🔗 What Chafes My Groin #1


First published: .

I've noticed that I keep having subjects I want to write about, but I never get around to doing it because I can't see myself making long form content out of them. Therefore, I'm gonna try writing texts about multiple different subjects without having to expand too much on each one. And as a homage to yet another TV show that has become unwatchable—Family Guy—I will call this series "What Chafes My Groin". There, that's a title no one was ever stupid enough to think about.

Traveling in the UK

I am currently traveling in the United Kingdom. I am basically doing what I did in the United States - visiting all of the National Parks in the United Kingdom. This is a much smaller country than the US, and the number of National Parks is a lot smaller as well, so I figure I can get this done in just a few months, rather than the nine years it took me to do it in the United States.

National Parks in the UK are different than the rest of the world though, with regards to what the designation actually means. There are also Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, of which there are a lot more, but I'm only planning on visiting some of them.

As of today, I have visited three National Parks and four AONBs. It's a lot different than traveling in the US's protected areas. For one thing, the UK is a much older country, and many of the protected areas are inhabited, because the settlements predate the establishment of the protected areas.

I started this trip two weeks ago in the south of England, and have been traveling north, mostly close to the eastern shores, since then. I expect to reach Scotland within a week or so. I am still working remotely while traveling.

The English countryside, which is most of what I've seen by this point, is quite lovely and beautiful. The people are very nice and calm, as one would expect in such a pastoral setting. Driving is weird, and not because of the whole driving on the left thing (which I have done before), nor the ridiculous abundance of gigantic roundabouts, but rather because the country roads are extremely narrow, with one lane going in both directions. Even within the villages, where there is a lane of traffic for each direction, the roads are still narrow, and with cars parked at any side, you often have to stop in order to let oncoming traffic pass (and vice-versa). By now, I have grown used to it, and I like the custom of the "thank you" wave you get when you yield for oncoming traffic.

So far it's been going great, the weather is quite nice, albeit cloudy here and there, but I haven't had any rain yet. Looking forward to what lies ahead.

Looking out at Ladybower Reservoir in Peak District National Park

How Growth-Chasing Kills Everything

I recently encountered Cory Doctorow's post about what he calls "the enshittification of platforms". The post is well written and researched, and I quite agree with it. In fact I was planning on writing a similar post, but not about social media platforms. This "enshittification" isn't limited to such platforms, but almost to any business endeavour of any kind, and it has to do with growth. Some businesses, such as startups and the misleadingly named "tech companies", are built towards growth from the ground up. Others only start chasing growth once they become locally popular.

Think about how these tech companies work. They raise some capital from Venture Capitalists. They hire a small amount of employees to build the new product. They create a good enough product, and either give it away for free or sell it for a token sum of money, practically subsidizing it with VC money. This early version of the product is unlimited and unconstrained. It becomes popular. More and more users/customers sign up. It's time to make some money. It's time to make an inferior product.

In other words, it's time to raise prices, start restricting features and putting them behind subscriptions, start selling data about the users to the highest bidder, introduce advertisements - both clear and stealth, and generally make the product much, much worse than it was. Doctorow's Amazon example is a well suited one, but there are so much more. You probably liked Uber in its early days; the rides were cheap because they were subsidized by VC money; wait times weren't long because demand wasn't sky-high yet; and hailing a cab with an app is a lot easier than calling some disgruntled operator prone to grunting and yelling. But this couldn't go on forever, the service had to be enshittified in order to be profitable. Prices rose, your personal information was sold, wait times increased, the app glitched, and that's it, Uber has become everything it set out to destroy. And what are you left with? Your local taxi providers are all dead now, and you can't hail a fucking cab without having an Internet connection, without having a local credit card, and without giving away power of attorney to a billionaire.

