My Son Attempts to Spend Donald Trump’s Money

Just before dinner tonight, I was watching the news about Hurricane Sandy, fretting about all the destruction, and wondering if people were all right. My son was in the room doing homework. He glanced at the screen, and said, “Why doesn’t Donald Trump take that $5 million he was going to donate for Obama’s transcripts and give it to the Red Cross?”

I thought that was a good comment, so I put it on Twitter. After dinner I was helping him with his math homework, and I peeked at my Twitter mentions. His comment had been retweeted twice, and someone responded by saying, “That would require ‘The Donald’ to have a soul.” My son thought that being retweeted was kind of cool.

But things were just getting started.

Over the next hour the mentions flowed in, as did the retweets. They kept coming. And coming … for the next two hours. Then it looked something like this:

Over 450 people had repeated it. Needless to say, he was really excited, even though he didn’t fully understand the dynamics of social media (or really, why his well-meaning comment about philanthropy had struck like a well-timed bolt of lightning).

But it made him happy. And I liked it when the commentariat started including Donald Trump’s Twitter address in responses and asking, “Well, how about it?”

As a former English instructor, I’d like to think this is empowering for him: that a good message will cut through all the noise, that it’s worth speaking up … that he might even affect change.

Will that happen? Hard to say. I think the tweet struck a chord because people were fed up with Trump’s grandstanding that if President Obama released his college transcripts, Trump would donate $5 million to the charity of Obama’s choice. It’s a gambit that looks particularly awkward, now that New York and surround states are facing billions in damages. Then again, about 10 percent of the mentions thought Obama should comply; apparently they were more concerned with how Obama did in college than they are about Hurricane Sandy wreaking havoc on the eastern U.S.

But you never know. Two hours after my son’s comment was out in the world, someone sent me a message that they had started a group on Facebook, called Donald Trump Should Donate His $5 Million to the Red Cross:

Can you see that first post? That’s the part that made me happy.

Facebook Outrage of the Week, etc.

For the past few months I’ve been writing for a fine literary-type site called The Nervous Breakdown. I write essays and humor and whatnot. To help share what I’ve written, I also post links to pieces on all the usual social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

But this week there’s been a catch: When I tried to post a link to my latest piece on Facebook, I got this:

Obviously this is insane. Everyone in my Facebook feed shares stuff. I’ve shared the last three things I’ve written. And The Nervous Breakdown has its own FB page … though lately it isn’t sharing stories from its site on its page either.

Yes, I think I am seeing that pop-up by mistake: Facebook’s mistake. I hope they fix it soon.

The Kase Against Klout

I’ve been kvetching about Klout for a few months. I blogged about it in June, complaining that the social media measurement company turns people into numbers. And then, when the company changed the way they measure people’s online influence, I had another hack (at a site called The Nervous Breakdown, in the technology section).

The same week, the mainstream media got in on the action. The New York Times picked up one of the stories I mentioned, about a woman whose children were assigned Klout profiles, without their knowledge or consent. ran a piece called “Klout is bad for your soul,” by a grad student studying social media, which made many of the same points (though I dragged out Michel Foucault to make my points … who’s sounding more grad-schooly now, eh?)

Anyhow. Turns out some of this backlash is making a difference. You CAN opt out of Klout, though if you’re on Twitter and/or Facebook, you should also update your privacy settings to disallow Klout access to those accounts (here’s how).

But once all that is said and done, know what you get? You get a really satisfying result (this is from Hootsuite):

Getting Klouted

As you can see on the right there, I’m on Twitter. Instead of going through, I use a third-party app called Hootsuite, which shows followers, following, number of updates, and a number for something called Klout.

I’ve never liked the Klout number. It’s not even explained — you have to go looking for what it means.

The word clout means both a blow with the hand, and social influence, or political power. The company Klout gave the word a web 2.0 spelling (r you familr with Tumblr or Flickr, mothrfuckr?), and took it from there. They call their number “the measurement of your overall online influence.”

In addition to unfortunate rhyming, the About Klout page claims, “Klout isn’t about figuring out who is on the ‘A-list.’ We believe that every person who creates content has influence. Our mission is to help every individual understand and leverage their influence.”

Only one little problem: that’s bullshit.

