Paying it Forward With a Book

So this is really cool…

I pre-ordered Seth Godin‘s new book Tribes through Amazon. It’s not supposed to come out until October 16th, but I received the book in the mail today. Odd.

Folded inside the book was a letter thanking me for pre-ordering his book on faith. This book, the one I received today, is an advanced copy. I’ll still be receiving the one I ordered when the book is officially released, and Seth would like for me to give that copy to someone in my Tribe, or at least someone I want to be in my Tribe. What a brilliant idea, and what a great way to say thanks.

So it’s up for grabs! You don’t have to put a bone through your nose or get tattoos on your face to be in my Tribe (although you’ll get bonus points), just leave a comment or write a post that links here from your blog letting me know you would like the book. I’ll choose to give it to someone based on nothing more than my own judgment and, of course, spite where applicable.

Some Good Reading

Unfortunately, I don’t read as much as I used to–at least not books. I actually spend most of my time reading, but that’s mostly on the web–techie stuff, blogs, news, and millions of emails. I don’t get much of a chance to read fiction just for fun except in my, uh, “office”. Lately I’ve been reading a book of American short stories, and there’s some really good stuff in there that I’ve never read before.

I just finished “Imagine Kissing Pete”, which is a John O’Hara novella and part of Gibbsville, PA: The Classic Stories, which is going onto my “to read” list. The story follows a couple through a troubled marriage as seen through the eyes of their friend, the narrator. The story itself is interesting enough to keep your attention, but there are little bits of commentary scattered throughout that really make it a great read:

Prohibition, the zealots’ attempt to force total abstinence on a temperate nation, made liars of a hundred million men and cheats of their children; the West Point cadets who cheated in examinations, the basketball players who connived with gamblers, the thousands of uncaught cheats in the high schools and colleges. We had grown up and away from our earlier esteem of God and country and valor, and had matured at a moment when riches were vanishing for reasons that we could not understand. We were the losing, not the lost, generation.

I’d never read anything by O’Hara, so I went to check him out on that there Wikipedia. I found even more to like about him and his writing there, like his support for Barry Goldwater and this quote from one of his coworkers at The New Yorker:

“Oh,” writes Gill, “but John O’Hara was a difficult man! Indeed, there are those who would describe him as impossible, and they would have their reasons.”

He sounds like a real jerk–someone I’d love to either drink or argue with. Either way, we’d both have a good time.

Charlie Don’t Blog

But NewsComa does, and she has a post about some new evidence coming to light against Manson after all these years, along with something lots of us can relate to…

I remember thinking, when I was a child, that this was one of the most terrifying things I’d ever heard of. I was a child but our country was horrified and mesmerized with Manson and the family.

I’m a little younger than Coma and wasn’t yet born when the Manson family went on their spree, but I was fascinated with him/them as a middle schooler. I read Helter Skelter, and it scared the crap out of me. The scariest things these freaks did was go on “creepy-crawly missions” where they’d get into people’s houses and creep around…not hurting anyone or taking anything, just crawling around. Eeek!

I’m sure I worried my parents (or maybe not) because I read a bunch of books about Manson and Hitler at that time. At least I was reading, right? The killing part isn’t what drew me in though–it was the ability these guys had to persuade people to go along with their absolute lunacy. I mean, Manson wasn’t even at the Tate/LaBianca homes when the murders took place, but he had those people so far under his control that he didn’t have to be there for them to kill for him. Freaky.

Sort The Viewers, Not The Movies

My buddy IB sent this article to me…very interesting.  Netflix is running a contest for data crunchers and offering $1M to anyone (or any team) that can beat their current recommendation system by 10%.  One of the leaders is a psychologist working by himself who is looking less at raw data and more at human nature.

One such phenomenon is the anchoring effect, a problem endemic to any numerical rating scheme. If a customer watches three movies in a row that merit four stars — say, the Star Wars trilogy — and then sees one that’s a bit better — say, Blade Runner — they’ll likely give the last movie five stars. But if they started the week with one-star stinkers like the Star Wars prequels, Blade Runner might get only a 4 or even a 3. Anchoring suggests that rating systems need to take account of inertia — a user who has recently given a lot of above-average ratings is likely to continue to do so.

