We Don’t Need the Google Car

This blog has been bouncing around in my mind and today a news story brought it to fruition. I’ll be crisp and to the point.

The concept of a self driving car is technically an interesting challenge. It’s realization will, undoubtedly, be a catalyst to increase your insurance rates and to eliminate a few more thousands of jobs in our already suffering economy.

Why would your insurance rates go up? Well, why to you pay ATM fees when it should be less expensive than using the teller? There is a fundamental economic principle at work in our economy:

Foundational Economic Principle #1 – No new feature reduces the cost of the service.

It is why natural peanut butter, that is nothing but salt and peanuts, costs more than highly processed peanut butter that has the full alphabet soup of process ingredients and even some peanuts. Go figure.

As far as the job thing, I have one word: “Uber.” Under the guise of being the new capitalism, they are leveraging your time and car and risk in this kind of pyramid scheme. The people who run Uber are making massive money. The people who drive for Uber are making chump change.

Don’ t worry. By the time Uber drivers start to see the need for getting organized and having things like health benefits the Ubermen will have started the conversion to self driving cars and pretty much not need the drivers who actually built the company and clientel. Even though the drivers worked for chump change, at least it was change.

I’ve digressed away from Google and cars. Which are a total waste of money.

There are two things wrong with self driving cars.

First, they are making a simple and relatively beautiful machine more complex and costly. I like having more fuel-efficient engines and motors and look forward to the next generation of battery cars that will go 500 miles on a charge, or use some photosynthetic power generator. I love a lot of the surrounding technologies and how some manufacturers are putting to good use. I think some manufacturers are over doing it and implementing features just to have them.

Let me also say that I am a big fan of GPS, but also a big critic. They are massively distracting, or can be. But, I won’t get into that.

The bottom line is that complexity has its place. But, in paraphrase, things should be complex as beneficial, but no more complex. What is the litmus test? If it makes the service better. I don’t think self driving makes it better. I think auto collision detection and lane change notices and engine component alerts are great and are getting better with each iteration.

In my estimation the money spent to get that last bit done would be best spent on improving the driver’s education process. Google is all about information. Teaching is all about how to get the right information to people in a format and manner that encourages them to retain it and alter their behavior and perspective as a result.

You know what I think? I think the binary problem of aggregating all the possible options for a driver to choose based on context is more appealing to Google engineers than finding a better way to teach drivers to be safe because it is easier by an order of magnitude.

Second, they are not solving the real problem, but addressing a symptom. Defining the problem informs the solution and biases the investigation. All analysis is biased. Sorry Ayn Rand, there is no objectivism.

The problem can be phrased in two ways. In both cases the core of the problem is the actions of the human driver. Google’s answer is to eliminate the person (remember ATM convenience?) and let a computer make the decision. In my view, the answer is in helping the driver get better. Google wants to eliminate the human context; the ability to see something new and deal with it even though the situation has not ever been faced before.

My answer is to help drivers learn to understand what is going on around them and how to use the alerting technology to be safer. Apply some of the technology to new learning tools and people will start driving more safely and more aware. People learn through experience and extrapolate from that experience to create new knowledge. Why would Google not realize how powerful that is and focus on maximizing the learning experience?

Like I said. Teaching is hard. Getting people to learn can be hard. Succeed and you’ve created a better person who will take that ability elsewhere.

A computer is only as good as the code telling it what to do. In all cases, the code the coder creates is at least one layer away from the language the machine understands. That’s why there are things like interpreters and compliers when you write code. And code is getting even further abstracted. It’s like a car mechanic who uses a computer to tune a motor but who, himself, has never stripped down a carburetor.

Just to be clear. I am a technologist by trade. I have spent my life implementing technology by myself and through great teams. I love technology and have never regretted a moment of my career. I also understand the limitations of technology, mostly because technology is a creation of man and man is less than perfect. I love science and am amazed and warmed by how the universe runs. That is technology perfection. Not what we play with in our machines. Computers are faulty because we are faulty. Nothing wrong with that, as long as you understand the inherent limits and use the technology for what it is good for.

So where did all of this come from?

Tonight I saw the President Obama pledged $90 million dollars to Laos to help find and neutralize the US made bombs we dropped on their country during the Vietnam War. There were millions of bombs dropped on them. More than all the bombs the US dropped on Germany and Japan in World War II.

And you know what? Finding them is not an easy task. It is a painfully manual process. It is hard. It is something that Google should be spending its money on. Not teaching a car to drive. Fuck the car. Find the bombs. Use computers in a way that benefits man. Get your head out. Nobody, outside of the tech community, really wants self driving cars.

