Facebook Gets Pushy with Friend Coaching

Has anyone noticed that Facebook's suggestions are becoming more aggressive? Perhaps their new tagline could be "Facebook, your digital friend coach: We help you find friends, provide guidance on how to connect with them and never let you forget a birthday."  Sometimes the reminders have a sad quality about them.  Today, I was prompted to help a friend find more friends–is there something that triggers this prompt?  FriendSuggestions


Then there are the paternal reminders, "you haven't spoken with Jack in a while, send him a message,"  Forget that Jack used to taunt me about my height in high school, "Hey Jack, what up bro?"   And then there's the seamlessly unlimited supply of friend suggestions, and despite how inane they are, I can't resist clicking on them.  I wrote earlier on the Five Phases of Facebook, and I'm still at acceptance.  I am grateful for friends tagging good reads, sharing reactions to the season finale of Dexter, or encouraging folks to support health care reform, or same sex marriage, but I remain perplexed by the stream of quizzes, and Farmville updates.  I'm also struck by the conversations that start here.  My college consitutional law classmate debating with my Parisian neighbor out here in the 'burbs.   Facebook, where worlds collide.    How's your Facebook experience these days?  Love it?  Hate it?  Can't imagine life without it?  

Yes to Universal Health Care

This morning I took a few minutes out to email my elected representatives to let them know that I support universal health care.  Perhaps you'd like to do the same?  Here's my note.  I used the email wizard, which took all of 5 minutes on Congress.org US Capitol by bobistraveling, on Flickr, some rights reserved.

Dear Elected Representatives:

As I read news reports of the  debate on health care coverage, I
feel the voices of ordinary citizens are being drowned out.  I want you
all to know that I support universal health care coverage–including an
option where the US Government provides a plan.  The costs of not having
health care to our people and our economy are too great.  We deserve a
better system than the one we have and better care.  Please work with the President and
get health care reform passed in 2009.


Ted Bongiovanni

Talk to Your Heroes

One of the most pleasant surprises about living in Glen Ridge is that it's home to some serious runners–including one Horace Ashenfelter, who won the gold medal at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952.  Dan Murphy–another serious runner–took over the organization of the town's Thanksgiving Day "turkey trot" and renamed it in Ashenfelter's honor.  Ever since I first did the race in 2006, I wondered about Ashenfelter–where does he live?  Does he still run?  What was it like to compete in the Olympics?  I asked around–and got some answers.  Ashenfelter was still running strong and is friendly.  After being Ashenfelter_web
encouraged by some fellow Essex Running Club members, I wrote him a note and pitched a story–which appears after the jump.  I got the impression that Ashenfelter was accostomed to answering questions from curious runners and was honored that he granted the interview.  When he competed in the Olympics he was an FBI agent and defeated Vladimir Kazantsev, from the USSR when the Cold War was going hot.  Have you had a chance to meet someone you deeply admire?  How did it go?  I'm glad I had a list of questions and that I recorded the conversation.  I have to say, running a steeplecase sounds like fun.  It's great to have folks share their stories.   

Horace Ashenfelter: An 8K Classic

On Thanksgiving Day at the Ashenfelters, four children and twelve grandchildren don their sneakers and run an eight-kilometer race before sitting down to dinner. The 1952 gold medal winner, Horace Ashenfelter, for whom the race is named, is still going strong and inspiring runners of all ages.

Fifty-six years ago, Ashenfelter competed in the Helsinki Olympic Games and brought home the gold in the steeplechase. He was the first and only American ever to win this event, defeating Vladimir Kazantsev of the USSR. How did the kid from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, wind up competing in the Olympics? What keeps him running?

Ashenfelter ran cross-country in high school and en- rolled at Penn State University as an agricultural student or, as he likes to say, an “aggie.” He befriended other runners, who encouraged him to try out for the team. So, he went to the coach, who asked him, “Can you run two miles?” Ashenfelter replied, “I can run two miles.” The young man would go on to make the two-miler his specialty at Penn State.

World War II interrupted his running career and studies. He served three years as a lieutenant in the Air Force. When the war ended, he returned to Penn State to completed his education. After graduation, he married his high school sweetheart, Lillian, and went out in search of a job. With anticommunist fervor near its peak in the late 1940s, the FBI recruited Ashenfelter as a field agent and placed him in Newark, New Jersey. He and Lillian, now expecting their first child, settled in nearby Glen Ridge, on a street not far from Watsessing Park.

Ashenfelter’s job and his responsibilities as a new father didn’t leave him much time for training, but he managed to run for the New York Athletic Club, and he competed as well. He worked out on Watsessing’s cinder, fifth-of-a-mile track and surrounding paths. He says he never trained more than 35 miles a week. “I figured I had about an hour each day that I could run. I would get home at six o’clock and take my trot. I got my schedule lined up so that at the end of that hour I was tired. I had worked out hard. It was intensive work, as intensive as I could do.”

Building on his New York Athletic Club successes, he competed in the Olympic trials and, with his brother Bill, made the US team. The event was the steeplechase.

