Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for the ‘Best Of’ Category

Michael Duff says goodbye

Wrote a final column for the A-J, but it looks like they’re not gonna run it. Here it is anyway:

This will be my last column for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

In June 2008, I tried to brand this as an “Internet culture” column and explain how this space would be different from the cacophony of technology columns that were here before me.

The media was already full of people doing industry profiles and product reviews. I wanted to focus on the big picture, to take a moment each week and appreciate things that were threatening to pass us by.

New products are changing the way we communicate and the way we treat each other, but it’s all happening so fast, nobody has time to think about it. We’re so busy using these new toys, we haven’t stopped to consider the benefits of instant communication or the dangers of overexposure.

The A-J gave me the opportunity to do that, week after week, in a format that gave me tremendous freedom. It helped me prove myself as a writer and create a voice that I’ll be using for the rest of my professional life.

I have to take a moment and thank Terry Greenberg for launching a series of new feature columns in 2007. I have to thank Shelly Gonzales for helping me navigate the treacherous legal and ethical waters of modern journalism. And I have to thank Bill Kerns for pleading my case and treating me like a human being when I walked up to his desk with a manuscript in my hand.

I want to thank Beth Pratt and Karen Brehm for their consistent encouragement and feedback, and most of all I have to thank the copy editors who learned when to save me from myself and when to leave me alone. Special thanks to Leanda, and Glenys, and Leesha, and James for fixing my unquoted movie titles and removing a thousand Oxford commas.

The Avalanche-Journal has been very good to me. I’ll always be grateful for the opportunities I had and the friends I made here.

I didn’t slaughter as many sacred cows as I wanted to, but I was always able to poke them with sticks. I was trying to think back to my “proudest moment” in these pages but all I can remember is the fun stuff.

I remember abusing senior citizens in Grand Theft Auto and requesting help from Batman when my phone got stolen. I remember taking shots at Nick Denton and interviewing a Peggy Olson impersonator on Twitter.

I once described my job as “explaining the Internet to people who hate the Internet,” but I hope that description isn’t as true as it used to be. I hope the technophobes in the audience were able to read this column every week and come away with a bit more respect for technology and the people who use it.

I hope you read this column and decided to be nicer to people on blogs and forums. I hope you read this column and felt a little bit smarter each week, even when I was writing about things you never heard of before.

I hope you gained a bit more respect for video games and video gamers. I hope you learned to be a bit more careful with what you shared on Facebook, and I hope you learned to forgive people who shared too much.

I hope the people conducting job interviews learned to forgive candidates who left inappropriate stuff on their public profiles, and I hope a few grandparents learned to use Facebook to get closer to their kids.

I can’t say where I’m headed next, but keep your eyes on www.michaelduff.net and feel free to follow me on Facebook or Google Plus.

I’d like to leave you with one last thought, to sum up what I’ve been trying to say for the past four years.

The Internet is the real world. The people are real, the commenters are real, the emotions are real, and the consequences are real.

Every comment, every blog post, and every video game avatar represents a real person, with their own set of quirks and vulnerabilities. We’re getting better at this whole “online communication” thing but we all have blind spots, and not everyone can express themselves well in this medium.

When in doubt, be nice. Don’t assume the worst about people, and don’t rise to the bait when people try to provoke you. Something about the Internet can make rational adults behave like spoiled children. Don’t let them get to you, and don’t let them drive you away.

The Internet is the future, and the future belongs to everyone.

Thank you for your attention and your feedback. I may not be in print anymore, but I’ll be around.

Written by Not Jaffo

September 2, 2011 at 04:32

Posted in Best Of, Columns

Hurricane Irene and the Broken Window Fallacy

Here it comes again, The Broken Window Fallacy.

I heard it just this morning, as a reporter for Fox News talked about the “economic stimulus” that would result from this hurricane. Paul Krugman has been beating this drum quite a bit lately, saying that America needs a disaster, a war, or even an alien invasion to “get the economy moving again.”

But destruction can’t create growth. Anyone who tells you otherwise has fallen for — or is trying to pull — the oldest trick in the book.

Let’s say I’m a shopkeeper who just had his window shattered by a little girl who was playing with a BB gun. Let’s call her “Irene.”

Irene shatters my window, so I have to pay the glass guy $250 to get it fixed.

Krugman and company will tell you that $250 becomes “stimulus,” but where did that $250 actually come from? I was planning to spend that money on a new suit, but now I have to fix my window instead.

The Keynesians are assuming that if Irene didn’t break my window, my $250 would just sit there forever, stuffed in my mattress for a rainy day. But I had plans for that $250. I wasn’t going to hoard it, I was going to spend it. If Irene hadn’t taken out my window, that money would have “stimulated” the clothing store instead.

