December 31, 2013

Weird emotions

After cutting my carbs in half for four days, I’ve been weird emotionally. Irritability, mood swings, existential dread—all likely a result of my reduced carbohydrate intake. This is the initial hump, and I assume if I can get over this without eating poorly, I’ll be home free.

Bring it on.

December 30, 2013

The Dread

Tonight I'm faced with an exceptionally severe case of existential dread—the angst that accompanies deep thoughts about life, death, and the meaning of our existence. Most people don't think the way I do, but Jezebel's Tracy Moore does.

She wrote an amazing piece about existential dread management, wherein she provides some solid suggestions, including:

  • Make sure your life adds up to something

  • Consume copious, reckless amounts of art

  • Unleash the primal scream

  • Take Tylenol (seriously!)

Moore also articulates the feelings of existential dread in a way I find difficult to replicate:

For the record, I have a lot existential dread, or at least, I can't remember not really having it. If you're running low, you can borrow some of mine. I don't sit around in black turtlenecks chain smoking talking about Why We're Here (fine, that was college. And my twenties) but as long as I can remember being alive, I've had a lot of questions about why the world is the way it is, what I'm supposed to do with myself, and whether it all adds up to anything that counts or not.

I also noticed that it wasn't always easy to find people who think this way. I was all: "But how do you know what actually matters? How do you know if your choices are adding up? If your life has real meaning? How do you even define what that meaning IS? Is it just doing what everyone has always done and finding solace in that, or are you compelled in some way to do something else to create meaning in the world, like make art, or save lives, or simply exist with extraordinary kindness? HOW CAN YOU NOT THINK ABOUT IT?!?!?!"

Agreed on all points.

December 26, 2013

Leaning out

Last year, like so many others, I resolved to live a healthier life and lose a little bit of weight. I haven’t managed to stick with it, probably because I didn’t have a clear plan. As of today, I’m implementing a new diet/exercise plan to lean out and build muscle over the next few weeks.

This week, I’m cutting my carb intake in half for four days. On Monday, I will return to my regular portions. Returning to regular carb levels after a drastic reduction should increase my metabolism and muscle-building efficiency.

In addition to four days of reduced carbs, I will be eliminating carbs completely from my last meal of the day—every day. Going to bed with a lower blood-sugar level as a result of avoiding carbs at dinner, the body will increase its production of growth hormone (GH), which should accelerate fat loss by increasing my metabolism and boosting muscle growth.

As for the rest of the plan:

  • Week 1: Reduce carbs by half for four days; eliminate carbs from last meal.
  • Week 2: Add two 30–40-minute cardio sessions per week; add 50 grams of protein per day.
  • Week 3: Further reduce carbs on one day to as little as 25% of my normal intake.
  • Week 4: Schedule 40 minutes of medium- to high-intensity cardio first thing in the morning.
  • Week 5: Enjoy a 500–700-calorie cheat meal on a regular carb day; add 50% more sets to weight workouts.
  • Week 6: Take a three-day break from the entire plan, then start again.

I’m also getting more serious about my fast food ban, and I’m eliminating soda as a beverage option (with rare exceptions, such as my Week 5 cheat meal).

I’ll be documenting the process and experience here as I move forward—mostly for myself, but also for anyone who cares to follow my progress.

I only have one body, so I should probably take care of it. That begins now.

December 25, 2013

And to all a good night

I spent another great Christmas Day with Sabrina and family today: a day of visiting relatives, overeating, and finally collapsing in bed after an overdose of extroversion.

It was a long and busy day, but I saw a lot of my favorite people, along with some new faces, and really enjoyed the company. I think it's safe to say that tomorrow will be a home-in-our-pajamas kind of day, however.

I hope you all enjoyed the holiday.

December 18, 2013

Back to my old theme

To the nerds it may concern:

Ever since I migrated this blog from Blogger to WordPress, I've been struggling to find a theme I like enough to keep. So tonight I dove into the theme files and modified the Twenty Ten theme to match my old Blogger template, and I'm pretty satisfied. There are a few kinks here and there that are driving me crazy, but I think this one is here to stay.

November 28, 2013

Wishing you a happy, analog Thanksgiving

Hard to believe as it may be, Thanksgiving is upon us once again. To those in the U.S. who celebrate it, I wish you and your family the best, and I urge you to strive for a strictly analog holiday.

Most days, we're surrounded by our gadgets and constantly connected to our digital families. But Thanksgiving is a day reserved for real family (and friends). Put your technology away and enjoy their company (and some turkey).

Here's the deal: you're allowed one "happy Thanksgiving" tweet or Facebook status. No cat pictures or stupid GIFs should be shared today—those may resume first thing in the morning. Don't even think about checking in on Foursquare. Everyone knows where you are—you're at your home, or someone else's.

Keep it simple and analog today. Enjoy the company of your family and friends, and be grateful for their presence in your life. Anything could be lost at any moment, so appreciate what you're fortunate enough to have on this fine November Thursday.

Have a beautiful day, all.

November 11, 2013

Forever and always

Last night, at bedtime, I put Forever And Always by Parachute in my headphones and settled down to sleep. By the end of the song, I was crying hot tears. I couldn't stop.

Music, perhaps the most human of instincts and inventions, can do that at its very best: reach right past our rational minds, beyond any analysis or cynicism, directly to our emotions. Then it can draw those feelings out and bring them to the surface, even when we didn't know exactly what was in there.

Heartbreak comes in many different flavors. There's the heartbreak of rejection, of unrequited love. There's the heartbreak of breaking up, of losing love. There's the heartbreak of getting dumped, of not being loved anymore.

But worst of all is the heartbreak of having been in love, for years, and both of you still being in love. But someday one of you is going to die. And no one, neither of you, not anyone else, can do anything about it.

That is my greatest fear. I didn't invite Will Anderson's voice there, but somehow it seems to know, so when it breaks down my barriers and taps the depths, that's where it goes, and what comes out.

November 5, 2013

Fighting traffic and cancer

Shout out to Pittsburgh blogger Lemonscarlet, who has been writing about her experience with cancer. Cancer isn't the only thing she's fighting, though—she also has to deal with traffic (traffic!). Will Reynolds Young introduced me to her blog on tonight's episode of VentureBreak Weekly. What I love about it is that she portrays herself as an authentic human being, rather than just a cancer patient. Too often cancer consumes the identities of its victims, causing them and those around them to lose sight of who they really are.

Pay her blog a visit.

October 23, 2013

Big things happening tomorrow

I worked all night last night and went to bed around 4am. This morning, I got up at 10 and got back to it. Tonight will probably be another long night.

At VentureBreak we have a major new product launching tomorrow that readers are going to love. Look for it by 3pm—if it's not up by then, it's because I broke something.

October 10, 2013

The race against time

Journalism is fucking expensive.

Since the genesis of the Pressing Issues project, I've been fairly optimistic with everyone I've spoken to. However, as a journalistic organization, honesty is incredibly valuable—and I'm sad to say that my past optimism has not been entirely honest.

Pressing Issues has managed to survive its initial launch and attract quite a few subscribers (to whom I am genuinely grateful), and I've been humbled by the number of people who want to support the cause.

But financially, we're fucking screwed.

Journalism isn't cheap, and although our contributors have agreed to work for extremely low rates, I cannot in good conscience continue paying them unfairly.

We've determined that, in order to continue operating, we need to raise (through subscriptions, reprints, and donations) approximately $10,000 by the end of October. If we do not meet that goal, I will be forced to either shut down the publication or turn it over to someone with the necessary resources to make it work.

If we do not meet the $10,000 goal, all subscribers and donors will be refunded in full.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed. I hope you'll continue to support us in the face of our impending doom.

October 3, 2013

Busy, busy, busy

I'm still alive, and still attempting to write something interesting here every day. I have a few essays in progress that should be posted here in the coming weeks, but I'm likely to disappear this weekend.

The next few days are going to be quite busy for me: tomorrow I'll be in Lawrenceburg; Saturday I'll be near Kokomo for a wedding; I'll return late Sunday; Monday I'm launching Pressing Issues; and Tuesday is my anniversary. And of course, within each of those plans lie a million things I have to do in preparation.

