07 Dec 2023 @ 2:43 PM 

People sure do talk about how they hate big corporations being in charge of their social media interactions, don’t they? But what is the biggest beneficiary of Elon Musk’s deliberate destruction of Twitter? Meta.

Network effects are a bitch. Threads launched with an automatic user base of “everyone on Instagram.” Since adding a functional web interface, it’s grown to become the de facto home of Twitter refugees. It’s easy to use, but is completely lacking in any kind of unique or distinctive features. Posts are limited to 500 characters, which is the default size of Mastodon posts as well. There is some rudimentary threading, albeit much less robust than Reddit or even LiveJournal circa 2001. Other features are just what everyone expects (blocking of individuals, accounts can be private or public, posts can have images attached, etc.). Honestly, it is entirely less robust than LJ in 2000 was (or Reddit currently is). Users can’t select post-specific privacy – your account is either wide open or friends-only. There’s no text formatting of any kind. There are no groups or pages (whatever terminology you want to use for community profiles).

In every way, Threads is less than what other services provide. It is even less feature-rich than Facebook, which makes me wonder why anyone would choose Meta’s Threads over Meta’s Facebook. I suppose at this point, Threads lacks the overwhelming advertising visible on Facebook, but you know it’s just a matter of time. There’s no way Mark Zuckerberg is going to release a useful product that he makes no money from.

I recently started trying to repost everything I share on Facebook to Threads, BlueSky, and Mastodon (IndieWeb specifically). The engagement on every site is negligible to non-existent, except on Facebook. Between Threads and Facebook, Meta is the big winner of Twitter’s self-immolation. And apparently people are okay with giving their personal data to an eccentric billionaire, as long as he doesn’t act too insane too publicly.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 07 Dec 2023 @ 03:08 PM

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Eleven

 
 11 Nov 2023 @ 1:01 AM 

At the 11th minute on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the armistice which was meant to end the War to End All Wars went into effect. As is typical, the guns didn’t fall silent at the appointed hour, and both sides continued shelling each other until sundown. The armistice was extended multiple times before the peace treaty was finally signed over seven months later. But the repetition of the numbers feels good and it’s the date we ended up with for Armistice Day, later Veterans Day. A day to celebrate the cessation of a horrific war has become a day to celebrate all the people who have served in all the military conflicts of all time. I’ll leave it to learned philosophers to ferret out some meaning in that transition.

I was born into a military family, as evidenced by my Spanish birth certificate and State Department form that has caused no end of confusion over the decades, in schools and later. I never intended to enlist, but the Reagan Recession changed a lot of plans for Gen X folks. Twelve years later, I finally left the U.S. Army, and wanted nothing to do with the military ever again.

Job searches proved that, despite my innate charm and dazzling intellect, I was not going to be given a millionaire’s salary right away. It turns out that an active clearance is worth about six figures to an employer who needs to fulfill certain government contracts, and thus began a series of events where I was never qualified for any position I ever attained. Thankfully, the ability to learn is the way to keeping the job that the clearance let me get.

Here I am, 22 years after getting out, and over five decades of holding a DoD identification of some kind. That’s pretty weird for someone on the left of the political spectrum (in the context of the rightward shift of the Overton Window in the USA), to some. I encounter people nearly every week that assume that all veterans are right-wing MAGA supporters, although that may also be because I’m in west Texas.

I’m incredibly proud to be helping, in my small way, to produce the best-trained military intelligence people we can. I’m not in any way ashamed of my own military service, although I don’t think I accomplished a whole lot compared to so many others. I definitely wish the military wasn’t needed, but (looks around at the whole world), ya know.

Happy Veterans Day to all my fellow veterans, and long life and happiness to every one.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 10 Nov 2023 @ 04:39 PM

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GXAT

 
 08 Nov 2023 @ 2:50 PM 

From Jeff Gordinier’s “X Saves the World,” I present the Generation X Aptitude Test:

  1. Do you want to change the world?
    1. Yes, and I’m proud to say we did it, man. We changed the world. Just look around you!
    2. Yes, absolutely, and I promise I will get back to doing that just as soon as the interest rates return to where they’re supposed to be.
    3. Omigod, omigod, changing the world and helping people is like, totally important to me! I worked in a soup kitchen once and it was so sad but the poor people there had so much dignity!
    4. The way you phrase that question is so fucking cheesy and absurd that I am not even sure I want to continue with this pointless exercise.

That’s the only question, and you know what the correct answer is if you’re truly Gen X.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 08 Nov 2023 @ 02:50 PM

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 03 Nov 2023 @ 3:40 PM 

There has been a lot of discussion about federation in the past year, and for the first time it actually starts to feel like a thing that may happen, as contrasted with previous news blips. Tumblr was one of the first of the legacy social media sites to promise future integration with ActivityPub, the protocol that undergirds Mastodon, Friendica, Pixelfed, PeerTube, Lemmy, and a variety of other fediverse platforms. It’s been a year since that promise, and it looks like it was actually bullshit.

Meanwhile, Jack Dorsey (formerly Twitter chief) finally launched his long-gestating new decentralized social media service, Blue Sky. Blue Sky is famously not going to support ActivityPub, despite AP being a W3C standard. Instead, Blue Sky will support the Authenticated Transfer protocol, which is open source but not an official standard of any unbiased group. Naturally, despite Blue Sky opening up membership to the point where even I have an account there, it is still restricted to a single site. It may be running on an open protocol, but there’s no way to tell that, since no other sites can federate with it.

Around the same time as Blue Sky launched via invites, Mark Zuckerberg’s micro-blogging platform Threads went wide. Threads is a subsite of Instagram, and recently its website became useful (previously, it was restricted to mobile apps only, much as Instagram was for a surprisingly long time). Threads is supposedly going to support ActivityPub one day. When? Don’t hold your breath.

The dream of a lot of older geeks is to go back to the days before SEO destroyed the egalitarian nature of the late 1990s web. But, the hazy memories inherent in nostalgic reminiscing obscure the problems that the old days of GeoCities and LiveJournal had. The barrier to internet entry back in the late 20th Century was significant. Now, with sites such as Facebook, it’s easy to get online and connect. It’s easy to write the longest rants you want, without needing to worry about coding. But, those easy sites are also incredibly limited. Facebook still, after more than fifteen years, does not support basic text formatting that LJ had in 1999. And, of course, we can’t forget that the various bots and employees of Meta can just randomly delete your post, or entire account, and there’s literally nothing you can do about it – it’s not your site. Here’s an interesting article about the promise of POSSE to own your own thoughts, but still connect to the greater social media world. I’ve attempted to use this paradigm myself over the years, with varying success – mostly failure.

