What I learned from an unfortunate incident with Social Media tools

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TL;DR: If you’re starting a blog, just write what you have to write and experimenting with your tech as you push your posts out. Listen to your followers and you’ll figure out the best way as you go along.

I’m really trying to write more.

By writing, I mean “blogging” and by “trying” I mean, “I have a list of about 313 ideas and links I’d like to write blog posts on, but I’m feeling really self-conscious about coming across like an idiot.”

So, naturally, I completely botched my first tweet-turned-blogpost.

I have the NYPD to thank for the encouragement to pick up my toy megaphone and say something somewhat meaningful, as opposed to simply tweeting vines of oddities in the art world, pictures of my cats or other such nonsense. I’m fortunate enough to have a decent following on Twitter, mostly due to emceeing a lot of hacker events since before Twitter existed. With a few thousand followers and some righteous indignation, I began figuring out how exactly to get my words out to more than the handful of people internet stalking me.

I wrote that post only a few days after having experienced it. I went through an initial edit, posted it, then let it sit for a while. Then I spent a few hours a day through most of February brushing up on the strategies and tools of this week’s social media landscape, along with a little bit of Facebook/Twitter consultation on the topic. After all that, I settled on the following:

Platform: The Writr theme for WordPress. It’s clean, sans-serif, and not incredibly boring looking. There are some more impressive themes out there, and I’ll test those out when I actually have some posts to test with. In the mean time, this gets the point across and is less likely to be buggy.

Comments/Engagement: Livefyre. One of the most consistently annoying things is having to engage in three separate conversations on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other random places. I really hate how it’s difficult to bring really awesome threads from each venue, and nearly impossible to bridge conversations. I believed Livefyre would solve this inherent problem and get folks talking all these platforms.

Analytics/Post Scheduling: Buffer. My idea was to write as many posts as possible on the weekends, then share them spread out at varying times throughout the week.

Sharing: I’m using 2 Click Social Media buttons. My goal was to have no trackers at all, but the theme implements Gravatar and Livefyre is a tracking nightmare of its own. Ah well.

I also turned off post duplication between Facebook and Twitter since it seemed best to engage these audiences entirely separately.

Having put the finishing touches on that post and pushed it out there via Buffer…I learned 10 things really quickly:

1) ALWAYS double check the link to your blog post. This was the first thing I botched. I accidentally Buffered the link to the draft, rather than the link to the post itself. Which led to tweets like:

2) You don’t really know how to do social on your site until you’ve actually reached your audience. Turns out most of my East Coast US friends took to Facebook right away, and most of the West Coast folk and people I know in Germany took to Twitter. However, most of my traction came straight from Hacker News, which led to a very vibrant comment thread. On that note…

3) If it’s at all hackerish, use Hacker News for comments. I didn’t even know that my post had shot up to #7 on Hacker News until Ryan clued me in via Facebook and that’s where the most intelligent commentary has emerged from. I should have listened to him when he suggested it via Facebook and now I’ve learned my lesson. I’m also removing Livefyre’s trackers in the process.

4) Comments are overrated. There’s basically no point trying to bring comment traffic back to your site if people are actively engaging elsewhere.

5) Don’t duplicate within or between social networks. I thought I had disabled Facebook duplication of my Tweets, but I found out I hadn’t the hard way. After realizing the same post was showing up four times in my facebook feed, I managed to somewhat bring everyone’s comments into the same post by reference…but the results were messy and many likes were lost.

6) If you’re blogging about security and social justice issues, use secure tools and avoid trackers. I use a Ghostery plugin, so I was aware of the Gravatar, Livefyre and other trackers present on my site. I shouldn’t have put myself in a position to have people point it out to me. Comments aren’t that important, and I’m handling everything social through other services, so I shouldn’t have any trackers. Unfortunately, Gravatar is pretty deeply embedded in WordPress and it’s the last remaining tracker. It’s a pretty benign, but in the interests of a perfect privacy score, I’m going to have to go digging into the WordPress code at a later date.

