Advertising Is An Art, Not A Science

Today, i was slapped in the face - not literally, but figuratively. Let me explain.

I was walking around campus listening to Pandora radio, and a really great song had just been played – Take A Walk by Passion Pit. I was coming down from the high that song gives me when Pandora presented me with an advertisement. A cheerful woman, at some stage of her mid-30s if I had to guess, started telling me about how she likes to treat her family to the best Valentine’s Day every year. Walmart has all the right choices at all the right prices – all types of candy for her kids, presents, and more. If you know what is good for your family and your budget, you will shop at Walmart for Vanetine’s Day this year, because you just can’t beat the selection and price that they have.

I was so struck by how absolutely bizarre this advertisement was that I actually had to pause it and stop walking to wrap my head around it. Are you seriously trying to tell me that Walmart targets the helicopter-mom demographic for V-Day in order to sell her some candy for her kids? Do people wake up on Valentine’s Day and give their family members two pound bags of M&M’s and trinkets? On a holiday where people essentially buy roses, sappy cards, boxes of high-quality chocolate, and possibly sex-toys for each other, there are mothers out there crying out for a trip to Walmart to get their pre-teens massive calorie injections?

I couldn’t believe my ears. Some people will say, “Hey, look, Walmart has to capitalize on the holiday and get their name out there, so this commentary is a little bit much.”

No. It’s really not.

Now, I am not exactly a fan of the retail behemoth, but I won’t knock their success. They are massively profitable. Where this profit comes from, whether it is ethical, whether their employees are slaves or not, whether they destroy small-town economics in order to enjoy a tax break from opening a new store, that is a completely different topic from what I am examining here. I just want to know one thing:

What marketing genius thought, “Hey, you know what demographic we need to target? Desperate 30-something security-moms who don’t let their kids have lives. I bet they want boxes of candy to feed their children in order to make up for the fact that they are never let out of their house.”

I consider an advertisement like this a colossal failure. You could have targeted ANY demographic. Teens and college kids looking for gifts on a budget. The working class (or working poor as they will be known to future historians) and the fact that they forgot to get their S.O. a gift this year – whoops! ANY demographic but a cheerful-sounding 30-something year old woman buying bags of discount chocolate for her kids. If this ad brings in any revenue, I will be amazed. Yes, brand recognition, but… It was such an odd cognitive leap for me to jump from the view of V-Day I and most others have in our heads, to a scene of a mom being woken up by her 6 year old begging for candy… Sweet baby Jesus.

Contrast this with what I consider an epic success of advertising. Now, I DON’T think it is a marketing success – I really don’t see this product making a splash in the realm of sales simply because the particular need it is targeting doesn’t really bank on much pre-planning purchasing behavior – but really, if you want to promote positive talk about an ad campaign, the message sent there is loud and clear. It has humor, a certain in-your-face-ness to a topic most people blush about, clever word choice, entertaining close-up shots of applicable double-entendre. An excellent job by PlayTex at stirring the pot of public sentiment toward a product in my opinion.

For instance, if I happened upon a girl who pulled these out of her purse at the spur of the moment, I would immediately be teleported back to the time I first saw the beaver ad, and would probably equate this with the phrase “holy shitballs awesome”.

I think advertisers should realize that at this stage in the game, people are mostly conscious of attempts to push product on them. Television has been around for a long time, and TV commercials are generally zoned-out to unless they are hilarious and in the middle of the Super Bowl – DVR probably killed them. While internet advertising is the new hotness, you need to do more than just make an image with your product on it and place it on a webpage banner – AdBlock and products like it probably are on their way to offing that. And trust me, if you put your ad on YouTube before a video, I now have a negative impression of your product – I don’t want you interrupting my immediate-gratification of kitten and puppy videos. So how do you advertise in the modern age?

Humor. An image. And social media.

Once that image starts making rounds on social media, you now have numerous factors working in your favor. First, you are spreading an ad through a time-tested channel – an individual’s friends. Second, you are using humor to make your product memorable and create good-will between your brand and the consumer. Third, the user will probably revisit your ad on their own in the future, first immediately to get a chuckle when they are down or to impress their friends with their find, and then over the long run as they revisit images they have shared in the past as many people tend to do.

That seems very win-win for all parties involved.

So, Walmart, take a lesson from PlayTex – know the demographic you are targeting, and promote your product effectively with humor.

