Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Aloha Hon. Senator Daniel K. Inouye

This week, the Honorable Senator Daniel K. Inouye passed from complications related to respiratory illness. He was 88.

I won't pretend to know a lot about the senior senator from Hawaii. He was a peer to my grandparents and part of the "Greatest Generation." He is well known through the islands and the nation as a war hero and a staunch defender of the little guy. He served the State of Hawaii as a senator for 50 years and was a key member of the Democrat Revolution post-statehood.

What little I know of the senator comes from newspaper articles and stories people here tell about him. I met him once by pure chance while living back on the Big Island. I say that it was by pure chance because I happened to be working as a temporary hire at Hawaii Community College during a visit he made there.

The senator was visiting the campus to see the work completed under a program he had funded called the Rural Development Project. I was working with the coordinator at the time and was a part of the ceremony to welcome Sen. Inouye to Hilo and the college.

It was at this ceremony that the senator shared a story about his mother. She had been orphaned as a child on Maui and taken in for a time by a Hawaiian family. As you can imagine, there was little formal system to handle orphans back then and this family came forward and simply took her into their home. The senator went on to say that his mother impressed upon him how big an impact that was on her young life and that she expected him to fulfill a commitment to supporting the Hawaiian people.

This a story that I do not think everyone has heard. I don't think that it is the kind of story he is often called upon to tell except when folks are interviewing him about his personal life. His life away from World War II and from the politics of Washington D.C. He told it as a story that underscores a philosophical belief that he held and reveals a side to his own upbringing that he held close.

No one is perfect and Sen. Inouye had his own political ups and downs. However, I will always think about that story he told in my hometown and take to heart the message of living up to a lifetime commitment.

Mahalo e Sen. Inouye. You will be missed.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Power & Politics

So watching the conventions, I made one realization. The rich are anti-government because they don't like the idea of anyone having any power over them. The government is the great equalizer. And it is the great equalizer in this country because it is us. We, the people. It makes me wonder if you can be considered a patriot when you hate 90% of the people with whom you share the country with and who are the country?

Okay, maybe I have gotten a little ahead of myself. Perhaps you don't believe that any politician or political wannabe could possibly hate other Americans. Sure they can. And do. They do it in that same mental illness afflicted way that anyone who wants to externalize blame does it. They demonize them and say that they are not "real Americans."

I know, now you are thinking, "I don't recall ever hearing a politician specifically refer to someone as not a real American." That may be true. However, have you ever thought about what they are really saying when a Mitt Romney says that he was talking to some "real Americans" in middle America?

Now this does require a little logic and rational thinking and maybe even a little math, so hang in there. If Mitt Romney has to go halfway across the country to speak to some "real Americans" then what does that say about the people who are right there in his home state? Or any other state? Are there only "real Americans" located in certain parts of this country? What does that make the rest of us?

Maybe I am being a little oversensitive, but I get a little offended when someone who has not met me can so casually strip me of my citizenship and my loyalty. It's strange that the same guys who will blast the majority of people living in this country as unAmerican can turn around and wrap themselves in the flag. The flag that, by the way, they seem to value far more than anyone of us.

And so goes the battle between the right and the left. It's too bad both sides don't fight fairly. And I will say it, the GOP does a great disservice to us all with its draconian attitude toward helping the majority of Americans. All us little folk need to stay in line and tow that barge and tote that bail.

Since I first started this post about two weeks ago, it has come to light that presidential candidate and former governor Mitt Romney does indeed hate a big chunk of Americans. Perhaps not so high as 90% but a fair amount at 47%. 

What started out for me as an entry into pure speculation about the true feelings of those who seek to rule us has become instead an oddly accurate summary of how little some politicians think about so many of us. And to their credit, the GOP is finally letting their true colors show.

Now to those of you who will say that the Democrats are not any better, you are entitled to your opinion. I think that both parties have their flaws but I would rather put my trust in the party that is open about expecting all Americans to help all Americans through a judicious use of government than a party who would like to help themselves by eliminating our greatest mechanism to work together.

To put it plainly, the American people don't need to get their country back. We need to get our government back. We need to wrestle it away from those who would use it to serve themselves at the expense of the rest of us. We need to recapture a government that was designed to work for all of us because it is all of us.

Tricks and Treats

Whoa! That was a quick month!

Okay, so it would seem that the busier things get, the less likely anything will get posted here at 73 percent. This is not that unusual though. I can recall back when I used to do this the old-fashioned way in a marble composition tablet that there would be huge gaps in my "journal" (let's be honest, it was a diary) whenever anything more interesting was going on. Translation: I only used to write because things were slow.

Back then, it meant that things were slow socially. These days, it means that things are slow professionally.

However, I discovered this writing device that I like to employ whenever breaks like this take place. It's called the "recap."

This past month was really all about a couple of things. One, a big trip to Seattle to visit colleges to learn more about learning community best practices. Believe it or not, I found it quite interesting. Not only was the subject matter compelling to me but the people I met were also very engaging and generous with their time. And hey, I am not mostly nerd for nothing.

