December 21, 2006

Two Trees of Knowledge

Starting out after college is like a rebirth. After everything one has worked for in their 16+ years of education, 'the real world' is truly starting anew. As much as we think we learn during years of living with the parents and at college, there's so much that is new and different and yet to be experienced. This has no doubt been the case for myself these past months. In many ways it can be compared to our first coming into the world, but one parallel stands out as a tragic commonality.

According to Christian tradition, man is brought into the world tainted with sin. This 'original sin' is the remnant of Adam and Eve's decision to give into temptation against the request of God. Adam and Eve choose to take a bite of an apple that grew from the Tree of Knowledge, which opened their souls to the capacities of evil. Religious types believe that this decision permeates each and every one of us, as we are all decedents of Adam and Eve. When we are born, we are already shadowed by this sin, despite being only capable of limited consciousness.

For many of us, the second rebirth of entering 'the real world' is also coupled with an 'original sin'. Because we all took a bite of the apple from the tree of knowledge that is America's collegiate system, we are doomed to decades of suffering. The sin of which I speak is of course, student loans.

Some of us took bites from the collegiate apple because of personal temptation and desire, while others only did so because of the demands of society and the economy. For any reason, those not so fortunate to have indulgences paid for by their parents are subjected to loan repayment for any number of years following their birth into real world.

Entering the real world carrying the weight of tens of thousands of dollars in debt is frustrating- particularly so in this age of intense competition for limited jobs. I graduated in early June, and for six months I have struggled to find a job. Even with a masters degree, it has been a struggle to become employed. Employed or not, I have to start repaying college loans now. I made my first payment yesterday. I'll continue making payments every month for the next ten years.

This original sin of ones' rebirth serves only to slow us down- especially in these early times of being a recent graduate. Having to pay a few hundred dollars a month toward my education loan keeps me from turning the heat on in my apartment as often.

I find it frustrating that we pay to go to college with the outlook that a university education will get us a 'good' job. Even though it hasn't provided any employment, I'm required to pay for it. Is there a customer service desk somewhere? I'd like a refund.

Realistically, it's common thought to believe that college costs too much, particularly when higher education is free (or close to it) it many other western countries. At the rate that tuition has been rising, I consider myself lucky to have matriculated when I did. Not only was tuition lower then, but I also started my higher education when the economy was down a few years ago, meaning I had a lower interest rate as well.

I checked into deferments on the Department of Education website. It is possible to extend the loan for a while if you're unemployed. However, there isn't a way to defer if you're underemployed. That's the real trick- I couldn't last being completely unemployed. How would I put food on the table or a roof over my head? But at the same time, that doesn't mean that I make enough to dedicate a few hundred dollars a month to repay a loan. Repayment should be held for 24-48 months after graduation so that a former student can find a solid job with a sufficient wage before having to repay loans.

It's hard not to feel that the serpent of society has tricked me into committing a sin while I remain unemployed. If the scourge of student loans is the modern equivalent of original sin, I best start praying.

December 12, 2006

In the game of Christmas, I'm a winner!

Today is December 12. They say there's twelve shopping days left til Christmas, and to this point I haven't made a single trip to the mall!

I despise the mall this time of year. It could stem from my junior year of high school's holiday season working retail in the mall, or maybe I flat out don't like the mall period. I can't stand the crowds, parking a mile and a half from the entrance, or waiting in line for 20 minutes to pay for an overpriced gift.

This season I've done much of my shopping online. Through Froogle and others, I've managed to find great prices for the same gifts. The selection is great, I can immediately check out reviews for an item and price shop. They do all the leg-work and ship it to my door! I don't even have to leave my computer... I don't even have to put on pants!

I have made a few concessions to my girlfriend in all this. I have gone to a couple of stores to purchase gifts that we are buying 'together'. But those stores have been more necessary, and include trips to Meijer, where we need to go get groceries anyhow.

For a myriad of reasons, I'm not all that wild about Christmas. But online shopping helps me deal with it a little better.

December 09, 2006

Cell 'Faux'ne

I'm in the market for a new cell phone. It will be my 3rd phone ever, excluding the one I used in Germany for three months. I'm changing services for the first time too- going from Sprint to Cingular. This time I'm going to get a phone I really like. The choice is all mine, so I want to get one that has a good grouping of features and won't be obsolete once i get out of the store.

The problem I'm having is that I can't quite find a phone that has the features I want and still functions as a phone. Today's cell phones have cameras and mp3 players packed in so tight that there's barely room for a functioning battery.

I'd prefer if the R+D money was spent not on video recorders, but instead on giving me a stronger signal or longer battery life. I don't understand why I can take pictures with my phone, yet can't get signal inside my own house. I seldom use the camera function on my current phone, and I doubt I'd ever use an MP3 feature, because I have an iPod.

I understand, accept, and look forward to when the cell phone becomes the all-in-one pocket item that does anything you need. But I don't think the technology is quite there yet. So many phones are trying to accomplish that feat now instead of waiting until its affordable to have a 4MP camera and a 2GB MP3 player inside a phone. When that day does arrive, however, I'll certainly jump on that bandwagon. I'm sure those days aren't too far ahead.

December 05, 2006

I've had enough hubris

The Iraq study group led by former Secretary James Baker will meet with Bush tomorrow to brief him on the results of the study. While a "phased withdrawl" is supposed to be the primary option selected by the commission, the real question at hand is not necessarily what the recommendations will be. Instead, more focus is on Bush himself, and whether he will heed any advice he is given. To date, Bush has been quite stubborn when it comes to outside advice. On issues from Iraq to social policy, he has chosen to lend an ear only to those in his administration, or his neo-conservative political base.

Needless to say, I have my doubts about how well he will receive the report tomorrow.Bush's plan of "staying the course" until "victory" is entirely flawed. First and foremost, Bush has only vaguely explained what victory in Iraq is. At what point has the war been won? There are no benchmarks to test any result of the Iraq conflict- that is to say, we'll never know if the war has been won. The qualification of the outcome is entirely subjective. The U.S. will have won when Bush says so.

This is quite unlike other wars in American history. In the Revolutionary War, the colonies won when the British packed up and left. In the Civil War, the North won when the South formally surrendered. In World War II, it was again the surrender of the Axis leaders that decided the outcome.The enemies in Iraq consist of fragmented, factionalized groups with no single leader. When (and if) this war is won, there will be no signed surrender document on the USS Missouri or at the Appomattox courthouse.

What needs to be determined is what the criteria should be for a victory. Bush claims that the Iraq government needs be able to stand on its own in order for the U.S. to pull out. What constitutes standing on its own? Does the government need to establish a certain amount of laws? Raise an amount of funds through taxes? Create an army of a certain size? Have an election? Specific criteria need to be established to quantify or better qualify the circumstances that would constitute "victory." The country is owed this simple idea. If U.S. troops are going to stay until they are victorious, a well defined 'victory' scenario is necessary. For all we know now, the victory conditions in Bush's head could be quite maligned, such as the completion of an oil pipeline, imposition of an Israel-friendly leader, or the agreement that an Iraqi army will have a stand-off against Iran.

If the U.S. government wants to salvage foreign relations in the Middle East, it needs to be proactive about it. While the warring factions continue to destroy buildings, kill civilians and be otherwise unruly, the United States should find a moderately civil region and begin rebuilding the infrastructure. Start by constructing a few roads, water wells, bridges and continue with schools hospitals and the like. Such an endeavor would be inexpensive by comparison to the amount of money ($315 Billion) currently being spent on destroying those same pieces of infrastructure and society. These kind of projects would remind Iraqis, Arabs, and Muslims why America is a great place. It would also bring proof to support the rationale originally used to invade Iraq. If we wanted to remove Saddam and promote Iraqi freedom and prosperity all along, why aren't we making efforts along those lines?

Bush has been stubborn to alter his actions on just about every issue. It seems as if he's worried about being seen as having made the wrong decisions originally. Or worse, he's worried about being a "flip-flopper"- the very thing his campaign accused Kerry of being back in '04. I don't see there as being anything wrong with changing ones mind. Different times call for different actions.