Of course, I am certain Google does many humanitarian acts. I know they help government agencies during times of emergency by helping them sift through information to help impacted people. They know how to extract information from huge, unstructured data. But, that is the easy stuff.

The hard stuff is helping people improve their lives. It’s using the power of technology to deliver benefit, not doing it because it can be done.

Run Free. Run Smooth

Freedom Run

Most of you know that I am an avid runner. Well, maybe not so much since my hip replacement a little over a year ago. Since my 1 year checkup showed that my implant has been incorporated into my skeleton I have given myself a license to return to my addiction.  Kind of.

I went for a 4 miler yesterday and did something I haven’t done in at least 5 years. I didn’t use a running app on my iPhone to track my mileage and time. Sure, I took my phone because having that lifeline is good, just in case. And pictures. I like to take pictures.

What has changed?

A few things. While recovering, maybe regenerating is a better word, from the surgery I started to read about the human body. I bounced around among tomes on evolution and fitness. As I read more, I started to focus in on a couple of areas – biomechanics and anatomy . NOTE: The links I just provided are a sampling of what is written and represent my gateway reading. There are many other books and articles. I encourage you to read all you can.

As my recovery continued I found myself looking for a job. That process, which is worth its own post or two, took several months and occupied a lot of my time. There was a guilt paradox going on. I had the “free” time to do more cycling and running but felt guilty if I wasn’t pursuing a job with that time. When I did find a job (a great one that has been very much what I hoped for) I committed to a long commute that kind of puts a twist on my typical morning workouts. I’m still adjusting to the timing.

All I’m saying is that my ramp up to distance has been slower than it would have been a year ago. And that has turned out to be a good thing. Since I couldn’t run, I read about it, and I found alternate forms of exercise. All of that informed my running going forward.

As a writer, I decided to start a book about what I’ve learned and to distill that learning into something readable and prescriptive. In taking my own medicine, I’ve re-thought how I run. Not my form, but my pace and mindset.

Photo Sep 20, 3 33 34 PM

I used to run to a clock and work on specific workouts. Statistics embraced me at the end of each run and were automatically uploaded to social media. I loved it because I got in contact with other runners, many of whom have become friends beyond the running. All of it reinforced my process. Was I addicted to running or to the tracking of my running.

Admittedly, I am not fast. I’m average or a little better, but I will never win a distance race. Period. Why was I working on speeding up my running? Did I really enjoy that?

On a run one weekend I was thinking about running. It was only 3 miles, but for my point in recovery, that was my goal. I looked around and started to play a little as I ran. On a wintery, Sunday morning in the New England town in which I live, the roads are quiet and the woods are stark and graphic. Sections of snow and ice make force you to pay attention, and I ran out into the road to avoid some of the obstacles. Then I started to run out and around in the road just for fun, like a kid pretending to be an airplane or stepping around some obstacle course. I smiled without thinking about it.

The run became fun. I’ve always enjoyed running, but this was a different kind of enjoyment. I still had my iPhone app running, but I was having too much of a good time going down some side roads I hadn’t traversed and stopping once in a while to hear a woodpecker hammering on an oak tree. That sounds carries on a cold, brisk morning.

Yesterday, taking advantage of a warm spell, I went out and followed my instincts. Although I didn’t run on a trail, I am able to use the margins of our country roads to good IMG_5122effect. My neighbors don’t seem to mind me running on the edges of their lawns. As you can see, that area is usually offered up to the gods of snow plowing anyway, so I’m not doing much damage.

I continue to use a natural style of running, meaning it stems from a barefoot mode of movement that prevents overstriding and encourages a forefoot to midfoot landing. What I have found is that it isn’t about how your foot lands, it is about not overstriding. In other words, your foot should not extend out beyond your knee when you step forward. The only way to do that is to keep a bend in your knee, which eliminates heavy heel striking. You can still heel strike, but without an overstride, you significantly reduce the impact.

That said, I do wear shoes. What I wear are have a low lift – only 4mm – and a nice wide toebox. IMG_5128

These are Saucony’s and besides the low cushion, low lift they have a cool color. Why shoes? Well, the side of the road is not a prestine trail. There are many interesting deposits which are the outcome of human activity.

 

The shards of glass are pretty common. The computer remnant was a bit unique, but there is always something. True, you hardcore barefooters will rightfully say that over time my skin will thicken and these things won’t matter. I started down that path and found that shoes don’t hurt in pursuit of good form. Sorry. Plus, I can take a running break at Starbucks and not have worry about putting on those gauze booty things.