I’m sure there’s a ton of other lessons I’ve got to learn in the mean time, but I’ll gladly accept any others you’ve got in the interim. For what it’s worth, I know I had a pretty good post that hit a lot of buttons and interest. I know I’m going to have to keep stoking the commenting fires on Twitter and Facebook over the next few days to broaden the reach a bit. I know my time in the HN spotlit has faded.

All that being said, having knocked out two posts in the past two days, I’m only 58 posts behind my goal of hitting one post per day in 2014!

As always, please leave your comments on HN.

What I learned from an unfortunate incident with the NYPD

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Did you know that Central Park has a curfew? I didn’t.

I was issued a summons for violating the 1 AM curfew back in October. I happened to be passing right by the Greywacke Arch just as a police officer was driving through it. I produced my ID as instructed, was told about the curfew in the park, issued a citation and told that as long as I made my mandatory appearance in court, the matter would be dismissed. All in all, the officer seemed somewhat apologetic and indicated through his body language that he thought this was a pretty farcical part of his job.

What does this have to do with my initiation into the stop-and-frisk club? I’ll get there.

On my way to the Summons Answer Part of the New York Criminal court, my train was delayed twice by “police activity”. The first time, the NYPD were called upon to remove a person who had lost control of their bowels. I myself had moved one train car down due to the smell and caught a glimpse of the hostile interaction between the unfortunate citizen and pair of transit cops. One tug, a slip and a few screams later the elderly lady was off the train and in handcuffs.

Further along, a fight broke out at the other end of the more crowded train car I fled to after the last incident. I heard someone nearby calmly calling it in on the intercom and continued to hear far more than I saw, right up to the point where I saw the four transit officers more or less throw everyone on that end of the train car out onto the platform. Only an instant after the scuffle poured onto the platform, the train doors closed and I felt dumbstruck with luck that I hadn’t been ejected.

The events of that morning, the circumstances of my own ticket and that unfortunate incident in Times Square with the NYPD on the eve of the Super Bowl left me with a greater appreciation of the horrible situation we’ve set out for the NYPD to deal with and how they’re responding to it is making it so much worse in the long run.

In the nearly six hours I spent in court on two separate dates, I saw around a hundred people plead guilty and pay fines for a variety of different petty offenses. Most people just did what they were told to do, as if they didn’t really have a choice in the matter. Some cases qualified for a thing called “ACD“, which basically meant one’s charges would be dismissed if they didn’t commit another offense in 6 months.

A select few were represented by attorneys, almost all of whom jumped to the head of the queue and had their cases dismissed. I managed to see one trial on the charge of urinating in public. While the magistrate established that the officer did not directly see a stream of urine, the really incompetent attorney representing the poor kid did a sufficiently good job of botching the cross of the officer and trying the patience of the magistrate. While the client was eventually found guilty, the attorney managed to eek out one obvious but prescient question:

Q: “How many citations have you written since you saw my client?”

A: “Maybe 40 or 50. We’re required to write 10 citations a month.”

Eventually, my case came up for trial. The court clerks indicated that my case was eligible for ACD and were somewhat shocked I wasn’t offered it when I was arraigned. As my “court appointed attorney” began to explain what ACD was at the beginning of my trial, I explained I had not been offered it. The only choice offered by the magistrate at my arraignment (along with about 50 other people) was to enter a plea, so I plead not guilty.

Why?

Lesson #1: Don’t let the justice system eat you up and spit you out. If you have a right to exercise, even if you’re “in the wrong”, exercise it. Great! Go me! I learned something from the 12 credits of legal topics I took, on top of the many tickets I got out of simply for showing up to court. However, what does this all have to do with being randomly stopped and frisked on the eve of the Super Bowl for responding to a really inappropriate comment about my beard?

The NYPD aren’t tasked with policing, the act of maintaining law and order. They’re tasked with writing citations, scooping up those who don’t comply with the court, engaging in systematic intimidation and picking up the problems that social services can’t cope with. They have a quota. They make it, or they don’t, regardless of what kinds of crime or lack of crime is present in their area. In my experience, the police handle this pressure much better than most of my peers could handle it. They’re largely good people charged with bad policing tactics.

