Saturday, December 27, 2008

Zeitgeist and The Venus Project

Have you ever watched Zeitgeist or Zeitgeist Addendum? If not, these mind-blowing documentaries will surely make you question a lot of things, including religion and politics. They are both available for free download here. The first movie, Zeitgeist, argues the following:
  1. Christianity is a myth that builds on past religions and beliefs (i.e. Jesus didn't exist)
  2. 9-11 was an inside job that was used to push the United States' own agenda
  3. Corporations, including the Federal Reserve, are the real people running the world, not governments.
I know that sounds like a lot of ground to cover for a single film, but the creators did an amazing job of weaving things together. I am not a big fan of conspiracy theories either, but the manner in which the film presented its points made me watch in utter concentration.

The second film, Zeitgeist Addendum, focuses more on the 3rd argument put forward by its predecessor. It deconstructs the economic system piece by piece, and exposes its absurdity.
I'm not going to delve into the above arguments, because I truly think it is worth everyone's time to watch both films in their entirety. Let me re-emphasize that they are available for free... you have no excuse.

What I am going to talk about though, is The Venus Project. This was regarded to as the solution to world corruption in Zeitgeist Addendum. In a nutshell, this project is a proposal for a new social structure. It is based on these fundamental premises:
  1. There is no money/currency
  2. There is no government
  3. The focus of humanity is on science, technology, and smart utilization of the Earth's resources.
It sounds utopian, I know, but you have to look at with an open mind. Jacque Fresco, founder of the Venus Project, argues in Zeitgest Addendum that there are enough resources (including energy sources) for everyone in the world to live well. The only thing stopping us from making this a reality are financial/political/religious barriers that have been falsely created by society in the first place. He is an amazing person to listen to, and you can check out his YouTube Channel for more. Here's an interview with Jacque from 1974!

Once again, check out the Zeitgeist films if you haven't already. If you become as influenced as I am, then go ahead and join the movement.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

4HWW Lesson 1: The Low Information Diet

Timothy Ferriss' book, The 4-Hour Workweek, is easily one of the best non-fiction books I've read in the past few years. The key concept in the book is lifestyle design; the art of mastering the use of time and mobility to live the lifestyle you want. What makes this book so good is that Ferriss provides real, tangible, concrete ideas that you can act on right away. This is a true escape from the airy-fairy personal help books we're all used to. Although some of his ideas are a little extreme (including outsourcing your mundane tasks to India), there are a few that hit home so hard that I'll be writting about them over the next few weeks.

The Low Information Diet

This is the idea of cutting out all unnecessary sources of information that we are addicted to, and in turn focusing on things that will move our life in the direction we want. Ferriss claims that he has "never bought a newspaper or watched the news for five years". Wow. He provides many arguments for his reasoning, but the statement that "most information is time-consuming, negative, irrelevant to your goals, and outside of your control" is a real trump card.

We've been taught since childhood that reading the newspaper daily is great for your development. But this chapter made me ask the question, when was the last time that a newspaper article ever made a huge positive influence in my life? Never. Now when I tell my friends that I canceled my newspaper subscription, and their jaws drop, I just bring out the flurry of Ferriss' arguments. That's right, I canceled my subscription.

Before you start calling me lazy, realize that the key to the low information diet is "replacing input with maximum output." I took this into my own context, and now the time I spent reading the paper is going to be replaced with things that I want to do for my own personal development. Not sleeping. Not watching TV. I still read in the morning, but it will be focused blogs that teach me something, or books that I actually want to read.

In case you're worried about how you/I can be well informed on worldly affairs, Ferriss provides an answer for that too; talk to your friends about it. Ask Bob, "What's going on in the world?" and if things are that important, you'll hear about them. This makes educated people very uncomfortable, but we have to decide for ourselves what information is actually important to us. The last thing you want to do is read something because someone else told you it's important.

