Looking Ahead

I personally am indifferent to New Year’s demarcations. I can often be found on any given NYE at midnight sleeping soundly in my bed. That’s not to say I don’t care for them, I just don’t care about them. Having said that, I do think it’s important to set goals for one’s self, and the arbitrary (if necessary) line in the sand of “new year” seems like a good time to revisit that for anyone. As 2019 draws to a close, I am assessing the past year both personally and professionally – what worked, what didn’t, etc – and am planning what’s to come in the next twelve months. Once a month, I post asking for financial support on Liberapay for this project, and so in the interest of transparency I wanted to take just a moment to outline what my goals are for this project. I want those who do support me to know what I’m doing with their hard-earned money, and possibly entice those who are on the fence about supporting me. And as always, if you are unable to support financially, I am totally okay with that and appreciate simply interacting with my posts, sharing them, and similar free shows of support.

If I had to define 2019 for The New Oil in one word, I’d call it “successful.” I hate when people say things like “this project has gone beyond my wildest dreams” because we all know that’s not true. Even bands who keep their hopes in check have dreams of playing the Superbowl (or similar large-scale successes) and even I myself have similar dreams for the scope of this project. But I will say I am pleasantly surprised how fast I’ve grown, as well as the overwhelming outpouring of positive feedback and interaction I’ve received.

When I started this project, I had one goal in mind: I wanted to take privacy and security – particularly against digital surveillance of all kinds – and make it accessible to “normal” people – that is, people who aren’t programmers, system admins, tech enthusiasts, etc and make them realize that it’s not as hard as they think to take some basic-level protections. There’s tons of great resources out there, but it’s not accessible to people like my mom, my girlfriend, or my best friend. They don’t understand it, and they need a translator to explain it to them in terms they get. That’s what my goal was with this site.

When I started the project, I had the same dreams as anyone else, but I tempered them with realistic expectations: I expected a few followers, the occasional hater, and overall I assumed this would become a passion project with no real effect. Instead I was greeted with tons of positive feedback, from “great article” to “everyone check this guy out.” Just last month I got my first financial supporter on Liberapay and broke 100 followers on Mastodon. I’ve even got people asking me questions about my thoughts on things or how I recommend tackling certain issues.

I have to remember that I am still a small fish in a small pond. There are people who are much more knowledgeable about this stuff than I am. Honestly, I like it that way. Snowden once said that his biggest challenge in presenting mass surveillance to the public was how to take complex issues and explain them in a way that everyday people could grasp. By keeping myself out of the higher levels of technical skill, I force myself to understand things at a general-public level, which I think (or hope at least) helps me present these things to the general public in an understandable format.

In 2019, I think I successfully found a sustainable foundation for the site going forward. I formed a working solution for selecting and posting articles based on a criteria that keeps them mostly relevant to the site. I created a solution for posting blog posts weekly, thought that one really comes down to just being disciplined. I think I showed both myself and my supporters that I’m serious about this project.

In 2020, I want to expand. In the closing weeks of 2019, I took a leap and started my own home server. Right now I mainly use it for things like RocketChat and Nextcloud, but I also run a TOR bridge. This is something I’ve wanted to do for years, to do my part to support digital freedom. In the coming weeks I plan to add a second relay for regular TOR users. In the future, I’d like to run a PeerTube instance and maybe even a Mastodon instance, as Eugen has indicated that Mastodon is growing rapidly and needs more servers. I’m currently torn between buying my own server and renting a VPS through a provider. There are pros and cons to both, feel free to message me your thoughts that might help me make a decision. This is still some time off, for now I’ll stick to running to small, personal services on the old desktop tower under my desk. But I do hope to have a professional-grade server running more advanced services before the end of the year.

In addition, I hope to start hosting regular cryptoparties in my area. Cryptoparties are basically classes where you explain encryption and surveillance to folks and help them get set up with things like 2FA, encrypted messaging, VPNs, and other simple such services and concepts. There are a startling lack of them in my area, despite being a major tech town, and I want to remedy that. Ideally I’d like to do them once a month, but I think I may aim for once per quarter so I don't overload myself.

In 2020, I also hope to attract more financial support for this project. This will help me cover the obvious things like hosting costs, VPS services (if I go that route), hardware maintenance (if I go that route) and other related expenses. Any excess support would go to helping me cover my own bills like housing, transportation, and groceries. I’m not a materialistic person, I actually identify as a minimalist, so rest assured that any “excess support” is not going to paying for a new Lexus or an expensive house. It’s going towards a moderate apartment and a used Toyota, and maybe some frugally-executed vacations in the future. And also two cats. They’re not very expensive though.

In the long term, I hope to be able to travel and speak and more on this project, lending my help wherever possible. I’ve got a few EFF links I need to look into this weekend about signing petitions against facial recognition and such. I work closely with my local EFF chapter to help bring these subjects to the general public in my area. I would love to be more closely involved in these types of organizations wherever I can. I would love to educate wherever I can. I would love to offer services and solutions of my own, hence my desire to invest in servers.

The purpose of this post was partially to put my own thoughts in order, but also to express transparency and let you guys know what to expect from me in the coming year. Two goals are actually not much for me, as someone who’s constantly on the go. Today is supposed to be my day off, but in the four hours since I woke up I changed a small part on my car, rescheduled a doctor’s appointment, made an appointment for the cats to get their annual shots, wrote this blog, and checked into some payroll stuff at my day job, so I’m not really much of “day off” kind of person. I wish I had more goals for this project in 2020, so if you see room for improvement please don’t hesitate to message me and let me know. And also feel free to keep suggesting services and products for me to review and add to the site, I want visitors to have as many options as possible.

For those who supported me in 2019, thank you so much. You honestly do inspire me to keep going on days when it feels hopeless or meaningless. For those who are new to the site, thank you for joining and I hope it lives up to your expectations. For those considering supporting me financially, I hope this post has helped you make the choice either way by explaining what I hope to accomplish in the future. And for those who can’t do so, I hope you can support me by sharing the site, the articles, the blogs, or whatever else you find worthy of sharing, and I hope it helps make this important subject more accessible to the general public.

You can find more recommended services and programs at TheNewOil.org, and you can find our other content across the web here or support our work in a variety of ways here.