Nodal Bits http://www.nodalbits.com Chris Silver Smith blogging on Search Engine Marketing, Local SEO, Technology & more. Wed, 29 Mar 2017 22:05:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 Mike Apyshkov, Reflections On His Passing http://www.nodalbits.com/bits/mike-apyshkov-reflections/ http://www.nodalbits.com/bits/mike-apyshkov-reflections/#comments Sat, 04 Feb 2017 14:00:46 +0000 http://www.nodalbits.com/?p=807 No related posts. ]]> Michael ApyshkovI hardly know how to express how terrible it was to lose my friend, Mike Apyshkov, this last weekend. Some of the light went out of the sky for me when I received the news that he had fallen to his death from the top of one of Kyiv’s tallest and trendiest skyscrapers in Ukraine, at the Olympic business center (Олимпийский).

To say that Mike was one of my friends seems to understate what he was to me. Certainly he was a friend, but it was deeper than “just a friend”. He was an inspiration to me, a protégé, a roommate, an adoptive son, a colleague, a collaborator, and a sort of a muse. I feel it all the more intensely because he has left as abruptly as he came into my life, and at far too young an age: 26 years old.

The Ukrainian news story - a young man fell from the 29th floor of the Olympic business center.

The Ukrainian news story – a young man fell from the 29th floor of the Olympic business center. (source)

I’m unable to attend Mike’s funeral this week in Ukraine, and so I’ll write a bit about him here on my blog as a tribute and as a means of mourning him. Word of his passing has left me raw, and weak, and it seems some of the air has gone out of my lungs and I cannot regain it, no matter how much I inhale. I also set up an online memorial site at: Mike Aphyskov: Forever Missed.

How I Came To Know Mike Apyshkov

I met Mike through another good friend of mine — his father. Vlad worked with me when we were both at Verizon’s Superpages, and we became good friends after I left the company in 2007. In about 2011, Vlad notified a number of his friends that he was delighted by the fact that his son, Mike, was moving here to Dallas to live with Vlad and to go through the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. I don’t precisely remember that first meeting, but it was probably at some restaurant for dinner. I didn’t have much interaction with Mike until a few months later when Vlad had to leave the country for some weeks on business, and he asked me to be available in case Mike needed help with anything while Vlad was away, since Mike was unfamiliar with the city and with the American ways of doing things.

Mike, doing a sort of planking pose in a hallway in Ukraine, I think maybe in the building where he launched his company.

Mike, doing a sort of planking pose in a hallway at Donetsk National University in the Mathematics Facility. Playful, gymnastic interactions with his environment were something he was always doing.

When I realized that Mike was going to be all alone at Vlad’s house for the last few weeks of November, I immediately felt that he absolutely had to experience a traditional American Thanksgiving. My mother, who lives down in central Texas, readily agreed — in fact, bringing in foreigners for our Thanksgiving feast is a very long tradition in our family, and it likely started because my parents were professors and we lived in academic communities where there were always people who were far away from their homes during the holidays. I was going to my mother’s place a few days early, and planned to work from my father’s old home office before Thanksgiving day. Mike agreed to go with me early, and he worked on his computer from the office as well.

Thanksgiving With My Family

The Thanksgiving trip was where we really got to know one another. The three hour car trip, one-way, and then days spent in my family’s home — it gave us a lot of opportunities to talk about simply everything. I’m not really exaggerating to say that we had many commonalities. While I’m best known for internet technology expertise, my college education was in design. Mike’s background was heavily in math, but he loved design and had been independently studying it. So, we’re both maybe just a little atypical in that we use both sides of our brains.

Family Thanksgiving Meal, 2011. Mike, on the lefthand side.

Family Thanksgiving Meal, 2011. Mike, on the lefthand side.

 

Smith family Thanksgiving feast.

Smith family Thanksgiving feast. 2011

I came to learn about his past successes in major math competitions, his enjoyment of exercise and physical development, and about his adventures growing up as a boy in Ukraine. He learned of my obsession with all variations of Rubik’s Cube types of puzzles, and I learned about his fascination with math/logic riddles (he would *not* stop asking me logic riddles!) and he described how in Donetsk he had loved devising these extensive “City Quest” experiences in collaboration with others — which are apparently very involved scavenger hunts mixed with logic puzzles mixed with Parkour — sort of like the popular “escape rooms”, but made on a city-wide scale and somewhat more athletic.

His IQ was off the charts, and he seemed to have read up on nearly twice as much science and math as I have (surely not possible considering my parents were both PhDs and I grew up in academia, and my greatest pasttime was reading…?!?) — not to mention that he also had learned English (alright, he sometimes struggled with that, but who doesn’t?) and he mastered a number of little gymnastics feats and his physique was borderline Greek statue quality. In short, his well-rounded-ness was intimidating and fairly impossible.

During the Thanksgiving visit, I had taken some of the parts of The Book that I’d been working on for some years in order to make some progress on it during the holiday week. If you haven’t heard that story, the extremely shortened version is that I’d written a book about two of the best-known SciFi/Fantasy authors there are (James P. Blaylock and Tim Powers), and I’d decided to not only write it but self-publish it in an extravagant way by releasing them in a signed, ultra-limited edition with my own illustrations decorating it, and hand-bound in leather. The obsession of my youth, book collecting, had been allowed to feed into what was likely some form of clinically insane obsession with making The Book to be absolutely perfect. (The epic story about this includes the fact that I’d bitten off much more than I could chew with the leather part, which can be utterly defiant and recalcitrant about working properly for bookbindings. I had finally mastered this sufficiently, but I was left sensitive about the book and obsessed with making all the details work out.)

Mike Apyshkov, self-portrait drawing.

Mike Apyshkov, self-portrait drawing.

The reason this is all relevant is that Mike wheedled and pleaded with me to allow him to help me while he was with me that Thanksgiving. I wouldn’t have even remotely considered it, except that he was so insistent that he enjoyed working on crafts and things with his hands, that he had a delicate and artful touch, and he finally persuaded him. So, he helped me in sewing the bindings of a number of the books! And — I cannot deny that he did exactly as good of a job at that as I was already doing with far more practice. THIS is extremely characteristic of Mike — he mastered things so rapidly that he made highly skilled things appear to be as simple as child’s play! I later saw him applying the same delicacy of touch and rapt attention to detail to some of his own artistic creations that he partly hand-manufactured. His artistry was such that it was a lot like one of the grand masters of art had been reincarnated. In fact, one of the things he gave me at some point was this huge Taschen coffee-table book on Leonardo da Vinci — because he knew that I spoke Italian and appreciated art — but, I believe that he felt a kinship with da Vinci, the archetypal Renaissance Man who had mastered math, technology and art.

Mike Apyshkov, demonstrating some exercises.

Mike Apyshkov, demonstrating some exercises.

While staying with us, my family and I introduced Mike to the traditional foods for Thanksgiving (which were maybe only borderline tasty to him — I think about the only thing he showed enthusiasm for was the mashed potatoes, which my mother and Aunt Amelia always make to perfection). We also enjoyed some group outings to local parks, and played cards with each other. Mike was particularly interested to discover that my brother Jon is a firearms devotee, and he seemed delighted when Jon hosted him out to a local indoor gun range to practice shooting.

Mike, swinging at the park with my nephew.

Mike, swinging at the park with my nephew.

 

Mike, shooting at the gun range.

Mike, shooting at the gun range.

Mike, demonstrating flagpole hold position.

Mike, demonstrating flagpole hold position.

 

Mike playing Texas Hold-Em with my mother, using Monopoly money.

Mike playing Texas Hold-Em with my mother, using Monopoly money.

 

Playing games with the family at Thanksgiving.

Playing games with the family at Thanksgiving.

My mother immediately became fond of Mike, and remarked that she wanted to adopt him. She later made a special trip up to Dallas last spring, just so she could attend his citizenship ceremony.

Mike Began Working For Me On Many Projects

Shortly after I met him, I think that Mike returned to Eastern Europe to finish up the final exams for his degree. And, he also worked in a brief internship at Art Lebedev Studio in Moscow, a famous commercial art and industrial design agency. I seem to recall that Mike idolized them prior to working there, so this must have been a little bit of a dream-come-true for him. He admired the elegant designs they created, and had shown me their works online before.

Mike’s interest in the overlap of art and technology was perhaps nowhere more evident than his work in 3-D modelling. Mike had learned how to structure the framing and rendering of all types of three dimensional objects through computer programs built to design such things, and he developed these things for clients for quite some time. He offered to do such work for me, and I took him up on it — I had wanted a nice visual sequence that conveyed how the Rubik’s cube was a great metaphor for the complexity of search engine optimization, and there were even more complex models of the Rubik’s cube that had evolved over time. In fact, the logo of my business website was a artist’s conception of one of the more complex cube-type puzzles that is in the shape of a dodecahedron. I asked Mike to create an animation showing a classic 3×3 Rubik’s cube transforming into one of the larger versions — it goes from 3x3x3 to 4x4x4 to 5x5x5, and then transforms into the dodecahedron shape briefly before exploding.

Animation storyboard sequence sketch I drew up for Mike to understand what I wanted.

Animation storyboard sequence sketch I drew up for Mike to understand what I wanted.

 

A few of my Rubik's Cube type puzzles that I loaned Mike to use as guides for creating the 3D modeling.

A few of my Rubik’s Cube type puzzles that I loaned Mike to use as guides for creating the 3D modeling.

 

Argent Media - Dallas SEO Agency

Argent Media animation by Mike Apyshkov. 2014 ©

Eikoncraft LogoI came to know that Mike had formed a startup company devoted to design and technical development back in Ukraine in partnership with one of his close friends, Artem Starchenko, called Eikoncraft, which quickly grew to somewhere around 28 employees. Looking back, I suspect Mike was inspired to somewhat imitate the Art Lebedev Studio where he had interned. I hired Eikoncraft to perform the technical development for a number of my clients over time, and their quality of work has been one of my secret weapons since I formed my company a little over five years ago. Not only have they done 3-D modelling for some of my clients, but also all sorts of website development, graphic design, and other more ideosyncratic tasks for my online reputation customers. The company seemed to reflect Mike himself in many ways — it is made up of highly talented, motivated young people who can rapidly master concepts and technologies that are can trip up far more experienced people — their ability to execute is nothing short of breathtaking.

