Privacy Thoughts

Privacy is good, right? Giving sensitive information is bad, right? It’s scary that Google knows what you search for every day, and which sites you click through from the results, right? Allowing Google to track your browsing history with its new History feature is scary, right? What if they decide to keep your information, what if they link it back to you, what if they sell it to make money? Scary, right? Even if you chose to give them this information (which, for the most part, you did), it’s still scary, right?

Well, what about:
  • Phone companies who know every single call you make, and already do sell that information to marketers and other companies.
  • Credit card companies who know every single purchase you make and have your full name and address and phone and social security number (rather than just an email address) and already do sell that information to marketers and other companies.
  • Banks who have all of your financial information and could at any minute release it to other companies, or have the security compromised.
  • The government who already has all of this information and loses laptops with social security numbers and other really sensitive information at staggering rates - among other, far scarier things it does regularly.
?

No Other Day Could Possibly Exist

This morning a song came on my iPod as I stepped off the B train at Rockefeller Center. As it played, I walked slowly through the station towards the exit. I nearly began to cry. I’m almost embarrassed to say what song it was, but I’ll suck it up. It was “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M.

I’m not, nor was I ever, the biggest fan of R.E.M. - I never really got into them when they were big, and even having listened to much of their music in recent years, I remain more or less disinterested. Yes, I appreciate and enjoy a couple of their tunes, and I can see why they became so popular, but I missed that boat, apparently.

This morning, though, “Everybody Hurts” started to play and something turned on inside my head. That song has always reminded me of something. Of another song, another age - something. It has one of those melodies, that timeless alternating I-IV chord progressions - it feels familiar, even it you’ve never heard it before. I remember learning relatively recently that it was an R.E.M. song and being legitimately surprised it hadn’t been released 30 years earlier.

Change to present tense:

So it’s playing this morning and everything comes sharply into focus. All outside noise disappears and I just see people. They all look the same. There is no such thing as age. Race. Gender. Class. Religion. It’s clear to me in this moment how much we share, how deep the connection runs. How much pain we all feel. How alone we all are. Each one of us, walking in this world, feels isolated. A societal focus on individuality separating us in our minds from the vast interdependent organism that is Humanity.

In this moment of intense stillness and quiet, I have an incredible sense that the hurt and loss and loneliness we feel is somehow good, somehow right. That it is one of the many things that connect us as human beings, one of the multitude of ways in which we are never - can never be - truly alone. That it is the imperfections and inconsistencies that make life perfect.

That no other day could possibly exist. I smile.

Social Network Overload Revisited

When I say overload, I mean an overload of uselessness. Not an overload of stuff. I don’t fall in line with the folks who believe we’re being bombarded with so much that we can’t handle it. I think we can, and we do. Every single person knows when to step back and say, “Enough.”

What I mean is that there are too many services that do too little, that are wasting their time on things a little too specific. They miss the bigger picture which is not the success of their brand, but the goal of seamless exchange of content across all systems.

No one is there yet, but many are moving that direction.

Think open, not proprietary. Think a network that knows, without me telling it, what books I’ve purchased, what I ate for dinner, when I last updated my blog, when my package will arrive, when I need to order a new toothbrush. Think a network that knows these things about me, and can act based on the information it receives (i.e. order the new toothbrush on its own). Think a network that knows these things about my friends, too, about those who choose to share their daily lives - their pasts, presents, and futures - and can update me on their statuses, changing the way it works, the way it acts, based on the input it receives from all over the world.

It doesn’t matter what product, which website, which brand. They all need to talk to one another. The ones that don’t are useless. They are the ones we will forget sooner than they realize. They are the overload, the distractions, the guys who cling so tightly - so blindly - to their horses that they fail to see the wheels blowing sand into their eyes.

Social Network Overload

What happens if I don’t accept my friend’s request to join a new, niche social network? What if I know they fully expect me, of all people, to join? What if I’m tired of joining these services I know will become forgotten in mere months? Certainly I am guilty of serial joining, having accounts at...well, let’s try to count:
  1. MySpace
  2. Facebook
  3. Scribd
  4. YouTube
  5. LinkedIn
  6. Digg
  7. Del.icio.us
  8. Technorati
  9. Livejournal
  10. Blogger
  11. Wordpress
  12. Tumblr
  13. IconBuffet
  14. Flickr
  15. Friendster
  16. Geni
  17. Twitter
  18. Mog
  19. Jaiku
  20. Ebay
  21. Amazon
  22. Xanga
  23. Okay, this list is getting too long. I could do this for hours. Exit list.
So, I’ve joined a ton of sites. I know there are a lot of little ones I’ve signed up for that, for the life of me, I can’t recall. Like a lot of bloggers (tech ones, to be sure), I am an early adopter, and I’m not ashamed of it. My philosophy is more along the lines of, “Sounds cool, I’ll give it a try” than “I want to wait and see how it does before jumping on the bandwagon.” And for the most part this doesn’t get me into trouble. Most sites these days require very little as far as commitment goes, and you don’t often need more than an email address to get started. Nice of them to make it so simple to sign up, but often they fail to provide any compelling reason to return regularly. All the names sound the same, too, so I tend to forget what they are.

If anything is true about the way in which I use these networking sites, it is that I very rarely use the vast majority of them. Often, I won’t even get a full profile up before abandoning it forever. I might forget my username (please let me use my email address). And I very rarely will “Invite your whole freaking address book” thing because that is not cool. But I like to check them out, at least. See what the deal is. Cool enough, but I don’t have the time, interest, or desire to become an active user of most of these things.

