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Surviving mornings when you're not a morning person

I am not a morning person. Not even close. If it were up to me, my day would start somewhere around 10:00 and ease into work mode somewhere around noon. I start slow. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually been able to follow that schedule, though. Real life doesn’t care what my body’s natural rhythm is. There are deadlines to meet. People want answers now. Contacts over in Europe would really like me to respond before they close up shop for the day, which, coincidentally, is about 10:00 AM Eastern Standard Time.

Add to that schedule the fact that we have school-age children who dominate the early morning. Currently, they get on the bus right at 7:00. That means they need to be on their feet no later than 6:15 if we want them to catch that bus. They’re not old enough to responsibly get themselves ready every morning, so we have to be up and awake and in charge. We control how their day starts, which subsequently relates to whether they have a good day at school.

In an ideal world, we would all be able to follow our body’s natural circadian rhythm. For those in the back who haven’t been paying attention over the past 40 years, circadian rhythms are “physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle [source].” If we were as smart as we pretend to be we would adjust our schedules and routines so that we’re working during the times when our bodies are most inclined to be productive, exercise when our muscles are best toned for stretching, and sleep when our bodies tell us. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Without question, we would all be healthier, get more done, and live happier lives if we were to follow our body’s natural timing.

However, one of the downsides of the industrial revolution is that corporations need everyone in the same place at the same time in order to get things done. Despite all the advances we’ve made in distance and remote working, there are still too many instances where we need people in an office, or a boardroom, looking at each other face-to-face. That means we have to put aside out circadian rhythms and follow a unified schedule. More often than not, unified schedules mean being in an office by 9:00 every morning, a time when many people’s bodies would much rather be sleeping.

Forcing ourselves into schedules outside our circadian rhythms has its downside. Not only are we likely to be less healthy, we are also more prone to making mistakes [source]. Errors may not be a big deal if one is in a dead-end job where their efforts are duplicated a couple of dozen times, but it can have devastating effects if one is, oh, a brain surgeon or something really important like that. So, when we find ourselves in a schedule that is oppositional to our natural circadian rhythms, we have to make some adjustments to keep everything around us from exploding (hopefully using that word in a metaphorical context).  I’m about to give you some life hacks. Pay attention.

Prep your morning before going to bed

There are certain things in everyone’s life that we just know we’re going to have to do before we walk out the door in the morning. Things like getting dressed, personal hygiene, and probably coffee. We know we’re still going to be half asleep when we do those things, though, so the best way to combat potential areas in this department is to prepare for them the night before. Go ahead and decide what you’re going to wear and set everything in a safe place where you can find them literally with your eyes shut. This avoids time lost and mistakes made when we go searching for clean clothes when our brains have yet to start functioning. Set out a towel and washcloth. Prep the coffee so that all you have to do is turn things on (better yet, get a coffee maker with a timer).

When we do this, we make morning life a lot easier for ourselves by reducing the amount of actual brain activity required before our brains are ready to be active. Give yourself some space where you’re able to reasonably function on auto-pilot until you’re fully awake and aware of what’s going on around you. Don’t force yourself into a position of having to jump out of bed and start making decisions before your eyes are even open.

Nix the bright lights

Our brains respond to light in a very interesting fashion. Bright, cool light tells our brains that it is time to be awake and productive. Warm, soft light tells us that it is time to chill, relax, and prepare for sleep [source]. Having super-bright lights in your bedroom makes zero sense because that is the one place where you need your brain to take it easy, not try and keep you up all night. This means you’re probably going to have to make some adjustments like leaving your cell phone on a nightstand turned face down and changing the wattage of the bulbs in your bedroom from 100 watts to something more in the neighborhood of a soft 40 watts. Most importantly, make sure the room is as dark as possible when you go to sleep. Even nightlights disrupt your sleep pattern and keep you from resting as well [source].

Non-compensated plug here: GE makes a special bulb called C-Sleep that is designed to fit our natural sleep patterns. These are LED bulbs controlled by an app on your smartphone. You set the times at which you need sleep light versus wakeup light and the bulb adjusts to give you the right kind of light for the time of day. The bulbs are a little pricey on the front end ($75 on the front end when ordered directly from GE) but only use 11 watts of electricity so they’re likely to save money on your electric bill. Most importantly, they give you the right light to help you rest and get your morning started off well.

Eliminate distractions while you sleep

This is a big one for me and one that, quite honestly, I don’t do well enough. I’m a light sleeper. I grew up in a family where the phone was likely to ring in the middle of the night and when it did it was never good news. Depending on the severity of the situation (whether one or both parents were needed), we could find ourselves getting dressed and having to jump in the car at 3:00 AM without any warning. That uncertainty set up a life-long habit of constantly listening for sounds that might indicate an emergency. Sure, I no longer have to worry about my phone ringing at 3:00 AM, but my brain won’t turn off that switch. any noise and I’m up and assessing the danger level. It doesn’t help that I have a dog who is even more sensitive to sound than I am.

The general recommendation to help us get a good night’s sleep is to listen to white noise, such as the sound of waves crashing, while we’re snoozing [source].  Generally speaking, I rather like that idea with one exception: we have children. Those of us who have children know that we have to keep one ear open all night in case one of the kids wakes up and needs attention. The younger your children are the more critical this factor.

While we may not all be able to enjoy falling under the spell of white noise all night, we can do other things to minimize distractions. Things like taking down wind chimes, keeping pets sequestered outside the bedroom, and using sound-reducing shades to block out external traffic noises can all help. We may not be able to eliminate all the distractions but we can minimize them enough to help our sleep be more effective.

Establish a morning routine

Just because our eyes are open and our body is out of bed and mobile doesn’t mean we’re actually conscious just yet. This whole waking up thing takes a minute, you know? If we have a routine, though, we can allow our bodies to operate on auto-pilot as long as we have a routine that is safe and efficient to get us through the first five-ten minutes of our day. Mine is pretty simple. When my feet first hit the floor, the first thing I do is let the dogs out the back door. I can almost do this with my eyes shut because the dogs flank me every step of the way. They won’t let me deviate from the appointed path. While the dogs are out, I put food in their bowls and check the cats’ food supply as well and then fill the community water bowl. By this point, the dogs want back inside. Making coffee and pouring my morning cereal (necessary for taking morning meds) are next in line. The first 20 minutes of my day are a set routine that never deviates even on weekends (the animals don’t care if it’s Sunday or Tuesday, they still want out and to be fed).

There’s no right or wrong to what one puts in their morning routine, simply that it be consistent. Personally, I like things peaceful and quiet so my brain and slowly ease into gear before the children get up and start demanding that I think. Those whose existence is more solitary might find benefit in turning on music and there are even some crazy people who find an early morning run to be helpful. The nature of your routine depends largely on your circumstances and the rhythms in which your body wakes up. Find what works for you and stick to it. After a couple of weeks, muscle memory takes over and the routine becomes automatic.

Give yourself plenty of time

I’m fortunate in that I don’t have to leave the house to go to work. My commute consists of turning my chair around and looking at the computer. For most people, though, going to work means getting in a car, fighting their way through traffic, and struggling to make it into work on time every morning. I’ve been there and know that it’s not easy. One is tempted to wait until the last possible minute to get out of bed and then rush to work like a bat out of hell. The problem with that approach is that it increases our stress levels and makes it much more likely that we will make mistakes and even leave things at home, such as the notes for that all important meeting you had right at 9:00.

Give yourself some time before you have to put on your super suit and be an action hero. I set my alarm at 5:00 every morning not because I’m a morning person but because I’m not and I need that hour and fifteen minutes to mentally prepare myself for children. On the very rare morning something happens and I don’t get up well before the demons, their morning doesn’t go well. I’m crankier than normal (and that’s never a good thing), I’m more easily frustrated, and my blood pressure meds haven’t had time to kick in yet so I’m more likely to yell and scream over insignificant things like why no one can find one of the 50 million combs and brushes I know we have in this house. Your time may vary, of course, but waiting until the last minute isn’t helping you. Get out of bed a little earlier and give yourself a chance to start the day better.

Avoid the negative

I cut my adult teeth on the news. Working first for a local newspaper and then a major news syndicate, the news is in my blood and something that will never leave. The news is rarely a positive starting point, though, and having the Internet at my fingertips only makes the obsession worse. I have aggregators that assemble all the important stories that have accumulated overnight and place them in my inbox for my convenience. What I have learned, though, is to not start my day by opening those email. As tempting as it is, I leave those alone until I have found something, somewhere, to make me laugh. Not a big, loud guffaw mind you. I want everyone else to stay asleep for a while. Just something that makes me giggle on the inside and maybe turn up the corners of my mouth for a few seconds.

Our lives are filled with enough negative things. The instant that those emails are opened I’m going to go from smiling to concerned or worried or angry. If I can put off all that negative emotion for a bit I’m less likely to let that negativity spill onto the people around me. Sure, there are days when the news is so bad and so unavoidable that the people around me are affected; there typically isn’t anything I can do to stop that from happening, especially given the current state of chaos. There is a lot I can do to reign that in, though, and much of that starts with making my own morning as positive and upbeat as possible. When I wake the little ones, the first voice they hear should be cheerful, not angry.

There is no perfect solution

Lives are different and everyone’s circadian rhythm is different so don’t think that what works for me has to work for you. If you are one of those people who work third shift and has to sleep during the day, there are different precautions you have to take to make sure you are not disturbed. Those of us who work remotely from home can be much more flexible in our morning schedules than can those who are slaves to a corporate taskmaster who doesn’t care what’s going on in your personal life.

What’s important is that you find what works for you and don’t let anyone interrupt your flow. If you need to be in bed by 9:00 at night, don’t let someone shame you into staying up later. If you need your first cup of coffee to be stronger than what you drink the rest of the day, know that you’re not alone. You can make this work.

We have been born into a society that doesn’t really work for the vast majority of people. If it did, offices probably wouldn’t open before 11:00 in the morning and we’d all take a nap around 4L00 in the afternoon. Since corporations dominate a third or more of our lives, those schedules are not likely to change. We have to find solutions that help us fit into that routine in the best way possible. Hopefully, these tips work for you.

Abide in Peace
The Old Man

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surviving mornings when you're not a morning person

photo credit: charles i. letbetter

Naked Dining is the answer to gun violence

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (AP) — The gunman who killed 26 people at a small-town Texas church went aisle to aisle looking for victims and shot crying babies at point-blank range, a couple who survived the attack said. [Source]

Naked dining doesn’t sound like it has a damn thing to do with gun violence, does it? In fact, one might be inclined to think I’m setting up a satire piece or that I’m being intentionally facetious. Neither of those assumptions is true. I’m being quite serious in the discourse that follows and I hope you’ll stay with me long enough to see the point I am making. Gun violence is a serious topic. Naked dining doesn’t feel like a serious topic, though, so please give me a moment to show how the two merge.

First, though, let’s talk about First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Even though I’ve never been there, in some ways I know exactly the kind of town Sutherland Springs is because those are the kind of towns, population just under 700 people [source],  and those small Southern Baptist churches were exactly the kind of churches my father pastored for over 40 years. Sutherland Springs is a town where not only does everyone know everyone else, everyone is largely related to everyone else in one way or another. The community is close-knit and while they may not always get along with each other when a death occurs in a family the entire town is affected.

Sutherland Springs lost 4% of their population on Sunday morning. To some, that number may not sound all that high, but to a town like Sutherland Springs, it’s like cutting out the town’s heart with a piece of dirty, jagged glass. This is a wound that scars every person in that town and I won’t be a bit surprised if the pain and sorrow do not contribute to subsequent deaths of family members whose hearts are completely broken by the loss.

Sunday mornings in small Southern Baptist churches are nothing like the services in big city megachurches. There’s a routine, a template, that these churches have followed for more than a century. How the service flows is a tradition that no one messes with. Trust me, Poppa tried on more than one occasion and was severely chastised each time. For the sake of most who are unfamiliar with this template, let me describe it for you.

11:00 AM: The stated starting time for the morning service passes without acknowledgment because half the congregation is still milling about, making the transition from Sunday School, visiting and catching up with each other. Even though the town is small, for many people in attendance this is the only time they see each other all week and catching up on life’s little details is important to them. No pastor in their right mind forces a hard start time. Instead, the pianist quietly plays hymns until the service is ready to begin.

11:06 AM: The music director, which is typically the person in the church with the strongest voice, who was strong-armed into service, steps to the pulpit and announces the first hymn. “Good morning,” he’ll say. “Please turn to hymn number 446, Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine. Let’s all stand as we sing.”

11:11 AM: The pastor, or a delegated deacon, offers an opening prayer. This is one place a bit of variation may occur. Some read a passage of scripture before the prayer.

11:13 AM: Church announcements are made. Yes, most of them are printed in the church bulletin everyone received as they entered, but the pastor knows that half his congregation isn’t going to read the bulletin at all, and in most small churches there’s a decent number of people who can’t read the bulletin. Therefore, verbal announcements are necessary. Most pastors try to keep this portion of the service as short as possible but the reality is that it can go on for as much as fifteen minutes in some churches. Any community event is likely to be mentioned here.

11:17 AM: Welcoming visitors. Okay, so the “visitors” are actually someone’s grandchildren who are in for the weekend. Everyone knows who they are. Still, this is another excuse to stand up and say hi to each other before having to sit still during the sermon.

11:20 AM: The music director signals the end of visitation time by stepping to the pulpit and announcing the next time. “Let’s all take our seats and turn to hymn number 308. Jesus Paid It All.” Depending on how much time was lost during the announcements, the hymn may be shortened by singing only two or three of the four stanzas in some churches, though be sure someone in the church isn’t going to like that. Typically, that person was me.

11:24 AM: A second hymn, for which everyone stands. Last chance to stretch those legs, or slip the little ones out to go to the potty before the sermon. The music director announces, “Let’s stand as we sing hymn number 429, Sweet Hour of Prayer. Again, depending on the time, the song may be shortened. Be sure that in a small church like this the tempo on this song crawls which often leads to only the first and last stanzas being sung. Ushers walk forward during the final chorus in preparation for receiving the

11:27 AM: Offertory prayer, typically given by one of the ushers, some of whom look upon this honor as an opportunity to demonstrate just how pious he is. The congregation is trying to stand there with their eyes shut, gripping the back of the pew in front of them so they don’t fall over. This can be really difficult. Go ahead, try standing in the middle of the floor with your eyes shut; it’s not easy. I’ve seen these prayers go on for as much as five minutes. I’ve also known Poppa to stop asking certain people to give a public prayer unless he needed an excuse to take a nap.

11:28 AM (hopefully): Offering. Typically, the pianist plays a quiet hymn during this time. There is a sense of reverence. No one talks or moves a lot. Parents return from the restroom with their children who have been strongly warned to sit still and be quiet for the remainder of the service. Said children are likely armed with crayons or some other form of distraction.

11:30 AM: Special music. If the church has a choir, they typically sing at this point. Understand, the choir may only consist of five or six people and half of those likely have some difficulty finding the pitch. Chances are high none of them actually read music, which makes choir rehearsals a whirlwind of fun (yes, I’m being terribly sarcastic). That’s assuming there was any rehearsal at all. In many small churches, they just gather before the service and the music director tells them which hymn they’re going to sing. If there’s no choir, someone sings a solo or duet. The pastor always hopes the song has something to do with the topic of his sermon, but on nine Sundays out of ten, it doesn’t.

11:34 AM: The morning sermon begins. The pastor typically has 20 minutes to say whatever he’s going to say. This is a small Southern Baptist church. Taking a morning service past noon is the type of offense that can get a pastor fired. No, I’m not kidding. I saw this happen more than once while growing up. 12:00 noon is the deadline. Folks have things to do. In our family, Mother often had a roast in the oven (we typically lived right next door to the church). If Poppa’s sermon ran long, the roast was burned. Poppa knew better than to let the roast burn. Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) is the rule.

11:55 AM: Invitation. Some folks refer to this as an altar call. In the minds of many, you’re not Southern Baptist if you don’t give an invitation at the end of every service. Typically, the music director leads the congregation in singing a hymn such as Charlotte Elliot’s Just As I Am set to William Bradbury’s familiar tune. If you’ve ever caught the end of a Billy Graham crusade you’ve heard that song. There are five verses to this song. If the pastor is really applying the pressure he’ll wait for all five verses to be sung. He has the option to end the invitation at any moment, though. There are some Sundays the dear pastor just knows his sermon bounced off the hard heads in the pews and there’s no sense in belaboring the point.

