Thursday, June 26, 2014


Let that image sink in for a moment.  The most important part of the body is the brain...according to the brain.

Some of you might be thinking, "Well, duh!"  But really think about it.  If some other organ were responsible for generating thought and  decision-making?  Wouldn't that organ tell us - tell itself - that it is the most important organ?  Wouldn't it say, "Yeah, those other organs are important but not without me"?

Okay, now apply that same methodology to humans.  Don't human beings believe we are the most important species on the planet?  How can the species making the decisions be allowed to choose itself as most important?  That would be like J. Lo voting for herself on American Idol.  The judge should not be allowed to participate in the contest.

In business, they call it a conflict of interest.  The same person cannot represent the interests of more than one party, because there will always be a bias.

That is what speciesism is really all about...the bias that humans carry into the animal world.  Humans tell themselves they are the most important without having a valid argument other than, "because we said so."

How can anyone even stand behind that argument?

My understanding of why most people believe this is two fold.

First, humans are the only species who communicate at the same level as ourselves.  We cannot effectively communicate with any other species in the same manner in which they communicate.  In the human mind, that means those other species are inferior; which ultimately leads to the notion of "different equals inferior."  (Is there any wonder slavery has been such an issue for so many centuries?  If different is synonymous with inferior, then all of those inferior beasts need to be subjugated.  Ridiculous.)

Secondly, we have the amazing books supposedly dictating the word of supernatural beings who granted humans the right to call themselves superior to all other animals.  If that belief is part of your religious doctrine, fine.  I have no right to attempt to sway you any other direction.  (But I'm still going to make my argument.)

Every living creature on the planet is equal to every other living creature.  To believe otherwise is to engage in speciesism.  Just like racism is believing that people of other races are inferior to one's own, or ageism is believing that people of a different age bracket from one's own are inferior, believing that a fish or a mosquito, or a tree is inferior simply because we cannot perceive any level of intelligence similar to our own is considered speciesism.

The truth is, other forms of life on our planet may not match the intelligence level of human beings at all.  But to simply dismiss this as fact out of hand because their anatomy is physically different is ridiculous, and to simply destroy other forms of life, calling it okay because they are inferior, is dangerous at best.

The short-term effects of depopulation may seem minute when compared to ourselves, but the long-term effects can only be detrimental.

The bottom line is this:  don't simply make the assumption that something is inferior because, either, that's what you've always believed, or that's what you've been told.  Stop and think about why you believe such a thing.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Importance of Schedule and Routine

I'm a writer. I could be considered an author, as I have authored several short stories and one novel. I could even be considered a published author, as - to date - one of those short stories has been published.

So far, I haven't really spent much time discussing writing on this blog. I'm certain there are far too many blogs about writing that one more isn't going to matter much. So, I'd rather spend the time blogging about other things - things that are important to me, my points of view, my life stories.

However, today I am going to use the world of writing as a springboard into a different topic: routine.

There are as many different writing practices and techniques as there are writers in the world. Several common questions seem to be repeated over and over again to authors by fans hoping to become as good as those authors. "What is your process?" "Do you outline, keep notes, or otherwise logic your story out first, or do you just go with it?" "Did you go to school for writing?" "Where do good ideas come from?"

These questions are pretty much a joke, as any good writer will tell you that the answer is, and always will be, "It depends." It depends on the particular writer, and one author's techniques or process isn't going to be the same for another author. Everyone is different and comes to problems with different perspectives.

There are several universal truths that almost every author will agree upon, however, that have nothing to do with the individual.
Any author you meet will tell any aspiring writing that you must read. Reading is key. Read everything. Read anything. Read good writing. Read bad writing. Just read. Analyze the craft of writing. Be familiar with the words, the rules your teachers spout all through high school, and how, when and why to break those rules.

Authors would probably also agree that any aspiring writer must write. There's only one way to get better at something, and that is to actually do it. Anyone can have innate talent for something, but it still takes years of practice doing something to perfect a craft (and those whom other see as having perfected their craft would still suggest they know very little). Write. Write. Write. It's simple. To do something well, you actually have to do it.

Finally, most authors would probably also agree that a writing schedule or routine is invaluable. Everyone knows that it takes time to accomplish the first two items on this list. If you're like me, reading a short novel can take over two weeks. I'm a slow reader, and my daily schedule is jam-packed with things to do. And don't even get me started with writing. Anyone who has sat down at a blank sheet of paper or an empty Word document and attempted to fill that space with meaningful words understands how long that can take.

Our minds are always full of shit when we sit down to first write. Did I empty the trash? I should set an alarm so I'm not late picking up the kids from practice. What are we going to have for dinner? Did I eat lunch? Maybe I should call Bob back about our meeting next week.

Hell, it could take almost an hour to empty our mind of all of the daily bullshit running through it.

This is why so many authors lecture on having a writing schedule. Set aside an hour, two, three or four hours that are dedicated for nothing other than writing.  And then stick to that schedule every day. Some would say, it doesn't matter if you don't type a word and stare at that empty monitor the entire time, as long as you haven't done anything else, you're doing okay.

The reason for this is need for routine lies in repetition. Doing something often enough makes it familiar, and things that are familiar allow our brains to loosen up, not be afraid of this overwhelming work called writing. How many of you park in the same parking space at work every day? How about when you go to the grocery store? Same general area of the parking lot? What about when you go see a movie? Sit in the same seats as often as you can?

Humans thrive on routine and repetition. We become less anxious about doing something that might seem scary if we have something familiar to hold onto.

I move regularly. I moved out of my parents' home on my seventeenth birthday, and never stopped moving. I think I average a move every three years. Some moves are just across town, some moves are across the entire country. Every single move, but one, was easy and exciting, and actually fun.

That one move, however, I nearly lost my mind. I moved from the familiar - a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Santa Barbara (and for any of you who have been to Santa Barbara, you understand how beautiful, peaceful, and relatively safe it is - despite recent news that would suggest the contrary), to a slightly larger one-bedroom apartment in Oakland.

It wasn't that I was terrified of the extreme contrast between the clean and idyllic Santa Barbara and the filthy ghetto that can be parts of Oakland (and was, in fact, the part of Oakland I was moving to; I was able to land the apartment I got for a deal because the entire building moved out following a gang shooting of one of the tenants).

No, the area didn't frighten me as much as the unfamiliarity. So what made all those other moves so easy? So much fun? I made them with my wife. She was there with me, a piece of the familiar in an unfamiliar world. My move to Oakland, I made first and my wife was going to follow me out a few months later.

All I wanted to do was curl up in the corner of that apartment and hibernate until she got there. I was terrified of the unfamiliar. But, I eventually forced myself to leave the apartment, find a job, and start school again. She eventually showed up and I knew I was able to be there for her in that unfamiliar world that frightened me at first, too.

The point to all of this is that familiarity in things is a comfort to the human mind. It allows the brain to relax. And when the brain isn't focused on assimilating the unfamiliar, it can spend its time working on other tasks.

This is why routine is important. It's okay to allow certain upsets to a daily routine, but if one truly expects to accomplish anything, setting aside time to do that is the first (and I would argue, most important) step.

Dave Ramsey, that Total Money Makeover guy, talks about setting aside the money you need to save first. From each paycheck, put that money aside before you pay bills, and then don't touch it. This will insure you have a good savings built for emergencies, and that you aren't spending every dime you make on other things. The same concept applies to time management. You need to schedule time to set aside to do the things you want to do. Schedule it every day. Treat it as a job you cannot say no to. If you skip a day, you could be fired. There are consequences.