For you in particular, my mega-billion-dollar friend, I recommend you latch on to Mama June – spawner of Honey Boo Boo – and never let go. That’s about as much a match made in heaven as you will find anywhere. I mean if this statement by her in an interview with TMZ isn’t a direct parallel to the message you have sent over the last decade or more, I really don’t know what is.

“For one person who is hating on us, there’s two people love us.”

You tell ‘em, Mama June.

Mama June

Haters gonna hate. Potaters gonna potate.

Fixing Education – A Modern Approach

I had a conversation with my father yesterday. Along the path of our conversation came the topic of education. I had had some thoughts on our education system, since I had once upon a time been run through the factory that is the public high school system, and, having also gone to a private school as well as having been home-schooled for a couple years, I thought that my experiences were a useful historical narrative for a solid amateur analysis of our current system.

I hope that last run-on sentence made sense.

Regardless, I have an idea for an excellent way of doing education, and if any creative and daring educators out there want to comment on it (or even try it somewhere, who knows), they are more than welcome to. While I am currently a student, and I am enjoying my classes and the structure they are in, I am not exactly talking about college-level instruction – although I am sure there are kinks to be worked out in it as well. What I am concerned about is our high school education system, where we are lagging behind much of the developed world in terms of success. Why are we dropping in rank? What could be done about it? Are we teaching children in a non-optimal manner? Could there be a better method of instruction? Here are my thoughts on our high school education system and how we should change our manner of preparing kids for the future:

First, our current structure of “children sit down and shut up, teacher lectures, kids are assigned homework” is completely and irreparably dead. Homework? Really? Kids shouldn’t have to do homework. Now, that may come as a surprise to you, but they really shouldn’t have to do homework. I’m being completely serious. If anything, at most, they should just have to read on topic and study at home – doing problems from questions sets is pointless in the age of mass communication. If they aren’t texting or messaging answers back and forth to each other, they are just going online and looking at the answers from websites such as Chegg or Slader and skipping the mental exercise completely.

Which is fine, for the most part. Homework problems are meaningless. They do not apply to anything you would do in real life, in the job market, or in research. But, if not homework, what should kids be doing?

I suggest that instead of lectures in our high schools, instead of homework, instructors create small groups within their classes and assign a large problem to be solved as a team each day.

Every day, the groups the students are in would change. This would help them develop cooperative skills in addition to learning how to assign work to each member based off of individual strengths. At the start of class, they would be assigned their group for the day, would sit down at a table with each other, and would be given an open-ended problem to solve together. Collaboration with other groups could be allowed or forbidden, based on the problem at hand. Every member (or perhaps just each group, budget depending) would have access to a computer and an internet connection. An example of a problem for a micro economics elective course in a high school could be something like:

Nation A can produce 350 hammers or 300 wrenches. The production possibility curve between these two goods is linear.

 

Nation B can produce 375 hammers or 350 wrenches. The production possibility curve between these two goods is linear.

 

What ratio of goods should each country produce if both countries want to maximize the amount of goods created between the two.

…which is a fairly easy and introductory micro-econ problem, but without exact guidance might be tricky for a high school student fresh into the world of micro-econ. This is just a simple example of a problem – they could be as complex as necessary based on expectations of the students and time constraints. The students then proceed to search for key terms and definitions online, and methods of working on the problem (the teacher could also write key search terms, topics, and websites such as khanacademy or The National Archives for additional research on the white board at the front of the room if the topics are new to the students or the teacher feels they need a starting point for their work). At the end of the period, the teacher accepts the groups’ submissions, and the students move on to their next class.

The next day, the students are shown some metrics. How their group’s score was, what the class mean and median scores were, their attendance, and their grade as an average of work completed so far and as a percent of total points possible for the entire class. For example:

John Doe

Day 90/180

Group A’s score last period: 90%

Class mean last period: 85%

Class median last period: 84%

Attendance: 100%

Cumulative Grade Avg: 95%

Cumulative Grade points out of total: 190/400

Or something like that. It would help to see a daily metric to judge yourself by, as well as how each day changes your grade bit by bit.

This method of teaching would help greatly improve our students’ ability to think critically and to solve real-life problems without specific step-by-step instructions. Of course the instructor would be available to lend guidance and discuss topics in depth, either involving the entire class if they deem necessary or just the group asking for assistance.

The only problem is that this method doesn’t teach to the test, which is a method of teaching that we have adopted in order to look better statistically in preparation of standardized tests.

And, trust me, we have suffered for it.

