Saturday, December 30, 2006

I Got Friends When I'm In Low Places

This week I learned to snowboard. Everyone told me the same thing. First day is not much fun. Second day is hell. Third day is when it starts to come together. Well, it was mostly true, but perhaps "hell" is an understatement.

Day 2, you start to try to do the right things, but you end up falling a lot, and in the Northeast, a lot on the ice. Even worse, you tend to fall on the same part of your body, over and over again. My left buttcheek shows off a grapefruit sized bruise with quarter sized black spots. And other than one time when I caught the front edge and I went from standing to a face plant in a moment that most seemed like a car crash, these bruises best represented my day.

And so, I headed into Day 3 with definitive dread. Every part of my body screamed at me. Every bit of my nature urged me to stop this madness. With a headache and a sore jaw (from hitting my helmeted head so hard it dislocated my jaw), hamstrings and calves too sore to touch, wrists that no longer could summon the fingers to clench, it was all too easy to head in. It was at that time that I could have most easily given up. I pictured it. Began convincing myself that I had accomplished enough. I was halfway down, yet already off the slopes. The psychological onslaught was intricate and comprehensive. There were more reasons to stop than continue, and the negativity reinforced itself in every fall.

And that was when my friend Mike, a great instructor, decided to take half a run with me. He instilled such confidence with a calm, assuring tone. He told me to try some techniques, but most importantly he told me that we would eventually try something that worked.

But then Mike had to go teach paying students and I was left to my mental self-defeat campaign, reinforced with every tumble as I cursed in multiple languages. And then my friend Lou committed to riding with me. And with every fall, I had so much more of an incentive to get up. Lou waited for me. I couldn't stay down for more than a moment. If just for perception, self or otherwise, I persevered. The equilibrium tipped, and I now had more reasons to keep going.

As a result of Mike and Lou, I finished Day 3 strong, cutting the slopes on both sides of the board and finishing with a sense of accomplishment. I still groan when I sit down, but the trip was a success because I couldn't do it alone and I didn't have to.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Unending Pursuit of Happiness

Disturbing quote from The Moral Animl that builds on my original post on Evolution is Too Damn Slow :

"We are built to be effective animals, not happy ones. (Of course, we're designed to pursue happiness; and the attainment of Darwinian goals - sex, status, and so on - often brings happiness, at least for a while. Still the frequent absence of happiness is what keeps us pursuing it, and thus makes us productive.)"

To make our species drive to betterment, happiness thus must be fleeting. Being unfulfilled is the motivation. At least I know that what I feel, is how I am supposed to feel. Maybe I can do a better job of resisting it, because I understand it. Which brings me to my last quote of the day:

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." - Philo of Alexandria

What is your great battle? Hint: You are fighting it right now.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Grass is Always Greener Somewhere in NYC

I grew up in NYC and pride myself on having been molded in its high metabolism environment, where organized chaos rules, you see thousands of people each day, and you have to dodge traffic at every turn. In such a big city, anything is possible and everything is happening all at once. Whereas in Austin, I was prone to knowing I was in the coolest spot, but wishing for more diversity and options, NYC provides a source of a different type of malaise.

This was an interesting weekend for me. On Saturday I had two amazing events to go to. The first was Santacon where 600 people dress up as Santa and do a pub crawl while causing mayhem at various landmarks. Imagine 600 santas storming bryant park and mounting its statues or climbing firetrucks, or just the bar scene at a local Irish pub. It's organized mayhem and one of my favorite days of the year.

At the same time, I had a Chanukah party at one of my closest friends, where we reveled in our holiday spirit, spun the dreidel, and I became the Gimel king. It was fantastic. In the end, I did both Santacon and Chanukah, but I certainly missed out on the latter half of Santacon, where Santa's inhibition is washed away by everything from egg nog to tequila. And so it is in NYC, where there is always something fantastic happening, and probably some place better to be.

The secret to living in NYC, at least for me, is to make the most of your time, but also to be comfortable knowing you can't be at the best party even any of the time. There is simply too much going on. Cherish the time you have with the friends you have. And hey, it's better than living in Austin.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Harder Pill to Swallow

In response to my post on equality vs. evolutionary psychology, Mom Loves Me More: Why Violence and Not Marriage Proliferate in Harlem, my brother wrote me an interesting email:

"My younger brother wrote: 'Are we dealing with truth, regardless of the effect on stubborn notions of equality? Evolution is a scientific theory,not a moral judgement.'

Anything of value: say love, art, community, family, is built not onflickering truth, but on enduring belief."

Is understanding of value? And if so, what are the bases of our enduring beliefs? Could evolutionary psychology play a role in our belief in family, the notion of love? I think it does.

What fascinated me most about his point is the subtle conflict of belief and truth. Is a belief more valuable or more powerful the harder it is to explain and the less based in truth or provable fact? Does it galvinize its believers more?

Believing the obvious is easy. Investing, pursuing, or commiting to the subtle, the complex, the elusive, or even the farfetched builds a community.

What do you believe in that you can't prove? What about the farfetched? How does that belief affect who you are and who you are with?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Oh What a Wicked Web We Weave ...

Now that everyone has agreed we are losing Iraq and people are realistically looking at the options, Jon Stewart's titling "Mess-O-Potamia" seems all the more apt. We are dealing with a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis. The whole notion that Al Qaeda has much do with it is ridiculous doublespeak. They represent an estimated 2-3% of the "insurgency."

Shiites are well aligned with Iran, which is why we are engaging them now politically. The cost of this war is not just the half trillion dollars, the 3,000 american lives and 20,000 mamed (not to mention all those pesky Iraqis we killed and mamed), but a tremendous political loss. We now have engaged Iran and Syria to help us and have lost any leverage with them. Good luck on blocking the nuclear power plant now. We are literally pandering to the Axis of Evil (Syria should have been there). Maybe that's why George Bush always looks like he is about to throw a tantrum.

Now Saudi Arabia, a Sunni majority, is looking at what's unfolding and concluding the obvious, which is that the Sunni's in Iraq will get the short end of the stick in Iraq. And by short end, we are talking a military campaign of ethnic cleansing.

A Saudi contractor, Nawaf Obaid, who was consequently fired by the Prince Turki al-Faisal, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post outlining how far Saudi Arabia was willing to take it. By increasing oil production, they could half oil prices overnight and magnify Iran's economic woes and bring it to its knees. It's economic warfare between Saudi Arabia and Iran. One can only imagine what happens next. They are already summoning Sunni's to come to the aid of their brethren in Iraq. That's a nice way to say the army is mounting.

Sectarian violence is a joke of a term. We are finally agreeing that it truly is a civil war. But with Saudi Arabia and Iran being forced to jump in, this war could turn much bigger and much less civil. Hopefully, the diplomatic efforts of the US can navigate this tightrope walk. This administration's diplomatic track record speaks for itself...

At least Iran doesn't have the bomb ... yet.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Comments on the Blog

Please make sure to enter your name when you post a comment on the blog. Then I can respond back to you. Thanks to whomever for the evolution article. Which one of you was it?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Mom Loves Me More - Why Violence and not Marriage Proliferate in Harlem

In my post titled Gay Marriage ... Not Again, I proclaimed that I don't care if a guy wants to marry a trash can. My brother responded that he did, and he cited the low marriage rates in Harlem as one of the causes of violence and poverty. Reading my new, intriguing book on evolutionary psychology, maybe there is another answer: that my mom loves me more. Let me explain.

If you believe in evolution, it's quite natural that evolution would affect more than size, height, or physical structure, but also innate behavior as well. All kinds of interesting hypotheses follow, on monogomy, love, friendship, and family as a means to advantageous strategies. Maybe this could explain Harlem.

In most species where the female bears the investment of childbearing, males can have many more children. As a result, females are more selective in choosing a mate and competition among males can be quite fierce. The result of this, and that males are evaluated for their ability to provide (money, status) whereas women are valued more for fitness (beauty), is that it is easier for women to marry up (or mate up) than men. A poor but beautiful woman is more likely to find a rich husband, than a poor, beautiful man finding a rich wife.

