Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Little Bit of History about Titherow Hills, Randolph County, Missouri

There is a region of Randolph County, Missouri that old timers like my parents (who were born in 1916 and 1917) called Tittterow Hills. Most if not all probably have not heard the name. How much area this name was applied to I do not know. It may have just been a couple of farms or a much larger area. I do know that it was in the area of farms owned once by the Robert D. Towles family between Darksville, Missouri and Cario, Missouri, well north of Huntsville, Missouri. I suspect much of it is in the area of Riley Lake, Thomas Brothers Lake, and Kohl Lake where a coal mining operation was once several years ago. The old Towles farms are described as being near Darksville, Missouri and north of Huntsville in old newspaper articles and this would be in the right vicinity.

I had always thought the name Titterow Hills had come from a dialectical use of Thither "to go to or towards that place" and row  and never really could make sense of it.  My mother never knew where the name came from, and I never asked other members of the Towles family. So yesterday I was going through old land grants at the Bureau of Land Management website just to see the other grants that were near my great grandfather Robert D. Towles' farms which I suspect he had gotten from his uncle William Payne Towles. The farms were scattered throughout what was then Howard County Missouri and later Randolph County. One land grant was in Macon County, Missouri. I found that my great, great grandfather Ben Eatherton for example owned land near my great, great, great uncle William Payne Towles, and that is probably how my great grandfather and great grandmother met.

As I was looking through the land grants I saw a name that struck me. The grant was to a John Titherow and made in 1833. That would have made him one of the earlier settlers of that part of the county. Apparently he did not stay long in the county as I can find no other trace of him in this region. He nor his family are mentioned in the county histories. There are no newspaper articles or obituaries about any of his family in the area, and no county records like marriage licenses. However, he stayed long enough to give his name to a region of the county. At what point they started calling the area Titherow Hills I do not know. It may have been as early as when he got the land grant. The name persisted until the late 20th century when the grandchildren and great grandchildren of those early settlers in the area began to die off. It may have never went beyond a few families that lived in the neighborhood of the Towles family. I wish my mother and aunts and uncle were still alive so I could pry them for more information. By the way the name Titherow is given in most other documents as Tetherow. The family was quite common once in Clay County Missouri.

Edit: I have since learned the land patent that John Titherow received in 1833 was near Armstrong Missouri in Howard County. This is some distance from the region of Randolph County I am talking about. Never the less he was near the Towles family in Howard County, and could have easily moved to Randolph County. It would only be a matter of moving north 20 miles just as the Towles family did. It would require checking land deeds from the early history of Randolph County many of which were lost in the fires of the various courthouses.

Edit:  More research shows it could also be in the area of the Towles farms of the Stokely William Towles family. These were farms owned by my great grandfather's cousin (son of William Payne Towles). The Towles Cemetery where he is buried is on Route DD which is probably the eastern edge of the Towles holdings while Oakland School sometimes called the Towles School was near the intersection of present day Randolph County roads 1645 and 1650. This is east of where I thought Titherow Hills was. However, the Towles farms ran westward towards Daksville, and my sister thought my great grandfather's farms were around the area of the intersection of county roads 1270 and 1275. So Titherow Hills is probably in the general vicinity of where I thought it was although it may be father south and east. It also could cover a much larger area than I previously thought.

Edit: After discussing it with others, one person said they remembered that their grandfather lived on Titterow Creek and his grandfather's farm was on  the gravel road which ran north from Route Z, that would be Randolph County Road 1270. I also learned  from the Bureau of Land Management website that my great, great grandfather Ben Eatherton's farm was on what is now 1270 on the north side of Route Z. My great grandfather probably had a farm nearby his father in law so I can probably say with some certainty that Titherow Hills was in the general area of county roads 1270 and 1275. 

To the Northwest is Darksville, MO,to the South is Huntsvile, MO, to the Southeast is Cairo MO,  and Jacksonville is to the Northeast.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Remembering Boot Hill a Wild West Role Playing Game

Of all the early role playing games, by far my favorite was Boot Hill. We had a long running campaign for several years in the mid to late '80s with four different judges (what the game master was called in Boot Hill) and a whole bunch of interesting characters. A player character might appear as an NPC in another game. For example at one point I had an outlaw hunted by one of my other player characters who was a Texas Ranger. I had three characters that survived long term during that campaign, and greatly enjoyed playing each of them. I first started playing Boot Hill in 1981 under the first edition. Those games were short and deadly, and never turned into a campaign largely due to player character deaths. I would not return to the game until about 1984 when our gaming group picked up a copy of the second edition. For the next six years we played it off and on going through all of the modules except for the last one, Range War, and a lot of homemade adventures. Many gamers complain that Boot Hill was too deadly, but due to how we played the game our characters survived. For one thing stand in the middle of the street, fast draw your revolver type of gun fights were rare in our games. In those six years of playing Boot Hill only two gunfighters were regularly played and the number of gun fights they fought in could be counted on one hand. Thanks to exceptional stats the two of them never received a mortal wound. They always outdrew their opponents. We also had a Texas Ranger that had a reputation as a gunfighter, but his stats and his reputation were such only a couple of NPCs ever called him out. All other shoot 'em ups our characters were in they dove for cover. We never shot it out at close range, and there was always something to hide behind. Thanks to this, our characters survived. I have to say I had more AD&D characters die than I did Boot Hill characters That is not to say there was not a large number of player character deaths in our Boot Hill campaign. It was Boot Hill after all. It is to say we did have several characters that survived long term. Usually if we retired a character it was because he had reached a point where his goals had been reached or in the case of some characters they went back East or left the country. Part of the reason our characters survived was because we were not playing in the real Wild West. We were playing the Hollywood version where only supporting characters and extras die. The heroes always survive. Too, everyone talks about how easy it was to die in the old West, but the truth is deaths were not as common in shoot outs as one would think. For example at the OK Corral only three of the eight participants died. Now this may sound like a lot, but it is not when you consider it took place at fairly close range with little cover. Our characters never would have let themselves be caught like that.

