Sunday, May 31, 2020

My White Privilege

In humble honor of those who died because they lack such privilege with police 

I hesitate to admit this, but I’ve never gotten a ticket for speeding or any other moving violation. In my 45 years of driving, I’ve been pulled over only a handful of times and have always just been admonished with something along the lines “be more careful in the future.”

In contrast, I know African Americans in their twenties who have been pulled over many more times already. I don’t think the issue is that I’m a better driver, but that I don’t look the part of a lawbreaker in the eyes of most police officers.
NYPD car from about when I ran a red light in 1985.
One story I often tell took place when I was in my twenties in NYC. I was driving my car east on 116th Street toward Broadway and Columbia University. I noticed a police car in my rear-view mirror. I was watching it and went through a red light. The police car’s lights and sirens turned on. I pulled over, coincidentally, in front of my church, Broadway Presbyterian. The officers asked me to get out of my car, put my hands on the hood, and spread my legs. They patted me down and once they were satisfied, asked me what happened. I explained and apologized profusely. One of them said that I should be more careful in the future.

During the whole episode, my biggest fears were of someone I knew seeing me in front of my church and having to explain to Susie that we would have to pay for a ticket. Neither happened and I went merrily on my way with a story to tell to poke fun at my foolishness. I never worried that the officers might hurt me or that I would get more than a ticket.

Me, from 1985, enjoying my privileges.
I did not know about the concept of white privilege when I was pulled over by the NYPD in 1985, but I enjoyed it then and still do now. I never asked for white privilege, but I can’t deny I have it. The question is what will I do with it and about it?

The one thing I must not do is be silent. I need to be vocal in my disapproval about anything that even hints of racism, especially in person where I can explain my viewpoint. I’d rather be seen as some sort of white-bashing, anti-racist than let casual statements go unchallenged. (However, I’m not likely to do so on social media, where social discourse is the exception rather than the rule.)

I also need to make greater efforts to listen to African-American voices, not just those of public figures, but people I encounter. Further, I need to make greater efforts to encounter more African Americans.

I watched a TED talk six years ago by Mellody Hobson about being what she calls color brave rather than color blind. It deeply affected me. I re-watched it this morning and listened to Chris Anderson’s 2018 interview with her. I have a long way to go, but in my life and work, I need to re-double my efforts to be color brave.

What will you do?

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Giro d’Italia 2019 – Day 2

The bandwidth at the hotel is poor, at best. That made doing Tuesday's blog entry hard. For now, I just have some notes and pictures. I will add more when I can.

Our group riding through a town with Giro decorations
I woke up this morning after a decent night's sleep. My wet clothes from yesterday were mostly dried by spending time on the radiators in our room. (I'm sharing rooms with my friend Rick.) We had a good breakfast. Today's ride was only 43 miles, but over 5,000 feet of climbing. The majority of that on the climb of Mortirolo. 

Today's route started with a pleasant ride through alpine villages and a long descent. I was thankful for the disc brakes on the Trek Domane SL7 I was riding. 

Photo along the Giro route
The highlight of the day, was a climb up Mortirolo. We went the "classic" route which was a 7-mile climb with an average grade of 10%. I had trouble when the grade got much over 12% (it went as high as 18%) and had to walk a decent bit of the way. When my speed was under 3mph, I was walking. (Of course, I wasn't going much faster pedaling!)

After riding up Mortirolo, supposedly the second hardest climb in Europe, we gathered for lunch. I was one of the last to get to the top, but some folks did not even attempt it. So, I was a bit disappointed, but not too badly. After lunch, we went outside to wait for the Giro riders to come up the same climb we had just don't. It was a bit foggy and drizzling, like it had been on our ride, but not bad. Over the next 20 minutes, the clouds descended and the rains fell. By the time the riders arrived it was pouring. 

Obligatory selfie in the Alps
The rider in the lead on Mortirolo was Giulio Ciccone, a young rider with Trek Segafredo. We will get a chance to meet that team tomorrow. They should be in a good mood as he went on to win the raise and is leading as the best climber in the Giro. 

Some more photos

The crowds near the top of Mortirolo shortly before the
clouds and rain rolled in, followed by the Giro riders

First two riders climbing Mortirolo

Monday, May 27, 2019

Giro d’Italia 2019 – Day 1

Happy to be about to ride despite the weather
I woke up this morning in Milan and took a commuter train thirty miles to Bergamo. The Trek Travel folks met us at the train station and took us by bus to where our ride started for the day. 