Eikoncraft company, Ukraine

Eikoncraft Company (click to see enlarged version)

Mike’s thirst for knowledge really knew no bounds. He absorbed all types of information on multiple disciplines like a sponge! I can’t emphasize this enough. I loved conversations with him, because he challenged me out of my ruts by the fact of his awareness of the world and cutting-edge discoveries about everything. My friends and family know that I’m something of a windbag, full up with weird trivia that can sometimes put encyclopedias to shame, but Mike frequently had me beat on depth of knowledge. I don’t understand how someone who was less than half my age when we first met could beat me so often! I was thrilled whenever I could find stuff that amazed Mike, because the bar was so high — he inspired me to try to find things he didn’t already know about the subjects that appealed to him. I think that when he left Dallas in June of last year that I had loaned or given him my Santa Fe Institute book on cellular automata — one of his more recent obsessions/hobbies was the programming of self-programming and reproducing software — some of the methods of which many believe may turn out to be the nascent underpinnings of Artificial Intelligence.

Mike, delighted with the top hundred mathematics discoveries book I gave him for his birthday in 2015.

Mike, delighted with the top hundred mathematics discoveries book I gave him for his birthday in 2015.

 

Mike The Inventor

To understand Mike’s cleverness, you should see his work on a project called “Duckify” — software named after “duck face” which describes the overly-posed expressions people can make when photographs are taken, or when they make selfies. Working collaboratively with one of his friends, they developed software which performs rapid 3D modelling in real-time, taking any picture and mapping it directly on one’s own face with three dimensonal surfacing to conform a photo to your own features, and then connect the photo’s features with your own for real-time animation. One could take a photograph of the Mona Lisa, for instance, or the president, and then using your webcam it would map the image onto your own face while you talked or made expressions.

Video that Mike created for Duckify, where he demonstrates the technology on his
own face, superimposing the faces of: the Mona Lisa, an Ape, Marilyn Manson, etc.

Naturally, you may recognize that Snapchat’s filters do this in large part. Using your phone and the Snapchat app, you can get all sorts of crazy dynamic masks imposed over your own face. (I think there is some indication that part of this technology may have been originally developed by Mike and his circle of acquaintances, but I digress.) Mike’s Duckify technology wasn’t a rip-off of Snapchat’s however — the math in the background of this is extraordinary and interesting, since it performs processing very rapidly using a number of mathematical formulae — the software is self-training, so you can provide a number of sample images to it of the front and sides of your face from multiple angles (again, in real-time — it captures these while you just rotate your head in front of your webcam), and then it takes whatever photo you provide and rapidly maps it over your own face. The speed of this is phenomenal — this can be done in realtime while you’re talking on a video call, or while you’re shooting a video of yourself for YouTube. He also had mastered the ability for two people to swap faces dynamically while on screen simultaneously. Another innovation was that he had the ability to actually impose expressions on your face for you — he could force you to be smiling in video, or frowning, or many other expression types.

If you’re not impressed with this, you should be. I’m a fair programmer with a few patents on work I helped create at Verizon, but this is some work that would have been beyond my skills.

He loaded the pieces of the Duckify application on my laptop, and I’d played with the idea of creating and monetizing some websites around it with him, but I had never gotten around to it, sadly. I’d hoped to set up one site where anyone could come and create videos using the faces of the different presidential candidates during the presidential election of the past year — imagine being able to easily make a video where you can put on the presidential candidate’s face and say whatever you want! Scary, too, isn’t it?

I’ve neglected to mention his incredible sense of humor so far! If you watch his Duckify demo video that I embedded above, you start to get an impression of it. The guy was super-playful, silly even, and he loved pulling jokes and trading humorous videos. His laughter was so infectious! His humor never seemed unkind — he had the ability to disarm you, and break you out of impassivity to join him in laughing.

Mike achieved at least a little public accolades for some of his design work. At least once (I seem to recall he’d done this twice), he won an honorable mention for a design he and a partner had submitted to the famous Red Dot Design Award competition. His design (created in collaboration with Dmitriy Dlyasin) was a “Link Playground” that was a minimalist workout equipment facility that provided one with multiple bodyweight workout options in the form of a single, continuous metal bar that squiggles its way through the air like a casual doodle sketch that has leaped off a piece of paper to become 3-D reality. Here’s a rendering of the concept:

Link Playground, an honorable mention in the annual Red Dot Design Award competition for 2015/2016, designed by Mike Apyshkov and Dmitriy Dlyasin

Link Playground, an honorable mention in the annual Red Dot Design Award competition for 2015/2016, designed by Mike Apyshkov and Dmitriy Dlyasin

The Red Dot Award Winners are printed up yearly in a huge, slick book that many would give their eye-teeth to be represented within. Mike treasured his copy and left it with me for safe-keeping until he might return for it. If Mike had lived longer, I would bet money that he could have ultimately won top honors in the competition.

Mike was innately a competitor. If I did nearly anything, he wanted to learn it and beat me. I think perhaps the only physical activity that I could do and that he could not was juggling — he had never learned it, and the practice required made it less attractive to him. But, he bested me at playing chess — which very slightly stings my pride to admit, since I’ve long studied and worked professional at strategy. I quickly recognized that he knew much better theory and practice than I do for that game — this is one area where the former soviet countries may continue to have an advantage, since they prize chess ability so highly, compared to here in Texas where I grew up and where football eclipses all else. I enjoyed a chess club in middle school, only, and we didn’t have that option in high school. I could easily beat him at playing Go (an ancient strategy board game that is a precursor to chess, but orders of magnitude more complex). But, my pride makes me defer in attempting to assess whether Mike beat me at most skills in life. He clearly was far more physically trained than I, but on intellectual competitive scores I grudgingly fear that he frequently outpaced me there as well.

One of the coolest things that Mike invented was the “Orbotron” — a object that was like a puzzle, or a small construction kit. When assembled, it was a small plastic sphere that can fit comfortably in one hand. The Orbotron was designed by Mike using 3D visualization software, and is composed of parts that have been sliced from a sphere along curves matching the same radius of the assembled sphere. Imagine a ball, and that some invisible balls of the very same size have intersected through the ball from six cardinal points, cutting spherical chunks out of it. It’s difficult to describe verbally, so check out the photos, below. For mathematicians and geometry afficionados, the shapes are built from six intersecting spheres that all slice through one another and touch precisely at one point in space that is the centerpoint of one other sphere.

Orbotron and bag

Orbotron and bag

 

Disassembled Orbotron

Disassembled Orbotron

Each of the sphere’s segments have a few tiny rare earth magnets, so that if one assembled the parts as the sphere, it all sticks together, snugly. When Mike first introduced the Orbotron to me at Vlad’s home, he gave me no clue as to what it was — merely handing me all these strange, curvilinear parts, and suggested that I put it together — he would not tell me what to expect that it would be when assembled. I began experimenting with putting the parts together, and then instinctively placed parts together that seemed to belong next to one another, resulting within a short time with the very appealing sphere — an “orb”. Mike remarked that of anyone that he’d introduced to the Orbotron, I had assembled it in a sphere the quickest.

The assembled Orbotron sphere.

The assembled Orbotron sphere.

But, the Orbotron has a lot more charm than merely being a puzzle that one assembles into a tight sphere. It can also be constructed in many various configurations to represent all sorts of other structures, including flowers, Chinese pagodas, the Star Trek Enterprise ship, caterpillars, and more. It’s hard to describe how addictive the Orbotrons are to touch — they’re elegant, compelling, and one simply wishes to own one the minute you see it. I knew immediately that it was a unique object — simultaneously a toy, a puzzle, and a piece of participatory tactile art. It was innovative, and clever.

Orbotron - the 'stegosaurus' configuration

Orbotron – the ‘stegosaurus’ configuration

I convinced Mike to manufacture a number of them for me to give away to friends and family for Christmas that year. There’s only a small number of these items in existence. Mike manufactured the Orbotrons using a FlashForge 3D printer which I believe he’d originally used to make prototypes of a product designed for a client. The 3D printer ejects materials from tiny nozzles in patterns over successive layers. Once completed, it was necessary to hand-polish the parts with sandpapers and cheesecloths to the desired smoothness, since the printer tended to leave “pixelated” surfaces to some degree. Mike would also use a small drill to smooth out the holes to the perfect tolerance, and then insert the rare earth magnets into all the required spots. So, the Orbotrons were fairly laborious to manufacture. The plan was to eventually have them mass-produced at some factory specialized in parts manufacture, and market them to the general public.

The Orbotron is perhaps the most iconic thing that Mike ever created, and it is very representative of his personality. He had set up an official Orbotron website, which is just a placeholder waiting for him to build it out further. I had supplied him with numerous photos of things I created using the Orbotron parts, and he was collecting those to make little catalogs of shapes for people to try to make if they received the puzzle kits.

Mike introduced me to a number of things like the Orbotron which I, in turn, introduced to other people. So, Mike’s impact on my life rippled out and affected others in numerous instances. I can only imagine how this dynamic must have affected many people he was acquainted with in Ukraine and Russia.

A slice of the Gâteau Mille Crêpe cake that Mike made for his father, Vlad's, birthday. Mike's creativity knew no bounds.

A slice of the Gâteau Mille Crêpe cake that Mike made for his father, Vlad’s, birthday, in 2016. Mike’s creativity knew no bounds.

How We Became Roommates

Last spring, Vlad had decided to move to France along with his wife, but he was concerned with leaving Mike behind. Mike needed to remain on American soil a while longer to complete the final steps of getting his United States citizenship, and out of practicality Vlad needed to rent out his house or sell it. Mike could pretty clearly have afforded an apartment, but I think that finding  shortterm lease would have been tricky, and Vlad also seemed to want Mike to have access to someone if he needed anything. They have other perfectly great Russian friends in the Dallas area, but I think Vlad worried about being an imposition to others, and he knew that Mike and I had a lot of similarities of interests and personality and might more easily resonate. So, I invited Mike to live in my guest room for $200 per month with no real trepidation. From my perspective, the money was really just pro-forma, and I didn’t really care about it (the main cost he added was due to my concern with his comfort — he utterly hated the Texas heat, and so I decided beforehand to turn down my airconditioning to just below 70° F). In fact, I looked forward to having him for company, not least of all because he inspired me so much, and I benefit from having someone around more. From my perspective, it was a win-win arrangement.

Mike, U.S. Naturalization Ceremony for citizenship, Irving, Texas, spring of 2016.

Mike, U.S. Naturalization Ceremony for citizenship, Irving, Texas, spring of 2016.

Mike, receiving his diploma from the judge at the citizenship ceremony.

Mike, receiving his diploma from the judge at the citizenship ceremony.

I wonder in retrospect whether Mike was concerned about it being a positive experience, but the likelihood is that he did not. His exposure to me and my family, as well as dinners at my home and Vlad’s over time, had likely familiarized him with me, and I think he knew that he could trust me with anything. He would have mainly been satisfied that I had fiber-optic internet service, providing really slick bandwidth.

