I have a 16 year old son. No, this isn’t a bad time for him.

Yesterday. I’m in class when my instructor — a woman about my own age with a Ph.D. in education — says that this is a dangerous time to be a man, that we should fear for our sons.

The statement hit home for me, but not because I agree with her. Because it’s complete, utter bullshit.

“Now” is only dangerous for males who should have been stopped long ago.

My 16 year old son agrees. He’s not scared. He’s smart — and he knows that assault isn’t “poor judgment.” If you have the ability to assault someone, regardless of your degree of inebriation, there’s something much bigger wrong with you.

My guess is your son and most sons feel this way, too. Ask around. Almost every one of the men you talk to will say they’ve had a few too many beers, eaten too many wrong things at Taco Bell, taken too many wrong busses or told too many Uber drivers the wrong address. But they still made it home with their clothes in place and intact. What they haven’t done is assaulted someone along the way.

We women have been there too. I remember waking up one morning in high school after having too many drinks to see my parents leaning over my bed asking where my car was. I had forgotten the night before that I had one somewhere with me (yeah, I like beer, too, Brett), so I caught a ride home. It was probably one of the smartest things I’d ever done.

We women have also taken wrong turns, gone on the wrong dates, packed the wrong shoes, chosen the wrong door on Let’s Make a Deal, invested in scams, bought the wrong wine — all lapses in judgement.

What most of us haven’t done is try to force someone into a sexual situation. Because most of us understand, regardless of how much beer we’ve had, that you really want two for the tango — two people willing to take the dance wherever it goes.

If we’re looking for dangerous times, let’s fear for women. It’s always been a dangerous time for us, but not because of most men — only because of the ones who can find ways to justify assault. Oh, and because of attitudes that say the woman has to be making this shit up because that confident little powerful man must be telling the truth. He’s likeable, right? (That, btw, is surely open to debate).

I’d like to think “now” is a dangerous time for attitudes we’ve perpetuated, like the one from my all-male senators who are sure that nice, upstanding Yale grad who refused to answer simple questions and got really angry when a mean lady lawmaker asked him, well, anything, is the perfect person to rot on a bench in a judicial robe and forever remind me that our society believes the memory of a man who admits to heavy drinking over a highly educated woman’s. Maybe now is when we finally obtain and accept that we all have equal rights AND deserve equal respect and ask ourselves why we didn’t demand this long ago, like in the 1960s and 1970s when the U.S. society couldn’t pull its collective head from its asses long enough to adopt the metric system. Or ratify the ERA.

I’d like to think now is when both men and women do something about EVERYTHING, when we stop making excuses, stop sitting back and playing nice. When we take the Colin Kaepernick approach and make the sacrifice, if needed. And fight to ensure it’s never a sacrifice again.

Maybe now is when WE, as women, stop enabling a society that doesn’t value our contributions and intellect, and start calling bullshit on men who play the victim card (nope, don’t deal me in). Maybe now is when we stop defending men with tender feelings, because from what I’m seeing, no one gets to have those any more.

And maybe now is when we start questioning other women — our sisters — who still don’t get it. Who make matters worse by stating that other women are full of shit when they come forward with deeply personal accusations against a male. These are the same women who think their sons could be at risk of a false accusal or think it’s okay to support someone who wants to turn back the clock on women’s rights and everyone else’s too. These are women who accept things as they are, who won’t rock the boat. If we don’t confront them, it’s not just their sons we’ll need to worry about — it’s their daughters, too, — because they’re generation won’t speak up either.

Advertisements

Insanity: Wasting time on a definition when there’s actual shit to do.

You know how they say “insanity” is doing the same shit over and over again and expecting a different result? That’s total bullshit that originated in mind of some out-of-touch brainiac who never had to run a house, shuttle kids, go to Costco, do laundry, balance a checkbook, run a business or make a new career.

My guess is that said brainiac had a partner who did everything for him. His partner probably thought that definition was bullshit, too … although she didn’t really have time to think because it was Saturday and she had to get to Costco before it closed.

Every day, I wish for more time. It never materializes, but I hang my hat on that hope that it will.

Instead, I get a late start. To everything. And I take more time to complete all tasks. I dream of dinner that’s magically “ready” and delicious (sorry, Chipotle, that rules you out), and lunches that are made by the picky kids who will start complaining any second now. I envision a world where the really old cat is pre-injected with his insulin and where the even really-older cat stops shitting on the floor. Where I’m finished with homework, where laundry is clean and folded. Where the gold fish are fed, rugs are vacuumed and litter boxes exhibit no signs of use. The dog does her part to help me achieve the latter (thanks Zizzy!).

