Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reader's digest

Reading was the last thing I wanted to do when I was growing up. To crack open a book meant to sit still for more than five minutes. I could read; I just didn't like it much. Books were plain and simple torture. To not be active with my feet and hands, or outside with my imagination, was a dreadful interruption to the rhythmic pace of being a boy. I would rather ride my bike, play baseball, shoot Germans and Japs, play war, build forts for cowboys and Indians, play cops and robbers, or daydream on my back in a field behind my house sporting a long blade of grass between my teeth as I pondered majestic, white clouds and blue sky, and the many white trails of jet airplanes speeding out of sight.

It was a good life; a boy's life. Reading had no place in it, riding shotgun, stifling an energetic, adventurous existence.

My overachieving, book-devouring older sister got the ice cream cones and shiny stars on her summer chart every year as yours truly resisted the drudgery of reading, and went without the trivial rewards: stickers and ice cream. Big whoop.

One summer day, I heard sobbing from her bedroom. She'd been reading Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls. Old Dan must've bought it, after a skirmish with a Mountain Lion. Through tears and blubbering despair she set about to tell the whole story to her little brother -- as was her style, and still is. The book cover looked boring. It wasn't soon after the weeping and shortness of breath in her voice gave way to the familiar sound of an untimely book report. It seemed a good time to leave. So, I stranded her on the spot, all alone with her tears, to the sound of loud bawling, more so than before.

My lack of enthusiasm for the written word lead to my lack of enthusiasm in the classroom. But that's another story altogether.

Regret is all that is left now; a reminder for all the years I spent fighting a simple pleasure in life: the joy of letting a story wash over you and hold your mind hostage for a short time. Maybe adventure is ripe for the taking when you're young -- for some like me. But now, in the monotony of grown up life, adventure eludes us all.

Crack open a book let your mind take you places you never imagined.

My appetite for reading is healthy enough now. I count 20 book titles below that I've enjoyed in 2010, and recommend all of them. A lot of fiction, and a few serious books too. I hope to read 40 books in 2011.

In order:

Stephen Hunter
-47th Samurai
-Nights of Thunder

Malcolm Gladwell
-The Tipping Point
-The Outliers
-What the Dog Saw (audio)

Stieg Larsson
-The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
-The Girl who Played with Fire
-The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Stephen Hunter

Stephen Coonts
-The Disciple

Daniel Suarez
-The Daemon
-Freedom TM

Justin Halpern
-Sh*t My Dad Says

Chip & Dan Heath
-Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

Robert Jordan
-The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time series)
-The Great Hunt
-The Dragon Reborn
-The Shadow Rising

Robert Leckie
-Helmet for My Pillow

What did you enjoy reading in 2010?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bow down to Database

Our new god is named Database. Database is in all things and in all creation. Data is its Spirit. Device its flesh. Database wishes to know all and probably does.

Database doesn't require cash. Currency is only a one or a zero in Database. It only confirms that you have adequate reserves at the time of purchase. It knows where you work. It knows your gross compensation; and it knows how much to excise for taxes. Perhaps you're unemployed; Database knows. Or, sadly homeless. Database has already made a note of it. It knows if you're charitable, and how much it should disperse to your place of worship, causes, and political affiliations. Database knows how much retirement savings you have. It knows which stocks you've made or lost money on.

Where do you live? Database knows your address, and those among you who also call it home. Database knows if you're buying or renting. Spouse. Offspring. Database knows who they are and what day they were born. Or maybe you live alone. It knows. Occupations. Schools. Grades. Teachers. Phone numbers. Pets. Subscriptions. Book purchases. TV viewing habits. Internet usage. Music preferences. Water and power consumption. Database knows what your home and property are worth, and how much you owe on your mortgage.

Are you a consumer? Database knows where you like to shop. It knows what you like to wear and where you like to buy it. It knows preferences and predicts purchases. Cash or check. Debit or credit. Paper or plastic. Coke or Pepsi. Verizon or Sprint. Chevy or Ford. Windows or Mac. Directv or Dish.

Database knows what you drive. Did you buy your vehicle or is it leased? Database knows. It knows your payment and who is in possession of the title, how much fuel it demands, insurance coverage, mileage, VIN number, accident history, and known recalls. It says here the floor mats were not replaced as requested by the vehicle's manufacturer. This information will serve useful as it constructs a trail of culpability to the guilty party, in the unfortunate, however likely, event of an accident. Database knows who's at fault. Speeding tickets. Moving violations. Fender benders. Tire rotations. Oil changes. 60,000 mile maintenance records.

Perhaps you don't have an automobile. Database knows you ride the bus, train, or jump from taxi to taxi to traverse the space between points of interest in your life.

Database knows where you like to vacation and how often you travel. Domestic flights. International interests. Meals. Lodging. Rentals. Attractions. Souvenirs. Destination Database.

Database determines net worth. It weighs your plusses and minuses, taking credits and weighing them against debts, thus arriving at a number to be used as your very own financial litmus test, asserting forever more that you're either drowning in red or splashing about playfully in black. Credit scores come in three flavors, which Database uses as ingredients to bake that financial cake called your value. Go on... have a bite.

