Monday, February 27, 2006

When Mary sings...

Well, I let my friend Maggie invite me out for an evening of dancing this past weekend. I'm not the most dazzling dancer when I'm sick, but I noticed a couple of guys on the floor who made me feel energetic and graceful by comparison. Which is not to say I would single them out and make fun of them in front of other people. It takes a lot of courage to get out on a dance floor until you get to used to ignoring everyone around you. You can easily tell who dances often and who doesn't by the way they pay attention to the people around them.

There are those of us who try to show some consideration to other couples on the dance floor. We take up as much space as possible so they don't slam into us.

And there are the couples who shyly dance in the corner, hoping everyone else will leave them alone.

And there are the people who just body slam the heck out of anyone around them. They occasionally slam their own partners (usually, it's the guy doing the leading). There used to be a tall, brawny guy who danced at Sullivan's Steak House (in their Ringside lounge). I don't think I ever saw him with the same partner. It probably took the women 2-3 weeks to recover from the bruising they took as he flung them across the dance floor. I used to dance with my back to him as often as possible to protect my partners from his violent swings.

But I digress.

Saturday was a strange night. Maggie wanted to go dancing so she called up a lot of people and asked me to reserve two tables. We picked Plaza 59 because -- well, I don't know why we picked it. I like Plaza 59 because it has a nice ambience and Mary's Band. Sometimes the dance floor is a little too crowded. And this weekend it was sticky for some reason. I went up to Jessica, the hostess at Plaza 59, and asked her why the floor was sticky. She made a funny face and said (imagine this with a Mexican accent), "Steenky? I don't know about the floor being steenky."

Okay, she's cute and all, but I was not speaking loudly because I am not feeling good. I had to laugh when I realized she misunderstood me. So, a good rule of thumb is do not whisper to the hostess when the music is playing.

Maggie was in a Cha Cha mood all night. I should have realized something was up when she said, "Michael, let's go to Plaza 59." Of course, she is also trying to wean me away from the girl I've been seeing and match me up with someone else. The other girl did not show because she was...feeling sick. Hm. Must be a lot of that going around. But I'm in no rush to make a change.

Anyway, Maggie was complaining about the DJ playing only Salsa music (which was actually a good thing, because some nights they'll play mostly Merengue and Cumbia). Well, I went up to the DJ and asked him to play some Cha Cha. I felt like I had landed on another planet. "Cha cha?" he said, looking around. (Imagine this with a Mexican accent.) "You want Cha cha."

Well, we got our Cha Cha, but I'm not sure who it was by. It sounded like a cross between Cha Cha and Hip Hop (think of Carlos Santana partnering with Tupak). So, Maggie and I got out there and did a Cha Cha with 2 or 3 other couples (which is actually good, because Cha Cha needs a lot of room unless you just go straight back and forth).

Well, a little later, the DJ started playing a Salsa song I have on CD. I was thinking, "Hey, I like this song." And all of sudden Maggie came over and said, "Michael! Cha Cha!" (I have previously mentioned that she'll pop up out of nowhere when she hears a song she can dance Cha Cha to.)

"Maggie, this is a Salsa."

"I know, but you can dance Cha Cha to it!"

So, I bowed to the inevitable and we danced Cha Cha while other people cartwheeled to a slow Salsa. Maybe they were just getting out of our way, I don't know. About 1/3 of the way through the song Maggie said, "This is fast. Maybe we should dance Salsa." Well, the heck with that!

"No, you wanted to dance Cha Cha, so we're dancing Cha Cha."

And away we went as about a half dozen couples scattered to get out of the way. It was like rats fleeing before a forest fire or something. Quite an empowering sight to see, actually.

Maggie and I have danced a faster Cha Cha, though. Only once. One night, someone at Elvia's played a Hip Hop Merengue (or maybe it was at Tropicana). I think this blend is called Reggaeton. So, there we were out on the dance floor and the jungle drums of the Caribbean started thrumming in our ears. "Michael, Cha Cha!" Maggie screamed. "No, Maggie, it's a Merengue." "But we can dance Cha Cha to it!"

Well, when we staggered off the floor after that song, my feet hurt for about 15 minutes and all our friends said, "That was the fastest Cha Cha I've ever seen." So, the song we danced to Saturday wasn't quite so bad, but like I said, people were scurrying to get out of our way. I was determined not to just go back and forth (which is probably what any sane, healthy person would have done).

There's a point to it all somewhere, I'm sure. Maggie of course insisted on getting to the club early so we could have some dance space to ourselves. Mary's Band usually starts late and they came on around 11:00 PM. I was sitting at my new table (did I mention that Jessica moved me up by the stage?) and wacthing about six couples gyrate strangely to a slow Salsa (they were actually trying to do what I call "hang dancing", where the two people lean into each other and hang on each other and go in slow circles). I was just kind of amazed that that many guys who didn't know how to dance had gotten out on the floor at the same time.

So, then along came Mary and I forgot what the night was supposed to be about. Mary is just absolutely gorgeous and her Mary Frometa Web site doesn't do her justice. I've watched her bring an entire club to its feet just by walking across the room. Saturday night, Mary walked past my table as the band was setting up and I noticed she was dressed sexy. I mean hot. She was decked out, dressed to kill, and looking for Men to Murder.

I don't think I danced again once the band started playing. I was sitting on Mary's left and had a virtually unobstructed view of the band. My usual table is way back by the bar, close to the dance floor but close to the front door where my friends can find me. I suppose I've lost my premium seating privileges because I've been so inconsistent at Plaza 59, but I've had other things going on, and my friends like Tropicana, and my boss just came and talked to me so I have lost my train of thought.

Well, there was one more dance right before Mary's Band started playing. It was a Bachata. So Maggie likes Bachata and we got out there. Now, Maggie is a very good dancer, but she is a bit flighty. She'll take over the lead in the middle of the song if she doesn't like what's happening. There is a Bachata step where instead of going side to side you go back and forth, frontwards and backwards. As I moved into that step I felt Maggie take the lead.

Next thing I know, I'm doing a step/step-step-step/step.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Michael! Cha cha!"

Friday, February 24, 2006

Dear diary...

Dear Diary,

Nothing new happened today that is worth writing about because so much is happening in real life that my online life has taken a back seat except for all those online things I've been doing to get away from the offline things in those rare and frequent moments where I can't decide if online or offline is more relevant, boring, or fascinating than the other.

By why is it that I can go for 2 hours straight without looking at a Web site, fire up CNN to see what the latest headlines are, just to have someone walk over to start gabbing with me at work?