From that list above, there are only a couple sites I visit daily. A couple of the services (I’m thinking Tumblr, and del.icio.us) I haven’t really visited since signing up. Once I configured my Tumblr account, I left it alone to run. I only use del.icio.us to bookmark sites and articles (which I will check from time to time) - and I haven’t used it in the social respect, ever. I don’t look there for content.

Some sites, especially a lot of the new ones, are very niche, very narrowly focused. They tend to be about one thing. And they’re obviously designed to appeal to people really into that one thing. The problem is that they still, for the most part, operate in exactly the same way as all these other sites. Most of these new sites offer very little value if you don’t spend hours configuring your account. YouTube is great because there is a ton of content to check out even if you haven’t made a profile, even if you never make a profile. Digg is the same way. These services let you do a ton by default, and by joining you make the choice to contribute more in order to gain more. True, these sites started the same way - with nothing - but now that they are established, a new site has to work twice as hard to bring some unique content to the table and give me a compelling reason to return.

Too many of the new guys make you do too much. That’s fine if what you ultimately offer is really awesome, but if it’s something like, for example, what books my friends are reading, that’s just not worth it. Especially if you don’t give me a ton of options for adding my own books. Why force me to search for them one at a time when I might already have a database set up at home, or a text list, or use Delicious Library, or have an Amazon account? Why not build on top of these other services to let those who do use them have an easier time? Why not make it possible to grab the lists I’ve already written from my Facebook or MySpace profiles? Make it easy on us, please. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of brand new social networks vying for our attention, many of which are about the same thing yours is, and we’ll gravitate towards the ones that offer the best effort-to-value ratio.

I’m not saying to include everything, to become inclusive beyond a reasonable level, to allow syncing with every service - but pick some good ones, because there are a lot. The services that recognize this need for interoperability and communication are the ones that will succeed. Let us embed our YouTube videos, let us import our contacts and our interests and lists. Let us include our Twitter status. Let us add some news feeds, or republish our blog with no effort whatsoever. It’s not that you need to do more, you just have to do better, be more open. The more MySpace restricts embedding content from outside networks, the more they will alienate their users, who are not so young or naïve that they can’t see the real reason for these bans, which is making money. MySpace is dying a slow death because they’re not thinking of their users when they make these changes. Pretty soon, they’ll start to migrate to networks that let them do whatever they want and won’t remove the stuff they spent hours perfecting because of business disputes.

Lead the way with a service that allows users to bring together and manage all of these networks, all of this information. Help us manage the overload and help us do something useful with it.

If you don’t, Google will. And you’ll be forgotten.

For the record, I did join the network my friend invited me to yesterday. And I did start adding and rating books.

But I can’t remember what it’s called.

Protesting Free Speech By Attacking Monologuist

This is just not cool.

Gothamist reports that eighty-seven members of a Christan group disrupted a performance by monologuist Mike Daisey (“Invincible Summer” at American Repertory Theatre) by walking out during it all at once. And one of them poured water on his script, effectively destroying Daisey’s original outline for the show.

For his part, Mike Daisey handled this incident extremely well (there is a link below to a video), and his blog entry about it is moving. Here are a couple excerpts:
And it wounded me in my heart, because I trusted these people. Scared parents and scared teachers running from a theater because words might hurt them, and so consumed by fear that they have to lash out at the work, literally break it apart, drown it. They've made me afraid of my audience, afraid of my craft, just the smallest amount, and that's the trust I will have to relearn tonight and every night. That's the work--the only way out is through, I tell my students, and it is true for me and it is true for everybody.
Daisey finishes with this:
But they are not simply fools and idiots--I saw them. They are young and old, they are teachers and students, they are each and every one of us. We are the same family, even if it hurts. The hard truth is that you reap what you sow, and I will not sow hatred and discontent--I refuse. I will not forget what that man, older than I am today, did to my work. I will not forget the cowed silence of those who left. I will not forget their judgment and their arrogance--but I will not hate.

I will listen. I will listen and learn and remember what has passed here, and when I tell it back it will be louder and longer and clearer. When I tell it back there will be place in the story for you and you and even you.
What’s infuriating and wrong about this has absolutely nothing to do with the beliefs of the group that walked out. They could have been Jewish, atheist, liberal, conservative - they could have been anything at all. But what they did is not free speech. It is not in the spirit of anything good. It was a deliberate, coordinated attack on someone else’s freedom. Their act was not one of dissent, it was of disruption and destruction. The freedom of speech guarantees others the right to speak against things they disagree with, but that’s not what happened here. They came to this event - paid for it, even - with the sole intention of leaving and of disrupting the event so it might not continue. When anyone does this - I don’t care if it’s for something I believe in - I cannot support their actions. Because they are hostile.

Why couldn’t a single member of the group have told Daisey why they were leaving? Why couldn’t they have had the courage to exercise their own free speech, rather than stopping Daisey from exercising his? Why, why, why, why, why did one gentleman feel the need to destroy Daisey’s script - his property? This is out of line, no matter what Daisey was talking about. No matter what.

Scream, yell, argue, preach, or set up your own event where you can scream, yell, argue, and preach to a supportive audience. Do not sabotage someone else’s exercise of freedom. Do not sabotage someone’s art. Do not sabotage someone’s for-pay event as though you bought the right to. You don’t. If you don’t like it, leave. And afterwards, maybe, civilly, approach him and talk about things. Get your own audience and talk about things. At the very least, have the dignity to respond to the person whose show you wrecked when he asks why.

Or, seriously, don’t buy a damn ticket next time. Please. Exercise your right to ignore. If you aren’t going to at least try to listen to something you disagree with, if you can’t be bothered to open your mind to different ways of thinking, then please don’t deliberately put yourself in the position to hear these things.

I’d prefer you try to stretch a little. But if you can’t, don’t waste your money. Don’t waste your time.


