Category Archive: Computer/Meta

Feb 13

Smartphones Have Reduced Us to Goldfish

GoldfishThe average human’s attention span is… oh look, a bird!

According to scientists, the age of smartphones has left humans with such a short attention span even a goldfish can hold a thought for longer.

Researchers surveyed 2,000 participants in Canada and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms.

The results showed the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, or around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds.

Goldfish, meanwhile, are believed to have an attention span of nine seconds.

–Leon Watson
Humans Have Shorter Attention Span Than Goldfish, Thanks to Smartphones

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Feb 09

Dealing With Copyright in WordPress

Copyright NoticeAs many of you know (or have noticed), over the past two years, I’ve gotten very serious about copyright on this site. It’s not just a question of the law. I want to do right by people. I don’t like them taking my stuff and I don’t want to take their stuff. The whole issue was very big to me, but it became very personally one year ago when I got some email from the great photojournalist Leif Skoogfors. The moral and legal aspects of using other people’s work are very clear. The practical aspects are, well, a nightmare.

The biggest problem that I have is that there are almost 8,000 articles on Frankly Curious — the vast majority of them with images. And of those, at last 6,500 of them were published before I had my copyright awakening. Now even in those early days, I did my best to use what I thought were public domain images. And when using images that I knew were commercial, I did my best to do so in a way that would fall under the vague notion of Fair Use.

But it turns out that I was badly mistaken about what represented public domain. I think I was better on the Fair Use issue. But regardless, I have several thousand images that really need to be inventoried and dealt with. And I’m doing this: slowly and in a totally haphazard way. But I’ve come up with some ways to avoid these problems in the future.

Image Copyright

Most of the images that I use on this site are licensed under one of the Creative Commons licenses. In these cases, it’s fine to use the images, but I have to provide attribution. As a result, at the bottom of new pages, there is a horizontal rule with small, italicized text explaining what I’ve done. A good example is what I did for Conservative Mum: Portrait of a Serial Troll:

That’s just what’s required. But what I’m doing to make my life easier in the future is using WordPress’ Description field in the ATTACHMENT DETAILS form. For this image, I added “PD,” for public domain, to the field. (Given that I altered it, the image may not technically be in the public domain. But from my perspective it is.) I then copy all the licensing text above, so that if I use the image again, I can just copy and paste it into any article where I use it.

Copyright Display

In order to get the licensing information to display in this way, I’ve created a CSS class called copyright. I then attach it to a div tag and the rest works like magic.

The CSS is very simple:

  margin-top: 1em;
  border-top: 1px #999 solid;
  font-style: italic;
  font-size: 0.8em;
  margin-bottom: 1em;

That all makes my life a lot easier. Normally, I add the copyright text before I add the image itself. It’s something I enjoy doing. This may be because of all my misdeeds in the past. I feel good doing what is right. This is doubtless why I document public domain images, even though I am not legally required.

Video Copyright

With video, things are different. I don’t actually publish video; I just embed it. But copyright still plays a major role. I am constantly dealing with pages that include some bit of embedded video that disappears — usually because of a copyright issue. Sometimes, I have to replace them — or, in rare cases, delete them altogether. (See, for example, A Pair of Pliers and a Blowtorch.)

A problem I run into a lot, however, is figuring out what the video was. Generally, I don’t want to read the whole article. And that’s often what’s required so I can conjure what I was thinking when I wrote it. And sometimes I can’t even manage that. So I’ve decided to provide captions for my videos. Like this:

From DailyMotion: Porky’s Duck Hunt.

Documenting Videos

When I first used that video, it was in Anniversary Post: Daffy Duck Is Born! And there is really nothing to go on regarding what the video is except for, “Daffy Duck V 1.0: Anyway, here is the short that started it all…” Okay, so I would know to find the first Daffy Duck cartoon. But you get the idea.

This is accomplished in much the same way:

  margin-top: 1em;
  text-align: center;
  font-style: italic;
  font-size: 0.8em;
  margin-bottom: 1em;

The only problem with this is that if the text is long enough, it won’t wrap at the same width as the video. This would be trivial if all the videos were the same width. But they aren’t. I’m sure I could work this out, but I don’t feel up to spending the time on it. Plus, because of server-side caching, I’m having enough problems. And I don’t think this is going to be an issue in the vast majority of circumstances.

So there you have it: my solutions to the practical problems that result from trying to do copyright correctly. It’s all a bit of a pain. But images add so much to the experience of visiting the website. I know that I’d be bored looking at the site if it didn’t have the images that it does.


Because of server-side caching and my content delivery network, it is possible that the video above will be display incorrectly. I’m still trying to figure out how to do caching correctly. Maybe when I do, I’ll write about it here. I do know that I don’t have my caching set up properly here. It’s just a question of time.