Nothing else really changes, except my bed time, which keeps getting later, and my wake up time, which is now even earlier. Fortunately I’m positive that I’m fully capable of keeping it all together, even on <4 hours of sleep. (Not insane!)

I hadn’t really thought about any of this before going back to school because I was too busy. I knew time would be tight but all I really considered was the time I’d spend in class. Homework? Do they still give that?

Unfortunately, even without homework, I was finding my schedule a little fuller than expected. After the first two weeks, where I regularly saw 1a AND 5:23a (WTF? Do people willingly wake up in the 5a hour? Even roosters know better. I know — I’m now up early enough to hear them after I get out of the shower), I knew I had to do something. So I did what any mom/working woman would do: I scheduled it. I planned that motherfucker out. Every last second of every last day. I am a rockstar.

Then my goddamn instructors ruined my plans: homework.

WTF again??? Now I’m expected to prepare for class, show up (occasionally on time) AND do something to apply my new-found knowledge? That’s a truer definition of insanity, cuz I can’t see any way it’s gonna’ to happen.

I add the homework into my schedule. It doesn’t fit but whatever. My ingenious plan shifts so I start working on next week’s homework and prep work the minute my Wednesday night ends. It’s busy but I’m sure it’s manageable.

Except there’s cat barf on the comforter so the bed needs to be stripped and changed. And those promises that I made to children. And clients who need something that I have to pretend to care about.

Ultimately it comes down to this: I’m now forcing myself out of bed at 5:25a each weekday — even on the days I don’t go to class — so I can get a head start on the schedule. In theory, I start everything sooner. Complete everything faster. Laugh in the face of time because it won’t get the best of me.

That, BTW, is bullshit, too.

Realistically, when you have a family, a job, geriatric cats, a dog and an eating habit that needs continual reinforcement, there’s no way you’re getting a jump on things. You have 10 minutes? Someone’s taking 15. You can change your schedule all you want but you can’t control anyone else’s. You’ll spend more time trying to maneuver around everyone else’s hopes and dreams than you’ll ever spend on trying to realize your own.

In reality, I spend all week finishing up the homework that never makes it onto the schedule because it’s assigned during class. It’s Sunday afternoon before I start any actual studying. Bedtime gets closer to 2a. I think of the overnight hours as a light nap, which should be enough to get me through each day.

If you ask me, because I’m still in school. I finish everything assigned to me, except for the assignments that never actually registered in my brain. I remember to wear pants or shorts each day and thus far have kept them seasonally appropriate. I’ve only to burn down the house with my flat iron once, which didn’t actually burn down the house, but did melt parts of itself. I’ve found only one errant tampon (unused, which was a relief because you never want to think you’re so spaced that you leave a used one somewhere). I only had to re-read paragraphs 2-3 times or tell my kids to ask me the same thing repeatedly before the meaning registers. And, from what I’m been told, I only actually nap in my 2p class (which has nothing to do with lack of sleep — the shit is boring).

Best part: I do this every week now. At least until they change my schedule and throw a few more things at me, which is fine because my morning class is dull, too, so I can get a little more sleep.

But here’s the deal: if insanity really is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result, then we’re all insane. Face it, we hope and dream every day but nothing changes. We go to work each day imagining it will get us ahead. It doesn’t. Insane! We expend effort hoping to raise kids to be wonderful, caring, brilliant societal contributors  and they sit around watching YouTube and playing video games while they text-curse their friends, who are also not insane. Insane! We get in arguments on social media because we think we’re going to change the minds of the really old right-wingers that we’re all harboring in our family trees, but they still vote for Trump. Insane! We pass up an empty seat on a standing-room-only bus so the woman behind us walking with a limp can sit, but it doesn’t matter since some guy’s backpack finds the seat before she does. Insane! We let people behind us at Costco who only have one or two items … wait, no one at Costco has only one or two items. INSANE!

To paraphrase Syndrome from The Incredibles, “When everyone is insane, no one will be.” So if you keep trying and dreaming, you’re actually not insane. Just hopeful. Because if you’ve ever read the news, you know the only thing we have going right now is hope, even though it’s getting more and more obvious that it’s not changing anything.

The true definition of insanity is probably closer to this: spending the time it takes to come up with a logical definition of insanity, while your partner gets stuck doing everything short of wiping your ass before heading to Costco for more toilet paper. That, my friends, is truly insane.

