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December 27, 2004

December 20, 2004

Servicing the Customer or Providing Customer Service?

I'm in the process of buying a car. Being a good boy, I went through the process at my bank first to ensure I had the financing. I had already done the research and settled on the car I wanted. As my bank is closed on the weekend, and I bought the car on Saturday, today was the first day I could contact the bank and set up the loan closing appointment with them.

I had been speaking with a pleasant woman named Martha whose uncertainty about certain things made me think she was a little new to the process. However, this is not a problem with me as I'm generally a pretty amiable fellow and I am rarely in a rush. I've spoken with Martha three seperate times concerning the issue and she has been helpful each time.

Today I set up a meeting with her for 1 pm (my lunch hour) at which time I would present her with the paperwork, she would go over them, and type up the final papers from the bank for my signature. About 20 minutes later I get a rather abrupt phone call back from one Abigail (who I learn later is the assistant branch manager).

Abigail is telling me a very different story. She says I cannot come in without first faxing the paperwork to the office for them to go over and do some preliminary work on. When I explain that I do not have access to a fax, she asks me if I can go somewhere that does. I politely explain that I am at work, and I will be going to their office during my lunch hour, so, no, I cannot go somewhere and get them faxed early. Abigail continues to be a "negative nancy" about every comment I make. I offer solutions, like stopping by today to turn in the paperwork and waiting while they do the paperwork. No, you can't do that! It'll take us 2 hours to do this! How about I drop off the paperwork today and schedule an appointment for tomorrow? No! We need it now! Everything was no, no, no. She refuses to work with me on a solution.

I then politely ask if there is someone else at the bank with whom I can discuss this issue. She hesitates, then says that the bank manager is there. I again very politely ask to speak with him.

Adam comes on the phone a little while later. I explain that I have had three very nice conversations with Martha and she has explained what I need to do, that it may be a wait if I go in today for everything, and that I do not have ready access to a fax machine. I then further explain that from the moment Abigail called me, she was impeding this process and was a hinderance to me completing this transaction by blocking every attempt at a solution I provided.

Adam explained that Martha was new, that she was still training on this process, and that she may have miss-spoken the time needed and needs of the bank during our conversations. He then apologized to me for Abigail's poor customer service and answered a further question from me by explaining that she is actually one of the assistant managers of the branch. I then offer to him the same solutions I gave to Abigail and he not only says that any one of those is perfectly acceptable, but also goes on to suggest two other alternatives that I may use in order to finalize this process.

I thank him for his time, explain that I will be in at 1 pm to see either him or Martha, and that I did not want to have further dealings with Abigail on this matter due to what I felt was poor customer service. He apologized again and said that he would make sure that Martha was available to me at 1 pm this afternoon and that we could then make a new appointment to finalize the paperwork once she had everything she needed.

Now, why couldn't Abigail be as helpful and understanding as either Martha (the person in training who doesn't have the experience that she has) or Adam (who you would think would only promote someone who was customer-service oriented to be an assistant manager)?

December 13, 2004

I Think I Think

  • If I am going at or under the speed limit, if I’ve engaged the clutch and am coasting up hill, and if I am still catching up to you, you may be traveling too slowly for the road.
  • Don’t women know that size matters to men, too? (And I’m not referring to breast size, ladies.)
  • The way people act toward each other, what they want, and the struggles of the sexes, has really changed little over the centuries. Mary of Nazarene and Mary of Magdelene would have had a lasting influence, a reactive relationship, and a profound effect on Jesus and on the founding of Christianity. Of course the threatened males of the time wanted to minimize the women’s role and maximize their own—just like men today try to do with smart, driven, opinionated, influential women.
  • Love and Hate are not opposites. They are different aspects of the same coin. Apathy is the opposite of any of the passionate feelings like Love and Hate.
  • Fear is the one thing that holds humanity (as a whole and as individuals) back more than any other single influence.
  • “Lost” will ultimately fail because it is too convoluted. It should have been a television maxi series where the creator, writers, directors, and actors had a definite beginning, middle, and end in mind. It will devolve into melodrama sooner rather than later, with progressively more absurd plot devices to keep the “tension” and “mystery” high.
  • Back when there were only three networks, you got the three best ideas on the air for any one hour of television from each of the networks. Those three ideas had to beat out the hundreds of others that other people came up with. Now that there are 500 channels, of course there is a dilution of the talent and quality of what you can watch. With that dilution viewer migration is inevitable (to channels with items that interest them and to other outlets for their time).
  • Women want someone who is tall, dark, handsome, funny, smart, who will act like a bad-boy and the dangerous type they are attracted to, yet will be really sensitive and treat them well. Ladies, he doesn’t exist. A bad-boy will always stay a bad boy—if he treats you like dirt now, he will always treat you that way.
  • In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Nicola Tesla foresaw and helped to realize much of the modern world in which we live today.
  • Why is it that, as our vision blurs with age, our perception clarifies?
  • Unless America finds a way to keep jobs here and make them worthwhile, it will kill itself slowly from within. We are already hemorrhaging.
  • When I see certain actors in movies, like Morgan Freeman and Philip Seymour Hoffman, I expect a certain level of quality. Conversely, when I see certain actors in television products, like Dean Cain or Lorenzo Lamas in a Sci-Fi pictures original, I expect a certain level of quality.
  • There are glaring holes in both the theory of Creationism and the theory of evolution/big bang theory. Yet neither is mutually exclusive. Why must we fight over this? If you believe in God, why must you discount that He may have created the universe in such a way that it could then perpetuate itself (while also having inherent tests of faith)? If you believe in science, how can you ignore the nearly impossible leaps and subtle design that are found in all branches of all sciences?
  • Human beings are generalists. Anything that pushes us to an extreme is likely bad for us. This is true in every aspect and facet of our lives.
  • If you slow down for every green light, you fulfill your own prophecy that one of the next green lights will turn yellow and you will have to stop. Drive with the flow of traffic.
  • Western medicine ignores the patient in order to solve the problem. Force your doctor to talk with you, not at you, and take an active roll in your own health. It will make your doctor pay attention and learn even as you are learning from him. If your doctor refuses you this, you need a new doctor. If you can make yourself a human being to your doctor, instead of a social security number and an HMO paycheck, you will get great care.

November 29, 2004


I look back at what I wrote on Friday and am amazed. I guess sometimes you just need to vomit that out of your system to allow yourself to reflect, move on, and gain perspective. As a technical writer in my career, I am amused by the poor grammar and other mistakes I see throughout, but I’m going to leave that post as is. It stands as a truly emotional release—and something I really needed.

Now, of course, the questions: Where do I go from here? What change can I enact to make sure things don’t get this bad again? How can I start releasing these emotions in a way that is healthier and less constrained?

I managed to hit on a wide variety of topics, each of which must be addressed. As always, after the revolution must come the rebuilding. If you have any suggestions, feel free to post them.

Lastly, thank you for the kind words you have posted in response. They mean a lot to me.

November 26, 2004

The day afte Thanksgiving, 2004

So in high school my best friend died. I was literally the first student on campus to hear the news; the principal of the school, Mr. Cole -- a good friend to the family, told my mother (who worked at the high school) who then walked over to me in driver’s education. She pulled me out of class and told me, giving me a big hug.

I went back into class and everyone knew. All they had to do was look at my face and they could that something was wrong. It took Chris Elliott three times asking me what was wrong—when I said it, I think it was too loud because everyone in the class knew. Suddenly I saw what my face must have looked like.

As the next period began, Mr. Cole came over the loud speaker and announced it to the school. My French teacher started to cry, my sort-of girl friend and the time, Pam Bailey, gave me a hug. Chris Munroe (I know a lot of Chris’) got quiet.

I didn’t even know it but I got up and just walked outside. The teacher didn’t try to stop me—everyone knew how close I was to Tennyson. Everyone knew I went to see him in the hospital as often as I could.

Pam followed me outside. I was just standing there. She pulled me close and made me sit down and gave me a big hug.

I have no real memory of the days between her hugging me and saying it would be okay and the funeral. Just, all of a sudden, I was there. Mr. Reyes, Tennyson’s dad, had asked my mom if I would speak at the funeral. He wanted me to say something, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t bear to see him in the casket, either. At least Chris Elliott, Tennyson’s other best friend was able to suck it up. He spoke, and said the right things. He was able to give the Reyes’ what they so very much needed. We both took positions at the front of the closed casket and walked it to the hearse. That helped a little.

And I didn’t cry.

When my parents got divorced, I didn’t cry. I was strong and quiet for my sister, who did cry. I thought she needed it, and I thought one of us needed to be strong. Little did I know then that by her crying, she was the strong one.

I didn’t cry when Jennifer went back to Michigan. I didn’t cry when she came back so, so different. I didn’t cry when she found the solace she needed in Shane and I thought I was genuinely happy for her when the got married. I mean, she found the piece she needed in him that I had once provided. The silver cord that connected us was severed. And I didn’t cry.

And then ten years ago I was diagnosed with a rare liver disorder, autoimmune liver disease. My doctor’s were baffled because the autoimmune disease typically strikes women and typically older people. I was male and 24. I took it in, I didn’t cry, I was strong. When autoimmune liver disease became rheumatoid arthritis in my joints, I only cried once. I woke up one day with a lower left leg the size of a football. I couldn’t walk and I was scared. I finally cried that day. But within an hour I was okay; I sucked it up and found my strength again.

