Posts Tagged 'thoughts'

YouTube

My wife and her friend get loud when they’re talking on the phone together.

They have such a good time with each other that over the course of their conversations the world gets smaller and smaller until they are barely aware of anything outside of a very small bubble. Inside that bubble there is nothing but their friendship and whatever topic they’re laughing about. Their “bubble-space fun” is great enough that they’ve decided they want to try sharing their fun with the world (or at least a few interested friends) through YouTube.

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

It’s not an unreasonable thing to try. Though it’s hard to find exact numbers, there are, at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of YouTube channels out there that have a sizable following. As of today, YouTube’s statistics page mentions that they have over a million content creators monetizing on their videos with thousands of channels making six figures a year.

But even if getting rich isn’t your aim, what makes a YouTube channel worth watching? How do you make videos that appeal to people?

I am a shift worker, and every two months I rotate between three shifts. Only one of those shifts has reasonable hours, so on my days off while on the other two shifts I often find myself looking to YouTube to help pass the time (I am not much of a night owl). I currently subscribe to 84 channels, though many of those belong to people I know personally who rarely upload anything.

This blog post is not meant to be the end-all, definitive lesson on how to attain success on YouTube. However, I do want to share what keeps me coming back for more from some of my favorite channels, and a few things I’ve learned over the years about this sort of thing.

Disclaimer: if I were really good at this stuff I’d be making a living doing it. The following consists of a lot of conjecture and heartfelt opinions intermingled with some useful facts that I know. And I’m not claiming to be sharing the secret to viral videos or anything – I’m sharing what I know about content production and audience retention. Also, to get the full benefit from this “lesson” you’re going to have to sit through some videos, and a few of them are rather lengthy and not all of them are kid friendly.

Let’s get started.

Conventional wisdom in the entertainment industry seems to be based around the misapplication of a basic (and true) principle of human communication: know your audience. Rather than just knowing their audience, they are trying to know their audience. Like, in bed. They want to give the audience what the audience wants because that’s what makes the audience grow and shell out money. Appeal to the widest possible audience and you’ve got yourself a profitable YouTube channel in no time.

But what about you? Will you be happy? And what of your audience? Will your audience come back for more because they’re interested in what you’ll post next time, or are you just generating views because your videos show a thumbnail that got someone to click on it out of interest (boobs)?

Cyril Connolly said: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.

I believe that all entertainers should do what they love for their own reasons. Going further than that (here comes your first video assignment, and it’s almost twenty minutes long), Simon Sinek teaches leaders how to inspire people to action by centering everything you do around a primary idea that answers the question, “why?” You will need his advice when planning your content and video “format” (what and how you do what you do).

“Why” is a great place to start. And if you do it right, your “why” is something that is based mostly around feelings. But you’ve got to try to describe it in words.

Now, YouTube is an interesting place. There are a lot of problems with the “audience” on YouTube. The next video I want you to watch covers these issues through a satirical and tongue-in-cheek presentation pretending to be excellent advice on how to run your YouTube channel.

The real trick is in clearly defining why you’re starting your channel and figuring out what kinds of people are going to be watching it. Then you figure out whatever you can about that audience and tailor the presentation to them (not your content).

pewdiepie

pewdiepie (Photo credit: pixesophie)

A great example of this is a guy called PewDiePie. He records himself being an idiot playing video games. As of right now, this guy has over thirteen million subscribers (I am not one of them). YouTube channels that focus on gaming are really big right now. A lot of people want to watch people play video games. But what makes PewDiePie number one?

Another channel I watch from time to time is The Game Theorist. He records videos in which he speculates on gaming related issues, carefully researching the topic and assembling an informed theory to explain what might be going on. He has a great video in which he basically proves that Sonic is not very fast. Very fun videos, but not consistently fun enough to get my subscription.

The Game Theorist did a really great video about why PewDiePie is so popular, and in it he outlines a lot of things that any new content publisher should know.

OK, one more long-ish video that you have to watch all the way through, then we’ll get into individual channels.

This next video is by a guy who I honestly did not expect to subscribe to. I remember the first time I saw one of his videos. I thought, “this guy is ugly, strange, and I do not feel like I connect with him.” That, however, was before I started getting into woodworking. When my wife and I started building a major piece of furniture I began looking for woodworking YouTube videos that were helpful for a novice like me.

That’s when this ugly guy’s channel came back up. After watching a few of his videos I subscribed. Then I found out that he had another channel in which he talks about the videos in his main channel. This intrigued me, so I checked out that second channel. Again, I subscribed.

Then I stumbled upon the following video in his auxiliary channel in which he talks about the video equipment he uses to make videos. But that’s not why I’m having you watch it. I’m having you watch it because the guy is awesome at little tips that make videos better for viewers. His video is kind of long, but it is full of outstanding advice for new channel owners.

If you’ve watched all of the videos I’ve prescribed so far, you’ve just watched 50 minutes and 46 seconds of video. Maybe you did it all in one sitting, maybe you broke it up into manageable segments over the course of a day or more. It’s possible that not all of those videos kept your attention for the entire length, but I’m betting that most of them did (if not all of them). Why did you watch those videos? Not just “because I’m trying to learn how to make good videos.” Really ask yourself, “what kept me watching even though those videos were so long?” If you need to, pick one and go back and watch it again, trying to figure out how the presenter kept your attention.

