Archives for the month of: May, 2014

I got a New York Times notable ‘Pick’ (my 3rd, yay!) to a comment that I made to an opinion article published this morning entitled ‘How Book Publishers Can Beat Amazon’.

I had no idea until I read this piece just what complete assholes Amazon.com has become. They have been caught in the act of punishing publishers which in turn affects the entire writing ecosystem. Bastards.

My comment was as follows:

“I used to love Amazon when I lived in the USA. I loved the customer reviews, the low prices, the free 2 day shipping option, and the multiple selections. But I never bought any of their downloadable media; preferring to order CDs, DVDs, and real books.

Downloadable media carries all of that scary DRM baggage. Meaning, you don’t really own what you downloaded, you only purchased the limited right to use it.

I think I have to agree with Mr. Kohn that it might be time to pull the plug on Amazon; totally pull the plug.

We as consumers have sacrificed too many freedoms (including our health in some cases) all for lower prices and convenience.

I now believe in buying local and support such things as the nascent slow-wear clothing movement which has three principle tenants: a rejection of mass-produced, the preference for long-wearing artisanal materials, and slowing the rate of consumption by purchasing better quality clothing less often.

And I am still aware that perhaps the only personal vote that matters any more is how we spend our money because what we buy is what we support; however tacit.”

PS – We are what we buy. We are what we put in our head. We are what we eat. And we are what we do when we think no one else is looking. Ouch.

 

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A new bicycling trip! Oh, yes, my friends – just think of it: a new – and most different – bike trip. I am very excited. This new plan has gradually begun to coalesce now that I have to start thinking about having to leave Mexico to renew my visa at the end of July.

So the idea is to kinda sort of do what Sarah and I did last June when our month long running vacation got derailed by injuries and we improvised and switched to bikes and rode the 500 mile Western Loop of Lake Superior.

And I think that unless my present contract work schedule gets in the way, then I will fly up Marquette, MI, on the 26th of July, hangout with an old buddy for 2-3 days, purchase another second hand bike and then ride (and then ride some more).

And I have friends and family in Michigan that I haven’t seen in years. And my mother and one of my sisters live just 1100 miles south of Marquette. And then Miami is only another 1000 miles further down the road.

I figure that if I buy a one-way ticket to Marquette then I am free to do whatever I want for as long as I want.

So if I get burned out, run over, or otherwise injured then I’ll donate the bike (just like we did in Duluth last year), head to the nearest airport, and return to Mexico.

But I just landed an engineering consulting job and I won’t know for a few days yet what my total time commitment will be. But I am optimistic about this bike trip. July 26th is 7-8 weeks away which should be plenty of time to knock out the majority of the work. And maybe – if there is any wrap up – I can do it on the road.

PS – And just like how we ditched all of our stuff in Grand Marais; I plan on riding with no more than a change of clothes, a hat, a raincoat, and my new Nexus 7 tablet. Exciting.

PPS – As my friend, Seamus was fond of saying ‘upon such a journey the beast of my mind will feast.’

 

 

 

 

After 7 months of no rain, the afternoon drama has once again returned to the skies:

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I might have given up much by way of possessions when I left Washington, DC but I consider my move to Mexico, my house on the hill and being witness to events like these to be more than a fair trade.

Imagine cigars and cocktails on the terrace – sprawled in the hammock – as one of these magnificent afternoon storms rolls slowly across the valley from the east-southeast.

And if I did listen to music as one of these monsters moved through – which I don’t – it would be Bach.

Only Bach.

PS – You might ask, why no music? Why only Bach? Because for me, Bach demonstrated through his music the unexplainable – the majesty of God; plain and simple. And these magnificent Michoacan sunrises and afternoon storms do not need further explanation.

Living here – at my age – I continually marvel (and believe).

 

 

Last Thursday at 5 am, 2 miles from my house at the crossroads where the two major highways converge on the north side of town, there was a gun battle that left 25 men dead and an unknown number of wounded.

