Friday, July 31, 2015

Lessons from movie Hancock

One of my favorite movies is Hancock which came out in 2008. It's about a Black superhero who gets drunk a lot, and causes a lot of damage to the city of Los Angeles when he's doing heroic acts, like in the opening he stops criminals. But also does a LOT of damage while doing it.

What makes the story interesting to me, besides the character John Hancock having my initials, is that his superpowers in the movie are kind of a static thing until the end. But his life experience varies greatly based on his interactions with other people.

So originally he's clearly poor. Lives in a trailer, and is hounded by the press, and the city which keeps serving him with citations for the damage he does, even though he's doing it stopping criminals.

Some public relations guy, after he saves him, leads him on what is commonly called the path to redemption and he becomes a celebrity.

The point then of the movie is that his superpowers are irrelevant. What really matters is how people perceive him.

That movie could have been great but the public relations guy was really irritating. And it had this awful scene where Hancock paints a heart on the moon! Just wrecked the movie. Ending was cool though as Hancock flies down with an eagle next to him. Or was it a hawk? I need to watch it again.

Gave me chills.

James Harris

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A tweet on writing

Today was fascinated by what I think is a cool accident as noticed one of those Twitter trending things on writing, and after a while of pondering came up with something of my own to add. Turns out it came out to exactly 140 characters too! And here's my tweet:
(Yes, you can click on the hashtag in the tweet.)

And the challenge I thought was to put ten things into a single tweet! But when I was typing it up, got to the end, wondering if last would fit, and it fit, yup, perfectly!

So here are the ten things NOT to say to a writer written out:

1. Don't.
2. Just write.
3. Figure it out.
4. Try harder.
5. What's a block?
6. Finish now.
7. Be creative.
8. Think.
9. Cry.
10. What's wrong?

Sound legit? Or was I reaching too much to find things that would fit?

But here's the thing: why would anyone come up with such a trending topic, and why do most people NOT pay attention to that ten things part? And why ten things? Why not just say things?

That's how most people seemed to be tweeting it.

Wonder, how many people decided to show ten things like I did, and does it really matter or do I have too much time on my hands?

Things to ponder.

James Harris

Monday, July 27, 2015

Thoughts on Google+

Finally really like Google+ and Google just announced a needed change where forced integration with YouTube is being removed, which has elicited more speculation about its future.

But now it's finally starting to look like something I like as I can collect my postings in a way that makes sense to me, lets me keep up with them better, and maybe can help others who are interested.

Like here's my open source collection: Open source related including mine

There I talk about, yup, you guessed it! Open source including mine, but I think mostly mine. Only have 3 posts there though. Hmmm...maybe shouldn't put that one up? Why not.

For people into looking at my photos: Some of my photos

There are a decent number of posts there I guess, with yup, photos in them. And I can pull from wherever, so there are ones from my 500px account as well as ones directly posted. Could also pull in from Instagram if I wished. So can be a collection of photos from lots of places that I wish to present there for whatever reason.

And here's one focused on space: Space things I think are interesting

I have 12 collections and don't worry will not put up the other 9 here. You can check out my Google+ profile, if you wish to see the rest. A link is on the blog somewhere or other.

In the years I've been on Google+ I haven't been as excited about what I can do with it as I am now. Just really wanting these new changes to enhance that feeling.

Change does not necessarily mean something is wrong. Change can mean that lessons learned through years and hundreds of millions of users, like me, doing things are being brought to bear by one of the most innovative companies we know.

James Harris

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Pondering possible advice

Thinking positive can mean having a plan in case things really do work out in a big way, and then people might ask you for advice! So am going to work that out now with what I'd like to think will work indefinitely as I'm not so much into that giving advice thing:

Have a plan.

Set up expectations--then deliver.

And that's it. If others have given same advice, great!!! I don't pretend these are unique to me. In fact I'd be very surprised if they were. Actually I'm sure they're not.

Love short and simple, which I think should make my life easier with advice that could actually work! And posted recently about having a plan, which includes a link to where I talked about setting up expectations on my Google+, and even if no one else cares, I have these as notes to myself.

Can't help but say more about having a plan, as I think to some people the web is a place where you can try things invisibly, where it's actually a place where even your most simple tries can grab attention from around the globe.

But you have to try if you're going to put up things public.

If you're just going to communicate within close community then it's different.

But public on the web is more public than anything that came before in all of human history.

