I don’t want to see yours, either.

So, from what I hear, Facebook is introducing a feature called ‘timeline’, which displays your Internet activities pretty much in real time. Other people can see what (participating) Web sites you visit, as you visit them.

I don’t know all the details, but this seems to me like a terrible idea. I will not be participating, and please don’t take it personally when I reject your invitation to follow your aimless drifting through cyberspace. Tedious at best and embarrassing at worst, this is a level of personal intimacy with the general world that I will not be embracing. Call me an old fuddy-duddy.

Then there’s Incapsula

I’ve written about CloudFlare in the past. I think it’s a no-brainer for small-time bloggers like me who control their own domain name registry. My writing has attracted the attention of another company, Incapsula, who offer a similar service.

Incapsula would love for me to give them a try, so I can write about them, too. They’re under the impression that I have some sort of influence in the world. Ha! They’ve even offered me a free upgrade to the ‘pro’ level of the service. One really cool thing about the upgrade: out-of-the-box SSL, which means you don’t have to get your own certificate to handle commerce. Certificates can be a real hassle, and a considerable expense.

The thing is, I’m pretty happy with CloudFlare. As of today, people on IPv6 can read these words. (Much like telephone numbers in some areas, the world is running out of IP addresses.) I’ve worked out one kink with the system and things are running smoothly. Does Incapsula have code to install on the server to make it play well with others? I don’t know.

Also, I don’t really need any of the advanced services of either system. I don’t do e-commerce, which could be a compelling reason to switch and grab my free upgrade.

I have a couple of terrifically minor quibbles about CloudFlare’s user interface and flexibility blocking IP ranges, but nothing worth even mentioning here. Logically, I should just stick with CloudFlare and leave it at that.

Except…

That guy they think I am? The one whose words can shift the balance of power in an emerging new market? I’m not that guy. I’ll never be that guy unless I devote myself to the task, and I’ve got other things to write about that are probably more interesting to most of you. But still I want to be the guy they think I am. I want to write the CloudFlare vs. Incapsula smackdown article to which all the pundits refer.

To do something like that, I’d have to set up a site to use Incapsula, but I don’t want to rock the Muddled Boat. I have jerryseeger.com, but what sort of test do I get out of a site that no one ever visits? It’s a site where acceleration hardly matters because the whole thing is so simple, and there’s no sign of e-commerce on the horizon. The thing barely even gets spammed.

Still, I have to think of something… the public demands it!

1

A Show of Hands, Please

How many of you out there can ask your significant other, “What day does hockey season begin again?” and fully expect him/her/it to know the answer? Because I totally can.

Note: My sweetie is not so fortunate — I’m not so good with facts — but she doesn’t need anyone to tell her when the first puck drops.

3

The Illusion of Helping

Recently I vowed to cut off my considerable hair for charity. Thanks tons to the people who have stepped up to help. You guys are awesome! We made 5% of the goal in the first day. Hooray!…? Now we’re at 6% (the widget in the sidebar is bad at math) and it looks like my hair will reach the ground before the target is reached.

Marketing is a big factor, of course, and I have some observations about that below. First I’d like to share some thoughts about the culture of Facebook as it relates to fundraising. In a nutshell, Facebook has created a culture that allows people to feel like they’ve helped out when in fact they’ve done pretty much nothing. I don’t really think this is bad (pretty much nothing is better than nothing), but it exposes a way that Facebook could change the economics of fundraising for the better.

When I set up Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow, I went through a site that makes fundraising easier, and that site allows you to automatically pimp out your fundraiser on Facebook. Naturally I used this option.

I don’t have a huge circle on Facebook, but right away people responded. They ‘liked’ the post. They passed on the link. Strangers liked it. With two exceptions (who would have donated anyway), the post-likers and link-passers didn’t donate, yet I’m sure those folks felt like they had helped. “I won’t donate, but if I pass this on, maybe someone else will.”

Of course, calling attention to a cause you think is worthy is a good thing to do. Certainly better than nothing. Alas, in the Facebook universe, it’s only a tiny bit better than nothing. Almost not measurably better than nothing. About a dollar less in value than donating a buck.

I don’t think it’s cheapness that creates these not-so-helpful helpers. If it were as easy to donate a buck as it is to ‘like’ a post, I bet 5% of the likers would make that gesture. As it stands, you have to click a link and fill out a form. If you’re planning on making a large donation, the hassle is pretty insignificant, but it’s a lot to go through when your beneficiary is only going to get a small amount.

If it was as easy to make a small donation as it is to like a post, and there was a “54 people have tossed in a buck” message, with a list of the buck-tossers, fundraising might be fundamentally altered.

