Repost: Facebook’s Gone Rogue; It’s Time for an Open Alternative

Check out the original article by Ryan Singel here

Facebook has gone rogue, drunk on founder Mark Zuckerberg’s dreams of world domination. It’s time the rest of the web ecosystem recognizes this and works to replace it with something open and distributed.

Facebook used to be a place to share photos and thoughts with friends and family and maybe play a few stupid games that let you pretend you were a mafia don or a homesteader. It became a very useful way to connect with your friends, long-lost friends and family members. Even if you didn’t really want to keep up with them.

Soon everybody — including your uncle Louie and that guy you hated from your last job — had a profile.

And Facebook realized it owned the network.

Then Facebook decided to turn “your” profile page into your identity online — figuring, rightly, that there’s money and power in being the place where people define themselves. But to do that, the folks at Facebook had to make sure that the information you give it was public.

So in December, with the help of newly hired Beltway privacy experts, it reneged on its privacy promises and made much of your profile information public by default. That includes the city that you live in, your name, your photo, the names of your friends and the causes you’ve signed onto.

This spring Facebook took that even further. All the items you list as things you like must become public and linked to public profile pages. If you don’t want them linked and made public, then you don’t get them — though Facebook nicely hangs onto them in its database in order to let advertisers target you.

This includes your music preferences, employment information, reading preferences, schools, etc. All the things that make up your profile. They all must be public — and linked to public pages for each of those bits of info — or you don’t get them at all. That’s hardly a choice, and the whole system is maddeningly complex.

Simultaneously, the company began shipping your profile information off pre-emptively to Yelp, Pandora and Microsoft — so that if you show up there while already logged into Facebook, the sites can “personalize” your experience when you show up. You can try to opt out after the fact, but you’ll need a master’s in Facebook bureaucracy to stop it permanently.

Care to write a status update to your friends? Facebook sets the default for those messages to be published to the entire internet through direct funnels to the net’s top search engines. You can use a dropdown field to restrict your publishing, but it’s seemingly too hard for Facebook to actually remember that’s what you do. (Google Buzz, for all the criticism it has taken, remembers your setting from your last post and uses that as the new default.)

Now, say you you write a public update, saying, “My boss had a crazy great idea for a new product!” Now, you might not know it, but there is a Facebook page for “My Crazy Boss” and because your post had all the right words, your post now shows up on that page. Include the words “FBI” or “CIA,” and you show up on the FBI or CIA page.

Then there’s the new Facebook “Like” button littering the internet. It’s a great idea, in theory — but it’s completely tied to your Facebook account, and you have no control over how it is used. (No, you can’t like something and not have it be totally public.)

Then there’s Facebook’s campaign against outside services. There was the Web 2.0 suicide machine that let you delete your profile by giving it your password. Facebook shut it down.

Another company has an application that will collect all your updates from services around the web into a central portal — including from Facebook — after you give the site your password to log in to Facebook. Facebook is suing the company and alleging it is breaking criminal law by not complying with its terms of service.

No wonder 14 privacy groups filed a unfair-trade complaint with the FTC against Facebook on Wednesday.

Mathew Ingram at GigaOm wrote a post entitled “The Relationship Between Facebook and Privacy: It’s Really Complicated.”

No, that’s just wrong. The relationship is simple: Facebook thinks that your notions of privacy — meaning your ability to control information about yourself — are just plain old-fashioned. Head honcho Zuckerberg told a live audience in January that Facebook is simply responding to changes in privacy mores, not changing them — a convenient, but frankly untrue, statement.

In Facebook’s view, everything (save perhaps your e-mail address) should be public. Funny too about that e-mail address, for Facebook would prefer you to use its e-mail–like system that censors the messages sent between users.

Ingram goes onto say, “And perhaps Facebook doesn’t make it as clear as it could what is involved, or how to fine-tune its privacy controls — but at the same time, some of the onus for doing these things has to fall to users.”

What? How can it fall to users when most of the choices don’t’ actually exist? I’d like to make my friend list private. Cannot.

