The Wonders of Public Schools, Chapter 27

Daughter’s classroom is writing documents using Google Docs/Spreadsheets/Drive/etc. So when the kids need to work on them at home, does the teacher tell the kids to just sign in from home? No. Instructions were to export to .docx, save to thumb drive, then expect parents to have MS Office at home to edit.


I Don’t Read Fiction

I don’t read fiction.

There, I said it.

The statistics show I’m not all that different than the average American.

I didn’t say that I don’t read. In fact, at any given moment I’m in the middle of at least one nonfiction book, with several more on deck. Right now I have two unread books in my Kindle library along with six unopened bits of nonfiction book reading of the dead-tree variety.

Why no fiction, Aaron? Why do you hate stories?

I don’t hate made-up stories. I enjoy my stories in other forms. I’ll watch them on Netflix. I’ll read the occasional bit of fiction online. I’ll read the press releases from PETA[1].

I’ve never read any Harry Potter books. I’ve never read the Lord of the Rings. Am I missing something beyond water cooler conversation topics? There’s value in that… but…

Diary of a Part-Time Indian…why would I spend my time on fiction and fantasy when there are lots of “real” nonfiction things that I can learn and study and use? If I get pleasure from reading a book of Scott Adams’ thoughts on the world would I gain more pleasure or have more benefits from reading about a hobbit or a wizard or such?

Maybe. I don’t know.

I mentioned this to my friend Justin earlier this week and within an hour he gifted me the Kindle version of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

I have no idea what this book is about, but I trust my friend so I’m going to read it.

Will it lead to reading more fiction? Maybe. I’m totally okay with either a yes or a no answer to this question. But I’m pretty sure that my nonfiction world makes me some sort of aberration among my normal circles.

Is that so wrong?

  1. Sorry, easy target. But seriously, WTF?  ↩

Ambition and Passion

I made this comment in a private chat with someone and she suggested it should be shared to a wider audience:

Ambition/passion for something is essential. It might not be something that I’m passionate about, but folks that don’t have that drive for something, well, they bore me.

Facebook as the Walmart of the Internet

I’ve been thinking about Facebook lately. The recent Instagram terms of service kerfluffle reinvigorated my thinking, and this week’s events have made it clear that Instagram is definitely operating as Facebook at this point.

I’m thinking that in many ways, Facebook has become the Walmart of the internet[1].


Walmart attempts to be the store with everything. Whether you need groceries, clothing, toys, or ammunition, your local Walmart has it. They won’t have as broad of a selection as a specialty store for any of these things, and the staff won’t be as knowledgeable, but they’ve got enough to get by.

Facebook attempts to be a self-contained version of the internet. They’ll let you send messages, chat in real-time, share photos, play games, buy things, and write lengthy notes/posts. None of these features offers the same breadth of options or flexibility as dedicated websites or apps that perform similar functions, and I wish you luck on getting any help if things go wrong, but they do have a basic set of tools to interact online.

Walmart has a reputation for moving into towns, building a big store, and offering good-enough goods at a lower price than local retailers, causing some of those local retailers to go out of business. Facebook has expanded into some new areas, offerering good-enough software that has made it difficult for some niche software players to compete.

Walmart restricts some material from being sold in its stores, with a history of only stocking “sanitized” media where offensive language or themes have been removed. Facebook has a history of restricting topics of discussion, at times drawing the ire of groups such as breastfeeding mothers when some photos have crossed Facebook’s line of acceptable content.

Walmart’s position in the retail world allows it to do as it pleases, with employees, consumers, and suppliers stuck with the results. When there’s a public relations flare-up about a particular move, Walmart will back down a bit, but not entirely, leaving customers in a worse position while still appearing to save face[2].

Facebook’s position in the social networking space allows it to do as it pleases, with users and advertisers trailing along as Facebook chooses the path. If there’s a big outcry about something, Facebook will back off slightly, leaving users with something worse than before but not quite as bad as originally feared. This week’s Instagram changes are a good example, where the most offensive language has been removed from the terms of service but users are still left in a position with more of their content and personal data being subject to uncontrollable third party use[3].

Small businesses close, suppliers lose control, and consumers lose choices as Walmart moves forward.

Users lose privacy of their information, Facebook becomes more intrusive across the web as developers depend on its API, and Facebook is able to force unpopular changes upon its users as it strives for increased revenue.

It’s Not All Negative

Walmart and Facebook aren’t entirely bad.

