Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Year's Resolutions for the Internet, Things to Look Forward to in 2015, and more...

It took me a little while to come up with my resolutions this year.  It was a little odd for me, because I tend to be very goal-driven, gushing with ideas and dreams and wild aspirations.  I think part of me is still a little disturbed about turning 30, and part of me is disappointed in my ability to accomplish every resolution every year.  I don't like to fail.  But I also don't want to set my sights so low as to be bored if I achieve them all.  So instead of writing resolutions for myself right away, I started by looking at what was coming up in 2015 in entertainment and astrology, and then by coming up with ideas and more achievable suggestions for others.  Here's what I came up with.

Things to Look Forward to in 2015
  • January: Watch the premiers of Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder (both Jan 29, 2015), Big Bang Theory (Jan 8), Glee (Jan 9), The 100 (Jan 21)
  • February: The Amazing Race (Feb 25)
  • March: Watch the premier of The Following Season 3 (Mar 2, 2015) and Once Upon a Time (March 1, 2015)
  • April: See Furious 7 (April 3, 2015); Total Lunar Eclipse (April 4)
  • May:  See The Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1, 2015)
  • June: See Jurassic World (June 12, 2015) and Inside Out (June 19, 2015), Watch the premier of Under the Dome Season 3 (date tbd) and Extant Season 2 (date tbd)
  • July: Hike Seven Falls in Tucson
  • August: Perseids Meteor Shower (peaks August 12th)
  • September: Total Lunar Eclipse (Sept 28)
  • November: See The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 2 (Nov. 20, 2015)

New Year's Resolutions for the Internet
  • Stop using "could of", "should of", and "would of"; what you are trying to say is a contraction of "have", so it should be "could've", etc.  Or better yet, just write the whole damn thing out.  If you don't think this is important, just read what urban dictionary has to say.
  • Appreciate the actual message in Frozen, not the strange morals that could be derived from the overplayed song "Let It Go," in which Elsa decides to rebel against humanity and do whatever the heck she wants.
  • Report more positive news.  2014 was a remarkable year, but you probably wouldn't know it based on the headlines surrounding Ebola, the disappearance of flight 370, the Sony hacking attributed to North Korea and the violent racism-fueled events in Ferguson and around the country.  Let's report on advancements in space travel (SpaceX completed 6 missions this year), clean tech (world’s first solar road opened in the Netherlands in November), improvements in education (high school graduate rates are at their all-time high), trends in healthier food at restaurants, and creativity leading to awesome new companies and whole new industries (ever heard of Uber?).  
  • Use Pinterest more effectively.  It is not just for recipes and DIY crafts!  Read more in my blog post here.
  • Kill anything like "firstable" and "secondable."  Immediately.  I mean, really, this shouldn't even be a resolution for 2015, this should just be over now.
  • Watch more TED Talks and less videos about animals, people hurting themselves and kids freaking out about silly things.  It's not that those things are cute and/or hilarious, it's just that we could all spend more time on topics that would allow us to grow and learn.  
  • Support more Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects, local businesses and startups.  Just browse these websites and you're sure to find some amazing things people are doing, locally and all around the country (and/or world).  No need to wait for things to go viral or become top funded projects, you can put a small chunk of change and a little social media sharing towards something that can be great!
  • Forget the idea of 3D printing food.  Shaped sugar is not the best application of 3D printing, and there is so much more to do with this phenomenal technology.  Let's focus on more practical applications, and allow the culinary arts to blend and create in all the other ways that don't require a CAD drawing, a nozzle and squishy material to shove through it.
  • Create, post about, and eat the most super-duper creative and nerdy pies possible on March 14th.  Why?  Because this is the most accurate Pi Day date of our lifetimes: 3.14.15, and I think that's worth celebrating.

Achievable New Year's Resolutions
  • Read a book.  Or ten.  Audio books count, listen while you commute!
  • Take a hike.  Literally!  Choose a rewarding, challenging hike you can tackle this year, train a little for it, get a hiking buddy, do it, and take lots of pictures to share your accomplishment.  If there is no great hiking in your area, pick another challenging physical activity, like running a 5K.  
  • Take a college course on a topic that interests you.  There are free online courses on coursera.org, edx.org and similar sites.
  • Go to a museum.  For my local friends, I would highly recommend the Musical Instrument Museum.  
  • Take a dance class or dance lessons.  Might I recommend swing dance lessons with Dabney and Karen?
  • Learn to program.  There are literally dozens of resources to help you get started!
  • Spend a week without Facebook -or- Spend a weekend without Smartphones & internet
  • Re-read a book you read in school but didn't quite grasp or were supposed to read but read the Cliff Notes instead

Finally, I extended some of the ideas and themes from my recommendations into things that I would like to achieve.  I typically have a theme for each year (past years have focused on dance, design, inspiration, etc).  I think one thing I've struggled with a lot this past year is that I feel I have given a lot and done a lot for other people, and have not commanded reciprocity, leaving me feeling a little empty.  So I am dedicating 2015 to doing things for me.  It sounds a little selfish writing it, especially because I have a pretty damn good life already, but it's still something I feel I need to concentrate on, because giving comes naturally and I don't take as much as I probably should.  So, with that said, here are my resolutions for a year of doing things for me.  I also kept thinking that I should break down my resolutions into smaller timeframes, because a year is a really long time and time can slip by without realizing it.  So I've also created a rough schedule that will help me achieve my resolutions.  

