tattoo, san francisco

johnbettsjr


rough thoughts

read at your own risk...


On Facebook
tattoo, san francisco
johnbettsjr
So, considering the extraordinary time since my last post, I believe it's obvious this journal is no longer active. I have moved my commentary to Facebook, specifically <http://www.facebook.com/johnbettsjr>.

On Old Timey Writing
tattoo, san francisco
johnbettsjr
I embrace communication in just about all its forms. I like letters, email, blogs, facebook, Internet chatting, phone texts and the occasional phone call. While I’ve not yet delved into micro-thought trends like tweeting, I can see the value in them. I also enjoy uni-directional varieties like TV, radio, books, magazines, static web sites, etc. I’m not as audibly-oriented as I am visual, so the allure of podcasts and audio books elude me, but again, I can see the value in them.

My life’s work is dedicated to communication. Being first a graphic designer, then writer, then creative director, and finally a marketing manager, it might be seen as self-serving to adopt the opinion—as I have—that our advanced level of communication is what has made mankind what is it today. Without the ability to share ideas, we are little more than domesticated house pets.

Thus I come to my point. I would like to share with everyone my first, golden rule of effective communication: front-load the work.

Communication of any kind requires at least two parties: the one conveying the idea, and the one(s) receiving it. Both parties must be active. If the receiver (reader, viewer, listener, etc.) is not actively participating, the conveyer (book, TV, talker, etc.) isn’t communicating, it’s just making noise.

There a number of reasons the receiver might stop participating: distraction, boredom, confusion, fatigue, and so on. It is fatigue that most interests me today.

There is a trend, born out of Internet chatting and texting I believe, to back-load the work in communication. Instead of taking the time and effort to clearly express an idea through verbose language, abbreviation and broken grammar rules the day.

The problem with abbreviations is that they causes the reader to decode what would normally be an succinct idea. Abbreviations like “ne1” and “b4” serve only to shift the work from the conveyer of the idea to the receiver. The person reading a message filled with such abbreviations must expand everyone one into its actual word—on the fly and in their head—and then extract the idea from it. That slows down the comprehension speed considerably, and consequently, the retention of the message.

What’s worse, it actually slows down overall reading. Most believe that we actually read every individual letter in every individual word we see. This is not true. The truth is that we read the shape of a word first, and if we recognize it, we move to the next. Only when we run into unfamiliar or uniform word-forms do we slow down and read each letter. This is why words written in ALL CAPS stand out so loudly. They are literally speed bumps on the road of communication. It is also why text set in type with balanced ascenders, descenders, and serifs is easier to read, as it emphasizes the shape of each word.

It’s actually possible to write whole paragraphs with misspelled words that match the word-form of the correctly-spelled word, and still be readable at nearly full speed. Our brains, using content and context, can actually substitute the correct word on the fly, as long as the word looks the same.

But when one compresses word after word for their own convenience, it forces the reader to do substantially more work on their end. Communicating in constant abbreviations, while dropping such courtesies as commas, periods, and breaking spaces, is at the very least lazy and inconsiderate. At its worst, poor writing is counter-productive and destructive. A miscommunication can cause great damage.

When we communicate, we are trying to convey ideas that we consider valuable. Every thing we say is an attempt to educate or convince our listener or reader. We communicate as much for our own benefit as that of others. If you think otherwise, I argue that you’re not self-aware. Think about it for a while, and try to understand why would talk and write to one another.

Then consider why would we intentionally hinder that communication by building in stumbling blocks for the other side. Every convenience we take for ourselves is an inconvenience for another. If you value what you’re saying, if you wish to be heard, take upon yourself the work and responsibility of communicating effectively. Do your fair share, so that your audience doesn’t turn you off.

Otherwise you’re just making noise.

As a friend once said to me: if someone asks me for help in abbreviated text because it’s shorter and quicker, I’ll say “no” instead of “yes” for the exact same reasons.

On Alice and 3D
tattoo, san francisco
johnbettsjr
I saw "Alice in Wonderland" in 3D last night, and constantly wished I could remove my polarized glasses and watch the movie in 2D. I've yet to see a single "3D" movie and felt it was in any way enhanced beyond or superior to its traditional, 2D counterpart. In fact, my eyes get so weirded out by the shifting double imaging and reduced color brightness that I find the whole 3D technology distracting and annoying. As such, I'm resolved to stop attending 3D movies, and will wait until they're released to Blu-ray so that I may enjoy them in all their glorious, comfortable flatness.

