Sunday, September 12, 2010

Who Knew?

Nico Muhly, one of my favorite modern composers has just turned me on to Benjamin Britten. Seriously, check out "Now the Hungry Lion Roars" near the bottom of his post. It's an incredible piece of music and Muhly shows how a conductor can greatly affect the way a piece sounds. (I also greatly enjoy the post in its entirety)

Check out Muhly's work here:

Also of side note: if you've never listened to it, just listen to Saint-Saen's Carnival of the Animals, especially Aquarium. You'll probably recognize some of the pieces the next time you go to a movie.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Moving On

Friday, I finally bought a ticket to the states. I'm not necessarily going to call it my ticket back to the states, though more or less, it is. I leave from Leeds-Bradford on October 6, due to arrive in Kansas City on the same day...after 16 hours of traveling through Amsterdam and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Ugh.

It's a roundtrip ticket though--my open door back to the UK--though I'm sure I won't need it. I wanted to have something waiting, just in case, the day before I left, my dream job offer came through. Money, unsurprisingly, loomed large in the decision. Entry-level jobs don't pay as well here, and with student loans, visas, and other expenses, it would have made for a difficult year.

But, there are always ways around a money issue. Part of the challenge was that I felt like if I left the UK, somehow I would be leaving it forever. Only recently have I come to the realization that just because you leave some place doesn't mean your connections to it die as well. Through a couple of new opportunities, I can retain my business and personal connections to this island, possibly even strengthening them.

Although it's trite, I think I simply had to shift my perspective to understand that instead of leaving England, a bit of England was coming along with me. I'm not sure how I changed, but I feel like I grew up a bit whilst over here. If nothing else, I gained more confidence in my own abilities.

After Kansas City for a week or two, I'll most likely move to New York. I feel pretty confident in this decision; whenever I think about it I smile. But my head is so full of ideas and things to do that it's a bit hard to concentrate. I'm excited for the change, but ready to get settled down again. For the next few weeks, I'll be jumping from place to place, city to city, trying to tie up loose ends, start some new projects, and (hopefully) having a bit of fun.

Either way, come Oct 6, I'll be headed back home, ready to dig into some good food, relax, and start over in a new place.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Something to tide you over...

...until I can blog again. It's been busy the past few weeks. Some decisions have been made, some new projects begun. I'll send up a post when things are a bit clearer, though. Until then...

MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON from Dean Fleischer-Camp on Vimeo.

Monday, August 30, 2010


If you want to see how the internet can engage and emote, I highly suggest you check out the new interactive video from The Arcade Fire. Just make sure you are using Firefox or Safari or Chrome. You'll thank me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

And So, The Chapter Ends.

As of Thursday, August 19th, I officially handed in my dissertation. A little before noon, I picked up the two copies as specified by the university: forest green tape for binding, a washed out shade of emerald for the cover, and hastily impressed gold lettering spelling out my name, the year, and my degree. Handing in these 72 pages--almost five months of work when you factor in the planning--felt at once unceremonious and joyful. Meeting coursemates at a local pub for lunch, we joked that they should have given us a ribbon or sash when we delivered it to the grad office. Somehow signing your name in ballpoint pen doesn't quite have the pomp and circumstance one would hope for in such an event.

The days preceding the event were largely drowned in a river of Pepsi Max, pre-packaged sandwich meal deals, and a veritable cornucopia of sweets. I fear a the next time I go to the dentist, he'll examine my mouth only to find myriad greyish-brown caverns in what was once a healthy mouth. I have started flossing to compensate. Long days in the computer lab turned to long nights in front of my MacBook, fruitlessly searching for the perfect word or turn of phrase.

In the end? I'm not thrilled with it. But I suppose that's the nature of the beast. Once it's all over, all you can do is see the flaws, the areas to be improved, the times you should have stayed in to work. Yet, it's done. There's no more work I can put into it. No more graphs or charts. Not one more reference. And it feels good. It may not be my best piece of work, but its the culmination of a year of change.

I finished reading Pillars of the Earth the day after I handed in my dissertation. I'd been reading the book all summer, using it as a form of escape after long nights of work. What I realized was, as they were building their cathedral in the story, I was building mine. I faced setbacks, design errors, and flaws in construction. But I also had (short-lived) flashes of brilliance and delight in the knowledge that my project, bound as it was in its cloak of green, will stand as a testament to the things I've learned over the past year.

Now, it's time to move on to a new chapter in my life: a new job. I'll spend the next month largely looking in the UK. But once my lease is up, if I don't have any leads, I'm going to move back to the U.S., probably to settle in New York. Then again, it may all change tomorrow. Who knows...

*If you have some strange desire to actually read my dissertation, it can be found on my website: under the "Portfolio" tab.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Just saw Inception. Really incredible movie. I especially appreciated the many nods to famous architects and designers, especially Frank Lloyd Wright, M.C. Escher, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbiseur. The architecture nerd in me got excited several times over.

Stupid Dissertation

I am so sick of writing this dissertation. I have to put my thoughts into a format that is not reflective of how I think or approached the project at all. It's all so linear. So formulaic. So boring. Somehow, they've taken what could be a really interesting project and sucked all the fun out of it (as is the wont of academia, I suppose). Instead of describing the project briefly and really focusing on the results, putting all the boring stuff (in-depth methodology, literature review, etc.) in an appendix, we have to make it orderly and describe every step. I think it would be far better to engage the reader in a compelling story of your research and provide the in-depth support in the back, as a reference. Which is exactly what it is.

I don't know, it's probably just looking at the same words over and over, trying to predict what's going to get me the right grade. Either way, I'm finished for today.

Friday, August 6, 2010

My Secret Garden

"Home? I have no home."

While playing Uncle Archibald in the Shawnee Mission East High School production of The Secret Garden, I was required to utter this ridiculous line. It was always the line that I had difficultly spitting out, because it seemed so inane. How could you not have a home?

But over the past nine-and-a-half years since I took my bow on that stage, those words have come back to me at various times. They haunted me on that first balmy night I stayed in the dorms, alone, when I went away to college. And they returned when I moved into my first studio apartment. Now, they won't stop ringing in my ears, yet again.

But, for me, these five words express a different sentiment than the OED would tell you.

I have no home. But because I have many homes.

There's my home in Kansas, where I know that various parcels of cheese, haphazardly re-wrapped with their torn Whole Foods labels, await my return. Prior to this will be a father who will excitedly tell me that we have a bottle of scotch waiting at home, all the while asking about the flight, hurrying my oversized duffel to the trunk navy Ford Fusion parked outside. And along side him will be a mother who, on our drive home, will tell me that she dutifully bought Anderson Erickson Cherry Vanilla yogurt (my favorite) and some overly-sugared cereal, preferably Apple Jacks, to welcome me back to normalcy. This is my home. where I spend my time, virtually or physically. It's where I recognize the smell of our musty garage, and anticipate the obligatory glance at the (no doubt) lit pond in the back yard.

But, while this may be my "home." I have other homes.

I have my home in Rome, where ochre-tinted lights allowed us to linger along the Tiber well into the night. The places where I learned to trust myself. To explore the world.

I have the couches where I spent many nights, lazily pontificating to wine-soaked minds. I have the restaurants where I spent so many weekend brunches. The metro stations, from which I rushed home, desperate to discard the day's events.

In the past year, I have added a new home to this list--Leeds. No, it hasn't always been ideal. But, it also has been full of adventures that I never thought possible. Slowly finding new words ingratiate themselves to my vocabulary. Discovering that I'm not alone in my fears. Realizing that it's not easy to start a new life, but it's worthwhile.

In a few weeks, my dissertation will be done, and I'll begin to make a new home. It may be in New York or San Francisco. It may be in Manchester. Or London.

Home? I have no home.

I am always home.


Prop 8 was overturned a couple days ago. Since then, people on both sides have been commenting on the decision, unsurprisingly. One of the oddest arguments I've heard from those opposing the decision was that the judge is gay. People are accusing him of bias, but I don't really see how that could work, since, presumably, a straight judge would be biased as well, just the other way. That's like saying a pro-choice judge is more biased than a pro-life judge in an abortion case. The whole point of judging is that, whatever your biases, you put them aside. There is no such thing as a purely objective opinion, unless you have robot judges (AWESOME!), and even then, you could argue that the programmers could have introduced bias in the way they coded.

