Thursday, November 29, 2012

Actions Speak Louder

At one time or another, most of us have been in the situation where we become enthralled with the thought of learning a new endeavor.  Whether it's learning to play a musical instrument, sailboarding or taking photos, a level of financial commitment is involved. For example, if we're learning to play the saxophone, renting or buying an instrument is usually a necessity unless we're fortunate and know someone who has a spare they can loan us. In the typical scenario, we don't have an option to borrow the equipment, so we'll need to spend money.

One of the questions I've always struggled with is how long to investigate the choices before deciding what to buy in regards to equipment. Is there value in taking the time to learn about the subject by reading as much background material as possible before making an investment? Or is it wiser to get started quickly by making an early investment in entry-level equipment? The more complex and expensive the entry costs, the more likely the decision will become a roadblock on the pathway to progress.

If we take our time and research, our ability to make wise choices increases dramatically. We might even be able to skip purchasing entry-level equipment and buy (or rent) professional gear. But there is a common pitfall hiding on this path. A person can become a read-only participant who gathers information but does not put it to use. I'm not knocking book learning. Theory and background information is crucial in creating a solid understanding of how everything fits together. But without dirtying our hands in practical exercise, we won't learn from the best teacher: failure. Simply stated, when we fail, it captures our attention. We focus in order to learn what went wrong. We add the experience to our knowledge and have a much better chance of succeeding as a result.

That leads us to the second situation of diving in and buying something even though we don't fully understand the problem domain. The advantage of making an early (potentially throwaway) investment in entry-level equipment is that we obtain hands-on experience quickly. By investing in something we can work with directly, we move out of the hypothetical classroom and into a real-world environment where we learn through complexities of failure and success. Of course, this choice isn't without its associated risks. It's possible we will make limiting choices in the equipment we select. By not knowing the intricacies, we have use judgment which is usually based off articles we've read or opinions we've solicited. And considering how most everyone has a unique style, what other people suggest might not match our own needs. Ah, so what is a person to do?

Let's look at a real scenario. In my case, when the photography bug bit me, it sunk its teeth in pretty deep. I had to make a number of choices about how to feed my new addiction. At the time, I had an aging Casio point and shoot. While it did take pictures, the results were far from aesthetically pleasing. Not only did it produce grainy pictures, but the screws holding the camera body together had fallen out. I used tape to hold the camera body together because I couldn't find screws small enough to work as replacements. The point being, the camera had seen better days and I wasn't going to be taking any award winning photos with it. Did I mention how it would randomly re-enable the flash without my explicit instructions to do so? Having a camera flash in “No Flash Allowed” area doesn't earn you many friends and can get you thrown out of places fast. So bye bye Casio.

Being a hands-on learner, I decided to invest in entry-level equipment. I took several weeks to read reviews and compare different cameras from well known manufacturers like Canon and Nikon. After I'd thumbed through enough web pages to gain a fundamental understanding, I plunked down my hard earned cash on a Nikon D3100. And for the first few months, I was thrilled with my choice. But eventually, I started to push the camera harder and some of the limitations of my choice became evident. Keep in mind, the features I'm going to mention are not on entry-level equipment nor did I have enough experience to think about them before my purchase.

Using the camera in the field helped me recognize the types of photography techniques and activities that interest me. As a result, I am in a better position to judge what would fulfill my requirements. For instance, I wouldn't mind going outside to take photos while it's raining. Since rain and Seattle go hand in hand, a weather-sealed camera is good choice. Unfortunately, the D3100 is not weather-sealed. Another issue is the burst rate the camera can takes pictures at. To be fair, the D3100 is on equal footing against the other entry-level cameras with its 3 frames-per-second (fps) rate. Nonetheless, I suspect I've missed a number of “candid” shots because the camera couldn't buffer the photos fast enough. Obviously a person has to pay for a fast frame rate but I would be willing to invest more knowing what I do now.

So, if I had it to do all over again, would I make a different choice in gear? Yep, but that's because I have more experience under my belt. I know photography isn't a passing fancy for me and investing in a “beefier” camera (if I had the money) would be money well spent.  But would I take more time to study beforehand this time around? No, I don't think so. I made the right choice of diving in quickly with buying the D3100. It put the camera in my hands where I could stop being an armchair surfer and start taking pictures.