The second big thing was getting my father-in-law over and situated at our apartment so that he could watch over my son while my wife was also on a business trip and I had an accreditation site visit to participate in. One of the challenges of having two professionals in one marriage is scheduling conflicts. In our case, this was the big one for the year. Luckily, my father-in-law came through like a champ!

All in all, we ended up very fortunate. Despite the crazy schedule, we were both back home in Honolulu by October 26. As it turns out we just missed an earthquake, a tsunami and a Franken-storm all within one week!

More on the my Seattle adventure later. For now, I hope everyone out there had a Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 12, 2012

New Beginnings and A Hula Mound

I tell ya, nothing like looking back over a dozen posts or so to get a sense that there is a definite tone being set here. It's funny to me because I didn't think that I was going in a particularly dark or cynical direction, but when you start to find references to the Holocaust or the Great Depression in what is supposed to be a light-hearted but thoughtful blog, it's time to take a break.

So that's what I did.

And while it is tempting to start all over again or even un-post some of those entries, I think I will simply shift gears instead. I certainly still stand by what I wrote. If anything, it will serve as a reminder to me that I need to remember some of the basics of writing; including purpose and audience.

The last couple of weeks have been busy and stressful. Of course I say this and I cannot remember a time that I couldn't say that. However, in among the deadlines and challenges, there have been some interesting, funny and even profound moments.

I have made the conscious decision  to avoid talking about work or my co-workers here on 73 Percent Nerd. In large part because I am striving to also avoid becoming another internet cautionary tale.

I will make the exception though to celebrate things.

Over past two weeks, some of my colleagues and I along with students and volunteers have built a hula mound on my campus. For those of you who do not know what a hula mound is, allow me to explain a bit.

A hula mound is a traditional Hawaiian structure for performing hula, the traditional Hawaiian dance. It is just what is sounds like. It is a platform that is built from natural materials, most commonly dirt and/or rock.

If you have ever seen one before, it was probably in a park or at a hotel in Hawaii. In these modern versions, the builders will often use concrete retaining walls and construction equipment. We decide early on to use a more traditional resource; people.

In our case, we also opted to build it from dirt and to try to build it as traditionally as possible. We started with 13 cubic yards of dirt. Sounds like a lot, right? We thought so too. However by the time we spread it out and stomped it flat, it barely leveled the spot that we had clear to build the mound in the first place!

So the next day we brought in another 13 cubic yards of dirt. Once again we used shovels, wheel barrels and garden tools to transport and apply the dirt to the spot for the mound. About 250 wheel barrels full in fact. By the end of day two, we had a hula slope.

The next week we brought in the final load of dirt and completed the build along with ti leaf plants and fern. Along the way we encountered all sorts of challenges and things we could not possibly have anticipated. How could we? It is not everyday that someone in the 21st century attempts to build a hula mound, let alone do it without modern machinery.

It was when it was nearing completion that I had a realization. This may be the only time I ever do this in my lifetime. Hell, there is a good chance I could have gone my whole life without building a hula mound at all.

Even my colleague and friend who teaches hula had never actually built one before. She had seen many before and even danced on a few, but never had it come up to even think about building one. And yet now, there it was.

What an amazing thing! And what a great reminder. Here was an idea that appeared to be extremely difficult. We had few knowledge resources and virtually no one with current expertise to build it. It certainly looked like it may not come together. But it did.

Now don't get me wrong, the hula mound is far from perfect. It smaller and lower than we originally imagined. It also currently looks like a dude with bad hair transplants while we wait for the grass to grow in. But it is ours and we did it together. I am so happy to have been a part of it.

Now I just gotta learn to dance.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Freedom & The Smartphone

Whatever happened to just being out? Like out and about? More importantly, out of reach?

There are many parts of my childhood that were governed by one simple difference from today's lifestyle; I had no cell phone. And of course, I didn't. They were not available in the late 70s and early 80s. At least not the way they are today.

I recall having briefings from my mom who, as a single parent, had to make sure all three of her boys could be where they needed to be when they needed to be there. Before leaving for the day or dropping me off somewhere, she would tell me where to be and when to be there. Period.

If I went over to a friend's house to play, then I needed to be home for dinner. There was no calling home to ask for more time or mom calling me to tell me that she was running late. Nope. Everyone had to reconvene at the appointed time and place. No exceptions.

Now while that may sound rigid and structured by today's standard, think about what else that meant. Once I was out playing with my friends, I was out. Once my mom was out running errands, she was out. Everyone could count on getting back together later in the day. Between those two times, we were on our own. What a concept.

There was no checking in every hour. There was no midstream change of plans. A plan was a plan. If everyone was not on board with the plan, someone was gonna get lost or worst, busted.

Even as an adult, it was not until I was almost 30 years old that I became a regular cell phone carrier. And yet somehow my life seemed to progress just fine. In fact, for every occasion that it has been handy to have a cell phone, there have been just as many when I wish people did not think they could just call me at any time.

Don't get me wrong. I realize this is where I start to sound like "Old Man Esben" who is afraid of modern technology and pines for the good old days. Maybe I am. Either way I say that there is a price we pay for all of this connectivity.

