Archive for August, 2008

Things to do before you die

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

I have this list.

Kept on a page on my Backpack account, in a text file on my computer, and a sheet of paper tucked into my wallet, is a list I created of all the things I want to do before I die. These things are not complex or vague; rather they are very specific and completely reasonable for me to accomplish with no hindrance but time.

Stephen Levine wrote a book years ago called A Year To Live in which he and his life lived one year as if it was their last. It gave them a certain perspective that most people won’t confront unless they’re forced to deal with a terminal illness or other death sentence. I didn’t read the book, but rather read about it in Dharma Punx, by Levine’s son Noah, about growing up in SoCal as a punker and drug user until he cleaned up and began practicing Buddhism. Then I think something along the lines of life goals was discussed in The 4-Hour Workweek. And finally, I somehow kept a jpeg of a list of all the things some guy wanted to do. All these coalesced into my list, which I keep handy at all times to make sure I’m following my dreams.

You want to see my list? Fat chance. They are my personal goals, and to give them out would spoil the fun.

But you can create a list of your own. Try it now:

  1. Write down every thing you’ve always wanted to do but never ‘had the time.’
  2. Next, cross out anything that’s abstract or too complex. For example, “Work as a Mickey Mouse greeter at the Magic Kingdom” is great because it’s exact and straightforward; but “stop global warming” is way too big.
  3. Now eliminate anything that could possibly be too hard. Remember, the only constraint to what you can do should be time. Try to be somewhat realistic – you’re probably not going to spontaneously turn into a unicorn or gain superhuman strength. However, you have more freedom to do the things you want than you think, so don’t hold back!
Congratulations! You now have some things to do, and soon. Good luck, and may all your dreams come true.

Pan and man

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

The best scene in Tom Robbin’s novel Another Roadside Attraction involves Tarzan’s attempt to get Jesus to stop reading the Torah and cut back on his ascetic adherence to spiritual thinking. While he failed, the most important part of the story involves the little angel sent by God to watch over Jesus (you’ll just need to read the book to know what I’m talking about).

During the conversation, Tarzan embarrasses Jesus by saying that the son of God is a lot like Pan.

Technically, Pan is the Greek god of nature. Above the waist, Pan looks like a normal man with curly black hair, but with horns. Below the waist he looks not unlike a goat, with cloven feet. He was invoked for fertility, and was often sporting a judicious erection. He love to play the flute, and even had the balls (boy did he!) to state that he was a better musician than Apollo, the god of music. Symbolically, Pan embodies the essence of man: half intellectual, half wild animal. Jesus was embarrassed because he wanted to live a spiritual life devoid of his carnal instincts.

I think the concept of Pan was created by people who wanted a way to personify the duality of being able to invent mathematics and build great buildings and write poetry and play music, while at the same time wanting to set things on fire, get into fights, and have wild amounts of sex. To be human is to do all of those.

And yet, we seem to want to go to one extreme or the other. Some of us want to think great thoughts, create great machines and great works of art. Others want none of that. I take that back: we think we’re one or the other, but do both anyway. It’s how Christian ministers can spread the fiery word of the Gospel, but still want to drive fast cars and bone the secretary. It’s how Shakespeare can write the beautiful verse…about a drunk hedonist who corrupts a future king. And it is the definition of Richard Feynman.

How are able to seamlessly integrate such disparate goals, celestial and earthly*, without much issue? Is there even a difference? Duality of anything, to me, seems like a gross simplification. Especially for philosophical constructs that we all accept without question. Take morality: there is no such thing as good or evil, but we’re taught it because it’s the easiest way for a child to understand the world without a wooly explanation, and to help us comprehend some of the more horrific acts we have committed. Yet, how do we tell what is done with bad intent? We’re the only creatures who seem to act upon selfish impulses beyond mere attempts at survival.

In Pan, we can visualize the marriage of the part of us which is very much a part of nature, and the part of us which wants to be more than that. In truth, it’s all the same. We’re all great horny musicians.

*Completely off topic but worth sharing: some dude at Microsoft said in a podcast that the human mind is still at version 1.0. It was developed on the savannah of Africa and hasn’t changed much. We’re wired to fear creatures that look like the predators we used to have, to enjoy procreation in hopes of having enough offspring to continue, to crave foods high in sugar for the energy and to eat as much as possible because tomorrow may have less food, and to yearn for the company of other humans because we can better defend predators when in groups. Thousands of years later, everything we do is still defined by these rudimentary specifications. Think about that for a moment: you, with your stocks and your smartphones and your sneakers are still acting like you’re trying to survive against impossible odds in the wilderness of Africa.