Apparently the bad guys from the neighboring state of Jalisco were coming into town where they were discovered at a roadblock manned by a group of armed vigilantes. In the ensuing shootout, 15 bad guys were killed along with the rest of the dead being either federales or vigilantes.

I asked if this was true, because it wasn’t in the local news or national news or any news for that matter. He replied that it was hushed up, bad for local business, and then grimly went on to say that it all was witnessed by many (many) local people. I asked again, how could that be true, it was 5 am?

He said the gun battle raged for 2 hours with every side calling in reinforcements. So from 5 to 7 am –  at the busiest intersection in town – traffic came to a standstill and the roads ran with blood. (And I am told there is still blood there).

And for those of you that haven’t been following along, Jalisco is only like 20 miles away. And the bad guys in Jalisco – like the bad guys here – have made this little corner of Michoacan highly contested territory. Oh, if you want to go the airport or Guadalajara? You take one of these two highways.

So imagine. 25 dead. In a gun battle on the edge of town. To the best of my knowledge, there has been nothing like that since the Lincoln County War back in 1878 which more or less ended when the last man standing – Billy the Kid – was murdered three years later. The war itself, which took place in the New Mexico Territory, lasted mostly a year or so with 22 killed and 9 wounded. I read up on the history of that war as my mother’s great-great uncle, Henry Lease fought close by in the Second Battle of Adobe Walls just 4 years prior and personally knew Billy the Kid.

By contrast, the local war here is almost unimaginable. It has been going on now for something like 6 years and within only a 20 mile radius of this little town of Sahuayo it has left hundreds, if not thousands dead. And unlike the Lincoln County War there appears to be no end in sight. Maybe simply because there is no one last man to kill.

 

A new word for both me and you.

According to the article I read this morning, “In 1968, the critic and landscape architect Charles Jencks wrote about repurposing design. He called it “adhocism” and described it in his book, Adhocism: The Case for Improvisation.”

This article was online this morning in the wonderful British newspaper, the Guardian, entitled “Why Adhocism is the best kind of recycling.” And among other things, I learned three distinctions:

  1. Recycling doesn’t really exist in the sense that we traditionally think of it. The prefix ‘re’ – implies again – meaning for example that the plastic milk jug that we put in the plastic bin for recycling actually returns again as a plastic milk jug. Which doesn’t happen.
  2. So what we typically think of as recycling is actually ‘downcycling’ which is taking something of greater value and returning it to use as something of lesser value.
  3. The preferential cycle for goods in their present form that have reached some stage of obsolescence is to ‘upcycle’ them. Meaning re-purpose them as something of greater value.

Downcycling is bad because economically speaking – micro as well as macro – it is costly. And from an energy perspective it is wasteful. And environmentally speaking, unfriendly.

Read the article here. 

See my inclusion in their publication here.

This makes me feel even better about the fundamentals of our sandal (and shoe) constructions which are all built on top of old airplane tire. For instance, the airplane tire that we reuse isn’t ending up in the landfill. And it isn’t being downcycled either. Instead we are taking an incredibly light and durable material and are upcycling it into yet other products that are both beautiful and re-purposed for the long haul.

And that’s future thinking; albeit 46 years after the fact.

 

 

1. That helping someone is truly a blessing. And it was this particular awareness that prompted this post. Example, I helped an old woman this morning cross the street and negotiate the broken up sidewalk between the Mercado and the Cathedral. And in the doing I realized it was I who was blessed and not her. I also fed a stray dog earlier (something I typically don’t do). Does one act of kindness lead to another? I really don’t know.

2. There’s lots of beauty in the little things; you just have to live a little slower to see them.

3. Valuing the unwarranted kindness of strangers. For example, the butcher didn’t charge me for the small piece of meat this morning that I fed the stray dog. The list is much too long to say more.

4. That wearing shorts and sandals everyday is quite possibly the best wardrobe in the world. It certainly is the most comfortable.

