It’s done. I just deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts. It was fun for a few years, but the relationship turned sour after one of us started lying to the other, then pretended to take steps to improve but just kept lying.
Separation took a few months of planning and preparation. Here’s the blog post I wrote about this process several months ago:
And now here is the result:
For those who want to get in touch, here is my contact info:
So what am I doing now for social media? Over the past 9 months or so, I’ve gravitated to a mix of Reddit, Twitter, my blog, and MeWe.
Reddit is great for complex discussions – not perfect, but way better than Facebook
Twitter is great for sharing quick thoughts that I used to put in Facebook posts
My old WordPress blog is great for sharing longer essays, recipes, etc.
And MeWe is a good way to meet other people with shared interests
Since this past spring, I’ve been working to arrange composting at my condominium complex. And this week it starts to pay off.
Denver Compost Collective is an organization that collects food waste from apartment dwellers and takes it to their large scale composting facility. Then they give the resulting “black gold” to a local urban farm/food charity. The city has been encouraging composting the past few years, but if you don’t have a big garden, it’s tough to do. So this group fills that gap.
Here is me with my new bucket. I’ll fill it up throughout the week with food scraps (no meat or dairy) and then put it in my building’s parking garage for DCC to pick up Monday morning. They weigh each bucket, dump it into a bigger container on their truck, rinse the bucket out, and put it back in the garage.
In other news, I voted today. The ballot and issues were so easy this time I decided to do it while enjoying some quasi-legal recreational drugs. It’s great to live in Denver.
Today I voted again. Denver had our 2019 city election on May 7, 2019, but several races were so close that we had to do a runoff. So we have another election scheduled for June 4. But we all vote by mail here, so you can send in your ballot whenever you want.
The mayor’s race, the clerk & recorder’s race, and city council members for 5 different districts (I’m in District 10) had to be redone because so many people ran the first time around that nobody got a majority of the votes. And we also have Initiated Ordinance 302, about whether or not the city government should be allowed to approve a proposal for Denver to host a future Olympics Games without a general election on the matter.
I originally thought maybe I’d just sit this one out, but last night I decided I should vote after all. So today I dropped off my ballot. Wanna know how I voted? Probably not.
CDOT, the Colorado Department of Transportation, was the victim of a cyberattack that cost millions of dollars last year. They refused to pay the ransom requested, and instead had their technical people working “20 hour shifts” to try to dig them out of the mess, which apparently took about a month.
First off, anyone who’s managed knowledge workers knows working 20 hours straight is stupid. After somewhere between 8 and 15 hours, computer programmers start to make enough mistakes that it takes more time to fix those mistakes than is gained by working extra hours. Like the Pony Express knew, you gotta rest your programmers to keep your overall speed up.
Second, Kevin Klein, Colorado’s director of homeland security and emergency management, said at a recent conference, “We switched from Doritos and Mountain Dew to actual food.” As far as I can tell, he’s serious that the CDOT employees who were working 20 hour days, were living on junk food. That’s another management mistake that shows why I’d never work for the government. The Pony Express also knew that you’ve gotta keep your ponies nourished. Software engineers are the same way. Yeah, you can live for a few days on junk food. But if you know you need lots of work from your employees over the long haul, feed them well. The best software managers I’ve worked for know this and have been quick to bring in food when the team’s in “crunch mode”.
You can read more in this article:
Note that Governor Hickenlooper eventually declared a state of emergency due to this cyberattack, which enabled them to get help from other government agencies. That allowed the CDOT engineers to stop working 20 hour days and start eating real food again.
(originally posted 5/14/2019, updated 6/20/2019, updated again 12/29/2019)
I normally don’t make New Years resolutions. I figure if a change is worth making, why not start right now, instead of waiting until some arbitrary date on the calendar? Besides, most New Years resolutions are broken anyhow, and if I’m going to make a change in my life, why do it in a way that’s expected to fail? I guess I’m superstitious like that. But this year, I made one. I just didn’t tell many people. My resolution was to break up with Facebook and Instagram.
