Happy Old Decade!

Listen, I’m not a Left Brain person. When I look at bank statements, Excel spreadsheets, those huge lighted signs at the airport showing flight numbers and departure and arrival times, my head goes all fuzzy, like it’s filled with cotton balls, my eyes cross, and the numbers seem float up from the surface and scramble. (I wouldn’t call it dyslexia, though, because I got an A in Statistics at Rutgers in 1988. Chuckle, chuckle.)

Anyway, if it weren’t frustrating enough to do things like payroll at work or balancing a checkbook, there’s the whole numbers and time and calendars thing, which Wikipedia attempts to make clear:

The Julian calendar was used in Europe at the beginning of the millennium, and all countries that once used the Julian calendar had adopted the Gregorian calendar by the end of it. So the end date is always calculated according to the Gregorian calendar, but the beginning date is usually according to the Julian calendar (or occasionally the Proleptic Gregorian calendar).

Crystal clear, huh?

As I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, I’ve been reading all these Best Of lists, not just for 2009, but also lists of what folks consider the Best Of the first decade of the 21st Century.

And as I think about this, my Right Brain orientation doesn’t want to trust my subordinate Left Brain when it screams out that it’s a bit premature to declare an end to the first decade of the 21st Century.

I’m reminded of similar brain hemisphere confusion in the run-up to January 1, 2000. The Y2K Bug hype was in the air and much of the world seemed determined to celebrate the coming of 2000 as the beginning of the Second Millennium. After all, 2000 is such a nice round number, isn’t it? It’s just so Second Millennium-ish!

And yet, if you ask an astrophysicist at NASA, well, it’s not.

Question: I’m 17 years old. I’d like to know when the new millennium starts. Isn’t it Jan 1st, 2001? Why do people get excited about 2000 then? How can I explain this to my friends? Please help.

Answer: You are right that the millennium starts on Jan 1st 2001. There is no year zero, so the first millennium started on January 1, 1 C.E., the day after December 31, 1 B.C.E. The first millennium ended 1000 years later, on the night of Dec 31, 1000/morning of Jan 1, 1001, and the second millennium ends 1000 years after that, on Dec 31 2000/Jan 1 2001.

The main reason people will celebrate the millennium on the night of Dec. 31 1999 is to hold big parties, and to hold them a year sooner than they would otherwise. I expect that, around February, 2000, people will start coming around to the belief that the millennium does indeed start with 2001, and plan their next party accordingly.

By the same highly educated reasoning, this would mean that the first decade of the 21st Century doesn’t end until January 1, 2011.

And so, while I’m happy to have evidence that I can still manage to utilize both sides of my brain, I still intend to party tonight like it’s 2011.

Happy New Year!
Happy Old Decade!

Design: Capitalism’s Redeeming Value

coke adds life
I admit it. I’m not a big fan of capitalism. I don’t see its rising tide lifting all boats, and I don’t see prosperity trickling down.

That said, I love art, and I would be intellectually dishonest if I didn’t acknowledge that commerce has been a venue for a lot of artists working in the fields of graphic and industrial design.

Artists have to make a living, and many hone their skills and create legitimate art designing everything from new products, to packaging, to advertisements in the public, private, profit, and non-profit sectors. Sometimes works that came to life for commercial purposes are right at home in an art gallery, and certainly art galleries and museums are filled with pieces that incorporate aesthetic elements inspired by or reminiscent of commercial designs.

My own awareness around this didn’t really sink in until I learned about the Industrial Design program at the university where I work.

About 9 years ago, a colleague and fellow bicycle commuter and I were lamenting how most of the bicycle racks on campus offered little to no shelter from the rain, a painful irony, given that Bellingham is, well, kind of known for being a rainy place.

Long story short: My friend suggested that we talk to the Industrial Design (ID) department to see if they would be willing to have their students do a class project, developing some design concepts for sheltered bike racks. The idea went over so well that the Junior class did indeed do a project, and I was able to organize a team of folks from the departments needed to fund and take the designs from the drawing board to working prototype and eventually to the fabrication and installation of dozens of bike shelters all across campus.

As a result, I had the opportunity to tour the ID studios, to see some of the tools and processes used to develop designs, and most importantly I had the pleasure of meeting some incredibly creative and talented students, artists in every single sense of the word.