5. Genuinely liking people and [wanting] to be liked in return.

6. Leather. Oh, how I love beautiful leather! Maybe my single greatest materialistic weakness. (Add that to cigars, booze, books and good food).

7. Making things. Something I’ve done in the past – forgotten – and now joyfully doing again.

8. Discovering that people noises (like children laughing, screaming, crying) are immensely more preferable to cultural noises (like TV, internet, movies, music, advertisements, celebrities).

9. Being and living in a place where I know without a doubt that most of the stuff happening around me are things that I positively do not understand. It’s like being a little kid again. Surrounded by so much mystery.

10. [Again] appreciating the little things. Witnessing the daily multiple gestures of small kindnesses. And being privy to the tiniest of miracles.

 

I was invited to Maria’s for their Mother Day celebration yesterday. In Mexico it is celebrated on Saturday. It was quite an honor as I was the only non-family member there.

Here are a few photos beginning with the three of the four generations (sorry, four generations – that’s Ana’s head – Maria’s daughter – sticking into the photo). Oh, and Maria is the woman in the white smock:

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Great-grandma is 83 and still works 6-7 days per week in the Mercado selling newspapers and magazines:

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21 year old Carla and her 8 month old baby, Camila:

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Ana’s only daughter. The two and a half year old adorable imp, Melissa:

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Assorted cuties playing:

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Some of the family on the porch:

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Family love:

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3 of Ana’s 4 boys:

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Note: This is the Mexico that most tourists never see. And I don’t say that boastfully. But I want you to know that Mexico is full of these beautiful, loving families. These people might be poor but their love, affection and kindness to one another puts most N. American families that I know to shame.

PS – And there was no TV. This family spent the day playing and talking with each other.

Earlier this week, Sarah and I made some much needed improvements to our websites. We had discussed some other sales and marketing ideas over the last few months and it was today that I made the decisions on how best to proceed to implement them.

First, our sandals need more of a story than just words. The sandals need more of a lifestyle narrative and for that I hired a very smart young man who now has the working title of Creative Director.

And jointly we created two operational plans today. One, is that he is going to create an appropriate Mexican Sandal Guy anime. Maybe it will end up being a highly photo-shopped real person but 1st we are going to start with more of an anime approach.

Second, we are going to photograph our sandals using models; both a man and a woman. I already have our two models; they just don’t know it yet. Carla is the 21 year old drop dead beautiful niece of my friend Maria. And handsome Daniel – who looks so Asiatic that you’d think he just arrived, but 30,000 years late, from across the Bering land bridge. They are both perfect.

Now my creative guy is putting together the details. Location, background, and so on.

My life has gotten interesting again.

 

Today the ownership of Intellectual Property (IP) mostly by way of patents and copyrights lie at the very commercial heart of all things creative. I just read the absolutely fascinating story online this morning about the impending acquisition by Apple of Beats Electronics.

$3.2B for a trendy yet technologically mostly unimpressive piece of electronics that seems like a pretty poor value proposition. And the marriage of something faddish glossy plastic to that of something more elegant built from metal and glass is something else that seems well, unseemly.

But it is the background story that is the fascinating part. The broad strokes are: Monster (mostly an over-priced cable company) goes out into the world to sell a new hi-def surround sound vapor product and in the doing meets Jimmy Iovine (the mogul owner/entrepreneur co-founder of Interscope). Jimmy introduces Monster to Dr. Dre.

Dr. Dre wants to make electronics in the way of high end speakers. Monster says let’s build hi-end headphones; a more sensible choice given everyone’s portable music these days. It sounded like a good idea to everyone. Monster wanted to leverage Dre’s entertainment and sports contacts to take the headphones mainstream. Dre wanted to get into the electronics business. And Jimmy knew upfront that he wanted to end up owning both ends of the business.

