2020 Ribbonfarm Extended Universe Annual Roundup

This has undoubtedly been the weirdest year in the 13-year history of Ribbonfarm, and one that marks a pretty decisive break from the past, both in terms of my own writing here, and the kinds of contributions I’m increasingly interested in sourcing/commissioning from others (if you’re interested in submitting stuff here in 2021, scroll to the end of this post to see what I’m looking for).

This was also the year the shape of the messy rhizome that is the Ribbonfarm Extended Universe finally became somewhat clear. So starting this year, I’m going to cover of all my projects in these roundups, since this blog is sort of the soul of the larger beast. The Ribbonfarm Extended Universe currently looks like this:

Within this anarchic mess, it is clear that Ribbonfarm is something like an R&D lab, where I direct both my own experimental tinkering energies, and invite others to experiment. It’s a textual maker-space of sorts. When writing ideas/efforts mature past a point, they tend to go elsewhere. This is one reason themes that used to be the mainstay here have gradually migrated to my more polished (which isn’t saying much) downstream projects like Breaking Smart and Art of Gig.

There were 53 posts here, and a bunch of activity on Other Projects, so there’s a lot of extended universe to cover. So, on to the roundup.

Let’s start with Ribbonfarm itself before wandering off to the rest of the extended universe.

New Contributors

We had 3 regular one-off essays by first-time contributors in what I now consider the classic ribbonfarm style — feature-length traditional long-form essays. By a weird coincidence — or perhaps this is a portent of some sort, all three were about things like masks, identities, avatars.

  1. The New Uncanny Valley by Jakub Stachursci
  2. Masks All The Way Down by James Curcio
  3. Being Your Selves: Identity R&D on alt Twitter by Aaron Z. Lewis

Aaron is probably some sort of next-gen evil twin for me: interested in many of the same themes (temporality, online culture, memes) but coming at them from a younger, fresher perspective. If you like my topics, but are tired of me, go read Aaron.

Mike Elias published a 3-part series exploring that reads deceptively modest, but presents a pretty radical epistemology that does away with “facts” as the core building block of social truth-seeking dialectics for a post-truth era. I think of Mike’s series as being in a “research notebook” style that I’d like to publish more of.

  1. Wittgenstein’s Revenge
  2. Pascal’s Market
  3. Epistemic Reserve Notes

I asked Mónica Belevan to do a blogchain on Covid-themed art, and she delivered Recognitions, an unabashedly Straussian series of esoteric art-shaman meditations on epochal art. Each post is like a protein bar. Though bite-sized, they definitely demand work to access. I suspect I only understood about 25% of what she was getting at. She has since started a Substack newsletter, Diacritica, where she has been publishing both expanded/updated versions of these posts, as well as new pieces in a similar vein. Check it out.

  1. Alamut, Bosch, Gaddis: Introduction to Epochal Art
  2. Whistler’s Giantess
  3. Through a Glass Lightly
  4. A Spectre Is Haunting The West
  5. Two Spooks
  6. The Venus Effect
  7. To Attack and Dethrone Gods
  8. Amateur Vigour
  9. Convergent Evolution
  10. Hyperreality Prevails

Returning Contributors

Returning contributor Daniel Schmidt had a post on what is perhaps an unusual topic for Ribbonfarm to take on (at least this directly — I’d guess a good portion of the archives were produced under some sort of influence, though my own writing has only ever been shaped by coffee and alcohol).

  1. Stoned Strategy by Daniel Schmidt

Jacob Falkovich wrapped up his Predictable Identities blogchain which he started in 2019. The whole series is a stellar introduction to predictive processing as a foundational element of a mental toolkit.

  1. Predictable Identities 24: Anti-Identity
  2. Predictable Identities 25: External Control
  3. Predictable Identities 26: Academic Identity
  4. Predictable Identities 27: Craving and the Pill

My Writing

This was definitely a year that was more about reading than writing for me (I’ve updated the Now Reading page), so the anchor posts for the year were book notes on 6-pandemic themed books that I live-tweeted as I was reading.

Book Notes

Of the six, 1-4 have obvious direct salience to thinking about and reflecting on the pandemic, while 5-6 were sort of foil-mood picks for me, that helped me recenter in a relatively positive Good Place and zen-out a bit amid all the doom and gloom.

The cleaned-up twitter threads turned into what are probably my favorite posts of the year:

  1. Notes: A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman
  2. Notes — Freedom’s Forge by Arthur Herman
  3. Notes: The Marshall Plan by Benn Steil
  4. Notes: Pale Rider by Laura Spinney
  5. Notes: Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee
  6. Notes: The Starship and the Canoe by Kenneth Brower

Besides these heavier reads, I read a lot of Iain M. Banks this year, and mopped up most of what I had left to finish of Terry Pratchett.