I appreciate a candidate who is willing to vote for something one time, then 10 years later switch sides and oppose the same issue. It's not 'flip-flopping'- it's called pragmatism, and its an age old methodology. Not all situations are the same- it takes a learning experience to fully understand an issue or an idea. Think about how much Iraq has changed since 2003. While invading Iraq may have seemed like a good idea to the administration 4 years ago, the time and tide has changed and new ideas are required to alleviate the problems in that region. There is nothing wrong with changing a perspective or stance on Iraq. Adjusting ones perspective to reflect a new situation is a symbol of responsibility and leadership, not carelessness or immorality.

November 30, 2006

At this rate, I should prepare my Crayolas.

Throughout my life, the things I do during the day have become increasingly more complex. As an infant, I focused on things like eating and sleeping. As a toddler, I spent time playing with toys or coloring. In school, I learned the alphabet, then arithmetic, then science and civics and so on. Each progressive stage built upon prior learned lessons, with each stage being more complex or difficult than the previous. The trend continued through high school and college. As per the pattern of 20 years, I assumed such development would continue.

Thus far it has not.

Last June, as I finished graduate school, I wrote a 20 page paper discussing international economic regimes, their changes through time and the impact they have had on world trade. For another class, I evaluated the current world perspective on terrorism: its causes, impact and potential solutions. A year prior, I analyzed American foreign policy and how trade relations with China have created trade deficits, partly caused by an undervalued Yuan.

Yesterday I was coached on how to file things alphabetically. Seriously.

Apparently I'm good at doing mundane tasks. So good, in fact, that the Boston office has shipped multiple boxes to me overnight so that I can put them in to folders and send them back. True story.

Upon receipt of one of these boxes, I called the sender to ask what specifically he wanted me to do. His explanation was something like this:

"Okay, in the box there's a bunch of envelopes (there were probably a few hundred). Open them, then look at the name of the account it specifies and file it alphabetically. Like my last name is 'Smith'. So put it under 'S'. Or Mike's last name is 'Wilson', so put it under 'W'. Get it?"

He explained it this way at least twice, being sure to be painstakingly clear about how the alphabet works. He didn't bother much to explain what the documents were or why they were important. He was just extra particular about the fact than an individual had two names, a first and a last, and that they consisted of 'letters' which go in some sort of 'order'. Whatever the heck that means!

Yeah. I get it.

Talk about regression. I could have done this as an elementary schooler. Why does he feel that he needed to explain it this way? Is the assumption that the average Joe is too dim to understand the concept of alphabetizing? Are most employees like this? Whatever the matter, this dumbing down thing has gotta stop soon. I need a real job.

November 29, 2006

A Semantically Civil War

News agencies are now referring to the conflict in Iraq as a 'civil war'.

Taken from wikipedia's definition of "civil war":
A civil war is a war in which the competing parties are segments of the same country or empire. Civil war is usually a high intensity stage in an unresolved political struggle for national control of state power. As in any war, the conflict may be over other matters such as religion, ethnicity, or distribution of wealth. Some civil wars are also categorized as revolutions when major societal restructuring is a possible outcome of the conflict.

As a matter of fact, yes, you can call what's going on Iraq a civil war- it certainly meets all the criteria. All participants (aside from U.S. forces) are from the same country, it is highly intense, there is an unresolved political struggle for state power, the conflict is of religion and ethnicity, somewhat of wealth, and there will be restructuring when the conflict is resolved. So yes, NBC, NY Times, and U.S government, it is a civil war. Duh.

Maybe this new terminology can get the government to realize what it has created, and perhaps leverage this into a new idea of how to control it. With Iraq in total chaos, some sort of power broker is going to take charge of the region. They could be friendly, they could be foe, or they could be Iran. Anything is possible, and there are a number of groups who have more power in the region than the United States does.

Regardless of what others call it, I still prefer to call it a clusterf*ck.

November 28, 2006

The Steak and Shake Bean Crock 2nd round College Football Playoff

So the talk of the sports world is on the upcoming college bowls. Every year there is controversy, and this year is no exception. With one game deciding the top team in the country, the two best contenders must be selected to take a chance at winning the national title.

This year, one of those spots is a shoe-in. Ohio State has been dominant all season and more than deserves a spot in the title game. Their opponent however, could potentially be any one of the number of one-loss teams from USC to Michigan to Florida. Worth consideration is the undefeated Boise State team, who despite dominating their conference will not get the opportunity to play for more than their own pride. The same thing happened to Auburn a few years back.

The grab bag of bowls pair teams as low as 5th or 6th in their conference (as long as they have a 6-6 record or better) for games that are rather meaningless, beyond a cash reward for their school. The BCS games are more prestigious by far, and only one bowl has a meaningful trophy at stake.

There has been talk by sports pundits that the bowl system should be eliminated and replaced by a tournament. I agree with this suggestion. Following the season, there should be tournament similar to that of college basketball, but much much smaller. The top 8-10 teams should play in a single elimination tourney with the victor receiving the championship prize. To get a bid to the tournament, you must win your conference. Seeds could still be determined by using the current polls and rankings. I considered also having at-large invitations, but the fact remains that no team should be able to be the national champions without also being conference champions.

For non-winners, there could still be bowl games to create inter-conference postseason matchups. I'm aware of how important these games can be, as participants can rake in millions. Sponsors could even buy the naming rights for tournament round games, like the "Steak and Shake Bean Crock 2nd round College Football Playoff."

In addition to the aforementioned benefits, the playoff series would keep viewers engaged for an extended period of time. Instead of having Ohio State play its last regular season game on November 17, then waiting til January for the bowl game, the team would need to prove itself through December. Every single game would be big and important, with even the most boring matchup consisting of two solid ranked teams. Unless your team was involved, few remember who played in most bowl games more than a year ago, and that includes non-championship BCS bowls. A elimination tournament would be better- think of it as a final four of football.

It seems like every other sport, college or professional, has some sort of playoff structure to determine the top teams in the league. Why does football insist on this backwards and obsolete system when a playoff structure would be more profitable and more entertaining?

November 27, 2006

Remember Remember the Lexus of December

Lexus is at it again with their "December to Remember" sales campaign. Every year they do this promotion where they advertise their luxury automobiles as christmas gifts. As if Christmas ad campaigns weren't already forcing us to spend enough money, this car company comes along and makes it worse.

They make those goofy commercials where some guy gives his wife (or vice versa) a $45,000 SUV as a Christmas gift, complete with oversized bow. Personally, if my wife bought me a luxury automobile for christmas, I'd be pissed. There is no reason or excuse to spend that much money for any holiday, with or without Jesus' involvement. Buying a car is a commitment. A commitment to years of car payments, raised insurance premiums, maintenance, and because its a Lexus, premium gas. (Frankly, I'm not too wild about a car ever being bought for me outright. I'd rather select the right vehicle myself, but I digress.)

The average salary in America is about $36,000. (This figure is likely skewed by the number of people that make hundreds of thousands per year) The majority of these cars cost well over that, meaning the average American couldn't possibly afford one. I have a hard time believing that these commercials really speak to more than a few percent of the population.

Does anyone actually purchase one of these cars as a gift? If so, damn. You must have some serious disposable income. And for the kind of cash these cars call for, it better come with that big ass bow.

If I ever decide to give a Lexus as a gift, it's gonna be because I stole it.

November 26, 2006

Diagnosed with Oral Roberts

If A>B and B>C, then logically A>C also, right?

If so, that makes for some interesting college basketball rankings. Last night, Kansas beat the #1 ranked Florida Gators in overtime. Hardly 10 days ago, Kansas was beaten by Oral Roberts University at home.

That means that Oral Roberts is now the best team in College Basketball. The math logic proves it.

Oral Roberts University was founded by its namesake, Oral Roberts. Contrary to popular belief, this is indeed the name of a person, not a sex act or a mouth disease.