Our education system: where good enough is just perfect

I’m running on about 3.5 hours of sleep right now and, yeah, it’s my own fault.

I’d like to blame it on Jaegermeister (not really because I’d probably be puking now instead of writing), but I’m blaming it on my stupid self instead. The problem is that I sometimes strive to be perfect.

Stop laughing (besides, that just means you know me). Yes, I realize I’m not perfect, and that I look, act, seem nothing like a perfectionist. I have mountains of un-opened mail heaped on my desk and paint splatters on the tile in my laundry room, a cat who will only pee in front of the dishwasher (I don’t get it either but there’s now a litter box there), and two teens who are, well, teens. I’m reminded of my flaws hourly, even more often when people are awake.

But my work, that’s different. Whether I’m researching, writing, planning, studying, whatever, I have to make it perfect. If I don’t, someone might look past this work and see all the messes listed above.

This, BTW, is obviously not the right approach to school.

When you’ve been out for a while like I have, you forget how much reading and other bullshit that isn’t really bullshit they load on you in school. And you forget that it’s expected you’ll half-ass most of it, which is why they give you more.

It’s that ask-for-a-mile thing. The instructor assigns three readings. All she’s really hoping for is 1.5, but if that’s all she actually asked for, you’d read the first paragraph of the first article and go have a beer.

In the 20 years that I’ve been out of school, I’ve forgotten this. So I’ve been reading every word of every assignment, sometimes re-reading, and taking detailed notes, which means staying up until 1 or 2 in the morning to do it, then starting over again at 5:23 a.m. the next day.

Ugh.

This same shit — this innate (or inane) desire to make everything perfect — is part of what spit me out of the workforce, too.

I’d like to think my kids are actually to blame for this and so many other things. For example, before I had them, I’d grab something from the ‘fridge for lunch and eat the crumbs on my floorboards for breakfast on the way to work. Now I dedicate time each night to making real lunches for everyone and ensure breakfast is ready for the next day, too, so everyone makes it out on time. No one ever actually does but that’s a different story.

Then there’s their inadvertent impact on my work. Kids caused me to care about stupid things like job security. (Before kids, I’d go through a job a year. Hello unemployment!) But when you’re in marketing, job security can be hard to come by. You’re the first ones to go during hostile takeovers, which happen all the time (or almost never), and stock market crashes (there’s been one in my lifetime). You pretend to be upbeat and positive, even though colleges continue to pump out newer, cheaper, less-bitter replacements for you. You know you’re expendable. If you’re a writer, you’re likely an introvert who hates being called out or called upon, and who hides in the corner pretending to be invisible when someone mentions layoffs. Your only form of job security is obsessing over every word and comma placement.

I was both a marketer and a writer. That’s a double whammy. Like a neurosis speedball.

Did I mention I’m also a procrastinator? Maybe the fact that I’m blogging when I have homework and angry clients nagging at me speaks for itself.

I know I’ve got to find a way to convince myself not to be like this. I’m pretty sure that, as a teacher, “perfection” is a pipe dream, kind of like a living wage. Perfection doesn’t fit into the education world, where you’re juggling 150+ students and 150+ individual styles. Kids learn differently, think differently. You’ll never hit it out of the park with an assignment because there will always be a kid in the class, like my son, who hates it.

“She’s making us write tweets,” he told me once about an assignment in his English class, “… from Ben Franklin’s point of view.” Ahh, Ben, the air-bathing, syphilitic wonder (why didn’t they tell us that in school? I might have given a shit.)

“Add French whores. He was quite the fan.”

“I hate social media,” he reminds me. “This is stupid.”

See? What seems like a really fun exercise to me (I’m already writing tweets in my brain) is dreadful to the super-smart-and-utterly-unmotivated-pain-in-the-ass teen who lives in the west bedroom. And I’ll have 150 other kids who are completely different and just like him to contend with, too. No matter what I do, whether it’s a social media writing assignment or giving them the recipe to poop gold coins, someone is either going to hate it, not understand it, not listen to it, or just not care.

No, I’m not dressing as Ben Franklin to get their attention. Well, maybe.

Even as a business owner, “perfect” was pretty stupid. I’m pretty sure I spent (and still do spend) way too much time making someone else’s blog or promotional email copy absolutely amazing, knowing full well no one really reads that stuff.

My ROI is in the toilet.

