Bit players upon the stage

Sharing something I posted to Facebook a few weeks back, but I thought had a place here.

One morning as I walked into work from the parking lot I saw a strange mound of stuff propped against the wall of a building. It looked like a pile of garbage. As I watched, the pile shifted position and I saw it was a homeless man with his possessions piled all around him. He was on the other side of a chain link fence, but I asked if he was okay. He angrily waved me away and pulled his stuff back around him. When I came out later he was gone.

The next night when I arrived at a restaurant the hostess seemed a little down. I asked her how she was doing. She gave a quick reply and I think was a little surprised when I asked her more questions. I got her to laugh, and she said today not everyone had been so nice to her. I told her I’d be there for the next hour and to send anyone over to me that gave her grief. As we were leaving she gave me a big smile and said “Customer of the day!”

sonder, n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.

Sonder | The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows from John Koenig on Vimeo.

This is far from a new realization for me, but with those two encounters the difference really struck me between my two small roles in their lives.

And the roles they had in mine.

Eight Tips For People Who Like To Share Lists Of Tips About Other People

Fishing - courtesy Gary on Flickr

Fishing – courtesy Gary on Flickr

People love lists. They’re handy for both remembering and reference, and they feel like efficient, compact, helpful things to have around. Shopping lists, for example, are super handy.

Unfortunately, lists have taken on dark side. A big trend on Facebook and the rest of social mediaville is to share lists of things other people do. “Ten Habits Of Highly Organized People“, or “Seven Habits Of People Who Are Disgustingly Rich,” or “Eleventeen Habits Of People So Happy You Want To Slap Their Smug Faces Ever Time You See Them.”

If you do this, or know someone who does this, here are some valuable tips on this practice.

1. Habit Lists are just wimpy self-help books

Self-help books are an easy replacement for actually doing work. If they really had the solution there would be one in each category and call it done. Instead people buy them over and over. They’re mental snacks, like a Twinkie. But lists aren’t even a full Twinkie. They’re Twinkettes.

2. You have no idea who wrote that List

Look at the byline. Do you know this person? No. Don’t give them any credibility just because their list looks pretty. Trust me, any idiot can pull together a bunch of points on a list.

3. Lists never have enough info

They’re supposed to be short and sweet so people share them. Truly valuable information is complex and takes a while to read and understand. These lists always stop short of telling you what you really need to know. There’s a way to fix this, but I’m out of space to explain.

4. The art is often better than the List

Ever noticed all these lists have an inspirational picture attached of someone climbing a mountain, watching a sunrise, or eating hundred dollar bills for breakfast with their coffee? Some of them are actually quite good, even though they have nothing to do with the list. Save the picture if you want, because it’s often the best thing on the page.

5. Nobody reads the whole List anyway

Once, Lulubelle the whale decided to ride a bicycle. But she couldn’t because she has no legs and would crush the bike to pieces. But really she was safe from being embarrassed by a horrible bicycle debacle because nobody reads all this text anyway, especially in the middle of a list. It just looks good to have a lot of items, but people just skim them. You owe me twenty bucks if you actually read this.

6. Lists never changed anyone’s life

All the Smart, Sexy, Strong, Rich people that are quoted on those lists… have you ever seen one say “I got here because of a List I read on the Internet?”

7. Wisdom isn’t in Lists

Habits follow action. We are what we repeatedly do. To become better at something you need to get out and do it. Experience it. There is no shortcut or quickstart guide. There may be great books to help you learn new things, but they’re not in bullet form on a website.

8. Follow your path, not theirs

If you look at the most successful people in any of these list categories, from Happily Married to Rich, rarely did any of them get there the same way. For any rule one of them followed ten others did it entirely the opposite. They’re successful because they followed their own path and discovered what works for them. Do the same.

There you go! I hope my list has been at least as helpful as some of the other lists you have seen out there!

