Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hawaii Part 1: Molokini Island

In April 2007, I went on the most incredible vacation of my life. I went to Hawaii. It certainly made for a spectacular first trip off the continent, and I'm sure I'll remember it for the rest of my life (and not just because of the 800+ photos I took). I'd love to post about the entire trip, transcribing the experience so I'll remember it even more vividly, but the story doesn't seem to present itself linearly.

We woke up early that morning, the sun just barely rising as we did. After a scurry of packing our gear and a short drive, we were at the marina waiting for the tour to depart. I was treated to a gorgeous sunrise overlooking the bobbing boats at their docks. When our boat was ready, all the tourists piled aboard and we were off. I found myself a viewpoint on the front upper deck so I could feel the wind on my face as we approached Molokini Island. The island is actually the crater of a volcano that long ago sunk back into the ocean. Only a crescent is still above the water, forming an embrace around the coral reef contained within. There is only a thin strip of coral that snorkelers can swim over; it is illegal to set foot on the island itself, so tourists have to stay far enough away that a large wave won't send them crashing into the coral.

While I was preparing my gear, a younger boy of about fifteen approached me and asked if I would be his dive partner. I was delighted that instead of being restricted to the expected pace of my parents I would in fact be the slow dive partner. The two of us sped around the reef, diving deep underwater to get close enough to see the creatures in fine detail. We swam through large groups of black fish with yellow fins that were hovering near the surface of the water, darting around the tourists as if curious. On our deeper dives (though I couldn't go much past ten or fifteen feet down, after that my ears ached fiercely) we even passed by a large eel who promptly hid inside a rock. The fish were too varied to count, forming a circus of colors. The lensed goggles that the captain had lent me allowed me to glory in this beautiful display of nature.

Though we were only in the water for an hour or so, it seemed like mere minutes. After our time was up, we joined the crew for a lunch of burgers, hot-dogs and pasta salad. On our way to the next location, our captain was told of a pack of whales by a nearby tourist craft. We rushed to join them, in time to see what the guide described as, "the most incredible display [she] had ever seen." A pod of humpback whales had just begun competing over a female, and we were treated to several tail-splashes by the males. Then, out of the blue (pun intended), one of the males arced out of the water, twisting in midair like a trained dolphin at an aquarium. It was breathtaking. Then the fight began in earnest, with one whale raising its tail out of the water to crash it down on the other over and over. I actually caught this on video, and have watched it many times. Everyone aboard agreed it was the best show of the season.

Our second destination was just off an otherwise unassuming beach. Underneath the water, however, was an entirely different story. The reef was massive, and hugely developed. Corals grew ten feet tall in some places, high-rises for the metropolous of fish living within their protective confines. As my dive partner and I explored this vast landscape, the rest of the tour began to group together in one spot. As I suggested we find the reason for such a gathering, I noticed my dive-partner gesturing excitedly behind me. I turned to find myself three feet from a turtle who's shell was easily larger than my torsoe. My jaw dropped as it glided past me, almost majestic in the ease with which it traveled. It was absolutely breathtaking.

What I've described thus far was about 6 hours out of a fourteen day trip. I can't wait to tell you the rest.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Tribute to Brilliance

(The following post is a speech I performed on March 21, 2007 for my Toastmasters club. It is limited to 5 minutes and was written in about an hour.)

I'd like to present a tribute to my favorite online personality: zeFrank.

He hit the web in a flash (pun intended) several years ago with a flash birthday invitation “How to Dance” he made for seventeen of his friends. Within days, it was forwarded to several million people. Ze followed that up with several more flash videos and small web toys until he started The Show on March 17, 2006.

Each three to five minute episode consisted of a close-up of zeFrank’s unblinking face talking directly into the camera with observations, songs, occasional games or challenges for his viewers, and videos of Ze’s silliness. The show was an instant hit.