So, yeah, “Good enough” is sounding like a goal I should get behind, even if I’m not so happy about it. Approach school like I would approach cleaning a bathroom, closet or, god forbid, the junk drawer, where “good enough” is still a few rungs up the ladder compared to their current state. In fact, with “good enough,” I’d probably be giddy.

Side note: how many times do I say “giddy” in a blog post? I think it’s a lot. That tells me I should probably sleep or get a thesaurus. I’ve got more reading in the morning.

When you’re really old, really in school and really don’t know where the bar is.

One of the big differences in being an adult in college — with kids, a mortgage and a goal of achieving something this time rather than just going to school to hide from the real world: you’re ticked when your class is cancelled for a day. Particularly when it happens on the first day of class.arizona-asphalt-beautiful-490466

This was my day 2. I had one class at the satellite campus that’s only about 25 minutes from my house (the real campus where I’m taking the rest of my classes is an hour 10 minutes away). I was excited to get to go the hometown branch. My adviser was thrilled that someone was taking this class. I jammed on my work for the day so I could wrap up everything that needed to happen for clients before class…and the instructor no shows.

If I had been a 19-year-old undergrad in Texas, I would have celebrated at happy hour. But I’m 52. And I’m in Utah. Which means I don’t even know where the bars are any more. K, that’s probably difference number two.

As an old person, I’m in class to learn. I’m not just doing time in my classes or jumping hoops — I save both of those for trips to the gym. I’m trying to get everything out of every last second and every last dime that I’m putting into this.

There are five other students in the class when I arrive. I’m two minutes late. No instructor. For the first few minutes, we all sit in silence. Then I start asking questions. Who are you? Why are you taking this class? What’s your major? Silence in public places freaks me out.

I learn that I’m the odd woman out in here – everyone else is studying elementary education, which I think would be cute and charming and utterly frustrating. Ask my kids: I’m not the sweet, motherly type. I still think the best part of their elementary years were the Cheezits I justified buying for their lunches.

“Mom, why do we never have Cheezits?”

“Shush, Mommy’s trying to zip her pants. I don’t know why they don’t fit anymore.”

I also learn that elementary ed students are on a super-tight track intended to ensure they graduate on time. Some of them need this class to happen at this very moment or they’ll be delayed another semester. They’ve bribed babysitters and workplaces to be here.

Finally someone tells us what’s happening, which amounts to “Go home. We don’t know where the instructor is.” I look the instructor up on LinkedIn and learn where he is right now: teaching at a local elementary school. I also find another section of the course that I can take, although it means I’ll be in class at the main campus, which is where I take most of my classes, even if it is approximately 1 hour away, for 10+ hours on Wednesdays. I almost sign up, but then have a change in heart. I’ll wait another day.

The next day, I ask the department what’s going on with the class at the satellite. They tell me they just found out that the time will have to change because the instructor can’t be there (I could have told them that yesterday). Oh and if I drop, they won’t have enough students to carry the class and all of the other students will have to find an alternative because no one wants to teach at the satellite campus.

So now it’s on me. I can stay with the class and when the hack instructor decides not to teach it or not to show up anymore, I get to be SOL (college makes me talk like it’s 1990), or I can take care of myself and sign up for a different section and those other five people will be SOL or get stuck driving an extra two hours to take this single class. Easy choice right? I should drop the class and ruin it for everyone. I get to be the asshole!

But I’m not cool with that.

Alright, if you were personally acquainted with me, you’d probably think, “Aren’t you normally an asshole?” Yeah, on the surface, I usually come across that way. I yell horrible things at dumbass drivers from the security of my SUV. I’m open and honest with my children, telling them that their shoes make them look like clowns or hookers or hooker clowns, remind them that they’re already a zit factory as they cram a candy bar down their gullets, make my son fold his laundry before he can rot his brain with video games (although Grand Theft Auto did teach him how to drive), tell my daughter that cats are already peeing on the towel she left on her bathroom floor. I create a stink until my cable TV provider gives me a discount, complain in stores when coupons aren’t added properly, once publicly outed a utility for an error in a promotional email because it was putting my $100 rebate at risk. I send hate mail and messages to politicians. And I think unicorns are dumb. I’m. An. Asshole.

But then you get to know me and you realize that it’s all show. Deep down, except for that unicorn thing, I really just want to see people be treated fairly (unicorns should be annihilated). If I forfeit my desired outcome because someone else’s seems more important, I just have to deal with it. I’d be the suckiest lawyer ever.

