The Bloggess Bump

Recently, thanks to a retweet from the Bloggess, one of my tweets went viral:

The tweet gained further steam when Buzzfeed embedded it in an article.

First, the story behind the tweet:

It was 1999 and I’d just moved to New York City to try to be a writer-musician-something-or-other. I didn’t have a job yet, so I visited a staffing agency that specialized in editorial work. They had me fill out a job application and one of the questions was “where are you willing to work?” Easy question, right? I wrote that I was willing to travel to all five New York boroughs.

EXCEPT. I had never actually written the word “borough” before and did not know how to spell it. So my answer came out like this:

“Any of the five boros boroughs bouroughs.”

Remember, I was seeking an editorial job — something writer-y that would require basic spelling skills. The nice lady interviewing me took one glance at my application and I knew I was toast. We went through the motions of a “job interview” and then she stood up to shake my hand and say goodbye. (In my tweet I might have embellished the number of people I shook hands with; it’s hard to remember exactly.)

And that’s when I tried to make a hasty exit, only to open a door and be confronted by a closet full of coats. There was nothing to do but back up and close the door.

“I bet that happens all the time!” I said.

“No, you’re the first,” the nice lady said.

Thinking back, I am pretty sure that the coat closet was very clearly a coat closet. It was not a door that was adjacent and identical to the actual exit. It was more like a freestanding, wood-paneled wardrobe, and I walked right on in.

I did not get called back.

Now… the tweet. Previously, none of my nearly 8,000 tweets — since 2007! — had gained the attention of more than a few IRL friends and Twitter acquaintances. I’m (mostly) fine with this, although I have a big enough ego to secretly long for Twitter fame and feel like a failure for not having achieved it.

It was surreal when I started seeing my notifications go haywire. The first thing I did was turn off email notifications, because I’d seen what can happen to other suddenly-Twitter-famous, as I was sure I was destined to be.


Overnight, the retweets poured in. At work the next day, someone posted to our team Slack channel a link to the Buzzfeed article — and only afterward did anyone (myself included) notice that my tweet had been embedded there. That led to TONS more activity for about a week. (Side note: Twitter changed their stars into hearts right in the middle of this. It was weird.)

I’d always kind of hoped something like this would happen, but I was mostly detached and numb to the experience when it actually did. It was a throwaway tweet, composed while my son was talking my ear off about dinosaurs. (Bad daddy!)

I was more interested in the data behind a viral tweet. Do retweets attract new followers? Was I going to finally be Twitter-famous? (Not really, and hell no.)

We’ll start with the raw data, as of today:

Impressions 58,151
Total engagements 2,260
Detail expands 913
Likes 899
Retweets 338
Profile clicks 88
Replies 18
Follows 3
Link clicks 1

The “Follows” row means that someone followed me directly from the tweet. That’s uncommon; people are more likely to view your profile and then decide whether to follow. In reality I picked up approximately 35 new followers.

So, less than one tenth of one percent (0.06%) of people who saw the tweet followed me as a result. (0.01% followed directly from the tweet itself.)

3.89% of people who saw the tweet “engaged” with it in some way. This could be a fav/like, retweet, reply, mention, etc.

1.55% of people who saw the tweet favorited or liked it.

0.58% of people who saw the tweet retweeted it.

0.15% of people who saw the tweet viewed my profile.

The tweet is still getting several engagements per day, but the trajectory has slowed considerably.


It was fun for awhile, but now I’m much more excited when a tweet other than this one gets any kind of activity. It’s taught me another lesson about the value of having a tight circle of friends compared to a mass of strangers.

However, the momentum may get another boost. Someone from Buzzfeed contacted me to ask permission to use it in a video. I have no idea what that means, but I said yes. I’ll update this post if anything happens. Also, thank you Bloggess!


I don’t often make New Year’s resolutions, at least not publicly, but this year I have a few. (Well, two.)

  1. Quit Facebook for a year. Last summer I deleted the Facebook app from my phone and didn’t miss it at all. Now I’m ready to take the next step. It will be interesting to log back in in 2016 and see how the interface has changed. If people want to get in touch, I’m still very easy to find through other means.
  2. Amplify voices that need it. Over on Twitter, there was a period of about a year (I’m not sure of the exact dates but Wendy Davis’s filibuster was the catalyst) during which I retweeted only women. Anil Dash did the same thing, only to gazillions more followers, and the experience changed him, as it did me. He writes:

    For me, for my experience, it’s better. I feel happier about the time I spend on Twitter, and it’s made me try to be more thoughtful, and more disciplined with other things I do in my time online.

