Monday, October 21, 2013

We are Generation X, and we still suck.

Hi, I'm from Generation X. Remember us? Basically if you're mid 30s to around 50 (in 2013), you're one of us. That's right, Generation X just turned 50. Think about that for a second.
It's no surprise there was no celebration.
We were quite the rage for a while, after which we learned the hardest fact of life in a new millennium: no one gives a shit for very long about anything. And the irony is, that is entirely our fault. In fact, most of the horrors we are facing right now in the world are pretty much the result of our incompetency, indifference, lack of drive and lack of common sense. If we didn't do it, we were helpless to preventing it from happening.
America as a super power, for example. Europe is a little sister to us, loving but kind of embarrassed at their big dumb brother who doesn't even get why he can't hold a job (or a girlfriend). They are host to a number of former failed super powers - Spain, Holland, Italy, Germany and Russia - so it makes sense they'd be kind, as we are about to join that club. South Asia has crushed us with their work ethic and devotion to education, while we continue to play mall cop to the planet. Anyone feel they'll be as benevolent in victory? Me neither.
The internet is another example (ahem) and something we claim credit for. Bullshit.
The internet can be traced back almost to the "Greatest Generation" (Generation G?!), specifically 1968, when the military created Arpanet as a post-apocalyptic means to communicate. And it was released for public use by order of ultimate Generation G icon George Herbert Walker Bush! And then it was developed from a secret network to Net 0.1 by the nerdiest Baby Boom minds, led by Generation B geniuses such as Tim Berners-Lee, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. (Al Gore was strangely absent. Good thing he decided to concentrate on environmental science instead!)
What did we contribute? Essentially we loaded it with porn, penny stock traders, stolen goods on eBay and Bit Torrent, ads for insurance, video game shoot 'em ups, and videos of pets doing tricks. And bugs like Stuxnet, which will do more to bring a real apocalypse than any zombie plague ever will. And more porn.
It was inevitable we'd screw things up. We were the first generation to come of age with a pass to slack off. So that was our name, the "slackers" - living in spare family rooms, watching TV and getting loaded. Because we came of age at a time when we had, as a nation, a wealth that will probably never be equalled in the world again. And like any good rich boy or girl, we mismanaged it. Our subsequent Gen-X leaders in government and finance and business, our best and brightest, crashed that ship and burned it and it's now a ruin on the bottom of the ocean, and we don't know how to build another one. But damn if we can't build a thousand apps to help you score with chicks.
So clearly, we are not coping with middle age and going gray well, because we wasted our prime utterly and completely. I am particularly sensitive to this as a single man, because once upon a time, men in their 40s were prized for our awareness of ourselves and what women need from their man. That's exactly not the case anymore, as any woman who seeks love online will tell you right off. Goodbye "Mad Men", hello cock selfies.
We like to say "60 is the new 40" and "You're as young as you feel", as if to reassure ourselves that we can still put together a 10th inning upset and accomplish something our millennial successors won't hate us for. The 1968 Mets would be amazed at a upset like that. (And if you get that reference, you're probably Gen-B.)
There are some who are bringing the world back to normal, and making an effort to make it better as if such a thing was possible. And once again, as it should be, it's the young people. Y and Millenial have brought us Occupy, Ted.com, a Mobile internet, 3D printing in your home, Maker Faires in every town, HD video production tools in every home, and the Criterion movie library streaming on demand. They're saying no to cars and fast food, having sex without marriage and kids (like, a lot) and demanding substantial changes to the way we think about our jobs and homes and bodies.
OK, we created the Criterion library in the first place. (Oh, how we love TV.) So maybe we don't completely suck. Besides, they brought us hipsters, twerking and Justin Bieber, so maybe they will screw up too.
Or maybe we'll have to settle for being #1 at that.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

What I've learned about our addiction to oil.

My latest class at edx.org which I've discussed here* is on Energy, and I'm happy to say it's going swimmingly. And may I say there is nothing like studying the facts, statistics and science of energy to make one go green as a tree. Here's something I learned today:

The USA and Saudi Arabia produce almost the same amount of oil.