Do you want to get into shape? You need to go to the gym every day (there are other theories on this I might get into, but for more information check out Mike Matthews' blog). You can't skip a day or your body will fire you. Want to be a writer? You need to set aside time every day to write. No skipping.

The excuses, "I didn't have time today," or "Today was just so busy," don't cut it. You have to do it. If you worked at Burger King, do you think your boss would take kindly to you telling him you didn't have time to make a customer's sandwich? No. You'd be fired. That applies with any job. The difference is, with things like working out, writing, or any other self-improvement action one could take, you have to be accountable to yourself.

It's the only way to succeed in life. You are your own boss. President Obama said that we needed to be the change we wanted to see in the world. Those aren't just pretty words. They are true fact. If you want to see a change, you need to implement that change. You need to start with yourself. Take baby steps at first, if that's what it takes, but you have to do the work, because if you don't you will never accomplish your goals.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Equality through Apathy and Indifference

So, I'm toying with a new personal motto or creed:  "Equality through Apathy and Indifference."

When I posted said motto on Facebook to hear general comments and feedback, one individual responded with, "Sounds like the easy way out."

I'm not entirely certain why her comment bothered me.  It shouldn't.  It's only her opinion and should only affect me if I cared about her opinion - and I like the think that I don't (because...well...I don't).  The truth is, however, that her comment bothered me because I made an assumption that she made an assumption.

Allow me to elaborate.  My creed:  Equality through Apathy and Indifference is short, succinct, and to the point.  It is also a little general or vague and could be misinterpreted depending on an individual's background or personal history (see this post for more information on differences).

My assumption was that the commenter saw my creed as something negative.  I assumed that she interpreted the words apathy and indifference to mean something other than what they were intended.  For example, perhaps she thought I meant one shouldn't care about anything.  I also assumed she did not spend the time to actually analyze what those five little words could possibly mean.

My assumption was that she assumed the worst based on her own experiences and acted upon her own assumption.

I don't know that to be the case, and really it doesn't matter.  I disagree with the notion that following a creed like this is "easy."

Before I get into the whys, however, I would like to ask:  Who cares if it's easy?  Why does everything have to be difficult?  I know that "they" say that good things never come easily, that you have to work (and work hard) for the best things in life, but I disagree with that philosophy as well (and I might post about that at a later date).

Here's why I disagree with the idea that my creed is an "easy way out."

First, let me fully clarify this creed.
  1. Equality:  The state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.
  2. Through:  By means of (a process or intermediate stage).
  3. Apathy:  Lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.
  4. and:  Used to connect words of the same part of speech, clauses, or sentences, that are to be taken jointly.
  5. Indifference:  Lack of interest, concern, or sympathy
In other words, I would argue for a processes that allows a state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities, for every creature on the planet by means of a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern, as well as a lack of interest, concern, or sympathy.

This is what I see on a daily basis.  We, as human beings, are constantly judging how others behave and react as if doing so creates some form of higher sense of self-worth, and in the process we subconsciously create barriers and categories that set others apart from ourselves.  Those barriers become stereotypes, and over time those stereotypes hinder the abilities of those other people to prove that they are anything but the stereotypes we have created in our minds.

Some time ago I listened to a radio broadcast out of Texas (I don't know how I stumbled upon this broadcast living in Minnesota, but that's not important).  The broadcast was a clip from a local morning show, and the radio personalities were discussing the abuse of government subsidies by American citizens.

These guys (they were all men - but that really doesn't matter) had apparently been decrying the "lazy bums" taking a "free ride" on the backs of American tax payers.  A local woman called to voice her opinion on the matter, and as it turned out she and her husband were taking advantage of all of the government subsidies programs available to them and refusing to work because she "can make more money on welfare than she could in a 'real' job."

Now, understand that this is a woman who isn't qualified for anything more than a job at McDonald's or Wal-mart.  She isn't going to make more than minimum wage.  Through the subsidies she and her husband receive, they pretty much live for free.  They have food stamps for food.  The government picks up the tab for her utilities (electric, gas, and water).  She only needs to pay $50 of her $1600 apartment rent.

I appreciated that one of the radio personalities was willing to listen to this woman honestly and ask her real questions that mattered about her situation, rather than jump down her throat as a lazy freeloader.

I can imagine the outrage of other citizens hearing this woman talk about, "If someone were to offer you a million dollars, wouldn't you take it?"  That's what she says she's doing.  She's taking the million dollars over her entire lifetime.  She has no plans on finding gainful employment.  She plans on living off of welfare for her entire life, and teaching her children how to do the same.

Why be upset about that?  That's simply one way to live.  It's different from how I live, but it isn't necessarily better or worse.  Is it?  This woman made a choice, and she's sticking to it.  It works for her.

I understand the argument both ways, and ultimately I don't care.  Equality through Apathy and Indifference.  I do not care about this woman and her plight, nor do I care about what her and "her kind" are doing to our system.

I need to care about me.

I'm not the kind of person who could live off of the government.  I have been instilled with the drive to perform well at whatever job I'm doing.  That's who I am.  That doesn't make me better.

Should I be upset that all of my hard work is paying for this woman to live?  Why?  I could be upset if I allowed myself to be, but what good will that do?  I did not create the government subsidies programs.  I am forced, by law, to pay into those programs through the taxes I pay.  I will be alive another forty-plus years and then I'll be dead and none of it will matter anyway.

So...why let it upset me so much...especially if I'm not going to lift a finger to do anything about it?

I could bitch and complain about what this woman is doing, or what a million other people are doing - believe me, my views are a far cry from what is normal and there is a lot of bitching and complaining I could be doing - but ultimately what good will any of that do?  I would bitch and complain, and then I would sit right back down and go about my daily life because, in the end, I need to worry about my immediate here-and-now, and not worry about what someone else is doing somewhere else.

So, back to my creed.  It shouldn't matter whether or not I agree with the motives, actions, or thoughts of anyone else.  There are many I don't agree with.  What does matter is that I shouldn't judge any of those people for them.  They are all the same as everyone else, because I care about them just the same...which is not at all.

We are all the same.  We might have different thoughts or opinions about what is important, but in the end, we are all human beings who live for a short time and then die.  Why should I waste that short amount of time worrying about what all these other people are doing?  I don't.  Simply put, I don't care.  Take advantage of government subsidies, pirate movies, music, and television shows online, be crazy.  I don't care because I'm too focused on being the best me I can be to worry about what you other idiots are doing.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


Idiocracy: a film by Mike Judge

Have you seen this movie?  Don't.  As much as I wanted to hope that it would be a smart, scathing commentary on the American social system, it simply wasn't a great movie.  The concept is appealing, but the execution was somehow flawed.

That being said, this post is not a movie review.  Sure, I love Luke Wilson, and Mike Judge had me at OfficeSpace, but this post is about what this movie should have been about.  The dumbing down of our culture.

I'm feeling this right now as I stare at the brightly lit screen in front of me and attempt to generate some manner of creative output without actually using my hands - just pounding away on some buttons.  The concept behind this film is basically, "What if an 'average Joe' is cryogenically frozen as part of a military science experiment and then forgotten only to wake hundreds of years in the future and realize that he is the smartest man on the planet?"

But we're talking orders of magnitude more intelligent.  We're not talking the difference between Stephen Hawking and Jonah Hill, we're talking the difference between Albert Einstein and a sloth.  These people of the movie's future don't even understand simple irrigation.