But how do you have a plan? I think there's lots out there on how to plan. How do you set up expectations? Isn't that kind of obvious, if not got nothing else. How do you deliver?

Now that's where the rubber meets the road.

Always working on that question, how do I deliver on expectations I've set up?

James Harris

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How having a plan can work

People like to know what they can expect from you. That statement is so generic I feel comfortable putting that out there without figuring it should get me into a lot of arguments, but on the web am fascinated by how often I'm looking at something wondering--what in the whatever is this person trying to do?

I've felt the instinct though--throw something up on the web and see what will happen!

People kind of seem to react to that like they do to throw up in other areas.

I like having a plan, any kind of plan. And got an example.

Years ago back in 2003, found myself feeling a bit glum. I'd figured out my own way to count prime numbers, contacted the two leading mathematicians in that area and got the equivalent of a shrug. One straight out said he didn't find it to be of any interest.

Looking for a pick me up, I concentrated on this little program I'd written to help me study for the Java Certification exam. Yes, I passed barely, but was so long ago it's not that important to the story as I'm talking about over a decade ago.

So I'm like, hey, why don't I expand this test program? But how to share? And talked about it a bit with some other software developers as at that time was a professional, and one of them suggested open source, and I'm like what's open source? And he mentioned SourceForge as a way for me to distribute and I'd never heard of it, but checked it out, and figured it would do. But I needed a name for this program.

Original was called Class Info, and was just a bit of a wrapper on Java Reflections which outputted text. And like I said, I'd just written it to help me study for the Java Certification exam, but now I needed something for production. Pondering a name, I'm like, what's the most generic name I can come up with that has LOTS of competition?

Why? Because it was like a test. I wanted a VERY generic name to see if it could beat the competition, and checked a bit and "class viewer" fit the bill. Even back then before Google was the behemoth it is today I could see that was a very competitive name as it was SO generic, with lots of class viewers around, and it was close enough to what the thing did, so that's what I called it.

Wrote the GUI which is handled by, which then called which became the helper program managing the data, though it still can operate independently, I think.

Wasn't sure! So I went and checked! And yes it can! It's been a long time since I thought about these things.

So that was the plan.

Needed SOMETHING to help me feel better and not like a total loser when those mathematicians didn't react like I wanted with my prime counting discovery, so deliberately took what was handy, and angled things to give a real test.

Over a decade later it's my least important global thing yet one of my most important checkable things. I use it a lot as a reality check for me and others.

Of all my accomplishments that draw global attention it's the most minor, but it's also one of the easiest for people to check me on things, like looking at things like downloads. And the thing about downloads is that every single one matters. Like with visits you're thinking it could have been an accident, especially if you just see one. But downloads indicate a lot more, even if you just have one. At least someone wants the thing.

Getting from glum to something useful to people around the globe--and picky people too as Java software developers have high requirements--is the best kind of win-win I think.

I felt better and had something concrete which others could find useful. So I took my glum, and turned it into, wish I knew something applicable that rhymed, but maybe better to just say, a nice little concrete application that could be helpful to some people.

It takes a plan. And in this case the plan succeeded.

You should have a plan.

Does it have to be some grand, massive thing? No. It can be something as simple as, I'd like to have a little something to make me feel better.

And having other people along can be just great! But they need to know what to expect.

I talk more about letting people know what to expect on Google+ with a post. which is in a collection I call Some of my social media musings to which I will also try to link. Collections are a way on Google+ to group postings along a theme, which can help you let people know what to expect..

Going to try those linkings to see how well that works.

And yes, you are free to just throw up something on the web, but with a plan, and giving people some expectations then I strongly suggest to you that you're more likely to get something you want happening.

Turns out direction is kind of important with things. Kind of hard to get someplace if you don't head off in a direction, and know when you've arrived. And if you want people helping you along the way? They will probably like to know where you're going, first.

James Harris

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Looking for success metrics

To me the web is a HUGE part of my life, and one of the things I naturally do is try to figure out what "success" on it looks like, where I've been surprised at how difficult that has been for years. What does it mean to be "successful" on the web?

Put that in quotes as I suspect you can find vast differences between people with a lot of interest in the subject as they spend a lot of time on the web as well. After all, it could be an area of endless hobbies, or it could be a place where someone has invested a career.

In the rest of the world off the web--which it turns out is most of the world still though it is rapidly encapsulating our world--there are established metrics. And "metric" just means measure, so is another way of saying that, so I'm pondering success measures. Why not use that word? Well saying metric in this context sounds fancier, and is more concise! The word "metric" is literally shorter than "measure".

