Trapped Inside

Not much more needs to be said about the current virus situation. The GeekNights newsletter isn't the place to discuss it anyway. All that's relevant is that when you're trapped inside, and all major events are cancelled, that leaves a lot of time for not shit-talking. Of course, that means writing a newsletter.

I hope everyone stuck at home has made some progress on their side projects. If not, that’s just fine. There's no reason to feel guilty about playing Animal Crossing non-stop. Shit's pretty awful, and we all deserve a break. If it makes anyone feel better, this newsletter sat in draft status for many weeks. I'm not nearly as productive as it might appear.

GeekNights Community Code of Conduct

For quite awhile we have been working on a new code of conduct for all GeekNights community spaces. We finally have something that we feel comfortable sharing as an open draft. Emphasis on the open and the draft. This is still nowhere near final, so I don't want anyone to freak out in anger if they see a problem with it. We're well aware we are not perfect, and that's why it's an open process. Submit your feedback to us using any means you are comfortable with. We have posted it on GitHub because GitHub issues and pull requests give us a public account of the document’s changes over its lifetime.

It's a work in progress, and your input will make it the best it can be. Even after it goes live, it will always be a living document subject to change with the times.

Talk to Me

This is a good a time to remind anyone who wants to tell me anything about the content of this newsletter, or really anything at all, to simply reply to this as if it were any other email. Through the magic of technology, I will see those replies. This is just one of the many ways to get in touch with me. It just bears repeating, since it is not obvious.

There's no guarantee I will reply to your message, but there's a chance I could include some of the responses in future newsletters. If you aren't comfortable with that, be sure to let me know.

There are also plenty of other places to find us online. I'm sure everyone reading this is already well aware of them. One that deserves a little boost is our mostly official Discord server. It's a great place to get some more real-time human contact. Ourselves and many of our listeners are regularly gathering there for group streaming. It's quite nice.

The Purpose of GeekNights

In the last newsletter I shared the GeekNights origin story. Anyone who cares to know how this podcast came into existence can read all about it. If you missed that newsletter, good news! There is a public archive of all previous GeekNights newsletters. Now that we've seen how GeekNights spawned, I'd like to discuss how GeekNights survived. Despite never achieving tremendous popularity, why does GeekNights continue to exist after over fifteen years when so many others have failed?

At the very beginning we didn't think about the show in an abstract sense. There was only the motivation inherent in the origin. We wanted to recapture what we had lost since graduating college, and there was a lot of free time to work on it.

I won't say we didn't even have a strategy, because we had exactly one. Looking at some of our favorite successful content creators on the web, we saw how many of them reliably delivered content on a regular schedule. If we were to succeed, we needed practice and quantity. The decision was made to force ourselves to make four episodes per week, and that stuck for many years.

Making anything, including a podcast, by hand, is a time consuming and laborious process. Bespoke objects from skilled artisans are often of the highest quality. The trade-off is quantity. To go four nights a week we needed automation. Immediately we got to work on finding ways to streamline the process.

Fortunately our technical backgrounds make us very good at such optimizations. We happen to enjoy it a great deal, as well. Making a podcast rapidly transformed from hassle to habit. Sit down, talk, push a couple buttons, and we that's it. We had unintentionally created not a podcast, but a podcast factory. 

Look at the other projects that have resulted in shit-talk, like videos, streams, or this newsletter. No factory is in place. They are all hand-crafted works. The output on those is almost nil, but GeekNights is truly prolific. There is a valuable lesson for all creative endeavors. If you want to make more than one of something, set your sights one level higher and make a machine that makes that thing. For example, don't make an animation, make an animation studio. Had we not inadvertently followed this advice, our laziness would have been our doom.

Even with a super smooth process in place, it still doesn't reduce effort to absolute zero. We still need some reason to run the factory, especially when the consequences of shutting it down are almost nil. Not like we have the difficult task of letting employees go. Something else has to keep us going.

I can't speak for Rym, but I can tell you what I believe about him. I think he has a conscious desire for attention. Caricature of Rym's ego may be exaggerated, but it's not false. He openly wishes for GeekNights to have a large audience, and for it to make enough money that we don't have to do other work. While I obviously would be very happy if the only "work" I had to do was podcasting, such an improbable dream isn't going to keep me behind the microphone. Just about every episode these days Rym boasts about the handful of live viewers. He actively courts new listeners, whereas I tell people to stop watching and go find some better content to enjoy.

