Archive for the ‘ A Slice of Life ’ Category

Outsourcing Privacy

In some ways, globalization isn’t a bad thing. One of my favorite experiences thus far in life has been running IRC channels/networks with a global population. On the other hand, the globalization – especially corporatization – of online social life has been a decided negative experience. Having to deal with behemoths like Google, Amazon, and Facebook just to socialize with dispersed family isn’t anything to write home about. The cognitive dissonance of massive corporations whose sole purpose is to surveil you in order to sell the products of that surveillance to advertisers also being the ones who have come to define the meaning of privacy online to an entire generation (and redefine it, for my generation backwards) is truly something to behold. I used to volunteer for an organization which sought to protect the vulnerable from cyberstalking in the earlier days of the internet. These days, the ability to stalk people has grown exponentially – and usually on the backs of platforms which have grown around the express purpose of tracking their users everywhere they go.

How did we get here? The same way we’ve arrived at most of the places we’re currently at, as Western consumers – by way of convenience. One-stop-shopping has been a plague on our habits since it was introduced, and the more it has invaded our social lives, the worse it has become. We’ve centralized everything because it is most convenient. With this centralization has come a relinquishment of control – of myriad aspects of our lives. What else we need to realize, though, is that while these corporations are indeed creepy – they aren’t the real problem. The real problem is us. We are the ones who made them behemoths. We are the ones who sacrificed quality, locality, privacy and personality on the altar of convenience. We have no one to blame but ourselves. Just like the problem came from us, the solution comes from us as well. We have to choose to act differently.

Instead of ordering from a company’s Amazon storefront – order from the company itself. Instead of looking globally for things you need – look locally. It takes more work to find, sometimes, yes – but it also provides more work to people who live near you. I just planted 4 fruit trees in my front yard. I have a paper route, where I deliver a secondhand goods paper to a variety of local businesses. While on that route, I bought the trees from a local feed store, a rake from a hardware store – and since I was delivering papers to a different hardware store at the time, picked up some gravel to fill in holes in my driveway. If you’re going for convenience, go to places that are actually convenient to you. Local places, that are on your way to wherever you are going. On the other hand, sometimes what you need is only available at big box stores – or if you order it. I broke down and went to Home Depot to get some foldable sawhorses yesterday. Where they get you is when you see that they also have red mulch on sale for 5/10$… but I digress 🙂 What I should have done was find a small business that sells foldable sawhorses – but I didn’t think of it at the time – because I’d already looked at all the hardware stores on my route, and none of them sold what I wanted. The other thing I could have done was buy the lumber and make my own sawhorses… but I’ve made a good half dozen sets over the years, and they never last – and they’re a pain to store.

In my Mancave post, I talk about how I’ve shopped local for the building supplies I needed for this project. What I haven’t done as well with is shopping specialty for my equipment. It was so much easier to just make a wishlist on Amazon, populate it, and pick up practically everything for the project from there. I’ve decided that this is the last project I’m doing that way. I’m proud that I’ve been able to support my local businesses (like Jack’s Hardware and Alexander Hardware and Supply) with the building materials, but I really could have done better with the equipment. This is getting a bit afield of the point, though. Where Home Depot is better, marginally, than Amazon, is that they rely (primarily) on having a large stock of items in a central location that you can actually look at and go to. The same thing goes for an Auto Zone, or a Harbor Freight, or other “chain” stores of that magnitude. That is supply chain thinking. Amazon has taken “supply chain thinking” and made it gargantuan – and has mostly eliminated the local option. They are supply chain in the cloud.

With places like Amazon, though, we have outsourced our privacy to gain convenience. Amazon “knows” what we want, and can “suggest” things we might also want by means of number-crunching comparisons to both our purchase history, and that of millions of other people. Facebook and Google do the same thing with our browsing history – and sell the results of that number-crunching to advertisers, to better “target” us. They’re so good at surveilling us that their platforms are also outsourced by government agencies for surveillance tasks. Not only that, they have created “sweetheart deals” with other large corporations to circumvent things like DMCA laws through AI-driven content managers like YouTube’s ContentID. ContentID scans every video uploaded to YouTube, and scans it for copyrighted content. When that content is “flagged” as something a corporation has copyrighted, YouTube forces the uploader to prove that it isn’t copyrighted – to prove a negative. The corporation on whose behalf it was “flagged” is the only court of appeal for that content. Tell me that isn’t backwards! As a church tech/sound guy, I’m in charge of our service recordings. At least two hours of my week, every week, is spent appealing obviously public domain songs that were flagged as copyrighted – because some company, somewhere, has a performance of said song copyrighted. As a result, and after spending some time talking with some others at my church, I’m working on a way to move us off of YouTube – because it has crossed the line into harassment – into cyber-stalking. Big Tech’s relentless drive to know everything about us – the price for using their “free” services – has got us almost convinced that this is normal.

This is not normal. This is not right. I’d much rather go to the expense and trouble of hosting my church’s videos myself, rather than fighting with a Google subsidiary (and her music industry sweethearts) over whether public domain music is actually in the public domain. Outsourcing privacy to Google costs too much. They don’t actually offer privacy – just a fig leaf. The prospect of ads (over which we have no control) during a church service is appalling – and that is the consequence of losing an in-house appeal to a company who has a vested interest(!) in saying that public domain music is not public domain – and there are zero legal consequences for doing so, since Google has circumvented the legal process in place for companies to enforce copyright(s) by using this system. Your privacy has been outsourced in a similar fashion to a variety of companies who have a vested interest in seeing that your private affairs don’t stay private. They have a vested interest in knowing everything about you. Not only that, but they have a vested interest in telling other companies everything they know about you – in fact, that’s their business model. Not only that – but we’ve handed these companies everything about us – because they have told us “we care about your privacy.” They do care – just not in the way we take it to mean. We trust them with our outsourced privacy – and they violate that trust each and every day.

We have nobody to blame but ourselves. Do you want your privacy back? You have to change your behavior. Stop using Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Twitter. As far as you can, use less Microsoft & Apple products. If we want the status quo to change, we have to change – because the status quo follows our behavior.

Locality – Virtually

Look, we all have told ourselves to “shop local”. We mean to do it, we really do. We don’t like how massive corporations have taken over practically every facet of our lives. We like the helpfulness of local business owners, and the idea of supporting our friends and neighbors. Then we’re on the lookout for something specialized, and… our local businesses don’t have it. This isn’t specific to small town life, either. Sometimes, we have very specific needs, and nobody even remotely nearby has what we’re looking for. So, where do we go? Amazon.

Why do we go there now? First and foremost, because Amazon has worked very hard to become uniquely ubiquitous. They have rolled a fairly large percentage of their profits, for a great many years, into diversifying – and cornering the market on online shopping. They are a video provider, book publisher, and also provide the hardware to support their various endeavors. They not only have Amazon Prime, but Prime Video, Prime Wardrobe, and Prime Music. They not only have FireTV, but the FireTV stick. They not only have Kindle, but the family of Kindle readers. They have Whole Foods, Twitch, IMdB, Amazon Music, Audible, Goodreads, Kuiper Systems, Alexa, Echo, Ring – their own appstore to compete with Google Play and Apple – and their Basics brand offers cheap(er) knockoffs of just about anything you could want – along with the real thing, of course. They also have their own logistics tail (including Maritime shipping!), warehousing, and of course, their massive online storefront – which has proceeded to incorporate a massive amount of third-party sellers. This doesn’t even count Amazon Web Services, which power a significant portion of the cloud market – about a third of it. In short, they have become ubiquitous – and not in a good way.

Nobody needs a history lesson about how Amazon came to dominate the online market – and thence the brick and mortar market – but it is illustrative of just how much convenience trumps sanity in today’s world. The fact that Amazon keeps buying subsidiaries and capitalizing them isn’t the issue – the issue is that we are the reason Amazon is what it is. They keep steamrolling businesses – large as well as small – because we’ve enabled them to. Whenever we use Amazon because it is easier, we’re giving Amazon business at the expense of local companies – or even other, larger corporations. Now, this isn’t a fault of Amazon – it’s our fault. Don’t get me wrong – it’d be great if other companies invested in infrastructure proportionally – but one business advantage Amazon has is, quite simply, the fact that it doesn’t have to duplicate their logistics tail for each of its subsidiaries. The other is that we have traded convenience and price for control of the markets. It is entirely behavior driven – by our behavior. I confess that I am guilty of this as well.

Amazon does what it does well – practically unexceptionally. That isn’t the problem. That is a feature of the business model they use. Efficiency as the means of cornering the market. Of course they are efficient – and usually cheaper, to boot. The problem is that when they do so, they intentionally drive their competitors into the ground as a feature of their business model. This is free-market capitalism, true – but it only works if we are willing to assist them in so doing. We don’t have to min-max our lives like an MMO raiding guild does with their characters. No matter what the markets say, if we choose to use something a little slower, a little more expensive, and local – we should – because those local businesses are run by people with families, and employ people with families we know. We should, because we want people to work for places other than, well, Amazon – who are famously terrible employers in order to make their business model work. In other words – whenever and wherever you have a choice, choose the option that doesn’t intentionally undercut your friends and neighbors’ ability to do business. If you need hardware, wood, or tools – go to your locally owned and operated hardware store instead of a box store – or Amazon. If you need specialty goods – find a supplier that *isn’t* a box store – or Amazon. It might be someone *else’s* local business – but that’s fine! It might even be a bigger business that caters to that particular specialty – but if it keeps that business from being eaten by the Amazon machine, isn’t that all to the good?

Don’t just shop local, either – live locally. Those ties to small businesses are part of what make communities. The more we live globally, the less ties we have to where we live, and who lives there. It creates an artificial distance between people. It’s fine to have communities where you unite around a common interest – that isn’t the point. The point is that those should be ancillary to communities in your locality. Churches, schools, sports all create local communities within the places where we live. Divorcing our purchasing from those communities drives much of the reasons for living in a particular place, having common interests, and common places of employment into the background – and denudes our lives of an ontology of place. Consumerism can’t provide much in the way of commonalities. Service employers and food service are important, but manufacturing and distribution are also key elements of creating communities that aren’t migratory. If our only choices for employment boil down to which chain of big box, global franchise, or behemoth online megalith we can work for – how much stability and sense of permanence does that offer?