Anyone reading this probably already knows a dozen reasons to leave Facebook. For me personally, there are two main reasons. First, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram is dishonest, and I can’t justify being an enabler anymore. Second, I’m disappointed with how far they’ve let – and even encouraged – online communities to devolve. I’m not gonna go into the reasons in any more depth. The internet has a steady stream of news articles about why.
So, what next? Well, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I get out of Facebook. When I first signed up in September 2007, the site didn’t do much. But now it serves a lot of purposes. The company’s key to success has been being the “one stop shop” for a lot of different features. It’s convenient to have these things all in one place, but it’s not really essential. Here are the different benefits I feel like I’ve gotten:
a way to stay in touch with friends and family
a way to share experiences and information with others online who have the same hobbies and interests – games, sports, travel, food, etc.
a way to read about important local, regional, national, and international news, and opinions from experts
a way to share my own opinions and experiences to whoever is interested
a way to schedule and plan events with friends and family
That’s a lot of benefits all under one roof. So how am I approaching getting rid of all that? Well, I’m learning about what other services exist that help with each of these things. In fact, I started reading about alternatives back in October 2018, and have been trying several of them since then. My hope is that by using other online services, I can fill each of those gaps to some degree. For example, there’s no need to rely on Facebook for the daily news, even though a lot of people use it for that. There are a dozen other ways to learn about important news from a variety of perspectives.
What do I expect to miss?
Facebook has spent billions of dollars refining their service to keep me and you engaged as long as possible. They have used every trick in the book and invented several news ones to get people to keep reading for longer and longer amounts of time. So I don’t expect that whatever set of replacement services I put together will “engage” me to the same degree. And actually, that’s a good thing. I spend too much time on social media as it is. So I’m hoping that this change increases the amount of free time I spend on more productive things.
I think I’ll make a new set of online acquaintances, most likely. And I’ll go back to getting news from better quality news sources. I hope to read books more and read Facebook less.
My check lists
As I said, I’ve already been working at this for several months. Here’s what I’ve accomplished so far:
Read a whole bunch about how to do this – see the bibliography below, if you’re curious
Unfriended about 200 Facebook “friends” who really weren’t friends
Deleted all my weird fun Facebook pages (I made up a fake band, a fake Russian fake US patriot site, and a few others)
Imported all my Facebook photos into Apple Photos, mirrored to Amazon Photos
Once upon a time, there were two piglets playing in the tall grass under a tree on a hill not far from Farmer Joe’s house. One piglet was named Verne, and the other was Flick.
“Look, Flick,” said Verne, pointing to the sky. “The full moon is coming up.”
Flick turned to look up. “It’s so beautiful! I hope it comes closer. Chip, the rooster of the yard, told me the moon is made of Gouda cheese. And I love cheese!”
“I love cheese, too,” replied Verne. “Really, who doesn’t? But I’ve got some bad news, Flick. The moon is not made of cheese. It’s just made of rocks and dirt.”
“What? Why do you hate cheese?” asked Flick, quite disturbed by this turn of events. “It’s so soft and melts in your mouth. Yum.”
“I don’t hate cheese. I’m just saying that the moon is made of rocks. People went there in a rocket long ago, and they even brought some rocks back. It’s a fact you can look up in a book if you want.” Verne had even seen an old movie of the moon landing on TV. The people dug up some rocks and took them back inside their rocket, but they could not eat the rocks, so they had to return to earth before supper time.
Flick continued, “But Chip told me the moon is cheese. And why would a rooster lie? Roosters likes cheese, too!”
“I don’t know, Flick, maybe what Chip meant was that he simply wishes the moon was made of cheese?” Verne, being a piglet, couldn’t think of any good reason for the rooster to make up a story about the moon being cheese.
“Fuck you, Verne. I thought you liked cheese like the rest of us. Fuck you!”
Verne’s eyes got big. The piglet was shocked by Flick’s sudden anger and foul language. At that moment, another piglet walked up, named Spork.
“Hi everyone. What’s going on here on the hill?” asked Spork.
Flick tried to explain. “Verne here hates cheese. Must be a member of the Anti-Gouda Brigade.” Flick and Spork both looked Verne over. They hadn’t noticed it before, but now Verne did look like the kind of piglet that would hate cheese, and maybe all dairy products, for that matter.
