Resolution Revolution

Resolutions. It’s the end of the year and the end of a decade. In some respects that’s a really big deal but really it’s just another day with a bigger tick mark on it in our heads that make it seem like it’s different than all the others. A way of marking the time that has passed. I’ve not been a big fan of resolutions for the most part because while they are meant to make you happier, make you a better person, right your past wrongs, the are frequently so lofty that the chance of success is very slim and that just leads to disappointments and feelings of failure when you eventually either don’t meet the goal or generally break the resolution.

Instead I prefer to look back on the last year, or on the last 10 years as it might be. Look at what I wanted to do, what I actually did, what I didn’t. Where did I think I would be today when I was looking ahead a year ago, or 10 years ago? Am I on track with those projections? If not, is the track I chose better than the one I thought I was going to take? What have I done right? What have a done wrong? Who did I help? Who did I hurt? I think reflecting is very valuable. It helps you see what kind of a person you are. It’s really easy to paint a beautiful picture of the person you want to be but actually taking a solid look at the person you are I think is a better way to see what actions to take that will help you to be a better person tomorrow.

I know not everyone cares about that, but it’s kind of the central thing to me. At least I always want it to be. I know I fuck up. I know I’ve done things wrong. I know I’ve hurt people. I didn’t want to or intend to do those things, so what can do, what can I keep in mind to reduce the chances of doing those things again in the future. And more that that, not just fixing mistakes, what can I do to generally improve situations. What can I do to be a better person. What can I do to not just make the world a little better place for me, but for those around me.

Of course it’s easy to write that off as equally selfish and lofty and I’d be lying to say these concerns are paramount every day – sometimes the only thing I care about is having a really good cup of coffee – but I think spending some time thinking about it every once and a while is a good way to asses and evaluate and adjust accordingly. I think wanting to do the right thing goes a long way and influences your actions without it being a conscious decision. Maybe I’m full of shit, but that’s what I tend to think.

And bringing that back to resolutions, thinking to myself that I want to try to do more good than bad seems more reachable and attainable than having some statistic I’m trying to reach. Of course I still have those mini-milestones in my head for this project or that one, but I think pulling those off should be the byproduct of being on the right track, not the main goal that is being worked towards. The destination isn’t the goal. When you get to the destination it’s over. And if that’s all you were thinking about then you missed the journey in between here and there.

Happy New Year.

Keep in Touch

I’ve never been too good at keeping in touch with people, this might sound strange given that I’m often associated with having a large network of friends and folks I’ve been involved with but I have a short attention span and put a lot of focus into what is in front of me at any given time which means that without realizing it I sometimes go weeks, months, even years without being in touch with people I genuinely like and care about. I’ve frequently chalked this off to just being busy but in hindsight this probably makes me a bad friend.

The worst part of that is once I’ve been out of touch with someone for a long time I don’t really know the right way to get back in touch with them. Either because I don’t know their new contact information or because I don’t know the context that would be fitting for a hi and hello. The last thing in the world I’d want to do is come off like I wanted something from them, as that is one of my biggest pet peeves when people I used to know reach out to me. For example, I interacted with a bunch of people when I was running a record label in a variety of ways. When I shut down the label a bunch of those people disappeared from my life as well. Years later when I was co-running an art gallery some of those people would pop back into my life but it was clear they had an agenda, they didn’t really know what I was doing but assumed it might help them out somehow. It was pretty lame. I’ve noticed the same trend again recently with people I was somehow involved with at the gallery who I haven’t heard from in years and are suddenly sending me notes to the effect of “Hey man, remember me? I saw you are writing for BoingBoing a lot recently, check out this thing I’m doing now..” – really. Is there anything shittier than that? (Don’t worry, I’m not talking about you. Unless you think I’m talking about you, then maybe I’m talking about you.)

But this is the thing right, the problem is I feel like they want to use me, not be friends with me. And reflecting that back on my own experiences I don’t want to be the kind of person who comes off as trying to use anyone.

Anyway, back to the point. When you loose communication and then try to rebuild it later it’s always suspect. It’s always suspect for me anyway and I try not to be that way to other people. The Japanese have a custom of sending news years cards out to their friends. This is a lowest common denominator level of effort but it it is some level of effort and it maintains some level of contact. It’s just enough to prevent those friendship ties from fading away to nothing. If at some point down the line you need to touch base with someone again, it’s doubtful they will think you don’t care about them unless they have something to offer because at worst the last time you’ve been in touch with them was the previous New Year when you took the time to send them a card.