Here’s the dream: I post here on AndySocial, and it gets reposted to all the places I want it to, and people can read my incredibly important thoughts no matter where they are. If the destination site has a character limit (and why do any have limits, are we using Nokia flip phones to access social media?), the syndicated feed could be just an excerpt with a link back to the original, or maybe automatically create a threaded series of posts. And then there’s the reality, which is much less functional.

Once upon a time, I could post here and it would repost to Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal, and Medium. Any blogging platform that understood the RSS protocol (which was once dominant) could subscribe passively, and all would work great. The RSS feed is still there, but the death of Google Reader was just the most obvious sign of the death of people taking RSS seriously as a method of syndication. Facebook killed the ability to post to it from my site. Medium killed the ability to post to it as well. Twitter killed that ability almost as soon as Musk bought it. That leaves LiveJournal as the only site that I automatically reposted to for a while.

In the past few months, the owners of WordPress bought the clunky and barely-functional ActivityPub plugin for WordPress, and got it to be actually useful without requiring building things from source code. So, now I can automatically repost to any ActivityPub site. For me, that is my IndieWeb Mastodon account and my Venera Friendica account. Unfortunately, the number of people who actively use the ActivityPub-based fediverse is a tiny fraction of those on Facebook.

Network effects are a bitch.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 03 Nov 2023 @ 03:40 PM

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 21 Dec 2022 @ 2:50 PM 

Since Twitter continues to be a source of drama, and the formerly obscure Fediverse has become prominent enough to be front-page of the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, maybe the current shakeup will continue for a while longer. This will inevitably lead to some issues with growing pains, including issues around a “business model” for social media sites or platforms.

There are a lot of perspectives regarding social media, including some who advocate for essentially moving back to a standards-based individualized model, akin to the RSS reader era, with everyone maintaining their own blogs on their own sites but interacting through RSS and web rings and such. That was clunky in 1998, and it’s clunky today. I think this is a bit of a non-starter in 2023.

The next big option is to run your own personal Fediverse server. Let’s pretend that federating your blog was easy (I’ve tried, and it’s not). If I’m running my blog here at my own site, and I federate with a hundred or so other individuals, I’ll be able to see them and interact with them in one interface, let’s say Mastodon but it could be Friendica or CalcKey or one of the other members of the Fediverse. But, finding other interesting people would be a chore, and more importantly, most people have no interest in being a system administrator, even for a site with only one user.

That leads to the currently trending approach – join an existing Fediverse instance and let someone else handle the maintenance and moderation tasks. Yes, every user can individually choose how and with whom they’ll interact, but if your local feed ends up being filled with spam, that’s a task for a system guy and not for the users. This seems to be working pretty well for most of us who are trying to build communities and communicate across the Fediverse. So far, this is mostly being funded by donations. People donate to Eugen Rochko to support the Mastodon software, and donate to Mastodon.Social (one of the biggest servers) to pay for the servers and administration. Can we truly count on voluntary donations to make all this work? DreamHost (my web host) does not work on a donation model, nor does Amazon Web Services (where many Fediverse servers store their static content). It’s not how we usually do things in real life or online – we have structure, not charity.

But, the Fediverse has a bit of a culture of being anti-commercial. That isn’t to say people cannot promote their own work, but that people don’t want to see advertising in the feed. I’d wager that any instance that started trying to support itself with ads would get de-federated by nearly every other instance, and would end up as a disconnected blog site. So, if ads are not going to work, what will? Would you pay a monthly fee to be a member of your local Mastodon or Friendica group?

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 21 Dec 2022 @ 02:50 PM

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 01 Nov 2022 @ 3:04 PM 

Hey, remember blogs? It’s beginning to feel like they might be making a comeback. I’ve been around these here interwebs a long time, and social media has risen and morphed a lot in that time. Meanwhile, actually owning your own domain and putting up your own shit there has never gone away and has remained fully functional. My first iteration of the BunkBlog was on GeoCities, in the SiliconValley subdivision, maybe unit 7309? Anyway, it’s long gone but the Wayback Machine still has some bits and pieces of it. My oldest post I can find is from 1998, and was about rude assholes on the internet. Some things are just evergreen, aren’t they?

Early Connections

Once upon a time, it required actual effort to have an online presence. Pre-Web, the presence you curated was on individual bulletin board systems (BBS) that each had their own culture and rules. Most BBSes were just one guy with a spare computer, or in some cases one guy with a computer that he left available during specific hours of the day. Of course, most of those only had a single phone line attached, so everything was done asynchronously, and discussions were necessarily fairly slow, often taking months to reach a consensus. We were social, but very deliberate – when we really wanted to have a gathering, we literally gathered. I had BBS meetups at pizza parlors and public parks. BBSes weren’t just limited to local areas, though. There was a decent-sized protocol called FidoNet, which used a “store and forward” system to send batches of electronic messages around the world. With the speed of modems and the frequency of sending batches varying wildly between FidoNet nodes, it may have been many hours, possibly even days, before your message reached its destination, but it opened the world to computer geeks.

By the early 1980s, it was becoming obvious that home computers weren’t just a fad, and that people liked reaching out to form online communities. Some companies popped up, such as Genie and Prodigy and QuantumLink and AOL and CompuServe (I had a QuantumLink account with my 1200 baud modem on a Commodore 64). Each had their own forums and communities, and because they were on bigger computers with actual infrastructure, it was possible to do real-time chatting with other humans. Then, the internet became open to commercial users, instead of just government and educational users, gradually through the first half of the 1990s, until the NSFNet fiber backbone was decommissioned and it became the wild west in 1995.

Social Media

We started to look for persistent connections and build communities almost as soon as the internet became accessible to all. Web sites joined “rings” that were built on various affinities, and by 2000 there were a multiple new tools available. LiveJournal was a personal site that went big, producing a new generation of people who were logging their thoughts and connecting with each other. We had communities devoted to nearly any topic imaginable, and we could tweak the style of our personal pages within some limits, so our web logs became blogs became our means of expressing ourselves. LJ had privacy levels, it had (eventually) nested comment threads, it had groups and filters and introduced the term “friend” to mean “some person that I like to read on the internet.” LJ reached a height of a couple million users, and then the owner sold it to a company that sold it to a Russian company and now it’s effectively dead in the USA. Along the same time, Myspace rose, offering another customizable cacophony of colors and blink text. Myspace flamed out even faster than LJ, being bought by Rupert Murdoch and then essentially killed off for personal use. Bands stuck around for a while, but even they didn’t persist much past the rise of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and all the other sites we have today.

One abiding feature of the old online communities was moderation, via humans who either were paid or volunteered to police each forum for rules violations. Most would offer a warning or two for scofflaws, and if they were ignored the offender got chucked out the metaphorical airlock. Sadly, moderation does not scale very well, as we see in the modern social media sites. Trying to automate moderation produces nonsense. In multiple instances, I’ve seen people report or flag content that is offensive or violates a site’s terms of service (Nazi symbiology is the most obvious and flagrant), and the person reporting the content gets their account suspended, while the Nazi remains on the service. Robots are bad at making judgment calls.

