What I take for granted

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writersblockdog What I take for granted

Twelve hours ago, I woke up and stared at the glowing screen of my computer. I had not yet written my #letsblogoff article and since I had a full morning ahead of me, I decided to get this done so it wouldn’t cause me any stress. And I stared at the screen. And stared. And stared.

It seems as if I had taken the ability of my brain to produce #letsblogoff ideas for granted. And it was now teaching me a lesson.

A hard lesson.

There were no ready parables surrounding the theme, no pithy stories bubbling right below the surface, no snarky diatribes flowing from my fingertips. Nothing was happening except the cursor blinking on a white phosphorus screen, mocking my inability to get a story going.

Cruel irony given the theme this week.

I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe otherwise in procrastination and sloth. I believe in distractions and the frailty of the human soul that gives in to those distractions. I believe deadlines and topics are great motivators to write concisely and to schedule. Yet, I find myself staring at the screen as the cursor blinks faster and the mantle clock ticks louder.

So this post is the result of my taking the ability to write a #letsblogoff post easily for granted. For that, I apologize if you have wandered here to read something clever. I feel like I am cheating you.

To make up for it, though, I have some spare change; a short list of stuff I take for granted without explanation.

The air I breathe, the water that comes from the tap, The New York Times on my doorstep by 5:00am, the sun coming out tomorrow and mostly the tomorrow I assume will come.

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about answering the question, What do you take for granted? To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

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Politics shut down Minnesota, but beer brought it back

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mnstateseal Politics shut down Minnesota, but beer brought it back

Politics may have shut down the State of Minnesota, but the threat of having no beer brought it back pretty quickly. The only thing more dangerous than a drunk Minnesotan camping out in a tent in the wood is a sober Minnesotan who has no place to go.

Oh, settle down folks, I’m not ripping on Minnesotans. I is a proud native so it’s more self-depracating than anything. At least that is the one thing that is still not taxable.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP legislative leaders announced yesterday evening they have reached a budget deal to end a two-week government shutdown. Both sides didn’t get what they wanted, each side will claim the other has caved, the voters have spoken, blah, blah, blah. I read through.. ok, well I skimmed through the majority of the … ok, I skimmed the first line of each comment on the blog post and most talked about the political crap that surrounded the fight.

It was really all about the beer.

But the GOP will use this “success” with other states and shut them down as well to get what they want passed. The voting public will become really fed up with the tactic eventually and the pitchforks will come out. In the meantime, it will be entertaining to watch supposed fully-formed adults run our government like they are negotiating playtime with the brightly-colored alphabet blocks in kindergarten.

The rest of us know government shutdowns don’t work because it is not really shutting the government down. It is a bunch of chickenhawks playing pretend freedom fighter on a fake battlefield. Here is what a real government shutdown would look like.

  • Close all the state highways and freeways
  • Open the doors to the prisons and penitentiaries and let the prisoners go. No guards need show show up for work.
  • Close all the gas pumps and convenience stores as there is no agency with taxation authority to collect taxes on alcohol, fuel or cigarettes.
  • Lay off the highway patrol.
  • Cease salary and benefits to ALL state employees, including the governor, legislators and judges.
  • Close the state courts. Counties and cites are ok, but no state courts.
  • Cease enforcing all state laws.
  • Cease collecting all state taxes. Any taxes owed during the shutdown are automatically forgiven.
  • Close ALL state departments, including the BMV, Attorney General’s Office, etc.
  • Close all the schools.

You get the idea.

If anyone is going to irresponsibly shut down a state, they should be prepared to have ALL state services deemed non-essential, not just the artsy-fartsy ones. By reserving things like law enforcement, roads and penal systems as “essential,” we are admitting we need government by default. By not shutting everything down, we are just faking it. By deeming some services non-essential, we are creating a dual class of citizens; those who matter and those who don’t. (GOP, take notice that the beer-drinking, hard-working, unwashed masses kinda matter here.)

The next governor — Democrat or Republican — who gets threatened by a shutdown should call the bluff. Shut down the roads, open the prisons and suspend lawmakers salaries. We’ll see how far this shutdown strategy takes us.