I’d like to have my profile visible only to my friends, not my boss. Cannot.

I’d like to support an anti-abortion group without my mother or the world knowing. Cannot.

Setting up a decent system for controlling your privacy on a web service shouldn’t be hard. And if multiple blogs are writing posts explaining how to use your privacy system, you can take that as a sign you aren’t treating your users with respect, It means you are coercing them into choices they don’t want using design principles. That’s creepy.

Facebook could start with a very simple page of choices: I’m a private person, I like sharing some things, I like living my life in public. Each of those would have different settings for the myriad of choices, and all of those users could then later dive into the control panel to tweak their choices. That would be respectful design – but Facebook isn’t about respect — it’s about re-configuring the world’s notion of what’s public and private.

So what that you might be a teenager and don’t get that college-admissions offices will use your e-mail address to find possibly embarrassing information about you. Just because Facebook got to be the world’s platform for identity by promising you privacy and then later ripping it out from under you, that’s your problem. At least, according to the bevy of privacy hired guns the company brought in at high salaries to provide cover for its shenanigans.

Clearly Facebook has taught us some lessons. We want easier ways to share photos, links and short updates with friends, family, co-workers and even, sometimes, the world.

But that doesn’t mean the company has earned the right to own and define our identities.

It’s time for the best of the tech community to find a way to let people control what and how they’d like to share. Facebook’s basic functions can be turned into protocols, and a whole set of interoperating software and services can flourish.

Think of being able to buy your own domain name and use simple software such as Posterous to build a profile page in the style of your liking. You’d get to control what unknown people get to see, while the people you befriend see a different, more intimate page. They could be using a free service that’s ad-supported, which could be offered by Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, a bevy of startups or web-hosting services like Dreamhost.

“Like” buttons around the web could be configured to do exactly what you want them to — add them to a protected profile or get added to a wish list on your site or broadcast by your micro-blogging service of choice. You’d be able to control your presentation of self — and as in the real world, compartmentalize your life.

People who just don’t want to leave Facebook could play along as well — so long as Facebook doesn’t continue creepy data practices like turning your info over to third parties, just because one of your contacts takes the “Which Gilligan Island character are you?” quiz? (Yes, that currently happens)

Now, it might not be likely that a loose confederation of software companies and engineers can turn Facebook’s core services into shared protocols, nor would it be easy for that loose coupling of various online services to compete with Facebook, given that it has 500 million users. Many of them may be fine having Facebook redefine their cultural norms, or just be too busy or lazy to leave.

But in the internet I’d like to live in, we’d have that option, instead of being left with the choice of letting Facebook use us, or being left out of the conversation altogether.

My Interview with Jay Maynard, The Tron Guy

I had seen Tron Guy online a few years back but hadn’t given him much thought until I recently happened to see the trailer for Tron Legacy on YouTube. I’d seen him on Jimmy Kimmel Live and several Internet videos and he seemed to be a happy little fella, so I thought, w…hat the heck, let’s see if I can locate this guy, call him up and just talk to him. Sure enough, that’s what happened.

Now, I know little to nothing at all about the film Tron or the world of Tron, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to ask him. I just came up with a few questions off the top of my head and gave it a shot. You can read more (if you’re bored or just absolutely have to know more) about Jay and his Tron hijinks on his personal website

@: http://www.conmicro.com/

or

@: http://www.tronguy.net/

He’s an interesting character, to say the least, but he seems to have fun with it, and I applaud that. Hey, at least the guy’s being himself. Well, the Tron version of himself. that is. *sidenote: I happened to be in a museum where I overheard David mention that a video game looked like the Tron game. Serendipity at its best. I asked him to participate in the interview just before I called Jay. Thankfully he agreed.

-Travis Lickey

The cult of superficial personality

editorial

*The following article was contributed to us by Mr. Ron Sebestik of Mahomet, IL.