Okay.  So, what the movie could have been, what it maybe should have been, was a commentary on how the planet became so dumb.

We all think we understand the process.  Technology leads to less time spent actually doing things that exercise that muscle we call a brain.  We allow machines to do our thinking for us.  We blame video games and television and movies for all of the "bad" in the world.

Is anyone reading this old enough to remember the invention of the pocket calculator?  How many people did you hear complaining about how using such a machine would make the population stupid?  Has it?  It's doubtful that one device has made an entire population stupid.  However, an extension of the pocket calculator is an adding machine and its extension is a cash register, and I cannot tell you how many cashiers today cannot count back change without the aide of that machine.

Does this sound accurate to you?  It certainly does to me.  I guess the question is:  "Is this a bad thing?"  There are a lot of opinions on the subject, but my gut reaction is that the answer is undoubtedly Yes.  And not simply because we're not accessing all of that information to advance our knowledge base, but that in reality we are not even being as "social" as we think we are.

Check out one of my favorite videos that perfectly illustrates this point.

What's interesting here is that I'm against all things social.  I'm happy being a recluse and not seeing or speaking with anyone for days on end.  I don't really Facebook or Tweet all that often, but when I do I am more than likely re-posting something I found amusing or poignant.  I have a smart phone, but I don't pay for a data package.  Instead, I use my phone as a phone.

However, I am just as guilty of the "Smart Phone, Dumb People" era as the next guy.

Let me ask you this?  How many of you crawl out of bed every morning wishing you had a few more hours of sleep available to you?  How many of you spend your day at a job that does not challenge you either mentally of physically; you simply wander around the halls of work performing mindless tasks and taking part in the theater of the corporate macabre?  How many of you come home from your grueling day feeling unsatisfied, but telling yourself "this is what people do," or "this is just a stepping stone on the path to what I truly want to do with my life"?  How many of you have said that for ten, twenty, or even thirty years?

How many of you come home from your day feeling so exhausted at having done nothing that you can't even think straight?  How many of you nuke some food, plop down in front of the television or computer and occupy the rest of your night with filler:  Facebook, YouTube, entertainment to be sure but really just the more of the same day in and day out, "stuff" to do just to fill the spaces between sleep and any other required task?

Does putting it out there like that make you feel like shit?  It does me.  How long ago did you give up on your dreams?  How long ago did you settle for less than who and what you are because, well, it's been so long that you can't even remember what you wanted to do?  How long ago did you let the priorities of other people supersede your own priorities?  ...all because it was easier...

I can honestly tell you, I'm on the cusp of that right now.

I graduated high school almost twenty years ago.  At that time I wanted nothing more than to spend my days being creative.  Photographing people, making them look amazing, writing amazing stories that moved people.  I chased after that dream, but always with one arm tied behind my back.  Tied to the realities I was told I needed to follow.  I needed to have a job - any job - so I could pay my rent and buy food.

I attended universities in pursuit of my goals, but ultimately the need for food, shelter, and financial stability - the needs that our society demands we have of risk being seen as a pariah and outcast - took over my life.  My mundane nine-to-five took priority over my creativity.  I tried to continue the pursuit of my goals in my off hours, but I was so mentally exhausted from dealing with the mundane at work that I couldn't focus on anything.  My brain needed time to reboot and recharge.

I wanted to do my job well at work so I could maintain the status quo that seemed so important to the world.  I didn't want to get fired for poor performance, and in truth I needed a promotion to afford my increased cost of living.  That smart phone wasn't going to pay for itself.  So I worked hard at my job.  My work ethic told me I should.  I was hired to do my best.  But in doing my best, I spent all the energy I had each day doing something for someone else and leaving me with nothing at the end of the day for my own pursuits.

Not only did I not have the energy, a second job meant I didn't have the time.  I was doing everything I could to simply feed myself and keep a roof over my head.

They always say, "If you really want to do a thing, nothing will stop you.  You'll find a way to do it no matter what."

I guess that's true, but it sure felt like I should have simply given up my dream and simply existed...and not lived.  But I wasn't going to do that.  I needed to know if I could continue to be the creative person I set out to be.  Yet, I had so many different things that were equally important to me.  I had a wife and a job.  We weren't having children, thankfully, but I had a way of life that meant something to me and I was afraid of giving all of that up to follow what had once been my dream.

I realize that dreams can change.  Maybe I wanted to be an astronaut one day, but fell in love and realized that I couldn't do both - that our mutual goals had changed my specific dream.  I wouldn't give up my wife for anything.  Even the chance to be a well sold author.  But I also know I don't have to, because she's fighting for me to do everything I want to do.  Some people might realize their family is their new dream - their wife and kids.  I'm grateful I don't have to make that compromise.

My dreams haven't changed.  My wife and I found a new place to settle and new jobs that would allow me the opportunity to have large chunks of time each year (seasonally) to spend working on nothing other than the creativity that I so desperately need to express.

I spent an entire winter writing my first novel.  Who knows if it will ever get published, but I'm trying.  Unfortunately, something happened.  I finished the novel and went right back into dumbs-ville.  It was almost as though my brain said, "Okay, we've had enough that creativity for a while, time to dumb it up a little bit."

I got lost in a world of video games for nearly a month, and then the seasonal job started again and again I don't have the time or energy to think about anything other than the job.  I have attempted to work on the outline for my next novel, and in the preceding months I have come up with very little.

Now, I have no one to blame but myself for allowing myself to be distracted by the video games.  That's all on me.  However, as I started work again this spring, and the season unraveled into a full-time job, a thought occurred to me.

Could it be that it isn't the technology that is making us stupid, but rather the demands our society places on us that are making us stupid?  Our cultures need for results in the workplace over quality of life seem to have a stiffing affect on people.  How can anyone go home at the end of the day, having spent the entire day building someone else a house, or crunching someone else's financial numbers, and still feel motivated to spend six to eight hours following their own dream?

How can anyone even think about doing that when they have kids to care for, or sick family members?

No.  Technology may be making our lives simpler and easier, but it is the demands we place on ourselves that are making us dumber.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Difference of Being

I have always been fascinated with what makes people different.  Every single one of us is different in some aspect or another, and while I understand it is human nature to want to surround ourselves with the familiar - with those people who are most like us - even within the province of similarity I am most intrigued with the differences.

I work and live with a group of people who were raised in the same general area as I was raised.  Outsiders would consider us all Midwesterners; in fact everyone in the group, save myself, would agree with those outsiders.  Of the five of us, each of our home towns are within fifty miles of each other.  On a global scale, we were born and raised within a stone's throw distance from each other.  The only dramatic difference between any of us is our age range.  I am the youngest, sitting pretty on the last leg toward the top of the hill, and the other span a range of twenty-five years.

There are a lot of things that are similar between us.  For the most part, we rarely argue about religion or politics.  Most of our views on these subjects either align completely or fall into the realm of indifference.  In fact, the greatest disparity among us is traditionally our sense of humor.  It seems to range from very dry and clean to filthy and oozing with innuendo.

Yet, something happened today that made me feel a little bit like Texas sports anchor Dale Hansen when he said, "I don't understand his world, but I do understand he is a part of mine."

As part of duties of my occupation, I spend a lot of time with a group of women.  Our time together is spent cleaning.  We're basically housekeepers, but on a larger scale.  Today's task was spring cleaning a large common area that had only been used as a catchall for recent company purchases since last fall.

