Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fast Times at Facebook High

Read this weekend's NY Times piece on Facebook's explosive growth (from 100 million to 200 million in one year). For all its recent user revolt—usually via their status updates, ironically—the only social networking site that matters is growing at 1 million users a day. But the article asks the legitimate question of how this growth—that now includes your mom, boss and old junior high friends—helps or hurts Facebook's community and usefulness. I guess it depends on how you use it.

I learned early on the downside of social media, having been publicly burned by my ex-girlfriend on Friendster. Thank god I only had about 60 friends back in the spring of 2003. But that was enough to teach me a few things about privacy controls and safeguarding my password and profile. I dread to think what an attack on my Facebook profile would mean with nearly 2800 friends getting a real time feed. Since then I've heard and witnessed several stories of friends and acquaintances who had exes stalk or terrorize them via MySpace or Facebook. Guess I was sort of a pioneer.

What the NY Times piece reminds us of is that in this ever connected and status obsessed online ecosystem, you have to constantly be vigilant about your connections and information. It's a given that perspective employers are looking at your profile, but less understood is how more benign connections and looser degrees of separation can come back to haunt you. When you leave a comment on a photo or add a friend, who sees that? And, more importantly, what do they make of that connection? Are you guilty by your associations when matched against somebody else's? Does your business competition derive trade secrets from your status updates, or even your wall posts, no matter how cryptic? Assume the answer is yes to all of these.

Facebook actually has some pretty smart privacy controls to limit your potential embarrassment and sequester your real friends from the randomness of your extended social graph. But the company estimates only 20 percent of its users know how to or chose to use them. It's worth exploring these tools and making some adjustments and always remembering that six degrees of separation is a myth. It's really one to two.

The other poignant question posed in the piece is how Facebook can hope to remain a place for multiple generations to congregate in harmony when you reach a state of critical mass (I'd say we're about there). And how do bosses and staff co-exist? And how do moms, their girlfriends, and even their moms mingle a profile or two over from their teenage kids? Creepy? Weird? The end of life as we know it?

“Uniting disparate groups on a single Internet service runs counter to 50 years of research by sociologists into what is known as 'homophily' — the tendency of individuals to associate only with like-minded people of similar age and ethnicity.” —NY Times

I really don't worry about the kids. Never have. As they say, the kids are alright. Always will be. In fact, I'd argue that until adults (read: moms and dads) really get Twitter, that will fast become the new hangout and real life status update. I'm sure, by now, Facebook status is as private as posting a note on the family fridge. But @whoever updates still have an air of intimacy to them, even if that won't last. One thing the Times article didn't discuss was how much Twitter's recent rise lead to Facebook's new look and more instant feel. Facebook may have also learned, though, that people liked its uniqueness and don't want it to be Twitter necessarily. At least not yet.

In the end, if you're not one of those with social media phobia, this is all about the pursuit of a more perfect digital map for your world. We all want to use these tools to do everything from find a job, get laid, bitch, share, or just show off. And only the slowest adapters fail to see the slippery edges of total inter connectivity (Watch that post!). For them, they'll learn soon enough. For the more experienced, and for those who learned the hard way, we'll hopefully be part of the next wave, on Facebook or beyond. Helping those super smart developers in the world's Silicon Valleys build us ever better water coolers.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

A quick note to The Fix's Chris Cillizza about Jon Stewart

Chris, I like your work, man, and I follow you, so don't think this dismissive or an attack. I was just thrown by your recent piece on Jon Stewart's dismantling of Jim Cramer and MSNBC. You posed the question: "Is Stewart the last honest man in the news(y) business? Or is he, as Carlson famously/infamously put it, a partisan demagogue?" From where I sit, Chris, it's pretty clear what role Jon Stewart plays.

Your story misses some of the obvious. For one, Stewart's chief critic Tucker Carlson is sometimes a decent right wing tool and I do listen to him. But he's just still burned by Stewart who eviscerated him on national TV one evening a few years ago (and thankfully too). He hasn't had prime time traction since and he's bitter, for sure.

And saying that Stewart is just a partisan is surprisingly off base. He has a strong and clear POV, yes, but a partisan? A partisan is James Carville, somebody who never attacks his "own side". This isn't Jon. Jon will lambaste all sides. It just so happens, many in the media and right wing are funny and justifiable targets.

Do you watch the show?

I mean, did you watch Crossfire? Now that I watch it again, Carlson will never get over this.

Monday, March 23, 2009

[Video] FedEx Cargo Jet Crashing in Tokyo, Japan

I can relate to the video of this sad crash, an accident possibly caused by high winds. When I flew to Japan in 2006, we were diverted at the last minute due to a typhoon that was hitting the area. Yeah, ty-fucking-phoon.

As we were landing this massive American Airlines 777, at night, in the rain, I could tell something wasn't right. We were moving too fast for being so close to the ground. "This isn't a good landing," I thought to myself. And then, not more than 500 feet above the runway, the pilot suddenly pushed all the thrust he could back into those massive engines and we started to lift away, into the darkness.

We had aborted our landing seconds before the runway and were now just flying through the late night rain. After what seemed like an eternity, the pilot came on and explained that we needed to call off the landing due to the wind. Who knows what disaster he averted, but I had a bad feeling about how hard we had been descending. He told us that we were now heading to Haneda airport, some miles away.