The cyclists in the Giro are resting today. We, however, are starting our cycling journey. Today's ride is the easiest of the week at around 30 miles with 3,500 feet of climbing. Check out my ride data on Strava for more info. Trek Travel supplied the Garmin, so it was not set up the way I like it. It will be for tomorrow's ride. 

Some of the other riders listening to the day's directions
Before we started the ride, we had a good lunch. There were lots of delicious Italian carbs to prepare us for the ride. I fear this may be a trip where I gain weight despite all the exercise!

The day was fairly dreary and drizzly with temperature in the 50s. However, we were riding in Italy, so all was good. 

Unfortunately, the weather minimized the opportunities for taking photos along the ride. I included below only one that I managed to take. 

The weather cleared enough to get a picture of this church
This evening we start off with some social time to get to know the other riders and guides a bit, followed by dinner. The three guides are from the Czech Republic and Italy. A couple of the riders are from Australia, but most are from the United States. I met folks from Augusta, Georgia, a couple cities in Texas, and San Francisco, California. I'm sure I will meet them all, though who knows if I'll remember their names. It is a pretty diverse group. It will be interesting to get to know them both on and off the road over the coming days. 

We have to start riding at 7:30am, so I'm going to post this early. Tomorrow's ride will have a lot more climbing including Mortirolo and finishes in the town we are staying in, Ponte di Legno. The weather may not be any better, but I'm looking forward to the day/fearful of it!

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Giro d’ Italia 2019 – Day 0

Sunrise as my plane descends to NYC's JFK airport
I’m just starting what should be an amazing week of cycling. I will be cycling in the mountains of north-eastern Italy on a Trek Travel trip. I’ll be riding with a group of 20 people during the last week of the Giro d’Italia, or Giro. The Giro is one of the three annual Grand Tours of professional cycling, the most famous of which is the Tour de France. Each is a 3-week long professional bike race covering over 2,000 miles. 

We will be riding some of the same mountains and roads as the professionals, though not at the same time! We will also be staying in the same towns and get to see some of the actual race. The Trek Travel folks take care of all of the logistics, including the bikes, and will be there to help if we have mechanical problems or just can't finish the day's riding. 

Milan's duomo, the third largest cathedral in Europe
I’ve long wanted to do a trip like this and a cycling buddy of mine, Rick, convinced me this was the year to do it. Or maybe, I begged him to let me come with him. I don't really remember. 

I’ve been trying to get ready for the ride for the last four months since I decided to go, but travel has made it hard to be as ready as I’d like. Still, I've been riding well. And, I got close to meeting my weight loss goal—after all, every two pounds less I weigh is 1% less work I need to do to climb a mountain! Regardless of whether I think I'm ready or not, the time has come and I'm excited to get started. 

The impressive interior of the duomo
The climbing on the route is somewhat intimidating. We may not be riding as far (or anywhere near as fast), but we will be riding on the same mountains and roads that cause the professionals' faces to look in agony during race coverage. Pretty much each of the six days is the sort of mountain ride that I normally would spend a couple months training for. We’ll see how I’m doing by the end!

The other intimidating thing is the weather forecast. I’m never sure what to believe when it comes to weather predictions, but they say to expect highs in the 50s and rain every day. There was some talk about one of the mountain passes on the race being closed due to snow. Oh boy!  

 arrived early this morning (Sunday) on a flight from JFK that left yesterday afternoon. I had to wake up before 4:00am yesterday to get to the Raleigh airport so I could fly to JFK and spend a 9-hour layover there. 

Rick photobombing my gelato picture
I checked into my hotel early and grabbed a couple hours sleep. Rick arrived later in the day. We walked around Milan and saw some of the sites in the old part of the city including the duomo (cathedral). 

We also enjoyed some good Italian food. Of course, that included some dulce de leche gelato. I promised to try and eat gelato every day I'm here. Hopefully, I will be up to that task! 

Tomorrow we'll take a train to Bergamo to meet the rest of the riders in our group and our tour guides, get properly fitted for our bikes, and ride about 30 miles (with about 4,000 feet of climb) to our hotel in Ponte di Legno. We are ready to ride! 

My goal is to post at the end of each day the output of my Garmin showing where I went (and how slowly), a few photos, and some highlights of the day. I expect to be pretty tired, so we'll see how that goes!  

Saturday, April 20, 2019

TED 2019 - Day 5

Canadian breakfast at its best--Tim Hortons
I started off my day, as I have most of the mornings that I’ve been here, with my favorite Canadian breakfast--a Tim Hortons' Canadian Maple donut with a cup of their coffee. At least this year I limited myself to one donut each morning. Progress?

