Better pets – Trees and Turtles

It always seems like a good idea to get a pet, especially during the holidays.  In fact, this is a terrible time for shelters, because in the next few weeks they are going to get flooded with puppies people shouldn’t have bought in the first place.  Maybe the only time worse than the holidays is the period immediately following the release of a Disney movie about dogs.  Weak-willed parents succumb to children’s whining and pick up a dalmatian from the nearest mall’s puppymill middleman.  It doesn’t take them long to realize what they’ve gotten in to.

If only people put the kind of thought that goes in to a car purchase into the decision to buy a dog.  But they don’t.  People don’t understand the importance of researching breeds and breeders, and consulting a knowledgeable professional before bring a pet into the house. And pets are terrible surprise gifts. Everyone in the house should be in on the decision to get a pet.  Everyone is going to have responsibilities.  Do not make deals with certain members of the house exempting them from responsibilities – it doesn’t work that way.  Especially in the case of a puppy, everyone in the house has an influence on training – good or bad.

The Pet Rock was in many ways the perfect pet – they don’t die, they’re virtually indestructible, and they require no care.  Turtles can live to be a couple of hundred years old, although I suspect that tends not to be the case in captivity.  I’ve recently read about some trees that are believed to have been living for several thousand years.  Now that’s my kind of pet.  Of course, I have the bonsai touch of death, so even that wouldn’t work for me. It’s true – if you get me a bonsai tree it will be dead within just weeks.

Some people think it’s good to get children pets so they can learn about life and death.  I think it’s a terrible set up.  I really don’t mean to make an argument against having pets, I’m just saying people should understand what they’re getting into.  It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of money, it’s a large emotional investment, and it ends with death.

I guess that’s life.

It’s Time

One upside of a down economy should be the growth of our “cognitive surplus”.  If you haven’t heard the term cognitive surplus I recommend reading Clay Shirky’s April 26, 2008 blog entry, “Gin, Television, and Social Surplus“.  I guess in short you could say it’s the free time we have to watch TV. Time we could be doing something productive, but instead we’re watching reruns of Friends.

From that blog entry:

So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project–every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in–that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it’s the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus.

So what’s the point? Great things will rise from the ashes of the economy, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t get a piece.  Open an Etsy store, write a novel, file a patent application, start a podcast, or start a blog. Pick up a new hobby, get in shape, or learn a language.

If you want to invent something here’s a video to get you started – MAKE presents: The Resistor from make magazine on Vimeo.

Notes on podcasting

  • Get an expensive mic – at least $100
  • Keep it short, but not too short.  2 minute pod casts are annoying. 2 hour podcasts are too long.
  • Follow a schedule – most of these guys just ramble, which leads to talking about how they’re rambling.  Just don’t ramble.
  • Do not read to me. Talk, don’t read.  This isn’t an audiobook.  Unless of course, it is an audiobook. Then go ahead and read to me.  Thanks.
  • Long intros/outros, especially if they’re just music, are annoying and serve no purpose.
  • Get to the point – don’t spend 5 minutes telling me what you’re about to tell me.  Just tell me.
  • Make it available from places other than iTunes, including just an mp3 download from the site.
  • Don’t talk about Podcasting. Avoid the word altogether.  Unless your podcast happens to be about podcasting.  Then it’s fine with me, because I won’t be listening any way.
  • Have a website for the podcast, even if it’s just a simple list of the episodes.  Sometimes podcatchers or RSS feeds get screwed up, and I don’t know if I have most recent show or not,
  • Make show notes available on the website you should have created for your show.  This doesn’t have to be very detailed, just a list of links you mentioned in the show will do.  I know of one podcast that makes transcripts for each show.  That’s awesome.
  • Make ads interesting.  If you preroll the same ads week after week I’m going to fast forward them. If you don’t know how to make an “infotainment” style ad, listen to a TWIT Network podcast or two.
  • Make every episode back to the first show available somewhere.
  • Stabilize the audio levels, especially if you record different segments in different places.  I hate it when the volume goes up and down during a show.

