Thursday, October 1, 2015

Bumper sticker philosophy

This is a great example of bumper sticker philosophy. It is easy to say, "Yep, ain't that the truth." And, me as a middle class white male, I would say it mostly applies to me. The doors of opportunity were easy for me to open. I had a lot of help and support as a youth which gave me the skills, confidence and background to 'succeed'. There is no reason for me not to do for myself.
Now go to "the other side of the tracks" where all "those people" are getting welfare. Just picture one child. Picture him going to school and coming home to an empty house because there is only a mom and she is somewhere else. Who knows where. Who helps him with his homework? Who says, "I believe in you and doing this work will open doors for you."? Who watches him make mistakes and helps him learn from them? No one. He comes home and watches TV, plays video games or hangs out with kids in the same situation. These kids aren't going to get together and help each other with homework. He becomes an adult with no opportunities, no hope and no sense of duty to the greater good. He has a few kids with different women and takes no role in their life and the cycle goes on.
Personal responsibility is a learned behavior. Self preservation is an instinctive behavior but is not the same as responsibility. We have a system that is broken and throwing these people to the wolves to fend for themselves is insane. These are the communities we should be throwing money into and breaking the cycle. 
Imagine a school system with a 10 student to 1 teacher ratio. Imagine a teacher that is not worried about his/her own bills because they are paid so well they can do what they love, teach. They help teach the personal responsibility, they help create the hope. Imaging a police force that says I am here for you. I'm not here to punish you at every misstep but to serve and protect you." Imagine churches opening doors right in that community and saying, "We are all in this together. Let us help you build a strong, caring community. Child, we know your mom is not home but we have an outstanding after-school program. Your education is important. We believe in you. We will love and protect you."

Imagine that child growing up. He will have learned personal responsibility and when he has a kid he will more likely be involved than not. His child will have more opportunities than his father and the cycle continues but in a better direction. This seems like a better way of ending welfare than saying, "Pick yourself up by your bootstraps" to someone who never was taught how.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Siddhartha and the Gorilla

I was talking to two of my teenage son's the other day and they asked me what I actually believe. My answer, "Not much."  I went on to try to explain why that's a good thing but I felt my answer fell short.  The point I tried to make wasn't coming across.  There are plenty of people who don't have beliefs because they haven't bothered thinking about them.  That's not my case but the words needed to explain that to my sons were failing me that day. 

Thankfully, help was on the way.  I read  Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha many years ago and recently got an audio copy to listen to on my commute to work. Brilliant book. I listened to the whole thing twice and the last CD four times.

More on Siddhartha in a little bit.  First, I would like you to watch the short video and try to do what it says.  It's pretty simple.  You just have to count how many times the team in white passes the ball. See if you can get it right.

Did you get the right number?  And are you one of the fifty percent the missed the gorilla?

Now back to Siddhartha.  The following is an expert from it towards the end of the book where Siddhartha is talking to a long lost friend, Govinda.
"It's true, I'm old," spoke Govinda, "but I haven't stopped searching. Never I'll stop searching, this seems to be my destiny. You too, so it seems to me, have been searching. Would you like to tell me something, oh honourable one?"

Quoth Siddhartha: "What should I possibly have to tell you, oh venerable one? Perhaps that you're searching far too much? That in all that searching, you don't find the time for finding?" 

"How come?" asked Govinda.

 "When someone is searching," said Siddhartha, "then it might easily happen that the only thing his eyes still see is that what he searches for, that he is unable to find anything, to let anything enter his mind, because he always thinks of nothing but the object of his search, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed by the goal. Searching means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal. You, oh venerable one, are perhaps indeed a searcher, because, striving for your goal, there are many things you don't see, which are directly in front of your eyes."

I think Hermann Hesse summed up the gorilla experiment perfectly.  

If a person is looking for something they can miss the beauty right in front of them.  If someone has a static and ridged belief system the truth can be held in the book they are reading or the person they are talking to but they will miss it if ideas and concepts don't fit what they are seeking.  

Our beliefs are the container in which our truth is held.  The shape of our beliefs and the size of our beliefs limits or filters truth. We cannot escape that but be can change the shape and size of the container to accommodate a greater Truth.

Recently I heard an old saying twice within a few days.  I hadn't heard it in a long time but as I was getting ready to write this blog the saying conveniently made itself available for me.   "If you're a hammer every problem is a nail."  The meaning is clear.  It's saying you need to open yourself up to look at problems in more than one way.  We're lucky to have a tool box full of extraordinary tools to solve problems and to deepen our understand of the mysteries of life.  These tools have many names, Christianity,  Hinduism, Buddhism,  Republican, Democrat, Atheist, spirituality, skeptic, Socialist, Communist,  naturalist, environmentalist, and on and on.   None of these tools can answer all questions and solve all problems alone.  If a person picks one as their hammer everything is a nail.  If someone seeks the truth solely through one belief system they miss the Truth.  Finding Truth can only be done with a full toolbox.