“Whoa, wait a minute. I do like cheese. I just don’t think the moon is made of it. See the difference?”
Flick and Spork looked at each other. Spork spoke first, “Nope, if you don’t want the moon to be made of cheese, you’re a cheese hater. Anti-Gouda!”
“Cheese hater! Cheese hater!” Flick shouted all over the barnyard.
Spork joined in, pointing at Verne. “Cheese hater! Cheese hater!” Verne wandered off to the barn, wondering why his friends preferred to call him names rather than taking the time to understand his point.
Spork and Flick high-fived each other. Their friendship grew that day. Later, when they saw Verne eating some cheese in the hay, they felt vindicated. Clearly it was they who convinced Verne that cheese was so delicious. Clearly this proves the moon is made of Gouda.
I’ve got my share of weaknesses, but one thing I’m really good at is spotting patterns. I think it’s a skill I learned in college, though maybe I had it all along and just refined it there. A lot of engineering – whether it’s aerospace or software – is looking at a problem from several perspectives, understanding it, and then categorizing it. Once you know the type of problem, you can figure out which of a set of solutions is the best match.
As a youngster, I spent a fair amount of time in the outdoors around wildlife (usually searching for it in vain). My father was and still is an avid outdoorsman, and taught his sons to fish and hunt starting at an early age, along with associated skills related to wilderness survival. Even though I didn’t have as much interest or skill in hunting and fishing as Dad probably hoped, I always had an interest in wildlife.
In the fall of 2001, I was between jobs. I had been laid off from a dot-com startup in Denver, and took advantage of the time off to go spend some time in the desert in Utah. One night, I was staying at Canyonlands National Park and there was a ranger talk about coyotes. So I decided to go.
Part 1: Breeding More Coyotes
The ranger giving the talk was a research biologist specializing in mammals, so she knew a lot about coyotes, tonight’s topic. I paid close attention. One part of what she explained was a huge surprise to me, and has stuck with me to this day.
The common methods for controlling coyote populations, she said, were 180 degrees backward. It turns out that if you kill coyotes, such as by hunting – as ranchers had been doing for the past 80 years or so – and you don’t make any other changes to the environment, the end result is actually more coyotes. What? How is that possible?
You see, coyote mothers actually change their biology as a result of food pressures. If there is a lot of food pressure, meaning that there are a lot of coyotes in a given area competing for a small amount of food, then the mother will have small litters of pups. Why waste energy producing a lot of pups if some are likely to die of starvation?
But if there is a lot of food in an area, and the population is low, then pregnant mothers create larger litters. So if, for example, humans go shoot half the coyotes in a region, birth rates spike up the next year, and soon there are suddenly even more coyotes than before. But now the area is overpopulated, so the next year’s litter size goes down. Over time, these spikes up and down dampen out like a spring, and things come back to a natural equilibrium.
The arrival of the white man and his sheep about a century ago threw things into imbalance. Now there’s a larger-than-normal supply of food (sheep, trash, pets), so Mother Nature said, “Hey, let’s make more coyote pups to eat all this food.” Of course that wasn’t OK with the sheep ranchers, and so for the past century they have typically shot or poisoned any coyotes they encountered. The US government even sponsors coyote hunts in an effort to protect sheep ranchers’ investments.
But something strange has happened. Despite intense hunting, the overall population of coyotes in North America has actually grown over the past century. Coyotes now live in more parts of the continent than ever before. You can probably guess why – more food and less pressure at the same time! Less pressure from some coyotes getting shot, but also less pressure because we killed off all the wolves that historically kept the coyote populations in check. That has caused coyote populations to expand in both numbers and territory.
As a side point, biologists and smart ranchers have known this since the 1970s, at least. Yet we still shoot coyotes and think we’re reducing their overall numbers. It sure seems like this approach is the right approach! “How could shooting coyotes not reduce their populations?” we ask. And when there are still coyotes eating our lambs, we say, “We must redouble our efforts and shoot or poison even more of them!” That’s been the attitude of both the Department of Agriculture and the sheep ranching industry.
But I’m not here to discuss politics or economics. The point is that ranchers and the US government have spent a huge amount of effort trying to kill off coyotes for a century, and they’ve utterly failed. They caused the exact opposite outcome to occur from what they wanted.
