Monthly Archives: September 2010

Inconvenience is a Misperceived Adventure.

It all started with a text message on Thursday evening and, three days later, I was on a plane heading for the Annual Data Governance and Information Data Quality conference at the Catamaran Resort and Spa in San Diego.  Yes…I can see you checking your calendar and wondering how on earth you let that slip by without attending.  Don’t worry, I have extra handouts if you need them.

I was to be the guest of a company called Global IDs which, in return for my help on their booth, would cover my travel and accommodation expenses.  I was happy to help (as they are a great bunch of people and have a great product) but, as an added bonus, I have good friends who live in San Diego and this would be the first opportunity to see them in person since their wedding last August.

As I was a last-minute addition, the Catamaran was fully booked, but someone (who shall remain nameless) told me they had heard good things about the nearby Surfer Hotel.  Since it was close and reasonably priced, I booked the room without checking any further…

We stopped first at the Catamaran, where my colleagues were greeted in a room sporting tropical gardens, fountains and wicker chairs, and my ex-boss was upgraded to room with a view of the bay…Very nice.

By contrast, my first impression of the Surfer was to wonder whether the rooms were rented by the hour.  I was half expecting my bed to have a coin slot to activate the “Magic Fingers.”  At check-in they asked for my credit card “for any incidentals”, which I thought was normal until I discovered that the hotel had no facilities that I could find, so I am still left wondering what on earth they expected to charge for.

The door to my room opened onto two large dumpsters, old sofas, mattresses and empty boxes.
The room had no A/C, no Wi-Fi, no mini-bar, a TV from long before the phrase ‘flat screen’ was invented, and a table that was just big enough to squeeze my tiny net-book onto…as long as I didn’t use the separate mouse.

The shower was interesting since the shower-head was about nipple height, and was just wide enough that I could turn around but, had I dropped the soap, I would have had to exit the shower to pick it up (sic).

Anyone from the East coast is going to find the Mission Beach area quite…interesting.   The beach seems to have “odd characters” spread at regular intervals – almost as if they have an allotted territory.  Moving away from the beach, the boulevard offers Tarot card readings, surf paraphernalia, and bail bonds.  In fact bail bond advertising seems to be a huge business here…I’ll let you decide what that says about the area.  “We’re not in Kansas anymore” is a phrase that sprung to my mind.

The conference was the typical geeky fare – which means time spent checking out booths for any goodies worth snagging, and stuffing jars with business cards in the hope of winning an iPod or two.

A vendor (that I know quite well) was foolish enough to hand out pens with a built-in laser pointer.  These were a source of constant mirth as we lit up their potential clients during demos.  I would not have been surprised to see a Hellfire missile snake its way through the hall to take out their booth.

But San-Diego is such a laid back place that, by Day-2 at the Surfer, I was starting to get into the groove, realizing that I should just get over myself.  I didn’t look out of the front door anyway, A/C was redundant because the temperature was perfect and the room was actually quite clean.

Even the lack of Wi-Fi was not a problem. When necessary, I would simply wander over to the foyer of the Catamaran to use theirs.  In the process people would  stop by and chat or give me a hard time about my “new office”.  It was actually kinda fun!

Really, it is nice once in a while to take a step back and think about what is really important.  Would my usual business class seat have been better than the coach seat that I had on this trip?  Sure.  But it really wasn’t a problem.

Frankly, it is amazing how easy it is to become spoiled and start feeling entitled to things that, in the grand scheme of things, are petty to say the least.  It reminds me of an interview I once saw with Louis C.K. where he was talking about how Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy, and I couldn’t agree more.

One of the things I love about travel is that it is rarely perfect and forces you to adjust to the circumstances around you, sometimes with highly comical results, and almost always leaving a story to tell…

For example:
On the way to a lovely vacation spot in England’s Lake District my new (to me) Mini decided to eject most of it’s oil just outside Blackpool.  I had planned to avoid Blackpool completely because I had heard that it was tacky in the extreme, and I had heard correctly.  But, honestly, the weekend I spent in Blackpool while my car was repaired is still one of the most fun and memorable vacations I have had – and Blackpool turned out to be much more fun than the Lake District.  Blackpool IS amazingly tacky – in fact, it does tacky so well, that it is a class act.  Don’t ask me to explain that, just go there and try it.

Over the years I have had many similar ‘problems’ (often motorcycle related) that resulted in meeting the most interesting people.  As a result, one of my favorite quotes is from G.K. Chesterton who said “Inconvenience is a mis-perceived adventure.”  I couldn’t agree more.