As I said I only ever played the first and second editions. The second edition is the one I am most familiar with. The rule book was not long. It consisted of only 36 pages, and much of that was combat rules. There really was no background material. You did not need it. There are thousands of hours of Wild West movies and TV shows and probably millions of pages of Westerns to draw on, not to mention history books as well as material from the era. For example, for prices of items one of our GMs obtained a Sears catalog from the 1870s. Another bought a book on guns of the old West complete with statistics. There was no problem in fleshing out our campaign. For setting we started out with the huge map of Promise City and surrounding El Dorado County that came with the boxed set. Later we designed our own settings using historical maps. The four modules further fleshed out our campaign. Smaller adventures published by TSR were also used.

First and second edition relied on percentile dice for much of the game. This was a first as most games of the time used six and twenty siders. Player characters had only six stats and they were, Speed, Gun Accuracy, Throwing Accuracy, Strength, Bravery, and Experience. There were no stats for charisma, intelligence, or wisdom as these would have no bearing on combat, and Boot Hill was about brawling and gun play. These stats were determined by rolling two percentile dice which were further modified by adding a certain number to the stat determined by a special chart. Thanks to this chart a player character was always above average in some way. Characters then received $150 to buy equipment and/or a horse. Character generation was fast and simple. The role player could then flesh out the character as they saw fit. We always developed fairly complex backgrounds for our characters. Some of the more memorable ones were Max Faraday, a Confederate Civil War vet with a PhD who made a living as a medicine show man. Another was an exiled Englishman of noble birth who had stolen the family's valuable signet ring and was being hunted for it. Even our more mundane characters were interesting. My character Tyler was a Kansas farm boy with exceptional strength from pulling a plow as his father could not afford a horse. He once killed a horse just by punching it in the head. His partner was Hammer, a young gunfighter with exceptional speed and gun accuracy trying to make a name for himself. The two had to leave the country when they accidentally blew up a train. The plan had been to blow up the tracks and make the train stop so they could rob it, but Tyler fell asleep and when startled set off the explosives just as the train was crossing them. They quickly became the most wanted duo in the campaign with a very high price on their heads wanted dead or alive.

Combat in the second edition of Boot Hill was deadly. Many role players have complained about how deadly it was. However, I lost as many AD&D characters as I did Boot Hill characters. In Boot Hill it was in all how you played the character. Combat was turn based. A character had a certain number of movement points, and different movements cost different amounts. How many movement points also depended on whether you were walking, running, or crawling. Once movement was done, gun combat took place. Characters fired in the order of their First Shot score and then tried to roll beneath their To Hit number, these numbers being determined by their stats with various modifiers. If a character hit they then rolled percentile dice to determine where they wounded the other character and the severity of the wound. The amount of damage done to a character's Strength depended on severity and where the wound hit the body. A shot to the leg may not mean much of a loss to Strength. A shot to the head could mean death.The final part of a turn was hand to hand combat which was fairly complex. The player character had to decide whether they were going to punch or grapple. A punch could be striking someone with one's fist or with an object like a whiskey bottle or revolver butt. The result of these were determined by a roll of two ten sided dice rolled and added together and checked against a chart, one for punches and one for grappling. These charts determined what kind of strike the character made and what kind of damage was done. In our games we allowed players to state what they were doing like making a right hook or hay maker so we dispensed with that part of the chart. There were also rules for running a campaign which came in handy if one had a long running game.

And that was about all there was to second edition. While I saw copies of the third edition of Boot Hill, and I think one of the gaming group even bought a copy in 1990 when it came out, we never played it. At the time our second edition campaign had reached an end point and for the most part many in the gaming group were getting out of gaming. I stopped playing role playing games for the most part in 1992 and in that last year all I played was Robotech. After 1992 I never played in a campaign of any game again, and only played a handful of stand alone games. That said I recently obtained a copy of the third edition of Boot Hill and have been reading it, acquainting myself with its rules. It is a totally different game. For one thing the rule book is about 130 pages long, much larger than the second edition rule book. The player character stats changed. In third edition they consist of Strength, Coordination, Observation, Stature (basically fame), and Luck. These are determined by rolling two ten sided dice and adding the two numbers together. This is the only time ten siders are used in the game. The result is further modified by a chart. Like the second edition, player characters are average or above. In addition to the change in characteristics skills were added. Player characters have work skills and weapon skills. No more than half of a player character's skills can be weapon skills. How many starting skills you can have are determined by a chart based on the character's characteristics. The most skills a character can start with is ten. Weapon skills start off at 1 point. One can add to this by taking another skill in that weapon. For example, say I want a 3 in knife and I start off with ten skills. When taking knife it takes one of my skills so I now only have nine with a score of 1 in knife. I raise it to 3 and now I only have seven skills I can get. Work skills work differently. One simply chooses the skill and the rolls two ten sided dice adding the results together to get the score. Some skills give an automatic score in another skill. For example if a player character gets Dentistry they get an automatic skill in Medicine of 6. Skill checks are made throughout the game. Simple tasks require no skill check, but more difficult ones do. For example a player character who is a doctor would not have to make a skill check for stitching up a minor cut, but were they to perform major surgery such as to remove a bullet from near the heart they would, and that would probably be with modifiers making it even more difficult to make the roll.Once the skills have been chosen, the player can flesh out the character on their own giving them a background, description, and so on.

