Why the Like button is broken

It’s been a long time since i’ve written a stand-alone blog post. But there have been many instances recently in which people have been offended by the Facebook Like (or similarly, starring something on Twitter or Liking it on Instagram, +1 on Google+, etc.).

Let’s take an example to explain what i’m talking about. Suppose someone in your feed posts a cat video of someone tossing a cat into a bathtub. Someone else clicks “like”. How do you react? Before you answer, go watch this cat video:


Now, here are several reasons someone might have posted it, and why someone else might have liked it:

  • was it funny? i mean, it’s a cat scrambling to get out of the water. how funny is that?
  • was it cute? it’s a cute fuzzy, drenched cat. cutest thing ever.
  • was it offensive? Call PETA – these guys are being cruel to that poor cat. Not only did they toss it in once “because it was hot and needed to cool off”, but they did it again, and didn’t help it when clearly it didn’t want to be in the tub
  • maybe they just clicked ‘like’ because of the person who posted it and they always click like on their posts

If you’re offended that someone clicked like, don’t assume you know their reason for the like. Maybe you think it’s cruel, and they thought it was funny. Maybe you hate cats and think it’s a good thing. There are many opinions in the world. Before you judge someone (not only for clicking like, but also for posting in the first place) – talk to them and find out why they liked it (or posted it), and see if you can come to some agreement. And don’t do this in a public thread on their page. Send them an email or call them or go over to their house and chat. It doesn’t need to turn into a flame war.

Respect each others opinions, find common ground. And, most importantly, as Bill & Ted would say: “Be excellent to each other”.

Random snippets of my life

Watching the auroras during a night of skywatching in Wisconsin while visiting my in-laws. Beautiful, green/white slowly undulating waves of electromagnetism in the sky.

Watching the sun set next to the lake while camping up Provo canyon with Luann and some of her clients (from the developmental center). There was a large oncoming storm and a shimmering yellow/orange wall – droplets of fire – rapidly approaching us from the west.

Driving home late one night on State Street in Orem when a storm rolled in and gobbled up the mountains. One moment you could see them, the next moment a giant “nothing” quickly engulfed them in a rolling, boiling mass of dark stormclouds.

Walking down a street in Florida on my mission. Dry as a bone, hot, humid. 3 feet in front of me – the sidewalk is soaked and the rain is pouring down. I stay where i am and remain dry for a few minutes before whipping out the umbrella and braving the storm.

Seeing the rings of Saturn and the cloud bands of Jupiter for the first time in my telescope.

Watching flames dance in the air 30+ feet high as they engulf the trees on the mountain-side a few miles to the east of our house.

The mesmerizingly deep blue and perfectly crystal clear pools next to the big lake in Yellowstone.

Seeing a tuft of curly red hair as my 3rd is born.

Taking a tour of a “proper castle ruin” (Rhaglan) in the UK countryside while taking a break from a business trip.

Driving in and out of a thick fogbank that goes on for hours as we’re driving home from St. George. Trees covered in ice crystals. Ghostly shapes fleeting by just out of sight.

On a family road trip, stopping off at Mt. Rushmore. On the self-guided walkway there’s a small offshoot which leads to a rock with a hole in it. Looking up through the hole the sky is clear and blue and all you see, framed by a rough-hewn black oval of the rock, is the face of George Washington, hundreds of feet up and larger than life.

Looking out the window of an airplane while the family is flying out to Washington/Oregan (job interview with HP i think?). Seeing the wind blowing across the top of Mt. Hood leaving a billowing snow trail thousands of feet long.

Wandering the mountainsides in Northern Utah with my dad on a deer hunting trip when we hear something big moving in the trees nearby. Being startled at just how huge a full grown moose really is when you’re standing 10 feet away.

Thanking God for the extra protection affording a hard working missionary as he’s walking along a muddy road in rural Florida when a 6 foot gator suddenly rushes out of the bushes right by your feet and slithers into the swampy stream next to the road.

A birthday party at our old condo with lots of family and friends around (is it Alex’s 1st?). Walking into the kitchen to grab something, looking up and being stunned by the beautiful girl who’s profile i’m seeing. Her name is Luann.

The end of the blog?

Is blogging dead?  I notice that i blog far less often than i used to.  Maybe it’s because i don’t have anything interesting to say (did i ever..?).  But I think that blogging has just taken on a new form and that “traditional” blogging with a dedicated silo site just isn’t where the action is anymore.  If you look over my early blog posts, many of them were “hey, check out this cool article talking about such and such”, with a link (most of which probably don’t work anymore).  Sometimes i’d do a travel log of a trip or vacation.  There’s even a few rants in there, some predictions about the future, and general thoughts on the human condition.

There are a few people who follow my blog.  But if i write something here, i find that i want it to be something original, not just a regurgitation of something else.  When i do write an entry, i’ll typically post a link to it on facebook so people will know to come check it out.