In a similar fashion, outsourcing our communal lives to social media corporations is a bad idea. For the same reason we should stop feeding the Amazon machine so much of our money, we should stop feeding the Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter machines our social lives. Yes, COVID-19 was bad, and the ability to use the ephemeral imitation of society that Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, and Twitch offers was a virtual lifeline – but we mustn’t forget that they are ephemeral imitations – and ephemeral imitations that are only there to provide advertisers with targeted data about us, so that they can more efficiently sell us things. That is the precise and specific purpose for the existence of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Skype, LinkedIn, and a host of similar corporate networking and social platforms. They take what you share about yourself – and sell it to advertisers – full stop.

Here’s something else to think about. Do you remember when “cyberstalking” was a big issue? I do. I used to volunteer with a group who addressed cyberstalking (CyberAngels)- especially of women and children. Online privacy was a very big deal for a decade or more. Once all of these big corporate social media companies got into the mix, however – most of that buzz just… disappeared. The big tech empires basically do everything we used to tell people was cyberstalking. They encourage all of the behaviors we discouraged in people’s online habits. Sharing personal information, photos with clear location data, photos of children… practically every single thing we advised that people stop doing – they want you to keep doing – and use their services to do them. They then have the audacity to ask you to trust them.

How the Internet is Supposed to Be

For those of you old enough to remember when there wasn’t an internet – you probably also remember its infancy. Back in BBS days where you had to dial in to someone’s computer, or to a usenet service – then later to providers like AOL, Prodigy, or Compuserve. As the internet grew older, there were always a couple of competing philosophies – whatever the most insistent FOSS advocates remember.

There have always been the decentralized, individualist proponents – and have always been the corporations trying to centralize as much as humanly possible under their brand. AOL was a giant, comparable to Facebook today for the time and then-current userbase. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and its war with Netscape (which was often bundled with dialup giant software!) was a fascinating struggle – comparable to the modern corporate throwdowns today.

It’s no accident that Apple and Microsoft are still players. Their forays into the incipient internet were largely due to the fact that their products ran a sizable portion of the computers that all the corporations vied to capture as customers. The corporate opportunism displayed by Google, Twitter, and Amazon is nothing new. In fact, it seems to be part and parcel of internet history for companies to repeatedly (serially and in parallel) attempt to capture large swathes of the internet. The argument for distributed and decentralized internet is not that corporations shouldn’t do what corporations do – but that the construction of the internet ensures that corporate entities can’t take it over, and definitely not for long – unless we give it to them wholesale.

There might well be a danger, currently, of large corporations “owning” large channels of distribution. However, that danger is largely due to our own complaisance – and complacence. Nobody made us sign everything over to Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Google and Amazon. We did it ourselves. I’ll offer up a reason for this: we’ve become accustomed to handing over large chunks of our lives to big companies for convenience’s sake. We did this in the 90s, the 00s, the 10s, and we continue to do it today. The same thing happens on a smaller scale, with companies like Steam, Epic, Spotify, Adobe, or a host of others like them. Companies always try to get you into their walled gardens. That’s what they do. The cool thing about the internet is that those walled gardens last only as long as we decide to put up with them. AOL, for example, crashed and burned precisely because we were done putting up with their walled garden. Their DSL offerings had nothing to recommend them over other ISPs – and in fact, charged for services they overlaid that other ISPs offered for free. Other companies had similar problems. Where is Yahoo! these days? Compuserve?

Look familiar? It should. Facebook can buy up WhatsApp and Instagram – AOL could buy Time Warner. They’re making the same mistake, and setting up the same sort of walled garden. The CEOs of these bright new internet startups that seem to have taken over the internet are suffering from the same caretaker syndrome that the second generation of CEOs of the original startups suffered – for much the same reasons. Why did AOL crash and burn? They crashed and burned because people realized that they were paying to be manipulated and advertised to. These companies create problems that they try to sell themselves as the solution to.

We’ve never needed them. We all know that. It’s just easier to let someone else do the work, give up a little bit of privacy and control – and “use it for free”. It’s easier to use the all-in-one shop than it is to do the traveling and research things for yourself. The “swiss army knife” operating system is a lot easier to work with than any of the specialty jobs that the Linux community offers. There’s a reason that Ubuntu is the only one of them with any sort of significant market share – and even that is infinitesimal in comparison. Ubuntu can’t do everything that Windows or Apple does – and we’ve become used to the idea that it should. Some of the things that are done by Windows or MacOS aren’t things they should be doing.

That is neither here nor there – just offered as a comparison. There are, I think, three (somewhat) separate issues with the tech giants that need to be addressed. 1) Ease of use/familiarity 2) Ubiquity 3) Privacy. I’ll use Facebook as an example here.

Ease of use

While nobody will call Facebook’s interface truly user friendly, it is easy to use – and easy to seamlessly plug things into. Like any CMS, it is purposely modular, and meant to give the administrators a myriad of ways to plug in content in discrete blocks. This modular design is well-suited to Facebook’s swiss-army-knife philosophy. Grandma both can and does use this platform – and so do her grandkids. Hate it or not, it *is* easy – but no more so than any CMS.

Ubiquity

Again, hate them or not – everyone and their Grandma uses Facebook. Pretty much literally. It is the very definition of ubiquitous. It doesn’t have to be good – it just has to be everywhere. Since it is everywhere, it has what Facebook (the business, remember!) really wants – reams of data, to sell to advertisers – and an absolutely killer market share. They are, by any measure, the largest and most popular social network in the world, with over 2.7 billion users.

Privacy

We’ve grown used to everything happening “in public”. Everything. This was not always the case. Every thing in your life is now fair game for sharing. Our lives are content. We are all part of The Everscroll. Our digital lives are primarily composed of scrolling, endlessly, through other people’s lives. What they choose to share of them. What they – and we – choose to share, though, is practically everything. Why do we do this? We do this because we are incentivized to – through notifications, likes, comments – the entire social media ecosystem hamster wheel. We can talk about dopamine, about habit-forming, about a large number of things – but it all boils down to “they designed it that way, and we’re eating it up just like we eat up tabloids and reality tv.” If you didn’t eat up tabloids and reality tv before – you do now. It just comes in your endless scroll.

The Real Problem, Summarized

I remember what things were like before there was social media. Before Amazon. Before Google. It was a lot like it is now, just without nearly as many people on the internet – and way more glued to their network TVs. Soon after, Cable (and syndicated programming, let’s not forget) blew open the TV biz – and internet streaming has blown it up even more. Since that is true – why did we once again have Netflix owning practically all the streaming content? Well, we didn’t have all the other networks opening their own shops. Now that they have, what do we see now? Streaming everywhere. All the things. Streaming. Constantly. Netflix is still a powerhouse, but it doesn’t own streaming anymore. iTunes owned music content for a while. Not anymore. Why? Competition. Alternatives.

While it’s annoying that streaming is fragmented over a bunch of networks – much of the annoyance is over the fact that we have to choose now. Everyone has streaming. Everyone has platform-exclusive shows or movies. Remember what we said earlier about walled gardens? Companies always try to get you into their walled gardens. That’s what they do. While it is annoying, the fact that there is is competition is a good sign – that the corporations are going to be busy fighting each other like monsters in a Kaiju movie. In the space that leaves for thinking things over – there’s an opportunity for reflection.

What if your choice was not between which corporate behemoths to give all your personal data to – but between telling the corporate behemoths to go take a long walk with their creepy corporate surveillance culture and using community-or-family sized alternatives with a vested interest in your interest? Like I said at the beginning – there have always been two simultaneous internet cultures. Somebody made all the cool alternative stuff you used to think was cool, back before social media. Newgrounds, Strongbad, all those awesome (but mostly stupid) flash games… most of those were made by random dudes and dudettes – and were posted to communities. Those guys that used to host BBSs started making their own websites, and hosting IRC servers, building community forums. The internet of the 90s and 00s was weird – but there were so many quirky things that would get lost in today’s mindless everscroll. Virality is fleeting – and monetizing virality, more fleeting still.

We can do a bit better than IRC servers, a forum, and a website now. Of course, we can still do all of those – and many do. I’m an IRC server admin myself. You’re reading this on my personal website that I’ve maintained since 2003 – using the internet handle that I’ve used since the early-to-mid 90s. This website has changed software at least 4 times, and themes a dozen or more times – but it is just as recognizably “mine” as it was back then. If you want to grasp how identity and privacy should work – that’s a start. Further, the internet itself should work similarly. Your primary identity service should be yours. If anyone wants to know who you are, they should ask your stuff (your personal identity server) – which shares precisely as much as you wish to share, and no more. Not Facebook, not Twitter, not Amazon – and certainly not Google – you. Any “central” datastore about you should be in your hands, and no one else’s. Using other people’s services should be a matter of verification with you of your identity – just like any other identification is – not a carte blanche to share whatever they feel like with whoever they feel like – about you. No service is worth that.

Ubiquity should devolve to how ubiquitous you choose to be, not how promiscuous your social media platform chooses to be with your identity. Ease of use is no excuse for being creepy. Google, Facebook, Amazon and their ilk know too much about us, and we give it all to them by our behavior – because we do too much stuff on their sites. If you want things to change, you have to change. You have to change your behavior, your habits, and where you do things. We all whine about Walmart and Target, and talk about how we should “shop local” – but it is our shopping behavior that drove their competition into the ground – drove our neighbors into the ground, because that is who runs those local businesses competing with the big box stores. Amazon is driving all the specialty box stores into the ground – and all the specialty shops too – unless they bite the bullet and become part of “the ecosystem”.

