Old Friends, Cancer, and Child Pornography

Apps, Social Media, and ChildrenThis week has been pretty rough. I received two pieces of terrible news. Both involved old friends, both caught me by surprise, and both continue to defy my attempts to work through and find some semblance of balance. In other words, I’m still struggling to get my head around both of them.

I’m not going to get into the first topic much, other than to say that the sister of one of those friends is out of remission, losing her battle to cancer, and is now in hospice. It’s heartbreaking – for her, for my friend, and for her family. She’s 50, she’s dying, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do other than be there for my friend. It sucks.

On the heels of that phone call I saw a FB post spreading the news that another old high school buddy is a pedophile. So there’s that.

August A. was arrested for, and admitted to having and sharing, child pornography. You can find more information about the case and arrest here, but the short version is this: a Special Agent at the Department of Homeland Security was working an investigation of kik users (an online app I’ve not heard of until now), and after connecting and interacting with August, reached out to the Pearland Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Unit. A warrant was issued, his house was searched, and after admitting to, “…engaging in discussions about sexually abusing children, and also to downloading and sharing child pornography with other users”, was arrested. August is now in jail awaiting trial.

He and I weren’t ‘besties’, but we did hang out. We had lunch together. We had mutual friends. Hell, his father was my math teacher in 8th grade. And while I haven’t seen August in close to thirty years, I have no doubt that other parents have.

And he stalked children through an app that your kids, or theirs, might have and use.

I posted a link on FB not long ago about this topic, but I’d like to post it again here. If you have kiddos, please take ten minutes and read this article. It’s by author Anastasia Basil, and it focuses on the app (not kik, as mentioned above). It’s informative, insightful, and absolutely terrifying. Consider the following excerpt:

There are #killingstalking musical.lys, which are dark-themed (artistic? emo?) videos showing boys putting knives to girls’ throats. There are #selfharm videos that show suicide options — bathtubs filling, images of blades, a child’s voice saying she doesn’t want to live any more. I saw a boy with a bleeding chest (yes, real blood). I saw a young girl whose thighs were so cut up I had to take a break from writing this article. A long break. The images are deeply upsetting. There are #cutter and #triggerwarning and #anorexic videos. Musers with eating disorders hashtag videos using proana (code for pro anorexia.) I found over eleven thousand #selfhate videos. It goes on and on. Each hashtag is its own magical wardrobe, a portal into a world where it’s always winter but never Christmas. It’s Narnia minus Aslan.

It seems we have the device/app debate with our oldest kiddo just about every other day. And while I’m miles away from ten years old, I get where  she’s coming from. It’s hard enough to fit-in or find your place (to say nothing of being on the front edge of that never-ending search to figure out who you are) in those early years – being cut-off from all the things that other kiddos are doing to connect no doubt seems a kind of torture.

But what she doesn’t know, truly, is that the Internet, social media, and the countless apps her friends use aren’t just about connectivity. They’re also doorways. They’re points of access for things dark, and evil, and spirit-crushing. And the the things that slither through those doorways come in all shapes and sizes.

Part of our job as parents is to keep those monsters at bay, and to bar those points of access, for as long as we possibly can. I just wish there weren’t quite so many doorways or that some of those monsters weren’t disguised as old friends of their parents.



Take a closer look


Not long ago my buddy Tim did something interesting. Basically, he asked his readers to think about an image – specifically the tasty little automotive morsel you see above – and offer suggestions on how he could use it in a post. It was a good idea. Not only did it give him the opportunity to shake things up a bit and have fun, it also provided a fairly cool way to interact with his readers. 

I offered my two cents with the following ideas::

  • Classic vs new approaches (in sales, marketing, relationships, whatever) and how sometimes tried-and-true is better (or not)
  • Implications of perception
  • What can be conveyed with a single image
  • What new icons are being established right now

A couple of good ideas in there, right? More the fool, me. In his maniacal consistent effort to get me writing on this blog with a bit more frequency, Tim pulled a fast one: “Why don’t you write a post about it?”


Over the last week I’ve had multiple false-starts; writing about how we recognize or define beauty to dialing it back and examining fond memories of my first set of wheels. But each time I kept getting pulled back to the image of the car.

But not the Jaguar.

Me, I keep thinking about the beat-up POS peeking out from behind the corner and wondering what the story is there. And as I didn’t even see that humble little auto the first dozen or so times I looked at the picture, I started thinking about just how often that happens.