Continuing Blogchains

Blogchains that I started in 2019 mostly stalled spectacularly in 2020, primarily due to Covid. Still, I managed to get out new entries for 3 of them.

  1. Elderblog Sutra: 11
  2. Domestic Cozy: 11
  3. Domestic Cozy: 12
  4. Weirding Diary: 11

New Blogchains

Partly driven by the research needs of the book I’m working on (see the Other Projects section), I decided to start building clocks this year, and blog my adventures. The first 2 parts of the Clockmaking blogchain cover a mechanical kit clock I made earlier this year. I’m now working on a first digital clock.

  1. Clockmaking: 1
  2. Clockmaking: 2

I got interested in mansions this year, and even started a twitter alt to indulge in mansion-themed tweeting. That led to another new blogchain on a not-entirely-kidding mansionist philosophy/ideology:

  1. Mansionism 1: Building-Milieu Fit
  2. Mansionism 2: Bungalows

But perhaps my favorite new blogchain was Captain’s Log, which has entries with entirely unhelpful Modified Julian Dates (MJD) for headlines.

  1. MJD 58,851
  2. MJD 58,854
  3. MJD 58,855
  4. MJD 58,866
  5. MJD 58,889
  6. MJD 59,004
  7. MJD 59,128
  8. MJD 59,143
  9. MJD 59,145
  10. MJD 59,151
  11. MJD 59,163
  12. MJD 59,169

Captain’s Log is a journal/notebook style blogchain that is partly inspired by Star Trek’s captain’s logs (hence the blogchain name), and partly by Da Vinci style research notebooks. It is the most literally log-like blogging I’ve ever done.

Captain’s Log is a deliberate experiment in the opposite of clickbait. MJD headlines are unhelpful by design. They neither help the reader decide whether to read, nor help me remember what I wrote. I wanted to see what would happen if you removed the constraint that a block of text has to have a “handle” to approach it with, in the form of a meaningful headline. The content is similarly anti-memetic. I make no conscious attempt to engineer clear hooks/ledes, or circle a specific, memorable, Aha-ish insight-porn dopamine-fix point. There’s no clickbait because there’s no hook to attach it to.

If you read them at all, you’ll probably forget Captain’s Log entries 5 minutes after you read them, which is kinda the point/intent. If there’s value here, it is intended to be the sort that dissolves into the general gestalt of your thoughts, rather than staking a claim to a corner of your brain like an infectious meme.

Results: I like it. The lack of a real headline has helped me practice a more stream-of-consciousness, open, fragmentary style that I’m increasingly enjoying. It feels like a cross between private notes on Roam, and regular public blog posts. It’s also, I guess, a bit of a stealthy, on-the-down-low style of blogging that is a lazy way of bringing a more private cozyweb type vibe (as in Slack, Discord, Roam, Notion) to a public blog.

Classic-Style Posts

I did six classic-style posts. My personal favorite was The Stack, the story of a little urban adventure. The Internet of Beefs post, which is as classic-style as it gets around here these days, went kinda viral (made the Longform Top 10 and Bloomberg Jealousy lists). A Text Renaissance proved to be rather popular with the growing subculture exploring what’s going on with writing online. The last 3 are a loose Covid-themed sequence that a few aficionados of narrative thinking enjoyed, but are probably not for everybody.

  1. The Stack: A Love/Hate Story
  2. The Internet of Beefs
  3. A Text Renaissance
  4. Plot Economics
  5. Liminality?…Well, there’s a free sample! 
  6. Leaking into the Future

I only do this style of writing on ribbonfarm these days if it neither fits one of my other projects thematically, nor the now-default blogchain style here.

Other Projects

I’m probably missing a few things, but this is the inventory of all the public projects that I include in the Ribbonfarm Extended Universe.