Listen, it's fine if you don't like the decision. But don't tell me it's invalid because the judge was biased on account of his sexual orientation.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


In less than 20 days, I will have to hand in my masters dissertation (or thesis, if you like). The prospect is daunting but manageable. Right now I have over 6,000 words, but the hardest part for me, the methodology, is out of the way. I'm in the midst of analyzing my dataset which I secretly get pleasure out of. Thank god for all those years having to do financial analysis, making me a pro at pivot tables. The looming prospect of statistical analysis still hangs over my head, but I think I can minimize that to a large degree.

I should have probably been a bit farther on this bit by now, but I was in London for most of last week. On Tuesday, I went to the BBC proms with a couple of friends. After spending the day traveling, then going to the science museum, we made our way to the Royal Albert Hall for a bit of Beethoven. Hillary Hahn played with the symphony for one piece, and there were several encores to revel in the classical goodness. The highlight (for me) was Beethoven's 5th. Though not my favorite of his pieces--that would be the 7th symphony--it was still wonderful.

Part of the reason for going down, other than the proms, was to wrap up a few things with my internship at ecoConnect, and go to the Green in the City event it co-sponsors with Cleantech Investor magazine. While I didn't get as much wrapped up as I wanted to (you never do), I was able to attend the event and talk to my boss about future jobs. Though there aren't any opportunities with ecoConnect, there may be a few leads through some diligent networking. I suppose we'll see. The event was interesting, talking about the future of road transport and energy solutions, and after there was a networking session (ugh). It's not that I can't talk to people. Lord knows I could do that for hours, it's more the approach part that I dislike. It always feels so awkward and date-y and a bit forced. But I suppose we all know why we're there, so there's some solace in that.

Aside from the travelling and dissertation, I'm on the job hunt, officially. The trick for me is that I have a broad background in a variety of fields--sustainability, strategy, finance, communications, politics, history, stakeholder engagement, etc. Clearly a lot of this overlaps, but describing that in a resume and cover letter can be rather challenging. And, it also makes the job hunt a bit more difficult. If I were doing something specific, like SAP implementations, that would be slighly easier to find, but looking for jobs in sustainable business and communications strategy it just a bit broader. Luckily there seem to be a bunch of great positions. Unfortunately, I have no idea how competitive they are.

It's exciting and scary, knowing that I'm in for another life change, only a year after I settled into this one. What I do know, is whether I end up in London, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, or Des Moines, I'm ready for the change.

P.S. If you know of anyone looking for a sustainability consultant or marketer or CSR guru, let me know at stephen dot nemeth at gmail dot com.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Work Work Work

I just got done with about 14 hours of revising my methodology. Sadly, I was supposed to be working primarily on doing analysis of my data (I got in about an hours worth). But, I feel much better for having done it, I have to say. At least now I can go into the weekend in good conscience.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Note to self

I apparently use the word apparently quite a bit, apparently.

I am not feeling the joy

I did my methodology section on my dissertation today, only to realise that I can't express why I did a lot of what I did. Also, I apparently can't express why I'm a good candidate for a job in written form (apparently I'm just fine, verbally). As such, I think I'll try to express myself physically (no not that way) at the gym.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Just a thought...

When will we have The Great Gadsby of the 21st century? Surely there must be someone writing about the insecurity of a post 9-11 world mixed with the optimism of new technology, taking the reader on a journey from the Bush years into a post-Obama world?

Or maybe not.

Covering Up

After much trepidation, I finally got my cover letter done (well, more drafted than done). It's still way too long, but there are now dots of darkness on the sea of blank pixels that had haunted my dock for the past week. The task of actually finishing it and sending it on to various companies in the hope that they pity me enough to offer up a job still remains, but there are (surprisingly) a number of jobs that I'm at least moderately qualified for/have at least a sliver of interest in.

The work on my dissertation never ceases, though, after talking to those on my program, we've realised that expecting more than a couple of hours work on it in any one day is probably pushing it. But I figure if I stick to a couple of hours each day, I should actually complete it. All I can say is thank god for having to learn typing in school. It's a lifesaver.

Now to procrastinate a bit more before I completely flip out and realise my methodology is completely baseless...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why Complexity is Better than Simplicity

There's been talk recently about pushing forward climate change legislation...again. So far as I can tell, this is the third time this year it's been resurrected. Something tells me it won't go through yet again. The lack of action by all parties is beginning to strain our connections with europe (so says The Times), and I suppose it could potentially have significant trade implications down the line if we continue not to act (as U.S. goods won't have certain externalities priced in).

The more I consider the issue, though, it seems to me that the framing is wrong. Caps sound negative, and don't speak to incentives (even though they are fundamentally embedded). Instead, let's frame it as a withholding tax. OK, I realise that sounds just as bad, but bear with me.

Every paycheck, your employer withholds a certain amount of tax based on what you have in your W4 form and your expected earnings.If the amount of tax you owe is under what was withheld: bingo, sweet refund! Alternatively, if you withheld too little: pay up, buddy. Federal tax rates are progressive (10% on the first $8, 375, 15% from $8,375 to $34,000, etc.) based on your earnings, but then there are certain deductions which reduce the amount on which you're taxed. The government provides programs to its citizens, and our taxes go to support these programs and help pay for certain social benefits.

Think about a pollution withholding scheme (see, sounds better already) as similar to this. First, we have to assume that polluting shouldn't be free, and it has to be priced into the system to pay for its effects. Let's say, under this scheme, we decided to go for a straight tax of 1% of revenue for every 10,000t of carbon emitted.

Then let's assume there are deductions, say for the amount you invest in clean technology as a percentage of your overall revenues (for every 1% of revenue reinvested in clean technologies/renewable energy sourcing, you get a 10,000 t reduction in your total carbon 'bill'). So a business that's smart could actually negate its tax by ensuring it invested enough in renewables to reduce its tax burden (which could end up being less expensive than paying the tax). The brilliant thing about this is that assuming it made good investments in, say, increasing the efficiency of its plants, the tax burden would be lowered in that first year with the deduction, as well as the subsequent years since you would continue the tax benefits of a reduced CO2 output.

I'm not going to go into the effects for small business and consumers, as economically we are already paying those costs, just indirectly. This actually allows people to be more empowered to pick businesses that chose to be efficient assuming some costs are passed on to consumers.

Yes, it would be simpler to just have a cap. I'll admit that, but you have to remember that people like to 'game' the system and feel like their winning. You can tell people, just save a bit each month to pay off your taxes. But our complex tax code actually lets people feel like they 'win' when then find a deduction. It's a little victory. A straight tax, while simpler, doesn't give that feeling. A cap sounds simple. People get it, but in many ways people don't WANT to get it. If you can let them feel like they game the system a bit, its empowering, and that's ultimately what people want. Is the power to win over the big guy. Sounds counterintuitive. But think about what brings you more joy (or utility)--paying a straight 10% tax rate, or finding that student loan deduction meaning you now pay...a 10% tax rate.

Though counterintuitive, there is joy in finding loopholes, something a straight cap doesn't bring. So I say, bring on the complexity!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Consumer Choice, Consumer Confusion

Recently, I needed to buy a new face moisturiser, as my old one had run out. I wasn't terribly thrilled with the old stuff, so I decided to go on the hunt for something new. And that's when the confusion set in.

While it's fantastic that companies have created separate lines to cater to their customers needs, often, it seems there's so little differentiation between them, or the difference is unclear, that I'm at a loss for what to buy. Take the face moisturiser. At what age am I supposed to 'graduate' into anti-aging? What's the difference between the blue line and the sport line? And when should I use balm, moisturiser, or cream? Just take a look at the biotherm homme line. There's anti-fatigue, anti-pollution, anti-age, dry, normal, goes on and on.

OK, maybe skincare is unique, since it's trying to target a problem. But then look at the CK men's underwear line. There are at least 5 lines of what appears to be the same product at similar price points. There's so little description that it's hard for me to know what the difference between 365, steel, and stretch underwear is, and what each of the benefits might be.

I'm not saying it's a problem per-se that there are so many lines, after all, we know that product segmentation works. But when the products are at similar price points, and are similar products, it can be difficult for consumers to know what to buy...and so they may end up simply going for the cheapest one. By creating "customisers," in websites, brands empower consumers to choose the best product for them, acting as a consultant in abstentia. Nivea has done this, and while it's not perfect, it's getting there. I would argue that the best kind of customiser would narrow the range down to a single product, to truly make the customer feel that this is the 'right' product for them.