Now this logic has implications. If a poor mother had several children, then she should favor her daughters rather than her sons, because they are more likely to mate upwards. In short, the daughters have a better chance at proliferating their genes. The reverse is true of affluent mothers who should favor their sons. Wow, right? Is there any evidence?

Well Florida pack rat mothers when deprived of food (in poverty) will wean off their sons while continuing to feed their daughters. In many species, the birth rates are even affected such that impoverished mothers are more likely to produce daughters. But that's rats. What about humans? Every mother would resist this notion vehemently.

It turns out that impoverished mothers breast feed more than half of their daughters but less than half their sons. In affluent mothers, it is quite reversed: 90% of affluent sons, while only 60% of daughters. My jaw began to drop ...

Of course having more children causes greater competition. So if you were to protect a child by waiting to have another, you would expect a poor woman to wait longer after a daughter to protect her and affluent woman to wait longer after a son. That turns out to be true too: 4.3 years after a daughter vs. 3.5 after a son in poor families, and the opposite of 3.2 after a daughter and 3.5 years after a son in affluent mothers. The evidence is compelling.

So looking back at Harlem, maybe the poverty means that males were less cared for than females because of poverty. They were fed less, cared for less, and left to fend for themselves. Consequently, as impoverished males, their best mating strategy for gene proliferation is having many relationships since they have less to offer in male parental investment. Hence less marriage. And as it comes to violence, most violence in species is about establishing status as it relates to mating. So evolutionary psychology explains Harlem, the marriage rates, the polygamy, the violence.

And coming from a relatively affluent family, it also implies that mom more likely loved me more. Sorry sis. At least mom denies it ...

BTW, this book is a must read. Every 10 page section drops my jaw or challenges the most important ideas at their core. Simply, fascinating.

The Godfather Part 1

About a year ago, my good friend Mike Ma and I were supposed to watch football at his house and he had to leave for several hours. Most importantly he left me with his 6 month old son, Sean (who by the way, is the cutest thing). I had never babysat before, let alone for a baby, but he wasn't really worried. For the first year of Sean's life, I was the only non-family member to take care of him. It was fun and easy.

At a dinner party a couple months later, this fact was revealed to a group, and the nearly unanimous response was: "You left him alone with TREVOR?!?" Most of the people knew me from my nights going out, as a fun loving, carefree guy. But Mike without hesitation reiterated his trust and in the process further solidified my friendship with him. It was as if the rest of the people at the table didn't really know me, and I was a bit saddened. Often times you find out who your friends are when there is a crisis, because you either help them, they help you, or they allow you to help them with something critical. In the absence of crisis who do you really trust, and who trusts you?

I guess this is also why I am so pleased, honored, and humbled that Uncle Arthur has named me the Godfather of his new baby boy. Please everyone feel free to email him. Contact me personally for his email address.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Business Balls and NYC Traffic

It scares me a little when my mom drives in NYC because every other car is aggressive. My mom is a meek driver and doesn't protect her space in the lane. Inevitably, a car inches over and cuts her off, causing anxiety for my mom and usually anger from others that my mom lags behind. (OK, that might be me, but it happens to me when I see other meek drivers on the road).

We, in my current job, are so afraid of losing a customer who is having problems becoming self-sufficient that we are doing 10s of hours of content processing for them for free. Every week. No end in site. As a result, we are unhappy because of increased costs ($Ks) and they are unhappy because they are not self sufficient.

Instead, we should have said no and demand they process their own content or charge them a fee. This would have given them the incentive they needed to become self-sufficient.

Now we have an unhappy client and significant costs all because we don't have the marbles to draw reasonable lines with our clients. Clients, like NYC taxi cabs, will always inch for more. There is nothing wrong with accomodating them to keep going, but at a certain point you got to protect your space on the road if you want to get where you are going.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The "Ism" Stigma - Shutting down difference

It can be quite scary to recognize difference in an idealistic society that believes in utopian ideals of equality. Yet difference is found everywhere in nature among species.

Take for example the Galapagos cactus. On islands with turtles (who eat the cactus) the cactuses grow taller, out of turtle reach. On the other islands, just miles away, the cactuses grow right off the ground. One simple evolutionary difference in environmental pressure over many generations changed the traits within a species. What a banal and simple point that most would accept.

Now, let's take on the same subject and make it completely objectionable. The African American male for several generations in a slavery society faced an increased pressure on physicality: size, endurance, and strength. The result is that after many generations, African American males are larger than their African counterparts, including first or second generation African Americans. WHOA!!! Now that's racist. Now let's talk about IQ ... just kidding. I wouldn't approach that topic but if evolutionary pressures affect height or strength ... Let the explosions begin, and maybe rightfully so.

The evolution card has been extended by Social Darwinists to lay claims about the fitness of races, and thus provoke racist notions of superiority justifying the subjugation or elimination of races. But take away any desire to suppress a race, as well as any generic notion of fitness, and lastly the notion that any generality is not specific to any individual. Are we dealing with truth, regardless of the effect on stubborn notions of equality? Evolution is a scientific theory, not a moral judgement.

If you look at natural history, evolution is racist. It is sexist. It is heightist. And it is fatist. In Galapagos turtles, it is even neckist. Could the differences between us draw a guide to past evolutionary pressures? If so, what do your differences say about your genetic history? What about the differences of others?

Sometimes the truth is a tight rope walk, especially with "isms". But equality is an illusion. So take that ideal and put it in your "ism."

Monday, November 20, 2006

Evolution is Too Damn Slow

As I approach Thanksgiving and my much awaited post on "Why I Would Have an Eating Disorder if I Were a Girl," let's approach the subject by talking about evolution - of course.

I am reading a fascinating book (thanks, Meredith) on the role of evolution in our social behavior, The Moral Animal, by Robert Wright. For those of you struggling with the sexual roles and stereotypes of men and women, this is a great book. Wait, that's all of you ...

But instead of delving in just yet, I want to touch on the uneasiness I tend to feel about being content with my life. Often I feel like I am not accomplishing what I should be. I am not who I was meant to be. Intead of the grandiose dreams implanted in me from years of television, I am going to blame evolution, at least partly. Maybe evolution didn't design me right.

For example, our common "sweet tooth" is a remnant of times long past where fruits were hard to come by, yet nutritionally important. A sweet tooth was a positive incentive, now it is hazardous to our health. Our desire to eat rich, fatty foods similarly comes from a time when such foods were scarce, so the incentive led to better habits. Now it leads to heart disease, stroke, and obesity. Our natural instincts lead us to struggle against our current reality, and guess what, most people fail and many become miserable because of it.

And frankly I know that for the past million years my genes weren't being groomed and evolved to sit in a chair all day looking at this computer screen. Now my back and neck hurts, I have early signs of carpal tunnel, and I'll bet I won't be able to see well when I am 40, without glasses that is.

If it takes 5000 generations to turn a wolf into a chihuaha or under different pressures a Saint Bernard, how long is it going to take my genes to adjust to the new world? You can't kill all the undesirables like you could with dogs.

Maybe my fundamental unrest is because I am not designed for the 21st century, or the 21st century just ain't designed for me. Damn, that evolution. It's just too damn slow.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Too Full To Listen: Lessons in Timing

Seth Godin, Internet Marketing God, writes a spot on article on timing, and why politicians have had to spend a shocking $2B on repetitive advertising just to get mindshare. He points out that we are all so overloaded with messaging that we are "full." At some point, just a moment, we become "unfull" and you have to be there at that moment, and you have to have been there before as a primer. "So, all marketing analyses that ignore time are wrong," he says.

I have seen this countless times with Internet marketing. Did you know that twice as many people will open your marketing email in the aftenoon then in the morning? If you get to work and have 30 new emails (aka you are full) you just delete. In the afternoon, after lunch, you ease back into work and look there is an email you might take a look at. Same is true Mondays and Fridays, versus during the week. The statistics are truly amazing.

So when you approach someone about something important, do you think about whether they are full at the moment? Wait until they are not full and leave the politicians to being full of it.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bland Politicians

Following my post on cookie cutter politicians ( ) comes a NY Times op-ed piece by a Swarthmore psychology professor who wrote the book "Why More is Less." He explains the psychology of picking the less "bad" candidate rather than the better candidate. Well, I fear after this election, we will still have more of less.

