Category: Ramblings

On Twitter Wars

So, there’s something that occurred to me while driving recently. I should point out that I’m not living in fear of an impending war, but it does seem more likely that a (new, American) war will happen in the next three years, compared to in the Obama administration. (I’m basing this on things like the adjustment to the doomsday clock.)

And the thing is, if the Trump administration does, in fact, get involved in a destructive war, it will be the first time (to my knowledge) that Twitter may have been one of the root causes of a war. (Assuming you accept the premise that Twitter was a tool used by the Russians to interfere in the election. If you don’t think that, I’d love to hear why.)

Here’s the thing: Twitter’s users aren’t served by it being populated by up to 15% with ‘fake users’ (from the article below). And Twitter, itself, probably isn’t earning money on them. (I can’t imagine the bots clicking on ads, or, if they are, the advertisers certainly aren’t getting value for money.)

The reason the bots are still on Twitter? Money. Twitter is locked into a broken business model, and unable to kick the bots off.

This is from a Bloomberg article:

And cracking down on bots puts Twitter in a vulnerable position with Wall Street. Investors have penalized the company for failing to get more users. The more that Twitter cracks down on fake accounts and bots, the lower the monthly active user base, the metric most closely watched by Wall Street.

“I think there’s a business reason why Twitter doesn’t want to be good at it. If you have fake accounts and you’re valued around active users, the valuation will be adjusted,” said Scott Tranter, partner at Optimus, a data and technology consultancy.

Which just means that there’s one more reason why, as I wrote before, more of the Internet needs to cost money.



Living in a man’s body

The Internet is full of motivational messages saying things like “we’re all just pretending to be adult” and I have that feeling pretty often. In my case, I have the added complication of people telling me that they were intimidated by me when they first met me.

Intimidated? By me?

It always surprises me, in spite of my hearing it often. I’m such a big goofball.

But, I’m huge and bearded and look obviously like a man approaching forty. (Some would say I look older, but they’d only say it once!) And I forget that. In fact, get me on school grounds and I have to remind myself that I’m one of the adults, not one of the kids. (Ha! Teachers have to speak to me as an equal! In theory, anyway…)

Recently, though, I’ve had moments where I realized that I’m living in a man’s body. I can’t explain what exactly triggers it, but it’s generally at times when I’m in motion and I feel somehow… manlier? Not stronger, not even fitter. But whatever it is, it’s closer to ‘strong’ and ‘fit’ than it is to ‘old’ or ‘creaky.’ I’m not talking about feeling like an old man. (That I had more often when my back was giving me trouble.)

My best guess is that the plank workouts and all the burpees are giving me a degree of core strength that I didn’t have as a kid, or, apparently, in my early thirties. So, maybe it is fitness.

On the other hand, maybe I’m just developmentally slow in this as I am in so many other things and whatever this feeling is, it’s what made jocks walk around the school what that particular gait of theirs all those years ago. If I am slower, does that mean I get to die later?

And, if it is a question of fitness, I wonder if I’ll eventually find a broader link between my (hopefully) increasing fitness and the way I behave.

Think Differently

Here’s a little thing you don’t know about me: I’m tired of hearing about Steve Jobs. I don’t know why, because I like stories from Elon Musk and his drive, but felt like the takeaway I got from the Steve Jobs biography was that people took it as permission to treat others poorly.

I say all that, because Steve Job is the focus of this chapter of The Obstacle is the Way. Better than Steve Jobs, though, is this quote that opens the chapter:

Genius is the ability to put into effect what is in your mind. There is no other definition of it.

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

I think that’s true. It’s what motivates me in my learning: finding the ability to make real (in some sense) the things I’ve only experienced in my mind.

The Steve Jobs part of the story can be summed up in these two paragraphs:

Steve Jobs was famous for what observers called his “reality distortion field.” Part motivational tactic, part sheer drive and ambition, this field made him notoriously dismissive of phrases such as “it can’t be done” or “we need more time.”

Having learned early in life that reality was falsely hemmed in by rules and compromises that people had been taught as children, Jobs had a much more aggressive idea of what was or wasn’t possible. To him, when you factored in vision and work ethic, much of life was malleable.

