Sunday, December 19, 2010

Updates, Changes, Travel, and History

So, how have you been the past two months? It's hard to believe that my last post was a pre-election summary of ballot initiatives. I suppose following any election comes a bit of a let-down. Either my candidates lost, and that - of course - is depressing. Or, as happened recently, my candidates won, and given what they've got to work with, they can only disappoint and embarrass me. And that - of course - is depressing as well.

But November also brought news of exciting changes to come, and that is a large part of what has distracted me from my usual social media participation. After a long interview process and much discussion, I have been offered, and have accepted, the position of executive director at a local, Santa Cruz County nonprofit agency, effective January 3, 2011.

It is a wonderful agency, with excellent professional staff, a great board, and an incredible contingent of volunteers, and I am very much looking forward to getting started. Of course, it is also a bit bittersweet in that I will be giving up my consulting practice and "independent contractor" status.

The next distraction from blogging was, of course, the Thanksgiving holiday, around which time I was contacted by an old friend who said, "How about Pearl Harbor Day in Pearl Harbor?" I replied that he was crazy, it was barely two weeks out, and there was no time to plan, etc. He said he'd found some deals on airfare and hotels and I ran out of objections. So, on December 6, I took off for a week's vacation in Oahu.

It was quite moving, being at Pearl Harbor on December 7th - the 69th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. There was, of course, much ceremony, both in memory of the nearly three thousand soldiers and civilians who died in the attacks, and in honoring the more than 100 survivors who were present (average ages 86-97). They were also dedicating the opening of the new visitors' center.

It was good to see so many people turn out, when for many of us it's not even a memory, but something we learned from history. For our generation, it's 9/11 that marked us the way Pearl Harbor did for that previous generation. And the shadow of 9/11 was present, as the new visitors' center was momentarily evacuated due to a "suspicious package."

We returned again on December 8th - the 30th anniversary of the assassination of John Lennon - to continue our tour with smaller crowds. The coincidence of the anniversaries did not strike us until we were there, honoring those who died at the start of WWII, and remembering an artist who's message was that war is over, if we want it.

For more of my thoughts on these Pearl Harbor visits, and the dual anniversaries, please play the podcast embedded below ( posted here...):


I'd been to Hawaii twice before, each time with my wife, and we'd stayed on Maui and Kauai, so this was my first time spending any time on Oahu, other than stopping over at the airport. The cities of Honolulu and Waikiki were not like the Hawaii I'd known before. I kept commenting that they seemed a strange mix of Hawaii and San Diego.

That's not necessarily bad. I like San Diego; I just don't need a five hour cross-ocean flight to get there. But in terms of it being a busy, metropolitan area, with a large military presence, lots of traffic, tall buildings, etc., it's like San Diego. But with volcanoes in the background. Wonderful, but a bit odd. Next time, it's back to Maui, or maybe the big island.

I started this post with a remark about politics, it turned to the topic of bittersweet changes, and touched on history. I'll finish with a bit of news that hits all three; the demise of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

It's a bittersweet and historic victory, that gay and lesbian Americans can now openly enlist in our armed forces, and ironic that those of us civilians who fought the hardest for this this change, are also - largely - those who are most opposed to our current wars.

The end of DADT is a wonderful moment for the advance of civil rights. But, somehow, I don't feel much like celebrating. Or, maybe it's just the rain speaking.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Propositions "R" Us

There will be nine statewide propositions on Californian's ballots on November 2nd, including one I'm very excited about. In fact, back in May of 2009 I called it my "Fantasy Proposition: Majority Rule!" On November 2, I get my fantasy with Proposition 25, "Changes Legislative Vote Requirement to Pass a Budget From 2/3 to a Simple Majority." What I wrote then was that:

"California is one of only a handful of states that requires a super-majority (2/3 vote) to pass its annual budget. This allows a minority of legislators (34%) to hold the majority hostage... The stalemate has to end, and the way to do it is with a simple majority rule, like we imagined a democracy would be. If the minority party wants to have a say, they've got to come to the table to work, not just be obstructionist babies."
The budget stalemates, and resulting partial shut-downs, have cost our state billions in interest and other costs. These political theatrics don't just hurt state workers, but effects our entire state economy as it punishes small businesses who rely on state spending (such as food vendors to state prisons) when they aren't paid on time. I believe Prop 25 to be one of the most important reforms Californians could possibly pass, and I urge a strong "YES" vote.

I'm also voting a strong "YES" on Proposition 22, "Prohibits the State From Taking Funds Used for Transportation or Local Government Projects and Services," and I'm appalled at the Democratic Party and other "progressives" who are recommending a "no" vote. Yes, I'm fully aware of the state's budget problems and the tough choices to be made. But the state's habit of fixing its problems by raiding other funds has been a disaster for local services and needs to stop. Now. And while I'm shaming the Democratic Party, here's also a bit of scolding for the California Teachers Association, who rightly screamed bloody murder when the Governor raided education dollars, but now aren't willing to help the cities and counties in the same fight.

My strongest "NO" vote recommendation is on Proposition 23, "Suspends Air Pollution Control Until Unemployment Drops Below Specified Level." This has nothing to do with "saving jobs" ... at least, not California jobs. This is simply a couple of Texas oil companies who don't want to comply with our new pollution standards.

I will probably vote for Proposition 19, "Legalize Marijuana and Allow It to Be Regulated and Taxed," but it's largely symbolic as this does nothing to change Federal law. An interesting note is that some of the Medical Marijuana advocates are recommending "no" votes here, as current Medical Marijuana law allows for larger "private gardens" than does Prop 19.

On the two redistricting propositions, I'm torn. Proposition 20 adds Congressional districts to the responsibility of the State Commission on Redistricting, while Proposition 27 eliminates the Commission completely, and turns that power back to the State Legislature. The Democrats, who are in the majority, are for Prop 27 and against Prop 20. But I'm leaning toward Power to the People and going against the "official liberal" grain on this pair of conflicting propositions.

If you would like to see a great master list of who has endorsed "YES" or "NO" on each of the propositions (includes groups from all across the political spectrum), see the California Choices website ( Meanwhile, here's a quick list with my choices (subject to change without notice):

19 - Legalize Marijuana and Allow It to Be Regulated and Taxed - soft "yes"
20 - Redistricting of Congressional Districts - "yes"
21 - Establishes $18 Annual Vehicle License Surcharge to Help Fund State Parks and Wildlife Programs - "YES"
22 - Prohibits the State From Taking Funds Used for Transportation or Local Government Projects and Services - "YES!"
23 - Suspends Air Pollution Control Until Unemployment Drops Below Specified Level - "HELL NO!"
24 - Repeals Legislation That Allow Businesses to Lower Taxable Income - "yes"
25 - Changes Legislative Vote Requirement to Pass a Budget From 2/3 to a Simple Majority - "PLEASE YES!!!"
26 - Requires Certain State and Local Fees to Be Approved by 2/3 Majority - "NO"
27 - Eliminates State Commission on Redistricting. Consolidates Authority - "yes"

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Two Week Warning - Get Out and Vote!

It's hard to believe two weeks from now, as I write, we'll be starting to see the mid-term election results coming in. Even harder to believe that I've blogged so little about this election (see It Ain't Over Till it's Over). It's not that I don't care, or that there's nothing to say; perhaps there's so much that it's overwhelming.

To recap for newer readers, I call myself "left-of-center, Independent." I left the Democratic party in disgust around late '94 or early '95. I was registered as Green for several years, but have most recently registered as "Decline to State." Simply put, I have always rejected the idea of voting for "the lesser of two evils" when there are multiple "3rd party" and independent options on the ballot.

