Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why Kevin Sorbo is so Angry

It's hard to miss just how angry Kevin Sorbo is in his recent interviews. Despite riding high on the success of his low-budget flick God's Not Dead, he's showing a lot of anger and animosity towards people he clearly does not understand.

How Kirk Cameron fits In

Sorbo blames his fall from fame on his Christian faith, accusing Hollywood of being "afraid" of God. His faith, however, is not what did him in professionally. To understand what happened to Sorbo, you first must look at Kirk Cameron. Parallels between the two men are natural. Both were successful television stars who are currently working in poorly written, saccharine sweet, low-budget yet profitable movies targeting the less discerning members of the Christian market. The key to understanding Sorbo's bitterness and anger is to examine Cameron's deliberate transition.

Kirk Cameron had a reputation as a holy roller while still on Growing Pains. He went so far as to have the actress playing his girlfriend written off the show because she'd once posed for Playboy. His religious demands did not, however, end the show. Quite the opposite. His insistence that his character grow up provided a level of character development and an overall story arc that was almost never seen in family Sitcoms of the period. Cameron's demands, while religion based, were largely beneficial to Growing Pains as a television program.

It's in their careers outside of their most notable television shows that we see the real divergence between the two men. In 1989, during the peak of his fame, Kirk Cameron starred in the film Listen to Me. In it, he essentially played a more mature version of Mike Seaver in a plot that ultimately provided window dressing for a pro-life message. While not a spectacular movie by most standards, it managed to insert a deliberately conservative Christian message into a mainstream film in a manner that did not turn off secular audiences. It also marked the point at which Kirk Cameron began to head deliberately towards explicitly acting for the Christian market. He began the journey to where he is now very deliberately.

The Andromeda Tragedy

This brings us back to Sorbo. After Hercules wrapped up, Sorbo got the job playing the captain on Andromeda. Any Star Trek fan who saw the show knew exactly what it really was, the story of the last Federation Starship thrown forward in time to a period where the Federation has collapsed. The Federation was renamed the Confederacy, but most the Andromeda species had clear Star Trek parallels. The show was essentially a reboot of the Star Trek franchise, with the ability to tap into the existing Trekkers while giving them the kind of "everything has gone to Hell" storyline the owners of the Star Trek franchise would never allow to happen. It even had writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe of Star Trek and Deep Space Nine fame, who had crafted an elaborate, multi-season story arc about rebuilding the collapsed confederacy. On paper, the show was poised to be the next big name in sci-fi entertainment, combining all the best elements of various Star Trek shows, Babylon 5 and dystopian sci-fi all wrapped up with a charismatic, well-loved beefcake actor playing the captain.

Too bad they cast Kevin Sorbo as the starship captain.

Sorbo's big problem was that he didn't understand the scripts he was given. It didn't take long for him to leverage his substantial star power to get Robert Hewitt Wolfe fired and replaced with people who would write simpler story lines he could understand. Sadly, this reworking trashed the show's primary premise, reducing it to just another episodic space show. After Sorbo's takeover, the show featured action flick level plots, without the "action" to make up for the lack of plot.

Andromeda was killed. The show was toasted, and, justifiably or not, Sorbo took the brunt of the blame. Perhaps the show was doomed anyway, perhaps it was the wrong time or the wrong market, but because he radically altered the program's direction and complexity for the worse, the fans and apparently the industry, ultimately blamed him. Even fan dreams of a reboot leave Sorbo out of the picture.

The State of his Career

Professionally this put Sorbo in a pickle. He had the ego of a genius director, but the talent of a guy who woodenly recited dialog while wearing revealing outfits. He did not have the talent to back up his ego. Even that was not enough to do him in. His fatal mistake was failing to recognize his own role in Andromeda's demise. Sorbo's recent ranting about being professionally sidelined by his Christian faith shows how he's never accepted responsibility for his own actions. He hasn't learned anything. His ignorant, even slanderous, depiction of an atheist in "God's not Dead" reflects the kind of simpleminded, stereotype driven storyline he can comprehend. Every role he's had since he killed Andromeda has reinforced the notion that he's simply not smart enough for anything more complicated than Hercules.

