How to Replace Patreon

What is Patreon?

Patreon is a “Drip Content” site, with membership features. It’s nothing new, they’ve simply rolled a few popular features of content publishing into a social package with few distractions and a catchy title.

Build Your Own

You can easily re-create all of the features of your Patreon page using a few easy plugins and WordPress. You will need hosting, but you can get that really cheap. This solution is not free, but if you make most of your income from Patreon support this is a good move for you.

WordPress + WooCommerce

First things first, you need to build a website. This is really easy. Sign up for some WordPress hosting someplace, and use one of the built in free WordPress themes or find one on the WordPress Repository.

Once that’s done, login and go to the plugins section of your administration dashboard. Search for WooCommerce and install it. WooCommerce setup is a bit complicated as there are a lot of options, but you’ll be focusing on “virtual” products so you don’t need to worry about shipping. Get your payment gateway configured (under Checkout settings), and you’ll be good to go. I recommend using Stripe as your payment gateway, you can find the Stripe extension for free at WooCommerce.com.

Subscriptions

The subscriptions plugin at WooCommerce.com is the best choice to use for this method, but it costs $200. However, you can get the exact same plugin for $35 from wpspring.com. You won’t get any official support for it, but it will work and it’s 100% legal.

Once you’ve installed the Subscriptions plugin, set up a few subscription products for your various membership levels.

Restrict User Access

The final piece of the puzzle is the Restrict User Access plugin. This plugin is free. It offers many different ways to restrict access based on membership levels.  One easy way is to create a tag on posts you want restricted, such as “Level One” or “Level Two”, then you can create access levels with access to specific tags.

There you have it

This is not a step by step tutorial, but these tools are very easy to use. If you would like help with putting this all together please feel free to email me.


UPDATE: COSTS

A few people have raised the concerns of costs or labor required to maintain a WordPress website. My intentions with this article are altruistic and not commercial, however because it can be difficult to find a good affordable solution for hosting I am going to plug my own service, https://pridetechdesign.com.

You can get a fully managed high quality VPS on Digital Ocean servers, pre-configured with WordPress, complimentary domain registration, full E-mail capability, enhanced security features, and 24/7 monitoring for trouble, for as low as $10/mo or $102/yr (15% discount for annual payments).

To keep your website and data secure there’s a number of very cheap maintenance plans available. Updates and Backups are $5/mo or $51/yr, while additional enhanced security and more vigorous backups are $15/mo or $153/yr.

This means that you can do everything I mentioned in the article above for $12.75 per month. Consider the 5% fees that Patreon charges and decide for yourself what is best.

How to build a Modern BBS

apple 2 computer showing bbs screen

Preface

After reading an article here about building a modern Bulletin Board System, and crafting my own brief response here about how the website already is a modern BBS, I decided I should write a short guide on how you can construct a modern equivalent of a BBS on the web using mostly free tools.

A computer & phone line

In the 1980s operating a BBS required a computer and at least one phone line. Back then a single phone line would cost $20 to $50 per month. Today, a phone line still costs a minimum of $20 a month (phone service is a racket!), but you don’t need to spend that much. For $5 per month you can rent a Virtual Server from Digital Ocean with a dedicated IP address. As far as quality and reliability are concerned Digital Ocean are the best in the marketplace, which is why I recommend them. The link I provide is a referral link which will give me credit toward my own hosting bill if you sign up.

Digital Ocean Hosting

Website Software

It is true that you could build a website from scratch so you don’t actually need to use this software but that takes a lot of time and you’d be re-inventing the wheel. That’s okay if you’re a developer and you’ve got a great idea for a wheel that nobody has thought of before, but otherwise I recommend using WordPress. It’s free and mature, as well as very easy to start using.