But this year, much as I expected and hoped for more from President Obama and the great Democratic majorities in Congress, I am terrified of the possibility of the Republicans taking back either (or both) houses of Congress.

This year's Republican nominees are not the principled conservatives we debated with in the past. These are fringe candidates with dangerous ideas, not just to turn back the small progress the Democrats have made in the last 21 months, but to turn the clock back decades, if not centuries, on our fragile democracy.

These are candidates who want to repeal not only the new health care reforms, and the new student loan reforms, but who want to repeal Medicare and turn your Social Security over to the same Wall Street fat-cats who put us into our current economic mess. These are candidates who question whether the Voting Rights Act of 1964 went too far. They don't just question Roe v. Wade, they've vowed to ban all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest.

But I'm sure you've read all that, or seen it on TV or online. My only point here is if you're staring in disbelief at candidates like Christine O'Donnell or Carl Paladino, just imagine having to hear from them for the next two, or four, or six years, or more.

Maybe you're disappointed in the Democrats too. I know I'm sure as hell overdue for an economic recovery myself. The rebuilding of our future may still have a long way to go, but at least we've stopped digging the hole.

This year, this left-of-center independent is proudly voting a full Democratic ticket, and I'm encouraging everybody who's concerned for their future to do the same. The stakes are just too high to sit this one out.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day: Water!

An old adage in California politics, dating back at least 150 years, is, "In California whiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting." And, indeed, battles between the northern, water-rich mountain regions of the state, and the arid, desert south have shaped our politics, and our maps, with laws pitting agriculture against industry, and a massive system of aqueducts crossing the landscapes. But California's water situation is nothing compared to that faced in much of the world.

Just a few statistics to begin to paint the picture:
  • African women walk over 40 billion hours each year carrying cisterns weighing up to 18 kilograms to gather water, which is usually still not safe to drink.
  • Every week, nearly 38,000 children under the age of 5 die from unsafe drinking water and unhygienic living conditions.
  • Many scholars attribute the conflict in Darfur at least in part to lack of access to water. A report commissioned by the UN found that in the 21st century, water scarcity will become one of the leading causes of conflict in Africa.
  • Every day, 2 million tons of human waste are disposed of in water sources. This not only negatively impacts the environment but also harms the health of surrounding communities.
  • The problem is not just in the "Third World" - Today, 40% of America's rivers and 46% of America's lakes are too polluted for fishing, swimming, or aquatic life.
  • The problem is not just "other people's" issue - The cotton t-shirt I'm wearing right now took 1,514 liters of water to produce.
  • The iPhone sitting on my desk is currently using half a liter of water to charge up for the day. Multiply that by over 80 million active iPhones in the world, and that's 40 million liters.
What can we do about this?
  • Be aware of our water footprint; think of ways you can conserve.
  • Donate to a charity that's building clean-water wells in Africa.
  • Educate yourself and your community about the issues.
  • Volunteer to clean a local stream; be aware of your effect on your local watershed.
  • Click the widget below to sign a petition to the U.N.
For a related post, please see my recap of a presentation by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on the topic of Crimes Against Nature (April 2009).

Petitions by|Start a Petition »

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Calling "BS" on Twitter Study

I'm seeing many people tweeting and trembling over yesterday's Mashable headline story, "Most Tweets Produce Zero Replies or Retweets." Many are reading this as "Tweets Are Ineffective Means of Communication" (one exception: Tom Guarriello). Okay, first the data, then why I am seeing the silver lining.
  • 71% of all tweets produce no reaction "in the form of replies or retweets"
  • 23% of all tweets solicit replies
  • only 6% of all tweets produce a retweet
  • 96.9% of replies and 92.4% of retweets happen within the first-hour
The first dangerous assumption here is that 100% of tweets were intended to inspire a reply or retweet. Many (maybe the majority) of my tweets are intended to inspire a click through to a link (such as, perhaps, the one you followed to this blog post). This study did not include click-throughs, lumping them in as "no reaction."

The study also looked at "All Tweets." While this sounds like a fair basis to pin their analysis on, we are all aware of certain companies and marketers who don't quite "get" twitter, and whose twitter stream is nothing but "Buy our Products" repeated every hour. These thousands (millions?) of tweets are included in the study sample. Is anybody other than the hucksters surprised that these tweets get no retweets or replies?

While it may not have been quite so democratic an approach, I would really expect that if the study were of "top tweeters" the number of replies and retweets would be far higher. The inclusion of twitter spam in the study skewed the data set to produce these results: Garbage in, garbage out.

The creators of the study, Sysomos, a "maker of social media analysis tools," seem distressed that retweets are so low (6%). Frankly, while it's really nice to when somebody is inspired to retweet something I've posted, I'm thrilled that 94% of what I see in the stream of tweets from my friends is original content. If somebody I follow does nothing but repost other people's content, why would I follow them?

Of course, Sysomos has a different point-of-view. They're selling their services: to "Identify and engage with key influencers to build relationships and buzz." In other words, they sell their clients retweets. My point-of-view is different: I'm only a lowly user of twitter.

And then there's the "shocking" news that most activity on a tweet happens within the first hour. Of course it does! Did anybody really think that a tweet had a shelf-life any longer than that? It's a conversation, and it's constantly moving on. Jump in when you can, and don't worry about catching up on what happened yesterday.

That Sysomos and others who think of twitter as nothing but an advertising tool are dismayed by the results of the survey does not surprise me. But Mashable should know better. They begin the article on the survey by saying, "[It] suggests that an overwhelming majority of our tweets fall on deaf ears," and concludes with, "Perhaps our tweets really are just pointless babble  after all."

Think about all the chit-chat and small-talk you put up with during an average day. Pleasantries exchanged with co-workers, neighbors, the clerk at the grocery store, etc.. If 29% of that led to a measurable reaction (your being quoted, or a getting a memorable reply), you've had quite a productive day. Perhaps Mashable is just pointless babble?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Social Media Training for Voters

Here's an interesting item (well, to those of us obsessed with social media). On the Jerry Brown for CA Governor YouTube channel, along with posting various interviews, campaign ads, biographical bits, and so on, the campaign has now posted a "Social Media Webisode" -- a short training video on how Jerry's supporters can help get the word out. The first webisode is on promoting the Brown campaign via Facebook:

Now, whether or not you're a Jerry Brown fan (I am) or support his campaign for Governor of California this year (I do), you have to admit that this is a brilliant strategy. Faced with a challenger who has so far spent over $119 million of her personal fortune, making hers the most expensive campaign for statewide office ever anywhere, Brown has not only made good use of social media to get his message out, he is harnessing the full power of social media by turning supporters into advocates.

Too many of the social media campaigns that I see, whether political or for products or whatever, treat facebook, twitter, etc., as one-way broadcast mediums. They neither engage the audience in dialogue nor tap into the extended networks of each of their followers. Brown 2010 has now done both.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It Ain't Over Till It's Over

With yesterday's dramatic ending to the 2010 primary election season, starring anti-masturbation activist Christine O'Donnell winning the Delaware GOP Senate nomination, and racist-sexist email comedian Carl Paladino winning the New York GOP Gubernatorial nomination, each over the "official" Republican party candidates for those offices, today's headlines are mostly of the Tea Party Victories that are expected to sweep US politics into a new era of populist know-nothing-ism come November.