Mike, making a joke about his U.S. citizenship shortly after the ceremony, outside the 50s style diner where we had lunch. Would he now have to pray to the US god of crass comercialization?

Mike, making a joke about his U.S. citizenship shortly after the ceremony, outside the 50s style diner where we had lunch. Would he now have to pray to the US god of crass comercialization?

Mike, sleepy-headed, working from my dining room one morning.

Mike, sleepy-headed, working from my dining room one morning. He’d probably kill me for making this photo public!

When Mike moved in, he installed gymnastics rings, hanging from one of the tree branches in my front yard — not something people are used to seeing in my little suburb of Dallas! He would use those for exercise, and sometimes after dark when no one would be as likely to see me, I’d do some chin-ups on them as well. I couldn’t do the “iron cross” gymnastics configuration, of course, but he could.

Funnily enough, the first first morning after he moved in, he woke me up by setting my fire alarm off! He’d taken a lengthy shower, and the steam when he opened the bathroom door went straight into the fire alarm — it was hilarious!

Having Mike as a roommate was fun, although sometimes it was like living with a ghost. He was operating mostly on the eastern European time zone, because of working on projects with his teammates back in Ukraine, and also because he had agreed to tutor a Ukrainian mathematics student via Skype video teleconference calls in preparation for the big competition. He also had gravitated towards being more active during the night because he never really adapted to Texas weather — he preferred much colder weather, and nighttime was at least a little cooler. He sometimes wanted to take very long walks for exercise and reflection, and nighttime is pretty much when he did it. So, our schedules didn’t always overlap.

Have you seen the TV series, Silicon Valley? I definitely felt a little bit like I was operating a startup business incubator out of my home like the character, Erlich Bachman. Both of us were heads-down into our computers during our respective business days, and we chatted lightly around that. I could sometimes lure him out of his computer for a few hours by some activity like dinner out, or a movie on TV. But, he mostly wanted to work on his projects (some of which were often fun, like when he was training his bots to play online multiplayer games on behalf of clients).

I could go a few days without seeing him. When he was holed up in his room, I mostly didn’t bother him. At other times, he might go out for a long walk or errand, or to go do some project at the Dallas Makerspace (a coop workshop facility). Mike didn’t drive — I believe he probably had gotten his driver’s license, but he really hated driving in Dallas. I think he probably didn’t grow up driving, and Dallas roadways are very aggressive. Mike preferred walking, riding the trains, or I drove him. Sometimes for short errands, I walked with him, and at other times I drove him to my suburb’s cool nature trails to walk with me there.

The ghost-like quality was also due to his intense politeness. He didn’t make a lot of noise — I could hear him at times on his video conference calls in his room, but other times he wore his headphones if he was listening to music. He was reading a lot while living with me, too. His extreme level of politeness was not really necessary in my home, but I appreciated the respectfulness, and I took it also as an implied expression for a desire for his own privacy. The politeness extended towards him leaving very little signs of using things in my home — he mostly washed his own dishes and bought a lot of his own food. We both drink tea, but his type tends towards some of the more robust black tea varieties whereas I have gravitated more towards different green teas in recent years. So, he didn’t leave a lot of signs of his presence when he was around the house.

To be fair, I can be a bit of a ghost, too, in similar ways. I have a fairly active social life, so I wasn’t home at dinner many nights, and I traveled a lot for business, leaving him to fend for himself at times.

I enjoyed having Mike living with me. It broke me out of my ruts, and he inspired me. We played Chess, as I mentioned earlier, and I tried to teach him some of Go. We watched movies — each of us introduced the other to things we’d never seen before. A couple of times I felt I particularly amazed him. First, I took him to the Scarborough Renaissance Festival, which he’d never attended before — he’d never been to any Renaissance festival, period. (That was only a partial success, because the weather was extremely hot. He remarked that they didn’t really feel the need of Renaissance festivals in Europe because they lived right in the middle of history there already!) Second, I took him to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show, along with my longtime friend, Gavin. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a cult film that is highly unique — it’s not at all a good movie, but devoted fans had evolved early in its history to act out the film live at the fronts of theatres as the film is being played, and they also make fun of the film and engage the audience to participate. Mike loved it, safe to say!

The Circumstances of Mike’s Death

For this next section, a warning for Mike’s relatives and close friends — I’m speaking very frankly below about the circumstances of Mike’s death as a means of catharsis for me. Some of this is conjecture, based upon what I know, and it’s not intended to be disrespectful nor hurtful. I’m exploring why he died to try to understand it myself, and to provide information to others who are unable to obtain closure because of not being able to know or understand what happened. If thinking or reading about Mike’s death and circumstances around it could be too painful for you, please skip past this to the last section of this article called “Farewell.”

The news websites in Ukraine reported that a young, 26 year-old man died by falling from the 29th floor of the Olympic business center, which is so-named because it is located adjacent to the huge Olympic National Sports Complex. Some of the reports stated that he jumped, and that law enforcement personnel were looking into the circumstances, although they also stated that the most likely reason for the death was suicide.

Olimpiysky Shopping Center, Kyiv, Ukraine

Olimpiysky Shopping Center, Kyiv, Ukraine

Three months or so ago, Mike had begun working for a European bitcoin company. He had been a little tired of running the development company and hopping from client to client. In actuality, he had gotten tired of doing all types of technical development, and he wanted to find a whole new path in life, perhaps finding work teaching and helping kids, which he enjoyed greatly, or something else. I think he was pretty burned-out.

I understood he was winding-down his involvement with Eikoncraft — but, I didn’t think to question what was going on with that. He’d hoped to obtain more passive income with his gaming bots that people hired to develop out their virtual-world video game characters — but, even that may have become progressively difficult and time-consuming to maintain — I’m not sure. So, I conjecture that he joined this company as something like “taking the easier path”, and that he intended for it to be only a temporary necessity. By all accounts, he was well-liked in the company, and they had apparently made him a team lead over some development. But, in retrospect, I should have really questioned him about this — after all, he’d told me he’d grown tired of programming and development with clients and he was winding-down his involvement with Eikoncraft, yet here he was joining up a digital business company where he would be doing development. I should have questioned him about this dichotomy.

Just a few weeks ago, Mike arranged a video conference call with me, and we talked for a while for the first time in some months. He said that the main reason for the call was to invite me to provide a proposal for some marketing consulting for the Bitcoin company, because they were planning to start a new project and associated website, and that SEO services were to be a part of the promotion of the website. I opted to think about the project and get back to him later, and then we moved on to chat about personal life things.

Skype call from Mike

Skype call from Mike

I’d asked how his relationship with his girlfriend was going. He seemed a little abashed about this, and just looked away from me and said that they had broken up. Obviously, it was a sensitive subject, but he also may have not wanted to look me in the eye because I had advised him a number of times to invest more time in the relationship, and from my perspective he had little to no valid reason for being unhappy in the relationship. It’s hard to know what may have happened privately between two people, but I’m 90% certain that the relationship may have split apart because he was very neglectful and this unmotivated/lackadaisical/laissez-faire attitude was repeatedly sending the message that he felt both tepid about it and fatalistic (fatalism in the cynical outlook that “all relationships will eventually fail anyway, so why try?” — a philosophy that I do not share). I think that the relationship would have continued if he’d done even the basics of maintaining it and conveying desire and interest, but he didn’t. I expressed sadness/sympathy to him, but did not criticize on the phone call when we last talked.

Photo I took of a scarlet macaw in Costa Rica.

Photo I took of a scarlet macaw in Costa Rica.

We next chatted about my recent trip to the rainforest of Costa Rica, and I showed him my photographs from there. He became more animated and enthusiastic while looking at those photos, and he said that he had been wanting to travel again soon, and Costa Rica might be a good choice. Back in the spring he’d talked about Thailand a lot, and he now said that either place would be good. He remarked that he wanted to leave Ukraine to travel once again, because he didn’t enjoy being around most Ukrainians and Russians.

A week or so later, I wrote Mike an email, regretfully declining the project with the Bitcoin company. My reasons behind that decision are private, but I can say that most of the reasons involve it being not a great fit for where I’m planning to focus for this year.

When Mike’s father, Vlad, contacted me a week ago to let me know he’d just learned that Mike had died, I initially went into shock. It was nothing short of a devastating blow. Just the fact of a young, vibrant and dynamic person dying in their twenties is so wrong to begin with that nothing further is needed to cause one to feel like they’ve been punched in the stomach. But, Vlad related that initial reports were that he had committed suicide, and this fact makes it so much worse, especially for me. I’ve felt like I haven’t had enough oxygen since then. All the air went out of the room.

If you know the 5 Psychological Stages of Grief, then you know that Denial is the first stage. I’m extremely familiar with the 5 Stages of Grief, because I’ve gone through them many times. I’ve unfortunately experienced having a number of friends and acquaintances that committed suicide over the course of my life, so sadly I have far too much experience to compare situations and commonalities. Even when familiar with the 5 Stages, one cannot avoid experiencing them anew, really, as upsetting as some of the steps are. Due to my repeated experiences, I felt myself go through all stages of grief in rapid flashes in the minutes after hearing of Mike, and then I returned back to the first stages to experience each one for a longer period again.

I first did not want to believe that Mike could have committed suicide, because I felt that I’d let him down. If he committed suicide, then I hadn’t accomplished successful guidance as one of his mentors. Oh, believe me, I fully recognize the objective truth that I am not responsible for his actions — but, it is quite hard to separate one’s instinctual emotional reactions to things like this if one is prone to caring for others. So, I felt the terrible force of not wanting to accept that it was suicide because that fact would then force me to feel that I failed someone that I cared for very much, and failed in the worst and most final ways possible.

If you want alternative possibilities, there were initially some very possible options, and I latched upon these in hopes that there might have been some other explanation aside from a bleak suicide. Privately, Mike had relayed some things to his father that could have suggested a very dark option: that Mike might have been murdered.

