On 18 June 2014 the IRS announced BIG changes to some of its programs for the reporting and taxation of foreign assets owned by some Americans. These changes should come as welcome relief to many expats who failed to properly report and pay tax on foreign assets, if such failure was "due to non-willful conduct." In other words, these taxpayers did not understand their filing requirements in the past, so they neglected to file required returns, not because they were willfully trying to avoid reporting and paying required taxes. And now they want to clean up this non-willful non-compliance and get all returns properly filed and taxes paid. In such cases, the IRS is now willing to make it much easier for them to bring all their tax filings into compliance with the law.
Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures
There is now a new streamlined procedure for such people to follow, which includes some very big incentives for these taxpayers to now catch up their filings.
There are many more taxpayers who can now qualify for this new program, including Americans living in the US, not just those living abroad.
Under the previous program, only taxpayers who owed $1,500 or less in tax could participate in the program. This limit has been eliminated as a requirement. If otherwise qualified, all taxpayers can now participate, regardless of how much they owe in taxes.
And here is the BIG incentive for taxpayers who can participate in this new program. For American expats living abroad, all penalties will be waived. For Americans living in the US, the only penalty will be a miscellaneous offshore penalty equal to 5 percent of the foreign financial assets at issue. In the past, penalties on these kinds of cases could pile up quickly and could eventually add up to more than the back taxes owed. This could save some taxpayers a very large sum of money.
Americans Renouncing Their Citizenship
Perhaps this will stem the tide of American expats renouncing their American citizenship.
Listen to this interview from August 2013 about the sharp rise in Americans renouncing their citizenship. She reveals that the average cost for expats living abroad to get even simple US income tax returns prepared is $4,000 to $5,000 annually. That's to get someone to prepare the returns and does NOT include any tax they might owe.
She doesn't give any specifics on what she considers to be a "simple return," or how she arrived at such an average figure. I have been preparing US income tax returns for thirty years, with thousands of accurate returns prepared, filed and accepted by the IRS. I can count on one hand the number of returns I have prepared in those years that cost the taxpayer $4,000 to $5,000 in my fees. And those few returns were definitely NOT simple returns by anyone's standard. They were all complicated and required many hours of preparation time.
So if her assertion is accurate, my conclusion is that preparing returns for expats is such a specialized market, that the expats have few qualified preparers to do their returns and those few preparers, knowing the scarcity of such professional expertise, are willing to charge the expats very high fees!
It pains me to think that people who grew up in America and are good, hard working people might have ended up living oversees and then found themselves not being able to afford to get their US tax returns prepared. But apparently that is the case for some. In 2013, there were about 3,000 Americans who renounced their citizenship, when the average before that was 500 people per year. Now much of this rise is due to a side effect of previous IRS attempts to collect taxes from expats living abroad, which has caused many banks outside the US to not be willing to open banks accounts for Americans. Can you imagine the hassle of living outside the US and not being able to open a bank account in the country where you live and work?! Read the stories of five American expats who are struggling with this question of whether to renounce their American citizenship. This is a nasty unintended consequence of IRS attempts to get tax money out of American expats living abroad. I am hoping that these new IRS changes reflect an awareness on the part of the IRS that they have created a monster, and perhaps this is the first step in their setting things right for expats.
The Fine Print
Of course with all things on US taxes, there are a lot of details. The changes were released on 18 June 2014. Here is one article written for the accounting industry that explains the changes in some detail, including some changes that I did not mention in my writing above.
I usually prefer to get it direct from the horse's mouth, in this case by reading the IRS website on the matter. In this case there are three pages to be read to get it all. First there is one page that gives the beginning outline of the changes they were announcing. And then there are two more pages of changes after that, one for American expats living outside the US and the other for US taxpayers living in the US. It is the two pages after the beginning outline that discuss the lifting of the penalties for those who participate in the program.
I suggest that you read them with no distractions nearby, taking your time to go slowly. These pages are not light reading.
If you would like me to help you with your own US taxes, in this area or any other, send me an email. Click on my name, then on "Email Me" on the page that come up. I won't charge you $4,000 to $5,000.
Over his long career much has been written about Bob Dylan's music. Does he care what people write about him? It turns out that Dylan wrote about critics in 1965-1966 in his book, Tarantula, which wasn't actually legally published until 1971. The following section on pages 93-94 is very direct about his view of his critics. It was the second and third pages of the chapter titled Ape on Sunday, with no separate title of it's own.
look you asshole
"…look you asshole – tho i might be nothing but a butter sculptor, i refuse to go on working with the idea of your praising as my reward – like what are your credentials anyway? excpt for talking about all us butter sculptors, what else do you do? do you know what it feels like to make some butter sculpture? do you know what it feels like to actually ooze that butter around & create something of fantastic worth? you said that my last year’s work “The King's Odor” was great & then you say i havent done anything as great since – just who the hell are you talking to anyway? you must have something to do in your real life – i understand that you praised the piece you saw yesterday entitled “The Monkey Taster” about which you said meant “a nice work of butter carved into the shape of a young man who likes only african women” you are an idiot – it doesnt mean that at all . . . i hereby want nothing to do with your hangups - i really dont care what you think of my work as i now know you dont understand it anyway . . . i must go now - i have this new hunk of margarine waiting in the bathtub – yes i said MARGARINE & next week i just might decide to use cream cheese - & i really dont care what you think of my experimenting – you take yourself too seriously – youre going to get an ulcer and go into the hospital - they’ll put you in a ward where you cant have any visitors - you’ll go right off your nut - i really dont care anymore - i am so bored with your rules and regulations that i might not even talk to you again - just remember tho, when you evaluate a piece of butter, you are talking about yourself, so you’d just better sign your name . . . see you, if youre lucky, at mrs. keeler's cake festival.
p.s. youre my friend & i’m trying to help you"
He certainly didn't mince his words, did he! There is no effort to dissemble about what he's really thinking. I suspect many great artists (most?) would agree with the idea of approaching their work based upon his statement that "i really dont care what you think of my work as i now know you dont understand it anyway." Dylan has certainly maintained his artistic integrity over the entire course of his career, always following his own path, the critics be damned.