In an attempt to "get our blood pumping" and "get us psyched" to get into the the nitty gritty filth of our cleaning project, our wonderful employer took it upon herself to select some music that she felt would be the best way to motivate the unmotivated.

It wasn't that we weren't into the cleaning.  After all, who really wants to spend their Saturday on hands and knees scrubbing who-knows-what off the floor.  The temperature hadn't risen above forty all day, and the building wasn't heated.  The sky had that steel grey look of impending rain, and the wind whipped branches and fallen leaves across the yard and cut through any amount of layered clothes.  And our schedules were overrun.  I had just come off of two twelve-hour shifts and was looking forward to at least two more.

Needless to say, we were tired, depressed, moody, and facing a seemingly insurmountable cleaning project.

Like I said, our employer saw this and took actions to do something about it.  She put together a play list of "uplifting" songs that were meant to get our feet moving and lift our spirits enough to start cleaning.

I can hear you asking, "What were these wonderful songs?"  Allow me to share a sample:

Rocky Mountain High by John Denver, My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys by Willie Nelson, and Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town by Kenny Rogers were three of the highlights from the list.

My knee-jerk reaction to this type of song was initially very strong.  As someone who likes upbeat music I have a different opinion of what is going to motivate people to do shitty work.  Even if I were going to take into account the "rainbows and unicorns" type of personalities of the rest of my cleaning crew, I probably still would have chosen song by Pink or Christina Aguilera or perhaps Maroon 5.

My employers list sounded like something a tired, broken man would listen to in the middle of a rainy night and a bottle of scotch.

I wanted to laugh and ask her if she was serious, but I couldn't because she was floating around the room from task to task singing along with her dirge of musical choices.

So, instead of reacting poorly to a decision that she was clearly proud of, I was instead in awe of our differences.

As I stated, she was raised no more than fifty miles from where I was raised, and in this particular instance there isn't more than ten years of age between us.  Yet the music that she finds upbeat and uplifting is music that I would have playing as background to a suicide attempt.

How can that possibly be?

We both have fairly similar backgrounds - at least, at the early development stages, and yet somewhere along the lines she veered off into one realm of musical interest and I veered off into another.  And it isn't even the type of music, or genre, that confuses me.

I wouldn't question that she predominately enjoys country music while I enjoy rock/pop.  That wouldn't be an issue.  It's that the type of music she sees as motivating is so clearly and obviously different from my own.  In my ever growing "Running" playlist, one of the staples that has never changed is Sabotage by Beastie Boys.  That's a song that can really get a person's butt moving.  One of her song choices for "butt moving" uplifters was Old Man by Neil Young.

Now, before anyone starts arguing the musical validity of any of her choice, let me reassure everyone that all of her choices are songs that I would listen to, and most of them are on my iPod.  They just aren't songs that I would consider "motivating" (unless you're trying to motivate yourself into depression).

I don't really have a point with this tirade, other than to create an awareness about the differences between us, and how small they really are.

We all get bent out of shape about people like Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling because they prove exactly how far humanity has come in the last two-hundred years (which is clearly not all that far).

Wouldn't be simpler to simply acknowledge and accept the differences, like I did with my employers choice of music, than to force your opinion on others?

I'm not sure my new motto will be accepted with open arms, but I believe the phrase, "Equality through Apathy and Indifference" is a great slogan.  I don't care what you do, why you do it, or how.  Be yourself and let me be myself, and we'll get along.

It's those differences, no matter how small, that cause rifts in our lives because all we want is a homogenized world - even if (a crippling ignorant) half the world doesn't want the prefix homo- to be any part of that world.

That's all.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Freedom vs. Privacy: An American Dream

Since the birth of Bulletin Board Systems and dial-up modems, the notion of online privacy has been an issue with anyone who utilizes online materials.  Today, of course, we are seeing more and more stories and legislature regarding online privacy.  The NSA is gathering "information" on American communications, including telephone calls and emails.  Thousands of businesses (some legitimate, some not-so-much) have sprouted like weed claiming they can keep American's identities safe from thieves.  Some governments are even going as far as utilizing software to access a user's computer, sort through their files, and even view them through their own built-in webcam.

I understand how all of this can seem pretty scary.  However, I don't understand why.  Why is it happening, and why are people scared?

I know, I know.  I'm sure I could find a million commentators to expound upon how important it is to maintain an individual's level of privacy, or perhaps dictate to me how large and uncontrollable our governments have become.

I don't disagree.

There is a small part of me that doesn't want anyone to know certain things.  I'm a little shy, after all, and having some stranger poke around inside my computer or reading my emails doesn't settle too well for that part of me.

But there's a larger part of me that simply doesn't care.  What does it matter of some dude in a suit two-thousand miles away rummages through the files on my computer?  What will he find?  Probably porn.  A couple of eBooks.  An essay or two still saved on my hard drive from university.  A video game.  Big deal.  What about my emails?  Correspondences between my boss and myself on our next upgrade for the company.  Purchase confirmations and receipts from Amazon, eBay, PayPal and the like for various junk I felt I had to have but don't really need.

Maybe I'm not the normal person though.  What if I were the kind of guy to have all kinds of correspondences with prostitutes from Craigslist, or a guy with a hard drive full of torrent files and pirated material?  Again, I'm going to say, so what?

The issue really isn't about what "they" will find by collecting this data or invading our computers.  "They" might find all kinds of illegal activity.  The likelihood of acting on that illegal activity is probably fairly minimal.  I don't know the statistics, but I guarantee you if there were only a handful of people pirating software over torrent and other peer-to-peer sites (a la the infamous Napster) those sites would have been shut down easily.  This leads me to believe there are so many people using these sites that it doesn't make sense for "them" to go after end users.  Like The War on Drugs, "they" don't really want to arrest the user, they want to arrest the supplier.

That being said, my take on what the real issue here is, is that I didn't give them permission to collect data from me or to access my computer remotely.

Thing is, though, I kind of did.  I gave them permission when I didn't get involved with the government I am supposed to be a part of.  For the people, by the people.  I am part of "the people" and if the government is by the people, that means it is by me.  So what happens when I take a back seat to the way the government is run?  Exactly this.  Only, I haven't been taking a back seat when it comes to our government.  I've been dead.  I haven't done a thing to steer this government one direction or another.

There is still action through inaction.

By not weighing in for or against one thing or another, I am simply allowing decisions to be made for me.  I'm not talking about voting here.  Voting isn't nearly enough, is it?  With a system like the electoral college in place, what good does an individual vote do, anyway?  No, I'm talking about lobbying, petitioning, getting in the face of the oppressors and screaming at the top of my lungs about why I'm upset at everything they are doing.

Today's post comes to you because of Firefox.

I'm a fan of Mozilla's products.  I use both Firefox and Thunderbird for my online activity.  I absolutely love Google and nearly everything they make, but for some reason Google Chrome just didn't work for me.  That isn't important for this post, though.

You see.  I opened my web browser this morning.  I have the default set to take me to the Mozilla Firefox Start Page when I open Firefox.  It's pretty much just a search bar, but often times there are little messages from Mozilla regarding updates, new products, or legislature they want their users to be aware of.

Today's message had to do with "joining a community working toward designing a web we want" or something to that nature.  You get to make a decision about what is most important to you on the web, and then scroll through a series of infographic-like data depicting how others around the world think on the same topic.