Why is it that everyone wants something now but when I want something it's who are you? and why is it that any good deed goes unpunished only for so long as it's not worth noticing?

This is why I've resisted blogging for so long. I feel compelled to say something, anything, even if it's the most inane nonsense just because there might be someone out there who, while cruising the Web in the midst of a sleepless night, comes across my blog and decides they want more, more, more!

There's only so much of me to go around, and you can't have all of me. I don't just blog for myself, I blog for SEOMoz, too. And maybe one day when Dixie finishes installing stuff elsewhere she'll install that blog for me on the new domain and I'll have three blogs to keep up with.

In other news this week, Suite101 is now hiring writers again. Looks like the pay scale is a little more flexible -- in both directions -- than the old one. Problem is, they are looking for people with the skill to be search engine optimizers. It was once fun to write for the Suite. It was funny to watch people just scrape in with their minimum required words so they could get the highest rate-per-word possible. I never cared much about the rate-per-word. It was a flat-fee schedule and I understood that. I just started writing and kept going until I was finished.

MSN rolled out a new artificial intelligence for their search engine and then when Whinemasterworld (one of the more disreputable search engine optimization forums) complained long and loud, they changed back to the old AI. Problem is, guys, the old AI ain't serving up much in the way of good, relevant results, either. Maybe that's why the V.P. who has been running MSN search suddenly stepped down this week.

Google continues to make people's day by delisting sites. Why are they doing that? So they can roll out Big Daddy (one must suppose). When it's all over, they'll probably restored the delisted sites like they always do. In the meantime, everyone and their brother will think they have been penalized and yet more insane theories will be proposed for various Google behaviors.

Wikipedia becomes more popular every day. I'm now formally proposing a new Michael's Law (I think this is Michael's Third Law, so that makes it special because there are only two others like it): Any stupid idea will make more money than any common sense idea. Needs a little work, but let's take a look at a few stupid ideas that have made lots of money:

Microsoft Windows


Pet rocks

The Bachelor

The business world could have had power, stability, and a very powerful graphical environment 15 years ago but since there weren't UNIX support specialists on every street corner, they decided to go with Microsoft instead (because I can always get support). Hint: There was a reason for why there were so few UNIX support specialists. Quality doesn't need much support.

The search industry has evolved in many ways. The best search engine that ever came out was Altavista's Raging Bull. What happened? The company that owned Altavista at the time didn't have the patience to wait out the dot-com meltdown. So they closed down research and development and eventually sold Altavista to Yahoo!, who replaced the innovative Raging Bull with...Inktomi. The "kick me" boy of search engine spam.

My brother had a girlfriend who thought pet rocks were cute. Okay, teenagers don't express the best judgement in the world, but millions of those things were sold, displacing a Mexican river's geological history all over the world. 500 years from now, some archaeologist is going to dig up a pet rock in a pet rock cemetary and wonder why people worshipped the stone(d) gods.

I have nothing to say about The Bachelor.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Oh God, the chicken is sick!

I only eat chicken soup when I'm sick. Normally, I cannot stand the stuff.

But my mother always made me eat it when I was sick. When I grew up and moved out on my own, she'd stay say, "If you're feeling sick, eat some chicken soup." Mom was a nurse and a lab technician and a medical office assistant throughout most of her career. She never really trusted doctors.

So, I grew up eating chicken soup whenever I got a cold or the flu -- or, at least, I grew up hearing I should eat chicken soup whenever I got a cold or the flu. There were times when I was too sick to go down to the store to buy a can of 99-cent chicken soup, so I suffered like a man and acted about as pathetic as I could for a week. It's a guy thing.

Still, Mom always knew better than me (and the doctors) when it came to treating illnesses. When I was 18 she decided the family would go down the road to visitor the grand-parents (we lived near Atlanta, they lived near Tampa, but it was only an 8-hour drive). I remember that day well. I had eaten a turkey sandwich for lunch. By 6 PMish, I was sick as a dog near Macon, GA. We pulled into a local hospital and they let me suffer in the waiting room for a few hours (maybe only 30 minutes), and then I finaly got to see a doctor.

He decided he wanted to do a cat scan or something. Mom freaked out. "He just needs something for the nausea!" she screamed. The doctor said he wanted to be sure it wasn't anything unique. What a drama we had. She finally walked out on me as I heaved in the waiting room. The thing is, my stomach finally settled down and my mother persuaded me to go back to Atlanta with her. So in the car we went and back up the road we went and we visited a hospital she felt more comfortable with. The doctor there asked me what I'd had for lunch. "Turkey sandwich," I mumbled. "I think it was the turkey," he said.

Okay, some doctors are right after all. The scary thing is that the doctor in Macon was featured on 60 Minutes a few years later. I remember watching them rip him to shreds over his drastic attempts to revive a dead patient (whe came back to life but so brain-damaged he would never live a normal life). "There but for the grace of Mom, could have been me," I thought. Well, okay, I wasn't dead, but whatever that procedure was he wanted to run on me scared the besomething out of Mom. And she's watched more than one patient die, I'm sorry to say.

So, before I trot my sweet little behind down to the doctor, I try to run through all the remedies Mom used to suggest before she'd pay for a doctor's office visit. Chicken soup is one of them, and it does make me feel better. Heck, even science now acknowledges that chicken soup is good for a cold. Imagine that, Mom was right and the doctors didn't know what they were talking about after all. Hm.

Well, I also eat chicken pot pies when I'm sick. They don't offer the same benefits as chicken soup but when I'm sick I don't much care as long as it's not turkey and I can keep it down. Chicken pot pies taste like chicken anyway, so what difference does it make?

But now we're in the age of Asian Bird Flu, and it seems like every country that reports a case of the illness starts slaughtering chickens by the million. Vietnam and China took down their poultry populations in order to fight the disease. My Vietnamese girl refused to eat chicken when she visited Vietnam last year. Chicken is one of her favorite dishes (she ain't talkin' about American fried chicken).

Asian Bird Flu has spread from China to eastern Europe. It's only a matter of time before it hits the shores of North America. Fortunately, we have a beef industry thta protects our cattle from wholesale slaughter. When Mad Cow Disease was diagnosed in the U.S., we only killed a few cattle. That didn't stop Japan from blocking all imports of American beef for a while, but we Americans continued to eat our hamburgers and steak like there was nothing to worry about.

I actually ate a hamburger when I visited England in 1990. Didn't know about Mad Cow Disease at the time. But the 90s were a stressful decade for me whenever I thought about beef products.

