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  • Seeing Through the Fog


    When I look out my window on a misty day like today, I know beneath the white haze of fog’s smothering embrace is a valley, a bay, a bridge… a city of hope. I know it’s there. But on days like today I see none of that… I see something more.

    Remember when we went to the Grand Canyon? We were so excited after all that driving to see what was sure to be awe-inspiring. On the drizzly ride up there I’m sure we both suspected, but we never let ourselves despair. Instead we continued, knowing that whatever is there, we will see it. It will be as it is.

    When we arrived at the edge and stared into that boundless white wall, our buried doubts came out in swells of laughter. We shared in a reality that was not what either of us had hoped. But for that it somehow had more meaning. I was happy, truly. The fog showed me that it didn’t matter whether I saw the Grand Canyon. What mattered was that I was there, with my mother, laughing.

    Now when I look out on this fog I don’t see nothing. I see you and me at the Grand Canyon. I see our freezing trip across the Golden Gate bridge. I see my fellow adventurer with socks on her hands and a purse on her head. I see my amazing mother looking at me like she just adores me. And I feel a love so deep and so true that I forget I’m in San Francisco. Wherever I am, I am home.


    We are the 100%

    We are the cells of the body that shat on the world. It is not the mind’s fault for letting the sphincter open because the rectum said it was full. It’s not the rectum’s fault for filling when the upper gut got hasty. It’s not the upper gut’s fault for getting hasty when the mouth swallowed unpleasantries, it’s not the mouth’s… and on and on. We are all responsible. We are one sick Global Body.

    World Sick

    Poor world doesn't like being shat on.

    Some people are still in denial about the sickness. When our body is sick for long enough, we begin to believe that sickness is a part of life. It’s normal. There’s nothing to fix. Discomfort? Numbness? Anxiety? These just happen. Nothing you can do.

    Some people have reached the point where the sickness has made life unbearable. They have to do something about it because the alternative is unacceptable. They cannot carry on. The symptoms are just too awful. These people may still remember what healthy was like.

    The symptoms of our sickness manifest in our culture: behavior patterns, institutions, beliefs, and systems. From where I’m sitting (Probably the ball sac region. Yes, our Body is a man.) our culture is symptomatic of disease in the following ways:

    • Healthcare and prosperity are supplanted by sick care and war profiteering.
    • Aspiring thought leaders master the arts of manipulation not the arts of reason.
    • Emotions are milked for influence on massive group-think scales.
    • Rationality is losing a bitter feud with instant gratification, laziness, and faith.
    • The strong manipulate the weak while creating such a cluster-fuck that no one knows who is which.
    • Food is poison, medicine is quackery, and experts who we rely on to know the difference get paid not to.
    • Ignorance is taught and embraced.
    • Education is valued less than sports and soldiering.
    • Scrutiny is veiled acquiescence.
    • Truth seekers are marginalized as annoying conspiracy theorists.
    • The few who question are much too few.
    • Those who do threaten those who trade.
    • Systems that fail are enshrined while systems that succeed are crushed.
    • Spirituality is replaced by religion.
    • Control is woven into our education through fear, monotony, and camaraderie.
    • Freedom is defined as allegiance to the system.
    • Terrorism is invented because we ran out of enemies.
    • Wealth is created through scale not value.
    • Politics is pointing a finger to another side of the circle.
    • Distraction is profitable and enjoyable.
    • Consuming is encouraged and addictive.
    • Beauty is branded and bought.

    Since these are all symptoms, addressing any one does what cold medicine does for a cold: gets you high so you can go on ignoring your body while it fights the sickness alone. If you really wanted to help your body get well, you would eat more of the things your body needs to fight the virus and avoid anything that might distract it from doing so. In other words, aid the body don’t just suppress the symptoms. It still amazes me how few people I know understand and/or believe this.

    Most people today think about sickness like this, “well, we see here that this mechanism is breaking down. Maybe if we take a drug that alters the mechanism or adds a new one, we’ll be stronger and healthier.” This is a reductionist approach: drilling down to one mechanism of the body, studying how it works, learning how to manipulate it, and then unleashing that change to the entire body. It’s arrogant, reckless, and ineffective. We usually end up creating more problems than we had to begin with. But don’t worry, there’s a drug for that… and there’s a drug for that… This is sickcare.

    A much smaller but growing group of people think about sickness like this, “well, why is this person’s immune system not helping them? Other people have effectively fought this sort of illness. Why can’t this person?” This is a holistic approach: study all the things that go into and out of our bodies, study all the mechanisms between these inputs and outputs, and figure out how to modify the inputs to support the mechanisms so the outputs look more like a healthy person’s. It respects that our body is an incredibly complex parallel matrix of mechanisms, and that we can’t introduce a new mechanism and know the consequences. The best we can do is try to get out of the way of the body’s natural mechanisms. Give them support, keep them away from harm. This is healthcare.

    Now apply these same two opposing perspectives on health to the Global Body.