The 3000-meter steeplechase race, according to the International Association of Athletics Federations, includes 28 hurdle jumps and seven water jumps. Different stories about the origin of the event have sprung up. One legend has it that, with English villages about two miles apart, the only thing visible from one to the next was the steeple of the church. Competitive villagers raced from one steeple to the other—scaling walls and jumping streams along the way. In another story, two men on horses were racing. When one of the riders was thrown about two miles from the finish, he left his horse behind and ran the rest of the race on foot.

Ashenfelter’s FBI managers supported his Olympic bid. As the race neared, he was relocated to the Princeton, New Jersey, field office so he could do three workouts a day. Nevertheless, he arrived in Helsinki as the underdog, with the Soviet Union’s Kazantsev favored to win. But Ashenfelter had confidence in his training and abilities and set his sights on winning the gold.

He started out slower and stayed with the pack but knew he had the race. “There was no question that I was going to win.” When Kazantsev stumbled at the final water jump, Ashenfelter sprinted away to finish in a time of 8:45.4. Not only did he win the race, but he smashed Kazantsev’s unofficial world record and, in breaking nine minutes for the first time, set both a personal record and a US record.

Ashenfelter returned to Glen Ridge a hero. He later set records for the indoor two-mile, and from 1952 to 1956 was the indoor three-mile champion. Then, in 1957, at age 35, he announced his retirement from competitive running.

Horace Ashenfelter stopped competing 50 years ago, but he still runs through Watsessing Park several times a week. “It’s such an easy way to keep in shape. I don’t think there’s any question it’s promoted my longevity. I enjoy running. I enjoy being out, and taking a trot.”

CC – Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License 

Originally appeared in the Essex Running Club Newsletter, December 2008. Thanks to Chris Jaworkski from the Essex Running Club for editing this article.

Spreading Lies: McCain Campaign

I can’t say that that I’m surprised that the McCain campaign has resorted to lies and distortion to scare and deceive American voters–this is the Republican party that launched a smear campaign against McCain himself back in 2000 when it looked like he might defeat Governor Bush.  The deceptive tactics that McCain has employed–chronicled and debunked in this video, show just how low he’s willing to stoop.  These ads all from the “straight talk” express.  Doublespeak, is more like it.  
America deserves better–needs better leaders than what we’re getting from McCain and his doublespeak campaign.
Credits: Video is from: Brave New Films
Larry Lessig inspired me to get the word out.

Ubiquity: Mix Your Own Mashups in Seconds

I never met a keyboard shortcut I didn’t like–spend a little time learning a combination, save a load of time everytime you use it.  Every program has them–many even work from one program to another.  (Everyone knows control-A to select text, control-C to copy and control-V to paste–right?)  It beats going to the Edit menu everytime.)  I’m a fan of programs that help you do more with shortcuts like Quicksilver and replace text you type often, like Textpander but Ubiquity puts dynamic mashups within the reach of mere mortals. Want to to send an email to a friend with a map of where you’re meeting? Just type send this map to Joe, and off it goes from your GMail account. Ubiquity understands plain english and the contexts we work in. Looking at a list of addresses on Craigslist and want to see all of them on a map? Just type, “map this” and Ubiquity generates a map. The project is ambitious–they’re trying to shift the web to be user centric instead of application or service centric–in other words, you tell the machine what you want and it stitches the services–calendar, map, reviews, together. Note, it’s not even a beta–it’s an experiment. One worth participating in. Intrigued? Watch the video–go ahead, install it. And tell me you haven’t been wishing for something like this all along.

Ubiquity for Firefox from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

Classical Music Rocks: Zander Explains Why

I’m coming out of the rock and pop closet and declaring my love for classical music. Benjamin Zander, a conductor gave this talk on how classical music speaks to all of us at the Technology, Entertainment and Design Conference. He’s managed to explain how classical music is magic in a way that I’ve never heard before. This talk is as much about leadership and our shared humanity as it is about music–very much worth watching and listening too–as are the other TED talks. They are indeed “ideas worth spreading.”

iPhone 3G Experience: Line Me Up, I’ll Take It

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a geek, in possession of good fortune, must be in want of an iPhone.

That’s me.  

I work in SoHo, just off Lafayette Street, and young kids regularly line up for product launches at the skate stores.   When I see this happening, I wonder, who lines up and waits a day to SPEND money.  I mean, what’s the sense of that?  What’s the opportunity cost?  This is conspicuous consumption at its worst.  Is this how we form communities?  Around products?  What’s America coming to?

Right.  And so, on Friday, July 11, iPhone 3g day, at 8:40 AM, excited, hungry, and eager I took my place at the back of the line outside the Short Hills Mall,  and I was not alone–at least 500 others had the same idea.  And then I was flooded with a new sensation:  worry.  What if I didn’t get one?  (Yes, I admit it’s ridiculous, but if reason carried the day I never would have been in line in the first place.)   Should I go to the AT&T store?  My twitterpack urged me to stay put.  Apple has deep stock.  “New shipments are coming all day,” said Katie, the bubbly but tight-lipped, orange t-shirt wearing Apple Concierge working the line.  And so, with my line mates, Randy (who got a phone call about every 3 minutes) and Ravi, I settled in for the long wait. 

