2009-12-20 Update: Don’t be a jerk toward others and take this article with a grain of salt as it has a lot of negativity in it.
It sucks when you fail hard. That sentence will get a lot of search traffic, right?
I had you all set up for an awesome article before I typed that opening. Seeing the unusual title, you expected me to share one of my massive failures in the first paragraph. Instead, you got a joke that is annoying rather than funny. The sad part is it probably will get search traffic.
50% of you are hovering over the red “X” now. This opening is an egregious failure… unless you’re writing a post about egregious failures.
Six of my readers don’t know what “egregious” means. It means awful. Terrible. Massively wrong. Glaringly horrible. “Conspicuously bad or offensive,” as the dictionaries are fond of.
In life, you will become a master failer. Sooner or later, no matter how cautious you are, it will happen. The only way to avoid it is to never risk anything. You might be able to pull this off by holing up in a trailer, writing a blog about personal development while trying to make money with ads, ordering everything you need online, and barely covering your utilities. But then, your whole life is an egregious failure. You have a doctorate in failure and a cabinet full of awards.
Yes I am describing myself. It’s funny in a depressing sort of way, and my mission in my nineteenth year is to change it. If you’re failing now, there is still hope for the future. As a human being you are allowed to fail. You’re allowed to write your budget and totally forget groceries. It is okay if you give a whole speech in second person. You can release a WordPress plugin and crash hundreds of blogs for days on end (I’ve done this sadly). Failure is not only okay—it is a necessity. The more egregious, the better.
If you don’t believe you are allowed to fail, I can’t do anything to change you. The best I can do is this: I offer you my personal permission to fail. You may now disconnect success from your ego. Massive failure does not have to dent your self esteem. You have to do that. When you fail miserably, you have not failed as a person. Your actions, your ideas, your words, and your implementations have failed. Not you. You are not your actions, because you remain constant while your actions change. You change as a person but you do not morph into your neighbor. You are always unique.
“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”
– Winston Churchill
Churchill was an evil man, but he has some damn good quotes, and that’s one of them.
There is huge risk in tying your ego to success. After a string of egregious failures, you will feel like crap. Combined with your battered ego, these feelings will allow your superego to indulge in sadistic torture¹. You will begin to unconsciously sabotage your new projects and you will continue to fail. You will lose all enthusiasm. At the extreme end, you might ruin your life, becoming an alcoholic to numb the pain. You may also convince your children that alcohol is an admirable escape hatch. I learned this two days ago, while taking my Traffic Laws and Substance Abuse Education course on the way to my Florida driver’s license.
What’s worse than committing an egregious act? Never forgiving yourself!
A year ago, I created a URL shortening service called Th8.us and a WordPress plugin called Tweet This, which puts “Tweet This Post” links on your blog with URLs shortened by Th8.us. In 2009 July I was going to spend the entire month not dealing with email or my websites. I checked my emails anyway on the 12th, and found that my URL shortening service had been completely shut down because of too much server load.
It turns out I had some very bad MySQL queries on the home page and preview pages. They showed the latest shortened URLs, the most clicked URLs, and the other short URLs for a given domain. I always knew the code was bad, but I let it slide because the URL shortening service itself gets almost no traffic. It’s the API (application programming interface) that does, through the Tweet This plugin. Still, those few visitors completely crashed me. The functions worked fine with one million short URLs, but two million was too many. Lesson: It’s really bad to do a wildcard SELECT with a wildcard LIKE query on a MySQL table with two million rows. But, I digress. I’m a bad programmer.
Due to my untimely response, my host was adamant that they would NOT continue to support me unless I started paying them $160 per month instead of $90 per month. Out of the question. After two days of begging, pleading, and promising to repent, I was back online. Rather than fixing the poorly coded features, I completely removed them. I also removed hit counters to be safe, because WiredTree said it would be over if this ever happened again. Since then, Th8.us has been a spartan URL service, and the integration with Tweet This has been flawless.
Where was the egregious failure? During the three days of downtime, I completely crashed the nearly 1000 blogs that used my plugin with my URL shortening service. I had contingency code in the plugin to switch URL shorteners if this happened, but it was also badly coded and completely failed. Because Th8.us stalled, all the blogs accessing its API without a backup plan (e.g. using my plugin) stalled. There are about 15 accurately negative blog posts about it. I mentioned it on Twitter at the time but chose not to blog about it.
