Got Schwag?

For about a year now Since the start of last year (time flies!) I’ve subscribed to Startup Threads Monthly. Every month a tshirt, some stickers and a discount offer from some hot new startup arrives in my mailbox, and a small fee appears on my credit card statement among the endless array of taxis, bar tabs and mobile phone charges.

Startup Threads

It’s been a while, and my initial motives for subscribing are no longer clear (probably some misguided, hipsterish desire to rock the startups nobody’s yet heard of – bogus and sad, I know). I know why I haven’t cancelled though, and for the same reasons I’d urge all of you to do one thing right now:

Sign up to a subscription service. Startup tshirts, underwear, razor blades, chocolate – whatever floats your boat.

Why? For me there are two reasons. First, there’s the absence of choice. Too many brands are labouring under the misapprehension that consumers want choice. Sure we do, generally speaking, but choice also creates problems we have to solve, and this will often cause us to simply not choose instead. I have to make a bajillion decisions every day at work, many of these having considerable consequences. You think I want to labour over more decisions in my free time? Hell no. Check out any busy working man’s sock and shirt drawer some time and you’ll see I’m not alone – all those threadbare shirts and odd socks are testament to the fact that choice can be an inhibitor to action.

By subscribing to Startup Threads I get a new shirt every month. Some are awesome (better than anything I could have found through hours of shopping), some are pretty cool, and a few I really dislike – but that’s ok with me because the juice is worth the squeeze. To me the cost of a dud once in a while is way less than the benefit of getting a new shirt every month, mostly cool, without having to think about it.

The second reason I love subscription services is possibly a little childish but still valid. I love surprises, and it’s nice to get one every now and then even if I did pay for it myself. Nothing beats arriving home after a long hard day and seeing a mystery package on the table. Joy! Sure I know it’s going to be a shirt, but what’s the design, who’s the startup, will the colour be awesome or… *not awesome*? It’s like having your own little Christmas morning each month, but without the ham (dammit – hey Frank, any chance you could throw in some ham?).

I’ll admit that when some of these product subscription services started to emerge I was more than a little skeptical. Why would someone pay top dollar for something they don’t even get to choose? If you only consider the simple exchange of money for product then yes, it all seems a little nonsensical. But once you factor in the cost of choosing vs the value of not having to choose, and the value of finding a surprise in the mailbox each month, the balance tips entirely the other way. Behavioural economics is some interesting shit, huh?

Go on. Treat yourself.

Simplex methods and the problem of endless consumer choice

One of the more interesting projects I’ve worked on lately involves a large retailer looking to improve their online sales channel.

As it stands, their website covers a large number of brands, and within each brand there are many categories, sub-categories, products, and product variants.

For client confidentiality reasons I won’t name the company or industry, but it’s a common enough situation. For example, in the clothing industry there are brands, styles, men’s and women’s lines, and cut and colour variations.

Traditional approaches to helping customers explore deep and varied product offerings typically centre around hierarchical browsing, and search – entering keywords and/or selecting one or more criteria from the brand -> category -> sub-category -> product schema to generate a list of products that satisfy the specified criteria, and then evaluating each option in turn.

Many would argue that there is a reason that these two modes of exploration are the norm, and that there is no need to fix that which ain’t broke. Screw ’em.

While pondering the ifs and hows of improving on browse and search, it occurred to me that both are subject to valid criticism when it comes to efficiency. Regardless of whether you’re browsing a catalogue or reviewing search results, the act of looking at an individual product is useful for eliminating unsuitable options, but doesn’t bring you any closer to finding the product that best suits your needs. You may chance upon a product that ticks all your boxes and so you decide to stop searching, but there is no basis for knowing if your choice was optimal – if you’d looked at a couple more options you may have found a better product for half the money, but you’ll never know.

According to the Secretary Problem, the best you’ve seen after sampling 37% of the population is likely to be the right one for you, but this isn’t particularly helpful when there are thousands of products for you to chose from.

Either way, traditional search and browse methods are woefully inefficient. What we need is a mode of exploration whereby each time an option is evaluated, it significantly increases the odds that the next option we evaluate will be the optimal one.

It seems to me that researching a purchase is essentially a complex optimization problem, whereby consumers are looking to find a product that maximizes some attributes and minimizes others, within a set of constraints that includes factors such as cost.

Now, when there are very few options to explore, you can easily get away with assessing the value of each one, ordering highest to lowest and picking the one at the top of the list. It takes a little working, but we know this is the optimal choice because it’s the one that yields the greatest value within the specified constraints. There may be other choices, but all will provide less value and/or be outside your constraints (budget etc).

When the number of options is very large, however, this approach just doesn’t work due to the near-infinite number of product attribute combinations that need to be evaluated and ranked. The Travelling Salesman Problem is a great example of how a seemingly simple optimization problem can turn into a computational nightmare once you move beyond a few variables.

The Simplex Algorithm (devised by the great George Dantzig, a.k.a. Will Hunting) is quite possibly the most outlandish mindfcuk ever conceived by man. I managed an A in the Linear Programming paper I took in my final year as an undergraduate, and by necessity knew it well. I could (and did) do this stuff all day, right up until the day after the final exam. Then I needed to free up some brain power to resume vital functions such as breathing, preparing for post-graduate study, and playing Three Man, and promptly forgot the lot. Yet I digress…

Loosely speaking, the simplex algorithm is a very efficient mathematical technique for solving complex optimization problems. Rather than evaluating and ranking all possible alternatives against a stated objective function, the simplex algorithm runs along the lines of:

Start out with a basic feasible solution (visually thinking, this would be a point on the boundary of an n-dimensional shape formed by plotting constraints with n variables, see image below). From this point, look at the slope of your objective function. If it’s decreasing (for reasons I won’t go into, optimality is achieved when the objective function is minimized), go to the adjacent point that shows the greatest decrease in the objective function. Keep doing this until you reach a point where the objective function is no longer decreasing. This is the optimal solution.

A system of linear inequalities defines a polytope as a feasible region. The simplex algorithm begins at a starting vertex and moves along the edges of the polytope until it reaches the vertex of the optimum solution.
A system of linear inequalities defines a polytope as a feasible region. The simplex algorithm begins at a starting vertex and moves along the edges of the polytope until it reaches the vertex of the optimum solution. (Source: Wikipedia)

I believe that a similar approach would work wonders if applied to the problem of consumer choice. What if, instead of expecting a website visitor to browse an entire product offering or wade through hundreds (if not thousands) of search results, we instead got them quickly to a single ‘best bet’ product to evaluate (a ‘basic feasible solution’ that meets their criteria but may or may not be the optimal one), and used that as an anchor of sorts, to guide them towards finding the optimal product to buy?

In practice, it could work like this:

Get the customer to provide an indication of what they’re looking for. Instead of an ordered list, return a ‘full details’ view of a single product, accompanied by a limited set of related products that also match the customer’s criteria (the adjacent points on the n-dimensional spaced bounded by the customer’s constraints). Ask the customer to indicate which of the related products is closer to what they were looking for than the product they are viewing now. Repeat until the product being displayed is better than the alternatives on display, in which case we know that the product on display is the one the customer ought to buy.