Stay tuned for my next installment: Ten Popular Social Media Article Title Trends That You Have To See To Believe But Will Restore Your Faith In All Of Humanity One Person At A Time As You Weep Openly!

The ghosts who haunt us

On Halloween, 1926, the legendary Harry Houdini died. Houdini was not just a magician, but a noted debunker of spiritualists and mystics who claimed to be able to contact the dead. He even arranged a code with his wife that he would use to try and reach her after he died if could find a way. It never happened.

While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped
Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,
And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing
Hopes of high talk with the departed dead.
~ Percy Bysshe Shelley, Hymn to Intellectual Beauty

There is no world beyond this one. I don’t find that frightening; it just makes the time we have here all the more precious. It also means the only ghosts that wander the earth are the memories of people we keep and cherish.

So it is on this day that I make special time to recall those people I’ve cared for who are no longer with me, but whose spirit will always be a part of my life.

Happy Halloween.

Sometimes you must work to make sure you rest

Feet up, enjoying the view and the rain

My view for the past week.

Sometimes vacations don’t seem worth the time.

You spend so much time getting things settled before you leave, then spend so much time catching up when you return that you end up feeling more stressed than before you left. But they’re so important to have.

I heard a great analogy once that may be old news for people who love music, but was very revelatory to me. It was that in life, like in music, it’s the rest that gives shape to the song. It’s not the notes but the silence between them. Without the pauses, however brief, a brilliant song simply becomes a long, screeching tone.

For me that silence needs to be both mental and technological. I get away from not only all my projects and work, but also from my email, networks, and social sites. We head up to Garland’s Lodge in Oak Creek Canyon outside of Sedona for about a week. We rent a gorgeous wood cabin among gardens, flowers, hiking trails, and apple orchards. What we don’t have is any network connectivity even if we wanted it. No wifi, no cellphone reception, nothing.

It’s really tough, especially for the first day. I almost feel like I’m detoxing, where even if I don’t think “I need to check my email”, like a addict I find my hands flipping my phone on out of habit. And it’s not just me. Several times I’d be sitting on our porch writing on my laptop and other people at the lodge would walk by and be shocked. “You have internet!” they’d exclaim and then scurry off to see if their iPhone or laptop could capture the same magical wi-fi-fairies I apparently had. Funny.

We even got trapped at the lodge for a full day when a rainstorm in the canyon made the road impassible for our car. Sitting on our porch, listening to the rain come down, drinking a bottle of wine… guess how much I ended up missing the internetz? Not a jot.

I wrote on several different projects, and read multiple books. I studied human anatomy, and worked on my rusty drawing skills. I picked apples, visited chicken coops, smelled flowers, and watched hummingbirds.

This coming Monday I start a new job in an industry I know little about but am incredibly excited to learn. It’s a new verse in my own personal song, and I’m glad I was able to take a good rest before it begins.

20 pounds, the boring way

Mmmmmmm by Micky Zlimen

Mmmmmmm by Micky Zlimen

The branches of my family tree hang low from supporting a lot of overweight people. I’ve worked hard to keep myself from falling into that same category, but I’ve been far from perfect. For the past decade or so I’ve been about 35 pounds above where I was in college. I’m fortunate that it’s fairly well distributed, rather than hanging out together and giving me a massive gut, but it still adds up.

Over the past months I’ve had several friends try wacky diets like Beer and Eggs, or an All Smoothie diet,Cadrian Solaris venus factor , and for a while I thought just hearing so much about their menus would put me off my appetite. No such luck. I also have friends who play with Paleo and other trendy diets to different degrees of success. The problem I’ve had with all of those methods best fat burner is that they tend to be temporary “dieting” rather than really “changing your diet ,” which often leads to gaining some or all of the weight back when it ends.

But they nonetheless spurred me to tackle my own weight in the most boring, uninteresting way possible: eat less and exercise more.