One thing I have noted about character generation is that it is harder to say roll up a crack sharpshooter off the bat in third edition. One has to get the right stats which is easy enough if one gets lucky dice rolls, but then they have to invest in weapon skills to get the character's proficiency up as well as take the work skill Fast Draw and hope for a lucky roll with it. Given only ten skills it would be difficult to roll up a gunfighter capable of standing against seasoned NPC gunfighters. I see this as a failing in the third edition. Part of why we enjoyed the second edition so much was having someone with a fast gun hand, known far and wide for their skill. As I said we were playing the Hollywood version of the Wild West.

Another addition to Boot Hill with the third edition was an experience system. Under first and second editions characters did not advance. They pretty much had the same stats at the end of a campaign as when they started the game. In third edition so many points are given for say surviving a gunfight or bringing in an outlaw or other game play activity. When a player character has enough experience points they can use them to increase a characteristic score or increase a skill score. Thus at the start of a game a player character may have a knife/sword skill of 2, but be able to raise it to 3 after a couple of games by investing enough experience points.

Combat is more complicated than second edition in my opinion and relies on 20 sided dice instead of percentile dice. One thing I noted is that it seems a lot harder to get killed in third edition than second edition. Even if a player character gets a mortal wound a Luck roll is made and if successful the wound is reduced to serious. Until I actually judge or play a game though and see the combat system in action I do not know if it is harder or easier to hit a character in combat.

I plan to see if I can get a group of the old role players together, even if it is only two or three of us, and see if we can start a campaign using third edition. One thing that I am disappointed in is I do not have the Promise City map. I only have the third edition rule book. That map was invaluable to our campaign as our characters regularly returned to Promise City.

As I said Boot Hill was one of my favorite early role playing games. In fact the only role playing game I may have liked as much was Daredevils (a game set in the 1930s using the pulp genre of fiction as a backdrop).  I truly enjoyed those years I played it, and no doubt had my gaming group not drifted a part we may have continued to play it for several years. I think all totaled I may have played as many games of Boot Hill as I did AD&D. I have very fond memories of it, and recommend it to anyone willing to use a little imagination and careful play in making their characters come alive.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Birth of Oswin Edward Canote

I wrote this last year for one of my other blogs. It was ten years ago today that my son Oswin was born. I can still remember that day like it was yesterday. I had went to work at the Federal Building in Dallas that day. I was doing courtroom intelligence on the Harris vs. Ericsson case. It was a patent infringement case. I was on my last day as the trial was to end that day. We had just come off recess about ten in the morning when the judge asked if there was a Mister Berry Canote present. I answered, "yes." She then asked me to step outside into the hallway. I was wondering what I had done wrong, and was expecting US Marshals to greet me in the hallway. Instead a young law clerk asked if I was Berry Canote. I said yes, and he handed me a note and said "congratulations." The note said Tee was in labor. I was to meet the office manager of Teresa's office out front. We had just driven the one car that day so I needed a ride to her office.

Tee's office was only 10 to 20 blocks from the courthouse, but the drive seemed a lifetime. We got lost at one point. We got to the office, and I got Tee loaded into the car. Our hospital in Denton was some thirty miles away, and I drove the fastest I ever have on an interstate highway. I was hoping to get pulled over so I could have an escort, but wouldn't you know it, I never saw a patrolman or police officer the whole way. At one point a pickup who I guess realized what I was doing ran interference by passing cars and then slowing down so I could pass. Whoever that stranger was has always had my thanks. No sooner than we reached the hospital doors than Teresa's water broke. I got her inside, got her in a wheelchair, and got her up to the maternity ward. We had already done the pre-checkin sometime before so we would not have to fill out paperwork upon arrival.

Then came the waiting. I called her parents, and made some other calls. We had to arrange to make sure someone was at the house for when my stepson got out of school. Once that was done, I spent the afternoon comforting Teresa. I cannot remember when the delivery began, but it was in the evening. It was not an easy delivery. Her pain medications wore off, and it was so close to the birth they could not give her more. She had to have the birth totally natural. It took a while. Tee's nurse was a petite woman so the midwife had me hold one of Tee's legs while the surgeon who was on standby in case they had to do a cesarean got on the other. Just as the surgeon stated she wanted to do a cesarean, the midwife said no, and encouraged Tee to push harder. And out came Oswin. I still remember that moment. By then I was no longer holding Tee's left leg, and had come around to her right side. I was only a few inches from Oswin when he was born. His little chin bumped the bed when he was born which did not hurt him thanks to the cushioning. I cut his chord, and then the midwife handed him to me. It was the proudest moment of my life. It was probably about 8:00 pm at that time.