One of the options I had at the time was to completely abandon both services, make profuse apologies, and exit with a black reputation. Instead I continued with a black reputation.
Some people switched short URL services to fix the problem. Others removed the plugin and came back recently. Most removed the plugin and vowed never to use it again. Ruining peoples blogs is a BIG DEAL.
How did I estimate that this affected 1000 blogs? Tweet This 1.3.X would phone home data to my server. If you used Tweet This between 2009 February and early July, I have your email, your blog URL and title, your description and language, your WordPress and Tweet This versions, your blog’s post count, and your exact Tweet This settings. I caught flak for this, rightly so. I stopped collecting this data at the same time I fixed Th8.us. Recording this data helped crash my server. Every time you updated your settings, activated the plugin, or deactivated the plugin, I’d save a copy of all your information. I’ve removed the database from my MySQL server and the 105MB MySQL dump containing thousands of blogs is stored in an encrypted file on my computer. I never have and never will use it for anything bad. I thought about using the list of emails to notify people of new Tweet This versions, but never did.
I acted like Google. I collected as much personal data as possible, regardless of its usefulness, and stored it indefinitely. Acting like Google never works… unless you are Google.
I’m surprised people weren’t outraged, or at least, not many publicized it. If a plugin did this to me I’d be angry and would defame the author (I need to become kinder). Many of the blog posts acted like this was a common occurrence with plugins. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. WordPress has never been enterprise or mission-critical software, what with the constant bugs and security flaws. When you use WordPress or a WordPress plugin, you expect problems and you learn to deal with it.
So, I have two big black marks on both the reputation of my programs and my person, because my name is directly tied to this software. The Internet is forever. People will always be able to find this information. If I apply for a job as a computer programmer at a software company, the personnel department might Google me and find out about these egregious failures. I may never be able to get a job as a programmer!
Does this bother me? Yes it does. I don’t want a marred reputation and I don’t want to wreck peoples livelihoods. I’m sure I cost my users a few hundred dollars in ad revenue, since many of them rely on Google AdSense as I do. I can’t dwell on it though, because there is no turning back.
Two weeks ago another URL service, tr.im, which receives a thousand times more visitors than I do, announced they would close at the end of 2009. They could not guarantee that their URLs would keep working due to their bills and lack of income, though they made no attempt at collecting donations from their tens of thousands of users. Two days later, Eric Woodward, tr.im co-founder, flip-flopped, citing overwhelming public response. He made no apology, only stating “perhaps we should have taken a different course.”
Even though I don’t use tr.im and expressed callous disregard for my service’s users recently, I was very angry at Woodward’s post because I found it patronizing. Really it was self-directed anger, because I was seeing someone else do the same sort of thing I did. These are the statements I dislike the most: “We have been absolutely overwhelmed by the popular response, and the countless public and private appeals I have received to keep tr.im alive,” and “This was not a public-relations stunt. At all.” The first is condescending. I hate it when people hide behind “we” when they mean “I,” and Woodward slips up here by saying “we have” and then “I have.” Both times you know he meant “I have.” The second statement is simply patronizing, and I still believe it to be patronizing.
What action did I take? I posted a comment calling the tr.im developers “rotten people” who get a “sadistic thrill” out of playing their users for fools. It was the single harshest comment in the list of 200. When I do something evil, I take it really far. It is an unfortunate character flaw and it diminishes my credibility in the personal development field. I’m sorry for that comment.
Remember that egregious failures are only good if they teach you. For example, my hard learned lesson from the Tweet This incident is that you must create stable systems if people are counting on you. I don’t care if my home network is stable, because I am the only person who uses it. However, if the failure of your software really hurts people, you must ensure your software does not fail, or implement fail-safes. If I kept making the same mistake again and again, the value of the failure will be null.
Microsoft, did you hear that?
Microsoft Windows is an egregious failure. It’s done a few revolutionary things, but that happens less and less often. It’s buggy, inconsistent, has many incompatibilities, and crashes way too often. Every new version has more bugs than the previous. The latest version only becomes usable after a few years and a few service packs. Bill Gates never learns. And now it doesn’t matter because he’s hardly involved in the behemoth.
I released Tweet This 1.6 yesterday. It’s been downloaded 1000 times already. Most people don’t care what happened six weeks ago—they only care if it works now, which it does. Just as I continue to use Windows despite its big problems, bloggers continue to use Tweet This despite my egregious failure.
