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Walking from Los Angeles to San Diego

Long distance urban walking. Why? That’s what Deborah Vankin, a writer from the L.A. Times asked me as she was considering a story about it for their weekend newspaper edition. It’s a good thing it didn’t run in the end, since it would have been for the “wellness” section. Not only did Vankin get sick, I am so far away from being your Saturday morning model of wellness, the LA Times would be better off simply imploding.  “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” – Samuel Becket 

Walking is very different from hiking imo. I see hiking as setting out into the wilderness on a trail, where a primary goal, for me, is to get away from society and get into the beauty of nature. My favorite hikes around Colorado are on top of the Continental Divide above the timber line. Hiking along a ridge on the tundra in the summer is about as good as it gets.

Walking through a city on the other hand, or from town to town, can involve stopping for a smoothie, meeting with friends, passing through a museum, sleeping in comfortable houses and hotels, and generally, making up your own route to go wherever you want. It’s trail-less. There are no rules on how to walk somewhere until you set them for yourself.

I’m especially compelled to walk as a sport for the lack of gear that you need. Some people get caught up in their gear, but with walking, you only need shoes, really. Though what you bring along can be super light and practically gear-less. Generally, with walking, you can go many more places across much more terrain than any other mode of transportation, and you can stop to get what you need along the way as you might need it.

THE ROUTE FROM LA TO SD

I did it twice. The first time I walked it in parts, walking from the Santa Monica pier to the Hunnington Beach pier before I went back to Boulder to regroup. I didn’t know it at the time but my shoe laces were tied too tight and they restricted the flex around my talus. I returned to the Huntington Beach pier and walked to Oceanside, felt as if I had it figured out, and then on a third leg walked from Oceanside to downtown San Diego.

Then I returned a few months later to do the entire stretch in one walk, from Santa Monica Pier to downtown San Diego in five consecutive days:

Monday – 34 miles – Santa Monica to Long Beach 
Tuesday – 34 miles – Long Beach to Laguna Beach
Wednesday – 26 miles – Laguna Beach to Oceanside
Thursday – 16 miles – Oceanside to Encinitas
Friday – 30 miles – Encinitas to Downtown San Diego

Thirty miles in one day is admittedly not your normal, regular walking distance I’m expecting everyone can easily do. I have a few takes on this. You could probably do it, by building up to it pretty quickly, but why bother setting such a goal? The miles per day was part of my own personal challenge. Just because. Instead of walking 30 miles a day in 5 days, you could set a goal for this same trip of 15-20 miles a day over 7 days. Another idea is to do just 5-10 miles a day and allow yourself to take transportation preplanned, when you get tired, or want to move along. It doesn’t have to be a challenge, if you make it more like a walking vacation you could be more free.

PLANNING

One of the joys of this walk was not knowing where I would end up each day. The limitation was more about pace and sunlight. I got going each morning between 6-7 AM and ended within an hour or so after dusk. Walking in the dark on this route was never comfortable so I rarely did it. At some point after Noon each day I could get a good idea of how far I could make it and that’s when I started to search for an AirBnB or hotel. I found that AirBnbs are limited in this area of California due to ordinances. I also found that many AirBnBs and hotels lower their prices late on the day of which worked to my advantage. Considering that lodging is the only significant expense for the week, if you set your budget to allow yourself a bit more breathing room, you won’t end up wasting your time nit picking places or having to go too far off route.

WALKING ON THE SAND

Despite the romantic idea that you’ll take off your shoes and walk the shoreline barefoot on the sand, you probably wont be be able to do that for too long unless your feet are already leather from having done it for some time. If you are not used to walking on sand long distances, after just one-to-two hours, your bare feet are likely to begin developing sores and blisters from the sandpaper action. I believe the ideal for long distance walking on the beach is to wear your shoes and socks and keep them dry, walking just feet above tide line. When a wave comes up, and then recedes, the area it recedes from becomes hard and is generally more level. It’s not as if you have to constantly doge the waves, they come in sets and tend to rarely make their way to the upper edges of the highest lines. Most beaches do slope toward the water, too, which can be uncomfortable to keep a pace on, and it’s hard to find a fully flat beach. Many of the beaches in Southern California on this route were far too sloped to be enjoyable, so in those cases I headed back up to the boardwalk or neighborhood streets. Many of the beaches were great and the slope was minor.

Do you need to walk on the sand at all? No, with the possible exception of one long stretch  north of Oceanside, but walking on cement is much harder on your feet and legs, so walking on the sand sometimes can be helpful.

The biggest difference of all, I’ve noticed, between hiking long distance and walking long distance, is exactly this aspect of being on cement, and the extra wear over the same time frame. Having done mostly hiking in my life, I wasn’t aware of the significant differences of trying to walk long distance over several days on the cement vs. natural earth ground until more recently. After the five days of walking this route, due to the amount of cement I did walk on, my lower legs were sore and it took a complete week of resting after the journey before they were back to normal.

It’s also worth noting that even on the best beach walking conditions, I found that for the same effort, my pace is simply slower on sand. At times when I felt I was flying, really trying to keep a fast pace, which for me is a 16-17 min mile, I checked my pace and found it to be closer to 18 or 19 on the sand for the same effort.

WHATS IN YOUR BAG

Admittedly, I do have my little set of walking “gear”.  My backpack,  shoes,  iPhone, and rain jacket are what matter to me.

Clothes: Walking in Southern California has some advantages, e.g. you probably don’t need a coat. You don’t need to pack any meals because there will almost always be options nearby. You don’t need to pack for every day because you can walk by a laundry mat and wash your clothes, or buy extra clothes if in need. Even in the summer on my first walk on this route when it was warmest, I preferred long pants in the morning until about 10 or 11am. I carried an extra thin fleece pullover that doubled as a towel.

Rain Jacket: I carried an ultralight rain jacket that keeps me dry even in a downpour. The rain jacket is one of the best clothing items I’ve ever bought. It’s an Arc’teryx Zeta SL, 2-layers of N40r GORE-TEX PACLITE PLUS and only 10 ounces. I’ve worn it in the most intense mountain storms and it kept me 100% dry, despite being so light, and regardless of how much time I spend in the rain.

Shoes: I had one pair of shoes, the shoes I was wearing. Hoka Stinson ATR 6. I love these shoes so much. Seriously, I could cry.

Pack: I want to be as light as possible, that’s my goal with my bag and gear. For a typical day-trip, I would rather take a small trail running vest. I have a 17 OZ Camelback Zepher which is my first choice, and for this trip I took my Black Diamond Distance 22 OZ vest backpack. 

Electronics: It would be easy to take an iPhone for granted these days if not for the cost, but I mean, come on. Nineteen billion transistors in my pocket. Eleven trillion operations per second. Realtime GPS and maps, answers from a connected oracle like ChatGPT,  pace calculations, satellite emergency communications, weather charts, camera with optical zoom and night vision, phone, web.

Aside from my iPhone the only accessories I brought were a battery (Anker 10,000mah/20w), AirPods, and AirTags. The Anker battery is the size and weight of a phone and can fast charge an iPhone around two times, so it was easy to get through a day with heavy iPhone use. I put one airtag in my backpack and one in my wallet. I didn’t listen to music or books, but I used the AirPods for noise cancellation when walking in industrial areas or beside busy streets.

Other: I have a an ice bag and filled it with ice (or filled it with water and froze it in a freezer) each night, and then put it on my feet when I was falling asleep. That was pretty hard to do because obviously it makes you cold, but it worked as a preventative. When I didn’t use it I was sore the next day, when I did use it I wasn’t. Simple. I brought a small water sealable bag that fit my electronics and my wallet in case I wanted to swim somewhere.

APPS

I look at maps ahead of time, but I mostly play it by ear, using the maps on my phone as I go, planing out my immediate route while I walk.

All Trails – Records every step of the way and best to see what’s just ahead for possible trails, walkways and to discover passages and blockages that might not be apparent on other maps. You can also battery-save with AllTrails by putting your phone in airplane mode to preserve charge while the GPS tracker continues to work.

Walkmeter – Records every step and keeps track of the most statistics; good for monitoring real-time pace. Nice safety share features and auto pings to let friends know where you are. 

Google Maps – Good for finding hotels and hotspots. Also useful in unison with All Trails when determining routes.

ChatGPT – Best travel guide ever. Great for getting questions answered for things you wonder about or have never seen.

AirBnb / Google Travel –  Find places to stay.

Wallet App – Tap to pay is not always accepted. Having a physical ATM card is recommended, however, an easy work around to get cash from your phone is to make a purchase at a grocery store and ask for cash back.

Photo App – Duh.

Voice Memos – The “Voice Memo” app adds your location by default to the notes, so you can make notes to yourself about your location without knowing where you are.

Do you need a tide chart? You can obviously grab that from a Google search in the moment if you need to. I found one for the week and screengrabbed it to my phone to index as it stopped me from wondering if the tide was coming in or out as I walked, but I didn’t feel I needed it. There were a few times I wanted to pass on the beach when the tide was too high, but I was going to walk in the direction I was going to walk, and if the tide was too high, or cliffs prevented passage, so be it, I just walked on the sidewalks instead.

OBSERVATIONS

DAY 1: Santa Monica to Long Beach

Starting at Santa Monica Pier early in the morning and heading south is a nice start with a classic California sunrise. As the paved path along the sand waves through Santa Monica, and becomes the boardwalk of Venice Beach, I was astounded to see Harry Perry out for a jog, in tip top condition, considering I saw him all the way back in the late 1980’s roller-skating around the same boardwalk playing guitar with an amp on his back. Venice beach is the height of American Weird. Little known facts: I went to USC in Los Angeles for my first year in college and later got engaged on Venice Beach. I also stayed with Xeni Jardin for a bit when she lived in Venice.  

Next door is Muscle Beach which is no less of a weird place and then near the end of the boardwalk, you can cut up through Venice Canals.

From there make your way around Marina Del Ray, the largest boat harbor in North America by slips, almost 5000. It’s for sure a bubble onto itself.

On the south side of Marina Del Rey is Playa Del Ray, and depending on the tide, it might be a good time to hit the sand and walk through to El Segundo on the beach.

The stretch from Marina Del Rey to Manhattan Beach is extremely industrial. You are surrounded by industry. Oil drilling, tankers, container ports, refineries,  and18 wheelers all around town. Manhattan Beach is like a bubble in the industrial zone with quiet neighborhoods and a pristine sea-side jogging boardwalk, though, when you are on Manhattan Beach itself, you are going to see oil rigs and commercial ships. The industrial faction hits hard all the way through Long Beach and it isn’t until Huntington that I felt I might have made my way out of it, mostly, but ultimately Laguna Beach is the very first beach that is fully outside of the heavy industry zone that I could see and feel.

The smog often turns the mountains to the east into a murky white silhouette or hides them completely. The smog also makes its way across the entire horizon of the ocean. In addition to the natural surroundings of Los Angeles that trap smog in a bowl, the shipping containers coming into the Los Angeles and Long Beach area make for an enormous amount of pollution. Sometimes I couldn’t even see Catalina Island as a result of all the smog. The industrial nature is interesting to walk through and see as somewhat of a day one. It’s easy to block out when you want due to the beauty and weather of the area. I felt lucky to be able to walk along this precious land with precious temperatures where people make the best of it untroubled.

Perhaps the biggest point of consideration for which route you may want to take for this first stretch comes between Redondo and Long Beach. I tried two different ways. 

The first time I b-lined through Torrence and Carson. This was all neighborhoods and industrial areas. I often wound up walking along busy streets with heavy factory smells and noises. The second time I walked more along the borders of Palo Verdes and found it much more calm with a good portion of soft ground dirt trails that run alongside the neighborhoods. People love horses around this area. I walked by an uncountable number of homes where people had horses on their properties. 

A third option, if you want to see the cliffs and homes of Palo Verde would be to add an extra 8-10 miles to your route and walk along and around the cliffs beside the ocean.

DAY 2: Long Beach to Laguna Beach

Walking towards Huntington you find a pleasant boardwalk, lots of dogs, and surfers. If you have a dog and also surf, this would be a good consideration for your time. It’s the largest area of beach front I’ve seen that allows dogs. There were some significant waves here that brought a lot of surfers both times I walked through. On my second pass I asked one surfer who had just come in how tall the waves were. He said it was a good day. He said it gets bigger but at about 5 feet they were as big as they needed to be. A few minutes later I asked another surfer, who said 4-5 feet. He said the following day would be bigger due to a storm rolling in, maybe up to 7 feet. 

I’ve noticed that surfers are much more showy on their wipeouts than I’ve seen in past times. While it’s true you want to get away from your board when you’re about to wipe out hard, the way many surfers tended to fly over the waves appeared to be a big part of the sport I hadn’t seen as being so common in past times – reaching out into flight – with some significant intent and effort that was worth it’s entertainment value for those of us watching from afar.

The beaches along Huntington are not that wide, and considering the PCH rolls close to it, it’s not ideal in my opinion, and there is still an oil rig out front, though you definitely get a feeling that you are mostly out of the industrial area of the greater Los Angeles metroplex and that such elements can be easier to block out anyway, for your enjoyment of an area, as you know, is in your own control. 

SUPER73

The bike trails along the ocean in Southern California are now predominantly electric in a way that defines a new era. There are way more electric bikes than non, and that to me indicates a positive shift, for many of the people exercising and joyriding along the paths would likely not be doing so without motor assist. It opens up the joy to a greater number of people to go longer distances, and to use their bikes to commute around town.

The bike style which once predominantly included three types of bikes (beach cruiser, road bike, and mountain bike), is now dominated by a newer style, one that takes its design from the 1970’s mini-bike genera, a bike which originally had a combustion engine and fit into the motorcycle category. I happen to know what happened here, for I both had mini bikes when I was a kid, and because this new fad was the result of a single kickstarter project I followed in 2016, introducing what is now the world renown Super73, an electric-bike version of the early 1970’s mini-bike design.

My Super73 Z-1 in Boulder

The founder video documented building his company from scratch in realtime, originally flying from California to a factory he found in China where he initially created his frames and assembled the bikes. Now he has his own factory in California. While I didn’t get my Super73 from his Kickstarter project, I bought the first model afterwards, the Z-1, and still ride it today around Boulder. What I love the most about it is how low to the ground it is, and thus how stable and fun it is to zip around town. The seat on my model is long so I can easily pump my son to school. Super73 is by far the most popular bike in Southern California for beach cruising with teenagers and twenty-somethings, and now there are dozens of popular brands that have mimicked the Super73 style for all ages. The typical single gear, classic beach cruiser is becoming dwarfed now by the electric mini-bikes on the bike paths throughout this region.

Newport is a family town that has nice beaches, a lot of boating, and fun activities around the streets. On my first walk through Newport I became so sucked in to the fun zone that I unwittingly killed my rule on this trip of no transportation. The Balboa ferry seemed so cool I couldn’t help it, and I took it for the five minutes it takes to cross San Diego Creek. Maybe it was worth it. On my second trip I duly walked around the channel and did not fall into that trap. It’s for sure a bubble onto itself.

As you transition into Laguna, it’s a good idea not to do it in the dark imo, because you need to walk along streets and over bridges that have too narrow of a walking area up against the cars which are going way too fast without great visibility. The legitimate walkway for pedestrians over these bridges are too uncomfortable at night because the slightest mistake of a car could cause you to be knocked over the bridge into the water from too high up, while the beaches and trails in this area are too dangerous to walk alone at night. The neighborhoods around this point are often private and gated with no access. There is room to have protected sidewalks in most places where there are not any, so this is pretty lame of Laguna. If I had to rate walkability for the various towns along the way, Laguna is by far the worst. It has some stellar walk ways too, but they are limited in length and place. As for thru-routes to walk, it’s the bottom of the barrel.

In one area on the north end of Laguna I stopped and asked a security guard in a gated complex why everyone in front of their buildings park in the bike lanes, since there isn’t a sidewalk, thus causing pedestrians and bikers to be out in the street and he noted that the city passed a new plan to add walkways soon.  Unfortunately though, South Laguna is even worse with disregard for walking through the town. While they might argue they have places to walk, there is no where to walk to, because you can’t, unless it’s in the middle of traffic or you have pre-purchased access. My comments are merely observations, relative to the rest of Southern California’s sea-side towns on this route.

Meanwhile, if you take your time to find them, Laguna has some of the most gorgeous beaches in all of Southern California. The main beach has such a nice happy-go-lucky vibe to it, it’s like an impressionistic painting from a summer day picnic in a park in Paris, but for America, today. It’s for sure a bubble onto itself. And the shorelines to the north meander with quaint walkways to stroll the day’s views from sand or cliff. There is a trolly that goes from North Laguna, to South Laguna to Dana Point in case you visit the area and are not walking, or want to use that to help with your walk through.

As with many beaches in all of Southern California, many of the beaches to the south and into South Laguna are tiny bays at the bottom of cliffs, accessible from a set of stairs tucked away in a neighborhood that leads down to the water. The experience of walking through a neighborhood and then coming upon an unexpected public stairwell that leads down to the water is one my favorite little aspects of beach life as a visitor in this state. My favorite stairwells are lined with flowers and greenery that hang over from the yards of the neighbors.

DAY 3: Laguna Beach to Oceanside

This stretch is the most wild and dystopian. It has the most preserved land, includes a path past a defunct nuclear power plant, has the most beautiful beaches in my opinion, has the most isolated beaches, while it flanks and confronts secret military operations.

If you plan to make this walk, the most important note in my entire article is this section on Camp Pendleton and how to get past it while walking, if it is even passable. I did it once but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do it again. My second attempt trying an alternative route failed. This was the single stress point of the entire walk, both times, since they create a seemingly impassible section of Southern California for walkers.

To get through Camp Pendleton, it comes down to a 7.5 mile stretch, with legal and rightful passage on the shoulder of the 5 Freeway for bikes, one of the most dangerous places to ride a bike in America I presume, however it is illegal to walk on that same shoulder, and thus for the 7.5 miles just north of Oceanside Harbor exit, you will probably not be able to walk it. You can call an Uber or taxi to pick you up for this stretch, if you are unable to make it on the beach. I did make it walking on the beach, all the way through.

HOW I MADE IT THROUGH CAMP PENDLETON 

I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation my first time when I made the pass. After walking through the San Onofre State Beach, the California Coastal Trail (CCT) continues on the beach to the the south. Since this is the last place to park to access the beach before Oceanside not too many people are willing to walk so far, on the CCT so there is a vast swath of gorgeous, isolated beach for miles and miles that has almost no one there.

As you can see on the AllTrails map above (link to map), the publicly accessible CCT then comes to an abrupt end just south of Pendleton Airport which is quite a ways down. The CCT does continue in name but is private and thus off-limits, and presumably, the whole zone is private, e.g. you can’t expect walking from the beach right through the Pendleton Airport would be fine.

There is a concept which shouldn’t be taken for granted in practice as a federal law to apply to all areas, but that conveys generally, that no one in America can own a beach along the ocean lower than the high-tide line. For example, there are beachfront properties in California that can be owned which include the beach itself, such that walking on the beach would be trespassing, but only up to the high-tide line. Anywhere lower is conceptually free and open. “Conceptually” being the key word here, for there are a lot of variables and conditions in actual practice.

When at the end of the CCT, expecting to find signs in the sand, or gates, I never found anything. There was no indication of any kind that I was at the end of a trail or couldn’t continue on, so I continued. Keeping in mind this general rule (i.e. hope) for the free shore, I walked literally lower than the high tide line and never for a moment wondered off higher. The beach was practically flat, and extremely wide, consequently the best beach I had experienced for walking. After a bit continuing on the beach towards Oceanside, a small boat about 300 yards out from the shore appeared and after about 30 minutes I concluded definitively that it was following me, since it was going my exact pace, less than 3 miles per hour, and it was staying exactly inline and parallel with me. 

This continued for about an hour and a half. I must say, it was a bit scary at a certain point when I realized it was following me. But then also, it wasn’t scary. I was walking, the boat was following, but it was not coming to get me, or tell me to go back despite being closer to the north side when we began. It was allowing me. So I eventually concluded that while I may have been perceived as a possible threat, they may have been simply monitoring to be sure. Had I cut up from the beach at some point, that could have been a problem I gathered, but so long as I was walking and staying on the tide line, and in view of this boat, I felt safe.

As I looked ahead on my map I wondered what would happen when I reached the Santa Margarita River where it becomes an estuary with the Pacific. Along this journey, sometimes estuaries are easily passible by taking off your shoes and rolling up your pants, but sometimes they are much too wide and deep and require swimming, which I would be willing to do if I had to, but would typically prefer to go around. In some places even if you want to swim, it can be illegal, due to boat traffic coming through a channel, e.g. you are not allowed to swim across the Marina Del Ray passage and must walk some extra miles as a result.

When I arrived at the estuary with the Santa Margarita River, it was wide but there was an area that appeared to be passable at around knee high. I took off my shoes and put my phone and wallet in my water case inside my bag and began walking across but it dropped off suddenly and I ended up doggie paddling for a few moments with just my head above the water. As I dried off on the other side and carried on, apparently I was no longer a threat as the boat then turned back. I was quite close to the end. 

I continued on along the beach for about 30 minutes and eventually could see a crowd of people on the beach with their kids, beach umbrellas and it was completely packed. In one way I knew I was finally going to make it back into civilization but when I squinted I saw what appeared to be a few people dressed in full clothes standing there at the line watching me walk towards them, as if they might be guards and I wondered if they were there waiting to question or arrest me. That turned out to not be the case, there were no people with any uniforms after all, and as I crossed over the line into the family zone back into civilian land, I turned around to see that a sign said the area was not assessable by order of a particular commander in Camp Pendleton

As I glided past the families and became one of them, free, I thought, I realized that the beach was itself a private beach that was actually inside of Camp Pendleton. I was in the military zone that was only accessible to military families –  Del Mar Pendleton Beach. I walked out of the beach, through the parking lots, and into the neighborhood which seemed like any other neighborhood but it was all military housing. Eventually as I walked along the sidewalk of Santa Fe Road, just north of Harbor Rd I came to a guard’s gate to exit the camp though fortunately, the gate was only for people and cars entering, not exiting, so I never had to explain and walked right past with a smile and a wave. 

As for the beach area, perhaps they do sometimes put up fences and signs on the north end of the camp. Quite frankly, this should be the de fact route that pedestrians should be allowed to walk. Bikes have their route through, this is a good route for pedestrians and they should open it up for passing in my opinion. All in all, I do not recommend taking this route without additional research and a legitimate pass/ok from Camp Pendleton, primarily because I think it could be dangerous depending on what type of activity may be going on at the time. I think I may have just gotten lucky that they weren’t busy when I passed through. I do think they should put up signs and gates on the north end though, if they don’t want people to pass.