Video of the event on YouTube

How To Organize Your Music - Part 2


Last month there were a couple mammoth-sized posts about iTunes and how to get started organizing and optimizing your Library for the utmost listening and iPodding experience. The first was philosophical-ish, and the second more practical. You may want to check them out first and then come back to this one later, but they aren’t exactly prerequisites, so you won’t be lost if you don’t.

Here they are:
The newest addition to this series is called,

How To Deal With Genre

If you’re at all like me, you get your music from a ton of different sources, and your genre column in iTunes is really messed up. There might be twenty different variants of Alternative (even misspellings!), a ton of empty tags, along with some crazy stuff that has nothing to do with genre whatsoever.

My advice? Simplify.

Rather than tag each album with an ultra-specific genre, go through your library, select a ton of tracks at once, right-click and use Get Info to tag them all “Rock.” Then do the same for Classical, Jazz, Country, R&B, Hip-Hop/Rap, Soundtrack, and Other. You can modify these a bit depending on the contents of your library (for example, if you have mostly Electronic music, you can pick some big sub-categories like Ambient, House, and Trance to use as your main genres). The important thing is to keep it simple. Really simple. If you have more than ten, you might be overdoing it unless you have a pretty diverse library.

Another good way to get started (which I use personally, because I do have diverse interests) is to grab the list of twelve categories used on EMusic (this adds a couple like Spiritual, International, and New Age). The benefit here is it forces you to discipline yourself, which is really important, and you don’t have to think about it because they’ve already done the work for you.

Now, you’re thinking, “But Math Rock is nothing at all like Indie Pop, and they’re all together in my Alternative genre. I don’t want to hear Mogwai right after Puffy AmiYumi!” Of course you don’t, and you shouldn’t have to.

The way to fix this isn’t what you think, but it works really well.

Make playlists.

Trust me. First, you’ll want to make Smart Playlists for each of your major genres. Do that by clicking File > New Smart Playlist and then setting it to “Genre is ________.” Make sure the checkmark for Live Updating is checked.

Bam! You’ve got convenient lists of your major genres. Cool.

Now for the fun part:

Make a ton of playlists. A ton.

Name them as specifically as you want. Go crazy with it. Make one for Art Pop, one for Avant Garde Experimental Pop, One for Alt-Country, and one for Hollywood Country. Whatever you think an album is, make a playlist for it. The benefit to this method is you can easily (really easily) drag a whole album or a whole bunch of albums, or even a single track within an album to any and all of the playlists that are appropriate.

Why is this cool? Well, just because Boston is a classic rock band, it doesn’t mean all of their songs are loud and heavy and blues-influenced. Wouldn’t it be nice to have “Amanda” or “More Than A Feeling” in a Power Ballads list, too? Or the Guitar Hero playlist, even, because you know you need to keep those tracks together so you can bust out your awesome air guitar-controller moves when you’re alone. Dragging and dropping tracks is a lot easier than typing or selecting a genre for each one, and it lets you mimic the functionality of “Tagging,” popularized by Flickr and Del.icio.us, and in use on this site, and tons of blogs, too.

Clean things up a bit with folders.

So you’ve got tons of playlists now, but it’s making the sidebar look like a toddler on speed blasted through? Well, make some folders. How about one for each of the big genres you picked earlier? And then drag the specific playlists into the correct folders. If you want to get really specific, you can also dual-list your sub-playlists under multiple genres. It’s not as easy, but very doable. Say you want to have your Alt-Country list under both Alternative and, well, Country. Just make a new playlist called Alt-Country 2, select all the tracks in the original list, and drag them to the new one. Then move each to its rightful place and feel the Zen kick in.

EDIT: An anonymous comment has a better way of doing this:
Or, you can only drag tracks into the Alt-Country list and place a Smart Playlist in the Alternative folder. Name that "Alt-Country 2." For the criteria, use: Playlist = "Alt-Country." Make sure that Live Updating is checked, then feel the Zen kick in.
Ah Zen. We like that here at FrivMo.

By far the best part about this method is how simple it is to manage new additions to your library. Don’t have a ton of time to sort everything specifically? You can give it a general category for now, and get more specific about it when you’ve had a chance to listen through the album. Like rating your tracks, getting the genre just right takes time, and is more an art than a science. The more you live with your music, the more you’ll find out what works and what doesn’t. This playlist method makes it easy as pie to change your mind. Which you inevitably will.

Extra credit for overachievers:

Once you’ve rated a bunch of stuff and made some genre playlists, try making Smart Playlists for each major genre or for multiple related subgenres that include only your four- or five- star tunes. Major control over your listening experience is now becoming a reality. Sweet.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

10 Reasons Pedestrians Hate Cyclists

Below is a list of reasons I am more afraid of bicyclists than I am of drivers. They are my reasons for not particularly supporting the monthly Critical Mass bike rides (where dozens of bikers take up entire lanes on the streets of Manhattan to protest the city’s alleged hostility to bike-riders, and its failure to make the roads safe for their chosen method of transit). I definitely believe in bike-riding. I definitely support it as a form of clean and functional transportation. I definitely prefer it to driving, myself. But, as a pedestrian, as the lowest in the food chain on the streets of the city, I am much more afraid of people on bikes. And I am annoyed at what I see as extreme arrogance and strong superiority complexes in a large number of bicyclists I've “run into” on the street.