There is a problem – we’re too centralized. It’s our problem. We created it, we perpetuate it, and we have nobody to blame but ourselves for how much of our lives Big Tech has taken over. Once we recognize that here is a problem, we have to commit to change. Pick one Big Tech company to wean off of – and start moving. There are alternatives for each and every service we have learned to not live without in these all-in-one companies. You can start somewhere.

There are alternatives.

Sometimes, however, you don’t want an alternative.

I’ll be honest with you. There’s nothing else quite like Facebook. That’s not really a bad thing, in my estimation. Facebook shouldn’t be a thing. At least not in sense of the ginormous everything-to-everyone behemoth that it has become. Facebook still has your grandma, or your kids, or your best friend from 4th grade. If you want to move off Facebook, you’re going to have to get together with those people and start making plans on how to continue keeping in contact – and having this same conversation with each of them, to fill the specific needs for your friends & family list. You might need something for birthdays and events. You might need something for groups. You might need some sort of social media hub that you can all keep in contact with. You might need chat. You might need video calling. All of those exist, all can be done – but only at the cost of work, and possibly expense on the part of your group. If you’re already doing that sort of thing, like I am, you probably have the infrastructure for doing a good portion of the above. You probably also have the know-how to help others learn how to manage their own identities, away from Big Tech. If you don’t, and you’re reading this entire article with a bit of alarm about how scathing I am about Big Tech in general, and you trusted these big companies – be aware that I am actually understating how bad the situation is, for the most part. Ask your techie family member or friend about those companies, and see what they tell you. You might be surprised to learn that the only reason they are still on Facebook is because of you – and people like you. Don’t take that the wrong way – it shows they care about you enough to use something they hate – just for you. Let it be a wake-up call for you – all of these companies are using your relationships as fodder for selling information to advertisers – and tracking your every move from the epicenter of your usage of their services. It’s what they do. The reason they exist is to target you as accurately as possible, so that someone can sell you exactly what you want.

That might be convenient – I won’t say it isn’t – but it is also dystopian to an extreme usually seen only in scifi until recently. What price does that sort of convenience actually have? If you want things to change, you have to change. You have to use these companies’ stuff less – and because they have also sucked all of your friends and family into the same black hole’s gravity well that you’re circling, you’ll have to convince them of the same thing. Not only that, but you’ll have to use the same thing(s). Preferably something that isn’t a walled garden just like the one you’re leaving – only not quite as big. How you build your communities is up to you – but build them you must – unless you want some big company to continue doing it for you – and vacuuming everything about you into their big server farms.

You can do it – but you’ll have to give up some familiar things – our goal, though, is to keep the familiar people. I’ll post more about ways to detox from surveillance capitalism and the Big Tech ecosystem next time. In conclusion: The internet has always been corporate and individual – but in structure, it has always been decentralized – no matter how many walled gardens are constructed. Those walled gardens last only as long as we decide to put up with them. Decentralized is how the internet is supposed to be.

I’m old enough to remember the text-only internet, as well as some of the initial forays into media. Advertising has been ubiquitous from almost the beginning of the mass market adoption of internet as a service – but I remember the days when it was generally banned! I was still a kid then, but it was a thing for a good while.

Nowadays, advertising really is ubiquitous! In the larger sense, even I engage in a mild form of advertising, by linking to sites I enjoy, or to my webhost -although, now that I mention it, my affiliate link is so far expired that it wouldn’t get me anything if someone clicked it… I digress.

We all know the sorts of things that chap our hide. Adwalls on websites, with those little shamey messages that try to justify their business model by attempting to make you ashamed for using an adblocker. I mean, it’s not like their ads have tracking enabled in them or anything… right? If you believe that, I have some oceanfront property in Arizona… but let’s just be honest here. If your business model requires ad clicks, that business model is not stable. We’ve known that for a very long time now. We knew it within a year or two of the introduction of online ads. The reason that we still have ads, even though they are very low percentage, is because those ads are more and more targeted. How do they get targeted? By mining data. Where is that data mined from? The gigantic corporate sites, with millions, even billions, of users.

That data is mined from the users of Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon, and a selection of other sites – and their penumbra of tools, integrated with other websites all over the world, contribute to that data mining. Why can you “log in with Facebook”, Google, or a variety of other corporate accounts? You can do so because when you do, you contribute to those data mines, maintained by those companies. That data is sold to other businesses, or used by the corporate giants, for a fee, to target you, the user, with ads “relevant to you”.

Ad-driven consumption models, which use those large data stores to build algorithmic targeting, are what drive the corporate internet. The corporate internet includes the social media giants – Facebook and Twitter. The news sites are all dialed into these monoliths, and all of the legacy media has been essentially tamed to work in tandem with the social giants to target you. Why? Well, to rephrase the old saying – if you’re not paying for it, you’re probably the product. Open Source software doesn’t necessitate you being the product, after all! However, here’s a good rule of thumb to follow:

If the service or software you are using does at least two of the following:

  • Operates as a for-profit entity
  • Sells user data
  • Makes money by selling advertisements

Then you’re probably the product. On Facebook and Twitter, you are definitely the product, as an end user. On some of the adwall-enabled sites mentioned earlier, you are the product – unless you buy a premium subscription, at which point you revert to being a normal paying customer. They are a sort of hybrid model. That doesn’t make ad content any less annoying if you aren’t a paying customer, however.

Here’s a couple more examples. On network, over-the-air television and radio, you are also the product. Television delivers people. They use the content to draw your eyes and ears – because the real customers are the advertisers. You, on the other hand, are the product being sold. Why don’t radio stations play uninterrupted music? They have to make money. Why do TV stations have commercials? They have to make money. How do they make money? They sell you to advertisers. Free tiers of streaming services do the same thing – they sell you in exchange for the advertisers having access to you. The content you watch is what you are selling yourself in exchange for. This happens on Spotify, Hulu, and YouTube, to give a few examples.

When you pay for the service directly, those ads magically disappear. What’s the difference? You’re the customer now, not the advertisers. The service itself has changed. You no longer have to listen to advertisements, because you’re the one paying – not the advertisers. If you’re not paying, you’re probably the product.

So, let’s get to the reason I brought all this up. With alt-tech popping up to compete with these business models, you have a wide variety of choices. There are pluses and minuses to all of the various platforms – but there are, in general, several choices available to you.

  • A centralized (usually corporate) subscription service model
  • A decentralized (usually community-managed) federated model
  • A decentralized (usually individually managed) peer-to-peer model

Gab, Parler, and MeWe are variants of the first model – which is usually a business model. Additionally, most of the legacy media sites and networks use this model. They are often referred to as “walled gardens”. They use proprietary software to “lock you in” to their platform, and you are allowed to interact only with the content generated on their platform. You may or may not be able to view the content – or there may be limits on the amount that you can view – but there will be some limitation on your interactions, as a non-paying customer – and there will be limitations on functionality for non-paying customers, even if they allow most functions as a “free” tier subscriber. Once you’re a “premium” member, you unlock additional functionality. See: Spotify Premium, Gab Pro, MeWe Premium, Newspaper subscriptions, Hulu (NoAds), etc.

Mastodon, Pleroma, Pixelfed, Matrix, IRC, and PeerTube are variants of the second model – which is usually a community-managed, voluntarily supported non-profit model. There might be a “main branch” for the code contributors that is supporting employees, but the project itself is FOSS (Free Open Source Software). Typically, individual server operators host their own servers because they like to, or with the support of voluntary contributions from the community served by that host. They tend to be nerdy folks, and are not in it for the money – or your data. They tend to know the members of their community, and their community members are there specifically because those server admins are known quantities.

Peer-to-Peer networks are probably most widely known from filesharing – things like Napster, Limewire, or Bittorrent (Or Gnutella, Kazaa) – other famous current examples of peer-to-peer networking are Bitcoin and Tor. However, there are a number of social protocols built using similar means. PeerSocial, Aether, and WeYouMe are examples of this.

The route I’ve chosen is option 2 – primarily because I am a longtime web selfhoster (usually by means of commercial hosting companies that I pay to rent space/bandwidth from).

I’m a server host for an IRC and Pleroma server and the accompanying website. Our network also runs a Matrix server, as well as another IRC server linked to mine. In all, we use 4 servers in total, between us, as volunteer hosts. I also host a group theology/apologetics website, a church site, a game project site, and my own personal site(s). I do so, in all of these cases, because I feel like it, and I enjoy doing so.

The flipside to this coin, of course, is that anytime I don’t feel like it, I can click a button and anything I want to purge is gone. This is always the problem with community hosted projects. What mitigates this risk is the very thing I mentioned earlier, however – knowing your admin(s). My personal website has been up, without much downtime to speak of, since 2003. The apologetics and gaming project sites, since 2006. That’s a very long time, when it comes to the internet! When your community manager/host has a track record of commitment and stability, there’s a lot higher than normal chance of that community being technically stable. Both of those websites, for example, are as old as Twitter. My personal site is older than Facebook! However, I have never had to advertise to make money, and have kept them up and viable for well over a decade now. I don’t say this to toot my own horn – just to offer an example.

While you might not be able to find a community admin you trust, or a community with similar interests, you can always roll your own – at a very reasonable price! Many server hosts offer very inexpensive VPS packages that are capable of running small, or single-person federated instances, or P2P servers. Further, if you have a spare computer at home, you can often run something via one of a number of dynamic dns services – some of which may be packaged in your router right now! Whatever you choose, you don’t have to be the product, or stuck in a walled garden. It might be fun to learn something new while you’re at it, no matter which solution you go for.

One thing is for sure, though – unless you like being a commodity for some big tech company, why wouldn’t you switch to something that doesn’t sell you to advertisers? I’m not a fan of walled gardens, but the tech barriers to using federated social media aren’t all that high. If you’d like to talk it over, hit me up via any of the means listed to the right, and I’d be happy to talk options with you. I don’t have anything to sell, I just don’t like the way big tech commodifies us, and would be happy to help you make a change in your online behavior.

Introduction

Nearly a decade and a half ago, when we moved into this house, I had one of the carport’s add-on rooms earmarked for myself.