WordPress.org

Message Boards

In the 1980s, “Message Boards” are where people would post and discuss topics. Today we call these things “Forums” but they serve the same functionality. The best software for setting up a message board on a website is phpBB. Not only is it free, but it has a really excellent user interface that meets all of the common needs and is very intuitive. It is stand-alone software and it is loaded with features. Installation is pretty easy but configuration can feel a bit daunting. Just take your time and read the documentation and you should be fine.

phpBB

DOOR Games

One of the coolest features of a BBS in the 1980s was Door Games. These were computer games that ran externally from the BBS software. The term ‘door’ was a reference to how the BBS acts as a gateway to access these games. This technology has evolved in multiple ways and powers many of the advanced capabilities seen on the internet today.

There are many ways to run games on your website. Software such as Unity or HTML5 make it possible to build modern games for the browser. However because Nostalgia is a big part of this theme, I’m going to recommend EM-DOSBOX, which is a plugin that allows you to run actual DOS games from within a web browser. The Internet Archive uses this same software for it’s video game archive website.

EM-DOSBOX

Real Time Chat

In the 1980s operating a chat system on a BBS was extremely expensive. First most free BBS software didn’t support it well at all, so you probably had to pay for a commercial platform. Second, every user required their own phone line connection, so if you wanted a 10 person chatroom you had to pay for 10 separate phone lines. Today it’s so much easier and cheaper.

There’s a lot of ‘chat’ plugins available for WordPress. I am going to focus on Matrix.org and Riot.im. There isn’t an easy ‘plugin’ available to install these on your website, but you could use an iframe to embed a riot.im chatroom. The Matrix protocol is still very early in development and as time goes on you can expect there will be simpler and more elegant solutions for this purpose.

Matrix.org
Riot.im

Summary

So there you have it all of the tools required to build a modern “BBS” on the web, and with the exception of server rental all of it is free. You could, in theory, do all of this on your own server running on your home internet connection but that introduces some challenges such as DNS addressing. It’s up to you if that’s worth the $5 saved.

You might notice I did not include detailed tutorials on each piece of this puzzle. That is intentional. This post is meant to be a starting point for people interested in this sort of project. There are already dozens of specific guides and tutorials available for each of the things I’ve linked. This kind of project represents an adventure and learning about the software is part of that adventure. Also, detailed information like installation procedures are likely to evolve over time. So if you’re looking for help with phpBB or WordPress, just do a web search for tutorials on those subjects and you’ll find dozens.

I hope you found this article helpful or useful. I welcome any comments on how to improve my recommendations.

The website is the modern equivalent of a dialup BBS

Preface

Today I read a really cool and nostalgia article about the BBS, which stands for Bulletin Board System. BBSes were what the cool kids used to communicate online before there was a consumer internet. You can read that article here

I just had to comment, because BBSes played a significant role in my teenage life. I spent more time online than I did in the classroom. Seriously I failed several classes in high school because I never attended, I was at home playing Legend of the Red Dragon or responding to posts in the forums. I’ve included my response below:

My response

I think it’s awesome what you’re doing, I grew up on BBSes and I didn’t think they were weird at all, but everyone at school thought I was weird. Then the internet hit their living rooms and I don’t talk to those people anymore. Too busy getting paid $100/hr to build and support their websites.

While I love the nostalgia of this project, I think it’s worth noting that the “Modern BBS” is called a website. I know I know, ‘it’s not the same!’, believe me I get it. But from a purely end-user functionality standpoint, a website is exactly the same as a BBS, only improved.

Forums are handled by software such as phpBB (hands down the best UX in forums), you can play all sorts of web based games including dosbox classics with some java plugin, chat rooms are easy to embed especially with the new Matrix.org protocol, and of course we have various ‘wiki’ software to handle documents.

Best of all, an IP address is cheaper than a phone line ($5/mo droplets from Digital Ocean are the way to go) and the cheapest solutions can still handle 5–20 simultaneous visitors.

One of the things I always thought was really great about BBSes is how they empower “regular” people to organize and communicate ideas. Literally anybody can set one up, you don’t need a license or permit and the costs aren’t prohibitive. Websites are the same. We’ve been seeing the results of this anarchy for the past 30 years as corporations are no longer able to monopolize the distribution of information.

