Category Archives: Personal

The Three Things #25

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and I share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

Discipline Code – Rules & Policies – New York City Department of Education

Michael on Bureaucracy: I didn’t read much this week. Actually, that’s not true. Despite trying to distract myself with a friend’s new book, I read the same thing over and over and over again. This week, I found myself having to get familiar with the discipline code in New York City, especially as it applies to kids in grades K–5. Something needs to change! While details vary on how situations are handled from grade-to-grade, there are only a few instances that are exclusive to grades four and five:

  • Plagiarizing
  • Gang-related Behavior
  • Sexually-related comments and conduct

It’s assumed children in grades K–3 have a limited understanding of these concepts, so they are treated differently. In fact, the phrasing used to “protect” K–3 students is “engaging in inappropriate or unwanted physical contact or touching someone in a private part of body.” Of the five infraction levels (level one being the lowest and level five the highest), this is only a level two infraction, regardless of the severity. This puts contact, that would otherwise be considered sexual at any other age, on par with “leaving class or school premises without permission […]” or “violating the Department’s Internet Use Policy.”

The bureaucracy put in place to protect some kids and get others the help they need nearly prevent the best possible decisions from getting made. If you read one thing this week, read this…because it needs to change.

The Westboro Baptist Church is About to Get the Shock of its Life

Howie on Google: So much is made about some of the privacy blunders by Google, but they do some good, too. Google Earth allowed us to see refugee camps in the Darfur bringing a closeness from far away. Now Google Earth plus Maps plus Street allows someone to fight back against the hate group ( my opinion) Westboro Baptist Church in literally a very colorful way.

The Art of Fiction

Gini on the Art of Writing: Late last year, my dear friend Abbie Fink told me I had to read Stephen King’s latest novel, 11/22/63. Look, I’m a book snob. My creative writer professor and college advisor drilled it into our heads that King is not a great writer. In fact, critics dismissed him for nearly 30 years until he finally won a National Book Foundation award in 2003. So I’d never read him and was reticent to pick up this book. But I did, because I trust Abbie’s opinion greatly, and I was more than pleasantly surprised. I LOVED the book (so much so, in fact, I’m reading The Stand right now).

That’s why I was happy to see one of my favorite magazines, The Paris Review, do an in-depth interview with King, which is 12 years in the making. They cover everything from Carrie and Cujo to how he got his start as a six-year-old and why he began to write about writing. It’s long, but very well worth the read.

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33 Families For 33 Years

Today is my birthday. While I’m not usually one to address the day and certainly not one to write about it, I have a big favor to ask.

Last year, I had the pleasure of hearing Scott Harrison, the founder of Charity: Water, speak to a room of 1,000 people at World Domination Summit. I’ve heard a lot about the amazing work that they do, but knew little of Scott. His story is nearly as inspiring as that of the charity itself (more on this in a second). At the end of his inspiring and candid talk, he asked us all to donate our birthday to their mission to bring clean water to those in need. It’s unsurprising that all 1,000 hands raised into the air. Long story short, this year I’m donating mine.

The long story’s pretty interesting as well. Especially if you aren’t familiar with Scott and Charity:Water. In his late 20s, Scott was essentially living a life of depravity. As he puts it:

I’d made my living for years in the Big Apple promoting top nightclubs and fashion events, for the most part living selfishly and arrogantly. Desperately unhappy, I needed to change. Faced with spiritual bankruptcy, I […] asked the question: What would the opposite of my life look like?

The search for that answer led him to Africa and the opposite of depravity ended up being a charity that has now brought clean water to over 3 million people.

While I am (hopefully) not staring down the barrel of a life of depravity, its never a bad idea to try to do something nice for others. It’s in this spirt that I’m asking those I care about to consider taking a moment to give back. It seems a far better way to celebrate a birthday I’d likely end up either ignoring or squandering. So while aiming far lower than Scott, I’d like to try to start out my 33rd year by helping 33 families get access to clean water by raising $3,300.

