Politics: It’s the Journey, not the Destination

It’s been a long time since I discussed politics here. I occasionally get into politics over on Twitter, but rarely do I write about it. I don’t consider myself a political wonk so I leave the blogging to the wonks. However, I am not exactly a political outsider either. With years under my belt in the political epicenter of the country – the Greater Washington, D.C. Region – I’m not exactly naive about the political gamesmanship that happens every day.

Now, living in Austin, Texas – the state capital, and center of political activity in the great State of Texas – it’s not like I’m unaware of the way things work on a state level either (though admittedly, I know far less about Texas politics than I do about Maryland or National politics). However, living and traveling outside of the Beltway bubble has been enlightening in how the rest of the country sees the political process.

More or less, outside the beltway, the vast majority of laypeople see politics as something that is offensive, or at minimum, charged with rhetoric, hate and something that is to be shunned in casual social scenarios. Things are so personal to the electorate that, right or left, the objective of governing is lost. The right sees the left as a bloc of people intent on taking away personal liberties, led by a man so vilified for ideas that are less written in stone, and more written in perception based on questionable, if not indiscriminately inaccurate, data.

The left is not much better. The left sees the right as a segment of the country who wants to simply obstruct every bit of progress possible, while returning the country to a racist, misogynist, hateful past.

Both of these perceptions, while steeped in some level of truth, are shams. Both highlight tendencies that reflect deeper conditions among both groups. But here’s the funny part… Both views are curated by both parties inside the beltway.

Whyever would anyone want to perpetrate these despicable ideas???

It’s funny how politics works. Politics is based entirely on manipulation and both parties (the establishment, not the people holding a voter registration card in South Dakota) are masters of it. Politics exists for the sake of power and both parties know that. Both parties also know they need each other to retain power. Both parties agree and walk in unison on 80% of issues. It’s the 20% that is a grand, choreographed display of artistic fortitude. It’s the 20% that allows the GOP to fire up their base of voters to keep keep them (or re-take) power. It’s the 20% that carries the Democrats to a 2006 and 2008 landslide based on anti-Bush sympathy and promises of Hope and Change. It’s the 20% that turns the Tea Party into a movement to be reckoned with in 2010.

Both parties know this and both parties work in lock-step to ensure this epic drama unfolds as it’s supposed to. To do so ensure that Democrats and Republicans lock-in the two party system, that benefits both of them in terms of money and power, for decades to come. To fail to do so (as in, an apathetic American public who isn’t angered by the Thème de la Jour), reveals cracks in the armor, possible loss of campaign contributions, corporate lobbying dollars, and power.

Having lived inside the Beltway, Hill staffers from both sides of the aisle put on their contorted political dance during the day, on television, radio programs, interviews and other media avenues, just to go to happy hour with their colleagues from across the aisle after hours. They are just like us in their every day life (with maybe more hectic schedules). They watch sports, go shopping, eat at restaurants, enjoy craft beers and go through their lives like all of us. The difference is, when they are at work, they are creating an elaborate illusion for the rest of the country.

The illusion is one of hatred, angst, bitter rivalries and political gamesmanship. The point: Keep the proletaria right so bent out of shape about Obama (or whoever) policies and the grassroots left looking at disgust at Republicans using parliamentary games that block Democratic initiatives.

It’s all a game.

Which brings me to the point I took a long time getting to: the GOP primaries.

Last night, I watched as Twitter exploded with chatter about Arizona and Michigan results where Mitt Romney won handily and barely, respectively. People scoffed at Santorum’s pro-life, anti-abortion stance while (inaccurately) putting out misinformation like, “If Santorum gets elected president, he’s going to take away your condoms”. Likewise, equally vilifying statements were made about Mitt Romney.

Now, I am not a partisan. I am unaffiliated with either party and I’m certainly not casting any support to the GOP candidate or to President Obama. I just don’t know who I’ll vote for in November. But I’ll tell you that watching the ongoing angst over the GOP Presidential hopefuls is both funny and tragic. It’s funny because… well, the GOP will get a 40% base no matter who gets the nomination and Obama will get his 40% base no matter who gets the nomination. It’s the 20% in the middle that will decide the race. You can get pissed off about Obama  but the historical data on election trends speaks for itself. Likewise, you can throw statements around about Romney and Santorum, but there’s no reason to believe that the election results in November will break any other way than they always have.

