Wednesday, November 14, 2012

CHINA: rural, Cantonese, and too many photos.

i was (back) in China a few weeks ago.

(that's not me)

while not my first trip - this one was ...different. i was there with, and to see family (my wife's, that is). it was my first trip back since living on that side of the world (2007). a week was spent traveling around in mid-western Yunan, followed by a few days in the southern-Canton village where my father-in-law grew up, and a few days on the front and back of the trip in Hong Kong meeting up with more of family (and a some friends from my travels).

not a lot of English was spoken. a lot of photos were taken. and far too much Chinese food was eaten.

overall thoughts.
as with my previous travels through Asia, it's clear that this is a part of the world is (still) on the move. but to focus the lens on China was particularly interesting - given their continued rise on the world-stage. no matter where i went - in the mountains, in small towns, at truck stops, night markets, murky farms and villages - everyone is doing. selling food, learning to drive, working the field. i've seen this in many of parts of the world - but never so consistently. bridges are rising, roads are expanding, factories are producing, people are buying. everyone is hungry for something more, and whatever comes next - not just for them, but for the next generation. and/but it's not always pretty. is this what America felt like in the 1950s/60s? unbridled growth - where plans are being put into motion, but potential is yet to be fully realized?

fair warning - i took far too many (shocking). believe it or not, a fair amount were already edited out. why still so many then? well, i have a problem. but more importantly, i'm visually bookmarking my experience. you're welcome. perhaps you can gleam some stories from our travels. so what may feel - in some instances - as overwhelming randomness (sorry) are more observations of my time there. the people, places, and things that caught my eye, and may even have some cultural significance. you'll see a lot of little kids being cute, a lot of adults going about their life, and some other friendly people around with us (very likely my newfound Chinese relatives).

Yunan Province (October 22-28)
technically, this began the second day of our trip (our first was spent hanging around Hong Kong, included further below). we landed in Kunming, but immediately hit the road north, up through the hills towards the mountains of Lijang. lots of ethnic minorities - the Naxi in particular are someone culturally reminiscient of Tibetans/native Americans. on our way back down we stopped in Dali. given this was a tour (completely in Cantonese, but minus the language issue, the most efficient way to get around), there were a number of forced stops at certain commercial establishments (ironic for a Communist country) - where we were encouraged to buy jade, silk, tea, silver (we didn't). despite these mild annoyances, the scenery itself and brief stops through small towns along the way made it worthwhile.

Canton Province (October 28-31)
what was a brief stop to visit family felt like it lasted much longer. probably partially because i got quite sick along the way. after a few hours in Guangzhou, our family took us down towrads Xi Qiao, the small town near the farming village where my father-in-law grew up. definitely a local, at times rural, experience. but given the sheer industrial nature of Canton (aka Guangdong), the sky was always covered in a thick haze.

Hong Kong (October 21, October 31-November 3)
we flew in/out of Hong Kong (nothing like a direct flight over the Arctic), spent a day un-jetlagging and meeting up with family and orienting ourselves (pun allowed). on the tail end of our trip, we returned from the mainland via ferry, got an apartment in Sheung Wan, and wandered about, taking it easy with more family and friends on both islands - Hong Kong and Kowloon. my father-in-law spent his adolescent/teen years bouncing around from place to place. believe what they say - it's a more crowded, more Chinese version of New York, and/or a less ex-patty/clean version of Singapore (not too significant an accomplishment, but the familiarity was there). so pretty much one big Chinatown. but it's amazing to understand the very conscious urban-expansion, especially through the lens of someone who grew up there (there's a lot to be said to the Colonial foundations, and the Communist maintenance). the surrounding water/landscapes are amazing, and the sheer density of high-rises (both shiny new and old historic) was staggering, and ever-expanding. but the people there never. stop. working.

so that's the trip, in a nutshell. as with most interesting journeys, each day felt like many, removing me further from my daily life - and providing some much needed perspective. beyond the obvious jetlag, returning to the US had it's own fair share of cultural RE-adjustment. 

and then there was an election.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

gone til 'November

i guess you could say i'm going to get in touch with my roots (in-law).

more from the entire ramancoke team in Nov. 

next stop? the PRC (中国人民共和国)

Friday, September 14, 2012


who knew? back in '96 the Smashing Pumpkins wrote me a birthday song for 2012. 

the lyrics are ominously appropriate for the day. per my annual tradition, i'm taking the day off to figure out what i'm doing with my life (and see some GI-normous waterfalls). 

beyond that, i've got nothing of merit to offer (my reflections are my own). here's some useless information about the celebratory number. 

"i look like a monkey, and i smell like one too."