As much as I fear some of these far-right xenophobic dilettantes actually being elected, I think the story line of this being a warning of what's to come in 2012's presidential race is a bit overblown.

Here's what the pundits are going off of:
  • The president's party, historically, "always" looses seats in the first mid-term election.
  • The majority party, historically, "always" looses seats when the economy is down.
  • Trust in Washington is at "historic lows" (they say this, but I haven't actually seen polls going back very far to demonstrate just how historic these lows are).
  • Turn-out in Republican primaries this year has been higher than in Democratic ones.
But let's look at things in the proper perspective.
  • Despite the handful of high profile nut-cases winning Tea/Republican Party nominations this season, over 95% of Congressional incumbents seeking reelection won their primaries.
  • Of course Republican primaries had higher turn-outs: they were the ones being contested by the Tea Party wing-nuts. Most of the Democrats had little serious competition to draw out voters.
And here's the big kicker of why 2010 does not guarantee a Tea Party Victory in 2012:
  • They're winning this year by bringing out lots of first-time voters, and if there's one more "historically, always" we can add to our list, it's that first-time voters are typically one-time voters.
Yes, the Republicans will pick up several seats in Congress seven weeks from now, perhaps even capture a slim majority of one of the houses. And, yes, there will likely be some fresh new tea-stained faces among them. And, yes, they will cause plenty of trouble for the president. And, just as certainly, they will fail to completely destroy Washington.

While they will certainly have some successes, they will fail to eliminate the IRS, Social Security, and the Department of Education. They will not end the debate over gay marriage, put a stop to legal abortion, and effect the deportation of every Muslim and Latino. And when they fail to achieve all their goals (remember, it's all or nothing for these guys), their followers will turn on them and crawl back under the rocks where they've been hiding all along.

The Tea Party Movement may be big news today, but most polls show that they only represent about 19% of the electorate. If they're the only ones who show up on election day, they can win. But they cannot put together enough of a majority to govern. And I predict that these political neophytes will not have the stamina or the momentum to put Sarah Palin (or similar) in the White House in 2012.

At least, this is what I keep telling myself in order to get to sleep at night.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Why the Wrong Person Always Gets the Job

I have many good, smart, capable friends right now who are looking for work, and finding nothing. Other friends who, like myself, are self-employed, are having trouble lining up new clients and customers and we're finding our businesses faltering. And now I know who to blame: Stupid People.

Over the long weekend I read an article that introduced me to the "Dunning-Kruger Effect," a cognitive bias in which an ignorant person makes poor decisions and reaches erroneous conclusions, but their own incompetence prevents them from realizing how wrong they are. Basically, "ignorance begets confidence."

The opposite is also true: Those who are truly skilled or knowledgeable in any given area, knowing enough to know that they can't know everything, will tend to be more modest about their abilities compared to the bombast of the dullard.

The article I was reading was talking about the Dunning-Kruger Effect in relation to politics, and certain pundits who prey on the ignorance of their followers for political gain. But in thinking about the article, I realized it applies to all sorts of situations, including employment.

Who stands out during job interviews? Who does the recruiter remember? Is it the guy who calmly and honestly says, "I believe I can do it, and if there's anything else I need to learn, I'll do my best to learn it." Or is it the guy who proudly boasts, "I'm the best! I could have written the book on how to do this job!"

Nine times out of ten, it's the second guy, the self-deluded moron, who gets hired, and through the same process gets promoted over the years, over all the truly competent co-workers. And now, they're the ones at the top, screwing up the entire economy.

So, if you're looking for work right now, and you're lucky enough to get a job interview, and the interviewer asks you, "Why have you been out of work for so long?" Look that son-of-a-bitch right in the eye and with all the confidence you can muster say, "Because of stupid bastards like you!"

You may not get the job, but at least you'll know why.

(NOTE: Some might ask, isn't this really just another way of describing the Peter Principle? Not quite... The Peter Principle explains how, should a competent person be lucky enough to get a job, he or she will be promoted to their level of incompetence.  The Dunning-Kruger Effect explains why the competent person probably won't even be hired in the first place.)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Book Review: Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook

Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who CookMedium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook by Anthony Bourdain

Warning: I'm an Anthony Bourdain fan. No, that's not strong enough. It's the kind of fandom that in younger days I'd reserve only for those who'd turned their guitars up to 11 shortly before smashing them. Yes, Tony's my new rock star.

So, of course, five stars and a strong recommendation for others who already love and follow Tony for both the No Reservations TV show and his previous books, particularly Kitchen Confidential. But, perhaps, only three stars for somebody who's never heard of Anthony Bourdain, and just stumbled upon this book on the New Releases rack at Borders.

Not that the writing isn't excellent. It is. His style is flowing and conversational, vivid and detailed, bringing you into the various kitchens and dining rooms, and making you smell and even taste every morsel. But many of the subjects are self-referential. Many chapters (really, only semi-related essays) assume you've read Kitchen Confidential, and provide follow-up on certain topics, characters, and places. Some make reference to specific episodes of No Reservations.

But if you're the type of person who's ever enjoyed a meal so much that it made you cry, and you're not aware of Anthony Bourdain, then you need to be. But start with Kitchen Confidential, catch Tony a few times on the Travel Channel, and then enjoy Medium Raw as your decadent, oh-so-rich, guilty little dessert.

Kitchen Confidential is required reading for anybody who ever has, or ever plans to eat in a restaurant, any restaurant.

Medium Raw is for those who've days on the phone, fighting busy tones to get through to that most exclusive restaurant for that most elusive reservation. Medium Raw is for those of us who've closed the regular menu and gladly put ourselves into the hands of the chef for the tasting menu.

Medium Raw is for those who've traveled far from home, turned down the hotel's recommended list of "safe" places for tourists to eat, deliberately wandered into the "locals only" part of town, and grinned happily while eating a dish you would have never ordered in a million years at home.

Anthony Bourdain is not for the squeamish. If you always get the same chicken dish from the same "reasonably priced" place down the street, then you may want to stay away. If you're ready for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, then this "bloody valentine to the world of food and the people who cook" might be right up your alley.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Talking About Audio

As mentioned in the previous post, I've been on Blogger for nearly ten years. I've also been on YouTube for four years. So, I have no problem sharing, and I enjoy creative hobbies. But one thing I've never gotten into was podcasting.

I opened an account at back in 2007, but I never really knew what to do with it. By that point I was already vlogging on YouTube, so it seemed like, if I was going to put in the effort to "produce" an audio program, I'd rather put the same effort into producing a video.

Just in the last week or so, my friend Rich (WorldAccordingToRich on YouTube, and on Blogger) started playing with podcasting over at My first reaction was, "Hey, where's the video?" Then, in his blog, he made a great point about some people being more comfortable opening up to a microphone than they would be to a camera. Audio could be a great tool for getting some quick on-the-street interviews that otherwise would not make it to video.

Then, poking around the Audioboo site, I found they had one thing that PodOmatic does not have, and perhaps it's the one thing that guaranteed I would try it: Audioboo has an iPhone app.

And so, once again, I'm testing out podcasting, and here's my first attempt... if you enjoy it, you can check out my Audioboo profile page and subscribe by RSS feed, follow me on the site, or even subscribe using iTunes.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Blogging is Dead! Long Live the Blog!

Pretty much since launched eleven years ago, giving the average non-total-geek access to the tools to create frequently updated, timely, personal websites, the mainstream press has been declaring the death of blogging. First off, they said, what we were creating now were not truly "weblogs" as the pioneers had created, they were more along the lines of diaries or journals, or even worse, according to the professional pundits, amateur punditry. And so they looked to any signs to show that it was all just a passing fad and fancy.