My New Year's Resolutions for 2015 
  • Shoot to check off four Life List items 
  • Hike Seven Falls in Tucson 
  • Go on a date to one of the events at Desert Botanical Gardens 
  • Expand my vocabulary.  Learn new words and use them in my blog. 
  • Learn to cook a new dish - using a crock pot, oven or stove
  • Take a lesson in blues dancing 
  • Make a gingerbread house 
  • Host a game night or dinner
2015 Tentative Plan
  • January
    • Use a word-a-day app & journal about words I like
    • Host a dinner

  • February
    • Take a lesson in blues dancing
    • Try cooking a new dish (using a crock pot)

  • March
    • Go on a date at DBG
    • Publish a book (on life list)

  • April
    • Go white water rafting (on life list)

  • May
    • Host a game night
    • Ride a tandem bicycle (on lift list)

  • June
    • Hike Seven Falls in Tucson

  • July
    • Go to Taste of Chicago (on life list)

  • August
    • Tour Hershey Chocolate Factory (on life list)
    • Try pole-vaulting

  • September
    • Go to a wine festival and crush grapes into wine (on life list)
    • Go blues dancing

  • October
    • Try cooking a new dish (using the stove or oven)

  • November / December
    • Make a gingerbread house

Monday, December 29, 2014

Life List Progress EOY 2014

I always try to knock off at least 1 or 2 things from my Life List each year.  This year, I checked off three things from my Life List.  The fun thing about my Life List is that some items can be planned for (many of which require travel to a specific location, but not all), while others cannot necessarily be planned for and happen semi-spontaneously.  For the latter, these are things that do require a little bit of putting oneself into a situation where its possible, or "building a door" if opportunity isn't knocking.  For example, it is not likely I will ever be able to accomplish #93, photograph an endangered species, while sitting on my couch, unless the world's population of chiweiners rapidly declines and Carly finds herself among the few remaining.  So, without further ado, here is a recap of my Life List accomplishments for 2014.   

#76 on my Life List was to see a lunar eclipse.  It's not an earth-shattering adventure like many of my Life List activities, but things somehow I have managed to miss them, either because I didn't realize when they were emminent, or because I made other plans that interfered with gazing up into the heavens to catch these stunning events.  Finally, on April 14th, Jaiman and I laid down an old comforter on our driveway and watched as the moon turned a fantastic red.  And while my camera may not be ideal for this sort of photography, nor was I prepared with something to keep my camera still, I managed to take a few decent pictures. 

When we went to Hawaii with Jaiman's family in July, I made a point to book us an excursion to swim with giant sea turtles.  You never can tell how well a nature-centric activity might go, but my experience was one of the most exhilarating memories of 2014; far more than I could have asked for.  When the boat stopped, everyone had the option to get floaties or just hop right in, and I decided to hop right in, so I ended up being the first one off the boat.  While I floated, watching Jaiman and his family and the other passengers prepare to hop off the boat, I heard a sudden, loud exhale directly behind me.  Confused, because there were no other people around me to my knowledge, I turned to see a giant sea turtle had come up to the surface to check me out.  I pushed myself away a little bit, having been warned that it was illegal to touch the gentle creatures, and gave him some space, which he didn't really need because he dug back down into the water immediately.  I threw my head under to watch him as he majestically swam away.  We had other near encounters, but none quite like that.  It was a very special moment for me, and completed #110 on my life list. 

One of the stranger things on my life list is a result of feeling "jipped" or "un-Arizonan" for having never seen a local beast (or nuisance, depending on who you ask) that it seems like just about everyone who has lived in the area for any significant amount of time has seen.  After an exhaustingly fun holiday gathering, on Christmas Day, my sister was throwing out dog poop at my parents' house, and came back in the house frantic and yelling at me to come quick.  I knew within milliseconds that she must have spotted a javelina, knowing how much I desperately have wanted to see one not in a zoo.  I reached the garage and sure enough, at the end of the driveway, there were a number of them, adults, babies and everything in between.  A sounding, actually, that's what a group of javelinas is called.  They looked lost, and didn't move quickly, but Dad was there rather quickly to remind us to keep our distance because they could charge at any moment.  My Mom joined us with her phone and snapped a few pictures of the adults and babies from the end of the driveway.  We watched in amazement as the creatures walked around the col-de-sac before wandering away via the neighbor's house.  And with that, I got a little Christmas miracle to check off #68 on my life list. 

Now, of my 150 Life List activities, I have 37 items checked off, leaving me 113 adventures, sights, activities and fear-facing options available to attempt in the coming years.  I can't wait to see what items I will check off in 2015!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fitness That Doesn't Break the Bank

I definitely feel the pain of a facebook friend who recently posted a grievance about the cost of eating healthy and fun forms of exercise.  Specifically, the complaint was that a McDonald's burger is cheap and a salad is expensive, and sitting on the couch is free but playing in sports costs a bundle, therefore no wonder our society struggles with obesity.  I think we can all relate to this feeling, and the notion that of course our kids and our society as a whole are fat!  I have definitely found this oddity in my own struggle to lose weight, but I've also found some solutions, which I feel compelled to share in hopes of inspiring others.  

Lucky for me, my region is full of awesome mountains to climb with decent hiking paths, and access to most are free, others charge a small fee.  While hiking can be brutal when unmotivated or in the wrong mood, it can also be very rewarding.  One thing I discovered (or re-discovered) recently was that having my dog along helped distract me from the annoyance and burn of hiking uphill.  She really pulled me along, but she also took my mind off the difficult activity.  I don't think it would be the same if it was someone else holding the leash for their dog, I think it works best for me if I'm in charge of encouraging her and holding her back.  One of the best parts about hiking as a form of exercise, as opposed to riding a stationary bike or dancing at home, is that there's a definitive goal and end point; you can't exactly decide you're done in the middle of a hike and sit down to watch TV for the rest of the day.  