In the meantime, when you pass on a link to a cause you believe in, how about starting with “I tossed in five bucks! How ’bout you?” If it’s worth passing on, it’s worth taking a little of your own time to back it up.

I have now promoted my fundraiser in three different ways (the fourth will launch Monday), and I’ve learned a few things.

  1. The most effective marketing method by far has been direct email. Spam makes a little more sense to me now.
  2. Facebook and this blog are terrible marketing tools.
  3. Some folks I thought would have a strong opinion about my aging-hippie look (pro or con) haven’t weighed in. Perhaps I misjudged the Q Score of my Fabio-crushing man-mane.

The next leg of the campaign will be called “Match this, Tim!” The new Apple CEO has announced a pretty generous charity matching program, and I’ll be twisting arms around the office. I don’t think Tim’s going to be able to match my flowing tresses, however.

But seriously, tresses aside, if you haven’t already, pitch in to make a young chemo patient’s life a little less awful. It’s worth doing, and it’s not an illusion.

2

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

The hair is going to someone who needs it more than I do. Please join me in supporting Locks of Love.

Fairly often I turn to you, the Muddled Horde™ for favors. Usually it’s a request to take a few seconds and vote for a photo I took, or some other frivolity.

Welp, this is the big one. This is the call for help that could change someone’s life. This is your moment to give a smile to someone who has nothing to look forward to but shitty days on and on. You can be a shining star.

There are kids out there taking drugs so toxic the kids almost die. They do this hoping to live. The idea is that the drugs will kill the cancer in the children before the children themselves succumb. You can’t do chemo half-assed. It’s not fun.

No matter how well the therapy goes, hair is a victim. The shiny dome becomes a beacon that something is wrong. It’s impossible to feel normal. You may as well walk around with a klaxon shouting “Cancer! Cancer!” Some days, it would be nice to just blend in.

I have a lot of hair, and there’s someone out there who needs it more than I do. I’m asking everyone around me who has half a heart to step up as well, and support Locks of Love. When the total donations reach $2500, my hair goes. Hopefully that will be before my hair reaches my knees.

Times are hard, I know. You gotta take care of the ones close to you first. That’s only right and proper. But maybe you could make a little gesture, a few bucks to say, “right on, Rambler, I’m with you.” Or maybe, like me, you find that you live in a really expensive place that seems to suck your paycheck into a black hole. In that case, what’s another fifty bucks? Nothing, really.

Apple colleagues: Our favorite fruit-flavored gadget company is matching all charitable donations by employees, up to $10,000 per employee(!). Happily, Locks of Love qualifies. Wherever you work, check to see if there’s a charity matching program. They’re actually pretty common, if your employer doesn’t suck.

No more thinking! Click the link! Let’s give these kids something to smile about.

1

At Last, the Recognition I’ve Sought all these Years

Tonight I was named Top Rambler of the Day by not once, but twice! Wow!

Yep, Top Rambler. Second to none. There are many who aspire to these heights, but out of the millions of blogs out there that do little more than ramble, none compares to this one. Bow down before me, those who would ramble, and learn from the master! I AM TRoD!

For some reason my spam software blocked both notifications of my major awards (from two different places), hiding them from the eyes of the general public — along with a comment that said, “Why’s presently there this kind of fine publish!”

Why’s indeed?

1

Your Most Important Password

I’ve mentioned passwords before, but today I’d like to tell you about the most important password in your possession, the single password that keeps the hordes at bay.

Take a moment to think about the passwords you use for your various secret stuff. If you’re like me, you have your ordinary password for unimportant stuff, then you ratchet up the entropy for sites that involve money. For a long time I had two passwords, my ‘secure’ one and my ‘other’ one. Now I’ve started taking my passwords a lot more seriously, which means keeping a file of all my passwords, itself protected with massive encryption and the most awesome passphrase ever. No one’s getting into that file.

But here’s the thing: they don’t have to. There’s another password I have that’s just as powerful and easier for a bad guy to use. My primary email password.

How does that password drop my trousers universally? Simple: if someone had access to my email, they could click “I forgot my password” on every site in the world and harvest the responses. If the evil robot cleared out the emails before I read them, I’d be none the wiser. And I’d be fucked.

You might think your online banking password is the one you must protect most diligently, but your email password will hand them your bank account along with everything else. This is the password to protect and change regularly.