Tee had done all the work, but I was there, and got to witness the most amazing thing of my life. I held him for a moment and then handed him to his grandfather Red who was just as happy as I was. Oswin weighed in at 6 lbs. 12 oz. and was 19 inches long. They then took Oswin to the nursery to get cleaned up, and wheeled Teresa out of the delivery room to a recovery room. I went with Oswin to the nursery and watched them clean him up. I then went to spend time with Tee, and then they brought Oswin in to nurse for the first time. That was another amazing moment. About one in the morning I went home. I had to run back to the hospital as I did not have the house keys with me. We had left them in Tee's purse. I went back home and got up early the next day to go in to be with Tee and Oswin. The photographer came in and arranged to have Oswin's picture taken. Other than that Tee and I just talked and took care of Oswin when he would come in to nurse. I spent nearly all my time at the hospital the next couple of days. After three days, Oswin and Tee came home, and his life at home began. I had to care for Tee the next few weeks as the birth had been so difficult and taken so much out of her. She was bed ridden for a good deal of the time for several weeks. During that time I had full care of Oswin, and got adjusted to being a new father. He seemed so tiny and fragile. Still he wound up sleeping with us in our bed part of the time, and in the bassinet the rest of the time. He was well behaved for a newborn. He did not cry often, and keeping us awake at night was at a minimum. I have very fond memories of those first weeks of his life.

Even though Oswin is a growing boy now, and no doubt will grow to be taller than me (he takes after his maternal grandfather in that); a part of me will always think of him as that little baby. I miss him living so far away, but I am very proud of him. I could not ask for a better son. His mother is raising him well. I only wish I could be a better father. I feel I have let him down in so many ways. I have missed so much of his life with the distance. But I love him more than I have anyone in my life. Happy birthday Oswin!

Here is a poem I wrote for him a few years ago:

What did your parents do,
To make one as beautiful as you,
Not the stars in the sky,
Not the birds that fly,
Are as beautiful as you.

What did your parents do,
To make one as intelligent as you,
Not the gods high above,
Not the crows and the doves,
Are as intelligent as you.

What did your parents do,
To make one as sweet and gentle as you,
Not angels in heaven,
Nor the great elven kin,
Are as sweet and gentle as you.

You are the gods’ greatest creation,
Nothing they made can match you,
You are the gods; greatest creation,
Perfect in all you do.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Why I Will Never Go Back To Smoking

This post is partially informational. For those unfamiliar with electronic cigarettes (e-cigs for short) I thought I would explain how the ones I have used are constructed and how they work as well as introduce you some of the terms involved. For those familiar with e-cigs please bear with me.

I had my first cigarette at age 14. I started smoking regularly at age 15. Thirty-five years later I quit. I did so by switching to an electronic cigarette. Electronic cigarettes work by a battery heating liquid in a tank or cartridge into a vapor which is then inhaled. The liquid is commonly called nicotine juice. Nicotine juice consists of propylene glycol (an ingredient found in inhalers made for those with asthma), vegetable glycerin (found in many foods), food grade flavorings, and nicotine. FDA tests found small quantities of diethylene glycol in some disposable cartridges. If this is so it is probably the only harmful substance besides nicotine contained in some nicotine juices. It has been my experience though that most nicotine juice vendors advertise that their juices do not contain diethylene glycol, and consists only of food grade products.

I started off with a Cig2O brand kit. It consists of a battery and disposable cartridges called cartomizers containing nicotine juice. The cartomizers contain poly-fill which is saturated with nicotine juice and a wick down the center that heats the poly-fill. There is a a silicon cap covering the end of the cartomizer one puts in their mouth and a metal head at the other end that attaches to the battery. It looks like a tobacco cigarette. It even has a LED on the end to look like the cherry of a cigarette. This sort of e-cig is called a cigarette-look-a-like. It has a short battery life staying charged for only three hours with heavy use and taking two and half hours to charge. In Missouri a pack a day smoker would spend almost as much on cartomizers in ten days as they would a carton of cigarettes. It was for that reason I switched to an Evod by Kanger.

An Evod is a tank type e-cig consisting of a battery and a tank called a clearomizer. You fill the tank with nicotine juice which is available from many vendors online and at many local shops. In the clearomizer is a coil containing a wick which is heated to turn the nicotine juice into vapor. The coil is screwed into a head often called an atomizer. The atomizer or head screws off the tank so the tank can be filled with juice. The other end of the head screws onto the battery attaching the clearomizer to the battery. At the other end of the tank is the drip tip or mouthpiece through which one inhales the vapor. The Evod's battery lasts me about six hours and only takes about an hour and a half to charge. Using it is a much more pleasant experience than using a cigarette look-alike. It produces more vapor and has a better taste. You also can get a much wider range of flavors. It is also much cheaper to operate. I spend about $6.50 a week for nicotine juice to fill the clearomizer and about $6 for five coils. A coil lasts me about a month and a half if I clean it, the head, and the tank regularly. My nicotine habit which once costs me about $120 in cartons of cigarettes now only costs me about $48 a month in nicotine juice (which I buy in bulk) and coils (this is including the shipping and handling from ordering online).