Oh right, the movie: it was okay. Visually exciting, except for the faux 3D thing. The plot was extremely linear. Overall, "Alice" felt like it should have been longer, with more intrigue and plot development. But—all in all—an enjoyable flick, wanting to be amazing, but not quite making the grade.

On Bumps
tattoo, san francisco
johnbettsjr
An online friend of mine wrote today about how life resembles a game he used to play called "molecules," in which a group of friends bounce around an elevator until it reaches its destination. He pondered how many lives he's changed by "bouncing" into them, and if anyone's ever changed his.

I can answer, without a single doubt: an inconceivably huge number, and yes, many times.

Some like to think of change as something better, but choose to see change that is worse or simply different as no change at all.

Not so. Change is change, regardless of outcome.

And, quite literally, every single person you interact with, and anyone who will interact with them, and so on, is changed by you.

And this interaction isn't necessary in person. You stop to move a nail-laden board out of the road, and the person half a mile behind you doesn't blow out their tire, and thus makes it to _______ in time to do _______. You've changed their life. Hopefully for the better.

Hopefully.

The same goes for us. We are affected by people we meet, and people we will never meet.

Some changes are small. And some are huge. And more than we know, they are small changes that become huge.

Example: I met my current partner on the internet. Not through a service or through mutual friends, but by a chance meeting in a chat room. True, that means we share at least one interest, but it's one among many, and shared by many. It just so happened that found each other in the same online room at the same time, and found each other interesting enough to chat with. This was a very, very small bump in a world full of major collisions.

Over the course of about seven years, we continued to bump into each other online. I'd say a few times a year, at most.

There are a number of people who I still bump into online. Some I've known a lot longer than my partner. The bumps are still just bumps.

And sometimes the bumping just stops. You loose contact, or interest, and life just takes you away.

But this particular bump was special. It followed a few other random bumps that encouraged it to become something much more. Eventually, it became a massive collision that resulted in me leaving my job, my friends, and my home to move across the country (quite literally) to be with my current partner. And both our lives changed course and continued on to wonderful times.

We'd like to think it was all because of that one tiny bump in that chat room some 15 years ago, but that would be wrong. It was from that bump, plus a billion others that nudged us this way and that. And not just the obvious ones: such as me breaking up with my previous partner, or him traveling to my city for unrelated reasons. No. There were more.

There were all the bumps in my life that made me open to taking the risk of leaving everything to be with someone I just began to know. There were the uncountable bumps necessary to align our interests enough to make us interesting to each other, and compatible enough to live togther. And then there where the billions of bumps needed to shape us into people, physically and mentally, who would find each other attractive and interesting. And there are more bumps yet that I can't even think of.

The point is: the number of life-changing bumps we notice in life are great, but we cannot even conceive of the number of random occurrences that have pushed our lives to the place they're at right now. We can only ever hope to see the tiniest fraction of what directs our lives.

Seven years ago my partner and I invited a friend to join us on a trip at which—purely at random—he met his current partner, I'd love love love to take credit for that, but to be honest, my contribution was the tiniest little bit. There were billions of other bumps and crashes in the great cacophony of life that brought them together.

No matter how insular you are, how protected, how resolved, there is an insurmountable mountain of interconnected randomness bearing down on you. You cannot live in this world and be wholly unaffected by others. It is impossible.

I've made mention of this before, but I'm reminded yet again of that question we so often like to toy with in our heads, and sometimes even ask aloud to others: if there was one thing you could change in your past, what would it be?

We cannot look back on our lives and see even the front edge of the tangled, interconnected, intentional and unintentional, random and purposeful mishmash of choices and actions that have led to our current circumstances, and not appreciate the massive gamble hidden in that question.

If there was one thing you could change in your past, what would it be, and would it be worth a wholly different life to make it?

For any significant change in our past would invariably lead us, and an unknowable number of others, down an uncountable number of different paths.

Just as they already have.

On Security
tattoo, san francisco
johnbettsjr
In response to a friend's exhortion that those opposed to full-body scans at airports should just not fly, I responded with...

I can't say I agree.

If you're uncomfortable with being publicly strip-searched in a crowded airport, then you should be uncomfortable with being scanned by this radio-wave body imager. The process may be quicker, but the effect is pretty much the same. You are photographed unclothed, and that image will find its way into storage and—eventually—out into the public.