My friend Gerry had a notable birthday this week and his daughter organized a surprise birthday party for him aboard the USS Hornet museum ship in Alameda.
She did a great job of bringing friends there who had known Gerry all the way back to his Stanford eating club days, as well as some of us who have been fortunate to know Gerry from the PAARA ham radio club, especially its well known Field Day activities, made famous in Silicon Valley in large part because of Gerry's tireless Field Day work for many years. Gerry never had a hint of what she had in store for him and when he stepped onto the fantail where the assemblage of his friends was waiting for him, he was totally surprised and blown away by the event. He was very excited to see some Stanford folks he had not seen for twenty to thirty years. Imagine that!
Speed Control System
Besides a great lunch with friends on this historic aircraft carrier, we also got guided tours that took us all over the 41,000 ton ship to see its amazing facilities and systems. After climbing down many steep ladders, holding tightly onto metal and chain link railings, we ended up in the forward engine room, where high pressure (and low pressure) steam was used to turn one of the four propeller shafts. Each steam turbine generated 37,500 horsepower and the four engines together produced the equivalent of 500 1999 Corvettes: 150,000 horsepower. This would move the giant ship at an average speed of 32.5 knots (37.4 mph or 60 km per hour), for 12,500 nautical miles (14,400 miles or 23,200 kilometers) on one load of fuel oil.
The throttle for this incredible system is a little more complicated than the rubber pedal we press down with our right foot in our cars. It requires the use of the Engine Order Telegraph for the skipper on the Bridge to signal to the engine room how much steam he wanted, and thus how much speed he wanted, at any given time. There were a number of discrete steps he could choose, all the way up to full speed and then flank speed, the top speed.
The Real Top Speed
Except flank speed wasn't actually the top speed! There was one other step after that, with the indicator dial pointing straight down at "BENDIX." What does Bendix mean? It is the name of the manufacturer (probably the Bendix Corporation) of the indicator dial used aboard this and many other ships, a trade name! Having no speed related sense at all in the word itself, "All Ahead Bendix" came to mean "as fast as she can go," although one source says the use of this phrase "tends to irritate the Chief Engineer" .
Everyone found this to be quite marvelous. Well we're not sailors, though a few of us had been when much younger. Hopefully we have no Chief Engineer in our lives who we might irritiate, by using a rather arcane expression. When we're moving in a direction that is fully aligned with our life goals and purposes, one indicator of that is our willingness to let out all the stops, put aside all reservations, doubts and fears and blast forward with full steam ahead. All Ahead Bendix!!
Posting things on Twitter is quick and easy. But is anyone listening? In my case, mostly no. But I still end up with my own scrapbook of things that interested me at one time, in one way or another, a collection of dragon legends. If I want to find them later, it might be easier to look on my own Twitter feed than start over with a Google search.
It's exciting to post something that gets retweeted, a rare red letter day for me. And so far this always comes as something as a surprise to me. At other times I will post something, expecting others will pick up on it, and nothing at all happens. Oh well, try again later.
Sometimes I wonder how some people have so many followers! I looked for Patti Smith on Twitter, as her music, her writing, and her ideas are all very interesting to me. I found her as @pattismith with only 500 followers and one tweet, which promoted her album, Banga. Perhaps she then had second thoughts about this whole twitter thing and went off in another direction.
So someone else came along and started sending out tweets of things Patti Smith has written or said. Whoever came up with that idea has accumulated over 24,000 followers! Wow, those are some long coat tails! And an interesting strategy.
Tips & Tricks to Get More Followers
Before I had ever done much at all on Twitter, I read a long article about a very detailed system that resulted in over 10,000 followers in just one year. Easy and nearly foolproof! But if you read carefully through the labyrinthine steps it suggests, you find it works given that you're starting with 1,000 followers. So I asked him how you get those first 1,000 followers. He didn't have a system for that. Ha ha. He suggested I tweet about things on which I have some expertise, some authority, like Bob Dylan. Well I'm over eighty followers now, many months later. BUT, I've accumulated a lot of dragon legends on my twitter feed in the meantime, so that's something.
Do a Google search for "how to increase engagement on twitter" or "how to increase your followers on twitter" and you get lots of tips & tricks to try out. It occurs to me that a number of these articles were written as part of a strategy for those writers to get more followers on Twitter. I hope I don't sound too skeptical or jaded.
Or make it easy on yourself and just buy a few thousand followers!
Even Twitter itself has recently written its own article on how to get more engagement, which amounts to using more photos, videos, quotes, numbers and hashtags in tweets. If new users get no engagement with their tweets, they're more likely to give up on Twitter, something that does not please Wall Street.
And Then There's Amanda Palmer
She probably has the most followers of anyone I read on Twitter, having recently gone over one million, after a little over five years of using the system. Which makes me One in a Million! She has this all in perspective, saying, "I don't feel like I have one million 'followers'. I feel like I am profoundly connected to one million people, and that's different."
What did she do to hit one million? Did she follow these tips and tricks? Did she carefully follow a system with Tweet Adder? Did she game the system? I don't think so. From what I have seen in scanning her tweets (and she is verrrry prolific in her tweeting) the main thing she seems to be doing is communicating with her fans, other people. Like they're in the same room with her, ignoring any barriers of distance, country boundaries, or limitations of any kind. She is connecting with people and communicating with them and that seems to me to be what social networks are for. Right?
She recognizes the power of Twitter and the responsibility in having one million followers. She wrote about this when she went over the one million mark, writing about the recently departed Pete Seeger, who had a voice and a message, but a limited audience, especially during the time when he was black listed. She had recently learned a lot about Woodie Guthrie too, discovering there was a lot more there than she had ever known. "in short: i knew he was pinko, but didn’t know how fundamentally punko he was. pete seeger, too." Her eyes were opened.
