Liner Notes (December 10th, 2022)


This week’s newsletter has me mostly frustrated with credit card fraud. There are also some thoughts on music I’ve been listening to, an app I don’t think I’ve recommended before, and various other tidbits. As always, there’s also a playlist of ten songs I liked, and this week’s supporter Q&A post can be found here.

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A Few Things

  • I woke up last Saturday with every intention of writing a newsletter. However, as I started doing my usual Saturday review, where I look over my to-do lists, check various things for the business, and make sure things are running smoothly, I noticed something weird on Stripe. Stripe is the payment platform I use to power the backend of the supporter program. They handle the payment processing for credit cards and all that. Someone was running a script to do card testing of stolen credit card numbers through my page. They’d run thousands of cards through the system to see if any were active. In doing so, they created about a hundred “real” charges. My weekend plans needed to quickly pivot to deal with this instead of everything else I had planned. I was able to go through all the transactions and refund all of the fraudulent payments. Only three of them had already been reported to the credit card company, who had then issued a chargeback, costing me $15 per dispute. That’s one big issue: if I miss any of these, and they go to dispute, I’m losing five people’s supporter payments for the month. I was then able to start putting some mitigation policies in place. I banned many IP addresses and configured better rules around how transactions get processed. There’s a higher threshold to block transactions expected of fraud, and if someone “fails” three times, I ban them outright. After putting these in place, over the last week, I’ve only had one fraudulent charge slip through. However, the way Stripe’s system works is that they charge me two cents per every transaction they “scan” for fraud/run my rules against. So, that person that gets banned and every charge they attempt after the third fails? They could still run thousands of cards, each getting rejected, but each costing me two cents every single time they try one. I’m currently using a free trial of Stripe’s Radar program that lets me build these rules; it lasts thirty days. I ran the numbers on how many transactions were scanned over the last seven days, and if I weren’t on the free trial, it would have cost me around $50 for the past week—basically canceling out two yearly subscriptions and changing the entire math and calculus on this whole endeavor. It’s not tenable. So, I have less than 30 days to figure this out before my trial runs out. First, I’m turning on the most aggressive blocking features and automatically banning any IP that attempts card testing at the website level, so they cannot access the website. I’ve added some rate-limit features to make it so someone can’t test cards quickly. But these are stop gaps because changing IPs is trivial, and any script can handle rate limits. One option is moving away from my custom code that governs payments and to the Stripe-hosted version. In my opinion, it’s a worse experience, and without looking at all the changes I’d need to make, probably not a trivial amount of work on my end. The second option is to put the payment system behind website registration. So, to attempt any purchase, you’d have to already have an account on Chorus. This forces the account to go through the various checks we have in place when creating an account to deal with spam/bots and would potentially create a barrier to stop the card testing. It also makes it more annoying for anyone to sign up to support the website. Instead of the current flow where you can register while becoming a supporter, you’d now need to first register and then become a supporter. I’m also exploring a few other options for what I can do on the purchase page itself to make spamming the system more complicated. All told, it will be a lot of extra work and time that I don’t really have. And I think that’s what’s been so heartbreaking about all of this. It makes me not want to keep running the website in the same way I currently am because the cost-to-benefit ratio is thrown out of whack. It’s got me thinking of putting the entire website behind a paywall and various other drastic measures because it has me asking myself, “Is this worth it?” It’s just all so disheartening and frustrating. Over the next three weeks, I’ll have to figure something out, and I still have more research to do on what I think the best course of action will be. Because of this, I’ll probably also have to prioritize that work over anything else during my free time, which means the newsletter may be a little haphazard over the rest of the holiday season as I try and juggle the various priorities professionally, personally, and with this website. I’ll figure it out, but I just wanted to be upfront about my current mindset and why the posting schedule for the rest of the month may be inconsistent.
  • I posted my annual gift guide. Putting together the “archive” section and seeing I’ve been doing this since 2016 made me laugh. I can’t believe how fast time flies. As usual, I tried to put things on at a. variety of price points, and everything included is something I have bought, used, liked, and recommend. (I have more I want to say about Sonos at some point, but I’m going to need to save that for another time.)
  • This will also be the month I’m going to plug the supporter member program each week. Also, we have a way to gift a membership to someone if you’re in the giving spirit.
  • The “State of the Apps” episode of Cortex is one of my favorite yearly podcast traditions. There’s almost always a new app to discover, but I also use it as a time to think back on all the apps I used this year and which ones I want to keep around, which ones I want to retire, and how I want my whole phone/computer to be setup as we move into the new year. This year for me, like the two hosts, was about using Focus Modes more and having different home screens depending on my current context.
  • The app I am most looking forward to next year is Ivory. It’s becoming more clear with each passing day that I don’t want to spend my time on Twitter. And the creator of Tweetbot making a Mastodon app is huge. So far, of the 800 or so people I follow on Twitter, unfortunately, only 40 have linked to their profiles so I could find them. Right now, the main thing I’m missing is a good baseball community, since that’s what I love to follow during games. The tech crowd seems to have moved over. I don’t know if the music crowd ever will. Anyway, my current profile is here.
  • One of my favorite, but unheralded apps, of the year is Choosy. The premise is super simple: you can set up rules for what kinds of links open in what browser. I use it every single day to keep certain “work” related apps and tasks in Chrome, and personal stuff in Safari. It makes sure everything you open from apps you pick, or URLs you define, open in the correct browser.
  • Every time I mention Smart Playlists, someone writes in telling me they had no idea they existed or how powerful they can be. So, for the holidays here’s a fun one I use to pull everything in my collection that’s a holiday or Christmas song. It grabs everything based off a few rules and the last two make it easy to add a comment/genre to any song I want to easily add into the playlist.