I think this is a brilliant tradition and it’s something I’ve been thinking of taking up on my own because I don’t want these people who have been a part of my life to fade away and think I don’t care about them, but I also don’t want to have to manufacture a good reason to get in touch with them. Just saying hi should be enough. So in that right, a simple card saying Hi and letting them know I was thinking about them probably goes a really long way. I know it would if the situation was reversed.

I don’t think exceptionally highly of people I haven’t talked to in 10+ years who all the sudden get in touch with me hoping I can be of some benefit to them. However if at any point in the last few years they had reached out to just say hi and shown some level of friendship it would be a whole other situation. That said, it’s 2011 already and doing things that require the involvement of the post office or licking stamps seems kind of archaic, right? But I want to try to do something. My friends have always been the most important people in the world to me, definitely adopted family, and I hate the thought that I’ve let some of them fade away over the years for no good reason other than life getting in the way.

Dear friends, lets try to strengthen those ties again, cool?

Hero Worship, Julian Assange and Religion

[Advance apologies for scatterbrained nature of this post, it’s kind of an expanded idea I was running with on Twitter that keep taking more than 140 chars and I just wanted to write it out while it was fresh in my head. Perhaps I’ll expand on it more in the future as well if folks think it’s worthwhile.]

So there’s been a lot of discussion of the Rape accusations against Julian Assange recently, and a lot of discussion about the reaction to those accusations. I don’t think I’m mistaken when I say that a non-trivial number of people have publicly speculated the rape charges might be fraudulent for one reason or another putting the credibility of the accusers in question, but there’s also been a non-trivial number of people who’ve done just the opposite – instantly believed any and all accusations and condemned Assange based on what is basically hearsay at this point. We’ll see how much that changes after the trial, but I think that’s to be expected for a lot of reasons.

It’s easy to think this is indicative of some kind of sexism but it’s worth noting that, in my observations anyway, I’ve seen just as many men as women take both of the above sides. Personally, having known women who have been raped, as well as men who have been falsely accused of rape – I’m extremely hesitant to make early assumptions but I’m very much in the minority there I think. It might be some underlying sexism, it might be some ingrained guilt, or it might be something else. I think it’s less of those things and more that our society as a whole has a really hard time accepting the duality of people. People are not all good, or all bad. They are both, sometimes they do really good, or really bad things, but by and large one action isn’t indicative of everything about a person.

So in the case of Julian Assange, people who are supporters of wikileaks are having a really hard time with the idea that the guy behind it might not be a saint. And I’m not using that word as just a random example, I think religion, Christianity specifically, is very much to blame for a lot of this. People are brought up being taught about this group of people who were completely flawless or who if by chance did mess up, were instantly repentant and forgiven thus maintaining their good graces with God. Children are taught to aspire to be like this, and given this ideal that isn’t realistic or achievable at all. So what happens is when someone gets in to the spotlight all of those hopes and dreams are projected on them. We saw it with Obama and we’re seeing it again with Julian Assange.

It’s very hard for people to wrap their head around the concept that someone they look up to on one level might not be as respectable on another. Wait, how could Obama smoke? He’s supposed to be perfect and a role model. Wait, how could he give Bush & Co a pass, I thought he was going to be the shining light of change? This is a problem when you put anyone on a pedestal – how could Assange be anything but a gentleman in his personal life because wikileaks is such a great thing? Wait, I really agree with that one thing Assange said, but I can’t support rape so in order for that to balance out in my head one of those must be false, and I want a hero so I must assume the rape charges are bullshit. Hell maybe the rape charges *are* bullshit. But maybe they aren’t.

Good people sometimes do really bad things.

Bad people sometimes do really good things.

There’s no such thing as saints or saviours. People are just that, people. Anytime we expect them to be more than that we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. This is something we should keep in mind, and judge actions based on the actions, and not try to constantly fit people into the role of great redeemer.

If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine

For a long time I was known online as “that Ellian Wassup guy” because of a little run in I had with the Associated Press and a parody video I made about the Janet Reno / Elian Gonzalez situation. Long story short I put up the video and the AP told me to take it down. Before I could take it down someone else copied it and put it up. The AP told them to take it down too. But not before some other people put it up too. The AP contacted them too, but well you can see where this is going, before too long mirrors of the video were going up faster than the AP could try to get them taken down and that, among other things, finally got them to drop it. What I learned clearly in that situation was when the internet wants something, and I say the internet as if it’s one living organism because it kind of is, when it wants something, it gets it. That applies to getting into or giving it just the same.

