Running Into Obsession: The Church of Arthur Lydiard

Feb 18

“They still say I’m wrong, but it doesn’t bother me.”
- Arthur Lydiard, to Lochaber Athletic Club, June 1987

In the haze and cloud that rise off Manakau Harbour, the hills that stretch beyond West Auckland are known for little but their slightly flashy suburbs and relative inaccessibility from the city by public transport. The city’s better off citizens find their homes at the end of evergreen crescents and avenues for a few miles up into the Waitakere Ranges, but after the clean streets of Titirangi give way to bush, Auckland’s city limits are thought to come to an end.
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The StreetView Divers and The Case of Internet as Serious Win

Feb 11

It’s said that the London Underground is one of the least friendly places in the world, where people will avoid making eye contact with each other, let alone speak. I don’t find this to be as true as the stereotype suggests (on the Central line, I had a hilarious exchange with a girl about American politics, late at night on November 4, 2008). However, as unfriendly a place as the tube can be, it pales in comparison to the Internet.

What I wrote here, plus the comments, speak of how unnecessary the online culture of gross impoliteness really is. Often, however, it is far easier to adhere to a better way of behaving if you have something to fall back on: the behavioural equivalent of the mnemonic device. This won’t work for everyone. Perhaps it won’t work for anyone besides me, but I saw something yesterday on Google Maps.

We’re in Norway, and .

Just reading the paper, as you do, .

So when you see the Google StreetView car, what other option do you have?


You chase him up the hill.

In your wetsuit, with your rake, until you can’t run any further in your flippers.

I don’t know why these guys chose to chase the Google car. Perhaps this is a protest against Google’s indexation of their neighbourhood. Perhaps they wanted to be on StreetView in the same way that people want to bob about behind field reporters’ heads on TV (although I don’t believe Google exactly publicises its drive-by schedule for fear of this sort of activity). Perhaps they were hanging out in their driveway in Norway in their diving suits, reading the paper, when they fulfilled my friend Danny Dover‘s dream and were allowed the opportunity to chase the StreetView car.

As a point, . Danny, however, was not as lucky as the divers. He never saw the car.

The reason for the chase doesn’t matter to me. My job aside, this is what I like about the Internet. The random pieces of win. The parts of the Internet where you find true humour, no matter what its original purpose. It is reading an elaborate story without knowing that you’re going to be Bel Aired. It’s . It is not publicly calling people names, starting blogs for the purpose of handing out curse-laden insults or posting shortened versions to Twitter.

Although the horror of our collective behaviour on the Internet has slowly been occurring to me for quite some time, this is my favourite metaphor for Internet as serious win. Two blokes running up a road in Norway in wetsuits. Think of this next time it seems like a good idea to write something horrible. Have a grin; do something else.

And the Underground? London in general? I will never ride the tube or walk the streets of this city in the same way again after watching this programme from Channel 4 about the incredible bravery Londoners extended to strangers on the Circle line on 7/7/2005. Now I sit on the train and think about what sort of person is probably sitting opposite me: a stranger who doesn’t want to make eye-contact, but someone who for the grace of God would be a hero.

It’s hard to walk around with a bad attitude when I think of strangers like that. It’s hard to be deliberately nasty online when I’m thinking about the little corner of the Internet where two blokes run up the road in scuba diving gear. I’d rather exist in that corner.

Be good to each other.

I Don’t Drink

Jan 23

During the early 1990s, the principal of the Lower School at Marsden–a horrible private girls’ school to which I was forcibly sent for eight painful years–was a woman called Mrs Leach. I remembered her insulting a girl in my class once for “only ever looking out for number one” and not considering others, and then (it could not have been more than a week later) berating someone else for not minding her own business. “Look out for number one!” she had shrieked in front of the entire school assembly. Even at the age of nine I had been able to see the condradiction. I wasn’t sure, however, in which instance she had been right.

At twenty-five, I think she was right the second time.

One needn’t be consistently loud in order to maintain an independent, intelligent opinion. Quite a few people appear to believe that if one does not make one’s opinion (especially one’s disagreements) luridly clear in public, whenever possible, that one must be an agreeable “sheep”, or perhaps have no opinion at all.

