fighting the lack of good ideas

posting from google+ to other services with ifttt

I’ve been using If This Then That (best part? it’s free!) for several months, and wanted to share a simple way to post updates from Google+ (or any RSS feed, but I digress) to your other social media services.

Currently I only use Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook – though I am sure this basic process will work for any other ifttt-supported social media service which you can access in a write form (they call them channels).

There’s a way to use email to post updates to Facebook and Twitter, but I kinda like the ifttt method more – it’s more intuitive to me.

Here’s the basic method (or you can use the recipe I shared that does this):

  1. login/authorize GPlusRSS with your Google account
  2. copy the RSS feed GPlusRSS gives you of your G+ public posts
  3. login to ifttt and enable/authorize (if you haven’t previously) the channel for the social media service you want to post to (I’m using Twitter for this example)
  4. create a new recipe
    1. click “this”
    2. click “Feed” (at this point you can post everything or you can post some things – I’m going to go the some route here)
    3. click “New feed item matches”
    4. in “Keyword or simple phrase”, enter something unique-ish (I use “#twt”)
    5. in “Feed URL”, paste the URL GPlusRSS gave you at parent step 2
    6. click “Create Trigger”
    7. click “that”
    8. click the social media channel you chose in parent step 3
    9. click “Post a tweet”
    10. click “Create Action”
    11. in “Description”, give it a good name, such as “post G+ updates to Twitter if tagged #twt”
    12. click “Create Recipe”
  5. done

If Google+ ever decides to open their API better, ifttt should be able to have a channel for them.

Until then, the above method works like a champ – I use similar recipes for cross-posting to LinkedIn and Facebook from Google+ along with Twitter.

hashtagiquette – inline, or append?

There seems to be a great deal of divide over where, when, and how hashtags should be used on social media services like Twitter.

If you google “hashtag etiquette”, you’ll get a variety of differing results.

So – what’s the best route to follow? When is it ok to create your own? Why would you want to use them at all?

Why use hashtags?

Dating back at least to the heady days of IRC, hashtags give a convenient (if implemented) way to finding related content to what you are looking at now. (In IRC they are used to call attention to a user and/or name a channel.)

For example, on Twitter, if you search for, say, “#ObamaCare“, you’ll see a variety of recent tweets that talk about or reference the “Affordable Care Act”. If you want to join an ongoing discussion, it’s a good way for people to be able to find you and what you think.

When make new ones?

Some folks seem to get a thrill out of hashtagging everything they say. Like this: “#crazy #TSA #waittimes #patdowns #cavitysearches #whowouldeverwanttofly?”

#your #statusupdates #look #so #cool #with #your #hashtags #saidnoonever

pretty much

So when should you make new ones? When you’re tweeting something that hasn’t been before, or you want to repurpose an old tag, or some other Really Good Reasonâ„¢.

For example, when I was at Moab Con in 2011, I live-tweeted many of the sessions, appending or prepending (depending on where I thought it should go) #moabcon2011 to my tweets or folks could find and follow easily. Or when a family we knew was doing an adoption fundraiser 5k, they used “#r2b1h” for “Run to bring 1 home” (which, very excitedly and unexpectedly has now turned into bringing 3 home!).

Where do they go, then?

The general “best practice” (though I despise that term) seems to be to tag inline, and append additional tags at the end (and post any links that may be in the tweet). For example, you might tweet a news story thusly, “#Amtrak considering fleet replacement and new stations #train #transit #rail” (story and link made up).


Overall, hashtags should not be repetitive (eg “#Ubuntu #Linux 13.10 betas available #linux), and every tag should add something to the post – the first tag tags the entire post, and adding more makes the post harder to read, and adds no semantic value to it.

This same concept applied when tagging blog posts, question on sites like the Stack Exchange family, etc. In many ways, it’s no different than the old card catalog at your local library. Tags are like a selective concordance – there may (or may not) be a reason to have a truly exhaustive concordance for something (eg Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance), but in all likelihood, you don’t really care every time someone uses a simple word like “the”. You care to find the meatier terms in the text.

Maybe we can all enjoy SMS to the masses a little more now.

crowdsourcing patronage

Just what is journalism going to look like in the future?

It’s a question that’s been bouncing around my head for a while, and articulated in various pieces by Ben Thompson (in a nichification process), my friend Eric Hydrick, and others.

Eric brought up the idea of supporting “special” journalism through services like Patreon.

I think that’s a start … but still limits – as do paywalls, subscriptions, etc – informing the populace to those who care enough to pay intentionally and specifically for that publication / journalist / etc.