    We’ve taken lots of drugs. We’ve added new mechanisms and changed old ones. We’ve done this for so long that we can’t remember what life was like naturally. What was our Body when we were healthy? What were our natural mechanisms, evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, that we have nearly destroyed and forgotten?

    The mechanisms of the Global Body can be divided into two groups: intracellular and extracellular. Or what the individual does internally, and how that individually interacts with other individuals.

    This is individual health–health for the mind, body, and soul. Everything we do is affected by our internal health. People don’t create terrible systems intentionally. People ARE terrible and they create their BEST. Unless you are healthy first, nothing you do will help heal the Global Body. Start here.

    There’s so much to study about this topic it can make your head spin. Every week a new theory comes out about health. But our bodies haven’t really changed all that much in thousands of years. So, to keep it simple, I stick with the 5 point strategy for health. Do these five things daily, and you’ll be healthy:

    1. Sleep well
    2. Eat well
    3. Exercise/stretch well
    4. Meditate well
    5. Avoid/purge toxins

    If you get this strategy nailed, your tactics will become obvious over time… and chances are they will be entirely different for you than any one else. And you can write a book about it and make millions. ;)

    This is how we treat each other. What signals are we transmitting back and forth? What are our belief systems? How do we educate? How do we value? How do we incentivize? How do we collaborate?

    Again this is a topic of endless debate. Separating the quick-fixes from the evolved mechanisms here is difficult because society has changed so rapidly in recent history. So, I use two simple questions to distinguish them:

    1. Is this signal coming from love?
    2. Or is this signal coming from fear?

    If you can’t tell the difference, focus more on Intracellular health. If you can tell the difference, acting only in case 1 and not reacting to case 2 will do wonders to heal the Global Body. Love is the nutrition, fear is the poison.

    That’s it. That’s the only way the Global Body can achieve health. There is no magic pill that will get us out of this one. This will require a lot of work, deep introspection, and serious will power.

    100% of us are responsible for the health of the Global Body. A much smaller percentage has achieved health on the Intracellular level. And an even smaller percentage consistently distinguishes nutrition from poison on the Extracellular level. Most of us seem to be on the fast track to becoming a cancer cell and/or inflicting cancer on another.

    So as we tear the world down for failing us, keep in mind that we built it. And unless we reprogram ourselves, one person at a time, we are just going to build another monster on top of the rubble.

    Finding Meaning at Burning Man

    Kids on a rampage.

    The next morning began roughly. I was jerked out of a brief slumber by shouts that breakfast was ready. “Can’t miss that,” I groaned to myself and struggled to stand. Out the RV door, twenty steps, and around a corner I was in line with other souls awaiting sustenance. Breakfast looked delicious. Everyone politely but firmly took what they figured was their fair portion.

    As I was sitting and snarfing up the only meal I would have all day, one of the cutest girls in our camp, Tina, sat down next to me. We struck up casual conversation in a half-awake stupor. Minutes later my homeboy from Knoxville, Caleb, showed up and started discussing the day’s explorations. When we rose to begin preparations, Tina asked if she could come along. “Sure,” we said. “Fuck yeah,” we thought.

    The city by day was an entirely different beast. It was no less bustling, no less bizarre. But the sun seemed to vibrate the town into an even broader smattering of weird. Camps came alive with their interactive whatevers, wanderers got their second (or third, or fourth, or who cares how many) wind, and the music moved with renewed enthusiasm.

    Like three gleeful kids just out on a summer break, we rode our bikes aimlessly and with a carefree pep. The world was ours. We shouted jokes, made snap decisions, stopped for drinks, chatted loudly with whomever, hugged, laughed, relaxed under the occasional shade, raced, flirted, and danced. We played tennis with a racquet the size of a beach ball. We taunted the lifeguard at a fake pool as he megaphoned playful insults at passersby. And we rode. Always onward—always to nowhere and just where we wanted to be.

    At some point the Temple came up in conversation. “Should we go? It’s pretty awesome, but, you know… it’s powerful. Are you ready for that?” Always and never, we decided.

    So we ventured out deep into the playa, towards the Temple. The search for what it really meant to be there was just beginning.

    I’ve been struggling to find my center, my power core. Curiosity, optimism, and often reckless enthusiasm have carried me around the world. I’ve discovered treasures, studied people, manifested dreams, loved in unforeseen ways, conquered fears and uncovered new ones. But all of this life, as full as it has been, is merely the first phase. I’m ready for the next era of Augustin. I see it there in the distance, looming beneath a sunrise, its outline barely visibly—my Destination. But right here before me lies a mile of desert—my Rite of Passage.

    We arrived, parked our bikes somewhere in the swarm, and stood together silently staring at the Temple of Transition. The structure consisted of six towers; five in a ring around the middle tower. The five towers represented Birth, Growth, Union, Decay, and Death. The middle tower, the one that connected them all, stood the tallest for Gratitude.

