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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Time to end the oil dependency

If the Gulf Oil Spill didn't already point out how far behind in technology that the oil companies are, the recent oil spill in China should quickly remind us. Now, I'm not a tree hugger, and I don't believe in Al Gore's vision of the future. Anyone who has studied geology understands that the earth has gone through many cycles of warming and cooling. But I am an advocate for technology and I find it hard to understand how the drilling technology really hasn't advanced beyond the 1970's. Am I missing something here? Can someone enlighten me? Regardless, I do think its time that we moved to more advanced technology than controlled explosions under your hood. Where is the future that I read about as a kid reading Asimov, etc? Honestly I think Obama should have let the auto industry die, they've been unwilling to innovate in the past and have held on to their little slice of reality even though the world is starting to pass them by (kind of like how Hollywood and the record industry still have their thumbs up their collective asses as well). Hmm this rant is getting out of control, think I'll stop here and come back with a more insightful argument later.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Odyssey: Part 2

It was still early when we left the Empire State Building. We started north, heading to our next stop - The New York Public Library. My children grew up watching PBS's "Between the Lions" and that was all that they were able to see when we got there. Turns out that the library doesn't open until 10 am and we were well before that. The clouds that were obscuring the view a the ESB now decided to show us what they were good for and the rain started to come down.

It wasn't a hard rain so we pressed on to Bryant Park which is just behind the library. Although the park is near as impressive as the grand daddy Central, it was still a nice juxtaposition between the vibrant greens of the park and the surrounding city scape. The architecture was interesting as well, something completely lost on the kids with us. As we reached the entrance to the park, buckets began to fall and we took shelter under an umbrella with a friendly non-English speaking fellow. Who says that New Yorkers aren't friendly? Just because you can't understand someone doesn't mean he isn't friendly.

From there we went west until we found Broadway and traveled north. As the kids began to see the spectacle that is Times Square, they began to get excited. If you have never been there, you should go at least once, just to say you've been. I had only been there at night and was surprised at just how vibrant it was during the day. This, to the kids, was what New York was all about.

Again the tourist mongers were out in force. "Tour the city?" "Need a guide?" Etc., etc. As before we largely ignored them. Something else was going on here, which was either absent or I simply missed back at the ESB, homeless panhandlers. Although this was a first, each panhandler stood over a clear plastic box with cash inside and collected for the homeless shelter for the area. The fact that they were organized were no less annoying however and every half block I was accosted. Still, not nearly as bad as San Francisco where every 5 feet you are molested.

The kids had a ball. We went to a giant Toys R Us with an internal Ferris Wheel and a life size T-Rex that was animated. From there we went to the M&M's World first stopping by the ABC studios to wave at the anchors inside. We headed east to Rockefeller Center and stopped for some authentic pizza even though it was still a bit early for lunch.

Southerners don't understand all the hubbub about New York pizza. Why are New Yorkers who live down here always complaining about the pizza? All I can say is that after having that pizza there in the city, I think I begin to understand. It was GOOD.

The pizza place was conveniently located just across the street from the Nintendo World which proved to be very lame. All of that creativity from Japan and the best they can do is that store. We strolled past the NBC studios and where the Christmas Tree usually stands. My daughter wanted to go ice skating like she saw on TV and didn't understand why the rink wasn't open. In the south our rinks are all indoors so she didn't grasp at first. Heading toward Madison Avenue we discovered the newly open Lego World and almost couldn't get my youngest to leave. He could have spent the rest of his life there.

My sister in law found her own heaven on Madison Avenue. My daughter and her bonded over a pair of $1000 shoes at some store we passed on the way to the Sony Wonderlabs. As I pulled them away from the potential shopping, I promised that she could come back to the city some other time....

The Wonderlabs were really cool and best of all were free. Throughout the day, the there that stood out was that the things we had to pay for were a rip and totally not worth it. The kids had more fun at the locations that didn't cost us a dime (at least to participate in). They had more fun at stores and parks they did at the attractions that cost.

We breezed through the Apple store as although it was cool to see from the outside, was uninteresting on the inside. FAO Swartz was a clear winner though and my eldest fell in love with a $1200 stuffed bear. Start saving those pennies now!

Up until this point we were doing great. I had joked the previous night that we would go until the 8 yr old or 40 somethings gave out. So far so good. I had actually hinted that my sister in law would be the first to give in, being the oldest and all. We headed to the Central Park Zoo and decided that they wanted way too much money for such a tiny little attraction. Then we started the hike across the park to our final destination, the American Museum of Natural History.

