The Wisdom of Plugging into #Unplug

There was a time when the notion of “unplugging” meant you were either euthanizing someone or going acoustic, or, in the case of Korn, both. These days, unplugging most often refers to turning off one’s various devices, signing off of social networks and generally diverting one’s stream of consciousness from one’s Twitter stream. Continue reading “Unplug”

How to Turn Your Profile into a Page (And Why I Did It)

Those who visit me on Facebook might have noticed the curtains drawn and an impressive array of new locks on the virtual doors.

Don?t worry, I haven’t unfriended you. I’ve simply became a page. By “page” I don’t mean a congressional page (that program was canceled) or a page a la ?apprentice squire? whom one might have seen scurrying around ye olde medieval manor. Nope, I just converted my profile into a page, which somehow sounds like I’ve been flattened into the two-dimensional Phantom Zone from Superman. Continue reading “How to Turn Your Profile into a Page (And Why I Did It)”

Slouching Toward Quadragenaria: On Turning 40 (Eventually)

39 StepsThe countdown has begun. In 90 days, I will be 40-years-old. It’s like the last trimester before I’m reborn as “quadragenarian,” which reads more like a dietary choice than an age past 39 but before 50.

In many ways, it is a dietary choice. At least according to my physician, who would prefer I answer questions like, “Would you like your customary two bottles of wine with your usual slab of well-marbled steak, sir?” with, “No, just a salad and tea, please – I’m a quadragenarian.”

You get this a lot when you’re on the precipice of 40: “Life begins at 40,” “Novelists are born at 40,” “40 is the new 25.” I can see from the ripe old age of 39 that the people who say that are full of crap. Nor do I think it’s particularly remarkable to have made it to 40, though more than a few in my cohort are guilty of uttering the histrionic phrase, “I never expected to live this long.”

I’m inclined to reply, “Yeah, you really jacked the dead pool. Say, weren’t you going to buy a motorcycle to allay your mid-life crisis? Nothing like two wheels, 750 cc’s and waning reflex response to even the odds.” Buh-bye.

The life expectancy for my generation is all over the map. Like our generation’s non-name, “X,” the actuarial tables for those of us born between 1966 and 1980 simply put an X where a number should be in terms of our lifespan. We know when the Baby Boomers are going to die (apparently never) and the Millennials (also never – they plan to upload their souls into Facebook).

But Gen X? We’re all hitting 40-plus and no one cares, sniff-sniff. A study from the Center for Work-Life Policy found that not only are we the smallest generation on earth, we’re allegedly in the prime of our lives and careers and are stepping into “crucial leadership roles and starting families.”

Let’s pause and visualize the collective spit-take on the part of everyone between the ages of 33 and 47. Yes, we’re all starting families because we all thought something more interesting might happen in the preceding 10 years (ah, nope). But leadership roles? First off, Gen X doesn’t lead because it doesn’t follow, dude. And second off, you don’t want to go where we’re going anyway. Where’s that you ask? In the motion picture version of this moment, I’d kick-start my heavily-financed V-twin, light up a hand-rolled organic American Spirit and say, “Just a little place I know called Obscurity,” and ride off into the sunset.

In real life, of course, the only damn fool thing I plan to do is tattoo my current hairline on my head so I can track my hair as it recedes like the ocean waves, baby. Actually, I’m not really losing my hair so much as my mind because I haven’t slept properly since our son was born.

Since I was 37 when the Cannoli was hatched, and our birthdays are mere days apart, my birthday has been consistently overshadowed by his. This year that will change. He will be 3 and I will be the “Big 4-0.” I will eat his cake and have mine too. Or at least I can pretend until I find him crowding into my chair and blowing out the candles on my cake because I need the help. It’s less embarrassing than having my wife fan the smoke alarms because I won’t be able to get the veritable “forest fire on a baking sheet” snuffed out in time.

We’ve been marking my toddler son’s growing height in a doorjamb. I’m going to start doing the same to chart how much I shrink. I fully anticipate that we’ll eventually meet in the middle. I’ve figured out when: I’m 13.3333333 times his mere 3 years, thus, he’ll be 13.3-etc. when he reaches my height. So, for the intervening decade, I will call him “Shorty.” Yes, I have more facility with name-calling than numbers, but mark my words, I’ll be right. And by then, he’ll have a complex. And by then, I won’t care. I’ll be a saucy 53.3. And that’s 4,837 days away. But who’s counting?

The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You

When those of a certain generation first hear of the “Filter Bubble,” they might reflect on that brief two weeks in the mid-’90s when the band Filter was kind of popular. These days, the Filter Bubble, according to former MoveOn.org executive director Eli Pariser, is the means by which the Information Superhighway functions more like a private driveway upon which only targeted and personalized information travels at the expense of the broader range of knowledge.

This shift to personalization raises as many questions about one’s online privacy as it does about censorship, whether it’s intentional or the result of an algorithm trying to give you what it thinks you might like – or buy. As Pariser explains in his book, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You, a personalized world is one that only serves to confirm our existing beliefs as determined by the digital breadcrumbs we’ve left along the way. When we only receive information aligned with our religious or social or political beliefs, “It’s difficult to maintain perspective,” suggests Pariser. Or, as he whimsically put it during a recent chat at Seattle’s Town Hall Center for Civic Life, “When you step to the side for a new perspective, it’s as if the world moves to meet your gaze.”

