Name that leader

Reading these quotes tonight:

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to
choose. One is a path I've warned about tonight, the path that leads to
fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of
freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others.
That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests
ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.

[…]

In little more than two decades we've gone from a position of energy
independence to one in which almost half the oil we use comes from
foreign countries, at prices that are going through the roof. Our
excessive dependence on OPEC has already taken a tremendous toll on our
economy and our people.

[…]

This intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens our economic
independence and the very security of our nation. The energy crisis is
real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our nation.

I was surprised to find this speech wasn't given in the past few weeks but almost 30 years ago. Read the whole speech and wonder what the world would be like if we followed half the recommendations he outlined that night.

The unfortunate mainstreaming of internet douchebaggery

Today someone spammed MetaFilter on behalf of Conde Nast publications, and it pissed me off way more than the average occasional spammy self-promoter on MeFi. We have a strict rule at MeFi (since there's no editorial vetting upfront) that you can't post about your own stuff, you have to make posts to interesting random stuff you found on your own. Unfortunately, that doesn't matter to the douchebags intent on ruining the web for everyone else with search engine gaming, as long as they benefit their clients, so we end up having to delete these keyword-laden posts that feature over the top fake testimonials about sites they "found" when they really worked for them.

What pissed me off today was seeing a normally reputable outfit like Conde Nast stooping to hiring a dodgy firm that employs such lame spammy activities. I know the response from Conde Nast or the spammy SEO company will be the same I've heard a thousand times: "It was one rogue employee" or "We didn't know the firm would employ such tactics." I heard the same thing when the Times (UK) was found spamming social sites earlier this year.

The point that seemed to be lost in the Times story was that a cornerstone of journalism that had been publishing for hundreds of years would stoop to such lame-brained antics. You'd think that someone higher up at a place like that would think maybe getting a couple percent more advertising revenue by ethically shady means wasn't worth jeopardizing the reputation or position of a 223 year old newspaper — that institutions with a long-term vision shouldn't be interested in a quick buck by any means possible.

It's a bummer to see Conde Nast hiring someone to "optimize" search engines for them (where "optimize" means spam the web and generally make social sites and tools less useful for everyone in the hopes they do better for certain key search phrases) but given the way the economy is going and where it is headed, I suspect we'll see a lot more big name outfits and longstanding institutions making these same mistakes and resorting to problematic methods of increasing their bottom line, and frankly it sucks for everyone involved. It sucks for anyone using the web and wanting decent honest search results based on real quality of information (not just the information promoted by self-interested parties). It sucks to see industry leaders with dozens or even hundreds of years of successful business think this is a sensible approach to the web. Finally, it sucks to see some chucklehead get paid to spam websites in ways that are becoming so normal that people think this is something every business should do.

Buying good stuff

There have been a lot of posts to Ask MetaFilter recently asking about inexpensive christmas presents and how to make your own presents and where to find the best deals, but I really enjoyed this thread on great things worth splurging on. As I've grown older I've slowly started to look for value in things instead of just the sale price. I agree with a lot of the tips offered in the thread — I love the super soft sheets on my bed, I have a trashcan so fantastic I didn't think that much engineering and clever ideas could go into a trashcan, and since no one mentoined it I wrote about the high-pressure showerhead that changed my life for the better.

Bigger Stronger Faster

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I watched Bigger Stronger Faster last night. It's a movie about steroid use in sports which is something I thought I was pretty dead set in my opinions about. As a cyclist I'm keenly aware of how widespread cheating in the sport is and I've always held a pretty low opinion of those that did it.

A scant few things have challenged my opinions. Outside Magazine famously did a story on an older amateur rider taking all the banned substances he could handle and I remember the takeaway for me was "damn, that HGH actually sounds pretty good." and "Wow, I can see why people take these things."

On MetaFilter, user Chuckles compiled a list of 8 previous Tour de France top five results, with everyone implicated in doping marked with an X. If he updated it for 2007 and 2008, there'd be even more X's on the chart. It's really more ubiquitous than we want to think.

I have friends that have defended Barry Bonds and other atheletes and frequently mention Tiger Woods had eye surgery to improve his vision, which is another form of performance-enhancement that seems hypocritical to allow (and I can't help but agree with).

I sort of expected Bigger Stronger Faster to be either some sort of gross-out "let's take steroids and hurt oursevles" or a depressing "here is how it ruins lives" but it's nothing at all like either of those things. It really literally rocked my world because it presents a side of steroids in sports I'd never considered and it completely changed my opinion of the whole issue.

