Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Terrene: the hidden valley book launch

Friends,
I am pleased to announce the launch of my new novel: Terrene: the hidden valley.

As many of you know, I have been working on this book for almost two years now. It is born from my desire to help the world navigate the impending challenges of great environmental and technological change and from my belief that stories can change the world. I am happy that I am able to share this with you and hope that you will help me make this book a success. I am launching only an eBook version without any traditional marketing, so you and your networks are critical to the success of this book.

Step 1.) Buy the book here
This is only released on the Amazon Kindle so that I can focus my efforts on one store. Getting traction in one place is critical to bubbling up to the top so that random people will find the book. You are critical to this. You do not have to have a Kindle to buy this book, but you will have to sign up for an Amazon account and download a reader to view it on a PC, Mac, iphone, ipad, or Android device. You can also buy a Kindle ebooks as a gift to someone else.

Step 2.) Write a review here
Good Reviews and good quality reviews are critical for online stores. Please take the time to write a good review for this book. It will make a huge difference in the future of this book and is the best present you could possibly give me.

Step 3. ) Tell your friends
In the coming days, I will begin marketing via special pages on facebook and twitter. Please forward things along. Below, I have also included a template email that you can copy and paste into an email to send out to your friends.

________________________________

A good friend of mine just launched a science fiction novel that deals with some of the environmental issues we will be facing in the next century. His goal is not to make money, but to raise awareness on these issues. Please check it out here and consider purchasing a copy of the book.

www.terrenevalley.com
see it at amazon.com

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Choreographing to Change the World

I finished my most recent dance choreography recently. You can see the video here. It's the story of a man reminiscing about a relationship that has passed set to the song "Part of the List" by Ne-yo. I like to make dance choreographies that have meaning. But I do note that most art, be it songs, dance, art, etc. have to do with the human condition and express our most personal emotions, the primary one being love.

At the hip hop dance fest, I saw a choreography about human slavery in the modern world. It was very blunt, giving its message in voice-over narrative, but it was powerful. As a result, I've decided that my next choreography will need to have global meaning. I've been looking for good songs, but it's hard to find one that says what I want. I care about environmental disaster, challenges around the scaling of government and corporations, and finding the hope and courage to try to make a difference. Anyone have any suggestions?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More Triple Pundit posts: Sharing Economy

I got two posts published on Triple Pundit last week:

http://www.triplepundit.com/2010/11/the-sharing-economy/
http://www.triplepundit.com/2010/11/challenges-to-an-economy-based-on-sharing/

Why didn't I post it here? Well, I kind of didn't realize it had gotten published. You see, you have to submit an article before it actually gets approved, and well, I kind of got caught up in other things. But here you go, two articles about the sharing economy, pretty fun stuff.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Never argue against a belief

You cannot make someone stop believing something. You can only make him believe something else more.

This thought has been kicking around in my head for a while. It's a single thread that I've pulled out of a whole host of articles, books, movies, and (yes, I put this last) actual real-world experiences.

Have you noticed how 99% of debates (whether personal or political) don't ever result in someone changing their mind? This article from Slate talks about how once people become disposed to believe something, they hold onto that belief regardless of logical argument or hard evidence. This is very evident in the political sphere. asks, "when was the last time you heard about a liberal who was persuaded by Rush Limbaugh? Or a conservative who switched parties after watching a Michael Moore movie?" The truth is that almost all the effort that goes into debating and trying to change people's opinions is completely wasted.

But I want to be able to change people's minds, not just reinforce their existing beliefs. But how? I find that lots of our beliefs, whether it's that we should tax the rich, that housing is a good investment, that you should buy things on sale.... most of those beliefs can be attached to a famous saying or adage. I believe it comes out of our need to create structure around the way the world works. Gravity pulls down and patience is a virtue are both simplified representations of our world. Most interestingly, for any famous adage or proverb, it isn't too hard to find something that is its opposite:

You can't teach a dog new tricks: It's never to late to learn
Seize the moment: The best things come to those who wait
Sink or Swim: You have to walk before you can run

So it seems to me that while trying to argue AGAINST someone's belief is like running into a brick wall, it may be possible to just persuade them to latch onto another belief that may then supercede their previous belief.

You do see a variant of this in politics all the time. When party A attacks party B about kicking kittens, instead of refuting the point, party B realizes that facts are irrelevant and moves on from the kitten kicking issue to instead attack party A for killing babies knowing that many voters care more about baby killing than kitten kicking.

I feel that this may have some use in our daily interactions. Instead of arguing any point, you should analyze your "opponent," first to understand what proverb or story he is basing his belief on. For instance, not supporting government subsidies may be based on the classic story of corrupt politicians lining their pockets with corporate money. No matter what evidence you bring out, this person probably has a strong distrust of politicians and believe that something "under the table" is happening even if you can't see it. You can't prove to him that politicians aren't corrupt.

So, instead of arguing about corrupt politicians, you should search for another story that they respond to even better. Maybe they believe that all politicians are corrupt, but that also believe that all farmers are saints. So if subsidies are good for farmers...

Of course, fighting with stories is already quite common and successful. But if we realize that what we debate and what can change minds are often different, it may help us have more fruitful discussions. Much of what we debate boils down more to core beliefs than actual facts, and yet we often trade facts back and forth as if we expect them to change anyone's minds. Instead, framing things in terms of the adages that reflect our beliefs may bring us closer to understanding our true beliefs and the reasons we have for believing in them.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Co-housing

I am lonely.

I live in the bay area, a sprawling metropolitan area that contains almost 7 million people. There are eighty-one units in my housing complex. And yet I somehow still feel isolated amongst the vast sea of people that fill my view.

I know I am not alone in this feeling. In the public discourse, the loss of community in our generation is almost cliche, but that doesn't make it any less real. Some people yearn for the "small town" intimacy or the bar where "everyone knows your name." For many of my generation who never lived in a small town, our closest analog is the college dorm or fraternity. We reminisce fondly about the times we could just walk into a neighbor's room, sit on his floor and procrastinate together. Now, the twenty-minute drive to see that old friend feels like a thousand miles, insurmountable without a "good reason" or a meal-centric event of some kind.

So how do we regain a sense of community? Well, there is a small, 19 home co-housing community being developed in Mountain View. The idea is to have a group of individual homes share both a large communal space (in this case, a 4000 sqft common house) and a desire to view each other as family. Communal dinners and events would be expected but not required. it sounds great, but unfortunately, the development (due to be completed in 2013) is also a bit out of our price range. Plus, one of the things that really made the college experience work was that we were all at the same stage of life with similar needs and wants. The Mountain View housing community is currently made up of the people with the time and money to undergo such an endeavor, namely people over 55.