If you’re going to rattle your saber, you damn well better know how to use it. Or be prepared to die trying.

.

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Dog Days at JD Custard

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jd Dog Days at JD Custard

On July 17, JD Custard is celebrating Dog Days of Summer. Show up, have some great custard and each dog receives a free Dogwich.

Hours are 12:00 noon until 10:00 pm in Englewood. Take a picture of your dog eating his/her favorite JD Custard treat and share it on their Facebook page.

Be sure to follow @jdcustard on twitter too.

Custard makes you cute. It makes your dog even cuter. Really. (ok, not really.. our lawyers made us say that.)

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The financial education of Eric Cantor

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ericcantor The financial education of Eric Cantor

After listening to Eric Cantor talk one too many times about how rich people and small business create jobs as a result of keeping their taxes low, I feel it is my duty as an American citizen to give him a short lesson on how poor and rich people spend money differently. It’s not very complicated or that long of a lesson, so he can even read this blog post on his iPad while the president is talking during the meeting tomorrow. Really, nobody will notice.

How a poor person spends money
For purposes of this post, let’s say a poor person is someone making $10.00/hour at a full time job, even though there are many more people making far less at minimum wage ($7.25/hr just to refresh your memory. It was an issue the last election.) Besides, the math is easier at $10.00/hour.

Working a full day will gross this person $80.00 each day or about $67.00 net after payroll taxes (that is the Medicare and Social Security contribution in addition to income tax, which they are likely to get back as a refund at the end of the year, so we won’t count that.) At the end of the week, that is $400.00 gross, $335.00 net.

That is the income part. Now, let’s look at how they think about their paycheck.

Rent is usually seen as “Can I cover this month’s rent with one paycheck?” If the answer is yes, that is good. Most often, though, it is a week and a half, maybe two. But poor people never do a percentage of income calculation. They don’t see that housing is costing them 25-50% of their net pay. They just look at weekly paychecks.

Let’s take a look at one more example; buying lunch. If a poor person goes to McDonald’s during lunch and it cost $8.00 it never occurs to him that he just spent 12% of his net pay and has worked a whole hour to pay for a lunch that took ten minutes to consume. Poor people just simply do not do this math; it is too scary. It would paralyze them and make them unsuitable for the cheap labor capitalism needs to maintain productivity.

If you gave a poor person a $1,000 check, he would go spend it on something like a television or toys for his kids or some material thing that some company made and hopes to sell. Most likely he would treat his family to a steak dinner at the Roadhouse and maybe buy a tshirt at the next soccer tournament his kid plays in. I’m not perpetuating a stereotype here, just making an observation about how most poor people would spend a “windfall.” You can do the math about how many televisions you need to sell for companies to make more, and hire more sales people to help people buying sets, etc, etc. to get to a real stimulus number. In short, poor people circulate money which gets the economy going.

How rich people spend money
I’m going to skip the income part of rich people and say that they make way more than $80.00/day gross, $67.00 net. Let’s say that is their per minute rate. The difference lies in their awareness of how much things cost as a percentage of their income and how much return they can make on a dollar invested. They are aware of their housing costs, their health care costs and the rate they paid in taxes last year. They are also aware of the rate of return on their portfolios and whether it makes sense to spend or invest money received as a windfall.

If you give a rich person $1,000, they won’t need it for anything. Instead of buying something or creating a job, they will simply turn it over to their portfolio that invests in companies that are rewarded for keeping head counts and the wages for those they need low. The money is not circulated into the economy; it is just parked in a stock market where gains and losses are recorded in some computer. The money is doing the exact opposite of what the economy needs. Sure, it contributes to creating wealth, but all wealth really is is money someone didn’t spend.

$1,000 to a rich person or a company is nothing. A tax break is seen as that $1,000; not enough to actually do anything like create a job but large enough to not just throw away. It goes into the bank or the portfolio. For a company to create a job, it needs to either see a lot of demand for its goods and services or it needs to have very, very large incentives. In all instances, it will take the former.

