Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Whimsical History of The Wizard of Oz and It's a Wonderful Life

I have embarked on a crash course in film history, which entails a stack of 8 textbooks from the library and making the most of my housemates Netflix.

One of the most surprising revelations involves It's a Wonderful Life and The Wizard of Oz.

If you would have asked me a week ago when these movies were made I would have botched my best attempt at an educated guess.

Wrong Decades.

Wrong Order.

For the record, The Wizard of Oz was originally released in 1939, followed by It's a Wonderful Life in 1946.

I also would have assumed the release of these films were landmark events, unanimously adored by moviegoers and critics alike.

Wrong again.

Both of these movies faced harsh criticism and bombed at the box office. In the case of The Wizard of Oz, MGM was an extremely profitable studio and could shrug off a ~$1 million loss. However, the failure of It's a Wonderful Life drove the production company Frank Capra had started, only a year prior, into bankruptcy.

Based on the lasting legacy of these films in my lifetime I never would have guessed they were so poorly received. That's Common Denominator 1.

Common Denominator 2: Both of these were "discovered" when they were re-released on television in the 1970's.

It's a Wonderful Life found its way to television first in 1973 (when the networks found the copyright had lapsed) followed by The Wizard of Oz in 1976. It was this 1970's audience, three decades after their initial release, that so favorably received and passed down these films as enduring classics.

While the dynamics of the industry, audience, and technological innovation have changed since these events, it still makes one wonder what contemporary films are passing under the radar only to possibly be adored as a classic three decades from now.

I nominate Gattaca. What's your nomination?




My source for this post was A History of American Movies: A Film-by-Film Look at the Art, Craft, and Business of Cinema. Wizard of Oz Pg 63-65; It's a Wonderful Life Pg 101-103.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Area 51 (Book Review)

As a child I was always entranced by secrets about advanced research and unknown realities about the world around us. My imagination swam deep into the galaxies of science fiction shows (Star Trek), movies (Star Wars), and games (Master of Orion).

It may not have been my first exposure to Area 51, but Independence Day was surely the most definitive. My childhood imagination was captured by this real physical location steeped in fantastical secrets - the stuff that dreams are made of (especially for an 8 year old boy). If only I could see with my own eyes what went on in the day to day lives of the lucky few who worked within its confines.

Naturally, when I was browsing the new release shelf at the library my eyes latched on to the bold title "Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base".

Once I picked it up and saw it had pictures I knew I had to take it home; at the very least to stimulate some of that nostalgic childhood curiosity. By the time I finished the introduction, I knew I had to read it from cover to cover.

Annie Jacobsen's approach in writing the book was to step back and ask what can we know, without a doubt, are the verifiable truths about Area 51. She does so by methodically sifting through recently declassified documents, news leaks, and firsthand accounts. But most importantly, she stays an arms length from the event horizon of the metaphorical black hole that is the infinite unknowable conspiracy theories.

Instead, she traces a timeline that is both historically, biographically, and scientifically enlightening.

Topically the book could be divided into two main sections. The first section traces the roots of the modern clandestine government projects, beginning with the Manhattan Project, taking you from Los Alamos, the Nevada Test Site, and the Marshall Islands. The second section, is truly the birth of Area 51 with the CIA's aerial reconnaissance spy efforts under the cover of the Nevada Test Site, beginning with the U2 spy plane. Both of these intertwined narratives are anchored in geopolitical world events between WWII and the modern day.

I kept telling myself I read the book simply to stoke my imagination, but in the weeks that have followed I learned how much substance was in the book.

As I watched the Iran drone situation unfold, it was as if I was merely seeing the next point on the timeline spelled out by Jacobsen in her book. It begins with the CIA's original development of the the U2, followed by the A12 (gorgeous plane, pictured here undergoing radar testing at Area 51), and finally spy drones. Drones which, interestingly enough, trace their roots to aerial reconnaissance through the mushroom clouds of early nuclear tests.

Just yesterday I came across a BBC special on the life of Richard Feynman (a must watch for any science geek), one of the many influential characters from the scientific community whose biography overlaps the web of Area 51.  There is a segment beginning at 9:56 that speaks directly to his involvement with the Manhattan Project. His references to the party scene at Los Alamos is a page right out of Annie Jacobsen's portrayal of Area 51.

And an extra bonus for anyone who has played Portal; learning the history of Skunk Works and EG&G is like reading the real life history of Aperture Science.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

"Revenge of the Nerds" Homages

Having only recently watched Revenge of the Nerds for the first time, we never realized how defining this movie was for popular culture.