So what's plan B? The housing market sucks (if you own a house like I do). Prices are low, and inventory is high. In fact, in my complex of 81 houses, there are five units for sale. Thus, the silver lining. If our friends bought those five houses, we could have our own little housing community. For reference, the cost is roughly half the cost of the co-housing community in Mountain View. We could even buy an extra house and use it as a shared space if necessary. It's still cheaper.

So, if you're thinking about buying a house and want a great house with a great developing community, check out the houses in my complex like this one. Make my dreams come true.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Our Greatest Natural Resource

Studies show that we could easily become 37% more efficient in our water use. Gasoline engines themselves are only about 25% efficient while solar panels are typically around 15% efficient at capturing the sun's energy. Horrendous no? Billions of dollars are currently being invested in making more efficient use of our resources. But there is one resource that doesn't often make it into the news or into investment portfolios, and yet it is perhaps the area we can improve in the most: human potential.

How efficient do you think you are at work? I'm not talking about the hours spent doing actual work vs. playing solitaire. I'm talking about how much of your potential skills, experience, and intellect are being leveraged by your company. If you work at McDonalds, is following the cash register script and all the procedures really using your talents to the fullest? Or if you work in an office, do you really feel like your effort is producing the maximum impact that it can, that filling out TPS reports fulfills your destiny?

I'd guess that globally the true potential of the workforce is being utilized at less than one percent. The conventional wisdom is that work sucks. It's supposed to suck. Sure, some of us are lucky enough to like our jobs, and yet I bet we all still complain about the stupidity of management or beaureacracy or inane cost-cutting procedures or whatnot. These things irk us beyond belief because deep down inside, we know that these things are keeping us from our true potential. We know that we can be more, do more, if only someone knew how to unlock that hidden promise.

A colloquial scientific tidbit is that humans only use 5% of their brain. People always say, "Imagine what we could do if you used all 100%." Well, as a society, we leverage people's potential even less efficiently. Imagine all the things we could accomplish and the problems we could solve if we tackled this challenge.

It is a challenge that may entail changing corporate structures, social circles, cultural desires, residential systems, and even our political system. And yet, if we stop for a moment and imagine a world where every person is truly all that he can be, then maybe, just maybe it's worth the investment.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Leveraging Game Mechanics to spread Sustainability

Connie and I got our first article published on Triple Pundit. Check it out here:

Monday, June 21, 2010

Better design can change the world

Does a family really NEED a 2500 sq ft. house? I've found that living in California where houses are expensive has resulted in a space thriftiness that has kept me from buying too many physical goods which will eventually end up in the landfill. In many ways, abundant space promotes a culture of cheap, disposable products rather than fine, durable, space-efficient goods. Here's an amazing video that demonstrates how wonderfully efficient and beautiful well-designed furniture can be:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRxvNhlS4V4

Monday, June 14, 2010

Greenerminds Summit: discovering a more perfect world

This weekend I participated in an event that provided nothing less than a glimpse into a more perfect world. For seventy-two hours, eighty great minds left behind their worldly responsibilities as designers, entrepreneurs, marketing consultants, and students and ventured deep into the Mendocino Woodlands, where cellphone signals and internet access fail to penetrate.

For those seventy-two hours, we cooked together, ate together, learned together, and played together. We discovered that amongst the powerful corporations and influential nonprofit representatives, we also had artists, athletes (somewhere in this world, egg toss is considered a sport), musicians, and writers. Most importantly, we dreamed together.

The trees overhead sheltered us from more than sun and distraction. They protected us from the cold separation of society. Here we were all instant best friends, supportive and curious about our brethren. The web of community held back the doubt and insecurities that assail us every day and let loose the potential of eighty truly great and green minds.

The organizers, an almost familial group from Net Impact, IDSA, and the Young Women Social Entrepreneurs recruited the minds, made sure they were well fed, and fostered an amazing environment of communal involvement. Beyond that, this was truly an Unconference. Discussion topics were created on-site by passionate pleas and popular vote. Groups were self-moderated, and participants freely flowed in and out of them, following the two-feet rule.

Can anything really come from such an unstructured format? I found the discussions I was involved in to be very engaging and inspiring. They often took a surprising turn - one of the advantages of tossing structure out the window - but stayed focused on the overall theme of sustainability. A few direct actions may result from this unconference, but the main benefit will undoubtedly be the creation of "mastermind" groups, support groups that will continue to inspire, promote new thinking, and launch projects long after the summit has passed.

Plato believed that every object that we see is merely a shadow of a true Form which, though abstract in nature, is more real than the objects which mimic it. This weekend we imagined a more perfect world, and for those seventy-two hours, it was more visceral and more real than the blank reality that surrounds us today. In daring to believe in that more-perfect future, I discovered the real me, one not bound by self-doubt, societal expectations and financial statements. In the Mendocino redwoods, I regained the courage to dream, and I can only hope that every morning when I look in the mirror, the real me will look back.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

personal monorail

This seems like a lot of fun.

To me, it doesn't seem practical as an urban alternative because trains carry so many more people. However, there are many places where trains fail because they're expensive, and the area isn't dense enough to really support a subway system. Perhaps this type of solution is a good in-between a semi-mass transit system.

What do you guys think?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Protesting Arizona

Check this brief article out

The San Francisco government is banning official visits to Arizona. Is San Francisco crazy? Well, LA and DC might do something similar.

I think this little incident is a great example of leverage and how the game is constantly changing and... innovating.

Here's what I mean. The standard political process is that voters in a state elect representatives. If they don't like a law (in this case, an immigration law), then they vote out their representative. If you don't live in the state, then you go one level up and lobby your federal representative to pass a law negating the state one.

Now in this case, a city is protesting a law in another state, not by lobbying the federal government, but by basically putting up an economic sanction on Arizona. They are applying economic leverage on something quite unrelated.

Furthermore, individuals in other states have found more leverage. Instead of writing letters to their senators, they are boycotting companies based in Arizona in the hopes that Arizona companies (which can't vote) actually hold the political power in Arizona.

Will inter-state economic sanctions work as leverage in a mostly-unrelated political issue? I wonder if we'll see more of this

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Stadiums, Signs, and why email Spam might be good for something

I put up my first political sign today... ever. Why is it my first? I've certainly cared about elections before. But it hardly seemed like putting up a sign would make a difference in the Obama campaign. It always seemed more of a declaration of who you were (like a vanity license plate) than something that would actually sway voters. But today I stopped my streak of indifference and actually printed up my own signs and taped them to my windows. Here's why:

I've been getting flyers... many colorful bright flyers telling me to vote Yes for Measure J. Vote yes for J and Yes for Santa Clara. Since I live in Santa Clara and have a job, I would say I am pro both. I then spent some time looking for information on what the actual measure was. The short of it is that it's asking for Santa Clara to subsidize the building of a football stadium for the San Francisco 49ers. Yes, it seems quite shocking that a city of 110,000 residents would be building the stadium for an NFL football team (which wouldn't be changing it's name). I had heard murmurs of this for the last few years, but now there were flyers showing up at my door, so I needed real information.