In light of his career, the way he humiliates himself trying to explain his irrational hatred of atheists is hardly surprising. The popular stereotype of an atheist is an intellectual, an egghead who has thought himself into not believing in the culturally dominant mythology. Truly stupid people often lash out at more intelligent or educated people. Some of them feel threatened, some of them are just scared. Whatever Sorbo's motivation, it's clear he'd rather lash out irrationally than try to learn about the people he finds so intimidating. It's the final piece of the puzzle. It shows us the ultimate reason Kevin Sorbo will never again experience mainstream success. It's not his Christian faith, it's not how he slaughtered Andromeda, it's his overt hostility to anyone with ideas different than his. His movies are so bad because he's incapable of taking direction from someone he disagrees with. The most promising project he has in the works is a Moonlighting clone for the Hallmark channel.

The Source of his Anger

That gets us down to the reason Kevin Sorbo is so angry and bitter while Kirk Cameron is so cheerful and jubilant. Both men are acting in low-budget movies targeted at the Christian market. Kirk Cameron chose this path out of religious conviction. Kevin Sorbo was stuck with it, as a result of forces he lacks the temperament to comprehend.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Epic Reaganbook Fail

I recently posted some advice on how to save Reaganbook. Being the sort of guy who actually wants to help them, I decided to use Reaganbook's Contact Us form to let the admins know about my advice.
I'm a professional developer with over 15 years experience creating and maintaining online communities. Having examined your recent launch issues, I've written up a quick list of recommendations to help you get your site back on its feet. I've posted them at: I am not trying to solicit business, merely offering up some professional advice on how to address some of the technical issues that caused you difficulty. Good luck and God bless,
Nice, professional and to the point, don't you think? The real fun started when I hit "Submit" on the "Contact Us" page. Instead of a confirmation, I got the error message:

The admin has not set any email address to contact them.

That's right folks.They didn't even bother to set up the "Contact Us" form.

At this point I'm starting to think the site's configuration consisted of domain registration, signing up for a cheap-ass web hosting service, and two hours of diddling with the default PHPfox configuration. It's conceivable I put more effort into my article on how to fix ReaganBook then they put into deploying it.

Being stubborn, I decided to try one last time to contact the folks behind Reaganbook. A quick WHOIS on the domain name revealed it was registered by Janet Porter at "Faith2Action." I decided to try Faith2Action's Contact Us form instead. THAT form gave me the message:

Your message was sent successfully to Faith2Action. Thanks.
As tempting as it is to contact Ms. Porter through the email address on the domain registration, I've spent enough time on trying to give free professional advice to people for now.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

How to Save ReaganBook

In July of 2014, Conservative Christians launched "ReaganBook" a Facebook alternative for people who find Facebook too liberal. ReaganBook's "pre-release" lasted about a day before the site was put into "Maintenance Mode."

Running what appears to have been a stock copy of PHPfox, the site simply failed to handle the load it received when people found out about it. The site was also flooded with troll accounts posting offensive, satirical and blasphemous material.  The "Joe My God" articles linked above have a good write-up of the saga, and while the site's major public spokespeople appear to be blaming "hackers" for the death of the site, it actually failed because of slipshod deployment and inept planning. Here are just a few of the reasons the site failed:

1. Haphazard deployment. The "About" page was still lorem ipsum. Another page was lorem ipsum with a partial grocery list. If you tried to report a post you had only two options for the reason for your report: "Test" and "Test4." This shows very little effort was put into preparing the site for launch. A competently done beta or "pre-release" phase will offer a somewhat functional site to a limited audience. What ReaganBook did was not a "pre-release" but a public release of something that was nowhere near ready for public use.

2. Insufficient moderation. It's as if they expected the only people singing up to be like minded, polite members of their inner circle. That's an unrealistic expectation even with an invite code based signup, let alone an open sign-up like the one they had.