In the spirit of one of my favorite blogs, Homages, Ripoffs, and Coincidenc​es, I'll share two elements that struck me.

Arnold Poindexter, the tall awkward nerd, is the archetypal character that defines Napoleon Dynamite. You can seen the similarity in the images below, but seeing them on screen (speech patterns, humor, attire) is even more revealing.

Arnold Poindexter from Revenge of the Nerds:


Napoleon Dynamite:



The other iconic scene is the rock show the nerd do for the Greek Games at the end of the movie. From the moment the scene began I felt a strong sense of deja vu; as if Jack Black closely studied this scene as source material for School of Rock. It's not just the rock show finale, but many persona's of the cast seem to draw heavily from characters defined by Revenge of the Nerds.

Revenge of the Nerds:



School of Rock:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ghettos in Gattaca and In Time


While I initially saw many common threads in the characters of Gattaca and In Time, the setting of the stories were clearly exploring different issues.

Both worlds seem to be a world not too different than our own in the not too distant future, only with a twist that zero's in on a relevant topic.

In 1998 Gattaca premiered to a world that was close to unraveling the human genome. Decoding the basic building blocks of what determines an individual's potential raises many uneasy questions about ones sense of agency in the world. The biological twist in Gattaca imagines a world in which ones life potential is determined at birth based on genetic makeup. If you (or more importantly, your parents) lack the important genes, you're out of luck.

In Time speaks to a world where the population is rapidly growing in an increasingly unstable global economy. In Time has an economic twist that literally makes the hours of ones life the global economic currency. Everyone is given one year of life when you reach the age of 25; After this you must earn minutes faster than they are spent. Once you're out of credits, it's game over.

A biological issue vs. an economical issue.

Then I stumbled across this bombshell when reading The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World:
"There is another big difference between nature and finance. Whereas evolution in biology takes place in the natural environment, where change is essentially random (hence Richard Dawkins's image of the blind watchmaker), evolution in financial services occurs within a regulatory framework where - to borrow a phrase from anti-Darwinian creationists - 'intelligent design' plays a part." - Niall Ferguson Pg. 356
I sat up and reread this paragraph as the setting for both movies were pulled into alignment.

Notice that the "big difference between nature and finance" has been eliminated in Gattaca. The random selection of genes has been reduced to a precise (read: constricting) regulatory framework.

On the surface the difference is biological vs. economical, but when you reduce the setting in both movies to the fundamental mechanics at work, they share the same common denominator.  

Both movies are exploring the self-determining nature of humanity through the use of regulatory frameworks (for better or for worse). To elaborate, Niccols seems to be exploring:
  • How humanity self regulates, manipulating social frameworks in order to ensure and control their destinies. (Genetic/Economic)
  • The systematic injustices of the framework instituted by those playing God, even trying to become God. (Perfection/Immortality)
  • Parents who chose to give birth to a child knowing they will be on the wrong side of the regulatory framework and are destined for a mediocre life of limited potential. (Often time the social frameworks determines your potential at birth, eliminating self-agency)
  • Children born into the wrong disposition have severely limited mobility. (Born with ghettoed genes or into a ghettoed neighborhood/"Time Zone").
  • How those who benefit from the framework think they are succeeding in their pursuit of perfection but are really losing their humanity (Embodied in the films by the disillusioned member from the elite who supports the protagonist and eventually commits suicide)
  • The cost is paid by those who don't benefit from the framework, consequently having their humanity crushed (Embodied by the plight of the protagonist)
  • How these new rules and regulations in the framework are disadvantageous to previously good traits (Intangible attributes, such as determination, fortitude, courage loose value in a rigid social framework)
In both cases we see clearly how this regulatory framework creates ghettos.
While in Gattaca the genetic walls are intangible; they are just as real as the quite tangible "Time Zone" walls of In Time. In both cases a suffocating ghetto is created - a ghetto in which the protagonist is determined to break out of.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Commonalities between "Gattaca" and "In Time"


UPDATE (11/15/11) - Since writing this post I had a big breakthrough that should be read first. I was able to zero in on the common denominator that links the social backdrop in both films.



This past weekend I saw In Time. This was one of the few movies I had been anticipating in 2011. The anticipation was on the sole basis of it being written and directed by Andrew Niccol.
Andrew Niccols Freshman film was also one of my favorites; Gattaca.

Gattaca first captured my imagination after watching it in my high school biology class. I have seen it a few times since, with increasing enjoyment and appreciation every time.