Friday, July 27, 2012


we consume LOTS of content. when i read/watch/listen, i prefer to be focused - "all-in." all other distractions are left far, far away. but with so little time, and so many things vying for attention, one must be selective.

reviews and recommendations from trusted, similar-content-minded friends drive many selections ("you gotta check out ______!"). naturally, only the best stories make the cut.

thus, the role of the storyteller is key. 

over the years, as my tastes have matured (endured?), i've begun ignoring a LOT of the noise, and grown to implicitly trust a select few...creators. when their new movie, show, (comic) book, or album comes out, i'm all-in. immediately. no questions asked. 

so below is my list, because that's what i do. the criteria (beyond being awesome)? their body of work must be large, and proven. but not necessarily 100% perfect. after all, everyone's allowed some "misses" in their pursuit of greatness. so let's say...90% has to be really, really good. i've broken out creators of works i listen to, read, and watch - respectively ordered by my first discovery. let's get started.


Rivers CuomoWeezer was one of the first rock bands i ever really got into (ok, Toad the Wet Sprocket came first, but where are they now?), and have never really gotten over. Rivers is pretty much the driving creative force. he was "emo" before emo (Pinkerton?), and defined the modern age of angst-ridden nerd rock (being dumped by a lesbian, and/or "Kitty Pryde, and Nightcrawler too"). the Blue Album is one of rock's all time greats (some of rock's best opening and closing album tracks). Maladroit, Red, and Make Believe keep the faith alive. we'll just pretend Raditude never happened, and hope there are still more gems to be discovered, and to inspire many other acts to follow.

Miles Davisi only started actively listening to jazz in high school - well after my deep forays into the rock music. Relaxin' With the Miles Davis Quintent and Kind of Blue a few late afternoons in the art studio and i was done. and i'm not saying i'm sophisticated by ANY measure. but for me, Miles is a mainstay. he's my original. i still stumble upon new-tome-recordings/remasterings i've never heard before, and they always thank you. be kind to the wait-staff.

Thom Yorke: melancholy crooning and wailing? yes please. Radiohead's The Bends and In Rainbows will get me through any long work day, drive/flight, or break-up. the evolution from rock to synth club beats has been fascinating to watch, and has given me an appreciation for the latter i did not have before. as a solo artist, his constant experimentation keeps me surprisingly interested and coming back for more. i'm always interested to see where Thom is going next.

John Lennon i was even later to the Beatles (it took me awhile to get there, which reminds me...i need to dedicate the time and energy to experiencing Bob Dylan). and while my favorite Beatle is technically George ('While my Guitar Gently Weeps'), Lennon's short lived solo career was more memorable (i'll try to ignore most of the Plastic Ono Band, i still hold a grudge against Yoko). i keep trying to give Paul a chance, but he was pre-empted by the exit of his longtime partner, and i think stuck around at the party too long. 


Bill Waterson:  as a kid i would always gravitate to the "comics" section of the newspaper (no surprise there). Calvin & Hobbes was easily the most artful, engaging, and thoughtfully amusing. soon i was skipping the entire comics page and ONLY reading C&H. i soon graduated to the books/collected edition, anticipating their release and being first in line at the local book store to gladly give away what little money i had to spend. and one day? Bill decided to go out on top and quit. still some of the most treasured book collection on my shelf. 

John Steinbeck: along with Lennon and Davis, one of the guys on this list i have not parsed the entire library of, but am satisfied every time i pick up something new-to-me. Travels with Charley still inspires me every time i read it. him and Hemingway, while distinctively different, tell common, but often outlandish tales of things that could have, and must have been. 

Nick Hornbylike most of us, i saw first saw the film High Fidelity (with John Cusack) before reading the book. when i discovered there WAS a book, i quickly picked it up. a close friend soon got me a copy of Hornby's About a Boy, BEFORE the film came out. two for two, i was hooked at the tongue-in-cheek, pop-culture, could-be-your-life narrative and dialogue. every book that followed delivered the same. his "obsession commentaries" (Polysyllabic Spree, Fever Pitch…ignore the Jimmy Fallon film) are cringing-ly familiar to my own OCD, while other fictions (How To Be Good, A Long Way Down) touched a nerve because he somehow got too close. others, like SLAM, simply made me laugh. after all, what WOULD Tony Hawk do? 

Brian Michael Bendis: originally a simple crime-noir author turned comic book artist, Bendis redefined many of Marvel's icons for the modern age. whether a revival of Daredevil, his insane 12+ year run on Ultimate Spider-Man (seriously, the most poignant interpretation of the character since Lee & Ditko introduced us to Peter Parker in the 60's) or the superhero crime drama Powers, Bendis never fails to deliver. human stories that rival most television/film, and a knack for realistic dialogue real people would have if thrown into some of the insane tales that comic-bookery so-often weaves. 

