Starbucks: Not Discussing the Complexity of Racism

Not long after it happened, a friend of mine posted the viral video of the two black guys getting arrested and taken out of Starbucks.  I had a few initial thoughts.

  1. That sucks.
  2. This is going to trigger some serious outrage from the internet crowd.
  3. I wonder what actually happened here..

As the story goes, two young black men entered into a Starbucks waiting to meet a friend.  Without buying something first, one of them asks to use the washroom.  A Starbucks employee says that washrooms are for customers only.  Instead of making a purchase, the men simply grab a seat and wait for their friend to arrive.  At this time an employee, possibly the manager asks the men to leave.  They decline, saying that they’re waiting for a friend.  Whether or not they said something to the effect of we’ll buy something when our friend arrives isn’t something I’ve been able to track down.  After refusing to leave, the manager calls the police to remove them.  The police arrive a short time after and ask the men to leave again.  They decline again, saying that they’re waiting for a friend.  After the police ask multiple times without success, they’re placed under arrest.  As they’re being walked out, their friend (who happens to be a middle aged white guy) shows up and this is pretty much where the viral video starts.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and I can’t help but think that very few people are having a meaningful conversation about this.  It’s becoming formulaic at this point.  Minority is marginalized, video goes viral, internet produces outrage, company goes into damage control and *repeat*.  This isn’t how we make progress.  We have to make the effort to understand what really happened here if we want to avoid things like this happening in the future.  I’ll make that effort here.

I’ve spent plenty of time in Starbucks and I don’t even drink coffee.  When I used to work in finance, most meeting were coffee meetings and about half of them were at Starbucks.  I’ve also studied the history and operations of Starbucks quite closely for a variety of reasons.  Consider me a Starbucks pro.  I have a thing about being punctual so if I’m doing a Starbucks meeting, there’s a good chance I’m there 5-10 minutes early.  More often than not, I’ll grab my drink order when I arrive rather than waiting for the other person to avoid the perception of being a non-paying customer.  That said, on more than a few occasions, I’ve waited for the other person to arrive before placing an order and have never been approached by the staff.  I’ve also asked to use the washroom before making a purchase more than once and have never been told that it was for customers only.  This is where we need to start asking why and being honest with the answers we find.

Most of the Starbucks I’ve been to were in the finance district or in nice neighborhoods, the areas without much crime and where Starbucks employees generally felt safe.  I think that when you feel safe, you tend to care more about the well-being of others and are more likely to let things like this slide.  The neighborhood that I grew up in was different.  Washrooms at local gas stations or McDonalds would have special lights installed so that you couldn’t see your veins; preventing heroin addicts from using those washrooms for shooting up.  Employees at these establishments were much more guarded in how and when they would allow washroom access.  I don’t know Philadelphia that well, but looked up the crime rate in that area and it received an ‘F’.

Something else worth mentioning is that about a year ago, there was a robbery at a different Starbucks in Philadelphia.  In the early afternoon, a man walked up to the register with a gun and told the 19 year old female Starbucks employee to empty the register.  She quickly walked away from the register towards the back room and the man left shortly after.  The security footage shows a black man in his 30s, wearing a black hoodie.  Was this person the same person that refused to leave the Starbucks a few days ago?  Definitely not.  But I think it would be a mistake to assume that this incident has no relevance to what happened last week.  I would guess that word of this robbery probably spread quickly through the Philadelphia Starbucks scene.  I would also guess that there was some kind of message to those employees about following procedure around these things.

A year later, two black men, both dressed mostly in black and appearing to be in their mid-30s enter into a Starbucks in a rougher side of town.  After declining to make a purchase and declining to leave, what should the Starbucks employee do?  Follow procedure?  Procedure likely suggests to call the police.  The call to the police was simple,

“Hi, I have two gentleman in my cafe who are refusing to make a purchase and refusing to leave.”

The message from dispatch was also relatively simple, “We have a disturbance there, a group of males refusing to leave.”

When the police arrived, they calmly and politely asked the men several times to leave.  It was only after refusing over and over that they were arrested.

Unless they’re withholding parts of the transcript, this wasn’t as much of a racial issue as it’s being made out to be.  Mostly, this was an issue of two people refusing to make a purchase and refusing to leave.  Mostly.  There is an element of racism here which needs to be discussed.

I actually began writing this entry a couple days ago but wasn’t able to return to it until now.  I’m happy I had that time as I was able to learn an important detail which hadn’t been mentioned in the dozen or so articles I read about this.  The men entered the Starbucks at 4:35.  The police were called at 4:37.  2 minutes?  Really??  That smells heavily of prejudice.  I’m having a hard time not jumping to the conclusion of racial prejudice… but for the sake of discussion, I’ll carry on.

The first question I ask myself in these situations is how would this played out had we swapped black for white?  Two white men enter a Starbucks, refuse to make a purchase and refuse to leave.  Police are called to enforce company policy and the law, and the two white men still refuse to leave.  The two white men are arrested and removed from the premises.  Would the internet have reacted the same way?  Would we have considered this normal?  If that’s the story I had heard, my first reaction would’ve been “why didn’t these dummies just make a purchase?”  Because these gentlemen were black, we dare not say it.

My understanding of racism is not discriminating based on the color of someone’s skin.  Instead you judge someone based on the merits of their actions and the contents of their soul – good or bad.  I’m a big fan of Trevor Noah and he said something interesting about this situation, “I bet from now on, they’re going to be more careful when it comes to dealing with race.  You know what, I was thinking what black people should do?  I think we should see just how far we can push Starbucks now.  Just to mess with them.  Like, ya, now we go back after they’ve done the racial bias training and just use the bathroom but take all the toilet paper home with us.  Ya, y’all have a problem with this? No? No? No? No? You don’t? I appreciate your sensitivity, ya I do.”  He went on to give several entertaining examples of ‘how to mess with them’.  The beauty of good comedy is that it communicates hard truths in ways that people don’t mind hearing them.

When I see incidents perceived as racially charged, I often ask if it’s strictly a skin color thing.  I say this because I often wonder what has a greater impact on prejudice, skin color or dress code?  How would things have played out had these gentlemen been wearing suits?  How would it have played out if it was a couple of thugged out white guys with neck tattoos?  What if it was a well dressed white guy and a thugged out black guy?  What if it was a suited up black guy and a thugged out white guy?  What if it was a couple of Latinos wearing exactly what these black guys were wearing?  When does the color of your skin just become just one variable in your appearance?

