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Plastic Drudgery

Trying to stay creative while working 10 hour days and commuting two is proving rather difficult. I am accustomed to writing in the mornings (on various projects) and then working my yob, and then coming home at night and just chillin. But this gig I have right now (for a company I adore) is a subcontract to a big construction company, and it is all about the 7:AM start time.

For the past two months, it has been, get up at 5:AM so that I can be in San Jose at 6:55 AM with a hard hat and orange vest on, standing around with union carpenters, electricians, iron workers, drinking instant coffee in styrofoam, and preparing for (complaining about) another day.

It has only been in the past two weeks that the construction phase has finally ended, and I am now able to ditch the hardhat and roll in at the decent hour of 8:30. But, now that the building has been built, is time for the technology to be delivered, and so I have been working overtime.

It’s a multimedia job. Brand new corporate campus. Rear projection rooms, satellite linked video conference rooms, towering, seamless LCD wall displays such as this one:

The technology is all state of the art, and it has been a pleasure to work with. The video in the displays above is delivered from the equipment room over fiber. The content is dynamic, highlighting the company, while also including CNN news briefs and a plethora of other eye catching goodies. It’s a giant message from Corporate God as you enter, saying “Welcome to Corporate Heaven.”

The rear projection rooms have been fun too. Vast robotic projectors placed in totally black rooms, pointing at huge $5k, tunable,  first surface mirrors. Here is a shot I got of one such mirror before me, the vast piece of glass we project upon behind me:

The video technology is not the only interesting part of the new campus. But somehow it feels purer than the rest. Maybe it is because I helped build it, and so I like it the best. But still I have to wonder if it is going to be the heaven they are looking for.

The place is built like a space station, so that workers never have to leave. There are cafes, a huge cafeteria, dry cleaning, game rooms, a gym. The list goes on. But it all feels so isolated from the world I know. And while that, in itself is no evil, this isolated world feels, well, plastic. Which, to be honest, can best be demonstrated here, in the following image:

What you are seeing here are the landscapers of the future. These men are hard at work stapling down a PLASTIC LAWN. probably a 1/4 acre of green plastic grass, that looks remarkable just like the real thing.

Of course sitting on the stuff one instantly realizes that it is not the real thing. The sun heats it up like you might expect a huge plastic carpet would, and you feel surrounded by off-gassing petroleum product. If it has a redeeming quality, it would be the amount of water it saves (which is important I suppose), but still, it lends strongly to an overall feeling of impurity that permeates the entire new shining complex. It all  feels just a bit phony.

While I am sure that these silicon valley tech workers get paid quite well to live on their sparkling new spaceship,  I am glad that in a couple of weeks I can move on to the next adventure, some other city, some other way of life, undoubtedly.

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Wild Amanitas of San Francisco

Speaking of Street Art, there is a rad little trend here on the streets of San Fran, painting vent pipes to look like the hallucinogenic Amanita Muscaria mushrooms.

It’s actually a street phenomenon that may have been going on for many decades (?). The vent pipes that get painted are common to many buildings here, and have been around for ever. Certainly, numerous artists get inspired to put their stamp on the familiar prank. Here’s some that someone took a particularly good amount of time with (considering).

It’s nice that the city still has some magic in it, and that it all hasn’t moved to Oakland, chased away by the $1000 strollers.

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New street art vids by Blu

The HeMan, the Voltron, the Thundercat, The Undisputed Ruler of Street Art has just released another vid. (Yay!)

BIG BANG BIG BOOM – the new wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

Thanks John Heenan for the word up!

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CocoRosie and the ageless love of music

Juniper and I just saw CocoRosie play. If you are unfamiliar with the band, you should really look them up. They have one of the most distinct and balanced sounds I have know.

Here is a video of a live show on Queen’s Night in Amsterdam that they did in conjunction with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra:

I can say that the show we just saw was in every way as inspiring. Another gorgeous showing of two sisters and their handpicked cronies, all dripping with talent and creativity. Another full house that wanted nothing more than to scream the walls down with adoration when the music ended.

