It’s Time to Rename Columbus Day

Every year we as a nation honor someone who came to this land, oppressed its people, and plundered its wealth. It’s no wonder we aren’t revolting over government shutdown.

Leif Ericson by Gunnlaugur Þór BriemI’m not going to spend this post outlining the travesties that Columbus is responsible for visiting upon this the Americas as you’ve probably seen the Columbus infographic. I’m also not going to back the rightful claim that Leif Ericson had discovered our continent about 500 years before him or that an Irish monk may have been to the Americas another 300 years before him. None of them can hold a match to the people who crossed the Bering Straits land bridge over 10,000 years before that and grew to be one fifth of the world’s population by 1492.

Instead I want to point out that it’s not like we can budget back a holiday. It’s out there and everyone’s planned around it. Instead, we need to rename and re-dedicate it. While I can’t condone the actions of Christopher Columbus, I can commend his intent to push back the veil of what is unknown and risk his life and reputation in the pursuit of it. He’s not alone in that respect, nor are Leif, Sir Francis Drake, or Lewis and Clark. They are pioneers in the field of physical navigation.

Last week Scott Carpenter joined them in Shakespeare’s “undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns.” He and his cohort, living and dead, air and space, should receive the same reverence as Columbus has enjoyed.

Physical navigation is not the only exploration that should be honored. Those who have explored the microscopic and have revolutionized our lives should also be honored. Even Columbus benefited from Eratosthenes’ discovery that the world was round in 240BC, making the voyage much safer than the story my school teachers taught me.

This should be a day where we hold up scientists, technologists, pilots, astronauts, and sailors for their role in making us what we are today. There are a lot of people who share the idea to rename Columbus Day to Exploration Day to honor all of those who have given so much (that way you can pick and choose which ones you want to honor).

Normally I’d reference a link to a petition on WeThePeople.gov, but as only essential staffing levels are currently active, here is a Change.Org petition for re-dedicating Exploration Day you can sign instead.

And for those of you that think this is too hippy for you, think of it this way: Eventually someone’s going to suggest that we honor all these astronauts and scientists in the same way we have 2 days of the year for America’s military. Wouldn’t you prefer to already have a day for it so that the government couldn’t take another day off?

Leif Ericson photo courtesy of Gunnlaugur Þór Briem

Whatever Happened to Face to Face?

Belly to belly marketing - Sumo styleWhere did this whole “belly to belly” business terminology start and how do I stop it …or more appropriately, eviscerate it?

Why can’t we just go back to face to face- is it too passé for our  newness-obsessed marketing culture? Did FaceTime and Facebook add a virtual overtone to the “face to face” option, or is there some crazy person out there who is hell-bent on putting images of sumo wrestlers in my head while they are talking about business practices?

Belly is used in business already: to go belly up is a sign of failure. Was the original coiner of the term hoping to draw some tincture of that terminology into live meetings that wasn’t present in “face to face” marketing? Or was he/she thinking of “bellying up to the bar” and making it a less formal version that included an exchange of ideas over fermented refreshment?

When I hear the term in person, I often correct the person with “face to face.” Business is supposed to be a place with at least a patina of professionalism and that term doesn’t really cut it. When I see it online, I’m tempted to post the Warrant album cover of the same name, with a simple “Rock on!” allowing the other person to ascertain that the origin of “belly to belly” was perhaps horizontal rather than vertical. It’s not like “moist” where someone somewhere got upset with the sound of the word and then convinced a whole swath of humanity that it’s a bad word without coming up with a usable term to go on cake mix boxes.

My other option would of course be to show them the video below. It’s a disturbing fact but according to 2009-2010 statistics on US health: “68.8% of adults are overweight or obese; 35.7% are obese.” Drawing further attention to our expanded national midsection doesn’t seem like a solid business tactic.

Mr.Fink’s Finest Photos via Compfight

Geek History and the Defense of Marriage

Geek TattoosI came across an article this week that sheds new light on the battle within our culture on marriage equality. For years, religious organizations have insisted that they originated the practice of marriage and so they should be able to veto changes, as if they’ve licensed it to the government like Microsoft Windows.

The problem is that religious institutions did not invent the monogamous human relationship – geeks did. According to researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, alpha males once ruled (think bighorn sheep butting heads for mating rights) and set the tone with multiple partners. Beta males (read: proto-geeks) had to invent a new paradigm if they wanted to get nookie and found inspiration in the “mate for life” species (science FTW!). A 2009 British survey bears out that geeks are still tops in the single partner game.

