Twogging

What if, instead of feeding free content to corporations like Twitter, we started blogging again?

I’ve been thinking of using this platform for microblogging–posting “tweets” here instead of on Twitter.

It’s difficult to shake the idea that blog posts are permanent and tweets ephemeral.

And admittedly I am hosting this on WordPress, not on my own host, and ads are part of the package.

This is my first post using the WordPress app on my phone. The tiny keyboard promotes brevity.

There is also the concern that on Twitter there is a chance of an audience. Here? Not so much.

Auto-posting from WordPress to Twitter is tacky, imo.

Uaing “imo” in a blog post felt wrong.

I still say blog “post” instead of just “blog.”

This concludes my twog of the day. I tried and failed to keep it under 140 characters.

Resolutions

I don’t often make New Year’s resolutions, at least not publicly, but this year I have a few. (Well, two.)

  1. Quit Facebook for a year. Last summer I deleted the Facebook app from my phone and didn’t miss it at all. Now I’m ready to take the next step. It will be interesting to log back in in 2016 and see how the interface has changed. If people want to get in touch, I’m still very easy to find through other means.
  2. Amplify voices that need it. Over on Twitter, there was a period of about a year (I’m not sure of the exact dates but Wendy Davis’s filibuster was the catalyst) during which I retweeted only women. Anil Dash did the same thing, only to gazillions more followers, and the experience changed him, as it did me. He writes:

    For me, for my experience, it’s better. I feel happier about the time I spend on Twitter, and it’s made me try to be more thoughtful, and more disciplined with other things I do in my time online.

    I’m back to retweeting the occasional dude, but I’m much more mindful about the voices I amplify. In 2015 I will continue this mindfulness and expand it to include a broader range of diversity. I might have only 400 followers, but dammit, I care!

  3. Think of a third resolution. Seriously, you can’t have just two.

Hermit Crab Care and Feeding

  1. Hermit crabs make great first pets because they are easy to care for and don’t require a lot of room.
  2. They molt several times per year.
  3. All you need is a cage and a few basic supplies.
  4. The molting thing will surprise you.
  5. The cage can be either glass or plastic. You can start with a small one if you’re just getting one crab.
  6. During the molting process, the crab burrows under the sand and sheds its exoskeleton.
  7. You need three dishes: For food, fresh water, and salt water.
  8. They stay burrowed for a really long time. Like, weeks.
  9. Hermit crabs are scavengers and will eat almost anything: fruit, vegetables, Cheerios. One of their favorites is shrimp!
  10. After a couple of weeks you will dig up the hermit crab. Its lifeless body will fall limply out of its shell.
  11. You will also need a spray bottle for frequent misting. Hermit crabs need a warm, humid environment.
  12. You will tell your daughter that Hermione — the name she has given her hermit crab — is dead.
  13. If the temperature in your house gets below 70 degrees you should also get a heating pad to go under the cage.
  14. Your daughter will cry real tears. Along with her empty shell, you will place Hermione’s corpse in a plastic baggie and leave it on the windowsill overnight. Funeral planning will begin.
  15. Hermit crabs are natural climbers, so a stick or a climbing wall make great additions to the cage.
  16. The next day your son will observe Hermione moving inside the baggie. You will not believe him.
  17. An inexpensive thermometer and hydrometer will ensure that conditions within the cage are acceptable to your hermit crab.
  18. But he’s correct! Hermione did move! It turns out that the thing you thought was a crab corpse is actually Hermion’s exoskeleton. It really did look exactly like a dead crab. And Hermione is actually inside the shell but you didn’t see her before because the shell was clogged with sand and in all honesty you didn’t really look that closely; your attention was on the corpse, not the shell. Your daughter is both overjoyed and extremely pissed at you. You gently return Hermione to her cage, where she commences eating her own exoskeleton. Hermione regains her strength and is quite active for a couple of months, until she burrows again. Once again you get impatient and dig her up and think she is dead and tell your daughter and break her heart all over again. But the crab is actually alive (again). You are an idiot and can’t believe you did this whole Hermione-is-dead-no-just-kidding-she-is-alive rigamarole not once, but twice.
  19. Some people like to give their crabs baths. This is not recommended.