Now, I know there’s a ton of mind-numbingly complex calculation behind this stuff and I’m not suggesting that a literal application of the simplex algorithm is what’s required here. But as an alternative approach to the problem of helping prospective customers to find the product that best suits their needs, and giving them comfort in the optimality of their selection to get them over that pre-purchase hump, I think there’s a lot to be gained from considering this idea – particularly as an alternative to the traditional, lazy, and costly (in that many people just give up and leave) approach of presenting a product catalogue or list of search results and leaving them to their own devices.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just going nuts. What do you guys think?

*Afterthought*

What if Google used this approach? Instead of delivering a list of sites, a search would take you directly to the site Google figured is the best answer to your query, with the next-best sites shown in an overlay frame, allowing you to continue your search by hopping from one site to the next (the set of recommendations improving with each click) without having to return to the results page. Possibly not great from a revenue perspective, but as a user it’d be pretty cool, no?

Courage Under Fire

It’s a shame Mel Gibson turned out to be such a douchebag. A few obvious train wrecks aside, he’s had a hell of a career and played some interesting characters. One of my favourites was his portrayal of Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, in We Were Soldiers.

Hal Moore is something of a legend in the US military, both as a hardened combat veteran and an inspirational leader of men. I’ve read a number of pieces by and about him over the years, and recently came across an audio clip of his – Four Principles for a Leader’s Conduct in Battle.

[soundcloud params=”auto_play=false&show_comments=false” height=”80″ url=”http://soundcloud.com/stu-3/halmoore”]

When I first heard this clip I was reminded of some of the many excuses I’ve heard over the years from clients who understood and appreciated the importance of social media but weren’t ready to take the plunge – it’s too risky, too complex, too expensive, not a priority right now, we don’t have the time, the comms team won’t allow it, my dog ate it… Sound familiar?

It’s hardly an original idea to suggest that the wisdom of military leaders has relevance in the business world – business sections of bookstores are packed with analyses of Musashi, Sun Tzu and Machiavelli, and that’s just for starters. But for what it’s worth, here are a few thoughts I’d offer the keen but reluctant, would-be social media marketer, based on Moore’s observations.

1. Three strikes and you’re not out: No matter how well you plan and prepare, there will always be unpleasant surprises. A great idea will miss the mark and flop. Someone on your team will say or do something stupid. You will encounter haters, trolls, and the genuinely unimpressed. This is all normal. It’s something we all face. Don’t let it get to you.

2. There is always one more thing you can do to influence any situation in your favour: You don’t have to jump in with both feet and do everything at once. In fact, doing too much at once is pretty dumb. It’s better to do something than nothing, so start out by doing one thing and doing it well. And when you get the hang of that try something else, and so on and so on. I’ve long been a fan of agile approaches to strategy and planning, and I still can’t fault the logic: The easiest way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, starting with the tasty bits and leaving the asshole till last.

3. When nothing’s wrong, the only thing that’s wrong is that nothing’s wrong: Per #1, above, things invariably go wrong at times. Problems that sneak up on you are harder to deal with, so you’d better be on the lookout. Listening and analytics tools like Radian6 and Omniture may seem expensive, but will save you a whole lot of hurt (provided you actually do something with the insight you gain from them). Trust me on this.

4. Trust your instincts: Much of this stuff we call social media is ephemeral. When the opportunity to say or do something arises, it won’t be there for long, so it’s important to develop the ability to act quickly and appropriately – a quality I sometimes refer to as ‘digital wit’. This requires training and resourcing (human, financial and infrastructural), and more than a little trust. By trust we’re not just talking about providing a little latitude from corporate communication protocols. We also need to willingly accept that some of the things we try will fail, and that’s ok. Rather than retrenching when things don’t go according to plan, we face up to the facts, deal with them, and move on.

And I guess if that doesn’t work you can always show ’em your war face.

Beware of the Dogma

Beware of the dogma: reflections on snake oil, cargo cults and social media douchebags

Henry Rollins - patron saint of rantersFor a few weeks now, we’ve been running regular Pecha Kucha sessions at my office. The object of the exercise is to encourage knowledge sharing within the studio, so the range of topics covered has been pretty broad – secret passions, favourite authors, artistic achievements, all condensed to 20 slides and 20 seconds a slide.

When my turn came up last week I thought it would be a great opportunity to better articulate a rant that’s been boiling away in my head for months. I found Pecha Kucha’s time and slide limits force you to to cut through the piffle and get to the heart of a concise, structured argument. If you take nothing else from this post, if you ever find yourself struggling to express an idea clearly and succinctly, try putting a Pecha Kucha together. You’ll be amazed.

Anyhoo, the following is an approximation of where I got to with my thinking as a result of putting this presentation together. Bound to piss a few people off (I hope), but hopefully a greater number will understand were I’m coming from and maybe even agree with me. Feedback welcome via the usual channels…

Snake oilFor some time now I’ve had this sense of something quite rotten in the heart of the online marketing space, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

For the most part it stems from a sense of disgust I feel with the proliferation of snake oil salesmen I encounter on a regular basis, professionally, as an agency strategist liaising with clients’ suppliers and prospective suppliers, and personally, as an active user of marketing and technology media. To be fair, many of these people don’t realise that they’re snake oil salesmen, but that’s no excuse and I’ll get to that later.

The fact of the matter is, there’s a prevailing cargo cult mentality in online marketing circles, and an abundance of self-appointed gurus / experts / consultants (I prefer to call them douchebags) are perpetuating it for personal gain and to the detriment of their clients.

Was ist das ‘cargo cult mentality’? Good question. Let’s start with a little history…

Destination TokyoCargo cults have been observed since the late 19th century, in the wake of tribal cultures’ interaction with more technologically advanced civilizations. There was a significant increase in cargo cults during the second world war, as a result of Japanese and western military forces sending masses of manpower and machinery into the Pacific.

For the first time, remote island peoples had access to processed food, clothing, tools, equipment and machinery, weapons… and they liked it. They came to see this precious ‘cargo’ as their divine right – gifts from the gods that had been wrongly appropriated by the American forces and that would one day be theirs (for some reason everything the Japanese did seemed to make sense, so there were no Japanese-oriented cargo cults reported).

Cargo cult runwayFollowing the end of the war, the Americans went home and the regular deliveries of ‘cargo’ ceased. In order to attract further deliveries, cult followers participated in rituals mimicking the behaviour of the American forces.

They built wooden planes, hangars, antennae and control towers; they constructed runways lined with burning pyres; and they dressed in home-made uniforms and took part in parade-ground exercises sporting bamboo ‘rifles’.

Cargo cult planeThrough these rituals, cargo cult followers were seen to be making the logical error of mistaking a necessary condition for acquiring the ‘cargo’, for a sufficient one, thereby reversing the causation. For example, ‘looking like a plane’ is a necessary condition for building a plane, but it isn’t a sufficient one – the thing you build has to actually be a plane.