  1. Breaking Smart: For those who came in late, Breaking Smart is a loosely technology-themed essay site I launched in 2015, on the strength of work I did in 2014 with Andreessen-Horowitz. In 2020, I broadened the scope and positioning, and relaunched it as a paid Substack newsletter ($50/year, $5/month). The content is a mix of serialized longform projects (including my current book project, Clockless Clock, which is one reason I’m suddenly making clocks) and one-off essays on tech-driven trends/Big History topics. I also do a non-paywalled podcast monologue about once a month. Here’s the Breaking Smart 2020 roundup.
  2. Art of Gig: I also have another, more narrowly themed Substack subscription newsletter, Art of Gig ($50/year, $5/month) devoted to independent consulting and the gig economy, plus some light consulting-themed fiction. Here’s the Art of Gig 2020 roundup.
  3. eBooks: I published a new eBook, based on Breaking Smart archives 2015-19. This is my 9th ebook based on online writing, and all are available on Kindle. You can find the full list here. If you are a ribbonfarm contributor and have a book you’d like listed on this page, let me know.
  4. Scorpio Season: I started a new podcast with Lisa Neigut this year, Scorpio Season. It’s basically audio shitposting. If you like either of our twitter feeds, you’ll like this show. It’s basically audio versions of our twitter personas. Be warned that Lisa has a habit of periodically deleting her Twitter. You can subscribe on YouTube for the full video experience, or via Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts, or Spotify for the audio-only experience. The project has its own twitter account and website. We feature guests, especially those doing some sort of making/hacking, so if you have a project you might want to show off on Scorpio Season, get in touch.
  5. Yak Collective: I helped catalyze an indie-consultant network called the Yak Collective, via the Art of Gig newsletter. Check it out, and consider hiring us for consulting gigs that could use larger teams.
  6. Twitter: Twitter is not exactly a project. In the last few years, it’s evolved into more of a primordial soup. It’s the place where nearly everything starts for me these days, whether in the form of random shitposts, drive-by epigrams, dad jokes, or earnest-posting threads. It wouldn’t be entirely wrong to say that everything else I do is basically downstream of Twitter activity. My main conversation-and-shitposts account is @vgr, which is the one you want to follow for the live show. A good place to dive in is this thread of threads, which I started compiling this year.
  7. Alt-Twitter: Besides that main account, I also run low-volume accounts for @ribbonfarm, @breaking_smart, and @artofgig, which mainly post links to new stuff. New this year, @basicmansion is a mansion-themed alt that I’m still feeling my way around. Besides these, I also contribute to the @yak_collective and @scorpioseasontv accounts.
  8. Ribbonfarm School: This is a Teachable school. Ribbonfarm School limped along with little to no attention from me in 2020, mainly because courses are a buttload of work to both build and update/maintain. I haven’t included it on the map because I don’t quite know if/how/why/where it fits yet in the Extended Universe. There’s 3 pre-recorded courses on there right now: the Art of Longform ($100), Longform Lite ($10, slides only), and the Breaking Smart workshop ($250). In 2021, I’ll decide what to do with the school. If I can’t think of a good direction to take it, I may retire it.
  9. Quadrantology: This is a personality test/table-top game that has been limping along for years. Another finish-or-kill thing for 2021. I have a soft spot for it, but like online courses, games and personality tests are… a lot of work. This would be a no-brainer to work on for somebody with a lot higher energy levels than me.

2021 Outlook

In 2021, I’m planning to devote almost all my blogging energy here on ribbonfarm to maker-type stuff and fiction. That’s also what I’m interested in sourcing from contributors.

  • Maker stuff: maker stuff, hacking, hardware builds, Da Vinci notebook style things, teardowns etc. etc. I’m especially interested in adventures with sensors and measuring instruments.
  • Fiction: both actual fiction, and writing about fiction. Closer to pulp than literary. Science fiction especially welcome.

What I’m not interested in any more: philosophical essays, social/cultural analysis, etc. So don’t pitch any of that. If it looks like something that belongs in pre-2020 ribbonfarm, it probably doesn’t fit 2021+ ribbonfarm.

In terms of form, while ribbonfarm continues to be open to regular classic-style longform essays (~1500-4000 words), I’m now much more interested in blogchain format contributions (~300-500 words, with commitments for at least 10 parts — see the blogchains by Mónica Belavan and Jacob Falkovich for examples).

I pay an honorarium of $100 for regular essays and $30 for blogchain installments. If you’re interested in writing something, pitch me.

That’s it for the roundup. Back to regular programming next week.

Get Ribbonfarm in your inbox

Get new post updates by email

New post updates are sent out once a week

About Venkatesh Rao

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

Comments

  1. A better new year!

    In your overview you omitted the “Pandemic Dashboard” – the kind of stuff which should have been written by a Raobot.

  2. Just wanted to go on the record in appreciation of The Art of Longform course. Please don’t retire it, I have far too many people to recommend it to. Also I need to finish it.

    • (Also, thanks for the lovely shoutout)

      • Daniel T. White says

        I am just discovering Ribbonfarm. But, in my short time here, I’ve been enthralled by its denseness. I’d like to study the AoL course at some point in the year. If you don’t mind, Mike, can you share a sentence, or two, about your experience working through it?

  3. A Da Vinci notebook of software engineering?
    http://knosof.co.uk/ESEUR/

  4. Ribbonfarm doing fiction? That’s not very on brand but interesting.

    What’s the thought process behind this?

    I produced quite some mediocre stuffs the past quarter https://ykgoon.com/category/fictions.html and intend to do more going forward.

    Do you know what specifically are you looking for or you know when you see it?

Leave a Reply to Derek Jones Cancel reply

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.