Oral Roberts is an interesting character. A devout christian, he has raised millions of dollars through faith to build a university and a nearby medical center. He claimed, and I swear this is true, that a 900 foot tall Jesus told him to do it. For a later project, he told his followers that he had to raise 8 million dollars in a few short months or god would "call him home". He ended up not getting that call, as more than enough money was raised.

An interesting fact about his City of Faith Medical Center is that the buildings are constructed to Noah's specifications for the ark. Had to be an interesting construction project- I can only imagine the difficulties caused by using a 2000 year old, inconsistent, inaccurate measuring system... or a bunch of guys crawling around using their arms to measure things on the construction site.

November 22, 2006

Spectator Slowdown

I manage to live on the exact opposite side of Columbus from where I work. Every morning I take the highway straight through downtown (70->670) during rush hour. No one is a fan of traffic, and that includes me. I deal with it every morning though, as I try to get to work in less than half an hour.

I can usually make the journey in either direction in under a half hour if I leave at the right time. By adjusting my departure time by only 10-15 minutes, my arrival time can be changed by 20-30 minutes. That is to say that if I leave too late, I hit the worst part of traffic and it ends up taking me significantly longer to make the same trip.

"What causes traffic?", I wonder some days. Sure, the obvious answer is the volume of cars, but that's not specific enough. Additionally, we've all hit traffic at times that aren't rush hour.

Some of it seems to be caused by people driving too slow in the left lane, preventing cars from getting by. Some is people who are flat out lost, or are not paying attention to exit signs and merge late. Some people don't know how to merge it all. Other slowdowns are caused by people who insist on cutting into traffic from an outside lane even though there were signs suggesting that that very lane ended ahead. Lastly, I think much of traffic is caused by hair-trigger brakers, as I call them. These people who see a car's brakelights a mile and a half ahead and feel the need to slam theirs on immediately, causing a chain reaction.

Accidents can slow things down temporarily, but most of the time the involved vehicles are moved to the shoulder before there's a serious slowdown. Often this results in what is referred to as "spectator slowdown", where passers-by drive really slowly to get a good look at any available twisted wreckage or mangled bodies. Don't lie- you've done it. We've all been stuck in this traffic too- you spot the collision vehicles on the side of the road, no lanes are blocked, yet traffic is backed up for a mile and suddenly lets up as you pass the accident.

The only way to stop the rubbernecking is to stop doing it yourself. Instead of checking out the carnage, keep driving. I've made this effort before, but it's hard. After waiting in bumper-to-bumper traffic for the better part of an hour, I felt I'd earned a chance to take a look.
What is it that compels us to look at certain things this way? Why do we want to see crashes on NASCAR, big hits in football and hockey, or entertain ourselves with gory movies?

November 17, 2006

Bigger than Jesus

Maybe it only seems like it because I live in Columbus, but tomorrow's Ohio State vs. Michigan football game appears to be the biggest event in the history of the universe.

You can't look out your window, turn on an electronic appliance, open your mouth or answer the phone without hearing something, somehow about this football game. Today I even saw some OJ-esque footage from a helicopter showing the Michigan buses leaving for Columbus. This game is the greatest, most important event in the history of the universe.

Here's why:

1. The biggest rivalry in college sports (arguably in all sports)
2. The media has nothing else to talk about (see ESPN today)
3. #1 vs. #2
4. National title hopes directly on the line
5. Heisman candidate at QB
6. The election is over - sort of.
7. An excuse to not accomplish anything serious this week.
8. Nickelback can't even get tickets.
9. Bo Schembechler died (see below)
10. The rapture has been postponed to next week. (or has it? They're calling it Judgement Day)

And today it got bigger still with Schembechler's death. Bo was the long time coach of the University of Michigan. During his career he coached for many schools, including Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Miami, Northwestern, and as an assistant under Woody Hayes at Ohio State. Many suggest that Bo's defection to Michigan was the biggest catalyst in this Big 10 rivalry.

I live in bona fide Columbus, aka ground zero for the game. With the history of violence following football games, I fear for my life if the Bucks win, and fear for the world if they lose. May god have mercy on our souls.


I am in complete disbelief. Totally unreal.

The Ohio Bobcats Football team, which used to be an oxymoron, has clinched the MAC East!

For the first time in nearly 40 years, the Bobcats get to play in the post season. The MAC championship is going to be held at Ford Field in Detroit, then pretty much win or lose, OU will appear in a bowl game.

I've been a Bobcat fan since I first set foot on the Athens campus back in '02. Most of my focus has been on the basketball team, however. The football team was generally only expected to win a game or two per season, and most fans attend the games only to see the Marching 110 perform.

Not anymore.

After McDavis brought in Frank (the tank) Solich, the team has certainly picked up. Last night's result is all the proof I needed.

I couldn't be prouder of this Bobcats squad. It's about time for some good action in Peden Stadium. I just hope I can manage to get to the bowl game.


November 16, 2006

Sudo Penguins and Partitions

I finally got myself to try Linux this week. Given that I don't know anyone who uses it regularly, I never had the opportunity to get to know the operating system. I've been a fan of the open-source movement for a while now, I figured it was time to take Linux for a spin.

I quickly realized that Linux was not like Windows or Apple, where there was effectively one version of the overall platform. Linux has a large number of what they call "distributions", and each varies from another. The differences seemed to based on how recent the version is, and what kind of user it was designed for.

I used a Linux Distribution Chooser to help me narrow down all the options. I ended up settling on Kubuntu 6.06. All along I had intended on adding the OS to my computer as to make it dual-boot with Windows XP. The guides I found to walk me through this process led me to believe that it was much more difficult to accomplish this than it really was. All I had to do was create a new partition on the hard drive on which to install Linux. Using PartitionMagic, this was actually fairly easy. Even if I didn't have the more advanced software, the Kubuntu iso comes loaded with a partitioning program.

Long story short, I rebooted the computer with the Kubuntu cd in the drive, and I was able to install the system very quickly. It even took care of the operating system menu. No fuss, no muss.

Using Linux for basic computer functions such as web browsing, word processing, etc, was pretty straightforward. The OS is easy enough to navigate for a windows user, but installing drivers was more of a challenge. In order to alter much of the system, you have to use a dos-like Terminal interface. The initial commands were a bit of a challenge, but eventually I managed to get my ati drivers loaded. That's all I had time for last night.

On the upside, I now understand this comic:

November 15, 2006

A Royale with Cheese

I am all about the James Bond movie: Casino Royale. This long awaited film is actually a prequel to every other Bond movie. The story is based on Ian Fleming's first Bond novel, which was never made into a movie. It will be the story explaining how Bond became 007.

I love Bond movies. It's kind of like a superhero movie without the superhero powers. Much of the time, the situations Bond faces are moderately realistic- the difference being the presence of not-yet-achieved technology, such as a watch with a high powered laser, a car that turns into a submarine, etc. There's something so possible about the Bond series that makes it exciting. It's far fetched enough to have a twisting storyline involving interesting fictional characters, but Bond can't fly or use x-ray vision on his own power.

The movie debuts this Friday, which is really unfortunate. My girlfriend's birthday is also on Friday, making it a difficult decision. It's a good thing I like her. She should consider herself lucky. I'll go see it as soon as I feasibly can. Sunday or Monday, I'm thinking. 'Cause you know what Saturday is.

Seeing this movie will probably send me back to my childhood fantasy about being James Bond. Of all the major movie heroes, superheroes, and other fictional characters that men wish they could be, I'd like to be James Bond the most. C'mon! The lifestyle, the technology, a cool British accent? It's like it was made for me. I've even been an avid player of nearly all James Bond video games, as it has been as close as I've been able to come to the real thing. In anticipation of the movie, I've begun to revisit the games on PS2, as that's the only console system available to me at the moment. Rest assured, if my N64 was handy, I'd be playing Goldeneye for sure.

Lastly, here's a comic from I love this site for its witty science and math related comics.

It's impossible to get around talking about this.