Newsweek (remember them? they used to publish a magazine?) is the latest to pound these well-worn drums in an online article titled "Take This Blog and Shove It!" with the clever sub-title of "When utopian ideals crash into human nature—sloth triumphs."

Among the horrifying (yawn) statistics uncovered:
"Amateur blogs, the original embodiment of Web democracy, are showing signs of decline. While professional bloggers are "a rising class," according to Technorati, hobbyists are in retreat, and about 95 percent of blogs are launched and quickly abandoned...
"[W]hile Twitter carries more than 50 million tweets per day, its army of keystrokers may not be as large as it seems. As many as 90 percent of tweets come from 10 percent of users...
"Citizen journalism also has stabilized. Fewer than one in 10 Web users say they have created their own original news or opinion piece..."
First off, I love the quotes around "rising class" when referring to professional bloggers. If ever a typed quotation mark had to be read as air quotes, this was it. Leaving that bit of editorializing through punctuation aside, let's look at the 95% abandonment rate and why I think that's just fine.

Starting a blog is the modern version of starting a novel or screenplay. In any office in any city anywhere in the world, you'll find accountants, clerks, middle-managers, and other assorted board pencil-pushers who all have the seeds of their dream project tucked into the back of a drawer. Nobody has ever put a number on their abandonment rate, but I'm willing to guess it's somewhat over 95%.

If 5% of first novels started this year were actually completed and published, we'd be seeing more new authors than at any time previously. 95% of blogs are abandoned? Fine. Does that take into account blogs that were started for a particular limited time purpose, like promoting a (now past) event? I doubt it. Some blogs have a final post for a reason, but still remain live for archive purposes.

The only difference between blogs started and abandoned and writing the first few pages of the Great American Novel is that one is a far more public declaration of the would-be writer's creative ambition. Writing is tough work, whatever the medium. Not every idea pans out the way we hoped it would, and not everybody with a creative idea has the stamina and drive and determination to see it through.

I've certainly abandoned my share of blogs. This particular blog (9-1/2 years and over 1,100 posts) is still going strong, as is my Nonprofit Consultant Blog (nearly 5 years and over 200 posts). But my attempts to do a food blog or a guitar blog have not fared as well. Big deal. Next point.

So, 10% of tweeters account for 90% of tweets? Again, not surprising, or any different than we'd expect in any type of communications medium, including face-to-face meetings. Does your workplace have staff meetings? Keep track of who does the most talking. This is just human nature. Some people have the common sense to keep their mouths shut once in a while.

To me, what I see in that sentence is "50 million tweets per day." That's a big number, representing an awful lot of written text, even at 140 characters per tweet. And that's from only 10% of people with Twitter accounts? I don't see failure; I see an awful lot of written communication and I'm still impressed.

Next point... the "stabilization" of citizen journalism. Again, "only" one in ten web users has created a news or opinion piece. I wish somebody had ever thought to keep track of how many newspaper readers had ever even written a letter to the editor, let alone had one published in the paper.

When in the history of the planet, has 10% of the population been able to share their ideas, opinions, and creativity with mass audiences beyond their immediate family and a few associates without editors, censors, and expensive hurdles to cross?

And this amazing amount of participation, writing, and reading, is what Newsweek terms "sloth"?

For the social media revolution to succeed at changing our society it does not need the majority of citizens to be constantly publishing their every thought. All it requires is that a greater percentage of people participate than have ever had the opportunity to participate previously. That has happened.

So the participation figures have leveled off a bit. Great. They've not declined. A leveling-off should be expected after the initial bursts of growth. There will be more growth, but at a slower and more sustainable rate, in the years to come.

The tools are out there, and getting better every day. The cat is out of the bag. There's no turning back. Sorry, Newsweek, but your days of being relevant are what is losing steam.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Social Media Meet-Up in Santa Cruz, CA, September 18, 2010

Along with my friend Curt (known as OhCurt on YouTube and elsewhere online), I'm organizing a Social Media Meet-Up (or SMMU) on the Santa Cruz Pier for September 18, 2010, 10 AM to 3 PM.

In the past I've been to several YouTube gatherings, but the social media landscape is much broader than that now. I've been here, on blogger, for nearly a decade, YouTube for about four years, twitter and facebook since they each launched, and the community is very fluid, with people migrating from on platform to another as their interests and needs shift.

One day video bloggers may be posting vlogs on YouTube, but the next on Vloggerheads or Vimeo, or micro-vlogs on 12seconds. Bloggers now tweet, and status updates from twitter now automatically post to facebook or buzz. It's a fascinating time, and there are lots of great people involved, and the SMMU is an attempt to get them all together for a great time and learn about how we're all using social media in an informal and fun setting.

For all the details on the SMMU (location, time, etc.), please see the SMMU blog at, or the join our facebook group. Meanwhile, here's a little announcement video about the event:

Monday, July 05, 2010

Why I'm Not Going to Vidcon

Next week in Los Angeles is Vidcon: "The first ever gathering of the most influential and popular independent video makers online and the communities that have made them a force in the world."

Many are saying Vidcon "is just a con," "It should be free," "What do they know that I don't?" etc. I disagree with all that. I would love to attend, and find true value in, a serious conference about online video, and where all this is going, and $140 would be a bargain ... if it were the right conference.

Unfortunately, Vidcon is not that conference. And not because they're charging admission, or because of who is organizing it, or who the speakers are, but simply because of the lack of serious in-depth content.

Looking at which of my own vlogs have received the most hits, the strongest reactions, and most emotional comments, it's the ones on copyright and DMCA issues.  I think most of us agree, that's a major problem on YouTube. But at Vidcon, there's a single 1/2-hour break-out session on "YouTube Policy, DMCA and Fair Use" (with "Meet Charles Trippy" going on in the next room over), but nothing on "What IS the law," "What IS fair use," "How to protect yourself," or anything on finding royalty free music, public domain images, etc.

There's a handful of sessions under the heading of "Online Video Film School," but none of them long enough to teach anything in depth or that will be remembered once the attendees return home. And, for each "Online Video School" there are two "Meet-up with [famous 'Tuber]" sessions.

There's a session on the Future of YouTube, lead by YouTube's "Director of Product Management," but nothing on the future of online video or social media as a new and exciting medium in which to create original work.

It seems to me (IMHO) that Vidcon – however well-intentioned the organizers may have been – will be more of trying to fit new media into an old media shell, and relying on "star power" to drive attendance and excitement for the event.

I look at the schedule and there's dozens of short sessions with no point to them, and not a single in-depth educational session that I might get anything out of. It's the short-attention-span YouTube gathering, and not much more.

I've attended many, many professional conferences over the years, and I've even helped organize at least a dozen or so conferences, but I've never seen such a jumbled, aimless mess of a schedule than the one for Vidcon.

My friend Rich of WorldAccordingToRich will be at Vidcon. He's interested in what "approach the entertainment industry at large is taking with the YouTube phenomena," and is hoping to get some insight into that. I get the importance of it to him professionally, but it has very little significance to me.

For social media to truly continue its growth into something new and different, we must allow it space away from "the entertainment industry at large." YouTube is more a phenomenon from Silicon Valley than from Hollywood, and its impact is (and should be) anything but localized to any dominant region. Social media belongs to the world, and there's nothing Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, or London can do about it.