Lastly, the low information diet isn't for everybody. But what Ferriss suggests, as do I, is to go on a "one-week media fast". Give it a shot. Focus on working towards your lifestyle, rather than reading about other people living the lifestyle you want:P

"The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers." - Thomas Jefferson

Monday, November 10, 2008

Movember in Full Effect

If you haven't heard of Movember, then you have no idea what you're missing.  It's a global fundraising event where men grow their moustaches for the entire month of November.  In doing so, they raise money for different charitable organizations that are focused on men's health issues.  In Canada, all proceeds from Movember are going to the Prostate Cancer Research Foundation of Canada (PCRFC).  In case you didn't see it coming, yours truly is also participating.  If you would like to donate - any amount helps - you can visit my MoSpace, where you will also find frequently updated pictures of the stache:

Almost every male (Mo Bro) in my company is participating, and the girls (Mo Sistas) are loving every second of it.  In case you're wondering how successful this event is, Movember raised $550,000 in Canada alone in 2007!  Who would've thought that a 70s fashion statement could actually make a positive impact on society :P

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bottled Water: Society Fooled Again

A few months ago, I made a post about the fabrication of the diamond industry, which was inspired by an article in The Atlantic.  Just recently, I was exposed to yet another astronomical flaw in the North American consumer market: bottled water.

Thanks to Charles Fishman's article in Fast Company, my view on the industry has changed completely.  I always knew that tap water was okay to drink, and that the laws on tap water are more stringent than those on bottled water, but this article took my knowledge to a whole new level.  If you didn't catch  the link the first time, here it is again:

Some great points:
  • 24% of the bottled water we buy is tap water repackaged by Coke and Pepsi
  • Fiji Water produces more than a million bottles a day, while more than half the people in Fiji do not have reliable drinking water.
  • We pitch into landfills 38 billion water bottles a year -- in excess of $1 billion worth of plastic.
Now, I know there is still a convenience-factor to bottled water that makes drinking it a lot more justifiable.  I took this into account when deciding how I would act on this newfound knowledge.  Going forward, I have decided that I will never drink bottled water when clean glasses and tap/filtered water are available for free.  I suggest you read the article and decide on your own actions.

I got pretty worked up when I read this article... and here's why:  Aside from the great facts and research, this is such a simple -in relative terms- problem to solve.  Society spends so much time on innovation to make things "greener".  But think about how tangible the solution to this problem is.  It just requires educating the public that tap water is okay to drink.  The problem is that nobody with great economic power will likely take part in this, because he'd in turn be taking down an industry that feeds the economy.  Regardless, that's the point of this post:  To spread the word, one reader at a time. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Data Overrides Permission

Today I received a call from my cell phone provider, Bell Mobility. As expected, they were trying to up-sell me, but there was something different this time... I actually listened.

He (the service rep) started by telling me that I had been going over my text message limit for the past few months, and this was costing me a lot of money. "OK, this could be useful", I said to myself. He continued by telling me that for an extra few bucks, I could change my plan to an unlimited text message model, which would in turn save me money based on my usage. After a little discussion, I agreed to tack on the extra charge. It was pretty hard to say no. And more importantly for Bell, I actually hung up the phone with a smile. Who would have thought.

Now, I know this transaction may seem kind of frivolous, but there is a key lesson to be learned here for salesmen/marketers. This was important because (in my opinion) it broke Seth Godin's theory of Permission Marketing. If you don't know what this theory is, Permission Marketing is basically "the privilege (not the right) of delivering messages to people who actually want them." I never wanted this guy to call me, nor did I ever ask for help with my phone bill. Instead, it was my personal data that gave him indirect permission for my attention. It just goes to show you, if you have the facts, it is very hard for someone to disagree with you.

