Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Stupidity on Steroids

Maybe it is just me, but the outrage and ruckus about the Mitchell report and steroid use in baseball is laughable. Did people really think US athletes being paid tens of millions a year for athletic performance weren't using illegal substances? Did they think that baseball, experiencing a resurgant popularity after the strike mostly because of the home run records, would be incentavised to effectively monitor its players and reduce their performance?

That's naivete. The reporting itself, is just plain stupid. After A-Rod denies using any "steroids, hormones, or other performance enhancing substances" why not ask "so you never used protein shakes?" Of course he has. And vitamins. And creatine monohydrate. Hell, I use all that stuff, or have. Each of these is performance enhancing and the list goes on endlessly.

And oh, the outrage that Andy Petitte used Human Growth Hormone (HGH) for 2 days - when it was legal at the time! What's the problem, people? The problem is setting policy and enforcing it in an open manner.

I think the issue is black and white - as in listing. There are two basic approaches to access control, blacklisting and whitelisting. Black listing is about maintaining a list of banned substances. This is on the whole what they have been doing. The problem is that drugs are evolving so fast, that a crafty chemist can find a loophole. And it takes time to discover it, research the substance, and then add it to the blacklist. But that is the general approach.

If baseball was in fact serious about this issue, and especially the effect on children, it might implement a whitelist approach, where a list of allowed substances is managed. Everything else is off limits. If you want to take something, submit it to the board, if it gets approved, then you can take it. Otherwise, you can get prosecuted for it. The downside of this approach is the overhead of maintaining an active stance on substance legality. You would have to setup baseball's mini-FDA. But, it makes the rules clear at all times, it gives no player with a secret potion an advantage since everyone has access to the whitelist, and it also sets a hardline stance of what is safe, which for outsiders, especially kids, is important.

Lastly, the testing and enforcement process needs to be transparent. Random and frequent drug testing should be mandatory. If you can pay A-Rod $300 million, you can ask him to pee in a cup every week. And every other player for that matter. Twice a week in the post season. If you don't like it, I am sure there are other professions that will pay you your millions. And the report on no shows, effectivity, etc. should be scrutinized by a committee or other open body. The penalties should be clearly spelled out, and enforced. Do we really need the US Congress to step in?

And by the way, it't not just baseball. But basketball. Football. Hockey. And every other conceivable sport. God forbid if I have to endure this scandal for each one separately.

America should stop being the pansy in the corner thinking about how honorable sports and the importance of living a childhood dream. Our honor rests on much more these days and it's time to grow up a little. It's entertainment, not chivalry.

Sports federations should stop being a roid raged bum of an athlete focused on immoral acts for the gain of the sport. If you want to project honor, be honorable. If you want to make money, open it up and be a businessman. Hell, let's start an altered Olympics. Anything goes. That's entertainment!

But most of all, can they take this off the front page? There is a war going on. A new presidential campaign. A million people might lose their homes. Iran just got enriched uranium from Russia. Economists are talking about stagflation. And it's Christmakwanzicah.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Motorola Q-uitter

It's hard to imagine a more important service in you life: your phone. The number of people who now rely solely on their mobile phone has increased 10 fold in the past 5 years. But as phones get more complicated, constantly pushing the bleeding edge, they frequently experience issues. But this is just ridiculous.

In the past 18 months, my Motorola Q with Windows Mobile has had to be replaced 5 times because of issues. That's a shocking 3-4 months mean time between failure. That's crazy!! Every time I have had it replaced, it takes several hours at the Verizon store, plus shipping the new phone, plus shipping the old phone back and all the ancillary activity. Plus, the stores have to coordinate with the Verizon call center. All this must cost a tremendous amount. With slim margins, how can Verizon be making money here?
Maybe my experience is isolated. But according to the Verizon shop out in La Jolla, this is all too common.

They told me that I should get the Blackberry which works like a charm. Well, great. Let's replace it. They then proceeded to try to charge me $600. So after spending $500 on a phone that is a complete lemon, it's time to draw the line. I am calling Verizon tomorrow and demanding a different model or I am out. $100 bucks says it's an iPhone from AT & T and I want Verizon to know exactly why! I actually am looking forward to getting on the phone with them because I know it costs them $6.

I guess this is how you take your most valuable customers and turn them into enemies. If you offer high end products to the most demanding market segment and they are terrible, the tarnished reputation will follow you.

Hasta la vista, Motorola and Verizon.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Nothing to Fear but the Lack of Fear

I wrote awhile back that it was quite odd to interact with the animals in the Galapagos because they were completely fearless of natural predators. There are no wolves, bears, or other carnivorous mammals, so why would birds, turtles, or sea lions be afraid of me? It suggests a wonderful utopian nature built without primal fear.

But outside of the Galapagos, predators are everywhere. And so squirrels in Central Park scurry away, birds keep their distance, and deer stand at watch with their nervous gaze, ready for flight in an instant. That’s the natural state of things.

I guess that’s why I should be more suspicious of animals that don’t fear me. This week I went scuba diving off the Channel Islands in California. It was the last dive of the trip. As Matt, Rob, our divemaster, and I all descended down the anchor line in our dry suits, we noticed an odd looking ray near the bottom. It has the body of a ray, flounderish, and round, like an odd alien craft. About two and half feet in diameter, it was hovering and undulating just above the sand, its little membrane covered eyes almost hidden. It also has the tail of a shark, making it look like a strange mutant of a creature, further suggesting its antiquity and rarity, and of course making it even more interesting to explore and interact with.

The animal was calm at our approach and I floated towards it with small, slow kicks that were designed not to agitate the sand and cloud the waters. Within seconds I was face to face with it, both of us hovering inches above the sand. Rob and Matt watched as I came face to face with it. A diver took photos. All of a sudden it flipped vertically and I was confronted with its fishy, white underbelly, and 8 inch mouth with small sharp teeth. It went towards my face, and I flipped backward in instinctual defense. It was like the incubator animal in Alien, and it immediately jarred me. Not that this little thing could hurt me, or so I thought. So I relaxed and re-approached. Almost immediately it laid back on down on the sand and so did I, and it came up to me and rubbed by my neoprene covered hand. After another minute, it scooted off.

As I got back on the boat and we all reveled in my experience, the captain chuckled at our giddiness and my bravado. He began by describing the animal to the tee, including the blue gray body and spots and then proceeded to inform me that it was the pacific electric ray, an animal capable of discharging a kilowatt in 45 volt bursts, or roughly twice the current of an electric breaker. The captain knew someone who had been attacked by one, who had wrapped its underside around the head, and delivered the stunning charge. The 6’4, 300 pound behemoth described it as being hit in the head with a bat.

The official word from the Florida Museum of Natural History is that:

Divers are warned to avoid contact with the ray, as the shock of 45 volts or more is powerful enough to knock down an adult human. The Pacific electric ray is very confrontational and if harassed, will swim directly at divers. There are no confirmed mortalities from this ray, but there are some unexplained scuba fatalities in which this ray might have played a part.

If a great white or tiger shark takes too much interest in you, they say you should swim towards it, not away from it, indicating a lack of fear. In the wild, that will scare an animal, because it doesn’t know what you are and what your confidence indicates. Next time, perhaps I should take the same advice when an animal seems so unafraid of me …

Friday, December 07, 2007

Instructional Videos on the Web

This is an interesting follow up to the original piece by Kansas State professor Jon Burg describing how the web changes information. It also shows the value of video to captivate and communicate key ideas. Video instruction over the web I predict will become a huge market. Already pitching some ideas to people for niche market segments. Where is expertise hard to find? What instructional videos would you watch? Knitting? Tae Kwon Do? Open Heart Surgery? The opportunities are endless. And the imagination for how to convey ideas over video are as well.

