When Government Gets Into Our Online Lives

As many of you know, I love playing poker. I love going to the casino when I can and I love playing online as well at Pokerstars. One of the best things about playing online was that I didn’t have to have any money to play, and if I played well I could actually earn real money, which I did if you remember the post where I compared blogging to poker.

Recently I won my way into what’s called a satellite tournament which gave me another nice opportunity to win money, and relatively big money. It wasn’t scheduled to start until May, which shows you how big a deal it is because smaller tournaments start pretty much days after you win your way into one. However, I’m not going to get a chance to play now.

That’s because the U.S. government, via the FBI, did a major raid last week and basically froze the accounts of 3 major online poker sites, as well as confiscated their domain names. Immediately afterwards the site I play at banned all U.S. players from participating in anything that could earn them real money. In essence, even if they were free games that gave you a shot at earning money but you weren’t going to earn any money at that time, they banned you from those games as well, which kind of makes sense since we’re not allowed to earn money from them, but it’s irksome.

Frankly, I’m not saying the government was wrong in this big bust they did because these companies found a way around U.S. laws in tricking credit card companies to process payments geared towards getting around the law. What I’m mad at is that the law was passed in the first place.

In essence, the law was attached as a rider to a bigger law in 2006 that was to help protect our borders at waterways. Since we’re still conscious of terrorism at all ports (except at Mexican borders, but I digress) there wasn’t a politician that wanted to be seen as not voting for this bill. This is how government works in this country unfortunately; things get added to good bills all the time that make no sense and aren’t fair, and then it’s left up to someone to make a major decision as to what’s more important at the time.

I think this all stinks, yet it shows that the U.S. government isn’t all that far removed from other governments we heard about over the past few months that have tried to stifle the internet so that “rebels” could tell the world what was going on in countries such as Egypt, Yemen, China and Iran. Many people said at the time that the U.S. could never do such a thing and wouldn’t even try doing something like that; it hadn’t occurred to me at the time that they already had, just in a small dose.

So, until this law is changed, it looks like I won’t be playing poker online anymore. I never paid for any of it, but that’s not the point. With the government confiscating their domain name it pretty much emasculates much of the online game in all ways. And it’s not that I didn’t play some games that were totally free for “play money”; one would think I’d still enjoy that.

But not having the option to take a chance, to see what I’m made of in competing for actual money… something about that has sapped the steam out of my wanting to play online right now. There’s an action committee that’s being spearheaded by a former senator, oddly enough someone who probably would have voted for the bill when he was a senator because it would have made his particular constituency happy. It’s so funny that Republicans say they want to leave people alone and get government out of our hair, and in this case they decided to make the government the ultimate police in protecting those poor souls that had no control over themselves and spent themselves bankrupt.

Yeah, I’m irked; it stinks. And this type of thing should have us all looking over our shoulders; what will the government take away from us next?

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What Happened To… When People Disappear

My buddy Mitchell Allen and I were discussing how one of the online sites we used to visit on occasion and actually wrote content for has disappeared. So has the site owner, whose blog and entire presence seems to have been wiped from the face of the earth.

Goodbye Cruel World

Of course we have our speculations, which shall remain so, but it points out one of those weird things that happens sometimes online, and often without any advance notice. It’s pretty much the “now you see them, now you don’t” thing. It’s not so much when people stop visiting your blog and you wonder why. It’s when you go to visit them and notice they’re no longer there, or you send email and accounts shut down or you never hear anything back. That’s when it’s, well, weird.

Of course people disappear for a variety of reasons. The biggest reasons are time and money. Either they don’t have the time anymore to communicate as much as they did in the past or they didn’t have the money to renew their blog or domain name or even an internet service. True, if they have something like Gmail or Yahoo email all they have to do is go someplace like a library or internet cafe and access things that way, but usually that’s not convenient enough for everyone and thus they don’t do any of it.

Humans are social; we like to know what’s going on with people we’ve gotten to know, whether we like them or not. If someone announces they’re leaving for awhile or permanently, that’s preferable to someone just disappearing without a clue. Of course, if someone has expired and their spouse isn’t internet savvy, there’s pretty much nothing you can do about it.

