Watching Election Results With Tears In My Eyes

 

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump stands during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump stands during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

I have become a political junky of late. I’m sure I’m not alone but it’s getting worse. I’ve always been fairly interested but as a “damn foreigner” unable to vote my opinion never mattered. I have watched the GOP campaign with fascination turning into horror…and I can’t look away.  I arrived in the US on a permanent basis about 20 years ago. As a Brit I had only a passing understanding of US politics but as I learned more much of it didn’t seem to make sense. Coming from a multi-party political system I was used to poor people grouping together to further their interests just as the wealthy band together to protect theirs. I was a kid during the Labor administrations of the 70s which led to coal strikes and power blackouts. As a lefty punk-rocking teen I watched in horror as Margaret Thatcher then Ronald Regan seized the reins of power. I understood what caused the backlash which led to Thatcher and I assumed it was similar in the US.

When I arrived here 16 years later we were in Clinton I and things looked pretty decent. Still some things didn’t make sense. Why were poor white people such fervent supporters of a party dedicated to furthering the interests of the rich and powerful? Why such a political fascination with women’s reproductive health….an issue which has been beyond politics in Europe for decades. What I was missing was the race factor. In the UK we have had racial problems of our own. Back in the 60’s there was a significant influx of people from the Caribbean countries which were parts of the Commonwealth. These people tended to jobs which Brits had no interest in but there were protests from the skinhead sector. In later years there were several waves of immigrants from India, Pakistan and Uganda. Each of these was met with some disruption but on the whole it was all fairly civilized. In more recent years the barriers to entry from Commonwealth countries have risen and the barriers to living and working for anyone in the EU have essentially been removed. As a Brit I could live and work freely anywhere in the EU….no papers required.  This long history of immigrants settling and blending (to one extent or another) has routinely been met with racially based resistance from mostly white working class folk who see them as “taking our jobs” and “polluting the culture.” It was a vocal minority with extremists on the far right getting headlines rather than traction. We muddled along, we even replaced Fish and Chips with Curry as our national dish. People with limited education and job prospects were typically the most impacted but as immigrants (especially those from the Indian Sub-Continent) integrated and succeeded those complaints were less vocal. I have somewhat lost touch with the story back home now, but from what I can gather from regular visits these factors remain a concern but a manageable one.  Europe has significant problems caused by the nightmare in Syria, globalization and automation has hit low skill jobs there too but none of that prepared me for the US.

I simply didn’t have a frame of reference for the kind of systemic endemic racism and resentment which haunts significant parts of the US zeitgeist. In 1865 the Brits were drinking tea and building an empire as the US tore its self apart. We don’t teach the US Civil War much in UK schools. We do cover slavery but since we outlawed it in 1833 and our economy was never as completely reliant on it as the US was it felt very remote. We didn’t have reconstruction, Jim Crow or the Civil Rights Movement. The political developments of recent years has been fascinating and shocking. The ascendency of “Mr.” Trump has been eerie to watch. To see the level of xenophobia, misogamy and good old fashioned racism which has driven his ascent is very disquieting.  I realize I’m not breaking new ground here, but as a foreigner who has the advantage of being white and (passingly) educated who has come to love the US as I do, this is like discovering that the woman of your dreams was never really that into you and was cheating with her ex all the time. It makes you question what you thought you knew…it’s scary and sad. My profound hope is that if we stack all the liberals, all the LGBT folk, all the kinksters, all the immigrants who can vote, most of the people of color, most of the women and men who think rather than hate into one pile, that pile will be bigger than the pile of angry white men and bigoted white people who have found their perfect vehicle to protest history.  I don’t know anybody who says they are voting for Trump but then I don’t know anyone who is openly racist or anti-female equality either. The privacy of the voting booth allows people to express their truth in secret. Am I optimistic?…yes, but I’m also scared.

Back In the Saddle

It’s been a few months but I’m back in the blogging groove. There’s been a lot going on.  We continue to make good progress growing our lead generation businerss based on search. The market continues to be complicated with Google dominating search.  The strategy Google alluded to more than a year ago as a potential fix for their ever increasing query volume but ever decreasing average price per click seems to be paying off. Clicks targeting a product or service and a locality (think plumber San Diego) continue to climb. As you may know we focus on an ROI based approach where we purchase and manage exposure through our platforms and turn that exposure into results we get paid for. Search is central to that. Other media represent additional opportunity. Display advertising can now be readily targeted to locality but in our (and others) testing display has proved pretty disappointing in attracting end users who are looking for that specific product or service and are ready to “call now.” Social media is more encouraging and certainly more effective than straight display but again it lacks the immediacy of search. The traditional high bounty markets (insurance, home security health) remain strong but the major brands are getting increasingly sensitive to how and where they are exposed to media which again makes the right kind of targeting trickier than it used to be.