Jhumpa Lahiri: how a lady from Canada (besides my wife) gets me so well, i will never know. want to understand what it's like being the child of an immigrant being caught between two cultures? Lahiri literally wrote the book(s) on it. the Namesake is probably one of my favorite pieces of fiction of all time (oddly enough, the book had me relating to the son, while the film, the father, which made me feel like i spent my childhood/teen years being a real jerk to my dad…i blame Kal Penn's bad acting). she did the same in her warm-up act, the Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection, the Interpreter of Maladies. her most recent short-story collection - Unaccustomed Earth - while darker, doesn't miss a beat.

Mark Millar: before the Avengers was a movie Millar's the Ultimates was THE story to see how it could be done on the big screen. his run on the Authority gave Warren Ellis a run for his money. but most of his comics read like treatments for summer action flicks - before they started optioning comic books. he's the guy behind Kick-Ass and Wanted (again, the original comics being far superior to their film adaptations), but also a number of others you may have never heard of - Red, Nemesis, Superior. and what if Kal-El had landed in mother Russia? read Superman: Red Son, and you can thank me later.

Robert Kirkman: he's only got a few, but man are they good ones. this Kentucky-based comics creator behind two of the most exciting page-turning books in the business right now - Invincible and the Walking Dead (the source material of the top cable show on AMC, with Kirkman as a producer). despite belief-suspending realities, Kirkman paint character stories that are relatable and engaging, even in the best and worst of situations. whether zombies have taken over, or (spoiler alert), your dad is really a crazy super-hero-turned-alien-invader.


Wes Anderson: if you don't like the Royal Tenenbaums, we probably can't be friends. i'm sorry. Anderson's quirky tapestry of characters (often families), settings, and narratives charm you as they pull you into plots and dialogues that are so simple, you're left wondering what everyone else is doing in the movie business. Rushmore, the Life Aquatic, the Fantastic Mister Fox all consistently deliver stories you want to read in a storybook, but are charmed to see them on the big screen. his most recent, Moonrise Kingdom, is probably the best movie i've seen all year (and may just be superior to RT).

Aaron Sorkin: i was late to the game on the West Wing, but quickly got pulled in and caught up (declaring it one of the top 10 TV shows of all time). in my hunger for more Sorkin, i discovered his earlier, short-lived Sports Night. even the shorter-lived Studio 60 got me my fix. Sorkin represents what good TV should be (having won an Oscar for the Social Network, is pretty adept at the movie-business as well). he's brings you lovable characters, and stay-with-me-if-you-can dialogue that many on this list also have. but beyond just the art, Sorkin has a message, a (political) point of view…that isn't just liberal, it's rational, and optimistic about where we should be going as a society (and/or nation). i'm following the Newsroom closely, but am glad it's on HBO, so we can let Sorkin be Sorkin. 

Chris Nolan: Memento. Insomnia. Batman Begins. the Prestige. the Dark Knight. Inception. and yes, the Dark Knight Rises (i promise this post was in process before all the madness/leadup to this one). Nolan delivers. he doesn't compromise and make the crap Hollywood would have us waste our lives on. thank you sir. 

Fareed Zakaria: not quite a storyteller, but the most rational man (with the most consistently global POV) in the news business. i guess that makes him a…narrator? he has a book (the Post-American World - one of my top non-fiction reads of all time) and writes news magazine editorials. those on the right, left, up, down (B-A, B-A, Select-Start) respect him. those who are crazy and just want to be on TV know they don't stand a chance, so stay away from him. if you want to learn something about the world. read/watch some Fareed. he's the nerd i want to be when i grow up. 

there are a handful of others that didn't make the list - companies (HBO, Google), and technologists (Tesla, Musk, and yes, even Jobs) alike. more often than not, i trust the motives behind products and services, though there are sometimes failings in execution. 

so that's my list. i'm sure there are some i missed, so let me know who YOUR creators are. maybe i'll give them a try.

you're welcome.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

break something.

for most of my professional life i've been a digital/ marketing guy.

that is, helping big companies figure out how to best use the interwebs to... sell stuff. along the way i've been privy to seeing how the more traditional side of the house operates, often even working directly on such antiquated classic (but still relevant) things as television media/advertising. the latest iteration of my day-job has me mired in BOTH.

last week was both the 'Internet Week' and the TV Upfronts. for me, this was an intersection of the 2 media domains in which i operate - "digital" and "traditional" - which ironically, for me is old and new, respectively. i've always known this, but it really brought to life how badly something is going to (and must) fundamentally change, but more necessarily break.