In the last couple of years, the growing and nearly over-powering influence of old media on YouTube, simply as a means to promote movies/TV, has threatened to drown out those who are using YouTube to develop something entirely new. Yes, social media (YouTube, twitter, etc.) can be used to promote other traditional media, but if they become mediums that are nothing but promotional vehicles, they will die quickly.

I think there's so much more potential to new media yet to be discovered that I – personally (IMHO) – have no time to care about how Hollywood will use it.

I will watch the vlogged reports from Vidcon from WorldAccordingToRich and Renetto and others I know who are attending. But I don't expect to regret my decision to stay home.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Not Technically Unemployed

I'm not technically unemployed... I just have no work. There's a difference...

This is a blog post I've thought about writing for a couple of weeks, as so many of my friends are going through extended periods of unemployment, under-employment, or "being made redundant." Isn't that a great term? Being told that you're now "redundant." Great way to add insult to injury, don't you think?

On the one hand, I like to [try to] keep a positive public face about my current situation, be optimistic about future opportunities, and not look like I'm seeking sympathy, but in the end, I've decided it's more important to let my "redundant" friends know that they're not alone.

So, no, technically I'm not unemployed, as I'm a self-employed consultant ... I just haven't had anyone to consult to since April 1, and my only income for the last three months has been $22.82 in book royalties. Being self-employed means that when the work dries up, there's no unemployment benefits or severance packages, just the search for the next gig.

Part of being independent is that there's ups and downs. The last several long-term gigs have come one on top of the other, even over-lapping major assignments. A "high quality problem," as Tom G. would say. But since April 1, there's been a disconcerting silence from my usual sources of leads, and very little I've been able to dig out on my own.

I've been searching for irons and fires and trying to put them together, but I can see I may have a significant bit of down-time before the next long-term assignment. In six and-a-half years of being in business for myself, this is the most difficult time I've had. Of course, considering the economy, I suppose three months of downtime after a 6-1/2 year stretch isn't all that bad.

That said, overall, I again count my blessings and say "high quality problem," but that doesn't make it any easier. Especially when it's summer, and my wife (a teacher) is also without paycheck for a couple of months, and we've got contractors bidding on re-doing our bathroom and other repair work.

So, I keep in touch with colleagues and let them know I'm available, I read the job listings to see if there's anything to tempt away from my independent practice back into "a real job," and I've started another book project of some nonprofit case studies from my last several long-term consulting gigs.

All-in-all, I've been keeping myself busy, and I plan on enjoying the summer, even if I have to do it on a lower budget than I might prefer.

So, for those of you who are redundant, I share your pain. Even though we all know "it's the economy, stupid," it's hard not to take some of it as a personal failing in moments of weakness. But we just have to push past that, keep ourselves occupied, and look for that next great opportunity. It's out there somewhere. It has to be.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Summer Movies (so far)

We tend to go to the movies more during the summer months. First, we have more free time, as my wife (a teacher) is off of work. Second, when the temperature starts rising, it's nice to go someplace dark and cool for a couple of hours.

But it can be frustrating, as the types of movies that are out in summer tend to be the types of movies we avoid: anything with a number in the title, anything that's a remake of something we watched on TV 30 years ago, and the all important Rule of 15 (anything that's likely to have more than 15% of the audience under 15 years old). Still, we've managed to see a few good films so far this month; Exit Through the Gift Shop, Solitary Man, and Micmacs.

Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary about Thierry Guetta, a shop-keeper, turned documentary film maker, turned street artist, and the world of graffiti artists such as Banksy, Space Invader, and Shepard Fairey (the guy who designed the iconic Obama poster). It's an absurd story that calls into question the fine lines between street art and fine art, between fine art and commerce, between paying ones dues (the suffering artist) and overnight success, and between being a filmmaker and being just another guy with a video camera and a mental problem.

Yes, the big question is always "but is it art?" but it's all the other questions along the way, and larger-than-life characters, that make this a fascinating, fast moving, and entertaining movie.

Solitary Man is the most commercial of the three films we've seen so far this summer. Michael Douglas plays a successful businessman who hits the mid-life crisis free fall with swift, steep, and beautifully self-destructive results.

It's a story we've seen before (catering to aging baby boomers is big business itself), and if you pay too much attention there are enough holes in the plot to fill the Albert Hall, but the performances (including far too little of Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, and a wonderfully viscous and spoiled Mary-Louise Parker) make it an enjoyable afternoon at the cinema never-the-less.

Micmacs is the truly amazing, charming, and creative gem of the group. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie) gives us the world of the luckless Bazil. While a boy, Bazil's father is killed by a land mine, destroying his family and childhood. Years later, the quiet life he's made for himself is again sent into turmoil by a stray bullet finding his head, which he barely survives. Now, out on the streets, he's taken in by an underground group of misfits and petty thieves (think Terry Gilliam directing Fagan, the Artful Dodger and the rest of the Oliver Twist gang), who help him exact revenge on the companies who made the landmine and the bullet.

But that plot, and characters like Elastic Girl, Slammer, and Calculator, only scratch the surface of how wildly inventive and visually stunning this movie is. I saw one review that said it was like a live action Toy Story. Having not seen the Toy Story series (see my rules for summer movies above), I can't say how accurate that is, but I would say that the style owes much to Tex Avery and Chuck Jones. There is a political message underneath all that creativity, but Jeunet slips it in quietly and without disturbing the creative flow. Best movie of the summer so far.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Post Election Hangover

Yesterday was election day in California, and I have to say, I'm pleasantly surprised with the results on most of the ballot propositions - an area where I was preparing myself for bitter disappointment.

Despite putting $46 million of our (ratepayers) money into Prop 16, PG&E's power grab attempt went down to defeat, along with Prop 17, Mercury Insurance's "please make us give you a discount" attempt. Nobody is giving you something for nothing, and just enough people saw through these two corporate abuses of democracy for what they were, and by slim margins turned them down. Good for California and good for Californians! We're not as dumb as we might look.

My one really big disappointment was the passage of Proposition 14, deceptively and cynically titled, "Increases Right to Participate in Primaries." The idea here is to eliminate the power of political parties, by putting all primary candidates on a single ballot. The top two vote getters then face off in the November general election.

Now, if you read this blog regularly, you know I'm a registered independent, and all for breaking the stranglehold of the two major parties ... if it is to open up the process to more choice. But nature abhors a vacuum, a rule that also applies to political power. In this case, party structure is simply replaced by money and name recognition.

The diagram from the official voter information pamphlet (shown here) says it all. Instead of several party primaries, each with maybe four or five candidates selecting their nominee to face off in a general election where again there will be a half-dozen candidates, each representing a different party, we'll now have a primary with a confusing dozen or more candidates leading up to a general election choice of only two ... and both potentially of the same party!

Supporters say this will give us "more moderate candidates" as everybody will have to play to the middle. But to rise above a field of 15-20 candidates in a state the size of California, it will only give us better connected and wealthier candidates. More corporate shills to continue the status quo.

Speaking of which, the Republicans nominated two former Silicon Valley CEOs for top office; eBay's Meg Whitman for Governor and Hewlett Packard's Carly Fiorina for Senate.

In her victory speech, Whitman, who will face off against former Governor Jerry Brown in November, said that she was ready to "shake up" the Governor's office with thinking from "outside Sacramento." Whitman (who spent over $70 million of her own cash to secure the nomination) said she'd be a different kind of Governor because she isn't "beholden to anybody."