Better understanding racism is something that’s very important to me.  This past weekend, I took a friend of mine out for breakfast and we had a great conversation about this stuff.  He’s Wesley Snipes black, originally from Somalia, but has spent most of his life living in major cities here.  As he put it, nobody second guesses him when he’s wearing a suit.  But once he goes out with a hoodie and fitted cap, people start making assumptions.  The truth is, I could probably go out wearing the exact same hoodie and cap and people wouldn’t make the same assumptions about me.  And there’s no way around it, that’s racism.

And after all that, I’ve now set the stage for what I think the real issue is:  Tribalism.

I grew up tribal just like many of us, but my tribe wasn’t based on race, it was based on where we were from.  We were from the hood.  We were proud to be from the hood and dressed like it to make sure people knew.  We wanted to carry the tribal markers of thugged out gangsters, making sure people knew that we were not to be taken lightly.  Getting looks from old white people was a point of pride.  Knowing that we had made them feel uneasy humored us.  Especially because we were also raised with good morals and values.  Despite the way we dressed, we weren’t the type to cause trouble.  Ironically, we were much more the type to hold doors open for others and walk old ladies across the street.  Maybe that’s why we got such a kick out of it.  But how were the old white people supposed to know this when all they had to go on was the way we dressed?

This is where I think it’s important to discuss what I’ve started to call tribal markers.  I had a conversation with a co-worker yesterday which I found to be illuminating and extremely impressive on their part.  We’ll call this individual Taylor.  Taylor has had a tough go of it, having been bullied excessively in school for being different and not having a strong support system at home to help rise above it.  Now in his 20s, Taylor’s navigating his sexuality with what seems to be a lack of clarity and certainty.  From what I understand, Taylor’s not quite sure where he falls on the spectrum of gender or even which gender he’s attracted to.  He’s exploring those dynamics and I truly admire it.  Around me, Taylor’s always been fairly soft spoken, and very kind.  At times, I would even notice him going out of his way to be nice to me.  Picking up on some subtleties in body language and how he interacts with me, I could tell that Taylor was struggling with something around me.  I had some ideas as to what it was, but didn’t focus on it since he had always made a clear effort for things to be positive between us.  Yesterday, he apologized for being weird around me.  He told me he was dealing with a lot of misplaced hate as a result of being bullied when he was younger.  With most of that bullying coming from straight white males, Taylor learned to identify them as the enemy, and that had unintentionally extended to myself.  He apologized because as he put it, in a way, that was a form of racism.  I thanked him for bringing this up, complemented the courage it took for him to do it, and told him I genuinely admired his weirdness.  It was my most honest answer and I’m very grateful to have had that conversation.

For the record, I tried to write this without using the word ‘he’ or ‘his’ and it’s just not how the English language is built at the moment.  I’m not big on compelled speech or having to memorize 50 new pronouns, but I certainly see the value in introducing a single non-gendered pronoun.  Anyways, I’m pretty sure he’s identifying more with the male side of that gender spectrum right now so I don’t feel like a total ass.  Carrying on..

I really appreciate the perspective Taylor shared with me because it helped me confirm part of my theory around tribalism and tribal markers.  Growing up, Taylor was bullied, I assume predominantly by straight white males.  As a result, Taylor saw a pattern that was worth being protected from.  Of course not all straight white males were bullies , but if he perceived that all the people who bullied him were straight white males, where do you draw that between us and them?  Here, he was faced with someone who carried all the tribal markers of someone who would harm him, but who has treated him with nothing but respect and appreciation.  I can’t understate how much I appreciate him facing this the way he did.  Not only does it show a tremendous amount of personal growth on his part, but it gave confidence to my strategy of just being a good person and waiting this kinda stuff out.

I’m familiar with what discrimination looks and feels like because I grew up as a minority.  For the most part, that discrimination faded away in my teens and 20s.  Now in my 30s, it’s back.  This time, it’s because I’m a straight white male.  Add the fact that I have a background in finance and drive an SUV, I seem to tick all the boxes for an oppressor.  Yet I’m not oppressive… and in reality, I’m big on liberation.  I’m big on exploring and embracing our weirdness, whatever that may be.  I’m big on supporting others in their pursuit of happiness and do my best to bring positivity to the world on a daily basis.  So why is it that in the age of open-mindedness, progressiveness, and acceptance, that so many are so quick to assume that I’m such a shitty person?

Tribalism.

Throughout history, when times get tough, people get tribal.  The United States was probably never more united than they were during WWII.  Times were tough, but they had a common enemy.  My friend from Somalia said that as bad as racism is here, it’s nothing compared to the racism back in Africa.  In Africa, almost everyone’s black but there are different kinds of black.  As he put it, they’re super close with one another when they have a common enemy, but once they lose that common enemy, they go back to being racist towards each other.  In many ways, times are even tougher today.  But without an obvious enemy, we’re drawing lines in the sand for the sake of protecting ourselves from an enemy we can’t identify.  The rich vs. the poor.  Men vs. Women.  LGBTQ+ vs. Cysgendered.  Religious vs. Atheist.  Black vs. White.  Liberal vs. Conservative.  Democrat vs. Republican.  Left vs. Right.  Seriously…. when we get to the point of drawing the line between left and right, especially without any real or consistent definition of what left or right is, we need to take a second to think about what we’re doing to ourselves.  We’re picking a team and turning the others into our enemies in the pursuit of emotional safety, but in the process, we’re tearing ourselves apart.

When every major media outlet has that video of the black guys getting arrested at the Starbucks set to auto-play as soon as you visit the site, of course the video goes viral.  And when you don’t include the context of all the things that led up to it, of course people will assume that it was an act of egregious racism.  And when the internet outrage machine goes into maximum overdrive, of course Starbucks will overreact in hopes that their overreaction is more significant than the public’s overreaction and that this somehow puts everything back in balance.  This is all craziness, and doesn’t provide a solution to the problem, only more hostility towards a situation which people don’t seem to want to  invest the time into understanding.

Those two black men had every right to be the color they are and wear what they wanted to wear.  Starbucks had every right to enforce a policy of asking someone to leave if they weren’t willing to make a purchase.  The police had every right to ask them to leave and to remove them when they wouldn’t.  And those two black men had every right to choose this as a moment to make a stand.   What happened here is rich in details and things that we should be having real conversations about – but we’re not.  I wish we were..