Keynesians like to pretend that we’re all a bunch of crazy hoarders, rolling around in piles of unspent cash like Scrooge McDuck. But in a modern world, even saved money becomes part of the active economy. I don’t stuff my money in a mattress, I keep it in a bank, where it becomes capital for other people. My saved money is lent out to other businesses and used to finance productive investments.

Nothing is idle, nothing is wasted. When my window gets broken I have to withdraw $250 in saved capital and use it to replace something I already had. I can’t spend it on a suit, and the bank can’t loan it to their client who wants to open a restaurant. For the Broken Window theory to be true, you’d have to assume that I was holding $250 in cash and had no plans to spend it.

Just think about your own life. If someone broke your window tomorrow, would the repair cost come out of hoarded cash, or would you have to give up something else you wanted to buy?

We should feel bad for the people who lost property to Hurricane Irene because all the “stimulus” they’re about to spend on repairs was money they would have spent on clothes and cars and toys for their kids. Now all those plans are ruined, and they have to spend thousands of dollars just to replace things they already had.

This will certainly stimulate the construction industry, but what about the tailors and the auto makers and the toy stores who would have received that money instead?

Nothing good can come from destruction. Emergency spending doesn’t create wealth, it simply diverts resources that would have been spent on other things.

Hurricane Irene is a net loss for everybody, and it’s going to be a big one.

Written by Not Jaffo

August 28, 2011 at 15:27

Posted in Best Of, Politics

Jeff Jarvis starts a Twitter revolution with #fuckyouwashington

The first thing that went through my mind when I heard about Jeff Jarvis starting a revolution on Twitter tonight was “How the hell can I write a column about a #fuckyouwashington hashtag without using the word ‘fuck?’”

Then I saw somebody compare it to Howard Beale’s “I’m mad as hell” speech in Network. Have you watched that clip lately? The parallel is perfect. Howard doesn’t know what to do about crime, oil, or Russians, he’s just demanding that we do something.

The same thing is happening on Twitter right now. Nobody knows what to do about unemployment, corporatism, or the debt ceiling, they just want everybody to get mad about it right now!

Watch the tag for a while and you’ll notice that half of these tweets contradict the other half. Half the protesters think we should solve this by going hard right, the other half think we should solve it by going hard left.

But Washington is gridlocked because America is gridlocked. The outrage on Twitter is random and unfocused because there are actually three different kinds of anger at work here.

First, we have left and right anger, the friction you would expect when you have 30% pulling right, 30% pulling left and 40% stuck in the undecided middle.

But there is another kind of anger layered on top of that. The right wing guys aren’t really behaving like right wing guys and the left wing guys aren’t really behaving like left wing guys.

Republicans who were sent to Congress to cut spending and fight corruption are proposing half-measures and rolling over for the very people they were sent there to oppose. And this anger started long before the 2010 congress. Obama didn’t start the bank bailouts, Bush did. The incredible ramp in deficit spending started with Bush, too.

Obama ran as a hard left populist champion, promising to rise above corporate influence and bring the troops home. Now he’s starting new wars and raking in banker cash with both hands.

So there’s our third heat. The right can’t make things go right and the left can’t make things go left. Increasingly, Washington is working from a set of priorities that have no connection to the will of the people.

If the country was going consistently right or left, at least 30% of the voters would be happy. But we’re in the middle of a serious recession and our politicians seem to be broadcasting from another planet.

Every day they go on TV to stoke the fear, scaring us with words like “crisis” and “default,” each demanding that we blame the other side.

That part is working. Americans are angry and afraid. You told us there was a crisis and we believe you. But we’re not blaming “the other side” — we’re blaming everybody.

Thirty percent of voters will blame the left for anything that goes wrong and 30% will blame the right, but 40% in the middle are ready to blame both of you.

Playing political games with loaded issues is nothing new, but this time everybody knows it’s a game. Voters aren’t stupid. They’re watching cable and reading blogs. They’re listening to talk radio and swapping conspiracy theories on Facebook.

Everybody knows you guys are running the clock out, waiting for the next election. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t go on TV to scare the shit out of us every day and then expect us to wait patiently for 2012.

You can’t use words like “urgent” and “crisis” and then waste our time with Kabuki theater.

Either the situation is urgent and needs to be solved now, or it’s all just an act that can wait for 2012. This isn’t 1954, gentlemen. The voters are on to you now. We know you’re playing a game and we know you’re using us as chess pieces.