Don’t believe me? OK, I’m just a city boy who doesn’t know squat about ranching, sheep, or coyotes, right? I don’t blame you for being skeptical, so I’ve provided links to a few studies so you can go read about this yourself. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to the scientists who spend their lives in the field tracking coyote populations.
Also in the fall of 2001, while I was learning this surprising fact about the biology of coyote population control, something else happened. Some terrorists hijacked some airplanes and flew them into some buildings on September 11.
Americans were stunned, and then pissed off. How could these terrorists do such a thing? Why would they do it? The story most people in the media – as well as the US government – liked to tell is that America had just been sailing along minding its own business when out of nowhere these crazy Islamic foreigners decided to hit us with a sucker punch. We hadn’t done anything to warrant this, we told ourselves.
But the reality of it, fairly plain to anyone who paid attention to the history of Middle Eastern geopolitics, was that we had in fact done things to warrant this, at least in the eyes of a lot of the downtrodden. And we’d done these things consistently over a long period of time – a thousand years to those who still held a grudge for the Crusades, or sixty years to those who fault us for treating the region as our personal oil reserve since WWII.
So now what? America – and especially President Bush – wanted blood, revenge against someone, even though it was hard to say exactly who was really responsible. The US government eventually selected some Muslims to be the targets of our revenge, and then began the campaign to sell the idea to the American public.
In much of America the sentiment was, “Bomb ’em back to the Stone Age!” US citizens honestly thought the solution was to level every city and village in Afghanistan (and Iraq, for some reason). The sentiment felt a lot like the sentiment of the sheep ranchers who had lost some of their lambs to coyotes. And I remember thinking to myself, “Hmm, if we just indiscriminately drop bombs on random Muslims in this area, aren’t we just gonna create more terrorists?” That’s exactly the opposite of the intended outcome!
Imagine some ten-year-old kid living in dusty hut in Afghanistan. There is some chance that he’s going to grow up to be a terrorist with the ability to threaten America later on. But he’s much more likely, left to his own devices, to grow up to be a regular person, a farmer or shopkeeper or maybe a doctor.
Now imagine a scenario where instead of being left to his own devices, this ten-year-old’s parents are killed as collateral damage from an American drone strike trying to take out some terrorism kingpin. Americans justify these deaths to themselves by saying the civilian deaths are an unfortunate cost of war. The process of making America safe from terrorism includes some collateral damage from time to time. But from the kid’s perspective, this is terrorism. His parents, law-abiding citizens just going about their business, were killed by surprise by a missile in the dark.
Now the kid is scared to death – terrified. Is he gonna die next? Let him live in fear for a decade, and what’s that kid going to be like as an adult? Do you think he’d like some revenge against the people who ruined his family for no good reason? That kid has just gone from being unlikely to become a terrorism threat to being reasonably likely. Same with his brothers and his cousins and his friends.
In other words, in the process of killing off terrorists, we just inadvertently created even more terrorists. It’s just like the coyotes. It seems like killing the pests is going to eliminate the pests, but that’s not how it really works.
Now fast forward a decade. That kid who would’ve grown up to be a farmer or shopkeeper or doctor is now a perfect recruit for ISIL.
Why has Iraq turned into such a hotbed of insurgency? Diplomats and military strategists use the term “power vacuum” to explain it. When we caused Iraq to undergo a forcible regime change (the ouster of Saddam Hussein’s government), there was no good, stable, strong leader waiting in the wings to step in and take over.
Hussein had ruled with an iron fist. He committed so many human rights atrocities that America felt justified in removing him even if he didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction. But this power kept a lot of fringe elements in check. With him gone, these fringe elements have been able to expand, the latest being ISIL.
The same thing happened in America with coyotes and wolves. Before the white man arrived, the wolves kept the coyotes at bay in much of what is now the USA. But we killed off wolves, and that left a power vacuum. And in that vacuum, coyotes were able to expand.
So what’s the best approach to reducing the population of ISIL combatants? Don’t ask me; I’m no expert. What’s the best approach to reducing the population of coyotes? I bet that may lead to the solution.
