A Crisis of Epic Proportions

Ladies, gentlemen, and penguins, America is facing a crisis of epic proportions. People are bursting into stores, staring at empty shelves. Prices of “food” have increased dramatically, leaving people to pay 10 to 100 times the price for a basic necessity on online markets such as eBay and Amazon. No, the US government has not defaulted due to the fiscal cliff. No, aliens have not invaded Detroit. No, America has not been dragged into World War 3 with Israel and Hamas. Attention everybody…

We’re out of Twinkies.

I wish I was joking when I saw people hoarding Twinkies. But I was at a Target store, the evening of the fateful announcement, and I saw 4 people staring at empty shelves, desperately looking for Twinkies. And this was in a 3 minute timespan, so extrapolating over a several-hour period, hundreds of people must have entered the store looking for Twinkies. The Twinkies, Ho-ho’s and Hostess Cupcakes shelves were totally barren, resembling some sort of post-apocalyptic raid on the supermarket.

Surprisingly, the shelves were full of Hostess Donettes. Apparently, nobody wants them.

Credit: markjwumaurader2124 via Flickr. Creative commons license

Poor, unloved Donettes. Hug a Donette today.

I went to another store, Grocery Outlet, and sadly, also discovered the shelves barren of Twinkies. But, on the top row, there were about 10 boxes of assorted Hostess cupcakes, ho-ho’s and Zingers. I grabbed one of them and decided to look around the store for other items. Zingers aren’t my favorite, but what the heck, I can pass them out as gifts.

However, as I was leaving the section, a older man wearing a football jersey came across the same aisle of baked goods. As the Hostess’ treats were on the top shelf, he started literally climbing the shelves, until his hands reached the top row. I’m surprised the bottom shelf withstood his body weight. There, he scooped up all of the boxes and brought them down for himself. I tried cracking a joke, but he was completely oblivious. He stared counting the boxes, fixated on the prize as if the fate of the free world depended on his ability to accurately count the number of baked treats in his possession.

I looked into his eyes. Remember that Gollum character from Lord of The Rings? Uhhh, yeah.

This is the future of America. The average person doesn’t understand the Electoral College, or the Federal Reserve, or Obamacare, or women. (Full disclosure, I don’t either.) The average person obviously doesn’t understand how bankruptcies work–since Grupo Bimbo will probably just buy out the factories and produce the creamy treats again. The world can slowly disintegrate with rising inflation, unemployment, food prices, and instability–and people will merrily go on their way as if nothing is going on.

But God forbid, we lose our Twinkies.

Mr. Penguin is disappointed no Twinkies were available, but he’ll make do with Zingers.

False Positivity

It’s the fashionable and socially-approved thing to do these days. Embrace those who promote positive messages (i.e. those that you agree with)! Delete the phone numbers and Facebook friends of those who make you feel bad! Proclaim your righteousness across the universe! And for a while, it feels good. You’re “taking control of your life” and “taking action” and “embracing change” and all that cool exciting shit. But are you creating a supportive environment? Or an echo chamber where people ignore the shadows–instead of shining light on them so they can be examined?

Helloooooo echo chamber

Knowing that anything I post on Facebook is data-mined to hell by Zuckerburg’s corporate minions, I would occasionally post meaningless stuff, mostly political links, to play around with them. One week I’ll post stuff about Republicans taking government handouts, and the next week I’ll link to an article about Barack Obama killing dolphins. It’s amusing to see who unfriends me after that, and yes there are apps that will tell you. I’ve realized that people’s lives reflect an echo chamber of sorts: much like Fox News and the Huffington Post have their own audience, people have their own vibrational frequency when it comes to the types of things they read and the types of people they interact with. I’ve also noticed that people will stop talking to you instead of argue with you, because in this day and age it’s easy to find people or places that share your exact viewpoint.

The socially correct thing to do is to think higher (vibrationally), to chose the more positive interaction, or at the very least, choose interaction with those you agree with. But that ignores the fact that not everyone has been treated equally or comes from the same environment, and to ignore their perspective simply because it may be tinged with negativity is denying yourself valuable information. Is it someone’s fault that they are bitter because they have faced abuse, racism, sexual or religious discrimination? There are those who will say it’s their personal choice how to react to events outside their control. But I’ve noticed people who say this–without any empathy or offering any support–simply to dismiss others entirely and return to their positive bubble. Regardless, you’re missing out on information.