If you can't see this, try clicking on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4CV05HyA

Thursday, December 06, 2007

God is Not Great: Book Review and Rant

I recently finished Christopher Hitchens' new book God is Not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything and I thought it was reaffirming, although it got a little bit repetitive in the end. How many examples of the absurdity of religion are necessary to prove the point? How many examples of religious intolerance does it take to sway the tide? I guess for others it might require more argument, but I was bought in from the get go.

Unfortunately, what the book does not do is pave a way for creating a more agnostic society or more importantly a tolerant society. Hitchens is the serial contrarian, not the reformist. How do you fight for a non-idea vs. a bad idea? Kind of like the democrats vs republicans in the past 4 years, although recently the democratic debate borders on substance.

How do you preach such a simple concept of inclusion and objectivity when fanatical charmers are wooing followers by the thousands, dominating the educational system in areas, and commanding communication. How do you stand up and say "I don’t know what I believe but you are not right,” and make that a battle cry? (the not right being about intolerance not faith, although frankly ...).

I think a lot will be about changing the semantics of arguments. Evolution is a “scientific theory” which is the equivalent in natural English of a “law.” No one would argue with the law of gravity. What about the law of evolution? What if we could extend hate crimes bill to people who are targeted for lacking faith? What else can we do? The estate tax didn’t get repealed until it was relabeled the “death tax.” How do we change the language to make it more difficult? Intelligent design is not an “alternative scientific theory” just a “theory” like the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but somehow we are losing this debate, and badly, I might add. If we can’t win one with such weighty evidence (they just found one of the highly publicized missing links in a glacier in Canada), how can we win at all?

When can we return to the age of reason? Was that an illusion too? All I know is I am getting pretty aggravated with the level of idealogical violence in the world today. God forbid you let kids name a Teddy Bear Muhammed or publish a cartoon or ... or ... or ...

Monday, November 05, 2007

Living in the Lap of Luxury

I never even thought about that term "lap of luxury" until now. Living in the lap ... I guess it's about being protected, comforted, and enabled by a greater being or force. More to think about later.

But I write this because today I ate a $40 salad and tried on a $45K Hermes overcoat. Mink on the inside. And some special, rarer than cashmere wool that is made from just the necks of baby sheep. Then again, there is Astrakhan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astrakhan_(fur) ) which is from the fur of aborted baby lambs. What a sick world we live in as we ski down the bell curve of scarcity and luxury ...

What do you use, consume, or depend on that is really is sad in the greater scheme of things?

Monday, October 15, 2007

I Believe I Can Fly

No, no R. Kelly. Sit down. This is for real. For the first time, I can see it working. I am dying to get one of these outfits and get going. No, mom, not that level of dying. Check this out!!!


Flying Human TricksPRO.com - Wingsuite - The funniest videos clips are here

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Learning not to Care

There are things in this world that we just cannot change. Learning to accept that fact is harder than just writing it on this page or acknowledging its intrinsic obviousness.

It is in my own nature to control or affect a situation that causes me concern. But far too often that is not very realistic. The state of our political environment makes my heart drop. How do you start addressing the wonton and systematic disregard for the truth in the new era of political market messaging driven by capitalism rather than democracy? Is it any surprise that so many feel disenfranchised? They are. When candidates like Hilary Clinton raise $27M in a quarter, how many votes does that buy?

I work in marketing where terms like buyer persona research and campaign ROIs determine success or failure of companies. In the end, you think about the cost of customer acquisition. These are the same in politics but they are polling and budget allocation and I’d bet that campaign managers know exactly how many votes (electoral or otherwise) $27M can buy. It’s all very sad. For most, it is much easier to give up on an external system whose participation is optional. But what about things that are much more close, personal, and frequent?

How do you watch a close friend go down an inevitable path of addiction, alienating their friends to protect their habit? How do you admit that they are all too successful in making it too painful to help? How do you admit that you will ultimately only be ineffectual? How do you be there and not? How do you offer to help and know that you can’t?

How do you watch an organization go down a path of destruction that systematically alienates the people with whom you have built close ties from serving in the trenches over long days and nights? How do you spend years fighting for something that you now realize is beyond your control?

At a certain point, you have to stop caring to survive. But what does that mean? What are you trading off for happiness or dignity? Are you turning your back on love? Are you giving up the idealism that leads to great ideas? Are you abandoning the persistence that achieves the most impossible of dreams? Is it survival? Does it get easier and easier over time to let resistance overcome us? Is this aging and maturing or dying?

Part of me hopes to God I learn how not to care. Part of me trembles at the fact that I might be.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Angst, Aged 30 Years

My friend Meredith sent me this story and it seemed to capture my current angst. Barlow's suggestions for adjusting the mindset could be more expansive, but self-awareness is probably a first step. I know several people who could use this read, so I thought I would share.

Tribal Workers

Today's generation of high-earning professionals maintain that their personal fulfilment comes from their jobs and the hours they work. They should grow up, says Thomas Barlow.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited

A friend of mine recently met a young American woman who was studying on a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford. She already had two degrees from top US universities, had worked as a lawyer and as a social worker in the US, and somewhere along the way had acquired a black belt in kung fu. Now, however, her course at Oxford was coming to an end and she was thoroughly angst-ridden about what to do next.
Her problem was no ordinary one.
She couldn't decide whether she should make a lot of money as a corporate lawyer/management consultant, devote herself to charity work helping battered wives in disadvantaged Communities, or go to Hollywood to work as a stunt double in kung fu films. What most struck my friend was not the disparity of this woman's choices, but the earnestness and bad grace with which she ruminated on them. It was almost as though she begrudged her own talents, Opportunities and freedom - as though the world had treated her unkindly by forcing her to make such a hard choice.
Her case is symptomatic of our times. In recent years, there has grown up a culture of discontent among the highly educated young something that seems to flare up, especially, when people reach their late 20s and early 30s. It arises not from frustration caused by lack of opportunity, as may have been true in the past, but from an excess of possibilities.
Most theories of adult developmental psychology have a special category for those in their late 20s and early 30s.
Whereas the early to mid-20s are seen as a time to establish one's mode of living, the late 20s to early 30s are often considered a period of reappraisal. In a society where people marry and have children young, where financial burdens accumulate early, and where job markets are inflexible, such appraisals may not last long. But when people manage to remain free of financial or family burdens, and where the perceived opportunities for alternative careers are many, the reappraisal is likely to be strong.
Among no social group is this more true than the modern, International, professional elite: that tribe of young bankers, lawyers, consultants and managers for whom financial, familial, personal, corporate and (increasingly) national ties have become irrelevant. Often they grew up in one country, were educated in another, and are now working in a third.
They are independent, well paid, and enriched by experiences that many of their parents could only dream of. Yet, by their late 20s, many carry a sense of disappointment: that for all their opportunities, freedoms and achievements, life has not delivered quite what they had hoped. At the heart of this disillusionment lies a new attitude towards work.
The idea has grown up, in recent years, that work should not be just a means to an end a way to make money, support a family, or gain social prestige but should provide a rich and fulfilling experience in and of itself. Jobs are no longer just jobs; they are lifestyle options. Recruiters at financial companies, consultancies and law firms have promoted this conception of work. Job advertisements promise challenge, wide experiences, opportunities for travel and relentless personal development.
Michael is a 33-year-old management consultant who has bought into this vision of late-20th century work. Intelligent and well-educated - with three degrees, including a doctorate - he works in Munich, and has a "stable, long-distance relationship" with a woman living in California. He takes 140 flights a year and works an average of 80 hours a week. Some weeks he works more than 100 hours.
When asked if he likes his job, he will say: "I enjoy what I'm doing in terms of the intellectual challenges." Although he earns a lot, he doesn't spend much. He rents a small apartment, though he is rarely there, and has accumulated very few possessions. He justifies the long hours not in terms of wealth-acquisition, but solely as part of a "learning experience".
This attitude to work has several interesting implications, mostly to do with the shifting balance between work and non-work, employment and leisure. Because fulfilling and engrossing work - the sort that is thought to provide the most intense learning experience - often requires long hours or captivates the imagination for long periods of time, it is easy to slip into the idea that the converse is also true: that just by working long hours, one is also engaging in fulfilling and engrossing work. This leads to the popular fallacy that you can measure the value of your job (and, therefore, the amount you are learning from it) by the amount of time you spend on it. And, incidentally, when a premium is placed on learning rather than earning, people are particularly susceptible to this form of self-deceit.
Thus, whereas in the past, when people in their 20s or 30s spoke disparagingly about nine-to-five jobs it was invariably because they were seen as too routine, too unimaginative, or too bourgeois. Now, it is simply because they don't contain enough hours.
Young professionals have not suddenly developed a distaste for leisure, but they have solidly bought into the belief that a 45-hour week necessarily signifies an unfulfilling job. Jane, a 29-year-old corporate lawyer who works in the City of London, tells a story about working on a deal with another lawyer, a young man in his early 30s. At about 3am, he leant over the boardroom desk and said: "Isn't this great? This is when I really love my job." What most struck her about the remark was that the work was irrelevant (she says it was actually rather boring); her colleague simply liked the idea of working late. "It's as though he was validated, or making his life important by this," she says.
Unfortunately, when people can convince themselves that all they need do in order to lead fulfilled and happy lives is to work long hours, they can quickly start to lose reasons for their existence. As they start to think of their employment as a lifestyle, fulfilling and rewarding of itself - and in which the reward is proportional to hours worked - people rapidly begin to substitute work for other aspects of their lives.
Michael, the management consultant, is a good example of this phenomenon. He is prepared to trade (his word) not just goods and time for the experience afforded by his work, but also a substantial measure of commitment in his personal relationships. In a few months, he is being transferred to San Francisco, where he will move in with his girlfriend. But he's not sure that living the same house is actually going to change the amount of time he spends on his relationship. "Once I move over, my time involvement on my relationship will not change significantly. My job takes up most of my time and pretty much dominates what I do, when, where and how I do it," he says. Moreover, the reluctance to commit time to a relationship because they are learning so much, and having such an intense and fulfilling time at work is compounded, for some young professionals, by a reluctance to have a long-term relationship at all.
Today, by the time someone reaches 30, they could easily have had three or four jobs in as many different cities - which is not, as it is often portrayed, a function of an insecure global job-market, but of choice. Robert is 30 years old. He has three degrees and has worked on three continents. He is currently working for the United Nations in Geneva. For him, the most significant deterrent when deciding whether to enter into a relationship is the likely transient nature of the rest of his life. "What is the point in investing all this emotional energy and exposing myself in a relationship, if I am leaving in two months, or if I do not know what I am doing next year?" he says.
Such is the character of the modern, international professional, at least throughout his or her 20s. Spare time, goods and relationships, these are all willingly traded for the exigencies of work. Nothing is valued so highly as accumulated experience. Nothing is neglected so much as commitment. With this work ethic - or perhaps one should call it a "professional development ethic" - becoming so powerful, the globally mobile generation now in its late 20s and early 30s has garnered considerable professional success. At what point, though, does the experience-seeking end?
Kathryn is a successful American academic, 29, who bucked the trend of her generation: she recently turned her life round for someone else. She moved to the UK, specifically, to be with a man, a decision that she says few of her contemporaries understood. "We're not meant to say: 'I made this decision for this person. Today, you're meant to do things for yourself. If you're willing to make sacrifices for others - especially if you're a woman - that's seen as a kind of weakness. I wonder, though, is doing things for yourself really empowerment, or is liberty a kind of trap?" she says.
For many, it is a trap that is difficult to break out of, not least because they are so caught up in a culture of professional development. And spoilt for choice, some like the American Rhodes Scholar no doubt become paralysed by their opportunities, unable to do much else in their lives, because they are so determined not to let a single one of their chances slip. If that means minimal personal commitments well into their 30s, so be it. "Loneliness is better than boredom" is Jane's philosophy.
And, although she knows "a lot of professional single women who would give it all up if they met a rich man to marry", she remains far more concerned herself about finding fulfillment at work. "I am constantly questioning whether I am doing the right thing here," she says. "There's an eternal search for a more challenging and satisfying option, a better lifestyle. You always feel you're not doing the right thing always feel as if you should be striving for another goal," she says.
Jane, Michael, Robert and Kathryn grew up as part of a generation with fewer social constraints determining their futures than has been true for probably any other generation in history. They were taught at school that when they grew up they could "do anything", "be anything". It was an idea that was reinforced by popular culture, in films, books and television.
The notion that one can do anything is clearly liberating. But life without constraints has also proved a recipe for endless searching, endless questioning of aspirations. It has made this generation obsessed with self-development and determined, for as long as possible, to minimise personal commitments in order to maximise the options open to them. One might see this as a sign of extended adolescence.
Eventually, they will be forced to realise that living is as much about closing possibilities as it is about creating them.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Create a Bold New World for Yourself

So much has happened, why I haven't I blogged? Maybe too overwhelmed with everything going on ... maybe blinded. When you come back from vacation, especially spectacular vacations, it makes you day dream. When you spend your days snorkeling with whale sharks, climbing famous mountains on camels, and touching biblical burning bushes, it makes you wonder why you spend so much of your time doing other things.

Money. Sure. Fame. Definitely. Pre-programmed desires that enforce a culture?

As I watch my European counterparts take 2 weeks of vacation at a time, several times a year, I wonder to myself, why do I live in the US? When you watch 47,000 people create collectively in a free environment that lacks any sense of money or self-promotion you might wonder whether your stock account is worth it.

I continually am reminded about Dan Pink's "A Whole New Mind." We all need to focus more on what we create to be truly happy. For me, I think I am going to start working on the cooking class I have wanted to teach for almost a year now and have made limited strides in putting together.

This is my line in the sand on procrastinating on my creation ...

If you don't hear more, call me out.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Untethered and Wireless Oxymoron

A lot of technology analysts have talked about the "untethered internet," which is to say that with mobile devices you can have the Internet anywhere, without a physical tie to the network. Remember tether ball? The reality is it is all a big lie. Because we have become so dependent on our mobile phones, we are now more dependent on being connected than ever, as I learned this weekend while my phone was dead. I was completely dysfunctional, carrying scraps of paper with phone numbers around and $5 in quarters running to find pay phones which no longer exist because everyone has a mobile phone. I never felt so lost without my tether. I went fetal.

Of course wireless is the other big oxymoron. With every new wireless device (phone, PDA, iPod, etc.) I have to carry more and more specialty wires with me. Why not just one wire? The USB 2.0 cable! With a USB dock you could plug anything in at any time in any region. Well, then everytime you lost your charger you wouldn't have to shell out $39.99 for a charger that literally costs less than $0.20 to manufacture. It's just a way to get more revenue out of you.

So I now I sit here with a jungle of 5 different wires in my laptop bag, completely dependent on the tether to my network thinking about all the promises of freedom in an untethered world. Seems like a sham to me.

Here have some wireless crack. It will free your mind. I promise.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Monumental Collective

Check out this amazing video of the North Korean Mass games.

Watching this video of Korean cooperation shows the power of the human collective, working together in unison. The sheer amount of energy, time, and coordination required boggles the mind. If we could coordinate like this by the tens of thousands, what else could we do? We could raise awareness for virtually anything. We could change government policies or reverse elections. We could build monuments. We could be monuments.

A lot of new technology out there is about harnessing the power of the collective. Wikipedia is the obvious example. But check out sites like Kiva which enables people like me to becom micro-lenders for people in 3rd world countries. And then there are of course all the social networking sites, which to a large extent have been a practical distraction, but I would argue hasn't reached its full portential and lent itself to the betterment of the world ... yet.