And, ironically, in an effort to look better on standardized tests, we have crippled students’ abilities to actually think critically during tests, which normally helps them succeed, and, thus, causing them to continually fail. Not just on tests, but in the real world, as well.

Cutting our noses off to spite our face.

Say It Ain’t So, Lance

NPR has a current piece on Lance Armstrong’s admittance to blood doping to win his races. It is a shameful day in the sport of professional cycling and a severe blow to his career. One could say that it took courage to admit this to the world. One could also say that Lance is a coward for using drugs to get a competitive edge in a sport, as well as a cheat.

But let us not be too hasty in our lynch-mob mentality, shall we?

According to Lance’s Wikipedia page, he has won the Tour de France a “record seven consecutive times between 1999 and 2005″. That is quite a feat. Not to talk about his doping, or distributing of performance enhancing drugs, but I give the man credit. He survived a nasty battle with cancer, for crying out loud:

Eleven years ago Lance Armstrong was at home in Austin, Texas suffering from a blinding headache and coughing up blood. Armstrong had ignored ominous symptoms for months, satisfied with the logic that a professional athlete’s body is a playground for aches and pains. Later that same day a doctor said to Lance, “You have cancer.”

Armstrong was diagnosed with late-stage metastatic testicular cancer that had spread to his abdomen, his lungs and his brain. The first team of doctors he consulted with pulled his mom aside and told her she should prepare herself to lose her only child. The second team of doctors at Indiana University, who treated him with four rounds of grueling chemotherapy and surgery to remove the cancerous lesions from his brain, estimated that he had about a 40 percent chance of surviving. They later admitted they thought his chances of surviving were actually much lower.

Armstrong’s cycling team cancelled his cycling contract, leaving him both unemployed and without health insurance. Then treatment left him without a head of hair or enough muscle mass to pedal his bike up a small hill. The experience left him alive and grateful, but certainly vulnerable and more than a little lost.

In spite of these circumstances, Lance won the first of seven Tours de France just a few years later and in the wake of facing a foe far more formidable than the mountains of the Pyrenees or the High Alps of France.

Both of my grandfathers have died of cancer, and while that is probably a fairly common situation to find oneself in these days (an individual with multiple elderly family members having succumbed to the unrelenting grip of cancer), it doesn’t take the sting away from that nasty disease any less. You see how awful an individual’s life can become. A once healthy person is reduced to a shadow of their former self, until it appears that all they really want is for the fight to be over, for the pain to go away, and for their loved ones to begin the process of moving on, instead of hanging by their bedside, watching them puke blood or piss themselves.

So, we have established: cancer is no joke. It will wreck your world.

(By the way, researching this topic brought me to a frighteningly high and slightly amusing number of online forums for men with only one testicle, and the level of support, astounding… Who knew so many men only had one nut? Unitesticulars – they walk among us.)

Now, from what shady literature I could find online (and don’t even bother with Google image search for charts, you won’t find any, just CRAZY one-nut porn images), the male body, for a certain, unspecified length of time after removal of a testicle, will have lower testosterone output than usual. This can last a long time, or a short time – it appears to vary with individuals on a case-by-case basis. Eventually it can come back to normal levels, or it may possibly stay suppressed for life. So, giving Lance the benefit of the doubt (and if you know me personally, you know I rarely give anyone the benefit of the doubt, and generally expect the worst out of the vast majority of humanity), he could have possibly had lower testosterone levels than he used to while attempting to achieve success in a sport fueled by the aggression hormone. He could have used that extra testosterone boost to bring his levels back to healthy, normal levels. But this is only one part of my critique on the hoopla surrounding this whole event.

Another critique I have of the whole sports world, in terms of performance-enhancing drugs, is this: are competitive sports a measure of genetics, a measure of an athlete’s work ethic concerning training, a measure of his skill and craftiness during his athletic performance, or some grayscale, subjective, arbitrary combination of the above? And, if you factor in that some athletes work insanely hard to achieve just as much as the occasional one-in-a-million genetic mutant (Michael Phelps, the half-Rastafarian, half-dolphin comes to mind) could achieve with half the effort, what are we truly measuring in our competitive sporting events? Are we measuring an athlete’s resolve, or are we measuring an athlete’s natural gifts? And, through no fault or credit of his own, if an athlete is naturally gifted in certain skillsets to the point that he dwarfs all other competitors, can you even say he is to be credited with his achievements? Shouldn’t the awards go to his parents?