People who talk about bad things, or are currently in bad situations, are not necessarily bad people

I know people who give free hugs, post cute inspirational kittens online, etc. That’s all good, everyone needs their kitten fix. Screw them, I want penguins!

100% cooler than those kittens

But I also know people who bitch and rant about the world using various expletives talk about non-politically correct things like men’s rights, child molesters, false imprisonment, welfare abuse, etc. People attack them and ignore them for being too negative, but they bring light to aspects of the world that would otherwise be hidden without their anger and resentment. I’ve personally railed against the whole “all men are evil” meme and angered militant feminists over it. Whatever, they can stew by themselves instead of garnering male support which they would have attracted had they not written me off as “the enemy”. Rants on other topics remind me of pissed off, elderly white nationalists who are about to become politically irrelevant due to changing demographic trends. But that doesn’t mean their gripes shouldn’t be critically analyzed, because they do have valid points.

Keeping it real

There’s also lack of empathy when it comes to false positive people. You’re having a bad day, or bad week, or even a bad year. Everyone has a bad day once in a while and if nothing bad ever happens to you, you’re probably a lying sociopath 🙂 The so-called “positive” person would cut you off from their life in order to keep you from dragging them down, instead of asking how you are doing or offering you any support. Talk about fair-weather friend…puke!

False positive content: Years ago, I used to attend Law of Attraction events. For the uninformed, it’s based on the principle that whatever you think of gets attracted to you, which is why most practitioners tend to focus on positive uplifting, thoughts. This is wonderful in theory, but I stopped attending events in person after running into smug, self-righteous people who wrapped horrible beliefs in the cloak of uplifting spirituality. I’ve met people who believe that starving children in Africa deserve to starve, because it’s 100% their fault for not thinking positively enough (The audience smiled and nodded after hearing this). I’ve heard LOA used to justify rape. As techniques are morally neutral, I blame those people for being douchebags.

False negative content: As a contrasting example, in the days after Obama’s reelection, I’ve been reading news articles from bitter, angry Republicans. Most people would ignore them because they are bitter and angry and Republican, but some of the writers are realizing that their current strategy isn’t working for them anymore, and that they need to adapt. I look forward to seeing this ‘negativity’ transform into a revitalized political party.

In a nutshell, information is neutral, and dismissing it because it comes from “positive” or “negative” people is useless and ultimately self-limiting. Judge the content itself, instead of how it makes you feel or who says it.

Should you blog under your real name or a theme (pseudonym)?

I’ve owned the domain name elementaldreams.com for over a decade, and have used it in the past to write personal blogs and projects, using the name Elemental, since ElementalDreams was too long. Within the past year, my real name was available as a domain name and I purchased it. Eventually, I had to decide whether to move everything over and blog under my real name or keep things the same. There were several points in my analysis:

Focus vs Connection
By using a pseudonym or theme, it forces you to stick to a particular topic. Case in point, there are various travel websites featuring themes like World-Traveller or Super-Digital-Nomad or Wandering-Gypsy or Young-Backpacker-Partying-It-Up-In-South-America, etc. After being locked in to a particular pseudonym and theme, you’re not suddenly going to talk about knitting.

By using your real name, you create a connection with your readers. People will actually recognize you at conferences and strike up conversations. This leads to greater social opportunities, interviews, and fun times. It’s also easier to handle one set of social networking sites instead of two.

Own your words; The legal aspects are overblown
Unless you’re writing an article on a hosted WordPress account generated by a disposable email address via a proxy server, chances are you’re not *really* anonymous. But then again, does it matter? In this day and age we have bloggers blogging about their sexual exploits, drug use, infidelity, past criminal activity, and other frowned-upon-by-society topics. Face it, unless you start using your blog to write death threats, nobody really cares. Everybody’s seen it before. You’re not that special.

In fact, you’re better off owning your issues publicly instead of avoiding them (but that’s for another post).

Why not try both?
You don’t have to choose one or the other, you can do both. You can have a theme, but also prominently display your real name.

You can also have the exact same website available via multiple URL’s. This works well for branding purposes, if your audience is influenced by such trivialities  I tell people whom I meet whatever URL they’re most likely to remember.