Because of our efforts, childhood survival rates increased and the modern family evolved. So if we’re entering an era of marriage 1.1, move over religious institutions and let geeks decide. If religious institutions insist they have truly shepherded the institution all these years, they’ve done a crap job of it – it’s failure rate is probably worse than the virus infection rate of a bit torrent site. On the other hand, I think you will find that most geeks aren’t threatened by two people of any gender combination wanting to express their love for one another in a state-sanctioned ceremony. We also probably wouldn’t let government hand out so many marriage certificates to adolenscents who may not have reached the abstract reasoning phase of their development or even people who might be too intoxicated or filled with passion to make an informed decision.

To be honest,  religion handed off the word “marriage” to government long ago. I firmly believe that via the freedom of religion, churches have every right to determine who is married in the eyes of their congregation. Coupling that with freedom of association, they can also decide whether or not to hang out with them. The mandate that is missing which they cling to blindly is the determination of who is married in the eyes of the government. The government must determine whether a separate and unequal system is constitutional. Another step towards rendering it unconstitutional was taken in Boston this week.

Let me note before people try to discount me as a blathering iconoclast that I don’t have a problem with religious institutions or their adherents – I have a problem with some of the actions they take. I was incensed in high school physics when I heard what the Catholic church did to Galileo. That disgust for the wrong-minded actions of people lacking objectivity grew more entrenched when I learned the history of Martin Luther at Luther College.  To me, the epitome of Christian values are forgiveness and doing unto others as we would have done unto us. Were I inclined to pledge my love to someone of the same sex, I would want the same rights as any other person under the law, so by the golden rule I cannot stand in the way of someone’s happiness who feels that way and wants those rights.

Close-minded zealots have long denied what are now logical human rights in the past and have had to apologize later. Slavery was allowed in The Bible. Interracial marriages were somehow against God. I truly believe that we’re going to see the same thing happening in the future with this decision.

Still disagree with me? Then use the rights the Constitution did grant you and pick a new word. The government has been given irrevocable authority over the word “marriage” – let it go. Re-create your version of marriage under a new banner (coadunation actually fits a heterogeneous union) and use the freedom of religion and association clauses to maintain its sacredness. Think of it as akin to the dichotomy of graduation and baccalaureate – one is an affair of the state and the other is of the church.

Creative Commons License Francis Storr via Compfight

Gotta Cut Loose: Footloose and Neckties

Kevin Bacon promoting "The Woodsman" in Hollywood, CA.  October 14, 2004. © Armando Gallo / Retna Ltd.I’ve talked about my fondness for a number of literary heroes, but I’ve left out one – Ren McCormack, the protagonist of Footloose. He’s had an extended influence on my style, something I will now refer to as “The Footloose Tie.”

Background:

The movie came out in 1984 and I loved it. I remember leaving the Viking Theater in Decorah, Iowa and my feet couldn’t stop moving. It was energizing and it spoke to that part of me that feels the need to stand up to oppression. I think it was that summer that I bought my first necktie – it was a skinny tie covered in a tinsel-like metallic fabric that reflected a rainbow of hues. Most people nowadays would be loathe to wear a disco ball-themed tie on their neck, but I started wearing shirts with collars simply so I had an excuse to show it off. Like Ren, I wore the tie loosely, symbolizing my rebellious nature (or when I was feeling wild, on my head).

Eventually Miami Vice hit and the theft of professional attire worn ironically moved towards jackets. I rarely attended any formal occasions other than my brothers’ weddings where a tie was required and then I couldn’t wait until after the ceremony so I could rid myself of what I perceived as a noose.

Then I started working for Upward Bound and every summer there was a formal ceremony. My mentor turned me on to a cheat to get around ties – the Nehru collar. In the 90s I accumulated about 7 Nehru-collared shirts.

It wasn’t until I became a web designer that I started wearing ties again. As time progressed I started liking ties, the splash of color they can add to an outfit. As I became more acclimatized to the world of design I started foraying deeper into the less conservative patterns and embracing wild ties.

Then I moved to the world of web development – a land of t-shirts and jeans. I missed the ties, but I accepted the new uniform. I kept a sport coat in my cube for those days when I needed to go talk to the account managers and have them take me seriously with an Aquaman t-shirt on. One of my co-workers would wear a tie on occasion and I’ll admit, I got a little jealous that he could pull it off without losing his standing as one of the guys. One day I snuck a smirking “preppy” comment in and he caught my allusion to “Saved by the Bell.”