That seems to be the gist of the whole chapter: that a lot of our limitations are based on us having learned from an early age to be moderate in our expectations of ourselves and others. The lesson seems to be that we need to re-evaluate what we’re capable of and what we can expect from others.

Perhaps this will be the post that prevents me from ever being hired by “the next Facebook,” because I am not enamored of the “work seventy hours per week” startup lifestyle, and I believe in pushing yourself… but not in abusing yourself.

There is a story in the chapter about Steve Jobs telling his engineers that they couldn’t have an extra week to get something done… and the engineers eventually getting the project done within the initial time frame. And it’s framed as this great thing that Steve Jobs did.

However, I hear that and I think “those poor people’s families.” How much time at home did they miss? What are the chances that they were able to maintain whatever habits they had to keep their health and wellness up? What are the odds that any of them were the primary caregivers for their children? When their older, will they look back and think that moving a product a week earlier was worth the sacrifices they had to make?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, but I have a strong intuition…

So, in closing, this is from the next-to-last paragraph of the chapter, the same lesson stripped of the glorification of self-sacrifice:

An entrepreneur is someone with faith in their ability to make something where there was nothing before. To them, the idea that no one has ever done this or that is a good thing.


Yesterday, I did something that I’ve been talking (to myself) about doing for a while: I added exercises to my run. Six times in my usual 7km run, I stopped and did 5 burpees.


I don’t know why I picked them over any other exercise, except that they have the reputation of being super hard, and I was ready to have my butt kicked. Even more, I was ready to push myself into being seen being different. And they’re certainly different.

How was it?

First, let me say that I might have forgotten about them, except that I certainly feel the workout still. And I kinda like that.

Next, in addition to the fact that, although I felt self-conscious for the last set, my shyness decreased with each set, I’d like to say that I really enjoyed getting my hands dirty. It’s a funny thing to say, but for such a (self-perceived) nature-loving, Earth embracing hippy, I don’t get dirty very often. And, doing the burpees, I had to… and I liked it.

The last thing I wanted to mention as I reflect on them is that it was a fun change to start seeing the run as the ‘recovery’ part of the workout. I mean, after just five of them, I was so out of breath that I was glad to be running again. And that’s not how I usually thing about running.

When will I do them again?

My new short-term goal is to add a fourth, short run to my running week and to try and get the thirty burpees in just four sets…

If I do or don’t, I have to say that I’m feeling more active now, and I’m enjoying that level of activity.

More of the internet should cost money

Here’s an unpopular opinion: we should pay for more of the Internet. By ‘we,’ I mean the people who use it.

Let me put down a bit of foundational work:

Advertising leads to tracking

My argument is this: I would rather pay Facebook, or Google, the money myself, rather than have them collect data on me and target ads. Further, think of the resources that these “engines of innovation” are dedicating to tracking us and serving ads, when they could be dedicating them towards solving problems.

For a savings of $20/year, I have abdicated the ability to be the final customer of Google, Twitter and Facebook, and instead became the product.

That alone would be a reason to consider paying for websites and leads me to what I think is a bigger point.

Advertising prioritizes eyeballs over experience

These tech companies are keeping their customers happy, but we’re not the customers (see above, but none of that is really a new idea). But I don’t think people emphasize enough the social costs of this.

Ask yourself, if the cost was $5/year for a Twitter account, would there be 48 million bots on Twitter? Further, what if Twitter spent the energy they now invest in finding advertising customers and serving ads in actually cleaning up the user experience? The could have actual people and not A.I. checking abusive tweets. That alone would be a step up.

Further, imagine the user who has already paid for a Twitter account. Most trolls have a separate account only for trolling. Maybe they still would, but how often would they pay the $5 registration fee after being banned for abusive behavior? In most cases (I’m willing to wager), a warning that “if this behavior continues, this account will be suspended” would be enough. After all, Twitter wouldn’t have to try and figure out if there were duplicate accounts, allowing users to create a second (or 48 millionth) account after suspension would be equivalent to a $5 fine for abusive behavior.

Would people still get trolled? Sure. Would trolls become more subtle? Yes. But, would the total level of trolling go down? I think so. And the customers — the users — would be much happier about it.