Or is there? I have kind of a backup plan. I’ve asked one of my friends to kind of intercede on my behalf if I’m unable to get the word out to anyone. Of course one of these days I’ll have to tell him where I’ve hidden my passwords, but to many things on my browser he won’t have any problems accessing any of it. That and I have other friends who I’m sure would get the word out if I went missing for any length of time.

Have any of you thought about what to do to try to get the word out if suddenly you’re unable to yourself? Do you think it’s important enough to at least think about? Would you be missed?

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Why It’s Hard To Trust People

On this blog and my business blog, I talk about the subject of “trust” often. It seems that I’ve referenced the word 118 times on this blog, 136 on my other blog. Specific blog topics on the two blogs have ranged from my asking What Does It Take To Obtain Trust, talking about When Trust Is Violated, Figuring Out Who You Can Trust, and one article I wrote where I first announced that the three main virtues I judge every person I meet by are loyalty, trustworthiness and honesty.


Trust by Erin Ashley
via Imagekind

In this particular case I’m going to revisit a subject I brought up in a post I wrote here back in January titled Why We Don’t Trust Sales People. The quick update is that this guy representing a store we go to often (didn’t work at the store, but the store, BJ’s Warehouse, contracted with these people to offer something special to their customers), sold us a picture window for our living room that, in my opinion, wasn’t giving what he’d said it would give us. Then, 10 days later when he came by to inspect it, I told him I wasn’t sure it was doing what he said it would, to which he replied 12 million people can’t be wrong.

First, the update. The window looks good; I’ll give that to everyone. My wife says she thinks it’s stopped all the leaking we had; I still have grave doubts about that. Maybe air isn’t getting in but the window still gets cold right now, which means it radiates cool air into the house. We had one very weird day last week when the temperature suddenly shot up to 85, breaking a record, before falling back into the 50’s the next day, and on that day the living room was really hot; the new window was supposed to stop that as well.

Then there was this thing about a rebate we were supposed to be getting back. This guy told my wife that she’d be getting a check. Then he told her it would come back through her taxes. I told her it wouldn’t come back through her taxes because one, we’re still paying on some back taxes anything that came would be absorbed into it, and two, he said it would be $900 and I said there’s no way that much would show up. I suggested to her that she tell him she wanted a check from the company, since that’s what he initially told her.

On that day she told him that, and supposedly he went to make a phone call and told her that a check would be coming within a couple of weeks. Fast forward to now. Not only did she never get a check from the company but she could never get this guy to call back from the few times she tried to reach him after that. And when taxes were done, not only did the amount end up being less than half of what he’d stated but I was right, it immediately went to our back taxes. She felt demoralized, and I didn’t feel vindicated in being correct; to me, it really wasn’t a win in any scenario.

Why is it hard to trust people? Because of things like this, where someone sells you a bill of goods that you might not know how to check up front and then end up with something that didn’t give you what was promised later on. Why do many of us have our Spidey senses up all the time? Because we have this fear of being scammed by someone else and none of us wants to be made to feel like a fool.


Trust by Mike Polo
via Imagekind

In my mind, one of the best things about blogging is that it gives you an opportunity to try to build people’s trust in you. By being open and honest over the course of time, your hope is that people will come to respect you, and thus if you have something you want to market or a service you provide, people will look your way because you’ve established yourself and shown people what you’re all about. You’re now one of the most trusted authorities because of your social media presence, right?

Unfortunately, not even close. As I touched upon in my recent post asking if anyone’s listening to you on Twitter, the only people that might trust you are those people who know about you, and in the scheme of things, for most of us it’s not that many people. For someone like me as a for instance, blog is ranked well, over 1,000 posts, put myself out there for the world to see, but with under 200 RSS subscribers and a relatively small cadre of blog comments on a consistent basis what would make someone who’s not a consistent visitor here decide to trust me? For that matter, think about your own circumstance; what do you think could compel people to trust you?

I thought about this a little bit when there was a brief tet-a-tet going on at Tristan’s blog based on a guest post with a title that was, well, kind of inflammatory. Now, the post turned out to be kind of inflammatory as well, but it turns out that the post author hadn’t initially wanted to use that as the title. The title in the end was exactly what the post was about, so it hit it on the nail, but in my mind it brought up this thing about trust once again. I mean, Tristan had to trust the guy to write a post that he thought would be good. The guy had to trust Tristan that the title would be good. In the end I’m not sure that both guys got exactly what they wanted, but each guy got something out of it. But do they specifically trust each other anymore?