Ren McCormack 2011As management started noticing my effort and vision, I started pulling out the ties to stay on their radar and be ready for meetings. I wore them Ren McCormick-style to maintain my street cred in the department. I began noticing cool ties and they suddenly took on a shopping imperative that I did not intend, akin to shoe-shopping for some women. I would go in for a new pair of jeans and wander by the clearance rack for ties and try to rescue one or two, or if I didn’t find one I liked, I would wander into the full price racks and then find a shirt to go with my new acquisition.

The Fashion Statement

My point in all this is to build fashion awareness and acceptance of “The Footloose Tie” style of wearing a tie. I love wearing my necktie bling this way and in my mind, it says “I’m professional, but I’m not stuffy.” Some people see the necktie as a barrier between people, but I think it can add color and tie an outfit together as long as you don’t wear them so seriously. I’m not a fan of single color dress shirts worn without a tie or a coat – they look plain to me.

My problem is, not everyone agrees with “The Footloose Tie” as a fashion statement. Some see it as messy.

I’m looking for feedback and some perceptions on boundaries for the style. My perception is that if it’s worn straight and loose with the knot at or above the second button, it evokes a sense that the person cares about style/fashion but is open and approachable, similar to the statement of a sport coat and t-shirt.

What do you think?

iPad 3 – My Reaction

iPad screen courtesy By Avijeet_SachdevI wanted to take a moment to add a reaction to Apple’s big news this week. Everyone pretty much knew what was coming out so few surprises. I think we’ve hit that point in the smart phone/tablet production cycle where there’s almost no big news except for the newest iteration of Android (Ice Cream Sandwich included a lot of tasty treats – I think I hit full upgrade credit on my Evo in May and I can’t wait).

4G LTE: about time that Apple entered the 4G world – Android’s been owning them in that space for the last 2 years and that’s one of the primary reason why Android has almost a 2 to 1 margin in the cell phone market over Apple (other factors: exclusivity deals and a one size fits all mentality for hardware instead of embracing diversity). Apple’s fear of offending their loyalists by losing battery life (4G chews on battery) over faster downloads just continues to demonstrate that their overall “we know best” ideology is incongruent with today’s customer-centric world (they got around screen brightness with a dimmer switch to extend battery life – does it take 2 years to follow Android’s 4G toggle model?). That said – I have Wi-Fi and a phone that I can use as a 4G hotspot, so no game changer here.

Retina Display: Everyone pretty much expected this too after the iPhone 4. It’s nice, but it’s a bit like watching Blu-Ray – you lose a lot of the impact depending on how far away you are from the source. What this means is that design firms will start trying to sell people on being on the bleeding edge of the new higher definition, not taking into account the fact that Verizon and AT&T (Sprint was evidently left off of this release – I have heard that Sprint paid huge bucks for iPhone 5 exclusivity and this might be an attempt to pacify the competitors) limit bandwidth and as we know, higher graphic intensity equals more bandwidth chewing and the sooner you are going to get charged for 4G overages or have your connection throttled down. It also doesn’t take into account the install base of most monitors out there whether they be the screen of a tablet, smart phone, laptop, or the 19″ monitor many people still have on their desks. So you’re going to re-design for a small percentile of the market? I can see later on as the adoption rate grows and 4G bandwidth opens up, but I would not jump into that right now just to be on the bleeding edge – the audience isn’t big enough for ROI unless you are positioned there like graphic designers.

iPad 2: I think the truly big news is dropping a hundred off of the iPad 2 and continuing to sell it to see if they can erode the demand for Kindle Fires and other low price point Android tablets that have allowed Android to actually make inroads in the tablet market. I had heard people suggest that they would release an iPad3 at the same form factor and price point as the Fire, but I never believed it because of their iPod line price structure (the iPod Touch sits at the same price point as the Fire for a much smaller screen – you can’t basically create a larger version of the Touch at the same price point without a domino effect on the entire line …unless you were dialed into a 2 year contract for 3/4G and there was no WiFi only option, but then users would cry foul).

Photo provided by Avijeet_Sachdev

Who Monetized the Cheese?

Pizza by avlxyzWhen you order a pepperoni pizza – how many toppings are you getting? Most say one, but I am quick to point out that you are getting two.

