Life is Better on My Terms

A tweet reminds me of a life I didn’t like very much.

On January 14, 2008, I tweeted:

I’ve gotten very good at making my coffee in the semi-darkness so I don’t wake my parrot.

I don’t know where I was when I tweeted that, but I do remember too many mornings when I tiptoed around our Phoenix condo before dawn so as not to wake my husband’s roommate. As an early riser, every morning at the condo when his roommate was around was an ordeal for me.

You see, when I was in the condo, my parrot Alex was there, too. If I woke Alex up, Alex would start her morning routine, which is very vocal. That, in turn, would wake my husband’s roommate and make him hate me even more than he already did. The result: an even less comfortable situation the rest of the time we were all there together.

So I tip-toed around, making my coffee in the near-dark. And then I sat silently on the corner of the sofa in the dark, drinking my coffee, waiting for my husband or his roommate to wake up so I could make noise, too.

Things are different now. I don’t have to pretend to like something I don’t — namely, living in the cavelike condo my husband selected as a real estate investment — one that immediately went under water and made him a slave to a job he hated. I don’t have to keep the same hours as someone else. I don’t have to live my life a certain way just to make someone else happy.

Seeing this tweet today, copied to my Facebook timeline, really reminded me of how much better off I am finally living life on my own terms.

Top 13 Features of a Perfect World Twitter

Ah, if only the world were perfect!

Twitter LogoMarch 20, 2012 will mark the beginning my fifth year as Twitter user.

During that time, I’ve posted more than 37,000 tweets. I’ve seen Twitter evolve from the “microblogging” service it was designed to be to one of the top social networking sites and a major source of news and information worldwide. Along the way, I’ve authored three versions of a Twitter course for Lynda.com (with a revision to come soon) and dozens of blog posts and how-to articles about using Twitter.

I’m on Twitter just about every day, checking the tweets posted by the modest number of people I follow, responding to some tweets with @replies and retweeting others. I also respond to every [non-spam] tweet directed to my account — which is often how I find new people to follow. No, I don’t “reciprocate follows” and I don’t collect followers. I’m on Twitter primarily for its social networking aspects — to meet and interact with people all over the world. Indeed, I’ve met many of my Twitter friends in person and consider many of them more than just “virtual” friends.

I guess you can say I’m hooked on Twitter.

But with all that said, I’m sure any Twitter user can agree that Twitter is not perfect. I thought I’d take a moment to list the things I think we’d find in a “perfect world” Twitter.

  • No spam. None. Not any at all. Period.
  • Twitter users who actually try to read — and maybe occasionally respond to? — the tweets of the people they follow. Seriously: why are you following people if you don’t read their tweets? There’s nothing social in one-way communication.
  • Retweets that credit the original source of the tweet. That means using the Retweet feature on Twitter except in the very rare instances that you must add your two cents to the tweet. I don’t know about you, but I like to see the name and profile picture of the witty or informative person who originated the tweet you thought was so sharable. And no, that wasn’t you.
  • Links that point to actual content instead of links to content. Don’t tease your followers with link bait pointing to your paper.li “online newspaper.” Link to the actual content people want to read. (And don’t get me started on sites like paper.li or Pinterest or FourSquare and the auto-tweets they spawn.)
  • Links to the original source of the content. Someone created that content and put it out there for the world to read. Don’t link to the site or page that steals a paragraph or two of it — or, worse yet, the whole thing. Link to the freaking source.
  • Follow Friday (#FF) tweets that list one or two people actually worth following. Not every single person who might have tweeted to you in the past three weeks, shared with your followers (those very same people) in six or seven consecutive tweets. If I wanted to know everyone you were following, I’d look at your profile and check your Following list. And how about including a reason why these people are worth following?
  • Company twitter accounts that interact with customers or provide links to valuable content (or both!) rather than just broadcast promotional messages. Why would anyone voluntarily follow an account that was a nonstop stream of ads?
  • No @replies starting with a . (or other character), thus forcing all of your followers to see one side of a conversation that they may have no interest in. Are your conversations with others so interesting that you need to circumvent Twitter’s built-in filtering for @reply conversations? I don’t think so.
  • No tweets longer than 140 characters. If you can’t express a thought within Twitter’s constraints, post it on Tumblr or a blog. When you use multiple consecutive tweets to express a single thought, you look like you’re talking to yourself. Which, in effect you are, because no one is reading it. (See above.)
  • No tweets about follower count. Pardon me, but who the fuck cares how many people follow you? If you do, you have pretty screwed up priorities. Ditto for Klout scores and any other Twitter “ranking” value.
  • No “Thank you for following me” or “welcome new followers!” or “Thanks for retweeting!” tweets. These messages are noise and a serious waste of bandwidth. (Imagine if everyone did this for every single follower and retweet. Has your head exploded yet?) While you might want everyone on Twitter to know about every new follower or retweet you get, the rest of us don’t really give a crap.
  • No automated direct messages (DMs). I cannot think of a tackier way to abuse a social networking service than to use a computer to automatically generate a message to a stranger that might just end up on his cell phone as a text message. As I mentioned to someone on Twitter just today, I automatically unfollow anyone who DMs me with an automated message. Or even a message that looks like it might be automated.
  • No social media gurus. Seriously: if that phrase (or anything like it) is in your Twitter profile, you just don’t get it.