Eat less – I used the MyFitnessPal app for the iPhone and tracked every single thing I ate two two weeks. All of it. Every sugar packet in a cup of coffee, every piece of toast, and every single beer. The app gave me a calorie target and that detailed food tracking helped me hit it. I learned what 1,700 calories a day really looked like. I also learned that I couldn’t track everything I ate for long or I’d go nuts, but I did it long enough to retrain myself on what a “full meal” is. It changed my behavior.

Exercise more – I got back into running and biking, and tracking it in RunKeeper. If I don’t run, bike, or walk one of our dogs for a mile or more, then my fallback is a drill of the 7-Minute Workout. There’s just no way, no matter how busy I am, that I can’t find 10 minutes to run through that routine, so I am now doing something physical every day. The result has been not only better cardio and overall conditioning, but I’ve had far fewer back pains in the past two months (I was in a bad car accident in college and have had problems ever since).

Between the two things I started losing weight. I dropped a bunch right away, then it settled into a nice, slow, continuous trend. I weigh myself twice a week just to make sure I’m on track, and don’t kill myself for a cheat day once in a while. Of course, those cheat days don’t add up to much because I just can’t eat anywhere close to what I used to. Then just last week I hit the 20 pound mark, and I feel great! I still eat all the things I love (just less of it) and I’m down two pants sizes in the process.

Pretty dull, eh? No fancy theories and no crazy formulas. Just eating better and exercising and changing my habits, but nobody would buy a book about that.

Maybe I’ll say I got the idea from aliens… hmmm…

Recap: A most excellent 2 days in Seattle

Bruce Lee street art in Chinatown

Bruce Lee street art in Chinatown

This past weekend I spent a fantastic few days in Seattle courtesy of Visit Seattle and their 2 Days In Seattle program. It’s a pretty clever program – they pay for people from around the country (world?) to come and visit for two days, with no strings attached. We got airfare, a hotel, and some spending money, and they just asked us to use the hashtag #2DaysInSeattle if we were so inclined.

As is my wont in such things, I squeezed every drop out of it I could. We took the earliest possible flight up and the latest possible flight back. We walked, bussed, and trained around that city until our legs were sore. We also decided to skip some of the traditional attractions like the Space Needle and a Mariner’s game in favor of asking some of my friends up there was it is really worth doing. Here are some of the highlights:

Pikes Place Market – Yeah, it’s touristy, but it’s almost required. I loved it more for the sheer insane energy of the place than the crazy crap you can buy in some of the shops. Had some amazing clam chowder in bread bowls (this trip was not a good thing for my diet because i was trying out the venus factor reviews), and visited the first Starbucks store (a.k.a. Patient Zero). Oh, and we ran into the horribly nasty but colorful gum wall.

Starbucks – I guess I should mention this by itself. I’m not a Starbucks hater, but I will always opt for local coffee if I have an option. Still, it was bizarre to see how many Starbucks there are up there. I don’t think we were out of sight of a Starbucks our entire time up there. I’m not even joking. We even saw a mall that had a Starbucks on every floor. I love my java but have never been so uncaffeinated I couldn’t walk a flight of stairs to get some. It’s ridiculous.

Gum wall in Seattle

Gum wall in Seattle

EMP Museum – The Experience Music Project Museum was an unexpected surprise. Having full exhibits on science fiction, fantasy, and horror in our culture, I knew I would like it. What was unexpected was how much sheer geeky glee I got out of seeing the costumes from the Princess Bride, Kirk’s command chair from Star Trek, or a Superman costume worn by Christopher Reeve. Yeah, and I got to sit in the Iron Throne. There’s also some amazing music exhibits, but to me they were secondary.

Seattle Underground – After the Great Seattle fire of 1889 the city raised the street level. This turned the former first floors of the buildings into underground basements, which continued to operate in the gloom for years to come. A few of the passages have been cleaned up and are part of a tour. It’s a bit cheesy and quite a bit touristy, but still a fascinating glimpse into the unintended consequences of some urban planning decisions.