Now, let’s run through a few of my subscriptions and talk about what I love about them.

When I link to a channel, I recommend you familiarize yourself with their top video (or a few of their top videos). To do this, click on the channel link I provide, then look for the “Videos” tab (next to the little house icon, below the channel name). When the Videos tab first loads their uploads are shown in reverse chronological order (newest videos first). Click on the drop down button that says “Date added (newest – oldest)” and select “Most popular” to view their videos from most to least popular. Then watch at least a few of their top few videos to see what they are like.

The great thing about viewing the most popular video on a channel is that you can see the video that resonated the most with their intended audience. It’s usually the video that initially earned them a strong following of subscribers (but not always).

Alright. I’m not going through these in any particular order (well, except alphabetical order because that’s how I’m viewing the list of my subscriptions).

The first channel I’ll introduce you to feels more like a television show, and perhaps that’s why I’m subscribed. As far as I know, these videos do not air on cable. They are just a YouTube thing, but they have exceptional production value and a pretty nice budget behind them, which leads me to believe that they are professionally produced by a crew that also does television shows.

They do a variety of things on the channel, but the videos I like most are part of a series called “Man at Arms” where a professional blacksmith creates video game character weapons. That particular feature got my subscription, but since then I have enjoyed a few of their other videos as well, videos that I wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t subscribed. That’s the power of gaining subscribers.

  • Check out this channel: AWE me

This next channel isn’t something that I would have initially thought I’d ever subscribe to (DON’T JUDGE ME). I initially happened upon the channel when I was watching a lot of videos of different accents (I like accents, OK?). The video that got me interested was part of a larger playlist that someone else had put together to showcase accents from around the world. To this day, the video of hers that I saw is still her most popular video (and it’s over two years old).

When watching her video I found that I didn’t just like her accent, I thought she had a lot of fun things to say. So I checked out her more recent videos and found that she was video blogging (vlogging) about a lot of topics in an interesting way (and by interesting I mean that she’s being her own silly self without worrying too much about her audience, though she does ask for suggestions from time to time).

To me, her channel is a great example of what one normal person (and sometimes she has her friends on with her) can do to hold an audience, even without great equipment or professional training. With just over 8,000 subscribers she’s not the biggest channel that I’m covering, but she’s got her audience and she does a good job keeping their attention (though I don’t watch her videos all the way through when they stray too far from my interests — for example sometimes she goes to parties and films it).

Here’s an odd one for you. I subscribed to this guy on a whim when I found a video he posted of a nickel ball that he heated with a blow torch until it was red hot before dropping it in some water. I think Randall Munroe linked to it on his What If blog when referring to the cavitation effect (that’s probably not what it’s called) that occurs when super hot things contact water. Anyhow, the video owner got a sudden surge in traffic for the red hot nickel ball in water video and began doing more videos like it (using the RHNB acronym rather than writing out red hot nickel ball all the time). Now he’s got 45 thousand subscribers that just want to see what he’ll drop his red hot nickel ball onto next. It’s a simple premise, but one that has obviously gained him quite a strong following.

Sometimes the best channels are focused on just one interest. In this next channel’s case, it’s slingshots. In fact, he calls himself “the slingshot channel.” While some of his “slingshot” videos kind of stretch the concept of slingshot (see what I did there?), his razor focus on a single subject secures him a steady viewership that shares his passion. All in all he’s just shy of 300,000 subscribers at the moment, and he really loves making his videos.

I recommend you check out a few of his videos for sure. He is a fun, lovable guy and after watching a couple of his videos you’ll never forget the way he says, “That’s all for today. I hope you liked it. Thanks, and bye bye.” Super great guy.

A while back Google released a product that didn’t make a lot of sense. The Internet was complaining about its price, its unusual technical specifications, and all sorts of other things about it. Then I stumbled upon this guy explaining the features of this product and it totally made sense. This kid is sharp, great at explaining things in a way that is relevant to the average technology user, and really gets into the tech industry to relay the best news to his viewers. And it pays off. He’s got over 500,000 subscribers and through his YouTube income is able to pay for all the neat toys and gadgets he could possibly want. Plus, it seems that some product manufacturers send him their latest gadgets to try out and review on his channel.

In addition to having fantastically well planned content and presentation, he excels at production. His videos are clear and vibrant, and they have outstanding audio quality. When my father moved from newspaper publishing to running a couple dozen news websites for a corporation he had to learn to do web video. In his research he found that the main difference between obviously amateur videos and apparently professional videos was the sound quality. Good sound quality can put your channel in an entirely different category when it comes to perceived quality, and if anyone knows that Marques Brownlee does.

Here’s one of those video game channels. This guy is just plain silly. I found his channel when a coworker showed me a video from a different channel and one of this guy’s videos was a related video. I thought his video was way funnier than the one my coworker shared with me. So I subscribed. His videos are almost all short (2 to 5 minutes) and well edited to contain all of the funniest bits and enough back story to know why they’re funny. Do not show these videos to young children.

This next guy came out of nowhere. As someone who once frequented but now occasionally peruses reddit, I have learned to appreciate the power of certain social media platforms (especially reddit). One day this guy’s first video got posted to reddit when he only had about five videos up (to date he still only has 14 videos posted). The video was an explanation of the book Crime and Punishment and the reddit post title indicated that watching this video would grant me some insight into the book that I previously lacked.