In the end, each of us must decide how important an endeavor is in our life. The most important thing is to do more than dream about it. Gather the information you need then take action. If you make a mistake, go ahead and raise your fist in anger. Just remember, we can learn from everything we do. And when the end of the day rolls around, sit back, relax and give yourself a well deserved pat on the back for being involved in life.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Facing Fear and Uncertainty

After six weeks of writing and revising, I finally submitted my story “The Jay Bird's Funeral” to the editors of Daily Science Fiction. What happens next? Besides waiting for the response, well, fear and doubt, that's what.

As artists, we live in a world where a common concern in our life involves questioning if we used the best choices for expressing the main point of our artwork? Things are not simple choices of black and white. There are infinite shades of gray to contend with.

Will people feel strong emotions after they take in the experience of the creation? Or will they move on two-tenths of second later and forget you even existed? In other words, we struggle with the fear of facing the double-edged sword of failure.

Each of us has experienced emotions such as fear from uncertainty which cause us to procrastinate. We hem and haw as we make up excuses on why something isn't ready for prime time. We'll rework our art with the intent of improving it. We want to move people in emotional ways but we are taking a huge risk in doing so. After all, it's a window onto our soul. And so, the fear of "what if" sets in. But eventually, we have to make the decision to either put it out there for the world to see or relegate it to an Indiana Jones-style warehouse for archival where it usually becomes lost forever.

When it comes to motivation, we've all had people repeat the mantra, “Just Do It!” It's easy for others to tell us to jump in when they have nothing to lose. But from our perspective, we fear making a costly mistake. Perhaps it's a one-shot scenario when we display our work. Either you catch the public eye or you walk away unnoticed and empty-handed from the scenario. Or maybe its a fear of being viewed by society as creating something valueless, harmful or completely distasteful.

In the case of the latter scenario, powerful piece doesn't always make friends. Look at the controversy swirling around artists like Robert Mapplethorpe with his sexual charged photographs or Douglas Edric Stanely with his Space Invaders vs the Twin Towers creation. While both artists achieved a level of success  in the form of recognition, they also acquired their share of enemies. And having numerous enemies is rarely beneficial for the emotional state of well being.

Let's back up and take a look at the former example. To help explain the one-shot concept, think about it from an author's perspective. You spend weeks (months or maybe even years) working on a piece polishing, revising and tweaking everything to fit your vision. But as with anything artistic, a vast number of variations exist and you could tweak it forever. You question whether you have it close enough to your vision or do you need to go that last extra mile to get it there? The hydra of uncertainty raises its head and bites like a rattler. The results are painful and paralyzing.

Those fears arise when we must send out work out to editors and publishers for review. What if they reject our work that we've spent so much time on? Many publishers have a “don't resend anything you've sent us before” policy. So if you blow it, the door is closed for sending the story in regards to that publisher.

What it comes down to is some days you have take a path knowing failure awaits along the way. You don't get over the fear, you simply find ways to cope with (or leverage it if you're really motivated). It's going to plague, torment and haunt you. A prime example of the “never-ready” paralysis happened to me with the revision-remorse I felt after clicking the submit button to send my story to the editors.

During the tense final hours, I rewrote the ending paragraph in an attempt to return to the grass-roots atmosphere of the initial rough draft. It had a hint of mystery to it. Numerous edits had morphed the ending into something with a different flavor. After the rewrite, I stared at the submit button for a few seconds then pressed it. Five minutes later, my stomach churned and my fears hit me like a baseball bat. My mind had one thing to say: “You ruined the ending by adding one sentence that said too much.”

Will one sentence torpedo the chances of success for my story or am I simply suffering from nervous jitters? No. I seriously doubt it. Most likely, it cheated the reader of the pleasure of a “less is more” experience. Oh, the Heisenberg-ness of it all. Uncertainty wins today. But hopefully not tomorrow.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Inspiration is Everywhere - Resources Aren't

Inspiration strikes at the strangest moments as I discovered once again today.

