Let There Be Dragons

I just finished reading a book, “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.” I’ve been reading it for 3 years. It is an amazing book. I envy the author, Charles Mann. He has explored a fundamentally unique and foundationally important event in the history of the human species: the collision of two separate cultures, each with wholly different views on core aspects of life, society, and purpose; each developing cultures and civilizations entirely apart from one another. If you ever found yourself wondering what would happen if the earth were visited by aliens, read this book to unearth some clues. I always had this idea that the European cultures prevailed over the Native American cultures because the Europeans had guns and smallpox immunity. But I learned that the Europeans prevailed also because the Northern Natives felt a sort of indifference towards them, as though the Europeans were just children mingling around at the feet during a party – something to be gently tolerated. I say this because the narrative of the book takes every opportunity to contrast differences in sociology and culture between the two worlds in question, and the Native American seemed amply more mature. Instead of quickly wiping them out, which Native Americans could have easily done, instead they nurtured, taught, and even adopted the communities of new Europeans. The book up-ended almost all of my beliefs about the pre-Columbus American civilizations. Being geographically-partial to pre-Columbus North America, I admit to being unexpectedly surprised and delighted by the histories of our neighbors to the south. These include: A three-dimensional, unspoken language conveyed through knotted strands of rope? Who knew! Near-wholesale pre-Columbian slashing and development of the native Amazonian landscape? Say it isn’t so! Milpas and Terra Preta?? How is it possible? So much in the book amazed me. I appreciated the primary accounts of incredibly vast populations that lined the north eastern shores before European disease destroyed entire villages and towns. The matriarchal societies of North America were news to me (it wasn’t just limited to the legendary Amazonian Warrior group). I was stunned to read the position that the vast buffalo herds were a European creation and not a consequence of ecological balance (in fact, it was ecological imbalance which created them). Most of all, though, I was amazed by the posit that democracy and the cherished ideals of American Freedom borrow heavily from the philosophy of the pre-Columbian North Americans. I was taught that these were Greek and European ideas, but Charles Mann presents a compelling argument that Native Americans deserve long overdue credit. The North American was a culture of individual freedom, of intolerance for incivility and inequality, and of codes of civic honor and intergenerational social safety networks. What amazes me about this isn’t the lack of credit where credit may be due, but the concept of such a monumental paradigm shift being caused by the merging of these two worlds. The European world was one of lords and lands thereby owned – peasants and all. Caste systems and servitude were rock solid. Nobility was by blood and serfdom was for a lifetime. There was not an intellectual concept for individual equality – not until one mixed with the ideologies of the New World. Amazing nugget to consider, isn’t it? Just imagine what we still don’t know about our capacity for governance, for human individuality, or for social civility. What will happen when we next encounter a new culture? Or, are there even any left for us to run into – on Earth or otherwise.

Sweet Phone for an iPhone

I’d love to have one of these items sitting around the house. This is from Etsy and I’d buy it, except that it costs $195. That is a handsome price for the luxury of necking with an old-school cradle. Is it worth it?

My moms had an actual rotary phone in her house up until last year. Using it was really satisfying. The rotary dial was slow, each number required patience as the wheel clicked back around to home from where ever you released it. The handset was really heavy and felt solid against my ear. The sound was warm and full. It is so different from the experience of using a cell phone or using the lightweight plastic wireless home phones.

I often wonder why people talk into their cell phones like they are sliding fresh oysters into their mouths. You know the style: where they hold the phone to their mouth like they are talking into a walkie talkie, and when they are done talking they put it up to their ear like a regular phone? Is it because they do not trust that the person on the other end is going to hear them unless they put the phone microphone right up to their mouth? I’ve read that people use their cell phones this way because to keep from inadvertently hanging up on people (think: really thick hair or earrings?). I think it is simply because cell phones, for all their micro-portability and conveniently light weight frames, are just too small for an honest, ergonomically fulfilling talking experience.

using a cell phone like a walkie talkie
using a cell phone like a walkie talkie

Maybe liking an old-style cradle and handset like this is simply nostalgia. When the day comes that it is common for our cell phone technology to be woven into our jackets or other clothing, and we have no physical object to interface with when talking on them (i.e., we are just talking into thin air, sans visible ear piece or mouthpiece, will we still miss the heavy rotary phone and cradle? Or will we then long for the nostalgic “heft” of an old iPhone4?

Google is Getting “Pittsburgh Cool”

The Google offices over in Bakery Square have been named among the top cool “tech spaces” in the country. That is pretty rad. I would have thought that there were enough cool places in Denver and San Diego to bump Pittsburgh down to maybe, top 51 coolest? But, the Business Insider has spoken! It cannot be refuted!

With all the talk about coolness and Pittsburgh, you’d think you might start to see a bandwagon riding around for people to jump on. Oh, no, my bad. That was the boob truck.