The circumstantial evidence for me around the theory that this was not suicide initially felt very strong:

  • Mike had just days previous expressed to me that he intended to travel.
  • Mike had just received his U.S. citizenship less than a year ago, after going to some efforts and sacrifices to obtain it.
  • I suspect that most people have a large horror of falling from great heights, and Mike was expert at Chemistry since he’d been a child, so he easily could have obtained the means for poisoning himself, and thereby going out with less chances of mistakes and better certainty of experiencing no pain.
  • The Olympiyskiy Business Center is a popular multi-use facility with people going into and out of it constantly. I did the calculations, just as Mike would have, and determined it would have taken him 4.41 seconds to hit the ground from the 29th floor. Possibly it could take up to 5 seconds, depending on wind conditions and air friction. Mike was always very considerate, and 5 seconds is just long enough to consider that someone might potentially walk beneath him and be injured by his fall. So, it’s slightly surprising that he would risk that happening.
  • He left no indication that he was just about to take this fatal step.
  • There is an additional reason to consider that it could have been murder, due to some personal information that those of us closest to him have about a conflict that he could have entered into. This is something I’ve chosen not to share publicly, because I cannot find any real evidence other than some hearsay. Even considering this, it’s an extremely low likelihood, and the evidence to the opposite is so convincing to me that it seems bad to list this.
  • The top of the Olympic skyscraper has some degree of complexity to it, that could have been attractive to Mike for the purposes of Parkour or risky gymnastics. Mike always was using the structures around him for gymnastics expression, and it’s possible he could have spontaneously tried some move or some handstand and had an accident.
  • Apparently, there was a little alcohol in his bloodstream, so that opens the door to some consideration of accident as well, despite the fact that he was at his workplace when he died, and I don’t believe he would have been drinking enough to cause a foolish accident.
  • He had reportedly been talking with the people at work, and laughing or joking with a few of them just before going out onto the terrace from where he fell. It’s rarer for someone to commit suicide immediately after talking normally with others without giving some kind of indication.

However, once I had collected all the information that I could, it seems much more likely that Mike chose to jump off the Olympic business center tower, as upsetting as that image may be to contemplate:

  • Mike had talked to me and others about suicide to some degree in the months or even years previous to this. This part is gut-wrenching to relate, because it can make all of us who knew him feel that we might have failed to some degree in persuading him from this course of action. While living with me, and to a far lesser degree before that, Mike had expressed to me a very nihilistic worldview — he tended to believe that when you die, that’s it, it’s all over, your consciousness fades to black, and there’s nothing more. Existence is over, there is no soul that lives on, no afterlife. Thus, based upon this knowledge, and the atheistic theory that our lives, consciousness and self-awareness are just an accident of atoms colliding in the universe, then there was no reason to exist. We had longer conversations about this while he lived with me, and I rebutted this worldview with my Christian-informed beliefs that we were created for a reason by a supreme being, God, and that our core identity, the soul, lives on in an afterlife. His background having grown up in a post-soviet country was not very open to these concepts, since religion was looked down upon by many of the intellectuals of the formerly Communist countries, and religions were even derided as being something that only mentally weak people need for the sake of comforting themselves and functioning in the world. Since my parents were simultaneously hardcore scientists and also Christians, I provided him with some apologetics in terms of arguing that science absolutely does not disprove the existence of God, the Bible, nor the human soul. I pointed out that Sir Roger Penrose, the preeminent physicist, has theorized that there appear to be quantum effects happening in the human brain, beyond mere chemical and electrical processes. For me, this is yet more evidence of the existence of a human spirit, separate from our physical bodies, and our brains are an interface for that spirit to operate on this earthly plane. I believe that Penrose’s scientific observation is attempting to describe the connection between the soul and the body. Quantum effects happening to enable human consciousness indicate that our minds exist in large part in quantum states, essentially operating across more than the three or four dimensions that we can perceive in everyday reality. It is an evidence that God exists. But, Mike was not very open to this theory. Rock-hard certainty is the domain of the unconsciously-hubris-filled youth, and this was one area that Mike had grown to think that no other possibilities could exist other than his limited worldview.
  • While living with me, Mike was questioning his existence and meaning of life. To this end, he was reading the works of a number of notable philosophers. His views seemed to be shaped by existentialism, and I think he’d read works by Kierkegaard. I know for a fact that he was reading works by the philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, while living with me — and as you may know, Nietzsche was known as a proponent for nihilistic thoughts and frequently stated that “God is dead” throughout his writings. Mike had been somewhat taken by the concept of Nietzsche’s “Übermensch” or “overman”/”superman”, which is someone who has transcended concepts of traditional morality that are rooted in what Nietzsche considered to be “superstitious” beliefs in God and Christianity.
    (Long Aside: I’ll take a moment right here to say that I highly respect intellectual thought in general, and I can appreciate the existentialist philosophers’ desires to release mankind from being controlled by detrimental, fraudulent superstitions. But, the objective fact is that Christianity also conveys considerable benefits — separate from humans’ attempts to manipulate one another through religious structures they create that are beyond what God conveyed to us. Some of the scientists of the Santa Fe Institute thinktank organization have objectively observed that religions have apparently conveyed survival benefits to human kind, as evidenced in part by the fact that the world’s top religions have survived for thousands of years at this point, and that they would not have if the organizations were not conveying benefits. Their objective scientific observation, devoid of some of the biased prejudice of hostile scientists, would seem to me to be another reason to believe that the inherent processes underpinning the universe which the Santa Fe scientists collect together under the concepts of “Complexity Theory”, are an effort to describe the existence of God and the effect of His will in the innate mechanisms at work in the universe. I conveyed some of this to Mike as well. So, the existentialists have done what is a dangerous thing in throwing the baby out with the bathwater so to speak, from my humble viewpoint. The evidence is that humans do a piss-poor job of directing their lives for the most part, without believing in a morality that transcends human morality, without believing in a transcendent raison d’être or “reason to live” that goes beyond mere human physical existence. On their own, humans can frequently devolve into egocentrism, which is not enough. They manage themselves into stealing, cheating on each other in relationships, and becoming addicted to substances that steal away their humanity and all that is noble about them. Oh, sure, some people may operate well with no beliefs beyond themselves, but there are reasons why countries that have extracted God from themselves more also have higher rates of alcoholism, higher degrees of corruption, and higher rates of many crimes.

    Map comparing levels of alcohol consumption by countries. Extremely high volumes of average consumption likely correlate with alcoholism.

    Map comparing levels of alcohol consumption by countries. Extremely high volumes of average consumption likely correlate with alcoholism. Europe and the countries of the Russian Federation show highest per capita levels of alcohol intake. (source)

     

    Chart comparing companies according to relative levels of corruption in public offices.

    Chart comparing companies according to relative levels of corruption in public offices. (source)

    Chart comparing murder rates across countries.

    Chart comparing murder rates across countries. (source)

    On the face of it, following the Christian ideals for life conveys huge degrees of advantages to individuals and societies. It’s obvious, for instance, if one doesn’t lie, steal, or commit murder, one is far less likely to go to prison for such things. Families where the parents are highly committed to both treating each other lovingly as the Bible encourages, and avoiding divorce as the Bible states is God’s desire, will be far less likely to traumatize their children and provide a healthier environment instead of splitting resources across multiple households as in the case of divorce. My point in this long tangental argument in favor of spiritual beliefs is that, just like the Santa Fe Institute’s scientists have observed, the leading religions’ traditions often convey some innate advantages when their practices are followed, even if one does not wholly believe them. It’s a cheap shot on my part, but if one compares with the way Nietzsche’s life spiraled downward at the end, one may conclude that his philosophy OFFERS NO HOPE WHATSOEVER TO HUMANKIND.  Mike chose wrong, and I grieve that I was unable to convey the very real and intellectually sound reasons for considering there to be much more to Christian faith than what nihilism offers. But, you, the reader of this, still have the opportunity to explore the possibility that there is much more to life, and more veracity to Judaism and Christianity than you’ve perhaps been lead to believe, if you are an unbeliever. Consider that you may not really know what’s in the Bible if you have not read the whole thing.) So, you can see that Mike’s buying into the philosophies of Existentialism and Nihilism are a significant reason to believe that he could have considered suicide.

  • You cannot read too much into this, but Mike’s favorite band and their music might have also influenced him some. Mike loved the music of System Of A Down, an Armenian/American heavy metal band known for darkly cynical songs critical of dehumanizing aspects of society. Now, this may be completely unrelated, and I’d be just about the last to associate moody dark music with suicidal tendencies, but the band’s most popular song was “Chop Suey”, which was originally to be called “Suicide”. One of the song’s writers stated that it’s about:

…how we are regarded differently depending on how we pass. Everyone deserves to die. Like, if I were now to die from drug abuse, they might say I deserved it because I abused dangerous drugs. Hence the line, ‘I cry when angels deserve to die’. The lyric passages ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’ and ‘why have you forsaken me?’ are a reference to Jesus’ death on the cross, as, according to the Gospels, it was one of the seven things Jesus said while dying.