Distillery Tour – Recent changes to Seattle’s liquor laws have resulted in several micro-distilleries popping up. Being big supporters of local business we hit the Local Craft Tour to visit some of them. They took us on a tour of Fremont Mischief (whiskey, vodka, gin), Sound Spirits (gin), and Letterpress Distilling (vodka, limoncello), all of which I highly recommend. In between stops they served us crafted cocktails and bites from local kitchens. An absolutely fantastic time.

Makers Space coworking – We ran into two of the fabulous founders of The Makers Space on our distillery tour. They dropped “coworking” in conversation and probably regretted it as I immediately began grilling them on their place and they gave me a tour. I’m a big fan of Gangplank, CO+HOOTS, and the other coworking places in the Valley, so it was serendiptitally wonderful to bump into them and learn how it compares in Seattle.

Dragon Fest in Chinatown – The international Dragon Fest in Chinatown sounded like a fantastic event, so we headed down to try some great food, listen to some music, and enjoy a parade or two. It also gave me one of the strangest moments of the trip as I saw the entire Dragon Fest was sponsored by McDonalds. I suppose that would have been okay if not for the big URL they were using to promote it – MyInspirasian.com. It just struck me as the weirdest, most generic, almost dismissive way to connect with a diverse group of people that makes up the majority of the human race. But at least I now know how to say “Big Mac” in Mandarin.

Getting Around – Being from a city without much in the public transportation department, I geeked out using apps to navigate the Seattle transit system. Google Maps on my iPhone has a public transit option that told me exactly how far to walk, which bus to take, and when I’d expect to get to my destination. It was a lot more helpful than the the signs at the bus stops and transportation hubs. We also used the OneBusAway app quite a bit, and between that and Google Maps we got around fine.

The Downside – There was only one real problem we ran into up there and that was occasionally being harassed by pandhandlers and homeless people (and one Scientologist). Every major city grapples with challenges like this, but I haven’t seen it that prevalent in a long time. Three times we were followed or yelled at, and one time I was genuinely concerned for our safety. It’s sad to say but the downside of exploring a strange city is you don’t know the “safe” areas and it can be easy to get into trouble. Still, this didn’t ruin our trip by any stretch.

You can check out a few more pictures I took from all of these Seattle places on Flickr. If you think I missed something essential of your own “things to do in Seattle” list, let me know. I’m sure I’ll be going back!

Any suggestions for a weekend visit to Seattle?

I love the Pacific Northwest other than the rain. I’m a fan of the sunshine, so while I have a tough time seeing myself moving there (tough, not impossible), I love to visit. I get to Portland fairly often for friends and my former place of employment, but I haven’t been to Seattle in years. I’m excited to make up for lost time next weekend.

The Seattle Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has a program called 2 Days In Seattle (or #2DaysInSeattle on the Twitterz). They bring people into town to show off the place and ask them to share the experience Let’s see… a free trip to Seattle out of the the middle of Phoenix heat? Once I was sure they weren’t going to ask me to listen to a timeshare seminar first, I was sold.

We’re going to hit some of the regular sites like the Space Needle, but have no interest in sporting events like Mariners. I’m a beer dork, so Elysian Brewing and a few others are on our list. We’re going to check out the Fremont Troll and see how it stacks up against what I learned watching Trollhunter. We’ll be stopping in at Archie McPhee (how could I NOT?) and the EMP Museum to check out the Icons of Science Fiction exhibit.

If you’re getting the impression we’re looking for more offbeat things to see or do you are spot on! So if you know of any place we should check out, and especially great local food to try, let me know. We plan to take advantage of every spare moment we can while we’re up there, and will probably need a vacation when we get back!

Phoenix Ultimate Geek Smackdown bringing the geek-heat to Phoenix Comicon!