It amazes me that more personal goods companies haven't figured this out. For instance, how long would it take to make a customiser on the Brooks Brothers site that would help me figure out what tie I want? It could ask for the pattern of shirt (stripe, gingham, etc.), the size of the pattern (hairline, large check, mini-check, etc.) and the color(s) involved, and then suggest a couple of ties that would match. It's providing a service to your customer that keeps them coming back. Plus, it's fun.

Bottom line, if you've got a couple of lines in your product range, help us consumers out and put a customiser on your site.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

British Summer?

I'm not sure whether it's pigeon-grey sky that has been looming overhead since this morning, or the fact that my dissertation is ever-further from completion, but I feel stuck in a rut today. I went to do a climbing course today because, frankly, my rock climbing skills aren't where they should be. Especially when it comes to belaying. So I went with Karen and Kate (my regular gym-buddies) to the course today, and whilst climbing the walls, I was struck by a thought I hadn't had since the last time I climbed.

I realise it's a bit of a stretch to suggest that climbing is like life, and I'm certainly not experienced in either one nearly enough to make grand determinations, but it does seem that in both instances, trusting yourself comes into play. In climbing it's trusting your feet to propel you towards your next hold. Without that trust, you over-reach and eventually fall back to earth--sometimes without a rope to catch your fall. So far as I can tell, life seems to be the same way, though instead of feet, the metaphor can be extended to your background and skills.

So much of what we do is predicated on true confidence, and if I'm honest, it's something I've never been great at. Sure, I can project a self-assured stance when I need to, and yes, it often turns out that the projection was the reality, but there's still that fear. I suppose it's something everyone has in the back of their head (I hope). That fear that you'll be found out. That you're not as smart as everyone thinks you are. That it's really all smoke and mirrors. But then, you don't fail. You aren't found out. And you move on to the next hold without crashing back down. So yes, the skills are there, but starting with a base of confidence makes the maneuver all the easier. If you trust your feet from the beginning, you can plan your next move, rather than worrying that you're always on the brink of failing and falling.

OK, enough with the convoluted metaphor. I suppose what I'm trying to get at is that I need to work on trusting myself more so I can look to the future rather than constantly look back and my past and over-analyse my missteps. Just accept that I'm standing where I am now because of where I've been, and that the only way to progress is to just stand up and do it--something that I've constantly struggled with. Whether it's talking to someone in a bar or at a networking event, asking for a date, even starting a friendship, it's always easy in retrospect. You realise that it wasn't a life-changing event, just another step.

I realise I'm in a good position now. I'm not tied down. I have a good resume, supportive friends, and a few bucks in the bank. Things could be worse. I guess the thing is to just start taking those steps so I can move forward, trusting my feet a little more, and looking to the next opportunity, rather than analysing my missteps.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Has it really been since April?

Well classes are over, and I'm in full swing of my dissertation now. Right now, I'm poised for a distinction, but we'll see if that holds up given my propensity to procrastinate. Either way, despite not writing a thing, I have 333 responses (half of 666, you'll note) to my survey, looking at the marketing of sustainable goods and how they correspond with environmental attitudes. I'm supposed to have my methodology section written up by the 15th, but thus far it remains elusive. I do have an outline though, so I suppose it counts for something.

My new internship with ecoConnect has been going swimmingly, though. I'm really enjoying the chance to do a full-on social media/communications strategy. By the time I finish up on August 1, I should have a podcast, website, strategy, master deck, and a few blog posts under my belt. Not bad for two months work.

However, the job front still remains a mystery to me. I have yet to complete a generic cover letter that apparently is necessary for every job searching site. But I do have a good CV and resume with which to go into the hunt. What's difficult is finding where I fit. I tend to always be torn between so many different angles--business strategy, communications, finance/investment--that it can be difficult to know where I fit in. I suppose that combination will serve me well later on in more senior positions, but right now, I find it hard to pigeon-hole myself into the right job. Hopefully the search and some advice from some "trusted advisors" will help me figure that out. Consulting seems like a given, though I'm tending towards boutique firms right now, since I've had the "Big 4" experience. VC funds seem another avenue, as well as sustainable communications firms. What I know is that I need something that allows me to think, and most importantly, to strategise; however, what form that takes has yet to be fully decided. I did apply for a job with Fahrenheit 212, though, and it would be a fantastic fit, but I have yet to hear back from them. Time will tell, I guess.

Leeds is fine, though, for now. It's not my ideal city, but I only have a couple more months. I think, in the end, I just need a larger place, a better flat, and a bit more to do. People have started to move away, which isn't very fun, but a few of us remain. And I go down to London every few weeks, so it's a good chance to catch up with those who are off in the big city, now.

I did just get back from visiting Rome, though. It was amazing. I lived there for a bit as an undergraduate on a study abroad programe, and it was great to see my old haunts. I stayed with my Aunt Paula and Michael there for a week, up on the Gianicolo overlooking Rome. Since I had seen a lot of the sites, there was no need to go again, but we did hit a few museums, and I got a great tour of the Forum from Michael. The food, the people, and the city were wonderful, and it was hard to go back. But back I came, with suit in hand, no less. We went up to Florence for the day, did a bit of shopping, and even visited an archeological dig. But, on the way back down to Rome, our plans were slightly changed by a train strike, forcing us to stay in Arezzo for the night. Despite not being in the itinerary, it was a lovely town and you can't go wrong eating al fresco under an indigo sky.

So it's back to the grindstone. I'm sure now that I'm trying to actively avoid my dissertation, I'll be blogging more. At some point, I plan on switching back to the old blog--Thrice Told Tales, but I'm not sure when that'll be. Probably when I move out of Leeds, I suppose.

Ciao for now.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Life update!

I figured it was time for a life update. It’s been a while since I did that. So here goes. Mom and dad came in to Leeds in March to visit. We visited the Royal Armouries, the art museum and a couple of other nice, but unremarkable Leeds landmarks. After their stint here, we headed up to Edinburgh for the weekend and met up with Chrissy and Jamie, which was a lot of fun. Sadly, school beckoned so it was back to Leeds for me whilst they continued on for another day or two. It was great having them here and I was sad to have to leave.

After getting back to Leeds, there was another week of school and then classes were done. For. Ever. It’s a bit weird, and it’s flown by, but essays and exams call, so there’s not too much time to think about it yet. I’m currently writing my last assigned paper right now, though I can’t say it’s going swimmingly (yet). We have to make recommendations to the government, which, given my propensity for dispensing advice, should be an easy assignment. But somehow, having to cite everything makes it far less compelling.

I’m still not sure what summer plans will be, other than writing my dissertation. Perhaps an internship? And speaking of internships, for the next two weeks, I’m going to be interning at a company in Manchester, doing some internal communications work for an environmental campaign. I have to say, I’m slightly nervous after being away from the working world for 8 months, in a different field no less. Luckily, I’m working with another colleague who I already know, so it helps alleviate some of the dread. So, up at 6 tomorrow to catch a 6:30 train. It’s going to be a long day.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Der Humpink!

Saw this a week ago, but it's gotten better with time.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Update, again.

Apparently someone reads my blog.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A battle against time.

I generally like Charles Blow's op-eds in the NY Times, particularly his most recent which had this gem (about the frustration of the tea-partiers):
"Even the optics must be irritating. A woman (Nancy Pelosi) pushed the health care bill through the House. The bill’s most visible and vocal proponents included a gay man (Barney Frank) and a Jew (Anthony Weiner). And the black man in the White House signed the bill into law. It’s enough to make a good old boy go crazy."
His point is that more-or-less the tea partiers don't represent the direction the country is headed in. Politics aside, this group, still does represent a number of individuals and their opinions have a right to be heard. However, they should be doing it in a civil manner. The same can be said for the far-left groups, though their popularity has waned in recent decades as the demographic shift of the boomers shifted America's politics more towards the right (the older we get, the more conservative, etc.).

It reminds me of some of the exercises we used to do at Deloitte with generational issues. A topic would be posed (e.g. remote working) and invariably the older workers would say it should never happen and the younger workers would say they should be allowed whenever they wanted to. Clearly (as with most solutions) the answer was in the middle, but the important thing was making sure that the older workers didn't feel marginalized. Even if a company is shifting, it is important to give some token points to the older generations. Bottom line, the younger people will be there to change policies when they get in power, while the older generations feel completely powerless if they do not get a bit of deference. This is, I think, how many of the tea partiers feel right now. They feel like their voice is not being listened to at all, so their only option is to become louder and more virulent. Strategically, not brilliant, but one can understand where they're coming from. It's the politics of frustration. Yell and scream until someone does something you like (or you fall apart).