I found very little at first, after all, this wasn't a big national, state, or even county issue. It was just a Santa Clara city issue. I felt very isolated in this when I realized that I don't think ANY of my friends actually live in Santa Clara. Please speak up now if you do. After some research, (including the only balanced article I could find - from the New York Times of all places) I did decide to vote against Measure J. If you're curious why, just read this book about publicly subsidized stadiums HERE. It's quite fascinating. Aside from any police and traffic issues, it's basically financially ridiculous. The city loses a lot of money and gains delusional aspirations of being a "big" city and the promises of an economic boom that never comes. In summary... monorail! But as very few of you can actually vote on this topic, I'll skip talking about the details and go on to why I put a sign on my window.

Having realized what a big waste of money this would be, I started getting really worried that this would pass. Why? Well because it was really hard to find good information out there, and while there is a strong lobby ($1 million from the 49ers) for the measure, the opposition is... well, let's just say there is no pre-existing lobby or union to oppose Measure J. While the supporters have sent me 3 mailers so far and have a very convincing professional looking website, the opposition has a website that looks like it was made in the 80s. But what really got me is that I started seeing the same "Yes on J, Yes on Jobs" (We're paying over $100 million to get hot dog vendors who don't even live in Santa Clara jobs?) all over the place. I don't see any "No" signs. It really makes it look like everyone wants this Stadium. Of course, it could also be that no one paid hundreds of thousands of dollars at kinkos to make "No" signs and then pass them out to everyone. So I made my own. Now the 3 people who pass my house on a daily basis will know that there is SOME resistance to the hegemony. Perhaps others will speak up as well.

But I still feel rather neutered here. In truth I hate that politics has been reduced to making signs. With all the technological advancements at my disposal, I made a sign. The problem is that this is a local issue. None of my facebook friends or the people that read this blog can vote on this issue. And yet because it's a local issue, each vote matters so much more, and the results of the vote will matter so much more to me. I feel like this tie to the local community is where technology is currently failing me. I admit. I am not tied well to my community. But I want to be. I want my facebook or google to make this easy for me. Because like everyone else in my community, I am lazy, busy, and a little scared of other people.

Another thought that came to mind, is that I would like a way to communicate with the people in Santa Clara. I would like to email santa-clara-all@gmail.com. Sure, this would be horrible horrible spam. But there's already a way to do this. it's called Snail Mail. And it's very easy to target a local election this way. In fact, that is what is being done in this election. It is being bought because the only way to communicate directly to all the people in Santa Clara, is through mail, and mail costs money... lots of money. So right now the gate to how much political spam you get is how much money they have to spend in order to chop down trees to make pamphlets and put all that paper on trucks to get delivered to your door. But what if email spam was allowed? it could be regulated not by how much money people have to spend on creating the SPAM but by the city. Let's say that the government is allowed to send everyone in Santa Clara a couple emails a week - you cannot opt out, just like you can't opt out of having a mailbox when you buy your house. Those emails could contain political advertisements from both sides of any issue. Sure, the side with money could still buy ads on TV and send you SPAM in the mail. But at least the other side would be able to put out their message even if they have no money. And if email ads prove to be MORE effective than home mailer ads, maybe we'll waste less money and environmental resources as a society on physical spam mail. Just a thought.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Query process update

Query letters to agents: 26
Query letters to agents who no longer exist: 2
Form-letter rejections received: 3
The Sound of Silence: 21

Friday, March 26, 2010

Life out there...

Usually, I stick to thinking about all the amazing possibilities that exist in our near future, and on our own planet. But today, I just have to ask: Do you think there's life out there? And if you knew for certain that there was, do you think that would change anything about how we live our lives now?

What refreshed this debate in my head was an article not about space, but about Antarctica. This article talks about how a saltwater lake that has been trapped under glaciers for 1.5 million years still manages to support 17 different types of micro-organic life in an oxygen-less environment. It continues to amaze me how life manages to survive literally EVERYWHERE on earth. Here's a nice top 10 of the most inhospitable places life exists.

Now it just stands to reason that in the estimated 10^22 stars in the universe, life has managed to claw its way into existence quite often. Now add to that the recent news that the universe is now 90% bigger than we thought it was. Aint that crazy? Sure, we may never run into the little green men that share our universe, but they're likely out there. Doesn't that make you wonder?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Measuring of Happiness

I was feeling down the other day. I don't really know why. Maybe it was chemical. I just had trouble smiling. That made me start thinking of the nature of happiness. Of course there have been a lot of studies on happiness as a metric. We've all heard how beyond a bare minimum, wealth doesn't translate into happiness. And there are also studies that say hey, maybe it does a little.

But all these are based on surveys that ask "how happy you are in life?" That's very different than asking "how do you feel right now?" If we can get data on the latter, I think it would bring about some very interesting insights.

I bought a fitbit pedometer the other day. It posts your daily activities on a website so that you can track your daily calorie burn. Even more interesting, it allows you to wear it at night so that you can track how well you sleep at night. I've included a screenshot below. All this data is made possible by a simple accelerometer strapped to my wrist.

Now imagine we had some kind of sensor you could attach to people that would record how happy they are every minute of every day. Instead of surveying 100 people once a week, we could get instantaneous data across a huge sample of people. Let's ignore the privacy issues right now and assume people opted in for this. Of course this would give great feedback to industry (Starbucks makes you happier than Coca Cola), but also imagine what it would do for our understanding of ourselves. Does average current happiness correlate with how happy people say they are with life? How wide is the spread of how happy people are in their day-to-day lives? Is everything really relative? Is there a steady "bucket" of happiness that people have every day or week or month?

Now what if this information WAS made public, so that you could see the "moods" of all your friends all the time. It's a mix between being able to read people's emotions and having constantly updated facebook and twitter statuses available full time. It might be useful to have a big "Do not disturb" sign floating over your head sometimes.

Anyhow, I look forward to reading about this study whenever someone gets around to doing it in the next decade or so. The power of technology WILL make something like this possible, and I eagerly await the results.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Understanding Trends

Google just released a great visualization tool for publicly available data, and it is AWESOME. You can play around with it here:

http://www.google.com/publicdata/directory

or read about it here:
http://mashable.com/2010/03/08/google-public-data-explorer/

I'm going to quote one line from the article. It says,
"While most of us won’t need this sophisticated of a tool on frequent occasions, it’s easy to see how this data could be extremely useful to researchers and those looking to understand the important trends that happen over time."