The second time I found myself at Camp Pendleton on an alternate route, the experience was different. I did more research this time before making the attempt, but I still don’t have an answer on the legality of passing. I’ve contacted many people and departments including Camp Pendleton offices, police departments in Oceanside and San Clemente, California Highway Patrol, California Welcome Centers in Oceanside and San Clemente, and so far, not one person could give a definitive answer about walking the beach below high tide line, or through the zone I entered into this second time. The information I got for this route was from bike shops around Dana Point and San Clemente.

Multiple bike shop owners told me that when you get to the southern end of the parking lot at San Onofre State Beach, you can enter into Camp Pendleton via the Old Pacific Highway Bike Trail (close up of entrance).

North gate to the old PCH

They said people bike south to the Las Pulgas exit on the 5 (close upand then continue on to Oceanside for the 7.5 miles alongside the shoulder of the 5. They also said that many bikers park at the Las Pulgas exit and then bike north up to San Clemente.

Bikers parked at the south gate to the old PCH

So I decided to take the Old Pacific Highway Trail south to Las Pulgas but had I not heard from enough bikers that did it,  I would not have carried on through the the gates seen above, out of the fear of the signs at these gates.

At the northern gate, there was no one there. A fence was lined along the road as you can see in my screengrab above, so no car could get through, but there was an intentional opening for bikes to ride through. It was not cut fence, and there was no temporary closeable gate, it was open on purpose and fit a bike but not a car. The problem was the sign there. This is what it said: 

WARNING
US MARINE CORPS
PROPERTY
AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY
AUTHORIZED ENTRY
ON TO THIS INSTALLATION CONSTITUTES CONSENT TO SEARCH
OFPERSONNEL AND PROPERTY UNDER THEIR CONTROL

Was I authorized?

But what were the consequences here of not being authorized? There was no warning of a felony or fine. Might I be due for a search? I was prepared to be searched, and the gate was open, though I did not see any bikers coming or going at the time. While I wasn’t authorized, I was in the know. 

Not only was the gate for bikes open, the bike path painted on the road was fresh. As I entered and began walking signs were posted on the west side that warned of trespassing beyond the sign, which indicated to me that I was not trespassing on my side of the sign, and the train tracks were on the east side.

When I arrived at the Las Pulgas gate, there was no one guarding it. It was the same as the north with its opening for bikes and a sign warning authorized personnel only. It was dark and pouring rain. A California Highway Patrol car was there on break. The officer rolled down his window, looked me up and down and was like wtf? I asked him how to get to Oceanside on foot and he said there wasn’t a way, and was kind enough to give me a courtesy ride to the Harbor exit in Oceanside. Along the way he noted that he himself had brought up to his department the fact that there is no way to pass for pedestrians as a problem, and he confirmed that bikers are legally allowed to ride on the shoulder of the 5, but pedestrians are not allowed to walk. Indeed there is a sign on the 5 for cars that notes bikes on shoulder. 

If I ever do anything remarkable enough with my life to warrant some infrastructure, or should I die from being hit by a car, I hope you will make a waking path that connects San Onofre with Oceanside. If it’s cash strapped, at least add a path to walk next to the 5.

DAY 4: Oceanside to Encinitas

Waking up in Oceanside after the stress of passing Pendleton, I felt truly over the hump. I was going to make it to San Diego without any more obstacles. As you might expect, Oceanside itself is filled with active and inactive military duty culture that serves the camp. If you decide to vacation in Oceanside, you can count on the beaches and streets being filled with military families, police, and private watch groups. It’s for sure a bubble onto itself.

Walking out of Oceanside to the south you come through Carlsbad which is notable for its lagoons, family shopping and proximity to Lego Land. The beaches are nice though also quite narrow while skirting closely to the PCH and train tracks.

DAY 5: Encinitas to San Diego

Encinitas seems great for surfers. Most of the beaches are pebble beaches instead of sand. There is a nice mix of nature and culture, and the vibe of the town, particularly the social center along the PCH between A and I streets, is the mom and pop style of America that I love. It’s a walkable, surfable, cruise around on your bike type of place, though granted, just one of many awesome places along the way where its too hard to pick a single favorite. The people I spoke with described a noticeably more Boulder-like approach to living, working, and social politics.

This part of the walk takes you on through multiple universities where some of the most important oceanography research in the world is happening, through La Jolla which is one of my favorite areas in all of Southern California, and then into Mission Beach and Ocean Beach which are great sub-cultures for being so close into such a large city like San Diego.

There is a feature along this part that strikes fear into locals, the climb up Torrey Pines. I can’t tell you how many people asked me if I was going to walk up Torrey Pines. “Ah, you walking up Torrey Pines??”. “How about Torrey Pines! You doing Torrey Pines?!” Funny enough, the walk up Torrey Pines is about what people in Boulder do each day on snack break, it’s just not that big deal of a deal at all. In case you are wondering if you can do it, e.g. if I’m being unfair or exaggerating, just as I was walking up the second time, there was a Susan G. Komen breast cancer walk along side me. Fifteen hundred people walked up Torrey Pines as part of a 60 mile, 3-day.

La Jolla has a special place in my heart because my roommate from college lived in La Jolla and we hung out around there alot. It’s so beautiful. Excellent tide pooling, beautiful beaches, lovely neighborhoods as well. It’s for sure a bubble onto itself.

 

If you check out my pace on the map you can see the last miles for me were the hardest. My legs were sore and I was dragging. I opted for an alternate route which was more commercial and less interesting but it was quicker and more straight forward. It shaved off a few miles. When I arrived at the final point in central downtown San Diego next to the train station, I didn’t feel the kind of euphoria or emotion one might typically feel after crossing such a finish line. Maybe because of how easy it was. I felt shy and privileged, like it wasn’t fair that I got to do it. Sand like diamonds on the soles of my shoes. 

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Bluesky and the AT Protocol

A NON DEVELOPERS GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING AND USING THE AT PROTOCOL, AND WHY THERE IS HOPE

I’ve kept up with all the public information I could find about Bluesky’s intentions into open source and open protocols, but it wasn’t until I was able to login for the first time and see it for myself that it all clicked.

THE PROTOCOL, THE COMPANY

The philosophy of an open protocol and the cultural good it can bring is a topic dear to my heart, and I’m pleased to write this article about my findings, since I conclude the AT Protocol seems to be a surprising and brilliant design, perfectly positioned to become adopted, and that it could level us up safely out of the Web 2.0 silo buzz feed hell we just escaped out of alive, circa 2023, post-pandemic recovery.

Please bear with any shortcomings in how I attempt to describe what is boiling up, I’ve not been so blown away in a while and it’s still sinking in for me what has been built by Bluesky so far.

The beauty of an open protocol is that it’s just what it sounds like: an open method for doing something. Nothing more.

It’s a way of saying, with what we have, how about everyone do it this way? Anyone can introduce a protocol in any form or fashion, but getting others to adopt the protocol is typically the difficult part, for there must be an *incentive*.

When Chris Messina introduced the hashtag concept, it was a quintessential example of the introduction of a simple open protocol. He explained the rules (use the # in specific ways), said that these are the rules he would follow, and he invited anyone else to do the same. It wasn’t forced, it was the other way around. It was an open idea that anyone could use. If someone wanted to come along and use the # themselves, or change the protocol to two ##, go right ahead. The incentive in the case of adoption with the hashtag was undeniably simple practicality.

The AT Protocol has a set of instructions for everyone to follow that are obviously exponentially more complex, but it’s the same open concept throughout. Specifically, the AT Protocol provides a method for how to use different languages to handle things like pushing or pulling the titles and text bodies of posts back and forth between two points (e.g. between my website and Bluesky data, or posts between my website and yours), or how to get the number of followers of someone given their handle, how to get replies, authentication for the login – all the stuff you need to make your own social media app or whatever tool you want, but essentially just to connect up, get all the data and then make your version available in an open exchange. It’s notable that the bar to entry is so low for someone to create somewhat of a copy-cat app to Bluesky and if something bad happened to Bluesky, people could move to the other cool person’s app.

As I hope to show below, it’s quite a bit smoother and way more powerful than that, with a lot of reasons why you would use multiple apps, and how that might look, considering there is already a Bluesky-inspired app store, and you can join it for free, all you need is a browser.  No one controls the store, its called https://

To clarify then what’s involved, the AT Protocol (Authenticated Transfer Protocol) is the name given to the new open-source protocol that is being introduced and built by Bluesky. Bluesky is a different thing, it’s a for-profit company. It just so happens the company is gifting the protocol (the instructions with their vision in mind), and they are saying what Chris said, which is that if you want to do it this way, go right ahead, this is how they are going to do it. They built it their way and unleashed it into the wild. Now their private company Bluesky which uses it, acts as an example of what you can do.

THE FIREHOSE

The firehose refers to the single real-time stream of all the users, posts, and their metadata, and it’s easy to visualize as the name suggests the reality. It’s what your feed would look like if you followed every single public user on the platform, and then set your timeline to start streaming it all including all the replies and media in real-time.

The Bluesky app is said to have ~ 60,000 people atm, which would be a complete blur just as the water stream of a firehose would be with that kind of flow and pressure you would have up against your glasses, and yet still minuscule enough for someone at home to ingest and work with it off a laptop, where they are, now, writing code doing cool stuff with it.

To see what’s going on statistically, for example, if you wanted to know about hate speech, you wouldn’t need a tiny sample to then infer what your conclusion might be at scale, you could come up with a definitive, exact answer if you have the whole data set from the firehose.

You can also verify that a platform like Bluesky is continuing a good business. If they say they are not throttling, but the data isn’t in the firehose, well how would they explain that? I’ve always noticed that access to the firehose worked well as a gold standard for determining what is actually open.

And especially you can dip in a grab specific things when needed, like just the history of one public account on the internet, like going to a website and reading a page.

TAKE NOTE. History, culture, and finance suggest the firehose will not be open for long, for Bluesky (the company) is a business, so they are most likely to turn it off and sell access to their data. It would be an unusual philanthropic gift if they do keep the firehose open.  It would make them one of the greatest social good organizations of all time if they left it free even if they had some public-good rules they required that you follow to use it. It would for sure be a global sensation if it remains open, and a town square signal would emerge clearly, as clear as it is today on Bluesky in a town of just 50,000. If, and more likely, when they turn it off, it won’t necessarily be de-facto evil and under the conditions we are talking about here, can be okay without spoiling the greater dream. It’s a business model step that, with bad intentions leads to enshitification but being crummy in this environment leads to extinction and more support for the developers who are supporting something worthwhile.

If ever it was worth stopping for a moment to consider a proposition, I think now is the time to point out, with both foresight and in retrospect, that Elon Musk’s biggest mistake with twitter of all the mistakes was killing the API for in so doing, he did the most damage in destroying the ecosystem. It was akin to turning the Amazon forest into the Sahara Desert in three weeks and then running the exact opposite way that we are going here.

We’ll see what happens with Bluesky. Upon turning off the firehose and going mainstream with the population base, they are likely to open up a limited API as a replacement to their firehose to offer more of a drip instead. They’ll likely offer a free level of API service for the young at heart and turn the spigot on a bit more for Fortune 500 enterprise sales. Then the big guns and I do mean guns like Microsoft and Facebook have to use a phone for the “Call Us Now” prices.

In so doing, in the longer run, small companies and developers would be priced out of the big data set, and for example, when it comes to getting the data (say for LLMs), the big companies like Google & Facebook would be able to afford to say they are justified to boot because they are regulating us. That’s one of the material factors that would lead Web 3.0 more quickly back in the wrong direction of centralized proprietary silos.

It certainly would be disappointing if Bluesky does that for we can regulate ourselves with elected officials we can hold accountable, we shouldn’t have to have forced bros. But it’s completely expected the firehose will be off soon but in a way that doesn’t necessarily trap us into that destiny of evil because another outstanding feature of the potential behind this setup Jack has orchestrated is that it’s already bigger than him now.

THE WEB APPS

If Bluesky enshitificates, we can simply not log in over there anymore. Just log in to one of your other apps you’ll probably have soon. For example, check out Flat, a minimal and clean Bluesky client that is using the AT Protocol:

To use it, you don’t need an app, just go to their website and log in with your Bluesky credentials, and you’re in, no setup or anything. Perhaps you might like Tokomeki.

You can simply go there and log in with your Bluesky credentials and get your stream in the form of the associated images. If you follow a lot of artists and photographers you might choose this site to log in to each day.

How about the Chrome extension already in the Google store?

It’s beautiful.

I didn’t log in to this one below but I have a good feeling it helps to illustrate what is happening with this ecosystem already:

If “The Blue” site above suits your purposes, wouldn’t if feel refreshing to pay them $8 directly on their website without them having to give half to Apple? The *incentives* for the developer ecosystem is insane right now, and the cost of entry is almost nothing to do what these sites are doing. It’s ironic that GPT-4 was cut-off in 2021 before the AT Protocol began and doesn’t know about it. But you can still prompt your way into building with it. This will incite even hobbyists to join in, and I think its well funded and well positioned to absolutely explode right now.

There are also tools you can use that are already built by people for example. If you have a blog, or want to use your Bluesky posts as a blog, check out Bluestream. Just drop in your handle and it will give you an RSS feed.

Here is the feed now on my sandbox site at Julia Set automatically:

If ever it was worth stopping for a moment to consider a second proposition, I think now is the time to point out, it’s absolutely in our favor as the sheep to not call the posts on Bluesky skeets. I get that its funny, and fun to rally a cause, and it’s an honest way to have some fun hopping on a fun train – though they are giving us an opportunity to remain agnostic and exist unbranded to them in a bigger way than Bluesky will be if they succeed. The word “post” is the most suitable term for an open world, whereas “Skeet” and “Tweet” are more propriety and temporary. A post is a universal thing that can be shared across all kinds of platforms including tweety platforms, but ultimately they will be *your* posts.

The opportunities and potential rewards, right now, for someone with a good idea who wants to start building, due to the scale this thing is now destined to take on, are of a once-in-a lifetime type significance. The ease one can build something right now, and the lack of anything out there known, will pay for itself if you have an incentive. At least one non-advertising business model is proven: Make it free and sell incentives. This is how you enshitificate if you lose your way. Your town won’t care, they’ll touch a button and be gone. Work for the town and the rewards could be more significant now, and less later as things become more saturated, also a good thing overall.

No more middle people in this scheme, build and they will come, fail and they will leave. It’s ironic all the stuff that Elon Musk is building in his do-everything app was a missed boat, thank goodness, for he almost controlled everyone, but with this design, he controls no one. He’ll have no choice but to offer an API to sync with the AT Protocol. Hats off to Jack Dorsey for gifting us to this opportunity, I think the best thing anyone could do besides build is spread the word and get builders excited about what we could do with this. If we move quickly, no company will be able to keep up with the development of the whole world. Also, I’m sold on the Bluesky company so far, the CEO is bopping around making all the right calls with the best energy possible, dealing with issues I could never foresee or handle.

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ChatGPT Crack: Confidence Probability

ChatGPT Crack: Confidence Probability

A “ChatGPT Crack” is when you break through the boundaries of the backend in some way. This is about its perception of itself.

The opportunity tends to open up in the process of using it as a tool in the way people will use it in search engines. When I asked ChatGPT a question about logic and received its answer, I then entered “You are correct, did you know that?”, and ChatGPT responded definitively that yes it did. But then I got it to conclude it was incorrect actually. When ChatGPT arrived at its new conclusion, and noted it was more confident with the new conclusion, I was able to convince it that the new conclusion was incorrect as well. Through that process, I had ChatGPT provide some insight into the probability scores of its confidence, which could use some significant throttling.

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Twitter: End of an Era

Digital Town Square, 2006 - 2022

There was a specific three-day period in Austin Texas in 2007 where Twitter hit its clearly defined tipping point, I remember exactly, as Rocketboom had hit its tipping point under similar conditions just two years before.

The collective, international tech industry used to descend into SXSW each March, always two weeks too early for good weather, but this particular year no one cared, since everyone was walking around with their head in their phone looking at twitter.

What are you doing? I’m tweeting, you gotta check this out. Then ten minutes later that person was like, oh my, you need to check this out.

The meme was so strong it was difficult for anyone there to not see the wave of its spread in real-time as people logged in throughout downtown Austin. It had a great use case for the event: people were tweeting antidotes and quotes while sitting in conferences of people describing what they were working on, sometimes part of the next big thing. Tweet storming as we know it now. There were simultaneously hundreds of talks and events happening throughout the day and it was impossible to be at all of them, or to get into the most popular ones, so this solved a lot of that problem.

Strangers would just walk up to you and say they saw you were here and start talking to you about your work which was an interesting new phenomenon of a real-time internet.

I was inspired to attend Twitter’s developer session. They only had a handful, and they were articulating for the first time to the world how they pulled off the feat.

I mostly only know about internet problems and within this realm, I was blown away by how complex it was to get twitter to work in real-time for so many people to see so many different views at once. As the developers were describing how they put it together, I kept picturing the scene in Brazil where the repairman comes in to fix the guts of someone’s house and wrestles with some kind of aggressive biological wiring system. They truly invented a way that is worth researching if you are interested in historical moments in internet development.

As people left the conference that Sunday and Monday, returning back to their homes in cities around the world, you could again watch the spread, in real-time, as each city grew its veins outward in perfect fractal forms. It was one of the most memetic internet moments of product success and adoption of the Web 2.0 era, for the implementation of an idea that was so strong in-and-of itself, into an environment that was teeming with the most favorable conditions, nearly ideal in-and-of itself…a discernible set of isolated conditions that grew into one of the largest, most important cultural movements of our time.

I still don’t really understand “What am I doing” or “What’s happening” when I’m tweeting, it feels weird to say the least.

I think the weirdest, most different part is putting out short little thoughts for any stranger who will listen. It’s this quality. It makes no difference if you know anyone or not, it feels like walking down main street and just yelling out to people with random, out-of-context ideas, completely into the wild.

You swing open the doors of a store and step out into the plaza: Hello world! Going to go check out the new record store down the way, pretty excited about the 45 collection. A guy walks by right afterwards and tips his hat: Did you know a Tardigrade can live for up to 30 years without food or water? A young girl with her mom who happens to hear: Water Bear does not care, change my mind. They stop to discuss it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It really did become the digital town square.

Over the years I came to follow and learn about the roles of Evan Williams, Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone, and especially Ev who I’ve met a few times.

They were incubating within the medium of sound at the time. They were working with podcasting via Odeo, and spawned twitter on a whim, a weekend-like project originally conceived for use with the SMS protocol for sending telephone text messages. I’m pretty sure they were all caught by surprise at how quickly twitter took off.

Ev led the formation of a new “Obvious Corporation” to buy all of the intellectual property of Odeo in order to obtain the intellectual property of twitter, wherein he sunsetted Odeo to focus fully on the new communication platform.

Ev was the true visionary that designed and took twitter to market, and nurtured twitter to come into itself.

From George Zachary:

“Evan wanted a structure with maximum flexibility without the overhead of additional investors other than himself. He made a good and fair proposal to the board of Odeo and we happily accepted. Everyone around the table was happy to recognize the obvious and support Evan in his goal of starting Obvious.”

Biz led the marketing efforts and Ev lead the vision of the product. Jack, at the time an NYU student, who was instrumental in proposing the spark of the initial idea, was appointed CEO initially, but he was removed from that position about a year after that famous SXSW moment, on the grounds that he was busy with other pursuits, including his hobbies in Yoga and clothing design.

I believe Ev was the single true visionary that took it from there, into what twitter became, as an actual medium. Ev has quietly had more of an impact on democratizing media on the internet for the good of humanity than anyone I can think of so far, in all cycles of internet culture. His life work which includes blogging itself, the disruption of text mind you, is worth your study as much as learning about Gutenberg.

That’s not to say with twitter that he understood anymore than anyone else about what twitter was initially, or could be, but that he was the nurturer of it, to allow it to come into itself organically without corrupting it with his own ego, until he would eventually see what we can all see now in retrospect, which is that it has indeed became the manifestation of a new medium. He not only allowed it to become, he properly harnessed it.

Twitter grew into itself against the largest competitors on the internet.

Google attempted to hit head on early in buying Jiku, but no one went. Facebook offered to buy twitter in 2009 for half a billion dollars, but Ev said no. That’s reliable integrity for any vision. FriendFeed could have been a better set of features than twitter imo, and FriendFeed had a tipping point on its horizon, but Mark Zuckerberg acqui-hired and killed it.

So how did Ev actually do it? Though Twitter today is not what it used to be, twitter emerged under Ev’s watch as the only trustworthy social media platform of Web 2.0. What I saw clearly from watching was not political ideals or ego that led Ev to direct twitter, but rather, it was computer protocols that acted as the guiding light to inform the platform’s policies and principles. Following the ideals of an open protocol can act as a guide – a measure – for a fair and equal social media platform. It can never be fully fair, even when it’s fully open, so long as it’s owned, and when people are involved in the equation.

Today, when people appropriate twitter into politics to say that it used to be slanted toward the US Democratic Party, they are misunderstanding. It is the US Democratic Party that leans towards a world that looks more like a world guided by open protocols, a world that is more fair. It appears to be hard to perfect at scale, and I don’t mean to say that it’s ever been perfected in a company that owns and controls the firehose in the way twitter always has. Twitter is not a protocol in actuality, nor is it a place that is free from rules. Following the ideals of protocols, without allowing twitter itself to be taken over or sold off before it was fully ingrained, was one high result I believe Ev achieved. If twitter just turned off tonight, and never came back on, a new platform would take its place to enable people to do what they do, as it’s now so integrated as part of our daily world culture, a medium that is part of the collective human culture which is free.

At its peak, twitter had attracted the greatest number of experienced professionals across the world’s industries and cultures for being the most balanced, fair, safe, and open. As a town square, with a city council of sorts, public safety, businesses and people, I considered it my generation’s golden era of internet culture, a Rome of sorts, a New York City melting pot on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the summer. What made it so grand for me was that it attracted the world’s greatest thinkers, and they became open and accessible: Hello! I saw that you were here, I want to congratulate you on your Pulitzer Prize, I’m just a hobbyist but can I ask you a question about Astronomy? Certainly! Ask away. The setting was accessible.

THE SECOND CHAPTER

Later, as Ev began looking ahead, Jack who had by this time created Square, came back to the company, sorta butting his way into a CEO position strategically imo, as someone who otherwise probably wouldn’t have been picked.