This town is about to explode. No, not from terrorists, despite the Democrats winning in the last election.

This city has football fever, and if The Game wasn't big enough already, this season made it double in size. You can actually taste the excitement in the air, and it tastes kind of sweaty, really. Not only does the winner get bragging rights for a year, but they go undefeated in the regular season, win the Big 10, and go to the BCS National Championship Game.

The football experts called this back in the first weeks of the football season. They said that both Michigan and Ohio State have the capacity to go undefeated this season. I was skeptical. I knew the Ohio State team would be fantastic on offense, and good enough on D, but I had no idea Michigan was up to the same caliber. They proved themselves many times over, such as when they played Notre Dame, just as OSU toppled Texas.

It's next to impossible for a fan of either team not to hold at least some reservation or doubt about this Saturday's game. With two teams this good and neither having been seriously challenged this season, this game is too close to call. We all know it has the capability to go either way.

Both teams have a solid defense and some major playmakers on offense. The Buckeyes' spread offense has performed extremely well this season, but the availability of the pass may hinge on whether they can simultaneously get the ball moving on the ground. Michigan's offense is more balanced, with more focus on Mike Hart's running abilities, as well as multiple deep threats.

A lot of the sports pundits are suggesting that the national championship could end up being a rematch between these two teams. While a few more cards would have to fall into place in order to make that happen, I'd say it would make for an interesting Fiesta Bowl. The bottom line for the BCS title game is that I want to see a good match-up. A championship game should not be a blowout, but a close fought game between two teams who dominated other opponents all season. If The Game is a close one, then it would be worthwhile to see these two contend once more. After all, this rivalry is about as big as it could ever hope to be. What's a few more flipped cars, couches on fire and a few hundred more arrests? They'd be a drop in the bucket at this point.

It's hard not to get psyched for The Game with the atmosphere in Columbus. I can't turn my head 30 degrees without seeing Ohio State paraphernalia. I just gotta remember that it's still 3 days, 4 fours 34 minutes and 12 seconds away.

Go Bucks! Beat Michigan! My score prediction: Ohio State 24, Michigan 17

November 13, 2006

BASICly inept

Just like so many others of my generation, I am the in-house IT guy for my family. I cannot visit my parents or other relatives for even a few hours without a, "hey, while you're here, can you take a look at my computer?" or "my ipod isn't downloading right" or "the wireless network isn't working again."

I don't mind being that guy, no, not at all. I enjoy being the one who's knowledgeable enough about technology to be able to repair any techno-issue that arises. When I fix the problem, I get a certain level of satisfaction, success, and a bit of a power trip. Usually it's just a matter of plugging in a cable the right way or editing a configuration page properly. Occasionally I bring in the 'big guns' and use Ad-Aware, Avast, Tune Up Utilities and others to clean up the system to as usable state. I appreciate a good challenge though, and more than once I've been recruited to repair an entirely defunct system.

Last night was one of those times. My step-mom's laptop recently had its hard drive replaced and needed to load an operating system. Easy enough, I thought. Grab a Windows XP cd, boot from CD and in 30 minutes we'd have a fully-functioning computer.

Not so, I found out. The cd-rom drive was on the fritz too, and would only actually access the cd once every 5-7 tries. When I finally was able to start the setup program, i was hardly able to create a hard drive partition before the cd quit, leaving only a few files copied. The cd drive refused to cooperate any further.

To make a long story short, I spent the next few hours trying to find other ways to load the operating system. The floppy drive was no avail- it would have taken over 500 disks to copy the XP cd to the hard drive. Then I created a boot disk and tried to activate the network port from dos- maybe I could install from the network. This seemed feasible at first, but I learned that I probably need Windows Server edition to make that work. Lastly, I copied the entire cd to my dad's external USB hard drive. If I could activate the USB port from dos, I might have a chance.

That was the right track. Using some drivers I found online, I was able to get the system to recognize the usb drive. Unfortunately, it wouldn't also recognize the internal hard drive. I may have been able to force it to work if wasn't for my fleeting dos skills. I couldn't remember all the commands to make the computer change drive letters and do the copying I was hoping for. I used to be quite talented at working with MS-DOS. As a former owner of a 486, I had to be. I could even do some programming in BASIC. It wasn't any prizewinning software, mind you (I was what, 12? 13? years old?) but I could make it work.

So much of those old skills have been forgotten, or more likely replaced by newer XP era skills. What I knew about floppy disk formatting, basic coding, and boot disks has been replaced by wireless networking, graphics cards, and blogging.

DOS was fun though, back in the day. It was a system that you couldn't just figure out on the spot. You had to know the steps necessary to achieve the intended results before you even started. It did so many of the same things that windows explorer does graphically by point-and-click today. However, there was always something empowering by being able to use DOS to its potential when no one else around you could.

It's practically cliche now, but technology times move so fast. Think of the things we do everyday in Windows like downloading, email, and all sorts of media, and how next to impossible it was in DOS. Just look at that picture. There's no way that dweeby little Gates (bottom left) could have forseen that he would have $50+ Billion in assets within twenty years. I should probably start working on my long hair and matching beard soon.

I had to leave the laptop unfixed for now. I'm still working on a solution. Let me know if you have any good ideas. Repairing the cd-rom is an option, but a difficult one as I'm not sure what exactly is wrong with it.

November 10, 2006

I, Pod

Though I've owned it for nearly a year, I've recently become an even bigger fan of my iPod. I started taking it to work with me every day. I noticed recently that a lot of other employees listen to a radio or headphones during the day, so I decided to give it a shot.

My iPod is a black 2GB Nano, purchased by my wonderful girlfriend for me last Christmas. I quickly added a nice leather protective case and better quality headphones, as the iPod is particularly vulnerable to aesthetic damage and comes with very poor quality (though trendy) headphones.

I'm by no means an iPod obsessive. I enjoy listening to it, but it's not a way of life. I've seen a number of new iPod owners who take pictures of the unwrapping process when they purchase a new one. Not me.

It's interesting how well the iPod has taken off. At the time they first came out, MP3 players had already been on the market for quite a while. I can remember them pretty distinctly 6 or 8 years ago, when I worked at Circuit City. There was usually not much more than 128Mb of storage space on the unit though, which made for a short listening experience. When the iPod hit the market a couple of years later, it was accompanied by not only a very large hard drive at a marginal (but still high for high school kids) cost, but also an absolute barrage of marketing. Apple made the MP3 player cool. It could hold virtually your entire music library and it came with hip headphones.

I originally didn't particularly want an iPod. After all, I'm tech savvy enough that I don't need the user-friendly interface to get the gadget to do what I want. A cheaper competing model would be adequate. The more I was exposed to the device, the more I was drawn to getting one for myself. It had a color screen, could hold pictures, categorize everything automatically, and it would sync perfectly with iTunes, which I was already using to store my 20Gb music collection.

Recently, I've thought about upgrading to a full-fledged iPod. One with video and a huge hard drive. I'm not gung-ho about it yet, so we'll see. I'd just like to take advantage of the video podcasts and be able to put my whole music collection on it instead of just a fraction of it, as I have now.

Because I listen to my iPod pretty much all day long now, I've had to add more than just music to keep my mind occupied while I cut & paste spreadsheets from 9 to 5. I started downloading podcasts regularly, which is something I unsuccessfully tried before. When I didn't listen to the iPod on a regular basis, the podcasts quickly became outdated and pointless to listen to when I remembered they were there. But now that I listen to it everyday, podcasts are a highlight of my day. Here's a brief list of my favorites, all of which can be found through iTunes for your listening pleasure:

The Body Odd - Two doctors discuss interesting things your body does in a funny but interesting 10 minute cast. Look under NBC to find it.

PTI - Also known as Pardon the Interruption, this cast is taken directly from the ESPN show. No commercials, and you get to listen to Tony & Mike badger each other.

ABC News Nightline - Also straight from TV, this cast tackles a major news story each day.