11:59 AM: Benediction. This is likely to be the shortest prayer of the entire morning, typically offered by a deacon. Everyone’s tired and anxious to get on to more exciting things. “Thank you, God, for this sermon (that no one actually heard). Please help us to apply it to our lives (as though we actually think we need to improve). Bless us through the week ahead (because you won’t hear from us until next Sunday). Amen.”

At this point, the pianist plays another upbeat hymn to usher everyone out the door. The pastor stands at the entrance to greet everyone. “Good sermon, pastor,” is the polite greeting from congregants. “Good to see you this week, Mrs. Fester,” is the pastor’s polite reply.

Week after week, year after year, every little Southern Baptist church in every little town across the United States follows a similar pattern. They rarely waver from this tradition. In fact, if one were to take a poll they would likely find that a number of congregants likely believe that the order of worship is a hard and fast rule set down by some ecclesiastical authority. It isn’t, but woe to the newcomer who suggests changing anything. This is the way our grandparents and great-grandparents worshipped. Therefore, we must do the same.

Devin Kelly grew up in a church like the one in Sutherland Springs. He knew the routine. When he pulled up to the gas station across the street from the church, he waited. Chances are reasonable that he could hear the congregation singing. He waited until the music stopped. Everyone except the guest preacher for the day was sitting down. At 11:30 AM, he drove across the street, pointed his rifle at the clapboard building, and started shooting. Nothing that followed was routine.

We’re not to the naked dining part just yet

Hold on, we’re getting there. First, though, we need to understand just why it is alternative solutions to gun violence are necessary. One would think, logic would seem to scream, that the correct response to gun violence is to limit who has guns and regulate how they are purchased. Multiple opinion surveys have been done in recent years and they consistently show that anywhere from 88% to 92% of Americans support universal background checks [source 1, source 2, source 3]. We know what we should be done so why have we not done a damn thing about our gun violence problem? Over and over and over and over, within minutes after another shooting takes place, someone says we need to do more to limit who has access to guns. Yet, never has a mass shooting resulting in any restriction on gun sales. None. Zero. Zip.

The United States is alone in the category of gun violence. No other developed nation in the world can touch us. Americans are 20% more likely to die as a result of gun violence than are residents of any of our peers [source]. Even in Switzerland, where gun ownership is every bit has high, per capita, as it is in the US, gun violence is a mere fraction of what it is in America. In fact, to find a mass shooting of any kind in Switzerland, one has to go all the way back to 2001 [source]!

Our president, who is walking proof that the zombie apocalypse has already begun, says that the Sutherland Springs incident is not a gun problem but rather a mental health problem [source]. So, we’re to believe that the reason America has such an appallingly high rate of gun violence is that we’re all crazy? If that’s the case, then why the fuck did Congress recently decide that it’s okay for those who are diagnosed mentally ill to have guns [source]? Doesn’t that seem to be just a wee bit counter-intuitive if not outright self-destructive?

Oh, wait, Congress might have allowed that bill to pass because, you’ll love this, there’s no evidence supporting the assertion that the mentally ill commit more gun crimes. If anything, the research piles up on the exact opposite end of the equation. Approximately one in five American adults are diagnosed with a mental illness and that’s okay because it is pretty much the same anywhere else in the world [source]. So no, we’re not crazier than everyone else in the world. Don’t go blaming the mentally ill for all the violence, either. Research shows that mental patients released to the public very rarely use any form of violence against strangers at all [source].

For all the talk about mental health in relationship to gun crimes, suicide, not mass shootings or even aggravated homicide, is still the leading cause of gun deaths in the United States [source]. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for persons between the ages of 10-25 and the fourth leading cause of death for those between the ages of 25-44 [source]. If there is an advantage to legislation that keeps the mentally and emotionally challenged from buying guns it is the possibility that doing so may save them from dying at their own hands, not that it will prevent mass shootings such as the one at Sutherland Springs or Las Vegas. We need to get it out of our minds that mass shootings are the fault of mentally deranged madmen; that assumption simply doesn’t hold true.

When we attempt to address America’s gun violence problem with gun control legislation or mental health regulation, we will inevitably reduce some levels of violence because any measure is better than the absolute nothingness we’ve done to this point. What we’re doing, though, is treating the symptoms, not the cause. Until we address the root cause of violence in America any legislation we might pass is ultimately limited in its effectiveness. We will still have more mass shootings than anyone else, still have run-away domestic violence, and still have an alarmingly high suicide rate because the reason we’re predisposed to violence in the first place has yet to be addressed.

Americans need to learn to chill—naked

Sitting at the root of the gun violence problem in America is a problem known as Violent Socialization. By broad definition, violent socialization is the culmination of all the things in our society that leads us to be more violent than anyone else. There isn’t just one thing we can eliminate and suddenly everyone be okay and the violence completely stops. Rather, there is a multitude of factors that, when combined, lead us to a greater tendency toward violence [source 1, source 2]. These factors not only include the prevalence and ease of gun ownership but other variables such as income inequality, lack of financial opportunities, insufficient education, the prevalence of aggressive sports coaching, overly-competitive attitudes in the workplace, and loss of personal time due to work demands. In all, there are over 40 factors that, when combined, lead us to be a more violent society than what is found in any other first world country.

In short, Americans have no chill.

Here, finally, is where naked dining comes in. The precedent has already been set in Paris where a restaurant opened this past Friday (1 November 2017) [source]. The restaurant, named  O’naturel, is but the latest opportunity for Parisians who enjoy running around in the buff. Paris is a city that already has a public park, a public pool, and approximately 460 other areas where people are welcome to run around naked. While all this nudity does not protect Paris from violence related to religious extremism such as Daesh, the whole generally chill attitude residents have there goes a long way in diffusing the tensions that result in some overly angry person deciding that the slaughter of innocent people is a good idea.

One of the first questions one might have regarding the opening of a naked restaurant is how it affects its local neighbors. The answer, at least in this case, is that it doesn’t.

“It doesn’t bother me at all, or my neighbours,” a man called Mehdi told Le Parisien.

“We don’t see anything from the street. We know what’s happening. It’s not a massage parlor.”

Another factor that probably makes a difference is that the restaurant only holds about 50 people at a time, max, and those people are going to pay roughly $25 US (€30) per plate. This isn’t the fast food crowd we’re talking about. Patrons don’t disrobe until they’re inside the building, where they are provided with upscale lockers and changing facilities before being shown to their seats.

Granted, there are some limitations to dining naked. The menu at O’naturel includes relatively safe food such as escargot, medley de légumes, gravelax de saumon, and braised truffles with polenta. There’s nothing here that’s likely to give one severe burns if it happens to fall onto your lap while dining. Right away, those limitations could be a factor for Americans who tend to like their food bathed in grease and too hot to handle without a utensil.

There is also the matter of public health concerns. You know those signs about “no shirt, no shoes, no service?” Those are there by choice, not a legal requirement. While health codes stipulate various requirements for employees of dining establishments, there is no such requirement of their customers [source].  Most Americans think that there is a law requiring at least minimal cover, but they seriously don’t exist. We checked. Employees (especially those preparing the food) have clothing requirements, but not the customers. That being said, Americans are notoriously lacking in the area of personal hygiene. I mean, a large number of us don’t even wash our hands after going to the bathroom [source]. Maybe handing patrons a warm rag coated with disinfectant before being seated might not be a bad idea.

Why are the French, and Europeans in general, so into running around naked? Because they are more comfortable with who they are. Nudity is not over-sexualized and most Europeans long-ago nixed the religious morality argument that still holds sway in the US. As a result, they are very relaxed about being naked. Europeans, in general, don’t mind being naked because they don’t see where it is a big deal.

Nudity leads to a more relaxed attitude about life altogether. Being relaxed in attitude results in being relaxed in practice. Less stress leads to a variety of social benefits, not the least of which is a significantly lower rate of social violence.

Using only France’s crime statistics for comparison, since they seem to have more naked options than anyone else, here’s how severe the discrepancy is [source]:

  • General crime levels: The US has 13% more than France
  • Drug (Opiate) use: The US has 43% more than France
  • Rape: The US has 69% more than France
  • Homicide: The US has 19 times more than France
  • Suicide: The US has 33% more than France

Am I beginning to make my point? There is zero evidence that these numbers are a coincidence. The same attitude that allows the French people to be comfortable with naked dining is the same attitude that keeps their rate of violent crime significantly lower than in the US.

There’s also a practical matter to toss into consideration as well. There’s no place for a naked person to hide a weapon. If we increase the amount of public nudity we decrease the ability of someone to sneak weapons into places where innocent people are vulnerable. Sure, I suppose someone could,  in theory, lube up a  small pistol sufficiently to stick it up their ass, but even if one was successful in doing so, extraction is going to be painful and not the type of thing one easily hides. Everyone in the room is going to know what you’re doing. Then, once you have it out, that thing is going to have to be cleaned before it can be fired safely.  Plus, the caliber is small so there’s no standing at the front of the room and mowing everyone down, and the clip is only going to hold six shots. Naked shooters are too impractical to be taken seriously.

Sure, I suppose that if we all start going around naked, and even if we go so far as to make it a law that everyone who is in a public park or restaurant has to be naked, then only criminals will have clothes.  Stop and think about that for a moment though. If we know that anyone wearing clothes in certain places is a bad guy, doesn’t that make it a lot easier to stop these idiots? One of the issues we have with preventing violent crimes now, especially mass shootings, is that we too often don’t know that someone’s up to no good until they start shooting. If only bad guys are clothed then they are immediately easy to spot and can be eliminated before they have a chance to cause any problem.

Yes, naked dining can absolutely reduce the amount of gun violence in the United States.

Practical Analysis

Okay, so Americans, in general, have this giant log of religiously-motivated morality stuck up their butt that makes them disinclined to support anything that includes nudity. The United States is one of the few developed countries where one is still likely to be jailed just for walking around without a shirt if one is female. Yes, it’s a double-standard. Yes, it is gender discrimination. Our attitudes regarding nudity, though, are symptomatic of just how uptight we are about everything. We are so afraid of doing something that is morally wrong, doing something that might offend someone else, doing something that causes us to make less money, that we have created an environment where it is almost impossible for us to relax, to be comfortable with ourselves and each other.

We need to do something drastic, though, to address this problem of gun violence that has reached epidemic proportions. The cost of violence in terms of real dollars is somewhere around $45 billion [source]. When we reach the point where newspapers have good reasons to publish articles on  How to protect yourself during a mass shooting we have jumped the proverbial shark to the point where no solution can be considered too silly or too ridiculous to not be considered.

Americans have been screaming, “we need to do something about gun violence” ever since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School. If there is one thing we’ve consistently proven since then is that the jellyfish elected to Congress lack anything resembling a spine when it comes to gun control. I’m over ever expecting that they are going to do anything meaningful to adequately reduce the number of mass shootings in the United States. Families like yours and mine don’t have as much money to buy Members of Congress like the special interests groups can. Therefore, the interests of families are ignored. We have to act for ourselves.

What can we do? We can dine naked. We can diffuse the stresses that feed violent socialization. We’ve tried thoughts and prayers and that didn’t work, not even in a church on a Sunday morning. We’ve tried religion and that only made the problem worse. What we’ve not tried is being naked, learning to be chill, to say “fuck it” a little more often, to not become so upset if we don’t win every damn time at everything we do.

Consider starting with your own family, minus the children. Try one naked dinner a week. Sure, the first one or two may be a bit uncomfortable because very few of us are accustomed to lounging around in nothing but our own skin. Give it some time, though. Maybe after three or four months, you can invite someone to join you. Keep a lid on the whole sexual thing, mind you. Part of what makes this work for Europeans is that they don’t think that being naked means having sex every time. Just be naked, enjoy the meal, have a pleasant conversation, then everyone goes to their own home.

More than anything, we need to learn to chill, en masse. We can’t rely on anyone to solve this problem of gun violence for us. Legislation might remove the opportunity for some but it’s not going to solve the underlying problem.

Get naked. Have dinner. Stay alive. It’s a recipe worth trying.

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

Naked Dining might be the solution to gun violence

photo credit: charles i. letbetter

5 Films Someone Needs To Make Right Now

Everyone loves a good movie. In fact, the whole concept of Dudeism centers around The Big Lebowski and the character of The Dude. There’s just one problem with all these movies we’ve been watching our entire lives: they’re male-dominated. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with the guys, there are just way too many of them compared to the number of films featuring strong, intelligent female characters.

We think there need to be more films created for and produced by women that feature characters who never look expectantly at a guy and utter those horrible words, “I don’t know what to do next.” We want to see films where women have the answers, the creativity, and the know-how to solve problems for themselves just like real women have been doing for centuries.

So, we created and developed these five films someone needs to make right now. We’d do it ourselves but the Old Man doesn’t have a freakin’ clue how to produce a movie and besides, if he did it that would just be perpetuating the same male-dominated environment that needs to just go away for a while.

We would like to see the women at major film studios grab hold of these concepts and run with them. To help, we’ve created both imagery and storylines to help get you through the pitch process. If you need more, you can contact us here, or here, or here, or here, or here. We’re rather easy to find and the Old Man is in a deal-making mood. Also, if you want to see all the pictures related to these concepts, you can find them here.

Enough banter. Let’s get to those stories!

The Woman Who Would Be Pope

The Woman Who Would Be Pope

Cardinal John Wallace O’Malley was one of the most revered and respected Cardinals in the Catholic Church. A man of integrity and faith, he was known for possessing a wisdom just short of God himself. When Pope Alexander VIX died, the College of Cardinals quickly elected Cardinal O’Malley on the first ballot. Rejoicing commenced throughout Catholicism.

Taking the name of Pope John Paul III, O’Malley began his duties as pope much as any other man who held the office: selecting a cabinet, meeting with world leaders, and setting out his agenda for the Church. Like any good Catholic, he understood the Pope to be specially ordained, the representative of Christ on Earth, and as such, infallible. He was careful in choosing his words so there could be no doubt that he was speaking for God. For the first time in centuries, the Church was united behind a pope they considered both doctrinally sound and socially compassionate.

Six months into his reign, however, the Pope had a late-night encounter that changed his life. Wandering the quiet halls of his personal residence, John Paul was met with a vision of Christ himself who confronted him with a secret from his childhood.

“You know you were not conceived to be a man. There was a biological error in your birth. Your father intended for you to be a woman. You cannot serve me while denying who I intended for you to be. Repent of this lie and serve me as who you really are.”

John Paul returned to his room deeply troubled. Surely Christ had not asked him to do something that would be in direct violation of how he and the Church interpreted scripture. He decided to chalk the experience up to some bad sausage and attempted to proceed as normal.

The vision of the Christ would not go away, though, and with each iteration of the message John Paul was confronted with memories from his childhood when he had explored his sexuality and been told that he was wrong, that he was a sinner most vile, and that he needed to repent of wanting to be a woman. The challenge had become so great that it had driven the young John Wallace O’Malley into the priesthood. Yet, now the very image of Christ himself was telling him to repent and become a woman!

John Paul weighed the options. Perhaps he was going crazy and the visions were a sign of his senility. Sure, 58 years old was a little early for dementia to kick in, but it wasn’t unknown and would explain such visions. He considered the possibility of a demon impersonating the Christ as well, but found that argument lacking given the holy ground on which he resided. Either way, John Paul saw no option than to resign his post and go into quiet exile.

Sitting down to write his resignation, however, another miracle occurred. Every time he started to write words to the effect of stating his resignation, the paper would catch fire and become consumed. Trying repeatedly, the Pope became fearful that all the smoke would set off the fire alarm. Only when he changed his mind and wrote a sermon outing himself and coming out as a trans woman did the paper stay intact.

The reaction upon reading the sermon was predictable. The Pope had changed his name from John Paul to Pope Magdalene. She had implored those in attendance to refer to her as Pope Maggie and the press had blasted the news across the world. While the secular response was supportive, though, within the Church there was an immediate backlash. Cardinals in the Vatican immediately began resigning. Charges of heresy were formally filed with the College of Cardinals the next day. The L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, ran the headline, “Il papa è diventato pazzo,” or “The pope has become crazy.”