Ever since, whether I’m looking at a Coca-Cola poster like the one posted here, admiring the sleek, minimalist design of Apple products, or simply noticing an everyday logo, I’m less inclined to take their appearance for granted and more inclined to appreciate the creativity involved.

Recommended sites:

MoCo Loco
Yanko Design

Zen and the Art of Radiohead

When I said in a post last month:

I can honestly say, without exaggeration, that discovering great music, literature, and visual art saved my life.

…it was with the utmost seriousness. That said, I sometimes feel like I have to defend my praise of pop music artists, partly because the “pop” stands for “popular”, and for hundreds of years the music that was most popular wasn’t always good. On the contrary, it has often been the case that the most popular music has been irritatingly shallow crap, serving merely as a vehicle for an equally shallow celebrity.

And so, I always get a thrill when I read something about a popular musician whose work I admire that supports my assertion that pop music can be as artistic an any other medium.

    Rolling Stone: Do you feel more or less empowered than you did in 2000 — as a musical concern, as a band trying to make art in a strange world?

    Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien: On a more personal level, if you went back nine, 10 years, you’d find that external events exerted way more influence. Imminent war — things like that affected us much more. Now, I feel more empowered, that these things cannot create heaven or hell within me…

    In terms of the band…one of the things is we do things without fear. A lot of where we come from — our education, our upbringing — manifests itself in the shadow of fear… And in a sense, I don’t think it served us too badly. It kept us on our toes. It kept us trying to seek new areas artistically.

    The trouble is, as you get older, fear is not a great motivator. If you have fear, you can’t relax…

    What we’re trying to do now is make art without fear. You’re relaxing. There is more joy in what you do.

Wow. Ed’s a rock star? Really?!

Seriously, what he said really resonates with me. While I can’t say that I’m consistently successful at preventing external events from creating heaven and hell within me, I do feel that I’m heading in that direction. I’ve written here several times already that I made a conscious decision to quit being a primarily political blogger, most recently pointing out that one of my main reasons for doing so had to do with self-preservation. Blogging about politics, indeed, was a very effective way of letting external events create a hell within me.

Radiohead first artistically distinguished themselves in my eyes when they did what all great bands have done: they evolved. After early success as a heavily guitar-oriented rock band, rather than giving in to the temptation to continue with the formula that made them money and won them fans, starting somewhat with their third album, OK Computer, and in earnest on their fourth, Kid A, they risked the alienation of their fanbase, and therefore the support of their record label, by eschewing the guitar-centric sound for a more orchestral approach, introducing more ambient and electronic elements.

The risk paid off big time, with critical acclaim, chart topping, and Grammy Awards. They might have lost fans of their earlier music, but they most certainly gained plenty of new fans to compensate.

Now, back to me. Because politics is so drenched in drama-inducing polarization, it’s not that difficult for a political blog to draw traffic. My former blog, at one point, was attracting hundreds and hundreds of hits a day. But, all I had to do was give a blog post a headline like “Republicans are Evil” in order to guarantee a lot of visits from folks on both sides of the political dichotomy, and sometimes they’d battle it out in the comments section.

I feel a kinship with Radiohead. While the scale is nowhere near the same, I did give up all that sure-thing political traffic in an effort to evolve. Consequently, despite having had two spikes of traffic — 134 views one day, 191 on another — most days see a yield of no more than 40 views.

So, I’m standing by, ready for those Radiohead-esque rewards for my artistic courage and integrity to come rolling in…

…um, I’m still waiting!

Blogging Forecast: sporadic


If I was single, childless, and a professional blogger, you could count on Fish & Bicycles content to continue flowing this week.

Rather, I’m none of those things. And so, between a few more days of work, the usual shuttling of my son to his numerous rock climbing activities, a Solstice party, last minute Christmas shopping and wrapping, loading up the sleigh, driving to Seattle, partying with the family, skiing at Stevens Pass, and far from easy access to the interwebs…

…the Fish & Bicycles forecast is: sporadic.

If anyone stumbling upon this post would like to pay me to blog professionally, I will consider offers.

However, reading through that list of potential obstacles to blogging this week, don’t even think of counting on me starting until after the New Year.


Video Fridays: Monty Python

Oh, Monty Python, how do I love thee?

Let me count the ways!