NBC Nightly News - Straight from Brian Williams everyday.
Travel with Rick Steves - The famed guidebook writer discusses travel destinations.

November 08, 2006

And then there was one...

This entry is written early Wednesday afternoon, just following Bush’s speech.

What a day for politics. For all those in favor of change, we could not have asked for much more. The House of Representative is secure and great strides have been made in the Senate. The only Senate races left uncertain are those of Montana and Virginia. Montana’s winner has been called by CNN in favor of Jon Testor, a Democrat. Virginia’s race is far to close to call, though the current count places Jim Webb (D) ahead by only 7,000 votes from a pool of 2.5 million votes. (The independent candidate has received 26,000 votes- enough to cover the spread between the main party candidates 3.5 times over.)

If the Dems can take that last Virginia Senate seat, they will total 51 in the upper house, which is enough to gain “control.” If that seat goes to the GOP, the 50/50 split will be broken by none other than Dick “Bulls-eye” Cheney, everyone’s second favorite oil man cowboy.

I’ve been glued to today, checking up on the close races and witnessing another tidbit of outstanding news- Rumsfeld is stepping down from his post as Secretary of Defense. This may be an act that should have taken place ages ago. With the debacle in Iraq and all its detail, Rummy should have left the Pentagon years ago. If I recall correctly, he did try to resign but Bush would not accept his resignation. More recently, military generals and other political elites have been making efforts to encourage his removal.

Thus far I have only one major theory as to why he selected today to leave. It was clearly a reaction to the election (obviously). The GOP clearly did not expect to lose as much as it did in Congress, and Rumsfeld may have been waiting it out. If the Democrats were to take control of Congress with Rummy still in the war room, chances are good that he could be investigated, prosecuted, or otherwise for Iraq, Abu-Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay prisoners, use of torture, use of illegal wire-tapping, an unsuccessful search for Bin Laden, and other military leadership failures. By getting out now, Rumsfeld may escape any such investigation- and exposé I would love to see.

Anyway you cut it, today was a solid victory for the Democrats, as well as those who are just plain fed up with the right-wing leadership of our country. I voted for change, and I hope we get it. While no candidate promised to fix Iraq, I think the odds are better than they were yesterday.

So now we wait. If a Virginia election is close within a certain percentage of votes, there is an automatic recount. With it being such a close finish, neither candidate would be willing to concede their candidacy and finalize the election.

November 06, 2006

Web 2.0? More like Web You.0

For a long while I didn’t know it had a name, but I noticed the evolution. Web 2.0 is upon us, or rather, it is us.

If you’re reading The Soap Box, there’s a good chance that you’re old enough to remember the early days of the internet. Those days when you had about three options for an ISP using your 14.4 kb modem and had to pay-per-email. We’ve certainly come a long way in a short time.

The internet has evolved into countless ISPs, millions of websites, free email, and connection speeds that put any type of phone modem to shame. While the internet used to be corporate or organizationally driven, it has turned into an outlet for individuals.

From blogging to personal pages on Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, Flixster, to Wikipedia, Wikihow and so many others have empowered individuals to access, use, and share their slice of the internet. What’s more, the number of slices of the internet is pretty much infinite. Anyone with access to a computer, or even a Smartphone or PDA can do it effectively for free. Even the previously standardized web pages like Yahoo, Google, and many others are fully customizable. The web is now all about the user, and scarcely about the provider. Compare this to a Henry Ford quote from the 1910’s “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black" versus today’s age where you have dozens of car styles, colors and options to tailor your ride to your personal preference.

With all this personal empowerment, we have achieved the ability to share human knowledge and experiences with the entire world at any time, instantly. Readers of Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat will recognize everything I’m talking about as part of Globalization 3.0. (If you haven’t read this book, it is highly recommended.) Look at Wikipedia. Its creators designed it as a resource to contain the world’s combined knowledge. And with personal pages on the social networking sites, we can learn more and more about each other as human beings.

Other features of Web 2.0 include the new dynamic of software. When was the last time you purchased software and used your CD-ROM drive to install it? It is far more common now to acquire applications and games from the web. Even the programs you already have utilize the internet to update or sync with a distant source. Or examine the Open Source movement- millions of individuals whom have never met in person are now collaborating to develop software for all sorts of uses, all for free.

When considering at what point this new era began, I don’t think there is a solid answer. The internet has been going through an evolution. Because the web is neither centrally located nor centrally controlled, there was no single force that guided it to where it is now. Certainly the most palpable answer is simply that the individual empowerment started when it became economically feasible to extend this sort of technology to the masses. Like any other major technological innovation, it is generally prohibitively expensive to most in the early stages, but cost goes down steadily and availability increases.

Most of us are only beginning to embrace the possibilities of this new era of the internet. Like all evolutions, it will take time. For now, I’m taking every opportunity to explore new facets of the internet and my stake in it.

I found this picture on Google Images, and it does a bang up job of summing up Web 2.0. It’s eerily reminiscent of the socialist movement.

A Little of Each, All of Neither

I mentioned in my post regarding Iraq that I was not a democrat or a republican, and I thought I best explain that before the election. Not to say that it would become completely irrelevant after tomorrow, but politics certainly takes a back burner in most people’s minds after Election Day.

Most people in this country identify themselves politically by siding with a political party of choice. Unfortunately in this country, there’s effectively only two from which to choose, so it becomes a very polarized electorate. However, I seek out some sort of middle ground. I’m not a Democrat or a Republican. My voter registration information does not declare me as either, nor do I belong to any formal organization. I don’t attend meetings, I don’t donate money to any candidate, and I don’t volunteer for any campaigns. To call myself a member of either party without any level of participation above the ballot box would be a flagrant overstatement.

Beyond campaign participation and general support, I do not necessarily agree with either party on enough issues to substantiate supporting them in all cases. For a broad example, I am generally left leaning on social issues and more right leaning on economic ones. (i.e. support stem cell research and free trade) Few candidates stand on this kind of platform, and seldom is it regular in any one party.

Additionally, I can’t possibly agree with the Republican Party as a whole as they sit right now. Even though one of this party’s charter members was the much respected Abraham Lincoln, today they seem tied up with cronyism, sex scandal and a blunder of foreign policy. So many GOP politicians seem so much more focused on their own wallet than the direction of this country. Tom DeLay and Dick Cheney are great examples.

The Democratic Party isn’t much better. While they may not be locked in scandal, they frequently seem completely unable to organize themselves. So much of their political base has been fragmented by groups that do or do not support the Iraq war, and those that may or may not believe in “the defense of marriage.” What’s more, as the Republican Party has sabotaged itself so many times in the last five or so years, the Democrats have routinely failed to take advantage. Lacking organization and a spine, they don’t seem able to stand up for anything. They have sat silent through so many prime opportunities. That kind of political apathy makes them no better than their opposition.

I’ve never been a fan of the polarizing effects of a two party system. I much prefer the multi-party structure that is commonly found in the parliamentary systems of Europe. Germany, for example, has a solid government that allows for more than two political views to be expressed. Unfortunately, that is not an option in America.

In the mean time, I’m just going to stick to the issues and vote for candidates that agree with my line of thinking. I don’t go out of my way for red or blue. Colorblind voting, I’ll call it.

November 03, 2006

The Chipotle Blend

I love Chipotle. Who doesn't? Since moving to Columbus I've had thier delicious burritos on a number of occasions. Nevertheless, I've developed a solid idea that could maximize my tex-mex burrito experience.

The Chipotle burrito is pretty wide. (I'd say 4 or so inches across maybe, by two inches? That's 8 square inches!) Which is too wide to get a bite that encompasses the entire girth of the tortilla. Because of the way the burrito is made, the distribution of ingredients is uneven, and a bite of any one section of the burrito yields only one or two flavors. Often the rice is on one side, the cheese in the middle and your meat on the other end. Usually the salsa of your choice only spices up a third of the burrito to boot.

