This site functions as an archive of Conner's Blog, which was a blog from 2006-2014 located at http://connermccall.com. Images and links are likely to be broken.

Outrage at the Netflix Outrage

Netflix is the latest company to suffer from a barrage of anger from the social media universe. People everywhere are up in arms about the direction they are going, writing more tweets about the spin off of Netflix's DVD company than the number of DVDs Netflix has actually mailed to consumers.

I personally don't really care, I've been a Netflix customer since the early days. I immediately canceled my DVD plan the moment the company offered a streaming only plan, and I have actually had my account suspended since April. I don't currently don't use their service. But it's still interesting to watch, and I did put out my snarky 140 character reply today, mainly because I think they are making terrible business decisions.

Yet as I watch the drama unfold I started to get frustrated. Our country has seen an incredible increase in poverty over the last decade, their is a famine happening in Africa, Haiti and Japan are still suffering from the aftermaths of devestating earthquakes, yet people are complaining because their entertainment options are suddenly different.

I was moments from sending a tweet to that effect. I think it was something along the lines of "I wish we could redirect this Netflix outrage toward a disease, starvation, or poverty" when I realized something. People like to complain. Every single day you can log onto Twitter or Facebook and see someone you know complaining about something. 95% of the time these are first world problems. But people don't complain about Netflix because they think that's the only problem worth complaining about, they complain because even though they know nothing will probably happen because of their complaint, it doesn't really matter. Their life is going to be just fine.

On the other hand, tweeting or posting about famine, disease, or a disaster isn't fun. Because your Tweet feels like poking a bear with a toothpick. There is no gratification in talking about things that actually matter. We can talk about the worst things in the world all day, and it doesn't feel any different than tweeting about Netflix making our lives a bit more difficult, except for the fact that at the end of the day, the fact that your tweet didn't accomplish anything actually sucks.

This post is fairly depressing, but basically all I wanted to say was that instead of casting judgement on those who complain about something as ridiculous as a Netflix price hike, it might be worth noting that that person complaining about the price hike probably donates time and energy to things that actually matter. They probably just don't waste their time tweeting about it because feeling like you aren't making a difference talking about something that actually matters isn't a whole lot of fun*.

*This isn't to say everyone shouldn't try to raise awareness of these things, but that someone's personal Twitter account probably doesn't feel like the right platform to them.

Farm Memories

Some of you might know I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere. It was an interesting way to grow up. For a long time after I left, I was just glad to live somewhere with pizza delivery, and now I'm glad I live somewhere with a music scene, museums, and the ability to get some delicious Ethiopian food on occasion. But I do miss a few things about the farm. Today I decided I should write some of them down.

  • The big red Ford pickup. I don't necessarily miss the fact that I could drive a pickup, but I do miss the fact that it was a stick shift, something you never see on trucks anymore. Plus the fact it was capable of taking a crazy beating and the giant hole in the passenger seat where someone left a spotlight on facing downward and almost started the whole truck on fire. Plus memories of Shadow riding shotgun, or leaning up against you as you drove around the farm.
  • The elm tree. Though I don't think I climb it after I turned 14, it was a fixture on the farm. It was huge, had been struck by lightning on numerous occasions and was the best climbing tree I've ever seen.
  • The old wagon and frog rock. We had an old wooden wagon sitting out in front of the farmstead. I think it was painted when we moved but over the years it slowly started to fall apart. I remember playing on it a lot as a kid. At some point a giant rock was dug up from somewhere and ended up not too far from the wagon, if you looked at it just right it sort of looked like a frog.
  • Native American artifacts - The lake, which has mostly dried up by the time we moved to the farm, was south of our house. It was a pretty major part of farm life for the first few years we lived there. I still remember being shown the Tipi rings and looking for arrowheads along it's shores. There was also an old burial site next to it. I can't say I spent a ton of time around them, but I definitely remember them.
  • The milk barn/old barn/I don't remember what the name of it was. We had two barns on the farm, one was the pig barn, which was a single story building that was almost always leaning to the side. The other was a much sturdier building. It had a hay loft and actual stalls for animals. It wasn't used a lot when we lived there, it was mostly the place where we fed the farm cats. I remember exploring the upper level on many occasions and still have occasional nightmares of walking in when our dog Sheba, a German Shepard, was getting the crap beat out of her by a barn cat.
  • Hay bales - I don't miss baling hay or tossing square bales onto the backs of trucks, but I do remember running around the hay lot as a kid. It was fun climbing up to the second level of hay bales, which was about 14 feet in the air and running along the top. I still remember the day I missed a stop and fell straight down in between the bales of hay. I don't know how I managed to not break my legs from that fall.
  • A few other things I miss, the old thresher in the back yard, exploring the brambles and windbreak in the back of the farmstead, branding, the ability to go for a walk and not see another person for hours, stars...