Internet Week is when a bunch of internet companies (young, energetic, ambitious and fearless guys) playing in the marketing and media space get together, attend a bunch of conferences, have lot of conversations, and even make some announcements (think like a less cool, more network-schmoozey SXSW in NYC, minus the backdrop of great bands and breakfast tacos). i attended a few sessions, learned a few things and was inspired.

the TV Upfronts is when all the big TV networks (older, suited-up, also-ambitious guys) hold galas to unveil their "fall lineup" of new shows, talk about their POV on the industry, and throw big parties so media buyers can celebrity-spot their favorite small-screen actors. it basically kicks off of the buying season, where the big companies ("the advertisers") - along with their agencies - will start to secure some or most of their "TV inventory" for the next 12 months. i attended a couple of "upfronts" (NBC + ABC) - i was entertained (mostly by a bunch of TV trailers), and underwhelmed, by what has become a simple song-and-dance dog-and-pony show.

so what's the point of all this (i find myself asking this question more often than not)? the fundamental disconnect between "the way things have always been" and the ever increasing reality of technological disruption and media fragmentation (more and more people are consuming more and more stuff, in lots and lots of different places. TV ratings are going down (less consumer supply), prices are going up (more advertiser demand), and while (some) mass-media content is as good as it's ever been, most of it is entering a downward spiral of crap noise. if you disagree with me here, you probably watch stuff like "America's Kidz Can Sing" and/or don't get the reference.

but i digress.

smart application of and mass adoption of technology is a mostly-positive, constantly-changing force. we watch less and less programming on broadcast. more and more, we watch files, stream seasons (1-2 years post air-date), and in most cases, have no idea what network is underwriting it all (nor should we care?). but if everyone started consuming media the way i know i do, the model - of networks funding shows (appealing to broad or niche masses) in hopes of an immediate (often 'upfront'?) advertiser payout - fundamentally starts to break down.


so is technology the solution, or the cause? the chicken or the egg? the Paul or the John? or both? do/should writers/producers instead start posting their pilot-scripts and show ideas to Kickstarter and/or YouTube? Louis CK and Aziz Ansari posted full hours of comedic material for $5-10 apiece, and sold millions of streams/downloads. but they became who they were not just because of their raw talent, but mass media distribution. the same can be said for Thom Yorke and Trent Reznor and their "pay you want, just pay us directly" model of content distribution. it should be noted though, for every talented artist as those listed above, there are 10-100x more of the less-talented variety.

but what about the film/music creative geeks in a garage somewhere, who don't (yet?) have the benefit of a major network/label deal? where do they fall, and how are they nurtured/grown? of course we're going to see more grassroots, consumer-user-generated content. but you and i both know, it's not as good as season of the Wire/Friday Night Light or an album by the Beatles/Radiohead. but those ground-breaking creators didn't come up with their work overnight. they worked at it, got a few breaks along the way - in the form of rather large infusions of cash to tour, be creative - not to mention access to partnership, mentorship, and production. for the most part, it was only after then that they made it big(ger), then struck out into alternative models, paving the way for the rest.

we pay for what we get, and while free is great, we don't want crap content, or that which is overly mass/ad-influenced. trust me, i work in the (evil?) marketing industry, we want to do that. but we (the people) certainly don't want a crap consumption experience. so should we just sit back and hope that maybe the big boys will figure this out for us. that certainly is one (semi-likely) solution - so long as it suits 'their' short term interest, but we only net positive if 'they' are willing to play the true long-game of creating great content in hopes of long term returns. or is there something better/different that has not been fully realized (e.g. Kickstarter, crowd-funding, alternative/VC capital-funding)? frankly, such alternative-funding models have to match the alternate media/technology models that are causing so much disruption.

regardless, something is going to break. i want to see it happen. but i also want to see/make it get fixed for the better.

and maybe, just maybe, i can find my way in the middle of it, put in my headphones, and read my comic books.

6/4 update: my good friend Bob recently sent me this article, which pretty much says the same thing, but uses things like "data" and "facts":

Monday, April 23, 2012

FNL: clear eyes, full hearts.

the latest addition to my top TV shows of all time*: Friday Night Lights.
...hit play already for the soundtrack to this post.

"...but isn't that a football show?" 

yes it is. and it was that sentiment which left me as dismissive as you probably are.

i'm not a football guy. but i went to a football school. hell, i grew up in a small suburban southern town, where people's "teams" were of the highschool/college variety (there were no nearby pro teams) - and of those football was king. but i was on the sidelines of that culture - as the child of immigrants, and a scrawny/nerdy one at that. so yea, i was hesitant to dive in to a show about football.

but friends of equal/superior television-viewing taste* had been recommending FNL for quite some time. then several months ago, i actually read a Time article (spoilers within), for which this particular (non-spoiler) quote caught my attention:
"Just as HBO's crime-drama masterpiece The Wire was a searing vision of what is wrong with America, Friday Night Lights has been a clear-eyed, full-hearted tribute to what is right with it."
that's right. TIME just said FNL was the yin the Wire's yang. and the Wire is arguably the best show ever made. so it was no longer a question of IF i would watch FNL, just WHEN. and that began a few short weeks ago.

