branching out

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

on thursday, i turned 31.

to celebrate, i wandered around san francisco with my friend ambur.

we visited several independent bookstores, got a taco, commissioned a $7 reflection on pickles and the number 31 from a man sitting on the corner of haight & ashbury with a typewriter and a sign reading: ‘pick a topic. pick a price. get a poem.”, met up with rongo! for dinner in chinatown, and saw the last airbender in 3D.

i also thought a lot about my goals for the year, and launched a new blog.

i have been thinking about splitting this blog into several more focused pieces for a while now, but i keep getting distracted, and in the meantime, my real goal is to just start writing more, anywhere, about anything, and for whatever reason i am having a hard time writing regularly here because i have this preconception about the sorts of things i want to write about, and it hangs me up.

so for my birthday, i decided to try starting fresh and clean, with the simple goal of writing something every single day for a year, just to see what happens. after a bit of brainstorming with ambur, i chose the name revolution 31, because that’s how many times i have traveled around the sun now, and also because the project is a vehicle for change.

i am using, instead of hosting the blog myself, because i want it to be as easy as possible, and i keep recommending to friends, so it will be good to keep my inside knowledge up to date.

i figure i’ll still blog here sometimes, or at least cross-post some things, but if you’re interested in following the whole year, point your feed readers to

now back to celebrating that other revolution.

cue fireworks.

how many barrels of oil does it take to fuel an american life?

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

so this oil spill is fucked up, and there are really no two ways about that.

i have been waiting, i guess, to process the scale of the tragedy, not really sure how to wrap my mind around the quantities involved, or the implications that will surely continue to emerge as the food chain is disrupted, the currents disperse, and storm season begins.

i have also been waiting, i realize, because scandal and catastrophe are becoming so commonplace that my initial reaction when something terrible happens is to resist being sucked into the circus of mainstream media coverage and reactionary online commentary until after the opening parade has passed and i can begin to get a sense of what’s really going on.

now it has been two months, however, so i can’t justify a holding pattern any longer.

this tragedy is real, and it is difficult for the press to inflate it.
we could still happen upon a miraculous solution.
or, you know, aliens could show up and offer to help us in exchange for our loyalty to the alliance of gnib.

but in the meantime, oil continues to spill, no one can really say for certain how quickly it is flowing, and it is starting to feel like all we will ever be able to do is sit here and watch the numbers climb:

at some point, we are going to have to figure out how to move forward. we are going to have to accept that children born today may spend their entire lives in a world where the gulf of mexico is black and too toxic for swimming. that shrimpers and fishermen are going to have to find new sources of livelihood. that our insatiable thirst for oil and willingness to ignore safety violations until enforcement becomes a meaningless rubber stamp that corporations don’t really have to worry about actually earning, as long as they know how to make nice and hire the right middlemen, can lead to real devastation.

we need to admit that we are playing a high-stakes game here, and it is very possible to make mistakes that we can’t take back.

as we search for a silver lining, or at least for ways to alchemically convert our frustration into impact, it is very tempting to believe that this may be just the wake up call we need to curtail our oil use.

for starters, outrage against BP is rampant, and the creative catharsis is humorous and fun to look at. but while high-level investigations continue, and we wait for the scales of justice to weigh the arguments on all sides, most of us are left with a profound sense of powerlessness. a boycott of BP stations is tempting, at first, but it is important to remember that gas stations are locally owned and managed by people with nothing to do with corporate HQ, so please consider the big picture if you feel yourself drawn in this direction.

BP Logo Redesign

image via GreenpeaceUK

finding ways to cut back on gas use is more promising, and existing grassroots efforts to motivate a critical mass to change their habits are enjoying a surge in popularity, which is good, but only time will tell if the surge will lead to any long-term behavioral change.

i have been thinking a lot about gasoline consumption over the past few years because i have been on the road so much, and now that my transmission has kicked the bucket in an expensive way (yeah. hugh is dead. sucks.), leaving me carless, i am taking the opportunity to consider my next steps carefully.

while i’m here in watsonville, my mom’s car is available for basic transport and emergencies, which is very convenient. in other universes, where i am still commuting to work in san diego, or in the middle of driving cross-country, i imagine that i am much grumpier.