I'd actually argue that as tools like this make the visualization of large trends easier, it becomes something that SHOULD be mainstream. Right now the views of the general public are largely controlled by the mass media. We believe "rules of thumbs" and conventional wisdom, not because we don't have access to first source information, but because it's too difficult to wade through it. So we must trust secondary sources to tell us that "orange is the new pink" and that "universal health care blah blah blah blah blah." How do we find the truth amongst the spin? Hopefully tools that give us direct access to data will set us free.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Test Readers wanted

I've decided that I need a relatively large number of people to read my book (quick blurb here) to give me some high level feedback. If you are interested in being a test reader, please let me know. You do not need to "edit" or markup anything, just read the book and then take a quick survey which I'll send out later. If I ever get published, you'll show up in the "acknowledgements" section.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Value of Brands

I was having a conversation with someone about whether or not advertising has value to society. Advertising clearly has a big impact on our industry. In fact, advertising pays for so much that we take for granted: TV, radio, google... And yet, from a system level, advertising doesn't create anything. Sure, advertising can be effective in promoting one product over another, but from a macro-level, no goods or services are created from advertising (and the argument that it consumes goods and services is not enough of a reason for being). Now just so we're clear, the money that pays for your free TV comes from you. You pay for it in higher costs for the products that sponsor your shows. The inefficiencies means that overall, you are paying MORE in product costs for advertising than you would if you just paid for the shows directly.

Now really there are two types of advertising (and stuff in the middle). One, is the instructional kind, and I thing there IS overall societal value in that. Those ads teach you about products or services that you may want but don't know about. In fact, many government and non-profit agencies advertise to raise awareness on key issues.

Then there is purely brand-based advertising. This is for commodities that have no real functional differentiation (think Coca Cola). Here the advertising tends to be less informational and more based on evoking some emotion or identity.

Of course there are many things in between these two extremes, but overall, it seems to me that there is a whole lot of money going towards swaying people's opinions about what widget to buy over some other fundamentally identical widget. And yet 35 million people suffered from hunger (or "food insecurity") in 2006 IN THE US. And moreover, it seems that brand awareness and marketing are only becoming more important rather than less.

Here's an interesting graphic showing the "Value" of the top brands. That's right. The value of Coca Cola's brand is $68 BILLION dollars. That's larger than the GDP of many countries (including Cuba, Luxemburg, and Libya). Remember, that's just the brand, not its products, factories, trucks, or anything else.

It also strikes me that I don't feel that a lot of advertising out there is effective. Do those multimillion dollar ads work? What do you think?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Open Source.... food?

I must admit... I love paradigm shifts, especially when they reach beyond just one industry. One of the most interesting is the open source movement. As most of you know, open source software implies that the code is distributed for free, and that expansions and derivations are openly encouraged. This concept has been applied to many other subjects. The open licensing of creative works (art, music, books) is often called Creative Commons.

I'm personally interested in an update to how democracies function. In my mind, we are in serious need for some innovations around the structure of government and how policies are made and enacted. I won't get into my thoughts on this in detail now, but one interesting tidbit that is somewhat related is that there is even an open source governance movement.

Today I stumbled upon an article that made me think that open source can change even our most mundane interactions. It seems that someone experimentally made an open source restaurant. The idea is that when you eat at this restaurant, you also get access to the "source code" and instructions on how to make the dishes, how to plate them, how to design the furniture, lighting... everything! Now this wasn't fully open source in that restaurant patrons aren't actually adding to the recipes, but hey, why not?

What do you think about a restaurant that was more of a learning experience. Maybe when you walk in, you can customize your space a little (I want red place mats, not green). Then you look at the menu on a touchscreen (red theme here too pleas) and put together some choices. The recipes have customer reviews (think allrecipes.com) Perhaps this links to sourcemap so you can see where all of your food came from. Then you watch it being made in the kitchen via camera feed. When the food comes, you can add some seasonings. Those additions are added to the original recipe as a branch along with your review. Finally when you leave, the recipe is emailed to you along with pictures of the food you just ate (come on, I know a lot of you take pictures at restaurants). For those of you who care, they can send you the calorie count to your fitness tracker, the carbon footprint, the sourcemap, and anything else you care about. I'm sure this isn't for everyone, but would anyone out there enjoy this experience?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bye Bye Gridie: Distributed Power

Check out this video about a new fuel cell company trying to put power generation in the home.

This is a shift away from the centralized grid which relies on large power plants to power generated in the home or for communities of homes.

One of the larger themes I've been thinking about for a while now is the coming shift from centralized to distributed thinking. When the world industrialized, we gained immense efficiencies by centralizing everything, from the production of goods to agriculture, to computer systems and even tourism. In fact I would even say this is true for hierarchical corporate structures and even how our government works. Of course, now we are paying the price as we realize that this system has some tradeoffs, namely:

Transportation:
This has gotten a lot of attention recently. With the focus on fuel economy, it does seem a bit ridiculous to ship your fruit from across the world when it could be grown in your backyard. I see the local farming movement as not all that different from shifting off the grid. After all, there are significant transmission losses (9.5% according to this article) in the electric grid. Plus, all that infrastructure is expensive to maintain.

Adaptability:
Again, all that infrastructure is expensive. It is easy to over or under build infrastructure as it is hard to predict where the needs will arise. More importantly, the grid needs to constantly balance power demand and power supply. A centralized system is generally slower to adapt, especially to local needs.

I imagine that distributed power (many corporations already supply their own power) will increase, but the national grid won't really disappear. Instead, perhaps distributed power will offer a way to balance out the increase in power needs, allowing the current grid to operate without upgrades.

Of course the Bloom Box system mentioned here will still require some fuel source. But if you can tie it to your natural gas line and get you electricity at half the cost, then it sounds promising. What do you think?

FYI, if you're interested, I think this page has a lot of good info on the grid.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Productivity Tricks

Do you know when you are most productive?

I'm not sure how well-researched this area has been, but everyone knows that sometimes they are just more productive than others. There seem to be plenty of mental performance-enhancing drugs out there. There are even companies out there (like iMusic) that sell you music specially formulated to improve staggeringly specific things from thinking stamina to "Writing chops: just the right words will come to mind." Some people put on headphones to keep others from bothering them. And yet other people say seem need to IM and watch TV at the same time while working.

Me? I do my best thinking while I'm in bed. I'm remarkably focused, creative, and alert when I've just woken up but haven't opened my eyes yet. In this state, I can visually organize entire presentations for work or adjust plotlines for my book. I can plan my schedule for the next day and through the next week. But I can't write any of it down.

You see, it is quite easy to break the spell. Sitting up or even opening my eyes for too long can put an end to my flow of productivity. Like most animals, I think I was just made to be in the horizontal position... and to not use my eyes...