The next time I found to cry was in the stupidest of times—I was home from work, sick again, and was watching AI (Artificial Intelligence). As the little boy staring forever at the statue of the blue fairy, I found something heartbreaking. It so reminded me of the little boy inside me who is seeking his own blue fairy and just doesn’t seem to find him.

When my mom fell and broke her shoulder the first time, I didn’t cry. I was strong for her. When she fell recently and rebroke the shoulder, I didn’t cry. I rushed out there, I took care of her, I bought her meds and got her to the point where she could find her own strength and plan for the future. And I didn’t cry.

Recently, a new friend’s dad died of a complication brought on by his own liver disease. Marcus is such a good man, a loving husband, a giving father. He seems so able to handle it. He seems so strong. Seeing that “strength” I always thought I had shown exemplified in him, plus the added knowledge that I could so easily fall to the same complications that his dad did, breaks my heart.

And, today, when I’m catching up on my old Joan of Arcadia episodes I came across the one entitled Friday Night. In this episode, Joan’s best friend Judith is killed. But not right away, which I could have handled. No, she goes to the hospital where they do everything they can to save her. This full-of-life girl, so similar in that regard to my pal Tennyson, is lying in a hospital bed slowly failing. Tennyson lingered on for quite some time before he succumbed. And Judith asks Joan to juggle. She wants Joan to be okay, so she asks Joan to juggle. But Joan can’t juggle. And then Judith dies.

Later, Joan is with her other friends an God arrives. God tells her the old story of the man and the three boxes and the bridge. Where the bridge is rickety and the man weighs enough that he can’t get across with his boxes, unless he keeps them always in the air.

And Joan juggles. Suddenly, she understands. The boxes are the burdens we carry, our hopes, our dreams, our everything. We have ups and downs, trials and successes that we must all juggle to make it through. And she juggles.

I’ve been holding Tennyson’s death and my need for strength. I’ve been trying to be the mediator keeping everyone in my friendship group together because I’m scared they will fall apart like my parents marriage did. When my sister’s marriage was rocky, I tried to be strong for her and be there for her. I’m scared for my nearly 60 year old mom’s health and her retirement.

And I’m scare for my own health and what it means for my future. I’m already scared to death to have a long-term relationship with a woman because I have to share that I’m sick and may not be in it as long as she is. I’m scared of how this mythical woman will take the news. I’m scared of passing an autoimmune disease on to any children we have.

I’m tired now. I think I need to lay those boxes down and juggle other things now. I don’t know what else I can focus on, but I need to lay these fears aside and do something else else.

I just can’t keep smiling and being strong for everyone else anymore.

I see my friend Chris Luff being strong. He has gone from being an introvert to finding new friends. He’s gone from not being in relationships to juggle a couple of girls. And one day he said, in a quiet moment that I bet he thinks I’ve forgotten, that he see my health declining and how fearful I’ve gotten, and how I just plain can’t do everything anymore. So he’s going to live now. He’s going to jump out of planes and go white water rafting. And he’s going to talk to the girls and buy a house.

I want that too.

And I’m crying while I type this. I’m crying so hard I can’t catch my breath and my fingers are tingling and my stomach hurts.

Because I don’t know what to DO with all this any more.

As long as their is life, there is hope. And maybe these epiphanies will serve to guide me in the right direction. Maybe just saying the out loud, to the world, even if it is semi-anonymously will ease the burdens, release the pressure cooker I’ve become, and let me start taking those steps away from these burdens I don’t have the strength for any more.

Maybe I can refind ME.

November 12, 2004

Biting the Hand that Feeds You

Marvel Comics is in bankruptcy. They screwed themselves in the 1990’s by overextending themselves, financing bad projects, and believing the record sales of the collector’s market would last forever. When the bubble burst, they were left with overpaid artists (not writers, because Marvel never pays for good stories, just astounding artwork), properties that had lost 50% or more of their trademarked value, and stretched so thinly they couldn’t stand under the base that was left. They also are fighting some pretty nasty lawsuits, recently losing one to a comic book writer/artist who sued them for the rights to one of his creations and won, further lessening their hold on their products.

Early in 2004, Cryptic Studios and NCSoft released a PC game entitled City of Heroes. In this game, the user can create virtually any super hero he can imagine. With the thousands of costume combinations, hundreds of power/ability choices, and the virtually unlimited naming options they made available to their user base, Cryptic knew that they would have some individuals who would try to emulate their favorite published comic book heroes. So they included in the EULA (end user license agreement) stipulations about using copyrighted and trademarked information within the game. They also aggressively mine their database of names and the in-game moderators enforce name changes for anyone who uses a trademarked name.

City of Heroes hit the market at a good time. It has approximately 200,000 subscribers and has ranked in the top 3 of the game sales charts every month since its release (and in the top position for three months straight). I also note that none of the video games using Marvel Comics trademarked material has made even the top 10 during the same period of time (and they have released at least one major title in this time).

And now Marvel Comics is suing both NCSoft and Cryptic Studios for trademark infringement.

I understand that the trademark laws are such that you have to sue in order to maintain control of your trademark (unlike copyright laws, where you can choose whether to sue someone). That being said, Marvel Comics is biting the hand that feeds it. City of Heroes has brought many fans back to comic books who have either never collected or who have been away from it for many years. It has brought PC game fans who never liked comic books and super heroes into the fold. If my local comic book shop is any indication, it has boosted sales across the board as new readers start to pick up titles. In a time when Marvel Comics needs all the readers (and money) they can get to crawl out from beneath the morass they put themselves in, they are striking out and hurting one of their best free sources of potential new customers.

You notice that nowhere in the above article does it mention that they tried to cut a licensing deal with Cryptic. Nowhere does it mention Cryptic Studio’s EULA and aggressive defense of Marvel’s, and other comic book companies’, intellectual and trademark properties.

If the message boards for City of Heroes are any indication, many people who are fans of both comics and the game are going to stop buying Marvel products (and some have indicated they will stop going to see movies using Marvel characters) until this lawsuit is resolved in favor of Cryptic Studios. Others have said they are so disgusted with this lawsuit and Marvel’s antics they will never go back.

In one fell swoop Marvel Comics has managed to alienate their biggest source of new fans and possible income as well as offend and drive away existing fans and buyers of their product. Instead of lauding Cryptic Studio’s efforts to maintain Marvel’s trademarks and trying to work with them to promote comic books in general, they bite the hand that feeds them.

And as one final comment that really shows where Marvel Comic’s interests lie: yesterday I bought this week’s comic books. About half of them were Marvel Comics. Every single one of them had a center-book, two-page, full color advertisement for City of Heroes in it. In case you don’t know, this is the most expensive size and location in which to buy an advertisement in a comic book.

Shame on you, Marvel Comics.

November 1, 2004

City of Heroes

My friends have been surprised that I finally went over the edge and started playing an MMORPG called City of Heroes (CoH). I have generally only played single-player games or those (like Diablo) that can be played either way.

CoH is a game using the super-hero genre. As a comic book geek and a lover of super-heroes, myths, and legends, the idea of this game really appealed to me. The only thing I was unsure about was the fact that it was a massively multiplayer on-line roleplaying game (MMORPG). This meant I had to purchase the game itself, and then had to agree to pay a monthly fee to have access to continue playing it after the first month. I quickly was hooked, and let me tell you one story that explains why.

This weekend I played CoH using my "main." He's a Tanker who uses Super-Strength and Invulnerability to take on foes (like the Hulk). I decided to join a special Task Force that allows you to respecify your character, which I had never done before. I hooked up with 8 Heroes and we set out on the mission.

Shortly after starting, we lost one person. Still, although slightly more difficult, we thought we could press on. The party still had a couple of Blasters (characters who use ranged attacks using things like energy, fire, ice, and radiation), two Defenders (creates forcefields to protect the team from damage), two Scrappers (an offense-minded melee fighter who is best against small numbers of foes at a time), and my Tanker (a defense-minded melee fighter who is great against multiple foes-- the more the better).

While my character is at his best when completely surrounded by villains and slowly wading through them, the rest of the group decides we will skip a lot of the battles and get as quickly as possible to the end-game.

The two Defenders aren't getting along. Soon, the jerky Defender tries to "screw" the team by quitting. He thinks that without him, the other Defender will be overwhelmed and the party will fail because of the massive number of villains we will be facing in the end-game. Frequently this is true because the mission was "set" for 8 Heroes and we are now down to 6.

A few of the people have done this mission before, but not one of them has succeeded. One poor guy (the remaining Defender) has failed it 3-4 times in a row and has massive Experience debt because of it. They explain that the final room will have 10 separate waves of villains assault the party in an attempt to destroy the reactor core to the nuclear power plant the powers the entire city. We must both defeat the villains and keep the reactor core safe in order to be successful.

The first 4 waves go okay. One or two of my teammates fall, but we have special tools to raise them and get them back in the fight. We have the lone remaining Defender doing his best to keep his forcefields up on all of his teammates while using his limited healing powers on the reactor core to keep that safe. In all this time, my Tanker is just laughing at the villains, and attacking at will. I don't do a lot of damage, but nothing we are going against can really hurt me either. I throw Inspirations around to my compatriots to keep them going as long and as hard as they can.