Cargo cult ritualOn another level, having planes, hangars, a runway, control tower and masses of uniformed soldiers may be a necessary condition for cargo to rain down from the sky, but it sure isn’t a sufficient one – the sufficient one is being an American military installation with a delivery scheduled to take place.

The term ‘cargo cult’ has since become an idiom for any group of people seen to be imitating the superficial exterior of a process without really understanding how it works.

We see this same kind of logical error all the time in the online marketing space, and the same kind of disappointed, disillusioned believers.

SEO cargo cult For example, much in the world of search engine optimisation is focussed on gaming Google with technical hygiene, keyword selection, link farming and Page Rank funneling. These may be necessary conditions for acquiring Google juice (a.k.a. ‘cargo’), but they are not sufficient ones.

The sufficient condition is to have have high-quality, unique content and actually be the site people are looking for. This is the stuff that generates inbound links, Page Rank and quality scores, which in turn lead to high SERP rankings and masses of qualified visitors coming to your site.

In the decade I have worked in this industry, not once have I heard of an SEO consultant advising a client to improve their site content – to actually develop and implement a content strategy – before commencing a traffic generation program. Going through the motions with paid search, technical optimisation and black-hat content pages is the usual prescription, as this makes sense to the naive observer (the client) and generates revenue for the SEO company.

Social media douchebagsA plague of social media douchebags has been visited upon brand owners in recent years, and it isn’t pretty. All over the world, people with nothing to say and nobody to say it to are creating Twitter accounts and Facebook pages in the misguided belief that if other brands are successfully using these platforms to engage with consumers, then they can too.

What these brand owners fail to realise (and what social media douchebags fail to tell them) is that ‘being on Facebook and Twitter’ may be necessary conditions for implementing a successful social media strategy, but the sufficient ones include having the inclination, capacity, resourcing and relevant subject matter to engage in meaningful conversations with consumers, relating to them on a human level about things that interest them. If they don’t actually get this, all brands are doing is broadcasting via additional channels, and that ain’t social.

Analytics cargo cultSadly, we also see a similar dynamic in the well-intentioned, less-douchebaggy field of analytics.

Investing time and money implementing best-of-breed measurement tools may be a necessary condition of having an effective analytics program, but the sufficient ones include having the ability to turn observation into insight, and the inclination and resourcing to turn that insight into action (i.e. to identify opportunities for improvement and actually do something with that information).

If I had a dollar for every site owner out there who has installed Google Analytics and looks at the numbers but does nothing with that information, I’d be writing this post from my yacht in the Seychelles. *sigh*

Follow the gourd, the holy gourd of Jerusalem!There is no shortage of examples, and there are new ‘cults’ sprouting up all the time. It seems every other week some new prophet arrives on the scene, spruiking a new and better path to the promised land…

‘Content is king’. This one has been around for a while, and there’s a lot to be said for the principles it suggests. But it’s also a hell of an oversimplification, don’t you think?

Content isn't king. Apparently.Later on, we started to read about how, thanks to social media, connections were now king. The glib analogy supporting this statement is that if someone was being sent to a desert island and chose to take their DVD collection with them instead of their friends, then that person would be a sociopath.

Personally, I’d rather sociopaths went off to their desert islands unaccompanied, and I’m sure their friends would prefer that too – yet I digress… Content isn’t king anymore, connections are. Got it.

Curation is king. Apparently.And then last week, just to round out the silliness, I read an article heralding curation’s coronation. Content? Connections? Screw ’em! Curation is king! Long live the king!

Aw, crap! So which one is it then? Who should I listen to? Content, connections, curation – which is the one true faith?

It all gets pretty confusing and frustrating, and you can see why some people find it easier just to pick an ideology, lock it in and go for it. But these dogmatic oversimplifications lead to a world of trouble.

Stop. Hammer time!Consider the truism that if your only tool is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. People who blindly adhere to popular dogma rather than thinking for themselves are pre-disposed to a given solution for all kinds of problems, whether they realise it or not.

Just as religious people pray for everything from bountiful crops to large pectoral muscles, an SEO consultant will always see your problem as search-related, and a social media douchebag will always see your problem as you having too much money and not enough Twitter followers.

This problem is by no means restricted to the realm on online marketing. The great W Edwards Deming, regarded by many as the father of Total Quality Management, was a staunch critic of the quality movement because it stops people from thinking, reducing a powerful catalyst for organisational transformation (organisational learning) to its physical and procedural manifestations (a set of control charts).

To cut a long story short, the problem with populist dogma – no matter how reasonable it sounds – is that it prevents us from thinking. And not thinking is bad.

So what are these, the all-important underlying principles and processes we should seek to understand, rather than adhering to dogma and imitating others who seem to be doing ok? Are you kidding me? The single most important point I’m trying to make here is that you really ought to figure that out for yourself. But I’m not a complete bastard, so here are some thoughts to get you started…

For my own part, I’ve spent a lot of time getting my head around The Cluetrain Manifesto, and Social Object Theory. While I can’t claim to have picked up a bunch of nifty new skills or tools as a result, I definitely feel like I understand the world I live and work in much better now, and am better prepared to handle a whole bunch of different challenges as a result. I’d seriously recommend exploring both in detail, but here’s my take on both…

The clue train stopped there four times a day for ten years and they never took deliveryCluetrain: People aren’t the suckers they used to be. Rather than a sucker being born every minute, these days a sucker wises up every minute (or, to lessen the hyperbole, ‘there’s a sucker born every 10 minutes’).

Not only do people have access to more information, but they proactively seek it from and share it with others. This collective ‘wising up’ has shifted the power balance between brands and consumers. Put simply, people can smell bullshit. They know the difference between corporate spiel and human speech, and can tell when they’re being lied to.

The consequences of getting caught out in a lie can be dire. Thanks to the Internet, if PT Barnum went on tour with his travelling freakshow in 2010, he would be tarred and feathered before he left the first town. Some brands see this as a threat, but this is only a short-term problem because they will soon die out, replaced by those who don’t need to trick people into buying their products.

Magic salad plate = social objectSocial Object Theory: Conversations (in the broadest sense of the word) always have a subject. This ‘substance’ of conversation – the reason two people are talking to each other as opposed to talking to somebody else – we call social objects.

Social objects are interesting for a whole lot of reasons. For a start, social networks form around social objects, so we can understand things about groups of people by looking at the social objects that bring them together.

Perhaps more interesting for brands is the idea that social objects can be deployed. This is what marketers erroneously refer to when they speak of wanting to ‘create a viral’ (as if it’s a matter so simple as pressing the ‘viral’ button and away you go). What they really mean is they’re looking to create something that resonates with people they’re wanting to engage with, and that stimulates conversation within that group – i.e. they want to deploy a social object.

