What If We Could Weaponize Empathy?

"I expect you to act like a group of friends who care about each other, no matter how dumb some of us might be, no matter what political opinions some of us hold, no matter what games some of us like or dislike."

This is a principle I hope to espouse in all discussions, be it online or IRL. I haven't always done this well, but I want to. 

Google News Publisher Not Happy With New "In The News" Box

I think what amuses me is that people think Fox News, CNN, and the New York Times are "reliable."

Have you watched CNN coverage lately? They spend more time talking about pop culture than world news. It's a joke. Better reporting of real events (Ferguson, MO comes to mind) is coming from Twitter than the major news sources. 

Duplicate Content and E-Commerce

I'm working on developing an SEO strategy for dealing with duplicate web content for my company, an e-commerce website. I've done some reading and research, but if anyone has any additional thoughts or feedback, that would be great. 

Once I come up with a strategy memo, I'll post it here for comments. Thanks. 

Into the Sun

Via xkcd 

When I was about 8 years old, shoveling snow on a freezing day in Colorado, I wished that I could be instantly transported to the surface of the Sun, just for a nanosecond, then instantly transported back. I figured this would be long enough to warm me up but not long enough to harm me. What would actually happen?

I love this website. The author answers random science and math questions and explains them. It's a perfect geeky escape. 

 

 

 

Taking the fight for #transparency to court | Twitter Blogs

From the Twitter blog:

It’s our belief that we are entitled under the First Amendment to respond to our users’ concerns and to the statements of U.S. government officials by providing information about the scope of U.S. government surveillance – including what types of legal process have not been received. We should be free to do this in a meaningful way, rather than in broad, inexact ranges.

Good for Twitter. 

The Right to Be Forgotten

From Greg Sterling of Search Engine Land:

The New Yorker’s Toobin quotes Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, an Austrian-born Oxford professor whom he characterizes as “one of the intellectual godfathers of the right to be forgotten,” about why such a right should exist:

[H]e describes how, in the nineteen-thirties, the Dutch government maintained a comprehensive population registry, which included the name, address, and religion of every citizen. At the time, he writes, “the registry was hailed as facilitating government administration and improving welfare planning.” But when the Nazis invaded Holland, they used the registry to track down Jews and Gypsies. “We may feel safe living in democratic republics, but so did the Dutch,” he said. “We do not know what the future holds in store for us, and whether future governments will honor the trust we put in them to protect information privacy rights.”

I came across this doing some reading for work, and it's an interesting article. This entire RTBF discussion/debate, as well as balancing privacy against freedom of information, is complex. Generally, I think I support more privacy for individuals, and more transparency for governments and corporations. 

Leigh Alexander - Gamers Are Over

Via Gamasutra

‘Games culture’ is a petri dish of people who know so little about how human social interaction and professional life works that they can concoct online ‘wars’ about social justice or ‘game journalism ethics,’ straight-faced, and cause genuine human consequences. Because of video games.

I made a comment about my disappointment in Intel dropping their sponsorship of Gamasutra  with the hashtag #gamergate, and received a flood of comments from Twitter trolls who have nothing better to do than track a hashtag to attack anyone who doesn't agree with them. In my mind, these are the people who spend 18 hours a day playing Call of Duty (or any other such video game) with such intensity that when a n00b like me logs into a multiplayer world, we die as soon as we spawn. Somehow, this is so critically important to these people that they have no real life outside of video games and Cheetos. 

I'm not much of a gamer, and people like this are the reason why. Kudos to Leigh Alexander and the rest of the crew who are working to promote change. This entire essay is terrific and worth reading. 

Solving Problems We Don't Have (Thoughts on Apple Pay)

Shawn King of The Loop asks of Apple's new payment system, Apple Pay,

"My question has always been, is using a credit card really all that difficult for most people that they need and want this kind of replacement?"

i think the big draw of Apple Pay isn't just the ease of use - it's the security of it. On my iPhone, I would have to use Touch ID to verify that it's me; on the Apple Watch, I can enter a security code and it only remains active for as long as I keep the device on my wrist. Remove it and I have to re-verify before I can use Apple Pay again. It's a level of security which doesn't really exist for credit cards.

