Skip to content
Home » net.culture » Page 3


The most thorough article to date on the decision not to prosecute

Steve Pokin, the journalist who broke the original Megan Meier story, published an account today of the decision not to press charges.

Some of the things in the article trouble me.It troubles me that Jack Banas interviewed Lori Drew and perhaps Curt Drew, but didn’t interview Ron Meier at all, and talked only briefly with Tina Meier.

His justification: He has a property destruction case pending against Ron Meier. In a way that’s considerate of him–he could have used the opportunity to get Meier to testify against himself–but I can think of one way around the problem. Interview Meier with his attorney present, so that if Meier were to start to incriminate himself, his attorney could cut him off.

If I can come up with this workaround, then a prosecuting attorney ought to be able to as well.

It bothers me that each time something Drew said contradicted the many news reports that have been written, it means the news reports are wrong. It was obvious from the very first police report that Drew was trying to cover her tracks–in the report, she stated that somehow others were able to get access to the Myspace account and send messages to Megan. That’s an indirect quote, but it’s pretty close to the wording in the report.

The Meiers’ story has been remarkably consistent, even when they are visibly exhausted. The police reports on Smoking Gun aren’t forthcoming, and they aren’t consistent with what Drew is saying now.

I know from personal experience that when a traumatic event happens, your memory of it is generally very good–nearly photographic. Sometimes people refer to them as “flashbulb” events for that very reason. I can tell you every little detail about the car crash I was in four years ago, just as plainly as it happened yesterday.

So if someone has difficulty consistently recounting the events of a flashbulb incident, that suggests to me that he or she is lying.

I don’t know about law enforcement in St. Charles, but in journalism, if I’d ever come to one of my editors with an important story and I only interviewed one side, and I relied solely on two old interviews of one of the other participants (Ashley Grills), something bad would have happened next. Really bad.

For that matter, Grills and Drew dispute whose idea it was to create the account. Each say it was the other. Both women had different reactions to Megan Meier’s suicide. Drew felt less guilty after she heard Meier had attempted suicide before. Grills threatened suicide herself and ended up getting psychiatric treatment.

All of that is solid evidence that Grills has a conscience, ability to feel guilt, and knowledge of right and wrong.

Both Grills and Drew have track records of deceit and changing the story afterward. So which liar should you believe?

The safer bet is to believe the one with a conscience. She’s less likely to lie now.

Finally, I take issue with Banas’ statement that Drew never intended to “harm, stalk, endanger or harass.”

The police report Drew filed last year stated that some of the communication was of sexual nature.

Let me ask a question. If it turned out that Michael Devlin had made such a statement, would Devlin be in court right now, facing charges of harassment?

If it’s harassment if Michael Devlin does it, then it’s harassment if Lori Drew does it. Period.

Besides that, in a story published in The Age, an Australian newspaper, a neighbor states that Lori Drew told her about the fake account, laughed about it, and said she would “mess with Megan.”

So an Australian journalist halfway around the world found someone willing to say this was intentional harassment. Yet Banas won’t give this neighbor’s testimony equal weight with the testimony of an already established liar and deceiver.

I don’t live in St. Charles County but a friend of mine does. He tells me Banas has three more years in office.

This is precisely what recall elections are for. If you live in St. Charles County and see a recall petition, sign it. If you don’t see one, call the St. Charles Election Authority at 636-949-7550 and ask how to start one.

And failing that, I wholeheartedly endorse whoever is running against Banas for St. Charles County Prosecutor in 2010. Whoever that might be.

I’m sure I have company.

Still no (legal) prosecution for the Megan Meier Myspace suicide

St. Charles County Prosecutor Jack Banas announced today that he won’t prosecute the online vigilantes who drove Megan Meier to suicide in October 2006. Here’s the St. Louis Post-Dispatch story, which has more details than the AP story.

Not only is the legal system failing Ron and Tina Meier, it’s also failing Lori Drew, her husband Curt, and Drew’s employee and co-participant, Ashley Grills.Here’s why I say that. Since the legal system offers no justice in this case, we’re seeing a mob of (rightfully) enraged people take matters into their own hands. Through these means, there is no due process, there’s no innocent until proven guilty, and there’s no constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment. There’s also collateral damage.

The real estate firm where Curt Drew used to work continues to get harassing phone calls from vigilantes. They dismissed him the week the story broke. The company did all that it could do, weeks ago. Now it’s someone’s job to sort through the legitimate phone calls and the calls telling them what rotten people they are for employing Curt Drew. Given the comments I see on online forums, it’s probably not a pleasant job.