As an aside, you can make things a little tougher for bad guys by modifying your email address when you register for stuff. For instance, if I register at xyz.com, I might use [email protected] for my email address. The cool thing about ‘+’ is that it doesn’t change the delivery (the above will go to [email protected]) but you can sort your email based on the suffix, and you can track who gave your email address away. Most significantly, if some wrongdoer has your email password, they still have to guess the +suffix part for each site before they can use the “I forgot my password” feature. If your email password gets out, that second line of defense could really save your ass.*

Also, know that if your email provider gets hacked, you could be hosed. There is one major company (rhymes with achoo!**) that seems to have a hard time keeping the wrong guys out of your account (although I think it’s the address book that has been compromised, and not direct access to your emails). There are likely others that do a better job keeping their names out of the press when they spill your information.

So, to flog the horse: If bad guys gets access to your email, they own you. Protect that password diligently. Change it fairly often. Use [email protected] when you sign up for stuff. In databases around the globe, your email is quite literally your entire identity.

* I read somewhere that hotmail and some others don’t support the + in emails. I haven’t tested personally, but if your provider is one of those, drop them immediately and find a better service.

** I’m pretty sure I have stock in a company that ends oo!, so I’m not just slinging mud here.

Gravity

I’ve been noodling with a little scene for a few days now, inspired by a line from a song I heard on the radio. Then yesterday I realized that it’s tangentially related to my august sibling’s writing challenge. That challenge is about writing kick-ass paragraphs that provide the details to make your point. This little bit is more atmospheric and so (I claim) doesn’t work as well in the mighty-paragraph format, but the principle is still valid.

The girl opened her eyes, and tried to remember the moment before. She couldn’t. It was as if she hadn’t existed. But she must have.

Heavy. With an effort she lifted her head, then let if fall back; even lying still she could feel the pressure of the mattress beneath her. She flexed her shoulders, paused in confusion. She flexed again, pulling her shoulder blades together. Her skin moved against the coarse fabric beneath her. That didn’t seem right.

She struggled to focus her eyes, searching for anything familiar. She was in a structure of some sort, the smell sharp in her nose. Her bed was made of silvery-gray metal, the linens white and stiff. A curtain surrounded her bed, suspended from a track on the cieling. Outside the curtain she heard someone breathing, liquid and bubbly. A human, sick. This must be a hospital.

She, too was breathing.

Of course she was. If you don’t breathe you die. How could it be any other way?

She sat up, pushing with her arms agaist the pull of the Earth, still flexing her shoulder blades as if that would make a difference.

From outside the curtain came a clatter and footsteps. “Knock, knock,” a cheerful woman said, then a dark-skined arm pushed the curtain aside. The nurse wore loose green clothing. Her teeth shone white. “You’re awake,” she said.

“Yes.” Awake. She had been asleep before. She pulled air into her lungs.

The nurse stepped closer, put her warm hand on top of the girl’s cool one, where it lay on the sheet. “I’ll tell the doctor.”

“Something’s wrong,” the girl said.

The nurse’s smile grew even larger, her head tilted slightly, her sculpted eyebrows perfect arches over her soft dark eyes. “Don’t worry, honey. We’ll take care of you.”

“Thank you.” There was a window at the end of the room; outside the girl could see a parking lot bordered by trees. People walked across the pavement, cars trolled for spaces. She didn’t know how to drive. They all knew how to drive, every one of them, but not her. And she couldn’t tell them why. She was different. No one would understand. Better to not say anything.

Above all the sky arched blue, punctuated by drifting clouds. She was sure she’d never seen the clouds before, not like this, pulled by her own weight against the surface of the planet, looking up – always looking up.

A tear escaped from her eye and tracked down her cheek, pulled by cruel gravity.

But what else could it do?

3

Damn Lies and Statistics

I read recently that WordPress “powers” more than 14% of the top 1,000,000 Web sites. (“Powers” in quotes because actually it’s electricity that powers them — lots of electricity.)

This site is also a WordPress site, and I started to wonder: Am I in the top million? A million, is, after all, a very big number, and this site does get regular traffic.

Which all begs the question, how the hell do you define “top Web site” and how does anyone know what they are? Presumably “top” sites are the ones that get the most visits, but even “visit” is tricky to pin down, and once you have a working definition there’s still the question of how the heck you measure it. Throw in game sites where a visit can last for hours — does that count for more than someone dropping in to see if there’s a new episode up in their favorite blog?

How about traffic from robots? When a robot tries to spam this site, does that count? How would the counting mechanism differentiate that from a legitimate visit?

For that matter, what’s a “site”? Does wordpress.org count as a single site, or is each blog hosted there counted individually? Is the difference whether the owner bothered to register their own domain?