The video delivered on that promise and then some. The production quality leads me to wonder if there isn’t a professional studio behind these videos, but I don’t care if they’re just going to try to sell me something in the end. I subscribed because I want to know as much about literature as this character is going to teach me. These are fantastic videos because they provide a service and do it in a way that is more than just entertaining, it is original. Original ideas (or just ideas that seem original) go a long way so long as they are presented well and given the right exposure.

Back when Lindsey Stirling was on America’s Got Talent and her YouTube channel teamed up with some big shot videographer, I discovered another violin-playing girl with a YouTube channel and I decided that I like her style better. And I’m glad I did, because soon Lindsey’s work began to feel heartless. I think more recently she may be rediscovering her old self, but for a while she lost her way when she lost sight of her “why.”

Anyhow, this other violin player has remained humble, innovative, and relevant to my interests for a couple of years now, and she just released her first original song. She may not have as many fans as Lindsey (only 220,000 subscribers vs. Lindsey’s 3 million), but she is just as talented (if not more) at playing the violin. Just looking at the comments on their videos and channels you can get an idea of how her 220,000 subscribers are just as valuable as Lindsey’s 3 million to someone who is not doing what they do for their audience, but for their self.

OK, just one more. This girl is a member of a game-playing, video-making team called The Yogscast. They actually have a Wikipedia page (yes, they’re that big of a deal and you had no idea they existed). They got their start playing World of Warcraft in a guild called “Ye Olde Goone Squad” (from whence they derive their current name, YOGScast) and eventually gained popularity with their Let’s Play video series about Minecraft.

I don’t really care for most of the Yogscast stuff (though some of it can be pretty fun), but I found Hannah’s channel when I was looking up videos of the recent game The Last of Us. I had heard that the story was good, so I wanted to watch someone play through it. Hannah’s first game play video of the game caught my attention when she cried at the end of the opening sequence. I enjoy her accent, her commentary, and what she adds to the game experience just by being herself. Her videos are pretty long (about 20 minutes on average) but I highly recommend you watch one or two of them. She’s great at holding her audience. She does all of her own video editing, and manages to edit out “boring” parts without making you miss any of the important content of the game.

Alright. That is a good general sampling of channels I subscribe to and why I subscribe. There are quite a few more, of course, but I think these ones are each unique enough that you should be able to figure out what you want to do by watching them do what they love.

I apologize for how freakishly long this is and how clumsy my writing is. I wrote it all out and lost the steam to go back and do a thorough editing.

Computer Games

Story time. If you want to skip to the interesting list at the end, go right ahead. I’m in the typing mood though so I’m about to tell you my entire life story as it relates to gaming.

English: A NES console with the Super Mario Br...

English: A NES console with the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve always loved video games. My grandpa was kind enough to donate his Nintendo Entertainment System to my parents when I was very young, probably after we visited him once or twice and he saw how the machine captivated my brother and me. I must have been five years old (plus or minus the standard deviation for my poor memory).

Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Baseball, Duck Hunt, Gumshoe, Master Blaster, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Marble Madness, Captain Skyhawk, and many more games filled the earliest years of my memory.

Then, after much entreatment from my brother and me, we got a Sega Genesis for Christmas, and years later a Nintendo 64. I believe my grandfather may have had a financial hand in one or both of those acquisitions as well.

Our time with those game systems shaped who we are. My brother is now lucky enough to work for a small but well-known game development company and I… well, I make useless JavaScript toys in my free time.

As a part of my interest in games, teenager me wanted to become a 3D artist. To this day I work plenty in 3D and the skills I gained in my teens will forever benefit me. However, in support of my quest to learn 3D modeling my parents loaned me the money to buy a PC (circa 1998, plus or minus whatever my memory is wrong about). I got my first job to pay my parents back. I was 15.

Anyhow, the computer I got worked for very limited 3D work (renderings took forever and often never finished due to hard drive crashes or other terrible mishaps), and it also allowed me to try my hand at PC gaming for the first time.

I had tried a couple of very simple games on my father’s Power Mac, but these PC games were entirely different. I can’t remember everything I played (I’ve spent quite a bit of time in bursts of nostalgia trying to hunt down those games), but a few of them were Jane’s Advanced Tactical Fighters, Descent, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, Blastdoors, Return Fire 2, Mech Warrior, and Gravity Well.

Unfortunately my PC was junk and barely ran most of those games. I had no idea that games could actually be played at more than five frames a second. I thought all PC games were supposed to be choppy and slow. Then I tried a few games on a friend’s computer and everything changed. He had built his machine for speed. He had one of those things called a graphics card.

When I went to college several years later I made sure my computer had a graphics card. I was going to be studying 3D animation and I knew I’d need some serious power. So I got a mid-level desktop replacement laptop (this would have been sometime around 2003). It had a whole 512 MB of ram, and an NVIDIA graphics card with several MB of dedicated graphics memory (I don’t remember how much).

Despite all of this raw power, I didn’t really get back into computer gaming. I played a few games here and there, but for some reason I forgot all about what a good graphics card did for PC gaming. I still remembered playing Return Fire 2 at 5 FPS with the textures and effects turned off, and I think that left the impression that PC gaming was inferior to console gaming.

Eventually I got married and that laptop became an aging family computer. After one particularly hefty tax return when my wife and I didn’t have any major purchases in mind we decided to get a new (first generation) HP TouchSmart computer. Our young son would be able to have so much fun on the touch screen, we thought, and since the mouse was on its way out as an archaic technology we figured it was time to introduce our child to the future (right?).