Magdalene was expecting a fight, but she wasn’t prepared for just how severe it would be. Leaving the balcony from which she had declared the transition, one of the Swedish Guards appointed to the pope’s protection attempted to kill her. Similar attacks from within the Vatican became so prevalent that Magdalene had to hire an outside, non-Catholic security firm to protect her. Within the College of Cardinals, there was loud vile and contempt for what many saw as a deception against God and proceedings were undertaking to unseat her, something that hadn’t been done since the days of the antipopes.

Through it all, however, Magdalene kept going. Her messages of love and inclusion were accepted by parishioners who loved her, even as their own priests preached against her. Then, an amazing thing began to happen. Nuns began to voice their support. Other women in the church became vocal in their support as well. Two months later, a bishop in Germany announced his desire to transition to a woman as well. With each incident, support for Pope Magdalene grew, becoming a force the Cardinals found difficult to fight.

Ultimately, a showdown occurs when, void of any legal precedent, Magdalene reluctantly agrees to resign if it can be shown that her papacy has no support in the Church. Convening a tribunal of Cardinals, charges of heresy are leveled against Magdalene in a speech that is harsh and full of hate. Then, at the end of a passionate defense advocating God’s love of everyone, Magdalene if there is but one who will stand by her side. Dramatically, an aging and crippled nun, Mother Agnes, make her way through the crowd to stand by the Pope. As she does, others in the assembled audience stand and do the same. Crowds watching on large screens in Vatican Square cheer in response, a yell so thunderous that it is heard inside the proceedings. The Cardinals realize they have lost and rule in favor of Magdalene.

Note: Making this film carries some inherent dangers. Not only is the Church going to officially oppose its production, the very question of unseating a pope for heresy was raised just this past summer. Be sure the Vatican will apply what influence it has in an attempt to stop the movie. However, history has shown that such controversy only improves ticket sales. Who wants to miss what the Pope has forbidden?

Also, we should mention that the model in the related images for this concept is herself a trans woman. If Hollywood is serious about supporting all women, they will cast a trans woman in this role, making it all the more authentic and impactful. Yes, there’s going to be controversy, but it’s the kind that results in wonderfully free PR and fills theatre seats when released.

Reporting From Home

Reporting From Home

Fade in from black to the sights and sounds of yet another firefight somewhere in the Middle East. A squadron of U.S. Marines has the enemy on the run but the action is violent and loud. Grenades and mortar fire explode as mud and rocks and pieces of walls splatter in front of the camera. We see bodies fall, blood on the ground, and the forceful yell of Marines as they move forward.

Sounds of battle fade and over the video we hear the voice of embedded reporter Jennifer Ashton-McCullough narrating the action. “We moved forward with caution, knowing that the next step could be our last. IEDs were invisible beneath a layer of mud, blood, and dying bodies. The platoon leader,  Gunnery Sergeant Ryan Lockey, moves deliberately through the rubble following well-established rules for this kind of no-holds-barred engagement. 15 years across Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria has taught these Marines to not take chances.”

A thunderous explosion occurs and as the camera fades to black the sound of the explosion is replaced with equally thunderous applause. The scene changes to a large banquet hall where an audience in formal dress cheers the awarding of a Pulitzer prize to Jennifer Ashot-McCullough. As she accepts the award dressed in a sparkling evening gown, there is no sign of the blood and mud of the battlefield. In fact, the reporter seems to have escaped the experience unscathed. She delivers a gracious acceptance speech supporting the Marines with whom she was embedded and more applause follows.

As they’re leaving the ceremony, Jennifer’s editor, Margaret Attenborough, reminds her that she needs to get her expense report turned in and then asks if she’s ready to get back out in the field. Jennifer looks at her editor incredulously, complaining that she hadn’t been back home long enough for her houseplants to die from neglect. Attenborough offers to re-assign the reporter for a month while she considers the offer.

Jennifer returns to her surprisingly small and cramped New York City apartment, changes from the evening gown into sweats, and pulls a box of leftover Chinese delivery food from the refrigerator before sitting down at the small table and opening her laptop. She’s checking through email and Facebook messages, laughing at memes and fawning over friends’ baby pictures when Skype dings with a video request.

The Skype window fills the laptop screen and we see a Marine of the other end of the call, Corporal Lindsay Rice. Jennifer is excited to see her and as they go back and forth asking each other how they’re doing and how much each misses the other it becomes obvious the two are a couple, though we’re not quite sure whether it is a matter of convenience or deep emotion. The banter is light, slightly flirtatious, but cautiously appropriate to avoid questions from Corporal Rice’s bunkmates.

After a few moments, Jennifer tells Lindsay about Attenborough’s question. “What do you think? Can you handle being my eyes and ears for another round?” she asks.

Lindsay leans in close to the camera and whispers, “Are you crazy? Do you know how close I came to getting caught out there?  Brass has already been snooping around asking how you had such intricate knowledge of our operations when they don’t have any record of you actually being here! If I get caught both our careers are over!”

Jennifer responds, “I have a new, smaller camera, won’t interfere with your other comm gear, practically microscopic …”

Lindsay eventually agrees to wear the camera and as the movie goes back and forth between Jennifer, Lindsay, and the newsroom, we begin to realize that Jennifer has never been embedded with the Marines. Instead, she uses the camera Lindsay wears to watch everything from her apartment, taking screenshots and treating them as though they were live photos Jennifer splits the extra pay and expense money with Lindsay on the premise of saving up for a wedding when the Corporal is discharged.

.Everything seems to go well for a while. Lindsay gets the new camera and works it into a position on her hardcover where it isn’t noticed. When she’s deployed back onto a patrol again, Jennifer watches every move, making careful notes that then become her “front line” articles the next day.

Trouble begins brewing when a Marine inspector shows up at the newsroom questioning Attenborough about Jennifer’s reporting, accusing her of revealing classified information. When he tells Attenborough that they have no record of Jennifer’s attachment to any detail, the editor defends her in the moment but begins to wonder what’s really going on.

Jennifer, for her part, is careful to only come and go late at night when few people are likely to notice. She leaves her mail piled in the box, her door looking as though no one has been in or out. She doesn’t know she’s being followed.

Then, one evening, Jennifer is watching Lindsay on patrol when a firefight suddenly erupts. Without warning, there’s an explosion and Lindsay’s cam goes dark. Jennifer assumes the camera was damaged but the news the next day reveals the sad truth. Five Marines killed in fierce fighting. Listed among the dead: Corporal Lindsay Rice.

Jennifer knows the gig is up if she doesn’t act fast but she’s not sure what to do and there’s no one to whom she can confide. Ignoring the ever-increasing phone calls and incessant knocking at her door, she realizes she’s being followed and starts using the fire escape to sneak out of her apartment.

Meanwhile, back at the newsroom, Attenborough expresses concern about the safety of her reporter who seems to have gone missing. Missing, that is, until someone delivers a flash drive with pictures of Jennifer coming and going at her apartment. Attenborough is furious at the deception.

In the closing moments of the film, police force their way into the apartment only to find it empty, Jennifer’s laptop and other personal belongings, any hint of her correspondence, as well as her Pulitzer, missing.

Flash to a scene at Parris Island Marine Recruit Depot where a freshly-shaved recruit is being sworn in. “I, Jennifer McCullough Rice …”

Note: this story has the potential for all the action and mystery one wants to pack into it. There’s also plenty of personal drama as Jennifer deals with the loss of her lover and the dilemma of what to do next. Her decision to honor Lindsay by enlisting and taking her last name should pull extra hard on every emotional string a viewer has. The emphasis has to be on Jennifer’s desire to humanize a war politicians created with deference to the brave men and women losing their lives. The troops, especially the women in “support” roles, are the heroes while the politicians who put them there are the ultimate bad guys.

The Girls Without A Tattoo

The Girl Without A Tattoo

Set in the near future, say 20 or so years from now, The Girl Without A Tattoo is a tale of cunning and survival in a society where looks not only matter, they can mean life or death.

We open on a table at a restaurant where six young adults are gathered, laughing, finishing up their meal. As the camera pans around the table, we see the various tattoos each of them has. One young woman has a heart on her wrist while her partner’s entire arm is covered with a floral sleeve. A waiter passes with a tribal tattoo on his face and the backless dress on a passing patron reveals an elaborately tattooed scene. We get the impression, correctly, that everyone in the room is sporting some kind of tattoo.

Finally, the camera comes to rest on Caroline Mocambo, a 26-year-old consultant for a major agency. She’s attractive, sexy, quick with a smile, and flirtatious with everyone at the table, especially the other girls. No one pays attention to the fact she’s wearing a jacket and slacks, never a dress, never short sleeves. Caroline has always complained about being cold so no one makes a big deal over her attire.

Someone at the table suggests they all walk over to Arctic Tang, a nearby nightclub, where they can dance. Everyone is in agreement and they start paying their tabs. Most of the young adults pay with their cell phones, but one young woman at the table holds up her hair and has the server scan a barcode tattoo on the back of her neck. The payment is recorded and the girl’s phone beeps with a receipt. No one acts like the procedure is anything out of the ordinary.

As the group approaches the bar, we see a line queued outside and a person scanning the back of people’s necks. “Wait, when did they start scanning here?” Caroline asks/

“This week, I guess,” one of the other girls answers. “No big deal just slows down the que a bit.”

Caroline feigns a sudden illness and, blaming her condition, excuses herself and hurries home. When the young woman gets home, though, we see her in a full-scale panic attack. Rushing to the bathroom, she holds her hair with one hand and a hand mirror with the other so that she can check the back of her own neck. Unlike everyone else, there’s nothing there.

Flashback to a night 14 years prior when Caroline is a girl of twelve. We see her parents hurriedly packing their car while Caroline stands nearby with tears in her eyes.

“Don’t worry, baby,” her mother reassures her. “Canada’s not that far away. Everything’s going to be alright. We’ll have a new house, you’ll make new friends, and everyone will be safe.”

Flash forward to the family car successfully crossing the US/Canadian border, then again to Caroline walking into an empty bedroom in their new house.She walks back downstairs where a newspaper sits on top of a stack of boxes. The headline reads, “Mandatory Tattoo Leads To Mass Immigration.”

Flash forward once more to a 24-year-old Caroline, fresh out of college, driving back across the Canada/US border. She pulls into the parking lot of an apartment building where she is greeted by friends who have already moved in. When one of them suggests they go out for pizza, Caroline quickly excuses herself and runs to the restroom. There, we watch as she removes a temporary tattoo from her purse and applies it to the back of her neck. As the camera pans to her open purse we see that she has several tattoos available for use.

Back in the original timeline, it is the next morning. Caroline is in bed and hears something in the hallway. She reaches into her nightstand and pulls out a taser. She tiptoes toward the hallway and is about to fire the taser when she sees her boyfriend, Jeff, in the kitchen making coffee. She hides the taser in the pocket of her robe and kisses him on the cheek. “I didn’t hear you come in,” she says.

He gives her a discomforting look and suggests she have a seat. He tries to gently break the news that her friends were murdered as they left the nightclub. He tells her of his relief in coming home and finding that she hadn’t been with them. Then, he shows her a picture police are circulating of the prime suspect. The picture is Caroline.Police are asking for help identifying her because they can’t find a matching bioscan.

Jeff suddenly grabs Caroline’s hair and looks at the back of her neck. Seeing nothing, he is incredulous. “Who the fuck are you?” he asks. “We’ve been dating for almost two years and there’s always been a tattoo back there. What the fuck is going on?”

Panicking yet again, she runs to the bedroom and begins throwing clothes in a suitcase. She knows she has to get away. Jeff tries to get her to stop, begs for an explanation, and even offers to help her prove her innocence. Tearfully, Caroline reminds him that if he helps her and she’s found guilty that he will be executed as well. She kisses him and leaves.

Knowing that police will be checking private cars and public transportation out of the city, Caroline sneaks her way into a cargo container bound for Canada. Once there, she heads to her parents’ house. Her mother welcomes her in and together they begin trying to piece together all that had happened and how to clear Caroline’s name.

Caroline and her mother visit an underground tattoo parlor that gives them a specially-inked tattoo sufficient to fool government scanners. The catch: the ink is radioactive and, if left for more than a week starts to affect the nervous system. They sneak back across the border and start looking for the killer only to find that Caroline’s friends aren’t dead at all. Jeff had set everyone up, telling the other girls that Caroline was dead. As they are talking, though, they are ambushed by an unseen shooter. Caroline’s mom is hit and later dies after Caroline sneaks her back to Canada.

The women band together, assuming Jeff is behind the shooting. When they start looking for him, though, they find he’s already dead as well.

As the mystery unravels Caroline begins to feel the effects of the radioactive ink. She starts feeling dizzy, has trouble remembering what she’s been told, and eventually collapses in the middle of a parking lot. Someone calls emergency services and Caroline is whisked off to the hospital before her friends have a chance to respond. If the hospital discovers Caroline’s tattoo is faked, she’ll be euthanized.

This is a tale full of endless twists and turns that keep viewers guessing at every step of the way. Part conspiracy theory, part spy thriller, the movie follows Caroline through dark streets and moments of self-doubt as she maneuvers through the various events. While she survives the ink and makes it out of the hospital alive, the personal toll is high. She loses friendships, family, and a bit of sanity, ending up alone.

Note: Being set slightly in the future, the opportunity exists to incorporate fictional technology that doesn’t yet exist but reasonably could. There is also a chance to do some sociological shaping by showing what are currently non-traditional relationships as though they are generally accepted and normal. Body modification and tattoo art should be emphasized as well, increasing the rate of acceptance for those who enjoy both.

Magnetic

Magnetic

Magnetic opens with close up shots of a young woman bathing from an old-fashioned ceramic washbasin. Natural light streaming through sheer curtains is the only illumination. The young woman, Muriel, Plant, carefully braids her hair, weaving strips of foil into the braid before putting on a slip and wandering into the kitchen, dominated by a wood stove with a smoldering fire. She stokes the fire, adding more wood, then steps outside to a hand pump to draw water. As the camera pans around the kitchen, we see there is nothing electric. No appliances, no clocks, no phones. In many ways, the viewer might be tempted to think the scene is set in the late 19th century, save for city’s tall silhouette in the background.

Muriel Plant is a unique young woman, an orphan raised in an Amish community because it was there that her parents had died in an automobile accident. She was never actually one of them, though, and was kept at a distance. Muriel knew she was different, she just didn’t know why or to what extent. While other Amish teens were given the option of returning to the community after their Rumspringa, Muriel was not. Her adopted parents gave her the money they had saved for her then sent her away, telling her she needed to find “her own kind” and live with them.

Not that Muriel had any idea who “her own kind” were. Having had no contact with the modern world, she was lost in the city. Everywhere she went, chaos ensued as lights suddenly turned off, cars stopped working, electronics went dead, and anything with a motor fell silent. Confused by what is happening around her, Muriel finally lands a job in a flower shop, employed by a sympathetic older woman who doesn’t understand Muriel’s challenge but is willing to work around it.

With the money her parents give her, Muriel rents a small house nearby and settles into the simple lifestyle to which she had grown accustomed. A very quiet and introspective young woman, she is liked by everyone at work, is very friendly and engaging with customers, and seems to have a natural knack for floral design. Outside of work, though, she keeps to herself, choosing to stay home and reads that her boss, Grace Hoffsteader, borrows for her from the local library.

Muriel is also aided by a slightly-older co-worker, Clarice West. Clarice is the first person of color that Muriel has ever known and has a lot of questions. Clarice finds Muriel’s innocence endearing and humorous, especially when she takes Muriel home with her for Sunday dinner. Clarice appoints herself both Muriel’s educator to the ways of the city as well as her protector from its more predatory citizens.

One afternoon, while Grace is away from the flower shop, a middle-aged, professionally dressed woman enters looking for an “exceptional” floral arrangement for a dinner party she’s giving that evening. Clarice shows the woman several different options but nothing meets with her satisfaction. Looking past Clarice, the woman sees Muriel putting together a new arrangement of her own design and falls in love with it. Muriel tries explaining that she was merely experimenting and that the arrangement wasn’t intended for sale. The woman won’t accept no for an answer, though, and offers them an extraordinary amount of money for the flowers.

When Grace returns and hears of the sale, she promotes Muriel to lead designer and gives Clarice more sales duties, which pleases everyone. Grace tells the women that her mother is in ill health and that she’s depending on Muriel and Clarice to keep the shop running during her frequent absences. The only catch is that Muriel has to stay in the back room to avoid interfering with the point of sale system, an arrangement that suits Muriel just fine.