So, the next time you find yourself whining because your room isn’t perfect, or the eggs aren’t exactly as you like them, take a step back and ask yourself if it really is worth all the fuss.  I bet you will find yourself laughing more and frowning less, and that, surely,  is a good thing.


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Filed under Life - or something like it, The Human Condition, Travel

Motorcycle-only Checkpoints – Why?

Did you hear the rumor that police in New York are pulling over all SUVs (and ONLY SUVs) to check for seatbelts and paperwork?

No?  Obviously not, because that would be dumb, right?

How about the one about motorcycle-only checkpoints then, to check that riders are wearing the right type of helmet, and that their paperwork is in order?

Still no?

Then you might be surprised to find that is EXACTLY what is happening in New York right now.  Motorcycles, and only motorcycles, are being stopped and checked for U.S. DOTcompliant helmets, legal exhaust systems, and compliance with licensing, registration and inspection regulations.  Citations will be issued for any violations.

It is bad enough that this is happening in New York, but now other states have been offered up to $350,000 in federal funds from the National Highway Traffic Safety Authority (NHTSA) to expand this practice.

Can you say profiling?

Why are the police engaging in this clearly discriminatory practice?  Well, of course, it is “for our safety”.  And I’m sure if we dig deep enough we can throw in “for the children” and “for the environment” for good measure.

This may come as a surprise to some people, but motorcyclists KNOW that riding is more dangerous than driving a car or, for that matter, staying home and watching TV.  They accept this risk because they love riding.  The same can be said for people who ride horses, bicycles, or even drive a convertible – but I don’t see the police setting up road blocks specifically for them.

I have no problem with people being stopped for DWI, or even exhaust pipes that are obviously too loud.  But surely there should be a simple rule – if a person is not doing anything overtly illegal then they should not be stopped, regardless of what they drive.  To do anything else is just plain un-American.

What I really don’t understand is why people feel the need to stick their nose into other people’s business?   I’m certain that motorcyclists are not asking for these checkpoints, and I presume the police are just following orders.   So this can only be someone in high office with a bug up his rear about…something…and willing to spend our taxpayer dollars implementing checkpoints that no one wants.

MOSCP

In a time of economic crisis…shouldn’t that $350,000 be used on something that people actually want, or need?

The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) has questioned the legal nature of this program and submitted a list of questions for clarification to the New York State Police. To date, New York authorities have not responded.

http://www.notobikeparkingtax.com/

Motorcyclists protest in London

In the mean time, groups like the New York Motorcycle & Scooter Task Force (NYMSTF) have set up a Twitter feed to alert people to the locations of these checkpoints by SMS.  Their thought is to warn people away from these checkpoints, but I must admit my preference would be to flash-mob them with fully legal motorcycles instead.

Like the famous quote of First they came by Martin Niemöller – it is motorcycles today, but it could be you tomorrow.  So make a stand.   Use this link to send a note to Administrator Strickland or the NHTSA asking him to stop this discriminatory grant program until the questions posed by the AMA have been satisfactorily answered.

Let’s stop this type of discriminatory behavior now, lest we find ourselves being stopped based on some other random vehicle characteristic.

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Filed under Automobiles and motorcycles, Life - or something like it, The Human Condition, Travel

Losing the Big Picture

In 1984 my daily commute into London involved reading a news paper on the train.  I would start with the columns that interested me most, and then work my way through the rest of the paper to pass the time.  TV likewise was a take it or leave it affair – there was no ability to record shows for later. The evening news covered a broad range of subjects and you either watched all of it or risked missing something important.  News back then seemed more balanced, fair, and wide-ranging – a far cry from the controlled media that George Orwell had predicted in his classic novel “1984”.

But, in today’s on-demand world, people have access to so many sources that one never has to read or listen to “the rest”.  Instead we subscribe to only those sources that interest us, and nothing more.  While this is great for ensuring that we are entertained, it also tends to lead to a mindset that is narrow and one-sided.  Republicans will read stories about the latest lunatic ideas proposed by Democrats, while the Democrats are doing the same thing.  And the same story is repeated by Christians, Hispanics, Yankee fans, and just about every other group imaginable.

Is this a problem?

When people only hear only one side of the story, they assume that everyone else agrees with them and proceed as though they have ‘right’ on their side.  This gives people a skewed view of the world where they might not even recognize when there is a legitimate “other side“.