Praying for numbers in London ...

Monday, November 06, 2006

When Righteous Just Ain't Right

Remember when "confirmation" in religious circles didn't mean validating a case of homosexuality, pedophilia, or both? First Foley, now Haggard. Well, not "first" Foley. No, first the Catholic Church. No, no. First (insert "righteous" leader here). There is such a long line of "righteous" people doing terrible things, it gives good principles a bad name.

It is well accepted in psychology that those that are fiercely homophobic harbor homosexual tendencies. What does that say about our most "righteous" leaders. Time to connect the dots, America ...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Two Must Read Articles in NY Times

I am too frustrated to document the expansive farce of this election, so there is always Thomas Friedman and Frank Rich ( Here is Rich's article since both require Times Select:

Throw the Truthiness Bums Out
Published: November 5, 2006
EACH voter will have a favorite moment from the fabulous midterms of 2006. Forced to pick my own, I’d go for Lynne Cheney’s pre-Halloween slapdown of Wolf Blitzer on CNN. It’s not in every political campaign that you get to watch the wife of the vice president of the United States slug it out about lesbian sex while promoting a children’s book titled “Our 50 States: A Family Adventure Across America.”

The pretext for this improbable dust-up was a last-ditch strategy by the flailing incumbent Republican senator of Virginia, George Allen. Desperate to resuscitate his campaign, Senator Allen attacked his opponent, Jim Webb, for writing sexually explicit passages in his acclaimed novels about the Vietnam War. Mr. Webb fought back by pointing out, among other Republican hypocrisies, Mrs. Cheney’s authorship of an out-of-print 1981 novel, “Sisters,” with steamy sexual interludes suitable for “The L Word.”

When Mr. Blitzer brought up “Sisters” on live television, Mrs. Cheney went ballistic, calling Mr. Webb a liar. The exchange would have been a TiVo keeper had only the CNN anchor called Mrs. Cheney out by reading aloud just one of the many “Sisters” passages floating around the Internet: “The women who embraced in the wagon were Adam and Eve crossing a dark cathedral stage — no, Eve and Eve, loving one another as they would not be able to once they ate of the fruit and knew themselves as they truly were.” But you can’t have everything.
Even without Eve and Eve, this silly episode will stay with me as a representative sample of this election year. It wasn’t just that the entire Cheney-Blitzer-Webb-Allen fracas had nothing to do with the issues that confront the country. It was completely detached from reality. Mr. Allen, who has been caught on video in real life spewing a racial epithet, didn’t attack Mr. Webb for any actual bad behavior, but merely for the imaginary behavior of invented characters in a book. As if it weren’t enough for Mrs. Cheney to regurgitate Mr. Allen’s ludicrous argument, she fudged the contents of her own novel, further fictionalizing what was fiction to start with. Then she turned around and attacked CNN for broadcasting nonfiction — a k a news — like her husband’s endorsement of waterboarding in a widely disseminated radio interview.

The incessant shell game played with fiction and reality turned this episode of Mr. Blitzer’s program, “The Situation Room,” into a sober inversion of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report,” in which Stephen Colbert’s satirical Fox-style TV blowhard interviews real-life politicians. Here the interviewer, Mr. Blitzer, was real, but the politician, Mrs. Cheney, was bogus, shamelessly making everything up and hoping her playacting would make her outrageous fictions credible. Maybe in some precincts it did.

The 2002 midterms were ridiculed as the “Seinfeld” election — about nothing — and 2006 often does seem like the “Colbert” election, so suffused is it with unreality, or what Mr. Colbert calls “truthiness.” Or perhaps the “Borat” election, after the character created by Mr. Colbert’s equally popular British counterpart, Sacha Baron Cohen, whose mockumentary about the American travels of a crude fictional TV reporter from Kazakhstan opened to great acclaim this weekend. Like both these comedians, our politicians and their media surrogates have been going to extremes this year to blur the difference between truth and truthiness, all the better to confuse the audience.

But there’s one important difference. When Mr. Colbert’s fake talking head provokes a real congressman into making a fool of himself or Mr. Baron Cohen’s fake reporter tries to storm the real White House’s gates, it’s a merry prank for our entertainment. By contrast, the clowns on the ballot busily falsifying reality are vying to be in charge of our real world at one of the most perilous times in our history.

While lying politicians and hyperbolic negative TV campaign ads are American staples, the artificial realities created this year are on a scale worthy of Disney, if not Stalin. In the campaign’s final stretch, Congress and President Bush passed with great fanfare a new law to erect a 700-mile border fence to keep out rampaging Mexican immigrants, but guaranteed no money to actually build it. Rush Limbaugh tried to persuade his devoted audience that Michael J. Fox had exaggerated his Parkinson’s symptoms in an ad for candidates who support stem-cell research purely as an act.

In a class by itself is the president’s down-to-the-wire effort to brand his party as the defender of “traditional” marriage even as the same-sex scandals of conservative leaders on and off Capitol Hill make “La Cage aux Folles” look like “The Sound of Music.” Just in recent days, the Rev. Ted Haggard, a favored Bush spiritual adviser and visitor to the Oval Office (if not the Lincoln Bedroom), resigned as leader of the National Association of Evangelicals after accusations that he patronized a male prostitute, and the Talking Points Memo blog broke the story of the Republican Party taking money from a gay-porn distributor whose stars include active-duty soldiers. (A film version of Mrs. Cheney’s “Sisters,” alas, still awaits.)
And always, always there’s the false reality imposed on Iraq: “Absolutely, we’re winning!” in the president’s recent formulation. After all this time, you’d think the Iraq fictions wouldn’t work anymore. The overwhelming majority of Americans now know that we were conned into this mess in the first place by two fake story lines manufactured by the White House, a connection between 9/11 and Saddam and an imminent threat of nuclear Armageddon. Both were trotted out in our last midterm campaign to rush a feckless Congress into voting for a war authorization before Election Day. As the administration pulls the same ploy four years later, this time to keep the fiasco going, you have to wonder if it can get away with lying once more.

Given the polls, I would have said no, but last week’s John Kerry farce gives me pause. Whatever lame joke or snide remark the senator was trying to impart, it was no more relevant to the reality unfolding in Iraq than the sex scenes in Jim Webb’s novels. But as the White House ingeniously inflated a molehill by a noncandidate into a mountain of fake news, real news from Iraq was often downplayed or ignored entirely. It was a chilling example of how even now a skit ginned up by the administration screenwriters can dwarf and obliterate reality in our media culture.

On the same day Mr. Kerry blundered, the United States suffered a palpable and major defeat in Iraq. The Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, once again doing the bidding of the anti-American leader Moktada al-Sadr, somehow coerced American forces into dismantling their cordon of Sadr City, where they were searching for a kidnapped soldier. As the melodramatic debates over how much Mr. Kerry should apologize dragged on longer, still more real news got short shrift: the October death toll for Americans in Iraq was the highest in nearly two years. Some 90 percent of the dead were enlisted men and nearly a third were on extended tours of duty or their second or third tours. Their average age was 24.

When the premises for war were being sold four years ago, you could turn to the fake news of Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” to find the skepticism that might poke holes in the propaganda. Four years later, the press is much chastened by its failure to do its job back then, but not all of the press. While both Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert made sport of the media’s overkill on the Kerry story, their counterparts in “real” television news, especially but not exclusively on cable, flogged it incessantly. Only after The New York Times uncovered a classified Pentagon chart documenting Iraq’s rapid descent into chaos did reality begin to intrude on the contrived contretemps posed by another tone-deaf flub from a former presidential candidate not even on the ballot.

In retrospect, the defining moment of the 2006 campaign may well have been back in April, when Mr. Colbert appeared at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Call it a cultural primary. His performance was judged a bomb by the Washington press corps, which yukked it up instead for a Bush impersonator who joined the president in a benign sketch commissioned by the White House. But millions of Americans watching C-Span and the Web did get Mr. Colbert’s routine. They recognized that the Beltway establishment sitting stone-faced in his audience was the butt of his jokes, especially the very news media that had parroted Bush administration fictions leading America into the quagmire of Iraq.

