Monday, June 26, 2017

Two MMA personalities who should stop working in the field


BJ Penn has at times been one of the most amazing fighters in MMA history. He's held UFC championships in two weight classes and has fought in many memorable bouts. He retired once, but like so many athletes, he couldn't stand being on the sidelines and came out of retirement.

He should have stayed retired.

Last night, he fought Dennis Siver and looked awful. Siver tore him apart.

I've long admired Penn's skill and enjoyed watching him over the years, but I sincerely hope he stops fighting before he can hurt himself or his reputation any more.

By contrast, veteran referee Mario Yamasaki has always been prone to errors, and he's not getting any better. He stopped Sunday night's main event entirely too early and left poor Michael Chiesa correctly feeling robbed. Yamasaki needs to stop being a ref--and if he won't, athletic commissions everywhere should stop hiring him--because he is simply not good at the job.

I doubt Yamasaki would agree, of course, but I bet most MMA fans--and even UFC President Dana White--would.




Sunday, June 25, 2017

My spam tells me a story


Tonight's four spam messages told me a story.

The first advertised a LifeLock identity protection service.  It wanted me to protect my identity so I could take advantage of...

...the offering of my second message, which said I could get an ezFHA mortgage and even a home-improvement loan.

That loan would help me benefit from the third message's Andersen Windows renewal offer, so the windows in my new house would be clean and let me easily...

...check out the 25 hot women of my fourth spam message.

It's nice when spam offers a bedtime story.




Saturday, June 24, 2017

Overheard at dinner


"Don't worry. Everything's okay. I'm just having visions."


The odd part is, I was the one who said it.

And it was all true.

But in a good way.




Friday, June 23, 2017

Facebook Messenger is not the right way to reach me


Lately, the numbers on my phone's Facebook app remind me that some people keep trying to reach me via Facebook Messenger. To try to reach as many folks as possible, I'm writing this entry. I don't use Facebook Messenger. I rarely look at Facebook, and when I do, it's via my phone, where I have not installed their Messenger app. Trying to reach me that way won't work.

I'm not trying to be antisocial; I'm just currently full up on communication mechanisms. With personal email, work email, Slack at work, and what reaches me via this blog, plus the occasional text and the even rarer actual phone call, I am already spending way too much time receiving and answering messages.

So, if you need to reach me, either email me directly or use the Contact form on my site. I'll get back to you pretty quickly; I read and answer all my own email.



Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Senate's healthcare proposal is a travesty; do what you can to fight it


It is about neither health nor caring. It would hurt millions and millions of Americans. If you have any time to spare, contact your representatives--especially if they are Republican--and urge them to stop this horrible piece of legislation from becoming law.

We need to provide health care to more Americans, not fewer. We need to make it cheaper, not more expensive.

Let's do all we can to stop this mean-spirited exercise from becoming law.




Wednesday, June 21, 2017

If you're considering seeing Transformers: The Last Knight,


go see Wonder Woman instead. Even if you've already seen Wonder Woman. Even if you've already seen it twice. I would have had more fun being stuck at work all night handling a crisis.

Kyle found something good to say about the movie: if you compiled a book of still shots from the film's key moments, you would have a very pretty and cool art book.

Unfortunately, no scene lives up to the quality of its still shots. The actors look like they're in pain as they phone in their lines--and with good cause, because more of the lines are groan-worthy than not. The plot is needlessly convoluted and, predictably, devoid of logic and science. Even the emotional arc is a mess, with multiple climaxes and uplifting speeches that fall flatter than a Transformer after having its head cut off. The film's rascism and sexism is unavoidable and offensive.

I could go on and on with the critiques, but there's no point in that.

If you've read this blog for a while, you'll know that I can find the good in any movie, but this film stretched that ability to the breaking point. I wasn't angry at myself for seeing it--Scott was--and I continue to have the goal of seeing all the movies, so in that sense I am glad I went--but only in that sense.

Skip this one and hope that if enough of us stay away, Michael Bay won't get the money to make any more installments in this painful franchise.




Tuesday, June 20, 2017

How can I resist


the combination of Soderbergh, Craig, and Tatum in this bit of weirdness?



I can't, of course.



Monday, June 19, 2017

A little evening concert


In high school, college, and for a bit after that, I was a hardcore Cat Stevens fan. I loved his music, and I practically played the grooves out of my albums. I still do love all his records. One day, he converted to Islam, and he vanished from the music scene.

A few years ago, he re-emerged as Yusuf, his new name.

For a four-song mini-concert that's just perfect when you want a 15-minute break, check out this NPR Tiny Desk concert featuring Yusuf.

The last song is, was, and always will be a favorite of mine. It chokes me up every time.

Enjoy.




Sunday, June 18, 2017

Musings on a rainy afternoon


Many years ago, I wrote a blog entry in which I opined that you could glean a great many lessons from the movie Animal House. Many of those lessons come from or at the expense of the hapless freshman, Flounder. Stephen Furst, the actor who played Flounder, died yesterday, so I was thinking a bit about him and the movie. Lines like "You fucked up, you trusted us," come to my mind frequently. R.I.P., Mr. Furst.

Furst, by the way, was not quite two months younger than I am. People my age are dying all the time. Reminders of my mortality occur all too often these days. Well, to be accurate, they've always been available; I'm just much more sensitive to them now.

Growing up, Father's Day was always a holiday I tried to forget, because when you don't have a father and wish all the time that you did, this is a rough day.

Today, I'm very lucky that Sarah and Scott remember the day and try to see me on it, as they will later today.

I am a fortunate man indeed. I would be wise never to forget that.





Saturday, June 17, 2017

A TED talk I quite liked


After poking fun at TED's brand expansion in last night's entry, today I learned that a TED Talk I quite liked just went live.  If you have the 18 minutes to spare, I recommend this presentation by Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group.



In other news, I'm home!  I'm quite happy to be done with planes for a while.

Now, to unpack!




Friday, June 16, 2017

TED Talks and my hotel door


I love TED and always feel privileged to be able to attend it.  I've learned a great deal from and been inspired by many TED Talks.  I've applauded the way TED Curator Chris Anderson and his team have spread the TED brand.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if they might be reaching a bit far.

Click the image to see a larger version.

Yes, this is the Do Not Disturb sign that adorns my hotel room door as I write this.

To be fair, the hotel does make it easy to watch TED Talks, and I suppose this is a fair way to cram more content into previously under-utilized space.

Still, I can't help but chuckle each time I see this.




Thursday, June 15, 2017

Kuneho delivers impeccable food


I ate earlier tonight at Kuneho, the newest restaurant from Austin star chef Paul Qui. I've liked all of Qui's previous places, but Kuneho reaches a level above them all. It's definitely one of Austin's best restaurants, for my taste the second best after Counter, and that's how I feel after only one meal.

It's way later than the timestamp on this post indicates, so I'm going to save a full review for later. The most important takeaway you should remember is a simple one: if you live in Austin or visit it, eat at Kuneho. Its dishes range from presentations that seem simple to those that are clearly more involved, but every single one I sampled was delicious.

Do not miss Kuneho.




Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Finding common ground in shock and sorrow


I'd like to believe that no rational person will think today's shooting in Alexandria is a good thing. It is not. It is the work of an unwell person. We must not resort to violent attacks on those with whom we disagree. Though I'm not a Bernie Sanders fan, I agree with what he said today:

"Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms."

I'd like to believe that in the shock and sorrow that are sensible reactions to this shooting we can all find common ground, but I fear that will not be the case.

Newt Gingrich, for example, said, "It's part of a pattern. You've had an increasing intensity of hostility on the left." When a reporter pressed Gingrich on this point, Gingrich said, "You've had a series of things which send signals that tell people that it's OK to hate Trump, it's OK to think of Trump in violent terms, it's OK to consider assassinating Trump. And then suddenly we're supposed to rise above it until next time?"

Gingrich's remark form exactly the sort of reaction we should not have. Have people indulged in hateful rhetoric and hateful satire against Trump? Sure. People have always done that sort of thing against Presidents. That is a long way, however, from actually shooting anyone.

Instead of using this as yet another political football, I'd like to see us unite in our shock and sorrow at the shooting, and perhaps even go so far as to build from that brief union a dialogue about the very real problems we all face.

I'd like that, but I don't expect to get it.



Tuesday, June 13, 2017

COUNTER 3 . FIVE . VII remains Austin's only world-class restaurant


I have to put a caveat on that headline right off the bat: Counter is the only world-class restaurant of the many Austin restaurants I've experienced. That means it's possible that others exist, and if they do, I want to eat at them, but I don't think that's the case. Counter's food is extraordinary, and it remains far and away the best restaurant I've visited in Austin.