When I was a kid I ran my own BBS using the Renegade software. I had wicked ASCII art I found on pirate sites when you logged in, I forget what but it was probably a grim reaper or something. Now I have tailpuff.net and the first thing you see are high resolution full color graphics. It doesn’t tweak the nostalgia but it definitely is an improvement of the model first presented by the BBS.

How to Build a Modern BBS

I thought people might be interested in this idea, and so I decided I would provide some links to software and resources you can use to re-create all of the features of a BBS from your own blog website. These are not the only solutions, just my personal favorites.

Full disclosure: The Digital Ocean link is a referral link, if you sign up I will get credit toward my own hosting bill.

Humans, wake the fuck up.

Focus on the muzzle of a gun

Stop testing people.

When humans are little kids, around 2 years old, they are known to push the limits of their parent’s patience and tolerance for bad behavior. Nearly all 2 year old infants do this in order to learn what they can get away with in their family. It’s a well known psychological fact.

When I became a man, I put away childish things.

The problem I see is that many of you, and I mean many of you, are using the same techniques against full grown adults who are not part of your family. You’re in your 20s or 30s or maybe older, and you’re “pushing” people to figure out what you can get away with.

Please, allow me to briefly teach you a lesson you need to learn. You can’t get away with anything. Strangers that you meet in this world of 7 billion people are not your parents. We are not obligated to love you, or care for you, or tolerate you.

Real life is a dangerous place.

I grew up around Detroit. I lived in a pretty calm suburb, but there was no shortage of stories and expressions about people being shot for this or that social offense. I know some of you over-sheltered babes are going to say “That’s horrible!”. Here’s the thing about growing up and entering the real world. It does not matter if it’s horrible. You have to play with the hand you are dealt. You are too insignificant to rewrite all of the rules of existence for your own personal benefit.

With that in mind, if you push people, if you “test” the patience of complete strangers, you are likely to get yourself killed, or worse. I was raised a pacifist, so I don’t believe in solving my problems with violence, but I am an exception. Pacifists are not the majority. You all need to wake up. Grow up. You lived sheltered lives as children, and you’re no longer in the shelter. If you push people, if you “test” the patience of complete strangers, you are likely to get yourselves killed.

It’s free advice.

Listen, or don’t. It makes little difference to me, but it might just save your life.

Is Uber using “software bugs” to steal money?

coiled snake with words "don't tread on me"

Preface

I sometimes order food from Uber Eats. It’s a pretty neat service. I especially like that I can see my food traveling through town to my door. Every delivery service should offer that. Tonight there was a huge problem tho.

Software “Bugs” or Fraud?

I visited the Uber Eats website and it offered me the option to rate past orders, those which I had not already submitted ratings for. I like to rate each order because the drivers get more business if they have 5 stars. I do not always tip. I used to, but this isn’t the place to explain why.

When using the Uber Eats website app to rate previous orders it takes you through a number of very simple screens. They ask for your rating for the driver, the food, and for an optional tip. They stress on the tip screen that it is optional. The tip screen only displays a number of pre-configured amounts, from $2 to $6, and does not offer a “custom amount” option. It also does not have a button for $0 or “Do Not Tip”. At the bottom of the screen are two links, “Skip” and “Continue”. Those exist on each page of this process.

It is very easy to click the wrong amount by mistake. There is no way to “unclick” the amount, you can change it but you can’t select $0 so if you did not intend to tip at all then it’s stuck. This happened to me on two orders. Naturally, I clicked ‘Skip’ at the bottom, which should have caused the selections to be ignored.

Instead, a few minutes after completing the rating review Uber sent me E-mail notifications “Thanking” me for my tips. I was mildly annoyed, and decided to E-mail their support people to have the tips refunded.

This is where it gets weird. I am going to provide the full details of my conversation with their support department, so you can see for yourself.