It was an interesting. Sometimes the fact that I'm as big of a proponent of city living as I am surprises me considering I grew up about as far from a city as you possibly can. Still, there are things I miss from my childhood, especially from the farm. I don't know why I've been reminiscing about these things lately, probably a sign I need to take a road trip soon.

Social Media Account Linking

I preach against this once a month, yet I continuously see businesses doing this. It's a bad thing.

What do I mean by account linking? I'm mostly talking about businesses that push their Facebook posts to Twitter. But there are other options, Tumblr to Twitter, Twitter to Facebook (Selective Tweets isn't as bad), or Foursquare to Twitter. Really, anytime you automatically push something from one account to another, it's going to cause trouble eventually. I'm going to base all of these problems on pushing from Facebook to Twitter though, because that's the mistake I see most often.

When you write a message on Facebook or Twitter, you are targeting a different audience. You should be thinking about it differently. First, onFacebook you no longer have to limit your message size to 14o characters. Additionally, people can comment directly on the update. This lets you potentially start a conversation that is easy to follow, perhaps drawing more people in. Either way, it's a different medium than Twitter. Twitter is 140 characters. That's it. You can have great conversations on Twitter, but it's difficult for others to follow, especially if they don't follow the person your talking to, a very likely scenario as a business account.

One other reason this is a bad idea, especially in the case of Facebook and Twitter. Facebook's Twitter integration doesn't just post the text of your status update to Twitter, it posts a link back to your Facebook account. This might sound not sound so bad, but remember, you only have 140 characters to play with on Twitter. What happens if your status update + the link go over that limit. Your message is truncated and your Twitter followers can't see the whole thing. This is fine if they are on a desktop with access to Facebook, they just click the link, they might still have to sign on, but it's not that frustrating. This changes on a mobile device. Since most twitter client's internal browsers don't save cookies, if a user clicks on your fb.me link, they have to sign in to Facebook just to see the extra charecters, guess how many of them end up reading your message?

The final reason, it gets hard to manage. Say for instance you've tasked Facebook with cross posting your status updates to Twitter, Google Plus, and a fourth specialized social media site. Then one day you start using a blogging software. When you are setting this up you are asked to link it to Twitter and Facebook to promote your posts. Sounds like a great idea, expect for one small problem. Everytime you post to your blog, your followers get hit with two messages at the same time. The original message your blogging system created and the cross post Facebook has sent on your behalf. This isn't a good content strategy for building loyalty.

There are additional reasons to avoid this. You're probably thinking, but I run all the aspects of my business, including it's social media efforts. I don't have time to post in two different places. Understandable. That's why I recommend using Hootsuite or Seesmic. They allow you to post to all account simultaneously. This lets you craft your post for the simplest network and use that elsewhere. It's not as good as crafting your message for each site, but it's a lot better than using the sites built-in cross posting functionality.

Summery Cocktail

"Champagne or summery cocktail?" This was what I asked Nicky yesterday in preperation for our dinner. We were supposed to go to Bachelor Farmer to try the bread and marrow, but they removed it from their menu, so I cooked dinner instead. Enchiladas were made and I created this cocktail with the help of Marcos who happened to be at the customer service counter at The Wedge. My initial plan was a take on a mojito, but the store didn't have mint, so I made this up instead.