More important, I gave myself permission to not worry about time or distance. Just run and enjoy the motion. Those times when I felt the pace going up, I slowed myself down to where I was breathing normal and not huffing too much.

What’s it matter?

Slower, means better form. Better form means less injury. I’ll post more about that sometime, but not right now.

This is about enjoyment of an activity I have done the majority of my life. I’m in it for the long run, so to speak. I already admitted that I’m not fast and my 3hour, 37minute and change Hartford Marathon is going to be my best. I managed a sub 47 minute 10k, too. That was my best at that distance. I’m okay with those times. Clearly, I’m not setting any records and improvement means taking a “work” perspective to running. That’s not my mode anymore. I’m running untethered.

What I’ve learned is running is about finding your pace and enjoying motion.

RUN FREE, RUN EASY

 

 

Writing

This post first appeared in Organic Coffee Haphazardly. You ought to stop by that site and meander on through the literate entries. 

 

writing

He answers the question each time he raises his pen to paper. The story came before the word. It is a rhythm, the storytelling. Each cluster of thoughts breeds opinions on where to go next. Choosing a path, he keeps the flow going. He follows his instinct not worrying about pretty. Just let it flow.

It is his addiction; stringing words together. He has been there many times feeding the craving that defies rules of prose and punctuation, yet appears from nowhere to take up residence on the page. Like a fine piece of art, this first draft is the sketch that defines the composition. It tells the rudimentary story. Countless edits later that story will be the painting he envisions. Not today. Today the story is a new idea. A colt trying to stand on spindly legs, falling but getting up again while gaining strength with each failure.

The coffee gets cold. A refill is not on the horizon for the words have control. No interruption. An element of backstory emerges as he maneuvers a character and wonders why she did that. The pen moves to the margin to jot a quick note and capture the fleeting thought, phrased in a shorthand he hopes he will remember in the weeks to come when he returns to this page. A memory causes a smile as he recalls wondering if this paper with such wide margins was going to be useful or a waste of space. He has created entire worlds in less than ten words in those margins. The depth of his characters lives there. It is a soup of partial memories and unformed plot lines that are the writer’s equivalent of biographical fiction.

Forward. The pen moves him where he needs to go. Ink flows from the nib to the paper providing a tactile feel for each letter with a sound that applauds progress. Pushed forward under his control the pen yields surprising turns. How often, when he feels he has a clear view of the story ahead, does the pen take him in a different direction? A line of site interrupted by an obstacle set there with cruel subconscious intention, reminding him that life is seldom a straight line. And the challenge of the obstacle lets him show his characters in a new light. They are as surprised as he, and that surprise finds its way into the syncopation of syllables, creating an energy of anticipation. ‘Yes,’ he thinks. That could happen, and the flow continues. Fresh and alive.

For a moment he wonders where the need to tell the story comes from. What ancient, prehistoric challenge had man faced that made storytelling a survival trait. It is nothing but constrained lies bundled together. Then he wonders if a simpleton, binary thinking computer, that is only as good as the fiction of the code that man has created for it, can be induced to create a new thought or even polish up an old one? Maybe some day they will rediscover the analog computer and find the secret to artificial intelligence. The secret of infusing a survival skill into a computer. All this in a mental flash that is more image than prose.

That is what he does. He is less a writer than a transcriber of the images that form in his mind. The stories don’t form in sentences and words. They form as high definition movies in his mind where he can rewind and fast forward instantaneously until he settles on the scene that will be transcribed. A change in dialog or location to suit his will. The will to tell a good story. It is magic and he doesn’t overthink it. He let’s the magic move him. Understanding it too deeply might ruin it for him, but that thought leads him to ponder more questions. The cycle continues and each turn of his mental crank reveals more of the story. His pen scratches more words on the page.

Writing is presentation of discovery.

New York City – What Cruz Doesn’t Get

I’m not a New Yorker. I worked in New York City for over ten years and commuted from my wooded domain in Connecticut via train into Grand Central. I often go into The City to…well, pretty much do anything. It is unlike any other city in the world. Not better or worse, just unique. As I writer I am a natural and trained observer. I may not be a New Yorker, but The City offers the best opportunities in the world for a writer to see diversity and people interacting.

I think it is interesting in the U.S. if you say you went to The City in a conversation most people will understand you mean NYC. I am surrounded by cities, but New York is The City. And for good reason. The City is a microcosm of the United States, just revved up to New York speed.

My attachment to The City goes back a couple of generations. My grandparents on my mother’s side came into this country from Italy through The City. NYC is the gateway to our wonderful country. And it has attained that status for several reasons that Ted Cruz truly doesn’t understand. So I want to set him straight.