Got anything to add to this list? Pet peeves you want to share? Wish lists? Post ‘em here.

A Positive Shopping Experience

Per the request of the Bed, Bath, and Beyond Twitter monitor.

About a month ago, my husband and I bought a set of sheets at Sleep America, which is where we bought our new bed. After washing them only three times, they were pilled — you know, those little balls of thread that get stuck to the fabric? — to the point where I could not sleep on them. (It’s like sleeping in sand that can’t be swept away. Ick.) I returned the sheets to Sleep America for a refund — which they gave without question — and went in search of replacements.

BB&B LogoOur first stop was the Camelback Bed Bath & Beyond store, which is walking distance from our Phoenix condo. As you might expect, they had quite a few options. (Sometimes I really hate the fact that we have so many choices in this country. Life would be easier if there were less options to choose from.) I was very concerned about the sheet quality. I did not want to get sheets that would pill so quickly — or at all — again. Apparently, thread count wasn’t the only indicator of quality. The sheets we’d returned were 440 thread count cotton, which we thought would be good.

One of the BB&B store staff — he may have been a manager — saw us looking at sheets and asked if we needed help. I told him we wanted sheets that wouldn’t pill. He then gave us a little lesson about sheet fabrics and recommended several brands to us, including two at the mid-range price we were willing to pay. We picked a fabric — there were samples hanging beside the sheet packages — and a color and were done.

I actually felt good about buying something that I was confident wouldn’t disappoint me. It was the sales guy who made that possible.

I went home and tweeted about it:

Just wanted to say that we got EXCELLENT service at the PHX Camelback @BedBathBeyond store. Advised on a sheet purchase by an expert!

You might think that’s kind of goofy, but after tweeting extensively about my anger and disappointment with UPS, I thought I should balance that with some positive feedback where it was deserved.

You might argue that I didn’t get any better service than what I should have expected. Unfortunately, I don’t agree. Too often these days, sales staff can’t do more than point you in the right direction. People don’t seem to know — or even care — about products they sell. I realize that being a salesperson in a BB&B store isn’t usually a person’s idea of a “career” worth investing in, so my expectations of a salesperson’s ability to help are low. It was refreshing to find someone who actually knew the product and cared enough to spend a few minutes with us. I think it’s important to reinforce positive behaviors to reward people who deserve recognition.

The person who monitors the @BedBathBeyond Twitter account picked up on my tweet and responded:

@mlanger That’s awesome. We would love 2 hear more about ur trip. Can u shoot us an email at twitter@bedbath.com with the details?

