Back on the old blog

After having it parked at wordpress.com for a long time, I decided to put my old blog back on jimlynch.com.

Took me a while to get wordpress in shape, I had to add some plugins and tweak the php extensions, but I think it’s looking fine now.

I’m using Davis again as the theme. It’s very minimalist, but also easy on the eyes, and doesn’t have a lot of visual clutter. I miss some of the widgets but most of the other themes are just messy to look at, and take away from being able to read the articles comfortably.

Mario Kart 8 plays great on Switch Lite

I was out at the mall the other day, and went into Target. They had the Switch Lite available to play, and I could not resist.

Here are my impressions:

1. Games still look great on the smaller screen.

2. The Switch Lite is considerably longer than my 3DS XL, and thus not nearly as pocketable, but it’s still better than the original Switch.

3. The Switch Lite is definitely lighter and more comfortable to use as a handheld than the original Switch.

I played Mario Kart 8 for a little while on the Switch Lite and I must admit that I enjoyed it more as a handheld than my regular Switch. It just felt better in my hands. The tracks all looked great on the Switch Lite and I quickly found myself getting into the game in a big way. Mario Kart 8 looks pretty damn good, even on the smaller Switch Lite screen.

However, I am not going to buy the Switch Lite. As I said above, it’s a bit too big to be easily pocketable compared to my 3DS XL and I still have tons of 3DS games to play. Plus, I still have my regular Switch and it’s just not worth another 200 bucks to have a slightly smaller one.

But if you are a handheld only Switch player, definitely grab a Switch Lite. It’s a much better option for handheld only gamers, and it’s significantly cheaper than the regular Switch.

You can buy the Switch Lite or regular Switch from Amazon.

Why I deleted my LinkedIn account

I ended up deleting my LinkedIn account after going back on there for a while. 

Here’s why I got rid of it:

1. It has never been useful to me for finding work, freelance, or full-time.

2. The news feed is a never-ending cascade of narcissistic, self-promoting garbage. I have even seen cat memes, political advocacy, and tons of mindless virtue signaling. 

3. The interface and overall experience are terrible. I don’t know why Microsoft has allowed it to become such a cluttered mess, but it’s due for a total overhaul. 

In the past, I was content to try to ignore LinkedIn and just let my account sit dormant. But I still found it to be a waste of time when I eventually used it. There was simply no value to me to remain on that service.

I have also been reading the stoics, and one of their recommendations is to get rid of unnecessary distractions. It helps to clear your mind and prevent the shredding of your attention as you go through your daily life.

Here are the two books I’ve been reading:

1. The Daily Stoic

2. The Thoughts of Marcus Aurelius

So getting rid of LinkedIn was a way for me to chop something out of my life that provided no value to me but was simply an occasional distraction. 

I know that others might have had more positive experiences with LinkedIn than I did, and more power to them if that’s the case. But for me, it was time to let it go and move on. 

I feel the same way about getting rid of LinkedIn that I did when I deleted my Facebook account: a sense of relief and freedom. Life is better without them. 

 

Discussion forums are better for publishers than social media

Social media is all the rage with publishers these days. Things like Facebook metrics, Twitter engagement, etc. are viewed as tremendously important by many publishers. This obsession with social media has caused many publishers to discontinue or not even bother setting up discussion forums on their sites.

This unhealthy focus on social media is unfortunate as discussion forums are a much smarter bet for most publishers than wasting time and resources on social media. Oh sure, social media works well enough for content marketing, but that’s about it.

Here’s a quick breakdown of why creating and owning discussion forums should be a top priority for publishers.

Advantages of discussion forums:

1. You own your community.
2. You get to choose the software, interface, etc.
3. You build a useful knowledge base that has value over time, and that keeps users coming back again and again to your site.
4. You are not at the mercy of a social media company.
5. You retain all advertising, e-commerce, and other revenue.
6. As your community grows, you reap the benefits of the organic traffic created by your forums to your site.