And money is one established metric of success for the world off the web, but there are plenty of others too. For instance a person can have a great community reputation, built over time. Or a person might be a critical success, say a writer who never got big commercially but is well-regarded. It's easy to keep going. And it can be fun to ponder such things as each person out there probably has plenty of ideas about "success" in our modern world.

But on the web? It's harder I think, as I ran into weird things to me. And I concluded that making money on the current web--maybe surprisingly--usually involves being in some way entertaining, and I'm not here to be an entertainer. My own rough guess is that in the US maybe 1 person in 75 might be equipped to make money from the entertainment web, guessing at the size of the entertainment field relative to the entire US economy.

Which is me speculating I should emphasize. Am highly motivated to figure these things out, which means I have a lot of reasons to want to be right, which don't make me right. But am very interested in getting answers in this area. Still that does not guarantee I will.

You can look around at the most successful people on the web by a metric like follower counts and yup, they are actual top entertainers. Meaningfully competing with them? Out of the question for most people. They're just too good. Literally world-class.

Using very public metrics like follower counts is natural. It's actually hard to find other public metrics right now. I think that will change though it's hard to imagine how.

And, I also think the web will be much bigger than entertainment or being entertaining as at its heart it is a way people connect more easily with each other, both locally and globally.

For instance, in the past you could talk to someone overseas, say by phone. Even before the telephone, you could write. While today, it can be routine to communicate with any number of people overseas. Often without even trying to be international. For instance I'm just talking here and welcome readers from around the globe. And DO try to make it easier for people around the world by using Google Translate. So not like I'm not doing anything at all, but there's not nearly as much effort as would have been required in the past.

And writing stopped for me, as I went to check blog stats, and come back, so writing starts up again. And did a screenshot, clipping out extra this time, and focusing on certain things, as worth it for this post to show things I puzzle over:

My guess is eventually I will not be able to do these things as it gives away too much information, even with me highlighting a specific section, but here I will. And that is the most important part of what I can check, showing visits from six countries: US, Ukraine, China, Canada, France, and Greece, where not a lot of visits. Just to me a fascinating list of countries! And that's from 2 pm yesterday until today--as I actually pay more attention to what it says.

But that's not necessarily all visitors as these kind of stats just kind of give you a vague idea, as for instance, my understanding is that people only get counted if they allow cookies, and these days a lot of people do not.

But at least it reinforces my point about easily being international. Why those countries? Not really sure besides my own, of course, and again not necessarily all the countries either! As visitors from other countries may not be showing up by the particular metrics used by Blogger to show me that screen.

My own view is that more info will necessarily be given over time, as you need it to guide what you're doing online regardless of how you're measuring success.

Even if you have no interest in making money, do not want millions of people paying attention, and are on the web as a hobby, it can matter to you if people are reading what you write for lots of reasons. And matter even more if they're reading in countries other than your own, yup, also for lots of reasons.

But how do you know?

You need a metric.

Reading over what I wrote yesterday--I edit indefinitely--feel I should emphasize my view that the web will eventually look like the rest of the world. And I think it great that entertainment is driving current web development, but I think it's like a booster rocket which will fall away over time to what you see elsewhere.

That is, if you want to get an idea of what the web will look like in the future, step away from it now, and look at how the rest of the world works! Most people are not entertainers, so most successful on the web will not be either.

James Harris

Monday, July 13, 2015

Continuing to think on entertain

Have been quite satisfied with myself and my conclusion that current social media measures how entertaining you are, as I like claiming I'm not trying to entertain, which I'm not. And then I thought about TED talks, and how much I like documentaries. And those are entertaining, where that isn't the purpose?

Reality is that I've learned a lot I'm sure from people who didn't just focus on information, but also on production values, presentation, and audience reaction, as they taught through entertaining formats.

And I'm sure the purpose of a TED speaker is not to be entertaining but to communicate something important for the common good. And I think the same is true for most documentarians, so thinking as well on that aspect of it.

For an example of a TED talk here's one: Tom Wujec, toast and problem solving

If you do click on the link and watch you may notice he's in a suit. And that camera angles shift in a way that facilitates his talk. Also he uses visuals in a profound way. But reality is that all the information could have been presented in a far less entertaining way, but would I have considered it then?

