Tuesday, 5 July 2016

I've seen a number of people talking online about what can be done to prevent young Muslims from radicalizing and joining ISIS. There are lots of calls for moderate Muslims to do something. I was thinking about this and wanted to throw my 2 cents in on the matter.
In any religion, the moderates are not well equipped to do something about the extreme elements, because they are moderates. The name... moderate.  Mediocre.  To a radical, calling someone a moderate Muslim is like saying they are "sorta Muslim". It's hard for moderates to do anything to counter extremists if they are seen as bland, compromising, or sellouts.

The young people who are radicalizing are uninspired by the life they've been offered and want something bigger. They want their life to play out like the adventure - fight the bad guys, be part of a cause bigger than themselves, die for the cause. It's the same basic reason people join radical christian churches, or become radical social justice warriors, or any other extreme movement.

Think about it this way - If you are a young pup looking to prove yourself to the world, do you want to be a moderate or an extreme?

Many young people, especially young men need to feel part of something bigger than themselves. These guys will be dissatisfied with moderate religion, seeing it as lip-service that doesn't mean anything. They think, "Hey I'm just living a normal life but doesn't the book say something about an epic struggle?"  Then someone comes along saying "you're right.  The majority of the religion is just pretending.  We're the real deal. Come be part of the epic struggle" and boom, they are hooked. It happens to Christians, and it happens to Muslims too.

You might ask, why don't radical Christian groups kidnap and shoot civilians, at least not as frequently as Muslims, if they have the same basic mechanism to radicalize?  The main answer is the values of the group.  If the group values self-sacrifice, and evangelism, etc. then the extremists ring your doorbell and ask you awkwardly to come to a prayer meeting.  If the group values fighting the world the extremists join ISIS.

To tackle this, there needs to be a positive extremist movement. The cause needs to include a real personal struggle as well that not everyone would sign up for so that you're reaching the right people.  It has to do with instilling a value that supersedes personal comfort.

Here's what won't be enough:
  • Muslim boy scouts.  Hey it's a great initiative, the beginning of a longer-term solution, and it lays the foundation for belonging and helping.  But it's aimed at kids, and not extreme.
  • Interfaith Dialogues.  The people who attend these are not the target audience.
  • Muslim clubs promoting positive things.  Again, the people who attend these are not the target audience.  
  • More education, poverty reduction etc. Another longer-term solution that will help but doesn't fix the recruiting now.
We find most extremists intrusive and bothersome.  We don't want to talk to the person who insists that we're murderers for eating a hamburger.  We don't want to answer when the Jehovah's Witnesses knock on the door. It's intrusive, we just want to be left alone and not forced to care about someone else's fight.  Truth be told, we don't want them to be extreme.
Well, as uncomfortable as it is, if you want to stop people from joining ISIS, you need a different version of Islamic extremism to exist, to take away the recruiting power and appeal of the group. You need a group of Muslims doing something just as extreme but in a positive framework, seeing it as part of a bigger story. To be successful it should have the following qualities:
  • it has to inspire people
  • it has to be difficult
  • it has to expect and strive toward a grand goal
  • it has to start from within the Muslim community.
  • it has to offer a legitimate interpretation of Muslim scripture that is both extreme, and has positive outcomes. This is probably the hardest part.

No one is going to get rid of this deep-seated need for radical action in the population, especially in the youth.  But the point is that it can be channeled into positive avenues.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

The process of making a commercial website

Making a satire website

 It's been a while. Hi everyone!  I want to write a little bit about what I've been up to recently.  A way of organizing my thoughts, and maybe you will enjoy sharing the journey and what I've learned.


Last year I wanted to get back into some form of dev project, so I taught myself twitter bootstrap. I had a running gag with my parents that I was going to send them to the worst old folks home imaginable, so I made the website about that.  It was called Thorny Meadows.  Check it out, yo!

It was fun making content for the site, and I did it in my off hours, took about two weeks to get through, because I was learning as I went. What I used to make the site:

For those of you who don't know, making a responsive page is hard. If it looks good on a PC it won't necessarily look good on a tablet or a mobile phone because the screens are different sizes. So you used to have to measure the screen, and lay it out and test for each different device you wanted to prep your site for, or risk your site looking like garbage.

So Twitter comes along and says "let's make a framework to make it easier".  Basically you lay your webpage out using a grid, and can specify the number of rows and columns that will appear on a small, medium, or large sized screen, and the framework makes the adjustments for you, so you only have to do the layout once. Saves a lot of time, which is why I wanted to learn it.


I was doing a dev project, not a content project, so I didn't want to go out and take my own pictures. This site is good because most photos are under the CC0 license, which means you can use them for commercial purposes.  Even though this was fun, I thought that maybe I'd throw t-shirts on there at some point and so I'd better make sure my licensing of photos was in order.   As an aside, my first idea for a splash image at the top was this:
It was a great photo to get the idea across of a dark and dangerous place, but then I didn't realize it was a stock photo of Auschwitz.  Yeah, no. No no no.

Photoshop is generally better but I'm cheap.