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Feb 03

My First Google Featured Snippet!

Don Quixote Translations Featured Snippet

What you see above is a screen capture of a Google featured snippet for the search “Don Quixote translations.” I’m presenting it because it is taken from my webpage, Don Quixote in English Language Translation. It is the first time that I’ve ever been so honored, and I’m thrilled about it. I’m pleased both because it has to do with my pet subject — Don Quixote — and also because I’ve been working on getting more attention for my writing on this subject.

A Featured Snippet? Me?!

But I never even thought that my work might be used in a featured snippet. For one thing, they are usually found in searches that are more question-based. For example, “Who wrote Finnegans Wake?” But I suppose that “Don Quixote translations” is an implied question.

Regardless, I learned something about having this featured snippet: it’s great for traffic! The webpage that it links to has gone a little crazy the past couple of weeks. It’s now in my top five most visited pages. And that’s saying a lot when you consider that there are almost 8,000 pages on Frankly Curious. I’m nothing if not a writing fanatic. But over the last couple of years, I’ve learned that creating a lot of content — even reasonably good content — isn’t enough to rock Google’s world.

What Google Wants

John Rutherford Don QuixoteGoogle claims to love people like me: people who just create content without worrying about search engine optimization (SEO) and all that. But there are things that Google likes. It is, after all, just a computer algorithm. One thing it likes is old stuff. Just being around for a long time says to Google, “This is a website that is worth paying attention to.” And that makes sense. For every active blog, there are probably a hundred that people started for a short period of time and then abandoned. Frankly Curious is in its eighth year of active (and often hyperactive) publication. It does say something positive of a site that it continues on.

Of course, that has nothing to do with Google rewarding the site with this featured snippet. In fact, you can forget all about the featured snippet. The real issue is ranking. About six months ago, this page only ranked about 50th for the search term “Don Quixote translations.” Now it ranks 4th. I owe this increase in search rank to a WordPress plugin called Yoast SEO. It does things like tell you if what you’ve written is long enough, if you have enough mentions of your focus keyword (or too many — which seems to be a bigger sin), and whether you have images. It’s really kind of a nag.

Yoast to the Rescue!

But one thing it does is check to see if you’ve written about a subject before. And it will report, “You’ve used this focus keyword X times before, it’s probably a good idea to read this post on cornerstone content and improve your keyword strategy.” The idea is that Google is much more interested in you writing one long article about Don Quixote than 40 short articles about it.

This idea took a long time to get into my head. But finally it started to make sense. Anyway, I had wanted to write a long article about Don Quixite for a while: a single page where people could get a basic introduction to the the book, along with information about which version they should read. In other words: I wanted to write the article that I wish had been around when I first decided to read the book. And the material was there; it was just scattered over about 40 articles. I could see why Google wanted me to do things differently.

Combining Content

The truth is that I haven’t even finished the article. I’ve only managed to take three articles and combine them. (Note: when I say combine them, I don’t mean copy them; I mean address the same material as I see it today (which is somewhat different than it was at the time). Doing this alone made the page increase its ranking substantially. But the new page was still competing for Google’s love with the other pages.

Nowhere was that as true as with my first article, “About to Read Don Quixote.” And that was particularly embarrassing, given that it was a cheeky article that shows off just how little I knew. It also only featured six of the translations — not the 13 major translations that I now discuss. And to make matters even worse, those original translations did not include my far more informed favorite by John Rutherford.

Power of the 301 Redirect

Don QuixoteLuckily, Google allows websites to use a really powerful tool: the 301 redirect. A 301 redirect tells anyone going to a particular page that it has moved permanently. I’ve known about these since at least 2000. But I always thought that the redirects had to be the same page. Of course, that makes no sense. I’m constantly rewriting pages and they remain the same page. So I was able to redirect that old, cheeky article to my new, far more knowledgeable page. (Because I can’t bear to throw anything away, the entire original article is in a footnote in the new article.) And in the process, I applied all the link “juice” of that old article to the new one.

Before I did that, the two articles were always ranking at 11 and 12 (more or less) for this search term. But when the 301 finally went through (it seems to take a month or more for Google to really figure it out), suddenly I found myself at position 4 with my very own featured snippet. And the sites that beat me out are behemoths: (Alexa ranking: 35,153), (Alexa ranking: 328), and Amazon (Alexa ranking: 8). So I’m very pleased. Now I’d like to go after “best Don Quixote translation,” where I’m ranked at number 7.