You can argue without end that pubic exposure won't happen, but I am absolutely sure that authorities will eventually demand these images be archived for security reasons, and eventually be stolen by idiots wanting creepy, naked shots of celebrities or whatever else. History and an understanding of human fallibility instills me with confidence in this matter.

There are sniffers out there that will detect chemical bombs more effectively than radio scanners, without the total invasion of privacy. You can't build a bomb without chems, so bombing is over. And the days of hijacking are over. The people on an airplane will never again respond passively to knives and guns.

Before we begin a deep dive into the unnecessary and invasive imaging and studying the millions of naked bodies passing through our airports every year, let's first consider just nailing down our current precautions. In both instances of near-bombings, the bombers in question should have been apprehended by CURRENT security procedure. Sloppy security here is to blame. Not the lack of nude photos.

Travel should not require the complete abandonment of all privacy and dignity. It's always easy to argue for more security. That's an argument that can be made ad infinum. At what point do you think it should stop? Should security be more important than usability?

Consider what's become known as the Jack Bauer conundrum: do we allow torture in the face of an imminent, major threat in which millions might be killed? Many would argue that the security of millions outweighs the security of the one. The problem is that reality is grossly misrepresented in that simplistic scenario. The reality is that such a scenario is so incredibly rare, and the abuse of such a loophole so sure and pervasive, that to allow for any torture will cause far, far more damage than the possibility of a major attack.

In the last ten years we've had two attempted—but failed—bombings. Both have occurred due to sloppy implementation of then current security protocols, not the lack thereof. Yet in each case we've see more protocols put in place, creating an even greater chance that more mistakes will occur. The more complex a system, the easier it is to foul it up, especially one driven by humans.

I'm all for passive scanning. Hit me with your magnetic fields and chemical sniffers. I'm am NOT okay with active scans, such as radio imaging and pervasive luggage and body searches. I simply do not trust humans, especially those with an excessive and righteous sense of authority.

There simply is more to life than security. A lot more. And I am happy to see there are groups like the ACLU that help pull the knee-jerk reactions of groups like the DHS back towards the middle. The struggle of the privacy and security concerns in this country creates great a balance, one that not every country enjoys. Don't ever forget or devalue that.

On Crutches
tattoo, san francisco
johnbettsjr

One of my recent posts over on facebook has generated a few responses. It simply points to this story.

I could use this opportunity to scourge religion, blaming it for so many downfalls in our society and the world in general. As an atheist, and a gay man, I have both the reason and the expectation to do so.

But I won't.

Religion is not the cause, it's the conduit.

I have said for some time that I view religion as a crutch for all the inexplicable desires of mankind. I don't see religion as the cause for either good or bad in the world, but the conduit through which we choose to funnel our true desires, especially those we don't want to explain or accept responsibility.

Being an atheist, I see religions as man-made, not god-made. As such, it's pretty easy to see how they are, in every respect, political and social tools. We behave first, and then fit our beliefs to that behavior. It's often thought to run in the reverse, but history tells us otherwise.

The truth is that we want to hate people who are different or unpleasant. There is no social group in this world that, having been oppressed, will not happily oppress another given the opportunity. Mankind happily oppresses women, blacks, Native Americans, Asians, children, gays, and any other cultural group available--and does so in its time in the name of God. We cringe to remember how religions advocated slavery and wife abuse and child abuse and discrimination of all sorts, but in every single case they have. I believe there will be a day that people will be ashamed to admit that their religion discriminated against gays. Don't. It wasn't your church that makes you hate or disparage anyone. It's you.

So, when I read stories such as the one I linked above, I don't turn my eyes to religion and blame it for what happened. That would be absurd. Religion is only an extension of you, a machine driven by the people comprising it. I blame the individual who chooses to believe. The believer does so to enable their behavior, and that is where the responsibility for their actions lies.


On Absent Family
tattoo, san francisco
johnbettsjr
I have very recently made contact with my brother, who I have never in his life spoken with. Last time I saw him he was about one year old. Now he's 28. I'm scared, and don't know what to say. How does one begin a dialog with someone you've never known, but who is so very important.

Few of my friends know my family story. I was raised by my grandmother. My father—in the most responsible action he's ever taken—left me in her care when I was just a baby. She's the only mother I know, and died when I was 18. I never had anyone in my life to fill the father figure. I have never had a single contact on my biological mother's side of the family. I only know her name. That's it.