Not long ago I would rarely challenge people even if I believed them to be wrong. Now I’m working on kindness because I do it all the time, even if they mean no disrespect. I’ve become overly mean. Eventually I will reach a middle ground where I don’t get stepped on and I don’t step on people. You can’t do this if you stay a nice guy all the time, because you will always harbor hidden resentment for what you could accomplish if you became a jerk. If you don’t ever try being an ass, your personal growth will hit a glass ceiling which you will never be able to break through. If you are smart, you’ll try being a jackass for a while. If you’re average you won’t ever try it, or you will stay a jerk permanently.
2009-12-20 Update: Don’t do what I suggest below because it’s just mean and wrong.
I recommend running a one week trial in jerkiness. Adopt aggressive postures and attitudes, within reason. Try the things in my article, Becoming Evil. Just the stuff that’s fairly harmless. See what results you get. You will find that certain areas of your life improve, while others decline. If you don’t tell them about your trial ahead of time, you will alienate friends and family. People stop opening doors for you when you stop opening doors for them. You will become a lone wolf. You will stop yielding at the grocery store checkout and while driving, which will save you time. If the cashier refuses your Juicy Juice coupon, you will not give in. You will assert its validity and get the manager involved. If you are a man, women will become attracted to you for obscure and complicated reasons. If you are a woman, you will repel everyone except submissive lesbians.
Your experiments as a jerk will fail, possibly egregiously. Believe it or not, you will still have to run multiple trials in jerkhood, or if that is your default state, multiple trails in niceness. Only through practice will you implement the good qualities of being a bad boy and the good qualities of being a nice guy while discarding the rest. Any article on becoming attractive to women will tell you this.
To be a balanced person, you must try both sides. Not the extremes of both sides; just the moderates. Go extreme if you want, but remember the high costs in both directions. Being extremely evil obviously has high costs, but being extremely good has hidden costs. You give too much and get burned out. You don’t respect yourself enough. The truly wise don’t go all the way. Gandhi had respect for his time, and Hitler cared for his henchmen. In Star Wars, the emperor kills his henchmen left and right. Even for evil people, this does not work. There is always honor among thieves. If you are evil, your henchmen will only serve you as long as they know you will be good to them. Fear can only take you so far. Even the devil is nice to people.
Everything in life requires practice. This bugs me sometimes, but you can’t do anything about it.
Remember that you can always apologize for your mistakes. Announcing that tr.im would close and then reversing the announcement was a failure on the part of the tr.im developers. However, they apologized and are launching a new project to make tr.im community owned, which is a noble effort. Today, I finally made a comment in apology.
I’ll be giving out a bunch of print copies of this article, so I’ve decided to include my slanderous comment and my apologetic comment so you don’t have to look it up on your own. The bad comment:
What is this bullshit? What kind of fools do you take us for, anyway? How dare you pull this shit?
First, you make a whiny announcement about how there’s no point continuing tr.im with no way to make money and no support from Twitter. Then, you announce that you’ll be breaking millions of links at the end of the year by turning off the tr.im servers. Finally, you tell us it was all a joke.
That’s what this is, anyway. A joke. An insult to your users. Do you get some sort of sadist thrill out of pulling these stunts? You obviously had no intention of ending tr.im. This was just a publicity stunt. A very bad one at that, because it alienates your users. How can anyone take you seriously again?
Until recently, Twitter favored TinyURL. Why weren’t you squawking then? Twitter shows disfavor to you now no more than they did then. GET OVER IT. If you can’t make tr.im popular without sponsorship from Twitter, then you don’t deserve to succeed. Do you hear Steve Jobs constantly complaining about Microsoft?
You were “overwhelmed” by the response? 300 comments and a handful of emails overwhelmed you? You have a popular service. When you announce that you will be shutting it down and breaking all your links, how can you not expect an overwhelming response?
A service like tr.im should not cost more than $1000 a month to host. If you need money, don’t pull this shit. Ask for donations. You would have gotten them. But now, you’ll get nothing, because you’ve proven what rotten people you are.
And the apology:
This is good news. Sorry I was so nasty about your reversal before. Everyone makes mistakes, as I did.
I wrote a blog post called Egregious Failures, where I included the scathing comment I gave you, and cited it as an egregious failure on my part. If you read it, you’ll realize I’m a hypocrite, because my URL shortening service Th8.us had a three day outage one month before. My service receives 1/1000 of the visitors that tr.im gets, but on principle my comment was wrong. Unlike my service, your service did not go offline at all. You just made an announcement which made people angry. TinyURL and Twitter have had major outages in the past few months. Your mistake was insignificant in comparison. If I did not read your blog or check your home page when you had the announcement up, I would not even know about it now.