So I do occasionally try to jot things down on my phone, by my typing speed on my pixi while lying sideways is not anything to brag about. As a result, I'm thinking about how to make best use of my productive state. I COULD, for instance, bring a bed into work and see if my boss will let me sleep at work, but I imagine that won't fly that well. Alternatively, I could try to set up a laptop next to my bed at home so that I have a faster way to jot down notes while in my optimal state. In fact, I just learned that one my friends finds creativity in the wee hours of the morning as well. She has a word processor next to her bed that she uses to write things down. Yes, that's right, a word processor. (For the luxury of having a monochrome screen that turns on instantly, you can buy a word processor for more than the cost of a laptop.)

Anyhow, now I'm thinking about sleeping with a laptop under my pillow or using some kind of fancy split keyboard so that I can write while lying on my side. The other night I had a dream that felt (at the time) like a really amazing story. So I decided to take some notes on my phone. But then I realized that my eyes were still closed and that I was only dreaming that I was taking notes on my phone. It was a semi-lucid dream in that I knew that I was dreaming. The only problem is that I couldn't actually do anything to remember what I was dreaming. But imagine if I could train myself to type while asleep. That would be pretty awesome. If I can manage to do that, I'll post the dreams for you to see (pending some possible censorship.)

So how about you guys? Anyone have some interesting environment in which you are most productive?


I do my best thinking in bed.

where do you do your best thinking?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Olympics: past and future

I am currently taking part in an activity that truly unites the world. Yes, I like my brethren the world over am sitting on the couch watching the Olympics. It's a tradition that harkens back to 776 BC, though the couch surfing event is a more recent though no less historic landmark. There have been many memorable moments in the past 75 years of televised Olympics. So much of the history of the Olympics has been this odd mix between the spirit of international solidarity and the need to prove national supremacy.

In 1936, the Olympics in Berlin served as a soapbox for Hitler to broadcast his ideals of Aryan supremacy to the world. After the USSR began competing in 1954, many of the Olympic competitions and rivals became surrogates for the larger Cold War that was developing between the USSR and the western world. At the height of this tension in 1980, the US led 66 nations to boycott the Olympics being held in Moscow. In retaliation, the Russians boycotted the 1984 Olympics in LA. For further color on how much sports was dominated by national fervor, does anyone remember Rocky IV and the machine-like Russian boxer. Yes, the US always sees itself as the underdog. Well, in 1984, Russian didn't show up, but China did. And now China is also using the Olympics (we all remember Beijing in 2008 right?) to showcase national pride.

And yet, part of me thinks this will eventually change as well. A week ago I wrote about the eventual evolution of the Role of Nations. I was watching the Olympics when I noticed that you can see this change already happening with the Olympics. Athletes that live and train in the US but compete for other countries are quite common. However the opposite happens as well, such as Vancouver native, Dale Begg-Smith who left Canada as a teenager because the ski program interfered with his business endeavors. Subsequently he set up shop in Australia where his business earned him millions. Oh, and he's won gold and silver medals for Australia in the 2006 and 2010 Olympics. Some Canadians view him as some sort of traitor (He's easy to hate because his company makes malware), but really he's just a new-age citizen of the world where national borders make less sense.

Another thing I notice is that I no longer just root for the American. More importantly, NBC's news coverage doesn't just push you to root for the Americans. Sure, they do MOST of the time.
However, good stories (or at least sappy ones) seem to trump national interest. NBC spent more time on covering the love story between Chinese skaters Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo than they did for some entire sports. NBC clearly wanted Canadian mogul skier Alexandre Bilodeau to beat out the Americans because of the power of breaking a record (first home Canadian gold). Of course his brother who has cerebral palsy got more airtime than he did.

So what will the Olympics look like in 2200? Here's a crazy thought. Maybe instead of the walk of nations, we'll have the athletes enter the games in a fashion more convenient for the viewing audience. They can enter by the story they most closely identify with.

Imagine the newscast:
From "Triumph over poverty" we have 212 athletes.
"Recovery from debilitating injury" brings 143 competitors this year, and look at their outfits this year. Wheelchairs! How ironic.
"Love" is only sporting fifteen athletes this year, but it's the first year we've had an odd number of people in the category.
"Family member with a better story than me" is down this year to only 156 athletes. I guess globally universal health care is finally doing its job.
Here comes "Redemption." Oh, I'm sorry I'm being told that they changed their name this year to "Courage."
And finally, here comes the big one... at total of 5,874 athletes have just entered the stadium under the banner "Could possibly break a record or any minor statistic where any specific number that has not been achieved before can be realized." Wait is that our news correspondent intern Jack walking down there with the Athletes? Yes that is. He's trying to break the record for number of video recording devices wielded by one person while entering the stadium during opening ceremonies, surpassing Apollo Ono's record of eight set way back in 2014.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Beauty can be easy

http://lab.andre-michelle.com/tonematrix

Try this visual tool for generating music. This is an amazing example of how a certain structure/tool can allow humans to make wonderful things. This music generator does not make music by itself. It requires someone to click on the dots to generate the content. However, unlike other tools, it seems basically impossible to make something that doesn't sound interesting and great. Try closing your eyes and clicking on things. Still great right?

In a similar way, I think this type of tool can be applied in so many other ways. Can you architect HOW you make your purchasing decisions to overall result in better choices? Maybe these are tools (web search, reviews, sourcemap.org). Or maybe it's structure (don't go shopping for food when you're hungry). Basically, I think tools don't have to be unbiased. They should be optimized for better results. There's a book I haven't read yet, but seems to have some similar notions about maintaining choice, but optimizing for better choices called "Nudge."

Anyways, enjoy playing with this webpage and imagine if all our tools worked so well.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

hope beyond reason

A couple days ago, my sister sent me the following book: The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care by T.R. Reid
As you can imagine, it's fundamentally a book about the inequality, inefficiency and general disastrousness of the US health care "system". More importantly, it's a rather complete study of all the different universal health care plans that exist in other countries today.

As usual, I will not go in to depth about the book itself. To find out more about the book, you can go here. But while I was reading the introductory chapters extolling the idiocy of the US system and how much, well "better, cheaper, and fairer" health care could be, I must admit I was hit with a bit of despair. I know we've all had that moment where we go "Idiots! How can people NOT get this?" Well, those wounds felt fresh again as drastic health care reform once again seems likely to languish in the halls of Congress, slowly becoming less drastic and less likely to actually reform anything. Looking at the problem analytically (as this book does), it just seems SOOOO EASY. But looking at this politically, it seems near impossible.

I like to think of myself as a realistic optimist. I hope for the best knowing that I will be disappointed over and over again. It can be a hard position to take. When our country repeatedly fails with regards to health care or green tech or education or.... fill in your favorite cause here, it can lead to the simple answer that our system sucks or America sucks, or people in general suck. It's only natural to lose faith in something that doesn't work.