According to another account I read, for all intents and purposes, Lori Drew’s junk-mail company, Drew Ad Vantage, is out of business. But the companies that once advertised with her continue to get phone calls. Some of them pulled their ads pretty quickly. The point is moot now, but the phone calls continue.

Police are having to patrol the neighborhood more often now because of threats and random acts of violence. Right now the neighbors don’t seem to mind–they’re as mad as anyone else, and have been for more than a year–but won’t that eventually grow tiresome?

This Riverfront Times article (the RFT is St. Louis’ equivalent of The Village Voice, if you want context) quotes Ron Meier as saying that now the Drews are tasting a bit of the hell he’s tasted for the past year.

I have a difficult time feeling sorry for these people. But the Internet isn’t exactly known for restraint.

It bothers me that Banas doesn’t think this case meets the requirements for state laws for either harassment, stalking or endangering the welfare of a child. To mock the Megan Had it Coming blog, I showed all this to a friend of mine who is not only in college, he has two college degrees and is really smart, and he says that harassment over the phone or mail is illegal (celebrities prosecute people for it all the time, after all). You just prove point of origin. On the Internet, it’s possible to prove point of origin (it’s how the RIAA prosecutes people who download MP3s off P2P services). So what’s the difference? It’s just coming over a different pair of wires. Well, and it’s digital instead of analog. I guess that makes a difference, since everyone knows digital is better than analog.

It’s too bad The Honorable Jack Banas, Esq. didn’t ask my friend if it’s possible to trace communications over the Internet. Having degrees in electrical engineering and computer science, he would know. Or he could ask me (I have to trace origins from time to time as part of my job), but my friend actually lives in St. Charles County, so he’s a constituent. It would probably be more appropriate to ask him. Plus, my friend is smarter than me (and not just because he has twice as many degrees as I have).

Banas says that some of what we’re seeing in news accounts isn’t true, actually going so far as to deny that Lori Drew participated in this harassment. In that case, she’s guilty of filing a false police report, since she stated as much in the police report, which anyone can read on the Smoking Gun.

I’ll share one final observation from my friend who’s really smart. I’ve seen pictures that purport to be of Lori Drew. Other people claiming to know her have surfaced on blogs and various other online hangouts and stated she is not an attractive woman. Tina Meier is a traditionally attractive woman, and Megan looks good in the most commonly used photo of her. It’s not hard to imagine that Lori Drew and her daughter were jealous of the Meier women, and some of their actions were motivated by it. Perhaps the things they said were things people had said to them, or things they thought about themselves.

I will grant the people who insist on playing devil’s advocate that Megan Meier has been sainted and the media accounts don’t provide a complete picture of her. But we do know she was getting treatment for her problems, she was taking her medicine, she was playing sports and she was losing weight. For a time, up until October 16, 2006, she was handling her problems in a constructive and proper manner.

Unfortunately there hasn’t been any good news on this front since that day.

The Megan Meier Myspace suicide, 10 days later

It’s been about 10 days since the story first broke about 13-year-old Megan Meier being harassed online by a 48-year-old neighbor posing online as a 16-year-old boy and eventually being driven to suicide. The blogosphere has gone nuts, the story has national and even international attention, and while none of this will bring Megan Meier back, at least there’s been some progress.On Monday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch named the 48-year-old impersonator. From what the story said, the family gets very little peace, and the neighbors don’t care much for them. Their life wasn’t good even before the story broke, and it hasn’t gotten any better in the past week.

Comments on various blogs indicate the impersonator’s phones have been disconnected. As widespread as that information had become, their phones probably never stopped ringing. This harassment is illegal, but I still have a hard time feeling sorry for them.

The original police report showed up on The Smoking Gun. Reading it made me even madder. The part that bothered me the most:

Despite the recency of the suicide and several neighbors recommending she not contact the Meier family (especially on Thanksgiving), Meier stated she and her husband attempted to contact the Meier family three times, “banging on the door” even though Mr. Meier had already told them to leave. [She] wished the current tension be documented in case any of her property is damaged. Further, [she] insisted on contacting the family to “inform them of what she knows.” [She] stated she “just needed” to tell them to relieve herself of the “responsibility” and apparent guilt.

Relieve herself of responsibility and apparent guilt? Document the tension in case of property damage?

How about a good old-fashioned apology?