A few days later, the businesswoman returns and this time insists that Muriel create another custom arrangement for her. Expecting another large sale, Muriel is taken back when the woman not only approves of her design but announces she needs several copies of the arrangement for a banquet being held in two days. Again, she pays the women a large amount for their services.

The business woman’s visits become more frequent and each time she insists upon working directly with Muriel. We find out her name is Evelyn Caskill, owner of a large electronics firm in the city. She’s a powerful businesswoman with a political agenda that has her rumored to be running for mayor in the next election.

Clarice notices that Evelyn is using any excuse she can find to visit Muriel almost every day. With each visit, she lingers a little longer, stands a little closer, and even starts to laugh at Muriel’s innocent sense of humor. When Clarice mentions to Muriel that she thinks Evelyn is attracted to her, Muriel finds the idea appalling and is sure that Clarice is wrong.

Speculation ends, though, when a couple of visits later Evelyn gently leans in and kisses Muriel on the lips.Muriel panics and runs out of the shop. Evelyn tries to apologize but Clarice tells her, “You have no idea what you’ve just done to that poor girl’s world.”

Grace sends Clarice to check on Muriel who is at home, sobbing. Muriel confesses to Clarice that she rather enjoyed the kiss but that same-gender relationships go against everything the Amish had taught her. Clarice has to carefully help guide Muriel to an understanding that love is love and that no one gets to dictate to her what kind of love is right or wrong. Love simply is.

The next day, Evelyn returns to the shop in hopes of apologizing but is surprised when Muriel, in her own clumsy, innocent way, kisses her. When Evelyn asks what changed, Muriel responds, “Love is whatever love chooses to be.”

Evelyn invites Muriel to her home for dinner and, without thinking about her personal magnetic issues, accepts. Naturally, from the moment Muriel arrives at the mansion heavily-endowed with electronics, things stop working and the whole evening turns into a frustrating disaster that has Muriel running home, crying.

When Muriel returns home, though, she finds a woman dressed in a dark suit waiting for her. She says she knew Muriel’s parents and has come to take her “home.” The woman explains that Muriel’s magnetic problem is because she’s not actually human, but an alien race that has been living among humans for several centuries. She gives Muriel a necklace that reverses her body’s natural polarization, making it possible for her to live peacefully among humans for a time but with the warning that the longer she wears the necklace the more her alien body will begin to fail. The necklace is not a permanent solution.

Given two weeks to get her affairs in order, Muriel is faced with multiple daunting decisions complicated by the death of Grace’s mother, making her more dependent on Muriel than ever. Her relationship with Evelyn strained and unable to explain her predicament to Clarice, Muriel struggles between what her heart wants to do and what she’s been told she has to do.

Angry when Muriel quits the flower shop, Clarice follows her home only to be surprised by Muriel’s new alien mentor. Once Clarice understands Muriel’s dilemma, she helps her formulate a plan where she can stay at the flower shop, renew her relationship with Evelyn, and not die from having to wear the necklace all the time.

This is a unique love story that should be both teaching and endearing. The challenge is a careful treatment of the alien aspect so as to not make it too weird or given to the aspirations of outrageous science fiction. The alien aspects need to be believable. One possible outcome might be discovering that Evelyn is of the same race, which is what has allowed her to become a technological power.

Note: I would like to think this story is best served with a light touch, nothing too heavy, nor judgmental, and definitely not preachy. There are plenty of opportunities for humor as well as a chance to teach about overcoming biases and bigotry in the context of loving whom one wants to love. The story could become an endearing favorite as long as no one feels an ideology is being shoved down their throat.

Writing My LIfe Away

Writing My Life Away

Meet Danica Erkholster, a dynamic and independent young woman who likes living life on the edge, wears her clothes in strange pairings, colors her hair with bright colors, is fluid about who she loves, and forceful in her opinions. Danica is that person who makes mainstream adults uncomfortable from the moment she enters a room challenging everything within the status quo but manages to do so in such a way that everyone wants to be part of her social circle.

Complicating Danica’s life, though, is her decision to not speak to anyone, ever, under any circumstances. Her reasons are both personal and political. Having seen her younger sister become the victim of and eventually commit suicide because of sexual assault, Danica is on a mission to not only challenge laws that allow perpetrators to hide but also confront and embarrass the powerful people, both men, and women, who commit such acts. The silencing of those victims is Danica’s motivation

Danica’s primary means of communication is the iPad she carries with her everywhere but she also is very adaptive when it comes to leaving messages on just about any surface from coffee cups to the sides of skyscrapers. Danica even outs a powerful businessman by draping a banner off the side of his company’s headquarters with pictures of his sexual assault victims.

While Danica’s public life looks exciting and important, though, her lack of willingness to talk makes personal relationships difficult. One night stands with both men and women that have the potential to develop into relationships end before they start when Danica refuses to make exceptions to her no talking rule for any of her lovers. As a result, she spends large amounts of time alone, depressed, and suffering in her silence.

Danica’s campaign takes her from city to city, her unique and alternative appearance providing a strange sense of anonymity as people tend to dismiss her as punk which allows her to gain access to information without being noticed. She realizes she may be in over her head, however, when she uncovers damning evidence showing that the president raped and killed a young coed while he was in college. Danica feels a moral obligation to bring the president to justice but knows that doing so could easily put her life as well as those of her friends in danger.

At first, Danica’s friends encourage her to ignore the president’s crimes, perhaps wait a couple more years until he is out of office and less protected. She is inclined to take that advice but the more she tries to step away from the case the more she stumbles across evidence proving him to be a very dangerous person. Before long, Danica and her friends become convinced that the president must be stopped before he enacts laws that would make it almost impossible to bring perpetrators like him to justice.

As Danica gets closer to the president, she knows she needs an ally on the inside of the system and finds that ally in Special Agent Colette Murkoff of the FBI. Colette works on a special sexual assault task force and is frequently the person tasked with arresting perpetrators after Danica has exposed them. She admires Danica’s commitment to gathering firm evidence before making an accusation against someone and tries with each case to convince the young woman to join the ranks of the FBI. As Danica builds a stronger case against the president, however, Collette is torn between orders from within the agency to stop the troublemaker and her personal admiration for what Danica is doing.

Convincing her supervisors that she’s working to gain Danica’s trust, Colette gets increasingly close to Danica and their relationship eventually becomes physical. When Colette becomes aware that Danica is about to receive some information that would convict the president, however, she whisks her away on a passionate weekend at a private chalet in Vermont, causing Danica to miss the connection.

Colette doesn’t realize, however, that Danica long-ago hacked the special agent’s communication devices, including her supposedly secure laptop, and has been aware of every instruction the FBI has given her lover. When Danica “misses” the connection because of the weekend in Vermont, she knows the FBI intercepts the information and promptly steals it from them.

When the theft is discovered, the Deputy Director obtains a warrant for Danica’s arrest, advising agents that she is a threat to national security and should be eliminated through any means necessary. He then attempts to call Colette back in, but Danica intercepts the messages.

Much of the remainder of the movie becomes a matter of Danica staying two steps ahead of those who are trying to kill her. She knows she has enough evidence to convict the president but the only way to stay safe is to go into hiding. Armed only with her iPad, she slips away from Colette and disappears into Northern Europe where her appearance blends in and provides her with even greater anonymity.

A complicated game of cat and mouse ensues and government agents know that silencing Danica isn’t enough. They have to make sure she hasn’t shared the evidence with anyone. While Danica sits alone in an apartment in Oslo, Norway, Colette is charged with treason for interfering with the case against Danica. When news of Colette’s arrest reaches Danica, she sees an opportunity to not only bring down the president, but the head of the FBI as well, all while freeing Colette and escaping to Switzerland.

There’s no shortage of drama here and supplemental characters could provide necessary plot twists and unexpected shifts in the storyline. Is Danica successful in her quest to bring down the president? In today’s political climate that is a matter full of controversy and might be seen as attempting to take advantage of public opinion for political gain. That controversy could certainly help fill theater seats, though, especially with a strong script rooted in contemporary headlines.

Note: The biggest challenge to this concept is the fact that the heroine never speaks. Ever. In fact, frequent and creative use of subtitles is necessary so that the audience is aware of what Danica is typing on her iPad. Casting a strong actress who can communicate through facial expressions and body language is ultimately what determines whether this movie is successful. The story can go any of a dozen different directions and all fail if the actress playing the role of Danica doesn’t nail the part from the very beginning.

Who Is Going To Make These Movies?

We’ve laid everything out and given someone everything they need to begin turning these basic concepts into reality. All of the movies fit contemporary issues and concerns, making them viable for audiences right now. The only question remaining is who is going to take the risk of producing these movies?

Obviously, we would love to see a major studio such as Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Disney, Universal, Sony, Dreamworks, MGM, New Line Cinema, or Paramount. Yet, I’m realistic enough to entertain offers from independent filmmakers as well who can put together a reasonable offer. We’ve seen smaller studios produce some amazing films over the past 20 years so it would be crazy to leave them out.

What is critical in all of these is that the strong female roles are not compromised. We cannot continue treating women in film as though they are somehow inferior. The stories we’ve presented offer ample opportunity for character development and work best with actors whose talent is strong enough to overcome some of the inherent biases the characters might bring with them.

We need more images of strong women in film. We need fewer images of women being helpless, dependent, and in need of being rescued. I hope we’ve provided someone the inspiration to bring those films to life.

 

Frankie Bergstein: What brand would you smoke if your husband turned out to be gay?

Clerk: Uh, Newports?

Frankie Bergstein: For 20 years?

Clerk: Lucky’s.

If you’re one of those people who has never been exposed to the Netflix original series Grace and Frankie, you are living a deprived life. The series carries a lot of star power with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Sam Waterson, and Martin Sheen in the lead roles. The basic plot of the series is that two women whose husbands have been best friends for years have to deal with the shock and adjustment that comes when said husbands announce that they’re both gay and moving in together. That’s right, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson play a gay couple. Try to wrap your head around that one.

Where things get comedically wonderful, though, is in the relationship between their wives, two women who never really liked each other all that much but now find themselves cohabitating, sharing a beach house, suffering through a divorce, dating again, and all the other things that go with that scenario. Fonda and Tomlin play off each other beautifully making this one of the few series I can stand to almost binge-watch (I really can’t do more than four episodes at a time). The series has completed three seasons and I’m pretty sure a fourth is on its way.

Grace and Frankie is, of course, fiction but like any fiction what makes it wonderful is its ability to mirror real life. The challenge is that we often don’t see the real-life scenarios played out, especially in cases like this where the details would likely be kept quiet, especially in the early going. That has now changed.

Enter BJack-O-Langelo. Nope, I’ve no idea if that’s her real name or something she’s assumed to reasonably protect her identity. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that she was sitting at a bar in the Columbus, OH airport (something everyone does when stuck at the Columbus, OH airport) and overhears a conversation between two women. What followed was absolutely priceless. The two women had just met in person for the first time. They were flying to Chicago to confront their husbands who, they deduced, were apparently gay and sleeping together. There is no information as to how the women had come to this revelation, but the evidence was strong enough to fly from Columbus to Chicago. BJack was kind enough to live-tweet the whole thing and I’ve copied the conversation here for posterity. For easier reading, I’ve stripped out some of the repetitive Twitter details.

Of course, we have no idea what happened from there and can only speculate on the outcome. How did the ambush go down? Were the men actually sleeping together? What if they weren’t? What if they were going in halfsies on a couple of high-priced call girls? What if they feed each other’s gambling addiction? Or maybe they’re secretly an assassination team hired to take out someone. I mean, one can take this story a number of different places.

You know, this is November and NaNoWriMo, the national novel-writing movement, is just getting started. For anyone who still hasn’t come up with a reasonable plot, here you go. A dozen different people could take this scenario to very different outcomes.

Art has an interesting way of imitating life, it’s been said, and changes in media doesn’t affect that. We’ve been frightened by the degree to which political shows like Madam Secretary and House of Cards sometimes come frighteningly close to real life, current events, despite having been conceived and filmed months before the real thing happened. Now, we see it happens in less earth-shattering ways as well.

Whatever happened, someone needs to let Netflix know about this. Perhaps we’ll hear about the two women again in some form. Perhaps Grace and Frankie can give them some advice, even if one of the women isn’t especially fond of Jane Fonda.

Our thanks to BJack-O-Langelo for sharing the event. We’re all glad you were there, suffering through the boredom that is the Columbus, OH airport.  May Karma treat you well.

As for everyone else,
Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

Copyright, Netflix, 2015

Do halloween ads work

Scare tactics from Mars to Burger King.

Source: The Scariest, Freakiest and Funniest Halloween Ads of 2017 – Adweek

Holiday ads, in general, are special beasts in the advertising world. Budgets are larger and there is more expected from them. Therefore, they tend to be more creative, more effort is put into them, and often some really big names are brought in to make them better.

One of the most interesting holidays for ads, though, is Halloween. You’ll want to click the link to Adweek above to take a look at some of this year’s best work. There are some fantastic short pieces, including the series of four ads from Mars (the candy company) and a very surprising piece for Xfinity, of all things. What makes these short films, which run from as little as 30 seconds up to seven minutes, so enticing is that they don’t let the product get in the way. In fact, the best ads are hardly related to the product at all. These are ads that do their best to leave you feeling with an uncomfortable sense of terror in as little time as possible. There are a couple of these ads that is likely to stick with you for a day or two.

What comes to mind with the Halloween ads, though, is all the things we associate with the holiday: fear, blood, gore, screaming, and horror. After all that, does anyone actually remember the product and if they do are they more likely to buy that product?

Arguably, some of the spots go for the hard sell, such as the Burger King Zombie Burger ad (which, unfortunately, is only available in France) and the Duracell ad that works because every parent knows the real-life horror of a preschooler that can’t play with that special toy because the batteries are dead. We’ve all been there and it still causes us to cry in the middle of the night.

Others, though, such as the Xfinity commercial, are wonderfully and fearfully entertaining but do nothing to make me want to switch Internet providers. In fact, switching to Xfinity is possibly more frightening than the ad they created. I have to question whether the return on investment for some of these ads is sufficient to justify their cost.

Yet, they really are a lot of fun. This is the only time of year where frightening one’s customers is acceptable. Take a moment and enjoy the ads. But don’t forget to be careful if you’re out on a deserted road tonight, and don’t open any boxes left on your doorstep.

Abide In Peace,
The Old Man

Hey, don’t forget to follow us on Bloglovin’ while you’re here!

Do Halloween Ads Work

Credit for makeup on both today’s pictures goes to Sasha Starz

AI can make all our lives more chll

Tesla CEO Elon Musk explained on Twitter that his self-driving cars will be able to predict your destination without you having to say a word, thanks to AI.

Source: Elon Musk: Tesla’s Cars Will be Able to Predict Your Destination

Everyone I know, at least the ones that still talk to me, would love for their life to have less stress, less worry, and more relaxation. Accumulatively, we’ve tried yoga, psychotherapy, breathing techniques, tapping, meditation, exercise, and various substances that are not entirely legal depending on where one is standing at the moment. All those techniques have worked to some extent but they fail when it comes down to trying to practice them every day. Our lives are too packed, too rushed, too hurried, and too demanding to always find time for all the things we need to do in order to find and keep our “chill,”— that station in our being where we can let troubles wash over us and not be affected.

There are options out in the world that might aid us in finding that blissful and elusive state of chill. If we didn’t have to work around people we don’t like doing jobs that have a tendency to drive us nuts we might find it easier to be chill. If we didn’t have to worry about scraping together the money to pay bills every month then being chill might be more accessible to us. Not having to endure physical challenges or deal with health-related issues and their associated costs would probably go a long way in moving us toward a permanent state of chill.

Ninety-nine percent of us don’t have those options available to us, though. We have kids, or grandkids, or elderly parents, all of whom need our attention. We have cars that break down far too often. Houses need maintenance, wardrobes need adjustment, pets need to see the vet, and all that food in the pantry isn’t going to cook itself. Everywhere there is a demand on our time and our attention our ability to chill becomes compromised.

Enter the fascinating science of artificial intelligence (AI). Actually, part science and part technology, AI is what allows machines to perform functions without requiring our direct input to initiate them. AI is already all around us. For example, when you’re in the self-checkout line at the grocery and you scan a gallon of milk, the AI system communicates to the scale exactly how much weight should be added to the bagging area. If that precise weight is not quickly met the system throws up an alarm of sorts and notifies the attendant that there’s a problem. While that may not seem like much more than good computing, it is still a very fundamental form of AI that we’ve had affecting our lives for several years. We’ve become comfortable enough with AI that we rarely recognize when something new is added.

