Author Archive

There are no Christmas Card friends on Facebook

By From • Dec 29th, 2016 • Category: Blog Entries.Local


Back before the Internet, many of us sent out lots of Christmas cards every year. For many people on your Christmas card list, it was the only contact you would have with that person every year. Long distance phone calls were stupid expensive back then. So once a year you’d hear from your former neighbor and get caught up on what was happening in their family and get a picture to see how the kids were growing. Other friends were bar friends you only saw at the pub, or the people you only saw in your adult softball league, or your work friends that you rarely saw outside of work and the occasional Friday after work happy hour. All those friend groups were siloed, with little crossover.

Then the Internet happened.

And not much changed. I launched ODonnellWeb in 12/31/1995. By 2005, I think I had reconnected with exactly one old friend due to my blog. My blog was not obscure. It was #1 on just about every search engine for my name for that entire time. Anybody from my past that had a fleeting, “I wonder what Chris is up to” thought was one search from knowing the answer to that question. As far as I know, not one person ever did that. The one old high school friend I did reconnect with was also an early blogger, and although I don’t remember exactly how we reconnected, I think it was more serendipitous than either one of us actively seeking the other out. So even 10 years after the introduction of the Internet, Christmas Card friends were still that, people you heard from once per year with a very sanitized, upbeat summary of how life was for them.

I did make many great new friends because of blogging though. Shared interests in home education, the Boston Red Sox, music, and Purdue led to many new acquaintances that I’m still friends with today. In many cases, I consider these people close friends, even though in some cases we still haven’t met in real life.

But there was no crossover at all. My friends from a certain Red Sox blog had zero interaction with the home school activist community, and probably didn’t know each other existed. The Internet had delivered the ability to connect and form communities with far flung people, but the communities for the most part enjoyed the same separation in your life that existed prior to 1995.

Then Facebook happened.

Suddenly, all those Christmas Card friends were now in your feed every day. That guy you knew only as a diehard Red Sox fan turned out to also be a diehard homophobe, and your best friend from junior high is also a conspiracy nut. Meanwhile your chief rival from high school hit the dot com home run and updates Facebook 4X a day with photos of his fabulous appearing life. The Internet, or at least the Facebook part of it, had delivered on the promise of a global melting pot. Whether or not that is a good thing is questionable.

It turns out that people, or at least this person, likes some silos in their life. Not knowing the politics of those folks from the Red Sox blog comments was a good thing, and my junior high best friend being a Christmas Card friend was also a good thing (Not referring to anybody real here, as far as you know). It turns out that we lost contact with our high school friends for a reason, we had no real reason to stay in close contact.

It’s not all bad though. I’m better friends today with some folks from high school than I probably was back in high school, and that is because we reconnected on Facebook and then in some cases have reconnected in real life. Some of those imaginary Internet friends from the blog are still friends that I’m in regular contact with via Facebook, and more than a couple of them have become real life friends too.

So I can’t just hate on Facebook, because there is some good there. But the friends with context issue is still there too. Obviously, we can not connect with anybody we choose on Facebook. However, the societal pressure is a little more subtle than that, and it’s damn hard to silo people that way. There is a general expectation of being friends on Facebook if you know people in real life. Facebook’s tools to manage those silos are pretty much unusable. Even if you try, you are likely to screw it up at some point, and suddenly your parents are very confused by the pictures of you from the Furry convention.

If you’ve read this far hoping for an answer, you are going to be disappointed. I don’t have one. But I think it’s a conversation worth having. I don’t think I’m alone, or even in a minority, in thinking the great mash up of our various social communities into one Facebook feed is generally speaking, more of a PITA than a blessing.

Thoughts? Use that nifty comment box below, or if you must, you can comment on Facebook too.

Looking Ahead to 2017

By From • Dec 26th, 2016 • Category: Blog Entries.Local, Politics

Dumpster Fire

I’ve been trying to figure out what to say about 2016 for a couple of weeks now, and I’ve decided maybe it’s best if we just never speak of it again. So onward to 2017. It has to be better, right?


OK, maybe one last thought about 2016. Did you ever find yourself wondering how it felt to live through the decline of the Roman Empire, or maybe closer to home, how it would have felt to be an antebellum plantation owner in Virginia in early 1865? Hopefully 2017 won’t give us a chance to feel a kindred connection with citizens of previously fallen societies.

Seriously, looking ahead now…

Michelle’s last radiation treatment is January 12th. Then I guess we enter that weird phase where she doesn’t have cancer anymore, but we get to worry about it coming back. I wonder if it ever fades from being omnipresent in our consciousness, or if this is the new reality for us now? I guess we’ll find out.