At least one company that advertised with the impersonator’s coupon magazine, a carpet cleaning business, stated in public that they will be ending that relationship. They had already committed to being in the next issue, so they may appear in it, but that will be the last.

Two businesses expressed indifference, according to one commenter, but all it takes is a few businesses pulling their ads to make it difficult to pay the bills.

A blog surfaced on Sunday, titled Megan Had it Coming. It claims to be written by someone who knew Megan.

I read the single post there, and I have serious doubts that the author is 14 years old. The spelling and grammar are much better than the typical 14-year-old, and the paragraphs tend to be more complex than I would expect from a 14-year-old. The paragraphs for the most part follow the structure one is taught to use in college.

That said, some of the elements of the writing are too bad for a gifted 14-year-old. I could write that well (or better) at that age and I know several other people who could too. But the logic is extremely flawed. I believe any English teacher who saw a student capable of writing like that at age 14 would hammer on the child’s logic. English teachers aren’t satisfied with that quality of work from someone who exhibits this much ability at 14.

For these reasons, I believe the author is older, and probably had at least the introductory composition course in college. She (I believe the author is probably female) may not have done all that well in the class, or she may have been intentionally making mistakes in an attempt to appear to be a younger and less sophisticated author. When I was a journalism major at Mizzou, I was a go-to guy for people who were having trouble in their Introductory Composition class, so I read a lot of those papers. This piece really reminded me of those papers.

Let me also say that the most difficult thing for an author to do is to appear to be something that he or she is not. So if a piece of writing doesn’t look or sound like that of a 14-year-old girl, then it probably isn’t.

I agree with the author that Megan Meier wasn’t perfect. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and assume everything she said about Megan is true. The Megan she portrayed reminds me of pretty much every girl aged 12-14 I remember growing up with. Some girls stay that way a lot longer. I definitely remember elements of that kind of behavior in two ex-girlfriends, both of whom were in their early 20s when we dated. A few girls I knew got over it early, and I remember having trouble knowing how to react to them, because they were so different.

If Megan Meier deserved to die because she was self-conscious, oversensitive, shallow, fickle, difficult to be around, and prone to overreact, then that means virtually every teenager in the world deserves to die. Those flaws are the very essence of that phase of life. It’s all a phase, and most people grow out of it. It’s not a cause for deserving death. It also doesn’t mean that someone who exhibits those characteristics is automatically going to commit suicide.

It’s a terrible logical fallacy.

I also disagree with the assertion that Megan deserved this fate because a 48-year-old vs. a 14-year-old isn’t a fair fight, no matter how you cut it. I would have far more sympathy for the impersonator if the impersonator had been another teenager, acting alone.

The author tends to talk down, as if she’s already outgrown this phase, and even if a 14-year old was already through all this, I don’t think she would have enough perspective to comment about it this way. I can’t really put my finger on specific phrases, but the whole piece gives me a sense of looking back at 14, rather than being in the thick of 14.

I have no way of knowing who the author of this one-off blog is. Given writing samples, I can usually figure out if a piece in question was written by the same person, but I have no writing samples to compare. The author could be the original impersonator who is now vying for the title of most hated woman on the Internet. It fits her pattern of behavior. It could also be one of the many contrarian random trolls who are popping up on any blog that mentions Megan Meier and her impersonator by name.

My friend who lives in the area observed that the blogger referred to a local sports complex as “Tri Sports.” The proper name of that complex is the Renaud Spirit Center, and the address is 2650 Tri Sports Circle. Tri Sports Circle is one street over from the street where the Meiers and the impersonators live.

So the author of this piece is almost certainly local. Given that the impersonator has few or no friends left in the neighborhood, and given how the author of this piece went out of her way to defend the impersonator, I believe the author of this one-off blog probably is none other than the same mind that brought us Josh Evans, the fake-16-year-old boyfriend.

A safe, legal, even ethical lynch mob justice for Megan Meier

All indications are that the people who taunted Megan Meier to suicide on Myspace are getting plenty of harassment themselves now. Some would call it karma; but breaking more laws doesn’t make things right.

Buried in the comments on a couple of stories, I found perhaps the only legal and ethical way of getting back at the Myspace hoaxers.The catch is that to participate effectively, you have to be a St. Charles County resident. But that’s OK because there are 42,000 households there, and they’re the ones in the most immediate danger anyway.

The hoaxers run a business. They print a coupon flier/magazine that goes out in the area. I won’t print its full name since a Google search on the publication name takes you right to a name and address, but it contains the words "home town."

