Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Surreality of the Real

We spotted the ocean at the head of the trail,
Where are we goin’, so far away?
Someone told me that this is the place,
Where everything’s better, where everything’s safe.”

—Toad the Wet Sprocket, “Walk on the Ocean”

We all find ourselves doing it: Our mind sets a stage for a place and we paint a mental picture about what we think a place that we have not yet been is going to look, feel, and smell like. The color of the ground, the heat emanating from the sun, the taste of the wind, and the feel of the culture all fill in a “paint by the numbers” portrait in your head. What is it like, though, when you finally see that which you’ve been imagining for all those years?

I did much of my substantive growing up on a farm just a mile south of the North Dakota-South Dakota border around the small communities of southwest North Dakota. There, the hills tend to gently roll with the occasional butte or larger hill; vegetation greens in the warmer months and browns in the colder ones. With the exception of a handful of state highway traversing through the county seats, smaller paved “farm to market” roads and less significant graveled stretches weave across the region along section lines and there can generally be the classic upper-Midwest town (a bar, a church, and a gas station) every 13 miles along the routes that mirror the railroads. Much like the character of Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars movie knew that there was something else out in the galaxy for him, I left the farmstead to spread my wings and see the world.

Though the last decade has taken me halfway around the world and back—I have seen the Atlantic Ocean from Amsterdam, and the Pacific Ocean from Washington State—I have never been to California or the southwestern United States. So, recently, I decided to take that step. Taking the better part of a week vacation from work, a trail was made towards the border with Mexico where I waved back at the “waving cacti,” saw the Border Patrol, well, patrolling, the beaches of San Diego, and the lights of Las Vegas.

While your mind paints pictures of places where you have not yet been, I have found that rarely the mind’s eye can ready you for the experience of being someplace new. Living in the high desert of Colorado, it tends to be very dry here: That was contrasted with the humid wind blowing in off the Pacific. I grew up in small towns where the lights let out a gentle glow in the winter sky; contrasted with the constant stream of headlights on a Friday night traveling into Las Vegas—and the daytime-at-night conditions of that city. The rolling hills of green contrasted with the rolling hills of sand of southeast California, between Yuma, Arizona, and Calexico, California, was absolutely something else.

What is the most surprising of all, though, is what I surmised about the people along the route of the trip. Sure, a person speculates that different geographies have varying cultures to an extent, but what a person might not realize is that, regardless of culture, everyone is simply trying to make their way in this world. While culture might dictate myriad ways of going about that, we can forget that our fellow person is merely trying to make it through this day onto the next. Some have small goals, some have larger schemes, and everyone has an agenda—and sometimes that agenda is just to make it to the next day, alive and breathing.

This inalienable truth is coupled with what I refer to as the “Tapestry of the World.” Having been as many places as I have, and having seen as many things as I have, I’ve come to realize that every single place on the planet is unique in its own right, while still retaining a relationship with everyplace else. For instance, I can be driving in some part of Colorado and it will remind me of the flat back roads traversing somewhere between Grand Forks and Minot, ND. Every now and again when I’m driving along I capture a glimpse of something which offers me déjà vu. The farthest place from it can remind you of home, and someplace near to your home can seem very alien at times. This is one of the beauties of the world in which we live.

I’ve mentioned times before that key traits of leaders are that they understand that diversity leads to productivity, better solutions, and such and that a heightened level of awareness can make or break a leader. With this being said, I highly recommend that if you develop the wanderlust that I tend to have every year once the weather gets warmer that you go out and explore your world—be it just a few miles away or a few hundred miles away—there is almost always someplace which we’ve not been within reaching distance.

If you need to ask why you should go over that hill on the horizon, you can answer to yourself “because it is there.” Traveling, especially in this case, works very well as a metaphor for life—because where the surreal meets the real, our world becomes that much more.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Friday Funny: Fight Club

Every now and then something that really strikes me as profoundly humorous strikes me:

"Fight Club" Busted at Local High School

What is so funny about it? "The first rule of fight club is that you don't talk about Fight Club."

And the second rule?

"The second rule of Fight Club is that you don't talk about Fight Club!"

Evidently, they talked. Kids, these days...

World Fastest Processor

Science keeps chugging along. When I was in high school I recall one of my teachers saying that the progression of science isn't an arithmetic progression; instead, it is a geometric progression. In other words, it isn't linear in the 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 fashion, instead it is 1 squared (1^2) to 2 squared (2^2) to 3 squared (3^2), so on and so forth.

And now, one of my favorite research operations in the world has developed the fastest processor in the world. Watch for the part in the block quote to see just how fast this thing is:

"The 5-billion-instructions-per second Power6 processor from IBM would beat such rivals as the 3.73 gigahertz Pentium Extreme and the 2.4 gigahertz UltraSparc T2 from Sun. 'It's hard to make the average person understand just how fast this is,' said IBM Chief Technology Officer Bernard Meyerson, offering an example meant to explain his company's baby that still leaves the listener awed with the speediness of the two laggards. 'Hold your index finger out in front of your face,' Meyerson said in a telephone interview from IBM headquarters in New York. 'In less time than it would take a beam of light to travel from your knuckle to your fingertip, the new IBM chip would complete one task and start looking for the next, he said.'"

Original IBM text here.

News article here.

Monday, April 07, 2008

There is Nothing Worse in Life than Being Ordinary

I watched, again, an interesting piece of cinematic work, “American Beauty.” Kevin Spacey plays a man telling the tale of him and his family near the end of his life. A tapestry of events weaves itself together to a conclusion which brings about revelations in the lives of everyone involved. During the arc which Mena Suvari’s character makes from point A to point B, she says that “there is nothing worse in life than being ordinary.” I got to thinking about this.

There is a bumper sticker out there that reads that “well-behaved women often make history;” the intent of which is such that the people—in this case, those of the female variety—who stand out are the ones that people remember, that are written about in the history books. It means that you want to, whether you are a man or a woman, should want to make history and leave your mark upon the earth in a way that sets yourself apart from others. As it is oft-said, if you take the road everyone else takes, you end up where everyone else does—instead, if you take the road less traveled you will supposedly do much better.

Let us look at this through the eyes of an economist: The “total cost of ownership” perspective. For everything there is a cost to be paid. The questions resulting from this notion bring a person to ponder what the cost to be paid is, what are the set of results to be had, and so on and so forth. Think of it this way: What is the cost of expending some capital—be that physically, mentally, emotionally, or financially—in the current time and let the fruits of this investment compound over the years…or pay the cost of not even trying and regretting that decision down the road. A wise judge once mentioned, as I paraphrase it: “The cost of utilizing discipline on a daily basis far outweighs the cost of not doing so.”

While ordinary is fine with some people, this blog is not of the ordinary. Throughout history several a notable figure have confronted a place in their life in which they needed to choose to be ordinary or to strive towards greatness. You have the choice to do so, and you will never know quite what it is like until you are there.

In closing a thought by one of the most famous writers of all time, William Shakespeare; his perspective: Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

A Tribute to Charlton Heston

A man who was larger than life has, unfortunately, passed.

As a tribute to him, a video depicting his position on climate change.