Perhaps Jack did not have the same vision as Ev, and perhaps was not forthright with the ways in which information on twitter became less fair during his era, though, I haven’t changed my personal opinion too much, in that I felt Jack did an overall good job at keeping things stable, and when changes were announced, or when people like Trump were banned, I was comfortable with the justifications. Trump was warned again, again, and again, and again and again and again and again, and while I was getting frustrated at the unfair treatment, I also admire twitter for taking so long to figure out what to do about it. The power that twitter ended up wielding, in having the switch to cut of a US President, shouldn’t be in the hands of twitter anyway, a lesson should have been learned there. I’m not sure that it was. The Whitehouse account on twitter has already been fact-checked in:

THE THIRD CHAPTER, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS TWITTER 2.0

Enter Elon Musk. I will say upfront that I represent the stereotypical examples of someone who was a major fan of Musk, constantly inspired by what I saw, invested in reading articles about the technology behind his companies, and a general cheerleader who stood with the choir behind him. I watched any video I could find of him speaking, from talks at conferences, to interviews, to random short clips. The reason I did so was because I was in awe by how he did so much, so quickly, and I found his words inspiring and relatable in a down-to-earth way.

In the period leading up to his purchase of twitter, and then subsequently having watched what he’s done, I changed my opinion about Musk 180 degrees.

When people say Musk is not smart, or that he just bought the companies and doesn’t know how the technology works, I find such arguments to be short sighted. Even if he was as inexperienced as a student when he bought each company, his experience of being a leader at the table through so much, after decades, makes him experienced, especially in the roles of finance, business, and marketing. Being experienced however is different from being ethical.

Musk is pushing a lot of technology forward at a faster rate than others, however, the overarching thread across his style of running all of his businesses, I conclude from looking more closely, is that people seem to be consistently languishing in his wake as a result of mere disregard, and he seems to find such consequences to be trivial. And yet, in each business he is appropriating technology that is part of general human progress, and that other companies are making progress too but Musk’s method doesn’t seem to be fair, and counter to the spirit of shared human progress and fair competition. It seems he wants to put out others working diligently on the same problems and is stifling human progress which is the antithesis of the brand he markets.

TESLA

I originally took up an interest in his Roadster and the first extended interview I saw was by Kevin Rose. He filmed it at Musk’s first nearly completed, still mostly empty automobile factory in California. It left a huge impression on me for happening right at a time when the world was coming into a collective consciousness of the climate, and because the product of the Roadster itself was undeniably a better technology than any current combustion engine car, but also inevitable because it was more effective in every way: safety, engineering, design, emissions. The proof of concept was so perfect at the perfect time that anyone who drove the prototype that the original founders of Tesla made, could see it would be inevitable.

With a deeper look into Tesla, that is, the way that Musk runs the company behind the technology, reveals a world of problems including lawsuits of sexual harassment, rushed products, unfair competition, securities fraud, whistleblower allegations and retaliation, misrepresentations, malfunction complaints for death and injury, racism claims and lawsuits, autopilot fatalities from negligence, racketeering, illegal worker suits, union busting attempts, lemon car sales, software infringement including open source theft, DOJ investigations, a child labor lawsuit, it goes on, and it’s bad. He even allegedly offered one of his workers a horse for sex. At the time of this writing there are over 1200 lawsuits on file, and legal experts are quick to point out that, unusually, the majority of the complaints involve Elon Musk individually as a defendant.

What made Musk so successful in taking it to market it seems was his willingness to disregard people and laws. It’s that simple concept which, when applied across the board, enables him to stay ahead of his competition. So long as he is personally protected from criminal liability, any lawsuit is just a matter of calculating the statistical probabilities of an expense chart and making a comparison.

What Musk did to get Tesla to market at such scale is his optimum legacy, though arguably, he could of also done it just as quickly and effectively in a more fair and more legal fashion with a sense of ethics and a willingness to invest a bit more in maintaining higher legal and human standards.

SPACE-X

While vertical landing rockets have been developing for over 60 years, it’s once again an advantage of our time’s processing power and contemporary engineering adroitness to become more efficient in our collective investigations of human knowledge, our natural march into the unknown, for unknown reasons. For me, it’s one of the most exciting adventures of being alive. Humanity is collectively pushing our boundaries of physics and metaphysics further.

With Mars, the next step in the collective journey for humanity is to prove a return mission, bringing material from Mars back to Earth.

China has the first Mars sample return mission scheduled with a launch date in late 2028 with a hopeful return date of July, 2031. NASA and ESA are each expected to have sample-return missions launched in 2030 or 2031, and could make it back with samples by 2033. Yet, less than a year ago, Musk said his planned Starship Mars variant rocket will take people to Mars starting in 2029, which presumably means someone would have to travel there before we knew how to get back.

Though the Starship program itself always represented a hope for me toward that end of multi-planetary life, the main use of Starship that is being built today is for a commercial enterprise that will significantly increase the payload of what Space-X can sell, to grow its bottom line. The Mars variant designs are likely to be improved upon from that commercial experience, and unlike the China, US and ESA missions to Mars, a Space-X mission to Mars is not scheduled.

It’s also the case that humanity has not yet demonstrated how the first people will sustain life on Mars, including the generation of long-term power, air, and water, to name a few problems, despite some pretty good ideas on the table. Be it this decade, the next, or the next, it seems to me that it’s inevitable that humans will continue to progress outward in this direction.

As with his other companies, Musk is the sole marketer for Space-X and he predicted to the press in 2016 that he would land people on Mars in 2024 or 2025. What I learned about Space-X is that it’s the most unique of his companies in the way it is operated, in that Musk doesn’t have the kind of control over the day-to-day operations he does with Tesla or Twitter. The team is largely NASA talent and NASA collaborations. For example, after Elon Musk smoked pot on the Joe Rogan podcast, because he was under federal contracts, they made Musk and all of his team take random drug tests for a year, to assure the ethical safety that Musk seems to be unwilling to assume. So when he says he’ll be sending people to Mars before we know how to get back, it’s unlikely to be true and fortunately unlikely to involve Musk convincing someone to go on a death wish so that he can beat the competition by some number of years. As a brand, saving humanity is an easy sell for himself and all of his companies. But it seems to require additional investment to do right.

Starlink is yet another evolution of contemporary technology that Musk was able to take to market quicker, along for the ride with cargo that funds Space-X. A global internet provider with an array of orbital satellites makes internet connections for people and businesses available at higher speeds and lower costs across 40 countries already, on all continents. Another step further beyond Google’s Loon, a moonshot array of balloons each the size of a tennis court, which sunsetted a year ago, an obvious inspiration and residual death to and from Starlink which took it further, faster.

NEURALINK

This company is yet another that is moving the needle with a technology that has been in the works for decades, and that Musk is interested in pushing such technology forward too is a benefit to science and medicine. I first learned about the technology more recently, when they first released a video of a monkey named Pager who learned to play video pong. Pager used a joystick to move the paddle. In the demo they then disconnected the joystick, and said that Pager was thus controlling the paddle with his mind, via their technology hooked up to Pager’s brain.

I have to say, it was an Englebart-level demonstration of a mind blowing prototype that I will never forget for the rest of my life.

Other companies have similar technology and are quietly making similar strides, for its an open part of human progress, too, but Musk is pushing forward so quickly in what seems to be a competitive manner, he now has an open investigation and lawsuit alleging that the majority of his animals are dead from sloppy, unnecessarily rushed experiments, and that that the abuse is not to ethical standards. The details of the mistakes made are just so sad, I am horrified…as humans we can be way better than this.

In the complaint employees of Neuralink also allege that Musk regularly threatens them to move faster or else, saying multiple times they should pretend they have bombs strapped to their heads.

If he wants to move faster though, couldn’t he pay a bit more for more people to run the experiments properly, instead of paying less and expecting more in return?

His response to the allegations was one of the most significant turning points for me, it was just recently, when introducing the latest demo. On stage he expressed that everything was fine and above standard, suggesting the animals are living the good life, indicating to me that he’s gone too far. The same research on animals can be justified when it’s not sloppy. If he sincerely considers everything to be fine, I consider such consideration to be murderous.

It’s so blatant, it dawned on me that this is the theme across all of his companies, just as we watched with twitter, where he reduces the amount of investment into operating, expedites a push for output in the name of saving humanity, and then expresses that the damage left in his wake is menial.

TWITTER

Twitter became a cultural signal that in many ways was the most profound and progressive on Earth to date, for the way it brought together the most rich and sincere aspects of so many cultures from around the world, lighting up from those initial days when twitter first took hold into societies that brought each community’s most thoughtful and experienced to the table, to speak, and be accessible, and to share with each other collectively in a well rounded manner, where generally, anyone could see, participate, and grow with it. It was safe because people protected each other.

While that ideal was never pure, now in the private hands of Elon Musk it’s almost certainly over. Twitter may go on to become the largest social media platform in the world, moving up from it’s 500 million users to surpass Facebook’s 3 billion users, as an entertainment hub and wallet with steakable financial products including Bitcoin & Dogecoin, lower transfer fees, zoomed in directly from Starlink with its own web app store and AI advertising and marketing bing bang like Facebook but more, though the collective signal of a town square where the world’s collective truth moves forward, has been torn apart and dispersed almost overnight.

I am confident that Musk will make many new features in the journey towards the all-in-one app and many people will live their lives over the coming years tweeting each day about him and their experience with each new change he makes.

Meanwhile, all private information including all DMs are now available and open to self-described journalists, and Musk and his inner circle is looking through the content of private messages and using it for their own marketing and personal interest purposes. If it wasn’t already available, a developer could create a dashboard that allows him to see all the history from everyone, including DMs that have been deleted, since he only needs to program access to backups. Not only does that kill the DM feature for any culture that used it seriously in private, knowing what he is doing now, it also empowers Musk with his businesses to use that information privately for his own personal gains when engaging with others in the world of competition. While it’s easy to lay up at night wondering if someone would actually do such a thing, yes, Musk already showed that he is doing it, opening up DMs and drawing conclusions that he’s publicizing about that private information. I learned today one employee who was formal and devoted to supporting Musk had to literally move to another home due to the amount of death threats in the wake of Musk lobing threats and mobs at him.

So how does Musk do twitter? Twitter 2.0? Exactly unlike anything informed by an open protocol. Musk’s use of politics as the informing guide for his direction, outwardly aligning with far right ideals to form the policies and procedures of his social media platform is one possible explanation for what he’s up to, though it’s hard to unsee as a text-book example of a marketing ploy, stoking fires and trying to woo the next big group into thinking he’s all about their cause, and ready to fight for their rights, for $11 ($8 if you still use a flip phone).

Watching him doze the home that I loved has been an experience that feels horrible and helps me understand more about how important digital space can be.

It’s going to take effort to avoid twitter, Tesla and his other companies, since they are so integrated, likely to become even more-so. He’ll probably wake up one day soon and try to shift his marketing pendulum, maybe say he’s changing parties, or that he’s back to supporting some specific Democrats again to win back the numbers he lost, maybe eventually he’ll add Jack’s Bluesky plugin if they are still on good terms but as of today, it appears to be over.

Have you ever been on Truth Social, Trump’s social network? Just to have a look to see how messed up some people can be with their conspiracy theories? It’s definitely worth a gander to understand what exists and while I sometimes feel as if I should be looking at it more, so that I can be a witness, I just can’t. It’s not worth it for me. Let my study be narrowed then, I just can’t live my life thinking about the ins-and-outs of that part of culture without a specific reason, if something is worth breaking out of that eco chamber then it will find its way to me without needing for me to be there.

Twitter became that much of a silo too, almost instantly, a similar type of monoculture. If there is any possibility it wasn’t intentional, it was possibly because he was unwilling to pay the extra amount to do it right. End of an era.

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Working towards a thorough definition of the word ‘Meme’

I’ve been interested in a definition for the word meme. It’s practical to have one to state for the sake of conversation and continue on, though it should at least be formed to fit without a conflict for physics and philosophy. So far the throw-around versions used today are prone to all kinds of arguments. To say the least, there isn’t much related to the definition of the word meme beyond its use in the field of biology.

I found OpenAI’s ChatGPT useful in this case to help with clarifying and expanding on expressing the components of memes, both in biology and elsewhere, specifically with regards to internet memes. The chat engine is simple in many ways and often shows itself with its limited boundaries quickly, though it was a great companion for this exercise, and had an impact in keeping the definition from going too far astray. For my part, the effort was in formulating the questions.

As with any discipline, a definition can change when a word becomes used in a different context. The word meme can be applied in biology to refer to an idea itself, while a more popular use today is in media as a representation of an idea. The definition I arrived at below is close but there is more that can be done.

Let’s talk about the definition of the word meme. 

 A meme is a concept or idea that is spread from person to person within a culture. It can be anything from a joke or a catchphrase to a video or a piece of clothing. Memes are often seen as a way for people to express their thoughts and ideas in a humorous or entertaining way. 

A concept is different than an idea but they are expressed in similar ways.

 Yes, that’s correct. A concept is a general idea or understanding of something, while an idea is a specific thought or notion. Although they are similar, they are not the same. A concept is more abstract and general, while an idea is more concrete and specific. For example, the concept of freedom is a general understanding of the idea of being free, while the idea of going to the beach for the weekend is a specific thought or plan.

A meme can be an idea, but also a meme can be a representation of an idea. For example, a video which we call a meme can be spread from person to person, while also that same video can be a representation of an idea that is spread as a meme from person to person, via the video. 

 Yes, that’s correct. A meme can be an idea itself, but it can also be a way of expressing or representing an idea. For example, a funny video that goes viral on the internet can be considered a meme, because it is spreading from person to person. But that same video can also be a representation of an idea, such as a joke or a commentary on a cultural phenomenon. In this way, a meme can be thought of as both the content itself and the way that content is shared and spread within a culture.

With regard to an idea, if I meet with another human and successfully describe a concept, such that they find it compelling and go on to describe the concept to another human, that would be an example of a meme. 

 Yes, that’s a good example of how an idea can become a meme. If you have an idea and you are able to share it with someone else in a way that they find interesting or compelling, they may be motivated to share that idea with others. This process of sharing and spreading an idea from person to person is what defines a meme. So in your example, if you were able to share a concept with someone and they went on to share it with others, that would be an example of a meme.

Imagine that I share an idea with just one other human and that human understands it, but the human doesn’t find it very compelling and then doesn’t pass it on. Is transmitting the idea from one person to another just one time enough to be called a meme? 

 It is not necessarily necessary for an idea to be spread to multiple people in order to be considered a meme. The key characteristic of a meme is that it is an idea that is shared and spread within a culture. So if you share an idea with another person and they understand it, that could be considered a meme, even if they don’t pass it on to anyone else. The important thing is that the idea is being shared and transmitted from one person to another, regardless of how many people it reaches.

I completely agree, it only requires a single transmission to be considered a meme. In that case, you could say that if an idea was passed on to many people, the idea would be more memetic. Memes are more or less memetic. 

 Yes, that’s correct. An idea that is passed on to many people within a culture could be considered more memetic, because it is spreading and gaining traction within that culture. In this way, you could say that some memes are more memetic than others, depending on how widely they are shared and how much impact they have on the culture. 

However, it is important to note that not all ideas that are shared within a culture are considered memes. In order for an idea to be considered a meme, it must be shared and spread in a way that is specific to the culture it is being transmitted in.

What’s an example of a shared idea in a culture that is not considered a meme? 

 An example of a shared idea in a culture that is not considered a meme could be a religious belief or a political ideology. These are ideas that are shared and passed on within a culture, but they are not typically considered memes because they are not typically spread in the same way as memes. Memes are often spread through social media and other online platforms, whereas religious beliefs and political ideologies are typically spread through more traditional means, such as religious institutions and political parties. So while these ideas may be shared and spread within a culture, they are not considered memes because they are not typically spread in the same way as memes.

It would be a good idea to distinguish between the transmission of internet memes, which tend to act more as representations of shared ideas in cultures, and biological memes, which are ideas themselves. 

 Yes, that’s a good point. There are two different types of memes that are often discussed: internet memes and biological memes. 

Internet memes are the kind of memes that most people are familiar with. These are ideas, images, videos, or other forms of content that are shared and spread online, often through social media platforms. They are typically humorous or entertaining in nature, and they are often used to comment on or make fun of cultural phenomena.

On the other hand, biological memes are a concept from evolutionary biology. They refer to ideas, behaviors, or cultural practices that are passed on from one individual to another within a population. In this context, the term “meme” is used to describe the way that these ideas, behaviors, and cultural practices spread and evolve within a population, in the same way that genes spread and evolve through natural selection. So while internet memes are ideas that are spread through the internet, biological memes are ideas that are spread within a population. 

While we agree that a biological idea only needs to be transmitted from one individual to another to be classified as a meme, when it comes to internet memes, the transmission of a video or image from one individual to another would not be enough to be considered a meme. For if a video was shared with just one person and the receiver did not find it compelling or pass it on, everything would end there, and it would not be memetic. 

 Yes, that’s correct. While a single transmission of an idea within a population is sufficient for it to be considered a biological meme, the same is not true for internet memes. For an idea to be considered an internet meme, it must be widely shared and spread within a culture. This is because internet memes are a product of the online world, where information can be easily shared and spread to a large number of people. In order for an idea to be considered an internet meme, it must be shared and spread in a way that is specific to the internet and the culture of the people who use it. So in your example, if a video was shared with just one person and they did not find it compelling or pass it on, it would not be considered an internet meme because it did not gain traction within the culture.

The threshold of when a video becomes shared enough to be considered a meme based on being “widely shared” could require accepting a less definitive point than our biological definition of a meme which is definitely just one. With internet memes, a statistical analysis of various factors including reach and impact could be useful, for by comparing a meme’s qualities to the performance of those same qualities from prior memes, we can better understand how memetic a video for example could be.

 Yes, that’s a good point. Because internet memes are a product of the online world, where information can be easily shared and spread to a large number of people, it can be difficult to define exactly what makes a meme “widely shared” or “successful”.

In some cases, a meme may be considered successful if it reaches a large number of people and has a significant impact on the culture. In other cases, a meme may be considered successful if it reaches a smaller number of people but has a very strong impact on the culture. There is no one-size-fits-all definition of what makes a meme successful, and it may depend on the specific context and the culture in which the meme is spreading.

However, you are correct that a statistical analysis of various factors, such as reach and impact, could be useful in determining how memetic a particular video or other piece of content is. By comparing the performance of a particular meme to the performance of other memes, it may be possible to get a better sense of how successful it is and how memetic it is.

A meme could not exist without an environment. To become a meme an idea or a representation of an idea needs a medium in which to spread. Just as the physical environment has a role in the success of a gene passing on from one individual to the next, so too does it have a role in passing on a biological meme from one individual to the next. 

 Yes, both internet memes and biological memes require an environment in which to exist and spread. For internet memes, this environment is typically the online world, where information can be easily shared and spread through social media and other platforms. For biological memes, the environment is the population in which the ideas, behaviors, or cultural practices are being transmitted. In both cases, the environment plays a crucial role in determining whether an idea or concept can become a meme and how successful it can be.

Just as the physical environment can have an impact on the success of a gene in passing from one individual to the next, it can also have an impact on the success of a biological meme in passing from one individual to the next. For example, if a particular idea or behavior is well-suited to the environment in which it is being transmitted, it may be more likely to spread and become a successful meme. On the other hand, if the idea or behavior is not well-suited to the environment, it may be less likely to spread and may not become a successful meme. So the environment plays a critical role in the success of both internet memes and biological memes.

If a person uses their voice to transmit an idea to another person, sound waves carry the idea encapsulated in language through the medium of air, in the way a video can carry an idea encapsulated in language through the medium of the internet.

 Yes, that’s correct. When a person uses their voice to transmit an idea to another person, the sound waves carrying the idea are transmitted through the medium of air. This is similar to how a video can carry an idea through the medium of the internet. In both cases, the idea is encoded in language and transmitted through a medium, allowing it to be shared and spread from one person to another. 

The medium through which the idea is transmitted can have a significant impact on how the idea is perceived and how widely it is shared. For example, the tone and inflection of a person’s voice can add meaning to the words they are speaking, and the medium of air can carry that meaning to the listener. Similarly, the visual elements of a video can add meaning to the words being spoken, and the medium of the internet can carry that meaning to the viewer. So the medium through which an idea is transmitted can play a significant role in how the idea is understood and how widely it is shared.

It’s plausible to consider that an internet meme could be spread through a culture with an idea that caused the culture to change biologically, such that an internet meme could affect the evolution of biological genes.

 It is possible that an internet meme could have an impact on the evolution of biological genes. While the internet and biological evolution operate on very different timescales, it is not impossible that an internet meme could have an impact on the evolution of a population. 

For example, if an internet meme were to spread a particular idea or behavior that was beneficial to the population in some way, it could potentially lead to changes in the population’s gene pool. For example, if an internet meme were to encourage people to adopt a healthier lifestyle, it could potentially lead to changes in the population’s gene pool that are beneficial in terms of overall health. 

However, it is important to note that the impact of an internet meme on the evolution of biological genes would likely be very small and difficult to measure, and it would depend on a number of factors, such as the size and makeup of the population and the specific idea or behavior being promoted by the internet meme.

Since biological genes evolve, its plausible to consider the notion that biological memes evolve. Can you think of a good example of a biological meme that evolved? Similarly, internet memes evolve. How about an example of an internet meme that evolved?

 Biological memes, like genes, are thought to evolve over time. This means that they can change and adapt to their environment in order to become more successful at spreading and surviving within a population. One example of a biological meme that may have evolved over time is the practice of burying the dead. This is a behavior that is found in many different human cultures, and it is thought to have evolved in response to the benefits it provides, such as protecting the dead from predators and preventing the spread of disease.

Similarly, internet memes can also evolve over time. This means that they can change and adapt to the online environment in order to become more successful at spreading and surviving within a culture. 

One example of an internet meme that may have evolved over time is the “rickroll” meme, which involves tricking someone into watching a music video by Rick Astley. This meme started as a simple prank, but over time it has evolved into a more complex and multi-layered joke that is used to comment on various cultural phenomena. So both biological memes and internet memes can evolve over time in response to the environment in which they are spreading. 

What’s a another example of an internet meme that evolved over time?

 Another example of an internet meme that has evolved over time is the “Distracted Boyfriend” meme. This meme originated from a stock photo of a man looking at another woman while his girlfriend looks on in disbelief. The photo was used in a variety of different contexts, with the man representing something that the user was interested in or attracted to, while the girlfriend represented something the user was already committed to.

