When Your Son Invents A Panopticon

Friday, 22 April 2016

My son asked me to teach him how to code to­day. Why? Because he wants to hack his MacBook into a ro­bot that will au­to­mat­i­cally keep a pub­lic tally of every person’s good and bad ac­tions. It will plug into a big box that has a list of all the ac­tions a per­son might do so we can see if a per­son is good or not.

I gen­er­al­ized the ethics of the re­quire­ments he gave me, and I think I talked him out of it.

My son’s school uses an app called ClassDojo to mi­cro­man­age stu­dent be­hav­ior. I get mul­ti­ple up­dates daily on how my kid is do­ing. Each stu­dent gets points added for good be­hav­ioral choices and points re­moved for poor ones. At first I thought this was cool, but now I think it is ter­ri­ble.

  1. It makes chil­dren think it is just fine for some­one to mon­i­tor their every ac­tion.
  2. It makes chil­dren think it is just fine for their every ac­tion to be as­signed a pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive value.
  3. It makes chil­dren think it is just fine for oth­ers to be able to see a list of the mer­its and de­mer­its they’ve re­ceived.
  4. It en­cour­ages con­fir­ma­tion bias.
  5. It treats sub­jec­tiv­ity as ob­jec­tive data.

I started to mi­cro­man­age him and ask him about his de­mer­its. I want him to suc­ceed — so I want to help. To er­ror-cor­rect. I’d praise for mer­its too, but the time spent on praise was not eq­ui­table. No one needs to mi­cro­man­age a sec­ond-grader. Elementary school chil­dren shouldn’t think that it’s okay for their every er­ror or suc­cess to be recorded and dis­trib­uted. They’re young, but they’re not too young to feel re­sent­ment to a sys­tem that seems ar­bi­trary and un­fair.

And then, de­cide to re­tal­i­ate by in­vent­ing their own panop­ti­con.

Yelling at Clouds

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

I’ve been “Old Man Yells at Cloud” a bit more than usual lately.

That was my re­ac­tion to see­ing a photo of a $30 plate of ribs, coleslaw, pick­les & bread at Michael Symon’s new restau­rant, Mabel’s BBQ. It was the thin slice of white bread in par­tic­u­lar that drove me to such heroic lengths. My beef is, I think, le­git­i­mate. Foods that have been tra­di­tion­ally val­ued for their sim­plic­ity, tra­di­tion, & nos­tal­gia have been hi­jacked by haute cuisine and pa­raded around in gar­ish cos­tume.

I feel like the ex­pe­ri­ence of a cul­tural, re­gional, or eth­nic cuisine is en­hanced by en­joy­ment of it in con­text. I’m an an­thro­pol­o­gist; I want the cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence of get­ting amaz­ing, noth­ing-fancy ribs from a guy cook­ing them in a con­verted steel drum at an aban­doned gas sta­tion on East 131st Street. I want to buy pou­tine in sub-zero temps from a food truck in Kingston, ON that has been park­ing in the same spot and serv­ing the same lunch to the same group of peo­ple for years. I want black-pep­pered grits, ei­ther plain or cooked in pot­likker. I want to go into a restau­rant in Little Arabia or Ukrainian Village or Asia Town where English is a sec­ond or third lan­guage and take my chances.

I’ve iden­ti­fied two things about this that drive me crazy, and a pretty solid rea­son why I’m be­ing un­fair, which I’ll get to in a min­ute.

  1. Branding/​Marketing. The suc­cess­ful haute cuisine is so ag­gres­sively mar­keted and gran­u­larly branded that the ex­pe­ri­ence be­comes less about the food and more about the ex­clu­siv­ity of it. Everything is sold as if it is ar­che­typal — post­mod­ernist ed­i­bles.
  2. Safety. The suc­cess­ful restau­ran­teur these days seems to be a white guy who ap­pro­pri­ates a non-white cul­tural cuisine and ad­ju­di­cates its pre­sen­ta­tion in such a way that the sur­round­ings feel safe and com­fort­able to other white folks. That’s not an ad­ven­ture to me.

When I say haute cuisine, I’m talk­ing about a kitchen that mansplains food. “You ple­beians, here’s how you should be mak­ing your poor-folk food.”