Read her article, it is long but perceptive and moving, as she recognized through her twitter feed that she had a strong connection with the folk world after all.
". . . turn on my twitter feed with a sense of absolute reverence.
reverence for the fact that you, me, and the rest the world are not disconnected.
that neither CBS, NBC, MTV nor the NSA get to decide whether or when we talk to each other, or what we talk about.
reverence and awe for the fact that “the news” is no longer “they’re all saying…”, but rather “we’re all saying.”
that the deep things and the messages we care about are shared,
to him to her
and through the whole wide world,
giving no fuck about what “the authorities” have to say about it.
that is folk.
that is punk.
there are lots of people trying to steer the boat of information-sharing in different directions.
wikileaks. the recent twitter-ban in turkey. snowden. the RIAA. the DMCA.
we cannot, should not, MUST NOT take our freedom to be connected with and to each other for granted."
Well I'm not sure about that yet. I do describe myself as a writer and I really enjoy writing, when I have something to say. Writing often helps me clarify what it is that I have to say. At one time I would have said I was a trumpet player. But am I a BLOGGER?
I have a number of my own blogs. This one, one on Blogger, another on Posthaven, and I post fairly often on Twitter. Are they a vehicle for my writing or for blogging? I've been closely following Dave Winer for many months now and he's a real blogger. When you look up "blog" in Wikipedia, you read about Dave Winer. He was the first and he's been doing it steadily now for twenty years. He has 65,500 followers on Twitter, but I don't know how many of those read his blog. Well compared to that, I have essentially no followers. I'm just learning, a complete unknown.
"At dawn my lover comes to me/And tells me of her dreams/With no attempts to shovel the glimpse/Into the ditch of what each one means." - Bob Dylan, 1965
Uncle Art Was a Blogger
Well to be fair, when I knew him the Internet had not yet been born and probably Dave Winer had not been either. Uncle Art was a collector of unusual, interesting, fun oddities that he came across in his reading. He would clip them out and put them in his scrapbook, an assemblage of curiosities. He loved to share them with his friends. He couldn't help himself. He'd have them read the clipping he found out loud and would then laugh loudly with us all about it. And he always had great new things to share every time we went to visit him. I'd like to be as cool as Uncle Art was.
I suspect he is the main reason I like to collect interesting, unusual stuff. And maybe that's mainly what I do in writing in my blogs. "Hey, look at this thing I came across. Pretty neat, huh?"
And those tend to be the sort of things I like in the many blogs I read. But to have some credibility in a blog, it helps to be an expert in the subject you write about. Using Gladwell's 10,000 Hour Rule, I suppose I could say that I have some expertise about tax accounting and tax preparation, some more about Bob Dylan, and some more about ham radio. But am I driven to write about those topics? No, but if I find something interesting in those areas, I would be inclined to share it with others.
And maybe my blogs are like Uncle Art's scrapbooks: a place to stash amazing things, so I can find them again later. This stems from my inclination to organize information and ideas. And even without followers, it makes my blogs useful to me.
The Unedited Voice of a Person
In 2007 Dave Winer gave a pretty clear explanation of what distinguishes a blog from other writing on the Internet. I'm just now finding out about some of these things.
"If it was one voice, unedited, not determined by group-think -- then it was a blog, no matter what form it took. If it was the result of group-think, with lots of ass-covering and offense avoiding, then it's not. Things like spelling and grammatic errors were okay, in fact they helped convince one that it was unedited."
Using that standard, this would be a blog, which would make me a blogger!
We got seated at the local Cheescake Factory, my father looked over at the sign I had brought to prop up at the side of the table, and asked, "Does this place really have 100 tables?" while pointing at the sign.
He thought we had been given Table #98. Nope, it was his birthday, year #98, born 3/25/1916.
The day my father was born was the last day in the life of Ishi, "widely acclaimed in his life as the 'last wild Indian' in America." When I was in graduate school at UC, Berkeley I would see the book about Ishi's life in the bookstores, as it was anthropologists at UCB who studied him and wrote his life story in 1961. The book looked interesting, but I never read it.
I never made any connection between Ishi and my father, until today. If I had known this connection back then, I would have read the book. And maybe I will now!
It's rather intriguing to me that the subtitle of the Theodora Kroeber book about Ishi was "In Two Worlds," very similar to the title I gave my blog, "Two Worlds in One." A fun kind of serendipity.
Other Events on That Day
Women were allowed to attend a boxing match. What match, in what city? The Internet did not tell me.
Henry Biederbick died on that day. He was one of only six survivors of the 25 member Greely Expedition of 1881 to the Arctic, where the team was abandoned for three years. Biederbick went on to be active in the National Geographic Society, Explorers' Club and the Arctic Club.
HENRY G. DALTON (Hull#713) was launched into Lake Erie on that day at Lorain, Ohio by American Ship Building Co., for the Interlake Steamship Co., Cleveland, Ohio – the company's first 600 footer. I went to college at Oberlin College, twenty minutes to the south. If we wanted to see Lake Erie, we would drive up Highway 58 to Lorain. My brother got his doctorate in Cleveland at Case-Western Reserve.
We Brought That Sign!
Sure enough, I had made that sign in Word and brought it in a large white envelope. "Remember, it's your birthday today, now you're 98 years old," my brother reminded him.
Now it dawned on him why that sign was there and he got a good laugh at himself and how he had misunderstood the sign before. We were there to celebrate his birthday and that meant he was going to get a sweet dessert, some pie or cake. In fact before we left for the restaurant, he had said that he wanted to eat three different kinds of pie. Nothing makes my father happier than pies and cakes. He had been very fortunate when he selected my mother as his wife, because she made great desserts their entire marriage, most famous for her legendary cherry pie and her lemon meringue pie, with the feather light meringue stacked very high on top of the lemon. She had been gone many years and the desserts had never been as good after that.