The idea I found was to take the publication, contact the businesses advertising in it, and tell them that you won’t be doing business with them for as long as they continue to do business with this particular publication, because its owner harassed Megan Meier, contributing to her suicide.

If they ask more questions, you can fill them in on the details–mention it’s been in the St. Charles Journal and on KTVI-TV news. You might even suggest they contact the publisher and ask her what she has to say about it.

If enough local residents start contacting her advertisers, they will start pulling their ads. Some may pull them right away out of a sense of outrage. Others may wait until they start thinking they’re losing more business than they’re gaining by advertising. If they express a fear of losing business, suggest an alternative publication–there appear to be competitors called Value Pages and Flash Flyer. If you’re a St. Charles resident, you’ll probably know more about them than I do.

It doesn’t matter. Tell the person on the other end what you’re doing and why, be polite and civil, and thank him or her for their time and consideration. But above all else, remember that the person on the other end might have no idea. After all, the business has never been named in any of the news accounts.

All it takes is a handful of advertisers canceling to make her feel some hurt. If she bleeds advertisers for a while, one of two things could ultimately happen. She could print a public apology. Or, if she continues to lack remorse and over the course of the next few weeks or months has difficulty keeping enough advertisers to pay the bills, the business could fold.

Even if it doesn’t get that extreme, she may have to take a pay cut, and she’ll probably have to work a little bit harder to try to get replacements for the advertisers she loses, and that has a fringe benefit: She’ll have less time for Myspace.

None of these things will bring Megan Meier back. But they will hold the person most responsible for her death accountable for her actions, no matter what the local authorities or the Meiers might be willing or able to do on their own.

And unlike harassing mail or phone calls or visits, it’s perfectly legal and ethical.

Update: The story aired on CNN, and although CNN didn’t report the name of the other family, they did show the police report. The name of the other family was visible and legible. I was about 90% certain I had the right person. Now I’m 100%.

Don’t waste your time calling the business. Grab your copy of the most recent issue of Home Town Family Savings, and start calling the businesses that advertised in it. Let the advertisers call her and ask her to explain herself.

Beware of scammers on Craigslist

In honor of the three-day weekend being over, here’s some of the negativity I promised last week.

I’ve been on a buying spree lately. I’ve been using Craigslist a lot. But I had one recent experience that was extremely bitter.I bought some Playstation games on Craigslist recently. The price was good and there were several titles I really wanted. The seller was way up in Brighton, Illinois. I didn’t know exactly where that was but I figured I could make the deal work.

It was all downhill from there.

First, the seller insisted I come to her. All the way to her. No meeting halfway or even on the edge of town. When I asked what a good time would be, she said 2 PM on Friday. That should have told me something right there. What kind of person assumes anyone else is free to drive halfway to Springfield in the middle of Friday afternoon?

I said no and suggested she come up with a time on Saturday or Sunday. Saturday at 1, she said. That cramped my style too (that’s estate sale time), but in my deal-lust I took leave of my senses and agreed.

So I drove to Brighton. Google was wrong–it’s more than an hour away from where I live. Making matters worse, I got lost when I got there. That’s not as bad as it sounds, though. I don’t think it’s possible to go more than two miles out of your way in Brighton.

But then when I finally found the road, I couldn’t find the house. I went to the end of the road. I would have called, but my cell phone lost its signal a good 10 miles south of there. For lack of anything other option, I started knocking on doors. There were only three houses on the street, so how far wrong could I be?

One of the people pointed across a grassy lot. That’s right. The road ends abruptly, there’s a long grassy stretch, and then the road picks back up again, and there’s one house on it.

I’ll never understand small towns.

So I got to the door and knocked. A rough-looking guy answered. "I’m Heather’s boyfriend," he said. "She asked me to do this deal." He was holding a plastic bag. He motioned toward the bag. "Thirty dollars."

Lesson #1: Never, ever, ever hand over cash without examining the merchandise first. I always check, but everyone I’ve bought something from on Craigslist up to this point has been very honest and their stuff has generally been exactly what I expected. Or better.

So Deal-Lust Dave handed over the cash without even thinking. I took the bag, he closed the door abruptly, and I turned and walked along the grassy road (bet you never thought you’d see that particular word pair) back to my car.

As I put the key in the ignition, a light bulb went off. I’d better check this stuff over before I drive an hour to get back home.

