s list for global goals to achieve by 2015.)

Firstly water, it is essential that we get clean drinking water to those who do not have it. It is a fact that dirty water kills over 4,000 children a day*, yes you read that right. So it is vital that clean drinking water is made available for everybody. How much would this cost? I’ve read estimates as low as 9 billion dollars to estimates as high as 11.3 billion. Both figures may sound like a lot to some however when I first read this a few months ago I was astounded at how inexpensive it really is. For example, let’s take the current population of the United States (source) if every single person in the United States and only the United States donated $37 there would be enough money to eradicate the water shortage. With more wells being drilled, more clean water flowing to those who do not have it; there will be less disease, more water to grow food with, more water (of a lesser quality) for sanitation and more time for children to spend in school instead of walking an hour or two hours each way for the day’s water.

Education is what makes us tick. I once heard a representative of “One Laptop Per Child” say something to the effect of “education is the difference between developed and undeveloped”. I believe that to be true. The more we learn and higher the quality of our education the more likely we are to become members of a thriving society. With proper education, those who live in the shadow of poverty can create better lives for themselves. As well educated farmers growing food to feed themselves and for other or as valuable employees in growing cities. The best thing for a developing nation (assuming it already has the basic needs of food and water taken care of) is education.

I provided a simple solution to the complex problem of a water shortage, I know that. But think about it, think how little it would cost to fix something with such a great price. Both the water shortage and education are complex and multi-sided there is no easy fix, but there is one and  enough great minds with enough funding is a powerful combination. I am not an expert but I can raise awareness, research issues, research charities and donate to the ones I wish to support.

Thanks for reading,
Travis Fantina.

Some more facts on water and education from a 2006 UNICEF report:

* this is the most recent article I found.