One Reason People Are Not More Outraged at NSA Surveillance

My fellow web people will relate to this one.

Several times in my career, someone, usually a senior marketing executive, has asked me whether we can collect the email addresses of everyone who visits the company website. Not “can you set up a form where users submit their email address?” but “does the website do this automatically?”

They were not thinking through the implications of this question. They were not considering that if we could do this, so could every other website, and therefore their email address had already been collected thousands of times.

It’s not that they’re dumb; they just wanted to know if we could send email to our site visitors. And to them, as with most people, technology is a black hole. No one knows how it works.

So, at least on a subconscious level, many people, if not most people, assume that their personal data is being constantly collected.

Which, it turns out, it is.

Mandatory Retirement for Old White Dudes

Baby Boomers have decided to live forever and the net result will be more old white dudes ruining the planet. These old white dudes believe factory smog is a sign of progress, that being called a racist is worse than being a victim of actual racism, and that women should be forced to bear children.

Some of these old white dudes will still hold elected office when I become an old white dude myself. This has to stop.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Gen-Xer with Boomer parents (which tempers my cynicism with over-inflated self-esteem), but I think the younger generations are mostly getting it right.

Image

Source: League of Conservative Voters

So, young people: If you want to accelerate your eventual world takeover (i.e. you don’t want to wait until you’re 60 years old and my generation is still trying to run things at age 80), start now on enacting legislation that forces — or at least entices — old white dudes into retirement at a reasonable age. I’d be cool with age 45 if my retirement package includes free wifi for life, but 65 is probably a tad more realistic.

At the same time, get some more non-old-white-dudes elected. I know you can do it. I have full confidence in you. You have my vote.

Evolve, Punk!

My post last week about heavy metal’s negative influence on punk rock included this:

I get that no band can stay together for any length of time and not want to evolve. I’m all for bands evolving. I’ve stuck with the Flaming Lips all these years. I’ve helped introduce my kids to the Beatles and I love listening to how much they changed in just 10 years.

It turns out I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. This is from a review I wrote 13 years ago of Jello Biafra’s “Live from the Battle in Seattle”:

…I still like the Dead Kennedys all right, and there are some musical numbers on this EP. But these present problems as well. Most rock musicians exceed their usefulness at around age 30 (I intend to retire from rocking on September 27, 2002), and Jello is considerably older than that. On “Live” he covers his own early material (“Let’s Lynch the Landlord,” “Full Metal Jackoff”) and throws in an anti-Microsoft ditty called “Electronic Plantation.” It sounds no different than his collaborations with the members of DOA like 15 years ago. Personally, I want my heroes to evolve. (At least until they’re 30, anyway—then I want them to quit.)

Now that I have passed the 30-year mark and rounded the corner of 40, I laugh at my youthful sentiment that rockers should retire at age 30. (On the other hand, I did indeed retire from rocking in 2002. At least I lived by my principles!) Now, as my kids get older and become increasingly embarrassed of their old man, it’s time to start a Wiggles cover band, or a polka-disco band, or a vaudeville act, or something.

Punk Bands Making Terrible Decisions About Heavy Metal

ImagePunk rock is now firmly established as an aesthetic choice: groups forming today draw from a range of influences, all downloadable from iTunes, and make decisions accordingly. But many punk bands were great because their members had no choice but to play punk rock. Either they were too musically incompetent, or too fucking angry — or both, ideally — to play anything else but three-chord, loud, fast, verse-chorus-verse-chorus anthems. 

But what happened when some of those pre-iTunes punk bands, like, practiced together for a few years? Their musicianship improved. And often their increased competence led to some VERY BAD DECISIONS. And by VERY BAD DECISIONS, I mean heavy metal. 