And then it happens-- on wave 8, the villains are powerful enough and numerous enough that first one, then another, and finally all 5 of my fellow Heroes go down! I'm alone in a large room completely filled with Sky Raiders attacking me and attacking the core. I back up until my Tanker is right in the core itself. I've lost my protection against the radiation damage the core is producing, but I am healthy enough to shrug that off for a long period of time so I keep pounding away. The aura of one of my powers, Invincibility, makes villains near me focus on me to the exclusion of others, which is helpful-- they stop attacking the core and focus on me and the more villains around me, the more powerful Invincibility becomes.

Three of my compatriots teleport all the way back to the hospital, two zones away. They heal and start running, flying, and super-leaping their way back to the mission-- but they are long minutes away from reaching the battle. Two others can get themselves back on their feet as long as they are not immediately attacked afterward; they will be extremely vulnerable for a short when they do stand back up. I laugh out loud, and throw more jabs and punches and try to keep the focus of the villains on me.

Minutes tick by as I pound away at the Hordes. First one, then another, and another of the villainous Sky Raiders goes down to my might. More move in to attack me. My two teammates now are clear to stand up, heal their damage, and wade back in. Soon after they do, the first of the hospitalized heroes arrives from their long trek back to the mission. Just as they show up, the ninth wave arrives while we still battle the eighth!

I continue to stand in the core of the nuclear reactor, throwing punches to the scores of villains attacking me! My teammates are worried because they can see that my radiation protection is completely gone, my health is declining because of it, and I've got so many villains on me that they think I must surely fall. I pound away from the center, while they, as a team of 5, work together to take out Sky Raiders one by one from the outside of the mob. The Defender is able to throw some heals and another forcefield onto the reactor core to help protect it even though all the villains are focused on me.

We soon, working together like a well-oiled machine, are able to finish off both the eight and ninth wave of Sky Raiders. I run to the next room, grab some more radiation protection, and come back to my other five Heroes just as the tenth and final wave attacks en masse. I once again leap into the core of the reactor, draw as many of the villains to me as possible, and pound away while my compatriots work together as a second team on the outside of the villain's mob.

At last, we stand triumphant! The Sky Raiders lay defeated on the floor and the party rejoices their success!

And each and every one of my fellow teammates congratulates me on a spectacular show of determination over adversity. They are all amazed that I could take the pounding that I did and come out of it unscathed. One goes as far as to say, "We could not have accomplished this mission without you!" And, as I believe a true hero would reply, I say, "I doubt that is true, but thank you for the compliment. It was a team effort."

Now do you see why I am hooked on this game? Where else can you defend the entire city's power supply from the nefarious evil of the Sky Raiders, have your team fall around you, make a lonely stand against a mob of villainy, and, with the aid of your resurgent Heroes, triumph over the hordes of chaos?

October 28, 2004

Boston's MLB World Series Victory

Boston won the World Series and lost a bit of its character.

Part of the mystique, allure, and soul of Boston was that they were lovable losers. The Curse was something that defined the region and the people. It helped to create one of the best rivalries in all of sports (Boston vs New York) and created a sort of counterpoint between the cities as well. New York City would do anything, pay anything to win. Boston was the also ran, the hopeful, the always denied. The nice, bookish, younger brother always in the shadow of the star, hip, older brother. Now Boston has lost that. People will start to notice now that Boston has the second highest payroll in ML Baseball. The expectations of the city and the fans have increased. The must-win attitude will sink in and you'll hear promises by players and fans to be back again next season. When/If that doesn't happen, you'll see more money spent, more trades made, less excuses accepted. Soon, Boston's front office will look just like the Yankee's. The business of winning will replace the fun of playing.

Congratulations on ending 86 years of close misses. I'm sure Buckner et al are quite happy to no longer be the butt of so many jokes.

It's too bad you lost your character along the way.

October 11, 2004

Death of a Superman

“You will believe a man can fly.”

That was the tagline and, for any boy who went to a theatre in 1978, it was true. Christopher Reeve played Superman (and Clark Kent) with such grace and wit and wisdom, that most people alive today cannot separate him and the character in their minds. Most of us, when we hear the name Superman, have a picture of Christopher Reeve in our mind’s eye. No matter how bad the movies got (and three and four were pretty bad), Christopher Reeve remained a source of strength, purity, and self-effacing courage in the role.

And then the “curse” struck him, too, like George Reeves, Kirk Alyn, Bud Collyer, and others. Reeve became paralyzed in a horse-riding accident. Rather than shrink from it, rather than be bitter and angry over it, rather than shy away from the lime-light and hide his infirmities from the world, Christopher Reeve found the courage to once more don the red and blue—this time proverbially—as a man of steel giving voice to a segment of our population that too rarely has one. He fought for medical research, funding, and relevance for those with spinal injuries and others. He kept a positive outlook. He leaped taller buildings and changed, even if slightly, the course of mighty rivers for those suffering these injuries.

Christopher Reeve continued to act and also directed some very well-received projects. He continued to inspire everyone around him with his determination. He said, “I will walk again.” And, like believing a man could fly, I just knew it would happen. Some day, some how, I believed he would.

Christopher Reeve died this weekend. I know he is flying now.

Rest In Peace

October 5, 2004


Our country is evolving into an antisocial place. Where once our survival hinged on knowing others and working with them to gather what was needed to live, we now live in a world where you can almost totally do without human contact.

I can order nearly everything I want via the Internet today. This includes entertainment, clothing, food, and all manner of other products. I can pay my bills online. The Internet makes telephoning, writing letters, or stopping by to see someone irrelevant.

Cell phones mean that I can shut out the rest of the world and speak only to those with whom I want to share my thoughts. They also connect us to the World Wide Web and allow us to be more insular.

Internet chatting has replaced dating. Both at work and at home I can IM with people to alleviate the need to actually walk three cubicles over and speak with someone. If I do deign to go to the supermarket, I can now get my items and checkout at the self-serve aisles with absolutely minimal contact with others.

Technology has even gone the extra step and allows me to father children without having sex—one less need for contact with others. A few minutes alone, some internet-made contacts and transactions, and viola! I could be a dad with only minimal contact with any other human being.

As this technological isolation pervades our society, we are seeing a disturbing increase in antisocial behaviors and crime. Children are acting out more at school and not able to get along with their peers. “Fear of Public Speaking” is at such heights that more people are scared of this than are afraid of dying or involvement in heinous crimes. As a country we are getting fatter and our vision is rapidly deteriorating. Violent and antisocial crimes are on a steady rise. People can spew their hatred in any number of totally anonymous, and therefore safe, ways to any who will listen.

Attendance is falling at our national parks and monuments. Air and car vacations are declining except for those special holidays or occasions. For the past three years, attendance at movie theatres has declined.

How many people can name three neighbors? I know I can’t. I have the nice black couple across from me, the guy who rides bicycles shares one wall, and the Lone Vacuumer lives above me (who always has to vacuum at midnight). But their names? What they do? Their significant others? Of course not.

But what can we do to suspend or complete revoke this trend in antisocialism?

First, we need to take responsibility for our own actions. I realize this sounds like another isolationist idea. However, on closer inspection, I find that if people take responsibility for their own actions, they tend to start thinking of others. Part of responsibility is thinking of other people and how what you do affects them. This is the first step in getting people to include others in their thinking.

Second, we need leaders who think globally and act communally. Imagine if, after taking responsibility for ourselves, we started to look at the wrongs of the world in general and our community in specific. We could affect real change by servicing those ills. Our personal responsibility will then translate into communal responsibility.

Third, let us reintroduce the idea of fair play and honest competition. I believe this could evolve naturally from the first two suggestions, but I want to state it here. If our company will be fair to us, we will be fair to them. If our leaders are honest with us, we will be honest with them. Instead of stabbing everyone in the back and stepping on their hands and feet as you climb the social and economic ladders, why not try to help everyone above, below, and around you to succeed? Imagine what could happen at your workplace if the company was working to nurture its employees at the same time the employees were working to make the company and each other successful?

Last, we need to stop the rat race. Stop ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’ Stop worrying that Mary has that big shiny new car you’ve been wanting. Instead, be happy that she could afford it and keep saving for your own. So Jamal just got promoted to management, you are doing the best you can in your job and you will get the acknowledgement you deserve for it. So what if Kim got accepted to that prestigious school. She must have worked hard and had a great interview and essay. I will get the school of my choice if I am equally as successful.

Imagine how personable the world would be if those four steps were taken by each and every person. You would want to meet your neighbors, if only to acknowledge their accomplishments and be acknowledged for your own. We would go to parks both to have fun and to ensure that it is a clean, safe place for others to go. Homelessness, gangs, and general crime would be all but gone, as people would be working to help their community to prosper, taking responsibility for their actions, and playing fairly and honestly with one another.

I can dream, can’t I?

October 1, 2004

First Debate (2004 election)

The thing that struck me most while Kerry and Bush were "debating" each other occurred whenever they showed both candidates via the split screen. While Kerry was talking, Bush seemed agitated. When Bush was talking, Kerry seemed calm and understanding. Bush often had long pauses where he seemed unable to come up with the simplest phrases and names. Kerry seemed to have a good command of the facts and was able to "wing-it" and use many of Bush's phrases and goals against him.