Now, if she were following a Democratic Governor, or even a Republican "career politician," that might be a good argument. But she's hoping to follow the non-politician, self-funded millionaire, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Has she not been paying attention? Probably not. She's so new to this "democracy thing" that she's rarely bothered to even vote in her adult life.

The one thing I can say for Whitman, however, is that she at least was a successful CEO, not that that will automatically translate to governing success. On the other hand, Carly Fiorina, who will be trying to unseat Senator Barbara Boxer in November, just about destroyed Hewlett Packard. When they finally fired her, their stock value was about 1/3 what it was when she was hired. Along that path, she laid off over 30,000 employees, sent thousands more jobs from California to Asia, and accepted a $20 million golden parachute to leave Silicon Valley. Ummm... she's seeking to represent me?

At Fiorina's celebration, a spokesman for the California Republican Party expressed his joy at having these two candidates to run against the Democratic "professional politicians." He says he welcomes the perspective of these leaders because they'll remove the shackles of oppressive regulation from businesses. How he managed to say that with a straight face while millions of gallons of oil having been spilling into the Gulf of Mexico for the past 50 days show that he learned some acting skills from the current Governator.

This post is getting quite long ... sorry, that's what happens when I don't blog for a while ... so I'll end it here, but in coming months I'll explain why I fully support Jerry Brown, our once and future Governor, and our Senator Barbara Boxer. And where, and why, I will likely not be voting a straight Democratic ticket in November.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What's So Wrong About Enforcing Citizenship Laws?

A friend, who I consider of at least average intelligence, and reasonably reasonable, just innocently put out the statement, "The folks opposing the efforts of Arizona to enforce citizenship laws have yet to convince me why it's a bad thing."

Well, of course, I gasped in shock. How could any right thinking person not recognize this obvious evil? But then, I tend to get outraged easily and these are easily outraging times. So I've learned to maintain my calm and think about a reasonable answer that might explain "why it's a bad thing."

Simply, it puts the concept of justice as we've practiced it in the USA for over 200 years on its head. We have a justice system in which we value the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and we have a dedication to freedom that includes freedom of movement and travel without harassment from authorities. Each of those is reversed by the Arizona law.

What has been voted on by the legislature and is awaiting the governor's signature is a law that requires all law enforcement figures to presume that anybody who may not have been born here is here illegally, without any proof or reasonable suspicion that any crime has taken place. All immigrants (and anybody who might look or sound like an immigrant) would essentially be required to carry their papers proving they're here legally with them at all times and subject to this question on a continuous basis for simply going about their daily business.

People who came to this country legally - and many who were born here but "look wrong" - will be subject to a burden that no other citizen or legal immigrant is subject to. And, of course, only a complete fool would deny that this is aimed solely at those of Latin decent. No British tourist or immigrant is likely to be hassled under this law. But Latinos who've lived their entire lives in Arizona will be.

This law has very little to do with "enforcing citizenship laws" and quite a lot to do with holding out one group of people and making them subject to additional official harassment. That is racism, pure and simple.

And, of course, there's the question of proper authority. Border patrol is the jurisdiction of federal authorities, not state or local police. This law creates an unnecessary burden on the police as well, who will be charged with carrying out this racist policy.

Of course, where there is evidence of a crime, the proper authority must investigate. And if, in the course of investigation of a local crime, police determine that a suspect may be in the country illegally, they should turn that fact over to the federal authority to prosecute. But the presumption of a crime is un-Constitutional and un-American.

When I was young, and the Soviet Union was still our greatest threat, one of things we were told that made our country so much better, was that we had no need for "Internal Passports." That in the USSR, people had to carry papers to travel from town to town, whereas we were free to move about within our borders. When I think of the effect of this law on the Latino population of Arizona, I am reminded of this and again, I say, anything that makes us resemble the old Soviet Union is most likely un-American.

Requirements for internal passports, the presumption of guilt before evidence of a crime, and a policy that singles out one group for official harassment all add up to why I think "it's a bad thing," a dangerous thing, and one more major blow to democracy and freedom and all that I love about America.

I don't know if that will convince my friend, but I certainly know where I stand. And I won't be standing in Arizona anytime soon if this becomes law.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Keep Your Laws Off My Cappuccino Stout!

Assemblyman Jim Beall (D-San Jose) is normally somebody I really like. He's a great, honest guy, who actually cares about the community. Both now, in the state legislature, and earlier, on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, he's been a friend and advocate of the nonprofit community in which I work. But, Jim, if you're reading this, now you've pissed me off.

Assemblyman Beall has introduced legislation to ban caffeine in malt beverages (IE: Beer). The target product, it seems, is this:
...sweet malt beverages known as "alcopops," which often mask the flavor of alcohol and tend to be marketed to younger drinkers. ... many of these products come in 23-ounce cans that contain the equivalent of five to eight cups of coffee, are 12 percent alcohol and are sold for $1.99. A regular energy drink, by contrast, can cost $2.99...
Personally, I've never heard of these before, but I can see why it would be an issue. But there's a couple of problems with attempting a ban.

First of all, the products are likely just a response to consumers who were already mixing energy drinks with vodka. Those who want a "buzz-drunk" will continue to do that, whether or not the pre-mixed version is on market shelves. This could be yet another law that will have absolutely no effect on the actual situation: those who market alcohol to under-age drinkers and lack of public knowledge of the dangers of the buzz-drunk.

Secondly, and what's really got me worried, is in trying to remove a few products aimed at under-aged drinkers, they could accidentally ensnare and ban legitimate adult products, such as ales, porters, and stouts enfused with coffee or chocolate.

According to the article, "Beall said he is working with beer lovers to make sure they can still enjoy brews such as the Cappuccino Stout from Lagunitas brewery in Petaluma." Well, I hope so! I love that brewery, and their product. But, somehow, I'm nervous that this bill can be written broadly enough to target all offending products, but narrow enough to keep Lagunitas and other creative craft brewers in the clear. It seems that whatever loophole is written in to save craft brews will be exploited by those market to kids.

Aren't there already laws against marketing booze to minors? Whether it's the manufacture who promotes the product to kids or the retailer or bartender who sells it, we have the tools to crack down on wired drunk adolescents already. Let's use these resources to get rid of the "alcopop crisis" and leave the craft brews alone!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Can Lesbians be Funny?

Well, of course, the answer is yes, lesbians can be very funny. But that doesn't mean that all lesbians have a sense of humor. Let me explain...

Last Saturday evening, I went to see the Queer Queens of Qomedy show at the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz with my wife and sister-in-law. When the sister-in-law first invited us, she also warned us, "It's an all lesbian show, are you sure you'll be comfortable?"

We assured her we would, but it did raise a moment of concern of whether or not the "comedy" would be overly politically correct rants against the male dominated society and inside "jokes" that would go over our heads. Luckily, that moment of concern didn't last long, and we decided to go to the show.

Simply put, one of the best and funniest nights of comedy we've enjoyed in a very long time.

The organizer of QQQ is Poppy Champlin, and she led off the show with an act I thought couldn't be topped. But the second comic, Sandra Valls came close. After a brief intermission, and bit more from Poppy, Roxanna Ward closed the show with a musical-comedy combination that had us crying from both laughing so hard and her beautiful singing (when she wasn't mooing).

And there was no need to worry about political correctness. Sacred cows were slain and eaten raw. And any "lesbian-centric" humor was at least as raunchy and outrageous (and easily understood) as any male comic you'd see in Las Vegas. No, strike that; it's hard to find raunch in Vegas anymore. This was much better.

