A couple of months ago, my “rank” among LinkedIn connections caught my attention. Now before I lose you, I should mention that this is not going to be a post about how to increase your rank or about a better algorithm for calculating rank, etc. I have no interest in either.
When I first noticed that my rank was in the bottom 25%, my ego kicked in. How was this possible that I ranked that low? I quickly realized, however, that this is really what I want.
Over the years I’ve advised a few clients who just didn’t “get” LinkedIn. They didn’t see any value in it for anyone aside from the “look who I know” ego factor. It took me a little while to get past that too. I certainly don’t get as much value out of LinkedIn as I could, but I think there is potential to use it as a very important networking tool.
I didn’t look into what the rank means, but the context implies that my connections draw more attention to their profiles and their work than I do. If that’s the case, then I really want my connections to “outrank” me, don’t I? I want connections with more experience and “better” connections than I. I want connctions from whom I can learn, and connections who can introduce me to even more connections who are “more connected” than I.
Or, maybe I don’t get how to use LinkedIn at all. That wouldn’t surprise me.read more
In a post a few days ago, I wrote that the writings of Thomas Jefferson probably had the single greatest impact on my thinking. I thought President’s day was an appropriate day to write a little bit about the letters he and John Adams wrote to one another.
I was reminded of these letters during a converation a friend and I had a few weeks back. We were talking about how difficult it can be to discuss complex, controversial, or emotionally charged subjects via email. In the end, though, we concluded that email really isn’t the problem. Everyone seems to have a favorite reason to hate email - and there are lots of good reasons - but many of the complaints boil down to problems inherent to any kind of written communication.
According to historians, Jefferson and Adams wrote close to 400 letters to one another over the course of fifty years, and the contents of those letters was much more than just your standard chit-chat. These two men had great respect for one another as fellow freedom fighters and they certainly agreed on certain issues, but they disagreed on much. I’m sure drafting the letters required much effort. They were people like us who were sometimes aggravated, frustrated, and even angered by things they read - including letters from friends.
I have little doubt that educated people who lived in the 18th and 19th centuries, as a general rule, put more effort into everything they said - both spoken and written - which is why I think email would have been treated with the same respect. I can only guess how the exchanges would have been different if Jefferson and Adams had used email, but I’d like to think they would have put the same effort into it - at least most of the time. It is certainly possible they could have.
More to the point, we can also put that kind of care and effort into our communicaiton - even via email.
Written communication is difficult. It requires hard work. Writing is not an easy thing to do well, and I can tell you from experience that it’s even hard to do it poorly sometimes. If you ask me, it’s worth the effort. What a shame it would have been if Jefferson and Adams had taken the easy way out and only discussed difficult topics when they could see each other in person and didn’t make the effort to document those discussions in writing.read more
Every year the menu for the day of the Oscars includes food inspired by the best picture nominations.
This years menu is below.
Egg in a hole - The Theory of Everything
This is what Terri’s family used to call Egyptian eyes. You take a piece of bread, rip a whole in it, put in in a hot frying pan, and then crack an egg into the hole. From there you cook it up like you would an egg.
Eggs to represent creation and the whole to represent black holes.
Sandwhiches - The Imitation Game
Pizza - Whiplash
Tortillas and Queso - Boyhood
Cold Cuts and Mustard - Birdman - we found meatless bologna slices :)
Cornbread - Selma
American Flag made of Jello and Whipped Cream - American Sniper
Cupcakes - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Coke - Boyhood
Tea - The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game
Sweet Tea - Selma
If you drink alcohol, you could add Beer for The Theory of Everything, and Gin for Birdman.read more
I normally like to post movie reviews on Saturday. The Theory of Everything is certainly not a traditional Valentine’s Day love story, but it does seem like a good fit for today.
It tells the story of Stephen Hawking, his battle with a devastating disease, and his family, based on a book written by one of the women who loved him. As I wrote a couple of days ago Hawking’s work has had a tremendous impact on my life, so this was a film I was not going to miss.