But the profound, fuzzy-warm feeling I came home with was wasn’t entirely due to the band. While we were waiting for the music to start, entering the venue, filling in with the other concert goers, Juniper and I started to notice something. The crowd was for the most part, entirely younger than we were.

The venue was the stately Regency Ballroom. We made our way into the huge, dimly lit room hearing and feeling the pre-concert buzz. As we looked around, we saw younger and younger looking people. There were teens of every age and stature, sporting fashions of every scene. There was an eighties contingent. There were some goths. There were some sharply dressed swing kids. There were two girls, probably fourteen years old, with painted mustaches (caught later by Juniper as they generously poured a flask into their coke). As I walked, memories of some of my first concerts flooded in. I was elated.

So yes, there were many “kids”, and it was a joy to see them so excited. But it brought up a question in my mind. Juniper and I are not exactly old fogies. In our thirties, we still totally enjoy going out to see live music, and of all the times we have in the last few years, this was the first time we felt older. So what does this say about the music?

To be fair, CocoRosie is an oughts band, formed in ‘03, seven years old. Many of the bands that we love have been around for longer. And I have to admit that I love seeing a band that I have known and loved since it’s heyday. But why would that mean that people like us aren’t enjoying the new stuff? The heyday of today. Is there some kind of limit to the amount of heyday people like to have in their life? I wonder.

One of my favorite heydays was that of the noise music scene in Denver Colorado in the late 90s. It was probably 1999, the setting was a small storefront on legendary Coflax Avenue, and aside from being a stone’s throw from the State Capitol and the Denver Basilica, it was unarguably East Colfax, home to junkies, hookers,  and crack heads. But unknown to both Riffraff and Authority, there thrived, in the basement darkness of a one room gallery, one of the most terrifyingly cool arrangements of dark noise-rife music ever.

The space was the Chernobyl Tone Gallery, and the artist was a Mr. j.frede. On hot and electric nights in Denver, an eclectic collection of heads would gather to hear j.frede and other local noise musicians play. The gallery itself was respectable, curated, lit, and hung in a manner that could most always pass as legitimate in the “art world”. But the shows were held in the basement. After walking past the paintings or sculptures of the gallery, fans of the noise scene would be ushered through a trap door, down a rickety century old staircase, and into the damp and hidden basement.

Upon arrival subterranean,  feelings of professionalism and legitimacy became moot. The otherwise exposed brick walls were clad floor to ceiling in black plastic. The furniture was hand crafted out of raw bed springs; couches, and chairs you could see right through, and still sit quite comfortably in. And then there was the music. Employing seriously amplified samples and loops run through heavily digitalized effects, the artists who played this venue (often in complete darkness, sans a few LEDs or equipment display panels, which themselves lent the slightest stage lighting to the performer’s disembodied face) cranked forth exceptional, intentional, and psychologically marginal sound scapes into the ears and minds of the captive crowd. We were enamored by this and a handful of other scenes going on in Denver in those days. We felt so terribly fortunate to be there.

The music of j.frede of course was much more extreme than that of CocoRosie. I wouldn’t call it inaccessible, because the shows were open to anyone, but not many people would ever choose to access it. This being as it may, I feel like there is still a similarity between the two. That of the age groups. Equally, in Chernobyl Tone as at CocoRosie’s latest, I felt the average age was early twenties. Equally there were people far younger at both. And equally, there were a handful of fans who were older. Just not many. Which brings me to my point.

When I was sitting in the dark of the noise shows of my twenties, there was a certain oldster who always seemed to know were the good shows were, despite his obvious age difference. I would see this guy filtering in with the “kids” at noise shows, and many other underground concerts.  As it turns out, I became very good friends with this guy eventually, and we are still in touch today (although, yes Dave, I owe you a letter! you traditional bastard). But certainly one of the main reasons I ever got to know him to begin with, was that I was totally inspired that he had made the decision to keep up with what was going on.

Maybe it isn’t something that most of us even want to do, after a point. Maybe, for many, other parts of life that correspond better to our particular age group become more interesting. But I remember, clearly, sitting in that scene that I loved so much, feeling the buzz of excitement around me, seeing this 50-something cool dude hanging with the younger crowd (unafraid of any labels that could be assigned), and I thought to myself: I really want to keep up with what’s cool, because, let’s face it, music doesn’t stop getting good. There will always be new and better music.