That computer lasted us several years, but eventually the integrated graphics burned out and rendered the entire motherboard useless. I salvaged the hard drive, but we needed a new computer.

Once again, with a new baby girl, we decided that a touch screen would be handy. We now knew that the computer mouse was here to stay, but babies do better with touch screens. Plus, the second generation of TouchSmart PCs had been out for a while, and there was a model with a graphics card. So we got that one.

English: HP Touchsmart PC. With Rob Miles using it

English: HP Touchsmart PC. With Rob Miles using it (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, with an actual graphics card, I was ready to start playing computer games again. I started with emulators (I’m a sucker for nostalgia), but eventually installed Steam and got a game (Super Meat Boy, at my brother’s suggestion). I figured my fancy new graphics card should be able to handle the latest 2D game. Well, I was disappointed to discover that my system choked a little on that 2D game. I eventually figured out that, on the lowest settings, I could run a few modern games, but with serious restrictions and difficulties.

I played through Portal, but Portal 2 was a little too much for my system (I did eventually play through it, but with the graphics all turned down to the lowest settings again). I played Mount and Blade with all the settings configured for a crappy system. I played Minecraft comfortably for a while, but in the last few months my system began sputtering even on that game.

Unfortunately that computer lasted a full two years and some change. Though I knew we couldn’t afford to just replace it, I always secretly hoped it would die so that we could start looking for a way to pay for a new computer.

Well, a couple of weeks ago I got my wish, and, thankfully, we were financially prepared for it. My wife had gotten into a few of those computer games with me, and she agreed that it was time to get something that would comfortably play most of the games we wanted to play. We both knew we weren’t going to spend thousands on the best hardware available, but we didn’t want to have to play Mount and Blade at less than 30 FPS with all the textures and effects on the lowest settings.

I’m not saying what I got because the purpose of this post is not to open my system up for criticism. I want to talk about games.

As someone who has had to turn down the opportunity to play any new PC games for several years, there is a whole list of games I haven’t been able to play and I’m looking forward to playing on my new computer. I’ve got the list divided into three parts. The first part is stuff that’s out now and I need or want to play it (according to me). The second part of the list consists of games that I’m interested in but they aren’t out yet (I’ve backed a few of them on Kickstarter and will be getting the full game when released). The final part is for suggestions. A coworker suggested a few games, but I want you to help me add to the list.

I realize that not all of these games require a modern graphics card, but my poor graphics card made me disinterested in PC gaming for so long that I skipped over a lot of games that I was interested in. Add your suggestions in the comments!

Part 1: Games Available Now that I Want to Play

Part 2: Games Coming Soon that I’m Interested In

Part 3: Suggestions of Games to Play

  • Bioshock
  • Halflife 2
  • Black Mesa
  • Stalker
  • Dwarf Fortress

Again, add your suggestions in the comments. I’ll look into the game and if it’s pertinent to my interests I’ll add it to my list. Also, if you see any games in my lists that you think are not worth spending money or time on them, let me know your reasons (don’t just say, “Don’t play that awful game!”). I’ll take them into consideration, and if you’ve got a good point I’ll skip over that game. Thanks!

My Future

My attempt at making an X-Wing was cut short...

I made this in High School.

NOTE: Unlike some of my other posts, I’m not linking to Wikipedia on all of these links. I highly encourage you to click on every link here – some of the pages will make you laugh, some of the videos will make you cry, and most of the photos are from my personal albums. Enjoy!

I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite some time, so here goes.

First though, I would just like to say that prior to commencing the crafting of this post I was listening to some really excellent music by a very talented friend of mine. If you enjoy music by such awesome composers as John Williams, Hans Zimmer, James Horner and more, you would do well to click here. In fact, the first track sounds like something Edward Shearmur and John Williams might have written together.

OK, so let’s get something straight here. Not to brag, but I am a smart guy. I don’t always do the smartest things, and I don’t have a whole lot of formal education, but I have an extremely capable mind and I excel at various tasks involving mental labor. I love problem solving, have always enjoyed technically creative hobbies, and have a deep obsession with aircraft and spacecraft that has followed me my entire life. Being good at practical mathematics, I decided at an early age that I would enjoy engineering.

Then I began researching what is required for an engineering degree. Nearly immediately the math scared me away.

I love practical math (geometry, trigonometry and some algebra). As I see things, practical math has some sort of immediately accessible application or I can draw a picture to further understand it. When I started learning some pre-calculus, things went south as I discovered that not all math is practical.

I clearly remember my first pre-calculus class – the teacher wrote a very large, complex equation on the board. Then she started hacking away at it, removing entire segments and portions saying they were “insignificant.” I was overwhelmed and appalled. I consider every part of an equation, formula, system or composition to be intricately and inseparably part of the whole. I quickly wrote off calculus as psychotic and moved on with my life, seeking for a future among careers with as little advanced math as possible.

Turns out that’s difficult for someone with my interests. I thought 3D animation might be good, but after attending a year at the Savannah College of Art and Design I decided that my creativity levels just aren’t on par with the animators and modelers that I admire. In fact, I am too technical to allow the imperfections of real life into my artistic endeavors.