Of course, I don’t want to email them because I don’t want to get on any email list. (These days, it’s impossible to contact any company by email without them automatically adding you to their notification list.) So I decided to blog it. Not only does it fulfill the request of @BedBathBeyond, but it proves that I can say nice things about companies, too.

Why I’m Avoiding Facebook…Again

It’s mostly disappointment and frustration.

I rant about Facebook a lot. I used to confine my rants to this blog and to Twitter. But recently, I’ve begun ranting on Facebook.

Well, in this particular instance, I didn’t really consider it a “rant.” I mean, I know how to rant and a two or three sentence comment on Facebook falls far short of what I’m capable of. However, it was labeled a “rant” by someone whose opinion I usually trust and respect, so I’ll let it wear that label.

The Backstory

What was it about? Well, it was related to my big rant here, “Stop Asking Me to Echo Canned Sentiments in My Facebook Status,” in which I criticize the popular practice of “sharing,” via copy and paste, something written by someone else and asking your Facebook friends to post it as their status. There are people on Facebook who lean heavily on this practice to fill their own statuses with content. Indeed, some people’s status streams consist primarily of this kind of content. I can only assume it’s because they can’t think of anything original worth posting.

It wouldn’t be so bad if these things were interesting or enlightening in some way. But they usually aren’t. They’re usually gushy sentiments about moms or cancer recoveries or happiness or kids. Like a never-ending stream of Hallmark greetings that don’t even rhyme.

I solved the problem of being bombarded by these things by simply turning off the status updates for the people who did it 90% of the time. That really improved Facebook for me.

Lennon Life Quote

This is an example of what I mean. Yes, it’s a thoughtful quote by John Lennon. My problems with it: (1) seeing it about 10 times from 10 different people over the course of a week and (2) the absolute lack of discussion of what Lennon may have meant by this and what we could learn from it. No commentary; just a bunch of “likes.” (Note the typo in this version.)

But then came the offshoot: a pithy slogan or saying rendered as text on an image, sometimes with a graphic element or photo. People would put these “pictures” on their wall. Although friends weren’t usually asked to share them, apparently lots of people thought they were worth sharing and did so. So the same handful of images kept appearing in Facebook updates posted by my “friends,” over and over.

What I find odd about this is that this practice was picked up by people who hadn’t participated as much in the copy-and-paste status craze. This was being done by a few people who normally share things far more interesting. I couldn’t understand why they had slipped to this level. Since occasionally they’d still post something of interest to me, I couldn’t simply turn off their updates.

So I posted my own update, asking people to stop this practice. Although I got an “Amen!” or two from folks who obviously felt the same way as I did, I was also accused of ranting.

Oh, well.

What Social Networking Means to Me

I think the root of the problem is the way I look at social networking.

I have a primarily solo existence. I work from a home-based office and, other than my dog and parrot, am alone all day. I now live in three different places throughout the year, so I don’t have many solid personal relationships with friends. Sure, there are folks I could call to go out to lunch or dinner or join me for a helicopter ride. But my relationships with these people aren’t so strong that I see them daily or would call one to cry on his or her shoulder.

This might sound like a lonely existence, but it’s not. I’m the kind of person who keeps busy all the time. I’m juggling two careers and often have work to do for either one. And if I’m not working or doing what needs to be done to line up the next job(s), I’m blogging or reading or editing video or exploring my surroundings with my Jeep or helicopter and camera. Or doing countless other things to fill my time and my mind.

The point is this: People who work in offices or with other people get social networking at the workplace. I don’t. People who live in one place and have a network of friends and family members nearby get social networking during their off-work hours. I don’t. Although I can’t classify myself as “lonely,” I also can’t deny that I miss social interaction with other people.

Social networking by computer fills this gap. It enables me to get a dose of personal interaction with other people whenever I need one. Twitter is my office water cooler — and it has been for the past 4-1/2 years.

Twitter vs. Facebook

I was drawn to Twitter right from the start. Facebook….well, not so much.