That’s why #fuckyouwashington is trending on Twitter. We’re tired of being pawns.

Every politician in Washington needs to pay attention to this outrage and remember who they’re working for.

Written by Not Jaffo

July 24, 2011 at 03:57

Posted in Best Of, Politics, Twitter

Google joins battle for soul of the Internet with Google Plus

Google launched a limited beta of their new social networking service last week, and was quickly overwhelmed with traffic as eager alpha geeks rushed to find something, anything that would liberate them from Facebook.

Love it or hate it, Facebook has now become the Internet. It’s the most popular site in the world, a one-stop shop for personal messaging, public discussion, political activism and link swapping worldwide.

Google’s new service is called Google Plus, and if you followed Google’s previous attempts at social networking, I won’t blame you for being skeptical. Google Buzz was a disaster and Google Wave broke my heart. Google Plus is starting with a better design philosophy than Facebook did, but even if they do everything right, it’s going to be an uphill battle all the way.

The Internet is basically entering its third evolution now, as expectations become more complex and the last few stragglers make it part of their daily lives.

Phase One was just about finding stuff. In the early days, Yahoo could fit the whole Internet in a series of link lists. Early users jumped on the Internet to find news, trade tech articles, and fight with a self-selected group of early adopters on Usenet.

Phase Two was about sharing stuff. Google made search engines reliable and fast, so the Internet became more about connecting with people and sharing links with friends.

Google won the battle for Phase One and Facebook won the battle for Phase Two.

Now we come to Phase Three. We know how to search and we know how to share, but now we’ve got so much crap coming at us 24 hours a day, even moderate users are drowning in status updates. We’ve got so many “friends” interacting with us in so many different contexts, we can’t just lump them all into one stream anymore.

Phase Two was about making connections. Phase Three will be about managing them.

Google Plus is built around the concept of Circles. Every friend you add to the service must be added to a circle. Plus starts with a set of recommended categories: Friends, Family and Acquaintances. Most people will immediately add a circle for work, then they’ll make a circle for “Super Friends” – the eight or nine people in the world they can share everything with.

This is the function I’ve been waiting for, the function I’ve been screaming about in this column for the past two years.

Facebook is great but modern people don’t just have one face. I follow about 300 people on Facebook and each one of those people follows me for a different reason. Some of them like the columns, some of them like my political rants, some of them knew me in high school, and some of them have known me all my life.

But the people who like the columns don’t necessarily care about politics, and the people who knew me in high school don’t necessarily like what I write. I always feel a little guilty when I post to Facebook because I know any post that appeals to ten people is likely to annoy ten others.

With Google Plus I get to make the choice, and since everybody else is free to make their own categories, too, they can choose what box to put me in. This concept is so simple, I can’t believe Facebook has botched it so badly. Facebook has lists and sharing restrictions but they’re almost impossible to use.

Human interaction occurs in context, but Facebook’s one-stream-fits-all approach encourages people to ignore that context, leading to embarrassing, even disastrous consequences. The people who follow my column are nice, but they don’t need to see status updates when I go on vacation.

My friends love me, but they don’t all agree with my politics. A link that would be catnip for economics nerds might seem boring or even insulting to them. Forcing your political opinions on strangers isn’t just rude; it’s dangerous.

Interactions in the workplace occur in a very specific social context. It was bad enough when all we had to worry about was offending people, but now the things you share at work may be a violation of federal law. In this climate you’re not just protecting yourself when you segregate your social networks, you’re protecting your boss and your co-workers from things they really don’t want to know.

Google and Facebook have just entered into a steel-cage death match for the soul of the Internet. Can Google Plus gain market share before Facebook copies their best feature? My instincts say no. I think it will be easier for Facebook to add Circles than it will be for Google to steal its users.

I think we’re up against the Grandma Factor. Facebook has become so ubiquitous, even Grandma is using it. Will parents and grandparents be willing to follow their kids to a new platform?

I’m guessing no, but maybe that’s a Plus for you.

Written by Not Jaffo

July 1, 2011 at 02:56

Posted in Best Of, Facebook, Google

A Tribute to James Royal Berry (1967-1999)

Royal Berry should have turned 44 yesterday, but we lost him at 31.

I can’t say we were close friends, but he left such an impression on me, I feel like there should be something on the Internet to mark his passing, something more than a formal obituary.

An obituary can’t capture the best things about Royal because Royal was a geek — one of the most brilliant, creative, hardworking examples of geekdom I have ever seen.

Royal was a whirling dervish of creative energy. He had that indefinable “thing” that turns men into entrepreneurs and captains of industry. He had the essential courage of a small businessman, the fierce desire to try new things and make money on his own terms.