I took a course called Crucial Conversations a few weeks ago, and one of the things we learned is when to iden­tify sit­u­a­tions where you’re telling your­self a story be­cause you lack enough in­for­ma­tion to re­ally know what’s go­ing on. So I tried to come up with an al­ter­na­tive story to why some­one might do things to foods that I love that I find com­pletely un­con­scionable. The eas­i­est em­pathic path I was able to come up with is think­ing of a restau­ran­teur as an artist. The stuff they are do­ing to food is their art. I can at least un­der­stand that mo­tive, even if I think there’s a met­ric butt-ton of priv­i­lege in the im­ple­men­ta­tion. An artist would, can, and some­times should ig­nore cul­tural con­text if they are remix­ing an­other art. This al­lows a food artist to ig­nore the fact that Wonder Bread is nap­kins and gravy-sop for poor Southern folks and cre­ate an ar­ti­sanal hand-ground, preser­v­a­tive and HFCS-free white bread to go with the $30 lamb BBQ. The thing be­ing val­ued is the ex­clu­siv­ity and remix, not the au­then­tic­ity. Damien Hirst as chef.

I can at least un­der­stand that, even if I think it’s dumb.

Most folks I know don’t think of me as par­tic­u­larly con­ser­v­a­tive, but on the whole I tend to value the ver­nac­u­lar — craft over art, things that re­main rather than things rein­vented. Maybe I’m a mis­an­thro­pol­o­gist.

Tangentially, I read an ar­ti­cle to­day about co-sleep­ing and whether it’s good or bad. This is such a silly ar­gu­ment to me — like ar­gu­ing whether cir­cum­ci­sion is good or bad. (If it wasn’t meant to be there, it wouldn’t be). It wasn’t that long ago that women were com­pletely knocked out when they went into labor and “med­ical pro­fes­sion­als” took de­liv­ery on from there be­cause that was con­sid­ered bet­ter than nat­u­ral child­birth. It wasn’t that long ago that for­mula was con­sid­ered a bet­ter op­tion than nat­u­ral nurs­ing. Currently, peo­ple in Western coun­tries think it is bet­ter to leave a new­born in­fant alone, in a quiet room, for most of the day or night and to keep track of them via an elec­tronic mon­i­tor than keep them close for com­fort. Forget the fact that pri­mates have been:

  1. hav­ing nat­u­ral birth for mil­lions of years
  2. nurs­ing their off­spring for mil­lions of years
  3. not let­ting new­born off­spring out of their sight for mil­lions of years

By all means, keep the in­fant in a dark, quiet, sep­a­rate room, com­pletely cut off from warmth, com­fort, and sta­bi­liz­ing in­flu­ence of their par­ents. I’d cry too.

Yeah, def­i­nitely a mis­an­thro­pol­o­gist.

Leadership & Humility Training

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

This week my work hours are filled with train­ing. I spent the first two days learn­ing how to con­duct fa­cil­ity as­sess­ments for ADA stan­dards — in iso­la­tion, this not typ­i­cally some­thing that an IT guy would be ex­pected to learn — but there are good or­ga­ni­za­tional rea­sons for me to be in­volved at this level of de­tail. Two days down, two more to go for next week. Today and to­mor­row I’m tak­ing Crucial Conversations — learn­ing tech­niques to ap­ply rea­son and tact in im­por­tant sit­u­a­tions where our lizard hind­brains make it dif­fi­cult to be rea­son­able or tact­ful.

I have been to quite a few lead­er­ship acad­e­mies, soft skills, and sundry other train­ings since I was in high school — there’s al­ways some­thing new to learn — and that’s the main point I have here. There’s al­ways some­thing new to learn.

We’re so­cial pri­mates, so en­forc­ing sta­tus through si­lence or vi­o­lence is the evo­lu­tion­ary rule. Culture, dif­fer­ent cul­tures, and cul­tural be­hav­iors in this con­text are tools just as much as a knap­ping stone is a tool — things we use to solve prob­lems. Keeping that in mind en­forces a kind of hu­mil­ity. Status is pride-bound. A chain of bosses pulled from a bar­rel of mon­keys. Leadership is hum­ble, it aims at the goal, not the sta­tus. The type of or­ga­ni­za­tion (a group of so­cial pri­mates with dif­fer­ent roles and dif­fer­ent sta­tuses united around com­mon goals) that leads is one that makes a com­mit­ment to be a cer­tain way, rec­og­nizes its weak­nesses with hu­mil­ity, and de­ter­mi­nes the work to meet those com­mon goals.