Back a few years I spent my days sweating with 140 eighth graders on a daily basis in a classroom with no air conditioning and teaching U.S. History and the Constitution.  Twenty-two years and the best I could do to explain the two party system was to use a rubber band- stretching it to show the growth of government under Democrats and relaxing it to show the shrinking of government under Republicans.  I thought I was brilliant.  I told my eager pupils that with this scenario we always end up in the middle- with a stable ever-growing economy and peaceful transitions of government from one party to the other.  Things seemed so simple then.  Both parties proposed ideas and directions for the country and the voters expressed their acceptance or rejection at the polls.

Nine years ago, however, something happened.  My world was rocked.  The Founding Fathers with their intelligence and largeness of character rolled over in their collective graves.  One of our parties decided that intelligence, education, communication skills, common sense, and true compassion (not just the word) were no longer necessary to run for high political office.  Now the question of qualification became “Who would you rather have a beer with at a backyard barbecue?”  This was, of course, a trick question since they left out the fact that GW’s alcoholic past only lasted until his early forties meaning that he couldn’t have that beer with you at the BBQ anyway so the point was moot.

The Republicans simply stopped having ideas after eight years of Bush and stopped playing the game by the rules.  They found out why athletes break rules- it’s easier and you can still win.  Their brilliant moment of clarity told them to just shout, say no to everything, use the most inflammatory language you can muster, stay away from the ‘N’ word, only infer it and don’t waste your time developing ideas- if you do a good enough job of tearing down the Democrat you won’t have to work that hard.  The country will turn back to your party because they either want a change or else they’re simply tired of hearing the whining of the children in the small mind party. We’ve all done it- giving in to a screaming, unreasonable child by giving them whatever will shut them up.  They have become the party of Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame personalities- The Cult of Superficial Personality.

How enthralled we have all been watching the parade of those hoping to become the next “It Girl” for conservatives.  It’s only been 10 months but the list is long:

1. Mitt Romney- Good looks, mildly acceptable personality, some government experience, and then there’s the Mormon problem- it’s a bitch when a portion of your conservative base doesn’t even believe you are a Christian the only way he gets the nomination is if the Repubs realize they have no chance and he becomes the sacrificial lamb so as to not waste another candidate who can actually be elected.  Sort of a la McCain. (46% possibility)

2. Eric Cantor- OMG, he was pushed out front early on and waved like a flag and there were interviews with him and his wife and we were led to believe he might be the Moses (literally) who would lead the conservatives out of the Wilderness- unfortunately we quickly realized that he was a straw man who had little substance and actually sounded as if he were slightly retarded. (42%)

3. Lindsey Graham- Oh please, don’t even get me started. (45% possibility)

4. Mike Huckabee- see above. (40% possibility)

5. The whole “C Street Gang”- Give me a break. We just all love the sweet bunch who wrap themselves in their religious cocoon and continue to break a good portion of the biblical commandments and simply have a house meeting and forgive themselves because they have been told by their leader that they are hand-picked by God for their Congressional seats. Future presidents all of them. (0% possibility)

6. Tim Pawlenty- Yeah, he’s a real possibility.  Young, attractive, governor, not an original idea uttered yet and terrified of taking a stand on anything unless it involves slamming the Democrats.  (45% possibility)

7. Michelle Bachmann- Yeah crazy will get you elected. (10% Possibility)

8. Sarah Palin- Okay, here goes: the thing that tells me she is unelectable is her inability to recognize the fact that she is not capable of being President, a major character flaw.  I’m sure we will find out she is only in it for the money but she’s still thinking about the brass ring and hoping for a ground swell.  (35% Possibility)

9. Bob McDonnell- at least he’s won an election and they are already talking about the Vice-President slot.  They’re not interested in quality and ideas, just winnability.  Unfortunately for Bob his 34 year-old thesis will hurt him with millions of women.