It would seem that the best strategy Obama, as "CEO," could take right now is to divide and conquer, similar to how you would in an company setting. Figure out which workers (voters) have issues that can be addressed and those that you will never get back. I would bet that if someone were to look at the various blogs, conferences, and rallies out there, they could find a few token policies that could be given into to siphon off some of the more marginal tea partiers. Bottom line, it's not a coherent group (organizationally or ideologically) , it shouldn't be that hard.

Quite frankly, I'm not sure what this type of policy would be. But, it would ideally be something that says, look, we value your opinions, but you also have to work within the context of the what's going on right now. The thing the tea partiers fail to understand (and which I have yet to see pointed out by the MSM) is that voting Republicans into power isn't going to make America some magical tea party state. People in power want to stay in power. A representative swept in on a tea party platform still probably only garnered about 50-60% of the vote. There are a lot of other people that they have to serve, otherwise they face a one-term-and-your-done legacy.

Bottom line, America is changing a lot--demographically, economically, and socially. Those who feel marginalized by those changes are going to be upset, frustrated, and start to yell. But, the real problem they feel is not the political stances, it's the loss of a voice. By giving them back a (civilized) voice within a different context, we can, and will, begin to move forward again. It all reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Pleasantville. The people start turning from black and white into color and the response of those who haven't changed yet and feel their power is being usurped is to turn to violence and persecution. In the end, the world keeps on changing, because it has to change. Trying to preserve the status quo is a losing battle with time and history.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Choir Nerd In Me Loves This So Much

I totally want to participate in one of these next time around:

Friday, March 19, 2010

New Conservatism?

Really interesting article from David Brooks about Conservatism in Britain (or more correctly, "radical conservatism"). I particularly found this line interesting:
Essentially, Blond would take a political culture that has been oriented around individual choice and replace it with one oriented around relationships and associations.
It seems more and more of what we do is dominated by relationships, exemplified by the boom in social networking. It's difficult to imagine what this looks like policy-wise in the U.S., but it's not uncommon for socio-cultural trends to make their way into politics. There seems to be more and more discontent, but as others have pointed out, it's disjointed. This may indicate that we're on the verge of a massive shift in governance philosophy.

In many ways it goes back to something that we discussed in my climate change mitigation class. People are having difficulty relating to complex problems with linear solutions. Our dominant paradigm has been to look for cause and effect, but as we're discovering (especially with climate change), that linear relationship does not always hold true (e.g. multiple causes and multiple effects). I tend to think that the shift will occur once we begin to think of issues/problems/policies as interconnected ecosystems. Healthcare is much more easily viewed as an ecosystem than a linear cause-effect relationship. The same with finance, climate change...the list goes on.

The current frustration seen in Tea Parties and other movements is that we're realizing we cannot operate on the old model any longer. There is no 'cause' for many of these issues, it's a complex series of events happening within a network of related issues. The frustration, then, is that we want to still be able to identify the 'cause' even though there isn't one. We don't have the conceptual and policy models to be able to deal with this, and it's a big problem, because it makes it impossible to improve the situation. We don't need different policy, what we need is a new way of thinking about our relationship to issues.

Now the question is what those new models look like...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Smurfette Principle

I greatly enjoy this video (via Clusterflock)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I was thinking today

Wouldn't it be fantastic if there were an agency/department of government that was tasked with looking at new academic ideas in all kinds of areas, then determining ways to scale them to government and run pilot programs. It could be a great cross-functional entity that would work to develop new solutions to problems. I can imagine such a type of organization looking for new ways to spur job growth, deal with social security, even combat obesity. Before you say, "but agencies already have that capacity." The problem is, the organizational capacity of many agencies can tamp down efforts to reform, as they run into politics, entrenched opinions, and resistance to change. But, if taken out of that context, and allowed a pilot program, it could be a wonderful way to demonstrate what works and what doesn't, outside of the confines of the traditional government bureaucracy. Think of it as a government trial of 20% time.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


You might have seen the OK GO marching band video, but this one is about 10,000 times cooler.

Dam, I'm Back

Lame puns aside, I got back from Amsterdam on Sunday after a much appreciated vacation. School continues to be crazy, with the administration attempting to cram 11 weeks of work into 8 weeks. It's not pretty. But, work must be done, so it will be done.

It was a bit of a tight fit getting in a paper on the topic "Copenhagen: Success or Failure. Discuss" in before I had to jump on my plane (oh, irony). Being sick with a cold the weekend before meant that I was hopped up on meds, and as a consequence in no state to press my case for the fact that Copenhagen was a success, even in spite (or because) of its failure to be legally binding. If you're interested, there are a couple of blog posts that make the case far better than I do. Luckily, a friend of mine offered to print out my paper and hand it in for me so that I could get on my merry way Thursday morning.

All in all, the trip there was relatively uneventful. Aside from an hour delay due to extremely thick fog, I got in with no complications in the early afternoon and headed to meet my friend Steve at the hotel. After tooling around a bit on the streets and canals and picking away at sandwiches and espresso, we headed back to the hotel to meet up with his coworkers for dinner and general merriment, including getting lost on the canals. Once we found the signs for the Centraal Station, we were home, though.

The next day was filled by trips to the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, both of which were very impressive. I especially enjoyed the Rembrants at the Rijksmuseum. Later on, we walked around the Red Light District (natch), though I declined to purchase any of the, um, goods. It's a weird thing walking around there. On one hand, you can't help feel that a lot of these women are being degraded by dancing around in a window like a tea kettle or something. On the other hand, they are making decent money, and I suppose it reflects more on my values that I find it somewhat "icky" to be a prostitute, than it does on the actual act. After all, people sell their best assets all the time, whether it's the delicate hands of a seamstress, the brawn of a builder, or the abstract brain of a designer, we are all selling ourselves, physically and mentally.

The rest of the crew shipped out Saturday morning, but I soldiered on to see the Anne Frank House, the Niet Normaal exhibit at the Beurs van Berlage, as well as just generally walking through the city and getting a feel for the canals and streets. Honestly, there really are that many bicycles. It's fantastic to see people going around in other ways than cars.

Later on, after checking into my new Hotel in the Museumplein, I headed over to the Bols 'experience,' more or less to get a decent cocktail. While the exhibit was rather boring, the cocktail was excellent. I had a Holland House with Bols Genevere, which is one of the best cocktails I've ever had. It reminded me, in some ways of the tartness of a Pegu Club, combined with the smoothness of a Vesper (both favorites of mine, anyway). I'm not sure if you can get it in the states, but it's worth tracking down. I never knew the history of it, but it was more or less the forerunner of gin, and was used in many cocktail books at the turn of the century where gin features now. Another reason I probably liked it a lot.

I'm still not sure what's going on here, but I managed to look like a homeless emo kid.

After the museum, I decided to walk around the back streets of the museum quarter, to get away from some of the more touristy attractions. I was not disappointed. Beautiful houses and small boutiques lined the streets, and after happening in on a tea shop to warm up a bit, I was offered a free loaf of bread because the woman was closing and need to get rid of it. Dutch hospitality, score!

The night concluded with a long meal solo, at, fittingly, a place called Solo. It was a very well presented and solidly constructed meal--the duck pate was excellent. The next morning it was off to the Foam photography museum and then back to the train station to get back to the airport for my flight home. All in all, a very relaxing weekend. Unfortunately, now it's back to work.

Monday, February 15, 2010

There's nothing like dancing in public with headphones...

With the semester now in full swing, my life for the next few weeks continues to be a race to the finish, save for a few pleasant interruptions. Monday's (now regular) meetings with presentation groups continue unabated. Luckily, one of said presentations will be out of the way come Wednesday. Honestly, I'm a bit nervous as to how it will go. We have the unenviable task of writing on three sustainability standards for which there is no--ZERO--academic, peer-reviewed literature. Seriously, I've Google scholar'd, Proquest'd, and ABInformed, all to no avail. So what we're running off of is basically blogs and news articles. While I'm happy to blag our way through this, there's this terrible suspicion that there's this treasure trove of critiques that our group is missing; however, I sincerely doubt it. Still, the doubt remains.

There are a couple of honest-to-goodness highlights, though, throughout the week. On Tuesdays, our program now has a "coffee talk" about sustainability. Essentially one of us circulates a topic/paper/video and then we talk about it for an hour. It's good to get the different views, and work through some of the issues we're bound to face. Speaking of, I really need to read the one for tomorrow. Thursdays bring our climate change seminars. After an hour-long lecture in the morning, we have a couple of hours to discuss a problem facing the world, whether transportation, energy solutions, or otherwise. Its honestly surprising how often we come up with the same general solutions. Though, as they say, the devil is inevitably in the details.