I've raved about the place in past blog entries, and I'm tired, so I'm going to keep it short in this review of my meal earlier tonight. Every dish was, of course, delicious, but each was also way more than that: it mixed flavors you might not have blended, it respected all the ingredients while also elevating them, and it displayed the mixture of inventive brilliance and perfect execution that is the hallmark of a world-class kitchen.  Executive Chef Damien Brockway and his team pursue excellence relentlessly--and achieve it every time.

For just one example, consider this dish, which I tasted earlier and which the menu described as follows:

Black Bean
Lime, Tomato, Celeriac

Click the image to see a larger version.

A soup of pureed black beans also proved to have pork fat and tomato relish in it, though it was a perfectly smooth puree whose ingredients appeared only in their taste. Atop the soup sat a celeriac foam and, in a touch that paired the lowly black bean with an equally earthy high-end ingredient, summer truffles.

I have never tasted beans this good. This dish single-handedly elevated beans and redefined for me what they are capable of delivering.

I could go on and on, but it is late and I promised short, so I'll stop with this: Counter and Brockway deserve national attention and every available award. Why he's not a Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year award winner is beyond me.

Eat at Counter if you get the chance.




Monday, June 12, 2017

Two moments in a long travel day


Sitting on the increasingly hot plane today, we received an unpleasant announcement from the pilot: the airplane had an offline AP, which meant that its air conditioning wouldn't work until the engines were running. So, of course, we sat on the tarmac for quite a while, stewing in our own juices.

Eventually, the plane took off, and cold, dry air flooded into the moist, hot space.

Click an image to see a larger version.

If you look closely at the vents, you'll see the mist that rolled across the upper walls of the plane cabin. I loved watching it--though not as much as I loved the cold air.

Tonight, in a break from work, I made my usual run downtown for dinner at Cooper's BBQ.


I sampled the brisket, the sausage, a few bites of steak, and part of a beef rib, as well as the mac-and-cheese. All of it was delicious, though the brisket's edges were entirely too salty, a rare misstep for Cooper's.

Most of the day went to work, which is still eating my time, so back to it.




Sunday, June 11, 2017

Black Panther: Oh, yeah


Just check out this trailer, and you'll know I'm not going to miss this one.



The star, Chadwick Boseman, was great in the last Captain America movie, and I've liked what I've seen of director Ryan Coogler's work, so I expect this to be a good one.



Saturday, June 10, 2017

The world's greatest dog turns 14


That title is sure to incite debate among the many people who own dogs they consider the greatest, but for me, Holden is, has been, and always will be the world's greatest dog.  Today, he and his siblings, Shibori and Pixil, turned 14.

Click an image to see a larger version.

As you can tell, he did not treat the occasion with any excitement. For him, it was just another day.


If that yawn contains any emotion at all, it's one of mild annoyance.

Still, he remained his usual contemplative self, pondering life's big questions from a perch on one of his many pillows scattered around the house.


The promise of treats was enough to stir him from his usual languor and capture his full attention.


He is nothing but focused when it comes to carb-based treats.


He is and always has been a carb hound, but his figure remains trim and at the same weight since he was about two.

Holden is already older than is typical for his size, but I cannot help but hope for many more years of pain-free, slow, treat-filled life for him. I love him more than I have ever loved any pet, and when death finally takes him, it will wreck me utterly.





Friday, June 9, 2017

Why can't anyone around here make Texas-class barbecue brisket?


The Triangle area is full of restaurants that cook great barbecue--as long as you define barbecue as being pulled pork. Now, don't get me wrong: I love pulled pork barbecue. Sometimes, though, I want barbecue brisket. When I do, I have to wait to go to Texas, because so far I have not found a single restaurant in the Triangle area that serves barbecue brisket that is as good as the worst brisket I've had in Austin.

Why is that?

The technology involved isn't hard: rub the brisket with salt and pepper, cook the brisket over smoke low and slow, and you'll get something good.

Instead, all the brisket I've had in the Triangle is cooked until it's dry and usually fat-free; great brisket needs some fat.

I've tried every place that someone has told me made great brisket. If you have a favorite barbecue brisket place in the area, please write and let me know. In the meantime, I'll look forward to my next trip to Austin (which, as happy coincidence would have it, is Monday).



Thursday, June 8, 2017

Baywatch


A while back, I wrote an entry about whether my loyalty to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson would be enough to overcome my common sense and lead me to see the new Baywatch movie.

It was.

I went.

Everything after that is tricky. On the one hand, I didn't groan or cringe as much as I had feared I would, and I laughed more than I had feared I might, so the movie beat my expectations. On the other hand, my expectations were astonishingly low.

Almost all of the funniest bits, of course, come from Johnson. His timing has greatly improved over the years, and he can keep a straight face while saying almost anything. The rest of the cast played off him reasonably well, given the story they had to inhabit and the lines they had to say. Both of those, though, were weak at almost all points, and very weak at many times.

I went to a local theater on discount night to catch Baywatch, and that's probably the right strategy. If you can get in cheaply, and if you're willing to trade a lot of bad bits for periodic laughs, and, of course, if you like staring at pretty people in bathing suits, check it out. Otherwise, give this one a pass.






Wednesday, June 7, 2017

How can you tell my beach vacation is coming?


One sure sign is the influx of high-quality films on Blu-Ray and DVD that hits my house. Sitting on tap right now, for example, are three fine action discs.

In the first, Jean Claude proves he's not ready yet to stop working.



Oh, yeah:  nothing but hospital mayhem.

Michelle Rodriguez clearly needs work between Fast flicks, and Sigourney Weaver leaves no doubt that she will act in anything for money, by joining forces in this next gem.



Transfolks, I mean no hate or disrespect here; I just won't miss a Michelle Rodriguez movie.

Finally, somewhere there was a meeting, a pitch meeting, in which someone said, "Bloodsport, but with women," and this movie was born.



Yup, I hope to watch 'em all at the beach.

Unless he's already seen them, Kyle is likely to be right there with me, and maybe Scott, too.




Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Delta Rae keeps getting better and better


Saturday night, the band stopped by the Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill as part of their tour in support of their EP, A Long and Happy Life. The show sold out, and people packed the joint even for the opener, Lauren Jenkins. (I enjoyed her music, but I'm not sure I'll seek it out again.) When the band took the stage, the place went crazy, and the musicians responded by noting that they were home--and then putting on the best show of theirs that I've yet seen.

They sang all the songs on their EP and a selection of familiar hits. I was particularly happy to get to hear them perform "Run," a long-time favorite of mine, but I enjoyed every single tune.

I honestly don't know why this band isn't selling out arenas; to me, they are just that good.

I can tell you that you are missing something wonderful if you don't take every opportunity to see them perform.

Delta Rae will be back in the area, this time at the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh, on August 26.

I already have tickets.




Monday, June 5, 2017

Wonder Woman is a joy you should not miss


Yes, I'm another of the many people who are telling you that Wonder Woman is a movie you should not miss, but that's only because we're all correct. The movie is wonderful.

Gal Gadot is everything one could hope for in a hero greeting a brave new world: virtuous, naive when appropriate but learning as she goes, and increasingly powerful as she comes to understand herself and her capabilities. She is also the most inspirational screen superhero in a long time. In one scene, when others are willing to let the horrors around them continue because the odds against them are too great, she is not, and her charge into the fray is one of the most inspiring moments in recent films. I wish I'd had this movie to show Sarah when she was a little girl.

Director Patty Jenkins delivers the goods, too, with strong pacing and generally good use of special effects.

The movie is not without flaws. It suffers from the CG over-indulgences that plague most final battles, and a few bits of humor felt forced. These are minor quibbles, though, in a movie that had me both cheering and tearing up at multiple occasions.

Go see Wonder Woman.






Sunday, June 4, 2017

UFC 212 predictions: how I fared


I went 1-1 in my predictions for last night's UFC card.

I started out with a bang by correctly calling Claudia Gadelha to beat Karolina Kowalkiewicz in the co-main event. I said the fight would be exciting in the beginning, and it was, as Gadelha foolishly chose to stand and strike with Kowalkiewicz. Kowalkiewicz predictably was out-pointing Gadelha with strikes that were landing but not doing any damage. After a couple of minutes, though, Gadelha took down Kowalkiewicz, and that was that: in no time Gadelha sunk in a choke, and Kowalkiewicz tapped out.