Routinely, I disagree with people I respect. I disagree with people I love. I’ve had differing opinions on swimming with my father, and I regard him as the best coach I’ve ever had. My ideas on the limits of acceptable SEO practices sometimes differ from those of Kate Morris and Rob Kerry, both of whom are highly competent professionals. Some time around the last U.S. presidential election, I realised how pointless and damaging it was to regard party politics as important when it came to my friends.

However, most importantly, I learned that it’s not polite, nor necessary, to point out disagreements in public, as if crudely spray-painting them on a conveniently located wall, especially if the person with whom one disagrees is a respected friend. The point at which I knew this to be true was when a good friend of mine left a snide comment on something I cared about… the opinion was valid, but its public nature and unpleasant tone made me wish we were more private and respectful with our opinions when the subjects are close to us. We all have email accounts, telephones and even local pubs in which to maintain rational relationships and debates. Why must being quiet equate to being devoid of independence?

Of late, I can only recall publicly disagreeing with someone once. I don’t even find it satisfying. Even the following private messages–some from strangers–who agreed with me, didn’t really matter. I could have held as true to my beliefs if I’d maintained my silence, and in the end, I didn’t change anything.

Be polite and respectful both in public and private. Because I avoid publicly humiliating people I care about, it doesn’t mean I think they’re always right. Most of you appear to have let your Twitter accounts and blogs, and the comment section of other people’s websites, convince you that a person’s silence equates to the lack of an opinion, especially one of dissent.

And ponder this beautiful irony (one of many stumbled across of late). On each side of every debate, every clique, every disagreement and every set of beliefs, people claim that their opposing numbers are drinking the opposing team’s Kool-Aid. Next time it seems apt to accuse somebody of such consumption, consider whether the problem is actually that the person isn’t drinking yours.

The BBC Uncovers Image Search Algorithm

Nov 26

We can become a bit smug when it comes to the BBC. We generally view its level of journalistic integrity to be a bit above that of its cable TV counterparts. Last night, however, those of us involved in SEO were surprised to note that even the Beeb’s esteemed reporters aren’t immune to poor research. As is always the case when you notice something untrue reported as fact, you wonder how many facts you hear on a daily (hourly?) basis that are woefully under-researched.

The BBC news report I was watching was about the Michelle Obama / Google Images incident. A crudely Photoshopped, offensive image of the First Lady was ranking atop Google images for her name. In an explanation of how such a thing could occur, Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC’s Technology Correspondent said:

Google doesn’t decide what comes top when you search for a word or an image. That’s determined by a complex formula. But it basically boils down to the fact that the more people click on a certain site, the higher up the list it comes.

An audio version of this part of the report is available . For a short time, British readers can view the entire segment on iPlayer (between minutes 14:45 and 17:10). At the end of the piece, Cellan-Jones says again:

For now, the offensive picture of Michelle Obama has disappeared from Google’s search results, but if web users find it elsewhere and click on it, then it will rise up the search engines list once again.

Incidentally, my good friend Ciarán Norris was providing an accurate description of how it happened on Radio 5 at the same time (1hr, 26min in).

And it was Ciarán who figured out why the Beeb most likely said such a thing. A report on their news website stated that “the search engine’s results get to the top based on popularity, not because of any ranking system by people”, a statement apparently given to them by David Vise. There is nothing particularly untrue about that, but the BBC have misinterpreted “popularity”, taking it to mean clicks, not links. No one bothered to check out Vise’s statement or make sure they’d understood him properly. Thus, it was reported to the nation that it was users clicking on the offensive picture of Michelle Obama that pushed the picture to the top of Google’s rankings.

Of course, there may be some ounce of truth to the clicks idea, if you believe that Google closely monitors click-through and bounce rates. However, not once in the piece were links–the currency of SEO–mentioned. Taking into account that click-through and bounce rates are highly likely to be very small ranking factors, there is no way even a small amount of research would have backed up the statements made in the report.