I mean, how independent are we when we are voluntarily wear an electronic leash?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Games & The Killer Instinct

So yesterday, I was meeting with a group of fellow gamers. We have a group that meets to discuss how we can integrate gaming theory into educational settings. (Yes, this is 73 Percent Nerd for a reason).

This group is made up of primarily traditional gamers who like such diversions as World of Warcraft, Diablo, Guild Wars, console games and the like. More recently, we have added folks who play all sorts of games from old school board games and card games to the newer smartphone-based app-style games.

One such member expressed a concern over video game violence. We were discussing the new WOW expansion and it rolled straight into a conversation on the various approaches we employ as we play the game. Our non-MMORPG friend was clearly horrified at the casual way we discussed dispatching thousands of mobs and even chuckled at the thought of how easy it was to seek revenge on those elite mobs that had thwarted us on the ladder to level 85. (Blog note: if any of this 'graph is not making sense to you, it's okay. We will pick you up in the next one)

Hearing such gleeful banter about smiting foes and leveling hapless opposing armies, our non-MMORPG colleague had to (ironically) enter the fray.

Non-MMORPG: I don't know about all that violence. It's sick.

Guild warrior:      Well, there's no blood.

Non-MMORPG: Oh great, so then kids learn all about killing without the consequences of killing?

Guild warrior:      0_o

Okay, so awkward, right? Well, as it turns out, our friend, since she is our friend after all, emailed us all to say that she had had a think about it and she felt bad. She did not mean to judge us and realized that she was guilty of slaying a few hundred zombies and/or plants herself.

As with many things in the media, and especially technology related, video games become a target whenever acts of violence erupt. However, as many people before me have pointed out, if simply witnessing violent acts, watching violent movies or playing violent video games made people violent, then we should have riots every single day.

Maybe our over sensitivity to violence is an ironic reflection of how peaceful our lives actually are. Year in and year out, we get statistics that tell us that we all perceive our country to be far more violent than it actually is. Those of us who have studied media know that the incidence of actual crime is far lower than the perception of those crimes based on media influence. (Good article here: )

There is one interesting statistic I like to trot out when a friend starts to worry unnecessarily about being murdered on a business trip to a new city. I tell them that they are 5 times more likely to be murdered by someone they know than a stranger jumping out of the bushes.

I once mentioned this to a friend whose college-aged daughter was hiking the national parks on the West Coast with a new beau. I ended with, "If I were you, I would be far more worried about the boyfriend."

This did not go over well.

The point is that it has been decades, if not centuries, of society blaming other parts of society for making people violent. The truth is that the jury is still out on the actual effect these diversions have on any one individual's violent acts.

More to the point of games and violence is that this exchange among my friend highlights that we truly don't believe there is a connection between video games violence and actual violence. If there really was a connection between violent games and people being violent, wouldn't it be foolish to antagonize them? As our colleague illustrated, no such fear exists. After all when was the last time you heard someone say, "Don't mess with Billy. He's really good at playing Mortal Kombat?"

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Time & A Passport

So the other day I was talking to a student at my college. She was following along on Facebook with the updates her friends were posting from Las Vegas.

She was lamenting her choice to stay home and work even though she knew that she really needed the money for college. I told her that I could relate. I, too, am often wishing to be off somewhere new and seeing the world. I told her that it was okay and that she will have plenty of time to go on trips in the future.

If anything this made me think about what an interesting time we live in. That terrorism notwithstanding, this is probably the greatest time ever in the history of the world to live if you want to travel. Right now, if you live within driving distance of an airport, you can effectively go anywhere in the world.

Assuming you are not a wanted fugitive, you can take your passport and your wallet and head to the nearest airline ticket counter, pick a spot on the map and say, "I want to go there!"

Now mind you, this does require two luxuries that not all of us have: Time and money. But if you can work those two things out, you can go. Just go.

On my one and only trip to New Zealand, the time between deciding to go and actually going was a mere five weeks. My good friend had asked me earlier in the year if I wanted to join him while he worked on a doctoral degree in Auckland and I wish I could say that I jumped at the chance. Instead, I weighed out the time and the money and pondered if I could spare either or both. I thought about it all the way until it was just more than a month to the departure date before I took the plunge.

It's funny now to think about that since it was by far the best trip I had been on in my pre-marriage life.

But perhaps even more pivotal than making the decision to go was being prepared to go. That meant having a passport. About a year earlier my mother, who has seen quite a bit of the world, urged me to get my documents in order. At the time I hedged and balked at it. I didn't think I would have any use in the foreseeable future, so why bother? Given the fact that it was only five weeks between ticket purchase and "last call for boarding Air New Zealand flight 9 to Auckland," it was crucial that I had a passport in hand.

Given that my life has taken off in a number of ways since that fateful trip eight years ago, it is conceivable that had if I not gone then, I may not have gone at all. And that, would have been unfortunate.

The lesson I learned is that you can always make the time, but you have to be ready when the opportunity comes. So now whenever I see someone thinking about traveling, I can't help but ask them the all important question, "Do you have a passport?"