Which brings us to the point: Just because lesbians can be damned funny, doesn't mean all lesbians have a sense of humor. Last night I received an email from Poppy Champlin (I signed up for the QQQ mailing list after the show) saying that of the 370 people in attendance at last Saturday's show - the vast majority of whom seemed to be loving it as much as I did - one person was highly offended by the non-politically correct humor, and is starting a campaign to get QQQ in trouble with their sponsor, Olivia Travel - an organizer of lesbian cruises and vacation packages.

Poppy's email was asking for those of us who enjoyed the show to let Olivia know. I have sent them a direct message thanking them for bringing the show to Santa Cruz, and asking that they do it again next year. And, I'm taking this space on my blog to give a shout-out to all funny lesbians who dare to be outrageous and risk offending people. And thank you, Poppy, Roxanna, and Sandra, for a great night out.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Standing Up for California's Schools

About a year ago I blogged about "Pink Friday" - the designation given last year to the March 15 deadline to give teachers layoff notices, or "pink slips," due to California state budget cuts in education.

Well, this year, March 15 falls on a Monday, and the pink slips have already begun appearing. So far, statewide, over 18,000 teachers have been told that their services will not be required for the next school year. That number will increase over the next twelve days. Of course, the number of children in school will not be likewise cut. Instead, class sizes will increase and services will be cut.

In my wife's school, second grade classrooms will increase from 20 to 30 students each, and teachers will have less time to prep lessons and grade work because they'll each have additional yard duty to fill in for other adjunct staff who have also been pink slipped. Oh, and she'll take home less money as health insurance premiums increase and the district considers whether to enact three or five mandatory furlough days.

Yes, this is obviously personal to me, but if you have children in California's schools, or you run a business that hires graduates of California's schools, or you see the benefits of an educated population on such things as civil participation and crime prevention, it should be personal to you too.

A few things to consider:
• Lawmakers have cut more than $17 billion from public schools and colleges in the last two years and more cuts have been proposed.
• Class sizes have increased to unmanageable numbers, denying students the one-on-one attention they need. More than 70 percent of elementary schools reported class size increases.
• Art, music, PE, career technical education and summer school programs have been eliminated.
• California spends $2,400 less per student than the national average and ranks 46th in per-pupil funding.

This is not just about K-12 education either, but our state colleges and universities:
• Student enrollment fees increased more than 30% this year. Rising student fees and reduced course offerings mean fewer students can go to college.

So, what can you do? Tomorrow, Thursday, March 4, there will be Stand Up For Schools rallies throughout the state. From silent protests in the morning before classes begin, to informational meetings in the evening where you can learn how to fight Sacramento and demand a quality education for your community, there's something you can do.

Search the events page at Stand Up For Schools to see what's happening in your community. If you don't see anything listed on the website, contact your child's teacher, school, or district office.

Another nice thing about these events is the teamwork behind them. These are not just organized by the teacher's unions, or just a few administrators working together, but a collaboration between the unions, the districts, the administrators, and other education staff and groups.

Many times we say things like, "Our state's future depends on this." Well, it may be trite to say it again, but this time, I really mean it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A New Obsession?

... or an old one? Or, maybe, a bit of each. I've played guitar for years and years (not expertly well, but I enjoy it), and have often thought that someday it would be a great project to build an instrument of some sort.

Lately I've seen several videos on YouTube about cigar box guitars, including some by a vlogger I've watched on-and-off for some time. Seeing somebody I sort-of know doing it was a bit of an inspiration. Within a few clicks of his video, I came across a link like this:
"How to build a cigar box guitar - Free Plans at"
So, I checked it out... and I read some more, and I watched some more videos, and I downloaded the plans. And I thought, I might actually be able to do this...

Okay, so I haven't started yet, but my current big work project should be wrapping up in the next month or so, and I'm going to need something to keep me busy through the spring. Till then, I'll be looking for good materials (nice thing about the plans is that it shouldn't cost me more than $30-50 to get it all done), and learning all I can from the web site.

So, if you don't see me posting an update here with photos and videos of my finished project by mid-summer, please demand an explanation and force me to do this thing. Thank you.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Giving up on a New Constitution?

Back in November I wrote about efforts underway to call a California State Constitutional Convention that would take our bloated, unworkable governance structure (California's Constitution is the world's third longest; eight times the length of the U.S. Constitution) and reform our state government from head to toe.

Well, as of yesterday, Backers of the campaign have suspended their efforts because of a lack of money. To date, they've only collected 100,000 of the million or so petition signatures required to get the Constitutional Convention on the ballot. Further, they've only raised about one million dollars ("only?") and some pledged donations have failed to come in.
"Campaign officials said they would need at least $3.5 million for a successful signature-gathering effort, plus millions more for the actual campaign. They blamed the tough economy and people focusing charitable efforts on Haiti for the lack of donations to their effort."
Well, first off, the nonprofit consultant part of me wants to yell at them for making excuses: Never blame the donors! They failed to get their message out and make a strong case to the average voter, plain and simple.

But, more to the point of this blog, part of my reason for supporting a Constitutional Convention and other reforms is to reduce the influence of money on our political processes. Now, we need another $3.5 million to fight against the high price of democracy. Huh?

As I wrote in that initial blog, the whole Initiative process (roughly one century old) was also an attempt to take power from the elites and corporations and return it to the people. Now we need new reforms to save us from the expensive mess that the old reforms have become. And so it goes.

The Repair California web site is still live, if you have an extra few million dollars lying around to give them to re-ignite the campaign.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Double the Surgery - Double the Fun!

Okay, I'm warning you right off that this is one of those medical update blog posts that turn a lot of readers off. If that's you, please click someplace else before going any further, I don't mind. I do these medical posts because when people are thinking of having a procedure done, or are having a problem, they often search out answers from other patients instead of always getting all their information from the doctor's point-of-view. This post is for those readers.

For those who have read my blog, or have known me, for any length of time, you know that I've been diagnosed with severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea or "OSA" (see my posts on the subject here). OSA is far more than just loud snoring; it's a health endangering condition wherein I actually stop breathing for several seconds at a time throughout the night, depleting the oxygen in the brain, disrupting sleep patterns, putting extra strain on my heart and lungs, and annoying the hell out of my wife.

For the last few years I've been using a CPAP device - a machine that basically forces you to keep breathing by putting a continuous flow of air into your nose by way of a face mask. I like to call it my "hose hat." The nickname is the most fun part about it.

While the CPAP has been effective at reducing my symptoms by about 75-80%, it's uncomfortable, I can only sleep in two positions without dislodging it (flat on back or at just the right angle on my right side), it's a damn nuisance if I want to get up in the night to pee, a damn nuisance to carry through an airport when traveling, and, frankly, being attached to an air hose while in bed inhibits intimacy with my wife.

The surgical options originally presented to me by my sleep doctor were not very enticing. I was told they could basically break my jaw and rebuild my entire windpipe and nasal system, giving me at least six months of the most excruciating pain imaginable and a lower success rate than the CPAP. I passed on that. But I also could not imagine strapping the hose hat to my head every night for the rest of my life. I kept my eyes open for other options.

But recently I heard of a new, minimally invasive option called the Pillar Procedure. The procedure, done in the doctor's office (not a surgical center), is the insertion of three to five small plastic pillars, each about the size of a match stick, into the soft palate at the back of the mouth. As tissue regrows over the pillars, over several months, this stiffens the palate, reducing the vibration that is the cause of most snoring.

After some additional research, I signed up for it and had it done yesterday.

