30 Artists in 30 Days #4 – Julia Nunes

Amanda Palmer

I couldn’t wait to get number four of my 30 Artists in 30 Days out, and it comes with an increase in tempo, and the indefatigable Julia Nunes.

Although only 26, she’s been recording videos for her Youtube channel for at least seven years. Her videos are full of energy, quirky and funny, and you can see she loves making them. She was ‘discovered’ on Youtube and already has quite a large following there, and has released a number of albums. She’s also been successful on Kickstarter, and at the time was the third most-funded music project.

She’s been prolific, and there are lots of Youtube videos to watch, and they’re sure to leave you with a smile on your face.

She currently has 504 patrons on Patreon pledging $2,010.84 per video. Pledge for her here.

See all the 30 Artists in 30 Days here.

Picture from Wikimedia Commons

30 Artists in 30 Days #3 – Cyra Morgan

Cyra Morgan

Number three of my 30 Artists in 30 Days is perfect for a melancholic Sunday night. Cyra Morgan describes her music as intimate acoustic folk, and there’s a raw, vulnerable beauty that comes through her music.

She’s quite new on Patreon, and writes that up to this point she’s been recording all of her music and videos at home with Garageband and a 10 year old Sony Handycam, and is working towards getting a full length album professionally recorded and produced.

She currently has 22 patrons pledging $140.00 per song or video. Pledge for her here.

See all the 30 Artists in 30 Days here.

30 Artists in 30 Days #2 – Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer

The second of my 30 Artists in 30 Days will probably be the last one that I had heard about outside of Patreon and is the one and only Amanda Fucking Palmer.

She’s an inspiring person and creative in so many ways. Her famous TED Talk on the Art of Asking (if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend watching it) from February 2013 is about changing the relationship between artist and fan, and draws on her years as a street statue, and those brief moments of intense connection with passer-bys. And most importantly, asking for help. She’s also written a book, The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help .

So it’s no surprise she eventually found her way on to Patreon, and in spite of only being on for less than a month, is already one of the best supported. Her presence will probably be a huge boost for Patreon itself.

From standing as a statue, to allowing herself to be scribbled on by fans while standing naked before them, to shredding the British Daily Mail tabloid who felt a picture of her breast was leading news by performing completely naked in response, her intimacy and vulnerability, in the sense of permitting herself to open up, are wondrous to behold, and she’s a real inspiration.

Currently Amanda has 3935 patrons pledging $29,193.25 per “thing”. Pledge for her here.

See all the 30 Artists in 30 Days here.

Picture from Wikipedia

30 Artists in 30 Days #1 – Nate Maingard

The first of my 30 Artists in 30 Days is the artist who introduced me to Patreon, Nate Maingard. He was one of their earlier adopters, getting involved in April 2014, and is currently one of their most well-supported, ranked 30th. I checked to see if he’s 30 years old as well, but I’m a little late – he turned 31 in February.

If your idea of a musician is a prima donna rock star putting on a flashy act, trashing hotel rooms and leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, then meet Nate. He’s about as far-removed from that image as you can get, a beautiful person whose music is intimate and personal. Described as writing protest songs for lovers, and love songs for rebels, I love his music, and have spent days listening to nothing but him on repeat. I’m lucky enough to have heard him perform in Cape Town when, long before he considered music as a career, he pulled out a guitar and wowed everyone at a party.

He’s now based in London, but there’s a City Soiree lined up in Cape Town in a few days time, so if you live in the area, here’s your chance to see him live at an intimate event.

Currently Nate has 153 patrons pledging $1,343.00 per month. Pledge for him here.

See all the 30 Artists in 30 Days here.

30 Artists in 30 Days

Last night I was roaming the internet again, discovering new music. We live in a wonderful time where exposure to new music is not limited to the physical media that our friends or relatives own, or what the local record store stocks.

But it’s a time of adjustment for artists, where the old model of getting a deal with a record label and waiting for them to market and sell on the musician’s behalf before passing on the proceeds less hefty commission is no longer good enough. Sales of physical media are plummeting, and sales of downloads are not always filling the gap.

Most musicians today sell their music themselves, but there are multiple ways to go about this, and not everyone is getting it right. A while ago I wanted to buy Nick Cave’s 2013 release, Push the Sky Away. There was no download available from his site. So, instead of Nick Cave getting all the revenue, I ended up buying it from a download site where I’m not sure he got to see much, if any, of the revenue. I checked back now to see whether this had changed, but the site’s shop is down. C’mon Nick, get it together!