What I propose is an extra step in the burrito creation process. After you pick out your ingredients, everything should be dumped into a bowl and stirred gently to create an even burrito distribution. The burrito ingredients can then be re-integrated with the tortilla for your eating pleasure. I propose the name "Chipotle Blend" for the new product.

Think of it- spice mixed with meat, rice mixed with cheese, and all of this blended together for a cornucopia (horn of plenty) of flavors and deliciousness. Chipotle, I'm waiting by the phone for you to call and ask me to go on a national tour demonstrating my new product.

Make the check out to: Taste Wizard Tyler

Stem Sold

Stem cell research is becoming one of those "hot-button" issues this election season. It seems that more liberal candidates support the study, while conservatives have made an effort to block research. President Bush himself used his first ever veto to block a congressional act allowing research. (Finally he uses a veto... I guess it shows how aligned Bush and the Republican congress are!)

Why is this such a big deal? It seems like any medical effort that could be made to save lives and fight diseases such as cancer, Parkinson's and heart disease would be a shoe-in. Well, it's complicated. But here's the short of it:

Your entire body is made up of cells, but there's lots of different kinds. Skin cells, heart cells, nerve cells, bone cells, etc, are all a little bit different, because they have different functions. They can't be interchanged to help heal other body parts not of their same type. (i.e. a skin cell put in your brain won't regenerate neurons lost from a stroke) Stem cells aren't any specific type of cell. Or rather, they're any type of cell you want. Follow me on this.

A stem cell is like a blank piece of paper that can be written on with a pencil. However, the pencil has no eraser. Stem cells can be conformed to be nerve cells, heart cells, or whatever else is needed, but it can't work backwards. So theoretically, we could use stem cells to create heart cells and help someone with heart disease. Easy enough, right? Sort of. Adult humans do have a limited number of stem cells in their bodies which can be used, but the process isn't as effective or promising as the alternative.

Embryonic Stem cells (or ES) is the same concept, but the cells are obtained from an embryo, where all the cells are dividing to become different body parts. Cultures of human embryonic cells can be used for this research, and this is the most controversial idea surrounding stem cells. The political problem arises when people believe that stem cell research requires the "murder" of a baby to access these cells. This really isn't the case. Most stem cell research is done using embryonic cell lines that were already created for the purpose of in-vitro fertilization. After a successful fertilization, the remaining embryonic cells are set to be destroyed anyway, so using them for research is a lot better than nothing. Furthermore, the embryo that is used is at its very earliest stages of development. We're talking 32-64 total cells. A far cry from the 50-75 trillion cells it takes to make a living, breathing human.

I'm all-for stem cell research. I think the possibilities that lie within a handful of cells vastly outweighs the claim by a few that we're murdering babies for the benefit of a few. Much of the opposition (frequently the religious right) claim that "life begins at conception". I disagree with that statement, especially when there are fewer than 100 cells in question.

Even if not everyone agrees that we should allow embryonic generation for the purpose of research, it cannot be denied that the medical possibilities that could be unlocked are powerful and numerous. At the very least, researchers should be given full access and permission to utilize embryonic cell lines that already exist to further understand what possibilities may await. Perhaps then we can more fully understand their potential and develop a strong case for additional embryonic research development.

November 01, 2006

Most Saints Day

Today is November 1st, what the Catholics call "All Saints Day". Something about this fascinates me. Saints are supposedly among the most important people who ever lived. Being Sanctified is more elite than being called "Sir", "Dr.", "Your Honor", "Mr. President", or probably even "Pope".

I thought it was odd that all the saints would have to share one day until i realized how many of them there are. This list on Wikipedia clearly shows that there are many, many saints. The article also states that in Roman Catholicism there are "10,000 saints and beatified people." So even if they were divided up equally each day (and not exempting time for Jesus' Christmas and Easter) 27 saints would have to share each day. So i guess it only makes sense that they should all combine for one Saint-tastic hollapalooza on November 1st.

I figured the most stand-out saints would get their very own day, but I'm curious as to why the ones that do were selected as such:

St. Patrick: Patron saint of excuses for drinking.
St. Valentine: Patron saint of chalk flavored candy hearts with out-dated messages written on them. (Fax Me!)

October 30, 2006

Perhaps we'll stay, but not on this course.

Many of you have probably heard Bush's standard go-to phrase when talking about the plan for Iraq. When asked about an exit timetable, or when he figures the mission will really be accomplished, he insists that no timetable is necessary and the United States will "stay the course". When reports inquire upon the ultimate goal of the mission, his response is to the effect of "victory".

This ambiguous and arbitrary rhetoric may be acceptable to the jingoistic crowds of America immediately following 9/11, but is no longer enough today.

The occupation of Iraq needs to be working towards some specific conclusions or it will fall apart and become one of the most disasterous foriegn policy farces in recent decades. Being that most Americans understand that the efforts being made at present in Iraq are ineffective, Bush is finally recognizing this fact and is changing his rhetoric to reflect that.

The administration has decided to Cut and Run from 'Stay the Course'. The media wizards and press represtentatives in the White House are no doubt working on creating new nomenclature to express the same ideas in a new way. In the mean time, Bush has already denied ever saying "stay the course" at all:

“Listen,” Bush insisted “we’ve never been ‘stay the course,’ George. We ... will complete the mission. We will do our job and help achieve the goal, but we’re constantly adjusting to tactics.”

I can't wait to see The Daily Show's take on this. I'm sure they will have a long montage of clips with Bush using those very words.

As for me, I certainly disagree with "stay the course". However, the media term designated to oppose the Bush plan, "cut and run" does not appeal to me either. Invading Iraq was certainly a mistake. The entire operation has been longer, more expensive, and more costly than ever expected, not to mention the missing weapons of mass destruction. But leaving now would not solve the problem. If the United States was to pack its bags and return home tomorrow, Iraq would likely fall into greater chaos than it is in today. Like it or not, the fact is simply that we're already in this mess and we can't just sweep it under the rug.

For the U.S. to save face and remove itself from such a volatile situation, a timetable must be established. Major landmarks must be set for the slow but sure removal of troops, the establishment of an Iraqi peacekeeping force and a stable government that can withstand the conflicts of differing cultures and ethnic groups. Guidance for development should come not from the U.S., but instead from the U.N. (if they'll take it) which could utilize a multilateral peacekeeping force to encourage stability, growth and development in the new Iraq. Washington must accept that the U.S. is not capable of winning "hearts and minds" in the Middle East by itself, especially not on the track we are on.

A new plan for Iraq is needed, and we need it now. The Bush administration has made it very clear that they have little intention of changing their current plan, whether you listen to today's rhetoric or yesterday's. This is why I'm voting Democrat this election. Not because I am a Democrat (not a Republican either. I'll explain another time.), but because I'm simply voting for change. We need some new people with new ideas and new strategies in Washington to try to solve this Iraq debacle. The ones there now sure aren't doing it.

October 15, 2006

One in a Billion? 8.259 Billion?

We've all used the phrase "one in a million" before. Often it describes someone really special; someone who stands out amongst everyone else you know or ever met. I'm thinking that this particular saying is outdated, or at least not quite as flattering as it used to be.

Today's current world population is roughly 6.55 Billion. To say that you're one in a million would mean that as unique as you are, there's 6,550 others equally as special as you. To put that into perspective, realize that there's only 1,800 or so players in the NFL, 793 billionaires, and 43 U.S. Presidents. So to say someone is a good as a professional football player, you'd have to say they are 1 in 3,638,888. To be as suave as a billionaire: 1 in 8,259,773. And do be presidential caliber: 1 in 152,325,581.

It sounds saddening at first, realizing that one in a million isn't what it was, but odds are you'll never run into the other 6,549 people anyway! And according the global average of 7,900 people per square mile (in urban areas) you're the most special person in 126 square miles! Think of it that way!

October 09, 2006

Haley Joel Osment Would Be Proud

The other day, Shannon and I were on the way to the park. We thought we owed it to the little guy to have a chance to run around out in the open for a while. On the way to the park, we decided to stop at a pet supply store to get a tennis ball for the dog. Shannon ran in to get one while I waited in the car.