It’s a lofty goal, but a worthwhile cause. As all of the funds needed to run Charity: Water are provided by their corporate sponsors, 100% of your donation will go to fund clean water projects. If you are willing, it would mean the world to me if you would donate.

The Inefficiency of the Vote

When you look at the very way we vote, there’s little question why we struggle to get anything done. The actual process itself is so inefficient that there’s little hope that the outcome has any chance of making a difference.

I’d imagine today’s voting experience was a familiar one to many:

Wait in a line, only to be told 15 minutes later that your district was going right in.

Chose between one of two unmarked lines for your district. Sure, you can guess that it’s split by the alphabet (which it was), but most just chose the shorter line.

Wait on another line for 30 minutes.

Watch a fight nearly break out when someone was on the wrong, shorter, unclear, line.

Watch the people behind the desk get frustrated by the people who are fighting.

Watch as no one gets or makes the “A to L” and “M to Z” signs that would resolve the issue.

Get a ballot.

Wait on another line for 15 minutes to go inside a voting booth.

Read instructions ala Ikea.

Vote.

Wait on another line for 15 minutes to scan your ballot.

Get confirmation that it scanned with no confirmation that it was correct.

Wonder all day, month, year, term if your vote actually counted.

Leave feeling worse about our prospects than when you came in.

Half-heartedly remind others to vote. Mostly to affirm that you did.

It’s also not all that difficult to imagine what comes next:

Dread the rest of the day.

Get the results.

Be happy or sad.

Wonder if the outcome will actually make a difference.

Wait.

Watch the people we elect fight like the people in the unclear lines.

Watch the people who voted get frustrated by the elected officials who are fighting.

Watch as no one, myself included, gets or makes the “A to L” and “M to Z” signs that would resolve the issues.

Wait four years to find that little, even the very way we vote, has changed.

Do it all over again.

Update: Some nice perspective from J.D. Bentley on the positive aspects of paper ballot voting.

$100

It’s Friday afternoon, 1 pm. I’m away on vacation with my family in North Carolina. At the same time, two guys, kids, actually, are tearing through our apartment. Some 14-year-old and his 17-year-old accomplice are rifling through our home and are taking our things. They take the Xbox I was going to probably never use again; they take a camera I had home from work with footage from a recent ad shoot; they take the hard drives that store our family photos and backups; they take much of the jewelry I’ve given my wife over the years, the watch my father gave me for my 30th birthday, and worst of all, the engagement ring that my wife randomly took off for the first time in seven years.

Then they get greedy. Our stuff isn’t enough, so they break into our landlords’ apartment above. The alarm system in their apartment scares them out before they could leave our home empty. They get a lot, but they didn’t get everything. They run, but are so brazen that one of them stops to take a piss on a car in front of our house, as one does in a nice neighborhood in Brooklyn… And like that, they’re gone.

The cops show up, neighbors start talking, saying how they thought the two young kids coming in and out of our apartment seemed odd, but that they decided not to do anything about it (thanks, neighbors…). Fortunately, a few who didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late point out a video camera that might have caught them on tape to the police. It did and now the police have an idea of who they are looking for. But what are the chances that they will ever find them?

Turns out the chance was pretty good, especially when you consider that the kids were dumb enough to show up on the same block the very next day to find another home to rob. By the time I was able to get back to our house to start getting it in order before my wife and kids would return from vacation, the 78th Precinct had found the likely suspects, suspects who became even more likely when one of the bags they had in their backpack and were preparing to use for the next break-in, was my wife’s. Two pieces of her jewelry were on them (sadly neither was her engagement ring). But these two new breaks, the bag and the jewelry, gave the cops a lot to work with and the officers worked diligently to get a confession and see if there was any possibility of receiving any of the stolen goods.

While I was relieved that they found the guys, I began to resign myself to the 0.00% chance that anything beyond those two pieces would ever be recovered. So as the police continued to do what they do, I tried to learn something new: a crash course in zen and minimalism. I tried to process that I would lose valuable family moments (my off-site backups proved helpful, but not quite as current as they should have been) and that my wife would never see the engagement ring I gave her on Christmas Eve, 2004 ever again (of all the weeks to have a random skin irritation…). I tried not to give in to the anger, the sadness, the confusion, the fear, the numbness. I tried to be okay with something that wasn’t okay. I tried to tell myself that it’s just stuff; I tried to cling to the cliche.