The first round of the main event played out as I predicted, with Jose Aldo taking some time to size up Max Holloway and then picking apart the younger man. The second round was similar, though Holloway definitely improved. In the third round, though, Holloway was visibly in better shape and faster, and he began catching Aldo. In time, he knocked down the champ and hit him with a serious ground-and-pound battering. Eventually, Aldo was doing nothing to protect himself except turtling up, and the ref called the fight. Max Holloway delivered on every promise he'd made and in the process became the new, undisputed featherweight champion.

So, after three tries at this game, I'm 5-1, which isn't bad, but it's also less impressive than it looks, because I'm picking only the top fights in each card. Perhaps next time, I'll choose more fights.


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Putting myself to the UFC prediction test once again


Tonight's UFC 212 event features two key fights: a battle between the top two contenders in the strawweight division, and, in the main event, a bout to unify the two top featherweight fighters who aren't named Conor McGregor.

In my recent predictions, I've felt confident in my choices. For tonight's fights, I do not, but I'm going to put my picks on record anyway and see how I do.

The strawweight title contender fight pits Claudia Gadelha (#1) against Karolina Kowalkiewicz (#2) for the dubious right to lose again against champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Both women are strong fighters, with Gadelha definitely the more powerful of the two and, crucially, the better grappler. Kowalkiewicz has the better gas tank and is a more technical striker, so she has the chance to out-point Gadelha. I don't believe, though, that Gadelha will give her that chance. Instead, Gadelha will close the distance and grapple with Kowalkiewicz, and ultimately she will win that way. So, I have to go with Gadelha to win what will probably start out as an exciting fight but quickly turn into a smothering grappling match.

The other match features once untouchable Jose Aldo against Max Holloway, who has been on a tear in the UFC.  Holloway is a skilled, versatile fighter, and he's the younger man, but he lacks knockout power, which is what let McGregor put the first loss on Aldo's record in years. Aldo is still enough in his prime--he's only 31, and he hasn't taken tons of punishment aside from the McGregor knockout--that I think he picks apart Holloway.  I expect the fight will go all five rounds, but in the end Aldo will be too much for Holloway and emerge the winner.

Check back tomorrow to see how I did.




Friday, June 2, 2017

Now more than ever


we need to get back to basics: peace, love, and understanding. As long as we keep seeing others as essentially different from ourselves, we can never all win, and it's time--past time--for us to figure out how we can all win together.

This song asks the right question.  Nick Lowe wrote it, and Elvis Costello covered it, as did others, so I'll go with the Elvis version.


The answer, of course, is, nothing.

Peace, love, and understanding.

Now more than ever.




Thursday, June 1, 2017

On Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement


Well, he delivered on a campaign promise. You've got to give him that.

That's all he deserves, though. He's once again denying the importance of addressing climate change, and he's making our country once again look backward and selfish. He's ignoring the advice of scientists and even of CEOs; check out their reactions here.

I am embarrassed by this man's behavior and the way he is making our country behave.




Wednesday, May 31, 2017

It's time to settle an important issue


I brought this up in my closing remarks in the opening ceremonies at Balticon 51 (trust me: it fit), so I thought I'd share it here. Zoe Saldana does a fine job as Uhura in the new Star Trek movies, but for me, now and forever, that part will always belong to Nichelle Nichols.

That's just how it goes.



Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Buy a shirt. Start a conversation. Change the world.


That's what we're trying to do over at LYG, and you can help. Check out the six cool t-shirt designs on offer there, order the ones you like, and when they arrive, you'll also get some key talking points on nifty little cards. Wear the shirts, start conversations, and get people talking about how businesses can make the world a better place--and still make a good profit.

If you don't want to spend the money for a shirt, that's cool; just start the conversations. We're not out to get rich from selling shirts. We just want to make things better for all of us.

We can do this. We can change the world for the better.

I hope you'll help.




Monday, May 29, 2017

I'm out in the country


The land here in rural Virginia is beautiful, and I'm staying at a lovely place, but there is no mobile signal, and the bandwidth is excruciatingly bad.

Click the image to see a larger version.

Uploading this photo, for example, took many minutes.

So, I'll keep it to this:  I hope your Memorial Day was good and you remember those who died in the service of our country.

Tomorrow, I'll be home and in the land (I hope) of good bandwidth.



Sunday, May 28, 2017

All Balticon, all the time


The con definitely kept me busy today. I slept as late as I could, but that was only until ten a.m. Then, after a shower and a quick email check, I made my way to the main ballroom for the Liars Panel. As usual, I was the moderator. Joining me were Steven Brust, Ada Palmer, and Fran Wilde. All three were funny and entertaining, and we earned over $400 for Balticon's charity, which buys books for kids who would not otherwise be able to afford them.

After lunch with some friends and another chat with artist guest of honor Donato Giancola, I picked up from the art show the two pieces I ended up purchasing.

Next up was a panel titled, "It's Not Torture If It's the Good Guys." The discussion covered all sorts of topics related to the use of violence in fiction, and though at times I felt we wandered a bit, overall it went well, and the SRO audience seemed very much to enjoy it.

After a little bit of work, I joined the Baen Traveling Roadshow for a presentation on upcoming Baen titles; I spoke briefly about my books.

A short break, and it was time for dinner, which Baen hosted for the Baen authors in attendance. Though the service wasn't great, the food was decent, and the discussion remained good throughout.

The evening ended with some time talking with friends and then loading some of the stuff into the car.

Tomorrow morning, I head for a night in the country.



Saturday, May 27, 2017

Quick notes from Balticon


I had no early panel, so I got to sleep late for the second straight day.  It was delicious, better than dessert.  I won't have that luxury for the next three days, so I quite enjoyed it today.

I spent some time studying a painting by the artist guest of honor, Donato Giancola, and then had the opportunity to discuss it with him.  That conversation was a lot of fun.

In my panel, "It's All For a Good Cause," we talked about various ways to help with charities.  The audience was quite small, but I think we all enjoyed the hour we spent together.

Speaking of trying to do good things, did I mention that the LYG shirts are now available for order?  If not, pop over to LYG.org, pick up some shirts, start some conversations, and help us try to change the world!

Dinner was a decent but no better meal at Azumi.  I don't think I'll go there again, though, unless someone I trust recommends it.  The sushi wasn't up to par, and what they claimed was Australian Wagyu beef was nowhere near the quality of other such meat I've tasted.  Azumi's value is just not up to its cost.

I enjoyed some late-night conversations with friends, and now I must prep for tomorrow's panels!




Friday, May 26, 2017

Balticon and barbecue


I enjoyed the treats of sleeping late and lunch at a nearby Shake Shack before my con duties began in earnest.

First up was a panel on writing snappy dialogue. Four other writers and I spent an hour discussing dialogue tips and tricks and answering audience questions. I'm never sure whether such panels really helped the audience, but we certainly tried to be useful.

I stayed in the same room for the next panel, which immediately followed the first. This one focused on writing major minor characters. Again, we shared a lot of ideas, but whether we provided information the audience members could really use is hard to know.

I had less than an hour to change and work with the tech crew before it was time to take the stage for my role as MC for the opening ceremonies. Despite having to start late and bring in two remote guests via Skype, the show overall went off well, and everyone seemed to have a good time.

Dinner was a late meal at the nearby Dinosaur BBQ, a place I've visited before. I had planned to eat my traditional combination plate until I saw this menu entry.

Click an image to see a larger version.

When you spot something this odd and potentially gruesome or great, your reaction will be either to flee or to know you must order it.

You know how I reacted.

Oh, yeah, I ordered it.


It was mighty tasty, though the two sides were weak. It was not, however, a sandwich you could reasonably pick up. Instead, I used a knife and fork to cut it into more manageable bites.

Tomorrow, I get to sleep late again!






Thursday, May 25, 2017

Getting too damn fancy for my own good


Like most people, I tend to think of myself as the hero of my own narrative. Most days, I try to at least behave well enough that I'm not embarrassed to be in that narrative. Today, for a short spell, I blew it.

On the drive up to the Balticon hotel, where I am now, we took the Ashland, Virginia exit to try to find a place for lunch. As we were looking for a tolerable fast-food restaurant, I spotted the Rise & Shine Diner. Always up for a diner, we pulled into the lot of its strip mall, parked, and got out.

The facade told me a lot about the place.

Click the image to see a larger version. 

The wall behind the cash register confirmed everything I thought.


So did the fact that Fox News was playing on the two TVs in the place.

Yes, I was in the heartland, Southern U.S. version, in a room full of Trump voters, and if that wasn't scary enough, I was wearing a rainbow "WE ARE ALL FIGHTERS" UFC special t-shirt and a pair of shorts.

On the way out, I even tweeted this: "Just ate a bologna burger in rural Virginia. Dining in Trump's America. Gotta admit it was mighty tasty."