In order to do this for your own website, perform the following steps:

  1. Using cPanel, click on the “Addon Domains” button and add your secondary URL as a addon domain. The Document Root should be exactly the same as your primary URL (the one you originally installed WordPress on). If it’s not already listed below, use /public_html
  2. Install and configure the following WordPress plugin: Multidomain

This plugin will allow WordPress to recognize your secondary domain and rewrite internal links to make them work properly. The following might sound confusing (but future plugins might make this easier): Within your WordPress admin panel, click “Edit” on the plugin and use the config.php as a basis for modification for your real site. If you edit this incorrectly, you’ll need to delete the plugin via FTP and try again.

Step #2 is totally optional. There is an upside and several downsides to using Step #2:

  • Upside: You’ll notice that the internal links keep the same domain name; that is if I am on www.websiteone.com/about the internal links to other pages don’t suddenly become www.websitetwo.com/about.
  • Downside: The plugin can be confusing to configure; I mean who directly edits .php files these days 🙂 If you didn’t understand the paragraph above, I don’t recommend doing it.
  • Downside: Search engine rankings: If you have two different URL’s for accessing a website, people will link to you using one or the other. That means that your backlink traffic will be split, and may negatively affect your search engine results. Also, unless you set one of your domains as “canonical”, Google will choose one of your URL’s to index for you. You’ll need to modify the header.php of your theme to set that.

Consider testing this on a temporary basis, and if search engine rankings affect you, have one of the URL’s permanently redirect to the other one (by deactivating the WordPress plugin I previously mentioned, and keeping the addon domain active in cPanel). That means that all your visitors will be forwarded to your primary URL, without any loss of traffic or search engine results.

I personally am using Step #1 only, so I have the benefit of 2 different domain names without any search engine hassles.

Want another opinion? Steve Pavlina’s article mentions that he started his blog using his real name instead of a personal development URL, and ultimately concludes branding doesn’t matter.

Don’t Marry Your Web Hosting Provider (or: backups for newbies)

You may or may not have noticed (probably the latter) that I haven’t posted anything in the last few months. It’s not because I had nothing to say, it’s because the account running this blog was hacked and I needed to migrate to a new server.

I kept my WordPress installation up-to-date, kept my plugins up-to-date, and used strong passwords (randomly generated letters, numbers, and symbols). Then one day I received an email from my webhost saying my account was suspended for spam.

Shocked, I discovered that scripts were running on my account which (in the webhost’s words) gained access to my cPanel account and were using that to send spam emails. Even more annoying, I was on vacation at the time and couldn’t do a whole lot about it. Try configuring websites from a cell phone, it’s more annoying than you think 🙂

These days, it’s not enough to assume that keeping everything up to date will save you from security breaches. You have to assume that someday, you’ll need a backup copy of your website. It could be a breach at the web host administration level, not via your account. It might even not be hacking, it could be that your hosting provider goes out of business. It could be that you end up at the front page of reddit.com and need to set up a mirror somewhere. In any case, it’s best to have a backup copy in your possession, and not rely on your webhost, though you can use that in addition to your personal copy.

As a side note: It’s best to purchase your domain names from one company, and your hosting from another company. That way you retain control of your domains in case of any disputes. If you do online business such as selling products or web design consulting, it’s likely to happen eventually 🙂

What good is a warning without a tutorial? If your hosting provider uses cPanel, here’s how you back up your WordPress (or other) web site:

  1. Log in to cPanel. You should be greeted with a screen similar to the following:

  1. Click on that button that says “Backups”

3. Click on “Download a Home Directory Backup”, then click on “Download a mySQL Database Backup”. You’ll have to click each database separately.

4. Click on each individual link under “Download Email Forwarders” and “Download Email Filters”.

5. Copy the files you’ve downloaded to a safe place. I personally use Dropbox since they’re stored both on my computer and a separate online location.

6. Every week, download the Home Directory and all mySQL databases again. I recommend you put a repeating reminder in Google Calendar to do this.

You might wonder why I suggest downloading each part individually instead of “Generate a Full Website Backup”:

  • Your Home Directory and Databases will change constantly, as you upload new posts (with pictures) and users comment on your site. It’s rare that you constantly add Email Forwarders or Filters, so you only need to back them up when you edit them. Also those generally don’t get hacked, unlike the first two.
  • Second, having them as separate files means in the event of problems, you can restore what you need by clicking those “Upload” buttons to the right.

I recommend keeping multiple versions of your backups, in case your account is compromised and you don’t notice it for a while. Assuming you haven’t upgraded WordPress or changed themes since, you can compare files (diff) to see what has changed.

I’ve been designing and maintaining websites since 1996, and my average time with a good web hosting provider is 3-4 years, with a bad one it’s a few months. Sometimes the good providers eventually get bought out or sell their company, or raise their prices. But hey, as long as you can restore your sites from backups, why worry about that?