Since it is the end of TED I'm going to take a slight diversion here and talk about the snacks at TED. Snacks have names like Vegetable Salad Rolls with Peanut Nuac Cham, Chickpea Falafels with Tomato Cumin Dip, Gluten Free Eggplant Parmesian Slider, and Rhubarb Syllabub Spiced Crumble. The ones I've eaten have generally tasted good, though I'm not convinced the fancy words make them healthier. Regardless, I'm sure to have put on a pound or two while being healthy! 

To make matters worse, they've decided that soda is not healthy. That is true, but I demand my right to destroy my body if I choose to! They do have cold containers of water, flavored water, kombucha, tea, coffee, and some liquds I was never able to quite figure out. There is Gatorade (because they are a sponsor, I assume) but no Diet Coke or Coke Zero to be found. Being here has been a real hardship!

Lots of healthy, if oddly described, snacks
To start the session titled Meaning, Eric Liu gave an infuriating talk. He felt that in order for the US, and the rest of the West, to preserve democracy, they need to implement what he called Civic Religion. He defined Civic Religion as a shared set of beliefs and practices. His Civic Religion uses the Constitution as its sacred text, meets weekly on Civic Saturday, sings songs together, and holds discussion groups to dive into and better understand American's foundational documents. He told of groups already successfully meeting. It sort of  sounded rosy, but what he described sounded like church without God and Jesus. 

The problem for me is that he is basically trying to rebuild American democracy not from a set of underlying beliefs like those of the Constitution's framers (largely Christian and Deist), but from a new made up religion. Rather than talking about the inalienable rights endowed by our Creator, those rights would be granted by the same documents. It would basically be a big circle--the morals that underpin the country's defining documents would be the documents themselves. I consider this idea one not worth spreading. 

America Ferrera told of her experiences trying to find work in Hollywood as a "chubby, Latina." She was constantly told that she was either not Latina enough (no accent) or that they liked her, but they didn't need someone like her. Her roles in Real Women Have Curves and Ugly Betty made her a success. She thought those roles would show that there was a demand for people like her, but Hollywood is still afraid or unable to create roles for someone not in the traditional categories. She has decided to stop trying to change herself and instead try to change Hollywood. I hope she is able to pull that off.

David Brooks is conservative journalist that I have often heard and enjoyed on NPR. I've heard him say that more than once he did not move away from conservatism, but rather it moved away from him. In  his talk, he described himself as "an average person with above average communication skills." He said that his true talent is going through what many others are going through and having the skills to tell about it. It was not the talk that I expected from Brooks, but there was a lot in it worth thinking about. 

He told about his 2013 divorce, loss of friends, and other changes in his life. His was lonely and his life was in a downward spiral. He came to understand that the emptiness of his new apartment was a reflection of his life. He was "in the valley." He felt that many others and the country have been in a similar valley over the last few years. 

The first real sun of the week for the last day of TED
He shared what he had learned as he crawled out of his valley. He now understands that you don't get true happiness from your career, your talents, or your successes. Instead we need to pursue joy. He defined happiness as the expansion of yourself and joy as the dissolving of your self. He now pursues joy in sharing the lives of others. He collects their stories such as one regarding a very large family with all sorts of children (theirs, adopted, and ones with no place to go). When he arrived and tried to shake one boy's hand, the response was, "We don't shake hands here, we hug." That is joy and a place he regularly visits when in town. 

Chris Anderson had a conversation earlier in the week with a young woman who had escaped from North Korea as a teenager. He felt her experiences were worth us all hearing in a TED talk. She was very nervous before she began speaking and closed her eyes for an uncomfortably long period of time. I was afraid this was going to be traumatic for her and a mistake for Chris. I was wrong and he was right. 

Yeonmi Park told her story including how her father went to prison for selling small things to make money to feed his family. She was always hungry and on the verge of starvation. She escaped at 13 with her older sister to China and eventually to the US. When people ask her why she took the risk, she responses that when your house is on fire, you jump out the window to at least have a chance of surviving. She related what it was like in North Korea. Her perspective was that of a teenager, so there are certainly things she did not know or understand, but what she shared was heart rending. She said the only word for love in North Korea is not for romantic love, but for love of the "Dear Leader." She was taught that he was an almighty god who could read her thoughts. She was afraid to think. 

She did not learn compassion. If someone was dying or dead by the side of the road, you just kept going. Only after she was away from North Korea for awhile did she realize that her Dear Leader was the only fat person in photos, that he was not starving like everyone else. 

She ended by warning that it had taken less than 70 years, only 3 generations, for North Korea to become what it is today. She said that freedom is fragile and we must preserve it. By the end, I had to wipe away a tear. Yes, that seems to happen to me at some point during most TED weeks. 

