I know this isn't news to anyone, but how we experience life is largely dependent on the angle from which we approach it. What interests me more, however, is my recent realization that the global experience is also subject to the same laws of perspective that apply to the individual. That is to say, given time, distance, or point of view, the accepted reality of any society, culture, or nation may in fact be invalid from an alternate, and usually larger, perspective.

We know this to be true, because some perspectives are flawed from virtually every exterior angle, like cultures that oppress women or participate in genocide. But even a democracy like the US, in spite of our potent ideals and position in the world, is not exempt from these problems, and I think our perspectives can be flawed in much more subtle ways.

There's a high ironic example, I think, in the rapid growth in our consumption of organic foods. The perspective causing this trend, I assume, is the belief that foods grown without chemicals are more healthy for us than those foods grown using pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. On it's face, this seems like a sound viewpoint -- natural is healthy, right? The interesting point to me, however, is that while organic foods may be healthier for those that consume them, they may actually be less healthy from a global perspective.

I realize this probably doesn't make any sense, so let me explain. Consider, for example, that organically grown foods typically have 50% lower yields than traditional crops. In other words, if you have two equal sized fields, the organic one will produce half as much crop as the traditional method. This shouldn't be a surprise, since this is the whole reason that pesticides were developed in the first place. This also explains why organic foods typically cost twice as much or more. This isn't a big deal in a wealthy nation like the United States, where people typically spend less than 10% of their income on food, but what effect might it have on world food prices if even a modest number of farmers produced half as much crop as before? And what's the subsequent effect on people who spend nearly all their income on food?

In general, I wonder if organic foods are grown successfully because the general crop population is rendered disease free through treatment -- much like a child in the US who skips a vaccine, but never catches the disease because 99% of the other children did get the vaccine. Such a child would almost certainly catch the disease if the general populace weren't vaccinated. I have to wonder if the same principle applies to organic crops? Are they at higher risk for wholesale failures, like the potato famine?

Am I saying that organic foods are bad? No. Certainly the resurgence of organic food can teach us that perhaps we are too dependent on fertilizers and pesticides, and there is probably a good middle ground and certain crops that can be grow very well organically. But a global perspective should make us think twice about launching headlong into the organification of everything we eat. After all, the vast majority of the world population is much more worried about having enough to eat than the particulars of how it was grown.

In the end, it's all a matter of perspective. What are the hidden costs of ours?

...to be continued...


What I learned back east...

It's good to be back -- back from visiting the east coast for work. It was a whirlwind tour, involving 6 different airports, 4 different hotel rooms, and 2 different rental cars (neither of which were PT cruisers!) After a trip like this, there are two things I like to do:
  1. Sleep a ton. Seriously. My clock gets SO messed up when I travel. I'm already a huge night owl, so it doesn't take much for me to slip entirely into the schedule where I sleep all day and work at night. I woke up today at 2 PM.
  2. Reflect on what I learned this trip. That part follows:
What I learned:
  1. Cleaning before you go on a trip is totally worth it. When I got home late last night, it was so wonderful to walk into a clean room with a freshly made bed and no piles of laundry around. I think this is because when you travel, every time you step into your hotel room, that's how it looks... Now, if I could just train my roommates to clean up after themselves...
  2. Connecticut feels like a Norman Rockwell painting -- farmhouses in lush green fields separated by towering but still welcoming forest. I could totally live there. It was quaint and rustic, but still only 2 hours from Boston and 2 hours from NY, and they still had really great high speed internet.
  3. DC traffic has to be the worst traffic EVER. On my way out of town, I decided to drop by the national cathedral (see item 4). I was near the new Nationals stadium just south of the Capitol. Google tells me that the distance I covered was 7.6 miles, but it took the better part of an hour. (And no, this wasn't rush hour or anything, it was 10:00 am!) DC is this hideous mess of one way streets and roundabouts. I'm sure that L'Enfant designed it this way because the all lines made cool shapes on the paper. I'm also convinced that our Senators and Congresspeople arrive in DC full of hope and ready to work, but are completely embittered and partisan after their first week because they spend 50% of their time in a car.
  4. The national cathedral is AMAZING. The 6th largest cathedral in the world, and it took 80 years to complete. The craftsmanship is exquisite. One thing I did find very interesting is the names of the benefactors that were carved into various places around the cathedral. I worry that this might have started the insane sponsorship craze that we see today. Someone we went from, "This alcove dedicated in holiness by Frank and Deborah Sneddlesmith," to "INVESCO field" instead of Mile High stadium. C'mon people. Isn't God going to know that you funded this pillar, or paid for this pew? Why does everyone else need to know too?
Well, I'm tired again all of the sudden. To much thinking about work, I guess.