    Center tower at the Temple of Transition

    The Tower of Gratitude

    Caleb handed me a green sharpie. I took it gratefully, breathed deep, and wandered off and into myself. As I remembered what my loved ones had told me to write for them, I found a space and did so… plus some. Between each frantic scrawling, I stepped back and reread, reflected, maybe added something, hands-together bowed, and walked on. In a short time I was in tears, shaken, overwhelmed. I blew some snot rockets and walked on… slowly.

    Eventually I found myself in the Death tower. It was a sad and reverent place. Silence filled the space like the humidity of Atlanta summers. Photos of loved ones covered the spaces between writings. Jewelry, clothes, journals, objects of all sorts—mundane, curious, and heartbreaking—lay with intention everywhere. One man sitting cross-legged in a corner was crying, rocking, and occasionally pouring emotion onto the wall before him.

    My heart ached with thoughts of inevitable death. None came more powerfully than my mother’s. It made my knees buckle. My hands went to the table for support. I choked back a wail and gasped. Tears clouded my vision.

    Then it hit me. If I were to bear my soul (which I needed to do) and give a full confessional, there was no one better to address it to than my mother—the one who invested the most in me.

    But there wasn’t enough wall or sharpie for what I had to get out. I found a journal that said “open me” on the cover. I opened it. Inside the front cover it said, “please fill these pages.” Pens were scattered nearby. I tore 4 blank pages out of the journal, swiped a pen, and left the tower of Death.

    My mojo was settling. I was falling into that even, calm place—that place where my heart expands to embrace the weight of the world and my mind tingles and goes blank.

    I sat in a bench near the periphery. I took out the pen and paper and began writing. All my regrets, weaknesses, fears, and doubts—things that I didn’t just offer up to anyone with a fading interest or wouldn’t even give myself the time to air—came out in a torrent.

    And word by word I was filled with the hope that I could burn all of this; that I wouldn’t cringe anymore with past mistakes and insecurities nagging my idle mind. I could honor my mother’s great sacrifice and be an extraordinary person.

    When I finished I reread it. Then reread it again. Finally, I folded the paper, stood, breathed deep, and walked looking for a place to put it all to rest. The tower of Gratitude beckoned. Tings, tungs, tams, and toms radiated out of it… louder and louder as I approached. In the hallway from an outer tower, I felt a strong breeze push my body back as it drew my heart forward. I came to the entrance, found a supporting structure flush against an upright with just a sliver of space between, gave the folded confessional a kiss, and crammed it home.

    Inside the Tower of Gratitude

    Then I looked up. Inside the great tower of Gratitude rose the energy of all within it. About two dozen people lying, sitting, standing, and bowing, soaked in the orchestra of sounds, sights, and feelings. It. Was. Glorious. God laid his hand down on the earth, palm precisely on the Tower of Gratitude.

    A perfect little spot was there towards the middle. When I saw it, I knew where I was to go and be. So I did and was. The wind blew dust in a constant barrage. I kept my handkerchief over my face, my sunglasses on. I sat cross-legged. I listened to the echo of chimes from dozens of bells mounted around the inside of the tower. Time became irrelevant. I’d look up and be blinded by sunbeams bursting through the upper levels, between people looking right back down at us… just as still, just as blissed out.


    Eventually I stood, stretched, and left. We picked up our bikes and headed on to the next adventure, ate, and partied. Before I knew it life was back to a bizarre but somewhat meaningless cacophony of sensory input. At some point I remember thinking back on those moments at the Temple and wondering if there was more to it. Was there a message lingering in the memories of that place that I’ve yet to find? What was I doing here, really? I didn’t know. Even now, I’m not really sure. The blinding shock of clarity that unequivocally kicks me in a new direction wasn’t there. All my problems didn’t go away. Life doesn’t seem any easier now. In fact, since then I’ve felt even more like a small boat on a big turbulent ocean.

    But what was I expecting? I wanted some reassurance that I’m on the right path. I think I got that. I receive that reassurance every day in little victories, little beautiful coincidences that delight and inspire me. The universe isn’t showing me my future all at once in a dump of cosmic prophecy. The universe is rewarding me for moving forward, for creating my future, one small act at a time.

    If I’ve learned anything—if I have to declare Meaning—I’d say this: grand, unique experiences no matter how inspiring, odd, beautiful, etc. are no sure pill to heal ails or reveal the purpose of life. Sometimes when we go out looking for meaning, for clarity, we come away with nothing but the mandate to keep on looking. Keep on moving. Sometimes we’re in the midst of a Rite of Passage.

    A Rite of Passage is a road of indeterminate length.

    Settling Into Burning Man

    I managed to stay awake well into the afternoon that first day. I helped setup three big parachute tents and an art car. I met many of the organizers and participants in our camp. I wandered around aimlessly, ate, drank, and sat. Eventually, just as the sun was beginning to set, I crawled into the darkest bunk in our RV, plugged in the earplugs, slapped on the eye patch, and tried to sleep. The DJ stage right on the other side of our wall had started already. My bed was shaking violently to a quick bass electronic rhythm. My head was beginning to ache.