What one believes is irrelevant in physics.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. As is my normal practice, I avoided too much information about the movie beforehand, but since this is a man I know quite a bit about already, I couldn’t help but try to imagine how the story would be told. The title itself was a mystery to me. How do you end a film about a man who is still alive and title it after a theory he hasn’t developed yet. My interest was piqued and I hoped the title would have some meaning beyond just pulling words out of his life at random.
Now I understand, I think, what the title means.
Like The Imitation Game, it tells a story that is both sad and inspiring. It touches thoughtfully on what it means - and what it costs - to love someone completely.
Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Hawking was nothing short of masterful. His portrayal of Hawking’s gradual physical deterioration is perfectly done. Felicity Jones also turns in an excellent performance, but most of the other characters are forgetable. Perhaps that’s fitting since this really is a film about these two people.
An imperfect film with nearly perfect performances. Highly recommended.
Your glasses are always dirty.read more
I obsess over things. I’m not going to deny that.
One things I’ve obsessed over for a long time is the way I share links.
I joined This the other day, but I haven’t shared anything yet. Since I can only share one link per day, I thought I’d try and dig back and share some of my favorite finds from years past. I decided to give it some thought. What have I read that I just had to tell everyone about.
I only had to think for a few minutes before I remembered a great story written by one of the web’s best story tellers - Jeffrey Zeldman. I’ve written about his work before, most recently I mentioned him a few days ago.
I can’t promise I’ll share stuff that great every day, but it will be fun trying.
Anyway, here it is - Cameron Diaz and Meread more
Today is Darwin Day.
Not only is Charles Darwin one of my favorite historical trouble makers, as I wrote yesterday, he is also one of my all time heroes. He wasn’t afraid to follow his ideas and the evidence wherever it might lead - even when it ran contrary to the religion he had chosen to study. It’s seems easy for us to assume we would have done the same thing, but it really did take a lot of guts.
I thought today would be a good day to run through a short list of some of my favorite people who are/were programmers, educators, and/or trouble makers. All of the people below are people whose work and/or ideas have had a significant impact on my life, though perhaps not in a way directly related to the category in which they are listed.
It would be fair to call some of them genuine heroes to me.
Aside from my parents, Thomas Jefferson has probably had the single greatest impact on my thinking. He doesn’t fit nicely into one of the three categories, but I couldn’t finish this post without mentioning him.
His views on slavery were complicated - at best - but I don’t want to derail this post discussing that. I have a future post planned that uses him and John Adams as examples, but I don’t plan to discuss that then either. I’ll add it to the list of ideas.read more
Anyone who knows me probably understands why I list “trouble maker” in my online bio almost everywhere I am online. I’m writing this for those that have asked.
People tend to look at the world through a lens. That lens is crafted by our parents, our teachers, our friends, and our experiences. Most people have a very hard time looking at things through the someone else’s lens. Many of the historical figures I most admire - Copernicus, Galileo, Charles Darwin - challenged people to do that.
Others - Ghandi, MLK, Sam Adams, Rosa Parks - refused to accept the way things were.
They all had one thing in common - they made trouble. We may not always think of them that way, but they made people think and that causes trouble.
I’d like to think I do that whenver I can.read more
The “Save the Internet” button I saw on my Tumblr dashboard the other day, along with [Explaining Net Neutrality to My Dad][dad], prompted me to finally put my thoughts on this in writing.
NOTE: This is one of the posts I was working on when I posted [this disclaimer on name dropping][namedrop].
I believe in freedom. I believe in a free and open Internet. So when I saw widgets and banners and gimmicks going around about Internet “fast lanes” and censorship, etc, I jumped on the bandwagon like everyone else. I’ve been using the Internet, and building things on it, for years so I have a very solid understanding how things work, so I believed I was “joining the fight” with a real understanding of what was at stake.1
I still believe I understood the issue then better than the average person, but if I’m honest with myself I have to say I hadn’t thought it completely through.