    I’m back to retweeting the occasional dude, but I’m much more mindful about the voices I amplify. In 2015 I will continue this mindfulness and expand it to include a broader range of diversity. I might have only 400 followers, but dammit, I care!

  3. Think of a third resolution. Seriously, you can’t have just two.

Hermit Crab Care and Feeding

  1. Hermit crabs make great first pets because they are easy to care for and don’t require a lot of room.
  2. They molt several times per year.
  3. All you need is a cage and a few basic supplies.
  4. The molting thing will surprise you.
  5. The cage can be either glass or plastic. You can start with a small one if you’re just getting one crab.
  6. During the molting process, the crab burrows under the sand and sheds its exoskeleton.
  7. You need three dishes: For food, fresh water, and salt water.
  8. They stay burrowed for a really long time. Like, weeks.
  9. Hermit crabs are scavengers and will eat almost anything: fruit, vegetables, Cheerios. One of their favorites is shrimp!
  10. After a couple of weeks you will dig up the hermit crab. Its lifeless body will fall limply out of its shell.
  11. You will also need a spray bottle for frequent misting. Hermit crabs need a warm, humid environment.
  12. You will tell your daughter that Hermione — the name she has given her hermit crab — is dead.
  13. If the temperature in your house gets below 70 degrees you should also get a heating pad to go under the cage.
  14. Your daughter will cry real tears. Along with her empty shell, you will place Hermione’s corpse in a plastic baggie and leave it on the windowsill overnight. Funeral planning will begin.
  15. Hermit crabs are natural climbers, so a stick or a climbing wall make great additions to the cage.
  16. The next day your son will observe Hermione moving inside the baggie. You will not believe him.
  17. An inexpensive thermometer and hydrometer will ensure that conditions within the cage are acceptable to your hermit crab.
  18. But he’s correct! Hermione did move! It turns out that the thing you thought was a crab corpse is actually Hermion’s exoskeleton. It really did look exactly like a dead crab. And Hermione is actually inside the shell but you didn’t see her before because the shell was clogged with sand and in all honesty you didn’t really look that closely; your attention was on the corpse, not the shell. Your daughter is both overjoyed and extremely pissed at you. You gently return Hermione to her cage, where she commences eating her own exoskeleton. Hermione regains her strength and is quite active for a couple of months, until she burrows again. Once again you get impatient and dig her up and think she is dead and tell your daughter and break her heart all over again. But the crab is actually alive (again). You are an idiot and can’t believe you did this whole Hermione-is-dead-no-just-kidding-she-is-alive rigamarole not once, but twice.
  19. Some people like to give their crabs baths. This is not recommended.

PJ Harvey’s “Rid of Me”: 21 years later

It’s 1993. You’re young. Kurt Cobain is still alive, but he’s in your periphery; you’re more into the Chicago scene — Jesus Lizard, that sort of thing. You make zines and mail them to friends around the country. One of those friends sends you a cassette of PJ Harvey’s “Rid of Me.”

PJ Harvey - Rid of Me album coverYou know nothing about PJ Harvey. There is no Google, no Wikipedia, no place you can turn to for information. The cassette from your pen pal is hand-labeled, so you don’t even have an album cover or liner notes. You can vaguely picture the poster at the local record store, but you’ve never examined it.

You play the cassette. The first track begins with a muted guitar riff that emphasizes rhythm over melody. She plays low, single-string notes that one could almost play on a drum; the beat is tribal. A woman’s voice sings over the riff, full of restrained anguish.

You are terrible at deciphering lyrics.* But this deficit makes you more attuned to the emotions behind the words; her vocals are just another musical instrument to you, but they carry as much emotional weight as Rachmaninoff’s piano. (In the absence of lyrical comprehension you also tend to project your feelings onto the singers you like.)

Then the drums kick in and all hell breaks loose.

The soft/loud dynamic is more startling than any Nirvana song. Yet it only lasts a few seconds before going back to the muted plucking. Hell breaks loose again during the outro and the song ends with PJ’s distorted soprano and these lyrics are clear enough for you to understand: “Lick my legs, I’m on fire / Lick my legs, of desire.”

WTF was that? “Lick my legs” was so unexpected that you forgive PJ Harvey for rhyming “fire” and “desire.” You play the cassette again. And again. For months. It’s perfect.

PJ Harvey remains a favorite through her 1998 album, “To Bring You My Love.” Now she’s doing the diva thing; she’s not the howling basement caterwauler you once imagined; but that’s okay: you’ve grown up a bit too. You see her once in concert at a large amphitheater as part of a bill with Veruca Salt (!) and she plays only six songs, this tiny figure in a red dress on a huge stage. After that you kind of forget about her.