We have a large, 4-car carport, where the previous owners built two rooms in the rear, which returned it to a “normal” 2-car size. These rooms are both 9.5×8.5×15.5 feet. The second room has been a spare bedroom for a couple of our boys now – but will eventually be my wife’s room to do with as she wills.

Previously, I had built an L shaped plywood desk, but had never finished the project. The room had become a bit of a storage room – because I went on the road as a truck driver for 6+ years. I didn’t even have a desktop for most of that time, and my plans for building a workbench for my PC repair side job went by the wayside.

I returned home in 2018, but the room had decayed so much in that period that the desk was no longer salvageable, and I was going to have to start over. The room continued in its role as storage catch-all, and it was basically ignored. I have a rather nice study with 3 workstation areas, after all – and I still didn’t have a desktop.

Disaster

In May of 2019, the creeks that bracket our property (and much of the county) flooded catastrophically. We had 28 inches of water in our house (I kayaked through my front door at one point, in the process of trying to salvage additional items and place them upstairs in our 2nd story bedroom), and practically everything downstairs suffered water damage.

The water is almost to the top of the porch rail, and to the bottom of the windows.

The carport rooms were hit just as hard. I lost my entire collection of discs, all my parts computers, most of my spare and specialty cables, all my specialty tools and instruments, and practically all of my peripherals.

Inside, the kids lost two laptops that were getting old, and typically stored in the bottom study cabinets. I lost two older laptops I was working on, a nearly new Saitek X52 I got for the previous Christmas. We simply forgot they were there in the rush. We were trying to save furniture, packing up clothes, bedding, toys, – and not least, making sure the babies got to the vehicles and stayed there while we hurriedly salvaged as much as we could.

All we lost was stuff when you come down to it. That can be replaced – and much of it had to be. Initially, only the smaller creek flooded – that only put about 18 inches of water in the house. Overnight, however, the larger creek flooded, to a degree that hasn’t been seen in a century. When I got to the house the next morning, the water was above my waist while wading down the road. I retrieved our kayaks on that trip, and we made a couple of trips that day, seeing what else we could salvage, or move out of danger.

Cleanup

Once the water receded, we had to do a very fast job of gutting the downstairs. We knew, from the cleanup work everyone in this area did after Hurricane Katrina, that once things get wet, if you don’t dry them out, you grow mold in a wet climate like ours – and you will never get that stuff out. We had to chuck everything out of the downstairs part of the house, triage whatever was salvageable – then gut everything. In the mancave, we basically had to shovel it all out. The cheap MDF that used to be a partially completed desk had become sludge.

After cleanup, we had an entire summer, and into the fall, of putting it all back together. Everything except the studs, the polyurethaned hardwood study shelves, our stained and polyurethaned furniture items that survived, and our treated wood bathroom cabinets had to go. The lower kitchen cabinets didn’t make it. The floor tiles were damaged by water undermining them, and large objects being repeatedly smashed into them as they floated. Practically everything, from 32 inches and below, was torn out and replaced.

After that all hands on deck renovation project was done, and we took a bit of a breather, it came to me: What better time would there be for me to re-do my mancave? It was already down to bare studs, I still had leftover paneling – why not? So, in the aftermath of a disaster, I took my room back. This is going to be my way to document that project for anyone that wants to do something similar with a space in their house.

Starting from Scratch: Phase 1

Starting this project, all I had left was bare studs and a door, up to about 32″. The whole room was previously paneled in bare plywood by the previous occupant – it was intended as a workroom/workout area. As such, all the outlets were installed around 48″ (they were not all installed at the same time, and they weren’t put at the same height, either – they vary from 45″ to 50″), presumably for use at workbenches. It has a single 32″ wide window, directly opposite the door. I’d bought a window A/C unit for it 10 years before – and I put the same one right back in now after I’d moved it upstairs to a bedroom for a time. I had replaced it the year before, but it was still operational, just not as good as its replacement. It had yellowed with age (and smoke damage – I used to be a smoker, I admit) – so I used some white appliance paint leftover from a refrigerator makeover to freshen it up.

The outside siding was still (mostly) good, except for one large hole near the front left corner where the siding had been damaged. It had two salvaged cabinets near the rear left corner that had held the previous occupant’s junk for the last 15 years, because I always planned on junking the cabinets, but hadn’t gotten around to it. I had what amounted to a blank slate – but a limited budget: I only had about 100-150$ per month that I could allot to it.

The primary concern I had was weatherproofing the room, at least on a macro level. It wouldn’t be airtight for quite some time, but it was actually letting rain in, in the one corner! We had just finished up replacing the front porch siding, and all the front windows – it had taken a beating from things floating into and battering the house – so I took one of the better scraps from the demolition, and patched that hole.

The siding around the carport wasn’t slated for replacement anytime soon. The first thing I bought for this project was insulation, from Jack’s locally. I had put in insulation previously, but obviously, it had all been dunked. I bought two rolls, and replaced everything up to 32″. The second thing I bought was several sheets of plywood. The plywood used in here was of varying thicknesses and types – which left the walls a bit of a patchwork. Further, at one point, some rodents had got into the walls and shredded the insulation at several places. I removed each and every panel, checked all my wiring, and replaced bad insulation out of the remainder of those two rolls, then replaced the odd-sized plywood sections, also with sheets from Jack’s. I left the right rear panels down, however. I had some wires to run in the walls first.

Cable Runs

Because this room is on the carport, I had to run some cables to get internet access out here. I had done that previously, with Cat-5 – but I really don’t want to run wires again anytime soon. This time, I ran Cat-7, which can run at multi-gigabit speeds (10gb). I could have gone with Cat-8 – but the price difference is significant – and there are length considerations. The run from the carport to the attic above the living room is just under 100 ft – I used this cable for that run. That’s close to the limit for Cat-8 (or Cat-6) – but that’s just fine for 7. From the attic, there is another 50 foot run (using this cable) to the modem & router in the study. For these runs, I tried to keep them especially neat, both while they were in the walls, and while running rafters; I stapled each cable to every other stud (using plastic d-clamp single-nail staples, which came with the cable sets I ordered). At the carport transition to the covered walkway (where I grommeted both sides of the hole through the header with these), I put both cables into a raceway, which terminates in another grommet, inserted into the hole I drilled into the siding, and into the attic space. The cables are again stapled in the attic and go to a switch that I installed in a weatherproofed utility box. I used the box simply because I don’t trust a vented attic to keep the switch dry enough. From the switch, I made another run to the top of the nearest study wall, where my old cable drop had likewise gone, and then down through several shelves to the new raceway I had built (out of trim) into my replacement wall panels behind the study shelves – and thence to the modem & router. One other thing to note is that I utilized keystone connectors (and plate) so that I could run pre-terminated cables. Cat-7 cables are a pain to terminate yourself, IMHO. Plus, it makes everything modular; everything in the system is easily replaceable.

Why two cables? Well, first, for redundancy’s sake. These were very time-consuming to do. It never hurts to have a backup. Second, I only have DSL internet, and no prospect of getting anything faster, anytime soon, as we’re fairly rural. So, if I end up getting satellite ‘net as secondary, or mobile broadband, I have an xmit as well as rcvr line, which can both be routed through the switch in the attic, as needed. I plan on at least a 16-port switch in here, and I plan on running the network for the whole house from this room if I can. The other use for the attic switch is to send Cat-7 runs to my upstairs bedroom and the living room – so that my wife’s desk in our bedroom (that doubles as a TV, with a monitor able to swivel around to be viewable from bed) and our multimedia center in the living room are both on a wired connection. We have a large house, and WiFi just doesn’t seem to cut it when sharing a DSL line while streaming. Wired seems to be much better in that regard.

The Walls

Once I had the cables run, I replaced the panels. At some point while I was working on those runs, I installed tongue-in-groove beadboard wainscoting panels (the same ones we used inside our house, during the renovation) in the bottom 32″ from the floor. These are painted in Glidden Pure White (also matching the inside of the house). As the slab in this room is not quite level, I had to do a bit of cheating at places, to get them all to fit together. White silicone is your friend, ladies and gents. They were all hand-nailed with 4d 11/4” finish nails, 3 per stud. I don’t have a nailer and didn’t feel like buying one. I was a carpenter as a young man, and I’m still decent with a hammer. I also just like the feel of hammering nails in by hand.

Once those were all up, I purchased some 1/8″ smooth finish paneling, and installed that (this time, with 1″ wire nails) over the plywood, from the wainscoting join to the ceiling. The plywood was perfectly serviceable; this paneling is purely aesthetic. I wanted a smooth, semi-gloss painted surface.

The upper panels are painted in a Glidden Slate Grey Semi-Gloss.

Once those were finished, I installed some new electrical outlets and covers. The idea was always to have all of those black – and they were – but the previous outlets were well over a decade old, and had been altogether too closely adjacent to water recently – so I changed all of the “desk” receptacles and covers to glossy black TRR models, and the two closest to the door (which would have the highest loads, due to use by sound equipment and appliances) to 20A receptacles.

The Desk: Construction

Okay, this part is pure overkill; but it’s my desk, so I can overkill it if I want to! The main desk is 91/2x2 feet wide. The wraparound wings on either side are another 6×2 feet wide. The inside corners are both cut in at 45-degree angles for a more convenient desk area. It features a drop-down fixed tray sized for an extra-large keyboard/mouse pad at 36″x14″. It has one “command” station, with two smaller stations at each inside corner, all reachable from a center chair – and 2 additional workstations down each side of the desk “wings”.

It has a built-in multi-tier cable management system (J-channel on the desktop, two sets of cable loops below – top and bottom), pass-through cable ports, integrated USB ports for each auxiliary station (2 for the command station), and adjustable monitors pre-positioned at each (3 at the command station). Each auxiliary station will also have it’s own combination under-desk wall-mounted UPS/powerstrip, and its own slide-out keyboard/mouse tray.

The desktop itself is constructed of two full sheets of 3/4 plywood. The center of the desk and the drop tray are made of one sheet, the two wings of the other.