These are all from personal experience. Dispute them at your own risk.
  1. Bicyclists don’t pay attention to which streets are one-way.
  2. Bicyclists don’t obey stop signs or traffic lights.
  3. Cars make noise so you know they’re coming.
  4. Cars have headlights at night so you can see them.
  5. Bicyclists can’t ride in a straight line and often deliberately swerve around.
  6. Drivers are afraid of killing you. Bicyclists think you’ll move out of the way.
  7. Bicyclists don’t keep consistent speed.
  8. Bicyclists randomly decide which side of the street they feel like riding on.
  9. Bicyclists don’t use freakin’ turn signals!
  10. Serious injury and embarrassment is much worse than death.

The Day Turns, The Trees Move

My mother (wonderful lady that she is) reads my blog. I’m cool with that. She also blogs, kind of, but it’s an email-blog, for lack of a better name (one of these days I’ll convince her to start a “real” blog!). She semi-regularly sends out thoughts, inspirational quotes, and reflections on the issues of the day, and these are often very nice. I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, my grandma does that too, and it’s really annoying!” Well, this is different. These aren’t your usual chain letters and diatribes against immigrants in the name of patriotism. She hand picks these from the reading she does throughout the week - some as part of her studies as spiritual counselor for the Nathan Adelson Hospice in Nevada, and some, I imagine, for the sermons she delivers at St. Martin’s in the Desert Episcopal Church.

If nothing else, these words offer a glimmer of hope, a tiny moment of peace, and a bit of much-needed perspective and patience. Sometimes they’re beautiful. Sometimes moving.

This is what she sent out this morning:

From Wendell Berry (American naturalist and essayist) in A Timbered Choir

1979

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

More Thoughts On VTech

Questions I have about “things.” No judgment, just questions.
  1. How much more do major networks make/spend (on ads, etc.) during huge tragedies like this one?
  2. Why does it matter to us more when the people who are killed are from our own country?
  3. How can tougher gun laws prevent law-abiding citizens from obtaining guns and using them to break the law without banning guns altogether?
  4. Will tougher gun laws mean fewer guns? Or simply more illegal ones?
  5. Are atheists more afraid of dying than those who believe in Heaven?
  6. Is there such a thing as Evil?
  7. Is Cho Seung-Hui a victim?
  8. Why do I know how to spell his name without looking?
  9. How do people grieve?
  10. What role does blame play?
  11. Why are so many people pessimistic about “The Future
  12. Why do people get mad at others who try to laugh?
  13. When is it okay to joke about a tragedy?
  14. Is writing graphic, disturbing, racist, sexist, hateful, profane, obscene, depressive, violent stories an indicator of something? What?
  15. Can an intelligent, healthy person write such things, or speak with the same anger?
  16. What does it mean to be mentally ill? Psychotic? Evil?
  17. Can a sane human being kill?
  18. How many people can a sane person kill before they’re no longer sane?
  19. What makes some killing moral and other killing immoral?
  20. Some killing legal, and some illegal?
  21. How do you feel about the media showing portions of Cho’s “manifesto?”
  22. Why do we pretend there is an American race?
  23. Why does the death penalty bring some people closure?
  24. Why do we think there is a law or a drug that will solve everything?
  25. Why do we say “I love you” more often after things like this happen?
  26. Why do people like Cho fall through the cracks? How do they become invisible?
  27. How do we reconcile technology and humanity?
  28. What changes if the murders were premeditated versus a “blind frenzy?”
  29. Why do young people feel immortal?
  30. How much do you want to know about him?
  31. Why isn’t there a single person who would say, “He was my friend.”
  32. Why can most of us watch the same violent movies and play the same violent videogames, and live in the same warring society without doing this?
  33. What would you do if this happened at your school, or in your community?
  34. What would you do if one of your relatives did something like this?
  35. Why do we imagine we have any answers?
  36. What of Cho Seung Hui’s written/recorded rants have relevance? Is there truth to what he was fighting against?
  37. How does it feel to agree with any of the beliefs of a person whose actions repulse you?
  38. Why are we so thirsty for the next big scandal?
  39. Why have we forgotten about Don Imus? Kathy Sierra? Darfur? The Fucking War In Iraq? Did we ever actually care about these things?
  40. What is highest on the heirarchy of awfulness?
  41. What will you do to ensure this never happens again?
  42. Better - what are you doing already? Anything?
Because you guys and girls have had such great insights in the comments lately, I’d love to hear more from you and keep this much-needed conversation happening. What are you thinking about? What is important to you?

How Am I Like Cho Seung-Hui?

It’s a question I think we’d all do well to ask of ourselves this week as we reflect on the tragedy that occurred in Virginia and try to find ways to move forward as individuals and as a country. We need to stop blaming everything (video games, heavy metal, gun control, lack of gun control, violence on TV, evil-thing-of-the-week) and look inwardly for some answers. It’s easy to see how we are different from these “evil, disturbed people” and much harder to admit how much we share. But finding that connecting fabric is crucial to understanding our role as a society in these awful events. We all need to take responsibility. We are all a part of this world in which individuals are driven to commit such horrifying acts. We need to ask ourselves not “how could he do something like this?” but “How could I do something like this?”

Here are the ways that I am like Cho Seung-Hui.
  • I am male

  • I am 23 years old

  • I wear glasses

  • I live in The United States of America

  • I watch TV

  • I read books

  • I play videogames

  • I watch movies

  • I listen to music

  • I went to college

  • I am kind of weird

  • I rarely spoke to my roommate in college (and even lived alone for my final three years in school)

  • I am sometimes quiet and keep to myself (less recently, much more so in high school)

  • I have complained (occasionally harshly) about the rich, elitist student population at my college

  • I have produced creative writing (short stories, essays, poems, and plays) every bit as explicit, violent, and disturbing and turned it in for creative writing classes - including such themes as murder, incest, molestation, and rape.