Even though crazy the old familiar faces have been pushed to the rear, people like Gingrich, Buchanan, McConnell, and McCain they continue to bleat unintelligible syllables in an effort to recapture the old heartbeat of the tax-cutting Reaganism.  No one is listening. They’re too bust tuning in to Beck, Limbaugh, Coulter, Ingraham, Savage and others who have no material that doesn’t inflame thehatred of the southern-based evangelical heart of the party.

Again there is something they have overlooked- the ugly head of demographics in an ever-changing face of the electorate.  You didn’t really think they are racially insensitive because of their extreme patriotism did you?  It all has to do with how those new citizens will vote. Sure there may be some defections in the mid-term elections but as long as the Republicans have no new ideas and Democrats vote the result is certain.

Meanwhile, back at the eighth grade history class I always told my students that the strength of the two-party system was that two strong parties offer a choice for the American people, a choice between this and that.  Not a choice between this and WTF !

One obvious clue showing the superficiality of the Conservatives is an examination of the argument always involves money and patriotism.  Never what’s best for the American people, never what’s good for the environment, never what the polls show the American people actually want.  Simply take care of the corporations, the banks, Wall Street and hope that a few crumbs will wander down thru the ranks and help those that were of so much interest to Jesus Christ, the embodiment of the Conservative dogma and ideology.

You gotta hand it to them though.  You have to respect the power and ability of a political party that can convince people throughout the country and heavily in the South that getting them covered by a public health option is a bad thing because they run the risk of being a little too Socialist.  Never mind that complete financial ruin that comes with severe family illness, the break-up of families, kids that can’t go to college, suicides, and general mental trauma experienced by those dealing with family members struck by cancer, alzheimer’s, heart disease and having no obvious way to pay for expensive treatment.

Keep it up Republicans, the country is going nowhere with your lack of ideas and obstructionism, but at least at the age of 58 I seem safe in the belief that there will be a Democrat majority for the rest of my life.  Perhaps we can actually get something done, or, maybe we’ll just elect Dick Cheney in 2012 and just hope it all works out. WTF  !!

