Micropatronage

I am humbly asking you to be my patron. This will be a long read, so if you want to skip to where the party is, click here. So what’s micropatronage, and how is it different from plain patronage? I’ll explain that in a while, but first I want to share a story with you.

Bread ecstasy

My mom told me that when she was young, she travelled to France. Being frugal, she found she couldn’t afford anything other than bread. The baguettes there were the cheapest food she could find. So she ate that every day while she was in France.

Well, history seemed to have repeated itself. A few days ago, I was doing grocery shopping in the supermarket. Like a man on a mission, I went straight for the kill. My target? A pack of muesli and a giant bottle of fresh milk.

Well, along that unerring route from where I picked up the shopping basket and where my muesli was, was the bakery section. For some reason, I glanced ever so slightly at the rows of loaves of bread and stopped. Hmm. I could check out the bread spread.

As I slipped into the alley of bakery delights, something clicked in my mind. I could eat bread! As a meal! What a novel idea! (I promise to cut down on the exclamation marks) I was ecstatic. Doing some mental calculations, I found that a meal comprising of 2 or 3 slices of bread with some peanut butter or some other spread on it, was cheap! (I’m sorry, that’s the very last exclamation mark, I promise)

I was dancing. There were squeals of delight. I was head banging as was appropriate in a rock concert. I hugged a loaf of bread (it was squishy, and smelt nice). I also scared the living daylights out of the genial grandma beside me.

Ok, I didn’t actually dance. But it happened in my head. The grandma was really there though.

Well, I’m not at the point of stealing bread. Yet. But it would be a sad day if the headlines read

33 year old wrestles McDonald's Happy Meal from 5 year old

Yes, a very sad day indeed. Abraham Maslow (sort of) said it in 1943, Chris Guillebeau said it in 2010,

It’s hard to sit around thinking big thoughts when you’re wondering if you’ll have enough to eat next week.

When you're starving, even bread and peanut butter tastes heavenly. Unless you're allergic to nuts, of course.

Although to be fair, my current lack of freedom is due in some part to a personal choice…

So what’s micropatronage?

Patronage was a word associated most importantly with the Renaissance period. A patron was simply someone who financially supported artists, musicians, writers, philosophers and other persons of scholarly pursuits. Patrons supported the work of the people they admire, typically artists. (There were other types of patrons, such as political ones, but we’ll ignore those in our context)

Patrons then were powerful and extremely wealthy. For example, Lorenzo de’ Medici of the House of Medici, was a patron of Leonardo da Vinci.

And micropatronage? Instead of one powerful patron supporting one artist, think of many less wealthier Medici’s supporting one da Vinci. Yes, I know I’m holding myself up against Leonardo himself, but I also draw now. I’m getting closer to that ideal polymath… Besides, after Seth Godin redefined the word “artist” in his book Linchpin (Amazon affiliate link), I feel I’m up to the task now.

Just to set things straight, no, I will not call you a micropatron. That is like diminishing the value of the support you’re giving me. You’re a patron, regardless of the amount of support. You’re a patron, whether your support is macho or minor, monetary or metaphysical, moral or motivational, mythical or medical, miraculous or mute. You’re my patron. Besides, you can tell your girlfriend (or boyfriend) that you’re a patron. It sounds sexy. It is sexy.

“Honey, I’m home.”
“Hey sweetie, how was your day?”
“It was great. I became a patron.”
“Ooh, that’s sexy. Come here so I can give you some love.”

Or something like that.

Sweet! I'm a patron.

I’m sold. Sign me up.

Really? Uh, for the sake of transparency, let me educate you on the ways of making money online, which is my primary means of support. Actually, that sounds kinda sleazy. I make a living through the Internet. Ok, that sounds better. There are 3 main methods:

  • Advertising
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Your own products and services

Personally, I don’t like advertising (on this blog anyway). It uglifies my blog and intrudes on your attention. You don’t really want to read an article on raster to Cartesian coordinate conversion and half way through that, I ask you if you like a particular brand of cologne, do you? The advertisement will have to be relevant, and my years of writing taught me that is hard for this blog. I’m ok with advertising on my magazine, but I’m skipping ahead about the magazine…

Similarly, product relevance is hard to accomplish here for affiliate marketing. If you’re not familiar with the term, it means you’re selling other people’s products for a commission. The typical rate is 50%, with some Internet marketers offering as high as 75% commission if you successfully sell their products. I write about practically anything under the sun, that doesn’t mean every product is relevant here. (Amazon book recommendations are about the only exception, and only rarely do they fit.)

