Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It all adds up

My wife was having a conversation with The FMO (age four-and-a-half) the other day:

FMO: "Mommy, is one hundred and three the biggest number?"

Wife: "No, honey. You can add one to one hundred and three and get one hundred and four. Infinity is the biggest number."


FMO (with furrowed brow): "*How* old is Daddy?"

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The obligatory "How I use Twitter" post

"Twitter lets me subscribe to the brains of smart people who are kind enough to think in public."

That's the line I use to describe the wildy popular and addictive Web2.0/SMS/SocialNetworking phenomenon that encourages you to "Connect with your colleagues, friends and family by answering one simple question in 140 characters or less: What are you doing?"

But if you're new to Twitter, have few followers and no idea how to find folks to follow, you may not "get" the whole Twitter thing and give up on it.

A number of folks have made excellent blog posts about how to use Twitter. For example, GeekMommy's post on blocking vs. following is a keeper, and Caroline Middlebrook's Big Juicy Twitter Guide is encyclopedic.

But I'm not looking to use Twitter for marketing or as part of an internet business. It's part of my Personal Learning Network, which feeds my efforts at Viral Professional Development. So here's how I use Twitter:

I became aware of Twitter quite some time ago via several blogs I read, notably Alec Couros and Alan Levine. I'm a late adopter - I wait to try out something new until I see that folks are talking about it consistently. (Kind of a "Keep up with the Jones' - eventually" mentality.) Late last summer I finally decided that it was something I needed to get involved with. So, I looked up Alec and Alan on Twitter as soon as I set up my account and followed them.

When you follow someone, you can see all their posts, including the @username posts directed at another user. On twitter @username posts become a conversation. Quite often, the half of the conversation I see is interesting. (I follow smart people, and they follow smart people.) So I'll click on the @username link, which takes me to the tweetstream (list of posts) of that person, which includes their Twitter profile - name, link, and bio.

When someone follows me (that started happening when got to about 25 follows/followers) I get an email with a link to their tweetstream / profile page as well. I just click the link in the email and in a few seconds, I can see whether or not I want to follow that person as well.

Here's what I look for:
  • Posts with @'s - that means they're having a conversation with other people.
  • Posts with links - that means they're sharing resources
  • Posts that are interesting to read. I like witty. I don't like snarky.
  • Posts @ people I already follow
  • A profile that includes a description of what they do - I pretty much automatically follow folks in my profession (educational technology)
  • A profile that links to that person's blog or website
  • Reasonable numbers for "following" and "followers." A few hundred is manageable. More than that, they're not likely to engage in conversation.*
  • A ratio for "following" vs "followers" that's close to 1:1. Someone who's following thousands but has only a handful of followers is a broadcaster or a bot, not a person I want to be feeding data to. That gets blocked tut suite.
If I like what I see, and want to see more, I just click the Follow button. Simple - another brain subscribed to. I don't follow everyone who follows me, or who @s with someone I follow. Some folks only Tweet about their personal lives. Some are way-technical geeks whose tweets are over my head - or al about systems and tools that I don't use. Remember, I use Twitter mostly as a professional-development tool both for myself and the faculty I serve. Yes, it comes with a nice side serving of social chitchat, but I look at that as water-cooler chatter.

So, that's how I use Twitter. I hope to @you there!

*I do make a few exceptions. For example, Howard Rheingold has a gajillion followers, but he actually engages folks and his observations are of course interesting. Besides, it lets me name-drop shamelessly: "I was talking with Howard Rheingold about this last week..." :-)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Schooled Bully

This is a true story. Obviously, names have been changed. Details have been reconstructed and simplified somewhat, and some dramatic license has been taken in imagining inner dialogues. But it happened pretty much this way, as far as I can tell.

There are two boys. One we'll call Eric. The other, Kenny. Both are in 7th grade at a very good suburban middle school.

Eric has a good reputation. He's a straight-A student, active in extra-curricular activities and sports, and a popular kid. He's funny, cool, easy-going, enjoys playing the class clown and high-fiving people in the hallways. But he's just a little too busy, involved in just a few too many things. It doesn't help that he's a perfectionist. So... he has stress. Most of the time he keeps it deep down inside.