In the late ’80s he made a BBS game called “The Pit” — one of the first BBS games to feature color graphics and PVP combat. In Lubbock I believe it was THE first, based on a highly addictive gladiatorial arena model. I did some writing for Royal, back in the day, and I frequently wish I could go back and do it better.

I was a bit in awe of Royal back then, but I didn’t really understand him, and I didn’t know enough about video games to really understand what he needed.

The world had just discovered “Doom” and “Castle Wolfenstein.” Royal was experimenting with 3-D graphics, grappling with concepts that were a decade away from mainstream popularity.

Royal was always a bit ahead of his time, and we lost him right before the world got interesting. I can only imagine what he would have done with iPads, smart phones and an app store full of mobile games.

Royal was also my first Game Master — the guy who took me through my first dungeon crawls and taught me the unique mix of discipline and storytelling that makes a good DM.

That’s what I remember most — the incredible wit and energy that Royal brought to gaming. He brought characters to life and ruled the table with an iron fist. As Dungeon Master he was wicked and merciless and terrifying. I liked to run soft, cooperative games that coddled players and fudged things in their favor.

Royal was my opposite — random, heartless and utterly unpredictable. He never cheated, he never fudged, and he was never blatantly cruel, but he was as impartial and uncaring as the big bad world itself.

He inspired genuine respect and genuine fear as we huddled around the table, knowing our characters could die at any moment, at the mercy of rules and dice.

I admired Royal as a programmer and an entrepreneur, but looking back, what I miss most is having him at the head of that table, performing for a crowd of happy gamers — juggling six different kinds of intrigue, intercepting secret notes, and unleashing plot twists that kept us all on the edge of our seats.

One of my favorite memories from high school was a roleplaying “duel” we fought to settle a bet between two groups of rival gamers. We built it up like the Superbowl and spent weeks trash talking each other beforehand.

We planned an epic battle between a dozen characters and “hired” Royal to adjudicate. This is my favorite memory of Royal because we really did treat him like a Judge. This was a fight between two camps of mortal enemies but there was one thing we could all agree on — we knew we could trust Royal Berry to handle it right.

We didn’t use the word “integrity” back then, but we knew even in this silly context that James R. Berry was a man of honor.

I wish I had known him better. If I’d been a little less intimated by him, we could have been better friends.

The world will remember James Berry as a programmer, an entrepreneur and an online gaming pioneer, but I miss Royal the trickster, Royal the storyteller, Royal the entertainer — cracking jokes and rolling dice with a twinkle in his eye.

Happy birthday, Royal. We miss you.

Written by Not Jaffo

June 2, 2011 at 11:45

Posted in Best Of

Is America still good enough for Superman?

D.C. Comics stirred up controversy all over the Net last week when Superman promised to renounce his American citizenship.

It happened in Action Comics #900, in a story written by David S. Goyer. In it, Superman joins a group of pro-democracy demonstrators in Iran, creating an international incident. Iran claims he’s acting as an official representative of the U.S. government and calls it an act of war.

The story opens with Superman getting scolded by the president’s National Security Advisor. Superman accepts the rebuke and says he can no longer tolerate having his actions associated with the U.S. government. He declares his intention to appear before the U.N. and renounce his citizenship.

Superman reminds us that he’s an alien and should therefore look at the “bigger picture.” He says, “I’m tired of having my actions construed as instruments of U.S. policy.”

This story can be interpreted in two ways. The first (most charitable) interpretation is that Superman is giving up his citizenship for our own good. He wants to protect America from the consequences of his actions. Viewed in this light, renouncing his citizenship can be seen as Superman acting in America’s best interests.

But most comic readers, and most people who hear the news, are not going to interpret it that way.

There is a very ugly subtext in this story. Superman is essentially “getting in trouble” for doing the right thing. The U.S. is ready to declare him an enemy of the state. When he first lands at Camp David, a Marine sniper is pointing a Kryptonite bullet at his head.

Kryptonite bullets aimed at Superman's head

This is not a pro-America story. People are reacting to it emotionally because Superman is a powerful symbol – a distinctly American symbol, carried forward into another time.

There are a lot of cultural forces in conflict here. I’m fascinated by this story because it’s a great example of how our culture has changed since Superman was introduced.

There are two big trends driving this story. First, my generation is obsessed with the idea of bringing comic book heroes into the adult world. Comic book films are a billion-dollar industry, and modern comic books aren’t really aimed at kids anymore.

Superman vs. HitlerThe second trend is more cultural. Superman is a Modern Age hero, but we’re living in a postmodern century. Superman came from a world of sharp contrasts and clear lines, when good was good and evil was evil – a four-color hero making black and white choices.