Of the 29 million people voting world wide, nearly 40% of these want more privacy in their online interactions (38.6% in the U.S.).  The other options were Opportunity, Accessibility, Freedom, Learning, and User Control.

As I've said, I get the argument for privacy.  But as I've also said, I don't really care if someone learns that I look at porn, or that I have an Amazon Prime account and use it to watch The Americans, Justified, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I don't think I would even care if someone could use the information on my computer to prove that I was a racist (which I'm not - that has to do with my level of apathy, as I'm sure I'll write about in a later post), or maybe "they" can confirm that I might be Facebook friends with someone from Iraq who might have ties with Al-Qaeda.  It doesn't matter, because if those things are true, then that is who I am, and I should have no reason to hide.

Here's why.  In this Mozilla blurb about what kind of web you want, I voted for freedom.  We live in the free world, in what is supposed to be the freest country in the world.  Don't we?

You see, with absolute freedom, I would never have to worry about privacy.  I would be free to hold my head high and say, "Yes!  This is who I am!  I have every right to be the person I am, and do the things I do because I am that person.  You have no right to judge me, because I am free."

So, while we may believe we live in a free country, in a free world, we all know that isn't the case.  Don't we?  We are anything but free.  We might not be slaves in the traditional sense of the word - you know, the way Cliven Bundy sees the term.  But we are certainly not free.

We are bound by the rules of popular culture.  We idolize entertainers and athletes, and bow down to the wishes of every corporation in the world because they have the money and the rest of us have just enough to purchase the products all of these people produce and endorse.  We destroy the land and kill ourselves because someone somewhere wants to make a profit, and we don't even question why.

You see, absolute true freedom can never happen in a capitalist society.  Too many people searching for money and power will always find a way of crushing out someone else to get to that money and power, and the victor will be applauded and rewarded for his cunning and skill.  The crushed will be forgotten.

The truth is, there can never be absolute freedom anywhere humans exist because humans are terrified little creatures who believe they need someone else to guide and protect them.

The internet is no different.  We have parental controls to guide and protect children.  We have search algorithms designed to guide the user to "appropriate" sites.  We are allowing fear and paranoia to dictate how we live our lives, and corporations are taking great advantage of that and limiting our freedoms even more.

Let me ask a question, and allow you to stew in the pot for a while.  If you could do or say anything without fear of repercussions, why would you ever need privacy?

I made a statement to a friend once, regarding internet privacy, that so totally offended her sense of right and wrong we couldn't speak to one another for a month.  I was making this same argument, that privacy wasn't really that big of an issue.  That governments and corporations were using the argument of privacy to drive fear into the hearts of citizens in the hopes that the citizenry will give up more of their freedoms for the illusion of privacy.

She asked me what I would do if anyone could know everything about me.  My only response could be, "Nothing."

If everyone could learn everything about everyone else at a given moment, I think the world would quickly understand that we are all much more alike than we want to believe (or that we are being told to believe).  Do you believe that Bill Clinton's blow job in the oval office would have been such a big deal if we could learn that practically every man in a position of power has probably received sex in exchange for work-related favors at some point in time?

For years the people have argued that we are all equal.  The civil rights movement, women's liberation, gay marriage, it's all part of a struggle to identify equality between various subcultures within our world.  The problem, as I see it, is that we are still blinded by the emotions that course through us on these particular issues to understand that there is one thing in which we are all the same.

We are controlled by the fear of exposing our secrets because we believe that exposure will prove exactly how different we are from the world around us.

My opinion is that it won't.  It will simply prove how similar we all really are.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Warped Mind of the Modern Human

Okay.  I'm sure this will be the first in a long series of posts regarding the absolute evil that is our current capitalist society.  Before the comments come pouring in about capitalism being the American way, and anyone who thinks differently isn't American, allow me to say the following:  As with any sociopolitical structure, I believe that the core principles behind capitalism are quite fair.  "Use the means at your disposal to further better yourself and your loved ones."  That's great, and it truly sums up the American value system as it is applied today by the youth of America.

I StumbledUpon this article today, which in turn lead me to this article.  You can read the articles, but I'll explain the gist of it.

It was an overcast night in late October.  A group of teenagers (the boy who died was 17) were out riding their bicycles.  They wore no bicycle helmets.  They were wearing dark clothing with minimal reflectors on the bikes.  They rode three abreast on a rural highway in Canada.  It was "early morning" (shortly after 1:00 a.m.).  A woman driving a black SUV at five miles over the speed limit struck the boys, killing one and seriously injuring another.

Okay.  I understand why that is tragic.

According to the articles, courts did not place the driver at fault for the accident.  She was not intoxicated, from the reports.  She simply couldn't see the cyclists.  The courts blamed low visibility:  overcast night, improper safety precautions on the part of the cyclists, etc.

Just an unfortunate accident.

Unfortunately none of us have all of the details.  All we can do is speculate based on the information given to us by (presumably on my part) biased news outlets.  (Biased because news delivery is a business and all news outlets are concerned about viewership and readership, and as such they will write and phrase things in ways that pull on the emotional heartstrings of their demographics to generate additional sales revenue.)

Based on the information we do have, I would personally fault the cyclists.  No helmets, riding abreast without proper visibility, dark clothing, 1:00 in the morning.  (I'm getting a little bit off topic here, but what were three teenagers doing riding their bikes around at 1:00 in the morning on a Sunday in October?  Don't they have school the next day?  Shouldn't they be at home in bed?  That isn't a reason to blame them for this accident, but it's an interesting point.)

My point with this post actually means to deal with the law suit now being filed against the victims of the accident.  The woman driving the SUV has filed a lawsuit against the families (and estate) of the three boys for over a million dollars.  She cites that she is still in shock (two years later) and is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Okay, I get that.  Being responsible (though not at fault) for someone else's death is quite a traumatic experience.  I'd probably take some time to come to terms with that as well.  I don't know that I'd ever want to drive again (though, to be fair, I'm somewhat anti-automobile anyway - which I might cover in another post - so I'm not sure my opinion should matter).

My question for this woman is...  Will money help alleviate your pain?

This is something I don't understand in our country.  I spilled hot coffee on myself, I'll bet there's a way I'll never have to work again.  (Yes, I know that McDonald's was actually at fault there; their coffee was actually too hot and the lid was not on properly - it's just an example.)  I pushed my kid into participating in sports he wasn't interested in, and when he was kicked off the team for never showing up I found the perfect way to retire by suing the school.  I'm thirty-something and don't have a job and my parents refuse to help me out because they think I'm lazy, I'll sue them for "indifference" and open up a couple of Domino pizza restaurants.

The capitalism of our society has moved from the bright and shiny, "Make something of yourself through hard work and dedication," (you know, that thing immigrants are told they can do when they move here) and has been replace by "Take advantage of your situation and the trust and livelihoods of others so you don't really have to work."

Maybe we can blame it on Scrooge McDuck from Duck Tales.  I recall him saying quite often to Huey, Dewey, and Lewy, "Work smarter, not harder."

Maybe it is "smart" to sue the person you killed for causing you trauma over their death.  If it holds up in court it is likely the woman will never have to work again.  She'll be set for life, and who really cares about the pain and trauma she caused to other people.

Is the narcissism of our society that deeply rooted that this woman hasn't even stopped to think about the pain and suffering the dead boy's parents are going through?  What about the "seriously injured" boy who broke his pelvis?  She's suing him, too.  Did she stop to think that maybe he's suffering just as much as she is?  It's doubtful.