I am glad I said that to myself back then, and I am glad that I still, from time to time, find myself among the oldsters. I feel like I have decades of it to look forward to.

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This weekend was Pride Fest in both San Francisco and New York. I had straight friends attending in New York, and my wife and I, as well as her grandparents, and our in-laws, attended the Pride Parade here.

If you have never been, you are either a homophobe (you should look into that) or you are just plain  missing out. It is a beautiful and happy thing that lightens any day.

In San Francisco it is a part of our heritage. The Police Commissioner, the Sheriff, The Fire department, and the Mayor all march. The mayor even looks a little gay himself as he skips along ahead of his armored car taking every opportunity to let his city know he is still “that progressive guy”. But I think it really means something, just the same.

And in a larger context, Pride means something socially. I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation of two Tenderloin street urchins who had come down to see what all the fuss was about. Pride was obviously not their thing, and they treated it like spectators, but they still knew what it was about, and were enjoying it just for the spectacle of it. They kept reveling in the constant surprise of who was gay.

“Oh, look at that guy with the cigar and the tutu! Oh check her out!” (Whistles and hoots at a large topless lesbian who is more than happy to return the glee).

The very interesting thing to me was that when you put homosexuality in the context of being accepted — for here we were amongst hundreds of thousands who had assembled to enjoy it — then its really not that big of a deal for anybody, including those who might otherwise choose to snub it.

If anything, Pride is a reminder to us all that love is at the core of lovemaking, whoever is doing that loving. And seriously, we have bigger issues to worry about as a people than who is shacking up with who.

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Cell Phone Radiation

OK, so the brain cancer thing is just a kooky conspiracy theory right?

The city of San Francisco just passed an ordinance that requires cell phone retailers to indicate the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR value)  on all phones sold in the city.

I know many people are rolling their eyes right now, thinking “What more could these delicate NorCal hippies possibly dream up?”  But it was passed with an overwhelming majority, which says…. well, something. Right?

I have to admit, I am still skeptical. On one hand we have a billion dollar phone industry that benefits from finding no evidence of harm. On the other, we have a research project with less than two decades of data, just now getting going.

Until this is all decided, I am going to use my ear bud as much as possible.

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Chartreuse in I.P. limbo?

Chartreuse, for those of you who have not had it, is a powerfully tasty French liqueur, old enough to have the color named after it.

But if you haven’t tried it in its present form, your chances are dwindling.

Chartreuse Diffusion, the company which bottles Chartreuse, announced in Wine Spectator recently that ownership of the centuries old recipe has become the center of an intellectual property battle within the order of monks who make it.

The recipe, a trade secret which dates back to 1605, has been held by monks of the Carthusian Order for centuries. As lore would have it, only two monks from this order are ever in possession of the recipe.

From the Chartreuse website:

“Only two monks have been entrusted by the Order with the secret of producing the liqueurs. Only these two know the ingredients. Only these two know how these ingredients are prepared for incorporation into the base of wine alcohol.”

Well, apparently, these two had a falling out, and the ownership of the actual manuscript which describes the ancient process is currently in contention.

With this announcement, the price of Chartreuse has spiked to record highs, as the the distributor finishes what may be the last run of the ancient elixir for a while.

So if you have an unopened bottle of the stuff, you may want to stick it in the cellar. And if you have an opened bottle, please come on by!

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The Ethersmith’s anniversary

Despite the lingering effects of food poisoning and a migraine, I am overcome by love and adoration on this, our second wedding anniversary. Two years ago today, in the Wyoming woods on the summer solstice, a vagabond punk like me was somehow lucky enough to marry this beautiful angel of compassion.

Juniper, I shall always be grateful. I love you!


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Potato powered battery

Good news for the developing world. If you can’t afford Fusion in the coming decades, how about Potato Powered Batteries!

From the creator’s press release:

“Cost analyses showed that the treated potato battery generates energy, which is five to 50 folds cheaper than commercially available 1.5 Volt D cells and Energizer E91 cells, respectively. The clean light powered by this green battery is also at least 6 times more economical than kerosene lamps often used in the developing world.”

