Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Who Needs to Know What (Part II), or The Difference Between Should and Is

Instead of writing a 3000+ word post, I've decided to break up my current subject -- "thoughts on the Information Age" -- into a couple of posts. I suppose this notation is for any new readers, since all returning readers had presumably read the previous post and are caught up on the matter. Unless, of course, there are returning readers who read the title of the prior column and said "Part I? Who needs that? I'll just wait for Part II." In that instance, I could see the need to be brought up to speed.

When we left off -- this recap is for everyone who is just joining us today -- the beloved Ducks guy was A) taking on Time magazine, B) taking on Facebook and C) heroically trying to save the village from the clutches of the evil overlord Azromodo, while at the same time taking an internal voyage to discover himself and understand his complicated love/hate feelings towards his estranged twin brother.

"Wait, I don't remember that last part at all!" (Okay, between you and me, that's just to encourage new readers to go back and check out Part I.) "But isn't that false advertising?" (Perhaps, but this is my blog and... Hey, what's that up there! Oh my gosh! I've never seen such a strange thing before!! Wow. Now, where were we? Oh, that's right. You were just telling me how much you love Ducks Out Of A Row and how it's the most important literary creation ever. That's very kind of you to say. Thank you.)

So, if you recall, I think that the Facebook kid is getting a bum rap from Time magazine by being compared to Hitler and Stalin, but that doesn't change the fact that I don't like his invention. I place considerably more weight in authentic relationships and a lot of people view FB as some kind of popularity contest or something. If I remember correctly, I had read an article wherein some people put together a completely made-up profile to see how many people they could get to "friend" it. I don't remember the details, but it was a lot.

Note: In spite of strict Ducks policy not to conduct actual research, I did perform a quick search to find the article, but it was fruitless. (Maybe I shouldn't have been looking for fruit?)

Anyhow, the premise of the Facebooks is to allow family and friends to connect and share information, which is fine and all, but when we start adding friends of friends and people we think we've heard of… then what exactly is the point?

Enough recapping! We have further issues to delve into...

My idea to share thoughts about the Information Age stemmed from two different sources initially (and then was added to by something else I had read in the interim...). The first, obviously, was Time's proclamation of Mark Zuckerberg as "Man of the Year." (Still think they missed the boat by not giving the title to me, but whatevs.) The second was the result of something I was listening to on NPR.

(Yes, I listen to NPR, says the man who sometimes raps old Ice Cube songs, rocks out to Rush in his car, and references: The Baha Men, Dancing With the Stars, Kriss Kross, "How Stella Got Her Groove Back," the 80's film "Twins," Katy Perry, and other random pop figures, movies, shows and songs.)

(Yes, I'm complicated.)

As one would probably imagine, WikiLeaks has been a popular topic on NPR lately (along with the Ivory Coast's disputed presidential election, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and Oprah's new hairstyle.)

The other day, the good folks at NPR had two men discussing WikiLeaks and how transparent, or not, a government should be. I think this is a great topic because it offers the opportunity for a lot of different viewpoints and intelligent discourse, without presenting the threat of being shot like I was back in '95 when I made the claim that Tupac was a better rapper than the Notorious B.I.G. Being the trooper I am, I was back on my horse the very next day, blogging about my experience and then tweeting it to my millions of followers at the time.

I think the two poles -- there are usually poles for any issue -- in this instance are 1) governments should be completely transparent or 2) governments don't need to be transparent in the least. (I'll let you guess which side governments like those in China and North Korea probably fall on...)

From my years of experience at life -- and, let the records show, I have literally decades’ worth of experience at "life" -- the best method is almost always somewhere in the middle of two poles.

That being said, government would be completely transparent.. in an ideal world. Open communication is always the best policy. The complicating factor, though, is the fact that this world is not ideal. There are people out there who simply hate other people and want them to die. This mostly stems from either complete ignorance or misguided faith. But saying that there are "people" is not substantial enough. There are entire governments and/or very large organizations who want others to die.

With reality being what it is -- not all people behave the way they ought to -- governmental secrets need to be kept. I can understand the notion that perhaps exposing secrets can help create open communication, but that is naive idealism. The fact of the matter is that doing so has the distinct possibility of putting lives at risk.

