Ed Zitron is zesty and as the kids say, I am here for it

Ed Zitron has a free newsletter called Ed Zitron’s Where’s Your Ed At, in which he goes into great detail about how terrible tech companies are. Or at least that’s what he’s been riffing on lately. And he doesn’t mince words when describing the villains of these pieces. The current newsletter as I write this is titled Sam Altman is Full of Shit.

Some might think he’s being overly dramatic with the way he describes the various players and manipulators, but in the current political space, it feels right to me–we need to push hard on this stuff, so the average person stirs out of their social media-induced slumber and realizes what is happening and maybe (maybe) begins to care a little about it. And then change can (or should) happen.

Here’s the full description from Ed’s About page in case you are curious about whom this guy is and why you might want to read what he has to say.

Who Are You, Exactly? And What Is This Newsletter?

My name’s Ed, I’m the CEO of national Media Relations and Public Relations company EZPR, of which I am both the E (Ed) and the Z (Zitron).

I host the Better Offline Podcast, coming to iHeartRadio and everywhere else you find your podcasts February 2024. (Editor’s note: Ed should probably update this, as it’s May 2024 as I type these words.)

I write about stuff that interests me – issues in society, primarily those surrounding tech, but occasionally move into other areas and more personal pieces depending on my mood. I try and write once a week.

I was previously a games journalist, writing for PC Zone, CVG, Eurogamer and others. I’ve been published in the Wall Street Journal, USAToday, TechCrunch, and named one of the top 50 PR people in tech four times. I’ve written two books, and you are welcome to learn more here.

I live and work out of Las Vegas, Nevada.

From the About page of Where’s Your Ed At

Check it out, but be prepared to rein in your OCD–his pieces run long, but those 20 minutes feel like they fly by for me.

How not to write a newsletter for customers of your product

UPDATE, June 1, 2023: Here's a link to the original post on Mastodon by Matt Birchler that started this. If you can't follow the link, he's updated his original post to confirm from a member of the Ulysses team that this was indeed a joke and is riffing off a previous newsletter in which Fehn had raised the ire of Musk fans by criticizing Musk:

Me just opening my newsletter for updates from my writing app:

Editing for visibility: I’m choosing to assume this is a joke that didn’t land. The Ulysses newsletter has gone off the rails recently though, so it’s all just weird.

Edit 2: got confirmation this is a joke. Apparently the Elon trolls came for Marcus recently, and this was a sarcastic response to them. Sounds like many readers didn’t have that context, and this read like a normal Elon Stan letting their freak flag fly ?

This is why you don't try to be funny in a company newsletter!

I begrudgingly use Ulysses. It’s a fine app–in some ways even a great app–but I was not pleased when it went to a subscription model and mused at the time that they would have trouble adding genuinely useful features to “justify” the sub. And I think that happened.

But this post isn’t about the subscription model Ulysses uses. It’s their choice to charge a sub, just as it’s my choice to pay for it. I grumble, but for now, I pay, as I’ve yet to find another program that does everything that Ulysses does in a way I like. What this post is about is the Ulysses newsletter the company sends out periodically to its customers. More specifically, it’s about the current newsletter May 2023), which I think is attempting some ill-advised humour that may result in them actually losing customers.

I think it’s safe to say that most people don’t love email, they tolerate it. And when it comes to newsletters, I’d also reckon a lot of people may sign up for one (no harm, no foul), but then unsubscribe when they realize the newsletter isn’t providing enough value. I have culled a lot of newsletters in the past year for this very reason!

The current newsletter, which was sent out today, is written by Ulysses GmbH & Co. founder and creative director, Marcus Fehn. He is German. Is this important? Maybe, if you think some of what I’m about to highlight can be explained by differences in language, culture and things getting lost in translation.

Hello, fabulous subscriber of our newsletter,

This is Marcus from Ulysses, and I’m about to tell you something newsworthy. But first I need to make a statement:

**I love Elon Musk**. Elon is one of my favorite people on Earth, on the Moon, and of course on Mars. He’s a great innovator, probably a fantastic lover and an overall nice guy. I wish I was as smart as him. Or just 1% as smart as him. I also love Twitter and what he has done with it. Twitter was great before Elon, and it’s much better now. It’s a haven for free speech, a civilized marketplace of ideas, and it should be the blueprint for all social media apps going forward. I also applaud it for teaching kids how to behave in public.

Marcus Fehn, Ulysses founder and creative director

There is some debate on Mastodon on whether the above is:

  • Very obviously a joke and meant to be funny (the haha kind of funny)
  • Meant to be sincere praise of Musk and Twitter

There is no debate, however, on this being a baffling and just plain odd way to start out a newsletter to customers of a subscription-based markdown writing app. If it’s a joke (and I think it is), it’s executed just clumsily enough to make people think it might be legit. You could argue that just makes it more like satire, which is like funny jokes for sophisticates. Or grumps. (I like satire.) But even as satire, this is a completely tone-deaf way to start a newsletter. As a Ulysses user, I don’t care what Fehn thinks about Musk or Twitter, unless it somehow impacts Ulysses. I get that Fehn may have opinions or just likes writing things, but starting a company-based newsletter with this is bad form all around. This is why blogs exist, Marcus!