Don’t get me wrong: metal is fine. Metal, in fact, rules. My first album was Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.” I still love the metal. But punk rock is a minimal aesthetic and heavy metal is maximal. I don’t know if that’s a word, but I’m going with it. When punk and metal mix, very bad things happen. Let’s explore. 

  1. Bad Brains. Have you listened to the “Black Dots” sessions? Holy shit that was some amazingly tight, fast punk cranked out by very young Rastafarians (!) in 1979. Unfortunately, by 1986, with “I Against I,” they had fully crossed over into “metal virtuoso” territory, and went downhill from there. I would have preferred they went totally reggae, an aesthetic that worked well for the motherfucking Clash. But metal sunk Bad Brains. 
  2. Suicidal Tendencies. The first Suicidal album was a thrash masterpiece of L.A. Chicano rage. The second? Who knows, no one can listen past the first song. And Infectious Grooves? They were the worst of every possible genre compressed into a single terrible band.
  3. Ramones. My first Ramones Album was one of their most metal: “Animal Boy.” My second was the Phil Spector-produced “End of the Century,” which sounds like it was released in 1960. I was very confused about the Ramones for a long time. I did ultimately worship at the shrine of the first three albums, but let’s face it, from “Animal Boy” onward, they were a heavy metal band. 
  4. Circle Jerks. I can listen to the first Circle Jerks album, “Group Sex,” pretty much indefinitely. 14 songs in 15 minutes – damn! The other day I tried listening to their fourth album, “Wonderful,” and did not make it past track three. There is even a metal parody on that album called “American Heavy Metal Weekend” but they don’t seem to realize that the whole fucking album is bad metal parody. 
  5. Green Day. “Dookie” is a pop-punk masterpiece. Their followup, whose title no one can remember*, failed because it had too many guitar solos and metal riffage. Lesson to punks: No one cares how well you can play your guitar! I’m told Green Day remains somewhat popular despite their forays into the dark metal arts. (*Oh right — “Insomniac.”)
  6. Black Flag. I still love Black Flag. Now there are two Black Flag reunion bands touring around. Want to know why the the “unofficial” FLAG will win over the “official” Black Flag? Because Greg Ginn is way too metal and smokes way too much dope. (See also Rollins Band: Metal with the vocals way too high in the mix.)
  7. Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (DRI). I have never knowingly listened to this band but I have a story about them. When I was 14 and getting into punk, I asked my older punk friend to make me a list of albums I should get (at Specs, the now defunct Miami record store that carried vinyl imports and such). One of them said I should get some DRI — “anything but the album ‘Crossover.'” I am pretty sure I know why that is the album to avoid, and what territory it was “crossing over.”

There are many more examples. I will add to this list as I think of them. In the meantime, be punk, or be metal, just don’t be both if you want to not suck. I get that no band can stay together for any length of time and not want to evolve. I’m all for bands evolving. I’ve stuck with the Flaming Lips all these years. I’ve helped introduce my kids to the Beatles and I love listening to how much they changed in just 10 years. But the punk-to-metal thing is not evolution; it’s bastardization, it’s pollution, it’s like when you try to make a kick-ass volcano and you mix baking soda and vinegar, but there’s no explosion: it just kind of foams and dribbles and smells bad.

Attack! Of the Help!

I give 25% of my income to the Red Cross, volunteer 30 hours a week to Meals on Wheels, give six pints of blood per day, and when I die I will donate my body to a local animal refuge specializing in rescued carnivores.

Perhaps I exaggerate, slightly.

The truth is that my wife and I make charitable contributions in lieu of gifts to certain family members on certain holidays. [Yawn.]