All that aside, the slightly-depressing truth is that this is probably not one of the top million sites, no matter how you figure it, even counting spam-bot visits. Yep, there are probably more than one friggin’ million Web sites more popular than this one. Most of those sites will have a specific purpose — sites for businesses both local and international, political and news sites, comics, and so on (and of course porn).

I have a hard enough time sticking to a single topic in a given episode that the idea of staying on a subject for the whole damn blog is ridiculous. But I digress.

Most content? I’d probably be in the top million in that category. There’s a lot of stuff here. Oldest still-active sites? I might even crack the million line with that measure. How many sites have been continuously active since 2003? That’s like, a century in Internet time.

So I probably get the top-million most persistent award, if nothing else. Maybe I should make that a tagline for the site when I un-Flash the banner: “One of the million most persistent Web sites in the world!”

2

Who, Me?

I was recently farting around with my Facebook profile. I uploaded a new profile image (which doesn’t really look very good as a thumbnail but apparently it doesn’t save my old profile photos, so now I’ll have to find the original to go back), and while I was at it, I glanced through my other profile information.

My profile is scant, not so much because I’m trying to protect my privacy as because I can’t imagine why anyone would care about most of that stuff.

In fact, the only ones who might be interested in any of that stuff are the ones who with the overt goal of invading my privacy. So, why not help them out? There’s a field I can fill in for my political leanings. It occurred to me that ‘anarchist’ would be fun, but ‘communist’ would be more provocative. Even though communism is an economic system. People get mixed up about that.

Hobbies? How about ‘recreational explosives’ and ‘euthanasia’? Maybe ‘book burning’ to keep people guessing.

Senate Committee Chairman: So, on your Facebook profile you declared yourself to be a communist! And a bomb-throwing murderer!
Yours Truly (trying to remember): Did I?
SCC: Yes! You also burn books, so you’re obviously not completely evil, but we demand an explanation!
YT: Simple. That’s not me.

And that would be the truth. I am not a Facebook profile. I’m not even a blog, though blog-Jerry and public-Jerry do have a lot in common.

East-Coast people often say they hate how ‘fake’ Californians are. In fact, Californians say the same thing about other Californians. But what does that actually mean? My theory: Californians don’t express anger as openly as others, and they don’t lean forward when they listen to you (the way southerners do), so they must be fake.

Whatever. Everyone’s fake. I’m fake. And seriously, that’s the way it should be. You know the me I’ve learned to project since my earliest days. The one who plays nice, gets along, and tries to make the world a better place (usually). You don’t want to know me the way I know me. I don’t want to know you that way either.

Then there’s the person you imagine when you read this blog. Not the same as the person you find when you run into meat-me at the frozen yogurt shop. Blog-me might be a little more articulate, since he reads most things he says before he says them. Blog-me talks about different things, sometimes more introspective, and doesn’t really worry so much about boring people.

Blog-me is a different person. A different fiction.

So why not Facebook-me? Why not create some whacked-out extremist commie bomb-thrower and be that guy?

There’s a good reason not to, actually. It’s hard enough work maintaining the personas I already have. All the -me’s are pretty lazy.

Vote Early, Vote Daily

One of the more popular print pinup magazines is having a photo contest, and the prize is a four-page spread in their magazine. We’re in the hunt but a bit back from the front-runners, so a last-minute burst of voting would be awesome!

The contest is through Facebook and there are some pictures that are pretty obviously doing well because of better networking rather than actual quality of the photos. So it’s time for Harlean and me to beat the bushes and get ourselves past the obvious duds and up to the front!

Here’s the link:

Vote now! (Note: the picture is definitely pin-uppy, but all the pics in the contest meet Facebook’s guidelines.)

Note that you can vote once per day, so don’t think you’re done stuffing the ballot box after one visit. It costs you nothing and takes just a few seconds.

And, as always, thanks.

Really, Hollywood?

I’m catching the start of the American Football season, a game between two very good teams that I find myself interested in despite myself. Often on Thursdays I go to a bar to have a beer or two and watch sports and crank out a blog episode or three.

I’m at home this week, a change that may merit its own episode, or maybe not. I’ve got the game streaming to my computer in our office, commercials and all. Ain’t technology grand?

I just saw an ad for a movie coming out sometime soon. It looks like a very expensive version of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. On closer look, the movie looks like… an expensive version of Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots that you watch rather than play. Much of the allegedly gut-twisting action is watching machines damage each other in a boxing ring. Yippee.

Although they give the movie some name that does not include the words ‘rock’ or ‘sock’, I would be very disappointed if at no time does one robot punch another robot in his shiny metal chin and make its head pop off.

Well, except for the part where I won’t actually see the movie at all.