My brother learned how to make the cherry pie, as we have her recipe. I talked Marcia into trying it one time, but it turned out to be a disaster. The crust was the hard part and she didn't get that part right, so you could say that she made cherry cobbler that day, not cherry pie.
Linda's Fudge Cake
We had tipped off the staff about what the sign meant. So after he finished eating his chicken and biscuits and asked for a doggie bag to take home the rest, three or four of the staff came over to the table with a piece of Linda's Fudge Cake, a single candle lit on top of it.
Of course we all sang along to the Happy Birthday Song. Dad posed for a picture, blew out the candle, and dove into the cake. There was no doggie bag needed for any of that cake. He ate every last bit of it. We forgot to ask him whether he had made a wish, but clearly he had already gotten one wish with that piece of cake. He was 98 years old, but I bet he could take care of a piece of fudge cake just about the same way when he was eight.
Our father is generally quite healthy. He takes no medications of any kind. He used to use inhalers every day for his COPD, but he gave those up several years ago when he decided he didn't need them. And he didn't. He's hard of hearing, so we got him a hearing aid, but he quit using that too, so we just had to talk louder. During the dinner he told us he had only one regret or complaint about getting older, and that was the fact that his memory is very bad. His short-term memory, that is.
As we ate, he told us about his aunt who used to love to feed him and about how she made her own root beer and how one day the cork popped on one of the bottles, bouncing off the ceiling, with root beer sprayed all about the kitchen. Those happy times are still with him, laughing as he told the story.
My father has always been the story teller in our extended family.
When he turns 100, we're gonna ask him what his secret is for a long life, like they always do. After we got home and he had looked at his birthday cards and opened his presents, he said he would let us know after he decides whether he's gonna shoot for 104 or 105, or just what age.
At dinner I had told him, "Look, when I turn 98, you're gonna be 128. Who's gonna take care of us then??!"
Well the feature is not yet released, but Dave Winer began experimenting with it on Sunday, 23 March 2014.
At first he used a map of NYC, but in the end he settled on a map of Fargo, North Dakota for the inaugural demonstration of the feature, writing "The center is in the heart of Fargo, North Dakota. What does it mean? Not much other than it's a really cool place to name a product after."
I agree with that for a number of reasons. I remember someone in a comment once asked Dave why he picked the name Fargo for this new blogging tool and he said he liked the name because if you turn it around you get "Go Far!" Sorry, I can't give you a link for that right now. But I'm sure that was how it went.
Playing With the Map
Early on Sunday morning when I first discovered this new map feature, I had a lot of fun with it. I discovered I could manipulate the map with my mouse pointer, even while it was still serving as the background to Dave's note. I was sliding the map in various directions and zooming in and out. At one point I noticed Tompkins Square Park in the East Village had appeared on the map and when I zoomed in, I spotted street view was available there. I clicked on it and suddenly the street view image of Tompkins Square Park was the background for Dave's posting, and I could rotate it and move it around too! It was very cool.
Of course when I reloaded the page, the map reappeared, centered as Dave had specified it in his note. At that time he didn't have a link to go from his note to just the map. But in the final version in which he used the Fargo map, he added that.
This is a killer feature for me! When I write about visiting a place in Thailand, I will be able to put the Google map of that place in the background and with one click the reader will be able to go to the map to look around in more detail.
More to Come?
With a live Google map as a background, I couldn't help wondering about other possibilities.
Perhaps Dave could work it out for us to put a YouTube video or a grooveshark song in the background. And then could it play the music as the reader reads the note describing that particular song? I can imagine it, but I have no idea whether it is possible.
Blogging in Fargo with Fargo
I had already been thinking about that. Is there a blogger in Fargo using Fargo yet? Surely Dave needs to present the first who does it with some sort of recognition or prize: a certificate, a plaque, a new fishing rod, or something.
I poked around and found that there are definitely people blogging in Fargo. And there is even local controversy to write about there. Not to mention a (very) fetching woman (and her guy) blogging about the town. I hope she wins the prize! Another woman was blogging there in 2011, in the town she describes as "the most populated city in the 4th least populated state." Ironically her blog was called Like a Fish Out of Fargo, and now she's out of Fargo, having moved herself and the blog to Iowa.
I think the Fargo name is a good one, not just because of Go Far, but because Fargo seems like a small town in a bucolic setting full of ordinary good people, which aligns nicely with the idea that Dave has been developing a tool to make it possible for anyone to blog who wants to, ordinary good people.
This was reinforced when I realized that an independently organized TED event is held there and they once has the founder of the Little Free Library movement talk at it. Now I see that as a perfect metaphor for the growth of Fargo, with these little boxes popping up in neighborhoods all over the country, encouraging the free exchange of information in communities. Much like what the growth of Fargo will do for the free exchange of information on the Internet!
But let's face it. There is competition. Say the word "Fargo" and most people think of the Coen Brothers film of the same name. And now there is even going to be a Fargo television series! But maybe that will not be the only thing people think about for long. I can remember when an Apple was something you ate to keep the doctor away.
Well I may be an early adopter, but I'm certainly NOT a power user! I know there are some of those, as I used to see their postings in a Fargo River during the days of blogging with Fargo 1. Now some are doing even nicer stuff using the new improved tools of Fargo 2, while I keep it pretty simple, as I'm learning my way around this new software.
Where Are We Going?
I started using Fargo in July 2013. When it broke for blogging purposes, I resisted the urge to find another blogging platform. I waited because I knew Dave was building these tools because he wanted to use them himself! I figured that would mean he wouldn't give up until they were the way he wanted them, which would probably be very conducive to easy blogging. I didn't believe Dave when he apologized and said something like, "Too bad, it can't be fixed." I thought he might find a way.
And here's the key. He always said he wanted to produce a tool that could be easily used by writers. Not writers who were expert programmers, or expert hackers. He always encouraged help and advice from the latter, but he wanted anyone to be able to blog, if they had something they wanted to say. Anyone.