I had friends who talked about how this was just more unwanted government intervention. As a believer in freedom, I’m very suspicious of government too, but I also realize that a [government is not the only source of oppression][oppression], and I figured this is one of those cases where sensible regulation will protect something that is important to society, so I all but ignored those voices.
A few months ago, something hit me.
I read something Mark Cuban said about it online, so I decided to ask him about it on Cyber Dust. He and I have had a few chats about his thoughts on education in the 21st century, so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to see what he had to say. I don’t remember how I started the conversation, and a lot of what he said sounded like rhetoric to me, but some of what he said made me think twice about it. He told me to stop and think about who was behind this recent push. He called them “the Netflixes of the world” and I replied with something about them having an Agenda, to which he responded “Of course they do” and followed with something about how he owned a lot of shares of Netflix ( implying he had no motivation to “trash” them ).
I’m a [big fan][netflix] and former shareholder myself, so we went down that rabbit trail2 for a bit, and I finished by telling him he had made me think twice about it.
And I’ve been thinking more about it ever since.
I understand better why some conservatives might be skeptical, and I agree in principle that…
nothing good ever comes from allowing the government to enact regulations in secret, without public debate, at the hands of lobbyists and to impose new taxes. [Big Red Car][redcar]
but I don’t like the way others are framing this debate.
Spearheaded by President Obama and reluctantly embraced by FCC chief Tom Wheeler, this plan is undoubtedly the U.S. government’s most brazen effort yet to police the Internet—which, until now, has thrived thanks to the absence heavy-handed federal mandates. [reason.com][reason]
If the FCC’s Democratic majority approves Obama’s rules [reason.com][reason]
In practice, therefore, net neutrality means that content companies can’t partner with Internet providers to fund improvements to the last mile [reason.com][reason]
This week, Wheeler issued his proposal to reclassify broadband as Obama suggested. [arstechnica.com][obama]
In the end, there is a lot at stake and I think [what’s being proposed now][speech] is a [sensible approach][sensible] to protect a free and open Internet.
1Brad Burnham does a great job of explaining the stakes [here][history] and [here][testimony] (both videos).
2I told him I sold my stock back when it was tanking and I needed the cash for NYU. He told me he sold then too, but bought a bunch back. He also told me going to NYU is crazy.
[namedrop]: [oppression]: /why-i-call-myself-a-libertarian-socialist-part-one/ [netflix]: /links-for-2009-02-02/ [dad]: http://www.feld.com/archives/2015/02/explaining-net-neutrality-dad.html [redcar]: http://themusingsofthebigredcar.com/net-neutrality-madness/ [reason]: http://reason.com/archives/2015/02/08/dont-extend-the-dead-hand-of-the-fcc-to [obama]: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/02/republicans-claim-obama-had-improper-influence-over-net-neutrality/ [speech]: http://www.pakman.com/2015/02/04/a-sensible-approach-to-net-neutrality-by-the-fcc/ [sensible]: http://www.pakman.com/2015/02/04/a-sensible-approach-to-net-neutrality-by-the-fcc/ [history]: https://www.youtube.com/embed/Y6DVTy9KKEc [testimony]: https://www.youtube.com/embed/kkq_zM6U4eoread more
I’m not sure this is the best use of my time, but I wanted to weigh in on the vaccination debate. I’ll start by tipping my hand and saying that I think parents should vaccinate, but I’m not sure how much right we have to make them.
A while back I wrote something about my frustration with conservatives default argument - nobody can tell me what to do. I wrote then, and still believe now, that while I am sick of every argument coming down to that, I do understand the argument. I get it. I have a right to run my life without government interfering. Cerainly the choices I make to protect my children are among the most important choices I need to make, and I don’t want someone else taking that responsibility away from me.
On the other hand, we need to balance the rights of other parents who don’t want to be exposed to a deadly disease. How do we balance that against my rights.
So this is a complicated issue for me.
And the science is not complicated.