Five months later, a video of Mr. Colbert’s dinner speech is still a runaway iTunes hit and his comic contempt for Washington is more popular than ever. It’s enough to give you hope that the voters may rally for reality on this crucial Election Day even as desperate politicians and some of their media enablers try one more time to stay their fictional course.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bush and Kerry Are Right

Bush was right about Kerry. What Kerry said was insulting and demeaning to our military. Of course, it was also true. The fact that the military heavily recruits to the lesser educated has been made before in "Fahrenheit 9/11", albeit more tastefully. And the recent legislation no longer requiring a HS degree or a GED makes it quite clear from where the military is expecting to get recuits. So get over it. It's true. Sad, but true.

The political machine has made it nearly impossible to say anything controversial without consequence. More than ever, our politicians have to walk on eggshells rather than provide visionary leadership. Is it any surprise that we have a bunch of politicians that all sway in line, stay the course, and don't challenge the status quo. It is too costly.

Why is Kerry on the front page? It was a joke. Tasteless and stupid, but a joke. The fact that it might have ramifications on Nov 7th is ridiculous. Bad humor should not make the front page, although I might make an exception for Dick Cheney who responded: "I guess we didn't get the nuance. He was for the joke before he was against it." Now that is pretty funny...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Gay Marriage? Not Again ...

As we approach November 7th, the GOP is really grasping at straws. The list of issues they can't talk about:

- Iraq (we are no longer staying the course because we are failing)
- Afghanistan (situation turning for the worse)
- Terrorism (Bush de-classifies 3 pages of a report. Those 3 pages say we are not as safe. What did the other pages say that he didn't want to share?)
- Social Security (GOP plans went nowhere)
- Immigration (all we get out of this is a new Berlin wall)
- the Economy (stocks are high, but do poor people own any?)
- Education (still 17th in the world)

So what can we talk about? Gay marriage, again? Come on!!! Look I understand that the major religions in this country are against homosexuality. But marriage isn't strictly Christian, Catholic, Buddhist, or belonging to any one faith. You can get married by Elvis in Vegas, so don't preach to me about the sanctity of marriage.

Look if the question is whether gays should be able to share employee benefits like healthcare, why do you care so much? A friend once told me, "I don't care if a guy wants to marry a trash can." Frankly, neither do I.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Washing Dishes and the Environment

After watching Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth I felt forever changed. What an impactful movie. But while I ALWAYS turn off the lights and AC now, and even say "Thank you, Al Gore" when I do it, not all that much has changed.

Last night I pondered why it is so easy to put the dishes in the dishwasher but so hard to put them away in the cupboard. Well, putting the dishes in is a gradual habit, one meal at a time, while you put all the clean dishes away all at once. Still it takes about the same time. Maybe it is because it is so hard to see the benefit immediately and even in the future. The dishes are either hidden in the washer or the cupboard. I need to conceptually understand the benefit to change my habits, and now.

A new group taking consumer marketing techniques to the environmentalist movement seems to agree that this is the same problem with the environmentalism movement. Here is an outline of a smarter strategy that could begin to affect our habits. A very interesting read.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Big Numbers: Bike-jacking, Car-jacking, and Taxis

In a City Cycling survey from 1992, 839 respondants reported 860 bicycles stolen - more than 1 per bicyclist. Based on various numbers, this article estimates 40-45K bikes stolen each year in NYC. It's virtually an inevitability for any rider. Here is an astonishing video showing people stealing bikes two feet from commuters at rush hour, and even with police driving right by at the WTC. They used bolt cutters, an 8 minute saw job, and even a hammer. No one said a thing. Even the police.

The front page news this morning revealed that even the mayor's car isn't safe in NY. Ok, it was in Hackensack. But the interesting statistic to me is that 121,000 cars are stolen every year in NYC. Considering there are just under 2 million cars in NYC (based on 2000) that's an astonishing rate of 5.1% or almost 1 in 20 cars! Ok, Mom. I won't park the car on the street any more. I swear ...

Just in case you are wondering how many taxis there are, there are about 55,000 livery cars in NYC as of 2000.

From - Wikipedia
A "livery vehicle" remains a legalism in the U.S. for a vehicle for hire, such as a taxicab or chauffered limousine, but excluding a rented vehicle driven by the renter.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

CPR Needed for the NYPD

Late last week I was telling my friend to not let a single disappointment shake her faith in humanity. Now I have to practice what I preach.

Lately I have been biking to work, which has been fantastic. What a great way to wake up in the morning and get the blood pumping. But some worried, like my mom and the president of Narrowstep, Carolyn. I was on my way out of work at 8pm, when Carolyn asked me where I park the bike. And I told her:

“I park opposite the Police Station on 35th St. If someone has the balls to steal it, he deserves it.”

Well, sure enough, I walked to my bike to find it had been stolen. I talked to the building manager of my office to see if they had video and they chuckled sympathetically.

“It’s actually illegal to park your bike there. We used to cut the locks once as a warning and then confiscate them, until we realized we didn’t have to. Thieves do it for us and steal about 30 or more bikes a year.”

50 ft from a police station!!! I did file a police report (insisting its location was clearly spelled out) and outside I engaged a couple cops who were surprised and laughed. When I told them the building manager estimated 30 thefts a year, they were incredulous and mentioned how they had never seen anything. I thought that was my point. They proceeded to ridicule me, and all I could think about was the irony of the situation.

I was flooded with all the moments of police frustration: the J walking ticket, my friend’s $100 fine for riding his bike on the sidewalk right before he parked it, and an acquaintance who was fined $100 for closing his eyes at the park (it’s illegal to sleep in the park). Not surprisingly these were all at the end of the month, where cops try to fill their fine quotas. That’s not to say it’s not a hard job. But as a cop, I would be enraged by thieves right outside my precinct. Maybe the system incents the wrong behavior.

Well, instead of the NYPD “CPR” mantra of “Courtesy, Professionalism, and Respect,” perhaps they should first focus on “Competence, Potency and Relevance?”

PS Thanks Arthur for the bike, and the short lived excitement of riding in the city. I may get another next spring ...

Drug Naming Gone Too Far?

As a product marketer, I appreciate embedding messaging in your brand. Celebrex makes me want to celebrate. Viagra makes me feel more vital.

But have we gone too far when we have prostate medicine named FloMax?

5 bucks goes to the person who can suggest the best new drug name ... Post on the blog.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

On Taking Notes

Now that I am back at work at NarrowStep, the TV over the Internet company, I find myself drinking from the firehose, rapidly taking notes while learning a new industry. Here is a tip that makes my notes much more organized and productive.
  1. If an item is particularly important or insightful, I put a star next to it.

  2. If an item requires further research or resolution, I put a question mark next to it.

  3. If an item requires follow-up, I put a ballot box (open square) next to it. When the item is completed, I check it off.

  4. If I have assigned a follow-up item to someone, I put an open circle next to it (similar to the ballot box but a circle rather than a square). In the notes, I indicate who is responsible. When the item is completed, I check it off.

Now you can quickly scan your notes for important points, questions, or tasks to follow-up on. No, I can't believe I am writing on taking notes. Yes, this has made a HUGE difference in my ability to organize my thoughts and not let anything drop through the cracks. Try it. You won't go back.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Clinton Strikes Back

I hope to God some of the invertebrate Democrats took notice of Bill Clinton's interview with Chris Wallace. Could the Democrats be developing a backbone in this election season?

The question: "Why didn't the Clinton administration do more about Osama Bin Ladin?" Put on your seatbelts ...

Part I:

Part II:

You can agree or disagree, but I applaud the chutzpah!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Invasion USA?

The "logic" being thrown around by the White House is astounding. In justifying the new bill on the treatment of terror subjects, the White House is hanging its straw hat on semantics. Let's not even touch how the proposal of an "annual review" of the suspect's case is a thinly veiled joke. But catch this - they are justifying the suspension of habeas corpus, one of the fundamental aspects of our legal system that prevents unfair imprisonment, on the basis that we have been invaded!! To quote Bradford Berenson, former associate White House counsel:

“There was a physical invasion of this nation on Sept. 11,’’ Mr. Berenson said.

“Is that invasion still going on?’’ asked Senator Spector.