Just Make It - but make it simple
I enjoy a good salad, but I'm a bit finicky in the kinds of veggies and fruits I'm willing to eat on a regular basis.  There are few places that make a good salad, in my opinion, and realistically, there are none to my knowledge that do it at a decent price in a healthy way.  Caesar Salads taste great at most places, but the dressing is far from healthy, and the salad often costs more than something full of carbs and fried goodness.  Defeated by my salad woes, I, the woman who turns on her oven only a few times a year and never does anything resembling cooking besides warming up leftovers or frozen foods in the microwave, caved in to making my own salads.  But I cheat a little, and this is why it works for me.  From the grocery store, I buy mostly everything sliced and diced and cut already, which greatly reduces the amount of time I spend preparing my salad.  A typical salad for me consists of shredded lettuce, shredded carrots, baby tomatoes (whatever those are called), slices of bell pepper or mini bell peppers, shredded cheese (but not too much) or crumbles of feta, diced ham or chunks of pepperoni.  I've found a number of things to use as "dressing" that are also rather healthy: lime juice, red wine vinegar, chili garlic sauce (the last of which also helps me consume more water - spicy!).  I know my tastes are a little unique, so I don't expect my readers to go out and reproduce this exact thing, but that's the point: find what works for you, and make it delicious and healthy.  Then when you go to the store, you know the items you need to throw together.  I also usually make two or three salads at a time when I make them, so I don't have to pull everything out of the fridge three times.  

Drink Water Rules
The more water I drink, the better I feel.  Without drinking a lot of water, I tend to look tired, get migraines, and sometimes get so nauseous I throw up.  But water is always a good thing to drink, so I don't know why I do this to myself.  My solution: make rules about my life that involve water.  There are times when I find a craving that I think is for ice cream or cheese or chocolate, but really I was just thirsty.  So I try to always drink water before doing something indulgent.  It also helps you feel fuller faster, so you eat less of a large meal (in theory).  Carrying your own refillable bottle is one of the best ways to ensure you always have water on hand to help fight misplaced cravings.  

Water Rules:
Before eating a dessert or candy, drink 8 oz of water.
Before opening a can of soda, drink 8 oz of water.
When I want to play my game on my phone, I need to drink 8 oz of water.  
Before prepping or going to lunch, drink 8 oz of water. 

Earning Television
Like my drink water rules, I also have rules about watching TV, although I admittedly don't always obey them.  But here's the concept: one episode of anything is a freebie per day.  For every additional episode of a show, I have to do 50 crunches and 32 leg lifts on each leg.  I picked those two exercises because those are the areas of my body I want to work on most, and that are not serviced much by my dancing and hiking activities.  

Replace Caffeine with Peppers
No joke, I often tell people that I get a high on eating spicy peppers like jalapenos, but it is a legitimate way to increase metabolism, get a boost of energy, and yes, even get a little natural high.  I eat them straight, but if you don't have that kind of tolerance, try putting diced jalapenos (also available in the grocery store) in your salad or put slices (available at the store) on your pasta.  If jalapenos are too much, try pepperocinis or banana peppers to start.  The seeds are the spiciest part, so be aware of that as you prepare to eat peppers.  Another tip for eating spice: don't suck in air while you're eating, its insinctual because its "hot" but its not temperature hot, and oxygen only makes the spice work harder.  Instead, keep your mouth closed until the pepper or spicy food has been swallowed, then take a glug of cold water and hold it in your mouth before swallowing.  If it gets too hot, grab some bread or cheese or milk to cool it down, but keep trying to cool it off with water, otherwise you'll fill up on not-so-lean stuff.  Contrary to popular belief, hot peppers do not eat at your stomach lining, they actually improve your metabolism and help your digestion system.  Eating them also encourages consumption of water, which we all could use more of, and clears out sinuses.  

When I think about dancing at home, I always picture the scene from Mrs. Doubtfire where Robin Williams, dressed as a woman, slides across the floor, broom in hand.  But seriously, dancing at home is a fantastic way to work out for free.  If you don't know exactly what to do, look up videos on YouTube that teach dancing.  I did some belly dancing that way, and I also use YouTube a lot to practice the few choreographed swing dances, like the Shim Sham, Tranky Doo and Big Apple.  There are lots of videos for each of those dances, all moving at slightly different paces from beginner to advanced.  So browse around a little, find what you want to do, make a playlist of it, and get off your butt and dance!  The best part is, unlike a workout video, if you get bored of a certain routine, you can swap it out for something else in your playlist.  A dancer friend of my posted a study that showed swing dancing burned more calories per minute than any sport or something like that, and even if I didn't get it exactly right, the idea that swing dancing is a rigorous, full body aerobic exercise really jives with me.  

So there you have it - those are my ideas on how to get and stay fit on the cheap.  Obviously, these are easier said than done; but paying for a gym membership also doesn't automatically make you healthy.  Exercising and eating well are disciplines, and require commitment, perseverance and maybe accountability.  One last time I will add is, when I'm not in the mood to workout or when I know I'm not drinking enough water on a particular day, I ask myself this question:  "What do I have to do tonight that is MORE important than getting healthy?"  If I answer it honestly, I usually end up in the gym gulping down water as I sweat through a solid workout.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Collision Fine

I don't believe in the word "accident" when it comes to vehicle collisions.  When one vehicle collides with another, it is almost always because somebody was doing something stupid or wasn't paying attention.  In the case of mechanical problems or road conditions, maybe it wasn't sheer stupidity but there is still a cause and ways of avoiding it (better maintenance of vehicle, adding extra following distance when ice may be present on the road).  Thus, when I am significantly delayed by an accident on the freeway, it infuriates me.  I believe that people who cause collisions should be penalized much more than today's penalty structure allows.  It is not just damage to the vehicle, or injury to the innocent victim that needs to be compensated for.  Every person who is delayed suffers because of one person's poor driving decisions.  In addition, I believe that if the penalty for causing a collision was significantly higher, people would be incentived to drive safer and pay better attention, which is a huge win for society if we can reduce so-called accidents.  