Had I been in the shoes of the manager, I would’ve let them use the washroom and probably would’ve let them hang out even if their friend never arrived.  Had I been the black guys, I would’ve bought a coffee.  If I was the dispatch, I would’ve asked for more details and had I been told that they weren’t being violent, I would’ve suggested waiting a few more minutes before sending anyone over.  If I was the police, I probably would’ve bought them a coffee and hung out with them until their friend arrived.  But I’m not one to follow policy when it doesn’t make sense.  I’m one to try and understand the situation for what it is and act like an intelligent and compassionate human being.

… but that’s just me.

Infinity War Prediction: Soul Stone

I’m a nerd, a recognizer of patterns, and someone who’s constantly trying to predict the future.  I just watched a clip on YouTube ‘What you need to know before watching Infinity Wars’.  Pretty sure I’ve watched each marvel movie six or seven times leading up to this so I’m probably not missing anything.. so I was surprised to know that the location of the Soul Stone was still a mystery.  Really?

I’m pretty sure the Soul Stone made its appearance in Black Panther.  I actually thought it was pretty obvious.  Unless I’m mistaken, it was the soul stone is what allowed T’Challa and Killmonger to visit the ancestral plane.  The MCU is big on keeping things within the scientific realm, even explaining in Dr. Strange that magic is simply science that we don’t yet understand.  As advanced as Wakanda is, I doubt that they would have been able to develop the technology necessary to visit the Ancestral Plane.  I think the most likely source of that ability would be the soul stone.

The other part that stands out to me is the potential connection between vibranium and the soul stone.  The infinity stones are demonstrated to be so powerful that they can’t be handled directly (for the most part).  The power stone has that ball thingy, the mind stone had Loki’s staff, then Vision’s forehead, the space stone within the tesseract, and apparently the reality stone is somehow in that floaty liquid.  So if the soul stone was in Wakanda, there had to be some protective casing: Enter vibranium

Once upon a time, vibranium was the metal that Cap’s shield was made from and what made it special was that it absorbed vibrations.  In Wakanda, it’s reintroduced as perhaps one of the most versatile materials in the known MCU.  What would be more fitting to contain an infinity stone?  I’m pretty sure that at one point, the soul stone was contained within a large mass of vibranium and it’s this vibranium mass that crashed into Wakanda.

The last piece I’ll speculate on is what that mass was.  The fact that it came from the cosmos aligns with it containing an infinity stone, but I’m curious about the origin of vibranium now.  Every other infinity stone was contained within something small and highly portable.  If I’m right, the soul stone was contained in something massive.  Considering how durable and versatile vibranium is, it seems like containing an infinity stone in something that large would be overkill.  If it wasn’t a natural rock formation and if it wasn’t a purpose built container for the infinity stone, what was it?  My first thought would be a ship of some sort that experienced a crash landing in Wakanda.  Reverse engineering of that ship could’ve led to the advanced technologies seen in Wakanda, but there wasn’t anything in Black Panther which would’ve indicated that.  So if not a ship.. what else?

A Celestial

I’m going way out on a limb with this one, but assuming continuity, it’s my best guess.  The events leading up to that crash landing are beyond me at this point, but I’m sure that if this is the case, it’ll be explained in Infinity War.  We know that the infinity stones have a close connection to the celestials and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that a celestial’s body could’ve been made from Vibranium.  In the first Guardians of the Galaxy, they’re introduced to Knowhere as the severed head of a celestial which has been harvested for all kinds of rare bio-organic material.  Vibranium was never mentioned, but then again, vibranium is a term which was coined on earth.  Who knows, maybe it’s the body of this celestial, containing the soul stone, which eventually crashed into earth.  Wouldn’t that be neat.

Struggling with Isolation

I was in bed at 11 and have been up since 3am.  Dove into reddit for a bit.  Then some clash of clans.  Can’t sleep.  Thought about going for a run.. but I hate running.  I’m struggling here.  Grabbed my laptop thinking maybe I would work one out and de-stress.  Ended up here instead.

I grew up surrounded by friends.  Whether it was me and a best friend adventuring around the city as kids, or me and the crew hanging out at my place on a Friday night playing video games over beers.  Not so much these days.

Normally I’m good with alone time.  But this has been different.  I separated my shoulder a couple months ago so I haven’t been able to play sports.  For the most part, basketball twice a week was the only time I would still see the crew.  The cost of living has kept them living with their parents, and me on the outskirts of town.  Even eating out is too expensive these days.  I miss those guys.  Those guys understood me through and through, never held anything against me, or I against them.  I could always be myself with them and not have to stress about it.  Times have changed.

Earlier this year, one of my closest friends (I was the best man at his wedding) decided that I had pissed him off enough to stop talking to me.  Never even told me why.  Just stopped texting me back or taking my calls.  The last interaction we had was when I had invited him and his wife over for dinner.  He called me a couple hours before hand and said he and the wife didn’t feel like driving out to my house and suggested that I bring the supplies over to their house and cook for them there.  I laughed it off and said that I wasn’t a personal chef and that we could reschedule for another time.  Eventually, I told him that my business was starting the process of hiring a new GM, a role which I had lined him up for since the beginning – and that if he still wanted to be involved, he and I needed to sort our shit out.  He responded quick enough, but basically said that I had pissed him off by disrespecting him and his wife (who’s also a close friend).  He started to make it sound like she had been upset about something and he was upset that she was upset.  I racked my brain so hard to figure out what it was that I had done, and the best that I could come up with is that they were upset that I declined to drive to their house and cook for them when they declined to drive to my house to let me cook for them.  We’ve since hung out a few times and things are mostly back to normal.. but we still haven’t tackled that topic.

Being injured and not being able to play sports and then having one of my closest friends pull that shit was tough.  It made me feel isolated.  I had also reached out to an ex-girlfriend back in December which didn’t go all that well.  I was excited to show her the ways in which I had grown since we dated last, as she was part of what inspired that growth.  She was working on her MBA in Singapore and kept saying that she would love to chat in real-time and catch up.  I kept saying sure, that would be great.  She kept not getting back to me after that.  In the process, she made it clear that she had assumed I hadn’t changed, and wasn’t all that interested in changing her perception or reconnecting in any way.  Fuuuuck me.