Instead of smoking users of e-cigs refer to the action of inhaling nicotine vapor from an e-cig as vaping. The users refer to themselves as vapes or vapers. Vaping for me is a much more pleasant experience than smoking. There really is no comparison between smoking and vaping. To me vaping is like drinking cognac as compared to smoking which is like drinking rot gut whiskey. With smoking your clothes and hair smell of smoke which most find rather unpleasant. Depending on the flavor of nicotine juice the smell left from the vapor does not linger on your clothes or in your hair. While some find the odor of an e-cig unpleasant most find it much more pleasant than smoke from a cigarette. I find it more pleasant than most air fresheners and perfumes I am exposed to. With smoking your clothes are sometimes dirty from cigarette ash, and often you burn your clothes or upholstery.As there is no flame with e-cigs you do not have this. And with smoking your hands and teeth are often nicotine stained. With vaping there are no nicotine stains on your hands, and I have not noticed any on my teeth. Once a former smoker stops smoking and vapes for a while their ability to taste comes back and once this happened for me I found that cigarettes tasted nasty and I found the smell to be repelling. I tried smoking a cigarette a few weeks after not having had one. I thought at first it was just the brand of the cigarette (it was a  Pall-Mall) so a few months later I bummed a Marlboro Red.  While the taste and smell was not as bad, it still was not a pleasant experience. It makes me wonder why I ever started smoking. With an e-cig depending on the flavor of nicotine juice the smell and taste is rather pleasant. While some non-vapers may not like the smell of some flavors most I have talked to say e-cig vapor is more pleasant than smoke.

Then there are the health benefits. After having smoked for 35 years I was beginning to cough of a morning. I would sometimes cough for ten minutes after waking. On top of that my sinuses would give me problems and I would sometimes get a sore throat. If I exerted myself I would become short of breath. I could not run a very long distance without breathing heavily and having my heart pound. After vaping for six months I no longer cough, my sinuses are clear, and I no longer get sore throats. I can now run without getting short of breath or having my heart pound. On top of that I am now avoiding the 69 cancer causing chemicals known to be in tobacco cigarettes along with the 7000 other chemicals in your average cigarette. While I am not going to say the vapor from e-cigs is healthy for you or without risks, and simply using nicotine carries its risks, it is certainly healthier for you than smoking cigarettes.  My guess is that future research will find vaping is little more harmful than using a nicotine patch or nicotine gum.

Many former smokers have used e-cigs to quit using nicotine entirely. That is not my plan, but I understand it can be done quite easily. Nicotine juices come in various strengths with the most common strengths being from highest to lowest 36 mg, 24 mg, 18 mg, 12 mg, 6 mg, and 0 mg. 18 mg nicotine juice is supposed to be the same strength as a full flavor cigarette with the higher strengths being comparable to cigars or some pipe tobacco. By cutting back on the strength of the nicotine juice a vaper is using they are able to wean themselves off nicotine over several months. In this way an e-cig works no differently than a nicotine patch. The main difference is that vaping delivers nicotine in a way that a former smoker is used to. I know several smokers that quit nicotine use entirely switching to e-cigs and gradually reducing the amount of nicotine they were inhaling. And these are people that had tried numerous other methods to quit and not have them work.

One study done by the University of Catania in Italy on using e-cigs to quit using nicotine altogether found that  using low dosage e-cigs (only 7.2 mg) about 13% of smokers can quit nicotine completely using electronic cigarettes. Studies using nicotine patches have found 19% of smokers are able to quit using nicotine entirely using them but then this was using a much higher initial dose of nicotine than that used by the University of Catania's study of electronic cigarettes for quitting. Most studies using nicotine patches start at 14 mg strength which is almost double the strength of the e-cig cartridges used by the University of Catania. I suspect future studies of using electronic cigarettes for nicotine usage cessation will find them as effective if not more effective than nicotine patches. Maybe someday I will decide to quit using nicotine. If I do, I will simply start reducing the strength of the nicotine juice I am using gradually over several months finally using juice with no nicotine in it. Personally, I know more people that have quit using nicotine using e-cigs than I know than have quit using nicotine patches. I am therefore confident that should I decide to quit I can do so using an e-cig and reducing the strength of the nicotine juices I am using.

Electronic cigarettes have their critics. I am not among them. For me e-cigs were a godsend. I had tried nicotine gum, nicotine patches, Zyban, and Chantix to try to quit smoking. E-cigs were the first thing to work. Maybe someday I will decide to wean myself off nicotine. If so I will be able to do so in a way I am accustomed to. I will never go back to smoking unless e-cigs are outright banned or taxed to the point of being unaffordable. I find vaping much more pleasurable than smoking. I no longer strongly smell of smoke. My fingers are no longer nicotine stained. My breath is much more pleasant and my teeth much cleaner. I no longer burn holes in my clothing or the upholstery of my car or furniture. My car is much cleaner too. I used to have ash fall onto the floorboard console beneath the ashtray. I no longer have that. And vaping is much cheaper than smoking. I live in Missouri which is probably the cheapest state in the Union to smoke. Even so I was spending about $30 a week on cigarettes. This as compared to only $12 a week on nicotine juice.On top of all that I can breathe easier and my heart no longer races. No doubt I have probably reduced my chances of developing lung cancer or many other diseases of the lungs. While e-cigs remain largely untested I am convinced they must be safer than cigarettes. They probably do carry risks, but considering your average cigarette contains 7000 chemicals while nicotine juice probably contains less than 50 chemicals I think the risks must be much less. I will never go back to smoking. As I said, unless e-cigs are banned or taxed to the point I cannot afford them I see no reason to go back to smoking.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Why Have a Google+ Page for Your Business?