In Time isn't Oscar material (I already have my pick), but it was an enjoyable movie if for no other reason then that Niccol closely followed his original recipe used in Gattaca.
Spoilers are present in the following analysis (for both movies, especially if you have seen one and plan to watch the other).

This "recipe" implies that both films share an overarching theme and also specific plot elements.

Common Synopsis:

  • A man dreams of a life with greater significance than what the constrictive privilege based society he is born in to allows. 
But this shared synopsis is only scratching the surface. There are far more specific commonalities between these two movies. 
 
Commonalities in Plot
  • The young adult male protagonist finds himself doing mundane work at the bottom wrung of a heavy handed privilege based society.
  • However he dreams of reaching the stars (both metaphorically and quite literally in Gattaca).
  • His reach is limited, through no fault of his own, but simply because of the unprivileged disposition that he was born in to.
  • He meets a disillusioned individual from the privileged class who becomes his champion, equipping him with the necessary resource to break through the barriers (both metaphorically and quite literally in  In Time) between the masses and the privileged.
  • After providing the necessary resource to the protagonist, the champion commits suicide.
  • There is an individual who shares a common root with the protagonist, but has entered the privileged ranks. Ironically he ends up enforcing the divide in the social system.
  • This enforcer of the status quo is quickly on the case of our aspiring protagonist who is challenging the system.
  • The protagonist's passion and drive catches the attention of a woman who is well established in the privileged class.
  • The protagonist acquires a retro futuristic convertible (In general the preferable mode of transportation in these societies are black or silver retro-futuristic electric cars) which he will drive to a lavish dinner party where truths about his previous identity causes the gathering to be disrupted by the enforcer.
  • The enamored woman eventually discovers his true place in the social order. After wrestling through this truth she loves him despite, or even because of it. She becomes a co-conspirator in his effort to disrupt the system.
  • He is eventually successful in reaching the stars through a combination of luck, perseverance, wit, and most importantly through the assistance of his champion.
After reflecting on all the commonalities, that which makes the two movies unique becomes more apparent. There is a key difference in the plot between Gattaca and In Time, and it comes down to how the protagonist chooses to resist his predetermined lot in life.

Difference between Protagonists:
  • Gattaca - He studies, infiltrates, and subverts the system from the inside, providing a model of inspiration for others who feel trapped. He is mature, thoughtful, responsible, methodical.
  • In Time - He initiates a direct affront to the powers that be, mainly using brute force, resulting in instability and chaos en-masse. He is reckless, naive, confused, and short sighted.
But our protagonist is not an isolated variable in the social system. In fact, he would be nothing but a drop in the river of the unprivileged masses if it were not for the influence of his champion.

When we see the divergent character of the protagonist in both films we must consider the cause and effect of the divergent character of his champion. When we do so it would seem the the crux of the story is the manner in which the champion supports the protagonist on his journey.

In both cases our champion equips the hero with the resource needed to break through the privileged barrier. However the relationship in which this occurs couldn't be more different.

Difference between Champions:
  • Gattaca -  He is present and sacrificial. A coach/mentor who takes the time to teach the protagonist along the way. In the lowest moments of the protagonist's journey he is there to encourage him to stay in the fight and keep going.
  • In Time - He is hopeless, surrendered, distant, and after equipping him with the necessary resource to break through he is never present.
Juxtaposing the two champions clearly explains the unique difference we see in each protagonist who is set in such a similar plot.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Lowly Thermostat Receives Apple Makeover

We just installed a new furnace. The bidding process was rather painless. The winner was based on efficiency, cost, and expertise. I only had one reservation.

The thermostat.

He tried to sell it to me as a "sexy gadget". "Color touchscreen with SD Slot to load custom wallpapers." Yes, I grimaced. And yes, I actually did ask for a simpler model.

I wanted something simple and functional. You know, something like this:



Instead I'm stuck with an unresponsive chintzy piece of plastic like this:


But I won't have this monstrosity on my wall for too long.

Enter Nest:

Functional, clean, intelligent, simple, connected. A lustworthy thermostat.

It's not designed by Apple, but Apple is in the DNA (The 2 founders of Nest were responsible for the iPod).

More importantly, this product is symbolic of the trickle down effect of Apple ideals: 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Icons Change

Another submission to Little Bit Details.

On OSX Lion, large icons selected on desktop:



Become small icons when dragged to folder:

Friday, September 02, 2011

Footnotes


I love footnotes.