"Oh, no.  I can't sleep at night.  I have too many nightmares about murdering a teenaged boy.  I'll bet a shit-ton of cash will help me feel better.  I'm sure everyone else involved with this accident are doing just fine.  In fact, they're probably doing better than fine.  The broken pelvis boy is probably going to prom and laughing and partying."


Here's the thing.  Money is not the answer to anyone's problems.  (To be fair, though, I absolutely hate money.  I believe it to be the worst creation of all time.  It makes people lazy and selfish.)  I'd like to know if she believes that her life should go back to normal after being a part of something so horrible.

Hell, I still have nightmares about my dog's leg getting caught in the spokes of my bicycle one morning and breaking in half.  Traumatic things happen and we need to learn to cope, but we also need to understand that nothing will ever be the same again.  There is nothing - NOTHING - that can make her depression go away besides owning up to what happened.  Facing it head on is the only solution.  "Yes.  This thing happened.  It was horrible and I feel like shit about it."

$1.35 million dollars isn't going to erase the pain.  It will only further serve as a blanket to pull over herself and help her to blame others for something she is ultimately responsible for.

I don't care that she was found to be not "at fault."  As an avid cyclist I understand that each of the boys could have done a million things better than what they did to protect themselves from an accident.  But, as the father of the dead boy said, "They're kids; they're allowed to make a mistake."

I would go further and suggest that because they are human, they are allowed to make a mistake.  And that segues nicely into my final point.

This woman is also human.  She is also allowed to make mistakes.  I would suggest that she made a huge mistake by not being as vigilant to the road in front of her when driving.  But I would also suggest that she is making another mistake with this lawsuit.

My hope is that somewhere, someone will find a way to help this woman understand that what she is doing isn't going to help her with the pain she's struggling with.  It is probably that pain that is clouding her judgment, and while that is understandable it is still detestable.  (Her reaction is exactly the argument I make against criminals and gang-bangers in regards to the use of guns, but that's for another post.)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Internet Security and Identity Theft

I am cynical and skeptical by nature, and it is often frustrating to witness the blatant inconsistencies and contradictions policymakers put into place compared to the day-to-day usage those policies are supposed to handle.

For example:  My financial institution is small by most standards.  They have close to ten branches, but they offer online banking so I was sold.  Their online banking is heavily encrypted.  I must have a password that is at least eight characters long, contains number, letters, and at least one capital and one lower case letter (they haven't gone as far as asking for special characters yet, but I'm already ahead of them on that one).  I have a picture I'm supposed to verify before logging in.  If the photo is not the photo I chose, and if the caption to the photo is not the caption I wrote, then I should know I've been re-directed (as if I wouldn't be able to tell from my browser).  I am asked a random security question each time I attempt to long in.  These are questions I answered when signing up for my account.  Finally, I am asked to change my password every ninety days to ensure proper security measures.

With all of that, I have forgotten my most recent password.  I attempted to log into my online banking, and after three attempts my account was locked and I had to actually call the bank to unlock it.

That's pretty impressive.

However, when I called the bank all I did was explain the problem I was having and tell them my name.  The person on the other end of the line reset my password for me to something benign, let me know that when I logged in again I would be prompted to change that benign password to something more personal, but that otherwise I was good to go.


With all of the security in place to ensure the safety of my financial information (which is a TON of security, by the way - check out this article from LifeHacker, specifically the chart that discusses the amount of time it takes a computer to generate a password, if you think all of that security is necessary), you're simply going to give a voice over the telephone a brand new password to an account with no more information than a name?  No need to verify my account number, my social security number, my address even?  Just a simple, "We're sorry about that.  Here you go, please have unlimited access to this account.  Thanks for calling!"

I'm not paranoid.  In fact, I'm pretty secure in the notion that nobody's out to get me - nobody's going to hack into my system and steal my identity.  Maybe because I don't really have much of an identity to steal.  I'm pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  That being said, it is still pretty ridiculous to install so much security to then simply give out a password to a voice over the phone.

What can I expect from this country, though?  These are probably the same people who believe arming teachers will keep their children safe at school, or the same people who believe that the inconvenience to business professional of having to take off one's shoes at the airport can simply be bypassed through a higher ticket price.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Thoughts of the Future

Our culture today seems to revolve around mass media.  There has always been a circular connection between art and life, and that connection is clearly visible in today's society where what we see in television and on film become things we covet in life, and likewise things that happen in life become fodder for television and film.  But, do we ever stop to think about those things from the media that on in popular culture and how they might be used to study our society today?

Right now, I work full time at a small professional photo lab.  One of the services we offer is the transfer of hold home movies recorded on VHS to DVD.  Of course, for those of you old enough to remember what a VHS is, or the many benefits we used to reap of having a VCR at home, you will surely recognize that on occasion home movies might have been erased and recorded over for any of the great media of the day.  I can recall taping over my 5th grade choir recital (the only time I was ever part of any sort of extracurricular activity in school) so I could tape a couple of episodes of "Saved by the Bell" (what can I say, I wanted to be Zack Morris - but I was too much like Screech to make the change).

Legal issues aside, I think we can all safely say that this was common practice.  As such, it was no surprise to me when a home video of a church choir I was transferring to DVD suddenly stopped and gave way to a scene of two bikini-clad women rolling around in an inflatable swimming pool filled with mud.  My first thought was, "That's fitting.  Tape over the church choir for Porky's."  Alas, I was wrong.

The film in question, the film that was deemed worthy enough to record over the church choir...the film that was deemed worthy enough to record period, was not Porky's, but instead a barely known film called...wait for it..."Prayer of the Rollerboys", staring Corey Haim (interestingly enough without Cory Feldman - didn't they do everything together?).  Here, we have a story about a mafia group of, what can only be seen as high school-aged boys rolling around town on roller blades, wearing white trench coats and black t-shirts, and extorting money from local business owners and selling drugs on the street.

Granted, the film is supposed to take place in the "not too distant future" of a bankrupt Los Angeles.  But it isn't the film's plot that drew my attention, it was the wardrobe.  If, for some unforeseen reason, some global catastrophe occurs and the only historical document of our society is this film (or those like it), what will future generations think of how we lived?  Will they believe that we all wore super wide bandannas on our heads to keep our floppy-cut hair out of our eyes?  That all the "cool kids" wore some sort of strange uniform of trench coats, sunglasses, and roller blades?  Or that the women (police women, for that matter, - and Patricia Arquette in this instance) wore short leather jackets over their bras?

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the wardrobe cast-offs from "The Wedding Singer" were used as costumes for this movie.  Just to drive the point home, check out the film's trailer.  If that entices you enough, it looks like, with a little digging, you could watch the whole film on YouTube.

Back to my original argument:  do we think about how we will be seen by future generations when we come up with crap like this?  I realize it's a style, after all, what did Neve Campbell say to Matthew Perry in "Three to Tango"?  "It was the 80s, they made you look like that."  But still, I can't think of another time period when we made ourselves look so horrible, and yet thought we were so fashionable.  Or, maybe, we never thought it was fashionable.  Perhaps some studio executive somewhere thought it would be a good idea to dress actors up in the tackiest clothing possible, hoping that it would catch on.  Perhaps said executive had stock in the clothing companies that made the tacky clothes.

I don't really have a point here.  I saw this snippet of a movie today, and this was the first thing that popped into my head.  I think I am going to find a way to watch this entire film though - just to see how bad it really is (I guess I like to torture myself - and to prove it I will admit that I have watched a film entitled "She-Wolves of the Wastelands" from beginning to end even though I wanted to turn it off during the opening credits).