So, here we are in the Oughts or whatever we choose to call this crazy decade and we're running around like a bunch of chickens with our heads cut off over Mad Cow Disease and Asian Bird Flu. Never mind the fact that other diseases are killing millions of people every year, we've got to pick on the only known natural treatment for the common cold that is approved by mothers.

And what are all those cows on the billboards going to do when the U.S. starts banning the sale and consumption of chickins? Will they start saying, "Eat more turkey?"

The thought makes me sick just thinking about it.

Better to stock up on chicken soup now, before it's recalled.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Face it -- our expressions move

Well, here it is almost 4:00 AM and I'm supposed to get up and get ready for work in 3 hours.

Still, while sleeplessly passing the night, I came across this Leaf and Flower: Legolas and Eowyn post by Ningloreth on (her?) blog at LiveJournal.

If you skim the page, you'll find my name, which is not nearly so interesting as an image of Orlando Bloom as Legolas making faces at Gimli. Look for the picture right above the line that reads "Michael Martinez makes an interesting comment on this look:".

Now, I remember when I first saw Orlando glance downward at Gimli right after he said, "I'm coming too!" (or whatever it was that Gimli said as the members of the Fellowship started to line up for their official Group Photo Opp.

The screen capture is good but it doesn't capture the expression properly. And in looking at it, I realized almost instantly why that is so.

Our facial expressions are not still shots. Our faces have to morph into the expressions we want to show, and then they have to morph back. We recognize the emotion behind a facial expression in part (I believe) because of the intro-morph and the exit-morph.

So, if you want to study facial expressions, you really need to study moving images. Otherwise, you'll miss a great deal.

Either that or I just need to get some sleep.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

How to steal the planet Venus and make it your own

I came across an interesting proposal published by NASA in 2003 for colonizing Venus. While Venus is not exactly my idea of paradise, the proposal makes a reasonable case for moving there over moving to Luna or Mars. In fact, if the proposal's ideas are borne out by research and development, we could -- theoretically -- colonize planets like Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus (all of which are gas giants with huge gravitional fields).

I've never really believed we could colonize these planets because they seem so inhospitable to human life. Of course, science fiction and comic book writers have implied for decades that it should be possible to alter Venus' atmospheric issues (converting all that carbon dioxide to oyxgen and neutralizing all the sulphur), add water and air to Mars, and even create substantial underground communities on Luna. The planets Jupiter and Saturn might remain off limits, but their frigid moons might be habitable (no smokers allowed on methane-drenched Titan, of course).

I cannot imagine why anyone would want to live on Titan. It's not only freezing cold there, the smell of gas makes me nauseous. Maybe some people would enjoy the eternal high, but that kind of methane exposure would cause so much brain damage you'd be back to living in the stone age in a matter of weeks (assuming you lived that long).

Mars has some nice sunsets, I'm sure, but I just don't like cold environments. I've lived on the north side of Albuquerque, New Mexico in the city of Rio Rancho. One morning I woke up to a snowstorm. I put on my fleece-lined denim jacket, dug my car out of the driveway, and drive through blizzard-like conditions to get to work. The snow was coming down so hard I passed at least a dozen vehicles (that I could see) which had simply pulled over on the side of the road to wait out the storm.

When I reached the office, the sun was shining, the air was warm, and one of my co-workers asked as I stepped out of the car why I was wearing my fleece-lined jacket. In the space of 30 minutes, I had driven from Winter to Spring (dropping about 200 feet in elevation). That just ain't the kind of life style I envision for myself and my kids. Give me Spring time all year round with maybe an occasional touch of Summer and Fall for a little variation.

On Venus, according to the NASA proposal, that might be doable.

Problem is, ain't no one planning to head to Venus any time soon. President Bush has declared that man will head out to space again, and most experts feel that we'll conquer Luna before we take on Mars. Of course, some people have already laid claim to the Earth's moon in a spectacular if unproven attempt to exploit some ambiguous wording in the 1967 United Nations Treaty On Principles Governing The Activities Of States In The Exploration And Use Of Outer Space, Including The Moon And Other Celestial Bodies.

The key portion of the treaty is Article II, which reads: "Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means."

The loophole, however, isn't so clear when you read Article VI: "...The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty. When activities are carried on in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, by an international organization, responsibility for compliance with this Treaty shall be borne both by the international organization and by the States Parties to the Treaty participating in such organization."

Essentially, the treaty forbids non-governmental entitities (which includes you and me but apparently not Queen Elizabeth or her heirs) from taking action in space without first getting authorization from an "appropriate State Party to the Treaty". i.e., American citizens have to get permission from the United States government to set up shop on the Moon (or elsewhere). I wonder what happens to people who leave home without their permits?

Treaties are interesting things. They are not worth the paper they are written on unless someone, somewhere, is willing to put his life on the line to enforce them. International treaties have dropped by the wayside at a spectacular rate through the centuries. The oldest treaty still in force is the 1386 Treaty of Windsor between England and Portugal, which renewed the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance and ensured the survival of the Portuguese monarchy through a marriage between John I of Portugal and Philippa of Lancaster (a daughter of John of Gaunt, whose descendants included the House of Lancaster from the Wars of the Roses).

Treaties are allowed to stand as long as it is convenient for all members of the treaties to keep them in force. Often enough, it only requires action by one party to invalidate a treaty. The United States, for example, has supposedly invalidated a 20th century forbidding the construction of anti-ballistic missile defenses by developing the Strategic Defense Initiative. Development of anti-ballistic missile defenses continues to this day.

International law is founded upon two principles: the recognition of sovereignty and the mutual respect of sovereignty by sovereign parties. While I realize that sovereignty is so complex an issue it can even cause an American President to stumble into foolish repetition of the word, sovereignty is easily established by any individual or group of individuals who have a piece of dirt (or something substantial) which is not claimed or otherwise controlled by a sovereign state.

And therein lies the legal loophole. The 1967 treaty forbids signatory nations from claiming sovereignty over other planets (and planet-like objects such as moons and asteroids). That means that anyone who can get to those bodies and stake their claim may have a real shot at establishing sovereignty. But it cannot legally be done over the Internet, as at least one individual is attempting. That is, you cannot legally start selling land on Mars if you've never left the Earth. You have to live on Mars before you can claim sovereignty over it in the eyes of Terrestial International Law.