  • I have fired a handgun
I don’t have the answer. I don’t have the slightest idea how to stop people from killing other people. All I know is that we’ve done it for all of history. And unless I’m terribly, terribly mistaken, that includes a time before Grand Theft Auto, before Quentin Tarantino, before Marilyn Manson, before guns.

We’ll drive ourselves crazy over “tell-tale signs,” psychological disorders, government regulation of these “bad” industries, and installation of the newest and most technologically awesome security devices - none of which change human nature, none of which make loneliness any less lonely or the hurt we feel any less painful, and none of which can protect us from our most frightening enemy: ourselves.

EDIT: My freshman year roommate, Mike Caputo, has left a great comment on this issue (though he tackles it from a different, but related, angle) , which you can read by clicking the comment link below, or on his MySpace blog (not sure if you need an account for that or not, however). Thanks, Mike!

Killer Suicide

Why do mass murderers commit suicide?

Are they afraid of the death penalty? Or afraid of not getting it?

Something to ponder.

A Nugget Of Wisdom On Commuting

From The New Yorker:
But commuting is like sex or sleep: everyone lies. It is said that doctors, when they ask you how much you drink, will take the answer and double it. When a commuter says, “It’s an hour, door-to-door,” tack on twenty minutes.
Great article, check it out. It says, among other fascinating things, that despite having the longest average commute, New Yorkers are the happiest about the time spent going to and from work.

Mine is 45 minutes door-to-door on a normal day. No, really. And I don’t mind it in the least.

Except on a day like today, when the Franklin Avenue Shuttle decides not to run, and I am forced to walk, sans umbrella, of course, nearly a mile in the pouring rain and heavy winds to the next subway stop. Stuff like this almost makes me reconsider what I said last week.

Underground Music and Subway Zen

You may have heard that the Washington Post conducted an experiment recently in which they placed world-class violinist Joshua Bell in a subway station during morning rush hour, playing a $3.5 million violin, and videotaped everything to find out, in their words, if “in a banal setting at an inconvenient time, [beauty would] transcend.”

What happened? Well, of course no one stopped, and Bell, whose concert tickets go for upwards of $100, collected a mere $32 in change over the 45 minutes he played. It is an interesting experiment, but there are far too many variables to draw any real conclusions from it.

By far the best response I’ve seen (and there have been a ton over the last week) comes from Guy Kawasaki at How to Change the World. He says:
First, take a so-so violinist, hand him a Stradivari, introduce him as a wunderkind from the Black Forest, let him play as the opening act at a ritzy concert, and see if the audience fawns over him.

Second, get Steve Jobs to sell iPods for forty-five minutes in a Best Buy in South Dakota and observe what happens.
Totally. You know, when I can play children’s music on guitar for half an hour in a New York City subway and make $25, it’s impossible to say anything for certain. Except that, obviously, I must be better than Joshua Bell.

Guy also leaves us with a couple great lessons learned from this experiment:
Don’t let the absence of trappings and popularity make you believe something is bad.

Don’t let the presence of trappings and popularity make you believe something is good.

Don’t pass by life much less let life pass you by.

Here are a few of mine:
  • Tip the musicians playing in the subway. Except the drummers - especially if they’re playing on buckets. I love percussion, but seriously, this just makes everyone’s brains explode.

  • Go to the subway sometime when you have nothing to do. Pay two bucks to get in, and walk around for an hour listening to the sounds people make, the sounds trains make, the sounds of life underground. Take it all in - the architecture, the smells, the ebb and flow of people traffic. Look closest at what you see every day. Find peace in this place of business. (If you don’t ride the subway, all I can say is you’re missing out. Really. Take a trip an try it at least once in your life.)

  • Don’t feel bad that you missed something huge. Allow every moment, even the most humble, to transform you.

  • Fame and talent and skill and money mean nothing if you fail to connect. People matter. Nothing else.

  • You can’t control everything. Use this to your advantage and take a break every now and then. Go with the flow.

  • Find a quiet place. Go there every day. Stop moving, stop talking, stop doing. Just be.
And whatever else you do today, make sure you’ve read this article. It’s kind of related, and very awesome.

Centralia, Burning Village Photoset

Taken with my Samsung Trace phone in Centralia, PA on 14 April, 2007.

All pics released under some Creative Commons license. Which one? I’m not sure at the moment - just let me know if you feel like using them, and we’ll be cool.

Click photos to see larger size.

Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City
Centralia, the Burning City

Weekend Inspiration

This quote still sums it up for me:
Does not a mountain unintentionally evoke in us a sense of wonder? otters along a stream a sense of mirth? night in the woods a sense of fear? Do not rain falling and mists rising up suggest the love binding heaven and earth? Is not decaying flesh loathsome? Does not the death of someone we love bring sorrow? And is there a greater hero than the least plant that grows? - John Cage

Fire Beneath The Streets

Tomorrow morning we are leaving for Centralia, Pennsylvania, to shoot some film for an upcoming Deliberate Motion production (not much at that site at the moment, but some fun info, perhaps). Filming isn’t the exciting part of this trip - Centralia is. EDIT: Pics from the trip are up here.

Centralia, PA - Warning, Underground Mine Fire
According to that bastion of truth, Wikipedia:
Centralia is a borough in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, United States. Its population has dwindled from over 1,000 residents in 1981 to 12 in 2005 as a result of a 40-year-old mine fire burning beneath the borough. Centralia is now the least-populous municipality in Pennsylvania.
I dare anyone to get more hardcore than a mine fire burning underneath a town. For forty freaking years. The government has basically forced the residents out, and only a handful remain - more or less out of protest - for now, anyway. It has no zip code, any more. It is noplace, nowhere - a true ghost town (and, coming from Nevada, I certainly have experience with ghost towns).

Centralia, PA has a fire burning below its streets. Badass.