And I don’t want to write an article talking about a product just so I can make a commission. Even if that article’s well balanced on pros and cons. Even if I disclose beforehand that I get a commission if you buy that product through a link I provide (which has some nifty tracking so that the merchant knows the sale came through me).

The routes of both advertising and affiliate products will subtly influence the way I write my articles. I don’t like that. I want to write articles that you might find interesting and helpful. And if they don’t, hopefully the articles at least made you laugh.

So the final method of making money online making a living through the Internet, which many bloggers are already figuring out, is to sell your own products and services. If I’m going to bombard you with advertisements and product sales pitches, it had better be about my own products and services. In this respect, I consider donations and patronage to be in this category. A donor gives money to you because you sell hope, faith, laughter, or relief from boredom. A patron gives money to you because he supports your work.

What’s the number?

So how much do I need? About US$600 per month. I calculated that as a round number, ignoring fluctuations in US to Singapore dollar conversions (assuming US$1 = S$1.40) and ignoring some miscellaneous expenses, and paring down to survival costs and monthly bills. And almost half of that goes to paying my insurance. Insuring my life and health is slowly killing me. Oh the irony.

A word of advice. If you have a stable job, don’t pile monthly expenses such that if you lose that job, you have difficulty paying for those expenses. Quitting my job might turn out to be the dumbest decision I’ve ever made, but I’m much happier now. We’ll see how it goes…

I’m not asking you to support my work with $600 every month (but it’s so awesome if you do). I’m saying I have a low overhead, and every little bit of support you give goes directly to my survival (other than the small admin fees charged by the payment processor site).

Maybe you find it incredulous that I can survive on US$600 a month. Let me give you an idea of how it works. You might be one of those coffee drinkers who unfailingly visit Starbucks every day. Perhaps you always order a tall latte to go. It might cost you $3.50. That latte you had, after converting to Singapore dollars, is enough to buy me a plate of rice with vegetables and maybe a little bit of meat or egg. I’ll probably even be able to buy a cup of tea (I like teh si siu dai, which is Hokkien for tea and evaporated milk mixed together with less sugar). Your morning drink can buy me dinner.

I have stopped lifting weights. Because lifting weights (and vigorous exercise) raises my already high metabolic rate, and makes me burn energy faster, and makes me eat more to compensate, and up my expenses. There goes my bulging biceps, chiselled chest and daunting deltoids…

My transportation costs are practically zero. I walk. I walk over 3 kilometres a day if I get out of the house. I take the bus only when absolutely necessary (like when it’s raining, or when I have a big bag of groceries). I take the train if the destination is far, and I alight at the nearest train station and then walk.

I’m telling you this because I’m committed to keeping the overhead costs low.

“But you’re not enjoying life”

I’ve gone to bed hungry more than a few times now. I remembered what it’s like to go without satisfying my stomach. (I used to starve to save up money so I could buy video games. ‘Twas long time ago. A story for another time.) It’s not fun.

I walk everywhere. In the drizzling rain or in the bloody murderous hot sun.

Zhai nan

I still try to get out of the house. Otherwise, I’d become a true “zhai nan” (ja-ee nahn). It literally means “house man”. It’s usually used in a derogatory tone, typically describing socially inept males who stay at home whose only form of entertainment is video games or the Internet.

Low social stat

When I go out with my friends (because I still need some kind of social life), I don’t have cake, eat ice cream or even a cup of tea when I’m thirsty. “But you’re not enjoying life.”

The alternative was to go back to a desk-bound job, coding some software that I had no pride in, working with people scared of losing their jobs and clinging to their frozen ideas of what was work like an intravenous drip, not understanding that their soul, their creativity, their life was slowly dripping away nevertheless. Perhaps your job is nothing like that, and you love your job and is happy. Good for you.