Without wanting to offer another populist ideology of the kind I’ve been pissing on for the past dozen paragraphs or so, my musings on social objects have led me to a few observations that are probably worth sharing…

Irrelevant or inauthentic? You choose.First, if you’re hoping to start or stimulate conversation, you’ll want to make sure that whatever you have in mind is a social object. Of course there’s a lot of guesswork, trial and error as far as specific subject matter goes, but you can save yourself a lot of heartache by considering where your object sits in relation to your brand attributes, and the interests of the person or group you’re hoping to engage.

Are you occupying that magical space where whatever it is that you have to say is both an authentic reflection of your brand attributes and within your target audience’s realm of interest? If your message / social object is true to your brand but doesn’t reflect the interests of your audience, then it’s irrelevant and likely to be ignored. If you’re hitting audience interests but there’s no real connection with your brand, then it’s inauthentic. Picture a bespectacled, middle-aged accountant in a 3-piece suit hitting on a 19 year-old surfer girl with tales of his love for big wave riding – bogus, sad and doomed to failure. Your odds of success are only non-zero when you tick both the authentic and the relevant boxes.

Don't you DARE share my content!Second, and this isn’t exactly rocket science here people, if you want people to take your message / object and run with it, then you probably shouldn’t chain it to your porch.

I see this all the time, and it does my head in – brands who are so protective of ‘their’ material that everything has to be hosted on their own sites and steps taken to prevent it from being downloaded, put on YouTube and shared throughout the blogosphere. Are they high on crack? Make. Your. Social objects. Portable.

Third, and most importantly, know your verbs. I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘engagement’ is a bullshit, agency non-word used by idiots to make themselves sound smart. What actions are you expecting people to take when they come into contact with your message / object? If you don’t know, you had better figure it out and fast.

Why? For a start, it could be that nobody is going to do anything, in which case you should probably save yourself a bunch of time and money by doing nothing too.

*shudder*Further, different actions entail different levels of effort and require different levels of motivation. There is no single set of actions that applies to all situations and social objects – theming one’s wedding, for example, appears to be the sole domain of Star Trek fans – so please ignore all those douchebags out there with their pseudo-proprietary engagement models, because they are full of sh1t (i.e. they are offering a seemingly useful simplification that doesn’t really help you to understand your own situation).

Understanding the full set of actions that applies to your situation allows you to do a few really useful things.

First, you can sanity check each one. Is someone really likely to create a mash-up of your ad and take it to Cannes? If not, you should stop kidding yourself.

Second, you can make sure you’re allowing people with varying levels of motivation to participate. You don’t have to make a call to target a small group of highly motivated people or a larger group of unmotivated ones. In fact, the more people you can get on board, the better. So make sure you’re not limiting your chances of success by not providing enough ways for people to participate.

Finally, by considering each action and its requisite motivation, you can figure out the best way(s) to encourage people to do them. There are likely to be internal (e.g. kudos) and external (e.g. prizes) drivers for each action, so considering the full set of actions and motivations should suggest a whole lot of things you can do to improve your chances of success.

Beware of the DogmaOk, that’s quite enough from the oracle for now.

The purpose of this post was to articulate some long-held misgivings about the ready availability of quick-fix solutions that obviate the need to think for oneself and understand what is really going on.

Along the way I’ve shared some of my own thinking about what I believe to be some of the core, underlying principles online marketers really need to get their heads around, and in doing so I may have given a little more practical detail than I needed to – but then it’s my blog, and if you don’t like it you can sod right off.

If you take nothing else from this post (besides the pecha kucha recommendation – seriously, give it a whirl) , let it be this. Beware of the dogma. Don’t be drinking the Kool Ade – not theirs, not mine, and you’d do well to avoid drinking your own if you can help it.

Richard FeynmanI’m reminded of a speech Richard Feynman gave during the 70’s, decrying what he called ‘cargo cult science’ – stuff and nonsense that was dressed up to look like science, but lacked any sense of scientific rigor and integrity.

Feynman advised, and I paraphrase here, that to avoid becoming a snake oil salesman, the first and most important thing is to not fool yourself, which is difficult, because we are the easiest people to fool. But this is important, because once you fool yourself – once you drink that Kool Ade – all you have to do in order to fool everybody else is just be honest.

Thus, the accidental snake oil salesmen I mentioned at the start of this post are by no means blameless. And you won’t be, either.

Twitter = Not a Bunch of Arse After All

I’ve gotten a lot of flack lately for the horrendous lack of blog activity, and I can’t say it’s undeserved. What can I say – I’ve been busy.

A big part of the bloggy silence has been due to some shameless technological infidelity on my part. A while back I decided to give Twitter the benefit of the doubt, and see if I could overcome my initial misgivings. 2,500 tweets later I’ll happily concede that there is more to it than I first thought, but at the same time there are lingering reservations.

As a means of sharing ideas, discoveries, sentiments in real-time, Twitter really is in a class of its own. It’s a great world to be immersed in, and I really can’t see myself kicking the habit anytime soon. My problem isn’t with what Twitter is, does, or doesn’t do. It’s with what I’m not doing. I may be alone in this, but to me Twitter is a shoot-from-the-hip kind of deal. The operative question is ‘what are you doing right now’, not ‘what have you been up to lately’. Streaming my life and thoughts in real-time is fun, but so too is mulling over a whole bunch of ideas, forming a considered opinion, and sharing it with you fine folks.

This isn’t a benevolent thing, on my part at least (although your forbearance with the dick and fart jokes is appreciated). I just get a kick out of thinking about stuff, however trippy, chasing random thoughts down a rabbit hole and hopefully emerging unscathed with something worth sharing. The act of blogging (or rather, the thought process behind it) is really pleasurable. There, I said it. I gets my jollies on the Interwebz.

For someone who actually enjoys writing, Twitter is like junk food and I just haven’t been getting my veg lately. After six months of a Twitter-only diet I feel like a literary Morgan Spurlock. Like I said, I can’t see myself quitting Twitter anytime soon, so my only option then is to get my shit together and start blogging again.

So I’m back. Some of you will be thrilled, and others disgusted. Either way, I’m wearing a big smile right now. Feels good to be back.

I ain’t drinking the Kool Aid

I don’t want to sound like a hater. I think Wolfram Alpha is a beautiful execution of a unique approach to search, and I’m glad the Mathematica folks have been able to bring it to life. Unfortunately, it is subject to two critical flaws:

  1. It isn’t what people think it is; and
  2. What it is really isn’t that flash

Let’s start out with the obvious. Wolfram Alpha isn’t a Google killer. It doesn’t even come close. Actually, it really doesn’t have much to do with anything Google does. Putting aside a whole lot of peripheral activities, Google is a search engine, an advertising network, and a bank. It helps people to find authoritative websites on topics they are interested in; It provides advertisers with a cost-effective means of reaching prospective customers; and It facilitates transactions between advertisers and publishers, and is effectively the Reserve Bank of the Internet. Wolfram Alpha does none of these things – it doesn’t lead you to authoritative sources of information, it assumes that role itself; It doesn’t help advertisers reach new audiences; and It sure as hell doesn’t help to monetise other properties.