BTW, this kind of approach does nothing for your dreams of becoming a corporate executive. Back in my full-time marketing days — like two weeks ago — I watched people sprint up the corporate ladder with the help of lies and sketchy ethics. I knew I’d never make it to the top the day I told my boss at a late-stage tech startup that we had thousands of fake social media followers AND that someone had been creating fake websites that pointed to our site. When I reviewed his next presentation to the board touting our incredible social media growth and boost in Google search rankings, I realized he was the one purchasing all the fakes and that I’d never make it to the top if I kept approaching lies like a Boy Scout. I never even thought of making stuff up to make my work look better!

These are the kind of things that go through my head when I think I’m about to make an asshole move. I sweat the small stuff that I shouldn’t even be thinking about. Frequently that means I don’t decide anything.

This time, however, it’s different. I let my bank account and its abundance of zeros in all the wrong places, which cry of missed opportunity, make the decision. I drop the satellite class and enroll in the other one. Safe!

It’s empowering. I’m strong, invincible, capable of making a decision. All those “asshole” thoughts leave my head.

If only college had done this to me last time, I could be rich right about now.

Is this a bad call? Becoming a teacher after 50.

I’ve been out of class for longer than the person next to me has inhabited this earth. Welcome to my new existence.

For the next two years, I’m a teacher in training. During the first year — a.k.a., now — I’m learning everything I can about keeping my wits about me while standing in front of a group of 12-18 year olds trying to convince them to give a rat’s ass about any of the books or writing assignments we’ll cover. I can feel their excitement already. The second year: hands-on time. Student teaching. I’ll get there when I get there.

In the two classes I’ve been to today, I’ve learned the following:

-I fall somewhere between the age of my classmates’ moms and Nanas. I’m positive we’ll have lots to talk about.
-Free teaching labor starts early — I already need to commit to 20 hours of volunteer time, maybe more.
-Teacher classes come with free popcorn. I like that, although my hips and thighs aren’t so forgiving.
-I’m still not sure why I’m here, but I keep going through the motions anyway.

K, full disclosure: it’s not a life-long dream of mine to become a teacher. It IS something I’ve been thinking about for about 15 years or so. Maybe six or eight years ago, I decided I should end my career by switching to teaching.

But I’m full of shit and big ideas that lack follow through. Why should this time be different?

When my most recent career took a really unfortunate turn, I lost all motivation to keep slinging marketing swill for companies I never cared about. So I sat out for a while and worked freelance, all the while pretending to look for my next career move, while secretly and quietly figuring out what to do with my life.

A few months ago, I decided it was time. Running my own freelance business — the fallback of every writer ever — was unbelievably unfulfilling. The hours were great, the pay frequently dismal (I hate begging for clients), I still had to work with the occasional asshole (don’t kid yourself, even as a freelancer, you’re never really solo), and I was going nowhere. So I entertained a few ideas about what I could do next. Rockstar was out — I don’t do drugs so well anymore and I can’t sing, although I’m not convinced either is a prerequisite. I’m not funny enough to be a standup comedian. And if I haven’t written the great American novel or screenplay by now, it’s probably not happening.

So “teaching” is sort of where I landed. Mind you, my tuition bill has yet to be paid and late charges don’t hit for another week, so I’m still not fully committed.

This could be the biggest mistake of my life. I realize this as I’m on the shuttle bus from the parking lot to class and the guy sitting next to me with a skateboard asks if I know that the bus is going to campus. “Yeah,” I tell him. I can tell he’s confused because I’m not dressed like a professor. I’m expecting a lot of that.

After my first class, which was filled with the kind of people who make me want to jam sharp objects in my eyes to dull the pain of being near them, I quickly checked what it would take for me to get my Ph.D. in a useless subject instead. Years. Like I’d be 60 before I finished and still wouldn’t have a marketable skill that I didn’t already possess. And I’d probably just land in marketing again. But maybe that wouldn’t be so bad after all.

I’ll give it one more class.

Fortunately or fatefully, my second class is better. People seem normal. Smarter, stronger, more accepting. Someone asks the instructor what his favorite TV show is and I want him to respond “Welcome Back, Kotter,” but I’m probably the only one in this classroom who remembers that. Still, I’m sort of excited by the end of class and for a brief second, I’m positive this is what I want to do. I’m sure of it … until I check my voicemail and the dozen or so texts from my teens. Insurance company needs my mileage or should they’re remove my discount? Geriatric cat won’t take his thyroid medication and another cat threw up on the bed. Do I know where my son’s favorite coffee mug is? When will I be home? And is it okay if they open the Amazon box because someone already did. Do they need to do the dishes or can they just leave everything in the sink for me? (Why, yes, what a charming surprise!)