As much as I like the climate change class, though, it's difficult, because I feel like all too often sustainability is conflated with carbon, and, at least for me, the two aren't one in the same. I'm glad that scientists continue to question the evidence around climate change. They should. Though, unfortunately, the slightest bit of doubt is what makes the headlines, like so many other politicised issues. To me, either way you slice it, whether the world is cooling or warming, fewer pollutants in the air like CO2 and SO2 are a good thing. But that aside, sustainability for me is about living better. It's about cleaner air, and fresher foods, healthier populations, and happier families. We often forget that so many of the sustainability initiatives have such a positive impact on our happiness. More light from sustainable buildings, trees and flowers in landscaping, and fresh foods all make for a happier people, and that's worth something, even removing CO2 from the equation.

Back to our regularly scheduled program. I was interviewed by Samantha's boyfriend, Marcus, recently about UK fashion for his website. I'm sure most of my UK friends will disagree, but, I had the platform, so there you go.

I was originally going to go down to London on Friday to see an exhibit at the Design Museum about Dieter Rams, the head designer for Braun for 40 years. See some of his designs here. I really believe his principles of good design are the bedrock for sustainable design in the future. I'm hoping I can incorporate his work into my thesis somehow. So, as I was saying, I was going to see the exhibit on Friday, but then got an offer to go with a coursemate down on Saturday morning and stay with her sister that night and leave on Sunday. I figured longer in London wouldn't hurt, and I'd be going with a friend, which is far better than going alone.

I ended up having such a nice time. The ride down was uneventful, but we met her sister, who lives in Brixton, around 1 at the Brixton market for lunch with another couple of friends. The place served sourdough Neapolitan-style pizza. Even though it was a bit of a wait, it was worth it. FINALLY, decent pizza in the UK. Though, I don't think I'll travel down to London every weekend to get it. After, we toured around the market for a bit, where her sister volunteers for Brixton Transition Town. After walking into the shop next door I ended up getting in a great conversation with a guy about design, then off to the house for some dinner and a movie. The next day, after breakfast, we headed into central london, only to stop at a silent disco for a quick dance. For those of you who don't know, it's where you wear a pair of headphones and listen to music, rather than it being pumped over loudspeakers. Looks kind of funny when you're on the outside looking in, but there's something very liberating about dancing with 50 strangers, where no one cares. I highly recommend you attend if you have the opportunity. After an hour dancing, we got to the design museum, I saw my exhibit, and then we went for a late pub lunch. Tired, we dragged ourselves back to St. Pancras for the ride to St. Albans (lots of saints in this country) to catch our ride home. I was exhausted by the end of it all, but I had a great time.

So that's my life thus far. Oh and I forgot, Wednesday I went ice skating with climbing club, which was a blast. And we ended up going to a really great bar afterwards with live jazz-y type music. I guess I was a bit busier than I thought.

Well, pancake day is tomorrow, so I've stocked up on shake and pour (thank you betty crocker) and some nutella and bananas for a bit of a morning/night rendezvous with the frying pan. Sexy.

Back to the reading and presentation preparing! Oh, and check out The Local Natives, they're quite nice, if a bit similar to a lot of the other indie acts out there right now.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Color tests and me

So I decided to take a color test based on this article from USA Today. Great, done. And of course, what top two personality types does it come up with? Creator and Persuader. I mean, I'm glad a test validated what I perceive to be my skill set, but my career options based on this are limited to everything I'd find interesting to do but have absolutely no background in. Where is "sustainability expert" on there?

Quasi-full report:

Best Occupational Category

You're a CREATOR


Nonconforming, Impulsive, Expressive, Romantic, Intuitive, Sensitive, and Emotional

These original types place a high value on aesthetic qualities and have a great need for self-expression. They enjoy working independently, being creative, using their imagination, and constantly learning something new. Fields of interest are art, drama, music, and writing or places where they can express, assemble, or implement creative ideas.

Suggested careers are Advertising Executive, Architect, Web Designer, Creative Director, Public Relations, Fine or Commercial Artist, Interior Decorator, Lawyer, Librarian, Musician, Reporter, Art Teacher, Broadcaster, Technical Writer, English Teacher, Architect, Photographer, Medical Illustrator, Corporate Trainer, Author, Editor, Landscape Architect, Exhibit Builder, and Package Designer.

Consider workplaces where you can create and improve beauty and aesthetic qualities. Unstructured, flexible organizations that allow self-expression work best with your free-spirited nature.

Suggested Creator workplaces are advertising, public relations, and interior decorating firms; artistic studios, theaters and concert halls; institutions that teach crafts, universities, music, and dance schools. Other workplaces to consider are art institutes, museums, libraries, and galleries.

2nd Best Occupational Category



Witty, Competitive, Sociable, Talkative, Ambitious, Argumentative, and Aggressive

These enterprising types sell, persuade, and lead others. Positions of leadership, power, and status are usually their ultimate goal. Persuasive people like to take financial and interpersonal risks and to participate in competitive activities. They enjoy working with others inside organizations to accomplish goals and achieve economic success.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Second verse, same as the first...

Most of last week was pretty uneventful. I have a strong suspicion that in this compressed semester, that's how much of it is going to be. Lots of reading, meetings, and papers with a little time to play. Thursday was a big day, though. I met with someone about a potential masters thesis, and she agreed to be my advisor. We still have to work out the particulars of the topic, but it will be something concerning sustainable consumption, likely with a history twist. Right now we're thinking of examining advertising over time. Needs work. Also, I switched out of my law class and into a climate change mitigation class. I thought it would be a bit boring, but it turns out to be very interesting. I suppose it's one of the "happy classes" wherein I don't come out feeling incredibly depressed about the state of the world.

Sunday saw a trip to Roundhay Park for a leisurely pub lunch and then a long walk around the park. A nice (if chilly) way to spend and afternoon. Last night I meet up with a friend to watch the Superbowl. Of course, here, the Superbowl goes from 11pm to well past 3am, so it was a bit of a long night. Also, no commercials, which was very odd. Either way, a great game, though it was a bit sad not having my DC friends around me to partake in some pigs-in-a-blanket. Side note: pigs-in-a-blanket in England are sausages wrapped in bacon; a lovely idea to be sure, but lacking in the amazingness of cocktail sausages cloaked in golden, buttery dough.

Oh well, off for some more reading, that is if I can stay up...

Friday, January 29, 2010

First week done!

The first week of the new semester went off without a hitch (so far as I can tell). My schedule this year is pretty amazing. Mondays off, Fridays off, and every other Thursday off. All that adds up to travel and lots of on-demand internet TV. Glorious. I also found out that we have a full month off for Easter break. Which is damn generous, if you ask me. Sure, the semester is compressed. But one month off!

I handed in my dissertation concept note yesterday. I settled on something dealing with the intersection of design and sustainability, but beyond that I have about 20 ideas for how that could be carried out. At least I have a professor who's interested in discussing the topic, so I guess that's good. Classes overall are much more practical this semester. I think it will be interesting to see how they unfold. European Environmental Law is going to be my most challenging, but I think most rewarding course. I'm just not a "5 foot" thinker, I tend to be at the "50,000 foot" level, so it will be a good exercise, even if I want to kill myself by the end of it. Updates will follow...

I'm glad to be getting past January and moving on. It's such a slow month, with resolutions and whatnot. I've been better about keeping to my resolutions. So far, I've cut down on sweets and have been working out more and doing more yoga. Though, I'm not sure there's a perceptible difference, yet. We shall see. Maybe I'll become really ripped and start up my modeling career as an underwear model. Ha.

I have to say, it's pretty difficult trying to watch things over here that happen in America with the time difference and all. I was able to catch the iPad announcement, but the State of the Union came on too late for me to stay up and watch the whole thing, so I saw clips and read about it the next day. Probably more efficient anyway. From what I could tell, it seemed to be a fine speech. Though, it was nice that he was more-or-less like, I screwed up, you screwed up, but lets not throw out the baby with the bath water. Everyone seems to be yammering about how they can't see the point of the iPad, but I think the problem is that most of the people talking are computer savvy. They can't understand why someone would want a device that can only surf the net, get e-mail, read e-books, look at photos, and play music. But, I tend to think there are a lot of people for whom that's really their only functional need. By stripping out all the other things that can go wrong (viruses, spyware, etc.) it may be the perfect solution for a lot of people who only have basic computing needs. Time will tell, though.