    In a few hours I was up again and my head was throbbing. I told myself I had to shake it off and go see stuff. I told myself this was Burning Man, damn it, sleep when it’s over. My friends agreed. We got ready for wandering and wandered.

    The town of Black Rock was beginning to swell. Art cars, brightly lit, in all shapes and sizes, and usually blasting some variety of techno, meandered at a comfortable 5mph around the playa. Everyone glowed. If you didn’t have some variety of glowy or blinky someone would shout “Dark Wad!” at you. The community didn’t want your dumbass run over by art. That’d make for some messy moop.

    Most of the partying/dancing/wandering activities of that entire week are blurred together in a mishmash of memory. We’d notice something cool and giggle, point, and alert each other. Like a 40-foot-tall (but otherwise pretty normal-looking) 4-legged chair scooting across the playa. We’d laugh and say to ourselves or each other “What the fuck?” and keep walking. We’d hear a tune we liked drive past and run after it. We’d see an art car with people swarming all over it dancing and run after it. We’d see people standing around some lights in the middle of nowhere and head towards it. We’d stare at interactive art until we understood what to do, did it, said cool, then moseyed on. We’d scream when a fireball burst a hundred feet up from the ground or erupted in a cascade from an art car. We’d relish the warmth it laid on us. Then we’d move on.


    The Pier

    As the sun began to rise I set off alone on my bike into the playa. I found a pier… like the kind you’d find sticking out into the ocean. But this one stretched a few hundred feet from playa to playa. Underneath, towards the end, was a hammock. I set my bike against an upright and fell into the hammock. The sounds of ocean waves gently crashing into the pier and seagulls chirping radiated from speakers hidden somewhere above me. I sat and stared at the mountains cradling the sunrise far in the distance. Orange soup gently morphed into a brilliant yellow spray as the night’s black sky peeled away to the blue embrace of day. I don’t remember falling asleep.

    But I awoke shivering. The seagulls were still chirping. The sun was staring at me low on the horizon, not yet ready for hugs, just saying hello. I hopped on my bike and headed back for some deep recharge sleep.

    Arriving at Burning Man

    The greatest adventures start well before you think they have. Burners have this saying, “as soon as you leave your house, you’re at burning man.” So chill, the saying implies, and remember that each step is the destination. You are already home. Burning Man is an attitude, a way of living, not a place or a group of people. It lives in our hearts, mostly dormant, always there when called upon to burst out and radically change our perspective on life. Not just the life we inhabit, but all life.

    I tried reminding myself of this when I was going through the final planning. I was happy then, excited for the new adventure… but knowing that through all the preparation, I wouldn’t be prepared. I had my costume (a green helmet with alien antennae and a space suit), my essential survival gear (goggles, hats, hankies, sunscreen, etc.), and various just-in-case supplies (first-aid, extra everythings, etc.) Camping hundreds of times has helped make this whole “survival stress” a somewhat non-issue for me. But what else did Burning Man have in store? What else would I wish I brought once there?

    I shelved that concern for the immediate need to get friends and start the road trip. Sonny and Kester missed two flights to get to San Francisco. “If it were easy, everyone would go,” they reminded themselves to choke the thoughts of giving up. I could see in their tired eyes that determination had won out when I picked them up around noon at SFO. But they still had energy to shop, which kind of blew me away, so we hit the Haight for final costume accessories. Towards sunset we booked it down to San Jose for a final stop at Sonny’s brother’s girlfriend’s house. I ditched half my clothes down there… which reminds me, I need to go to San Jose again. ;p

    That was our last night in the “Default World.” Black Rock City, infinite dust, ridiculous art, the playa, wacky people, controlled chaos, unbounded beauty, and all manner of unusual experiences awaited us just a few hours north of Reno, Nevada. By about 5:00AM Tuesday morning, after at least 4 hours of “waiting” in the coolest line of my life, we had landed. There was no Houston to notify. There was only dust… and dreams manifested right before our eyes.

    The view from our camp upon first arrival.

    Walking towards the temple after arriving.

    The Temple of Transition loomed gloriously nearly a mile out from our camp. The very first thing I did was grab water and booze and walk out towards it. I stopped on the Esplanade (the first street lining the inner circle of Black Rock City) stared out at the various art installations, mountain ranges crested with orange gold of the rising sun, and hundreds of burners meandering, working, wondering, and doing god knows what else. I took a deep breath, smiled broadly, and laughed. I was home.

    That morning I watched the sunset while sitting in the sand at the Temple of Transition. I meditated, prayed, and let the glory of the heavens and earth wash through me. I thanked for being there, prayed for beauty to come, and dreamed of what might. I made marks in the sand before me then reflected on them. I stretched my body and felt it ache and relax and ache and relax. I breathed. I listened. When the sun was fully before me, shining its brilliant heat on my face and chest, I stood up, turned around and started walking back. Like I would experience a thousand times before the week was over, life had given me a moment of perfection so that I could turn around and walk away.