There is a recent precedent for the establishment of sovereignty by individuals which has been upheld by the courts of the United Kingdom. A former military installation, located outside the claimed territorial waters of the United Kingdom, was abandoned after World War II. An enterprising Englishman seized the facility and proclaimed the Principality of Sealand. While this independent nation's sovereignty has not been acknowledged by other powers around the globe, the United Kingdom has ruled that it forfeited sovereignty over the facility through "dereliction of sovereignty".

So, where does that leave Luna, Mars, and Venus? Well, for now, it leaves them under the care of the nations who have the capability of reaching them -- all of which are currently signatories to the 1967 treaty. But the American government has authorized the development of a private space traveling industry. The industry is only in its infant stage at this point, but within a matter of decades -- provided the economics to sustain research and development develop -- the private space enterprises should have the capability of reaching Venus.

Venus cannot be claimed by any nation. If a privately owned vehicle successfully deploys a Venusian "cold air balloon" environment and established residence without the knowledge or authorization of the international community, a self-sustaining colony could conceivably claim ownership of the planet through "dereliction of sovereignty". Dereliction of sovereignty means you don't do anything to retain control over the region.

Can the signatory nations effectively retain control over Venus when private space flight makes travel to other planets outside the venue of governmental projects not only possible but achievable and worthwhile? One potential saving grace is that the 1967 treaty can be amended by the signatory nations. But they don't seem to be taking recent claims of sovereignty over Luna and Mars very seriously. If someone manages to get to Venus while everyone else is looking at Luna and Mars, odds are pretty good that a non-terrestial government not bound by the 1967 treaty will be formed.

All it takes is one determined man and the means to establish residency in a place that no government controls.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Saved by a fluffy bear

Life is a comedy of errors. Either that or it's a drama gone seriously astray. Just about every aspect of Murphy's Law has kicked in to make the past week an unendurable press of anxiety and modern man's worst fear: I got a cold.

I hate being sick. Worse yet, people hate being around me when I'm sick. I'm no love puppy when I have to hold in a cough or redirect a sneeze.

And, needless to say, the past week has been one of my heavier social weeks. I've been to two dinner parties, passed on dancing at clubs, passed on a strip club (not my biggest disappointment in life by any means), and avoided friends and dance classes like the plague.

Today it all came together in a splash of perfect timing. Remember those flowers I ordered for a special someone? When I showed up for lunch, she didn't say a word. She'd received flowers from 3 people yesterday. Heck, her ex-boyfriend walked in on us with a bouquet of flowers.

We're sitting there, talking, and I'm like wondering, WHERE ARE MY FLOWERS?

So, finally, I said, "Look, I ordered flowers for you."

"Why did you do that? I don't want you to spend money on me! Cancel the order!"


"Cancel it. You don't need to buy me flowers. I got three bouquets yesterday!"

Well, you can see where this is going. I already felt terrible from being sick. Now I was arguing over whether I'm supposed to be sending her flowers.

"Look, just call me when you get the flowers."

"I don't need flowers."

Okay, she doesn't need flowers. You know what? No man believes that. This could be the last day we'll ever see each other. But she'll never forget it if she doesn't get any flowers from me. After all, the ex-boyfriend brought her flowers.

I was really wondering if I picked the right service. You order flowers more than a week in advance, you'd think someone would get the message. I was sure I picked AM delivery, but there I sat, trying vainly to smile and crack jokes and laugh about the fact I was wearing the tie she bought me for Christmas ("You've worn it seven out of the last ten times we've been together!" "You're counting?" "Yes."). And all I could think was, "Where are my friggin' flowers???"

The old man standing on the street corner was getting better service from passers-by who stopped to chat with him while waiting for red lights.

So I deftly changed the subject. "Do they celebrate Valentine's Day in Vietnam?"

"Yes, but the older people don't believe in it. Only the younger people."

"The children?"


"Not the adults?"

"No. But tonight at my father's restaurant, they'll all say 'Anh yeu Em' and 'Em yeu Anh'."

Okay, so the adults don't celebrate Valentine's Day but they make a special point of reserving tables at a nice restaurant so they can say "I love you" on that one special day of the year. But she don't need no stinkin' flowers. No man can navigate these treacherous waters.

"You know what 'Anh yeu Em' means, right, Michael?"

Yeah, I know what it means. You know I know what it means. You'd have known I know what it means if you had just gotten the flowers I ordered.

"Look, just call me when you get the flowers," I said.


"So I'll know you got them."

"Maybe you should cancel the order."



Well, you can see we had a nice romantic lunch. By this point I said my good-byes, watched the ex-boyfriend drive off with an indecipherable smirk on his face, and walked back to my car. I was so steamed I decided I'd stop by my apartment and call the flower delivery service and give them a piece of my mind.

So, I drive back to the apartment, boot up the computer, and just as I'm about to log on my cell phone rings.


Did this day just happen, or am I taking too much cold medicine? At least I was the only one who thought to give her a plushy toy.

Oh yes. The card said, "Anh yeu Em."

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Wikipedia -- Ooopsipedia by Michael

I'm not the biggest fan of Wikipedia by any means. I think it's a pretty stupid idea, to be honest, to create an encyclopedia that anyone can edit. But it's here and it has a lot of content, and rather than just whine about it I've also been editing some of the articles where I know the information is wrong, or biased toward specific purposes.

For several months I've been meaning to upload a short biography of myself to my user page. A Wikipedia user page is equivalent to a profile page on a forum. It's supposed to be your one area of free expression on Wikipedia (although I suppose it can be subjected to abuse and vandalism like all other areas).

Writing a Michael Martinez biography is an exercise in patience. There are many things I could say about myself, most of them quite uninteresting. But I've dipped my hand in quite a few cookie jars. I've made a name for myself in several industries, to the point where complete strangers can meet and realize they have something in common by knowing who I am. So, I don't expect to be featured in People magazine any time soon, but it seemed reasonable to at least include some information about this Michael Martinez who keeps editing articles on Wikipedia.

Well, yesterday I stayed home from work because I'm sick with the latest crud that is passing around Houston. That was my first mistake. It seems like I only find myself embroiled in Internet controversies when I get sick. It's like my brain stops functioning and I just sort of coast on neutral. Anyway, I uploaded my bio yesterday along with an article about the Compuserve IMPs. Problem is, when I uploaded my bio, I took a "short cut" and clicked on my name as it appeared in a discussion page about a controversial search engine optimization article edit.

That was my second mistake.

