The Not So New Internet Marketing – Just a Bigger Hammer

I’ve had the opportunity in recent weeks to attend two Ottawa gatherings on blogging.

One was based on the Mom and Pop Blogging phenomenon. The other was a more general one, WordCamp Ottawa, organized around WordPress, the behemoth which provides the host services and blogging software used by many, including this site. The organizers of both events, volunteers all, are well-intentioned, energetic and enthusiastic – my comments are not directed at them.

My perhaps wide-eyed hope was that these events would improve the intellectual resources and Internet tools to, as they say, enhance the blogging experience – you know, write meaningful insightful commentary, reach out to interested audiences, and so on.

Colour me Naive.

No, the principal focus in these two events, at least that I detected,  was how to market better – “better” meaning how to impose endless advertising on an exponentially-increasing population of unsuspecting Internet innocents.

In sum, the key take-aways I left with:

  • inflate the evident status of your site (website, social media page, etc) by buying hits, Likes, Followers, etc, from a host of on-line services
  • garner a collection of admiring and positive reviews for your product by buying them from even more on-line services
  • generate lengthy email address  lists of potential targets using bots and other software tools
  • target all these addresses mercilessly

Some of the things I learned before I left each event early in dismay if not disgust:

The prestige of a company, initiative, or website is generally measured by the number of Likes (Facebook), Followers (Twitter), Views (YouTube) or other Internet social media popularity metrics.

Google, WordPress itself, and other Internet god-like beings judge these metrics and raise the subsequent visibility of a given site closer to the top of search results.

So how does one reach such levels of recognition?

One might think this might be achieved by actually having something worthwhile to say or sell which is respected, sought after, and admired by readers or customers. Sure, that’s one way, if you’re as naive as I was before being educated at blogging symposiums.

No, all one has to do is simply to buy Facebook Likes, Twitter Followers and the equivalent for other social media.

Do a search on “Buying Facebook Likes” and you’ll be astounded – or again, maybe that’s just me.

One can buy thousands of Likes and Followers for a few cents each, and within days you too can have over 10,000 Followers or more than 10,000 Likes!

And as one of the early speakers at the WordCamp noted, it’s a lot cheaper to buy Likes from countries like Afghanistan or Iraq, which aren’t as valuable as ones from North America or Europe, but Hey, they push up your Likes total and that’s got to be good, right?

Mind you, as this speaker also mentioned, there are limits that must be respected, yes sir. For example, Twitter will allow sites to generate only 1000 Followers a day – Google Forbid! So one has to take endless time to generate 10,000 Followers to reach that particular state of Internet Nirvana.

Some of the sites selling these dubious services do so without pretence – they state clearly they are selling fake Internet IDs – IDs that they create internally in their domain by the thousands, with no actual real persons behind them. Others are more brazen, touting their products as Real! People! – sure, and I have some waterfront property in Florida for sale.

So if through this dubious ploy everyone can inflate their site reputation metrics, where is the bar now set – how do Google and other Internet analytics systems that ultimately lead to Search Engine placement achieve a rational result? Well, frankly, Google only knows.

But wait, there’s more!

Back to same symposium speaker: one can use a piece of Bot software to trawl through the IDs of anyone foolish enough to visit one’s sites to harvest email addresses, adding to them to those voluntarily putting their addresses into a contact form, and dumping them all into a list that said site owner can convert to a new ever-growing mailing list, all waiting to be inundated with product ads.

And to make this list-generating process more bearable, one can use software that will automate the mouse-clicking – no need to waste precious milliseconds and risk carpal tunnel syndrome adding addresses individually to the list.

But it’s okay – this is not spam, nossiree, not at all. We were assured this were proper Internet research techniques and the subsequent deluge of promotional material is not spam. And of course recipients can just unsubscribe, can’t they – of course they can, heh heh heh.

And in a slightly different approach, need some good reviews to bolster your product’s reputation and price? – no problem. Search: “Buy Reviews” and stand back in awe.

A few come-on bullets from one of these sites:

“- Get Paid Blogging on your favorite subject.

– The best way to monetize your blog is to write honest reviews about other websites.

– You get paid per post. The more you post the more money you make.”

You get the idea – for a fee bloggers will write glowing commentary on any given product that can be posted on the product’s website and cited as Good Reviews. I’m not sure what this says about the bloggers who so easily sell their opinions, but it certainly says a lot about the loose ethics surrounding the concept.