While browsing through photos from The Big Picture's article about the Diwali 2012 Festival of Lights, I encountered something that instantly set that crock-pot I call a brain into a spiral of crack-pipe-style thinking. Without going into detail, the concept involves using monochrome-colored strings of light for what I suspect is a simple but uncommon outdoor arrangement.

When it comes down to originality, if you can think of it, it's already been done a thousand times over. Nothing is new but that should never stop an artist from trying to create their combinations of their interpretation on an idea.

Would my concept translate into something presentable, interesting or even remotely close to what I see in my mind's eye? It remains a mystery because the idea may never see the light of day (or more appropriately, the dark of night). With my current state of the union, LED lights are totally out of the question being the costly little buggers they are. Even acquiring cheap "burn out after two seconds" miniature lights wouldn't be a wise choice when zero income is coming in.

Let's not forget the cost of things like heavy gauge wire needed for making forms to hold the shapes. And if I were to dive in head first like I typically do, some geeky goodness would need to be involved to make it a one-of-a-kind project. Factor in some costs for mistakes (think ozone smells) and it becomes something only a madman would spend money on while under-employed. Well, I'm a madman and I'm battling the urge to do a "Titanic" on my remaining funds.

Ideas ideas everywhere and not a spare dollar to be had. Grr, I hate being in a financial/job state of undesired hibernation. Life continues to rocket forward while many of my ideas become trapped in an idea treasure chest rather than hatching into reality. Still, I refuse to let the sun set on the idea.

Never stop trying. I don't and neither should you.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Conceptual Art Photo

Playing With Fire

“All right, there are 47 percent who ... are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. ... And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

This is my latest piece of conceptual art. The photo is available on DeviantArt as "Playing With Fire" along with my other works.

I intended this piece to raise an ambiguous question. Is it saying the conservative party intended to say the "47 percent" are riding the system for free? Or is implying the "47 percent" are abusing the safety net?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Stirring Up Trouble Xinhua-Style

The irony of the day: In a Taipei Times article about the new passports from China, I find this little tidbit:

"...but the act of including those in its passports could be seen as a provocation..."

Basically, the article is pointing out how other countries will now need to place an official stamp of approval on a passport which has a design that indirectly shows China as owning the disputed territories. Trouble causing indeed.

And why aren't we hearing the Xinhua News Agency provide their typical rhetoric about "countries who stir up trouble," that they so frequently publish when issues surface in the South China Sea territorial dispute?

For anyone who is willing to think about conflict, it's likely they will realize (or at least acknowledge) the perspective of "who" is stirring trouble is subjective

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Corporate Social Responsibility or Hypocrisy?

I'm irritated today so rather than struggle to use eloquence to write about something I find irritating, I'll forgo the usage of tact. With that said, today's topic delves into the mechanics of what happens at businesses when a co-worker passes away.

My emotions are volatile on the subject, with bitter emotions dominating because the business I was involved with at the time handled a death-related situation in what I believed was a morally offensive manner. I try to be a decent human being who interacts with others in a civil and social manner and (possibly foolishly) expect the same from others especially in emotionally fragile situations. Coping with death most definitely a fragile situation. Sadly, when my friend who I sat next to and joked with on a daily basis passed away, I not only felt pain from his leaving us, but was infuriated with the callous and uncaring response from the majority of the other employees we worked around (notably upper management). All of this had to do with company policy and I strongly believe it is a caste-related issue in this case since we were contractors. I will say that one special FTE did their very best to try and help team members cope with the situation so this is not about individuals. Rather, it's about corporate policy.

The company (at the corporate level) handles the situation in different manner based off whether it was an FTE or a contractor who passes away. Keep in mind, contractors constitute a large percentage of inhabitants in the work environment of this company. In the situation where an FTE dies, grief counselors are brought on-site for the FTEs to meet with. Contractors are excluded from contacting the counselors which I understand (but don't agree with). But what infuriates me is the scenario when a contractor dies. No grief counselors or are brought on-site.