The latter two alone would seemingly be enough to ensure Google’s continued dominance over newcomers, but even if that wasn’t the case – even if all Google was was a search engine – Google would win hands down. Why? Because this *smarts*, this unique approach that sets Wolfram Alpha apart from its predecessors and competitors is the answer to a question nobody asked. It is different more for the sake of being different than as a response to a real need, and it smacks of the ‘build it and they will come’ mindset that has lead to some of the Internet age’s greatest failures. Louis Border’s ‘Webvan‘ immediately springs to mind. Assuming people wanted to buy their groceries online, and assuming that a completely automated online-only supermarket was the best way to satisfy that need, Webvan was the best possible response to that opportunity. Problem was, both of those assumptions were tragically flawed and billions of investor dollars were lost. In the same way, Wolfram is assuming that all people want is a direct, concise response to a direct, concise question. Problem is, people don’t ask those kinds of questions or accept those kinds of answers.

Wolfram seems to misunderstand how and why people really use search. Sure, we search for information, but we do so in order to be able to do something with it. We search for hotels so we can find somewhere to stay, not to find out what a hotel is. And when we do want to find out what something is, context and referenced, authoritative sources are essential for validating what we are being told and furthering our understanding. The ‘source information’ link accompanying Wolfram results provides a list of sites used, but with no indication of which *facts* came from which sources. Even Wikipedia – whipping boy of research purists the world over – has higher standards of transparency, which is kind of ironic when you consider that Wolfram Alpha was designed by a respected scientist.

Wolfram’s reference material is also alarmingly Americentric. For example, no New Zealand websites are referenced in response to queries about ‘New Zealand‘. I agree that there are always three sides to every story, but I’d back our own over the Library of Congress, any day.

The contextual deficiency of Wolfram results reminds me of John Steinbeck’s meditation on the problems of measuring a fish:

The Mexican sierra has 17 plus 15 plus 9 spines in the dorsal fin. These can easily be counted. But if the sierra strikes hard on the line so that our hands are burned, if the fish sounds and nearly escapes and finally comes in over the rail, his colors pulsing and his tail beating the air, a whole new relational externality has come into being – an entity which is more than the sum of the fish plus the fisherman. The only way to count the spines of the sierra unaffected by this second relational reality is to sit in a laboratory, open an evil-smelling jar, remove a stiff colorless fish from the formalin solution, count the spines, and write the truth. . . . There you have recorded a reality which cannot be assailed – probably the least important reality concerning either the fish or yourself.

It is good to know what you are doing. The man with his pickled fish has set down one truth and recorded in his experience many lies. The fish is not that color, that texture, that dead, nor does he smell that way.

– Steinbeck, John. 1941. The Log from the Sea of Cortez

So Wolfram Alpha isn’t what people think it is. It isn’t a Google killer. It isn’t a better search engine than Google, Yahoo, MSN or even Wikipedia. It isn’t really a search engine at all.

It is also pretty uninspiring. A lot of attention has been directed towards how *different* it is, and much has been made of the various witty responses returned by some search phrases. Sure it’s different, and its novelty value is enough to ensure we’ll all check it out at least once. But is different better? Is different enough to change our habits? Is different enough to make us persevere with a lesser solution that offers to human understanding what KFC offers to human nutrition?

It can’t be. It shouldn’t be. And it won’t be. Expectations are too high and substance is too low. Wolfram Alpha will never make it as an alternative or successor to traditional search. At best, it will become a new feature or algorithmic enhancement to Yahoo, Google or Microsoft.

But maybe that was the plan all along.

The big three five

As many of you are no doubt aware, Monday after next I’ll be turning 35. Dave too – funny that. Anyhoo, I’ve thought about this a lot over the past few weeks, and must admit I’m surprised at how little I actually give a shit about this ‘milestone’ year in contrast to the previous ones…

I vividly remember the card my mother sent me on my 18th birthday, reminding me to be careful as I was now old enough to be tried as an adult. It felt like such a big deal to be legally an adult, despite the fact that, while I was now eligible to vote, marry, get drafted, go to prison, and enter into binding contracts, I wasn’t about to do any of those things. The drinking age was still 20, so I was still just a kid in the eyes of the only people that really mattered (bouncers). And in hindsight that’s all I really was – a kid.

I know turning 20 hasn’t been much of a big deal since that the drinking age was lowered to 18, but it was back then. I remember proudly presenting my driver’s license to a doorman at a club in Auckland, only to be refused entry because the licenses at the time showed the month but not day of birth. “Your birthday could be next week, ” he grinned, before waving me inside. I kept the “fuck you, door monkey” to myself on that occasion, partly due to my keen sense of self-preservation, but mostly because most of my mates were still underage. I was 20 now, and they couldn’t keep me out anymore (this was before they invented Spy Bar), but there was a definite sense of loss at the end of my teens. I was convinced for years that 19 was the coolest age I had ever been – best physical condition, least responsibility, most active socially… and then it was over. Twenty. Gotta grow up now, hey son? (Turns out that I didn’t – 20 was also the year that I got expelled from university, but that’s a story for another post).

Turning 21 was a big deal, but it is for everyone I suppose. For me it was the beginning of a big adventure, and a fantastic, chaotic chain of events that has added inestimable richness to my life. I moved to Queenstown and went snowboarding every single day for a whole season. I met a guy in a bar who offered me a job in Auckland, which lead me back to University, a first-class Master’s degree, and an amazing career. I have no idea what my life would be like now were it not for some of the choices I made at 21, and it’s both comforting and frightening to look back at how flippantly some of those decisions were made.

When I hit 30, the only big deal as far as I was concerned was that it seemed like such a big deal to everyone else. We had a big party (interesting way to find out that your Dad really knows how to handle a gun), but I distinctly remember the anticlimax when it dawned on me that the day after was exactly the same as the day before. I was officially into my fourth decade, but I didn’t feel any different. Ironically, this was the first of the ‘big years’ where I felt young and stupid but actually wasn’t. I have since reasoned that the yearning for my late teens that I felt in my early twenties is something akin to a veteran’s reminiscence of battle. Fuck that – I wouldn’t be that stupid again for all the tea in China! How in the hell I escaped death and/or imprisonment is beyond me.

So now, as I approach the big three five, I’m finding that I actually really like who I am, where I am, the choices I’ve made (even, and some might say especially, the bad ones) and what lies ahead. My one regret isn’t for myself and the lost opportunities of my youth (although I do agree that the indiscretions a man regrets most later in life tend to be the ones he failed to make when he had the chance), but for the many friends I’ve had over the years who never got the chance to grow old at all. I close my eyes and try to picture the face of an old school friend who died in a motorcycle accident when we were at university. On the one hand it’s disturbing how hard it’s getting to recall what he looked like. Was it that long ago? Could we really have been that close, if I’m forgetting him already? Will I fade from memory like this when I’m gone? On the other hand, the face I do remember is still just 21 years old, and that’s what bothers me the most – he should be 35 too!

So on the 19th of January all you young pups can feel free to point out the spare tyre I’ve grown, and kid me about the heat radiating from my cake (hint hint Simonne!). You can do all that and more, because I really don’t give a shit. I’ll be thinking about how grateful I am to have the opportunity to celebrate yet another milestone birthday, and toasting the memory of friends who weren’t so lucky.