But I like to believe in what COULD be rather than be blocked by what is most likely right now. A hundred years ago, it was most likely that you'd have to take a boat to get to Europe for the next hundred years. Then someone invented planes. It's likely that the US will continue to struggle with health care for a few years, but there's nothing physically impossible about creating a cheap, fair, efficient health care system in the US.

I accept that our government resists change. I accept that the media-driven voters can seem irrational and easily driven by fear. However, these are just aspects to the problem, not inherent blocks to progress.

But I have faith that things can get better. Why? if you run the numbers, I am likely to be wrong... over and over again. But that is the definition of faith. It has to be slightly irrational, or it wouldn't be faith anymore. It would be logic. But why have faith? Because irrational belief drives people to achieve things that logical people would never pursue. As a societal tool, faith is EXTREMELY powerful. As a political tool, it is just as powerful.

By logic, you shouldn't vote, especially if you live in a district that is highly polarized. You're chances of having an impact are pretty much zero. But if all the intelligent people thought this way and didn't vote, then the vote goes to the masses who believe that it is their duty to vote. The leaders of any movement, the real forerunners. They don't succeed. They fail miserably and would have been much better off staying at home. But someone's got to start. Someone has to believe, to be passionate enough to go beyond rationality and work harder than they should.

I must apologize that words fail to completely capture this thought, but I hope you get the gist of it all. I believe in rationality, however, without irrational passion and hope, rationality will lose to the status quo and fear. And if you give up, lose faith in the government, then you have conceded the fight. So while I sit in astonishment at the ridiculous nature of so much that surrounds us, I refuse to concede that the government or people are just bad. There is something worth saving here, and there is a solution somewhere.




Monday, February 8, 2010

The Role of Nations

When I think about the future, I often imagine a world where the traditional roles of nations have trickled away to be replaced by allegiances formed by interests, not geography. There are strong trends that point in this direction. Even now, many companies have become global conglomerates, their scope well beyond the limits of any borders. Look at the EU. Countries which for much of the last millenia were constantly at war with each other, have now opened their borders to each other and share in a common currency.

Even as individuals, we often find ourselves traveling between countries almost at will. More importantly, we communicate with individuals in other countries at will. You can Skype with a stranger in Russia just as easily (or more so for some) as you can approach someone at the corner coffee shop. The associations with which we identify ourselves can align by interest rather than geography. How many facebook groups can you join? Also, this is just the beginning of a trend. Who knows what will happen?

For instance, you usually rely on your local government for services (like police, fire, etc.). But some things are privatized like car insurance and health insurance. Now many of those companies are international companies. So you could be under the same insurance umbrella as someone in Germany. In fact, it is very likely that in some ways, you are already under the same financial umbrella (those banks are BIG).

And then there's the counterpoint: geopolitics.

I recently picked up a book called The Next 100 Years by George Friedman. Now any book that is a prediction of the next 100 years doesn't sound like it should be in the NON-fiction section, but in the 10% of the book I glanced through, I did get a good sense for how he thought, and the method he was using to make predictions. Primarily he thinks of the world as nations that make limited decisions based on protecting their national interests in the context of the global environment. It's quite different than my own approach, and thus, quite fascinating to me.

From his standpoint, the next century will be "much like the last one" except in every detail. There will be wars (US vs Japan, Turkey, and then Mexico this time) due to the inherent conflict of interests between the powers of the world. Meanwhile, I tend to believe that the next century or two will begin to alter the paradigm of history and hope that our pattern of global warfare will change.

Whether you believe his predictions or not, I think the book is worth a quick read through. His central thesis that the U.S. is and will continue to be the dominant superpower throughout the next century is certainly an interesting (and very probable) stance. In this viewpoint, things like military power, geography, and control of both the Pacific and Atlantic trade routes figure more importantly than any possibly political action. In particular, he gives a great analogy of how the US is like an adolescent, just starting to grow into its power, and clumsy and insecure as it does so. If the US is truly only beginning to reach its dominance, that gives us, the citizens of the most powerful nation in the world, the opportunity to have a dramatic impact on the rest of the world, hopefully for better rather than for worse.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Yesterday I watched The Great Debators, a movie about a debate team at a black college in 1930's Texas. It was an excellent and moving film, but as with many great films, this movie is much more about the historical backdrop than it is about the plotline or even the characters. When I look at stories (told mostly through films these days), I can't help but notice that most consist of a formulaic plotline for the main characters to follow (love, rags to riches, misfits, underdogs etc.) and then get pummeled by the overwhelming power of the context in which they live (Racism in the deep south, World War 2, Vietnam, etc.). Movies that mix these personal dramas with such historic events can be immensely powerful, but it makes me ask one question:

What are future historical movies about today going to be about? Great and tragic events have defined the lives of previous generations. How do you grow up black in 1930's America without having that oppression seep into your soul? How do you fight in World War I, World War II, the Korean war or Vietnam without it changing your world view forever? The trauma of the last century has given purpose to those generations. But how about our generation?

We are lucky. We are phenomenally lucky to live in a world (parts of America, not the whole world) surprisingly free from overwhelming oppression and suffering. But as a result, we are a disjointed generation, free from purpose but left wallowing as a result. Our challenge is to find purpose with our freedom, and this is a great opportunity. But it requires us in some ways to divorce ourselves from the stories of the past.

We are mostly free from violence, and yet it seems that our culture cannot free ourselves from violence. In our happy peaceful world, why do we still have toy guns? Why are all our movies about war or crime? I love martial arts movies, but I've never punched someone in my life. Why? This pervades not just our view of the present, but our aspirations for the future. All the beauty imagined in the world of Avatar, all the advancements in the biological sciences, leads at the end to a good old fashioned ass-kicking. Even most fantasy children's stories have fighting and war in them (Narnia).

We still yearn to fight. We still yearn to triumph. And yet I hope that violence is NOT a universal truth and that one day it will disappear from our library of stories, and that those movies, devoid of fight scenes and battle scenes, won't suck.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What if you won the reverse lottery?

I met a man with the strangest problem the other day. He was trying to lower his salary to $1 a year, but his boss wouldn't let him. Yes, it certainly sounds like a good problem to have.

I know what you're thinking. "Rich bastard. He can just donate that money to me." Or maybe, "I'll pay him $1 a year to clean my house." But alas, the truth is more complicated than that and originates from his desire to Change the World. He actually used to be a software engineer at Google. For those of you who don't know, Google not only allows but encourages its engineers to spend 20% of their working hours working on anything they felt passionate about. Sounds crazy right?

Well, this guy felt that the world would be a much better place if people learned how to be "emotionally intelligent." I know that phrase has many meanings, but in this case, it basically meant learning how to be at peace with yourself and others. So he spent 20% of his time creating a curriculum based loosely on meditation. He started volunteer-based classes and invited guest lecturers to come into work.