I think this guy is onto something, and I’d like to see this move a step further.  Associating movies using k nearest neighbor is relatively straightforward, but attacking the other side of the equation (the viewer) is a lot tougher.  Here’s an example…

“The Outlaw Josie Wales” is one of my favorite movies, but that doesn’t mean that an algorithm could spit out a bunch of westerns and give me something I like.  Clint Eastwood movies wouldn’t do it either, but it would be a little closer.  The real way to suggest movies for me would be to look at some other factors that aren’t so obvious.  You need to be able to draw conclusions from my other favorites–“Fight Club”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Smoky and the Bandit”, and “Swingers”.  You may peg all of these as “guy movies”, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to like “Gladiator”.  In fact, I hated “Gladiator”.  A movie like “Thelma and Louise” is a much better suggestion for me than “Gladiator”.  Why?  Because it is much more quotable, and that’s something my favorite movies suggest that I like.

Just an example, but that’s the direction we’re going.  In order to make a powerful suggester for anything (books, movies, music, raincoats, etc.), it is now necessary to consider the individual making the purchase instead of a one-size-fits all approach.  How else can you help a guy like me who hates sci-fi but loved “The Matrix” and can’t stand to watch horror flicks but has seen “Scream” several times?

I’m oversimplifying it a bit, but this is a very difficult problem.  You’re basically tasked with generalizing a solution which has to consider literally millions of individual problems within the problem.  It’s very tough to quantify so many parameters in so many dimensions.

What amazes me most is that this is such a simple task for us to complete in our heads.  Computers are still so far behind us in our ability to do something as simple as watch a movie and think to ourselves, “That movie sucked, but my buddy really likes movies like this…I think I’ll suggest it to him.”

Why and How Ron Paul Will Run Third Party

Justin at Donklephant criticizes him for staying in the Republican race, but I don’t think he sees the full picture.

But no, keep chasing a GOP nomination that you have no hopes of winning. Throw good money at a losing cause. Good luck with that.

If I were Ron Paul, I’d be thinking just the opposite.  If he wants to run 3rd party, RP needs to stay in GOP race until the convention.  That would solidify a “the Republican Party left me” argument, not to mention all the hell he could raise and attention he could get with a brokered convention. 

Additionally, staying in gives him the opportunity to continue to raise money.  If he “quits”, he risks losing the interest of his supporters.  And it doesn’t seem like to me he’s spending much money to begin with.  It looks to me like he’s building up a war chest for his “real” run.

As far as keeping his Congressional seat goes, I’d guess (hope) his motivation in running 3rd party would be to continue to build the movement he’s started and keep getting his ideas out there.  He can’t believe at this point that he could win, but he could stir the pot enough to get likeminded people elected to Congress in the next cycle.  That would be better than tucking tail and going back to his one seat, right?.  Besides, who’s to say he’d lose his seat by leaving the Republican Party anyway?

I think we’re going to find out post-convention if Ron Paul is about promoting himself or promoting his ideas.  If he doesn’t run third party, potentially sacrificing his Congressional seat for the ideas he promotes, he will have pulled off a political charade that would make Clay Davis proud.

Luckily, We Have The Fed

Admittedly, I am more stupider than a lot of people when it comes to finances.  So someone please tell me how the stock market really works.  See, I thought the stock market reacted to what is going on in the economy.  I didn’t realize it was the economy.  

Apparently, I was wrong, because the Federal Reserve has announced an emergency rate drop to “fix” the stock market.

The Federal Reserve, confronted with a global stock sell-off fanned by increased fears of a recession, slashed a key interest rate by three-quarters of a percentage point on Tuesday and indicated further rate cuts were likely.

This move is not an instant fix,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics

“Fix” is actually the perfect word.  Markets can be “fixed” kind of like a fight or the World Series can be “fixed”. 

So let me get this straight.  We (individually and as a country) have borrowed too much money, which has us headed towards a recession.  The obvious solution?  Lower interest rates to banks, which allows them to lower interest rates to consumers, which allows them to borrow more money.  Makes sense right?  Right?

“You can’t borrow your way out of debt”–Dave Ramsey

So rest easy tonight, all of ye lower and middle income Americans.  Though the cost of milk, gasoline, and Coors Light doth drift higher whilst thou income remaineth the same, panic disturbs not the slumber of bankers, barons, and brokers.  So long as the DJIA remaineth propped by policy, politicians, and ponzi schemes, you need not be troubled by the frightful prospect of competing on a level playing field and moving forward.

