Kickstart my heart...

Lately I've been backing an increasing number of projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. I really enjoy the concept behind these companies - even if I've already been burned once (more on that in a moment).

I've (frequently) voiced complaints along the lines of "why don't they make things like this anymore?", or "I wish someone would fix this first-world problem"[1]. In particular, this is often the result of my having fairly 'niche' interests: it's often not worth it for large companies to cater to small audiences, even if the market is still profitable.

That's where 'project backing' websites give me (and other weirdoes) the opportunity to put our money where our mouths are. If I really want a card game based on Cyanide & Happiness, or a mealworm farm because I'm sick in the head, then I can pay for those[2]. 

But alas, every rose has its thorn, and there is a dark side to backing projects. We all know that a 'pledge' towards a project is actually really a 'donation'. Just because the campaign says that a $25 dollar pledge will net you one shiny copy of a game, album, or art print, it doesn't guarantee that the creator will actually follow through. Unfortunately(?) people have come to expect to receive what they back, and Kickstarter and Indiegogo have transitioned from being 'investment platforms' to pre-order services.

I was recently burned by Kickstarter campaign for the 'Unofficial' Bay Area Expansion for Cards Against Humanity. I seems as though its creator took our money, had the cards manufactured, and then proceeded to sell them on eBay without actually fulfilling the backer rewards promised to those who pledged (see the comments on the KS page, which are nothing but vitriol).

Losing $25 sucks, but it did remind me of a valuable lesson about life in general: caveat emptor. In the case of the CAH expansion, the creator offered no relevant experience attesting to his ability to see the project through. As a counter example, I met a creator at Maker Faire who showed me a demonstration of a prototype drone that he was soon going to fund via Indiegogo. He'd also successfully funded two previous campaigns and received positive reviews. I backed his campaign last year and got my drone this past week. It works great, but alas, I cannot fly it outside of my tiny apartment[3].

When I told my girlfriend about having lost money backing a Kickstarter, her immediate reaction was to point out how frivolous these things are and why I shouldn't have wasted my money on them. Despite this, I find myself undaunted. Yes, I'll probably be a bit more discriminating than I already have been (I haven't backed any perpetual motion machines or laser shaving devices), but as long as there continues to be a fine selection of minimalist wallets and geeky card games[4], I'm in.  

[1] Or "Get off my lawn!" 

[2] Reaching niche audiences isn't the only function of these websites: charities and artists also seek donations as well. Given that these functions were available prior to the emergence of sites like Kickstarter, I don't see them as the primary function of this new marketplace. Others may disagree. 

[3] I backed the Micro Drone 3.0 project back when I lived in Redwood City. Since then, I've moved to San Bruno, and the FAA has issued guidelines banning drone flight within 5 miles of an airport. Since I now live ~1 mile from SFO and am surrounded by hills, I'd need to drive about 20-30 mins away before I can fly my damned drone :-(

[4] From reputable creators, of course.

The reluctant minimalist...

I used to read voraciously. In fact, I kept an annual list of all of the books I'd finish, and most years I'd average more than a book a week. Most of the stuff I read as a kid was pulp-fantasy, but during grad-school I switched to reading a lot of science; both technical monographs as well as general audience stuff. Eventually, I accumulated a prodigious library, which I've managed to cart around North America at substantial personal expense.

A few years ago, realizing that moving more books into my tiny American apartments just wasn't practical, I went the way of the Kindle [1]. Thus while not growing physically, my collection of tomes has been patiently sitting in the closet for the day when we move into a larger place, thereby enabling me to construct the library of my dreams. 

However, as with all aspects of life, the baby changes everything. It's amazing how much space an 8 lb human can occupy. We're quickly landing upon the mantra of big-box department stores: shelf space is a scarce resource and therefore at a premium. It's past time to cut down on collecting crap that I'm not using.

I wonder if anyone at the donation place will actually want to read D'Arcy Thompson's,  On Growth and Form ? 

I wonder if anyone at the donation place will actually want to read D'Arcy Thompson's, On Growth and Form

With a heavy heart, I have begun purging my book collection of as much as I can bear, which is much more than it used to be. Over the years, I've become quite convinced that I'm carrying a little bit of the 'hoarder phenotype'. For example, I used to find myself worrying about what I'd do if a particular book went out of print. Obviously, the correct answer is, 'Who cares? If I haven't revisited it yet, it's probably not a big deal'.

I've also begun to think about that strange sense of pride that comes from displaying one's collection(s). Do we really expect people to be impressed by the number of movies, albums, videogames, etc. that we have on our shelves? In this era of Netflix and digital music, it seems even more odd to be proud of one's commitment to buying every single superhero movie or whatnot.

So, it's an uphill battle, fighting against this crippling desire to shove stuff onto my shelves, especially now that I've got more disposable income. Let's begin with baby-steps - rather a propos, no? I'll work on trimming down my junk and, whenever possible, converting everything to digital. At the same time, we'll agree that I can keep one useless physical collection going strong. I could never part with my videogames, of course...

[1] Super pro-tip: If you're going to have a baby, make sure you get an ebook reader (preferably with a backlight). You will rarely have more than one hand free, and at ~2 a.m. reading is a good way to pass the time as the baby falls asleep.