The trying helped and I’ve been doing better than I ever would have thought possible, but I love the pictures of my kids I’ll never see again (I will likely be kicking myself for a while for not figuring out a cloud backup solution for my insanely large photo library, regardless of Time Warner Cable’s brutally slow upload speeds in Park Slope). I love some of the jewelry I found or had made for my wife over the years; I love the ring that I’ll never see on her again. Sure it is all just stuff, but it was really nice stuff. And it was our stuff…

And as I worked through the insanity that was my newfound paranoid worldview, I received a picture via text. There were no words, just the image… a shot of my wife’s ring in the hand of one of the amazing officers of the 78th Precinct in Park Slope. They worked their asses off and not only got what they needed for their case, but they tracked down her ring as well as a few other pieces of my wife’s jewelry at a nearby pawn shop. A pawn shop that, I later learned, purchased the engagement ring, along with her more substantial pieces of jewelry for a pittance. Our home violated, our memories taken, and two young kids will likely be going to jail for some time and for what? A measly $100, which was all they got in exchange for the most valuable things they took.

I can’t help but feel guilty and I’m sad for these kids. These crappy days in my life are likely better than their best days. I can’t imagine the desperation that drives someone to risk so much for so little, but I also can’t forgive the violation. I can’t stop thinking that we got off easy and just received a wakeup call as to how unknowingly careless we’ve been with things that are precious to our family. I can’t quite explain the gift we received from those officers. I can’t believe I was able to put my wife’s ring back on her finger.

I’m not sure I have a bigger point, I probably just needed to get this out. I can tell you that regardless of how paranoid you are about backing things up at home, be equally paranoid about backing things up offsite. I can tell you that you should and I will have a lockbox that is bolted to something immovable by the end of the week and will be putting anything that is precious inside of it (possibly even children…). I can tell you that I am so lucky that this happened while we were away. I can tell you that, cliche as it is, it’s all stuff and everyone is okay and that is the only thing that really matters. I can also tell you that there are several incredible and dedicated officers at the 78th Precinct who took something horrible and managed to turn it into something terrible, and I will eternally thank them for that. Stay safe, be smart, take precautions. Trust me, you don’t want to learn the hard way that some things cannot be recovered, even if it is just stuff.

A Better Mess Is Dating The Fusion Ads Network

After being inspired by a recent post from Stephen Hackett on why he runs ads, I decided to reach out to the team at Fusion Ads to see if this site might be a fit. Fusion Ads hosts the advertisements on Stephen’s 512 Pixels site, The 70Decibels site and many of my favorite websites, so I was thrilled when they decided to give this lovable site a shot.

We’re going to be dating for the next month date to see how we both feel. You can check out the ad in the top right corner of the page1 and feel free to let me know what you think. I’ve only just added the ad, but I think it’s a great looking and unobtrusive way to keep the lights on around here while turning you on to some exciting products and services.

As Myke Hurley recently put it, Fusion’s ads are “simple, unobtrusive and tasteful” and I think they work well on the page. If and when you like what you see, it would be great if you gave them a click.

Call me crazy, but I think we look good together.

This is my first foray into advertising on this site, so I’d love to know what you think. Do we make a cute couple?

Thanks to Fusion Ads for giving me a shot and to Stephen for pointing me in the right direction. I’ll be sure to follow up in a month to let you all know how things go.

Would You Be Worse To Get Better

Over the past week I’ve been watching my podcast producer, Myke Hurley work through a learning curve. In an attempt to make what sounded (at least to me) like a perfectly good sounding podcasting network great, he has had to allow it to sound worse.

Good wasn’t going to be enough, good isn’t what he wants to put out there, but great comes with a learning curve. And in pursuit of creating the greatest podcasting network possible, he has been willing to take a short-term hit in sound quality for a long-term gain.