and yes, you remember correctly. there was actually a movie (2004 - starring Billy Bob Thornton, NOT James Van der Beek) surrounding the same topic/themes (Texas high school football) - but condensed for 2 hours of Hollywood-ness (if you haven't yet watched the show - the film is a great appetizer - and here's a good trailer). apparently both the film and TV-series were based on a book by H.G. Bissinger, profiling a small town in Texas and it's relationship with high school football. while the film is historically accurate (names and places), it was limited in scope, not looking into the broader lives of the local town-folk. 

"...but while the show is all the better for its specificity, it isn’t limited by it." (USA Today)

FNL the television show digs much, much deeper. what it loses in historical accuracy - it more than makes up for in the development of character archetypes in the more contemporary, fictional town of Dillon, TX. what results is relevant, realistic stories of (a part of) America as it is, and America how it is changing. 

big/small government? race? abortion? military/Iraq? outside financial influence on our institutions? work/life balance? kids these days? all are on the table, and both views are expressed - but through the lens of their affect on one small town. unlike sci-fi (BSG, etc), it doesn't need the false veil of aliens, space-travel, and killer robots to make its points, but like with any great story - great character development is needed. and that is handled in spades by Eric/Tammy/Julie Taylor, Matt Saracen, Tim/Billy Riggins, Jason Street, Vince Jordan, hell, even Buddy Garrity, Landry Clarke, and all the other Dillon Panthers/Lions. 

nevermind the breathe-taking Texas scenery, real-life cinematography and emotionally inspiring score/soundtrack. i'm a particular music-geek, so the latter really hit home - whether it was Explosions in the Sky, W.G Snuffy Walden (also of the West Wing fame), or the unofficial theme of Tony Lucca's "Devil Town" (playing above). does the show start/go slow? sure. but all good so patience is needed (something that clearly does not exist in the mass-TV-viewing public obsessed with show choirs, crime dramas, quick laughs, and/or reality TV). the show doesn't just build you up, it also brings you the stark realities that are present in our society and lives. one critical point in the very first episode brings this point to life. 

it's an emotional roller coaster well-worth the ride.

so after a 3-week television love affair (my wife was surprisingly understanding, with a tad bit of condescension) with my friends in the the small town of Dillon, Texas - i firmly understand the importance of the shows leading sentiment: 

clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose. 

*what else makes the TV- cut? in partial order: the Wire, BSG, Lost, West Wing, Scrubs, the Daily ShowAvatar (the cartoon, not the movie). sure, there are tons of other shows i (really) like, but these are the ones that start to finish, stand the test and go the distance. i'm a better person for watching them, and you would be too.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

turn off?

wanna to know the next big media/tech trend? 

stepping away from it. turning it off.

after having past-pontificated on this a few times, echos of this are starting to show up in the media.

the curmudgeon in me firmly believes there are too many outlets for distraction. and if you're not aware of this, you live under a rock, which in this case, is probably a good thing. 

don't get me wrong, the access to unlimited streams of information, anywhere, anytime, is a mostly positive force in the world. just as, if not more significant than the invention of fire, cars, and flight. but keep in mind, as mass adoption of any new "thing" takes hold, mass idiocracy occurs, as most of us are morons. "a person is smart, people are stupid."

remember, fire ultimately lead us warfare (and arson). cars shortened vast distances, but bad drivers make automotive-related deaths a part of everyday life. as for flight - even though planes are the true mass transit (air-buses?), don't get me started on why flying cars, while cool enough for me, Marty Macfly, and agents of SHIELD/MASK are a bad idea (see earlier point on bad drivers).

TMI (too much information) isn't necessarily going to cause a mass extinction event, but it IS making most of us dumber, because we're not mature enough to manage this flow. so maybe it's just slow, mind-numbing, thinning of the herd (mush mush). too many short pulses of information (sometimes signals, but mostly noise), keep us from...thinking.

when was the last time you read a book that taught you something. really listened to an album. wrote something that had meaning? watched a good film that made you think? had a conversation about something that mattered? drew something that took effort? came up with - and implemented - your/the next great idea? 

every evening i come home and leave my phone with my keys (where they charge at night - not in our bedroom). i don't believe in the second/third-screen viewing when i watch TV/movies. i want to immerse myself in the story, and think/talk about it later. i (try to) read every night before bed and every morning before work, despite the temptations to tune in, log on, etc. 

give it a try for a few days and see what happens. 

