Category Archives: ideas

plogging?

Wired Magazine recently had an article on the rise of “plogging“.

By their definition, “plogging” is “PLatform blOGGING” – or blogging as part of a network/site/service (DZone, LinkedIn, Medium, Facebook, etc) instead of running your own blog somewhere (WordPress.com, Blogger, self-hosted WordPress, etc).

This seems to be a modern representation of what newspapers, magazines, etc used to be (and still are, to some extent) – a place where you can find your favorite authors all in one place.

There certainly are benefits to this model – but there is also a loss of a sense of personal connection in such a model. As I wrote before, the facebookification of society has some pros and cons. One of those cons is that companies increasingly (and now, apparently, writers) are branding on the platform/network instead of via their own site and service.

The instant network aspect of “plogging” has appeal – otherwise why would Sett exist? Or Stumbleupon? Or any of myriad other networking sites and services.

Heck, remember back in the Good Ole Days when you had link sharing and webrings?

This also plays into the walled garden effect that AOL had 20 years ago: as I wrote yesterday, Facebook is merely the new AOL. Writing in an established (or establishing) network makes a great deal of sense – an “instant” audience, the “rising tide” effect, etc.

But it also means you are bound, for better or worse, to the rules and regulations, guidelines and gaffes of the site/service you decide to write on and with. Community building is hard. Administering built communities is hard. And it doesn’t get any easier by deciding to go all-in with a “platform”. (It may not be any harder, either – but it’s not quantitatively eased by any stretch.)

Forum tools have been around since the dawn of time. And every one has had its rules. From the Areopagus to Stack Overflow, synagogues to the Supreme Court, every community has its rules. Rules which you may either choose to abide by, petition to change, or ignore (to your “detriment”, at least in the context of continuing to participate in said community).

I guess it’s like they say, “what’s new is old again”.

“like” problems: social ‘voting’ is a bad idea

The news story making the rounds about Facebook the past few days indicates they’re working on a kind of “dislike” button.

The problem with the Facebook “like” button is the same problem Google has with Google+ and their “+1” button: it doesn’t tell you anything meaningful.

Voting on Reddit doesn’t really convey much meaning, either.

Stack Overflow tries to address this with its up/down voting and being able to see the gestalt votes as a ratio (if your rep is high enough (an admittedly low bar, but still a bar, and an aspect of the gamification of Stack Oveflow)). But that doesn’t really cut it, either.

The problem with online “voting” (or “liking”, or “plussing”, etc) is that it is a dimensionless data point.

Does getting 300 “likes” on a post make it “good”? Does it reflect on its quality in any way? How about getting nearly 400 upvotes (and only a handful of downvotes) on a question about MySQL (along with 100+ “favorites”) mean the question is good? Does it show something is popular? Are people clicking the vote mechanism out of peer pressure, because they actually agree, or because they think it needs more visibility? Or something else entirely?

Dimensionless data that gets used as if it has meaning is a problem – one of many problems of social media and web sites in general.

Of course, you will object, quality is a potentially-subjective term – what does “quality” mean, exactly, when talking about a post, website, question, etc? Is it how well-written it is? Is it how long? How funny? How sad?

Take this question I asked on Stack Overflow, “CSS – how to trim text output?” It’s clearly-written, was answered excellently in 2 minutes, and is a “real” problem I had. Yet in the 4.5 years since asking, it’s only gotten 2 votes total (both “up”, but still only two).

Reddit has upvotes and downvotes – and your comment/post score is merely the sum of the ups and downs; below a certain [relative] threshold, you won’t see content unless you ask for it.

One of the biggest problems with all of these systems is that the “score” doesn’t actually tell you anything. An atheist subreddit, for example, will tend to downvote-into-oblivion comments that are theistic in nature (especially from Christians). Quora‘s voting system is highly untransparent – downvotes don’t really seem to mean much, and upvotes are pretty much just for show.

This derives from the fact that these sites use dimensionless data and try to give it a value or meaning outside of what it really is – a number.