I have had periodic contact with my father over the years. More than anything, he's served as a disruptive force in my life. Chaos and drama seem always to follow him, at least in my limited exposure. Besides me, he has two daughters and another son from a later marriage. I've had—by far—more contact with my eldest sister (still several years younger than me) than any other member of my family, on any side, for the latter half of my life. This is largely due to her efforts, which I appreciate and respect.

I have never once thought of my sisters and brother, as remote or unknown to me as they may be, as half-siblings. It's a notion thats alien to me, being raised an only child. They're just my sisters and brother who I barely know. And, being alone and separated from my aunts, uncles, cousins (some of who don't care to know me any longer, I suspect), the separation from my sisters and brothers sort of just blend into the general familial absence.

I see my partner with his brothers and sisters and mother. I hear my friends talk about their families. And even when the talk is of strife or disappointment, I have to say, there's some jealousy in me for what they have that I do not. Their relationships may be troubled at times, but they have a family of their own. And while my partner's family is wonderful to me, and I love them, I know that they are his family first.

This month I turn 41. By most estimates, I have fewer days ahead of me than I do behind. I want my family. I want to know my brother and sisters. I want to reunite with my cousins and aunts and uncles (those that would have me). I want my ex-step-mother to know how much I appreciate how well she treated me when I was younger. I doubt I was a ray of sunshine in her life. And while I don't want to have extensive contact with my father, I want him to know that I appreciate that he was the very first person in my entire life that realized I was gay, and that if it ever bothered him, I never knew it.

It's a lot to ask for, I know. I just have to figure out how to begin...

On the Magic Mouse
tattoo, san francisco
johnbettsjr
Yesterday Apple released a number of updated products: an impressive new iMac, beefed up Mac Minis, updated MacBook and Airports, redesigned remote and the Magic Mouse.

At first blush, the Magic Mouse seems a fantastic new update. It continues the single-button concept prevalent in all Apple mice, while embracing the two-button functionality of Apple's former Mighty Mouse (now called simply the Apple Mouse). The Magic Mouse, however, has eschewed the Mighty Mouse's oft lamented scrolling ball for a touch-sensitive surface that finally brings Apple's gesture technology to all its computers.

The potential for gestures via the mouse is alluring, but in fact, offers little that is new. One can scroll (tho now with momentum) in any direction, including circularly. You can both right and left click. All these features were available on Apple's former mouse.

One new feature available via the Magic Mouse's gesture surface is swiping, the action most often seen on Apple's iPhone or iPod Touch to change pages. It's a nice trick, but I find I've never used it on my gesture-supported MacBook Pro trackpad, leading me to believe it'll have similarly limited use on a mouse. However, that I don't use it is not to say that others do not, and those who do will rejoice in the Magic Mouse.

Some gestures I don't see offered is pinching or rotating. This is likely because neither is easy with one hand, thus making it very unlikely to be used on a mouse. That's understandable. What I see as the Magic Mouse's biggest downfall is its missing, industry-standard features.

No Apple mouse has ever offered a wheel, and thus never offered wheel-clicking. Also, Apple's former mouse was the only that offered side buttons, but were so poorly implemented that they (really just one button replicated on both sides) were never used. These ubiquitous features are present in even the most rudimentary mice these days, making their continued absence on Apple's most sophisticated mouse to date both confusing and disappointing.

I can understand not providing these basic features mechanically. The Magic Mouse is, if nothing else, beautiful in its simplicity. But I had hoped to see these features supported in some way using gestures. They are not. If you like using more than two mouse buttons, you are out of luck with Apple's newest offering.

There will be, no doubt, any number of apologists who will argue why one shouldn't need more that two buttons, and thus shouldn't have them. Absurd. One might similarly argue for a car without seats. Sure, it'll get you were you want to go, but without the basic comforts you've come to expect.

Home electronics, including computers, are not about what you need. Those days are long gone. Today, technology is focused on what you want. And I want more than two mouse buttons.

Until Apple can offer a mouse that meets modern day expectations, they cannot hope to exceed them. Yes, gesture support is nice, but it's no replacement for the basic-functionality of commonly-used buttons. Untill then, I'll stick with just about any other mouse on the market.

On Life, Death, and Opinions
tattoo, san francisco
johnbettsjr
A response to timcub's recent posting. If you cannot read it, it relates his encounter with a very vocal, public protestor of abortion, and some ruminations of his personal views on the subject.