Last night I went out to a Moroccan buffet with a few friends, then on to the pub for a pint an some snooker. I suck at snooker, I might add. Tonight brings a birthday party with coursemates, which should be a blast. I'm pretty excited. Yes, and I'll post pictures from York soon.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

York was lovely; now onto the controversy.

First of all, York was quite nice. I did take a few pictures (mostly of buildings), and as soon as I can run them through iPhoto, I'll post them up here. But, I have something more personal that I feel like I need to discuss. No, I'm not pregnant. Though, that would be AWESOME. Imagine tiny Stephens running around. Plus all the press coverage.

Since I've started the blog I've, naturally, moderated some content. Some to protect what little dignity remains (though clearly, that has been shredded by pictures on Facebook). And some because, well, I knew it would piss people off. But, I've decided that I need to discuss this topic because it's important to me, and because it is part of my experience here (I know, I know, get on with it). The wall is coming down--I'm posting about politics. Specifically generational politics and the politics of anger. For those of you not interested, close your browser now. For others, read on. But, know that I write this with the greatest trepidation, and for those of you whom I offend, I apologize. There, apologia done.


I've loved the game of politics from an early age, as my parents will surely inform you. Growing up, around the dinner table we had lively debates on all manner of things, from abortion rights to international policy. This parlayed into one-half of my undergraduate degree in the form of a BA in Political Science (the other half was History). With regards to political philosophy, it's a mix between a libertarian ideal, conservative pragmatism, and a liberal view of personal rights.

I have watched the health care debate from both sides of the Atlantic now, and frankly, it's frustrating. Much of what I see are reductionist politics playing into American anger over the state of the economy. We are so stuck in a state of paralysis by the current debate that we fail to be able to step back and understand the complexity real issues at hand. Healthcare is a series of interlocking components that feed into one another. The fact that there are so many uninsured continues to drive up the cost of healthcare daily. Issues like mental illness (e.g. depression) which plague more than a quarter of the population and often play into a feedback loop of physical illness (e.g. obesity) are rarely treated properly due to stigmas and chronic underfunding of treatment, further driving up costs. The system is so overly fragmented between the insurance company paying the hospital, the doctor, and the pharmacist, that rarely does anyone know the true price of any component much less the proper billing code. We have failed ourselves by refusing to take responsibility of the actions that we can control. How many people could significantly reduce their health problems if they were to lose weight and stop eating unhealthy food (again, demonstrating the complexities of poor agricultural priorities)? How much asthma could we prevent in young children if we were to fix emissions standards and reduce air particulates? A free market system ultimately fails in healthcare because it's nearly impossible to put a price on health since it is an immensely personal issue that is extraordinarily difficult to remove from emotion. Just try it. Ask 10 people how much they think a life is worth. And tell them they can't say "priceless." Yes, a market economy should theoretically work this all out, but the problem is the price you might put on your neighbor's health is likely very different than that of your child's. Does it make sense to spend thousands of dollars per-year to extend the life of a 75-year-old man for just one more year? Economics would say no. But, ask me how much I would have been willing to pay to extend the life of my grandparents and the number is incalculable.

It is due to this inherent complexity that I support universal, single-payer healthcare--with a caveat. I truly believe that universal healthcare will help remove complexity in the system on a basic, interface level. But the caveat is this: the universal system should not be an all-you-can eat plan. In my mind, it should provide a base level of care that would be necessary to maintain adequate health for a normal person. But, it should allow for supplementary care above-and-beyond what the base plan offers. Everyone should have access to truly affordable healthcare. No patient should have to die because they couldn't afford basic medical attention and generic drugs. But, patients should also be allowed to purchase supplemental policies that cover chiropractic work, plastic surgery, and gastric lap-band procedures.

Looking at the current social programs in place, this is surprisingly the model that we often use. Social security provides a base level of income for many workers, but should you want to supplement that income, you can invest in an IRA or a 401(k). (Clearly there are issues with the benefit structure due to miscalculated life-expectancies, but let us assume that the fundamental model works). The same actually goes for another little social program: Medicare. You are provided a base level of Medicare for a relatively low fee; however, should you wish to purchase Medigap insurance or additional prescription drug coverage, you are afforded the opportunity to do so. And you know what? Medicare has been successful by many accounts in holding down costs (and by some marks has less waste than traditional insurance providers). Do I think this will solve every problem? Far from it. But, it's a start.

I honestly don't find this potential system that radical, given our current policies, but I can guarantee you that if it were proposed, people would throw a fit about the expansion of government and more government waste. It's not infrequent that I am asked about my positions on healthcare and/or the U.S. government generally. I think in many ways, people can't understand a system in which you wouldn't provide basic care for all citizens. Honestly, I can't either. It's difficult to explain the divide in U.S. politics between liberals and conservatives because I don't necessarily think there always is one. I truly believe the difference is between those who are willing to accept that many of the problems we face are immensely complex and exist at the intersection of emotion, economics, and personal history, and those who would rather reduce problems to slogans and newspeak because they would rather not have to think about it.

The issues of reductionist politics occur on all facets of every issue. Democrats are just as guilty as Republicans in this. People would rather not think about the complexities because in doing so, they have to give recognition to the "other side." It's easier to get angry at your enemy than to understand where they're coming from. We have gotten into a mode that says that because 1/100th of the counterargument is false, suddenly the entire position is false. That's like saying because you get one foul in basketball, you lose the game. These issues are fluid networks of problems and solutions that flex and sway in the winds of academic and social debate. We have entered into a phase wherein we are unwilling to educate ourselves through experts and would rather be told a 30-second sound clip by a blow-dried desk jockey. This is inane. There are multiple angles to be told. I recognize that my position on healthcare has a counterargument. And I am willing to have that debate. But not with someone who is only willing to call me a socialist and reduce my position to a word they saw on a poster.

But I do have hope. I look at the current generations in power and it seems that much of their socio-poltical beliefs are rooted in a distrust of authority and a post-modernist mindset. Boomers and Gen-X were the first generations to feel the effects of divorce on a personal level, through themselves and their parents, respectively. Social institutions that had once been the norm slowly broke apart. Naturally, this engendered a mistrust of authority figures. After all, how could you believe anyone when your spouse, to whom you had promised a life of love, decided that they didn't feel the same. How can you trust an authority figure after you see part of your world destroyed in a parent's divorce. This is not to condemn divorce, as I think people often grow apart. But the difference is that we have social mechanisms through television and mores that help people deal with divorce now. It is no less shocking, but it is now a common experience, which reduces its impact to the collective psyche of the nation. Both generations saw immense socio-political change as presidents (Nixon and Clinton) were publicly discredited. How easy is it to trust authorities, experts, and anyone when the status-quo is evaporating on the front pages?

Similarly, the Boomers grew up at a time when post-modernism was coming into our national consciousness. No longer was there an ultimate purity of truth to be attained, to put it simply, if your worldview was your reality, why would you need to consider others opinions? It was this shift towards post-modernism that served to reinforce this distrust of authority. I think Americans were profoundly affected by these social shifts, in far larger ways than we realize. Much of the anger we are experiencing now is misdirected. I don't really believe that people are upset at Obama. Or the health reform bill. Or taxes. I think what people are upset with is the fact that we're in situations that are complex and difficult and are going to be extremely difficult to solve and work through. And that brings up issues of insecurity and uncertainly, causing people to lash out with anger.

So the hope part. It really does exist. I think it comes through Gen-Y and Gen-Z, but through new concepts of society and interconnectedness. As trite as it may sound, growing up in a fully globalized economy with the internet available at a moment's notice has prepared these generations to accept and appreciate complex issues more than other generations. They grew up with a basic understanding that the products came from all around the world, seeing and interacting with networks on a daily basis, from satellite feeds on CNN to Wikipedia entries on Miley Cyrus. When issues of distrust of reigning authority still persist, the solution is not necessarily to get angry and hurl pathetic barbs, but instead to band together to work around the problem. These generations embrace complexity, as long as it is wrapped in a simple, easy-to-use interface. Witness the technologies created or modified by the current generations. Peer-to-peer file sharing (e.g. Napster or Bittorrent) is perhaps the epitome of network visualization, intended as a workaround to poor distribution models and over-priced content, but achieved through a simple click and download interface. The creation of social networking sites with clean and simple designs (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) as a counter to the disconnectedness of a modern lifestyle. Home-brewed apps that enhance the functionality of existing systems (e.g. the iPhone). Yes, Gen-Y and Gen-Z may demand more on-time access and total connectivity, but the ways in which they create solutions to roadbloacks is a new paradigm that serves to enhance society. The good news is that more and more, the Boomers and Gen-X are utilising this paradigm--albeit in more traditional ways--as a way to work through problems.

