Archive for March, 2011

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Getting Unstuck

[ Comments Off ]Posted on March 21, 2011 by admin in Lifestyle & Culture

Monday, March 21st, 2011

We don’t have the answer, but we do have the question. What are you afraid of?

Do you ever get stuck? I mean, stuck in a big way, not just solving a problem, but really STUCK? Well, what I’m about to say may not help. I’m kind of stuck right now myself, and in the process of figuring out how to get unstuck. But maybe you can learn something from my bumbling. My first piece of advice? Don’t search “how to get unstuck” on Google. There are thousands of web pages out there, eager for your traffic, most of which serve up a shallow article about how to get unstuck. But odds are, you will end up feeling more stuck as you find yourself overwhelmed with all those thought-provoking ideas about being stuck. I just spent about twenty minutes doing that, and then remembered that I have most of the knowledge and tools right inside me to figure this out. Which means you probably do too, because – although I like to think I am – I’m really not that unique. So let’s start with basics. Although one of the likely causes of “feeling stuck” is some form of depression, that is the extent to which we’re going to touch on it. If you think this is a possibility, by all means examine the possibility with a qualified professional, it’s a common problem, and nothing to be ashamed about. So as we dig in, a little warning: rather than laying claim to answers, we’re going to ask questions. The first is: are you stuck doing something, or not doing something? I have ingeniously created a situation that involves both. I say “ingeniously”, because being stuck in a dead-end job can be an unfortunate side-effect of “living responsibly”, but I’m self-employed! It’s all my own doing! I’m involved in several projects right now, and with a couple of them, I feel like I’m swimming through concrete, and others, I’ve been completely stalled. But this is an important question. Are you stuck in the sense of immobilized creatively? Are you stuck in a negative relationship? Stuck in a dead end job or stalled project? Are you just plain bored with your existence? The solutions to the first and last items mentioned can be fairly easy to fix. If you’re stuck creatively, the worst thing you can do in most cases is ponder the fact that you’re stuck creatively. That brings all your focus to the “left brain”, a guaranteed brick wall for creativity. My worst experience with this recently was sitting down with a group of business people that were trying to name a new venture. They decided to meet at one person’s house, and “brainstorm”. After two hours, this group of people – not really “creative types” in the first place – had nothing but a large collective headache to show for their efforts. And a few really dumb names. The surest way to kill creativity is say “Okay! Now let’s be creative!” and then not hand out some fingerpaints or something. You’re putting the rational brain to work on an irrational problem. Even if you have to use weird tools like Roger Von Oech’s Creative Whack Pack Cards (also available for the iPhone, by the way) or Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, STOP THINKING ABOUT BEING STUCK. Crap. Maybe even go for a walk or something. Or imagine what you’d like to do to the person who gave you the task in the first place. Exploring your Jungian Shadow can be fun, even if you do end up realizing you want to duct-tape your boss to an F-18 or something. And it can get you back in your “creative brain”. And if you’re bored with your life, the answer is even simpler… DO SOMETHING! Anything. Especially something you’ve never done. Years ago, a friend of mine said “take a new way to work, you never know who you might meet”. Sounds trivial, but think of a big ship. Small course changes now translate into a vast differences in your destination later. And if you’re having trouble deciding what to do next, remember what Yogi Berra said: When you come to a fork in the road, take it! As an amusing example of this idea, I ran across this video (also below) today on YouTube. The guy in the video did it for a blog he just started at ScareYourselfEveryDay.com. Who knows where it will end up, but there’s already a pretty hilarious thread about it over on Reddit. I imagine whatever is going on for that guy today, he feels a lot less stuck. And that leads me to those bigger kinds of stuck. Stuck in a job? Stuck in a marriage? Stuck with projects going nowhere? It is almost certain that the reason you feel stuck in any of these instances is fear. Fear of loss, fear of change, fear of living without financial security, or in the case of stalled projects, fear of imperfection, fear of failure, and so on. We’ve talked about fear before, and imperfection too. In an upcoming piece, we’ll talk about about eliminating fear altogether. I had a conversation with a friend earlier today in which they said “yeah, but whenever you get rid of one fear, another comes along to replace it“. For a moment, I had this anxious feeling of “Oh God, what if she’s RIGHT???” And then we had a great laugh about the idea of fearing never being without fear. I believe the kinds of fear we’re talking about can mostly be done away with, and I’ll share some of how soon. But for now, I have some unsticking to do myself. And it involves doing something I’ve been afraid to do for a while, which is taking several major activities in my life, and saying “hey, this isn’t working, and the only solution is to chuck it”. Something that people like Seth Godin talk about on occasion. Am I afraid? No. How can I be? I have no idea how it will really turn out until I actually do it. And that’s where almost all our fears exist – in an imagined future. Read the rest of this entry »

E-Mail vs. Email – The 2011 Dissociated Press Stylebook

[ Comments Off ]Posted on March 20, 2011 by admin in Editorial & Opinion

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

As a Grammarchist, I think it’s time we try the world’s Grammar Nazis for their crimes.