You see, clicking on my name didn't take me to my user page as I thought it should. I didn't pay close attention to the tabs at the top of the page. I just uploaded the bio and poof! a brand new "Michael Martinez" article appeared in Wikipedia. Of course, when I tried to look at my user page, I didn't see anything. My first attempt to rename/move the page really didn't help. So, I figured, "Let's just wait and see what happens". After all, I didn't think I could do any more damage. I was tired and went to lie down for a few hours.

Later in the evening, I got up and checked the article. It had been tagged for Deletion, which I expected. So I went to the discussion page and tried to explain what happened. Keep in mind that I had just gotten up from a long nap and was having trouble breathing (coughing and hacking and all). So, my first explanation went across like a lead balloon. Someone had said something like, "Self-published books? We don't need articles on self-published books." Okay, the critic didn't win any points from me for singling out one sentence from the entire bio.

But eventually I realized I was fumbling around (I guess I woke up) and I said, "Well, Wikipedia policy allows us to userfy an article. All I wanted was to upload a bio to my user page."

Eventually, people started to feel a little sympathy for me (I think) as it was clear I was in well over my head and incapable of figuring out how Wiki's guidelines work. So someone eventually moved the article to my user page. So, the lesson learned is that I won't just click on my name in Wikipedia and expect it to take me to my user page. I will probably do something dumb again the next time I get sick. I don't know if I'll ever learn not to.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Romantic songs for guys who like...fluffy bears

Well, real men aren't supposed to get all mushy and into romantic stuff, so unless it's a spoof skit on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, you're not likely to see any promos for Romantic CDs for Men. Now, don't get me started on gay-versus-heterosexual stereotypes. I've been thinking about Valentines Day and romantic things lately and my friends all say I'm in love, so this is just going to be one of those mushy macho guy posts.

I did sort of wonder what the guys on Whose Line Is It Anyway? could make of a "Love Songs For Toothless Men" or "101 Romantic Songs For Soldiers In Combat". I'm sure they'd put the audience into stitches before Wayne Brady could start singing the first verse. Ryan Styles would probably open with, "Colin, what makes for a romantic evening?" And Colin Mochrie would say, "Well, for me, Ryan, it's probably sitting in a duck blind with my .016 gauge shotgun, grooving to the mellow tones of Kristina and the Waves."

And it would go downhill from there. Nothing is sacred for these guys. When it comes to love songs, few probably would be sacred for most men.

Men tend to listen to two kinds of songs: "tears in my beer" and songs whose lyrics are so incomprehensible all we can do is bob our heads up and down. "Tears in my beer" doesn't just reflect the country song stereotype popularized by Mel Tillis on Love, American Style (he played a song-writer who only wrote hits when girls broke his heart). Any genre of music can boast a "Tears" song. In fact, it seems like all the genres are competing for Most Wussy Man-Song of the Year these days.

There was a time when it was okay for every man to own a Barry White CD. Everyone "knew" we were just hoarding it for that right moment when we got some drunk girl back to our pad for a little "romance". Never mind the fact that we drive to work and home again listening to Barry moaning, "Brreeeeuuuu! Baby, oh Baby! What am I gonna do?" If you just want to feel like a True Player, you get Barry White and let the neighbors know you're puttin' on your game late on Saturday night.

Stevie Wonder probably ruined love songs for men by making his songs so special that every cool guy had to play them 15 times a day. My older brother -- who consistently dominated every school playground by beating up any bully who even breathed in my direction, who had more girls following his deep manly "Hey there" home each week than most guys dream about in a year -- was a big Stevie Wonder fan. I don't know why. It's a musician thing. He and his friends laughed at me for once saying that the Osmond Brothers' "Crazy Horses" sounded a little more progressive than their usual pop smear. But Rick could play "Isn't she lovely?" all day long. He probably played it as background music when he was giving his own daughters baths.

It's hard to be a tough street kid that everyone fears when you're walking down the road with the song "I'd Love You Tou To Want Me" by Lobo playing in your head over and over. There were days when I would strap on a couple of extra knives and stick a sawed-off shotgun down my pants just so the motorcycle gangs in the neighborhood would remember they didn't have what it took to mess with me. Those were the days I'd be groovin' to the Stylistics "You Make Me Feel Brand New" and "Stoned In Love With You".

When I hit the college circuit, I found that there were plenty of reasons to play romantic songs around my friends. They'd usually break down and reminisce about their first loves in the 8th grade. "Man, I really liked the way Toolie whipped her pigtails around as she danced to this song," someone would say. Toolie? Oh, puh-lease. At least I mooned over a girl named Julie for six years. She wasn't only gorgeous, she could really dance (ballet) and she liked me. She really, really liked me. Sniff. I think of her every time I hear "Come and Get Your Love", or is that "The Waltz of the Flowers"?

Nonetheless, the power of music to sway a girl's heart should not be underrated. Just a few years ago, I teased a young lady about "Why Don't You And I" by Santana being "our" song. She said she didn't even like it. And yet, a few months later, as we were driving to lunch, the song came on the radio and she said, "I think of you every time I hear this song." Muwhahahaha! That is the power of Neuro Romantic Programming. Okay, I think of her when I hear that song, too, so I don't play it much any more.

Tonight (or, this morning, as I'm not feeling very sleepy) I thought I'd put together a Valentine's Day CD for my girlfriend. The 15-16 songs I thought I could pick out quickly ballooned to 94. I'm not sure I want to go through with this project, so maybe sanity is returning. Maybe I'm just getting sleepy.

I started out with positive, upbeat songs like "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves, "Time After Time" by Cindy Lauper (I think it's a love song, but I just sort of bob my head up and down when I hear this one), "Whatcha See Is Watcha Get" by the Dramatics, and "This Kiss" by Faith Hill. But I quickly got mellow and added Barry White songs by the score (was this a Valentine's CD or a Seduction Secrets Trap?), "Edge of the Ocean" by Ivy, "Can't Stay Away From You" by Gloria Estefan (a little subtle message), "I Knew I Loved You" by Savage Garden, "The Fever" by Bruce Springsteen, "Oh, Girl" by the Chi-Lites, "The Game of Love" by Santana with Michele Branch, "A Whole New World" by Brad Kane and Lea Salonga, "I Only Have Eyes For You" by Art Garfunkel...well, you can see where the plan went awry.

A CD that was supposed to make her think of me and sigh with romantic anticipation quickly turned into a list of syrup-laden soppy Herb Alpertesque "This Guy Is So In Love With You" (I should get that one!) songs professing my undying love and devotion. That is so wrong. I'm supposed to be the man in this relationship. She's supposed to be wanting me.