So I’ll Worry About SEO — A Little

What I figure is that if I continue adding to the page (there’s lots more to say), and put in 301 redirects for the roughly 40 other pages, I might be able to get to the top of the list for both searches. And why not? The truth is, I don’t think there is anyone who knows more than I do about Don Quixote in English — at least not anyone who is writing about it on the web.

The whole thing makes me think that if I took this approach to all of my random articles on Frankly Curious, I could probably increase the site traffic by an order of magnitude. I have lots of articles about old blues. Maybe I should synthesize that. I’ve written a lot about Looney Tunes. Same thing — although I already rank number one for “Bugs Bunny hare” for my article, Bugs Bunny: Rabbit or Hare? (the single most popular page on Frankly Curious). And I’ve written a lot about idiosyncratic or psychotronic film. But in that case, I’ve decided to start a whole new website. I just purchased I’ll be updating you on that in the coming months.

This is all very cool. I still care most about the ideas and the writing. But it’s nice to know that just a little bit of SEO work can greatly increase your audience. Or at least you can if you’ve been writing like a madman for the last decade.

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Dec 21

I Apologize

Frank Moraes - I ApologizeIt’s 8:05 am. Normally, there would be some quotation here. But instead, I thought I would take a moment to apologize to you all. I’ve always seen this blog as a community. And a big part of that is interacting with you all in the comments. But I haven’t been doing that. In a sense, I don’t need to. James is an amazingly good simulacrum of me. I often find that I respond to a comment only to find that James has already responded as I did — but more thoughtfully. Also: in a nicer way. James is a much nicer guy than I am.

But I do miss all the interaction. And I am making my way back to the way things used to be. I’m back on a regular publishing scheduling, which is the first step. But really, this last month and a half has been hard on me. And when I’m under stress, I do what all reasonable people should do: I withdraw. I really can’t believe the world I’m living in. Just yesterday morning, as I was coming into consciousness, I realized, “Donald Trump is going to be our next president!” How the hell did that happen?

Of course, when I’m more awake, I think, “Of course Donald Trump is going to be our president!” Really, as terrible as I think it will be, I have to admit: Donald Trump is the president that America deserves. And I only say this because America really is the country built on chattel slavery and native genocide. So people who are members of “minority” groups feel most of the time like I do now. And members of the “majority” feel that every problem in their lives is due to “minority” groups — and not sleazy capitalists like Donald Trump.

But most of the time I see myself as those very cultured Germans who thought that the land that spawned Beethoven could never give rise to Hitler. I know that’s a joke. The land that spawned John Steinbeck is very much the land that brought us President Donald Trump and Republican control of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the state legislatures.

I just want you to know that I apologize for pulling back. But that’s what I do. I’m not a good commiserator. But I’ll try to be better. Once Trump is inaugurated, it will help. Then I can count down the eight years of his presidency. Of course, I believe it will be eight years. That’s because I have a well earned low opinion of the people of this country.

I apologize.

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Nov 20

It’s Not Hard to Get Your Copyright Notice Right

Copyright NoticeI’ve become something of an addict of Current Affairs. It’s not that I agree with it all the time. But I like the style. I am clearly a member of its demographic. It’s for educated people with a focus on politics. But it is also a magazine of culture. And the two things mix. When they write about culture, they bring in politics; and their political writing always touches on culture. They do a great job. What they can’t seem to do is put a proper copyright notice on the bottom of their pages.

This bugs me. They are smart people. Their website is written with the Bootstrap framework, so they aren’t total neophytes. If you are going to hand-code a site, it’s a good way to go. I’m a big believer in WordPress, but that’s more an indication of my age. I’m just not interested in the technical side of things anymore. (Yes, I know: it’s what I do for a living; but I get paid for caring about it then.) So it makes no sense that at the bottom of every page, we get this:

Current Affairs - 2015 Copyright Notice

Let Computers Do What They Do Well

It’s almost 2017. What’s more, the site started at the end of 2015 (29 November is the first time that noticed it). So they put in the copyright notice and never looked back.

I know: putting the copyright notice on the bottom of webpages is a pain. Many sites wait well into January before they finally get around to moving to the new year. And some take a good deal longer than that. There is no reason for this! Computers are great at doing really boring stuff like displaying the current year in your copyright notice.

There is an endless number of ways to solve the problem. If you look, you will see that at the bottom of every page on Frankly Curious is this:

Frankly Curious - 2016 Copyright Notice

And the wonderful thing is that at 0:00 on 1 January 2017, that will say, “© 2009-2017 Frank Moraes.” I never have to think about the issue except when I go to otherwise well designed websites that claim that fine articles published on 19 November 2016 have a 2015 copyright.