To support the desktop, I screwed 2x4s end on to the wall studs all along the rear of the desk (which I refer to as backrails, throughout), on all 3 sides, and support the desktop underneath with solid legs at various points along the desk’s run. In both corners, there are 2x4s fastened face on beneath the primary backrails, meeting at the corner, for additional support. This was a solution which provided me uninterrupted “storage corners” – shelving areas beneath the desk for items I wasn’t planning on using frequently, but would like stored close to hand.

While the legs are constructed of solid 2x4s, I subsequently paneled them with beadboard (from Jack’s) as wainscoting, to avoid an unfinished look. Each leg assembly is anchored to the concrete with hammer-in extension wedge anchors and attached to the respective wall’s anchor base by additional deck screws, toed in on each side. Each leg is constructed with a large gap between it and the wall, for ease of cable management.

Leg Construction

I sketched out a plan for the legs that would allow cable pass-through and easy access. (Notice on my drawing that I forgot to move the rear leg out from the wall for both the backrail and the rear of the top vertical to split – don’t be like me. The rear vertical should be set out 23/4” from the wall along the bottom horizontal.) The front vertical is set flush between both horizontals, with the bottom horizontal terminating at the paneling covering the walls’ anchor plates. The rear vertical is placed so that the top horizontal lands halfway, and the rear of the vertical can be secured to the backrail, which lands on the other half of each rear vertical support. This design allows for about a 23/4” gap behind each leg – but still gives the desk surface the full support of the vertical members. As you can see, I had originally intended to add an additional vertical in the center, but once I had the primary structure put together, I realized that I just didn’t need them. The measurements for each piece are as follows:

  • Bottom horizontal: Cut to 231/2
  • Top horizontal: Cut to 20″
  • Both verticals: Cut to 261/4
  • Rear backrail: Longer cut to butt against left side backrail, and land on center of right rear leg; shorter section cut from same center to right side backrail
  • Side backrails: Full 8ft boards
  • Corner supports: 2ft sections, meeting in corner on each side.

With 3/4″ plywood for the desktop, this design puts the desktop level at 30″. Corner supports are attached with their top faces at the level of 273/4“, which will provide a support in each corner at the same height as the rear backrail notch of each leg section.

All told, it features 3 legs to each “wing”, 2 in the center section, supports under each corner’s backrail. The end product framing looks like this:

The Desktop

To make the “two wings” – just cut a full sheet of plywood exactly in half. End of line. For the center… a bit more complicated. I had to measure the entire center section out precisely, to fit as closely as possible to the two wings. The 45 degree flyouts that meet the wings gave me the most trouble. Once I drew it out on the plywood, and verified all the measurements, I cut the excess off the sheet in two chunks, then used a jigsaw to carefully cut this section out to my specifications, then cut the tray out, which was drawn out in the same process. The desktop itself is fastened to the backrail, and to each leg assembly, with countersunk deck screws, which I then filled in with wood putty.

The center desk 45s were clamped to either wing for about 24 hours after attachment, joined to the wings as outlined below, then smoothed together cosmetically with more wood putty.

You can stand (or even jump) on this desk, with no problems whatsoever. It’s very solid. The only places where that might not be advisable are the joins between the three pieces, but to counter any structural weaknesses, I have 1) an additional 2×4 support centered underneath each join, butted into the backplates, as well as the closest leg, and toed in to both with deck screws. 2) Small steel join plates about 2 inches from the end of each 45-degree join. 3) Small 90-degree supports that are attached from the front of the appropriate legs to the underside of the desktop. As an example, I did much of the later ceiling work from on top of the desk, rather than a ladder. I step a mite gingerly at those two points, but I don’t worry too much about it. I’m more worried about the paint job than any structural failure, in any case.

Note, for those wanting to duplicate this project: Unless you have a good sized space, this desk size and shape may not work for you. For any other size space, you’re going to have to modify the plans to fit. It is very custom, (it is built into the walls, anchored to the floor) very overkill – and admittedly, very cool – but I have a wall to wall U-shaped desk that takes up over half of a 9.5×15.5 ft. room. This desk dominates the room. Much wider, and I’d have too much room in the center for a convenient “swivel to station”; much narrower, and it’d be cramped quarters. Think about what you want your desk to do. I’ve been planning this redux project for about a decade, with all the features I might want in a blue sky project. I designed it for my side work as a PC builder, light network admin, and repair tech – but with the added bonus of doubling as a killer LAN party hangout. You might want other things – build accordingly.

Keyboard Tray

One feature that I really liked about my previous custom desk, and had to retain, was the drop-down keyboard tray. I had built it to a scale slightly less ambitious last time, and used cheap MDF; but that feel of solidity – and fixed location – was a decided preference. The arms of my chair are precisely at the level of the keyboard tray. It is set at 33/8” below the main desktop level, at 265/8“, for no better reason than that I like it there. The side and backplates for the keyboard tray are 1×4, with scraps from the wall paneling covering the side plates, and filling in the slight gap left by the saw width difference, allowing a more secure attachment of the side plates, flush with the desktop edges. The keyboard tray is cut directly out of the same piece of wood the center of the desktop was constructed of. The legs to either side were placed so that the tray could be fastened directly to them, as well as to the backplate. I have an additional 2×4 running from leg to leg (and toed into each side) beneath the center of the tray, for further support. It measures 3’x14”, and comfortably fits a (very) large keyboard/mousepad.

The Paint Job

Not gonna lie, this is the part that made me the most excited about this space. The functionality is awesome, it is entirely my design, and I did it all myself – but this is the one place where I can let my love of the color red go wild. We’ll come back to this in a bit, but as you can see, it simply dominates the space.

It’s painted in Behr Ultra Dark Crimson Semi-Gloss Enamel. The enamel paint is fantastic, and can be applied by a roller with no problems. The desk also has my logo applied to it in vinyl, and is then coated with about 4 layers of high-gloss clear polycrylic for protection.

Incidentally, polycrylic is suitable for use over vinyl, and over painted surfaces. It doesn’t yellow the paint, and it won’t affect the vinyl. I used to work at a sign shop, so a word of advice – if you apply vinyl, make sure there are absolutely no air bubbles underneath. Use a scalpel or pin and poke pinholes at points to help you get air out, and smooth it down repeatedly with a plastic ruler or another straight edge. I used a new plastic scraper of a type that we usually use for dishes. On this rough plywood surface, I had to do a good bit of that before I was satisfied. Once the poly is applied, you cannot access the vinyl again. If you left the air, it’s there forever, and you will have a gap underneath your protective coating due to slack in the vinyl. So, don’t leave any. Also, another tip – DO NOT use a roller of any kind to apply polycrylic. I did that on one coat, and regretted it, immensely. Took forever to sand a myriad of tiny bubbles back out of coat #2 with ultra-fine grit sandpaper – and I basically wasted that entire coat.

The Ceiling

Once the desk structure was done, I moved on to the ceiling. Like the walls, it was simply covered with plywood, as you could see in previous photos. While perfectly serviceable, it just didn’t have the look I was going for. So, I bought some more paneling. Home Depot sells a variety of decorative paneling, typically used for walls. I wanted it for my ceiling when I saw it.

It is a printed faux-pallet wood panel, mostly greys. It has fairly realistic (if you aren’t looking too closely) nail holes, a variety of “wood” types, and an interesting variation in color. The only problem is, the room wasn’t exactly square – so I had to fudge it a little bit, as you can see in the final picture. There’s a solution for fudging – other than silicone.

Trimwork

The desk itself is the major eye-catcher, as was intended. The trim work, however, is what sets it off. Every bit of trim in this room is a glossy onyx black. The desk, while great on its own, needed some contrasts. The ceiling, while fun, needed something to draw eyes away from flaws and irregularities. There are several elements of trim that I used to make this room stand out.

First, the “chair rail” was expanded, using 1×4 composite boards, into a combination backsplash for the desk as well as chair rail for the rest of the room. A typical chair rail would have left an awkward gap between the desktop and the bottom of the chair rail. Using these boards gave me a nice clean “cut” between wall sections, as well as a nice finishing touch to the desk.

On top and bottom of the rail, (not counting the desk area, where it is mounted flush on bottom) I installed some shoe molding, to round them both over, and make it look more organic.

To avoid joining issues at the corners, I put in corner blocks on top of the rails, and at the floor.

Second, in the corners, I have 1/4 round molding.

Third, the desk itself is trimmed on the outer edges in a purely ornamental 3/4 molding that happened to catch my fancy. The drop tray is backed by a 1×4. The legs are trimmed with 1×1 outside corner. Shoe molding is used for base all the way around the walls and desk legs.

Fourth, the ceiling trim is made of 1×2 furring strips, and the center pieces are 1/4″x11/2” lattice molding. These cover all the joins, and mask any pattern inconsistencies; while providing a gridwork to enhance the look of the ceiling. Instead of replacing the overhead light socket, I boxed it in, painted it black – then installed a special light.

Fifth, the door is similarly trimmed in black, and painted red – the only other element painted to match the desk.

The window originally had no sill. I put one in, and cased the window’s interior and frame in 1×4 boards.

Floor, Desk Legs and Base Trim

For the floor, I just went with a slate grey that matches the walls. This may change to a darker shade later.

I was going to do this earlier, but I ended up putting it off for quite a while, due to the purely cosmetic nature of this step. This is what the leg paneling looks like when completed. All that remains is to trim them out to match the rest.

Other Desk Features

Initial Command Station Rollout

I won’t lie – I got to the point where I could move the computers in, and just… did. It has made the rest of the work slightly more awkward, but it is worth it, to enjoy the fruits of my labors in the meantime.

Cabinets, Storage and Shelving

As I mentioned, there were two salvaged cabinets still in the room when we began this project. Before I started, I removed them both. One was made of an MDF or something similar and was falling apart. The only solid wood in it was the two shelves. Those were salvaged and will be used for shelving beneath the desk. The other cabinet was mostly solid wood, save for the backing, which was still serviceable, nonetheless. I sanded the cabinet down and repainted it the same color as the wainscoting. The cabinet is now mounted against the ceiling to the right of the door. Currently, that space is being utilized for two chest freezers. I will add a narrow standing storage cabinet to the left of those freezers, about their same height.