Having sat in the parking spot for no more than a minute or two, a middle age woman walked up to the driver side window. I turned down the radio and lowered the window. She started by explaining that her car had been towed by AAA because her transmission broke. She then asked me if I could give her a ride to her “auntie’s” house down the street, or give her a couple of dollars towards cab fare. Everything I had ever learned about strangers from a young age had popped in my head. What's more, we were in what is oft considered a "rough side of town." Was this woman about to rob me? Kill me? Use the “cab fare” to buy crack? My parents and the news media would have me believe that there was a greater chance of a crime to be committed than an honest person needing a helping hand.

I decided to cast away my white-flight suburbia fears and lend a favor to someone in need. Shannon came back out to the car and I quickly explained why there was a stranger in my car. We turned out of the shopping center and continued down Broad street toward her destination. During the trip she explained how she had asked so many other people for a ride and was repeatedly denied. She even tried the police, and to her claim, their “to serve and protect” mantra didn’t serve her at all. She also considered taking a bus, but did not know which to get on or where to get off. I can’t blame her on that point. Despite having used dozens of public transportation systems in the U.S. and in countries where I don’t speak the native tongue, I still have no idea how to use the Columbus bus system. Our passenger was very appreciative of us taking the time to help her out, as she expressed that a number of times.

Her “auntie’s” house turned out to be only a mile or so from the park to which we were headed, but it would have been a long walk from the shopping center. It was located in a neighborhood that most of my ilk would do anything to avoid. There were run down houses, others that looked like they hadn't been painted since the Nixon administration, and what any suburbanite would depict as unfit for the middle class.

I thought about my decision to help this woman later. Why had I decided to allow a complete stranger into my car, despite everything I had ever been taught? We’re not supposed to help the under classed and under privileged this way. Think about what you know about hitchhikers- haven’t you always been advised against giving them a ride? I was led to believe they were all murderers who carried various weapons in their bandana-on-a-stick.

Call it cliché, but I think part of my decision to help her out stems from the concept of “paying it forward”. I’m sure that I owed it to the universe to help someone out when they needed it. For those not familiar (or not having seen the movie), “paying it forward” means when someone does a favor for you, big or small, you should not focus on “paying them back”, but instead “pay it forward” to someone else needing a favor. It works kind of like Karma, I think.

On a total side note, did you know Bon Jovi was a character in that movie? Weird.

(Update: While doing some Haley Joel Osment "Where are they now?" research, I came across this little tidbit:
I guess he's old enough to know how to take two and pass...)

October 04, 2006

Gnarls Barkley: "Crazy" like a fox

I recently read in Wired magazine that Gnarls Barkley’s song “Crazy” was the first to hit #1 on the charts based entirely on downloads. The song was originally released without an album and has been extremely successful in the US and abroad.

This isn’t the future of music anymore- it’s the present. Music is now available at many different outlets online as well as on CDs at your local Wal-Mart. What I can’t figure out is what took the recording industry so long to realize this and capitalize on such a profitable opportunity.

Thinking back, I’ve been downloading music since the late 90’s. I can remember finding songs in the MP2 format on AOL servers and FTP sites. It was possible to acquire electronic versions of hit songs well before Napster came along. Even in the post-Napster era, we are easily able to access other servers. Limewire, Kazaa, Morpheus, DC++, and so many others link consumers to free copies of music. Instead of coming to some sort of realization or epiphany about a new way to distribute music, the RIAA and its dominant labels proceeded to file lawsuits against downloaders. They have fought a losing battle for the past decade, when all the while they were sacrificing their own potential profits.

Instead of spending money to pay lawyers and court fees, music labels could have set up music purchasing sites earlier. Imagine if iTunes and similar sites had existed 5 or 6 years ago. Think of how many illegal downloads would have been unnecessary. Many music fans who have since learned of ways to download music illegally may have chosen legitimate means to get their music. And the music companies would have made more money too. As cheap as it already is to produce a CD, the marginal cost for downloading an electronic copy of a song is next to zero. All companies need to pay for is some web design and a server to contain the files.

Another huge benefit of the ability to download music is the very reason Gnarls Barkley was able to be so successful. Music fans have the option of downloading just the song(s) they want from an album, instead of spending money on the whole CD. Today, albums are not put together in a creative “total package” configuration, the way they were a few decades ago. Look at the Beatles “Revolver” or “Sgt Pepper”, or the best example, “Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd. These collections of songs were destined to be together. Individually, there are a few stand-out songs, but the album creates a whole new work of art. Most albums today are a collection of songs assembled by executives at a recording label. They work hard on a few songs, promoting them extensively as “singles” but the rest is filler. They need to fill space on the CD so it sounds worth it to spend $15. I would much rather spend a dollar apiece on the specific songs I want to hear.

Let’s face it. We’ve all purchased a CD of an artist that has been a disappointment. There may be one hit song, maybe another song or two that’s pretty good, but the rest isn’t worth spending money on. How many CDs have you actually owned where most or all of the songs on the CD are really worth purchasing? How many CDs do you own that you can listen to straight through without wanting to skip a few tracks?

The music industry is only now catching on to a concept they should have discovered years ago. Gone are the days where they could get consumers to spend almost $20 for two good songs and an album full of filler. The 80’s may have been called the “me generation”, that I would argue that this generation has demanded (and received) more capacity for individualization than any before it. We can tailor our spending to our personal wants and needs, and this is the audio example.

September 29, 2006

A Crazy Idea

During the last few years of college, I had a crazy idea. I knew that graduation was approaching and time left in school was limited. I had to figure out what I was going to do. Should I pursue a PhD? Should I get a job? What’s to come after June? That’s when it hit me.

My crazy idea was that I would finish school as planned and pursue a career. I would get a job at a nominal salary, at which point I could afford to live in a decent apartment, start paying off school loans, be able to go out and have fun once in a while and maybe even afford a car that’s less than 10 years old. I mean heck, I figured having a graduate degree would put me leagues ahead of much of my competition. I had good credentials, office working experience, communications and computer skills, leadership experience and I studied abroad to boot. I didn’t need the perfect job, definitely not right off the bat. But that wouldn’t be an issue. Undoubtedly I could send out some resumes, get a few offers then take one that I like. After all, I was willing to move anywhere in the country, or even the world.

So I started putting out some resumes in April. I figured that it was as good a time as any to apply for jobs. Maybe I could beat some of the college graduate rush. Applying for jobs was quite exciting at first. As I filled out applications, wrote cover letters, and searched through so many pages of job listings, I imagined where I might find myself or what I might be doing in a few months. Some days I would apply for three or four jobs. I’d say the average week yielded at least ten. I continued this pursuit of a job through the end of spring quarter and into the summer.

Now it is nearly October, and I haven’t worked a day since graduation. The nearly one hundred resumes have yielded only one or two phone calls and no real interviews. To make things worse, the calls I did get were for the jobs I wanted the least- the ones that required a move across the country for minimal pay and maximum hours. Things have been looking grim. I have applied for jobs that have little or nothing to do with my degree, nor my intended career. Frustration only describes the half of it.

Only now have things been starting to look up. All I can say is that the old adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” has proven true. The leads that I feel so fortunate to have right now are only due to people I know.

The biggest of these is a consulting firm based in Chicago that my cousin’s husband works for. He’s considered a big shooter there and was able to land me a phone interview that has parlayed into an invitation to visit their office next month. Even this lead has been time consuming and stressful to arrange. I began the application process in mid August. Even if I get the job, I won’t be able to start until February.

In the shorter term, a friend of my girlfriend was able to set up an interview with the Associate Dean of a local adult tech education center. I received a call early this week stating that I got the job, though I have yet to start. I would be teaching economics for four hours, one night a week. Pay is minimal, but minimal is a positive integer greater than zero. In other words, it’s better than nothing.

