"Undermining my electoral viability since 2001."

Prepared notes; introduction to a new chapter.

I've felt that I've been living in a somewhat liminal state for the past several years — "liminal" meaning, literally, "the confusion of being in-between things". It's a feeling that strikes most strongly on long introspective plane flights, the physical dislocation of travel, the surreality of international airports, the sense of being above and beyond any particular home, all sharpening this aspect. I have been in transition, into full adulthood/out of young-adulthood, to the state California, through the stomach-dropping section of a career arc, etc. It's been quite a ride.

Sometimes in life the section breaks are clear: birthdays are a big deal early on, you go to different schools, to college, maybe your family relocates, etc. These often turn out to be the important mile-markers they feel like at the time. Sometimes not, but often. Other shifts in the story are more subtle, hard to detect in real-time, emerging only in the clarity of hindsight.

Tonight I have occasion to remark on both varieties.

A little over two and a half years ago, I met a woman. Rina. At the time I was living in the far remote reaches of northern California, behind the Redwood curtain, off a gravel road off a gravel road, at the edge of the grid, plying my trade as a frontiersman of the internet. It'd been a good run, but I was itching for a change, thirsty to get back into more serious and sustained contact with the rest of the world. Rina was living in New York City, metropolis where I came of age and where we'd met cute, and somewhat more distressingly imminently bound for London, which also happens to be the first "real city" I ever set foot in as a free-standing human being, the place that first gave me the bug to get out and see the world. Improbably, against a daunting reef of timezones and what seemed like my better judgment, I decided to pursue her.

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I skipped out on the Tough Mudder. I've been having back problems for the past several weeks (e.g. last weekend I could barely get around the house) and it just didn't seem prudent to try and run 10 miles, let alone subject myself to random electroshocks. It still feels like a let-down/cop-out, but I don't need to injure myself to prove anything. Though it still left something to be desired, training over the summer got my metabolism working in the right direction again — something I plan on continuing — and there's always next year, so no great loss.

Also of no great loss was the little place I rented up in Tahoe! Absent the race, it made a good way to start a week's vacation: getting out of the city, taking in some pine-fresh mountain air. Feeling the unique thrill of being on the Nevada side of the state border.

I'm in NYC now for a few days, then off to Moab Utah on Thursday for my friend Molly's wedding and a gathering of good old friends. I'll be mostly off the grid for the duration (no twitter, minimal email, etc), and hope to return to real life on October 1st with refreshed energy and renewed focus.

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On Risk

mountain biking

Last Saturday I was in Texas giving a talk at Dallas Drupal Days. The morning after I got up early to go mountain biking with Tom and Dave from Level Ten — the conference anchors; thanks guys! — and their friend Peter, who really set the pace on the ride. It was a lot of fun, and as you can see I had a few brushes with the terrain. Turns out my street biking skills don't translate super well to the offroad context in terms of maneuvering, but I was mostly able to keep up and the road rash (tree rash, actually) was totally superficial.

It got me thinking about risk. I've got a fake tooth stemming from a pretty messy bike wreck in Brooklyn back in 2003, and my chosen mode of transport has gotten me into a number of other other scrapes. I commute daily on the gauntlet of Market street, which is a chunky combination of traffic, potholes and trolly tracks, and enjoy the daily challenge, but the odd moment of jamming between busses aside it doesn't really raise my hackles. By contrast, riding up and down creekbeds and over roots and rocks felt downright dangerous.

The perception of risk is in part about experience; urban street riding is all about tracking multiple changing variables — the timing of the lights, the position and momentum vectors of traffic, the odds that someone is going to open a car door, etc — in the context of relatively flat/even/vanilla landcape, whereas mountain-biking is about maintaining momentum and clean lines of action as the landscape throws challenges at you. Both activities carry risk, but the one I'm used to feels (relatively) safe.

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Public Interest at the Planetary Scale

I'm always surprised when I meet someone who shares my fuzzy vision of globally networked democracy as the plausibly positive planetary prospectus.

This idea is out there, in the air. People sense kind of intuitively that easy/instant global communication will probably change the way we govern ourselves, but even in the thought bubble of San Francisco it's not something that seems to get a lot of direct attention.

I recently had a couple of run-ins, one with a future-focused magazine curator in SF and another with a Berkeley PhD turned Goldman Sachs wizard in New York. It got me thinking about why it's so surprising to find these types of connections.

Tech people tend to be lower-level in their interests — debating the bits and bytes of different languages, products, techniques and companies — and the business-end of the change we're living tends to get a lot more media attention than the broader social implications. Not surprising given the cultural context we inhabit, but still kind of a shame.

To the extent that "big picture" ideas get much play on the nerd scene, people seemed more taken by the Singularity, the computation-driven quasi-apocalypse. It's a neat sci-fi diversion — an interesting enough Dark Future, good for a pulpy novel or two — but doesn't strike me as imminently practical model for anticipating or piloting the future. Other big-think doomsayers fixate on Peak Oil, or the collapse of the global economy, etc.

While I'm as big a fan as anyone of Red Dawn disaster fantasies, I don't really believe preparation for total societal collapse is a wise use of resources. Human beings always believe the end of the world is coming, and we tend to be wrong. The future will bring change, no doubt, but the operative question (to me) is not "how can we ride this out in a compound?" but rather "how do we get ourselves to a new Golden Age?"

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