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EIZO medical imaging Pin Up Calendar

Thanks Andie Olive for the hip tip about the EIZO 2010 Pin-up Girl Calendar

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National Ignition Facility

As mentioned, I saw Ed Moses, Associate Director of the National Ignition Facility speak last night. What he had to say gave me a much needed positive glimpse into our uncertain future.

NIF is the foremost fusion (clean) energy project in the world. They have been at it for more than a decade, and for the first time they are saying with confidence that the world’s first contained fusion reaction is right around the corner, maybe even this year.

For those of you unfamiliar, here is a cool 5 min animation that explains how it works:

NIF houses the worlds largest and most sophisticated laser. By far. And it is almost certain that they will succeed in creating the first contained ignition quite soon. But what about an actual energy plant?

Well, this is where seeing Dr. Moses live really paid off. He had another animation that I have been unable to find online. But I am happy to explain. Moses went on to show us how the first production fusion reactors will work. Unlike NIF, where they are attempting to harness the power from one ignition, future reactors will be firing many time a second, at a string of similar (though much cheaper) fuel pellets that are fired into the chamber with an air gun (or similar). Then the heat captured (from turning matter into energy) will be converted into electricity with steam technology.

This all could be happening in the next decade.

For the first time in a while, I see again a glimmer of hope when it comes to our energy crisis.

NIF website

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Peer Reviewed News

I went to the Long Now talk tonight by Ed Moses on fusion energy. It was tremendously exciting, and worthy of an entire post on it’s own (soon to come).

But prior to the talk was a great little plug for NewsTrust, which is a very keen news site that lets you review news items which have been submitted by the editors.

The site looks great. Can’t wait to plunge in.

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Alien Worlds Revisited

I wrote previously on some very rich clients I have, and their hairless children.

Well, the story thickens.

In fact, it more than thickens. It congeals into a great big ball of super-weird.

As mentioned, I do some carpentry from time to time for some very well-to-do folks in San Francisco. The last time I worked for them I had discovered the (embarrassing?) fact that both of their children have no hair on their heads. Both wear wigs. In fact, they each have many different beautiful wigs. But too shy to bring it up, that was about all I was able to learn. Until today.

Today I was back doing more work — adjusting a wall-bed system which had started squeaking! Heavens forbid! –  and I was lucky enough to find myself alone in the flat with the housekeeper. She had always struck me as approachable, so today I struck up a conversation with her.

She was working int he laundry room so I asked her if she ever had to change the linens on the wall bed. It looked to me like it never really got used, which she soon confirmed. But apparently it is kept for that spare guest that may come some day. And besides, the children love it.

“Ah, the children!” I chimed in. “Such pretty kids. They seem very happy. But do you know why they both wear wigs?”

With this question, her face turned stone cold. She stopped what she was doing and shook her head, saying something in Spanish.

Afraid that I had crossed a line of loyalty, I apologized. But it wasn’t that. The maid looked up at me solemnly.

“Mrs. ——–  keeps her children that way,” she said. “They pay lot of money. They think beautiful.”

I wasn’t sure if I got what she was telling me.

“You mean their mother cuts their hair?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “The children. Very expensive. Medicine.”

It was then that we heard the lady of the house get home, and both,with the instinct of servitude, immediately fell back into our tasks like we had never spoken.

But now I am dying to know more. Was the maid smoking the good stuff? Or did she know of something more or less private and definitely odd. And is it odd? Or am I just out of the loop here? Maybe if I were super-rich, I would just understand.

As soon as I could I steered the conversation to the subject of the children, and specifically, their lack of hair. The answer I got back was unnerving.

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I got a share of it on the Short Lived Trend post (especially considering the anonymous rags I didn’t approve).

Long and short: People love these cups! Admittedly they are a fun design, and apparently they work well too.

So thanks for the feedback, dear readers. May you keep me a little longer, in your gentle way, from my inevitable curmudgeonification.


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Short lived trend?

I was in Walgreens yesterday and I snapped this shot of some eco-cups that YOU TOO can GREAT BUY!