There is no reason to ever unnecessarily put lives at risk. The human experience is certainly richer than "just surviving," but survival is one of the goals. Technically-speaking, there should never be a need to take someone else's life.

(That being said, I fully understand the fact that "should" and "is" rarely seem to agree. Case in point: One should chew food with his mouth closed and not chomp and smack like a horse or make disgusting slurping noises, especially if he has a cubicle neighbor with a blog. But just because one "should" doesn't mean that one "does." Hypothetically-speaking, of course.)

So I disagree with the decision to publish the WikiLeaks information from a security and concern for the safety of my fellow human beings standpoint. Keeping with the title, I don't feel it is right for everyone to know classified information. Yes, it'd be great if we lived in a world where governmental secrets weren't necessary, but I think they are in this particular case.

That being said, there are definitely sources of information that should be available to the general public. These include such vital matters as: financial records, Congressional voting records, court documents and the President's March Madness picks. Beyond that, it'd be great if there wasn't a need to hide military or covert operations from the general population, but that falls in the whole "should" category.

(Just like I "should" be wrapping this up right about now, which I am.)

(Well, every once in awhile "should" and "is" are the same thing...)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Who Needs to Know What (Part I)

This is going to be a two-parter, gang, so buckle in tight. Think of it as an early Christmas/late Hanukkah/[fill-in-the-appropriate-sense-time for whatever-belief-system-you-might-have holiday] gift. Yeah, I know... I am one of the greatest living humanitarians. You're all welcome.

So apparently the Facebook kid barely beat me out for Time's Person of the Year. It was a shrewd move on the magazine's behalf, but one that recognizes the threat Time feels from the media superpower that is Ducks Out Of A Row.

Cue scene.

People from Time magazine and I are standing around. They are looking dapper and bored. I'm wearing an ascot and hip sunglasses, sitting in a bright red sleigh that is connected to eight or nine reindeer, depending on the fogginess of the situation. We are outside a trendy burrito shack on the fashionable eastside of a major metropolitan area. It might be your town, you really aren't sure. But then you look to the distance and see the city's famous landmark and you know that you're home. Then you begin to wonder how you entered the scene or what you are even doing in this section? And what is up with the midstream POV switch?

Uh, moving along...

"He doesn't even lowercase the letters in the blog's name like he's supposed to," say the people at Time, shooting me a "we're not only holier than thou, we're also more judgmental" look.

"You're just jealous," say I, shooting them a "you might be holier and more judgmental than me, but I'm totally rocking these shades" look. (My signature look, pretty much.)

The Time people stand around; perplexed expressions are drawn on their stupid faces from my witty response. (Yes, I sunk to "their stupid faces." No, I'm not proud.)

I give an authoritative nod of my head and fly off in my sleigh. (Well, I am making this seasonal for all of you...)

End scene.

Back to the kid who started the Facebooks... Marky Mark -- as all the cool kids are calling him -- created the social networking site.

(How's that for in-depth journalism, Time Magazine? Take that, suckas! Advantage: The Ducks.)

Now, I have no particular qualms about The Markster, Mark-O-Rama, The Markinator (I could do this all day, folks.). His creation, on the other hand...

Alright, here's the deal. I'm on the Facebooks. I log in every once in a while to see what other people are doing, because I care about them. I've reconnected with some old friends. I post a new status about once every month and a half. It is obviously very, very, very important to me. Some would say "vital to my life," but they would be wrong. It is my life.

Note: Sarcasm doesn't always translate the best via a written context, but I can keep trying for those who are slow on the uptake. No? You're good? Cool.

See, the "keeping up with people" part is something I could very well do with or without the site. I have a phone and email, I'll read letters if someone wanted to go that route. Heck, I will even learn to interpret smoke signals if that's what it takes. I don't need Facebook to do this. (Especially not the smoke signals part.)

Now, I did reconnect with some old friends through the site. I suppose that's a good thing. Not sure if there are any others out there I'm particularly interested in finding again, though. Seems to me that it has kind of run the course with regard to its usefulness in that function.

I have a blog -- hopefully this doesn't come as news to any of you -- so the need to post status updates makes me feel "meh," especially for someone who likes to sprawl while writing (not in the literal sense).