Please do not confuse the parody image
above with the actual Associated Press
Stylebook iPhone app
. Or is that “i-Phone”?

A year ago, I sent The Associated Press an e-mail via their web site. Aside from the fact that the preceding statement is untrue, can you tell me what is wrong with that last sentence? Well, if you had read it a year ago, nothing. But last year – as you may know – the AP stylebook people decided that “web site” should be “website”, and just the other day, they decided “e-mail” will now be “email”. But does it really matter what the AP says these days, if in fact it ever did? I have an ancient copy (1992) of The Associated Press Stylebook (that’s a link to the upcoming edition), which mostly resides on my bookshelf to mislead visitors into believing that I’m moderately literate. I certainly don’t apply its rules to this site, for several reasons. Amongst those reasons are the fact that I never studied journalism or writing, and the fact that this site is not a news source, it’s just a thing I do to amuse myself while forcing myself to write a couple hundred words daily. The fact that a fair percentage of those who visit the site confuse it with something credible is hardly my problem. But even if I did consider myself a journalist, and even if I did consider this site a serious channel for “news”, I don’t know how faithfully I would adhere to any of the more respected style guides anyway, including the AP’s. By the way, do you like the way I ended that last sentence? I do. That’s because – in spite of minding my use of “to”, “two”, and “too”, or “lay” and “lie”, and the fact that me and Suzy never go to the store, and in spite of doing my best to spell things correctly and other basics of decent grammar – I’ve come to consider myself something of a Grammarchist, as opposed to a Grammar Nazi. Which is why I just had a blast with a really run-on sentence. For the record, I’m well aware that much of the writing on this site is an orgy of errors and a never-ending sentence clause catastrophe; I intentionally write in the voice with which I speak. But I’m breaking one of my only rules here, which is writing self-referential content. So back to the point. The AP guide in particular amuses me; as David Schwartz, an instructor at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication points out in this piece, the guide has a few problems. He hits on a few of the ones that I’ve always found tedious or absurd, like state abbreviations (Calif. instead of CA, etc.) and the rules for presenting numeric information as words vs. numerals. The latter in particular has always bugged me. There’s (that’s an intentional contraction!) plenty of sense in using numerals for quantities like “millions” and “billions”, since most people would never in 1,000,000,000,000,000 years realize that the number just presented was 1 quadrillion (or a thousand trillion, or a million billion, as a Brit might say). But otherwise, why use words for figures up to ten (or 10) and then suddenly switch to numerals? I personally will continue to trust my judgment on the ability of the reader to grasp the figures being presented. As I’ve pointed out before, it’s difficult for most people to conceptualize large numbers in a useful way in the first place. And words like “e-mail”? Until the AP style guide decides to apply the same rule to “e-commerce” and “e-book”, I’m keeping the hyphen. And if they later decide that other e-words should lose the hyphens? I think I’ll keep them anyway. I’m convinced that the AP is just doing piecemeal releases to sell more print copies, much like software giants  Microsoft and Adobe ruin perfectly functional software with pointless and costly upgrades. And why buy a copy of the AP stylebook when Reuters serves one up for free?

Happy Holi!

[ Comments Off ]Posted on March 19, 2011 by admin in Holidays

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Why the popular Indian festival of Holi hasn’t been cashed in on by American business is beyond me.


Source

What could be more fun than building bonfires while basking under the biggest full moon in decades, and the next day hittin’ the bhang, and splashing bright colors all over your friends in the sunshine? With American capitalism’s gift for commercializing just about any holiday – I mean, this is the country that turns Jesus into a fat guy in a red suit or a bunny, and Christian saints into babies with love darts or leprechauns swilling green beer – I’m AMAZED that no-one has brought the Indian festival of Holi into the mix. I must confess to my own utter ignorance until just yesterday; for years I had seen images on the web of Indian people partying in the street, doused in vivid color, and had no idea what they were doing. Well, now I know that it’s Holi, a celebration at the first full moon of Spring that also commemorates the survival of Prince Prahlada who, in defiance of his father’s wishes, worshiped Lord Vishnu, for which his father sent him to burn in a bonfire on his sister Holika’s lap. Or something like that. You can learn more on Wikipedia or one of the many sites devoted to the festival of Holi. Me, I’m calling Crayola and the makers of Super Soakers to get a licensing deal going. Might as well call a patent lawyer too, Holi is going to need some official Pantone Holi Colors™ as well.

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Internet Contracts New TLD With XXX Domains

[ 2 Comments ]Posted on March 18, 2011 by admin in Technology

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Is there any sense in a top level domain dedicated to pornographic content?