It’s tragic because I realize so few people sit back and enjoy the process. They lose the process through the politics. The process – the primaries as well as the other aspects of Washington work – is a beautiful work of art that has been around for centuries. The system is to be cherished. The politics not so much.

The primaries are not about elections. They aren’t even about politics. They are a mechanism of a party to determine who is going to be on the ticket for the general election (which is about politics). The rules for primaries are different between parties. The outcomes are irrelevant, except for the party internal mechanisms.

While the media does 24 hour coverage of these cycles (did ya hear Super Tuesday is coming up?!), the electorate gets more worked up into a fevered frenzy. It’s sort of like the snake charmer and the cobra where we the people are the cobra and the media and the beltway operation is the snake charmer.

So enjoy this process. Enjoy our system of government that, while not perfect, is still quite amazing. Everything that is old is new again. Everything new is fading away. It’s made up of cycles and we are just players in a grand dance.

TUTORIAL: Using WordPress’ Ajax API

WordPress has tons of APIs to do tons of things. It really does. One of the cool ones that I’ve been using a lot lately, has been around for a bit. It’s the Ajax API. Sure, you could write your own Ajaxy thing but why do that when WordPress lets you do it all very simply.

This tutorial will show you how to replicate the functionality that is presented in the “Like” button at Facebook. It assumes that you have WordPress set to require users to be logged in to take such actions. It wouldn’t make much sense for someone to not be logged in for such functionality. Obviously, you could do something else with Ajax (polls? Loading new content?) that doesn’t have the same assumption, but in this case… we’re assuming a user is logged in and the $current_user global is set.

Getting Started

Let’s start with the basic PHP class (you do write good object-oriented code, right?)

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class My_Like_Button {

    function __construct()
    {
    }
}

$my_like_button = new My_Like_Button;

This code is just a basic skeleton that provides a constructor (the __construct() method, which I’ll use later. It also instantiates a new My_Like_Button object and assigns it to the $my_like_button variable for use in the global scope. Obviously, you can use whatever strikes your fancy for the class name or the global variable.

Building the HTML for the Like Button

Next, we need the basic HTML structure that will be used in our theme for the Like button. For the sake of simplicity, I’m not providing any CSS, but feel free to do as you wish. We need to add this as a new method in our class.

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function like_button()
{
    if( !is_user_logged_in() )
        return false;
       
    global $current_user;
       
    $html = '<form action="" method="post">
        <input type="hidden" name="like_post_id" id="like_post_id" value="'
. get_the_ID() .'">
        <input type="hidden" name="like_user_id" id="like_user_id" value="'
. $current_user->ID . '">
        <input type="button" name="like_this_post" id="like_this_post" value="Like" />
    </form>'
;
    return $html;
}

This form provides two hidden form fields using get_the_ID() and the $current_user object. Having done this (and after ensuring there is a logged in user), we can now drop this into our theme in the Loop as a template tag:

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<?php echo $my_like_button->like_button(); ?>

Sending the Ajax Request with jQuery

This is useless by itself. We need something to handle the Ajax. But before we get there, we need to understand how Ajax works within the WordPress context.

All requests must go to wp-admin/admin-ajax.php. Forget the confusion about why you would send a front-end Ajax request to the back-end. You just do.

On the back-end, you’ll have to define functions that will hook into the Ajax API to let WordPress know how to handle the request. More on that in a minute. Let’s build some jQuery to send this to admin-ajax.php.

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function js()
{
    wp_enqueue_script( 'jquery' );
    wp_print_scripts();
    ?>
    <script>
    jQuery(document).ready(function(){
           
        jQuery('#like_this_post').click(function(){
            var like_post_id = jQuery('#like_post_id').val();
            var like_user_id = jQuery('#like_user_id').val();
           
            jQuery.post(
                '<?php echo get_option('siteurl') . '/wp-admin/admin-ajax.php' ?>',
                {
                    action      : 'register_like',
                    user_id     : like_user_id,
                    post_id     : like_post_id,
                    _wpnonce    : '<?php echo wp_create_nonce('nonce-register_like'); ?>',
                },
                function(response) {   
                    alert(response);
                }
            );
               
        });
    });
    </script>
    <?php
}

This is just a PHP function that we can use to throw some jQuery (using the .post() method for our Ajax call) into the head. Note the nonce. You must include this for security. Additionally, you must have an action set. The action is used by WordPress to route the Ajax request.