Ah, what the hell!  You can just put it on your credit card, right?  Rates have never been lower!!!

My Homies Shakespeare and Tupac

Taylor’s right. Shakespeare kicks serious ass. I would say he kicks more ass than Tupac, but he didn’t continue to publish works after his death, so I can’t go that far. But she has an interesting point–lots of kids aren’t into Shakespeare mostly because they aren’t into their teachers.

So, if you’re a high schooler trying to avoid reading Shakespeare because your teacher is telling you to do it, hear this: They’re right about him. But contrary to what your goofy-assed English teacher says as she swoons over some lines you barely understand, you don’t have to like him right now. The important thing is to NOT LET THE ENGLISH TEACHER KILL IT FOR YOU.

In my case, the school system in general screwed it up by introducing us to Romeo and Juliet first. I guess because it’s “easiest” to get? Dunno.

Anyway, when I read Hamlet, I couldn’t believe how great Shakespeare was. I was kicking myself that I’d not gotten everything from Julius Caesar I should have the previous year.

I attempted to make up for my iambic pentameteric deficiencies in college, but ended up studying just enough Shakespeare (one semester) to know how much more there is out there and that I’d barely even scratched the surface. Although, I’d make the argument that one of the side effects of really learning is that you find out how much you don’t know.

So here’s the advice that I’m almost 100% sure no one will take–kids, read all the Shakespeare you can while you have the time and someone willing to fill in all the stuff you don’t catch on your own and answer your questions.

My 2007 Year in Review

Unlike everyone else, I slacked off and waited until 2008 was officially here to do my review. 2007 was my first year of full on blogging. I’d messed around here and there with different blogs before, but 2007 was the year I drank the Kool Aid and went at it for real. I’ll keep this list confined to what occurred on this blog. You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m somewhat guarded about the personal life. Enough about me…here are my thoughts on my 10 most notable posts of 2007:

Ron Paul’s Presidential Run
At times it seemed to me that Ron Paul news was taking over this blog. On one hand I feel like I need to apologize for that, but on the other hand, it’s my blog and that’s what I was interested in. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one who was excited by Dr. Paul’s message, and I hopefully played a small part in helping him get elected. More on that later this year, as I have some thoughts on what is realistic, and what is for the best.

Knox County Scandals
There were more in 2007 than I can even count. That makes you wonder how much stuff is going on that we haven’t even heard about yet. Last week I saw a t-shirt that read, “Miami: A sunny place for shady people.” Knox County seems to have the market cornered on shadiness this year.

Steroids in Sports (and Non-Sports)
My bottom line–WHO CARES? Next topic.

People Getting Nekkid and Almost Nekkid
I got a ton of traffic this year writing articles about Vanessa Hudgens, along with a couple of articles about the Inskip teacher who had arguably inappropriate photos on MySpace. I don’t really care who gets naked and takes photos of it, I just wonder how people can do that and not retain ALL digital copies of the material. Idiots.

Barbie Cummings and the Highway Patrol
This was just a funny local story that ended up causing me to exceed my bandwidth when it went national and I ended up ranking #3 on Google for “Barbie Cummings Blog”. Since then, Ms. Cummings life has apparently changed dramatically, much for the better. How do I know that? I’m resourceful, and it didn’t take much digging anyway. Nevertheless, it seems like she wants to leave that part of her life behind her, so I think it’s time this story finally died and went away, never to be mentioned here again.

Tennessee Smoking Ban
Thank you to our state’s elected leaders for writing and enforcing personal choice laws on private property. If you really want to look out for me and mine, stop wasting our tax dollars on this crap. Next thing you know we’re going to have to provide health care for people who would’ve otherwise died if you’d not spent millions trying to keep them from smoking.

Buddies Blogging
Some people I know IRL also started blogs this year. It’s funny that you can go months or years without talking or emailing with someone, and this medium puts you in the position to “converse” with them every day. Even when it isn’t dialog, you read what they write and they read what you write. Very cool. Not to mention the countless other blogs I’ve begun to read that I never would have learned about if I’d not started blogging for real this year.