What should be shown is the total number of “votes” a given post has gotten – positive negative, reshare, etc – but never combined. A ratio could be displayed, but the sum of the votes is a poor plan.

Facebook, Google+, and others should offer various voting options – “up”, “down”, “disagree”, “agree”, “share”, and possibly others – some of which may be mutually-exclusive (you cannot upvote and downvote the same thing), but you might downvote something you agree with (or upvote something you disagree with) just because of how it is written/presented, etc.

And the total of each type of click should be shown – show me 10,000 people disagreed with what I said, 15,000 agreed; 20,000 upvoted, and 30,000 downvoted; 12,000 reshared it (with, or without, comment).

Using voting as a means of hiding things (and trying to prevent others from seeing them) can be somewhat akin to online bullying – revenge voting has its problems; as does blindly upvoting anything a particular person says/does. Which is why assigning (and then displaying) dimensionless data anything more than a count is dangerous.

primary elections should happen at the same time across the country

In Kentucky, this past Tuesday was Primary Day. The day every registered voter, in the appropriate party, could go to the polls and say who we want to run to represent our party in the General Election.

While political parties, as such, need to be abolished, and voting is borked, that every state holds its Primary on a different day is wildly unhelpful.

Because they are not on the same day, you often are presented with candidates who are neither your first nor second, or perhaps even your third choice.

Since the General Election is fixed nationally to happen on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, state-by-state Primary Election days should also be fixed to happen simultaneously across the country.

a simple restructuring of elections

In close follow-up with my desire to see political parties abolished, we also need to rethink how voting is done.

In the United States, you can only vote for a single candidate for most positions (town councils are an exception).

You do not have the opportunity to say anything more than a binary yes|no to a given person for a given office.

You can vote for Bob for mayor. But not voting for Mary, Quentin, and Zoe doesn’t really say anything about what you think of them – just that you liked Bob the best.

And there is the problem. There is an explicit elimination of relative preference when voting: all you can do is vote “yes” for a candidate.

That is very different from voting “no” against a candidate.

What should happen instead is you should vote for your favorite candidates in order of preference, so Bob is number 1, Zoe number 2, Quentin number 3, and Mary number 4.

Then when I vote, and rank them Mary 1, Zoe 2, Quentin 3, and Bob 4, we can get a picture of the relative preference of any given candidate running for the office.

Do this across all voters in a given election, and assign the winner to the person with the lowest score (in the numbering shown above – flip the values to assign the winner to the person with the highest score).

Perhaps even look at the top 3 or 4 after gestalt ranking, then vote again to determine the winner (this would be ideal for a Primary-then-General Election method).

What research shows is that while you and I may wildly disagree on “best” and “worst”, we’ll probably be pretty close on who we think is “good enough”.

In the Bob-Mary-Quentin-Zoe example with two voters, Mary & Bob both got 5 points. Quentin received 6, but Zoe earned 4.

The two voters, therefore, think Zoe is “good enough”, even though they part ways on “best” and “worst” (Bob & Mary).

Combine such a ranking system with a fully-open Primary election (ie you go rank every candidate regardless of “party”), and we would see much more representative-of-the-citizenry candidates appear at final Election.

political parties should be abolished

John Adams and George Washington, among many others, both warned of the dangers of political parties.

There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution. –John Adams

And from George Washington:

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

And yet for the last 200+ years, not only have we had a party-based system, but even with the American public supposedly interested in viable third parties, of which there are myriad, none have come close to appearing in a major election since 1968, when George Wallace won 46 electoral votes, and just shy of 10,000,000 popular votes (Nixon and Humphrey won 301 & 191 electoral votes respectively, and 31.7m & 30.9m popular votes respectively). The major parties have enacted all kinds of de factorules” to prevent competition.

That’s nearly 50 years since a third-party candidate won a state in a Presidential election.

No wonder candidates declare to enter races affiliated with the Big 2 instead of whom they actually feel more closely aligned with.