To me, it was like watching a boxing match between someone like a Mike Tyson and someone like a Mohammed Ali. Tyson (Bush) is all about aggression and offense. He believes that if you are down on the canvas you can't beat him. So he invests everything in his strong offense and attacks you unrelentingly. However, this leaves him open to the opponent who can successfully outlast his aggression, survive his offense, or counter-attack him. Ali (Kerry), on the other hand, had a plan of attack in mind, but was creative enough to change his rhythm and his plan as the fight dictated. He would stand toe-to-toe with certain foes, would rope-a-dope against others. He would rile some up pre-fight and get in their heads. Others he would act all scared of and would lull them into a false sense of security.

Bush was intransigent on his points. He wanted to hammer home the fact that Kerry changed his position on the war and other issues. Kerry picked up on that and was able to counter-attack Bush by bringing up changes in information and situations that called for a leader to change tactics but showed that Bush did not. As Bush saw his points get turned against him, he floundered. He had trouble remembering both Kerry's and the Vice-President's names. He got agitated. He lost his "down-home" way of speaking to the common man and tried to bully his points across but jumping in and speaking out of turn. Kerry was able to stay his course, flow with the punches thrown, and land some good jabs in return.

When the moderator asked for specifics, I heard homilies and euphemisms from Bush. From Kerry I heard actions and time tables.

It remains to be seen who the American public thinks won that debate. The polls have not yet been released. While I am still undecided who I will vote for in November based on the issues, I can tell you who I felt looked and acted more “Presidential” during the first debate.

September 14, 2004


Overheard at work:

Worker 1: "You have too many freedoms in this country."

Worker 2: "No such thing. But with freedom comes responsibility. We have too many irresponsible people in this country."

Amen, brother!

September 1, 2004

Nuclear Weapons

All through the Cold War, nuclear weapons were considered a mutually assured destruction threat deterrent. Because of the power to destroy humanity and cripple the planet for a long period of time, it was believed that no one would use nuclear weapons again (after World War 2). World safety was assured because the super-powers could not and would not use those weapons.

Now we have gone to war over one nation's supposed nuclear weapons and complain about other nations possibly developing their own nuclear arsenals. It is a poorly kept secret that Israel has nuclear weapons. We are in negotiations with North Korea to get them to dismantle their nuclear weapons development. UN inspectors are in Iran, questioning their use of nuclear material. Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons.

My question is: Why go to war over nuclear weaponry?

If what our leaders told us during the Cold War is true, that nuclear weapons are, in fact, too terrible to use because of their power, wouldn't the "safety" of mutually assured destruction in the middle east and other hot-zones create a new cold war in which world safety is assured?

Are those in power now admitting they lied to the world all through the Cold War? Or is it only a deterrent when the United States has those weapons?


What I think I'm learning about politics as I get older is that I'm too smart and too cynical for my government to let me live.

Our government is in the job of scaring us. The more fearful we are, the more control we give them. The more power they have, the less likely we are to educate ourselves or question their decisions.

Think for yourself. Question everything.

August 25, 2004

Idle Question (2)

Which series do you think has more quotes used to explain life's little foibles, The Godfather or Star Wars (episodes 4-6)?

I'm thinking it is more a question of the age of the person. If over 40, The Godfather. If under 40, then Star Wars.

"I'll make him an offer he can't refuse."

"Do or do not; there is no try."

August 17, 2004

Idle Question

In order to save your most cherished, would you rather:
  1. Be murdered in a horribly painful manner?
  2. Inflict a horribly painful murder on a random stranger?

Yet another of the strange and often unexplained thoughts that pass into my mind.

August 16, 2004

Basketball and the Olympics

I hope that this American "Dream Team" continues to lose at the Olympics. I wish this not because of any anti-American sentiments or ill-will I feel toward the players or coaches on the team, but because of ill-will I feel toward all those players who should be there but who are not.

There should be no greater honor than playing for your country in the Olympics. Big stars should feel a strong obligation to go out and show the rest of the world where they stand in comparison to our best. Unless you are injured, you should be there. Afraid for your safety? You earn enough to hire your own security.

That being said, a collection of super-stars can only go so far. I am not saying that this team cannot pull its collective head out of its collective ass and still compete for the gold. I am saying it was just a matter of time before the rest of the world caught up with America. Mostly because the talent is there AND the rest of the world plays team-oriented basketball. To counter this, instead of sending a collection of very talented individuals, we should send a team to the Olympics. The entire team-- including coaches. In this way, we have people who have played together for at least a season, know and understand their roles on the team, and who know and can count on their teammates in stressful situations. This is what the rest of the world does.

With as quickly as the rest of the world's talent level is catching up to America in this sport, sending over individual talent and hoping it coalesces into a team in a couple of weeks to months is not going to get the job done. As we learned from the Pistons' defeat of the Lakers in the last NBA Finals, a team of "lesser" talents can overcome a collection of individual talents.

Larry Brown and the Pistons would school the rest of the world using defense and quality team basketball. Brown has taught his team to understand and employ team-oriented basketball; offensively and defensively. And they have played together for at least 82 games plus the post-season, winning it all in the Finals. They have the chemistry and understanding of each other and the game plan to play against the best in the world.

I think that some of our best college teams could go and put up a very respectful showing at the Olympics, if for no other reason than they are a team first. These kids may not win it all for America, but they would play hard, show up for four quarters every game, and would battle.

Here's hoping the NBA learns from this year and changes its strategy for the next Olympics. Otherwise, we can look forward to being dominated in world play in our own sport for the foreseeable future.

August 10, 2004


People can be surprising.

I've been working on a project at my job for a few months now. It hasn't seemed to be going well at all; I have had to get my boss involved with it, the person with whom I've been working has been slow to turn around emails and phone calls from me asking for more information (or any info at all!), and deadlines have been something of a moving target.

And then today my boss forwards to me an email she received in which the person with whom I've been working praises the job I've done, says I'm the best writer with whom she has worked, and thinks all of the documents I've done for her are top-notch.

Just goes to show that our perceptions become our reality and that other people may not share in our vision.

What a surprise.

July 16, 2004

Slow Drivers

Some words of advice for slow drivers:

  1. Driving slowly is not always the best decision. Depending on how slow you drive, you may actually be presenting a greater risk on the road than one who drives too fast. Moderate your speed to be closer to the “flow” of traffic on the same road. I am not advocating speeding by any means; but going significantly slower than the flow of traffic is just as dangerous to other drivers.
  2. If you break for green lights, you will fulfill your goal of needing to stop at a yellow or red light. Lights are timed to keep as much traffic moving as possible. In addition, the yellow light is designed to warn you of a change. Every time you break for a green light, you are increasing the likelihood that you will miss the next light, and so will all of those drivers behind you. As long as the light is green, go!
  3. Any time the road you are on has more than one lane going in the same direction, the rule that slow traffic should be in the right lane applies. This is true on small roads and on super-highways. Please remember it and get yourself to the right when cars start stacking up behind you.
  4. When sitting at an intersection with a light, prepare yourself for the light to turn green and go when it does. The occasional lapse is fine, but when I’m following behind you and have to wait for you to realize that the light is green at every single intersection because you are preoccupied with the topography of your navel, there is a problem.
  5. If you think you are lost, driving slowly and impeding other drivers will not help you. Pull over to the side of the road and get your bearings. Let those who know where they are going to go.
  6. NEVER pull in front of another vehicle (turning, changing lanes, on an on-ramp, etc.) without making sure there is adequate room. This is especially true of the other drivers do not have additional lanes that they can use to avoid hitting your slow-moving vehicle.
  7. Lastly, go on the internet to the DMV sites for your area. Most now have an online tutorial and quizzes you can take. You might want to refresh yourself on all the rules that have changed since you took drivers education 15 years ago. It may be an eye-opener for you! California's interactive tutorial can be found at the following website:

Next time… advice for stupid drivers.

July 2, 2004

Star Spangled Banner

As Independence Day approaches, take a read of this nice article about the Star Spangled Banner.

A lot of people don't know or understand this national treasure and the writer does a nice job of explaining it to today's audience.

Spider-Man 2 Review

So I watched Spider-Man 2 after work yesterday. What a fun movie! In every way the equal (or superior) to the original film.

The Plot
This film shows a beleaguered Peter Parker constantly missing classes, being late for work, and missing out on his friend's lives as his life as Spider-Man takes more precedent. He is failing his classes, is fired from work, is late on his rent, and is losing Mary Jane. These stresses lead to underperformance and a loss of power as Spider-Man, the one area he thought he had control of.

Peter decides he must ditch his alter-ego in order to lead a "normal" life. And his normal life does improve for a time. He is able to mend fences and get back on track for some time. He even tells Aunt May of his culpability in Uncle Ben's death, for which she forgives him (eventually).

Meanwhile, one of Peter's heroes, Doctor Otto Octavius is experimenting with a new energy source that he, and Harry Osbourne who is funding his research, hope will change the world. Unfortunately, the experiment goes awry and Dr. Octavius' cybernetic implants used to control the experiment are fused with his nervous system and start taking over his mind.

Peter's new-found life begins to crumble when Mary Jane decides to get married to some other guy who has been there for her (more on this later). Peter finds it harder and harder not to help those in need, even though he has given up his alter-ego. Harry persuades the newly evil and renamed "Doc Ock," or Doctor Octopus, to capture Spider-Man in exchange for more of the rare element needed for the Doctor to perform his energy experiment again on an even bigger scale. Remember, one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Doc Ock qualifies.