Meaning, given the massive amount of information we see or hear or read every day, culling that stream into bits or chunks we can deal with absolutely makes sense. And the structure of online data only reinforces that scan/discard process.

I’m not railing against technology here – a clearer example of tilting at windmills I couldn’t imagine – but I do have to wonder: what are we missing?

Photo by PedroSimoes7 

Seven things…part two

Assuming part one didn’t bore you to tears, here’s part two…

My first duty assignment in the Marines was with the 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, Camp Hansen, Okinawa. It was at that unit I learned, thanks to a large block of the substance thrown into my chest, that C4 is one of the more stable explosives. For anyone whose familiarity with Okinawa ends with Karate Kid, it’s an island, a prefecture (state) of Japan, and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I’ve often considered going back as a civilian and spending a couple of weeks getting reacquainted. If for no other reason, in a little hole-in-the-wall kitchen called “Mama’s Cooking,” you’ll find absolute bliss in a bowl: Taco Fried Rice with Cheese.

After the Marines I worked my way through college bartending and, in addition to my coursework,  learned the difference between ale and a pilsner, the proper use of a Muddler, and the art of the thirty second conversation. Far too many stories, too many interactions, too many moments, to try and choose one that stands out here. Maybe a series of posts another day if anyone’s interested. Instead, I have a question. This occured easily twice a week and in all the years behind the bar I never came up with a good explanation. Just what the hell prompts people to have sex in the bathroom?

After graduation I had some truly great clients as a freelance writer, but without doubt the darkest, most grueling experience during those years was developing a campaign of print ads for a local funeral home. No kidding. I’m an immersion kind of writer when it comes to advertising. Meaning, I try to learn as much as I can about the company, product, service, and so on that I’m writing about. And having that kind of information rolling around in my head for months was just plain rough. Add to that the almost weekly on-site client meetings and I don’t think I’ve ever been as grateful to see a job finished.

As a writer, I have the good fortune to have  job that’s challenging, pays a decent wage, and I love to do. But the reality is that in many ways, it’s still a job. That’s part of the reason for this blog, by the bye – it gives me the opportunity to stretch and have fun with writing in ways I just can’t do at work.

But when I really want to get creative and shake off the cobwebs I actually shut the computer down. Instead, I stand up, change clothes, then go out to the garage. And build things. Taking a few pieces of oak and shaping and molding and coming away with a piece of furniture friggin’ rules. The picture below (an Amish style step stool) is the current project. A little more sanding and  some finish work and she’ll be good to go.


Right. So that’s seven things you may or may not have known about me. Now, according to the MEME, I’m supposed to give you the opportunity to learn seven things about seven other folks. The problem there is I just don’t know 7 bloggers who haven’t already participated. So, four will have to suffice. What the list lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality.

Sarah – What’s on my mind
Designer extraordinaire, Sarah is one of those people who does a great job of mixing professional insights with personal stories, and does so with a sweetness that’s decidedly hers.

Dan – Post Thirty Post
Fairly new to blogging, Dan still knows how to turn a phrase and bring a smile to my face. He’s an old friend, a fellow UT grad, and one of the infamous Thursday Night Boys. I look forward to seeing how his blog evolves.

Rob – Rob Lifford
A former Hooverite, Rob is sharp as a tack and always provides great fodder for thinking. From what’s going on in the industry to what’s happening in the economy, Rob likes to keep us on our toes.

Jennifer – Jenamonkey
Jennifer is one of those ladies you just can’t help but admire. Passionate, driven, and always looking for an adventure, Jennifer’s blog is a glimpse into the life of a wicked-smart woman who squeezes the tasty goodness from life. And devours it.

Great ideas

If you’re unfamiliar with this logo, I think you’re in for a treat. TED(Technology, Entertainment, and Design) is a group that, among other things, holds an annual conference where some fairly savvy folks present new ideas, technology, and so on, about topics ranging from self-aware robots to string theory. They’ve a fairly large library of videos since the last time I visited, so it’s well worth bookmarking to go back and visit. 

I was talking to a friend of mine this weekend about the video below and doing a fairly horrible job of articulating just how cool the Photoshynth project is. Check it out, but afterwards you might want to swing by the actual Photosynth site. The video is from last year and from the look of things it seems like they’ve made some cool strides.

My daughter is just a bit over one now and watching the video I can’t help but wonder what incredible things are in store for her. But, for all that, some days I really miss Atari.