Exhibit 1:  the wallpaper on Klout home page:

I have no idea whether these are actual people who have been piteously reduced to their Klout scores. (It’ s also possible they’re part of a human subspecies known as homo stockphotoicus.) But you see the issue, don’t you? These people have become their number.

Klout never exactly says it’s ranking people. They don’t have to. People will rank themselves, they way they would with IQ scores, SAT scores, income — it’s just how people operate.

Call it “social media” if you want, but once it gets quantified, it gets measured. Once it gets measured, it gets ranked. Once it gets ranked, you get squicky quotes like “My dating criteria: must have a higher Klout than me” (that’s on the Klout website).

Exhibit 2: What’s in a Klout score, anyway? They can’t exactly tell you that either, but rest assured, it’s a scientifical factorizing of the innumerative quantifiables in a proprietary and patent-pending equation-matrix that includes:

Followers, Mutual Follows, Friends, Total Retweets, Unique Commenters, Unique Likers, Follower/Follow Ratio, Followed Back %, @ Mention Count, List Count, List Followers Count, Unique Retweeters, Unique Messages Retweeted, Likes Per Post, Comments Per Post Follower Retweet %, Unique @ Senders, Follower Mention %, Inbound Messages Per Outbound Message, Update Count, List inclusions, Follower/Follow Ratio, Followed Back %, Unique Senders, Unique Retweeters, Unique Commenters, Unique Likers, Influence of Followers, Influence of Retweeters and Mentioners, Influence of Friends, Influence of Likers and Commenters.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m checking out a hottie, the things I want to know most are her Comments Per Post Follower Retweet %,  and her Inbound Messages Per Outbound Message figures. Hubba hubba!

Know what’s not on the Klout website? The Klout scores of Chief Executive Officer / Co-Founder Joe Fernandez, Chief Technical Officer / Co-Founder Binh Tran, and Advisor Thomas McInerney. Here’s a memo, guys — want to walk the walk? Then quantify yourselves. Drink your own Kool-Aid.

If you’re certifiably datafiable, you can log in to learn even more about your Network Influence, Amplification Probability, and True Reach.

Not that there’s anything to worry about, right? I mean, this is a positive experience, their mission is to help us, and we wouldn’t want to instill anxiety in people, to make them conform in any …

Hmm. Guess not. Better suck it up and try harder at social media, or your score will go down and you will plummet in the rankings. Or if you think you suffer from social media anxiety, talk to your doctor about … etc.

In his brilliant 1996 book The Mismeasure of Man, paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould cut straight to the heart of problem with IQ tests. He argued,

…the abstraction of intelligence as a single entity, its location within the brain, its quantification as one number for each individual, and the use of these numbers to rank people in a single series of worthiness, invariably to find that oppressed and disadvantaged groups—races, classes, or sexes—are innately inferior and deserve their status.

Klout scores don’t have the same kind of serious real-world repercussions the way IQ did, of course (to my knowledge, no one has been sterilized because of low Klout). But the process is the same: your “overall online influence” reduced single entity, assigned a number, and then ranked.

Though to be fair, Klout is hardly the only one reaming your information. There’s a story on the wires this week that all your online information (Facebook, Twitter, blog)  is being archived by companies that provide pre-employment screening and background information on potential employees for clients.

Let’s not forget monetized — did I mention that Klout is backed by three venture capital firms? In the strangest little coincidence, the day after I started this post, along came …

Exhibit 3: A  story in FastCompany, “Facebook gets new VIP Sections.” The gist of it is that Facebook is developing a new VIP page, and today Audi and Klout are creating tools for it. A Klout VP told the magazine that “the new exclusive page is about finding influencers, movers, and shakers in their niche markets. Brands will be able to give favored treatment to visitors.”

To its credit, FastCompany almost addresses the creepiness of this:

“The creeping influence of money on the Facebook experience could have serious psychological impacts on how users begin to see what was once simple recreation. Facebook and Twitter have allowed few initiatives to permeate the wall between money and fun, but their data gives brands increasingly clever ways to exploit the precise monetary value of each user.” (my emphasis)

Klout says, “Our mission is to help every individual understand and leverage their influence.” But that mission has nothing to do with what fattens its bottom line: namely, getting in bed with other companies (Facebook, Audi) to mine, process, analyze and sell user data for corporate benefit.