First, let me say that my gut reaction is that anyone who causes a collision during rush hour that causes significant delays for so many people should have his license revoked permanently and/or car seized and/or shipped out of state/deported.  That's my gut reaction.  But I know that's not realistic, nor do I really want to live in a society that is so unforgiving.    I had an economics teacher joke (in half seriousness) that if everyone's vehicles were equipped with an irremovable knife jarring out of the steering wheel, nobody would drive unsafely; the implication that the safer our cars become, the more our drivers will feel invincible and cause more crashes.  So taking a step down from such an extreme view, here's how I would structure penalties for causing vehicle collisions.

A model would be developed using traffic statistics organized by day of the week, time of the day and direction of travel.  Then, when a collision is reported, the model would determine how many drivers would be delayed as a result.  A similar model would be applied based on the severity of the collision and resulting road blockage to determine a standard amount of time allowance for clean up.  Based on these two models, each collision would have a significant penalty.  The guilty driver will have to pay this fee into a pool collected by the city or state, in addition to paying for direct damages and medical expenses like normal.  If the guilty driver cannot pay this fee, he forfeits his license and is not allowed to drive until such time as he has paid it back in full, or performed the equivalent amount of community service time at $5 per hour, or any combination of the two.  At the end of the year, the pool is distributed evenly to every person in the region who has (1) a valid driver's license, (2) valid car registration and (3) a clean record with no accidents or traffic tickets.  The payout can be pro-rated for individuals who had car registration or a license for only part of the year.  However, if there is any recorded accident or traffic ticket, the driver is disqualified for the year in which those incidents occurred.  

Let's take for example a standard collision, blocking one lane of traffic for 30 minutes during rush hour.  I'll say that this delay is valued at $10 to every driver immediately impacted.  If 500 drivers are assumed to be impacted while the accident is being cleaned up, then the penalty starts at $5000.  If the accident happened at the beginning of rush hour, around 4:30 pm, then traffic doesn't just resume normality after the accident is cleaned up, so another 1000 drivers are inconvenienced at a value of $2.50.  So now the fee is up to $7500.  With 100 such accidents per year, we'd have a pool of about $750,000.  Let's say there are 10,000 drivers who qualify for the payout, so each driver would get a nice little check for $75.  It's not a huge bonus, but it's a nice way for the city or state to say,  "Thank you for being a safe driver this year, here's compensation for the idiots who were not as smart and safe with their driving."  And I think that's dandy.

Now, let's look at actual numbers.  The following stats are from 2013 Arizona DOT's report on crashes.  There were 4,826,903 licensed drivers in AZ, and 107,348 crashes.  There were 76,335 crashes in Maricopa alone.  Of Arizona crashes involving multiple cars, 45.98% were rear ends, 71.66% were in daylight, 86.45% were on days with clear skies, and 93.2% were on dry roads.  That is to say that nearly 50% of car-on-car collisions could have and should have been avoided.  On weekdays, between the hours of 6 am and 9 am, there were 14,837 accidents.  Between the hours of 4 pm and 7 pm on weekdays, there were 20,624 accidents.

Following my model, the 35,461 accidents during morning and evening rush hours could have contributed up to $2.7 billion to the proposed pool.  Assuming the 4.8 million licensed drivers maintained current registration throughout the year on at least one vehicle, and even ignoring the fact that probably 100,000 of those people would not get the reward because they caused accidents, that would amount to $550 per person as compensation for being inconvenienced by car accidents.  That number could go up if you consider longer hours of impact, or if my model underestimated the number of impacted drivers.  But even still, I'd take $550 for being inconvenienced, no problem.  

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Receivers

I started listening to the audio book The Giver, a book I read in fourth grade and haven't touched since.  It has already started pulling me in; it may be an easy read, but the concepts it deals with can be very adult.  The idea of assigning children, at 12, what their roles in the community will be, and producing hundreds or maybe thousands of happily complying citizens is astounding in a way, especially in contrast with today's young people being told they can be whatever they want to be, and that it's okay to change your mind about what you want to do, and today's adults being told its never too late to change your career.  Imagine even if you got to choose, but whatever the decision was, at 12, you were stuck with it for the rest of your productive years?  That's hard to swallow.  

I chose my career early on, and knew even before it began that it wouldn't fulfill me, and that I would need to keep my creative passions at my side.  I benefited from my Dad's career advice, and my sisters' early work experiences.  I knew what I wanted, I pursued it diligently, and got it.  End of story, right?  I wish.  Like I said, I knew I would need to keep my creative passions at my side, and I have, although they've shifted, from music to writing to painting to interior design to product design.  That's not to say that I ever stopped writing, obviously, or ever stopped thinking about music or painting or interior design.  I just focus less on making money with those areas.  And while all of this has happened primarily in the background of my career, the backburner, the appendix, I've developed a business career that could be quite envied.  I've had a number of entrepreneurial ambitions that have come and gone, but never quite scratched the itch and never hit it out of the ballpark.  Freelance writing was fun, but it became a lot of work for so little pay.  Commissioned art wasn't any more profitable for me, after I paid for the materials and paid with my time.  It was hard to imagine a traditional career in interior design without a traditional interior design background, so I tried going about in an untraditional way, and gave up after the first rejection by HGTV's Design Star.  Software is an area that I think can have a huge return, but I'm not a programmer, have resisted being one, and don't have much to offer programmer partners.  Product design also has a giant pool of talented designers, and I don't know how I could ever compete.  