His quirky sense of humor (a mix of dry sarcasm and earnest goofiness) and his ability to make extremely complicated subjects understandable won him thousands of daily viewers. The Show had a lot of running gags, including referring to viewers as “Sports Racers”, affectionately referencing “duckies” at any opportunity, "S-s-s-somethin' from the comments", “Ride the Fire-Eagle Danger Day” (Fridays), and following absurdist skits with the question "Are the new viewers gone yet?"

Not only did he make us laugh, he made us learn.

He taught us a lot about politics, including the complexities of the middle-eastern situation, how many times Bush’s administration completely changed their strategy (and stated that they hadn’t changed it at all), why the embargo on North Korea was only giving the rich more power, and exactly how many rights United States citizens had left

By no means were his topics low-hanging fruit.

In one episode he showed how deception in evolution could be used to explain, “given the complexities of the human brain, [how we developed] a conscious mind that could be so [incredibly] stupid?”

He encouraged us to follow through with our ideas because if we convince ourselves we don't have the time or resources to do them right, we’ll just glamorize them in our mind and never act on them. He warned us that we could get addicted to keeping those ideas like some kind of 'Brain Crack'.

Ze explained the theory that your brain has the ability to synthesize happiness to bring you back up to your baseline regardless of the circumstance that you find yourself stuck in; the stress and anxiety that you feel when you think that you have a choice does matter. It makes you less happy. He concluded by telling us to, “toss that receipt”.

He taught us how to “bust your cycle”, where you “take one aspect of your life that's more or less constant and purposely bust it” to “experience the world in a very different way” and get a sense of elation and new possibility.

The Show didn’t stop there either, ZeFrank constantly came up with vaguely on-topic short songs to go with some episodes. My favorite is “Hind-sight is 20/20”.

ZeFrank involved his viewers in lots of challenges, including the Earth Sandwich, the “I knows me some ugly MySpace showdown”, RunningFool’s “Human Baton” relay across the United States, the MySpace adoption program, the vacuum cleaner dress up, viewer-created song remixes and videos for Ray, and finally the "power move quack attack" where Sports Racers pitted their Power Moves against one another.

Sadly, Friday March 17th was the final episode of The Show. ZeFrank closed most shows with the line, “this is ZeFrank thinking… so you don’t have to.” Well, as we say goodbye to one of the most beloved characters in the internet community, I guess we’re going to have to start thinking for ourselves.

The Final Episode

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Getaway

(Sometime last year...)

The night was ending predictably. The movie had been awesome (another random action flick) and everyone had parted with laughter ringing in the air. I had offered to drive two coworkers home and was about to drop off the first. We chatted about the movie, dropped quotes to responding guffaws, and listened to the radio. The night had a warm hazy feel to it. The light from the street lamps blurred and stretched against the car windows. Pregnant clouds hung low in the sky, promising a rain that hadn't quite come yet. I stared down the empty streets with curiosity, eagerly peeking into the paths and passageways of suburbia. Almost to our destination, we came upon a secondary school. Unremarkable in structure, the only distinguishing characteristic was what could be found in front of it. The stately serenity of the streets had been broken by a large group of teens.

I peered closer as they milled about, following the trail until my gaze reached the front of this unseemly pack. Several boys were striding menacingly towards one boy who retreated backwards, hands held in front and above his head open and facing forward. Simultaneously a sign of submission and a defensive position, I realized this boy was in trouble and slowed down to observe more closely. He was larger than the other boys, heavy-set and tall with brawny arms. His hair was un-kept, sticking out from his head in a curly mess.

From out of the milling pack sprang an incredibly odd object, moving quickly toward their prey. My eyes tracked quickly to catch up to it as I stopped the car. I realized this odd contraption was some form of go-cart, complete with a roll-cage, and that it was heading at top speed on a collision course with its victim. At this point I had passed the group, and had a decision to make. My first thought was to jump from the car and rush to his aide, getting the teens to back off through words, physical intimidation, or (as a last resort) physical violence. Simultaneously, I realized that playing to my 'strengths' would probably end with no small amount of bloodshed. With a surge of adrenaline, I barked orders to my coworkers.