“Politics exists as soon as two people are in the same room,” was cleverly told to me by a former colleague at a highly-politicized company. And it’s true. As soon as you have two people together, disagreement arises. Priorities are different. Interests are different. Parties can help group together folks with more-or-less similar ideas, but they tend to either be so tightly- or loosely-defined that affiliating with the “party” either makes you look like a kook, or says nothing at all about you.

We all know there are no perfect candidates (though I’m awful darn close!) – and while aligning with a party might tell you something about the person, it often it says little at all.

So I propose to make “official” party affiliation a thing of the past. Remove barriers to entry for candidates. Remove party affiliations when registering to vote.

After all, we’re all just citizens. We shouldn’t be judged by party affiliation.

vision for lexington

Over the past 5 years, I have witnessed some of the growth Lexington KY has started to undergo. From a population in the city proper of about 260,000 in 2000 to 295,000 in 2010 to an estimated 315,000 in 2015,

While there seems to be something of a plan/vision for the downtown area, the majority of Lexington (and its urban area) seems to be more-or-less ignored from an infrastructural perspective (the last update was in 2009, and only for a small part of Lexington).

Public Transit

The public transit system, as hard as I am sure Lextran employees work, is underutilized, poorly routed, and has no means of connecting into it form out of Lexington (full route map (PDF)).

In comparison to where I grew up, the Capital District of New York, the public transit system is both too inwardly-focused, and too poorly-promoted to be useful more most Lexingtonians. CDTA, for example, has connectors to other cities and towns other than just Albany. You can start where I grew up in Cohoes (about 10 miles north of Albany), and get more-or-less anywhere in the greater Capital District by bus. It might take a while, but you can get there (or get close). There are also several Park’n’Ride locations for commuters to take advantage of.

Lextran doesn’t offer anything to connect to Nicholasville, Versailles, or Georgetown. With workers commuting-in from those locales (and more – some come from Richmond or Frankfort (or go in the opposite direction)), one would think urban planners would want to offer alleviations of traffic congestion. But there is nothing visible along those lines.

Lost Neighborhoods

There are large chunks of Lexington where the houses are crumbling, crime rates are higher than the rest of the city, and the citizens living there are being [almost] actively avoided and/or neglected by the city.

Some limited business development has gone into these neighborhoods (like West 6th Brewing), but as a whole they are becoming places “to be avoided”, rather than places where anyone is taking time and effort to improve, promote, and generally line-up with the rest of the city.

Yes, everywhere has regions that folks try to avoid, but the lost and dying neighborhoods in Lexington are saddening.

Walking

Lexington is – in places – a walkable city, but for most of the residential areas, it was/is up to the developers of the subdivisions as to whether or not there are sidewalks. And if they weren’t put in then, getting them done now is like pulling teeth.

Being able to walk to many/most places (or types of places) you might want to go is one of the major hallmarks of a city. One that is only exhibited in pockets in Lexington.

It should even be a hallmark of shopping areas – but look at Hamburg Pavillion. A shopping, housing, and services mini town (apartments, condos, houses, banking, education, restaurants, clothes, etc), Hamburg is one of the regional Meccas for folks who want to do major shopping trips or eat at nice restaurants. The map (PDF), however (which only shows part of the Hamburg complex) demonstrates that while pockets of the center are walkable, getting from one shopping/eating/entertainment pod to another requires walking across large parking lots – impractical if shopping with children, or when carrying more than a couple bags.

Crosswalks and lighted crossings on major roads, in some cases, leave mere seconds to spare before the light changes – if you’re moving at a crisp clip. Add a stroller, collapsible shopping cart, or heavy book bag, and several crossings become “safe” only if drivers see you are already crossing and wait for you. Stories like of pedestrians being hit, like this one, are far too common to read in local news media.

Employment

There is no lack of employment opportunities in the Lexington area – there are 15 major employers in Lexington, hundreds of small-to-medium businesses running the gamut of offerings from auto dealers to lawn care, IT to healthcare, equine products, home construction, etc; and hundreds of national chains (retail, restaurants, services, etc) are here, too.

