Thursday, September 23, 2021
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Rome wasn’t Built in a Day. But Facebook…

The other night I watched The Social Network. At the beginning of the movie Mark Zuckerberg sat down in his Harvard dorm room and in a drunken coding binge wrote a web application that asked users to compare female faces for who was hotter. Then the application ranked the results. Zuckerberg sat back and watched as it went viral so quickly that it brought the Harvard network to near collapse. This was the genesis of his success. Zuckerberg had the insight that it was the viral appeal of this program being passed on from guy to guy that he would harness for Facebook. So he created Facebook, and most likely you and your extended family and your friends and coworkers all have accounts on Facebook. It’s addictive. That’s the viral appeal.

But my point is not the viral appeal of Facebook. It is that he did the key work on that first project in one night—while he was drunk. He was motivated because he was mad at a girl. So he did something stupid and juvenile about it that got him in trouble. But afterwards he took his insight in a different direction, and coded and architected Facebook. He did it. He did it himself. He found helpers afterwards. But while he was creating something entirely new he worked on his own, he worked hard, and he worked as fast as a man can work.

What has changed? Why couldn’t Rome be built in a day but something like Facebook was close?

The speed at which life happens has always been limited by how far away someone could communicate. Since the distance of communication was pretty much limited to how far one could shout, that meant communication was limited by how far you could travel in a day. A man could walk ten to twenty miles a day through rough country, and fifty to a hundred miles a day on good roads. On horseback, with remounts as needed, he could double that. So when the several United States were surveyed and their borders established, the borders of each state were set about one day’s mounted travel from the capitol. That made it possible for people who lived along roads or navigable waterways to travel to the state capitol, do their business, and return taking no more than three days for the entire trip, barring bad weather and encounters with bushwhackers or indians. It also allowed government agents to travel to the distant parts of the state without being out of communication for weeks at a time. As a child, it always seemed peculiar to me when I would look at the US map and see all these tiny New England states and compare them to the huge states of the west. Now I know “why” and so do you. The speed of travel dictated the sizes and shapes of the states, and many other things as well. As technology has marched on, first railroads made the large states of the west possible, then the airplane made huge, distant states like Alaska and Hawaii possible.

Today we use computer networks to communicate almost instantly over huge distances. 70% of the speed of light is the approximate rate of propagation of electrical impulses in a copper wire. Same thing for light waves through an optical fiber. That allows us to reach out and communicate with someone 130,000 cable-miles away with a two second response time. It would let us send a message 7.5 billion cable-miles and get an answer back the next day.

Compare that to the speed of a man on horseback, in a car, or even in a plane.

The size of a governable state has been changed by technology. Now the technology has advanced to where the entire US including Alaska and Hawaii could be governed from Washington DC. The wisdom of doing this is another issue entirely. In fact, the entire world could be governed from one city as actual travel to a remote capitol in order to do one’s work is no longer necessary. Now with telecommuting and other distance conquering technologies our senses and ability to communicate can be sent all over the world at 70% of the speed of light, or 130,000 miles per second.

This is not only true of governance. Travel and communications technology used to limit the size of all organizations. Today any organization could, if not restricted by perverse national and international regulations, operate in a coordinated manner in every nation simultaneously, using temporary and permanent employees to accomplish its objectives. No matter what those objectives are, this is possible. As everyone knows the organizations that do bad things including breaking the law all the time don’t care much about obeying those irksome regulations either. Rogue and illegal organizations are coordinating world-wide right now. Al Qaeda is doing it. So are the Russian and Sicilian mafias, the Chinese tongs, Japanese yakuza, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, South and Central American narco-gangs, the sex-slave traders in the former countries of the USSR, and the agents of the narco-nuke-counterfeiting-criminal state of North Korea.

What of legitimate businesses? Before computers and computer networks, news bureaus and wire services needed to have agents located in remote locales with access to telegraph or shortwave transmitters. This let them get information around the world in a day. But it was necessary to have people everywhere in order to know anything about those other places. Now we don’t need agents everywhere. The locals tell us themselves. Now, when something happens on the other side of the world we might know it as quickly as their neighbors know it. We might even know it before they do if we are watching the right facebook page or the right twitter stream at the right time.

Things happen quickly now, and there is no time to waste. Now if you have an idea and delay, the next guy who thinks of the same idea and decides to implement it can make it happen, put it on the web, and compete in exactly the same marketplace you were going to sell to even if he lives on the other side of the country or the world. The bad guys are doing it too. Do we want to leave the field to them?

Now it is no longer good enough to seize the day. Now you need to seize the instant. As ColdWarrior told me.