Samantha Warren’s Website

This post really captures a great idea for communicating with a customer on potential web designs and plans.  I heard the writer speak at a conference on this very subject, Style Tiles.  The joke was that saying it was a true test of one’s Pittsburghese – this is only funny if you have heard Pittsburgh’s peculiar accent.

The gist is that we serve clients with a tool to establish a “visual vocabulary” so that the designer and client can communicate more effectively, without missing any assumptions that may be in either’s head.  They fill a void between mood boards and iterative comps.  They are a starting point for the team discussion about the visual elements

Check out the post on Samantha Warrens Website:

SOPA Protest Today – Political Protest Tomorrow?

Google’s homepage rolled out it’s SOPA/PIPA protest today with a “blackout band” across the legendary Google logo. The homepage also links to an explanation of the protest, with a form to sign a petition against them. Hundreds of other website homepages are taking part in the protest with similar “blackout” bands and links to petitions or other directions for contacting government representatives.

it is impressive to see campaigns roll out like this across the Internet. I am reminded of why the Internet still has legs at times like these. It isn’t just a “liberal media” cause or vague dissident youth movement. It is a movement of major US corporations, entrepreneurs, and business investors banding together to protest pending legislation. That is some pretty heavy stuff, considering that it wasn’t really even possible 15 or 20 years ago.

It isn’t as significant, in the short term, as the use of social media to herald and organize the “Arab Spring” protests of 2010 in the Middle East, but it shows that this type of movement is indeed still possible within the US. While this particular instance is driven by corporations and big money venture capitalist, it could be the BETA version for a citizens’ protest that arises later in this election cycle.

Come November 2012, people in the US will be disgusted by the money spent by both presidential candidates (which will probably top $2Billion total). People will be disgusted by the amount of money spent by the SuperPACS (which may not be publicly disclosed by the PACS but will be inferred from watchdog organizations – see Democracy 21 & The Campaign Legal Center). Republicans will be disgusted with the “entitlement society” that they fear Obama is building (or whatever the fear-mongering cry happens to be this fall). Democrats will be disgusted with the fear-mongering Republicans (or whatever the he-said, finger-pointing, it-ain’t-fair griping that Democrats decide to stick with this fall). I, for one, am already disgusted with the things allowed to be said during the ongoing Republican primaries. I can imagine how bad the actual campaign will get once it is full on, all stops pulled. Who knows, maybe the mounted disgust will turn into politically-motivated web protests that significantly impact our government, going beyond the typical street parties chanting “throw the bums out”.

Democracy is the voice of the people in action. The Internet is an incredibly powerful vehicle for the voice of the people to gear up, swell in volume and number, and be heard (as well as for corporate voices, federal voices, etc). I am really expecting The People and The Internet to converge this fall in a dramatic fashion that marks a new shift in US governance policies. We shall see! I doubt we will have an Arab Spring of our own in the sense that there is an overthrow, per se. However, there might be troops in the streets of DC to keep the peace – not just police, but national guard or something.

This is not a “wish”. It is a prediction. Weariness over unemployment, wars, terrorism, and endless political bickering, finger pointing and strife will merge with the fervor of the election year energy and compel some sort of internet-led citizen actions. If this does transpire, it will be interesting to see which mouthpieces latch on. Will it be a Ron Paul figure? How about an entirely politically polarizing and self-interested visage a la Sarah Palin? I dunno. I believe the people of the United States have great potential and great possibilities ahead of them and they will sieze those. I hope the government comes along for the ride. If not, the people will cast it aside.

Pittsburgh is the new Portland?

Pittsburgh is the new Portland. That is the news out of the Washington Post this week.  It is pretty exciting to make it onto the “in” list of what’s cool.  It appears, though, that Pittsburghers are taking the acclaim in stride.

One of the things that make it a cool place to live is that the people living here in the burg’ don’t really care much about being cool. We just want to have fun, enjoy the arts & music, and keep our tax assessments low. It doesn’t seem that the added hype is going to change things.

We’ve already made a bunch of great lists and still, we act as though we’d only just won another superbowl.  Sure, I am being smug. But only to make a point: Hipsters and other trend-setters probably don’t care about NFL football because it is so mainstream. So here is a city whose proudest moments are summarized with the phrase “More Lombardi Trophies than you.  How can we be cool?  This is a town that still shuts down for the first day of deer hunting season (killing is out of style but, butchering has made a comeback).  Football and hunting have not been urban-scene hip since the days when George Washington slept here (which is weird because football wasn’t even invented back then).

Pittsburgh is cool because Pittsburghers don’t judge others.  We complain and gripe, but we don’t  judge.

I am glad Pittsburgh has made the “in” list for 2012. It is pretty exciting.  But when it is freezing outside and you are snug as a stinkbug in the house, sauce is cooking on the stove and venison is curing in the basement, it just doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.  Pittsburghers have our list of what’s important, and everyone else has theirs.