The current generation of politics, exemplified by the healthcare debate, is simply a symptom of larger problems in society. But by embracing complexity, and using it as a medium through which we can understand problems and develop new solutions, we have the potential to actually improve our global society. The trick is this complexity must be wrapped in a cloak of simplicity. A paradox, to be sure, but consider the fact that most people don't know and don't care how the internet works, they only care that it works when they open up their simple browser. Universal, single payer healthcare will not remove the complex financial and emotional decisions and networks that underpin a hospital, or the doctor-patient relationship, what it will do is simplify the interface so that people can focus on the things that can benefit their health, rather than worrying about the complexities of getting a bill paid. And the more complexity we remove, the more we can focus on the networks that matter--our personal relationships.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Semester one: done.

As of Thursday, my first semester is officially over. After studying on and off for the past week, at 9:30 am, I walked in to the Great Hall on campus, sat down with my pen and hammered away at two of the five essay questions printed on the pale pink piece of paper in front of me. The exam was pretty much about how I expected it to be. Obviously, I don't really know how I did yet, but I don't think I completely failed it. I hope. I ended up using most of the time available, so I suppose if nothing else, I have a lot of words.

After the exam, my coursemates and I all went to the Terrace Bar for a celebratory pint (or five). What started out innocently became a mad bar-hop around the city. I'm still recovering, as is my pride. Given last nights events, it seemed like a good idea to sit out tonight and stay home catching up on 30 Rock and Modern Family.

Wednesday I saw "Bright Star" with a friend, and Monday, it was Avatar. I've got to say, while I think Avatar was incredible for the artistic direction and the action sequences. The script was--to use one of my favorite britishisms--pants. Really, I'm not sure there could have been any more holes in the plot if they had written it on mesh screening. But, the great visuals made up for it. I was definitely glad I saw it in 3D. Still a couple of movies I want to see before semester two starts up on Monday, though. Maybe Sherlock Holmes tomorrow night.

Tomorrow a few of us are taking a day trip to York. I've really wanted to see it for a while now, so I'm hoping the weather will hold out and it will be pleasant. But, I promise I'll post pictures from the excursion. If I can remember.

Oh well, time to become friends with my liver again and let it rest for a bit.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Music Monday!

Whilst "studying" for finals I came across a couple of nice new artists. OK, so I like acoustic stuff. Whatever. I'm in that kind of mood.

J. Tillman -
I honestly can't figure out who J. Tillman sounds like, but it's someone I've heard of before. But, with a pure voice, a bit of a twang, and nice riffs, it's good background/Sunday morning music.

Download a few free tracks here.

Mason Lindahl -
Parts of his song remind me of Nick Drake and Elliot Smith, but he's not as refined, and his voice is not nearly as pure. Really love the guitar work on "No Man," though, and "Serrated Man Sound" is quite nice. Again, good background music.

Anyway check 'em out.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success | Video on

This video is brilliant.

Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success | Video on

Close to done

Inspiration (or desperation--I can never really tell the difference) hit around 8pm on Thursday. The realisation that I had at least 1500 words left to write, and no citations kicked my mind into focus mode. Sadly, it meant missing out on a house party, but it was worth once my mind actually kicked into focus. Up until 1:30, and then back at it at 8:30am the next day, I finished my final essay around 10:30 and trotted off to school to hand it in. Damn, it felt good.

I can't say it was the most exciting paper I've ever written, but how thrilling can cost-benefit analysis, be anyway. I originally had some awesome ideas for telling the story, but it seemed that a cost-benefit analysis of prostitution probably wouldn't fly with the lecturers. Then again, maybe it would have gotten me a better grade. Oh well.

So, after catching up on Modern Family and 30 Rock, I met a friend for a pint, which ended up turning into going to the international store for a full-on middle eastern dinner, with a little TV on the side. Hummous in a can is scary stuff.

Feeling listless later on in the night, I went to Fruity at the University with a few people. First, Fruity, despite what it would sound like, is not some multi-colored gay bar with skittles vodka shots. Our student union in addition to a traditional-style pub, has a bar and three clubs. For Fruity, they open up the clubs and have a different style of music in each one. Since they're clubs, they naturally all have one-word names--Stylus, Pulse, and Mine. Side note: I'd really love to see a club with a descriptive name sometime, like Jack's Den of Debauchery or STDs Free With Every Shot. Walking in, I felt older than dirt given the overwhelming number of freshers milling about. Luckily, some guy with grey hair missing a few teeth was standing close to me at the bar, at which point I felt better about myself again. Either way, it's still weird to now go to hear 90s music as quasi-retro. 90s music as faux-ironic I get, but the fact that I can remember hearing some of the music on the radio makes the cobwebs start to creep out. Obviously, I'm 26, so it's not as if I'm headed for retirement village anytime soon, but it does put a bit of perspective on the situation. Still, I had a good time, though I don't think I'll be heading back to Fruity any time soon. It was good for a laugh.

Now, off to go gum down some food, watch a history program on BBC and fall asleep at 7pm.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

In which I find myself disgusted at the fact that Pat Robertson hasn't been arrested for being dumb

After an inauspicious start to my stats experience, I finished my paper on Monday, and turned it in around 6 (I think--I tend to lose track of time). A day early! This, mind you, is not so much reflective of the quality of the writing so much as I really couldn't figure out anything further to say. Seriously, when your results indicate that there's a significant link but, really it's not THAT significant, what are you supposed to do? It's kind of like casually saying someone's your best friend when they're really more of an acquaintance.

The next hours/days were filled with more-or-less doing nothing in an attempt to get motivated to write my Sustainability Assessment paper on cost-benefit analysis versus multi-criteria decision analysis. Riveting stuff. By Tuesday night, I ended up with about 1300 words, and not much else.

I have a terrible time concentrating. I suppose part of it is due to the fact that my mind goes in about 1,000 different directions every second. It doesn't take much--a word, a picture--and suddenly I have to find out what aboriginal peoples of south Gambia knew about paper making in the 14th century. All this is just a giant timesuck. As are the multitudes of flash games available on the Internet. God, I hate flash games. They're far too addictive.

So Wednesday brought the big 24-hour take-home exam. Oddly enough, despite the title, I did most of this in the library. It's about the only place I can concentrate, plus stare awkwardly at people while I contemplate things such as "ecological modernisation" and bias in aggregate index scores. Really, I lead a thrilling existence. A few breaks with some of my coursemates later, I was done and finished by 12:30 last night (this morning?) and I walked home with a little Sam Amidon to keep me cosy. Nothing says "you're finished" like listening to "O Death" on your iPod.

Not being able to concentrate anymore, I rolled into bed, only to find that, of course, I couldn't fall asleep. Hesitating to take melatonin was really a poor decision on my part, and meant that I only got a couple hours of sleep before waking up at 7:30 to get a start on the revision. Which didn't go as planned after my printer crapped out on me. Damn internet inks. While the first essay revision went well, the second, uh, well, let's say the second paragraph's OK, but after that it's a ski-slope of mangled words and awkward phrases. OF COURSE, the internet was slow at school, which meant that after e-mailing the final paper to myself, printing, and trotting off to the dropbox, I only had about 2 minutes to spare.

After a hot chocolate (I'm five years old) and a Pimms (but also of legal drinking age) in celebration, I headed off home to fix myself lunch and settle down for a long winter's nap. Which. Was. Glorious. Apparently others had the same idea, though their's didn't turn out so well. Girl Robin apparently had a nightmare where I said horrible things to her. While this sounds entirely plausible, I'd like to think that when girls dream about me it concerns my incredible love-making skills rather than my ability to call them fat. C'est la vie.

Unfortunately, now, I still have to finish the other essay by the 2pm deadline tomorrow. It'll get done, I'm sure, but until then I'm just going to stew about how idiotic Pat Robertson is for talking about devil pacts, and how entirely comfortable Sarah Palin is in her own bullshit. Incidently, her talking about George Washington at the end reminds me of my favorite history clip of all time.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

And the papers go marching along...or, you know, halt

3:30pm. Still nothing written. I am not a fan of stats. It's just so hard to write about something you don't care about. But, at least I have my questions and variables picked out. And I've run them through SPSS (a statistics program), so at least that's something.