Then I considered becoming an author, but again I feel that my writing style is better suited to technical documents than creative fiction. Sure, I can throw a little humanity in there every once in a while, but most of my writing could have been produced by software. The same went for music composition – I was too robotic about it, even when I put all of my feeling into it.

I considered jobs in robotics, software engineering, piloting, information technology, and many other fields, but alas – they all required too much math. And not just any math, scary math. Psychotic math. At one point I even considered working to pay off all of my debt before just going off the grid entirely, becoming completely self-sufficient with my family in the woods, living off the land. I don’t think my wife liked that idea very much.

Being a thinker, I briefly pondered becoming a philosopher, but that didn’t feel like a very good career for supporting a family.

Then, while reading a book on philosophy, I thought, “getting an education is going to be tough no matter what. I suppose I might just need to study some advanced math.”

For English Class

My Sophomore Year in High School

So, I pondered back along my life’s many interests and hobbies and took another look at engineering. Then my realist side kicked in. Engineering might not be all that I hope it is. It could be especially boring and overly technical (even for me).

However, from my earliest years my first love has been engineering. Whether it be designing new aircraft, making a better space-plane, creating a robot, or dreaming about what the future could be, I was always headed toward some sort of engineering.

When I was in grade school I came up with a design for an aircraft that blended the best of two wing configurations. The F-14 Tomcat already proved that swinging wings could be used to reconfigure an aircraft for multiple flight characteristics even while still in the air, but I wanted to incorporate the maneuvering benefits of forward swept wings (such as those of the X-29) and a swept back delta wing configuration for high speed. So at least a few years prior to this patent being filed, I designed a plane that looked almost exactly like the Northrop Switchblade.

Yes, I designed this one before 1999.

My Switchblade (predates 1999 patent)

Even back then I was reading Popular Mechanics and Popular Science. Boy was I surprised one day to see my plane design in their pages when one of them published an article about the new patent for a switchblade design. I guess that’s when I knew that I needed to get into Aerospace Engineering.

However, the psychotic math and possibility of engineering being boring still kept me hesitant until recently.

I have been aware for a couple of years that the space shuttle program is coming to an end this year. But when I recently learned that the second to last shuttle flight (and final flight for Endeavour) was taking place this month, I became inexplicably depressed. I began to obsessively research everything I could about the Space Shuttle. I fantasized about attending the final shuttle launch in July when Atlantis will become the last of the Space Shuttles to launch. I started watching inhumane amounts of NASA TV, even going as far as to adjust my schedule to ensure I got to see certain events. I daydreamed about building a 1:1 replica of the exterior and interior of a shuttle in lieu of a tree-house for my children later in life. I added a bunch of shuttle paraphernalia to my wishlists on Amazon. Some of the products are too expensive.

From Family 2011

If I tell you everything about my shuttle obsession, we’ll end up with a long, sad autobiography about a guy who stalks space planes.

What I recently realized was that I desperately want to be involved with the future of Aerospace technologies. I want to inspire, design, and launch systems for human transportation both inside and outside of Earth’s gravitational pull. I want the vehicles I design to inspire the world and make space exciting again. I want to inspire people the way many of my favorite planes have inspired me. Planes such as the X-29, the SR-71 Blackbird, the F-14 Tomcat, the P-61 Black Widdow, the F-4 Phantom, or the OV-101 Enterprise.

For underwater exploration.

An underwater exploration vehicle.

When I was a kid I designed various types of craft. From watercraft to spacecraft I had ideas for anything that moves people fast. When I started experimenting with 3D design I tried recreating some of my designs, but ultimately failed. If I had put a little more effort in I may have succeeded, but all of my best 3D work has been the result of just messing around in the programs. Clearly there is a disconnect (have I ever told you how much I hate using that word as anything but a verb?).

This was my favorite sub design.

Submarines are similar to spacecraft, no?

I will close out this post with a few more of my designs. I had to dig them out of a box. I’m glad I kept them, as I find them inspiring at this time. I am about to begin the rest of my life. I am sitting on the edge of a past that offers little in the way of a future for my family. Before me are endless possibilities, and proceeding without direction is terrifying. These seeds from my childhood are offering and awesome insight into my inner dreams and desires.

Clearly there is still a lot of uncertainty. Even Aerospace Engineering isn’t quite specific enough. There are many fields of specialization within aerospace engineering. Of course, it is nice to know that I am still young and I still have time to deal with this uncertainty.

Wow... I drew this?

An underwater scene from WWIII.

For now I will continue with my current job and take advantage of any education benefits I can to work toward my degree.

Oh, and rather than babble on about nothing while sharing these images, I will tell you about a recent experience that helped me make the decision to get into engineering.

We know a family in the area in which the husband and wife are both engineers. When they saw our bumper sticker, and after getting to know me a little, they both decided that I needed to be an engineer. Or, at least that I would make a good engineer.

Based on something I read about.

I envisioned going to school on this.

So we finally got around to visiting them in their home recently and I grilled them for information about their education, their job, and other nerdy things.

I had a good time getting to know more about the work they do. The wife is currently a stay-at-home mother, but her husband is working as a materials engineer. I think he was surprised to learn that I am familiar with many of the concepts he researches at work. My desire to be on the forefront of technological advances and new ideas takes me all over the Internet in search of the new and magical things people are doing in labs.

So while that wasn’t the deciding factor, it was nice to have a talk with an engineer and learn more about real engineering. Plus he was completely dorky and proud of it. I like that quality.