I am a lover of good junk food, so I went for it and ordered the bologna burger with sides of macaroni salad and mac-and-cheese.


The bologna burger was everything it should be, with a thick slab of greasy, delicious bologna, and it tasted great. The macaroni salad was better than what I usually have. The mac-and-cheese was the weak link, okay but no more.

My tweet was snarky at best, with a nod to the food. My attitude mirrored my tweet.

Here's what my tweet didn't say.

Every single person in that place treated me with respect and kindness. A woman walking by even said my bologna burger looked like a fine one, and I had to admit it was. Everyone was polite. No one said a word about my shirt. If anyone thought poorly of me for it--and I have no evidence they did--no one said anything. Maybe our political beliefs differ, but maybe they don't; I assumed but did not ask. Regardless, they fed me, treated me well, and charged me half what this would have cost back home.

For many years growing up, we never ate out. We couldn't afford to. When we did, it was at places a lot worse than the Rise & Shine Diner.

I behaved well to the people there, I was polite, and I tipped well,  but in my quiet comments and my later tweet, I was a jerk, or as my mother would have said, too big for my britches, too damn fancy for my own good.

Maybe the folks at the diner could tell what I thought, and maybe they couldn't. Either way, they deserve better, and I need to be better. I need to remember that all of us are just people, and I need to give everyone a chance to earn whatever opinions I end up having. Judging with inadequate data is never a great choice.

For what it's worth, if you, too, like fried bologna sandwiches, you could do a lot worse than the one on offer at the Rise and Shine Diner.




Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A very intriguing AI development


Reinforcement learning has been a hot tech in AI for a while now. The basic idea is to use rewards to steer an AI toward a goal you want it to reach. It's one of the key techniques that Google's AlphaGo uses, and that program just won the first game (of several) against the highest-ranked human Go player. A problem for this approach, however, is that often there just aren't a lot of rewards on the way to a goal.

A new and fascinating paper, which you can read about here in the MIT Technology Review, offers another way to keep the AI improving: give it curiosity. Mind you, this is not curiosity as we experience it, but rather a very self-focused desire to explore whatever in the world can directly affect the AI. This artificial curiosity can encourage the AI to keep busy improving itself even when no rewards are in sight.

I find this both exciting and a bit frightening. Imagine any entity that explores the world and learns from it but cares only about itself. Phrased that way, this sounds more dangerous than it is--right now. I'm also ignoring the likely safeguards programmers would embed in the AI. Still, it's a fascinating and a bit scary prospect, and one I hope to follow.

Interesting times.





Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Planning to be in Baltimore this coming weekend? Come on by Balticon!


I'll be there, and I'll be busy. I'll fill you in on my activities in the next couple of days, but key among them will be having the privilege once again of acting as the Master of Ceremonies for the Opening Ceremonies of the con.

If you'll be at the con, definitely come by one of my panels and say, hi!



Monday, May 22, 2017

A test of my loyalty to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson


I'm a huge fan of Johnson's films. He generally turns in an appropriately scene-chewing performance, his comedic flair keeps getting better and better, and some of his films are even legitimately good (ref., for example, Central Intelligence).

This weekend, however, brings us the movie that may well push my loyalty to the breaking point: Baywatch.

I never watched the original show, and each time I've encountered it in reruns, I've either scooted right past it to the next channel or given it two minutes and then moved on by. Every minute I caught was painfully dumb.

From the trailers, it's clear that Johnson and the folks behind this reboot are frequently playing it for laughs, which is a welcome goal. I'm just not yet sure if that's enough to get me to the movie theater.

Time will tell. If I do go, I promise to report back.



Sunday, May 21, 2017

Alien: Covenant aims to return to its Alien roots


The real title of this film should be Prometheus, Part 2, but the Alien franchise, old as it is, has more marketing power than the kinda-sorta prequel, Prometheus. I didn't hate Prometheus, but I didn't love it, either, as my earlier entry on that film stated. The good news about this sequel is that it's a more engaging and entertaining movie than its predecessor--and Michael Fassbender is again wonderful. The bad news is that it shares some of the worst flaws of the earlier movie.

This time, we follow a group of colonists who are heading for a distant planet when something happens. Rather than delving into spoilers, I'll just say that from almost the moment humans get involved, they start making poor choices. The quality of the choices goes down as the film progresses.

Meanwhile, the scenery and the effects are gorgeous, the people act reasonably well, and Fassbender is a delight.

So, yet again, we have a big summer action movie that is fun and will entertain you--as long as you turn off your reason.

It makes me yearn to write a movie about aliens or about zombies in which smart, well-trained, efficient people make intelligent choices, execute them well, and carry the day. Alas, there doesn't seem to be a market for such offerings.

If you're in the mood for big, brainless fun that is gorgeous to watch, check out Alien: Covenant. If you insist on involving your reason, give it a pass.




Saturday, May 20, 2017

I hadn't planned to blog another movie trailer


but then I saw this and so fell in love with its stupidity and cast that I simply could not resist sharing it.



Let's face it, with Bruce Willis, John Goodman, a dog, drugs, and all manner of other strangeness, Once Upon a Time in Venice is made for me.



Friday, May 19, 2017

Yeah, it's time for a little Blue Rodeo


Specifically, the song, "I Can't Hide This Anymore" from their latest album, 1000 Arms.



I've enjoyed their music since I heard it first in Toronto in December, 1987, and I've never stopped loving this rock/country/jazz band.



Thursday, May 18, 2017

Do we really need


a sequel to Blade Runner?

No, we absolutely do not.

That said, will I go watch Ryan Gosling try to fill Harrison Ford's shoes in this sequel, Blade Runner 2049?



Yes, yes I will.  I just can't stop myself; I don't even want to.





Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Doing what's easiest vs. doing what's right


All too often, I encounter people doing whatever is easiest for themselves rather than making the small extra effort necessary to do what's right for their clients or friends or families. Tonight, leaving work, I encountered a perfect small example.

I was stepping out of an elevator in our office building into the lobby. The floor of the lobby is tile. The room was brightly lit and recently mopped, but enough of the water had dried that I didn't initially notice any of the floor was still wet. After a few steps, I almost slipped, caught myself, and then sighed. I'd complained before that when the janitorial team mopped, they should put out a "wet floor" caution sign so folks would avoid slipping--or at least have notice that they should.

As I was carefully continuing my walk to the door, I noticed there was indeed a "wet floor" sign--but in a corner, out of view of either elevator, near the door the cleaning crew probably took to exit the lobby. The sign was technically in the lobby, and its location was probably convenient for the person doing the mopping, but it did absolutely no good whatsoever.

Oh, what a difference just a little bit of thought and consideration could make.



Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The second trailer for Atomic Blonde


only makes me want to see it more.



Yup, I am so there, maybe even on Friday, July 28, the day it appears.




Monday, May 15, 2017

Colossal intrigues and ultimately satisfies


Most films today follow entirely predictable paths. When you enter the theater, though you won't guess every detail of the storyline, you will already know the shape of the plot and the outline of the ending. Colossal is not one of those movies. As long as you don't read any spoilers, you are unlikely to see just where this one is going, much less how it ends.

Consequently, I don't want to tell you much about the plot. I will say that it's SF, but SF in the here and now, where the fantastic element takes a while to assert itself. I will also say that the acting and directing are strong and both contribute beautifully to the film's growing tension. I expected a good turn from Anne Hathaway, but I was pleasantly surprised by what an excellent performance Jason Sudeikis turned in. The film is quiet, at least most of the time, but it is still compelling.

I very much recommend Colossal, but go with as little knowledge of the movie as you can. This one deserves more attention than it has gotten.





Sunday, May 14, 2017

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword


I went to see this movie for two reasons: I'm a sucker for director/co-writer Guy Ritchie's style, and I'm generally a fan of King Arthur stories. I entered the theater more than a little concerned, though, because critics had widely panned the film. As of this writing, for example, its Rottentomatoes scores are 27% for critics--but 78% for the audience.

I stand with the audience. Yes, the movie is a hot mess with a heavy measure of social commentary applied entirely too liberally, but the style is classic Ritchie, the soundtrack is spot on, the key cast members chew just the right amount of scenery, and the sets are wonderful.

The story borrows from the classic legend only what the writers felt like taking, which is to say that if you're expecting this film to fit well in the Arthurian canon, you will be quite disappointed. If you're willing to let it play out, though, and if you can accept Arthur as yet another kid with special talents raised rough on the street, then you'll have a grand time.

As is my way, I wanted the movie to work, so I had a fine time with it.

Of course, like most movies these days, this one's story requires you not to think too hard at any turn, because key elements stretch your disbelief to the breaking point, but if you're willing to do that, you'll enjoy it.

