Category: alternative

Unlocking Your Creativity

Have you ever gotten a great idea while working out, or mowing the lawn, or in the midst of some other activity requiring some kind of physical concentration, when your mind was “wandering?”

Or, if you are one who prays as a meaningful ritual of religious faith or meditates as a regular practice, have you ever had an answer to a difficult question emerge from it, with great clarity or certainty for what you should do?

bbv-wilberKen Wilber’s book The Spectrum of Consciousness is the classic book in the field of study integrating psychology and spirituality.

In it, Wilber begins with an oft-quoted remark by William James:

Our normal, waking consciousness is but one special type of consciousness, while all about it – parted from it by the filmiest of screens – there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.

We may go through life without suspecting their existence, but apply the requisite stimulus and at a touch they are there in all their completeness…

As creatures of habit, which we human beings tend to be, it is a constant challenge for us to integrate a range of stimuli, as well as introduce new ones, into our lives.

When we do, the result can be rich connections to new and different ways of processing our internal thoughts, the world around us, and the connections that exist between everyone and everything.

bbv-prismAt a pragmatic level, the result can be figuring out a new method to solve a problem that you’d previously been unable to solve at work.

Or, it could be a new design approach or creative technique that just wasn’t working in your prior attempts.

There are dozens of ways you can expose yourself to new stimuli, including simple things, like:

  • Cross your arms differently, when at rest
  • Part your hair on the opposite side of your usual part, or vary your morning prep routine in some other little ways, like brushing your teeth first rather than last
  • Take a different driving or walking route to your office or listen to a different radio station, along the way
  • At the office or your co-working space, talk to someone you don’t normally talk with
  • And on and on in your daily routines…

Our bodies are like prisms, with our minds containing a spectrum of knowledge, thoughts, and ideas.

To gain full access to this spectrum, you must find the many ways to experience the world differently. When you do, who knows what creative, new insights await?

I am a Bass Player

Bass ViolinWhen I was a 4th grader, my mom asked if I would like to play an instrument.

I don’t know exactly how I arrived at the bass violin, but that’s the one I ended up with, like the one in the picture.

It could be because I was always tall for my age, reaching six feet at about age 14 or 15.

(After that, I was fairly average height for boys in my high school.)

Playing the big bass, as I refer to it, was fine.

But, by the time I got to 6th grade, I had a six-string guitar and wanted to get a bass guitar, as well.

My first bass guitar was a knock-off Fender Precision bass, similar to the one in the photo.

Fender PrecisionI remember the “action” (i.e., the height of the strings from the neck) was relatively low, which made it easy to play.

But, the lower frets buzzed when played and I could never get rid of it, even when raising the action.

It was a decent bass but I wanted something newer and, frankly, cooler.

Gibson GrabberThen, Gibson introduced a line of rock bass guitars, with the primary models being the Ripper and the Grabber.

The names alone were cool! But, while the Ripper sounded more dangerous (and what skinny, pimply, math nerd isn’t desperate to be perceived as just a little dangerous?!), the Grabber was the cooler looking bass.

Why? Because while the Ripper has a conventional two pickup set-up, the Grabber has this crazy, single sliding pickup that you can move forward (toward the neck) for a bassier sound or backward (toward the bridge) for a treblier sound. Very innovative!

I loved that bass and kept it for quite awhile until I got the pièce de résistance – my Ibanez double neck bass and electric guitar.

Talk about a unique showpiece. The thing was massive and weighed a ton. But, no one else had or played anything like it.

Ibanez DoubleneckAnd, instrumentally, it put me on the same plane as my bass hero, Geddy Lee of Rush.

I ultimately traded that axe in for a brand new, tobacco sunburst Gibson SG guitar. I had always wanted an SG and was going through a serious AC/DC phase at the time. But, it’s a decision I regret to this day!

I only have one photo of me with that guitar – a grainy black-and-white that you can find on my Shadow the Rock Band page.