The software makes the phone

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

In between resetting my iPhone (see below for more), I’ve been loving all the new apps available. Even before the 2.0 software release in early July, having a near-perfect mobile web browser came in quite handy and even allowed me to travel without any additional computer (like my now-neglected Eee PC). Despite the tiny screen, I could keep tabs on my feeds with Google’s wonderful mobile Reader, and had enough horsepower to manage my Netflix queue (341 and counting!).

That was before the Apple added the ability to install software on the iPhone. Once that happened, my 9-month-old phone felt like a brand new…computer. The third-party software meant that I could make my phone do exactly what I wanted. If I wanted a dedicated twitter client, a beefy weather app*, a Yelp interface, and a program to control iTunes and AppleTV, well dammit I can do that.

The iPhone’s apps are its new killer feature, and the millions who have bought the 3G model can attest to that. I almost bought the new model, but decided to wait until I played with the new software. After realizing that I had a new phone, for free, I couldn’t justify paying $200 for occasionally faster network speeds and GPS when I got the best feature as a free update.

Unfortunately, Apple took on more than it could handle at a single time for the launch. The new OS was rushed and buggy. Remember that resetting I started talking about? I’ve had to reset my phone three times in the last week after the phone did a forced-reboot but wouldn’t finish, thus bricking my phone. It happened today, and I was without a phone until I could get home. All that for a friggin’ Wikipedia app!

A lot of people blame apple for being greedy, but this was a tactical mistake in a well-constructed strategy. If done right, having a new phone, new software, and a new sync software all on the same day would be mind-blowing for those of us who are as fully digital as current technology allows.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. MobileMe tanked and barely worked for two weeks. My own exposure was minimal: most of the problems were with email, and I’ve migrated well away from my .mac address, while everything else was syncing fine and I could access iDisk fine. Apple, for their part, gave everyone up to 3 months free, and accepted the blame. There was even a MobileMe blog for a short while which began, “Steve wanted me to create this blog…” as if the big man himself was using his legendary temper to get the troops to fix the problems.

Then the iPhone platform started to develop problems weeks after everything launched. Users are currently trying to figure out who’s the blame for the mediocre 3G reception. And applications are crashing the phones, and crashing them hard.

Apple most likely knew how important having third-party software on the iPhone was going to be. All those fakes of promoting web apps and denying third-party software were just to buy them time to get things ready, and the applications had to be ready to install by the one-year anniversary or the wind would leave the sails. And now that they’ve accomplished two herculean feats: launching the original iPhone and the pushing out the updated version, it’s crunch time to keep the new platform from collapsing and for people to lose faith in the company.

And you know what? Apple will pull through and everything will be fine. This is still new territory, and the important part is that the iPhone actually shipped. The only difference between what’s happening now and earlier rough patches (releasing the original Macintosh, OS X) is that a lot more people are using Apple products. And that’s because they’re the only ones making computers and gadgets that are useful and feel futuristic at the same time.

*The combination of being an information junkie and growing up in Tornado Alley has given me an appreciation for knowing the weather forecast and keeping a radar map handy.

Matt Mitcham update post

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Because my favorite Olympic athlete is getting almost no media attention in the US, I decided to beef up my coverage of Matthew Mitcham in hopes of raising his profile, if just a little bit. So maybe the only people who will read this were already searching for info on him. At least I contributed to the coverage.

First up, I saw an interview with Mitcham form Australian TV (which I can’t find anymore!) where he said that the pretty Chinese woman guiding the winners from poolside understood him when he asked if he could hug his mom, after which he ran up to hug his mom and his partner. I apologize about my wrong assumption: I should have known that China would be smart enough to make sure their most visible workers knew English.

Then there’s the fact that nearly every article and every post on him mentions his sexuality almost immediately, either in the title or the first sentence. Part of me is still annoyed that Americans are still so hung up on sex that we can’t talk about what is clearly a newsworthy upset (a lone Australian who struggled just to get to the Olympics wins a gold medal and denies China from sweeping the gold in diving) without bringing up what for almost every person* on the planet what’s nothing more than a trait, like handedness or hair color. Is it because the mere suggestion of sex gets people’s attention almost immediately? There’s a Monty Python sketch** where some hapless sap is going door-to-door giving presentations on insects or something stupid, and this couple watch a minute of it before getting bored and telling him to go. That’s when he makes up all this stuff about the insects being sexual deviants and going into detail of the bug’s mating process as the couple listen with great attention, making sure to make comments about how ‘disgusting’ these insects are. Is it really like that? This guy just did something that very few people can accomplish, a little respect please.