I opened the bag. Nothing was better than I expected, that was immediately obvious. I pulled out the three games that were the key to the deal and opened the cases. Two of them were multi-disc games, and both were missing disc 1.

At first I didn’t think anything of it. Probably one was still in the Playstation and the other was sitting on top of it. It happens sometimes.

I walked back along the grassy road, up the driveway, and to the front door. I knocked.


A couple of minutes later, I knocked again.


I knew they hadn’t gone anywhere because I’d been no further than 300 feet from the house since he closed the door. I was starting to get mad. This time I didn’t wait two minutes, and I didn’t exactly knock on the door gently, either.

The rough-looking guy answered the door with his equally rough-looking girlfriend in tow.

I held up the two game cases. "These two games are missing discs."

She got a defensive look on her face. "They didn’t come with them."

So much for it being an easy mistake to correct. So much for it being an honest mistake, for that matter.

"It would have been nice if you would have mentioned that earlier," I said. They gave me a how-dare-you look and started to close the door. "You ripped me off!" I managed to blurt out before the door closed.

So I’d wasted $30, two hours of my Saturday, and three or four gallons of gas. The two semi-literate, inbred rednecks got the better of me on that one.

I’ve done a couple of deals since then. They turned out fine. I guess those people had jobs, since they all suggested times well outside of working hours, and neither of them objected to me checking out the item thoroughly before handing over the cash.

Net neutrality has little to do with censorship but it\’s a good idea anyway

Pearl Jam came out in favor of net neutrality after AT&T censored a broadcast a performance they did in Chicago last Sunday. I guess AT&T didn’t like Pearl Jam’s anti-Bush message.

I don’t know if Pearl Jam’s sudden embrace of net neutrality is out of ignorance, or if it’s retaliation. It doesn’t really matter because it should help bring some more awareness to the issue.Here’s the issue with net neutrality, in a nutshell. AT&T wants to charge companies like Amazon, eBay, and Google when people like you and me access their web pages. And if the companies don’t pay, AT&T will make the web sites slower. The idea is that if one company doesn’t pay the fees but a competitor does, AT&T customers will probably opt to use the faster services.

Proponents say AT&T built the infrastructure, so they have the right to charge whoever uses it.

There are two problems with that logic.

They’re already paying to use it.

When a company decides to go online, they buy an Internet connection. That connection might be owned by AT&T, or it might be owned by some other provider. It isn’t cheap. While a 1.5-megabit cable modem connection might cost a consumer $30, a commercial-grade 1.5-megabit T1 connection will cost more on the order of $500 a month. A company like Google needs a lot more than one of these connections. Google most likely is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, every month for the privilege of being on the Internet.

Without content, an Internet connection has no value.

AT&T knows nothing about how online services work, because they haven’t been in the business long. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to go online, you didn’t use the Internet unless you were a college student. You subscribed to a service like AOL or Compuserve or Prodigy, who sent you a disk and a local phone number that you called with your modem, and then when you wanted to go online, you connected to their service. It had e-mail and forums and downloads and news, kind of like the Internet does today, but it was smaller. You could interact with other subscribers but that was pretty much it. E-mail was limited, for the most part, to other members of the same service.

Compuserve was the biggest and most expensive service, but it survived because it had the most features. AOL and Prodigy survived because they were easy to use. GEnie, a competing service operated by General Electric, survived primarily because it was cheaper than the others. Each had a niche. In these cases, the company providing access also provided the content. It was a closed system.

The Internet is an open system. AT&T isn’t providing all of the content. AT&T is my Internet provider, and I never touch any of their content, except when my credit card expires and I get a new one and I have to go to to update my account with the new expiration date for my automatic bill-pay.

If it weren’t for the companies like eBay and Amazon and Google, nobody would want an Internet connection in the first place, because without those providers, an Internet connection is pretty much useless. The only reason the Internet took off in the first place was because companies like AOL and CompuServe couldn’t offer services that were as good as what Google and Amazon and eBay.

That’s why AOL went from a blue-chip stock to a drag on Time-Warner’s share price in less than a decade.

People buy Internet connections so they can use Google and Amazon and eBay. Very few people care about the mostly sterile content AT&T puts on the Internet. I’m sure some people enjoy watching concerts in the AT&T blue room, but I’ve never heard of anyone watching anything there. But I hear every day about what someone bought or sold on eBay, or a story that showed up on Google News or, or a book someone bought on Amazon.