From my perspective, the Facebook kid was named Person of the Year for creating something kind of useless. But, thanks to Wikipedia -- See, I can keep with a theme! -- I found out that the fake Marky Mark (figured I should specify that we aren't talking about the original "Marky Mark" Wahlberg here) is on par with Hitler, Stalin and Al Capone.

Note: Capone was actually never Time's Man of the Year.

Second note: I had already known -- and didn't have to use Wikipedia -- the fact that Hitler had received the distinction. (Bet they'd like to have that one back, huh?)

Basically, Time Magazine is saying that the kid is pure evil.

Personally, I wouldn't go that far. Sure, his invention might be pure evil. (Facebook has been described by a truly wise man -- or my youngest brother... either way -- as being one of the signs of the Internet apocalypse. And I pretty much agree.) But I don't understand why Time hates him so much as to compare the kid to murderous dictators. That just seems like a really low blow to me.

Okay, I should stop journalistically reporting on Time's hatred of the Facebooks kid and bring this home for today’s big close...

My problem with Facebook -- and the entire movement of the Information Age -- is that we, as a society, are drastically over-sharing. I'm of the mindset that not everyone needs to know everything. (Keep that in mind for my next post!) Even amongst family and friends, constant contact and communication is not necessarily a good thing. It's kind of like how being a complete hermit isn't healthy, either. Everything in life requires a delicate balance, and personal interactions are no exception.

I understand the concept of social networking, but have a strong inclination toward authentic relationships. I cannot have genuine relationships with 1000’s of people. Technically speaking, no one can. Dunbar’s Law of 150 – which I feel is a valid theory – dictates that the human mind is only able to maintain stable social relationships with a finite amount of individuals. (I’ll let you guess the number…)

When we exceed 150 people in our respective “tribes,” there are likely to be an abundance of social “free riders,” people who use a social network without contributing. With this concept, the relationships cannot possibly be genuine. There has to be give and take in a relationship, and free riders are only going to take

Anyhow, I'm pretty sure that Marky Mark's goal is to connect everyone on earth, but is that really necessary? Does it make sense to have hundreds and hundreds -- or even thousands -- of "friends" in a social network? If 150 stable social relationships is the cap, then what's the point?

To be continued…

Editor’s note: Early on, the writer alluded to this being the first of two posts on the topic. He might have underestimated and there is certainly the potential for a three-part series. We’ll just have to see where he goes with this all. (Trust me on this, it’ll be way more nerve-racking for me than you.)

Writer’s note: Nerve-racking? Pffff. You don’t know what stress is until you’ve braved the north face of K2, you jack wagon!

Editor’s note: He’s never mountain climbed… and I’m going to need some booze.

Friday, December 10, 2010

20 Questions

In my previous post, we were working on constructing a bio for the Ducks Guy (aka, me). All in all, I think we were able to take my life's story and compress it into a couple of paragraphs – Wikipedia-style. That's fine and dandy (as all the cool kids are saying), but it really doesn't get to the core of who I am. Nice job of saying where I came from, no doubt, but not where I am now. So let's do this... chain-email style!

Cut and paste, put in your own answers and send to all your friends! If you do, there is a good chance you'll win the lottery, just like Travis N. of sunny California. He filled out the questionnaire, sent it to all the contacts in his email account and won the state lottery two hours later... without even buying a ticket. But don't be like Walter M.! Poor Wally failed to fill this out and forward to everyone he knows. Two hours later, he was walking down a street in Denver, CO when he was eaten by a shark.
(Maybe it was a pack of wild mongooses? Vicious kittens? Hungry humanitarians?) (Well, if vegetarians eat vegetables...)

So make sure you send this to everyone you ever met! (Not really. We're just channeling the spirit...)

1) What are you currently wearing? Uh, what kind of perverted survey is this?

2) What is the last food you ate? Breakfast was peanut butter on a chewy granola bar, banana and chocolate milk.

3) What is your favorite food? Hmmmmm. Probably something distinguished and culinary... A dish meant for kings... The food they most likely serve in Heaven... Pizza!

4) Who is your favorite Backstreet Boy? Who can pick just one? (Not this guy.)