The park killed us. Up until then our journey had been relatively flat and shady. Central Park was very hilly with large areas of sunlight. Energy draining sunlight. By the time we cleared the park, we were done. All of us. No exceptions. So much for the weak crashing first. I take back my teasing, we all suffered.

Fortunately, we got into the museum for a small donation of $10 since they were getting close to closing time. I regret that as I could have spent half a day there with no problem. Since we were toast, we took the subway back to Penn Station. We did go back to the ESB to see the view, but like I said before, it really isn't worth it, but you have to have done it at least once.

Most everyone slept on the train ride back to Jersey, the kids dreaming of all the sites they had seen and the adults longing for a cold beverage and hot foot soak.

Can't wait to go back!

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Odyssey: Part 1

It was early morning when the band of adventurers set out. The morning air left beads of dew on everything. The leader, a swarthy man of middle years rounded his group prior to taking passage on the magic transport. "Is everyone ready? Does everyone have their buddy?," Tonamok peered at the eager group. With a cheer the fellowship climbed aboard the train to the city and the adventure began!

It was a rare opportunity for us to go to the city. I had been many times before, as the company that I work for used to have an office in Long Island. My children had only been there once before, when they were first toddling and have little to no memory of the experience. How cool for them to be able to visit the big city with all of its sights and sounds.

I planned our trip to be a walking trip. I asked them what they would like to see and I filled in the lack of cultural locations to round out the trip. I had gotten them souvenirs from the World of M&M's a few years ago and that was tops on their list. I asked them all what they were most excited to see and my youngest replied, "Nintendo World". ??

"That's not on the list," I replied. "Are you sure that is there?"

"Oh yes, my friend went there, it is just around the corner from M&M World!" I looked it up on Google and viola, 3 blocks away.

"Ok, I've added it to the itinerary."

As you know, I was born and raised in the South. My family has always looked upon large northern cities with a lot of skepticism and superstitiously with a lot of fear. IF I had listened to everything my family had to say on the subject, I should have been mugged, shot, stabbed, killed, etc., upon getting off of the plane. In fact, just thinking about going to New York would bring bad karma too me and I would likely get killed even before I left for the airport. I WAS nervous the first time I went to the Big Apple. But to the surprise of my family, I returned unscathed. Not only that, I fell in love with the city and have been back many times. Of course it helps that my wife and extended family are all from there as well. Yankees, my immediate family calls them. My wife for the record is a DAMN Yankee (because she never went home). Regardless, I feel at home in the city.

Having said that, taking 2 adolescents, and 3 teens to the city will cause a little bit of worry to any parent. Your worst fear is that you lose someone. It is a big and busy place and very easy to get separated. Or something happens and a child gets hurt. There is a lot to cause any parent fear.

My troop was well prepared though. My boys are Scouts and all of the things that we teach them about survival in the woods applies to the concrete jungle (always have a buddy; know all phone numbers that you'll need; if lost find a mother or authority figure, but NEVER leave the location that you were lost at; drink plenty of water, etc.) My daughter learned those same lessons and everyone was ready. In fact, they were fearless. The big city was in no way something to fear. Everyone paired up, water in their hand. CHARGE!

We started our day on the train from Jersey to Penn Station. Nothing eventful about that, only that you could see the anticipation in their eyes. Once in the city, we were to hit the Empire State Building first. Honestly, there isn't anything there worth the hassle and expense, but you have to say you have done it at least once. My sister in law was with us (also a southerner married to a damn Yankee). We had left our spouses behind to deal with a family situation. She had never been there as had none of my kids, so it was first on the list. However, we picked the one cool day during this heatwave and that unfortunately meant clouds (and future rain).

There are parts of the city that turn into tourist central. It is the most annoying thing about any visit there. Although I understand that a lot of people who visit know nothing about what they are doing (and conversely seem unable to look it up online), there is nothing that irritates me more than some jackass trying to sell me something I don't need, even after I've told him I don't need it. Here is the conversation:

"Yo, yo, yo, you guys going up to see the top?"

"Yeah, we want to see the observation deck."

"Ah. It's overcast now, you won't be able to see anything. So what you need to do is take the Skyride and then you can avoid the lines to the top."

"Um, Ok. So how does that make easier to see?"

"No, but while you are on the Skyride, that will give the clouds time to clear."

"So how long is the Skyride?"

"It will take you 15-30 minutes to get through the Skyride and then you'll be able to go straight to the top to see the view at the observation deck."