ICM’s logo, created by M&C Saatchi

No, a TLD is not a disease, though some might argue that it is on moral grounds. It’s a top level domain , like .com, .net, and .org. We’ve all become more familiar with domains like .info, .biz, and .tv, but when was the last time you recall typing one of them into the address bar? Most users’ web activity is driven almost entirely by searches on their preferred search engine, and a lot of clicking. So maybe you’ll see an ad or marketing piece with one of these TLD’s, but – and I base this statement on a LOT of observation as a web consultant – there’s a good chance that you will still type it into a search box. Which is just one of many reasons I think the fact that ICANN approved the top level domain .xxx today serves little purpose other than to make a lot of money for ICM Registry and its CEO, Stuart Lawley, the party awarded the role of managing the domains. 213,000 domains were allowed to be pre-registered, and Lawley believes that by this summer he can sell as many as 500,000. And at the insane price of 60-70 dollars each (most “regular” domains are usually around ten bucks), that’s easily over $30 million dollars in revenue. And to what end? The established porn industry has never been behind the idea and is already protesting it; they claim it marginalizes their content, and puts it at risk of being completely censored, as well as adding cost burdens to their business. The “casual porn enthusiast” (whatever I mean by that) also won’t like it, because sex, nudity, and porn is so stigmatized in our culture that this kind of user is probably happy to have the content they’re seeking available in normal searches, to maintain some plausible deniability if they fail to “clean their tracks” and get found out by a spouse or parent. And it won’t “clean up the web”, because nothing about the plan dictates that such content can’t appear on existing TLD’s. In fact, it’s just sort of reverse censorship; the domains will only be available to the adult entertainment industry, so all that ICANN has done is carved up an open system (the internet addressing system) and censored the rest of the web from using it. I mean, how cool would it be if you could register “YourName.xxx”? Well, unless you actually are a porn star, you probably can’t. Or can you? I don’t imagine issues like this have been sorted out yet. The International Foundation for Online Responsibility (IFFOR) will make these decisions. This should turn out to be interesting indeed. How sexual will be sexual enough? What do the words “adult” and “erotic” really mean? And if I can’t register IanGray.xxx, can I prevent some adult film company from doing so? I could go on, and probably will revisit the topic soon. But what do you think? Should there be a domain specifically dedicated to adult content?

Rebecca Black’s Friday & The Death Of Parody In Pop

[ 3 Comments ]Posted on March 17, 2011 by admin in Music

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Is Ark Music Factory helping accelerate the demise of parody in pop and destroy the wall between professional and user-generated content?

One of the more important recent events in contemporary pop music took place February 10, 2011. That was the day that the video Friday by Rebecca Black (also below) was uploaded to YouTube. If you haven’t seen it yet or heard about it, I only suggest you watch it so you can experience the discomforting cognitive dissonance it generates. It’s a unique feeling. At first you’ll be like “Bleh. Another cute but prepackaged, overly-autotuned young pop star being launched“. Then, early in the song, she says the word “Friday” the way she says it for the first time. While you’re busy marveling at the new vowel she’s invented (it’s somewhere between “i” and “e” mixed with the sound of a dying bunny), you’ll first start having trouble identifying what level of production quality is being presented. Yes, that’s fairly solid camera work and editing, and the audio is punchy and cleanly mixed. But those “extras”… those must be her friends, right? At some point you’ll wonder if this is some clever Onion.com parody, and start waiting for the punchline. Then you’ll realize it isn’t coming, and suddenly the song ends, and you’ll be like “wait, WHAT? OH MY GOD THAT WASN’T A JOKE”. If you’ve ever been in a rollover car accident, you’ll briefly relive that feeling that something terrible has just happened, but you’re okay, and almost laugh at how you just tempted fate and defeated it. I’m not sure if I’m exaggerating. The reason I said at the top that this song is such an important event was that it has accomplished the amazing feat of forever breaching that crumbling wall between professional and user-generated content in pop music in a way that no one really has before. This has happened with most other media and subcultures; I’ve talked before about the Death Of Meta-Ironic Hipsterism and The Death & Rebirth Of Political Meta-Satire As Quantum Comedy for instance. But so far, in spite of a decade of American Idol and websites like mp3.com and MySpace Music, no one has so successfully destroyed this line between “celebrity” and “nobody” with such carefree naivete, such oblivious indifference. For the record, Rebecca didn’t do this on her own; she’s a partially self-created product, but the other part of the partial was created by Ark Music Factory, a production house that seems to be cashing in on the same parents that sign their kids up for beauty pageants at age three. In spite of the genuine hat tip I offer to Rebecca Black for being in the right place at the right time, Ark Music Factory seems like an evil entity designed to destroy youth by deceiving them into pursuing hollow and unachievable dreams by selling them their own naivete and self-obsession. I would bet that half of these kids will be in rehab or thrice-weekly therapy by the age of 22. I mean, watching this Ark Music Factory promotional video gives me the same sick feeling inside that I got in third grade when I watched my nerdy friend get bullied during recess and acted like I didn’t know him. And I know, you may be thinking “Oh c’mon. This is just one of those meme thingies I’m always hearing about“. Well, I might have agreed a few weeks ago, but as of this writing the video has more than 13 million views (double that of Radiohead’s recent Lotus Flower), there’s talk of a tour, and the song has made the top 100 on iTunes. Oh. And a spinoff. The “girl in pink with the awkward dances” has a Tumblr. More video clips below.

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