A Giant Leap Forward
In the past couple of weeks, Dave was posting with more and more new features in evidence. He would describe something he wanted to be able to produce. The techies would offer suggestions and sometimes we would see that he had gotten it working. Then on Saturday night (3/15) he announced the new Scripting News, the realization of a lot of these new features in Fargo.
His blog had become a "noteblog" and he has reserved noteblog.org (on 3/7/14) and noteblog.io (on 3/9/2014). Later he described the new format as being for writing that's not full enough to be a blog post, but too full to fit into 140 [characters.]
Before that, a document was discovered that described the new Fargo Bookmarklet and how to use it to easily create a linkblog with Fargo. As Dave said, this is a rarity, "a feature that has been documented but not yet shipped." It's coming in Fargo 1.51. We're on Fargo 1.50 as I write this. These were exciting peeks at what is coming down the pike for us.
Then on Sunday, he told us how to look at the source OPML file for this new, more powerful Fargo, as well as the RSS feed for this new noteblog. It looked far simpler than the OPML file for my first Fargo 1 blog and yet it was doing very cool, even exciting things. Such as giant background images for a day's blogging and links to other sites plopped in so easily with the bookmarklet (as many links as he wanted) but sometimes collapsed under a header line.
Looking back, I found that on 3 March 2014, Dave told us the Twitter rules that he was going to break with Fargo:
I don't have a 140 character limit.
I can have as many links as I want in an item.
I use HTML hyperlinks.
I don't use a URL-shortener.
And in his Celebratory podcast of 17 March 2014, Dave also talked about the fact that Twitter has all the links exposed where anyone can see them, a kind of ugliness they've never bothered to fix. Dave has fixed this in Fargo, which does not show the ugly links, while still providing links that work. It simply hot links from a word or phrase directly to another location on the Internet. This was an innovation back in 1992 that Twitter has not yet adopted!
Sounds good to me!!
On 18 March 2014 Dave reported on how to plop a large background image on an outline page.
And the same day he released Fargo v 1.51 so that people could start building their own linkblog. This is a special version of Fargo to be used just for that purpose. It is not an upgrade of Fargo v1.50 to v1.51. It is a totally separate Fargo to be used for making a linkblog.
And on 21 Mar 2014 Fargo v1.51 was released as an upgrade to v1.50.
Do I have the nerve to try out these two new features? That would be a NO, not yet. I want to clean up the way this outline is published, before venturing out in a new direction.
I'm glad I was patient and didn't spend a lot of time trying to figure out Ghost or WordPress, or even writing in Medium. It looks like the new Fargo with it's panoply of blogging tools will suit me just fine, once I learn how to use them all.
Ron Chester ☺
Sounds like I'm selling postcards, doesn't it! Nope.
A blog that I follow posted an interesting article about Lettr, a New Digital Way to Send Custom Postcards. This sounded like a pretty cool idea. I have thousands of pictures taken during my eighteen weeks (three visits) in Thailand. It would be cool to make some postcards with some of them, for example the image here of Paula and I at the White Wat in Chiang Rai. The bottom line is $2.49 per postcard, mailed to anywhere in the world.
My Only Reservation
The postcards from Lettr get mailed from their printing plant, wherever that is, with a message that you've typed into their website (250 characters limit) using your photograph that you've uploaded to them. Fast, efficient, easy.
I was ready to GO with this idea! At first.
Then I thought some more about it. One of the cool things about a postcard is that it has a personal message scrawled on it by a friend, maybe even with a tiny drawing or doodle, maybe a drawn heart or X for a kiss at the end and their signature. Maybe there's an afterthought printed in tiny text down the left side to squeeze it in. It has real character! You might have to look it over for some time before you can even figure out what they said. It's a test of the sender's eloquence in a small space, the pen on paper mirror of Twitter.
AND it has a local stamp, one the recipient has likely never seen, if they haven't been to the country you're visiting. Selecting a cool stamp is half the fun of sending a postcard, and part of the thrill of receiving one.
Lettr doesn't make this sort of thing possible. Hmmmm, bummer!
Well maybe there's another way. Moo cards were fresh in my mind as I had been thinking about ordering business cards from them. They seemed to be innovative and their printed products look very nice on their website.
But do they do postcards with photographs you send them? Yup, they do! But they'll cost too much, right? Nope, $9.99 for ten postcards and each of the cards can have different pictures, if you'd like! You can even put pictures on both sides of a card, if you don't mind mailing them with an envelope. Well, I wouldn't want to use an envelope, but just sayin'.
Okay, but it'll take forever to get them and cost a lot in postage! Yes and no. I checked the cost of producing ten postcards with my own images, mailed directly to me in Thailand. The cheapest cost for ten postcards is $21.24 for the printing, shipping and handling with a turnaround time of 14-19 business days. Too long for most tourists, but no problem for expats living in Thailand who want to send postcards home!
One year ago the cost to mail a postcard from Thailand to the US was 15 Baht, or about 46 ¢ at the current exchange rate. Maybe the rate has gone up some since then, but probably not much, if any.
So we have ($21.24 / 12) + 46 ¢ per card, which comes out to $2.23 per postcard. Cheaper than Lettr! And since my trips to Thailand have been lasting five to seven weeks each, it is even workable for me. And look at all the cool stamps I would have to choose from. YES!
My Life With Postcards
I started getting a lot of postcards at the age of fifteen, when I became a licensed amateur radio operator. Hams send postcards to each other to confirm that they had successfully made contact with their wireless signals. They're called QSL Cards in ham lingo. I had never been outside the US, but I was receiving postcards from all over the world. It was very very cool. You'll notice that the QSL card archive I linked to even has a tab for selecting images of envelopes with their colorful stamps from all over the world. Even after I went off to college, my mother continued to save the stamps I was still receiving on envelopes from all over.