What can you organize to do? What are you being organized to do? The North Koreans organize for show. Now if they could only organize for peace or agriculture.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Faith and Love II: Actions Are Louder Than Feelings

I spent a lazy Saturday afternoon in bed and watched a bunch of movies, one of which was The Last Kiss, with Zach Braff, whom I love from Scrubs and Garden State (though I here he is an a-hole in person). But hey, sometimes you can fake things outwardly but it is hard to hide who you are inside. And sometimes it is the other way around. Sometimes it's easy to fake who you are inside and hard to fake it outwardly. Let me explain.

There was an interesting rebuke of Zach Braff's character in the movie when he is caught cheating on his pregnant girlfriend and he proclaims his love for forgiveness:

"Stop talking about love. Every asshole in the world says he loves somebody. It means nothing. It still doesn't mean anything. What you feel only matters to you. It's what you do to the people you say you love, that's what matters. It's the only thing that counts. "

In light of recent posts and actions, this somehow was especially poignant to me. It's easy to internalize feelings, shape them, touch them, and let them distort your vision of actions past and planned. But all that really matters is what you do and the effect on the ones you love. And it is here, I probably get mixed grades. Of course all relationships involve you and others, so you can't take all failures on the chin.

I think this same premise follows for your faith. I care less about what your faith is and more how it affects others. So I find it difficult to call Islam a religion of peace, when fanatics strap bombs to themselves and kill civilians in the name of Allah. Similarly, I find the Christians are un-Christianly when they condemn gays and single mothers, and the Pope declares other religions as "defective."

Your faith should be like your love. What does it bring to those around you? What is the effect of your love in people and in God? Do you use love as a lever or as a lens?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

My Perceived Anonymity

This blog is dangerous. If you ask my mom, really dangerous. We were talking about one of my more personal entries and she asked, "What if decision makers read this blog?" Who are these decision makers, mom? If you are out there please respond so I know to censor myself. What bad things could happen? It seems a bit silly ... at first.

Talking to my good friend Simon, he mentioned that it was what he most admired about my blog, my openness and honesty. I was really opening others up to my innermost feelings, questions, and challenges. One person even remarked that they learned more about me from my blog posts than from talking to me directly. And I think that is quite accurate. Would I really publicly talk about fireflies and why they represent my ability to appreciate the meaningful things around me? Would I really open up that perhaps we are not designed to be happy but to be continuously driven by an unrelenting desire to strive for more? Maybe.

This blog for me is my diary in many ways. I have this perceived anonymity as I type these words. They are just words on a computer. They exist on a white background, nothing else. I am not going to document every twist and turn in life, I wouldn’t find that interesting, and I am also unable to fully suspend my disbelief. But my innermost thoughts and feelings are in here, and thus they are subject to the rollercoaster of my life. And it isn't all pretty.

And so mom was right. This blog can be dangerous, if I write in the wrong state of mind or am not thoughtful about what I say or accurately represent myself. Not everything you read is a perfect reflection of me. These are all snapshots in time and state.

Right now, I feel cautious as I write on…

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Blind Faith Leading the Blind

I almost hate to pick on the Pope because it so easy. The robe. The funny hat. The ridiculous car. That stuff is easy, and so is picking on his idealogy. The Pope this week demonstrated yet again why blind faith can be so dangerous.

In a decision to overturn the 1960's reform into the modern era of the Catholic Church, the Pope reinstated the old rules. The old, old rules. Without getting into too much detail, he called all other orthodox churches "defective" and Christian churches not "true churches." Defective? That's just mean. And intolerant. And ignorant. And this is where fanatical religions and their figure heads become farsical.

Where is the "love thy neighbor" in continuous, unscrupulous condemnation? Where is the good samaritan figure giving shelter and food to the helpless? Actually, the Catholic church did just pay $660 Million to the helpless - the sexually abused little boys in California that they molested. Who among you is asking how the Catholic Church had a half of a BILLION dollars to spare? For just California? For one lawsuit ...

My older sister sent me a prayer a couple months back. And part of it was a recital of the fact that my love is petty and meaningless without God. At a certain point, you have to say "how dare you?" I have had meaningful love. And while I am struggling to find meaning in life, I don't force strict rules on others in their paths. Except when they become intolerant. What if I called you defective or meaningless or petty?

My friend Kristen. Religious. Tolerant. Wonderful. The Pope? Not so much. With leaders like this, is it any wonder that we continue to experience the polarization of beliefs? That religious wars and fanatics rage on? That there are genocides. What are the Muslims supposed to think about the Pope's request for "honest and open dialogue" when he condems people that for a large part believe the same things he does, like Jesus being the son of God?

Is this dialogue really making our world better? Aren't the fanatics from the Taliban to the Evangelicals the ones perverting their own faiths? Aren't they the ones that are being defective?

Kristen has faith. She sees everyone else around her, their beliefs, and is respectful. She makes the world a better place. The Pope is letting his blind faith blind others and it pains me to watch.

I think it is time we all see the light.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Fireflies, Tourists and Poverty

Yesterday I was walking through Tompkins Square Park and I saw my first firefly of the season. It made me smile and think of childish days, of chasing after fireflies in the night with my sister. It was vivid. And then I noticed the trees and all the leaves, the wet smell of the dirt, the flowers that had bloomed but were sagging under the absorbed water weight. And then I saw a man sleeping on a wet park bench. I am not sure I would have seen, I mean really seen, any of these things without the firefly.

I really love to travel. To see new things. New cultures. New adventures. Perhaps that is why my Mom thinks I am insane. I am going scuba diving in Antartica. Pretty crazy, but there are fireflies under that ice and I want to capture them in my mental jar. And tourism is wonderful because you look at everything with new eyes. Like a child. Everything is slightly different, strange, and strangely insightful. Your brain recognizes new patterns, has more to process, and it can be captivating. The trick is to get more than a cursory view, but to actually emerse yourself enough to see what really is going on.

As I walked through the park last night, I had long ago stopped seeing New York City with tourist eyes. I had long ago taken for granted Tompkins Square Park and the homeless people around me. And all at once, the firefly ignited a great sense of urgency, of fear even, that I am missing it. That I am walking past life, not through it. And so I am going to take a more active look around and explore. It is too easy to take things for granted and forget about the serious things, the things that bring meaning to our lives. Sometimes you need a tiny light in the dark to wake you up.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Love: Because I Got to Have Faith, Faith, Faith

Love is a funny thing. What an understatement! I have spent a lot of time thinking about love recently with the recent turbulent state of my love life. I have always dated wonderful girls. The last couple girlfriends have been an A-list fashion stylist, a woman who runs cancer research trials internationally, the NY Times Teacher of the Year, and a leading HIV researcher and published author. One might conclude I have been doing well. In some ways I have.

But as I look back, almost definitively there was a point where I decided that they weren’t the one. I had lost faith in the viability of the relationship. For one, it was a ridiculous public display when she misheard me. For another it was long distance. For another, it was a hormone induced fit that I hoped was atypical, but lasted far too long. For another, it was an insatiable insecurity.

Now you might think that I ended the relationship there. But I never was that smart or that ready to part. I thought I was “giving it a chance”. Instead, I was slowly pulling away, even joking near the end of the “Trevor soft landing approach”. (Full disclosure: the last one was crash and burn). Because I had lost faith in the person and in the proverbial “us,” I had started looking for faults. And we all have them. God knows I am difficult to deal with. But each fault became a way to reinforce the conclusion that I had already come to. And even worse, as I pull away, they typically turn it on. The adage is very true: “We run away from that which chases us, and chase that which runs away from us.” The more they would chase, the more I would pull away. The more guilty I would feel as they got more caught up and I got less. The less I enjoyed their company. The more I would pull away. The more they would chase ...

They say that relationships take work, constant care and feeding. Perhaps if I had more faith in the possibility of a positive end state (how romantic are those sterile words?) I would have made greater efforts. Perhaps if I had a better outlook, I would have overlooked the trivial things that really didn’t matter. And perhaps, I would have stayed or fallen in love.