Please excuse the horrible image annotations 🙂

Overcoming Conventionality: The World Domination Summit

When I was telling people I was driving 12 hours to Portland for a conference named the “World Domination Summit“, they were like…what?

  • “Is this some personal development thing?” (my friends know I attend Steve/Erin Pavlina conferences regularly) Sort of.
  • “You mean, like Tony Robbins?” Hell no, in those kinds of events people jump up and down like monkeys, only to have the energy dissipate a week later, forcing you to sign up for the next program so you can another whiff of the crack pipe. [Note, real crack may be cheaper].
  • “Is it a travel conference?” There are travelers there, but not everyone is one.
  • “Is it a business networking thing?” Some do, but many don’t have a business.

So what was it? It could be best described by the conference theme:
“How do we live a remarkable life in a conventional world?”

Basically, it was a weekend full of inspiring speeches, practical breakout sessions ranging from connecting socially to volunteering abroad to travelhacking to entrepreneurship. What was probably more important than the actual content was the people that you’re surrounded with–after all, anyone who self-selected themselves into attending such an event is probably an interesting person worth talking to.

The following are notable quotes and ideas…the random-stream-of-consciousness version. If you want coherence, go find another blogger :p

  • Brene Brown: “Being you is usually uncool”. When we try to be cool, we end up not being open to connecting to people. Your experience is based on how willing you are to be vulnerable; because after all how can you love someone if you demand that they love you back? If you overprepare to try to not be vulnerable (like create all sorts of backup contingency plans), then joy becomes foreboding.
  • Susan Cain + Jonathan Fields on Introverts: “Conviction is more important than loudness.” Individuals who brainstorm by themselves have better ideas than group brainstorming. Because people tend to be influenced by the most assertive people AND they think they thought of the idea on their own.
  • Breakout Session on Getting Unstuck: “Our experiences reveal the truths we need to learn about themselves”
  • Breakout Session on Doing Anything: “Are you telling a good story about your life? Or just telling a story about sitting on your computer and reading other people’s blogs?” The gap between doing something and not doing anything is small.
    • Personal Sidenote: At the place I was staying I met someone whose goal was to travel from Canada to South America via bicycle. When asked on how he did it, he said he just got on a bike and started pedaling. Really, how hard can it be to actually take meaningful steps toward your goals?
  • Scott Belsky: New idea syndrome is when we get very inspired and passionate about an idea, but then never see it through to completion, but just start a new idea. Failure points include:
    • The gravitational force of organizations (real world distraction). The feel of being disorganized. Lack of accountability. Lack of leadership capability. Lack of feedback exchange.
    • To solve this, overcome reactionary stream of emails/texts/etc and create windows of non-stimulation. Measure the value of a meeting in actionable steps
  • Chris Brogan: “The opposite of fear is not courage or bravery, it’s giving up?” How does fear play into your identity? Batman put on a bat mask because he was scared of them. Spiderman saves the world but can’t get laid. Professor  X maintains community but is physically weak.
    • It’s not who you say you are, it’s what you do. You’re a writer as soon as you actually write, others just fake it. (Note: This is quite easy to fake).
  • Cal Newport: Steve Jobs said to ‘follow your passion’. Steve Jobs was wrong. He didn’t study electrical engineering, he studied eastern philosophy and other subjects, fell into the computer business, and leveraged his computer business to gain the lifestyle attributes he wanted to have.
    • Get good at something that is rare and valuable, then leverage it to get the traits you want (such as fewer hours per week, more autonomy, etc).
  • J.D. Roth – Just say yes. Learn how to focus (so you have time to say yes). Action is character.
    • “People with dull lives often think their lives are dull by choice. In reality, everyone chooses more or less what kind of events happen to them by their conscious patterns of blocking and yielding.” – Keith Johnstone

What did I think about it? I have to admit, I was overwhelmed during the actual conference itself. Imagine a thousand people packed into an auditorium, the room buzzing with energy, ideas and excitement being thrown about. People talking everywhere, to the extend that the “Highly Sensitive Person” lounge was overrun by people bantering at its periphery. In fact, it was so overwhelming I almost didn’t want to come back next year. Last year there was only 500 people, and my friends who attended said it was much easier to make connections. While socializing was fun, one thing I noticed was people were running from one place to another trying to find someone else.