As for me, I have no desire for fame or fortune. I live in New York City, so there are so many more exciting things I could be doing here besides podcasting. Well, I could be doing them if I wasn't trapped indoors. On top of that, we're running out of show ideas, especially on Monday (tech) and Thursday (other) shows. If GeekNights is a habit at this point, shouldn't I break it?

With podcasting, as we've already examined, I produce a lot. I've also done so much public speaking, I feel like I'm pretty good at it. Compare that to one of my other hobbies. I've been building Gunpla for longer than I've been podcasting. Yet, I've only assembled about one model per year, and have hardly been able to increase my skills. I still haven't successfully painted a single Gundam. All craftspeople know that there's a certain satisfaction you get from a job well done. Of my many hobbies, podcasting is the only one where I get that satisfaction with regularity. That's not something I'm going to quit lightly.

Some people have asked if I only make GeekNights because I like making it, why publish it? I could treat it the same way I do photography. I take a lot of photos, and I share a shockingly small percentage of them. Why do I continue to share the fruits of my labor with the world when that's not part of my motivation?

To answer that, I have to tell you that I just did something that I haven't done in an extremely long time. I listened to an episode of GeekNights. Not just any episode, but a very old episode GeekNights 20060607 - Philly Wizard World. All I can say is, don't listen to it. The Scott from 2020 is not happy with some of the things Scott from 2006 said. Yet, the adage holds true; the more things change the more they stay the same.

The reason I had to go back and listen to that particular episode is because I had to confirm that my memory of an important story was accurate. Among all the other things that happened at that tiny comic convention, Rym went around interviewing random people with his tiny portable audio recorder. It was what we learned from some of those interviews that gave me the vision of who and what GeekNights was for.

While going around the con Rym met some nerdy comic folk who were interested in silver age comics. That's cool and all, but they had no other interest. They weren't interested in games, anime, technology, or movies. They weren't even interested in comics that weren't published during the silver age. During the episode we commented that, by definition, there could never be more silver age comics. Reading or obtaining them all is an achievable, if difficult, feat. What then?

As a geek, it's always awesome to hear from people who have incredibly deep knowledge of a specific thing. I'm sure it would have been fascinating to hear them share their silver aged knowledge. Yet, it also makes me feel extremely sad if that person has no other significant interests.

Of course, this isn't just about a single anecdote. I see people all over with the same mindset, and it is there I see an aspect of humanity I strongly dislike. Climate change denial is a literally apocalyptic problem. Refusing to watch anime with subtitles is not a serious problem at all. However, I see both of these as branches of the same tree of incurious minds and anti-intellectual attitudes. Having no desire for, or being fearful of, new knowledge and experiences is, to make an intentionally nerdy reference, the path to the dark side.

It is there that I find the purpose of GeekNights. Almost every other media that targets a nerdy audience, has a relatively narrow focus. Sports podcasts often cover individual teams. Communities spring up just for people who live in a specific geographic area and are fans of a particular indie band. GeekNights is the opposite. While we focus on tech, gaming, and anime, we are open to everything. That intentionally includes things we don't personally care for. We try our best to drink, and share, from every cup. We believe everyone should take full advantage of the opportunities they have to experience what life has to offer, and that in a just world all people would have the same opportunity.

Two white dudes with microphones and computers can't even begin to fix the world. We've seen many try, and they've only made things worse. We can't destroy capitalism, but maybe we can get an anime nerd to play a board game. Maybe we can get a Trekkie to appreciate ice hockey. Maybe we can get someone who only reads Marvel or DC comics to read at least one manga. Maybe we can get a picky eater to taste some Indian food. Whether or not they like it, the hope is that the exposure to new ideas will make them a little more open minded and curious in other areas of life.

That brings us to the final piece of the puzzle, all the people out there in the audience. By making content on so many different topics, we get a wide variety of interests represented in the listening community. The GeekNights fan who discovered us from GeekNights Presents: Utena and the one who discovered us because we talked about train games couldn't be starting further apart, and then we bring them together.

Putting these people in the same space, whether it's our forums, seats next to each other at one of our panels, or just a YouTube comment thread, is the most effective strategy to accomplish the mission. Learning about something is pretty much unavoidable when your friend is excited about it. Having never played Overwatch even once, I sure know a lot about it simply because I'm friends with Rym. I'm sure Rym knows much more about KPop than he cares to as well. I am extremely thankful for all that I have learned from our audience over the years, but even more I appreciate what they've been able to learn from each other.

Anyone reading this who might be trapped indoors, do me a favor. Physically traveling somewhere new is not an option for most of us right now. Instead, take a metaphorical journey to a new land, even if it's reading a dorky old silver age comic.