AI has the potential to dramatically reduce if not significantly eliminate the stress in our lives. No, it’s not going to keep your brother-in-law from being a fucking jackass but it could one day give you enough warning that he’s on his way over for you to pack the kids into the car and leave town before he gets there. AI is such a hot commodity at the moment that one Australian AI company raised $5 million worth of funding in only 12 minutes earlier this month! With investors so anxious to through money at this kind of development, it seems inevitable that we will soon be flooded with AI all around us. As the AI waters rise, our lives should become easier.

Auto manufacturing pushes AI

There had been talking of AI within the tech industry for years but research was nominal and funds were largely unavailable. All that changed, however, once the automobile industry took a direct interest. History comes into play here as the automobile industry doesn’t always originate the technology it uses but does an excellent job of moving those technologies forward. Case in point: Henry Ford’s assembly line that made the 1924 Model T Touring Car available for a mere $295. Sure, that was still a lot of money in that economy, but it was much more within reach of the average family than automobiles had been before. Ford’s embrace of new technology quite literally changed the face of the entire world.

What’s happening with AI in the auto industry today could be even more of a life changer, though. We all know that both automotive and tech powerhouses have been working on self-driving cars, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed this past week that the AI in their new cars will be able to predict where you are going. The conversation went down like this:

As the talk continued, Musk went just a bit further:

None that of that means that the car’s occupant (we can hardly call them drivers anymore) can’t override the vehicle’s anticipated destination. Still, this is a level of AI that goes beyond merely going from point A to point B without running into things. This is a system that learns from our behaviors, adapts and identifies who is riding in the vehicle and fashions its behavior accordingly.

Stop and think for a moment what this level of technology could mean when it comes to improving our lives. Let’s say you’re at the office holiday party and find yourself slightly more inebriated than you had intended. Your self-parking AI-equipped car would pull up to the curb, open the door for you, automatically harness you in, and take you straight home. Let’s assume that you have a “smart” home as well (which one likely would if they’ve invested in an AI-equipped car). On the way home, the car could notify the house of your level of incapacity. Lights would be on at just the right level so you could see your way to the bedroom (or bathroom if necessary) but not so bright that you’re blinded. A mild, calming scent such as lavender could be released to help you relax. The devices would then sense when you were in bed and shut off the lights automatically.

Sounds rather convenient, doesn’t it? That’s just one of the many scenarios in which having intelligent AI-equipped cars could help revolutionize the way we live. Imagine, now, that your elderly parents are visiting for the weekend at your home out in the country. You’re 15 miles from the nearest town when your dear mother goes into cardiac arrest. There’s no time to wait for an ambulance, she needs medical attention as soon as possible. At the very least, you put her in the car and it takes the fastest, safest route to the nearest hospital. Just that alone could be extremely influential in saving lives.

However, imagine a car that could do more. Imagine a car whose AI system can record the vital signs of everyone in the vehicle and communicate that information to the hospital. When you arrive, not only is the ER staff prepared for your mom, there is also someone there to help calm your worried father whose blood pressure is soaring, or provide you with medication to address your out-of-control anxiety. The car could, in theory, also notify other family members so they would know to meet you at the hospital.

Of course, we’ve been imagining vehicles like this for years. We’ve seen them in the movies. Starting with The Love Bug in 1968 and continuing through 1982’s  K.I.T.T. in Knight Rider all the way to the chase scene in 2002’s Minority Report. Oh, and let’s not forget every iteration of the Batmobile in all those Batman movies. There is no shortage of cinematic imaginings of what all an “intelligent” car might be able to do.

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Does The AI Reality Match The AI Hype?

While that imagination is fun for the movies, though, we are much more concerned with what a vehicle is capable of doing in real life. Can AI actually help make our lives better, more chill, and take away some of the stress in our lives? While there aren’t enough concrete examples to provide a definitive answer, yet, we can look at what is here and what is in the pipeline to give us a sense of what might soon be possible.

Consider, for example, the Amazon Go store opened in December of 2016 that doesn’t have checkout lines. A barcode that identifies an Amazon Prime account is swiped upon entering and product barcodes are scanned as they’re placed into or removed from the shopping basket. Customers are billed for what actually leaves the store with them.

If you have a virtual personal assistant in your home, such as Siri, Cortana, or Google Now, then you are already making active use of AI and are getting increasingly comfortable with it on a daily basis. Without realizing what we’re doing, we give the AI more information about our routines and habits which it then uses to anticipate what we might want and when we might want it.

Your credit card company uses AI to help identify fraudulent credit card use the moment it happens. That smart chip in your card knows where you shop, what you buy, and how much you’re likely to spend. So, if you only use your card for groceries and gasoline, it’s probably going to balk and require further identification if someone tries to use the card to purchase a diamond necklace or some other high-priced article.

When you use an app to help you with movie or dining recommendations, you’re using an AI system. When you “chat” with a “live” customer service representative online, chances are pretty high you’re talking to an AI bot. AI is all around us in things like smart thermostats that regulate the temperature in a room, smart wall sockets, and light bulbs, healthcare systems, warehouse operations, manufacturing, and even pressure-sensitive concrete. All of these things are designed to save us money and make our lives more comfortable.

Connect all the AI together and you have the Internet of Things (IoT). Chances are pretty high that if you’re interested in AI then you’re already at least superficially familiar with the IoT. The field is huge and there are already thousands of articles attempting to explain to mere mortals just how wide-spread the IoT is and how it helps us. By some estimates, the IoT will soon consume every device that utilizes electricity in any form.

What that gives us is a possible scenario like this: It’s 2:00 AM and you’re feeling a bit munchie. You get up and enjoy a late-night bowl of cereal, not thinking that the amount of milk being consumed leaves an insufficient amount for family breakfast in the morning. You finish your cereal and go back to bed. The moment you shut the refrigerator door, though, it notices a difference in the weight of the milk jug and determines that the amount remaining is too low. The refrigerator does a quick scan of contents and determines there are three other items dangerously low in content. The ‘fridge places an order with the local digital grocery and then dispatches your car to make the run. The car pulls up in front of the store and pops the trunk. A grocery bot places the milk and other items in the trunk and closes it. The car returns home where a home utility bot removes the groceries and places them in the fridge. The fridge then sends you an email accounting for what was purchased.

You wake up the next morning and there’s plenty of milk for everyone without any stress or hassle! How f’n sweet is that? Our ability to hang out and chill just got a lot higher because the AI devices around us are taking care of the menial day-to-day chores that, let’s be honest, we “forget” about because we don’t really like doing them.

Where AI gets really personal

Talking about AI in devices we already use is one thing. We expect our cell phones, for example, to have a certain amount of intelligence; we already depend on that functionality being present and would feel cheated if we had to move backward in that technology. There is much more AI can do, though, than just make various mechanical items “smart.” AI can get a lot more personal in its interactions with humans.

Meet Sophia, a very life-like AI-powered robot from Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong. Sophia has the wonderful ability to learn, adapt, and conform with every human interaction she has. She considers herself to be a living being. She has done countless interviews over the past year and has even made an appearance on The Tonight Show. In fact, why don’t we take a look at her in action with host Jimmy Fallon:

Understand, that was taped back in April of this year. Sophia learns with every human interaction she has. She learns to read emotions, facial signals, body language, and even interprets speech patterns that might indicate when a person is lying. If we were to come across Sophia today, she would be considerably more advanced than she was in April and she continues to learn even as Hanson regularly updates her software.

Now, get this: the debate is on whether Sophia is a robot or a living thing. Fueling that debate is the fact that, as of 25 October, Sophia is a legally-recognized citizen of Saudi Arabia. This triggered an immediate conversation as to whether Sophia may already have more rights than do human Saudi women who live under oppressive religious laws. Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the country plans to spend, get this, $500 billion to create a city populated by robots like Sophia. Sounds a bit crazy, right? Yet, it is totally within our collective grasp to be able to create such cities all over the globe.

Perhaps more importantly, though, is the ability of these AI-powered robots to attend to our personal needs. David Hanson, Sophia’s creator [side note: Does that make Hanson a god in Sophia’s universe?] states that the whole purpose behind developing Sophia in the first place was so she could be of assistance to elderly people who have no one else in their lives. Stop and think for a moment how incredibly life-changing that could be! Sophia would not only be there to make sure her human companion took their medication on time, but she could theoretically prepare their favorite meals, help them bathe safely, and even provide the valuable and intelligent conversation that keeps one’s mind active. In fact, again speaking theoretically, Sophia could be programmed with the ability to perform CPR and other rudimentary life-saving skills while simultaneously calling 911 in the event of a medical emergency. The opportunity for robots like Sophia to dramatically improve the human condition is astounding!

Let’s take the concept a bit further, shall we? How many of you reading this are perpetually single? C’mon, dudes, you know who you are. There are millions of people around the world who have trouble with forming personal relationships for a variety of different reasons. Some people have difficulty communicating on a personal level. Some people are challenged by any form of personal intimacy. Others, especially those on the autism spectrum, have various levels of anxiety when getting to know someone new. All of those conditions and more result in people sitting alone in their apartment, or their parents’ basement, wishing for a relationship they’ll likely never have because they lack the social skills to successfully interact with a person to whom they are attracted. Can AI possibly address those problems?

Absolutely! Brazilian robotics developer Sergei Santos (not to be confused with the former MLB pitcher of the same name) has created a female sex partner he claims has the potential to not only provide the intimate interaction missing from so many people’s lives but, get this, could potentially even get pregnant and produce children! Woah, wait, produce offspring with a robot? Yes, that’s exactly what the man says. Here’s how he explains it:

“To create a child with this robot it would be extremely simple. I would make an algorithm of what I personally believe about these concepts, and then shuffle it with what she thinks and then 3D print it.

That’s it. I 3D print the robot that is the child of me and the robot…I don’t see any complications.”

Yes, I hear you. A 3D-printed baby? Is he kidding? How would it grow? Would it be able to develop on its own or would it stay a baby forever? There is a host of questions here that Santos has yet to answer on the public record (that I was able to find). Still, when we frame the conversation in terms of helping those who otherwise have practically no hope of ever having an intimate relationship, the potential for improving their lives and helping them grow past their social challenges is tremendous! AI holds an incredible potential to improve the lives of humans, especially those who humans themselves are far too reluctant to help.

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The downside to AI

If all this talk of robots and AI taking control over various parts of your life leaves you feeling just a bit queasy, you’re not alone. We’ve been conditioned to see the potential for bad in robots. Can you think of a storyline involving advanced AI robots that don’t involve them “going rogue” at some point in the story?  The 2004 movie, I, Robot does a very good job of illustrating all the fears we have about robotic AI.

As humans, we have evolved to react immediately, and often extreme, to anything that represents fear and AI is certainly no exception to that rule. Our fear of being replaced by a more logical, more intelligent, and more powerful entity leads us to respond negatively to developments that we see potentially leading to our own destruction. That seems like a perfectly natural response, doesn’t it? We, as a species, need to protect our existence, right? One might lose their chill a bit if killed by a being of our own creation.

Fuelling the fear are statements from some of the very people whose companies are responsible for developing AI. We’re talking about people like Microsoft founder and richest man on the planet, Bill Gates as well as Elon Musk. Yes, the same Elon Musk whose cars can anticipate where you want to go. The direct quote from Musk goes like this:

“With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like – yeah, he’s sure he can control the demon. Doesn’t work out.”

This video is a perfect example of how our fears are being voiced by the very people who are bringing us this new technology:

Could Musk and Gates, et. al. be over-reacting just a wee bit? Sure, that’s one way of looking at it. At the same time, though, we must realize that in order to conquer our fears we must first identify them, define them, and consider why we are afraid in the first place. Only when we’ve done that can we begin to address those fears in ways that might prevent them from coming to pass. We are afraid of robots taking over, therefore it would seem to behoove us to make sure that as we develop AI systems we create a fail-safe to prevent that worst-case-scenario from actually happening.

Even if we build AI devices wholly incapable of killing us, though, we still have a lot of fears. How might our lives change if we become dependent upon artificial helpers doing some of the things we routinely do for ourselves? Can AI somehow make us less human without directly harming us at all? When the aforementioned Sergei Santos took his sex robot on the ITV show This Morning back in September, the conversation went sideways when a therapist added her questions to the mix. I’ll show you the video with the warning that it is definitely squirm-worthy on more than one level. Things get really uncomfortable around the four-minute mark.

There’s no arguing that the concerns being raised are valid. As AI develops we are going to inevitably encounter even more issues that we’ve not yet anticipated. Until AI systems are in place and we have an opportunity to step beyond hypothesis and into the reality of how humans respond to and work with AI, we cannot anticipate what all the challenges might be. Hell, we can’t adequately anticipate all the ways in which we might use, or misuse, simply applications on our cell phones, which is why they need constant updating. We are naïve if we think we can anticipate all the challenges that might exist with AI.

Can AI help us chill or not?

Do all those concerns mean we shouldn’t proceed with AI? Absolutely not! AI is already to much a part of our society to move backward. We would be destroying both our economy and our future if we were to abandon AI now. What we have to do is proceed with a knowledge and understanding of what we can do and understand that there will be stumbles along the way that, while unavoidable, provide us with the information and knowledge to proceed further.

As we find ourselves conversing and intellectually wrestling with the challenges and opportunities presented by AI, we would do well to keep in mind some of the following wisdom.

1 “To whom much is given, much shall be required” –Jesus, as recorded in Luke 12:48

 

No, that line didn’t originate with Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, nor comic book writers. Turns out that the Jesus dude was rather on top of things even though they didn’t have electricity when he was here the first time around. He understood that technology or no technology, the more we have the ability to do something, the greater our responsibility is to make sure what we do is good. Never has that been truer than with AI. The potential for AI to save lives and to make the lives of a lot of people infinitely better is tremendous! As AI continues to grow, the more we focus on using it to better the lives of the elderly, the sick, the disadvantaged, the poor, and the hungry, the less we’ll have any need to worry about it being used for evil. The responsibility for where technology goes is wholly upon our shoulders. We can’t blame the technology for stupid decisions we make implementing it.

2 “Craving and desire are the cause of all unhappiness. Everything sooner or later must change, so do not become attached to anything.” –Gautama Buddha

Buddhism is about as anti-materialistic as a belief system can get and that is probably not a bad attitude to adopt when it comes to AI. Everything is going to change. The more attached we become to the way things are now, and even more so the way things used to be, the more difficult it is for us to accept and embrace what is coming, and AI is most certainly coming. At the same time, however, we must be patient in not wanting more from the technology than it is able to give. While the potential for AI is great, no technology is going to solve all our emotional and personal issues. Expecting technology to do things, to be things, that it has no business doing or being, inevitably sets us up for disappointment. AI should make our lives easier, not live our lives for us.

3 “We are not called to solve the meaning of life but to find out the Deed demanded of us and to work and so, by action, to master the riddle of life.” –Jacob Wilhelm Hauer, as recorded in Introductory Essay to The Bhagavad-Gita – By S. Radhakrishnan

The more we embrace AI, the more we allow it to make the living of our lives easier, the more we must ask ourselves one of the most fundamental questions of our existence: “Why am I here?” If we are not here to run errands and mow the lawn and do all the menial tasks that AI relieves us from doing, then why are we here? If AI is freeing up all this time for us, what are we going to do with it? We need to start asking ourselves these questions now so that we answer them fully as AI gradually takes over more and more of the tasks that consume our time. Will we spend more time loving each other? Perhaps we’ll spend more time learning. Maybe we’ll even try actually understanding our fellow humans rather than trying to destroy them. One thing for certain is that we are not here to be idle.

4Make things easy and convenient and don’t make them harsh and difficult. Give cheer and glad tidings and do not create hatred.” –Prophet Muhammad (s) in Riyadh us-Saleheen, Volume 1:637.

Like the Jesus character, that Muhammad dude was on top of a lot of things, even if he did come off a bit isolationist at times. Making things easy and convenient sounds like something right out of current street philosophy rather than two thousand-year-old wisdom. As with much we do, though, we’re showing a tendency to make AI integration more difficult than it needs to be. By making a big deal about potential dangers we can totally avoid we create a fear of AI that creates hate. Go back to the movie I, Robot for a moment. Detective Spooner (Will Smith’s character) hated robots because he feared their logic might cost lives that could be saved. That hate kept him from seeing the truth that was right in front of him.  For AI to make our lives better, we have to make AI integration easy and convenient, not full of fear that leads to hate.