The good Doctor attacks Peter and Mary Jane to get at Spider-Man and kidnaps MJ. This is just the catalyst that Peter needs to regain his Spider-Man powers and abilities. This leads to a tremendous fight on an elevated train between the two, and to a final confrontation at the end.

What Works
The animation and CGI in this film is far better than in the previous movie. The fight and excitement of the scenes with Spider-Man are par excellence. Sam Raimi (the Director) intersperses action, humor, and drama so that no scene feels overdone in one area.

The interplay between Alfred Molina and Tobey Maguire is great, both as scientist with college kid and super-villain to super-hero. The two have great chemistry and dialog.

The fight scene on the elevated train is worth the price of admission alone. The completely believable way in which the two "wall-crawling" combatants move around the train and fight is incredible and breathtaking. The resolution to this scene, where Spidey has to stop the runaway train are also incredible. From someone like Superman, we would expect a much simpler solution that works the first time. But Spidey is a flawed young man trying his best-- so Raimi has his first couple of attempts fail (and intersperses a little humor into this scene to both cut the tension and show his vulnerability). I was sitting next to a family of four. All five of us during the fight scene and the runaway train resolution were leaning forward and holding our breaths. When the scene reached its conclusion, all of us gave a sigh and started breathing and leaned back in our chairs again.

Raimi and Toby Maguire also do a great job of showing the human side of super heroics. Spider-Man is the flawed teenage/young adult who has taken on too much responsibility for one his age. We need to see those flaws and believe in them. They succeed in showing us this all-too-human side to the super-hero.

** Spoiler Alert **
The way in which most of the primary characters learn who Spider-Man is under the mask is thoughtfully and well done This both sets up the third film and leads the character to understand that maybe the secrets he has been keeping have been hurting him more than helping him.
** End Spoiler **

What Doesn't Work
The relationship between Peter and MJ is a little overdone. After the first two times of the "I really love you but you aren't there for me" speeches, we get it. Move on. Strangely, the relationship that MJ falls into (with John Jameson son of J. Jonah Jameson, editor of the Daily Bugle) because of Peter is underdeveloped. We never get any real insight into how they met, or why they are together, or how they work together. More development here would be nice to help us understand why she is leaving Peter for this other man.

It's a small thing, but the constant close-ups on Tobey Maguire's face and eyes get a little tedious. As with overdoing the speeches mentioned above, this cliché is done one too many times. We get it, use a different technique.

Kirsten Dunst is a good actor and it is disappointing to see her given so little to work with. More MJ and more Kirsten is always a good thing.

Alternately, James Franco seems a little out of his element as Harry Osbourne. There was little subtlety to his acting. Granted, they are setting him up for a major role in the third film, but here he just came across a little out of his depth. I had an unwelcome flashback to Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker in Attack of the Clones.

This film instantly joins 1978 Superman, 1989 Batman, X-Men, X2, and the original Spider-Man as best super-hero comic-book adaptations to film of all time. I think it succeeds at this primarily because it avoided the pitfalls of so many other films-- adding more characters and too many villains. By keeping the focus on Spidey/Peter and only introducing one new villain, we get to actually learn more about the characters, see the universe of these movies grow and change, and feel the progression of the movies as believable and understandable.

Grade: A

June 28, 2004


While I greatly enjoy alternative rock, Top 40, Heavy metal, and other genres, the music I always come back to is slow.

I like a wide range of slow music. From Tori Amos’ China to Marc Anthony’s You Sang To Me, Madonna’s Crazy For You and George Michael’s Father Figure to Alanis Morissette’s Mary Jane and Garbage’s Milk, and even power ballads like Guns and Roses’ November Rain. Old or new and across most genres, sad music speaks to me. I like slow music from the 50s through the 70s, from the 80s through today. There is something inherent in slow music that I respond to. I like the generally sad, lonesome themes and vulnerabilities that are expressed.

Another reason I enjoy slow music is that it requires better composition and singing than fast music. Slow music tends to show the imperfections in a singer’s voice and vocal range. It accentuates poor writing and musical composition.

People know a bad slow song the instant they hear it. It is very rare that a slow song is considered bad by only one group of people. Bad rhymes, poor vocal choices, a singer singing outside his or her ability or range, and poorly constructed music all conspire to show the faults of the song and highlight a bad singer.

For example, Madonna is not the greatest singer in the world. She does not have a great deal of range and her writing is often suspect. In her faster dance music she can get away with this because these songs are slickly produced and there are many tricks that may be used to hide the flaws. But in a slow song those tricks cannot be used and she is out there for all to see. Early in her career, she did the song Crazy For You for the movie Vision Quest. This is one of the all-time great slow songs. The song was perfect for her voice and the music was a great accompaniment to her vocals. It works.

On the other hand, Mariah Carey—arguably one of the best voices in recent years—has written some poor slow songs. Many of her more recent releases had odd lyrics, inappropriate uses of her seven octave voice (Mariah—just because you can hit seven octaves doesn’t mean you should or have to in every song!), and poor music to accompany her voice. And her last three albums have not done well as the audience can hear that and responds negatively to it.

Some singers and bands have a particular knack for hitting the right tone with slow songs and lose their audience when they move away from this. Boys to Men come to mind. Still others are known only for fast music and it takes a great, totally unexpected and vulnerable slow song to kick them to the next level. In recent years, Radiohead’s Creep and Green Day’s Time of Your Life come to mind.
The other main difference between most slow songs and most fast songs is the story they tell. Slow songs tend to tell a story and lead you somewhere, while fast songs can do this, they do not need to; fast songs are more about getting you moving and grooving and hooking you with a catchy refrain.

Harry Chapin’s Cats and the Cradle tells a moving story of a father and son and the gap in communication that they have and the regrets that form between them. The Goo Goo Dolls Iris sums up the entire plot of the movie City of Angels in one song, telling of the angel’s desire to become mortal for the love of a woman. Tori Amos’ China tells of the emotional distance between two people as their relationship is falling apart. John Lennon’s Imagine is a heartfelt wish for change for the entire planet.

Fast songs can tell a story. But for every Metallica Enter Sandman, Duran Duran Hungry Like the Wolf, and Eminem Lose Yourself, there are dozens and dozens of boy-band music, bad rap, and poor heavy metal.

Slow songs can often be redone for a new audience and hold up extremely well over time. Oasis’ Wonderwall, the song primarily that propelled them to stardom in America, was redone even slower in an acoustic version by Ryan Adams and is just as good. Many hits from the 70s and early 80s have recently been remade and have been hits again. One of the best examples is I Will Always Love You. This song had been a minor hit for many individuals. Then Whitney Houston did it for the movie The Bodyguard and it became an instant wedding classic.

Slow songs are always the music I fall back on. They are the soundtrack of my life, more than any other style or genre of music.

June 24, 2004


To paraphrase many much wiser philosophers: You can't pick your family-- that is an accident of birth-- and you can't pick who you love-- that is an accident of biology. The only people you get to choose are your friends.

I've got great friends. I have some friends who are incredibly unique in both thought and action. I have others who are ultra logical. Still others are incredibly emotional and giving people.

I am an egotistical cuss sometimes. I tend to think of myself as the sun in my own personal universe around which all my friends and family rotate. This is not necessarily a bad thing; I think EVERYONE is the sun in their own, personal universe. The key is to get those universes to overlap and get as many planets and moons orbiting in harmony as possible.

I have changed many of my friend's lives forever, for good or ill. I've had an affect on my friends. And boy have they affected me! Each has brought such a different and interesting perspective into my life that has made me a better person. Some have taught me to be more open with my thoughts and feelings. Others have shown me new ways to think or act. Still others have brought new ideologies into my life.

I have gay friends and straight friends. I have religious friends and atheistic friends. I have male friends and female friends. I have young friends and old friends. I have friends with whom I share little in common and friends with whom I share a great deal in common. I have distant friends and close friends. I have hard friends and easy friends. I have Republican friends and Liberal friends. Married friends, single friends, friends with children, and friends without children. I have friends who put up with my quirkiness and I have friends who I put up with their quirks. I have work friends and home friends and friends in-between.

And each and every one of these friends is important to me in a strange and wonderful way. I look forward to seeing them and I make an effort to stay in touch with them. I may not send birthday or Christmas cards or call once a month, but I do contact them when they pop into my head and I find out where they are and what they are doing. My friends ground me and keep me going at the same time.

I've got great friends.

June 8, 2004

Business and Bonuses

What business needs to remember is that relatively small bonuses, of any sort but I'm going to speak primarily about money, make a big difference to the grunts who work the trenches.

When the company does well, typically the top excecutives give themselves large bonuses, frequently equal to thousands or millions of dollars. Let's say that one of the top execs earns a $1 million bonus for a year. If you take that top excecutive's $1,000,000 bonus and instead give it to the, say, 700 people who made the company go, you could give each of those people an approximately $1400 bonus. For most of these workers, this will be somewhere between half and one full paycheck's amount. To these 700 people, this amount is a significant bonus and worth striving for, whereas for someone who already makes millions of dollars a year and has all the nonmonetary perks of being a top executive (stock options, golden parachutes, company car, etc.), the $1 million bonus is not nearly as significant. The same amount of money spread out among more people will help your company more and have a greater positive impact in the long run.