This is all along the backdrop of work, where I’m dealing with two founders who are under a level of stress that they’re not dealing with very well.  One founder snapped at me for not letting him proof read an email to an investor.  He’s never proofed my anything to anyone, nor would he have even understood the subject matter of the email even if he did.  Not to mention I told him specifically what would be in that email a few hours earlier at our weekly meeting.  He’s bugging out for other reasons, but this is how it’s showing up.  Then you have his wife, the other co-founder who, at times, almost looks for reasons to be upset with me.  With her, I can’t help but think that I carry all the tribal markers of someone she’s learned to feel threatened by… straight white male with a background in corporate finance who drives an SUV.  I’ve probably experienced more prejudice in this relationship than any other I’ve experienced.  Ironic, because she’s very far left.  Or maybe that’s not so ironic these days.  Both are good, decent people who with a clear and positive state of mind are very, very good to me.  But those moments can be the exception when they’re under the stress and pressure of a company which is growing beyond their ability to run.  Fortunately, that’s why they brought me in, but now they’re struggling to give up that control.

I find myself craving to be understood and accepted.  And connected.  I’ve always been understood and accepted by the crew, but they’re not around so much anymore.  I had that with my buddy, until he decided that whatever I did was enough to cut me out of his life for a few months but not enough to talk to me about what had happened.  Initially, I had that with the co-founders who had brought me into their start-up, until they started to let their stress levels get the best of them.  I had a deep sense of acceptance and being understood with the ex-girlfriend, but since we had dated and then stopped talking, she seemed to have lost all interest in showing it.  My dad would’ve been my go-to in these situations.. would’ve gone to his place for dinner.. told him what I was going through and he’d feed me, give me some advice, and send me on my way.  I miss him.  Don’t have that relationship with my mom.. siblings are in another country..

*deep breath*

When I see this happening around me, the first pattern I notice is that I’m the common factor.  It must be me.  It probably is.  I often joke around that I’m an ass, but I know I’m a good person who treats others well, even in the worst of conditions.  The harder life gets, the more I focus on not letting it affect how I treat others.  If anything, I let it motivate me to treat others better.  Asking the cashier how her day has been, striking up a conversation with the disabled guy who handles the shopping carts at my local grocery store, or hitting the pedestrian crossing for a car stuck at a flashing green light.  If life is going to be shitty to me, at least I can still brighten up someone else’s day.

The other pattern that I’ve noticed is that the people are running from the ideas that challenge their reality, and I do that often.  I know the value of having your reality challenged, it keeps you accountable to the truth and helps you avoid the bullshit in your life.  But it can be uncomfortable.  It can make you feel shitty when it happens, even if it’s what you need.  I’m all about delayed gratification so I’m all about embracing the shit.  But I’m starting to sense that I’m one of very few who’s interested in taking that approach.  As the world has become more challenging and confusing, I can’t help but think that people are retreating to their comfort zones and someone like me is not welcome there.  I live perpetually outside of my comfort zone and I embrace the challenges and growth that come with it.  Do I keep encouraging others to venture outside of their comfort zone?  Or do I allow them to be complacent within their belief system?

A few weeks ago, I reached out to a girl I had dated briefly a few years ago to wish her a happy birthday.  We started texting a bit and with us both big into super hero movies, I asked if she wanted to go see the new Black Panther.  She was pumped.  Until she ghosted.  She apologized, something about her schedule.  So we rescheduled, and she ghosted again.  When we dated the first time, she did something similar with a big event and I wasn’t having it.  My pride let me walk away from that in a hurry.  This time around, I was frustrated, but wanted to understand what was happening more than I wanted to punish her for wasting my time.  We spoke about it more candidly.  She asked why I had messaged her beyond the happy birthday and I was honest.  I had done a lot of growing up, but it left me feeling more awkward and misunderstood than ever.  Life was a lot easier when I was set on being the person that everyone wanted me to be.  Turns out being me was not so easy.  As beautiful as she was, she was no stranger to being awkward and misunderstood, and I thought maybe we could be awkward and misunderstood together.  I figured it was at least worth a date.  Had it happened, it would’ve been my first time being anywhere near a woman in more than a year.

She liked the idea, said that she understood and had decided that she really did want to spend some time with me.  So we scheduled another date.  This time she was feeling under the weather.  Fair enough, so let’s reschedule for a few days out?  Yes please, until she cancelled again for still being sick and heading out for a work trip in the morning.  0/4.  Fuuuuuck me.  Trying to be understanding.  Trying to be considerate.  Asked her what was going on, and not from a place of anger.  I told her that it sucked, being excited to see her and spend time with her, only for her to cancel over, and over, and over.  I told her I don’t think I can keep this up.  She assured me that she was very, very interested in seeing me and spending time with me.  If someone were to read our text conversations, you’d be optimistic this would go somewhere.  But it hasn’t.  She had some reservations, and some social anxiety… things I wanted to support her though.  She wanted me to support her though them as well.  But maybe I’m missing something.

She took off for her work trip Thursday morning, and we’ve texted a bunch since.  But as she got closer to coming back, the texts dried up.  Pretty much nothing on Saturday, she was driving back for most of Sunday, and yesterday was a quick text in the morning and nothing all day.  Even typing this, I feel like it comes off as needy but there’s more to it than that.  There are patterns hidden within styles of communication.  This is not the pattern of communication of someone who wants to spend time with me.  Or maybe I’m jumping the gun.  This is remarkably frustrating and confusing.

I know she has some social anxiety issues, I know she was super awkward around me when we dated before and while I adored her anyways, it’s still on her mind.  I know that she’s a good person with good intentions, but I don’t know if she’s capable of actually making this happen.  After she asked to reschedule date number 4, I did my best to help us figure things out.  I gave her every out, and she was still 100% determined to try and make this happen, and appreciated my understanding.  I told her that I still don’t know what that means.  It could mean what I hope it means, but it could also mean that as much as she’d like this to happen, she’s just not ready.