Finally, we’re passing two extra pieces of data – user_id which is the WordPress user ID and the post_id which is the WordPress post ID of the current $post object inside the Loop. Both of these are supplied in the hidden form fields we created earlier.

Let’s add a new method for hooks and call it in our constructor, so that hooks are executed when the object is instantiated:

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function __construct()
{
    $this->hooks();
}
   
function hooks()
{
    add_action( 'wp_head', array( $this, 'js' ) );
}

Supplying the Ajax Handler

Having hooked the jQuery into WordPress, we now need something on the other end to handle the request and return something back to our page. For this, let’s create a method called handle_like().

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function handle_like()
{
    global $wpdb;
    $user_id = (int) $_POST['user_id'];
    $post_id = (int) $_POST['post_id'];
       
    if( !is_user_logged_in() )
        return false;
       
    if( !wp_verify_nonce( $_POST['_wpnonce'], 'nonce-register_like' ) )
        die( 'Go away, asshole!' );
       
    /*
        Here is where we do some sort of database operation to associate
        the Like of the given post with the user who performed the action
       
        Make sure you check for errors. In order to return data, you must
        echo something that the originating page can see. True or false
        only makes sense on this page and not back there.
           
        Typically, you'd output some sort of JSON, XML or plain text.
    */

    $meta_id = add_post_meta( $post_id, 'user_liked', $user_id );
    if( !$meta_id )
        echo "Like not recorded";
    else
        echo "Like recorded";
    exit;
}

In this method, it’s important that all data be sanitized to avoid security problems. I’m performing the most basic of data security here by casting the $_POST variables for the users ID and the post ID to integers.

We’re also checking to make sure the user is logged in. This is why using the built in WordPress Ajax API is actually kind of important. If you build your own Ajax handler, there’s no way to reliable tie in to WordPress to use other APIs like the User API.

Finally, make sure you verify the nonce so you know the request is coming from a legitimate source.

The three security procedures I just listed will largely prevent SQL Injection, ensure authenticated users and eliminate the possibility of Cross Site Request Forgery (CSRF) and generally should be used in all WordPress plugin development.

Simply though, the above method takes the post ID, the user ID and creates a new record in the postmeta table. On success, it will print a success method readable by the original sending page and vica versa on failure.

Note: You must use die() or exit() at the end of the method to make sure the Ajax response exits properly.

Tying the Handler into WordPress

Now that we have a handler method to do our bidding, we need to make sure WordPress knows about it so it routes Ajax requests to the proper place. To do this, we leverage the wp_ajax_{$action} hook.

Remember earlier, while building the jQuery Ajax request, I mentioned that an action POST variable had to be set? WordPress looks to this variable to create a dynamic hook that we can use our new Ajax callback to hook into.

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add_action( 'wp_ajax_register_like', array( $this, 'handle_like' ) );

Because our action in the js() method was set to register_like, the hook WordPress creates dynamically is wp_ajax_register_like and we can use that to hook our Ajax handler onto.

Wrapping it all Together

Easy right? Use jQuery to send data, wp-admin/admin-ajax.php to receive the Ajax request and pass it on to an appropriate handler function, and send data back to the original page. On the receiving end, you can use normal means to handle the returned data as you wish.

You can download the full code used here at Github.

Game Planning Super Bowl XLVI: Giants vs. Patriots

Super Bowl XLVI
Photo Credit: Carl Van Rooy

Super Bowl XLVI is upon us and everyone is bloviating about what needs to happen in this game for either team to win. I’m on the record as rooting for the Giants, which sets up the third year in a row of abandoning the AFC. I will always root for the AFC unless it’s the Steelers, Colts or Patriots – and guess who has represented the AFC in this and the last two Super Bowls… the Colts, Steelers and now the Patriots.

But putting personal football bias aside, there are keys to winning this game for both teams and I think it’s going to be a good game.