And all those “Work at home, make thousands of $” come-ons? – yup, in many cases those are the zombie-like mouse-clickers that metrics-sellers and review-generators are selling to inflate sites’ metrics.

I’m not quite sure what is more disappointing about all this – the brazen presentation of these questionable techniques and the self-justifying/rationalizing thought processes behind them, or the seeming general acceptance of them by an audience taking notes furiously.

So here we are.

A number of baldly offensive marketing ploys at play, provided with a very loose plausible defence argument.

Sites boasting huge numbers of admirers who behind the facade are either non-existent or generated using obscure domain IDs.

Questionable reviews of products on sites which seek ultimately to promote their own products, or their approval of a suite of products, i.e. for parents, pet-lovers, etc. Cause to rethink those Amazon.ca reviews?

Endless generated and self-replicating email lists which, one has to presume, have become a marketable commodity in themselves.

In general, a brazen marketing framework which insults us all and will fill our email inboxes with endless spam for months if not years to come.

One hopes that the Googles, Twitters and Facebooks might be a bit concerned about this, but then perhaps the same mercenary marketing approaches are far too embedded.

So the next time a Generation-whatever condescendingly counsels us Boomers about the errors of our ways and the superficial society we have bequeathed to them, just tell them “Love to chat, mate, but have to get busy and buy myself another few thousand Likes and Followers – Qumran domains are looking pretty good just now.”

Speaking of which, you’ll have to excuse me, I have to get busy and boost my Likes and Followers.

Let’s see, how about some from Carpathia and Patusan – should be able to get those for a few cents each.

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“I’m as mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

The post title are not my words, but from the film Network (1976). This unforgettable quote by Howard Beale (the late Peter Finch), is one of a treasury of lines from that movie that remain scarily relevant today.

But this has nothing to do with the Diefenbunker, archives research, and the meaning of life.

No, what this is about is the dreary return we’re facing to Parliament’s Question Period and associated public appearances by far too many politicians, all uttering what have become far too many and far too predictable partisan inanities.

Yes, I get it – we have a parliamentary democratic system which is based on national political parties, and if a Canadian wishes a chance at grabbing the political golden ring, he/she best get in line with the party he/she chooses or who chooses him/her. You dance with the one what brung you.

But once an individual is firmly in the clutches of a given party, what is required? What sensibilities and earlier intellectual conduct must be foregone, to be seen to be a loyal and productive party member? Is there nothing the a politician won’t do to be in the party’s good books?

Sadly, it seems, no.

There is nothing too petty, too laughable, too embarrassingly jejune, that will not be seized on.

Witness question period in the House of Commons.

The many faces behind the principal speakers – no matter what party – move around to present a comforting complete backdrop of party faithful for the cameras.

Every theatrical word, gesture and question is greeted by heads nodding in sage agreement, small smiles to indicate the shared insider knowledge, and applause at scripted intervals.

When a party leader emotes and utters yet another juvenile riposte or bon mot, the supporting cast erupts into applause and laughter.

Oh my, how we laugh! How we clap our hands! How we jeer the other side!

One of our fearless leaders has scored another one!

And observing Canadians wonder – is this what we’re paying taxes for?

We see the same at any press conference, regardless of the issue or who is speaking.

First, line up some living wallpaper behind the speaker (see above: sage agreement, small smiles of insider knowledge).

Statements are read, questions are posed and everything leads to the same depressing result.

It’s not actually what the party speaking intends to do – it’s what the other parties haven’t done, won’t do, or have no policy for. And by the way, here’s a complete non-sequitur about party X and by God wasn’t that clever!

I don’t pretend to assume I speak for Canadians, so this is just me here – but don’t you political people get it yet?

I’m not interested in hearing you recite what your clever speechwriters have crafted for you about the other parties – there’s actually not much light between all your policies where you have expressed them, and ultimately, it doesn’t much matter which party directs the government’s hand that is deep in my wallet.

What I expect from our political leaders, what I think I have a right to expect, is pretty simple – a clear expression of the issue, and a clear expression of how to address it.

And now here’s some heresy for you folks up on the Hill – often the other guys may have a pretty good idea in a given area, and it would make you all look like better if not more intelligent persons if you were to acknowledge that and use it.

But no, we’re doomed to a predictable and endless litany of faults laid at the feet of the other parties, regressing into exchanges which would not be out of place in an elementary school playground. – apologies to elementary school students.