The underdesk shelving in the other stations is the only major thing I’ve added to the original plan, as I realized that I don’t need more legroom, and to do otherwise was a waste of space. The two back corner areas were always supposed to get shelves. Funnily enough, those are the ones I haven’t installed yet, as I want to make sure everything else is accommodated correctly, first.

Eventually, I will build a workbench to replace my (salvaged kitchen countertop) workbench outside, once there is sufficient space elsewhere to move the freezers. In the meantime, I’ve begun to install a pegboard in the space between the cabinet and the desk area, to hang my cords, tools, and toolbelt. This will probably get expanded soon, as it is already crowded.

The space beneath the desk will have 1×12 shelving from rear wall towards the front leg(s). Above the desk, there will be 8 foot of 1×12 shelving approximately 18 inches above the desktop on the east side, but only 6 feet on the west side, to accommodate the server rack that will be in the west rear corner. I will also have (at least) 2 rolling cabinets that fit beneath the desk.

I prefer my computer towers off the desk when possible. My main computer’s tower is in a sliding under-desk mount in the niche between legs to the right of the drop tray. I have a garbage can beneath the desk in the matching niche to the left.

Phases 2 and 3

Phase 2: Server Station

As I mentioned in passing earlier, I plan to install a 12u rackmount system to the right of the command station. The pass-through cable port was installed with that in mind and will sit at the rear of the rack That wall also has the keystone LAN ports and the power outlets. It has a 1500 VA UPS, 8-outlet power conditioner/surge protector, 16-port gigabit switch, HP Proliant rack server, and secondary NAS system (tbd).

3/7/21

(New!) I’ve since started Phase 2. Unfortunately, Phase 2 got somewhat delayed by my own mistake. You see, I failed to do my due diligence when it came to the size of the server I bought. As I’m primarily familiar with rackmounted music equipment, I didn’t research the depth of the 1u server I picked. It comes in at a whopping 28 1/4″ deep. My rack is 16″ deep. So, what that means is that I’m going to build a custom server rack – and now I also have the Phase 3 rack early! I ordered front rails from Reliable Hardware along with some blanks for top and bottom – and I will build the rack’s body out of wood. It’s going to take up essentially the entire rear right corner of the desk now, but I can match all the colors and trim this way. That corner was always intended to house the rack anyway, so I’m not really losing anything – and it illustrates how overbuilding sometimes isn’t a bad thing!

The Server:

HP Proliant DL360 G7 – with 2×Quad-Core X5677 Xeon 3.46GHz CPUs + 72GB PC3-10600R RAM + 4×900GB 10K SAS SFF HDD, P410i RAID, 4×GigaBit NIC, 2×Power Supplies, NO OS. Bought the accompanying rails as well.

The Stack:

  • Pyle PCO800 15Amp, 1800W power conditioner/surge protector/suppressor
  • Tripp Lite 1500VA, 900W rackmount UPS
  • Netgear 16-port gigabit unmanaged switch (this is why I ran all cat-7 – also note that the server NICs are all gigabit as well)

Custom Rack:

Initially, there was a snafu or two when it came to the hardware to build this. I ordered a set of rails for the server when I ordered the server – but they were missing the interior sections which attached to the server body. The folks at Info-Tech were quick to respond after I explained the issue – but Amazon was entirely unhelpful in that process. Apparently, Amazon has a policy which deletes every image, url and even email address from conversations between buyers and sellers. So, when the seller asked me to provide pictures of the item as it was received – I could not do via Amazon’s messaging system. That policy made the replacement process take nearly a week, as various exchanges fell victim to their stealth edits. I finally contacted the seller’s company via phone, got a valid email address, and exchanged the necessary information outside Amazon entirely – which begs the question of why we were using Amazon in the first place. This reminds me why I’ve been seriously thinking of getting rid of Amazon as a service provider – and also encourages me to do so in the future. The second issue happened when my rack screw package mysteriously disappeared in a hand-off between Amazon and the USPS – with Amazon saying they handed it over, and the USPS saying they hadn’t received it. Between you and me, I believe the USPS. I canceled and reordered, and the second package arrived promptly. Those are actually the only shipping issues I’ve had with this entire project – and they happened within days of each other.

When I surmised that it would take up that entire corner, I wasn’t kidding! The rack’s frame measures out to 34 3/4″ deep x 22 1/4″ wide x 22 3/4″ high. Eventually, I’ll enclose it, but I want to pick up some inlet and exhaust fans first. I also need to pick up a variety of blank panels, and probably a shelf or two and a drawer. The server is on bottom, above a 1u blank, with the 30lb Tripp-Lite UPS above it. The power conditioner is on top, below another 1u blank, with the Netgear switch mounted in the rear. I will set up some cable management in the box eventually. I have the hardware to do so, but a lack of time currently.

Phase 3: Music Corner

Currently, I have this area to the left of the door set up to accommodate small kids. Indoor/outdoor carpet, beanbags, a small wall-mounted TV with a FireStick. It has messy cable management currently, but it is a temporary setup.

Once they’re a bit older, however, I’ll expand this section to include a rolling rackmount for music equipment that will double as a gig system.

I already have my primary guitar hanging on the wall, an amp on the floor beneath the last desk station on that side, and space for my pedalboard – but I have plans for that to be a mini-stage area with a playing stool, I/O for computer interfaces, space for a half dozen guitars, and easy workbench access for guitar repairs and mods.

Current Amenities

I have a color-matched coffee maker and microwave (New!), a weight-activated coffee warmer for my oversized mug, a cupholder mounted to the desk for when a cold drink is preferable; a bottle rack for when I just need a splash of something, a headphone holder, a controller rack, deformable 8,000 lumen 3-panel LED overhead lighting, color-matched leather gaming chair, adjustable footrest, 7.1 sound system, Thrustmaster HOTAS for flight simulators, display hangers for 3 swords, 2 bows, a rifle, and my trusty hockey stick. (I used to play. Don’t judge.) I also have lots of room for posters and other media – which I’m sure I will add to in time.

Command Computer Specs

As I’ve alluded to, the command station is served by a 32″ LED monitor (LG 32QK500-C, QHD, IPS, 75Hz, DP, mDP, 2xHDMI) flanked by 2×24″ LED monitors (Asus VA24EHE 23.8”, 1080P, IPS, 75Hz, HDMI D-Sub DVI-D) – all on North Bayou F425 wall-mounted full-motion hydraulic monitor arms. (New!) The computer itself is in an Antec GX202 case with twin front led fans, currently utilizing an MSI B450 Tomahawk Max mobo, AMD Ryzen 3 3200G CPU, 32GB (New!) G.SKILL Ripjaws V DDR4 3200 RAM, 1TB PNY NVMe drive (New!), ASUS ROG Strix Radeon RX 570XT O4G GPU, powered by a Corsair VS650 PSU.

James White Dashcam Post Archive

Recently there has been a bit of a firestorm, chiefly on Twitter, so I gather, regarding the following post by Dr. White, since removed by him. I’m posting it here for you, so that there is somewhere to link other than the site of the slightly infamous “James Ach”. He used his opportunity to make a number of rather uncharitable claims in both the title and the text of his post, so I figured it would be helpful to link somewhere other than to the site of someone who is obviously reading the material with the hermeneutic of suspicion, not of charity – and who isn’t adding bracketed commentary into the post as if the author wrote it. Sending him traffic does little good, and more than a little harm. I’m also planning on writing up something to further discussion, so stay tuned to CH.

Edit: Some have claimed that the DRC post is unedited – for those folks, note the contents of the blockquote. 579 words, 3034 characters, due to the 4 bracketed insertions within the blockquote. That is an edit. He notes the bolded portions prior to posting – but does not inform the reader that he is adding commentary – in a blockquote. The actual post was 549 words, 2843 characters. Thus, the DRC post added 30 words, 193 characters. That is why this one is here. For the author’s rendering of his own comments, see this: Ethnic Gnosticism and the Gospel

I bought a dash cam recently. Seems everyone in Russia has one (I guess you have to for insurance purposes), and I thought it would be pretty good to have to document some of the crazy things that happen while driving. So I was coming home this evening and happened to be the first car at Glendale and 35th Avenue in Phoenix. And as you will see, a young black kid, looks to be 15 years old or so, was crossing the street. Now if you watch, you will see a police SUV cross in front of me first going east. The kid then comes into the screen, and though he sort of hid it under his elbow, he plainly flips off the police vehicle. Then he is emptying the drink he is consuming as he walks out of the frame. What you can’t see is that he then simply tossed the bottle into the bush in the corner of the gas station. I happened to notice the two ladies in the car next to me had seen the same thing. We just looked at each other, put up our hands in exasperation, and shook our heads.

As I drove away I thought about that boy. There is a more than 70% chance he has never met this father. In all probabilities he has no guidance, has no example. He is filled with arrogance and disrespect for authority. He lives in a land where he is told lies every day—the lie that he cannot, through hard work and discipline, get ahead, get a good education, and succeed at life. He is lied to and told the rest of the world owes him. And the result is predictable: in his generation, that 70% number will only rise. He may well father a number of children—most of which will be murdered in the womb, padding the pockets of Planned Parenthood, and those that survive will themselves be raised without a natural family, without the God-ordained structure that is so important for teaching respect, and true manhood or womanhood.

It never crossed my mind to flip off a police car as it passed me by when I was his age. Of course, it never crossed my mind to walk around with my butt hanging out of my pants, either, as if the entire world needed to see what kind of underwear I was sporting that day. I know I would have been mighty guilty had I tossed my drink bottle into a bush—and I never would have dreamed of doing that in front of everyone like this young man did. But I had a father. And a mother. And I was taught to respect others, and myself. If I had not had those things, I still would not have acted as he, simply because times have changed, and not for the better. There was simply more restraint in my day. It surely makes me wonder what the future holds. Oh, I know—this is nothing. There are videos on line of kids like this shooting guns in the air and robbing people and doing car jackings. I know. But you need to understand: those folks didn’t get there without first finding it “fun” to strut, flip, toss, and live an attitude of disrespect.

