Apr 232014

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural HistoryThe Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t usually read books about climate change, but I recently read The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert. This book is fun to read. She is a good storyteller, yet manages to give you the facts. She actually goes places and talks to biologists and botanists in the field. She’s not full of alarmist hyperbole; she’s not preachy or political – which I find refreshing. However, she makes it clear that she thinks that humans are affecting the environment and that we need to think about what we’re doing before blindly going ahead.

View all my reviews

 Posted by at 9:01 am
Apr 222014

pissedI read an article on the Atlantic’s website about the resurgence in American manufacturing. The article noted that the resurgence has done little for employment. Nor will it.

Worker productivity has increased for decades (though recently it seems to have plateaued). Increased productivity has not resulted in higher wages.

These two facts are related. Both the resurgence and the productivity increase are primarily due to capital investments in technology. Put simply, it takes fewer workers to produce the same amount (or more) of stuff. This trend is likely to continue as better software and smarter machines come online.

One of the critical problems facing us in the decades ahead will be what to do with all the extra people.

We’ll probably need fewer software engineers, designers, engineers – the occupations currently in vogue for higher education and retraining efforts. And, less face facts, not everyone will have the aptitude or temperament for those professions. There will be fewer high paying, creative jobs and more low paying service jobs. But, overall I predict there will be fewer jobs than people.

But, somehow these folks have to obtain food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and most importantly, a good reason to get up in the morning. Rather than simply demonize these folks and yell at them to “get a job” we need to address how we are going to deal with what might be a permanent group of unemployed, or extremely marginally employed, people.

 Posted by at 3:31 pm
Apr 132014

I was considering deactivating my Facebook account recently. I feel it has  become both a marketing platform and a market research device than a place to share ideas. I thought about the email accounts I’ve left strewn over the internet: my first compuserve account, then aol, .mac, lycos, netscape – maybe others I have forgotten. I wonder if they are all steadily accumulating spam over the years? I also have a Yahoo account, but the friends that used to send me emails over that account have stopped. It saddens me to think of the people I’ve lost touch with over time, people I used to look forward to receiving an email from.

I thought Facebook would be a way to stay connected with people. In some ways it has, but in many ways it has served to distance me from people. A lot of the posts, especially the political ones, make me misanthropic. They make me despair for our future. I’ve made stupid moves on Facebook that I regret. It does not always bring out the best in me. I have a lot of “friends” on Facebook that aren’t. It’s not that I don’t like them; it’s just that I don’t know them. They are on my list because I promote events here in town and I can then invite them. There are more and more ads on Facebook – along with “suggested posts” (suggested by who?). And then, there’s the privacy issues.

It seems the internet has become a gigantic advertising medium. I know there’s thoughtful work out there – I have to seek it out, but I don’t think I’ll find it on Facebook.

 Posted by at 8:35 pm
Mar 292014

Remember what it was like to ride on the seesaw? Which was more interesting: Sitting level with your friend, balanced? Or moving up and down, unbalanced?

Consider Music. Music can flow, chords and notes in perfect balance and harmony. It’s soothing and peaceful, but too much of this and you have elevator music. Blues, at its most basic, consists of 3 chords. It usually starts with a major chord, perfectly balanced. Then it transitions to a 7th chord. The addition of one note puts the balanced major chord into a slightly unbalanced state, adding tension and interest. Try playing the blues in all major, balanced chords. It doesn’t sound right. It sounds dull.

Consider stories. Most stories start by showing the protagonist in a balanced state. This lasts for only a few minutes in most movies. Then something happens, or a bunch of things happen to throw the protagonist into an unbalanced state. Brad Pitt is in the car with his family, having a normal day in the city and then zombies are running amok all over Philadelphia. Now it gets interesting. The end of the story, when the unbalanced state is resolved, is also short relative to the entire work. Balance in stories is dull. Stories have to have imbalance, tension, conflict, drama in order to be interesting.

People need balance. We need stretches of boring balance to remain healthy. We need to de-stress, chill out between times of imbalance.

But, does art?

 Posted by at 3:46 pm
Mar 262014

We had a discussion last night at our writers group about vocabulary. I feel shorter words are always the better alternative. Using the precise word is most important, but if two words are essentially the same, choose the smaller, more common one. Here’s quotes from my 3 go-to books on writing:

“Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute. Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able.” – The Elements of Style.

“Put your vocabulary on the top shelf of your toolbox, and don’t make any conscious effort to improve it. (You’ll be doing that as you read, of course…) One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. … Make yourself a solemn promise right now that you’ll never use ‘emolument’ when you mean ‘tip’…” – On Writing – Stephen King

“But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what – these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence.” – On Writing Well, The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction – William Zinsser

 Posted by at 12:14 pm
Mar 262014

IMG_5008Just what the internet needs: yet another cat picture! But, you have to admit he’s pretty darn cute.

 Posted by at 12:03 pm
Mar 172014

snapshot-jen-story“Hey lady. Can I take your picture?” The guy had his camera pointed at her.

“No, you can’t,” she replied.

“Aw, c’mon,” he said. He didn’t wait for a reply. She heard the fake shutter sound from the digital camera.

“Dammit. Why did you have to go do that?” she asked. She pulled her 9MM Glock out of her backpack and shot him in the forehead. He fell immediately, dropping the camera.

“Sorry. You were definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said to the corpse. She thought about all the hours of planning, the surveillance of her target, finding the optimal place to set up for the shot, scouting out the perfect escape route. All that planning couldn’t foresee running into a tourist on her way to kill a US Senator. She reached in his pants for his wallet.

“John Quincy from Batavia Illinois. Where the hell is that? And why were you out here, in this freezing cold, at 7 AM taking pictures?” she said. She walked over and picked up the camera from the snow and turned it on. She looked at his pictures. Most of them were typical tourist snapshots: the Washington Monument, the Capitol building, the White House.

“He did take a darn good picture of me. I look pretty hot in these glasses. I think I’ll email this to Carter; he’ll like it.”

She put the cash and credit cards in a front pocket of her parka. She threw the wallet on the ground next to the corpse, dropped her gun and the camera in her backpack and resumed her walk to work.

 Posted by at 2:53 pm
Feb 012014

We seem to be stuck in a pattern of snow, followed by a cold snap, then more snow, followed by a cold snap… According to what I’ve read it’s due to warmer than normal temperatures in the northern Pacific. I can’t imagine the forces necessary to cool down the northern Pacific, so who knows when this pattern will stop. It’s meant that we have quite a bit more snow and cold than recent winters.

I have some friends who embrace winter. They ski. I’m not a winter-embracer, but I used to be able to function better in cold weather than I do now. I lived in Alaska for a year. I didn’t own a car. I walked to work every weekday. Sometimes I saw moose on my route in the winter, but mostly it was snow and cold. So, today I decided I can do this; I am not going to let winter beat me – at least today. I walked to meet some friends at a local coffee shop. Originally I said I wasn’t going – too much snow for me. After shoveling I still didn’t really want to drive, but I decided to walk. It’s only 2.2 miles – not exactly like a trek to the North Pole.

It was good for me. I forgot how much a walk, under any conditions but especially marginal ones, can clear the head. I took a couple of pictures. I met my friends. I went to a meeting about starting a co-op grocery in our town. It turned what could have been a blah, somewhat depressing day into a better one.


Most of the side streets looked like this, even though the main streets were plowed.

Most of the side streets looked like this, even though the main streets were plowed.









Here's what a walker likes to see - a shoveled sidewalk on a busy main street!

Here’s what a walker likes to see – a shoveled sidewalk on a busy main street!

 Posted by at 8:15 pm