I recommend the film with those caveats and must admit that I enjoyed it. It will and not should win awards, but it's a fine summer flick with a decent heart.




Saturday, May 13, 2017

How I fared in my UFC 211 picks


I'm happy to report that I was right in my picks of the two championship bouts on tonight's UFC PPV event. I chose both champs to win, and they did.

I said that heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic would beat challenger Junior dos Santos by TKO, and indeed Miocic did just that. I was also right to note that it would come before the end of the third round, but I was off in my belief that the fight might go as long as three rounds. Instead, Miocic polished off dos Santos in brutal fashion mid-way through the first round.

Strawweight belt-holder Joanna Jedrzejczyk dominated challenger Jessica Andrade for all five rounds of their bout and emerged with the decision victory, as I predicted. Andrade deserves a ton of credit, though, for taking a huge number of hits and never slowing down, never giving up, and even hurting the champ in the first round. Andrade is tough as nails. For now, though, Jedrzejczyk is untouchable in her division and really ought to be ranked second on the pound-for-pound charts (behind men's flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson).

For the next big UFC event, I might take more risks and call more fights, but I'm definitely happy with tonight's results.



Friday, May 12, 2017

Calling tomorrow night's two main UFC fights


Tomorrow night, UFC 211 will feature two championship matches:  heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic vs. challenger Junior dos Santos, and women's flyweight champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. challenger Jessica Andrade. I'm looking forward to watching both fights, but I'm going on record now with my prediction: the current champs will come home with their belts.

Miocic is quicker, in better condition, and more powerful than dos Santos. Unless dos Santos gets lucky early, which could always happen, Miocic is going to hit him until he drops him. Miocic will earn the victory, and probably by TKO before the end of the third round.

Jedrzejczyk is a buzz-saw of a champion with a significant reach advantage over Andrade. Andrade is definitely tough, and Jedrzejczyk has plenty of holes in her game, but so far no one has really taken advantage of them. This one is likely to go the distance, but one way or another, Jedrzejczyk's hands will go up in the end.

I'll let you know after the fights how I did.




Thursday, May 11, 2017

Star Destroyers


is the name of the upcoming Baen anthology, edited by Tony Daniel and Christopher Ruocchio, in which I have a new story, "Another Solution." I mentioned the book in an earlier post but at that time didn't know its name.

I've seen the Kurt Miller cover, and it definitely fits the title; this is a classic space war SF cover.

I've also read a David Drake story that will be in the book, and it's quite good.

I do like my piece. I hope you do, too.

Unfortunately, I don't think you can yet read the book.

Yup, I'm teasing again.



Wednesday, May 10, 2017

You know you travel too much when


the only restaurant in which you eat dinner twice in a month is in an airport. In my case, this happened tonight in the DFW Au Bon Pain in Terminal A near gate 33. I had a fairly tight connection and needed some sort of meal, so I grabbed a small sandwich and some fruit there.

Just to prove to myself that I'm not set in my ways, however, I did not order my usual (chicken Caesar wrap) and instead opted for another sandwich with similar calories (ham and cheese and lettuce). Take that, those who would pigeonhole me!

I'm now home for a couple of weeks, and I'm mighty glad to be here.



Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Keeping it simple and delicious at Bouchon


My colleagues and I dined tonight at Thomas Keller's lovely Bouchon in the Venetian. The bread and butter are so good that I could almost live on them, but instead I opted to add the steak frites, a dish in which the steak is good but the frites are better. I made them better still by asking to have truffles on them--a standard offering of the restaurant.

Wow, was it good.

Click the image to see a larger version.

In a stunning display of self-control, I scraped the butter off the steak and gave a chunk of my frites to a colleague. I still didn't come close to finishing them. The small steak, though a tough cut, proved to be perfectly prepared and delicious.

You really cannot go wrong with a Thomas Keller restaurant.

If only I'd had the time to eat brunch at Bouchon, my time there would have been complete.




Monday, May 8, 2017

Just another friendly Las Vegas person


I was walking this morning from my hotel to the convention center, moving along well, minding my own business, and enjoying the people watching. At a bus stop ahead of me, a woman was dancing. She was about four foot nine, maybe two hundred pounds, and wearing skintight bright white tights and stretch top. The white fabric extended to her wrists and her ankles. On her feet were white shoes, and she wore short white socks. Her hair was bleached white, and it poked out from under a pure white ball cap. As I drew closer, I saw that she was in her late sixties or early seventies, and though she was dancing, she wore no headphones or ear buds; the music she heard came from inside.

She flirted with each man who passed by, and she offered each a chance to dance.

I went wide and opted not to accept the invitation.

Part of me wanted to know her story; part of me still does. Part of me, though, feared that even hearing it might draw me into a rabbit hole I have neither the time nor the inclination to visit.

As I walked away, I glanced back over my shoulder, and though she was then all alone, still she danced.




Sunday, May 7, 2017

The best and the worst, all in one day


I flew on two planes today, and I ate two meals, and each pair yielded examples of the best and worst of travel.

The first flight went as perfectly as one could ask: I received an upgrade to first class, the plane left on time and arrived early, my row-mate was quiet, and I was able to finish a lot of work. I left the plane feeling better than when I entered it.

The second flight, by contrast, proved to be a nightmare. Though I had an exit row, the leg space was minimal.  I was by far the smallest of the three of us in the row, and my shoulders were definitely the narrowest, so none of us had any space. Rather than all suffering, however, the guy in the middle decided to launch an attack for the available space. He spread his shoulders and elbows into both me (aisle) and the other guy, and whenever we tried to regain any space, he'd raise his arms and push back. I didn't want to end up in a fight on a plane, and apparently the guy in the window seat decided the same thing, so we just took it and leaned away from the guy in the middle. By the end of the flight, I was so angry that it took all of my self control to exit the plane calmly.

My first meal was on the first flight, and it was a wilted salad flanked by a wooden piece of the Chicken of Great Despondency (patent-pending by American Airlines). I've eaten a lot of rubber chicken, but this was wooden chicken. Every bit of the salad was droopy and almost as sad and defeated as the chicken, but in a wet, wilted, go-ahead-and-try-to-eat-this-veggie-mush sort of way.

My second meal was dinner at the amazing é by José Andrés. It's very late, and I have to get up very early, so I must save the full review for later. Suffice for now to say that the meal was world-class, the staff's performance exemplary, and as a bonus, all nine of us in the dining room got along well, were foodies, talked and laughed a great deal, and generally made a great meal even better.

More on this meal later, but if you're in Vegas and can afford the time and cost--it's not cheap, but it's worth the tab--definitely check out é by José Andrés.




Saturday, May 6, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


is a romp with both snark and heart, a worthy successor to the first Guardians and about as close to a guaranteed good time as you're likely to find. Though it lacks the surprise of the first one--because, after all, we have seen these tricks before--its heart is stronger and the key cast members now feel more comfortable in their roles.

The storyline is fun, but what matters most is that in the course of it, each of the main characters grows and becomes more self-aware. Pratt's Peter Quill remains the center of attention, but this time each of the other leads gets to show change and growth. Michael Rooker's Yondu character is even more important this time than last, and Rooker makes the most of all of his screen time.

If you want big summer fun, go see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2--and for double the fun, (re-)watch the first one before you do.




Friday, May 5, 2017

PT doing good in the world: Gina's sabbatical video


As I've written many times before, I'm particularly proud of PT's sabbatical program and all the good work that PT folks do during their sabbaticals.  In this new video, Gina talks about her recent work with the Shepherd's Table Soup Kitchen.



I also worked at this place on my sabbatical, and it was a fulfilling and moving experience.  The people there feed anyone who shows up.  They do good work, and I'm glad we're supporting them.

Enjoy!



Thursday, May 4, 2017

Delta Rae's new EP is out--and you need it


A Long and Happy Life is the name, and you can get it anywhere you buy digital music. Check out the title track--but do remember this is not a professional recording or mix, and the whole band isn't playing--and then get the EP.



Yeah, the marketing behind this EP is portraying it as country music, and I'm not generally a country music fan, but when it sounds this good, I am.  Plus, the intro to this song is pure heart.

These folks are awesome.  I love their music.  Check it out.



Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Confessing a guilty pleasure


I watch The Ultimate Fighter reality show. I won't try to justify it; I know it for what it is.

Go ahead and judge me.  I deserve it...but do it quickly, because I need to go see how the first episode played out.



Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Will the JLA movie be the one DC finally gets right?


I don't know, but at least this trailer makes me hopeful.



I am definitely there.