Just last week I used my dad's card at a home improvement store (with permission). The clerk asked for ID, I provided it, it obviously didn't match, but she permitted me to make the purchase anyway. It made things easier for me, but it's also quite troubling to see how this could be abused. 

So maybe the demo at today's event wasn't quite the problem that Apple Pay is solving. It's as much - if not more - about security as it is about convenience. But I'm sure Apple Pay is pretty easy to use, especially if you can launch from the lock screen.  

 

Much Ado about Too Much to Do

I work four jobs. I'm a substitute teacher, I drive for Lyft (use promo code BRADLEY861 for a free ride up to $25), I do this freelance writing thing from time to time, and I work part time as a supervisor at a new Carhartt retail store in Greenwood. The store manager has experience managing other retail stores, but I don't know if she's ever opened a new store before.

If you've never opened a store like this before, you can't really understand how big of an undertaking it is. When I was in high school, I helped open a new Circuit City store before the chain ultimately folded, and it was a difficult process. Everyone is new. Everyone is learning a new system. Everyone is learning how to use the computer system and the store policies and how things work, and there's no institutional knowledge to help newbies get along, because we're all newbies. It's not that different this time, and so much of the responsibilities fall on the store manager. She is inundated every time she steps into the store to pass judgement on dozens of small issues, executive decisions that don't really matter but are ultimately up to her. On top of that, she has many significant responsibilities to navigate that are above my pay grade. She can't delegate these tasks (and at any rate, I don't work often enough to be point on many of these projects).

When I work with her, I find that she gets caught in a common trap - she spends at least an hour each day telling me how busy she is and how insurmountable her workload is. I'm sympathetic because I know how difficult it is, but at the same time, I've been thinking about ways to get through the work. 

I don't know many people who aren't busy or don't feel overwhelmed by the many things that draw their attention, time, or resources. Me, for instance, I want to get out of debt, but the total balance due is sufficiently large that I find myself paralyzed by the idea. So I spend time bemoaning the situation in my journal, to my wife, and the squirrel who lives in my backyard (he's a great listener). Sometimes I ambitiously buy a Powerball ticket when the jackpot reaches the 200 million mark. I want to lose weight and become more physically fit so that I can do more things with my family, and I consider my little brother (he works out daily and runs triathlons for fun) and my best friend (a pastor planting a new church who has dropped a ton of weight and built enough muscle mass to help Jesus haul the cross up the hill) as examples of what I would like to achieve. However, when I consider the weight I have to lose, the abysmal physical condition I find myself in, and my general distaste for exercise, and then I look at what kind of shape they are in, I consider the goal a foolish dream and have another piece of bacon.  

The problem is, I focus on the enormity of the whole task, and I dismiss it as insurmountable. But folks don't get their way out of debt by winning the lottery or some other windfall. They do it by cutting costs, paying one bill down at a time, and then slowly but surely chipping away at the mountain of debt until they're free from the burden. My brother and my pastor friend didn't get into great shape overnight - they worked out daily, changed their diets (even when they didn't feel like it), and the changes started manifesting in how they felt and looked. 

What's your task? Break it down into two parts. Still too big? Break it down again. And again. Repeat this until the tasks are small enough for you to complete. Once you've accomplished one, move on to the next one. You might find that it gets easier, once you get started, to build on your success. There's momentum that will build behind you, and you can push through the hard/boring/emotionally difficult parts by the investments you've already made. 

What I want to tell my boss (though I probably won't) is that instead of telling me how busy she is and how difficult this whole process is, she needs to start with one thing and do it. Once that task is done, move on to the next one. And eventually, she'll be past it.  

Your daily clichè for this: The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. So what are you waiting for? Start walking. 

Thoughts on Hobby Lobby and SCOTUS

SCOTUS - Supreme Court Of the United States.

Today, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, who argued that providing contraceptive care in accordance with the Affordable Care Act violates their first amendment protections and religious liberties. I've seen lots of banter on social media and had heated text conversations with friends on both sides of this, and there's a lot I want to say about it.