Go ahead, let that sink in.
The USA produces 11,133,000+ barrels a day. Saudi Arabia leads us by 11,545,x?x barrels. A difference of 412,000+ barrels, or 94,000 more that Russia uses.
So gee, we should be doing awesome with our oil, right? But we're not. Why not?
We consume 18,554,0?0 barrels a day. That's more than ALL of Africa, South America and Australia. That's more than #2, #3 and #4 (Turkmenistan, Turkey and Syria) COMBINED. (15,700,000+)
Need more perspective? China consumes 7,000 barrels.
Seven. Thousand. Well, ever notice instead of traffic jams, they have roads packed with bicyclists? They need that oil to make your cheap plastic junk.
And how much did Saudi Arabia consume yesterday?
136,890 barrels.
Coming in clearer now? Good. And where, I bet you're wondering, is that difference in oil going? If you guessed gasoline, you get a cookie.
8,740,000+ barrels are refined into gas; 3,850,000 into diesel; a meager 1,430,000 into jet fuel. Significantly more than half of ALL the oil we consume - specifically, the is just for getting around. 2,700,000+ barrels are used to make plastics. A paltry 670,000+ barrels are used for heating our homes.
So what do we do? Walk to the mall? Buy electric cars? Demand the gas cars we can afford get much higher mileage than they do now?
How about all of the above? We don't need to do what the above countries have done to reduce driving - like, say, forbidding women to drive - when we have these tools at our disposal. Sure, we can also fly less, demand products that aren't throwaway plastic items, and solar panel our roofs. These are included in the "all of the above" policy.
As for me, I'm sure glad I took that other class, in bicycle maintenance.


*The SaaS class didn't do so hot. That's OK, I did better learning Ruby On Rails and Agile Management through lynda.com, StackOverflow and Youtube. Maybe I had a poor attitude? :D


Read all the facts here:
http://www.eia.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/IEDIndex3.cfm?tid=50&pid=53&aid=1

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Careers for people who are not computer scientists

I am taking a class on edX.org in Software As A Service, concentrating on Agile development and Ruby On Rails programming. I won't bore my non-tech readers with my adventures in server administration, because I'm fascinated here by a comment my instructor made intended to sell us on what a great job being a developer is. We are number 1 in pay and prestige according to a source he glossed over - doctors are third! Down at the very bottom are lumberjacks (kill trees to provide our wood products) and journalists (expose injustice, oppression and abuse of power), which got a good laugh from the class.
Well, I don't think the entire world is going to become part of the Matrix in my lifetime, and I think there are plenty of non-dev jobs that will exist, as long as we understand the basic needs of our dev overlords:
They need to go to the bathroom and bathe, so we need plumbers to ensure their toilet, shower, sink et al functions, not to mention civil engineers and chemists to get the water out of the lakes and rivers to their mansions. And people to build the mansion in the first place, actually.
They need to eat, so we need farmers to grow and kill their food and drive it in from the exotic climes of Wisconsin, Cambodia and the middle of the ocean. And of course, Colombia. The lab-grown meat, GMO plants and manufactured nutrition beverages will actually be for the non-coding rabble; the upper class is about having a more demanding palate, of course.
And of course, since most of these coding cognoscenti will be educated idiots who can't operate a stove, there will be a massive industry for restaurants and cafes, and employment for staff to serve their masters and - in the oldest customer service tradition - be their emotional punching bags.
As for those doctors and lawyers, they will continue to exist and rake up the big bucks, because when you are gravely ill or facing prison, you will sell your house to avoid that fate, and doctors and lawyers know this. And sometimes a coder will fall ill from lack of sunlight and physical activity, or forget that some laws apply to her or him (and that their clients and customers do have these old fashioned things called rights) and the doctor and lawyer must be called on to assist.
And finally, they need to be amused, whether with music to help them navigate a harsh debugging phase or TV shows/movies at the end of a 70+ hour work week, royalty have always required their jesters and that will not change, either. And though most shows and tunes are in some way computer generated, they will always need that fresh human touch to become magic. And that touch comes from creative people - actors, designers, writers, directors, and composers who all know the best stories come from people who are freaks, outcasts and in any way different. The truck drivers, chefs, plumbers and plantation strongmen who know that as useful as a computer is, the best thing you can do with it to improve your life...is to turn it off.


...after you're done with homework.