You may have seen them. They are non-disposable replicas of disposable cups. Save a cup and save the planet!

But wait a minute. Haven’t non-disposable cups been around for decades? Oh, well, not ones that look like disposable cups. That’s innovation right there, that is.

But wait another minute. Why do we need to look like we are carrying around a crappy paper cup if we actually paid for a nice lasting one? And if we carry around a cup that looks like a disposable cup, then isn’t everybody going to think that we are still carrying around a crappy planet killing cup?

Guess these are for undercover environmentalists.

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We went to Audium this weekend and had our day dreams blown open.

Audium is an immersive aural experience perpetrated by composer, conductor, Stan Shaff. Since the late 60s, Mr. Shaff has been performing intricate musical movements to his audience in pitch darkness within a theater designed specifically for the compositions.

The theater that we went to is actually his second, which he built after receiving a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. It currently boasts 176 speakers, meticulously arranged for optimal listening.

The theater is lovely. It has the comforting carpeted silence of a planetarium, and the clean modern design of something out of 2001, A Space Odyssey. But once you settle into a comfy chair and the lights fade completely out, you are only left with the vivid images that the music evokes within you.

The music is spectacular. Our friend Soph put it best when he said that Audium is to sound what fireworks are to light. I would be hard pressed to beat his description.

The music is a soundscape of samples, some short and some long, most melodic, and all seamlessly woven into a distinct movement. Of all the music I have heard, I believe the closest thing to Shaff’s compositions would be Nurse With Wound. But unlike Nurse With Wound, Audium is not psychologically damaging ;)  It certainly has moments that will wake you, and a few that may dial in some strong emotion, but the general feel of his work is soothing, resonant versus dissonant, and entirely engaging of the imagination.

To sit in the darkness of Audium and listen to the music pour through you is to feel a thousand worldly meanings offered up as a discerningly curated gallery of the mind. At Audium, one’s ears become a portal to memories and imaginings, and the canvas is not the air beyond the ears, but the space between them.

I look forward to seeing the show again, and perhaps talking with Mr. Shaff about his project.

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In The Dust Zone

In The Dust Zone: Part Three, is currently serialized on Exquisite Corpse.

It is a beautiful collaboration of prose and picture.

“In August of 2001, New York City writer Maggie Dubris was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Three weeks later, on September 11th, she responded as a 911 paramedic to the World Trade Center attack. In The Dust Zone began as her story of being thrown across the great divide, into a world where the landscape, both inner and outer, is destroyed in an instant. . .”

If you haven’t been following, you can. Start here.

It’s addictive and worthwhile.

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Street art in Emeryville CA

There is some rad street art going on in Emeryville.  Its actually been slowly growing in scope for over a year, at least. Someone is putting freakin cool vinyl stickers up on the traffic control boxes:

There are dozens of them, each completely different, each completely interesting. The strange thing is that the city seems to be leaving them, which made me wonder if it wasn’t a city funded project. But after numerous Google searches that came up empty, I am thinking it is unsanctioned.

If this is true, how cool is that? Street Art that is done well enough that the city just decides to keep it!

Kudos to the designer.

And if anyone out there knows more about this, please do tell.

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The psychology of parties

As I posted, we had a party last weekend. One thing I didn’t get to write about was a neat accidental experiment that took place having to do with the phenomenon of people gathering in the kitchen during a party.

Many of us have wondered about this. Doing a brief search online I found few theories. One that sort of resonated was the Dynamic Space Theory I found on StraightDope.com:

“…the kitchen represents a dynamic location, in that one can leave if one needs to.”

The gist of this idea is that in other rooms there is more of a commitment, but in the kitchen one can leave at any time. Who knows. Could be true, along with a dozen other theories. But how to test these ideas?

Well, one thing that we stumbled on this last weekend was that there was a way to test one element in the equation. That being, what makes people not hang out in the kitchen. Oddly, we stumbled upon something quite unique, quite accidentally.