People With Umbrellas Are Tryants

It is raining like crazy this morning in New York City, and it got me thinking about this:

People with umbrellas are tyrants.

An umbrella-d man walks slowly down the street, taking up twice the space of a normal person because the umbrella is held so closely to his head. He gives nary a thought to other pedestrians - the fight for space on the sidewalk is passed off entirely to the umbrellas themselves, which, with their octagonal shapes, do not play nicely with one another in the sky above the man’s head. The incompatibility of the umbrella’s shape adds further to the space occupied by each individual, and this man would sooner push through the pack than raise or lower his umbrella to make space for ones occupying different levels in this urban forest. He even still walks beneath the thin awnings of the city buildings despite the protection of his little personal canopy. And many of his friends do the same, all but destroying the chances a non-umbrella-d man may have of keeping a little dry.

The umbrella-d man goes where he pleases. He is sure of himself and of his choice to carry. Not once does he consider the possibility that another might choose to face the world un-umbrella-d on such a morning. Herein lies his tyranny.

His disbelief in the possibility others might choose differently than he is the worst kind of discrimination. It is the unspoken, “You don’t exist” that silences dissent. It is the quiet, unknowing fascism which is hardest to combat because those practicing it aren’t even aware they are. They follow convention blindly, obediently, because they can’t, for the life of them, understand why anyone might make a different choice. They don’t even notice you - little man without an umbrella - and so they won’t move aside. Try to protest, and you are looked at as though you have lost your mind. “Get a freakin’ umbrella, idiot!” they say, edited for language, of course.

And so, those of us who choose to go through the world unprotected from the rain aren’t given the chance to enjoy the unique pleasure of water falling on skin - of the gentle massage from thousands of raindrops tapping on the shoulders, on the head - of the rejuvenating, life-affirming ecstasy of water. We can’t experience the joy of getting a little wet, because these umbrella-d tyrants slow us from our energetically rushed pace down the sidewalk. And we get soaked. Drowned. Flooded. It is not pleasant, not fair.

And there’s nothing we can do about it.

Nothing, that is, except buying an umbrella. But that is called assimilation. That is called giving in.

That is called letting them win.

Twittering In The Rank Sweat Of An Enseamed Bed

If Twitter were a little more reliable, we could:

Create networked performance wherein each actor speaks their lines to voice-recognition software in real time, converting their speech into text that is sent, through their Twitter account, from remote locations. Then, via RSS feed, these memorized texts could be picked up in the performance “space” by a device “following” their accounts which would convert each individual Twitterer’s “tweets”(lines), as they are received, back into the actor’s voice (each having previously recorded all of the individual words in the play) using text-to-speech technology. The speech-to-text conversion may be imperfect; the resulting text-to-speech conversion creating oddly disembodied but recognizably human voices.

Add to this mix the possibility of members of the audience (including a web-only “audience”) choosing to “follow” the main performers, and having their own accounts added to the feeds upon reciprocation of the “friending”, enabling the audience to comment, or quote, or provide links (they may be googling all along) and context - projected on a large screen or wall, or also converted to speech in any, or multiple, voices (of which only the sound levels may be controlled by a technician).

We get a cool, connected work of collaboration and chance, made possible by the digital age and the openness of the underlying technologies. The freedom to exchange data, remix it, reconstitute it, and use it to populate future programs and devices offers a allows us to completely reimagine performance as an inclusive medium. By allowing and encouraging global participation in the shaping of a performance event, suddenly Shakespeare’s Hamlet suddenly becomes Everyone’s Hamlet. Voice, distance, connection - heck, even humanity begin to be redefined.

But will it be fun to watch? That is the question.

What Is The Real World?

Jason Fried at 37Signals writes:
One of the things that always gives us a good laugh over here is when people pull out the “real world” card.
He’s talking about when people try to rub something in your face like, “How about you take your nose out of X and focus on the Real World,” or, as we heard over and over a couple weeks ago (see Kathy Sierra), “This kind of stuff happens all the time in the Real World.” It’s as though they’re living in some reality TV show that you’ve somehow been ignoring by focusing on your work, or blogging, or your life.

It’s a phrase which, you might be able to tell, has always bothered me because it makes a faulty assumption: that somehow, magically, you have managed to remove yourself from existence and are functioning on an alternate, and ultimately less worthy metaphysical plane. Now, I know people don’t mean that. What they mean is, “I am better than you.” That isn’t very nice. And it’s certainly not true.

But I’d rather not get into any of the finer points of this philosophy that seems pulled straight out of The Matrix. No bad blood to the movie is intended, but you must agree that any philosophy pulled from a movie starring Keanu Reeves is a bit suspect. Instead, here are some of my favorite responses on the Signal Vs. Noise blog to the challenge “Define the ‘real world’ in 10 words or less.” There are some more good ones there that are worth a look, too.

The Real World is...
  • A place where people reject change, no matter how beneficial.
  • The color of my sons eyes will never be 2.0.
  • The place where a thing is no longer a theory.
  • More complex and difficult than our general perceptions of it.
  • Breath, intent, perseverance, then death.
  • Right next door to Theory where instead, nothing works.
  • The bitchslap I got when asking my wife that question.
  • An often used excuse for those unwilling to take risks.
  • The real world to me is a series of tubes.
  • Where it is actually only 5 inches, not 8.
  • The paycheck figure for Web 2.0 companies cleaning service workers
  • You pay yourself to sit home and play. Dreamy!
  • Blogging. No, really. It’s just as real as any real. (This one’s mine, yeah.)
  • My world. My limits. My fears. My complexity and complications.
  • Mom and Dad in the Buick, arguing about rotten tomatoes.
  • 1 historical 2 events 3 shaping 4 the 5 expectations 6 of 7 an 8 imagination-9 less 10 person.
  • The very last resort for someone out of good arguments.
  • The business speak equivalent of But Will It Scale?
  • Whatever I think because I’m so much better than you!
Curious to know what this post is doing on 37Signals? Read this one, and its comments, and it will all become very clear.