Have yourselves a great weekend.

And it begins…

The great triennial lolly scramble is now under way, with the dyke PM once again pinning her hopes on the student vote, this time offering a universal student allowance. She’ll be kicking herself if it works (else I’m sure there are plenty of taxpayers who would happily do it for her), ‘cos the estimated $210 million annual cost (yeah, right!) is a hell of a lot cheaper than the billions in student loan interest write-offs she used to buy the last election.

Great to see the good old Electoral Finance Act earning its keep, hey? The Radio Network is facing prosecution for comments made by two MP’s acting as guest-hosts, and Dominion Breweries has been cautioned over a Tui billboard. Yep, gotta keep that shit in check or the whole democratic process goes out the window. But a blatant $250 million bribe? Nothing wrong with that, mate – par for the course!*

I don’t know what’s more depressing – that we have a PM who deplores freedom of speech and displays open contempt for the electorate, or that a substantial partof the voting public (but hopefully not a majority) is prepared to overlook all this in exchange for a well-timed bribe. Come on, people! Wouldn’t it be nicer just to have a thriving economy? Where we’ve all got well-paying jobs? And we don’t get taxed though the ass to pay for ‘jobs for the boys’, a carbon credit trading program that won’t do a thing to halt global warming**, and an unsustainable welfare system that has condemned generations to dependency on the state?

Party vote NATIONAL on November 8 please!

* I possibly wouldn’t mind so much if it wasn’t my money in play. If you turned up at your favorite restaurant and couldn’t get a table ‘cos someone slipped the maitre d’ a twenty, you’d be pissed off, right? Now imagine he takes that twenty out of your pocket, slips it to the maitre d’ and then takes your table. You’d be set to strangle the bastard! Well this is no different. Government coffers are full of your (our) money!

** First of all, the planet isn’t actually warming. Second, there is zero conculsive evidence to support the myth that global warming is man-made. Now there’s a good reason to cripple business with yet another layer of red tape and compliance costs!

Confessions of a lady basher

The media circus arising from allegations that Tony Veitch had assaulted his former partner, Kirsten Dunne Powell, bothered me right from the start. Let me start out by declaring that I fully support the Women’s Refuge position on domestic violence. Not acceptable. All violence is deplorable, and for any man to use his – let’s face it, this is normally the case – superior strength to inflict physical and/or emotional harm on someone he’s supposed to care about is… it’s fucking wrong, no question about it.

But that doesn’t mean our compassion should only be directed towards the woman, and that’s where I start to get antsy. When word of the Veitch allegations broke, people commenting publicly on the issue tended to end up (whether they liked it or not) in one of two camps – you either flat-out condemned him, or you were a fellow lady basher. Is it really so black and white though? Can you (should you be able to) sympathise with an alleged abuser, offer him some degree of compassion and understanding, without you both being tarred and feathered? Apparently not, which is how we ended up with a witch hunt.

A little background…

When I was 19 years old I began a relationship with a woman I’d met at work. She was older than me, pretty close to my height, and while she definitely wasn’t ‘man-ish’, had been a gym-fanatic for many years so was very muscular. She was also a redhead, so I probably should have seen it coming. As relationships often do in one’s late teens, things were great to start with but waned over time. After about ten months I ended the relationship (or so I thought) and moved on (or so I thought). It started with her phoning me out of the blue (‘Hi, just wondering what you are you are up to’), progressed to her turning up on my door step at odd hours (‘Hi, just passing by and thought I’d pop in’), and ended up with her sitting in her car outside my work most nights (we were no longer working together) , watching me finish up in case – God forbid – I went home with a waitress. I tried to be the nice guy, tried to understand that she had had her heart broken and do whatever it took to help her, but after a while it became unbearable. I asked her to leave me alone, without success. I stopped going to my old haunts and hanging out with mutual friends (formerly my friends), I asked the police to intervene, but was dismissed out of hand. Nothing worked – I was being stalked and there was nothing I could do about it. I can honestly say I feared for my life.

One night about four months after the stalking started I went out after work and arrived home with *a guest* at about 1am. I didn’t see her car, but apparently she’d been waiting outside my house for hours. I’d been in bed for maybe five minutes when the front door of my house was kicked in, followed immediately by my bedroom door. The lights came on and there she was – screaming (‘Time to go, bitch!), kicking, and dragging my guest out of the bed by her hair. I jumped up, ran for the door, broke the hold she had on my guest’s hair, and knocked her to the floor with a right-hook.

Next day. Phone rings. All day. Highlights include nearly all of our mutual friends (now her friends) calling to tell me what a scumbag I was. Most of these people have never spoken to me since. I also vividly remember her calling to say she’d laid a complaint with the police (thankfully this turned out to be bullshit) and that I would soon be arrested. She also dropped by that afternoon to show off the black eye I’d given her, just to make sure I knew what she’d shown the cops. I was fucked. The only thing that kept me sane was the fact that the first person to hear about all this was my mother. I had called her in tears, right after the incident, racked with guilt and unable to comprehend how I had managed to do something so totally contrary to the way I had been brought up. Mum’s response?

Next time you see that bitch, smack her again and tell her I said hi!

(Mums are awesome)

Why am I telling you this? Because, as much as I’m not sure I wanted to learn it this way, here’s what it taught me:

  • There are always at least two sides to every story; and
  • In some circumstances it’s ok to hit a woman

    (The latter point still doesn’t sit well with me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true)

Turn your clocks forward a couple of years. I’m now 22, back at varsity and totally loving my life. I start dating a woman I’m working with (a little advice for you, don’t ever dip your pen in the company ink), and we end up living together – we didn’t ‘move in together’ a such, I just ended up spending pretty much every night at her house. We both worked nights (but not the same nights), we both had friends (but not the same friends)… pretty soon we started to drift apart and one of us (her) realised it but the other one (me) didn’t.

To this day I don’t know if this was something I’d subconsciously picked up from my previous relationship (with the stalker) or just a latent trait kicking in when the going got rough, but I didn’t handle the deteriorating relationship well. The more time we spent apart, the more I tried to be with her. Every mention or inference of another man drove me crazy. We argued all the time, said the most hurtful things to each other, and – despite the fact that she started staying out till all hours (I was convinced that this was because of me, as opposed to her simply wanting to spend time with her friends) – I continued to spend every night at her house.

One night things came to a head. We both had the night off work, but when I got home from varsity she wasn’t there. Her mobile was on but went unanswered all night. I sat there waiting by the door until her key hit the lock a little after 3am. All my months of suspicion and insecurity boiled over. On a conscious level I was venting, but on a subconscious level I think I wanted her to feel all the hurt and insecurity I’d been harboring for so long. We argued. We cried. We broke up and I stormed out. But I wasn’t done. When I reached the letterbox I turned on my heel and, when I found the front door locked, kicked it open. I don’t remember what I had to say that was so important, but I said it. And while she was trying – rightfully so – to usher me out of her house I shoved her backwards and into a wall – not very hard, and without causing injury, but how much damage do you have to do for it to be a fucking stupid thing to do? I’ll spare you the details of the aftermath, suffice to say that it turns out this woman had a much kinder soul than I’d given her credit for, and the Student Health counseling services are worth every penny of the extortionate U of A fees I paid borrowed for over the years.