Kinism

Note 1:21ff especially. Enjoy 🙂

Ben just wrote a post about dispensationalism – clearly delineated into three general groups, then further delineated into 2 groups actually being addressed. Unfortunately, Fred Butler (of the blog Hip and Thigh) responded on Twitter:

Fred Butler

Something tells me I’m about to watch an army of strawmen burn to the ground, http://t.co/chz1EQFE . Eat your heart out Ed Young Jr.!

Ben responded:

Ben Woodring

@Fred_Butler don’t get your hopes up.

Another contributor at CH – Justin – also responded:

Justin Mccurry

@Fred_Butler Let’s try not to poison the well

Here’s where it gets interesting. Fred’s response was quite puzzling.

Fred Butler

@Resbyterian As soon as anyone invokes “transcendental” your poisoning the well.

Really? So, for instance, when Van Til says this:

[T]his brings up the point of circular reasoning. The charge is constantly made that if matters stand thus with Christianity, it has written its own death warrant as far as intelligent men are concerned. Who wishes to make such a simple blunder in elementary logic, as to say that we believe something to be true because it is in the Bible? Our answer to this is briefly that we prefer to reason in a circle to not reasoning at all. We hold it to be true that circular reasoning is the only reasoning that is possible to finite man. […] Unless we are larger than God we cannot reason about him any other way, than by a transcendental or circular argument. The refusal to admit the necessity of circular reasoning is itself an evident token of opposition to Christianity.[1]

Is this poisoning the well, Mr. Butler?

Now, more importantly – is this poisoning the well, Mr. Butler?

Apparently, Mr. Butler, if we are to take his aforementioned statement at face value, has poisoned the well at least 8 times. Now, were I to multiply the instances where Van Til, Bahnsen, or other presup apologists use “transcendental,” this post would be quite impossibly long. Are we also to understand that the use of “transcendental” by, say, Kant, is also well-poisoning? In short, Twitter is really suited to people able to express themselves within a 140-character limit without delving into broadbrush and unfortunately inaccurate statements. Making absurd statements such as “as soon as anyone invokes ‘transcendental'” they are “poisoning the well” is not responsible tweeting. Not even remotely.

Further, note the amazing statement made by BibChr of PyroManiacs fame.

Dan Phillips

@Fred_Butler He mentions Jamin Hubner as in any way a credible source, I tune out.

Now, note that there is no reason given for why Jamin’s posts about hyper-dispensationalism (which was the reason for the link – to move the discussion of that movement out of the bounds of the current discussion) were considered to be not “credible.” This seems to be either a case of “guilt by association” – the argument being presented (which has nothing to do with Jamin’s posts – as the post itself states) is ignored because Jamin is considered to be not-credible for whatever reason. However, there is no relation of the post in question to Jamin’s series of posts on hyper-dispensationalism. In fact, during the writing of this post – as I was writing this paragraph, in fact, Dan tweeted the following:

Dan Phillips

@bkben3 @Fred_Butler That was a FAIL, not unlike beginning a study of Calvinism by recommending Dave Hunt’s probing insights

Now, how are we to understand Dan’s comments as being relevant to the content of Ben’s post? He did not cite Jamin as someone interacting with dispensationalists – but as someone interacting with *hyper* dispensationalists. As such, I don’t see what relevance there could be to the remark. Lets put this into perspective. Let’s use Dan’s remark in his comparison. Imagine that he didn’t completely ad hominem there, but was actually trying to make a valid comparison. Let’s say that Jamin is interacting with hyper-Calvinists. That doesn’t mean that anyone who links to his resources on hyper-Calvinism agrees with his conclusions on Calvinism – it means that he is being referred to for a discussion of hyper-Calvinists – right? So, without regard to what his problems are in regard to Calvinism; if his resources on hyper-Calvinism are generally accurate, does that mean they are invalidated if his resources on Calvinism are not accurate? Should we disregard anything he says on other topics due to his problem, in our little comparison, with Calvinism? That doesn’t seem to follow. For instance – let’s say that Dan Phillips is generally correct when it comes to the Gospel. When he addresses Covenant Theology, however, he starts calling it “replacement theology”, and things such as that – things which cannot be remotely accurate concerning the Covenantal position. Should we disregard every post Dan has written on the topic of the Gospel due to his inability to correctly characterize Covenant Theology? Just as with our last example, I don’t think this is the case. Nor do I think it even makes sense.

For another example: I don’t think the post series in regard to dispensationalism is even going to mention JMac-style dispensationalism. First, because it’s tiny, and second, because it’s so odd in comparison to the two major branches. I hinted at that in an earlier tweet.

Joshua Whipps

Hint: If you’re a JMac-style dispy – most likely nobody is talking about you, because you’re such a miniscule group that you’re irrelevant.

Note: I used “most likely”. This should be fairly obvious as far as meaning goes, but apparently not to Fred. It means that it’s probably not the case that anyone’s talking about you, since you’re such a tiny fraction of dispensationalism. For some reason, Fred decided to respond to this, hours later.

Fred Butler

@RazorsKiss What?! Sam Waldron wrote a book. Demar pounds us unmercifully. And let’s not forget Riddlebarger.

My response, obviously, was to point out that I used “most likely.” Perhaps not especially “nicely” – but it’s not like Fred is all sweetness and light, as a rule – so I think he’ll manage. In any case, what’s the beef here? The beef seems to be that someone they don’t like got mentioned, therefore there will be strawmen. Of what, we might ask? Of Fred and Dan’s position? As I’ve said, I don’t think Ben will even address their position, as he is dealing with the classical and progressive positions – as he states that he will. Their particular position is neither fish nor fowl. Again, however, we see the JMac types up in arms because they aren’t “in the crowd”. Well, here’s what we should be asking – which way do they want it? If we don’t address their minority view, they get upset. If it is addressed in with other dispensational views, will they complain because we don’t treat them the “best”? I don’t see where you can win with this. If, as I’m sure they would affirm, they aren’t classical or progressive dispensationalists – what is their problem if we address those views? Don’t they also believe they are wrong? If we do address their own views, would they be upset if we did? I don’t see the issue they seem to be having.

On the one hand, we’re being told that even a *mention* of a particular person in regard to a completely different subject makes someone’s material “ignorable” – but on the other hand, we are told that there will be strawmen in the series on Choosing Hats. What we are not told is why. While I (and two other Choosing Hats contributors) have an article in the first version of one of Jamin’s books – they didn’t make it into the second edition, and apart from moderating one debate for Jamin, we really don’t have much contact anymore. Ben, on the other hand, hasn’t done anything with Jamin Hubner, to my knowledge. He recommended Jamin’s work on hyper-dispensationalism because he thought it adequately dealt with a position pretty much universally considered heretical. As we’ve already established, I don’t see that even if it were true that Jamin incorrectly responded to dispensationalism, that it is the case that he incorrectly responds to hyper-dispensationalism. In fact, there has been no presentation of Jamin incorrectly responding to hyper-dispensationalism. Fred tweeted something to me earlier, but I found it to be incoherent and vague.

In closing – I want you to note a few things. First, some folks should just stay off of Twitter. They can’t frame things within 140 characters and still make sense. When you simply say “As soon as anyone invokes “transcendental” your poisoning the well” – to a presupper – you’re quite obviously not thinking clearly. Are we to imagine that Van Til was saying that the only way to argue is to poison the well? Hardly – yet this is what Fred insists upon. It’s quite obviously wrong. Secondly, it’s hardly logical to insist that the very mention of a person you dislike means that a post is problematic. This is a fallacy. I’m trying to figure out which it is, actually. Is it the genetic fallacy? If the origin of the claim is that which makes the claim itself wrong.. maybe so. But I think it’s probably the “guilt by association” fallacy. For instance: If someone said “Taxation is great” – and the response was “but Hitler liked taxation!” That is a guilt by association fallacy. In this case, Ben mentioned that he wasn’t going to address hyper-dispensationalism. This means that he isn’t even addressing that topic, does it not? At least if you happen to read English. However, he linked to someone else – on a topic he doesn’t intend to address. Does this have any bearing on the topic in question? Not in the slightest. To claim that it does is to commit a fallacy. It’s a bit odd, though – because it isn’t even the point itself that is in question – it’s that someone’s name was mentioned at all! That’s quite puzzling.

Third, don’t let friends tweet if they can’t do it without saying silly things. It’s bad for them, and it’s bad to have your view given bad press by the use of fallacious argumentation. Don’t let friends tweet irresponsibly. Especially if they are dealing with topics like “transcendental” – and making their assertions about it in 140 characters or less. Don’t do it. Just don’t.

  1. [1]A Survey of Christian Epistemology, pg 12

There are the Jehovah’s Witness claims that the entire Christian church has always been wrong about, well, almost everything. Except for those few ECFs they could massage into some sort of superficial agreement, of course. Mormonism likewise asserts that all churches ceased to be true churches rather quickly following Christ’s ascension. Islam, with it’s idea of scriptural supercessionism and their revisionist version of what the Scriptures actually are, or taught, have a similar view of Christianity as a whole. It’s much the same with any other warmed-over historical error – be they large, as the wholesale replacement religions seen above – or be they smaller, specific, targeted errors like conditionalism/annihilationism, with their aberrant views within anthropology and eschatology.