Monday, September 3, 2012

Unhappy Men & Happy Women

So recently there was an article about the correlation between men's and women's happiness within a relationship. (Read here: In a nutshell it says that women are happier when they know that their partner is upset or unhappy because it means that he is committed to the relationship. Meanwhile, men are happy when their woman is happy.

The article does go one to describe the differences between men's and women's perceptions and how that each can be happier by being more sensitive to each other's feelings. While this is interesting, it is not very helpful. So I thought that I would summarize the cycle and that this might shed some light on things.

The relationship cycle:

Man Unhappy = Woman Happy.
Woman Happy = Man Happy.
Man Happy = Woman Unhappy.
Woman Unhappy = Man Unhappy.

So there it is. After all of these years, some evidence to support what we have all experienced and known to be true. But like many things, it has been hard to capture or record into a pattern. Thanks to the Journal of Family Psychology, we now know officially why there are ups and downs in a relationship. 

But what does this mean to each of us who are trying to successful navigate the waters of a relationship with our significant other? One the upside, I suppose it says that men and women do indeed balance each other out. It also suggests that life within a relationship will be both happy and unhappy. Maybe it lets us off the hook from thinking that a relationship needs to be happy all of the time.

However I offer this, perhaps it means that we can feel comforted to know that the bad times will be fleeting since men and women are not meant to be unhappy together for long and that next good time is just around the corner.

Linear Time & Being 73 Percent Nerd

So today turns out to be the day.

It's the second day of September, which is the best month of the year. There are many great aspects to this month and my birthday falling in the middle of it just happens to be one of them.

September welcomes the best season, autumn and celebrates my grandparents' wedding anniversary. I know, I also have to give a shout out to my parents for getting together to make sure I would exist, but since my grandparents were together longer than any other couple I have ever personally known, they take the prize.

But today ends up being the day that I officially launch this here blog, 73 Percent Nerd. The savvy among you will notice that I started this account about two years ago and only started posting last month. True and true. Let's just say that I had a really prolonged and extremely soft open.

One of the many reasons it took me so long to go from registrant to actual blog poster is that I was stuck on the name. Names are very important to me. I think they can make or break many things. And as I guy named Esben who grew up in Hawaii who seldom gets his name spelled correctly by baristas anywhere (more on this later) can tell you, names ARE important.

The name of this blog, 73 Percent Nerd, came about in the best way possible for my own naming proclivities. It was one part inspiration and about 72 parts serendipity.

I had settled on the fact that embracing my inner nerd was part of what makes me a Gen Xer. And not only a Gen Xer, but one who spent his formative years squarely in the 1980s. But I also knew that I was not 100 percent nerd. Not simply because I had taken a nerdity quiz (which by the way is like putting your name on the SAT. If you can do that part, you are already scoring points) but also because I know much more complete and complex nerds whose nerdom dwarfs my own. So I am as advertised, not as nerdy as others might think, but nerdier than I imagine.

However, the 73 part did not come about arbitrarily. I knew that my writing would be more than 2/3 nerd but probably not as high as 3/4. As I sat on the couch watching The Big Bang Theory, it came to me.

There was Sheldon quizzing the group on what was the best number. It was 73. While I could sum it up, rest assured it's true and if you are a skeptic, then go here:

Then finally, being born in 1973, it was a lock.

I mention the idea of linear time right up top. This is a nod to the fact that I am not the most organized nerd you will meet. I often have to tell people to remind me to tell them something after I finish telling them the first thing because I just thought about it while I, myself, was talking.

And so it goes with this blog. I knew I had to introduce myself and these meandering thoughts at some point. Turns out that about a dozen posts in is the time to do it.

The inspiration for this blog comes from several things.

One, I have always written. I used to carry a tablet before tablets existed. The only difference was that mine said composition on the front.

Two, these are indeed things that I think about. I do not pretend that I am logging wholly original thoughts here. I am influenced like everyone else by books, television, friends and family. My hope is to share a little bit of this guy's perspective on those things that make the world go around.

And three, in an effort to give my wife a break, I thought I better start writing again. The poor thing was having to listen to a whole day's worth of the kind of stuff you will read at your leisure here except in her case, it was against her will. I would like the marriage to last as long as my grandparents', so I am working out my thoughts here rather than around the house every evening.

So that's about it. I hope you enjoy. Comment if you like. I will try to respond when I can. Otherwise be respectful of others and see you next time.

Data & HAL 9000

So the other day, my friend and I were discussing the classic 1980s flick Electric Dreams. I use the term "classic" loosely as the movie was a box office bomb, but anything that old and that we can still remember has got to be a  "classic" by now, right?

This came up because my friend is having some work done on his house. The contractor doing the work also does technology upgrades in homes that allows owners to control various electronic components of their house via a smartphone or a computer. To which said friend replied, "No thanks. I saw Electric Dreams. That will not end well."

Since I never saw the movie, my friend had to give me synopsis. Apparently, the movie involves a guy, his hot neighbor and a home computer. From there it's the usual boy meets girl, boy buys computer, boy & computer fall in love with girl, computer tries to kill boy in jealous rage - type story. (For more accurate and detailed summary, see handy-dandy Wikipedia:

This got me to thinking about the phenomenon in films where formerly non-sentient machines "wake up" and achieve consciousness. There seems to be two types of premises where this idea is explored.