Blocking every news source that shows up in my newsfeed on Facebook turned out to be a brilliant idea. My Facebook wall is now mostly pictures of kids, my friends’ travels, and my friends out drinking. Facebook is much better that way. So I fully expect FB to change something to stop me from blocking all news sources fairly soon.

I wrote 14 blog posts this year. Counting this one and one more planed post, I’ll finish with 16. I’m certain that is the lowest number since this site became a blog in 2001. I’ve been thinking for months that I need to get back to writing here regularly. Writing on Facebook is not the same. However, I’ve been lacking inspiration. I’m sick of politics and current events, and I’m out of the homeschooling game. That was probably 75% of my content in my heyday. However, I do have some ideas about how to get back on the writing wagon though. We’ll see how that works out.

Anybody else with a neglected blog want to commit to bringing it back to life in 2017? Seriously, Facebook does not need any more free labor from us. Also, Facebook encourages consumption of more and more content so they can serve more and more ads. I’m convinced that this is not good for our mental health. If blogs ruled online communication in 2016 they way they did in 2006, Donald Trump would not be president. I’m convinced of this fact.

One more blog post coming this year, the annual happy birthday ODonnnellWeb post on 12/31. The site turns 21 this year. It may need to drink itself silly. Or maybe that is me I’m talking about there.

Newspapers in 2016

By From • Nov 28th, 2016 • Category: Blog Entries.Local, Politics

A couple of weeks ago I subscribed to my local newspaper, The Freelance Star. I was hoping to avoid online news sources a bit, and be able to keep up on local news while avoiding the web site / Facebook page, and the community of bigoted racists that …

Stratford Hall and George Washington’s Birthplace

By From • Nov 21st, 2016 • Category: Blog Entries.Local

Our original plan for Saturday was to drive up to Gettysburg and do a 9 mile battlefield hike. Then my son remembered that 11/19 was Remembrance Day (anniversary of the Gettysburg Address), and neither one of us was looking to deal with a crowd. So we…

New Orleans Trip Review

By From • Nov 7th, 2016 • Category: Blog Entries.Local

In an effort to find something to focus on that is not the hellish circus that is tomorrow’s election, I’m going to write up a review of our time in New Orleans.
We actually started the trip in Springfield, MO for parents weekend at Missouri State. It’…

Chris’ New Orleans Style Hurricane

By From • Nov 7th, 2016 • Category: Blog Entries.Local

Mrs. O’DonnellWeb became a fan of hurricanes when we were in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago. We, of course, went to Pat O’Brien’s to have a hurricane there. And then we left with no plans to go back, because the hurricanes there suck. They taste li…

How Ghost Stories Get Started

By From • Nov 2nd, 2016 • Category: Blog Entries.Local

Lalaurie House

Our first night in New Orleans we did a Drunk History tour. It was a two hour walking tour of the more macabre side of French Quarter history, with stops at bars to refill anytime anybody in the group needed a drink.

Link to full size photo

The picture above is a night time picture of the LaLaurie House. The LaLaurie house is probably the most famous haunted house in New Orleans. The high-society LaLauries brutally tortured and mutilated their slaves, many of whom died in the house. It was so bad that public opinion turned against the family, and they fled New Orleans in April 1834, never to be heard from again.

According to the newspaper, the New Orleans Bee, all of the victims were naked and the ones not on tables were chained to the wall. Some of the women had their stomachs sliced open and their insides wrapped about their waists. One woman had her mouth stuffed with animal excrement and then her lips were sewn shut.

The men were in even more horrible states. Fingernails had been ripped off, eyes poked out, and private parts sliced away. One man hung in shackles with a stick protruding from a hole that had been drilled in the top of his head. It had been used to “stir” his brains.

The tortures had been administered so as to not bring quick death. Mouths had been pinned shut and hands had been sewn to various parts of the body. Regardless, many of them had been dead for quite some time. Others were unconscious and some cried in pain, begging to be killed and put out of their misery.

If you had asked me immediately after taking that photo if there was anybody in the frame, I would have been 100% sure when I said no. The residential side streets of the French Quarter were not that busy, and I would have waited a couple of seconds for any random passer-by to clear the frame of my photo. The guy was not there when I took the picture.

Also, the reflection in the truck window is weird. There was no flash used, would the street light be enough light to create the reflection? Also, the guy’s head appears to be floating above his body, and the reflection looks more like a female than a male to me.