For the Giants to win…

The Giants have a difficult road ahead facing one of the most elite quarterbacks that has ever played the game of football. Indeed, they have a good quarterback (I’m still not ready to give Eli Manning the much-ballyhooed ‘elite’ status…) who is very capable of winning this game by himself. But he won’t win this game by himself. He’s going to need Brandon Jacobs, Hakeem Nicks and company.

The Giants defense has to step up. They have to get their blitz on on more than third down. Unfortunately, if you put 8 in the box all the time, you’re leaving Gronkowski, Welker and Hernandez undercovered. But I think they need to commit to the blitz early. Load up the box, get Brady scrambling. Brady has been known to throw interceptions and incomplete passes and generally is prone to some Really Bad Life Decisions(TM) when under pressure. You let him sit in the pocket, and it doesn’t matter how strong your pass coverage is… he will eat you for lunch.

On the flip side, they have to double team Gronkowski as much as possible. That, leaves Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez open but based on their patterns, the Giants are more able to cover those two inside one on one, than leaving Gronk in one on one.

On offense, the Giants have to run the ball. They have to burn the clock and own time of possession. Brandon Jacobs needs a fumble-less game and as long as he can get 3-4 yards on every touch, the Giants should be able to accomplish this. And it shouldn’t be hard, considering the New England defensive line has allowed 4.51 yards average running. Of course, this also has the added benefit of setting up the play action to Mario Manningham or the long ball to Victor Cruz… both of which could be the difference between winning a tempo game.

For the Patriots to win…

The recipe for a Patriots win is what it often is – rely on Brady, get out to a fast start and get the Giants back on the defensive. Obviously, this all starts on the Offensive Line. Statistically, the Patriots line is weakest on the left side. That is the worst side to be weak on as that is Brady’s blind side. Matt Light has to do his job in protection because the Giants will blitz from that side. If Brady has time in the pocket, then it’s over.

The Patriots like to use the “Bunch” formation which stacks three recievers on one side of the line. This usually means a passing setup, where the recievers are able to explode off the line together before hitting routes, causing confusion (and maybe collisions) on the defensive side of the ball. Against the Cowboys earlier this year, the Patriots enhanced the bunch by using it effectively in the run game.

I don’t want to put too much weight on the Patriots running game. I think the Giants can handle BenJarvus Green-Ellis and keep him a non-factor. But if the Pats can effectively use the Bunch Run, they have a dangerous combination that will force the Giants to pay attention to the run, as well as the pass.

Blackouts, Boycotts and Regressing From Progress

A couple of weeks ago, the United States, and in fact, the world saw the internet grow up. Namely, through the use of blackouts – a previously unused tactic of protest and grassroots organizing – we saw the evil Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and it’s evil twin Protect IP (PIPA) anti-piracy legislation fail in what seemed like an instant.

Back in December, it became clear that Congress would hearken to their corporate sugar daddys and shove these two pieces of legislation through the Congress without so much as a minimal amount of input from the technology world that would be devastated by their provisions. After votes on these bills were delayed until after the new year, the Internet – led by Wikipedia, Google, Craigslist, and hundreds of thousands of other sites, including this one – self-organized a protest that would involve “blackouts” of sites (and in some cases, very pronounced messaging in he case where blackouts were not feasible.

Despite defensive posturing by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and others who served to benefit from the legislation, Congressmen and Senators began fleeing the bills en masse. We had successfully made our mark on Washington.

But then a funny thing happened. Twitter made some changes to it’s infrastructure to make it possible for them to operate transparently and legally inside countries that have stricter laws on free speech. It’s a necessary problem that companies have had to face for decades in places like China where speech is censored. I’ll let you read their blog post on the topic.

A small portion of the internet cried foul, claiming censorship. They looked at Twitter as anti-free speech and attempted – unsuccessfully – to self-organize a boycott of Twitter. It failed.

A very specific truth is at play and this is the crux of things. We matured on SOPA blackout day. We decided we wouldn’t be independent and fractioned, which is our nature as independent organizations and people. We had a desired goal (the defeat of SOPA/PIPA) and very specific actions and messaging that needed to happen.

The Twitter boycott (and most boycotts like it) cannot be effective in the same way. The Twitter boycott was a regression in our maturity. We didn’t have the same goal with surgical precision. We didn’t have any ground-swell of support. We had no stated goal or desirable outcome. We can’t use the same tactic every time. We regressed.