Maybe you can have some fun with postcards too in this digital age, a nice mixture of high tech and the tradition of ink on paper. Impress your friends with your leisure time abroad.
This morning I stepped out onto the back porch and was immediately greeted by a welcome sound that I had not heard in months. It was the first mockingbird song of the year!
I have previously written about the amazing sounds of the mockingbird.
A Sure Sign That Spring Has Nearly Arrived
Twelve days ago, I noted that spring seemed to be arriving in Thailand, but there it was the appearance of the bright blossoms on the Pink Shower Trees.
Here it is the sound of the mockingbird that signals an incipient springtime. After I spotted the bird singing on top of a telephone pole above my neighbor's yard, I looked into my own back yard and realized that the walnut tree had also leafed out with new leaves, a bright green against the solid blue of the Silicon Valley sky.
The first day of spring is actually March 20 this year, the Vernal Quinox, when night and day are the same length. But the mockingbird is not waiting to begin his annual rite of spring. Before long I will likely be hearing him sing in the middle of the night, not just during the day, an unusual nightime sound that I never tire of hearing.
This Lucinda Williams song showed up in my browser the other day. I discovered Lucinda Williams when she was opening for Bob Dylan on one of his tours years ago. I probably saw her three or fours time that tour and liked her a lot. Now I have a bunch of her CD's, including the one that has this song.
My Friend Astrid
This song always reminds me of my friend, Astrid. She lived with me and a bunch of other friends in a house in the Avenues not far from Geary in San Francisco in the early 1970's. She was a small, pretty woman with long brown hair, which she was always rolling around absent-mindedly with her fingertips. Everyone liked Astrid a lot.
One day she went off to work downtown and forgot to lock the front door of our communal house. Later that night I asked her whether she had been the one to leave the door unlocked that morning. To her credit, she admitted that she had been the one. I couldn't really get mad at Astrid, she was too sweet and no one had cleaned out the house, so I displayed remarkable forebearance as she stood there, her fate in my hands. But I wanted to give her a stern warning and it came to me in a flash. "Astrid, do it one more time and I'll have the lock on the door changed before you get home. You won't be able to get back in."
This struck Astrid's funny bone and she went into peals of laughter, with me soon joining in. Her transgression was forgotten as we both enjoyed the mental image of her key no longer working in the door, a puzzled look on her face as she tried to get it to work. Of course I thought of Astrid as soon as I heard Lucinda Williams sing the first line in her song.
Another Story About Astrid
Soon after Astrid moved into the house, she set her record player up in the living room. It was one of those all in one players that had a record changer for playing LP's, a small amplifier and two wires running out to small speakers. I had quite a good stereo system, but it was upstairs in my bedroom. It was nice to be able to listen to some music downstairs in the living room and dining room. Thanks, Astrid.
Not long after, Astrid was playing a Bob Dylan record, either "Bringing It All Back Home" or "Highway 61 Revisited," two of my favorite records. But as I sang along with Dylan, it suddenly struck me how awful that record player sounded.
"Astrid, all your record player does is reproduce a vague approximation of the sound on that LP, just enough so that I can mock up the proper sound of the song in my head and I listen to that!"
Peals of laughter from Astrid once again, this time with everyone in the house laughing along with her.
A Fine Friend, Who I Miss
We lost touch many years ago. But I recently heard from a mutual friend that Astrid had passed on, after a battle with cancer.
I don't have any photographs of Astrid and wish that I could look at one now. Those were not the Facebook days and we didn't take many pictures back then. I'm left with only my own mental images of Astrid from those two fun experiences with her. They are valuable possessions for me now. I can look at them in the same way that I could listen to Dylan sing as she played the record.
Astrid never failed to lock that front door ever again. RIP Astrid, I miss you!
Somehow I stumbled onto Fargo in mid July 2013. I was intriqued by its outliner, which was clever, but pretty easy to use. Soon after discovering it, its creator, Dave Winer, started talking about how you could use it to produce a blog. Of course there are tons of platforms for blogging. I had already been using two of them, Google's Blogger and Posterous, plus I was very actively posting in the Bob Dylan community on Facebook, as well as on Google+ from when it was still in beta. What would I need with yet another place or way to post things I write?!!
Posterous Went Away
I had been using Posterous for my Thailand travel blog. But not long after I started using it, the company got swallowed up by another and the buyer decided to shut it down. So I had to do something about moving it, if I wanted to preserve my writings there.
I considered using WordPress (once again), but I didn't pull the trigger. After a desultory consideration of my alternatives, at the eleventh hour, just before Posterous would go away, I moved it to Posthaven, because they offered a very simple path for moving, like a few key strokes. It was five bucks per month, after an initial free trial period (was that a year?)
That was at the end of April 2013, just a couple of months or so before I stumbled onto Fargo. So it was still pretty fresh in my mind. I had realized that my blog could easily be at the effect of companies wheeling and dealing on the Internet. It was not a good feeling.
Facebook Was Even Worse
I had even less control over my content over there. I had posted many comments on threads started by others about Bob Dylan. I was pleased with how I expressed myself on some of those threads. I had been discovering that I really enjoyed writing and if it was a subject that really interested me, I could even write at times in a rather inspired way.
Then one day a woman who had started many threads that I had commented on got in a huge upset with a man there and she abruptly closed her Facebook account. All those threads suddenly disappeared, along with my comments on them! Someone else got temporarily kicked off Facebook and there went all my comments on his threads too. Suddenly some of my writings began to look very ephemeral.
And what about all the threads that I started and all my pictures on Facebook? Could the nerds behind the curtain decide I should be kicked off too? Theoretically, yes. And from what I heard, this could come about from mis-information provided by others (enemies) and there didn't seem to be a lot of mechanisms available to appeal such actions. I was at risk and hadn't even realized it before. I began to realize what it meant when I read people saying that I didn't really own my content on Facebook and other such services.