Mr. Cantor, your theory of business people creating jobs by cutting their taxes just doesn’t mesh with the way they think. I know this because I is one of them. I was also once a poor wage earner so I know how they think. The rich are hoping you keep saying your line because they are accumulating wealth a little bit each year and the poor don’t really understand finances all that much to know that your line is crap.

But you know the difference. And to continue perpetrating your perverse logic under the banner of fiscal responsibility is anything but.

*I should disclaim my motivation for trying to educate Mr. Cantor on how poor people spend money. My business is going to need a lot of poor people spending money irresponsibly on their kids in the near future, so if given the choice, I’d much rather have 10 million poor people with an extra $1,000 in their pockets than 400 really rich people socking money away in the stock market.

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Tradition also means change

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thanksgiving Tradition also means change

Whenever I hear people talk about traditions, a quick story flashes through my head. I don’t know if it is true or not, but it’s still a good story.

A young woman was cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the family. They had always gone to the in-laws to eat dinner and she was very much looking forward to impressing both sides of the family at her first hosted Thanksgiving with dishes and traditions that were passed down to her. When it came time to prep and cook the turkey, she cut it in half along the breast bone, laid each half in two separate pans and cooked it like that — just like her mom always did it and her grandma before her. When the turkey was served, it was “reassembled” for display. She never saw a turkey roasted whole before she married and went to her in-laws last year and started helping prep the meal.

“My mother-in-law cooks her turkey whole in the oven,” she remarked to her mother one day. “Why do you cut yours in half to cook?”

“It comes out juicier!” her mom declared. And this was accepted as fact.

It turns out, though, that her grandmother started cutting the turkey in half when she moved from the farmhouse with its large kitchen and oven into a small city apartment with a very tiny stove. The white meat came out a little drier than it should as the juices ran into the pan, but the only way to cook a turkey in the small oven was to cut it in half.

When people — especially politicians and elected officials — start talking about tradition, that story pops into my head and I ask myself, “What are the real origins of this tradition?”

Santa Claus was invented by Macy’s to sell more toys. Health insurance was invented after World World I to fill hospital beds. Mother’s Day was co-opted by Hallmark from Anna Jarvis to sell these new things called “greeting cards.” The Catholic Church invented the traditions of Christmas to convert more souls.

The list goes on about how many traditions we celebrate and take for granted and what their true origins were. As in our story above, entire generations grow up with the wrong facts. And even more sadly, they are willing to fight each other to defend traditions that were started for an entirely different reason.

But the story also serves to show us that traditions need to remain flexible and adaptable to thrive. As ovens got bigger — even apartment ones — had the family known the original intent of slicing the turkey in half, they would have been able and willing to adapt, making an even better tradition to pass on to their children. By sticking to their traditions without questioning it, they condemned themselves to decades of dry turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner without a willingness to explore anything beyond the status quo.

Once again, I have gotten to the end of a #letsblogoff article without really answering the question. The irony is not lost on me. So, without further ado, here is my short answer.

I try to celebrate as few traditions as possible in order to keep an open mind about what may be possible. I find hanging onto traditions too long and too hard gives one more propensity to become narrow-minded and accept things as fact without question. I like asking the questions and many times come to the conclusion that the traditional way to do something remains the best way. But without the exercise of asking, I may miss out on an entirely new experience.

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about answering the question, What traditions do you keep? To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

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Something to think about over this Independence Day weekend

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chinabridge2 Something to think about over this Independence Day weekend

This week, the Chinese unveiled the largest sea bridge in the world. It only took them four years to build this at a cost of $2.7 billion dollars. They used Chinese engineers and Chinese labor. No American intellectual capital was sought out as none was needed.

Earlier this week, the New York Times ran a story about how the Chinese were supplying the finished rails to replace aging infrastructure on the Oakland Bay Bridge. It was cheaper to build in China and ship over the Pacific Ocean than to make in the United States. My guess is there was too much pain-in-the-butt-ism on who was going to pay for it, some Congressman railing over rejecting stimulus money for infrastructure projects, stuff like that to make it worthwhile to “make in the USA” before the bridge collapsed on itself.