My Vision For The Future

In the future, it would be nice if there were:
  • No Poverty
  • No War
  • More Golden Grahams
  • No Hatred
  • No Hypocrisy
  • No Trans Fats
  • No Ugly People
  • No Fat People
  • No Race
  • No Government
  • No Business
  • No Children
  • No Old People
  • No Death
  • No Patriotism
  • No Religion
  • More Air Conditioning
  • No Farms
  • No Dirt
  • No Touching
  • No Love
  • No Laws
  • No Clothes
  • No Weakness
  • No Truth
  • More iPods
  • One Language With All The Words In It
  • No Babies
  • More Warm Blankets
  • No MySpace
  • No Holidays
  • No School
  • Free Pizza
  • Free Willy
  • No Artists
  • No Liars
  • No Rap Music
  • No Cigarettes
  • Touch-Sensitive Displays That Touch Back
  • Compassion
  • Freedom
  • Waffles
  • No Pain
  • Free Drugs
  • Free Wireless Broadband
  • Inequality
  • No Noise
  • No Color
  • No Light
  • No Reproduction
  • No Videobloggers
  • No Television
  • No Plastic
  • No Bicycles
  • No Tradition
  • No Memory
  • No Future
  • No “Was”
  • Only “Is”

Remembering Sol LeWitt

An old, short essay - made new again
In memory of
Sol LeWitt (September 9, 1928 - April 8, 2007)

Bright green paint covers all the but edges of otherwise empty walls. Hammers, tape measure, levels, power tools, paintbrushes, and a couple unopened cans of blue paint are strewn across the floor. Is this the newest exhibit at the Wadsworth Atheneum? Or will it be? One must travel full circle in the building to reach this spot—past the European art, the new Sol LeWitt installation-in-progress, American impressionism, even a tiny room with mannequins clad in fashions of elegance, and artistic reflections on the history of Hartford’s glorious Bushnell Park. This spot is separated by a mere pair of glass doors from the contemporary art wing (funny name considering the most recent pieces hardly breach the 1970s), featuring, to my delight, works by Miró, with his whimsical black-outlined creatures straight out of the subconscious.

No yellow “CAUTION” tape, no deep red velvet rope blocking the glass doors, I almost think this work is a true contemporary piece, acquired by the Atheneum to perfectly complement the current restorations and renovations taking place inside and outside of the building. A fitting site-specific tribute to the beauty of scaffolding, of men in hard hats and sweat-stained clothes, constructing—creating a new space, an improved space, a restored space, a renewed space. Upon exiting the large room, and the museum, one could walk right under the scaffolding, and pass by a medium-sized tractor, perhaps looking at them a little closer, as less a nuisance, appreciating their unique function in the entirety of the museumgoing experience.

But of course part of me knows better. Were this an actual exhibit, surely the Atheneum would have posted a shiny, gold placard with some custom black lettering which would detail the intention of the project, force-feeding a very particular reading of the “contemporary art” contained within. These ubiquitous placards - attempting as they may to demystify a form so often elusive to minds whose art education goes no further than the 19th century (of course, some “modern” works are, indeed, favored by such individuals - if we can call Thomas Kinkade “modern”) - are simply missing. And if a museum is not about contextualizing, compartmentalizing, controlling, then what is it about?

Upon my realization this is not, in fact, a new exhibit (of course this process took less than three seconds, despite my eager hopes to the contrary), a fear took over - fear of going somewhere “forbidden.” These museums, they’re all about direction of traffic - it’s the surest way to determine the experience that patrons will have. The Atheneum is no different - in fact, upon arriving and inquiring about recent acquisitions, a woman at the desk in the lobby proceeded to tell me exactly which path to take to see the newest and most interesting pieces. Conspicuously absent in her “tour” was any mention of the contemporary art wing, which was marked on the map by a bold, capital letter “E.”

In spite of better judgment, I open the glass door, and stand in the doorway looking through. It is the most direct path back to the lobby (by now I am about ready to leave for the day), but the fear keeps me from continuing forward into the wonderfully arranged workspace, which is, it seems, being prepared for the “newest” pieces to be installed (though what pieces would be complemented by bright green and blue walls is beyond me). I allow the door to close and stand looking a while longer, careful to pretend my attention is directed “elsewhere”, for fear the museum security (or the large priest who had first seen me examining surveillance cameras in the Impressionist room) would approach me.

Left unapproached after all, and now satisfied, I take the long journey back around the perimiter of the building. Past the food court, past the ornate ceramic objects (protected by glass cases - oh, how gleeful it would be to give a few children little hammers and gloves and set them upon this room), and finally, importantly, past the museum gift shop (which I now realize I would have missed had I gone through the “green room”). Curious.

I exit the building, walk under the scaffolding (past the tractor) and down the steps, turning around to look again, certain that I am the only one doing so.

The Future of Transit

I took the subway to work this morning, just as I always do, but because I got a seat, I was able to rest, and I started thinking about things. What exactly? Transportation.

More precisely, the fact that transportation seems to have progressed very little in the last 50 years. I won’t go into any timelines to prove this, but if you think about it, you’ll agree. We had walking, then horses, then trains, then cars, then planes. And today we have all of the same, except no one really uses horses, and the trains, cars, and planes are a little faster and (allegedly) safer.