And when they use e-mail, people increasingly are using e-mail from Google or Yahoo or Microsoft instead of the one from their Internet provider. That way they can read their mail anywhere, and they can keep their e-mail address even if they move or change Internet providers. So Internet providers aren’t even the primary source of the most basic services anymore.

If anything, AT&T should be paying the companies that produce the content. Not the other way around.

AT&T isn’t selling content. It’s selling a pipe that content travels to. Lest AT&T get a big head, all AT&T has to offer is plumbing.

So what does this have to do with censorship?

Net neutrality has very little to do with censorship. I suppose someone with contrarian views operating a blog on a shoestring who can’t afford to pay for both an Internet connection and the privilege of running in AT&T’s fast lane is a victim of a form of censorship. Or if Google doesn’t pay to be in the fast lane but Yahoo does, then in a way Google is being censored in favor of Yahoo.

But if AT&T chooses to drop the audio out of a Pearl Jam concert, net neutrality isn’t going to stop that. In that case, AT&T is the provider, not just the company providing the plumbing.

But net neutrality is a good thing because without it, what’s going to happen is higher prices for the things you buy on Amazon and eBay, and less content on news sites because the news providers can’t afford as many writers because now they’re having to pay AT&T and every other company that sells digital plumbing. You get less, so that Randall Stephenson gets a higher salary and a more attractive stock options.

Stephenson made $14.6 million last year, before he got promoted to CEO.

I don’t think you and I need to make any more sacrifices in order to give this fat cat a bigger raise.

Are Google\’s corporate perks excessive?

Google’s corporate perks are the subject of a Fortune magazine article. I’m going to take what I suspect is a contrarian view on this. I think Google’s excessive spending on its employee perks is a good thing.

Why? Because I’ve seen what happens with the opposite.I know of one company whose ultimate goal is to use temporary contractors as much as possible. The reason is simple: Overhead. Find a company that gives its contractors as little as possible to keep rates low, use those people, and then you don’t have to mess around with giving benefits like vacation and sick time and vacation days aside from Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Personally, I think the guy’s an idiot, and you can quote me on that. I once worked at a struggling company that used a ton of contractors. None of us had any of that messy and expensive sick time. So when a contractor got sick, rather than give up a week’s pay, he or she just sucked down Dayquil like it was water and showed up for work. The result? An epidemic. I’ve never seen so many sick people in September in my life. And guess what? The rest of cold/flu season wasn’t any better.

That particular company wasn’t profitable when I worked there, and it isn’t profitable today. I wonder if it’s because nothing gets done from September to February because everyone’s sick?

I worked someplace else that was paying me about $15,000 less than what the job search engines said I should be making. I was having a hard time paying my bills some months. Did it make it hard for me to concentrate on things at work? Absolutely. I knew from year to year I was only going to get a cost-of-living raise whether I did well or poorly, so I didn’t really try all that hard to excel.

Knowing what I know about that particular employer’s bottom line and customer satisfaction, I suspect they could really have used the results of a couple of my projects from the last year and a half or so.

So when I see that Google gives its employees free food and does their laundry for free and gives them $500 worth of takeout food when they have a baby–among other things–I don’t exactly think that’s a bad idea.When an employee doesn’t have to solve those kinds of personal problems, that’s that much more energy the employee has to devote to the company. And, hopefully, the company’s needs are more interesting to the employee than laundry.

Now I’m not sure that this is universal. A company like Google is going to have a higher rate of return on this kind of investment than, say, Radio Shack.

Let’s take a look at another company. Everybody knows eBay, and the company is always profitable because it doesn’t have to do a lot of work, and it makes money whether the stuff sells or not. It’s a nice situation to be in: Millions of people are working extremely hard to make sure eBay is profitable, simply in hopes of making lots of money themselves (and while some do, many don’t).

Yet eBay’s stock price is in the toilet. The problem is that eBay isn’t growing anymore. They have a monopoly on the online auction business, but they’re pretty much expanded as much as they can, and the company hasn’t had a second great idea. They’ve had several lousy ideas in the past year, and they’re likely to have a bunch more and lose lots of money in the process of chasing the next great idea.

If Google wants to not be the next eBay, it needs to keep cranking out a steady stream of profitable ideas. Its market share in search keeps growing. Meanwhile, it’s turned advertising into a big cash cow. Maybe YouTube is Google’s next big cash cow. Maybe not, and maybe Google Base is the next one. Or maybe it’s something that hasn’t been publicly unveiled yet.