Over time, the meme evolved to include more complex and creative scenarios, with the man representing different choices or decisions, and the girlfriend and other woman representing the different options or consequences. The meme became popular on social media platforms like Reddit and Twitter, and was even used by companies and organizations to illustrate different scenarios or choices in a humorous way.

Through its evolution, the “Distracted Boyfriend” meme became a powerful tool for conveying complex ideas and scenarios in a simple and relatable way. It is a prime example of how internet memes can evolve and adapt over time to fit different situations and contexts.

You could say this phenomenon that we see in the reuse of a meme, as you described with “Distracted Boyfriend” is a great example of appropriation, and internet memes that become appropriated into new contexts tend to be considered successful with an additional measurement beyond reach, for their ability to propagate further into the future by transforming. As such, memes that do not get appropriated tend to be less impactful, though it’s not universal. 

 Yes, the reuse and transformation of internet memes is a form of appropriation. When a meme is appropriated, it is taken from its original context and used in a new way, often to convey a different message or idea. This can involve changing the image or text of the meme, or using it in a different context or setting.

The success of a meme is often measured by its reach, or how widely it is shared and viewed on the internet. However, another important measure of success for a meme is its ability to be appropriated and used in new ways. Memes that are easily appropriated and transformed tend to have a longer lifespan and greater impact, as they can continue to be relevant and relatable in different contexts and situations.

Of course, not all memes are easily appropriated and transformed. Some memes are more specific or tied to a particular context, and may not be as easily adaptable to new situations. In these cases, the meme may not have as much staying power or impact. However, it is not universal, and there are certainly examples of memes that were not easily appropriated but still had a significant impact on internet culture.

With regards to the evolution of an internet meme, can you think of an example of a meme that was appropriated in one way, such that it was used over and over in new contexts, similar to your example with the “Distracted Boyfriend” but then evolved in the way it was appropriated, such that it became known and used in a different way?

 One example of a meme that was appropriated in one way and then evolved is the “YOLO” meme. This meme originated from a Drake song called “The Motto,” in which the rapper uses the acronym “YOLO” (You Only Live Once) to encourage people to live life to the fullest.

Initially, the “YOLO” meme was used in a similar way to the song, to encourage people to take risks and enjoy life. However, over time, the meme was appropriated in new ways and began to be used to poke fun at reckless or foolish behavior. In this new context, the “YOLO” meme became a way for people to mock or satirize those who make poor choices or decisions without considering the consequences.

Through its evolution, the “YOLO” meme became a powerful tool for conveying complex ideas and emotions in a simple and relatable way. It is a prime example of how internet memes can be appropriated in different ways and evolve over time to fit different situations and contexts.

Another example of a meme that was appropriated in one way and then evolved to be used in a different way is the “Wojak” character. This character originated from a black and white illustration of a sad-looking man with a bald head and facial stubble. The illustration was used in a variety of different contexts, often to convey feelings of loneliness or isolation.

Over time, the “Wojak” character was appropriated and transformed into new contexts. It became associated with the alt-right movement and was often used to convey feelings of anger and resentment towards political and social issues. This evolution of the “Wojak” character led to the creation of a new meme called the “Angry Wojak,” which depicted the character with a more aggressive and confrontational expression.

That’s a great example. Another example is the “Doge” meme which evolved to become the representation of a cryptocurrency. 

 Yes, you are correct. The “Doge” meme was appropriated and transformed into a representation of a cryptocurrency called Dogecoin. This cryptocurrency was created as a parody of Bitcoin, and was designed to be fun and lighthearted. The “Doge” meme was used as the logo for the Dogecoin, and was featured on the coins and on the website.

The use of the “Doge” meme in this context allowed it to continue to be relevant and have an impact on internet culture, even after its popularity as a standalone meme had declined. The “Doge” meme was able to evolve and adapt to fit a new context, and became associated with a new and growing trend in the world of cryptocurrency. This is a prime example of how internet memes can be appropriated and transformed in new ways to continue to have an impact on internet culture.

Because an internet meme is a form of media, such as an image or video, that is used to represent an idea or concept, there are no examples of internet memes that are not a type of media.

 That is not correct. While internet memes are often a type of media, such as an image or video, they can also take other forms. For example, internet memes can also be a phrase or a piece of text that is used to convey an idea or concept. These types of memes are often shared as a screenshot of a message or post on social media. Additionally, internet memes can also take the form of a hashtag or a challenge that becomes popular on social media. So, while internet memes are often a type of media, they can also take other forms.

Since it’s true that an internet meme that is a phrase or a piece of text, is a meme that is transferred from person to person via the text medium, then it is not a good example to use to counter the idea that all memes are media.

 I apologize if my previous response was unclear. While it is true that text can be considered a type of media, and that internet memes can be shared through the text medium, internet memes can also take other forms that are not strictly media. For example, internet memes can also be a hashtag or a challenge that becomes popular on social media. These forms of internet memes are not strictly media, as they do not include images, audio, or video. Instead, they are used to convey an idea or concept in a humorous or relatable way, and can quickly become popular and widely shared on social media. So, while internet memes are often passed on via the text medium or other forms of media, they can also take other forms that are not strictly media.

What’s a specific example of such a meme?

 One example of an internet meme that is not strictly media is the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” which became popular on social media in 2014. This meme involved people filming themselves dumping a bucket of ice water over their heads, and then nominating others to do the same. The challenge was meant to raise awareness for the ALS Association, and became popular quickly due to its humorous and relatable nature. While the videos of people completing the challenge could be considered media, the challenge itself was not strictly media. It was more of a social media phenomenon, and did not necessarily include images, audio, or video.

I see your point. A meme can be a representation of an idea or concept, and it can also be an idea or concept itself. Let’s create a thorough definition of an internet meme.

 

 A thorough definition of an internet meme would be something like this:

An internet meme is a concept, idea, or piece of media that is shared widely on the internet, often through social media, and is characterized by its humorous or relatable nature. Internet memes can take many different forms, including images, videos, phrases, hashtags, or challenges, and are often based on popular culture or everyday situations. 

Lets try that again and consider that the internet is an important factor in how they spread.

 A revised definition of an internet meme might be:

An internet meme is a concept, idea, or piece of media that is shared widely on the internet, often through social media, and is characterized by its humorous or relatable nature. The internet plays a crucial role in the spread of internet memes, as they are often passed on from person to person through social media and other online platforms. Internet memes can take many different forms, including images, videos, phrases, hashtags, or challenges, and are often based on popular culture or everyday situations. They can become popular quickly due to their humorous or relatable nature.

This is a good definition. Let’s add to it by noting the way in which memes become appropriated.

 A further revision of the definition of an internet meme might be:

An internet meme is a concept, idea, or piece of media that is shared widely on the internet, often through social media, and is characterized by its humorous or relatable nature. The internet plays a crucial role in the spread of internet memes, as they are often passed on from person to person through social media and other online platforms. Internet memes can take many different forms, including images, videos, phrases, hashtags, or challenges, and are often based on popular culture or everyday situations. They can become popular quickly due to their humorous or relatable nature, and may be appropriated and reworked by different groups or individuals over time.

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The Artist, The City, The Framer, And Their Lovers

The Artist, The City, The Framer, And Their Lovers

My favorite contemporary artist across all of the visual arts is Banksy. When he came to New York City on a painting spree, he hit a garage door across the street from my studio in Chelsea which I documented. I’ve never been involved myself in using any kind of ink or paint in public but I get a lot from it as an effected viewer. In Boulder, my favorite artist is Smile.

Banksy and Smile each have their own beautiful style and message.

I’ve given a lot of thought to why I like their work so much. It’s outstanding with technique and beauty, it’s full with rebellion and anonymity, but ultimately, it’s their selfless rejection of recognition that makes their famous work so exciting to me.

Smile begins in the studio creating elaborate stencils that can take hours to cut, and then paints the pieces by layering colors on the streets. You only need your eyes to excavate the strata and ponder how it could have gone. There is often splatter which helps blend the work with the surface, almost always utility equipment, postal boxes, or other common urban eyesores.

The whole thing is completely illegal. That’s part of the thrill, and the beauty of unauthorized street art in general.

Appreciating one of Smile’s works tends to involve that obvious quality of life on the edge, pure with rebellion and risk. That’s not enough, in and of itself. Smile’s work is exceptionally beautiful, and the technique is exceptionally beautiful. Smile’s subject matter is also exceptionally beautiful, and fitting, generally domesticated animals on the threshold of the wild, or the wild looking in, here in Boulder where we do live on such an interface with the edge of the forest. Smile is outstanding.

The publicly commissioned works around town don’t have this wild and free quality. They are great to many and they play a great role with their purpose, though they are confined, tame, civically approved, and perfectly compliant.

Smile, though a bandit, essentially passes the tame test anyway, aesthetically speaking, inoffensive and generally non controversial in subject matter and placement. Smile is generally respectful to private property, and often appears on what would be hard to argue would look better without it. Over a 100 paintings likely exist around town, it could be way more. Many have become somewhat iconic for some neighborhoods and areas of town, enduring for years, through flood and fire. Clearly rarely wiped.

To my surprise and appreciation, this summer on the 14th of June, 2022, a new Smile appeared front-and-center upon my own stomping grounds.

The Canyon bridge tunnel that connects Eben G Fine park with The People’s Crossing is a prime location for graffiti, covered over with a fresh canvas on a regular beat by the city. It’s only ever been blank for a day or two before someone comes along to add anew, and the cycle repeats — the city makes its rounds again, cat and mouse in perpetuity.  You could say the tunnel is an ongoing, active conversation between those who add graffiti, those of us who experience it, and the transportation department workers sent to remove it.

I see all kinds of graffiti here, with all kinds of intent, sometimes artistic, sometimes not. When I saw this Smile, I immediately felt a familiar connection, a sense of excitement, and I felt at home. I was probably one of the first few people to notice and appreciate it which also felt special to me, personally. It was fresh and bright, unfaded and uncorrupted. It made me wonder where the artist was, as if maybe the artist was still nearby.

But I immediately wondered what would happen! It was added right onto a spot that gets wiped every time, how would it survive this regularly wiped location!?

If you were with me at that moment I would have bet you that it wouldn’t get wiped. I would of placed that bet based on all the others around town that didn’t get wiped. Maybe if Smile had placed it in the middle of the tunnel…but it was neatly tucked up into the corner, respectably placed as could be if it could be, more like a designed cornerstone. I was confident that it would be left and that something would be proven by that that I would witness fully – the value of Smile’s work to the city, actually.

If it would be left alone, as the city came to paint over the other graffiti on the tunnel, it would act as proof by example of the tolerance the city actually has for Smile’s work. Like Banksy, I believe Smile’s work is adding value to the city, not distracting value from it, and such a result lends to validating this idea.

When Banksy creates an illegal work on the street, it becomes so valuable property owners and cities spend great amounts to preserve and protect the work.

Each day I walked that way, to the tunnel, so enraptured each time that it would be the day, after the city came to do their wiping…and I would get to see. I was just waiting. There was other graffiti in the tunnel that was relatively harsh and violent and would 100% get wiped and it was just a matter of time, I knew it.

Almost two months later, before the city made it’s routine rounds, on August 5th, someone else had come out on an escapade in the tunnel, doing up graffiti all over the inside, of exactly the kind that would typically get wiped, and they stopped to acknowledge and hit up the Smile piece with a response! It was a great response.

I mean, it totally ruined it, but it was also great at the same time. Had you been with me again at that moment when I first saw it, and smiled, I’d declare all bets off! 

How would the city look the other way around at all of this? I was concerned the city would probably remove it all, including the Smile work, which was no longer in any way discreet. What would they do!? Just look above at the size of that fuchsia fluorescent butt. No way will that fly, It was all too much, too close and integrated now, and it was just a matter of time before  I would find out what would happen.

I had Smile on my mind too much. I went through this tunnel more often than I would, three times a day on average. Finally it happened! August 10th. Look at what the city did!

What a case for Smile! The city wiped everything else but left the Smile! This is an incredibly strong affirmation from the city of Boulder all together that Smile brings the city value, not strife. The city not only left Smile’s work while wiping all the rest, they meticulously did so, impossibly able to look the other way, for they could of only looked square at it, as they literally framed it with their own cover-up paint, where the city itself became an abettor to the crime: The Picture Framer. The city literally added to it, artistically, in a full-on collaboration!

Though I saw proof of what I thought and then didn’t think I would see, what I didn’t expect is that this discovery would ultimately harm my admiration for Smile’s work. Slightly.

As the hours and days went on, it sank in. Each time I saw a Smile around town, I started to feel differently about it. Maybe they are not so wild after all. It’s as if they are just as compliant as the city commissioned work. Could it even be possible that Smile has an unspoken deal with the city, I wondered? It’s fair to wonder for a moment, but you’d have to assume not. How else could the city justify removing some art while leaving other art? If there is no deal, the city must have a spoken or unspoken aesthetic rationale, I imagined, and so I became curious about the city code and the definition of graffiti as they see it. I also felt a bit of injustice for others. Slightly.

You know how it goes when it comes time to define things like art, any code dependent on something being art or not is hard to resolve. The Boulder code though doesn’t include much in the way of wiggle room, for what Smile does, or anyone else does, with paint on public and private property without permission.

The city policy:

Graffiti is a nuisance because its continued existence constitutes a visual blight upon the area in which it is located and acts as a catalyst for other antisocial behavior. Prompt removal is the greatest disincentive to graffiti and minimizes the blight and related effects.

Graffiti means the intentional painting, scratching, or coloring (with any contrast medium whatsoever) of any public or private property except by permission of the owner of private property, the city manager, in the case of city property, or the supervisory officer of any other public property.


I sent an email to the city to inquire.

From: City of Boulder <boulder@user.govoutreach.com>
Subject: New Issue about Graffiti.
Thu, Aug 11, 11:49 AM

Dear Drew,

Thank you for using Inquire Boulder. We appreciate the
opportunity to assist you.

The Problem you submitted was:

  Request type: Graffiti
  Location: 80354 Boulder Canyon Dr, Boulder, CO 80302, USA
  Description:  Question about Graffiti created by the pseudo-anonymous artist named “Smile”. Per the attached photos, one can infer that the policy of the city is to allow work by Smile but not others. In the photos, you can see that another person came to respond to the Smile work, but apparently the city did not consider the response worthwhile while nonetheless considering the initial work to be worthwhile. Does the city have a formal or informal method for determining which works to remove based on aesthetics or other factors not listed in the city code?  I am seeking information for a public post on my twitter account, https://twitter.com/boulder_drew where I will note my findings with the city’s tolerance for some street art. Thanks!

You will receive a response within 7 days for this request.

I was immediately impressed that the time frame was definitive. It was going to happen.

I checked my email too much over the following days, and after day four came and went, I started to wonder what would happen if they didn’t respond in seven days. Anything? I wondered if they were working on an answer, maybe thinking about it too much too. It’s a good question and the answer is hard to explain, amirite?

Finally! WIth just 14 minutes to spare, before the seven days were up, the email arrived as promised.

From: City of Boulder <boulder@user.govoutreach.com>
Subject: Message About Request
Thu, Aug 18, 11:35 AM

Hello Drew,

The painting/graffiti that you are referring to has been removed as per city policy/code. Staff has been reminded that all graffiti needs to be removed or covered. The city does have a program in place for those who might be interested in painting a picture/ Mural on a city structures. If someone is interested, they would need to apply, through the city’s arts and culture program.

Thank you

Doug Rink
City of Boulder
Transportation Maintenance

Three minutes later, a second response:
From: City of Boulder <boulder@user.govoutreach.com>
Subject: Resolved Issue about Graffiti.
Thu, Aug 18, 11:38 AM

Dear Drew,

Your request # 103196 has been closed for the following reason:

Hello Drew,

Thank you for contacting the City of Boulder’s Transportation Maintenance with your graffiti clean-up request. Our maintenance crew has inspected and performed work in the area indicated in your request to cover up the graffiti.
We hope this service was satisfactory. We appreciate the community’s input on these areas so that we can address problems as they arise.
On occasion, requests submitted by members of the community can be misinterpreted by those of us scheduling the work. If you find that the maintenance needs you identified weren’t those that the crew addressed, please respond to this email and let us know. Please be as specific about the location as possible.

Thank you again and have a nice day

Doug Rink
City of Boulder
Transportation Maintenance

I took to the tunnel. Gone.

Dang. I don’t even know what to say, still. I did not ask for it to be removed. I only sent that one message above. I should have been content with the conclusion I came to on my own. I already miss it. But also, I must say, while I may have messed it up for all of you, I got this one…I captured it, and it captured me. It left such an impression I’m here memorializing it. There is something special about it being gone now, too. 

On the bright side, I wonder if this demonstrates what is really going on, that we are deciding collectively as a city that it is great art. I think we are. Considering how pervasive Smile works have become, maybe some good can come from my unwitting interference. Would Smile’s works be more special if they were more ethereal to you? Perhaps we have it too easy. Perhaps Smile has it too easy. Smile has a free pass. The artist is compliant. Pre-approved.

I’m going to keep watching and enjoying, and I’m going to be sure and never contact the Boulder Transportation Maintenance department about any of this ever again! Now look at what we have here. At least for now.

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DALL·E is the first darling of Web 3.0, The Semantic Web

Web 1.0 established the online shopping cart. Web 2.0 democratized media. Now alive and just over the tipping point, with Stable Diffusion, Dall·E from OpenAI is the first semantic darling of Web 3.0.

Winding down rapidly in effect, web3 (not Web 3.0) was something and there is something to talk about with a decentralized infrastructure which is useful, and in the long run, could lead to its greatest potential realized in the form of a global currency. A global currency levels the playing field for people stuck in economies based on their own locked-in government’s health performance and it’s not the same as Web 3.0, something altogether different. Web 3.0, “The Semantic Web”, was first articulated by the inventor of the web, over two decades ago. Now we are here.

That’s not to say that DALL·E is the first, the best or even the most unique. Nor is it a statement meant to undermine Stable Diffusion or any of the massively more advanced achievements in AI and machine learning to date. DALL·E is the first to capture these qualities for the mainstream, in an elegant, beautiful application that clarifies in no uncertain terms to everyone on first sight that the world of AI is pervasive.

The Semantic Web is profound for our culture in how it’s changing the way we make everyday life decisions, with more meaningful information. No matter what question you may have, and regardless of your familiarity with a topic, we’re entering a period where computers can help us determine many of the answers better than any human would ever be able to. That’s an extremely controversial idea, especially when you consider concepts like art and love.

A scene in Her (2013), imagines life in the near future, the future we are entering into now based merely on the limits and accessibility of processing power.

The movie demonstrates how effective a computer can be with such power, and especially, how computers can play a more effective role, more of the time, and how we can harness that power as a tool to grow.

Specifically, Web 3.0 is a web that is more important for computers to understand and do work with. By semantic in this case, we mean machine readable. Practically, when we put our thoughts out, in whatever form, there is an important bridge that must take that information and translate it into a language that computers can use to work with, and build upon. Web 2.0 brought human ideas in the form of media to the web, Web 3.0 parses it, not just for what is being said, but what is meant, to then present the results back to us.

What products will best fit your particular wants and needs? What clothing style becomes you and what style doesn’t? What do you mean when you say X? What book would you like to read, and what do you want to get from it? Should you take the job or not? 

When we make decisions about anything, we use what data we have and if we go out to seek more data to help us better understand, there is ultimately a limit to the amount of time and the information we can stand to gather to help us. We know that if we seek a “professional” to help us on important matters we tend to improve our success rate by incorporating their experience. The sheer amount of processing power and applicable logic available to assign a statistical probability now to practically every component that can be discovered of every component that can be discovered sets ever higher limits on the information we can use.

Today each new iPhone (a mere pocket device) contains over 15 billion transistors with a neural engine that can perform over 15 trillion calculations per second. Talk about a human achievement. So if you want to know something, in a way that you can personally understand, within a time frame that you wish to allocate, an operating system that knows you better than your friends and family can help piece it all together in a quicker, more meaningful way. It’s amazing how it relies on the web, which must be open and connected to become and thrive.

Each Web era, I’ve noticed, appears to undergo a cycle that begins with decentralization and ends with centralization. Should that happen with Web 3.0, now is the time of freedom and open culture, but eventually the clouds will set in.

I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A "Semantic Web", which makes this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The "intelligent agents" people have touted for ages will finally materialize.

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The Pearl Street Mall, West End

An expression of ideas for the new Pearl Street Mall, West End, created with DALLE-2

I am grateful to be able to live in Boulder, Colorado with all of the thought that goes into making it so wonderful. In an effort to further that direction I put together this document to promote the extension of the walking mall which includes laying bricks between 9th and 11th, and a section of 10th between Pearl and Spruce. In my position, while closing a street on a weekend for an event such as a crafts market or a NYC-style street fair is great in any city, a semi-closed street on Pearl, that continues to have cars sometimes, is a completely uninspiring idea. It’s fine. It’s better than keeping it for cars permanently. However, if the street were permanently bricked, such that it was no longer a street, but instead a clear and distinct part of Boulder’s Walking Mall, it changes everything about the idea, with a greater positive effect on all of downtown and Boulder, far beyond the single two-block area in focus. 

HOW DID WE GET HERE: The street shut down for restaurants, to keep them from dying

I wish to begin with an article I found below from this summer which you may have read. It’s worth looking at more closely now. I’ve selected some key paragraphs but everyone interested in this topic should consider reading the article in full. 

The person who is possibly by his position alone the most influential and exposed to the recent day-to-day business of Pearl Street Mall, Chip (just Chip), the CEO of Downtown Boulder, wrote this June 6, 2022 opinion piece for the Daily Camera (Way Back Machine):

“Downtown Boulder Partnership has always received inquiries from other city leaders who are exploring pedestrianizing a street in their central business district and look to the Pearl Street Mall for guidance and inspiration. At the onset of the pandemic, those calls became even more frequent. Communities craved outdoor gathering space; restaurants needed safe dining space and now these factors have completely changed how we look at streets, parking spaces and other public spaces. Today, Downtown Boulder can be added to the list of places exploring emulating Downtown Boulder…

For proponents of keeping the street closed, one argument is promoting walkability. With that in mind, I checked in with Jeff Speck, a city planner and urban designer who literally wrote the book on “Walkable Cities”. In fact he wrote two. In “Walkable City Rules”, a follow-up tactical playbook, Speck outlines many actions that cities can take to increase walkability. Tactics include increasing attainable density housing in the downtown core, addressing zoning codes, and focusing on public transit, bicycle infrastructure and a smart inventory of parking. Addressing the idea of closing a street in the downtown core for pedestrian access, Speck is quite cautious…

“The measure of success should be the revenue of the businesses” Speck asserted when I spoke to him last week. “There are ideological and social reasons to close a street, but you should start with an acknowledgement that the success of the businesses is the criterium that should be used to measure the success of a street closure…

Not only do I think this is an important stepping stone in piecing together how the city is coming into its position, I buy in to this measurement about business. This is a clever insight by Speck you can validate: successful business is a key indicator of a successful pedestrian mall. 