Alright. Time to stop the blabber. Enjoy the last few photos here. Thank you for reading. This is a big deal for me because I have wondered what I would do with my life for the last twenty years or more. To finally have a solid plan in place (again) feels good.

The End.

WikiLeaks

Logo used by Wikileaks

Image via Wikipedia

Call me arrogant, but I rarely find myself confused over issues. (Chicken first or egg first? Seriously? I’ve been saying it was a no-brainer since I first heard this “riddle.”) Many reports on the WikiLeaks issue try to make it sound like people are confused over the whole thing. Did I miss something? Since when is it OK to release Classified information to the enemy?

Now, before you go accusing me of over simplifying the issue, or only grappling with the moral side of things, allow me to explain a little. I understand that WikiLeaks has no specific national affiliation, and that they are not siding with anyone in particular – they are completely indiscriminate. This is their primary strength, but also their essential problem. WikiLeaks has shown absolutely no restraint in releasing documents.

While I feel it is important for WikiLeaks, as an organization, to exist and do their job of providing transparency, I fear that they have a huge responsibility and are failing to shoulder its weight.  Just as journalists have a responsibility to inform the public and report the facts, not every detail of every story need be published right away and in one big story. News media have struggled with this responsibility for centuries, so it’s not like I expected WikiLeaks to get it right (besides which, I’m sure “restraint” doesn’t really fit into the picture of what they do, from their perspective).

For a decade my father was the publisher of a local newspaper in a small town. Many evenings over dinner I heard his discussions about different sensitive issues happening in town, and the decisions he made on what to release and when. For example, one night the mayor went out drinking and displayed lewd behavior, unbecoming of an elected official. I don’t remember all the details, but there was a story in there, and a decision had to be made on when and how to run it. Having sensitive information that the public should know does not mean you go throwing it out there right away. Restraint and tact should be employed.

News media are the most powerful, influential organizations in the world. Running a story incorrectly or imprudently can change history, literally. Likewise, every time WikiLeaks posts or releases information, the course of world history is changed. Some of those changes are minor, many of those changes are good, but there is great potential for devastatingly destructive changes that could change life as we know it forever. With classified information in their hands, I would like to think that they would exercise caution and consider the ramifications of releasing it. I would like to think that they would time the release in such a way as to minimize damage. However, I do not think this will be the case.

All US government classified information is released eventually or declassified after a set number of years. In other countries where this does not occur, WikiLeaks plays an important role. Releasing that information irresponsibly can have a negative effect on a worldwide scale.

Ultimately, I wish WikiLeaks had never been created. If it hadn’t been WikiLeaks though, it would have been somebody else. So, since there is no going back, my wish becomes this: I hope the business of collecting and releasing “leaks” such as classified documents can find a way to exercise restraint and control their power. These organizations could cause the downfall of entire nations and they could indirectly cause many deaths, and some of them may be my wingmen down range. As a member of the armed services, I hope every day that none of my deployed friends find themselves being attacked by an enemy armed with classified documents they downloaded from WikiLeaks.

So WikiLeaks – at least wait to divulge my brother’s whereabouts in the Middle East until he’s home safe.

Facebook: The Great Debate

Facebook logo

Image via Wikipedia

An awesome friend of mine recently posted to Facebook:

I have to see the world to understand it.

I replied:

And I have to understand the world in order to see it.

Who is right or wrong here? Many times, there will be a black and a white, a clear distinction between the truth and a falsehood. Other times, it may not be so neat and easy to distinguish correctness between ideas. Sometimes neither side is an appropriate view, and a middle-ground must be sought.

Here is another example. A friend of mine recently struggled with the following two ideas:

I pay for the game because I can’t stop playing it.

I can’t stop playing the game because I pay for it.

Turns out, when he quit paying the monthly fee to a game that he was addicted to, he quit playing easily. Having already paid for a month he made extra time to play the game because he didn’t want the money to go to waste. Removing the obligation, in this case, removed the addiction.

Sure, it won’t always work that way. Sometimes these two-way arguments have a clear right and wrong, like this one:

I poop because I eat.

I eat because I poop.

Sure, one could go into long philosophical arguments and biological and physiological explanations of how the second condition could also be true, but essentially this is a simple cause and effect situation. Trying to make the second one true only obscures the fact that poop is a byproduct of the body’s system of removing nutrients from the food. Pooping happens because of our need to eat, not the other way around.

Other times there is no clear right or wrong. Sometimes the right or wrong will lie in the eye of the beholder, other times it will vary by circumstance. Many times both sides will have some validity and it will be up to the individual to find their own balance between the two.

A battle has raged for years in my head around Facebook. There are two main camps in this war:

I have it because I need it. Keep the account.

I need it because I have it. Close the account.

There was, at one time, a third position that existed in my mind, one that proposed a middle-ground truce between the two, but that one is dying a slow and painful death. I’ll explain that one after I’ve explained the positions of the main arguments.

Before going too far into this, there is something you should know about me. Most people might casually define socializing as having and interacting with friends and acquaintances. Mostly, I agree. However, socializing is work for me. It is hard work. I feel that having close, reliable friends is of paramount importance, but unnecessary socializing is difficult and should be avoided at all costs. Good friends are both chosen and come to you on their own. I could write an entire supplementary article on good friends (and I might one day) but for now just know that I see Facebook friends as belonging to one of four categories:

  1. Family
  2. Good, Close Friends
  3. Acquaintances & Associates
  4. People I don’t really know or care much about

Now, here are both sides of the battle in my head over Facebook. I encourage you to join in the internal discussion with your comments below.