Monday, May 1, 2017

Mom


She would have been 84 today, and I would have called her to say, "Happy Birthday." It would have been another call on another day, because for the last few years of her life, I called her every day that I was in town. I would have had little to say to her, but we would have spent ten minutes on the phone, and I would have ended by saying, "I love you, Mom," something I spent over forty years not saying. I would have mocked the call a bit, shrugged it off as a duty, and even truly felt that way some of the time.

Had I known she was going to die, I like to think I would have appreciated those calls more, but instead I would probably have spent all my energy trying to stop her death and still not truly enjoyed the short talks we had.

Cling tight to the ones you love, folks, and appreciate them, and revel in how much they are so perfectly themselves, and see the parts of them you've never been open to seeing before, because all too soon we or they will be gone, all gone, and you will not get those moments again.

I've said before that I never danced with my mom, and to the best of my knowledge I haven't, but this Delta Rae song now always reminds me of her.



I love you, Mom.




Sunday, April 30, 2017

One more TED 2017 takeaway: control screen time


Multiple sessions of this past TED focused on various aspects of our addiction to our screens, the smartphones, tablets, and PCs/Macs that dominate so much of our time. A lot of the data suggested bad, often seriously bad, effects from our need to constantly check in with our phones and other devices. The data is compelling, but even more compelling to me is that I definitely feel those urges and too often yield to them.

So, over the next year or so I hope to take more direct control of the time I spend staring at screens. Rather than check email at every opportunity, for example, I intend to relegate that task to scheduled times. I'm thinking of asking everyone at dinner parties to leave their phones in their pockets/purses/whatevers. And so on.

I'll let you know how it goes.



Saturday, April 29, 2017

TED 2017 takeaways


Since the November elections, I have felt more determined than ever to stand up for what I believe in, to support the causes I cherish, and to refuse to be quiet ever again when someone makes a sexist, rascist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, or other hurtful comment around me. My time at TED only deepened that resolve.

I am going to think a lot about coaching and how it might improve my work and the work of my colleagues.

I am still gnawing at the edges of the creative process the OK Go folks described, but I'm convinced there's some goodness lurking for me there, goodness in both my writing and in my work at PT.

I'm definitely determined not to slow down, because there is so much for all of us to do, so much of interest and so much of aid to others.

This event also made clear to me an uncomfortable truth I routinely ignore: I need to find a way to carve time out of my life to lose weight, get in shape, sleep more, and generally take care of myself. This one will be the hardest to implement.

More resolutions will undoubtedly surface over the coming weeks, but a last one stands out still: now more than ever, we all have to take care of each other. We cannot rely on the government to protect us. We have to protect one another, hold tight to each other no matter the dark weights that threaten to oppress us, and we have to extend that love and respect to all. As a species, we need to learn once and for all that over the long haul, nobody wins unless everybody wins.




Friday, April 28, 2017

TED 2017 finishes in grand style


Today's extra-long single session began with a group of 13 attendees who had one minute each to critique, praise, or even rebut a previous talk. Quite a few of these folks made very good points. My favorite was the man who suggested that David Miliband should re-enter politics and stand for PM in the UK. I obviously can't vote there, but if I could, I would certainly think quite seriously about supporting Miliband.

The first talk of the day was an unannounced presentation by Tristan Harris on persuasive technologies and how the online "race to the bottom of the brain stem" was ultimately doing a lot of damage to us all. Harris delivered a powerful, persuasive, and rather disturbing talk. I definitely plan to investigate this area further, for I know way too little about it.

The next talk, though, was my favorite of the day. Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank Group, proved to be a charismatic speaker with a huge heart and an incredibly sharp mind. As he told his story, past and present, I found myself wishing I could work with him.

Jeremy Thal of the Found Sound Nation spoke briefly about that group's work and played a video showing some of the results of the pop-up music studio they had set up at TED.

Anne Lamott, a novelist and essayist, wandered over a lot of territory that ultimately converged on her list of true things, which included one I particularly liked: "Everyone is screwed up. Don't compare your insides to anyone's outsides."

In what Chris Anderson said might be the longest single presentation in TED history, he interviewed Elon Musk for a bit over half an hour. The conversation ranged over everything from The Boring Company to Tesla's new semi truck to SpaceX and its missions. Musk came across, as usual, as both intelligent and completely willing to dream and act on an extraordinarily large scale. My favorite line of his was, "I'm not trying to be anyone's savior. I'm just trying to think about the future and not be sad."

In the spirit of hopefulness, constitutional law scholar Noah Feldman argued that contrary to what many believe, America has been this divided before, and it'll all be fine, because the constitution will ultimately take care of us. I'm not sure I share his optimism, but I certainly welcomed it.

As has been customary for multiple years, Julia Sweeney wrapped up the conference with a bit in which she poked good-natured fun at the presenters and the show itself.

Lunch was a party that filled the floor above us, and then it was back to my room to work as I re-entered my regular world. As always after TED, I'm finding that difficult to do, because living in this pampered bubble of great talks and lively conversations and a huge staff taking care of feeding us and cleaning up after us is an amazing treat.

Tomorrow, I fly home. Perhaps along the way I will figure out what new things I want to implement as a result of this TED.

Yup, I'm definitely coming back next year.




Thursday, April 27, 2017

TED 2017: Another beautiful day


Despite forecasts calling for rain all day every day, the weather here in Vancouver has been spectacular, with cool clear days and only occasional slight rains. Today was another such day, a lovely time to be here.

My first activity was a session on confronting your implicit bias, with a particular focus on attitudes toward Muslims. We all agreed to keep private what folks had to say, but I think it's fair for me to relate that I found the discussions interesting and occasionally enlightening.

The first group of presentations focused on Bugs and Bodies. Neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky kicked us off with an interesting conversation on why we humans do what we do, especially at our best and worst times. I was intrigued enough that I'll be on the look-out for his upcoming book, Behave.

Other notable talks in this session included Ann Madden's fun presentation on the many microbes on our skin and in our homes, and David Brenner's proposal to use a special form of UV light to kill super-bugs without harming the host humans.

One of my two favorites of this session was photographer David Biss' presentation on his spectacular photographs of bugs, photographs he creates with amazing lighting and depth of field that he achieves by taking many, many almost identical shots. I hope one day he puts out a book of his bug photos.

The other was Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn's engaging and informative discussion of her research into the role of telomeres in aging. If you're interested in aging, check this one out when it hits TED.com.

We also had a chance today to hear a pitch from Richard Browning, founder of Gravity, for his personal flying device, which is about as close to the propulsive bits of an Iron Man suit as we're likely to see anytime soon. He later demoed the early stage tech in the adjoining plaza.

The ninth session, It's Personal, began after the lunch break.

Helen Pearson presented some data from the longest-running human development study around, an effort in Britain that spans many decades and multiple generations. One of its key findings is that being born into poverty will for most people have consequences that will disadvantage them for the rest of their lives. The pressing need to address poverty as a global issue is a clear theme of this conference, and one I applaud.

Susan Pinker's discussion of the importance of in-person social interactions intrigued me, but I really would like more data. In one study she found that the factor most likely to keep you alive longer was staying socially integrated, which means having regular contact and relationships with multiple people. Her research shows that digital interactions simply are not as good for us as real, human contact.

Adam Alter argued persuasively that our need to check our devices is in every sense an addiction--and not a good one. He suggested more time away from those devices, and that is something I'll be pondering a lot in the days ahead.

Chuck Nice did a reasonably funny comedy turn, something TED offers from time to time. His jokes fell flat fairly frequently, but he's a pro and recovered well each time.

My favorite talk of this session was Guy Winch's presentation on effective strategies for handling heartbreak. He noted that research has proven that dealing with the end of a romantic relationship is basically the same as withdrawing from an addiction. Interesting stuff.

Tony- and Grammy-winning performer Cynthia Erivo started the last session of the day with a couple of songs and a short discussion about performing. Her voice is incredible, and her rendition of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" was spectacular, a treat I'm glad I got to hear.

Indian film mega-star Shah Rukh Khan gave a humorous talk and then joined TED Curator Chris Anderson in a discussion of the upcoming Indian TV show of TED Talks, a show that will appear in Hindi. A testimony to Khan's popularity was the large crowd waiting outside the convention centre for hours in the hopes of seeing him and getting an autograph.

Ashton Applewhite's presentation on ageism and our need to combat it was both compelling and full of fun pull quotes, including "Everyone is old or future-old," and "Ageism is prejudice against our future selves."

Nigerian-born artist Laolu Senbanjo showed and discussed some of his intricate, interesting art, and even brought on stage two women whose bodies he had almost entirely painted.