It seems that lack of good judgment is not a problem to the owners of the modern social media sites, because they are not actually in the business of providing communities. They are in the business of providing demographic data to advertisers and data miners. As the saying goes, if you’re not paying for a service, you’re the product and not the customer. Facebook and Twitter don’t give a shit about you and your desire to reconnect with high school classmates – they just want that advertiser gold.

Profit Motives Suck

There are many things that capitalism has proven good at, with the appropriate level of regulation and oversight. I think many people have realized that monetizing human interactions is not a great thing for the humans. Various alternative social media platforms have come up over the years, attempting to break the network effect problem that keeps people on Facebook and Twitter. Mastodon appears to be the protocol that may actually finally beat the profit-focused social media world.

Mastodon is more a set of communication standards than it is a web site or platform. The main site, mastodon.social, has reached its capacity long ago. When I created my first Mastodon account, in 2017, they were already telling people to join mastodon.cloud for general-purpose uses, or to find one of the other instances that had already popped up. I’m not going to reiterate what others have written about the service, but the federation and deliberate nature of connecting, and the non-profit nature of the entire fediverse (get used to weird terminology), really seems like something that may take off.

There are thousands of Mastodon users, broken into different servers with different communities, but they can all (within limits) link together. If you’re tired of Mark Zuckerberg’s robots telling you that pointing to the hate speech is worse than hate speech, or if you’re tired of Elon Musk spreading misinformation on his personal web site, maybe check out Mastodon. It’s a slower, simpler, more social media site.

Oh, and read Cory Doctorow. He’s pretty damned clever.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 01 Nov 2022 @ 03:13 PM

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 29 Aug 2020 @ 12:55 PM 

I had the latest and greatest version of Facebook’s interface force-updated recently. Like so many recent website updates, it appears that the intended audience either can’t see very well, or is using the website with a touch screen. Here’s my standard home screen under the old theme:

This is what it looks like on a 1080p monitor if I maximize the browser. Obviously, I never maximize the browser for Facebook – it wastes half the width of the screen. But, you can see over a dozen links on the left, including my curated list of shortcuts, and you can see one full post from a group I belong to, and the beginning of another. Here’s that same data, with the new theme:

It still wastes some space if you maximize it, but it isn’t quite as egregious. What is egregious, though, is that Facebook now decides that I need to see “Stories” (a feature almost nobody uses on purpose) and provides the option to create a random group (a feature almost nobody understand the purpose of). Those aren’t optional, and they waste a lot of vertical space. Meanwhile, the “contacts” list, which was collapsible in the classic mode, is just there all the time, providing visual clutter.

Look at the “classic” theme again, and you’ll see small numbers next to some of the shortcuts on the left. This shows, at a glance, how many posts or comments are unread in specific groups or pages. The equivalent information in the new theme is just all clumped together in the fourth icon on the top row. That claims there are six groups with new comments or posts, but I don’t know which group unless I click that icon. Maybe some groups are things I care about deeply, and others only casually. Too bad – they’re all the same now.

Over in the chat and notification drop-downs, we have more insults to efficiency. I’m not going to show screen shots, because I don’t want to blur out everything repeatedly, but you can conduct this experiment on your own. In the chat menu, at the bottom of the legacy view, is “Mark all read.” Boom, now the slate is wiped clean and you are all caught up. That option is completely missing in the new view. In the notification menu, the legacy mode shows “mark all read” right at the top, very easy. The new view hides it under a menu of other options that you’ll likely never use.

There are a number of other minor annoyances. Even if you can’t use plugins (like Social Fixer that you can see in my screen shots), the legacy view allows you to switch from the much-reviled default “top stories” view into a “recent” view that is vastly more intuitive. The new view doesn’t have that feature on the “news feed” menu option (because that option is missing), and instead it is under the down-arrow in an option called “recent” – at least it’s there, but it’s more work to get to. When reposting a link, in the classic view, we have the option to “include original” which would repost the link and the commentary from the person’s post where you found it. In the new theme, there is no option — your new post will include the link to the source and nothing else.

Why does Facebook want to make using their service more tedious?

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 03 Sep 2020 @ 10:18 AM

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 04 Jan 2019 @ 12:07 PM 

People are increasingly amazed and sometimes aghast that I do not carry a cell phone and do not own a smartphone. “Gary, you’re such a massive geek, how do you not have a pocket computer welded to you at all times?” Well, let me tell you a tale of technology and pragmatism when living where I do and working where I do.

I live in a small city which is about 100 miles from the nearest slightly-larger city, and hundreds of miles from a real metropolis. I’m trying to pay down long-term debt and build up some savings so that we can leave this city when an opportunity arises. To that end, I’m not going to spend money on a piece of cool technology that I can’t use to its full potential. If I’m not traveling (which I’m not), the use for the smartphone would be to use it around town, at work, at home – essentially all the time. I used to carry a PDA, sixteen years ago. I know how useful it is to have a brain extension with you at all times. It’s less useful if you can’t use it most of the day.

And the reason I can’t use it leads to the place I work. I cannot take portable electronic devices with cameras, microphones, cellular radios, or most other things that are more advanced than a CD player into my work place. The option most people who do own smartphones take is to leave their expensive pocket computer in the car while they are in the building. This links with “where I live” to become a bad idea. It’s hot here in the summer, and summer is about 8 months long some years. If it’s 115 degrees outside, how hot is the interior of your car? How does that affect the ability of your phone to operate or be held by a normal human hand, or not explode? I’m not gonna risk it, just so I can use the phone in my car and my home, while still not using it at work because I’d get fired if I tried.

So, car use is out, work use is out. That leaves home use. Sure, I have had a tablet for years, first the Xoom, then a Shield, Nexus 9, and now a Kindle Fire. I’d use a better tablet if someone would make one that wasn’t over $1000. Clearly, I could replace a tablet with a phone. But, a tablet has an 8″ or larger screen, and I’m not 20 so bigger is better in some cases. And, the tablet doesn’t need a monthly fee to keep working. Meanwhile, I also have a gaming PC. This is a not-insignificant expense, and I’d much rather prioritize replacing that box every five years than a less-powerful phone every two. I also have a home phone. I have a phone in my office. I am not hard to get in contact with, and I do not feel any need to be contactable at a moment’s notice 24/7.