So, if you have an organization where you provide service to your clients, think about this. Try to build your systems in a way that you can predict when people are having trouble. Don't wait for them to come to you with complaints. Automatically collect the data, and give them a call at the right time.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Almost Good For You

A couple weeks ago I was on a flight to New York City.  It was then that I was served a gourmet extra-soft white chocolate lime cookie... sounds good doesn't it?  And to be honest, it was quite good.  The thing that disturbed me though, was the label that was on the cookie's packaging.  70% Organic... seriously?  What is the basis for my comparison?  What other semi-organic product do I know of?  Is this supposed to make the cookie more enticing to health nuts?  What percentage of a standard non-organic product is actually organic anyway?  There's a lot to think about here:P The thing is, there's been so much much focus lately on making things "green", that people really are starting to lose the point.  I don't want to delve into the details of how the "green" push has affected consumerism in general, because enough people have already done that.  I just wanted to point out something small and ridiculous because it's a lot easier to do so. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Shouldn't Music Videos Be Free to Watch?

I just tried to watch a music video on YouTube, and I got this error message:

It makes sense legally, but I've never understood why a company (or artist) would choose to remove a music video from a free distribution medium. After all, isn't the point of a music video to get more exposure for an artist, thus increasing his/her album sales? If this was a movie clip, it's a lot easier to justify because people explicitly pay to watch or buy movies... but not music videos.

Now, I know the super-techie-nerd will say that an individual could download the YouTube clip, and in turn get his/her own free copy of the song. But seriously... when I watch a music video on YouTube, I'm more likely to talk about the artist and send the clip out to my friends, which will create much more business value than stupid error messages.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Ishmael on Education

It's never seemed relevant to study people whose only accomplishment was to live on a planet for three million years without devouring it. But as [you] approach a point of no return in your plunge toward extinction, this study will soon seem very relevant indeed.

As a follow-up to my post on Ishamael by Daniel Quinn, I want to share a thought from the sequel to that novel, My Ismael. As opposed to just explaining what is wrong with the world, My Ishmael is slightly more solution-oriented than its predecessor. But solutions are not the purpose of this post. What I want to share with you are Quinn's thoughts on our - the modern world's - education system.

What is the purpose of schools? Do we ever ask ourselves that question?  Are 15+ years of schooling actually necessary to teach a child how to survive in society? According to Quinn, even with the "most advanced education system in the world", our 18-year old high school graduates have a very low survival value. To articulate this thought, Quinn uses this example: "If the rest of the community were to vanish overnight, and they were left entirely to their own resources, they'd be very lucky to survive at all."

It's very contraversial to say that our education system is useless though. But, like always, Quinn reaches back in time to bolster his arguments. "150 years ago, there was no reason to keep people off the job market past the age of 10." Interesting, but still not a very strong argument. After all, we have made so many technological advancements through the age of industrialization, it must be necessary for higher levels of education... right? Well, it's not like we teach kids how to succeed in the job market during their high school years. In fact, society's biggest deception, Quinn says, is that "schools are there to prepare children for a successful life." So this leads us to Quinn's primary argument.

Schools are there to regulate the flow of young competitors into the job market.

Think about it. College became the norm in our society only decades ago. Now, an undergrad degree is like a high school diploma. And how about Masters and PHDs... they all get tacked on as "ordinary" educational components as our society progresses. So when do we draw the line? Who knows, but the above statement just makes so much sense. Our population is growing faster than the number of jobs we're creating, so we have to create larger buffers to control the flow of jobless kids.