In Case You Missed It

Music Thoughts

  • We’re in that weird period of the year where there’s not a whole lot of new music coming out, so I usually use this time to check out albums I may have missed earlier in the year, and, of course, break out some holiday tunes. This week it’s been the Relient K and Matt Nathanson albums getting play earlier in the day, and Brian Fallon and Manchester Orchestra getting some spins as the night winds down.
  • One of the new albums I did hear this week is the upcoming acoustic album from New Found Glory. I’m going to break my thoughts into three specific parts. First, the first half of the album and the new acoustic songs. This group of songs are very clearly influenced by Chad’s recent health scares. They’re filled with love for family, friends, and have a sense of coming to terms with mortality and the frailness of life. That the tracks are acoustic adds a somber and peacefulness to the songs. They come across as introspective and life-affirming. Fleshed out with more instrumentation, and they very well might have fit in with some of the stuff on Coming Home. I put these songs alongside the quality of their last EP/bonus album/however we want to categorize those, and far above the previous full-length. The record’s second half is slightly cleaned-up audio from their live acoustic show. I’ve had a bunch of these versions for a while now, and it’s nice to have better quality versions, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed these aren’t new studio renditions of the classic songs stripped down. It’s literally impossible not to sing along at full volume when these get going. The third thought I have is in relation to the song “Bloom.” It’s the last song on the “new” side of the record, and while I have no idea if it’s actually about Chad’s ex-wife, Hayley Williams, the lyrics and song title are sure going to make a lot of people think it is. Again, I have absolutely zero idea what the song is actually about, but it is the one song on the record that has a negative edge to the lyrics, and that sticks out a little coming after a group of songs about family saving your life, facing death, and what comes from those experiences. Again, I can’t say this enough: I do not know what this song is about, but I’ve listened to it five times, and I’ve listened carefully to the lyrics, and what I am saying is that I think people are going to draw this connection. And my guess is that it does not go over well online, and I can’t shake that feeling every time it plays.
  • I also got myself on a huge Anberlin kick since I finally got Cities on vinyl, and it sent me back down that rabbit hole. I think what I love about this band is their style is familiar and yet unique. They have this aggression in their rock and roll, but it’s also extremely melodic. Not many bands pull it off the way they do.
  • I didn’t have time to write last week (see above), but I spent a lot of time listening to the Tegan and Sara discography after finishing up High School (see below).
  • I somehow missed the Blue Lullaby EP from Wolf Alice being released. One, these are fucking awesome renditions, and two, it reminded me how incredible Blue Weekend is. So, I was able to break that back out this week. I forgot exactly where it ended up on my end-of-the-year list last year, but it’d do very well in a re-ranking.

The Stats: Over the past week, I listened to 37 different artists, 55 different albums, and 366 different tracks (449 scrobbles). My most played artist was Anberlin, and my most played album was Relient K’s Christmas album. Here is my Top 9 from last week, and you can follow me on Apple Music and/or

Entertainment Thoughts

  • A TV show based on Tegan and Sara? A TV show about high school in the 90s? Sign me alllllll the way up. I thought they knocked this completely out of the park. The twins are, I think, two or three years older than me, so they’re just a tad in front of me with the bands they were into, but it’s a whole lot of the same influences and the show does a great job of weaving that into the coming of age tale.
  • The second season of Love Life was decent. I wanted it to explore the devastation of divorce a little more, but I doubt anyone really wants to watch that in what is ostensibly a romantic comedy TV show. I’d maybe rank it slightly below the first season.
  • We’re now watching the second season of His Dark Materials because it’s the kind of show/genre that just feels right when it’s cold and the Christmas tree is lit.
  • The first season of 1899 was not as good as Dark, but that’s a pretty insane expectation for something to reach. It was, however, very enjoyable and I am eagerly anticipating the second season.

Random and Personal Stuff

  • Hannah and I are throwing our second annual holiday party for friends tonight. So, I need to go clean up the place a little and prepare for that. I hope everyone has a wonderful rest of your weekend.

Ten Songs

Here are ten songs that I listened to and loved this week. Some may be new, some may be old, but they all found their way into my life during the past seven days.

  1. Wolf Alice – Lipstick on the Glass
  2. Ace Enders – Silver
  3. Relient K – Merry Christmas, Here’s to Many More
  4. Anberlin – Naive Orleans
  5. Matt Nathanson – I Believe in Father Christmas
  6. Avril Lavigne – I’m a Mess
  7. Coldplay – Christmas Lights
  8. Brian Fallon – Silent Night
  9. The Maine – 12.25
  10. MxPx – December

This playlist is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Community Watch

The trending and popular threads in our community this week include:

The most liked post in our forums last week was this one by sophos34 in the “The 1975 – Being Funny in a Foreign Language (Oct 14, 2022)” thread.

Previous editions of Liner Notes can be found here.

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