Against this changing and challenging background we have seen a couple of dramatic changes in our society which are overlapping into our world. As you probably noticed the US has acquired a significant new problem in prescription drug abuse leading to heroin addiction in many cases. More people are dying from drug overdose than road traffic accidents. It’s a fairly recent change and it’s one that has impacted a much wider range of Americans than the cliché drug addict.  It’s a horrific and growing problem. The rules governing insurance were changed a couple of years ago with the goal of treating ‘behavioral health’ like any other chronic condition. If you ask any recovery facility how that’s working you will likely get a very angry answer. It’s not working well, yet…but it is better than it used to be with about 85% of recovery treatment costs being paid by insurers. What’s interesting here is that the entire process of finding the right kind of facility, matching it to the patients insurance and ability to cover any copayments is an arduous and time consuming mess. This industry is just about where hotels were ten years ago. The other point of note is that the process of finding help is done through search but transacted largely over the phone. People call facilities and facilities talk through their options. It’s search driven pay per call with very large bounties, much larger than traditional industries. We see this as a great fit for our platform and expertise and we are pursuing an initiative to address this rapidly expanding market. I’ll keep you posted on progress.

Google’s 2015 Year-In-Search

google-year-in-search-2014In prior years, nothing gets people Googling quite like the passing of a celebrity. But in 2015, some of the most searched-for deaths in the U.S. weren’t famous people at all, but regular people who died while in police custody.

Google released its annual roundup of what the U.S. searched for this year. They aren’t the top searches by volume, but top “trending” searches, meaning they saw the biggest spikes.

People We Lost

The third most searched for death was Sandra Bland, an African American woman who was found hanging in her jail cell in July, three days after being arrested during a routine traffic stop. Freddie Gray, who died from spinal cord injuries while in police custody, was fourth on the list. The passing of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown’s daughter Bobbi Kristina topped the list, followed by longtime ESPN anchor Stuart Scott.

Biggest Searches

The most searched for topic overall wasn’t someone who died, though he came close. It was former basketball player and Keeping up with the Kardashians fixture Lamar Odom, who was found unconscious in a brothel in October. Not all searches were morbid. The top trending searchers of the year were mostly on lighter topics:

  1. Lamar Odom
  2. Jurassic World
  3. American Sniper
  4. Caitlyn Jenner
  5. Ronda Rousey

Breaking News

As big news stories unfolded, people went to Google for updates and answers. Google Trends dug into the top global stories this year, with an interactive graphic that looked at how the stories spread around the world and the most pressing questions people had about them.

Google’s biggest news story of the year was Paris. When terrorists attacked the French city on November 13, people around the world asked “What happened in Paris?” “Why did ISIS attack Paris?” and “Is it safe to travel to Paris?” There were more than 897 million searches related to the Paris attack.

Volkswagen Dodges Carbon Dioxide Bullet

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Volkswagen has announced that a problem with its carbon dioxide emissions is far smaller than initially suspected, with further checks finding “slight discrepancies” in only a few models and no evidence of illegal changes to fuel consumption and emissions figures.

In a case that is separate from its scandal over cheating on U.S. emissions tests for the pollutant nitrogen oxide, Volkswagen said in November it had also found “unexplained inconsistencies” in the carbon dioxide emissions from up to 800,000 vehicles. However, it said that further internal investigations and measurement checks found that “almost all of these model variants do correspond to the CO2 figures originally determined.”

Slight deviations were found in nine variants of Volkswagen brand models with an annual production of some 36,000 cars, or 0.5% of the brand’s total production. Those deviations amount to “a few grams of CO2 on average.” The German car manufacturer initially said that issues with carbon dioxide emissions could cost it another 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion) on top of the costs incurred in the scandal over the nitrogen oxide emissions-cheating.

Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority ordered after Volkswagen’s announcement last month that the CO2 emissions of the models in question be measured anew, and the government said it was sticking to that.

Transitioning From Billionaire Tech Leaders to Philanthropists

2998Offstage, in a barren conference room at the Paris climate talks, Bill Gates excitedly described the possibility of generating energy through the long-speculated process of artificial photosynthesis, using the energy of sunshine to produce liquid hydrocarbons that could challenge the supremacy of fossil fuels.

Gates was in Paris to push his latest bit of entrepreneurial philanthropy: the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, an informal club of 28 private investors from around the world, including several hedge fund billionaires who have agreed to follow his lead and pump seed money into energy research and development. Gates believes the energy sector suffers from a dearth of such funding, the reason much of the world is still burning coal for its power.

A readiness to put another billion dollars of his own money into what is already a roughly billion-dollar portfolio of energy investments was also enough for Gates to convince 20 governments to commit to doubling their own R&D investments within five years.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, recently welcomed a baby girl. And as that announcement was made, the two have pledged to give 99% of their Facebook shares to “join many others in improving this world for the next generation.” Together, the couple’s shares currently amount to $45 billion.

They are forming a new organization, called the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, that will pursue those goals through a combination of charitable donations, private investment and promotion of government-policy reform.