Everyone knows that Facebook is where the numbers are. According to Trendstream's Global Web Index,  Facebook had 693 million active users compared to Google+'s 343 million active users, and Twitter's 288 million active users for the last quarter of 2012. It would seem looking at just the numbers one would be best off focusing their energies in promoting a brand on Facebook. There is a problem with that, while a brand can reach every one of their followers on Google+ and Twitter theoretically, thanks to Facebook's EdgeRank a brand reaches only a small portion of their fans. Facebook filters the posts a brand makes on their page showing only the posts they feel are relevant to any given user. As a result only a small portion of a page's fans are reached. An example of this is my author page. It is a small page with only 1303 fans. Of those fans on any given post I reach at most only about 390 fans. For most posts I only reach about 200. So at most I am reaching less than a quarter of the people that have liked my page. Going by that if a brand has 1 million fans it will reach less than 300,000 people that like the page. This is not a big return on the time it takes to promote a page in order that folks will like it and see the posts. With Google+ and Twitter though a follower can, if they wish see nearly every post or tweet made by a brand.

Sadly though brands do not have a good track record with Google+. An example of this is CBS's page for the TV show NCIS on Google+. On Google+ the NCIS page has only about 14,093 followers. This is compared to over 16 million on its corresponding page on Facebook. Even given Facebook's filtering using EdgeRank, the NCIS page on Facebook is still reaching far, far more people than the NCIS page on Google+. Many Google+ pages are this way. They often have less than half a percent the number of followers on Google+ than they have on Facebook. There are probably a variety of reasons for this. Google+ is only a little over  a year and a half old giving Facebook a big head start, people on Google+ do not seem interested in following brands, and Google+ does not promote following brands the way Facebook does, but probably the primary reason people do not follow brands is not the fault of Google+'s staff or its users. It is the fault of the brands themselves. Brands do not readily promote their pages on Google+, or if they do it is not obvious. Brands do not always update their Google+ pages as often as they do Facebook. An example of this again are the NCIS  pages. The NCIS  page on Facebook is updated nearly daily while the corresponding page on Google+ is only updated every few weeks. As of this writing on March 27, 2013 the +NCIS page on Google+ has not been updated since March 5.  If folks see a page has not been updated on Google+ they are unlikely to follow it.

It need not be that way. In fact, the rock star of Google+ pages is the page of +Cadbury UK  with almost 3 million followers (its Facebook page has less than 400,000 fans). Unlike most brands Cadbury has promoted their page. They post several times a day, and even operate a community (the equivalent of a group on Facebook) in connection with the page. When Daria Musk did a concert via a Google+ Hangout for Valentine's Day, Cadbury UK gave away chocolates. While not as impressive as Cadbury UK, +Android Central  has 273,727 followers and like Cadbury updates their page often. They too operate a community and it has over 100,000 members. Android Central sometimes has promotions on its page like giving away free apps in Google Play to celebrate the page's first birthday. And they are always posting videos and other engaging content.  +NASA's page  is another successful page. Its page has over 473,000 followers. NASA posts several times a day often posting pictures or videos, and even hosts Hangouts on such topics as rising sea levels. The space agency even had a Hangout with the astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Each of these pages can reach as many people or more than their corresponding Facebook pages thanks to Facebook's EdgeRank. Google+ does not filter posts, and users can set put all their pages in a circle, and set it so they are notified when a post is made. Google+ actually makes it easier for a user to see a post made by a brand page unlike Facebook which has made it harder for posts to be seen.

Besides potentially reaching more fans with posts using Google+ as opposed to Facebook, there are other advantages to having a Google+ page. Posts from a brand page on Google+ appear in Google's search results. Facebook posts or tweets on Twitter do not do this. This gives posts on Google+ a sort of permanence. They will be waiting there to be found with a Google search time and time again (at least until and if they are deleted).  What is more, these posts will come up higher in a Google+ user's personalized results. For example, if I do a search on Google for "space exploration" results from NASA's Google+ page come up near the top of the list. So even if a Google+ user misses a post on Google+ from a brand page they may still see that post in a search on Google. Further if a link is shared on Google+ it will rank higher in one's personalized results. Say if my brother +Terence Towles Canote shares a link to a BBC news story on  Richard III and the finding of his body. If I do a search for "Richard III body" my brother's Google+ post will come up higher in the search results. In this way, Google+ users can refer other users to sites they like or recommend. If a business is promoting its Google+ page and posting links to relevant sites away from Google there is no end in how they can get their sites higher in search results on Google.

There is no reason a brand cannot have a successful Google+ page. And with it they can reach more people than they would with a Facebook page. With the fact a user can see every post made by a brand as well as the fact that a brand's posts and links will show up higher in search results there is no end to the amount of marketing a company or individual can do. Facebook may appear where the numbers are, but with closer examination it is easy to see one can potentially reach more people using Google+.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Google+ Tools: Websites to Help in the G+ Experience

So you are on Google+, several people have you circled, but try as you may you cannot get people to interact. This nothing new, most people have suffered from this at one time or another. Most often it comes down to you are posting at the wrong time (when no one else is on) or you are not posting content folks want to engage with. Most learn what to post and when to post through trail and error. However it need not be that way. There are websites that can help you. I make use of these, and since I started using them I have had a much better Google+ experience. I use three websites: Google+ Timing,  All My +, and Circle Count  Of these, I probably use Google+ Timing the most, so I will cover it first.