It seems that that Walmart has a “low prices regardless of what we have to do to get there” mantra, and low prices mean that lower-income families can often stretch a dollar farther by shopping at a Walmart store.

Facebook’s attempt to bring a wide range of internet services onto their virtual property means that less-tech-savvy users are able to participate in a broad set of online experiences without having to discover, set up, and learn a variety of distinct independent web services.

I know good people who work for Walmart and make interesting things such as Walmart’s new mobile in-store shopping app. I’ve met and talked with smart Facebook employees who do good things like contribute Facebook code back to open source projects.

There Are Alternatives

For most people, there are alternatives to shopping at Walmart. One can choose to patronize a local business or a different chain store that might engage in less aggressive practices. Low prices are often the only factor that might seemingly lock someone into Walmart.

Plenty of web services offer alternatives to Facebook. Whereas price locks a small number of folks to Walmart, the overwhelming percentage of internet users that are on Facebook is the lock-in factor for the big social network.

If you’re not among the demographic where Walmart’s prices or locations are the only option by which you can survive, there are choices. Many consumers actively refuse to patronize Walmart based on the business’ practices, even though those consumers might pay a few dollars more for their merchandise.

If your internet friends and associates know how to use computers beyond Facebook, there are choices. These choices often provide more privacy and control of your data. Independent blogging platforms, photo hosting services, game systems, and other such applications and utilities are available for your use, even though your ability to connect with others might require a bit more time or effort than if you’d chosen to use Facebook.

Much like retail customers can take a stand against Walmart’s business practices by shopping elsewhere, internet users can take a stand against Facebook’s business practices by choosing not to share their personal information, text, photos, and time on the website.

My Position

I’m fortunate in that I don’t feel dependent on Facebook’s services. I’ve maintained a personal profile there, and have a couple business pages setup for two arms of my photography ventures.

From a personal standpoint, I’m mostly connected with folks on Facebook that I already engage with in other places online: blog comments, Twitter, Google+, instant messages, or topical communities. There are a handful of folks who I follow on Facebook that to my knowledge don’t have any other meaningful internet presence. It’s these few connections that trouble me the most about my Facebook social graph… do I maintain these relationships with others purely at the whim of Mark Zuckerberg?

From a business angle, to my knowledge I’ve never booked a new client nor sold a print based on Facebook activity. I’ll admit that I haven’t expended a large amount of effort on Facebook marketing, but for the time invested I’ve seen far more benefit from other marketing activities. I do realize that ongoing Facebook presence holds some networking and marketing value even if I can’t directly trace a specific client or deal to Facebook.

I don’t agree with how Facebook conducts business, so I’m going to choose not to use their services. Tonight I’ll share this article over there and encourage folks to connect with me in other places. Over the next few days, I’ll delete my now-unused Instagram account (I’m continuing to share photography on Flickr and Google+). I’ll be reviewing my Facebook friends list to ensure that I’m following folks elsewhere. Once I’ve reviewed my connections, I’ll shut down my Facebook account.

There might be a vital reason why someone chooses to shop at Walmart or actively use Facebook and Instagram. Given that I don’t have any of those reasons, I’ll be patronizing outfits whom I can feel better about.

  1. I’m not the first to use this phrase. John Sanchez did so in August 2010 and Tiffany Prince used it in August 2012. I think my take is a little different.  ↩

  2. a recent example would be adding a layaway fee, then reducing said fee after an outcry  ↩

  3. here’s a quick summary, one of many articles in the news  ↩

Announcing Splat Photo

Splat PhotoI’d like to announce Splat Photo a new website-based venture I’ve started to focus on information for today’s connected photographer.

Splat Photo will be the home for all of my photography-related writing and resources, including, but not limited to:

* Commentary on industry trends
* Reviews of photo-related products and services
* Information on photography events

In short, photo-related things that would’ve been published here will now be found at Splat Photo. I will also be increasing the amount of photography articles published.

If you’re following me for photography things (either as an amateur or pro), you’ll want to follow Splat Photo.

Head over to Splat Photo – better yet, subscribe via RSS or email for my photography writing and other related information.

Doing the Theme Work

I’m working on a new thing… and it needs a theme.

I’ve struggled with CSS, but I can learn.

I can read PHP.

I’m pretty damn good with the Google.

There’s no reason I can’t build the WordPress theme I have in my head other than the self-talk where I keep lying to myself and say that I can’t.

It’s time to sit down with _s and do the work.