This was a horrible experience and, again, I wish I could have come by the insight some other way. But nobody’s perfect – hell, we’re supposed to make mistakes, provided we learn from them. So here’s one of the things I learned:

  • Sometimes good people do bad things

There, it’s done – I’ve just openly confessed my two darkest secrets. We all have skeletons in our closets, and I have many more – but none worse than these. I’ve shared them with you for a couple of reasons. First of all, I’m no longer ashamed of them. While I’m far from proud of my actions, if I could go back and undo what I did I’m not sure I would. I actually quite like the man I’ve become, and who am I but the product of my (good and bad) experiences?

Second, I’d like to challenge you all to attempt a similar introspection. All you fine upstanding folks who cried out for Tony Veitch’s head when the rumors first surfaced – have you ever done anything you’re ashamed of? No? In my opinion, anyone who’s never crossed the line between right and wrong most likely has no idea where it is. Do you think Hilter had a guilty conscience? What about Osama Bin Laden? The rest of us sinners hopefully learn one or both of the following from our transgressions:

  • How not to make the same mistake in future; and
  • Other people are just as capable of fucking up as we are

So I was really vocal in supporting Veitchy when the rumors surfaced, and I still am. And it’s not because I’m ‘a fucking man too’, or ‘a lady basher like him’ – it’s because, regardless of how it came to be, I am a better person than those that wouldn’t.

The Myth of Man-Made Global Warming

The following is a transcript of a recent statement by meteorologist John Coleman to the San Diego Chamber of Commerce. Coleman has a PhD in Meteorology and a long, distinguished career in the field. Among other things, he founded The Weather Channel. Bio, credentials etc can be viewed here.

Before anyone launches into the character assassination that typically follows such pieces, please note that a bunch of sheep mindlessly baa-baa-ing “he’s full of shit” does not make for successful discrediting of an author. I also suggest you read this and this and this and this before blindly dismissing the article as an isolated attack from the fringe. You’d be waaaaaaaaaaaay off the mark there, sonny.

I’ve reproduced the statement in its entirety, rather than simply linking to the original article, because it’s just too damn important that you read this. Please do, and encourage your friends to do the same (I don’t give a shit if you send them here, or to the original article).

Note. Italicised portions of the text indicate my own emphasis and not the original author’s.

Global Warming and the Price of a Gallon of Gas
by John Coleman

You may want to give credit where credit is due to Al Gore and his global warming campaign the next time you fill your car with gasoline, because there is a direct connection between Global Warming and four dollar a gallon gas. It is shocking, but true, to learn that the entire Global Warming frenzy is based on the environmentalist’s attack on fossil fuels, particularly gasoline. All this big time science, international meetings, thick research papers, dire threats for the future; all of it, comes down to their claim that the carbon dioxide in the exhaust from your car and in the smoke stacks from our power plants is destroying the climate of planet Earth. What an amazing fraud; what a scam.

The future of our civilization lies in the balance.

That’s the battle cry of the High Priest of Global Warming Al Gore and his fellow, agenda driven disciples as they predict a calamitous outcome from anthropogenic global warming. According to Mr. Gore the polar ice caps will collapse and melt and sea levels will rise 20 feet inundating the coastal cities making 100 million of us refugees. Vice President Gore tells us numerous Pacific islands will be totally submerged and uninhabitable. He tells us global warming will disrupt the circulation of the ocean waters, dramatically changing climates, throwing the world food supply into chaos. He tells us global warming will turn hurricanes into super storms, produce droughts, wipe out the polar bears and result in bleaching of coral reefs. He tells us tropical diseases will spread to mid latitudes and heat waves will kill tens of thousands. He preaches to us that we must change our lives and eliminate fossil fuels or face the dire consequences. The future of our civilization is in the balance.

With a preacher’s zeal, Mr. Gore sets out to strike terror into us and our children and make us feel we are all complicit in the potential demise of the planet.

Here is my rebuttal.

There is no significant man made global warming. There has not been any in the past, there is none now and there is no reason to fear any in the future. The climate of Earth is changing. It has always changed. But mankind’s activities have not overwhelmed or significantly modified the natural forces.

Through all history, Earth has shifted between two basic climate regimes: ice ages and what paleoclimatologists call “Interglacial periods”. For the past 10 thousand years the Earth has been in an interglacial period. That might well be called nature’s global warming because what happens during an interglacial period is the Earth warms up, the glaciers melt and life flourishes. Clearly from our point of view, an interglacial period is greatly preferred to the deadly rigors of an ice age. Mr. Gore and his crowd would have us believe that the activities of man have overwhelmed nature during this interglacial period and are producing an unprecedented, out of control warming.

Well, it is simply not happening. Worldwide there was a significant natural warming trend in the 1980’s and 1990’s as a Solar cycle peaked with lots of sunspots and solar flares. That ended in 1998 and now the Sun has gone quiet with fewer and fewer Sun spots, and the global temperatures have gone into decline. Earth has cooled for almost ten straight years. So, I ask Al Gore, where’s the global warming?

The cooling trend is so strong that recently the head of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had to acknowledge it. He speculated that nature has temporarily overwhelmed mankind’s warming and it may be ten years or so before the warming returns. Oh, really. We are supposed to be in a panic about man-made global warming and the whole thing takes a ten year break because of the lack of Sun spots. If this weren’t so serious, it would be laughable.

Now allow me to talk a little about the science behind the global warming frenzy. I have dug through thousands of pages of research papers, including the voluminous documents published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I have worked my way through complicated math and complex theories. Here’s the bottom line: the entire global warming scientific case is based on the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the use of fossil fuels. They don’t have any other issue. Carbon Dioxide, that’s it.

Hello Al Gore; Hello UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Your science is flawed; your hypothesis is wrong; your data is manipulated. And, may I add, your scare tactics are deplorable. The Earth does not have a fever. Carbon dioxide does not cause significant global warming.

The focus on atmospheric carbon dioxide grew out a study by Roger Revelle who was an esteemed scientist at the Scripps Oceanographic Institute. He took his research with him when he moved to Harvard and allowed his students to help him process the data for his paper. One of those students was Al Gore. That is where Gore got caught up in this global warming frenzy. Revelle’s paper linked the increases in carbon dioxide, CO2, in the atmosphere with warming. It labeled CO2 as a greenhouse gas.

Charles Keeling, another researcher at the Scripps Oceanographic Institute, set up a system to make continuous CO2 measurements. His graph of these increases has now become known as the Keeling Curve. When Charles Keeling died in 2005, his son David, also at Scripps, took over the measurements. Here is what the Keeling curve shows: an increase in CO2 from 315 parts per million in 1958 to 385 parts per million today, an increase of 70 parts per million or about 20 percent.