Google+ Timing http://timing.minimali.se/ is a website that reports what time your posts have gotten the most responses. It lists your top five posts, and the days and times those posts were made. There is a handy chart showing your best days for posting and then an hour ranking giving the time that your posts were made that got the most interaction. For a long time I could not figure out why I would post something of interest to a lot of people, and yet, I would not get any response. Other times, I could post something very similar and get tons of responses. Timing took all the guesswork out of it. I now know my best days and times to post, and have been using it to increase my social interaction on Google+. Timing updates all the time, so it is helpful to check it at least once a week. Your best posting times change week to week, and can change drastically during the holiday season. For example my best days and hours for posting during Christmas were totally different from what they were prior to the holiday season and what they were after.

Another helpful site is All my + http://www.allmyplus.com. It is a site that gives a variety of statistics such as an overview of the number of posts you have made and whether those posts were public or part of a community. These stats are broken down into the type of posts you have made: posts, photos, gifs, videos, and links. It also gives how many comments you have gotten and how many +1s you have gotten. These stats are helpful in various ways. You can see what kind of posts you make the most of, and you can tell whether you get more interaction on communities or public posts. Myself for example I get more +1s on my posts to communities, but I get more comments on my public posts. In addition to this overview it gives a map of where most of your interactions are coming from. For me most of the folks that interact are in the United States and the United Kingdom. You also get a handy set of charts on this site showing your posting behavior by day and hour. This can be combined with what you learn from Google Timing can be used to figure out how many of your posts are reaching people. You can then change when you post to a time you will get more interaction, and stop posting at times you don't. For example, I know from Timing that one of my top posting days is Wednesday, yet I can see from All my + that the only day I post less on than Wednesday on is Tuesday. My highest days for the number of posts I make are on the weekend. And while Sunday according to Timing is my top day for interaction (I think the fact my recent birthday was on a Sunday is skewing those stats what with all the birthday wishes I got), Saturday ranks fifth, and Friday ranks sixth. Yet according to All my + this is when I post the most. What I learned from this is I need to post more on Wednesday, and less on Friday and Saturday if I want more folks to interact with me. Another thing All my + does is show you your most popular posts by which one got the most +1s, the most comments, and the most reshares. This gives you an idea of what sort of content those that have you circled enjoy seeing. Finally, you can export all this data as a  CSV file. If you are a business and running a page this could be very helpful in mashing your numbers on reports of how well your social media efforts are doing.

The final website I am going to tell you about is Circle Count http://www.circlecount.com/. Of the websites to be used with Google+ is probably the one most people use. Circle Count gives you a record of how many people had you circled on a specific date. It can show whether you are having more people circle you or if you are losing people. For example, I can see in the past month I have steadily been having more people circle me than uncircle me with the exception of one day when I uncircled several inactives. You can also learn what circles people have you in. This is helpful in that it can tell you what you may have in common with the people that have circled you. For example I know that +steph wanamaker has me in a circle called "awesome men who comment" circle.This indicates to me, steph likes the fact I interact.  Finally, it gives your latest postings and the average interaction on them as well as how many characters your average post contains. In addition to this information it gives your Profiles Rank both overall and by your gender, and Circle Rank both worldwide and for your country. 

While these websites give information that is useful to the individual, I think for a businesses they are vital. If you are a brand you need to know when the best time to reach your customers is, what posts work best at getting their interest, and how people view your brand.  It is these kind of stats that can help a business make marketing decisions that can make or break a marketing campaign. For the individual it can tell you when you get the most interaction on your posts, and what kind of posts folks want to interact with you on the most. I have been using these websites for some time now, and have found them useful. I am hoping you will as well.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Who is the Ghost Town Now?

Today, I maintained my friends list on Facebook and circles on Google+. I was expecting a few deactivated accounts on Facebook as I always do have a few and I had not done maintenance since June. Out of 1200 friends, I wound up unfriending over 100 accounts, a record for me. I now have to wonder of the accounts that had not been deactivated how many had not seen posts in months. It is not uncommon I check out a friend's profile if I had not seen a post from them for a while only to find that they had not posted in weeks maybe even months.

I then took to Google+ which I had not done any circle maintenance on since June either. Maintenance there is much easier. I  installed the Chrome extension Uncircle Inactives. To my surprise after running it and taking out a couple of false positives I only removed 34 people out of over 1800 people I had in my circles. I was figuring since I had taken part in circle shares I would have many people that had created an account and circled me only to never come back to Google+.  That seems not to be the case. It seems people had come to Google+ to stay.

Now I know that my stream is more active on Google+ with people posting all the time. Some post many times a day, others once or twice a day, while still others may only post once or twice a week. But they do post. My news feed on Facebook is less active. I had always thought this was because Facebook uses EdgeRank, their mechanism for filtering out posts they think you do not want to see. I am now wondering though if it is just a case of folks not posting. Indeed, the amount of interaction I get on Google+ is more than what I get on Facebook at times, but I had thought this was because more people had circled me than I had friends on Facebook. But again, I am wondering, maybe folks simply are not going to Facebook anymore.