The quote at the beginning of this post epitomizes the premise of the Ishmael series. The fact that we should really learn from "prehistoric" human civilizations; how they approach(ed) food supply, population growth, and education. This is explained in great detail in My Ishmael, but like I said, this post isn't about a solution... just an intriguing thought. If you want to learn more, read the book.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Nooooooooooo Scrabulous

A while back, I wrote a post on how much I loved Scrabulous. After logging into facebook yesterday, I followed my daily routine and clicked on the Scrabulous link, only to find this error message:
Turns out, Hasbro finally gave Scrabulous the boot. They've even created their own "official" (but inferior) Scrabble Facebook App, which I haven't even tried yet. And to be honest, I don't even know if I will. It sucks that the application that introduced Scrabble to a whole new market is now defunct. The only positive thing about this is that my facebook usage will go down by about 75%, giving me a little more time to find other procrastination outlets :P

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Greatest Marketing Scam of All Time

A friend introduced me to this 17-page article written in 1982 for The Atlantic.   It's all about the fabrication of the Diamond Industry, and how De Beers, with the help of marketing firm N.W. Ayer, managed to transform the psyche of the entire world! 

Almost impossible to put down, this article will make you realize how diamonds have no actual value.  Try explaining that to your significant other ;)

As always, I've listed a few key points that might tickle your interest:
  • If you try to resell a diamond, you'll never get what you paid for it... think about it.
  • Diamonds only maintain their value if the consumers hold on to them.  If the general public decided to part with their diamonds, the entire industry would crash.
  • Diamonds were given to celebrities in the 50s and 60s to associate diamonds with status.
  • The concept of giving someone a diamond for your engagement is actually the product of marketing... there's nothing traditional about it
  • Along with coming up with the slogan "A diamond is forever", N.W. Ayer has also created some of the greatest marketing campaigns in history; including "Be all you can be" for the American Army.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Generation X: Tales For an Accelerated Culture

I literally JUST finished reading Douglas Coupland's first (and probably most famous) novel, Generation X. At the time it was written (1991), this book was geared towards the generation born in the 1960s that were in their 20's and early 30's. Surprisingly enough, the issues Coupland writes about are still relevant to the same age group today... which is probably why I liked it so much. The greatest part of the novel is probably the witty and shockingly hilarious definitions in the side panels of the pages. Here's are some of my favorites:

Emotional Ketchup Burst: The bottling up of opinions and emotions inside oneself so that they explosively burst forth at once, shocking and confusing employers and friends - most of whom thought things were fine.

Successophobia: The fear that if one is successful, then one's personal needs will be forgotten and one will no longer have one's childish needs catered to.

Lessness: A philosophy whereby one reconciles oneself with diminishing expectation of material wealth: "I've given up wanting to make a killing or be a bigshot. I just want to find happiness and maybe open up a little roadside cafe in Idaho."

Anti-Victim Device (AVD): A small fashion accessory worn on an otherwise conservative outfit which announces to the world that one still has a spark of individuality burning inside.

If you've ever been through a mid-20s life crisis where you start questioning your entire past and future, you're bound to find something to relate to in Generation X. I'll leave you with another hilarious quote:

"When someone tells you that they've just bought a house, they might as well tell you they no longer have a personality. You can immediately assume so many things: that they're locked into jobs they hate; that they're broke; that they spend every night watching videos; that they're fifteen pounds overweight; that they no longer listen to new ideas. It's profoundly depressing."

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Getting Things Done

I just finished reading the National Bestseller, Getting Things Done, by David Allen. The book is a basically a strategy guide to personal productivity and efficiency. The tag line on the cover says: "The ART of stress-free productivity"... and trust me, the way Allen describes it, an ART is definitely what it is. He uses metaphors like "a mind like water" to articulate the state of mind one should be in to fully take advantage of his strategies. Although there were times during the book where I felt Allen was dragging on his points for way too long, there are some great tangible take-aways that anyone can benefit from. I've listed a few below:

  1. Get all of the shit out of your head. Anything that requires more than one action is a project, and should be written down or documented in a central place where you will be able to read/review it. When "open loops" live in your head, they will take away from your focus, thus making you less productive. He describes many strategies and process flows for gathering and filing tasks at any time of the day, but I won't get into that.
  2. When something you have to do is eating away at your brain and you're completely stuck and don't know what to do next, write down the problem. Then ask yourself, "If I could do only one action to make this problem better right now, what would it be?" As soon as you figure out that ONE action... do it. This could be something as simple as making a phone call.
  3. Use the 2 minute rule: When at work or at home, if a task comes up, ask yourself if the task will take less than 2 minutes... if so, do it. If not, file the email (or make a note if it's not an email) in a TO-DO or Read/Review folder.
  4. Train yourself to conduct a weekly review.  When you start implementing personal productivity strategies, it is very easy to get so engaged in current activities that you forget about upcoming events or long-term goals.  Put some time aside every week (typically on a Sunday), where you will review your current projects, upcoming week's calendar, and anything else you feel is necessary for you to re-focus and align with your goals.  I think this is a vital component to Getting Things Done.
I definitely recommend this to anyone who is looking to take that extra step in personal productivity.  Since the book was written, there have been many arguments against Allen's strategies.  But, any idea geared towards making our lives easier will always receive it's fair share of controversy.  The best way to find out though, is to try it out yourself. Read the book.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Thinovation vs. Functionality

I know everyone has already given their two cents about the new Macbook Air, but I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon as well. When I first saw the ad, my first reaction was basic combination of "No Way!" and "You gotta be kidding me!". But as I took a closer look, I started to notice how stripped down this thing actually is. No Ethernet, no built-in CD ROM, and no exchangeable battery. "But it's so damn sexy," you say. Yeah, that may be true, but how functional do you think it can actually be?
  1. I still use CDs for many things, and I'm sure a lot of other people do too. The external CD ROM just wouldn't cut it for me.
  2. No Ethernet? I have a Computer Engineering degree and I still have trouble with my wireless network. Until wireless internet can actually prove itself to be as stable as wired internet, I will not settle.
  3. The battery on my Dell laptop only lasted about 1.5 years before I had to replace it. I guess this is not really a deal-breaker though.
But regardless, the Macbook Air will still sell millions of units. It's just interesting, and somewhat humorous, that Apple is starting to define what good technology actually is. When they release a product, Steve Jobs tells you that's how it should be designed, and then people listen. Just look at the iPhone. Because of it's ridiculous demand, Apple is probably the first company in history to boss around the telecom industry. Company's are bending over backwards to accommodate for it's bandwidth-whoring needs. Apple has still not given Rogers Wireless permission to sell the phone, because they don't have an unlimited data plan yet.

Before I digress, that is all I really have to say about the Macbook Air. I will leave you with 2 videos. The first is the Macbook Air commercial. The second is the real reason I'm writing this post. It's a parody of the Air commercial, highlighting the "basic" functionality of a Sony Vaio that the Air doesn't have... enjoy :P

Monday, February 11, 2008

Addicted to Scrabulous

About 4 months ago, a friend introduced me to Scrabulous, the online version of Scrabble for Facebook. Reluctant to except his invitation, I eventually succumbed to the peer-pressure, mostly just to see what all the hype was about. Now, writing this post, I can officially say that I am addicted to this bloody thing... but that's not such a bad thing, is it? The way I see it, this game is constantly building my vocabulary, and I'm honestly learning new words everyday. I've never run to the dictionary this much! Just check out this screen shot of a game I played recently against an unnamed opponent:

Never in my life could I fathom that I was capable of playing such a game. So when Hasbro threatened the Scrabulous creators to take down their application because of copyright infringement, I jumped onto the Save Scrabulous Facebook Group. If anything, this application has exposed Scrabble to such a larger (untapped) market. Many people, including me, never even owned a Scrabble board until this application came out. So, if anything, Hasbro should be paying these guys for free marketing! Ideally, the two parties will reach some sort of agreement. I think a viable solution would be to brand Scrabulous with the Hasbro logo... maybe as an offical sponsor or something. I agree the game needs to be tied back to the original creator some how, but taking it down will not help either party. I guess I'll just have to wait and see :S

Let me finish off with the Scrabulous Song (below). I found it absolutely hilarious how much I could relate to this :P