A contact of mine through Catholic Creatives was asking about the pros and cons of using a service like Etsy versus using a independent eCommerce platform. What follows is a slightly-edited version of the email that I sent her.

Soft drinks are dumb. There, I said it. Soft drinks – and by that I mean soda, pop, whatever you call the pre-made, bubbly beverages that are a common default at food service providers, parties, and the like, and not all drinks that are “soft” as in not containing alcohol – exist for such a convoluted series of reasons which people tend to be ignorant of, and I think that if society were to be more knowledgeable on the whole landscape of the beverage world, lives would be improved for various reasons. If one fully takes into account the history of the beverage and how it got to its current form, the reported health drawbacks, and the alternatives and their various benefits and upsides, there is very little reason to drink soda.

Of those who make and drink coffee in the comfort of their own home, there are three major subsets:

  1. Those who just need their caffeine fix and are not all that picky about it.
  2. Those who don't mind the combination of time, energy, and money required to make a quality cuppa.
  3. Those who want a happy medium of cost and benefit, wanting but not requiring a nice taste and the benefits of caffeine.

For the first group, a standard drip coffee maker has probably been the default, and now is being superseded by various single cup, more-waste-is-okay-because-it-is-convenient “pod-based” coffee makers.

The second group are those who have the counter-space to dedicate to an espresso machine, the money to buy a fancy one-touch automatic espresso maker, or enjoy the tedium of manually pouring their pour-over.

I used to think that the third group, which I fall in to, was adequately serviced by the French press, but now I think otherwise.

As someone in that third category, I don't drink coffee that often. I don't “need” coffee — or, more specifically, caffeine — to wake me up in the morning, and when I had a commute longer than 20 steps, I didn't stop at Timmies for a cup of their slootwater* every morning. Because of this, I don't feel that it's worth taking up valuable counter space with a plug-in coffee maker. This also means that, when I do have a cup of coffee, it's nice to drink something a little fancier.

A friend tweeted this:

While I agree with her sentiment, just saying that I agree with a one-sentence & gif rant doesn’t share my full thoughts, so here they are.

From a secular perspective, it is at least polite for the writers of a piece of music to receive compensation for the use of the song, assuming they want it. Even if it’s just to encourage more music to be composed, the writers should be fairly rewarded for their work in some way. After all, we wouldn’t want a talented songwriter to not have the time to sit at their piano because they are busy doing other things to put bread on the table.

There's nothing wrong with an artist saying, “You have to pay me to use my song at your event”, though usually they don’t say it directly and use the help of a licensing body like Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI). Most parishes and venues that I’ve been to have some form of blanket license that they pay an annual fee for, allowing them to use the songs they want without having to get explicit permission for each one.

This is a decent solution, balancing the work to get permission with what is probably a lesser amount of funding going to the artists than if they were to license tracks individually. Obviously, it doesn’t prevent a “bad actor” like an overcontrolling record label from taking a larger cut than they should and paying the artist in literal peanuts, but that’s another complicated problem for a different article.

Assuming that a person performing a musical work is doing so within the permissions given by the licensing body, both the necessity of politeness and a Christian’s moral obligations could be deemed fulfilled. But there is another angle.

At the beginning of last year, I set myself a relatively arbitrary goal of how much I wanted to read. I then created some artificial constraints as to how I spent my free time, in order to encourage making reading a higher priority. It was a success, and after a couple adjustments to the system of how I do things, and an increase in the goal, I’ve now finished a second year in a similar fashion.

Apple’s Find My Friends (now combined with Find My iPhone as a single app called Find My), Snapchat’s location-sharing functionality, and other similar products all have one major issue: they are focused on sharing your exact location either all the time, or at least whenever you are using the app. This presents two problems in my mind.

I was recently talking with my friend and fellow web-dev, Ryan about music. He’s got a thing for drum and bass music, and I have a thing for brass-band jazz and its variants. He had come across a song that seemed to fit both of our interests.

The more your and my opinions correlate, the more you might find yourself wanting to wear something that I've designed, and now you can!

Shop Etsy

Currently, in North America, our credit and debit cards have the ability to do “tap pay”, which is when you old the card up next to or against a receiver device (usually a hybrid that also handles chip and swipe payments) for a brief moment until a notification sounds, and your payment is processed. This is very convenient and finally makes going cashless simpler than handing over a twenty. (I do not wish to promote the idea of a cash-free ecosystem, but this sure is a solid step in that direction.) The simplicity and speed come at a cost, however: what happens if your card gets into the wrong hands?