So I've tried to focus more recently on what my strengths are.  Clearly, I'm not the most talented artist, or the most talented designer, not by a long shot, not even good enough to compete, really.  One strength, I think, is my ability to impart my technical skills to adults in a classroom setting.  Recently, I've also been very much wanting to get involved with 3D printing.  But it turns out, its really hard, and there are a lot of people doing amazing things and I don't feel like I have the technical or design abilities to keep up, or the energy to try.  So putting these two ideas together, what little technical skills I have developed in 3D printing, and my ability to impart those skills to others, I decided I should focus on teaching 3D printing design classes.  My 3D printing dinners idea I thought was a winner, but I didn't throw myself whole-heartedly into the Kickstarter and it thus resulted in a cancellation of the project.  The problem with Kickstarter is that it's not really a way to kickstart anything, its a way to get over the finish line, which means I have to start something.  So taking my own advice on this one, I decided I would just start offering these classes.  

Of course, I focused first on the easy stuff: setting up a location and time and place.  Great!  But the hard work is the marketing, and ultimately, the getting-people-to-hand-over-money-for-what-you're-offering part.  It's so daunting, I don't even want to start.  But why should it be?  I got to thinking about this, and here's the marketing challenge boiled down to its roots: even with targeted ads, I'm not able to reach just the right audience.  I can reach broadly, to every adult living in the Phoenix area, and what percentage of them are going to be (a) on board with continuous learning, (b) interested in 3D printing, (c) able and willing to pay for such education from an apparent nobody, and (d) do not have the warewithall to figure out what they want to learn about 3D printing on their own?  In fact, I was planning on hosting the class at TechShop, which offers training and coaching on the exact same topic, so I would literally be introducing my customers to my competitor.  Now, granted, I could compete on cost and compete on the targeted content approach instead of TechShop's generic training, but still, they are my #1 competitor in the area, to my knowledge.  Interestingly enough, TechShop offered to partner with me, and I like the idea of partnering with a giant like TechShop, especially because they have the resources.  But I don't like their teaching structures, and I don't want to be roped into that arrangement, not if this is going to be my breakthrough source of secondary or substantial income.  

Targeted ads probably work well for certain situations, like if someone writes a lot about coffee or checks in to Starbucks, targeting coffee products towards them might be successful, at least enough to justify spending the dollars on the ads.  But if I'm targeting someone who talks about 3D printing, then there's a good chance they know more than me about 3D printing, and would thus not find my classes useful.  I mean, even if I'm teaching an Excel course, which I probably would be the expert in, if someone talks a lot about Excel, then they probably don't need the course.  The people who need my Excel course are the people who don't talk about Excel, but use it in their work.  The people who need my 3D printing courses are people who are remotely interested in 3D printing, but don't have a clue how to get started.  How do we find these people?  

So this got me to perhaps a brilliant marketing tool, if only we can find a way to incentivize people to use it:  tell us what ads you want to see.  What are you interested in?  What do you want to learn about?  What would help you in your home, travel, work, family, exercise routine, diet struggles, etc.  If we could select which ads we want to see, we could actually find products and services that we would be willing to pay for.  We need a marketplace for life.  Is that too broad?  I mean, there's marketplaces for techy gadgets, geek ware, culinary tools, movies, music, apps, clothes, and even education (although maybe these are the least developed).  What if we could truly have a one-stop-shop, a hybrid of Amazon, edX.org, Craig's List and Angie's List?  Is it feasible?  Or is our world too divided into niches to ever go back to a virtual General Store?  Maybe I should focus on pushing educational marketplaces to a higher level.  But it just feels like the way we go about marketing, and the way consumers go about being marketed to, is ripe for change.  

It's a tough sell all around.  Consumers generally don't like ads; they have developed a distaste for them because they take away time from the cable TV or Hulu shows they are watching, and the ads are rarely introducing something new and exciting that the consumers want or realize they need.  Some smart people have come up with ad-blocking add-ins for internet browsers to shield us from unwanted ads as we surf the web.  But if all ads went away, we consumers would potentially never know about new products or services that we would, in face, enjoy, that would enhance our lives, that would make us happy.  If ads were banned or systemically blocked, would word of mouth be allowed?  Would we still be able to see banners while driving by local businesses?  As much as we hate ads, a world without ads seems a little scary, too.  It's a world of stagnation, no new experiences, no technological advancement, and that is scary.  