My questions to all you folks, then – and not really expecting an answer, but I just have to ask:

As you posture in Question Period, laugh uproariously, applaud any comment, don’t you ever ask yourselves:

Is this really where I thought I’d be, at this time in my life, acting like a mindless cheerleader? (and apologies now to cheerleaders)

Is this what my undoubtedly significant professional and intellectual achievements have brought me to:  behaving like a puppet on a string, head nodding like one of the bobble-heads in the back window of a car, smiling endlessly like a painted clown? (and of course, apologies to puppets, bobble-heads, and painted clowns.)

Will I continue to sacrifice my intellect, scruples and professional attributes to be part of this?

If the answer is “Yes” to any of these, congratulations, open Door 1 and carry on as you are now.

But maybe there’s a few among you who have visions of a different type of government?

Lines are open, operators standing by…….

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Lights, Camera and Action!

Several Carleton University senior Journalism students proposed the production of a short documentary as a requirement for one of their courses leading to graduation.

The exercise was a great experience as we filmed and interviewed our way through the Diefenbunker’s various rooms and hallways, and in downtown Ottawa at Library and Archives Canada.

Their product is on YouTube at Diefenbunker Research Project. It gives you a more informal description of the research I’m conducting and what I’m hoping to provide as a product.

Despite their claims to a technological solution, their cameras were unable to take years off. Oh well….

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Ice Floats, Doesn’t It? A Bit of Strange Science from World War 2

As the Diefenbunker research chugs on, and a writing plan starts to take shape and substance, I have a second project in the planning stages (that means it’s in the back of my mind, in a very dusty place).

The scheme was hatched by the UK War Cabinet, and notably Winston Churchill with Mountbatten’s enthusiastic engagement, to find a stop-gap to the attrition being inflicted by German U-Boats on the transatlantic resupply and reinforcement shipping.

Much of the route across the Atlantic was at the time (up to 1943) out of the range of the-then Allied aircraft to accompany/shelter the convoys, which were accordingly at the mercy of the German submarines.

Churchill pushed very hard for solutions to this threat, principally to get the UK through the critical period before the US was fully engaged in the European front. He argued for many solutions, some of which would today definitely be called “out of the box”.

One of these concepts was tested in experimental form in Canada, in the wilds of the Rocky Mountains, where I came across some references to it.

I’ve followed up those early hints with more research, into resources such as municipal museums and archives in that area, Library and Archives Canada, DND’s Directorate of History and Heritage and, most rewardingly, the UK National Archives – and of course the always valuable Google.

The UK resource is absolutely outstanding, with a very efficient search and ordering tool, and digitized historical records which go back, as might be expected, many centuries. It’s worth  a wander through if you have any interest in historical matters.

I have purchased a collection of digital material from the UK Archives of War Cabinet discussions and Allied meetings which relate to this project and similar ones, and all look to be extremely interesting.

This is not a new story, as it has been covered over the years in a number of small articles and clips. However it seemed to have appealed to only a small audience with particular interests, and did not receive wider traction.

There are some very interesting stories surrounding this project, not to mention the scale and inventiveness of the project itself, which deserve more examination and airing.

I hope to undertake that little research and writing project and as with the Diefenbunker project post some updates on progress as I go.

More to follow….

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The Research Challenge

I began on this quest when I initially volunteered to work in the Archives of the Diefenbunker Museum, and could not locate some of the material relevant to the design and construction phases of the Bunker.

After digging through some of what was available there, I proposed the research and writing project to the Museum Executive Director and her staff, and to some key Bunker volunteers with encyclopedic knowledge of that collection.

With huge if unrealistic optimism, I launched on a grander research scheme to see if I could find the so-far missing pieces.

I had to quickly put aside the notion that one undiscovered box of documentary gems would fall into my lap with all the data.

Not likely.

So I had to move out on a broader and more structured search for archival material in a variety of sources.

There are many resources available to a researcher on a mission.

These include material physically available in inventories in archival collections, on-line searchable catalogs and databases; people with a lifetime of expertise in library and archival matters; or individuals with personal knowledge of the event in question, ideally with a personal treasure trove of documents. One can dream.

It’s particularly fortunate to be located in Ottawa. Our National Capital has a rich collection of archival holdings in several locations, and I’ve become a denizen of most of them.