Freestyle Love Supreme improvs songs
to summarize the week
The closing summary of the week was by Freestyle Love Supreme, an improv band created by Anthony Veneziale who did the improv presentation yesterday. While one band member played the keyboard and another beatboxed, the other three summarized the week in song/rhyme from slides they had not seen that appeared over the stage. They were funny and a fitting end to the week of sessions. 

I'd encourage anyone who might read this to check regularly on as they will publish many of the talks I've described in the coming weeks and months. I've tried to point out ones I thought folks really need to see, but there are plenty of others well worth watching. Enjoy at your leisure, they are way better than most of the videos on the Internet! 

One other aside--TED did an incredible job with the set design. Each session had a different backdrop displayed on large projection screens behind the stage. These two pictures on the right show a couple of examples of the changes they made on the fly. Compare these to the one above from the closing musical summary and you can an idea of what they are able to do with very little time used for changing things up. 

It has been an exceptionally good TED  this year. There was a lot that I heard that I need to spend more time studying and thinking about. I plan to come back next year. 

At the end of each year I try to think about what changes I want to make personally and in Mark's and my company, Principled Technologies (PT). I did not come away with any changes I want to make to PT, though I still need to talk with Mark and see if he did. I did have some things for me personally. I need to do more to take care of myself, whether that is sleep, reading more, being more consistent in exercising (I did none this week), or spending more time studying the Bible and in prayer. 

Figuring out how to find time for those things is the challenge I now face. However, in the spirit of TED, that is an idea I know I need to figure out how to spread and implement. It's good to have challenges! 

Friday, April 19, 2019

TED 2019 – Day 4

It is the next to last day at TED and there were four sessions. It has been a good TED, though my brain and body are about at their limits. Fortunately, I'm not staying out late to party like some of the folks. It is listen/watch, eat, talk, and sleep (not long enough). 

Today started off with a breakfast gathering of 20 or so Christians attending TED. It was, as usual, a great time to pray and talk with fellow Christians. We shared struggles, triumphs, and aspirations and felt part of a community rather than outsiders of the TED community. It's a good group of folks and one I enjoy meeting with each year. 

The four sessions were titled Mystery, Play, Connection, and Wonder. The talks generally lived up to those titles. There were enough good ones, that i'm going to briefly summarize most, leave out some, and still have this entry a bit long. 

There were a couple sessions that discussed gaming. One was by Herman Narula who quoted some interesting numbers such as the average gamer age is 34 years old and there are currently 2.6B gamers. He told about his new technology for building much larger, immersive, multiplayer gaming worlds. He hopes to enable million-person worlds rather than today's much smaller, single-server (or cluster), duplicated shards/worlds. I don't share his enthusiasm for how such environments will be an unmitigated good, but it would be cool!

Emmett Shear showing the Twitch platform in action
Emmett Shear is the CEO and co-founder of Twitch, the streaming, game-watching service. Millions of people use the platform to watch others play games while commenting and interacting with other viewers. They have have even experimented with using the platform with NFL games. I don't want to listen to Ninja's opinions on football, but obviously others would. Shear portrayed the Twitch platform as a great place to "gather around campfires of like minded people" while watching someone game. My experience with online gaming conversations has never been quite so cozy and wholesome. It is often more like an angry mob of hecklers than folks singing kumbaya while giving words of encouragement. 

Throughout the talks, there were people enthusiastic about their pursuits. Even if their material was sometimes dry, their enthusiasm made them enjoyable to listen to. We heard people like Karen LLoyd about microbes below the surface of the Earth, Es Devlin about her incredible work designing sets for musical performances ranging from BeyoncĂ© to opera to U2, Asmeret Asefaw Berhe regarding soil and its ability to sequester carbon, Kristie Ebi about how excess CO2 is making plants yield less protein and vitamins, Juna Kollmeier about her efforts to map all the galaxies in the universe and stars in our own galaxy, Andrew Marantz regarding his work interviewing and trying to understand the people who purposely start, and take viral, lies and provocations, Jamie Paik about her prototype foldable/reconfigurable orogami-inspired robots (robogami), Janelle Shane and her amusing stories of AI gone wrong like suggesting that turdly is a good color name for a shade of brown paint, and Ivan Poupyrev about his advances in integrating device controls into fabric and clothing which he demonstrated by using the sleeve of his jacket to change the slide. (Run-on sentences like that are one of the many reasons why I need an editor!)