"So you think the clouds will clear in 15-30 minutes? They aren't going to clear in that time. It will still be clouding and now I've wasted 30 minutes when I could just go see the view now, that I will see then."

"No no no. You won't have to wait in line to get to the top if you take the Skyride."

"You just told me that it would take 15-30 minutes to get through the Skyride. How long is the wait to get to the observation deck?"

"But you won't have to wait...."

"No thanks, I'll come back later when it's clear!"

"But you won't have to wait...."

What a moron. The other tourist spots were about the same. That's it for now, I'll hit part two by tomorrow. It was a grand experience. Those who know me personally got to follow the trek via Facebook. Those who don't know me personally will just have to read the abstraction here.

Let me just leave you with the fact that I'm so proud of my children and my nephews who took the blistering pace I set and had a blast while doing it. This morning the only people who hurt were all over 40. Just seeing their joy was worth every ache and pain I feel today. See you soon for Part II.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer Blockbuster Slam

I don't get a lot of opportunity to go to the movies any more. One its expensive as hell. Two, the crowds often detract from the experience. And honestly, I'd rather watch a movie on my large screen TV in the comfort of my own home. Movie Theater popcorn is disgusting, you have to coat it with butter and cheese sprinkles and salt to make it tasty. At home I have an air popper that makes the absolute best popcorn in the world (just ask my wife, she loves mine).

But in the past two weeks, I've been able to see two movies at the theater so I figured that I'd let you know what I thought about them. Yesterday I went to see "The Last Airbender". M. Knight Shamalamadingdong or whatever his name is most recent directorial attempt. A once up and coming director with a penchant for surprises, is now at best, just another narcissist trying to keep his name in the public eye. The best description for this movie came from my oldest son, "Meh!"

The special effects were cool and the settings fantastical. That's really the only thing nice I can say about the movie. The acting was, ...well, absent. I see better acting watching my two youngest in the pool pretending to be seals. Actually that would be an insult to my kids. I've seen better acting in 3rd grade pageants. Wait, another insult. Ok, I've not ever seen worse acting. There, that is better.

I was lost throughout most of the story. I had watched "Avatar" with my kids from time to time, so at least I had some idea of the premise. But I'm thinking that only an avid fan of the cartoon would really understand the story. My son was more knowledgeable than I but he was unable to connect the movie story with the cartoon story so we both walked out of there not really knowing what the hell was going on.

The only positive thing about the movie was that it keep me out of the 98 degree heat in Jersey for the day. No sunstroke, no heatstroke, just cool air.... But I could have chosen better I think. We did watch the 3D version but compared to my second movie review, the 3D in TLA was laughable. It was obviously tacked on to take advantage of the current 3D push.

Ok, on to the next movie, Toy Story 3.

Let's just get this out of the way up front. I cried.

No, scratch that, I bawled. Like a baby.

My first instinct was that this was Disney Pixar trying to get back on top with a known IP, since their last two attempts were steadily getting worse. Capitalize on the known, phone it in, make payroll. I'm happy to say that I am wrong. Although the story is about the continuation of the characters that we've become so familiar with, it was in no way phoned in. It was amazing. The 3D was not tacked on, but was an integral part of the experience and it was done to enhance the movie and not draw attention to itself for the sake of being 3D. I won't spoil the movie by explaining the story, but it was the natural ending to story. I distinctly remember having just such a moment as I left for college, feeling that I was leaving my childhood behind forever. Even poor childhoods are looked back upon in fondness after time has dulled the pain. Toy Story 3 captured that feeling exactly. My daughter calls me an "old softy" now. I guess she hasn't been paying attention, I've been that for a while.

My last movie is not really a review. Honestly, you wouldn't catch me within a mile of this movie. However, the results of what this movie does for my romantic life is well worth whatever sacrifices I must make. Twilight - "Sun Up", or "Moon Over Troubled Water", or whatever the hell the name of the movie is turns married women into swooning teenagers again. I won't point out the obvious statement about if I was lusting after a 20 something, I'll just keep that in my back pocket for a future pass. Regardless, nothing helps a romantic life like a brooding moody vampire. Who knew?

Now if someone can tell me how to get this glitter to stick to my skin and I'm in!

Ok, remember to click on any BP adds that show up while reading this. Make those bastards pay!