Argument One: I Have It Because I Need It

Every time I think the other argument might win, this one has pulled through and kept me from closing my account. Facebook has become ubiquitous and prominent in our society. Growing up I made phone calls to friends who were not physically near, or we exchanged letters in the mail. The Internet came along and made long-distance communication an integral part of our lives, and changed everything.

I have another good friend who recently dropped his text messaging plan. He downgraded his iPhone to one of the most basic models of cell phone available, and told AT&T to block all incoming text messages. He says he’s doing it to save $10 a month and because he was relying on it too much. Now, when I want to text him to ask him something simple, I have to call him. I might be interrupting something, I usually end up wasting more time than if I had just fired off a text, and we often wind up having a pleasant conversation that leaves me wondering if maybe it wasn’t so bad to drop texting after all. I mean, I make fun of him a lot for not having texting, but how much damage has he really done by dropping it? There are numerous pros and cons, and in the end this is clearly something that he sees as the right thing to do.

We’re not here to debate on whether texting is necessary or not though. Personally, my wife and I rely on texting far too heavily, as do most of my coworkers, family and friends. I’ll be keeping my texting plan. Even if it didn’t start out this way, I definitely have it because I need it.

It’s entirely possible that Facebook has graduated to the same status as texting. Without Facebook there are several people I know I would lose contact with, some of them being family members or really close friends. I could say we’ll exchange emails, subscribe to each other’s blogs, and text each other, but I know that won’t happen with a few of them. In a sense, if I wish to keep all of the social ties and connections that I currently have, I need Facebook. That’s the way the world is now.

Argument Two: I Need It Because I Have It

And this is the way it begins, right? Before something like Facebook exists, nobody needs it. Sure, some relationships weren’t happening before it existed, and one could argue that those relationships need Facebook (and they do), but how badly do I need Facebook?

Let’s face it, Facebook is just a giant online socializing arena. If I loved socializing, I would love Facebook. The fact is, I like having connections with people, but socializing is work. Sometimes, socializing is painful and annoying. Some people who I would absolutely love to spend time with face to face can be downright annoying on Facebook. Anyone else have that friend who never uses Facebook for anything but advertising for things that they are passionate about? I would remove that friend, but they are close to me and I want to keep my tie with them in Facebook because of that closeness. I would block them from the feed, but what if they have a bad day and post a non-advertising status message and I miss an opportunity to be there for them? So instead, because I love them, I endure their many posts about things that I should buy. Multiply this times the sixty friends I have on Facebook, and you can see how it starts to wear on me.

It’s not that all of my friends are marketers, but many of them try me in other ways. I love them all, but I don’t want to have any part in immature dramas or “he said, she said” communication melt-downs. What about that person that I go to church with and they post a nasty status update filled with cursing and nasty things about their neighbor? Does anyone else have that one friend who seems to post nothing but complaints all the time?

There are many alternatives to Facebook style social networking. I love typing emails and reading blogs. I only wish more of my friends would make the time and do the work to have a more traditional correspondence with me. If I close my Facebook account I will be cutting off many good social ties with people. Then again, before Facebook I wouldn’t have had those ties, and I would have been perfectly happy without them. So, do I really need to keep in touch with those people who wouldn’t keep in touch without Facebook?

Argument Three: The Best of Both Worlds?

Of course, both of the above arguments have quite a bit of truth to them, so finding a balance becomes necessary, right?

Categorizing each and every one of my friends by priority (see the priorities above, numbered 1-4) and deleting all who fell into the lowest priority brought my number of friends down below fifty. It felt good. Checking Facebook took less time, and it was nice not having to worry about those people I didn’t really care about.

However, now that I’ve lived and worked where I do for a little longer, I’ve begun to add acquaintances and associates from work, a category that I feel is important due to the fact that Facebook is often where people disseminate work-related information, and my friends list now numbers over 65. For someone like me, that is a lot. Still, not a single person in my friends list can be trimmed out. They are all in the top three priority categories.

This is where Argument Three fails. This is why the battle is primarily between the first two arguments. I am doing everything I can to ensure that I do not have excess in my friends list, and still it grows uncontrollably. If I get even more discriminate with who stays in my friends list, I know that it will be bad. Even if Facebook isn’t important to me, it has become such an integral part of our society that the act of removing a coworker from your friend list can be considered offensive. I do not wish to hurt relationships, I only wish to be relieved of the strain that Facebook puts on my life.

Final Thoughts

If I keep Facebook and simply endure its rough spots, just like everything else in life, then I am keeping a tool that is an important part of our modern society. If I delete my Facebook account like so many have done, then I am removing a heap of heartache and stress from my life and may find that I can live without it just fine. Either way, with either decision, regrets are sure to creep up from time to time, and I will likely revisit this argument at some point in the future.

For some people, one of the three arguments will be the correct answer. For other people, there may be no clear answer. For me, I feel that a decision needs to be made. While I seriously consider closing my Facebook account almost daily, I have talked myself out of it or neglected to make any changes due to apathy every time. On several occasions I have “reenacted” the third argument, harshly reevaluating each and every friend on my friends list, sometimes making a cut or two, other times walking away with a sigh of defeat having realized that, like my waistline, a few inches have been added and there is nothing I can do to shed them.