But that world is long gone. Even in childhood, our national fairy tales have been replaced by lessons about moral ambiguity. Our kids are trained to accept all cultures equally, to consider all perspectives and feel sympathy for underdogs.

Our parents and grandparents were taught to worship America. Modern kids are trained to question America – to look for chinks in our national armor and focus on America’s mistakes.

But Superman wasn’t made for this world. He was made for an older, simpler world where America was always right and its enemies were always wrong.

Modern storytellers have done amazing work, redefining old-fashioned heroes for a postmodern world. The shelves are full of outstanding books based on this contrast, from Mark Waid’s “Kingdom Come” to Brad Meltzer’s “Identity Crisis.”

But Goyer’s story doesn’t strike the same note with me. It feels ham-handed and coarse – turning Superman into a political creature in a way he was never meant to be.

Goyer’s presentation of Superman as an alien isn’t just a postmodern conceit, it’s a betrayal of the character. Superman’s story is an immigrant’s story – an old-fashioned immigrant story lifted straight from the ’20s and ’30s.

He came to America as a child and adopted our values. In those days, that’s what America was – a set of values that anyone could adopt. It didn’t matter where you came from; if you were willing to work hard, play fair and deal honorably with your fellow man, you could wear the label “American” and be part of something that was bigger than any national identity.

Superman was the ultimate symbol of this transformation, proof that anyone could come from tragedy and ascend to greatness. But now America has changed. Our perception of America has changed.

Modern children don’t see America as a set of values anymore. Today America is just another nation on the map — no better, and often much worse, than the others. Superman is an unambiguous symbol of good, and a good hero can’t represent an evil country.

That’s the statement I think Goyer is making in Action Comics 900. America isn’t good enough for Superman anymore. How can he stand for “Truth, justice and the American Way” when we can’t even define what the American Way is?

The concept of an American Way has been swept aside, replaced by a postmodern muddle of guilt and shame. I understand the temptation to throw stones at DC Comics, but I would rather use this as the springboard for a larger discussion.

Does superhero morality really belong in the adult world? Can we see America in context and still be proud of it? Can we admit our mistakes and still celebrate our virtues? Is patriotism a feeling we must “grow out of” as we study history?

I think there’s still room for an American Way in the 21st century. I think we can celebrate America without ignoring history, and I think there’s still room for patriotism in the American heart – not the blind, childish patriotism of our youth, but a mature, adult patriotism that keeps America in context and takes honest pride in what we’ve done.

Written by Not Jaffo

May 6, 2011 at 19:32

Posted in Best Of, Comics, Politics

Sympathy for the Monster – Why we’re all gonna miss Nick Denton

The New Yorker ran a profile of one of my favorite people on Monday and the whole Internet is talking about it.

No, that’s not true. A subset of media-obsessed digerati are talking about it, and I’m following about a hundred of them on Twitter. So I have seen a thousand posts about Nick Denton this week and I expect to see people quoting this article for years.

Ben McGrath has written an awesome piece here — a (relatively gentle) biography of a transformative media figure. It’s not a puff piece or a hit piece; it’s just journalism – an honest portrait of a guy who has taken the “mean and mysterious” thing about as far as it can go.

I’ve been following Denton for years, since Gawker was just a cheeky blog about New York. I always thought he was creating the future of journalism, but this piece has showed me something else. Gawker is still the future of journalism, but that future will never quite arrive.

Any minute now Gawker will experience a perfect nanosecond where they are the world standard for digital journalism; then, an eyeblink later, some other site will leave them behind.

Nick Denton is one of those people who seemed destined to change the world; but the world does not change for nice people. McGrath’s article makes him sound like a charming sociopath, like there’s an alternate Nick Denton out there somewhere, collecting victims in the back of a white van.

Denton is an agent of change, like a forest fire burning away dead wood. And if your reputation gets caught in the blaze, well, that’s just what fires do.

A random quote from Denton reminded me of something in my favorite book. A mentor figure in “The Diamond Age” is devoted to the cultivation of subversiveness in the young. He’s worried that the children in his society have become too comfortable, too complacent, too accepting of authority.

He wants to create an educational program that will encourage the development of entrepreneurs — a new class of subversives who will create a better world by tearing the old one down. Nick Denton is the ultimate subversive – a natural subversive who revels in the destruction of old media, even as he craves attention from the giants who came before.

The most surprising thing in this piece is the sense that it’s all getting away from him. Gawker has become so successful, it can’t really be about New York anymore. Denton created this empire by pandering to his audience, giving them exactly what they want and ruthlessly rejecting anything that didn’t bring in traffic.

