Tag Archives: Life

The Road

If you’re like me, nothing clears your head like a good road trip. All the half forgotten worries of everyday life melt away when your only concern is the next town and whether you have enough fuel to get there. Funny little wisps of ideas float through your mind. Most sail off behind you like roadside dandelions, but a select few have the honor of leaving the car with you.

Here’s one idea from my most recent trip. This is a wonderful and ultimately mortal part of my life. Friends are getting married. Babies are being born. Behind all that joy is a great sense of consequence that I’ve never experienced before and probably never will again. If there is an exact point in time where one truly becomes an adult, I think I may have found it. It’s that moment in time where you’re suddenly responsible for a new generation of people. The sense of control is very fleeting. Our children and families are their own people, and sometimes it’s a struggle not to get swept up in all the carry-on. But once we make that fateful step into the rest of our lives, our deeds become legend, prologue to all that is. The memories will provide strength, caution, and laughter to all our friends and family in the present and future.

So to my friends Phuc and Xuan, my sister-in-law Jen and her fiancée Ryan, to my cousin Verena and her fiancée Jay, to my friend Tarra’s sister Kirsten and her fiancée Jeff, and most of all to my wife Sara and all my other friends I am experiencing this with. You are all magnificent. It is an honor and pleasure to pay witness to any one moment of this, and you’ve given me all of it. Godspeed, all of you.

Permission To…What?

I think it’s funny that we seek permission for a lot of decisions we should be making on our own. Where do we want to take that vacation? What shall we have for lunch? Why don’t we get started on writing that great novel/blog/video game that will make us independently wealthy? If making our own decisions is supposed to make us better people, then what use do we have in seeking validation from others?

Permission might not be a deciding factor in our lives, but it makes everything so much better. Taking an important step is so much easier when you know someone has your back. It’s not just the relief that comes with someone making hard decisions for you. Knowing that people trust your judgment is also a big deal. I’m not saying you need to be a leader, but knowing that you have someone’s simple approval can make you feel like one.

There are times when I don’t feel like writing (shocking, I know), and just when I give a big sigh and put down my keyboard my wife asks me, “Aren’t you writing tonight, dear?”

“I don’t think so sweetie, I can’t think of anything.”

Then she makes sparkly eyes in my direction. “But you have to! You’re a good writer!”

And I gladly become millionth monkey at the millionth typewriter in this mathematical experiment we call the Internet. Sometimes labor as its own reward is not enough. When you live in a place where you have so much latitude with what you want to do, a vote of confidence is the only vote of consequence.

In Search Of the Paranormal

ghost9When I was younger, I had a deep interest in the paranormal. I rented the time-life films about alien abductions and searched books for Main Sequence G2 stars within range of our solar system. I even had a few conversations with my friends on what kind of equipment we would need to properly contain a Class 4  free-floating vapor. However, things changed as time passed. Perhaps it was because the Alien abduction videos never provided physical proof of abduction. Maybe it was because ghost containment unit parts weren’t readily available via mail order. It could also have something to do with the evidence being burned, confiscated, or whisked away to another planet at the end of every damn X-files episode.

While my interest has waned, there is still that little glimmer of hope inside of me that someday, somehow, we’ll run across an actual telepath, talk to dead people, or even see a real alien space-ship.  It really ticks me off how many people are willing to take advantage of that hope for personal gain. There was a recent test  by the James Randi Education Foundation of a Ms. Patricia Putt, who claimed she had the ability to psychically read 10 people she had never met before and write down their personality traits. At the end of the test, the participants would choose which profile represented them the best. If Ms. Putt could match 10 people to 10 profiles, she would win a million dollars and be a verifiable psychic. Even if she got 5 out of 10, the judges would recognize some evidence of her ability and provide further testing. She got 0 out of 10 right.

Initially, she accepted defeat gracefully, but then she takes  Occam’s Razor and jams it in her own eye by rationalizing her failure. She claims she got 10 out of 10 right because each person picked a profile. It didn’t matter that it was the wrong profile. The only problem with this theory is that terms of the contest were that each person had to take one profile that best described them. They couldn’t go with any overlapping traits. Using a loophole in the test to protest its results only disproves her psychic powers even further. If she was a real psychic, she wouldn’t have to cover herself with all this cognitive dissonance. The real tragedy of it all is that people like this only serve to distract people from wondering about real science, and finding out how the brain really works. It’s something that we don’t know yet, but there is so much work to be done so we can grow our understanding. I dearly want this search for the fantastic to continue, but it would be a lot easier if we could just keep the nutjobs out of it.

Test found Via Bad Astronomy

The Age of Ultimate Wealth

Standards of living are rising all over the world. Some statistics may show a widening gap between the rich and poor, but the truth is the cost of the goods and services that make up a first-world lifestyle possible are shrinking. Now, I’m not envisioning some Communist, Money-free utopia. I think that there will come a day when life is simply too cheap to meter. Goods and services will become so inexpensive that money can no longer provide the kind of class distinction that it once used to.