And by we, I don’t mean me. I knew it would be a failure.

Grassroots organizing is important and there will be other necessary flexing of muscle. But we can’t just cry foul because we don’t like a decision a company has made. We need to be selective about the fights we engage in and do them tactfully, strategically and surgically. That is maturity.

Congratulations, Internet. We Won the Day.

Today, I feel like a proud poppa. I don’t want to get too celebratory and put out some kind of aura that our battle against SOPA and PIPA are over. In fact, neither are over. But I’ll get to that in a minute, because yesterday was AMAZING!

Yesterday, we saw the Internet come of age. We’ve seen the trend. The Internet has played a crucial role in the Arab Spring, political activism and fundraising as seen in the Obama election campaign in 2008, news reporting as seen in the incident of the US Airways jet in the Hudson River. We’ve seen a definite maturation process on the Internet over the years.

However, we have always been to dysfunctional to be a force. We are all too inbred with independent streaks to band together. In auto racing, cars often “draft” each other to increase speed, because drafting – or riding the sometimes-literal bumper of a car in front of you reduces wind resistence, and increases aerodynamics, thus increasing overall speed of the collective over the individual.

Ladies and gentlemen, we were drafting like pros yesterday.

We were drafting so well that the CEO of the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) – former Senator Chris Dodd – came out shooting at proposed blackouts… on Tuesday before it happened! Mother Jones covers this nicely.

But we went out there, amidst a national media blackout (no pun intended) and did our thing. We were obviously led by the big dogs – WikiPedia, WordPress.com, Google, Tumblr, Reddit and more, but Flickr, WordPress (dot org and dot com), and many more funneled the millions into political action.

This site was blacked out, as were all of my sites. Avatars on Twitter and Facebook were updated en masse with protest messages.

The collective made a statement like we’ve never made a statement before. And it worked. We turned the tide.

13 Senators flipped. Multiple Congressspeople flipped. Sponsors that had names added to the bills, undoubtedly as a matter of normal course of Washington handshakes and blowjobs, suddenly wondered how their names were attached to the bill and suddenly had to reconsider their positions among public scrutiny.

We won the day.

We have not won the battle. To this day, Rep. Lamar Smith, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, continues to give a middle-finger to his colleagues (including his own Majority Leader) and insists on resuming markup of SOPA in February. Damn the President’s threat to veto. I wrote him a letter yesterday and I wish you would share that across your networks. It’s very important.

Inside the beltway, nothing is dead until it’s dead. Using lines like, “I will not support this bill in its present form” only means, “Go get me some political cover, and I’ll reconsider”. The fact that Eric Cantor says it won’t come to the House floor for a vote, doesn’t mean it won’t. Just because the President says he’s veto it doesn’t mean he will. SOPA needs to be killed in committee and never see the light of day.

Likewise, PIPA in the Senate is losing support very quickly, but if SOPA were to die and PIPA were clear the Senate, my feeling is it would go to the President for a signature and let him make the political call in an election year.

Nothing is dead yet. We must be vigilant. We must maintain the protest, the calls, the emails, the pressure. Stop by your Congressman’s hometown office and talk to his staff. That’ll be more effective than emails and letters and phone calls. Be respectful, but make your voice heard.

Open Letter to Congressman Lamar Smith Regarding SOPA Championing

An email sent to the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who insists on pushing the SOPA bill through committee.

Dear Mr. Smith-

This is an open letter which will be published online, and promoted on Facebook, Twitter and other networks.

As a Texas resident, I find it egregious that you have decided to sell out so uniformly to the entertainment industry. It is so transparent, in fact, that federal records show that your biggest donor are from the holding company for Clear Channel and your biggest campaign contributions come from the entertainment industry itself. Shockingly, the records also show that a Texas elected representative has taken less money from the powerful energy industry that directly effects his constituents, than from an industry who has tried for over a decade to protect their own interests at the expense of your constituents.

This same industry has consistently bullied law-abiding citizens across this country with exorbitant lawsuits and heavy-handed scare tactics.

Your colleagues, in both the House and the Senate, have realized that the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), while idealistic in nature, are destructive to the innovative and stable nature of the Internet – the same nature that has created great economic vitality and growth over the past 20 years.