Faith in its own way becomes a foregone conclusion. It is well documented the way people distort facts to support pre-existing beliefs. Is finding the “one” about admitting that I could settle down and live the rest of my life with someone? Is it about admitting that I could care enough about someone whom I couldn’t spend the rest of my life without? That’s my brother’s definition of love. I would like to say I truly believe in it. I am witnessing it this weekend as I perform a wedding for two of my friends. But maybe my biggest obstacle is my perceived fierce independence and invulnerability, which manifests itself not surprisingly as invulnerability through fierce independence. I create that barrier.

One of these girls recently mentioned to me that the only obstacles in a relationship are the ones we make. It’s the ones we choose to believe in. Faith can be a choice. Sometimes a blind choice. But those choices may close, or just as easily, open you up to love.

Now if faith only came that easy …

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Fourth Beautiful, Fourth Spacious Skies ...

Another distraction from my introspection on faith. But it is a goodie. Last night we threw a 4th of July party. If you weren't in the Hamptons, partying in the heart of "Merica," you probably were there. We had DJs, powered amps and speakers, a 60 square foot kiddie pool, and beautiful fireworks. The scene was, well picturesque. So picturesque in fact, that a photo of our party is on the front page of today's New York Times Metro Section. Simply awesome! Next year, the cover of Newsweek!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I Shit You Not

I know I am supposed to be waxing poetic about faith this week, but I was in the elevator at work watching the Captivate network and nearly pissed myself when I read the following story:

"5 Die in Virginia Dairy Farm from Methane Emissions in Manure Pit."

Last words? "Holy Shit?" Ahh, those wacky Mennonites ...

Here is the story and the link:

Five dead in Virginia farming accident
HARRISONBURG, Va. (AP) - Tragedy on a Virginia dairy farm, as four members of a Mennonite family died trying to rescue a farmhand and each other from a manure pit.
Rockingham County authorities say five people in all were killed by methane gas emanating from the pit.
The sheriff says emergency workers speculate that each of the victims climbed into the pit in a frantic attempt to rescue the others.
The victims included a couple and 2 of their daughters, ages nine and eleven.
Methane gas is a byproduct of liquefied manure.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Secret - Faith for Faith's Sake

There has been a lot of buzz about The Secret. A book, a movie, a movement. The essence of The Secret is that if you want to control the outcome of a situation you visualize it, actually feel that success emotionally, and that creates an energetic vibration with the universe that makes it happen. So if I am looking for a parking spot near my apartment, I should visualize it; feel the success of parking right in front of my building, getting out of the car and giving myself a high five; and auto-magically the parking space would appear. Perception becomes reality.

As a science geek, I found the scientific explanation to be lacking, though there are some interesting, though shallow discussions about energy and vibration. But what about the theory itself. I decided to give it a whirl. About a month back I decided to start using The Secret (sorry it begs to be underlined). I actively used it at a club, actually saying to myself “Use the Secret”. I focused on winning the Grey Goose bottle service raffle, believed in my heart that I had already won, and voila, I won! Since then I have gotten mixed results. Some eyebrow-raisers. I can’t say there have been uncanny coincidences. But I haven’t been hit by a truck either.

Cynics would argue that I am not really suspending my disbelief and hence not truly harnessing the power of The Secret. That’s probably a bit true. But that is also why it is such a questionable technique. It’s simple and dangerous: If you have faith in the outcome it will happen. If it didn’t it was because you didn’t have faith. How can your argue logically with that?

What a brilliant idea. All you need to do is imagine and it will happen. What an easy concept to sell to people who want more for themselves. It feels so much like a scam, but the problem is that it has a lot of basis in truth.

There have been several interesting studies done where teachers were told the smart kids were the slower kids and the slower kids were the smart ones. The result was that the "slower kids" started doing better on the tests than the "smart kids." Just by treating someone a certain way, or believing they are a certain way, makes them become that way. This makes the classification of the kids as slow or smart not something intrinsic but transient, and questionably accurate at all.

Visualization techniques are common in sports. In one case, a weightlifter who had maxed out at about 400 lbs was asked to do some visualization techniques. Less than an hour later, he lifted 500lbs for the first time. All he needed was faith in the ability to do it.

So in the first example, it was a mistake. Believing the wrong thing, made slower kids smarter. In the second, faith and visualization was used intentionally to achieve a specific goal. What if you did both? What if you intentionally believed in something you knew was wrong, but it was what you wanted? Could you manifest the seemingly impossible? Is the reason that you are where you are because of what you believe, whether right or wrong?

Could you make your life better by believing in the right wrong things? Maybe. Try it …

Friday, June 29, 2007

Finding a Balance and Finding Faith

There’s little secret that I have recently been struggling with my work-life balance. Hence the absence of the blog for the past couple months. It’s gone a bit too far. I understand that. But I had faith in what I was doing, about how I could help my company, and what I could learn in an exciting opportunity. And I look back with joy and regret. ‘

My brother and I were talking about happiness in a fishing boat on a beautiful day this spring. And he mentioned that the joy and fulfillment of one’s life rests on several pillars: work, love, friends and family, community, and god. He pointed out that I was lacking several key pillars. But the one that most eluded me was god. And my struggle there has always been with faith.

Faith. It can lead to good and evil. It can lead and mislead. What is faith? Well an online dictionary gives us two important distinctions:
1. Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
2. Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence

The more interesting definition is the latter, when faith lacks evidence or logic. But of course it is a sliding scale. How much evidence is definitive evidence? When does a logical conclusion turn into an educated guess into faith and then blind faith itself? The next week or two, I want to examine faith. It turns out that all the pillars depend on it and that sometimes faith in something wrong turns out to be right.

And even this man who resists faith has begun to discover that faith appears in some of the oddest of places. Perhaps I am a more than a man of the cloth, but a man of faith too… Are you?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

MyVote, MyPrimary, MyPresident, MyWarfare

Sorry, I have been gone for so bloody long. I am back ...

In a fascinating announcement, MySpace announced that it will hold a presidential primary one month before Super Tuesday, when roughly 20 states hold their primaries. Given that MySpace is bigger than any state, bigger than all of Mexico, what does this mean?

Of course it's not all that real. The primary holds no electoral power. It also isn't limited to Americans. Nor are there any checks to prevent me from voting numerous times over numerous accounts. So it is all brew ha ha. But is it?

MySpace gives a voice to the underrepresented, voters under 30. It engages them in a new way and puts their voting power into consideration in a way that might spark greater voter turn-out. I predict a significant increase in the 18-25 segment. How big could it be? 10%? 20%? maybe. It may still be a pitiful number with the increase. But it WILL influence the vote.

Secondly, it further forces candidates in the online arena. Blogs, videos, search engine marketing, sure. But more than that. Right now, Obama has 5x as many friends as Edwards, and 10x as Hilary. Obama also has inspired people to develop videos for YouTube. But extending out the Obama video example, what about search engine espionage? Just search for "incompetence" or "stupid leader" on Google and find George Bush.

The future based on the current state of affairs leads to information warfare that will make the Swiftboat organization look like Green Peace. With the Net's anonymity, there is no cost to nastiness, and the American people have a healthy apetite for scandal. Sure there are lines that you might cross that would offend us, but short of those few, you could just about say anything. Then again, based on the last election, most lines have already been crossed. But expect it to go further. Expect some outrage. Shouting. Finger pointing into the hazy abyss of the Internet. Nixon like gestures of innocence.

A war has begun. And an equilibrium will emerge after both parties go way too far. Where will the American people land? I don't know. But if history is a track record, I would buckle up. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Feedback from my post on Why I Would Have an Eating Disorder if I Were a Woman pointed out two main things. First was how largely irrattional, sub-concious, and compulsive an eating disorder truly is. Perhaps I analysed too intellectually, and did not do a good enough job describing how deep a psychological disorder this is. Maybe it is less rational than I portrayed, although I had attempted to paint that the rational justification is just the first step in spreading the deep psychological roots. Layers, as per my previous posts.