Let's Give Fargo a Try
Dave Winer doesn't own my content on Fargo. I do. I really do! In fact, it's in my Dropbox account at all times.
Are his Terms of Service as complicated as Facebook's, full of ins and outs, and gotchas all tilted in his favor? Ummm, no. In fact, I believe he is providing a tool (for free right now) and not a service at all. As far as I know, there are no Terms of Service for Fargo! None.
Yes, Fargo could go away, like Posterous had done. In fact, Fargo as a blogging platform did go away for a while! But now it is back as Fargo 2. But when it returned as Fargo 2 it had the added advantage that everything was running in my browser, not on Dave's servers. Okay, I guess there is one thing that does run on his servers, but it's apparently fairly minor. I'm no expert.
I like being involved in something new. It reminds me of the days before the IBM PC was invented when I was using an Apple II+ to do the accounting for our multi-state sales company. Lots of new programs were coming out and there were magazines that covered those and this whole new community. There was no Internet for sharing this stuff. It was in the magazines and what you could learn at the computer stores or clubs, or by word of mouth.
Dave Winer is on a mission to make it possible for anyone's voice to be heard in an independent way. Not as a voice coming from a walled garden or content silo like Facebook or Google+ or all the others (where the owners and/or investors can cash in one day), but just as them saying whatever they want to write in their own independent blogs. I like that. He was one of the very first bloggers and he is on a mission to empower anyone who wants to blog with tools to do that.
I wrote, "He was one of the very first bloggers..." because I didn't actually know the history of who did what in those early days. In the basic What is Fargo article, it says, "Winer was the first blogger, and pioneered the development of podcasting, in 1994 and 2001 respectively." Not one of the first, the first.
I've now learned some of that early history, which makes for a convincing argument that he was the first. Read this, which gives Winer's early blogging history, including links to his seminal articles from October 1994, which he published by Internet email to a list of his friends.
A helpful reader sent me a link to a Wikipedia article about the history of blogging which lists some Usenet groups that were posting things before 1994 that we see these days posted to blogs, as well as some who were posting online journals or diaries, starting in 1994. With the proliferation of things a person could do with a personal computer, it seems there were many people writing and publishing their ideas in various ways with various formats. Identifying the definitive "first" in the case of blogging is problematical, especially with a word like blogging, which seems to be expanding in its meaning as we go along. Rather than identifying the ONE who did IT first, whatever IT is, a more interesting quest might be to sort out just what defines this thing called blogging.
Which is what I did in my later article, Am I a Blogger? and it was Dave Winer who, for me, provided the definitive statement, with a very clear distinction about what makes something a blog, as opposed to other forms of writing.
Types of Motivation
People do things for a lot of different reasons. Money motivation is the common denominator of a huge amount of the activity on the Internet and it is becoming the case more and more every day. When I started using Usenet Newsgroups in the early to mid 1990's, money motivation seemed pretty non-existent. In fact, if someone did something that suggested they might be trying to make a buck, it was like someone had let off a stink bomb in the newsgroup. But now ads are everywhere. Websites are cluttered with ads. Facebook continually has ads running down its right side. Software has been written to block those ads, so now Facebook and Twitter are starting to put ads right into the news feeds of their services, where they can't be so easily ignored. There are a gazillion websites and courses that offer to teach you how you can make money from your blog.
I've thought of using AdSense on my blogs many times. I've taken some of those courses and visited a lot of those websites. But I haven't done it yet. That's not why I like to write. And if I turned it into a way to make some extra money, would I still like to write? I'm afraid I might not, so I haven't.
Above money motivation is a desire to do something for personal gain. Well making money would be personal gain, but here I am referring more to a personal sense of satisfaction at having accomplished something worthwhile, regardless of whether you made a dime at it or not. This is the good feeling you get when you have researched an area and then written words that organize and present the information in a way that is elegant and possibly useful to others. It feels good. One feels bigger, empowered, at having done something worth doing with one's mind. That is why I write.
Above money motivation and personal gain is duty. Here we have the people who are driven with a strong passion to take on some area and make a difference, no matter what. These are the leaders who make a difference in our world, in spite of all obstacles, barriers, difficulties and failures. They just keep attacking the problem, they don't give up. I believe Dave Winer's level of motivation as regards blogging is duty. Fargo is the culmination of tools he started working on decades ago. He seems to already have the money he needs in life. He's not trying to get rich. And his drive is stronger than seeking personal gain, it is a matter of duty. It is his mission. Listen to the fourteen minute podcast in Dave Winer's blog post about the Future of News and you may see what I mean.
I am not at the level of duty with my writing. But I really like the idea of using tools freely given to me by someone who has a mission to empower writers with the tools to communicate in an independent way about whatever it is that is an area of expertise or interest for them. Or whatever it is that pleases them about writing. No strings attached. No hidden agendas that could distort the clarity of my purpose or writing.
That's why I'm using Fargo.
You may have seen this infographic before on the Internet. It showed up in my Twitter feed just a few days ago, followed by comments and retweets, expressing shock or dismay about a given country's standing. It was being kicked about in July 2013 as well, with an article in the LA Times and likely other places as well. The image gives the source, but not a URL.
I decided to pull the string and found the source for the data to be here and things started to get more interesting. Have a look for yourself.
Near the bottom, the article says the data came from "in-depth personal interviews with more than 30,000 people age 13 and older in 30 countries between December 2004 and February 2005." Between December 2004 and February 2005!
Hmmmm, has media changed much in the last nine years? Have people changed their media habits much in the last nine years?? Ummm, yes I suspect so. How many things have undergone as much change in the last nine years as the media? The world is always changing, but surely media has been reshaped in very big ways during that period.
One wonders why the PR Newswire service decided they needed to get this late breaking news out to us in June (of some un-named year). Oh well, let's play along, like everyone else did last July and again recently.
It is interesting to see that the source reported on data for four different media rankings, not just the one about reading. They also reported on (1) watching TV, (2) listening to the radio and (3) computer/Internet interaction (not for work), but those others didn't get their own infographics.
