I was at Outland last night with some friends, when an attractive young blonde girl approached asking for a lighter. My friend quickly lit her cigarette, and this girl said 'thank you' while doing a half-curtsie. The alterno-frat boy next to us looked over and said "You don't know how much I wanted to do that!" To which I immediately replied "What, you wanted to curtsie to me?" This was, of course, met with a blank stare from him and a good amount of snide laughter from my group of friends. It's pretty rare that I manage to be funny every time I try to be.
My friend Jay, on the other hand, always seems to enjoy tremendous success with his witty humour. At a recent party, he introduced himself to everyone as Jay From Ohio. That really doesn't sound at all funny. If I were to introduce myself as Scott From Ohio, most people would smile politely and make a mental note to avoid me as much as possible for the remainder of the evening. Jay, on the other hand, received a very favorable response to this.
I guess part of it is that I just don't understand exactly how I come across to people. A great example of this is when I'm in a crowd. I try very hard to be a polite person. I don't just barge through. I always say "Excuse me, please" and try to be as patient as possible. Elfboy always tells me that although I say polite words, my inflection is one that generally sounds extremely pissed off. Instead of a soft, polite "Excuse me", he tells me it sounds like a booming commandment from God "EXCUSE ME!".
No doubt something similar happened with the alterno-frat boy last night at Outlands. My witty joke was received as some sort of violent verbal assault. Oh well. I'm sure he'll get over it.
In a completely different vein, I've made a massive update to the content here at skippy.net. Late last week I made an off-hand joke to a friend that skippy.net wasn't nearly self-aggrandizing enough. So I spent an entire evening scanning photos of various events. I'll eventually get around to categorizing these better, and adding the appropriate bits to the World Tour section. Until then, do enjoy laughing at me and my friends!
I've had a Palm III for a little over a year. It took me several months to really get into the habit of using it. But then all of a sudden it was absolutely indispensible. All my contacts were stored in there. My calendar. My incredibly addictive game of Mah Johngg.
And then like the idiot I am I dropped it, and cracked the screen. A flat $100 to repair it from Palm. I figured for an extra couple of bucks I'd try a new model. Except no one had any of the Palm IIIe or IIIxe in stock. So I settled on a Handspring Visor.
It's the same basic thing as my old Palm III, but different enough to be aggravating. First, of course, was the trauma of trying to remember how I had all my settings: alarm sounds and volume, fonts, etc etc. Then came the realization that the hot synch cradle for the Visor was different from my old Palm. Not a huge deal, but I had bought a seperate hot-synch cable that didn't have that nasty block on the end. And finally, I decided I just liked my old Palm more than the new Visor. It wasn't that I disliked the Visor ... I just really liked what I was used to.
The extra cable I puchased for my Palm provided me with more uses for my Palm. I was able to keep the original cradle hooked up to my desktop computer, and carry only the much smaller serial cable - a real lifesaver when travelling as much as I was. The other nifty use for this cable was that I was able to configure a few switches using a telnet client for the Palm.
I've looked at a few WinCE devices, but I've got to be honest: I'm not terribly impressed with them. They try to be much more than they need. The great thing about the Palm units is that they offer a very basic level of functionality, and allow the user to add those nifty utilities that they want. The WinCE devices, though, force PocketWord and PocketExcel on you whether you want them or not. I don't want a stripped down computer that fits in my hand - that doesn't provide me much functionality. The PalmOS is sleek and unobtrusive. It's extensible enough to allow people to make software that I'd be willing to pay for.
If a WinCE device was really what I was after, I think I'd be much more inclined to purse some form of tablet computing. These things look pretty cool, seem to operate well, and offer a real benefit to mobile computing. If I'm going to read my email on a mobile device, that mobile device had better have a decent screen size - most WinCE devices are sorely lacking in that department. (To be fair, so is my Palm, which is why I don't use it for email).
So in the end I decided to return the Visor I purchased, and shell out the hundred bucks to get the screen fixed on my trusty Palm. Until I've got the cash for a tablet system, I'll stick with the Palm.