On Twitter, I follow people from all over the world. The vast majority of them are complete strangers — people who I have never met and likely never will. (I have, however, over the past 4-1/2 years, met quite a few of them.) And I only follow about 130 people because that’s the maximum number of tweeters I can keep up with.

On Twitter, I can be picky and choosy about following people. As a result, I follow people who I feel are interesting. They either tweet interesting or funny or enlightening things or they share links and photos that are interesting or funny or enlightening. I can also keep the signal to noise ratio very high by simply following or unfollowing people.

I learn about current events from what scrolls by in my Twitter timeline when I sit at my desk: the ditching of a plane in the Hudson River, Michael Jackson’s death, the east coast earthquake — the list goes on and on. It’s almost like having a news radio station turned on low in the background while I work. Getting more information about a news story I read is as easy as clicking a link in a tweet or doing a quick Google search.

I interact with the people I follow on Twitter. I do this by replying to them. Often we get conversations going. Sometimes other people join in. It’s a nice break from my work day.

I know a lot about some of the people I follow on Twitter. When I see content on the Web I think would interest them, I tweet it, sometimes with an @mention so I’m sure they’ll see it. Some of them do the same for me. I get links to tons of interesting content via my Twitter friends. It really helps expand my horizons and give me new things to think about.

[It's interesting to note here that my attention span is longer than two to four sentences. So although so many people on Facebook echo the short, pithy sentiments of others, many of the people I follow on Twitter link to full-blown articles that have been researched and carefully crafted by writers who know how to make a point. It's substance, not fluff.]

Although there is a tiny handful of people I follow on Twitter that don’t always tweet interesting content, 140 characters seems a lot easier to ignore than longer, in-your-face passages of text or images.

Facebook, however, is different. Until recently, the only way you could “follow” someone on Facebook was if that person agreed to be your “friend.” The relationship was always two-way. (On my account, it still is; I currently don’t allow “subscribers,” although I’ll likely change that soon.) So if a person asks to be your friend and you say no, that person gets insulted. This is particularly awkward if the person who wants to be your friend is a real friend or family member that you prefer to keep at a distance. (This happened to me with my stepsister’s teenage son, who I have not seen since he was an infant and have no desire to be Facebook “friends” with.)

Of course, Facebook recently added all kinds of privacy controls so you can group your friends in a variety of ways and pick and choose which groups see which content you post. This adds a level of complexity that I simply don’t want to deal with. I don’t want to “manage” my friends.

And it’s pretty obvious that the people I’m friends with on Facebook don’t give a damn who sees what they post. One young family member who will soon be entering the job market is posting unflattering photos of herself at parties, along with the kind of inane commentary that may get her resume shuffled to the bottom of any pile it ends up in. And, of course, there’s that constant stream of second- or third-hand quotes and images that apparently everyone has to see.

And that brings up the excellent flowchart shown below. One of my friends posted it on Facebook and its one of the few Facebook images I felt good about sharing. Funny, yet informative and oh-so-true. The one thing my Facebook friend didn’t share was the source; here it is. (Tip: Linking to the source is an excellent way to reward content creators for sharing good, original content. Just saying.)

Where Should You Post Your Status?

Are Facebook Users Addicted to Likes?

Note the two bottom-right icons in this flowchart: Facebook and Twitter. What’s the difference between them? Whether you’re “addicted to likes.”

You see, on Twitter, there is no “like” button. If people like what you’ve tweeted, they can respond in one of two ways:

  • Retweet it. Depending on how they retweet it (via Retweet button or use of the old RT notation), you may never know your content has been been retweeted.
  • Reply to it. If you’re paying attention and actually reading incoming tweets, you can enjoy the pleasure of entering into a conversation with a fellow Twitter user — who might not even be someone you follow. (This, by the way, is how I find people to follow in Twitter; they interact with me.)

I suspect Facebook users are addicted to the Like button. They seem to click it an awful lot. And so much of what they post is what I call “Like bait” — content found elsewhere that other people liked.