Fat People in Their Underwear: A Critical Discourse

In case it wasn't obvious, I want to take shots at some more whimsical topics that in some way, shape, or form are important. So let's kick it off with a 3 point observation:
  • I have had crushes on fat girls.
  • I want more than anything else to lose weight.
  • These two concepts are not mutually exclusive.
Ready?
OK, so I knew to talk about the current trend of "fat shaming" and "size acceptance" that seems to be on everyone's mind, I would need to open up about me and something I don't like to talk about on the PERMANENT RECORD that is the internet, namely my sexuality. I deal, why can't you?
I desire, need and lust after women of all different sizes and shapes, be they fit or "curvy" or maybe the two extremes. So needless to say, I was delighted to learn through sheer research that Facebook and Pinterest have exploded with some feeds and blogs and whatever they're called showcasing all the different female sizes there are to admire. The links go to external sites, as I would rather not fish for traffic by posting racy pictures all over my blog. Besides, I expect my readers to be able to read a paragraph. /offtopic
And not only are there plenty of solo shots, there are plenty of couples shots, foreplay and afterplay, and shots of men of all different body types too.
Oops, actually, the last six words of that sentence are a lie. Every single one of the men showcases are ripped with six-pack abs and bulging chests and biceps and perfectly sculpted, pouty-lipped faces.
Now I'm confused. I thought this was about accepting all body shapes, of accepting that a person is great despite his body flaws and that those flaws are what makes us all special and incredible and - oh, I see. It's only WOMEN who get to feel loved and admirable no matter what, while men can only feel loved and admirable if they are perfect looking.
On these pages, there is a lot of venom towards skinny girls as well. Why don't we call these models 'minus-size' if these models have to be plus size, they lament in the discussion areas. Yes, I'm also baffled as to why plus implies a bad thing. And I'm troubled to see images of thin models being crossed out and defaced - a mark in the sand, a line one side is daring another side to cross. It's a scene I see constantly in the fight against racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and all those related quests for equal rights for all. And it never ends well.
(They all have one thing in common - in any good conflict, there has to be a villain, and the villain in all these cases looks like me. Which isn't a fair situation to be in when I'm just going to my job.)

So, the deal with me and fat is, over the course of a year I lost 22 pounds. I consider it an important achievement in my life, albeit an unfinished one. I bottomed out at 227 pounds when I really should be 215 or less. I dream of writing that NO LONGER OBESE post, but it seems as far in the distance as ever. My career and existence basically revolves around being on the computer, so opportunities to work out are scarce. I compromise by aiming for 1200 calories every day, and it works. Or has worked until now.
Point is, where is fat shaming when I need it?! Why am I being told to stop "punishing" myself for desiring to eat less, be more disciplined and slightly resemble those pouty-lipped hunks the woman I like dreams about? I want to succeed! And I want motivation to remind me that I have a mission that is unfinished. Can't I have that? Or is that a hate crime now? Are sites like My Fitness Pal and SlimKicker and Fitocracy going to be banned under these latest accusations of insensitivity and other thoughtcrimes? I hope not.
Well, this blog post stressed me out. I think a walk is in order.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The new world of education

I hated college and school in general, and I vowed I was done with classrooms the second time I got a degree. But in our social/cloud powered new world order, things change. So as learning new skills has become imperative, I've been looking at options and I'm impressed with most of the choices out there.
The premium online classes are Lynda and Tutsplus, both of whom I've sampled and they're fantastic. I can fondly reminisce about the days of actually reading text to learn all I want, but for most of what is needed in today's business world, you really need to see it in action (especially if just practicing has become an issue, you hit a wall or can't afford the latest and greatest software, on and on).
Then there's Udacity, which has partnered with Georgia Tech to offer a $7000 master's degree (it has recently dropped to $6600!).

And the report card on Udacity is not good. Not good at all. Probably better to try edX instead.


