Monday, December 29, 2008 and and are both examples of social networking gone horribly wrong. Here's a Tip for future business -- stop asking for free things and giving nothing in return. Worse, stop doing that and then expecting to charge people on top of it all.

The general reason social networking sites exist in my humble opinion is to connect people and be as un-intrusive into that connection as possible. The site spams my email in-box every so many days trying to make me believe that someone is searching for me, or viewing my profile -- only two people have ever viewed my profile, yet I've gotten countless messages letting me know this fact as if it's news -- it's not every time -- the count is two and will likely remain two for quite some time.

I suppose lonely people wanting to believe that there are people out there looking for them fall for this feature. It's possible it gets them revenue at these moments of weakness. So far, however, it's had an effect quite the opposite from me. It's clogged my in-box with garbage and I see hardly anyone on there that I know. I don't see the site taking off anytime soon.

Why is this? Why isn't taking off?

Because they want to charge for me to use the site while I build my network. It's that simple. To get the most basic functionality out of the site I've got to pay -- to view people's profile, I have to pay. To "find out who" has been searching or viewing I have to pay.

Another obvious complaint about this site is the amount of personal data they're collecting along the way -- If I search for someone in a prior search the site then tries to notify me that this person has shown up in searches ... later.

All I can say is creepy.

I don't want people knowing that I'm looking for them. I may just be testing the search engine waters (it's partly how I determined that the site is under-populated) -- and honestly if I have to pay to look at their profile I could give a rat's butt at the end of the day.

All of my personal information they want for free -- they don't want to reciprocate in the social transaction by giving me anything in return.

I can only imagine what a premium service from this site is like.

All of this is moot, however, as there's something that's going to take the place of both classmates and at the end of the day -- it's called '' and it's already won. All of the features in comparison are better, you don't have to pay a dime and they have a classmate finder at that's extremely easy to use. I'm writing all of the classmates that I've located on and and telling them to join me on facebook. There they will be able to view my profile, look at my photo albums and find out, truly, what I'm up to from a social perspective. Oh, and they won't blow away posts with external links - like say, -- nice feature guys! It took about 30 minutes for me to help my wife connect her on-line photo album with a reunion event.

At the end of the day, using facebook, we'll all be able to connect to and view the profiles, pictures and posts of people that we care about -- all in exchange for providing our personal information. Sound like a deal?

My strategy for For incoming email I'm hitting the spam button from here on out.

Enjoy, guys.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Coming Gasoline Crisis Isn't Liberal or Conservative

I recently joined the Facebook group: 1 Million Americans for a $1/1 Gallon Gas Tax ... Save The World, NOW!

And immediately earned the scorn of a couple of friends.

This blog posting is about two problems:

1.: We're hooked on fossil fuel.
2.: Americans are hung-up with partisan idiocy, so much so that simple, good ideas get a bad rap.

Where we are: Americans as a nation are addicted to fossil fuels. Disclaimer: I'm addicted just as badly as everyone else (Man I love horsepower!)

But I'd have to be an idiot not to see that whomever controls the oil-supply has this nation by the balls.

So I did what I thought was a good thing -- I joined a group on Facebook that deals directly with the issue in a good way -- add a dollar tax to gas that will be used to stimulate the business of alternative fuel. Why would I, a rabid capitalist, do something like this?

Because I think this is exactly the kind of function that I think a government should be executing. They shouldn't be running around bailing out auto makers and bankers, essentially socializing our country and rewarding bad behavior -- they should be working on matters of national security in the best way possible. When it comes to fossil fuel, it's come down to an obvious matter of national security. Adding a buck to the cost of a gallon of gas in this context is the opposite of a bail-out -- it's about penalizing energy consumption of fossil fuels to make way for something safer, and in our national interest. What remains to be discussed (other than the idea of the input of the funds) is how long this tax should be in place, and who would get the cash. More on that later.

I've been for this idea for years -- I've said it many times. It's not a popular idea -- no one wants to pay more for gas -- it's going to be somewhat painful. But if you think about it, the alternative to the situation is one where someday down the road we have our productivity grind to a halt because lots of people want cheap gas in the short term.

Do I have any partisan motivations for this behavior? Let's make this official: I'm not a democrat or a republican. I find partisan politics where two sides line up and yell at each other like they're right and everyone else is wrong, stupid and distasteful. I think it's exactly this kind of stupidity that has brought our nation to the brink of disaster over the past few years. It has kept us focused upon fighting two sides of a losing struggle when we, as a collective unit, could have been solving some real problems.

I urge people that think of things like gasoline running out as a liberal or conservative issue to step away from the partisan bong for a couple of minutes, let the smoke clear, and think about what kind of situation their son or daughter is going to be in come the near future. In this near future they're very likely going to be attempting to find gas for their car to get to work -- and it will simply be gone or so ridiculously expensive that they cannot afford it.