“If there are still Al Qaeda cells at work here, it is,’’ responded Mr. Berenson.

Based on that criterion, the invasion will never end, just like the War on Terror will never end. Or the War on Drugs for that matter. There will always be terrorism, smaller groups exerting violent force using guerilla tactics because they can't prevail in open battle. Just because you call it a war, doesn't it is one.

Logically the White House is setting a precedent to throw out the Constitution - forever and whenever convenient. Over time, I think all of the creative circumnavigation by this administration will be deemed unconstitutional. From wire taps without a warrant, scanning emails without consent, to holding prisoners without trial, re-establishing precedent will take time.

In the meantime, can someone release the White House LSAT scores?

Politics: The Truth is Out There

It's much easier to attack politicians with half-truths and marketing slogans than to take a meaningful stance. Summoning the memories of the John Kerry campaign immediately brings up "flip flop" in my head. Fantastic marketing, poor democracy. Where are the savvy political marketers that can move beyond the age of sleazy car salesman to a level of sophistication?

With politics being a multi-billion dollar business, where is the candidate that has a web site that explains his/her stance on every issue? Distributed video clips of such discussions that can be consumed by the news or bloggers? A blog that takes stances, defends unwarranted attacks, and explains each vote that they make in the House or Senate?

Oh, it’s right here with Hilary Clinton or Bill Frist. Well, almost.

Contrast that to Jeb Bush with literally no information. ?!? Or take a look at George Bush’s stance on the environment. So 8 years, and all you can talk about is a marine park in Hawaii? At least there is a picture with Bush and a tree. You can really sort out the BS. For fun, compare against the minority leader Harry Reid. No pictures, but a lot more than you will want to read. I need a summary. Talk about a track record.

But let’s not pick on trees and Bush’s because that is partisan and too damn easy. How about Charles Shumer? Is that 5 month old content? One NY Senator isn’t eying the presidency or reelection. Clearly a lame duck. This voting season I am ranking web sites.

With voting season here, how much research are you doing on the web? Do you just vote along party lines? What about the primaries? Do you know the candidates? Do you know the issues? Don’t be uninformed and apathetic (previous post). Spread the word!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Jesus Was a Democrat

Continuing on religion, politics, and hypocrisy from the last post, I wanted to add something that has bothered me for a while. What separates Christians from Jews and other religions is their belief and study of the New Testament. In a single sentence summary, I would say that the New Testament through the story of Jesus as the son of God sets forth a new paradigm of morality based on “turn the other cheek” and greater compassion and understanding compared to the Old Testament’s crueler “eye for an eye” sense of justice. This could be one-dimensional or simplistic, but if you have a better single sentence, I am all ears.

Jesus would be against the war in Iraq, the notion of nation building, and democratization through violence. He would invest heavily in diplomacy, and welcome immigrants, even illegal ones, and provide paths to citizenship. Jesus would be against torturing prisoners or deporting them to torturing states.

Jesus would be against the death penalty. Jesus consoled sinners and would be for drug counseling and against “three strikes and you're out.” Jesus helped the poor and asked the rich to repent. He would be for progressive taxation and against dividend cuts for the rich. Jesus would be for more social programs rather than less. He would pour more money into the public school system. Jesus would share his healing hands and nationalize health care. And with a penchant for turning water into wine, maybe he is a little like Ted Kennedy without the driving record.

On the other hand, Jesus would be pro life, (maybe) for a religious government, and would teach religion in schools, although not to dictate morality for the sake of condemnation. Then again, he taught openly rather than imposing his views on others.

Overall, wouldn’t Jesus be a Democrat? How is it that the Republicans have hijacked Jesus and made him a big business, death penalty loving, you’ll burn in hell slurring, war monger? Either the Christians aren’t very Christian-ly or I have the New Testament and the Old Testament really bass-ackwards.

Monday, September 18, 2006

It's Time for a Little Humility

The only thing scarier than a fanatical Islamic cleric talking about jihad may be a fanatical Catholic talking about jihad. The Pope’s recent address enraged Muslims around the world leading to violence including the shooting of a nun. In quoting a medieval Catholic prince, the Pope described Islam as “evil and inhuman” in an address he described as designed as “an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue.” Well done, sir. I say, well done.

The Pope retracted some of his statements by saying he was reading a medieval text “which do not in any way express my personal thought.” Well, then why did you read it? So what you are saying is that this was an antiquated and inaccurate text as opposed to the more antiquated, but accurate Bible?

The whole affair from the initial speech to the apology stinks of hypocrisy. Any Catholic who demeaningly quotes that Muhammad “command to spread by the sword the faith he preached” has little understanding of the violent history of the Catholic Church. And the speech was “largely criticizing the West for submitting itself too much to reason” according to the NY Times. The Church has a long history of attacking science and reason, from imprisoning scientists for suggesting that the sun is the center of our solar system hundreds of years ago to attacking the volumes of scientific evidence for evolution today. History has shown that over time, science and reason has won most of those battles. Maybe it’s time to be using more reason than less, be more tolerant and a little more humble.

Perhaps the most interesting storyline here is that this is the first time (!?!) in recorded history that a Pope has apologized for his remarks. It is shocking to me that religious leaders are still highly regarded as infallible. They may be walking the path, but everyone has missteps.

The primary dimension by which I regard and respect organized religions is by their tolerance of other beliefs, in essence their own humility. I respect Buddhism and generic notions of personal spirituality and have gradually more objections as you approach Catholicism and then Islam.

Why is it so hard to understand that as long as you call the other person an infidel, an evil doer, or tell them they are going to hell, you are building barriers, not bridges. You are creating wars, not building peace. You are causing suffering.

Well, if the Pope can finally apologize for his remarks, maybe it’s time for us all to admit that we could be wrong. And by us, of course, I mean you. Just kidding.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Blog Vacation

I am off to the Virgin Islands for a week. Unless I can and want to blog from my Motorola Q, there will be a bit of a hiatus. So in the spirit of restoration I will share with you a story the US President of Narrowstep (TV / video over the Internet) relayed to me.

Two men were chopping wood in the forrest. One man was furiously tolling away without pause while the other took a 15 minute break every hour. At the end of the day, the woodsman that hadn't taken a single break noticed that the other man's pile of wood was bigger.

"How did you chop more wood than me when you took so many breaks?" he asked.

"On my breaks I was sharpening my axe."

Off to sharpen my axe ...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Idea Wars: Death by a thousand cuts

In Internet marketing, you need to evangelize your brand and your idea across a broad range of channels: on organic search engines like Google, pay per click advertising, in the blogosphere, in related portals and magazines, podcasts, and of course on your own website, which is your personal megaphone. A breadth of exposure accelerates the viral spread of an idea, although as Gladwell points out in The Tipping Point sometimes it only takes a few mavens.

Killing an idea is pretty much the same. You can't always go full frontal against an idea like evolution, because there is a whole lot of evidence supporting it. In fact, no one has ever tried to dispute it verbally to me - although I sure would enjoy the opportunity, especially after my trip to the Galapagos. Instead, you need to attack it subtley in the schools by changing the wording: "possible" or "alternative" theory. You need to nominate people of faith to the highest levels of the FDA even those who have "written books and articles encouraging women to turn to prayer and scripture to help heal ailments such as premenstrual syndrome, postpartum depression and eating disorders.. " And you need to cut off the people who want to learn about evolution in college.

The NY Times reports today that "somehow" evolutionary biology got removed from the list of majors that is eligible for government grants for low income college students. It was an error, and one that should be corrected soon enough to deny this year's applicants. What's odd is that the list of majors is automated, there shouldn't have been any deliberation or human intervention. But somewhere someone intervened. and thus it seems there was a motive. What is ethically unconscionable for the Department of Education is going to be erased as a "clerical error."

It's unintuitive to campaign for something we take for granted such as evolution, when we share 96 percent of the DNA with a chimp. You may think it is a moot point. But here is the real, shocking truth - 64% of Americans believe in creationism, that God directly created humans. No ape ancestors at all, a complete contradiction of evolutionary theory. So it isn't quite a "tyranny of the minority" so much as a scientifically illiterate populace. Now seems like the time to increase investment in science education, the very point of the above grants.