I feel like blogging has gone the way of print.  In the immortal words of Egon: “Print is dead.”  Well … not really.  It’s simply changed forms.  I think blogging is the same.  There will always be room for writing articles, travel logs, journal entries, stories, analogies about life lessons, etc..  But how people discover this content has changed.  You don’t go to some rss discovery service, you don’t do a google search.  You look for curated content from your friends on facebook and twitter.

Digital Reputation

courtesy of renjith krishnan (from freedigitalphotos.net)

I was thinking about various news reports that have been coming in about the Japanese earthquake / tsunami / reactor meltdowns and it got me to thinking about how everyone’s sharing videos on facebook and links/news blurbs on twitter. And of course the news networks are doing their thing as well. But with so much information about the event, how can you filter out and just get the good relevant bits?

And at the same time, the neurons in my head jumped over to IBM’s recent achievement of the Watson computer that totally wiped the floor with everyone’s favorite Jeopardy hero, Ken Jennings.

How can you tell what information is good and useful and what information isn’t worth your time? Digital Reputation. Suppose you see two headlines on the newspaper stand. One reads “Green goo found seeping into New York subways”, and another reads “Big glowing red gas cloud spotted over Arizona”. One is in the Washington Post. One is in the National Enquirer. Which are you more likely to believe?

Digital Reputation is a way of adding ‘weight’ to a piece of information based on who (or what entity) reported it. Some people tend to say crazy and outrageous things. Some people just regurgitate everything they hear from their friends on facebook. Others actually report things accurately and non-biased (mostly).

The idea is to assign some type of reputation to a person. We do it naturally ourselves. You’re probably more likely to believe and/or pay attention to something your spouse or best friend says than you are to some random person that showed up as a retweet in your twitter stream. You’re also more likely to believe someone who was actually at or near an event than someone far removed from it.

How can we tell good from bad with such a huge amount of information available? It’s too much for any person to consume. This is where i was thinking about Watson. Could it be modified somehow to read in the millions of tweets and facebook status updates and blog posts and news articles, understand them, determine what’s ‘true’, who said what, and assign people weights based on historical data: “this guy” tends to say accurate and relevant things, whereas “that guy” just regurgitates stuff and adds false commentary. With that, as a user, you could look at someone’s digital reputation and use that as a guide of who to follow. In other words, it can help you filter for good and relevant information.

Which brings up another subject: How important is it to create/nurture/maintain a good digital reputation? Could it have future impact on your job interviews, your marriage prospects, your retirement?

Words of Wisdom

Over the past two and a half years that i’ve worked at my current job, we’ve had a white board where every now and then someone will scribble up something a member of the team says. Some are profound. Some are silly. Some are complete inside jokes that nobody else would understand. But i thought it would be fun to present a few of them here (perhaps with a little commentary) to share our wisdom with the world.

We’re going to untickle the tickle – HM

In code-speak, when you exercise a portion of the program in a new way that causes a bug, you’ve ‘tickled a bug’. It’s something that doesn’t normally happen, but due to whatever circumstances, this particular time the bug rears its head.

Try to preserve the inert functionality of existing code – anon

We were rewriting a piece of code – doing a replacement because the existing codebase was not maintainable. Why in the world would we want to keep functionality that wasn’t even used by the old code when the whole point is to clean things up? Shows you where old management’s head was at the time.

Stoppy stoppy is bad – BX

Yes it is. We don’t like stoppy stoppy. Things must GO!

FATAL by default – MP

It sounds like a cool name for a rock band. In this case it’s nothing so glamorous. It simply refers to the fact that in our logging system, we only log fatal errors by default.

Did you pull a D? – GR

One of those inside jokes. D is a great programmer. However, he would often do a very large checkin on Friday night and then go on vacation for a week. Inevitably he would introduce a bug that we’d have to deal with while he was gone. He wasn’t the only one to do this. Hence the saying.

Qualify the fact that they aren’t qualified – PC

When working with incompetent 3rd parties, it’s important to be able to let management know exactly WHY they suck.

It’s hard to quantify with numbers – GR

Uh, who hired this guy? :)

I give you my word that you can trust me – anon quoting Lex Luthor

Referring, of course, to Product Management and their ability (or lack thereof) to stick to the agreed upon schedule/task list regardless of customer pressure.

‘Can I ask for a translation?’ (Guy); It’s the bomb! -SH

I guess the dazzling slide show and tech speak just wasn’t cutting it. Had to dumb down the presentation to get the point across.

Watch with detached amusement – DM

On how we should be thinking about the company and its pursuit of funding after it almost shut down and 90% of the workforce was laid off.

Simple to use for the un-nerdly – anon

On what makes a great UI. This is in direct contradiction to one of my personal favorite quotes:

If it was hard to code, it should be hard to use – Klingon proverb

We will let you know our findings as soon as we find them – SH

When in doubt, this is the answer.

You can’t solve an organizational problem with a technical solution – MP

Referring to differences between engineering teams and difficult personalities and management putting their head in the sand rather than making some hard decisions that might offend someone.