Fast-forward 21 years and you see this tweet:

It’s PJ Harvey in 1993 on…Jay Leno? You must have missed that the first time around.

You watch, hoping to unravel some of the mysteries of 1993-era PJ Harvey. Somehow it feels as uncomfortable as watching yourself on video. The camera is too close. The vocals are too high in the mix, like on the karaoke of American Idol. The loud/soft dynamic is neutralized. When she sings “Lick my legs” in her throaty, higher register, it almost comes across as farce. Like she knows it’s a weird line sung in a weird voice. When you heard this on your hand-labeled cassette for the first time, that voice sounded otherworldly, not quite human. Now it’s clear that PJ Harvey was Polly Jean Harvey and all too human.

Moments after performing her psychodramatic masterpiece, PJ Harvey sits down with Jay Leno to make small talk about sheep castration. The other guests are comedienne Kathleen Madigan and actor Michael Richards (whom Jay Leno mistakenly calls Michael Kramer.) It’s surreal, as seeing your adolescence repackaged and commercialized always is. You worry that this was PJ Harvey’s first introduction to millions of people and they did not get it. (Today’s analog is St. Vincent’s performance on SNL.) This happened 21 years ago but it still bothers you. This is 100% your problem, not PJ Harvey’s. She moved on many years ago.

Today you accept that instant access to information is mostly a good thing. But you also miss not knowing things. When you had only partial information — a hand-labeled cassette, a scrambled image on a late-night cable channel — your mind filled in the blanks. It was possible that your favorite bands could be apocryphal — projections of your own psyche, not just a humans with guitars. Who could prove otherwise?

You wanted so badly to know everything, but the years of not-knowing may have been the most formative.



* One time you asked your dad what “correnulate” meant. He said he did not think that was a real word. The lyric you had misheard was “But it’s too late” from Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” (“I wish I could / But it’s too late”). You went years thinking it was “correnulate” and that you just didn’t know what that word meant.



Weaning off Facebook

I’ve known for awhile that Facebook is a net negative in my life. I like keeping up with people I care about, but the people I care most about are not usually the ones dominating my feed.

I still want to be on Facebook. A close high school friend just joined, and I would not have known about another friend’s death without Facebook. It’s also the best place to share photos with family. I just want to be on Facebook much less.

My current solution, since self-control wasn’t working, is to delete the Facebook app from my phone. This way Facebook becomes intentional behavior instead of default behavior: If I want to be on Facebook I have to be in front of a computer and go to the Facebook website.

It sounds really simple and obvious, but it’s worked: I’m now on Facebook about 90% less than I was previously. I log in a few times a day, usually for less than 30 seconds each time, and only on weekdays.

My default, mindless-phone-scrolling behavior now leans heavily toward Twitter, but so far that remains a net positive. And I’m blogging again!


One Reason People Are Not More Outraged at NSA Surveillance

My fellow web people will relate to this one.

Several times in my career, someone, usually a senior marketing executive, has asked me whether we can collect the email addresses of everyone who visits the company website. Not “can you set up a form where users submit their email address?” but “does the website do this automatically?”

They were not thinking through the implications of this question. They were not considering that if we could do this, so could every other website, and therefore their email address had already been collected thousands of times.

It’s not that they’re dumb; they just wanted to know if we could send email to our site visitors. And to them, as with most people, technology is a black hole. No one knows how it works.

So, at least on a subconscious level, many people, if not most people, assume that their personal data is being constantly collected.

Which, it turns out, it is.

Mandatory Retirement for Old White Dudes

Baby Boomers have decided to live forever and the net result will be more old white dudes ruining the planet. These old white dudes believe factory smog is a sign of progress, that being called a racist is worse than being a victim of actual racism, and that women should be forced to bear children.

Some of these old white dudes will still hold elected office when I become an old white dude myself. This has to stop.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Gen-Xer with Boomer parents (which tempers my cynicism with over-inflated self-esteem), but I think the younger generations are mostly getting it right.


Source: League of Conservative Voters

So, young people: If you want to accelerate your eventual world takeover (i.e. you don’t want to wait until you’re 60 years old and my generation is still trying to run things at age 80), start now on enacting legislation that forces — or at least entices — old white dudes into retirement at a reasonable age. I’d be cool with age 45 if my retirement package includes free wifi for life, but 65 is probably a tad more realistic.

At the same time, get some more non-old-white-dudes elected. I know you can do it. I have full confidence in you. You have my vote.