Fender MustangAnyhow, my best friend Jeff, took pity on me and more-or-less gave me a natural finish Fender Mustang bass, after I had gone for a period of time bass-less.

Jeff and I played many, many a gig together in high school and junior college.

Over the years, we traded guitars, records, new rock music discoveries, and brotherly insults.

In the future, I’ll cover guitars I’ve owned.

MoMA’s Curator Talks About the Future

I’ve been so busy, I’ve not yet had time to share any reflections on the 2015 SXSW Interactive sessions.

Among my favorites was Paolo Antonelli, curator of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Her keynote, entitled “Curious Bridges: How Designers Grow the Future” was, in my opinion, this year’s example of why I always plan to return to SXSW the next year.

If you wish, you can watch the entire, delightful and borderline provocative keynote, courtesy of the good people at Southby.

Much of her presentation revolved on the notion of “designing for the ‘in between’.” While I may be slightly off in my interpretation of her intent, this phrase seemed to be Paola’s way of referencing the essential role designers play connecting the imagined to the real.

Among the examples that she shared (and there were many) during her remarks, I was especially drawn to the ones that had bio- and nanotech references. This is largely due to one of the Powershift Group projects I’ve been supervising for the past six months, called Nano Global Corp.

Nano Global is focused on nanotechnology-based products into direct everyday consumer uses. These include skin protection, surface cleaning, safe food preparation, water and air purification, and many other practical applications.

Nanotech-based consumer products have the potential to improve the lives of tens of millions around the world. This is an especially urgent need, in the post-antibiotic age we’ve entered, where superbugs and fast-mutating germs are resistant to conventional treatments.

design - 1Back to Antonelli’s Southby keynote, there were several designer-inspired ideas that I found fascinating.

One was the pointy, polygon-shaped structure in the picture that almost looks like a building-sized virus itself.

But, far from being a virus, the structure is coated with nanoparticles that were meant to neutralize pollutants in the air.

In other words, it’s a giant air filter, sucking bad stuff out of the air.

Paola spent a significant portion of her time describing ways that science, design and architecture can work together. Artists want to share their art with the world; scientists want to make their science more useful.

Architecture provides a fascinating third way for these other two to come together in a way that is both pragmatic and beautiful.

design - 3Another more playful example that Antonelli mentioned was Moyasimon’s Tales of Agriculture.

This is a manga story about a boy who passionate about agriculture. In the story, the boy can see and talk to bacteria.

It’s a lovely way to represent what designers are actually thinking about, in terms of harnessing bacteria as worker bees that enable us to build a better future.

design - 2Taking it beyond bacteria, Antonelli closed with examples of the design of living beings.

One example she showed was Autodesk’s design of its own virus, in-vitro.

Another example she showed was MoMA’s latest acquisitions from the Wyss Institute, called organs-on-chip.

design - 4Organs-on-chip are designed to simulate how certain organs work, down to and including the interaction of nanoparticles and the body’s chemistry.

The point of these designs is very real: it is to create new, validated means of speeding new pharmaceuticals through their trials, to get life-saving and other beneficial drugs to market rapidly.

All-in-all, I found it a riveting SXSW keynote that will have me thinking about the possibilities of design, at least until SXSW 2016!

Austin Clean Energy Initiative Reunion

ACE-reunionThis is a photo of Allan (“Chip”) Wolfe and me, taken recently at a reunion lunch of what I liked to call the “Batman and Robin” of cleantech evangelizing in the early 2000s. NOTE: Chip was Batman; me, Robin.

What we’re each holding is the original copy of a modestly historic City of Austin resolution that we were proud to have received.

It says, simply: “Be it resolved by the City Council of the City of Austin: The City Council endorses the Mayor’s Task Force on the Economy’s Austin Clean Energy Initiative, adding the clean energy cluster to Austin’s local economy.”