I wanted to create a web site to serve as a resource for people who wanted learn how to “do something” real for changing the outcome of the elections. Did not have the time to relearn FrontPage or Microsoft’s replacement for it, Expression Web 2. I asked around. I think it might have been Ron Robinson who told me to check out WordPress.  I got on Google and looked up tutorial videos.  Found a great one.  Kept it simple.  Created some videos with my little Logitech web cam. Learned how to use YouTube.  That lead to the Kyl video and the ensuing firestorm over it becoming a reality.

When the Maricopa County and AZ committees wouldn’t create “how to become” a PC for their web sites, or even update their web sites, I created the content and gave it to them and then found volunteer web masters from the ranks of the PCs I had recruited just by sending out an e-mail to them. Got more than enough volunteers to do the work, professionally, for free.

This reminds me of a website I built not too long ago. It was a juvenile idea for a website but amusing for a while. The idea came on me one day. I created the website using that night because I was bored with using for my other blog. It was functional within 6 hours after the original idea. The longest part of the process, which I finished the next day, was spent hand-drawing the art-work for the site and scanning it in. The hand-drawings were an important part of the look, as was the interface customization I put into it. That’s all there was to it. “Just do it.” The website didn’t last very long because it wasn’t friendly enough. It was too angry. It didn’t draw a big audience.

My takeaway was that customizing the interface was a lot easier than I had thought it would be and that designing a friendly website, one that built a community, was very important. Oh, and as Nike keeps saying, “Just do it.”

“Just do it” isn’t only something Nike says. ColdWarrior also mentioned the same kind of thing.

I like how everyone here helps each other figure out the techie stuff.  But, before I ask for help, I try to figure it out on my own.  It’s usually not too hard.  I don’t want someone to do for me what I might be able to figure out on my own.

I was on a weekly call with some folks from around the country who thought one of the things they needed to do was create a tutorial for the basics of Robert’s Rules of Order.  Of course, I told them, “don’t reinvent the wheel!”  There are many, many good RRofO video tutorials on the web.

If you can figure it out on your own you might as well do it. There is no “not my job” syndrome in the room when ColdWarrior or I are in it. There should be no place for “not my job” syndrome in your life either, not if you want to get big things done. Does that mean there are a lot of generals? Yes. And it also means there are a lot of bottle washers and janitors as well. “Just do that too.”

There is a much more recent website I have been involved with: UP/News Report. I have been going on and on for several years, endlessly on Redstate and my personal blog, on email lists and at home, ‘ad nauseam’ as it were, about the deplorable state of the news today and how an alternative to the left biased news needed to be created, based on a conservative ethical framework. The ethical framework was more important than the bias “problem.” I do not believe it is possible to be unbiased. Bias is inherent in the human condition and unavoidable. Read Plato’s The Cave to see why the fact that the world is not experienced directly, but projected on our human senses and cognitive patterns, requires us all to be biased in our own ways.

Everyone is biased, and the answer to the bias “problem” is not to pretend we don’t have it. The answer is to acknowledge it, then to follow rules that prevent us from getting out of hand with our biases. So on a recent night I was given the go-ahead to draft a news website. I knew what it needed. It needed to be a community and to have its own news style. It needed to provide positive and negative feedback to keep writer’s bias within bounds. The style needed to emphasize the facts, and define those facts so that writers could write about them and readers knew what was true and real. And it needed to allow for analysis, since analysis is valuable. But the style also had to be rigid about some things. No mixing of reporting and editorial. No confusion between what was real and what was speculative. And no “facts” that required mind-reading to prove. The site needed to look like a news site. It needed to be reasonably pretty. It needed to allow a wide range of comments, for comments don’t just reduce bias. Good comments and the ability to comment intelligently and have those comments intelligently discussed are what draw and involved smart readers back. That was the candy that would draw the good people back in.

In short what was needed was a community centered around the news. There are roles for three types of community members.

  1. Readers who comment. They don’t need accounts but they do need to be allowed to comment.
  2. Contributors who write up their own news stories following the style. They need accounts.
  3. Editors who enforce the style and can help contributors improve their writing. They need privileged accounts.

All three roles are needed. I believe that people will self-select their roles, and other than enforcing the style and requesting coherence with our stated biases we will not do a lot of enforcement. If you fit in, you are welcome there.

But the reason I’m writing about UP/News Report is that the platform was written in a day. The WordPress theme we used was buggy and needed a couple of days of work smoothing out the irregularities. But in the end we were able to create a functional website with its own style starting Thursday, refining Friday through Sunday, and launching Monday morning, with one person doing 98% of the programming work and now sharing in the hard work that remains.

Now we need to Seek and Report the Truth. That is still the liquor in the journalist’s cabinet. Even with our conservative ethical framework, to Seek and Report the Truth is the holy cocktail. I believe that UP/News Report has a better recipe for that drink than the left biased media in most newspapers, on most tv stations, on public radio news, and in academia.

And it happened mostly because I sat down and did it.

You can do it too. This is not the age of Rome. This is the age of Facebook.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. But Facebook…


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