To summarize, I do not own a smartphone because the only place I’d use it is at home or when traveling. I have better toys to use at home, and my wife has a smartphone that we use when traveling. In the massively unlikely event I need to travel alone, I do maintain a Tracfone. It stays in the car, and costs me about $100 per year to keep it from expiring. I think it has 1500 minutes right now, because I literally never talk to anyone.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 04 Jan 2019 @ 12:07 PM

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 07 Nov 2018 @ 12:01 AM 

It’s been twenty years since the first post on this blog, the still-topical Rude Online Bastards piece. While I have one of the oldest blogs still extant among my acquaintances (John Scalzi has me beat by a few months), the traffic definitely dropped some years back. The rise of LiveJournal and MySpace didn’t change things much, and in fact helped to drive traffic around the entire web. But, Facebook has really crushed the standalone web log (as it was once known). I did eventually learn to not cringe at the neologism “blog,” and now it’s essentially a relic. Ah, well.

Meanwhile, there are still trolls and jerks online, and twenty years of progress has not reduced their numbers in the slightest.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 07 Nov 2018 @ 03:51 PM

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 06 Jul 2017 @ 11:51 AM 

You can call it multi-level marketing, you can call it network marketing, you can call it Alfred, but the facts are that MLM-based home businesses are almost universally pyramid schemes (even if they are technically legal) that will drain money from 98 percent of the participants. It’s sad to see how many people get sucked into the ever-growing array of these things.

There are a wide array of articles in the wild that will give many details on why MLMs are generally poor businesses to get involved in. I’ll give a few links to those throughout and at the end, but I want to just look at things from a basic critical-thinking viewpoint first. The main issues with MLMs that I see are that they require you to create your own competition; and that in order to be financially secure, you need to be at the top of the line, which is almost certainly not the case for anyone who didn’t invent the particular business franchise. A couple other points are how much you’ll alienate everyone in your life, and how most MLM-based products are either over-priced or utter garbage.

Competition

So you want to sell cosmetics, or hair care products, or weight-loss devices, or whatever it is that the particular “business opportunity” your best friend got you to buy into over drinks one night. That’s cool. But, the day of door-to-door sales is over, so how do you get people to buy your thing? You could set up a real storefront, but that requires even more money as a sunk cost before you make sales. You could go to vendor shows, but you’ll soon find that there are five Scentsy distributors at every major show, so how do you get traction there? And as you get frustrated not making sales, that bestie who got you started will be there to tell you about passive income. This amazing feature of the multi-level sales model allows you to make money when someone else sells something. All you have to do is go out and recruit people to sell in their own area and you can get a piece of their pie as well as your own. Wow, that’s amazing. But wait a minute – where are they selling, and where is your mentor selling? You all live in the same town, and now you are all trying to sell the same thing to the same market. Gee, that seems sustainable.

There’s a reason you see one guy owning multiple Burger King franchises spread across a city, but you don’t see a BK owner encouraging someone else to build a Wendy’s next door – businesses generally don’t want more competition if they can avoid it. Yet, the MLM model essentially requires that you create your own competition in your own town. The only way to really make any significant down-line income is to recruit more than one person to compete against you. And then you end up with five Scentsy distributors at every show.

Getting Rich

Math is hard. People tell us that all the time. And some math is hard. But simple two-dimensional geometry is not that difficult. Almost anyone can figure it out.

Many MLM plans suggest getting five down-line distributors working for you at each level. So, your five direct “subordinates” would also recruit five people each. And now you’ve got 30 competitors trying to sell the same perfume you’re selling. But, you no longer even try to sell anything, because you’re managing your down-line. And how long can that down-line build? Well, funny you should ask. Let’s look at each “generation” down the line, and you’ll see how difficult it is to make money if you’re not at the very top of the food chain.

One generation below you, five people. Each of the first generation recruits five people and that’s 25 in the second generation. Each of them recruits five people, and that’s 125 in the third generation. There are 625 in Gen4, over 3000 in Gen5, and the entire population of the earth couldn’t fill the thirteenth generation. This looks a lot like a very fat pyramid, but I’m sure that’s merely a coincidence.

Who makes money at MLMs? The founders. They get people to work for them, and the top couple tiers even have a good chance at making a lot of money. Once you get below four levels from the top, you’re lucky to make anything like a real salary. And for most of us, the middle class and working class folks that see an opportunity that only requires a small initial investment – you’re the one paying for the folks above you. Herbalife’s “supervisors” (the top 20% of their distributors) have a median net income of $0 from Herbalife; imagine what the other 80% must be making! Well over 95% of MLM distributors or vendors (or whatever fancy word that means “participant” they use) lose money. When Amway was sued in 1982, the state of Wisconsin found that the average income for a direct distributor (which is one that has a down-line working for them) was a loss of nearly one thousand dollars per year. Adjusted for inflation, that’s over $2500 today. In 1995, over 65% of NuSkin’s profits went to 200 of their 63,000 distributors. Yes, 99.7% of the people lost money or broke even.

Alienation of Affection

If you use social media, you have almost certainly seen many posts from friends, family, and acquaintances who are trying to get you to come to their product party. Yay, day drinking and playing with makeup! Wooo! And then she tries to get you to be in her down-line, and the hangover hits hard. Nobody wants their friends to harass them to buy their stuff. This is not a thing that anyone has ever hoped for.

But, if you want to maintain that passive income, you need to be actively seeking new members of your team, and helping your down-line members recruit more members as well. You can’t just rest on your laurels, because people quit. People quit MLMs as soon as they realize they’re never going to make more money than a real job, or when their spouse tells them they have enough damned Mary Kay and now they can’t afford the bankruptcy lawyer they are definitely going to need soon. In 1999, a big MLM company stated in court that their drop-out rate was one of the lowest in the industry, at a mere 5.5% per month. So, those thirty people in the two levels right below you? One of them needs to be replaced every few weeks, if you’re lucky. In 1995, Excel Communications stated they had a drop-out rate of over 85% per year. Hopefully you’re good at making friends, because you’re going to be annoying the hell out of the ones you already have.

Hard to Sell

An Amway distributor named Sidney Schwartz thought that Amway’s analysis of their products, where they claimed to be cheaper than their competition, was flawed. His own analysis, which he posted for the world to see (in contrast to Amway’s summary-only approach) showed that most of their products were about twice as expensive as equivalent products at the grocery store. At least nobody claims Amway’s soaps and cereals are garbage; they’re just pricey.

Many of the products sold through MLM companies fall into the over-priced category. Some of them joyfully embrace that, such as Pampered Chef. Marketing luxury products at prices above the local store is easier to do than marketing commodity items for luxury prices. The various MLM jewelry companies (Stella & Dot, Premier Designs, etc.) generally sell necklaces and bracelets you can find nearly anywhere for less. It Works, the much-hyped body wrap that was everywhere in 2015, very clearly does not work despite its name.

Conclusion

I’ve got a small business. I’m not in any way opposed to entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial spirit. But, if something seems to good to be true, or if it seems too easy, it’s wise to be skeptical. If someone is trying to help you start a business, it’s a good idea to ask what they’re getting out of it before you commit.