But then I think that Mitcham could be a hero for gays struggling with their identity. Picture four years from now: he’s been practicing since the Beijing Olympics and is even better – that at the London games he doesn’t just win a single gold medal, he becomes the star athlete in diving. Now this happy guy with a quick grin and four more years of experience can say something like, “Sure, there are people out there who have a problem with the fact that I’m gay. But who cares?” The potential is there, and he could use it to inspire some unhappy people out there dealing with the problem of being something they can’t help, that’s not entirely accepted by society. We’ll see.

The pressure’s on now for Mitcham to deliver in four years.

I’m not going to get into the whole “NBC ignored Mitcham!” hullabaloo. The games are done and over with, NBC has a policy not to mention an athlete’s sexuality, and the real reason is that NBC has pretty mediocre Olympics coverage anyway like spending too much time with inane segments on American athletes. I mean, if they can’t figure out that simulcasting the most popular events online with TV coverage would actually increase the number of viewers, they’ll underreport important developments in the games. Besides, the only people who seem to be getting bent out of shape with this are gay media outlets which are fairly shrill anyways*** (except Towleroad, who’s currently reporting on the Democratic National Convention).

Alright, I’m done with this. Normally I couldn’t give a care about sports, but this has more to do with a good story than talking about boring athletes and stupid rules to a game I’m not interested in learning. Like basketball. God I can’t stand basketball.

* Except Perez Hilton.
** I’m sure I got this wrong, but if you’re going to correct me, know this: I’ve seen this sketch dozens of times, and I don’t care if I didn’t retell it correctly. Pick on someone else.
*** Like Perez Hilton.

My favorite Olympic athlete: Matthew Mitcham

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Thanks to NBC’s extensive online coverage of the Olympics, I watched sports I’ve never watched before. And I mentioned in an earlier post that I didn’t think diving was a sport. Well, I take that back – I was wrong.

Anyway, I watched the diving competitions along with all the other sports I sampled, primarily because it consisted of attractive men and women in skimpy clothing flexing their muscles to do things humans weren’t built for (like making a dive from a handstand look graceful). You know, the who point the Greeks started the whole thing. Diving competitions were getting a little boring though with the Chinese always winning. Sure, their athletes were better, but it didn’t make for interesting games…

Until the Men’s 10 final, one of the last competitions to be performed. While the Americans were performing terribly, and the Chinese were in top form again, Matt Mitcham from Australia was getting very good scores while providing the best after-dive reactions – big aw-shucks grin, waving, and mouthing “Hi mum” as if he wasn’t at the Olympics but having fun at a local pool where there just happened to be cameras around.

And yet, he did so well, even better than the almost unbeatable Chinese divers, that he won the gold. Suddenly that silly boy was a puddle of tears. If you were at your final event at something you worked really hard for but didn’t think you’d place – and then you won everything, wouldn’t you be a little uncomposed? The best part about watching the Olympics is watching people struggle to perform their very best and validate years and hears of hard, painful work…and then watching them win. Roger Ebert blogged about a similar response*: I don’t usually cry when things are sad, but I get teary someone does something outstanding and good in a way that only humans can do.

If you saw the thing on TV in the US, and didn’t know anything about him, you missed a lot since NBC didn’t air the medal ceremony and glossed over key pieces of his backstory. Before the Olympics, Mitcham came out, applied for and got funding so his mother and partner could come to the Olympics, and didn’t even qualify for some earlier events.  Even before that, he went through the the throws of growing up before buckling down and concentrate on being a diver.

Back to the competition: when he finally settled down, he was back to all grins and having fun (being respectful to the other athletes, mind you) during the medal ceremony.

When Michael Phelps won his historic eigth gold medal, he famously climbed into the bleachers to hug his mom. Well… Mitcham did the same thing, but it was even more endearing: after some pictures, he asked the Chinese woman escorting him to the press area if he could go hug his mom. She nodded yes, but I doubt she understood what he said. Next thing you know, he’s scrambling up the almost empty bleachers as the photographers jump over themselves to get some pics as he climbs onto the railing to hug his mom and kiss his partner Lachlan.