The first is the Electric Dreams type. This involves a computer or machine that is supposed to simply perform a task in its mechanical way with its mechanical precision. At some point, the machine attains consciousness and begins to discover the world and appreciate it in a more human way. So human, that the first thing it does it seek revenge on its human oppressors!

The interesting part to me is that we all go along with the train of thought that a machine that has been functioning in a logical, emotionally-void way for its entire existence would then swing straight over to the most base of our human emotions immediately. That consciousness seems to come with a set of emotions that the machine must grapple with right away. There is no learning curve and certainly no filter or judgement.

Or if there is judgment, it is the cold, extremely judgment of a machine. It becomes the worst of worlds. A being that can appreciate the injustice of life and the ruthlessness to carry out actions to set things to right. This is depicted in stories such as I, RobotThe Terminator & 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Conversely, there is the brand of technology-based movie that features humanities flailing attempt to make the machines not only live but possibly, human. There are variations on this theme as well that go between funny and sweet to tragic and heart wrenching. Whether it's the innocent and played-for-laughs fumbling of a robot yearning to better understand human nature (if only to be better understood itself) or the slow descent into a chilling abyss that realizes that there really is a spark to humanity and the robot will simply never have it.

These are the retreads of Pinocchio of course. The original tale of someone who wanted a legacy so badly that he wished his creation to life. In fact, so familiar is the the story of the puppet who wanted to be a real boy that when Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced the world to the first android Starfleet officer, Lt. Commander Data, they made it a point to have his X-O say, "Nice to meet you... Pinocchio."

I realize that I am covering well-traversed territory. That, in fact, each of these perspectives on the machines and technologies we build are but reflections of ourselves. These stories serve as devices to allow us to explore the human condition, to look back at ourselves as through the eyes of a non-human witness.

So if the first is a look into the brutal and savage nature of man and the second is a look at the wonder of the human spirit, then only one question remains. Which one will we feed?

In the meantime, we can rest easier knowing that we are probably closer to the WALL-E than the Matrix. But some days, I am not too sure. I swear our DVR loves my wife more than me. How else can I explain that my shows always vanish and hers are always available?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Starbucks & The Economy

So this weekend like lots of other weekends, I found myself in my favorite coffee shop, the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. The natural question here is if that is the case than what is up with the title? Well, despite my love for CBTL, the bottom line is that I, like millions of other people, frequent Starbucks for my fix once in a while because, well, they are everywhere.

This brings me to my often trotted out non-scientific observation of the lines at Starbucks as an indicator of the economy. I say that the long lines at Starbucks show how much the economy is improving despite stories to the contrary.

I must admit, I have been thinking about this one more so lately because I recently had a conversation with an uncle about the economy. Although he might have experience in finance, he is no social scientist. Where the disagreement ultimately came down to was how we view society. He views society as an external force that he must contend with while I view myself as an integral part of society who has influence in it.

But I digress. The important part is that there is a difference between looking at things, like spending, as a factor of business and looking at it as an indicator of societal behavior. Even the most adamant capitalist knows that the system is about people "voting with their dollars." Businesses in a free market are supposed to live and die based on people's preferences. The part that most business people, like my uncle, miss and that social scientists, like myself, get, is that it is never so neat and tidy as good product equals profitable business.

Spending money is often about social behaviors. Whether it's people gathering at Starbucks because that's where their friends are or because they offer free WiFi or just because many people simply fear the unknown and Starbucks is a known quantity, the truth is that not everyone goes there because they think it's the best coffee.

So Starbucks usage is not just about coffee drinking. It can be used as a measure of all kinds of factors happening in the country right now.

The more myopic types want to look at the state of the union in terms of individuals, a very egocentric model. That's fine, however, it is very difficult to extrapolate that out to the whole country. Moreover, the economy is not about what is happening at one person's house, it is about the entire system across a state or country.

Perhaps that is the difference between those who are on different sides of our political landscape these days. On the one side, there are those who see that we all have to join in together to make this a better place for us all. On the other, we have people who do not want to be bothered or have any obligation to the rest of society as long as their individual needs are met.

Unfortunately, an strong economy does not work that way. We all have a role to play and understanding that is important to maintaining a stable system.

I realize that understanding such concepts is difficult. It is far easier to think about what is happening at home than to try to fathom what is needed to create an environment that will help all 350 million of us to thrive. Perhaps we can start by recognizing each other's strengths and skills in these challenging times. Maybe we can have a little faith in each other. And if all else fails, let's just go meet for coffee.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Walk & The Cats

So this weekend was one of those, "I really need to get more active" type weekends. Not to say that I was out hiking or swimming all weekend long. No. Instead that means that when Sunday evening rolled around and I still hadn't produced a drop of sweat, I decided it was time to go.

I live near the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus. It is not the most convenient place to live next to during volleyball or basketball games, nor during the morning or afternoon rush hours. However, it does provide a nice route to run when the mood strikes me.

Last night, I laced up my shoes and started off on a walk around the campus. The college is by no means level or flat, so it is wise to start off walking if it has been a long time since the last time. Once I get warmed up though, I can't help but want to run.