    The Last Temptation of Me

    Every so often we’re witness to a reality that is so much like what we imagined that we can’t help but think we made it happen.

    Auspicious number...

    Coincidence, they call it. I’ve read stuff about the mathematical probability of it-that it’s just something that should happen given the variables. It’s a result of the dance of evolution: chaos and order caught up in a tangle of exertion, enraptured by fluidity. Inevitably there are collisions. A step on a foot, a miss timing. Moments that shouldn’t be, but are.

    Today I experienced two moments of collision. The first started when I had the thought that my odometer would reach 6666 soon. And I thought how I should document that, perhaps with some trepidation. Hours later, after cleaning my house and messing around on facebook, on a whim I decided to call a good friend. I got in my car (hands free talking), backed up out of the carport to watch the stars, and called. That’s when I noticed 6666.6mi staring back at me. I smiled. What a coincidence! Sure, it was going to happen, duh… but did I have to be sitting in my driveway, calling a dear friend, hours after I imagined this moment, staring at this auspicious number? Did I make this moment happen? Was something else making it happen?

    After the wave of awe passed, the experience could be shelved as just another unknown–just one more sign of the paranormal, or a delusion of a wishful mind. Interesting but not ground shattering.

    Then after a heavy conversation about some of the more meaningful thought turds, I got out of my car. The stars were beaming. I walked around to the back of the house. The concrete slab of a back patio was littered with a smashed table, part of which was now ash in our re-purposed grill. I turned my head up towards the stars and thought as my chest swelled with an emotion I can only describe as yearning, “you’re out there, waiting for me.”

    It was a recognition that I’m putting off the reunion. That I can know something, maybe me, maybe god, but something. Something more profound and infinite than this fleeting existence. And that all the drugs and distractions and delusions are just me waiting. And looking up tonight I thought, “hey, I’m just waiting, aren’t I? Maybe you’re waiting there for me. But you’re there, aren’t you?”

    In that very instant, and in the very small space between the trees that I was directly looking, a shooting star dashed through. As the words, “you’re out there, waiting for me” just left my mouth. And there it was, as if to say, “YES!”

    My heart exploded–laughter, awe, sadness, joy… however you describe that feeling where your heart bangs against your chest and your mind reels as it’s overwhelmed by the sound of it go thump.

    Who am I? What am I?

    And why the fuck am I so damn lucky?! This can’t be coincidence anymore. This can’t be. I seldom go a day without life reminding me that I’m lucky. With blatant opportunity, subtle beauty, or extraordinary experiences, I’m constantly reminded that my life is exceptional. When I mess up, I pay for it quickly. The lessons I learn aren’t too painful. The joys aren’t too hard to find. And shit like stars reacting to my thoughts happens ALL THE TIME.

    But the answer to it all just came to me tonight. And that’s this mandate: stop fucking around and know god.

    Because I can. And because there is no greater purpose. I’ve done this life thing before, many times. And now I’m back one more time. This time I couldn’t be more set. The path couldn’t be clearer. This is my last temptation. All I need do is let it go… be alive, but be free. Then maybe I’ll meet that which makes stars move and dreams come alive.

    I’m so close. I can feel it.

    Jungle lakes

    Existence in paradise is always temporary. We found a slice of it 7 hours south of Bangkok, on a dam/national park. A short boat ride through rocky peaks under a setting sun brought us to our floating home for two nights.

    Putawan, a tiny floating village, gets it’s name from the little 2-year-old boy who apparently owns it. If it werent for his small stature and incomprehensible baby babble, you might believe it. He certainly had an innate sense of presence. During dinner the first night he serenaded us… Lesson: never give a child a microphone.

    After a few glasses of Sang Som, Thai rum, Lada and I joined a group of Thais loudly throwing money around on a board game I’d never played before. The board was divided into 6 squares, each filled with a different drawing: crab, fish, shrimp, tiger, cock, and some sort of bowl thing. To play you simply placed money on the squares you thought would win. When all the bets were down, someone picked a ticket from a bag, peeled off the backing, and revealed the 3 winning squares. Landing a square payed out 1:1.

    They were about as used to playing with a half-drunk farang as I was to playing with a group of Thais. As soon as I started throwing money down on the tiger, shouting tiger, and fist pumping, they started to love me. It took about three bets before I landed the tiger, at which point hollering and hand slapping spread like a contagion. Lada was translating as best she could, I just smiled and yelled the english and/or thai names of the squares I was betting. I retired after losing 40 baht or so ($1.30), which felt like money well spent. They all called me Tiger from then on.

    After a somewhat rough sleep, breakfast, and my first decent dookie in 3 days, we headed out on our private long-tail boat to explore the hidden treasures of this massive expanse of wilderness. I took way too many photos, probably.