Matthew Walker on the importance and physiology of sleep

Matthew Walker is a sleep scientist, professor, and author of Why We Sleep. I've never needed to be convinced that I need more sleep, but now I know how important it is for my health. He cited a number of studies showing that sleep is necessary to learning, that the lack of sleep is linked to cancer, lower testosterone, Alzheimer's, and a generally lowered immune system, and that the WHO considers shift work as a probable carcinogen. I guess I need to go to bed earlier and buy his book. Someone commented on the irony of TED, a place where everyone is sleep-deprived, having a talk on the importance of getting enough sleep!

Anthony Veneziale did a fun performance of an improvised TED talk. The MC picked a title suggested by an audience member on the spot, Stumbling toward Intimacy. Then, Veneziale gave a talk using slides that he had never seen. He did a great job that almost sounded real while incorporating a crazy set of photos and charts.

Kishore Mahbubani is a US diplomat and researcher. He explained his belief that US and the West went to sleep just when China, India, and Asia woke up. China and India had long been the world's two largest economies until about 200 years ago when the West dominated due to its advances in economics (free market), outlook (improve yourself rather than be a victim of fate), and governance (emphasis on improving the welfare of all through health, education, and the rule of law). The West freely shared those ideas with the rest of the world. When Asia began to incorporate those ideas and rise again, the West felt invulnerable due to winning the cold war and turned much of its attention to the Middle East in the aftermath of 9/11. The West largely ignored or missed the rise of Asia. 

Mahbubani hopes and believes it is not too late for the West. His prescription is to be minimalist (stop wasting energy all over the world), multilateral (work with other governments and the UN), and Machiavellian (engage with other nations and find win-win situations). I fear the US is still subject to too much hubris and distraction, but I hope that he is right. 

Jon M. Chu telling of the making of Crazy Rich Asians
Jon M. Chu told about his life experiences growing up as an Asian in America and his desire from a young age to make movies. He became a successful movie maker, but began to want to find the right vehicle to feature Asians in lead roles. All of that led to turning the book Crazy Rich Asians into a successful movie. He mentioned a few times "a power bigger than us," but somehow managed to make that not spiritual, let alone religious. Despite that, I found it to be a very enjoyable talk. 

The last session of the day, titled Wonder, very much lived up to its name. The talks both both inspired wonder and were wonders. It started off with Beau Lotto and Cirque du Soleil. After some opening comments by Lotto, a pair of Cirque trapeze artists performed on the stage while a Cirque sand artist created incredible, changing and ephemeral pictures projected on one of the screens. Together they made for an awe-inspiring performance. 

Lotto then talked about awe and experiments he had done on people before and after Cirque du Soleil performances. In the preliminary results, they found evidence of brain changes indicative of awe. He then explained how such changes lower the brain's executive function and make people more open to connection. I've long wondered if our 21st Century lack of awe makes us less receptive to religion and spirituality. I look forward one day to reading more about his research. 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt on the importance of striving to pay
attention rather than to get attention
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the actor famous for roles in (500) Days of Summer, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, and Snowden, spoke compellingly about the need to strive for paying attention rather than getting attention. He felt it was important for him as an actor to think of his fellow actors as collaborators rather than competitors. Of course, because he is an actor, I was left wondering whether I was watching the true Gordon-Levitt or him acting. Regardless, it was well worth watching. 

Jon Gray, a self-described culinary evangelist, told about his efforts to not leave the Bronx behind as he became successful in his design career. Instead, he wanted to continue to be part of that community while trying to bring parts of it to the world. With some chef friends, he came up with Ghetto Gastro. It attempts to meld cuisine with the foods he grew up with and take the resulting foods around the world. His overriding goal is to "ignite conversations about race, class, and inclusion via the medium of food." It was a good talk, with a decided hip-hop beat and sensibility. 

Kelly speaks with Daniel Lismore in and amid his costumes
One of the oddest talks of the week was by Daniel Lismore who claimed that his life is art--not that he does performance art, but his whole life is art. He dresses in elaborate costumes that are works of art, but I really didn't get his concept of his life being art. He told of the importance of authenticity and claimed that his life as art was an example of that. I'm probably just an old fuddy-duddy, but I had trouble understanding how totally transforming himself was authentic. Regardless, his talk was oddly thought provoking. 

The session ended with a musical performance by Richard Bona from Cameroon. I had never heard of him or his music. I came away interested in hearing more of his gentle, complex, and soothing music. 
Another TED Celebration party where I did not dance or party!

The day ended with an elaborate party that was either also beyond my ability to comprehend or past my limits of endurance. The decor, food, and music were all rather good. Mark and I ate, had an interesting conversation with another attendee, and then gladly went back to our rooms for some well deserved rest. Plenty of others, however, were having a blast at the party. 

Time for this old fuddy-duddy to get some sleep!