Kenny also has a reputation. He is well-known to the school administrators, but for all the wrong reasons. He undoubtedly has stress, too. But he lets it out in all the wrong ways. He is failing his classes, and proud of the fact. He enjoys vandalizing school property and picking on other kids. He is widely disliked by the other students.

Kenny decides that Eric is to be his new victim. He starts tripping Eric as they pass in the hallway each day. Eric doesn't report this to an adult - that would violate The Code. When you're 13, you're expected to solve your social problems yourself. Eric does his best to ignore Kenny. Day after day, he just picks himself up and goes on. Turns the other cheek. Restrains himself.

He's not giving Kenny much amusement.

So Kenny ups the ante. He posts obscene comments about Eric online, which Eric's friends forward to him. Eric doesn't tell an adult about this, either, despite having several caring adults in his circle who'd hear him out on any subject. When you're 13, certain subjects are on the uncomfortable teetering edge between really gross and quite interesting. The only thing you're really sure of is that you don't want to talk about them. And you sure as heck don't want some jerk you hate spouting off about you and... certain subjects.

Eric is on a slow simmer the next day. The very last person he wants anything to do with is Kenny. But there he is in the hallway, coming Eric's way. Eric grits his teeth and says nothing. And as they pass, Kenny trips Eric and saunters away, grinning.

Now, Kenny almost certainly did not know that Eric is a black belt in karate. A state champion, in fact, with a shelf-full of trophies.

Ignorance is not always bliss.

Eric's foot lands squarely between Kenny's shoulder blades and knocks him into the lockers. Kenny's a tough scrapper, though, and comes back swinging. The boys grapple as the crowd backs away. Kenny throws a haymaker punch at Eric's head and knocks him across the hall, slamming his head into a locker. But Eric takes control of his momentum as he bounces off the lockers and spins around, landing on his feet in a low crouch.

His head *hurts*, dammit, and now he's mad. Really mad.

All that stress he's been carrying is about to come out.

His landing out of the spin has wound Eric like a spring. He's poised to launch a flying roundhouse kick and plant his foot on Kenny's ear. Eric has broken boards with this kick, many times. He's knocked over the large, heavy punching bag at the dojo with this kick, many times.

Kenny weighs half of what that bag does. He's not going *into* the wall. He's going *through* the wall.

Eric is *not* thinking that he could do permanent, severe physical damage to another human being. He's not thinking of the possibility of his family being sued into permanent penury to pay for Kenny's lifetime nursing-home care. Eric's not thinking at all, really. He just knows that Kenny has been begging for a first-class ass-kicking for a very long time, and the time has come to deliver it.

Kenny *is* thinking, though - about just how wrong his earlier thinking had been. He had thought that Eric was just a short, skinny kid that he could push around. And when Eric fought back, Kenny had thought that he could stop him with his best shot. Head punch, right across the hall, face-first into the lockers. Eric *should* have crumpled to the ground. Instead, he *bounced off the wall* and came up locked and loaded.

With eyes full of flame. Kenny looks at Eric and sees his doom. A low murmur ripples through the crowd.

In that instant, a third boy jumps between the two and stops the action - a very brave move, all things considered.

After a long moment, Eric picks up his backpack and glares at the white-faced Kenny as he shoves past. Later, goes to the nurse to get an icepack, and the administration finds out about the altercation. Eric will serve a Saturday detention. Kenny is a repeat offender and will face harsher penalties.

Later that day, Kenny comes up to Eric and offers friendship. Eric's not interested, but he knows that Kenny won't be bothering him again.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A postcard from Twitter

Todd Jordan (aka Tojosan) is one of the smart people who think in public whose brains I subscribe to via Twitter.

The other day he tweeted an offer of a postcard to the first ten people who responded via DM. I couldn't DM him because he didn't also follow me, so I tweeted @him directly. (If you use Twitter, you'll understand what I just said. If you don't use Twitter, you probably think my rye toast was tinged with ergot.)

He was good enough to immediately follow me, so I DMed him my work address.

Today, I came back from somewhere on campus to find a postcard propped up on my keyboard. I'd post a scan of it, but I'm at home right now and the postcard is at work. (Lame excuse, I know.)

Here's the point, though:

Forget Soylent Green. The Internet is People!