Do note that I am not discrediting the hard work of any athlete, genetic mutant freakshow or not. They are all hard working individuals who put themselves through hell to be shining examples of human physical achievement. However, I AM questioning what we expect to gain out of the way we measure these super-humans against each other. What exactly are we measuring? Do we even know? Are we just carrying on traditions from an ancient time, when our most physically capable were bathed in mates and foodstuffs, ensuring the fittest males passed on their genes to ensure survival of our species in demanding times? (They still are bathed in mates and foodstuffs, of course, the foodstuffs here now being endorsements from multinational conglomerates, but I digress…)

But that is really as far as I wanted to take that line of reasoning, honestly. I don’t care if you think Lance is evil or a saint. I certainly have no true opinion on the matter in the place I am at in the world. If I were an official for the Tour de France I might have a varying stance other than my strict neutrality, but I am not an official for the Tour de France, so… whatever. Now, let us examine ourselves, and by ourselves I mean Western Man. Modern Man. Industrialized Man. And, in particular, Americans.

(By man, I mean mankind. You women will get lumped in this boat, too… And don’t get your hopes up just yet.)

According to a more-than-likely completely biased organization’s information page, between 80-90% of adults and children in North America habitually use caffeine. Caffeine, dear readers, is…

*drumroll*

…a performance enhancing drug. I will let that sink in for a bit.

No, really, it’s fine. Take your time with it.

*pauses*

*glances at watch*

OK, are you done chewing that over? No? Well tough, I am moving on whether you’re ready to keep absorbing the truth I am about to send you or not. You can read this again if you must, but I have a schedule to keep. Come on now, I can only be so patient with you.

We consume caffeine to be more productive. We consume caffeine to be more alert and to stay energized when we are feeling down. We consume it so we can abuse our bodies with little to no sleep and still get up in the morning to do whatever we have to do. Sure, we could go the all-natural route, get a full 8 hours of sleep, drink plenty of water, exercise to keep our metabolisms healthy and remain energetic and alert, but pfffff, who has time for that? I have a thousand things I have to do, and 8 hours of sleep isn’t going to get them done, now is it?

“But,” you say, “I am not a professional athlete looked up to by millions of people!” You are correct – if you were a professional athlete, you probably wouldn’t be wasting your time reading this blog post.

“But,” you say, “I am not involved in anything based around a competitive event!”

Are you so sure of that? What is the job market, exactly? Are you not competing to be more productive in order to secure that raise, to get that promotion, to be moved to the corner office, to receive the bonus check that will pay off that new car you’ve had your eye on? In this economy, are you not simply competing to make sure you keep your job so you can still put food on the table? Is there a difference between a family’s livelihood and the opinions and feelings of a few million casual spectators? One is based around a small group’s essence of life and livelihood, and the other is merely entertainment. One is actually far more important than the other, and every day you are faced with a choice:

Do you use performance enhancing drugs, or don’t you?

This discussion can be expanded outward to include any performance enhancing drug. Do you go to bars or clubs for a date and consume any alcohol or smoke a cigarette to ease stress and tension? Performance enhancing drugs. Do you take Aderall or Ritalin or Zoloft or anything to counteract your genetics? Performance enhancing drugs. Have you ever been in pain and taken an aspirin or ibuprofen or prescription pain killer? Performance enhancing drugs.

We live in a society of performance enhancing drugs. You can’t walk down the street without being bombarded by advertisements for them. We wean our children into drugs from birth, whether it be to cure ADHD, to reward them for good behavior with a candy bar, or to fill their stomaches with empty calories and energy in our school systems. We grow into adults addicted and reliant on the effects of these drugs, and they have pervaded our society so much that we simply don’t even see them for what they really are. We are a nation of drug users, not just illicit recreational drug users (although we are the world’s largest consumer of those, as well), but perfectly legal, ubiquitous, performance enhancing drug users. So, is the drug problem in any of the major athletic competitions a problem, or is it merely a reflection of society taken to the highest levels, which is what athletic competition is naturally about, anyway? Doesn’t it seem natural you would see this happen? Why are you surprised at this, when you yourself condone performance enhancing drug use?

Don’t take this to mean I am against drug use, legal or illegal. I have my opinions on things. But do take this to be a critique of our surprise that the most intense competitions we partake in have problems with performance enhancing drugs, and do take this to be a critique of our demonizing of those who happened to be unlucky enough to get caught in the act.

Do you use performance enhancing drugs, or don’t you?

The Art Of Loneliness

At some point in life, you may come across a realization.