But the only reason Google got to where it is was because it had lots of brilliant people working for it, and they were free to try lots of wacky ideas. Those wacky ideas that succeeded have turned it into a juggernaut. So I think taking care of the basic needs of those fertile minds is a great idea. That means those minds have that much more energy to concentrate on coming up with great ideas. And if those minds are happy, they’re more likely to come up with great ideas for Google than profitable side projects for themselves.

The formula seems to be working. Google can pretty much hire anyone it wants at this point. The few exceptions I can think of, such as Bill Gates, probably don’t have much to offer Google anyway.

Meanwhile, people are leaving Microsoft like crazy. Whether this is a good thing or bad thing for Microsoft remains to be seen, but Google is able to retain the people it wants to retain, while Microsoft appears to be having trouble doing that.

I think the perks have a lot to do with it.

Of course, the perks won’t do much good if Google doesn’t hire the right people–I can think of some people I know and have known whose extra brainpower isn’t worth having–but Google finds itself in the position of being able to pick and choose its hires.

If Google tanks in five years, people will look back at today as a time when Google blew it by wasting revenue on excesses, but I don’t think Google will tank in five years. I think it’s more likely that in five years, everything that comes to mind when people think of the Internet will be something that Google owns.

It’ll be interesting to see.

Why is it so hard to give something away?

Twice I’ve tried to give something away on Craigslist. Twice I’ve failed. It’s not for lack of interested parties–it’s for lack of follow-through.

I don’t think I’m going to try again.My most recent effort was an attempt to give away a console TV. It’s old but works fine. For five years it was used only to watch the World Series, and for another couple of years it was used less than that.

I got a flood of requests right away, so I took down the ad quickly. With seven responses in 30 minutes, I didn’t want to have to end up telling 100 people no the next morning. So I started making calls.

The first was two brothers who wanted it for their mother. They said they’d be right over. And they were. The problem was neither of them had ever seen a console TV before. They thought a 26-inch TV would fit great on a table. Not this one. At least they were nice about it.

OK, so I thought I’d contact the next person in line. No response.

Number three? He also wanted it for his mother. But when he called to tell her, she’d already sent her other son to go buy a new TV. So much for that.

After another no-response, I spoke with someone with a heavy accent who wanted it. He asked if it would fit in a Honda Civic. I tried not to laugh. I said no. He said he had a friend with a bigger car. I said he really needed a truck or a van. He insisted it would fit in a car. I had the TV sitting right in front of me, I’ve moved it five different times and it won’t fit in any car I’ve ever owned, but what do I know, right? I e-mailed him dimensions (both in English and Metric) and asked him to verify the TV would fit in the car. I never heard from him again.

I guess that’s just as well. The TV feels like it weighs 100 pounds. I’ve moved it five different times, and each time the guy helping me moved it has said he’ll never move that thing again. So I wasn’t about to try to wrestle it into whatever this "bigger car" was. With my luck it would have been a Toyota Camry.

My wife talked to one of the people. As soon as she explained what a "console TV" is, the interest evaporated.

Someone else was interested and said he’d pick it up right away. I said great. He said to call him, and of course the number was long-distance. I called. The phone rang about 12 times before I got an answering machine. I left a message. And you’re right, he never called back.

I guess people see "FREE" in an ad and go nuts, but then when it comes time to actually come get it and they have to do a little work, they don’t want to do it. It’s disappointing. All I wanted was to give the TV to someone who needed it more than me. It still works and I hate to see it taking up space in a landfill just because it’s out of style (and was out of style the year it was made, but that’s another issue).

Well, that’s five hours of my life that I’ll never get back.

The TV’s sitting in the corner of the living room now. It looks good there. We have another TV in the family room (that’s why we were trying to get rid of this one), but since it was getting to be too much of a chore to get rid of it, we’ll just keep it there for a while. Besides, it picks up channel 30 (the local ABC affiliate) a lot better than the other TV does.

Maybe I’ll hook an Atari 2600 up to it and pretend it’s 1982 again.

Myspace and blogging isn’t inherently bad

I see some schools are blocking access to Myspace and other blogging tools. The blogosphere, some people seem to believe, is just a bunch of people looking to exploit teenaged girls.

Sure, blogs can be dangerous. So can cars and jobs. I think the Myspace phenomenon exposes weaknesses in upbringing more than anything else.Blogs have only been around for about 9 years so there haven’t been a lot of sociological studies of them–especially since blogging has only been hot for the last couple of years. But there are precedents.