I'm a footnote fiend. As soon as my eye catches a glimpse of that superscript, my heart rate quickens, my eyes refocus, my mind is fueled with a renewed clarity as I dissect the sentences leading to the magic key that will unlock the treasure at the bottom of the page.

Maybe it's because of the occasional anecdotes. Or maybe it's because footnotes tend to appeal to my love for spider webbing; other sources and ideas that tangent to the main idea of the text. Footnotes also offer a personal connection to the author, making it feel more conversational, more human.

I love footnotes... in books.

I hate footnotes on websites. The internet ruined footnotes. The hyperlink jump, the scrolling, it's all jarring to a smooth flow of thought. By the time I get back to the text I am disorientated; the excitement is deflated.

I used to hate foot notes on websites. I found my rescue in the form of a browser extension. Footnotes on websites will never be the same.

It should be said first that I am a man of few browser extensions.

When I was a teenager, Firefox was all the rage. In my youthful naivety I experimented with extensions... fanatically. The allure of customization and new features (for free!) that would revolutionize the internet was overpowering for this teenage geek.

Over time I found that more often than not, "customization" only added clutter, "new features" (that I rarely used) flunked my user experience, and the whole process consumed a lot of time just to manage. Rarely did I find an extension that actually rose above novelty to enhance my online experience.

Instead, the browser became bloated. So for years now, I have kept my browsers on a stricter diet. There must be a very compelling case for me to install an extension.

Enter "Footnotify".

A simple and elegant solution to footnotes online.


I discovered Footnotify via DaringFireball; an excellent well curated blog on technology, design, and Apple (I ignore the occasional post on baseball).

Monday, August 22, 2011

What Do You Know About Ron Paul?

My first post on Ron Paul was enthusiastically written in October of 2007 (with regular updates in the following years).

Four years later and I am still inspired by the man's integrity, transparency, and dedication.

Have you ever been compelled to use these words to describe a politician? Than you probably have never known a congressman to run his office so efficiently that he willing returns $100,000 out of his budget to the Treasury.

Give the guy a chance and do your own research. I think you'll find it to be a refreshing experience

Even if you don't agree with his policies, we need to demand politicians with this caliber of character. Enough pandering, we need politicians with genuine convictions.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Excuse My Absence

Elena and I have been in the process of moving in to our first house (another piece of exciting news on the heels of the house; Elena recieved a position to lead after school program at the middle school 1 mile from our house!)

There are projects galore to keep us busy around the house. Much of which needs to be done sooner than later, so we have been at full throttle since we got the keys. But now, we are just about ready to shift gears to a more reasonable pace.

That means more time and energy to do the things I love: read, run, think, write, and of course, blog (I've had a few exciting ideas bouncing around for awhile).

I'll be sure to post some before and after pictures of the house too. As soon as there are "afters" to photograph.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Little Big Details

 This is another of my top blog discoveries of 2011. Tagline: "Your daily dose of UI inspiration".

A couple weeks ago I submitted a little big detail that caught my eye. See for yourself.

Every post reminds me of the truth in the statement; "The details are not details, they make the product".

Friday, July 01, 2011

What Does "Community" Mean to You?

A thought provoking video about the yearnings we have for community.


(Via Brainpickings)

This is an excellent conversation starter for your local neighborhood to start thinking in terms of community building, as opposed to community indifference (also known as community decay).
  • What does community mean to you?
  • What's your dream community?
  • What would you be willing to do to help make a part of that dream a reality?
This video stirred memories of the joy and beauty of community that I experienced 6 months in to our Barberrian Adventure. A year later I posted about the bountiful fruit that had grown out of the soil we had been tilling.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Why The Tree of "Life"?

Yesterday I found myself pondering why the movie is called The Tree of Life.
The movie opens with Job 38:4 "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”". If I hoped to find the meaning of the title, it seemed logical to revisit the Garden of Eden narrative in Genesis.
  • In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve freely ate of the Tree of Life giving eternal life.
  • They were only instructed to not eat of the Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil.
  • Once they had eaten of the forbidden tree, they were banished from the garden and consequently could no longer eat of the the Tree of Life.
Humanity, in their rebellion with the Knowledge of Good and Evil, was no longer fit to continue eating of the Tree of Life.

The universal question of choosing the path of nature or of grace is the result of the friction created by the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Which means the movie is not so much about the Tree of Life as it is the absence of the Tree of Life.

And the movie is also about time; as in all time, from creation at the foundation of time until the redemption and resurrection of humanity at the end of time. Again, this transitory conception of time is the result of the absence of the Tree of Life.

And honestly, "The Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil" is just a mouth full. "The Tree of Life" was definitely a better title.