When I hear stories of Micheal Eisner getting a $20 million bonus in a year that Disney was actually down, I cringe. I think to myself, "I wonder how far that $20 million would have gone if that poor schmoe wearing the Pluto costume got $1000 for HIS hard work?" Of course, if it was truly a down year, then no one should have gotten a bonus, least of all one of $20 million.

Now, I'm not down on top executives by any means. They have generally worked hard and sacrificed much to be in those positions. But those positions come with the large salaries, the company perks, stock options, and the like. They are like the spark plugs of an engine-- without a spark, the engine just sits there. But you only need that spark occasionally; from then on, the pistons and valves do the majority of the work. Without the pistons and valves, that spark does nothing more than cause a fire; the pistons and valves translate that fire into usable energy by turning the driveshaft and making the car (the company) move. To continue my car analogy, getting gold-plated spark plugs is nice, and can improve your car's performance a little, but making sure the pistons are properly lubricated against friction can make the difference between your engine running or not. Think of solid, quality bonuses given to the grunts as the lubricating oil that keeps those pistons running smoothly and consequently makes the car move forward.

It is more true that the schmoe wearing the Pluto outfit does more for the Disney corporation on a day-to-day basis fulfilling the fantasies of the parents and children that show up at their theme parks than Michael Eisner did in his role as CEO of the corporation. Without a product and the people that build and sell that product, no CEO (or other top exec) has a job.

June 1, 2004

A different look at spam

I don't know about you, but I'm just not sure of the quality of degree I would get from the online "collages" that offer "acredited" degrees via spam emails.

I'm also not sure I want my "penus" enlarged. I'm not sure what that is, but I'm fairly certain it's the size it should be.

Call me crazy.

May 21, 2004

Abuse Scandal and America

At what point did our men and women decide to start treating the prisoners captured in anything less than a dignified and respectful way? Whether it was their own invention, or orders from their superiors, does not matter. We are in a delicate situation at best--and an explosive one at worse--in the Middle East and we need to act in as restrained and dignified a manner as possible to uphold the name of the United States. This includes how we treat all nonmilitary people, military personnel, and prisoners.

It is shameful to the entire nation that this abuse scandal has leaked out. There should not be anything to leak. I've heard the argument that, "Even so, we still are treating the prisoners better than Saddam did." These people do not understand the point. If we are trying to espouse the benefits of our democracy, if we are trying to change the world and lead by example, our example must be better than any other nation on Earth. When we make a military commitment to something, our military must act decisively, humanely, and with as much decency as possible in the hellish environment that is war. We must treat each detainee as if he is our family. Each high-ranking political figure we capture must be treated with absolute respect and full disclosure.

And we must start training and involving the nonmilitary people in the rebuilding efforts immediately. If they have a personal stake in the new nation as it rises from the ashes of the old, then they will fight harder against those who wish to destroy what is rebuilt, will help us in all aspects of our time in their nation, and will create a stronger foundation on which the new nation can stand as it takes the first steps toward democracy.

It is these actions, the humane treatment of even our most hated enemies, the education of nonmilitary indigenous people, and the respect we show to all people and cultures that will be our greatest weapon in fighting terrorism and nondemocratic nations.

All of this has been jeopardized by a few bad seeds (again, whether grunts or officers, military or nonmilitary) who were given a little bit of power and abused it in a horrendous manner.

May 14, 2004

A moneyless society

I think we can start moving the world toward a moneyless society. Let me explain.

The end goal would be for each person to be allocated the essentials (food, shelter, clothes) and then be free to pursue their own goals through the free exchange of skills and abilities. In this way, no one wants for the essentials and money is taken out of the equation. Just imagine what you could do and learn if you didn’t have to constantly strive to keep yourself fed, clothed, and sheltered, let alone all the amenities that people want. Obviously, there would have to be some sort of governmental infrastructure to allow much of this to happen, the workings of which I have not fully worked out yet. That's for another post.

In order to start striving for this goal, we need to start bartering our skills and knowledge to each other directly rather than for money (that we then use to buy what we need and want).

I envision a web-site that has a Skills Available and a Tasks Needed area, like the classifieds in a newspaper, where you could post one or the other. It would include chat boards (both public and private) where interested parties could hook up and negotiate the services rendered. Lastly, there would be a contract area where both users, after successfully negotiating the barter, would sign a binding agreement that no money would be exchanged, what services would be rendered by each to the other participant, and that neither can seek legal redress against the other (except under the strictest of terms).

For example, I could post under Skills Available something like:

"Skills: Writer and editor. Primarily versed in creative and technical writing areas. Good at "big picture" views/overviews. Skilled in Microsoft Office and Framemaker applications for writing/editing. Available for work most evenings and weekends.

Tasks: I need a program to track my comic book collection. Must be done to exacting specifications for user interface and reports, but choice of programming language, internal structure, and internal design up to programmer."

Now, someone with programming skills who needs help with a story concept he has could then contact me through the site and we could enter negotiations. Once we discussed the various projects and agreed to perform them, we would move to the contracts sections and electronically sign the binding barter agreement.

The beauty of this agreement, in my mind, is that you get people who WANT to do something working on your project. You are, in essence, asking someone who has the time and energy to simply help you. In exchange, you are willing to help them.

Another plus is that you can agree to do something in an unbalanced fashion. Still using my example from above, let's say that after reviewing my program request, the individual agrees to do it and believes it will take him a week working evenings and weekends. However, the story concept that he presents to me is a large, complex fiction that will need to be researched thoroughly, outlines and character designs will be needed, with the end result being a novel that may take 2 years to write. I can still make the "uneven" barter if I truly desire to do the work. The point is, we agree to that NOW, at the beginning and upfront with each other. Maybe as part of the agreement, he agrees to do other projects for me. Maybe the person in question has skills in other areas I could use; he is an auto mechanic by day who has learned and enjoys programming in his off-time. Maybe we agree that I will write his story and he will create my program and do some work on my vehicle.

The point is we are trading the unique skills and knowledge that we both have to get the things we need/want. We are bartering personal interests and needs rather than money and goods.

Are there holes in my theory and in my initial ideas for creating a utopian society where money is an anachronism and people trade skills and knowledge? Of course. But I'm willing to trade my skills with someone who can help fill in those holes.

It's a first step; an idea to strive for. And if we put enough first steps together, who knows how far we can go?

One more poem I'll share

The Abyss

There is a lost, lonely little boy cringing inside.
He shivers slightly, but is afraid to move.
It is a frightening place there, outside.

All this urchin sees is humiliation and abuse.
He hugs his knees to his chest and
Prays there's something beyond the refuse.

"God" and "evil" are foreign concepts to the boy.
All he feels is pain and loneliness and fear.
This child's life has no room for hope or joy.

The world outside and the people around rush by him.
He wants to join in, live, and grow, but
His fear of failure overcomes this whim.

He prays for helping hands to guide him through his wilderness,
But closes his eyes and sinks deeper, deeper inside.
All he can see through his fear and pain is the Abyss.

And the Abyss sees him.


Again, this is intellectual property and you must obtain written permission from the author (that's still me) to use this in any way. Thanx!

An old favorite of mine

Society’s Mirror

I’m cold
Inside and out
An unfeeling
Who hurts
It’s all an
The smiles
And frowns
During the day
I’m numb and
Uncaring toward
You and
What you
A sterile
That’s either
Or off
I’m frozen
Unmoved by
Your cries
Pity me
For I’m

I wrote this in the early 90s. Remarkable how often I still feel this way.

BTW, this is intellectual property and you cannot use it without written permission of the author (me!). Thanx for your understanding.

May 10, 2004

Potential Greatness

Is it better:

  1. To have the potential to be great, to possibly have what it takes to be the best at something, or
  2. To have the potential to inspire greatness in others?

May 6, 2004

The world economy and America

From the 40s through the mid-70s, there was more of a partnership between companies and workers. When companies were going through a slump, they told the workers and asked for their help in tightening belts and pulling on boots-straps to overcome the situation. Workers, for their part, helped if they could and got the benefit of life-long jobs and known retirements and benefits.

In the late 70s and 80s, this started to change and took strong hold in the 90s. Workers started job hopping, staying on average 2-3 years at any one job then moving on. Companies started to look more at the bottom line and stock valuation than at their company as a whole (including those who worked for the company). The age of the trolling CEO came into being, where a CEO would job hop as often as their employees; moving from one company, slashing it to bits and making it look profitable to Wall Street, then moving on and leaving a company divest of employees and, in many cases, ripe for a takeover.

Then we had the internet stock boom and bust where all of these practices really came to a head. People were overnight becoming millionaires and the next day were dirt poor again.

Since September 11, we have lost more jobs and companies and the government has been largely unable to create new ones. Our industries are in the crux of change; outsourcing is become a threat to the American worker, Wall Street is continuing to overvalue profits as compared to the stability of companies, and "good enough" just doesn't seem to be enough any more.

All of this leads to a cautious work environment where everyone is afraid to talk with everyone else. From management to workers, and even among workers within each group, people don't communicate. Adding the fears of outsourcing, an underperforming job market, and fears of further war and terrorism, and we've created a nation of people afraid of everything.