Your own majority leader, Mr. Eric Cantor, has expressed that SOPA will not come to a vote on the House floor without significant thought, intention, and consensus. This is clearly not happening as your colleagues have backed away from support, going the exact opposite direction from consensus – some even removing their names as co-sponsors.

Sir, you must listen to me and the American public. We see your transparent appeasement to your most significant donors. We understand campaign contributions are important for you and your efforts on behalf of the great State of Texas. However, attempting to ramrod this legislation through will be harmful to Texas, Texas innovation, Texas business as well as collaboration, security and health of the Internet, and business across the nation and globe.

You must abandon your single-sighted focus on ramming this legislation through the House of Representatives with the transparent motive of appeasing your donors. This is a democracy, not a business. You represent us.

Very respectfully,

Aaron Brazell

Welcome to Baltimore! (Or a Playoff Weekend Guide to Charm City)

It’s no secret that I’m a Ravens fan. Even sitting here in a coffee shop deep in the heart of Texas (with my cowboy hat, boot, deep Texas drawl and a ‘preciation for all those who venture into our fair area of heaven 1). So, it’s with deep pride that I send Houston Texans back to my hometown for an ass-whoopin’.

I travel a lot for football. It’s kind of my hobby. This year, I was back in Baltimore for the Week 6 matchup against these same Texans and the Week 16 matchup on Christmas Eve for the Cleveland Browns game. I also visited Seattle 2 in November.

In Baltimore, we make no bones about the fact that we’re the better team than our opponent in almost every case. We’re undefeated at home and in our division, the toughest in football. However, we do welcome fans from other cities and want you to have a good time.

Just don’t be a jerk!

With that said, we hope you spend the weekend in the city and give us your money at our many fine establishments. Here’s some ideas.

Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards and the Babe Ruth Museum

Baltimore has a steeped sports tradition. From the Baltimore Orioles who have put out such hall of famers such as Earl Weaver, Cal Ripken, Jr., Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and more to the Baltimore Colts and Johnny Unitas to the Baltimore Bullets (now the Washington Wizards)… the tradition is rich. Babe Ruth was, of course, born in Baltimore. Take a trip just west of Camden Yards (located north of M&T Bank Stadium 3 to the Babe Ruth Museum or to the Northwest corner of Camden Yards to the Sports Legends Museum.

Website: http://www.baberuthmuseum.com

Brewer’s Art

Gain an appreciation for one of the better places to get a home-grown brew. The Brewer’s Art, located in Baltimore’s artsy Mt. Royal district, is built into ancient tunnels that once existed under modern-day Charles St. The tunnels existed for the purpose of pulling cannons through in the unfortunate situation where Ft. McHenry had to be scuttled. It’s dark and homey and makes some of the best microbrews I’ve ever tasted – The Ressurection Ale, an Abbey-style weighing in at 7%, and the Ozzy, a duvel-style weighing in at 7.25%.

Website: http://www.thebrewersart.com

Luckies’s for a Dedicated Texans fan Patriots-Broncos Watch Party

Luckies’s is a fun place in Baltimore’s Power Plant Live! district 4, for all things Texas sports. It’s also the home of the local Texas Longhorns alumni group and you can find this dedicated group there on weekend in the fall watching the Longhorns win (unless they’re losing).

Behind the bar, they have a dedicated Texas “mug club” for the dedicated members with the burnt orange prominently displayed throughout. Though I’m aware that Houston is *cough cough* Aggies country, they are opening up the bar for a special watch party for Texans fans interested in seeing Tebow, or the Patriots on Saturday. That event starts at 3pm and apparently, a Houston DJ is flying in to DJ after the game. 5

Website: https://www.facebook.com/LuckiesTavernBaltimore

Crabcakes

You can’t go to Maryland without getting a Crabcake. Sorry, Houston… Gulf crabs are not the same. And anything fried should be avoided – broiled only! There are always some passionate opinions about what is best. I recommend (if you have wheels), heading just south of town to G&M. Do not head to Phillips. Many of my favorite haunts are closed since I moved away so I asked local Baltimore folks on Twitter for recommendations.

@OneFineJay: Best takeout: Roy’s in Glen Burnie. Also, Hellas.