I am certainly no obsessive runner. I can go long stretches without running at all. But I would be lying if I said that I don't miss it when I can't go for a run now and then..

Jogging around the campus can be fun because the various events that take place and the shear variety of people who seem to be around until late in the evening. One evening a few months ago, the street was especially crowded so I took a detour through the college. When I got halfway across the grounds, I caught a familiar. smoky smell and put it together that there was a reggae concert at the amphitheater.

As I was jogging around yesterday, it was a different scent that caught my attention. Cat food.

Unfortunately, the University of Hawaii suffers from a feral cat problem as do many public places across the state. The question I always had was, "How do all these cats survive? Are they scavenging the garbage cans? Are they cannibals?"

Turns out, a few misguided humans are to blame. As I approached the Old Quad, I saw dozens of cats chowing down from paper cups placed around the steps, sidewalk and lawn. The containers held both dry food and wet food since cats can be known to be finicky eaters, I am supposing.

Between the building was the culprit. An older man was collecting the receptacles and putting them into a plastic bag. His little furry friends had eaten their fill and his mission to spread fleas, feline AIDS and other diseases had been met for the evening.

I must admit that I kind of stared in disbelief at what I was seeing. I had heard in the news that feral cats were a problem and that the University and the state was formulating plans to combat the spread of the feral cat population since they had been deemed a health hazard. And yet, here was this guy. Feeding them.

I wondered if maybe he didn't understand that what he was doing was a problem. That he was actually contributing to the issue rather than helping it. Maybe when he heard that there was a feral cat problem, he assumed that the problem was that they were hungry. Or homeless.

The bottom line was that this guy was purposely creating a bigger problem even while officials were working to solve it.

The unfortunate lesson in this is that most maladies that face us are not being perpetrated by some nameless, faceless shadow organization. There is no conspiracy set upon us by some nefarious mastermind. No. Instead, they are being foisted upon us by our own clueless neighbors.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Social Media & The Troll

So last night I had an wholly unexpected development. I tweeted a comment to a certain celebrity actor and walked away from my smartphone. Half an hour later, I logged back on to Twitter only to find that my comment had created a little bit of a stir.

My tweet was: Mr. ****, please stop giving air time to these anti-fans. Their poison is doing no one any good.

Now to be fair the first replies, and by and large the majority of the replies, were positive. It was other people agreeing and understanding that the heart of the tweet was the sentiment "Do Not Feed The Trolls."

Enter the troll.

The mistake all trolls make is that they go for personal attacks. Okay, maybe that is not so much of a mistake as the hallmark of a troll. However, in my case, it is a strategy that simply does not work on me.

As a non-psychologist, I cannot say with accuracy what the motivations of trolling truly are. It certainly appears to a cry for attention and the total lack of knowing how to get it in a positive way. In that sense, I sympathize that it must be an awful existence to have as the only method of human interaction a bunch of people thinking that you are a desperate outcast being a thorn for a laugh (and at other people's expense, no less).

The tragic part of last night's interaction was that when the troll was faced with a calm and unshakable target, she spun out. The sudden and crushing realization that she was in the distinct minority and that I had not taken the bait caused her behavior to become even more chaotic and bizarre.

Now I share all this because I am worried about what this means about our world in general. The fact that we are so complacent and allow for this kind of behavior to go unchecked all of the time, I find disturbing. Mind you, in retrospect I realize the challenge of wading into the waters of social media and calling for civility is probably the definition of "shouting at the ocean."

But shouldn't we try? Shouldn't we ban together and demand that civil discourse starts with being civil?

Perhaps that is setting a high bar. However, I would rather set a high bar and fall short than set a low one and settle.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Single Parent Households & Solo Parents

So one day I learn that one of my relatives, let's call her Carol, had been referring to herself as a "single parent." I just about fell over. There are two things you need to know to help understand why this struck me as particularly absurd.

One, I grew up in an honest to goodness single parent household. This is, by the way, where the term "single parent" comes from. It does not mean that you are simply single and a parent. It means that you are the custodial parent who is the head of your household. More on this in a moment.

And two, Carol, had neither custody of her child nor was she living on her own.

Apparently, Carol was referring to herself as a "single parent" because she thought it helped people to understand her situation. I say it also garnered her sympathy and let her off the hook from responsibilities that she would rather avoid.

I found it amazingly offensive that this woman was passing herself off as a "single parent" just because she figured out it gave her a special status in our modern society.

My mother had the real challenge of being a genuine single parent. She raised three boys on her own and worked two jobs to make sure we would survive. She sacrificed whatever she had to give us a chance to have more than she did. She was a pioneer in that respect since she was a single parent in the days before special accommodations were made for single parents and expectations around school, sports and other activities were structured around the assumption that there were two parents at home. Honestly, I don't know how she did it.

So you can understand my dismay that the term "single parent" has been co-opted by other people who are otherwise not burdened by the real obstacles of single parenthood.

Another such violator of the term is any parent who refers to themselves as a"single parent" while their spouse is in a business trip or otherwise out of town. Really, just because your spouse is out of town, you suddenly have half the income and resources that you had last week? For these perpetrators, I offer the term "solo parent." You are picking all of the parenting duties on your own, temporarily.