I don't know what the exact solution to all of these problems is, but I do have some suggestions:

1. Management opens up. Rather than keeping possibly layoffs a secret until the employee shows up and find out they are out of a job, management can go back to the days when they would warn that this might happen. They can throw in with the workers and attempt to work on a solution together.

2. Respect your fellow workers. Management can start to rely on workers to do the right thing and workers can start relying once again on management looking out for them. Ask the workers if they would be willing to take a temporary pay cut of 3% in order to make numbers and not lose any jobs. I'm willing to bet, as long as management lives up to their end of the agreement (making the cut temporary and not cutting the jobs) that workers would rather do that than face the prospect of months out of work. Workers need to work in an atmosphere of trust and cooperation from which the company as a whole will benefit.

3. End raiding. Instead of everyone moving around every couple of years, start staying put. Become an expert in your field. Do what you do best. Create an invaluable niche in your workplace that only you fill. This goes for workers AND management. This also leads to a stable work environment and stability for the company in general.

4. End Wall Street fear. Wall Street needs to stop reacting to "bad news" that a company made it's projections instead of exceeding them and instead start buying in to those companies. Companies that make their projections are stable, solid, assured. Praise them for their stability. Stop devaluing good, solid investments because you can't get rich short term. Start valuing them because that's a company you want your money in for the long haul.

5. Outsourcing. There is no way for American worker's needs to counter the much different economic situation in foreign countries. However, I have two suggestions:
A. If outsourcing is something you fear, contact companies and ask if they outsource to other countries. If they say yes, tell the company representative that you will no longer use their company's products/services until they stop that practice. This gives the company in question a specific reason why you won't shop there and also takes money away from their bottom line.
B. Every job that is outsourced means a small boost to the economy of the country in question. For example, in a recent report on India, it said that the average worker there makes the equivalent of $300 a year American. A recent software company that opened a division in India is paying their people $3000 a year American. That will affect the stability of India's economy as more countries outsource jobs to this country and wages in India continue to improve.

We are only beginning the first movement of the pendulum as it starts to swing. Many of us will be greatly affected by these changes. However, in the long run, third and second world nations will receive the money they need to improve their lifestyle and potentially reach 1st world status. As they do so, the pendulum will swing back as America continues to lead the way in different economic areas and new jobs do, eventually, get created. None of this can happen without a feeling of trust, confidence, and positivity. Reporters need to start presenting us with the positive sides to the stories; government needs to start looking to the positive side to these changes; and people need to stop living in fear and start learning to trust again. These could very well be the first baby steps we take toward a money-less society not driven by fear and want, but by desires and inspiration.

Let's find a way to reach for that brass ring.

May 3, 2004


The quickest, easiest way to stop spam, those annoying bulk emails you receive offering you penis enlargements, free vacations, and porn, is to make sending email cost money. I propose a pricing plan equivalent to 1/10 of a penny per email or address. By this I mean that if there is one email address in the to/cc/bcc field of an email, that email costs you 1/10 of a penny. If there are 10 addresss total in your to/cc/bcc fields, that email would cost you one full cent.

For over 90% of the users of the internet this would mean they would spend a few dollars per YEAR on emails. At 1/10 of a penny per address used, $1 would allow you 1,000 (100 cents in a dollar times 10 emails per full cent) addresses. When you look at your Sent list, how often have you reached a thousand emails and how often do you include more than one person on any one email?

However, to a spammer who is generally sending bulk emails to thousands of addresses per email sent or thousands of emails to individual addresses, this adds up quickly. It is my understanding that "small-time" spammers generally send around 10,000 emails a day. At my proposed pricing plan, that would be $10 per day. Over a year, that's $3,650.

A "big-time" spammer, who is typically doing this type of bulk emailing "professionally" using specific softwares and buying email lists from companies, etc., sends 100,000 emails a day or more. That is $100 a day or $36,500 a year. They would need to pay the average American's yearly salary just on one person sending out the average amount of spam per day. Which means, on top of the costs for buying addresses, professional software, etc., they would need to get enough "hits" to make more than that amount per year in order for it to be cost effective.

In a typical day, I receive around 250 bulk emails. Many of these are obviously from professional spammers using multiple incremented email addresses. So, my personal email account is receiving around $.25 of spam per day using my email pricing scheme. If there are around 100 million email users in America, then I would offer a conservative guess that half of them are receiving bulk emails. If I'm average at 250/day, this means that about $12.5 million of spam (using my pricing) is being sent a day. Even if I'm one of the higher targets and the average user is only getting 100 bulk emails a day, that is still around $5 million providers could be charging on emails per day. Or around $1,825,000,000 per year.

Do you really think the spammers will continue at their current rates if they have to pay these fees?

April 30, 2004

Joan of Arcadia

I am not a religious man. While I do have a faith, it is not through or helped by any of the established religions. That being said, I feel the best new show on TV is Joan of Arcadia. This show mixes decent drama and humor into a world in which God talks to a high school girl.

Joan is not really about faith or religion, though. It is more about listening to that voice inside you, paying attention to those around you, and trying to be a better person. They use God as the means to prod Joan along that path. It is a journey of discovery for her as she started as a girl with no friends, new to the town and school, and has been "forced" to expand her horizons and do new things and meet new people. It's sweet without being forced. And there are reasonable consequences for her actions.

So many shows move toward melodrama; the consequences and devices used to move the plot forward are so unreal it is unbelievable. In this show, the consequences are very real; Joan refuses to retake a test on which she did very well and, while the students rally around her in an idealistic and passionate way, the administration threatens her with expulsion. In the end, Joan choses to retake the test and prove she earned the grade and to save her friends from reprisals. In another episode, she misinterprets God's instructions and winds up destroying her best friend's artwork. This leads him not to want to be around her and greatly impacts both their lives as they learn how much they have come to rely on each other. When they make up, it is believable and heartfelt.

My only complaint with the show is that the writers try to force more outside stories involving the rest of Joan's family on the viewing audience. Many of them seem superfluous or forced. I like Joan, that's where the interest and the direction come from for the show. I only really want to learn about her family if they are involved in her story that week.

A good show, well acted, and with a minimum of melodrama and unrealistic behavior. Watch it while you can, because like most good things, it likely won't last!

April 22, 2004

Comic Books Today

Comic books are not for children any more.

Actually, they haven't been for kids since 1984, the year that DC Comics published Alan Moore's Watchmen series. Shortly after this seminal work, Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns was released and the down and dirty, gritty, realistic comic book genre came into its own and has persisted since.

Price is another consideration. Most children can't afford to buy comics today, at least not on a regular basis. The average price for a comic book these days is $2.50. Some of the bigger titles (Batman, Superman, X-Men) you can still get for $2.25, but many and a growing number of titles are either $2.95 (DC) or $2.99 (Marvel). And almost all independent titles are in the high range.

Another way in which comic books are no longer for children is the cultural influence they have. Big authors, movie scriptwriters/directors, and other top-named talent either got their start in comics or have written comics. Ray Bradbury, Warren Ellis, William Shatner, Kevin Smith are just some of the talent who have or are working in the comic book industry. People like Neil Gaiman, who started in comic books and had a notable run on The Sandman, was such a good storyteller that his Sandman comics frequently were pitted against and won in awards programs that are traditionally only for books/novellas. He has since gone on to write several novels of his own which have all been NY Times bestsellers and very inventive reads.

Lastly, comic books are a visual media. This is why so many comic book properties get used in television, movies, and advertising. You have the combination of a visual and written story that can provide many different layers and elements to the reading public. For example, Stan Lee's classic Spider-man story in which Spider-man is trapped under a collapsed building was a seminal work for its time as most of the story was told visually only without thought balloons or narrative. Neil Gaiman and James Robinson have both used pages of written text with opposing splash pages of pictures to tell a deeper story that doesn't interfere with the beauty of the fully-painted artwork. Many fine-arts people have done work for the comic book industry and have pushed the quality of the original artwork from the classic "four-color" newsprint to fully painted water colors and oils, multimedia presentations, computer generated images, photography. I remember some of Bill Sienkewitz's work on Batman, Stray Toasters, and other works really pushing the industry forward. Today, Alex Ross's fully rendered oil paintings rendered in ultrarealistic detail is the new bar toward which all others are reaching.

Even just the right combination of artist and writer on a "standard" monthly comic book can deepen the meaning and impact of a story. The work currently being produced on Daredevil, by Marvel comics, is incredible; I would stack that story up against almost any novel I've read recently. Miller/Mazzuchelli on either Daredevil or Batman is another example of the right combination at the right time with the right character. Or what about the feeling and intensity that Paul Dini and Alex Ross have put into each of their over-sized works for DC Comics reinterpreting Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, and the Justice League of America? Each takes a concept that is inherent to the character (Hope, Truth, Justice, etc.) and uses the words, the story, and the artwork to convey that single thought. It is poetry.

The best part about the change that made comic books no longer for kids? The fact that the overall quality of story and artwork, as well as the high-calibre talent working in the industry today, means that the comics that kids do read are that much better and will make that much stronger of an impression. And that means these properties will be around for the next generation.

Which means, in the end, that comic books will always be for children.