----
UPDATE January 6th 2012 - Just stumbled across an excellent Tree of Life quote from Irenaeus, I think he would have enjoyd this film as well.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Tree of Life

I rate the quality of most movies by how deeply I am mentally and emotionally moved. If the experience is deep enough, it will draw tears.

These are normally not tears of sorrow; but of joy, revelation, and beauty in life (e.g. Pixars's Up or Bollywood's 3 Idiots). I find this quite convenient because I am able to easily quantify my rating of movies. This is much more effective than trying to ascertain some ambiguous amount of stars after the fact.

The Tree of Life has set the bar mighty high for 2011.

This movie achieved tears on 6 separate occasions. To top it off, Elena and I had a long conversation after words which had us in tears again. And these were tears of the most powerful variety, tears of self-revelation.

Yes, The Tree of Life is beautiful, thoughtful, powerful, and moving.

But my one warning:

In the first half of the movie I guarantee you will experience a sense of being confused and lost. Be thoughtfully engaged, but be patient, letting the imagery wash over you. It's okay that nothing is "happening". The first half of the movie is a cleansing; washing away all of the baggage and distractions that you brought with you into the theater.

Trust that the first half of the movie is preparing the palate of your mind and soul; as would crackers and cheese prepare the palate of your mouth before tasting a fine wine.

When I go to see a Hollywood blockbuster I expect to be propelled from scene to scene at a breathtaking pace, constantly stimulated by the action, enraptured by the drama, distracted by the comedy, without an idle moment to be left with your own thoughts.

This is not a Hollywood blockbuster. 

Go in to the theater with an attitude more akin to how you would enjoy an art exhibit or a symphony, but with all the sensory fullness of cinema.

So, without spoilers, what's the movie about?

The movie is all about understanding our relationship with our Creator God as something very broken/jaded while yearning for redemption. But it uses the most mundane of settings as a canvas - a family in 1950's small town USA.

Tangibly, the story is about the eldest son of three boys and how he is moulded by the attitudes and actions of his mother and father. (The son is played by Hunter McCracken. This kid is going places!)

The trailer (a work of art in and of itself) clearly alludes to this tension between father and mother.
"Mother, Father, always you wrestle inside of me. Always you will."
...Metaphorically representing nature and grace.
"There are two ways through life. The way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you will follow."
But this tension between nature and grace can be interpreted in many ways. I was reminded of a quote from Francis Schaeffer after first watching the trailer. It's short and worth the read. Now having seen the movie, I believe that definition is indeed consistent with the message of the movie.

I also find myself thinking of the movie as snapshots of defining childhood moments. This is where the powerful self-revelation comes in for me.

These snapshots are moments that relate to spirituality, understanding and questioning God, the realized loss of innocence, the raging evil of nature around us and within us while yearning for goodness. Other themes are shame, forgiveness, hypocrisy, compassion, regret, grace.

Anyone up for some Terrence Malick movie nights in the near future?

Next up... my reflection on why is the title The Tree of Life?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"Get Rid of The Crappy Stuff"

There are few people in the world who, with integrity, can tell a company as successful as Nike to "get rid of the crappy stuff." This isn't just talk, this is the way Steve Jobs has walked since returning to Apple in the late 90's.

I came across another quote that elaborates on this principle. According to Steve Jobs:
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.” (Forbes.com)
Recently I have been struck by how much this seems to be a universal principle.

Whether it is Dieter Ramwhose tenth and final principles of design is:
"Good design is as little design as possible"
Or Mark Twain on writing:
 "A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it"
The great minds that have positively driven how we see and experience culture seem to agree; greatness is decided as much by what is done, as by everything else that is not.

How do you apply this to disciplines in your life?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Google Commits Cardinal Sin of Design with Chromebook

"...How well does Google’s newfangled concept hold up in the real world?

Unfortunately, not very well.

The first assumption is that you’re online everywhere you go. That’s rather critical, because when it’s not online, a Chromebook can’t do much of anything. You can’t peruse your e-mail, read documents or books or listen to music. With very few exceptions, when the Chromebook isn’t online, it’s a 3.3-pound paperweight." (NYTimes via DaringFireball)
The industrial design guru Dieter Rams has some brutal words for just such a product:
"Indifference towards people and the reality in which they live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in design." (The quote was seen in As Little Design as Possible via TheRussiansUsedaPencil.com)
The NYTimes review concludes their thrashing of the Chromebook with a compliment I'm sure Dieter would find utterly misplaced.
"Truth is, considering how stripped-down the Samsung is, you have to wonder why it’s as big, heavy and expensive as it is. You can find plenty of full-blown Windows laptops with the same price, weight and size.

