John McDonald

Blogging about politics, life, and the web

April Fools Online? Can’t say I’m a fan

March 31st, 2010

We get it.  You’re joking.  Nothing anyone says is serious and people seem to think that creating disappointment is the height of comedy.

Welcome to April Fools Day – a most sinister holiday that doesn’t even come with candies or cookouts or turkey dinners.

I guess this blog is where I choose to expose myself as the boring and humorless person that I am, but I just don’t enjoy April Fools Day on the internet.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good prank or practical joke, but it seems like on April 1st everyone is trying to be The Onion and failing badly.  Or worse – my favorite TV station drops its normal schedule and plays a bad shows on purpose (really). Worse again, tons of social websites will try to add funny themes or pretend they’ve released new features – oh yeah, by the way they only spent the time and effort to think up the “joke,” not the time it takes to actually implement what could have been a good idea.

This is kind of related to a bigger trend:  Making up good news and trying to pretend it actually happened.  That’s not really even a prank, that’s just getting someone’s hopes up with a blatant lie.  Is the Publisher’s Clearinghouse junkmail suddenly a comedic goldmine because it arrived on a certain day?

Anyway, you’re really not fooling anyone when you launch your pranks and fake stories on the one day of the year that everyone is on guard and expecting that kind of stuff. Want to be original and actually catch some people off guard?  Try dropping your prank at the end of April!  (I was going to suggest the middle of April, but the proximity to paying taxes might ruin some peoples’ sense of humor.  I know it does for me and apparently I didn’t even start off with much to spare.)

If its not funny on March 23rd, its not going to be funny on April 1st.  Think about that next time you try to pass off some quick content or the lack thereof!

On a lighter note, have you actually seen any April Fools Pranks that were really good?  I’m sure there have to at least be a few out there!

Crazy Summer Days

June 30th, 2009

Its been a while since I’ve had a chance to post here, but I’ve got some good excuses.

Also – welcome to anyone who’s ended up here due to the current down status of Here’s the whole story for those who care:

We left the USA on June 4th for a 10-day trip to Ireland. On about the 8th, someone managed to get access to Undergroundpolitics and began using the software and mail servers to send out tons of unsolicited phishing emails. What’s phishing? Well, that’s when someone pretends to be someone else in an attempt to gain your personal or financial information. In this particular case, he was using my email servers to blast his email list (don’t worry, no one who used or visited Undergroundpolitics would have been affected). Gladly, I don’t store any information about visitors – and I never try to collect emails from surfers. If you want to see what I’m up to, you know where the sites are at!

Anyway, we got back around mid month and it took another few days for me to get that server secure and back online. So although the rest of the sites on that host are back up in action, UP is still potentially a security risk. Really, the only good news for me on the tech front is that the sites making money are back online and accessible worldwide. Of course, sales are still week thanks to a global economic meltdown.

Now, with business (somewhat) back on track, we’ve dedicated a significant chunk of time to cleaning up around the house. We had almost cleaned up the living room when Aisling started packing up for the next art show/sale. Of course, that means it looks like we’re in the middle of moving out with brown boxes and packing popcorn everywhere.

The yard project continues with the gradual transformation of Florida jungle into something habitable. The potted peppers and tomatoes survived our time away and the next step will be building out a stone patio and building up a small garden area for more fruits & veggies.

In the next week or so, there should be some good posts coming up: Expect pictures from Ireland and more analysis of the unfolding economic crisis. Quite a few expensive pieces of legislation are being rushed through Congress, so I hope I get a chance to get a few words out about them before we get stuck with the bill. For now, all new UndergroundPolitics posts will be here in the Politics section. Why not check it out until I can figure out how to recover and secure whats archived on UP?

Three Weeks to Ireland

May 17th, 2009

Aisling and I were starting to get concerned that we were becoming old & boring.  Her work as a teacher keeps her busy long after school hours are finished, and I’m constantly stuck to the computer writing, coding, analyzing, or promoting something.  To make matters worse, neither one of us is particularly good at planning things in advance.

So, this is exactly why we suddenly decided to buy plane tickets to Ireland.  Roundtrip airfare was only about $700 each, and we will figure out some way to save money on lodging by staying with her family or sleeping under a bridge or in a hostel or something.  Did I mention that we’re really not good at planning this sort of thing?

Anyway, the lack of planning and frugality never really hurt our enjoyment of some other trips we’ve been on.  I’ll always remember the night I blurted out “You’ve never been to New Orleans?  We should go tonight!”  Sure enough, by noon we were in a campground in Louisiana and we had a great time for the next three days.  Similar last minute decisions have led us to Tennessee and Key West, but this will be our first spontaneous voyage across the ocean together.

Although the dollar is weak, prices are also generally down across the board.  Ireland’s economy has been hit particularly hard by the banking & investment problems sweeping the globe, so many costs might be quite reasonable in the face of low demand and lower levels of tourism.