They both follow the same pattern – the more you try to kill them using brute force, the more they reproduce. So I bet they both follow the same pattern of reduction.
Van Buren’s suggestion is to admit that what we’ve tried the past 14 years has failed, and try something different. All the current candidates in the presidential race of 2016 support doing the same old thing, though.
Why are the failed options still so attractive? In part, because bombing and drones are believed by the majority of Americans to be surgical procedures that kill lots of bad guys, not too many innocents, and no Americans at all. As Washington regularly imagines it, once air power is in play, someone else’s boots will eventually hit the ground (after the U.S. military provides the necessary training and weapons). A handful of Special Forces troops, boots-sorta-on-the-ground, will also help turn the tide. By carrot or stick, Washington will collect and hold together some now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t “coalition” of “allies” to aid and abet the task at hand. And success will be ours, even though versions of this formula have fallen flat time and again in the Greater Middle East.
But it doesn’t work, and hasn’t worked, partly because “someone else’s boots” never materialize, or if they do they’re woefully ineffective.
Once you admit that the old approaches haven’t worked, Van Buren suggests coming to grips with the real risk of terrorist attack, which he says is significantly lower than the fearmongering government would lead us to believe.
Hard as it is to persuade a constantly re-terrorized American public of the actual situation we face, there have been only 38 Americans killed in the U.S. by Islamic terrorists, lone wolves, or whacked-out individuals professing allegiance to Islamic extremism, or ISIS, or al-Qaeda, since 9/11.
That number is insignificant compared to just about any other source of risk of death – domestic violence, drunk driving, HIV infection, lightning strike, dog bite, etc. So is it right for the government to spend so much of our money (and infringe on so many of our freedoms) to battle Islamic terrorists?
Washington’s war on terror strategy has already sent at least $1.6 trillion down the drain, left thousands of American troops and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Muslims dead. Along the way we lost precious freedoms to the ever-expanding national security state.
So what should we do? We’ve gotta do something! Well, here’s where it gets good.
With coyotes, if you want to get rid of them, you take away their food source. If you’re a sheep rancher, you put your lambs in a safe area that coyotes can’t get to. If you’re a resident of the prairie, you put your trash in containers that coyotes can’t get into and you keep your lap dogs indoors.
With Islamic terrorists, if you want to get rid of them, you take away their food source. That means removing their cash flow. ISIL gets its money from selling petroleum and from private donations. So you blow up the trucks of smuggled oil they’re selling in Turkey. And you use the international banking system to make it impossible for our allies (and our enemies) to transfer money to them.
Then you move all America’s military assets out of the area, and cut your losses.
Land the planes, ground the drones, and withdraw. Pull out the boots, the trainers, the American combatants and near combatants (whatever the euphemism of the moment for them may be). Anybody who has ever listened to a country and western song knows that there’s always a time to step away from the table and cut your losses. Throwing more money (lives, global prestige…) into the pot won’t alter the cards you’re holding. All you’re doing is postponing the inevitable at great cost.
In the end, there is nothing the United States can do about the processes now underway in the Middle East except stand on the beach trying to push back the waves.
During our one month in India, I noticed a few things related to men and women in public places. As my friend Glenn would rightfully point out, being here as a tourist for a short time doesn’t somehow make me an expert. But I’m an observant person, and I do want to jot down what I saw, even if I can’t explain the “why” of it. If you understand more than me, please chime in below in the comments.
I had an impression before visiting India that the culture(s) here had a mostly equal approach to the sexes. For one thing, India had a female prime minister long before the United States. Indira Ghandi was elected Prime Minister in 1966, at least 50 years before America elected a woman President. In (English-language) movies I’ve seen, it seems like women are treated as, you know, human beings. And in the IT field, it seems like the ratio of female Indians to male Indians is better than the ratio of female Americans to male Americans (though still not equal).
But on the streets and in businesses we’ve encountered, there have generally been very few women. There have been almost no female servers at restaurants, zero female tour guides, zero female taxi drivers, and so on. I asked one of our tour guides about this, and he said there is in fact one female taxi driver in Jaipur. That’s a city of around 2.5 million, so I’d estimate there must be a thousand taxi drivers. One woman out of a thousand. Also we read there are female tour guides in Delhi (at Delhi Magic Tours); we just never saw any with our own eyes.