    The highlight of it all was when our guide and captain, Dang, took us to a lone, jagged rock outcropping. He said we could jump off of it if we wanted. My heart beat faster when Lada translated, excitement welling. Then when I saw the ledge he proposed we throw ourselves off of, that excitement morphed into fear. But I climbed it, nearly tearing the skin off my feet, and followed my fearless guide over the ledge. It’s amazing how certain painful and nerve-wracking activities can be so much fun. I jumped twice more before calling it quits. Lada threw herself off the boat for her excitement. We got both on video.

    Later that day we ate some more, napped, paddled a leaky sit-on-top, swam, napped, and then headed back out to look for wildlife. Monkeys and toucans were everywhere.

    That night’s sleep was much better since that large group of Thais had moved on, and no one was around to wake us up a 6am with excited shrieks and splashes. We probably scored a solid 10 hours. After a relaxed breakfast, we headed back to the car and on to the next adventure.

    All in all it was a wonderful and unique experience. Just Lada and me exploring a Dam park with a Dang captain. Priceless.

    Location:Lanthong 5,Bang Phut,Thailand

    Thai Blessings and a New Year

    I don’t know what day of the week it is. And I don’t really care. I have to think real hard just to count how many days I’ve been here. Somehow it’s all a blur of smells, colors, laughter, awe, exhaustion, and even a bit of soul searching. That last bit is likely encouraged by that illusory line of the new year, crossed with a handful of young, ambitious people in a stimulatingly bizarre locale.

    It began with dinner. Lada and I joined the group after a relaxed day of mall strolling and people watching. Then sitting in the hotel bar waiting for everyone to meet up and out walked Mark Zuckerberg from the hotel elevator. He and his girlfriend strolled up to us and introduced themselves. I’d just finished reading the article in Time about this “man of the year” so shaking his hand was surreal to say the least. He’s like what they say, smart, friendly enough, but easily bored with others, or distracted by his own thoughts. He seems to listen to all the conversations around him, and joins the ones that peak his interest. Days later we would have fun trying to dunk our ball sacs, and only our ball sacs, in the hotel pool.

    At dinner I met Mary Beth and Dan, caught up. Mary Beth does remind me of mom in some subtle ways, like her keen interest in me, which makes me smile and miss home. After packing our bellies with about a dozen different varieties of thai food, we headed to a bar for drinks. Most everyone was whooped from the trip to Bangkok, so it was an early night.

    The next day was the engagement ceremony. Chris’s best buddy, Drew, and I were asked to carry baby banana and sugar cane trees in the procession behind Daniel, Chris, Mary Beth, and Dan. They told us to dance, so we got our goof on as Daniel helped Chris negotiate the numerous gates, where family ask questions and demanded dowries to ensure Chris was worthy. He succeeded… barely.

    The rest of the engagement ceremony was interesting. Representatives from both sides talked about why Chris was a worthy mate, as he sat on the floor at their feet. After the matriarch pronounced him acceptable, beautiful Visra strolled out and sat with him. Chris pulled out the ring and made it official. This all took place in Visra’s family home, which is now a museum to her grandfather who was a famous cultural icon of Thailand. He wrote numerous books, and was something like Thailand’s first foreign minister. Pretty cool.

    Sushi dinner and bowling followed. The beer was flowing, and the music was bumping. We had a great time getting to know Chris’s friends as Daniel threw strikes under his legs.

    The next day was the blessings ceremony which Lada had to miss because of some major award she won, called, according to her, “good dissertation,” or the third best in all of Thailand. She spent the morning standing by her poster answering questions as the rest of us watched a beautiful couple get blessings poured on them in the form of water and words. Visra’s dedicated makeup person was busy wiping the tears off her face throughout the ceremony. I, representing the Bralley family, did the best blessing I could think of which was just to say that we love them and that they’re beautiful.

    After all the blessings were bestowed, and the couple’s hands were thoroughly soaked, we ate like kings, watched traditional Thai dancing, and took photos. The paparazzi were waiting out front, hoping to grab a photo of the Zuckerberg. He snuck out the back, and the rest of us experienced a moment of fame as they thought for an instant that one of us other farangs might be him. Fame would get old really fast.

    That night was the big party. We drank lots of Johnny Walker and danced like maniacs. Chris had a dance-off with some random Thai to Billy Jean. Mary Beth and Dan even dropped in for a few, but I couldn’t get either on the dance floor. Hopefully in July!

    Erawan falls awaited us the next day. A few hour drive outside the city took us to a resort where we crashed and recharged. The entire next day starting at 6am we hiked up gorgeous limestone waterfalls, cruised up the river Kwai, rode elephants, checked out caves, and slap wore ourselves out. It was awesome!

    I managed to get a 30 minute nap in before the ride to the disco raft, and the all-out danceathon. Others weren’t so lucky. But good-ole Johnny came to the rescue of all.