Nick Cave is an old, established musician, and probably well-paid by his record label. While most music distribution companies no longer add DRM, an attempt to prevent piracy that just ended up being abusive towards music fans who had made a legal purchase, they still restrict music distribution in other ways, limiting its availability by geographic region for example.

Understandably, most younger musicians are just connecting straight with their fans, promoting themselves, and selling directly from their websites.

Patreon.com is a website that’s become popular very quickly. Its model gives fans the opportunity to directly support artists (not just musicians) by pledging either a monthly amount, or an amount for each new release. It’s very exciting for artists, as it ensures a regular, predictable income. As the name suggests, it models the idea of an artist having a patron, but instead of relying on a single wealthy patron, a legion of fans making small contributions allow the artist the same freedom to focus on their art.

I’ve been wanting to support artists on Patreon for a while. About a year ago they announced that they were looking into accepting Bitcoin, which would be wonderful. Credit card companies and banks take huge chunks of each transaction, and along with Patreon’s share, the artists only get around 90% of the donations. Of course that far beats the percentage a record company would pass on, but I would prefer to see even more of the donation go to the artist.

I used to run a local and organic food co-op, and one of the main reasons we never implemented credit card transactions was that I could never fully accept the idea of a transaction between a small, local farmer, and a buyer supporting the local farmer, both on the tip of Africa, enriching a giant multinational corporation. None of the money comes back, and it’s a giant vacuum cleaner sucking money from Africa to the USA.

Patreon don’t look they’ve made progress implementing bitcoin, and the main difficulty is probably the lack of automated bitcoin payments. The artists would probably get less as many patrons forget to pay each month. For now, credit cards are probably still the best way to go.

So, I’ve decided to try an experiment, and use Patreon to support 30 artists in 30 days. Each pledge will for now be very small, but let’s see how it goes.

#1 – Nate Maingard
#2 – Amanda Palmer
#3 – Cyra Morgan
#4 – Julia Nunes

Preferred Mind States


I was meditating tonight, and going into the meditation was in a fantastic mood. I’m starting something new, which always excites me (it’s the persisting that’s the downer), and had been listening to Eddie Vedder’s Acoustic Songs.

A common trap in meditation is to judge a session as “good” or “bad”, and usually it’s “good” if we’re not having many unpleasant thoughts, or many thoughts at all. We can easily take an effect of meditation, less unconscious engaging with thoughts, and make a goal of reducing thoughts. All this ends up doing is suppressing thoughts, leading to a kind of dullness.

I was having a “good” session because I felt great, not because there weren’t many thoughts. I wasn’t really doing much meditation – my mind was engaged and hurtling forwards to all the future possibilities, as it usually does.

At the recent retreat I was on, we spent some time on preferred mind states. It’s a paradox in that everyone meditates in order to feel better, become better, yet this grasping after a particular state is one of the blockages. We reject our current state, and wish for some improved future state. Materialists fall into the trap of saying something like “When I buy my new car I’ll be happy”, meditators say “when I progress more in my meditation I’ll be happy”.

I was feeling really sick on one of the days on the retreat. The kind of day which I’d normally spend groaning in bed feeling sorry for myself. Instead, I meditated. It wasn’t fun, but it was interesting, because I was meditating in the kind of state I normally wouldn’t be. It helped me see a mindstate I usually take into meditation.

It’s so easy to look for preferred mind states in meditation, as a result of meditation, and before we start meditating. We may not even start to meditate if we don’t feel “in the right space”.

Instead, try some radical acceptance. However you’re feeling, whatever’s coming up.

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Image from Wikimedia Commons

October 2014 African language Wikipedia and Wiktionary update

It’s only been a few months since my last update on the state of the Wikimedia projects in Africa, but seeing as the Wiki Indaba was held since then, and this weekend is Wikimedia South Africa’s AGM, it’s a good excuse to take another look.

First, the Wiktionaries. Wiktionary is a much less well-known set of projects compared to Wikipedia, and aims to have a dictionary definition for each word in every language.

