Wednesday, July 26, 2017

More Fun with Facebook Analytics

A few years ago, I wrote this post about how much Facebook infiltrates our daily lives, even when we aren't accessing it.

The issue back then was a rather odd "friend suggestion" of some random guy that I had just run into at the Ft. Myers, Florida airport.  I noted at the time how much information we voluntarily give away about ourselves while at the same time, adamantly defend our right to privacy.  I wasn't judging anyone.  I'm just as guilty (if not more so) as anyone else about oversharing on Facebook.

Most of you have probably seen some of the little, cutesy things Facebook has been offering lately.  For example, they offer to post little video bits that they've created which celebrate your years of friendship with somebody else.   That seems like fair game.  They show pictures and comments you've made on each other's pages and repost them.  It's silly, but I see a new one almost every day.  I'm sure you do too.

On things like that, they are just regurgitating stuff Facebook users posted on Facebook.

A month or so ago, they did another gimmicky type of presentation, where they did some sort of video montage showcasing my profile and all of my closest friends.  It was pretty accurate.  It showed around five or six people that I do consider to be closest to me.  That wouldn't be too hard to figure out.  Friends tend to hit that Like button more often on their Friends' pages, right?

But, I had to pause for a second, because also in my "closest friends" montage was my friend, Luci.

Now, don't get me wrong.  Luci is one of my closest friends and she has been for years.  Quite frankly, she's like family.

But she's never on Facebook.  She's got a profile so that she can spy on share moments in her children's lives, but she doesn't post.  She doesn't hit the Like button on anything.  She never uses Facebook.  Like ever.  Our friendship is one of those old-fashioned ones where you actually interact and communicate directly with each other.

I'm kind of curious how Facebook knew that we were such good friends without mining some data which was definitely not on Facebook.

This morning, I had yet another reminder of how much Facebook infiltrates our lives.

As I mentioned last week, my 3-year-old son had been through a pretty significant medical scare recently.  Although he continues to be on the upswing (knock on wood), we are still closely monitoring his bruising.  Seeing as how he is three and is (as the doctor noted in her report) "very energetic," there are new bumps, bruises and scrapes every day.  In an attempt to keep track of which ones are new, old, healing, or lingering, my wife and I take pictures of him with our phones.

And here is where it gets interesting.  Last night, he had a bruise on his butt, so I took a picture of it.  This morning, Facebook was offering to post yet another "very special montage" of the past few days.  In typical Facebook style, it offered me a preview (that only I could see) of a slideshow of the past 24 hours.

Included in the "preview" was a picture of my kid's bare ass.   As the picture appeared in the preview, a digital circle kept flashing around said butt cheeks for some reason.

So, let's break this down for a second.

Obviously, I didn't take that picture for public consumption.  I didn't take it to share with anyone and certainly not to post on social media.  Yet, somehow Facebook had gotten ahold of it, and (I presume) was letting me know that it was not appropriate for posting by drawing a little circle around it.

Now, I know that I signed up for this the second I clicked that little button that approved giving Facebook access to my personal camera roll.  I also know that they have some sort of software that analyzes pictures that are actually posted.  My ex-wife once tried to post a picture of our son with her dad in her backyard on Facebook.  Something glitched and this was the result:
.



All of this has begged a lot of questions for me:

-Does Facebook literally go through every picture on every camera roll made accessible by a user?
-Do they see things that need to be reported to the police?
-If they do, do they ever do so?
-How has Chris Carlson not gotten a lifetime ban yet?

And so on.

I'm not really complaining here, because, as I've mentioned before, I signed up for Facebook and I continue to use it.  If I were truly concerned about it, I'd pull the plug and deactivate everything.  I probably won't even click that button that stops sharing my camera roll with the app.

And even though I don't have anything to hide, I still know that oversharing on Facebook is stupid.

I guess for me, this just boils down to the immortal words of Ron White:
I had the right to remain silent . . . but I didn't have the ability.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Ryan Patrick Named US Attorney

Huge congratulations to former 177th District Court Judge Ryan Patrick on being appointed US Attorney for the Southern District of Texas.

As readers of this blog know, Judge Patrick is someone who I think very highly of.  When he was elected to the 177th bench, there were some who were worried that he was not old enough and didn't have enough experience for the job.  He was undaunted by the grumblings and quietly went about proving all to all the skeptics that he was a thoughtful, intelligent, and compassionate jurist.  He did a great job.

I have no doubt that he will do the same as U.S. Attorney, and I look forward to him doing great things with the Office.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Why I Was Away

I had a couple of people ask me why I hadn't written anything lately, and I realized that it has been almost a month since I last wrote.

There are two main reasons that I haven't written.  The first reason was that I was in trial on a felony murder case.  It lasted for five days, but stretched across two weeks, so it kept me preoccupied.

The trial was largely fought over punishment, and it turned out pretty well, all things considered.  The prosecutors were above-board and did a great job, and I was very happy to try a case in front of visiting Judge Belinda Hill again.

The second reason for the absence from the blog was probably the scariest thing that has ever happened to me in my life.

I won't keep you hanging.  The story has a happy ending, but only after the longest six days I've ever lived through.

Over the past several weeks, my wife and I noticed that our 3-year-old was really having a significant problem with bruising.   He was bruising easily and those bruises were taking an overly long time to heal.  Given that he runs around like a bull in a china shop during the majority of his waking hours, we weren't overly concerned.  A persistent ear infection was causing him more problems.