You see, back in late 2001, it was pretty clear that a virtual neutron bomb had dropped on the economic activity of any US city that had been benefitting from the dot-com boom, what we know fondly refer to as “web 1.0.”

ACE-resolutionEarlier in the year, the Dow and S&P had shown their first sounds of cratering, under the dual weight of ridiculously overhyped dot-com investing and the drying up of Y2K remediation dollars, on which companies had spent billions. Throw in the third blow of 9/11, which happened that dark September day, and what you had was the Austin tech economy in a free fall.

Then, in early 2002, I found myself sitting in my friend and colleague Angelos Angelou’s office who more-or-less said “Hey, I’m going over to IC2 to sit in with some people who are getting together to talk about clean energy technologies. Want to come along?”

Having spent the first dozen years of my professional life growing up and doing business in the oil & gas patch of Houston, Texas, I was intrigued and said “Sure!”

That meeting is where I met Chip. Others I very clearly remember at that first meeting, in addition to Angelos and me, were Richard Amato (the 1st director of ATI’s Clean Energy Incubator), Randi Shade (before she made her 1st Austin City Council run), Dennis Corkran (operating his family business Corkran Energy at the time), and a handful of others.

At the time, I’d been scanning the economic landscape for sectors to invest some time & effort, including life sciences, biotech, financial services, social ventures, and others that were a few steps removed from the hobbling dot-com industry.

An_Inconvenient_Truth_Film_PosterWith this merry band of sisters and brothers, I instantly knew I’d found something. Mind you, this was a full four years before “An Inconvenient Truth” exploded on the scene and made cleantech and its evil twin, global warming, household discussion topics.

But, once we started talking, the group – which we dubbed the Austin Clean Energy Initiative, or ACE Initiative for short – saw with clear-eyed conviction that, not only was the time right, but in fact the Austin and central Texas region had an enormous cluster of industrial, environmental, university, and civic resources already present that made cleantech a natural candidate for entrepreneurial activity.

However, as it is unlikely to surprise you, few business leaders at the time saw things the way we did. To his credit, Will Wynn, Austin’s mayor at the time, did “get it” fairly immediately and became an important advocate of ACE.

But, to win over the rest of the business community, we had work to do. I’ll leave a description of those efforts to another day and a cup of coffee, if you are really interested.

To jump to the end, Chip and I – as Batman and Robin – and the rest of the ACE Initiative team (including a big shout out to Jon Lebkowsky, who I’ll call our “Alfred” of the team, which means he was really often the brains of the operation, but kind enough to let us take some credit!) met with hundreds of city, business, and academic leaders, all around Austin, Texas, and parts beyond, advocating our position.

ACE-reportThe effort culminated in the publication of a major report, commissioned by the ACE Initiative and rolled out at a significant press conference, that convincingly established what we had known — that Austin/central Texas had the resources, people and financial capital to be one of the major centers of cleantech entrepreneurial activity in the country.

We were quite proud of that 100-page report, which you can still download today, and have been pleased at its prescience (in that cleantech, indeed, did become a welcomed part of the entrepreneurial, business establishment in Austin) and its durability, with most of the main arguments researched in the report as valid today as they were at the time.

So, back to the Austin city council resolution, which I had found sandwiched in some old files I was cleaning out over New Year’s day. I hadn’t broken bread with Chip in over a year, so I thought it was time to pass the resolution from Robin to Batman and reminisce about one of my favorite advocacy projects in the 20 years I’ve been in Austin.


the-treachery-of-images-this-is-not-a-pipe-1948-magrittePerception is reality.

Change is the only constant.

Adapt or die.

The simplicity of these phrases is powerful.  But they belie a greater complexity.

There is perception and reality.

Some things don’t change.

Death, like adaptation, is a transitive state, not a permanent one.

I’m going to write more about this topic soon.  Stay tuned…

Goodbye China – Final Musings

IMG_42941 – I’ve picked up a parasite since traveling to China.