Perhaps I only want to bring to attention this notion that mass media affects popular culture so dramatically.  As an example, this film is a documentary about film and fashion and how they feed off of one another.  In it, there is talk of how the sales of men's undershirts plummeted after a film as released where Clark Gable sits topless on a bed.  The manufacturers of men's undershirts went to Hollywood and begged them to put Clark Gable back in an undershirt - which they did, and sales went back up.

So, maybe I just want to bring awareness to all of those people out there in pop culture land to understand why it is you want to purchase a product, or look a certain way, or dress a certain way.  Is it because that is who you are, or is it because you are trying to be someone else?  (Not that we are in as extreme of a situation as the events of "Josie and the Pussycats", however.)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Gaming and Exercise: A Marraige We Should Insist Upon

I'm not much of a gamer.  As a child I never owned an Atari, but I did own a Nintendo Entertainment System and played Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt quite regularly.  Yet, when I hit that magical age of puberty I didn't seem to follow most of my friends' on their paths into video game-world.  I'd play Mortal Kombat with a friend, but I'd just sit and mash buttons hoping against hope I could defend myself against the hours he spent learning button combinations for super moves.

I could never get into the first-person shooters like Duke Nukem or Quake like other friends.  They enjoyed the community aspect of the online-play Quake had to offer, and the ability to mod the games to start fights within said community.  Instead, my game of choice typically seemed to be simulation games (e.g. Sim City).

When I hit college, I found that I could spend a good deal of time playing games like Age of Empires or The Sims.  However, I never actually played these games.  I had more fun creating the characters in The Sims and then using cheat codes and mods to create fantastic houses for those characters, but I never actually played the game as it was intended.  It simply couldn't hold my interest.

Sometime back then a friend recommended to me that I purchase The Elder Scrolls III:  Morrowind.  I did.  I installed it and started playing and lost interest in the first four hours.  Having an open world like that with very little in the way of "structured play" left me to wander into places my character was not ready for.  I was attempting to take on creatures that would kill me with a breath instead of following the prescribed storyline.  That seems to be my nature.  I don't like to color inside the lines.

So, I put Morrowind away, along with the rest of my games.

Sometime later I found myself diagnosed with cancer and undergoing chemotheraphy and radiation treatments.  About that same time, Assassin's Creed was released for PlayStation 3.  I spent much of my down time from my disease playing the game, and I actually enjoyed it.  I liked the "structured freedom" of the game play.  I could go to any of the areas within the game and do things, but there was also an obvious story to follow along with.

During my time with cancer, however, both my medical doctor and my acupuncturist were hounding me about needing to get more exercise.  They weren't telling me I needed to run a 5k or anything, but they did want me to be out walking, at the very least, to help keep my immune system up and keep my muscles from atrophying.

So, I divided my time between playing my game and walking around town, and when I was through with treatments (and was able to get back to work) the gaming went by the wayside and I took up exercise in earnest.   I went through three rounds of P90X, two rounds of Insanity, and then started developing my own exercise routing based on the guidelines of the phenomenal Mike Matthews.

I felt great.  I looked great.  I started running five miles every day and mixing that in with my weight training.  It was awesome!

And then I moved.  I started working twelve to sixteen hour days the summer after my move, and my exercise routine fell by the wayside as well.  Summer flew past in a whirlwind of activity and when autumn finally came I was ready to start working out again.  I ran a little bit, pulled some weight, but simply didn't have the focus or ambition to continue.

I was laid off all winter, which afforded me plenty of time to finish my novel (of which you can read more about here), but because winter can be mind-numbingly boring around here a friend and colleague lent me The Elder Scrolls V:  Skyrim for PS3.

I was leery at first because of my experience with Morrowind, and my overall attitude toward video games (they can be fun, but typically don't hold my interest).  It sat on the entertainment stand for most of the winter.  I didn't actually put it into the PlayStation until late February or early March.  I almost wish I hadn't tried it at all.

I didn't do anything else for two months.

I felt like a lazy bum, sitting on my ass all day long staring at the television, playing some (albeit awesome) video game.  The drive to get back to exercise was still in me, but my focus had shifted from novel-writing to game-playing and I still couldn't concentrate on the weights.  I was cooped up inside with three feet of snow on the ground, so I could go running, and every time I picked up the weights, my brain would flash images of Draugrs and Dragons, and before I even knew I had started the game up, I was playing and the weights were sitting in the middle of the floor.

Needless to say, I was addicted.

Then, sometime in late March I had a thought.  I'm one of those "complete everything" kind of game players, so I was looking to finish every single possible quest and build my character's level up to the 252 minimum needed to fulfill all of the skill perk points.  To that end, I decided that I would no longer quick travel anywhere.  I was going to go over land to increase my experience points, and as I did this my own feet started moving on their own.

As my character walked or ran along the roads of Skyrim, so too did my own feet walk and run in place in the middle of my living room.  Before long I was moving my Six Axis controller with every sword swing just to get my arms moving as well.

And that's when I was struck with (what I think is) the greatest idea since the Atari.

We all know about the Wii Fit.  We know there are pads out there one can purchase to play Dance Dance Revolution.  We also know that the Wii and the PlayStation (and probably xBox, though I'm less familiar with that console) have the ability for motion controlled gaming through infrared sensor technology.

Why can't we develop a gaming system that utilizes a floor mat and a motion sensitive controller that requires the player to physically move his or her body in space in order to control the character he or she is playing?

Could you imagine playing Skyrim, and in order to move your character you have to walk or run in place on this mat?  In order to swing a sword, you'd have to swing your controller?

Of course, doing this would probably require some sort of virtual reality head gear (otherwise how could you turn your character's body).  But that technology already exists, and has been extensively redesigned and redeveloped into something awesome.

I don't know.  Perhaps there are already people working on this.  It seems like the next step - not just for immersive gaming, but also for exercise.  Many people exercise in front of the television.  P90X and Insanity are both home exercise programs.  And many more people lose interest in that kind of exercise because it's always the same - always repetitive.

With America's seemingly steady rise of obesity (though there are studies that would argue this is a problem), wouldn't it be great if everyone would want to exercise, could have fun exercising while doing something they would probably do anyway?  Halo of Call of Duty would be perfect platforms for this type of system simply because of the physical nature of the characters.

Needless to say, now that spring has finally arrived and the snow is melted, my time running in place while playing Skyrim has prepared me to get back into my exercise routine.  The game has been put away - sadly unfinished - but the weights are out, the pavement is dry, and the air is crisp and cool.

I might go back to Skyrim one day, but for now I'm content to be in my own forested area, running through the trees in this world.  Maybe by the time I get around to picking up the next Elder Scrolls (not that online version though - I don't do online gaming) there will be a console system that works like I've envisioned.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Empty Calories

I live on a lake in the woods in the middle of nowhere.  It isn't often that I leave the property - maybe weekly during the summer months, perhaps monthly (at best) during the winter months.  Today I agreed to accompany my wife into town.  "Town" is not large, but it's not small either; it has a population of close to 3500 people.  It has three gas station convenience stores (that I'm aware of), a McDonald's, a Burger King, Pizza Hut, Walgreens.  You get the picture.