Sent by Simba L. on Sunday, November 19, 2017 at 0:48:39 AM

I clicked ‘skip’ on the tipping screen and it applied a tip anyway. This happened on two different orders when all I was trying to do was record positive ratings. Please undo the tip on this order.


Sent by Athenna on Sunday, November 19, 2017 at 7:32:39 AM

Happy to explain, Simba.

Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Sorry to hear about the difficulty that you encountered with the tipping option.

The easiest way to tip your delivery partner is through the app. Once your order is complete, you’ll be prompted to rate your delivery partner. Once you provide a rating, you’ll be given the option to add a tip.

You are free to tip and delivery partners are free to accept tips at any time. Giving cash directly to your delivery partner is also an option.

Unfortunately, we are unable to refund the tip amount once tipping is done since tipping is optional.

I understand how this situation caused a lot of trouble on your part. We want you to know that we have the details of the order and rest assured that we have properly documented everything. Please know that your feedback has been heard and this will surely help us in improving our overall UberEATS level of service.

You may also visit our help page at https://help.uber.com/en/eaters for more information.


Sent by Simba L. on Sunday, November 19, 2017 at 8:16:08 AM

Hello. Because the tip was the result of a bug in your software you will refund it completely. I will be issuing a fraud charge back with the bank. If your looking to get hit by a class action you’re on the right path.


Sent by Athenna on Sunday, November 19, 2017 at 8:26:07 AM

Hi Simba,

Thanks for writing in.

I understand the importance of getting your money back. However, once tipping is done, the tip automatically goes to the driver’s account and unfortunately, we do not have the means to get it back.

As much as we want to provide a refund for this tip, please be advised that we are bounded with policies that we need to follow. At this point, what we can do is to take note of your feedback for improvement.

Hope that you’ll give UberEATS another try. You may also visit our help page at https://help.uber.com/en/eaters for more information.


Intentional or not, that is fraud.

I told them in my next response to forward my request to their lawyers, and I then issued fraud charge-backs at the bank for both charges. I’m 100% sure I will get my money back, this isn’t about that.

They could have made different design choices in their web app. They could have recognized the issue in QA testing. It’s very easy to predict and re-produce. So it is not completely unreasonable for a person, especially someone with a background in web development, to conclude that they might have designed it that way on purpose.

That is shady on it’s own, to design an app so people will “accidentally” spend more money than they wanted, but to then refuse refunds when mistakes happen is absolutely fraud. The question is, was this an orchestrated effort by Uber to steal money, or was it the result of a poorly run corporation?

Buyer Beware

The Uber Eats app is pretty cool. It’s almost too cool not to use. But be alert for these things. This is actually the second incident I’ve witnessed of Uber stealing money, and each time getting a refund was like pulling teeth. If something like this happens to you, don’t let it slide because “it’s only 1 dollar” or whatever. Report every incident, and get your money back. Thievery has to be put to rest.

Furry fandom is not an “accepting” community.

care bears holding paws

I was introduced to “Furry Fandom” in 1994

I was spending time in a role playing chatroom on America On-Line. Some friends of mine at the time introduced me to this thing called TLK Muck where I could role-play in the Lion King universe. It was basically a whole world built out of a chat network. I joined that for a few months and met some others who introduced me to something called “FurryMUCK”. This is how I learned about the Furry Fandom.

Care Bear at Heart

When I was growing up I would watch the care bears every morning at 5:30 before going to school. This was where I learned to socialize. I learned about being considerate of others and caring about their feelings. I learned to be nice instead of mean. Because of this, I did not get along well with most of the people at school, because most of them are dicks who do not care about anyone but themselves and their own instant gratification. Before you think I’m being extreme, we are talking about 10-18 year olds here.