What we’ve learned, we already knew: journalists need stories to go to press nowish and don’t have much time to put together stories to feed the public their daily news. The BBC found a quote from an expert; it was just a little misunderstood. However, recognising such mistakes certainly makes me wonder what else is reported to us as simple fact that is actually quite badly misguided.

Sidewalks of A1A

Sep 10

Slide down into the sea
Twelve hours on your feet
Get the tide to wash you away
Thousands and thousands of days
And someone you never meet
Signs a check you get every week
You try and you still can’t forget
All the strangers that you have met

Please be good to each other.


Facebook Security Leaks–In Notification Emails

Aug 08

My riveting life, which today has involved swim practice, a four hour nap and couple of hours on Skype with my mother, became ever so slightly less dull (well, not really) a couple of minutes ago when my mother made one of my Facebook pictures her profile picture. Apparently, Facebook emails you when someone does this. The email I just received, however, had a load of information in it that had nothing to do with me or my mother. It appears to display wall posts from people I don’t know, nor am connected to on the site. I also have no idea what language this is:

What is going on here, and are all of us having things from our profiles emailed to others accidentally?

They’re Naked

Jul 13

The emperor has no clothes.

The Best Things In The World

Jul 02

I may not think much of this list one day. I don’t care.

Deliberately not looking outside when you go to bed because you know it’s getting daylight but you’d rather it not be confirmed.

St. Paul’s Cathedral at night.

Rocking out to this, and all its remixes, before a race.

… and the last verse of its lyrics.

Knowing exactly where you’re going in the Underground.

Flirting with U.S. Immigration officials.

London when it’s super damn hot out.

. Three cans. Three hours.

The hard crush of cold sand against your back when you’ve lain on the beach for too long at night.

Getting over party politics.

Realising that you don’t know yourself at all. Quietly finding out what you never knew. Never listen to the radio. Ever. Again.

The reflection in mirrored sunglasses.

Tower Bridge early in the morning

Labrador puppies. What is a Best Things list without goddamn Labrador puppies?


Having a good enough time in your sweats, in your kitchen, that you don’t give a damn if you’re an hour late to the party.

Conveying all the emotion and meaning necessary via a three-character text message.

Arriving at foreign airports.

All airports being foreign airports.

Sitting in rooms you’ve looked at on Skype for months.

Lightening hitting the sea so hard and so close that you can hear it.

Waking up in your parents’ house.

Hearing the club across the road blast two songs you love, in a row, at midnight.

Taking a moment to remember .

Driving into the parking lot here.

Doing a secret little dance of joy in your living room that the person you’re talking to on the phone doesn’t know about.

Series Three, Episode Two.

I Didn’t Like It, So I Changed It

Jun 16

One night in March 2006, I left a swimming pool in Athens, Georgia, in tears. I was pretending not to be crying, but I was living the most disappointing end to a sports career that had spanned eleven years and to which I had given my soul. After a great senior year and a relatively successful NCAA championships, I had a horrible experience on my last ever night as an athlete. Without wanting to go into too much pseudo-pathetic, oddly annoying detail, I left swimming insulted and belittled and disappointed. Not with myself, but with the disrespectful and anti-climactic way it ended. After a short time, and a lot of booze, I was okay with that. Many people have dealt with worse shit in swimming–especially college swimming–than I did. However, last week, I was afforded the opportunity to change it. And I did.

I flew form London to Barcelona with no intention at all of swimming in one of the world’s better-known swimming series. I was going to have a holiday, travelling with my Dad’s swim team from Barcelona to Canet, France, and onto Monte Carlo. I took a practice suit, packed at the last minute, on the off-chance I’d lose enough sense to think that getting into a warm-up pool was a good idea. Somehow, by the end of the Barcelona meet, Aqua Crest had convinced me to enter the 50 freestyle in Canet. All I had was this , awful I’ll-replace-them-shortly goggles and a dying Washington State swim cap.