Shit.

Now I’m officially on the fence, which, yes, is an improvement. I go to my final class. I’m bribed with candy. The instructor starts to talk about doing hard things, which she presents as a true story that doesn’t actually pertain to me but I know what she’s doing. She mentions specifically that it’s easier to give up and the challenge lies in moving forward on your own volition. Personally, guilt works better than my own volition, and the guilt trip is coming down on me hard right now, especially since I’m pretty sure she’s saying all of this to and about me, regardless of what everyone else who’s in this classroom and staring down a future of $40k/yr believes.

So, yeah, for now I’ll stay. I haven’t paid tuition yet so what do I have to lose?

That Time YouTube Thought I Was a Racist …

Friday. I’m working on a how-to guide for a client, which means I’m poring over a dozen or so homegrown videos that their underpaid and over exploited college-student staff created. The videos are usually pretty dreadful, although this batch isn’t as bad as most, which makes me wonder if they brought in outside help. Really I don’t care. I just want the pain to be over.

Anyway, it’s no wonder I’m a tad more than half asleep when the final video ends. What wakes me is the collage of YouTube’s “watch next” videos, custom plucked from obscurity. Just for me.

  • Ann Coulter Owns Whoopi Goldberg on Race and White Guilt 

  • 12 Times Michelle Obama Looked Like a Tranny
  • Watch Rachel Maddow get that STUPID SMIRK wiped off her face by Trump’s Election

  • Ben Shapiro Takes Down Bill Maher On “Muslim Ban”

  • Revelation: Dawn of Global Government 2016

insane alt-right playlistI’m in marketing so I know what this means: YouTube thinks I’m racist and a masculist. Or maybe I’m being overly sensitive. Maybe it just thinks I’m an alt-right, narrow-minded, ultra conservative, anti-globalist, pig-headed asshole. Yeah, that’s probably it.

This, incidentally, offends me and not in a pretend “Why are they calling me this?” way. It’s not like a conversation I had a few months ago in which someone told me he wished everyone would stop accusing him of being racist simply because he supported Trump.

“Then why did you support Trump?” was my question.

Anyway, this is a big deal and I don’t like the passive-aggressive accusations YouTube is making about me. It’s wrong and I know it. So why doesn’t YouTube’s algorithm agree?

People will think what the algorithm tells them to think

Here’s the deal. I’ve spent most of the last four years trying to game search algorithms because I was in work situations where I needed to study the tricks that people use to get their pages to rank higher. Doing so gives you insight into how most search algorithms work.

For the uninitiated (consider yourself lucky, BTW), a search algorithm is a formula used to determine what you’re really looking for online. When you’re using a search engine like Google, this means you should receive search results that hit the mark. According to Google, their algorithms “rely on more than 200 unique signals or ‘clues’ that make it possible to guess what you might really be looking for.”

YouTube’s algorithm is going to be a little different. Because the universe of possible search results is smaller, it won’t need to be quite so complex, but it likely is more predictive. In my case, I wasn’t searching for results, I was looking at the collage of videos YouTube was sure I was going to want to watch next. These suggestions were based totally on predictions. Think of it as high-tech stereotyping.

I probably would have been fine living my life without ever caring about search algorithms had it not been for a former boss, one of the most pious AND corrupt VPs ever to grace a boardroom. Call him a snake in the grass, a liar or an essential member of your executive team, I still despised every minute I worked with him. But he did teach me a lot, like what a micromanager is, what Mormon priesthood meetings must be like (I have to assume they’re dull events in which some out of touch, old white guy drones on about something I care nothing about, which was the same way every team meeting we had would progress), and how search algorithms worked.

I learned the search part because Google’s search results were this VP’s nemesis. His goal was laudable — land our company’s website in the number one spot for every search term he could think of — and he tried all the tricks that Google hates to make it happen. Keyword stuffing (he spent his weekends counting every occurrence of a keyword in our posted blogs so we’d have a list of things to change on Monday mornings); ensuring headlines led with the target keyword and promised something that would earn clicks even if it wasn’t paid off in the article (who wouldn’t want to read “Data Warehouse Secrets You Need to Know — Or Else!” that was really just a take on some guy’s high school job at Burger King). He built fake sites that linked to our company’s web pages (if Google catches this, you’re done, or so I’m told), bought fans on Twitter (Google didn’t care about this but I like bringing it up anyway), and mandated every article exceed 800 words, which was great when you were dealing with a concept that warranted 50.