Gulf Coast Oil spill, tarballs, Pensacola, Mobile, New Orleans, British Petroleum, BP, gasoline, Panama City, Gulf Breeze, cleanup, oil slick, wildlife, marsh, inter-coastal waterway, Lake Ponchatrain

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Past is Delicious and Moist

I've been on hiatus for a while. The things that I wanted to write about I couldn't for fear of reprisal. It's been no secret to anyone who knows me personally that I wasn't happy with my job. I won't discuss it here yet as there is always the chance that someone would connect this to the real Tonamok and I'd rather not have to explain my true feelings. Suffice it to say that things have changed and although I'm no longer miserable at work, I'm not 100% happy either.

I recently discovered the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce on YouTube. Their location is RSAnimate and they have a really interesting way to explain topics. The most recent one that I watched was from a lecture from Dan Pink. In his discussion he explains that motivation for creative people and notes that bonuses and other monetary pushes don't really motivate creative individuals. What he purports is that if we get paid enough to no longer worry about money, and then left to our own devices that creativity and productivity swell. I definitely think that he is on to something as I have been extremely creative in many of my endeavors in the past, and they always happened when I wasn't worried about money. When I could just pour out my brain without having to worry if I was going to make the mortgage payment, then I really was able to produce some winners. When I've been worried about how to make ends meet, or when I'm worried that the politics of the moment might be the end of my job, then I've never been able to excel.

I've always had an entrepreneurial gene and have owned 3 companies in my life and worked for 5 other companies as just a worker. In my first two companies, I was very successful. I built a web design business from the ground up, out of a spare bedroom in my townhouse. I did it part time as I was working for another successful enterprise (for me). In the case of the full time job, I was making more money than I had ever made in my life and was quite comfortable. I excelled there and was the wonderkid that everyone turned to for their computer needs, even though I was employed as an Archaeologist (I'll save that story for a later time). The success of the first one, lead me to the second one, my part time business. Eventually, the part time business was so successful that a local ISP wanted me to become a partner, and thus I started company #2.

Company #2 was also a success. I did have to quit my first full time job and work it full time. Although monetarily it wasn't as successful as the previous two together (full time + part time), I was still able to be very creative. It wasn't until I got too big for my own good and felt that I had to separate the web design portion of the business from the ISP that I had my first failure. Instead of running it out of my home (and homes of my employees), I had to have office space, etc. I spent all of my time worrying how to get the next job and how to pay everyone to the point that we just weren't as creative as we initially were. Without that creative differentiator we were unable to command top dollar and we eventually had to close our doors.

Since then I went from job to job only staying 1-2 years each. I've found that companies are quite stupid when it comes to employees. Once you are hired, they then become stingy with their money and you are lucky if you get a 2% raise (if you get one at all). However, the cost of replacing me or any other highly creative individual is typically 30% of what I'm already making. For me, or someone like me, we can count on 5-20% increase by switching jobs. That means that most people are willing to leave a position for a 10% increase especially since most employers won't pay that fee. Instead they would rather hire someone new, with no domain experience (and I haven't met a software developer yet who didn't want to immediately rewrite any code they are saddled with), for at least 5-10% more than I was making, and pay a 20% recruiter fee on top of that. Sad. Faced with this corporate antipathy for its employees, I always chose the greener pasture.

However, that stopped once I received stock options that were actually worth something. In hindsight, I wish I had never gotten them. Stock options give you the impression that they are worth money, enough to make you comfortable and thus then creative. But its just an illusion. Its that carrot to do better and thus make more and ultimately they are not motivational at all. It took me several years to realize that and I'm now back at the point of wanting, no needing, to not worry about money. If anything, I feel that lack of creativity for the past several years and I feel that I'm minimized because of it.

Regardless, there are many things happening around me that remind me that the only thing that really matters to me is family. I've seen deaths the past year, some senseless and tragic, others random and heartbreaking. All I know is that no one can predict when or where their time is up and maximizing every moment with those you love should be the most important choice. I now know that all of my future choices in life will weigh that heavily. So, for my future, I want a job that money is no longer my worry, and one that doesn't interfere with my fragile and limited time with my family.

Ok, so a bit rambling today, but that is to be expected. I'm actually on vacation and have had some time to think about my life and what I like and don't like about it. I've been so unhappy for the past few years and couldn't figure out why. I think I'm starting to understand it now and having that knowledge will make it easier to fix. After all, knowing you have a problem is the first step in solving it.

Oh, and just so that BP keeps loosing money - oil spill, British petroleum, gulf of mexico, pensacola, mobile, Louisiana, marsh, wildlife, gasoline.