Okay, so I understand why counselors won't be on-site for non-FTEs to talk with. But what about the FTEs? Do they have no emotional investment in someone who existed in the workplace with them? Furthermore, I suspect unspoken beliefs that contractors are second-class citizens drive the rationale behind not supplying FTEs with grief counseling.

As for those who claim corporate responsibility dictates such actions to make profits, I have one question: what is the true intent of corporate social responsibility (CSR)? In my eyes, CSR implies the company considers more than profits. The company must consider the employees state of mind as well as the impact their actions have on the community. Considering the company I'm referring to makes statements about being committed to corporate social responsibility, I have one thing to say: a super sugar crisp coating can't hide the stench of hypocrisy.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Creating Conceptual Art

Rather than fall into the trap of being all talk and no action, I'm sharing a conceptual artwork piece on DeviantArt entitled:

Note: this image is under the Creative Commons license. Non-profit reuse is allowed with proper attribution.

It's available on DeviantArt as The Conundrum. I'll be posting other works on DeviantArt as time progresses.

In creating this piece, I wanted to show science pitted against philosophy. For as simple as the composition looks, it took over 3 hours to set up the imagery as well as the lighting. In the end, my labors of love have inspired me to adopt a new philosophy: One person's art is another person's recycling.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Building Upon the Past

What do you think of when you hear the term evil empire? I think for many people, pop culture has made us think about companies. One company in particular, Microsoft, has been a frequent recipient of the unfortunate title.

For me, the letter M does bring something evil to mind. But I don't associate M with Microsoft. Rather, I think M as in Mickey Mouse. Or more to the point, it makes me think about Mickey's owner, Disney. And that brings us today's topic: the lifespan of intellectual property [IP] rights.

Backing up a step in my thought process, it wasn't Mickey Mouse or Disney that started me thinking about intellectual property rights. It happened while I was researching to see how safe it is to use Facebook or Twitter to log on to the picture sharing network, PInterest. To do anything beyond browsing on PInterest, you must sign in using your Facebook or Twitter account. Being cautious with what I allow access to either of my social network accounts, I did some background checking on PInterest.

During my research, I stumbled across Greg Bartlett's article about PInterest where he discussed the positive and negative impact pinning intellectual property can have. I understand what the author is saying in regards to allowing content creators to profit. I won't argue that when we create something, we deserve to be compensated for our effort. Its take time and resources to create artwork. Recovering the investment as well as making a profit provides incentive to continue the cycle of creating. But what I do have an issue with is the long periods of time individuals or companies can prevent the community from reusing their creation.

Art is, to a great extent, a remix of old into new. There have been millions of people who came before us. They thought up wonderful (and some not so wonderful) ways to express their view on the world by recombining art works they came across. We take inspiration from existing objects--other artwork being a source at times--and turn our interpretations into a voice of our own that we share with others. And that's where I have my major problem with current copyright legislation.

Current IP protection laws limit our ability (within a reasonable time frame) to fuse qualities from the artistic creations we see around us. Of my greatest concern is that some IP is protected longer than an individual's lifespan. In other words, I can live my entire life and never be able to use certain copyrighted “ideas”. I find this troubling and counterproductive. If a person can go from cradle to grave and never have an opportunity to create something which was obviously influenced by something else created during the recent period of IP protection, we are not only depriving artists of a useful palette of resources for creating artwork, but we are also depriving individuals from being able to enjoy the deeper pool of art that would be created.

I'm not saying copyright is evil or shouldn't exists. Instead, I believe it should be short-term. Short periods of time such as five to ten years seem reasonable as it allows creators the opportunity to ride a popularity wave should their creation inspire a segment of the community to indulge in a trend or fad.

Yes, I do understand that as an author and artist, I'd be giving up potential income. But we have to champion what we believe is right. I'm allowing my personal values to guide my choice as I have a powerful urge to experience more art. If someone else can combine my work into theirs and alter it, all the better. By knowing I contributed something to another artwork, my creations become part of our culture in new ways.