Automating Your Copyright Notice

There are a lot of ways to do this. It’s a single line of PHP code for instance. (WordPress is written primarily in PHP)

echo "&copy; 2009-" . date("Y") . " Frank Moraes";

That has the advantage of not requiring that the web browser be running JavaScript. Of course, there are very few people who have JavaScript turned off in their browsers. But if you want to create a website that doesn’t require JavaScript, that’s one way to do it. It can be done with any other backend language like Ruby or C# or whatever.

The JavaScript Solution

It’s very easy to do in JavaScript. And you can even set it up so that it works without JavaScript, but those users will have to wait for you to update the year before they see things correctly.

&copy; 2009 -
document.write(" " + new Date().getFullYear());
Frank Moraes

Now this has the disadvantage that it does have to be maintained. It’s just automatic for the vast majority of your visitors. It’s also the case that it doesn’t work with my WordPress theme. The <noscript> tag is just stripped out and I end up with two “2016” strings. So I use the much simpler solution:

&copy; 2009-<script>document.write(new Date().getFullYear());</script> Frank Moraes

If JavaScript is enabled, the visitor sees the normal thing, “© 2009-2016 Frank Moraes.” But if they don’t, they see “© 2009- Frank Moraes.” Since the copyright notice isn’t necessary as a legal matter, this actually works just fine. Constructions such as “2009-” tend to be interpreted as “2009 to the present.”

Given this, one wouldn’t necessarily need to do anything but to put in “&copy; 2009- Frank Moraes.” But I think having the current year is clearer and gives the reader the impression that the website owner takes copyright more seriously.

Regardless, none of this is difficult. All anyone has to do is copy and paste some code. I’ll even provide it for the folks at Current Affairs:

<span id="copyright">&copy; 2015-<script>document.write(new Date().getFullYear());</script> Current Affairs</span>

Now they have no excuse. Not that they did before…

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Nov 13

North Korea and the Nature of Democracy

Kim Jong-un - North Korea - InternetLast week at the website I edit for, we published, Everything We Know About North Korea’s Bizarre Internet. It was written by Claire Broadley who is kind of the co-editor with me of the blog at It’s one of the best things we’ve done. In one way, it is hilarious. In another, it is extremely sad. Even though it is about the internet and technology, it provides a great insight into North Korea itself.

My favorite part of it is, “On the majority of North Korean websites, the names of all three Supreme Leaders are displayed larger than the text that surrounds them.” This is actually what led me to add “bizarre” to the title of the article. To give you some idea of this, consider the Kim Il-Sung University. Since “Kim Il-Sung” is one of the supreme leaders, the name is in a larger font. So when “Kim Il-Sung University” is written, it doesn’t come off as a single unit. It’s silly.

Pettiness of Authoritarians

I was so interested in this that I went looking through their HTML and CSS. What I found was that every time “Kim Il-Sung” was mentioned, it was put inside a “span” tag with the class “august.” The “august” class was then defined in the CSS file to be bold and 10 percent larger than the text it was around. It was fun to find this out. But it’s pathetic for three reasons:

  1. Those in power are so insecure that they must deify their current and previous leaders.
  2. They used the word “august.”
  3. It was hand coded so it had to be put in the HTML every time one of the names was mentioned.

But this is hardly surprising. This is the nature of authoritarians. And you don’t even have to go to that level. Look at the state of the aristocracy in England two hundred years ago. Or even the way people treat the royal family today. Or remember when Wall Street banks got their feelings all hurt when Obama talked about “fat cat bankers”? Entitled people are amazingly petty.

It’s hard not to see this all in the context of the recent American presidential election. He seems genuinely ignorant of what a president is. He seems to imagine that he’s going to be Supreme Leader.

What was so sad preparing the article on the North Korean internet is thinking about the millions of people who all have horrible lives just so that one man can feel like he is a god. And it’s all for nothing. Kim Jong-un isn’t the supreme leader of North Korea because he keeps most of the country living near starvation; he’s leader because China backs him. Without China, he would be executed and that would be the end of it.

North Korea vs America

The irony is, of course, that if he allowed as much freedom as the Chinese despots do, not only would the people of North Korea be better off, so would Kim Jong-un. Or he would be in all but one way: he wouldn’t be allowed the delusion that he is a god. He would just be an incredibly powerful man with more money than anyone could ever spend.

It’s hard not to see this all in the context of the recent American presidential election. The president-elect ran for office because he already had everything else. And that’s one of the reasons why he’s so dangerous. He seems genuinely ignorant of what a president is. He seems to imagine that he’s going to be Supreme Leader. And during my life, I’ve seen one political norm after another fall. So in addition to the Republicans getting all that they want — stripping away much of what is left of the New Deal and the Great Society — we will take another giant step toward kleptocracy.