Nota bene: While I wrote this over a year ago and some things have changed, the end result — and the three “winners” — remains the same. I still use all three on a regular basis.

For the longest time, my parents, siblings, wife, and I had a group conversation in iMessage, which helped bridge the hundreds of kilometers between us. It was great. We could arrange times for video calls, share 20 pictures of a random event, brag about how one’s weather was better than the other’s, and other similarly family-like things that are normal to talk about. It was great because it was a simple process to set up, a platform we were already using, and was decently secure for those of us who care about that sort of thing.

But then my sister went and got a Samsung phone.

Here’s why you shouldn’t buy a smart TV even if you don't care at all about the privacy worries.

People break websites so easily. A very large portion of websites, especially for small businesses and organizations, are managed by people who don't have much experience with the technology or industry standards. Thanks to modern systems like Squarespace, it’s very easy to produce something that’s good enough for most people’s standards, but that also creates the possibility of breaking things.

If you can't hire a professional to build or maintain your website in a way that keeps it top-notch and better than your competition, here are some of the things to watch out for while working on your web presence.

I’ve built a lot of websites for Christian churches of varying denominations, and I’ve noticed several trends when it comes to things that are commonly forgotten by the staff people maintaining the site.

Photo above: the tabernacle at St Joseph's Basilica, the local cathedral in our archdiocese. Copyright Brian Holdsworth and used with permission, kinda.

Three years ago, I knew almost nothing about Catholicism. I basically thought of the Catholic Church as just another denomination, and one that really liked traditional, old-fashioned practices. Sometimes, I'd hear things ranging from “Not all Catholics are Christian”, to things like “Catholics are call going to Hell because they worship Mary and the Pope”. I didn't really know what to think, but considering that the more trustworthy sources I had tended to stick with a pretty non-damning set of opinions, that's what I settled with, though I wasn't so concerned about the matter.

In 2016, I wrote about how scoring the Olympics by total medal counts, or by just the number of golds, was an inaccurate way to say which nation did best, because different nations have different abilities. Either Kenya or Tajikistan "won", by my chosen measurements.

This year, I took the same "weighted medal score" (henceforth called WMS) that I used before, and compared it to a bunch of national statistics, looking for correllations. Athelete counts of course had the strongest, because the more athletes a nation has competing, the better chance they have of winning something. I don't think this was good enough on its own, because a richer country will have more athletes.

No, it's not.

Bottle of kombucha

I love kombucha. 

Several years ago, I became interested in it, but rarely bought it, as it's in that category of pricey, cool products that are too expensive for this Dutch guy to buy. I mentioned, off-handedly, to my wife once that I wanted to try and make some myself, but never really did anything until Christmas of 2015. That year, we decided to challenge ourselves into trying to find heartfelt gifts for each other with a $10 price limit. I bought her some earthy cosmetics and loose-leaf tea, and she bought me the supplies to start making my own kombucha.

Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary

This was a question that I started asking early on in my research of Catholicism. I understood the basic reasons why Catholics venerate the Saints and Mary, and why they believed they could be asked for prayer. (The actual process of veneration of the Saints, which involves scientifically verifying that a miracle has occurred because of the intercession of a possible Saint, was a key point here.) Being rather skeptical by nature, I decided to research the topic from the other perspective: why can’t we pray to the Saints?

Priest with thurible

Update: I'm Catholic now.

Though I've been exploring Catholicism for the past two years, I recently came to a point where I felt that I needed to take action on it. I've decided that, over the summer, I will decide on a local parish to join, and start attending their RCIA (Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults) class in the fall — meaning I would be confirmed and welcomed in to the Church at Easter next year, assuming all follows the usual schedule. Many people have recommend joining RCIA, even if I don't end up joining the Church, to really understand the entirety of what's going on.

The four best used albums

It’s weird to think of the idea of “used” music these days. In this age of infinitely replicable digital media files, why would someone move an .mp3 to your device when it can just be copied?

Ninety percent of the music that I own on vinyl was acquired second-hand. There’s a multitude of good artists from years past that not only are still worthy of a listen, but were popular enough that their physical music releases are still easy to find. The fact that many used vinyl records can be bought for as little as one or two dollars at a thrift store means the barrier to entry, and trying a new artist, is very low. Sure, many of the more popular albums will get snatched up by someone reselling them for $10, but it doesn’t hurt to check the vinyl rack at the thrift store on a regular basis and see what they have.