Be Where You Are

An article has made the rounds on all flavors of social networking between all my theater friends.  It involves a guy who got so fed up with a fellow audience member’s cell phone use during a live performance, that he actually made quite a scene by removing the device from the woman, damaging the device, and publicly shaming her.

I’ve been in several live performances where cell phones went off.  I was in one memorable performance where a performer stopped, bowed their head, waited for the cell phone to be silenced, and then continued on.  Nothing can be so destructive to live theater – especially to a live drama – as a ringtone. 


What is the problem?  I’m not asking this rhetorically.  I’m literally asking – what is the problem with using a cell phone in a theater?  Why is this in such bad taste, especially in a live performance?

I believe it comes down to a single answer: it signals you don’t want to be where you are.

See, whatever is on the other end of that phone is more important than the person singing their guts out for you on stage, more important than the pretty girl you brought with you as a date, more important than the $200 you spend on tickets, and more important than being courteous to the people around you.  Is there a reason you can’t just stop it and be where you are?

Studies have shown that humans are actually terrible at multi-tasking.   (Yes, you too, women.)  We can really only focus on one thing at a time.  If you are staring at your phone, you really aren’t listening to your wife (sorry, sweetie) – and you most definitely aren’t really taking in the full experience of the offering that’s being given on a live stage.

So this is my new movement.  We have “slow food” and “eat local” – and now I present to you Be Where You Are.

And we can take this further than just the theater.  If you’re on a date, be on that date.  If you’re at dinner, be at dinner.  If you’re enjoying TV with your spouse, be with her.  I don’t think life will stop if you briefly read a TXT message or check an email, but you might just want to consider putting the device away, shutting off work for the day, and being somewhere else.

I’m going to try to do better at this.

Make, Master, Matter

With Audrey out of town this weekend, I decided to be super lazy and watch a lot of TV.  A lot.  I got home at 7 tonight and just turned the tube off at 11:30pm… about 2 hours after I told myself I was going to.

But here’s the scary thing; it wasn’t a completely mind-numbing vegetation session!

First, I caught a few minutes of Shark Tank – a show the entrepreneur in me used to enjoy more often, but which became a little to predictable as reality TV.  However, in the few minutes I tuned in, I saw a very sincere, well-meaning man watch his business idea go down in flames because he was so committed to the idea of manufacturing his product in America, that he missed the bigger picture.

His product isn’t employing anyone – not even himself.  He can make the product for $250 in the US, but can only sell it for about $300.  If he could make it overseas for $100 or even $150, he’d have a business — and probably a successful one at that!  (It was an impressive product)  Instead, clinging to his dogma, he was content to watch his dream (and probably unknowingly, his opportunity to truly make a difference in his small community) go down the drain.

Toward the end, one of the sharks told him that, in business, “first you make it, then you master it, then you can matter.” This phrase really struck a chord with me.

It’s not that small businesses don’t or can’t matter, or that I don’t think things should be made in the USA. It’s that a business that doesn’t yet even exist as a profitable venture can’t make any impact at all (except for a negative one). I think this guy has to get his dream off the ground – make it work – and then he will have the financial freedom to make it matter the way he wants.

Then I turned on The Descendants, the fairly recent George Clooney movie.  

I have to watch movies like this when Audrey is gone. This one had way more F-words than she’d take, and it’s one of those that leaves you just a little off balance, even though it mostly goes just the way you think it will.

It was really good, and I can see why it was nominated for writing awards during this last awards season.  It’s well-written, and leaves you with that distinct taste in your mouth afterward — the hallmark of a fine movie.  

My economic themed evening continued: In this movie, we see a man who is sitting on a massive fortune, and yet believes “your children should have just enough so they can do something, but not so much that they will do nothing.”  In the end, he makes the decision we are all hoping he would make – to keep the land and try to find a way to save it from ruthless development.  This isn’t the most important part of the film, but it is one that provided a fair amount of underlying dramatic tension throughout, as we watch the main plot points of his comatose wife and teenage daughters go through their girations.