Despite the vast number of projects I'm currently (read: always) involved in, I hate having so many things crunched into such a small time frame.

Oh, well. I suppose I'd rather be busy than furloughed.

September 29, 2013

Blasphemy: funny if it weren't so dangerous

Today is International Blasphemy Day, an event held on the anniversary of the 2005 publication in Denmark of those infamous cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Blasphemy Day isn't aimed merely at Islam or Christianity, but at any and all religions and sects that include the concepts of blasphemy, apostasy, desecration, sacrilege, and so on. "Ideas don't need rights," says the slogan, "people do."

While I was raised by a Christian family, I never became too absorbed by religion, so no doubt I blaspheme regularly without even thinking about it. I've written plenty about religion on this blog, often blasphemously in someone's opinion, I'm sure. In July I wrote my preferred summary of my position:
The incredible height of a mountain, and the depth of geological time—to me, these are natural miracles, not supernatural ones.

In the same post, I also wrote briefly about blasphemy:
Plus, given the scope of this universe, and any others that may exist, why would any god or gods be so insecure as to require regulated tributes from us in order to be satisfied with their accomplishments?

If the consequences—imposed by humans against each other, of course—weren't so serious in some places, the idea of blasphemy would be quite funny. Even if there were a creator (or creators) of the universe, how could anything so insignificant a a person, or even the whole population of such a miniscule planet, possibly insult it?

We're talking about the universe here. (Sorry, should be properly blasphemous: the goddamned universe.) It's 13.7 billion years old, containing billions of galaxies, with billions of stars each. On that scale, anything happening here on Earth is entirely irrelevant.

As far as I'm concerned, there are no deities anyway. But if you believe there are, consider this: it's silly to think that a god or gods could be so emotionally fragile as to be affected by our thoughts and behaviors, and even sillier to believe that people could or should have any role in enforcing godly rules. Silliest yet is the idea that believers in a particular set of godly rules should enforce those rules on people who don't share the same belief.

Being a good person is worth doing for its own sake, and for the sake of our fellow creatures. Sometimes being good, or even simply being accurate, may require being blasphemous by someone else's standards. Today is a day to remember that.

September 23, 2013

Wear sunscreen (and more life-changing advice)

Fifteen years later, this advice continues to resonate with me. Originally published as a column in the Chicago Tribune, Baz Luhrmann borrowed the words (and a song by Rozalla) to produce this musical speech that has impacted my life and doubtless many others.

I try to listen to this at least once a month.

Don't tear down that wall!

Many Americans no longer believe in the separation of Church and State, and indeed deny it is a principle found in the Constitution. But the wording of the First Amendment is quite clear, and its importance is underlined by its being first. It was certainly clear to Thomas Jefferson, who wrote, "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."

That's why it's alarming to see so many politicians who want to tear down that wall. It's most evident in the eagerness of states to permit the teaching of Creationism (under the guise of Intelligent Design) in public schools, despite the Pennsylvania ruling that "the overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory."

The other big test of separation of Church and State is seen in the attempt to legislate contraceptives, abortion, and other matters pertaining to childbirth. We've had politicians propose to ban all funds for Planned Parenthood, outlaw abortion under all circumstances, and allow employers to deny women access to cancer screenings and birth control.

The purpose of this post is not to discuss issues like abortion (I've done that before). I'm more concerned with those who want to pass laws enforcing their religious beliefs. It's apparent that they see no conflict between the laws they propose and the separation of Church and State.

The First Amendment provides that each and every American is entitled to follow the teachings of the church of their choice, or even no church at all. What if your beliefs, or church, permit abortion? Are you to become a criminal? Such laws legislate the personal religious beliefs of the legislators, which is unacceptable.

If I believe my church's teachings are correct, an appropriate course of action should be to convert you to my church, not pass laws forcing you to follow its beliefs. Isn't that obvious? It frightens me that politicians who bear the responsibility of upholding the Constitution have such a careless understanding of it.

September 18, 2013

The most important image captured by Hubble

In 1996, out of sheer curiosity, scientists took a risk by pointing the Hubble telescope at a dark area of space—one seemingly devoid of stars and planets. That leap of faith quickly proved fruitful: light from over three thousand galaxies illuminated the image.

Hubble's glimpse into what we now know as the deep field has revealed that we are an extremely small part of a vast system comprising 100 billion galaxies.


September 16, 2013

I know what the fox says

Following this video's rise to fame, I felt it would be appropriate to share what the fox actually says:

Joff-tchoff-tchoffo-tchoffo-tchoff was a good guess, but sadly incorrect.

When the kids ask, you can tell them that dogs go woof, cats go meow, and foxes go YAGHHHAAAGGHHHHH!

To write

Given everything that’s been going on lately, I’ve started to neglect this blog a bit. Going forward, I’ll endeavor to abide by these two rules:

  1. Post one post a day, on average.

  2. Include a link in every post.

Sounds like a recipe for success to me. Whether I’ll be able to keep up with it is another story.

September 14, 2013

Headed home

Tonight is my last night in beautiful Clearwater, Florida. In the morning I'll leave behind my grandmother, two aunts, and several cousins to return to my Ohio home. It's a bittersweet time given that I won't see some of my favorite people for at least another year, but I'm looking forward to getting back home to Sabrina. Until next year, Florida.

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September 8, 2013

No one understands the lottery

It’s no secret that the human brain doesn’t get the concept of probability. My very basic understanding from a few math courses (and a slight interest) is the reason I don’t care to buy lottery tickets. Sure, your chances of winning are zero if you don’t play, but your chances of winning if you do play are so close to zero that it really makes no difference. You’re better off wandering around town looking for someone to drop a few million dollars on the street.

If I ever buy a lottery ticket (I won’t), my numbers will be consecutive: 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. Those are just as likely to be a winning combination as anything else. In fact, four (!) people in New South Wales, Australia won a jackpot using numbers 1 through 10 as their picks, receiving more than $2 million each.

If you do play the lottery, know that choosing consecutive numbers isn’t the best strategy. While they do have the exact same chance of winning as any other set, it’s more likely that several players will choose them, as with those Australians, so you’ll have to split any winnings you receive. That’s because, unlike the numbers drawn, the numbers people pick are not random. Going with a random set of numbers each time would bring the best likelihood—still unimaginably small—of keeping it all yourself, or splitting with fewer others.

Leave me out of it, though. If I have a few bucks to spend, I’ll get myself a burger. The burger is guaranteed.

September 4, 2013

Greetings from Clearwater!

I’m spending the next week-and-a-half in lovely Clearwater, Florida, visiting some relatives I haven’t seen in six years (and some I’ve never met). We’re planning our first-ever reunion where the whole family will be in attendance.

It’s storming right now (nightly storms are common this time of year), but overall the weather has been beautiful.

I’ll be here for the next ten days—who else is in the Tampa Bay area?

August 22, 2013

Examining your priorities

Instead of saying "I don’t have time" try saying "it’s not a priority," and see how that feels. Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets, I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: "I’m not going to edit your résumé, because it’s not a priority." “I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority."

If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.

~Laura Vanderkam

It's interesting to look at the things we say we don't have time for and realize that we really mean they're just not that important to us.

You can extend this concept to almost anything, but it really resonates with me in the context of building success. Everyone wants to build an empire and be successful—they just don't have time. Of course, following Laura Vanderkam's advice, it's easy to see that success isn't a priority to most people. Time is just an excuse.

We have plenty of time.

If you're putting your goals on the back burner because you'd rather watch TV all evening, you're probably not cut out for success. You have to want it.

Here's another way of thinking about it:
What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.

~Gretchen Rubin

Wondering what your priorities are? Look at what you do every day. If you're not happy about it, make a change.

August 4, 2013

Intolerant of intolerance

Ashley Esqueda tweeted a great adage this evening: "My admitted double standard: I'm intolerant of intolerance. The end."

I've never been one to seek out conflict; in fact, I try to avoid it when I can. In the past, when I've heard discriminatory statements made around me, I've remained silent. I didn't agree with it, but I didn't usually stand up against it either. It was just easier that way—why start a debate if you can't win? But after learning of the long-hidden but privately expressed bigotry of someone very close to me, I've reached a new philosophy:

It's time to stop being so goddamn polite.

