The conciliatory arts

October 23rd, 2010

I’ve been thinking about writing about the audiobook I’ve been listening to – Before the Dawn, by Nicholas Wade.  It is a very interesting book that I would highly recommend to anyone who is interested in archeology, anthropology or evolution.  Although really, those are just the broad categories that are covered by this book.  One of the topics that he covers in this book is the question of human aggression. He suggests that humanity has always been violent and in fact, 50,000 years ago we were a lot more violent than we are today.  He makes the case that while we are becoming more efficient and capable at killing, we are in fact, on the whole less prone to aggression than ever before and that we are slowly breeding for peace.  Today people are successful as much for their conciliatory art as for their martial arts.

This got me thinking about how often parents send their child to take a martial arts program as an antidote to school yard bullying.  At the same time, parents of hyperactive or aggressive children will also send their kids to a martial arts program as a way of directing and controlling the violence.  So ironically, the child who is being bullied is not well served by taking self defense lessons since the antagonist is just as likely to have taken similar courses thus nullifying any potential advantage. What I propose is that a course in the conciliatory arts are in fact a much better option.

There are countless books, going back to Sun Tzu and Machiavelli, that will provide adults with instruction and guidance on power politics, influencing others and social manipulation.  Adults can also take conflict management, interpersonal skill building and effective communication courses through work or continuing education programs. Yet there is no formal program that I am aware of that teaches such skills to children.  It seems to me that if someone were struggling with a bully at school, a good strategy would be to develop allies, become more persuasive, learn how to be more astute at reading a situation and knowing how to diffuse a potential conflict before it takes a physical turn.  I think that this kind of a program would appeal to many people and could be very popular.  30 years ago martial arts went from being a small niche sport to a massive multi-billion dollar industry.  Similarly, the communication and interpersonal coaching market is huge.  Now is the time to get in on the ground floor of a new market for child-focused social skills workshops.  Open the first conciliatory arts dojo!

Restricted Access

October 9th, 2010

At my father’s request, some of our family information is going to be available only to people who are logged into the site. Some will remain public, but if you would like to get a password, please email me and I’ll set you up. I may also start putting more of our family pictures under the private area as well.

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Private space

September 10th, 2010

When I say private space, I don’t mean a place for privacy, I mean the democratization of sub-orbital, low-Earth orbits and beyond. I am very interested in the privatization of the space industry because I believe that ultimately it will be the only way that access to space will become available to common citizens. While it may always be a rich person’s activity, they will drive new business models and new technologies in a way that government and military systems cannot.

So, it is with much interest that I am following the efforts of Kristian von Bengtson and Peter Madsen and the team at Coppenhagen Suborbitals. I don’t really know much about them but they are almost mythic in their accomplishments. So far they have built their own submarine (which looks like a miniature U-boat) and are now building their own floating launch platform and sub-orbital manned rocket!

The rocket is a small, single person affair that does little more than offer a ride up to 100km and back. Still, to be able to do this – and all as a small not-for-profit team based in Denmark, is pretty remarkable. This is what I wish Canada’s daVinci project or Canadian Arrow had become. Perhaps it is because the Danes started out with the stated restriction that it was not for profit that they avoided the showiness and market churn that plagued the Canadian efforts. Instead the Danish team was able to focus on engineering and actual progress. Coppenhaggen Suborbital’s first test flight this week was cancelled due to a frozen valve.  The next attempt has been pushed back to June next year.  It will be a long winter waiting, but it really looks like this team has what it takes to get someone into space.