But Gawker’s new national audience doesn’t really care about New York anymore. The media figures that Denton loves to provoke are just a bunch of “Old White Men” to them. Denton’s latest attack on New York Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman got 6,000 hits. Candid photos of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg got 300,000.

Nick Denton is the Rupert Murdoch of digital media, but he can’t indulge personal obsessions on Gawker anymore. The readers are in charge now, and Nick is just along for the ride.

This is the real difference between old media and new media. People aren’t afraid of Nick Denton; they’re afraid of his readers. Old media is about what readers should want. New media is about what they actually want. And what they want is so raw, even Nick Denton sounds overwhelmed by it.

McGrath says, “Denton’s own writers live in constant dread of diminishing word counts and the inevitable dumbing down of the culture.”

“How things show up on Twitter, these days, matters more than the full text,” Denton says.

Nick Denton may be a monster, but he’s not the real enemy. He was just the first guy to see the shape of this, selling news to the invading army of Internet users, hungry for snark, gossip and celebrity flesh.

Denton’s successor won’t be a ruthless Brit with a soft spot for Spy Magazine. The next Nick Denton won’t even be human. The next generation of gossip sites will be soulless collections of algorithms and keywords, sucking in readers with laser-targeted bursts of text, precisely measured to match their attention spans.

I’m tipping my hat to the monster here because I remember what really made Gawker great; the one thing McGrath leaves out of his profile. Nick Denton built his empire on voices. Gawker conquered the Internet because Nick Denton has the best “ear” for writing talent that I have ever seen.

The profiles treat them like interchangeable parts, but Denton’s empire was built on the writing talents of people like Elizabeth Spiers, Choire Sicha and Alex Balk – writers who brought the snark but kept that tiny bit of humanity that let you know you were still reading a real person. That personal touch is the difference between news and blogging and it’s that personal touch that kept readers coming back.

Denton has abandoned that strategy now. He doesn’t even measure repeat visitors anymore. There’s no time to form a personal relationship with a writer; no time for any of that sentimental nonsense, in this brave new world of big ads and unique visitors.

Nick Denton is at the mercy of his readers, and now so are we, as the “golden age” of blogging makes way for a new kind of industrial revolution.

People love to hate Nick Denton, but we’re gonna miss him, when word counts shrink to character counts and writers are replaced by blade servers running Microsoft Snark.

Written by Not Jaffo

October 11, 2010 at 04:53

Internet Security 101

Here’s a quick overview of things you can do to make your computer safer. No computer on the Internet can be 100% safe, but following these basic guidelines will protect you from the majority of threats.

1. Buy a Mac — I’ll start with this one to avoid obvious jokes in the comments. Macs aren’t immune to security threats but most viruses are written for the PC, so Mac users are still safer, on average, than Windows users.

2. Get the latest Windows updates — Most Windows machines have these enabled by default, but it’s still worth a check. Check your Start Menu for an icon called “Windows Update” and make sure they’re set to automatically download and install updates as they come in. For example, I set my machine to check for updates and install them every morning at 3 a.m. Don’t worry about Optional updates, just let your system install everything that’s recommended.

If you haven’t done this before, you may have a long wait, as your system downloads all the big security updates and Service Packs. Don’t worry about it. Just let it run. It’s not hurting your system and it’s not uploading your email to Microsoft.

The bad guys are out there every day scanning for people who still have unpatched operating systems. Enabling Windows Updates is the first thing you should do to protect yourself, and surfing the web with an unpatched OS is the quickest way to get in trouble.

Those “Zombie computer” victims you hear about on the news? Most of those are people who didn’t update their operating systems.

If you haven’t let your computer get updates from Microsoft since you took it out of the box, you’re asking for trouble.

3. Get an antivirus program — Again, Windows is a lot better at this than it used to be. Windows Firewall is enabled by default and Windows Defender will protect users against the most common threats. But there are a dozen free and easy ways to upgrade your protection. Norton and McAfee still make good products but they tend to be expensive, invasive and complicated. There are some great free alternatives available now, and one of the best actually comes from Microsoft.

After 20 years of dubious efforts, Microsoft has finally aquired an antivirus solution that’s ready for prime time. Microsoft Security Essentials is simple, free and surprisingly effective. It runs quickly and doesn’t “take over your system” like Norton and McAfee.

Don’t get hung up on which antivirus program is the “best.” Each company has its own strengths and weaknesses and the title of “best” changes every few months. Just remember that something is better than nothing, and don’t try to run with more than one antivirus solution active at a time. If you try to install a new antivirus program before you uninstall the old one they’ll go to war with each other and screw up your system worse than an actual attack.