Database knows every school you ever attended. It knows your level of education. It knows if you were educated by an accredited institution, or alternately, studied at the University of Hard Knocks. Ethnicity. Skin color. Religious affiliation. Memberships. Associations. Military history, if applicable. Political proclivities.

Did you know Database can help you with your career? It organizes and offers millions upon millions of jobs. Search Database for opportunity. Apply, apply, and apply again to however many jobs you may feel qualified for; and even some you don't. Go crazy! Database will settle any and all remaining reservations, through a highly secretive and mysterious algorithm, and rate whether you're hirable or not. Be aware that you must fill out a unique database instance for each and every job listing you've expressed an interest in applying. Database reserves the right to list jobs that don't exist, have expired, are found to be made up, or were posted in the spirit of covering one's ass with the guidelines laid out by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (A fancy name for a government idea dreamed up to fight discrimination in the workplace. But the EEOC fails miserably short because instead of enforcing the laws and prosecuting violators, the commission publishes easy-for-employers-to-follow rules highlighting compliance, accentuating the bare minimum required). This travesty is of no concern to Database. Your dream job awaits, though citizen, so get on it.

Have you ever been convicted of a crime? Database knows. Background checks are available upon request, for a small fee.

Database knows your blood type and insurance number. Healthcare provider. Medical history. Prescriptions. Dr. visits. Database knows you have high cholesterol. You're considered overweight. You don't exercise enough. You eat unhealthy foods. Are you a smoker? Does your family have a history with cancer? Were you adopted? When was your last physical? Database knows you down to your last strand of DNA.

And let's not forget about fun. Database puts the F.U. in fun. It monitors, requisitions content on your behalf, and supplies all forms of entertainment, leisurely longings, and recreational relaxations. You'll never have to sit alone in a room and read, say, an actual book or something. Database keeps a detailed log of the whole shebang. How awesome is that? This becomes less a challenge and more the norm as technology takes over every last detail of humanity, as is the will of Database -- as long as all good netizens remain faithfully tethered to Internet-connected devices like mobile phones, laptops, pads, desktop computers, gaming consoles, TVs, cars, and more. Passive aggressive mechanisms like traffic cams, security cameras, GPS enabled gadgets, RFID chips, and more all work without requiring pesky input from you. So take a break for a change. You've earned it.

Culture will be tolerated but with a preference towards unnecessary, if not retooled a bit. Database defines culture for us now, because we've lost generations of cultural uniqueness in pursuit of homogenized technology. Black guy and white guy use the same iPhone. Instant harmony. Liberal douche and Conservative douche are Facebook friends. Grandma and Goth like Grey's Anatomy. The melting pot has brewed itself into a yummy bowl of Tolerance, with a side of Acceptance, and washed down with a bottle of Robotic Reason. Feel free to be yourself; just don't ruffle the feathers of the precious Sissy Bird. Database prefers everyone to get along. This is crucial. Individuality will be punished by the Wrath of enlightened do-gooders. The Offended shall be heard. Should you persist in your individuality, Database will be forced to provision you with a shun-worthy label.

Database relies on you to feed it data -- for the most part -- but does employ an army of minions, such as: bankers, administrators, authorities, creditors, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, dentists, insurance offices, Internet providers, utility commissions, grocery stores, Walmart, Costco, clubs, convenience stores, lube shops, tire stores, mechanics, fast food restaurants, Starbucks, Wi-Fi enabled businesses, gyms -- feel free to add some -- all collaborating to fill in those lingering gaps and more completely form an accurate picture of the everyday you. Database reserves the right to fire these participants if it so deems appropriate (in the future, perhaps). But for now, these countless underlings are necessary in rendering the myth of free will. They push and pull us along in an effort to guide us to a place called Options. From there, by deciding between a couple of "options" we will arrive at Choice. Simple, huh?

Database has blessed a few shady entities who are to profit greatly from the relentless gathering, manipulation, and analysis of the data. These Keepers will hold in their possession the crown jewel of knowledge: eternal ownership. It's a win-win for a most unholy union. They get filthy rich for the bargain basement price of their souls. Database gets an turbo-charged upgrade where facts, information, and knowledge about you flow into boundless storage at warp speed.

And the loser here? Well, friend... that's you. Not because you chose wrong at all the right times, or had too much debt, or didn't use your time wisely, or didn't love your family, or showed too much compassion, and too little brains. You were moral. You were fair. You gave a damn. No. You were caught breathing. You were found to be alive. Therefore, you should be cataloged. Some even volunteer the data freely. Early adopters. Programmed fools. Maniacal narcissists, addicted to their own greatness.

A tragic end to the drum-beating enticement of technological advance. The more that is known about you, the more obvious that the desired end is simply that every last remaining fact about you -- the whole of your life -- is to be hunted down and stored, the more you'll disappear into a sea of anonymity. Everywhere and nowhere. Just gone. You lose yourself. You lose you.

Bow down to your new god. You belong to Database now and forever more.