On the other end of the argument, consumers can't necessarily be trusted to define what it is that they want.  I learned this the hard way when I surveyed friends and family one time about a really big, bold idea where any imaginable product could be made, and I got responses that consisted of no imagination and even, no interest, in such a possibility.  I was disheartened, and came to grips with a famous quote from Henry Ford about how he knew the automobile would take off:  “If I’d listened to the masses, I would have built a faster horse.”  It made me realize that sometimes vision comes before adoption, understanding and acceptance.  It's the exact opposite of the lean methodology for startups, which preaches that you need to ask the customers what they want.  But the mass market didn't know they wanted cars, or personal computers, or the internet, not at first.  Customers might be able to tell you what features they like and don't like about an existing product, and that market research can be digested to build a better mousetrap, but it won't be a revolutionary industry disruptor, creating whole new industries around it.  It takes vision, so asking consumers to select what topics they'd like to see ads on is like asking them to predict at what age their great grand-children will live towards, there's just no way to know until you see it, hear about it, or experience it, for truly new and different products.  Sure they could say that they want to travel to Australia, build a treehouse, find recipes and ingredients to use on the grill, and hear about new restaurants serving locally crafted beer, and you could target ads at those very ideas.  But for new and different ideas, there's no way to have the consumers predict that they want to see them.  In fact, a recent experience reminds me that broad, generic ads still have value in this world, because if I had only targeted ads, or only ads of my choosing, I would have never seen an ad for McDonald's new jalapeno double, but shortly after I heard about it, I went to try it, and I think it was probably the best $2 burger I've ever had.  I suppose maybe if the ad targeting was clever enough, it would know that I like jalapenos, but if I had any say in the matter, I probably would have excluded McDonald's from my preferences.  

I may be to the point of rambling now, and perhaps there's more to come on this topic.  I'm just imagining that, with big data and such advanced technology, there's got to be a way to give consumers a menu for life, and help them find the products and services they want that they didn't know existed.  What if we could all be Receivers and get exactly and only what we wanted?

Saturday, September 20, 2014


I've been fascinated by the idea of utopias I think since around 4th grade when
I read The Giver (and btw, I'm soooo excited about it becoming a movie soon).  I loved books like Fahrenheit 451, 1984 and Brave New World that show an alternative view of what life could be like.  Maybe that's why, as an adult, I was so drawn to the Hunger Games series and really relate to the people of the Capital in those books, as well as the Divergent series.  I loved The Great Gatsby in high school and was thrilled with the recent movie adaptation, because the parties were just as over-the-top and out-of-control as I imagined them to be.  The current TV show by the name of Utopia I think is anything but that; it's more of a Real Life show meets Survivor.  The fact that the producers intentionally put people with very opposite extremist views is just the first hint that this mini society was meant to be a complete failure.  It's a little obnoxious how bad it is.  But there are some tidbits of interest that come out of it; Hex is by far my favorite character, alcoholism aside, because she can be level headed and talk to anyone, even if she disagrees with him or her, and ask them what their utopia is.  I think I also like her because she naturally looks like a real-life Katniss from Hunger Games, complete with being handy with a bow and arrow.  All literature, cinematography and bad reality TV aside, I still love the idea of a utopia and wondered what my utopia would be like.  

The problem with trying to create a utopia is that we're so used to what our norm is that there is a hesitation, if not outright resistance, to try anything or imagine anything different.  For example, the utopians in the TV show naturally formed a democracy without officially declaring it, and only a couple weeks in decided to formalize and modify the political structure.  One person on the show said that their utopia was one without money, but the economist in me likes the way money rewards efforts and can be spent on (somewhat) fairly equitable goods or services; an efficient market is the cleanest and best way to trade goods and services, keep costs down and drive innovation - not bartering or equal distribution.  So rather than trying to start with a blank slate and recreate a society from nothing, my utopia realization would come from removing the things I don't like and adding things I want.  

First to go: chores.  In my utopia, I don't have to clean dishes, mow the lawn, wash the windows, do laundry, sweep the floors, pull weeds, water plants, vacuum, feed the dog or even pick up after myself (let alone picking up after my roommates).  I have always related to the main character of Pippin, who believes he is just too extraordinary to be bothered by these types of everyday things.  I have these big ideas and crazy aspirations, but I have a pile of dishes in the sink that I have to attend to from time to time.  I know there are maids and landscapers available, but with three perfectly capable people living under my roof, I just have a hard time justifying spending money on simple activities that we could do on our own.  Still, chores bring me down; I like a clean house but I never enjoy cleaning.  Usually wine is the only way to get myself to clean.  If I could, like, dance and my house cleaned itself with the same effort that I put into my dancing, I think I would dance every day and never have a messy house.  That leads me to...

First to add: a better place to dance.  I have trained briefly in ballet and jazz dance, as well as performed in musicals in junior high, high school and college.  In college I also took hip hop and swing dance, and since then, I have been swing dancing on and off (with a stint of hip hop again when I went back to school for my MBA).  I love our swing dance community, but the venues never have the air conditioning capacity to support the hoards of people who come to dance.  It's a good problem to have, I suppose, but still, I think I would dance more if I didn't dread sweating in front of everyone so much.  The other issue is that I often want to dance at home to practice, and I just don't have my house arranged in a way that really supports that.  But I do like how my house is furnished, so I don't want to change it; I just want to add a huge room to the back with wooden floors and its own amazing A/C and mirrors and cameras so I can review my dance and improve myself, and a large screen (or four) to watch videos from the greats.  

Next to remove: human-driven transportation.  I know autonomous cars on a mass scale are still in the future, and it's going to be a long, long time before everyone adopts them or they are legally the only option.  But people are stupid, and driving is the most dangerous thing most of us do in our lifetimes, and we do it every day.  I personally despise driving, although I think I'm good at it (when I'm awake), and I have a problem staying awake behind the wheel at times.  Life would be so much better if I could get in a vehicle and use my laptop or watch a show while the vehicle transports me to where I need to go.  Some utopias are so small that they don't require powered transportation at all, one could easily walk or ride a bike to where they are going on a regular basis, but I don't think that's realistic, especially because I like to travel.  I don't think a small distance utopia could ever include everything I would want to do.  If we could just eliminate all bad drivers, that might make a big enough difference, but unfortunately, we all have dumb moments and I will still fall asleep.  So autonomous vehicles can't come soon enough.  Come on, Elon, I know you can do it!!  I'll be your first volunteer to test it, or your first customer, if you let me!  