African Language Wiktionaries

Language 3/8/2009 30/5/2010 15/5/2011 17/6/2014 29/10/2014
Malagasy 142 4,253 - 3,191,393 3,599,084
Afrikaans 14,128 14,669 14,731 15,792 15,794
Swahili 12,956 13,000 13,027 13,885 13,903
Wolof 2,675 2,689 2,693 2,310 2,310
Sotho 1,387 1,389 1,398 1,343 1,343
Zulu 127 131 510 586 587
Rwandi 306 306 306 366 367
Oromo 186 218 264 269 322
Swati 31 371 377 290 290
Amharic 311 319 377 204 206
Tsonga 358 359 363 92 92

In short, besides the Malagasy bot activity that’s creating up a storm, and some flickers in Oromo, spoken mostly in Ethiopia and parts of Kenya and Somalia, not much activity at all. Even, the Afrikaans Wiktionary, which has shown steady, organic, growth in the past, had little activity.

What about the Wikipedias?

African Language Wikipedias

Language 11/2/2011 13/4/2012 9/5/2013 17/6/2014 29/10/2014
Malagasy 3,806 36,767 45,361 47,144 47,061
Afrikaans 17,002 22,115 26,752 31,756 33,392
Yoruba 12,174 29,894 30,585 30,910 30,989
Swahili 21,244 23,481 25,265 26,349 27,021
Amharic 6,738 11,572 12,360 15,968 16,229
Egyptian Arabic   8,433 10,379 12,440 12,934
Somali 1,639 2,354 2,757 3,646 3,680
Shona     1,421 2,077 2,091
Lingala 1,394 1,816 2,025 2,077 2,087
Kabyle     1,503 1,876 1,967
Kinyarwanda   1,501 1,817 1,832 1,834
Hausa - - - - 1,386
Wolof 1,116 1,814 1,161 1,201 1,148
Igbo - - - - 1,017

Two new languages have joined the 1000 club. Hausa, spoken natively in Niger, Nigeria and Chad, but also as a trade language across numerous others, and Igbo, spoken mostly in Nigeria.

While most of the languages are showing some sort of activity, the article count in a couple of languages has dropped. This just means there’s been a cleanup of some articles that perhaps were never worthy of the name. Although there’s been little activity on either, Shona has passed Lingala, while Kabyle is catching up to both.

Afrikaans continues to be the fastest-growing African-language Wikipedia, with a healthy, active community.

Onto the South African languages specifically:

South African Language Wikipedias

Language 19/11/2011 13/4/2012 9/5/2013 17/6/2014 29/10/2014
Afrikaans 20,042 22,115 26,754 31,756 33,392
Northern Sotho 557 566 685 691 966
Zulu 256 483 579 630 686
Tswana 240 490 495 510 513
Swati 359 361 364 400 408
Xhosa 125 136 148 333 380
Tsonga 192 193 240 303 309
Venda 193 190 204 209 208
Sotho 132 145 188 197 202

The pace on most of the South African languages has picked up slightly, with signs of life. Besides Afrikaans, mentioned above, Northern Sotho showed a burst of activity, mainly new date stub pages, but there are fairly regular edits.

Zulu has shown signs of stirring, mostly due to its healthy coverage of porn stars, and probably boasts the highest ratio of porn star to other articles of any Wikipedia language edition. The porn star articles also happen to be some of the most well-endowed compared to the usual stub pages found throughout the Zulu and most African-language editions.

I’m very happy to see that Xhosa continues to show good relative growth, and that it’s newfound life in June wasn’t just a reaction to Wikimedia ZA announcing in April that its attempts to activate it had been put on hold due to lack of success, but seems to be sustaining itself.

Otherwise, not too much to note, although Sotho is closing in on Venda as it tries to haul itself off the bottom spot.

As always, I should mention that article count is an imperfect metric. It’s possible to have higher article counts with not much activity (stubs or bot-creations), but the reverse isn’t possible, and it’s a reasonable indicator of the signs of life.

Related articles

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Testing misleading organic and natural claims

I was excited this week to come across TOPIC, an organisation formed to test the authenticity of natural and organic product claims. I’ve had in mind forming an operation just like they have – there’s such a need for it – so I’m very happy someone else has done it and there’s no need for me to!