I spent the weekend in The City with my wonderful wife. We like to go free form, so we don’t really plan much. The night we arrived our middle eastern cab driver took us to an authentic Japanese Sushi restaurant (Yasuda). Authentic to the point that the management makes note that the staff is compensated well and, in Japanese tradition, tipping is not done. The table to the left of us had four Scandinavian men conversing and laughing. The table to the right was a couple from France having a good conversation.

We spent the next day looking at an art exhibit of Picasso’s sculpture, eating at a Greek restaurant, talking with a Jamaican cabby, having a drink in an Irish pub and finding a Starbucks. Yes, that is a joke. Duane Read and Starbucks are in competition for number of locations in The City.

The City is the great attractor. Every work day the population swells to 11 million. It absorbs the equivalent of a Los Angeles every day and then sends everyone home through the busiest train stations and roadways in the world. It hosts conventions, marathons, the US Navy, sports, music, art, The Beatles, the wealthy, the destitute, the brilliant, the foolish, and me on a regular basis.

The list can go on, but here’s the deal. What makes NYC so great is that it accepts anyone as long as that anyone does not have malicious intent. Don’t get me wrong. It is not Kumbaya and flowers. To be a successful New Yorker you have to have intention. And that means you have to believe in yourself and your ideas. New Yorkers are a contentious lot. Opinions are held strong and long. Just walking down the street this morning I heard a man berating his union (my assumption) for not supporting him on an issue. His use of invectives was colorful and passionate. And easy to misinterpret.

That is what Cruz doesn’t get.

New Yorkers hold their personal beliefs and values strongly, but accept that others have similar conviction. Cruz seems to think that New Yorkers are divided when what they have are strong opinions. It is quintessential America. People contest each other’s opinions, but are still united. The fact that Cruz doesn’t understand how fundamental that premise is to the success of America is alarming. I shouldn’t be alarmed since he comes from a state that regularly rises up to secede from the union.

As diverse as the population of The City is, there has never and will never be a desire to leave this great union of ours. New York, like Connecticut, was one of the original states. Our country’s history and the men who crafted the Constitution, so often misquoted by Cruz, all had strong ties to New York.

Yes, New Yorkers can be arrogant and self-centered. Learning to live in The City is like learning a craft and you take pride in accomplishing that craft. Don’t mistake that pride. New Yorker’s are giving people. I have seen it so many times in so many ways. It is far from perfect. There is corruption, condescension, prejudice and some really bad professional sports teams. Isn’t that what our country is all about? We are imperfectly fantastic. We celebrate diversity and in so doing, we encourage all the bad behaviors that go along with the good. But try to fuck with us and you get a unified response. Cruz, the Koch Brothers (sounds like a cough drop or a boy band), and ISIS can’t fathom how America continues to succeed with such diversity.

They should come to The City for a week and work here unfiltered and without the minions. Walk the streets. Observe. Listen. After a few days they will discover America and what makes this country so great. The ability to have strong opinions while accepting someone else’s right to a different and just as strong a point of view. To recognize that greatness comes when those opinions build tension that energizes creativity.

It is all right here on display in The City.

Run Free. Run Easy

Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Law and Religion*

*But, were afraid to ask

Catchy title.

Ever since what’s-her-name in Kentucky refused to do her job as an elected official there have been quite a few posts and articles on both sides of this story.

The funny thing is that there is only one right answer. This is one of those things that is so basic, so foundational to what our country is all about, I am appalled that people running for the Presidency of the United States don’t get it right. But, then again, part of the character of this country is that anyone can run for office.

Here’s the fundamental principle – We are a nation of laws, not religions. We are bound to uphold the laws and we are entitled to practice religion with freedom. Let me say it another way. Religion is a right of the individual. At the same time, the individual is also a citizen whose citizenship mandates that they live within the law. People have power because of their rights. Governments have power because we have agreed they can enact laws by which we will abide.

Constitution and gavel

For reference, it is the First Amendment to our constitution which guarantees the right to practice whatever religion you want.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Gorgeous. Just absolutely gorgeous. In just 45 words we are granted our individual freedoms. Except for that gun thing. That is in the Second Amendment.

There is a lot written about this amendment and what James Madison had in mind, but it seems pretty self explanatory. And the semicolons are cool.

I could go into how you can trace the First Amendment back to the hypocrisy of the PuritaThe Scarlet Letterns who were among the first to come the America to gain religious freedom. As soon as they established themselves, they proceeded to persecute anyone who didn’t agree with their religion. Indeed, they controlled the government.
They were what we term “bullies”. Indeed, when you look back in history just about any government run by a religion ended up being a bully. I could go into it, but I won’t.