Google Talks

Google has a program called Authors@Google where they invite authors to a Google office to give an informal talk, do a reading, and / or take questions from an audience of Google employees.  They make some of them availble on YouTube/Google Video.  They get awesome guests.  The videos are about an hour each.  I haven’t watched many of them yet, but here’s a selection from their list I’m excited about:

James Randi

James Randi is an internationally known magician (as The Amazing Randi), psychic debunker, and winner of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant.” He was a founding fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). He is perhaps best known for offering $1,000,000 (via the James Randi Educational Foundation) to anyone who can successfully demonstrate psychic powers under conditions mutually agreed on by the challenger and himself. Starting with a $10,000 prize over 25 years ago, no claimant to psychic powers has ever won the money. Randi has pursued “psychic” spoonbenders, exposed the dirty tricks of faith healers, investigated homeopathic water “with a memory,” and generally been a thorn in the sides of those who try to pull the wool over the public’s eyes in the name of the supernatural. This event took place August 6, 2007 at Google Headquarters in Mountain View, CA.

Neal Stephenson

Author Neal Stephenson visits Google’s Headquarters in Mountain View, Ca, to discuss his book “Anathem”. This event took place September 12, 2008, as part of the Authors@google series. For more info, please visit  Anathem, the latest invention by the New York Times bestselling author of Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle, is a magnificent creation: a work of great scope, intelligence, and imagination that ushers readers into a recognizable—yet strangely inverted—world. Fraa Erasmas is a young avout living in the Concent of Saunt Edhar, a sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside “saecular” world by ancient stone, honored traditions, and complex rituals. Over the centuries, cities and governments have risen and fallen beyond the concent’s walls. Three times during history’s darkest epochs violence born of superstition and ignorance has invaded and devastated the cloistered mathic community. Yet the avout have always managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe, becoming out of necessity even more austere and less dependent on technology and material things. And Erasmas has no fear of the outside—the Extramuros—for the last of the terrible times was long, long ago. Neal Stephenson is the author of seven previous novels. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Ron Paul

2008 Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul in discussion with Google executive Elliot Schrage as part of the company’s Candidates@Google series.

Christopher Hitchens

Author Christopher Hitchens discusses his book “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” as a part of the Authors@Google series. The author of Why Orwell Matters and Letters to a Young Contrarian, Christopher Hitchens is a Vanity Fair contributing editor, a Slate columnist, and a regular contributor to The Atlantic Monthly. He has also written for The Nation, Granta, Harper’s, The Washington Post, and is a frequent television and radio guest. Born in England, Hitchens was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, where he received a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics. He now lives in Washington, D.C., and he became a U.S. citizen in 2007. This event took place on August 16, 2007 at Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA.

James Watson

Nobel Prize winner James D. Watson speaks at Google’s Mountain View, CA, headquarters as part of the Authors@Google series. This event took place on April 6, 2006.

Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain is interviewed by Google Executive Chef Nate Keller at Google’s Mountain View, CA headquarters. This event took place on November 20, 2007 as part of the Authors@Google series.

Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer discusses his book “Mind of the Market” as part of the Authors@Google series. How did we evolve from ancient hunter-gatherers to modern consumer-traders? Why are people so irrational when it comes to money and business? Bestselling author Dr. Michael Shermer argues that evolution provides an answer to both of these questions through the new science of evolutionary economics. Drawing on research from neuroeconomics, Shermer explores what brain scans reveal about bargaining, snap purchases, and how trust is established in business. Utilizing experiments in behavioral economics, Shermer shows why people hang on to losing stocks and failing companies, why business negotiations often disintegrate into emotional tit-for-tat disputes, and why money does not make us happy. Employing research from complexity theory, Shermer shows how evolution and economics are both examples of a larger phenomenon of complex adaptive systems. Along the way, Shermer answers such provocative questions as: Do our tribal roots mean that we will always be a sucker for brands? How is the biochemical joy of sex similar to the rewards of business cooperation? How can nations increase trust within and between their borders? Finally, Shermer considers the consequences of globalization and what will happen if nations allow free trade across their borders. This event took place January 29, 2008 at Google Headquarters in Mountain View, CA.