The second piece of feedback was the prevalence of male eating disorders. This Washington Post article discusses a recent study confirming one quarter of cases of anorexia and bulimia are of men. And it appears on the rise.

I think both the irrational compulsion and male comments are highlighted by this quote from the article:

"Some men have suffered from all three. Among them is Matt Gaebel, 22, who was hospitalized for anorexia during his sophomore year at North Carolina State University after his weight plummeted from 155 to 106 pounds. Gabel, who is 6 feet 3 inches tall, said he subsequently developed bulimia to cope with the weight he gained during treatment for anorexia, then turned to binge eating out of concern that self-induced vomiting would ruin his teeth."

You almost want to laugh, if it weren't so sad ...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Fear of a Brown Planet

As many of you know, my sister won an award for the Nashville young leader of the year by helping out underprivileged kids who were mostly minorities. Recently she has been working on an inclusion policy (racial friendliness) and fighting legislation to require English at the workplace. She relayed to me how much people in Nashville fear the fact the world is getting browner. In Nashville as well as America as a whole, Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of the population, other than it seems, Reality TV contestants. As a native New Yorker, I like to see myself as open minded, unbiased, inclusionary, tolerant, yada, yada, yada. But you have to be careful in the way the fear machine seeps in.

Because of a late reservation for my last trip to London, the only affordable ticket was on Air India. Whether I liked it or not, there was an extra level of fear and anxiety that naturally crept in on the security line because everyone around me was, well, brown. Of course, I knew that Indians are different than Middle Easterners (though I justified some fear with the large Indian Muslim population). Nevertheless, I was shocked how much the not so subtle fear campaign of this administration has affected me.

That’s not to say that Indian people aren’t different. Much like the Chinese and I theorize other over-populated cultures which have people that have to fight fiercely for resources, the Indians in the airport were pushy in crowds. I always had someone leaning on me, from the back, from the side. When we boarded at the gate, the gate attendant had to call security because the crowd was pushing past her. She tried to hold them back, even raised her leg to brace the door. It was surreal, laughable even. Yes, Indians are a very pushy people.

But why should you believe me, when I write this? Am I not just another source of bias?

I believe many stereotypes are generally true. But you have to be careful about the ones you accept versus the ones you observe without bias. The fear machine is out there, and they are preying on us. And like a virus, they spread easily and muddy the water. And that's the worst brown planet of all.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I Am Not Ready to Make Nice ... Speeches

I believe the Dixie Chicks did so well at the Grammy's in a large part because of the political statement they made and the sacrifices they endured. In the spotlight of the highest rated Grammy awards, the Dixie Chicks' win validated the importance of their messsage and their words just as quickly silenced that message into irrelevancy.

They were admittedly "speechless." Despite the $10,000s spent on dresses, jewelry, and make up, apparently they forgot arguably the most important part, what to do if they won. And as the Nelson-impersonating diva's snarky yell reverberated in the microphone, I laughed and then felt sorry for the helplessness that reminded me sadly of the Democratic party. In the triumphant moment, they simply had nothing to say. Perhaps they could have said:

This award means so much to us because of all we have endured because we dared to speak our minds on an issue which most Americans now agree with us. Through boycotts, record burning and death threats, we stand here to tell everyone that it is time to be more active not less, no matter what your position, and that it is time to listen and respect an open dialogue about the world we live in, shape, and sometimes destroy. We are not a nation of book or record burners. We are not embracing freedom by threatening the lives of those who speak against a popular view, either here or abroad. It humbles us to accept this award, because for us, this recognizes that we were not wrong to question or speak or mind, and perhaps our few words on stage, which became an arduous stand and a symbol, did more than shape the music world. Thank you.

But with all the opportunity, the Dixie Chicks didn't apparently consider what to do with the biggest microphone they would ever have. Where was the PR agent? Where were their hearts? Where is George Clooney when you need him? So sad ...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Why I Would Have an Eating Disorder if I Were a Woman

Everyday I am reminded about the fundamental struggle of American women with their bodies and their image. And it’s not the Barbies, the Maxim covers, or the Weight Watchers commercials that I see. It’s the people I know and love. And as I and my friends get older, I see single women struggle with their beauty more and more, fighting an inevitable decline.

Nowhere is this more evident than in eating habits. Within almost every substantive interaction I have had with women over the past week, there has been one definitive comment about food: “I can’t order carbonara because I want to lose 10 lbs” or “I am sorry I am late to the movie. I am 4 lbs from my target weight and had to go across the street for frozen yogurt.”

Let me repeat. If I have spent 30 minutes with a woman in conversation, it has come up in some form. This is not a struggle that lies below the surface. Sadly, I have personal experiences with eating disorders, and I know, as contentious as some of you told me this sounds, that I would have an eating disorder if I were a woman.

Public Scrutiny

There is no doubt that society in its many incarnations puts immense pressure on women to be “beautiful” in whatever terms that word means. One issue is that the “beauty” expectation is unrealistic, which is obviously true given the number of augmentations done, the size of the diet industry, make-up, the exercise craze … you name it. Being beautiful is a multi-billion dollar business. And thus, so is creating the unreachable stereotype. It is not surprising that women feel like every time they leave the apartment they are being scrutinized. Maybe that’s why so many women like to wander around naked in their own home – it’s the one place they are free of scrutiny. At least external scrutiny. And truth be told, I am part of the problem.

I love women and I can’t help but look at them, idealize them, and analyze them. It is a natural instinct. I love the way a beautiful woman can attract your stare and turn your head, no matter what you are saying. I love pronounced hip bones, the pelvic lines that result, and following their visual lead. I love hip huggers. I love how a smile from a beautiful woman can change the momentum of your day on your commute to work. I love the smoothness of their skin, the shine in their hair, and the fashion of NY women designed exactly to captivate my attention.

Of course, I also look closely and note the imperfections, as does every guy. Words like cankles, spare tire, muffin top, butter, thunder-thighs, cottage cheese, sasquatch crotch, junk in the trunk, lights off, jumping on the grenade, etc. have come across my lips and almost every guy I know. Men are amazingly apt at observing and noting the imperfections in a woman, and just as apt at communicating them in cruel ways. It is not surprising that most girls are self-conscious. Perhaps they are just conscious. We as animals innately detect when we are being stared at. And yes, us men are staring.

I am no stranger to being stared at. Sometimes I invite it. Sometimes I have dreaded it, like when I went to Taiwan to the hot springs. When I got there, much to my surprise, every one was naked. I stripped at my locker turned around to find 40 Asian men all looking at the only white guy around for miles. It was so unnerving to be stared at from every angle, analyzed and measured, yet that is exactly the situation for women. And the only way I could be comfortable was in recalling the size stereotype as well as my perception of being healthy in that regard, and so my self-image put me at ease. But what if I were a girl? What would my self-image be like?


Well, I am already ego-centric. That’s my euphemism to what some might call vain, others call cocky. I pride myself on who I am, what I stand for, and what I have accomplished. And part of that is because like everyone, these things were under attack for most of my life, especially my childhood. And I frankly made it through because of a healthy faith and belief in myself.

I was always one of the smallest boys in my class until Junior year. For boys that age, power is about strength and size, and I had neither. I was picked on quite often and I developed my own way to respond, with my wit, which at that unrefined time was really more obnoxiousness. Thank god it evolved, although the jury is still out according to some.

So undersized, how did I respond? I tried drinking a pint of ice cream a day. That caused growth in the wrong direction. A couple nights a week, John Chang and I practiced basketball drills and athletics in our basements for hours. Hours. That’s a little obsessive for a 7th grader if you ask me.