Following ADA stan­dards (and sec­tion 508 stan­dards to tie it in to my own work) re­quires the abil­ity to step out of one’s own sta­tus in or­der to un­der­stand how we can be mind­ful of the needs of oth­ers. It’s an on­go­ing hum­bling, be­cause lead­er­ship is about ad­mit­ting your ig­no­rance and ac­cept­ing that there is al­ways some­thing new to learn.


Sunday, 6 March 2016

I’ve spent the last cou­ple of years tak­ing a greater in­ter­est in dress­ing well — which has mor­phed into a greater in­ter­est in style — which has mor­phed into a greater in­ter­est in fash­ion — which is some­thing I’ve never un­der­stood. Though, fi­nally, I’m be­gin­ning to. I think.

There have been scat­tered mo­ments in my life where I had a well-de­fined per­sonal style, my cu­rated EDM-hippy vibe in high school (neon-printed rayon shirts that glowed un­der black­light and vin­tage pants), proto-Zuckerbergian ba­sic neu­tral norm­core for post-col­le­giate of­fice work (khakis, grey t-shirts, blue but­ton-downs), to my cur­rent ur­ban yup­pie pro­fes­sor dad steez (ubiq­ui­tous cor­duroy jacket, flat-brimmed hat, worn-in selvedge, high tops).

If I had to as­sign three ma­jor qual­i­ties to clothes they would be ma­te­rial util­ity (what’s it used for?), qual­ity (how well is it made?), and com­mu­ni­ca­tion (what does it mean to wear it?). Traditionally, I barely cared about any of these — al­though util­ity would be the clos­est, which is the sta­tus quo for most folks (men es­pe­cially). I would buy the cheap­est clothes that would serve the great­est num­ber of pur­poses and cared noth­ing about fit, prove­nance, ap­pear­ance or style. So the world of high fash­ion seemed com­pletely lu­di­crous to me. I never con­sciously con­sid­ered that cloth­ing could be art.

I am a per­son who ap­pre­ci­ates the well-crafted. I even­tu­ally grew tired of buy­ing cheap clothes that don’t fit my pro­por­tions and dis­in­te­grated af­ter a wash or two. I’ve sought well-crafted, American-made cloth­ing for the last 2 years, and through the re­search in and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of that craft, I’ve been able to look to the next step to see fash­ion as art. The util­ity might be non-ex­is­tent — but there’s no util­ity to vi­sual art, mu­sic, or cre­ative writ­ing ei­ther. I’m talk­ing ma­te­rial util­ity, not so­cial util­ity.

So now I pay at­ten­tion to my own dress, to the dress of oth­ers’, and to some ex­tent what’s abuzz in fash­ion be­cause I took the time to learn the lan­guage & what I say by the way I dress. A lot of it still seems like non­sense to me, but I’m will­ing to at­trib­ute that to my ig­no­rance. Here’s to fur­ther learn­ing.


Thursday, 26 November 2015

Today, while read­ing Tom Vanderbilt’s The Pleasure and Pain of Speed from Nautilus’ Issue 9, I learned about the sac­cade. This is the term for the rapid move­ment of eyes be­tween fix­a­tion on dif­fer­ent ob­jects. Our vi­sual per­cep­tion is ba­si­cally turned off dur­ing this time — which, ap­par­ently, makes up about 60 — 90 min­utes of our day.

This ties in nicely to an an­thro­po­log­i­cal the­ory I have that I wrote about over a decade ago: The Space Between Thoughts. I think we have an in­stinc­tual aware­ness that our per­cep­tions are in­com­plete — and then we come up with all kinds of sto­ries and the­o­ries for what hap­pens in those gaps, and where our per­cep­tion fails. What hap­pens dur­ing a sac­cade. The sac­cade is where the coin reap­pears — where the magic hap­pens.

It’s nice to fi­nally have a word for it.