This is not a characteristic only of tech companies. Say you see a need for a punk rock themed music festival. You raise enough capital to make it happen. You find a nice spot large enough to host the event. You book a reasonable amount of respectable artists to fill the schedule. You sell a reasonable amount of tickets at a reasonable price. You rent a reasonable amount of toilet facilities. You license a reasonable amount of food and merchandise vendors. You hire a reasonable amount of security personnel and management staff. And finally, you put on a great show, bringing in a nice, reasonable income. Attendees have a wonderful time and can't wait for the next year.

But now that you've launched a successful festival, demand is increasing, and you don't want to only bring in a reasonable income, you want that obscene income. You want to fucking GROW. So what do you do? You raise the price and sell a lot more tickets. You don't increase capacity, though. You don't move to a larger location, you don't bring in more toilet facilities, you don't bring in more food vendors, you don't hire more staff, in fact you bring in teenage volunteers for "the experience". This time, the festival is more crowded, the toilet facilities start to overflow earlier in the day, the parking lots are a mess, pickpocketing is rampant, food vendors sell out earlier in the day, more people are injured due to overcrowding, but many people still have a reasonably good time.

The next year, for those who didn't have that good of a time, you introduce a shiny new option: VIP tickets at a premium. You give them their own, more relaxed areas, with their own bars, vendors and facilities. However, there's a problem: general availability has become so terrible that everybody wants VIP tickets, so VIP service quickly becomes just as terrible. What do you do? You introduce a second VIP level: the Super VIP level. Even more expensive, but for just that one year, it does what it advertises. Until the next year, of course, when there's no choice but to introduce the Super Master VIP Home-Professional Black Edition level, at an even bigger premium.

I've been to quite a few music festivals, mostly in the punk rock genre. Those earlier ones were so incredibly superior to subsequent years that it's hard to believe. Riot Fest in the US used to be an incredible option. So has Slam Dunk in the UK. The first time I went, it was absolutely fantastic. Smallish and high quality. Sound equipment was top notch. Food vendors were plentiful. Location was spacious. Schedule was relaxed and easy to manage. Both Riot Fest and Slam Dunk are now so popular that you have to be insane to go. I went to Slam Dunk in Leeds yesterday, and it was an absolute nightmare. It took three hours to queue to the parking lot. It took at least an hour queueing to any food vendor, and they started selling out early in the day. It took at least thirty minutes to queue to the toilets, and they started overflowing early in the day. The sound was terrible, the schedule was hectic, and there was no room to breath. A good product has become terrible, but a lot more profitable. Fucking hell, as the British say.

Growth-chasing, together with the actual growth of the population, are absolutely killing everything good that ever was. The larger your potential audience is, the worse you can make your products, and the bigger you can make your profits. And it's all about those sweet, sweet profits.

Beau Is in a Dream

[Spoiler Alert] I recently went to see Ari Aster's Beau Is Afraid in a movie theater. Reading the reviews prior to going, people seemed to really like the film, but couldn't really figure out what they watched. In my eyes, this film was a clear depiction of a dream. Now, Aster made sure not to present the film as if Beau or anyone else were dreaming; there were no shots of our protagonist waking up at the end of the film to realize it was all a bad dream; no visual markers to differentiate between real life and dreamland; nothing to even definitively tell us who was dreaming. Obviously, it was probably Beau—wonderfully played by Joaquin Phoenix, who is having a career revival—but could also be Aster himself. In any case, what we've seen in the film was the dream itself, probably in its entirety.

The reason I so strongly believe that this was a depiction of a dream is that it had all the characteristics of a dream:

Further than that, the film/dream had one major theme throughout that I personally identify with: the dreamer was in trouble, from beginning and up until the very end. I don't know if this is a common human phenomenon, but this does happen to me from time to time. Somehow I find myself in trouble, often I literally have to escape, and there may be a brief moment of hope that is quickly taken away. The trouble itself, given the previous points, is almost always something that cannot possibly happen—or at the very least is very unlikely to happen—in real life. This dream had all of this.

I quite enjoyed this film, and found it to be well made (and the acting was terrific), although at three hours long, I did find it a bit overbearing.