However, in the case of Carol, the ugly truth is that she was hiding her own shame behind the moniker "single parent." The truth was that we have a term for her status that we all have been slowly moving away from to once again remove the perceived stigma that comes from an honest label. She is an unwed mother.

Remember that term? What was wrong with it? She is unwed and a mother. Perhaps that truth would cause her to have to possibly discuss why that was the case. Most likely not. We all know so many people having children out of wedlock that it is not even a subject we seem to care about any more.

So please, for the sake of all of those true heroes out there who are doing all of the child rearing, the homework checking, the cooking, the cleaning, the bill paying and money earning, stop using the term "single parent" unless you fit that category. My mother deserves no less.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The First & The Best

So recently the 2012 Olympics wrapped up. Just over two weeks of sports excellence played out on the world's largest stage. And although the games are played to bring countries together in the spirit of sportsmanship, it's also conducted on the field of competition. So while we agree there are no real losers among those who make it to the games, there are definitely winners.

Every event was a battle to prove who could be first. But more than that it was the race to see who could be best. Whether it was Usain Bolt proving that he could out sprint his competitors or if Michael Phelps could three-peat in any one of half a dozen races, we watched anxiously to see who would cross the finish line first. But the competition within the competition was to see who could prove themselves as the best.

 We watched as World Records were carefully tracked across the screen pacing the leaders and taunting the "also rans." Olympians were even asked to react to the knowledge that they just missed the record by the slimmest of margins. This question was only second in diminishing a performance to the question "what went wrong?" when a would-be gold medalist fell short. So how have we come to this point where simply winning isn't good enough?

Perhaps the phenomenon of calling "first" has called into question its inherent worth? Has having thousands of people doing things, no matter how inane, simply to claim the title of "first" eroded the value of being the first? Or have we decided that being first is just not good enough?

I submit that we have raised the bar on a group of people who perform feats most of us cannot even begin to dream to execute. By creating a new standard of best rather than first we are saying that people must not only compete against their peers but against every single other person who has come before. And at the end of the day it is far easier to be first than to be best.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

eBooks & History Books

This past Christmas, we got our son a Nook. Best. Gift. Ever. At least that is what he would tell you. And we could not be happier about that.

I am a book lover. Don't get me wrong, I don't read as often as I like, but I do have an affinity for books. Physical books.

I love libraries and bookstores. In part because you can often get a good cup of coffee in them, but also just to wander around the stacks. I have discovered more interesting ideas by picking up random books from the shelves than I ever would on-line or through chit-chat.

Being able to walk around a bookstore or library is like being able to sample conversations with hundreds of people. People you know. People you don't know. People you would be afraid to approach and those you would welcome like old friends. And all of those conversations can start and stop whenever you like. No hard feelings.

I suppose that is the value to having actual books laying around your house. There's that feeling that the house can't be empty when it is so full of words and ideas. But then there is the eBook.

eBooks all live together. Not on a shelf or in stacks, but on a hard drive. All squashed together and hidden from sight. And there are as many copies as there are devices to read them upon.

Which got me to thinking. If books are not limited by physical copies, are we as concerned about their survival?

Back during World War II, in addition to waging war on the world Adolph Hilter committed two unthinkable atrocities. One, he murdered millions of innocent civilians in such a ruthless manner that it earned its own term: the Holocaust. But second to that was burning books.

Imagine in the not so distant past, one of the most awful things a person could do was burn books. That in fact, most people who were guilty of wanting to oppress, kill or conquer other people were also guilty of burning books.

Book burning represents the desire to exterminate the thoughts, dreams and language of another people. Their history, their stories, their record of existence.

But now in the 21st century, would we all be aghast to learn that someone simply piled up a stack of books and had themselves a little literary bonfire? Or would we be content to read about it on our Nooks?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Lord of the Rings & The Opening Ceremony

So today I was surfing the internet when I came across a post regarding a shot by shot comparison of the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics in London and scenes from the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. It was a well-crafted posted that echoed some observations that others have made about the pastoral scene and similarities to The Shire.

It also went on to compare the ring of power, or the One Ring, to the rings forged in the industrial setting of the ceremony. While this is a fair observation, it is really quite a shame that it is thought to be any kind of revelation.

For full disclosure, I am no Tolkien scholar. My own knowledge on this subject is limited to Wikipedia, the DVD extras on the Rings trilogy and my own reading of the books. However, it is my recollection that Tolkien was inspired and moved by the exact motifs expressed in the opening ceremony, at least those that occurred during and prior to his lifetime.

The Shire is a representation of the English countryside. Some say that it is an idealized image that Tolkien painted that captured the country he knew before he went off to the Great War. So it is not surprising that when Mr. Boyle depicted an English pastoral scene that it would bring to mind the Shire for viewers of the opening ceremony.

Similarly, the industrial revolution and the mechanization of war were heavy themes in the Lord of the Rings as these events were pivotal in Tolkien's time. Many scholars speak to his experience in World War I in the crafting of events and relationships in the trilogy.