The best part is the main guy and narrator is quite literally just some guy off the street who was interested in examining a complex issue, and his passion for seeking the truth pulls you along through the entire film. I have no idea how the filmmakers found the guy or how the guy got into filmmaking, but he's the perfect subject to move through the film and I shared a lot in common (like my distaste for dopining in sports).

I can't recommend this documentary highly enough.

President Obama

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After watching McCain’s concession speech last night, I realized it was John McCain’s election to lose. From a mile up, the race was between a guy with tons of experience and some pretty hardcore wartime stories going up against another guy that was new to the senate and was basically unknown before 2004 to most voters.

I really liked John McCain in 2000, and wanted him to win the republican primaries. I probably would have voted for him as well (if I ignored some of his social conservative tendencies) because he seemed like such a centrist (or at least not too far from center on most issues, especially compared to Bush) and I found Gore totally and completely unexciting (I ended up voting for Nader).

When the republican primaries began in 2008 I was pulling for McCain as well, since I remembered the guy I loved on all those talk show appearances over the last several years. I was also pulling for Obama for the past year and was happy when both my early picks ended up on top.

Then the campaign happened. It didn’t come on quickly, but I’d say definitely after the GOP convention, the old McCain I loved was gone. I don’t recall much of any talk from McCain from the last two months about his detailed plans or reasons why someone should vote for McCain, instead all I heard about was why I should against Obama. That’s never a good path to take — when you don’t accentuate your positives and instead focus on negatives, even if you convince others to avoid the opponent you end up with followers that don’t have much to be proud of.

To this day I can’t tell if it was McCain’s choosing to do what he did at the end of the summer of if it was his true personality finally coming out. I like to think he became a slave to the GOP election machine that likely told him playing it straight with Obama and fighting on the issues wasn’t going to rile his voting base as much as attacks and fear mongering could.

McCain’s concession speech was eloquent, impressive, and left me with the admiration I remembered in the McCain from 2000 that I used to like. That the crowd surrounding him boo’d every time Obama’s name was uttered makes me think maybe the McCain I used to like might be the guy still at the core but unfortunately let others run the controls during the election.

Anyway, for the first time since 1992 I was truly ecstatic on an election night. I knew the polls were looking good but I didn’t want to be disappointed and a big part of me never thought Obama would actually win, but he did it. I’m glad my daughter gets to grow up and will remember her first president being an inspirational guy that proves anyone can still make it in America.

Of course, we’ve left Obama with a pretty tough nut to crack and I imagine once he gets in office all the crazy “socialist!” and “marxist!” talk will quickly go out the window as he’ll move to the center and make some tough choices. I predict we’ll see people on both extremes displeased with some choices but I find that a mark of a good leader. Bill Clinton made a heck of a lot of choices I disagreed with, but at the end of his term he turned a recession into a boom and kept us out of war and I hope Obama can do the same (obviously, without the intern thing).

Why I’m blocking you on twitter

I've been using twitter for about a year and a half now and I follow about 150 friends,  acquaintances, and applications. A little over 2k users of the service follow me, and it seems I get about 10 new followers a day. Over the past few months however, I've taken to blocking the obvious spammy accounts where someone trying to market something tries to follow thousands of strangers. In the past few weeks it feels like I'm blocking at least half of the new followers.

I figure the people behind those accounts (if there really are people and it's not just an automated spambot attack on twitter which I suspect most are) deserve an explanation, so here are my reasons for blocking new followers:

  1. You are following more than 1,000 contacts. You could spend hours a day reading twitter while following just 100 people. I usually just check in the mornings and evenings to see what my friends were up to that day — sometimes it requires paging back 10 times to catch it all and sucks up the better part of a half hour each time. Reading Twitter while following 1,000+ is pointless and likely not being actually read by someone
  2. I know twitter is many things to many people, but I like it as a social micro-blogging application with real honest to goodness humans behind every post. I block anything that doesn't have a personal name and doesn't seem like a person writing it. Oh look, a new wax museum in Ohio just started following me! Surely, they don't just want me to click on their bio URL and blog about their new museum, right? Right? Wrong. Humans can follow me, not buildings or organizations or other sorts of accounts that were created to market something and aren't actually being used by a human.
  3. You have nothing but URL dumps of every blog post as a twitter update, all linking to your "marketing" or "sales" or "social media" blog. Pretty self-explanatory, but this person is using twitter to merely promote themselves, not to engage with others or share anything of substance.
  4. You have a bio that mentions you are an expert on "marketing" or "sales" or "social media". Almost everyone with a bio that mentions these phrases breaks an earlier rule as well, and it's clear they're on twitter and following me for some sort of google gaming reason more than they care what I or 1,000 others might be saying.