That’s weird, right? Kinda. The thing is, we know that cars are kind of a failed system. They take up space, are pretty dangerous, aren’t wonderful to the environment, and are expensive. However, since they were introduced, the world has been designed around their use, with roads and highways making up a large proportion of the landscape in developed areas.

I’m not trying to make a case against cars, or even the other modes of transportation, but I don’t think you can deny that we haven’t yet found the perfect way to get around. This won’t be easy, clearly, and is perhaps impossible. It will require completely transcending our current infrastructure, which, it seems, is what is holding us back from real progress.

So I was thinking, “What would the characteristics of a perfect system of transit actually be?” Here’s what I came up with, and I’m interested in hearing your ideas.
  • Fast - Way faster than cars are allowed to travel. Plane fast. Speed-of-sound fast. Faster.

  • Clean - No smog, no oil, very little environmental impact. I don’t want to have to hold my breath like I do in some subway stations.

  • Safe - I don’t want to have to worry about dying.

  • Reliable - I need it to work when I expect it to.

  • Convenient - I need it to work when I want it to. And it can’t be out of my way.

  • Controlled Environment - Air conditioning and heating are necessities. And no exposure to the elements. I shouldn’t have to wait for it to cool down during the summer, nor for it to warm up in the winter.

  • Comprehensive - I should be able to get anywhere, anytime. Even if no one else is going there.

  • Simple - I don’t want to have to think about how to use it. I shouldn’t have to think while I am using it.

  • Human-proof - The system should not rely on the inevitability of people doing stupid things.

  • Comfortable - Like really comfortable. I should be able to sleep on it, if I want. And not like you can “sleep” on planes.

  • Cheap - And easy to pay for. No filling of the tank, purchasing of cards to swipe, or tickets, or tokens. Even easier than “Tap and Go.” Maybe call it just “Go.”

  • Wired - Let me use my laptop, cellphone, or any other current or future internet-enabled device. And if I’m using my cellphone, how about a way so it won’t bother anyone else?

  • Smart - The system should know where to go and how to get there. And traffic should not ever exist. Ever. No latency.
What am I missing? What do you want? And what could this system possibly look like? Ideas?

Got An Email From iPhone


I thought this was a nice little email from Apple (click the pic for full size). Just a friendly reminder that I expressed interest in the iPhone the day it came out. I wonder if everyone is just receiving this today, or if they’ve been going out for months now.

I’m still trying to figure out just what I’ll do when the iPhone is released in June since I really want one, but only recently (December) signed a 2-year contract with T-Mobile. It’s a 700-minute family plan I share with my true love - of which we fail to use even 200 of our anytime minutes a month. But it’s plenty cheap, and lets us talk all the time, and since pretty much everyone I know uses T-Mobile, too, it isn’t so surprising our usage is low. I might just have to get a second contract and learn to love mobile web browsing and email and stuff (which doesn’t sound that hard to do, especially with Safari).

There’s still time to decide, but I am tempted. The iPhone would definitely solve my address book syncing woes.

Like Guitar Hero, Only Better


Those who know me well know I love Guitar Hero (and Guitar Hero II), and that I pretty much rock at it. Sure, it’s no replacement for playing a “real” guitar (which I do plenty as well, don’t worry), but Guitar Hero is revolutionary because it allows everyone to rock out in a way previously reserved for those who spent years in the proverbial woodshed, hacking away at frets and downloading TABs and listening to the greats.

“Oh, I’m not musically inclined,” was, for years, the default response from all but the few who somehow managed to avoid being forced into oboe lessons during childhood and found music on their own and decided to make it.

With Guitar Hero, this answer died forever.

Guitar Hero put an instrument in the arms of regular folks the world over, and taught them not how create music, but that they were allowed to make music. The point of it, and games like it, is that music is not just for “musicians,” but property of the entire human race. It is hard to fail miserably, and even harder not to have a good time. I’ve no doubt that more than a few folks who picked up the 5-buttoned controller and slashed their way through “Bark at the Moon” have since saved up their allowances, bought a full-sized Gibson SG and are now slaves to the primal urge to make a lot of noise.

Guitar Hero was and is a revolutionary product because at its core is a message of sharing - a communion of energy, passion, joy - of singing together, creating memories, and laughing hysterically when you knock a ton of shit off the table because you were getting maybe a little too into it (no way!).

And now, the inevitable has happened. The awesomeness that is Guitar Hero just got a whole lot better. Announced today in USA Today is another game by the same happy crew of developers that will again bring music to the masses, and with an even greater focus on community. It is called Rock Band, and true to its title, the game (to be released in time for Christmas on the Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3) is centered around one of the most tight-knit of all groups in society - a band.

The power of these two gaming systems (and the innovation of the Red Octane/Harmonix team along with their recent MTV partnership) has led to what will by all accounts be an awesome and immersive multi-instrumental experience. You can play guitar, bass, drums, and even sing - and you can do this all with three other friends at the same time. A full band in your living room. And you don’t even have to stand up (though I highly recommend it).

It gets even cooler - you can have a band with musicians all over the world, using the online connectivity of these gaming consoles. And for the first time in the franchise, all of the music in the game will be provided by the original artists (thanks to MTV, naturally), rather than as cover versions. There will also be downloadable tracks that will enable you to extend the replay value of the game much further by adding a ton of content than can’t fit on a disc.

Ultimately, though, this game will do something few things do - which is bring people together to participate in the creation of artistic work and inspire them to expand that creativity in new and untested ways. And that is what gets me so excited about it.

Guitar Hero (or Rock Band) won’t teach you how to play the guitar (though it might improve your rhythm and hand-eye coordination). The lesson they teach is much greater than that.

These games teach us that it is okay to create art. That it is possible to create art. That it is human to create art.

And most of all, that it is fun as hell.