By Ron Sebestik

One man’s trash…

(This is a repost from a blog I wrote on June 4, 2007)
Early Monday morning about 1:30am, my friend Kevin and I were sitting in my apartment talking and browsing the Internet when I suddenly had an idea for a picture that I wanted to shoot. I got up and headed out to my car to get my tripod and when I stepped outside I looked up at the clear night sky with an near full moon shining as bright as ever and was taking my time as I was enjoying the coolness of the night. I happened to glance over to my right and noticed that the area just down the road near where the trash dumpsters are seemed unusually well lit for there not being that adequate of a light source nearby. I stepped out a little farther in the road to catch a better glimpse at what might be illuminating the area and noticed that a car was parked facing the dumpsters with it’s lights on. At first I thought, “no big deal, someone probably just dropping someone off for the evening” and went about my business. I stepped a little farther out and then noticed that a figure moving about from within the dumpster itself. “That’s strange”, I thought. My natural reaction to seeing this was that maybe someone had thrown away something of value that they needed to get back. Having seen the rather comedic appearance of someone with a flashlight rooting through trash naturally appealed to me, so I quickly ran back inside to get my camera and snap a picture of this “dumpster diver”.
When I came back outside after grabbing my camera I noticed that he was already gone. Kevin followed me out this time and offered up the suggestion that perhaps he was driving over to the next dumpster. Kevin went one way, I went the other, and together we plotted a scheme at capturing this guy on film. As I approached the car I suddenly noticed that the diver had a child with him and immeadiately thought to myself that maybe this wasn’t a case of finding something of value that was thrown with the trash, but instead maybe this was a case of survival of a family that was down and out. I continued to approach the car and when I came within distance I asked the gentleman who at this point was standing just adjacent to the dumpster what he was doing. He responded by saying that he does this all of time and that he wouldn’t be much longer. The way in which he said it made me think that things might not be as they had originally and secondly been thought of, so I asked him what it was exactly that he was in search of. He said that was going through the trash to find anything that people might throw away that he might be able to sell. Now this both intrigued me and also irritated me at the same time. I told him that the area was private property and that he was in fact trespassing and also that going through the trash, albeit the belongings of people that had been discarded, could be construed as an invasion of privacy due to the fact that quite a lot of information can be gained just by going through some one’s garbage. He told me that he had already spoken to the police before about the matter and that he was indeed allowed to do so.
After hearing all of this I had the idea of asking him if I might take some pictures of him as I thought it was somewhat interesting that he was actually doing this. I also told him him that I sometimes write articles for my website about odd and interesting happening that I find every once and a while and that I thought this might make a good story. At first he was very skeptical and it was only after assuring him that I would not take any pictures of his son or his face did he agree to allow me to take some pictures. I properly introduced myself to him, and although his name escapes me now, some four hours later, I’ll just call him John.
This is John.
John was thirty-one years old, married with a child and disabled. Since John did not work, he used this as a means to add extra income to his wife’s job for their family.
During his recent excursion through our apartment complexes dumpsters, John found a television and an AIWA tabletop stereo system, that upon inspection, seemed to be in proper working order only needing some attention to cleaning the exterior free from dirt.
John had also found a vacuum cleaner that he would add to his collection of items that people had thrown away in hopes of turning a profit.
Amongst the television, stereo and vacuum, John seemed most proud to find a microwave that someone had tossed.
John said that a lot of the times what he finds is either a hit or a miss, and considering that what he finds is considered trash, I can see where that would ring very true. John asked me if I was familiar with the phrase, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, and for John, this night seemed to hold quite a bit of bounty for this entrepreneur of waste.
One box that John found contained a rather expensive game controller for a computer.
Some of the items that were thrown out seemed rather unusual items to be trashed, such as stuffed animals.
John said more than likely, items like this would be donated rather than sold.
John had been doing this for about ten years after some friends of his when they were younger were out one night and had gone to a local potato chip factory and and found hundreds of bags of chips in the dumpsters. He said that this gave him the idea that there might be more than just chips to be had. I asked him, and all together John claims to have made about ten to twelve thousand dollars off his decade business endeavor. He has sold items on eBay as well as rummage sales. Some items that John finds he says that he keeps for his own use. He even claimed to have found twenty dollars in a purse that someone had discarded along with a Louis Vuitton purse which allegedly sold for the sum of four-hundred dollars on eBay.
I asked him if there were days of the week which proved to be more fruitful in his finds and he said that Sundays and Tuesdays were the prime days to go searching. John rounds out his searches by splitting up his time throughout various parts of the city spending only a few hours a night doing it and usually wrapping up around three o’clock in the morning.
When I was done taking pictures I stuck around for a few minutes and discussed a little more with him about his unusual occupation and I grew a respect for the man. He seemed to take pride in what he does and I must admit, I admire him for doing so. We discussed the American dream and how that it seemed to be a dream that fades a little quicker each morning after waking up, but it’s people like John that recognize that it is a dream that can be lived out in a number of different ways. Some people achieve it behind the desk of a corporate office, some in the field of service, and some in the middle of the night with a flashlight and the hopes that the things we no longer need will soon become the things that pays the bills.

Holiday travels in Central Illinois

Interstate 74/Mansfield exit

Interstate 74/Mansfield exit

The end of the years brings about the gathering of friends and family which in most instances means that the residents of Central Illinois will be traveling to and fro. Having been hit with snow and ice that began shortly after Christmas morning, road conditions worsened in some parts and crews have been working to clear the path for holiday travelers; however, caution should always be heeded while on the road despite how clear they might appear.

Instersate 74

Interstate 74

Often times accidents can be avoided if the proper respect is given during in-climate weather. Speed can be a major cause of most avoidable accidents while driving on icy roads. According to weather.com, one shouldn’t assume that all vehicles can handle all conditions, meaning, if you drive a large truck or sport utility vehicle you should handle it much as you would driving a smaller car. Decreasing your speed and allowing as much as three times the space as normal can also help in preventing an accident.