I could go into how Roger Williams got so fed up with the Puritans that he founded Rhode Island and made it a state that tolerated real religious freedom. Roger Williams He was a staunch believer in the separation of church and state because when religion got embedded in politics, it diminished the religion. So, much of the ideal of the first amendment came from Williams. I could get into that, but I won’t.

I could go into the beauty of the Bill of Rights. Do you know what that is? Just in case you don’t (‘cause Sarah Palin doesn’t seem to know), I’ll explain. The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments of the US Constitution. They were originally incorporated in the body of the Constitution, but pulled into the amendments because they were different. The Constitution was about the form of the government and how the three branches of the government were to be organized to balance each other out. The Bill of Rights is just that – the most foundational statement of the rights of the individual in relation to the government. How beautiful is that? I could go into how they evolved, but I won’t.

I could explain that James Madison and a few others drafted most of the Constitution and then he wrote the Bill of Rights. Many of his ideas had been formed when he was one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, which helped form the government that became entitled under the US Constitution.

James MadisonMadison was a Theist, like Jefferson. They believed in a God, but not necessarily in religion. Interesting? So for Madison, the separation of religion reason. In his mind, religion would corrupt government. So funny. In our 21st century there are great examples of corruption going both ways. What I get from this is it is men who corrupt, not government or religion. I could go further into this concept, but I won’t.

I could go into the first phrase that basically says the government can not proclaim a religion. That is the fundamental separation of church and state. What’s cool about it is that it is mandated in the Bill of Rights, which is all about protecting the rights of the individual. In its way, the Bill of Rights puts the individual’s rights ahead of the power of the government. And in order to assure that, it says the government can’t get into religion. This is the part of the First Amendment that the chick in Kentucky forgot to read. I could go into how this came from that whole Church of England thing with Kings and divorce and beheadings and great plots for movies, but I won’t.

I could take a step back and remind all of you that before the US Constitution was accepted we operated under the Articles of Confederation.  In short, the Articles were all about states rights and no or very limited federal government. It was a dismal failure. Which makes me wonder why anyone in their right mind thinks we ought to empower the states even more to manage common rights and services, like healthcare and education. Yeah, I don’t like big government, but I also would hate having to have a different currency for every state I traveled to. That was the reality back then. Different currencies. What a freakin’ mess. I could go into more of why it failed, but I won’t.

I could go into how wonderfully those first ten amendments are written. They are all short, to the point, hard to misinterpret (yes, even the gun thing) and foundational. Compare those ten to those that followed and you will truly respect the absolute genius of the Bill of Rights. As a writer they are the greatest example of the power of words and brevity that I can point anyone to. I could review them all, but I won’t.

What I will do is state without a doubt that I love our Constitution. I take it personally. Every day I exercise all kinds of freedoms that james Madison guaranteed me and that our Founding Fathers supported. Every day I am grateful that there are 10 churches in or near the small town of 15,000 where I live. They almost outnumber the pizza parlors, but not quite. Pizza is a religion here in New England. I don’t go to any of them, but I love that people are free to worship in any way they want. I am grateful that I can write that last sentence and not fear that some zealot is going to put a black bag over my head and…well, you know what I mean.

A Little White Church

We are a nation of laws. Those laws guarantee that we have the right to practice whatever religion we want, within the guardrails of civil justice. So, that chick in Kentucky is just wrong. Period. And her lamentations are an affront to my Bill of Rights and the freedoms the generations before me (including my dad who fought in WW2) lived and died for.  And that isn’t just my opinion. It is a fact. She is wrong. Period.

Take time today recognize how many times you exercise the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights or even just the First Amendment. I think you’ll be surprised how much you actually take for granted. Especially on Facebook. Geez.

And, if I may, our greatest freedom is the freedom of movement. So go run and run free!

What I Do In The Real World

I am an author and a runner. Most of what I blog about centers on those two parts of my life. My alter-ego is as an Information Technology professional. I spend a lot of my life in that space, so I’ve decided to start posting some of my thoughts and ideas on LinkedIn.

Today was my first post and it is about the changing role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO). You can read the full post here, it is entitled The 3 Roles of the CIO – The Evolution Continues.  As in my writing, the reason for my getting this idea is that I am a keen observer. When I started to pull together several factors that were all happening in unison, the need for a new role for the leadership of IT became clear. So, what is driving this need:

  • Smart devices are everywhere. For the first time a consumer product is leading IT
  • The network has become ubiquitous
  • We are entering the Internet of Things (IOT). That is the phrase coined to capture the reality that everything is now connected and some form of processing that can be mapped. This changes the customer base of the CIO. A refrigerator is now something that needs to managed as a networked device.
  • Security is no longer confined to access gateways and running anti-virus scripts. It has to be much more proactive and include those damn refrigerators!

