January 2012

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When I try to describe how I feel here, all that comes out is clichés — there’s a certain energy here, it’s a buzzing pot of humanity, it’s so diverse, so rich with potential experiences, too vast to comprehend, a city with ten million stories, or any other inadequate language you might find in the intro section of a Lonely Planet.

I heart NY, I really do. So many have said so, and with words as my medium there’s little I can add that isn’t already a part of your consciousness, whether you’ve been here or not. I hope that photographs, though, might begin to relate something beyond the cloud of familiar superlatives that surround anyone’s account of this amazing place.

Take your time. Enjoy. Read More

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Post image for Wikipedia disappears for a day, nation’s students collapse into despair, entitlement issues

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NEW YORK, NY — Last Wednesday, thousands of students of all levels of education woke up to find their sole source of knowledge gone.

Visitors arriving at Wikipedia were greeted by a black screen, with a small number of words on it. The words, if read, explained that Wikipedia had temporarily shut its doors to protest a congressional bill that could shut it down permanently.

Having left their assignments until two days before their Friday morning due dates, the nation’s students had no time to read the forty or so explanatory words and instead made heartfelt appeals to Twitter, demanding it inform them of why they could not access Wikipedia. Read More

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Post image for You are a public figure

New Year’s Eve, for the first time, I had an alarming moment when I realized spaceships really were watching me through the ceiling. They knew where I was in the house. I was troubled by it and said so to my friend, but by midnight I forgot, and felt much better.

Rewind a week or two. I was taking adorable pictures of my toddler nephew typing on his grandmother’s iPad, when I had one of those bewildering, revelatory moments.

I realized I was photographing a member of the first generation that will be able to revisit its entire life in sparkling, high resolution. Between me, his parents and his grandmother, there are easily more photos of him than there have been days in his life.

His brother is six months now. In 2081, when they’re both old men, they’ll be able to access their childhood in extraordinary detail. They’ll see their first Christmases, their first bike rides, their graduations and wedding days all in high resolution images and HD video, and it might seem strange to them that previous generations did not have much access at all to their pasts, aside from memories and a few grainy photographs.

Contrast that with my father, (1947-2008) of whom I’ve only seen one or two pictures of as a child. In those pictures he’s someone I don’t know. He has a smooth sepia face that could belong to just about anyone except my dad. He wore a moustache from the day I was born to the day he died and I couldn’t recognize my father in any other face.

The kids born after about 2007 constitute the first generation that’s younger than Facebook. Today, it’s fairly normal for human beings make their first appearance on the internet when they are less than a week old. Think of how many newborn photos you’ve seen posted by your Facebook friends this last year.

The generation growing up now will be the first one for whom the internet has always been around. For them there will have always been a virtual world of data that follows and documents everyone and everything they know about. Every person they know has an online profile, every object they own or place they visit has a wikipedia article.

They will take for granted that everyone they know has information about them — photos, dates, quotes and other data — floating around in the ether, accessible from anywhere, and virtually indestructible.  Read More

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Post image for Nature’s finest gift to you

Stars, if you leave them for long enough, will eventually come up with the Mona Lisa.

And not in a hypothetical way, like those non-existent, proverbial monkeys who are always typing up MacBeth by accident.

What I’m talking about has already happened.

We trick ourselves into believing it doesn’t work like that, but it’s true. Star systems can and do eventually produce great works of art, and we’ve observed this. The great Alan Watts makes this interesting property of the universe clear using a simple analogy.

In his example, an apple tree produces apples every summer. As a botanist might say, at a certain time of year the tree fruits. An apple tree, more specifically, apples.

Imagine that aliens cruised by earth a few billion years ago. They checked for signs of intelligence, found only rocks and oceans, and they left.

Then they came back last week sometime, and found that there was a lot more going on. There were people, and a lot of other unfamiliar stuff that doesn’t look like rocks. Earlier they had seen that it was just a bunch of rocks. But in the mean time, the rocks peopled.

You leave rocks for a few billion years and they just might people. Evidently. As Watts puts it, we grow out of this world in exactly the same way as apples grow out of that tree.

But we’re usually a little prudish about saying it that way. We gloss over the fact that a dead earth became a living one, because that would imply that somehow intelligence does indeed arise from rocks, and something about that offends our normal way of thinking. We like to compartmentalize nature’s phenomena as if they work cleanly, like billiard balls — they can strike each other in the most complex ways, yet always be ultimately separate.

At worst, we apply a supernatural explanation to the whole show, because otherwise we’d have to recognize intelligence as a natural extension of the things that happen on a barren, unattended planet. For some reason we often insist nature couldn’t be that interesting or potent on its own. There has to be a super nature, to keep nature in its rightful, humble place.

It makes us feel special I guess, maybe that’s why we don’t give nature the credit. We’re special either way, but we don’t need special rules to explain how we’re here. For that matter, we don’t necessarily need to explain ourselves to ourselves at all. Whatever happened, we got intelligent at some point, and that’s great. It’s okay to wonder aloud exactly how it happened, but clearly it did.  Read More

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Post image for There are no clean slates, and you don’t need one

If you’re already going strong on a New Year’s resolution, then good for you. Run with it. Don’t let me get in your way.

If you didn’t get around to making one, you didn’t miss anything. In fact you might have dodged a bullet. I’ve made a lot of resolutions that did work out, but none of them began on a January 1st. I figure just about any other day is a better day to make a real change.

The problem with New Years-ing your resolution is that it gives undue weight to the idea of a clean slate. It seems like January first really does reset something, and that it’s important to harness that rare chance.

But of course, it’s just another tomorrow. There are no clean slates. Past failures will still visit you in your head, from whatever year. Bad internal dialogues will still occur, and you’ll still have the same preconceptions about yourself and the kinds of outcomes you can create.

All of this stuff is real, and it doesn’t respect the Gregorian calendar. The glowing Times Square Ball doesn’t have any special powers to obliterate your weaknesses. Making a change must include confronting certain patterns and personal liabilities. You have to take them on willingly as a part of the deal — you can’t trick yourself by pretending they only exist in 2011.

So if you think you need a clean slate to make a change then you’re going to have trouble once you realize a new calendar year doesn’t really clean anything. Self-doubt will appear in 2012 too.

Most people use January 1st because it seems worthwhile to exploit whatever whiff of an advantage it seems to offer. They gravitate towards it as if they recognize that their chances aren’t so good to begin with. Admit you don’t need it, and pick a different day. Pick one that has no sentimental significance, no false help. Don’t even use a Monday.

Of course, if you’re serious about making a change, you know that it isn’t a matter of improving your chances. It’s all up to you, not the fates, so you don’t need to line up your plastic trolls and rabbit’s feet like the old ladies at bingo. You’re much better off if you don’t hang your hopes on anything you don’t plan to control.  Read More

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