Frankly, as I commented there, I’d have never written the post to begin with and certainly didn’t like the implication of the post, but at the same time I’m not sure I would have wanted someone to rewrite my topic line either. I wrote a post on one of my other blogs called I Hate Syracuse.com, where I lamented the comments that newspapers and news sources online allow these days. I then had a long conversation with someone from that website who said he didn’t like the title or the implication, though he agreed with me in principle as to why they allow what they do. I said my title was no different than what newspapers have done for years and he said it was in their best interest to get people to the story, but mine seemed misleading since I didn’t actually hate the entire site. I was thinking that was “pot calling kettle black”, and then thought about the trust issue overall once more. I stuck with my title, as you can see, and they’ve stuck with the trash comments they allow.

Why is it hard to trust people? Probably because we don’t always trust ourselves to make the right decisions either. At least that’s my thought on things, as I think about all the people we’ve allowed into our home over the last 10 years that have given us a bill of goods that haven’t panned out. But maybe I’m being a bit cynical on this Sunday morning; not sure. But if anyone has a different viewpoint on it all, I’d love to hear it. And while you’re at it, if you’ve been coming to this blog for awhile I’d like to know if you trust what I’ve said in the past and why; if not, I’d like to know that as well. And we’ll still be friends afterwards; trust me. 😉
 

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Is Anyone Listening To You On Twitter?

Later today in my area we’re having a tweetup at a local hotel. This is different than the norm in that the hotel is helping to sponsor the event, whereas normally someone decides where to meet and we just show up there.


by Jonathan Powell

The link above will take you to the post I wrote about the upcoming event. I had it show up yesterday early afternoon, since it’s not my event, and of course it gave me something to write about. I waited a couple of hours to see if it would take, then I asked some people specifically if they were going.

To my surprise, every person I asked about it said they didn’t know anything about the event. When I asked if they’d seen the link to the post I wrote about it, they said no and that they each get so many messages that it’s hard to keep up. This also surprised me since it had only been out a couple of hours; what’s going on here.

First I stated that particular thing about my post. Then I mentioned that the news had been on Twitter for at least 3 weeks or so, and that it’s surprising they hadn’t seen it from anyone else. They countered saying maybe they didn’t follow the same people I do, but I knew that to be a crock. Even one of the top social media people from Syracuse University had retweeted the event; I know few people locally that I follow that don’t follow her.

It got me thinking about a lament I’ve written on not being well known where you live. I’ve been attributing a lot of it to the general lack of interest it seems I get from local people via Twitter and how I’d love to be seen more prominently locally, which Twitter is something that affords us the opportunity to do. However, some of the people who were helping to promote this thing are big on social media locally, yet it seems that even their tweets were missed whenever someone was talking about the pending tweetup.

I’ve talked about some people who have high Twitter numbers and wondered whether those numbers really meant anything or not. Of course I tend to think they don’t because I visit many of these people when supposedly they’re starting to follow me and I don’t see many of them engaging with anyone else. I’m always thinking “who wants to continually read links and the like from all these people they don’t know”?

I think the answer is “no one”. When all is said and done, Twitter can be a great medium for reaching out to the masses, but the masses have to be paying attention at the time one puts something out there. For instance, when I wrote my post about how Finish Line treated me as a customer and an affiliate, I really expected it was something that local Twitter folks would jump on to a degree; after all, we have a couple of those stores locally, kind of prominent. It got maybe two local people who said anything, and mostly people who weren’t from here reposting it. I was thinking it was just my voice at the time that people were ignoring, but it seems to be prevalent for almost everyone’s voice.

In an odd way, that kind of points out one of the major failings of social media. Yes, statistics prove that companies that start to employ some social media aspects grow in the number of prospects they can reach, but social media can’t seal the deal, and it can’t help if no one is listening. Even with 50,000 people following, if no one is specifically looking out for you then your message is falling on mainly deaf ears. That’s disconcerting to say the least.