We decided to stop at Pizza Hut for lunch.  They have a buffet, and it was the quickest available option for a salad (I had a craving).  As we were sat and munched our food, Emily (my wife) pointed out that it was odd that Pizza Hut had four televisions mounted to the walls all around the restaurant.  A brief glance confirmed her statement.  Indeed four televisions hung on the walls in each of the four corners, and each television was set to a different station, playing a different program...with no sound.

What was the point?  Is Pizza Hut attempting to compete with sports bars, hoping to attract the Monday Night Football fans for wings and football?  Perhaps.

For the most part I didn't think much about it.  So, there are TVs in Pizza Hut.  Big deal.  Yet, something Emily had said stuck with me.  "Why does there need to be a television everywhere?" she asked.  Why, indeed?

We stopped at one of the gas station convenience stores later that day to fill up the car and purchase a car wash (one of those automatic drive-thru washes) and as I pumped my fuel I was assaulted by a television...not just on my pump, but on every single pump on the property...blaring and echo of advertising from products like the new Dodge Ram to some synthetic oil that was supposed to make my car run smoother...more efficiently.

The cacophonous sound was overwhelming.  Why was there a television at the gas pump?  Are manufacturers and marketers so afraid of losing sales that they feel the need to intrude upon every conceivable space to pump us full of the need to buy?

It was the television on the gas pump that made me question the relevance of the television.  What was it's purpose?  Clearly to advertise to a 'supposed' captive audience.  What else are you doing while you're pumping your gas?  (One would hope you're checking your oil level and washing your windshield, but we know that doesn't often happen.)

Recalling my previous visits to town away from our property I realized there are televisions everywhere...most of which aren't even offering real content.  For example:  The local Hardee's has two televisions hanging in their lobby.  (I don't know why, but just follow me on this journey.)  Before we had internet in our cabin, I would have to drive to town and sit at Hardee's (where there's free WiFi) to check my email or use Facebook.  When I first started doing this, the noise from the television was mind-numbing.  Couldn't I just sit in peace and quiet?

However, at least they were showing somewhat descent content...both stations were set to CNN or some other 24-hour news outlet.  At least it was news, current events, something worth watching.  However, one day when I arrived for my weekly email session, I was shocked to see the television programing had been replaced by [what I can only describe as] Musak for television.

This new "programming" was filled with advertisements for partner companies, music videos for teeny-boppers, and other nauseating content.

The programming was almost as devoid of enrichment as the food Hardee's serves.

So here's where I am.  I don't understand why there needs to be televisions in restaurants and retail stores.  Shouldn't we be able to provide our own entertainment by speaking to one another, or at the very least shouldn't we be more focused on spending our hard earned dollar on what we came to purchase instead of having paid-for advertising crammed down our throats at every corner?

Think of it this way:  If I'm sitting at a restaurant, the last thing I want to do is watch television.  I should be able to carry on a conversation with the people I came with.  However, if I have to watch television, does it need to be so filtered that it might as well not even exist because it offers nothing of substance?

Thanks, Corporate America, for giving us two ways to dumb ourselves down and turn us into mindless sheep:  by first sticking a loud, flashy object in our face and basically forcing our attention toward anything other than the friends and family we should be spending time with, and then for filling that flashing idiot-box with content that can do nothing for us but demand we buy things.

No education.  No current events.  No talking points.  Just mindless chatter to fill the background and draw our attentions away from the relationships we should be cultivating.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Moving Forward without Focus

Having decided that seeking publication for my completed psychological thriller is not the wisest business decision, I have chosen instead to move forward with the projects that are ultimately within the genre of my "brand."

Unfortunately, having been enmeshed in the world of Tad DuBois (the main character of my previous novel) I find myself moving forward with a lack of clarity and focus.  My next project will start as a stand-alone novel, but is meant to be an open-ended series set in a fictitious fantasy world.  The daunting task of world-building and character development looms over me like a Catholic School Nun, pounding its palm with the ruler of active work, waiting to beat me for my procrastination.

Perhaps I need to recharge and reboot after spending so much time with Tad in his own world before I attempt to focus on something new, though it's already been over a week of not really doing anything an still I can't find the motivation to move forward.

Well, that isn't accurate, actually.  I have the motivation.  I have the desire to move forward.  I simply cannot focus that motivation into anything tangible.  I have an overall "idea" that I am passionate about.  The concept for the next project really has me excited (which might be where the motivation comes from), I just can seem to focus that concept into a concrete premise or solid characters.

I'm sure it will come eventually.  In the meantime, I feel like a bum as I sit in my filthy cabin and do nothing more than browse through Facebook or watch the squirrels dig for corn and sunflower seeds through the snow on the deck.

More to come...

Monday, February 10, 2014

Overcaution or Far-Sightedness

My first manuscript is finished.  It's been through four drafts with me and is out with "beta readers" looking for things I may have missed.  Last week I started the long process of researching literary agents and the querying process when I hit a roadblock.

Maybe I shouldn't be trying to publish this novel.

You see, the novel I wrote is a psychological thriller, and I think it's fantastic.  But...  I don't ever see myself writing another thriller.

When I first had the notion of becoming a novelist, I thought I would write the genre I love to read:  fantasy.  Every concept I've ever created revolves around some form of fantasy or another.  Magic.  Mythical realms.  Heroic battles.

I know that most people write their first book in the genre they tend to favor.  My first novel, Atrophy of the Soul, was the story I had in me to tell at the time.  It became lodged in my head and wouldn't leave, so I had to get it down on paper.

But what happens now?  Most people rush to find an agent and hope to have their book published.  Most serious writers start their next project - typically within the same genre as the first (and more often than not, a follow-up or sequel to the first project).  I think that's great!

Those people should have no problem beginning their careers.  They are going to stick with their same genre - the genre their agents represent - and they will create a brand with their work.

My work, however, cannot create a brand because I don't foresee writing in that same genre anytime soon.  So, if I were to follow the bright-eyed masses of literary hopefuls, I would rush out and find an agent, get my book under contract, and have it published.  But then what?

Most agents represent specific genres.  That isn't to say that if the agent I find to represent my psychological thriller doesn't represent fantasy as well he or she would refuse to represent my new fantasy novel, but whose to say?  What do I do then?  Find a second agent to represent my fantasy novel?  Never writing a thriller again would certainly put a damper on the business relationship I created with the first agent and the first book.

So, my instinct suggests that I not publish this first book at all.  My instinct suggests that I write the second book, in my genre of choice, and move forward from there.  Who knows, perhaps down the line I'll find a way to create a fantasy world around my psychological thriller and find a home for it within the brand I want to create.

The bottom line here is this.  Part of me feels that I'm being overly cautious in not seeking representation for my first novel simply because it's the "wrong" genre for me.  That part of me is also the part that yearns for the ability to say, "See!  Look!  I followed through.  I have a published book.  You can buy it in bookstores and find it in the library."  I yearn for the satisfaction of knowing the hard work I put into that first manuscript has finally paid off - even if that payment isn't monetary.

But, part of me understands that I am building a career, and in the world of book publishing, an author's brand is everything.  Am I paranoid that my fear of submitting a psychological thriller for publication as my first novel will somehow "lock" me into writing thrillers for the foreseeable future?  Perhaps.  Is it a safer bet to hold off until that second novel is written?  Absolutely.  Will it be worth it?  I don't know, and I guess that's question.

Am I being overly cautious, letting my fears decide my actions, or am I being far-sighted, letting my logical mind dictate the best business decisions I can make?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Everybody dies alone." - Captain Malcolm Reynolds, Firefly