Although, one thing made it awesome for me: the unofficial events. Where smaller groups of attendees decided to throw a party on a rooftop, or visit a bookstore, or grab some donuts. I loved the smaller scale, interaction, and randomness of it all.

Of course, if you’re one of those super-outgoing-extroverted types then you’d love the main events with everyone packed into a theater to listen to the keynote speakers :p

What did I get out of it? I could point to such abstract, unqualifiable terms like “fun” and “inspiration”, but here you are reading this new blog, so that’s a concrete result. I could have spent days trying to figure out some fancy theme and design, but it’s better to get started now and refine later. After all, what world dominator doesn’t have some sort of media platform?

At the end of the conference, the organizers gave each attendee a $100 bill to do something. Some ideas that others floated around included charity and launching businesses. I know what I’m doing, but you’ll have to wait 🙂

P.S. I love Portland. From yummy random food carts to local beers to cute hipster girls. If only the weather stayed nice year round…

Random late-night food cart!

Tired of Facebook? Try Blogging!

Once upon a time (okay, the year 2000), I ran a blog. Back when WordPress and other point-and-click tools weren’t very popular, and I ended up hacking together a weblog and commenting system using php3. But then I stopped writing.

What happened? Xanga, Livejournal, and eventually Facebook. The ease of writing without having to worry about comment spam or technical things. A built-in friends “list” that ensured that people would see my posts without having to worry about RSS readers (heck, even in 2012 people don’t even know what those are). Shorter “status updates” meant I didn’t have to post anything meaningful (cultural junk food, yay). So I let this blog die, and joined the crowd.

But then the complaints started. Facebook opened up to the general public beyond college campuses. Your mommy friended you. You’ve collected 1500 friends and you don’t even remember who half of them are. You realize that you can’t see your friends statuses because Facebook filtered them out thinking they were “unimportant”. Privacy settings don’t stick, or have gotten so fine-grained you can’t stalk* that cute girl’s pictures anymore. The interface has gotten so convoluted you stopped caring. Fucking Timeline.

*As an aside, looking at someone’s profile, even repeatedly, doesn’t constitute “stalking”. If it’s posted it in a public forum, it’s there to be read. (Someone told me the exact same thing while quoting my posts in 2001).

So what would you do? Google+? Sure, if you like talking in an empty room.

I’ve gone full circle, returning to the medium where I first started. What are key advantages of blogging instead of Facebook:

  • You have full control over what you choose to post. There are no ads on your site, and nobody’s making money off your “profile”. By the way, I suggest putting fake info in your Facebook profile to “fool” the data miners. I wasn’t born in Detroit, but Facebook thinks that.
  • You can post longer, more meaningful things, instead of short status updates or “notes” nobody ever reads because they get drowned by pictures of your hotter, more popular friends.
  • Your data is your own, and can never be destroyed. Hey, whatever happened to all your info on Friendster?
  • You can choose a theme or even a different identity for your own site. No my name isn’t Elemental, but here I want the message to stand out more than the messenger.

Of course, there are downsides:

  • If your friends don’t know how to use RSS readers, they probably won’t visit your site that often. Big deal, my friends can message me for a “status update”, preferably over steak and beer.
  • You’ll have to manage comments. There are blog plugins and external services for that, which I’ll cover later.
  • All  your posts are public. Then again, all your posts on Facebook are public anyway. What, you have nicely organized “friends lists” and  you switch privacy settings for each post? How cute, just give a mutual friend a reason to post on someone’s wall in your presence (invite her to a party!) and assuming they’re on different “lists”, you can see what was hidden to you before.

Also, relying on Facebook to defend your privacy is pointless, as if you get involved in a lawsuit, any half-competent lawyer can force you to log into your own account (therefore bypassing any privacy settings) and record everything as evidence in a trial. So, you might as well post publicly anyway, being more cognizant of what you say.

So now that you’re convinced (let’s assume the sale), you have two tasks ahead of you:

  • Create a blog — It’s not hard, go to Blogger or WordPress. If you want to create your own website (for even more control), I’ll cover that in a future post. Ideally, you’d be installing WordPress software onto your own server.
  • Exchange addresses of your blogs with your friends. Add all of their sites to a RSS reader like Google Reader. Consider helping promote them by adding them to a links section of your site. Speaking of which, I’d be happy to swap links if I know you.

Society is a joke. Live accordingly. It’s one of my key beliefs in life. Taking control of your own social networking is just one of many ways to do that.