Facebook Testing Break-up Feature

facebook-relationship-status-update-sparks-gun-fight-f94f9e2d50It’s no secret that social media has influenced how we communicate. There are people that take to social media to announce EVERYTHING that happens in their lives, while others remain quieter. One phrase has been incorporated into the English lingo: “So have you made it ‘Facebook’ official?” This is of course reference to letting the world know that you are in a relationship. Conversely, Facebook is testing a new feature that lets you “take a break” if you break-up with that partner, making it so you see a lot less about what their life is like without you.

The features allow Facebook users to hide a former partner’s posts and profile; edit past updates in which both people are tagged; and control the status updates, photos, and other content their ex-lover will be able to view after the breakup

People in the United States will be prompted to test these features if they change their relationship status. Other users won’t be told if someone uses the utilities; the point of hiding someone’s profile or posts is to make it easier to do so without un-friending or blocking that person, and the other features are equally discreet.

Introducing these features is an implied admission of two things: There are real risks connected to using a service where people are encouraged to share everything about their daily lives, and not everything posted to Facebook has to be positive. These new features can make it easier for people leaving toxic relationships to protect themselves. Not having to see an abuser without having to block them, which could make them angry, is a valuable ability. Being able to hide new posts could help address the same issue.

Social Media’s Benefit Magnified in Wake of Paris Attacks

paris-peace

Following the horrific attacks in Paris that has claimed more than 100 lives, people around the world took to social media looking for their loved ones. Social media has put forth tools to help people in times of crisis.

Facebook activated its Safety Check tool, which allows users in an area affected by a crisis to mark themselves or others as safe. Facebook created the tool to help in times of crisis, and it has activated it five times in the past year after natural disasters.

Twitter kept followers informed by highlighting top news tweets, as well as well wishes posted by people around the world. It also turned into a message board Friday night with information to help people in Paris get to safety. The hashtag #PorteOuverte or “open door,” became a vehicle for offering shelter to those in Paris who needed it. Twitter has revealed that 1 million tweets were associated with the hashtag in 10 hours. The hashtag #StrandedInUS gained a lot of traction in the United States to help French people whose flights had been canceled.

Controversy Over Facebook “Real-Name” Policy

Facebook is planning on tweaking its policy that requires members of their social media site to use their real or “authentic” names on profiles, as advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union have shown discontent in the requirement.

The strictly enforced “real names” policy requires users to use the names that friends and family know them by, as Facebook says it helps to root out online bullying and makes users more accountable. However, the policy has seen many users suspended from Facebook despite using authentic names, with online trolls taking advantage of it to report sections of users. Transgender individuals who have chosen a new name to match the gender they identify with say they have been affected by the policy, as have drag queens and Native Americans.

Facebook has said they would add new tools that improve how users confirm their name on Facebook when signing up, and make it more difficult for trolls to target individuals. When users are asked to confirm their name (which it can do when users are reported or when a moderator questions an account) they will be allowed to add additional details to provide context. Secondly, people that want to report profiles for using non-authentic names will have to provide additional information about why they are reporting an account.

These new changes are part of the latest in a series of tweaks to Facebook’s real names policy, which include it demanding “authentic” rather than “real” names, and allowing users to verify names using more methods than just government IDs.

Google Investing in African Wind Power

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Recently, Google announced its newest investment: a wind power project in Kenya that, when completed, will be the continent’s biggest wind farm. The agreement includes buying a 12.5% stake in Africa’s largest wind project, Kenya’s Lake Turkana, from Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas Wind Systems A/S.

The 310-megawatt Lake Turkana wind park is set to about 15% of Kenya’s electricity needs, based on current generation capacity. The nearly $1 billion wind project offers the scale of infrastructure that international organizations say Africa needs for the continent to unleash its vast economic potential. Annual economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa has averaged 5% in the past decade, and an increased energy production would boost growth even more.

Google so far has committed $2 billion to 22 clean energy projects, including the continent’s largest solar project in South Africa. The company sees a big opportunity in fast-growing markets with rich renewable energy resources, and the Lake Turkana project would help reduce Kenya’s reliance on fossil fuels and emergency diesel generation.

Google and Vestas have previously cooperated on the 270-megawatt Alta Wind Energy Centre in southern California and the powering of a Google data center in Finland.

Google Loses Control of Its Own Web Domain

Sanmay-Ved-domain-Google

Google has been going through a lot of shaking up lately. Big changes within the company are taking place with a new parent company being established and for a moment almost lost control of its own Web domain.

A former employee managed to buy the Google.com URL through (ironically) Google Domains for $12. And while the glory of owning the world’s most-visited website may have lasted only a moment, it seems many people will benefit from the mishap.

Sanmay Ved said he looking at different Google Domains and discovered that Google.com was available for purchase. Naturally, he bought it.

However, it didn’t last long: The purchase was almost immediately followed by a cancellation email from Google Domains. About a week later, Ved was contacted by Google Security, which offered a reward. Instead of taking the reward, he asked that the money be donated to the Art of Living India Foundation charity. Google agreed, and even doubled the reward for the Art of Living’s education program, which runs 404 free schools across 18 states in India.