Democracy is about a lot more than voting. In the coming years, we will see just how how much different we are from North Korea.


I highly recommend reading the whole article, Everything We Know About North Korea’s Bizarre Internet. I’ve barely touched on it. The article is fascinating — and probably the best work any of us has done over at

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Oct 21

Google Is Driving Me Crazy!

Google LogoI feel for people who own websites that need to make money. They really are at the mercy of the internet giants that push traffic. A great example of this is Upworthy that saw its traffic go down by 25 percent almost over night because Facebook made a change to one of its algorithms. Late last month, Google made a change in its ranking algorithm: Penguin 4.0. And the results have been dramatic.

The change is not necessarily bad. In fact, it’s been great for Frankly Curious. Traffic has increased by about 10 percent. That doesn’t matter that much to me. For one thing, the site doesn’t really make any money. But more important: I’m focused on the regulars around here. It is nice when a particular article gets a lot of attention, but that’s not what keeps me grinding out content every day. I like the community here, even if it is small. (There are about a hundred regulars, but only a couple dozen who ever comment.)

For other websites, Google’s changes have not been welcome. Search Engine Roundtable ran an informal (non-scientific) poll and found, Only 12 Percent Said They Saw Ranking Improvements After Google Penguin 4.0. But mostly, people aren’t seeing any change. (Of course, it’s hard to say because traffic is noisy.)

Weirdness at Google

But there is one thing that has been going on with Google that driving me crazy. A month and a half ago, I wrote an article I’m rather proud of, Dean Spanley: Film and Book Comparison. It’s more the idea of it that I like. No one has written about this and the film and the book (novella) are really different. So I knew that I would get traffic for it. But I haven’t.

So I went to Google and I did a search: “dean spanley book film comparison.” That’s almost the title, so I figured it should be at the top of the search results — or close enough. But the search produced this:

Google Search: dean spanley book film comparison - Example One

Okay, so it isn’t at the top of the rankings. But when I looked, I found it was nowhere. That is to say: Google didn’t even have the page in its database. This was horrifying — not for me but for the world. The best thing about Google has always been its enormous database. That’s why it has always been better than Bing.

What was going on? Frankly Curious is a small website, but its been around a long time and it has a lot of unique content. What’s more: it isn’t that small. Anyway, I went to show a friend. I entered the same search into Google and I go this:

Google Search: dean spanley book film comparison - Example Two

Now the page was the top ranked. In fact, just “dean spanley book” ranks at number 11. So I was pleased. And, as usual, I just figured I had imagined the other search or that it was a glitch.

Flipping a Switch

But no! The truth is that the search flips back and forth. It seems that my article isn’t in the database during the day and it is during the night. Or something. I haven’t studied it closely. But it is the case that for days, sometimes it’s there and sometimes it isn’t. Of course, maybe Google has always been this way and I simply didn’t notice.

I’m just glad that it doesn’t really matter to me in a practical sense. But it is driving me crazy!

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Sep 29

Frank Is Sick

Frank Moraes - SickI was very sick yesterday. It felt like a rope had been tired around my heart and pulled. I could barely walk. So instead of leaving at 5:30 in the morning yesterday, I ended up staying in bed the whole day. This went along with instances of shaking, turning white, and going very close to blind. It’s all very strange.

I’m feeling much better, but hardly well. I hope that I will be feeling better today. And assuming that, I should be back on my regular publishing schedule. But if I don’t, it won’t be because I’ve died. This may just take a few more days for me to recover.

I’m looking forward to working on this. I love writing. But as for now, I just want to go back to bed. Have a great day!

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Sep 06

You Don’t Know What an Editor Does

What an Editor DoesI’ve noticed that most people don’t know what an editor does. They almost always think that an editor is a copy editor. That means that they think what editors do is work their way through a writer’s text and replace “than” with “then” when the need occurs. And this is an important job that is done less and less. Who has time for copy editing when you have to get an article out on the results of National Federation of Independent Business v Sebelius within five minutes of its release? It’s a now, now, now world — and I’m just trailing behind it.

I’ve known a couple of great copy editors in my life. They are amazing. Copy editing is like playing music: you can study and get good at it. But some people just have the mind for it. I was not born with this gift. But I’m an okay copy editor because I’ve developed a few tricks. But I never do any copy editing here. It’s hard enough to get myself to do a quick read through of an article after I’ve taken the time to write it. If I happen to read an article I wrote a long time ago, I always find errors. And roughly half the time I can’t even be bothered to fix them then.

Editor Ecosystem

It’s not surprising that people think editors are all copy editors: it’s so concrete. What’s more, “editor” is not actually a job title. The editing process is so vast that calling yourself one is like calling yourself a scientist. Sure, if you were a theoretical atmospheric physicist, you might tell the prols you were a scientists just to avoid getting a bunch of questions. But you would think of yourself as an atmospheric physicist because your job doesn’t involve a white lab coat or the use of a pipette.

