A republic, if you can keep it.

“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”

This quote is attributed to Benjamin Franklin — who knows if it’s apocryphal or not. I never gave it much thought until recently. Someone gave it as a toast at a cook-out I was at recently and it kind of stuck a chord.

Here’s the thing, this past year, I’ve become a little political. OK, OK, a lot political. I never really intended to, but my conscience kind of thrust it upon me. The 2016 election had a profound effect on me, in ways I didn’t fully anticipate. After everything, the vitriol, the sexual harassment tape, the racial dog whistles, the lack of constitutional and governmental experience and knowledge, after all that he still won. I suppose I was naïve in thinking that there wasn’t a contingent of people who would ignore all that and still pull the lever for him. I never believed there was 0% chance he could be elected, but I still thought we’d all come through and keep this man out of the oval. Well, dear reader, I’m not sure if you have been around the last 10 months, but indeed that is not the case.

The day after Donald Trump was proclaimed victor, I felt sick. I’m sure many of you can commiserate. But beyond the physiological manifestations, I felt powerless. Powerless to affect the future. In my life, I’ve felt existential dread about what comes next. I had real trouble with college, and there were times when I felt the walls closing in on me with what my future would look like. I still have dreams where I am told I didn’t have the requisite classes and credits to graduate and they rescind my diploma. These, however, were circumstances of my own making. Those outcomes were about me not spending enough time focusing on school work. This, this was a different feeling. This felt like I didn’t have a positive future, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. There was no strict schedule to which I could adhere, or amount of time I could spend in an isolated corner of a library that would affect the outcomes.

For weeks afterward, I put myself on total media blackout, social or otherwise, because I was, frankly, scared of what I’d read. Those weeks were hazy. This is quite hackneyed, but while nothing had really changed, everything seemed different.

The media blackout only lasted so long, and the pendulum swung the other way. I became glued to the news. I remember I would feverishly refresh the Washington Post, New York Times, and CNN websites for any news that came out. It was destructive. I knew it was destructive, and I knew I couldn’t stop. The more I read the same reports regurgitated five different ways, the more frenzied I would become. I know my friends and family noticed.

There was a day that switched perspective for me though. I remember it because it was just a great day. One of those days that stick in your mind. I mentally told myself to take a note, try to store it away for days to follow.
It was a confluence of several awesome things. My friend Katie wanted to film a movie for her husband’s birthday present, a parody of the Drunk History series, but applied to the life of her husband, Joe. She asked for my help and I agreed. I love making movies. It goes back to my high school days. There is something about the process that just hits me in all the right places. Maybe it’s the goofing around with friends in front of a camera, maybe it’s turning the chaos of the raw footage and forging it into something cohesive. I’m sure it’s all of it, but before I go off and wax nostalgic about my high school movie days, let’s get back to the focus of this post. On top of filming, that day also happened to have unseasonably warm weather. Here is the kicker, and really what matters in the context of this post, that day was the Women’s March. I saw all these women, all these people, come out in droves to protest. I saw local protestors gathering, I saw the aerial shots on Twitter and Facebook. It was just this crazy force. The march wasn’t specifically about the current administration, there was, however, some focus on it. It was really a sight to witness. I remember feeling something I hadn’t before, a sense of comradery; maybe we could really do something about this mess.

We grow up being taught history about the hows and whys of collapsing societies. We learn about the burning of Rome and the rise of Nazi Germany. We are taught this, ostensibly, so we can learn the lessons, and not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors. Our film, television, and comic book heroes are all imbued with a sense of doing what’s right despite its unpopularity. Heck, even many religions have core tenants that teach these morals. Despite all this though, it’s hard to recognize when these apply and even harder to act. Well, the people that marched that day showed me I needed to act.

The next step however was how, exactly, to act. I had no clue. I started thinking what I could do alone, came up with some ideas, and even consulted with some of my more politically savvy friends. I quickly came to the conclusion that doing this alone was, frankly, arrogant, and not going to work. I did see some murmurings of a Science March that might be being organized in DC. Being a man of science and having been inspired by a march, well it was a match made in heaven. I was going to go to DC and march. Once the details got hammered out, I got my friend Jeff in on it, and we would be on our way to DC on Earth day. This was my first toe dip into the world of activism. I was jazzed.