Finding said employment can be difficult, though. There are some services like In2Lex which send newsletters with employment opportunities – but if you don’t know about them, finding work in the area isn’t as easy as one would think a Chamber of Commerce would want. Yes, employers need to advertise their openings, but even finding lists of companies in the area is difficult.

Connectivity to Other Areas

Direct flights into and out of Lexington Bluegrass Airport reach 15 major metro areas across half the country.

Interstates 75 and 64 cross just outside city limits.

The Underlying Problem

The major problem Lexington seems to have is that it doesn’t know it’s become a decent-sized metropolitan area. There are about 500,000 people in MSA, or about 12% the population of the whole state. It’s a little under half the size of the Louisville MSA (which includes a couple counties in Indiana). There are 8 colleges/universities in Lexington alone (PDF), and 15 under an hour from downtown.

To paraphrase Reno NV’s slogan, Lexington is the biggest little town in Kentucky. The last major infrastructural improvement done was Man O’ War Boulevard, completed in 1988 – more than a quarter century past. There were improvements done to New Circle Road in the 1990s, but that ended over 15 years ago. Lexington proper was 30% smaller in 1990 than it is now (225,000 vs 315,000).

Lexington’s 65+ year-old Urban Service Area, while great to maintain the old character of the city and region, hasn’t been reviewed since 1997. A few related changes have been added since, but the last of those was in 2001.

One and a half decades since major infrastructural improvements. Activities like the much-delayed Centre Point (which I agree doesn’t need to be done in the manner originally planned), the begun Summit, and other development projects may, eventually, be good for business and the city as a whole, but there has been little-to-no consideration for what will happen with traffic. Traffic problems and general accessibility is one of the core responsibilities of local government.

The double diamond interchange installed a couple years back on Harrodsburg Rd was a good improvement to that intersection. But it was only good for that intersection. It alleviated some traffic concerns, crashes, and complications, but only on one road.

Lexington needs leadership that sees where the city not only was 10, 25, 50 years ago, but where it is now and where it wants to be in another 10, 20, 50 years.

My Vision

My vision for Lexington, infrastructurally, includes interchange improvements / rebuilds for more New Circle Road exits. Exit 7, Leestown Road, grants access to Coke, FedEx, Masterson Station, the VA hospital, a BCTC campus, and more. Big Ass Fans is between exit 8 from New Circle and  exit 118 of I-75. Exit 9 from New Circle more-or-less exists to provide Lexmark with a way for their employees to arrive. The major employers in the area are great for economic stability. But with traffic congestion, getting into and out of them needs to be as smooth as possible.

West Sixth Brewery and Transylvania University are two of the highlights in an otherwise-aging, -dying, and -lost area of the city. There needs to be a public commitment on the part of both the city and the citizenry to not allow the city to become segregated. Not segregated based on skin tone, but on economic status.

Bryan Station High School has a reputation, deservedly or not, of being one of the worst high schools in the region, because of the dying/lost status of the parts of town it draws from. You can buy a 2 bedroom, 1 bath, 1300 square foot house for under $20,000 near Bryan Station. It needs a little bit of work, but what does that say about the neighborhood?

The leadership of Lexington seems to be ignoring parts of the city that are going downhill, preferring instead to focus on regions that are going up. Ignoring dying parts of the city from an infrastructural perspective isn’t going to make them any better – they will only drag more of the city down with them. As a citizen and a homeowner, I want to see my city do well.

I do not like paying taxes any more than anyone else, but I do like seeing the city taking initiative and working to both heal itself and take steps towards attracting future generations, businesses, and more that we don’t even know are coming.

Lexington has great promise – it is growing, expanding, and burgeoning. But if its leadership – political, business, and citizenry – doesn’t take the time, effort, and money to ensure it’s prepared for this growth, it will become a morass to traverse, live in, and do business with.


Some more interesting regional data (PDF)