To this day, my physicality some 20 years ago, has had a profound effect on the way I interact with people, why I keep them at arms length, why I shut down physical horse play definitively, why I play basketball like a madman, why I go to the gym, or used to before the latest job.

As a bit of an outcast, I didn’t have much of a love life in High School. No, that’s not accurate. I had no love life. So self-image very much plays a role in my love life too. I still strive to be higher in the hierarchy than I ever was growing up, and though it seems sad to say that, at least I can be open about it. In fact, how I appear socially, my outward image, has been a clear overemphasis in my life. Perhaps it is seeking approval that I lacked earlier, perhaps it is just natural. But with me, it is something that I have had to work on and struggle with.

So self-image, social acceptance and the social hierarchy, and my physicality have always been dominant issues in my life. These are the seeds of eating disorders and I assume would only be magnified if I were a girl. But what about food?


For one, I love food. I think it is one of the most basic primal pleasures in your life. It is a fundamental drive built to the core of your DNA to seek out the sustenance you need to survive and procreate. I believe if you cook well, you will eat well for the rest of your life and that is an essential need for my happiness. As a result, I have taken cooking classes all over the world and plan to start teaching them myself in the next month or two.

I love to cook almost as much as I love to eat. And often foods high in calories and fat. French, Italian, Indian cream sauces. I drool at the mention of Il Mulino. New Orleans style food. Charred animal flesh in cream sauces. You can’t beat it. I believe butter is a beautiful thing.

My relationship with food can only be considered healthy in that I get enjoyment out of it and have little if any negative side effects (that I know about). Luckily I have had the metabolism to process my sizable intake. But what if I didn’t?


Perhaps I would constantly go to the gym for my “health.” Disorders are often hide in euphemisms, in semantics we create to obscure the reality as much from ourselves as from others. I currently go to the gym for vanity more than health and can admit it. There I see women who clearly hate being there. They are willing to do distasteful things to control their image. You know who they are. You see them too. Do you notice them? I would be one of them. At points, I have been.

Eating disorders are a lot about control, or the illusion of it. And the gym provides a great way to create “control.” I consider myself a control freak, relishing being able to understand the world around me scientifically and exert such control based upon that understanding. If I see something is a negative influence in my life, I remove it decisively (at least I like to think so). If my struggle and goals were around weight and image then I would pride myself on my ability to control the outcome. It would become a challenge.

I don’t think I would become anorexic, because food is too central to me. I am sure I would cut back though. I already have. I would look to other forms of control. I would probably try Sugarbusters (I have), Atkins, and South Beach. I would study and understand them. It would change the way I view food, complex vs simple carbohydrates and glycogen levels, metabolic vitamins, etc. Actually I do that now. I would be able to tell you what’s in everything you eat, and I would secretly resent those who would order “impractical” things I wanted but “couldn’t” have because of my created science. I probably would be an insufferable dinner companion. Truly struggling women often are. I know women who generally won’t go out with others to eat. It’s a dreaded experience for everyone. Instead, I would probably hole up in my room.

After some time, eating might become distasteful, while food itself would become a tantalizing temptation. Maybe anorexia wouldn’t be that far fetched. The greater the sacrifice, the greater the illusion of control. I would resent the loss of such a frequent source of joy and then I would have my Dorian Gray moment. As Oscar Wilde describes, “the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” And my weakness might be despicable, because it would be a personal affront to my controlling nature. My sense of self-worth would be at stake, self-loathing would ensue as it currently does when I feel I have lost control. And then, if I didn’t see what the real negative influence in my life is, I might get really creative.

Purging might seem reasonable, probably a bit farfetched. I would definitely use the word “purge” because it seems more banal. At least that’s what I would say to myself. I would make sure I digested something to convince myself I was healthy. I would have to do something about my breath and the acid. Vinegar rinses. Antacids. If I follow this path, I can imagine bulimia. And while the thought now seems so unlikely, the slow, steady decline makes it all seem so reasonable. There are a lot of steps down this path, and they are all downhill. The pressures are unwavering and it is a gradual distortion. I have watched as the building delusions reinforce themselves. I have found my way down that path in other situations and have watched people I respect go down this path themselves.


It’s hard for me not to read the last couple paragraphs and think to myself, “man, you are presumptuous bastard.” And I am, minus the bastard part I hope. I don’t really know what would happen. And maybe my depiction above is trite and just scratches the surface. I am sure it does. I can only begin to estimate an eating disorder which is so psychologically devastating. But I do know this:

“It is a formidable adversary who takes positions in your mind.”

And so I write this not to pretend that I know what it is like or to say I understand. I write simply to say that in our image obsessed country, the eating pathologies of single women are ubiquitous. And it pains me. And what saddens me is that I know I would be among you, and for this, perhaps you can forgive the presumptuousness of my writing above. Perhaps the real goal of this piece is to give me a greater ability for me to forgive others and myself by walking down the path. Maybe that was the real need, at least for me.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Filling Holes IV: Social Distortion

As your brain works to augment your reality, change what you see, and change what you think about it, what role does social behavior play? In a fascinating experiment in the 1950s, Soloman Asche conducted a simple experiment where subjects were asked to match which of three lines matched the length of a fourth line. Simple right? Yeah. Almost all subjects got it right every time ... until they added people. They planted 7 other people in the room who acted like they were subjects, but intentionally identified the wrong line. What happened? Subjects would start guessing the wrong line 41% of the time!!! Wow.

The experiment was repeated last year with the new wonders of the MRI to diagnose what exactly was happening in the brain. Clearly the brain's forebrain which is designed to moderate conflict (in this case perception vs. social conformity) must be more active in this decision than the posterior brain which manages perception.

Actually not. Instead, scientists saw increased activity in the areas that affect mental rotation: the majority's choice affected the subject's perception. It's not that the brain made a choice between the two at higher levels of brain function. Instead, it actually changed the image in the subject's head at much lower levels. Thus 41% alteration.

So social norms, discussion, and pressuring can affect your perceived reality. It is an input to your brain in a vat, a la Descartes. And though your brain is well adapted for these functions developed specifically to help you survive (in this case there is a value to social conformity), it does create an illusion. And again, over time, the externally reinforced illusion is well, reinforcing itself, internally. And over time, this can create a delusion. Even brazilian models see mostly imperfections when they look at their idealized body. So many beautiful women I know describe how fat they are, even though they may be gorgeous. And while it is so hard for me to understand the delusion, the continuous social reinforcement and recent studies put clues into what is happening here. If outside opinion can extend or shorten a line, it probably is extending and shortening the lines of your body at the perception levels of the brain.

If you are looking in the mirror and thinking you look fat -It may not be that you are fat. It may not even be that you think your actual body is fat. You may just see fat. So when I respond after a self-deprecating comment by a girl, "Are you blind?" The answer just may well be "Yes."

Next time you look in the mirror, you may just wonder what you really are looking at.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Filling Holes Part III: Habit vs. Creativity

So your brain keeps filling in the holes, solving problems in the way it has learned over time. Because the brain reinforces itself and strengthens it's model with every affirmation, over time habits become stronger, intertwined. That's why you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Or as posted in a nearby designers cubicle:

"The force of habit is the enemy of creative power."

It is more than simple habits. It is thought itself, your perception of reality, and it changes what you think actually happened. This is partly to blame for why it is possible to get many different accounts of exactly the same situation.

“Thoughts and memories are associatively linked, and again, random thoughts never really occur. Inputs in the brain auto-associatively link to themselves, filling in the present, and auto-associatively link to what normally follows next. We call this chain of memories thought, and although its path is not deterministic, we are not fully in control of it either.” (On Intelligence, P75)

The repetitive programming of your brain starts determining the what next in more limited ways, even changing what you see (more on this in the next post). No wonder John Forbes Nash was so consumed by achieving mathematical greatness by 30. Is that when you grow up? Is it grow old? Maybe it is grow static.