So what if I listen to these songs all day long (well, when I'm in the car, where no one can hear them but me)? So what if they all make me think of her?

It means nothing. She listens to love songs all day. I'm sure she thinks of me when she hears..."Let it burn" by Usher, or "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" by the Four Seasons. Yeah. She thinks of me all day long. Can't live without me. I'm her Dream Lover. She'd walk a thousand miles just to be with me.


I don't know who invented Valentine's Day, but I hope they rot in hell. But not until the flowers, the chocolates, and the fluffy bear have been delivered next Tuesday.

Hey, that could be a song....

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Dancing with stars ... in your eyes

My dance teacher asked me to stop by the studio tonight and help with an Introduction to Ballroom Dancing class. Not that I'm the greatest ballroom dancer since Fred Astaire, mind you, but I've got the basic footwork down for Waltz, Fox Trot, Rumba, Tango, and Jitterbug. And, oh yeah, I can dance a passable Cha Cha.

When I first took up social dancing in Houston I harbored dreams of rivaling the great dancers of the 20th century: Barishnikov, Astaire, Kelly, Ebsen. It seemed achievable until that first day I walked into a Salsa and Merengue class. I couldn't tell my third foot from the first two.

So why did I take up ballroom dancing? Because I have a friend, Maggie, who is Chinese and once, maybe twice a year she'll invite me to a social dance at the Chinese Cultural Center in Houston. They dance a lot of Waltz, Fox Trot, Tango, and Swing there. Well, you get the idea. I can't go out on the floor and look like a fool. You should see me jumping up and down, though, yelling and screaming, "It's a CHA CHA! It's a CHA CHA! Whoohoo!"

There are some great dancers who hit the floor at those socials. A fair number of dance teachers from the Houston area spend their evenings cutting graceful paths across the floor. You really don't feel like going out to join them when you can barely do the basic step. Many people just sit on the side and watch. I don't want to do that.

So I told Gloria I wanted to learn some Ballroom Dancing a year ago, maybe longer. She said she would see if there was any demand for it.

And then came Dancing With The Stars. It's amazing how powerful an effect television can have on people's social lives. Heck, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess went off the air years ago and I'm still planning my life around Web site updates. So, who am I to argue with dozens of people who want to learn how to dance the Rumba?

Problem is, there are not many places in Houston (that I know about) where you can dance Tango, Rumba, Waltz (well, a lot of Country and Western places play basic Waltz), and Cha Cha. The Latin clubs have all but stopped playing Cha Cha songs. I have to ask the DJs to play a couple of Cha Chas and if I'm lucky I'll get a Cha before the night is out. Then Maggie comes running across the club yelling, "Michael! It's a Cha Cha!"

I've heard they dance Cha Cha in the Vietnamese clubs, but I've yet to find any Vietnamese girls who will take me to one (especially not my girlfriend -- so we have a ways to go in that relationship). I've joked about crashing one of the Vietnamese clubs with 15-20 Cha Cha dancers, but I'm not sure I can find that many people who would remember how to do a decent Cha Cha. Maggie says I would be somewhat disappointed in the way many Asians dance Cha Cha anyway.

It's not for lack of enthusiasm, though. One of my dance buddies, Chris (big tall guy), once made the comment that as soon as a Cha Cha starts playing, all the Asians hit the dance floor. Asian women just love Cha Cha. They move and swivel in ways that many Latinas never think to dance. Maggie has tried to fix me up with a few of her friends, but I'm not sure if she is just trying to make sure I have a regular supply of Cha Cha partners so she'll have a good one to call on in the Latin clubs.

Well, despite that digression, I showed up at the dance studio at the appointed time. Gloria's daughter Crystal was surrounded by hopeful Fred Astaires and Ginger Rogers-in-Training. They came in all shapes and sizes, all ages, all sexes, and all ethnic groups as near as I could tell. There were a lot of people waiting for this class. It was like, "Man! Even the biggest Salsa classes don't usually have this many people."

Well, I counted over 30 people in the class, so it was somewhat modest compared to the really huge dance classes (some legendary dance classes have had hundreds of students -- but I think that would be a hard way to learn how to dance). Nonetheless, you put almost 40 people into a dance classroom and start teaching them the Cha Cha and see if your teeth don't get rattled. I never realized just how subtle the dance really is until the place started thundering like a Queen concert. You want to break out into a rousing chorus of "We will, we will ROCK YOU!" as people start pounding their feet on the floor.

You don't actually pound out the three cha cha cha steps. You just sort of slide your feet past each other in very short, tiny steps. But that is a more advanced technique. Gloria's task was just to get the people moving in some sort of basic time and doing the right pattern. I think most of them enjoyed the class but they were a bit overwhelmed. After every class, Gloria feels out the crowd to see if they want to continue in the next month. She usually gets a fair number of people to stay in the classes month after month, but tonight I noticed quite a few, "Hm. This doesn't look like the television show" expressions.

To be honest, from what I've read about Dancing With The Stars, the average social dancer doesn't want to go through that kind of training regimen. The performers have to get ready in six to eight weeks. The average social dancer, taking one class a week, might be comparable in skill and execution in about 2-3 years. Maybe. If they dance a lot between classes.

And that's the problem with Ballroom Dancing. I don't know of many opportunities for people to put it into use. Most of the ballroom dancing I hear about around Houston is private function stuff. Which is not to say there are few opportunities for ballroom dancing. I just don't run with those crowds. Maybe there is a Houston Ballroom Dancing blog somewhere. If not, there should be.

So, as sometimes is the case, there were more ladies than men tonight and Chris and I (and another gentleman I've seen many times but I've never learned his name) showed up to be dance partners. I think a fourth guy came in, too, but he left prematurely. Anyway, we came by to help keep the ladies in step.

Unlike the Latin dance classes, Ballroom classes tend to draw a lot of married couples. I don't often see the kind of partner rotations that happen regularly in the Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, and Cha Cha classes (yes, Gloria has taught classes just for Cha Cha). In a Ballroom Dancing class, you sort of end up with a semi-permanent partner. And tonight was no different in that respect.

My semi-permanent partner was a petite Asian lady. She got into the Cha Cha. Actually, she got into everything but the Waltz. I think she was happy to have a dance partner who had some basic clue about timing (she obviously didn't know me when I got started). And as Gloria attempted to herd the cats back and forth across the room, I made sure my partner did not get trampled in the crush. She seemed to appreciate that.