Humor .. in a galaxy far, far away....

Can you count how many times Shakespeare, Homer, Austen, and the other great literary minds have their works retold, spoofed, and lampooned? I can't. If it's true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the surest measure of a work's popularity is in its number of imitators.

If you accept this premise, then I have no choice to conclude, despite every line of George Lucas' dialog, that Star Wars is clearly among the pinnacle of film. It's been 30 years since it came out, and in spite of Jar Jar Binx, Hayden Christiansen, and the world's craziest numbering scheme ( 4..5..6...1..2..3), fans are still turning out an absurd amount of material in homage.

And, fortunately, you don't have to be a nerd to enjoy it (though it mights help):

  • This Soundtrack is OSHA approved.
  • Paper or Plastic?

  • I'm just glad Dog the Bounty Hunter hasn't spoofed Boba Fett

  • Do to think Emporer got his MBA?
  • Most Interesting Use of a Golf Ball Retriever

  • Which one of those buttons calls your mom to come pick you up?

  • Even the Brits get it!
    • If you can tolerate a little dirty mouthed British comedy, then check this out by Eddie Izzard.



Last night, I ate dinner at the San Diego harbor in a restaurant perched at the end of pier that extended over the sullen pacific. I enjoyed fresh tilapia with mango salsa while watching the crimson sunset coax sail boats back to their slips. Afterwards, I took a leisurely drive up the coast to Mt. Soledad, where I enjoyed an amazing view of the San Diego temple, La Jolla, and the pacific coastline stretching into the inky horizon.

As you might suspect, it was a spectacular evening...perfect in nearly every way...except that I was with 3 other dudes from work.

This, my friends, is the irony of the business trip.


The Buck Stops

I loathe group projects. Despite the years that have passed since I was in school and forced to work with a smattering of half committed nincompoops, I remember well the pain of the group project. I thought I'd left those those days behind, but I have sadly learned that the group project is alive and well at my work; not because of the people I work with, but because our company frequently has to work with other companies on the same project.

Just this last week, I was in the room as members of three companies sat down to discuss the less than stellar performance of our jointly produced project. It was then that I started to have flashbacks. There was finger pointing, blame shifting, spinning, and every other tactic you'd expect from an under performing group member suddenly being assessed by the professor. We all suspected that one of the companies hadn't done its job (thankfully, not mine) and was circling the wagons to deflect blame -- as the simplest cause for the failure was a component for which they were responsible. But, they insisted that there were software defects, that the installed parts weren't that different form the specifications, and their engineers had done the necessary calculations to prove it on paper.

This went on for days. With our collective reputations on the line, my company painstakingly discounted every possible defect in the system, one at a time, until finally, the delinquent group member had to admit, begrudgingly, that they had NOT done their job, and it WAS THEIR FAULT. At this point, were we relieved that the problem was solved? No! We were frustrated and angry that four days and a dozen people's time were wasted in chasing down nonexistent problems.

Of course, we do deserve some blame for not being more insistent that they own up to their responsibility, but there is only so much you can do do motivate an ass that refuses to budge -- and you end up shouldering the load yourself to make any progress at all. This is what I really hate about the group project, being held hostage by one's own work ethic in the face of uncooperative and lazy group-mates.

Truman was right: The buck stops here. No one is ever served, least of all ourselves, by avoiding responsibility. Not only do we invariably look bad, in the end, we accomplish nothing.