I've written about this time and time again. It's 2013, and these problems still exist. Every time you walk out your front door, unless you're completely secluded from society, you're subject to racism, homophobia, biphobia, ableism, ageism, sexism, religious discriminationatheophobia, sizeism, and a whole host of others.

These people are among the most vile, narrow-minded, ignorant scum to ever walk the earth. I'd love to say they're going nowhere in life, but the fact is some of the most wealthy and successful people I know are openly bigoted toward one group or another.

I've come to condone a single type of bigotry, and that is bigotry against bigots. Like Ashley, I am intolerant of intolerance. There's no excuse for it, and I will not have such people in my life, nor will I do business with them. Their kind is not welcome in any business of mine.

I encourage everyone reading this to begin taking similar action. Stop being so tolerant of intolerance. Those who discriminate should likewise be discriminated against.

July 23, 2013

Stepping away from the decks

Following a successful Independence Day gig, it's time I announce that I will no longer be available to provide contracted DJ services. I am closing Brad's Mobile DJ Service indefinitely to pursue bigger and better things.

This is a bittersweet time. DJing, for me, started as a hobby more than anything else. Turning it into a business and performing professionally was an added bonus, and I enjoyed it immensely. But now I'm afraid its time to revert it back to a hobby as I shift my focus elsewhere.

Over the next few weeks, I will be closing all of the major accounts and web spaces associated with BMDJS. My music on SoundCloud is available for free download, so feel free to grab it before it's gone.

I plan to continue producing music in my free time and sharing it on my personal blog. I'm sure I'll also keep spinning tunes and playing sets for my own enjoyment, but going forward I will not accept any professional gig requests.

I love music, and manipulating it to flow well and make people dance is invigorating for me. But with VentureBreak on my hands, in addition to my plans to move out of state in a few months, DJing as a business is not currently a viable option.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me over the years. I appreciate it more than you'll ever know.

July 6, 2013

Living in the face of death

Death is probably the most widely discussed topic in all literature, perhaps barring love. It's a difficult thing to deal with—we are the only creatures on the planet that are aware we're going to die someday. Read it again: we're all going to die someday. There's no avoiding it—you live for a few decades, and then your life ceases forever. That's just how it works.

So how do we cope?

Some turn to religion and prophecy for comfort. Although I was raised to be a Christian, I am now subscribed to an atheist worldview. As far as I'm concerned, religion is nothing more than a coping mechanism. I definitely understand the need for such a system—knowing that someday you won't exist anymore is a terrifying thought. However, not only does religion lack an evidential basis, it also does more harm than good as an outlook on death.

I believe that you have one life. There is no afterlife, no heaven nor hell, and you won't continue to live as some kind of disembodied spirit. Death really is the end.

I find this perspective incredibly liberating. I don't lose sleep at night over final judgements—whether I deserve heaven or hell or how long I'll spend in some purgatorial prison. On the contrary, my concerns are grounded within my own lifetime.

Do I fear death? No. If I die quickly and painlessly, I won't even know. If I find myself infected with some terminal disease, such as cancer, I'll probably worry about pain and deterioration. But I won't fear death.

Death is personified in many ways, and when we discuss diseases like cancer, we use words like 'battle' and 'fight' to describe the process of trying to cure the disease. But death is not a person. Nor is cancer a military leader hell-bent on conquering its host's body. Death is inevitable. You can't avoid it, and you shouldn't fear it. You certainly shouldn't concern yourself with superstitious judgements and where your home in the afterlife will be.

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins notes that despite their belief in an afterlife, many religious people are afraid of death. Why? Because no one has a definitive guide as to what qualifies you for heaven, hell, or otherwise.

Personally, I'd rather know that my relatives were dead and buried in the ground than suffering indefinite torment for some long-forgotten misdemeanors before God will allow them into heaven.

Having found the conventional methods of dealing with death inadequate, I have my own way of approaching the matter.

To me, having one life increases the urgency to make the most of it. Go out, have fun, get a successful and fulfilling career, be a good friend, fall in love, get married (or don't), have children (or don't). Whatever. Don't tolerate people, situations, or ideologies that make you unhappy. Life is a blank canvas, and you are the artist: the final picture will be unveiled after you're gone. It better be good.

I love the way one person put it in a comment on the De-Conversion blog:
At this point, I am fairly at ease with the idea that death will be final and that my ashes (I have given instructions to be cremated) will one day become part of the natural matter of the earth. This seems appropriate to me. Ironically, I no longer have to wonder and hope that I really, truly am saved and will get to heaven and avoid hell. The solace that Christian faith was supposed to bring me led to uncertainty and some anxiety. That anxiety disappeared when my faith vanished. In the meantime, I want to live each day to its fullest because life is incredibly precious

I've found a lot of strength in this outlook—certainly more than religion can offer. I hopefully won't be dying anytime soon, but when the time comes, I'll be perfectly content in my nonexistence, just as I was prior to my birth. Until then, I hope to live my life to the fullest.

July 3, 2013

VentureBreak Weekly podcast promo

If you haven't had a chance to listen to VentureBreak Weekly yet, this quick promo will give you an idea of what you're missing.

I'm an extroverted introvert

People are supposed to be either introverted or extroverted. I've never been able to figure out where I fit in. Maybe I'm an ambivert (despite how ugly that word is):

Most of the time, I enjoy meeting new people. I don't have stage fright; in fact, I often enjoy being the center of attention, being a long-time blogger, content creator, and podcaster. I can handle small talk at parties, and I can be quite a chatterbox in the right context.

On the other hand, I always enjoyed being an only child; I tend to become quiet and withdrawn when I'm uncomfortable or in pain; I hate making unsolicited phone calls, and I don't much like phone conversation at all; when I'm out and about, I'm much more likely to wander alone and think to myself than strike up a conversation with a stranger; and I need significant time to myself every day, time I usually take late at night when everyone is asleep.

I suspect I am primarily an introvert. That's not to say I prefer solitude in all situations, but that social interactions take energy for me, and I need time alone to recharge. I like activities with my friends, especially with my girlfriend and my relatives, but given time to myself, I'm unlikely to want to meet anyone for lunch or a night out. Instead, I might spend some time alone to reflect, and it doesn't feel at all lonely.

Right now is a good example. With my girlfriend fast asleep on my arm (which makes typing on my iPad even harder), I'm taking some time to listen to music in my headphones and just think for a while. It's just what I needed.

July 1, 2013

On religion

In polite conversation, it's generally wise to avoid politics and religion, especially if you don't know the crowd very well. And while there are topics I avoid here on this blog, religion and politics aren't among them. With that said, this particular post could be dicey, so proceed with caution. I've rewritten it several times, putting it off for fear of how it will be received. But I guess I should get it out there.

As I've noted before on several occasions, I've never really been religious. I used to go to church with my grandma, but the teachings stopped resonating with me as soon as I learned to think critically. None of it made sense anymore. Today, not only do I not follow any traditional religion, I also don't believe in gods, demons, or spirits of any kind.

I've long held this belief (or lack thereof) privately. Surrounded by religious people who look down on atheists, I've always felt alone—ashamed, almost—for my lack of faith. But I'm beginning to realize that I'm wrong to feel that way.

We human beings, quite naturally, are afraid to die. But we still do. Wishing otherwise cannot prevent it, yet we try anyway. We wish that we could somehow live after death, or that there is a part of us that persists after we die, and maybe preceded our birth.

As far as I'm concerned, wishing doesn't make it true. For me, it's perfectly reasonable (and not at all disturbing) that my sense of myself, my thoughts and feelings, and my personality are all the result of reactions between billions of neurons in my brain. In fact, I find that pretty cool.

Over the past century or two, we've learned a lot about the vastness of time and space. We've learned how insignificant our brief-lived little species is, on this lovely but small planet, orbiting a very average star along one of several spiral arms of a typical galaxy in an unassuming part of the universe. We've also found out just how old our little planet is and what a tiny portion of that history we humans have occupied.