When I found out that NBC didn’t air this on TV I was pissed – sure, he’s not an American – and openly gay (shock! horror!) – but Mitcham was just as interesting to watch as Phelps. This was an athlete who had more presence than most athletes I saw, including the two American divers in the same competition, Thomas Finchum and David Boudia.

Oh yeah, after the competition, Mitcham also managed to give the best quote from any athlete at the Olympics:

I was a little bit jealous of people who finished earlier, who could’ve relaxed a bit; and I’m a little bit disappointed that now I don’t have time to go around and take photos of the big blown-up mascots in the village, or holding the Olympic torch outside the food hall, and going to the souvenir shop and buying souvenirs and stuff like that…but, who cares?

(full interview here.)

The Olympics are about being human, in praise of what makes humans special. For me, Mitcham embodied that struggle and triumph.

*Alright, so Ebert’s response is a little more noble, but it’s roughly the same kind of thing that gets me emotional.

Mistaking the tools for the project

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Soviet Russia was famous for starting ambitious projects, only to peter out a few years later. Giant steel works were started, apartment building walls built, even a humongous hole in the earth was created, but never finished.

Americans are famous for buying self-help books by the stack, spectacularly starting ambitious plans to lose weight, be more productive, make more money in less time, or just be happy. They’re both the same thing.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the second most popular type of blog, after technology-related blogs, are about productivity. Sites like 43 Folders, Lifehacker, Tim Ferriss’s blog, and countless stock and personal finance blogs. Not only that, but on a regular basis, these sites rehash the same topics: how to start writing, get your personal finances in order, declutter your home, work more efficiently, etc. etc. etc.

This proliferation of tools is both a blessing and a curse. People who are serious about improving their lives can find plenty of free resources to get started. But the considerable variety and contradictory paths available easily causes a vortex where the act of finding and starting the tools is mistaken for actually using them.

For example, consider the Getting Things Done system. It’s a very complex process of managing tasks and reorienting one’s way of working so that putting off tasks is no longer an issue. There’s just one tiny problem: GTD is so intricate and requires so much effort just to change one’s habits that most people give up fairly early in the implementation. By being a single way of getting things done, GTD ignores the truth that we all think and organize differently, depending on a multitude of interconnected traits.

My guess that most people who claim to be using GTD to organize their life are lying to themselves and others when they say that it’s helping them work, if using it all. And those who actually utilize the concepts created by David Allen are typically only using bits and pieces…and haven’t finished Allen’s book either (oh, the irony).

Also consider all the websites, posts, and resources for aspiring writers. Everyone has an opinion on the best way to get started, a preferred method of writing, the best software, superstitions, and so on. The truth is that there is no right way to be a writer, only that the only requisite is that the writer actually finishes the writing. But people don’t see it that way; they think they have it in them to write something good, and spend all their time getting everything set up “just so” only tire and not finish anything. If you’re worried that this might be happening to you, I suggest you read Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” It’s about a dying man who regrets that he never finished any writing. The first time I read it, it scared me enough to stop trying to write, and go do other stuff.

The issue I’m trying to get at is that it’s too easy to get stuck on the tools and not follow through. And that feeds into the very issues of procrastination, laziness, and feeling of non-success that started the process.

If you’re reading this post because you’re looking for tools to improve your life and become healthier, wealthier, and wiser – take my advice: stop looking for tools. Don’t read those blog posts on the best way to change your diet or how to get through your emails.

Stop. Using. New. Tools.

Instead, just do whatever you’re trying to accomplish in whatever way you know how, unless you’re working on your health*. Take note of how you naturally try to get things done, and improve on that. Chances are you already have all the tools you need.

There’s a Taoist story that to ponder that relates to using the tools you have:

In China, a well-known thief was conscripted into the military. A huge battle was about to be waged with a much larger army. The night before the thief’s army was to advance, the thief asked to see the general, saying he could end the war before it even began. “You are crazy. the general will never see you,” said a captain. But because of the wise look in the thief’s eyes and his insistence, the captian too this message to the general.

The general had heard of this famous thief and thus asked that the conscript join him in his grand tent. The thief bowed and told the general, “If you will give me three days, I can win this war,” and then shared his idea. Because the general was winse in the Taoist ways, he said he would assure the thief three days without battle to carry out the plan.