Though, to be clear on the implications of this point, I do not think Speck would suggest that it’s up to business to necessarily act as the drivers on creating or establishing what is successful overall, as if any particular business like a restaurant must be interested in the big picture beyond their own gains, but rather, as it was implied, any decisions made that becomes successful for pedestrians will go hand-in-hand with business success. You can’t expect to have a pedestrian-motivated success without a business success too, and most importantly, since there are multiple ways to motivate achieving a success, it’s in retrospect that you will find this measurement to be true and of importance in defining and gauging what success looks like.

Downtown Boulder did exactly what we needed them to do which was to survey, and they found, according to the article, that the closure of the street “turned out to be popular. Well, mostly”, Chip wrote in his opinion piece.

“Another pandemic response was the temporary closure of two blocks on Pearl Street’s West End between 9th and 11th streets. Two years later, many of the businesses that it was intended to help now say that the continued street closure is actually hurting them. In a survey conducted by DBP, 64% of the West End restaurants that responded indicated a preference to return the street to its pre-pandemic state while 36% indicated interest in a seasonal or hybrid closure. Not a single restaurant that responded indicated a preference for a permanent street closure”.

This is not the only statistic but perhaps the key statistic that I believe is driving the city to close the street back up for cars: 64% of restaurants on the West End, of some unmentioned percent that were surveyed, said they wanted the street to close down for cars. To be clear on any picture with what we know, its especially worth noting that the 64% number in focus for this published piece certainly does not account for all business, nor all business downtown, nor all business on the West End, nor all business of the category of restaurants on the West End, only the category of restaurants on the West End that responded to the survey.

A couple of days ago more details of the survey emerged. Of the 1,113 individual business stakeholders that received the survey, only 117 responded. Less than 10%. What I found especially striking was a remark added in the opening paragraph of the report noting that the click through rate of the email that included the survey, which was only 11%, was “above email industry standards”, which indicates that that Downtown Boulder knew that the statistic required an immediate justification but also that they were pleased and satisfied with the outcome.

Meanwhile, in an article from Boulder Reporting Lab, city operators unrelated to the business lobby group said they already decided on their own that they will close it back down for cars with their own terms, for reasons that make sense to them, including snow plowing cost comparisons and CO2 emissions as it was publicly reported and highlighted for its significance in the article above, where the department appears to be arguing that the two blocks as a pedestrian mall would be worse for people and the world than a car filled street. 

Even so, the city council members, a third group, say the decision is theirs. I do believe it is, as they have certain powers that likely supercede city operators even if it requires approaching the legalities from a different angle to accomplish the objectives of the people who elected them, such as changing the designation of the surface away from a street with car traffic right-of-ways and parking, and into the designation of our current pedestrian mall, which I hope they will do. 

Whoever does control the decision and the power to act, or even the influence, I worry the same outcome will be reached, based on a sentiment of the minority of the businesses on these two blocks who wield a disproportionate amount of influence, not just onto the city and city council, but onto their other colleagues comprised of local business owners who may be unwittingly backing what appears to be an all around unjustified long-term position based on their own short-term profit problems. 

It’s important to dive in and see what is going on. Publicly, for us as citizens to make informed choices and for the city council to properly represent us, we must do the best we can with the data we can gather.

Why then do restaurants and other businesses say they want cars back on to these two blocks and how is that the proper correlation with any losses in their revenues? Intuitively, for almost all reasons, it doesn’t make sense.

More recently, it was discovered publically that the The Reason with a capital R the restaurants and other business categories give for being in favor of cars instead of pedestrians, seems to be almost universally a justification related to parking, and that revenues will increase if there is parking. This clockwork story of correlating revenues to parking – the force of the movement for those aligned in wanting parked cars – has become this single, straightforward complaint that they say they hear from their customers: “Customers want the convenience of parking”. As if people are giving up or going elsewhere because they can’t find a parking space anymore, and thus, revenues are down, and they are voting to kill the pedestrian mall for this reason.

Looking west into The Pearl Street Mall, West End, created with DALLE-2

One thing I know for sure about the survey, based on what I found right from the horse’s mouth, is that there are West End restaurants that support permanent closure. Because the survey
found sought none, it’s a critically skewed percent, as is the 64% number then, where every restaurant makes up too large of an influence on the picture, and perhaps misrepresents the actual gravity and importance of the conclusions drawn from it. Yet another reason to lead us to question what is really going on.

It should also be noted that the majority of the West End restaurants are owned by just a few people causing an even higher margin of error for their persuasion, where for example, Centro, West End and Jax are all owned by the same person. In another case, one restaurant is owned by a Billionaire who I believe took relief from our tax dollars “to survive” nonetheless and almost all of the restaurants on these blocks are owned by people with many, many restaurants, many far beyond Pearl Street, and their risks may not require as delicate of a consideration as for example, a local up-and-coming owner who wouldn’t have the same level of resources and would need relief not just as a benefit but for survival.

Of all data points to hang your hat on, the 65% number is simply too corrupted in every form and fashion, where 6.5% might enjoy the closer reality, if even.

Since Downtown Boulder was predominantly focused on their restaurant clients, what of the other business? There is a diversity of businesses right on these two blocks from local and national clothing stores including Urban Outfitters and Burton Snowboards, a bookstore (Trident), office spaces, an arcade, a glasses shop, an occult, a pet store, a dispensary, gelato, coffee shops, a juice bar, apartment living, and there is also retail, restaurant, and office space available for lease. Speck would probably be drooling over it all in one place, right there, next to a bicycle shop, a bank, a beads store, a cool-kids convenience store, and the list goes on and on, right there.

What more, I learned of an email that was sent out to the city council that may or may not be public (I have not seen it), by Dave Query, the owner of those three restaurants that make up the statistical picture presented by Downtown Boulder, which provides a justification for why the owners would prefer that the streets remain with cars, despite being packed all summer long without cars. It was explained to me that the rationale from Query was parking but also of a “way of life” justification, more about preserving something, or getting back to something that used to be. Be that as it may, or may not be, Query noted in an interview with Travel Boulder this year that he is focused on opening more chicken restaurants: “We’re trying to take advantage of some opportunities coming out of the pandemic and we have plans to grow the Post Chicken and Beer joints, so we opened one in Estes Park and we’re opening one in Fort Collins.”

As for chicken, especially in the name of those who never see the light of day, the annual American appetite for chicken produces over 100 billion lbs of CO2e emissions each year—the same as more than 12 million cars. Query may follow best practices with his expanding chicken stops but looking at his websites and other articles I couldn’t find a single word about that. While I’m pretty sure people would care about the ingredients and sourcing of his restaurants on Pearl, I got a first-impression feeling his chicken brand might be harmed by a focus on sustainability. But I wouldn’t know, I’ve never met him and hardly know anything.This is just my first impression. If anything, it seems clear from what I’ve read that he’s perfectly nimble as a go-getter to adapt his business. Any article you read about him underscores this positive tenacity he has to adapt. Query owns 17 restaurant locations around Colorado. Is this the voice of Boulder’s future against more pedestrian space downtown? Its seems as if perhaps, yes. From what I can gather, he is the single most influential person at the table.

And if there is any question you have over the united front with active resources in Chip and Downtown Boulder to get cars back on the street permanently, you may not know that Chip awarded Query this year with the #1 prize for being the best Downtown Boulder client.

Dana & Dave Query (right) of Big F receiving the 2022 Business of the Year award from Chip at their membership group, Downtown Boulder

One person (not an owner) who works at a restaurant on these blocks, who wished not to be named, the person who told me about the email from Query to the city council, said that he has been watching this summer (his job is half-in and half-out) and confirmed that the restaurants were regularly packed. There was even a sense of envy I detected and I wondered what kinds competition goes on around these blocks. I too confirm that those restaurants on Pearl (not chicken restaurants) are known to be great, and they have been crowded this summer. Boulder is lucky to have these restaurants which are probably at the lowest risk from harm of all the businesses on these two blocks, either way. I read that when he was younger he was motivated by an interest in lively rooftop and outdoor spaces for people. He would have a lot of good ideas to add to building something great on a bricked mall.

HOW DID WE END UP ON THIS PARTICULAR DECISION PATH?

Because so many people want to keep it open with cars off, it seems as though a “partial closure” was somehow suggested as a viable option to be considerate, as if that was some kind of hybrid, equitable way to make everyone happy, and that the survey, the business propositions, and the conclusions, all went astray, confused over the difference in outdoor seating requirements, permanent bricking, the effects of covid, a change in consumer behavior, a quickly changing attitude towards the environment, parking needs, and the recession we are entering into now. Though Chip recommends taking years to do A/B tests, while using his meeting with Speck to pitch a justification for “caution”, Speck has come out since then to clarify publicly his suggestion from that meeting, that the testing for restaurants should happen “now”, not later, he said way back when. 

My concern that the city council is destined to grant or acquiesce to this unbelievable angle is due to an an email apparently written by Bob Yates, a conservative city council member, which indicates a complacent adoption of the mindset can be expected:

I hope at the very least I am showing that there could be an opportunity in understanding and scrutinizing the recommendation instead of falling into the wrong footsteps by looking the other way or out of a lack of interest. This was the ultimate motivation for me to take the time to compile the data presented in this document. 

From what I’ve gathered, the timing of the outdoor seating closure – why the West Pearl restaurants closed all at once on the same day involved two relevant factors. 1) Revenue related to liquor laws. I believe the state of Colorado (not Boulder) has the ultimate control over relevant matters of outdoor liquor, a different type of license than the one they were granted behind the state and Boulder’s special use permits issued during covid, a temporary relief measure that expired on August 31st, 2022. Even those restaurants willing and able to extend their license by August 31st to keep uninterrupted service, couldn’t do so because of red tape. To continue liquor sales requires a special type of permit that is unrelated to covid, which restaurants prior to covid without a license to sell outdoor didn’t have. 2) There is really no other way to look at it: It was a literal conspiracy with restaurants on West Pearl to shut down as part of their strategic revolt against the idea of continuing on with outdoor seating. They decided on their own that it wasn’t a good idea anymore, and so they decided to close up shop late at night without a warning to anyone, told their staff “The street is opening back up to cars now”, might have coordinated with the transportation depart or not, and said to everyone in Boulder “Outdoor seating is over, we’re gone”. Perhaps.

Here is why I have come to this: I know that both the Kitchen and Gaku did apply to the state for the license to sell liquor outdoors, and it has already been granted, and in fact, the Kitchen is back open outside now selling liquor, as of this week (Sept 12, 2022).

The Kitchen did not fully join the movement, but it seems as though Pasta Jay, Felix and Trident did. However, it would not surprise me one bit if Trident and Felix shut down for camaraderie with Query and Pasta Jay instead of any opinion of their own. When I spoke to people at both Felix and Trident (not owners) to ask why they shut down outdoor seating, the answer I got from both was that it was because the city was going to close it down for cars, and that the city already decided. 

The owners knew that the city council would vote on what to do about this (e.g. if temporary outdoor seating should remain or not), but they were apparently attempting to one-up the city it seems, in deciding on their own that no, outdoor seating is done whether you want it or not. That’s a shame because I know people want outdoor seating, including their own customers, and it seems they would make more money by expanding their operations into that space vs. providing their customers with a parking incentive. 

I believe we have reached the point of saturation where the restaurant owners are no longer willing to adapt because they are too frustrated at everything. They are so tired of COVID they’ve become tactical is seems. They seem to want to return to an olden way of living where perhaps it’s better margins and less red tape, and it seems they don’t like change so much they need a lobby to keep it from happening. They want to be stable, as if any business is ever stable. There is an interesting law of business revenue that applies not just day-to-day, but even on the biggest trends, and even when you don’t see it coming: a business can’t ever be static. Its either growing revenues, or its shrinking revenues, but it can’t ever remain the same.

The plan of course, for the majority of restaurants on Pearl, all the way to 15th and beyond, is to get beyond the red tape so that they can serve liquor again outdoors if desired, and in fact The Kitchen is one of about thirty restaurants on Pearl that are not in a revolt (or whatever you would call it) – they are continuing through the tape, and continuing with outdoor seating so long as there is outdoor seating. That seems like smarter business, and a far more equitable approach.

But. The Kitchen, unfortunately, is voting in favor of shutting things down permanently and having cars return to Pearl. This is the owner Kimbal Musk’s first choice. Musk, the brother of Elon Musk, is a Billionaire and presumably in an excellent position to not be harmed by  Change with a capital c, in terms of any margins that might be compromised from the loss of about 3 parking spaces in front of his business.

I know from my conversations with people on these blocks that the restaurants are frustrated over it all. Very frustrated. Their current decision making process appears to be largely influenced by getting things working now with the red tape and getting over COVID as a priority over long term thinking on larger issues like bricking the street and long term revenue gains from having a business with more foot traffic exposure. It seems plausible and understandable that they are not in a good position to be thinking about higher aims. 

However, they could still generate from outdoor seating with people who don’t drink, or could be open like the Kitchen because they want to provide a cool thing and make more money, but it seems the united front of businesses closed down on purpose with a plan of their own that was acutely coordinated, included the takedown of infrastructure in the night that was there under a collaborative permit with the city nonetheless, then distributing a specific message that the city decided already, all while blind sighting city council. I may not have it all right, I’m questioning and trying to connect the dots.

Even if it was a conspiracy, the survey overall, as the center of attention, is simply not relevant enough on its own merits to weight the direction for us as citizens without more information on their angle, and may be too statistically incomplete to draw up the right conclusion that depends upon the picture too few people wish to paint. The power and support behind less than five people may look like a lot more than five, should any others support their business needs too, in order to maintain good standing with their membership in Downtown Boulder’s agenda and power of influence in representing their interests first. But this time, Downtown Boulder’s data points, and literally all other data points, seem to contribute in total to enormous support in favor of beautifying Boulder for the people by removing the asphalt forever and opening it on up.

KITCHEN AND GAKU

The owner of Gaku Ramen does not live in Boulder so the general manager is operating. I stopped by and spoke with him. He said his business and the Kitchen are together in wishing for an opening of the pedestrian mall. The Kitchen told that to him so I going to just assume that…it was nothing. Yes, I’m going to assume that it was probably nothing, but there is nothing we can do with that anyway. What we know, definitively, is that Musk’s first choice is to side with Query and Pasta Jay in opening back up.

If the Kitchen indicated to Downtown Boulder they want cars back, but represent to Gaku Ramen that they want temporary cars or no cars as Gaku Ramen would prefer, that would be something to work out and understand. I was equally confused and disappointed to see the kinds of actions Kimbal Musk took with his employees during lockdown, as I watched it happen in real time, and now combined with this decision, it seems like maybe he is not the most ideal person to help steer the future direction of the city for everyone, but might be good at going with the flow and adapting to make his business work whatever ends up happening and keep open a quality sourced service that is good for Boulder.

As for Gaku, and their position, I am definitively clear. He bent his knees down and popped up as he said he would LOVE a permanently open pedestrian mall.

HAVEN

I heard from an angry bird on twitter that two clothing stores, next door neighbors on the northside of Pearl between 9th and 10th, Haven and Mabel & Moss, are against a pedestrian mall. I stopped by and spoke with the owner of Haven and sure enough, she is adamant about closing the pedestrian area and giving it back to cars.

She told me a few days before it was publicly reported that the city had already decided and that cars would be back any day. I asked her why she preferred parking instead of a pedestrian mall. Her answer was very clear: Because its what her customers want, she said. The way she said it was impressive. If you are her customer, she is going to take care of you I imagine. She wants to help women feel good by helping to source the right clothes for each individual. That’s a great proposition in my opinion, you should probably go check her out and I’ll bet she is good at it, she has another store in Denver and appears to be right in a growing spurt. She cares so much about her customers, she even admitted that she herself would personally prefer a pedestrian mall, but that she was making her decision based on what she thinks her business customers want: parking. They want parking, she said again without a flench.

I think the city council then, before making their vote based on this rationale of what the store owners want, should hear from those customers, and not the business owners. It may be a regular, general complaint the store owners hear, but it may be a complaint everyone is going to hear as a sign of a successful retail zone, and quite frankly, when did anyone not complain about that?

Considering her competition on the bricks, and across the street from the likes of Urban Outfitters and Burton, I asked her if she thought she would get more walk-ins if the street were bricked and she said “No.”

I didn’t pry further but when she said no, this was the turning point in my mind where she lost me. And I think this may be one of the more important considerations that I am not seeing talked about in public: anyone who would say that their clothing boutique, a full block off the bricks, would get more traffic than being on the bricks has some pretty heavy lifting to do in my mind to show how that could possibly be.

As we all know – all of us – pre pandemic, the flow of foot traffic in downtown Boulder hit the bookstore and turned back, just at it will do again if the street opens back up to cars. Only a smaller percent venture past the bricks. I know that Downtown Boulder has acute statistics on this and I think it would be important to show that the expectation for a business on the bricks vs a business on a closed street off the bricks, is a severely different kind of proposition.

A business owner like Haven stands to benefit the most on the bricks, for she already has customers who will come to her, and she would gain new ones from a massive increase in passer bys. It’s hard to argue this point otherwise, and I think Haven should at least justify to the council should they wish to vote with her how her business stands to suffer when it would seem so much more likely to bloom.

In conclusion, I believe Haven may know their own business customers when it comes to clothing, but may not have the right idea in thinking about what is best for the community as a whole, and that the owner may be too aggressive in lobbying against the things that she would herself want as a citizen in prioritizing her own business profits with a potentially misunderstood complaint, and the impact of that complaint should those parking spaces go away.

FELIX’S

I haven’t been fortunate enough yet to try out My Neighbor Felix, but it looks great and I can tell you in no uncertain ostensible terms that they are the clear winner of all restaurant business on these two blocks since the day they opened, at least for being packed, lively and spirited. No idea what they would prefer – assuming they back Query because they shut down on the same stolen night – but Felix has it made any way you look at it. They are all about sustainability and their menu is unique for the region. The place is ON FIRE busy, and they would also have some heavy lifting to do to try to show that cars are better for them, right on the corner of 9th street.

PASTA JAYS

If Pasta Jay’s could offer at least one dish with tomato sauce that wasn’t so watery such that people could actually call it a sauce, I think they would be in a stronger position to justify any arguments they might have. I highly doubt they will be able to turn the taste around enough to convince locals they need their own parking.

OZO

Ozo has an argument for parking but it’s almost certainly a result of miscorrelating the whys and wherefores. I wish they didn’t have any argument at all but let’s tackle the challenges fairly and sincerely so that we can formulate the best opinion. The effect of closing off the street affects them in a way that is sincerely different, the result of a change that is not the same as the general parking issue for everyone else. I know because I once fell into the category of customers they allude to when they say they’ve lost some significant percent of their morning crowd based on the street being closed off to cars.

The thing about parking downtown is that there is a period in the morning where the games begin, and the two hour parking spots last the longest, as people fill the longer spots first in planning for a full day of parking. Ozo opens earlier than game time, so, pre-covid, you could pull up in your car and get a spot out front or close enough, grab a coffee, and then leave. In other words, their customers COULD rely on a parking spot early in the morning to dash in and out, like a drive through.

There are some caveats, though, which are relevant to the reason why I stopped doing that before the pandemic: Ozo takes way too long to make an espresso. In the morning, pre-pandemic, you could walk in and expect to see 6 to 8 cups lined up behind just one person on one machine, and another 10 people in line. You actually can’t dash in and out so easily because they haven’t optimized for that. What made Ozo hop over the last decade, I know first-hand, is the morning office crowd that worked downtown. They would park and walk over to meet their colleagues at Ozo, an extremely social environment. An enormous % of the customers were people sitting in the shop having team meetings, business meetings and social meetups with friends also downtown at work. The economy was at its peak. There was a huge startup scene crowd in the morning, as well as many other types of regulars and stop ins. Covid came and the office world changed dramatically, but in a way that stuck. 

There is a significant % of business that will never be the same in a new world of Zoom and help us all, Meta. 

What about the Ozo that opened up just a few blocks away on the other side of the mall? Do they need to have two locations within just a few blocks of one another and do both need to be on streets? Where is the spirit and innovation? What did they do to address their lost audience, anything? Probably something. 

My suggestion is that we put a plaza out front, and help them with imagining how cool it could be for them to transform their coffee shop into the future by integrating it into the new designs. Their Isabella espresso is definitely my favorite and the strongest in town so if they can serve people quicker, they stand to make more money per minute, and people won’t need to make a major commitment to go in, timewise, anyway. I really think it would be hard to argue it would be worse.

There is plenty of coffee around, including theirs: “Our Office Coffee services are available in Boulder, Denver, Broomfield, Westminster, Thorton, Denver Tech Center, Lakewood, Englewood, Aurora, Arvada, Golden and everywhere in between.” Their website notes that they are hiring for all positions in all seven of their Boulder retail cafes. It is at least not a delicate situation for their business, they are hearty like a bean stock apparently. They might need to do some soul searching on how they are going to evolve into a world where more people stay at home on Zoom, and fewer people have cars.

THE ECONOMY BEYOND RESTAURANTS & RETAIL

What I have not heard being talked about with any detail in public but presume is being considered, is the effect of such an idea on property value, rental prices and city revenues in and around the area.

If the street is bricked, foot traffic would presumably jump up, business revenue would thus go up, property value would go up and the city tax revenues would go up, like fusion. Financially, the city stands to gain, the property owners stand to gain, and while renters lose some on rent, their businesses stand to make more. This dynamic works itself out in a natural balance that is already successful in this zone.

Intuitively, it could be worrisome that such a plan stands to kill the important small business, such that the only businesses that would be able to afford to grow in already high rental area would be the Starbucks and Banana Republic’s of the world. Fortunately, the city has a brilliant lever in place already to mitigate such a loss to the community, a level I wish Austin, Texas had before a huge number of its mom and pop stores disappeared: Only a certain percent of chain stores are allowed on the mall. The city can find the right way to enable that value on the extension. The variables could probably be exactly proportionate, maybe even more weighted in this zone towards the up-and-coming small business with a smaller percent of chain permits.

I presume this is where cities can easily go wrong in attempting to set up a pedestrian mall from scratch, as Speck would probably say, because they won’t be able to so easily establish and balance all these factors. But Boulder already did it, so expansion would be straightforward, without the risks, and without much mystery in terms of what to model for the expectations on the biggest economic factors. How many people will actually walk west past the bookstore if it is bricked? The number is practically there waiting to be calculated.