    Hard to describe the disco raft. It was really two massive house-like boats attached and pulled by a small long-tail boat. We had fireworks. One of which blew out the wrong end and exploded all over us. In a bit of a shock, I blasted my roman candle straight into someone’s dock. Thank god nobody was over there.

    Then Mark Slee, Chris’s friend, coworker, and our DJ thoroughly rocked our faces off. Lada can hardly walk now because she danced so hard. The new year began with Lada and me letting go a floating lantern, wishing, and kissing on the river Kwai. It was special.

    Sometime in the early morning, the music stopped and we crawled into our mosquito nets on the other boat, covered ourselves as best we could and passed out. It’s amazing how soundly one can sleep on a hard surface if exhausted enough. At least until the morning when neighboring party boats blast terrible thai pop music and miniature barges rev their engines to the max in an effort to move things around. Fitting counter to our night of wonder and joy… God reminding us of the balance of things.

    With some goodbyes and well wishes, and lots of riding in vans and cars, that about brings us to now. Lada and I are having dinner with her parents tonight, then heading south at the butt-crack tomorrow morning. We’ll be sleeping on a lake, then on the ocean for three days. Scuba diving!

    I love this country.

    Swadi Krap for now!!

    Planning for the Zombie Apocalypse

    Hacking road signs in the apocalypse

    One day you’ll be sitting on your couch watching TV. Your face will be sheet white, your mouth hanging open, your palms sweaty. You’ll be watching your favorite news reporter explain to you that dead people in your community are walking around, with crazy eyes, attacking and eating your neighbors. And just as he’s recommending that you to stay indoors until someone figures out why and what to do about it, the power will go out. You don’t know it, but somewhere miles away the people who run the power grid are busy either looking for brains to eat, or struggling to keep the brains they already have from being eaten.

    This is going to happen.

    And because your wife needs a hair dryer, you’re going to ignore the news reporter’s recommendation and leave the safety of your home to wander about, dodging and destroying zombies, looking for a gas generator. But inevitably, what you’ll end up finding is a fat helping of brains. Maybe even your family’s brains. A recent poll found that, during the zombie apocalypse, by far the most common thing an average person would do is: taste delicious.

    That is why today I urge each of you to begin learning about how to first reduce your consumption of energy, and then learn how to completely self-sustain that energy consumption off the grid. I guarantee you, if you wait until the zombie apocalypse to start this process, you will become zombie meat.

    Americans use 6 times the energy per capita than the world average. This means that we’re 6 times more screwed than the rest of the world when zombies take down the grid.

    So why do we use so much energy? Much of it is simply due to ignorance.

    A recent study that quizzed Americans on what they thought were the most effective ways to save energy, revealed that many Americans believe that the biggest savings come from small behavior changes that actually achieve very little (like turning off lights), and severely underestimate the major effects of switching to efficient, currently available technologies (like energy-saving washers and dryers).

    Researchers prior to that study have concluded that American households could reduce energy consumption by some 30% simply by making better buying decisions, all without big economic sacrifices, new technology, or disruptions to the standard American quality of life.

    Basically, we can use much less energy just by being more informed consumers. It’s what we refer to in the zombie world as a no-brainer.

    Ok, so you’re on your way to minimizing your energy consumption. Now what? You might be thinking that since zombies won’t last very long, you’ll be ok with a generator and a stockpile of gas. Hell, you might even bag yourself a couple zombies and run them out one at a time on a zombie-wheel generator. Sure, that could work.

    But have you considered the post-apocalyptic chaos where the survivors are killing each other over dwindling resources? What then?

    You’re far better off with a sustainable energy source like solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, or even biofuels. Nearly all of these systems can be built from commonly available parts by anyone with some time, determination, and of course, brains. But keep in mind that many vital components to these systems are built using advanced manufacturing techniques. These may become unavailable to you when the world’s economies completely collapse, and all the remaining engineers and scientists are being kidnapped by ruthless survivors with guns.

    So get started soon by first evaluating all of these technologies to determine which are well suited to your hideout. For example, it’ll be hard to build hydroelectric if your hideout isn’t near any natural water sources.

    Then you’ll want to calculate the break-even based on your current energy expenditures, government subsidies, output, and your expected lifetime… but cut that lifetime in half because of the zombies. This will help you rationalize the sizeable upfront investment. You might even find that you can make some money from selling the surplus energy back to the grid. Of course, once the zombies destroy the grid, that becomes irrelevant. But it still might help you sell the whole idea to the wife.

    All the information you need to become a more efficient consumer and, ultimately, live a self-sustaining lifestyle are online. Simply seek it out. But don’t wait too long, zombies will take down the internet too.

    Trust me, this is going to happen.

    Copenhagen, Denmark


    New Haven - Where tourists get robbed.

    Ah… travel. Somehow it gets a little easier each time. Or I’m just getting luckier.