It is a new way to looking at what the CIO role needs to encompass as the underpinning of technology in the enterprise changes. I propose that the changing role is the next stage in evolution and that the prior roles aren’t changed, they are subsumed.

That evolution has taken the CIO from:

  • The first role: Manager of the infrastructure as a utility
  • The second role: A partner with the lines of business to deploy IT
  • The third and new role: The CIO as landlord of the IT infrastructure

I hope you take time to read the post and offer your thoughts and comments.

It is all part of what makes me me.

Run Free

Same Sex Marriage and Information Technology

An odd combination for a blog topic, but not really.

In the world of IT the pendulum of control has found a logical resting place. For the majority of enterprises those services within the enterprise that are considered common are under the  management of a central IT department. Services like email, data center servers and storage, shared network, remote access, security, and local connectivity are examples of services that fall into that category.

Before the pervasive use of IT, each line of business was best served by doing their own thing and focusing on their own bottom line. As technology became pervasive and the enterprise recognized that information was foundational, the recognized the need to share and interconnect systems. Barriers were quickly seen in technical, process and financial areas and acceptance of common standards developed to resolve those differences and make information readily available so the lines of business could focus on generating revenue.

handshake

You see, most enterprise leadership recognizes that IT is too complex and having each line of business do their own thing is not only inefficient, it leads to high risk from a security and financial perspective. Consistent delivery of connectivity, server, storage and desktop services provide benefit to the enterprise. Even for applications that are specific to a business process, there are still basic guidelines that are followed – not using static IP addresses in code, as an example. It is all for the common good.

The millennium transition (remember Y2K?) and a need for constant security readiness have taught most enterprises that they need to accept and enforce the right level of common infrastructure and standards. Times have changed and business has adapted.

global IT

Now, think about our national infrastructure. What would it be like if Eisenhower and Congress had thought to let each state make it’s own highway decisions? We’d have varying gauges a roads and different numbers for the same streets. Yes, there is a lot of local influence and investment in the national highway system but the foundational structure and rules of operation are mandated by the central authority.

US interstate

The examples of “common good” mandates can go on for quite a while. In almost all cases there is a transition point where local authorities or lines of business are given control, but they have to play within the standards that promote the common good.

When it comes to the rights of individuals, the common good in the United States is synopsized by the first 10 amendments of our Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights.

It was primarily penned by James Madison and is one of the most eloquent and simple statements of human liberty ever made into law. My favorite of those amendments is the first one, which guarantees freedom of the press, speech and religion all in one simple sentence.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That is the entire amendment. It means that people have the freedom to practice religion in their own way without government interference. The counter is also true. The government can not force a religion onto its people (no law respecting an establishment…). This is a fundamental difference between what is civil action as expressed in law and what is moral action as expressed in individual religious belief.

Constitution and gavel

Kind of a simple construct. You may legislate civil actions but you may not legislate morality. Morality, expressed through religion, the press, and speech is an open forum, within the tolerances of civil action. Civil action is all about guardrails. Killing someone in a premeditated manner is murder and, as a society, we have decided that it is wrong. There are religions that concur with that fundamental, but it is not because of those religions that we hold it true that murder is wrong. As a society we have made that compact. Clearly, we do not agree on the consequences for murder, but we do agree that murder is wrong.

Marriage is both civil and social. We have wrapped legal fabric around an action that is a social construct so that there are basic rules that we follow in terms of licenses and dissolution. Even then, there are nuances in every state when it comes to how marriage is created or dissolved.

If the only reason for stating that gay marriage is not allowable is because of a religious cannon, then that is not defensible from a constitutional framework. The first amendment does not allow the government to make a law “respecting an establishment of religion.”

We the People

If your religion mandates that gay people can not marry, then do not allow that, but do not force your beliefs on the rest of the country. When it comes to the law of the land, you are totally allowed to follow your beliefs, but a) you must accept that other beliefs are just as valid under the law and b) you can’t ask the government to make your religious cannon into law.

I’ve tried to write a better ending to this post than the paragraph above, and anything I say beyond that seems trite or argumentative.

I often end my blogs with the wish that you run free. That, to me, is the purest expression of freedom. The freedom to move under the power of my own body and enjoy the world around me. Today I exhort you all to celebrate freedom. It can be difficult to hear what other people say, but at the end of the day, we should all be grateful that we have the freedom to say what we think.

Be Free

Playful Light

I was playing with light this morning. More correctly, it was playing with me.

