Be Slightly Evil

It’s time for yet another Ribbonfarm update. The big news, since the last update, is that I’ve incorporated Ribbonfarm as a small, slightly evil corporation, and started figuring out how exactly to take you guys for everything you’ve got.  Anyway, here goes. Lots of items to cover:

  1. The “Be Slightly Evil” Email List and Corporate Value
  2. Ribbonfarm Inc., Q1 report, including spin-offs, layoffs and the like
  3. Status of the Tempo book project
  4. Roundup of Articles

The “Be Slightly Evil” Email List and Corporate Value

There’s been a lot of demand, since I started the Gervais Principle series, for more frequent/prescriptive/practical material in that vein. There have also been flattering demands for a book. I have no idea whether or when I’ll be able to turn this stuff into a book, or even a blook (“blog book” — quick and dirty compilation of the blog posts).

But I wanted a way to sustain the momentum while I figure all that out, and also avoid burdening this broader blog with too much of one kind of material.  An email list seemed ideal.

The name, of course, is inspired by Google.

So here you go. If you want more cheap and slightly dirty tricks of the Gervais Principle variety, morally dubious advice, and thoroughly reprehensible and misanthropic ideas to corrupt your soul (“too hot for the public Web”)…

Sign up for the Be Slightly Evil email list.

This is NOT a discussion list. It will only contain emails from me. I’ll work out the frequency as I go along (somewhere between weekly and monthly to start with), but as far as length goes, I am planning on short pieces for the list, kinda like this one. The big epic-size pieces will still be publicly posted on ribbonfarm.  If you sign up in the next week, you’ll be a charter member (a meaningless designation which comes with absolutely no special benefits). The first official mailing will go out sometime next week. More details coming soon.

I am actually serious about “Be Slightly Evil” as a corporate value. I’ve had this theory for a while that allowing a little bit of misanthropy and sociopathy into your soul actually makes for a stronger moral compass than adopting godly values no human being could live up to.  Call it inoculation. Or Defense Against the Dark Arts. One of my inspirations is Hercule Poirot, who is always suspicious of too-pious characters (who in Agatha Christie’s world, tend to be early-twentieth-century communist types) out to save the world.

The other inspiration is the increasing tongue-in-cheek honesty you see in smaller companies’ PR postures, about their motivations.  One good example is Shitcreek Consulting. I guess big companies can’t really ever do that.

I’ll make up other corporate values, a vision, strategy, and six-sigma lean operations plan as I go along. The plan is to use Ribbonfarm Inc. as a testbed for satirical application of every dumb flavor-of-the-month management idea for my own private amusement.

Ribbonfarm Inc., Q1 Report

Okay, to be honest, I have only a very foggy notion of the paperwork side of running a company. So this isn’t a formal report obviously (and I probably don’t actually need one, seeing as I am the sole shareholder in this privately-held corporation, currently officially valued at $200). I have a meeting scheduled with my accountant to talk about the mysteries of corporate paperwork.  But I thought I’d share some general thoughts about my first quarter as a 1-person corporation:

  1. Balance Sheet: I won’t reveal figures, but I am actually now making a small operating profit on this blog, if I don’t count the value of my time. Coffee tip-jar revenues, Amazon affiliate sales and AdSense revenues together pretty much pay for my hosting costs, and actually cover my monthly coffee spending. Woohoo. I need to ask my accountant if I can list coffee as a cost on my balance sheet, since it is my main raw material. Paul Erdos once said mathematicians basically turn coffee into theorems. So do bloggers. Into posts that is. Not theorems.
  2. Paperwork: The paperwork involved in setting up as a functional business is annoying and ugly, but thankfully, I am through most of it right now. I am still foggy on how to do sneaky, clever, but still-legal things with taxes, but I’ll work that out soon.
  3. Gearing up for publishing: The main point of incorporating (besides getting the tax benefits) is to create the scaffolding required to publish books/ebooks/blooks (for instance, the main publish-on-demand outfit, Ingram’s LightningSource, won’t accept individual authors, so you need to be a publishing company to sign up), a good deal of my behind-the-scenes work has been getting set up to publish. Very enlightening. I am also open to publishing others’ writings IF they fit into the general themes of ribbonfarm and are actually good. With my acquisitions editor hat on, I am not going to be slightly evil. I am going to be completely evil. So if you can’t write to save your life, don’t expect kindly-worded rejections from me. But if you have some truly good stuff brewing, I’d like to see it. And yeah, when it comes to publishing, I do know what I am doing. In a previous life, I started the online-to-offline publishing operation for, and through my current work at Xerox, I know probably far too much about how the new landscape of publishing works.
  4. Random Point: An interesting factoid for others contemplating this path. My accountant initially suggested an LLC or an S-corp, but when he learned that I often dole out irresponsible and dangerous advice on this blog, he suggested I do a C-corp, since that offers better liability protections. He also told me to hurry up and post terms of service, a privacy policy, a copyright policy, and so forth. I’ve made a start, but this is turning out to be surprisingly difficult. There are no good standard precedents, and the examples I’ve looked at are all over the place. For what it’s worth, here is my current draft. Thoughts (and free legal advice) welcome. At some point, I’ll pay for an official legal opinion (which should be enough to put the precarious ribbonfarm balance sheet into the red for the year). In the meantime, please don’t do anything stupid based on ideas I share here.
  5. Layoffs: As the only employee, and wearing all hats from CEO to janitor, all layoffs are layoffs of aspects of myself. Any business must periodically drop unprofitable product lines and narrow its focus. For me, pure philosophy, science, math, and art are toast. Looking at my traffic and comments, I realized that too few people read that stuff, and when comments do take off, you get more trolling than interesting comments. It’s the applied stuff that does well. So, no more explorations of the problems of consciousness, profiles of artists, or musings on superstring theory. You’ll see a reorganization of the category structure soon. Can’t wait to do my first meaningless re-org. I think I’ll be able to go from about 13 categories to maybe 9. Of course, there will still be philosophical, artistic, mathematical or scientific flavors added to individual posts, but as formal themes, they’re gone. Poof.
  6. Asset Sales: One successful product line, posts about social media technology, work-life balance, personal productivity and lifestyle design (these sorts of posts), has been sold (for no money at all) to my blog for trailmeme. So if you are interested in those subjects, subscribe to that blog. Archives will remain here of course, but new stuff in this vein will no longer be posted here. Even though a lot of readers liked those posts, I am sort of relieved at being able to move them elsewhere, since the very current/topical/tech-focused nature of those posts didn’t fit in well with the ‘enduring/timeless’ sort of value I like to go for here.

The Tempo Book Project

For those of you waiting impatiently (as well as those who have  forgotten that I am even doing this), the Tempo book project has been chugging along. Last week, I finally got to what I consider a respectable, 7-chapter first draft, weighing in at about 44,000 words. Now I am going through a round of brutal editing, excising of crap, and so forth. I do believe I’ll actually get the damn thing finished this year.

I am learning that a “real” book is uphill, heavy-lift work. It isn’t a matter of putting blog-sized pieces together. A blog-book, or blook (I’ll be publishing a couple of those this year as well) is a matter of throwing a selection of articles into a template. But a completely original 44,000 word book that actually forms a coherent narrative is not just 22 times the work of my average 2000 word post. If it were, I’d have finished it in 6 months instead of dragging it on for 2 years (and counting). It is approximately 22^2, or 484 times the effort of a single 2000 word post. Much of the effort has been applied during marathon, wife-annoying Saturday sessions. But it is immensely rewarding. The project is challenging my thinking and writing skills as they’ve never been challenged before.

Still, I am almost there. Bear with me. Sign up here to receive the announcement email when the thing is ready to ship.