While sharing several drinks with my friends during our weekly gathering at the local watering hole, we got to quizzing one another about obscure units of measurement. We couldn't for the life of us remember what a hectare was. Nor could we remember what exactly was the difference between a joule and a calorie.
Interestingly, one of our group - the most recent college graduate - did remember the bulk of the Periodic Table of the Elements.
I've been mulling this over all week. I spent sixteen years receiving an education. I'm somewhat ashamed at how little of it I actually remember. Some stuff sticks with me just because I have a better-than-average memory. Other things stick because they were major components of my college studies. I think it's fair to say, though, that I've forgotten a great deal of what I've been taught.
Why do I think that is? I place a tremendous value on knowing things: being an educated person is an important goal of mine. Self awareness and self-evaluation are constants in my life, so it's only fitting that I evaluate my education. But if I value knowledge as an independent goal, how could I have let so much of it slip away?
Maybe it's because so little of it gets used on a regular basis. I don't remember how to diagram a sentence, solve a quadratic equation, or who all the presidents were.
Maybe it's because the information age makes personal knowledge less important. If we were living in the days of the American Frontier it would be important for each individual to possess as many general life skills as possible. People knew how to do all manner of things: farming, sewing, carpentry, ad infinitum. As we slid into the Industrial Age we began to notice more and more specialization. This specialization was one specific benefit of the technology sharing that took place in larger cities. The technology allowed for a dispersal of the efforts required to produce goods. This dispersal led to less dependence on single individuals to know everything, and increased communities' interdependence.
Enter the internet. No longer do individuals even need to retain basic knowledge if it's almost instantly accessible via the 'net. The knowledge set is completely different. Maybe this is why I don't worry too much about not knowing the exact definition of an ampere or a mole, or the purpose of The Tennessee Valley Authority.
This entire essay was written in under an hour. If I were in college today, I can only imagine what my bibliographies would look like. The internet is an instant-access library of unimagined proportions. Yes, it is important that people have a certain level of basic knowledge. But as we progress more and more into the Information Age, it's important that we determine just what that base level of knowledge should consist of.
I encourage anyone reading this essay to go to Google to pursue more information about any topic. And don't just chase down the first couple of links - really scan through the hit results and see what you find. I came across a number of very interesting pieces that were tangential to this essay, but which are worth reading nonetheless. Perhaps the greatest thing about the instant-access nature of our internet library is that it affords us the time to pursue these tangential pieces of communal knowledge.
I started this site almost a year ago. Originally I thought that I had a lot of things to share with whoever want to read it. I had grand plans to post a new essay every day; or at least several times a week.
Instead, I've gone several weeks between updates. Not for lack of anything to say, but lack of motivation to share. I've become extremely apathetic towards the world I live in. I often feel alone in my efforts to enjoy life to its fullest, and not get bogged down by the silliness of human existence.
My great uncle passed away this weekend. I was never terribly close to the man. I've seen him maybe twice in the last ten years. This man was part of my family, and I never made an effort to approach him. Now he's gone, and I'll never learn from him what it was like to be a prisoner of war. I'll never learn anything from him now. And in a dozen years, few people will even care that he had ever lived.
I'm painfully aware of my own mortality. I lay awake almost every evening dreading my death. My limbs become numb, my vision falters, and my heart races. I am literally incapacited by my fear of death. I think to myself that I've only got another fifty years to do anything in this world.
I don't want to spend the next fifty years doing trivial things. I don't want to spend the next fifty years working in a job I don't like, just so I can buy things I don't need. When I'm dead, it won't matter one bit what kind of car I drove, or what kind of clothes I wore. No one will care whether or not I preferred Tommy Hilfiger over the Gap. Watching Friends every week won't make my passing any more bearable.
I get sleepy in the afternoon, and I want to take a nap. Then I think that those few hours will be wasted on my couch. I'll have done nothing with my life for those few hours, and I'll never be able to reclaim them. I get in a fight with a loved one, and that time is gone forever - time that could have been spent doing something wonderful with a wonderful person.
Even though I count off the wasted moments, I still take that nap. I still obstinately refuse to compromise with my loved one. I still lie in bed staring at my ceiling. I could read a book and improve myself. I could bite my tongue and make someone else happy for a change. I could volunteer. Hell, I could do anything just so long as I was doing something.