This realization, while not universal, is discovered by many people around the world, every moment of every day. It is a moment when the clouds part and you see life for what it truly is. In our modern society, I feel many may miss this realization. I would like to share it with you, in case you haven’t had it yet, or in case you have had it and are wondering if you are the only one who has thought this way.

This realization is so fundamental to reality that it is easy to not see it clearly, or to miss it entirely for the vast majority of your life. I have a feeling that most of the “elders” of eras-gone-by came to this realization at some point, which helped allow for the mental clarity and fortitude necessary for them to be looked upon with reverence by their descendants and fellow citizens/tribesmen/etc. It is a realization that doesn’t come spontaneously – it normally follows a period of deep contemplation, intense inner searching, and perhaps even great pain or fear.

This realization stems from the fact that you are, ultimately, and regardless of your views on society, economics, politics, the hard sciences, metaphysics, psychology, or family, an individual. You spend a vast portion of your life not being this individual – you spend it doing things you don’t want to do, filling the little time you have available in this life with activities that make you uncomfortable or unhealthy or bored, often at great pain or sacrifice to yourself, in order to fit into some preconceived notion of who you are, which has been thrust upon you against your will by those you have surrounded yourself by, or that chance has bestowed upon you to be in the presence of for much of your waking day. And it has only been thrust upon you against your will because you were actually unaware of what your will really is.

The realization that I speak of is that loneliness is and always will be a perpetual constant in your life. You can surround yourself with friends, family, and others. You can spill your heart and guts out to anyone within earshot. You can conscript an entourage to accompany you to any event you see fit. But, at every moment of every day, multiple degrees of separation keep you physically and, more importantly, mentally apart from those around you. You are and always will be lonely. You will never truly connect with another soul in the time you are allotted on this earth. You will always be a small vessel in a vast ocean of humanity, able to see the other ships passing around you – some traveling in your general direction for a while, others heading on a reverse course – but you will never be able to board their craft.

It is fundamental to humanity to have the desire to board these metaphorical ships. But it is in the nature of reality to never actually have the capacity to do such a thing, no matter how deep the desire. Individuals find love, they get married, have children, have intricate social networks, host parties, produce music and movies and lectures and write books, but they never can truly embrace another human being in the truest and most full sense that they desire so greatly from birth. The closest they have ever been to this embrace is within the womb, and we spend our entire lives, having been thrust from a warm, comfortable, safe space, into a cold, desolate, harsh and dangerous realm. We enter crying, and, if the circumstances are just right, we leave crying, as well.

We spend our days and nights in desperate search of this warm embrace. We find cheap substitute in our social life by attending parties, going to bars with friends, taking holiday vacations to visit family members we haven’t seen often, signing up for online dating profiles to see who is our perfect match as prescribed by an algorithm. And, at our highest moments, at the times when we feel most loved and comfortable and safe and uniquely appreciated for who we are, we still sense that something is missing. And it is this feature of the human experience that the realization I mentioned above, that loneliness is a constant, is proven by.

When you wish to communicate with someone, you have to have a thought you wish to express with them. This thought can be a description of emotion, a subjective artistic expression, a deterministic and mechanical example of a physical process in the world around you, or a simple stream of consciousness of the ideas and impressions that come to you immediately as they pass through your mind. But in order to communicate these thoughts, you need to think again – to form the words internally, to construct the right message that you wish the recipient of your communique to hear. You then say these words, sometimes with error, sometimes perfectly, and as you speak, air rushes from your lungs, pushed by your diaphragm, and it flows across your tongue, teeth, and lips, creating sounds that travel as waves of high and low pressure through the air.

(As an aside, if you were in an area with a high level of noise – let’s say right beside a jet engine – these sounds that we interpret as words would be lost in the cacophony around you. We will return to this notion later, but keep the idea in your head.)

These words-as-pressure-waves then hit the ears of your intended recipient. Your companion’s physiology goes into action, sending signals from nerves attached to tiny hairs and bones in their ears to their brains. Their brains interpret these signals into sounds, and further interpret these sounds into words, which represent ideas that they have adopted over many years of successful and unsuccessful practice doing this. As they interpret these words, a distinct narrative is formed, which is what you intended to do all along by having a thought, creating the message, and saying it out loud.