one of the reasons i live to travel abroad? beyond the adventure/food/cool-factor - it's a way to go off the grid. to escape the inbox, social networks, TV-queue, and mostly irrelevant texts + contacts. the allure of being surrounded by something foreign helps realize the ability to be in the moment, versus seeking distraction from the daily mundane. sadly, technology is catching up. but an often different time-zone helps. 

and yet, even all of this is not enough to combat the daily deluge of information. i spend more of my day working from my inbox and making small adjustments to existing items than actually working on something big and tangible. my best thinking/work happens when my mind is quiet. mental connections and leaps are made. ideas come together. 

maybe at some point, the masses will start to see this. maybe this realization has been with me awhile because i'm usually an (obnoxious) early adopters of all the tech/media/gadgets that connect us to the infinite amounts of information out there. i've worn/burnt out out faster.

or maybe everyone else simply knows how to manage it better (" these days!"), and i'm choosing (or trying) to stay behind.

at least it's quieter here.

Monday, April 09, 2012

zombies VS aliens?

no, this post is NOT about a really bad/good/bad comic or movie (though apparantly it's already a game). it's an [attempted] legitimate scientific argument. the term "scientific" is used loosely.

fair warning - my opening, tangential salvo may offend  some sensibilities (if so, please skip the next 2-3 paragraphs), but frankly, it's funny, and i enjoy observing/talking about religion. hopefully, further down are also some good points to make you think.

zom·bie [zom-bee] noun  
1. the body of a dead person given the semblance of life by a supernatural force.
2. a great Cranberries song.
al·ien [ey-lee-uhn] noun
1. a person who has been estranged or excluded.
2. a creature from outer space.
3. one residing under a government or in a country other than that of one's birth without having or obtaining the status of citizenship there.
4. a great Fountains of Wayne song.

i chuckle to think this post might have been more appropriate yesterday, given the religiously-observed occasion (the original sequel).

what do i mean? well the big guy with whom many are obsessed was - when you think about it - either a zombie or an alien. seriously, just re-read the standard definitions above in said context. if you are a believer (relgiously, walking dead-edly, extra-terristerially, or pop-musically), truth really IS stranger than fiction.

(---the easily-offended may now resume reading---)

ignoring my controversial (albeit inspirational-to-this-post) tangent though, it begs the question: zombies or aliens...which will we first encounter? below is the net of a heated discussion i had with another member of the ramancoke team this past holiday=weekend.

the case against aliens:
phone home?
space is big (i've recently become re-obsessed with it). but seriously, space is really, really BIG (how big?). let us assume some future encounter with aliens would be one with an evolved, intelligent Alien Life Form (not the discovery of micro-organisms like space-algae or cosmic-bacteria), and assume that intelligent life in the universe likely comes from another planet. other planets outside of our solar system are really far away (the nearest star beyond our sun is Alpha Centauri ...4.24 light years away, and most conventional means of transport don't even get close to light-speed). i'm not saying intelligent life isn't likely to exist (given the universe is a BIG place, it IS possible), but if so, they are going to be far, far away. 

AND, the universe is a really OLD place (how old?). our so-far brief tenure as an intelligent, barely-space faring species is but a blip in not just mankind's history, or even a smaller blip in the earth's existance, but a really, really, REALLY tiny blip in the universe's existance. if you assume another (alien) species' intelligent tenure is just as small a blip in the time-span of the univese - the chances of our brief existance intersecting theirs (nevermind the time it would take for us to journey to or communicate with eachother) are INFINITESIMALLY small. so it might happen, but not anytime soon. or perhaps they find out about us after we are long gone. unless, of course, the aliens are omnipotent/omnipresent beings like Q and/or the Silver Surfer, but come on, now you're just being silly.

the case FOR zombies:
at it's simplest, zombies are people. to be sure, mostly-dead people, driven by the carnal, un-evolved desire to feed on meat of any kind (not necessarily humans or brains). so higher-brain function doesn't exist. their bodies are (re?)animated and driven by an insatiable appetite. well, we already have a lot of people on earth...China and India aren't really helping out here. we already have lots of crazy evolving viruses, and we're dabbling a LOT with the brain (in our quest to cure all sorts of neurological disoreders) - whether it's stem-cell research, cloning, virus-destruction/mutation, etc. it's a bit doomsday-esque, but we're playing with godly-things here, unlocking the building blocks of creation/intelligent life (hooray for science!). but given our past track record, we could easily unleash something as unexpected/horrible as the walking dead. the pandora's box is waiting to be opened. hell, even the CDC has an official POV. coincidence?

in conclusion
while both the aliens and zombies are HIGHLY (i hope) unlikely, zombies are more so, and aliens less so.

that being said, we'd better start planing for either worst-case scenario, however unlikely or likely. which means  i probably need to watch/read a lot more about aliens and zombies. darn.

even though we didn't even mention robots (who are already ready and waiting), 

you're welcome.