Lastly, I saw the 60 Minutes interview with Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX.  

I just have to say that Elon Musk inspires me.  There aren’t many billionaires in the world you cheer for, but Musk somehow earns that honor with a boy-like determination to do huge things.  While most of us would have enjoyed the PayPal fortune by cruising around the world on a huge yacht, Musk has spent much of it trying to redefine industries in which he is most unwelcome; the auto industry and the aerospace industry. In spite of the opposition, Musk is proving that nimble startups can outmatch the big companies with big pockets and years of experience. He became the first private enterprise to launch, orbit, and retrieve a vehicle, and more recently became the first non-government to fly to (and send cargo to) the ISS.

In the last year, I’ve yet to hear anyone rave about their Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf – and yet the Tesla Roadster drivers continue to gush about the experience of driving their all-electric cars, and Tesla’s Lexus competitor the “Model S” has a line of people waiting who’ve practically paid for a car that is not yet being built.  And yet, when really considered in context – the achievement of mobilizing an electric car (as daunting as that has been) pales in comparison to the complex task of putting rockets, payloads, and – eventually – people into space.

You have to really see Elon Musk in an interview to understand what I mean, though.  He is personable, humble, and fascinated with what he is doing.  Yet he doesn’t shy away when asked what he responds to critics who say it can’t be done.  His matter-of-fact reply: “We’ve already done it.”  Then, moments later, when asked what he thinks of his childhood heros Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan testifying before congress against commercialized space flight, he literally tears up and says, “I wish they would come vist and see the hardware that we’re doing here.”

You have to hand it to someone who can be a human and an entrepreneur; someone who can make it, master it, and then really matter.

Because I want it, I should have it.

It’s not every day that I throw a new post into the “Life Philosophies” category of this blog (OK, I know it’s rare that I post anything on this blog anymore), but I wanted to share a quick tidbit I’ve been working on for a while now…

It is common to hear rhetoric in church about “the world”.  It’s usually about how the “world is going downhill”, which is often followed up with stories about the erosion of morality as a sad sign of growing godlessness among the nation/world at large.  I don’t fault my fellow churchgoers for going down this rhetorical path.  It’s a well beaten one and trodden often by church leadership as well.  (So goes the Mormon echo chamber.)

I think it’s true that some very ugly behaviors, previously accepted as wrong by society, have become more acceptable over time.  So – it’s not an error of fact to say the “world” at large is headed in a more morally relativistic, morally lackadaisical direction.

However, I started to be bothered by this “world going to hell in a handbasket” ideology because I felt it had reach a sad level of cliché.  It seems like, more and more, it becomes the launching point into which we delve into any topic.

“This world is so evil, let’s talk about being a good father.”

“Well, the world is going to hell in a handbasket, so let’s talk about food storage.”

“The world is such a terrible place to live, let’s talk about the NFL draft and just say we had a lesson.”

No – there’s more to this “world is a terrible place” stuff.  I mean, I live in the world for most of 7 days a week, and I have to say it’s not that terrible of a place – at least in my local sphere of interaction.  I see great people at work, great people at home, and great people at church who are – for the most part – trying to do what’s right for their careers, families, and themselves.  I doubt there are many who get up in the morning, put their pants on one leg at a time, and head out the door with a list of traditional moral codes to break that day.

So, dissecting this a little more I came to the conclusion that it’s no so much about the “world” as a whole.  After all, the world is just made up of a bunch of individuals, right?  So why are we – individually – making some common decisions that, when examined together, can be judged as “bad” for society at large?

After giving it some thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that this closely relates to another of my basic life philosophies – that we all do what we want.  As an extension of that thought, please consider the following:  If I want it, it can’t be wrong – or bad – because I want it, and I should have everything I want.  How can something I want be bad for me?  Because I want it, I should have it.