At big publishers — book, magazine, website — you will have layers of editors. You have editors who screen material and send it on to other editors. You have development editors who work with known writers to come up with in-house projects. And you have content editors, who actively work with the writer throughout the project. But these are only used when publishers think they have something big — generally when they have a famous non-writer creating something. I don’t live in that world and I never have.

Now, of course, the title “editor” has lost much of its meaning. Brian Beutler is Senior Editor at New Republic. I would be shocked to learn that he sits in on editorial meetings and works with writers. Beutler is one of the most senior writers at New Republic. He is also pretty much their best. But I guess at a lot of places, an editor is a step up from a writer. So if a writer becomes too dear, they become an editor, even if they are doing the same thing they were doing before.

The Ginsu Knife Editor

The name for what I do is “line editor.” It sounds like an intense copy editor. But it is actually a jack-of-all-trades editor. It is the editor that small companies have because they don’t have enough work to split the job up. So here are the main things that I do, more or less in the order of importance:

  • Mother: I make sure the writers are happy. I try to get them to do more work. And I advocate for them. I also tell them (in the nicest way possible) about various hard truths of life. This is easy for me, because I’m older than everyone else and I genuinely like my writers.
  • Develop: I get a constant stream of requests for articles that will fill some need. It’s often quite a lot of work to figure out what that article should be and how to communicate it to the writers. This last part is key. I don’t want writers wasting their time (And mine!) writing about the wrong thing.
  • Edit: this is mostly copy editing. But it involves a fair amount of content editing. It also involves fact-checking.
  • Publish: there are a lot of different parts of this. It ranges from typesetting to finding graphics to pushing things live. Interestingly, it’s both tedious and terrifying work. It’s also great, because it is the end of a project — in some cases, one that took over a year to complete.
  • Write: when I don’t have a writer for a particular task, I have to write it myself.

Editor as Generic Middle Manager

There’s no doubt that I do much more than that. At the end of any day, I’m not usually sure what I got done. I feel like I’ve spent the whole day playing Fruit Ninja (which I only know about because of work).

There are many kinds of editor. But being a line editor (“lone editor” would be a better term) is very much like being a middle manager at any other company. There are people, they do work, you try to keep it all flowing while maintaining an acceptable level of quality. Oh: and you try to remain calm.

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Aug 15

Facebook Fake Featuring Sergeant Jill Stevens

Facebook Fake Featuring Sergeant Jill Stevens

I saw the image above on Facebook. It is entirely typical of what Facebook is: a photo sharing website. And by and large, what people share is crap. And when it isn’t, it is generally something I’ve seen dozens of times before in similar forms. It’s especially concerning when it is political stuff that I agree with, because it is often pushing things that are not quite right. It’s very hard for me to stop myself from responding, “I agree. But it’s slightly more complicated than that.” Most Facebook users don’t do complicated. However, they do do what I can only call “Facebook Fakes.”

The image above is a Facebook Fake. When I texted a link to it to Elizabeth, her instant reaction was, “Fake.” She’s a sophisticated Facebook user. (Many of my friends are and they try to save me from myself — mostly just trying to get me to not be so obviously clueless.) So I think she instinctively knew. But she didn’t notice what made me immediately tag it as a Facebook Fake: the typesetting. So yes, before I continue on, it is necessary for me to discuss a fine point of editing.

Typesetting for Fakers

The typesetting of large numbers is a problem. For example, what is the number: 4294967295000? It’s hard to say. So in all languages that I know of, we use digit groupings. What’s more, the standard grouping (at least in the west) is three digits. So here in America, we would typeset the number: 4,294,967,295,000. So it’s easy to determine that it is 4.2 trillion, whereas it wasn’t with “4294967295000.”

Interestingly, Americans do not use digital grouping on the right side of zero. So we would in general see a highly precise number typeset like this: 0.4294967295. It makes a certain amount of sense in that case. But what about this case: 0.00000004294967295? It would be a whole lot more helpful to typeset it like this: 0.000,000,042,949,672,95. Easy: 0.042 micro-whatever.

But while the comma is used for the separator here in the US, it isn’t used everywhere. Some countries use spaces. And others use periods (generally then using the comma for the decimal point). Hence: 4.294.967.295.000 — still quite clear.

Now Back to Our Facebook Fake

If you read this whole Facebook Fake, it’s pretty clear. It is very sloppy and pidginized, “I am [sic] American soldier”?! But the first thing I noted was that the digit grouping marker was a period and not a comma. I dare say most Americans don’t even know that a lot of countries use periods, just as the creator of this Facebook Fake apparently didn’t know that other countries (specifically, America) use commas.