  • One fan published the theory that the song was about someone who is contemplating suicide, but everyone around that person doesn’t understand why. This resonates an awful lot with Mike’s death. Could it have affected and influenced him? When he played System Of A Down music at my home, my interpretation was that he enjoyed it largely because he had fond memories of attending one or more of their concerts in Ukraine with friends, and the compellingly strong music was very catchy, and it speaks to anyone who despises the hypocrisies of the establishment society. So, I could be reading way too much into this, but the fact that he sort of put himself into the role of how the song has been interpreted could be apt.
  • Mike’s actions to separate himself from the Eikoncraft company he cofounded, and to reduce that work down by attrition or otherwise, may very well have been part of his preparation for killing himself. As I said earlier, he was actually very considerate of others, and would not have wanted to cause others harm. I understand only a few employees are left of Eikoncraft. I think this was largely due to him deciding he didn’t want to do it any more, rather than due to a failure of the company.
  • Mike’s decision to apply-for and accept a position with the Bitcoin company is quite odd in context of him not wanting to do development work any longer. Even though Bitcoin appears to have highly valued bringing him on as staff, working for an employer company could not have been all that more attractive than working for himself as the boss. There’s wiggle room in my assessment of this, because one thing Mike had grown to dislike was trying to manage employees and motivate them toward professionalism. But, in retrospect, I should have questioned him more about this move. I’m now left to wonder whether he agreed to work for this company in order to have frequent access to the Olympic skyscraper as he prepared and worked up the nerve to eventually jump off of it. It’s quite simply a very beautiful building, and the view from the top floors must be phenomenal.
  • Prior to the suicide, Mike’s seeming ambivalence towards his girlfriend was something I could not understand very well. He had described to me how he’d first approached dating with high degrees of curiosity, and had learned how to behave in ways calculated to attract members of the opposite sex. He essentially described how he had to a certain degree coldly calculated what stimuli to apply in order to obtain desired effects of getting a woman, and that he had some regrets about his early love affairs because of the underlying falsehood of his expressions of interest eventually resulted in him hurting others’ feelings. I don’t believe he did that in his most recent longterm relationship, so I was mystified when he would tell me about not being happy about the relationship or somewhat resenting the time it took away from his professional projects. I thought at first there could be some level of Asperger syndrome going on, which is pretty common to people working in high technology fields. But, now in retrospect, I think it’s quite possible that he purposefully sabotaged the relationship because he was planning to kill himself. His inattentiveness and lack of intensity in pursuing what can only be described as a truly phenomenally wonderful woman was intended to ultimately be an act of kindness towards her when he eventually committed suicide.
  • In a similar vein, Mike’s calling me just a couple of weeks prior to dying could also be interpreted as a desire to say goodbye one last time. I’ve unfortunately had the experience earlier in life when a good friend called me one week prior to committing suicide to chat some. People preparing to really go through with suicide may frequently make an effort to see or speak to each of the people they most care about prior to their final actions. I would not be surprised to hear that Mike may have contacted a number of friends and family in the days leading up to his departure.
  • The details that remove most question of whether Mike committed suicide or not involve the security cameras at the Olympic business center facility. Vlad was quite irritated with the police in Kiev, who apparently had concluded it was suicide with practically no investigation whatsoever. In this city that has only about an 8% solve rate for crimes, the police only wanted to rush to close the case and reduce complications by declaring it a suicide. Vlad’s pestering of them finally stung them into going back and getting copies of the security cam footage to see if there could be any other explanation. Vlad and his wife also carefully reviewed the footage, and I’m sorry to say that Mike walked alone down the corridors to the terrace where he leaped off. There is no camera aimed outward at the terrace, and only one camera near the door showed a single shadow of a person pass by at that time. One of the employees apparently saw Mike jumping off, and the employee is seen on camera immediately dialing his phone for emergency services. The security camera’s videos would seem to eliminate most other possible explanations. Could there still have been someone lurking out there when he went out? Perhaps, but the security footage as far as I’m aware didn’t show anyone else coming in after the fall.
  • If you cannot accept the horrifying specter of the beautiful, creative and sunny dispositioned Mike voluntarily killing himself, there is still wiggle room to believe that he could have accidentally gone off the top of the building. As I said, he loved Parkour and gymnastics. Imagine he had a drink or two with coworkers and that he went out, was loving the view, and decided to walk tightrope-fashion along the balustrade, and stumbled and fell off. Or, he did a handstand, and miscalculated. He had a large dose of the irrational belief in his own indestructibleness that young people have. His assessment of relative risk was much less than mine (older people, informed by a lifetime of experience, are generally less likely to do risky things). His practice of Parkour had also reduced his sense of risk and any fear of heights that he may have ever had. These theories of possible accident seem less likely than the possibility of suicide — he nearly would have had to push away voluntarily from the building in order to get far enough away from the stairstepped edges on the way down to hit the ground at the bottom — and, as I described, those of us that knew him knew he was considering suicide some during the preceding year — but, there’s still the narrow chance that this was some sort of freak accident.

So it is that I very regretfully conclude for myself that Mike committed suicide. I would love to believe otherwise. I am still highly grieved and heartbroken that he left us so very soon in life. I’d like to see him again, and learn about more new things he’s innovated and created! I’d like to hear him joke again, and laugh.

As part of my reaching of closure, I feel like my exploration of why he did what he did satisfies my bewilderment at what happened. I’m less anxiety-ridden at knowing that he chose to depart, even though I am still arguing in my mind with his ghost, trying to persuade him that life’s worth living, that relationships are the reason to live, and that his leaving costs too much for all of us that loved him.

Those that care about him or who don’t know him are horrified by his chosen method for departure. But, that’s largely due to the dread of falling from great heights that is instinctively wired in all humans from just about the age of one – something I’ve explained that he’d largely eliminated from himself through longtime practice of Parkour. I think it’s quite possible that he selected the tall building with the beautiful view for his final adventure here on earth. I think he wanted to experience the brief exhilaration of flying as he ended it all. I think that was one last experience he wanted for himself. As such, this part of his suicide does not cause me so much pain and horror as it otherwise would. I benefit from my familiarity with him in this respect — he literally went out on a high point, just as he chose, and he’d also mathematically calculated that it would be over in a rapid flash.

Aerial photo of the top of the Olympic Business Center in Kiev, Ukraine.

Aerial photo of the top of the Olympic Business Center in Kiev, Ukraine.

The Olympic business center, with its skyscraper, is fairly beautiful.

The Olympic business center, with its skyscraper, is fairly beautiful.

If you choose your own ideal way of dying, you may well choose something different than he did. But, his brilliance with science was such that if he wanted to die quietly in his sleep, he so easily could have.

For myself, exploring why he died as he did gives me some sense of closure. I was upset and anxiety-ridden with uncertainties when I was first thrust into knowing he’d died. I’m moving into my last stage of grief, Acceptance, although I’m still arguing in my mind with Mike’s ghost, trying to convince him to a broader interpretation of the universe and our existence in it, and the consideration that the suicide was not the definitive end that he thought it would be, but instead a phase-shift into a new plane of existence.

I’m grieved at him leaving so early, and I’m grieved at the pain I’m sharing with his family and friends. I’d like to persuade him that we’re worth sticking around for, that there’s still more to discover in life, and that living for decades longer can reveal yet more layers of meaningfulness in life.

Farewell

Mike, I’ll miss you very much. I’m heartbroken that I won’t hear any more jokes from you, or your infectious laughter. I’ll miss you irritating me by constantly asking me logic riddles. I was so inspired by you to challenge myself and to remember that creativity have been such important components of my personality. I was so challenged by your effortless-seeming mastery of physical training, matched up by your quest for quality in developing technology. I was shamed when you pointed out where my graphic designs or art fell short of excellence. I admired your skill at living in another country and another language.

Mike, squinting in the Texas heat and sunlight, just before leaving the United States for the last time. Early summer, 2016.

Mike, squinting in the Texas heat and sunlight, just before leaving the United States for the last time. Early summer, 2016.

I’m going to miss you leaping up into trees in my nature park, and your gymnastic moves when we exercised. I’m going to feel a pain each time I drink the teas you left here in my kitchen, and when I see the Orbotron you crafted for me.

Mike, on vacation in Mexico.

Mike, on vacation in Mexico.

The world feels so much smaller, knowing you’re not over there, jumping around the landscape of Ukraine and Russia. I’ll miss the chance of finding more examples of things you didn’t know that I could amaze you with. I’d love you to see some of the things I yet want to create in this life. I wish that I might have met your future wife and children you could have had.

I’ll miss you, Mike. I hope you are amazed at what you found after your fall, and I pray that our love for you will extend you a ticket into heaven and the afterlife that’s there.

Mike, in a goofy moment, presiding over his startup in the early days.

Mike, in a goofy moment, presiding over his startup in the early days.

POSTSCRIPT 2/19/2017:

Mike’s father, Vlad, has flown into Dallas to stay with me while he clears up Mike’s estate, goes through probate, and visits other friends as well. He’s also shared more information with me which has caused me to revise my opinion of the cause of Mike’s death some. I was writing based on early and incomplete information previously, and I truly hope I did not cause anyone any pain by publicly musing about Mike’s passing away.

Here’s what I now know:

  • First, Mike told me that there was a theft at the company. It’s not at all clear who may have taken some of the company’s property, but Mike had told a few people that he was trying to look into it, as it was very conceivable that an employee within the company might have been involved in this. As such, there was a considerable motive for someone to have killed Mike if they felt they were at risk of being exposed.
  • The fact that a theft had occurred at the same company makes it all the more irritating and unacceptable that Kiev’s police worked so industriously to NOT investigate Mike’s death under suspicious circumstances, and Kiev’s police worked intentionally to sweep Mike’s death under the carpet by closing the case as an accident or suicide. I avoided posting a lot of criticism of the police while the family was in Kiev and trying to deal with a difficult situation, but the authorities’ defacto refusal to do what they are supposed to do is mysterious and terrible. The police’s reticence to do their own jobs has made a bad situation even worse.
  • Earlier, I also alluded to Mike’s work on the project, Duckify, with one of his friends as being a kind of precursor to the interactivity in Snapchat. But, let me be more frank: Mike worked collaboratively with another developer and friend on this technology that could add 3D masks to one’s face in video in real-time, and they developed a number of interesting twists on that technology. Mike’s friend basically took all of this technology to Snapchat, representing it as only his own original work, and gave Mike no credit nor compensation for his teamwork. Mike’s friend is apparently an employee of Snap Inc., which is currently poised to go public in an IPO that’s estimated in value to be over $19 billion. (Note: I’m by no means a conspiracy theorist at all, and I frequent serve as an expert witness in online technology court cases, and I am choosing my words here to be as accurate as I can be, based on a large amount of direct knowledge based upon intellectual property work that Mike showed me while developing Duckify.) So, considering the sky-high valuations that are being discussed involving Snapchat, it’s not at all out of the question that someone could have had a vested interest in eliminating Mike, since he definitely has a potential claim on compensation from that company due to his involvement. I’m not necessarily blaming Snap Inc. for this, because I believe Mike’s friend likely kept Mike’s involvement in the IP a secret. All the same, Mike’s potential claim would pose a potential motive for foul play.
  • There’s a possibility that Mike was not alone on the terrace. It’s difficult to prove a negative, and just because he might have walked down the hallway alone just prior does not mean there could not have been someone already outside when he emerged. Also, the video would not have shown the shadow of a shorter person going out the same area, if someone was walking with Mike. I don’t have any reason to think that anyone could have gotten through the building’s security or anything – the main point is that the police did not seem to work to eliminate the admittedly narrow possibility that anyone else could have been there.
  • There’s a possibility that Mike’s fall could have been an accident. I understand that he may have enjoyed standing on a very small ledge to look out over the city when he took breaks, and there could have been some ice up there when he went out that day. So, there’s a good chance that it could have been an accident.
  • Considering how visible the tower is from many vantage points throughout the city, one seriously wonders if another security cam somewhere in the city might not have captured the building the moment that Mike fell off of the tower. If such video footage could be located, it might answer many questions that his death has raised.
  • Mike had begun dating another woman that he wished to impress — something I was unaware of. This is a significant piece of evidence that his death was far less likely to have been a suicide.
  • Mike had told Vlad he had taken the Bitcoin company job as a temporary thing, and intended to quit after a few weeks. However, he enjoyed the work and it’s clear they valued him, so he stayed on for months longer, and even reached out to see if I would work on a project for the company. Mike’s income from his game-playing bots would have allowed him to live comfortably in Ukraine without working on other programming jobs, so the fact he stayed on longer with this company is a testament that he was enjoying it and intended to be there longer.
  • I related earlier that Mike intended to travel soon — this still seems very significant. Mike had discussed traveling with me while living with me, and was particularly enthusiastic about the prospect when I spoke with him on video call just a few weeks prior to his death.
  • Finally, Vlad has endeavored to make sure that Mike’s remaining employees and partners all receive money due to them, because Vlad feels that Mike always held paying people on time at a very high priority level. This is exactly in-line with things Mike had expressed to me many times. The fact that there are a number of payments that were remaining due when Mike died, and the fact that money was all waiting in his accounts for these business expenses, is also a very strong evidence that Mike did not intend to disappear from the scene when he did. He was virtually adamant in his goals of paying people on time. As a roommate with me, he always paid me on-time for the living expenses, too. It would have been completely out of character for him to have left without trying to make sure that all of his friends and partners were given everything that was currently due to them.
Mike, taking a break on the terrace at the company's offices in Kiev.