I was sitting here with this new energy, and a little courage, and nothing to do with it. I started looking around for local groups doing stuff. There were a few groups that popped up in my research. I saw the ACLU doing a lot, at least on social media. Raising funds, and fighting some of the policies already being implemented by the Trump Administration. They had an event to kick off their People Power campaign. I signed up to go, but I waffled about it quite a bit. I knew no one going, wasn’t sure what to expect, and was pretty anxious about the whole ordeal. I did finally decide to go, and it while the event wasn’t much more than a live stream and a little more information about the ACLU, it was great to see these other people there. People who never really had done political stuff before, but felt compelled to seek it out under the circumstances.

The other group that came on my radar was something called Indivisible. It wasn’t really a group at the time, it was just this guide. It was written by ex-congressional staffers for ways to contact and pressure your representative to, you know, represent you. This being another way to say, do their jobs. It was practical advice; actionable items, instead of aspirational thoughts. I had joined the local Indivisible group on Facebook, which I found through the national organization’s website. There happened to be a meeting the next day and having survived the ACLU encounter, I decided to attend.

That was the second turning point. It wasn’t a lot of people, but it was more than I had envisioned. It was really a bunch of serving tables in an empty room in a library, but it was the people that made it. People who came from various backgrounds, and age ranges. These were people who didn’t like what was going on and wanted to do something about it. It was awesome. I found it. I found the group I was looking for.

Honestly, things kind of snowballed from there. It’s hard to say when things really took off, because in a lot of ways it still feels like we are getting our stuff together, but we have all come so far from that room I first attended a meeting in.

We’ve helped in the defeat of the dismantling of our healthcare system. We’ve held protests. We’ve attended street fairs. We’ve registered voters. We’ve recruited new members. We’ve incorporated. We’ve even got T-Shirts!

Personally, I’ve learned so much about local politics, government, and just how much people actually do influence these. I hope to learn much more going forward.

To see how much people do care, is truly inspiring. People who take time out of their already busy lives to contribute to a better country, a better society, and a better world. It is what gives me hope.

I’ve glossed over a lot of the details the formation of what is now Greater Lafayette Indivisible because that story is still being told. I hope I can come back later and fill in the rest of the tale.

I said earlier that after the election I felt powerless, that I felt like I didn’t have any control over what would happen next. Greater Lafayette Indivisible has given me back a sense of control over that. For that I will be forever grateful. I can’t predict the future, and it might all be for naught, but it’s hard to see that happening seeing the dedication of the people around me.

I started with a quote so I’ll exit with one, too.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ― Edmund Burke

I’m done doing nothing.

On Why Limits are Important or Why I Miss Vine


I miss Vine. I probably miss it more than a person should miss a short lived social media platform that’s sole purpose was six second video loops. I guess I should clarify that I don’t miss the platform so much. There was nothing particularly remarkable about the app itself. I miss the creativity people found within the constraints.

Vine seemed to come out of nowhere and landed with a thud. People, including myself, were just like “What are we going to do with only six seconds?” At first most people did the predictable thing of recording of whatever was around them. Then people started to feel the edges and push against them. You would see loops that linked the end to the beginning. People started editing using selective pausing. Clever videos started to emerge and particular people started to shine through who really understood the medium.

Even though Vine was getting pretty good in in 2014, Snapchat started to gain more traction, Instagram introduced video (nine seconds!), and I think that combination sort of spelled the end of Vine. Even though there are numerous other platforms that can do everything Vine did and then some, not having those constraints hurt the final product.