Turns out there’s a lot to that little number: It’s a nice bit of metonymy, reducing me to a number so that Audi and Facebook and Klout and God Knows Who Else, Inc. can understand my precise monetary value to their brands.

Oh, no!

Now View This

USA Today, the top newspaper in the country (circulation-wise), is rumored to be considering offering its writers page view bonuses.” — Business Insider

Mortgage rates change less than Donald Trump’s hair
By Joey Cothaw, USA Today

NEW YORK — Despite tumultuous recent events including a possible federal government shutdown, Glenn Beck leaving Fox, and Matt Lauer leaving the Today Show just like Katie Couric did, the search for Obama’s birth certificate, a revolutionary new diet, and an exclusive set of Kim Kardashian nude photos, fixed mortgage rates were essentially unchanged this week, as the average rate on the 30-year fixed loan stayed below 5%.

Celebrities such as Kate Hudson would make out roughly the same because of unchanged interest rates.

Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on 30-year fixed mortgages rose to 4.87% from 4.86% the previous week. It hit a 40-year low of 4.17% in November, when a shop owner in Philadelphia picked winning PowerBall numbers.

“These rates are as stuck as the Wisconsin legislature, but without the Paul Ryan voodoo math,” said an official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so that Wikileaks wouldn’t reveal his sexting habit. “They need help from a Kelly Clarkson hit song, or tsunami video footage, or something.”

The average rate on 15-year fixed mortgages increased to 4.10% from 4.09%. It reached 3.57% in November (read the horoscope for Scorpios), the lowest rate on records dating back to 1991.

“You’d think these low rates would be like bargain Canadian pharmaceuticals, boosting home sales like Viagra or Cialis or Levitra,” the unnamed official said. “Instead, they’re like a sad old Hugh Hefner, leaving those buxom Playboy Magazine Playmates unfulfilled in their intimate lingerie.”

Low rates have done little to boost home sales, which are as stubbornly entrenched as Muammar Gaddafi (sometimes spelled Gadhafi, Qaddafi, Khadafy or Khadafi), the ruler of Libya. Many builders of dream homes have reported a sharp decline in home orders for the December-February quarter.

In Los Angeles (a place of many celebrity sightings and movies), one company said its new home orders dropped 32% from last year. Such declines, the company said, are worse than the drop in U.S. productivity after a Britney Spears crotch sighting, or a Lindsay Lohan drug scandal. “Our business is deader than Elizabeth Taylor,” the spokesperson said.

Many would-be buyers are as hopeful American Idol contestants, but they’re finding it’s no Tea Party out there, thanks to strict credit requirements, unemployment fears and expectations that home prices will fall further, because of the record number of foreclosured homes on the market. (For hot stock market tips, click here.)

The five-year hit 3.25% last month, the lowest rate on records dating back to January 2005 — a year dominated by news of the Iraq War and natural disasters.

The average rate on a one-year adjustable-rate loan fell to 3.22% from 3.26%. Three weeks ago, the rate hit 3.17%, the lowest level on records dating back to 1984, the year many celebrities were born, including Prince Harry, Katy Perry, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who was portrayed in the Academy Award-winning movie “The Social Network” starring Justin Timberlake.

Note: Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and Karina Smirnoff did not provide additional reporting on this article.

Why I Suck at Goodreads

I have a slightly embarrassing confession, which if you read the title of this post you might have guessed: I suck at Goodreads. For those of you who aren’t obsessive book types, Goodreads is a sort of “social cataloging” site where you can make reading lists, make friends, compare friends’ reading lists, write blog posts, book reviews, see how many books you have in common with a friend, etc.

A wonderful idea, in practice. But that depends on you practicing things like logging in and participating. With pretty good intentions I updated my reading list some time late last year.

Between then and now, I haven’t stopped reading. I had Tinkers listed as the book I was reading, and the sad fact was, I stalled on page 81 (or you might say, I stopped tinkering with it). But that’s one of the problems with social media sites: despite heroic efforts by software engineers to make the sites robust yet easy to use, one of my apparent destinies on earth is to be a use case that throws a site’s shortcomings into sharp relief.