First of all, I don't agree with the ruling. I'm not a legal scholar or anything like that - just a guy who reads a lot and has an opinion on many topics. But when a business owner incorporates or protects him/herself behind an LLC, they separate themselves from the company by a corporate veil to protect their personal assets from litigation. When they do that, they give up certain rights that people have, as protected by the constitution. If they don't want to give up those rights, they shouldn't accept the benefits of being incorporated or becoming an LLC. This issue came up several years ago when corporations were found to be individuals for purposes of campaign contributions. As such, their political speech is protected and they can contribute unlimited funds to political causes, through PACs and whatnot. This has always troubled me - I don't like PACs and I don't like the power that corporations have in America. Corporations are not people and should not have the same rights as people.

That being said, the free exercise of religion must remain sacrosanct in the United States. The first amendment that protects Tom Cruise's right to buy his ex-wife's Operating Thetans for $33 million gives me the right to pray and take communion (the flesh and blood of Christ!) and speak in tongues and everything else. There has to be broad tolerance for all kinds of religious exercise, which is good. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Catholics, evangelicals - all of us deserve the right to practice (or abstain from practicing) religion as we see fit, so long as it isn't infringing on the rights of other people. So I'm sympathetic to the concerns of the pro-life crowd - they sincerely are troubled by and are opposed to abortion; their view is that it is murder. (Full disclosure - I do believe that life begins at conception and I find abortion troubling, but I recognize that it's a complex issue and I hesitate to vilify anyone in regards to this issue.)

All of that said, Hobby Lobby is not opposed to all contraception - their objection is to IUDs, the "Morning After Pill", and abortions. They don't oppose the use of (and coverage of) other contraceptives. From the NYTimes:

"The health care law and related regulations require many employers to provide female workers with comprehensive insurance coverage for a variety of methods of contraception. The companies objected to covering intrauterine devices and so-called morning-after pills, saying they were akin to abortion. Many scientists disagree.

No one has disputed the sincerity of their religious beliefs,” Justice Alito wrote. The dissenters agreed.

The companies said they had no objection to some forms of contraception, including condoms, diaphragms, sponges, several kinds of birth control pills and sterilization surgery. Justice Ginsburg wrote that other companies may object to all contraception, and that the ruling would seem to allow them to opt out of any contraception coverage."

My concerns are with the precedents here. What of a catholic-run for-profit organization that opposes all birth control methods? What of a Jehova's Witness run for-profit corporation that opposes blood transfusions? What of a Christian Science run for-profit organization that doesn't want to provide any health care coverage because they don't believe in going to the doctor, but only in prayer? Can they be exempt from providing health care to their employees? What gives them the right to visit their morality upon their employees? One could cynically dismiss this objection with "if you don't like it, don't work there," but finding work isn't always easy, and for many people, they have to take whatever job is available to them (such an argument was made in Indiana over the smoking ban at bars).

I can see both sides of this argument, and I recognize how difficult it is. But I would appreciate if those who disagree with it wouldn't build dishonest caricatures of Hobby Lobby to express their frustration. As far as I can tell (as reported by the New York Times), Hobby Lobby will still provide coverage for most contraceptives; there are only a handful that they find objectionable. And while I disagree with the ruling, I don't like it when people are sincere in their religious convictions and are vilified for it. That's not productive, and it doesn't do anything to make the problem better.

It's My Party

I turned 32 today.

When I was a kid, it seemed like the grown ups in my life had it all together. My parents always knew what they were doing, they never seemed to be plagued by doubt or fear or uncertainty, and life seemed simple. As a parent, I realize that this was a lie. Grown ups are just making it up as they go along, and we put on a brave face for our kids, but in all reality we're usually just one bad day from completely unraveling. Or maybe that's just me.

The past year hasn't been all that great. I lost my job in November and I've struggled with finding something for the past seven months. The stress of it weighs on me, as well as the financial burdens associated with long(er)-term unemployment. To be totally frank, the 32nd year of my life isn't one that I feel all that much like celebrating.

When I woke up this morning, I wasn't excited or giddy about my birthday. I'm tired and weary and stressed and I'm really ready for a change. As I got dressed and headed off to school for a day of subbing, I rolled everything over in my mind. I don't want to celebrate this year that much, so this is what I've come up with. Last year sucked. Here's to my 33rd year of life - it's going to be better.