What I’m really terrified of, is that I’ll never get a full opportunity to make a positive impact on the world. And so I go hungry sometimes.

My email queries are non-trivial

I’m sure you’ve heard of bloggers who couldn’t answer their emails any more because of the volume. I don’t know the contents of their emails, but I’m pretty sure their replies could be done in a few minutes. I’m not trivialising their problem. Even if a reply takes only 1 minute, at hundreds of emails, you could still spend hours just answering email.

I have a different problem. I have fewer email queries, much fewer. Sometimes the queries come in the form of a comment to an article I wrote. But each of those queries can take me hours to reply. I have to research on the problem, and if there are any solutions already written out there. I have to check if my math is correct. I might have to write a program, and make sure it runs fine. I consolidate the answer into a coherent whole. My email reply is 5 to 10 times longer than the initial email. 5 sentences per email reply is an extremely hard rule to follow.

This is why that quadratic Bézier article was written. Or the 3D cubic version. Or the one on percentage contribution (I had help from Christopher. See below). Or the one on advanced styling in Excel Open XML.

Those were written at the express request for help from some of my readers. Possibly even you. I want to help. It’s just draining on my psyche. And sometimes, I wonder if I’m making an impact at all to better the world.

Even if I had a job and don’t need your patronage, 5 hours per email reply is still too much. The brain cycles and time lost is hard to justify. I want to help. It’s not like I’m helping to pick up an apple that fell out from a person’s bag. It’s not like I’m helping to give directions to a lost traveller (but I suck at giving directions. I’m a road idiot). It’s 5 hours. Unadulterated gratitude can take me only so far for so long.

That said, words of gratitude and feedback and such are still extremely powerful (my blog is known to run on a single “thank you” comment for weeks without needing nourishment).

For anyone who launches a product, who bravely publishes that first book, who records music, who stands up for ideas of any kind — for anyone who performs for an audience without trackable means for people’s happiness — he or she knows the importance of receiving feedback. And a fan letter, invaluable.
– Liz Danzico

You’re actually helping other people

If you become my patron, you’re not just supporting me, but also helping other people then. By keeping me alive, you’re allowing me to come up with coherent, understandable and clear answers that take me 5 hours. By supporting my work, you inspire me to do greater work, which hopefully inspires others to do greater work.

Your patronage will help keep the already free writings on this blog even freer (if there’s such a thing). And speaking of that, I’ve decided to set my magazine free. The next issue of Singularity (August 2010) will be available for free. I’m sure the participants of my survey will be pleased to know that. The main reasons are that more people will benefit from the magazine, and that micropayments don’t really work on the Internet. Here’s a sneak peek at one of the topic’s header graphic:

Vegetarian continuum

My friend Christopher contributed an article for the July 2010 issue. He said, “Vince, I don’t care if no one reads that article. If they want to read it, they have to buy the magazine from you.” (This was why his full article wasn’t in the free preview. He specifically told me to only put it in the paid version.) I’m touched, and really grateful. The magazine was basically a one-man show. Layout, design, photos, images, topic header graphic, articles were all created by me, aside from the cover photo and article contributed by my friends.

When I told Christopher my decision to set the magazine free, I also told him I’d understand if he didn’t want to continue contributing articles. Well, he’s still willing to contribute. But he has a condition. You have to become my patron. He drives a hard bargain…

Christopher wrote 3 books on personal finance. He has strong philosophical grounds and he’s an IT manager. His insights will be useful to you.

Specialists aren’t enough. We also need generalists for our future.

That’s the big idea I’m pushing.

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
– Mahatma Gandhi

I am scared to death at the prospect of having to become a polymath. Do you know how hard that is? That many people think it’s a waste of time? That people tell me to just continue programming (and by implication, only programming), because that’s what I’m apparently good at?

I believe that our future needs generalists. Our future won’t survive the fracturing of knowledge into deeper and deeper specialisation without people who can connect the different spheres of information together. How can they, when their tunnel vision had already excluded the impossible outcomes and the possible ones from their field of vision?

So I’m slowly trying to be a polymath, despite the inherent hardships. To show you, to show the world that we need polymaths, I need to become one.

Be the change I wish to see in the world.

That statement scares the heck out of me. Will you support me in that quest, that vision?