    I’d be remiss to let this latest adventure pass without a word or two on what was seen, heard, and done. Copenhagen the city, people, culture, and sights are all worthly of remark.

    I arrived in the AM, after about 24 hours of being awake. A fellow american who just so happened to be going to the same conference as I sat no more than two seats across from me on the plane. We chatted, drank glasses of free wine, and nerd-bonded as best we could before the plane landed. On the metro to my hotel we met a nice couple of Danes who were more than happy to show us tourists the wheres, whys, and hows of beautiful Copenhagen. I love the hapless toursit card.

    Later, after a short nap, a Metametrix business associate and his budding entreprenuer in training met me later at the hotel. We walked downtown through various backstreets, neighborhoods, parks, and city streets. The women were out. Luckily, I was told, the weather had just turned up when I arrived. The Danes had languished under the oppressing cold of a longer and harsher than usual winter. On this day they were sporting their best summer dresses, celebrating the source of life: sun.  We were happy to celebrate it with them.

    We went to a classic danish restaurant, ate some bizarre yet tasty appetizer-like danish foods, drank some quality danish beers, and talked business, life, and adventure.  A cool breeze joined us on occasion under the canvas awning.  Locals and toursits walked and biked by, all headed somewhere without urgency.  I was happy, it felt like vacation.

    Then we walked to a famous part of town: Nyhaven.  Americans call it Newhaven or Newport.  But with the danish tongue, it sounds more like Newhown.  Anyway, this is were the toursits come in flocks to pay crazy prices for beer (~10USD) and get their wallets stolen.  Pretty though, with a nice little canal running through it.  We sat and drank and talked some more.  My body was beginning to quit, only the beer sustaining me.  A few pints later, and with a well worn mouth and ear, we got up to find a city bike I could swipe for a mere 20 kronos (~4USD).  Luckily one was waiting, chained to a rack nearby.  I stuck in a 20 kronos coin, hopped on, and the three of us began our bike ride through the city.

    Every street in Copenhagen is lined with bike paths.  It’s amazing.  No one drives.  The 180% tax on cars no doubt influences this behavior.  Everyone rides their bikes everywhere, or walks, or takes the metro, train, or bus.  Most of the cars in the city are taxis, Mercedes Benz taxis.  Yeah…  if you’re gonna ride a car, do it in style.

    We biked passed old parks, castles, cemetaries.  We saw where Bohr and Andersen were buried and noticed the plethora of, ahem, ladies riding past us in skirts.

    I slept like a baby.

    The next day the brain-packed conference for all things Umbraco began.  Geeks from around the world (mostly Europe) gathered to share stories, accomplishments, and awkward chuckles.  It was splendid.  I felt right at home.

    I’ll spare you, my dear reader, of all the technical wonders that unfolded before me in those 3 days.  But rest assured that my eyes and ears were open.  Conversations on deployments, tricks, tools, and experiences both helped crystalize my thoughts and shatter them in exciting new directions.  I left those three days with no less than a firm resolve to accomplish more, and a renewed confidence in my ability to do so.

    That night the partying began.  I’d found a Danish friend, Anders (as common as John in the US), at the conference who, with a sense of style and a rich social charm, seemed like the kind of guy I needed to be going out with.

    We hit it hard.  Bars, clubs, the streets… all packed with swarms of young people looking for nothing but a laugh and a high.  Towards the end of the night we found a group of recent graduates, donning the commemorative white sailor-like caps, who happened to want to fulfill a customary post-graduate ritual: skinny dipping in the ocean.  We followed them, and ended up watching the sunrise on the beach…

    High School Grads skinny dipping

    High school grads skinny dipping

    The next few days continued splendidly.  I learned as much as I could between food and naps.  I met some interesting folks too: one brilliant hacker from the UK with Asbergers, a metal head from Sweden, Dutch nerds, French consultants, and a shy Italian.  We bonded over some beers on a tour boat that took us around the harbor and through inlets, where we watched witches burn and people celebrate.

    When the conference was over Chris, my business connection, took me to his lovely house where we ate, drank, and talked.  It was splendid, and I felt truly lucky to be there with good, hospitable people.  Later that night, the entrepreneur-in-training and I borrowed some bikes and rode downtown looking for a party.  We found it.  Later that morning, we had the brilliant idea to find Christiana… however, we went the wrong way. That wee little blessing in disguise brought me back home with time to sleep before another fun-filled day.

    I managed to get some touring in the last day.  I walked around to a big old military barracks, snapped photos, wrote, ate a traditional breakfast plate.  The obligatory tourist day, you know… ever vacation needs one.

    The final days in Copenhagen were unencumbered by any sort of responsibility.  This, I love.  Christiana inevitably drew me into it’s sly embrace.  Legal marijuana.  No cameras. No police. Just a community of freedom-seekers passing time with whatever degree of productivity they desire.  Beautiful, sad, hopeful… human.

    Copenhagen.  I’ll remember you.

    Theme: Esquire by Matthew Buchanan.