The rest of the newsletter continues in a jokey manner, with Fehn talking about 20 years of Ulysses and “20 years of hate mail, but that’s a different story” and that he’s visiting San Francisco and will be “the one in the bullet-proof vest, just in case.” I think he’s just trying hard (too hard?) to be funny, and a lot of it comes off flat or weird. The newsletter does exude with his personality, but that again is debatable on whether it’s a plus or minus.

For me, the whole thing is weird and off-putting, and it’s made me once again start looking for alternatives to Ulysses, preferably something that works on both Windows and Macs. And isn’t Scrivener. 😛

Oh the irony, Part 257

From the Galaxy Brain newsletter, on companies like Meta (Facebook) and Twitter charging for verification:

I don’t know if Charlie Warzel knew where the preview of his newsletter would end and where the pitch would begin, but it couldn’t have been placed more perfectly for maximum ironic effect.

Culling 2022: The daily BookBub newsletter

Today I yoinked another newsletter, BookBub. I did this despite BookBub doing exactly what it sets out to do: Highlight sales on books in genres I’m interested in.

I did this for a few reasons:

  • As a general part of this year’s culling, winnowing out inessential things and clutter from my life
  • My book reading has fallen off a cliff this year
  • I have a backlog of books to read for when I climb back to the top of the cliff
  • The majority of the BookBub recommendations are for unknown authors and my hit/miss ratio with them has left me increasingly risk-averse
  • A corollary to that: Established authors rarely show up in BookBub deals

My inbox has gone from being essentially unmanageable (so many newsletters coming in that I just plain didn’t read some of them) to so svelte I can breeze through it in a few minutes.

I like it.

Here is a cat seizing the day. And the mail.

All the news that’s fit to ignore

folded newspapers
Note: I have nothing against German newspapers. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A short while back I wrote about how I’ve found a new way to check out the news (tl,dr; I check later in the day now, not first thing in the morning, and I’ve unsubscribed to some news-focused newsletters–imagine that, a newsletter focused on news!). Then I received the latest from Adam Mastroianni’s Experimental History, in which he talks about this very thing!

A pretty good rule of thumb is “don’t do things that make you feel terrible unless you have a very good reason.” I feel terrible when I read the news, because all the headlines are things like “Republicans Vote to Reclassify Plastic as a Vegetable“ or “Birder Murderer Murders Thirty-Third Birder” or “Bradley Cooper Calls Holocaust ‘Big Misunderstanding’”. Sure enough: studies show that reading the news makes people feel bad.

While I have multiple reasons for putting more distance between me and the news, the above quote really nails the main point–reading the news just plain makes me feel bad. Good news stories (as in good news, not the quality of the news story itself) are fairly uncommon, so it’s mostly outrage or things gone wrong or people being mean, dumb or evil. Reading these things doesn’t improve my quality of life, and it takes away time I could spend looking at cats, like these:

And so I’ve decided to join Adam and purge news completely from my daily or weekly routines. I am certain I will still hear about stuff, both good and bad, and I am even more certain I won’t spend any time during the day balling my fist and shaking it at the monitor over something I’ve read. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I can heartily recommend Experimental History, which is presented with wit, intelligence and heart or WIH. Hmm, may need to work on that…

I started a newsletter

No, I don’t know why. But I can explain how I got here:

  1. I decided I wanted to move away from Gmail for [reasons]
  2. I began searching for other email services
  3. I initially settled on Outlook.com because I already had a subscription to Office Microsoft 365, anyway
  4. Outlook.com is mostly fine but doesn’t really do anything new with email, and the UI is bland and boring. I began looking again.
  5. I settled on trying out HEY email. Yes, they like you to spell it all shouty like that. HEY got me a new email address and I like the way it looks. It does a few things differently and while I’m not yet convinced I’ll stay with it long term, it’s a fine second email service for me to play around with.
  6. HEY offers something called HEY World, which lets you write an email that gets posted to your own custom mini-blog. Mine is here: https://world.hey.com/stan.james
  7. Two friends humored me and subscribed, but the whole thing is pretty basic. But it gave me a taste of something different, and eventually I wanted more.
  8. Today is also the day that Austin Kleon moved his weekly newsletter to Substack. I read several other Substack-hosted newsletters and began mulling moving my random thoughts from HEY World to Substack, where I can experiment and be weird on the internet.

Which brings me to my Substack newsletter, cleverly titled Stan’s Random Newsletter. You can see it here: https://stanjames.substack.com/ (I also have a handy link on the right sidebar of this blog.)

Can I just keep posting random nonsense here on my blog? Yes! Will I continue doing so? Yes! So why use Substack? Because there’s something about a newsletter that’s different, even if it’s simply the convenience of sending the random thoughts directly to someone via email. If they like the random thoughts, they can get more without doing anything. No websites to remember, no fuss, no muss (what is muss, anyway?)

I have no idea how long I’ll keep this up or what will come of it, but I’ll play around with it for a while and see where it goes. I’ll start by padding it out with some of my HEY World posts, because a smart author knows how to utilize existing resources. Or something.