The initial negotiations fail. Dre and Jimmy go off to try and make the headphones happen elsewhere but fail and return to Monster 6 months later. Dre and Jimmy in the meantime have formed Beats Electronics and the initial prototype that they bring back to Monster sucks; mostly because it was too big and looked stupid.

Lee (the son and co-owner with his father) decides that they needed this new headphone business and so spends several million behind his father’s back developing 40-50 prototypes. At some point he comes up with the headphones that Beat Electronics have been looking for.

Now here is where it get’s interesting. The young Lee realizes in the heavy spending that he has put the collective family jewels on the table and now needs the deal big-time. And that is a poor position to begin bargaining from.

Still he sits down at the table with Jimmy and Jimmy’s lawyers to hammer out a contract. He was so far outgunned that Beats Electronics somehow ended up with all the IP and Monster got only the crumbs: the manufacturing and distribution pieces; all the heavy lifting so to speak.

Dre and Jimmy hit the marketing trail and pimped the headphones to the point where they were in placement in just about every modern cultural context. So the headphones take off and place like Best Buy can’t keep them in stock because they were selling like hotcakes. Kids were buying them not because they had a superior sound but because it made them look cool wearing them. Go figure, right?

Then at some point the Taiwanese electronic company, HTC took a 51% interest for $300M and Monster- because it no longer owned any of the patents – essentially got shut out by the deal.

And now Apple steps in with $3.2B…

PS – So the takeaway messages are: never take a knife to a gunfight and never (ever) give up your own IP.

 

 

I am not a cloud-storage guy nor am I a download media guy. I did some pay per view on Amazon Prime when I lived in the states, but that is inaccessible here in Mexico. But I have my own machines where I store my own content. The music and video content on my machines I ripped from CDs and DVDs. And on all my machines (and backup HDDs) I encrypt everything except the OS and the applications. It’s not necessarily about the whole NSA thing – although that counts – but mostly for theft or loss. Steal one of my machines and all you get is the hardware and applications. What you don’t get is my fabulous movie collection, my huge music library, books, or any of my personal documents or information. And for this, I heartily recommend TrueCrypt.

To slightly change the subject, there is a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that is presently being negotiated in secret between 12 countries that will further restrict your access and use of digital media. FYI – that music you downloaded? You don’t own it. No, read the fine print. You only have a limited right of use. By contrast, buying the CD/DVD is an entirely different matter and legally speaking you have many more freedoms with the right to copy and use them than their downloadable brothers. But that too could change.

For background information you should first become familiar with the Digital Millennial Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1996 to understand the legal underpinnings of Digital Rights Management (DRM) and just where we all stand in this digital world. And cloud storage? That’s part of the NSA’s playground. And in the news last week (Washington Post included) it was revealed that newly released emails show a ‘close relationship between Google and the NSA’. That’s great, huh?

If the TPP as it is written becomes a reality then the copies of your music files that you have stored in the cloud would constitute copyright infringement. If what I have read is true then all copies (even temporary copies) would constitute copyright infringement. So my DVD collection that I reduced to ISOs then further reduced them (in size) when I converted them to MP4s would put me and my copies at risk too.

So we’re not talking about Beyonce getting her panties in a twist because you copied one of her recent hits that you then uploaded to the cloud. Oh no. We’re talking about Warner Brothers, Sony, or some other big player coming after your ass with the sheriff. And Intellectual Property (IP) infringement – as in how you use, copy, store, play, and manage your digital media – will take on some serious punitive measures if/when the TPP gets traction. And we all know the sheriff doesn’t play fair anyway. Think NSA and Eric Snowden. Think the IRS and their recent persecution (read, audit) of [up to 10%] of the conservatives (aka Tea Party).

And don’t tell me that everything sitting on your laptop or PC is kosher because we all know that each and everyone of us has at least something that doesn’t actually from an IP standpoint belong to us. But somehow if you were the exception and as pure as the driven snow remember this:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.” Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

So if you want to speak out against the TPP then you could start by clicking here. Maybe there is a better place to get info/protest TPP. If so, please let me know.