Maybe the Chromebook concept would fly if it cost $180 instead of $500. Maybe it makes more sense if you rent it (students and corporations can lease Chromebooks for $20 to $30 a month). Maybe it will fly once this country gets free coast-to-coast 4G cellular Internet, which should be just after hell freezes over.

For now, though, you should praise Google for its noble experiment..."
Why praise Google for a half-baked product that is severely overpriced and wasn't designed for the reality in which people live? And don't forget Samsung shares culpability in this sin by choosing to manufacture the hardware.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Statue of Responsibility

In Part 3 of The Cost of Freedom, I quoted  Viktor Frankl's vision of a Statue of Responsibility to be constructed on the West Coast to be a bookend for the Statue of Liberty on the East Cost.

Liberty is not functional apart from Responsibility.

Right after I posted Part 3, I thought to query what else is happening on the world wide web concerning the "Statue of Responsibility".

I was thrilled to find that this project is well on it's way to becoming a reality. The Statue of Responsibility Foundation is a non-profit with a mission to construct the monument in California:
While something as important as this would always have been better sooner than later, I believe the timing is perfect at this point in history. 

As a nation we stand at a breaking point. We are breaking free from paradigms and value systems that shaped our reality for the last century. These paradigms and values are at worst broken, and at best insufficient.

We are ready for a fresh start.

Something as iconic as this monument is functions as a physical catalyst in the psyche of the nation. It's something tangible that we can point to as a turning point in history.

What do you think?

Is it time for our nation to have a new iconic monument? Is this the right one at the right time?

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Cost of Freedom (Part 3)

In this series on Freedom, I have sought to establish a link between Responsibility and Freedom. As I understand it, the link is:
The Suffering experienced through Responsibility is the necessary cost to know the Value of our Freedom
Suffering is required for growth in the human experience. This is a topic I've often pondered and have appreciated the insight of Viktor Frankl's; suffering being a central theme in his work Man's Search for Meaning. One would expect then, that he would speak to Freedom as well.

Drawing from his personal experience as a Jew in Nazi concentration camps, he discusses Freedom, especially the inner Freedom that even a prisoner at Auschwitz has access to. Valuing this Freedom "determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstances".
"...Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness [sic]. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibilities. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast." (Pg 134 Mans Search for Meaning)
I am struck by the symbolic wisdom of this proposal. I often ponder what imagery would be evoked by this statue, and wonder about the poem that would be graven on the tablet within the pedestal on which the Statue of Responsibility stands.

Each of us knows our Freedoms are something to be valued, yet how infrequently we the weight in our soul. Nothing short of an external tragedy seems to stir us. However, understanding the cost of Freedom gives us a path to initiate change.

Thinking long and hard about our own Responsibilities is the first step; acting accordingly the second. We know this is a willing choice that will invite suffering. Only then can we taste delight in the Freedoms of life.

Reversely, to have Freedom without valuing it (i.e. to continue on refusing to pay the cost with Responsibility) is to defile Freedom.

I will run through some consequences of decoupling Responsibility from Freedom, using the examples of Freedoms mentioned in Part 1:
  • Journalist disconnected from responsibility results in the press being pitted of constructive value to the society it is supposed to serve.
  • Teenager who takes for granted his privileges will fail to mature as a human being; becoming unruly, demanding, self-centered, ignorant, bitter, spiteful, abusive...
  • Citizen in a democracy who does not value her right to vote will be flippant with this power entrusted to her; if compelled to vote at all it will be in ignorance and driven by selfish motives.
  • Prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp (as with all humans in any situation) who does not value his own inner freedom defies responsibility to his very life; ceasing to acknowledge his own humanity and losing a will to live.
In all of these cases, failing to pay the cost of Freedom through Responsibility is both self destructive and socially destructive.

But why is this such a struggle for us?

The concept of freedom seems to be a paradox when you ask why it does not come freely. But the paradox unravels when you understand the cost of freedom is responsibility. Freedom does not come freely to humanity, because humans are not innately responsible.

Here lies the tragedy of the human experience:

If complete fulfillment of Responsibility hangs out of our reach, than fully realized Freedom is forever out of our grasp - apart from Grace...

Star Tours - The Adventures Continue

I was crushed that Star Tours was closed for renovation when Elena and I did our SoCal road trip last summer.