Vaccines pose a small risk. If I’m going to make an educcated decsion about that for my children, I have to factor in that risk - no matter how small. I don’t like to focus too much on the details, but normally as a father I handle these kinds of risk decisions based on the potential loss. There are certainly behaviors I can allow in my children that are have a high risk. I tend to disallow, or strongly discourage, those behaviors unless the potential reward is great enough. On the ohter hand, if the risk is small, and the potential outcome is bearable, I am more apt to allow that behavior. A good example is letting my six year old play on playground equipment. I don’t want her to break her wrist, but if she does, we can deal with it.
There are other risks, however, that no matter how small, I am not going to allow. I was very careful about letting my children wander around on their own, for example. Antother great example is my choice not to take general anestesia for elective surgery on myself. The risk may be small, but the potential downside is great.
Using that logic, one might assume I am against vaccinations, but there is more to this one. I have to factor in the impact I have on society as a whole. As hard as it might be for me to put my own children at risk, I have to think of the big picture. If my fear of losing my children to death or a disorder puts the lives of potentially millions of other people, I have to at least consider that risk.read more
Jason Calacanis is back to blogging, and he wrote something a couple of weeks ago that got me thinking again about a conversation I had recently about blog comments. It’s been on my mind for some time, but Jason’s post really hit home for me, so I thought it was time to share.
Some time before the word blog was coined, I was using the Internet to keep up with what other people thought of things. I’ll never forget the first time I stumbled onto USENET. As an information junkie, I simply couldn’t get enough of it. After setting it aside for a while, I got back online in 1994. I set up a dialup account at staug.com, and the first thing I did was download the list of USENET groups. It took hours over a dialup connection. I didn’t do a lot of posting, but I did a lot of reading, mostly about science and philosophy. A little bit about religion and politics.
I’m not sure when I discovered blogs exactly, but I spent the next six to eight years building a bunch of websites for fun and profit and I spent almost all of my time reading what other programmers, developers, designers, and writers were doing online. It was during this time that I stumbled onto the work of people I still follow today - Dave Winer, Richard Stallman, Eric Raymond, Chris Pirillo, Dan Benjamin, Jeffrey Zeldman, and Robert Scoble.
In 2002, I scaled back my business a little to focus on teaching again, but by 2006 I was back to reading blogs voraciously and around that time I discovered five more bloggers whose work I still follow today - Merlin Mann, Jason Calacanis, Fred Wilson, Brad Feld, and Seth Godin.
All of the people I mentioned above have allowed comments on their blog posts at one point, and that was cool, but eventually the comment sections became places I avoided because of name calling and other anti-social behavior. I think it’s just too easy for anyone to visit a blog, say whatever pops into their head, and take off. Fortunately, there was a better way. This all seems so obious now, but bloggers soon started linking to posts by other bloggers in responsed on their own blogs. Not long after, some blogs started supporting pingbacks and/or trackbacks, which allowed those converstaions to be linked together in a way that made following the thread of conversation easier.
That’s how the Internet works. -Merlin Mann
The experience was fantastic, but the sense of community was even better.
If you want to be an anomaly, you’ve gotta act like one. -Gary Vaynerchuck
There is one blog that pulled me back into blog comments. Generally, the comment section there is an anomaly. I learn as much - or more - from the comments than I do from the posts. But it’s not always fun and games. Every once in a while, I can tell from the topic of the post that I will want to avoid the comments. One such discussion left me so aggravated that I reached out to the author to encourage him to keep at it, but I also reminded him of that it was not his responsibility to host a place where I can say whatever I want. I’m glad some bloggers give readers the option to share their opinions, but at a certain point, it becomes clear that the discussion should move elsewhere.
and that place should be, if you ask me, your own blog.
Are you paying attention?