Although we are not wealthy, we regularly drop $40 on lunch. If we can do that, we can give a little more to good causes. But aside from the annual holiday rush (plus Mother’s Day, on which for the past two years we’ve donated to the Calvert Foundation because they’ve had this deal where you get an Eileen Fisher gift card when you donate, so it’s almost like not donating anything at all) we don’t have a regular habit of giving.

helpattack_logo_blue.pngEnter Help Attack!, an Austin-based startup that lets you pledge money for each time you post to Twitter. It’s ridiculously easy to sign in, select one of over 5,000 nonprofits, and make your pledge. In other words, it’s perfect for busy, attention-span-impaired, social media diuretics like me.

One sense I get from Help Attack! already is that it’s going to be fun. I started with a 10-cents-per-tweet pledge to CARE and it’s fun to imagine a little ka-ching noise every time I tweet. It’s also fun to think about which nonprofit I’ll choose from next, and Help Attack! has baked in some fun with a series of “coins” you win as you go along (I’m curious to see what they all are.) The site is super-simple right now, in a good way, but with lots of potential to expand into other social media like Facebook, and for partnerships with for- and nonprofit organizations.

So go make a pledge. It’s ridiculously simple and will make the world a better place. Plus, you can send out smug tweets like “I just pledged a penny per tweet to Clowns Without Borders!” that will make you feel superior to your friends.

My Help Attack! page

Follow me on Twitter (puh-lease)

How Web 2.0 Contributes to Global Warming*

polar-bear-global-warming2.jpgAnyone who follows me on Twitter has probably seen complaints about my computer. Despite (I like to think) having above-average knowledge of computers, computer problems cling to me like bedbugs. My latest was particularly baffling. Now that it’s resolved I’d like to share what went wrong and how I fixed it.

Several months ago, Sarah’s perfectly serviceable Lenovo laptop bit the dust. It gave a few advance warnings, like occasional memory errors or the Blue Screen of Death. I reinstalled the OS, which is the best way I know to fix damn near everything, but the problems came back and the hard drive crashed. We back up using Mozy, so it was more of an inconvenience and expense than a catastrophe. And I was determined not to spend too much on another laptop that, given our track record, was likely to die in the next two years.

Once it was determined that the Lenovo was not worth fixing, I went to Discount Electronics and bought Sarah a used Dell Latitude 620 running Windows XP. She’s a communications consultant, so just needs basic internet and word processing tools, plus a way to get video off our Flip camera and onto YouTube or Facebook. Nothing fancy.

On the day I brought it home and got it set up, Sarah said the computer seemed “slow.” I could never work in tech support because I always blame the user. “What do you mean slow? Do you mean the internet is slow? That’s just the wifi connection; it has nothing to do with the computer. This thing has more RAM than your old one. It’s not slow.”

That didn’t go over very well, as you might have guessed. But the problem was difficult to diagnose because it was intermittent and hard to replicate. It took several weeks of testing stuff before I could even describe the problem:

  • It could not render HD video at all. And most video, streaming or non-, was choppy and out-of-sync.
  • Any website using significant amounts of javascript, like Twitter, was dreadfully slow. This was true in Firefox, IE8, and Chrome. Disabling javascript helped a lot, but also had the unfortunate effect of disabling javascript.

Sarah became so fed up that we did what you Apple fanboys have been thinking all along: We bought her a Mac.

And then suddenly, Sarah’s buggy-ass Dell became my buggy-ass Dell. Because as luck would have it, right after we bought the Mac for
Sarah, my work laptop also died. I’d have to ship it back to the company that issued it to me five years ago. 

I called Discount Electronics and asked what my options were on the Dell. They said if it was a hardware problem, they’d replace it. Fair enough, I said, but how long will that take to diagnose? Five days, they said. Can I get a loaner while you look at it? No. Can I talk to a manager? Hold on. [Pause.] The manager says no too.

For a work-at-home consultant, five days without a computer means five days with no billable hours. Not possible. This computer problem was mine and mine alone, and dammit I was going to figure it out! 

After using the Dell as my primary computer for a few days, I learned another facet to the problem: It ran better in the morning than at night. I almost thought I was imagining it but after making this observation several days in a row, I knew it was true.