Further, we've learned that, despite our sometimes-parasitic accomplishments, we share genes and basic physiological processes with everything from chimpanzees to sponges, ants, and algae. We're all very much related, and it's clear that humans are merely a late-sprouting twig on the ever-growing evolutionary tree of life on Earth.

If we somehow wipe ourselves out by changing the climate or starting a nuclear war or simply not being able to avoid extinction in the next few million years or so, life on Earth will soldier on without us. After all, it has survived worse calamities—like asteroid impacts and the ancient poisoning of the atmosphere with oxygen—before.

When a flower dies in our back yard, it's just dead, and we compost it because there's nothing left of it to live. When I die, I imagine the same thing will happen to me, though with any luck not in the back yard. When my body shuts down, I won't be here (or anywhere) anymore. I won't go to heaven or hell, be reincarnated, or roam the halls of creepy old houses, clanking chains.

I've been pointed toward this philosophy since I found out there was no land at the North Pole for Santa Claus to live on, and that bunnies are mammals and therefore can not lay eggs. It doesn't make me feel sad, or that life is meaningless, because I don't think happiness and meaning require eternal life.

However, it does mean that religious teachings are largely meaningless to me in their spiritual context. I don't believe there's an afterlife, so that makes it senseless to treat my actual life as a big exam to get into heaven, or to reach nirvana, or to avoid being reborn as a snail (though I imagine, to a snail, a snail's life is pretty sweet). To me, the huge swaths of theological analysis say a lot about human thought and institutions (not to mention politics), but very little about the reality of the world and the universe.

It means that, even if I did think there was a god or gods who created the universe—and I don't—it wouldn't matter, because once we're dead, we're dead, and there is nothing left of us to be judged or evaluated. Plus, given the scope of this universe, and any others that may exist, why would any god or gods be so insecure as to require regulated tributes from us in order to be satisfied with their accomplishments?

We fear death. We create ways—beliefs, stories, rituals—to pretend it's not the end for each of us. Huge worldwide institutions arise from those inventions. They provide meaning, comfort, and a sense of wonder to billions of people. But not to me.

My meaning and comfort come from another place, from trying to understand people, creatures, life, the planet, the universe, and their amazing diversity from my tiny perspective as someone living in the 20th and 21st centuries here on Earth. From trying to be a good person, a good friend and lover.

What will outlive me is not my soul. But my future children will outlast me, and their children, if they have them, will too. As will, perhaps, some of my words and ideas, like the ones written here. Anything that persists of me—besides the molecules that make up my body—will be in the memories of others, and in their genes. That might not be much, and it won't be up to me to decide what that includes, but that's okay.

I don't begrudge my friends and relatives who do believe in gods and spirits. And I realize that what I've written here may hurt them, or inspire them to pity me and fear for my nonexistent soul. I'm sorry if that's so. I have no way of knowing with absolute certainty if one of the many philosophies and religions that support the idea of an afterlife is right. If they're wrong, as I'm all but certain they are, but if those beliefs help people to live happily, and to die comfortably when the time comes, that's good, because they'll never know. If I'm wrong, I come by my error honestly.

The incredible height of a mountain, and the depth of geological time—to me, these are natural miracles, not supernatural ones.

So is being able to feel love and share it. Is love biochemical? So what if it is? It's not "just" biochemical. The atoms and molecules in my brain and the infinitely complex interactions between them is a natural miracle, too—one I cherish. Even more because I only have a short time—eighty years of life, more or less—to experience it.

I hope to make the most of it.

June 28, 2013

Childhood innocence

What is it that's so appealing about children? Is it their youthful physical beauty? Perhaps their openness to loving and being loved? Their playfulness? Beyond these things, from where I'm sitting, children are beautiful because they possess something we've all lost—the quality of innocence.

Innocence is more than lovely, though. It's also heartbreaking, because it represents Housman's "blue remember'd hills" ... the "happy highways where I went / and cannot come again."

The gap between innocence and experience is infinitely explored, like a gap in a tooth, by artists and writers. I've had a faint feeling of exile ever since childhood—not as a result of some traumatic experience, but simply the slow dimmer switch of time passing and my imagination coarsening.

But what is innocence? It's a lot like time—we all understand it, but no one can seem to explain it.

When I look at children playing for hours on end, or dancing as if no one is watching, I know I am seeing it. But it is ineffable.

It is, to a degree, a kind of ignorance. To not grasp imaginatively that death will come someday. Likewise, to be ignorant of sex. To believe in the irrational—Santa Claus, mermaids, monsters under the bed. And of course, the myth of the infinite power and goodness of parents.

But innocence goes deeper than ignorance. It is some mysterious operation of the imagination, the part that can enter into mental universes from which one is soon to be forever excluded. I have a clear recollection of this.

Every year at Christmas, my parents (Santa) traditionally left me a stuffed animal of some kind atop another wrapped present under the tree. The stuffed animal was always the first thing to meet my wonder-filled eyes, and I grabbed it and squeezed it with passion, suddenly immersed in a new friendship. Then one year I picked up the stuffed animal and could not "get into it." Suddenly it was just a stuffed animal. I could no longer enter its portal and inhabit its world.

Even now I can feel the sting of disappointment.

Innocence is also the growth of self-consciousness, perhaps the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" from the story of Adam and Eve. Perhaps you are thrown into a world devoid of color and meaning and spend your life trying to regain it.

But can you regain it? Certainly not in its original form. But sometimes I feel shadows of my passed innocence in the night sky, in the song of birds, in the blooming of flowers every spring—the ones my mom used to plant in her garden.

As we get older and start to unlearn all the things we've been taught in life, perhaps this, as well as the more tragic meaning, is what Shakespeare referred to when he described the final age of man as: "Last scene of all, / That ends this strange eventful history, / Is second childishness and mere oblivion."

June 27, 2013

Rejecting reality in favor of falsehood

I've always been fascinated by the ways our Old World primate brains make it difficult for us to understand many basic things, such as probability and risk, geological time, extremely large- or small-scale events, and so on.

Here's another one: an excellent psychology article about why we resist some scientific ideas more than others. Essentially, research shows that:

[...] even one year-olds possess a rich understanding of both the physical world (a "naive physics") and the social world (a "naive psychology"). [...] These intuitions give children a head start when it comes to understanding and learning about objects and people. But these intuitions also sometimes clash with scientific discoveries about the nature of the world, making certain scientific facts difficult to learn.
However, some concepts don't work that way, even when they're far from obvious:

 [The existence of germs and electricity] is generally assumed in day-to-day conversation and is not marked as uncertain; nobody says that they "believe in electricity." Hence even children and adults with little scientific background believe that these invisible entities really exist.
That's interesting, because our evidence for things like those is pretty indirect: light switches and televisions work, and washing your hands helps prevent infection. But most people have never seen a germ, much less an electron. It would seem that being able to watch the patterns of a coin flipped over and over, or observe the similarities and differences between chimpanzees and humans, would make concepts like randomness and biological evolution easier to understand than electricity or germ theory.

But that's not the case. Our brains are remarkable things, and one of the most remarkable things about them is that we can, with a little work, help ourselves get around our own cognitive limitations.

June 22, 2013

Super moon reflections

I’ll never forget that last late-night truck ride with Mr. Ron Fowler. We made the trip from Lawrenceburg to Hamilton together every Sunday night for the better part of a year. The 45-minute drive usually consisted of deep, intellectual discussion—we talked about everything from religion to science and politics. A favorite topic of ours was what a small part of the universe we are, and what our purpose within that universe might be. I tend to connect better with people older than me, and his 70 years of wisdom taught me more about life than probably anything else.

This truck ride was different, though. Ron was strangely silent, and our conversation didn’t stretch far beyond whether we wanted the windows up or down. I remember very well the enormous “super moon” over the horizon on that early-May eveningmuch like the one occurring tonightand the way its reflection appeared in his inquisitive eyes as he observed it. Cornfield after cornfield went by, as did every shop and business I had grown accustomed to passing with him each week. Few words were spoken before we reached our destination, where he told me simply to take care, without making his usual mention of our plans for the following weekend (thus leaving me something to think about for the rest of my life). Little did I know when I slammed the door behind me that that had been my last truck ride with him. He passed away two days later.