I absolutely love it when someone who has been essentially written out of history finally has his story told. The Imitation Game tells one of those stories. Joe Williams says it best in his review for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Many of the people reading this review are doing it on a computer. And all of them are reading it in English. It’s not much of stretch to say that you could credit both of those things to a man named Alan Turing. - [Joe Williams][review]
It’s a sad story, but one that needs to be told. The movie does an excellent job telling it in a way that both entertains and inspires. It’s brilliantly paced and features superb performances. I’ve read that the film takes some liberties with the truth, but I thought it handles the technical bits in a way that is both faithful to the truth - and the math - yet easy for non-techies to follow. I found myself wondering on several occasions if potential misunderstandings would be explained. I was not disappointed.
When people talk to each other, they never say what they mean. They say something else and you're expected to just know what they mean.
As interesting as the technical details were, the more interesting - and more important - part of the story is of the man himself. We owe our way of life to this man in a way we can’t really understand fully. From my limited perspective, the film does an excellent job helping us understand him and his struggles.
Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.read more
A long time ago, I started playing around with the social features of Spotify. I started listening to playlists put together by people I followed. If you ask me, it’s the best way to discover new music. One of the people I was following at the time was my son. He had put together a few playlists, so I started listening and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I didn’t even fully understand why. Something about seeing through the window of music into one of your own children. I couldn’t get enough of it. Almost every song had me thinking something like “I wonder why he put this on the list” or “I didn’t know he liked that song.” Sometimes the lyrics really got to me. I know that not every lyric of every song - or even any one song - resonates with him, but I have to think that something about the mood or tone or subject of the song gets to him. So I learn something about him by listening to “his” music.
As profound an experience as that was, I found myself thinking that there was a simple explanation. He and I don’t really talk about music that much. I know what genres of music he liked, generally, and I had some idea who his favorite bands were, but he wasn’t very vocal about his music preferences.
It was about this time that my daughter was really starting to express her love of music. She was the direct opposite of her brother. She started asking to sit up front in the car so she could control the music we listened to. She talked about the music she liked, and shared with us everything she could about it.
About a year ago, we subscribed to Beats Music. We all use it, but she is a power user. She creates playlists, downloads music to her phone, etc. So one day I was looking for something interesting and fresh to listen to and I thought I’d check out her playlists. It was just as much fun as listening to my son’s playlists. Sure there were more predictable songs on her lists because we listen to a lot of “her” music now, but there were sill some surprises. A lot of songs we don’t hear in the car.
A delightful experience. I highly recommend you do it, if you have the opportunity.read more
Working in and around education for so many years, and having high school and college age children of my own, I know a lot of people who are 15 - 25 years old.
And I noticed something yesterday.
I stopped by the pet store to pick up some kibble for the cutest Jack Russell Terrier in the world, and I saw a young man who just graduated high school last year. He seemed glad to see me and came to say hi and we exchanged a few words. As I left the store, he was coming back in with a coworker who was pushing a wheelbarrow and we talked a few more minutes.
It was almost the same conversation I have with kids his age all the time. He felt like he had to explain why he was hauling bags of dog food for a living. Almost like he was ashamed to be caught working for a living.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe he just wants me to know he is working toward something better, and that’s great, but I wonder if our “have it now” society is programming young people to expect overnight success or something. I might remember it wrong, but when I was his age, it seemed normal to get a job flipping burgers, pouring concrete, sweeping floors, or hauling pet food. I don’t remember my friends and I being ashamed to work at jobs like that.read more
This is not a movie review. I did happen to catch both movies recently. They were both bad, but not as bad as I had expected - but that’s not what this is about.
Earlier today, I read an excellent post by Helena Price called The Purge: What happens when you unfollow everyone on the Internet and it reminded me of some changes I’ve been making lately.
I have a tendency to prefer more than less. I’ve subscribed to hundreds of RSS feeds for years, I follow lots of people on Twitter and even more by using lists - lots of them. :) I know having too much input can be dangerous, but as a general rule, I’ve learned to manage that well. What I hadn’t noticed until recently, thought was how comfortable I was with things being the same.