as it is, i am taking the opportunity to rest a bit, acquainting myself with public transport, and scouting for bikes. what i will do next is still uncertain, but since i have a bit of leeway in my decision period, i am tempted to do something dramatic, like pledge to not buy another vehicle unless it runs on biodiesel, or natural gas, or is a horse.

the dual punch of the oil spill and the loss of my car is perhaps a blessing, because these ideas that we hear all the time – we need to reduce our dependence on oil! find alternative fuel sources! promote public transportation! – are all so familiar that we almost risk tuning them out, or participating mechanically on bike to work day, which makes us feel good, like when we recycle.

but when it really comes down to it, i am realizing that even with the best of intentions, i was viewing the crisis point as sometime far in the future, and that is dangerous.

when will the turning point come, if not with a tragedy of this scale? do we really need to wait for all seven horsemen to show their heads? or are we already so jaded that we’re just digging out bomb shelters, stockpiling canned goods, and backing up our hard drives so that we have every episode of lost to keep us company?

i guess that’s a start.

meanwhile, i have decided to perform a playful thought experiment.

if we were previously going to run out of oil on day x, and i was therefore going to be forced to stop using oil at around that time, how much sooner will that day come because of the oil spill?

you know, like those statistics that tell you how each year of smoking takes so many years off your life?

what i want to know is: how many years of driving do we collectively lose for each day that the oil spill continues?

i crunched some numbers, and using the rather conservative estimate of 20,000 barrels of oil being spilled a day (this number keeps rocketing higher, and everyone disagrees about the flow rate, but no one seems able to dispute that the number is at Least this large, so i will start there), and the estimates that the department of energy gives for gallons of gas per barrel of oil, and the EPA’s assumptions that Americans drive an average of 12,000 miles/year at 20 miles/gallon, we get the rather amusing answer (for apocalyptic conspiracy theorists) that we are losing 666.66 years of oil per day.

taking an average human lifespan of 66.6 years (for the sake of round numbers and fun), this means that, for every day that the oil spill continues, we lose 10 driver-lifetimes of oil.

i like this statistic so much that i made a little chart:

Chart of Oil Spill in Lifetime Supplies of Gas

so, at the two month mark, we have spilled a quantity of oil which, under other conditions, could have been distributed across 600 lifetimes.

go us!

as i said, this is just a thought experiment, and a rather silly one, at that.

basically, my brain is attempting to put the oil spill into terms that make some kind of sense to me, numbers that i can relate to my own life, and use to try to motivate myself to truly grok the scale of this disaster.

in my quest for understanding, i hit upon this 10 lifetimes per day idea, and suddenly, i saw 10 future-people in some imaginary line in some big office building where they hand out ‘lifetime supply of gas’ ration cards. the future-people are standing there, waiting, reading old magazines with all the crossword-puzzles filled in, and they’re cranky, and hungry, and the air-conditioning is broken, and it’s almost their turn! but then… the window slams shut! they stand agape, not knowing what to do, and a pasty-faced bureaucrat in a suit that’s too small, with a tie that looks like a cheap piece of christmas ribbon, sneers at them and says: “oh ho! all gone! sorry, buddy! no gas for you! too bad about that oil spill back in 2010! that was YOURS!” and then he cackles maniacally and the vision fades away…

what can i say? my brain is a strange place.

but future-people aside, i think that measuring the oil spill in lifetime-sized chunks is useful. if instead we were to look at it alongside the ridiculous amount of oil we use each day, or share it equally among all licensed American drivers, our personal share of the problem starts to look very small (~ 0.002 gallons/day), which is a tempting consolation.

continuing this line of reasoning, we could theoretically tell ourselves that it will be possible to recoup our loss from the oil spill if we each agree to reduce our gas use by some fractional amount each year, which would be a lot easier than figuring out how to go without gas entirely.

we can remain calm, and keep fighting obesity with reduced-fat potato chips.

the problem with this is that, years down the road, when we have made up for the lost oil and learned to live comfortably with this fractional reduction, we will all still be demanding more oil, whereas, if we begin to take more drastic steps today, some number of us will instead be free.