As for the case of someone simply reselling the work of others without adding any value, it's the nature of the beast. Yes, people will make a profit in a something-for-nothing scenario, but is it all that different from speculators and the stock market? In regards to the lifespan of a creation, metaphorically speaking, some characteristic(s) of the original piece will live on due to the fact it has had children or has been cloned. And to me, inspiring others to create new expressions is equally as important as sharing my own views through artistic means.

Ultimately, I think companies like Disney, while they is no question they create stories children love, the legal minefield they leave in their wake does significant harm.

On a final note in regards to whether I should join PInterest or not, after considering the benefits and drawbacks, I've decided to use their network. Pinning photos on a wall for others to see has considerable value. It also allows me to keep references to images and ideas I can draw inspiration from. And hopefully, proper attribution is provided to everyone who shares their creations with the community.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Drain-O For the Mind

When it comes to drive, motivation or creativity, sometimes I can't get any of them into gear to get out of the driveway. I struggle, I flail and I simply can't get traction on anything due to a lethargic mental fog. I need something to clear the plumbing of my mind.

Others seem to be more than happy to give advice on the matter. We've all heard things like, “Don't sweat the small stuff.” To some extent, what they are trying to impart upon us is the need to maintain focus on primary goals without becoming mired down in the mundane day to day grind. Easier said than done. For that matter, if everyone had rock-solid willpower, perhaps alcoholism and substance abuse would be a thing of the past. Sadly, willpower isn't an unlimited natural resource.

As for the idiom of not sweating the small stuff, I am more than willing to put up a reasonable fight against the demons of drudgery. But as usual, I prefer to hammer out my own interpretation in the blast furnace I call my mind. With my mental machinery stopped up with murky water, I decided to step outside to take a closer look at the world in my backyard. Even though the environmental variation in my yard is a drop in the bucket of uniqueness when compared against the backdrop of Seattle, it doesn't diminish the inspirational potential. And to my surprise, I found something interesting that started my thought processes. While it didn't trigger the “work until dawn” type of motivation, it did provide a burst of the creativity that started to drive out the stagnant sensation I felt in my mind.

What triggered my feelings of creativity? A whiskey barrel, that's what. And no, I'm not talking about drinking Jack Daniels or whatever else your poison of choice is. I'm referring to a half whiskey barrel water feature I have on the deck behind my house. With the dropping temperatures, the water in the barrel froze. As I looked at the surface of the water in the barrel, I felt a sense of inspiration triggered by the simplicity of beauty that I found.

This simple image of frozen ice sent me scuttling to a local bookstore to browse through art books. Let me add, art books are wonderful sources of ideas. From the pages of these fascinating view-ports into other people's minds, it went from one pseudo-manic idea to another. My mind assembled a series of craziness ranging from thoughts of fabricating a Steampunk inspired mechanical spider sculptor to an oddball urge to embed LED lights in the outer radius of bicycle rim to mimic a Ferris wheel. Useless ideas? Perhaps. But inspirational nonetheless. Sometimes it's simply a matter of noticing the small things around us like the shard of ice that made me step back and say, “Cool!” What can I say, textures and shapes fascinate me. Most importantly, it's enough to ignite the spark of creativity in my artist's soul.

So next time you're feeling writer's block or are suffering from any of the other life-sapping burdens that get you down, take a closer look at what's close by. Don't sweat the small stuff. Notice it, touch it and take it in with all of your senses instead. And if that fails, find a bookstore with art books and start thumbing through the pages. You might not experience an epiphany at the moment, but it helps kick-start the unconscious mind into motion. Sometimes interesting thoughts and ideas are waiting for us to discover and they're hiding right in front of our faces.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Everything Except the Squeal

There are times when we realize we're not efficiently making use of things in and around the house. When my grandfather was alive, he talked about the reasons many people from his generation were considered penny-pinchers. Due the Great Depression, they struggled to survive and were fantastic at recycling before terms like recycling or green-friendly were in vogue. They did what it took to survive and this involved reusing or re-purposing (* see note) items wherever they could. In his case, he lived on a farm and raised pigs to sell as well as use for food. When it came time to butcher a pig, he joked about how they wasted little. His say went something like this, "We used everything except the squeal."