I think an improvement upon that is a bucket approach. I outlined one such possible technique in my recent critique of Pi-hole:

Maybe there needs to be a per-hour, per-article, per-something option – a penny for an hour, for example (which, ftr, comes out to a monthly fee of about $7)- so that viewers can toss some scrilla towards the creators, but aren’t permanently encumbered by subscriptions they’ll soon forget about

I’ll go out on a limb and predict “journalism”, as we have known it for hundreds of years, is going to completely disappear in the next 10 years. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s completely going away (though, with the general willful ignorance of people…maybe it will). It does mean, though, that it’s going to be radically different in form.

With the rise of decentralized (and, now, recentralized) publishing with widespread adoption of the world wide web, everyone can (and, maybe, should) be a publisher.

The overwhelming majority of publishers are not receiving anything from their writing – except personal satisfaction (that includes myself .. in 20+ years of having websites, blogs, etc, I’ve made about $35 online). And publishing for “free” (ie, self-funded) should always be an option: as a content creator, it should always be up to you as to whether you wish to charge for what you’ve made.

But if you want the possibility of getting paid for your work, that should be an option, too: and while you might be “worth” subscribing to, the odds are very good you are not. And that leaves a quandary: how can you get paid for your work (if you want), without encumbering your audience into either leaving instantly, or succumbing to pressure to subscribe.

Which is why I think a bucket approach could work well – you’d know how much you had available in your balance, recharging would be simple (could even be automated – hit a threshold, recharge to some preset amount), and you’d know exactly who was getting your money, and, more importanly, for what – it’s not some ambiguous “subscription” to a “site”, but paying for precisely the content you see (or want to see).

In many ways, it’s extending the Patreon idea, which is really just a modern reimagining of patronage, from mere individual shows, sites, etc, down to a granularity of specific pages, articles, images, etc.

And let’s not even talk about the analytics that could be performed on payments and page views under such a model: identifying regions that are interested in certain content, audiences that like certain things, what are immediate turn-offs, etc. Incorporate some form of solid feedback/interaction mechanism, and you could possibly develop healthy gamification of your site: maybe even waiving monetary contribution if you hit certain levels of interaction on the site.

Active community building via people who actually care (and that just happens to fund the service).

Now that would be something.

the gold standard

This is going to ramble a bit, and I’m not 100% sure my opinions are even remotely reasonable, but I had a great conversation on the Gold Standard recently, and thought sharing that would be fun. The quoted sections are relevant parts of the conversation from my friend*, and the unquoted segments are my responses.

I’ve seen pundits, or as I call them, “blowhards”, on both sides of the aisle claim that even suggesting we return to the gold standard is madness. Maybe it’s just because I’m not an economist, but I don’t understand that - we had like 3-4 thousand years of experience with the gold standard; we have less than a century with floating currencies. Why is it so crazy to say “we keep getting into trouble this way, maybe we should fall back until we’ve got this figured out better”?

The only issue I can see with returning to the gold standard (or the silver or any other), is that since gold is by nature a finite resource (whereas many others, while finite, are growable (eg crops, industry, etc)), there would be no reason to have an “exchange” between different countries, and that it would make an effective universal currency – to some extent, undervaluing the currency systems of every country that chose to use the standard, and globalize (even more) our economies.

Plus, it makes issuing loans (and receiving them) substantially more difficult – and loans are NOT always a Bad Thingâ„¢.

For example, if, say, Canada and the US use the gold standard and decide that $1000 US is one ounce of gold, and $500 Canadian is one ounce of gold, the exchange “rate” is fixed – and it’s fixed to something that is increasable, but only at a fairly fixed rate (how fast you can acquire/generate gold). Whereas if you have floating currencies with no “real” backing, exchange rates can change based on the relative health of each country.

By setting a fixed exchange (which is what the gold standard would do … like what China has been doing for years to the US, but only on paper), is that it can cyclically under- and over-value individual countries currencies and economies, ultimately bringing more down at once when a few fail (or, of course the reverse – bring more up when some few major ones succeed).

During the early part of the last century, we were still mostly working with gold, and we had both the Great Depression, and some of the greatest economic growth ever seen.

The Great Depression, imho (though, admittedly, a biased, and fairly-underinformed opinion), was about 90% perception, and 10% reality – a fairly commonplace occurrence in economics, but one that was exacerbated by the [initially] fixed relations between the various national currencies

Also, imho, basing currency on a fixed standard (like gold) was truly only viable in an era of poor communication (I’d personally argue that shortly after the telegram became more than a technological marvel, this became more and more true until it was universal) - with poor communication, perceptions take a LONG time to be transferred – which correspondingly means that “news” was A) old, and B) taken with larger grains of salt than we *tend* to take it with now, since comunication is [effectively] instantaneous. {I have no research or citations to this point – yet: it is currently only my opinion.}

In my opinion, by floating currencies against each other and the relative strengths of each country involved, crashes are slowed (not eliminated, of course). Of course, again, the reverse is also true – booms are flattened-out. So, I’d view the floating-currency approach as one that will *tend* to flatten local (and global) booms and busts into substantially smaller ripples, rather than major mountains and troughs.