I watched this play out then, I’ve watched it play out again since then in other situations and we’re all watching it happen again, it’s just some people don’t learn from the past. In the same way going after Napster didn’t put an end to MP3 sharing, but rather inspired the creation of less trackable and more decentralized sharing technologies, going after Wikileaks isn’t going to put an end to the transparency and accountability they are endorsing. Cutting off the head of the hydra doesn’t kill it, it makes it stronger. People – civilians, military and government alike – want the same things wikileaks does, and if wikileaks is cut down that will not be the end. It will more likely be just the beginning. It’s kind of shocking to see how shortsighted some people are being in their attempts to fight this. It’s much bigger than just one person or just one website. There’s no stopping the web when it wants something.

Embracing the unknown Path

logoI’ve been playing with Path for a little while now and I wanted to talk a little bit about my feelings towards it as well as respond a little bit to some of the reactions I’ve been getting from others. I should disclose upfront that Neoteny Labs is one of their investors, but short of getting me into the beta a few weeks ago I haven’t had any interaction with the folks there and my reactions are 100% based on my own interpretations and not any insider info or whatever. If you don’t know what I’m talking about by this point, this might be a good time to walk away as I suspect this post is just going to dig deeper into this hole.

If you think of “social media” as a collection of various networks of people you know in real life it’s a little easier to see how different sites and applications focus on different parts of those networks. Last.fm for example is a network of people who enjoy music, perhaps the same music you do. Flickr is a network for sharing photos, you can share them with friends, family, or everyone. Linkedin is interested in the networks of people you know professionally, perhaps those you’ve worked with – it requires mutual connections so anyone you say you’ve worked with has to agree and say they’ve worked with you. Facebook, well at this point Facebook seems to be a collection of everyone you’ve ever met or any friend of a friend, though at one point it was a little more protected than that. Twitter lets you only follow those you are interested in while still letting you reach those you might not know yourself. I’m rambling, but those are a few examples of existing sites that enable communication with your networks, and various wide varieties of those.

Path on the other hand in much smaller and seemingly has a different focus. While the above sites tend to share a goal of reaching as many people as possible, Path is designed to keep your network small. The idea of intimate communities isn’t new, but so far it’s been poorly implements with side focus groups, mailing lists, or simple after thought features. Path restricts you to 50 connections, and who you share with and who shares with you do not have to be the same. While I’m generally excited about a more intimate network like this, I almost think 50 is too many – 25 would be much better, but that is not really the issue right now. The point is rather than having the option to link up with anyone and everyone, you have to actually think about it and pick who your closest connections are. Once you’ve done this, in theory, how you interact with Path will be different than how you might interact with other sites. That’s not a crazy idea, you’d act differently in a room with only your closest friends than you would on stage in front of thousands of people. The contact limit on Path allows you to be less guarded to some extent.

But choice of action isn’t the only feature of this, it allows you to focus on your real friends rather than risk them being lost in a flood of people you only kind of sort of know. I have a strict policy on Facebook that I won’t accept a friend request from anyone I haven’t met in person, but even with that I have people that I’ve only met once or twice, and their updates often push updates by close friends off my page before I ever see them. Limiting the connections ensures you only see the people you actually care about.

The criticism I’ve seen so far is mostly that Path doesn’t allow some action that another site does. I think we’ve all gotten so used to new sites just being rehashed versions of some other site, that when something new is presented to us we’re not sure how to contextualize it. The same thing happened with Twitter. You may remember the first year of Twitters existence, or rather, or twttr as it were. No one really knew how to use it, and people frequently complained that it didn’t work like a blog. What?! Only 160 characters? (yes, it used to be 160) I can write way more than that on my blog. What?! No photos? I can post photos on my blog. What?! No way to comment on someone elses tweet? I can post comments on other people’s blogs. I was no different. I barely used Twitter for the first year because it made no sense to me. But then I got it, and so did everyone else and it became very clear how this was something different. The things we’d all thought were bugs, were actually core features.

I have a feeling that the same will prove true with Path. Right now people are objecting that Path doesn’t work like Flickr, or Twitpic, or Instagram, or their own blogs. But I think it’s not supposed to act like those sites. I think it’s a mistake to look at Path as a photosharing site. Path talks about sharing “moments” and while that is easy to write off as bullshit marketing talk, I actually think it makes a lot of sense. By requiring you to take the photo in app (as opposed to using a photo from your existing library) it ensures you are actually experiencing whatever you are posting. It’s more real. There’s no comments, because moments are fleeting – once they pass they are gone (I’d actually like to see it have a limited archive as well -maybe the last 24 hours only). If the goal is to share the now, it makes no sense to have features allowing you to dwell on the then.

So I’m currently enjoying using Path, in fact I’m bummed that I keep forgetting to post to it and I find myself wishing specific people were using it, or were using it more. I think thats a good sign – for me anyway. What will actually happen remains to be seen, but I think there is some real value here and the chance for us all to share some new things in some new ways. I guess we’ll see how it works out.