But I don't. I expect to receive some sort of divine inspiration. I expect that the right things will be done because I'll want to do them. The bitch of it is that the right things to do are generally the hardest. It's hard to swallow pride and apologize for doing something stupid. It's hard to focus on self-improvement when the effort doesn't seem to match the immediate payoff. Sitting on my couch drinking a beer and watching a movie is infinitely more satisfying in the short term, at the expense of a wasted evening in the long run.
I must not be alone in my laziness, for I see evidence of it wherever I look. I just wonder how different the world would be if we all kept our own mortality squarely in mind throughout any activity ... Would things be better or worse?
I sent a letter to the WAVE America folks. They sent me a reply.
I can't help but think that they're missing the point. But then again, maybe it's me who's missing the point. JonKatz met with the WAVE folks, and came away with a pretty grim feeling. After all, Pinkerton is a money-making business, why should they purport to espouse any particular morality with any particular program of their's?
I've been hearing about the sale of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and all the concern people have over the new owners following the existing Social Responsibility policy. I suppose that's really important for some people; but I just don't see it as a corporations responsibility to be socially minded. If said corporation chooses to have a social conscience, I think that's great - but not necessary. Maybe I've been reading too much Ann Rand, but I think a corporation's single goal is to make money. Or maybe it's to produce the best widgets, a side result of which is that the employees and investors will realize a profit.
I'm honestly not sure that anyone really has a social responsibility. As an agnostic, I certainly don't feel compelled to be nice to my neighbors from any faith-based point of view. As a fiercely individualistic person, I don't feel obligated to give my neighbor's the time of day: they can buy their own damned watch. And if there is some situation that suggests that individuals have a social responsibility, I'm not entirely sure that the same can be said of businesses. I don't think it translates.
I've always thought that Ben & Jerry's Social Responsibility was something of a gimmick - they knew how to pitch their product and their company to their intended audience. In a manner, this is exactly what Pinkerton is doing with WAVE. They see an audience eager for someone to sweep in with a 'We can fix it!' solution. People want to avoid responsibility for the world they are a part of. We bitch and moan about the world at large, and then look to someone else to fix it.
The best response I can think of to WAVE is to simply not partake of their service. Parents ought to be more involved with their children, their education, and their socialization. Pinkerton is just doing what businesses do best: exploiting their market. They could be put out of business fairly easily: parents could get more involved with school goings-on. Schools could be far more encouraging and welcoming of diversity and differences. Young adults could step up to the plate as role models for younger children. We could all start spreading the message that 'jocks' and 'goths' and 'geeks' and 'preppies' are all just people. We all deal with similar problems. One set of interests is not better than another. One set of activities is not dangerous.
The reply I got from WAVE encouraged me to participate in their program. That was a smart tactical move. Microsoft has been doing it for years: 'embrace and extend.' Bring your opposition into the fold so that they can be a part of the restructuring or redesigning of the product. Try to redirect your opposition from an adversarial to an advocacy position. How many people do that on a regular basis? How often do we try to embrace our opponents and really 'clue them in' about who and what we are?
No, instead we propogate the 'us versus them' mentality. We assume that they could never understand what I'm going through. They could never relate. That just might be the case - but how often do we try to find out? I think back to my high school and college days, and I really wonder how many great people I never had the pleasure of meeting because I was so self-absorbed; because I was so wrapped up with the 'us-them' distinction.
Culture at large propogates a lot of this. Schools place such a high priority on athletics and athletes, and usually downplays academics and theater programs. Advertising shows us that only happy well adjusted people are wearing Tommy Hilfiger clothes, and only really sexy people use the expensive perfumes. Is this true? What's so important about wearing a Tommy Hilfiger shirt? Why is wearing all black a stigma? How often do we ask one another why they dress as they do?
I'm just one guy. I'm not going to change culture at large by myself. And maybe everyone else in the world is really happy with the isolationism, villification and labelling that's going on. Maybe poeple are happier not getting involved with one another's lives, especially if that involves embracing a radically alien lifestyle.
I guess Pinkerton is going to make a lot of money.