The War On Education
Also known as the public school system. I feel like I don’t spend enough time or energy talking about this because I think it’s the number one problem facing our country. Solutions are anything but clear and simple, but one thing I’m very excited about for this coming year is that I’ve got an idea that may help a little, at least for individuals. I’m finishing up some other projects, and then I’m going at it full force.

Blogging About Blogging
As I said, 2007 was my first year blogging full throttle, and boy did I learn a lot. I posted a ton of stuff about monetizing, driving traffic, building networks, linking to other people, and I’m sure lots of other stuff that annoys people. I can’t help it…my interest is peaked. Another project I want to tackle for this year is keeping that stuff off of this site and directing it to a different blog that is dedicated to that subject.

The One I Wish Was More Popular
Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about The Wire. I really wished more people watched this show, especially the season that starts next week which will address the media. I’ve had several great conversations with people who watch The Wire, and I’d love to bring more of them to this venue. In fact, I think I’m going to, despite the fact that most people don’t know about the show. At least I’ll have the bragging rights that a couple of people heard about it from me when they are finally turned on to it.

Television That Is Better Than Most Books

The WireFrom the looks of its ratings, there’s a good chance you’ve never watched HBO’s “The Wire”, and that’s okay.  You probably haven’t heard much about it.  It’s not the kind of show most of the people you work with will stand around and talk about.  Honestly, it’s not the kind of show most of the people you work with can grasp.  But that’s not the fault of the show.

If you think about it, most television dramas are written for the kids you went to high school with who got through literature class either reading Cliff Notes or speed reading the whole novel in a night.  They could ace the test when asked to regurgitate the main events of the book and could tell you about the characters, plot and major themes.  There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, it’s just a reality–most people have a hard time thinking beyond what is merely written.  I think that’s the reason The Wire doesn’t get the attention it deserves from the average television viewer.  The Wire is literary television.

You walk away from each episode of The Wire wanting to talk about it.  When I say “talk about it”, I don’t mean “what do you think will happen next week?”  I mean you walk away actually discussing it.  If you watched it alone, you wish you had someone with whom you could share your thoughts.  It’s something that stays with you.  You come away drawing parallels to what you see happening in real life with education, politics, and the war on drugs.  You are forced to ask yourself some very tough questions about your own belief system and how it applies to situations you aren’t likely to encounter in your own life.  In effect, The Wire does all the things through the medium of television that good literature does through writing–it forces you to think.

HBO has shown each season OnDemand in the months leading up to the fifth and final season which begins in January, and they’ve also shown a couple of mini-docs about the making of the show and the reality it portrays.  Someone (I can’t remember who) commented in one of these documentaries that a possible reason the show isn’t a ratings success is that the majority of America just isn’t comfortable watching a program with a predominantly black cast.  But I’m not sure that’s the case.  I think the real reason may be that most Americans aren’t interested in making the intellectual investment to enjoy a show like The Wire.

I was probably wrong when I said that it’s okay if you’ve never watched The Wire.  I wasn’t considering my audience.  What I should have said is that it is okay that most Americans have never watched The Wire.  You?  I expect more from you.  Check it out on Netflix or Blockbuster and get ready for some serious couch marathoning.

Amazon’s Kindle — I Don’t Get It (Yet)

Amazon launched its new ebook reader this week, and while I can definitely see the value in owning one, I think I have to pass for now.  The big obstacle for me?  The price.

$400 is pretty expensive, even though the gadget is cool.  Amazon is footing the bill for their reader’s connectivity to the Amazon ebookstore, which is nice, but they are still charging for the books.  I would be much more likely to buy one of these if it came with some free downloads, at least 15 or 20.  Seth Godin wanted to give his books away with each reader, but Amazon balked at the idea.  For me, that could have been the justification I was looking for.

I’m still tempted, because something like this is perfect for me.  I’m always reading 4 or 5 different books at the same time, and it would be great to be able to take them all with me on one little device.  This one is billed as being able to hold 200 titles.  Also, it would be great to use when traveling for the holidays.  Nice features like reading blogs through RSS and a built in music player make it a little harder to resist.

I’ll probably end up waiting for the third generation of these things before I commit to buying one.  I’ve already been burned by first generation mp3 players and digital cameras.  The price will drop and the products will get better.  I’d also like to hold one in my hands befre I throw down the money.  Still, a really cool idea, and this is the direction everything is going anyway.