Friday, April 06, 2012

photo randomness. april edition.

and a good Friday to you, loyal reader. no, i'm still pretty sure man and dinosaur did not walk the earth together, but it still makes for some awesome visuals.

fair warning, this installment of the ramancoke team plastering of other's images will largely be space-geek influenced, bc it's been on my mind lately (and apparently the internets).

before things get too crazy, let's check out some Bat-Manga ("holy Arigato!")

that certainly was as refreshing as a fistful of wasabi (or as it is mostly served in this hemisphere - green-colored horseradish). speaking of fists (and onomatopoeia), check out this modern-day POWer ring...

even more spectacular is this marvel-ous interpretation of Mssr.Waterson's scientific progress (goes "thwip"?)...

what is it about cutesy mashups that make me want to "save as"?

or you can always just double-down on the geekery (that's no moon)...

ok, this one doesn't fit. it was just cool looking. i recently re-watched City Slickers, am watching far too much FNL, and read a Hornby novel where the main character talks to Tony Hawk in his head. consider me inspired.

and here is just a sad, sad robot...

...and a sad, sad Surfer.

...Hamm Solo?

by now you are probably starting to see a pattern.

 if not, then you probably had trouble reading above. 

that's about all i've got for now. so we'll see you next time.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

young astronauts?

space. i've kinda always wanted to go.

unlike the generation before, i didn't have a Cold War, Space Race, and/or Moonshot to inspire me. there was (science) fiction, which i suppose resulted from these more significant events. regardless, the effect of space on who i've become has been substantial. though i'm still coming to terms with what it means for me (if anything) as a grown-up.

here's a random story of that journey, with some sort of point/realization at the end, i promise.

a long time ago...
my parents took me to see Star Wars at the local drive-in. i was a baby, so while i really have no recollection of this, it's worth mentioning. the following years (ages 2-6) i did venture to a galaxy far, far away countless times - albeit on VHS. X-wing fighters, the princess in space, death stars (2), droids, wookies and lightsabers set my imagination alight. i DO remember seeing Return of the Jedi at our local dollar theatre, while Empire would not tint my outlook that "the world is a series of down-notes" until much, much later. but the damage had been done. space WAS the place. the force would be with me, always.

my mom was actually a science teacher, and her best friend worked in the science/computer lab. by the time i was in 2nd grade (age 7), i was playing during/after school with toy rockets - not the spaceships that powered my imaginary adventures, but  the kind that actually shoot towards the sky via chemical propulsion. at school, i remember the big day we gathered to watch a teacher blast off into space, only to leave in tears after the Challenger exploded into so many pieces. regardless, i stayed immersed in fancies of flight - whether it be of the real, paper, and/or foam variety (i also happened to obsess over legos, comics, and ninja turtles...but those are entirely separate posts). i joined the "Young Astronauts" club, eventually went to Space Camp, and i quickly knew my way around the Smithsonian's Air & Space Museum via frequent summer DC trips (one of which involved my visiting grandparents getting an in-depth tour). the real reason the Fantastic Four was 100-times cooler than Batman or Spider-Man? they spent pretty much all their time in space or other dimensions, and they got their powers from cosmic rays. clearly the only way for me to get super powers (a priority at the time) was to get to space - i wasn't getting anywhere near radioactive spiders or gamma bombs. by the time Star Trek: the Next Generation debuted (age 8), space had me, hook line, and sinker.

yea i know, i was becoming quite the weirdo. don't get me started on my blue-green glasses.

it took me a bit too long to realize what a dork i was (age 9). my childhood best friend actually had to confront me with this fact, which sparked far too many years of "how do i fit in?" self-obsession. it wasn't until i quit "trying" (embracing my inner nerd) that i achieved moderate success here. but throughout this adolescent/teenage ordeal, my imaginations and thoughts of space provided an easy-enough escape. out there things were bigger, more important concerns than how well you dressed or played sports (both of which i was particularly lacking).

the real reason i speak German fluently proficiently? i often tell people that my teacher's daughter was cute, but i didn't meet her until high school (though our assistant teacher the year before was easy on the eyes). given this post, you can probably surmise that the German-thing started much, much earlier, prior to any cute "academic influences." in fifth grade (age 10), we had the opportunity to start taking a language. Spanish seemed to easy (my love of Mexican food was not a big enough influence at the time). all the super-nerds were taking Latin (eventually helpful for their SATs?). i really have no idea why anyone would take French (girls were also not as much a concern at this age, nor was the prospect of working at a French yogurt company). but you know where all of the American rocket technology came from? ZE GERMANS. Werner Von Braun, to be specific (never mind the fact that he was first a nazi scientist who reigned fire on the England from above).