And this week, Congress spent most of the time on vacation or railing against the president on how he insulted them by “lecturing” to them like the dick he is. And all I could think of when Rand Paul, Mitch McConnell or John Boehner was talking is why the Chinese showed up for work, rolled up their sleeve and built bridges while these guys whined.

Something to think about on our Independence Day weekend. If the Chinese keep up this pace, I wonder how long we will be independent from them.

.

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How not to do customer service in the medical industry

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Last summer, I developed some neurological symptoms that are more of an annoyance than anything. So I did what any responsible person would do; researched everything on the Internet and diagnosed myself into the worst possible case scenario. When that failed to cure up my symptoms, I went to see my doctor. He sent me to a battery of tests which were only limited by the amount of money in my bank account.

He could not come up with a diagnosis. Nor could a local neurologist. So, he shrugged and said, “I think you need to go up to the Cleveland Clinic and see what they think.”

Wow! These guys can make paralyzed people walk! Certainly they would have an answer. Or at least a wild guess. Or even a stupid notion. After some calls to my insurance company, clinic, etc., assuring me that things would be covered, I scheduled a day to drive to Cleveland and get poked and prodded and such. Long story short, they ended the day with the same perplexed head-scratching and “We dunno” diagnosis that my doctor gave me.

“But we need to schedule you in about 4 months for some more testing because we think you still have some money left in the bank. Would that be ok?”

Sure, no problem. Until I got their bill.

It turns out my wonderful insurance company discovered that Cleveland was not merely a suburb of Dayton but a whole other city outside my treatment area. They would reimburse at a much, much lower rate than they said. Sorry. You understand.

I didn’t. What could I do?

Call the clinic. Perhaps they can help.

They couldn’t. Or rather, wouldn’t. 90 days, Mr Dogg. You must pay the balance in full within 90 days. “But you guys didn’t actually do anything!”

It is not like I didn’t have the money or was unwilling to pay. I have been paying them; just not at the rate they wanted me to. I even sent them two letters explaining my payment plan with no response. As we were both disappointed in the visit results, I felt that we at least owed it to each other to share in our disappointment, to learn from the experience and grow together. To my surprise, they did not share my point of view and have since sent me to a “goon squad” over the last few hundred dollars.

Bummer.

So, I called them this morning. Surely, they would see the folly of their mistake and call off the goons. Again, I was very, very wrong. I had forgotten for a brief moment that I was not their customer. My insurance company was their customer. How happy or disappointed I am was irrelevant to them.

I will pay them in full eventually. But instead of them this week, I will pay my landscaper. He has not disrespected me. Maybe I’ll pay them next week.

But this little story should not go without a lesson to be learned by the medical industry. After all, you guys will be getting more and more business from us as we all get older and need more care. Health insurance companies are kicking us off plans left and right, employers are jettisoning full-time people in favor of two part-timers they don’t have to pay benefits for and Congress is cutting Medicare. You should probably learn to handle us a little bit better, or at least with some more flexibility. Tightening the deadlines and being quick to send bills into collections rapidly is short-sighted at best. It is not a sustainable strategy.

And then you have folks like me who just shrug and say, “I was gonna pay them today, but I’ll just wait a bit longer.” In truth, if the Cleveland Clinic let me say my piece without being being hard-nose pricks, they would have had their money today. Bummer that, too.

So, with that goal of keeping us both in business, I have some feedback you may want to take to heart.

What you say:
We printed the payment terms on your statement.

What we hear:
You dumbass. Can’t you read the crap you put on your bill with edge-to-edge printing? It’s your fault you are in this mess. We told you 90 days, damn it. Did you think we were kidding? We are an unfeeling, inflexible cold-hearted corporation that needs money paid on time, you deadbeat.

What you say:
Would you like to talk to a supervisor?

What we hear:
I’m getting tired of talking to you and will give you to someone who has no heart and is immune to anything you have to say. He will be a bully to you and will belittle your concerns. At the end of the conversation, you will not only not get any concession from us, but you will feel like a worthless piece of crap.

What you say:
According to the terms of your contract…”

What we hear:
I have stopped listening to you a long time ago and think that you are just too stupid to even be able to read.

What you say:
I can adjust the terms, but I won’t.