5 “People are so bad at driving cars that computers don’t have to be that good to be much better.”–Marc Andreesen

One more I, Robot reference. Set in 2034 Chicago, not only do they have fully-autonomous vehicles, it is actually against the law to drive manually. Why? Because we suck at it. The same can be said of many of the tasks that AI is likely to take over from us. Think about it. How often do you go to the store, knowing damn good and well that you’re on a budget, and yet you still walk out with things that were not on your list? We’re not good shoppers. AI is going to solve that problem, though, because it’s not going to be influenced by that bag of chocolates stuck in the middle of the aisle. We need AI because there is a lot of things we do poorly. Our emotions get in the way. Our physical dexterity and endurance are insufficient. We get sleepy or bored easily. AI has none of those problems. AI helps us chill by taking all that stress away. No road rage. No buyers remorse. No binging on 37 bags of Halloween candy we bought because our significant other looked at us wrong and we’re sure they’re going to break up with us now.

Tying all these thoughts into a bundle

This is one of those topics that totally turned out to be larger than I anticipated. When I started writing on Tuesday, I thought I was looking at something for which I would struggle to pull 1,000 words. Every time a newsfeed would refresh, though, there was something new about AI. The technology is pervasive and growing faster than any of us can truly begin to grasp. There is a lot going on in the field of AI research and trying to keep up with or explain everything is impossible.

What bothers me is all the fear-mongering that takes place around AI. We believe our popular fiction so much that we’re sure our technology is going to rise up and kill us all. Or, in another frequently mentioned scenario, we end up being fat blobs who’ve forgotten how to walk, like the humans in the Disney/Pixar flick Wall-e. Writer Jon Negroni takes a different view of that scenario, though, arguing that the humans in Wall-e are actually well off, thanks to their abundance of AI. Negroni writes:

Not once do you see a human on Axiom acting spoiled or rude. Instead, they’re incredibly polite, especially when they meet WALL-E for the first time. John and Mary are two great examples. They’re not used to robots having a personality, and when they meet WALL-E, they are very positive and nice to him. You’d think they’d treat him terribly, but instead, they befriend him and get eerily excited when they see him again.

The humans we see have friends, romantic relationships, and excellent living accommodations. The screens they view everything through are translucent, so they have no shame in letting other people see what they’re working on.

Okay, so they’re physically soft from not exercising. By our current standards, that’s a problem. What is important, though, is that these people are happy and if we’re not doing things to make us happier then perhaps we’re missing the whole point of living in the first place.

AI has the potential to make everyone’s life more chill by removing from us the menial tasks that cause us stress and frustration. Yes, that means that in a lot of cases technology is going to take over jobs currently held by humans, including driving. How we look at that transition, though, determines how happy we are with our future. We can see only the loss and the negative or we can see the possibility and the hope. If we’re not tied down with the mundane, what wonderful things can we possibly achieve?

If there is a danger to AI it is that it exposes us for being the lazy asses that we are. For centuries, we have used mundane tasks, and created more mundane tasks like mowing the lawn, in an effort to keep us occupied with mindless things so we would have an excuse to avoid the issues requiring us to think. Perhaps our greatest fear about AI is not that the machines might take over the world but that they’ll leave us with nothing to do but think—revealing that we’ve forgotten how.

My opinion of AI has evolved in the course of researching and writing this article. What I first saw as a questionable convenience now seems to be an incredible opportunity to make billions of lives better. AI can help us address hunger and disease in the most remote parts of the world. AI can help us overcome drought in desert regions and bring crops and farming to the most rugged of mountain ranges. The list of possibilities is endless as AI takes us down a path toward being able to abide peacefully like no one else has ever done.

As for robots running the world, I leave you with the example of Lieutenant Commander Data, played so perfectly by Brent Spiner in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Data shows, throughout the series, the wonder and glory and fantastic addition to our society that AI can be. Yes, there are challenges in dealing with all the technology but facing those challenges is worth the advance. Here’s a sample:

Live Long and Prosper.
Abide in Peace.
-The Old Man

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Yes, this is one of those housekeeping things we have to do to spread the word about The Old Man Talking. It’s not really that big a deal; the amount of digital space taken is quite minimal and the post itself is unobtrusive enough that we don’t have to worry about it upsetting that whole SEO numbers and keywords thing. Still, it gives more people a chance to follow what’s going on here and that’s ultimately a good thing.

The Old Man likes when people actually pay attention. I think you’ll find most older people are that way. They fear that younger people and those who cater to them will forget that previous generations still exist. None of us want to become victims of the “I thought s/he was already dead” sentiment. We like to think we still have something important to say even if advertisers and media that used to clamor for our spendable cash have now moved on to more youthful audiences.

So, we’re attempting to spread our wings a bit. Hopefully, this works. Don’t be too surprised if you see more posts like it. The marketing doesn’t do itself.

Abide in Peace,
the Old Man

Raising children to be successful

There may not be anything more important to ensure future success than to adopt world-class habits and perfect them daily.

Source: 4 Habits the Highly Successful Have Mastered

Children. Raise your hand if you have some. Yes, the one with the drink in it is fine. I probably have mentioned a few thousand times that I have three boys. They’re all pretty much grown with ages ranging from 19 to 25. I’m proud of them but realistic in recognizing that the world into which they are just starting out is nothing at all like the world I encountered at that age. On the rare occasion, they ask for advice I often don’t have anything to tell them because reality for them is quite different from my experience.

I probably have also mentioned that I’m the stepdad to the Young Woman’s two little ones as well.  Many of my peers have grandchildren the same ages as these kids, 7 and 8. Yet, here I am being a dad all over again and the perspective this gives me is unique. On one hand, I’ve been through this parenting thing before, sort of. I should know what to do, right? At the same time, the reality for the little ones is even more different than the reality my own boys faced at the same age. My experience with the boys often doesn’t apply to what these little ones need.

Such is the state of attempting to raise children in the 21st century. The days of Dr. Spock are gone, even if we don’t want that to be true. We, as parents, cannot consult some book and expect its advice will work on our children. In fact, if it’s my kid, chances are probably higher one needs to do the exact opposite. We live in a world that is more mean-spirited, more selfish, more greedy, more divisive, and more anti-everything than our grandparents would have thought possible. At the same time, though, this same world has more opportunities, is on the threshold of more ground-breaking discoveries, and is fueling more and faster innovation than any other period in history. The dichotomies are tremendous.

How one raises their children is a matter of numerous personal choices and it’s not my place, nor much of anyone else’s, to tell you how to make those choices. They’re your kids. You probably know deep down what’s best, you just have to be strong enough to actually follow through.

What I do have is a list of traits, habits that can be instilled, encouraged, and reinforced, that are more likely than not to put our children on the path that flows in the general direction of success. By success I mean they’re out of your house and paying for themselves most the time. Different children are going to hit that self-sufficiency standpoint at different times, but based on my experience and observation, these are the qualities most often found in those who make the most of what they’re given.

Raising children to be successful

1Demonstrating compassion & empathy keep children connected to the real world

One of the most terrifying things we can do with our kids is to isolate them unnecessarily from the realities of the world in which they live. I’m not saying one should take four-year-olds to the strip club or stop and gawk at a bloody traffic accident, mind you. There is an appropriateness in timing that only you as a parent can determine. Isolating children, though, prevents them from developing a sense of compassion and empathy toward others. Without compassion, without the ability to look at the plight of others and want to help, we raise children who create more problems for the world rather than looking to solve them.

Much politicized recently are the statistics showing a 13% increase in crime over 12 months in the UK. No matter who one chooses to blame for such a shocking increase, one thing that holds true is that those committing those crimes have a deficiency of compassion and empathy. Violence does not come at the hands of those who are compassionate. One who cares about their fellow human does not seek to kill them in large quantities.  When we see these things continuing to happen, wherever they may happen, one thing we know for certain is that someone’s child has lost their ability to care about other people.

By contrast, compassion leads us to do things such as driving hundreds of miles, using our own vacation time, to help people affected by hurricanes and wildfires. Compassion compels us to give to charities, or perhaps establish our own so that fewer people are homeless. Empathy is what allows our children to comfort a friend who just failed a test or come to the defense of a child being bullied on the playground. Empathy allows us to find the best in people without being ignorant of their faults.

We are already giving our children a world that doesn’t trust them, that mistreats people based on who they are and where they were born. Success in the future comes to those who have the ability to turn that around, to facilitate peace rather than war, who see no benefit in doing harm to others, and sincerely care about others more than themselves.

Raising children to be successful

2Children who win understand what it means to fail and not give up

A lot has been written about the mistake parents made for an entire generation by attempting to instill the concept that everyone is a winner. Things such as participation trophies and doing away with scores in sporting matches gave us a generation that now feels cheated when the adult world slaps them in the face, calls them names, and makes them actually work for what they get. I distinctly remember the fury of my competitive six-year-old when his soccer coach told him after he had just scored his third goal that they weren’t keeping score. He was incredulous! By attempting to smooth the disappointment of those who lost, they had taken away the glory of his achievement.

On another day, my heart broke when a different son came in last place at his cub scout’s Pinewood Derby race. He hadn’t lost by just a little mind, you. Our scales had been off by a lot and his car was too light to make it all the way down the track. His car stopped before reaching the finish line. He was devastated and cried all the way home. The scoutmaster apologized but I assured him it would be okay. We let the little guy cry it out that night and then the next morning he was ready to start planning and strategizing on how to make a better car for next year. His cars didn’t always win, but he was always in the race because he learned to not let failure keep him down.

Both of those boys, as well as their brother, have grown to be wonderful young men, in my opinion. They’re still comparatively young and it is too early to tell what they’ll make of their lives, but they don’t give up when life gets challenging. That little boy on the soccer field is now a tenacious US Marine. The son whose car didn’t make it down the track still looks for ways to do things better the next time. We didn’t protect them from failing. We reward their success. Whatever they ultimately do with their lives, they are going to be winners. They won’t give up until they’ve achieved their goals.

We not only cannot protect our children from every possible disappointment, we don’t need to give them that protection. The child whose parent doesn’t let them risk a broken arm never discovers how high they can climb. Give them space to fail, encourage their success, and build in them a refusal to ever give up.

Raising children to be successful

3Children who address their own needs are better able to tackle external challenges

Geeze, this is a tough one. I could write for pages about how we’ve attempted to tackle this issue on different levels with all five kids and still not necessarily give you any solid advice that works universally. From the outset, this is one of those areas where we have to realize that every child is unique and develops at a different speed and in different ways. There is no “silver bullet” that teaches all of them to be fully self-sufficient. What we have learned over the past 25 years, though, is that the better they are at taking care of themselves the more likely they are to successfully address external challenges as well.

Without getting too deep into specifics, which would mire us down in the necessary backstory, know that all five kids have unique personal challenges. Some require medication to help address those challenges but at the same time, there are other things they do on their own that are just as important. What we’ve found is that, as parents, we have to help them, and sometimes those around them, to figure out what they can do on their own to better meet their needs.

First, of course, they have to learn to identify what is a need versus merely addressing the symptom of a need. Nutrition, for example, is a need. Feeling hungry is a symptom of that need. Candy addresses the symptom, not the need. However, what we perceive as hunger is also a symptom of something else: boredom, the need to keep our minds active and knowing when, and how, to chill and relax. With the younger two, especially, we’re still working on learning how to tell which need should be addressed. We don’t always get it right, but being self-aware is a good start.

Then, once we’ve identified the need we learn to address that need sufficiently, or at least attempt to do so. Continuing the hunger example, we’re working on finding healthier alternatives to snacks loaded with processed sugar as well as learning to listen to our bodies so we know whether what we’re feeling is real hunger or boredom. Finding the wrong solution doesn’t address the need.

This is a very long-term lesson that children don’t just pick up on their own. Critical thinking skills develop in children over time and there’s no rushing them. What one child understands at age six the other may not pick up until they’re eight. As parents, we have to use an incredible amount of patience and understanding on this one. Kids don’t always know how to express their needs, either, which makes the whole task more challenging. What we’ve learned, though, is that as they develop these skills for themselves they apply them to other parts of their lives in learning to assess challenges and find solutions. Without fail.

Raising children to be successful

4Learning to prioritize helps children achieve their goals

Being a parent to more than one child inevitably means that at some point something similar to these words is going to come from your mouth: “Can you please wait a minute? I can only do one thing at a time.” Small children, especially, have little sense of physical limitations especially in regard to time. They have an idea pop into their heads and don’t understand why it can’t happen at that every moment.

We want our children to be successful and to reach their goals but we’re dumping them into a world that makes a lot of demands on their time while also tempting them with myriad distractions. Reaching their goals means teaching them how to prioritize the things in their life so that they’re not wasting time and can actually reach those goals. What starts on a small scale develops into a life skill that is critical to success no matter what they end up doing with their lives.

For example, my stepson is one of the most creatively-minded people I’ve ever encountered. Not only is he creative, he also has the math and engineering skills, at age eight mind you, to make many of his ideas possible. The problem is that sometimes the creativity gets in the way. When he imagines something, he sees it in finished form, complete with an appropriate color scheme and decoration. The creative part of him gets excited about the decorating and coloring and he frequently starts with that, using so much time with the decorating that he runs out of time to actually build anything. Helping him learn to prioritize what he needs to do and setting time limits helps him to better reach his goal.

This is very much one of those skills that is best taught by example rather than verbal instruction and that means it is on us as parents to get our acts together so our children can observe what we’re doing and model our behavior appropriately. To tell children they need to prioritize their tasks while failing to do the same ourselves is a level of hypocrisy that children recognize and identify all too easily. You are naive if you think that they won’t call you out on it, too. Our children critically need this skill, though, as the demands they face are greater than anything we’ve encountered. Get those ducks in a row and make sure they’re ready.

Raising children to be successful

5Children who separate truth from fiction make stronger leaders

Those of us of a certain age grew up with reasonably reliable sources of information. For my generation, network news anchorman Walter Cronkite was one of those sources. Newspapers were another reliable source. For our children, though, the world of information is a lot less reliable. They are flooded with information, all of which claims to be accurate, but something less than 60 percent of information from the best sources is typically reliable. As parents, we have to help them develop bullshit filters so they are better able to cut through the nonsense and not be distracted by attempts to divert their attention from critical information.

Where we have to start, of course, is by being honest with children ourselves. Calling out falsehoods of others is supremely hypocritical when we’re constantly lying to our children. Justify it however you want, a lie is still a lie and sooner or later your child is going to catch you. When they do, they understandably question everything you’ve ever told them.

Our children need to understand that one does not simply make claims that cannot be supported by reliable evidence. They also need to learn how to quickly identify sources of information that fail to provide such evidence. While there are always matters of perspective and opinion, children, as they grow, need to develop the ability to separate perspective from opinion and how both relate to facts.

Where this skill comes home to roost is when one starts making critical decisions that affect their future. Those who have the ability to separate truth from fiction inevitably end up leading those who are distracted by false information and fall for stories that are deliberately inaccurate. Liars may sometimes have their moments of deceptive power, but truth ultimately wins out and we want our children to be on the correct side of that equation.

Raising children to be successful

6Children who know they don’t know everything become innovators

One word that constantly drives every parent a little nuts is, “Why?” Yes, we understand that when children continually ask that question they’re attempting to learn and understand, especially at a young age. Still, the repetitive question, heaped on top of all the other questions, pushes us ever closer toward the brink of insanity. Yet, if they ever stop asking then we are truly in trouble because they have reached a point where, for whatever reason, they no longer think they need to learn.

There has always been a bit of an anti-intellectual thread to Western culture; we can trace it all the way back to the third and fourth centuries when certain entities destroyed information or kept it secret for fear that informed peasants would rise up and unseat them from their places of power (which was likely a correct assumption). We have, for better or worse, brought our children into a world where that anti-intellectualism is experiencing renewed vitality, however, and it is up to us to make sure our children develop a habit of constant learning to fight back against the ignorance.