Given the chance to return to one specific time in my life, that truck ride would have to be it. I would’ve liked to enjoy one final life-pondering conversation with Ron, almost as a means of saying goodbye—an inadvertent, foreshadowing goodbye—just to have learned a little more from him. But of course everyone wants more when something is gone—everyone wants to have better known the dead man—and my gratitude for the experiences I did have far outweigh my regrets about the ones I didn’t. He taught me about life, and—unexpectedly—quite a bit about death as well.

Thoughts on the PS3 update issue

It just doesn't make sense.

June 1, 2013

I'd rather be uncomfortable than wrong

Lots of interesting discussion around this piece on Eric MacDonald's blog. It discusses something that often gets missed when people talk about New Atheism:

New Atheists [...] are really not skeptical about the existence of a god or gods. We have no question about it at all, and this, not because of unwarranted certainty, but because we have no idea what a god is, and we don't think that religious believers know either.

There are a lot of mysteries in our universe, and there always will be. However, there's really no reason to believe that religion or theology explain or solve these mysteries.

MacDonald on theists:

Of course, like real disciplines of knowledge they engage in rational discussions, but at the basis of those discussions lie propositions which are not based on any evidence.

They are based on scripture, but, in examining the origins—whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or otherwise...

...We still go back and back, and when we get to the end of a chain of traditions, we find someone with a pen! A human being, just like you and me! So the church, just like the Muslim authorities, took some human writings, no matter how fenced round with sanctity, and then elevated these writings to a stature they simply do not and cannot possess.

Yet theology is founded upon them. Theologians are governed by them. So are whole societies! Not only that, but they can neither be added to nor subtracted from. These are the very words of God—whatever that is assumed to mean within the structure of various theologies.

What puzzles me is that in the absence of evidence-based knowledge and understanding, it wouldn't be my first choice to make up an answer, or to rely on an answer someone else made up a few hundred or a few thousand years ago.

Of course I would prefer to have a good explanation, a truthful one backed by reliable evidence. But I would much rather say "I don't know"—accepting that we are ignorant about many things—than to accept a poor answer with no evidence, just to be able to have an answer at all. As far as I'm concerned, theological "explanations" are based on ideas someone made up many generations ago, usually with what we would now consider a very superficial, misguided, and incorrect understanding of the world.

No one knows (yet) what exactly dark matter and dark energy are. Likewise, no one knows (yet) how life started on Earth.

These are big questions. Maybe we'll know the answers someday, but as of now we do not. Researchers have plenty of ideas, but those ideas need to be tested against reality before we can accept them as truth. Not knowing is uncomfortable for me, but I'd rather be uncomfortable than wrong.

May 30, 2013

Militant atheism

In this TED talk, biologist Richard Dawkins gives some interesting points regarding the argument between evolution and creation. He breaks through the taboo against saying anything bad about religion. He includes a great quote from Douglas Adams:

Religion doesn't seem to work like that. It has certain ideas at the heart of it, which we call sacred or holy. What it means is, here is an idea or notion that you're not allowed to say anything bad about. You're just not. Why not? Because you're not. Why should it be that it's perfectly legitimate to support the Republicans or the Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows; but to have an opinion about how the universe began, about who created the universe—no, that's holy. So we're used to not challenging religious ideas. [...] Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it, because you're not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally, there is no reason why those ideas shouldn't be as open to debate as any other—except that we've agreed somehow between us that they shouldn't be.

May 20, 2013

Congrats, Jubbin

My friend Jubbin Grewal, founder and editor of Techin5, recently found out that Techin5 has been nominated for an award at the Lizzies, Australia's biggest tech award ceremony. The nomination for "Best Independent Media" clearly shows that his hard work is appreciated, and rightfully so.

Congratulations and good luck, Jubbin.

May 19, 2013

A day in the life

I wanted to write this because I've found that few people I know personally actually understand what I do on a daily basis. This explains it.

I wake up in a pissed-off mood. I'm not a morning person. I often wake up to emergencies—usually an email about some big news I missed during the night.

If news is breaking, I want to be on it. We're in the business of breaking news, and it's very important to me that we get stories out fast. Speed and accuracy are the most important factors.

I kick off my day by going to my computer, which is always on. I'll scan my email for news, and if something big is happening, I'll decide if I want to cover the story or assign it to another writer. For instance, let's say a source sends me a tip that Google is about to acquire Facebook—I'm making this up, of course, but that would be a big story. I'd start calling people at Google and Facebook to see if it's true.

Sometimes, it will be true, but the company will ask me to hold off on publishing. Negotiating with companies over how news breaks is essential to what we do. A source might say, "Yeah, we just got bought, but can you please not write about it for a week, because it might kill the deal?" Unless I know a lot of other journalists are sniffing around, I'll generally hold off. We probably lose some of those stories, but it's the right thing to do. People won't tell you things if they don't trust you.

After I've put out all the fires and there's nothing left in my inbox that I have to address immediately, I'll take a shower, get dressed, and go for a walk or jog. Then I come back, lift some weights in my basement, and make lunch.

I live in the city of Hamilton, Ohio. It's calm, and most of my family lives nearby. The VentureBreak team is scattered across the United States, along with one former writer in the UK. We all work remotely from the comfort of our homes, though someday I hope to move the whole pub to Silicon Valley and open an office there.

After I eat, I head back to my desk to go to work. I usually spend a good part of my day talking to sources, either on the phone or on IM/email. Chasing down stories is my favorite part of the job. My style is to break down the door and clean up the mess later. That works pretty well for the most part. When I call sources I've known for a while, there's no salutation—I just get right to the point. I expect them to tell me what I want to know very quickly, and they know that.

My team and I truly love entrepreneurs. I've always been fascinated by entrepreneurship, and, more specifically, what drives entrepreneurs. I talk to both the winners and the losers. Most of them could go and get a decent job as a lawyer or an accountant. Instead, they risk everything for almost certain failure. The losers are actually more interesting sometimes. You can learn a lot from failure.

I don't develop relationships with people I don't actually like. Music labels are a good example. They are notorious for working the press—they leak stuff and develop relationships, and it can be quite fruitful as a journalist to get to know them. Not me, though—I hate 'em. They sue their customers. I see the world in black and white: I don't like them, so I won't talk to them. My regular sources are all people I genuinely like.

I generally don't like PR people. I like talking to CEOs directly. If a PR person suggests I meet the CEO of a new company, I almost always say yes. However, when they start talking about setting up dinner, I say no. That's a huge waste of time. Let's meet at Starbucks or get on Skype video and talk about your company, but I don't want any small talk about your family, simply because I don't know you. If I go out to dinner, I want to do that with my friends, my family, or my girlfriend.

We strive to publish every day of the week, with weekends being our relaxed days. When I first started VentureBreak, I would post several times a day. I've always been manic about it. You know that experiment where the rat hits the lever and the treat comes out? After about a week of writing, I got my first comment from someone who wasn't my mom. That's the treat. Then people started subscribing to my RSS feed and connecting to me on social media. That constant feedback is my reward. That is what makes blogging and online publishing amazing: I just click a single button, and instantly anyone with an Internet connection can read what I've written, and respond. Most comments are thoughtless reactions, but there are a golden few that are worthy of discussion, and I always chime in.

I also manage the business side of things at VentureBreak, which is getting better and better. We don't charge for our content, so instead we sell ad space and other products like ebooks. I try to devote some time each day to ensure we're making enough to keep the lights on, and that, predictably, is probably the least fun part of the job. It's a necessary evil, though—it keeps our content free for our readers to consume.

I used to only use email to communicate with the other writers, but I've found that Facebook Groups are much more productive, promoting engagement and removing the hassles associated with email. Anyone can post, and everyone will see it. If someone did a great job, I'll give them a public high-five. Or if someone did something wrong, I may politely point it out so others can learn from the mistake.

I work a lot, and I work hard, but I am not a workaholic. A workaholic is someone who puts their work ahead of other things that should take priority. I try not to do that. I live a real life too, and that comes first. After all, I'm a human being before anything else. I spend a lot of time with my girlfriend Sabrina, and I try to be outside as much as I can, but Ohio weather doesn't always allow that.