As you’ve no doubt seen in photos, there are a lot of bicycle rickshaw pullers who deliver various things around town. Those are all men. Most of the shops we saw in India, from plumbing to cookware to pharmacies to clothes, have only male employees. I did see women at women’s clothing shops, hair salons, and cosmetics stores. Some police and security officers are women. Flight attendants are almost all women. A small number of vegetable sellers at fresh markets are women. Around a quarter of beggars we’ve seen are women, often with children. Some hotels had one female front desk clerk, though most hotels had an all-male staff, and none had more than one woman we saw. And the train car attendant for both trains we took was a woman, though the conductor was a man.
Each of the two Airtel stores I visited had one woman employee. For whatever reason in both cases she was the one who helped me, while the three or four men just sat around watching or doing something on a computer.
There was a similar thing at Cafe Coffee Day (India’s version of Starbucks) in Amritsar. There was one woman and two men (a lot of staff for a store with only three customers). The woman took my order, gave me my change, made the coffee, and served it. The men sat on the floor fiddling with their mobile phones the whole time I was there.
Speaking of which, nearly everywhere we went, I saw there were always men just standing around on the street, as if they’re waiting for something to happen, but the people standing around are never women. The women in public were almost always in motion doing something, either working or traveling or occasionally eating.
When we went to the Wagah border ceremony, there were about 40 male soldiers involved in the ceremony, and 2 female soldiers. That was on the Indian side. I don’t know about the Pakistan side, since we couldn’t see that side; but I would bet they have zero women.
In India there were security checks at a lot of places you wouldn’t see in America. Of course, there were security checks at airports, but also at national parks and shopping malls. Women always have a separate security line from men, with a semi-private area where the (female) security guard will wand them or pat them down out of sight of men. Men, of course, get wanded and patted down in plain view of everyone.
Similarly, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, I already mentioned that men just strip down to their shorts to bathe in the holy water, in front of everyone. Women, on the other hand, go to a separate little building so they can bathe out of view of men.
Also, everywhere we went, men would strip down to their underwear in public view to bathe – along the side of the road, in streams, under water tanks, etc. This was a little shocking to me at first, since in America you don’t usually see some guy pull his car over to the highway shoulder, get out, strip, and have a bucket bath with soap and toothbrush and toothpaste. Women, from what we saw, never bathe in public and must only do so at home, out of sight of men.
One reason we didn’t see as many women as men in public places is that women are supposed to stay at home, traditionally, while men are supposed to go out and work a job. When I wrote about Jaipur, I mentioned what I learned from the textile factory owner, which explains why out of forty or fifty people working at his factory, there is only one woman:
These carpets are all made by women. There was one woman in the shop giving a demonstration to the tourists like me, but that’s a special case. But normally, the carpets are all made in the villages, at the women’s homes. Although men come into the city to work in the factories, women do not. Women stay at home. So if women want to participate in industry, they work from home. The textile factory takes raw materials out to the countryside and drops it off with this network of women carpet makers, each of whom has a loom in her house. Then she works for months making one carpet. When it’s ready, the textile factory comes back out to pick up the finished product, take it back to the city, and sell it.
This assumption of women being at home rather than in public is even ingrained in political leaders, the elected officials who are supposed to be setting the tone for the society to at least some degree. Check out the quotes from various Indian politicians in this article: “Women should not venture out with men who are not relatives” and “Why should a woman go to play tennis at 9.30 in the night?”
It seems to be assumed that every woman of childbearing age will have children, and that she will stay home to take care of these children. It’s like the America of my grandmother’s day. So even though India is 50 years ahead in electing a woman to the highest office, it seems 50 years behind in how women are present in public spaces.
There is a related topic I thought of writing about, but I couldn’t fit it into this post. It is about how men treated Beth and I differently in most of the places we visited in north India. I was present, and Beth was invisible, even when we were both standing right next to each other. We lost count of how many people we dealt with at hotels, restaurants, or stores who would talk congenially to me, but not even say one word to her. I think Beth is going to write about this on her blog. I may, too. We’ll see.