Podcaster Manoush Zomorodi talked about the value of avoiding our devices and letting ourselves be bored so that our brains could switch into more creative modes.

Poet David Whyte closed out the day with some talk and performances of two of his poems. I found him engaging and the poetry lovely; I need to check out more of his work.

After dumping our packs back in our rooms, Bill and I joined the traditional large party on the last evening of the conference.

Tomorrow morning, we have an extra-long last session of TED 2017!



Wednesday, April 26, 2017

TED 2017: day 3, and already my brain hurts


I come to TED to make my brain hurt. After yesterday's sessions, I was well on my way to that state, and today definitely took me there at times.  It's quite late here, way, way later than the timestamp says, so I'm going to hit only some of the talks that particularly struck me.

The first session opened strong with a talk by Michael Patrick Lynch on our need to reconnect with the idea that we live in a common reality. In a time in which too many of us seem all too willing to accept the ridiculous notion of alternative facts, I found his talk refreshing and compelling. I particularly liked the way he noted that when the powerful get to define truth to their liking, we are in for big pain. "You can't speak truth to power," he said, "when power speaks truth by definition."

Dan Ariely and Mariano Sigman then conducted an experiment on the audience in which they posed two dilemmas, asked us to rate the proposed solutions from bad to good, and also asked us to rate our certainty. Then, we were paired with another person or two--one, in my case--to compare our answers, discuss them, and see if we persuaded each other to change. The woman with whom I was paired made good points on each dilemma, and apparently I did the same, because we each changed our opinions somewhat and landed on common answers.

Neuroscientist and novelist Lisa Genova presented a lot of information and some perspectives on Alzheimer's. I didn't learn much, but I care about this topic and so enjoyed the refresher.

The second session focused heavily on environmental issues and contained many compelling talks.

I know very little about the Greenland Ice Sheet, so I found Kristin Poinar's talk on it both informative and more than a bit scary.

Artist Daan Roosegaarde showed some very cool projects, including a smog-removal tower that his team installed in a park in Beijing. The tower extracts smog from the atmosphere and yields pollutants that Roosegaarde and his team then turned into parts of jewelry.

Peter Calthorpe railed against sprawl as part of his call for transit-based urban planning. Though I'm not at all sure I agree with many of his proposals, I enjoyed learning about them and will be considering them for some time.

Former Vice President Al Gore made a surprise brief appearance on stage. He plugged his upcoming second climate change movie and made the case that even this administration is likely to try to grapple with climate change.

In my favorite talk of the session, Republican and conservative Ted Halstead argued for a carbon dividends plan that would include a gradually rising carbon tax, carbon dividends for all, regulatory rollback, and a climate domino effect. I found his proposal compelling and look forward to learning more about it.

After lunch, Bill and I attended a session on augmented reality. I found it mildly interesting, but I didn't learn much new. This technology could one day be very useful, but the implementations, particularly the glasses, have a long way to go.

The last session of the day focused on connection and community. Given that focus, you'd expect it to be the most emotional of the day, and indeed it was.

Musician and artist Jacob Collier kicked it off with two songs that involved him playing every instrument, singing all parts, and controlling all of the live video. Interesting stuff, though I don't think I'd enjoy a steady diet of it.

Architect Anna Heringer showed her work using mud to build structures that are amazingly durable and attractive. As she noted, this material is available almost everywhere in even the poorest areas.

My two favorite talks of this session were both emotional pleas to our better selves on the subject of refugees. Former UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs David Milliband, both of whose parents were refugees who ended up in Britain, made the strong case that we must take care of the refugees simply because it is the right thing to do. "This is not just a crisis," he said, "it is a test, a test of us." I strongly agree, and I hope that we as a country rise to this test better in the future than we are doing now.

Luma Mufleh gave an even more personal take on the refugee crisis. As a gay Muslim woman who had to flee her home country and who now coaches and works with refugee kids, she related moving stories of her own experiences and her work. "When do we say, enough?" she asked.

I pray soon.

The evening took Bill and me to a Jeffersonian dinner on the topic of whether businesses might be able to do a better job of uniting us than government. The nine of us who chose that topic enjoyed several hours of lively conversation and companionship. Despite always feeling awkward in such situations, I had a good time and learned a lot of interesting perspectives.

TED always leaves me resolved to do more and to do better, and today certainly filled me with those desires.



Tuesday, April 25, 2017

TED 2017: A day that started well and ended wonderfully


The title for the morning sessions was Our Robotic Overlords. Marc Raibert of Boston Dynamics kicked it off by showing one of his company's robots and discussing his vision of robotics. The demo was fun, but as someone who follows AI and robotics, I didn't learn a lot from it.

Noriko Arai followed with a discussion of the AI she is building in the hopes of one day passing the entrance exam to the University of Tokyo. Like the first talk, this one was pleasant but not particularly informative.

Stuart Russell's talk was also not particularly new, but I found it more intriguing because it focused on how to align human and AI values and objectives, a topic that might well be vital in the future.

Joseph Redmond's discussion and demo of image and object recognition showed that this technology is improving rapidly enough that in no time we can expect it to be in all of our smartphones and to be operating there at a high level of capability.

Tom Gruber, one of the creators of Siri, provided the most optimistic viewpoint of the session as he argued for what he called humanistic AI, AI that makes us all smarter.  I didn't find his arguments particularly compelling, but he clearly is an AI optimist.

In a fun break, Todd Rejchert debuted the Kitty Hawk Flyer. The initial unit will be available, they hope, late this year, and will fly only over water. I don't have a use in the world for such a device, but I sure would like to try one.

Schooling and other collective behaviors are fun to watch and to study, so I quite enjoyed Radhika Nagpal's talk. She reviewed the basics of this topic and discussed how her Harvard lab team built a set of 1,024 mini robots that they programmed to exhibit such behaviors.

After a short break, we returned to the theater for a session on a very different topic, The Human Response.

Rutger Bregman, an historian and writer, gave the most moving talk of the day to that point by pointing out that despite the belief of many, poverty is not a character flaw, and by then arguing for a basic income guarantee. He provided a lot of supporting data and left me leaning heavily toward this concept, which he claimed we could implement in the U.S. with a negative income tax for $175B, a price worth paying to lift all Americans out of poverty. Definitely catch this talk when it hits TED online.

Martin Ford's talk started by asking if we were heading to a future without jobs but ended up with another, albeit less compelling, argument for a basic income guarantee.

I've followed Patreon for some time but still found it interesting to hear the story from its founder, Jack Conte. We have no way to know just how well the concept is playing out, but right now he said that they have over 50,000 creators earning money via Patreon. I hope the platform continues to link audiences and artists effectively.

Sarah DeWitt argued for the potential positive power of screens in the hands of kids.

I'm still quite torn between the vision of his company that Ray Dalio presented and what I've read about it in other places, but certainly the general goal of an idea meritocracy is one I support in principle. Implementation, though, is everything in this case.

I've been a member of the ACLU for most of my adult life, so I was interested to hear what its executive director, Anthony Romero, would have to say. Despite his topics, which I care very much about, and his use of the art of Italian masters, which I have studied a bit, I found his talk ultimately a bit flat. I'm still grateful for the good work he does, but I wanted more from this talk.

This session closed superbly, however, with a talk from Vanessa Garrison and T. Morgan Dixon, the founders of GirlTrek. This group focuses on African-American women and girls and encourages them to walk as a way to fight health issues. I teared up at this talk and gave it a standing ovation, as did most of the people in the hall.

After lunch, which for me was some tasty mac-and-cheese with pulled pork from a food truck, I joined the first TED en Espanol session. I have no Spanish, so I listened to the talks via headphones and live translation.

All of the talks were at least interesting, but it's late and I'm running out of steam, so I'm going to mention only a few.

I enjoyed Jorge Drexler's music, but the rest of his talk felt less engaging.

Journalist Jorge Ramos, on the other hand, showed a dedication to journalism and a willingness to stand up for his beliefs that touched me, and watching him be thrown out of a Trump press conference (when Trump was a candidate) was chilling. Ramos deserved his standing ovation.

His talk's intensity, though, understandably paled next to that of the presentation from Ingrid Betancourt, which was one of the most riveting of the day. A candidate for the presidency of Colombia in 2002, Betancourt was kidnapped by guerilla rebels and held captive for six years. Her story of her struggles and how she fought with fear, her own violent urges, and hopelessness moved me greatly, and I was impressed by how much she came to forgiveness and the divine. I stood and clapped long and hard for her.

After another short break, we headed into the day's final session, Health, Life, Love. It began with a pleasant but otherwise straightforward interview of Serena Williams by Gayle King.