How else can you help

Help me spread the word. My definition of the word “patron” isn’t that narrowly defined. I’m giving my help freely. I’m giving the magazine away freely. I ask that you help me tell other people about it. If you know of anyone supportive of my work, ask if they are interested in being a patron of mine.

Awesome is a by-product

You can also sprinkle “Polymath Programmer” or “Singularity magazine” surreptitiously into your daily conversations.

“Sir, do you want a latte?”
“Polymath Programmer”
“What?”
“Yes, I want a latte.”

“Watch where you’re going, numbskull! Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
“Bugger off.”
“What did you say?”
“Singularity magazine.”
“Huh?”
“I’m sorry.”

And saying “polymath programmer” is easier than “peter piper picked a pair of pickled peppers”… it trains your pronunciation.

And just in case you’re interested, you can be a patron of Polymath Programmer for US$20 per month.

Subscribe

The amount is automatically deducted from your PayPal account every month, and you can stop the payment at any time from your PayPal account. You can find out more on how to support my work by clicking here. Thanks! (drat, I used another exclamation mark…)

(psst… and remember to slip the words “polymath programmer” or “singularity magazine” into your conversations. Or ask supportive people to be my patrons. You’re an awesome person.)

If you miss, little else matters

I’ve played 2 more game sessions since I last failed at rolling dice. I’m starting to get the hang of playing Dungeons and Dragons. In case you’re not a D&D person, I’ll keep most of the deep references out.

Here’s my general observation: It’s actually very easy to miss. Generally speaking, in a neutral setting, where there are no bonuses to hit, the percentage to hit range from 20% to 40%. Let me give you an example.

Suppose our hero fighter is engaged in battle with a kobold minion. He swings his sword at the kobold as a melee attack. In DnD terms, this means to roll 15 or higher on a d20, 15 being the kobold’s armour class (or AC). In mathematical terms, that’s a 6 out of 20 chance of hitting, or 30% chance.

And most of the hit rolls are like this. The most one could hope for, was to need to roll only an 11 or higher on a d20. That’s a slightly less than 50% chance to hit. And that’s the best case scenario.

My experience with video game role playing games was that, you issue an attack and it hits. Usually. Most of the time. I’ve never found the use of support skills or spells significant. I would cast a protection spell to reduce the amount of damage, and that would be the extent.

So I was in a bit of a quandary when playing Dungeons and Dragons. I like magical stuff. The characters wielding magic are controller types, meaning they can deal damage to multiple enemies but do less damage. They are supposed to slow the enemies, daze them, teleport them, immobilise them, lower their defenses, increase their vulnerability and so on. Basically supportive skills.

Now for my previous game, I was offered help in creating a character. So I took it, and let the helper create whatever he deemed fit. And I got a character geared towards those supportive skills. I thought, “Interesting. I thought boosting damage might be better. Oh well.”

And I truly saw the error of my ways for that game. The enemies had super high defenses. The miss rate was like 70% or 80%. Until the bonuses started to stack.

We had 6 players (which was large), and we buffed the 1 or 2 players with high damage. Because if we didn’t, we would never get any of the enemies killed, because we would never hit them. A +1 to your next attack roll, a -2 to the enemy’s defense, a +2 because of that power, a +2 because I used mine.

As for me, I shone at one particular part, where a few enemies bunched up together, and my spell disintegrated them in one shot. Ok, maybe not all of them, but it cleared most of them. Because it allowed the other players to concentrate on that demon with tons of hit points.

And for the last battle, the buffing really helped. There was this ranger, who could hit using two weapons with one of his skills. After we buffed him, he was able to hit with anything better than 1 (because a 1 was an automatic miss). He hit, and started rolling dice for damage. I believe he needed to roll 6 d10’s (and an additional d6 or d8 because he had a critical hit). After stacking all his damage bonuses, he dealt 73 points of damage. He simply needed to hit.

So from the few games I played, I finally realised the power of team work in DnD. As the characters I favoured, I was to harass the enemies, and disrupt them from harassing my team members. My job was to make it harder for the enemy, and make it easier for us to destroy them. My supportive skills are crucial to this.

Because if my team members miss the enemy, little else matters.