Like 60-70% of the world population (sources vary), I am lactose intolerant. I find myself at a disadvantage when I go out to eat with people and order a pizza because I am getting one fewer topping than everyone else. Most of the time I can talk a clerk into substituting pineapple or onions for cheese (pineapple and pepperoni > Hawaiian pizza). The logic is fairly simple: cheese costs more. I checked NetGrocer (because I don’t buy cheese) and mozzarella averages between $.34 and $.67 cents per ounce as compared to $.11 to $.13 per ounce for canned pineapple. But some times I get the anal retentive type who quotes chapter and verse of corporate policy and wants to charge me more for a less expensive pizza.

You would think that the people who would be most likely to make this error would be large chains like Domino’s, but I’ve actually had a lot of success with with their service staff because they do a high enough volume that they understand the margins (or it could be their training program or recruiting). Regrettably, the same can not be said of 5 Dollar Pizza, a small chain in the northwest suburbs of Minneapolis. I want to like their stores because it supports local business, the sauce is good, and I am a fan of their business model of creating competition at a lower price point. I’ve been there three times (I live in the southeast metro, so that should say something about my enthusiasm) and the first time I had no problems with the counter staff, but after my second and third visits proved unfruitful, I have no intention of going back.

The moral of this story is that guiding principles are more important than policies. For a pizza chain, the guiding principle might be “Provide awesome customer service that increases the company’s profit margin.” I think it behooves anyone in the position of setting policies to consider the potential for policies to get in the way of growing the business when applied indiscriminately. How many customers can you afford to turn aside in the name of rigidity? I think it’s also something for the service person to consider – What wiggle room should you ask for and when can you implement the “ask forgiveness instead of permission” maxim for innovators?

» Great article on pattern thinking

Epilogue:
I miss Pagliai’s Pizza of Mankato and their lunch special. They need to expand into the Twin Cities.

Photo by avlxyz

Can I Get a Little Peace on Earth?

Peace on EarthHere’s a simple question: When you tell a friend “Have a great day,” who is the target of the sentiment? Your friend, right?

So if you’re putting out good vibes towards someone you care about or are at least do not wish ill upon, doesn’t it make sense to tailor your message to them rather than yourself?

Despite this simple philosophy of trying to wish well unto others by overlooking our differences, it seems that every year people take this season as an opportunity to bash others who attempt to maintain some degree of neutrality in their words of well-wishing. I’ve got friends who are Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Pagan who may or may not celebrate Christmas as a holiday, but certainly observe the New Year and maybe one of the other solstice holidays so I say “Happy Holidays” except on December 25th when I wish friends a “Merry Christmas.”

Meanwhile, Fox News jumped all over President Obama for failing to invoke the almighty during his Thanksgiving YouTube address (he included the reference in the text version), even though his two immediate predecessors had both opted out at least once.

A week later they were railing against the governor of Rhode Island for spending taxpayer money on a “holiday tree lighting” and not having the good sense to invoke “Christmas” (something his predecessors in colonial New England actually sought to avoid due to the perceived Pagan influences dating back to the solstice celebration of Yule).

I’m just asking for a little religious tolerance – a little peace on Earth and good will towards mankind. Sure, you have every right to say what you want to say, but consider your audience and please, don’t jump on the government or your company for trying to maintain a little respect for all mankind instead of just one denomination.

That said, I want to wish all of you and yours, regardless of faith, a very happy and healthy holiday season

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So That’s How Pretty Girls Feel

Natalie Wood in West Side StoryI wasn’t used to the attention, but it started to feel really good. As soon as I got a full-time job, I started to get daily e-mails and phone calls from recruiters actively seeking to hire me. I would get an e-mail in the morning and then by 1pm I would get a phone call from a strange number and it would be the same recruiter as the e-mail. My ego grew and I suddenly began to understand how pretty girls feel. Being the geeky guy who has always had to summon every ounce of courage to ask a cute girl out, this was uncharted territory for me.

After about a week and a half though, I started to understand the other side of that coin. Getting “hit on” at work by “other suitors” makes me uncomfortable, especially when I’m happy in my current relationship. I’m one of those people who won’t jump ship just because a new opportunity presents itself, provided I enjoy my work and feel challenged (in a good way). I remember a couple years back I told my boss that had I won the lottery, I would have showed up for work the next day and started donating my paycheck to a good cause. I meant it with all sincerity.