For the creationists, it's a subtle campaign to bleed evolution to death: a death by a thousand cuts.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Asleep at the wheel, on line, and at the baggage claim

In response to the foiled London liquid terrorism plot, US airport security has been stepped up. Of course this is yet another late response to threats that have already been identified. It’s not like they didn’t know. Hell, it’s not like I didn’t know either. I have always known ways around security if I wanted to take down a plane. Still the FAA finds itself miserably unprepared and without a plan to install equipment to detect liquid explosives. It all seems like a farce, especially since the regulations tell you exactly how to smuggle liquids on (prescriptions, baby formula, etc.). And frankly, it’s just really frustrating as a frequent traveler.

So frustrating in fact that I begin to wonder how much America is willing to push back against unwarranted levels of inconvenience caused by incompetence. You now have to arrive 2 hours ahead of time to major airports, especially because you almost have to check baggage – the cardinal no-no of business travel. And because people just aren’t prepared, flights are invariably late, tacking on even more time onto your trip.

Even worse, airlines aren’t prepared to handle the estimated 20% additional baggage. This weekend they had to kick-off 6 passengers off my Delta commuter plane because we exceeded the weight limit. Then, because of miscalculation, they had to remove 15 additional bags. So tack on some more waiting for your bag that never comes. I am still waiting for my 15 lbs bag as I type, while I watched people walk off with 60 lbs “overweight” bags. Apparently common sense doesn’t apply to baggage control.

I don’t expect anyone to speak up against the FAA or the airlines; Americans’ patience for being manipulated is astounding (Note: I filed a complaint). But I do expect the number of air travelers to dip, especially for shorter segment flights – business travel. In a world where digital collaboration is getting increasingly more feasible, this is the wrong time to piss off travelers.

I am shorting the airline industry, but oddly enough, this is the first time I have felt that the security measures are effective. But affectivity and reasonable convenience are two different things. Both are required for a successful airline industry.

Language and Thought: A Narrative View

In a previous post, I discussed the relationship between language and thought, posing the question about how language limits your ability to think. Jimmy “The Fish” Rudden read it and recommended I read On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins, who I had just listened to on Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast. The book, in which I am now engrossed and you can expect a great number of posts on its concepts forthcoming, discusses memory and pattern matching and it reminded me of the language post.

Your mind stores your memories as a sequence of patterns, a narrative if you will. One thing about language is that it is that it is temporal, that it occurs over time. Hawkins points out that just as you can’t tell a whole story all at once, but in a sequence of details, you can’t recall an entire story at once either. As an exercise, try to remember a familiar story (graduation, meeting this morning, how you met your best friend) all at once. Try to keep the details of the beginning, middle and end all together. You can’t. It just comes as a sequence, a narrative.

Your inability to load or cache such a large set of data poses some interesting questions on our abilities and limitations when it comes to complex thoughts. How do you put all the little observations together into a theory of relativity? Well, like a lot of original work, it started with an atomic observation that the speed of light is constant regardless of how fast you are going. Einstein simply – ok not that simply - predicted what would happen if this were indeed true. He applied other patterns (theories) to a new observation and made predictions. In fact that is what your brain is doing all the time: Creating sequences, pattern matching, and predicting what comes next. With some different assumptions, and the application of new patterns, you have creativity, the subject of a subsequent post.

Relating to my world of product marketing, every great salesman is a story teller. To get people to buy into a new technology requires relating to them existing experiences and then leading them to the conclusion you desire. Anyone who is matter-of-fact about a subject may be right, but they will not attract a lot of followers; they would be terrible teachers.

If you told a story in the right sequence, with the right patterns, you could always achieve the desired result. How much do you think of the right narrative when you present an idea, coax a friend, pick up a girl at a bar, or ask for a raise?

Adapting an old adage: You should read the horse to water, so it doesn’t have to think.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Building Bridges to the Digital World and Back

Every time I see someone with a film camera, it really makes me angry. Why would anyone choose a camera where it costs 25 cents to develop each new photo you take? Maybe the photo is blurry or dark. Still 25 cents to develop. Oh and you ran out of pictures so you need to buy more film. 25 cents per photo there too. It’s just so strange to me. For the love of God, why don’t you go digital?!?

One of the key reasons the digital age is changing the economics of the world around us is that it makes variable costs drop to nearly zero. What’s the cost of retaking that digital photo? 0 dollars. What about storing it (and a thousand others) online? 0 dollars. What if I want to open a shop on eBay and sell it? 0 dollars (cost, though revenue shares apply). Though there are fixed costs to most of these things, such as the cost of the camera, the digital age is enabling the era of abundance. There is little cost to offering more and that abundance in turn changes everything.

No need to rehash about the Long Tail. Let’s stick with photography. My roommate Brett takes his camera everywhere he goes, documenting every misstep … My college professor, David Dobkin, now Dean of Faculty at Princeton, takes a photo on average every 5 minutes to record his life. What were you doing at 11:45pm on July 13th 2006? It’s all right there.

It is even changing the film industry. There is so much less pressure to get the takes right when the film doesn’t cost you anything. Actors are more comfortable, the takes more precise to the director’s vision, and it also happens to be a better product.

Why shackle yourself to physical limitations? And what does that really mean? As we record, produce, and store more and more of our lives in digital format, what else can we do? What new bridges can we build from the physical world to the digital world? What about from the digital world back to the physical world?

Check out a 3D printer, a machine that actually takes digital models and manufacturers them just like your 2D laser printer right now. It fits on your desktop. Wow! Maybe one day I can recreate that 70s chair my parents had in the living room from my imagination. Or manufacture that cufflink that I lost. Or make my own souvenirs from the Galapagos, customized for the Tequila Boys. I could build my own world around me from the models in my head. Does that mean my memory and intelligence is truly in the digital world or is it a bridge itself?

What new applications can you see that bridge the physical and digital world?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

It's About the Service: The Apple Store

Last week I went to the Apple store to get a new set of iPod earbuds. I went to the second floor, saw a huge selection, but not the basic ones I was hoping for. I went to the help desk, just 10 ft away - there is a service desk within 20 ft of every product and a bunch of roaming employees - and was immediately talking to someone who was knowledgeable. He told me that didn't carry the basic earbuds, only ones with the remote control or ones with other features.

"This is so you can sell the high margin accessories, screwing the buyer," I joked as I looked at th $50 price tag.

The salesperson laughed and said "Pretty much." A refreshing show of honesty.

He led me to the earphones he would buy for quality, and when I reached for the white ones, added that "the white ones have thinner wires and don't last as long." Wow. That's product knowledge! The color affects durability.

Then the piece de resitance. As I walked towards the stairs to pay, I was checked out by a woman with a mobile device. I scanned my item, swiped my card, and was out within 20 seconds. 20 seconds! No lines! Integrated check out in my shopping experience before I even walked down the stairs or out the store. It was so simple, yet so different. My receipt was emailed to me, so I didn't need to keep a paper copy and I would always be able to search for it, powered by Google (much better than my paper filing system).

So who cares? I do. The Apple store in NYC changed my perception. It makes me wonder why I don't have a Mac. I am a complete PC bigot, yet the experience of buying earphones, an unrelated item, makes me feel that Apple understands the customer and understands service. Perhaps I should more seriously consider a Mac?

In an impersonal world where consumers increasingly buy online, the bricks and mortar store is about selecting the product rather than buying it and providing a level of service that can only be done in person. Over the long term, many stores will simply become service stations. Which brings the only real question for your physical store: "How's your service?"

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Land of the Free, Home of the Brave: How to Respond to the Latest Terrorist Threat

I was going to write something on the ways in which politicians are unfairly taken advantage of the latest London terrorist plot, but everyone is doing it, including Bill Clinton (I still miss you). But I recently read someone else's blog which pretty much captures it.

Time for America to get back it's gumption, it's ideals, and frankly its cajones.

Read this ( and sack up, America.

A fun and provoking read.

Monday, August 14, 2006

You Aren't Fat, You Are Just Sick!