Later that night the thief snuck through the enemy camp and into the opposing general’s tent and stole the general’s sword. He took the sword tho his commander, and the next morning the wise general presented the weapon to the opposing army with great fanfare.

That night, the thief again snuck into the opposing general’s tent and, this time, stole the general’s bedspread. This prized possession was returned to the opposing army with a formal, public ritual the following morning.

The third night, the thief returned to the opposing general’s tent and took his decorated helmet.

At dawn, there flew the flag of surrender over the opposing general’s tent, signaling the end of the war. “What are you doing?” exclaimed the opposing general’s advisors. “We have their army outnumbered ten to won; why would we surrender?”

“Because,” replied the general, “tonight they would have taken my head.”

*Your health and your body is your most valuable possession, so always seek the advice of experts when trying to improve your health. Picking the wrong tools could be very dangerous. Much more dangerous than using the wrong software to write the Great American Novel.

Bloc Party’s new album Intimacy

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

The English band Bloc Party pulled a Radiohead-like stunt with their new album, Intimacy, by releasing it online early to try and catch all those people who got ahold of A Weekend in the City before its official release (no, I wasn’t one of them).

Here’s a link to buy the album. You can get just the digital version or also get the CD when it’s released in stores.

I like Bloc Party, and I don’t like CDs anymore, so I took the bait. They somehow manage to release the right album for the right time in my life.

This album is fucking brilliant. The songs on this album have all the best qualities of the first two albums, Silent Alarm and Weekend. This rocks hard, dances hard, and has lyrics of authenticity. And, my god, the hooks! I have a soft spot for songs with strong hooks, and Intimacy has some of the meatiest. Not only that, the shimmering guitar riffs are like Ride on speed. The world needs more songs of alienation that get your body moving.

The album is going to need some evangelizing over here in the States to get people to listen to this. It won’t be hard – they just have to listen. The time has come to get rid of all those crappy emo rock bands with the whining vocals and fake sincerity.

The plan was to have a post with a song-by-song opinion of the album, but “talking about music is like dancing about architecture” so I relented out of politeness.

Three things to do during a recession

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Despite how journalists portray a dampened economy, a recession (or at least a slow economy) is the perfect time to start new ventures, not pare back existing ones. Here’s three things that can be very lucrative if done during periods like now:

  1. Buy stocks – the old adage, “buy low, sell high” applies well when the stock market is doing poorly. Everything that goes up, must come down: that’s what is going on now; but everything will go up again. And down. And so on. The trick is to do the research to find stocks that aren’t aren’t doing so hot, but the company is doing fine, because those prices can go up.
  2. Start a new business – creditors are more reluctant to lend out their money, people are less willing to buy new products, and most of your friends will think you’re crazy. But starting now will mean you’ll be established for when things get better, for when the other saps who didn’t read this blog post start spending money again. The company I work for was started during the 1990-1991 recession and it’s doing perfectly fine thank you.
  3. Start some new hobbies – learn to play guitar, build of model of the spaceship from your favorite show, learn all about Korean culture, join the cast or crew of a community theater, attend slam poetry competitions, start a blog and write about all the crazy things that interest you. The idea is to begin doing new things – who knows, maybe you’ll find while doing some new hobby a great idea for a new business or some crazy new career that will make you happy.
So instead of battening down the hatches, use this period as an opportunity to take advantage of the situation and put yourself into a good position when things get better again – they always do.

Need something else to inspire you? Try The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss.

“Nightfall” by Issac Asimov

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

NOTE: Here be spoilers!

Supposedly, “Nightfall” by Issac Asimov is one of the best short stories in the science fiction genre. It definitely was one of the first stories to legitimize the genre so sci-fi literature could be taken more seriously.

The story takes place on a planet that has nighttime once very two thousand years. The rest of the time is constant sunlight thanks to several nearby stars. Leading up to the event, there is debate as to what will happen, as history seems to stop at the last nightfall. A religious group claims to have knowledge of what existed before the last night, and they claim that people go crazy and that only they know how to deal with the nighttime – but the scientists are torn over whether that’s what will happen or if it’s just some religious clap-trap.