4. Stay out of bad neighborhoods — Internet security is a lot like real life security. If you want to stay out of trouble, don’t hang out with criminals and don’t walk around in bad neighborhoods after dark. Most Internet security measures are common sense. If you’re worried about keeping your computer safe, don’t go to porn sites and don’t download pirated software.

Illegal software has to be “cracked” to get past the copy protection and many of these cracks contain trojans and spyware. Media files are generally safer than executable programs, but some media files are “containers” that may try to install extra stuff or direct you to questionable web sites.

If you’re worried about security, play it safe. Buy your games and movies from reputable sites and don’t be seduced by the lure of free stuff. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.

5. Stop forwarding junk emails — This is a touchy subject but it’s time for some tough love. You know that VIRUS WARNING you just got in the mail? It’s probably a hoax. Don’t forward it to your kids. Just make sure you’ve updated your antivirus software and trust it to do its job. If you’re worried about it, go to Snopes.com and type some keywords from the email into their Search box. Nine times out of 10 Snopes will have an update that will explain what’s really going on.

I encourage everyone on the Net to bookmark and read Snopes.com. Sadly, 9 out of 10 forwards you see are lies. Virus warnings, patriotic speeches, political rumors — most of it is misleading, misattributed or simply made up out of whole cloth.

And frankly, mass forwarding email is kind of rude. Your friends and your kids are too polite to tell you, but most of us are overwhelmed by email and don’t appreciate having our work interrupted by another quote from Chicken Soup for the Soul. Consider moving that stuff to your Facebook Wall, where your audience can control when and how they see it.

Most of us have our email forwarding to mobile devices these days and we can’t tell the difference between an urgent message and a frivilous one.

6. Change the way you share links — If you’re worried about security and email spam, count to 10 and think carefully before you give your email address to anyone. Any time you click “Email this” and use a form to send someone a link, you’re giving that site permission to send you (and the recipient) advertising.

Even if the site is reputable and promises not to give your address to a 3rd party, the site itself can still send you advertising and make deals with “partners” that may not be so careful with your address.

Best to avoid that risk entirely and learn to cut and paste web addresses into email. Just go to the web site you want to share and right click on the address. Select “Copy” from the right-click menu and paste the address on Facebook or onto a fresh email.

It takes a bit longer, but you’re not giving away your email address, or anybody else’s, to someone who may abuse it.

For people who like to forward news stories, Facebook has a new feature that can simplify the process. All the major news sites now have Recommend buttons. This provides a great compromise for people who want to share news with friends without spamming their inboxes.

Putting links on your Facebook page is a great way to share stuff without forcing it on people. And using the Recommend button keeps the interruption to a minimum. But make sure you only do this on reputable news sites. Bad guys are already finding ways to hijack the Facebook buttons.

7. Manage your junk mail — Clients have gotten a lot better about containing spam lately, but it’s still a problem. If you’re using Microsoft Outlook, consider setting your Junk Email protection to “High.” You can find “Junk Email Options” in the Actions menu.

Be sure to keep an eye on your Junk Email folder for a few weeks after that. You may have to fish some people out and add them to your Safe Senders list, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

If you’re using Yahoo or MSN consider switching to Gmail. Gmail’s spam filter is the best on the market right now and Yahoo just isn’t cutting it anymore. I’ve had a Yahoo account for years, but recently I’ve seen a lot of dangerous stuff get through.

8. Protect your banking information — Never go to your banking site by clicking on a link in an email. Ever. I have never had a Paypal or a Chase bank account but I get emails every day pretending to be from Paypal and Chase asking me to log in and “verify my account.”

No matter how official the email looks, don’t click on these links. Instead, type the address of your bank directly into the browser or make a bookmark to it. A good email client can help protect you from these “phishing” links but smart attacks can always slip through.

As I said, most Internet security is common sense. I’ve been all over the Net, on all kinds of sites in the presence of all kinds of threats and I haven’t had a virus in 20 years.

Just keep your PC updated, run some basic antivirus software and stay out of bad neighborhoods. That should protect you from the worst of it.

If you’ve got your own security tips, or if you thought of something I missed, please share it in the comments.

Update: And before I forget, let me make sure and plug Glass Houses with Bert Knabe, who blogs about security for the A-J. Bert keeps up with the latest trends and talks about current security threats. I particularly like this recent one, “Is social media safe for work?