With the KARE Crafts business, I have attended many local vendor shows. Most of them have been craft shows, and everything there is made by hand, by the people selling it to the public right there in their booths. It’s authentic, it’s real, and it’s almost universally a bargain. Going to general-interest vendor shows can be a very different experience. The vendors have to compete to get in because most small shows only want one of each MLM brand represented, and even in a small city like San Angelo (population under 100,000), there are more Younique and Scentsy distributors than are sustainable. It’s like the small business equivalent of a strip-mall. You know, no matter where you go in the USA, you’ll see the same Tupperware and Herbalife products.

Worse than the sameness and blandness of the MLM dominance of small businesses, though, is the lack of profitability. I’d much rather see my friends and acquaintances making money for themselves than losing money in the likely-vain hope that one day they’ll get the big check.

Additional Reading

It Works does not – a quick explanation of how there’s no way “It Works” actually works

Report to FTC detailing how 99 percent of MLM participants lose money

Amway: the Untold Story – one distributor’s story of his years selling Amway products

Pink Truth started as a community to discuss the truth behind Mary Kay’s pink façade, but they’ve grown to include forums covering a lot of other MLMs that target women (which is their traditional target)

False Profits promotes a book by the same name, but has a lot of articles discussing the various “get rich” schemes, including MLMs and Ponzi schemes

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 08 Sep 2017 @ 10:09 PM

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 09 Nov 2016 @ 1:00 AM 

The unexamined life is not worth living. – Socrates


It’s no surprise that I spent a lot of my supposedly formative years living an interior life – lots of reading, computer programming, games, etc. This is not to say that I never went outside. I had a dirt bike that I loved to ride in Minnesota, and camping had not lost its luster for me in those early days. Taking the L.A. River to Seal Beach on single-gear beach cruisers (in the years before anyone was pretentious enough to use the term “fixie”) was another great way to spend time with friends. I say that these were my supposedly formative years, because I think I’ve continued to form since then, with a nice burst of formation happening during my Army service. Travel truly is enlightening, and being forced to work and live with people from other backgrounds is a fine way to expand the mind as well.

I’m guessing a significant number of people live a life that Socrates would consider unworthy. They don’t examine their decisions, their beliefs, or their biases. They react to things which make them feel strongly, and don’t wonder if they’re being manipulated (intentionally or not). These people can’t comprehend that others do spend time thinking about why they should or should not believe things. Talking with them can be fascinating, but not for long. It’s like talking to the old Eliza chat program – it resembles a conversation, but nobody is actually conveying any information to the other participant.

Philosophers have come up with a number of terms and concepts regarding ethics. One of the concepts in ethics that is applicable to politics is “utilitarianism.” The basics are that we should make decisions based on the least harm or greatest benefit that the results would create. So, we should choose policies that have the best end result, regardless of the rationale for those policies. Deontology is another concept, which says we should make decisions based on the inherent rightness or wrongness of the actions, regardless of the eventual consequences. There’s a lot more depth to both of these concepts, and to the varying interpretations, but this should be a good start.

When we look at the society we have today, and the society we might dream of it becoming, we can think of doing the right thing, or we can think of doing the thing which produces the best result, and sometimes they’re even the same plan. That balancing act is tough to handle at times, but I’m not willing to just appeal to authority and make what someone else says is the One True Choice.

My views on society are, like most thoughtful people I know, not always perfectly coherent. There are always holes where I may not have spent enough time thinking through a position. Many times, I have to admit ignorance and try to avoid forming a concrete opinion on an issue that others have expertise and personal experience with. I’m generally on the side of utilitarianism, but there are times when you just have to do the right thing (apologies to Spike Lee). Fortunately, we rarely encounter a real-life version of the Trolley Problem in our lives.

This is all well and good, you say, but what the hell is the point? I’m mostly wool gathering, but it’s been prompted by seeing the sheer volume of people who will parrot nonsense, and when challenged, rely on “well we’ll never agree.” Yeah, if we can’t talk without rancor, we won’t agree. If we can’t both acknowledge the other as a fully-formed human being with opinions which are honestly held, we won’t agree. If we can’t put aside the silly name calling and tribalism and try to understand why we believe things that others think are ridiculous (and they believe things we think are ridiculous), we’ll never agree.

I’ve seen a few of my friends recently try to engage with people who have differing political views. My friends have all (and this is why they’re friends) been unfailingly polite, and attempted to defuse the defensive posturing to get to a core, “why do you say that” answer. Alas, I’ve never seen this end with a sharing of views. I’ve seen the defensive person just disappear or disappear after the “agree to disagree” comment, but at no point explicating WHY the opinion was held in the first place. It’s truly maddening.

So, I can only come to the conclusion that some significant number of our fellow humans don’t think much, and can’t understand those who do. Everything must be simpler when all answers are obvious, and nothing has nuance or subtlety. I don’t live in that world, but it sounds like a cartoon to me. I’ve found that humans are rarely caricatures. I know many gun owners who are in favor of stricter gun control. I know people who are pro-choice and pro-gun, in favor of environmental causes and also in favor of nuclear power. None of the people I would consider friends would call someone a “libtard” or a “rethuglican” except as a clear joke. I think the nation and the world would be better off if we could stop with the tribalism (and that’s what party politics are) and start trying to see the common humanity in our fellow people.

And, seriously – think about things.


As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. – Thoreau

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 08 Sep 2017 @ 10:11 PM

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 08 Aug 2014 @ 2:46 PM 

I’m testing a new plugin for WordPress to post to Livejournal. The old one seems to be inserting random characters in my posts, and breaking URLs and otherwise not functioning as desired. The fact that it hasn’t been updated in a year, while WordPress has been updated a dozen times since then, leads me to blame incompatibility between new WP and old plugin.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 08 Aug 2014 @ 02:46 PM

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 08 Aug 2014 @ 9:50 AM 

So many Facebook posts are mindless or poorly-considered reposts of something vastly misleading or irrelevant. Here are some I’ve seen this week.

For example, “Bibles are not allowed in schools.” This is not true, and has never been true. The only prohibition is that teachers and staff can’t force or coerce students in religion. There has never been a case that was upheld in which a student was forbidden from bringing a Bible (or other religious book) to school, nor from praying in a non-intrusive fashion.

“The President takes a lot of vacation,” claim folks on the Right. No, he doesn’t. He takes more than I do, but I also don’t have to be on-call even while on vacation. I’m not sure the President could ever be considered to be truly on vacation, as he takes his entire operations center with him everywhere. He does not take more vacation than his predecessors. Let’s say he keeps up the pace he’s been, which is around 21 days of vacation per year. That will be 168 days in 8 years, or just about the same number as Bill Clinton (174) and significantly less than GW Bush (1020 days according to his Library, with 490 of them in Crawford) or Reagan (335 at his California ranch). I can’t seem to find someone with good numbers on George H.W. Bush’s full term, but by all accounts he was below average in days away from D.C. in his term (another reason to like Poppy Bush). Obama’s vacations do tend to cost more than the Bush or Reagan vacations, since he doesn’t own a vacation home and has to pay (OK, we have to pay) for his lodging.