On Thursday, June 29th, we had friends in from out of town and our kid fell while playing with their son.  He landed on his shins, but it only slowed him down temporarily.  He was up and running around again in a few minutes.  But the next day, his shins looked like someone had taken a 2X4 to them, repeatedly.  The bruises were huge and dark.

My wife decided to take him in to our pediatrician on Saturday for his ear infection and while he was there, the doctor was (understandably) concerned about bruising.  She took pictures and drew blood.  My wife texted me and said she thought we were about to get reported to CPS.  The doctor told my wife that we should get the blood results back later that afternoon.  We went about our business for the rest of the afternoon.  I think we both were expecting the blood results to show some level of anemia.

We were on our way out the door to a friend's birthday party when the doctor called with lab results.

She told us that the average healthy person has between 150,000 to 400,000 platelets in their blood.  Our son's blood test indicated that he only had 9,000.  She told us it wasn't safe to have him out of a hospital and that she was calling ahead to Texas Children's Hospital Emergency Room.  She told us to get him there immediately.

At this point, any illusions I've ever held about myself being a cool hand in a crisis went out the window.  I freaking lost it.  Like bad.  It wasn't pretty.  Fortunately, my wife was much more calm.  We quickly packed up some bags, dropped my 11-year-old off with his mom and headed to the ER.

The personnel at Texas Children's were fantastic, and they were not quite as alarmed (or alarming) as our pediatrician.  They had read the blood results and said that our son had a condition called thrombocytopenia and there were multiple potential causes for it.  Some of the causes could be as benign as a virus.  Others could be much more serious  -- such as leukemia or worse.  In some cases, the body could correct the problem on its own within a few months.  In others, it could be fatal.

The signs were good for our boy.  Other than the extremely low platelet count, everything else about his blood test was fine.  His spleen and lymph nodes felt normal.  His color was good.  He didn't appear to be tired or suffering from nose bleeds.  Under the circumstances, the ER doctor sent us home with orders to follow up with a pediatric hematologist on Monday.  Our pediatrician, who had kept in touch with us throughout the ordeal, expressed her concerns.  Both doctors agreed that he needed to be confined to virtually zero activity.  A cut or a bump on the head could be potentially fatal.

So, we brought him home, quickly to realize that our hyperactive 3-year-old did not get the memo about all of this "bedrest" business that the doctors ordered.  I have never felt on the verge of a heart attack so frequently in such a short period of time.

It turned out that we couldn't be seen by the pediatric hematologist until Thursday.  For future reference, having a medical emergency during the 4th of July weekend is really, really horrible timing.  So, we spent from Saturday night to Thursday afternoon scared to death that our kid was going to die.  During the night, I would wake up terrified that he was going to have a spontaneous brain bleed and during the day, we were doing everything we could to keep him from injuring himself.

My sister was a Godsend.  She drove in from College Station to babysit him while I had court and my wife was at work.  She and my wife were both amazing, which is good.  I was completely useless.  I spent six days feeling like my chest was about to implode.

On Thursday, we finally met with a pediatric hematologist at UT Health Science Center.  She was much more encouraging and said that our kiddo wouldn't need any chemo or blood transfusions.  She said that his bone marrow was producing platelets just fine, but that his condition (something called Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purupora, or ITP) meant his immune system responded to a viral infection he probably had about a month ago and was mistakenly destroying platelets instead of the virus.  She said that once the immune system self-corrected, the platelets should replenish fairly rapidly, and could be back up to 50% within three months. When I told her that I was worried he was going to die, she seemed somewhat amused.   She did recommend no physical activity for the time being, and said he needed to wear a helmet during waking hours until his platelet level got up to at least 50,000, and that we needed to watch for any active bleeding and take him to the ER if that occurred.

She sent him down for additional blood work after our appointment, which he was not happy about at all. She said his platelet count could already be on the upswing and she'd call us with the results the next day.  Friday as I was pulling into the county garage, the doctor called and said Smith's platelet count was already back up to 120,000.  Honestly, I don't know if I've ever felt so relieved in my life.

I walked away from the experience with my son with a couple of thoughts:

1.  It is completely normal for two qualified, intelligent, and well-meaning experts to have two drastically different opinions of what evidence shows them;

2.  Having a career in the criminal justice field really leads you down some dark paths when it comes to imagining the worst case scenario;

3.  There's a tremendous difference between empathy and sympathy.  I've always considered myself to be an empathetic attorney -- first as a prosecutor and now as a defense attorney.  We deal with human tragedy as part of our daily work and I think sometimes we let ourselves believe that we feel our client's pain (or a victim's family's pain) as if it were our own.  This experience has led me to realize that our sympathy for others never scratches the surface of the real and genuine pain that the people who actually experienced the loss feel.   That's not a negative reflection on us.  It's just the truth.  My story had a happy ending, but for six days, I honestly didn't believe I could go on if I lost my kid.  It rattled the hell out of me.

To all of those who have lost children or who have children that deal with long-term, life-threatening illnesses, I honestly don't know how you manage.  You are far stronger than I could ever imagine being;

And finally,

4.  I hope I never spend another moment of my life failing to appreciate what the truly important things in life are.  Complaining is a daily part of life, and it is certainly a routine part of this blog.  I'm sure that I will ultimately get back to my obnoxious, jackass self and writing about wrongs that I think need to be righted.

But right now, my kid is on the mend and sleeping in his my bed.

So, I've got no complaints.