Now, this began taking more and more of his time (after all, 20% is just a guideline). One day his boss decided that he wasn't really an engineer anymore. So, this being the wonderful world of Google, his boss helped him transfer over to Human Resources so that he could pursue this full-time as his job. Wow.

So why does this guy want only $1 a year when he's getting paid a full salary to pursue his dreams? Well, it's his dream, and he wants to be free from the ties of a "boss" and do things because he wants to, not because he's being paid to. But then why doesn't he just quit if he can afford it? It's hard to make change without a lever, and Google is one big lever (and the food is good.) Like many people who retire but don't, he works because of his ability to have an impact, not for the money.

So that opens up an interesting question. You've all heard the question before of "What would you do if you won a million dollars?" Most people at some point in their answer say something like "I wouldn't go to work anymore." OK, well, what if you won the reverse lottery and only got paid $1 a year at your job, or any job. Assume you don't have to worry about money. Would you act differently in your job? Would you feel you had more freedom in your job and become MORE motivated? The book "Drive" by Daniel Pink talks about the things that create intrinsic motivation in humans (I'll give you a hint, one of them is not money). I won't get into it, but check it out if you're interested.

But now try this. What if everyone had the wonderful luxury that this man has of getting paid $1 a year. Would everyone be more motivated? This is starting to sound like communism, and we all know how that turned out. Except maybe if you take communism, only apply it to people who have worked for a while and have already chosen a job which they are passionate about... well, who knows?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Childhood dreams

Did you ever play with stuffed animals as a kid (or an adult?) I certainly did. Now, do you remember ever wishing that one of your stuffed animals was real? I do. Of course I also dreamed that I didn't have to wear glasses and had superpowers. But just as I accepted that I would always wear glasses, I also accepted that my gang of teddy bears would always remain puppets to my imagination.

Three years ago, I got lasik and put away my glasses forever (or at least THOSE glasses), so perhaps those other dreams aren't that far away. Or at least that was the thought that popped into my head as I was listening to a lecture at Stanford about user-generated AI in games. Here's the super quick summary:

The AI in games decides how computer-controlled characters (most often your opponent) act. If you played video games back in the 80's, then you probably think computer AI's are very predictable. But these days AI's can be very complex. More importantly, they can take on different styles of play and have different behavioral personalities.

Now we are currently seeing a large trend of user generated everything, most prominently in the form of user-generated avatars (characters) and user-generated items and worlds. In many games, players can create their own characters and stages. And of course, in virtual worlds, you can create buildings, clothes,... almost anything. The speaker's research was focused on the next step, namely user-created behaviors for the actual game engine that determines the behavior of non-user controlled characters. So basically, training a peon, knight, shopkeeper, wizard, horse, or whatever else your game has, to act with a given personality.

Now, the speaker went on to elaborate on the actual computational techniques to train AI while my mind drifted down a different path. I thought back to my stuffed animals and how playing with them over the years was like developing a personality for each one. We may be far from mechanically dexterous mechanical pets (remember Teddy Ruxpin?) but in the virtual world...

Imaging the stuffed animal or imaginary friend you had as a child. Let's call him Teddy. Now imagine creating him in the virtual world (let's say Second Life). He has a pretty simple personality to start with. Maybe he likes to hold hands with your avatar but hates being picked up. He likes riding on your shoulder but insists on climbing up there himself. He is addicted to sweets but hates salty things. He likes rock music and winces when he hears sappy pop songs. He speaks in a Chinese accent because his tag says Made in China.

These are all pretty trivial things. But luckily as you get older, technology gets better as well, and Teddy is able to develop a deeper personality. He remembers the years he's spent with you. He realizes that he needs to eat salty things sometimes and will listen to sappy pop songs when you want to though he still makes faces when you're avatar isn't looking. You share inside jokes and tell him all your secrets, but your life has changed a lot. You have a job now and don't have time for Second Life. But how can you leave Teddy behind?

Luckily your phone is now pretty smart. And it's networked to your car and your home computer too. So you download the huge codebase for Teddy's personality and load it into your phone and your home computer. At first, it's a little weird, but Teddy adjusts. When someone calls you and you don't pick up, Teddy answers in his British accent. He's funny and nice to the people he likes, but he can be slow at getting you messages from people he dislikes, and he's really nasty to those telemarketers. When you're working on the computer, he floats ads for ice cream across your screen. You laugh. Teddy still loves those sweets.

A decade later you're lying on your couch. You need to work through a personal problem, so you tap your earpiece to go over some thoughts with your two closest advisors. Teddy's known you for 30 years now and listens to you, adding in some humorous remarks to keep things light. Your other confidant, Alice you created twenty years ago. She's much more serious than Teddy but represents some of the idealism you had back when you were in college. The three of you hash things out, the perfect team.

A childhood dream maybe, but for the next generation of kids, maybe it's not too far off.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Would you read this book?

Yes, I took the weekend off from writing because who really wants to be in front of the computer on the weekend, well, besides almost every person I saw in or near anything even resembling a cafe, coffee shop, dessert shop, or an ice cream shop. But tonight I finally got online to tweak the book summary and the first 5 pages of my book which I will be sending out to an agent tomorrow. So please read the next paragraph and let me know if this blurb would make you at least ask to see more of the book (first 5 pages conveniently enclosed. If not, the I welcome your constructive feedback.

In the isolated valley of Terrene, where technology is grown, not manufactured, no one ventures beyond the surrounding mountains, and no one questions the guidance of the enigmatic Institute... no one except for Flora, an underachieving teen whose constant daydreaming is a frustration for both her mom and her teacher. But then a chance encounter sparks lucid dreams where Flora lives the life of climate-change researcher, Jane Ingram, experiencing the technological wonders of a world outside her tiny village. With the mysterious knowledge gained from her dreams, Flora earns a spot at the prestigious Institute where she encounters amazing discoveries and thrilling new challenges. At the same time, she experiences Jane's trials as she fights to stop the impending doom of global climate change. As Flora works with her new-found friends and discovers the true purpose of the Institute, the events of Jane's life become more and more intertwined with Flora's. Soon Flora realizes that her dreams of Jane may change not just her life, but the lives of everyone in both their worlds.



Friday, January 29, 2010

Being Discovered... by yourself

I'm going to do it. I'm sending out my first query letter to a literary agent on Monday. And now that I blogged about it, it must happen. Sure maybe I'm not totally and completely happy with the fiction novel I've been writing, but by Monday, I'll be happy enough with a brief synopsis and the first five pages to send it off to someone in New York who may or may not actually read it. Yeah, the lack of feedback can really suck. That's why I REALLY appreciate your comments (hint, hint).