That, to me, is the driving force – the gasoline on the fire – behind the moral degradation we see in the world at large.  As individuals let slip their individual moral code, it breaks down the last barriers between the internal want for – whatever – and frees the individual to wholeheartedly seek that which they want.

Since I believe that there are moral rights and wrong (or more accurately, I think I believe in moral ‘betters’ and ‘worsers’), my conclusion is that the “world is going downhill” philosophy is an error of perspective, not an error of judgement.  If you, instead, consider the “because I want it, I should have it” mentality – it becomes much more self-indicting.  It puts the onus back on one’s self to reconsider their value judgments – and reconsider whether the pursuit of their wants is contributing to what is good and right in “the world” or to what is wrong with “the world.”  Asking this question invites a person to apply their own moral code to themselves rather than to the nameless, faceless “world” of others.

We can even extend it to explain human behavior outside of moral jugement.  This philosophy is even more evident in financial transactions.  We have become a society of greed (hello financial collapse of 2008!) and consumerism because of this same drive toward want.

In a smaller example, if I really want the iPad 3 to the point that I will stop at nothing to get it.  I may go to harmful lengths to get it.  To take it to the superlative, let’s say I sell a kidney to procure the funding to get it.  Now, there’s nothing morally wrong with selling a kidney (as far as the moral codes with which I am familiar), but I think we can all agree this would be a terrible decision.  But I want it that badly, and that’s the issue here.  The extent you will go to satisfy a want – can cause problems for both you and the ones you love.



A whole ‘nother level..

There was a time when this blog was a well, kept, thriving garden of entertainment and thought.  It might have looked like this:

After months of neglect and half-heartedness, the blog is looking more like this:

I can’t guarantee the blog will get a whole lot better, though.  But I can at least update you on some of the happenings in the collapsed universe of WhiteEyebrows.

1. New Job

August first, I started a new job.  I still work for the same company, but I am reporting to a new boss and have had my job responsibilities expanded and changed pretty dramatically.  The decision to take the job was a little difficult, because I really had nestled into a groove with my team.  We worked in a pretty tight-knit, small group of developers in a highly iterative and collaborative way.  It took us quite a while to get that engine really humming, but we finally hit a good stride.  I was even starting to do more real programming, not just designing.  It was a great growth time for me, and I really appreciated my manager and my teammates.

Now to try and explain my job…

In my old job, I was a designer for a specific product we’ve been developing for about a year now.  So what do I mean by designer?  I was the visual designer (the guy who made it look the way it did) and also an interaction designer (the guy who makes it work the way it works).  So I worked with programmers to make the thing look and act like it should (and like customers would like).  We kind of call this “user experience” – the sum total of all the decisions and designs that create what a product looks and feels like to a user.

The new job is in the same vein.  I’m still in “user experience”, but rather than being focused on one project I will now be ‘influencing’ a lot of projects and products.  In my new role, the scope has changed as well.  Before, I was looking at my project – one component of a complex product or system.  In my new role, I’m to be looking at the experience our customers are having with the entire company – end to end.  Everything from pre-sales, sales, installation and configuration all the way through to support and end of life.  My current focus will still be on products themselves (I have some great peers who are focused on other parts of the experience), but the vision has expanded to include much more.

In a way it’s exciting, because there is so much work to do – and I kind of have carte blanche to go work on whatever I want.  I don’t see how I can go wrong – there is so much work to be done.  If I do anything, it will look like I’ve done something.  I also feel a huge buy in from upper management, and have had great support from my old boss and my new boss as I make the transition.  So… so far, so good.

2. Starting School

Yesterday, I also started the Arts and Technology program at the University of Texas at Dallas.  The current plan is to get a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) degree.  I’ll be focusing a lot on the things I was talking about above – user experience, user research, and trends/topics in technology.  The program itself is a fusion of humanities and technology.  They have a very aggressive program in animation, motion capture, and other cutting edge technologies; which draw a lot of interest on their own.