Problems with social media:

1. You are a guest on the platform; you don’t own it.
2. A change to the platform’s algorithm can consign your content to oblivion, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
3. If any of your content is found to be objectionable by the social media platform, your membership might be terminated, whether you like it or not.
4. You don’t build a community on social media; you have access to someone else’s.
5. You don’t build a knowledge archive based on the interactions of users. The social media platform owns user posts, and they get the benefit of it in terms of revenue.

It’s pretty clear from these two lists that discussion forums are a much better long term bet for publishers than social media. Yet few publishers understand this, and so they waste their time and efforts on social media instead of building discussion forum based communities.

Having spent most of my career in technology publishing, I can think of two prominent examples of this: Ziff Davis Media and IDG. I worked for both companies as a writer and, in the case of Ziff, an online community manager.

Ziff, I’m sad to say, used to be the king of community in the technology publishing niche. I remember the days of ZiffNet on CompuServe, then the transition to the web when ZDNet was born, and finally, Ziff’s PCMag and ExtremeTech forums after ZDNet was sold to CNET.

Ziff was years ahead of its competitors when it came to online community. It had many forums that featured high-quality interaction, helpful support, and valuable technical information and advice. Ziff’s forums complemented and supported its publications in a way that social media cannot do.

But where is Ziff today? The company is nowhere when it comes to owning its own online communities. Ziff has dwindled to a mere shadow of its former self, with no discussion forums whatsoever for any of its sites (or at least any I could find the last time I checked the company out).

All Ziff has is social media. But as I listed above, this means that the company has foregone the opportunity to create high-quality communities and build valuable knowledge archives in its own forums. Instead, Ziff relies on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and builds nothing of its own.

IDG is in the same boat, but this is less notable because IDG was never a powerhouse in building and growing online communities the way that Ziff Davis was back in the day. Still, you’d think that somebody at IDG would stop and think about their total lack of an overall online community strategy.

Both of these companies have competitors who have figured out the value of discussion forums and have pursued an aggressive strategy at creating their own online communities. These companies still do content marketing on social media, but they understand the difference between that and building and owning their own communities.

Smart publishers understand the significant differences between social media and discussion forums and will build forums that they own and control. Dumb publishers will continue to believe that social media is all they need and that forums aren’t necessary or profitable.

Be a smart publisher and build your own online communities via discussion forums.

Update: One thing I forgot mention in this post is comments at the bottom of articles. Some publishers like Ziff use those, but they are not a substitute for forums either. Articles age and comments at the bottom of them die off too, but forums have ongoing organic content created by users. Thus it is much better to link your articles into your discussion forum.

For a fantastic example of this, see how the site MacRumors does it. Each article has comments but they are linked into the forum, and the forum threads mirror the editorial content that appears on the site. So forum dwellers see the site’s content even if they don’t leave the forum.

MacRumors 

MacRumors News Forum

Employment fraud: Joe Pishgar and Future PLC

There’s a fascinating thread on Reddit about how some sleazy companies are using job interviews as a way of prying knowledge and expertise from job candidates, with no intention of hiring the applicant.

I recently had just such a bad experience interviewing with Future PLC. I applied for an Online Community Manager job and had two interviews. I didn’t consider writing about it here until I saw that Reddit thread and I realized I had an obligation to share my story for the benefit of other job seekers.

The first interview I had for the Online Community Manager job at Future PLC was with Joe Pishgar, the Vice President of Community. It went well as he asked me various questions about my background and different online communities, etc.

He concluded that interview by saying he wanted to do another interview, this time with two of his community managers, and he said they would “fire questions at you while I watch.”

That should have been my first indication that something was off about him. However, I let it go and then waited until the next week for the interview (these interviews were done via Google Hangouts, BTW).

So the next interview comes, and the two community managers asked me a bunch of questions. Some were innocuous, such as who was my favorite author and that sort of stuff.

But some of the other questions were about how I would handle various online community situations. The latter kinds of questions were designed to gain knowledge and expertise from me under cover of a job interview.

I had no problem answering any of their questions as I have been managing discussion forums for many years. The interview ended with Pishgar asking me a question involving a situation they had faced in their forums that included angry users, two editors fighting, and confidential information posted by one of the angry editors.