Written by Not Jaffo

October 5, 2010 at 10:52

John Perrin Facts

[I THINK most of these are original, but don't be too hard on me if I accidentally "repurposed" a Chuck Norris.]

John Perrin once beat Deep Blue at chess. But first, he taught it how to cry.

When he was 13, John Perrin challenged the Devil to a riddle contest. So any sins committed after 1994 are your own damn fault.

With a single handshake, John Perrin can determine the exact moment of your death, or change it.

Every morning, John Perrin composes a symphony, cooks a gourmet meal, and makes three crucial stock trades. On October 17, 1987 he overslept.

John Perrin is on 58 distinct government watch lists, but not as John Perrin.

John Perrin doesn’t browse the Internet. He remembers.

John Perrin is not the 14th Doctor. Yet.

John Perrin didn’t cause the flash crash, but something in his pocket did.

John Perrin knows an antidote to global warming, a limitless energy source, and a cure for cancer. The first one’s free.

John Perrin made a mistake once, but the dinosaurs forgave him.

No one knows John’s real last name. But his first name is “The.”

More at: I Don’t Believe in Luck – I Believe in John Perrin

Written by Not Jaffo

June 18, 2010 at 17:02

Posted in Best Of, Facebook

Fatlittlegirlfriend.com

I just got back from visiting Fatlittlegirlfriend.com.

You have to be careful, visiting an address like that. I’ll admit that I winced a bit as I typed it in, like I was anticipating a punch to the face.

But it really is a site about Mike Leach and his infamous “fat little girlfriends” quote from last week. A Web marketing guru named John-Michael Oswalt grabbed the domain name and put up a 10-second video clip of Leach offending the entire female population of Lubbock, Texas.

You can see local reaction in the comment section of Don Williams’ story, Leach not apologizing to ‘fat little girlfriends’. The majority of commenters (mostly men) are defending Leach, basically saying that a coach has to say provocative things like that and talk to players “on their level” to get their attention.

Women are outraged, of course. In 2009, “fat” is about the worst insult you can use on a woman. Leach didn’t create this problem, or the society that spawned it, but he’s leveraging the stereotype for all it’s worth, trying to shock his guys into paying attention.

I don’t really like or understand football, but I love football fans. I love the Texas Tech spirit, the kind of energy and enthusiasm you see in Raider Alley; the shared joy of a victory and the awesome power of fan participation, as they turned the stadium pink and joined the fight against breast cancer.

These fans are smart, angry and organized. And make no mistake, it’s women who do all the work. When I heard Leach’s quote last week, my first reaction was not anger, but anticipation. Tech fans have an awesome ability to turn insults into catch phrases, and I couldn’t wait to see what they did with this.

I even came up with a few T-shirt ideas, although John-Michael Oswalt beat me to it. I wanted to see the Tech women rise to the challenge and shove this back in Leach’s face. I imagined thousands of angry sorority girls wearing shirts that read, “Does this look fat to you?” Their boyfriends could wear the same slogan, with an arrow pointing to the right.

Or maybe they could try and take the word back, like so many minority groups have done. Would women let their boyfriends wear shirts that said, “She’s hot, she’s fat, and she’s mine?”

Probably safer to use JMO’s slogan, “Wreck ‘em Tech, proud home of the Fat Little Girlfriend.”

I was hoping for a formal response from the cheerleaders, but any cheer that started with “Give me an F” would probably end badly.

I was disturbed by Leach’s comment, not just because it was insulting, but because I was afraid women would take him seriously. I thought his comment was unfair because lying to men is a girlfriend’s job. Can you imagine a world where women told men the truth about everything? Where women honestly told men what they thought of their mental and physical capabilities? Our entire society would break down! Athletics, academia, commerce — the whole system would grind to a halt!

In a world where women told the truth about everything men would lose, not only their motivation to work, but their very will to live! Knowing when to lie is the most important part of any relationship. I can understand Leach wanting his players to pay attention. Football coaches, like battlefield generals, have to be firmly in touch with reality. It’s the coach’s job to tell the truth and prepare his players for the worst.

But you need more than fear and strategy to win football games. You also need hope, optimism and the will to fight, even when your spirits are low and you’ve just lost a game you were supposed to win. Knowledge of how to win comes from the coach, but the will to win comes from girlfriends. A coach who keeps his players in touch with reality may be worth $300,000 a year, but a girlfriend who knows how to lie is worth her weight in gold.

So, even if I don’t understand football, I will be watching closely as Tech fans rally to help their team beat Kansas. Good luck as you “Wreck them” or “gun them up” or whatever it is you people do.

Written by Not Jaffo

October 29, 2009 at 10:26

Posted in Best Of, Humor

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