I think that is why it is essential to live to continually challenge yourself in new ways. Find new adventures. Challenge your fears. Do something different everyday. Learn something out of your sweet spot. Challenge others.

Otherwise, you may be destined to perceive life as the same set of round holes, unable to see that you really posess a square peg.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Filling Holes Part II: Anti-social Behavior

My brother called me to mention some of his favorite examples of filling in the holes. Sometimes it can be cool, like when you are driving by a picket fence with a horse behind it, you actually see the full horse. Your brain puts all the pieces together. Interestingly enough, you can toggle on and off, seeing the fence, then the horse, and then the fence again. But sometimes, we all have trouble turning it off, leading to some anti-social behavoir.

The brain is especially good at facial recognition. Its ability to assimilate an entire face from portions of it (like a nose and one eye) are unmatched by even the most powerful computers. Facial recognition is extremely important for your survival, so it is a core function. Of course, that is also why your brain fixates when it is wrong. Sometimes you can't help but stare at someone with a deformity, because your brain is trying to assimilate why it went so wrong and improve it's model. It's not your fault; it's human nature. Tell that to your mom.

I have always had trouble listening to slow speakers, because I know the next words. This often leads me to interrupt them by filling in the words myself. I remember Liz Topp describing once how annoying that was, and I actively worked on it. Now I just fill them in in my head. Then again this skill is useful. My brother describes a friend with ALS, who's speech degraded so that my brother couldn't understand a single word his friend said. But at the end of the sentence he could put all the pieces together to figure out the whole sentence.

For me, the most anti-social of behaviors is staring at the TV. Part of it is the motion, but a lot of it is the fact that you have blind spots in your peripheral vision, ie it can't process the image, especially one so detailed with motion. As a result your brain actively turns your eyes towards it. I can barely talk to my sister if there is a TV on in the room; she just stares at it. I have trouble focusing at meetings with video, which is tough when you are pitching Internet TV services. In the morning at my office building, it amazes me how every single elevator rider stares at the embedded TV screen. The name of the service? "Captivate Network."

Sometimes your brain captivates you with it's background job of filling in the holes. But be careful, because of the anti-social consequence you may find yourself in a hole of your own.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Filling in the Holes and Creating Them

One of the most interesting points in my recent foray into neurophysiology is the way in which the brain fills in patterns before they are actually received. As you read this right now, there is a gaping blind spot in each eye, a hole in the center of your field of vision. Close one eye. Can you see it? No, no you can't. Your eye moves a little every tenth of a second to compensate. Even then there still is a hole in the center, as well as general blindness in the far reaches of your peripheral vision. But if I look really closely with one eye open, I do detect something is going on.

The same is true for sounds. You actually process the notes of your favorite song before you hear them. If I hummed your favorite song, you would hear the next note, even if I stopped. If I said "he was a legend in his own ..." your brain actually processed the word "time" or my favorite alternative "mind." But I didn't have to write it for you to think it, and many times, you wouldn't even know.

Here is the interesting part: your brain fills in ambiguous information (like the blind spots, or gargled words) with known patterns, things it has learned. To be clear, you are not really seeing or hearing the real world. You hear what your brain thinks the real world is, based upon partial information and learned patterns that then deceive you into having a full view.

Now the ways in which your brain fools you into thinking you have a complete view are tremendously interesting. Sometimes it fills the holes in, sometimes it creates holes and pushes you in.

The subject of this week's posts will be exactly that: Filling in the Holes and Creating Them.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Where in the World is Trevor Sumner?

The last 2 weeks have been a whirlwind tour in Los Angeles and London causing the longest post lapse in this blog. I know you all miss me terribly. I guess all I can recite is a quote that made me smile:

"Time is the thing that prevents everything from happening all at once. Lately, time hasn't been working."

My company is in an interesting state of transition with a new management team, and aggressive agenda, and I have recently been empowered to make some serious changes and build some cool technologies. And I have jumped right in.

Last night I pondered why I have poured so much of my heart and time into work. It isn't for the money, although I do hope that will come with time. And it isn't for the people because I have only just begun to build relationships with them, though that is an increasing part of it.

Instead, it's because I feel empowered to change this company and to produce new technologies that I can point to as mine. I am building a payment system that will process 10s of millions of dollars, designing a business information platform that will hopefully help define how media companies track their business in a new Internet world, and I am creating a YouTube like service that will be the basis of a content marketplace to come. And it is nucking futz how much has changed in a month and a half, for me and us.

And I wonder how much of this is me being a leader in search of a problem and an organization and how much of this is that there was a problem and organization in search of a leader. In the end, this is a question of fate and determinism, which I won't address now, but I do know this: I feel exhilirated about the opportunity ahead of me.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Thou Shalt Not Be a False God or a Mean One

Pat Robertson continues to give Christians a bad name, as if the Church needed more help. He announced this week that "God told him" there would be a terrorist attack possibly killing millions. I want more info. Was it a burning bush, Pat? Voices in your head? Someone needs to lock this guy up in a padded room. What's scary is that there are millions of people who believe his every word. I remember something in the 10 commandments about false idols and bearing false witness. How can I know the Bible better? Then again, I think there must have been a commandment about thou shalt not steal. The NY Times this week reported that 87% of Catholic churches reported embezzlement in the past 5 years. Holy petty larsony, Batman.

So Pat Robertson is an idiot. No new news there. And Catholic priests aren't so holy. Again, not the biggest revelation, just ask Sen. Foley. But the 10 commandments. When is the last time you looked at them? I read the piece on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Commandments) and I have to say, they sound a lot nicer in the simplified form than the actual scripture. The Exodus version is quite harsh, not exactly the God I was hoping for:

"I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me."

Gotcha. No wonder why many religions don't have humility (http://trevorsumner.blogspot.com/2006/09/its-time-for-little-humility.html). And if you don't like my take, I will strike you down, and your children, and your grandchildren, and your ... aww forget it. I am not that mean.

BTW, here is my favorite coverage of Wacky Pat: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/sfgate/detail?blogid=3&entry_id=12278

Thou Shalt Not Be a False God or a Mean One

Pat Robertson continues to give Christians a bad name, as if the Church needed more help. He announced this week that "God told him" there would be a terrorist attack possibly killing millions. I want more info. Was it a burning bush, Pat? Voices in your head? Someone needs to lock this guy up in a padded room. What's scary is that there are millions of people who believe his every word. I remember something in the 10 commandments about false idols and bearing false witness. How can I know the Bible better? Then again, I think there must have been a commandment about thou shalt not steal. The NY Times this week reported that 87% of Catholic churches reported embezzlement in the past 5 years. Holy petty larsony, Batman.

So Pat Robertson is an idiot. No new news there. And Catholic priests aren't so holy. Again, not the biggest revelation, just ask Sen. Foley. But the 10 commandments. When is the last time you looked at them? I read the piece on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Commandments) and I have to say, they sound a lot nicer in the simplified form than the actual scripture. The Exodus version is quite harsh, not exactly the God I was hoping for:

"I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me."

Gotcha. No wonder why many religions don't have humility (http://trevorsumner.blogspot.com/2006/09/its-time-for-little-humility.html). And if you don't like my take, I will strike you down, and your children, and your grandchildren, and your ... aww forget it. I am not that mean.

BTW, here is my favorite coverage of Wacky Pat: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/sfgate/detail?blogid=3&entry_id=12278

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Years Eve is

Throwing together a New Year's party with one week's notice ...

Constructing a 600 square foot tent 7 stories above the ground to combat the wind and rain ...

Ordering an obscene amount of champagne and liquor ...

Inviting 500 people and getting 250 to come ...

and most importantly ... having 18 of your friends and family holed up in your small 10x12 bedroom, drinking, telling stories, and belting Bon Jovi.

Now that I am 30, maybe I am halfway there ...