Roundup of Articles, Jan 1 to April 28

Between January 1 and April 28, 2010, I posted 18 articles. Or about 1 per week. Not as many as I’d like, but still  a decent pace, considering all the other stuff that I have going on (including three guests posts for Silicon Angle, Mashable and VentureBeat, part of PR work for trailmeme, and the more frequent writing I now do on the trailmeme blog). In chronological order, here are the posts so far this year. Catch up on anything you missed, forward, tweet, post on Facebook, etc.

  1. On the Deathly Cold: A short riff on the weather, to open the year.
  2. Drive by Dan Pink: Review of the latest by one of my favorite authors.
  3. “Up in the Air” and the Future of Work: One of my rare “request” pieces. The first ever movie review on this site, which I posted in response to a reader request. I don’t get special requests very frequently, and accept them even less frequently, but this one seemed appropriate, given my cloudworker series last year. Or was that the year before? I am starting to lose track.
  4. Impro by Keith Johnstone: A book review of a classic on improv theater, which was recommended to me by several readers. The book made my very prestigious and short list of “life changing books.” I lot of people have since demanded to know what other books are on that list. Patience. Am planning a post on that.
  5. The Misanthrope’s Guide to the End of the World: This was the post that had me going, “Hmm… I am not the nicest guy in the world. Maybe I should make Evil a part of my corporate mission statement.” It was also an experiment in blending regular writing with a complementary trail. Challenging, but rewarding exercise. Planning more like this in the future.
  6. The Genealogy of the Gervais Principle: Another side exploration in the Gervais Principle series, this one covering the ancestry of that triangle cartoon by Hugh MacLeod, “Corporate Hierarchy” that provided some of the inspiration for the series.
  7. Bright-Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich: Review of a book about the annoyingly optimistic and delusional-positive attitudes that make up the American personality.
  8. Safar aur Musafir: The Hero’s Journey in Bollywood: Another experiment, a plagiarized-lyrical essay on how the Campbellian monomyth plays out in Bollywood movies, illustrated by songs. This takes a lot of work and doesn’t seem to be particularly interesting to anyone, so that’s yet another vein explored and abandoned. Unless a major Bollywood blog pays me to do guest posts like this.
  9. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor: A riff on the nature of work and what you want to be when you grow up, inspired by the English kids’ song. Another of my favorite pieces of the year so far. Mainly because I’ve been itching to write a piece with that title for a long time.
  10. The Inquisition of the Entrepreneur: A review of the Lean Startup movement, in the form of a self-administered quiz. I am intrigued by this format, and may experiment with it some more.
  11. The Expedient, Desirable Product: A guest post by Dorian Taylor, exploring some of the tricky subtleties involved in adopting the Lean Startup idea.
  12. An Infrastructure Pilgrimage: A travel essay on my trip to various infrastructure pilgrimage sites in Nebraska, the highlight being the Union Pacific railroad sorting yard. My favorite piece of the year so far.
  13. Linchpin by Seth Godin, and 8 Other Short Book Reviews: An experimental format, with multiple short reviews. I did not much enjoy writing this, or the discussion that followed. I will not be attempting this again. For better or worse, it looks like I only like doing full-length reviews.
  14. The Turpentine Effect: An exploration of why experts get obsessed with tools, rather than with making things with those tools.
  15. Amy Lin and the Ancient Eye: A riff on science and art, from ancient times, through Da Vinci, to recent times, inspired by Amy Lin’s latest exhibition
  16. An Elephant, Some Batteries and Julianne Moore: A post about right-brained drawing techniques, with samples of my own work
  17. Against the Gods by Peter Bernstein: A review of an interesting history of financial risk
  18. The Gervais Principle III: The Curse of Development: Part III in the trilogy which threatens to continue on to a dozen parts.

Whew. Done.

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. If you *do* decide to make your blog into a book, may I humbly suggest using Leanpub to do so? Leanpub slurps up your blog and turns it into a book. You can then edit it on the site, and publish updates to all of your readers when you have new material. We also take care of payment and selling for you.

    I’ve been thinking of you as a great potential Leanpub author since I first subscribed.

    Scott Patten