In Support of Delaware SCR 6 to Address the Corrupting Influence of Money in Politics

I’m a small business owner in Wilmington. I have a background in software design and development, and today I want to speak to you as a designer and developer. I’d like to talk about corruption.

Unlike many others on my side of the issue of money in politics, the word “corruption,” to me, isn’t attached to any moral judgment. There are many on my side who rail against “corrupt politicians in Washington.” Well, I know politicians. In my experience, they’re generally good people, doing their best, engaged in public service, and they want to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

In software, if a file gets corrupted or an application causes a memory leak that crashes a system, it’s not because of some moral failing or because the process is “greedy.” It’s a design problem. There’s something broken in the code that needs to be fixed. Today, money has corrupted our political system to an extent that it is nearly impossible to repair.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama raised and spent over 1 billion dollars each in 2012, and in the 2016 election, that number is expected to double. There is an even greater amount of dark money flowing into elections from special interest PACs who are not even obligated to disclose where their money comes from.

This is a design problem.

Our elected officials at the national level are forced to spend more than 50% of their time raising money. A congressional campaign can cost more than 1 million dollars. Senatorial campaigns can run 10 or 15 million dollars. A sitting Senator needs to raise more than $10,000 per week for her entire six-year term just to fund her reelection campaign.

This is a design problem.

In addition to creating webs of complicated interests, alliances, and promises, our representatives are spending more than half of their time raising money. They have to do this because the candidate in a race who has more money wins 95% of the time. I’ll repeat that: 95% of the time, the candidate with more money wins.

This is a design problem.

Luckily, our founding fathers, when drafting the framework for our laws, left a brilliant way for the states to step in when the Congress has failed us. Article V of our constitution is why there’s still hope.

The most stunning discovery I’ve made since getting involved in this issue is that, among the political class, there really doesn’t seem to be a great sense of emergency. The job of a representative in our country has become “full-time fundraiser, part-time legislator.” If you care about our democratic system of government at all, you need to understand that this is an unprecedented, cataclysmic disaster. This is an emergency of the highest order.

How long will it be before a small campaign for a seat in the Delaware legislature will require raising, say, $200,000, and having equal support of whichever three super-PACs happen to have interests in our small state at the time? Before you dismiss this as hyperbole, consider that every day, distinguished members of the United States Senate spend five to seven hours in a phone bank, dialing for dollars. In fact, this is not an outlandish prediction. It’s a foregone conclusion. It’s the natural evolution of the way our government currently works.

We need to fix this bug before the system completely crashes and our states are swept away in the same sea of money that has flooded our federal government. I urge you to vote yes on SCR 6.

Posted Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Rethinking the Student-Athlete

There is a disconnect in our culture between things that are ostensibly work and things that are fun.

In the realm of academia, this is strictly codified. Some things you can get credit for, and some are considered “extracurricular.” This distinction is, of course, totally arbitrary, and based on what a board of very serious people very seriously consider a very serious and worthy academic pursuit.

There wasn’t always a time when you could major in Modern Dance, for example.

There is a great tension about college athletes and the huge amount of attention some of them garner, and the attendant ethical problems that come when you have student-athletes who might not be attending college as a student if not for the athletics. This sensitivity is so apparent that the National Collegiate Athletics Association’s major advertising campaign (that’s been going on for years now) is basically a defensive cringe: “Hey, we aren’t all dumb jocks we do other things guys!”

On the other side, there are the very convincing arguments that athletes in the biggest sports programs are being totally exploited, that they generate millions of dollars for their institutions and conferences and that they should be paid for their talents.

I have a proposal that I think could make college athletics a little bit better, by making things a lot more honest. And it would all be in keeping with the academic standards these colleges and universities hold dear.

I would like to propose a newly accreditted degree: Bachelor of Athletic Arts. Let me explain.

Why couldn’t a stellar basketball player, one of the top players in the world at his age, decide to major in Basketball? Why shouldn’t he get credit for daily three-hour practices, have a class schedule built around all of the travel he’ll be doing to play games around the country, and take core classes on the History of Basketball, the Footwork of Michael Jordan, or the Zone Defense (taught by James Arthur Boeheim, of course)?