I shall count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number I shall count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four I shalt not count, neither shalt I count two, excepting that I then proceed on to three. Five is right out!…

Ok, while this might be the first Monty Python clip in the Video Fridays series, I can pretty much guarantee that I will eventually post more than three, even though I risk the wrath of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.

And now for something completely different:

Rockin’ the zodiac

Last week I wrote about a recent Free Will Astrology horoscope, and while I wouldn’t normally do another astrology-related post so soon, I couldn’t pass this up:

Twenty-two percent of American rightwing fundamentalists believe that Barack Obama is the Anti-Christ. On the other hand, 73 percent of the people who read my horoscopes think that if there were such a thing as an Anti-Christ, he would be an American rightwing fundamentalist. But I’d like to discourage speculations like that among the Virgo tribe in 2010. According to my reading of the omens, you should take at least a year off from getting worked up about your version of the devil. Whoever you demonize, just let them alone for a while. Whatever you tend to fault as the cause of the world’s problems, give your blame mechanism a rest. As much as possible, create for yourself an Enemy-Free Zone.

I’m pretty proud of the fact that, back in October, I was able to pull myself out of the cesspool that political blogging can become. As I said in my inaugural Fish & Bicycles post, I’d grown so narrowly focused on writing about politics that I was betraying my original vision for the blog, a vision that included writing content on a wide variety of topics.

But what I didn’t mention in that post was just how demoralizing it was to be a political blogger. After all, in order to do it well, one must spend hours every single day reading about all the crap going on in Washington, around the country, and all over the globe. While I’m no advocate for living with one’s head in the sand, I am also not a masochist, and I really think you either need to be a masochist or you need to have a much thicker skin than I do in order to write about politics long-term.

And this idea of Brezsny’s of an Enemy-Free Zone is nearly impossible to create and sustain if you are an opinion blogger, as far as I can tell or could experience.

The cool thing is that my decision to stop being a political blogger has spilled over into my offline life as well. I’m incredibly hesitant to enter into political discussions even with folks who I know are of the same liberal persuasion as I am, and a recent incident at least temporarily avoided co-creating another enemy.

I was at a holiday party, sitting around a firepit, the beer and wine was flowing, and folks, some I knew, some I didn’t, were making casual conversation. Eventually, the discussion turned towards politics and I felt the red flag go up. I observed how the mood degraded from friendly and festive towards frustration, bitterness, betrayal, and anger. I kept quiet and didn’t engage, hoping the topic would run its course quickly and return to lighter, perhaps more frivolous fare.

Then, suddenly, this exchange happened:

    Guest #1: I’m so sick and tired of Rush Limbaugh!

    Guest #2: What’s so terrible about Rush?

    Guest #1 Are you serious?!!

    Guest #2: Totally serious. I like Rush Limbaugh!

    Me: Excuse me, nice talking to you folks, but I’m going get a refill and find someone to talk about skiing with.

Ok, so, I didn’t actually say that bit about finding someone to talk to about skiing.

I just excused myself and walked away.

It felt great!

Apple and Google apparently don’t need me anymore

I’ve been a Mac user and Apple fan for many years.

My first Mac, a Macintosh Classic, won me over with its simple, intuitive user interface, and its compact, all-in-one package, and my most recent, a 12-inch Powerbook G4, has been the perfect notebook for me.

All along the way, I’ve drooled over the new releases, loved Apple’s sleek, modern design sense, bought an iPod Touch, coveted the freedom of the iPhone, and I always agreed with friends who would say that the best anti-virus software ever created is OS X.

But then, in June of 2008, it was revealed that the then-upcoming newest release of OS X, Snow Leopard, and therefore all subsequent updates, would only work on the new generation of Macs with Intel processors.

Apple essentially gave my Powerbook a death sentence.

And now, adding considerable insult to injury, Google, whose search, Gmail, and Docs products I use every day, has offered up a long-awaited Beta version of its Chrome browser for Macs…

…BUT, it only works on Intel Macs.

My Powerbook is five years old and starting to show its age and act funny.

A new aluminum MacBook Pro, which I’ve been longing for, would cost me $1,200 minimum.

It’s getting harder and harder to justify going there when I could get a decent laptop and a free copy of Ubuntu for half the money.

Apple? Google? Are you listening? Do you care?