Now, some people might want to say "Market Correction" here, and just expect things to work themselves out -- new fuels will emerge at that time, in other words, or possibly there will be an abundance of cheap electric vehicles or hydrogen available. But far more likely, if we don't do some preventative and strategic work to get in the right place, energy-consumption-wise, there will be a huge problem where lots of people are stranded, can't get to work and the economy (worse than now) will land further in the crapper than anyone can imagine.

That's not a fear -- it's a reality with a very highly potential. It's not too late right now to do something smart -- something like raise the tax on gas and stimulate alternative forms of energy distribution as it pertains to automotive transportation.

So, back to the situation where you or your kids can't get to work -- the present excuse "Hey, it was a lot of fun yelling "Liberal", "Tree-Hugger", "Stop helping Big Corporations" and "Redistribute the Wealth" back then -- that excuse isn't likely going to mean a lot to your wife or your kids at the future date and time.

Is the excuse of today going to work, 5, 10, 20 years from now, in other words -- the excuse: "Hey, don't worry about your life coming essentially to a grinding halt -- I did it for the fun of yelling the party line!".

They're going to look at you like an idiot -- because you were listening to people like Michael Moore, Rush Limbaugh, Al Franken and Anne Coulter, rather than using your brain to solve problems -- like how the heck are we going to get 'un-addicted' to fossil fuel?

I've had the idea long before this stupid Facebook group (which is worth joining in my not so humble opinion) that we should raise the tax on gas and get with the alternative energy program. Hydrogen, electric cars, solar cars, bio-diesel -- all of these things are potential realities. None of them are going to be cheap when it comes to switching over.

It'd be nice to imagine that these alternative business models are simply going to get traction and come into existence due to the usual market forces. The fact is that in a solution-centric way, oil has a virtual monopoly. It makes it too hard for something competitive to emerge to replace it, in other words. Sure, you are free to chose -- you can always chose not to use gas -- if you rule out the fact that you already own a gasoline consuming car, that most of the fueling stations sell gas, that most of the mechanics know how to work on gasoline-powered vehicles and so on.

I'm simply skeptical given the scale of say, adding a few hundred thousand fueling stations, for starters, that the usual speed of market response will be there when we need it.

Is taxing gas and creating new potentials such as this "re-distributing the wealth" as one person suggests? Not in my opinion -- the item being used, gasoline, is part of the scale of the problem. If we tax the rich people that made huge bucks on the last oil speculation run, and then in turn created these new alternative fuel interests (effectively giving that money to someone else) -- then, yes, I'd agree with the "re-distribution" description of the situation.

But even more to the point -- "Joe the Plumber" is more of a fictional idea around something stupid people want to believe in, than he is real. I know he's a real person -- but the fact is that all of the yelling about what Joe believes is pointless if we run out of oil. The oil isn't going to be on the side of the democrats or republicans -- it's simply a complex chain of polymers, after all, and will have no partisan feelings about being or not being in the conversation.

This is the bottom line -- Being energy secure as a nation is a good idea.

The money for making new business of this magnitude is hard to find -- but we have just been through a huge run-up where people were paying 4 bucks a gallon for fuel. Now it's dropping toward a dollar a gallon and I hear SUV sales are on the rise. Great -- just what the doctor ordered -- more people thinking about the next 10 minutes of joy ride instead of the next 20 years of potential insecurity.

This, in my humble opinion, is exactly why things like government exist -- it's what I'd expect them to do in our national security interest -- find some way to make a dis-incentive for the masses to make the place just a little less dependent (that's sarcasm) on the whims of the folks that control the oil supply (that's mostly people outside of our country these days, in case you've been in a coma for the past 10 or so years).

I urge people to stop looking at everything with stupid, partisan glasses. Resist the urge to say "no way!" because it's a tax, for example. I'm not for a permanent tax here, by the way -- just until a certain level of security is reached. Also, the cash should be carefully controlled by non-partisan interests (read: some kind of democratic, scientific and objective controls for passing out the cash -- not some pork-barrel reward or dole). So, how to determine this threshold? Say when we're 80% dependent upon energy generated inside of the borders of this country. At that point the tax would be repealed.

Back to the partisan end of things -- for example, this idea would potentially create new industry and that's also good for our present situation -- as a rabid capitalist, I think this is a great idea -- more competition in the energy market. That slant on this issue, by me, however, could be cast in a partisan light -- so you don't hear me focus upon it as a reason. Rather, the dire needs of our present energy situation put this in an entirely different light -- one that has to do with our security over the long haul.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Elliot Spitzer Gets A Column on Slate

See: Too Big Not To Fail. Forget any scandal about the man, please -- his opinion, in my opinion, is dead-on. I remember Elliot's work in shutting down organized crime (otherwise known as monopolies) among other shining moments.

His comments about the banking industry bailout is work worth reading.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Death, The Universe, and ... Nothing.