Atul Gawande really touched me with his story of how employing a coach not only improved his performance as a surgeon but ultimately proved instrumental in greatly increasing the quality of care in birthing centers in low-income areas.

Anna Rosling Ronnlund showed us a great way to visualize the degree of poverty and wealth in people all over the world with a demo of her project, Dollar Street. This is a site you're going to want to allow some time to play with and to study.

In a surprise move, TED Curator Chris Anderson then came on stage to announce that we were going to see the debut of a talk recorded earlier for TED 2017 by Pope Francis. I was blown away by the degree to which the Pope focused on solidarity and inclusiveness. This talk is already live on TED.com, with the title Why the only future worth building includes everyone, and you should check it out.

Jon Boogz and Lil Buck debuted an original dance that was at times moving and at other times just not my thing. Overall, I'm glad I got to see it.

The day ended with the award of the $1M TED Prize to Raj Panjabi, whose dream is to bring health care to the one billion people in the world's most remote communities. His approach is pragmatic and proven to work, and I hope his new organization, communityhealth.org, succeeds.

I was once again more than happy to stand and applaud.

A great end to a strong TED day.



Monday, April 24, 2017

TED 2017, day 1: Wow


I'm not going to talk further about our announcement earlier today, because I want to focus on TED, but I will show you this picture of Bill and me wearing the shirts at the big photo-op TED sign.

Click an image to see a larger version.

Bill's smiling nicely, and I think I've managed to tone down my resting I-will-kill-you face to something only vaguely violent, but you be the judge.

TED kicked off with two sessions of presentations by over two dozen of the TED Fellows. All of the talks were interesting and informative, and I was glad to have been able to catch them. Because it's late here and I have to get up early, I won't run through them all, but a few struck me as particularly notable. (All really do deserve your attention; I'm just hitting ones that stayed strongly with me and are still on my mind.)

Karim Abouelnaga discussed how his Practice Makes Perfect organization is closing the education gap for students from low-income communities in the New York City area. Both practical and inspirational, his work deserves more attention and support.

Neuroscientist Rebecca Brachman gave an intriguing talk on the possibility of resilience drugs that could act basically as vaccines against PTSD and clinical depression. Both the possibility of such drugs and the ethical issues that preventative psychopharmacology raise are fascinating topics.

Artist and activist Damon Davis used art as both a defense against fear and a way to boost courage during protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

Wanuri Kahiu, a Kenyan filmmaker and writer, argued persuasively for the importance of what she called "Afrobubblegum," escapist stories set in Africa. I found it refreshing to hear someone else espouse some positive values of science fiction.

Comedian, filmmaker, and social activist Negin Farsad again wrapped up the Fellows' presentations with a lot of funny and yet shrewd observations about how to deal with tyrants, even if they happen to occupy an elected office.

Honestly, I could say good things about all of the Fellows' presentations, but it really is quite late here, so on I go.

Each year at TED, I've shown the contents of my goodie bag, so I won't break the tradition.


I chose some of the items, while others were standard.

After a snack and conversation break--before the day ended, a couple of folks had indeed asked about our shirts, so we made a tiny bit of progress on that front--the TED main stage opened with the first session, One Move Ahead.

Wow.  Just wow. This was the strongest opening TED session in my memory. The weakest talk was good, and most were excellent.

We began with Huang Yi dancing with a robot he created, while cellist Joshua Roman played beautifully. The interplay between man and robot was both beautiful and frequently touching.

Futurist and designer Anab Jain discussed projects her studio creates to show people what possible futures would look, feel, and in one case even smell like. Mixing the predictive futurism of some SF with both artistic and practical design considerations, her work serves to give people a great way to consider what might be coming.

Chess great and human rights activist Garry Kasparov discussed not only his experience first beating and then losing to IBM's Deep Blue, but also deeper considerations of the relationship between people and increasingly smart artificially intelligent machines.

Cyber-security specialist Laura Galante argued persuasively and passionately that Russian state-sponsored hacking and information manipulation may have been the key element in the election of our current President. I do not have and probably never will have access to the data necessary to know if what she said is what indeed happened, but even if it did not, the strategies she outlined were enough to make clear that the battlefield of future cyber-warfare is vastly more complicated than most people ever imagine.

Next up, the band Ok Go first played live along with a video and then shared some insights into how they create their incredible videos. Singer Damian Kulash, Jr. explained that they do not so much create ideas as find them, a statement that does not do justice to the approach he then explained. I am still processing this approach to creativity and expect to be doing so for some time, but I believe I have a great deal to learn from it--both for myself and for my businesses. They received a well-deserved standing ovation, as did the next three speakers.

Tim Ferriss spoke about his approach to dealing with stress, an approach that he has used to help cope with being bi-polar and having suffered over fifty depressive episodes to date. Basically, he practices stoicism. He showed some particular tools he uses to manage the stress that can trigger his episodes, and like the notions of creativity Kulash discussed, I am still processing these. I will say that a lot of what he described is similar to techniques I've come to rely on during the past several years, so I'm certainly in his target audience.

In a deeply touching and disturbing talk, artist Titus Kaphar discussed his work to illuminate the real history that art frequently hides and how we can reclaim that history from art without getting rid of the art.

Last up was Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who in addition to having a great deal to say was also clearly an accomplished orator. He argued that futurists examining the evidence of today might well conclude that we worship the self, the I, and that instead we should put our energies into the us. I know that sounds crunchy, but it's not, because there is a real difference between focusing all of our energies on ourselves and directing them to the service of others. He argued for the us of relationships, of identity, and of responsibility. "It's the people not like us who make us grow," he said as part of his discussion of the importance of communicating with people who feel differently than you do.

I've not done justice to any of these talks, but fortunately, TED will ultimately put them all online, and then you can watch them for yourselves. I definitely recommend you do so.

Late in the evening, I've now caught up with personal email and so can try to sleep, but my mind and spirit are still trying to process all that I heard. That's why I come to TED, and it's a delight to be so full and so challenged so early in the week.

Oh, yeah: I've already signed up for next year.



Buy a shirt. Start a conversation. Change the world.


I’ve been teasing for a while now that today I would announce one of the odder things I’ve done. I’m happy to deliver on that promise by introducing you to Limit Your Greed (formally LYG, LLC), a new company that my business partner, Bill Catchings and I are starting. You can visit its site here.

As friends and long-time readers know, Bill and I are the founders and co-owners of Principled Technologies, Inc. PT is the leading fact-based marketing and learning services provider, but it is also — and always has been — a social experiment.  Bill and I started PT in part to see if it was possible to build a business that follows very different principles from traditional businesses and yet still does well and makes a profit.

With PT now in its 15th year, we’re happy to report that the experiment is a success. You can run a business very differently and still do well.

Now, we want to take that lesson to a broader audience—in fact, to everyone—and try to change the world. We want to do so by persuading business owners and executives to choose to do something both simple and radical: to take less so that others can have more. To limit their greed.

Our goal is not new government legislation; instead, we’re hoping to help start a movement in which folks choose to build different businesses and help make the world better for a lot of people.

One way in which we hope to do that is by selling a book, Limit Your Greed, which we’re still working on but should finish soon.

Another is today’s announcement.

As the site says, “Philosophically, LYG is a movement. Practically, it’s a clothing company.”

The idea is simple: Buy shirts that contain challenging and conversation-worthy slogans. The first is “Limit your greed.” Another is “Nobody wins unless everyone wins.” Each shirt comes with talking points. When someone asks what your shirt means, you have a chance to show them a better way for businesses large and small to behave.

I don’t want to repeat all of the material on the site, so let me instead point you to its Practice page for answers to the questions about how to make this happen.

Of course, you could just buy the shirts because they’re cool—and they are. They’re made in North Carolina, where we’re based, from cotton grown here, and they’re soft and lovely to the touch. The designs are nifty, both visually appealing and conversation-worthy.

You could also buy the shirts in the hopes LYG makes a profit, because if it does, half of all profits will go to charity.

What we most hope, though, is that you will buy the shirts—Get ‘em all! Collect the whole set!—and help us change the world.

I have to warn you that you can’t buy the shirts quite yet. That’s intentional. Bill and I will be wearing one of these shirts each day at TED, which we’re attending this week. To help make sure no one felt we were flogging products—a TED no-no we take seriously—we didn’t want them available for sale yet.

So no, we’re not wearing the shirts at TED to sell them. We’re wearing them to do what we hope you will join us in doing: start conversations, and change the world.

I promised odd, and I think that me going into the movement and clothing business is odd enough to make that promise real.

Odd or not, though, I hope you join us in this movement. Together, we can make the world better.





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