I answered the question in as much detail as I could since such a situation would, in reality, require some careful thought before making any move. Pishgar listened and the interview concluded with him mumbling something about how he “needed to talk to HR as the job was for the UK and he already had two US community managers” and could I get back to him next week if he didn’t hear from me.

Wait. What? Why did he interview me in the first place if he knew the job was for the UK? And what about the job description on Indeed that said the job could be done from anywhere? This was an obvious lie on his part, but I went along with it as what else could I do?

I spent a fair amount of time thinking about that last question after the interview and emailed him a long and detailed answer. I thought it would be appreciated and might help my chance of being hired.

I never heard a word back from Pishgar or either of his community managers. There was complete silence on their end. Still, I have no doubt they found the information I provided to them to be quite useful since none of them seemed to have a clue on how to properly deal with the nasty situation that happened between the editors, users, etc.

I waited until the next week and emailed him yet again as he had asked me to do. I never got an answer. He completely ghosted me.

I waited another week and finally sent him an email asking him what the deal was and could he at least put me out of my misery if he wasn’t interested.

He repeated the lie about the job being UK only and wished me well on my job search after thanking me for talking with them.

I was very irritated about this, but I was polite in my response and left it at that. Later, however, I ran into a post by Pishgar on LinkedIn that showed me who I was dealing with, and here is a screenshot of his post:

Joe Pishgar, Vice President of Community, Future.

So Joe Pishgar, the Vice President of Community at Future, cast himself in the role of a predator and online community managers as his prey. Wow, to say this creeped me out is an understatement. It’s a sick and disgusting way to view fellow professionals.

Take careful note of the words he uses in that post. He’s admitting that he is using community managers for the benefit of improving Future PLC’s forum products and to give the company a competitive advantage.

The words “life essences” mean knowledge and expertise, and the words “eternal war of forum conquest” means competitive advantage for Future plc’s discussion forums. It doesn’t take a genius to read between the lines here.

I replied to him on LinkedIn (that was when I still bothered to have a LinkedIn account) and pointed out that Shang Tsung (a character in a videogame) was a vampire, and that the problem with vampires is that, sooner or later, someone always drives a stake through their heart.

Pishgar deleted his post a few hours later as he realized that I’d seen it and knew that he was most likely doing the same thing to other community managers that he’d done to me. He was using job interviews as a way of gaining knowledge and expertise that he otherwise would not have with no intention of actually hiring the job applicants.

So I’m posting these details of my interview with Joe Pishgar of Future PLC as a warning to other online community managers. Avoid this company as the interviews are designed to elicit experience and techniques from you for the competitive benefit of Future PLC and Joe Pishgar.

I wish I’d known this before I applied. This is predatory, sleazy corporate behavior, and I found it to be appalling. Unfortunately, it has become a common practice by some companies and for that they need to be named and shamed.

Beware of Future PLC and Joe Pishgar.

And if anyone at Future is reading this: You really need to take a close look at the tactics of your employees and how they treat job applicants. It does not reflect well on your company at all, and you ought to be ashamed.

Also, Future’s legal department should know that I welcome any kind of legal proceedings because of this post. All related internal emails, phone logs, text messages, meeting logs, HR documents, computers, tablets, and phones of Future PLC and Joe Pishgar would become part of the legal discovery process.

We’d learn quite a bit more about how that company operates and if it is aware of the behavior of its employees during the job application process. Who knows if other managers there are doing the same thing as Joe Pishgar? Or perhaps he is just a lone wolf operating on his own?

Now if you’ve read this far, here are a few last words of advice if you are a job seeker:

Do NOT feel that you have to answer prying questions asked by a potential employer. To do so will not necessarily increase your chances of being hired, but it might mean that they are using you to gain competitive knowledge and expertise for free with no intention of hiring you whatsoever.

Job interviews are not free consultations. Remember that and walk away from any potential employer who tries to use you in that way.

The Conclave: Superb film about the election of Pope Pius the 2nd

Every once in a while you bump into an unknown but excellent film on Amazon Prime Video. That happened to me tonight with a movie called The Conclave, here’s the official description (courtesy of IMDB):

In 1458, five years after the fall of Constantinople to the Turk, eighteen cardinals met in Rome to elect a new pope. A 27-year-old Spanish cardinal, Rodrigo Borgia, learns to play a very dangerous game; how to survive his first conclave.