What we hear:
I am an arrogant prick. I have power over you and I will wield it without mercy, you piece of crap.

After all is said and done, we all know you are a business. We know that you hold all the cards. We know you can wreck our hard-fought FICO Score with one keystroke. We do not need to be reminded that we are merely walking wallets to you. What we would like to believe is that we have a personal relationship with you, with our doctors. We want to believe you care about us as a whole person, not just our ability and willingness to pay.

If you can’t fix what ails us physically, can you give us that one little lie at least?

AFTERTHOUGHT
It occurs to me that the supervisor I spoke to this morning failed miserably at his job. He got so caught up in his own ego with proving me wrong that he forgot his primary job was to collect money for his employer, The Cleveland Clinic. It occurs to me also that I now have the upper hand in this arrangement as I and the collection agent are in a position to cost CC money they would have had to spend by working directly with me. The direct cost of ego is the fee the collection agency will charge CC. I wonder what sort of deal the collection agent will make with me? It’s now worth a phone call. Are stubborn, combative people in your customer service department costing your company money? Bet they are.

*I don’t mean to pick on the Cleveland Clinic specifically. They were just the organization in my experience. But they did hire some pretty heartless, unempathetic people in their patient financial department who could maybe use some sensitivity training. But, maybe it’s working for them. I won’t ever go there agin, but that should in no way affect your decision to see them if you want. In truth, all these hospitals are getting like that. I won’t go to one local hospital for services any more simply because they start the harassing calls on day 31. There is another hospital across town that waits at least until day 60 to start calling. And they are nicer people.

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What do you want from me?

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favor What do you want from me?

The question came over as casually as any other, but it was a loaded one. “Why are you being nice to me?” she asked.

“I’m nice to everyone,” I replied. It was the truth. I am.

But her real question was, “What will you eventually want from me for this favor?” I understood that is what she was asking, but kinda ignored it. The truth is I am nice to everybody. I really am. With no expectation of anything in return.

We are all on this rock together. What affects you, affects me. A very long time ago, I decided that what I wanted most from life was to be part of a community of civility and cooperation, where we all need to feel important and valued. Shouldn’t that be enough? If that community didn’t exist, I was going to make it. It’s a run uphill on a gravel road in bare feet almost every day.

I wasn’t going to write this post as it sounded a bit like a whine, but then read this from Margie Clayman today and this from Neil Kramer yesterday. Take a few minutes to read them; I’ll wait.

When I worked in Human Resources, I would have to remind myself that only about 10% of the people I helped would be grateful or even acknowledge that I had done anything for them. Most would even accuse me of being manipulative in favor of the company I worked for. Some even stick with me today more than fifteen years later, their comments were that vicious.

But it was the 10% that kept my faith in the overall goodness of people.

A more level-headed friend of mine reminded me during a more recent crisis of faith that even really awesome, highly-paid baseball players only bat 300. Most people, he said, belong to the 700 Club. You can’t structure a life built around them but instead, shoot to work with the 300.

I started blogging as a dog years back partly to be able to have a voice that was not beholding to anyone, including family or clients. What I later realized was that I wanted to also be that person for whom nobody would ever feel they owed me for anything I willingly did for them just because it was the nice thing to do. I am finding it hard to convince people this need is genuine. No stings, ever.

So now all this social media, community and favors we do for people is just supposed to be for favors we can ask for later? I think that is sad. I hear parents claim all the time that their kids “owe” them tuition or care for them in their later years and I also find that very, very sad. I think we should all pay things forward.

But the sad irony is that I have a hard time believing anyone doing anything for me will not want something in return. I know what motivates me and if there is me out here, there are probably others.

Make sense? I didn’t think so and I understand your suspicion. It’s ok, I’m patient.

.

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Recharging

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sallierecharging Recharging

Recharging around here is easy.

Nap, walk, eat.

Pick one or more; they all work equally well icon smile Recharging

I have not had a “real” vacation in over thirty years. The idea of taking an entire week off to do nothing — or worse, planned activities — gives me more stress than working through the whole year without a vacation. Instead, I take mini-vacations that look like goofy off to everyone else around me.