Shelving It – why bookshelves have become outdated and obsolete

When I was a kid growing up, one of the most impressive things I could see when visiting someone’s house was floor to ceiling shelving, every inch packed full of books. This was before I could read, or before I remember being able to read so which books were on the shelves wasn’t nearly as important as there just being tons of them. I felt like this meant the people were important and smart. I may have I picked up that notion from hanging around my fathers office, he was a lawyer and had towers of law books and encyclopedias everywhere, though I don’t recall thinking that he, or *we* were exceptionally important so I’m not entirely sure from where that concept came. What I am sure of is that if I saw a massive book case at your house I was impressed. I also know I wasn’t the only one thinking that.

I didn’t really get into books myself until I was a bit older, but what I did get into was movies. Given that this was the mid 80’s – the day and age when you could rent a VHS player from Blockbuster and every respectable video tape rental location had a well stocked betamax section – the idea of having a home video library was gaining popularity. Hollywood had given up on the war against video tape, abandoned the idea that this technology was going to bankrupt every studio out there, and were now making cash by the pirate ship full from selling and renting videos. The advertising of the day played off the obviously understood notion that if you were at all cultured you were actively building out your own home video library. I know that my step father at the time once explained to me how it was smart to rent a movie first to see if you liked it, then if you did you could buy it to put on your shelf, but you shouldn’t buy movies before you’d seen them.

This concept made perfect sense to me because your video library was a representation of your tastes. You only wanted to have good stuff in it, but you wanted to have all the good stuff in it. I was young then and without any real refined cinematic taste, so “good” was synonymous with “big” for me, and thusly we ended up renting a lot of Jim Varney, Tom Hanks, and Nightmare on Elm Street movies. For some unknown reason, still a mystery to this day, my family decided many of these titles were not worth purchasing after viewing. This didn’t go over well with me and at the wise old age of 10 I decided I needed to get started putting together my own video library. Getting a head start on it at that point was clearly genius because by the time I was an adult I’d have the best library ever. Probably an exact duplicate of the Blockbuster stock if I had my way.

I convinced my family it was a good idea to rent a VCR each time we went to blockbuster so that I could hook it up the one we had at home and make copies of the movies we rented so that I could add them to my newly started video library. I drew the covers of all the movies I copied because I wanted them to look real when on the shelf and I distinctly remember spending an afternoon attempting to replicate the cover of “The Man With One Red Shoe.” No reason why that one sticks out to me but there you have it.

Oh, did I mention that our home VCR was betamax? Yep. So you know that library had staying power.

This mindset stuck with me all the way through college when I did get into real books, I’d hang out at peoples houses and see books and movies on their shelves and decide I also had to have those on my shelves. Its embarrassing but true, in those days I definitely had books I’d never read on my shelves just because I saw them on other friends shelves and assumed that meant I should have them too. I did go on to read most of them later, but that’s beside the point. I didn’t buy them to read them, I bought them to fit in.

I’m getting somewhere with all this nostalgia – I wanted well stocked shelves because I wanted people to be impressed the way I was when I saw that kind of thing at other people’s houses. The shelves weren’t for me, they were for them. They were for my ego certainly, but I wasn’t keeping those books around so that I could reread them at a later date, I was keeping them so that people who visited me would know I’d read them. I wasn’t doing this consciously, but I was doing it. And once I realized what I was doing I felt like a douche and stopped adding to the stacks I’d amassed.

As a graphic designer I could always justify buying design books which I could argue were for inspiration and reference. And I definitely put them to heavy use for many years. Until the web really started getting going and then I found it was easier to go there to reference things than to hunt through stacks of books.

Skip ahead a few years, I’ve moved from Florida to Chicago to Los Angeles, and often several places in each city. And I’ve moved tons of books and DVDs and things each time. I take them off the shelf, pack them in heavy boxes, struggle to move them, unpack the boxes and put them back on the shelves. Rinse. Repeat. Until finally I realized it just didn’t make any sense. I had books I’d read once and hadn’t touched other than to move in over 10 years. I had reference books that had never been opened after looking through them in the bookshop and bringing them home because Google has proven to be a more efficient reference source. I have movies that are easier to just watch on my laptop via Netflix streaming or download from somewhere else then to have to fumble with DVDs and sit through unskippable advertising and trailers and antipiracy warnings. Digital files replaced CDs for me as well a very long time ago. So how is it better to have these things on my bookshelf?

I stopped being able to come up with a good answer for that.