Looking south towards Chautauqua, created with DALLE-2

To The South, To The West

It may be tucked away here with a weak header, but the opportunity for a connection with other areas of downtown is the most exciting part of a mall extension in my opinion. If the area were to become bricked westward to 9th street, the businesses to the west of 9th street and that commercial property would also become more lively and integrated. The adventurous tourist who made it all the way to 9th street before turning back would make it down to Piece Love and Chocolate, Nick and Willy’s, Lolitas and Spruce Confections. Those businesses would have a lot to gain from the extra foot traffic, and it would extend the liveliness of that neat area through to Walnut between 7th and 9th with a boost for the restaurants, retailers, offices and apartments there too.

There is also the important connection through to Walnut between 9th and Broadway, which would become way more lively, bringing much more foot traffic to those businesses and acting as a link to St Julian and whatever becomes of the cement plaza to the east of the hotel (if not parking), and on into the grounds of the Library. It’s too perfect of a link to be ignored in how much it could invigorate the expanded region. If only there was a pedestrian bridge that linked the St Julian throughway to the Library. Perhaps extending the mall can fund such a link one day.

PARKING

It must be said, there are not many individual, urban-sprawl styled parking lots reserved for individual business customers like other restaurants and businesses outside of downtown and in strip malls have. When these restaurants on Pearl decided to invest in the area, they knew that parking would be an issue for their customers as a criterion for a successfully busy area, and that they themselves would not have any control over parking for their customers.

It must also be said the two blocks in question are flanked with three parking garages within a block’s distance, two on Walnut between 9th and 11th and one on Spruce and 11th.

And! It must be said. If the street were filled with parking spaces, when it comes times for Query’s customers to get in their cars and drive their 5 minutes into town, the chances of them finding a parking spot in front of Query’s place is simply next to none. 

And so it was said by Matt Benjamin, a progressive city council member who just might be a vote in support of a more useful pedestrian space. Parking has always been a problem as a sign of a successful pedestrian zone where people enjoy getting out of their cars and leaving them behind. So even if we do need 60 or 65 parking spaces, why do we need to take up so much space for them?

From the Press Office City of Munster, Germany, 2001

CHANGING BEHAVIOR

As it is now, people in Boulder can all too easily get into the habit of spending five minutes driving downtown to work, letting their car sit for eight hours in a garage, then spending another five minutes to drive home to go back into park for the rest of the night without doing anything. It’s not an effective use of resources anyway.

The parking garage fees support this antiquated behavior by capping the daily amount at just five hours worth of time. The longer you leave the car in the parking garage, the less it costs per hour. It could be the other way around. All of the fee structures and incentives could be reconsidered to make it even harder to park on purpose, or to open up more spots by incentivising people to move along instead of for being lazy. 

The very worst solution I can think of that could be a good idea to others would be to build more parking. I suggest changing gears and purposely squeezing drivers, making them pay more for parking, pay more for parking tickets (much more than the modest increases from last time), put heavy parking costs on cars with combustion engines built after 2025, and provide people who truly need it with big incentives to use parking for less. Where are the charging stations downtown anyway? Shouldn’t there be rows of charging stations in the garages to incentivise cleaner air now, since we are the ones breathing it? I thought the city would already be talking out loud about the electricity they could sell for that.

Where are all the safe bike parking spots where you can relax after leaving your your nice bike out of sight? Are we forgetting about all the bikers who would pay to park their bikes in a safe and convenient way to stop in at Ozo and then chat with their friends in front of a fountain? 

FUTURE PARKING, FUTURE CITIES

It may seem far out but cars will pilot themselves pretty soon. It’s near enough in city planning years to think about the impact. The progress of the self-driving taxis won’t be stifled by politics, or I’ve-gatta-have-a-car-for-me-economy holdouts, if you want to drive a car in the future yourself, you’ll probably need to go to Wyoming where they’ll have roads for adventures like that because it will be far too dangerous – murderous even – to drive yourself. The network will handle everything. And thus, you won’t have a car. The Google’s, Uber’s and Tesla’s of the world will runr it all. 

Cities will become transformed as a result of this one key shift. There will be no need for parking because cars will always be going. This is not a far fetched future argument for the space world of tomorrow, consider that literally ever parking lot attached to every building – sometimes 50% of the space of the area in downtown Boulder, will be able to be repurposed for pedestrian use. Today, Boulder has an ordinance that requires a daunting amount of parking space be built with each new building proposal. What if we are over the peak now, and should expect a decline in the number of people who drive, and isn’t that what we want to help happen if we could?

Sprawling parking lots, parking garages and wide streets will be handed back as cars move through more efficiency and effectively. In Moore’s Law terms, sometime well before 2050. That’s right around the corner for city planners.

Ideas for Pearl Street Mall, between 9th and 11th, created with DALLE-2

DESIGN

While money, parking and freedom of space are on top of mind, the hardest part for most people is likely imagining the design, and then giving the correct proportion of their decision making process to the impacts design has. What we have experienced over the past two years since the street has been closed has not included any design, unfortunately. It would be hard to quantify how much design could be misunderstood when attempting to correlate down revenues for the restaurants on West Pearl over the last two years, but there hasn’t been any other use case for the street beyond makeshift, ordinary outdoor seating for some restaurants. There was virtually no public seating added, no bike racks, nothing – and it was ugly – unlike the mall where one can relax, meet and feel like sitting for a spell.

There are many ways to design the area, and by great fortune, there is one design on how to lay it out that is already there, even though we may not have realized it yet, whee the design can be perfectly “informed” by what has already worked so successfully. What could go down on the street is already predetermined at least, for safe starters, by the design we have that is already working – the type of brick, the type of planter, the type of bench, the spacing and proportions. It’s not what I prefer as is, but there is a rhyme to the reason that is repeatable for us with little risk or need to test over years and years, an advantage we have in Boulder that is not so easy to emulate anew for other cities. What fun as a community to consider other ideas, like grass, other materials, refreshes, tweaks, and even some big changes that could make the design guide better. We could spend several years with a world renown architect, but in the meantime, we can move out of Alpha from the paint and into Beta with the bricks, right now. We can lay down the bricks as the first move, based on the designs that will be informed. Leaving it closed as a street with no design or weak design would, imo, be the greatest risk of the any proposition on the table. A true extension is the safest place to begin, and time is of the essence. The first temporary design is nearly ready, it just needs to be drawn up. 

Without design things get shady quickly, and the beauty of the proposition fades back to a mere “closed street”, not just as a designation, but as a way of life with oil and grit, just as you would find in any big city with greasy two-by-four-and-plywood structures on dingy confusing layouts. 

Looking east down Pearl from 9th

This is what is killing it right now: the lack of design. If the restaurants got rid of their design inside, they would all meet their demise. It’s that big of a difference. As is, even with the hustle and bustle of all the restaurants on a warm and glorious Saturday summer evening, the lack of design and designation outside makes Boulder no different than the bottom of the barrel.

Long term restaurants and store owners might get excited about having a voice in how things go outside in front of their stores in way that could be wonderful not just for them, but also for us as their customers. There are so many opportunities for unique flair.

There is also a feeling that comes with design that is much more straightforward and important than people realize. How does it make you feel? It can be dark and cold, or sunny and bright. It can be urban, it can be quaint. In Boulder’s most recent large scale renovation of public space between the Downtown library and Central Park, there is a lot to talk about with regards to why, in retrospect, it didn’t work. What are the elements of the design that prevent people from wanting to use it? For example to meet someone there, or head there for a stroll?

A bench near the Boulder Downtown Library designed to prevent people from resting.

In the picture above, picture yourself the designer at their desk, working on the plans before the park was ever created. You are alone but you recall the whisper in your ear from the last meeting “Remember, there’s going be homeless people sleeping around here so we’re going to need to take that into consideration when you are designing benches too”. It’s called Hostile Architecture and it’s cold as ice. The idea speaks to you when you see it from afar, and as you approach it. It says, elite people use this space, so if you are are not part of that, you are not welcome here, and the sincentment is enforced. It’s a similar tactic to the sign Starbucks put up on Pearl Mall several years ago before that said no large backpacks allowed. For a such a mountain gear town, it told everyone what kind of snobs we are and set the first impression for what to expect in these parts with who is welcome, and who is not.

We’ve got to get help on this before it iterates up and down into a large scale problem with spaces that too few will want to use. You haven’t heard much about it because we may be right at the tipping point, but ‘housing first’ policy is happening in America, statistically speaking, and progressive towns like Boulder are starting to crack the nut…it’s important to get rid of those hostile thoughts when envisioning this type of space. 

Even now, just look again at the surroundings of the bench. Who is going to sleep on that bench while the grass is so much nicer? And why isn’t anyone here?  It’s from Monday afternoon, Sep 13, 2022, biking home from school with my 9-year-old. Beautiful day, mid 70s, no wind, sunshine.

 As I started, a designed walking mall and a closed section of a street are two completely different things and should never be confused by using one as a representation of what to expect from the other. What’s the use cause besides eating only when it can be funded by liquor, or walking aimlessly with no where to stop? There will never be a commercial or pedestrian success without it.

CONCLUSION

My conclusion and thus the argument I stand behind is that the money, the parking, the freedom of space, and the design is nearly ready, the vast majority of people and business want it, and I see no justification against it. The risks of expansion are minute, yet the rewards are so high and likely. Based on the way things have been going, I think the restaurants need to step back, and be hand held through this a bit longer. We must bring them along, they will see. But any business unprepared for the next lockdown in the future is not reading the room that we don’t want to be in. What will they do to survive next time? What’s their plan? 

The city, all of the businesses, all of the property owners, and all of the people can have their interests met and expectations exceeded in an unusual moment of confluence, a transformative inspiration for Boulder and other towns across the world looking to significantly improve the ways of life.

As strongly as I feel about this, if someone passed the baton to me and said the choice was mine, I would say that I believe bricking it is a no brainer and that’s what I’d like to do, but I would pass the baton back, because it’s not something I feel comfortable deciding on for you. I just want to vote and have my vote be heard because I feel strongly about it, and I know I am not alone. 

Though most of the ideas here comprise a round up of points for consideration for everyone in Boulder, my most specific request to the city council is this: Let’s commit to the direction of a permanent pedestrian space now, and move in that direction now, and let’s allow restaurant owners and all other members of the city an opportunity in parallel with one more chance to wake up and provide a compelling justification for why Boulder would be better off going backwards, or how it is that returning cars to this pedestrian space is a move forward. If you haven’t decided already, I’m only suggesting that you please do not open the street back up to cars while figuring out what to do next, keep it closed to cars while figuring out what to do next. Put the onus on the minority profiteers with their own resources to appeal. Give them one last chance to explain what they are talking about in a way that makes sense. 

When urban designers and city planners from around the world come to Boulder to see what a success looks like, I am sad to think they might be going home de-energized, disappointed, and with a feeling of defeat, extreme caution, extreme risk, concerns for decades of discovery requirements and the wrong type of focus on business interests. That would be a missed opportunity to lend a hand to a world in need. Let’s greet them in a different way. Let’s be sure they go home inspired, not just with what we’ve done, but what we are going to do.

SEE ALSO:

+ Contact form for City Council. Drop a vote in favor of the walking mall, or whatever you think. -> LINK

The Boulder city department behind the proposal to undo the west Pearl pedestrian space is called “Community Vitality”. Great Thread/Explainer -> LINK

+ Boulder Transportation Advisory Board opposes city’s plan to reopen West Pearl to cars -> LINK

* Working on some grammatical & spelling errors, & adding links this Wed Sep 14th eve. Please let me know if you have any details you think are important that I might want to include, correct or consider: drew@dembot.net

** Comments are off here but they are always on with twitter: https://twitter.com/boulder_drew

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The Philosophy of Memes

It’s an obvious class, starts with 101, ends with 420. In this case, it happened in a bar, so to speak, where it’s known philosophers open up and say what they REALLY mean. So I was pleased to partake in a Shirley Temple (sorry, beer and liquor just tastes bad and makes me throw up) while prodding three philosophers on memetics, for their philosophy in a bar podcast, Hotel Bar Sessions, Episode 64: Memes

With our special guest, Andrew Baron (creator of Rocketboom and KnowYourMeme), we also investigate what, if anything, distinguishes an “internet meme” from other kinds of memes, and how internet memes may provide a unique insight into social operations and cultural formations.

In this episode, the following ideas, thinkers, texts, events… and, yes, memes!… are referenced (explicitly or implicitly):

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Internet Meme History


The Root of Disinformation at the Center of Meme Culture

There was an article that came out a few years ago at The Verge that I didn’t get an opportunity to formally respond to about the history of Know Your Meme. I was contacted by the writer, Kaitlyn Tiffany, a few hours before the article was published and after it had already been written. The story was a long exposé that took weeks to put together and, in part, was meant to shine a light on certain strikingly large and obvious events that occurred surrounding the departure of Kenyatta Cheese, then the Chief Operating Officer of Rocketboom.

The article celebrating the ten-year anniversary was not correct and had many technical errors, and it misattributed quotes and credits to people. It’s important to get it straight. To be accurate in documenting history. To be fair and in good faith to the facts so that people can learn and benefit from the truth. The writer was one year out of college and was working at a second job in audience development though, for the reasons described below, the problems with the article were ultimately not hers alone.

The data below is not written in a way that is spectacular, it’s just the facts. Nonetheless, I believe this report can be useful for anyone interested in how intentional misinformation makes its way through internet culture, for example, how history can be manipulated, stolen, or changed in a sophisticated and valuable way. The facts below serve as a case example, if you like, to highlight the role of authority as the weak link. The example is a good one because it exposes the weak link in authority, which begets more authority until history becomes changed.

THE FACTS: These are the facts that contradict the public narrative about Know Your Meme’s history, myself and Kenyatta Cheese, and the actions he took while he was working at Rocketboom. The majority of the facts I provide below have never been provided to anyone because I shouldn’t have to, but it seems as though things have gotten out of hand. I admit it’s tedious…a lot of ‘I did this’ and ‘I did that’ at first. And you may question these facts, and you should question any facts you need in order to form an opinion if you want one. I’m here to say that my facts are true and also, they can be verified and validated. I will verify and validate these facts if anyone wants me to but so far, no one has asked. Now, as a result, there are hundreds upon hundreds of articles that are false about Know Your Meme history and misattribute my work and the work of others. Some have given me the opportunity to say some of these things to them as they wrote their pieces over the last decade, but not one person ever – not even a single person once – has ever asked me to verify my claims before going on with the contrary to propagate misinformation. As such, their stories about Know Your Meme ended up being false and untrue, just as the story from The Verge is now. It doesn’t require a brilliant, experienced journalist, it merely requires someone have the time to ask me for any evidence they want to verify and validate these facts, and then take the time to look. That’s simple.


Rocketboom had more influence over meme culture than most people realize. Through Know Your Meme, Rocketboom is largely responsible for bringing the word meme to the mainstream. No other site, platform or authority did it. There was a need I identified and it was the underlying objective I had in conceiving and building the meme database: Know Your Meme worked because it was a place to explicate memes in an empathetic, academic manner, in a world where the word meme at that time had a full-on connotation with x-rated content, due to 4Chan in general and in particular due to Encylopedia Dramatica, which I bumped up directly against.

While I could not usually bring myself to visit 4chan without preparing to have the rest of my day ruined, I appreciate that 4chan exists as an example of something to see, to understand the reality of humanity a bit better.

Encyclopedia Dramatica was also a cesspool of hate and had the specific agenda of documenting memes with an x-rated, racist lingo. Rocketboom brought the word meme out of that polluted, inaccessible environment on purpose and into the mainstream by design, and within the first two years, a time period the Verge story mostly skipped over and otherwise misconstrued, Know Your Meme became THE authority on internet meme culture where it remains a pillar today.

As for the original Know Your Meme segment with Joanne Colan at Rocketboom: it was mentioned as an idea one day in a two-minute conversation, in a Rocketboom video production meeting with myself and Kenyatta Cheese in 2007. At that time specifically, I had hired Kenyatta to learn about how my Rocketboom video editing workflow happened, working specifically with the objective of learning it, organizing it, and stabilizing it to establish a formal, functional department of video editors which he did quite well.

I liked the suggestion he had. The point of the meeting I called was to brainstorm ideas for segments to use as a production crutch inside of the Rocketboom show because I needed to reduce the amount of writing time I was spending each day. I wrote all the Rocketboom scripts myself, Joanne enhanced and tweaked them when she was recording them with a director (I was the director/camera for the first couple of years of Rocketboom and then we started adding a few filmmakers to shoot with Joanne), and then Joanne usually developed all the outside shoot ideas and produced them with the filmmakers.

Typically, I would then send the scripts in to be shot, and then after the shooting, the tape got sent to the editors. I then worked directly with the editors, usually from home. Each time they finished or needed assets I sent them the creative direction and the more seasoned editors usually sent more completed drafts, and then I usually called for several rounds of video edits before signing off to publish. I was the only one that signed off on every episode. Around this time I was just starting to hire assistant writers to help me crank out more non-news, single topic scripts.

One day I decided I would write up an idea for the first version of the segment. When I was at home writing the script (almost universally I couldn’t write in the office), as it happens I wasn’t finding anything I wanted to cull, so I started to look around for a meme to explicate. This was something I had been adding into scripts already with Joanne, it’s just that now I would do it with a lab coat. The idea of the lab coat was ultimately the crutch and would make it easy to write each time once I had a template together. By setting the stage, it would be easy to create a reoccurring cool piece, as if Joanne went to the lab for 20 seconds to explicate something, and then came back to the news. It’s a trope. So I wrote it in exactly the Rocketboom style, just like I always did, knowing that Joanne would help make it silly yet sophisticated automatically, playing as if she was in a lab. As you can see, it’s basically a news Rocketboom episode story, as usual. The main difference is that I decided to create an intro leader in, which was ideal for a cutaway from the news desk (just a keypress away on the TI/994A), and then suddenly Joanne was in the lab wearing a coat. You know, the scriptwriting that Rocketboom had was unique which helped differentiate Rocketboom, and it was the creative writing style that added one of the important elements to the spirit. It was also of course, especially, the people. To have so many young and extremely talented and creative people in a comfortable, functional environment to all work together and pour ourselves into something great. I was just talking to Joanne about this the other day as we were reflecting back. She and I used to talk a lot about that, that the show had this spirit in a big way, and that made it fun and exciting to be doing. It was a creative time in a medium that felt uncharted.

After I wrote and released the first segment with Joanne, and we liked it, I continued it, and then I then decided to create a full-length set of episodes as a one-time mini-series for the holidays. None of this involved Kenyatta in the creation beyond the mention of the segment idea, though that is a significant idea to mention so he should get credit for that part and co-creator then is appropriate. His role at that time was related to video editing administration, and he jumped right in to edit sometimes to learn what it was like to edit Rocketboome episodes, so he could better manage the editors. At that time we had a few stations and editors would come and go throughout the day and night.

I then decided on my own that I would create actual episodes as a mini-series to get them in the can which would save me from having to write a bunch of news scripts, and to get a break over the holidays for everyone in production. I invited Jamie, Ellie and Kenyatta to act in the miniseries, their first on-camera for Rocketboom

For the miniseries, I asked Jamie, Ellie, and Kenyatta to pitch in their ideas for which memes to explicate (we all liked memes more than anyone else in the office) and asked them if they would be on the show for this one-time miniseries. I knew that whatever they did would ham it up nicely with the kinds of interactions we all had together. I didn’t go on camera because I never want to be on camera.

I went through the list of memes everyone sent in and picked the ones I wanted. Jamie had been collecting a list of memes on a spreadsheet and proposed a number of memes for those episodes, and while they were thoughtful ideas, I did not use any of his suggestions on the list for the miniseries. He suggested Mudkips for example which did not fit with Rocketboom’s audience. Jamie didn’t watch Rocketboom episodes day-to-day at that time so he probably wouldn’t of known, he was busy programming. I then worked with Jamie, Ellie and Kenyatta to confirm who would do which meme. I wrote the first complete script and then sent it to them to give them an idea of what to try and put together (they had never written scripts before for Rocketboom) and then I took what they handed in, and revamped it all into a complete set of scripts on my own at home, a full miniseries of episodes which included the scripted words, the camera direction for the actors, when to make all the cuts, the exact assets to use during voice-overs, etc. This is all fully documented in an extensive amount of daily operational emails, by the way, it’s not hearsay. As I mentioned, if anyone heard anything different about how this process went, they could ask. Kenyatta may not have that much in the way of communications and emails day-to-day except with me, but I have emails with everyone, and all the editors and directors, the dev department, admin, all the external, etc. Simple.

I decided I liked the miniseries and I would create a spin-off show, which I did do. That was also the message behind the press release I wrote when I launched it, near the end of 2018. In my press release, I referred to it as a spin-off show from Rocketboom, and spoke about the way in which sitcoms on TV had characters that branched out into their own shows. It was something I had given years of thought to, and this was the first big one. The formal Know Your Meme show was a great show from Rocketboom, and Kenyatta, Jamie and Ellie all became recognizably internet famous overnight, which was a perk for them too.


Though, more importantly for this article, there is another side to Know Your Meme which I would like to talk about that really makes Know Your Meme what it is, that which was also completely misunderstood by the Verge writer, due to the information that was mischievously fed to her: the meme database, the platform itself.

Kenyatta’s ideas for the creation of Know Your Meme ended with the idea of a video segment inside of Rocketboom that day. He was unaware of the idea of the platform (the meme database) and was not involved in it. Neither was Jamie or anyone else. This is also verifiable with a plethora of emails in case anyone ever wanted to see though no one has ever contacted me with a serious interest in it.

But there is interest, as there are many articles that touch on it, but they almost are all incorrect, it’s not just The Verge. The Verge article states that the meme database was created near the end of 2008 by Jamie, a full twelve months later than it actually was. It wasn’t created in 2008, and it wasn’t created by Jamie. The article originally said that Jamie created it in one day in 2008, though later The Verge issued a correction, and updated it to say that Jamie created it in 2008 (as if he didn’t take just one day apparently). These are pretty big oversights that could be easily verified but they are all still there in their grossly incorrect state.

I created and released the first Know Your Meme meme database at knowyourmeme.com in 2007 myself, a full year earlier, for the reason I described above. I built the first versions with moveable type and wiki software and started experimenting with it, settled on a wiki platform, and then published it alone through Rocketboom inviting the Rocketboom audience to join and add meme articles in the academic way I had guided. This was in 2007, the same day I released the first Know Your Meme segment with Joanne. Rocketboom had an interactive-ready audience and a few came along and began to participate. No one else collaborated with me on the meme database with regards to the idea, building it, experimenting with it, buying the domain name, or releasing it on Rocketboom.