@scott_cover: koko’s or faidleys always good

Welcome but Behave!

As one Texans journalist noted in an article this week, you’re an uninvited guest. We want you to have fun but please don’t be a jerk. To Texans fans credit, I have visited both Reliant Stadium in purple and the Texans game earlier in 2011 in Baltimore. In both cases, Texans fans were great. We know we don’t match your amazing tailgating prowess, but we do a pretty good job. Get in there and mix it up with fans… just don’t be that guy (or girl!) that is pissing the locals off. This ain’t Texas. :)

Notes:

  1. Not really!
  2. Worst fans in the NFL!
  3. You can just call it the Vault!
  4. Avoid at night unless you like college-age bros and hos
  5. unconfirmed

Your Fiefdom Doesn’t Matter (Or Get your Head out of Your Regional Startup Ass)

Photo used under Creative Commons. Taken by Fellowship of the Rich

There’s this thing called Protectionism. Protectionism is largely a political word used to describe the retreat to self-isolationism for the sake of preserving well-being. It was a word tossed around in late 2008 and 2009 after the market crash when the international community joined together to try to stave off a global economic failure. There were some who believed the United States had their own issues and shouldn’t be worrying about bailing out Europe. This mentality still exists, for better or for worse.

But protectionism is also something that is hurting innovation, business, and startups in an Internet world. It seems like weekly, someone is writing a post about why NYC is the best place to start a company, or why Austin is better than the Valley.

Here’s the honest to God truth… your fiefdoms don’t matter. Your little land grabs and protectionist ideas are hurting the global collective that we all rely on and need. Austin is better than the Valley in some ways but the Valley is better than NYC in others and NYC is better than Europe in others and Europe is better than China in others. You get the point.

Let me pick on my Austin colleagues for a minute. Why don’t you pay attention to what’s happening outside of Austin for a minute? You touted Gowalla as the best thing ever. Why? Because it was from Austin. The data clearly showed differently. Foursquare was better. And now Gowalla is gone and in Palo Alto and doesn’t even exist anymore. Data can’t be argued with.

You think your little community (Austin and other places) makes any real difference? It doesn’t. It’s part of a global community and your little bubble can’t exist in a vacuum. It’s best you start understanding that. We need the Valley. We need Chicago. We need NYC. And they need us.

It’s best we stop pretending that Austin is the best place on earth. It’s not. It’s an awesome place among other awesome places. We are doing awesome things but we aren’t the only people doing awesome things. So let’s stop pretending, get rid of the navel-gazing myopia and get our collective heads out of our asses.

We need our regional fiefdoms for mentorship, collaboration and sharing. We are not the end of the story.

Austin. San Francisco. Europe. New York City. All of us.

Dude, Shut Your Effing Social Media Mouth.

Honey Badger
Honey Badger don't care! (Photo used under Creative Commons. Taken by Bruce McAdam)

It’s been awhile since I ranted. Like really ranted. I’m about to change that.

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It’s no secret that social media marketing has turned largely douchey. Self-important blowhards show up at SXSW, Blog World Expo and many other industry events every year with the sole purpose of being socialites and schmoozing with their peers and getting into the hottest parties. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it.

But there’s no authenticity in any of it. We call those self-labelled social media gurus as social media douchebags for a reason. It’s because no one (with rare exception) is actually doing real marketing. They are doing friend-mongering. If they can get their clients Facebook likes and Twitter followers then they are being successful. But largely, all they are doing is going to their network of peers who are doing the same goddamn thing and getting them to “Like” their clients Facebook page.

How is this genuine? How is this legitimate? Do I really like Ford because Scott Monty is the head of social media for Ford? Well, I might… and I do like Scott… and I haven’t actually interacted with Scott in a long time so this actually has nothing to do with him.

I added someone who I met in a non-professional setting in Chicago last week to Facebook. I joked with her that it’s surprising we weren’t already friends because we had 41 friends in common.

Why is social media all about clustering together? By all means, we see mutual respect among journalists, but I bet Paul Krugman isn’t tweeting Thomas Friedman asking for a retweet simply to get exposure to his economic op-eds. He doesn’t have to. His work speaks for itself and amplifies itself.