On the upside, I did (lightly) work out this morning (crunches + pushups), which is an achievement, and I did about 10 minutes of yoga. I guess it's gotta start somewhere. Since it's been snowing on and off all day, I have no motivation to leave my room.

On a brighter note, I love my socks. Seriously. I've never been much of a sock man, but these new boot socks I picked up may have changed my life. Comfortable as hell, I basically never want to take them off again. Which could be a problem for anyone near my feet.

Eh, on to the paper, I suppose. Ugh.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Dine on a (GBP) Dime

The next installment of my student loan doesn't come through for another week, which means time to start pulling a nice round of stretch the budget. The first semester was rather expensive. Not only were there startup costs in furnishing a new place, but still being in the i-make-a-salary mindset for a while meant the money dried up, um, rather fast. That plus traveling, buying clothes here and there, and one too many nights out. Either way, it's going to be tight until the next round of pounds comes along.

In an attempt to stretch the limits of my budget, I turned to those old (cheap) standbys--canned tuna and potatoes. As anyone who's known me for a while knows, potatoes and I don't have an illustrious history. My feelings can be summed up in the song "Yakkey Yak, Don't Come Back." Slowly I've come to endure, even enjoy them. In an attempt to find anything other than plain roasted potatoes or mashed potatoes, I came across this recipe for "Crash hot potatoes."

It was freaking revelatory. It was like a potato latke + smashed potatoes + the top of twice baked potatoes. Anyway, they're dead simple, so I suggest you try. The only thing I did different was cut out the rosemary and added hot sauce. 'Cause I'm caliente.

My experiments with tuna were slightly less revelatory, but nevertheless good. Let's call it a hot tuna salad (which sounds kind of gross thinking about it). Either way, you can't go wrong with sauteed garlic, red onion, canned tuna, and spinach. Or you can, but I didn't. 'Cause I'm caliente.

And cooking post, complete.

Back to School

I got back into Leeds last afternoon after a very full (24-hour) day of travel. My last day in DC, I saw Precious, which left me both keenly aware of my privileged and simultaneously depressed. So, I did what any self-respecting white, middle-class pseud-hipster of my age would do...I got a latte and listened to podcasts at an independent cafe. Continuing on a theme, I met a friend for dinner at Rice where we consumed a variety of thai-inspired dishes. After that, it was on to Whole Foods to pick up a bottle of wine to share with a couple friends, recently back from the wedding I attended in New York.

Wow, reading that I sound like a total yuppie. I swear, it's not as bad as it seems (or maybe it is).

After a few hours of restless sleep, I caught a ride to the BoltBus pickup point (nee abandonded parking lot) for a four hour trip to New York. Thankfully, I was able to get a seat with a power outlet and the wifi worked.

Jesus, I'm really digging my way into yuppie hell, aren't I?

Anyway, I met my sister for a quick lunch and then it was on to Newark International (god help me) to fly back to Manchester, via Brussels. I sat between two aging boomers who compared sleeping pills and bitched to the stewardess about not having a pillow. In theory, I would have given her mine, since I never use them, but I resented her for the inane conversation and her stupid, look-how-arty-and-independent-I-am brown felt clogs and flowing clothes. Unsurprisingly, she had moved to Bennington, VT recently. Shocker.

My mild annoyance was quelled by the exceedingly large glass of scotch the flight attendant poured me. I'm not sure if it's standard or not, but it was about a wine-glass full. Needless to say, water post-drink was appreciated. Vegetable curry was on the menu, since they were out of the meat dish, but it was tolerable (the scotch may have helped). The flight was uneventful, save for a spate of turbulence, and I was able to finally watch Inglorious Bastards.

After a quick layover in Brussels (where there are a shockingly high percentage of hassidic jews), I flew into Manchester International, eyes closed and mouth agape the entire way there. So far, only a 30 minute delay the entire trip. But then there was...the snow. I didn't realise that much of Northern England reacts to snow in much the same way DC does. Had I been coming a day earlier, the entire airport was shut down. Personally, it didn't seem like that much, but I am not an air traffic controller, so perhaps it was the equivalent of a blizzard. After deboarding and checking the balance in my UK account (ugh), I bought my ticket for the trip into Leeds. Despite the warning from the station agent, the trip was quick and without many delays. Into a cab and onward home, I quickly stocked up on a few essentials (pizza, yogurt, and veggies), and crashed.

More or less, my entire day was spent mindlessly looking at my computer screen. Something I am extremely good at. Sadly, today was much the same story. After falling asleep at 9pm last night, I woke up at 9am today (after a bit of melatonin-fueled sleep) raring to go. It would seem I'm not terribly adept at statistics, and much of my go-get-em attitude was quickly subsumed by a what-the-hell-is-this-sign-or-is-that-a-number feeling. A brief study group today helped clear up a couple of things, but I still have nothing more than a title on the page. I did manage to download a trial of SPSS. So I guess that's something, right? RIGHT? Maybe I'll pick out some sexy variables upon which to perform calculations that, no doubt, a fresher could do far better than me.

And so it goes.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Food, Movies, and Cocktails

Tomorrow I leave for New York on a bus, only to grab a quick bit with my sister in Penn Station (classy) and then hop a train to Newark for my flight back to Leeds. I can tell you, I'm not going to be in a fantastic mood when I get home. Especially now that I just realised that I'm flying back to Manchester instead of Leeds, which means an extra hour on the train. UGH.

But, on a lighter note, I had a great day yesterday. I had lunch with an friend downtown, then saw a movie and grabbed dinner with another friend then went to a new cocktail bar with a few others. All-in-all, a great day. Today I've got dinner with an old friend at one of my favourite thai restaurants in DC, Rice, and I'm off to see Precious in a couple hours, which I've heard was really fantastic, if depressing. Not sure what tonight holds, but it might be a trip to Red Derby, my old local bar, or maybe to another movie (Sherlock Holmes or Avatar?) with friends.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Twenty Ten

Listening to NPR, I rang in the New Year with friends in Vermont after a great meal and a few fireworks. Earlier that day, I did something that I've wanted to do for years--ski. While I had been to Stratton, VT previously, for one reason or another we had never skied, but this was my year. After a few lessons from Chrissy, I was pie wedging my way down the learning hills, eventually skiing all the way down the mountain (on the easy route, of course). I have to say it's one of the most fun things I've done in a while. Not only was it completely exhilarating, but there's such a feeling of solitude when you're out there, curving and carving down a mountain drenched in sound-swallowing snow. It shall happen again...once I have the money. Though it happened on the 31st day of the year, it was one more tick against my goals for myself from 2009.

Overall, I've hit a lot of them, learning how to rock climb, boulder and ski, doing more kayaking/rafting and yoga (though that's fallen off recently), getting my MacBook and taking more picture, etc. 2009 was a year of big changes. I left my job, friends, and the life I had built over the prior 8 years and moved across the ocean to England to begin my masters. It hasn't always been easy, and there's been a lot of emotional upheaval at times, but I'm enjoying my course and I've met some wonderful friends.

It's hard to say what 2010 will hold. I find myself faced with the prospect of finishing a masters and finding a job, not knowing what kind of job that will be and where it will take me. But that's OK. One of my goals this year is to try and make sure that I don't discount my own happiness in the pursuit of what I think that I should be doing (more on this in a future post).

While 2009 was a year of revolution, I'm hoping 2010 will bring evolution (along with some inevitable revolution, I suppose). I want to get better at the things I enjoy, and remove the elements that drag me down. Tangibly, I'd like to get better at climbing, get back into semi-regular yoga, and concentrate on doing more, and better writing.

But it's not all something I can just attend a class for, or practice at. Part of my goals are to get better at the intangibles--strengthening friendships and making an effort at having an adult relationship. Unfortunately, these are harder to achieve. I don't yet really have an action plan or know what needs to be fixed, but I guarantee you there are many things. So I'll seek help where available and reflect when necessary. Part of the reason why I haven't blogged as much as I'd like to is that I've got a few really serious posts that are swirling around in my head, and I'm not sure how comfortable I am yet with putting it out there for anyone to read. But, taking inspiration from Paige, I think it's time to lay it on the table and fess up to my emotions, thoughts, and the power of an open forum.

So that's where I am right now in 2010. A bit confused, with no tangible goals, but more experience and a readiness to face things I haven't wanted to over the past 26 years. As 27 creeps up in June, and the completion of my masters presents itself in September, it's time to cast off the bad and embrace the good. Happy twenty ten.