Mike, taking a break on the terrace at the company’s offices in Kiev.

My updated assessment is that Mike very likely did not commit suicide, but that he could have been the victim of homicide, or it could have been an accident. While he had been mulling over nihilist philosophies as I described, and he had a somewhat fatalistic outlook in some ways (my experience from many years of working with Russian engineers at Verizon is that this is not uncommon among eastern Europeans), the combination of information is strongly in favor of a conclusion that it was not suicide.

Orbotron with laser etched wood box and printed sack.

Mike’s hand-crafted Orbotron edition with laser-etched wood box and printed sack.

Mike, standing in the snow.

Mike, standing in the snow.

POSTSCRIPT 3/19/2017: Some names have been redacted at the request of parties for the sake of personal privacy, and I have voluntarily chosen to make these changes. These changes are made because Mike would want people’s privacy requests to be honored, and because I am a professional in online reputation management, and I understand how things ranking in search results can negatively impact people.

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Seattle Seahawks File For Trademarks To Escape 12th Man Agreement – Can They Do This? http://www.nodalbits.com/bits/seattle-seahawks-file-trademarks-escape-12th-man-agreement/ Wed, 28 Jan 2015 14:30:54 +0000 http://www.nodalbits.com/?p=801 Related posts:
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  3. Yellow Pages Argues Seattle Law Limiting Distribution “Unconstitutional”
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Seattle Seahawks Retired Number 12The Seattle Seahawks have applied for 24 trademarkes in the last 15 months, three of which involve the number “12”. As I wrote a year ago, the Seahawks were once sued by Texas A&M over using the “12th Man” name. That earlier suit was settled, resulting in a multi-year licensing agreement. The Seattle Times reports that the Seahawks are aggressively registering a few variations, such as “The 12s”, “We Are 12”, and others.

The Eagle’s article on the subject quotes A&M’s Interim V.P. of Marketing & Communications, Shane Hinckley, stating merely that the licensing arrangement satisfies A&M’s needs and that the Seahawks have been a “great partner”. However, the agreement will expire in mid-2016 if the two teams do not renew it.

Home of the 12th Man by UW Dawgs - October 13, 2013 game between the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans at CenturyLink Field. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Home of the 12th Man by UW Dawgs – October 13, 2013 game between the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans at CenturyLink Field. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Can A&M officials actually be happy about the Seahawks’ efforts to trademark variations around the number 12?

A&M Alumnus Dale Payne, president of the Western Washington Texas A&M Club, speculates that the Seahawks’ activities are a ploy to negotiate for more profitable terms when the agreement comes up for potential renewal next year.

I disagree — I doubt that merely better terms are behind the Seahawks’ actions. From their perspective, an ideal scenario for potential merchandising of team-trademarked products would not involve sharing revenue with another team — they want to own their marks outright.

The Seahawks have a dilemma in their current situation: many years of tradition have established the “12th Man” name with their branding. They’re apparently trying to shift marketing and fan usage over to a name like “The 12s” or “The 12”. They have their work cut out for them — Google statistics show that people in Washington State are searching for “12th Man” many times more than “The 12s” or “We Are 12”.

Google Searches for 12th Man

I predict that if the Seahawks’ new “12” trademark applications are granted by USPTO, their marketing teams will rapidly try to transition over from all use of “12th Man” references. In fact, I’d predict that next year the agreement with Texas A&M University will not be renewed.

Aside from losing a little licensing revenue, is Texas A&M concerned by these newly proposed trademarks? I think that A&M officials should be concerned. Some of the Seahawks’ applications sound way too broad, possibly overlapping 12th Man usage, and potentially a little confusing to consumers. The numeral “12”, by itself, should be unacceptable, as should “The 12” — since A&M’s mark is commonly referred-to as “The 12th Man”. This is way too similar, I believe.

Not to mention, it’s not altogether inconceivable that A&M might desire to create and use other future 12th Man variations for marketing purposes — should they allow the Seahawks to stake out the majority of the “12” playing field while A&M simply sits on a tiny little corner of “12th Man” only? (For one thing, “The 12” is only half the length of “The 12th Man”, and it could remove the semblance of gender-specificity that the mark currently carries. Such a brand evolution is not unusual.) Not allowing for future branding development seems extremely short-sighted, and it could set a precedent whereby the Seahawks might be able to circle back around to contest the TAMU 12th Man trademark status again with a different outcome.

It’s not surprising that the Seahawks would want to create and establish their own intellectual property in a new brandname. But, some of their ideas seem way too generic and potentially infringe on A&M’s mark. Reading further, it seems their brand policing may be casting way too wide a net as well — for instance, trying to bar trademarking of “District 12”, a placename of a fictional region from The Hunger Games.

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Church Launches World’s Largest Chalk Painting ‘Skyvertisement’ http://www.nodalbits.com/bits/church-launches-worlds-largest-chalk-painting-skyvertisement/ Sat, 19 Apr 2014 16:58:08 +0000 http://www.nodalbits.com/?p=792 Related posts:
  1. NY Artist Molly Dilworth Seeks Fame Through Painting In Google Earth/Maps
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I’ve mentioned before how my church, Fellowship Church, has leveraged their position directly in the landing path zone near DFW Airport to promote themselves through the use of a huge logo painted directly on their roof — a form of ‘Roofvertising‘, as it were. They’ve now done yet another type of “Skyvertising” by painting a huge chalk portrait of Jesus on the church parking lot:

Fellowship Church's Chalk Portrait of Jesus

Fellowship’s Chalk portrait of Jesus. The chalk portrait coincides with the week leading up to Easter holiday weekend, and the chalk painting is a form of skyvertising. Aerial Photo Credit: WFAA

While this is clearly more of a novelty and a PR ploy to remind people that this is Easter weekend (many people only attend church twice per year — Easter Weekend and Christmas services), roofvertising and skyvertising are actually serious forms of marketing that can often reach a great many people who are exposed to the promotions when they fly over them or see them when browsing through satellite imagery and aerial photos in Google Maps, Bing Maps, Mapquest, and other mapping applications. KFC’s “Space Ad” — an image of their iconic “Colonel” mascot/logo built at large scale out in the desert of Nevada — was probably the most famous example of this type of marketing.

Fellowship’s chalk portrait of Jesus certainly allowed them to abruptly stand out from the crowd of other churches all vying for attendees this weekend. Many churches do little more to promote themselves at Easter than to hang a large banner outside.

Thus far, the publicity stunt has only received news coverage in Texas, as far as I’m seeing, but I’m guessing it could be picked up at any moment by news organizations elsewhere as a human-interest piece appropriate for the weekend. Some of Fellowship’s other past lesson series and creative promotional ideas have achieved nationwide or even international news coverage on CNN and more.

News coverage of the Fellowship Church skyvertisement publicity stunt. Source: Google News results.

News coverage of the Fellowship Church skyvertisement publicity stunt. Source: Google News results.

In this instance, the publicity was surely extremely cost-effective, primarily obtained for the cost of the chalk since volunteer members provided the labor to assemble the chalk painting.

To see my blog post from years back about Fellowship Church’s rooftop logo, click here.

Postscript: Here’s a fun time-lapse video of the making of the portrait:

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Snowpiercer Delayed Distribution Driving Up Piracy & Malware http://www.nodalbits.com/bits/snowpiercer-delayed-distribution-driving-up-piracy-malware/ Thu, 10 Apr 2014 16:42:35 +0000 http://www.nodalbits.com/?p=788 No related posts. ]]> I’ve been waiting quite some time for the SF flick, Snowpiercer, to appear in U.S. theatres or for the DVD to be available. Apparently, I’m not alone. I noticed this week that if you search for “snowpiercer download”, you can find about 11 DMCA takedown notices removing 21 results from the listings in Google:

Snowpiercer DMCA and piracy in Google search results - Snowpiercer Download

Snowpiercer, is based on a graphic novel from France named Le Transperceneige,” authored by Jacques Lob and Benjamin Legrand, and illustrated by Jean-Marc Rochette. The novel set in a dystopian future where there was apparently some failed attempt to halt global warming that instead resulted in a new Ice Age that kills off all life on Earth except for a group that lives on a train called “Snow Piercer”, which runs around the planet, powered by some sort of perpetual-motion engine. Over time, a class-segregated society develops on the ever-zooming railroad, and the story focuses upon how a struggles emerges between the rich/advantaged who live at the front of the train versus the poor at the back.

The concept sounds fairly unbelievable, but the visuals in the trailer along with a compelling cast that includes Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and Ed Harris have made me want to see it. The kookiness of the concept also attracts me to it!

Since I frequently work along with various attorneys on reputation management cases, I’m accustomed to seeing takedown notices at the bottom of search results — Google and Bing have very kindly taken down materials that can be proven to be defamatory or otherwise illegal, such as in the case of copyright infringements covered by DMCA. But, I don’t recall running across a search results page with quite so many notices at once.

It’s also interesting that there appears to be no official website for the film as of yet — and provision of one would further displace secondary pirate sites, most likely, rendering them marginally less visible to consumers.

What’s further interesting about this is that I think the slowness to distribute in the U.S. has perhaps driven a lot more piracy and copyright infringement than it needed to. Many SciFi film buffs and comic book enthusiasts are interested in viewing the film, and are frustrated to be unable to get access (I count myself in this set). The movie was apparently released in South Korea, and now perhaps in Thailand and France as well, but not in the U.S.. Perhaps the delay has been due to a disagreement between the director, Bong Jun-hu and the film studio operated by the Weinstein brothers. Reportedly, the director and film buffs have expressed upset that the Weinsteins plan to cut up to 20 minutes of the film in order to speed up the pacing. My immediate thought as a cynical marketer is that the Weinsteins might’ve manipulated this entire controversy to drive up overall revenues — tons of moviegoers are likely to turn out to see the film in the U.S., and then many fans would be even more likely to purchase an eventual “original director’s cut” of the film. Of course, I’m educated enough about films and marketing to know that the Weinsteins might be merely focusing upon the fact that films that stick closer to a 1.5 hour length are perhaps more successful — if a film is too long it can affect theatre audience turnover. But, the film is thus far listed at 1 hr, 26 minutes, so if it were cut by 20 minutes it would risk being dissatisfyingly short I believe.