But is something lost in translation between these varying transfer methods? I told you to keep in mind the “noise” scenario of talking next to a jet engine. While a jet engine is at the extreme end of the scale, even a slight wind could distort the message, making key pieces inaudible and missed. If you tried to speak to someone with a severe mental disorder, you could draw a correlation to the jet engine scenario, except the “noise” of the “jet engine” is the internal noise of their mental faculties, possibly making any message you send them “inaudible” mentally. And, since a person with severe mental disability is on the extreme end of the scale of mental “noise”, could each of us be carrying our own “breezes”, “construction yard sounds”, and other such “examples” of noise internally? These noises could include difficulties in the individual’s life such as the loss of a loved one or any significant life event, to the individual’s lack of knowledge of a certain word or term, to a strongly held belief concerning the message being sent to them that they refuse to reconsider regardless of the facts, logic, or reasoning constructing the message.

If the above is indeed the case, and I have strong suspicions that it is most certainly so, then we all exist with multiple degrees of separation between us, no matter how effective our communication techniques, how persuasive our arguments, how close we are to the individual we are communicating with. We will never board the conceptual boat of their consciousness to actually know them in any capacity that doesn’t transcend those internal and external noise sources – and as it stands today, there is simply no method of transcending them.

This leads me further into the concept of loneliness as a perpetual state of humanity. At some point, you realize that even though you have spent a significant amount of time with certain people, even though you think you know them inside and out, you never truly know them, and you will always exist within your own little bubble of individual consciousness. You may be traveling alongside them in the ocean of our collective consciousness, but you can never stray from your vessel, and you will always be at arms length with those in your life, at best. You will never return to the womb.

Humanity’s existence is plagued by the return to the womb mentality. Ancient man was thrust into an unforgiving world, the harsh elements tearing at his flesh through bitter cold, scorching heat, teeth, claws, and venomous and infectious stings and stabs, and threatening his very existence with lack of nutrition or fluids – two factors readily available in utero. In an effort to return to the womb-like state from his adult state, man developed methods to cope with these unforgiving elements, and the invention of tools to create these comforts is what has driven us continually to this very day – we needed clothing, we needed protection from predators, we needed to hunt, we needed shelter, we needed organized communities and the ability to spread ideas, we needed reliable agricultural methods to escape the scary hunter-gatherer lifestyle and to support ever-growing numbers of our families and friends. Despite all of our advances, have we ever been able to return to the womb? Not once in the hundred billion humans who have lived on this planet have we achieved this state again.

The art of loneliness. What is it? It is the ability to understand this fundamental yearning for humanity to return to the safe vegetative state of its origin and to reject it. We surround ourselves with comfort in an effort to stave off the effects of a world we never had a say in entering. We surround ourselves with people, and we try and find commonalities between us, in order to feel the illusory caress of belonging. At some point, many people realize there is no belonging. You are and forever will be an individual among many individuals, and no amount of connection you make with them will change this fact.

But the art of loneliness goes further than just the initial point that comes immediately to your consciousness. You might say to yourself, “Well OK then… I have to reject the need to belong, to connect, to feel comfort, and I have to be completely stoic and alone.” This is far from what the realization should reveal to you. You should connect with others. You should feel comfort. You shouldn’t be alone, in the physical sense. What you most certainly should accomplish, however, is the realization that all that we do is in an effort to return to the soft comfort of a vegetative state. We yearn for this, and we have built entire modern industries around this ancient longing. Understand that this is the default motivator of mankind, and take a conscious effort to accept that you can have control over what motivates you as an individual.

You will find yourself bending to the will of others, modifying your behavior and your views to a group consensus. You will find yourself doing things you dislike in order to be accepted by others. You will find yourself giving up on things because others told you it is hopeless, or silly, or meaningless, or non-profitable. You will find yourself spending time with people who are nothing like you in the hopes they will be your friends.

Reject the notion that you need any of these things or to act in any manner besides your own simply because you feel you need to return to the comfortable state of conformity. Only accept viewpoints that you truly agree with and reject those that you find morally or logically inaccurate, or even reprehensible. Do not waste your time on people who may or may not care enough to help you as much as you would help them – and if you haven’t discovered this already, you will probably one day find that it is a surprisingly smaller number of people than you imagined.

Reject the return to the womb-state, and embrace that you are a single point of consciousness floating on the sea of existence. Do what you want to do after you have done the things you have to do to continue your existence. Any other purpose is at best a pointless exercise in disappointment and at worst a waste of what little time your vessel has to stay afloat. Understand that you are by nature alone in the world – there are others near you, others closely aligned, but no one else shares your existence. You are alone. It allows you full creative control over how you decide to pursue your life. At first it is frightening to come upon this realization, but then it is liberating, and once you achieve the full realization, you become a much more conscientious, knowledgable, and enlightened individual, and others – whether they have come to the same realization, whether they even understand why they now feel this way or not – will appreciate your views and companionship more. They understand you are doing it out of full control of your will, and not out of a need you must sate in order to return to a vegetative state of comfort and “defaultness”. It has guided your actions for years. It has had full control over every aspect of your life, including your thoughts, your desires, your love, your hate, your fears, your ambitions.