I told my wife that we would solve the world’s future energy problems if we could just decode the biological process of this bug. Because it basically turns everything I eat into gas and liquid.

Just think if you could do this with coal. Rather than burning it and unleashing noxious clouds of CO2, you could just burn the gas and use the liquid for hydro or cooling the gas burners or, heck, for watering your lawn.

2 – I was up before 4am this morning and on a plane by 6am.

It’s now midnight my body time, but I’m hanging in there with my overseas system. That system consists of staying awake as absolutely long as I possibly can.

That way, when I finally get to my Chinese destination, I can collapse in an exhausted stupor, have a good night’s sleep, and hit the ground running for a full day the next day.

The system has worked pretty well the past 2 trips; we’ll see about this one. We left about 8 hours ago which means that we still have nearly 6 hours to go. And I’ve come close to completely nodding off in mid-sentence reading, or in mid-swipe flipping through photos.

I’m listening to A Perfect Circle’s Judith hoping that some industrial metal will kick the brain awake for a bit. Maybe head back for a 3rd cup of coffee shortly, to stretch my legs as well.

SH farewell - 53 – I caught a break on my seat assignment this trip.

I managed to snag emergency row, aisle seats on both legs – from Austin to LA, then LA to Shanghai. And, to top it off, no one in the middle seat beside me, giving me lots of elbow and stretching room.

Of course, what this means on the Shanghai leg is that I get a ‘front row seat’ for watching the parade of travelers – almost all Chinese, although no one is immune – try to figure out the bathroom doors for the lavatories.

Nearly all doors have some form of handle on them in the rest of the world, right? So, naturally, people fumble with the various features of the door that suggest some form of handle, clever and unworkable as it may be.

However, there are no handles – you simply push the door from the outside, or pull it towards you if you are inside. But, person after person ambles up and studies, probes, pokes, pulls and finally (occasionally with help) pushes the door to get it open.

The other thing they do (or actually don’t do) is shut the lavatory door, often when they exit and occasionally after they enter. For example, a little boy age 5 or 6, has left the door open and peed at least three times in front of me and anyone else who cared to be walking by then.

I’ve learned it’s a relic of history and (somewhat) rural tradition that comes from a very communal style of life, where there is a lack of any kind of privacy.

4 – Clearly, China is working a form of evil selective amnesia over me.

Last trip, I hopped on the plane forgetting every electronics adapter that I have. Thus, I ended up borrowing a multi-prong extension cord from the office for a week that allows mixed voltage devices.

This trip, no sooner did I land than I realized that I forgot my China Mobile cell phone. The sad part was that I made sure to grab the specially pronged China adapter for it, on my way out of the house.

AppJamm - closing ceremony5 – I experienced 2 earthquake aftershocks this trip.

One was in the middle of a speech I was delivering, as the closing speaker of a weekend hack-a-thon that my company sponsored with Neusoft University, called the AppJamm.

The campus was in a suburb (a village, really) north of Chengdu. Chengdu is in Western, central China, not too far from Tibet in the province called Sichuan – the root of the cooking style of the same name.

The earthquake that struck the area on April 20 that killed over 100 people had happened the day before, causing numerous cancellations and delays to flights to the area (including mine).

Everything was running smoothly through the day and we had just presented the final awards. As I was talking, all of a sudden I noticed that the PowerPoint screen behind me was rocking wildly and I heard a collective gasp from the auditorium of students.

IMG_4679Whereas they felt the movement because they were all sitting, I didn’t feel anything since I was standing. Nonetheless, it was a disturbing event and I asked the professors if we should evacuate the auditorium, just in case. ‘No,’ they said: ‘Just keep going!’

Afterwards, one of my colleagues remarked that it was the most earthshaking speech he’d ever attended.

Then, the next day, I was in Shenyang, which is in far north east China, more northern than Pyongyang, North Korea. We had just completed our day’s meetings and were waiting for a driver to take us to the airport.

