Friday, April 30, 2010

Enlightenment At Your Fingertips

I recently ran across an ad from the 50s on Facebook, from the Soda Pop Board of America, citing scientific studies and encouraging parents to start their children on cola earlier in life to improve their chances at a normal social life in their teens.

Some commentators see this ad as an indication of how far we've come. Others use it to demonstrate that Corporate America, for too long, has manipulated us with this kind of propaganda. Even Kevin Trudeau, who presents himself as a expert on, well, just about everything, used the ad in a diatribe about dishonest advertising.

Out of all the comments I've seen about this ad, only a couple have come close to the truth: that the ad is a fake.

It is not a hoax, for a hoax is something faked in order to convince others that it is real. Piltdown Man was a hoax. The Balloon Boy was a hoax. This ad was conceived as a joke.

It took me about five minutes to verify this. A Google search for "Soda Pop Board Of America" yielded only references to this ad, and no actual organization. Searching for the terms "soft drink" and "trade association" helped me find the American Beverage Association, which in the 1950s would have been called American Bottlers Of Carbonated Beverages.

Melissa Data quickly brought me to the conclusion that the address listed on the ad does not exist (always a good idea in a fake, to avoid someone at the actual address getting harrassed). And on the way I found a blog entry by the man who actually created the ad in the first place.

Much has been written about the lack of reliability of information found on the Web, but this is nothing new. Plenty of nonsense and misinformation made it into print long before the Internet, or for that matter moveable type. The aforementioned Kevin Trudeau was responsible for plenty of bad information in the pre-Internet era.

It's all a matter of getting back to the basics of research. For any given bit of information you seek, is to answer the question: "Whose business is it to know?" And then, you need a collection of trusted sources, sites where you know the information to be reliable.

With those principles in mind, the Internet is a magnificent resource for seeking the facts. It amazes me that so many will believe so much that is so unbelievable, when just a few minutes and a few keystrokes could get to the heart of the matter.

The Bucket List

I got the title, and the idea, from a movie of the same name, directed by Rob Reiner and starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. Two terminal cancer patients who fate throw into the same room decide to spend some time doing things on a "Bucket List," a list of things to do before you, well, kick the bucket.

I've decided I need a Bucket List, not because I have only months to live, but because an awful lot of what I'm doing now I wouldn't call living.

This isn't an exercise that should be done solo, unless one is planning to leave one's family. And since my family is the one thing in my life that I most want to keep, I'll do this with my family, so that we can decide on and share these experiences together.

Not that I won't have specific wishes that are mine alone, or mine and my wife's and none of the children's business. But it would much more exciting for everyone if we have things in our lives that we really, really wanted to do that we could share with each other.

Not to do someday. But to do as soon as we possibly can. Because we may not have only months to live (or perhaps we may, fate being what it is), but neither are we going to live forever.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

All the Great Books I've Never Read

I spend a lot of my time driving and, like most everyone else, working. I also have young children and a house under construction, and so I don't have a lot of time to read. I probably don't read more than 14 or 15 books a year.

But because of the long commute, and the less-than-challenging nature of my work, I listen to a lot of audiobooks. In fact, between ten hours a week of drive time and about six hours of work time I can spend listening, I probably hear more than 100 books every year.

Although this is a much better use of my time than, say, listening to talk radio, I mostly find the experience of listening to a book inferior to the experience of reading a book. But there are notable exceptions. If the reader is very, very good, then listening to the book is a joyful experience.

The Sofie Metropolis novels are read by Ana Fields. I listened to the first two, then read the third one because I couldn't get hold of an audio version. But having listened to Ana Fields portray these characters thoroughly enhanced my enjoyment of the reading experience. I kept getting her voice in my head, and that was a good thing.

The are a couple of books I'm glad I didn't have time to read, because I had the pleasure of listening to the authors read them instead. Most authors should not read their own books, but two wonderful exceptions that come to mind are the actor Alan Alda and the writer Neil Gaiman. Both of them added dimension to their own books that I could not have conjured out of my own head.

It might seem that Gaiman would be more of a surprise in that respect than Alda, since Alda is an actor, but it is not always, or even mostly, true that great actors make great readers. I have heard many actors lose almost all of the personality they put into their performances on stage or on camera when sitting in an empty booth with a microphone.

I've also noticed that certain authors bring out the worst in readers. I like Ernest Hemingway, but I've pretty much given up on finding a good audio version of any of his work, since everyone who reads him seems to get all quiet and flat, almost, it seems, out of reverence, when in fact his work is full of drama and emotion.

But those caveats aside, if you find yourself with too much drive time on your hands, or a job that doesn't require much from the symbolic processing part of your brain, I strongly suggest trying a good audiobook on for size.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Surprised By Sanity

Insanity has crept into my life over time, especially during the last decade when more and more of what I did with my life, and my family's life, defied all sense of reason. I knew, of course, that most of what I was doing with my life was insane, but I expected that sanity and reason would have to creep back in, as insanity had, over time.

Imagine my surprise when, sitting at my desk, I suddenly and without fanfare became sane.

Not that it has had any immediate effect on my day-to-day activities. It is easy to imagine a scene where I get up from my desk, work unfinished, and walk up to my boss and say, "I can't do this anymore."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Look, it has nothing to do with you, it's just that I can't do this anymore. It's just that I've gone sane."

But I have mouths to feed, and there it is. But now that I can see clearly that so many things in my life are clearly insane, I can accelerate the process of aligning life with my newfound sanity. I don't know where, exactly it will lead me; it is a story that may have no end, at least until I do, and so is bound to contain more than a few surprises.

Why Another Blog?

I already have blogs on a couple of different subjects. My family life, my thoughts about video production (that one's getting revamped and restarted), a review of what I'm finding out about the mortgage crisis, and so on.

I felt the need to start a blog that was not about any subject at all, where I could put random thoughts as they occur to me. Are these valuable thoughts? Probably not. But it's easier to dump them into a blog then to let them rattle around inside my head, where they might cause who knows what kind of damage.

Consider it a form of mental hygiene. Lucky for you, there are plenty of meaningful blogs out there (perhaps, even, one of mine), and leaving this one is a simple click away.

Are you still here?