That regret doesn't squelch my excitement for the grand opening of "Star Tours - The Adventures Continue". LA Weekly has an excellent review that will fuel your anticipation.



Via swtorstrategies.com

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Crash Course in Mid-Century Modern Design

This is a must watch for any designer, artist, history buff, or fan of the Mid-Century Modern (MCM) design aesthetic.

In the 50's and 60's, Chevrolet/General Motors influenced the design language of American culture in a way that is comparable to Apple's influence today. It makes sense then, that Chevrolet would have been commissioned to create a film celebrating the "American Look":



Via Brainpickings.org

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Apple Introduced iCloud

 How did I do in my prediction a few months ago?

I formalized my prediction in the post titled What's So Great About the Cloud.

And for point of reference, there's a solid summary of the iCloud introduction at MacRumors.

In my opinion, the connection I failed to make explicit is how iPod in 2001 related to iTunes as it's hub for digital media. 

iTunes was the hub of the last decade for the iPod. This hub was dependent on the traditional PC, but radically increased the mobility, convenience, functionality, and simplicity of how we handle our digital media.

However, these mobile devices became increasingly sophisticated (ie. the iPhone) and the iTunes hub became cumbersome and constricted further growth. 

10 years later...

iCloud is the new hub for all aspects of our digital lives. This hub liberates our digital information (if you so choose) from dependence on any one particular device (ie. the traditional PC). This increases mobility, convenience, functionality, and simplicity of how we handle all of our digital information on any number of devices depending on your specific needs.

10 years from now, what will our lives look like?

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Strange and Beautiful Photos from Around the World

Be mesmerized by images of Serendipity. Beauty. Humanity. Perversity. Hilarity. Fortuity.

All captured through the 9 Eye's of Google (Aka, the 9 lens panoramic camera that Google mounts on their Street View cars).


Here are a few to get you started:




...And many many more at 9-eyes.com 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Cost of Freedom (Part 2)

We can't hope to value our freedom if we don't pay the cost.

First lets establish a working definition of terms. Freedom is the ability to choose or act without constraint; in other words, to have certain authority over ones own self. This is the thread that weaves together "Freedom" and "Authority"; they are facets of the same jewel.

But, what is the cost that one must pay to have and value our freedom?

The Thomas Pain quote in Part 1 was used by Robert Heinlein as an introduction to Chapter 6 in Starship Troopers. In this chapter we saw an exchange between a professor and his student Mr. Rico; exploring in general terms how the human experiences defines the cost and value of things in life.

Later in Chapter 12, I believe Heinlein gives an answer to the cost of freedom specifically. The following is an exchange between the same professor and student looking back at the "failed democracies" of the past, which would be our present.

The professor begins:
"...This universe consists of paired dualities. What is the converse of authority? Mr. Rico."
          He had picked one I could answer. "Responsibility, sir."

"Applause. Both for practical reasons and for mathematically verifiable moral reasons, authority and responsibility must be equal - else a balancing takes place as surely as current flows between points of unequal potential. To permit irresponsible authority is to sow disaster; to hold a man responsible for anything he does not control is to behave with blind idiocy. The unlimited democracies were unstable because their citizens were not responsible for the fashion in which they exerted their sovereign authority... other than through the tragic logic of history... No attempt was made to determine whether a voter was socially responsible to the extent of his literally unlimited authority. If he voted the impossible, the disastrous possible happened instead - and responsibility was then forced on him willy-nilly and destroyed both him and his foundationless temple. (Pg 183, my emphasis)
The cost of freedom/authority is clearly responsibility.

Responsibility is a supreme cost because it demands nothing short of self imposed hardship/discomfort/suffering; that is...
  • Integrity
  • Discipline
  • Self-control
  • Sacrifice
  • Humility in acknowledging and...
  • ...Submission to a higher authority than oneself.
Responsibility is the process/action required to value/actualize freedom in life.

This makes sense of the premise I proposed in an earlier post; "the best things in life are attained through agony, sweat, and devotion".

Conclusion: To learn to value freedom in your life, you must pay the cost by being responsible with the time, energy, resources, and opportunities you are given.

What happens when we have freedom/authority, but don't value it (i.e. pay the cost with responsibility)? In Part 3 I'll explore this question and applications to specific types of freedom stated in Part 1.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Cost of Freedom (Part 1)

  "What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. It would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated." -Thomas Paine
I find this to be a rather cryptic phenomenon in the human experience.

In simpler terms, Thomas Paine seems to propose that if we have freedom without cost, we won't value the freedoms in our life. Even further, I propose that to not value ones freedom is to never have tasted freedom in the first place.