If we dig deep on the social media marketing industry, the discovery under the surface is mind-numbing. I’m about to blow your mind. Social Media people have no clout (or Klout, if you want to play on that metaphor). If they did, their work would self-amplify. They wouldn’t need to look like industry hookers trying to make money with the only assets available to them. They would just… be. And they would be successful. And they wouldn’t have to prove to their clients that they can get the job done. They wouldn’t need to add milestones like “Acquire 1000 Likes on the company Facebook page” or “Build up to 5000 followers on Twitter using mutual retweet tactics” to proposals. Their reputation would precede them. They wouldn’t need to write a book to falsely inflate their value. They would have reputation.

Take Dean McBeth, who I also met last week. Dean works for a small boutique agency in New York. I had never heard of Dean personally, but then he informed me that his claim to fame was architecting the now-legendary Old Spice ads. Ok, your reputation precedes you, then, Dean. Thanks for not asking me to let my network of people know to Like your agency on Facebook.

Look, I understand that there are people like Dean doing great work. For every Dean, however, there are 5 people doing shitty work, relying way to heavily on nerd cred and too little on reputation and results.

People earn their reputations through hard work, perseverence, and time. Yes, that involves networking and schmoozing. But there is no credibility lent to your client by getting a bunch of your friends to “do you a solid” and help you get your work done. If you need 1000 Likes on Facebook, don’t ask me to help unless it’s something that I genuinely like. I’m not going to follow you because you follow me on Twitter. I don’t care about your client… you do. Do good work and let it self-amplify. Otherwise it’s all smoke and mirrors.

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Update: If you still feel like you need to get a handjob, here’s a list of Social Media conferences where you can meet people, follow them on Twitter for the purpose of using your network for the benefit of your client later down the road.

Skunkworks

Back in October, I announced my departure from WP Engine. At that time, though I didn’t talk about it on this blog, I decided to take some time off, more or less. Since 2006, I’ve been hard at work with very little time alotted to myself. I spent 2 years with b5media and jumped immediately into a failed role at Lijit (who has now been acquired by Federated Media – nice work, guys!). Upon my departure from Lijit, shortly after the market bottom in 2008, and needing money desperately, I went into full time WordPress consulting. I did that until I moved to Austin last year when I went in full time on WP Engine and stayed there for 15 months or so.

So basically, I haven’t had a lot of time to myself. So I took time. In the past few months, I’ve taken some large consulting contracts, but mostly, I’ve spent time travelling to Maryland, Seattle, Chicago – all for pleasure, nothing for work. I’ve spent time trying to weigh my priorities and wants. I’ve tossed around starting up a new company or doing something different.

At the end of the day, now that it’s 2012, I know what I want to do. It’s a bit unusual, but I think it’s important and can really revolutionize a boutique agency. I’m not comfortable doing social media work. I’m too honest and raw in my own online presence and many companies and clients may not be comfortable with my level of authenticity.

I also don’t want to do what is common among agencies – sweatshop site development. Hey, no offense. That’s what it is. Take on 30 new clients, promise them websites that are the brainchilds of the agency marketing “expertise” and ask the developers to crank them out with little to no strategic or creative input.

That might work for some developers, but I’m not a normal developer. I’m a highly established WordPress professional that has commanded 5 figure consulting deals, written a 700+ page book on the subject and have built some of the most complex WordPress solutions I’ve ever seen (Humble brag! Also proprietary, but can provide in person demos). I’m not a good fit for sweatshop site generation.

You know what agencies need that no one is doing because no one has taken the time to think outside the box? A skunkworks division. What agencies need to differentiate themselves from the thousands of other agencies they are competing with is a person or small group of people with autonomy and who are focused soley on creating disruptive technologies that no one else is doing. Try things. Fail at some, succeed at others. Test market demand. Offer exclusive access to stuff that no other agency has. Innovate, innovate, innovate.

That’s what I want to do. And someone sees the sense in that. And someone realizes that that is worth thinking outside the box for. Someone is willing to invest in that competitive advantage. Someone gets it. It’ll take money. It’ll take risk. It’ll take balls of steel. Or you can be normal. Who wants to be normal?

So as we enter 2012, I am open to conversations around this or other creative outlets you might want to explore if you want a competitive advantage. Email me at aaron@technosailor.com.