A twenty-minute nap, a cup of coffee on the deck, a walk in the park with the dogs, reading several chapters of a book, a trip to the grocery store for nothing I need, reading blogs, doodling in my journal, a trip to NYC under the guise of attending a conference or something randomly silly like this. Any and all work to “recharge.”

I’m not a big fan of running down the batteries and then recharging the way most Americans work, which is why I built a business out of not having to be anywhere specific for any particular reason. Moderation works in recharge mode as well.

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about answering the question, How do you relax and recharge? To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

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Three things I learned at #140conf NYC

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julianos Three things I learned at #140conf NYC

To say that I learned three new things at the #140conf (June 15-16, 2011 in NYC) might be stretching things a bit. Perhaps I mean to say that three of my observations and assumptions about human behavior have been affirmed.

Before I start at the 140conf, I need to back up a little to a few days before I left. I had hoped to travel with just my MacBook Air, but had not yet found the time to synch up my user account, preferences, email — everything that makes the Mac a useful road machine. I started the Migration Assistant and figured it would take a couple hours to synch up from a Time Machine backup only to discover after an hour of “prep” time, it would take over twelve hours over WiFi. So, I stuck in a USB drive and found out I would only save an hour or so.

What?!!??!! Grrr….. I have collected far too much stuff. Too bad the MacBook Air did not have a FW800 port. *sigh* So, I travelled to the conference with two laptops; my huge MacBook Pro 17″ and the really light MacBook Air. Let’s stow that experience for a while; it will be relevant later on.

We arrived at the 92Y early, registered, did some light networking and found seats, tweeted, check into Foursquare — all those things that one does at a social media conference. The sessions began and about 11:00, I started to regret my decision to not grab a cup of coffee before hopping the train from the Roger Smith to the 92Y (I know, I know it would have ended badly but maybe if I kept the lid on.) So, we popped out quickly and grabbed a coffee and scone from Juliano’s across the street. And maybe we stayed a little bit. Maybe. The coffee was good and the view out the window was spectacular.

We made our way back to the 140conf and found the house crowded, with standing room only. Why? As we squeezed into the gallery, we heard Ann Curry speaking. Ah, ok. After a few minutes, she ended her speech to thunderous applause and then a mass exodus of attendees.

Cool! Great seats for us!

Affirmation #1: Most people hanging in the social media space are only doing it to be seen and heard in the space of the A-listers or celebrities.

We found some seats and were treated to a short presentation by Krupali Tejura, MD (@krupali) a Radiation Oncologist. Her story was soft spoken but touched a spot in my soul, leaving me to tweet:

You can extend a life with length or depth. I wonder how many of us would choose depth? @krupali #140conf #randomtakeaway

Nobody calculates the ROI of anything worth doing.

Life is fantastic. It is the business of making a living that is tedious.

My next thought was how sad it was that the hundreds of people who rushed past me not moments ago — smug in the feeling they ate the main course of the conference — missed the most important human connection of the entire conference. Krupali was a nobody. She was even pre-empted by Curry who arrived too early. Yet for me, she provided the value for the conference. I only hope that if I ever need an oncologist, she still has the passion for humanity that brought me close to tears.

Affirmation #2: Most people will rush through life and never notice the small flowers life places at their feet. Most even deliberately trample them flat.

When I returned home, I wanted to share Krupali’s story with a lot of people. I knew that Jeff Pulver was life-videotaping the conference and was confident I could point to the video segment at UStream. After over an hour of trying to find the clip, I just gave up. I am sure Krupali’s story is somewhere in the stream; I don’t have the time or desire to sift through two days worth of stuff to find it.

And this is where we started out. While the 140conf would argue they are “curating,” I would argue that they are just hoarding digital stuff. There are no timecodes, no keyframes, no markers to point to any of the workshops. To be useful, the video should link back to the schedule with time codes and clip titles. The titles are even inconsistent with the schedule (Act I, Scene 1? When is that? Wed morning? I think so, but not sure….)

Affirmation #3: Few of us are truly curating all this digital stuff. What we are doing is probably more accurately labeled as hoarding.

Those are my take-aways from the 2011 #140conf in New York. What were yours?