If I was in her shoes, and really wanted to see me, I would’ve tried to put something in the calendar for as soon as I was back.  She’s barely texted me at all in the last few days.  Normally, I wouldn’t overthink this but the messages she stopped responding after are not the types of messages that you leave hanging.  It’s probably the biggest reason why I couldn’t sleep tonight.  I told her I was under a fair bit of stress right now and while I was probably handling it well, it was tough.  Later in the evening, I sent her a video game meme.. still nothing.  In an age where people check their phones more often than they look at the time, seeing those messages and not responding is a message in itself isn’t it?  It was a pattern of reduced communication the closer we got to seeing each other… It’s a big part of why I couldn’t sleep tonight.  I wanted to send her a text that would basically say…. I don’t know what it would say.  Something to the effect of this sucks for me.  I keep putting myself out there and you keep running away.  I don’t want to keep doing this.  But I weigh that against being understanding of what she’s going through, and the possibility that if we could just get within physical distance of each other, the dynamic would shift and it might be everything we wanted it to.

I avoided sending anything her way, especially out of a state of frustration.  Maybe she lost/broke her phone, maybe she’s playing catch up with work, maybe.. maybe.. maybe. It doesn’t make sense to assume I know what’s going on here, but what’s my breaking point?  I know I’m not compromising who I am, nor am I allowing myself to be played.  I’m very aware of the situation and the younger me would’ve let his pride dictate my actions.  It’s exactly why she and I stopped dating before.  But had I allowed my pride to dictate my behavior this time around, I would’ve saved myself a lot of grief.

I often hope that my tendency to put myself through these things, and my ability to survive them will leave me a more balanced, humble, and appreciative person for when things do go well.  But my patience is being tested.. perhaps now more than ever.  My entire life seems to have been an effort of delayed gratification.  It’s not easy.  Down right shitty when I have to go through it alone.  But I refuse to let the situation define me.  Instead, I choose to define my situation.  It is not her who is standing me up, but me who understands and appreciates the challenges she is going through, and me who chooses to be patient with how she’s working through this.  But even so, at a certain point, I need to start respecting the impact this has on my emotional state and accept that she’s just not ready.  I’m right up against that edge right now and I guess the next 24 will reveal the rest.

 

 

I made a point of not putting this entry up when I wrote it.  It was an incomplete thought being pressured by my emotional state.  I didn’t have enough information to understand the situation at the time and I’m happy I waited.  She texted me back the next day, saying that things at work had become quite challenging and that she had been ignoring her phone almost entirely as a result.  We’re heading out for that date today.. probably some Ready Player One and some homemade sushi.  I’m cautiously optimistic it might actually happen.

Mindset of a Champion

I’ve been a big fan of mixed martial arts for a very long time.  I even had a brief career as an amateur fighter.  I credit so much of what I’ve learned about life to what I’ve learned in the gym.  Including the mindset of a champion.

Before I pat myself on the back too much, it’s important to concede that I was never a champion-caliber fighter.  I did well on the local scene, won a few tournaments and probably could’ve gone pro, but I knew that wasn’t my path.  When I refer to the mindset of a champion, I’m referring to a mindset that can be learned in or out of the cage, and applies to champions of any walk of life.

I was watching the fights last night and I was reminded of this dynamic again in the rematch between Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Thug Rose.  In the first fight, Joanna thought she was unstoppable.  She thought that she was the boogy-woman, someone who was so far above her peers that she could not be beat, and that she was destined to retire undefeated.  Then you had Rose, who had losses, been through a tremendous amount of adversity (personally and professionally), and had found her calm within that storm.  In their first match, Joanna did what she could to get in the head of Rose, but Rose stared right through her – reciting the lord’s prayer no less.  That fight ended up in a first round knock-out for Rose

(Thug Rose! Thug Rose! Thug Rose!)

When she gave her post-fight interview, I instantly became a big fan.  It’s one thing to throw bombs in the cage, it’s another to do it with the presence of mind of being a good human being.  In the age of inactive fighters throwing dollies through bus windows, Thug Rose shines bright.

Leading up to the rematch, I was very curious how things would play out.  Joanna was one of the most accomplished and dangerous strikers in her class.  She also had incredible takedown defense.  If she was able to make adjustments for the second fight, and not get knocked out in the first round, things could play out differently.  In the fight game, anyone can get clipped, anyone can get caught.  If you run the same fight back 10 times, you’ll get 10 different results.  Predicting how fights play out is something that I’ve done for a long time and I’m not half bad at it.  While there’s a lot to consider in making those predictions, few are more important than state of mind.

After Joanna lost the belt, her reality had fractured.  Before that fight, she had an *absolute belief* that she was the best in the world and that she could not be beat.  It was this supreme level of confidence that helped her get into the head of her opponents as well as helping her perform as well as she did in the cage.  But after that fight, where she had been viciously knocked out, she had to find a way to reconcile these two opposing realities.  One in which she was unstoppable and would never lose, and one in which she had been defeated, by knockout, and where she was no longer the champion.  I find that how we face these hard truths largely determine what we’re able to learn from them and what we learn from them largely determines how we grow as individuals.

Coming into the rematch, Joanna kept saying that she was still number 1, that she was a dominant champion for a reason, that it was a bad weight cut which left her susceptible to the knockout, that she needed to replace her nutritionist, and that it was a fluke KO.  She had a choice of embracing a new reality in which she was no longer champion and had been beat by a fighter who was better that night, or rationalizing why she could remain in her own reality where she was still the best.  One reality provides the raw materials for an exceptional moment of growth while the other provides the comfort of not needing to change.  One is the mindset of the champion and one is the mindset of someone who has peaked.  Rhona Rousey might know a thing or two about this.

This is one of the reasons why I’m such a fan of Thug Rose.  Coming off that win, coming off becoming a 25 year old champion in one of the world’s most unforgiving activities, she was just as humble, aware, and open-minded as ever.  She entered into this fight with the mindset of a champion, who was competing for a belt she didn’t yet have.  Some might say, ‘but she was the champion’.  Well, what is a champion?  Someone with a decorative belt?  That’s just hardware.  The best?  Anyone can be beaten on any given night.  The one who everyone perceives as being the best?  Public opinion is fickle.

So what is a champion, and what exactly is the mindset of a champion?

A champion is someone who has been given the title of champion.  No more, no less.   It’s borderline arbitrary.  What’s meaningful is the path it took for the person to get there and earn that distinction.  Rhonda Rousey earned her first championship belt without a fight.  Khabib Nurmagomedov earned his first championship belt after a career of being undefeated, multiple injuries, and 5 opponent changes in 7 days.  It’s about the people.. it’s about the journey.