It probably doesn’t speak well of me that I delight in this kind of stuff. But there are many reasons why I am a writer, and his is one of them. People communicate things with words that they never intend. In this case, “I’m not American!”

The Truth Behind the Facebook Fake

The woman in the photo is Sergeant Jill Stevens. According to Wikipedia, “She is a combat medic in the Utah Army National Guard.” What’s more, she was Miss Utah in 2007. The original image extends higher, and it includes the quote (brackets in original):

Seeing how women are treated [in Afghanistan] was sad. In the villages, I’d take my helmet off to show I’m a woman and I’m respected, and that women do have worth.

So the Facebook Fake was the image of an American soldier who did an 18-month tour in Afghanistan. But the rest, well, no. Beyond the absurdity that her sergeant would send her home based on Facebook likes, Stevens is a Sergeant. Also, that photo of her appears to be from 2008. She was deployed from 2004-2005. And having listened to her speak, I can’t imagine her mangling the language so. Finally, she’s far too media conscious to put out an image that looks that bad.

I like to think that one of my skills is being able to create a teachable moment out of anything. I think this Facebook Fake is a good example.

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Aug 12

Shakezula Thinks I Have No Business Commenting on Transgender Rights

Angry Teacher Explaining Transgender RightsLast week I wrote, Bill Maher, Donald Trump, and the Existential Threat. It was not about transgender rights. But I did note, “As with same sex marriage, I don’t think [transgender bathroom use] is a particularly big issue.” I added, “When LGBT people are still commonly beaten up and even murdered, these other worthy causes strike me rather more as easy and non-threatening things that the straight community can do until the descriptor LGBT itself because pointless.” But Shakezula and others at Lawyers, Guns & Money thought I was very wrong. In fact, Shakezula even responded that I had “no business commenting” on the subject.

I Wasn’t Writing About Transgender Rights

Remember that my article is not about transgender rights. The article is about the notion that Donald Trump is an existential threat. It argued against the idea that we should all give up our liberal principles because of This Year’s Existential Threat to Truth, Justice, and the American Way. I did come back to the issue of transgender rights. At the end, I wrote, “It is not the time to pretend that we aren’t liberals — to back off on transgender bathroom rights or anything else.” So I think you can see that the problem we have here is not that I don’t support transgender rights, but that I admit to a hierarchy — bathroom rights not being at the top of the list.

Let’s consider same-sex marriage for a moment. Most liberals these days think that it is the very definition of LGB rights. Yes, it is a sign of the progress we have made. But if you want to pick a single issue that galvanized the LGBT rights movement, it was the AIDS epidemic. And yes, the hundreds of thousands of Americans who died of AIDS was far more important than same-sex marriage. That doesn’t mean that I’m unaware that different kinds of prejudice work together. For example: voting rights and lynching.

The truth is that we all prioritize, and I was deeply offended that Shakezula seemed to think that I had no business commenting on transgender rights if I don’t follow his orthodoxy. Not that I think he was commenting on me specifically. There were only 16 click-throughs from that trackback. And I doubt that any of the commenters made it past the second paragraph where they got their outrage fix.

A Comment That Could Start a Conversation

The whole thing started with this comment, which I think explains everything. Commenter JL wrote:

Huh, I followed this link back and while this person thinks Maher is wrong, they also don’t think that bathroom access is a very important issue for trans people compared to harassment and murder. That’s an impressive misunderstanding. Bathroom discrimination for trans people is connected with suicide attempts, excessive absence/dropping out of school, avoiding going out in public [PDF], physical violence, and physical health problems like UTIs and kidney infections.

Now, I’m actually aware of all this. But if I weren’t, I would want to be. So shouldn’t that comment be made here where I would see it? After all, anyone can comment here. It isn’t like at Lawyers, Guns & Money where one must register to comment. But no. The comment wasn’t intended for me. What’s more, it wasn’t intended to increase transgender rights. It was meant to preach to the choir and prove how worthy and liberally pure JL is.

Outrage Is More Important That Engagement

So let’s sum up. I wrote an article encouraging liberals not to abandon their principles just because Donald Trump is running for president. I specifically mentioned not retreating on transgender bathroom rights. And I get a bunch of “holier than thou” liberals who most likely read at best part of my article complaining that I didn’t understand transgender rights. And by extension, the rights of any oppressed group.

Nice going people! Especially you Shakezula! Very liberal. Very open-minded. So very helpful.