Not being an economist, I’m not sure I understand why that should be. What’s the evidence for that? How can we be certain that’s a good thing? Maybe the cycle of mountains and valleys is important, socially?

[not being an economist either,] I’d *think* that it would be better to keep the mountains and valleys more stable / less high|deep, so that slowdowns aren’t felt by a disproportionately small community/niche of the economy, and so that speed-ups can have a “good neighbor” effect to bringing some of the underperforming sectors ‘along for the ride’.

As to question 2 – I don’t *know* that it’s “a good thing” … but I also can’t say it’s a ‘bad thing’, either.

I’d be happy to hear arguments that either oppose mine, or are different 🙂

I think my strongest one would be that we used the gold standard for like 4000 years, and it seemed to work very well for us nearly globally during that time. As far as any possible good neighbor effect from flattening things out, it may be that social upheaval is an important component of progress: almost all major advances thus far in history have had some component of socio-economic shift; flattening those upheavals could very well have consequences that we can’t foresee (I realize this is a weak, speculative argument, but it’s worth considering).

There’s also part of me that feels like floating currencies are so much handwaving and voodoo. You talked about how they allow countries to create exchanges that are tied to their relative health, instead of some fixed point - but isn’t how much currency they’ve arbitrarily decided to create often used as one of the measures of health? If so, that’s somewhat circular logic: if floating currencies let us control how much inflation we’ve got, and inflation is one of the health metrics, then what prevents nations from trying to hide economic problems, just the way that nearly every EU member has done over the last 15 years?

Isn’t it exactly the fact that their currencies were floating relative to one another before hand that allowed them to hide so much of their debt before entering the euro zone? Or have i misunderstood that?

Prior to the “euro zone” cluster****, country finances were a LOT less open/transparent, too … kinda like a private vs public company (not that public companies are as transparent as would be helpful, but the comparison stands).

I feel like if they’d been the gold standard, the euro zone negotiations would have been more along the lines of:

“ok, so how much gold have you got?”
“oh, quite a bit!”
“ok, well, we’re going to need to count all of it, so that we can figure out how many euros to give you.”
“oh, well, we have quite a bit of gold!”
“yeah, still need to count it.”
“oh. um. crap. …fine”

It’s a lot harder to hide how much actual wealth you have, when your wealth can be reduced to a physical object, instead of just assertions on paper.

However, if you’re going to count the gold nuggets (or whatever), it’s also trivially-simple to elect to *NOT* show your whole hand … which would seem to me to be the same economic sleight-of-hand as can be done when asked “how many barrels of oil do you have?” and you reply “we’re recovering 5million bbl/day”

That’s not an answer – it’s interesting information … but not an answer.

In this particular case, there’s no benefit I can immediately think of to hiding your wealth – the whole point was to get your finances into a good enough shape to be able to qualify for the euro zone. The shenanigans were more about hiding debt than hiding wealth.

I think that hiding wealth *could* be beneficial to make yourself *appear* weaker than you are, so that when you “need|want” to be “strong”, you can be. It could also be from a detail-vs-gestalt approach.

So now I ask all of you – is this plausible/reasonable/right? Or am I smoking some serious space crack?

*He gave me permission to quote him as appropriate if desired

the vagaries of memory

I doubt mankind will ever figure out how our memories work.

Think about it for a second: you’re sitting in your car, listening to some radio station playing songs popular when you were a kid – a young kid. And then, lo and behold, you’re singing along with the radio – to songs you either a) haven’t heard in years, or b) have no recollection of ever having heard in your life. But there you are, singing along, belting out the lyrics at the top of your voice (unless, of course you have the windows open, in which case, you’re probably just mouthing along).

Or say you’re watching Jeopardy! and the category is 14th Century German Romance Plays. Nobody actually knows anything about these things (or that they even exist) but the answer is given, and you respond before Alex has finished reading the clue. Boom! You got it – aced the most bizarre trivia question you could ever come up with. And then you start thinking about why you knew that. Is it because you’re a scholar of 14th Century German Romance Plays? Probably not. Did you major in German literature in college? Again, the answer is likely ‘No’. For that matter, as you’re contemplating this amazing moment in your life, you realize you’ve never seen anything written in German other than ‘Adolf Hitler’.

Then Final Jeopardy! comes on, and the clue is “This actress was the youngest to ever win an Academy Award.” Oh no! You’re an entertainment awards fanatic. You even know who won for Best Gaffer in 1983 – even though nobody else on the planet knows there are gaffers on movie sets, let alone what they do. You scan through your expansive collection of mental entertainment facts, and this one escapes you. (It’s Shirley Temple, by the way.)