I can argue valid reasons to keep art books which are all about the visual and tactile, and aren’t the same as a single JPG, but very few people have houses full of art books. Even I, an ex-gallery owner and art collector had some stacks, but not piles. But fiction and non-fiction?

As I get older the less I care about people’s opinion of me, and feel that my actions should say more about me than what objects I decided to purchase. Once I realized that it was hard to justify keeping these things and I decided they’d be better off in the hands of someone who hadn’t read them and could actually benefit from possessing them. Am I the only one coming to this conclusion? Do you have shelves full of books and media? Do you still use them?

Personal uniforms and simplifying through replication

In thinking about clothing and the 100 thing challenge I started thinking back and found this post I wrote a few years ago about minimizing wardrobes and the idea of a personal uniform. It’s been 2 years since I wrote that and I’ve got back and forth and tried out a few things here and there, but especially with this year of travel I’m really seeing the value in having a uniform and wardrobe that is similar enough that it doesn’t take a lot of thought about packing or getting dressed, but is easily repeatable and replaceable as things wear out. I’ve been experimenting with some of the Multibasing ideas as well and leaving sets of clothing in different parts of the world so that when I travel there I don’t need to pack as much as I would have if I was bringing everything with me. It’s a different approach to the no baggage challenge but with similar goals I think.

I’ve always had some basic rules in mind but never really spelled them out clearly, not that I am going to be any better at doing it now, but the more I use this stuff and the more I think about it the patterns get easier to spot and point out. So here’s basically what I keep in mind:

– Clothes should be easily replicable. That is, if I buy a shirt a like it, I should be able to buy 4-5 of the same one without much hassle. This eliminates one of a kind or super expensive items but that is fine because I’ve never been comfortable with those anyway. And being able to replace them anywhere is a huge plus to. Much of the stuff I’ve chosen is easy to find any number of places around the world which makes replacing a lost or damaged piece easy. This also allows me to get into a fairly simple “buy new, donate old” cycle every few months so nothing I have has been through too much of a ringer.

– Clothing should be mix-matchable. That is, everything should go with everything else. This allows very little thought when getting dressed or packing, I know I can’t go wrong. This is easiest achieved for me by choosing things that are solid black. The same could be true for any solid color I guess but black seems classic and goes with anything, and fits in in almost any situation. I vary a little bit in the shirt department, but that is fine because I’m never wearing two shirts at once so I don’t have to worry about something not matching if everything else is black. That said I personally tend to avoid any clothing with obvious branding on printing on it.

– Clothing should be good for travel. I travel a lot, so this is important to me, might not be to someone else. To me this means it’s not overly bulky and can be rolled up fairly compactly for packing, and that it’s easily washed in a hotel room so it should dry quickly. It should also be layerable and multipurpose, that is I should be able to create cold weather combo by layering warm weather items. Or something like that.

Those are really my big points. I have a few other but those are more personal things – no leather, etc, but that doesn’t totally relate here. Because I know you are wondering, here’s how that translates for me at this point..

– Pants. With minor exception I’ve been wearing Dickies work pants almost every day for the last 10 years at least. You can get them anywhere – in any corner of the world, they are relatively inexpensive (which means buying multiples is no problem) and work in a variety of social settings. When newer they are basically dress pants.

– Under Shirt. I’ve got about 20 American Apparel simple black T-Shirts scattered around the world and these serve me very well. Again, easy to find and replace, not very expensive but nice quality. The one drawback to these is that being cotton they don’t wick moisture very well which is only a problem in hotter climates (which I’ve been finding myself in a lot recently) and they take the longest to dry of anything I usually travel with. I’ve been thinking of trying out one of the ScotteVest T-Shirts to see how they work out in these situations.

– Underwear. I’ve raved about ExOfficio brand before and I stand by it. These are the best underwear ever, and you could easily travel for a long time having only 2 pair of these with you. I generally travel with 4-5 but really feel like that is overkill sometimes.

– Socks. I don’t have the die hard loyalty here, but I’ve been pretty happy with injinji toe socks for a while. They are comfortable and dry pretty quickly, but I’ve found they wear through pretty quickly as well.

– Shirt. I’ve got a stable of Ben Sherman plaid and solid color shirts I rotate through which works really well for me and is a style that I like. That said, the quality of their shirts seems to have dropped a bit in the last year or so and I’m keeping my eyes out for alternatives.

– Shoes. Adidas have been my standard goto for a while, but recently I’ve been loving my Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot shoes and might make the switch more fulltime.

Add a sweatshirt or jacket here and there depending on where I’m traveling to and what the trip will entail. As I said the beauty of a lot of this is it’s easily replicable so I can have duplicate wardrobes in many corners of the globe without much effort.