The process can be brutal for those who strive for greatness. Over the past week, I’ve heard him struggle as he integrates higher quality equipment into his workflow. I’ve felt his frustration as the quality has dipped slightly and as he experiments with new and unfamiliar tools and techniques. Myke has high standards for the network (our show aside) and it’s pretty obvious that he doesn’t like it one bit when he feels he isn’t meeting them.

This dip in quality may confuse or even piss off a listener or two, but I’ve never been more proud to be a small part of what Myke is building. There are few who are willing to put in this kind of work for the sake of improving and fewer who would be brave enough to do it in public as Myke has.

Bravery aside, I also think he’s gone about it in a way that we can all learn from…

Be Open About It

Even before the equipment ever arrived, loyal listeners knew it was coming. Myke continually made it clear what he was working towards, so even though we may not be hearing what we expect, we know what to look forward to. He also went beyond the build up and has been openly discussing the shift and any shortcomings as he improves. It not only makes people tolerant, it gets them to pull for you.

Move Quickly

This will not be a long, drawn out and painful process. It’s clear that Myke is killing himself to get through the learning curve as quick as he possibly can. It may not sound the way he wants today, but I have high hopes for how soon things will sound better than ever before.

Don’t Go Back

Having to take a step back from the quality you expect from yourself is painful. Especially when there happens to be a very easy and very elegant solution to ease Myke’s pain… Go back to the way things were and let good be good enough. Myke isn’t going back and there is no better sign to indicate that he will work his way through the learning curve.

Make It Worth It

Myke knows exactly why he picked these tools, he knows exactly how he wants his shows to sound. Once he figures out exactly what each dial does and how to make them meet his vision, there is no doubt that the network will sound and be better than ever before.

Here’s to Myke and those like him. We need more people in this world who are willing to be worse in order to get better.

And if you want to support one of them, here’s where you can do it.

Why C.J. Chilvers Is Wrong

From C.J. Chilvers:

Constraints breed creativity.

Before I tear C.J.’s point a new one, I want to make a few things clear: I have nothing but respect for C.J. and admire the crap out of his worldview (regardless of how much I enjoy debating with him). He’s also far from the first person to express this idea, he’s just a champion of it. While the title is link-baity as hell, it’s only because I think there is a really important, but really subtle distinction that warrants discussion. Well, that and the fact that I really want you to listen to today’s episode of the podcast where we mercilessly duke out this topic and more. It’s easily one of my favorite episodes.

Requisite disclaimers aside, let’s get into the meat of why he is wrong and I am right. It’s not constraints that continue to breed creativity, but our choices. As you’ll hear in today’s episode, C.J. uses George Lucas and Van Halen as his proof of concept. When they lacked resources, they were creative. When faced with unlimited resources, not so much.

While these are clear examples of excess leading to excrement, their problem was neither one of abundance or restriction. Their failures are not a lack of constraints, but are the byproduct of bad choices.

Forced restrictions aren’t going to make things better or interesting (hopefully Paul Miller’s idiotic internet sabbatical will prove this once and for all). More often than not, they are just some gimmick to make less interesting work seem more important (you know, like blogging five days a week for a year or “calling C.J. out” in this post for that matter…).

Our choices, however, are important. And to be clear, this isn’t a question of having choices, it’s a matter of making better ones. While far more rare than Lucas and Van Halen, there are companies and creators like Apple and Steve Jobs that have unlimited resources, yet manage to make intentional choices that lead to better results. This results in compromises and it does create constraints, but they all stem from the choices, not external (or even self-imposed) circumstances. Apple doesn’t deny themselves the right to use a certain technology, they choose the right ones to make the best possible products.

At the core, C.J. is really right. In fact, he’s spot on. We need less crap and we need less complexity. We need more creativity and more intent in our work. He’s just wrong about where it will come from. It won’t stem from constraints or forced restrictions. You can’t ignore abundance and overload. You just need to stare them in the face and then make better choices.

For more, be sure to give today’s podcast episode, with special guest C.J. Chilvers a listen. We cover a lot, but overall it is an interesting examination of the differences between creative and analytical minds.