Here's what the procedure looks like (warning: graphic video):

My procedure went pretty much as in the video above. Five pillars inserted in fairly quick time. Unlike the video above, mine was not completely painless. While I didn't feel the first one, the second one hurt like hell, but only for a minute. I felt the others go in, but it was bearable. This did not surprise me, as when dentists work on me I always require additional drugs before I'm numb.

In addition to the pillars, I had a second procedure done at the same time: Turbinate Coblation, which is a procedure to reduce the swelling of tissue in the nasal passages as a result of allergies. While it was technically for my allergies, having a chronic stuffy nose also contributes to the snoring problem.

Here's a the Coblation procedure looks like:

Mine was much as the above. Very easy and quick. Altogether, I think I was in the chair in the examination room for a total of 35 minutes for both procedures, including signing the release forms, getting prepped, and going over my instructions for follow-up.

Yesterday I had a bad sore throat, not so much pain as discomfort in a place I wasn't used to. Also there was some bloody, mucus discharge from my nose (expected). I only ate soft, mild foods: a smoothie, yogurt, scrambled eggs. I did take Tylenol for pain, although I wasn't even sure if I needed it past the first hour or so.

Today I'm already feeling much better and haven't needed the Tylenol at all, and my nose is already clearer. Still some roughness to the throat so I'm not talking much, but definitely no pain or severe discomfort.

Now comes the waiting. Right now there's scar tissue in both palate and nose which will last for the next week or so before I start noticing the real benefits of the procedures. The full effect of the coblation should be known in a few weeks. The full effect of the pillars should be known in a few months.

And you know I'll post again letting you know if it was all worth it.

(BTW: The article links and videos are NOT the doctors I used, they're just informative links.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Last Words from George Carlin - a book review

Last Words, George Carlin's posthumous memoir, is a must read for every fan of Carlin as well as those who want a look inside the mind of the word-obsessed, meaning-searching, stand-up comedian. What we find inside is not always pretty, but it's as open, honest, and truthful as any memoir can be.

While the book is, at times, uproariously funny, the focus here is not on making comedy, but on how comedy is made. Humor, it turns out, is no laughing matter. Carlin worked meticulously on notes on topics, slowly and carefully shaping his 'bits' over years, carefully nursing them until they were ready for public view. This book, too, was decades in the making, and the effort paid off.

But also on view here is the private Carlin. The father who tried so hard not be the over-bearing parent that his own mother was that he missed huge chunks of his daughter's childhood. The addict and co-dependent with an addict wife. The workaholic who's career was declared dead several times, and who fought back with comeback after comeback.

Those who hate Carlin will find reason here to find him as the self-centered, uncaring, drug addled freak that they expect. And those who love Carlin will find the working class intellectual who rose above two-dimensional shtick to rip the lid off polite society and show it for the hateful, greedy, violent mess that it is, and did so with great humor. They're each part of who George Carlin was, and what made his work unique.

I miss George Carlin, I miss his work, and I am grateful that this book invited inside his head one last time.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Dream About the Van Dyke

Last night I dreamed that I accidentally shaved off my mustache.

For some reason I was shaving in the dark, without a mirror, and it was only after running the razor over the right side of my upper lip that I realized that that was a mistake.

I felt around, to asses the damage, and that one swipe had pretty much eliminated the hair from that region for the first time in several decades. I considered what to do. Should I leave it as is, with one side intact and the other reduced to stubble? Should I shave off the rest of the mustache? Or should I shave off everything, mustache and beard?

In the dream, I decided to continue on the other side of the upper lip and remove the mustache, but I left the goatee on the chin below. Yes, I thought, it will now truly be "just a goatee." No longer the full Van Dyke... Van Dyke; a much nicer term than "goatee" for a far more symmetrical beard. Yes, I thought, I like the symmetry of hair above and below the mouth, connecting at the sides.

I remembered this dream not when I first woke up, but later, as I stood before the mirror, preparing to shave. I wondered for a second whether I'd take the dream as a dare or even a prophecy and go for a new look. But, no, I left the Van Dyke intact.

I've worn my beard this way for nearly a decade. Previously I had a full beard and mustache, but I trimmed it back to the Van Dyke on the advice of one of my staff who thought the full beard was "too rabbinical."

I've also considered cutting it all down even further, to not even a goatee, but a mere triangle of fuzz below the lower lip: The Soul Patch. A minimalist approach to facial hair that's perhaps the coolest beard of them all. If I do it, of course, I'd also have to shave my head to go with it.

And I'd do it today - soul patch and shaved head - if I didn't think I'd wind up looking like Howie Mandel's chubbier brother. Not that I don't love Howie. He's an incredibly funny guy. I just don't want to encourage that kind of comparison. No, the "Full Howie" will have to wait.

For today, and tomorrow, at least, the Van Dyke survives. Except in my dreams.

Friday, January 01, 2010

A New Year and a Look Back

Happy 2010 to one and all! Personally, I'm glad to leave 2009 in the dust. Not that it was the worst year, far from it, but it wasn't quite the best either.

Probably the best highlight that comes immediately to mind this New Years' morning was when my short film, "Gravehunting With Steve," was accepted as an Official Selection at IndieFest USA, to be held at Downtown Disney, Anaheim, CA. So, in August, I went Behind the Orange Curtain to spend a week as a "real filmmaker." It was a great week, and the fulfillment of a long-time goal.

Other highlights of 2009 also revolved around a bit of in-state travel. We went to Desert Hot Springs in April, up to Bodega Bay and the Sonoma Coast in July, and shorter weekend getaways to Carmel/Monterey (twice) and the wine country (Napa and in-land Sonoma Counties).

Unfortunately, the major downer event of 2009, my car wreck in May put a bit of a dark shadow over the rest of the year, as I'm still dealing with major back pain and a very slow recovery from that. (The wreck was not my fault: I was rear-ended at high speed by a hit-and-run driver).

As a result of being somewhat incapacitated, we've had to put off a lot of work around the house that I'd planned to do over the late spring and summer. Yes, contractors would do most of it, but I was unable to even do the basic prep, cleaning, and moving of stuff so the contractors could start. So now, 2010 will have to be "the year of the house."

The upside of having your car crushed while you're sitting in it is that you get to pick out a new car when it's all over. I picked out the new VW Tiguan and filled it up with nearly all the options. I am loving that, but I'm sure there must be easier (and less painful) ways to get a new car.

Work-wise, 2009 was good and busy, with a mix of rewarding projects and stress. When your work is about nonprofits in trouble, recessions can be a boost to business. While so many of my friends are out-of-work, or "under-employed," I'm not going to complain about being busy. As my friend Tom likes to say; "High quality problems."

Socially, 2009 was also very good, with Bay Area visits from many friends from the on-line world of YouTube. In fact, today will be spent having a traditional Southern New Years lunch of Hoppin' John, Corn Bread, and Mississippi Mud, and we'll follow that up with a wild night of Karaoke and drinks in San Francisco (we'll get a room in the city and take a cab to the club - no drinking and driving this weekend) ... Each with YouTube friends.

Yes: Online community is true community!

Which leads us to the last highlight of 2009, a creative collaboration that resulted in a fundraising event. Gary (known on YouTube as Anakin1814 - and one of tonight's karaoke participants) noticed that a lot of us vloggers are also into photography, and organized a 2010 calendar of our photos from around the world. Best part: the proceeds from the calendar will all be donated to the Nature Conservancy!

Learn more about that collaboration and the calendar at

Have a great 2010 and thank you for being with me for 2009.

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