I needed to heed his words a little better. In my case, about 10 years ago, I was busy creating water features for the yard. Being the handy sort, I fabricated my own filtration systems out of two gallon olive containers discarded from restaurants. PVC parts provided the plumbing and plastic bio-balls provided the surface area for beneficial bacteria to grow.

Eventually, I retired several of the smaller water features as my garden design evolved and the bio-balls sat unused in a container. Considering these little plastic spheres were quite expensive, I clearly wasn't using my noggin. Fortunately, my mind put two and two together today and I realized I have the perfect place for them, my skimmer unit in the garden pond. So, without delay, I placed the bio-balls into the pump side of the skimmer.

Problem solved.

Does it really make a difference to the pond? Probably not much in a seven hundred gallon pond. The real benefit from my perspective is that it set me into a state of mind where I'm thinking about things in a more creative manner.

I have a love-hate relationship with spell checkers. They help point out mistakes but they sometimes auto-correct to something we didn't intend. The net result is the occasional line of babel that means nothing which happened to the sentence with the note. The spellchecker corrected to "repossess" or something like that. Grandpa did not work as a repo-man. :D

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Paying It Backward

Pay it forward or pay it backward? Which do you prefer?

Hypothetically speaking, considering a situation where either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney won the election, I don't believe there is a need to experience a state of panic or depression in either outcome. Both of these people will (would) try their best to do what they think is right. In my opinion, no reasonable man (or woman) runs for the presidency going in with the intent, “I'm gonna wreck this country up good by wrapping it around the nearest elm (*) tree.”

(*) Note: elm trees come in many varieties as does humor.

Sure, you could bring up the "road to hell" proverb, but I think that minimizes people far too much. When we're under pressure, true pressure, we take action. For a prime example, all I have to do is look back at World War II and I see people banding together while under pressure to make a difference. No, I'm not making a comparison between the current situation and World War II, I'm pointing out that people tend to be non-involve d until they are presented with a stimulus which wakes them from their slumber of apathy.

Here's how I see it. If you don't like the state of the Union, become involved. Don't focus on complaining while taking no action. Get out into your community, volunteer, be visible and be a positive influence for the people around you. Kids learn by watching so share your beliefs and values with the next generation by doing something proactive and positive. And if you like the state of the Union, all the more reason to get out there and contribute more to making a difference. Keep your upbeat momentum going. 

As an after thought, I so wanted to go onto Ann Coulter's tweet feed last night and give her a taste of her own venom but I couldn't do it in good faith. Even if isn't necessarily consistent or even common, sometimes you really do get what you give.

Can't Reach Utility Belt...

With a few rare exceptions, if the readers of my blog and twitter tweets had the personality of Batman when he was played by Adam West, they might very well say, "Can't reach utility belt... '+1' button out of reach... must find pictures of cute kittens instead".

Yes, I'm being conceited and arrogant with my satirical opening line. No disrespect intended to kittens or people who like photos of kittens. I like kittens for that matter. Rather, it's a recognizable means of calling out how some things are popular simply by their nature while some "unloved toys" which people work hard on are stuck on an island wondering why Santa never delivers them to deserving homes. Rather than insult kitten lovers, my hope is that my grousing will motivate a few people to think about the bigger picture of what it is I'm saying in regards to interacting with people who share their creativity with the community. I understand many of us will struggle and likely fail numerous times as we try to build a community around us so it's not like I'm expecting something for nothing.

With the seeds of my intent (malcontent?) established, I'm going to add a positive spin to the post by offering a big huzzah to the one entity that interacts frequently. To the anonymous “up-voter” who gives the Google +1's to my posts, be ye robot or human, allow me to express my appreciation. Thank you!

I asked myself, does the anonymous up-voter agree with what I write or do they enjoy viewing the world through the picassoesque lens (point of view) I try to make my blog posts provide? Or maybe they have a totally different reason. I may never know. But the result of their action does more than simply pump up my ego. Deep down beneath my narcissistic desire to garner global attention, it provides confirmation someone has found something of value in what I have written.