So instead of sharing fresh new content and ideas with their friends, too many Facebook users take the lazy way out by simply posting short content created by others.

(Many Twitter users do this, too, of course. I just don’t see it as much because I simply don’t follow the people who do.)

Enter Google+

You may scoff at Google+ — as the above flowchart also does — but when it first started, it definitely had something interesting going for it: people were using it to communicate thought-provoking ideas. Indeed, it was almost blog-like at times, with relatively lengthy posts that had real substance and originality.

As you can imagine, I was really drawn to that.

Unfortunately, when Google+ went public, it attracted some of the same folks who are already on Twitter and Facebook. And guess what? Those folks are posting the same stuff they put on Twitter and Facebook. So the signal to noise ratio has considerably dropped over the past few months.

The good thing about Google+ is that there’s no “friend/friend” relationship. It works more like Twitter, so I don’t have to worry about insulting people. I “circle” the people I find interesting and drop the others. Or use filtering (now also available on Facebook) to narrow down whose posts appear in my stream. (And yes, I realize this is a form of friend management and no, I’m not happy about it; I’ll likely just drop the people I don’t find interesting and skip the filtering.)

Will Google+ replace Facebook in my social networking source list? Too soon to tell, but probably not.

You see, I’m not convinced I need either one of them.

Sucking Time with Little or No Benefit

The reality is, Facebook (and Google+ and LinkedIn and whatever else is out there) is a frustrating time suck. (Twitter is, too, but not nearly as much — at least not the way I use it.)

To me, Facebook is more frustrating than rewarding. I’m learning things about friends that I never wanted to know. I’m discovering that some of the people I thought were intelligent and thoughtful are really kind of dumb and shallow. I’m discovering that some of the people I respected don’t act as if they respect themselves.

I’m frustrated because in Facebook, I see a microcosm of America as a whole: a mostly politically apathetic people who value celebrities, fashion, and luxury goods over meaningful personal relationships and intellectual development, an attitude of caring for their fellow man, and an understanding that there’s only one shot at life and they need to make the most of it.

The time suck problem goes almost without saying. If you participate in social networks, have you ever tracked how much time you spend on them? According to this New York Times post:

Social media account for 22.5 percent of the time that Americans spend online, according to the report, compared with 9.8 percent for online games and 7.6 percent for e-mail.

And this Mashable piece breaks it down for Facebook:

The average U.S. user spent a whopping seven hours and 46 minutes on Facebook in August [2011]. That’s a full 15.5 minutes the average American spends on Facebook every single day.

Nearly eight hours in a month? That’s nearly four full days a year. Do you really want to spend that much time looking at content that really isn’t going to make a difference in your life?

I don’t.

So I’m off Facebook again, at least for a while.

Sure, my blog posts — including this one — will automatically be listed as a Facebook status; that’s done automatically by some Web-based app I set up years ago. And I will stop by to check on Flying M Air and Beaumont Cellars. And you might even read updates about my new books and appearances there as they are released. And I’ll try to come by weekly to follow up on any comments posted to my updates. But I probably won’t hang around long enough to click any Like buttons or challenge the meaning of John Lennon’s wise words. I’ll avoid a lot of frustration by staying away.

And my friends won’t be bothered by my “rants.”

How the Hacking of My Brother’s Twitter Account Saved Me an Hour-Long Wait in the Hot Sun

A tale of poor memory, computer hacking, and kitchen renovation.

The other day, I wrote a typically long and drawn out blog post that was eventually about riding my motorcycle for the first time in years. Somewhere near the end, I bragged:

But what really surprised me is the way my hands and feet seemed to go into auto-pilot mode. My right hand and foot automatically moved to the brake lever and pedal to apply just the right amount of pressure for braking. My left hand and foot automatically moved to the clutch lever and gearshift to change gears smoothly. Balance comes naturally, even in the gravel parking lot at the RV park.

Muscle memory, pure and simple. Unfortunately, today proved that my other memory isn’t nearly as good.