PHP script to collect emails
OK so I threw this together, made it funny, and then at the bottom did a mockup of a t-shirt and said "if you want one, leave your email and I'll let you know when they're available".  If you don't do webpages yet, this is actually not a trivial thing to do. The way a webpage works is that the server sends instructions to your web browser, and your web browser then follows the instructions to lay out a webpage.  If you want to collect emails on the server, you can't just put a form in a web page, because then any information the user enters stays on the web browser.  There has to be a code that runs on the server itself.  So I had to make that.  Not too complicated, but another thing to learn.

The Traffic Spike

My page sat dormant for about a year, I didn't do much with it, and had other work to do.  Then one day I was on Reddit and someone had made a comment that they were going to put their parents in the worst old folks home.  So I just replied with the link to thorny meadows.  From that I got 11000 site visits, and 20 people giving their email address to be notified when there would be t-shirts.  I figured now was a good time for the next step - adding a store!

Ugh so many things

Adding a store is a bit like cutting the head off a hydra.  You finish one thing and there are 5 more to do.  It only took a few days, but there was a lot to learn.  Here were the steps:

1. Sign up to Shopify
Easiest way to set up a web store I think.  I had heard about it before and they had training videos.  So I made an account, added my information.

2. Install Printful
OK so I don't have any shirts to sell, I don't have a warehouse, my site's in English and I'm not even in the US, so when someone orders a shirt, how do I handle it?  I needed a fulfilment service, so I went with Printful. It seems expensive, but it was available and I didn't want to hem and haw. Also it plugs in to Shopify. I selected shirts, upload your logos, select colours, and it does the mockups, pumps them into shopify for me, and that makes life a bit easier.

3. Redo all my logos
All my logos sucked. they were small for the web but that would not look good on a shirt. I don't have the traffic to justify a designer, I just wanted to get a couple of logos up there. Took a few hours to redo them and get the mockups and print files uploaded.

4. Sign up for, and connect payment system.
I used stripe because I know some people there. The good part is you can do it right in Shopify.

5. Set up shipping options
Frig.  This was annoying. So shopify lets you charge shipping by amount ordered or by weight.  Printful charges shipping by item, and it is different per item. First T-shirt is X, every additional is $1. Or whatever.  So to get around this, there's a trick.  You charge by weight and write in fake weights. So like you tell shopify each shirt is .5kg, and then you make rules that say shipments up to .5kg to the USA are X price.  Up to 1kg are $ X+1. Up to 1.5 kg are $X+2, and so on. Then go edit the weights so that all the shirts weigh .5kg. I had 3 shirts * 7 colours * 5 sizes = 105 pages to edit plus all the rules to make for each country.  Took a while. Also it only works if all the items on your store are the same shipping price and weight. So I had the idea of putting mugs also but if someone ordered 2 mugs I'd lose money. So I just gave up.

6. Mailing list
Gotta write those people who wrote me. Also set up a system so they can unsubscribe, as well as have a page for new people to sign up. And while you're setting up mailchimp, styling your emails, making your signup page, and all that, you have to do social media

7. Facebook and twitter
I want to include these links in the mailing, so best set up the accounts now.

8. Lay out the shop.
After spending all that time getting the other services ready, I go back to the shopify site, and select which items go where, upload a landing photo, write some text in the "about us" page and so on.

9. Update the URL
My web host for thornymeadows.com is 1and1.  So I had to login and make a subdomain for the store, because the store is on shopify, it's a different server.  So I chose store.thornymeadows.com.  pointed it at the shopify site.

10. Almost there.  Everything's working and tested, time to connect the dots.
This part was pretty easy.  I had to edit the thornymeadows page and add a "store" button, and replace the email signup at the bottom with a link that says "take me to the store".


It was a lot of work but I learned a lot and it would probably go a lot faster in the future.  In the end the traffic trailed off after the initial spike and nobody who signed up went to my store when I mailed them.  Oh well.

The next step I think will be seeing if I can even drive traffic to the store. I have some ideas for making new content, and if I update it regularly, maybe people will find it interesting. I'm still getting about 40-50 hits per day, so it might be just a matter of keeping the content fresh.  I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

How to move to Germany

Moving overseas was one of the most difficult things I've ever done.  I was in a new culture, speaking a new language, and had to find work, a home, get a visa, and start a whole new life.  Best thing I ever did, but very hard.

So if you are considering moving to Germany, here's a quickstart guide for you!