Now if I could just find a trapper keeper…

The first class yesterday was a little goofy.  We spent 1:45 just introducing all 42 students in the class.  Since I was first (the curse of having an “A” last name), I just stood up and gave the standard 3 sentence introduction – where I did my bachelor’s work, where I work now, and what my interest was is in the program.  After a few other people, though, it became apparent that this was becoming more of a life history/bragging session.  I had to hear about every project some people did since the fourth grade.  It became disturbingly apparent that many people were there because they couldn’t find jobs or were going through job transition.  I was surprised at how many people outwardly admitted they just wanted to teach and become a professor.  Are there really that many professorships available?  Is higher education a rapidly expanding career field and I never knew it?

Some of the students are a little gross.  Thankfully, I sat in the corner of the room with the nice smelling people, but when we went to go to break and dismiss, I passed a few individuals who smelled like they hadn’t taken a shower in weeks.  There was a lot of poorly trimmed beards and moustaches as well, and a lot of kind of self-important comments from people – you know the type – the ones who want to talk on the first day of class to set themselves out there as a vocal know-it-all in the class.

The oddity of the participants notwithstanding, I hope to gain a few things from the next 2 years in this program.  Hopefully, if I can keep a 9-credits-per-semester schedule, I’ll be done in 7 semesters.  If I go through the summers, that’s only 2 and 1/3 years.  Either that, or my brain will explode.

3. Conclusion

I’m tired and busy.  I’m trying to kick my focus and energy back up another level.  I’ve decided that if I’m going to succeed in my new job, school, church calling, infinite side projects, and as a husband – I’m going to have to make excellent use of my time and energy.  I guess, for the next few years at least, I’m done with the relaxation and enjoyment of a slower lifestyle.  So the back half of 2010 is going to be taken to a WHOLE ‘NOTHER LEVEL!

There’s more to tell, but I’m just plain out of time, out of room, and out of will power to write about it.  I could tell you about how it is to have my brother living with us.  I could tell you how A2 is the #1 auditor at her work.  I could tell you how we are really looking forward to our upcoming vacation to Italy… and more!  Maybe if you comment and ask me some pressing questions, I’ll feel compelled to post again.

Or not.


Last Sunday, our Stake Presidency hosted their semi-annual Youth Standards night. This meeting brought back quite a few memories from my own youth (only 10 or so years ago), where we’d get frequent frank talks about abstinence, the internet, drugs, and a host of other societal ills.

This was my first time attending such a meeting as an “adult”, and it was really weird being on that side of the line. As we started talking about the technological minefields of today, social networking and texting, I found myself saying “Wow… this is worse than it was when I was a youth.”

I immediately caught myself.  Have I, in a short ten years, become the old fart I used to mock in my youth who was completely out of touch with what was “now”?)

The best was saved for last when, instead of continuing the harping on TXT messaging and social networking, the topic turned to Honesty.

Though his main motivation seemed to be to encourage the youth to be honest with their Bishops and not let little problems turn into big problems by trying to cover them up, the more nuanced parts of his talk made me reflect more sincerely on the general topic of honesty.

Honesty isn’t just a religious topic.  President Ward started out talking about doing the right thing when no one is looking.  In his case, that was stopping at a four-way stop at 4am, even though 100% of the time there was no one at that intersection.  Whether he believed that God was watching or whether he’s just heeding the social contract that we make with each other as drivers, the honest thing to do is to stop at the stop sign.

Complete honesty:

  • Prevents problems from happening
  • Prevents real problems from ballooning in size and scope
  • Enables you to live a less stressful life

The key takeaway for the youth was to be honest with themselves, be honest with God, and be honest with their leaders and Bishops. A common theme – to do the right thing even when no one else is watching. However, this reminder made me think more about the subject of honesty and how truth and honesty are the antidotes to most of the troubles that surround us.