Bad cops make quotas however they can. Good cops get pressure to do what bad cops do well. This leads us to the biggest lesson which I failed to take into account when I was asked, “Is that a Muslim or Hipster beard?” by a crew of three NYPD officers in Times Square:

Lesson #2: Avoid interacting with the NYPD whenever possible. If asked a question, focus on memorizing badge numbers, answer as minimally as possible and focus on ending your interaction with the NYPD as quickly as possible.

The main reason I didn’t file any kind of report or move forward at all was that I don’t have badge numbers. I don’t even know what precinct they were from. Not more than 30 seconds likely elapsed from the time I very unwisely said, “You can’t fucking ask that” to the moment that I was shoved back into a crowd of Super-Bowl’s-eve revelers. While I’ll never know what was on their mind, I’m reasonably certain that the interaction wound down rather quickly once they unzipped my snowboarding jacket, realized I had a tie on and sifted through my wallet enough to grasp the level of privilege my outer attire failed to communicate.

But wait! Bill DeBlasio is the mayor! Stop and frisk is over! Everything is going to get better right? Maybe. Hopefully. However, change is going to come very, very slowly. I had an unfortunate incident that’s been a way of life for the less privileged in NYC for years.

While I really, really would like to bring this all to a decent conclusion, something hopeful and revelatory, I’m really left with only one final lesson. I’m still struggling to figure out how to move forward on in my own life.

Lesson #3: Fsck the police. Fsck is the command line on xnix systems for “file system check“. While it’s an obvious word substitution for a popular profane phrase, I believe the twist of meaning carries precisely the feelings of action that I want to bring to my peers. What this means to me personally is something I’m still wrestling with.

In the mean time, as a recap:

  1. Exercise your rights, even if you’re wrong: Download the Stop and Frisk app. Learn the 10 rules for dealing with the police, especially the rules about keeping calm and never raising your voice. Get in the habit of looking for and memorizing badge numbers.
  2. Avoid unnecessary interactions. Don’t engage in crime and don’t engage officers even if they address you incredibly disrespectfully.
  3. Fsck the police. More on that later.

Care to comment?  Please see the discussion thread on HN.

Thanks to Wendy, Gabe and Todd for catching typos!

How a random search for a MoMA assistant curator led to an intercontinental social media dust-up

Kiepenkerl by Jeff Koons
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In the age of social media, a new currency is emerging. It is the currency of outrage.

- Claire Lehmann

Preface:  Please forgive both the somewhat misleading title and my admittedly choppy take at telling the story.  I just realized I haven’t written anything this long outside of a very choppy analytical e-mail or CPA exam essay in quite some time. In my defense, I’m not even vaguely attempting to impose a structure, provide an easily extractable parable or even deliver any kind of point other than I was both unintentionally ignorant and wrong in my assumptions.

I’m a huge MoMA enthusiast, to the point where I joined the Junior Associates so that I could meet people like Ann Temkin and ask inane questions on very minor figures who played major roles…like Patty Mucha.   While Ann is generally the scholar of record, these folk called “Curatorial Assistants” bear much of the intellectual grunt work behind exhibits like Claes Oldenburg: The Street and The Store and Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New.  One of my favorite JA walkthroughs was with one of her assistants, Paulina Pobocha, whose enthusiasm for Oldenburg was as informed as it was infectious.  I wish the art world producers let that kind of genuine enthusiasm loose on the consumers a bit more.

Unfortunately, it seems that curatorial assistants are not really all that Googleable.  Pobocha has a fairly unique name and has worked on several high profile exhibitions and collected at least one really amusing only-in-the-art-world anecdote on the authenticity of yogurt lids.  However, Temkin’s assistant for the upcoming Sonnabend show is someone named Claire Lehmann.  Of course, I’d be curious to see who she is and what other scholarship she’s been a part of…but there’s not a whole lot out there.