3. No email verification when creating a new account. This made it REALLY easy for people to create spoof accounts quickly. Remember, it was claimed this was a pre-release, yet it was left wide open to the public, not limited to a discrete base of testers.

4. No functions for reporting profiles, just individual posts. If they had a moderation staff, which I doubt, being able to report abusive, gag or pornographic profiles would be a very useful tool.

5. Left directory browsing enabled for image folders. People are going to eat up bandwidth indulging in curiosity alone. This isn't hacker-grade stuff either. The average 12 year old who surfs for porn will know to check for directory browsing being enabled in image folders. Even after putting the site into maintenance mode, the image folders still have directory browsing enabled:
6. Insufficient load testing.

7. Leaving unimplemented features in the site. An apps link for a site with no apps looks sloppy.

8. No Terms of service. Without a baseline for acceptable behavior moderation becomes haphazard and unpredictable. Yes, it's obvious that anyone posting explicit gay porn to ReaganBook should get banned, but things are not always that cut and dry. This is particularly problematic for a site like ReaganBook, explicitly founded to combat censorship but run by people who are probably among the strictest censors around.

Fortunately for the people behind ReaganBook, there's hope. Here are some steps they need to take to revive ReaganBook and bring it back from the dead.

1. Conduct an honest assessment of the technological reasons for the site's collapse. Don't scapegoat vague "hackers" as was done in the haphazard public statements during the one day of live activity.

2. Mirror Gmail's roll-out. For a long time, the only way to get a Gmail account was if an existing Gmail user sent you an invite code. This restricted traffic, restricted users and let Google add or upgrade hardware before performance issues became crippling, A similar invite code strategy would allow ReaganBook to restrict the early users to the social circle they trusted most, allowing them to address technological and social issues in stages instead of all at once. This would, in turn, allow volunteer moderators to arise from the early membership.

3. Disable directory browsing on image folders.

4. Add e-mail validation to the registration process. This is an incredibly useful tool for cutting down on spammers and trolls. It won't eliminate them, but it will reduce the number of garbage accounts people can create as well as slow down the more dedicated trolls and spammers.

5. Require unique email addresses. This will force people to use a different email account for each ReaganBook login. Since email accounts can be time consuming to create, this will further slow down trolls. As a bonus, it will reduce the number of people who accidentally create an additional account, especially if the registration process is combined with a notification that an email address is already in use.

6. Write Terms of Service. Run it past a lawyer and then assign the "report" feature's options based upon the kinds of behavior you don't allow on ReaganBook.

7. Accept that you will face accusations of hypocrisy from Liberals and Moderates. ReaganBook will be censored. There's no way the people behind ReaganBook will allow liberals to share their views with the freedom they do so on Facebook. Own up to it.

8. Actually FINISH the deployment and configuration of FOXphp. Don't leave it half implemented.

9. Remove the icons and links for features you haven't implemented or don't plan to implement.

10, Add the capability to report profiles, not just posts.

11. Hire full time moderators. If you use invite codes to keep the initial roll-out limited then you can get by with one or two at relaunch. Over time you'll need to add more as traffic and activity increase.

12. Stop being so precious and thin skinned. This is the Internet baby. There WILL be trolls. Many of them are trolling you not because of actual philosophical, religious or political diss agreements, but for the sake of trolling. If you get hysterical and rant about the trolls, you'll only attract more.

13. Focus. The vague goal of a censorship free Facebook alternative is a foolish one for Conservatives to undertake, because it means allowing uncensored posting of Liberal content or face legitimate accusations of censorship. Give up the pretense of being anti-censorship and embrace the fact that this is a deliberately, enthusiastically and sincerely conservative endeavor.

14. Get ready for the law enforcement calls. All this started because a conservative was censored by Facebook for posting threats. Regardless of how you explicitly you do or do not state it, you are deliberately inviting people who threaten violence to use ReaganBook as a social media platform. You need to know what you're going to do when the inevitable happens and the authorities come knocking over someone on your site posting death threats.