  • 2 parts pineapple juice
  • 1 part dark rum
  • 1-2 dashes of Jamaican #1 bitters

Shake with ice, pour into an up glass(3/4 full) with a sugared rim, top with ginger ale, and grate nutmeg over the top. If you want you can spoon a dollop of the foam from the pineapple juice left in your shaker on top of the drink before grating the nutmeg for garnish.

Naked Sauce

In a restaurant that boasts duck and foie gras ravioli, olive oil braised octopus and innumerable four star reviews, it should say something that the spaghetti with tomato and basil is the most famed dish on the menu. It should warn you that it is exquisite, the stuff of daydreams for people like me, who find a knot of spaghetti and just the right amount of tomato sauce pasta’s highest calling.

I made this last night. After spending over an hour a few weeks ago making spaghetti sauce with mushrooms and all sorts of seasonings, this blew that away with its simplicity. Highly recommended. Plus if you follow the recipe you have enough pasta for about four meals for two people.

On the State Fair

I have a confession to make. Unlike fellow Twin Cities blogger Emily, whose blog also recently returned from the dead, I love the state fair. I'm not a native Minnesotan. I came here at 24 after living in Montana and North Dakota. But for many reasons, some which have been documented here over the years, I fell in love with this state, and that includes the State Fair.

I could write a love letter or something just as cheesy, but instead I'm going to just go ahead and list the things that I love. You'll be surprised to find that most food is at the bottom of my list.

  • The people. It's true that the State Fair bingo card exists for a reason. The fair seems to bring out people you would never see at a club in downtown Minneapolis or even a bar in Northeast Minneapolis. But that's sort of the point. Other than the fishing opener and the Vikings, nothing else brings together this entire state quite like the fair. Whether they live in the Twin Cities or in great Minnesota, people come from everywhere to attend. It's sort of amazing when you think about it.
  • The animals - I grew up on a farm. In fact, I brought pigs to the county fair a few times growing up. I love walking through the animal barns, watching the kids take care of their charges, seeing how well kept they are, and occasionally helping corral an escaping creature. Ok, the last never happens, but only because everyone looks at me at assumes I'm a city boy and would get run over and rushes over to save me. Oh well.
  • The horses - They get their own category. I love horses, their magnificent animals and sort of like big dogs. And the people who raise and show horses are usually extremely friendly and willing to tell you all about them.
  • The hidden secrets. I took a group of friends to the fairgrounds for a photo walk last summer. It was cool seeing it without all the people, and a few things I'd never noticed before became apparent.
  • The colors. Just look at the photo attached to this post. I'm not sure what it is about the fairgrounds, but on a sunny day it doesn't get much better.
  • The music - Not the concerts at the grandstand, but the ones at free stages.
  • The tractors - Especially the old tractors. They tend to remind me of my childhood, and the people who display them take such pride in them, as they should. They are magnificent.
  • The food - I do enjoy the cheese curds, the cookies, and the milkshakes as much as the next person. But they are not the reason I go every year. In fact, I rarely leave stuffed. Usually I'm just mildly sick.

There are a lot of other things to love about the fair, but those are a few that I think of. It's an experience and no blog post really does it justice. Don't go just to stand in line for cheese curds, go for the day and spend some time exploring.

On Being A Nerd and People Person

I'm a web nerd. I build my own websites, can write a Wordpress plugin, have run my own webservers, and done a bunch of nerdy things just to do them. But I'm also a people person. I use the web as often to communicate with real people who I will meet in person as often as I use it to research the latest glitch I created on my computer.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that I often get frustrated by the nerds of the world being unable to understand why regular people get turned off by a lot of very useful software. Here is a recent example. The company that develops the Firefox web browser, one of the most popular browsers on the Internet, recently decided they are going to remove version numbers from the" About Firefox" dialog. The majority of the public's response to this was likely complete indifference. But over on Slashdot, a very nerdy website, a commentor posted the following "If the user wants to hide the version number, someone will write an extension to do that. Quit dumbing down Firefox." It's this mentality that sends your average user directly to Apple or Microsoft's products.