Good comedy is hard. It’s not difficult to see this. Having done comedy for several years now, I can say that if pressed for criticism for a sketch or scene it’s usually some form of, “should have been shorter.” (Looking at you SNL) Length in and of itself does not a funny scene make, but distilling what the funny is down to its core and presenting that usually is a better result that extraneous exposition. One of my favorite quotes comes from ol’ Bill Shakespeare, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

This is why almost all comedy produced by big Viners after Vine shuttered I don’t find particularly funny anymore. I don’t think the creators are inherently any less funny, but with YouTube or Instagram now being the target platforms, you don’t have any constraints in timing. This leads to sketches hammering a joke too many times, or scenes with loads of unneeded setup. I’m aware, with YouTube, longer videos are incentivized with advertisers, but it often loses all the funny in the process.

This is my long-winded way of saying, constraining yourself, even if artificially and being creative in that space is often a good way to get great results. Also, that I really miss Vine. If you would excuse me, I’m going to go and watch Vine compilation videos on YouTube and toast to a forgotten creative goldmine.

New and Improved Killer Tofu!


Welcome to the new and improved Killer Tofu! Yes, there is a little visual sprucing up. The old logo is back (I love that logo) and the site has a little more minimalist flair. It also works fantastically on mobile and tablets now, too. That is not the big news though. The back end is now changed! The part you don’t see a.k.a. everyone’s favorite part. I am proud of it, so strap in for a technical explanation on how things are different now.

To start off, I am now running my site off a VM (Virtual Machine) controlled entirely by me. That means I can choose what is updated, when, and have complete control of the customization. It’s far more work, but the result, for me at least, is better. I have the VM hosted through Digital Ocean, which I can’t recommend enough. I originally chose them because they would let me run a FreeBSD VM, but abandoned that idea. The VM is currently running Ubuntu 16.10 x64 which is the latest version of Ubuntu as of this writing.

This site runs on WordPress software, which was a choice I made a while ago, but since then has some major drawbacks. The prime downside is that it is written in PHP. PHP is an interpreted language and due to that is slow. When the page loads, the server must compile the page and then serve it to you. A thing I found out a little bit ago though is that Facebook is still written in PHP. Due to that, Facebook has written its own PHP interpreter called HHVM (HipHopVM) and open sourced it for anyone to download and use. This significantly speeds up page load times. This is great, but it also is not 100% compatible with all PHP in the wild. I wanted to have a fallback in case HHVM crashed. In this case I installed PHP 7.0 (newest version of official PHP as of this writing) and have it render the page in the event some code crashes HHVM. HHVM also comes back alive every 60 seconds if the process dies. This all happens automatically.

I changed out the web server portion, too. I originally was running Apache (well, *I* wasn’t, my hosting company was), but I wanted to switch to NGINX. It is supposed to be event driven and have a lower memory footprint, which is great for a smaller VM with not a ton of memory available. That took considerable configuration because I had never used NGINX before this and it has its own configuration styles and files.

In terms of database, this is the least improved, it’s just the latest version of MySQL. The old standby. Nothing much to talk about here. Still works great.

The last cool thing, is that now the site is secured with an SSL certification. Check the little green lock in the corner of your browser. When I was on my previous hosting site it would cost an additional $50/year to get an SSL cert. It’s all tied up in registration fees and all kinds of nonsense. With the web becoming increasingly less secure, any additional hardening of security is needed. This might just be a little, personal website, but I still wanted to secure login info and anything else like that. There is an organization now called Let’s Encrypt which allows anyone with the means to get a *free* SSL cert for their site. It’s awesome. They even developed a tool called Certbot that automates a lot of the process. If you put it as a cronjob it will automatically renew certs for you every 60-90 days and you won’t ever have to worry about replacing dead certs again. This seems mundane, but it’s so tedious, annoying, and expensive usually.

OK, OK. So, you’ve listened to me ramble. It’s just that I’ve been meaning to do this for years now, and to finally have it completed feels amazing. I learned a whole crazy amount and hope to use that for my next venture which is to write my own website CMS style engine to port around. That’s a whole different story though.

Hopefully this will cause me to update this thing more, but as this is my 1000+ time making that remark, I’m not going to hold my breath, and neither should you.