Organic food is just the way things should be. Food produced in a way that doesn’t harm, and doesn’t endanger farm and farm communities. Farmers, and particularly farmworkers, work in some of the most hazardous conditions, breathing in and spraying pesticides on crops, and it’s heartbreaking so that so many give their financial support to products that further marginalise, or that have caused such harm so they can look pretty on the supermarket shelves.

It’s an obvious choice.

So while organic is better for everyone involved, it’s unfortunately also seen as a luxury, as elitist, something that can be more profitable, so there’s the temptation for producers to mislabel in order to charge more.

It wasn’t uncommon, while I was at Ethical Co-op, to be approached by a supplier whose claims didn’t hold up under scrutiny.

TOPIC allows people to nominate products they’d like to see tested, and, after a voting process, the selected products will be bought from three different locations, and sent to the laboratory (or laboratories – this part isn’t clear yet) for testing.

This provides a great way for organic farmers and producers,especially those that are not certified, to prove that their products are actually organic, as well as to test out products that there are questions about.

I’m looking forward to contributing and seeing the first products coming through, and expect to see some embarrassed faces soon.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

You’re fat, and the 7-minute workout

You're fat?

I paid a visit to the Ethical Co-op warehouse the other day, and Thembi, one of the warehouse staff who’s been there from the very early days, greeted me with a loud “You’re fat!” as I walked in.

I was a little taken aback and didn’t have an immediate response, so she carried on “Yes! You were so skinny when you used to come to the warehouse, and now you’re fat. That’s good, you were too skinny. No stress anymore!”

I know she means “fat” as a compliment, but I’m not quite sure how I feel about her kind words.

Which brings me to the Seven-minute workout. This was a routine developed in 2013 by researchers in Orlando, using the latest research to design the best possible exercise routine, aimed in particular at office workers who don’t do enough exercise in general.

High-intensity interval training is today recognised as providing the most efficient returns for your time. Essentially, bursts of mayhem with brief rest periods between.

It’s claimed that just a few minutes of training at close to maximum capacity (that’s the high-intensity part) can produce molecular changes within muscles similar to those of several hours of running or bicycle riding.

The seven minute workout claims to work out all major muscle groups and give a combination of metabolic and resistance work. The exercises can all be performed from home, without any need for special equipment.

I was sold. Actually, it was the seven-minutes that did it. Egoscue involves long periods of lying in one position, and an abridged routine can easily be 30 minutes. Tai chi? Well, it’s wonderfully beneficial, but it doesn’t exactly build Hulk Hogan arm muscles (if it does, you’re doing it all wrong).

The extremely erratic exercises I would do before involved much pausing to admire the dust mites on the floor between repetitions, so perhaps not as intense as required.

A walk in the forest or on the mountains? Great, but, as well-served as Cape Town is, it takes me more than seven minutes just to get there, and a bit longer to get to the top (unless I’m ‘walking’ with Craig, in which case seven minutes to the top is about right).

So, how does it work?

Each exercise is done for 30 seconds, as intensely as possible, followed by a ten-second rest. The exercises are:

  • Jumping jacks
  • Wall sit
  • Push-up
  • Abdominal crunch
  • Step-up onto chair
  • Squat
  • Triceps dip on chair
  • Plank
  • High knees/running in place
  • Lunge
  • Push-up and rotation
  • Side plank

You can download an app on your phone to help keep track of the order and timings, and go to the New York Times article to read more.

So, how has the routine been for me? Well, I’m convinced that what Thembi saw as “fat” is simply the buildup of lean muscle around my stomach, so I’d say it’s working out quite well. Though I have upped the frequency and occasionally doubled up on abdominal crunches. Just in case.

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Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Leaving the Ethical Co-op

Ethical veggies
Way back in April, a lifetime ago that seems like yesterday, I stepped down from the Ethical Co-op, which I’d been involved with from the very beginning in 2005.

There were about 10 founders, mostly drawn from two communities. Permacore, the Permaculture Foundation of South Africa, which is no longer running, and the Community Exchange System, a system designed to do away with the need for banks and central currency, which still is.

The vision was to source and support ethical produce. Organic food was hard to come by, and much of it organic in name only. Many of us used to visit the same places to get the best food, so pooling our efforts and getting them to bring it to us made sense.

The founding members all paid for their first orders, about R200 on average, and so, with a massive startup capital of R2000, it all began. To date, except for a loan from myself to purchase a vehicle, that was the only financial investment it ever had.