All the computer models, all of the other findings, all of the other angles of study, all come back to and are based on CO2 as a significant greenhouse gas. It is not.

Here is the deal about CO2, carbon dioxide. It is a natural component of our atmosphere. It has been there since time began. It is absorbed and emitted by the oceans. It is used by every living plant to trigger photosynthesis. Nothing would be green without it. And we humans; we create it. Every time we breathe out, we emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It is not a pollutant. It is not smog. It is a naturally occurring invisible gas.

Let me illustrate. I estimate that this square in front of my face contains 100,000 molecules of atmosphere. Of those 100,000 only 38 are CO2; 38 out of a hundred thousand. That makes it a trace component. Let me ask a key question: how can this tiny trace upset the entire balance of the climate of Earth? It can’t. That’s all there is to it; it can’t.

The UN IPCC has attracted billions of dollars for the research to try to make the case that CO2 is the culprit of run-away, man-made global warming. The scientists have come up with very complex creative theories and done elaborate calculations and run computer models they say prove those theories. They present us with a concept they call radiative forcing. The research organizations and scientists who are making a career out of this theory, keep cranking out the research papers. Then the IPCC puts on big conferences at exotic places, such as the recent conference in Bali. The scientists endorse each other’s papers, they are summarized and voted on, and viola, we are told global warming is going to kill us all unless we stop burning fossil fuels.

May I stop here for a few historical notes? First, the internal combustion engine and gasoline were awful polluters when they were first invented. And, both gasoline and automobile engines continued to leave a layer of smog behind right up through the 1960’s. Then science and engineering came to the environmental rescue. Better exhaust and ignition systems, catalytic converters, fuel injectors, better engineering throughout the engine and reformulated gasoline have all contributed to a huge reduction in the exhaust emissions from today’s cars. Their goal then was to only exhaust carbon dioxide and water vapor, two gases widely accepted as natural and totally harmless. Anyone old enough to remember the pall of smog that used to hang over all our cities knows how much improvement there has been. So the environmentalists, in their battle against fossil fuels and automobiles had a very good point forty years ago, but now they have to focus almost entirely on the once harmless carbon dioxide. And, that is the rub. Carbon dioxide is not an environmental problem; they just want you now to think it is.

Numerous independent research projects have been done about the greenhouse impact from increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. These studies have proven to my total satisfaction that CO2 is not creating a major greenhouse effect and is not causing an increase in temperatures. By the way, before his death, Roger Revelle coauthored a paper cautioning that CO2 and its greenhouse effect did not warrant extreme countermeasures.

So now it has come down to an intense campaign, orchestrated by environmentalists claiming that the burning of fossil fuels dooms the planet to run-away global warming. Ladies and Gentlemen, that is a myth.

So how has the entire global warming frenzy with all its predictions of dire consequences, become so widely believed, accepted and regarded as a real threat to planet Earth? That is the most amazing part of the story.

To start with global warming has the backing of the United Nations, a major world force. Second, it has the backing of a former Vice President and very popular political figure. Third it has the endorsement of Hollywood, and that’s enough for millions. And, fourth, the environmentalists love global warming. It is their tool to combat fossil fuels. So with the environmentalists, the UN, Gore and Hollywood touting Global Warming and predictions of doom and gloom, the media has scrambled with excitement to climb aboard. After all the media loves a crisis. From YK2 to killer bees the media just loves to tell us our lives are threatened. And the media is biased toward liberal, so it’s pre-programmed to support Al Gore and UN. CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, The LA Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press and here in San Diego The Union Tribune are all constantly promoting the global warming crisis.

So who is going to go against all of that power? Not the politicians. So now the President of the United States, just about every Governor, most Senators and most Congress people, both of the major current candidates for President, most other elected officials on all levels of government are all riding the Al Gore Global Warming express. That is one crowded bus.

I suspect you haven’t heard it because the mass media did not report it, but I am not alone on the no man-made warming side of this issue. On May 20th, a list of the names of over thirty-one thousand scientists who refute global warming was released. Thirty-one thousand of which 9,000 are Ph.ds. Think about that. Thirty-one thousand. That dwarfs the supposed 2,500 scientists on the UN panel. In the past year, five hundred of scientists have issued public statements challenging global warming. A few more join the chorus every week. There are about 100 defectors from the UN IPCC. There was an International Conference of Climate Change Skeptics in New York in March of this year. One hundred of us gave presentations. Attendance was limited to six hundred people. Every seat was taken. There are a half dozen excellent internet sites that debunk global warming. And, thank goodness for KUSI and Michael McKinnon, its owner. He allows me to post my comments on global warming on the website KUSI.com. Following the publicity of my position form Fox News, Glen Beck on CNN, Rush Limbaugh and a host of other interviews, thousands of people come to the website and read my comments. I get hundreds of supportive emails from them. No I am not alone and the debate is not over.

In my remarks in New York I speculated that perhaps we should sue Al Gore for fraud because of his carbon credits trading scheme. That remark has caused a stir in the fringe media and on the internet. The concept is that if the media won’t give us a hearing and the other side will not debate us, perhaps we could use a Court of law to present our papers and our research and if the Judge is unbiased and understands science, we win. The media couldn’t ignore that. That idea has become the basis for legal research by notable attorneys and discussion among global warming debunkers, but it’s a long way from the Court room.

I am very serious about this issue. I think stamping out the global warming scam is vital to saving our wonderful way of life.

The battle against fossil fuels has controlled policy in this country for decades. It was the environmentalist’s prime force in blocking any drilling for oil in this country and the blocking the building of any new refineries, as well. So now the shortage they created has sent gasoline prices soaring. And, it has lead to the folly of ethanol, which is also partly behind the fuel price increases; that and our restricted oil policy. The ethanol folly is also creating a food crisis throughput the world – it is behind the food price rises for all the grains, for cereals, bread, everything that relies on corn or soy or wheat, including animals that are fed corn, most processed foods that use corn oil or soybean oil or corn syrup. Food shortages or high costs have led to food riots in some third world countries and made the cost of eating out or at home budget busting for many.

So now the global warming myth actually has lead to the chaos we are now enduring with energy and food prices. We pay for it every time we fill our gas tanks. Not only is it running up gasoline prices, it has changed government policy impacting our taxes, our utility bills and the entire focus of government funding. And, now the Congress is considering a cap and trade carbon credits policy. We the citizens will pay for that, too. It all ends up in our taxes and the price of goods and services.

So the Global warming frenzy is, indeed, threatening our civilization. Not because global warming is real; it is not. But because of the all the horrible side effects of the global warming scam.

I love this civilization. I want to do my part to protect it.

If Al Gore and his global warming scare dictates the future policy of our governments, the current economic downturn could indeed become a recession, drift into a depression and our modern civilization could fall into an abyss. And it would largely be a direct result of the global warming frenzy.

My mission, in what is left of a long and exciting lifetime, is to stamp out this Global Warming silliness and let all of us get on with enjoying our lives and loving our planet, Earth.