If a champion is someone who’s been given the title of champion, and it makes more sense to focus on the people and journey, then it’s really the mindset of a champion that deserves our attention.  There’s a dynamic here which cannot be overlooked and it’s a dynamic of confidence.  A fighter who isn’t confident in their abilities will be hesitant, and it’s those split second differences that separate the good from the best.  It’s why so many fights are won and lost in the minds of fighters before they even enter the cage.  If a confident fighter has a distinct advantage over a fighter who isn’t confidence, it starts to make sense why so many championship caliber fighters think they’re god’s gift to MMA.  It’s almost like a trick you play on your own mind, saying that you’re the best before you ever knew you were.  But then you win, and you win again, and for the 0.0001% who become a UFC champion, you’ve almost validated the lie you’ve been telling yourself for years.  And then that lie becomes your reality.  And then your reality becomes fragile.

My question is why does one have to draw confidence from a lie, when the truth is that much more powerful?  Why would you tell yourself that you’re undeniably the best when you could look at your competition and let them inspire you to be even better?  Why would you think that you’re incapable of losing, when a loss would give you more to learn from than any win?  And so I would suggest that there is a difference between someone who is a champion, and someone who has the mindset of a champion.

A fighter like Rhonda Rousey had the skills and confidence to be a dominant champion for many years, but lacked the mindset of a champion to overcome her losses.  Reconciling a lifetime of thinking she was unbeatable with being brutally knocked out in back to back fights was enough to break her.  She lacked the skills necessary to use those losses to evolve, and instead retired into another fantasy, the WWE.  At least she can be a champion there right?  Then you have fighters like Demetrious Johnson, or George St. Pierre, or countless others who have let their losses inspire greatness from within.

Realizing your place within the universe, being able to understand your situation for what it is (and what it isn’t) has to be one of the most important important qualities any person can have.  It requires a tremendous amount of courage at times, to see yourself or the world as it is, especially when you see something you’d rather not see.  But when given the choice to ignore it, rationalize around it, or rise above it, the choice should be clear.  If you can back that up with the skills to pay the bills… that’s a real champion.

The Digital Dimension

Remember Elon saying that there was a good chance that we were a part of an advanced civilization’s computer simulation?

And now we have all this multi-verse theory with infinite possibilities across infinite dimensions.  Aww jeez.

But how?

Here’s one idea.. a digital dimension.  Bear with me on this.

If it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck, is it a duck?

If you couldn’t tell the difference between your reality and a digitally simulated reality, then is the digitally simulated reality not just an alternate reality?  If they both carried the same laws of physics, same galaxies, same solar systems, same planets, same people, is there really a difference?

But what if you were to simulate a different set of physical laws, in a newly designed universe with new planets and new species? How would you classify this reality?

How can you be sure that you’re not in it now?

And how would one go about designing such a digital reality?  The idea of intelligent design, suggesting that the evolution of the universe from it’s origin to the present day was a planned out process seems unrealistic.  Too many variables over too much time.  But who’s to say that intelligent design couldn’t have been part of the equation?

If I was in the business of creating universes, this might be my approach:

  1. Design a set of physical laws which would govern the physical world.
  2. Bring all the contents of this physical universe into a single point, creating an immense pressure to expand
  3. Pop the bubble and see what happens

So who’s to say you couldn’t build this scenario within a digital universe?  Assuming the computing power was available, you could take the contents of a universe, compress them into a single point, with predetermined physical laws, and hit enter.  If that simulation were to run long enough, say 13.8 billion years, would you be all that surprised to find intelligent life within your digital universe?  Perhaps even intelligent life who had begun to understand the origins of your creation?

I’d like to push this out to one more thought.  Would it be possible to create a different set of physical laws that the ones we’ve observed?  Could light travel twice as fast? What about half the speed?  How would this impact all the other physical laws? Error?  How many of our physical laws are functions of other, more fundamental physical laws?  How inter-connected are they?  I would guess completely.  If so, could you change one without changing the rest?  Is there a recipe for a functional universe beyond the laws which exist here?

Hmm…

 

 

Business Ideas: Take-a-Tic App

So I was at the city’s development permit office the other day and just like the DMV or any other government run admin set-up, they asked me to take a ticket and wait for my number to be called.  Problem is that this office takes about a day to get through the queue.  No joke, I’ve shown up at 9am up in the morning, only to be told at 445pm that they wouldn’t be able to get to me today.

Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.  I did arrive early in the morning and I did take a ticket but I didn’t stay there all day.  The ticket system that they have is digital and there’s a city URL which lets you monitor your queue so that you can go about your day and pop back in when your number is close.  That’s definitely a step up from having to commit and entire day to waiting in that line without knowing if they’ll get to you… but not by much.  It did however give me an idea.

A few years ago, a new steakhouse opened up in a trendy part of town and apparently it had the nicest patio in the whole city.  A few friends and I were hanging out at a friend’s place a few blocks away and thought we’d try them for dinner.  When we arrived, we were told that it would be an hour wait.  We were about to decline but they suggested we take what looked like a puck with a bunch of blinking lights on it.  Apparently, this contraption would blink and buzz when our table was available.  We figured sure, why not.  We went to a restaurant a few doors down and started with a few drinks but ended up ordering food anyways.  Ironically, the thing didn’t buzz until we were back at my friend’s place a few hours later.  Now it’s a coaster.

That was the first time I had seen one of those, but I’ve seen them plenty more since.  I don’t like it.  There’s a better way of doing this.

What if… there was an app for that?

Let’s call this app take-a-tic, a shameless rip off of a friend’s company, Picatic.  I swear I’ll come up with a better name if I ever pull the trigger on this.  Anyways, the idea is that this is line-up management software.  Whether you’re a restaurant, a city by-law office, or somewhere in between, this just seems… more efficient.

Imagine walking into the DMV and seeing a crowd of people that probably amounts to a wait time of at least an hour.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.  So you head to the front counter and ‘take-a-tic’.  Instead of getting a piece of paper with a number on it, your position in the queue is loaded into your app.  It would be fun to think of all the paper we’d save but I’m far more interested in all the time we’d save.  Imagine being able to leave and getting a notification of when you should head back.  Imagine the app using your GPS, knowing how far you’ve gone, how long it’ll take to get back, and then takes that into consideration for when to send you a reminder.  Imagine being notified at the most inconvenient time and being able to hit the snooze button and let a few people go ahead of you without losing your place in line.  Not bad right?