Of course this won't really be my first rejection. Like anything else, being rejected is a skill that you can get better at. Or perhaps it would be more fair to say that persisting in the face of certain rejection is a skill that you can get better at. I submitted a short story to a magazine and a contest a few months ago. Rejection. But some of the form letters that come back are actually quite supportive of said recipient. These little things matter. One day when I somehow lack the energy to write something new, maybe I'll post the story.

But back to my main point, I am going to actively pursue becoming a published writer. And doing so does make me feel a slight twinge of hypocracy. Why you ask? Well, in writing as well as in so many other creative fields such as art, music and film, there lies the concept of being discovered. Stars are made by the chance meeting of a famous producer. If only this hot-shot from the record company or this famous publisher saw my work, I'll be signed to ABC records or We-Make-You-Into-JK-Rowlings Book Publisher. That's just how stars are made.

But I'm a self proclaimed futurist. I love the shifting of paradigms, and the road towards stardom is being repaved by the democratization of the arts. It is both becoming easier and cheaper to create works of art (photoshop, garage band, digital film) as well as much easier to distribute your works to the audience without going through the publishing industry (youtube, ebooks, free mp3 websites, facebook, blogger, etc.) I can imagine a day when the sharing of creative works is less corporate and more viral. And with so many other paradigm shifts, catching that revolutionary wave makes history.

And so I should "discover" myself. I should self-publish and self-market in a devastatingly original digital campaign over facebook, youtube, and mobile apps. I should even write a book in a new format to fit the new reading habits of today's readers.

But alas, launching a revolution takes a lot of time and focus, and I don't believe that this one is ready yet. There are other changes coming which I care much more about, and my voice is not yet strong enough to shift its direction. Above all, I yearn for a voice with which to influence this future. For some, their voice comes from the dollars they invest, the celebrity they wield, or the groups they govern. For me, I hope it will come from the readers I influence. I have a voice. But until people can hear it, I'll be throwing pebbles at people's windows, hoping to be discovered.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Learning to be better humans

I occasionally present at new hire orientation for my company, so I had some "presentation training" today and yesterday. What was interesting is that the training wasn't just about the obvious (don't cross your arms, make eye contact, don't pee your pants), but it was also about how to structure your presentation to make the desired impact. In particular, one of the consultant's models was about how the audience must go through phases (like the popularized phases of grief http://www.survivingsuicide.com/grief.htm, but with less dying).

"know," where the audience is gaining facts, context and background.
"Understand" where the audience is allowed to draw limited conclusions
"Believe" where the audience is aligning with your argument
"Endorse" where you've converted the audience into advocates for your cause

It's an interesting system of viewing a presentation, especially when realizing that you must go in order and don't want to be pushing for the audience to believe your conclusions before you've given them a chance to know the background and understand the arguments. But I'm not really interested in writing too much about this particular methodology.

Instead I'm going to write about what it represents. This method of viewing presentations or rather arguments in general I find to be useful in everyday life. In fact, the basic building blocks of how to interact with others in our society seems amazingly lacking. I can't even find the right word for it. There are many related topics: debate, rhetoric, advertising to name a few. And I think we can all acknowledge how important these things are in our lives. It seems odd to me that the main manifestation for the teaching of all these seemingly core skills seems to be self-help books, management training, and talk show hosts.

At the same time, there seems to be a trend towards pushing math and sciences in primary education. Now I must admit that I am an engineer and highly value technology and progress. However, it appears to me that our society as a whole may be developing our industry to be technically advanced while our population remains analytically and rhetorically primitive.

I imagine that someone living 3000 years ago is genetically not much different than someone living now. And yet our lives are completely different, not just in the societies we live in, but the way we think, and particularly the way we interact. As our technology grows, and our tools become more powerful, I think it's important that we also progress in our ability to interact with each other, to understand difficult societal problems and work together. Basically, I think our technological growth is far outpacing our societal growth.

Most of our large problems are not technology problems but societal problems. Poverty. racism, wars, and even environmental problems are not technology problems. The political quagmire is not from a lack of computational power but from a structural failure to be able to make and enact good decisions. Imagine a population of well-educated, well-spoken, analytically proficient citizens, able to act as a populist-driven democracy. Imagine a world where the masses were not swayed by the campaigning of the few that wield power. OK, this is getting a little heavy for a short blog. Suffice to say, it would be interesting to examine the goal of primary education in the world.

Much of our educational curriculum is evolved. There are things that are necessary, vocational education such as learning how to make change for a dollar. And at higher levels, this translates into math and science where many of the jobs will be. However, how about training on how to be a citizen of this country? How do we learn to be better humans? Don't we all need to progress to some higher state of understanding? Or are we still just apes with cooler toys?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The World of Misplaced Blogs

I was talking to a friend last night about my aspirations to write a groundbreaking book that inspires people to view the world from a different, and hopefully beneficial perspective, a book that shifts the dialogue of mainstream America and the lens with which people view our conflicts, problems, and challenges when she suggested I write a blog.

"A blog!" I said. "What a great idea." In fact, I had started a blog half a year ago. The problem was that I had made it very specific to a certain framework (I do love frameworks), and that made it somewhat limiting. As a result, I abandoned it like so many other narrowly-defined tools (have you used your corn-on-the-cob holders recently or just lost them). But my friend convinced me that I can write a more general-purpose blog whose aimless wandering between thoughts on happiness, creativity, politics, and any other topic (I promise not to include what I ate this morning unless it has relevance to future geopolitics). So with great determination, I set out to start a new blog or to modify my narrowly-scoped blog into a much more versatile blog of nothingness and..... promptly discovered that I had already done so... ten months ago.

Yes, that's right, I completely forgot about the existence of this blog. This was a moment akin to trying to open the door of the car parked across the street from your own. I felt a little stupid and maybe a little concerned that I would soon need to shop for adult diapers. But alas, I can't stay mad at me. I've decided that this must happen to everyone.

So just how many discarded blogs, myspace pages, and spam-collecting email accounts are out there? In the Internet, how much space junk is orbiting around our servers? Like all things that are cheap (don't get me started on the hidden price of cheap goods), websites have become disposable. And so they're tossed, not even into nice garbage bins. They're just forgotten and left on the street, forcing everyone to just walk around them, head held high pretending they're not there.

Certainly, this form of junk and waste is better than the physical kind. No birds are choking on your last tweet. No fish ingest your toxic SPAM, introducing it into our food chain. And yet data is served on physical computers. Maybe only 5% of the data stored on servers in the internet is used... ever again.

Does that mean that one day we'll have to hire a janitorial staff to help keep the streets clean? In early industrial cities littering and spitting were accepted and commonplace. Now such behavior is a sign of uncultured barbarism. Perhaps we'll one day view the internet as a sanitary haven and reflect back on the days of internet littering and misplace blogs with revulsion. Well, I'm picking this blog up off the floor. How about you?