9:49 AM.  The security guards, with backup from the Millburn police, usher us into the mall, where we see, the heavenly glow of the Apple logo against brushed metal, and a line that’s 4 rows deep and about 100 feet long.   One of my fellow line-mates, Randy, earned his PhD in math or finance–he develops a model that predicts when we’ll arrive at the store’s entrance.  Like any good model, it undergoes revisions to reflect change–like that AT&T’s activation servers are overwhelmed by demand.  The line stops moving for 45 minutes and I lost my ability to tweet because my Blackberry battery dies.  Fortunately, I was still able to rely upon a much older technology, speech to learn more about the people around me in line.

Ravi had a passion for yoga.  Brandi had three kids and worked for the State of New Jersey cracking down on fraud, which apparently there’s quite a bit of.  We nursed our free frozen, chocolate-mint lattes from Starbucks and passed the time.  I felt like I was playing hooky, which probably added to the fun.  We parted when Apple reps finally admitted to the store.  I was surprised to learn that 2 of the store staff that I spoke with had been there since its opening 6 years ago–and they seemed happy to be there–I dare say, proud, that they helped create the store.

And though this was a product launch and Apple commodities like computers and music players what they really create are experiences.  The line was absurd, but they had folks out there working it, water, free coffee, and there was a positive buzz that only got more intense as we neared the story.  I think part of the reason that I’m so keen on Apple products is that my associations are overwhelmingly positive.  I am consistently, pleasantly surprised and pleased by what they’ve built.  They create technology that lets us be ourselves–that celebrates our humanity.  And though they’ve gained in popularity, I still think most technology forces us to think like a machine.  I am an Apple fan boy, have been for years, but no one does it better.  

I got into the store at 2pm and am introduced to Tom, who gets me my first iPhone.  I think I’m going to be out of there in 15 minutes, but that wasn’t the case.   I hit some sort of snag when they tried to transfer my number.  This gives me an excuse to spend more time in the store soaking up the vibe, and now I’m seated, in front of a 24″ iMac tweeting like a madman and emailing.  There are worse places to wait.  Henley’s negotiating with AT&T assuring me that it’s going to get done, but he’s got to leave at three, so he turns me over to Frances, who just started 2 weeks ago.  While she waits on hold for AT&T I learn that she’s an art history major at Rutgers, that she was recruited to work in the store by her friend Johanna, (a former nursing, now Pharmacology major, also at Rutgers.)   I also learn that the shirts are color-coded.  Orange: Concierge–it’s their job to connect you with people who know the technology–so they learn the people, and Blue:  the people who know the technology.  At least 2 other folks help troubleshoot the problem.  At one point I’m like, is this really worth it?  I should leave, but the truth is that I was having a blast.  I got to ask  Johanna a few dozen questions about Leopard, and just enjoyed hanging out in the store.  By the third phone activation, I had switch from black to white–thinking it might be good luck but Frances’ persistence is really what did it.  

I never worked so hard to spend so much money, but it was a ton of fun.  Special thanks to my twitter posse, debwaldman, snark12, psyker390, clemtastic, nybble73, robmaruzi and the gang at Apple Short Hills.

What’s your iPhone story?  Holding out?  Updating?  Blackberry Curve Forever?  And yes, almost 1 week later, I’d say it was worth the wait.

Change Congress

Gas is over $4 a gallon, the planet’s getting warmer, we’re fighting a war in Iraq, we live in the era of “No Child Left Behind,” and we leave children behind. The old trope is that “people get the government they deserve.” We don’t. According to Larry Lessig, the founder of Change Congress, we must and can do better. Our problem: we the people, get interested in politics every four years. The solution: a congress–the people’s house working in our interests everyday instead of the interests of lobbyists. You can help by taking the pledge at Change Congress and then checking on your legislator to see how he or she acts on key reform issues. Now, I agree, “Yes We Can” but we also need the persistence to sustain the movement–and that comes from a Congress that is truly of, by and FOR the people.
For reference, here’s Lessig’s presentation about Change Congress. If you haven’t seen him present, you must watch–he’s got an amazing gift–he informs, entertains and insprires.

What do you think of Change Congress? Are you happy with the representation you get in Washington? Locally, or are you tuned out?

The Five Phases of Facebook

If you thought Facebook was a time-drain before, now they’ve gone and added Chat.   Their stock price notwithstanding, these clever folks are taking notice of how annoying Facebook’s become.  Between their choice of Billy Joel’s "We didn’t start the fire,"  for the melody, and replacing it with "we’re getting sick of facebook," LLP81’s video critique is one of the funniest things I’ve seen online in a while.  What are your thoughts on Facebook?

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Here Comes Everybody (I’m here too!)

Clay Shirky’s latest book, Here Comes Everybody:
The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
discusses how light-weight web-based
technologies like blogging, twittering and photo sharing sites like
Flickr result in real world actions.  Shirky talked about the book
at the Markle
on April 10.  I’m going to highlight
a new of Clay’s examples and then reflect on what I think his ideas
mean for traditional organizations. 

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