Pirates and hackers have taken notice of the pent-up demand, and have used it to try to make a quick buck in the meantime. Quite a number of the sites that have been out there that promise a Snowpiercer download for free have used some pirated copy of the video as bait to dangle before unwitting consumers — the trick is that in order to get the film you have to opt into their “download software” which is likely to infect your computer with adware and malware, compromising your security.

From a business sense, I’m wondering if all of this approach the film studio is taking — delaying distribution in the U.S., dangling a controversy about edits, and legally battling with pirates and hackers — if all of this is more profitable that a more straightforward approach. Surely there must be some profits lost to pirates cost by the delay to distribute, and there must be some increased costs associated with the apparent legal activities that must be going on in fighting the copyright infringements.

Would it have been more profitable or even a break-even to merely distribute quicker, without the additional, controversial editing?

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The 12th Man http://www.nodalbits.com/bits/the-12th-man/ http://www.nodalbits.com/bits/the-12th-man/#comments Tue, 04 Feb 2014 22:24:35 +0000 http://www.nodalbits.com/?p=779 Related posts:
  1. Seattle Seahawks File For Trademarks To Escape 12th Man Agreement – Can They Do This?
  2. Google’s Happy Birthday Logo
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12th Man Logo

The logo of the 12th Man Foundation, designed by Chris Silver Smith

The recent Super Bowl hoopla brought the Seahawks 12th Man to national attention, but I wonder how many realize that this fan support concept was founded by Texas A&M University? Most of my friends and acquaintances are unfamiliar with my past ties to the A&M organization and its iconography as well. Shortly after college, I worked for TAMU as a scientific illustrator, mapmaker and graphic designer. While in that capacity, I designed the 12th Man’s iconic logo.

If you’ve driven around the state of Texas for any length of time, chances are good that you’ve seen this logo on decals on the back windows of a great many vehicles. I think it’s probably the most widely visible thing I’ve ever designed.

So, how did the 12th Man itself come to be associated with the Seahawks, way up in Seattle, Washington? Recent news stories came out on the subject on the eve of the Super Bowl, and it seems that the Seahawks began using the concept of the 12th Man in 1984. However, the Texas A&M University Aggies football team had started using the moniker back in 1922. (See The Eagle: Texas A&M legal department stays busy protecting 12th Man brand)

Backing up a bit — if you’re unfamiliar with the 12th Man, it’s a fan organization to support the football team. At A&M back in 1922, the Aggies were playing against Centre College in the Dixie Classic football game. Because of player injuries, the Aggie coach Dana Bible asked a student athlete, E. King Gill, who was not actually on the football team at the time, to suit up in Aggie uniform for the second half in case they needed another player to continue the game. This historic moment inspired the Aggie tradition of all students standing throughout football games, proverbially “at the ready” in case their team should need them, and they could be called into the game. The A&M football fans came to refer to themselves as “The 12th Man”, and eventually this was formalized into a nonprofit 12th Man Foundation which raises money in support of TAMU athletics, athletic scholarships, and more.

The Aggie football fan concept and the 12th Man nickname, evolved over time into a very powerful marketing vehicle.

My involvement with it was fairly tangental, beginning somewhere around 1993-1994, I think. I was working for the Texas A&M University Cartographics office — a quasi business unit that produced maps, scientific illustrations, slideshows, web design, and other graphic design services under the Geography Department within the College of Geosciences. While working there, I was approached by a member of the board of the 12th Man Foundation, and was asked to see if I could come up with a design for an alternate logo that they might use for clothing. At the time, I think the organization had one or two versions of their names that they used for everything — one of them was simply “Twelfth Man”, and the other was a very blocky, rectangular logo with the words “12th Man” in the upper half, and the word “Foundation” in smaller type in the bottom half. Boring — I think the font used for those logos was perhaps even Helvetica, and they seemed aseptic and nearly generic in the austere and plain graphic treatment.

I’m not sure how they came to select me — I think my work had been recommended by the university’s printing offices, or perhaps they had seen my work on A&M maps, or perhaps someone at the TAMU Press referred me. I was thrilled at the opportunity at the time, although I was young and naive and didn’t fully realize the scope of the opportunity as I perceive it now, decades later — for such a large and successful organization, it was sheer, astronomic luck that this landed in my lap instead of being farmed out to a larger, well-established logo and branding agency. Of course, the 12th Man Foundation saved mightily on fees for this by going with someone local, and a small office operated within TAMU. 🙂

It was a very valuable learning experience for me, as well. Designers of any kind eventually have to figure out how to work for groups of people, rather than merely individuals. While it was only one passionate, maybe even visionary board member who brought the project to me, my work had to satisfy a dozen individuals, some of whom had unrealistic notions of what works for logo design, and even what’s realistic in terms of fitting within a logo. Particularly, a logo that must reproduce down while still being recognizable and legible within a small bit of embroidery on clothing!

As I recall, they wanted me to pull in some of the university’s more recognizable iconography — they may have specified that it should be the “ATM” symbol, or perhaps they said I could use the University Seal, which was much more complex, if I could make it work. It had to also say “12th Man”, and “Foundation”. It had to convey Texas A&M, Aggies, while also being “12th man” and “Foundation”. One of the board members kept insisting that it could all be fitted into the outline of the State of Texas shape. Oh — and, to top it off, it had to be made to evoke a classiness, a prestigiousness, perhaps sort of like Ivy League colleges. (For those that are familiar with Texas A&M University, and its humble, agrarian roots as preserved in the “A” in “A&M”, I hope this mention about the “Ivy League” bit didn’t make you choke on your afternoon Dr. Pepper!)

In essence, the logo project request was virtually impossible. They were insisting upon throwing everything-and-the-kitchen-sink into it — which is precisely the opposite of what good logo design is all about. With so many disparate elements, the end result couldn’t be anything but a mess. Logos are supposed to be simple, elegant. If you have a huge name, you might instead design an icon symbol that communicates the feel of the organization, without attempting to list everything about the organization. Yet, the board members were all alumni, and Texas A&M had not had much in the way of arts education in the days when they were students. They were mostly literalists who felt that the logo needed to narrate rather than symbolize. As an artist, how do you create a logo in such a situation, without pulling out your hair?

I think I did pull out some hair, and likely spent a lot of late hours coming up with a handful of logo concepts for the board to see.

The design they ultimately selected was the one that I thought was probably the best design of the lot. I hit upon the idea of pulling in a shield shape to evoke a sort of heraldry, and divided that down the center, with the school colors of white and maroon on each side. On one side I fit “12th Man”, and on the other I fit a stretched-out “ATM” symbol to balance it out. Across the bottom I used a scripted calligraphy cursive for the word “Foundation”, and tacked on the “TM” trademark symbol at the end. For the “Foundation” word I used a gold orange color that was barely able to contrast with both the white and maroon backgrounds.

I was very pleased at the end result, and I was thrilled to see it in the catalogs and the 12th Man clothing line. Don’t get me wrong — I never thought this was any logo masterpiece like the “Coca-Cola” cursive logo, or anything! The logo likely cannot ever be truly great as long as it has so many odd pieces, combined. It’s actually an amalgam of logos. But, I felt like it was potentially the best solution possible.

The Foundation later made some changes to the logo. One change that I’d call a “refinement” was to exchange the hand-drawn cursive I used for “Foundation” with a serifed font. I heard later that they’d done that because it was easier for them to reproduce the logo in other media with an actual font. In any case, I don’t think it harmed or changed the feel of the logo overmuch — the spirit of my original design is intact. They flipped the maroon/white color treatment, which was probably a neutral change — the order of the colors would be important, depending upon what background color is used around it.

Current 12th Man Foundation logo from the homepage.

Current 12th Man logo, from the Foundation homepage

The other couple of primary changes they made to the logo are perhaps not improvements. The changed the stretched “ATM” logo I used for the more classic proportions. To my eye, this visually imbalances the overall design a bit too much. However, I know that the stretching of the ATM in my original design made some observers uncomfortable, and it’s entirely possible that the later personnel in charge of managing the university’s brand marks may have insisted upon using some standard ratio sizing. They also used a sort of 3-D shaded version of the “T” in ATM, which makes the logo slightly more busy.

Finally, they exchanged the gold orange color for the “Foundation” word and instead used a knockout treatment — white letters on the maroon half and maroon letters on the white half. I did actually experiment with that sort of treatment when I designed the thing, but it doesn’t work so hot when you get to the middle “D” letter, which must then be divided and made bicolor — it renders the word far less legible. I’m not sure why this was done, unless it was to reduce the number of colors of ink or thread for printing or embroidery in order to save money. I could conjecture that folks were uncomfortable at any drop of orange in the design, too — since burnt orange is one of the team colors of the University of Texas, the historic rivals of the Aggies. But, I never actually heard any complaints about the small amount of orange as a contrast color — and, it was gold orange, not burnt.

The 12th Man Flag, flying above Seattle's Space Needle

The 12th Man Flag, flying above Seattle's Space Needle

Cutting back to the present, I was amused to see all the many references to the Seahawks 12th Man as the Super Bowl approached. At the back of my mind, I figured that A&M had somehow licensed the brand name out, and indeed that’s the case. It’s amusing and galling to A&M alumni that many don’t realize that A&M originated the 12th Man for fan group branding. Just today I saw a Forbes guest contributor post an article on “How The Seahawks Tapped The Power Of The 12th Man“, and it neglects to mention how the Seahawks tapped the power of A&M’s established marketing machinery.

I think it’s no coincidence that the Seahawks adopted the name after A&M had been using it for many years.

A&M is probably the equivalent of Mecca for college football, and it would make sense for football teams to imitate the successful marketing techniques that were established in that sports incubator.

According to news stories and Wikipedia, Texas A&M sued the Seahawks to enforce their trademark ownership, and the Seahawks continue using the name out of a resulting settlement that is essentially a trademark licensing agreement.

I’m no longer a graphic designer, having abandoned professional design work many years ago to do search engine marketing and internet technology work, but I do still get contacted about my 12th Man design via my personal site, from time to time. I also designed and marketed a Texas A&M University Clip Art Disk containing the university’s first digital versions of their logos and other brand symbols when I worked for them, but that’s a story for another time.