It’s probably a great story, but my opinion of it was hampered by how I interpreted other people’s description of the story. In my head, “Nightfall” was a story revolving around the idea of: what would happen if humans only saw the stars once very thousand years? Asimov’s answer was more a critique on polar approaches to the problem (scientific versus religious) and some notion of claustrophobia. The fact that I was expecting the way that people went crazy was not what happened in the story, which was greatly disappointing. As I imagined “Nightfall” in my head, people were looking forward to the nighttime because of the folklore around it, and when they saw the stars, they went crazy at the beauty of it all. In the actual story, people went crazy rather because they were afraid of the dark. Kinda lame.

I can write a better story than “Nightfall.”

Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point

Monday, August 18th, 2008

People at work have been recommending The Tipping Point to me for a long time; now that I’ve read it I can see why. The book is about how ideas spread, specifically ideas that become popular. When it came out there was a lot of talk about it, and it was on everyone’s business book reading list. Strangely, though I don’t see companies using Malcolm Gladwell‘s observations to create wildly popular products. Ideas are still tipping, and I can see many things happening now which will tip soon.

Try to take the concepts of the tipping point as a rule or a law; rather this is just one way that ideas spread among humans. Think of the tipping point more as a tool or a path.

An idea or thing tips like this: something new is created and adopted by the crazy innovators who are always doing weird things. This new thing is then noticed by early adopters who take it and add to the thing some tweaks that make it more palatable. Then the large group of people who take their cues from the early adopters pick up the thing, tweak it a little more to make it more mainstream and more to their taste. Somewhere around this point this thing or idea will ‘tip’ – it’ll become popular among the mainstream and adopted by the vast majority of people. After it’s established among this group, is when the late adopters, the people who don’t like change all that much, will take up the thing – and this is when it begins to die (or be assimilated into society, Gladwell isn’t very specific on this part, probably because it’s not all that interesting).

That is The Tipping Point, grossly simplified. The beauty of the movement of this idea or thing is that its path among society is independent of the medium, save that every step of the way is aided by three things that humans love to do: communicate, evangelize, and learn.

For example, same-sex marriage and the use of ebook readers are about to tip, I think. Other things, like reading fiction for entertainment and interest in space exploration, will tip in the next 5-10 years. Things that have just tipped are using Mac computers and those scarves that look like PLO scarves.

What was most fun about The Tipping Point is seeing what kind of people my friends and coworkers are, as well as myself. Gladwell identifies communicators, mavens, and salesmen as crucial to passing along an idea or thing to make it tip; while the groups of people that adopt ideas or things are in this order: innovators, early adopters, early majority, the majority, and late adopters.

I fall into the maven type perfectly. I’m aware of many things going on in popular culture, subcultures, as well as a thorough knowledge of the past and present of technology. And I tend to be the one telling other people about this stuff. Meanwhile, most of my friends are either communicators or salesmen – I know a couple of people who are massive communicators that know many, many people. In addition, I’m usually an innovator or early adopter, depending on the idea or thing. I was an early adopter of mac computers, just before the early majority started using them (4-5 years ago), while I’m an innovator of ebook readers since most people still don’t have one yet. Strangely, I was an innovator of the metrosexual look – it sounds crazy, but I was dressing that way before the early adopter guys started dressing sharply (only an early adopter would have noticed: the stuff I was wearing was way off the mark and thank god there’s no pictures of me looking that way, that I’m aware of!). What’s fascinating is that I remember lots of ideas an things that came my way that I either didn’t adopt and pass on (raised collars, swing dancing, facebook), or I embraced them but they died (Korean soap operas, Charles Bukowski, Eee PC).

Malcom Gladwell is a fascinating writer. He tends to specialize in ‘human technology’ – things that we do that are as powerful as machines but all biological and only half-understood. His other book, Blink, is a good excuse for making snap judgments. Sometimes, the right answer is the the first thing that pops into mind. I can’t wait to read next book, coming out later this year. Here’s an article by him about how some ideas come about because a lot of people were thinking about the solution at the same time, it was just waiting to be discovered.

A recent example of this that I encountered was that my Mother was looking for a new car, so she went shopping with my Father and I. We looked at two small SUVs; the first one had lots of gadgets and cool features that Dad and I really liked (I get my love of gadgets and technology from him), but Mom was confused by how some of the features worked and didn’t like the size of the rear window. At the next dealership we looked at a similar model that was a very good vehicle without all the cool buttons. But before she took the SUV out of the lot for a test drive she loved it: the rear window was a good size and she was comfortable driving it. For the next hour Dad and I had the task of convincing her that it’s OK to buy something this fast, even a car, if your instinct is telling you this is the one you want, you’ll be happy.