It doesn’t mean much. So someone who should have known better gave me a hard time one night in 2006 and I was hurt. Was there a reason to reverse a terrible couple of hours from three years ago? But that wasn’t the only reason I had my father enter me in the Canet race. I’d spent years making sensible decisions. Entering an international swimming race after not stepping into a pool in three months and not completeing a race in three years was a ridiculous thing to do. It simply had to be done. I’d brought none of my seven FastSkin racing suits with me. We bought an Arena PowerSkin in Canet. I raced in the 50 freestyle in Canet and then again in Monaco.

It was the most fun I’ve had in years. Many, many years. I’ve likely never had such a good time on a swimming trip and I eradicated all and any of the bad feelings I had about the way my swimming career ended. I was a 200 breaststoker, so entering the 50 free wasn’t exactly challenging myself with my best event. However, I swam only about 1.5 seconds slower than my best times in the 50 free, which is a lot in a sprint… but if you’d told me I could swim a 29.1 LCM 50 two weeks ago, I’d have laughed at you over a full glass of Shiraz.

Some other damn awesome times had over the past ten days:

  • Hanging out with my dad. As he proclaimed on our last night in Barcelona, he is ‘cool’.

  • Driving (or, being driven in) a pretty little Benz SLK 200. Hertz didn’t have enough Peugeots for us, you see, so we were stuck with it. What a shame.
  • Finally getting to go to the after-party in Canet. I made up for lost time by having one of the most random, yet one of the best, nights ever.
  • Drinking a margarita (which we’d initally planned on having in a dodgy Seattle Mexican restaurant) at the Monte Carlo casino after the second 50 free. That was €22 well spent.
  • The opening lines of “Human” on repeat over. And over. Again. In Barcelona. Please. Choose. A. Different. Song.
  • Absinthe (no, we didn’t), Jack Daniels, red wine and chocolate milk.
  • Buying real Ray-Ban Aviators in Monte Carlo. Because you can’t drive around in a hot convertible wearing £20 sunglasses.
  • The Hyper Casino. Which was neither hyper, nor a casino. It did, however, stock French toy soldiers, complete with American flags. Hmmm.
  • The house and the rooms in Canet, including chocolate-fuelled movie nights. God bless you, iTunes movie store. It was like being back in college, or at least on a training trip. Thanks to Andrew for the picture. I neglected to take any.

The biggest thanks obviously go to , Skuba, Andrew and Jamie for being the best teammates ever. And in the end, it was more than a trip to Europe in the summer. It sort of made up for a lot, afforded me some much-needed perspective and erased the bitterness I had about the way a very important part of my life ended. The ten days I spent there were ten of the best I’ve ever had. Maybe next year, but more likely ;) , I’ll take up swimming one more time.

Full photo documentation .

SMX London III & Why Rand Is Pleased That I Live In London

May 06

A year and a half ago, Rand walked out into The Pit at SEOmoz and said, “Who wants to go to London?” I was the first person to put up my hand. The event for which I went to London was the first SMX in the city. I spoke on a link bait and viral marketing panel with Ciaran Norris, who stole the show with his boobs. For the next twelve months, I worked on getting back to SMX London 2008. With that successfully taken care of, I decided that the nine hour flight from Seattle to London was a bit too far and just moved here instead. It saves Rand from being pestered to send me here every year, which must be quite a relief ;)

For reasons best known to themselves, SMX London’s team have invited me back this year. I’m speaking on the SEO Checkup panel, or what I like to call “Q&A Live”. Since my last couple of years at SEOmoz involved managing its Q&A forum, I quite like this sort of format.

This show is quite special to me, not only because it was my first speaking gig in 2007, but because the SEO community in the UK have always been a fantastic group. I’m delighted to finally be somewhat of a domestic addition to the conference.

Never the sorts to let an opportunity for a piss-up go by, we’ll be attempting to put together a LondonSEO party for Monday the 18th as well. This is the event that, in 2007, probably laid the foundations for me moving here. At the least, it appears as though our baby-faced selves were having quite a good time:

If you’re already coming to the event (especially from far far away, Rand and Kate!), we’re looking forward to seeing you all. If you’re still considering coming over, we promise to put on a good one.