The City of Ottawa Archives is in a brand new facility in the CentrePoint area. As I’ve found with all archives staffs I’ve come into contact with, the City staff are extremely helpful and responsive. The City Archive holds an interesting collection of area newspapers going back some years. I was able to look at the Carp weekly paper , but unfortunately the collection did not have the years I was interested in (1959-61).

DND’s Directorate of History and Heritage, main offices off Walkley Road, has an extensive collection of archival material going back many years, obviously with a military focus. I was able to review several boxes of material of discussions on civil defence matters in general and Operation Bridge (the Diefenbunker) specifically complete with marginal comments and doodling of presumably bored senior Defence officials.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is our national archival resource. It is in a beautiful building from the mid-60s, with enough marble to satisfy a Roman emperor.

There is a dark science associated with doing research in the LAC, starting with identifying material that is relevant, and then determining how to request the appropriate references.

LAC staff are excellent in providing pointers to aspiring researchers, including sit-down assistance sessions if arranged in advance.

One rapidly becomes conversant with terms such as FA (Finding Aids), RG (Record Group – for example, RG 24 is National Defence), and the use of a range of catalog database search tools, culminating in requests for material for examination which is generally available within a few days. It appears that much of this material remains classified, but it’s not clear yet if this is a meaningful level of security protection, or simply reflects the fact that these particular materials may not have been requested before and thus have not had to be declassified. All other material associated with the Diefenbunker that I’ve come across to this point is indeed unclassified.

I’m a long way from earning my National Archives secret decoder ring and handshake, but the route there is fascinating.

The article on this project in the Ottawa Citizen (link on side menu) provided a tremendous boost in circulating awareness of the research. In the weeks since its publication, I’ve received a number of contacts from other researchers with similar interests, immediate family members of senior military and civilian engineers on the project, individuals who worked on the design and/or construction of the Bunker in a number of areas, and many now-senior members of construction companies and associations, all with personal knowledge of the original project, and with the possibility of long-buried project documentation.

This is all very positive and supportive, and demands a good handle on managing a myriad of information, contacts, and research possibilities.

I’m learning. Be gentle.

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We All Live in a Concrete Submarine

I mentioned in an initial post that one of the remarkable aspects of the design and construction of the Diefenbunker was the use of practices acquired during the design and construction of submarines.

This is referenced briefly in the original Foundation Engineering Corp project proposal from summer 1959 which makes allusions to experiences acquired in this area in the US, UK and Europe.

I haven’t yet put hands on any further documentation supporting this argument but I’m sure I will come across more detail soon.

At first glance, this might seem an unlikely cross-germination of sleek underwater steel killers, and a large, wide, deep concrete thing block buried in the Ottawa countryside.

But I’ll offer some speculation for now, and hopefully improve on it in the near future with more precise information.

No comments will be posted which attempt to compare HMCS Diefenbunker’s underwater achievements with that of our other fleet.

If you are familiar with the Bunker and particularly with firstly its building systems, and secondly the concept of spending many days locked into a constricted space, the parallel with submarine design becomes evident.

The Diefenbunker was equipped with a myriad of integral systems. Building systems would have included heating, ventilation and air conditioning; drinking and utility water; waste systems; building electrical networks including emergency lighting and access control power; internal communications systems such as telephone and PA capabilities; fire prevention, detection and warning systems; and so on. I may have missed some, or identified others poorly, but you get the overall idea.

In short, a nightmare of pipes, conduits, wires, plumbing and electrical junctions, to be installed efficiently but at the same time allowing for inspection and maintenance access.

Given that for cost reasons the Bunker structure was limited in size to be the minimum to fulfill its role, it’s understandable that spaces for these systems (typically in internal walls, and in ceiling and sub-floor areas) would also be severely restricted.

Consider also that these building systems required huge machinery, such as alternate power start-up and main generating engines, air and water heating and chilling units, and fuel and water pumping and storage resources – all requiring floor space and support and control systems.

I’m hyperventilating just thinking about it.

The Bunker itself was designed to be able to withstand overhead blast effects by setting it in a large gravel foundation, surround and overhead, this material being selected to absorb shock. But there was also the requirement to protect internal systems from damage from shock that might be transmitted throughout the structure. This resulted in some equipment being mounted on some of the largest springs you will ever see (larger ones can probably be found in the NORAD Headquarters underground complex in Colorado, supporting the building itself), and others being protected by some combination of damping systems – springs, suspension, and so on.