The most obvious reason on the surface is that we don’t think of athletic performance as the artform that it is, maybe the most celebrated in the world (admit it). Or do we?

My sister majored in Modern Dance. She has a degree in Modern Dance. “But Zach,” you might say. “Modern Dance has ‘choreography’ and ‘art’ to it.”

I was a Film-Drama major in college. Film is a big business. There are hundreds of thousands of Los Angelans making real money telling stories on a two-dimensional screen. And then there are the folks like me, who aren’t part of Hollywood, but work in small video production houses in every town and city in the country, making commercials and web videos for clients. Then there are my friends who majored in Cello and Trumpet.

We’re all doing okay, even if none of us are directing $100 million feature films or playing in the New York Philharmonic (yet).

My point is that our college years were spent pursuing exactly what we were interested in, and because of this, college was a very interesting and valuable experience in our lives, and led, at least indirectly, to the careers we are working in today.

If you’re a 17-year-old with interest, talent, and promise in filmmaking, there are options for you. If you’re into Surface Pattern Design, you can get a Masters in that. But if you are the greatest basketball player ever to come out of the state of Missouri whose lifelong dream is to play in the NBA, you can pick a major that has nothing to do with your chosen career, doesn’t take into account that you are doubly as busy as every other student, and oh yeah, then there’s a 12-inch book of special rules for you, about who’s allowed to buy you lunch or talk to you or tweet at you.

This one time when I was a sophomore, Steven Spielberg contacted me about directing a film he was producing, but then Turner Classic Movies found out about the call and I was suspended from all filmmaking activities for two years and it was a big mess. What really sucked was that I had to remain in good academic standing with my Pre-Dental degree, but you know, I was on scholarship for Film, so…

Think about that for a second… “All I want to do is play basketball.” “Too bad. You have to do this other crap.” Imagine if someone said that to your chemistry-wiz daughter, or to your piano virtuoso brother. What a distraction. What a waste of their time and money.

“Okay Zach, every Division I player thinks he’s going to make an NBA squad, but only a handful of them do. What about the others?”

Like Film, Basketball is big business. Just because you don’t care about or respect a certain industry doesn’t mean the market hasn’t carved out a giant space for it. A lot of former college players make very decent livings in other leagues around the world. They can go into coaching, physical education, the myriad of businesses related to sports, or maybe they start their own businesses not directly related to basketball. Or they go on like most of today’s graduates and pursue further education in another field altogether.

In addition to directing and editing videos, in the last few years I’ve suddenly found myself designing and developing web applications, and getting paid good money for it. You may not think this is related to film, but everything I’ve done has jumped off of something else. Welcome to the new economy. You do lots of things now.

Playing basketball on the Division I stage involves a level of work ethic and talent that few can claim. If you were reading a resumé which contained these two items, which would impress you more: Four years of starting for the Kentucky Wildcats or a Bachelor’s in Child and Family Studies? Which would convey more confidence and drive?

So let’s quit this dumb charade. Michael Carter-Williams came to Syracuse University to play basketball, and to showcase his talents for the NBA. His options come season-end are to leave and (possibly) make millions while focusing solely on his passion, or to take the bus from South Campus to Technical Writing 205 in the snow. Now, MCW’s situation is different from a lot of guys who opt to leave early these days, as he will likely be a lottery pick, but have you ever heard of an easier decision in your life?

So what if the choice were different? What if he were given the option of spending another year focusing 100% of his energy on basketball, moving further along in the work he’s been doing with his coaches that has yielded such great results, becoming (probably) an even more certain lottery pick next year (and meanwhile have another shot at the NCAA title, because you know, gamers wanna win)? I’m not saying he would take it, and I’m not going to speculate on whether or not that would be a good idea for him, but in this case he certainly has options.

In a world with a Basketball major, everyone wins. Great players get to go to school without stupid pretenses and inefficient uses of their time (if that applies, of course… some people dual-major). Coaches officially become the Professors of the game that they always have been. Fans might get to watch a few guys play for a few more years. And some of those guys who may have gotten lost in the draft shuffle will benefit from that extra time in a strong program competing with the best amateur players on earth. Overall, the world of college basketball would be a more honest place.