"Paul, roll down the passenger window, NOW!"

Paul's eyes widened and he paused a moment with questioning eyes, noticeably trying to catch up with the situation. With a screeching of brakes, the car stopped so suddenly it fish-tailed a bit to the left. I slammed it into reverse. The wheel protested under such strain, but I managed to straighten the car out as I sped in reverse. Paul began frantically turning the lever that opened the passenger window. I watched as the victim narrowly dodged the go-cart, jumping aside at the last second. I moved closer to the curb, careful not to scrape it but knowing that each inch counted.

"Tim, open that door and shift to your LEFT!"

As Tim reached for the door handle, we came alongside the boy again. By this time the entire crowd was staring, mouths agape, at my car. This, obviously, was not in the plan. Somehow, amidst all this furious action, I managed to make eye-contact with the boy across all that distance. I stared intently back and cocked my head toward the rear-passenger door.


Everything seemed to move in slow-motion. My gaze panned across the crowd, looks of bewilderment on many faces, others painted with a furrowed brow. I watched as the boy dropped slightly, shifting his weight, turning to the left and bending that leg at the knee. A sprinting stance. His movement seemed achingly slow. One of the lead aggressors started turning his head, just noticing the movement right in front of him. But it was too late. The boy already had an insurmountable lead on them all. Several feet away, he practically dove through the car door, rocking the vehicle heavily when he landed.

"GO, GO, GO!" he yelled.

I stomped the accelerator to the floor and would have smoked the tires badly had my car not been a gutless Cavalier. As it was they squealed loudly, piercing the calm night.

"Are you all right, dude?" I asked, to which he replied, breathless, "Oh my god, THANK you!"

As I sped away from the school, a water-bottle arced in front of the windshield. I glanced to my right to see a young girl, mouth angrily moving, forming unheard obscenities.

"You're welcome. What's your name?"

He went on to explain that he was a small-time pot-head and tough-guy, explaining the appropriately scruffy nick-name. Now that his breath had calmed somewhat, I noticed the slight hesitation his speech. A sort of pause as he formed scrambled words into coherent thought. He obviously didn't have full control of his faculties, possibly some disorder or another. Either way, it was probably the reason that he'd been antagonized; high school kids are notoriously cruel, and the slow or handicapped are favored targets.

"Where do you live, man? I'll drive you home." He gave me the directions interspersed with "thank you" and "I can't believe that freaking happened". As we drove, I inquired as to why the situation arose. He replied stoically, "They're always doin' stuff like that. Assholes, man." I glanced in the rear-view mirror and caught his expression turn dark, "Shit, just drop me off at home. I'll grab my machete and teach those fuckers a lesson." He was mad enough to do it too.

"Don't be an idiot." Obviously not the response he expected. "Hard cold facts, dude. There were twenty guys back there, and I don't care if you're Chuck-friggin'-Norris, you can't take them all." The boy tried to protest, but I cut him off. "Do they know where you live?"


"Okay then." I raised my voice slightly in order to really get this through to him. "I'm going to drop you off, you're going to go inside, lock the doors and call 9-1-1. And then STAY there. You got that?"


I raised my voice a bit more. "What're you gonna do?"

"I'll go home and call the cops. All-right, dude." He sounded sheepish, and I didn't want to make him feel antagonized while coming off of the adrenaline rush, so I added, "Good man, it's the right thing to do. We've gotta be smart about this thing, I don't want anyone to get hurt here."

He seemed calmer as he replied, "Okay you got it."

The short drive passed uneventfully (he was only a block away) and he left the car with a thankful goodbye and a promise to pay me back some day. I wished him well and drove off. The car's silence was palpable.

I turned to Tim and Paul with a wicked grin, "Well... that was fun!"