Objects lying on my table picked up a glancing blow of light filtered through a window screen. It made me stop and take notice. To see the page I was writing on as something different than a receptacle for my words dripped there by fountain pen. It gave me a view of an alternate reality. One in which the object becomes the subject.

Photo Jun 22, 6 25 19 AM

The light snuck up on me while doing my daily journal entry. It was more how it played on the page and bent around the curve of the notebook, like light under the force of gravity. Through the lens of an iPhone I caught a fleeting moment.

Honestly, light is to a photographer what “squirrel” is to a hunting dog. Am immediate and irresistible distraction. Add to the mix that I have ADD level distractedness and you have a recipe for periodic dalliance.

I went back to my journal entry and finished it. Closing the Clairfontaine notebook that has become my addiction, I was caught again. Light was chasing me. Taunting me.

Photo Jun 22, 6 56 28 AM

This time I placed my favorite Aurora fountain pen on the notebook and snapped a shot. And looked around. An old calculator used last night was finding new life under the fractured light.

Photo Jun 22, 6 56 05 AM

Then the light reasserted itself and I recaptured my notebook thinking that the objects aren’t really what we see. What we see is the reflection of light in a way that our brains interpret the waves bouncing against the back of our eye sockets. What my image captures is the illusion I live in every day.

Photo Jun 22, 6 53 58 AM

Then I looked outside and remembered how many times I have sat on the deck and tried to understand what light shows me every day. Sometimes it is a rainy moment, reflecting the grey sky while giving up the textures below the water. The lines on the notebook page made me think of an image I found during the previous day’s rain.

Photo Jun 21, 5 57 01 AM

I usually don’t crop photos, although I have no set rules. In this case I liked the plants hovering at the top of the image. They seemed to fit with the gleaming sky against the patterned wood. A set of textures and touching textures.  Lost in the gleam of sky I remembered another image from a few days earlier.

Sitting on the deck I looked up and watched clouds painting pictures against the blue sky. Over the past few days of summer the clouds have been poetic.

Photo Jun 12, 5 49 13 AMPhoto Jul 20, 6 01 19 AM

IMG_3602 IMG_3606 Resevoir cloud

The ideas of refraction and reflection tickle neurons in my brain when I look at these photos. I am one of those who love how the simple laws of physics explain the beauty we see around us. How life and living is such a gift. It begs to be understood. We shouldn’t shelter ourselves from looking for the explanation. From being like the light. Looking at things from different angles and seeing the same thing anew.

That is why life is so beautiful. We all see it through our own optics.

I offer you this challenge. At least once today, capture an instant of light the makes you think. That opens your awareness. Post it in the comments on this blog for all to see and enjoy. I look forward to your images and thoughts.

Run free. 

The Mysteriously Brilliant Girl

Read this and you will feel what it is like to surf words. Let the waves of thoughts cascade around you.

ORGANIC COFFEE, HAPHAZARDLY

I was a quiet child. Mostly due to misunderstanding. I wasn’t misunderstood, but I misunderstood. I knew there was a meth lab in the poolhouse in the back; I just didn’t understand why. I knew my stepfather was beating my mother; I just didn’t understand why. I knew that I was not allowed to stay home with the stomach flu; I just didn’t understand why.

View original post 1,036 more words

Three Things Common to Writing and Running

I do both. Writing and running. I’ve done them both for a long time.

There is a point during a longish run when the mind eases and thoughts bubble to the surface. I guess the breathing and exertion push the intellect back into a corner and a more primal state takes precedence. During this time I have often worked out plot details and created new pathways for my story. It is deep thought that happens without really thinking.

You don’t have to be running marathon distances or at speeds challenging a superhero. You do need to run enough in the right form that you move smooth and easy. When the running becomes second nature then the magic starts to happen. It takes a little while, but it is well worth the focus. Neither writing or running well is easy, but they do become natural if you put in the time the right way. In my point of view they share three fundamental attributes that you as practitioner of either or both have to master.

1) They are individual sports. Yes, writing is like a sport, but without the aerobic conditioning. Unless you are writing erotica. Writing takes concentration and focus and tenacity and the desire to fail before you succeed. And you do it on your own. Even when you are with other people (writer’s group or group runs) you are working solo while mingling feedback loops in real time with other people. It is your rhythm, motion, movement, execution that is happening and it is in your control.

the individual

As a writer, I know I am the one with pen in hand and blank paper to assault (or keyboard on typewriter). If you love writing, then you develop this as a habit. And habits are a form of discipline. As a runner, I learned that no one else is going to put on the shoes and run for me. If I want to run a half marathon, it is me and only me who can put in the miles to get there.