So, I suppose one day I'll run into her in the Chinese Cultural Center, and we'll do a passable Fox Trot or Waltz. But she'll have to stand aside when Maggie comes running across the floor yelling, "Michael! It's a Cha Cha!"

Friday, February 03, 2006

Lies, damned lies, and Matt Cutts

Matt Cutts is a very prominent software engineer who works for Google. He helps police their index by chasing down Web sites and removing them. He works in other mysterious ways behind the scenes, but also serves as a very active, very vocal public relations representative for Google. Matt has given many interviews and sat on numerous technical conference panels through the years.

I've been in a similar position myself, years ago, when I worked for a much smaller, less successful software company that nonetheless achieved dominance in its industry for a few years. All too often, I found I had to take the company position and defend it against extremely hostile customer feedback (which is pretty much why I no longer work for that company -- I just couldn't pretend to believe the company line any longer).

I'm not saying that Matt is trying to sell people on ideas he doesn't believe in. In fact, he seems quite passionate about working for Google and trusting in the power of their technology and the corporate integrity (at least as far as his experience with Google goes). What's the real picture? I don't know. But I feel some sympathy for Matt because hardly a day goes by where someone in the search engine optimization industry doesn't say or imply that he is a liar.

While I don't know much about the inner workings of Google, and don't care to spend my money attending SEO conferences, I've never seen anyone catch Matt in a lie. Not even the people who attend these conferences and supposedly have private conversations with Sergey Brin and Larry Page and know more than they feel comfortable revealing.

So, I was a bit disturbed the other day to see even the good-hearted Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz post a blog entry where he indicated that Matt had lied in a recent interview. Rand has since modified the entry to back off from that position. But the damage has been done, in my opinion. Yet more people have now seen someone accuse Matt of lying, deliberately misleading people on a particular point (and in this case it was an extremely obscure, esoteric point which had virtually nothing to do with the way Google maintains its search engine).

Matt uses his personal blog to share information about upcoming events. He recently announced he would be interviewed on Webmaster radio. While I didn't have time to tune in and listen (I do like the show), I knew other people would write it up. Imagine my surprise and disappointment to see most people talking about the alleged lie and skimping on the details of a 70-minute discussion.

In the aftermath, it's apparent that Matt didn't lie about anything. It may be that Google has been alerted to a possible deficiency in one of the tools it makes available to people who want to remove their own URLs from the index (there are good reasons to do this on occasion). If there is a problem with the tool, let's hope that Google finds and fixes it quickly. But I certainly feel a strong empathy for Matt for having been wrongly and baldly accused of outright lying.

Matt, I suspect you will eventually be subjected to much more subtle and far-reaching character assassination. There is a powerful love-hate relationship between Google and the search engine optimization community. Many of the people who are most active on the SEO blogs and forums are very hostile, toxic people. They instantly ridicule anyone who shows up and asks questions or make statements they don't like. To a lesser degree, many other people in the SEO communities express their exasperation with newcomers (who obviously haven't paid attention to oft-repeated questions and answers) very quickly.

No one with my personal history of involvement in flame wars is in any position to be criticizing others for being rude on the Internet -- if they are defending themselves. Matt, to his credit, doesn't engage in reciprocal rudeness. Of course, he hasn't been subjected to 8 years of lies, character assassination, and cyberstalking. I hope for his sake he never has to endure that kind of harassment and abuse.

Although the Michael Martinez Wars seem to have died down somewhat, there are still a few people out there who have axes to grind. One in particular, Larry Swain (known in some places as Forkbeard), who teaches Old English literature, devoted two years to following me from forum to forum, hoping to shave points off my reputation. As recently as a few months ago he was still telling people at one popular Tolkien forum that I don't carefully distinguish between my personal opinions and the facts in my essays.

Of course, every time I have asked Larry to provide an example of an essay where I blur my opinions with the facts, he falls unaccusingly silent.

This is the type of gradual character assassination that some people pursue against you. They resort to ambiguous innuendo and never back up their facts. And a lot of people are swayed by this kind of nonsense. It is basic human nature to believe allegations more than to believe denials. We instinctively reward aggression with approval or acceptance, and we instinctively ostracize people who are put on the defensive.

The assumption of credibility favors character assassins. Why? Because people are gullible? Most people are not generally gullible, but they are generally unwilling to concede points to others. And when you see two people arguing in an online forum, having only limited knowledge of the history of the two individuals, you are statistically more likely to favor the one who resorts to the first personal attack than the other.

Taking all this back to Matt Cutts, what I am saying is that through no fault of his own, his credibility has been intangibly harmed by these baseless allegations of falsehood. No one has ever caught Matt Cutts in a lie with respect to his public statements about Google. I think Matt realizes very well that the respect he has earned in the search optimization community owes a great deal to his personal integrity. Unfortunately, there are people out there who, while quite knowledgable about the technical stuff, don't know enough to always be right (none of us do) and they immediately fall into knee-jerk reactionary modes when they see or hear something they don't like.

The level of toxicity varies from individual to individual. But every online community I have participated in has included people who allowed their toxic feelings to fester and grow, and they became more and more toxic and alienated large numbers of people who no longer venture into those communities. While I share some of the blame for what happened to the Tolkien news groups, I was not the person who actively conducted a poison pen campaign, who knowingly and intentionally lied about another person, who followed someone around from forum to forum (and in this case I am not singling Larry Swain out -- there have been at least two others whom I know of who did this to me).

In other words, the people who ran the scholars out of the Tolkien groups have never taken responsibility for their actions.

This will inevitably happen in the SEO world. In fact, there was a time when all the SEOs were part of a single online community. There was no place else to go. The forum operator, however, was an unsavory individual who openly lied about other people (I should have realized what would happen to me when I first saw him do this, but I was still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt). Not only did he lie about other people in his forums, he indirectly spawned several rival forums by attacking and banning people whom he didn't like. When my turn came, I got fed up with the slime and withdrew from the SEO community for a year.

J.K. Bowman, the founder of Spider-Food's forums, persuaded me to come back into the community a few years ago. But except for my participation at Spider-food, I maintained a mostly low profile because I have really had enough of dealing with toxic people on the Internet.

Nonetheless, last year, because of major changes at Google, I began branching out into other forums where some of the people knew who I was. Once again I ran into toxic people, in the case of two forums where people abused their positions as moderators to win disagreements and stifle fair and open discussion. One forum admin put me on pre-moderated status because his moderators said I wasn't providing enough information to back up what I say (the number of citations I provided to off-site references such as academic papers and official search engine documents to this day outnumbers their off-site citations). I told the admin that no one in their right mind would agree to an arrangement like that.