Does it really control you after all?

I Really Don’t Know What To Write Here

…and that’s the honest truth.

I reactivated my Facebook account. Even after just a few minutes on the site, I was met with the same dreadful feeling that there is something inherently wrong with social media at this stage in its development. I mean, if I had a dollar for every picture of a female acquaintance taking a beaming, deer-in-the-headlights smile photo and plastering it on the net, I’d be fairly well off right now. Not finding much purpose to the whole ordeal, I set about meticulously deleting all of my likes, comments, status updates, and what-have-you. I literally see zero benefits of partaking in the whole thing, but I intend to use it to get in contact with people if I ever feel the desire.

One thing I have noticed in my absence is the amount of video game playing done by people has increased by at least a power of ten. Way to increase productivity!

But, of course, that’s coming from me, who is notoriously unproductive. So, I should probably shut up on that front… But if I play a game I try and make it a game that builds my intelligence or strategic thinking – that’s my excuse, anyway. I find the Facebook game app industry to be a curious affair – does it produce a good? Does it improve quality of life for users? Does it make an intriguing artistic or philosophical statement? If any of the above is true, I fail to grasp it. Is that a shortcoming on the game industry in that sense, or is it a shortcoming of myself? While I am no stranger to personal shortcomings, I hardly think the latter is the case in this specific scenario.

But, really… Where else am I going to get to see this kind of humor? I get to witness one friend’s adamant disowning of Family Guy due to their humor at the expense of those with Downs Syndrome – and I could understand that, I really could – only to, a brief scroll action of my finger further down, see that they had liked a humorous photo of that fat kid from one of those baseball movies with the meme-text saying “You play ball… Like a GIRL”.

So… Which is it? Is it humor at the expense of others you don’t like to see in comedy, or is it only humor you disagree with that you don’t like to see?

Economists study man, the rational actor. But I have a tendency to think that the entirety of man’s economic woes stem from the fact that, inherently, man is an irrational actor, naturally, and rational action only came about recently in our comparative history.

Contemplate these things as you use social media. If you pay close attention, you will see the irrational beast that is man in all his faded glory.

I’ve Had It With These Mother#%@!ing Snakes

Actually, that’s a lie.

I haven’t done programming in just about any form in a long time, but I am finding python to be exceptionally kind to me as a re-introductory language. And its versatility! It does everything (within reason)! The amount of resources on the web for it are astonishing. Back when I first started to learn the art of working in code, this would have been infinitely more helpful than the resources available back then. The stuff almost writes itself now.

OK, that, too, is a lie. It definitely doesn’t write itself.

But the things I am finding amazing are my discoveries of easy_install, pip, and various other completely basic components of the whole package. Missing a library (sorry… module)? Just pip that sucka. Boom, not only does it install it all for you near-immediately, it installs all of the prerequisite modules as well.

Kids these days are spoiled, I tell you! Now, get off my lawn!

(This post is part 1 of my introduction to python. Stay tuned for heartbreaking stories of spectacular levels of fail as I delve deeper into it!)

27 Dead In Connecticut

A gunman killed 27 people in Newtown, Connecticut. You’ve heard about it by now, I am sure – it’s not like I am your premier news source. At a moment like this, there are hundreds of questions being asked.

Why did the gunman do it?

Why here?

Why now?

Who is to blame?

We could speculate all day about these things. I am sure this will be covered many times over in the coming days. Remember Columbine? Interestingly enough, ever since the Columbine tragedy, the news media has covered each shooting in a less sensational fashion each time, it appears. But, do not let that fool you… Times like these fuel the bottom line of any good news organization.

Of course they think of it as a tragedy. Of course it is horrible. 20 children were killed in this most recent event – which is not surprising, considering it was a school, and the shooter’s mother was a teacher there. So, while we might look at this in horror, remember that the gunman was also just a kid – to that individual, those were more than likely his peers, and he wasn’t aware of the horror of children being killed, since he, too, was just a kid.

I wonder if we didn’t cover these tragedies, if many of them would stop. This is why I am even posting this in the first place. If these events didn’t crowd out the headlines, would there be less of them? How can we predict these tragedies in the future? Can they be prevented?