“American soldiers in the Middle East are being forced to observe Ramadan fasting restrictions!” No, they’re not. Well, not really. It’s complicated. If you’re stationed overseas, there are two sets of laws you need to follow. If you’re on-base, you follow US laws, as modified by the military and local command. If you’re off-base, you follow the local laws. In Saudi Arabia, it is literally illegal to not fast during the Ramadan days of fasting. That’s the local law. To ensure that US service members don’t run afoul of the local law, there are briefings telling them what they need to do, off-base. They can still go to the chow hall or Burger King on-base, with no problems of any kind.

Any statement that begins with “liberals believe” or “conservatives believe” is probably bullshit. It rises to near-certainty if the terms used are “libtard” or “rethuglican.” No group seems to be well-represented by the loudest members of that group in modern politics. Most conservatives and liberals seem to disagree with most of what the two political parties put forward as party platforms, as if “conservative” is not synonymous with “Republican” and “liberal” is not synonymous with “Democrat.” Go figure. Most actual people are not cartoon character villains, and pretending they are does no one any good.

I have nothing profound to say, just ranting about nonsense which is easily refuted by two seconds with the Google. Before you repost something that sounds great to you, maybe take a little time to find out if it’s got any basis in reality.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 08 Aug 2014 @ 09:50 AM

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 02 Jun 2014 @ 11:05 AM 

I have a lot of veteran friends, obviously. But, I also have a lot of non-vet friends who may not fully understand what’s going on with Bergdahl, or not get why so many vets are ambivalent about his fate.

In 2009, Bergdahl was an odd duck, a leg infantryman (not qualified to jump out of planes) in an airborne unit. He was also apparently a bit of a philosopher, and seems to have become somewhat conflicted about the actions of the USA in Afghanistan. This is not uncommon among both vets and non-vets. It’s certainly true that we made some bone-headed moves, as well as smart moves. The balance is not something I’m going to get into, but it’s definitely an important backdrop for Bergdahl’s story.

He left his forward operating base (tiny outpost in dangerous territory) one morning, and was not seen again by the public except on video until this week.

So…the discussion centers around what the hell this low-ranking soldier was doing leaving a safe-ish zone in the middle of a war zone, while leaving his buddies to take up his slack. It becomes increasingly clear that Bergdahl was, at best, a confused young man. He apparently thought life should be more like the movies, and he was the hero. He may have thought he could change the Taliban into warm fuzzies, he may have just felt guilty about the small part he played in destroying pieces of Afghanistan. There’s no way to be certain at this time, but his motivations are almost beside the point.

The biggest point to veterans is this – he left his buddies in the lurch. He was part of a team. That team needed to trust *every* member to do his duty, and be where he was supposed to be, doing the job he was supposed to do. Any person missing not only reduces the effectiveness of the group by his absence, but reduces the effectiveness because they are duty-bound to try to find his ass. Trust and honor are words that carry a lot of weight in the military. These guys all needed to know that the guy sitting next to them would be capable and ready to defend each other without fail. One guy going missing isn’t just one guy – he’s a wound that is hard to heal in the body of that unit. The unit wants to be complete and whole, and will work to find missing or fallen members.

And this is what they did. His platoon (group of 30-50 men with guns) searched for him, taking away from their mission of defending a small part of Afghanistan. At least six people died during searches for Bergdahl. Some people say that the continuing low-level mission of “find Bergdahl” may have cost many other lives, but the military is not confirming that publicly.

Regardless of his motivations, and regardless of his causing disruption to his unit, there is also the constant reminder over the last five years that we had one prisoner of war in Afghanistan, and we wanted him back. We wanted him back because “No Man Left Behind” is a saying that soldiers believe in. He may have been a soup sandwich, but he was an American soldier, and damned if we didn’t want him returned to us. Several of my Army comrades have been posting “Bowe Tuesday” reminders for years, reinforcing that PFC Bergdahl was wanted back in the fold. Later, that became SGT Bergdahl, as without a determination of desertion, he was entitled to automatic promotion while a prisoner.

Now, he’s back, and the cost may be high (how valuable the prisoners we’re giving up are is a debate for someone with much more knowledge than I have about the subject), but he’s back. I assume there will be an investigation into his departure, but it will probably be very low-key and out of the public eye. I do know that he’s unlikely to ever serve another day as a normal soldier. If he’s still wearing a uniform in a year, I’ll be very surprised. I’m very curious whether his views on the relative value of American vs. Taliban culture and justice have changed.

So, welcome home, SGT Bergdahl. You’ve got some explaining to do.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 08 Sep 2017 @ 10:12 PM

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 20 Mar 2014 @ 2:34 PM 

I may have, once or twice, stooped to derogatory name-calling when mentioning a major public figure in the past. If you look, I’m sure somewhere I may have called G.W. Bush “Shrub” as so many others did, thinking we were witty. But, in general, I referred to him as President Bush or Dubya. I can defend Dubya as not derogatory, as that’s what so many of his friends and family called him for decades. On those occasions when I was childish, I apologize for being childish.

It doesn’t seem that anyone on the Right is capable of calling the current President by his actual name. This does not make them seem witty, any more than referring to Bush as “Shrub” did years ago. Further, it seems that they can’t stop doing it, nor coming up with an ever-increasing list of names they think are clever. Not only are they not clever, they serve as a barrier to entry for anyone not already in the bubble where these things circulate. This may be deliberate on the part of some pundits, but certainly the average person one encounters is merely following along in someone else’s script. This has actually been going on far longer than the Obama administration. I can’t tell you how many times I had to ask someone to whom they were referring when they would use a completely impenetrable nom de wit for a public figure. Uncle Joe, Moochelle, Obummer, etc. – the list seems endless. The effect can frequently be that nobody who isn’t already part of the conservative movement even knows what you’re talking about and therefore won’t engage in conversation. This leads to conservatives erecting a wall of rhetoric, never hearing anything that doesn’t reinforce their belief that libtards and commies and nazis are taking over the government and the UN is leading troops into the US to round every True Patriot up and put them in FEMA camps, financed by the Amero coins and the Law of the Sea Treaty, or whatever Jerome Corsi wrote about this week.