In the evening, I'm usually back at the computer. That's when I write thought and opinion pieces. Sometimes I'll spend two or three hours on one post. I like working at night—there are no interruptions. I usually listen to music while I write—mostly hard music like Eminem and Rage Against the Machine.

I stay up later than I probably should. My bedtime varies, depending on what I'm working on and how tired I am. Before I go to bed, I like to read something, even if it's just a few pages. Sometimes it's fiction (often Stephen King), and other times—when I'm feeling curious—it's an in-depth explanation of some phenomenon, like why the sky appears dark at night.

Then I fall asleep, happy.

May 18, 2013

The terrorists you read, hear, and view

I've written before about my hate for mainstream media, and everything I've said still stands. If you measure the effectiveness of terrorism by the fear it generates and the behaviors it changes—the goals of terrorist organizations, by definition—then the biggest terrorists in the world are the news media. We as humans suck at evaluating risks, so TV, paper, and radio news often take advantage of us because of that.

May 16, 2013

Modern medicine and coffins for children

One of the biggest changes in the past century is that parents can now reasonably expect to see all of their children reach adulthood. That wasn't true before. Routine childhood deaths were something Charles Dickens, Isaac Newton, Queen Elizabeth I, Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, and the Buddha shared with each other. For example:

In the early days of photography, people had to hold still for minutes at a time for portraits, like mannequins. Young children, much like today, didn't tend to sit still, so those kids who did appear in family photos were typically dead ones. That was the only way to get photos of them. And there was no shortage: they died mostly from bacterial diseases treated today with antibiotics, viral infections now prevented by vaccines, and infections now controlled by better hygiene, nutrition, and overall health.

Sure, today's society is subjecting kids to environmental toxins and other things that cause rising rates of asthma and allergies, and other conditions that are unique to our increasingly artificial world, or that we're once masked by all the sickness and death we now avoid.

And yes, there are newer vaccines for which the preventative benefits are still being established. On another note, while chickenpox is rarely fatal, being immunized against it can also prevent the appearance of its much nastier counterpart shingles later in life. It is the same virus, re-emerging from decades of dormancy in the body.

Perhaps we need to improve the methods and timing with which we administer treatments to kids and ourselves in order to reduce the risks and maximize the benefits. It's important to be smart and cautious about what treatments you put in your body.

But don't avoid modern treatments and preventions altogether. We can't write off one of the greatest gifts that science has given us over the last hundred years: making it an ever-shrinking, niche industry to build coffins for children.

May 14, 2013

Facebook would've been good for my grandpa

By all accounts, my maternal grandfather was a very social man. Like me, he was an entrepreneur—he owned business after business, buying and selling them like they were nothing but also putting a lot of hard work into them. I just recently found out that he and my girlfriend's grandparents were very good friends many years ago. And that comes as no surprise—he seemed to know everyone in our little hometown.

As he got older, though, my grandpa slowly withdrew. After he was diagnosed with cancer and alcohol became a large part of his life, my family and I saw him less and less. He lived alone—accompanied only by his dog and his thoughts. I am certain that that contributed to his depression and the overall decline of his well-being.

My grandpa died in 2004. He didn't own a computer, and as far as I'm aware he had never used email or anything related to the Internet. Conversely, I've been involved in some sort of online social networking for years. Email, this blog, Facebook, Twitter—they're a much bigger part of my life than the telephone or TV.

So even when I'm here, alone with Shadow, somewhat withdrawn, I'm not really alone. People like you read what I write, and you respond. I stay in touch with my friends and acquaintances, and sometimes I know more about what's going on in their lives than in my own. I can simply lurk and feel part of people's days, or I can inject the occasional reply or snarky comment, depending on my mood.

I feel connected, in a way my grandfather didn't at the end of his life. I think he really would have benefited from something like Facebook or Twitter—some means to stay in contact with his friends and family. It's a new thing in our time, this ability to dip into and out of the lives of people we know—if we choose—to remain the social people we want to be, even if our bodies won't let us do so easily or frequently face-to-face anymore.

May 8, 2013

Lucky rabbit

Today while I was mowing my lawn, I hit something and felt the engine stall for a split second. Immediately I saw a baby rabbit dart out from underneath the mower, slowing and settling on the other side of the yard. I cut the engine and moved the mower to look under it, and there was a hole some rabbits had apparently dug for shelter. Imagine a giant piece of machinery with a freshly sharpened blade mowing over your home.

No animals were harmed in the mowing of my lawn, though. I followed the baby rabbit across the yard, and the little champ survived that incident without a scratch. He seemed pretty scared, but he let me snap a couple of photos before making his way back to the burrow.

May 6, 2013

New ideas every day

Every entrepreneur knows how easy it is to become scatterbrained. Entrepreneurs—like writers—are born, not bred. Our brains are wired a little differently—we're always looking for the next journey, seeking the next adventure. I've said that success is more about the journey than the destination, and that couldn't be more true.

I find new ideas cropping up in my mind every day. Some of them may materialize, while others are more far-fetched. One particular startup idea hit me today that I can't (intellectually or financially) afford to pass up. That's going to be consuming quite a bit of my focus going forward, though I'll still be present on VentureBreak and LogicLounge if you read my stuff there (oh, and the podcast is happening).

This new idea is going to be different from anything I've done before, so I'm excited to see how it plays out. I will certainly write again when I have more information to share.

My detailed thoughts on Path


April 30, 2013

Mystical comfort from Richard Dawkins

If you know anything about Richard Dawkins, my headline here seems impossible. Aside from being a brilliant biologist, he is possibly the world's most famous atheist (and quite straightforward about it), rejecting any kind of "magical thinking" or supernatural ideas whatsoever.

Yet today, he has inspired me, and brought me some comfort and mystical joy—something not at all to be expected from him.

The source is a 2006 lecture at McGill University, titled "The Strangeness of Science." It is not a religious (or anti-religious) talk—he manages to avoid the topic until the Q&A at the end. Instead, it discusses how we perceive our universe, and how what we understand about it arises from how we evolved into it, and, more importantly, simply what size we are.

Only in the "middle world" we inhabit—where things exist in sizes of inches or feet or miles and seconds or minutes or hours or days or years—does our model of the universe around us make sense. For a microbe, gravity is totally irrelevant, for example, while surface tension and Brownian motion rule the world. In a tiny, subatomic world, there is no concept of "solid," as our concept of "solid" is merely a useful construct because the forces between atoms in our bodies and other objects prevent them from passing through each other—even though their atoms consist almost entirely of empty space.

Over geological time scales, impossible things—or rather, things that are stupendously improbable—do happen. But having evolved in the middle world of time and space, the highly improbable and the impossible are, effectively, the same. So we treat them that way, even though they are not. Traveling faster than the speed of light really is, as far as we can tell, impossible. But a soup of chemicals turning into DNA, and then life? Simply very, very improbable on our timescale. Over billions of years, though, that DNA creating a brain that can wonder if that's possible? Just improbable, or inevitable? I don't know.

Who we are quite clearly defines what the world seems to us. About 27 minutes in, Dawkins says:
What we see of the real world is [...] a model of the real world [...] constructed so it's useful for dealing with the real world. The nature of the model in our head depends on the kind of animal we are. A flying animal is going to need a different kind of world model in its brain from a walking, a climbing, or a swimming animal.
So, despite their distant evolutionary relationship, a monkey, a squirrel, and a tree lizard probably model the world in very similar ways. Switching minds, they would probably feel very much at home. So would barn swallows and bats, even though one sees with light, and the other with sound. Both navigate in the air, in three dimensions, at high speed, and catch insects for food.

We as humans make maps to emphasize two dimensions, over which we can walk or drive. We relate to non-human things the way we relate to other people. We berate our computers and cars when they misbehave. We personify the weather, calling it "wrathful" or "friendly" when it is no such thing. We love our pet snails, pet rocks, and even stuffed animals, when they cannot love us back—even though we know that.

How is that comforting to me? Because the very nearly impossible, evolved, middle world, human-focused, solid-believing, enhanced great ape brain model of the world that I have in my head is kind of a miracle. Not one that anyone has made, as far as I'm aware, but one that simply is. None of the atoms that make me up today were part of me when I developed my earliest memories—of going to Gatlinburg with my Aunt Tammy and Uncle Ted and Grandma Vicky, or of my first day of kindergarten. And yet I still remember them. That is amazing.