We have seekers and we have explorers.  Explores set out to find what there is to find but seekers have their eyes set on a target and everything else is irrelevant or an obstacle.  So now I can tell my sons I am an explorer and I don't want my beliefs to stop me from finding. 

Monday, July 22, 2013


I stood at the checkout line behind a rough looking man in Dollar General one day. His long scraggly hair didn’t have as much white as his unshaven face showed; his well-worn wife-beater shirt displayed his old faded tattoos and his weathered face had an unapproachable sternness. I watched as he placed a pink coloring book of unicorns and a box of crayons on the conveyor belt of the checkout counter. My mouth moved before my mind did. “Those don’t quite fit your image,” I said.

He looked back at me a little shocked but then softened as he said, “I was over at the laundromat and there’s a little girl running around with her mom either ignoring her or yelling at her. Thought she might like something to do.”

I smiled back as it became clear how grossly I had misjudged him. The unapproachable, stern face transformed into one of kindness and gentleness as my mind recategorized him.

I still have to practice daily what I learned that day. I judged him immediately on his appearance as not being a worthy person but after one short interaction I realize he was probably more worthy than me. Now, the trick for me is to learn to judge everyone as worthy until after I’ve had that short interaction and then, when I find them unworthy, cut them some slack because I sure know I don’t live up to everyone’s expectations and sure glad I have people care about me anyways.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Do we need to know we are killing the Earth before we act?

As a child, I remember watching the Crying Indian commercial and feeling his pain.  At a very basic level, it made sense to me that I/we need to respect nature. Who would stand beside that Indian looking at the trash on the shore and argue it is a good thing or it really didn't matter?  Who could argue that smog choking  the cities was a benefit?

The first Earth Day, April 22nd, 1970 lead to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the passage of the The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, and dealt with some immediate tangible threats.  Thanks to the call to action, people responded and the smog problem was reduced and Lake Erie started a healing process. 

For many people in the seventies, eighties and nineties, 'reduce, reuse, recycle' just seemed a rational thing to do.   It wasn't something needed to prevent global demise.  It just made sense at a basic level.  To others, it didn't seem overly important in their daily lives.  We had activism and apathy.

Now enters the global warming scare with a 'do or die' message and almost no tangible evidence to the common person.  Unlike a dark dome of smog over a city or the massive algae blooms killing Lake Erie, we don't see direct evidence of climate change.  There have always been summers that were unusually hot and winters in the north without much snow.  There have always been strong hurricanes, droughts and floods.  The Earth has gone through ice ages, and tropical rain forests have become deserts.  All of this has happened in the past with no humans around to cause them.  So, we can rationally challenge what we are being told is the evidence for man-made climate change.

On top of the plausible doubt, we have the massive changes needed to curb greenhouse gasses.  Energy will most likely cost more because of regulations on power plants, mining and drilling.  Our massive, fun to drive SUV's will have to be replaced with smaller, more fuel efficient cars.  Mass transit will become more prevalent, limiting us compared to our current freedom of mobility.   If we make a major shift in technology to solar or wind, many people will lose their jobs as the oil industry is declines.  The list of sacrifices is long.

Understandably, there is a lot of resistant to change.  Change is painful.   Now instead of activism and apathy we have extreme polarization:  the tree huggers vs. the deniers.  With polarization comes a war.  With a war comes cognitive dissonance.  With cognitive dissonance comes the end of rationality and the end of collaboration.

But is polarization the only path?  Why do we need to prove man-made climate change is real before we take action to make our world a cleaner better place?  It seems irrelevant.

Is there anything inherently bad about having cars that pollute less or use less natural resources to manufacture?  Is there anything inherently bad about appliances that suck up less electricity to do the same work?  Is there anything inherently bad about moving to sustainable/renewable energy sources.  If we built a cleaner, more efficient world and we're wrong about climate change, would we have done it for nothing? 

Imagine a house with no utility bill.  Imagine driving weeks without filling up your car.  Imagine cities without ozone warnings.  Imagine cheaper goods because shippers don't have huge fuel cost.

If we take climate change seriously and it turns out we were duped by an elaborate hoax, are we worse off?

The path towards sustainability by the average person is not that difficult.  I know I can't afford to put a large solar array on my house or a rain water harvesting system.  I have no choice but to commute to work everyday.  But as a consumer I can make some critical choices.  Collectively consumers  have vast amounts of power to change the direction of industry.  If one of the top questions asked at every auto dealership is, "What is the fuel economy?" and consumers walk away because they don't like the answer, industry will change.  If consumers only buy energy star appliances even if it cost a little extra,  industry will change.  If consumers buy products with less packaging, industry will change.