Interstate 74

Interstate 74

Some accidents are unavoidable despite taking every measure in preventing them. If you find yourself in a position where you are stranded along the highway, the most important thing to make sure you have is a means to stay warm. This means ensuring that your car is properly stocked with warm blankets. Hand warmers can also be an invaluable thing to have as well. One tip is to also make sure that even if you are going out for just a short drive that you dress appropriately. A lot of times if we know we’re not going very far we might not bundle up like we should and this can prove to very dangerous, even fatal, if we’re not careful.

Tonight is New Year’s Eve, and I urge everyone to enjoy themselves as they gather around to bring in 2010 and to be as safe as possible.

The Krekelympics: “My boy says he can eat fifty..”

Image courtesy of Krekelympics

Image courtesy of Krekelympics

If you’re a native of Central Illinois, then you’re certain to have eaten at what can only be described as the best burger joint around, Krekels.

A favorite among high school and college kids, it was the place where two years ago, a group of Eisenhower alumni happened to have run into one another while back  from college. Enjoying the familiar taste of friendship and of being home again, they quickly locked in the idea to see who among them could down as many of the famous burgers as possible and to ultimately be declared the champion of the group. After the first year was deemed a success, it was decided that they would all meet back at Krekel’s the following year to propose the same challenge. Only this time, they would have a following of their very own. “The idea blossomed that we should just have a formalized competitive eating (event) at Krekels the next time we all came home.” said Ryan Smith, one of the event organizers. The 2008 Krekelympic games had been opened.

The second annual Krekelympics began today at the Colonial Mall location at 1355 N Illinois Route 48 near Millikin University with a registration time of 12:30pm and a kick-off time of 1:00. Participants, like in 2008, will pay a $30 entrance fee which buys their food. Any remaining money will be donated by the group to the Northeast Community Food Drive. Todd Teel, owner of Krekels, will donate half of the food cost for the event to the same charitable organization.

Just what can be expected at this years Krekelympics? An increase in the number of people wanting to prove their endurance for one. “This year should be quite a bit different” Smith went on to say. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it doubled”. Last year the contest moved around to each of the five locations in Decatur, however, this year it will remain at the Colonial Mall location.

The two main events will be the Sprint challenge, in which contestants will try and eat as many double cheeseburgers as they can within a ten minute period. The second, the Endurance Event, consists of several twenty minute rounds in which each contestant is given a double cheeseburger and fries and continuing on until only one is left standing. Spectators, or anyone not wishing to participate but still want to support the cause, can pay $15 for a lunch.

Krekel’s has been a staple of the Decatur community for decades and with the rising success of the Krekelympics, well, it just goes to prove that the legacy of the small, family owned business will be sure to continue on for decades to come.

You can become a fan of the Krekelympics on Facebook by clicking here.

-Travis Lickey

Merry Christmas and Happy day where we all lie to ourselves by making promises we’ll just break on January 2nd.

Tis the eve before Christmas and as I sit here typing this, in the room next to me a mass of food is being prepared for this evening’s festivities and calorie filled gluttony, I would like to take this moment to wish you all a very warm and happy holiday season this year  I wish that the feelings the holiday’s brought about didn’t leave us throughout the rest of the year and that people could find it within themselves to treat one another as a brother or a sister. At the very least, the neighbor that borrows things from us and we choose to tolerate them because they have a really nice grill and we just love being invited over for cookouts and free beer during the summer.

Some of us have lost loved ones this year while others have loved ones that won’t be able to make it back home at all, and they will be missed. Unless of course it’s that one relative that always comes around wanting charity. I would be a hypocrite though if I didn’t tell you to go ahead and give of yourself, even to the people that don’t deserve it, because when it comes right down to it, none of us really deserve anything at all, and that’s where the true spirit of Christmas can be found.

I had planned on this post to be me somewhat more profound and lengthy, but I’ll let the simplicity speak for itself, that, and more family is pouring in and I’m freakin’ hungry..forget the presents.