For months news stories and op-ed pieces were proclaiming Google+ a ghost town. They were always saying, yes, Google claims Google+ has so many active users and is growing, but how often do those users actually post? No doubt in all probability many reporters would go on Google+ and not bother to circle many people or to interact, and then go away thinking there was no activity. First generation Google+ users like myself knew different that there was plenty of things going on. You just had to circle people and interact. Now though the tune in the press is beginning to change. A story on Frobes' website published in January, 2013 stated Google+ had 343 million active users around half that of Facebook's 693 million ("Watch Out Facebook, With Google+ at #2..."). And Google+ is growing. It has not shown a month where the number of active users has declined.

And that is not all, while Google+ is gaining active users Facebook's usage is declining. According to a story on Yahoo News, 20% of American adults have stopped visiting Facebook all together with another 60% taking breaks from it lasting for weeks (Mark Zuckerberg's attempt to counteract 'Facebook fatigue'). It would seem then that my perceived lack of activity in my Facebook news feed was more than Facebook aggressively filtering posts out. There may really be less people posting on Facebook, and less people interacting with me there. It would seem Facebook is becoming the ghost town that Google+ had been accused of being. In my opinion years of tampering with features like the news feed, using EdgeRank to filter posts, inflicting the dreaded two column jumble called Timeline on users, and its general unresponsiveness to user input has lead Facebook to this. Meanwhile Google has been steadily improving Google+ by adding features like events and communities. When there is something about a feature Google+ users do not like, Google is eager to get input on why the users do not like it, and are quick to fix it. When community posts began appearing on users' profiles many complained they did not like that. Within weeks Google+ offered the option not to show public community posts on one's profile thus pleasing the many users that had complained.

I have to admit I am biased. I enjoy Google+ much more than Facebook. But I do use both extensively making between five to six posts a day each on both. I have many friends on both networks. But were all my close friends to suddenly up and leave Facebook for Google+ you would see me shutting my Facebook account down. Unless the new features like the new single column Timeline, and revamped newsfeed increase my enjoyment of Facebook I am likely to remain feeling that way. However, I do not think I am alone in this. I think there are perhaps many dissatisfied  with Facebook, and the figures seem to support that. It does lead one to ask, "who is the ghost town now?"

Note: The title of this piece was swiped from something Google+ user +steph wanamaker  said in a conversation on the site.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Google Reader Shutting Down in July

Google Reader, probably the most used RSS reader on the planet is shutting down July 1, 2013. The reason Google given for this shutting it down is that the number of users has declined (you can see the official announcement on the Google Blog at http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2013/03/a-second-spring-of-cleaning.html). Immediately, folks expressed outrage on the social media. On both Twitter and Google Plus Google Reader was trending at number one. For something that its usage had declined there was an awful lot of outrage. The tweets on Twitter were almost universally against Google. One by Jim Aley, a Twitter user, was typical: "Goggle is murdering Google Reader. It is committing appicide. Hate crime. NO GR, NO PEACE." A petition on Change.org as of this writing has over 56,000 signatures. You can sign the petition at: https://www.change.org/petitions/google-keep-google-reader-running

 Google Reader was started in 2005, and has remained popular with those wanting to keep up with blogs and news. Many in media rely on Google Reader for getting information for the news stories and blog posts they write, being able to keep track of a large number of blogs and other news outlets at a time. The reader is simple. It displays the headlines of the news articles and blog posts, and if one wants to read an article or blog post they simply click on the headline and the story or post is displayed in the reader. For many it makes their workday easier in that they do not have to search the web for information or scan website after website for news stories or blog posts. For the casual user it was a way to get news or read about things that interest them without having to go to dozens of websites.

 Many Android apps use Google Reader as well. FeeDemon, NewsRob, Reeder, Pulp, FeedMe, gReader, and several others rely on Google Reader for their feeds. Those using tablets or smartphones may be hard pressed to find other apps that will allow them to read RSS feeds. Once Google Reader is shut down these apps may well cease to work if they do not switch to another service. As for apps for other sites, in a search for apps for the reader folks are most likely to turn to, Feedly, I could only find one app. This compared to half a dozen Android apps for Google Reader. Folks will lose a great deal of choices into what app to use for RSS feeds.

 I have not used Google Reader myself in years. I am part of the reason for the declining number of users. I simply found I no longer had time to read news feeds what with my work schedule. I went through a period that all I would do is work and sleep. But I know many friends and families that do use it, and I know of many professionals that use it daily in their work. Shutting down Google Reader could have a serious impact on those that use the world wide web. Many will have to go looking for other services. Some will not find services to their liking and simply stop subscribing to RSS feeds all together. Something like this happened for me when DejaNews was purchased by Google. I had been using DejaNews to read my newsgroups for a few years. Google then bought it and made it a part of Google Groups. I did not like the interface. I found it difficult to read, and therefore just stopped reading newsgroups all together. Something similar could happen with RSS feeds. Folks may not like the alternatives to Google Reader to read online, or find apps they like that use these alternatives. While it is doubtful they may stop using RSS readers all together, they may find that they are reading RSS feeds less and less. Maybe Google will rethink their closure of Google Reader. The outrage after all was widespread. One of the reasons given for shutting down it and other service was so Google could focus. One blog poster argued they could get rid of many other things that do not serve the average person and cost more money to develop like Google Glass or the self driven car. I would tend to agree.