On the most part, excluding the rare occurrence of comment, the anonymous voter provides the only visible form of feedback. The lack of interaction is something I find troubling. Writing a post is no a small investment on my part. Some posts may take ten or fifteen minutes while others have taken as much as four hours to finalize. Let me tell ya, a +1 is appreciated after four hours of work. But for all the effort, I can't help but notice most people read posts, yet remain seemingly silent. A response is not necessary but is a +1 button so hard to click assuming you obtained something of value? Then again, maybe most readers disagree with what I say or gain nothing of value. In that case, the lack of interaction is at least understandable considering the fleeting nature of our attention spans with online content.

Okay, so if you like something, acknowledging it through a +1 or a like is conceivable, but what about when you disagree or don't like what the post says? From my perspective, even if we disagree with what a person is saying, there is still valuable information to be extracted. Even if we disagree with a post or tweet, if the author made us think, potentially valuable information can sometimes be mined from the statements. As an example, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh or any of the other people who I believe rely on stoking up public emotions (notably anger) will serve nicely because of they tend to kick my irrational response urges into overdrive. While I disagree with much of what they say, it does not diminish the potential of their arguments to awaken valuable insights within me. Which is why I do not ignore what they write. Being an emotional sponge, I exercise care so as not to become consumed by the anger they project. But if I find something of value, I'll press the Google +1 regardless of whether or not it draws more attention to their given point. Why? Because they made me think—even if their argument(s) made me furious—by motivating me to search deeper into the given subject to become a more informed reader.

When I find blog content I like, I share links on places like StumbleUpon, I hit the old +1 button rather frequently and I even comment on blogs I've recently discovered yet I see so little of it happen for my content. You can call it sour grapes if you like but I think most people blog to share something with others. At least in my case, I blog to share information in the hopes of establishing a network of communicative friends who in turn, share information with me. People could accuse me of the same saying I don't always comment much on some of the social networks, but I'm not silent either. In the grand scheme of things, I still try to give with the belief it is what will return. I share links and +1 them with the hope of sharing the information with others and hope to experience something similar eventually. Perhaps it's pie in the sky thinking but I'm prone to such things which is part of the reason I like writing fiction.

Mind you, I'm not trying to dictate what people should do. Rather, I'd prefer to positively influence others to participate in an active manner. I believe taking action to acknowledge an author's effort is a something we can offer in return for the effort they have expended. Take an active role, hit that +1 button or click a like button because it's like voting, being involved matters. Maybe it's time for me to peruse a few blogs like those from Glenn Beck and The Daily Show to see if the +1 button is calling my name.

Note: the '+1' activity I mentioned is the result of my posting a reference on my Google+ account or my Twitter account.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Divided We Fall

Allow me to pose a few questions to my friends familiar with the American two-party system.

Would you place your trust in party whose political belief system begins with a con?

A dictionary-style definition of “con”.
Verb: Persuade (someone) to do or believe something, typically by use of a deception.
1. An instance of deceiving or tricking someone.
2. A disadvantage.
3. A convict.

What about voting for a candidate from a political party with a rat at its tail?

A dictionary-style definition of “rat”
Verb: To betray one's associates by giving information.
1. Long-tailed rodents, distinguished from the mouse by being larger [in its budget deficits]
2. Slang. A scoundrel.
Exclamation: to express mild annoyance or irritation (you dirty rat!)

Okay, now that the two party jokes are out of the way, let's talk about the political turmoil associated with voting and elections. Let me state clearly, I'm not a fan of straight party voting. When I vote, I try to avoid partisan politics. In the case of the presidential election, both candidates champion ideas which contradict as well as align with my core beliefs, forcing me to think deeply about what I feel is important to myself and society. I compare and contrast their stances on issues such as energy, economics and foreign policy in order to make an informed decision that don't conflict with my “moral compass”.

Sadly, I think many times we vote against a candidate's stance. I often hear people saying, “The country will collapse if (Bush|Obama|Romney|whoever) is in office.” Fortunately, during my lifetime, I've never witnessed the total collapse of our country. I've voted in numerous elections and I've watched the radioactive political fallout raining down from super-heated internal conflicts. But the country never once collapsed because we're still here today.