As is usually the case with incredibly corrupt people in business, Google didn’t notice, and the board of directors rewarded him with a promotion.

As for Google’s search algorithm, here’s what I learned: Google pays attention to what you do on the web and not because they’re spying on your shoe purchases for the government. Google wants this info because it uses your activity to predict your future activity, too. The better Google is at this, the more you’ll search. The more you search, the more likely you are to click on an ad and the more money Google can make by selling ads that target you. Plus, when your search results are exactly what you want to see, you’re downright giddy because you won’t have to wade through a pile of irrelevant shit to find out why your cat’s turds are suddenly burnt umber instead of their usual brown.

This is the an extreme oversimplification but you get the idea.

Google’s algorithm and YouTube’s predictions look through your previous searches, what you click on, and may consider how long you stay on a page, the specific search terms and phrases you use, your buying habits, what other people who searched those same terms were looking for, how your neighbors feel about the subject, etc. The algorithm digests all of this information — and plenty more — to decide exactly what it thinks you want to see because, you know, if you wanted a fact, you’d go to a library.

poop parasiteThis means your search for “burnt umber cat turd” turns up information on a fecal parasite that makes you randy. Yes, that’s a true story, you can read it here. Befittingly, it was #2 in my search results. According to Google, “Algorithms are computer programs that look for clues to give you back exactly what you want.” Apparently I want bacterial Viagra.

More often than not, these algorithms hit the mark. But what happens when you want something you wouldn’t normally be looking for? You know, when you’re trying to objectively research an opposing viewpoint? If the algorithm’s results reflect your normal internet tendencies, your easy-access answers, the first 10, 20, or 30 results, might only give you the side of the story you already know. The rest is up to you to eek out. You have 124,768 search results to dig through so grab a cup of coffee.

By the way, this is one of the problems that’s not discussed a lot, although it does influence the increasing bias in our country and elsewhere. When the low-hanging fruit simply confirms what we already believe, why in the world would we keep moving forward to page 2 of our search results … or page 22 … to get the take from the other side? This isn’t 1978. We want our information fast. And digested. Don’t expect us to work for it.

What Did I Do to Make YouTube Think I Was an A-hole?

Back to YouTube, I will admit I usually appreciate the recommendations it makes for me. On any given Saturday night when a sip too much of red wine, which means anything over a half-glass these days (damn age!), makes me think it’s a good idea to force my children to watch a Frankie Goes to Hollywood video, and then YouTube suggests Karma Chameleon, these recommendations are spot on. My children should be tortured by Culture Club (but not Simply Red — I don’t want DCFS knocking on my door).

But not this time. The algorithms on this Friday night are failing for some reason. Sure, I’ve been known to stare at my phone watching a video of ludicrously vile thoughts that froth out of Alex Jones. I hated Milo at least a year before my friends knew who he was, thanks to YouTube. I’ve watched some of the most absurd editing ever courtesy of Paul Joseph Watson, and I’ve even tuned in to see who Tomi Lahren was — and why. But I personally believe I’ve negated each of these instances with my zillions of hours spent with Mother Jones, Samantha Bee and Carpool Karaoke.

Search and prediction algorithms exist to bring you information. Information, by nature, should educate you. But biased results and recommendations don’t help. They just mean your ignorance to opposing views wins and nobody comes out ahead.

Now here’s the best part: when I try to replicate YouTube’s vile suggestions, I can’t. I play the exact same videos, fast-forwarding each to the end because I need to stay awake. I use the same computer, same browser, and even the same browser session because who shuts their computer down?

Nothing. My suggestions are normal. Stephen Colbert, SNL and cat videos.

So why did YouTube think I was a racist for an hour or two? I have my theories:

  1. The YouTube search algorithm had a temporary hiccup, and I was there to witness it. These things MUST happen, right? Any system built by humans is going to have flaws. Just look at democracy.
  2. Since I was viewer 4, 8, 13 on most of these videos, maybe my list was heavily influenced by the viewing habits of the people who had also watched these videos… which means my client. This option scares me.
  3. My suggestions were hacked by lizard men who control the government as a way to distract me so I couldn’t see them luring my children into the back yard where the demons who used to run our country could kidnap them and feed off their positive energy. I don’t buy this one at all — my kids are teenagers so they have no energy, positive or otherwise, and are too lazy to go into the backyard. I’m not even sure they remember where it is.

