Crude Observations

80 and 5 will let you down

I know this is supposed to be a week off, but I am compelled to post something. A year ago this week, my personal and business Twitter universe was rocked by the passing of someone who was, for me, an online friend but for others in this online universe I inhabit a true friend and beloved family member. So, to honour and remember this individual, I am re-running the blog I wrote at the time about him, the weirdness of the online world and the changing nature of friendship.


SBA (@SadBillAckman) was an anonymous “Alt” account that belonged to an actual human being named Mark. Mark was an Edmonton-based energy sector worker who was also an active Twitter account in all the same spaces as Bill. Mark was young and ambitious and wanted nothing more than to one day relocate to Calgary and work directly in industry in some investor relations/communications/analyst role, an ambition that was inexplicably thwarted – Mark was that smart. Bill, the “Alt” was for all intents and purposes what Mark saw himself being.  The sudden disappearance of both from the “Twitterverse” and in real life is a tragedy.


The dual role and relationship between the two had of course been kept a closely guarded secret to the many followers of Sad Bill and Mark who easily numbered in the thousands. Including my personal and business accounts.


Twitter is a weird space, it can be very anonymous and yet strangely personal at the same time. I maintain two accounts – one for work and one for business. Many people have personal and Alt accounts. It’s a way to participate that gives a form of personal protection until you are ready to reveal. Nothing unusual in it.


It is a media space filled with groups and conversations and people who you follow pop in and out of conversations on a regular basis. Familiarity grows and the platform, Elon Musk aside, actually facilitates this if used for anything aside from just shouting.


People can be who they want to be – protected by the social media shield, or they can be exactly who they are – the medium doesn’t allow waffling or deceit though, because it’s searchable. Like they say with Donald Trump – there is always a tweet!


But as time passes the “Village Square” becomes a “Village”. There are people and accounts who you communicate with on such a regular basis that become your friends, all bound together in a social circle around common interests. It doesn’t matter if it’s online or not. Humans crave connection and if it isn’t face to face, it will happen in some other way. The number of historic “pen-pals” is daunting.


As an example, there is a group of us on Twitter who spend hours talking about and posting pictures of our meals and carrying on random discussions. It is an apolitical forum populated by people across the socio-political-economic spectrum. Mark and Sad Bill were occasional participants in that epic thread along with others.


As I said, it’s weird.


But I would happily break bread with any of the 15 or so regular members of that group anytime, because I consider them my friends. But I don’t need to – because we are technically doing that anyway. Just online.


I made a Twitter “friend” of Mark first via my personal account as we started communicating about matters relating to energy and politics in the runup to the 2019 provincial election.


Mark was smart. Generous with his knowledge. Informed on all things Alberta oil and gas. Opinionated. I mean who isn’t. And great fun to talk to.


Not soon after those first interactions, a new contact appeared on my business Twitter account. Sad Bill.


Sad Bill’s persona online was initially (to me at least) a participant in a couple of industry groups – #EFT (Energy Finance Twitter) and #COM (Canadian Oilfield Mafia) that I had joined as Stormont. These groups were comprised of primarily energy industry participants – analysts, investors, workers, geologists, frac’ers, drillers, finance people, executives, directors – all drawn together by their love of, passion for and hatred of the world’s craziest and most frustrating industry – oil and gas.


I feel that Sad Bill initially participated in these groups to anonymously gather further knowledge for himself in his job pursuit. But like all things, it soon grew and morphed into something else entirely.


Ultimately Sad Bill was treated as an elder statesman in these energy communities thanks to his acumen and knowledge and the fact that since no one knew who he was, we all assumed that he was some industry oracle – a senior finance guy or hedge fund/private equity investor who enjoyed the back and forth and was bored in his retirement.


Known for his disdain for garbage companies, Sad Bill was at his best excoriating Suncor for its poor management and safety practices, ripping apart company investor presentations, mocking the easily mockable and being a card-carrying member of the Murray Edwards and CNRL Fan Club.


In addition to his industry knowledge Sad Bill was also funny, compassionate, caring, an aspiring chef and a connoisseur of the finer things in life – cocktails, german cars, fancy-pants watches, movies – you name it.


An old-school charmer, Sad Bill communicated with his many friends and fans via handwritten notes send on his own pre-printed stationary. I myself have two such notes which occupy a place of honour in my office (and always will) – one of which compliments me on this blog and another that makes fun of me for taking his money in my annual NCAA basketball pool.


I know something about maintaining anonymous accounts. I maintain the Stormont Twitter account and my own personal one. I assume most people know that we are different and the same but guess as well that many don’t. But it’s easy to get lost in one. I sometimes don’t really know where one starts and the other ends but I move back and forth. I can only assume that Mark/Bill did the same thing – but they had way more followers.


I confess I didn’t know either Mark or Sad Bill personally outside of the Twitter world, but I checked and  boy oh boy, did we DM a lot over the course of four years. About energy, about politics. About a guy looking to get into the Calgary market and reinvent himself into a corporate job. We talked about family, investments, life, things. By any standard definition, we were friends. I communicated and shared more with them and on a more regular basis than I do with some of my friends that I’ve had since high school!


He/they was/were always there. And now they’re both gone.


My friend(s) is(are) gone.


And our entire Twitter community shares the same pain.


The outpouring of grief and shock at the passing of two Twitter personas so universally liked is a testament to Mark and Bill. This should be remembered.


And that too was also a cross-section of socio-political-economic world including people who knew Mark outside of the Twitterverse and were also in communication with him online and with his Alt Sad Bill.


A friend of mine once said that you can measure the impact a person had by the number of people who spontaneously show up to their funeral.


If the online reaction to Mark/Bill’s passing is anything to go by, our online friend had a very impactful life. However short.


I don’t profess to know the circumstances of Mark’s passing. Suffice to say that he was young and it’s a tragedy. What I will say is that loneliness is a real thing and people appreciate the human contact that they get, no matter what form it takes – online/offline.


Never, ever, pass up an opportunity to communicate with a friend, drop them a line or a word of encouragement. The rise of social media, hyper-partisanship and the after-effects of the pandemic have all conspired to make the world a bit of a meaner and a more insular place. We need to break that trend. Reach out. Connect. Communicate. Hug each other. Virtually and in person. Heal.


Mark and Bill never hesitated to reach out to say hi, offer a word of encouragement or mend a fence after a public spat.


I know this has been said a bunch of times on Twitter this last week, but I raise a glass to Bill and to Mark – an espresso martini. Gone. Not forgotten.


And for all of you Bill and Mark followers – I leave you with this piece of seminal oil and gas investment advice, courtesy of the both of them…


“80 and 5 will let you down, just like AECO”

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