I doubt we will ever prevent every tragedy from occurring without resorting to extreme measures from a state that would resemble more of a surveillance state than an actual democratically elected government institution. Is that what you want? Do you think that that would even prevent things like this from happening?

It wouldn’t. There would just be an equal and opposite push against it, causing its own tragedies in its wake.

I wonder if the shooter used social media and posted in a manner that showed tell-tale signs of instability. I wonder if he was the target of bullying, whether cyber-bullying or real-life bullying. I wonder if, in a desperate grab for attention, he reached out in the only way he knew how, violence.

Because let’s face it, this certainly was no cry for help. Some will call it that, but they are sorely mistaken.

What if the only way this individual knew how to communicate his anger, frustration, or hopelessness was to cause a sensation through the media? He has seen it growing up – someone somewhere does something horrible and boom, there are camera crews on the scene for weeks, and reporters speculating motives for a long time, even after the original intentions are agreed upon by most, if not all.

Could we monitor our communications to find those most likely to do these things and somehow prevent these tragedies? How would we accomplish this? Do we consider the cost of those who just mistakenly appear to fit the profile into this equation? Do we ask the age old question: “At what price freedom?”

I think perhaps, instead of pointing fingers, we take pause and consider the national narrative for a moment. We exist in a nation built around fear at its very core, now. Ever since the events of September 11th, 2001, we have been a state completely paranoid of our fellow citizens. The state fears us. We fear the state. We fear each other. Corporations fear the state. Citizens fear the corporations. Everyone fears everything.

The godly will blame the godless. The godless will blame the fanatical. The liberals will blame the conservative gun-toting psychopaths. The conservatives will blame the liberal intelligentsia. Moderates such as myself will quite possibly shrug, wondering why everyone can’t see the obvious.

Quit feeding into it. That’s all we have to do. Move on with your life and actually try and get something done to better the place. Pointing fingers gets little accomplished and just appears to breed an animosity so deeply rooted in our culture that the inevitable happens on regular intervals – a plane flies into a building, someone shoots a group of kids, a man or woman jumps from a skyscraper.

Just quit, please, we can’t keep this up much longer.

I don’t mean that in the sense that the world will end, or the country will fall apart, or any of that nonsense. The world has been here for billions of years. Our country is the strongest military power in the world. There will be no invasion by outside forces coming to take your freedom away.

You take it away yourself every time you impose your will on someone else, because the more we lock our neighbors down, the more we lock ourselves down.

I still believe if we could somehow get everyone doing what they want to do with their life, we could achieve this. Others claim that would never work, but I strongly beg to differ – if we could maximize happiness, very seldom would we ever have to see tragedies like this unfold.

So if you know someone who is down, try and lift them up. I am in no way capable of this, but I am capable of telling others that that is how it should be.

I am tired of liberals equating me to a fascist baby killer – if they only knew the truth. I am tired of conservatives calling me an anti-American hippy – if they only knew the truth.

So sit down and talk to people about real things that really matter. Don’t let the media feed you lines of fear and paranoia – that will damage your psyche beyond repair. There are no aliens building pyramids – advanced races don’t travel hundreds of lightyears to put a bunch of stone monuments up in the desert. There are no reptilian shapeshifters secretly running your government. JFK is dead and that’s all there is to it, it doesn’t even matter who shot him. It doesn’t matter if we ban guns, there are enough here that this stuff will still happen, and if we could get rid of them all, people would just stab each other all day. A police state won’t help you. A surveillance state won’t help you. God isn’t coming down to stop bullets. And if we removed all bullies from the world, new bullies would pop up in standard human nature form.

Just… Calm the hell down. It has become ridiculous. Be bipartisan. Figure out how to make this work. If we keep going on the path we’ve been on, we’ll never grow as a species. Say a prayer if that’s your thing.

But just calm down and keep a level head. Everyone can at least do that much. I now avoid people of extreme views if I can’t reach them mentally. Some people are too far gone. Keep an eye on those and keep them at arm’s length, and let’s figure out how to make this thing work…

Instead of shooting each other, perhaps.

And here I am posting to my blog about it and complaining about the constant media coverage on this stuff. But at least I try to give some interesting insight – good luck finding that on your TV set.

Just remember – we are all to blame for this. And I can’t even read comments on these news sites without seeing the same tired arguments that lead to nowhere. Such a shame.

Good luck out there.