Next to add: food that tastes delicious and is super healthy and exactly what I need.  This is one area where 3D printing has some potential, but its even further in the future than autonomous cars, and I'm not sure that 3D printing is really practical as the means of achieving this.  I think its a lot more of formulation and finding ways to flavor that won't cause cancer; I could care less about the shape. If I had a cheese-flavored shake that gave me all the nutrients I needed, I could switch between that and a chocolate-flavored protein shake and be pretty dang happy without solid food at all.  Ideally, certain tasteless substances could be made into several formats and textures, infused with the nutrients we need, and then flavored based on our tastes.  Imagine going to a party, having custom food made to meet your nutritional needs, but getting to try new textures and flavors that you've never tried before.  But alas, cheese is high in fat, along with pepperoni (even turkeroni, which I often eat in lieu of the real thing), and Ben and Jerry's just cannot be made healthy without taking away what makes it so amazing.  At least not yet, but I think maybe there's hope for some day.  

A big picture removal: political parties.  Okay, a lot of my items so far have been somewhat minor, personal preference type things.  But if I was designing a utopia, I would upheave the entire political system and replace it with an even more democratic process.  I wrote a whole post about this previously, so I'll only summarize it here: we would essentially vote for issues we are concerned about, establishing both the solutions and the priorities, and then voting for the people whom we think are most capable of making those things happen.  So instead of voting for a person because he is of a specific party or because she promises to do such-and-such, we vote for people based on our belief in their ability to make things happen, and we vote for the issues we care about, and we vote for what we want out of the political system.  Then its the politicians' jobs simply to execute on what the public voted for.  If they do a good job, they may get re-elected.  If they sucked a big one, we'll find someone else to lead the way.  Read more about this idea here.  

A big picture addition: more technology in schools.  I think it's a crime for people to graduate high school and college and not know more than the very basics of Microsoft Excel.  Most people don't know how to program.  With technology being so prevalent these days, I just don't think people should become professionals or go into the workforce and not understand how computer logic works.  I see people that are completely baffled by the computer programs they use every day, and that scares me.  I understand that college is more generally about learning and theories and not so much practical technical instruction, but a person with a college degree should be able to comprehend and repeat a simple Excel formula.  Kids, learn how to program; learn it early and do it often.  That will set you apart instantly, even if you don't go into programming (or I should say, ESPECIALLY if you don't go into programming), because technology is just not taught at a competency level required to be awesome in the real world.  Learning how to type should be mandatory in elementary school just like learning how to write.  Learning spreadsheets and presentations should be mandatory in junior high, just like history or science.  Learning programming, battery technology and computer maintenance should be mandatory in high school.  College should include photo and video editing, CAD or other 3D modeling, and more programming.

And more: more life skills in schools.  I consider myself lucky to have fallen into a musically inclined family, and have taken that into theater, as well as on the completely opposite end of the spectrum having a good understanding of finance and economics.  The idea of arts being pulled out of schools is appalling to me.  Even though I've never aspired to be an actress, the spacial awareness I learned in theater has had so many applications in my regular life, and I can tell instantly when a person does not have that skill.  How much better would this world be if everyone had spacial awareness, understood the financial impact of their money spending decisions, and learned not to be afraid of speaking in public?  School should not just be about memorizing dates and definitions, it should be about learning how to live life fully.  When I tell people what I do, there are a lot of people who didn't even imagine my career path existed, and I see people who fall into careers (I think) because they saw options that they were aware of included: doctor, architect, lawyer, musician, teacher.  There are so many more career paths, and people don't know about them.  Engineering is shrinking, and it needs to be expanding.  

Let's also take out: the legal system.  I'm sorry, it's crap.  Every time I've had to interact with it, I've felt burned.  I'm a good person, I shouldn't have to prove it.  We pay lip service to "innocent until proven guilty" but the legal system assumes guilt until proven innocence.  Meanwhile, I see people driving illegally all the time and not getting caught.  I know men paying child support to ex-wives who aren't doing a damn thing to improve themselves because then their child support would get reduced.  I've seen someone unable to perform his professional obligations because a nasty, bickering woman put a completely BS restraining order on him.  And I've been part of a jury that convicted a man of a crime for which the only evidence was technically "thrown out".  If it's going to be garbage, than let's call it what it is, and not pretend that "innocent until proven guilty" has anything to do with it.  In the case of having a restraining order on someone, I think if the complaintant knowingly puts herself in a place where the accused is going to be, the restraining order should be null and void; as it stands, if she shows up on his doorstep, he's breaking the law.  Better yet, let's let common sense prevail, and not evidence that is thrown out or assuming a woman is telling the truth because she's a woman, or assuming a cop is telling the truth because he's a cop.  I love the idea in Divergent with the people having aptitudes for selfless leading the government.  Let's have the justice system be filled with people who have the aptitude to read people and apply common sense, and not have to worry about covering their butts.  Today's judges don't actually judge anything, they're not allowed to, they just apply legal procedures and ensure those procedures are being followed through.  Let's have judges who are really strong moral judges, and make the case to the judge who is not incentived to rule one way or another, only to make the best judgment, and leave the peanut gallery of uneducated hicks and racists and prejudiced people out of it.  Maybe a panel of judges for each case, just to be sure the decision doesn't weigh on one individual.  Think of the case scene in Patch Adams, where a moral appeal can win.  Judges, like the politicians in my utopia, would be voted on based on their ability to make good calls.  In my utopia, people would take responsibility for their actions, and suffer the consequences, but they would understand the consequences going into it.  Better education and no way to cheat the system.  