I’m not saying liberals don’t engage in name-calling. I know they do. They’re just not as all-encompassing about it. Most of the liberal pundits will call Boehner by his actual name, no matter how tempting it would be to mispronounce it. And they referred to President Bush by his name most of the time. Most liberals do not call Republicans “Rethuglicans” except when a specific group is acting like bullies. Most of the time, these things are true. When conservatives refer to liberal name calling, they most often point to liberals calling conservatives stupid or racist or misogynist. This is a form of name-calling, to be sure, but they are at least actual words with known meanings, as opposed to “libtard” which is pretty darned weird. My theory on the ubiquity of conservative terms, as contrasted with the truly disorganized liberal canon, is that conservatives are just a whole lot better at staying “on message” and on framing debates. Hell, they even made “liberal” into a term so dirty that most Lefties call themselves progressive now. It’s impressive. The out party is much more likely to engage in rhetorical bomb-throwing, which is why the name-calling and general unpleasantness is heaviest from the Right currently. The Left should not get a pass on this either, but they’re just not as noisy about this particular gambit currently.

And then there are the non sequiturs. Yes, we get it, President Obama (sorry, B. Hussein Obummer) wears “mom jeans.” Haha. And this means what, exactly? At least come up with something that is relevant to the discussion, eh? Sure, it’s possible that unflattering casual wear is a thing that has some importance, but most of us do not work for GQ. Oh, and he wore a bike helmet? Yeah, so did GW Bush when he went for a bike ride as President. It’s just being a good example for the children of the country.

If you can’t call someone by their actual name, if you refer to anyone you don’t agree with by derogatory terms, do you expect to influence anyone? Or are you just trying to prove to your imagined audience of sycophants how clever you are, because you can parrot names someone else coined? It’s pathetic, and it’s a sure way to get blocked or ignored by me anyway. Grow up.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 20 Mar 2014 @ 02:37 PM

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Cedar

 
 13 Jan 2014 @ 1:11 PM 

I would like to inform my fellow west Texas residents that the cedar tree is a large evergreen, not a shrub. Just so you know, here’s a cedar tree:
Great_cedar_tree,_Stanley_Park,_Vancouver,_BC,_1897

This is a juniper bush:

Juniper

And this is a tamarix plant:
Tamarisk

 

Just sayin’.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 13 Jan 2014 @ 01:11 PM

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 16 Jul 2013 @ 7:11 AM 

Like anyone else with a functioning neocortex and access to modern media, I have an opinion about the Trayvon Martin shooting. And, like almost everyone else, my opinion was worth exactly zero in the legal proceedings that just ended. This is what is supposed to happen; if you’re not part of the case, your vote is not counted. Also, the media don’t share every iota of information that the jury received, but do add a lot of information that the jury is told to ignore from a legal standpoint. This is just how things work in America. There are rules of evidence that are fundamental to ensuring that innocent people don’t get convicted. These rules don’t always work, to be sure (check out The Innocence Project if you ever feel that police and DAs are infallible), but there are rules nonetheless.

The evidence that is agreed true by all legal experts is that Zimmerman saw Martin walking in the rain at night, in a neighborhood that has had a rash of burglaries. Zimmerman was told by the police dispatcher that they would prefer he not confront Martin directly, but that was not a legal order, just a request. Between that moment and the moment that the police showed up, the only other thing we all know for sure is that Zimmerman fired his pistol and killed Martin. We do not know who the original aggressor was. We do not know if Zimmerman was acting under some racist animus. We do not know what Zimmerman and Martin said to each other. If you claim to know, you’re wrong. If you claim that Martin assaulted Zimmerman before he was killed in self-defense, you are making that up. If you claim that Zimmerman gunned Martin down in cold blood, you are making that up. You just do not know.

I have my own biases and beliefs and feelings about the case, and I think Zimmerman is a well-meaning man who did something stupid that ended tragically. But, I don’t know that for sure, and it’s equally likely that any number of scenarios are true. The problem I had with the case from the beginning was not that a “white” (hispanic is not a race, no matter what Nixon thought) man shot a black “kid” (17 is not a little kid). The problem I had was the lack of a real investigation at the beginning. If Florida did not have a “stand your ground” law, the police would not have been allowed to just let Zimmerman leave the scene that night on his own. If the police weren’t so lenient with their definitions of what “your ground” meant, they would have launched a real strong investigation that night, rather than dropping it until public outcry forced them to investigate. That seems like a problem to me. You may disagree, and that’s fine.

Once the investigation was complete, it seems that the DA didn’t really have a good case but felt compelled to go to trial anyway, because of the same public outcry. This led to the fairly bizarre trial we just saw unfold. If the DA really didn’t think it had a case, it should have dropped it after the investigation. The Zimmerman trial did not help anyone feel good about our justice system.

Now, I’ve seen a lot of posts on Facebook with titles like “What about …” with some other shooting victim’s name at the end. These are all, without exception, some white kid who was killed by a black man. If that isn’t a classic case of race-baiting, the term has no meaning. What about those other people? Well, did their killers get investigated? Did their killers get charged with a crime, if it was deemed appropriate? That’s the difference, not what skin tone the guy with the gun had. If you think the uproar last year was because a white guy shot a black guy and got away with it, you’re not paying attention.

I’m really happy to see that most of the protests about Zimmerman being acquitted are peaceful (what’s up with Los Angeles?). I hope everyone understands that being acquitted in a criminal trial means that the jury found some reasonable doubts about his guilt. It does not mean that he was an angel or a devil, just that there is reasonable doubt. That’s how things are supposed to work. Sometimes, we let people go who might be guilty, rather than lock people up who might be guilty. If you think Zimmerman is a horrible person, it may make you feel better to realize that he’s going to be paranoid about vigilante justice coming for him for a long time to come. That may be irony.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 16 Jul 2013 @ 07:11 AM

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 18 Jan 2013 @ 10:29 AM 

There are a number of media personalities who define an era. Those of us in Generation X grew up with a few TV networks and a relative conformity in popular culture until the late 1980s. This led to a few names being instantly recognizable, even if they were originally marketed to our parents and not to us. This was, after all, before the rise of child-centered life in America, when we were expected to be seen and not heard and did not get a veto over things in the home. It seems the icons of the Boomer generation are almost all gone now, and so the comfortable feeling of Gen X childhood memories are tainted as well.

My mother has always been a reader, and the books I read when I was a kid (at least between library visits) were frequently hers. Thus, I became a fan of Erma Bombeck, one of the great humorists of the 1970s and 1980s, who could be considered a precursor to the “mommy blogger” phenomenon of today. Erma died far too young in 1996, but I still remember the cover art for “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.”

In the days of the Fairness Doctrine, talk radio was not nearly as pervasive and fragmented as it is today. One voice that everyone knew was Paul Harvey. When I attended a broadcast journalism class in the early 1980s, we put together a television news and commentary show. I chose to use the persona of Saul Garvey, which I thought was clever at the time. Paul Harvey died in 2001. And that’s the rest of the story.