I’m confident with the Chicago job, and if this teaching job would get started, it would resolve some of my problems. I’m good at interviewing and to my recollection have landed pretty much every job I’ve interviewed for. The hardest part has been getting that opportunity.

To all those still in school, plan ahead for graduation. Plan way ahead. I would start looking for job opportunities six months ahead of when I did, which does mean the calendar year before you actually graduate, for most of you. Apply for jobs you’d really like to have, but scour your friends and relatives for someone who works for a company that might have something you’d be good at or eligible for. After all, many employees get a referral bonus if you get hired.

If you want to get a job quickly after graduation, you need to think outside the box. Sending out dozens resumes sure didn’t cut it for me. Maybe you know someone, or know someone that knows someone, or know someone who knows someone who knows someone that can get you an interview. There’s so much competition out there. Think about that when you’re sitting in your chair at the commencement ceremony awaiting your diploma. Look around- see the other 3,000 students in the room? They’re your competition. Not just them either. Factor in all the new bachelors’ degree holders at all the universities in the country, plus all those already in the work force with real job experience. You need to find a way to get ahead of these other people- a way to get noticed in a sea of college grads.

I don't want to be too discouraging. I hope my experience is unique to me. I wish only the best of luck to you and your job hunt. I do know that if I ever have the opportunity to help a friend get a job, I’ll be sure to do all I can. Things are starting to work out finally. If nothing else, I've located some temp work that pays fairly well. Well, it'll pay the rent anyway.

August 17, 2006

What is the value of human life?

Some of you might respond to this question simply by saying that it is priceless. You may suggest that life is a gift that can not be bought or sold for any amount of money. I contend that human life has a finite value. Take, for example, a severe illness has bestowed itself on a dear family member. What price would you be willing to pay to save that person’s life? What if the disease necessitated a $10,000 operation? Would you pay it? What about $100,000? Even with fundraising, insurance and loans, there eventually becomes a price that is just too much to pay. The maximum amount that could be afforded is then the value of that life.

But the real depth to this concept isn’t the price you would pay for a loved one; it’s the price you wouldn’t pay for someone else. Are some people’s lives worth more than others? Consider if the sick individual wasn’t a relative. What if the person was actually a child, half a world away, in a developing country? Would you pay the same amount to save their life? As the commercials and NGO’s insist, often times it only a few hundred dollars to save a persons life from malnourishment and diseases that have been eradicated in the western world. So is a relative’s life worth the lives of tens or hundreds of others?

The value of one’s life is determined by a few factors. Individuals may vary in value by their earning potential. Someone who is well educated with an established career has more earning potential than a hobo, for example. Our value is also established by the people around us. Our social value to our family, friends and community is an important factor. A person who is well liked has more redeeming value than someone despised by all.

In this world, we’re not created equal. Our value is determined on where we live, what we do, and who is important to us. How much I may value an individual’s life could be vastly different from your valuation. Regardless, it shows that human life is not priceless in a monetary sense, nor is it uniform across the human population.

July 26, 2006

The Challenge of our Generation

Every generation faces a major challenge. In the past 100 years we have seen wars, economic depressions and an iron curtain that divided the world for decades. Undoubtedly, our generation too will have to come to terms with a major crisis. While we can only speculate what that may be, the challenge of developing a new fuel source ranks very high.

For centuries the world has utilized coal, oil, and other non-renewable fossil fuels as the primary source of energy for everything from lights to spacecraft. At our current rate of consumption, the planet cannot endure this kind of energy expenditure. With globalization offering empowerment of millions every day around the world to own cars, use air conditioning and power electronics, the rate of energy use is skyrocketing. China and India in particular are each bringing over a billion people into the modern energy world. In part, this competition has driven the costs of fuel up as demand for energy is increasing much faster than the available supply.

While the supply-demand problem of energy is becoming easier and easier to see through our wallets, it is only a matter of time until this becomes an even bigger international issue. It will not be long until countries begin to compete over access to oil. Because fuel is such a necessity for the modern economy to power our computers, trucks, cargo ships, cars and trains, no country is willing to go without it. As if the soon-to-be intense competition for oil between India, China, the US, Europe and others were not problem enough, a sick twist of fate has left the majority of the worlds' oil supply in the hands of a few rogue nations. The world's largest oil producers are Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran and Nigeria. Each has a history of human rights issues, social problems and most importanty, international political difficulties. When oil supply gets worse, the countries wielding the most power will be those who least deserve it and least able to handle it.

Beyond the supply of fossil fuel, its very use is causing tremendous environmental damage. The notion of global warming used to be almost a joke. Even if it were true, it was happening so slowly that no one alive today would survive to experience its real effects. But look at the last 12 months. Last August demonstrated a hurricane season unmatched in decades. As you may recall, the national weather service actually ran out of names to give all of the hurricanes. The following winter was unusually mild. Here in Ohio there was hardly snow to speak of. Now this summer has shown an incredible heat wave throughout the whole of the United States with temperatures of 100 degrees no longer limited to the southwest, but into the northern plains and Midwest.

The challenge of our generation may be to find a solution to this compounding problem. We need to discover a new form of energy that is clean, renewable, and sustainable. No time soon will fossil fuels be entirely replaced, but they need to be subsidized as soon as possible to alleviate today’s energy woes.

July 13, 2006

Foul pLay

Though it was covered a lot less in the news than one would expect, ex chief of Enron and W. henchman Ken Lay died last week of an apparent heart attack. The reaper found him at one of his vacation homes in Aspen, Colorado. Since the collapse of Enron and the theft of countless individuals’ jobs, salaries, retirement packages and stocks, Ken Lay has been on my list of hated individuals. I firmly believe that this guy and his partners committed a serious crime and deserve to pay the penalty for their unbelievable greed.

That day will never come, however. In May, Lay was found guilty on counts of fraud and conspiracy, as well as for being an outright asshole. Sentencing was to take place this coming September, in which Lay would be likely forced to spend the rest of his life in prison and return $183 million of stolen funds. Because you can’t put a dead guy on the stand, and nor can you stick one in jail, the trial is being vacated. That means that the Justice department is giving up on seizing Lay’s assets. Yeah- his family gets to keep all of the money, even though Lay was convicted.

I hate to be “that guy” when it comes to conspiracies. I don’t like to be thought of as crazy because I believe there’s more than what meets the eye. However, Ken Lay’s death seems altogether too convenient. After losing the trial, Lay was out of prison on $5 million bond- pocket change for him. With millions tucked away in offshore bank accounts, it would be easy for Lay to fake his own death, and could be anywhere right now sipping daiquiris on a beach in the Caribbean.

Lay has the money and the connections to pull something like that off. Frankly, if you have enough money you can do pretty much whatever you want. His close ties with the Bush administration including large donations to the president’s election war chest could have allowed him to obtain a new passport, safe passage out of the country, or even a position within the witness protection program- any of which could help him skirt the sentencing trial, jail time, and hefty fines.

I’ve consistently been very skeptical of the Bush regime and the whole Enron situation. Honestly, I find anything coming out of Texas to be a bit unnerving. So maybe its fitting that I’m suspicious of Lay’s opportune death, but I think someone needs to be looking into it. The autopsy was too fast, the body was cremated, and I have yet to read a report that suggests that a member of the press actually witnessed Lay’s deceased body.

Interestingly enough, Lay is not the only one connected with the Enron fallout that has recently died. A British banker who was questioned regarding his involvement in the collapse of the energy giant was also found dead.

After doing some googling for other Ken Lay conspiracy theorists, I have found a few other ideas of what happened. I find these to be a little bit farther fetched, but still worth reading. Some suggest the Bush administration may have disposed of Lay to take away some negative press. Others believe that Enron attorney Jeffery Skilling may have had something to do with it. With Lay gone, Skilling may be off the hook.

Any way you cut it, Lay was found guilty of a crime against thousands of hard working Americans who lost thier financial lives to the greed of a handful of executives. Those victims will never get justice, nor will they retrieve thier lost money. The Ken Lay- Enron story is altogether a chilling tale of what people in high places can get away with.