I am tremendously fortunate to be a living, world-modeling thing, able to have these memories, to experience the love of my beautiful girlfriend and family, to write words and to make music, to learn, to have been living as long as I have—and, I expect and plan, plenty more years to come. Understanding that brings me joy, though I can't quite say why.

This life, however long it lasts, is my only chance to be part of the universe. And I'll take it.

April 28, 2013

How to correctly use "alleged" and "suspect" in reporting

Great post from Grammar Girl last week on the language of crime.

If you followed the Boston bombing story, you know how rapidly it changed—what seemed to be a fact one minute turned out to be false the next.

As a journalist it's important to avoid liability for defamation, and the AP Stylebook published by the Associated Press has great entries regarding the use of the words of "alleged" and "suspect" to shield you from that liability. AP advises against modifying a person's name with the accusation, avoiding phrases like "suspected murderer John Jones" and "alleged murderer John Jones." Instead, it recommends separating the person's name from the accusation by using phrasing such as "John Jones, suspect in the murder" and "John Jones, accused of the murder."

This may seem like a minor distinction, but because in the US people are innocent until proven guilty, we need to consider what would be the least damaging way to present the information in the event that the accused party turns out to be innocent.

The sickness

I think my immune system is taking a vacation this year. I spent all of last week in bed thinking I was dying. From Monday night until about Wednesday, I was vomiting at least once an hour; for the remainder of the week, I was struggling to stomach the soft foods and clear liquids everyone was telling me to keep in my system. By the weekend I had visibly lost weight. Six days later, car rides still make me nauseous and I can't eat large meals.

I guess this is my body's way of telling me that something needs to change. I've cut fast food completely out of my diet—which alone has done wonders—but I need to do more. It's definitely time to drop canned foods, microwave meals, and anything else that's packed with preservatives. If it doesn't rot, I probably shouldn't be eating it. Soda needs to go, too.

Last week may or may not have been a result of my sub-par diet, but it's time to make some serious changes regardless.

April 26, 2013

Time doesn't exist

Events exist and create a perception of "time" passing. Eliminate the event, and the perception of "time" passing becomes irrelevant. It becomes forever present.

April 21, 2013

Stop exploiting the Boston story

The Boston bombings are a big deal, yes. But certain tech blogs are writing about it (by writing, I mean regurgitating everyone else's coverage) for page views alone, and that's not okay. Sure, there are certain tech angles that may be relevant to discuss - but talking about how lots of people are hearing the story through Twitter is not one of them. That would've been news in 2007, but it certainly is not today. Everyone wants to play the page view game by exploiting a very serious topic, and the sheer selfishness there pisses me off to no end.

April 20, 2013

Versed: is this common sedative ethical?

I've been reading a lot about versed, a common sedative used for medical procedures. There are a lot of horror stories about it (like this one), and a quick Google search will bring back plenty of examples.

Here's the gist: the intention is to sedate patients during surgeries where they need to be conscious—in order to follow basic instructions, etc.—such as wisdom teeth extractions. Versed is advertised as being able to keep patients comfortable and keep the pain to a minimum. However, far too many reports indicate that patients under the drug feel all pain associated with the operation—they just don't remember it later.

Consider the implications here. Just because you don't remember something doesn't mean it didn't happen. During the operation, you still suffer—you just lose your memory of the pain. I read one story of a man who heard his wife's screams during surgery, though when asked about it she didn't remember anything that happened in the operating room.

Further, versed has been known to cause short-term memory loss following surgery. Often the amnesia doesn't occur until months after the administration of the drug, so people don't make the connection.

What are your thoughts on this? Is the use of versed as a sedative ethical? Is not remembering pain equivalent to never having experienced it to begin with? Is it worth the side effects?

April 17, 2013

April 16, 2013


Have you ever noticed yourself speaking and acting differently depending on whom you're talking to? It's common to behave differently around different people—we all do it, and doing so is deeply rooted in our nature. I found myself doing this the other day: I speak, act, and dress differently according to which of my businesses I'm working on. As a writer and editor, everything is proper and more formal. As a DJ, I'm sure you can imagine how different the environment is. I'm the same person in both scenarios, just working and interacting with people much differently. Interesting to think about.

The best communicators are those who can communicate to any audience they find themselves in front of.

Why I struggle with religion

I've never really been a practicing member of any religion. I was raised by parents who didn't attend church but were quick to call themselves Christians if the question came up. They forbade the use of the words "God" and "Jesus" in vain, but I'm not sure either of them even owned a Bible. I've been to church with my grandmother on numerous occasions. I really like the preacher there—he's a great man who really puts his heart into his beliefs—but no matter how hard he tries, my brain doesn't want to accept what it's being told.

I'm a thinker. I always have been. My mind is fueled mostly by logic and reasoning, which makes it difficult to accept claims, such as those made by religion, based solely on faith with no factual evidence. I usually see this trait as a good thing—I like to question what people are telling me, rather than blindly accepting statements that could be false or misleading. But in the context of religion and in the social situations surrounding it, even beginning to question what a 2,000-year-old piece of literature tells us is sacrilegious and just cause to label me a flawed individual damned to burn for eternity in a lake of fire. My apologies.

You could probably blame my education and independent research for my lack of faith—after discovering that most world religions are dominated not by spirituality, but by politics, money, and power, I'm not sure I want to be a part of that. Prove me wrong. :-)

But we're talking about faith—and you can't prove faith. Faith is very personal. Faith is also not genetic. I'm not questioning the existence of a higher power—and never could. I question man, and have every reason and ability to do so. I don't question followers who have already questioned their faith—"God" is who you believe "God" is, if you believe in "God" in the first place.

The more I learn about churches and the corruption that goes on within them, the happier I am that I didn't become too involved as a child. What would Jesus do? Start his own religion—which is precisely what hundreds of men have done throughout history.

April 15, 2013


It's impossible to find reason in a totally unreasonable event. There is no justification for the taking of innocent life. Our day-to-day routines make it easy to lose sight of what we truly value, but the worst of humanity never fails to remind us to cherish the best of humanity. I appreciate that you're still here to read this today. My thoughts are with the victims and their families in Boston.

April 12, 2013

I don't bite

I received a funny email today from someone who was trying to contact me to pitch his startup. He requested my phone number and I didn't give it to him right away because I was so behind on email. I guess he reached out to others to find the best way to contact us. The email string below is pretty funny.

And, to clarify: I do give out my cell number, I just don't answer it very often because I'm busy. I prefer to talk after 10pm because that's when things slow down and I'm not distracted. And the editor@venturebreak email address only goes to me—no one else.

Just received the note from some of my PR buddies. Guess I shouldn’t have asked you for your phone number last week – I had NO idea it was such a sensitive issue. Anyway – I’ll continue to reach out to you for xxxxx this way. Sorry about the request.

—— Forwarded Message
Date: Mon, 08 Apr 2013 09:45:10 -0700
To: xxxxx
Subject: FW: Need your help

FYI… I seriously advise not calling him – this is what EVERYONE has told me.

Sent: Monday, April 8, 2013 9:37 AM
To: xxxxx
Subject: Re: Need your help

he doesn’t give it out – and if you get it don’t call it because he’ll blacklist you.

Best way to get Brad is to email him between Midnight and 2am – seriously.

also, send a mail to editor@venturebreak which all the writers monitor, not just him.

April 5, 2013

Family Guy rap

Even if you're not a Family Guy fan (I'm not), this is pretty entertaining.

April 1, 2013

My ebook, Start Up Your Startup, is now available

Start Up Your Startup, my new ebook about turning an idea into a successful business, is now available. It's $9.99, and it comes with a 100% satisfaction guarantee because I'm sure you'll love it.

You may purchase the book here.