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Google Treasure Maps http://www.nodalbits.com/bits/google-treasure-maps/ Mon, 01 Apr 2013 23:04:49 +0000 http://www.nodalbits.com/?p=773 Related posts:
  1. Google Maps + Gmail = Snailmail
  2. Google Maps Has Fixed The “Escher Effect”
  3. Google Maps Adds Clickable Icons in Street View
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Have you tried out Google Maps in “Treasure Mode” today?

Google Maps in Treasure Mode

Google Treasure Map of Dallas

I just noticed it late in the day. On the left side is a box for more information about the new beta program:

Treasure Maps - start treasure huntingEven more information may be found at the “Explore Treasure Mode with Google Maps” video Google produced to educate about the program:

Of course, before pursuing treasure hints too far, carefully review and take into account today’s date.

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Ever Wonder Where Santa Claus’s Home Is Located? http://www.nodalbits.com/bits/ever-wonder-where-santa-clauss-home-is-located/ Tue, 04 Dec 2012 14:05:54 +0000 http://www.nodalbits.com/?p=765 No related posts. ]]> Ever wonder where Santa Claus’s north pole home is actually located? Well, Rovaniemi, Finland makes a pretty credible case, claiming themselves as the official home to Santa.

Rovaniemi's tourism website - home of Santa Clause

Homepage of Rovaniemi's tourism website featuring Santa Claus

A number of characteristics of our Santa myths (a.k.a. “Father Christmas”) appear to’ve been adopted from Sápmi (a region of Norway, Sweden, Finland and part of Russia often referred to as “Lapland”) and its indigenous people, the Saami. Rovaniemi is well within the Sápmi lands.

Rovaniemi, Finland

Many of the Saami live in the snowy region of the arctic circle, and their traditional clothing styles include suits which vaguely resemble Santa’s in form, although their color schemes are bright and more varied than mere red-and-white. They’re also traditionally reindeer herders. I’m not sure that there are many more associations with our Christmas myths, however.

Of course, Rovaniemi has constructed a clever marketing concept with its Santa Claus Village and claim as Santa’s home. The association gains them a large amount of attention, press, and likely, increased tourism during the cold winter season. Their associated Facebook page, Twitter account, YouTube channel and Pinterest board all seem relatively new to me. I bet they pick up a lot of new followers this season!

Of course, even a clever marketing scheme may not be enough to persuade most potential visitors to come during such a cold month! As I’m writing this, it’s currently negative eight degrees Fahrenheit in Rovaniemi!

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LinkedIn Ad Casts Me As Google Employee http://www.nodalbits.com/bits/linkedin-ad-casts-me-as-google-employee/ http://www.nodalbits.com/bits/linkedin-ad-casts-me-as-google-employee/#comments Sun, 02 Dec 2012 08:35:41 +0000 http://www.nodalbits.com/?p=753 No related posts. ]]> LinkedIn’s ads which autopopulate people’s profile information into the ad can be jarring. Here’s one which gave me a shudder — it portrays me as a Googler!

Personalized Ad on LinkedIn

I don’t see myself as an employee of a huge, publicly-traded company since I was with Verizon years ago, so the ad was pretty disturbing to me! I just wasn’t ready to see that! It’s possible that I could be persuaded to work as a large company executive, perhaps, but the incentive would have to be pretty substantial — self employment is just so rewarding in so many ways that it’s hard to beat.

Ads which auto-populate information have been around quite some time, of course — for instance, ads which parse users’ keyword queries into the ad copy and display it on ad search results pages. Those sometimes have funny, unintentional ads in certain cases.

Ads with one’s personal information are becoming more and more common, however. Isn’t there some level of consumer dislike of these ads? Facebook is perhaps the leader at this sort of thing, coopting your face and name into ads which are sent to your own friends to promote stuff. It’s a form of copyright infringement and trademark infringement (in some cases), yet it continues, perhaps it’s even something we unintentionally allowed under Facebook’s terms and conditions?

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Google Local Is Now A Train Wreck http://www.nodalbits.com/bits/google-local-is-now-a-train-wreck/ http://www.nodalbits.com/bits/google-local-is-now-a-train-wreck/#comments Fri, 30 Nov 2012 18:29:56 +0000 http://www.nodalbits.com/?p=757 Related posts:
  1. Google+ Local Pages Delurk At Last
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Mike Blumenthal posted earlier this week that Google Local is now a veritable train wreck, and I don’t think his statement is hyperbole.

Google Plus Local Page Business Problems

For some time now, Google Local (originally just referred to as “Google Maps”, then called “Google Local”, then called “Google Places”) has had some problems in how it handles how local businesses can manage their own data. All local data providers struggle with the process of how to verify whether someone has the right to change a business’s information — and Google’s phone call / post card verification process is no exception. So, it’s had that problem from the beginning, although it doesn’t seem to’ve gotten any smoother in the meantime.

Then there’s the changing nomenclature — they just don’t keep consistently using the same brandnames and terminology to refer to the data display, versus the interfaces that businesses use to manage their own data. Google Local Business Center became Google Places — where you could login to manage your Google Place Pages (your business profile pages that would appear in Google).

Now, along comes Google+ (aka “Google Plus”). Which has personal profiles for people to use in interacting socially, and then they allowed companies to set up profile pages for businesses — “Brand Pages”. Then the real sh*t hit the fan when they then smashed Google Places into Google Plus, and started referring to THOSE as “Google Plus Local” or “Google+ Local” pages.

But, what of those companies that had set up “Brand Pages” already?!?  The advent of Google+ Local pages essentially converted all existing Google Place pages into Google+ Local pages — only, when they did that you didn’t automatically have authorization to edit those new pages, even though you might’ve already been verified to do so on the original pages. So, Google eventually rolled out another verification process for these new pages.

The product help forum for this new process, “Verification available for local pages created in Google+” (for those who have managed to figure out what’s going on and what things are called in order to locate the forum), shows just how fraught with confusion and issues the whole thing is. Here’s a posting from a confused business owner from just yesterday which demonstrates how awful the train wreck is:

“I still a bit confused…maybe it’s the terminology.

I just created a Google + account (today 11/29/2012).  In it, I created a business page (using Local Business or Place category).  When I created the business page, there was no information about verifying using postcard option that everyone is talking about.  I thought this is what everyone is referring to as Google+ Local.
Therefore, I figured I was wrong in this assumption and decided to create a Google Places account.  I went through the process and am now waiting for my verification pin to arrive in the mail.

Now that I did this, I have a Google+ Page and a Google Places account.  Will I now have to wait for Google to merge the two into Google+ Local?  Is this the correct process in creating a Google+ Local account?  OR am I just totally lost….”

So, just the nomenclature and Google’s penchant for changing it every couple of years has helped to confuse businesses and make it difficult for them to handle. Every time they begin to understand, the names all change.

But, the even worse problems that Mike points out are where the system simply doesn’t function correctly. That’s where this whole thing becomes a giant wreck. It’s not without irony that we note that parts of Google’s local systems behind the scenes are referred to as a “cluster”.

There are failures in the verification process. There are failures in connecting old Place pages to new Plus pages. There are mystifying issues where changes to business information result in loss of the listing, suspension of the listing, loss of reviews, etc. Naturally, businesses can screw themselves up by doing things that are wrong, but many of these things could be prevented by Google in the first place. As I pointed out in “9 Common Ways To Bork Your Local Rankings In Google“, some business owners will include their city name in the names of categories (ie “Dallas Plumbers”) and Google allows this and will penalize them for it — unforgivable, actually, since this would be so easy to detect and warn them or bar them from doing it!

But, the most painful thing of all is that there are many processes which are simply malfunctioning in allowing businesses to manage their data, and it’s not clear if/when Google will fix them. There’s little communications around these issues — for instance, what is a system issue, versus if a business simply entered something they shouldn’t have?!? How will they know? And, since a number of the higher-ranking people have departed from the Google Local projects, it leaves us wondering if there isn’t some institutional malaise there which is making it a bad place to work.

Finally, Google+ Local has not been completed. As Mike points out, will businesses expect to manage everything in the old Google Places admin interfaces, or on the pages themselves via the Google Plus integrated management?

From the outside this lack of cohesion and lack of focus make it appear to be the result of internal fighting inside the company on which system should now be dominant.

Please, figure it out Google, and please be so kind as to let us know what to expect.

Update: Andrew Shotland has now also weighed in on this, and while he agrees with Mike’s take (while also coining the fantastic moniker, “Google Plus Place Local Multi Merge for Business Dashboardgate”), he also suggests that Google’s not entirely blame because the difficulties involved in serving SMBs are just “the nature of the beast”.

It’s true that serving local businesses, and providing local biz info admin interfaces is highly challenging. No one has provided the one, perfect means of doing this, yet. There is complexity involved in local directory-style information.

However, I can’t give Google a pass on this one, because their systems are not performing adequately, nor anywhere near how they were intended. There remains an open question for local businesses: How should I go about managing my business listing and Google+ presence? What do I do when it doesn’t work right?

If only we could take Google’s own advice and just login to “bounce” the system into abruptly working right. But, it may require surgery at Google’s end before it’s going to work right for most businesses.

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Google’s Dracula Logo http://www.nodalbits.com/bits/googles-dracula-logo/ Thu, 08 Nov 2012 17:37:22 +0000 http://www.nodalbits.com/?p=748 Related posts:
  1. Google’s Jack-O’-Lantern Logo Celebrating Halloween
  2. Have Google Logos Jumped The Shark? Father’s Day Logo Illegible
  3. Google’s Steampunk Logo
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I can’t resist mentioning Google’s Dracula themed logo today celebrating the 165th birthday of Bram Stoker!

Google Dracula Vampires Logo

Google Logo - Bram Stoker Customized Search Results Page

Sponsored search results associated with Google's Bram Stoker logo. (Click to enlarge.)

The logo presents scenes from Stoker’s Dracula uber-famous vampire book, done up in a woodcut-illustration style very reminiscent of the illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley, from the same time period. Dracula was published in 1897.

What may be more significant for search marketers, however, is the special search results page the logo is linked-to, which features Bram Stoker-related books, the Sponsored “shop for” sidebar box and the Wikipedia entry highlights box, along with the usual Universal Search items peppered through the search results listings: news search, author-tagged posts, video and image search results.

This logo and associated search results treatment seems to be specifically designed to help propel featured sponsor ad clicks, as well as to promote Google’s robust search results features.

It calls to question — will Google continue to specifically try to monetize their future Google Doodle logos in a similar fashion?

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