For example, I have every intention of finishing Tinkers. I’m leaving the bookmark in. I’ll come back to it one day.

Or maybe I won’t.

But how do you express that on Goodreads? The four default lists are good and commonsense: all, to read, currently reading, and to-read. But really, I start a lot more books than I finish. I get them out of the library, I get them as gifts, I swap them with friends …. I start some, some sit by my bed, others on my dresser, others in stacks around the house.

In the broadest possible terms, I guess my books fall into “to read,” “currently reading,” and “read.” But almost every book has its own shade of gray. Tinkers was a gift from a good friend, so I am more motivated to finish it because of that. I have three books by the same author. I’m about 100 pages into the first. Probably won’t read the other two. How do I express that on a list?

I’ll probably finish the ones on my list now (in the screen grab, above). But what about the music instruction book I have? It’s nonfiction, and not the kind of tome you read from beginning to end. You dip into it, you know? Am I reading it? Well, yeah. Also, no. Am I done with it? Yes. No. Depends. But since I’ve started it, it shouldn’t be in the “to read” list, right?

Except there’s a section that’s over my head right now, but when I can play more, I’ll go back. At some point I am going “to read” more.

I’d argue that I have a separate relationship with almost every book I could conceivably put on my list. And I could put books into groups, but the groups wouldn’t have simple names. For example:

  • Books that I was hot about when I bought them, but then I cooled off (Cloud Atlas, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle)
  • Books by authors who are friends of mine
  • Books I picked up on a whim
  • Books I stopped reading because I’m a feckless dilettante
  • Books I read because everyone else had, yet I felt slightly icky and disappointed with myself for having finished them (Da Vinci Code, Dragon Tattoo)
  • Books I ought to read because they appeared on some goddamned BBC Book List challenge, and despite having an MA in English, I somehow missed

Can’t you just see some programmer shaking his head at that last list, and saying, “No no, that’s much too long to fit into the book-list-name parameter string”?

That’s sort of my point. Zadie Smith makes this point too, as does Jaron Lanier. Smith wrote a good essay for the New York Review of Books about Facebook, and mentioned Lanier’s book You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto. Here she is summarizing him:

Lanier is interested in the ways in which people “reduce themselves” in order to make a computer’s description of them appear more accurate. “Information systems,” he writes, “need to have information in order to run, but information underrepresents reality” (my italics).

Smith asks whether we’re reducing ourselves to fit into the software. My answer is, of course we are.  She floats an extreme stance (though her piece is, as is all her writing, considerably more nuanced)

Shouldn’t we struggle against Facebook? Everything in it is reduced to the size of its founder. Blue, because it turns out Zuckerberg is red-green color-blind. “Blue is the richest color for me—I can see all of blue.” Poking, because that’s what shy boys do to girls they are scared to talk to. Preoccupied with personal trivia, because Mark Zuckerberg thinks the exchange of personal trivia is what “friendship” is.

I’m not so naive to think social media would be possible without limits. That’s actually part of the fun, to work within parameters. And for all its shortcomings, social media allows me to keep distant friends visible on the periphery, to get a condensed version of what’s happening in their lives. And there’s no better break from being a productive worker bee than a little slack-jawed happy time on Facebook or Twitter.

On the other hand, Facebook’s mobile app asks for my location EVERY SINGLE TIME, and its contact fields don’t include a field for Twitter. For its part, Twitter has the de facto effect of quantifying your popularity, either by number of followers, number of retweets, number of favorite stars (don’t ask), or even third-party algorithms with crappy spelling, like Klout. If there had been numeric popularity rankings in my high school, I might have seriously considered moving to Alaska to work as a fry cook.

On the other hand, one thing I like about Twitter is its lists. I don’t actually use them much, but it’s fun to see the lists I appear in. A short list of list names:

  • Sweet supportive saints
  • froods
  • inkpunk-types
  • 1-800-400
  • locomocos

Do I know what those mean? Not really. But the randomness is what makes it great.

To its credit, Goodreads allows you to edit your “shelves,” which is to say you can make up your own names for your own lists. Naturally, I had to try it. How did it work?


… Yeah. I sort of figured.

Will the Real Bob Smith Please Stand Up?