Yet, somehow, it’s still going 9 years later. Many other businesses, sometimes with huge financial investment and far greater financial resources, have splashed, crashed and burned.

What was lacking in money was made up for in time, however, with many people making hefty contributions.

From the beginning, and over most of its existence, there was a great team of people involved, feeding off each other’s energy. The skillset was diverse – I had an IT background and built the systems it runs on, and everybody dived in where they could.

Over time, the original members left. Some were no longer able to commit so much time for so little money or better and more interesting opportunities came along. Until, eventually, of the original members, it was just me left. It became a drain on my energy, most of my involvement was spent doing things I don’t enjoy: HR, finances, driving trucks (ok, that one is quite fun, but not so much unexpectedly at 7am after 4 hours sleep), packing boxes, customer service. I think over the years I’ve performed every role there was to perform.

The drain on my time meant I was missing other opportunities, saying no to friend’s invitations, missing my son Dorje’s school activities. And finally, when my mother was dying, it became something I resented, not allowing me the energy or time to share the process with her as I would have liked.

With my father ill at the beginning of this year, I’d finally had enough, and it was time to move on. There was only one viable person to hand it over to at the time, which was Anique, Dorje’s mom, who was involved at the time. At first she wasn’t keen to continue without me, so out went the closure letters to suppliers and customers.

But after an outpouring of support (people usually only say what things mean when it’s too late), she decided to continue it, and I was happy that something I’d put so much love and sweat into would be continuing.

Leaving was hard. I’d put so much energy into it, and the vision many of us had for it, although never actualised, always felt just around the corner.

But I was happy to leave, and have been enjoying a resurgence in energy and the time to explore new things.

When the site launched, in September 2005 if I remember (so this month is its 9th birthday), the code I wrote was already a jumbled mush of spaghetti, thanks to scope creep of the sort comparable to driving to the shops for milk turning into a 3-week trip across Namibia. Eventually it turned into what’s there today, with an automated backend that allows a tiny team to keep things running.

Still today, all the products are listed on one page, a legacy of its original conception as a ‘box scheme’, where a customer would choose from 15 or so items to put in a box. Now there are hundreds of items. Some people hate the long page, but I love it as a customer. It makes searching for items instantaneous, and placing an order very quick.

There were lots of things to enjoy. Being the kind of business it was, designed to do good rather than make its shareholders or founders rich, it attracted lots of inspiring people, who worked for very little reward. Inspiring is not a word I use loosely – I really was inspired and energised by the people I worked with.

There were some tough times too. As with any group of people, there were personal conflicts, differences of opinion. An early test was asking a key founding member to leave. The other members all agreed that this was needed, and it fell to me to tell the person who’d brought me into the project, and was responsible for so much of the early energy, to leave. The person wasn’t happy, and spread all sorts of rumours afterwards, but it was the right thing to do, and the rest of us continued with a new lightness and purpose.

I lost count of the number of times it was called the ‘unethical’ co-op, often for the most trivial of reasons (“My carrots had their tops chopped off this week! I like to use them, and now you’ve chopped them off! How can you call yourselves ethical, you should be called unethical!)

But the accusation never hit home, as the the name always reflected an intention that we did our best to live up to. It saddens me to see something that should be the norm, healthy, organic food, where animals roam free and are well-treated, becoming a marketing slogan, an excuse to price gouge, a race to meet the lowest standard that meets the term. Supermarkets offering free range and organic produce that meets the letter (and sometimes not even that), but is far from the spirit of the term. Food at markets that claims or is assumed to be organic, beautifully displayed, but that I know is simply the conventional food being resold at an expensive price. The prevalence of pesticide-laden farms, with workers facing higher rates of asthma and other health conditions, all while the pesticide fumes they live in are claimed to be ‘safe’.

I still buy almost all my food from the Ethical Co-op. It’s clear where the food is grown, I still know many of the farms where the food is grown, and they’re of a scale that can support small producers, a dire need in a country with so many small suppliers all at the mercy of giant chains squeezing them for every cent.

It was a fun eight and a half years that I’m already looking at through rose-tinted glasses. Thanks to everyone who was part of the journey. Good luck to Anique and all the remaining staff, I hope you can make a thriving success of it.

Before, you are wise, after, you are wise. In between, you are otherwise.