April 18, 2004

Initial thoughts on this year's NBA Playoffs

Just a couple of comments:

1. Bill Walton is arguable the worst color commentator ever.
1.A. Bill should not be allowed to comment on a game in which his son is playing. Not only does Bill hate the Lakers, but isn't that conflict of interest to announce the game in which your son is playing (even if he plays for a hated rival)?

2. I saw some of the worst refereeing ever on the opening day of the playoffs this year. It culminated in the last game where there were two obvious goal-tending calls missed, quite a few no-calls called, and a number of exceptionally late calls made where, on replay, you could watch the ref's eyes follow the ball and wait to call the foul until after seeing if the shot was missed. This happened in every game (and I watched all 4 of them).

3. If, as a ref, you don't SEE the foul, don't call the foul. Just because you hear a thwack sound doesn't mean it happened on the play you are cut off from. We've got three refs; if each would just call only the fouls they actually see happen, then the game would flow better and you wouldn't have so many phantom fouls called by the ref who is completely boxed out from the play (and therefore couldn't possibly have seen what he called).

4. Sometimes players just trip and fall. There is an incidental contact rule-- use it.

5. The rules state that the person who initiates the contact is the one on whom the foul is to be called. Stop calling a foul when an offensive player jumps into a defensive player who is just standing there with his arms raised. Reminds me of the Reggie Miller days-- when he would leap in the air, kick out his legs, and somehow his kicking someone is their fault and he would be awarded free-throws. Stop it!
5.A. On only one play did I see the refs do this; when Francis drove straight at Shaq, leaped into his chest, bounced off, and threw the ball at the rim (and the damn thing went in!), the refs didn't blow the whistle. They should have-- on Francis-- but that's another argument.

6. Players, after 3 quarters of basketball, you should know how the refs are calling the game. Put those petulant, whiny faces away and just play the damn game. Don't expect a foul on every play.

7. Why can't professional players keep their feet in bounds when they receive a pass on the sidelines? Why must they take that step backward?

8. Indiana hasn't gotten a lot of respect from the media all year long and yet they have the best record in the league and played an incredible first game. Indy-Detroit will decide who goes to the championship.

9. Kobe -- people complain you take "too many" shots when you drive down the court with your head down not even looking to pass. I can tell in the back court when this is going to happen and I haven't been wrong yet this season. If I can tell, don't you think most defenses can?
9.A. Payton -- if you learn the triangle, you will actually be able to do more, shoot just as often, and be an even better play-maker than you were in Seattle. Try learning the offense before you say it stiffles your creativity.
9.B. Slava/Luke/Devean -- When the post player passes back to you and the defense is laying off you by 5 or more feet, TAKE THE SHOT. That's the point.
9.C. Fisher is arguably the least selfish player in the game. He accepted a reduced role (even though he has played better and understands the offense better than Payton), he plays hard on both sides of the court, and knows that his defense is just as important as any offense he can provide. He should get the 6-man award, but won't even be in consideration for it.

10. For as much as I like basketball (and football for that matter), you are all over-paid entertainers. Start being humble that we (the paying/viewing public) ALLOW you to play a game for a living and make more than most of us will ever see in our lifetime. Stop acting like thugs, stop acting like this is your right, and start showing some honesty, respect, and humility.

April 8, 2004


In the original framing of our country, our founding fathers were concerned with making sure that all branches of the government had proper checks and balances, and that each branch had a means by which they could check and balance the other branches.

Originally in the Constitution, the person with the highest number of votes won the Presidency and the person with the next highest number of votes became Vice-President (Article 2, Section 1, Clause 3). I believe this was an inherent check and balance as designed by the creators of our country. Typically the two highest vote getters would be from different party affiliations or philosophies and they would have to work together toward common goals. It also ensures that the primary resource for the President was someone with a different understanding than his own, so he would be provided with council that someone who generally agreed with him may not give. This seemed to work well as our country quickly grew to be one of the finest and most powerful in the world. Early in our country's history, we also tended to have many more strong parties (Wigs, Whips, Hawks, Doves, etc.)

An amendment to the Constitution (Amendment XII) changed the election process to allow a Presidential candidate to choose their running mate. I believe this change has created the needlessly antagonist bi-cameral situation in which we now find ourselves.

Just imagine how differently many of our country's biggest moments might have turned out if the President's primary advisor (the Vice-President) had a different philosophical bent. The President would see different sides and likely consider ideas from more perspectives and directions than if the Vice-President was like-minded. And the animosity between the executive and legislative branches would be greatly nullified as the concept of "party politics" would be greatly erased.

We are currently going through a bitter election process where the Republicans and Democrats are starting to sling the mud early and often. This is going to be a long 7 months until the election. Imagine if we legitimately had strong candidates from more parties. Imagine if the people knew that the top two vote getters out of X number of candidates would get the Presidency and Vice-Presdency. Imagine if those two people had to work together in order to take our country forward for the next 4 years (with the President taking the lead and the Vice-President offering council and alternative solutions).

Imagine, just imagine, voting for the BEST person to do the job (regardless of party) and having the two best choices getting into office and working together.

Oh what a different country this would be!

Parking Lots

Why is it that people lose all sense of reason and propriety in a parking lot?

First, the designers of parking lots are, to a person, mad. Absolutely bonkers insane. Otherwise, parking lots would be more logically laid out, sized to fit actual vehicles, and the spaces would be designed for use.

Second, people in general seem to forget that all the same rules of the road apply while in a parking lot. Unless a lot indicates othewise, lanes have a right side and a left side, turn signals should be used, and through traffic has the right of way. In California, all pedestrians ALWAYS have the right of way.

Thirdly, what the hell are people thinking when it comes to the predatory reaction they have to "hunting" for a spot and "defending" their spot when they find it? Relax, people, it's only a 10 by 15 foot piece of ground. I'm truly surprised there aren't more mall killing sprees where someone just snaps because another driver took "their" parking spot (the scene in Fried Green Tomatoes comes to mind where the two young women steal Kathy Bates' spot and she 'accidentally' slams her car into theirs 5 times).

Finally, when designing a parking lot that has more than one place to eat in it, and especially if there are multiple eateries all in the same location, make sure there is ample parking. "Ample" in this case is defined as one car per person for each who are legally allowed in each restaurant plus ten. So if you have a Quiznos with a restaurant limit of 20, a Carl's Jr with a restaurant limit of 15, and a Daphne's Greek with a restaurant limit of 30, you add up those numbers (65) and add ten to it (75) and that's the number of parking spots that should be in the area of those eateries. Not 20.

Solutions? Whenever possible, parking lots should flow in one direction and in a circular fashion. This allows for spaces that are angled so that you can easily pull into them, easily pull out of them, and have a chance of seeing traffic behind you (because the traffic is only coming from one direction). This also allows people to move through the lot without backtracking and interfering with the other traffic entering the lot. Yes, this might mean you have to park farther away from the place you are visiting. 65% of America is overweight; we can use the extra 2 minutes of walking that farther space provides us.

I'll leave my recommendations at that. If I think about it too much longer, sniper towers, barbed wire, and those nifty spike strips will be involved in making sure people flow through the parking lot in an orderly fashion.

Get off the phone, turn down the radio, use your head, obey the laws, be respectful to others (especially pedestrians), and we might all survive the parking lot experience.

April 7, 2004

Grocery Store Cards

Albertsons is my current grocery store of choice. There is one within a mile of my apartment and one very close by work, so convenience is certainly a big factor. One of my big reasons outside of convenience has been that they always have had generally low prices with no gimmicks.

However, after coming out of the California workers strike, Albertsons switched to using a Store Card.

The benefit of the grocery store card is that the grocery store in question (and all of its affiliates and third party members) can track where you shop and what you buy. The incentive to you, the shopper, for them having this insight into your life and habits are the sweepstakes, rewards, and "lower" costs on some in-store items when you use the card. In essence, they are paying you to be market research for them.

I went through this with Vons awhile back. I noticed that the prices were generally rising over the course of a month or so, then the cards were introduced. The "savings" you could get from the card brought the prices back down to the value those goods had before the introduction of the grocery shopping card. I also had to put up with phone calls and mail from the company all relating to the card.

My local Albertsons also slowly, over the course of a few weeks, raised all of its' prices. Now they've introduced a grocery shopping card of their own. When I do the math on soda, meat, breads, and other items and subtract the "savings" amount from the current non-card cost of items the price drops to the month-ago price for the same item. Coincidence?

I do not want my grocery store tracking where I go and what I buy. With all their computer automation tracking their own goods, services, and inventory, they know closely enough what I buy. I would rather they not spend the millions of dollars on promotions, advertising, and rebates and instead just give me the lower prices I've come to expect from my grocery store.

Just when they are coming out of the strike and trying to lure people back into the stores, they raise prices and irritate at least 10% of their shopping public by introducing these store cards. I would expect they would lower prices and offer other incentives to get us back. But what do I know; I'm just another one of their loyal shoppers who they have angered with the strike and who is now further ired by the store card. Of course, if there are enough people like me, the chain has to close down the store. I'd rather cut profit margins short-term to get people back in the habit of shopping at my stores after months of striking workers, then raise prices a little at a time back to normal values once the habit has been re-formed. But again, what do I know?

There is a Stater Brothers grocery store not too far away from where I live. It doesn't have any gimmicks or grocery store cards. Their prices are generally low in all areas. Guess where I'll be shopping from now on?