Left unchecked, this one-sided thinking is reinforced over and over, resulting in strongly held beliefs that can be completely out of alignment with reality.  An example of this was seen in a recent post on NPR citing the “Top 5 Things Parents are Worried About”:

  1. Kidnapping
  2. School snipers,
  3. Terrorists
  4. Dangerous Strangers
  5. Drugs

In spite of media sensationalism keeping the top 4 in the forefront of our minds, they actually have a very low chance of ever becoming reality.  Children are far more likely to be killed by someone they know than by a stranger.  And, while the top 3 grab headlines, the chances of them becoming reality are very slim indeed.

Clearly what we worry and care about is heavily influenced by the media.  So when the media you are exposed to is narrowly focused or exaggerated, then so is your world-view.

I was discussing this with some friends recently and one of them openly stated that if he hears of a plane crash he is only interested in the number of Americans killed.  This was not said as a matter of bravado, or to shock, he was just being completely honest.  Others at the table said nothing, but did not disagree, so I don’t think he was alone in this view.

Personally, I try to fight this by subscribing to feeds that cover a range of subjects – usually put out by the BBC or NPR, since they tend to avoid the sensationalism rampant in other news media.  But I feel as though I am in the minority.

George Orwell’s vision of 1984 painted a bleak world where the prescribed news reporting reinforced the message of the Overseers.  While perhaps our government isn’t providing this one-sided view, we seem to be doing it to ourselves.

Perhaps George was right – he just missed the date by 25 years…

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Filed under Life - or something like it, The Human Condition

The Power of Lyrics

I recently spent a few happy hours listening to some of the songs from my youth, and I was struck by the amazing power that music has to cut across the barriers of time.  Not only can you remember lyrics word-for-word after decades, but those “musical old friends” can transport you back to a time and place with such amazing clarity that you can remember exactly who you were with, and even the emotions you were feeling at the time.

Why is it that songs reach places in your soul that words alone cannot touch?  Is it simply that music acts as an emotional megaphone for the words of a song, or is it perhaps the very ambiguity of lyrics that allows songs to become intensely personal?

Songs have all the power of the written word, but sheet music also tells the performer when to be loud, quiet, slow, fast, short and sharp, mellow and lazy. As a result, the singer knows not only which words to sing, but exactly how they should be delivered, to give the emotional content the composer desired.

There are also unspoken musical cues that people recognize, often unconsciously.   Before the first word is sung in Sunday Bloody Sunday, a snare drum primes our emotions for a song about war and conflict.  And the simple guitar strumming in Hey There Delilah and Lullaby let’s us know we are about to hear a story about life.

For me the lyrics in songs are able to reach places that few written works can touch.  And, oddly enough, I think it is because the need to fit song lyrics into a specific space often leaves much unsaid.  Song lyrics have the unusual advantage that they don’t have to make sense, as long as the music is good.  Don’t believe me?  Try Country Feedback by R.E.M. – a well-known song that seems complete nonsense, as far as I can tell.  Despite that, there are phrases in there that touch me and that I feel connected to.

In the same way that horoscopes are deliberately vague, the very ambiguity of songs allows the listener to insert their own story, so that songs seems to have been written just for them – perfectly fitting their circumstances of romance, anger, happiness, or whatever else is on their minds at the time.

Listening to those songs from long ago, I can remember the impact they had on me very clearly.  But times change, and the music changes with it.  Characters from songs such as Mr. Clean by The Jam, I now see as myself, and I recognize that the emotional connection I used to have with that song stemmed from jealousy, and a class gap I never thought I would bridge.  Others songs still have the same emotional effect, but the people have changed.  For example, the person I think about when first listening to For You by Tracy Chapman is no longer the person I think of today.

For me personally, music has helped me through some of the toughest times in my life. They have been old friends, always there ready to offer just the right words, be on my side, and to understand me – perhaps at a level that no person ever could.  And I know I am not alone in this.  I know a friend who listened to Better Man repeatedly, almost certainly because she felt trapped in her relationship.  And how many times have people used We Are the Champions to give themselves a boost with lyrics like “And bad mistakes, I’ve made a few, I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face – But I’ve come through

Music taps into the soul in ways that nothing else does.  And writing this blog post has been easily the hardest one to date – every time I sat down to write, hours would vanish in a haze of musical memories without a single word being committed to ‘paper’.

Yes, music has the power to transport you back in time, but it also has the power to make time disappear.

So, while I could wax-lyrical about my own musical experiences, I would prefer instead to hear your stories.  Which songs / lyrics touched you, and why?  To that end I started the ball rolling on a wiki site called lyric.wetpaint.com.  Please feel free to drop by and add your own favorite lyrics, and the stories of why they are so special.  I look forward to hearing them.

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Filed under Life - or something like it, The Human Condition