When I was taking college writing classes, and we arrived at the argument and persuasion section, we were forbidden to ever write about abortion or the death penalty. These, stated the instructor, were a priori, not because they were assumed to be right or wrong, but because they had been argued to death for ages and a definitive judgment simply is not possible.

They also beg a similar question: where does human life begin and end?

I think the issue is not really defining exactly where human life begins. Let's be honest: that fetus is alive, and just because it can't live on its own doesn't make it inherently disposable. The real issue is determining its level of life. Is it equivalent to a bug? How about a pet? Or do we look years into the future and say it's a human right now?

If it's not human yet, then it can be treated as we would a plant, insect or animal. Plants and insects we can dispose of indiscriminately. Animals occupy—for many of us—a more elevated position, and thus are treated with greater respect. Even so, the penalty for abusing or killing and animal is far less than (it should be, I think) killing a human.

But, if we say that fetus is human (tho, in reality, it's less similar to a human child than it is the fetus of any animal anywhere) we must then treat it in the manner befitting all humans. But what manner is that? And just how do we divine its potential?

We regularly put to death criminals and opponents. It would not be difficult to argue either position in considering a woman’s fetus. Also, if we’re looking to the future to assume this fetus’ humanity, do we also have to make a guess as to what sort of human it’ll make? Will it be a meaningful member of society, or will it serve as an agent of destruction? We assume the prior, although the fact is that we cannot possibly know either. I think it’s fair to say tho, that if we knew the latter to be true, we’d abort well in advance.

There is one thing we do know about that potential human: that it will add to the Earth’s burgeoning population and consume. Considering we are, but all sane estimates, a few billion people in excess these days: what advantage does adding to that pool of consumers bring? Out of almost seven billion people, what value does a single, unborn, untested, unknown life have? All emotion aside, rationally: the likelihood is that that fetus will eventually consume more than it contributes to this world, and will in turn produce more consumers.

This simple analytical raindrop is nothing compared to the vast ocean of consideration that abortion (and the death penalty) has accrued over the ages of humankind. And yet there are masses of people who think they know the answer through nothing but intuition or because it’s been handed to them. You may think you know my opinion based on what I’ve written here, but you don’t, because even I don’t. Whenever I consider abortion, I have to admit that it’s a conundrum so much bigger than me. I don’t like the idea of abortion, but I cannot deny there are good, solid reasons for it to be. I will say, however, that for so long as this country refuses to outlaw the death penalty, I won’t support outlawing abortion. They’re really just different faces of the same coin.

On Hope
tattoo, san francisco
johnbettsjr
In response to GearJock's post on the fallacy of wishing...

"Don't wish, don't start,
wishing only wounds the heart."

—Glinda/Elphaba, Wicked


I'm reminded of a study I read about some months ago that discussed the probable causes of massive cost overruns on public works projects. Every time a major new road or stadium or such is built, they almost always end up costing far more than they were originally quoted, regardless of schedule or economic environment. They study reached a (perhaps not so) shocking conclusion: people lie. Public officials purposefully lowball the estimates to gain public support, knowing the end cost will be—on average—50 to 100% more.

The other, just as interesting, conclusion of the report was in the analysis of why the intentional lowballing occurs. In fact, some of it was due to corruption, and some due to inflexible commitment. But, in the end, the biggest reason was that these projects simply had to happen, and if people knew the real cost up front, they wouldn't. In short, local politicians often lie to us for our own good, at least when spending on infrastructure is concerned.

My point? Only that hope is the lie that drives us forward. I look back on the first and only time I experienced a massive weight loss, about 100 pounds. I wonder how I did it now, and why I find it so hard to make even a smaller loss afterwards. The truth: I know what I'm getting into. I know how hard and annoying it'll be, so I can't commit to the full-on effort it requires. Hope and blind optimism is often the only mechanism that can push us far enough into a serious improvement campaign (self or otherwise) that by the time we realize what a massive pain in the ass it is, we find ourselves on the other side and close enough to the end that resolve and desperation can take us the rest of the way. Experience is often the hope-ender.

Wishing is the little brother of hope, the first step if you will. It's important and useful, but also a valuable check. We can't hold out real hope for everything we want to do in our lives, for crushed and lost hope is too devastating. So we save up our hope for those challenges we have the time or energy or money to undertake, and leave the other impossible tasks to the amusements of wishing.

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