5) If you could be any historical figure, who would it be? Justin Beiber.

6) What are your top five favorite movies? This is a good one, because I used to have a definite list (Shawshank Redemption, True Romance, The Princess Bride, Get Shorty, and Glory), but there are several movies I’ve rather enjoyed since I last evaluated that list (probably around 2000).

Memento and The Dark Knight both come to mind as deserving consideration. I might have to take out “The Princess Bride” because now that I have finally read the book, the movie doesn’t compare. I mean, the movie is great (well, it was a top-five of mine for years...), but the book is simply fantastic. Let’s also take out “Get Shorty,” because the sequel was awful.

So we have: Shawshank, The Dark Knight, True Romance, Memento and Glory. Probably in that order. The Princess Bride and Ocean’s Eleven – the Clooney/Pitt version – just miss the cut.

7) What was your childhood dream job? President/scientist/professional baseball player. (Preferably, all at the same time...)

8) Did you ever get that job? Kind of… I mean, I pretty much consider myself to be the President and "playing rec league soccer” is very similar to “playing professional baseball” when you get down to it.

9) What is your favorite color? Blue. Some people think there is a correlation between favorite color and personality types. From my end, this holds true. Blue is supposed to be a mellow, peaceful kind of color and I think those are generally good descriptions of me (unless I’m driving or playing soccer...).

10) Most embarrassing habit? I’d need to think about this a little more, but I’m ashamed that I sometimes yell bad things at other drivers. (Always with my window rolled up and never with the intent that they actually hear me.) I would never do anything like that in any other circumstance, but there is a certain impersonal nature with regard to driving. I don’t know the people and they probably don’t know that I’m swearing at them. I still feel bad about it and have worked on – and continue to do so – toning it down.

11) Seriously, what historical figure would you be? (We are not accepting “Justin Beiber.”) Fine, if I had to pick someone from history, I’d be Jack Kerouac. He’s my favorite author of all time (although, Colson Whitehead is closely encroaching that hallowed ground...) and he hung out with quite the characters back in the day. Plus, he played football for his college. So writing and sports? Two loves of mine? Sign me up.

Now, Kerouac died kind of young (47) and in a somewhat grotesque manner (internal bleeding due to vast amounts of alcohol consumed), but I think he got a pretty decent value out of those forty-seven years.

12) What famous person do people say you look like? Well, I get a couple of different answers. Daniel Craig came up a bunch after the “Casino Royale” (James Bond) movie came out. I’ve also gotten: Matthew McConaughey, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Ryan Reynolds, Denzel Washington, Selma Hayek, and Oprah.

13) What is your favorite sport to watch? Professional football, although Dancing with the (not really) Stars is also pretty good. I mean, how can anyone not want to watch “Star” Bristol Palin dancing? (Noah Webster will forever be restless in his grave for our blatant misuse of the word “star.”) Note: I definitely do not watch DWTS. (As far as you know.)

14) What is your favorite sport to play? Truthfully, I love participating in most athletic competition. I’ve been playing soccer consistently for the past six years or so and that has to be near the top of the ranks. But I really love beach volleyball. That would have to rank as #1. Football and basketball are also up there. If I was in better swimming shape (completely different than being in just regular good shape, which – more or less – I am...), I’d have water polo up there. But, alas, I don’t have the swimming endurance at this time in my life.

15) Who is least likely to return this? Um, I’m not really sending this to anyone, soooooo... everyone in the world ties for “least likely to return this.” (Your certificates of achievement are in the mail.)

16) Who let the dogs out? Still trying to answer that myself. (Note: I love the fact that the Baha Men won a Grammy award for that song. I don’t remember what the category was, but they can always be referred to as “the award-winning Baha Men.”)

17) If you could have any superpower, what would it be? The ability to give birth. Actually, no. (Note: I have the utmost respect for all the ladies out there who’ve done that. I have no idea how you all have that kind of strength and willpower.)

My superpower would be the ability to train my pets to be successful day traders, obviously.

I’d walk in the door and say “Tweak Dog, show me how much money you made today.” She’d show me her computer screen and I’d see that she made two-hundred thousand dollars on the day. I’d say “Good girl,” and then give her a treat.