In an Amazon Q & A, in which Pariser credited the bookseller for its relative transparency as regards its product suggestions with the apropos example, “We’re showing you Brave New World because you bought 1984,” the Internet activist explained, “Research psychologists have known for a while that the media you consume shapes your identity. So when the media you consume is also shaped by your identity, you can slip into a weird feedback loop.”

“The technology is invisible. We don’t know who it thinks we are, what it thinks we’re actually interested in,” Pariser said to The Atlantic. “It locks us into a set of check boxes of interest rather than the full kind of human experience.”

Of course, the Filter Bubble is more the unintended consequence of a business strategy than an insidious plot on the part of a gaggle of geeks in Silicon Valley to control your Internet experience and by extension your thinking. The fact is, in some cases, we’re censoring it ourselves. As Pariser recently explained on KQED’s Forum, “Because Facebook mainly uses how many people ‘like’ something as a means of figuring out what they should show other people, what that means is that you see well-liked news on Facebook.”

Google, however, has 57 different ingredients in its secret sauce. Even when logged out of your account, Google gleans signals from your online behavior and applies them to a profile that it uses to tailor results more to your liking. Consequently, like a fingerprint, no two search results are the same for different users. Try it – it’s spooky.

It should be noted that the sources for this piece came entirely from links presented through the various mechanisms Pariser describes, so it’s likely only part of the story – the part the robots intended to be seen by someone in the media to be shared with those it knows are reading that media. When I asked him personally what content producers could do to override the algorithm, Pariser essentially said we’re SOL: “Content creators are at its mercy.” Time to crank the Filter.

Buzzy Logic: Jail House Rock + Facebook + Amazon = Book Deal


When it comes to publishing a memoir, the odds of obtaining an agent, bringing a book to market and selling it within one?s lifetime whilst the publishing industry endures seismic change, are astronomical. Local music scene fixture Buzzy Martin, however, aimed for the stars (and scored) by doing precisely none of the above.

Don’t Shoot! I’m the Guitar Man


, recounts an odyssey that began with Martin teaching music to at-risk kids to a stint playing tunes for hardboiled cons at San Quentin. Throughout, he brought back life lessons he shared with his young pupils ? think Scared Straight with power chords. This very paper applauded the book as ?a compelling portrait of the transformative power of music and of the impact that it can make on men from drastically different walks of life? and recommended highly.

Berkeley, an imprint of publishing juggernaut Penguin, released Martin?s book in a trade paperback edition last month. A film adaptation is underway.

Martin?s accomplishment is interesting on several levels, not least of which because the wild-haired and mustachioed guitarist never intended on being a writer. He wanted to be a rock star. ?That never happened and I have to cop to that and that?s okay but what did happen is that I?m changing the world in my own way.?

More specifically, Martin is changing the worlds of those he mentors through music and now words. Martin?s commitment to healing broken souls through music is total and he?s more inclined to discuss the issues faced by incarcerated kids than the vicissitudes of the publishing industry. However, his experience in this realm is an object lesson in persistence, friendship and belief in oneself ? attributes he tries to awaken in his students.

This is how he did it: After afternoons playing ZZ Top covers sand stewing in the existential experience of jailed felons, Martin would recount his experiences into a tape recorder to decompress during his commute home. Being computer-averse at the time, Martin later transcribed the six resulting 90-minute tapes by hand and later coaxed his wife into keying his words into a word processor.

Thereafter, Martin began working the material into a cogent narrative ? writing and rewriting until he ?had what I didn?t realize was called a manuscript.? With little notion how to proceed, Martin sought publishing advice from staffers at Copperfield?s Books who suggested he self-publish. With his wife?s continued assistance, he did. He then proceeded on an ill-fated campaign to place the book in the hands of juvenile hall inmates, which he perceived as his target audience.

?The only juvenile hall director I talked to said ?Don’? ever call me again, these kids are my fucking retirement, I?m not going to read your goddamn book? and that was it,? said Martin. Mike Grabowski, a professor in the Criminal Justice Program at Santa Rosa Junior College, had a markedly different response and made Martin?s self-published book required reading. ?That was the first ?yes,?? said Martin. It only takes one.

If the so-called ?vanity press? finds some authors gazing fondly at themselves in the mirror, Buzzy Martin is the opposite ? he went through the looking glass. When Martin finally got hip to Facebook he used it to connect to everyone from guitar players (Toto?s Steve Lukather among them) to criminal justice professionals and asked each if they would accept a copy of the self-published tome and review it on Amazon. The approbations rolled in.

Meanwhile, a friend?s wife at Penguin Books gifted a copy to a colleague who emailed Martin some kind words about the work. Contemporaneously, Martin pursued a contact in San Francisco?s juvenile court system who learned had quit and moved into a position at Prodigy Motion Pictures. She recognized the potential of Martin?s story, which also sparked with company founder Ray Robinson, which Martin shared with Penguin. He was offered a contract in a matter of days. The film contract followed shortly thereafter.

Don’t Shoot! I’m the Guitar Man


is available in 40 countries. It?s first printing sold out in six days. The movie is coming soon to theater near you.

Originally published in the North Bay Bohemian.