The Bunker also used submarine technology in lighting systems, such as bulbs and housings manufactured for use in submarines as best likely to resist shock damage. Furniture was frequently secured to the floor, as it would be in submarines.

So – submarine design practices were used to jam miles and miles of conduit, wiring, piping, and the like into very limited interstitial areas, and to make sure all of that was subsequently accessible for inspection and maintenance. They were also used to select and install various fittings and furniture.

And now, what about the second submarine design area – the psychological one?

Remember the worst case scenario for the Diefenbunker. It was designed to accommodate about 500 people for up to 30 days in a locked-in and isolated structure, with military hard-rations for food, and a potentially limited water supply for waste and bathing.

Consider also that this population of 500 would be a diverse group of army signals personnel, senior politicians and the Governor General or representative, federal emergency management staff, CBC studio staff, and civilian and military administrators to support this group – all with vastly different cultures, practices and expectations.

Some very generalized calculations follow – I can certainly be corrected on some assumptions., but again I’m aiming to give a general idea of the situation.

Let’s think about the space issue as one example. The Diefenbunker is about 100,000 sq ft over four floors. Actually it’s less than that internally, as the outside walls are up to 4 ft thick, reducing internal area to about 76,000 sq ft, or about 19,000 per floor.

A significant amount of building space is dedicated to machine areas, storage (fuel and water tanks, rations, equipment spares, etc.), the medical facility, entry decontamination showers, specialized communications areas, etc . There is also a Mezzanine for the dining facilities which takes up about half a floor. Let’s round this off to a loss of the equivalent of one floor of area – we’re now down to about 60,000 sq ft.

Now we have 60,000 sq ft for 500 people, averaging out at 120 sq ft per person – for all purposes: working, eating, sleeping. Bunk spaces and toilet facilities were for the most part gang spaces. Sleeping arrangements were for most staff on the hot-bunk basis, although there were a few single rooms, and two grandly-titled suites – small bedroom, office and bathroom areas for the Governor General and Prime Minister.

When you tour the Bunker, have a look at these Suites – you’ll never again complain about your hotel room.

So for what it’s worth, compare our calculated 120 sq ft per person to what you have in your apartment, condo or house – always with the opportunity to “step outside for some fresh air”.

Consider that 500 stressed individuals would be living in these incredibly confined spaces, that they might have to be secured in the structure for up to 30 days, and most importantly that everyone would be separated from their families who would have been left above ground, enduring whatever had happened.

What could possibly go wrong?

I suppose the first line of security might have been to secure all scissors and knives, but you can imagine that more would have been required – and indeed much more was applied in the planning phase.

Internal colour schemes were chosen from a palette of other than institutional colours. Light and cheerful colours were used in most locations. The ubiquitous and unavoidable main vertical pillars (to support the massive 5 ft in thick roof slab and distribute shock loads throughout the foundation) are 4.5 ft in diameter, flaring out to 10 ft in diameter at the roof and base, and equidistant throughout the structure at 22 ft centres and were equally painted a light “cheerful” colour. They also have visible vertical striping, intended to provide a visual illusion of greater height than was the case (similar to clothing fashions which recommend vertical stripes to suggest greater personal height for those who might not come by it naturally).

Thus – many well thought-out efforts to design the Diefenbunker for maximum efficiency, utility and protective effectiveness, with a nod given to addressing psychological consequences.

Maybe Das Boot is a better measure of the situation than Hunt for Red October?

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Diefenbunker Project – Ottawa Citizen Article Feb 4

I was extremely fortunate to have a long and very positive article in the Ottawa Citizen edition of Feb 4 on this project.

My thanks to the columnist Don Butler, and photographer Wayne Cuddington, for spending time with me over two days to capture the story. It was interesting and enlightening to observe professional media in action, and to read in the paper the product.

The article generating an amazing number of emails and blog hits from many sources, including fellow Ottawa bloggers Ottawa Start and Ottawa Rewind – where I hope we can explore many common interests.

I also received numerous emails at my project email box bunkerfacts@gmail.com from a wide range of interested parties – an engineer who had worked on the project, a former Army Signals officer who had spent a summer during his RMC years on the construction of the radio  transmitter and receiver systems, engineers who had been and in many cases still are active in construction associations in Ottawa and Ontario, and many colleagues from my military engineer days who also share an interest in historical matters.

Each of these inputs pointed me to even more potential sources, and my rewarding task is growing exponentially. Have to love the Blog world!

Keep those cards and letters coming!

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