A Side Effect of My Road Trip

Car commercials often show the vehicle in question cruising on high-drama two-lane blacktop, either in the desert, through pine forests, or perhaps on a twisty road along the coast.

When that happens, I don’t see the car. I’m trying to identify the road; there’s a good chance I’ve driven it and I might have a story to about it that I haven’t savored in a while. I saw one such commercial last night and afterwards while thinking that the road looked like a stretch of highway outside of Bakersfield I realized that I couldn’t even remember what color the car was.

It’s kind of like posing a sexy woman next to your product. You’ll get my attention, but I won’t be looking at what you’re asking me to buy.

More Evidence I’m a Lucky Man

There’s a commercial running on TV these days that features a stadium built out of sandwiches and snack foods. When this replica of Soldier Field is revealed, the rotund men assembled for the game gasp in awe.

The commercial runs on the Food Channel as well as during sporting events, so I’ve had the pleasure of watching it with my sweetie. Her take? A nice idea, but the field should be guacamole, not just some surface painted green.

If I ever need a replica of a stadium made out of munchies, I know it will be done right.

Exchange

I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t have bought this book, but the author is part of the Kansas Bunch*. Exchange is Dale Cozort’s first effort, and while it’s got a few warts, it has a lot going for it as well.

Bias alert: I know Dale. He’s a good guy. If I didn’t honestly like his book, I simply wouldn’t review it. Strangers don’t get that same courtesy.

I’m going to start by picking at the first couple of pages. Exchange wasn’t as clean out of the gate as it could have been. Logistically, I was confused, and though the situation was inherently confusing and hectic, I had drawn a mistaken impression of the perimeter of the exchange zone that fuddled me. Then there’s a paragraph of backstory about the protagonist’s daughter that sticks out badly.

“Uh, oh,” I thought.

Then the story gets cranking, the backstory info is covered gracefully again where it should have been, good people emerge, many more bad people emerge, and the most interesting people are the ones you simply can’t classify. I like stories with people like that. Everyone has their own agenda.

So here’s what’s going on: Every once in a while, a patch of our world switches places with a patch of an alternate Earth. The exchange lasts a couple of weeks and then everything switches back. On the other world humans never rose, but many other mammals picked up a pretty good dose of intelligence to fill the void. There are some pretty clever critters out there, and the bats are freakin’ crazy. The mightiest of the alternate mammals are the bears, who can apparently shrug off many rounds from high-powered rifles (twinge of skepticism). Venturing out into the forests of Alternate-Earth is “going into bear country.”

I might have named the novel Bear Country.

While the bears are the poster-children of the more-dangerous mammals, it’s the monkeys you really have to watch out for, and the wolves are pretty gnarly, too. But there’s one other creature out there even worse than those. There are people out there, nasty ones, who stayed behind after previous exchanges.

There’s only a few hours notice before one of these exchanges takes place. During that time the city is evacuated as much as possible (it always seems to be a city that gets sucked to the other side) and the military moves as much stuff into the exchange zone as they can. Then of course there’s the crazies — also known as the protagonist’s former boyfriends — she sure can pick ’em.

[Flashback to alpha female telling protagonist something like “I don’t know why, but I think you will play an important role in all this.” Aargh. Note to self: if I feel the need to justify a big decision as a hunch on the part of the decider that way, better to just not. Either decide if this is where I want to spend my coincidence**, or restructure so there is no decision. But I digress.]

One of the cool things about this story is that I started to notice things that contradicted what the characters believed, and then the characters started to notice them, too, and question their beliefs. Give the alert reader a cookie! Another cool thing is that you start to see something much larger unfold, and anchoring it all you have a protagonist who must grow and accept her own shortcomings.

Something big is going on. Bigger than cities getting sucked temporarily into another, more dangerous world. There are hints, and at the end of this book much is explained. But not everything. The book has an end, a real true end, but there is still a lot more going on.

Here’s why you should buy this book: it’s got some warts but it introduces a great universe, some interesting characters (including strong females), and there’s a lot going on. Buy it to say, “Hey, Dale, you put yourself out there and I respect that. Keep going.” Also, the more of you who buy it, the more motivated Dale will be to write the next one. Could Exchange be better? Absolutely. Am I going the read the next one? You bet your sweet ass I am.

* I don’t think the Kansas Bunch knows they’re called this yet. Members of the Bunch who are reading this: get used to it.
** The coincidence is the moment in the story that transforms it from ‘this could happen to anyone’ to ‘this did happen to this particular person’. It’s why they’re in the story, and not someone else. A second coincidence… well, you better be Douglas Adams.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle
, or a new car), I get a kickback.