Probably in this case not, but maybe as he's talking systems and problem solving, two of my favorite subjects! Yet the talk is from 2013, and I'm probably seeing it now because it was so successful and had so many views. I might never have heard of him without it. Maybe I'd have stumbled across his work presented some other way, but now I'm also more likely to web search on him, and am more likely to find it.

Maybe then it's not such a big deal at all that getting lots of "Likes" or tons of followers or whatever other metric on social media requires you to have some ability at entertaining. Maybe that's as natural as needing same to be a good host?

It does mean that if you're frustrated by low social media numbers the focus may need to shift from the information to how it's presented. You may find yourself learning production values. Or focusing on how to order information best for a given audience, or what are the best camera angles.

Like just imagine any boring school lecture or any boring lecture you may have had in your life as a speaker drones on...and realize that social media clicks away from such.

However, the plus side of web reality in my experience is that you can ignore being entertaining completely, and just present information as long as it's important, valid and useful. Which is a HUGE change, but really in terms of accessibility.

Today people can zero in on that information with lightning speed when they need it, as web search is so remarkably good. I puzzle over how good it is.

Like I remember noting with fascination when I'd step away from documentaries to do a web search on the subject, to check info, or find out what happened as the documentary might be teasing it out or something.

In minutes I could have everything I really wanted to know, which was being covered in a couple of hours by the documentary. Though I would usually continue, now seeing it as purely entertainment, as I also checked remaining claims against what I then already knew.

For some that may be a relief, knowing that being entertaining is a choice, as they can just provide the information, without having to worry about such other. And as a result, you just probably will not have a lot of followers, which may be what's desired anyway. Not everyone wants millions of followers. Actually, I wonder what people do.

Entertainers, of course I'm sure. Also I'd guess most organizations. But for most of us, what really would you do with millions of followers? It IS work. Possibly it's just as much work involved as being a movie star. Actually I think it's more from what I've seen, like in studying YouTube stars. It's just a modern addition to the range of ways to be famous.

And make no mistake, those people with millions of followers? They do work for them.

James Harris

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Follower counts like venue theory

Lately I've been focusing on figuring out certain odd things with my own story, and came upon a theory which I think explains follower counts across social media. I think they're like a venue, which makes sense!

Like imagine you're a young performer who starts out singing mostly in front of family and friends. Smallest venue. Maybe as you work at it, you end up in malls, or at small clubs. And as you build a fanbase you move on to bigger things, and maybe one day you end up performing in stadiums.

Similarly say, your Twitter follower count grows slowly and I'm saying is equivalent to your venue size, so it is NOT necessarily how many people are actually paying attention to you. How many people are in a sense, showing up, depends on your performance.

Which means if I'm right, it's worthless to just want a huge follower count, except I guess for meaningless bragging rights, if you're not actually doing the performance. Like if you have connections who can book you into, say Madison Square Garden, and a few people show but even fewer for any follow-up's as you're just not good enough for there.

Using this theory I've been looking across social media and it works for me. I'll note I have 124 followers as of this post on Twitter which I find does not bother me at all. Of course I like to emphasize I'm NOT an entertainer.

If you say follower counts are measures of how entertaining this particular person is on THIS venue, where a venue is Twitter or Snapchat and so on, then I say they make sense.

Notice then that someone can be MASSIVELY famous, step onto a particular social media venue, and not perform, and have a small number of followers as those things are not connected according to this theory. People don't care how famous you are, I'm speculating, but show up based on how well you perform on that platform.

If people show up and like it, their decision is what matters, but you do need to deliver. As, if you're to do a song and dance number, does the audience really care how famous you are? Only if that's to raise expectations. If you're atrocious, then it had better be a joke performance or they will be just that much more disappointed.

Each social media platform is a different venue. Twitter is different from Instagram, different from Snapchat, different from whatever. Some people are bizarrely good at performing across many of them. It is freakish. Most struggle on any one.

Performance is difficult. Being entertaining requires work, practice and skill.

Ok, so enough theory. Can I emphasize enough I'm speculating here? But for me these are working theories, as I try to explain my world with them. Also it's rather comforting.

So if you wish to be comforted by these speculations of mine, consider how good of an entertainer your are in any venue. And compare with your follower counts if you thought they mattered by any other criteria. If you realize you can't carry a tune, your jig is not up to snuff, and your jokes tend to fall flat, and hey, who said you had to be an entertainer anyway?

Then you can be free to be you, and drop that chain of an entertainment measure. As have I.

Of course I should also add, I could be wrong! So will see what the real world shows over time.

James Harris