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Feb 3 2009

Privacy and the Inadvertent me

Jamie Barrows

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I’m not sure if I mentioned this before or not. At least I’m not sure if I mentioned it on this blog. But even if I have mentioned it before, it still bears repeating. Anything you put online may come back to haunt you some day in the future. So be careful what you post or say in forums and on blogs like this one.

What brought this topic to mind for me was a blog post I read on the Freedom To Tinker blog, called Satyam and the Inadvertent Web. Basically it’s the story of how a group of pictures taken and uploaded to Flickr several years ago, suddenly became highly relevant when Satyam became news worthy.

The pictures were taken by someone with no real connection to the company other than visiting it on a trip to India. They sat on Flickr for years and lived in obscurity all that time. Then Satyam got in the news for one of the biggest financial coverups of the Indian high tech industry. Suddenly, they were being referenced and viewed regularly. Suddenly those photos became a very large part of who the photographer is online.

The point is, whatever you say online. Whether on an obscure blog like mine, or on a major traffic destination, could become a big part of who you are and how you are perceived when people do a search for you.

People search engines are becoming better and better at finding all the bits and pieces of yourself that are scattered all over the web and aggregating them into a clear picture of you. Don’t believe me? Do a search for your name on Google and see what comes back. Probably more than you would expect. And Google doesn’t even specialize in people searches. If you do a search on a people specific search engine like Pipl.com. You will be amazed at what it can find about you. All those little comments, pictures, and even government records get matched up to your name. It can often even match up nicknames and pseudonyms that you have used in the past.

Those little tiny pieces of you that are scattered all over the web may lie in obscurity and be hardly noticed for years, and then a current news story can easily bring them to the forefront. Suddenly that comment or picture you posted years ago, is on the first page of a Google search for you. And what’s worse, is that you can’t ever really get rid of info once it is online.

It’s not like having an embarrassing conversation with someone or saying something stupid. Those things are easily forgotten once the conversation is over. Comments, blog posts, pictures, and social networking profiles can stick around forever once they are online. Even going back and deleting them (assuming you can) doesn’t really make them go away. They will still be in caches and archives all over the web. And it’s getting easier and easier to find that info if you are looking for it.

I’m not writing this to scare you off from commenting in forums or on blogs. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t have your own blog or facebook/myspace account. All I’m saying, is that you really should think very carefully before posting anything online. You should carefully consider your words before whipping out a comment on a blog or forum. Because you never know when that little piece of you might become a BIG piece of you.


Jan 30 2009

Consideration for others

Jamie Barrows

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I was driving to work this morning and something happened that just struck me. It was an act of thoughtfulness and consideration from someone who had no need to do so and gained nothing tangible from doing it.

My drive is kind of long (about an hour) and I end up taking some back roads along the way. The speed limits (with the exception of one small town) are pretty high. So traffic usually moves along at a good speed. But every once in a while I will hit the road at just the wrong time and get stuck behind a school bus.

Now I don’t know how it is in other nations, but here in the US we have some specific traffic rules that apply to school buses. When a school bus stops to pick up a child, all traffic on the road going both directions must stop. The reasoning being that the child will be entering, and possibly crossing, the road to board the bus. So traffic should stop to ensure the safety of the child. And it really is a good rule.

The problem is that if you get stuck behind one of these school buses on your way to work, or wherever you are going, you will be stopping every few minutes until either you or the bus turns off the road. So it can get very annoying. And I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that it was going to take me a lot longer to get to work than I had planned.

But then something happened. The school bus turned off the road. Which at first I didn’t think anything of. That is nothing other than relief that I was not going to have to spend the next 45 minutes to an hour behind it. But then I noticed that the bus had turned off, only to get back on. That is, the bus driver had deliberately turned off the road to allow the cars that were backed up behind it to get past. The driver had realized that there was a long line of cars behind the bus and was going out of his way to let that line past.

And he didn’t have to let us past. He was perfectly within his rights to simply continue along his route and let the line back up. The driver only did it out of consideration for those of us behind him.
Which really made me think about how often I could have been more considerate of others around me. How often have I blissfully continued along with whatever I was doing and gave no thought to others around me?


Jan 19 2009

When is too much information, too much information?

Jamie Barrows

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I read an interesting rant over the weekend. It’s titled "Is this the better world you were talking about?" And the main theme seemed to be the information glut that we are daily exposed to. And the point seemed to be that the information glut is causing more harm than good.

I’ve written about information overload in one of my posts before. But other than claiming I need to be better at dealing with it, I am pretty strongly of the opinion that more information is better than less.

The author of the article makes the point that a huge amount of the information out there these days is exaggerated or overreported. And he’s right. A lot of it is just exaggerated opinions and fearmongering. Bias and sensationalism is rampant in our news media. But is that really a difference from the past or a problem that needs to be fixed? As I posted in one of my posts over a year ago, I don’t see that as an issue. ALL NEWS is biased by the opinions and beliefs of the reporter. That holds true no matter what the medium (TV, Newspaper, Radio, Internet, etc.) is. As long as you can identify the bias of the reporter and know that it is there, you should be able to get the facts out of the story.