So now… what exactly are we going to see?  I like politics, art, history, and controversy – so I figure we’re going to spend a lot of time in the cities absorbing the modern culture and exploring the political flashpoints.  There are killer murals in the north I want to see – since I first saw to Barcelona, I’ve wanted to see more public political artwork.  We give a lot of talk to free speech, but in the era of mass media speech isn’t really heard until it is given a platform for broadcast.  So what if the side of a building is the best channel you have to promote that message?  Its better than staring a brick and stucco siding all day.

Any ideas of what we should see?  Some locals have advised us to stay away from the temple bar but it sounds like the exact type of music scene we wish we had more of in our less urban town.  I can’t drink beer so the Guiness tour is out – but perhaps instead I’ll be able to find some quality gluten-free food without looking as hard as here.

We’ll attempt to come up with some plans over the next two and a half weeks – and then as soon as we get off the plane, I’m sure we’ll get distracted by something we never even planned for…

What Happened to Us? A Gas Station on Saturday Morning

March 14th, 2009

The birds have traveled many miles inland
to squawk and hover about a nearby drive-thru,
A heavy fog sits low in the sky.

A half dozen shoppers patiently wait in line,
flanked by waxy chocolates and
convincing fruit juice substitutes.

An unseen man yells out:

The birds yell louder as they fight over another scrap of cheeseburger

The anger starts to sound hysterical,
the note of sadness becomes more clear.


The shoppers in line crane necks to peer around the snacks
but our vision has been blocked for the sake of an impulse sale.

An older gentleman approaches: as if dressed for safari,
yet wearing a mask of exhaustion and shame.

He said Sigh…

And a gull screeches for another crumb
while we stand in line,
practicing our detachment.

A new angry, unseen voice:
“You put nine in!
We don’t have nine!”

The new man rushes to the front of the line,
Feels no pride
As he begs the cashier forgiveness.

“I can’t pay for what I’ve taken,
but what I really need,”
he continues in a quiet voice,
“Is five more.”

I sigh,
I close my eyes.

I wanted to say,
you’re not the only one, friend.

I hear some birds fly, circling overhead.

The tired man turns to the newest one in line:

Can you believe it?
What happened to us?
What happened to our society?
What have we become?

Someone cut me off again today,
They threatened me for a place in the line

What happened to us?

And I want to say so many things
I wanted to find something to blame

I wanted to say that it will get better

But I did not want to lie.
So I sighed and I closed my eyes.


February 26th, 2008

Reddit. What can I say, its like Digg’s older more sophisticated brother.

It offers more categories, a faster response time, and a more transparent voting system. Rather than digging and burying, you simply vote up or down – and you’re free to change your mind later. Comments load a hundred times faster than digg, and each comment can also be voted up or down (well I guess that’s the same as Digg) so you get a quick view of how the community responds to and accepts the various perspectives.

The social difference in Reddit is huge. Reddit has a distinct personality. The politics are to the left, yet significantly anti-authoritarian. Users tend to favor increased government investment in public services like health, education, and infrastructure, yet the members are decidedly pro 2nd amendment (or tend to be) and this social streak extends to most social and personal freedom choices you can name. I have a feeling college education is common among the posters, and not just because Ron Paul was a huge hit here. Lately, the fan-dom has shifted toward Obama’s brand of liberalism. It might seem like a radical right/left shift to happen over just a few months, but the “redditors” simply back the best challenge to authority they can hope to win.

Of course, that means that since Obama has been president for a while, he has lost a significant amount of clout.  While there might not be any better choice running in the mainstream spotlight, he still isn’t living up to some of the site’s more popular ideals.


February 26th, 2008

Digg is an immensely popular website with a great concept. Each submission category is divided by topic – I like politics and education myself. Anyone who registers can introduce a story, and if other users are interested or entertained, they can “digg” the article. A digg is like a vote, and if a web page gets enough diggs in a quick enough period of time, it will be launched to the front page and subjected to more burst traffic than most shared webhosts can handle. (Cached and optimized sites usually survive this “digg effect.”)

A front page story might get 20,000 unique visitors, hundreds of comments, and 100-200 backlinks pointing back to the source article. As far as publicity and generating buzz in the blog-o-sphere, nothing else comes close.
Digg fully incorporates the social aspect of News 2.0. Users can make friends lists and send comments to friends in the form of “shouts.” A few people try to use friends networks to rigg the system, but Digg cracks down on this and offenders are usually caught and banned (their websites will usually be banned as well.)

Unfortunately, Digg might be a victim of its own success. There doesn’t seem to have been many upgrades to the network architecture or code efficiency despite its growing popularity. Today, a new user to Digg might first notice the unbearable slowness that the pages load, and never even notice the great content and features it provides.

Update:  Digg is in a bad state lately (as of October 2010).  Kevin Rose has stepped down as interim CEO and the last front page design has knocked a huge chunk off their daily traffic and membership activity numbers.  While they finally seem to have the slow speed issues solved, they’ve almost completely messed up the original democratic mechanism that made the site so interesting.