While the convenience is certainly there for the user, it needs to make sense for the business as well.  There are more demands on our time than perhaps ever before and when a business says their cost savings is more important than your time.. it tends to not go over well.  When you show your customers that you value their time, you tend to end up with happy customers.  As with any scalable app, data analytics come into play and in this case, could help businesses better manage their queue.  Finally, and perhaps the most obvious: cost savings.  Without any need for hardware or physical tickets, the only real cost is the subscription to the service.

My first thought when looking to poke holes in this was nobody’s going to download an app just to wait in your line.  If they have the choice between that and the blinking coaster, they probably take the blinking coaster 8 out of 10 times.  But… what if everyone used the same app?  What if you downloaded the app for dinner a few weeks ago, but through out the year was able to use it at several other businesses?  What if every long lineup was equipped with this tech?  Well, now it has merit.  And if everyone is using it, it opens up a few more possibilities.

What if you were thinking about going to the DMV today but wasn’t sure about how to schedule it in?  What if you could open your app, search the DMV, and see what their queue was like today?  What if it came with comparisons to last week and this time last year?  What if you could even jump in the queue from home?  I’ll admit that last one might create more problems than it solves.. but maybe not.

If you were to give someone the ability to lineup from home, then you’re likely going to boost your no-show rate.  But what if there was a way to screen for that?  If everyone was using the app, perhaps businesses would have the ability to view a user’s no-show rate.  Or maybe it would make sense for the business to set the bar for who can line up from home.  For example, I probably show up to 95% of my commitments on time or early.  If a business could see that, they would have no issues with me jumping in the queue from home.  But lets say my no-show rate on the app was 50%, businesses would have the option to bounce that request.

What this all amounts to is efficiency of time.  I’m the first to avoid a place if it has a long line up.  45 minute wait for brunch?  No thanks.  Line up to get in the club?  Ya right.  Might be able to fit you in at the bar in about an hour?  Bite me.  But there are some lines you can’t avoid.  For those, I’d love to have access to something like this.  If it was mass-adopted, imagine how many hours could be used more efficiently.  Who knows, something like that might even boost GDP, haha.

A Digital Nation

I’m a problem solver by nature and the bigger the problem, the more interested I am in solving it.  In looking to solve things like gun violence, the application of democracy, educational inefficiencies, or health care, I often end up back in the same place – the system for creating change is deeply flawed.

I don’t mind a flawed system, most are.  What I do mind is a reluctance to face those flaws and solve them for the sake of progress.  In the world of business, poorly run companies go bankrupt.  In the world of politics, poorly run governments increase their national debt while raising tax on their citizens – and continue on.  In the great recession, the big 3 auto-manufacturers were running their businesses poorly and were on the verge of bankruptcy because of it.  Some argued that allowing them to fail would be catastrophic to the American economy and that losing those jobs were not an option.  I would argue that failing businesses should be allowed to fail so that from their ashes, ingenuity and integrity may have the opportunity to build something better.  Instead, 2 of those companies were bailed out and 10 years later, not much has changed.  Had they been allowed to fail, I wonder if Tesla would be the only major new entry in the auto-industry in the last several decades.

Tesla wasn’t the first crack at the electric car either.  We tried that back in the 90s but the system we exist in allows large business interests to influence government policy.  Auto-manufacturers weren’t overly interested in the R&D necessary to tackle electric cars and the oil industry wasn’t interested in the competition – so they lobbied.  A government which allows well-funded business interests to limit the innovation and competition in their industry is deeply flawed.

So how do you fix these problems?  Run as a member of a major party and try to create change from within?  I’ve experienced first hand how change from within can be an unrealistic approach, especially when you require the cooperation of those who would rather keep things the same.  Run as an independent?  Good luck getting any legislation passed in a 2 party system.  Try and operate outside the government?  They don’t take kindly to that.  Start your own country?  All viable land has already been claimed.

What to do.. what to do..

My pipe dream was to develop the technology necessary to build large, stable islands.  Once you built an island large enough, you could claim it and start your own country.  With a progressive game plan, you could easily lure great minds and great businesses.  Together, you could set the example for the rest of the world on how things could be done.

I think Elon Musk’s plan is similar, but he prefers the buffer of 50 million miles of empty space.  Given Russia’s announcement of their nuclear missile with indefinite range and all the other fun stuff going on, he might be on to something.

While these are fun contingency plans to think of, it’s overlooking something important.  Life always finds a way.  There’s a natural progression to what happens next and I think we’re starting to see it.

We’re moving from an analog reality to a digital reality.

I’ve watched a few animes over the years which touched on the subject of a futuristic society that was digitally based, and I couldn’t help but connect the dots.  When I saw the first trailer for Ready Player One, I knew it wasn’t just me seeing where we were headed.  With the film out last week and on my way to see it tonight, I wanted to put a journal entry together to document my thoughts before they’re further inspired by what looks to be a Spielberg masterpiece.

For anyone who still needs some context, a digital reality is the inevitable evolution of virtual reality.  Virtual reality as it exists today is rather limited but the momentum is there and we seem to be approaching a new plateau.  Within the R&D being done right now, there’s a focus on getting your brain to accept that the illusion is real.  If that sounds like hocus pocus, you’d be right.  For as long as magicians and illusionists have existed, there has been a craft designed around the manipulation of your senses.  As complex as the the mind is, and as good as it is at processing the outside world, it can be fooled.  Right now, the holy grail in virtual reality is getting your mind to forget that it’s within a virtual reality.

There’s an idea that we all hallucinate our own reality.  Some are quick to dismiss the thought, thinking that what they’re experiencing is the same reality that everyone else is experiencing – but they would be wrong.  Everyone’s mind is constantly collecting information from all of its senses and continually trying to make sense of all of its surroundings.  If those senses are your input, your hallucination is the digital rendering.  And this is the genius of true virtual reality, where all of your inputs have been taken over, and your mind hallucinates your new digital reality.