Google Fit Goals – A meditation on motivation

A while ago, Google Fit introduced the possibility of adding weekly goals in Google Fit. Of course, I didn’t use them.

After all, I liked Google Fit as a pedometer and activity tracker. I was too busy to count my steps or time my activity throughout the day, but I wasn’t too busy to know how often I’d been jogging that week. The idea seemed stupid to me.

Then, recently, while playing absent-mindedly in the Google Fit menus, I set up my “run three times a week” goal.


And, I’ve grown to like it. I feel a pressure to get that purple line all the way around the circle, and really want to avoid having to see an incomplete-goal icon for the next weeks. It’s genuinely a motivation.

I like to think I embrace motivation

I teach a lot of middle-aged Germans who grew up in communist East Germany and who feel baffled by anything that smacks of ‘gamification.’ After all, they didn’t need points and badges to get things done back then, why should they need them now?

These are the same people who think that Carnival (or Halloween) is stupid because they don’t need to be forced to have fun. (But go ahead and ask them when they last put on a costume…) Or that Valentine’s Day is a joke imported from the west and they can be romantic anytime. (But then, ask them when they last bought roses…)

My point is, there are people who think they are strong enough to not need tricks. But, in most cases, they’re the ones who are also mostly satisfied with their current level of… whatever. They might say “I should run more” or “I need to take more time for my wife,” but the inevitably say it in a tone of voice that makes clear they have accepted it will not happen.

On the other hand, I like to think that I embrace motivation. I have a sense of who I am and who I could be, and a clear understanding of how big the difference between those two people is. And, though the person I want to be (a third person altogether) might have the willpower to not need motivational tricks, the person who I could be certainly embraces them.

TL;DR: The Google Fit weekly runs tracking is more motivational than I thought, and I’m frustrated that I didn’t realize that I was dismissing something I would like to embrace.

On the need for new business vocab and some bad suggestions

Listening to a recent episode of StartUp on the race for autonomous cars, I heard a (former?) Uber executive say that Uber was a “tech company.” This was said as a way of explaining Uber focusing on the tech of self-driving cars.

The idea seemed to be “don’t think of us as a taxi company, we produce tech.” And, I guess that’s an acceptable worldview.

The thing is, I don’t think the world needs tech. The world needs something more… But I don’t know what.

Let me try to explain what I mean

I don’t think that anyone, anywhere, is looking for more tech. We use tech but really what we want is to recombine the things around us. Recently, the tech sector has broken things apart and put them back together in new ways. It’s what Uber did, and Airbnb, but what people needed was a way to better utilize cars and apartments, and make some money.

What I’m trying to say is that I wish we had companies that looked at the world in general and said “what could be? And how can we contribute to making it happen?” Most of what makes our future utopia happen will involve tech, but, much more, it will involve using tech to change the way other parts of the world function. Ideally for the better.

Hearing the unnamed exec say “we’re a tech company, so we’re focused on the tech” (paraphrase!) I thought Hmm. His vocabulary is limiting his worldview. He needs to see the world differently.

Some alternatives

So, what vocab can be used to see the world better? To be honest, I don’t know. But, here are a few possibilities.

  • Solutions. As in “we’re a solutions company.” pros: we need solutions. cons: It sounds like empty corporate talk.
  • Holistic. As in “we take a holistic approach.” pros: Existing vocab, already means something close to what I want it to mean. cons: Sounds fatuous, will frequently be ignored or made equivalent to “using crystals for health.”
  • Big picture. As in “we’re a big picture company.” pros: Should encourage big-picture thinking. cons: Corporate newspeak, so universal that it already has been parodied in “re your brains.”
  • Intrastructure. As in “we’re in intrastructure company.” pros: I made it up, so it can mean whatever we want. (Infrastructure is the structure between stuff. Intrastructure are the structures that connect things.) cons: Doesn’t have a meaning yet and can easily become another empty word. Will be mocked before being adopted.

All of those are bad ideas. But, I don’t think I have to wait to have a solution before I point out the problem. I am, of course, eager to hear what your ideas for an alternative are.