I tried many things. I downgraded Firefox after reading that the latest version was a memory hog. I disabled AVG antivirus and Windows Firewall. I installed a video accelerator. I glanced at my BIOS settings, shuddered, and walked away without touching anything. I ran memory tests. Nothing made a damn bit of difference.

Finally, I did the thing I always do when all other options have been exhausted: I reinstalled Windows.

There’s nothing like a fresh OS install to make you think you have the fastest computer in the world. This time was no different. The elation lasted only a couple of hours, though; once Dreamweaver and Photoshop and Office were all installed things slowed down a bit, but the bugs seemed to have been worked out. Hooray! I thought. Then I went to Tweet about my success and watched in horror as my words didn’t appear onscreen until 15 seconds after I’d typed them.

The bugs were back. I thought an OS reinstall would be the equivalent of burning the mattress, but it didn’t get rid of them.

Then a fortuitous thing occurred. My brother, in town for HostingCon, offered to take a look. He put his hand under the laptop and pulled quickly away: It was too hot to touch. And I remembered that just that morning I’d had a new error message: Basically, “this machine is too hot and cannot be booted.” (Resolved by waiting 15 minutes before trying again.)

The computer was running a fever, causing all kinds of slowdowns on memory-intensive tasks, like video and AJAX websites. It was all Web 2.0’s fault!

And it ran better in the morning because it was cool then.

In other words, Duh + Duh = Duh.

I could have returned to Discount Electronics and demanded a replacement at this point. And they might have bypassed the five-day diagnostic and given me one. But there would be no guarantee that the “new” refurb wouldn’t be just as buggy as the old one. And my software and data was already loaded, so…

This is what I did: For around $30, Best Buy sells “cooling platforms” that you place your laptop on and connect via USB port. The platform I bought has two fans that blow air up into the machine’s guts. Since setting my laptop on the cooling platform, everything runs perfectly. Problem solved.

Until this one joins the junk heap in a year or two and I spend a fortune on another goddamn Mac.
 


*tl;dr version: My laptop with a busted fan couldn’t run Web 2.0 stuff like AJAX and YouTube. This led me to realize Web 2.0 websites require more power than simple, old-school HTML-type sites, which led me to make an un-researched declaration that Web 2.0 causes global warming. Get it? HA! 
  
 

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The One Twitter List You Need to Separate Signal from Noise

I’ve written previously about imposing limits on the number of people I follow on Twitter. Since that post I’ve raised the limit from 100 to around 150. This is still a relatively low number, especially compared to some in my Tweetstream who follow thousands, or even tens of thousands, of others.

But if you’re like me, and aren’t logged into Twitter during every waking moment (according to Klout.com I am an “Explorer”), it can still be difficult to separate signal from noise no matter how selective you are about whom you follow. On weekends, or when a deadline looms, I avoid social media altogether. Sometimes—gasp!—I go two whole days without turning on a computer. When I do log back in, there is always catching up to do.

Since Twitter introduced Lists—which allow you to create custom categories of followees, such as “New Yorkers,” “entertainers,” athletes,” etc.—in late 2009, catching up has become easier. I have a handful of Lists, but there is one that I check constantly to be sure not to miss anything. I call it “Offline Friends” and it comprises all the people I follow on Twitter who I also know personally. (I’m sure a snazzier title could be conceived.) After a long social-media fast, these are the people whose updates I want to see. In some ways, it’s my Twitter alternative to Facebook, and it works.

If I were allowed only one Twitter List, this is the one I would keep. I’m sure this is obvious to some, but this simple list has had major impact on my enjoyment of Twitter, so I figured I’d share.

Are you following me on Twitter? I’m @noahvail. Stop on by.

Update 8/3/10: An interesting feature of Twitter Lists is that you do not have to follow the people you put into your lists. So, if you had a particularly annoying family member in your stream, you could unfollow them and move them to your “friends and family” list. If they ask why you’re not following them anymore you could claim that you do, and that they even get special treatment by being a member of this exclusive list. The possibilities are endless!

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