That’s Bob Smith. Do you know him? I’m not sure I know him either — but Facebook is convinced I do. See for months, every time I had a moment of cognitive weakness and clicked on People You May Know, up popped Bob.

Not much information about him, though. No photo, obviously, just the Alfalfaesque cowlick on the top of his head. No profile info, either. I clicked on his profile, and learned that “Bob only shares some profile information with everyone.” In this case, some profile information actually means no profile information.

And yet, Facebook insisted I may know this faceless, informationless silhouette. But it wouldn’t even tell me if we had friends in common.

I’m not terribly cynical, but I couldn’t help wondering if this was Facebook’s version of “Operation Sock Puppet.” (The link is to a story in the Guardian about how the US military is contracting out to create ‘sock puppet’ software to create fake online identities to spread pro-American propaganda via social media. Your tax dollars at work!)

Maybe Facebook was taking pity on me, for not having enough peoples-I-may-know. Or maybe they just make people up to fill the grid, though that seems unlikely, since there are 600 million real people to choose from.  Today, for example, all the users have photos, but the first three, Yeyizz PTe, PaOo – PAoo,  and Alejita Slip sound more like spam names than real people. Strangely, two others are Neida Yoana Cetina Rodriguez and Carmen Lucía Muñoz Salazar (she’s from Colombia. Colombia??)

I asked around, and no one else knew Bob Smith either. There was, in other words, almost no way to know whether this avatar with one of the most common English names possible was real, or just a digital fiction.

Almost no way. There was one thing left to do, which was to send a friend request.

You maybe can guess the result: no answer.

From the Department of Little Ironies

The Oregonian is running an Associated Press story saying that “Facebook users who check in to a store or click the ‘like’ button for a brand may soon find those actions retransmitted on their friends’ pages as a ‘Sponsored Story’ paid for by advertisers. Currently there is no way for users to decline this feature.”

As everyone knows, Facebook is famous for pulling shit like this. What’s just as interesting is how the story presents on the Oregonian. Notice the story’s Facebook integration between the headline and the story:

Duck Soon Paik, International Friend of Mystery

The first message I got, I ignored. Then about a month later, it came again:


Hmm. Duck Soon Paik, eh? Did I know such a person? It didn’t ring a bell. I tried to peer through the haze of high school, to recall if I had a friend with that name. College? More probable, but still no bell ringing. Work? Hmm. Nope. Still no bells.

But it’s an uncommon name, something I know something about. For example, out of 150,000,000 FaceBook users, the FB group “Ochwats on FaceBook” has only 23 members. When I wrote the Ethernaut, I got an e-mail from a guy in England with the same last name. Though we US Ochwats were surprised we had brethren in England, our doubts of his authenticity were laid to rest when the correspondent told us he worked as a janitor. In a psychiatric hospital. And he thought he was going to get laid off.

Yep, my father said. With career success like that, he’s an Ochwat, all right.

I thought I’d remember someone named Duck. How much fun I would have had with the nicknames (“Patita,” “My little duckling,” etc.) .. or with the word canard! Yet I remembered none of this. Not a bill, not a webbed foot, not a single turd in a pond.

And I began to wonderwhat I actually did know. Could have made a mistake? No, that never happens. But what did I know about Duck? Was s/he  a …






Korean golfer?



Alas, I remained clueless. So I did what we all do in this day and age: I used Google.

In July, a judge found 73-year-old Duck Soon Paik guilty of failure to stop for a pedestrian, but not guilty of careless driving. Her ticket came to $209.

Mystery solved! She might be Duck Soon Paik on her traffic ticket, but she sounds like an Ochwat to me.

How Do You Put Your Twitter Address on your FaceBook Profile?

Here’s an oddity. I’m on Twitter (jjochwat), and I wanted to add my Twitter information to my FaceBook page. So I went to the My Info section on my profile, and got this:

So the question I had was, where do I put it? The drop-down for IM screen names is limited to Google Talk, Skype, Windows Live, Yahoo, Gadu-Gadu, and ICQ.

I couldn’t put it in e-mail because it said “Please enter a valid email address.”

I couldn’t put it as another website, unless I wanted it to show up looking something like — that’s no good.

Finally, I had to add it to my About Me section. Lame. It makes me wonder if FaceBook sees Twitter as a competitor in the microblogging sphere.