The conditions at our party were no different from any other. We had dozens of guests, most of whom were cramming into the kitchen. I’ll report that I was no exception. Thanks to a drunken conversation I was having with a biologist about a preserved moth that hangs in our kitchen, I found myself pulling text books out of the living room and spreading them across the kitchen counter. After the conversation, I left the books out and flitted off to some other intrigue. But when I came back a while later, the dining room was crammed and the kitchen was empty.

Empty kitchen didn’t at first register, but seeing the books naked and vulnerable, I grabbed them up to take back to shelf. As I was walking out, people where trickling in behind me. I didn’t make it back to the shelves though. I got waylaid in the dining room and stood chatting for a while, books in hand. When I finally freed myself, determined to drop the books, I noticed that the kitchen was again cram packed.

Now it seemed odd. in the space of about 15 mintues, the kitchen had gone from standing room only, to dead empty, to standing room only. That is when I wondered about the books.

I walked back into the kitchen and spread the books out on the counter again, and then retreated to the next room to watch. Within 10 minutes everyone trickled out! So I went and grabbed the books up again. Once again, the room filled up rapidly. Now hooked, I again went in and spread the books about. Again it emptied. I could see people peek in and decide it wasn’t the place they wanted to be. And after everyone had left, I watched people swing through, eye the books, and walk out. I was totally amazed.

I repeated the process 4 times in all. Always with the same results. I wish I could know what it means. I think there is a very interesting dynamic going on here. I just have no idea what it could be.

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political creatures younger

We threw a party for Juniper’s birthday on Saturday. I am happy to report that the soiree was a success. We pulled a few dozen stunningly dressed heads through our doors and into our labyrinth of live music and martinis.  I tended bar, serving up a selection of Ethersmithy drinks, including one smash hit, The Kill Shot, which consists of Grappa, Hibiscus Tea, and a double whippet, sipped and whiffed simultaneously.

But truly the success of any party is due to the quality of the guests who deign visit. Thank you to all those who graced us. Thanks to a couple members of The Gilded Rooks for tonguing our brains with oh so soulful melodies. Thanks to everyone who dressed up as spies, or femme fatales,  or serial killers and dwarfed the night’s theme: “Dress To Kill”.

I was, however, woken with a surprise a little too early this morning (considering that the party went to 5:AM) by an interesting phone call. It was a friend – a previous night’s guest – who was in near panic over what he may have said while being recorded on video. Throughout the night I was indeed taping (can it even be called that now that it all goes straight to flash?) video at the bar. For the most part the camera went unnoticed, but this particular person saw me making an adjustment to the cam, and knew he was being recorded. Evidently that didn’t stop him from speaking with me all about the work he is doing, and the various projects he is involved with in finance at a company that shall here remain nameless. The call I got this morning was this very man, terrified about what he may have said, that may perchance end up online.

I assured my friend that I would never post vids of him without his permission if it seemed sensitive, and this calmed him. But it did highlight the unique learning curves we are climbing, trying to sort out the new rules and how they apply to old habits of casual conversation. We are all redefining our behaviors to match the new criteria, which are, to live in an era where even in the most casual and comfortable settings – where women in evening gowns are clinking martini glasses with gun totin cowboys (all “dressed to kill”) – one can no longer afford to act as if there is a separation from the world outside.

I talked to another friend, Alex Gorelik, about this at length this morning. He has a 4 year old daughter who is, along with all of her peers, entirely documented online. She will grow up in a world where one never speaks “in confidence” casually at a party, because that confidence simply does not exists. To quote her dad, she and her generation are becoming “political creatures” far earlier than we ever had to. I really liked this choice of words. These are in fact the same skills that politicians have been forced to learn, knowing, at the cost of their careers, that a camera could be around any corner. Such perception of the world is no longer relegated to these special few. We all are gaining this sense. Or trying very hard to.

I like to imagine that we are in the hardest part of the adjustment presently.  That the new rules are confusing to those of us who have indulged in many public, and yet private situations; where we felt freer to be those people we would never let our bosses see. I like to think that soon, within the next decade maybe, we will start to have these new rules pretty well worked out to accommodate for a vid cam in every pocket. If we don’t, the only other solution I can foresee is the world getting more tolerant with what people do in “private”, and that, as lovely as it would be, is not something I am going to hold my breath for.

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