In both cases, the assertion is made that despite the fact that we are told the gates of Hades will not prevail against the church, in Matthew 16:18 – they did in fact, prevail in some specific sense – be that in a wholesale fashion, or in a specific area. In the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is some attempt to try to support their claims from the ECFs (failing miserably upon any detailed examination), but in the case of Mormonism, there is usually the flat assertion that the church was essentially defeated entirely for 1700 years or more. Islam’s claims are far more modest, despite the more militant nature of the religion as a whole. In the specific case we’re addressing, the assertion is made that the church, in a practically universal fashion, has lost entirely what is supposed to be meant by “Hell” – and we must “rethink” Hell to somehow recover the original beliefs as taught in the Scriptures, but were “hijacked” by one or more foreign belief systems. Your mileage may vary. Sure, there are books like “The Conditionalist Faith of our Fathers” – but like any other book of this kind, the assertions therein are quite similar to those made by the Arians, the Pelagians, the Romanists, the Socinians, or the Landmarkers; “There have always been people who believed what we believed!” Athanasius addressed such claims, as did Augustine, and their respective counterparts throughout church history, defending the Christian faith. Whether we are dealing with the trail of blood, the trail of Racovian models of theology, the trail of Papal authority, the recurrence of Pelagianism, or even of Arianism, there is always recourse made to either “brave dissenters” throughout history, when it is clear that their position was not that of the universal church, or in the case of positions like that of Romanism, that it was always the majority view – even at times when their church did not exist as the current entity – such as during its period as a multiple-elder ruled body – which can be quite an interesting subject of study, incidentally.

Similarly, volumes such as “The Conditionalist Faith of our Fathers” try to recruit early church fathers, or famous figures to their cause, and then proceed to ransack the annals of church history for any and every viewpoint that could possibly accord with their position in some fashion. What is also tiptoed around, at least in some evangelical circles, is that Froom himself is a Seventh-Day Adventist. Although considered by many in the general evangelical community to be “orthodox” – is considered to be “unorthodox” by many in the conservative side of that community, and to be a cult by a significant minority. This cannot be de-emphasized when the appeal is so often made to the “Protestant” heritage of the SDAs. Even Fudge’s book does a bit of “recruiting” in the ECFs, and it’s essentially a topical overview of the subject, if not from an SDA perspective, but a (generally) Church of Christ background. What isn’t clearly depicted, however, is that they are pulling a few dozen or so names from a cast of hundreds of thousands of historical writers, and that those who share their position are typically the only ones who think many of these ECFs were saying anything of the sort. What is even more often neglected is that many, if not most of their supporting cast they appeal to beyond the ECFs were themselves members of a great variety of historical heresies – where there were bigger fish to fry when dealing with their various problematic theological positions. For instance – do you address the Socinian adherence to an Arian view of Christ first, or their aberrant view of Hell? Quite obviously, the answer is the former. When dealing with heresies, you must do triage. When you address Millerites – what do you deal with first? It’s not quite as simple as “this has never been addressed before” – it’s also not quite as simple as “conditionalism hasn’t had a thorough response,” either. Conditionalism as distinct from other heretical views is a fairly recent phenomenon. How does this matter?

As has long been recognized by theologians, positions are refined and obtain precision through apologetic engagement. Christology was refined by Arianism’s challenges, and the challenges of Docetism and Nestorianism at Nicaea, First Ephesus and Chalcedon. Trinitarianism has always been refined by challenges from Unitarianism, the nature of man’s slavery to sin refined by the challenges from Pelagianism and it’s natural heirs, and, of course, Justification was given elegant refinement by the Reformation’s disputes with Romanism. Apologetic encounters with the challengers to orthodoxy is nothing new, nor is it original with the modern church. In fact, it is something that has always served as tempering for our doctrinal steel. What must be remembered is that Conditionalism and the oft-resulting Annihilationist credo is nothing new to the annals of the church’s apologetic encounters, either. What makes it an interesting study is the frequent pairing it seems to have with other heretical views. Compared to the denial of the deity of Christ the Socinians made, their ideas concerning conditionalism seem rather trivial in comparison. Unitarian denials of eternal damnation seem rather mild in comparison to their denials of the Trinity, similarly.

It should be noted, however, that the idea of an otherwise “orthodox” conditionalist or annihilationist is a rather modern conception. Why is this the case? Even granting Pinnock’s claim, for the sake of argument, that the belief in eternal damnation was fixed in the 6th century, that leaves how much of church history with practically every adherent to Christianity with no earthly idea what the Bible teaches about Hell? Such an argument proves entirely too much for even the “general evangelical” to stomach when seen in those terms. The resort to “traditionalism” as the favored explanation for this practically universal ignorance smacks entirely too much of the revisionist histories of the LDS and the Watchtower. Church history does not allow us such ghastly, lasting rents in the fabric of historic orthodoxy. Even in the Roman communion there was always the Pauline/Augustinian emphasis on Sola Scriptura in at least some fashion – as well as the persistent, recurrent witnesses to justification by faith, and the persistent, nagging memory of days in the history of the church where one bishop could not set himself up above the rest. The Roman version of church history simply does not accurately portray what actually transpired – and neither does the conditionalist version of events in church history.

One reason that there has been fairly little in response to the conditionalist case in church history is that there is no distinctive conditionalism in church history, even as we see it in chiefly centered in today’s modern Anglicanism, General Baptists, and the doctrinal descendants of certain strains of Millerism. Anglicanism and the Particular Baptists churches had a serious bout of trouble with Unitarianism/Socinianism that they have never fully recovered from. The Presbyterians and Particular Baptists contemporary with the English Unitarians (often called Socinians) went to great lengths to address this movement, as we should expect from the doctrinal heirs of the Reformation; but Anglicanism and the General Baptists did not fare nearly as well. Anglicanism fared far better than the General Baptists – who were all but destroyed by the inroads of Unitarian influence, and are effectively scattered wholesale into other groups – but the influences are still seen to the present day, despite their attempts to curb that influence. In the Americas, the Millerite movement, born of disaffected members of a number of denominations, spawned a great number of sects which show a distinct influence of the conditionalist influences – which I submit to you is due to the leavening of General Baptist and Methodist Anglican thought in the Millerite movement, the descendants of which have elements scattered throughout more mainstream channels of evangelicalism. Members of the Millerite movement with conditionalist stances also influenced Russell, the founder of the Bible Student movement, which became the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The fracturing of the Millerite movement is complicated and laborious to track – but there are common themes to be seen throughout, if you take the time to do so.

In summary, you will notice that there has not been a distinctly “otherwise orthodox” conditionalist movement until very recent times. When a particular subject is made the center of controversy, that is when the apologetic response is most fully brought to bear. Since it is a thoroughly Biblical picture, let’s use some military references to illustrate what we mean. When a front is not central to, but peripheral to the the main theatre of warfare, the troops assigned to that front are sufficient to “hold the line” in skirmishes. The more pressure that is brought to bear on that front, the more troops are assigned to it, and the more attention is given to the defense of that area. Far from demonstrating that we need to “rethink Hell” – the lack of a thoroughgoing apologetic response in church history demonstrates most clearly that there has not been much of an assault made on this position. When not coupled with other heretical views more in need of a response, there has been vanishingly little historical “push” on the topic of Hell. My prediction, hope and prayer is that the desire of modern annihilationists to make this subject a central focus will have the effect it has always had in the history of the church – to cause the opposite of their intent in bringing that sequence of events about. There will not be a “rethinking” of Hell – but a “refinement” of the historic doctrine which more clearly and more precisely outlines the Scriptural teaching on the subject, and again vindicates the Scriptural promise that the church will not be left rudderless, or the Spirit without a witness to the truth, and the Scriptures without right division. A lack of precision on a subject has never been a sign of a lack of orthodox agreement – it has been a sign of a quiet front, on the whole. Such is the history of apologetic disputation, and as such we can be confident that this historical sequence will transpire yet again. It is whenever orthodoxy gets pushed that there is a cohesive, controlled, and coordinated response to that push. I hope that the annihilationists do push the way they say they will. That’s what engenders the responses that improve precision and detail.

As I stated in a previous post:

[W]e must see that only those with adequate preparation should be engaging unbelievers. Apollos had been instructed in the way of the Lord. Paul, of course, had intensive training as a Pharisaical student – but even that did not suffice, did it? He spent 3 years being “taught of God” before he began his ministry – interestingly, roughly the same amount of time the other Apostles spent with Christ. I’m not trying to say we should all go be desert dwellers of some sort – or that we are all called to be seminarians, either. What I am saying, however, is that we cannot neglect an intensive, intentional course of study in the foundations of our faith, if we are to be apologists. This is not negotiable. In order to defend the faith, we must know what we believe, and be unshakably convinced of the truth of what we know before we are involved in ministry of this sort. Apologetics is no ministry for neophytes. The Christian life is likened to warfare, in Ephesians and elsewhere. Front-line troops are experienced, well-trained soldiers. They know precisely where they fit into the ranks, what their duties are, and have undergone systematic training in the art of war. No soldier learns his trade by osmosis. His trade is soldiery. Soldiers are trained; so must we be. This training is primarily not in the assemblage of arguments, philosophical justifications, or evidenciary studies. Those of you who are in the military; where did your training start? It started with the discipline a soldier required. Next, it moved to the care and operation of your equipment. Then, training moves to the proper movements of troops, of which you are a part.[1]

Here’s exactly what I was talking about.

Superficiality is not what we are called to. A large amount of Bahnsen’s lectures is not what we’re called to. I have a great many of Bahnsen’s lectures. So what? Is that the central focus? Having an extensive library of Van Til is not it, either. I have an extensive library of Van Til – but that’s not my prized set of books, as much as I enjoy them, and as much as I have learned from him. My prized (and most-referenced) books are Calvin’s and Gill’s theologies. When I reference Van Til, it’s typically to show that he was, in fact, pointing us to the same aspects of theological study that those men spoke of. The title of this gentleman’s blog is “Apologetics with a Hammer” – might I suggest an instrument with a bit more delicacy is more appropriate to the task? There’s a reason that we do things the way that we do, and with the approach we have in doing so. As a student of military history and strategy, let me say this, in closing. There is a significant difference between charging off alone directly at an enemy stronghold, and doing in the company of a great force, arrayed in precisely the correct configuration to encircle, besiege and successfully assault that structure. When you play “lone ranger” apologetics, when you do so without reference to the Scriptural methodology of spiritual warfare, you are asking for a resounding defeat. In any case, that’s all I have to say about the subject.

  1. [1]So, You Think You’re a Presuppositionalist?
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