Then I’d say “Kitty Meow, show me how much money you made today.” Kitty would show me her computer screen – yes, all the pets would have laptops – and I would see that she also made two-hundred thousand dollars on the day. I’d pet her furry little head and say “Good girl,” and then give her a cat treat.

Then I’d say “Captain Cat, show me how much money you made today.” The Captain would quickly run under the bed, as she likes to do, and I’d look at her screen. No money. So I’d shrug my shoulders and say “Well, two out of three ain’t bad.”

Yes, that would definitely be my superpower and I’d use my newfound wealth to stop crime (probably) and buy me some Taco Bell. (Even rich folks love Taco Bell... I assume.)

18) How many fingers am I holding up behind my back? What?! C’mon, now! That isn’t even fair. I’m just sitting here at the computer and all I can see is a screen. Any number I give is going to be a guess. Although, if you were standing in front of me in real life, your hands would be behind your back, so it’s not really that different, I suppose. Okay. Eight.

19) Are you a morning person or a night person? I like to think of myself as a person, regardless as to what time of day it is. What a silly question.

20) Have you ever created a list of questions similar to ones that are forwarded around for people to answer and pass along to friends and family in order to have creative content for a blog post? No. (As far as anyone knows...)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Creating a Bio

Pre-Post Note: This is a rather long one, but hopefully worth the read!

The other day my youngest brother mentioned that he needed to put together a bio for a new website and was wondering what he should put in it. Unfortunately, he asked his snarky, oldest brother who initially came up with "Tall?" This was followed by such useful suggestions as: "Patriotic. Not an evil-doer. Low-life. (Actually, don't use that last one...)"

Ultimately, I did send him something more practical and then gave him a final edit, since I do tend to be quite helpful in real life (as opposed to how I am in fake life).

Anyhow, this got me thinking... I need to put together a new bio here at the Ducks. And by "a new bio," I naturally mean "a bio," since I really don't have one. I added an "About Me" section, but really haven't done much with it. (Well, let's be realistic here... I've barely had time to make any new posts for a while. This labor-of-love of mine doesn't bring in any income, which means that it takes a backseat to other endeavors.)

So today we are going to help the Ducks guy put together a bio!! (Everyone cheers wildly.) (Um, if you aren't cheering right now, you might want to start or you'll feel like a loser. Just sayin'.)

Note: We are going to do this while skipping the phrase "obsessed with Justin Beiber."

Note to the previous note: Okay, I know I mention that kid in every other post, but it has more to do with my obsession about everyone else's obsession with him. (At least, that's what I tell myself.)

Moving on...

I am the quintessential INFP, using Myer-Briggs personality typing (MBTI), so maybe we should look there for some content? Let's see. "Creative." Check. "Original and individualistic." Check. "Extremely, totally, very ridiculously good-looking." ("Wait it doesn't say that at all in any INFP profile," they all say. "Shush," I say in response.) Check.

Okay, here's the problem with using INFP stuff... I could just cut and paste the entire description of an INFP and it would fit. But doing so would describe any INFP and I'm more than just that! (Take note of the "original and individualistic" part above.)

Quick digression: If you are familiar with MBTI and know your type, please leave a comment and let me know what it is. I'm rather curious about this. If you don't know, you should take the test (link to a free source found in
the very first Ducks post). It can help you understand A) yourself, 2) others, D) how you relate with others, E) how to solve conflict with others. All in all, highly valuable stuff. I use it all the time to try and understand where other people -- especially those who see the world completely different from me -- are coming from. Seriously, cannot recommend it enough.

Back to me!

Well, a good bio typically includes a bit of background, right? I was born in Milwaukee, lived in WI until I was 18, at which point I came to MI to go to college. I've been here since. A good bio also includes interests, so let's think about that a second. Writing is a major one, natch. I coach water polo and play rec soccer. I conduct “Cat Obedience” classes. I teach Vietnamese to affluent Dutch senior citizens. I tinker in the realm of nuclear physics... What's that? You think I just made up these last three? Pffff, as if I'm that creative.