I got my first iPhone (my first mobile phone, period) before third party apps were around, but as soon as they hit the market, I did what I tend to do - I dove overboard. I downloaded hundreds of apps. The “rules” I follwere were simple.
Every time I got a new iPhone, I would tell myself to purge some apps, but I always found it easier to just restore the new phone from a backup. It went on like until the last day of the 2014.
This past summer, I bought an Android phone. I found myself putting more thought into the apps I was using. It was a liberating experience. I decided I would just install an app when I found myself looking for it. No preparation at all. The problem, though, was that I was still using my iPhone 5 so I found myself using the apps on that phone - because they were there - and couldn’t resist the urge to copy as many of those apps ( or comparable replacements ) to the Android.
All of a sudden, I had a mess on two phones instead of just one.
Then I purchased an iPhone 6+ at the end of last year. Since I was now regularly using two phones, I didn’t see the same need to keep all the old apps on my new phone, so I decided to start fresh.
I started off by putting all of the apps in one folder except for Phone and Messages. Then I downloaded apps I knew I would need right away. Drafts and Editorial went on the dock. Hangouts went into a folder with Messages on the dock. I moved the folder of other apps to a second homescreen. As I found myself needing an app, I’d search for it. I downloaded apps as I really neede them, and I moved apps I used a lot to the homescreen.
I had a suspicion which apps would end up on my homescreen, but really wanted to rely soley on use.
After a month with the phone, this is my homescreen.
I use more apps than that, of course, but I still do a lot of searching.
I enjoyed this so much, that I decided to do the same with Android. The screenshot below shows the dock. The only other things I keep on my main homescreen are shortcuts to my most important contacts and a Twitter client. I have two other screens with a few widgets and the Google Now screen. That’s it.
FYI, that iOS background is my backyard on the day of the blizzard of 2015. :)read more
I’ve updated ShortenLinks a bit since my last post on the subject so I thought I’d document it again. If you’re more interesting in why I set things up this way, that post and other past posts on the subject might be more helpful.
The DNS zone file for the domain I use has CNAMEs set up for a couple of subdomains I use for other things - this one ( www ) included - and the any other subdomain and the apex point to an Apache server I run on EC2.
My apache2 config for this domain has two virtual hosts.
One is for the apex domain and it redirects to my about page.
The other is for * and is set to a folder where I have a CGI script ( linkscgi.py saved with the name index.cgi ) that does a location redirect to my Cloud Cannon site.
So for any subdomain I don’t have reserved already,
sub.bsoi.st will redirect to
My previous post explains how those folders are creating using linkit.py.read more
I’ve been using Cyber Dust for a while now. I really like using it for private chats, but I have also enjoyed following #blast messages and meeting new friends. Add me - I’m +bsoist. Mark Cuban uses Cyber Dust, and a few weeks ago he sent out a blast asking for recommendations to use for his quote of the day - something he sends out via #blast every day. I immediately thought of a favorite quote of mine.
It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
As I typed it, I began to think “Hey, wait a minute, I don’t support dog fighting. Is this in bad taste?”
Then it hit me. Perhaps we are being too sensitive about all of this. Obviously, dogs fight in the wild or on the street or whatever. The quote doesn’t have to be about “dog fights” but what will people think. I try to be politically correct. I really do. And I’d like to think it’s not just because I care what other people think of me. That’s not the issue. I just really try to be careful about how words impact other people.
But are we being too careful?
Fred Wilson posted something about a pet peeve of his back in May and the discussion in the comments was pretty heated. I stayed out of it because I think he was just doing a little bit of thinking out loud, but my opinion is complicated on this. On the one hand, I think he might be overthinking things a bit. On the ohter, I think that’s far better than not thinking about it at all. Especially, in my opinion, when it comes to gender issues.
There is also an important distinction to be made between “policing” one’s own speech and the speech of others. It’s one thing to be careful about what we say, it’s another to be so careful that we strip all meaning out of what we say.
Anyway, that is one of my favorite inspirational quotes - but I don’t support dog fighting. :)read more