I bid you farewell and and again, the warmest of holiday cheer to you and your friends and family. My nuts are burning.

 

Chestnuts.

Number two doesn’t have to be second best.

BathroomMore often than not, when my pants are down, I find myself settling for second best. I’m talking about bathrooms, of course. I choose not to use the term restroom because I have never rested while on the toilet. In fact, I always seem to find myself in the position of working harder than I normally would during any other part of the day and it’s usually the only time that you will ever find me breaking a sweat. I hope you never find me breaking a sweat while in the bathroom, unless you’re an old blind man sitting near the sink  ready to offer me a warm towel and relationship advice. In that case, watch me all you want to. You’ve earned the right.

Public bathrooms offer nothing more than disappointment. Dirty floors, dirty sinks with empty soap dispensers, magical automatic paper towel dispensers that never work, cramped stalls with locks that don’t lock and toilet paper that couldn’t soak up the tears of a small child. It’s already bad enough being forced into the position of needing to befoul yourself in a public place and hoping to the good lord above someone doesn’t grab your ankles mistaking your groans as a sign of flirting, but having to preform such a vile act in such a vile place simply makes you feel even worse about yourself than before you walked in.

To begin with, I’m the type of person that prefers making poopie in the comfort of my own home. Sitting atop a familiar bowl instead of some foreign toilet with a cold welcome. Sitting in a seat on an airplane or in the back of taxi is bad enough with you replacing the recently vacated seat only to feel the fresh warmth of strange ass, but to realize that your naked flesh is about to come into contact with a surface that was just in contact with a complete stranger’s under carriage? I’d rather be stopped up for days with no relief in sight. Nevertheless, sometimes the deed must be done and so you find yourself swallowing your pride and expelling the pride you swallowed the night before.

This leads us to the exciting part of this blog, for me anyway. Earlier today I was walking through our local mall and the urge hit me and I knew it was time. Normally my body affords me a few warnings before the big event, but not this time. I was like a woman whose water had broken during a romantic dinner out on the town with her husband; leaping up, knocking over glasses, grabbing my stomach and yelling “My god, Frank! This is it” while everyone around suddenly stirs into a quiet panic over the miracle that is about to happen. Except, no miracle would be coming from me this day. All things sin and damnation? Yes.

I walked into the public restroom just off one of the wings near the food court. Instantly I recognized this as a poor decision on my part. Too many people were around thus giving way to the chance that I would not be able to find the solace that this expulsion from paradise required. It was then when I was reminded of what I now affectionately refer to as, The Secret Room. The Secret Room isn’t really a secret at all, but in a way it is because it is a distinct part of this particular public bathroom that goes mostly overlooked. A few minutes walk from the bathroom that I was currently in and I soon found myself standing in front of the place where a king’s bathroom had been made. Bergner’s.

BergnersWhen you’re in a department store you don’t really give too much thought to the idea that they have a public bathroom unless you either really need to go or you have children. Bergner’s has it’s bathrooms located on the upper level, but unlike most department stores, their bathrooms are not located near customer service or those swinging doors leading into the backrooms. Instead, they are located at the back of the bedding department. Despite this convenient location in relation to the comfort of bedding, I will still not be calling it a restroom, so don’t hold your breath.

When you walk past the memory foam pillows and down comforters you come to a narrow hallway which leads to a single door. Upon opening the door your experience in the bathroom could be like any other in any number of public bathrooms unless you are fortunate enough to notice out of the corner of your eye that fortune has presented you with the multiple choice. Option A: The aforementioned cramped, pseudo-private stall(s).

Option A.

Option A.

Or, Option B: The luxurious and spacious bathroom quarters of…the wheelchair accessible room. That’s right, a room. This ain’t no stall, baby.

Option B. aka Heaven.

Option B. aka Heaven.