I’m hoping it’s just a temporarily flawed system. But deep down, I’m guessing it was door #2. I should probably blame viewers 1, 2 and 3. Maybe there’s something wrong with exploited college students in general. Maybe hatred is how the people who made these videos take out their frustrations over working for low wages in full-time positions so they can pay overpriced tuition (Bernie!!! Where are you when we need you?). Or maybe these are simply the kind of people who would work for a company that puts a higher value on keeping payroll low rather than rewarding professionalism and experience.

Or maybe, since these videos ARE notably better than previous ones, the recommendations are the result of an outside vendor who produced the videos. I like that theory best.

Regardless, I’ve learned my lesson. Unfortunately, it’s not to stop watching clips from the sideshow that is Alex Jones, although for a few days I do stay clear of anything alt-right. But eventually I remember that I need to know what’s going through other people’s heads and the only way for me to do this is by experiencing the world as they do. Not something I’d recommend for most people — watching Alex Jones, listening to Michael Savage or stomaching anything associated with Rush Limbaugh is maddening, mind-numbing and boring.

My takeaway is that Google, YouTube and every search algorithm around has inherent flaws. But maybe that’s not always a bad thing. Because if I can get a list that’s inundated by messages from the right, doesn’t that mean someone on the right can get suggestions that are peppered with lefty thoughts like mine, too? Especially if I put an effort into changing the predictions through my own viewing habits.

Looks like I’ve got some watching to do.

 

Equal rights call for equal sarcasm

Rebuttal letter to the editor. Honestly I had no idea how to address this guy’s archaic notions of women’s position in society so I went for sarcasm. You can read the original letter (the one I’m rebutting) by clicking the link in the text below.

I could not agree more with the sentiment behind James C. Green’s recent letter (“Equal Pay bill has a serious downside,The Park Record, Feb. 15, 2017) and want to applaud him for taking the approach that he did to such a sensitive topic — equal rights. But as a writer, I also wanted to coach him on how to make future arguments like this “work.” I’m concerned that people didn’t catch the sarcasm that was obviously influencing his essay. While his writing reminded me of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, I’m sure some people took Mr. Green’s essay at face value rather than tapping into its deeper motivation: to rally the opposition and remind people why equal rights are more important than ever

Tips Mr. Green should consider in the future:

  1. Make sarcasm more blatant. Remember Swift? He recommended Ireland’s poor sell their babies as food for the rich so the children wouldn’t burden their cash-strapped parents. Mr. Green could ramp up his fake arguments against equal rights by suggesting more ludicrous solutions. For example, maybe employers could drop men’s salaries to the wages of women’s. Or, truly innovative businesses might want to foot the bill for gender reassignment so the playing field is naturally leveled.
  2. Ensure arguments are relevant to today’s audience, not someone living 40 years in the past. When you delve into the world of Archie Bunker, you risk being written off as an obsolete dinosaur who doesn’t deserve the energy it takes to type a rebuttal. In fact, that was my initial reaction to Mr. Green’s piece — why waste my time on a narrow-minded relic whose glory days preceded the now obsolete fax machine when I could be performing tasks for which I’m fit, like beating laundry with rocks down by the river? Arguments that start “As more women enter the workforce” and “men will have an even harder time supporting their families” are OLDER than me — and I remember watching All in the Family in primetime. Want to rock the boat? Try something fresh that we haven’t already heard and mocked thousands of times before.
  3. Focus future essays on tenets of equal rights. According to the DOL, 47 percent of the U.S. labor force is female. It’s no doubt that our economy would collapse without the skills and contributions of women. And, while equal pay is a great intro to the topic (especially in the state with the highest gender wage gap), Mr. Green should ensure his future arguments also touch on fair treatment for all people regardless of gender identification, race, religion, age, or level of ignorance.
  4. Even when using sarcasm, base arguments in fact. Today more than ever, audiences need truth. Prove that you’ve done your research and aren’t just pulling thoughts from your rump. Back up assertions with fact from unbiased sources. Yes, those still exist and you can find them in journals, academia and often the mainstream media. Check the Wasatch County Library — the people who work there (a number of whom are women and would probably love to meet you) can help.

One more note, I want to commend the Wasatch County Republican Party for promoting innovative thinking like Mr. Green’s to leadership positions, and to fine institutions like UVU for keeping Mr. Green employed as an instructor (according to his LinkedIn profile that’s where he earns his not-competitive-with-a-woman’s-salary paycheck). Now when I hear catchy phrases like “Grand Old Party” and “Make America Great Again,” I’ll think of Mr. Green.