O.G. Furry

Furry fandom spoke to all of my interests. I started attending and volunteering at conventions. I worked 10 years in the security department for Midwest FurFest, and 10 years in the Audio/Video department for Anthrocon. I was also on the Anthrocon Board of Directors for 3 years, as the head of the A/V crew. I worked 90 hour weekends. It was physically and emotionally taxing, and I enjoyed it because I was building this thing that so many people were enjoying.

“Retirement”

In 2009 I suffered a painful break-up and lost my job a few months later. The stress was too much. It was difficult enough finding money to attend conventions and so I stopped volunteering. It wasn’t until 2013 that I really got back on my feet, when I moved to Georgia and started my own business as a technology consultant.

I have been attending FWA each year since, and while I have felt the craving to volunteer I’ve forced myself to stay in retirement. Other people can do the hard work, and I will just enjoy it, I’ve told myself.

Making Friends Online

I’ve made most of my friends using the internet since the mid 1990s. Several of my friends have died in recent years, and others have written me out of their lives for this or that bullshit reason. So to find new friends I returned to the internet. I started joining “furry” themed chat groups based on interests I share. Surely I could find some new friends this way, I thought.

Furries are bullies. Furries are trolls.

What actually happened was something different entirely. I got banned from more than half of the groups I joined because I stood up to bullying. The pattern was so consistent I was able to identify the exact method they use, which I will describe in a moment. Every where I went, IRC, Telegram, Forums, and so on, the same thing happened.

The Playbook

I mentioned that the bullies use a consistent method, and here it is. Someone throws out some “innocent” looking statement into the chat, usually something based on the stated interest focus of that chat group. When someone responds to it, they gang up on that person. This happened to me a lot, because I thought the point of being in chat rooms for specific interests was to chat about those interests. I did not know they’ve been taken over completely by social predators. When I learned to stop taking the bait, I started seeing them doing it to other people.

Once the victim has been identified, you see the exact same people every time gang up on that victim. If this goes on long enough, the victim gets “banned” for “causing trouble”.

The Definition of Cause

The victim did not cause the trouble, the cause of the trouble was the person who threw out the bait in the first place.

the whole ugly thing is hiding behind “free hugs” like a creepy man handing out candy to children from his van.

This is the reality of “furry fandom” culture.

This is an organized and pervasive culture of bullying, it is going on every day, in every “furry” chat group.  This is not an “accepting” fandom. It’s a hostile place, full of real life predators, and the whole ugly thing is hiding behind “free hugs” like a creepy man handing out candy to children from his van.

I love anthropomorphic art and stories and I think a lot of furries are really awesome people. But this thing that I’ve born witness to for the past decade is not anything that I would ever support.

Sex is okay tho.

You want to know what doesn’t get attacked? Sex. If you’re sharing porn or encouraging sexual behavior, with the obvious exception of groups that explicitly forbid that, the bullies never target that. Intelligent conversations get you banned, mindless masturbation material is encouraged. This is 100% true, and not accidental at all. It’s intentional and it’s organized and it’s everywhere.

P.S. The Irony..

I tried posting something about this on /r/furry, a sub-reddit on the popular reddit forum service. They banned me. With their action in spite of my warnings they validated everything I’ve said.

Linux: batch convert webp to png using ffmpeg

If you have some images in webp format, such as exported from Telegram’s “sticker” packs, and you want to convert them to standard png for use in other applications, I have written a small bash script which will convert all the webp files in a directory into png and then remove the webp files.

This requires that you have ffmpeg installed. If you don’t want the webp files deleted afterward just remove line 5.

If you find this useful let me know in the comments! I invite suggestions to improve upon it.

DMARC is not the solution to E-mail Fraud.

stacks of money

The latest craze in E-mail security appears to be DMARC. Let me preface my post by saying I use DMARC, I use SPF and I use DKIM. I understand that people are mostly up in arms about the importance of DMARC because of how many major organizations haven’t adopted it. I understand it’s importance.

Problems with DMARC

Here’s the issue as I see it. DMARC does not solve phishing E-mails. It doesn’t do much more than SPF already does, and it doesn’t solve trust or identity in E-mail.