A few years back, right after my grandfather died after a months-long struggle in the hospital, I was sitting at a family reunion in attendance of two of my aunts as they spoke about death. They were talking about how they wanted to go, very much in the same manner as someone picking out the kind of car they would like to own.

One Aunt was talking about how she'd like to have a quick heart attack and get it over with. The other one said she'd rather pass in the night in her sleep.

The conversation was going back and forth as I remember it for about 10 minutes as I sat mortified that they would talk about death so casually. I finally said "I want to be dropped from a plane."

That pretty much ended the conversation.

As funny as this sounds, I'm realizing that I missed an opportunity to have a good solid discussion about the subject with two people that cared. Death, it seems, makes us all uncomfortable. Often bandied about by political parties as agenda items, death is not an easy subject, even today, to converse about. I'm a good 10 years older now, and after witnessing two more deaths in the family (my Mother in-law and my Father in-law) I realize that the people with the most experience with it are closer to it. As children we're not typically roped into any real discussions on the subject both out of respect and fear -- no one wants their kids to be mortified and it's understandable.

You would think that adults would be more prepared for it than they are. As usual, the people with the most valuable input now for me and the recent experiences I've had are the ones in retirement. They've seen the most death, they're closer to it and they've obviously given it more thought.

All of this is clear in my mind as my wife's mom passed yesterday at noon. It was a long struggle -- she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure last year in the spring and they gave her (at that time) no more than a month or so. Hospice came, made her comfortable and we all said our long goodbyes. Months passed. The hospice people aren't really setup for engagements that last for that length of time -- so they eventually had to pack up and go.

Speaking of hospice: I honestly can't imagine going through death without these people. The hospice in our case was Hospice of the Valley in Youngstown -- and they're angels in my humble opinion. The nurse on point for both deaths is an amazing person who was there for both deaths -- a caring soul who has a heart of gold. People can have an impact on your life that words cannot describe.

Back to this last situation -- as my wife's Mom came near to death the hospice people were called back. They arrived, did what they could to make her comfortable, and finally, yesterday, she passed on. Death was a release and I honestly cannot imagine how painful it would have been without the aid and comfort brought by hospice.

We spend a lot of time thinking about Life -- we spend very little time as a society thinking about or preparing for Death. It's a difficult subject and it's made complicated by right-to-life agenda, the medical and legal establishments. I understand more now why Kevorkian is so passionate about this subject. Face it: Quality of Life (er, Quality of death? -- not in our vocabulary.) doesn't quite have the ease of conversational value (in the context of our media) that it should. Things like Britney Spears underwear, for example, get a lot more attention.

Don't believe me? Google search on the word "Kevorkian", and you get about 890 thousand hits. Google search "Britney Spears Underwear" and you're at about 3.5 million hits.

Don't get me wrong: I understand the aversion to death and all things death related. I'm merely pointing out human nature. A lot of people are probably saying "Thank you Captain Obvious", in other words, to this observation.

Back to the recent situation and why I'm writing this entry. The person in question had multiple (about 3) opportunities to die. At each of these moments, there was too much ambiguity and not enough preparation. This isn't a criticism of the people on point (my wife and related family) -- it's an observation of the circumstance. It's hard to have a conversation with someone near death about what to do when they're close to dying and unconscious.

I know what some people are thinking: "Living Will" -- and my wife's Mom has a living will that clearly says not to resuscitate. No, it's a bit more complicated than that due to the situation. If, for example, she was having a heart attack, it was next to impossible to sit down and say "We're just going to sit by and watch you die". Possibly if they (the family) could have had a conversation about what to do in that circumstance, things might have been different, in other words. The situation is complicated by an obvious problem: Someone wishing to be left to die of a heart attack, comfortably, can't really get a hospice-like service engaged that quickly. So, when that occurred, the ambulance was called, she was rushed to the hospital and of course, the doctors in those situations will do what they're trained to do -- keep people alive.

All of this is hard to comprehend unless you've been there. It's hard to watch a slow painful death when it takes hours -- it's even harder to watch when it takes years. I don't see an easy fix for this. Death is heard to gauge, hard to talk about and even harder to legislate. You're out of control of the situation and normal problem-solving skills, while handy for dealing with the side-effects, don't help much in this context as we're geared (wired, so it seems) to keep people alive by default.

The living will is a good device to make sure people don't keep bringing you back into a bad situation -- it's unfortunately, in my humble opinion, not enough to ensure comfort and quality of life. Complicating matters is the simple fact that no one wants to converse about death. Worse, the conversation, if possible, would need to be documented and take place while you're able to think clearly. Finally, even if there were controls that could document your full wishes when you're near death, our society isn't geared to help people die quickly if they want that as an option.

All of these points trouble me. I return to the punch line from the beginning of this post -- the more I think about it, the more it sounds like the best option for me. Quick and full of acceleration -- not a bad way to go, actually.