I was very surprised by this film. I had never heard of it but ran into it while browsing around on Prime Video. Initially, I did not think it would be worth watching, but I could not have been more wrong.

I’ve always loved political intrigue, and this movie delivered on that in a big way. Unless you already know the history of the election of Pius the 2nd, you will be on the edge of your seat as the cardinals scheme back and forth, trying to get the most votes for their candidate.

The writing, direction, editing, and acting are all fantastic, and that also surprised me. I do not understand why this film did not get more attention, it is far better than the endless tripe that the boors in Hollywood crank out year after year.

I highly recommend The Conclave. You can get more information about it on the official site, or just watch it on Prime Video. I’m keeping it on my Watch List to watch it again.

I hate the WordPress Gutenberg editor!

I gave it a try, I really did. But it sucks! The blocks are nothing but a pain in the ass to use, and I can’t even select the entire text of my post. Who came up with it? It’s sheer torture trying to use it on my iPad Pro, despite the fact that I’m running iPadOS and get a desktop version of WordPress in Safari.

I just installed the Classic Editor and I’m finally back to a great WordPress writing and editing environment. I don’t know why I bothered to keep the Gutenberg editor around for as long as I did, the interface is just atrocious.

I guess I’m not the only one who feels that way since the Classic Editor has more than 5 million installs. I’m just the stupid one that kept trying to make the crappy block editor work instead of just dumping it right from the start.

Well, at least I tried.

Good riddance to Gutenberg. What a piece of crap.

Update: If, at some point, the Classic Editor is no longer supported then I’ll be moving off WordPress and onto another CMS. No way am I going back to Gutenberg. Ever.

 

The 3DS beats the Switch Lite

Well, I didn’t expect to write another post about Nintendo video game systems so soon. But today Nintendo announced the Switch Lite, a smaller version of the Switch that will sell for $199.

The cheaper system, which is “dedicated to handheld play” and is not compatible with docking to a TV set, will be available for $200 starting September 20, 2019, in three different colors.

The more compact system shrinks the original Switch’s 6.2-inch screen to 5.5 inches diagonally. The screen keeps the same 1280 × 720 resolution, though, resulting in a small increase in PPI and overall sharpness.

The Lite system also reduces the original’s weight (from about 0.88 pounds to about 0.61 pounds, including Joy-Cons), height (4.0″ to 3.6″), and width (9.4″ to 8.2″).

Nintendo says there should be no performance difference between the two versions of the console when it comes to portable mode.

I’m not impressed by the Switch Lite at all. Here are my first impressions:
  1. The colors are ugly. Yucky Yellow, Blah Blue, and Grim Grey are all players get to choose from in terms of colors.
  2. The $200 price tag is still pretty steep for a handheld system, and I wonder how many parents will trust young children with a system that costs that much? I have no idea if the Switch Lite is actually more robust than the regular Switch. I guess we’ll find out once little kids have a chance to drop, smash or otherwise have their way with one.
  3. Certain games like Mario Party will still require external joy cons in order to play.

I also notice that the Switch Lite is lacking some standard 3DS features, such as the following:

  • Play Coins
  • StreetPass
  • SpotPass
  • Folders
  • Themes
  • Mii Games

I think the Switch Lite is still an inferior handheld to the 3DS for the following reasons:

  • The Switch Lite is smaller and lighter than the regular Switch, but it’s still bigger and chunkier than the N3DS.
  • The Switch Lite is still not compatible with DS games.
  • Switch Lite games still cost a significant premium over 3DS games.
  • Switch Lite still lacks a clamshell design, making the screen and controls vulnerable in a way that the 3DS is not.

I’ll pass on the Switch Lite. I had hoped that Nintendo would add most of the 3DS features I listed above, but that hasn’t happened. The Switch game library as it stands right now is not worth paying $200 for another Switch system.

I give Nintendo credit for trying with the Switch Lite, but I just don’t see enough value in it to spend that kind of money. Your mileage may vary, however.