For more information, I've reprinted the book's foreword below:

My name is Brad Merrill. I’m an entrepreneur, a writer, and the editor in chief of VentureBreak—a publication all about innovation, especially in the startup world. I’ve been writing about startups and entrepreneurship for quite a while, and doing so has given me the opportunity to meet and speak with some very interesting people. Entrepreneurs are a distinct breed—their minds operate a little differently than the average person’s, and that difference builds some of the world’s most successful companies.
Many people dream of becoming entrepreneurs—making money, setting trends, and redefining markets and lifestyles with new products. Building a startup isn’t easy, though—in fact, most startups fail within the first year. So what’s the key to success? How can you transform your idea into a reality? What are the secrets?
The technology and the product are like the heart of your company—they’re critically important, but other elements are needed to make it function as a whole. A company has no reason to exist without the product, but a good product alone does not make a successful business. In this ebook, I aim to show you what needs to be wrapped around the technology to make your startup a success.
Products and companies always evolve as they interact with customers, investors, and the marketplace. It’s all about discovering a product and a business model that fit together perfectly. This ebook outlines the key elements of the process and shows you how to let your startup unfold. 

March 30, 2013

Death and opportunity in Singapore

I saw an article in the SF Chronicle about Singapore's attempts to spur entrepreneurship. It failed to mention what happened last year to one man who ventured to work there:

Shane had died a week before he was to return to the US. The police said he had drilled holes into his bathroom wall, bolted in a pulley, then slipped a black strap through the pulley and wrapped it around the toilet several times. He then tethered the strap to his neck and jumped from a chair. Shane, 6ft 1in and nearly 200lb, hanged himself from the bathroom door, the autopsy report said. 
So the Todds, along with two of Shane’s younger brothers, John and Dylan, were unnerved by what they didn’t see as they crossed the threshold. The front door was unlocked and there was no sign of an investigation – no crime-scene tape, no smudges from fingerprint searches. “The first thing I did was make a beeline for the bathroom,” Mrs Todd recalled. She wanted to see exactly how Shane had died – and she saw nothing that fitted the police description. The marble bathroom walls had no holes in them. Nor were there any bolts or screws. The toilet was not where the police had said.
If you start a company in Singapore, good luck. Just don't rock the boat.

March 21, 2013

Review/promote my ebook for a free copy

I'll be releasing my new ebook, Start Up Your Startup, likely by the end of the month. It's a step-by-step guide to turning your idea into a successful business. It will be available for sale (price isn't locked in yet) on VentureBreak. If you're a blogger and you think your audience may be interested, I can provide you with a free copy to read and review on your site. Please let me know via email:

To everyone else: I'll keep you posted on the release date so you can give it a read as well.

March 7, 2013

Anti-gay bigotry leads to dead children

I just came across some literature by sex columnist, speaker, and podcaster Dan Savage. Here's the gist: after hearing an interview of Savage about his It Gets Better campaign, someone wrote to him criticizing his ill regard toward "people of faith" and saying that although she doesn't support gay marriage, she would never encourage bullying of LGBT children. Quite hypocritical, if you ask me.

Savage's opening line is priceless and spot on:
I'm sorry your feelings were hurt by my comments.
No, wait. I'm not. Gay kids are dying. So let's try to keep things in perspective: Fuck your feelings.
As someone who was brought up as a Catholic, Savage particularly criticizes churches and other religious organizations for their promotion of bigotry towards homosexuals like himself, both within their own congregations and in the general political and social sphere. He doesn't hold back:
And many of your children—having listened to Mom and Dad talk about how gay marriage is a threat to family and how gay sex makes their magic sky friend Jesus cry—feel justified in physically abusing the LGBT children they encounter in their schools.
And he doesn't go easy on the more liberal Christians, either.
I'm sick of tolerant, accepting Christians whispering to me that "we're not all like that." If you want to change the growing perception that "good Christian" means "anti-gay"—a perception that is leading many people to stop identifying themselves as Christian because they don't want to be lumped in with the haters—stop whispering to me and start screaming at them.
Dan does a great job at articulating something I find very frustrating (and gay people find infuriating) about the way our society talks about and views sexual orientation. For whatever reason it is still acceptable to be bigoted against LGBT people, when other bigotries (based on race, gender, etc.) no longer are. Someone brought up to me the idea that race and gender are clearly observable traits, while sexual orientation is not. That makes it very easy to draw the conclusion that while African Americans were born African American, gay people had a choice in the matter and could have elected to be straight. Obviously not true, but that could somewhat explain the acceptance of so much hatred.

That acceptance has very real consequences:
You don't have to explicitly "encourage [your] children to mock, hurt, or intimidate" queer kids. Your encouragement—along with your hatred and fear—is implicit. It's here, it's clear, and we're seeing the fruits of it: dead children.
Sure, LGBT issues being mainstream is pretty new. But social change should be rapid. Once we as a society realize that something we've been doing is wrong, we shouldn't delay in correcting it. The more slowly we move, the more kids will die.

March 4, 2013

Uniqueness and diversity

Consider for a moment uniqueness, and just how unique you are. You are an individual—there has not been another like you at any point in history. On a deeper level, you were born into this life in order to be unique and build upon that uniqueness.

Old ideas of spirituality and religion saw Earth as a testing ground of sorts, or a lesson to be learned. That was the belief of reward and punishment, or heaven and hell. Derived from these beliefs was the idea of what a "good person" was, and the idea that we came here to evolve. And that once you had evolved, you could leave.

Fortunately, those ideas are beginning to shift now. We're beginning to understand that this life isn't some kind of lesson—it's the only life there is. The previous idea was all about getting back to where we came from, so why would we have left in the first place? We were all born the same, and those old beliefs would have us continue to be the same. On the contrary, we were born to be diverse. It's time to stop seeing the human as substandard, or inferior, and seeking to get back to the superior, or the divine. We should be working to bridge the two together, rather than abandoning the former for the latter. It's not about leaving here, or "ascending" from here, it's about understanding your uniqueness and realizing that you're here to be unique—not to be some ideal of a "good person."

February 20, 2013

What is writing?

Writing is a magical thing. It's both telepathy—transmission of ideas, thoughts, and images, from my mind to yours—and a form of time travel, as I am transmitting those ideas, thoughts, and images to you through time. Of course, any art form could be described this way—but I feel that the written word is the purest example. Perhaps I'm biased, but as a writer I'd like to focus on writing.

My name is Brad Merrill. I'm writing this at the desk in my bedroom on a cold night in February of 2013. You're reading this not only in a different location, but somewhere down the timeline from me as well. Hence, you and I are about to engage in telepathic time travel. Pay close attention, and notice I have nothing hidden up my sleeves.

Look—here's a wide open field on a warm June evening. Each blade of grass is as green as the next, all extending infinitely into the lowering sun, which has just met the horizon. The clouds, darkening in the sunset, join perfectly in the sky to form the numeral 4.

Did we see the same thing? We'd have to discuss and compare notes to be sure, but I think we did. You may have seen a bright yellow sunset, while I imagined an orange one. The grass, to you, may have appeared lime, though I intended on olive drab (the color blind, of course, would have seen shades of light-gray). Perhaps you populated the field with a rabbit or some birds, and that's fine—my field is your field, so knock yourself out.

What about the number in the sky? There's no misinterpretation here—it's not a seven, not a three. It's a four. I didn't tell you that, and you didn't have to ask. My lips never moved. Neither, most likely, did yours. We're not even in the same time together, let alone the same room. Except we are together. We're very close.

I sent you a sunset, a grassy field, and clouds forming a four. You got all of those things, especially the four. The two of us just performed telepathy—I was the transmitter, and you were the receiver. No mythological shit—real telepathy, and time travel too. That, my friend, is the art of writing.

February 19, 2013


Imagine being completely illiterate. The words on your computer screen are incomprehensible squiggles. Not understanding words is difficult to fathom for those of us who've been reading for a long time. Many of us think of not being able to read books or magazines—but it goes a bit further than that.

If you've ever traveled to a foreign country, you know that illiteracy is a much bigger problem when you're walking around in public. Even if you study the native language to prepare for your trip, there are bound to be phrases, slogans, or other pieces of text that you don't understand. I can't imagine traveling to places like China and Japan, where the characters themselves are very far from what I know.

This photo, for example, proves that words are a lot more prevalent in our society than we usually notice:

All text has been removed from the photo at the left, and placed on the right in the same general location and font as in the photo.