So obviously I caught a ghost on film 😉

Also of interest, at another haunted site, a tavern where a young woman hung herself, the tour guide pulled up a text message she got that day from someone that took her tour the previous day. The tourist had taken a picture of the dark interior, and there was a clear but faint image of a woman swinging from a noose. That one was clear enough to be a little creepy, although obviously it’s just a random occurrence of light and maybe some noise in the digital picture, along with a BAC above zero and the power of suggestion in expecting to see something. It was still creepy though.

Breast Cancer Support 101 For Guys

By From • Oct 16th, 2016 • Category: Blog Entries.Local

Picture of Michelle

My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer about a month ago. It was a total shock, as it was discovered in her routine annual mammogram. She went in for her yearly check up on a Friday, the following Monday I was taking her to the Women’s Health Center for a biopsy, and a few days after that we met with her OB/GYN to get the biopsy results. A week after that she was in surgery. We went from never really thinking about this stuff to her having cancer in a period of about 90 minutes. There is no training for how to deal with this. There is also no training on how to deal with friends that are dealing with this.

One thing I’ve noticed is the difference in how my wife’s friends and my friends are dealing with the knowledge that she has breast cancer. Her phone pretty much beeps, buzzes, and rings from sunup until bedtime. Her friends, both local and far flung sorority sisters she hasn’t seen in person in 25 years, check in with her constantly to see how she is doing, and just to let her know they are thinking about her. Prior to this post, I’d told probably two dozen people that my wife has cancer, all but one of them guys. Neither of us has made any sort of public announcement, until now. The woman, and exactly two of the guys, have checked back in with me since the initial conversation.

I’m not trying to imply that guys care less. I’m not complaining about my friends. I have no doubt that if I messaged any of them about needing something they would jump on it immediately. We are middle age. My wife and I had kids young and thus we are empty nesters. Most of our friends still have kids at home, and we are all in the prime earning years in our careers. Everybody is busy, and nobody has enough time for their own families, let alone extra cycles for our problems. We are at that age where health problems start to become more real, but not old enough that we all have several cycles of experience dealing with this stuff. I don’t want to get into a debate about women versus men and compassion and sympathy, or gender roles and expectations. I’m sure all that plays a role here. I’m also sure the fear of a “How is she doing?” text being answered with bad news is real. People probably think I’ve got enough to deal with, and don’t have time to be fielding update inquiries. Four weeks ago I’m pretty sure I would have had all those same thoughts.

With my wife fighting cancer, I feel like my job is to be the emotional rock for her to lean on. I’m Mr. Positive Mental Attitude, you are going to beat this, you are stronger than this cancer, etc. Any of you that know me in real life know that Mr. PMA is not my natural state. I’ve joked that staying so positive is mentally draining. I wasn’t actually joking about that. It is draining, especially when combined with trying to focus on my job 40+ hours per work, and the other stresses that real life tends to throw at us, often at the most inopportune times. I’m also doing all of this on less than ideal sleep, as I really haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since the diagnosis. Of course, none of that compares to the pressure my wife is under.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you know somebody that is supporting a partner or other loved one fighting cancer or some other crisis, go ahead and send the text or make the call asking how it’s going. If that person is local to you meet them out for a burger and a beer. They need it, they’ll appreciate it, and since guys are trained their entire lives to not let emotions make decisions for us, they probably aren’t going to tell you they need it.

And as long as I’m telling people what to do, if your partner isn’t getting her annual mammogram, insist that she does. My wife’s mammogram didn’t look that unusual. The breast surgeon said she wouldn’t have flagged it if she was looking at it in a vacuum. However, the software analysis that compared the image to last year’s image did see an an unexpected change, and it was that flag that set in motion the events that led to the diagnosis. Without annual testing we wouldn’t know she has cancer. She has no symptoms.

Because of the early diagnosis odds are good this story will have a happy ending. If “You don’t actually have cancer” is the best diagnosis, my wife’s diagnosis is probably second or third on the list of things you want to hear when you have breast cancer. This also means that friend of yours whose wife or sister is battling cancer right now probably needs that text or call way more than I ever did.

So do it. Now.

(cross posted to Medium

2016 Presidential Endorsement

By From • Oct 9th, 2016 • Category: Blog Entries.Local, Politics

In the storied 20 year history of ODonnellWeb we have never endorsed a candidate for any office. However, the events of 2016 leave us no choice but to endorse Hillary Clinton for President. The simple fact is that she is the only one running even remo…

AI still has a ways to go

By From • Oct 8th, 2016 • Category: Blog Entries.Local

This is the first in what I hope will be a somewhat regular (3X a week?) series of quick blog posts about whatever I’m thinking about. A few years ago I decided to make my blog a repository for longer writing, and now I’m changing my mind and making a…