Postscript:
Dr. Krupali found the clip and here it is below. Thank you.

.

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Jumbo marshmallows update

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Ok, so I had a little bit of time on my hands and started out with this:
marshtools Jumbo marshmallows update

And ended up with this:
marshmallowman Jumbo marshmallows update

Yeah, like you weren’t thinking the same thing when you first saw those jumbo marshmallows.

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Confessions of the creative wannabe

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creativecrap Confessions of the creative wannabe

I remember buying a tape recorder at Radio Shack when I was twelve or thirteen years old. It was one of those old ones that you loaded the cassette tape into the top and plugged in a wired microphone. I remember how excited I was that this piece of gear would allow me to record sounds that had never been recorded before, including my own voice. When you’re young, you think the sound of your own voice is pretty cool. As you get older, you discover not so much.

I got bored pretty quickly with the recorder as I thought a 16mm video camera would be even cooler. I never did get one, but only because VHS video cameras came out before I had enough money to buy one. I hear nobody makes 16mm movie camera anymore.

The one thing I remember making with the tape recorder was a recorded essay to my dad, explaining why I was old enough to operate the sabre saw without adult supervision, mostly his. I just wanted to make stuff out of wood without waiting for him to be available during the weekend. That sabre saw was key to my creativity.

I don’t think I ever delivered that tape. Even as a recorded message, that sort of challenge to authority was not in my DNA at such a tender age.

Since then, I’ve amassed a whole cabinet full of stuff that I thought would draw out my creatives spirit — digital cameras, sound board, microphones, video cameras, computers, software, musical instruments, books, music. And for a short while after I bought each of these things, they did fulfill a creative need. I could photograph full-action soccer, stopping the ball in mid kick, capturning that facial expression at the same instant the ball hit a player’s head. I could record my voice in crystal-clear tones and publish the spoken essay as a podcast. I could edit video in ways that I could only dream about when I had a couple of VCRs on an A/B roll, copying from one tape, stop-starting onto another. (it’s how we mixed video and sound way back in the day)

All of this was justified by profit, of course. Somebody paid for the cameras with photo purchases, the podcast equipment with license fees, etc. But like with the early tape recorder of my youth, I quickly became bored with each as it did not fill a creative hole. Something was always missing.

I’m beginning to discover that something is me. With each of these tools, I became a proficient craftsman, but almost never an artist. I could fidget the settings of a camera to capture a photo in any light and by itself, you’d say it was pretty good. But when compared with an artist shooting using less capable equipment, the differences are starkly horrifying. My photos captured what I saw; hers would capture what the subject felt.

It’s the difference between a piano player and a musician. One strikes all the right keys at all the right times; the other uses the instrument to extend his soul.

I started this post not knowing where it was going and it is still not going anywhere. I have all the tools of the wide open Internet; a publishing platform, an audience, the ability to create anything I want with words and pictures and still I flop around, staring mostly at the flashing cursor which is taunting me, mocking my inability to string words together creatively…. or even technically correct. Is that a good sentence? I dunno.

I thought somehow that with enough practice, the right tools and determination that a craftsman could eventually produce art. Maybe he can. Maybe he just hasn’t found the right tool. As each day passes without a manifestation of my creativity, I begin to panic slightly as I know eventually, I will run out of time.

One thing my quest for creativity through shiny gadgets is beginning to teach me; it is through simplicity that art emerges. I think I will try gadget-free creativity for a while. And even now I wonder if gadget-free is only my latest shiny new thing.

Anyone want to buy a camera? No human souls were harmed, helped or ever captured with it.

*This post is replete with tense shifts. It was really a bad habit I must break. But I decided to leave them in for reasons that are my own. Yes, I know where they are. And I still didn’t say what I wanted to say, but it’s a start.

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Posted in American Culture, Creatives, Just thinking out loud, Pop Culture, Random Stuff, Social Media, Storytelling, Technology, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Jumbo

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jumbomarsh Jumbo

There is an old joke that goes something like this:

I had a nightmare last night I ate a giant marshmallow. When I woke up, my pillow was gone.

Ok, settle down.