2) You need a coach. We live in a wonderful world of options. Social media has given us some fantastic opportunities. With all the help we writers get these days we won’t be publishing drivel like Of Mice and Men, or To Kill A Mockingbird, or Breakfast of Champions, or The Lord of the Rings Trilogy to name a few. Those poor writers had no community to help them create their work. We, fortunately, have a lot of help. Yeah, even though I am kind of writing a blog about writing, I think there are too many “how to’s” in the ether at the moment. It feels like there are as many people telling us how to write as there are writers. But a list of how too’s is not coaching.

Listen. Whether you are writing or running, you need some expert feedback. A seasoned coach can look at your running form and quickly point out a slight correction that will change everything for you. Yet,iIt is still up to you to make the correction a part of your form. That is back to you being the only one accountable for the end product.

coaching

As a writer, you need to get words on the page. Craft them individually as best you can and then get some feedback. The assumption is that you have tendered a good story that you are satisfied with. When I put my first book out to an advanced reader who was also a published author, I got some amazing feedback. The suggestions she made to me changed the way I expressed my story and made it much better.

A few years ago I changed my style of running to a minimalist, more natural form. I found good instruction online and followed the Pose Method. It made a world of difference to have someone with experience let me know I was doing it right.

Running - minimalist style!

Running – minimalist style!

The key is whether you buy into the coaching and will implement the decision. That boils down to trust. Do you trust the person giving you the advice? My editor, Savannah, is also my coach.

Savannah's alter ego.

Savannah’s alter ego.

I’m not a beginning writer, so what I need is a little different than someone just starting out. She understands that and the kind of editing/coaching I get from her is more about prompting me to do it better then it is about basic writing methodology (although I still slip on some of that).  Even the great athletes still get coaching. I mean, Tiger Woods still takes lessons. It is critical to know that you always have something new to learn. s your experience grows coaching becomes a partnership.

3) Deal With It. Fixing your running form or your prose seems daunting, but it isn’t. I am assuming that you are running in a manner that is acceptable or that your story is good in its core, just not in its telling. If you are fundamentally flawed (I mean no offense to people with physical disabilities) then “fixing” may not be an option and you may be needing somethiing more substantive. A coach can tell you that, too. At the end of the day, it is up to you to hunker down and fix the problems others have pointed out. There is no magic to making a good story great. It is hard work.

My worksurface

Given good bones, so to speak, tuning is a matter of small adjustments. And then listening to feedback. Honestly. Your body will give you great feedback when you run. You have to learn to listen to it. Simple things like how it feels when your foot strikes, whether you feel your head bobbing up and down (it shouldn’t), if you feel impact up through your leg into your hip joint (which I did for 40 years of running the wrong way), if your breathing feels easy or rough. All of those micro feelings tell you whether you are in sync or out of form. Once you feel the right form, which means you feel smooth and easy in your stride, then you can just monitor to make sure you are in that form.

When I got that writing feedback from my first real beta reader I dreaded the thought of having to go back and re-write my whole book. I discovered her comments were easy to implement (especially with word processors). I call it the 10% window. Most major revisions impact less than 10% of your personal final draft. There is a condition there. In writing, you write the first draft for yourself. It gets on the paper quickly and with little regard for the details. It is up to you to take that first draft and make it into a first public draft. It is the public draft that I am talking about. If you get consistent feedback about a plot or style issue, then fix it. You had your fun in your first draft, now it is time to make it readable for your target audience. Of course, there are no absolute rules. If you love the nuance of what you have done, whether it is running or writing, then stick with it. But make sure it helps you move forward clean and true. Not everyone is the same and a good coach, like my editor, knows that I have my style of writing and she wants me write as the best me possible. It is up to you to make it work.

In Conclusion

I could have done this comparison between writing and other endeavors – music, painting, or any art-oriented effort. It’s not the same. The physical effort of running has a unique impact on the mind. They compliment each other in contrary ways, if that makes sense. Maybe for you it is yoga, walking or cycling, but the physical movement will help you focus once you get into that zone.

Writing a novel is a lot like preparing for a marathon. You have take a disciplined approach. Find a methodology that works for you and stick with it. You are in it for the long haul. It will hurt and it will be frustrating and you will find a thousand reasons not to run or write. Tough shit. Do it.

Any schedule is just a template. Adjust, modify, make it work for you, but focus on it and not the interference. When I talk about discipline, that is what I mean. Not letting the noise become more important than the signal. Set lots of intermediate goals that you can tick off along the way. You can have a bad day. We all do. But you’ll catch up.

Write well, Run free.