Snazziness comes from snappiness – DM

A fast UI (that might not be super flashy) is preferable to a UI that looks amazing but is sluggish. Of course, the worst of all worlds is an ugly UI that’s also slow.

Classic Movies

I recently asked what makes a movie a “classic”.  I got a few reponses back and thought they were all rather interesting.

Not surprisingly, there’s no one tried and true formula to determine if a movie is a classic.  I mean, there are a few movies that are almost universally considered classics (even if you don’t happen to like the movie, you have to admit that they’ve made an impact on society).  These tend to be really old movies that were really big.
1933’s King Kong.

The Wizard of Oz.


Gone With the Wind.

Citizen Kane.

But what about E.T., The Godfather, or Star Wars?  Do those count as classics?  12 Angry Men, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly?  16 Candles or The Breakfast Club?  Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter?  The Matrix?  Spaceballs The Movie? Where does one draw the line?  Maybe there is no hard and fast line.  A continuum would seem to make more sense.

Here are some of the resposnes I received:
  • Robin – From your own personal teenagehood or older.
  • Cynthia – A Classic to me is from around when I was born….
  • Alex – Robin, that means pretty much everything for me. :)
  • Mike – I am not sure what the answer to your question is but I think Tron is a classic and can’t wait for Tron Legacy.
  • Ellie – depends on the movie
I guess in the end, what really matters is did you like the movie?  Would you watch it again?  Did it have some meaningful impact on your life?

Can we, should we embrace artificial immortality?

I have often half-jokingly talked about “when the singularity arrives and i upload my mind into a new body…”.  Of course, this is nirvana for many of the Singularitarian‘s.  A way to cheat death and live forever.

Time for some thought experiments.  Do i really think this is possible?  If it is (or becomes so in the future), would it be a good thing?  Would i personally want to do it?  The biggest question: Would it really still be you?  It seems like even if your mind was perfectly replicated it would only be a copy.  I suppose as things go, if you did a weekly backup and died, at most, the “real” you who had died couldn’t complain.  Because you’re dead.  And the “copy” you would feel as if they were you (minus the memories of whatever had happened in the intervening week since the backup).

I can certainly see the allure of something like this.  But then if you take some religious and philosophical viewpoints, things get a little fuzzy.  “You can’t copy the soul” someone might say.  So all you have is a soulless robot that thinks, remembers, acts, and might (or might not) look like you.  But isn’t really you. What is the soul?  Is it the sum of all your memories and likes/dislikes?  What if all that is copied exactly?  Is it something more elusive that can’t be copied?  “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter“.

What about this.  I back up my brain.  I then go and kill someone, and then kill myself.  My previous backup kicks in and downloads to a new body.  Is that new “me” responsible for the murder?  “I” didn’t do it.  The “other” me did, right?  What if you run two backups at the same time?  Which one is “you”?  Who has to pay the taxes?  Which ones goes to work?  Which one gets to be with your wife and children?

Of course, a thought that occurs to me is the tower of babel.  This seems like a modern equivalent – man trying to reach out and touch heaven through artificial means.  “let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven … and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (Gen 11: 4, 6).  What do you think?

Bathroom advice

We were traveling the other day on our way to my parents for Thanksgiving dinner.  We stopped at a gas station for one of the many obligatory potty breaks.  When my wife got back into the car with the little ones, she told me a story.

After the two little kids had gone to the bathroom, she was helping them wash their hands.  She turned on the faucet, got their hands lathered up, and they rinsed off.  Somehow during all this, an old lady in the bathroom was watching them and made the comment: “You should turn off the water while they’re lathering up.  We do live in a desert, you know”.

Wow.  I have no response to that.  How annoying.  Do you even have kids?

After thinking about it a bit more, i tried to imagine what i’d have said.  And all i could come up with was “this would never happen in the mens room”.  Men don’t sit around watching other guys wash their hands.  They don’t talk to each other.  They go in, do their business, and get out.  The only quote i can find that would apply would be from Office Space.

Does anyone ever say “looks like someone has a case of the Monday’s?”

No.  No man.  I believe you’d get your *** kicked if you said that.

Ghost in the Shell

Here’s an interesting take on uploading our consciousness into something else – another body, a computer, etc.. and why it wouldn’t be us. It might work, but it would always be a copy. We (the original) would still be there.

Human consciousness is irrevocably integrated in our organic components. People have always thought of themselves according to the leading technological systems of the day, and with us that’s computers – but the mind isn’t a program that can be copied out onto upgraded hardware. It’s an emergent effect of a hundred billion neurons, uncountable connections, a bath of chemicals and all sorts of input from our body. Besides, the very word “copy” shows that even if you could do it, you wouldn’t benefit – since the copy can exist at the same time, it has to be someone else.

–Luke McKinney @ The Daily Galaxy

To which i’d have to say – that’s a good point. But if the original you is terminally ill, has age-related dementia, or gets hit by a car one day, wouldn’t it be nice to have a backup somewhere that you could boot up in a new body and carry on?