For reasons I can’t readily recall, I ended up clicking on the blog of Claire Lehmann (@clairlemon), Master’s student, wife, mother, and reasonably popular twitter user in Sidney, Australia.  While I haven’t conclusively confirmed this, it is extremely unlikely that she’s the assistant behind the Sonnabend show.  The specific link that captured my attention  was called, “How about some evidence-based feminism?“, one which was both attention grabbing and not wholly outside my blink-speed-prejudices of what a MoMA curator might blog about.

My (unfortunately mistaken) impression of the post was that Lehmann’s core thesis dealt with pedestrian attacks on science under the guise of pop-feminism:

The distrust towards science and scientific methods is most salient in women’s magazines and news-sites which run such headlines as What science gets wrong about female desire or Everything you’ve ever been told about fertility is wrong

Sounds reasonable, right?  Who among us in the reality-based community hasn’t come across a really ignorant puff piece with an attention-grabbing headline that distorts, ignores or refutes some kind of scientific finding without addressing the science behind it?

In an article titled Five myths that need to be busted about women in 2013 published December 2012, the commentator Clementine Ford started her opine with a statement calling for an end to research conducted in the field of evolutionary biology – an area of inquiry which she described as “unfounded”. Another piece titled When you’re attracted to an alpha male discusses archetypes of romance novels while declaring that evolutionary psychology was nothing more than “mere speculation”.

A feminist calling for an end to research?  Using romance novel archetypes to dismiss evolution?  Cue instinctive rage now!  She goes on with some very salient writing on the nature of politics and science and the need for understanding:

Unlike the internal cultures of political movements, the very practices which define science (self-criticism, open debate, peer review and double-blind methods) foster humility and reduce the errors caused by bias. It is also important to remember that producing scientific knowledge is hard, it requires proficiency in statistical methods and ability to reason quantitatively. All scientists must offer up their work to be closely scrutinised by colleagues before getting published – these methods are in place specifically to reduce prejudices, not enhance them.

Bam.  It’s tweetworthy!

I should point out that my tweets auto-post to my Facebook page as well. This is an easy, lazy way of dealing with staying in touch with the world that I’ve been contemplating changing.

A little while later, my good friend Aaron Muszalski (@sfslim) thought it was tweet-worthy as well. That’s when I started to realize I completely missed some of the subtext of Lehmann’s original post:

Ella tends towards hyperbole, but I have yet to find any serious disagreement with her. My immediate instinct was to defend Lehmann’s original piece, as I didn’t recall a mention of evolutionary psychology, just one about evolutionary biology.  This turned out to be my critical mistake, as I wasn’t aware there was a field called evolutionary psychology, something very distinct and removed from evolutionary biology.  The latter is concerned with the processes involved in how life evolved on the planet, comparing the fossils and DNA of different species as evidence.  The former examines behavior, not biological output.

It’s around this time that old family friend piped in on Facebook and pointed me towards a critique of evolutionary psychology:

Auwerscomment

I had completely overlooked the fact that the major subtext of Lehmann’s post was a defense of Evolutionary Psychology, not just science that happens to be counter to one’s political agenda.  Ella seems to have picked up on the thread and ran with it, engaging Lehmann herself:

Eleanor and Lehmann proceed on with a heated, civil Twitter debate that doesn’t reach much of a resolution.   To summarize, Ella tends towards the classical academic critique against gender bias in science, rather than the intrinsic validity of scientific inquiry.  Lehmann’s original post actually supported epistemological critique; her post was against “bad responses to good science”, as Ella put it.  They actually came really close to realizing their common ground, but in the end:

Frankly, I’d rather kick myself in the nuts before accusing Ella of being anti-science.

Meanwhile, over on Facebook, my friends Rick and Meredith have a meaningful exchange of their own, though Meredith is much more deferential to Rick’s (relative) rage while moving forward with the point that they have more common ground than they thought:

Rix and Meredith on Facebook

The salient point I want to pull out from this screen capture is Rick’s assertion about the scientific validity of Evolutionary Psychology:

Evolutionary Psychology is mostly a collection of poorly designed thought experiments. She also had it playing second banana to social and cognitive psychology, in that order. which means just doesn’t know that much about experimental validity.