Do you know what Twitter should do? Ditch all URL shorteners and just flag all URLs as 25 characters toward the 140, regardless of length. Problem solved.
Sorry and good luck,
Apologizing for a wrong doesn’t absolve you, but it helps, and you learn from your error. I will fail again in the future, even with Tweet This, but I am not afraid. *500 people uninstall Tweet This*
Note that my scathing comment, from a pragmatic point of view, is very effective. It stands out more than any other comment on that post, and it’s probably garnered me fifty hits. But it is rude, soulless, and incongruous with my image. It is definitely NOT what I want to project. That is why it troubles me.
Anyway, my gut tells me I will own tr.im as much as I own General Motors. “Community ownership” will be a failure. But the tr.im staff will gain a boatload of experience.
Egregious failures build wisdom. Sadly, failures detract from your reputation. Failures involving character flaws obliterate your reputation. Once it’s done, it’s done.
“Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, brah!…
Lala how the life goes on…”
– The Beatles
You are not supposed to end an article with a statement intended to be profound, followed by lyrics from a light-hearted song. But we aren’t following the rules today. So here comes something really dark.
Murdering someone does not get you a free pass into evilness. You are only evil if you do not feel remorse over it. If you feel any remorse, you are not evil. I believe there are agents of pure good and agents of pure evil in this world. Like in The Matrix trilogy, some people become hosts to these agents. Good agents NEVER become parasites, because it removes free will—an act which is inherently evil. Unlike in The Matrix, evil agents must be provoked or invited to possess you. Only very strong people can resist the full wrath of evil forces in the nether realm. Weak people cannot. Sometimes they remain agents of evil their whole lives, feeling no remorse because they’ve been transformed, just like when Captain Jean-Luc Picard became Locutus of Borg in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Every once in a while a shred of their old self pops up, and in these moments they have the power to escape the grip of the evil agent, as Picard did.
Do not tempt fate! Do not tempt dark forces! Do not offer yourself as a host to an agent of evil! Do not use weegie boards or tarot cards! Do not try to communicate with the dead unless you have confirmed psychic abilities! Before attempting to communicate with the dead, make sure you have confronted evil forces numerous times and persevered! If you have great difficulty communicating with a dead relative, you’re doing it wrong! If anyone does communicate with you, it will be an evil agent trying to trick you! Do not think that being possessed by an evil agent will be a fun, interesting, or beneficial experience! Do not think you can “handle it”! If you think you can “handle it,” you most certainly cannot! You have no idea how powerful evil is! You will end up murdering numerous people if you become an agent of evil!
Sorry for all the exclamation points, but this stuff is really important, and we all know that when something is important you do lots of shouting.
Everything fades in time. Even being possessed by an agent of evil. It will fade when you die and cross into the afterlife, and you will only be punished there if you punish yourself. Still, it is the ultimate egregious failure. Everything else pales in comparison. Fortunately, evil forces do not unleash their wrath on you unless you challenge or invite them.
“Richard, you were doing really good up until all that metaphysical crap!”
*50 people unsubscribe from my blog*
Earlier I said that Churchill was evil. Churchill appears to be evil because he got England involved in World War II to make a name for himself. He did not do it for the benefit of his people. His cowardice is well documented. 65,000 English civilians died needlessly because of him, and numerous colonies were lost, yet he is now deified. England would be much more powerful now if not for him. He deserves no praise. I judge him to be evil because as far as I know, he expressed no remorse. His actions may not represent him, but you take that risk when judging someone. Your judgment is often wrong because you do not have complete information. The only person who can judge correctly is God. However judgment is convenient, powerful, and often necessary, even though we can’t get it right. We get as close as we can, and we use a sliding scale. A man must be proven guilty “beyond a shadow of a doubt” to be executed, however the accuracy requirements are appropriately lowered when the stakes are lower.
I hope you enjoyed this article. Before writing this, I had defined my beliefs on the meta-physical less completely, but the beliefs came to me intuitively while drafting this. They may not accurately represent the realities of the metaphysical world, but I will use them until I uncover better beliefs. I hate putting a codicil on this, but I have to.
This post is so OVER!
¹ As opposed to torture used to extract information.