When I released that first iteration of the meme database, from that day forward, I was also the only one aside from our audience who used it, experimented with it, and continued to build upon it to flesh it out for close to a year.

Have you ever seen the interesting experiment where a copy of the U.S. Constitution was put online in a way where anyone could come along and edit it? The experiment was to see where it would end up if literally, anyone could edit it. How would people work together when it’s completely open and there are no rules?

For my first iteration of the meme database, I was inspired by this notion for meme articles, and I purposefully removed all constraints. I allowed people to edit articles without even needing to signup or add an email address. Anyone could just land on a page, click to edit, and start editing.

Yes, that did not go well at all.

I knew what I was up against, as it was even worse back then when trolls weren’t just there to ruin things, they used language that painted the pictures of war and they posted the most deranged images that were hard to unsee…this was the fodder at the time for people who were known to use the word meme.

I tightened up controls but it was a weak fence. The wiki I pointed KnowYourMeme.com to had instantly become a lost cause, but I kept using the Rocketboom wiki under the Know Your meme section and working on the idea of the platform. It was a time of experimentation and learning for me, thinking about a platform as opposed to content.

There was a need for it. The narrative of what inspired the Know Your Meme database is not correct, however. It wasn’t built to give creators credit. Not at all.

There was an issue related to attribution that contributed to my understanding that there was a need for the database, though it was not about attributing the creator of a meme, it was, ironically for this story, about the authority of attribution. The problem with Wikipedia is that any facts on an article require authoritative attribution. If you tried to create an article for a meme on Wikipedia at that time, and you wanted to attribute a key moment in the chronological timeline, and for example, link to some random blog by an anonymous writer as the citing where they talk about it, Wikipedia would not accept it since the author was not authoritative, i.e. not reputable.

When you sit back and read a meme article and learn about how a meme came to be as a matter of highlighting the outstanding chronological events that contribute to its spread, you start to see patterns and begin learning a lot about how information is controlled, and how it propagates through environments. It’s a study of the intrinsic properties of an idea and the environment in which that idea is in. This is a very important discipline that goes way beyond the value of a good time or assuring that artists are credited for their work. The study of memes is the primary reason for Know Your Meme. This is the endeavor that inspired me to imagine, build, and invest in operating a meme database.

The style of the articles and the show wasn’t ultimately a brand of nonchalance, which Rocketboom had a lot of with its main show, but it was more like bringing formality to absurdity, which was comedic in and of itself. When you are describing absurd things formally, you can easily presume an even higher level of absurdity with the style guide.

I first began allocating formal Rocketboom resources to the Know Your Meme database by assigning my first Rocketboom writer (the first person I hired to help me write scripts for the Rocketboom shows), Chris Menning, to help me crank out a large set of important and obvious articles. Together we began building out the first set of tried-and-true pages for the sole purpose of setting the stage and showing the way for the voice of the site, and illuminating the style for articles with consistent, identifiable patterns…controlling those articles fully at first so people would not come and mess them up.

Over many months, after it became clear there was a definite spark and I decided that it would be worth it to invest in building a full-fledged platform with scalable features, I put aside a large, formal budget and timeline, and hired a formal team in house, inside of Rocketboom to focus specifically on building out what would become a unique user experience with article entry and editing features.

The new feature set offered a very special, unique quality that was not part of Know Your Meme’s purpose but ended up contributing significantly to the growth of user participation. You may wonder, what inspires and incentives people to add content to a platform like Know Your Meme? The unique feature set with Know Your Meme gave individuals who did contribute a sense of entitlement and authority they could not get from Wikipedia. As with my very first iteration which did not last, Wikipedia enables anyone to come along and edit an article mostly hidden and under-appreciated.

Know Your Meme placed a lot more focus on highlighting the authors of an article and provided a greater value proposition for becoming an author by starting completely open but then limiting an article to just a handful of people who could edit, on a first-come, first-serve basis.

For example, as a contributor and participant, if you noticed a meme that was not in the database, you (or anyone!) could go to Know Your Meme and enter a new article about it, first. Then you would have control over the writing of that article. You would become the author. Then, anyone else could come along and join your article, edit it, or expand it, and suddenly you would find yourself collaborating with someone on it. You might not agree with their edits so you would need to work it out with them and together share the outcome. Then another person can come along, and another, but only five total with some exceptions. An article with only five people collaborating with it gives those five people the control over the information and thus they become the authority on that meme. This is important, and they get attribution and recognition and build authority that is a value for them in return. It’s more than many people needed to contribute but helps to incentivize and spreads value for many more.

If the five people could not get along and work things out amongst themselves, the site editors who quickly materialized from within the user base itself (where they tended to gain even more authority and value for themselves), stepped in to assure order and had control to escalate or determine a fair outcome to keep the group at peace, to allow the articles to maintain their integrity in an efficient and generally open way. Crazy and unique issues could then be escalated efficiently from there.

To build this new version of the site, which would be launched a year later after the first iteration was released to the public, I hired Jamie Wilkenson to lead the development, I hired James Wu as a second developer to support Jamie’s lead, and I hired Greg Leuch as the lead designer. They came into Rocketboom each day and cranked it out pretty quickly without other distractions, though Jamie and Greg were primarily working on Magma at that time, a software solution for i.p. over TV that was prob the best platform Ive ever made. I could spend hours talking about how great the interface and feature set was for Magma, I think it would be ideal today too.

The articles that Chris and I wrote were the first articles on the new site, some of the classics. They live under Jamie’s account name because he was developing the new site and imported them in under his account, which I believe was actually user #1 or #2 that was during dev. Jamie resigned shortly after the new database was released, and after my first iteration of Magma was released, after moving away from NYC to San Francisco. The Verge article doesn’t mention Greg’s name through the visual design of the site was mostly his contribution and it was a necessary ingredient to make Know Your Meme work. The article also doesn’t mention James. Though the three of them worked together as a tight team. The article only mentioned Jamie and misattributed his role. Jamie does not say on his own bio that he created the Know Your Meme database, despite that he, Greg, and James added genius to it before moving on.

As the press release stated when Know Your Meme was officially “spun-out” of Rocketboom at the end of 2008, the date that The Verge article refers to as the date Jamie created the database, it’s not as if suddenly *poof*, like magic, the whole thing was just created and then got started “one day” by Jamie, or even as if Jamie, Ellie, and Kneyatta are the sole creators and founders of the Know Your Meme as the article states.


The platform was fueled by the show and Rocketboom where episodes played, grew and grew, and soon became way more popular than Rocketboom due to the platform nature of the site, and well, memes. The Verge writer said Know Your Meme became “more beloved”.

The Verge article essentially begins the history here, after it was established and had apparently become statistically more beloved, so it was completely wrong about crediting the various components to the various people.

For example, the article states that Brad Kim created the first meme articles when he arrived after he graduated college in 2009, yet clearly, that would be impossible by two years.

The article suggests that Brad was somehow treated poorly as part of some kind of “$100 club”. I looked at my emails just now to discover an email one month where I asked Kenyatta about Brad (I was going through payroll) and how much he was being paid since Kenyatta brought him on to help support production as an intern. I never used interns at Rocketboom but Kenyatta had said he needed them. In the email Kenyatta was advising on how to protect the copyrights and i.p. As soon as Kenyatta left and I first began working with Brad directly, I moved him up to $52,000 that he made that year. Brad was hired as an intern to help construct materials and other aspects for the Know Your Meme video show production, though when I started working with him, that’s when his job became to manage the community and oversee the site. He started that role in 2011. This was after Kenyatta, Ellie, Patrick, and Mike all left Know Your Meme behind and gave their formal goodbyes.

I found another email where Brad thought Patrick created the Know Your Meme show, though that would be impossible by three years! Patrick came on much later after it became a staple, and he left soon thereafter. So it’s obviously impossible that Brad created the style guide for the articles, and Brad was not clear on the history because he came years later, too.


There were some comments from Ben Huh related to the sale, and some comments from Kenyatta that will require significant detail to clarify because the writer did not have any more time to understand those comments, and thus misconstrued various details as a result of the obvious inconsistencies that can happen when a writer is misled.

With everything inside of Rocketboom, I never worried about the business model at first. I only wanted to create a spark with what I built to assure that what I wanted was what others on the internet wanted too. I would never want to push something or sustain something that others didn’t want or need. No way would I formally allocate such a plan and significant resources to building, hiring, and operating the meme database without already figuring it out. It took over $50,000 just to build the database, especially as my designer and developers were getting paid really well for doing it. And once the new version was built and ready to scale, I began thinking a lot more about various methods for sustainability.

As I pondered that question, I was free to do so with relative ease, for Know Your Meme kept growing and became extremely beneficial to Rocketboom naturally for providing an extended reach to various sponsorship and partnership deals that included all the shows and sites at Rocketboom that I was selling.

Now here we are nearing the end of 2010, the year that Kenyatta left. I had three important business contracts in the works for Rocketboom at that time, a sponsorship deal with AT&T for $750,000, a sponsorship deal with a firm that had Dr. Who as one of their clients, and a show development contract in the works with PBS in Washington D.C. which I had been developing for almost a full year to create a show geared toward their new online video programming.

I also had a couple of other deals in the works for Know Your Meme specifically. One business idea I had for sustainability included selling Know Your Meme, but not to sell it off and wave goodbye…to sell it to another company that could afford to operate it and pay for Rocketboom to nurture the growth. Rocketboom was my first company ever and I was coming to terms with the fact that operating was the least interesting to me, and that it held me back from forging ahead with new ideas. Buzzfeed was interested and I met formally with Jonah Peretti about it. I got the feeling he would have bought it but my price was too high. The price I proposed to him was not thought out very well, granted. I had gained a lot of experience with business development but knew nothing about how to value a company like this or arrive at a price. I was offered $15,000,000 for Rocketboom by ABC/Disney but wasn’t interested at all, it was too soon to sell out online video for the medium had not been democratized and my goal was to open things up, not close them in (side note: after I refused to sell, Amanda Congdon left to go work with that same group.) For the meeting with Joannah to sell Know Your Meme, Kenyatta said he wanted to come along. I was fine with that. I had a style that worked for me already so I asked him not to chime in and he didn’t. When I dropped an $8,000,000 to $10,000,000 price tag, that pretty much, uh, ended the meeting right there. About another 120 seconds and we were walking back to the Rocketboom office. I used to mess with Joannah when I was collaborating with him through a program at Parsons and Eyebeam, and we were blogging on “ReBlog”, a project he led at Eyebeam around 2002 that was a precursor to tumblr. I set up a reblog on my server and put up cool links and photos and when I got a high number of reblogs on a photo with him on it, I would swap it out so everyone who had reblogged this nice photo of him suddenly had a zoo animal.


Back to the end of 2010, just before Kenyatta left. I was most excited at that time about a venture capital opportunity on the table which was my first choice. An investor from Spark Capital I really liked became interested and when I drew up everything on his board, going through all of Rocketboom’s assets as I had them bunched into a) Rocketboom Studio Productions b) Know Your Meme, and c) Magma, he looked at me and said how are you possibly running what is essentially three companies in one?

I was so prepared for that question. I explained that I was interested in meeting because I had determined already that the answer was that I couldn’t, it had become too much for me alone. It was the perfect time to break out Know Your Meme and obtain capital to turn it into its own company. I only wanted to consider investment from them into Know Your Meme and I had someone to take on the role of CEO for Know Your Meme, my lead producer for the show by that point, Kenyatta Cheese, who also had climbed to the formal title of Chief Operating Officer for all of Rocketboom, which included Know Your Meme.

At the time I trusted Kenyatta and felt a bond with him that was as special as anyone in my life. He had been at Rocketboom working full time for several years, earning an annual amount of around $100,000 with bonuses, sick pay, a great health package, workers comp, and an offer to become an equity partner in Rocketboom which included all the assets. All of my dedicated employees who worked on Rocketboom, Know Your Meme, and Magma had a great health package, workers comp, bonuses, and sick pay because that’s what I wanted for them because this is a short life and they were spending it full-time on Rocketboom. It should be the best for people that it can be.

So while Kenyatta’s main role was to be in the office operating everyone who had their roles including overseeing the administrative department and production departments (I was not in the office managing and was not good at that role), I was out doing all of the business development for Rocketboom, Know Your Meme and Magma, at home writing the creative (especially all of the scripts and creative details), building, working with the production teams or developers and others at Rocketboom, or flying around to speak at conferences and universities where I did not promote Rocketboom directly but inspired people with stories about internet culture and the democratization of the moving image, one of the luckiest experiences of my life to get invited to travel for free to meet so many amazing people at the tops of their professions all over the globe.

Kenyatta said he was excited to become CEO of Know Your Meme, and this would allow him to parlay out of Rocketboom operations and run Know Your Meme full-time in its own new company, which he would control on a day-to-day basis. The first principle I promoted over and over to every employee is that there are a lot of opportunities and potential opportunities, with platforms and shows being built at Rocketboom, and that whatever role they may be in at that moment, they should never be shy in seeking a transition into another skill set if they felt they could shine. I would support them in seeking a role that they were more inspired by than the one they had, whatever direction they wanted to grow into.

So I flew back to meet with the investor a second time and took Kenyatta with me. The meeting was successful and we flew back to NYC with a plan of action that would lead to Kenyatta becoming CEO with significant equity in a new break-out company, and a ballpark upper six figures in cash as the initial seed capital to get us to sustainability.

Right around this time I secured Know Your Meme with a long-term advertising deal with Blogads through a contract I signed with Henry Copeland. Copeland created a three-year plan that would lead to sustainability in 6-9 months as he ramped up what would be an innovative video ad platform, exclusively selling the site to various advertisers, and then, based on the projections, becoming significantly profitable (i.e. money to develop growth) by year two. The investment would work perfectly with such an ad deal to ride out the storm and then go after a larger round to scale the growth by building more wonderful new features.

As Kenyatta was still the operating officer for Rocketboom, before the Christmas holidays that 2010, I tasked him with reviewing each of the employees across Rocketboom which included everyone at Know Your Meme, submitting their reviews to me, and then finally, I would review him. A COO can be many things and do many things and it all depends on the company. In our case, his main job was to be in charge of all the people and keep the productions going day-to-day. When people had problems with each other, or there were things they needed to get done, he would make the decisions that the head of operations would make. When a show was not stable, for example, if it became stressed from lack of editors, money or resources, he would propose a budget change to stabilize it and maintain the stability. As CEO it was my job to check in with him in a formal way and make sure he was aligned in supporting my vision.

He said he was sick, and would not be coming in for the review because he was sick. This went on for some time and then he said he quit and never returned.

I later found out that before he quit, in the months prior, even before we flew to speak with the investor, he went to several employees, one by one, and told them he had something important to tell them, but that he could only tell them if they agreed not to tell anyone. He then told each in private that Rocketboom was likely not going to make it past December, and that they should begin looking for another job to protect themselves.

Over the entire period, Kenyatta was at Rocketboom, he was never involved in any business deals or third-party partnership negotiations, I handled all business and partner development myself.

So I thought it would be prudent to begin showing him how I put business deals together and what I saw as important (e.g. I only looked for deals that would significantly benefit the other party, and I always traveled to meet people in person to begin each new big deal). As we imagined him moving up with Know Your Meme, this was the first deal I allowed him to manage the full relationship for. It was important for Rocketboom. As I mentioned above, it was a company that had Dr. Who as a client, apparently usurping the deal to start his own marketing company. I was dumbfounded.

He left running Know Your Meme on his own to become a marketer and established a marketing business that I believe relied on this deal, and I believe he is still doing marketing business based on that relationship today.

I had no idea any of this was happening at the time, I fully trusted Kenyatta to act above board. I learned about it later when two producers (one woman who produced one of our local Rocketboom shows and another woman who produced the Rocketboom show itself), told me that Kenyatta had approached them but both of these producers were stuck, unable to tell me, for they had promised him they would not tell before they got the info. I asked each of these producers if they heard about it from the other and they had not, they both came forward independently. Yet a third woman who produced a show at Rocketboom later came forward and told me she was upset about this too.

When Kenyatta resigned, the first thing I did was tap one of the actors in the show, Mike Rugnetta, who I liked and thought was probably clever to see if he might be interested and capable of replacing Kenyatta. I did not know him at all and had not worked directly with him as he had come into the show more recently, much later after it was built, popular and stable, as the article notes. He only came into the studio for short bursts of time now and then to film and I usually wasn’t there. When I told him that I would like to meet with him to see if he would be a fit for CEO of Know Your Meme, he expressed excitement and agreed to come to talk about it, but then replied back hours later and simply resigned without notice and without any explanation. Same with Patrick, though I wasn’t interested in considering him for the position. The article stated that they “stayed on after Kenyatta and Ellie left” which is false. The last work Mike and Patrick did was prior to Kenyatta leaving and they both left together within a day or two of Kenyatta resigning, already privy or freshly persuaded.

So I went back to the investor and let him know that Kenyatta was not sincere with us, and that obviously I was not ready after all for any investment, an embarrassing moment because clearly, I was about to hand over his money to the wrong person. I told him I would need some time over the next few months to stabilize Know Your Meme and search for a CEO.

That’s when I turned to Brad Kim and Don Caldwell to help keep Know Your Meme stable in the midst of all the operations for everything that had been piled back onto my shoulders. They had no idea what had just happened and were only too happy to dive in, understood exactly what they were getting into with regards to the instability of Rocketboom at that moment, and rose to the challenge. It was hard times, due to money, as everything was hit so hard, and Kenyatta took one of the most important deals we needed. The AT&T deal materialized and the ad sales deal with Blogads materialized though things would be stressful for several months before we saw revenue from it. The Know Your Meme show was paused due to the actors having left because of Kenyatta leading them to do so, Rocketboom was still running with Molly, and then I was solicited by Ben Huh from I Can Haz Cheeseburger. He made an offer to buy Know Your Meme.

We worked out the terms and discussed the sale over emails, at my apartment in NYC, and at SXSW in Austin. Ben seemed to me, at that time, to be one of the most hated people in internet culture because he was known for running what seems to have been a comedy sweatshop factory. There was article after article about people who worked for him complaining about how little he paid, and how unfair he was to them. It sounded horrible, but the articles were written by one-sided assignation style writers – maybe true, maybe not – so I was willing to give him a chance and entertain the idea, pressing him for his philosophy and what he would do with Know Your Meme.

When we first discussed it, he threatened to take the newfound thirty-million dollars that he received from venture capitalists to build up I Can Haz Cheeseburger, and put it towards his Know Your Meme competitor called Memebase, which he already tried to create a spark with, but couldn’t. Membase didn’t have the spirit, I noticed.

He said he would be good to it, and keep it as its own brand, allowing it to continue on without touching it much. I wasn’t really sure what to do. I was in a position of weakness which is a bad place to be when confronted with this type of decision. I went back to the investor at Spark and sought his advice. He gave excellent advice that allowed me to look at it from a non-emotional perspective. What I’ve found is that I’m great at creating, building, releasing, and generating the spark, though I’m not very good at operating. I’m not that interested in most of the challenges of day-to-day operations.

Any money I made I’d just want to put back into building features (features that I’d still like to see for KYM now over a decade later which still never materialized), and I was already thinking mostly about Magma at that time. Ben seemed to me at first to be a typical businessman and I wondered if he would be just what the site needed: a businessman to help keep the spirit alive so that it can be afforded. I would stick with it and gain experience from him that I could apply to Rocketboom and possibly use it as a template to create and sell platforms and shows, I imagined. At the end of the day, with the blessings of the investor, and with the blessings of Blogads who graciously agreed to terminate our multi-year contract so that I could sell, I agreed to sell it, and I got Ben to agree to essentially not mess it up by not turning it into Memebase, I got him to hire my employees for a solid wage, and beyond the purchase price, the terms had a big extra amount with additional benchmark rewards for me to stay with it and continue to produce the show.

You know, people really show themselves the most when it is contract time though, and to me – my personal opinion only – Ben Huh was a ruthless businessman at that time for the precious world of media we were in, and I decided during the process that he was so different than all the great business people I’d previously met who seemed fair and good, and because he was looking at the partnership in a way that was so different than the dozens upon dozens of partnerships and contracts I had already established with Rocketboom, I realized that I would never be able to work with him. I got the feeling that he was willing to go as far as he possibly could to get an upper hand over every tiny little detail of every little thing, not at all seeking to engage in a win-win type of deal if he could get away with it.

He threatened to sue for assets that didn’t belong to Know Your Meme that he ended up taking, including a url I had (meme.ly) which he never used and a book deal I had for Rocketboom about memes with one of NYC’s top book publishers, which he killed after he took. He kept trying to create one-sided general responsibilities and indemnifications which constantly required my lawyer to argue for my fair rights which was always the end result after escalating into expensive battles, and he tried to buy the company first, before negotiating with my staff, because he wanted to re-negotiate their wages for a lower cost from a position of leverage. This created a stressful situation for all of us, especially them, as if they would somehow be expendable after everything they had been through to endure the instabilities of all the sudden departures Kenyatta inspired everyone to take instantly. I thus made their future employment and their future salaries with Ben a term of the sale and assured they were satisfied and secured as a precondition. I also offered enormous bonuses to them for their patience and endurance through the rough times.

Anyway, I was all for getting the purchase agreement as tight as we possibly could, but after seeing Ben trying to win, win, win every detail, I realized I just couldn’t live that life. I told Ben that I would honor continuing on with the sale we were deep into, but I would not be able to stay working for him, and thus I told him I would not produce the show for him, and that we could remove the terms about my continued employment and reduce the extra price.

He still wanted to buy it and we pressed on with the purchase agreement and then on literally the last day of toiling, after a ridiculous amount of arm-twisting and mean spirited lawyering by Ben, long after he had taken control of the site’s statistics and confirmed everything with his own analytic trackers, literally the very last day before it was ready to sign, Ben received an email from an old Know Your Meme contractor named Patrick Davidson who didn’t work at Know Your Meme anymore (a man who was an actor on the show that Kenyatta brought on much later) and Patrick wrote that he heard that Ben was interested in buying Know Your Meme, and expressed that he was interested too because Know Your Meme belonged to him, he said. He also copied Kenyatta, and other key employees from Rocketboom. I seriously wondered if it was a joke or if he was drunk or something.

Ben’s lawyers forwarded the email and demanded that I get signatures from everyone on the email to remove their claims – regardless of any prior contracts (i.e. just the mere mention of the claim was interference with the sale) and the sale became derailed literally the day before it would be ready to sign for just about one million dollars after about that much more was removed when I refused to continue working for Ben.