So as it turns out, those astute viewers who drew parallels between the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and the Lord of the Rings were correct. Just not for the reasons they thought.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Storytelling & the Prequel

So the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be coming out in its fantastic Peter Jackson version later this year. Although in its book form it is the first novel and The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the sequel, in the film version the roles are reversed such that the Hobbit becomes the sequel production, prequel in story-line movie.

This makes me curious to see how the story gets told. Although in Middle Earth time, the events of the Hobbit precede those in The Lord of the Rings, the story itself is getting reversed. This is fine as long as the audience thinks of the film versions as part of a story that is being told by a new storyteller, in this case Peter Jackson.

When Mr. Jackson tells his version of the books in this order, he will no doubt assume that people have seen his first three films. As such, he will likely place characters from the Lord of the Rings into situations that allow for a connection backwards in Middle Earth time between the two trilogies. I argue that making the films this way will then require that the films are viewed in this sequence as well.

I am afraid that this will not be the case among a certain segment of the Tolkien/Jackson movie viewing audience.

When all of the Star Wars prequels were completed, I heard many folks talk about wanting to watch all six movies as a huge movie marathon (Note: much less work than an actual marathon. And better snacks). Unfortunately, this is usually followed up by the idea to watch them all "in order." I say "in order" with the bunny ear quotes because they mean in internal historical order not storytelling order.

I argue that anyone who watches the movies in the internal historical order will be disappointed. How surprising would it be watching the original Star Wars trilogy after you already know that (Spoiler Alert) Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father? Or how grossed out you would be knowing that Leia is his sister? It's bad enough thinking about Luke's incestuous thoughts and their awkward kiss in retrospect. Now imagine watching it all unfurl Episodes I through VI and getting thoroughly confused by the plot holes, technology downgrades and the apparent lack of written history in the Star Wars universe.

I for one will always watch the Star Wars movies in their story telling order and will show them to my children that was as well. I say that the same goes for the new Hobbit films.

Although the Tolkien movies have the benefit of being based on classic novels that have been read and re-read for decades freeing the new storyteller to tell his version of the tale, I still say that the die has been cast on these films. Although The Hobbit should always been read before the Lord of the Rings, it should always be watched after it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Form & Function

So my friend and I are driving down the road the other day. He spots an SUV with a sticker in the window that says:

He then turns to me and asks if I know what that sticker stands for. It should be noted here that about 90% of the time when one of us asks the other if we know what something is, the asker knows and it is really a pop quiz for the askee.

I tell him that since we live in Hawaii and I have some background in Hawaiian language, my brain automatically starts to decode it in that context. So all of this time I have been reading it as "heki." I figured someone was being artsy and cool and was mixing it up just for the sake of mixing it up.

As it turns out, it is not what I thought and it instead stands for HE is greater than i, with the I in lower case for emphasis.

Now, I am not one to put my personal beliefs into a bumper sticker, but if other people want to, then that's totally up to them. My issue with this way of communicating is that I did not understand what it was supposed to be saying. It made me think about how often we sacrifice the message's meaning for the message's look or feeling.

Perhaps this particular message is not meant for me. Perhaps it is a coded message meant for other drivers who are in on it and want to signal each other that they are around. To be honest, I don't know.

But if it is a way to communicate to the world, wouldn't you want to be clear what the message is supposed to be? Was there ever any consideration to being clear before being clever?

In this case, someone outsmarted themselves. In an effort to be clever, they lost the meaning of the message. And that in turn begs the question, if no one can understand what it is that you are promoting, then what's the point?

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Metatweet & the 2012 Games

Yes. This is one of those things that I am guilty of. When I go on Twitter, I can't help but sometimes make comments on Twitter itself. On the people who tweet. On the types of tweets they've tweeted. On my observations of the Twitterverse in general. So I have come to calling this phenomenon, Metatweeting.

So far, I have been on Twitter for about two weeks. As it turned out, it was a great to time join since the 2012 Summer Olympics were about to start. (Side note: I guess now that there are only one Olympic games per year, we probably no longer need to distinguish Summer from Winter games.) Having Twitter, and the internet, at my disposal during the games has been an interesting twist especially living on the opposite side of the planet from the games.

 Here in Hawaii we have taken to labeling everything Olympics with the ubiquitous "spoiler alert!" Since we are about 12 hours away from London, we get all of the results long before any of the action is televised. However it has all been worth it to be able to see Olympic fans like Mr. Samuel L. Jackson on Twitter getting excited just like any one of us would watching our own hometown heroes in the games.

But as advantageous as it has been to have that kind of access, it has created its own controversy on the part of the tweeters and reluctance on the part of the readers to get on Twitter before seeing the coverage on TV.  There are those that rail against anyone who posts too "early" the results and yet many who relish the idea of being able to have one over on all their less-connected friends. Like the "fans" that follow celebs on Twitter, during these couple of weeks it would seem that people are having a love/hate relationship with the Twitterverse itself.

So this post about metatweeting is really about the leaps and bounds of not only technology but of an event that brings the world together in one city and it tearing it apart across the globe. Here's hoping for the 3D (Winter) Olympics in 2014!