And as for being overwhelmed by the information, it isn’t all that hard to just turn off the TV, or not read the article. If the weather channel is giving you too much information, just don’t watch it. If you are constantly getting sucked into the conspiracy theories of fringe groups, stop listening to them.

The way I see it, it’s just a question of developing proper filters. People need to learn how to filter out the fringe extremist groups and make sure they get their news from multiple sources to recognize and counteract the bias present in any one source. They need to be disciplined enough to turn off the news feed if it is taking over their lives or becoming an obsession.

There will always be those people who can’t or won’t develop decent critical filters, but that doesn’t mean the world would be better off with less information. If you look at history, you will see that in almost every repressive society, much of that repression was accomplished by a strict control of information and the means of communication. That kind of control, in our information rich and information overloaded society,  is no longer possible.

These days we have true freedom to express our knowledge and opinions. And the luxury of being able to choose our sources of information and control the quantity of the information we receive. I don’t think I would want to give that freedom up or go back to the days of limited information.

Would you? Is there such a thing as too much information?


Dec 1 2008

How do you treat people?

Jamie Barrows

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I read the following quote today.

"The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good."  – Samuel Johnson

Which made me think about my life. Do I treat people who can’t do anything for me the same way I treat people who can do something for me? Or how about those people I don’t really like? Do I treat them the way I should?

The truth is, I don’t. Especially people I don’t like. I’m not talking about people who have given me reason to be cautious about, or people who have mistreated me. I’m talking about the people who have never given me a reason to not like them, and yet I just don’t.

You know the type. The nerd at the party, or the odd person who is just a bit annoying. They are nice people, but not people I like. I have no reason to treat them badly,and yet I find myself avoiding them or ignoring them when they talk to me. It’s not right, and yet I end up doing it anyway.

It’s something I need to work on. Treating others the way I want to be treated is a biblical command. Not just a good idea. 

Matthew 7:12
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.


Aug 19 2008

Interesting People

Jamie Barrows

Thursday I had a rather interesting and odd event happen to me. Something that seems rather bizzare and that reminded me of the many strange and odd people that live in our country.
I had worked late Wednesday night, and hadn’t gotten to bed until about 2 am. So Thursday morning I was kind of sleeping in. I didn’t have to go to work, until 2 pm. So there was no reason not to catch up on the sleep I had missed the day before.

Around 9 am I woke up to hear someone knocking on the door of the house. Now, I was still pretty tired and I really didn’t want to wake up. So I waited to see if Stacey(my sister in law) would get up to answer it. But after the third knock, I realized that either Stacey wasn’t home, or she wasn’t going to wake up. So I got up, pulled on a pair of pants, and rushed down stairs to answer the door.
I’m sure I looked pretty wild. Barefoot, no shirt, my hair sticking up all over the place. I really wasn’t all that presentable. And the truth is I wasn’t very awake yet either.

So when I opened the door, I wasn’t really prepared for what I saw. There was the most backwoods, redneck looking lady I’ve ever seen standing at my door. She was wearing some type of flannel shirt and a pair of old jeans. But what really hit me, was that she was missing some teeth.

The first thing she did was hand me a paper that looked like it had been drawn with a crayon. Now remember, I’m not all that awake yet. So while I’m staring rather blankly at the paper, trying to decipher the crayon hieroglyphics she had drawn on it, she starts talking to me. (Click the thumb to see the paper she gave me)

It turns out, that she wants to know if she and her husband can have an old metal cage that had been left on the property by the previous owners of the property. I had been meaning to get rid of it ever since I moved in, but never got around to it.

So, still not all that awake, I told her to go ahead and take it. She gets this huge grin on her face(remember the missing teeth) and turns around to give her husband a thumbs up. Which caused me to look out at the street in front of my house. And there I saw the oldest most beat up truck I’ve seen in a long time. Her husband was just starting to get out of the truck. And believe me, he was just as redneck as she was. He started unloading sledge hammers to beat the cage apart with, and she ran down the stairs off my porch like she was afraid I might change my mind about letting them have the old cage.

They beat the cage apart, loaded it into the old truck and drove off. The strangest thing I ever saw.


Jan 10 2008

People are the issue

Jamie Barrows

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I’ve been reading a programmers blog called Coding Horror recently. It can get pretty technical in some of it’s articles, so if you aren’t into programming I wouldn’t recommend it. If you are into programming, it really is a great blog and one you should start reading. Despite the programming focus, the latest article I think is one that applies to a lot of different industries. Not just IT based ones. So I thought I would post about it here.

The article is called, No Matter What They Tell You, It’s a People Problem. The gist of the article is that the main reason why software projects fail is a lack of a cohesive team. It’s not the only reason, but it is a big one. And it’s a reason that is hardly ever looked at or considered. No one wants to think that the reason their project isn’t going well, is because they don’t like or can’t get along with their coworkers.

Here is a quick excerpt from the article that I thought was really telling.

“Do you like the company of your teammates on a personal level? Do you respect your teammates professionally? If you were starting at another company, would you invite your coworkers along? Do you have spirited team discussions or knock-down, drag-out, last man standing filibuster team arguments? Are there any people on your team you’d ‘vote off the island’ if you could?”

So who would you vote off the team in your office?