Friday, 25 September 2015

            spi­der­web flag /​/​ on fog flag­pole
  porce­lain vase of beasts /​/​ in rare inks
     huge cube of con­crete /​/​ speck­led egg in­side.
             back­wards map /​/​ for a maze of mir­rors
                onion skin /​/​ atop onion skin
              time be /​/​ tween star /​/​ light
             pond of rocks /​/​ pond of rocks
           a pond of rocks /​/​ upon whose
         foun­da­tion a shat /​/​ ter rain falls
        and while you were /​/​ read­ing this
      cater­corner, edge of /​/​ eye, pe­riph­eral
                  we sneak /​/​ on rat feet
               on rat feet /​/​ scut­tle scaf­folds
               to build or /​/​ crash or crash
               we the loud /​/​ est shout
           mil­len­nia built /​/​ ma­gi­cian hands
                  reck­less /​/​ cal­cu­la­tion
        pa­pier-mâché masks /​/​ wa­ter­color thun­der­storm
           mon­ster fear­ing /​/​ above the bed
         myth minted daily /​/​ god cow­er­ing
               about women /​/​ god? or just
                           /​/​ men

About Giving Up

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Giving up is some­thing I’ve been try­ing to learn the last cou­ple of years. It doesn’t come nat­u­rally to me (or any American, prob­a­bly), but it does take away some chronic stres­sors. From a busi­ness stand­point, the things I’ve given up on are all things that have had no re­turn on the in­vest­ment I’ve made try­ing to achieve them. I’m not say­ing that the good things in life must be de­fined in terms of cap­i­tal, but I have lim­ited means to in­vest, and so I’ve opted out of mar­kets where I’ve been wast­ing my time.


I’ve given up on dat­ing. My last re­la­tion­ship ended in February, and in that time I’ve gone on 3 dates, and have been can­celed on or stood up prob­a­bly 9 times. I haven’t even tried since June. I’m a 34 year-old sin­gle dad, which severely lim­its both the avail­able time, and the num­ber of women who might be in­ter­ested in me that I am also in­ter­ested in. For awhile I was go­ing out by my­self, but I be­came en­vi­ous of all the cou­ples I saw. For all the time, money, and ef­fort I was ex­pend­ing, I was in the same spot. I keep re­view­ing past re­la­tion­ships in hind­sight and sec­ond-guess­ing my de­ci­sion-mak­ing. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, there’s never a clear an­swer when it comes to love.


I threw a party a few weeks ago and in­vited about a dozen peo­ple that I con­sider friends or see on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Most said they’d come, but only three showed up. A year ago I would have in­vited dozens of peo­ple, but in that time I’ve re­duced my “friend list” from a cou­ple hun­dred to about four dozen. I re­moved every­one who I hadn’t seen or heard from in nine months or more. I’ve also pretty much stopped us­ing Facebook. I un­fol­lowed every­one left on my friends list, and only use it for mes­sen­ger or events. Drastic, yeah, but if peo­ple want my com­pany, they know how to get in touch. The peo­ple I’m still in touch with, I was in touch with on the reg­u­lar be­fore. I have three folks I’d con­sider good friends. We talk weekly, and did so even be­fore I started ra­dio si­lence.

Life Goals

By now I was hop­ing to be mar­ried, with a fleet of kids, and liv­ing in a nice home that I own. To be set­tled down. Maybe have air con­di­tion­ing. I’ve given up on those goals. I made a cou­ple of poor de­ci­sions in 2007 that ir­rev­o­ca­bly changed my life. I’ve re­signed my­self to be­ing a sin­gle dad; to not hav­ing any more kids; to rent­ing for the rest of my life. The kids piece is the hard­est one for me to rec­on­cile my­self with. As an only child, I al­ways swore that I would have more than one child my­self. Being a dad is the great­est thing that has ever hap­pened to me, but it’s only go­ing to hap­pen once.

So, what?

Having given up on the above, I am bet­ter able to fo­cus and in­vest my en­ergies on be­ing a dad to Abraham, and work­ing hard at my job. After those items are squared away, I’m fairly monas­tic. Bike rides, walk­ing my dog, main­tain­ing the house I rent. Trying to sim­plify. If not happy, at least con­tent; mind­ful. It is very hard.