In July I received two job offers: one for a larger, more traditional company that two very awesome friends spoke up for me at (thanks again Amber and Karl) and a second that was less lucrative and with fewer opportunities for promotion, but which played to my strengths more and would provide me with the types of challenges and experience that I had been craving. I took the second option and have been very pleased with the results. Every day I learn new things about a completely different business field and I’m meeting a lot of great people. I get to hone my creativity, presentation/education skills, customer service, and as a result of working with so many sales professionals, I am starting to strengthen that skill set as well. Life is good.

The Photo and The Video

Rather than share the Natalie Wood video of “I’m So Pretty“, I thought I would add the Glee mash-up since tonight’s the second episode of the season. WARNING: If a failure to use apostrophes in captioning poses a medical risk to you, I highly recommend that you avoid pressing the play button.

Regarding Hiatus & The Insolence of Office

Branagh as Hamlet“And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action… ”
Hamlet – Shakespeare

I started this project during a time when I had traded the metaphorical slings and arrows of the world of work for the brightly colored armament of the World of Warcraft (evidently there’s something cathartic in slaying virtual demons after being ganked by co-workers).

Then gainful employment opportunities raised their ugly chimeric heads, pressing me to submit revised resumes and prep for multiple interviews in the hopes of augmenting my waning bank accounts. In the ensuing chaos, the blog was abandoned to the fate of most previous iterations.

But I’m back. Time to dust of the spider webs and renew my commitment. I’ll post the content I had been editing tonight (probably) and I’m intending to post a “Speak Out with your Geek Out” post later this week.

I also have to take an hour for lunch so since I’m used to 20 minute lunches, I’m hoping to get some writing done mid-day [this one was delayed by a client calls during my lunch].

Elements of Universal Composition

Many people consider a liberal arts major in a business world to be a waste of perfectly good tuition dollars, but I don’t count myself among them. The liberal arts expose you to a vast number of influences and as you gain depth in all, you begin to see the patterns that resonate throughout each. Composition is more universal than some would accept. What makes a song or short story transcendent can be very similar.

One aspect of this universalism is that mathematical, computer, and human languages share certain commonalities in the same way that music and other art forms do. Doesn’t it therefore behoove us to embrace the commonalities and attempt to make the transition from one to another as seamless as possible if for nothing else, the ease with which the next generation can assimilate them? I believe a move towards convergence is a reasonable goal.

Not to be confused with the Cereal Coma that Mr. T might recommend

Oxford/Harvard/Serial comma

In science, math, and computer code, a set of 3 values are delimited by commas such as (x, y, z). Yet in AP Style, the comma between the second and third item in the series (or serial comma) would be omitted. The argument against states that the “and” provides the necessary delimiting factor and that the comma creates ambiguity as it is also consistent with appositive statements. This could be resolved by the use of parentheticals or dash delimited appositives rather than frustrating readers of this sentence: I enjoy Hot Tamales, Mike and Ikes, and Good and Plenty.

Quotes and punctuation

The rule in American English is that when there is punctuation at the end of a quote, you are expected to place the punctuation within the quote regardless of whether it is part of the quote.

Example: I really enjoyed “Gigli!”

In addition to leading readers to believe I have no taste [to be honest, I think I tried watching the movie, but failed to stay awake], this farcical sentence would also potentially lead others to misquote the film name to include the exclamation point. The reason for including it inside the quote is to maintain a consistency of where the punctuation occurs, but it creates confusion that you don’t see with computer code.

Punctuation and musical rests

With some concepts, there is divergence between more technical forms and artistic. English straddles both functions in ways that some others don’t and under these circumstances it’s harder for me to see the obvious path of convergence.

Eats, Shoots, and LeavesIf you’ve read “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” you may be familiar with Lynne Truss’ dislike for the concept of punctuation as musical rests. Lynne’s perspective is that punctuation should focus on setting expectations (the way a semi-colon tells you that the thought isn’t quite complete) rather than cadence. Having written a lot of code and utilizing multi-line functions, I can see the point of that perspective.

On the other hand, I believe that literature should be more like music in this regard. There’s great scene in “Eddie and the Cruisers” where Eddie thinks that the song needs more diversity of timing and he turns to Frank to back him up. Frank discusses the concept of a caesura as a pregnant pause to build tension and emotional context. I’m a firm believer in having that same functionality in English punctuation (granted, you can go overboard with this ala William Shatner caricatures) although I concede that in technical writing it may not be as relevant.

Further Discussion:

I understand that these perspectives may be controversial, so I’m happy to listen to other points of view and form a discussion. Feel free to comment below and I will try to be prompt in response.