My brother and I had an interesting conversation a couple months back on the recent study that a low fat diet doesn’t appear to offer any health benefits. Wow! Talk about turning nutritional theory on its head, right? Our conclusion was an admiration of the human body: it does an amazing job of processing whatever you put in it, converting what it gets into what it needs. But maybe that isn’t the whole story…

Today, the NY Times published an article (may require registration) on an interesting theory that the microbes in our body determine how well we digest food and consequently affect our level of obesity. If your body is more efficient at processing food, wouldn’t you get more calories from the same amount of food? Conversely, wouldn’t you have to eat even less to lose weight?

It turns out that 90% of the cells in your body are not human, but microbes like bacteria and viruses. They outnumber you almost 10-to-1 !! And you thought your body was your own. Some viruses, such as adenoviruses, might just make you fatter. In testing, the Ad-5 virus causes obesity in mice and Ad-3 caused obesity in chickens. In humans, obese people are 200% more likely to have been infected by the Ad-36 virus at some point in their lives. And you would never know that you were infected because the virus is otherwise mostly non-symptomatic. While establishing cause and effect let alone the ability to manipulate your ecosystem of microbes are both far away, the consequences of this finding are staggering.

First, like a lambic beer, a lot of you is the product of your surroundings. You are born sheltered from the microbe world, your digestive system protected in the womb. Then you are invaded as you start down the birth canal, and the product is the culmination of you and your surroundings. Sometimes this is a good thing. Researchers believe that breast feeding leads to healthier babies because a sick baby infects the mother, the mother builds antibodies to the disease, and then the mother transfers those antibodies back in breast milk. Breast fed babies have lower incidence of allergies, sickness, and higher IQ. We are all much more intertwined in the world around us then we think.

But perhaps the scariest thought is that being fat, or skinny for that matter, may be contagious. Think about that. Who are you around all day? Does obesity follow disease infection patterns? Is Wisconsin not fat, just sick?

And while microbial function in digestion is well known and understood (E.Coli breaking down plant cells, etc.), microbes are all over your body, in every crevice, in every drop of blood. Could they make you smarter, dumber, or more irritable? Being sick certainly affects your personality. What if every day you were “sick” in a million little ways with differing effects? Sounds like that just might be the case.

As a side note, ladies if you want to become tall, slim, and athletic with great legs, feel free to drop me a line. Maybe I am contagious … ;)

Inspirational Quote of the Day

I went to the MoMA this weekend and besides perusing a wonderful Dada exhibit, I went to the MoMA store across the street. There, near the cutting board I want for Festivus, I found a small metal band with the inspiratonal quote of the day:

"What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?"

Comments especially welcome on this one. Email users post one here. Everyone else, click the link below.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Tyranny of the Minority: A Lesson in Uninformed Apathy

One of the great worries of a democracy is the notion of a “tyranny of the majority”. If a majority of people decide to enslave a minority, in theory, this is in line with democratic ideals. It is simply the will of the majority. But what if the majority never speaks, never rules, or never understands? Could we have a tyranny of the minority?

A voter should be aware of the issues, understand them, and cast their vote. Thus, the greatest threat to the American democracy is an uninformed, uneducated, and disaffected citizenry. So how bad is it?

Less than 10% of Americans read the paper every day for more than sports or cartoons. Education by all measurements is slipping. We are now 16th in the world in Math scores and 18th in Science. It is doubtful that Americans really understand the issues and they are extremely susceptible to marketing messages.

Was Kerry anti-environment because he voted against amendment 2446 regarding ethanol fuels? Bush certainly promoted that idea. Who cares that his objections were about foreign refineries and an increase in NASA spending? Since you don’t get to vote on a line item basis for any bill, you can distort anyone’s voting record. With a little research, I am sure I can prove Hilary is anti-women and Bush is anti-religion. But a voter with a 10 second attention span won’t ever get to that level of detail. Voters are uninformed. Period.

At the same time, voter turnout is mediocre at best. While voter turnout was at the highest rate since 1968 in the recent presidential election, it represented only 55.3% of eligible voters. Being such a highly controversial election, let’s look at off year elections. In 2002 elections, 37% of voters turned out and in 1998 only 36.4%. Only about a third of voters vote for the people who are passing and vetoing the bills!

Conversely, America has a fervent faith in democracy. These numbers expose this faith as naiveté. Quickly, name your senators and your congressman. What are their positions on economic or educational policies? It’s all pretty sad.

The result is that our democracy is especially susceptible to the will of a minority. And we see this everywhere, because our democracy is not a single vote every 2 or 4 years, but the culmination of the daily actions and influence of the citizenry.

So what is the biggest media outlet and information source for Americans? TV, of course. Would it surprise you that complaints to the FCC rose from 350 in 2001 & 2002 to 14,000 in 2003 to a staggering 240,000 in 2004? That’s a 68,500% in 2 years!!! Wow, TV and radio content must have really become much more objectionable right?

Wrong. 99.8% of complaints were filed by the Parents Television Council. Just by banding together a bunch of individuals and organizing them, a small group can have a huge effect on the policies of a nation. The result: Bush signs the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005 increasing the maximum fine by 10X. Which study did he cite? The “Blue Tube” study from the PTC.

Not only are a surprisingly few number of collectively organized individuals exerting a tremendous amount of influence, but they are also influencing the very media from which Americans get their information. They are dominating the conversation and corrupting the information you get.

Damn the liberal media! Or is it the conservative Fox news? Either way, it’s time to accept it. Your source of information is biased. They are changing the context around you. You get a completely different view of the world based upon whether you read the Washington Post or Star. It’s time to get informed, America. The democracy you’re standing on is being yanked from beneath you, and it is your own damn fault.

If our democracy is affected by the people with the loudest megaphones, why aren’t you even speaking up? In the Information Age, it is easier than ever to send an email, file a complaint, and exert your influence. Are you uninformed or do you just not care?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Goal Setting

As I sit here and ponder my life's direction, two quotes have stuck out in my eBook readings at ChangeThis...

"The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it." - Michelangelo

"We tend to overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do in a year." - Common phrase

What are your lofty goals this year? What should be mine ...

Monday, August 07, 2006

Rising Above the Noise by Creating It

3 years ago I was sitting in an airport bar in Austin when I met a guy at AOL whose job it was to prevent audio piracy. I told him I thought he was doomed - you can’t stop information any more. Looking back, I was right and I was wrong.

Though they were able to turn Napster off, content owners lost the greater war to more generic content exchanges using more distributed and anonymous models like BitTorrent. So yes, you can’t stop the flow of information any more (a post on the “great firewall of China” to come). But you can corrupt the source.

iTunes has proliferated, growing 77% last year, although still less than 10% of the album sales business. Why would you pay for music when you don’t have to? The number one reason based on my informal poll is convenience (I am sure your integrity and desire to encourage artists was a big driver, at least the one you pitch). The problem with downloading pirated songs is the quality is suspect. Half the time I would download a song and it would start off fine and quickly devolve into a cacophonous metallic skipping sound. I had to download the entire thing before I realized it was corrupt. Why would anyone share these corrupted files that looked just like valid MP3s?

The music industry decided it couldn’t stop the networks, so it made the information the networks shared suspect by corrupting the music files. Since your time is money and people pay for convenient, reliable service, iTunes has become an industry success. But the music industry had to create the problem first. In a sense, iTunes is simply a quality of service (QoS) provider. There are software services that validate the files (BitTorrent ensures the data sources are the same across users). There are private networks that are reliable and free, but few people know of them. iTunes has just made it so easy, unless you are a maven, why not agree to pay the money? After all your time is money too.

Sometimes the battle isn’t to rise above the noise, but to create it. And so goes an interesting commercial example of information warfare … at least through chapter 2.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Freedom of Choice: The Mathematical Justification

There has been a lot of talk recently about the validity of the Long Tail Theory. The theory states "our economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of "hits" (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail."

The important points are that in the Internet age, storage and distribution costs are decreasing, there are all kinds of tools for customers to find niche businesses or niche products in your catalog, and you can amass a considerable number of customers by focusing on a niche (because you have a worldwide audience). Therefore the tail will continue to increase in size: the amount of business generated from highly specific services will continue to increase. What that means for you is that you can now get exactly what you want, highly tailored to your needs.