My real question, though relates to how we should use our intelligence. Is it better to focus on knowing scads of unrelated, trivial matters, or is it better to know where to find unrelated, trivial information? If you are a machinist, is it better to know how to reverse-thread the inside of a titanium pipe end-cap, or to go look up what kind of tooling and lathe settings you will need when you get around to making that part? I suppose that if all you ever do in life is mill reverse-threaded titanium pipe end-caps, you should probably commit that piece of information to memory. But when you need to make two of these things. Ever. In your entire life. In the entire history of every company you ever work for. Well, then I would say it’s better to go look up that particular datum when you need it. And then promptly forget it.

I imagine that most people have a multi-stage memory, at least in some ways similar to my own. I have the immediate-recall memory for simple things like phone numbers that are read to me over the phone that I must then dial right away since I can’t write it down at that moment. There’s a short-term memory where I’ll recall some things for as long as I need them, and no longer – such as piddling things about contrapositive proofs that, God-willing, I’ll never need again, so I forgot about them after Discrete Math was over. Then there’s that intermediate memory where stuff I use regularly sits – stuff that is too complicated (or private) to write down (like passwords) where you start off with the information written down, but after a little bit of time (and a lot of constant use) you memorize it.

Right now, I can probably accurately claim that I know about 50 different passwords – all of them current, and that I use on a least a semi-frequent basis. But, as time goes on, and passwords are changed, or I no longer need to know them, they’ll fade from memory.

The next stage is that long-term memory that holds stuff you use all the time, and have used for a long time, and will use for the foreseeable future: family and friends’ names, birthdays, your address, cell phone number, social security number, how to get to work, how to get to some friends’ houses, etc. These are things you don’t even realize you remember because you use them all the time.

The next-to-last stage of memory is what I’ll call ‘fond recollections’. Events that stand out in your mind because either a) they were important to you, or b) something else important happened then, so associated events are also remembered. I won’t say that these ‘fond’ memories are necessarily ‘good’, but they’re isolated events that you recall – maybe a birthday when you were little, making cookies for Thanksgiving, putting tinsel on the Christmas tree, that sit-on fire-truck you rode around on when you were three. It might also include some not-so-nice things: crashing your first car, your house burning down, a close friend or family member’s death. But since these are isolated events also, I’m going to classify them here.

Lastly comes that queer, long-term memory that shows up when playing Trivial Pursuit or watching Who Wants to be a Millionaire? – random stuff you never knew you knew that comes flying back into your head just before the timer runs out on Final Jeopardy!

That last category is certainly the most interesting to me. I love playing Trivial Pursuit or pub trivia and watching quiz shows. And if I know the answer to the question, it will come flying back in time to answer about 95% of the time. And if I don’t know – well, then I don’t know.

But getting back to my question from earlier – is it better to know stuff or know how to find what you need to know? I’d say it’s a balance. No, I’m giving a cop-out, I’m going to explain myself.

Knowing where to find the answer is far more practical in everyday life than just knowing the answer, but only on topics that are not entirely in your knowledge domain. For example, I don’t use the PHP function mysql_fetch_array very often – so when I do I go to and look up the exact usage in the manual. I would wager that most machinists don’t reverse-thread titanium pipe end-caps often, so if and when they need to, they’ll just look it up – but they know where to look.

Knowing how to find what you’re looking for is an important skill for other reasons, too. If you’re interested in a topic but don’t know much about it, you might be inclined to go to your local bookstore to see what titles they have available. By knowing how to find information, you can evaluate – by title, book size, and a quick skim of the contents and chapter layouts – which book(s) will be of the most help to you in your quest.

I run into this frequently when searching for stuff online – lots of times I don’t know much about what I’m looking for, but I have learned (through lots of practice) how to filter my searches to return likely candidates to my queries. I also have learned how to find people who are both able and willing to help me in areas I am not very knowledgeable. For example, when something’s wrong with my car, I take it to a mechanic I have already proven to be knowledgeable, and ask him questions. I know enough about the basics of automobile design, implementation, and maintenance that if they tell me my hemofligger needs to be replaced and the muffler deck should be tightened to 500 pound-inches of torque to reduce rattling – they’re pulling my chain. On the other hand, if I’m seeing a problem with my car overheating and they tell me the pressure cap and thermostat should be replaced, then I know those are components of the coolant system, so the response sounds reasonable.

I think the answer to my question, then, is that you need to know a little bit about what you’re trying to find if you don’t use is very often so that you can get the information you need quickly. I know there is a function in PHP’s GD library interface that will convert an image from GIF to PNG formats. I don’t recall what it is, but I know where to look. I know there is a remote desktop utility in Windows, and it’s called mstsc (Microsoft Terminal Services). But I haven’t memorized the command-line options to KDE’s rdesktop tool because I don’t use it very frequently (that’s what man pages are for).

So, know the stuff you use constantly, and remember where to find those nuggets you only need on the blue moon.