10 easy steps to move to Germany

  1.  Before leaving find place to stay that isn't a scam. We found someone who was going to australia for a month through craigslist. It was probably the only place on craigslist that wasn't a scam and you could tell because the rent was reasonable instead of insanely cheap. Also they asked for money when we got there instead of via western union or to their lawyer. Also they didn't call me sir and say they were pastors in Uganda and end the email with God Bless.
  2. Make your travel arrangements.  Try to arrive not in Februrary.  I did, and it was grey for a month and I got a cold.
  3. Anmeld. Go to the town hall with a copy of your lease. If you are in a WG (what German's call living with a roommate) skip this step.
  4. Get a bank account. Most banks you need a job to get an account, but the Berliner Sparkasse takes anyone. The catch was that they wanted an appointment. Friggin' guy took 15 minutes to make an appointment for me for next week... with himself... and then the following week took 15 minutes to set up the account. Oh germany. Take the form they give you as proof of anmelding. (anmeldungsbestätigung). If you don't have one because you're in a WG or temporary place, take a copy of your lease. If you don't have one, take a copy of your friend's lease and tell them that you're staying there. If they don't have one, take a copy of the craigslist ad that you found the place on. But then, it's the sparkasse they probably wont give you a hard time.
  5. Get a Schufa. It's a racket but you got no choice. I mean, unless you're happy with a WG. If you want your own place you need a credit check from SCHUFA and so you pay 20 bucks to get a membership for them to look you up and say "Oh we have no data on you because you just moved here". Then you get a print out of that statement and show it to landlords when looking for your own permanent apartment. THen you cancel the subscription because who wants a recurring subscription to a credit checking service?
  6. Get a job (sha na na na). Get your employer to write a letter saying that you have a job and it pays you X moneys. Most landlords want 3 months of bank statements showing your income, but getting a letter from your employer can substitute for this. If you are a freelancer (journalist/english teacher/web designer/whatever) what you have to do is get letters from potential clients (the schools, businesses, or whatever you'd sell your services to) saying "yes, Lachlansreddit is a dude providing this freelancing service and if he gets his visa and we have work available, I would consider paying him to do this service" Get three or four. Do this by just walking into companies or going to meetups and making friends with people at companies. Make sure they're on company letterhead. Companies will do them if they're worded in a non-binding way.
  7. Bribe a landlord. When you look for a permanent apartment you'll be looking for ones that are provisionsfrei. Most apartments are sold by agencies that charge like 2000 euros to give you a place. They call it 'provision für mieter'. I call it extortion. So you have a checkbox on immobilienscout and WG gesucht for only "provisionsfrei" apartments, which are not rented by the big agencies or mafiosi. But these often have huge waiting lists. Most apartments will want you to buy their furniture so they don't have to move it. Some of the apartments want you to buy their furniture even if they have none. We call that a bribe. You gotta do what you gotta do.
  8. Ummeld. It's like Anmelding but for moving. Or Anmeld. Doesn't matter, same thing. Go to the town hall with your lease and fill out a form. Don't forget to put your name on your post box so you can get mail.
  9. Get internet. I recommend going with either 1and1 or Deutsche Telekom. Prepare to sit at home for the better part of the day on the day they are supposed to arrive. Put a label by your front door bell saying "DAS IST DER HAUS WO DU MUSST DIE INTERNET MACHEN" or somethign to that effect. If they are crosseyed and don't read your name properly they'll just leave and you have to wait another two weeks. DSL internet comes with a phone line here.
  10. Make an appointment with the Ausländerbehörde. You can do it online. The wait can be like 2 or 3 months, so book it sooner rather than later. Go down with every piece of paper they might want to see. We made the mistake of only taking what they asked for on the website. They are trying to answer the question of "can this guy survive here without social assistance?" So with your intermediate german, letter from employer, bank statement from a german bank that says you have enough euros for a little while, anmeldungsbestatigung saying you have an apartment, and any certifications you have ever had stating you're qualified to do your job, you should get a visa. Bring money. If you're applying for a freelance visa bring your letters you got in step six. Also bring your portfolio and anything else relevant.
Congratulations, you are now German!

Important Edit

I've been informed that a law has passed making 7 redundant.  They can no longer charge 2 months rent as a commission for you signing up to rent a place, so you don't need to look specifically for Provisionsfrei apartments.  Huzzah for sanity!

Wednesday, 15 July 2015


Hi Everyone,

It's been a few years since I've posted to this blog.  I had started this blog when I was in my MBA program, as a way of thinking through business strategy things that I saw.  Since graduating I moved to Europe to become part of the Berlin startup scene.

It was a big change, and overwhelming at times, and many people have suggested I blog about my experiences.  I think the time has come, so expect more posts, both about the experiences I've had as an entrepreneur so far, and other organizational strategy thoughts, like I used to blog about before.

I'll see you all here.


Friday, 25 January 2013

Do you really want passionate employees?

One of the most common themes in job postings is that companies are looking for passionate people. The trend, at least among newer companies in North America is to have an ubiquitous corporate culture where employees' strongest desires is to be at work. The idea is to get employees to take ownership of their work because someone who is personally invested in the project will often spend more hours working unpaid overtime, do a better job, and produce higher quality output, theoretically for similar or even less pay than a non-passionate employee in a non-passionate environment. What company wouldn't want that?

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Keeping motivated

A number of people have remarked to me that they are impressed at how I keep up my motivation and energy during the job search.  Job searches are difficult and discouraging, and yet every day I have potential leads, new applications sent out, interviews scheduled, and news of some kind. At the same time I am sharpening my skills.  I exercise every day and am learning German at lightning speed.

The secret to my endurance is routine.