Well recently the WSJ disputed some of the theories with arguably loose evidence. The mathematicians have responded. Looks like mathemtatical analyses of Amazon and Netflix back up the theory with some simple logarithmic equations.

For example, Amazon attributes 60-80% of it's sales on it's top 100,000 titles. But let's flip that around. 20-40% of Amazon sales are from books that are not in the top 100,000!!! That's billions of dollars for books you can't find in most book stores.

It's the long tail and it's reshaping our world. All of a sudden the number of journalists will explode and most won't work for networks (blogs); you will be able to hear the music from any obscure band at any time (iTunes and piracy) and they will promote themselves (MySpace); and if you are a germaphobe and need a plastic banana cover or any other obscure thing, you will be able to find it (Google and the Internet). There will be complete TV stations with rich content wholly for cycling or sailing or whatever your hobby.

And it's happening now. Now that's freedom of choice.

Coming soon, T-Rev TV?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Email Test

Sorry for the quick maintenance post. It appears that the email service I had wasn't working and this appears to be the only way to test. If you have email subscriptions, you haven't received my first four blogs. Go to to get em. Sorry for the confusion.

Here were the topics:
The Fat Free Burger King
Information Mash-Up
Contextual Control is Contagious
Partnering Language and Thinking

The Fat Free Burger King

In a time when fast food chains are changing their image to be healthier, Burger King just announced it's stacker, a triple decker mound of saturdated fat. Of course the reality is their "healthy options" aren't so healthy. Some of the McDonald's salads have more fat than their burgers. I can no longer tolerate fast food after the movie Super Size Me. Who wants to become walking foie grois?

However, I just ordered a burger from Paul's Place - fantastic greasy burgers. I asked for a side salad with fat free ranch.

"Nothing here is fat-free," the clerk on the other end of the phone replied in a snarky NY accent.
My own hypocrisy made me laugh. But it also made me love Paul's more. As a product marketer, it's nice to see someone honestly promote what they make, and honestly make what they promote.

For the best greasy burger in the East Village, go to Paul's place.

Free of worry, and thus truly fat free.

Paul's Place
131 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003
(212) 529-3033

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Information Mash-Up

The best album I have heard in years is the Best of the Booties 2005. The “Booties” is a party thrown every month in San Francisco and they compile the best mash-up music. “Mash-ups” are songs made from splicing other songs together. Kind of like a remix, but without the need to put on something new. For example, one song is the lyrics of Billy Joel’s “Big Shot” on top of the beat of Jay-Zs “Big Pimpin”. Or the Beatles on top of the music of the Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get Retarded” with Ludacris. Now these mash-ups are the hottest songs in many clubs in NYC.

The most famous mash-up album is the Grey Album, by DJ Danger Mouse. It plays Jay Z’s lyrics from the Black Album with musical loops from the Beatles “White Album.” And here is the important thing - it went platinum without selling a single album!

You can’t release a mash-up song commercially because the terms of reuse in the music industry make it too costly. You have too many royalties to pay off of real samples. Yet the Internet has become a free channel for the distribution of music. If you don’t mind not getting paid, you can reach millions. And Danger Mouse did. Of course with that notoriety he partnered to launch Gnarls Barkley, which has the #3 album and song on iTunes. So he did just fine.

But there are several interesting points here. The Internet is challenging all kinds of traditional industries and their revenue strategies and channels. From music licensing to sales taxes to buying books. These industries are not adapting nearly as quickly as you would expect. That’s an opportunity.

The cost of distributing information has gone to zero; the challenge is to rise above the noise. Distributors and middle men are being commoditized: the value they provide is approaching zero. That’s why record companies are struggling. They have spent so much time protecting themselves as a distribution network that they didn’t realize that distribution no longer is the valuable part of their business.

So here is the opportunity:

1. Information is free, available widely for consumption on the Internet,
2. The challenge is to get the right info to the right people in new ways
3. And existing companies haven’t been up for the challenge

The next wave of killer apps will be those that mash-up all kinds of information and package it for you in innovative ways you haven’t even thought of: automatic text messages when your friends are within blocks of each other (GPS). Driving directions from Google combined with real-time traffic analysis for optimal driving directions. Combining music listings with MP3 services, Podbop allows users to choose a city and listen to legally available music from bands playing in town that day and in the future. A host of new services will be created by people in garages, not in MSFT offices. It’s the long tail of innovation.

I would really like something that looks at my top rated iTunes artists from my collection and sends me an alert when they are playing in NYC. No need to set it up with Ticketmaster or anyone else. Just works automatically. How nice would that be?

What sources of information do you have trouble putting together, or in other words, what mash-up do you need?

Monday, July 31, 2006

Contextual Control is Contagious

I am currently reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point (I know a couple years late to the party). Halfway through, I find myself hoping for more (or because of his roundabout style, less and more to the point). But one point I found most interesting was his discussion of the “Power of Context.” It basically asserts that our actions and thoughts are determined more by the context around us, rather than our nature or previous experience. One of the greatest examples of this is study done at Stanford in the 70s where they closely mimicked prison conditions with volunteers as guards and prisoners. They had to stop the experiment in just 6 days - normal people were torturing prisoners.

Given the last post on language and thought, let’s go through a little language exercise. But first let’s talk about the word “yawn.” You probably would say that you yawn because you are tired. Some might say that the yawn is the body’s way of getting more oxygen. The yawn pulls in a deep breath. It is even spelled phonetically like that: “yawn.” But why do you really yawn? Pause. Think of your answer …

Well, the answer is because I told you to. Chances are that most of you yawned while reading this or will yawn in the next minute or two. Not because you are tired (previous experience), not because you always yawn in the afternoon (nature) and hopefully not because what I write is boring. You will yawn because I set a simple context that affected your behavior. For the record I yawned 5 times when I wrote this. It’s not the sleep apnea … it’s simply the context around me.

In my line of work in product marketing and sales, this is what it is all about. I may not be the guy who gets them to sign at the dotted line or even make the great pitch, but I help set the context for someone to spend several hundred thousand dollars on software. And if you can set the context for contagious behavior you get things like My Space, text messaging, and iPods. All I needed was a cartoon dancing to realize I needed an iPod. Didn’t you?

Oh and if someone around you saw you yawn, they might yawn as well. And they may spread it too. How many people are yawning today because I read The Tipping Point and wrote about this? How many yawns were just because of Gladwell? Millions. Billions?

If you can make anyone yawn, what else can you do by simply setting the right context? Do you think about context every time you try to affect an action out of someone? Shouldn’t you more? What other tricks do you have up your sleeve?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Partnering Language and Thinking

Have you ever wondered why no one can remember any memories from before the age of about 6? The common theory is that the brain organizes your memories in the language which you have just learned to speak. Over time, all those previous memories become an unrecognized format. So if your thoughts are modeled as language, what does that say about how language limits your ability to think?

Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, points out how deeply language affects our thinking. Western thinking is linear. Very cause and effect. So is our language: subject-predicate. I did this. He caused that. Eastern language structure is much more circular, and so is their thinking. From reincarnation to greater notions of causality, eastern cultures see more dimensions and reinforcement effects. Looking at the most successful new technology and Internet services, the majority seem to be viral networks: MySpace, Flicker, YouTube, blogging,, or Squidoo. The Internet has vastly reduced the barriers to connectivity, between businesses and between people. Should our language evolve to do the same?

This brings up an obvious question: How has our language evolved? Last year’s word of the year was podcast. Audio transmissions are becoming much more a part of our lives. It started with the familiar incantation of music. Now I listen about a quarter of my ear bud time to podcasts on business and entrepreneurship and I am looking for lectures on a variety of new topics.

But the word that has most recently struck me is “partner.” My mother recently referred to her 70 year old friend and her partner. I was shocked and responded “My god, Regina is a lesbian?” Well, no she is not. It has just become such a popular term that even heterosexuals are using it, but it still retains its gay undertones. So as “partner” proliferates, so does acceptance of gay unions.

That’s why Republicans are fighting gay marriage now, because people are gaining sensitivity to it. Their only chance is to fight it now. It may not be because of language, but the change in our language is a pretty clear indicator of the way people’s opinions, their thoughts, are changing.

How has language constrained (or enabled) your thinking?