Extensions aren't written for your average user. Except for those few that are necessary to do some basic task or are heavily promoted by Mozilla, none of the top Firefox extensions are going to be used by your average web user. They provide help for web developers, allow users to change websites to fit their ideals of how the Internet should work, and allow a user to download everything on a page. What the comment's author doesn't seem to grasp is that extensions allow us nerdy types the ability add additionally functionality that other people don't care that much about. By removing the version numbers from a standard user facing dialog, Mozilla gets rid of something that 99% of it's users won't even know is missing. The other 1% can probably write their own extension to bring them back.

This is something you see often in the Open Source ecosystem. The software is might be extremely powerful and actually may work better than software that you have to pay for, but because someone is worried about dumbing it down, it's too complicated and clumsy for your average user*, with options and menu entries available for every possible scenario that this developer could think of, all because one person out of every hundred might need to tweak that setting twice in a year. This is crazy.

People who are passionate about something, whether it's food, cars, or the web tend to know more about their chosen passion than the rest of the world. They want to ability to change the font that a website uses, want to be able to change the timing of their engine, and notice the taste differences between the five different salts they have in their cupboards. This doesn't mean that everyone wants to do these things. Being a nerd probably means you like to figure things out, dig into the nuts and bolts, and understand what you are using better than your next door neighbor. Let's stop worrying about dumbing down our software, we can dig to find the version number, let's not make Aunt Sally look at version numbers**.

* The opposite does happen, see Apple's latest version of Final Cut.

** And for those of you that say "But I need the version number to troubleshoot her problem." I say "really?". I'll then ask you to spend 30 seconds coming up with a solution. I bet you can.

Myth of Cheap Food

If the American diet became centered on animal products, thanks to subsidized industrial agriculture, combined with incessant marketing bordering on brainwashing (e.g., meat = protein), then why create and market a parallel diet based on sustainably raised animals?

This article nails it. Even among those who are great ambassadors for local, sustainable, and healthy food tend to get hung up on the cost of meat. As important as the focus on organic and sustainable practices is, I wonder if it would be a better strategy to start with changing the American diet first. Of course I write this while thinking about a delicious cheeseburger, so what do I know.

Tacos and Cocktails

As part of the revamp of my online portfolio, I closed my food blog. I decided this post is worth keeping and brought it over.

I threw my first cocktail get together on Friday night. It was a combination of me fulfilling a promise to a friend to host a taco party and my need to show off my new mixology skills I’ve been working on for the last several months. Here is what I made. I failed to take any photos being preoccupied with preparing.

The Food

I stuck with simple tacos. I used some tip steak and taco seasoning from The Wedge and provided basic toppings. The only real interesting thing I added was a cheese from the Netherlands I purchased from Lake Street Wine and Cheese that had cumin in it. It really worked well with the tacos.

The Drinks

The Little G – This one I created with the help of Tom a few weeks back at another friend’s cheese party. It’s 1 1/2 parts bourbon to 1 part Canton, a ginger liquor, over ice in a low ball glass. Added 2 dashes of Jamaican #1 bitters from Bittercube and stir. Squeeze a wedge of lime over the top and garnish with candied ginger.

The BPG – This one is very summery. Muddle 5-6 basil leaves, add 2 oz of dark rum and pineapple juice. Shake well with ice and the strain into an up glass rimmed with sugar, leave a bit of space on top of the glass. Top off drink with ginger ale. Garnish with fresh pineapple.

Originally published on 05/02/2011

Bacon Brussel Hash

As part of the revamp of my online portfolio, I closed my food blog. I decided this post is worth keeping and brought it over.

Inspired by my friend Nicole, who posted about it on Twitter, I recently created something I never would have thought about on my own. Bacon Brussel Hash. This came at a perfect time for me, as I was obsessed with sprouts for about 1 1/2 months at the end of summer.

It’s very simple. Roast the brussel sprouts and potatoes. I did this the night before, it was part of dinner and I just made a lot more so I could make this in the morning. In the morning, fry up some bacon. I didn’t use that much, for me it’s all about the vegetables in hash. Remove the bacon and saute some onion and garlic in the remaining fat. While that’s happening chop up the potatoes and brussel sprouts. It’s up to you how much to chop them, I left my fairly large, but again it is your call. Add that to the pan, sautee for a bit, chop up the bacon and add just before finishing. Walla, one delicious hash.

Originally published on 10/18/2010