He goes on to say:

Rick and Meredith on EvoPsych Conclusion

Meanwhile, another friend takes the opposite tack and says that Lehmann doesn’t go far and deep enough:

It’s around this point in the story that I’ve concluded that I was wrong about the background assertions of the original blog post in favor of what I wanted to believe the piece meant.

Lehmann wrote a defense of Evolutionary Psychology.  I wanted a piece that railed against anti-science in the name of feminism.  The examples that Lehmann cited only tangentially supported her assertion.  The Five Myths piece that Lehmann criticizes isn’t doesn’t explicitly call for an end to research in evolutionary biology, it merely says we shouldn’t go on, “perpetuating unfounded evolutionary biology, or allowing straw polls run by FM radio stations to count as ‘research’.”  It isn’t until the final point that the piece actually tends to unravel by equating the visual appeal of shoes and consumer goods with a finding that women become more aroused by a storyline than an image.  The fertility piece builds its case around the debunking of bad science that led us to believe that 35 was the falling-off point for fertility in women.

Maybe I’m just proving how obtuse I am, but I don’t see much of a conclusion to be drawn from an episode like this.  The story illustrated that I deceived myself in the beginning, turned out to be rather wrong, and I learned a lot from my awesome friends in the process.  These are the consequences and the benefits of righteous indignation on social media.  I never found out anything more about the MoMA curator, but I did enjoy the unintended consequences of a search that never found its target.  In a way, this is a curious bit of output from something I never expected to generate any.  It seems that all of us in this space post and repost many things that go completely unremarked upon, and it’s a mild shock when something does interrupt that flow of ideas contemplated and tossed into the æther and forgotten.

To that end, I’ll tweet out this post with the most outrageous line I can think of herein.  I’ll throw it out on Facebook under the original, Buzzfeedesque title.  What, if anything, will happen?

Epilogue: I chose a Jeff Koons image namely because I recently read that he ascribes no hidden meanings nor embedded critiques in his works…and I somehow think that idea, coupled with the sculpture’s qualities is oddly appropriate for this episode.  It’s as if his works are definitely something, but they aren’t at the same time…and what does that reflect back upon us?

All my favorite bands have broken up

Katie+the+Pest+Picture+3
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NumbersGeorgie JamesSensual Armed ForcesThe Mighty NarwhaleKatie the Pest.  Just a list of obscure bands I credit for bringing me some of the most joyous, redemptive moments of my short life.  I believe that music saves lives, and at the risk of hyperbole, each of these bands has at one time in some way saved my life.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love newer acts like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Thao with the Get Down Stay Down.  While lovely, dancing with my girlfriend at home is not really comparable to getting thrown into the drum kit and liking it.

Stumbling upon these acts is a rare treat, while doing so exposes the conundrum of being, well…older. Hearing a new song by an old favorite is sort of like stumbling upon an ex you barely recognize while you know you’ll never forget them. 4-5 bars into a track spit out by a music service I brought up, I knew it was a Katie the Pest track I hadn’t heard.  How thrilling!

Always Under Revision

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If you came here to find out more about who I am, this is where you want to be.

If you’re getting an SSL error, you don’t have the CA Cert Root Certificate installed on your system. Here’s some handy installation instructions for you. Never pay for a cert!

Everything you’ll see here is part of a relearning process.  There was a time when I was a pretty good writer.  I’d like to get back to being halfway decent and I figure there’s no better way than to just start writing up every idea for a blog post I’ve managed to save.  In the mean time, there’s probably a lot of gaffes and complete misunderstandings to be found along the way and I beg your forgiveness. 

I encourage your comments on every post–and if that’s not for you, feel free to share your thoughts with me directly.  Please also share as widely as you can, as the relationship between viewers and bugs tends to be even more shallow in natural language than in code.