I know what you’re probably thinking right from the start. I’m not in a wheelchair, therefore I don’t have the right to use this facility. I freaking beg to differ. Besides, considering the nature of the act itself, I’m not going to overstay my welcome in the bathroom any more than I need to. It’s not like I’m parking my car in the handicapped spot and taking my time inside of Wal-Mart trying to find the best five dollar movie in the bin. Well, giving that a second thought, and seeing the fine, fine quality of the option b, I might grab the Wall Street Journal, bring in a cup of coffee and sit a spell. Okay, okay, so this is what I will call a restroom. Can you blame me, though? It’s private. I’m sealed away from all manner of outside interference. Short of being sound proof (which it might as well be) I can make sounds that I feel comfortable enough to make and not worry about the contorted faces they will impose on those standing at the urinals just beyond a thin wall made of  particle board wall. I mean, look at this place:

Look at the leg room!

Look at the leg room!

There's enough room to even do your dishes!

There's enough room to even do your dishes!

If you’re going to be one those people who strongly opposes my right to freedom of bathroom choice because I am not physically challenged, I present this little fact to you. Walk back down the mall about halfway and walk into Von Maur. Von Maur 1Von Maur is another department store within the same mall that also has public bathrooms for its clientele, however, one need not to be in a wheelchair or have any sort of physical limitation to enjoy the luxuries that await them when Mother Nature calls. No physical limitation that is unless you happen to be a man.  It’s a common misconception that only women would prefer bathrooms that offer more than just a toilet. Men, if ever given the chance, might also enjoy the chance to sit comfortably, perhaps even have a television where they can sit around and watch sports while their lady-folk are off and about. Stick in a vending machine, and ladies, your husbands will beg to go shopping with you.

In reality, though, Von Maur probably has taken the luxury of their bathroom too far:

The crapper on Air Force One isn't this nice.

The crapper on Air Force One isn't this nice.

I shouldn’t complain though. Yes, yes I should, because if you walk to the other side of the store and into the men’s room this is what you’ll find:

Guantanamo Bay?

Guantanamo Bay?

I’m kidding, of course. It actually has a door on it.

-Travis Lickey

I think I love you. So much, even.

TLThe freshman post of any new blog is always touch and go, much like many of my first dates. Naturally, I want things to go smoothly and I hope that I won’t come across as being an awkward, socially inept, psychological case study who is fumbling around for the right words to say in front of a pretty girl. You the reader, you are my pretty girl. All that I ask is that you please be patient with me and don’t get up halfway through reading this to “use the bathroom” only never to return. That’s a silly thought, isn’t it?  It is your computer, after all. Of course you’re going to come back. This date is going great so far!

While sitting there in your fancy dress (did I tell you how beautiful you look tonight, by the way), you might be wondering where exactly is this date going. “What’s this guy all about? Does he work? Does he still live with his parents? Has he killed anyone?” you ask. Well, allow me to put those worries to rest. Yes, I do work, and no, I live on my own. Now that we have the formalities out of the way, let’s move on to the part of the date where I insist that you are very thirsty and you really do need to drink that glass of wine I just placed in front of you.

If you have read this far then hopefully that signals that our date going very well and that there will most likely be a second date. That, or you’re simply going to wake up next to regret in the morning. Either way, I am glad you’re still here because that means we can get to the intimacy of this post.

This website (where we’re having our date) is my new place, my bachelor pad, my studio apartment and I’m inviting you stop by as often as you would like and even when you might not feel like it at all. I might cheer you up, I might not, but you’ll always find one thing on this site that will remain true: my willingness to entertain, and I’m only willing because I’m actually getting paid to write for this website. If I wasn’t, hey, there’s always the Dave Barry section of your local newspaper. I am your host, and you are my guest. Let’s keep it that way. Yeah, you can stop by, but really, let’s just leave it at that. I mean, if you get too comfortable then it’s really not my place anymore…it’s both of ours. I may say you can always call this place home, treat it like you would your own, but beyond that, keep that damn front door closed and don’t touch my thermostat. I’m not paying to heat the entire Internet here, you know.

I got off onto a tangent. I apologize. It’s getting late. Can I refill your drink?

-Travis Lickey

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