How do we cut through some of the Twitter blather to be seen and heard there? What makes the few people that may or may not have figured it out seen and heard and responded to? I think that’s the next great study; I wonder if I’ll be trying to do it… nah!

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5 Dangers Of Working From Home

I don’t think of it in these terms all that often, but overall I work from home for the most part. Every once in awhile I go on the road for a few days to a few months, but in general I do most of my work from home. What brought me to thinking about it was that I made a list of Work From Home blogs, #21 in fact, and since it’s always nice to be recognized I thought I’d point it out and thank it for giving me an idea of something new to write about.

Before You Quit Your Job

I’ve often encouraged people who are out of work to at least look into the possibility of working for themselves while they’re collecting unemployment. There are many people with great skills that could translate into a profession where they wouldn’t have to deal with weak managers or poor working conditions.

However, there are realities to working for oneself as well. I would recommend that every person who’s even thinking about working for themselves start by reading Before You Quit Your Job by Robert Kiyosaki. Although I probably wouldn’t have changed a thing, I’d have learned some things to watch out for ahead of time.

If you’re not in the mood to read the book just yet you’re in luck, because I’m going to talk about it for a brief bit. In essence, I have 5 things to tell you about working for yourself that you have to watch out for, or that you need to get more information about before you embark on your quest. Here you go:

1. You need to learn more about marketing. I have to say that marketing is the thing I’m the worst at, even after almost 10 years; gasp! I can tell you what doesn’t work, but I can’t tell you what does work. The issue becomes what can one do to captivate their particular audience. For me, the main audience I’d love to reach right now doesn’t do social media, doesn’t do “out of the box” thinking, and doesn’t really do minorities telling them what to do; that’s just being honest. However, my long term career goal works well for each of these, which makes me work on finding a balance between the two.

2. Money will almost always be up and down. I’ve had years that have put me in one of the highest tax brackets that barely kept me middle class. Then I’ve had years like 2009 where, because of the economy, I was scratching every week just to have enough money to pay bills and eat every once in awhile. It takes a lot of discretion not to spend unwisely when it’s coming in like water and a lot of planning to make sure you have enough to spread around and last awhile when things slow down.

3. Wasting time can be easy to do. Man, I feel like I waste time every day. I do, but when I look at it overall I also work more hours than a person working a 9-5 job does. Unless I’m working a project that someone else is paying me for I tend to work in spurts. That means that oftentimes business and pleasure get mixed together. For instance, when I’m checking email, there’s always more business email than personal email these days, yet I tend to do both around the same time. Also, something I learned as a manager is that you have to have “thinking time” because that’s how you come up with ideas for things such as writing or creating stuff. That could be seen as wasting time by some, but I find it crucial, and I find that not enough people take those moments out of their schedule for it.

my desk
My Work Space

4. You can overwork yourself. How many of you remember my 10-hours a day experiment? Hopefully things will change some as it starts to get warmer, but I normally sleep 4 to 5 hours a day, get a couple of 30 minute naps in here and there, and most of the rest of the time I sit at the computer working and thinking and wasting time. I joined the gym to try to get myself out of the house and into shape, but that’s often only an hour, if that. So that pans out to 14 – 16 hours or so at the computer on a regular basis; no wonder my mind feels shot here and there. I need to take more time off, although I know time off means I don’t get paid, but one’s mind just can’t stay sharp working that many hours. However, most of the people I know that work from home do the same thing.

5. You spend a lot of time alone. Why do I write my blogs so much? Because other than when my wife comes home I don’t have many other interactions with people during the day, unless I’m going to a meeting, networking, or I’m out of town. Some people think we just sit around drinking whatever in our pajamas or underwear all day and how nice it is, but there’s something to be said for engaging other people every day, even if it’s only for minutes at a time. If I decide to work out I’m still sitting in Barnes & Noble or Wegmans or the library by myself, even if there are other people around. It’s not always easy mentally, but it’s something you’d have to be ready to get used to.

Did any of that scare you? If not, you might be ready to explore doing this type of thing for yourself. You won’t have to deal with weak or mean managers anymore, but you just might find that your worst and meanest critic is actually you. But if you can get paid well, it eases things dramatically. 😉

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