As we were hanging out in this Mediterranean-style coffee shop, all of a sudden the big umbrella over our table started to sway and the heavy wooden door to the coffee shop went ajar.

This time, I was sitting, and my colleague and I both felt the earth’s movement, for the solid 2 seconds or so that things were mildly rocking. We immediately checked Weibo and Wechat, both of which indicated that indeed a mild aftershock had struck.

6 – This is my last blog about China.

It’s an amazing country, with people who have an incredible drive to improve their lives and that of their children. It must be remembered that less than a generation ago, this economic leviathan was literally North Korean style, slave labor state during the Cultural Revolution.

So, when people (like me) marvel at the crazy, weird, opulent, goofy, inexplicable aspects of the country, one can’t forget how far and fast the country and its people have bounced back in such a short amount of time.

The country has many natural wonders and generous, friendly people. Just listen to the traffic-free morning of bird activity one morning in Chengdu. In addition to being the home of one of Neusoft’s three campuses, it has nearby Panda preserves and is near the ancient home of the Taoist religion.

Goodbye to all of my Chinese friends and work colleagues, both natives and ex-pats like myself, whom I met. I will always remember you.

The Golden Era of Law & Order

law & orderFor a couple of holiday seasons now, the one Christmas gift I’ve been wishing someone in my extended household would get me (but hasn’t yet) is the complete DVD compilation of Law & Order, the original franchise series.

Besides tying Gunsmoke for the record, longest-running TV series of all time, I think it is noteworthy because it was the perfectly-crafted, INTJ-targeted television show.

But, if I couldn’t have the whole series on DVD, then I’d have to pick the sequence of years when Jerry Orbach (detective Lennie Briscoe) was paired, first with Benjamin Bratt (det. Ray Curtis) and then with Jesse L. Martin (det. Ed Green).

I consider those the “Golden Years” of Law & Order.

Orbach, who was an accomplished theater performer and movie actor before he had a second career with Law & Order on TV, is the image of a committed-but-caring, wise-cracking-but-serious-about-getting-the-bad-guys, New York City detective – even if his portrayal bordered on farcical at times.

But, it is just that farce that helps make the show so weirdly enjoyable, for me.

Let me give you three brief scenes.

Nearly every show started with the initial crime, breaking for commercial just after the detectives briefly arrive on scene.  Invariably, Lennie would crack a wise one.

First scene, case in point:

Lennie’s partner, referring to a dead woman found in a hospital clinic: “She comes in for a biopsy and manages to get killed.”

Lennie: “I guess that’s why they call it managed care.”

ME lnoSecond scene:

A frequent foil for Lennie and his partners was the medical examiner Elizabeth Rodgers (wickedly, expertly played by Leslie Hendrix).  Here’s one of their exchanges.

They are talking in the medical examiner’s lab, nearby a victim on which the ME has been performing an autopsy.  The wall phone rings and the ME answers it and listens.  Then:

Med examiner: “Phone for you, detective.”

Detective, as he reaches for the phone and then suddenly pulls his hand back: “Is that brains?”

ME, pausing as she looks at her hand and then the phone that she’s still holding: “Egg salad, I think…”

Detective: “I’ll use the other phone.”

Finally, third scene – one of my all-time classics, with the dialog speed of a 30 Rock scene, again in the ME’s lab:

Lennie: “When can we get the final report, doc?”

ME: “Look, I’m busy. I got a body in the next room waiting to have a javelin removed from the chest.”

Lennie, dryly: “So… what made a nice girl like you get into this line of work?”

ME: “Free javelins.”

I know, I know – you probably saw that one coming.

In fact, I have no doubt that the appeal of the show was that most viewers thrived on that “I see it coming” element of the Law & Order plots.  A formula show, yes – the ultimate one, given its longevity and the fact that it still lives on, with differently titles variants, like Criminal Intent and Special Victims Unit.

There’s always next Christmas.