Add to that: a more self-policing society.  Let's imagine that, without autonomous vehicles that obey the laws to the tee, our vehicles are equipped with cameras that watch around us in four or more angles.  If we see someone breaking the law, i.e. unsafe lane change or what have you, we simply hit a "report" button and the last 30 seconds of footage gets sent to a center of workers who decide if that footage is sufficient evidence to convict the driver, and then send a ticket in the mail similar to how they handle red light camera tickets today.  I've always wanted this.  I'm not sure where else it would apply other than on the road, because I don't witness law breaking in any other aspects of my life on a regular basis, but it could be applied to solicitors on door steps or other like cases.  Imagine how few people would drive recklessly and cut you off if they knew that anyone around them could report them and cause a financial burden for them?  

Another removal: the hidden sales tax and semi- and fully- mandatory tipping.  What I mean by this, is a menu or a price tag should have the price that it will cost.  It should include the tax, so there is no guessing.  When we have to split the bill, its clear exactly what we owe, because we don't have to add in the tax.  Along with that, we should not feel obligated to leave a tip.  A tip should be 100% discretionary based on extraordinary service, and not expected, and certainly not added to bills for groups of 8 or more.  It's hard to deal with a group of 8?  Tough, that's called your job.  I don't get tips at work when I have to go to a meeting with 30 people.  But I'm paid fairly.  So our wait staff should also be paid fairly to do their jobs, and not expect the customers to shell out the rest of their pay on top of the price of the food we're paying over priced amounts for.  Some other countries do this, so there is no reason we need to continue in this awful tradition.

Plus add: waterproof electronics.  It's a niche need, but do you know how many times I've carefully wiped my hands off while in the bathtub in order to access my laptop or phone?  It's a lot.  And I'm sure I'm not completely alone on this.  I just want electronics to be sealed up and safe from water damage so that I can comfortably use them in the bath or shower or pool without covers that inhibit the ability to hear or use the devices.  

Remove too: welfare and any type of government handouts.  This is the economist in me, and maybe the general population in my utopia would disagree and institute them through our superior voting system, and I'd have to live with it.  But how many stories have you heard of someone living in a nice house driving nicer cars than you, and not making a contribution to society?  I would vote for any movement that would bring us closer to the efficient economy that rewards effort and results, and that means not giving anyone a free ride.  

Another addition: Streaming of important athletic events.  Back to the nit-picking personal preference stuff.  If I graduated from ASU, I should be granted lifetime access to high-def, legal streaming of all football and basketball games for ASU.  At a minimum.  I think its despicable that we would need cable and a special channel to watch half the games.  Few of the bars locally have that channel, and when traveling, its impossible to find a bar with that channel.  I should be able to type in a code and wherever I'm at can have the game.  At a minimum.  I would much rather be able to watch all major games on regular cable or Hulu or whatever.  Make it accessible to everyone, and we will get more excited to go!  Make it less accessible, you might just start losing fans, or income because we'll figure out a way to stream it illegally.  

Another removal: 40 - 60 hour workweeks.  Companies should pay a person to do a job, not spend a certain number of hours in the office.  I truly believe that some people are better than others at their jobs, and yet we do this weird equalizing thing to require efficient workers to stay so many hours, while inefficient workers may not even get their jobs done but they put in their hours so they're good to go.  The reason we do this, I'm sure, is because it's far too difficult to quantify what the job should be in any other manner, so its simplest to just assume it should take about 40 - 45 hours per week.  There's also discrimination that might play in, presuming that most women can't physically lift and load as much as most of their male counterparts, and you don't want to be accused of paying women less in a discriminatory manner.  Then again, maybe a physical job isn't good for women who can't keep up with the boys, why is that wrong?  Maybe those women who can't keep up should go do a job better suited for their brilliant minds or physically less demanding.  Regardless, in my utopia, we would figure out how to quantify work effort and results, and allow efficient workers the freedom to leave after the equivalent of 40 hours of work, even if that's 32 hours for them, and they get Friday off, but they are paid as if they were there for 40 hours because that's how much work they did.

And add: more positive news journalism.  I know, they're based on ratings and the violence and awful stories get more attention than the positive stuff.  But kind of like in Divergent where people with a certain aptitude go into certain fields, I would mandate journalists to want to report on the positive stuff, and downplay the violent stories that lead to copycats.  Celebrate the heroes and the victories over disease.  Don't name the name of the killer in the mass shootings - don't give them any credit or attention whatsoever.   Also, let's not make stories about race if they aren't about race; hell even if they are, let's not focus on that because that only raises more racial tensions - a crime is a crime no matter what the (ignorant) motive may be.

Going back to my first point about chores,  I suppose if the help was cheap enough, it could be worth it to pay, but then there's trust issues and the weirdness of a random person coming into your residence.  I would prefer to just find a way to eliminate the need for chores altogether, like having a goat that eats the grass, or maybe just have robots do them.  A lot of these wishes require future technology or a full re-vamping of a country, and obviously I'm not single-handedly capable of doing all those things.  This is also why the TV show Utopia will fail, because they made those people become farmers and live off the land and removed much of the technology; without technology, you're not really allowing them the full utopian-creating potential.  Also, they're just a few people, not a whole society of hundreds of thousands.  It's more like a make-your-own summer camp than the building of a new society.  For me, there are a few things I can do in my own little world to make a partial utopia for myself, and that is what I will strive to do.  I've already made my house quite comfortable with excessively nice luxuries in some places (like my amazing bathtub).  There's always more to do, of course, but that's what it's all about for me.