We don't need to believe the world is ending or wait until there is a tangible, immediate threat to start changing the world.  We don't need to become activist to make a difference. We can do that everyday with simple choices.

Oh, and shut off your lights when you're not using them.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Why aren't they rich?

I read about many alternative energy companies and I have bought stock in a number of them.  Besides realizing the great need for more intelligence towards our energy choices they seem to have something else in common; they are going broke.  Solyndra made big news with its bankruptcy.  Politically it is a touchy topic and sometimes it appears supporting alternative energy is a negative in a political campaign.

It is to be expected that the road to energy independence and to clean energy will be paved with failures and mistakes.  That is the path forward with any technology.  Oil is a myopic solution but we tend to a a myopic society. 

Here are a couple companies I have followed over the years. 

Beacon Power  

Power plants have a sweet spot where they run the most efficient but that spot is only ever passed through as they power up during the day for peek energy usage and then power down for lower night time loads.  It is intuitive to conclude that the longer the plan can run at peak efficiency the cheaper it is to run the plant and it follows we get cheaper electricity.  It also pollutes less but that point seems to carry less weight for some reason.

The logical solution is to run at peak efficiency one hundred percent of the time by storing excess power during low usage times and then using that power to supplement power needs during peak hours.  Storage is the issue.  Houses which are not connected to the electrical grid use batteries.  Batteries have a draw back due to life span, dangerous chemicals, rare Earth minerals, etc. On a large scale such as a power supply for a city, batteries are impractical.

Beacon Power's solution is exciting.  They are using carbon fiber flywheels.  Modern material science and other technologies are used to build flywheels to turn chemical energy in to kinetic energy.  These carbon fiber flywheels spin up to 16,000 rpm in a vacuum containment chamber.  This is a very efficient way to store energy and reduce CO2 in the process.

Energy Conversion Devices

Battery technology is one of the things holding back many alternative energy solutions.  The auto industry has not produced electric cars or hybrid cars until recently because battery technology was not to the point to make it feasible.  Energy Conversion Devices (ECD) was one of the companies pushing the technology forward, getting it to the point it is today to allow us to have hybrids on the road.  They are the company who produced the batteries for GM's EV1.   But that wasn't enough to support a business model and the company is no more.

They also produced a very interesting product, solar shingles.  Most people don't like the look of solar panels on roofs so ECD produce solar shingle which were installed pretty much like conventional shingles, stopped rain like conventional shingles, looked much like conventional shingles but they also produced electricity while acting like shingles. 

These are just a couple companies I have been interested in over the years with marvelous technology yet sadly watched them sink into nothingness.  At the same time I have seen oil companies reporting record profits.  The Solyndra story is fuel for the anti-alternative energy argument and is being used to slow the funding of other such companies.  This is extremely sad because we need companies such as these who are willing to risk failure to drive the technology forward to make it a viable and sustainable solution.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Black Friday

You can get The Infinite Jeff for free at Smashwords today and tomorrow (11/22/2012 - 11/23/2012) with the coupon code: YJ84T.  If you like the book then share what you liked in a review on Smashwords or the Facebook page.  Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy the story.

Friday, October 26, 2012

How we can change gas prices

How we can change gas prices

Personally, I don't care how much gas costs per gallon.  In fact, I would like to see gas prices increase even more.  I would even support a hefty tax on gas to pay for the roads and other infrastructure.  To me, that idea is much better than toll ways.

The reason I like high gas prices is because that is when I start to see a change in people's behaviors.  For example, the last time gas prices increased substantially my neighbor with the massive quad-cab, four wheel drive, ten mile per gallon, Ford pick-up which he uses to go to the doughnut shop or church, bought a small Volkswagen pickup to serve the same purpose. But once gas prices dropped, the gas sucking Ford came back out.

A few weeks ago I had a discussion with a woman in which she complained about gas prices.  Afterwards she drove away in her shiny new Cadillac Escalade (14 mpg city, 18 mpg highway). 

If we want low gas prices the best way to do that is reduce demand.  One way to reduce demand is to demand high gas mileage vehicles.  And, if prices don't drop but we are driving highly efficient vehicles we are still spending less for gas plus reducing dependence on foreign oil.

When we go to a car dealership and drive off the lot with a 14MPG vehicle we have told the auto industry gas mileage does not matter.

But, when those inefficient vehicles sit on the lot unsold, we have told the auto industry gas mileage does matter and they will act accordingly.

The government has Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards which is great and needed.  But the consumer can do more by making gas mileage one of the main criteria for buying a car.

So, how can we change gas prices?  We can reduce demand.  Don't complain about gas prices, complain about gas mileage.