But this is what happens on the Internet. People carve out philosophical niches where they pontificate ad nauseum, and when someone demands that they back up what they say, or -- worse -- shows there are authoritative references which contradict what they say, some of these folks launch campaigns to destroy the credibility of the people who don't side with them. The campaigns may not be conscious, intentional attacks. Or they may be. You never know until you step back and look at what the toxic people are actually doing.

The SEO community is now large enough and divided enough that there seems to be room for all points of view. But Matt Cutts is in a very unique position because he is the one voice of authority on Google's behalf that everyone can appeal to. He doesn't lay all his cards on the table. That can never happen because Google has to protect itself against the exploitive tactics employed by many SEOs. Nonetheless, until someone catches Matt in a lie, anything he says has instant credibility with many, many people. There are some naysayers who dig their feet in and point out that Matt isn't telling us everything, but when it comes down to believing Matt or believing an SEO, I'll take Matt.

Until someone proves he has lied to us. And then he'll no longer speak with authority.

In reality, however, no one actually has to ever prove that Matt Cutts lies to the search optimization community. As time passes, and as more people whisper in the corners that not everything Matt says can be trusted, his credibility will erode for no good reason, and eventually many people will assume he is a liar simply because they see the poison pen campaign.

It's an extremely devastating effect and it works well. So, if you go in for that kind of techno-geeky stuff, enjoy reading Matt Cutts while you can. There will come a day when he'll say to himself, "I don't need this," and he'll walk away.

Hopefully, no one will follow after him with a bloody knife in their hand. Or a power tool. Someone did once break into my gated community and carve "Mikey" into a brick outside my kitchen door.

That is the power of insane hatred or contemptible stupidity and immaturity. On the Internet, where you cannot read body language, you have no idea of knowing which is which when other people become toxic for no good reason other than their own selfish pride.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Body Language by Michael

I've been researching body language for a couple of years. Depending on the book or tutorial, the topic can be very boring or very interesting. The boring stuff tends to be a repetitive rehash of FAQs, tips, and tutorials or cheap knockoff books trying to capitalize on the dating craze. I've passed up many a book in the bookstore that promises to win me the girl of my dreams for a night in favor of a book on sales and marketing that only mentions body language.

While no one really knows the history of human communication, it is generally accepted that body language was developed long before verbal language was. Animals communicate their needs, moods, and intentions through body language but there is evidence that animals also communicate through sounds and chemicals. Natural pheromones have only been studied for a few decades.

I think the first pheromones were discovered in ants early in the 20th century, but Martha McClintock documented human pheromones in women in 1969. She launched a slow revolution in human biological science that has begun to explode over the past 10 years as commercial enterprises have found ways to monetize pheromone science. Of course, pheromones have gotten a lot of bad press, but we all produce them and science is still documenting what they do. Pheromones apparently communicate states of health, biological relationships (mother and child), states of fear, states of arousal, etc.

But, to get back to body language, I've found there are relatively few interesting tutorials on the Internet. Most of the attempts to document body language in detail get bogged down in list of "signs of interest" and "how to seduce people through mirroring" techniques. There is so much more to body language than that. Good sales people learn to read body language to determine how well they are doing with prospective customers. Many retail clerks, ignorant of body language, often press potential customers needlessly because they don't key in to the signals we send out.

Nonverbal communication, like pheromones, is prone to its own controversies. For example, many of the quick tutorials and even some hard-core technique books and FAQs promote the 7-38-55 rule. This rule states that 90% of our communication is non-verbal. The rule is based on research performed by Professor Albert Mehrabian in the 1960s and which he published in two books in 1971 and 1972. Mehrabian's research was originally published in a paper titled "Decoding of inconsistent communications", and his numbers are based on a very narrow area of study. Some critics of this rule have been arguing strenuously by that it should not be promulgated across the entire spectrum of non-verbal communication tools.

Dr. C.E. Johnson has pointed out that if over 90% of our communication is nonverbal, we should be able to travel to any other country and understand about 90% of what the non-English speakers tell us. And that is certainly not true. In fact, I've been keenly interested in cultural differences in body language. I have many Asian friends, for example, and they tell me that certain American gestures and actions are considered to be offensive in Asian culture. I've found a couple of Asian body language tutorials (for traveling Americans) that reiterate those points.

I've found, through constant practice and experimentation (inspired by the books I have read), that body language can be used to understand what other people are emotionally drawn towards, or how they physically feel. But there are plenty of situations where I still don't understand the other person because their body language is so inconsistent with what they are saying, or it's inconsistent with itself.

I voted for George W. Bush in large part because of body language. I don't agree with all his decisions. But he is a far more sincere man than most of the people who run for President. I would rather know where our leaders stand than have to be guessing where they stand. John Kerry turned me off because he uses extremely artificial body language. His characteristc extended hand gesture, that he uses to emphasize almost everything he says, screams out, "This man is coached. He is hiding his true feelings."

So, I didn't want to put Kerry into office because I just couldn't trust him to be honest. I may sometimes think Bush is an idiot, but I really think all those political people are idiots. And even I'm an idiot on occasion. Just because someone fumbles in answering an unrehearsed question doesn't mean they're incapable of making a rational decision. Just because I disagree with their decision doesn't mean anyone else would have made a better decision.

The way people express sincerity in their body language is important. There are some gestures that are almost universally interpreted as sincerity, but someone who knows about these gestures and use them to pretend to be sincere. It's the unexpected movements that people make which reveal their true intentions. Just because someone holds their hands up palms outward or touches their chest doesn't mean they are telling you the truth. Do they look vulnerable? Are they placing themselves in a clearly vulnerable position, or are they reaciting in a careful way to a potentially threatening approach by someone else?

Don Steele, one of the many "dating gurus" you'll find out about when you look into body language, says that if you want to interpret body language you need to look for clusters of actions and reduce them to their simplest possible meanings. Exagerate what a gesture can represent in order to discern its most likely meaning. If I hold a glass in front of me as I speak with you, imagine me holding a shield to defend myself. If I remove my glasses, imagine a knight in armor lifting his visor to expose one of the most important parts of his body.

Body language doesn't stop with the body, though. It encompasses the space around the body as well. That is, you stake out your territory and other people stake out their territory and then you negotiate with each other over territorial rights and possession. Territory doesn't end with physical space, though. It also includes philosophical space. But I've got to run, so I'll come back to this another day.