DMARC requires compliance by the recipient server to function at all, and all it does is tell the recipient to reject, quarantine, or allow fraudulent E-mails, a feature that SPF already provides.

This prevents someone from sending email from “custserv@paypal.com” but it doesn’t do anything to prevent them from sending an email from “custserv@payypal.com” which is how a huge number of phishing attacks are launched.

Oh and DMARC gives you some forensic information on who is sending fake E-mails from your domain. Which is completely useless in a high traffic real world scenario because you can’t take any effective action against the perpetrators.

Key Pair Signing & Encryption, a Real Solution.

Meanwhile we have PGP/GPG signatures which would, if properly implemented, provide a user friendly means of identifying the sender of an E-mail and verifying the integrity of an E-mail. But these have been completely disregarded by nearly 100% of organizations as “too difficult” to implement. Seriously, why doesn’t GMAIL come with a ‘PGP’ button?

PGP is arguably easier to implement worldwide than SPF + DKIM + DMARC. All you need to do is create the functionality client-side to create keys manage keyrings and interact with key databases. Compare this with setting up 3 different inline mail verification tools on every E-mail server in the world plus a slew of DNS records which can instruct servers to pass fake E-mails along without notifying the end users at all of suspicion.

Why are we being sold this half-assed solution to E-mail fraud when the real answer has existed for decades and would be easier to implement? If someone can explain why DMARC is being treated as the holy grail of E-mail security I would really appreciate it.

GPG/PGP is “Too Hard” for End Users

Bullshit. The difficulty of PGP/GPG has nothing to do with the technology and everything to do with the lack of proper support in E-mail clients. End Users don’t need to understand the technology at all, they just need a button that creates a key and publishes it to public key databases. The process is no more complicated than adding people to the address book on your phone.

Paranoid Conclusion

Using keypairs to verify authenticity of E-mail comes with a bonus feature, they can be used to encrypt E-mail to the point that it is “uncrackable”. Adding the signing capability to a service like GMAIL would also make it a lot easier for users to encrypt their E-mail, which would destroy Google’s business model since they read all of your E-mail to gather data. This is probably the #1 reason why keypairs have been ignored, with the #2 reason being pressure from world governments.

Your Thoughts?

My paranoid conclusion is not the only possible scenario, I would love to hear the opinions of other internet security experts on this issue.

Some Good News

You can implement PGP/GPG in your own E-mail and start using it with your friends, family and colleagues right away. And you should.  Visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation website to find some simple step by step tutorials for all platforms.

My Public Key: https://tailpuff.net/keys/

Gay Pride is Bullshit!

It was created to mock gay people

Humans are liars. There is one thing which is almost universally shared between adult humans, that is they hate their lives, they’re too scared to commit suicide, and they take out their rage on other humans. Straight men invented “Gay pride” to mock and make fun of people who will literally march in any parade no matter how insulting and degenerate it is. There are a few floats in each parade that are respectable, but that is not what everyone takes home from these events. What they take home is “Look at the faggots! Oh they’re such faggots!”

Gay lifestyle is bullshit

Sexuality is retarded. People are not born one way or another, they’re conditioned through years of experiences, teaching, and self-thought. They reach conclusions which are often subtle and difficult to pin down the sources of. Sexuality is one of those conclusions. All humans are capable of enjoying sex with both genders, but because of years of conditioning they often find one gender or the other sexually “disgusting”. Often this is an accidental process. In some cases it could have been deliberate.

There is no “queer community”.

Gay people do not have each other’s backs. Humans do not have each other’s backs. Humans are always on the brink of war with their own neighbors, for whatever stupid reason they’ve invented that week, and gay people are as much a part of that mental disease as any categorical group of people.

This is not an attack on your family.

Everyone has a tribe of friends they will defend fiercely.. You need to be careful not to assume that the bubble you live in every day represents the world at large.  This is not an attack on the bonds of your tiny tribe or family.