Don’t get me wrong. I sincerely love all of the friends and family that I have on Facebook, and I enjoy the interactions I have with them as well as my esteemed coworkers and acquaintances. However, not all of my interactions with Facebook are pleasant, and I often feel that I might be better off without Facebook.

While this decision is mine and mine alone, I do enjoy hearing what other people have to say about things. So, for fun, I have a little poll here that I would like you to vote on, and I encourage discussion in the comments.

Writing Today

I didn’t actually plan on writing today, but when I got online and checked Facebook and my feed reader, it turns out I just couldn’t stop writing.

So, I thought I’d share my thoughts with everyone.

The first item that sparked a slew of written thought was this:

This is a good comic, you should subscribe to it.

This is from a webcomic I subscribe to in Google Reader. Usually, this sort of comic doesn’t elicit a very strong reaction from me (I didn’t even laugh at this one, it wasn’t very funny). However, the author’s commentary below the comic brought back some memories:

In junior high I took one of those future career tests. I was really hoping the result would be cartoonist, but instead it was screenwriter or artist. I later found out that cartoonist wasn’t in the database, so that must have been the closest it could find since cartooning is a little of both.

Anyone else take one of those tests?

Yes, I did take one of those kinds of tests, and I wanted to share my thoughts. So I went to the post’s page and left a comment:

True story – In early grade school I took one of those career aptitude tests on an Apple IIe computer with a green and black screen. Taking the test I felt inspired, like there were so many possibilities out there for me to go out and enjoy after my long, arduous but essential years in the education system, which would ultimately prepare me to be a successful member of a highly qualified working force.
It asked questions about my hobbies, my interests, my skills, and so much more. By the time I finished the test, I felt as though the software and I had formed a bond that would last a lifetime. I eagerly waited while the computer calculated my scores and searched through an endlessly fascinating list of exciting jobs. My heart skipped beats every time I giddily considered a possible career – astronaut, fighter jet pilot, robotics engineer… The list seemed endless.
At the end of a grueling wait, the result popped up on the screen:
ELEVATOR OPERATOR
My heart sunk, and twenty years later it hasn’t risen. That test killed my hopes and dreams.

OK. Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I wandered over to Facebook where I had a message waiting for me. Here is an edited, summarized and fabricated version of the message (to protect the privacy of the involved parties):

Brian,

I recently had something change in my extended family. This change resulted in the separation of two parties which left me with Facebook friends that I no longer have any reason to keep in touch with. Facebook has changed a lot recently, and I am unable to find how to break my connection with these individuals. Could you please help?

So, in response I went crazy on my keyboard:

Hey. Sorry it took me a little while to check my messages because I’ve been in class all week (preparing to get A+ certification).

If you haven’t yet had your question answered by someone quicker than I am, I think you will find the following helpful.

They seem to be making it more and more difficult to get rid of friends these days. I understand it’s something they don’t want to make too easy or people would be doing it accidentally all the time, causing a lot of very awkward situations.

Anyhow, the fastest, easiest way I could find to get to my list of friends (for editing) was to go up to the upper right-hand corner where it says “Home | Profile | Account.”  The “Account” link has a little down arrow next to it, and when you click on it you’ll see a little menu pop up, and at the top of those options you’ll see “Edit Friends.”

Of course, clicking on “Edit Friends” and finding an editable list of your friends would be too easy, right? So they had to hide your friends under one more layer of security (as if hiding this in the corner wasn’t enough).

On the left-hand menu area you’ll see “Lists,” and at the top of the lists (if you’ve created any, they will help you find the people you’re trying to remove easier) you can click on “Friends” to pull up your complete list of friends.

Each friend has their photo, their name, their network, then a little drop-down menu for managing which lists they appear in. Beside all of that, on the far right there is an “X.” Clicking on that “X” removes your connection to them – deleting them from your list of friends.

Oddly enough, I don’t think they get any kind of notification that you’ve removed them (or, as the new generation is calling it, “unfriended”). So, you can do this without worrying about them becoming offended (if that’s a concern of yours, thought I don’t think you believe they will even notice).

I hope that helps. If you need more instructions or even step-by-step screen captures to guide you, I’d be happy to email you (I have this neat tool in Windows 7 that can capture every step I take to do something, record in text what I do, then create a webpage type file that I can send to other people or edit and post to the web).

Any time you have any technical questions, do not hesitate to contact me. I’m always happy to help, and sometimes, when I’ve heard a question enough times, it prompts me to write a detailed instructional article and post it to my blog. So keep them coming!

Your friend,

Brian Haddad

I hope this post was somewhat entertaining. I regret not writing more, but I’ve been extremely busy and somewhat stressed about several things that have spiraled out of control in my life, and I will resume regular writing when I feel able. Until then, watch for random posts like this one.

This is Funny

I found this cruising around the Internet one day and just had to repost it. Really, I’m usually pretty good about sharing a link to where I find things, but in this case I think it just came off imgur.com or something.

Anyhow, this is awesome:

Unique

I often feel like that poor fork – contorted and twisted nearly beyond recognizability. However, I’d like to think that my deformities lend me some redeeming usefulness that poor fork will never offer.

That’s what I’d like to think, anyhow…


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