Eventually, Basketball could be a major every bit as respectable as Film or Comparative Literature (my fiancé’s major… she’s a lawyer now).

Think about it.

I’ve been thinking about this idea for about ten years now and finally wrote something half-coherent about it, thanks to some pressure from Sean Keeley at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician.

Posted Friday, July 20, 2012

Apple Fixes iMessages→

Scott Forstall:

“We’re unifying your phone number and your Apple ID,” said iOS guru Scott Forstall at WWDC today. “So if someone calls you on your phone number with a FaceTime call, you can answer the call on your iPad or even your Mac. And we’re doing the exact same thing with iMessage.”

Great move.

I’m almost certain that Forstall reads Daring Fireball, but I’m equally sure that my post that Gruber linked had nothing to do with this.

It was just the obvious thing to do.

I wonder if they were waiting on the new notification center and the (presumed) APIs to get rid of notifications across devices once they’ve been addressed.

If every time I open my Mac I’m greeted with all of my SMS conversations from the day, that will make me stabby.

Posted Friday, June 15, 2012

Solving the Online Payment Problem→

Thomas Baekdal:

The solution is quite simple. The technology already exists, and it is easy to implement. We need to think of payments the same way as Facebook think (sp.) of the Like button.

I don’t think the solution is this simple. It would be arguably a better user interface, but it presupposes that there is one good payment service we can all agree on.

PayPal already has something virtually equivalent to this, though it does take you away from the site temporarily. It’s pretty quick, and like all other things PayPal, it’s as ugly as road death.

But all you have to do is enter your PayPal password, change the funding source if you want, and you’re done. I love when I go to pay for something and they have a PayPal checkout. I use 1Password, so filling out credit card and address forms is about a hundred times easier for me than for regular people who don’t have 1Password (my heart goes out to them). But even with that, the PayPal checkout process is so much easier that I breathe an audible sigh of relief.

But PayPal has proven time and time again that they are a terrible, awful company without any thought to elegance or user experience. The founder doesn’t like people, and he especially hates poor people, so I guess the total lack of respect for human beings makes sense. They just happen to be the only ubiquitous player on the web.

Implementing a PayPal payment system makes any self-respecting designer feel sick with shame, and we don’t even have to talk about their Send and Receive money feature (supposedly their flagship service) where they put confusing holds on payments and take 3-5 business days to transfer to your bank account and make you feel all stabby and get the taste of blood in your mouth.

So before we can implement a fancy slick iframe interface for payments, we need to decide who will be the processor of those payments.

The keys will be:

  1. It must allow truly instant transfers of money with no limits, no holds, no bullshit.

  2. It will probably need to have a huge, trusting, installed base.

The only people I can see with a chance to do this would be Amazon (who for some reason has not pushed their web payments service very hard), Apple (who makes enough money on their core business of selling deliciously wonderful hardware that they may not want to muddy the waters with a contentious service offering like web payments, where there is a major risk of bad PR and customer dissatisfaction if everything isn’t perfect… people get sensitive about their money), or, and this is something like Baekdal is talking about, a consortium of major banks and credit card companies. A company with joint interests from the Bank of Americas and Wells Fargos and Visas and Mastercards of the world. They would be positioned to do something like this, and they could cut out the middle men and make us all happier.

But they won’t. You know why? Because they are fucking worthless, pathetic dinosaurs. Try using Wells Fargo’s new Send Money service to another Wells Fargo customer and when it tells you it will take one business day or when it tells you that you have reached your arbitrary $2,000 limit of sending for the month, try to keep yourself from punching the wall, because that never solves anything.

via @wes_garnett

Posted Saturday, April 21, 2012


Rachel Andrew:

WYSIWYG Editors suck because they promote thinking about style rather than content. While content editors are busy changing headings to Comic Sans, pondering the use of a grimacing smiley on their about us page or getting creative with colour, they are not considering the actual copy they are adding to the site.

The CMS axiom: When there are 999 ways to make something look right, a non-designer will usually find the one way to make it look wrong.

It’s not a knock on them, because it’s not their fault, because it’s not their job.

Posted Thursday, April 19, 2012