Your nightmare joke is now a reality. Meijers had pallets of these JUMBO marshmallows staged alongside the graham crackers and Hershey chocolate bars. Really, these things were grotesquely huge. I think it might be national S’mores week to coincide with Independence day. Nothing says freedom like… marshmallows?

Happy Fourth of July. How much more American can we get? Oh, about another 100 pounds per person, I would reckon.

Be a patriot and eat up.

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Three days ago, we had a park

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Three days ago, we walked around every day during our long lunch hour in a theme park* that was rich with landmarks and history. We gave each of the landmarks a name; some from works of literature and some that just fit.

cutters quarry Three days ago, we had a park
This is Cutter’s Quarry from the movie Breaking Away.

lakeavalon Three days ago, we had a park
This is Lake Avalon, from King Arthur (yeah, I know.. but close enough)

lonesomeroad Three days ago, we had a park
This is the Lonesome Road. We just called it that because Charlie usually trotted down here when the rest of us turned left into the small park to get to the truck going home. It was the way he stood in the road and looked back at us that gave the road its name.

mudflats Three days ago, we had a park
These are The Mudflats. No matter how little it rained, they would stay muddy long after the rest of the grounds were cracking.

burialmounds Three days ago, we had a park
The Burial Mounds. They just looked like Indian burial mounds. The dogs would race and chase each other over the tops and look like a roller coaster as they crested.

shakespearecliff Three days ago, we had a park
This is Shakespeare’s Cliff from King Lear. I know, not quite as white and chalky as the cliffs of Dover, but we pretended.

birnamwood Three days ago, we had a park
And Birnam Wood from Macbeth. the sticks never did move and I guess the big house in the sub division across the street could be Dunsinane

rushescreek Three days ago, we had a park
Rushes Creek. Just because of the sound it made as the dogs chased each other through the reeds.

Three days ago, a bulldozer, backhoe and plow showed up at our park. And here is what it looks like today.
plowedunder Three days ago, we had a park

For some reason, I felt I needed to take photos of these landmarks last week. It felt very urgent. I now know why. Each of the landmarks are lost in time, like tears in rain or foot steps on a sandy dune.

*Actually, an abandoned housing development in Clayton, Ohio. Again, thank you Saxon Henry for the inspiration, context and clarity.

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I lost the remote and the television was stuck on this channel. Honest – A #letsblogoff contribution

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Seriously, though most of the guilty pleasures I am about to disclose below I ended up liking because I couldn’t find the remote after waking up at 3:00am with the television still on. Ok, a couple I consciously decided to watch for good reasons.

Laguna Beach
GPlaguna I lost the remote and the television was stuck on this channel. Honest   A #letsblogoff contribution

As a parent of a then teenager, I made it a point to always be knowledgeable on the leading cultural shows of the time, no matter how stupid they were. LB was quite painful to watch at first, but after a few candid, off the cuff conversations with my daughter, I discovered teens really do talk this this. And really do give each other bad advice like they did on the show. It was hard not getting hooked on the story.

Clarissa Explains it All
GPclarissa I lost the remote and the television was stuck on this channel. Honest   A #letsblogoff contribution

Again, kids, but this show was actually really well-written. I like when characters are given a brain.

Gilmore Girls
GPgilmore I lost the remote and the television was stuck on this channel. Honest   A #letsblogoff contribution

What red-blooded American dog can resist a smart woman who can do repartee like Lauren Graham? Seriously. Need I really say more.

Glee
GPglee I lost the remote and the television was stuck on this channel. Honest   A #letsblogoff contribution

Shut up. Don’t judge.

Mad Men
GPmadmen I lost the remote and the television was stuck on this channel. Honest   A #letsblogoff contribution

Not really sure this qualifies as a “guilty pleasure” but I’m throwing it in anyway. Again, who can resist a smart woman (Peggy)?

Slap Chop Informercial; Rap Version

Almost forgot to add Vince. Got to watch it all the way through; the old woman at the end is hilarious. Well, kinda funny. Ok, goofy. They only ran this a few times on tv, but we’ve got Internet so it is the version I like better.

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about answering the question, Guilty pleasures: what’s your favorite show on television? To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

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