I was very active in a lot of online communities as a teenager. Teens like me were a minority, but there were enough of us. I’m still friends with a couple of people I met online back in those days.

And I’ll tell you something straight up: I ran into a lot of women who were older than me. A lot of, um, lonely women who were older than me. A lot of them had the wrong idea about my age. One asked me where I went to college. But you see, I hadn’t gone yet, because I was only 14.

And in case you’re wondering, it didn’t go any further than that. I’d been taught right from wrong, and I carried myself that way, both online and in person, so the topic never came up.

There were other dark sides of this online world. Software piracy was usually the gateway. And yeah, I’ll admit I downloaded some software that I didn’t pay for. Mostly I stuck to things that were no longer commercially available. And without and Ebay, it was difficult to buy out-of-print stuff. So I wouldn’t have been able to buy the majority of it even if I’d wanted to. That didn’t make it legal, but to my teenaged mind, it sounded moral enough.

Of course most people were interested in the new stuff. And that could lead down a slippery slope. St. Louis wasn’t exactly a hotbed for the latest new releases, so to get the zero-day warez, you had to call long distance. But remember, most of us weren’t 16 yet, so we didn’t have jobs and we didn’t have a lot of money. So I knew an awful lot of people who got into phone fraud. And it often got worse from there. Phone fraud led to credit card fraud, and I heard stories of people who got caught, slapped with the huge bills they’d run up, and turned to dealing drugs to make the money to pay it back.

All so they could be the first one in St. Louis to have the Commodore 64 version of Grover’s Magic Numbers. Yes, there were people who risked all of that to have something that lame-sounding. And no, it didn’t sound any cooler then, but people did it.

I talked with a number of people who were caught up in that. There was a guy in Chicago who called me on a pretty regular basis for a little while. No, he didn’t dial 1-314, if you know what I mean. One day he quit calling, and not long after that, I heard the Feds caught up with him. There was a rumor that he ran away to Colorado after he got out of juvenile detention. Whatever the case, I never heard from him again.

But I never made any fraudulent long-distance calls. I had a 3.6 grade-point average, was in National Honors Society, and I was in Who’s Who Among American High School Students all four years. And I sold my first magazine article before I got my driver’s license. I wasn’t going to throw all that away just so I could make long-distance phone calls on someone else’s dime.

So why was I having anything to do with those people? Simple. We talked programming. Nothing I learned from those guys is remotely useful to me today, but it was interesting then. Sure, those guys made a lot of mistakes, and yeah, they sure did break a lot of laws, but they weren’t entirely bad.

I’m sure if my parents had known everything that was going on, they’d have gotten rid of the modem or at least severely limited what I could do with it. But they couldn’t stand over my shoulder all the time.

And besides, there wasn’t any need to worry. They’d taught me right from wrong, and what I had to lose if I stepped too far out of bounds. Sure I pushed the limits, but that’s being a teenager for you. Come to think of it, I still push the limits sometimes now, even at 31.

The primitive online communities that existed in the late 1980s and early 1990s were social communities. The only difference between that and the mall was distance. The computer took away the geographical boundaries. In that regard they’re the same as Myspace and other online communities today.

There’s potential for problems today, just like there was 17 years ago. But looking back now, there’s no question why I went online back then. It helped me deal with being a teenager. I could talk with other teenagers who were like me–there were only one or two others like me at my school, and one of them was a major-league jerk. And I could get advice from adults who were further removed from the situation and could give me advice without conflicts of interest. Whether the struggle of the day involved a soldering iron or a girl, I knew at least one person who knew the answer.

I can think of lots of things I’d change if I could go back, but that isn’t among them. So I don’t believe isolating kids today from online communities solves anything. Kids will be kids. Hopefully they know right from wrong and what they can lose if they choose wrong.

Blocking those who would choose wrong doesn’t solve a lot. They’ll find another way to choose wrong.

Denying an important resource to those who would choose right is a greater loss. It’s much easier to find another way to choose wrong than it is to find another way to get wise counsel.

Should you edit your boss’ Wikipedia article?

The IP block associated with congressional offices has been banned off and on from editing Wikipedia, due to a large percentage of dubious edits that attempt to clean up a Congressperson’s image, or smear political opponents.

This has raised a question: Should people with vested interests edit articles?

Absolutely not. And lack of a foolproof way to keep them from doing that is one reason it’s not a reliable source.

Read More »Should you edit your boss’ Wikipedia article?