Since I'm very interested in learning about Thailand, my eye was drawn to its listing in the tables. And when you do that, you quickly see that Thailand is the overall winner, if a higher score is considered to be a winning score, BY FAR. Well we could debate that last point, of course.
Thailand is #1 on Watching TV.
Thailand is #2 on Reading.
Thailand is #2 on Computer/Internet Interaction (not for work).
Thailand is #5 on Listening to the Radio.
No other country comes close to these consistent high rankings.
My personal experience with Thailand only covers the period of 2012 - 2014. I have no experience of my own in Thailand for the three months between December 2004 and February 2005. But I can tell you what I have experienced there in recent years.
Certainly TV watching is everywhere in Thailand! Most restaurants have a TV mounted high on a wall or in some prominent location where it can be easily watched. Whether people actually watch varies greatly, but they at least have the opportunity. In the family homes I have visited, a TV is often on, especially in the evening. Soap operas and game shows is what you see mostly. One time we had good friends over for a nice dinner, which we ate at the low table in the living room. Right after we sat down to eat, one of the visitors popped up and went over and turned on the TV, as matter of factly as passing the
salt hot sauce.
Very early in my relationship with my fianceé, I asked her whether she had a hobby. She did. It was reading books.
Smart phones are everywhere in Thailand. Like in Silicon Valley, you see people looking at them everywhere; in restaurants, parks, walking down the street, everywhere. I've gotten to know about twenty people pretty well (age 12 to 70+) and all but four are active or verrrrry active on Facebook. Of course Facebook didn't exist nine years ago, but perhaps they would have been on My Space or playing games on their home computers back then. And with recent years of prosperity, there are probably many more people who now have the wherewithal with which to buy the latest electronic gadgets.
Paula turns on the radio sometimes, as we drive all over Thailand in the truck. Her sister and mother turn on the radio in the morning at the family home.
If they were to gather the data again, it wouldn't surprise me to still see Thailand high on these measures.
It looks like spring has arrived in Thailand. Throughout Thailand there are trees along the major highways that bloom with bright flowers at some time during the year. It is like driving through an art gallery with the sumptuous bright colors. Right now it is the Cassia bakeriana or Pink Shower Tree that is in bloom. The pink variety of this tree is turning up in south Florida, but in their native land of Thailand, they bloom in pink, orange, yellow and purple.
In May and June the highways are lined with trees with these lovely red blooms. These are the Peacock's Tail Tree, or hahng nohk yoong in Thai. They are gorgeous and everywhere during that season.
And in January in Kanchanburi Province we saw blooming Bougainvillae of many colors. Of course these are found in California and other parts of America. In Thailand they are known as Fueng-Fa.
By selecting the right plants, I think a garden or yard in Thailand could have some trees or bushes blooming with bright colors at all times of the year.
Ron Chester, Santa Clara
Welcome lady bugs!
On 4 January 2014 after several days of great holiday meals cooked at the family home, rather than going out to restaurants, Paula has a favorite new sentence to teach me, as we drive off to Chiang Mai for a meal with her friends at the fun Shabu Shi Japanese buffet.
Tung kor mai jai, kin ow, kin ow!!
Translated to English from the Thai, it means "Paid no money, but eat eat eating yummy food!"
Spoken with great ebullience!
No guarantees about the spelling of the Thai words. Ha ha
On the edge of town, Paula spots a special sale and doubles back on the highway to go to the sale. We need to buy a wedding present for her friends and she says this will be perfect for them, "Salami!"
Hmmmmm, salami! I couldn't recall ever having seen any salami in Thailand. Seemed like an odd wedding present, but maybe salami is such a rarity here, that it would be a valued present. I have a lot to learn about their customs and preferences.
We park the truck and walk toward the Big Sale, which seems to be under large white tents. I'm wondering whether they'll have any samples of the salami to taste. My mouth is watering, it's been a long time since I had any salami.
We turn the corner and enter one of the big tents. Inside there are long tables, all covered with stacks and stacks of fine china. They're gonna serve the salami on china??? I'm feeling disoriented. "Oooooh, salami, salami!" Paula says to me.
And then it dawned on me. We were in a part of Northern Thailand known for its outstanding ceramics production. It was the china on the tables that was on sale. "Ceramics? ummm, ceramics on sale?" I asked. "Yes! Salami," only now it sounded more like "Ceramics!"
We bought a lovely twenty piece set for the wedding present and an elegant eleven piece tea set for our friends in Bangkok: 2,350 Thai baht, $72 USD after conversion.
Ron Chester, Santa Clara ‼
Early in my first trip to Thailand, Paula showed me how she could take a picture of us together with my camera or her cell phone. I didn't even know it was called a "selfie" yet.
So when I tried it on my own on a hot afternoon soon after, I called it a self portrait.
It was kinda exciting at the time. I was recording my own history.
Ron Chester, Santa Clara ☺
Died peacefully at his home in Chiang Mai last week.
I was very excited when I first discovered his blog. He was writing about the area I expect to settle in one day, from the perspective of an American who lived and worked for decades in the area that has also been my home for decades. It was full of useful and practical advice about life in Thailand. He seemed very happy about his life there with his devoted Thai wife, Tena, who brought so much stability to his activities. I will miss reading his articles. Life is short.
His final exit in the last blog post he was planning. A worthy balancing act.
Ron Chester, Santa Clara Ω
In Thailand I discovered a Coca Cola sales campaign that seemed like it might have been executed by Alfred E. Neuman.
Ron Chester, Santa Clara ♫
(1) My world, an American's perspective
(2) Paula's world, a Thai's perspective
Becoming one world, with shared goals, agreements, communication, adventures.
I’ll let you be in my world, if I can be in yours.
Stolen from Bob Dylan, of course. Isn't that easy?
Talkin' World War III Blues (1963), if you must know.
Ron Chester, Santa Clara ♥