We’re starting to see a foreshadow of this kind of thing in the proliferation of millionaires and billionaires in the past 20 years or so. Standard of living doesn’t really change once you move past the several hundred-thousand a year mark. Tim Ferris wrote an entire book on the subject called the “Four-Hour Work Week”. He argued that a lot of money didn’t really do you much good unless you had the time to spend it. Richard Branson mentioned in a recent Digg.com Interview that it was friends, not money that was really valuable to him (although not having to worry about money helps). Another portal into the Age of Ultimate Wealth is the Internet. Music and movies used to be something that came on plastic discs. Now, if you’re an independent filmmaker, BitTorrent can bring your movie to more screens than Cineplex ever could.

How would we live in this new mode of civilization? What will we do with ourselves once we don’t have to work for a living? Chances are we’ll probably do some form of work anyway, just none of the kind that we hate. There are a lot of weekend activities that people do for fun that could be considered work, like fishing, gardening, wine-making, and carpentry just to name a few. So the signs are there that we are headed towards a Gene Roddenberry-Style Utopia, failing global warming, errant asteroids, nuclear war or influenza. It’s worth mentioning that all of those dangers did a pretty poor job of wiping out civilization so far.

Sony CEO:I’m a guy who doesn’t see anything good having come from the Internet…

Dave Rosenberg’s column will fill you in on the details, but Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton had this to say in front of an audience of journalists and students at a breakfast at Syracuse University:

“I’m a guy who doesn’t see anything good having come from the Internet…(The Internet) created this notion that anyone can have whatever they want at any given time. It’s as if the stores on Madison Avenue were open 24 hours a day. They feel entitled. They say, ‘Give it to me now,’ and if you don’t give it to them for free, they’ll steal it.”

No one argued with Lynton that media content, like Sony Pictures’ movies, were flowing through the internet without the original creators making a dime. The problem here, is that with the internet around, you CAN have the stores on Madison Avenue open 24 hours a day. The marginal cost of distributing a piece of music, text, or video is essentially zero, so you’ll have a hard time selling something that consumers know is pure profit. Instead of using the technology to its full potential, he wants to impose legal roadblocks that keep technology at the level that his business can use forever.

This isn’t the first time that Sony has caused controversy with their remarks towards the internet. Sony was also responsible for including a root-kit on CDs that interfered with the vital functions of computers that tried to play them. One of the attorneys for Sony BMG famously stated:

“When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song.” Making “a copy” of a purchased song is just “a nice way of saying ‘steals just one copy’,”

The current controversy is reminiscent of previous legal battles over new technology, such as VCRs, audio cassette tapes, even terrestrial radio. In each of these circumstances, media companies were able to make billions without resorting to the kind of restrictions they were howling for in the first place. Why do we keep having this debate every time media distribution gets easier and cheaper?

On the surface, you could say that people don’t want to spend any money that they don’t want to, so any change, good or bad, is going to be fought tooth and nail by any business. I think the problem runs deeper than that. Most of the cries of indignation do not come from the artists themselves, but from the companies that represent them. In other words, they are the people who press the plastic discs and make all the deals necessary to get them to the stores. They are the sales people. Artists aren’t happy playing the same songs or acting the same lines over and over again, but salespeople would gladly sell you five copies of the same movie or the same album.

The real reason salespeople don’t want their business to change is that they do not consider what they do to be real work. If they wanted to do work, they would get into carpentry, engineering, or flower arrangement. Workers in those industries have to compete with each other to produce better products, but not salespeople. They’re happy to sell the same loaf of bread in a different bag, and will fight tooth and nail against doing otherwise. We as a society allow this state of affairs because we expect no better of salespeople. We don’t consider sales to be real work either. If a product gathers more sales because it has a better name or packaging, we consider it cheating. Our media is flush with stereotypes of sleazy salespeople who will do anything for a buck except work for one. We consider the ability to “sell ice to eskimos” as the mark of a good salesperson.

The truth is that sales IS real work. The cold calling, the knocking on doors, the networking, all of it. We need to enforce the idea that responsibility of the deal lies not with the producer, the consumer, nor market that created it. It lies with the salesperson himself. If you can’t sell this product, find a better one. If you can’t find a better one, improve the one you’ve got. If you can’t improve the one you’ve got, include a free gift. Salespeople will do what they have to do to make a living, but the fundamental fact here is that the central relationship in a salesperson’s professional life is between him and his consumer. Invoking the powers of government to maintain your bargaining position is no substitute for this kind of rapport. I’m not saying that giving movies and music away for free is the answer, but trying to hobble technology for pure profit is not the answer either.