Certainly, whether we value it or not, we all live in the reality of some level of freedom:
  • Visible first amendment rights of all U.S. citizens
  • Privileges given to a teenager by their parents
  • Tangible ability to cast a vote for a citizen of a democracy
  • Invisible inner freedom that even a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz has access to.
But what cost must we pay to truly value, to actualize, freedom in our lives?

Another Thomas (Jefferson), and contemporary freedom-fighter of Paine, seems to give an answer to this question when he said:
"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
I understand this sacrifical blood of a patriot to be a manifested cost of freedom; a specific cost paid for a specific type of freedom. It is a sign post pointing to a more universal and foundational truth about the cost of freedom, which undergirds the entire human experience.

I will attempt to continue exploring this foundational truth in future posts.


Until then, I encourage you to read a previous post exploring how the human experience defines cost and value of things in life - The Best Things in Life Are Free. Also, the first article in "The Crisis" series by Thomas Paine (the source of the opening quote) is an elegant piece of writing and equally fascinating glimpse into history.

It has some good laughs too. Totally off topic, I got a kick out of this line in particular:
"'Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country. All nations and ages have been subject to them. Britain has trembled like an ague at the report of a French fleet of flat-bottomed boats; and in the fourteenth [fifteenth] century the whole English army, after ravaging the kingdom of France, was driven back like men petrified with fear; and this brave exploit was performed by a few broken forces collected and headed by a woman, Joan of Arc. Would that heaven might inspire some Jersey maid to spirit up her countrymen, and save her fair fellow sufferers from ravage and ravishment!"

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Chinese prisoners do physical labour by day and digital labour by night.

The unusual part is that the digital labour is more lucrative than the physical labour:
"Liu says he was one of scores of prisoners forced to play online games to build up credits that prison guards would then trade for real money. The 54-year-old ... reckons the operation was even more lucrative than the physical labour that prisoners were also forced to do.

"Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour," Liu told the Guardian. "There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [£470-570] a day. We didn't see any of the money. The computers were never turned off." (The Guardian via Charlies Diary)
This skewing between reality and digital reality blows my mind.


Real slave labour to produce digital goods in a digital world which are sold for real money. The international "Gold Farming*" industry in online gaming is fascinating

It reminds me of people buying digital goods with real money for a digital farm on which you do digital work in order to support real needs. Which makes me wonder why anyone would ever give away real money (in a world with limited physical resources) for any cause if they aren't getting some sort of incentive in their digital life (a digital reality with unlimited digital resources).

This is the kind of stuff that is really going to mess with the way we think in the next decade.



*It's interesting to note that the stats mentioned in the Guardian's article were exact numbers mentioned in the Wikipedia article, only with no reference to the source or date of the studies. tsk-tsk

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Building the Seed Cathedral

Since I shared a picture of the UK Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo last year, I had to share this great TED talk by Thomas Heatherwick:



via i09

I was thrilled to see that his studio was behind another design that caught my eye in 2010 - the new  London "Routemaster" Bus:

Sunday, May 22, 2011

We Used to Wait

Until our most recent blip on the timeline, distances separated us farther and communication was drastically slower.

This slowness meant waiting.

Waiting gave hope.

Waiting gave time for healing, when hopes are left unfulfilled.

"It seems strange
How we used to wait for letters to arrive
But what's stranger still
Is how something so small can keep you alive"

"Ooooo we used to wait
Sometimes it never came
Ooooo we used to wait
Still moving through the pain"
In the digital age there is no waiting.

There is no hopeful anticipation.

There is no reflection.

There is no time for healing.

There is no process.

"Now our lives are changing fast
Hope that something pure can last" 
It's enough to put the modern man in a state of psychosis.
"Now we're screaming"

Is what we are running towards worth the sacrifices of what we're leaving behind?



The quotations are from "We Used to Wait" by the Arcade Fire. The Suburbs was easily my favorite album of 2010. I have listened to the entire album no fewer then 40 times in the last year (according to my iTunes).

The video is an interactive film that you can experience yourself at www.TheWildernessDowntown.com  

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"It's Gonna Take Awhile"

"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. 
A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. 
Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one [work]. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through." (my emphasis) - Ira Glass
Inspiring words for anyone struggling to refine a skill, craft, or are committed to creative work.

Via NPR. It's an excerpt from a series you can watch on Youtube.

- UPDATE -

After reading this post a friend shared a line he was told when beginning woodworking:
"Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly"
This is a much more quotable wedge to open up the same conversation.