My friend Pete picked me up at my temporary home in Wenatchee Heights and drove me to Quincy where my motorcycle was still parked. I needed to get it up to the orchard near where I’m living.

I’d ridden the bike from Quincy to Wenatchee and Chelan on Sunday, putting about 155 miles on it after filling the fuel tank. I honestly couldn’t remember how many miles I could go on a tank of gas, but had vague memories of a low fuel light and figured that would warn me when it was time to fill up.

Those vague memories were not quite right. Maybe the low fuel light is on my Ducati, but it certainly isn’t on my Yamaha. I’d just come through Wenatchee and was on my way up Squilchuck Road when the engine started running rough. I was almost to a stop sign when the engine died. I coasted to the curb and popped the fuel tank. I rocked the bike back and forth. I didn’t see a drop of fuel in there.

The trip odometer read 191 miles.

Crap.

I called AAA. I’m a member, primarily for the hotel discounts, which definitely pay for the membership each year. I connected with the Arizona office; they transferred me to the Washington office. I admitted my stupidity to the guy who took my call. I spent five minutes helping him figure out where I was — evidently, the names of the two streets on the street sign right over my head wasn’t enough for him. Then I answered multiple questions about my motorcycle: did it have a windscreen, saddlebags, sidecar; what color was it; what was its engine size? (All this info just to bring me a gallon of gas?) After all that, he promised that someone would come within an hour. If someone didn’t come by then, I should call back.

I thanked him and hung up. The last time I’d requested service, it had taken 90 minutes.

It was sunny and hot. I was in a brand new subdivision and there were no mature trees. There was a telephone pole, though, and I stood in its shade — or at least tried to. I had, of course, already stripped off my denim jacket and helmet.

To pass the time, I fired up the Twitter app on my phone and tweeted:

Duh. My motorcycle only goes 190 miles on a tank of gas. Waiting for AAA.

Hey, if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?

I scrolled through the tweets in my timeline and was shocked to see one from my brother, @chefnorb, who never tweets:

Im tooo laaaaazy to go to work today!! I WANT TO BE LIKE HER: http://tinyurl.com/[redacted]

I didn’t have to click the link to realize what had happened. I tweeted:

@chefnorb I suspect you’ve been hacked.

Of course, if he had been hacked, he’d never see the tweet. He really never uses Twitter. So since I had all that time on my hands, I shifted position to stay in the ever-shifting shade of the telephone pole and called his cell phone.

“I think your Twitter account was hacked,” I told him.

“Yeah?” he replied.

“Did you tweet something today?” I asked.

“No.”

“It’s definitely hacked.” I read him the tweet.

“Sounds like something I might say. I am feeling pretty lazy today.” He went on to tell me about the kitchen renovation at his house that was almost done after two months of hard work. He told me his wife was out of town on business and that he had to dust drywall remains out of the whole house and clean all the sawdust out of the backyard.

I told him I was still in Washington and that I’d just moved for my last contract. I told him about picking up my motorcycle and how I’d run out of gas. I told him I was waiting for AAA.

“How about the reserve tank?” he asked.

Crap. I’d forgotten all about that.

Motorcycles usually have a reserve tank setting. You twist the fuel control knob and it pulls fuel from lower down in the tank. It’s designed for situations just like mine — riding until out of gas. There’s always a quart or so left in reserve. At 50 mpg, that quart can get you pretty far.

Sure, I remembered how to ride the damn bike. I’d just forgotten everything else about it.

I was anxious to try it and didn’t want to waste any time (or gas) once I’d started the engine. So I thanked him, hung up, stowed my jacket (it was really hot), and put on my helmet. I twisted the fuel setting knob and started up. It ran like a charm. I made a U-turn and headed back into town.

It wasn’t until after I topped off the tank that I called AAA to cancel the call.

And it wasn’t until I got back to my RV that I tweeted:

Double-duh. My motorcycle has a reserve tank. Cancelled that AAA call.