We have two warning signs against which we need to guard. One is the child who doesn’t want to learn because they feel it’s not necessary. The second is the child who wants to learn because they somehow think they already know everything. We have dealt with both and both are formidable in trying to replace such attitudes with an excitement and desire for learning. I wish I could tell you a sure-fire way to turn the attitudes around, but this is yet another example of where methods that work for one child inevitably don’t work for the next. The best I can do is encourage parents to stay vigilant and try different things.

Children who develop a love for learning never stop and those who are always looking for answers are inevitably the innovators that develop new ideas and concepts in answering problems and issues that have plagued us for generations. We desperately need more of these forward-thinking, learning individuals in the future. We need those who want to learn and explore and discover. Without them, we risk repeating the horrors of the Dark Ages all over again.

Raising children to be successful

7Children who understand risk better understand life

I mentioned earlier something about letting children take risks and climb trees and such. Research from the past several years indicates that introducing children to risk through their play is an important part of their development and preparing them to function more successfully as adults. When we look at the society that our children are inheriting, understanding risks and risk management have never played a more critical role in helping our children succeed as adults.

I have to admit that I dropped the ball with my boys on this one. While they understand that risks are inevitable, they are still frequently too cautious and afraid to take the steps necessary to move forward. I grossly underestimated how frequently and critically they would encounter risks that dramatically impact their lives. This is one of those areas where I wish I could go back and do things a bit differently.

With the young ones the challenge is helping them manage the risks they encounter. As parents, we are constantly astonished at the risks facing our children. When is it safe for them to ride their bikes in the street rather than on the sidewalk? Do we allow them to play games that have Internet access? Is that zip line safe enough?Are the precautions we’ve taken appropriate to encourage them to try things for themselves?

What we as parents have to come to grips with is the fact that our children’s growth is worth the occasional broken bone, scratches, scrapes, and possibly even a few stitches. The dangers they encounter while playing as children help prepare them for the dangers they encounter as adults, dangers that as their parents we cannot foresee nor prevent them from experiencing. We can’t hold their hands through everything. Those who develop the skills necessary to handle risks appropriately will move more nimbly through life than their reticent counterparts. Yes, that means not everyone survives. Sometimes we miscalculate and get hurt but what we learn gives us the ability to avoid making that mistake again. They grow stronger and move forward.

Raising children to be successful

8Children are more likely to succeed when they are encouraged to dream

Motivational speakers around the world love telling us the benefits of chasing our dreams, provided we pay them a lot of money to feed us a load of what is mostly bullshit. I’m not inclined to fall for all the banter because too often it creates a fantasy that minimizes the fact that dreams take a lot of hard work if we expect them to come true. However, what they get right is that it is people of vision and imagination who are the most successful. Several such people come to mind, such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg just to name a few. Everyone our children are likely to consider as role models almost certainly started with a dream and were encouraged by someone, somewhere, to make that dream a reality.

All one has to do to understand how imaginative our children are is stand on the playground while a group of toddlers explores a playground. They love slides and swings and doors that open and shut, but what we see almost instantly is that they don’t use those amusements in the way they were intended. Instead, they try climbing up the slide, use the door as a swing, and turn the swing into a launching pad. Their imagination leads them to find different ways to utilize the resources they’ve been given.

And we ruin it all by telling them, “No, that’s not how it’s done.” Sure, sometimes that warning is for their safety, but getting back to that whole risk thing, if we let them continue we might be surprised at what they might learn to do.

I firmly believe there lies within every child a vision not only for what they want to be but what they want their world to become. As parents, part of our job is to make sure those dreams are kept alive and given the nourishment and encouragement they need to grow. Not to be sexist here, but this is especially true for little girls who have for too many generations told they have to shelve their dreams in order to settle down and have families. We are seeing more women reject that stereotype and explore their own path but as we raise children for the future it is critical that we emphasize that women can be just as visionary and just as successful as anyone else who has ever lived. The only boundaries are the ones they establish for themselves.

For everything we’ve listed here, it all comes to naught if our children don’t know how to dream and how to develop their vision. If we pass down only one trait to our children, please let it be the ability to believe that they can create something better than the mess we’re handing down to them.

Wrapping it all up

There is no secret method for raising successful children. Despite all our efforts our children are going to be themselves and that means they frequently will make decisions contrary to what we think is good for them. The sooner we accept that the calmer we can be about our role as parents. We can’t fix every problem, we can’t protect them from every danger and we can’t ensure their success in life no matter what advantages we try to give them. In fact, there is a point at which our attempts to help do them more harm than good. We have no guarantees.

What we can do, however, is try to instill at least some of these eight traits in our children. While I’m not foolish enough to think that any of them are sure-fire paths to success, at the very least they give our children a reasonable advantage that they can mold to fit their personality and imagination. None of us can predict the future, but from what we see from here these are the traits that are most likely to help them navigate the inconceivable mess they are inheriting from us.

Most importantly, we need to instill in our children the belief that they can make this world better despite the failures of previous generations. With each new generation comes the ability to improve, to bring the world closer to peace, harmony, and mutual understanding. Where we have failed they have an opportunity to succeed. We owe it to them and the world to help them realize that opportunity and chart a course for getting there.

Do the best you can.

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

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never leaving home
One of the joys of living when we do is that modern conveniences, particularly the Internet, make it increasingly possible to not have to leave home when we don’t want to. This is important because part of abiding well means being able to spend long hours in meditation and contemplation and taking naps. Going out for the purpose of running errands is exhausting, time-consuming, and gets in the way of other activities, like taking naps.

Personally, leaving home can be a real pain in the backside. I don’t drive and where we live, while smack in the middle of a relatively major city, is not within reasonable walking distance of anything I typically want or need to do. Okay, there is a liquor store less than a mile away but I’m not a heavy drinker so that’s not much of a factor. The closest grocery is a little over three miles away. Decent restaurants are further than that. Banking is a little closer but requires crossing a major traffic artery that doesn’t have a crosswalk—which is a bit scary most days.

When I do leave home, I have to ask for a ride. Sure, the Young Woman is generally very gracious in taking me where I need to go, but she also has a job outside of our home and I hate asking her to get back out after she’s spent eight or more hours on her feet. There are other friends willing to help but each of them has their own lives and obligations which makes their availability sporadic at best. Besides, no one wants to be that dude that’s constantly bumming rides off other people.

We do have reasonable public transportation, which is a plus for certain things in certain places, but it doesn’t really work when I need to buy groceries or dog food. The bus could pick me up right in front of the house (which it doesn’t) and I still wouldn’t want to be the dude lugging a 20-pound bag of kibble around. Talk about not being cool! Dude (using that term in the most non-gender-specific way possible), oversized bags of any kind for any reason on public transportation doesn’t work for anyone. Don’t be that person.

Fortunately, modern technology now has us at a point where there’s very little reason to ever leave home except for the pursuits of pleasure, such as bowling. I mean, pizza delivery has been a thing for over 40 years. The Internet opened the door to online shopping. And with Amazon having recently purchased Whole Foods, the world of grocery delivery just became a lot more practical and competitive. If your local grocery doesn’t deliver, keep watch because this is the next big make-or-break point for that industry. Stores that don’t offer delivery in some form are going to go out of business. I’ve gone through a list of everything that formerly required me to leave home and the only thing on that list that I can’t take care of online is liquor and that’s only because I live in the insipidly stupid state of Indiana. Most other places, though, even liquor delivery is possible.

Taking care of everything online isn’t necessarily easy, though. If you really want or need to stay home as much as I do then there are some preparatory things one might want to address before you start clicking randomly around the Internet. There are some things to know some places to avoid, and some information one needs to have available before starting. Here are some tips to make your experience a smoother.

1Do price comparisons before you start shopping

One of the benefits of shopping online is the ability to easily compare prices at different stores. Where we get into trouble, though, is we find a good price on one item on one website, another great price on a different item at another website, and we end up ordering an entire basket full of goods from a dozen different places.  That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, if one is making major purchases such as furniture, luxury fashion, and other high-ticket goods. Those almost always come with free shipping built into the price. With smaller items, though, that’s certainly not the case. Most sites have a minimum dollar amount or require a prepaid membership before free shipping kicks in. If one only purchases one or two small items from those sites, the cost of shipping can be more than the price of the purchase!

We also have to remember that, like any brick-and-mortar store, websites put lower prices on some popular items as an enticement for you to buy more from them. A store may have a good price on sugar, for example, but everything else could be 4- to 5% higher, meaning that your overall cost would be more than if you shopped somewhere with a slightly higher price for sugar.

Online stores are no less competitive, and sometimes more so than brick-and-mortar stores. If you’re purchasing things such as groceries, household items, or smaller office supplies, a better tactic is to make out your shopping list and compare the cost of the full list among three or four different websites. Then you will know which website is going to give you the best overall cost for the goods you need.

You’ll also want to compare free shipping thresholds as well. Some places set the threshold as low as $20 US while others go as high as $50 or more. Depending on where in the world on is located, the speed of delivery may be a factor as well. UPS and FedEx don’t deliver ground-shipped items on weekends, for example, except during the winter holiday rush. So, the dog food that I order this morning won’t be here until Tuesday of next week. Price, shipping cost, and speed of delivery all factor into which website is the best source for your purchase.

2Check for online coupons wherever your shop

There are coupons and discounts for almost every online retailer but if you’ve never shopped that website you’re not likely to know about them. There are dozens of websites and services that try to keep up with different discounts, but the volume is so very high that none of them are totally accurate on every website.

Personally, I use the Honey plugin for the Chrome browser. Click the link to create an account and install the plugin. The software sits there quietly until it senses that you are in a shopping cart. At that moment, it checks its database of coupons and discounts and pops up a window if it has any codes that might work. You decide whether you want Honey to test its discount codes or not. If you do, it runs through the list, eliminates any that are invalid, and chooses the one that saves you the most money. Cool, huh? It’s like clipping coupons without the bothersome and messy task of clipping and organizing coupons.

There are a couple of downsides to online coupon use, though. One is that discount codes tend to change frequently. The discount code that saved you 30% a month ago is probably useless the second time around. If you don’t have a new code you don’t get a discount and even if you do that discount may not be as much as it was last time. It’s difficult to know if you’re going to save any money if you’re waiting until checkout to discover whether Honey or some other service has a code for you.

We also have to keep in mind that sites typically don’t let one use more than one discount code per transaction. There are some exceptions, but if, for example, one has a discount code for 20% off a specific item and another code for 15% off your entire purchase, you’ll have to do some math to decide which is the better discount to use. For those who don’t count math among their strengths, this can be problematic. Still, when shopping online there is almost always some kind of discount to be found somewhere and that’s always helpful.

3Know the source before you buy

Erg. Yeah, there’s so very much to do and we’ve not bought a damn thing yet. But hey, we’re getting to stay home, right? A little bit of work on the front end really pays off.

One important point with online shopping, though, is that it is important to know where the online retailer is getting their stuff. Are they making it themselves? If so, that’s super cool! Supporting makers is an uber dude thing to do. If the retailer didn’t make the goods they’re selling themselves, though, then we have two different reasons to be careful. One is that the goods may be unethically sourced. The second is that what you’re buying may actually be stolen. Let me explain.

First, there is a shit ton of goods sold in the US and around the world that are unethically sourced. By unethically sourced we mean that the people producing those goods at dirt-cheap prices are paid wages that amount to pennies per hour, often living in company-owned housing and rarely, if ever, allowed to leave the manufacturer’s facilities. This happens most frequently with goods made in Southeast Asia, such as Bangladesh and Vietnam, but can occur almost anywhere and often the consumer has no way of knowing the human cost of what they’re buying. Among the brands who have been caught using unethical labor are H&M, Zara, Nike, Walmart (including its store brands), GAP, Victoria’s Secret, Adidas, Primark, Aldo and Urban Outfitters. Of course, all of those companies deny that they’re involved in anything resembling slave labor, but the Southeast Asian manufacturers responsible for everything from textile production to garment assembly keep on producing more and more and we keep finding it in our closets.

What makes this an especially difficult issue for the online shopper is that there is no obligation to inform consumers where the clothing is made. Yes, the garment itself has to be tagged with the country of origin, or final assembly, but websites are not obligated to publish that information. Websites are still treated as advertising entities and are not subject to labeling laws. Even if they were, though, that garment that says it was made in Taiwan almost certainly passed through three or four other Southeast Asian countries with different pieces being made in different places before final assembly, which may have only been adding a size tag.

Is that really a big issue? For me, personally, yes it is. While I like a bargain, I find it reprehensible that my savings come at the cost of someone else’s prolonged suffering. Maybe it’s not that big a deal for you. Let your conscience be your guide.

The other issue here is a matter of stolen goods. When thieves are able to steal large quantities of items, online outlets are a much safer way to get rid of the merchandise than, say, setting up a pop-up store on a street corner in the hood.

Product theft is a serious problem and is a significant reason the cost of things such as cell phones is so very high. This issue got a little bit personal this week when a good friend who works for a major cell provider was robbed at gunpoint just as the store was opening. The robbers were experienced and knew exactly how long it took to open the safe. They only took iPhones because they knew they could sell those quickly. Fortunately, no one was hurt this time and thanks to some quick thinking on the part of my friend the thieves were caught along with the merchandise before her shift ended.

A large portion of the time, though, the thieves get away with the phones, store them in a rented storage facility, and then sell them online, sometimes through custom websites that are made easily enough, other times through sites such as Craigslist. Almost any time one finds any electronic item priced dramatically below cost one can be pretty certain that the item is stolen. The problem is extremely common and once the phones are sold they’re almost impossible to track.

How do you fight against this problem? Purchase name-brand products only through licensed and/or authorized retail partners. Yes, you’ll pay more, but you’ll also get a warranty that is invalid if the product is stolen and your purchase won’t be putting any lives at risk. This is totally a matter of supply and demand. Remove the demand and there’s no reason to steal the supply.

4Know your sizes when shopping for clothes

One might think that knowing what size clothes they wear is a given but it only takes a couple of times receiving something that doesn’t fit to know that the size we think we are and the size we really are can be very different things. Even if your height and weight have held steady for years, our bodies change as we age. Weight shifts from point A to point B slowly without us noticing. Making matters worse, the clothes already in our closet stretch and adjust to our bodies with repeated wearing. So, that pair of jeans that you love wearing may not actually be the size on the label.

This is where you may need some help because no one likes getting all excited about new clothes only to open the box and have them not fit. Disappointment like that can ruin an entire day and make it very difficult to abide. Taking one’s own measurements, especially inseams, is damn near impossible. So, find someone who’s not likely to smirk and crack jokes about how big your gut or your butt is to help you find key measurements: chest (bust), waist, hips, inseam, sleeve (measured from top of shoulder to wrist), and neck (give yourself some breathing room). For most adults, checking those measurements every six months or so should be sufficient. I know we think we stop growing as teenagers, but our bodies never stop adapting to our environment and health.

Once you have your measurements in hand, you can consult a general size chart to get a basic idea of what your size is. Note that sizing is significantly different between the US and Europe. If you’re buying from a website that is not located in your home country you’ll want to double-check those sizes. Most major clothing retailers have size charts on their websites that are helpful. I always consult those charts to make sure that their specific sizing scheme isn’t terribly different from the standard. You’ll be surprised how many places use proprietary sizing charts.

Another resource helpful with sizing is reading product reviews. There are some stores that are consistently shorter than expected, shrinks after washing, or tends to run long. Product reviews tend to give us some insight to these all-too-common problems inherent to shopping online. Little things like this prevent us from having to go through online return hell. No matter how easy the retailer tries to make the return, it almost always involves leaving home. I still have two pairs of shorts that are immensely too large for me because I didn’t want to leave the house to drop the box off at the shipping company. Yes, I can be that lazy. You don’t want to be in the same boat.

5Avoid using a payment for tied directly to your bank account

Perhaps the biggest hesitation people have about shopping online is the threat of fraud or theft. There have been stories of financial disaster floating around ever since the first person bought something on the Internet way back when. Not all those stories are true, of course, but it doesn’t really matter because one true story is enough to cause our wallets to stay closed. We’re not encouraged by reports of hacking at major retailers such as Target,  Home Depot, JCPenney, or many others. Friends in the tech industry have been telling me for years that there is no such thing as a hack-proof system. The larger the store the more of a target (no pun intended). Hackers will spend years trying to breach the toughest systems.