Phoenix Ultimate Geek SmackdownI love trying out new and ridiculous ideas. It’s one of my many weaknesses. So three years ago when local movie programming goddess Andrea Beesley (aka The Midnite Move Mamacita!) asked if I wanted to run a track at Phoenix Comicon together, how could I say no?

The original idea was to try and find a very versatile geek. Someone who just wasn’t a comic book savant, but could also argue horror, gaming, anime, or anything else that came up. Not only argue it, but argue (or BS) either side! We didn’t want someone who just wore one pair of fandom underoos, but someone who had the entire set.

Thus was born the Phoenix Ultimate Geek Smackdown! Sixteen geeks enter the brackets and are eliminated in a series of debates on the silliest arguments we can come up with. Previous questions included:

  • Who is the better billionaire, Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark?
  • Which is the better time machine, the DeLorean or the TARDIS?
  • Who has bigger daddy issues, Batman or Luke Skywalker?

You get the idea. Some of these questions nearly started fistfights.

PUGS 2012 Recap

Richard Mansfield - Phoenix's Ultimate Geek 2012Last year the Phoenix Ultimate Geek Smackdown was rather spectacular, and Richard Mansfield ahniliated the competition to take home both the Box of Goodies and the Trophy of Awesome.

We moved to a much bigger room, had local geekologist Jonathan Simon from Lightning Octopus join the team, and had a packed house for the Finals. Phoenix Comicon even asked us to put together some lightning PUGS sessions in the grand ballroom between some of the big sessions (like that Shatner fellow, and the cast of Eureka), which was fun but ate up a giant chunk of Saturday.

And lest you think calling it a Trophy of Awesome is an exaggeration, it featured an action figure of Frodo riding a tiger, a Stormtrooper bobblehead atop an AT-AT, Rorschach, Pinhead, and yellow roses all around. Truly a masterpiece of geekery if every such a thing existed.

Geek Smackdown returns to Phoenix Comicon 2013

We’re back again this year as a Signature Event for Phoenix Comicon, and we’re on of the Phoenix New Times’ 10 Must-See Events At Phoenix Comicon this year! We also have it on good authority that Richard will return this year to defend his title, and if you’ve never seen this guy launch into full Geektastic BS mode before, you’re in for a treat!

Qualifiers: Thursday, May 23rd, 8:00pm in Convention Center room 121 (Facebook event)

Finals: Friday, May 23rd, 7:30pm in Convention Center room 121 (Facebook event)

You can read more about the Phoenix Ultimate Geek Smackdown on the PCC site, or follow PUGS on Facebook.

PUGS is a blast to watch (audience participation is encouraged!) and we have some doozy questions lined up. If you’re going to Phoenix Comicon stop in and see who will be crowned the new Phoenix Ultimate Geek!

And if you’re in Phoenix and not going to Comicon, I question your geek credentials anyway. Begone!

Star Trek’s descent into marketing spam darkness

Star Trek: Into Darkness

Spam Trek: Into Darkness

I was a Star Trek fan when Shatner was the only Captain the Enterprise had ever known, so it’s sad for me to say I’m so disgusted with Star Trek right now I’ve lost all interest in seeing the new movie.

The first problem was the lack of a new story. I liked the 2009 reboot overall and took some of the changes to “Star Trek history” (aka canon) as part of what J.J. Abrams needed to do to tell his own stories. So when I learned that Into Darkness was still borrowing from the original series and the original movies I was a little disappointed, but not fatally.

The second problem was this esurance ad. There have been product tie ins before, but this one somehow felt like all pretense of connection to the spirit of the original show had been abandoned. The original Star Trek was radical for promoting racial equality and peace, and the new movies were radical for their low, low insurance rates? A little more disappointed, but still I hadn’t given up.

What killed it for me is their spam marketing campaign. Star Trek: Into Darkness launched a promotion push called Are You The 1701, with the relevant hashtag #IAmThe1701. I signed up for the promotion because I thought it might be interesting, and I’m always curious to see how different companies run promotional campaigns.