But listening to people talk, I'd swear that some want the country to divide into separate camps for conservatives and liberals. Will you commission an iron-clad Merrimack while I deploy a steel-encased Monitor? Should we let the cannonball fire begin? I, for one, say no. We will always have strong differences in opinion. Acknowledge the fact and work together so that we can revel in one of the greatest assets our country has to offer, the ability to disagree. Take action to avoid falling into a death-spiral of suppressing opposing opinions. It behooves us to learn to co-exist because it is an important and necessary aspect of any civilized society. Let us not allow things to fester such that we experience the horrors of World War II or any of the other atrocities of intolerance we look upon with sadness.

Regardless of who is elected president, the outcome will be interesting, both locally and globally. Let's see what the upcoming four years brings shall we?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Drizzle Delight

Here in Seattle, the season of Blade Runner is upon us. To celebrate the upcoming two months of rain, I snapped a few photos to assure myself not everything is gray and dismal. So forget about words for the moment and enjoy the drenched local scenery.

Do I see some blue sky off in the distance?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Rapid Oxidation Tweets (ROT)

Today's subject: Rapid Oxidation Tweets (ROTs) which are intended to ignite a firestorm of rage from one or more groups in society.

Let's start the post with a question. Do you enjoy following the latest posts or tweets from people who are direct in the expression of their opinions, antagonistic or otherwise? Does the usage of derogatory language aimed at anyone who disagrees with their opinion raise your blood pressure but still draw you in to read what the person has to say? Or do you avoid a blog or twitter feed when the content is tightly interwoven with their opinions?

Maybe it's just me, but I believe the act of name calling, when carried out by people in high-visibility venues, does more harm than good. To provide examples of name calling, here are two recent quotes, both of which direct animosity at anyone who disagrees with the author's stated opinion.

BloombergBusinessweek recently ran an article about Hurricane Sandy with the opening remark “It's Global Warming, Stupid.” In regards to the story, editor Josh Tyrangiel tweeted:

Our cover story this week may generate controversy, but only among the stupid.
It's a rather caustic tweet in my opinion. And there is considerable disturbance in my willpower to abide by my code of civilized public conduct when I read tweets like this one from Ann Coulter:
Obama: "Stage 3 Romneysia" - because cancer references are HILARIOUS. If he's "the smartest guy in the room" it must be one retarded room.
Both of these quotes share at least one trait in common, they belittle anyone who disagrees with the author(s). Whether I agree or disagree with either of the core beliefs beneath the two given examples, the antagonistic presentation makes it difficult to sift through and search for value in the fundamental argument.

I'm not saying people should avoid arguments where charged words are exchanged. Well formed arguments can help us build sound reasoning for why we support own beliefs. But I fail to recognize the productive value from placing people in a no-win situation where disagreement with a given opinion paints them in a negative light. For that matter, I believe hostile name-calling tactics make people close their minds to the opposing viewpoint, in part because of the associated negative behavior.

Yes, I understand the reasoning behind controversial statements. We sometimes like to fight verbally. So when we encounter a brash statement, our hair bristles and we speak out about the matter. At least in that regard, it breaks down the wall of apathy. I could resort to similar tactics. Like most everyone else, I have strong feelings about many of my beliefs. When I read commentary from people like Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh that is intended to ignite powerful emotional responses, I want to slip into combat gear and return fire with a scathing rebuttal. Not that either would take notice (or care) what some non-influential person has to say. Regardless, voicing opinions in the face of what I consider ignorance or manipulation is critical to keep my inner-self from withering away. By the way, ignorance does carry a negative connotation, it implies a lack of awareness.

Nonetheless, I don't like falling back onto insults. I'd rather create an argument built upon compelling or controversial concepts. It's harder work to construct arguments that rely less on emotional statements and more on details. Is it successful? Looking at stats, I'd say the answer is no. Is it worth it? If I based my opinion off my moral codes of conduct, I'd say yes.

While I don't always succeed (emotions are difficult to manage at times), I try to think about how others will interpret what I say before I speak. If I'm in an argument, I'm doing so because I believe my conversation partner cares enough about the matter to think for themselves.

Now that I've shared my opinion on the matter, how about sharing yours?