(Oh, you're saying that I clearly identified myself as "creative" four paragraphs ago? *silence as he fruitlessly searches for a rebuttal*)

My bio so far: On a bright, sunny day in the Summer of '78, I was welcomed into the world. Immediately, I went to work developing my personality, crafting my intellect and solving all the problems of modern society. Unfortunately, I had no way of conveying my genius ideas to the large, usually-smiling figures around me, so I cried, ate and slept a lot. Occasionally, I smiled back. Fin.

Well, that pretty much covers the first twenty years of my life. All this hard work is making me want to eat, sleep and cry. Maybe I should call it a day.

Never! Let's pick it back up from the end of that last section.

... I smiled back. I spent the first twelve years of my life in the city of Milwaukee. I walked the mean streets and grew tough and surly. I developed an addiction to candy and booze.

Editor's note: Only the first sentence is true. He was never tough or surly. And he actually preferred fruit over candy. We're not sure about the booze part, though. You have to admit, it would explain a lot.

... The hard knock life I lived later became the inspiration for a Jay-Z song: "H.O.V.A." (You probably expected me to say it was his "Hard Knock Life" song, but that would be historically inaccurate.) My family moved out of Milwaukee, but we pretty much stayed in SE Wisconsin. During high school, I went to classes, swam on the swim team (which makes more sense than "played running back on the swim team" or "swam for the basketball team"), and ran cross country. I also invented a cure for polio. Unfortunately, someone beat me to it.

Editor's note: His cure for polio was "just don't get it in the first place."

... After high school, I spent years studying the bush people in western Michigan. It turned out to be an elaborate research project and later was recorded in my autobiography "How Stella Got Her Groove Back."

Editor's note: "years studying the bush people in western Michigan" actually means "years attending Hope College in Holland, Michigan."

... While at Hope, I was on the varsity swim team for four years. I wasn't particularly fast, but I tried my hardest and hopefully that counts for something. When not swimming or studying, I played a lot of frisbee golf and ate a lot of pizza. (It's rare that I use the phrase "a lot" twice in the same sentence, but it applies in both cases.) During the summers, I worked for a plumbing company, as previously has been mentioned here at the Ducks. School and my summer job both provided an abundance of growth for me. I learned so much in those two different worlds.

Editor's note: No real reason for a note this time. He was fairly spot-on there.

... After school, it took me a little while to find my way in this world. I did start coaching water polo back in 2001. One of my best friends from the Hope swim team took the position of head coach and offered me the chance to become the JV coach. I'm glad he did, because it's actually an important part of my life.

Editor's note to Writer: Hey, aren't you going to mention something about writing? You define yourself as a writer, so you should probably say a bit about that in your bio.

Writer's note to Editor: Normally I loathe you, but that is a good point.

... I am a writer. I realized my love of -- and talent for -- the craft while in college. One of the greatest compliments I ever received came from our campus' beloved Poetry professor, the nationally-recognized Jack Ridl. I received a completely unexpected email from Professor Ridl saying "John, you are a writer." He went on to express his hope that I always continue to write. Ever since, I've constantly strengthened my grasp of the craft and continue to love it. I do a lot of writing in a lot of different ways. (Maybe it's not so rare that I use "a lot" more than once in the same sentence...)

Writing has become quite important to me.

Now, I was well-aware of the fact that becoming a best-selling author is not particularly realistic to expect, so I stumbled for a while trying to figure out how to make sense of the natural talent I've been given and how to use it. It was only a couple of years ago now when I realized that there are so many avenues for writing beyond just novel writing. So I'm working on that. I have a lot to offer in this area and if I don't make use of it, my skills would just be wasted. But that isn't going to happen on my watch!

Let's see, that's a lot about me and how I got here. I'm actually quite a private person, but I feel comfortable with posting all of this. Well, after all, this is MY blog! :)

My bio isn't complete without mention of my family. My lovely little wife is probably even more private than I am -- which is saying a lot! -- so I'll just mention that I love her dearly. I have two stepsons, who are a lot like sons to me now, and two cats, who are a lot like cats to me now. And, of course, there is Tweak Dog, who I rescued about eight years ago.

Beyond immediate family, I have a lot of important people in my life (brothers, sisters, father, grandpa, aunts, uncles, friends, etc.), but that will have to be another post for another day...

(This one is already long enough as it stands!)

Warm regards!