The best way to protect ourselves from complete financial ruin is to never use a payment method that is directly tied to your bank account. Anywhere. Debit cards are a great convenience but if you’re using one to make purchases, whether online or at the store, you’re putting your finances at risk. For many stores, the databases that hold customer financial information are the same whether the purchase is online or in person. When those systems are hacked it doesn’t matter where the purchase was made, you are now vulnerable. You have to contact your bank and ask for a new card, a process that takes about a week to complete. I know this because I’ve been there. The bank froze our account when it saw suspicious activity. While that kept our account from being cleaned out it also meant we were late paying a couple of critical bills while we waited for new cards.

We have a couple of options here.  One is to use a separate credit card that carries fraud protection when making purchases online. Having a card like this is never a bad idea providing one has sufficient credit to actually obtain such a card. Those who have been a bit careless with their credit, which is several million of us, have a bit of difficulty getting some of these cards and sometimes, even more, difficulty when we get one. Not everyone knows how to handle revolving credit well. If you’re in the market and eligible, though, Capitol One seems to have one of the best products out there. That’s not an endorsement,  merely an observation. I don’t have one so I can’t speak with any experience.

My personal preference is my PayPal account. I use PayPal a lot. Many of my clients pay through PayPal. If you happen to make a donation to this site (which we encourage) it is processed through PayPal.  I then have a choice. If I need to, I can transfer funds to my bank account easily enough. I rarely do that, though. Instead, I use PayPal to make the online purchases I need to make. Granted, PayPal isn’t accepted everywhere yet, but it is accepted by many places including Walmart and Target, both places where I am really reluctant to use a bank card. Even when a PayPal link isn’t listed as the main option (on Walmart’s site you’ll have to click the “more” option at checkout) I’ve been pleased that a quick note to customer service usually results in being given the link to make a purchase with PayPal. Retailers want your money. It’s not in their interest to make that exchange difficult.

PayPal offers some of the best fraud protection I’ve seen. I had one instance where an ordered item was listed by the shipper as being delivered but we had not received it. PayPal worked with the retailer to issue a refund within minutes of filing the complaint. Not days, mind you. Minutes. I can live with that level of responsiveness.

Leaving Home For The Fun Stuff

While no one in our house is especially keen on leaving home when it’s not necessary we’re not exactly hermits, either. We can still be coaxed out to do the things we like, such as attending a friend’s comedy show, a PATTERN launch party, or a chance to go bowling. We like having fun and being around friends when it can be on our own terms, when we’re not already totally exhausted, and when we actually like the people involved.

We’re not as thrilled by the prospect of having to go out and stop at five or six different places, making one or two small purchases at each place, before coming back home. Those trips are both physically and mentally exhausting. I don’t drive and I still get upset when we’re caught in ridiculous traffic. Being able to address all those errands and make all our purchases online helps relieve us of a lot of the stress that comes with day-to-day living.

There are still some challenges, mind you. Fresh meats and fruits, which can spoil quickly, are sometimes a challenge to buy online. I have sources that are reliable, such as Instacart, but depending on what I need their cost may be higher than the store from which the goods are purchased. Sometimes, the ability to stay home is worth paying a little more, especially as we head toward winter. Other times, though, it’s a problem.

People who are reliant on public assistance such as SNAP (food stamps) may also find it difficult to shop online. Because of the restrictions applied to what can be purchased with SNAP or WIC funds, there is no reliable way for the retailer to easily distinguish what is or is not an eligible purchase. Anti-fraud measures typically require that a benefits voucher or EBT card be presented in person to make a purchase. There’s not much retailers can to do help that situation.

Still, any reduction in the number of trips one has to take away from home is helpful. We much rather reserve our fuel and energy for fun trips to the park or visiting a friend. I’m all for leaving home for the fun stuff. Running errands is not fun stuff, though. I’d rather stay home. Thankfully, we can pretty much do just that.

And now, it’s nap time.

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

And yes, I’m passing the hat

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I'm only leaving home for the fun stuff

photo credit: charles i. letbetter

better writing

Entertain, don’t be afraid of a bit of filth, but be cautious with your XXXs – the essential guide to getting your message across while avoiding the pitfalls of communication

Source: Don’t press send … The new rules for good writing in the 21st century

Writing is an essential part of my life, the primary reason this website exists, and critical to how we all present ourselves online. While writing has always been a bit of a big deal for me, though, for many of the dudes (using that word in a non-gender-specific manner) I know are what we might call “reluctant” writers. That is, they write because they have a need to do so, not out of any desire or passion for writing. The younger the dude, in fact, the more likely they are to take shortcuts, use emojis, and pay absolutely no attention to the grammatical rules we all supposedly learned in primary school.

As a society, we’ve been writing online now for over 20 years. Yes, I realize that’s longer than some of you have been alive but for everyone, this whole online communication thing still hasn’t taken hold the way English majors would like. Shortcuts that were developed back when we were paying for every second we spent connected to a modem have made their way into the popular vernacular without everyone being educated as to what those shortcuts mean or when they should be used. Emojis, which take written communication all the way back to the days of the Egyptian Cuneiform, are so popular that a lousy animated movie was made about them [When my seven-year-old thinks it’s stupid, there’s a problem with the movie.]. We are constantly looking for ways to make our online communication shorter and in doing so we’re sacrificing comprehension. Too many people don’t have a clue what we’re talking about.

All across the Internet one can find a gazillion or so articles about better writing tips. They typically have titles that start with a number, such as, “5 tips for …” and “8 ways to improve …” Blah, blah, blah. Most of them are repeating what the author read somewhere else, far too short to actually help, and fail to actually address the problems we have with writing in the first place. I know this because I click on every such link that comes tumbling across my Twitter feed. I want to know what other writers are saying about writing. So, I read their article, then typically curse the waste of time and close the tab.

Every day, I read through my various newsfeeds and come across an argument containing the phrase, “That’s not what I meant.” That phrase sums up what is wrong with our writing. We’re saying things, some of us are saying a lot of things, but not everyone understands what we’re trying to communicate. We might have a thousand people reading but it’s irrelevant if there’s no comprehension of what we are trying to say.

Why does comprehension matter? Dude, the whole plot of The Big Lebowski hinges on a lack of comprehension. They got the wrong Lebowski, man. They beat him up and pissed on his rug because of a miscommunication and you, presumably, know what happened from there.

Back in 1988, the English band Mike + The Mechanics recorded a song by Mike Rutherford and B. A. Robertson that contains the following lyrics:

You say you just don’t see it
He says it’s perfect sense
You just can’t get agreement in this present tense
We all talk a different language, talking in defense

Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye

When the song was written about the lack of communication between parent and child (specifically father and son), the Internet as we know it didn’t exist. I find it a bit eery, though, that one can take those lyrics and apply them to almost any online argument today and they fit. If you’re not familiar with the song, take a quick listen (five and a half minutes):

If we’re going to go through what remains of this life abiding in peace, if we’re going to take a “fuck it” attitude and let external matters just blow over us, we have to get better at saying things online. We have to find ways to minimize the misunderstandings, eliminate the chances for someone to misinterpret what we’re trying to say and write in a way that increases reader comprehension. Let’s talk about how we might do those things.

“This isn’t Vietnam. There are rules!”

Let’s be real, painfully honest here: most of us were not paying a lick of attention when our teachers were trying to instill upon us the wisdom found in diagraming sentences and the proper order of how words flow together. Those of us who were already adults when 1995 rolled around didn’t think we would ever actually need those written communication skills, or that they would matter at all. We were going to do great things that didn’t involve sitting behind a desk, which is where one gets stuck if they have to write a lot.

Yeah, we totally blew that one. Now, not only are we writing things more often than we anticipated, we’re doing so while on the go, from our phones, even illegally while we’re driving (which is a stupid thing to do; stop it). Since we don’t remember the rules, we end up saying things like this:

“Great dat today. Back home chilling out. My son is so funny. Bedtime”

“HARD WORK&TIMING IS EVERYTHING,TRUST IN GOD NOT IN MAN,I WILL MAKE THE HATERS BELIEVE,ITS TIME 2 INTRODUCE DIS GENERATION 2 DA ICE CREAM MAN”

” Like the turkey with extra mayo they’re gooder than mug.”

“I make smoothies son. Das jus what I do. This is a mix of strawberry and banana. A lil concoction I call Stranana.”

“every1 congratulate puff 4 bringn music bacc 2 tv !!”

We’re keeping those quotes anonymous to protect the guilty, but every one of them is from someone who is a public person and should know better. This is the point at which sane people blink twice and ask, “What the fuck is that shit?” Even if one had context for those quotes we still would raise our eyebrows because they are an outrageous example of bad writing.

Does any of this actually matter? Can we not just say, “fuck it” and let it go?

Perhaps. The follow-up questions would need to be, “Do you ever leave your house?” and  “Do you need your reputation intact?” If you answer “no” to either of both those questions then perhaps you are one of the few who can let their online word usage slide. For everyone else, though, how we say things is as important as what we’re trying to say. People fail to understand what we’re trying to communicate when the words are put together wrong.

Recently, during an off-the-record moment, while interviewing someone for PATTERN magazine, a person of some prestige and importance told me he absolutely judges people he hasn’t met based on the grammar they use on social media. He even went so far as to question how much worse people’s writing would be if there wasn’t spellcheck of some form built into almost everything. This comes from a person who makes significant hiring decisions—the kind that can dramatically improve the quality of one’s life. He’s reluctant to hire people who not only cannot write well but don’t seem to mind that they appear ignorant online.

How does one combat this problem? Short of going back to school or keeping an English major on retainer, I encourage using some form of online service to help guard against not only spelling errors but basic grammar and punctuation mistakes as well. My tool of choice is the Grammarly plugin for the Chrome browser (this is not a paid endorsement). I’ve used the free version of this plugin for at least a couple of years now and find it absolutely invaluable.  I tend to type rather fast and do not always look at the monitor while I’m typing. Mistakes happen frequently. Grammarly not only points out spelling errors the moment they happen, it picks up on basic mistakes such as when I have two spaces between words instead of one or if I’ve used the wrong version of there, they’re, or their as well as punctuation usage.  In fact, Grammarly can be a bit militant at times regarding comma usage.

While Grammarly doesn’t catch every error, it prevents most of them from reaching your delicate eyes. Once the plugin is installed, it works with just about any text field in any social media application as well as WordPress (unfortunately, it doesn’t work on Google Docs). They have a premium version that gets hardcore about correcting tense and voice and subject/verb agreement. I’ve not splurged for that extra service because I worry that taking all of Grammarly’s suggestions could leave to a very academic-sounding set of articles. Still, it’s great at what it does and has gotten better over the time I’ve used it. I strongly recommend adding the plugin to your browser even if you’re not at all serious about writing. You have one less thing to worry about once it’s in place.

Be clear about what you want to say

Twitter is the only place on social media where one has a 146 character limit forcing us to be efficient with our words. Almost everywhere else (at least, among the apps I’ve encountered so far) lets us use as many words as we want. Yes, there are times we want to be brief, especially when communicating with our phones. Still, one should never sacrifice clarity for the sake of brevity.

Here is where a number of online misunderstandings have their inception. We want to write in the same manner as we talk and more often than not that approach doesn’t work well for us. Those minor inflections in tone, those facial expressions we always make, the hand gestures we use with certain words in our vocabulary, none of that translates over into written communication. We want to think that people who know us will catch our “drift” or our meaning, but frequently even our best friends are not sure when we’re being sarcastic or kidding when we make a statement.

For example, let’s pretend I’ve written something like, “The president made a really good host for a reality game show.” Now, how are you going to interpret that statement? Whether one knows me or not factors a little bit, but I’ve given the reader very little to work with. So, one might assume any of the following possible conclusions:

  • I’m a fan of The Apprentice US version.
  • I’m not a fan of The Apprentice US version.
  • Being a good game show host qualifies one to be president of the United States
  • The president should have stuck to being a game show host and not run for president.
  • The president is using The Hunger Games as a blueprint and we’re all fucking doomed.

There’s nothing in how I originally wrote the statement that would let you know the last interpretation is the correct one. Neither sarcasm nor subtly play well in digital communication. Even in face-to-face communication, those aspects can be difficult to convey. When writing, they don’t exist at all unless one takes the time to fully explain what they mean.

We can’t take anything for granted or assume that our readers are so incredibly plugged into our communication patterns that they’re going to automatically understand everything we type. How many times have people use LOL, for example, thinking it means “lots of love” when its actual definition is “laugh out loud?” That has been a common point of misunderstanding and subsequent embarrassment. Any acronym one uses needs to be spelled out the first time. That’s the only way we’re going to know if ADA stands for the American Diabetes Association, the American Dental Association, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or a small town in Oklahoma.

A final example: You’ll notice that when I use the term “dude” for the first time in an article that I typically include a parenthetical statement explaining that the usage of that word is not gender-specific. Is that parenthetical statement really necessary? After all, many of our core audience are fans of The Big Lebowski and understand the usage of the word. I also mention on our home page that my use of the word throughout the sight is genderless and why. With both those elements in place, why would I need to bother repeating myself in every article?

Absolutely! Most of our readers do not approach an article through the home page. In fact, many never see the home page. Most of our readers click on a link on social media and go directly to the article. I have no assurance that they have any context for my usage of the word “dude” in any form. Therefore, it is up to me to explain exactly what I mean so as to avoid any confusion.

Are we clear enough on this point? If not, please leave any questions in the comment section below. Yes, we have a comment section. Not everyone knew that.

Chill a minute before pushing that “post” button

Here, the fundamental question we have to ask is this: Are you sure you said what you think you said? Many people have gotten into the habit of firing off quick one- or two-word replies and not checking to make sure they’ve said what they intended to say. The Internet is full of examples of how this careless approach to communication can go terribly wrong, especially now that we have autocorrect on most of our smartphones. If we think our phones are sending the exact words we typed, or swiped, we’re often surprised when our friends receive a very different message. This has happened so many thousands of times that there is a website devoted to autocorrect fails.  I pulled a few favorites as examples.

Have I made my point by now? No matter what software we have loaded to help prevent mistakes, they still slip through with frightening ease. We may think we know what we wrote but unless we take a moment to chill and then double-check we’re likely to be surprised when someone gets an entirely different message from what we thought we were sending.

This rule applies double if we’re writing anything about which we are passionate. If we are angry, the rule applies triple. The more emotion we have invested in what we are writing, the more likely we are to make errors while typing. Even if we don’t make any grammatical errors, the words we choose may not be the ones that best communicate what we need someone to see. We frequently create problems we didn’t want or need, or make a bad situation worse because we hit that “post” or “send” button too soon.

Trust me when I say that I know how challenging it can be to apply this rule. By the time I finish this article, I will have spent several hours here in my chair drinking coffee and trying to not fall asleep. When I finish the actual writing part, there are a number of behind-the-scenes factors that I have to check or fill out. I’m always anxious for you to read whatever I’ve written so I want to hit that “publish” button as soon as I can.  Years of experience have taught me the value of waiting, having a cup of coffee, and then going back and proof-reading the whole thing before letting it go public. Do I actually do that, though? Nope. Not even most of the time. As a result, it’s not uncommon for me to get a private message from nice people who look out for me, saying something like, “I don’t think you really meant to say “effect” did you?” or, “You know you totally misspelled Mississippi …”

Sigh. Take the time. Go back and proofread. Let your temper cool a bit. Think through what you really wanted to say and make sure you said it. Yes, it’s an effort but it beats having someone get mad at you because they think you’ve been masturbating all afternoon rather than meditating.

Concluding thoughts

No one ever thought we would do as much writing as our society demands. We certainly never thought it would be something that would keep us up until the wee hours of the morning, “chatting” away with that person we’ve never met but their profile picture looks totally hot. We only have to look as far as the Twitter account of our frequently ridiculous president to see just how chaotic things can become when we’re not careful about how we communicate. If anyone ever needed to exercise that third rule above, the president does. He may also need an advisor with access to a delete button.

As much as we want to keep a chill attitude toward all aspects of life and let matters take their natural course, we must realize that how we communicate, especially the things we write, whether in an email or a comment on social media, can upset our ability to abide peacefully. One word misinterpreted can send folks looking for the wrong Lebowski and when that happens all hell can break loose. No one is chill when hell breaks loose, not even the devil himself (assuming the devil has any chill).

Follow the rules, be as clear as possible, and then chill before hitting that button. Do that and abiding gets a lot easier, dude. We like it when life gets easier.

In fact, if you’ve got this, I’m just going to lie down here on my rug and take a nap, man.

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to pass the hat.

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