so clearly, in my space-addled mind, speaking the language of the original rocketeers (technically, that might have been the Chinese, since they discovered/invented gunpowder) was the most sure-fire way to get a job at NASA later on in life. with a few other friends (whose motivations for the language escapes me), we stuck with it well into and through our teenage years. along the way, i through myself into visual art (i blame comic books), and finished high school at a "math & science" school, where among my fellow nerds, your placement in physics and calculus gave you some status. i got a little better at sports and dressing along the way (relative to my math-and-science classmates), but not by much.

becoming a "grown up"
soon enough, high school came to a close, and it was now time to go to college. i certainly wasn't going to fulfill parentally-mandated stereotypes and become a doctor. and said-parents were certainly not going to let their son study art (my other teenage obsession, competing with emo music and cute girls). so (computer) engineering would become the great compromise. as computers were becoming the next "hot thing" in 90s, and i knew a thing or two more than my elders, they reluctantly went along with such pursuits. but even then, in the back of my (german-speaking, awkward teen) mind, did any of this have to do with space anymore? while i did spend a lot of late nights working on physics/calculus problems watching TNG reruns, the fast-encroaching real world was slowly eroding my passion for space. besides, college was also where my interest in (live) rock music, travel, and yes, girls caught on more.

during a couple of summers i interned with a giant defense contractor, living in Huntsville, AL, the birthplace of the US space program (WVB FTW). every day i drove by a giant space shuttle and Saturn V rocket, which never got old. one of my first big projects - working on NASA web-training modules, while easy enough, was mind-numbing enough to scare me away from government work, much less a career as a computer engineer. the remote realities of space started to lose even more of it's luster (really George Lucas? Episode 1...Jar Jar?!?). returning to school, convinced that i wouldn't become an engineer, i toyed with other creative pursuits, started listening to more bands, meeting new girls, finished my engineering/german degrees, and eventually ran away to Europe for a short bit. space was the furthest thing from my mind. i eventually wound up lost in business school, stumbled into a career of (digital) marketing, and never really looked back. one positive thing for me leaving everything behind, and getting out of the south. i was traveling at warp speed into the personal unknown.

as of late.
i still don't know how or why i work in marketing. selling stuff isn't my forté. i just landed here. but i seem to do it well, and they pay me lots of money - which allows me to travel. there's something about the intersection of people (we call them condescending is that?) and technology...that's the good stuff that excites me to come to work every day (other stuff has me hitting the snooze button, but again, that's antoher post). marketing/media tends to be at the front edge of these changing habits and practices...probably because we're trying to find new ways to break through the clutter, and make a buck. don't get me started on "media fragmentation." and the creative wizardy we love Don Draper for? it's even more relevant now than it ever was before, assuming the intentions are noble and not evil.

along the way, there have been many an occasional (sometimes obsessive) flirtation with Hubble, Mars, Asimov, Zahn, Branson, and yes, Battlestar Galactica (don't judge me). it doesn't really compare to the love of space from my youth, but the fire has always been kindled. after all, i'm a nerd at heart. though lately, there's been a bit of a re-awakening, from what seems like a far-too-long hibernation.

i recently started reading Neil deGrasse Tyson's Space Chroniclesfor those of you that don't know Neil, he's the astrophysicist with the Hayden Planetarium at the NY Museum of Natural History, and is constantly on TV talking to the likes of Stewart, Maher, and others about why space matters. Neil's main literary premise (which this post parallels and supports), is that mere idea of space exploration is something that, since the 60's, has ignited the hearts and minds of people to pursue science, math, and yes, technology. how else are we going to get all the way up there?

but recent decades has seen the commoditization of space travel. no longer are we trying to go beyond our current reach (soulless satellites and probes do not count). the moon was supposed to be our first of many stops. instead, we chose to languish in low earth orbit. so our communal desire to explore "out there"was blunted.

sure, there were always few(er) inspired geeks/nerds like me, but we grew up, and found other, less meaningful pursuits. and yes, i won't argue against the fact that as a society, technology is still exploding, exponentially - but we've turned inward - focusing on digital and social technologies, which have been amazing at creating connections and access that never existed before, but are quickly devolving into a feedback-loop of self-fulfilling likes, check-ins, and status updates - on the web, on our phones, tablets and soon television (don't get me started on the inherent evils and ever-dumbing down that comes from that particular box that sucks the best of us in). so many of these eventually world-changing technologies were born out of space exploration - the need to do the impossible. we'll continue to innovate, but one of the key catalysts is quickly languishing. i can only reference my personal slumber as a relevant example.

in closing.
i like to think that
...i just don't know how to get there anymore.
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