[cue inspiring video clip of birds in flight with soothing vocals in an melodic, yet unfamiliar language]

the goal, as i see it, is to do whatever it takes to change our destructive habits so that the future will be different, not to simply make the tiniest concessions possible in order to continue our bad habits forever in a watered-down form.

i mean, we’re running out of water, too, you know…

so take my chart or leave it, as you see fit.

i will continue to seek ways to reduce my oil use, and i will tell you what i decide to do re: my next vehicle.

suggestions are encouraged.

and yes, i understand that, when it comes to making sense of the oil spill, the quantity of oil involved is only just the beginning.

next, i’m going to have to deal with the trickle-through effect on wildlife habitats, including our own.

but that still makes my head hurt, so first, i will watch a couple episodes of fringe (moving on with jj abrams, now that lost is done!), and work on my bomb shelter schematics.

do you think there will be enough battery power to bring my wii?

yeah, but when you face the sun? please cast no shadow. light’s too bright. kthxbye.

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

i was listening to marketplace the other day and there was this piece about these new apple ads starring “mac guy” and “pc guy”. story goes that they make mac users out to be all slick and savvy while showing pc users as geeky and frustrated. i don’t have a tv, so i haven’t actually seen these ads, and i should probably go watch one on youtube or something before writing this post, but whatever, because i’m not actually responding to the ads, i’m responding to the way they were covered on the radio.

the piece talked about how apple might be biting itself in the ass with the ad campaign because “mac guy” is so self-confident as to be annoying, and current mac users might not enjoy the association. marketplace quotes marissa gluck, a marketing analyst, as saying:

The character of the Mac guy is almost too perfectly cast. He is smug. He is condescending. He’s just that uber-hipster you love to hate. It just makes you want to slap him.

fair enough. condescension not always the best marketing strategy. noted.

but the piece goes on from there. after assessing “mac guy” in this manner and questioning apple’s wisdom in promoting itself through him, it cites a study by a media research group that surveyed 7,500 different computer users with regard to their lifestyle habits as well as their computer usage. the direct quote from a representative of the research group was:

This is a group that is not afraid to shout its accomplishments from the mountaintops. They’re happy and proud to talk about their successes and their accomplishments, and that can come across as possibly a bit conceited.

can and possibly being rather major keywords in that summary, imh?o…

but the Marketplace correspondent summarized this information thusly:

They found that Mac owners pretty much personify the Mac guy from the commercials. Among other things, they think they’re more extraordinary than the average Joe.

and at that point, i’m scratching me head a bit, guvna, because i thought we were talking about how this stereotype might not be the best to use for the PR division, but now we’re using our own NPR-special heads to decide that mac users have superiority complexes because —

The survey revealed that Mac users often describe themselves as perfectionists. They’re also more likely than PC users to whiten their teeth, drive hybrids, drink Starbucks coffee and eat organic food.


i think that what i actually said aloud after the “they think they’re more extraordinary than the average Joe” nod was something like “or, um… their computers actually let them do stuff and then they are happy…”

now again, for clarity, i’m not talking about “mac guy” here at all, because i still haven’t seen the commercials, and i’m definitely not saying that there aren’t some annoying, conceited mac users out there, with myself on the ballot like everyone else.

i just found it striking that being “happy and proud to talk about their successes and their accomplishments” is apparently so closely synonymous with “being an arrogant arsehole” in our cultural vernacular that the two can be used interchangeably on a major evening radio program, not just without the commentator batting an eye, but with her apologizing for her own audacity in sometimes engaging in similar behaviors herself.

um… yah.

sent from my iBook, sure, but…

[begin sarcastic grunting voice]

me think things.
me say some things out loud.
me change mind sometimes.
you do whatever.
we grow.

[raised-eyebrow smile at world and self as transition from grunting voice]

onward with the week.

so impressed

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

go read rice boy now.
so simple, so nuanced, so gorgeous.
i’m hooked.

the japanese win when it comes to game shows

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

i mean, how much sake does it take to be this holy freakin hilarious?

because that’s how much i want.
and a spicy tuna roll.
and some tea.

who’s in?