It started out poorly with emails to win passess to screenings I couldn’t attend (I don’t live in Los Angeles), then got worse as the emails began coming in daily. After about a week I’d had enough and tried to Unsubscribe.

Nope. The Unsubscribe link at the bottom of the emails doesn’t work. It says I’m not on their list so they can’t remove me, yet the emails keep coming. Then I tried replying to the email directly, but it bounced back from an unmonitoried address. Since Paramount continues to send me email I don’t want, and have tried to stop, they are technically spamming me.

I was getting mad but I thought maybe someone else involved might be able to help. I tweeted @StarTrek and @StarTrekMovie asking for assistance. Nothing. They don’t care, and/or don’t appear to do any listening. Paramount’s only interest is pushing as many people to their theaters and car insurance tie ins as possible.

Fans? They can boldly get lost.

Digital marketing campaigns are designed to get people excited about a product or event, but if you do them poorly they can have just the opposite effect. If my reaction seems overkill, remember that for the past nearly two weeks the bulk of Star Trek mentions I’ve seen were a source of increasing frustration. Even something you like can get annoying in a big hurry if the business contacts you excessively with offers you can’t use, doesn’t give you any way to make them stop, and ignores you if you ask for help.

Paramount, I am sure that Star Trek: Into Darkness will makes gobs of money for you at the box office without my support, even with your rehashed story ideas, discount insurance, and spammy, incompetent promotion. But as a life-long fan that you’ve managed to annoy so thoroughly that for the first time my life I’m avoiding something with the name “Star Trek”, let me just say: Screw you.

Why I still love Ignite Phoenix

Image (cc) Sheila Dee on Flickr

Image (cc) Sheila Dee on Flickr

When Ignite Phoenix started several years ago the goal was to create a venue for people to share ideas and topics they loved. There are now a lot more events and groups in the Valley that encourage people to share in different ways, and Ignite Phoenix has evolved. There are still two aspects of it, though, that are incredibly important to me, and why I keep investing time in this crazy thing.

Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

We rarely share the things we truly love with each other. We talk about work, politics, and the weather, but what about the things we obsess over until the wee hours of the morning when we know we should be in bed? People think nobody wants to hear their weird passion, and that’s just plain wrong.

When someone gets past the things they like, and past the things they love, and into the things that really consume them, we all want to hear it. We connect with that energy. When people share their passions they start waving their hands around, they talk faster, and they lean in. And we see that and lean in ourselves to listen. There are many stages for professionals and luminaries to share their ideas from the top down – Ignite is a stage where we can share them with each other.

Encouraging Serendipity

Ignite Phoenix brings people together in unplanned ways. We don’t have enough happy chaos in our lives. We go to the same places, same jobs, same social events, with the same people. Our lives have patterns. The range of topics at Ignite means someone may come because they are curious about storm chasing, but leave blown away by 3D printing. Or vice versa. You will meet people you have never heard of, doing things you never knew existed. Ignite Phoenix doesn’t have an agenda other than to bring people together in unusual ways.

When I hear people have started a new hobby, changed careers, launched a business, or made new friends because of something that happened at Ignite Phoenix, it’s because that little bit of chaos and serendipity entered their lives.

Pure Selfishness

I love ideas and hearing people talk about what drives them. I love it when experienced speakers get nervous because for once they’re talking about something really important to them. I love it when people who are scared stiff still walk out on that stage because they want to tell people their message. I love it when people tell me months (even years) later that they did something they never would have otherwise done if not for their Ignite talk.

I love it when I find myself looking at my friends, myself, and community around me in a new way because of something I learned from presenters and their topics. I love it all.

If you’ve never been to Ignite Phoenix, you should come. If you have an idea you want to submit, you should do that.

But whatever else, figure out what your own passion is and tell people about it.