Now I know what your knee-jerk reaction is: Yeah, you get what you pay for. Well, I say that rule has issues when applied to education. The best students are the hungriest ones, the ones last to leave the library or the lab, and they tend to be the ones from poor or lower middle class backgrounds who are under dire pressure to succeed from families and peers back home. Programs like these are a godsend to these kids, not to mention struggling adults looking to turn our pointless lives around, who are left behind and held back in favor of rich kids who buy their grades and subsequent offices.
Granted it's not perfect - you have to deal with this creep, for one thing. But I look forward to seeing the graduates and what they actually accomplish out there.
And of course, there are brick and mortar community colleges, and ongoing training at ridiculously overpriced learning centers, and classes at your workspace/hackerspace/coop. Many of these are taught by guys* whose sole purpose is to fluff their resume and impress their bros at the startup office, and they make terrible teachers. And you have to drive there, adding injury to insult. There are exceptions, like the nice guys who taught me PHP and probably others that you know. But largely, talk about getting what you pay for!
Two year and diploma colleges will explode in oncoming years for the economic reasons I listed above. And why not? Do we need our children to study film or liberal arts for four years? I hope it's obvious doctors and engineers are still required to study for 8 years...
What are the best solutions? Are there any?


*And they remain overwhelmingly male for some reason.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Career Crossroads

Here the most important post I've written yet. There are no keywords because it's kind of a letter to myself, not in the form of a lover addressing a lover or a parent addressing a child - more a boss admonishing an employee. It's a warning to myself.

I'm trying to figure out what I'm really good at and what I what I want to be. Mainly this has to do with one's career, how you make a living, how you pay your rent and how you attract a mate, but a lot of it has to do with something I feel is a central question in life:
Who do you want to be? How do you want people to remember you when it's all over?

So what are my choices? Here is my real resume, with no buzzwords and no expectations of a manager of anything considering me for a job or gig at all. Here is what I'm good at:

1. Developer
2. Post Production Professional
3. Musician
4. Writer
5. Artist

So let's break this down one at a time:

* Developer
This is the job everyone insists on telling me, this is what you have to do, this is how you're going to make money and prove to your family and woman that you're a man. It's the new doctor/lawyer. And indeed, it does appear to be the only way a guy like me could make anything resembling a nice living, almost to the point of being rich (in my world, $40 per hour is rich. That's a low level paycheck.)
But my issue is, I am feeling no passion for it. Sometimes when I create something like my "walking dude" on my homepage, I get a rush of adrenalin, but overall, to quote my hero Frank Zappa, I'm only in it for the money. Perhaps headhunters and hiring managers and that ilk smell it on me. Perhaps that's why it's tough for me to get a job, when I live in an area that has a wealth of open JavaScript jobs and UX jobs and all that good stuff, and I get passed over time and time again.
What does that leave?

* Post Production Professional
I've done this. I love it, and people tell me I am great at it. There are some problems - like the fact that directors such as the Coen Brothers do it themselves - and all the jobs, like writing, are on the other side of the continent. These are still not excuses when again, I live in the other big city in the world with a huge market for editors and audio/motion graphics professionals.
* Musician
Well, my rockstar days are long behind me - not that that's a bad thing. And there seems to be people who make a pretty good living doing the kind of music that I love and have some aptitude for playing.
Or I'd like to think I have aptitude, that is. That's until I record myself on CD and play it back in my car, and I'm disappointed. To put it mildly. I'm sure everyone who's listening to my CD in cafes, restaurants and places where weddings are planned feels the same way.

* Writer
Again, not the loser job it's been made out to be by a long shot, but again, the worst of the worst for me. My work is dreadful, or at least it looks that way to me. People who know better and have no call to lie to me have had very kind things to say about it.

* Artist
Love it. Terrible at it. Bla bla bla, you get the picture.

So what are the issues that need to be addressed here? This is not a light issue, this is life and death.

Confidence

I have to know, deep in my heart, that I am awesome at something because the only way anyone will ever pay me to do it. And the only way I ever get the paycheck, if freelancing has taught me one thing.
I have known forever I need to focus on one thing, which means sacrificing the other things I love.
My compromise is having a 9-to-5 job, and a weekend job, obviously for creative and "Passion" work. So the above first two choices are the 9-to-5 then the last three are obviously the creative choices.
But that still leaves me with only two of these that I must focus on all costs. And it's hard to say goodbye.
Some of you will say, "But Mario, it's important to explore and weigh your choices and explore life and.."
Bullshit.
Those days are over. At a certain age you have to make hard choices and you have to focus on the future, especially when you now have measurably less future than past. Not to be morbid about it or anything.