Long story short, we had to land at Haneda (which didn't have customs office, so we couldn't deplane). We then had to wait for a crew to be driven to us to relieve our tired transpacific crew, then take off again, and fly all the way back to Narita. This took about eight long hours, most of it spent sitting in the jet as it rocked on the tarmac due to the rough winds and rain. Later on that week, I learned that some Japanese fishermen were lost at sea due to the typhoon. Our LAX-NRT flight could have ended so much worse.

Source: Strangely enough, I saw this video first posted here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Six Degrees of Separation Anxiety: Meeting Sidney Poitier

"The imagination is not our escape. On the contrary, the imagination is the place we are all trying to get to." —Paul (Will Smith) in Six Degrees of Separation

I've never been one of those sons who wished he could trade in his mom for a new model whenever she wasn't up to some silly standard. I never told friends, "Man, I wish I had your mom," although I sure would have liked to have lived in one of their nicer houses with the double-sided fridge that was always full of Hostess goodness and after school snacks. But even during my teenage-era battles with my mother and the difficulties of being an only child to a single, struggling parent, I was always happy to have the model fate gave me. Still am, completely.

But on the dad side of things, I've never stopped pawing at the puppy store window, waiting for that unlikely selection, and the ride home. After leaving my abusive dad—who, in another life, might have been an OK dude—when I was two, my mom didn't remarry until I was old enough to have kids of my own. All through my younger years, I eyed anybody, from perfect strangers to qualified boyfriends of my mom's, as suitable father figures. But more routinely, I'd depend on either of my two uncles or my grandfather, all of whom played their role as de facto step-dad with varying degrees of success.

I doubt any of the other unsuspecting "father types" knew I was eyeing them and ready to try on their lap for size, wondering if they could teach me to fight and all. Or that I'd be thinking that, if through some strange cosmic transference, I'd maybe grow up to be as tall as them, or as cool. I rarely let on, but inside, I was constantly auditioning for that unfilled role. As any single mom can attest to, no matter how great you are, you can never really be a dad to a boy.

But I'm a grown man now. Those emotions are neatly filed away, like a bit of pirate's booty for the next therapist session or REM-induced catharsis. At least that's what I thought until I walked into my local pet store today. Arriving just a few minutes after me was the ultimate father prototype. Sidney Poitier quietly stood several feet behind me, waiting patiently for me to finish my purchase before his star presence rippled through the late afternoon tranquility of the shop.

Growing up in Los Angeles, you let famous folks scoot by all the time, with nothing more than an "I'm almost like you" glance, trying to maintain your cool. But I had no intention of feigning a casual demeanor. I was ready to gush. Besides being the most lauded export of my birthplace, the Bahamas, Poitier is as regal a man as you could imagine. His stature is world renowned and his graceful presence as revered. In real life, he's as elegant as any role you've seen him in.

I turned to him and, without much hesitation, said hello. Told him I was from the Bahamas too, Nassau, to be exact. And introduced myself. He asked me how long I'd been in the states and we talked about return visits, family and the troubled economy due to the lack of tourism. For a minute, I thought about how little I keep in touch with my dad's side of the family. Now, I'd surely have a great story to relate: Yeah, living in Hollywood, man, you even see stars at the pet store. My relatives are already in awe of my supposed glamorous life. And this was a lot better than my run-ins with Rick Fox.

I asked Mr. Poitier if he'd mind if I got a photo with him. He joked that he'd mind if I didn't ask for one. At this point, I'm beaming ear to ear. The woman with him, holding their dog, offered to take the shot, and after a few misfires from my iPhone, we went outside to get better light. Sidney (What? It's been five minutes, I use his first name now) was taking his time, making sure we got a good photo, and that the light was great. As I stood there with him, his arm around my back, I wanted to imagine what being his son would have been like. In my mind, he was the perfect dad: Tall, strong, accomplished, gentle and, not to be flip, present.

After we got the photo, I joked that I looked like I could be his son—plant the seed, I figured. In his gracious way, he quipped back that I had just complimented him. I thanked him warmly for his time and told him my mom was gonna die of jealousy when I replayed the story of meeting him. In fact, when I called her minutes later, she raced to her DVD collection, just to pull out her entire library of Poitier films. She had every one you've heard of, plus his written memoirs (he told me he was currently writing his first fiction), including an extra copy of In the Heat of the Night. We shared the moment together. Relished in how awesome he was. But somewhere in all of this, I left out the part about why I wanted to call him dad. Though I'm certain she probably already understood.

"When I was little, my father was famous. He was the greatest samurai in the empire." —"Unexplained/Liquid Swords" by the GZA

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Howard Kurtz: "Newspaper Industry Staggers"

From the Washington Post — Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper recalls getting "a feeling in the pit of my stomach" when he learned that the Rocky Mountain News was shutting down. "Even when they were uncovering corruption in the city, even when they were embarrassing us or causing us discomfort, they were making the city better," he says. "It's a huge loss."

The grim echoes of the nearly 150-year-old paper's demise Friday could be heard in newsrooms and communities across the country.

Read the story here.