As for me, I’ll still be carrying my little black Mario N3DS around with me. The 3DS game library still blows the Switch library away, and the games cost way less money.

You can buy the Nintendo 3DS or Switch on Amazon.

Edit: Here’s a size and weight comparison chart of the Nintendo Switch Lite and other Nintendo systems (click the image to see a full size version):

I found it interesting that the Switch Lite seems to be about the width of the regular Switch minus one of the joy cons. The weight was lighter than I expected too. So it’s slightly more pocketable than the regular Switch but still significantly wider than the 3DS Xl; and much wider than the N3DS.

Facebook sucks: How to delete your account

I’m sure you’ve been following the Facebook drama in the news. I tried watching Zuckerberg’s testimony in Congress, but it was nauseating watching some of the senators fellate him as he spewed his usual blather about “connecting people.”

I’ve been on and off Facebook, and I always end up disliking it. It sucks that everybody I know is on there and none of them show any signs of leaving, not that there is a particularly good alternative (yeah I know about Idka which could stand for I Don’t Know Anybody).

Maybe someday Facebook will implode, but somehow I doubt it. It has such a tight hold on so many people that it’s hard to imagine all of them leaving. Despite Facebook’s popularity, not everybody is enthralled by it. There’s even a free ebook on Amazon that explains why you should delete your Facebook account permanently.

I’ve looked at various alternatives, but none of them hold much appeal. Oh well, MySpace died so I’ll keep hoping Facebook expires at some point. Facebook needs some severe government regulation to reign in its repeated violations of people’s privacy rights.

How to delete your Facebook account

Update: Facebook has changed how it handles deletions. Go to your settings page on Facebook and you can delete or deactivate your account there.

Audiobooks: Why do publishers switch narrators in a series?

Audible is one of the most used applications on my iPhone and iPad. I love listening to audiobooks, and I have the Platinum Annual Audible membership. I think it’s one of the best services you can pay for on the Internet.

But there is one thing that has annoyed me lately. Why do audiobook publishers change narrators in a book series? I have seen this happen in various books, and it’s quite maddening to readers.

An excellent example of this is William Manchester’s excellent 3 volume biography of Winston Churchill. The first book has a stellar narrator (Frederick Davidson), the second book has a middling narrator (Richard Brown), and the third book has a terrible narrator (Clive Chafer).

 

I loved hearing the first book and eagerly started listening to the second. Then I realized it wasn’t the same narrator and I was incredibly disappointed. I made it through the second book despite the plummeting narration quality and started the third book. I immediately returned the third book and got my credit back. Yes, the narration was that terrible.

Audiobook publishers need to understand that you don’t change horses unnecessarily in a book series. Readers get used to a narrator’s voice, and quickly develop an affinity for that narrator. Then suddenly he is removed and somebody else, often with inferior narration skills, takes over.

Sometimes readers even rebel against the change of narrator, as happened with Jim Butcher’s beloved Harry Dresden books. At one point a different narrator was chosen because James Marsters wasn’t available. Readers were outraged and demanded that the book be re-recorded, and ultimately they got what they wanted.

In the case of William Manchester, they need to have the last two books re-recorded by Frederick Davidson. He did the first book and was terrific. For some reason, however, Blackstone Audio stupidly switched narrators twice.

I wrote Blackstone Audio and asked that Frederick Davidson re-record the books. I got a note back saying that my comments would be passed on, but I doubt they will do anything about it. The whole experience made it much less likely that I will buy other audiobooks from Blackstone Audio.

I hope that audiobook publishers wake up and realize that switching narrators is a horrible idea. Great narration helps sell books, and it keeps listeners happy. Lousy narration ruins the book and drives readers away from future purchases of books in a publisher’s catalog.

I’ll go so far as to say that publishers should do a narration quality audit of their book catalogs. They should listen carefully to each book and decide if the narration quality is up to par. If it’s not then they should have the book re-recorded by a top-notch narrator.

My guess is that they might find that sales of that audiobook will increase over time as readers spread the word about the excellent narration. Yes, the high-quality narration does make a big difference to buyers of audiobooks.

Are you listening, publishers?

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