Metropolis

September 4th, 2010

One of the most important sci-fiction films ever made, is the 1927 Fritz Lang classic, Metropolis. I happened to be looking through the Gutenberg library for free books to read on my iPod and I found Metropolis was available. As a science fiction fan, I’ve always been interested in Metropolis, but my only memory of it was a confused 1984 version with a pop music soundtrack by Giorgio Moroder.  As I started to read this literary version, I discovered that the versions most North Americans are familiar with is not what was originally shown in Berlin.  That version was considered too controversial.  Sadly, for many years, it was believed that the original version was lost.  Amazingly, in 2004 a version was found in the archives of a film museum in Argentina, and it had more complete footage than any other version still in existence.  So, just as I am reading the original text, I have discovered that this newly restored, complete version of the film is going to be release NEXT MONTH! What a coincidence!

While I have enjoyed reading Metropolis, the antiquated writing style and melodramatic characters makes it more of a curiosity than a great piece of literature.  Nonetheless, it is the original cautionary tale about de-humanizing technology, and as such is worth re-visiting.

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I am excited to say that I will soon be posting some excerpts from some personal recollections and historical fact finding by my father.  He is going to be sharing some family stories and other anecdotal histories, which I will be editing and posting online.  Most of the stories will span the 20th Century, being about my father and grandfather primarily, but I expect some information will stretched back further and maybe some details will come up to the present day. Depending on the length, I may break each up into a series of smaller posts.  The first post (or series of posts) is going to be about the history of our cottage in Muskoka.  Stay tuned!

Value added content

August 4th, 2010

How do you get people to pay for something that they can get for free? Well, you can repackage it, add some new value and basically give it value by changing the nature of the product. For example it does not seem like you can imagine a real world freebie more basic than air, dirt or water. Yet all of these things are repackaged and sold at a premium.

The digital age has transformed items that used to have value into things that people expect for free. The most obvious example is music. Now musicians are forced to find new ways to supplement their income as fewer and fewer people are willing to pay for a song.

A friend recently pointed me to this really cool sculpture that the DJ and music producer Matthew Dear is offering along with his music. This a great example of the new music business models people are experimenting with. They are all about connecting with the fans in this personalized / direct way. In fact, the prevailing model that seems to be working is a combo of connection with fans + reasons to buy = sales (usually through some digital marketing medium platform like TopSpin or Nimbit). There are many examples now of people setting up “limited edition” box sets / glossy photos / signed pictures and comments / dinners with the actual stars and the list goes on. Trent Reznor made 1.6 million in a week doing it with a tiered system for his fans to buy and interact (check out the NIN site – they even have iphone apps).

It seems to me that there is a great opportunity to combine this need for personalization with the advances in mass customization. Mass customization is a topic I’m very interested in, and one of my favorite examples of this trend in action can be found on the Shapeways website. Here you can upload a 3D model and very quickly have a real solid object in your hands. There are no up front tooling costs or special skills (beyond 3d modeling) needed. A system could easily be set up to create a custom object for every album downloaded. So instead of it being this $125 limited edition precious thing like the Matthew Dear totem, it could be an equally unique and special $30 object.  I think that at $125 it is only going to attract the most dedicated fans – people who would have bought the album anyway.  However, at $20 or $30, you might get some people who might have just ripped a copy for free before, willing to pay this premium to get the music plus this little extra thing.  To make it a slam dunk, the”little extra thing” must also have some utility.  So, it is beautiful but is also a flower vase, for example. So, would you pay money for something you could otherwise get for free if you got a little something extra? One thing is certain – the music industry is going to change a lot in the next 10 years.

What makes a great hotel

May 27th, 2010

I don’t think this is anything new, but when it comes to hotel experiences it is all in the details. The Delta hotel I am at now does not get this. It started with the 12 year old Internet connection instructions (“now open Netscape Navigator”??!!), but then the ancient bar staff and the generic Muzak in the pub make for a decidedly sub-par experience.
It comes down to possibilities. When I stay at a funky little boutique hotel I feel like I am some kind of special diplomat or person of influence and importance. It makes me feel like a designer with a capital D. In many ways the Delta is empirically better, but it does not help me re-imagine myself. That is what a better hotel offers – a chance to reimagine the possibilities of who you are or what you can become.