We didn’t always have cameras following our every move in public, and we certainly didn’t have YouTube to share our private moments of embarrassment or inadvertent comedy. From 1948 until 1993, we got our dose of schadenfreude from Allen Funt and “Candid Camera.” Rarely mean-spirited, the pranks were hilarious and rather obvious to our older, jaded eyes today. Allen Funt died in 1999. I like to think he was smiling, and in on the joke.

This week, another of the great figures of the latter half of the 20th Century left us. Abigail van Buren was the woman everyone looked to for advice from 1956 until 2002. With wit and empathy, she made us all feel that she could be trusted with any secrets. Pauline Phillips died in 2013. Sadly, she was suffering from Alzheimer’s and was unlikely to be very much like her old self, but we can remember her wit, and her daughter continues the column with some inherited awesomeness.

I don’t think the younger generations will ever know the monolithic nature of popular culture we lived with before 100 channels of television and high-speed internet came along. We have so many more choices today than we did twenty years ago, not to mention the dark ages of the 1970s. Choices are great, and I love the options we have today. But, will there ever again be someone who is going to be remembered as such a pervasive part of everyday life as Dear Abby?

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 18 Jan 2013 @ 10:46 AM

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 19 Dec 2012 @ 10:24 AM 
Why do these things happen? Why do they keep happening? What can we do to stop them from happening?

These are the obvious questions asked, screamed, and cried out whenever something as horrific as the Newtown murders or the Aurora murders reach the national news. We want things to make sense, and we want to fix things which are broken. For many years, various groups have worked to demonize various trends, items, and products in order to stop violence. There doesn’t seem to be a simple answer, but we don’t want to deal with complex ones. There may not even be a complex answer.

Homicide by weapon

Homicide by weapon 1976-2004

First, is gun violence on the rise in the United States or not? If you watch the news, you’d think every public place is only a hair’s breadth from utter annihilation from a nut with a gun. Although gun violence in America is higher than most other industrialized nations by a rather large ratio, it’s actually not at a particularly high level compared to our own historical norm. Many people think that we live in especially dangerous times, but that’s simply not true. We’re no more in danger now than in 1975. Of course, our parents didn’t have four channels of 24-hour news that needed to be filled. We hear about more violence, but that doesn’t mean we are experiencing more violence. So, we aren’t seeing any more gun violence than our parents saw.

Second, is restricting gun ownership a panacea that would prevent gun violence? This seems obvious to many people. More guns must lead to more gun crimes, after all. But, other countries have higher rates of gun ownership than the USA does, and have much lower levels of gun-related homicide. Switzerland is a great example. Every able-boded male between 18 and 50 is a member of Switzerland’s armed forces and there are approximately 2 million firearms in private hands in that country of 6 million people. Approximately 25% of Swiss households have a firearm in the home. That’s about the same percentage as the USA (The Swiss have 46 guns per 100 people and we have 88 guns per 100 people in the USA, since we seem to have a lot more collectors or arsenal-builders here). There were 0.52 gun homicides per 100,000 citizens in Switzerland in 2010. In the USA, that was 3.2 – over six times the rate. So, availability of weapons doesn’t necessarily lead to more gun violence.

Finally, does media violence lead to actual violence? We are not the only country with violent video games and television shows and movies. Yet, we are an outlier in terms of gun violence compared to those other countries. Studies sometimes show that violent imagery can cause violent behavior, but the imagery is usually out of context and not how we actually encounter those images in real media consumption. Further, looking at violent behavior in a lab is only interesting to the researchers; looking at the rise of media violence and whether that correlates to real-world violence is what matters to society. There is no such correlation. As anyone who has lived through the past thirty years could tell you, media violence has not decreased and yet (as shown above) gun violence has decreased. If there’s any causative motion, you might be able to claim that the rise of more violent video games in the 1990s (as opposed to the cartoonish games of the 1980s) has actually caused us to become less violent. There is no proof for that statement, but if you look merely at correlation and ignore plausible causation, you could make that argument. So, media doesn’t make our citizens more violent.

What does make the United States different from other countries? Why do we have more gun violence than societies similar to our own? Why does Canada have one-quarter the gun-related homicide rate the USA has? Is our society so different from Canada and England and all the other industrialized nations? Before we try to make sweeping changes to our laws, it might be educational to figure out whether the things we want to change would plausibly make any difference. It’s not as simple as “more guns” or “fewer guns” or “video games” – it’s not obvious, and it’s not something we have figured out yet. It’s not a new problem, it’s not an increasingly large problem, but it’s definitely a difficult problem. Banning one thing or another might feel like the right thing to do, but it likely won’t make a difference.

This does not mean we should just give up and accept a certain level of murders because we don’t have a simple answer to fix the problem. But, we need to actually identify the cause of the problem before we can fix it.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 19 Dec 2012 @ 10:35 AM

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 19 Jun 2012 @ 9:54 AM 

Microsoft’s announced Surface tablets remind me of Zune and not just because of the Metro interface. Sure, it looks nice. Almost everyone who ever touched a Zune said they were built phenomenally well. But there aren’t that many people who touched one. Why is that?

Of course, the “late to market” problem is obvious. Zune came to market after the iPod had already eaten Creative’s lunch and only a few players like Sandisk and Sony stuck around with new devices, all of which worked with Microsoft’s own “PlaysForSure” system. Network effects will lead to a difficult path for pure Metro apps, now that iPad and Android have years of customer buy-in behind them. Would you leave your current environment, just to buy all the programs you use a second time? This assumes that the programs actually materialize. And a tablet without Angry Birds is no tablet at all.

Besides the network effects, the Windows RT experience duplicates the Zune (and iOS too) in the locked-down nature of the entire ecosystem. You can’t boot anything but WinRT on the tablet (UEFI is locked), you can’t install anything except approved Metro apps from the Windows Store, there is no sideloading and no bypassing the paywall. Anyone who likes that sort of thing already has an iPad. Those who find those restrictions onerous won’t buy an iOS device nor WinRT device.

Competing with your own customers is a very Zune-like move I see in the Surface tablet. Zune tried a completely new ecosystem, ignoring the PlaysForSure ecosystem which had preceded it and annoying Microsoft’s former partners in the process. Surface tablets are going to be competitively priced with Microsoft’s own partners’ tablets. That’s not really competitive, it’s predatory in many minds.

Not Zune-like, but still weird to me is the whole announcement itself. I’d have thought that manufacturers would have learned by now that vapor announcements are just stupid. Look at Apple – they announce something when it’s ready for sale. Those few items which they may “pre-announce” have solid shipping dates and prices. Microsoft says their tablets will be competitively priced and will arrive eventually. Also, nobody was allowed to touch the full Windows Pro tablets. It makes one wonder if they’re hiding something there – not ready for even sympathetic tech media to handle?

Those covers do look neat though. So there’s that.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 19 Jun 2012 @ 09:59 AM

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