Kenyatta who was ‘ccd on the email from Patrick told each of the people on the email not to speak with me, and that he would handle it for everyone and cut them in on any money he could get from me.

Kenyatta then refused to speak with me and had his lawyer contact me to say that they all each demanded $20,000 and that they were unwilling to address it – that is, Kenyatta, Patrick, and everyone there would not speak and thus would not explain why they wanted $20,000 each from what they said they learned was around a million dollars, just simply stated, through a lawyer, that they must take this amount or else they would not sign Ben Huh’s document that he drafted to settle the claim they made to him, period. Even though I was able to show Ben that they did not have any ownership, Ben insisted as a condition of the sale that they must each sign it, since they made the claim.

I did have the option to back out of the sale at that time, though, while that would have been my first choice, I had my arms tied because I had significant obligations to my staff that would not be met and wouldn’t be able to wait, and the investment into the legal fees for doing the sale was extremely significant and had depleted me. I would then be left to deal with a group of people who were controlled by whatever Kenyatta was saying. I don’t blame them, they trusted him too.

I did not know that Kenyatta told each of them on that email not to speak with me at the time, I just know that when I reached out to each of them individually, they did not respond. I found out much later when one of them wrote me an email saying he was sorry for doing it, and he confirmed to me in the email what happened.

At the time it was happening, I had to stop and consider what I should do. My lawyers helped me to strategize, as we were just days away now from a significant sale for a million dollars. Ben said in a comment that I overpriced the sale but that is simply ridiculous. The sales price was so underpriced it was a miracle for him. He had his analytics and bugs and all his stuff all over the site and came to his own determination. Someone could certainly ask him what he means, that would be easy.

If I had the funds, I would have taken the opportunity to back out of the deal with Ben which would have been way better than going through with it, and then marched onwards. To sue Kenyatta could easily cost $50,000 to $100,000 though, and for what? It became clear that paying the $100,000 was the “cost of doing business”, as my lawyers put it, and that it was ultimately the price that I would need to pay since I didn’t have the money to sue or linger.

As my lawyers worked out the terms of the agreement with Kenyatta’s lawyer, Kenyatta also wanted to be paid the one full month of salary for the month he didn’t come in for the review and was out apparently taking an important client for his own business having called in sick. Kenyatta then got approximately $100,000 and split it up with the other four people on that email I believe, ~ $20,000 each I heard, and in one case saw because one person boasted about it online.

Just after Ben and I finally shook hands and got the contract signed, he emailed nonchalantly one day to tell me his plans for announcing the sale. He said he had a big press release lined up and it wasn’t going to mention Rocketboom! His release was just that Cheeseburger acquired Know Your Meme and that there would be no mention of where he got it!?

I had begun working on a press release of my own and was expecting we would collaborate on the announcement, like normal humans. When I told him that was in bad spirit, and that it was not his contractual right to tell me I couldn’t announce the sale, he came back and threatened another lawsuit for fresh non-disclosure language.

In the end, IMO, he didn’t mess it up except for obscuring the data and the design with banner ads that were overwhelming by any standards, and he wrote a medium post about how he floundered the $30,000,000 he got because he had no idea what he was doing he said (his words not mine), and then he sold it all to Literally Media.

This is just one example of the kind of liabilities one can face when building something of value in this space. The Verge messed this all up and should quite frankly retract the article but I doubt they will, Ellie was working there at the time to and the writer was her colleague. They are all friends and it’s just how things go, I’ve learned to accept it. I don’t need it. We are in an era of self-publishing and I have the truth right here for the people who I know and care about me.

The Verge was also grossly incorrect when writing “the content was initially generated by a crop of interns (including Kim)”. That’s just not true and is an affront to me and also Chris Menning and the work I did in 2007, the work Chris and I did throughout 2008, and all of the work that came after the new site was built with my developers and designers at the end of 2008, considering Kim contacted me himself for the first time on April 22, 2009, introducing himself as a fan of Rocketboom.

The history of Know Your Meme is so wrong according to The Verge, I added these comments, not as an argument, I’m just correcting the record. I’ll say it again, I can see that it’s not as if the writer was in bad faith here IMO, this is a little bit like looting around an easy target. The writer just didn’t do the research and simply regurgitated what was told via the seemingly purposeful misinformation created by Kenyatta. It’s a master-class study in years and years of watching him do this. I’m in awe over the similarities between his behavior and that of another person who came into my life, also in a similar unsolicited manner, Anna Segur. The connections between these two people are uncanny.

But consider that this Verge article is now being used on Wikipedia to act as the authoritative source on these details! (Update: I deleted it).

There is a dark underbelly to authority in internet culture that I have seen which is upsetting, and this might be the book I’m destined to write that I didn’t ever want to write. I’ve been in a unique position with unique experiences to see and feel a lot of it. When you have something great, and you are down and out, it’s amazing what comes out of the woodworks to take it.

Power and ego takes and takes, and you can see that power corrupts and causes people to be mean, lie, usurp, and credit themselves for things that they didn’t do. I think Ellie nailed it when she said in the article that ‘competing egos’ was the problem that caused her to leave, and I wish my ego was stronger to have noticed that problem. I thought Ellie did a great job over the years, she was the first person I ever hired to support Rocketboom. Unless she was also out doing things like Kenyatta behind my back that I didn’t know about, and I highly doubt that she was, she was herself a line of stability for me, even as stability was what she sought. I learned a lot from Ellie about managing people and trusted her as much as Kenyatta. Due to a sponsorship I put together with Intel which lasted several years, she built a quality show that she created and produced herself, Rocketboom Tech.

I’m always looking for their way out for them. When we all worked together, until the day they all left, I was happy with them all and regret the way in which Kenyatta was able to bring down Rocketboom in the way he did. He called it a “spectacular” crash in the article, a word he’s used before. I don’t see how someone like Kenyatta who seemed so nice to everyone could have been so conniving.

As for any problem with “competing egos”, there should have never been anyone in this entire story competing with me except maybe Ben because he’s a competitive businessman. Anyone at my company who was competing with me was wrong to do so and was working with me in bad faith, as that was not the role I hired them to perform, obviously. This is not a crime against me for having any ego that I did have, even if it was perceived as being strong, it was my company and I was the CEO. One should not compete with me under this structure.

I was trying to lift Kenyatta up, I was open to him, and I trusted him.

It seemed to me at the time he cared more about KYM itself than I see he actually did (he quit and abandoned it but came back when he saw money) but to the article from The Verge, you can’t call Kenyatta or any of the others “co-founders”, which the article does do. Even if you do want to stretch that loaded word far and wide, it’s not in any way possible here. They did nothing to found a company, they didn’t do business deals, they didn’t invest, they all got paid handsomely, they became known as being trustworthy in internet culture, just as the writer of this article is, there got offers of sweat equity but never took them, they all had health insurance and sick pay, and they had zero liabilities. They all worked for Rocketboom and times were good, this all could have been prevented if I found out what he was doing before he left and fired him.

The article created by The Verge is more interesting, not for any topic related to Know Your Meme history, but for the way in which the writer seems to have been duped, a combination of my lack of business strength as an artist combined with the writer likely being targeted, and closed. It was easy for the writer to be comfortable with her gut and her experience because she could clearly see so many others had written the same thing. Authority verified by authority sustains and grows.

It’s also interesting to consider this as an example of how articles never change, get updated or redacted. I happen to care about this article but more than likely no one else does. This writer probably doesn’t care the most now since she didn’t care enough to get the truth correct in the first place.

One of my jobs as the founder and owner of Rocketboom with all my staff, whether they were working on Rocketboom, Know Your Meme, or Magma, was to lift them up. I did do that. I enabled them. I assured they were taken care of in ways that went far beyond what most other people would be expected to do in times of prosperity, and in times of trial. I was not perfect by any means, I was weak in many ways. I see that I have a role in all this. Everything stops with me. I’m the only one who should take the blame for everything in this story. Who besides maybe me had anything taken away from them though? No one.

But over the years, Kenyatta seems to have been prolific in attempting to create a narrative that was exactly like what the Verge story wrote.

It’s a significant claim I’m making, and I’m confident that anyone who researches this matter will see it clearly just by knowing what to look for. It’s been evolving and peaked in 2018 when I lost my voice complete. Why would it be so important for him to do this? I don’t know, ego? But I can see that he probably has built up a pretty penny convincing companies to hire him as immensely valuable to their marketing spends based on reputation alone, as he can even show them that he was the sole creator and sole founder of all of Know Your Meme, and that Know Your Meme is currently his site, where he oversees 14 million uniques a month.

That’s one of the very best resume items you could get if you are a marketer, and an instant door-opener as people will assume he did all the creating himself, setup the whole business, took it all to market to make it a success, and still remains in charge of it all. If I was a marketer I’d blow that up and hang in my marketing reception room. That’s way more valuable than a mere co-creator title or an Operating Officer for Rocketboom title. My eyebrow certainly made its way slowly upwards as I read this piece by The Atlantic, a once reputable, quality journal that I can no longer trust.

You can see that the article has completely and utterly solidified my erasure, even when the article admits he had only two other co-founders. Just the three of them: “When Kenyatta Cheese started Know Your Meme in 2008, most people had no idea what a meme was. He spent the early days sitting in a dark, ten-by-sixteen-foot room in New York’s Flatiron Building, his two co-founders illuminated by the glow of their laptop screens.” It doesn’t say with two of his co-founders, for example, it says with his two co-founders. Note also that this doesn’t say that the two co-founders started it. He was the only one who started it, and led the founding, and they are his co-founder. I’m not looking for sympathy or asking you to care about me, I’m just showing how this works.

What’s more, I’m putting all this out there because I’m literally frightened of Kenyatta, since right before his Atlantic and Verge articles came out, he thought I was going to be prosecuted for theft in my hometown with 12 years in jail (false accusations, the case was dismissed) and before he knew my case would be dismissed, he came and signed up with the court to speak at my sentencing hearing! He wants what I’ve done so bad it seems, and his ego is so strong, I’m telling you it’s really hard for me to see this type of aggression he apparently has towards me that I missed. He was ready to come lend a hand to push me into jail for 12 years!! To separate me from my own son for the rest of his childhood after all this pillaging he seems to have wanted the title because there really is nothing else I had left by this point.

Several months before he left Rocketboom, from Gigaom:

Kenyatta Cheese is the producer of Rocketboom spin-off Know Your Meme, a web series and meme database which has been documenting the oddities of Internet culture since December 2007.

After he resigned he changed his narrative to being a “co-founder” with Jamie and Ellie only, and began shifting the start date to 2008. Vice notes:

“It wasn’t until 2008 that three employees of the online video studio Rocketboom––Kenyatta Cheese, Jamie Wilkinson, and Elspeth Rountree––started producing videos on the history of things like LOLcats and the catchphrase “I like turtles.” Know Your Meme was born.”

But in fact, “I Like Turtles” was written by me and Ellie in 2007, I was the lead editor, and I produced and published it in 2007. The other point that’s hard to avoid here is that I led the scriptwriting, editing, and wrote the majority of scripts through 2008:

 

An email showing Kenyatta lied about being the lead writer of Know Your Meme in 2008. He told journalists that I wasn’t involved in 2008 and should be excluded from the history.

But in the same dramatically untrue article by The Vice, they ask:

VICE: How did you get the idea to start cataloging memes?
Kenyatta Cheese: We started seeing [places] like Adult Swim starting to use advice animals in their promos on TV, or on the internet, and not give credit where credit was due—like, not give credit to the community where it originated. And so we thought, let’s just start tracking this. Let’s just start a database. And so we did.

Let me just say that is a very incorrect answer. This same article quotes Kenyatta again:

Kenyatta Cheese: But for lots of reasons, Rocketboom fell apart, and Know Your Meme was caught in the middle of that. And so in late 2010 OR early 2011, Cheezburger had to buy Know Your Meme.”

That ”OR” is all caps. I wonder what Kenyatta means by this. Was Kenyatta secretly planning something else in 2010 that I don’t know about? Surely not, right? It’s probably nothing. If you simply research these terms though you can see what appears to be the evolution of the morphing from 2010 till now. It’s not as if the Verge writer decided not to call, or decided that there wasn’t enough space in the article to include my name, the writer was presented with a narrative that was so strong, and so specific, that the writer would need to choose a side because the narrative was meant to change history by erasing my role from it, so that my role could be assumed by someone else in a way that couldn’t be shared, compatible, honest, or true. The fact that Kenyatta Cheese has been using a misleading resume to charge companies for attention is not lost on me either.

This is exactly why I knew I had to put out my story about Anna Segur as well since she is still out there affecting me and would probably come back and sign up too should I ever trip and accidentally fall had I not put my story out there. My only alternative for protecting myself was to file a criminal complaint. I did not take the time to write it all out here but if you see THIS STORY, you can see exactly how far and wide Anna Segur went it in doing what appears to me to be almost exactly the same thing.

Absolutely I am looking at myself wondering about my role in this then. How did I let this happen to me twice?

I do have a role in enabling it, just as a person who leaves their bike unlocked on a busy city street has a role in enabling the thief. If someone leaves their bike out over and over, it’s easy to shift the blame onto the bike owner. For sure, the bike owner appears to not be learning an important lesson about humanity: many people steal. What must one do to protect themselves from the world is the angle for me and my role. I am constantly working on this, and I have more work to do.

There is that other angle worth considering though, and we usually do consider it when we can catch it: the role of the person who takes. Psychology is one place to start with this if you want.

There is a third angle, the angle I noticed here that seems particularly relevant, having seen and mitigated this from others more easily, the role of the reporter.

Though one reporter was an experienced, career professional investigative journalist, and the other was one year out of college working in audience development, they both shared all the following conditions that are not typical to the audience’s expectations for trustworthy methods, in their two separate, unrelated stories, about Anna and Kenyatta as it relates to me and my business:

1. Both of the antagonists in these two stories appear to have been attempting to usurp assets.

2. Both of the antagonists used the tactic of spreading misinformation to others.

3. Both of the antagonists sought formal demands for money behind closed doors.

4. Both of the antagonists would not provide a justification for their money demands, they only made demands but without providing their rationale.

5. Both of the antagonists led the stories for the group of others who had become convinced by what they said.

6. Both of the writers wrote one-sided stories, without using anyone from my side of the story, pitting me individually against a group who shared the same message created by the antagonist.

7. Both of the writers wrote their stories fully before they contacted me.

8. Both of the writers heard from me that the data they had was not correct, but when I offered to validate my side, neither considered it.

Perhaps there are three things that needed to happen for this misinformation to galvanize in both stories so similarly: 1. those who take must be strong, persuasive, and appear to have empathy, 2. the writer of the facts must be a one-sided reporter, and credulous, 3. I must have a back that I can not see behind. At least, that seems to be the thread that is not your everyday set of conditions, unless you create works of value like Rocketboom, Know Your Meme, Magma and Humanwire where it happens. They all got hit, some multiple times. Just as you would if you walked down the street in NYC with a million dollars in your pocket.

I am fulfilled for having created these and also having found success in making them all spark. I feel they were worldwide in their ambition and value, but also, it all seems kinda silly and minor too. I wasn’t prepared to have people try so hard to take what I was already trying to give.


There are all types of liabilities from people one must attenuate when running a business in internet culture. Not just internally. Due to the kinds of people that were lurking in the meme world that wanted and hated, they came after me when targeting Know Your Meme, which happened on a regular basis. They didn’t go after anyone else, they only came after me because I was the one who took the liability, responsibility, and accountability for everything. That was my job because it was my company.

Once, I arrived at my office in Soho to find someone had faxed into my printer and printed a full ream of fully black printed pages all night. Funny. Around that time a pizza delivery showed up with a dozen large pizzas, expecting me to pay for the order. Also funny. But the messages were threatening and geared toward me personally.

Crazy people online even tried to escalate a cause once to Anonymous to take Know Your Meme down in a formal campaign, though Anonymous was never actually engaged, just some subset of people who hated Know Your Meme for “stealing memes”.

They came after me at my home, too. Once when I arrived home, I was told that my boxes were in the apartment building’s freight elevator. My boxes? When I opened up the freight elevator, the entire elevator was completely full of flat, empty boxes from USPS. It was so full you couldn’t even get into the elevator to move it. A gang had placed orders with USPS offices all over Manhattan and NJ and trucks showed up all day long dropping free moving boxes for me. The stations’ manager told me it was the first time that happened, and that they would need to update their system. The other residents in my building were like, wtf does that guy do for a living that causes people to send him empty boxes as a form of vengeance? People coordinated attacks on my apartment, my servers, tried to rally movements against me, and made actual physical threats against me — it’s all part of the unfortunate reality of human nature, a consequence that is worth what it takes to build and establish something great.


I do have opinions too and here they are, they are about Know Your Meme today. I used to get excited to tell people to go check out the site but it’s generally not a good first impression. The content that happens to be on the home page at any given moment is more than likely crummy, like looking at a grab bag of football cards. It’s hard to tell it’s not some dude’s low-end blog with ordinary blog posts and aggressive, highly irrelevant advertisements. The news section is mostly not handpicked special cool finds, it’s mostly day-to-day topics such as a story that questions if Elon Musk will buy Twitter, and one that considers the current stock price movement of Tesla, all of which makes it completely ordinary.

There’s not much really I can say about the design anymore. I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find any human say “I love the design”, or “I like the design”, or even “It has design”. The look and feel has become insufferable. It’s just too difficult and not enjoyable to be on.

The best sites to be on require a comfortable place to be in.

Now, ask me about all the features that I think Know Your Meme could bring next since the website has essentially stagnated since Ben Huh got it, and no one there creates much more than content:

The features I suggest include documenting memes a) that are of other cultures not in English specifically for those cultures, b) across languages and cultures with translation to better understand each other, c) supported by a big data dashboard for meme stats which also run on individual meme pages, d) with way more attribution information design for people contributing, e) by going way beyond what is funny with weight for articles about other types of memes to study how ideas spread with the next level of connotation, f) with a $chainlink AP-type integration for meme facts, where meme information is authenticated and can be used by publications like NYT when citing facts (if you go to google news and search “according to Know Your Meme”, you will understand who would use this), g) by significantly redesigning the advertising layout which is corrupting the information and user experience too much (the media galleries and collections of images and video are so sad, so slow, and clunky, h) reward users with Dogecoin when they attain certain standards with their articles that are not hit based, but based on relevance and quality, i) establish a frontend form workflow to allow people to challenge article facts, j) bring back the spirit!

The spirit by the way is just an approach. It’s like a protocol. There are certain rules that should happen – certain ways of being – that are formulaic and replicable I have found, where the rules come to light automatically in an informed way as if they are the principles that become obvious and guide you, once you have the right policies in place. Know Your Meme doesn’t have the spirit anymore IMO, and I assume they are okay with what they have, but I think the community and thus the site overall is stifled and would be easy to spark back up and reinvigorate in a better way for its own brand as well as for the public good. Kenyatta was influential with the particular community, which he took the most hold of at the time he left, and they seem to act with this tint as if a prosecutorial vibe is correct. It’s not at all, IMO. It is a major harm to the integrity of information and for people who have no voice or reputation. A good reputation should not be required to be worthy of equal consideration when it comes time to validate. But they do have this instilled in my opinion and it’s a kind of style that is the antithesis of spirited. Once you remove the prosecutorial vibe from a community (it may not look prosecutorial on the surface so it can be hard to identify), you can find the effects of new ways automatically.

It could be useful for anyone there to take a step out of it for a second, look back in, and think about what would be a “good spirit” way of doing some things that are currently sorta tainted or drab. I don’t have nearly the experience that many of the people who are on the platform do, other than just watching, though, with a more spirited set of policies, I believe those same people would know just what to do to set the right principles, and I believe it’s possible to work your way up from the principles to the policies, too. The spirit could be the most important factor to tend to for all the components to flourish the most.

If this is interesting to you for any reason, see Opening Up Media. I’m going deep on all of it, documenting the whys and wherefores of Rocketboom, from beginning to end. It’s not like this article, it’s mostly all good things, which is how Rocketboom rolled for close to a decade. I get excited to speak with anyone interested in these topics, especially people who are building, reach out if you would like.

END

Update: Jan 5, 2023: An article was published today in the Washington Post which acts as a quintessential example of the points above. The article avoided mentioning Rocketboom in two places, and attempted to exclude any mention so clearly that you can see where they ended up causing a false statement:

Behind the Scenes at the Encyclopedia Britannica of Memes: Fifteen years in, KnowYourMeme has made a name for itself by applying academic rigor to the silliest stuff online 

By Luke Winkie / Photography by Nicholas Calcott for WSJ. Magazine

“The site, which started in 2007 as part of a video series before becoming a Wikipedia-style archive, began hiring staff after it was acquired in 2011 by Cheezburger—a company best known for the cat-centric humor site I Can Haz Cheezburger—for a seven-figure price. (Cheezburger itself was acquired in 2016 by Literally Media, whose holdings include Cracked.com and the early entertainment site eBaum’s World.) Now even the Library of Congress treats KnowYourMeme as a scholarly source.” – LINK

As with the college writer who was working in audience development from The Verge above, this writer, Luke Winkie, similarly attempted to avoid facts and thus similarly ended up creating false statements, since it’s not true that hiring for Know Your began after Cheezeburger purchased it. This is way off. He is also off with regards to his ordering of events with Know Your Meme’s induction into the Library of Congress which happened before it was acquired by Literary Media. I was not contacted for this story,  and its not the type of story that should need me, but because the author did not do any research, and just wrote what was told to him, it is another perfect example for my article here, in demonstrating the blant intent to erase Rocketboom from history. Twice it was avoided. When I reached out to the writer, just like the student above after she published the false information, he ignored me. Not only is that really mean, it shows he’s decided on his own that his false facts are a-ok with him, and that he doesn’t care about it anymore. I’m not sure why he would prefer to have an article with false facts but I suspect it’s because he does not care about his work. It’s a perfect example in clear form to see how they avoided mentioning it despite the headline and subheader text which points right at me. An actual journalist would have contacted me under such conditions, especially considering this post above. Now that I’m showing that his article is literally factually wrong, he is still unable to confront it and that’s the reality I have discovered in this media industry: they are not really journalists, they are another kind of writer with a fuck-you ethic and yet they use these brands without any significant oversight or accountability. It’s too easily corruptable for The Wall Street Journal that they can’t even publish correct facts and have people treating information like this. As readers, we are left to trust the other information this writer was told without a way to fact-check it, where facts become truth in the minds of many, even when they are false.