If I sound angry, it’s because I am. Over the past few years, I’ve become more and more intolerant of what I see as “middle class liberalism.” One of the commenters wrote, “I feel that anyone who dismisses bathroom access as a ’boutique’ issue or as a not very serious problem should be willing to forgo any use of public bathrooms. For a start.” Well, has this commenter ever tried to find a bathroom in San Francisco as a homeless person? I suspect not. I suspect that very self-righteous commenter has never been homeless and broke. I have. Many of my friends have been. I am not surrounded by the effete class. The “boutique” is Lawyers, Guns & Money, where financially stable people can increase the happiness of their lives by pointing out just how “noble” they are. What a pathetic show of self-righteousness!

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Jul 30

Marissa Mayer and the Death Of Yahoo!

Yahoo! Sign on I-80

If you live in the Bay Area, you know this sign well. Since 1999, it decorated I-80 as you made your way to the Bay Bridge from the west. It was iconic. As a Bay Area nerd, I always felt a bit of pride seeing it. Yes: we were in Silicon Valley. Or close enough. But over the years, it came to seem a bit sad. Even when it was built, Google was on its way to ruling the world. It was put up when Excite passed up the offer to buy Google for just $750,000. And it was two years before Google turned down Yahoo!’s billion dollar offer to buy the search engine giant. But by the time the sign was taken down in 2011, it was more a cruel reminder of how the mighty could fall.

Back in 2008, Microsoft tried to take over Yahoo! with a $45 billion bid. Failing at that was probably the best business move in Microsoft’s long history. At the time, I was very ill — near death. My heart wasn’t functioning well and my brain was not getting enough oxygen. But even in that state, I could see that it was a terrible deal. Yahoo! was dying and there was nothing that was going to change that. Paying that amount of money for Yahoo! would have been on par to Excite’s decision that Google wasn’t worth three-quarter million dollars in 1999.

Marissa Mayer Cannot Fall

Yes, mighty companies like Yahoo! fall and disappear. Look at Excite: if you can find it. While the mighty companies fall, the mighty CEOs who run them into the ground do not fall. The current Yahoo! CEO, Marissa Mayer, will walk away with $55 million once she is finally thrown out of the company. But that’s not to say that she hasn’t suffered. Because of Yahoo!’s poor performance, she only made $25 million in 2014. And then last year, her compensation pancaked to a mere $14 million. How she’s surviving is anyone’s guess.

Marissa Mayer

I want to be fair, however. She isn’t responsible for the failure of Yahoo! In general, I think the company has been reasonably managed. For example, the acquisition of Overture in 2001 was a smart move. But it was also an obvious move. I’m no good at business, so when a company does something that I think is smart, it can’t have taken a brilliant business mind to come up with it. So by 2001, the Yahoo! management team saw the future as clearly as I did. Yippy! (Note: is much more popular than

Why Are CEOs So Important?

But it makes me wonder. By American standards, I’m roughly in the middle class. Yet we have people like Marissa Mayer (net worth: $430 million) and Terry Semel (net worth: $300 million). They never fall. They aren’t allowed to. But what is it that makes them worth so much? Semel ran the company from 2001 to 2007. And the company did about as well as you would expect. So why not just hire me? Or a trained monkey?

I suspect that it really is all a matter of appearances. The idea of a multi-billion dollar company being headed by someone who makes just a million dollars a year would look odd. And it would be seen as unfair to make a CEO’s pay truly dependent upon how well the company did. For example: imagine if instead of Marissa Mayer getting a pay cut of 44% in 2015, she had been required to pay Yahoo! $10 million dollars. Why not?! We hear so much about people being rewarded for taking risks. Getting your yearly pay cut from 10 times the average worker’s lifetime pay to five times it doesn’t seem like much of a risk to me.

Once a person reaches a certain level of success they become a kind of community charity. We all weep at the thought of them going without. In fact, I’ve heard much the same thing said on Fox News: it’s so much worse to go from rich to poor than to simply have been poor your whole life. To a normal person, such talk is rubbish, but it sounds quite reasonable to some people.

Companies Represent Nameless People

But there’s something much more nefarious in this. Marissa Mayer is a real person. The thousands of people who lose their jobs and pensions are nameless and faceless. They are allowed to suffer in their anonymity. They are but statistics. “Are there no prisons?” There must be something: some kind of system to take care of the nameless and faceless. But what would become of Marissa Mayer if not for her $55 million severance package? There are no government programs for her! No prisons to make sure she is kept fed.

Thus the once mighty Yahoo! is allowed to fall, because it only represents the destruction of the lives of the nameless masses. We would be monsters to allow real humans to suffer — the ones with names — the ones like Marissa Mayer. But as long as she and her ilk are taken care of, then Yahoo! can die because it won’t harm any real humans.

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