On the path to a true virtual reality, we have much ground to cover.  Sound is perhaps easiest, sight is where the most progress is being made today, and touch is where new ground is being broken.  There are a few people putting energy towards taste and smell but they don’t seem to be a priority right now (although I can’t help but think that smell may be one of the most immersive inputs).  The piece of tech which I’m most interested in at the moment is the haptic suit, a full body suit which allows for a very real sense of touch.  Within the next 10 years, I think it’s extremely likely that we’ll have sight, sound, and touch dialed in at a very high level.  But perhaps this is where we’ll plateau.  The biggest obstacle I see in VR is getting to the point where we have this brilliant digital universe to explore, only to be bumping into the couch and TV at home as we try.

As I’m trying to map out the future of virtual reality, I’m seeing an eventual division between analog and digital.  Analog will be with the helmet, headphones, haptic suit, and everything else.  Digital will be with what Elon and a few other think tanks are working on right now, a direct neural link.  I don’t understand the science well enough to know what the timeline on something like this is but with the ramp up of AI, it’ll probably come quicker than we’re ready for.  I suspect that this will be the technological jump that truly takes us into the digital age.

Today, so much of what we already do exists in the digital realm.  Our work, our social lives, the way we learn, the way we play, the way we explore, the way we communicate…  it’s now all digital first.  What some of us may not realize or want to accept is that we’re already one foot in the digital world.  We just have a low-bandwidth way of accessing it.  What if it wasn’t through our thumbs on our phones or fingers on our keyboards that we accessed our digital world?  What if we could interact with the digital world as quickly and accurately as we interact with the physical world?  What would that look like?  What would that lead to?  Or maybe there’s another way of looking at this.  If this is the direction we’re already headed in, what problem is this a solution to?

Well, what  if the current level of inequality in the world persisted?

Well, life finds a way…

I’ve watched very closely as the disposable income of the lower and middle class has evaporated over the past decades.  Half your income goes to tax, of what’s left, half goes to rent, of what’s left, you try to live a life you’re happy with.  It’s failing.  And when going outside begins to cost significantly more than staying in, dynamics start to change.

Personally, I’m feeling a very real resistance to leaving my house because of how much it costs.  Rent is so high right now that to remain on budget, I moved to the edge of the city I’m in.  Our city is paying the highest fuel costs in North America, which means anytime I want to go anywhere, I’m mindful of fuel and parking.  High costs of real estate mean business owners need to increase their prices to stay open.  That means the cost of eating out or shopping at local businesses becomes prohibitive.  I used to eat out several nights a week with friends for the company and experience.  Now we all stay in.

Stagnant wages in tandem with a drastic increase in the cost of living has left the younger generations without much to work with.  So we rose to the occasion and introduced the world to the sharing economy and decentralization.  Knowing this leaves me optimistic about our future.  I suppose I’m pretty optimistic in general, but that’s not to say that I don’t see the other side.

Through the trailers of Ready Player One, it looks to take place about 20-30 years in the future where many of today’s biggest problems haven’t been solved – in all likelihood, they’ve gotten worse.  In a world where the cost of living rises faster than income and a minimum wage doesn’t afford you a minimum lifestyle, in a world where government has forgotten its responsibility to the people and in a world where a handful of people horde the majority of the world’s wealth… where do the rest of us go?

According to Spielberg… into the Oasis.

I can’t help but think that I’m glimpsing that future now.  As the digital approach has made things easier and more convenient, we’ve adopted them.  From our finances to our social lives, we’re already most of the way there.  What I think may determine how quickly we move towards being fully immersed in this digital reality is going to be a function of cost.

If it continues to cost more to be outside than to stay in, we’re going to come up with better reasons for staying in.  Virtual commuting, virtual sporting events, virtual concerts, virtual dating… virtual sex… did I mention that porn was likely going to be one of the biggest drivers for advances in VR?  I digress.  If it costs $100 to go out and have the full analog experience, or $10 to have a virtual experience that’s most of the way there, which would you choose?  And what if you didn’t have $100?

Personally, I’m kind of excited about event-based virtual reality.  Big Jay Z concert on tonight?  Don’t want to spend $200 or deal with the lines and crowds?  No problem, just put on your VR headset with your VR headphones and you’ll be teleported to a front row seat where you can H to the Izzo along with everyone else.  Now imagine being ring-side for a big UFC match… or pitch-side at a world cup finals where you didn’t have to pay for the flight, hotel, and rental car.. and where you go back to your normal life when you take the VR kit off.  That sounds pretty darn neat to me.

While the cost of staying in versus going out is likely going to have a huge effect on the development curve of this technology, I don’t think it will change the destination.  There’s something extremely unique about a digital reality that’s so much harder to create in the physical world, and that’s freedom.  In Ready Player One’s digital reality, everyone creates an avatar for themselves to explore The Oasis.  Want to try out another gender for the day?  Go for it.  Want to be the giant robot from Pacific Rim? why not.  When the limitations of how you project yourself rest within your own imagination, I can’t help but think we’re going to encounter something very, very cool.  And it’s not just about the freedom to be who you want, it’s also the freedom to do what you want.

Something especially interesting about a digital reality is that it literally comes with it’s own laws of physics.  I have a recurring dream in which I have the ability to fly.  Sometimes it’s even lucid, so in a very real way, I’ve been able to experience what it’s like to fly around the city like a superhero.  Best thing ever.  Unless that experience would be available to me anytime I wanted.  Or maybe you’d rather fly around the galaxy and explore the other planets.  Imagine being able to shrink down to the size of an atom and explore molecular structure.  Or imagine having no physical form at all.  Crazy right?

I was watching Elon at SXSW a little while ago and what stood out most to me was something he said about AI.  At least in the early stages, it’ll be our responsibility to give direction to the AI – A prime directive.  As Hollywood would suggest, telling the AI to keep us safe probably isn’t the right approach.  We’re terrible at keeping ourselves safe and it’s a big part of how we’ve gotten this far.  So what directive do we give the AI?  According to Elon, it’s to maximize our freedom.  I can’t help but think that he’s done the same deep dive that I have and understands how central the concept of freedom is to the human condition.

If freedom is core to who we are, and essential to our growth and evolution as a species, shouldn’t we pursue the direction which affords us the most freedom?  Would that not be one which also frees us from the limitations of our physical selves?  Worth pondering.  But who’s to say that we’re not putting ourselves in the matrix by pursuing the future.  In The Matrix, it was a war between man and machine which led to machine dominating man and plugging them into the Matrix as batteries.  Maybe a more accurate future is one where we plug ourselves in and forget to leave.