Wednesday, August 15th, 2007

i know i make a lot of references to stuff i want to post about but don’t, and you may or may not know that i think and scribble about many things that i don’t even manage to refer to obliquely in what survives the grueling gauntlet of distraction to make it into post form, but, fwiw, if you want a fun introduction to one of the concepts (arguably The concept) that drives the distribution of my interests across the worlds of design, the internet, cognitive science, developmental psychology, consciousness, mysticism, drugs, public health, and politics, have a listen to this radiolab episode on emergence.

it’s an hour long, but do what i do: listen while you wash the dishes. or eat. or put together a jigsaw puzzle of warholesque popart lips. ok maybe that last one’s not on your list, but tif and i had fun at the toy store the other day, so the gauntlet lengthens. :)

and sign up for their podcast while you’re at it, eh? folks do a damn fine bit of radio programming. even if the ideas aren’t new to you, i bet it’ll make you smile, and think a bit, and maybe ask me a question. and thus the march of progress continues. ;)

sometimes we make an impact by losing our audience

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

i’m purging my old drafts and i found this, which isn’t really a draft, and to which i really don’t need to add much.
it was copied from post secret.

—–Email Message—–
Subject: It’s not a secret any more

Dear Frank,

I recently sent you a postcard with one of my secrets on it, and having told the whole internet it didn’t seem like such a big deal any more. Last week I told one of my friends and I feel so much better. I think from now on I might send all my postcards to my friends rather than you.

Here’s hoping you never get another postcard from me.

pencils down, essays up

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

i started a little side project this month called “The One Hour Essay Project.”

it’s goal is to provide a structured space wherein people can spend one hour a month writing their response to a shared prompt, and then benefit from the feedback and discussion that is generated by others’ essays and comments. the essays are posted anonymously, and the short time limit is intended to both keep people from worrying about getting things perfect and make it easy to scrounge up time to participate.

i thought of the idea because i had too many things on my list of stuff i wanted to blog about, and never enough time to tackle the ones that i thought deserved the most attention. because you notice that most of the posts that get through are about food or random activities, right? ;)

anyway, it’s just getting started, and there’s a lot i want to to with the site, but the first batch of essays is up at: if you want to drop by and check ’em out. i won’t tell you which one i am. :)

i’m not sure yet how i’m going to handle recruitment and registration. it seems like there is an upper limit to how many essays are absorbable, but we might be able to break it into clusters or something… the response this month was already more overwhelming than i had anticipated, and only half of the people who replied ended up submitting, so i’m blessed with a healthy batch of guinea pigs, and i’m excited to see where it leads. drop a comment if you’re burning to play along and i’ll see what i can do. :)


Thursday, July 26th, 2007

during the era of the pictures from my last post about morgan? i looked like this:


crazy, huh?

if you haven’t seen me since then, well… i have longer hair now.
and better taste in clothing.
that smile still makes it out every once in a while, though. :)

the building behind me is rawles hall, home of the IU math department.
hi IU math department!

the person who took the picture is jeff, whose brain looks like this:
Jeff's Brain
hi jeff’s brain!

if i had a picture of my brain, i would show it to you, but i don’t, and with that, i think this post has enough information to earn its title.

morning coffee

Saturday, May 26th, 2007

the folks at brand autopsy, a marketing blog i enjoy, have a post today with a link to a great short talk by bryant simon, professor of history and director of the american studies program at temple university.

the talk is about the cultural ethos of starbucks, which is a favorite topic at brand autopsy because john moore, the force behind the blog, used to be a bigwig marketing guy there and wrote a book about the experience.

anyway, it’s a very good little talk, and a good topic to think about for one who has recently moved to the pacific northwest (where coffee is holy), has begun to engage in more business travel, and is currently considering a dramatic reduction in caffeine intake.

in other words, it’s interesting to me! :)

here’s the talk:

and as a bonus link, professor simon mentions a little site called, which is apparently quite popular but is new to me. it lets you type in a zipcode and then spits out local coffeeshops, bookstores, or movie theaters in the area. neat trick, eh?

enjoy them both, as well as the holiday weekend (if you’re in the USA, that is. otherwise you probably have to work on monday. ha ha! :)