Josh Waitzkin

Chess champion Josh Waitzkin visits Google’s Mountain View, CA headquarters to discuss his book “The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence.” This event took place on April 10, 2008, as part of the Authors@Google series. Josh Waitzkin is an 8-time National Chess Champion, 13-time Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands National Champion, and Two-time Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands World Champion. In 1993 Paramount Pictures released the film Searching for Bobby Fischer, based on the highly acclaimed book of the same title written by Fred Waitzkin, documenting Josh’s journey to winning his first National Championship. In addition to Josh’s intense competitive life, he is a renowned writer and teacher in the fields of learning and performance psychology. Since 1997, Josh has been the spokesperson for Chessmaster, the largest computer chess program in the world, and a spokesperson for the fight against Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Over the past several years, Josh has appeared in all media venues from MTV, ESPN, and Today to People, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, The New York Times, Inside Kung Fu, and Kung Fu & Tai Chi Magazine. The Art of Learning is an autobiographical discussion of the learning process and performance psychology, drawing from Josh’s experiences in both chess and the martial arts. Interview by Peter Allen, director of Google University. Visit for more information.

Cory Doctorow

The Authors@Google program welcomed Cory Doctorow to Google’s New York office to discuss his new book “Little Brother”. Cory Doctorow is the award-winning author of, amongst others, “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom”, “Eastern Standard Tribe”, and “Overclocked”. He is a co-editor of BoingBoing, a contributing writer to Wired and a regular columnist in The Guardian, Make, and Popular Science. A fellow of the EFF, he is a frequent speaker on copyright issues, and a staunch advocate of the Creative Commons. To date, all of his novels have been released in free digital versions under Creative Commons licenses at the same time as they have appeared in print. This event took place on May 28, 2008.

Peter Sagal

Peter Sagal visits Google’s Mountain View, CA headquarters to discuss his book “The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (and How to Do Them).” This event took place on July 23, 2008, as part of the Authors@Google series. Somewhere, somebody is having more fun than you are. Or so everyone believes. Peter Sagal, a mild-mannered, Harvard-educated NPR host—the man who put the second “L” in “vanilla”—decided to find out if it’s true. From strip clubs to gambling halls to swingers clubs to porn sets—and then back to the strip clubs, but only because he left his glasses there—Sagal explores exactly what the sinful folk do, how much they pay for the privilege, and exactly how they got those funny red marks. He hosts a dinner for three of the smartest porn stars in the world, asks the floor manager at the oldest casino in Vegas how to beat the house, and indulges in molecular cuisine at the finest restaurant in the country. Meet liars and rich people who don’t think consumption is a disease, encounter the most spectacular view ever seen from a urinal, and say hello to Nina Hartley, the only porn star who can discuss Nietzsche while strangers smack her butt. With a sharp wit, a remarkable eye for detail, and the carefree insouciance that can only come from not having any idea what he’s getting into, Sagal proves to be the perfect guide to sinful behavior. What happens in Vegas—and in less glamorous places—is all laid out in these pages, a modern version of Dante’s Inferno, except with more jokes. Peter Sagal ( is the host of Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!,™ the NPR ™ news quiz. He is also an award-winning playwright, occasional screenwriter, onetime extra in a Michael Jackson music video, former staff writer for a motorcycle magazine, and a regular contributor to “The Funny Pages” in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Sagal lives near Chicago with his wife and three daughters. This is his first book.

Steven Levy

Steven Levy discusses his new book The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness as part of Google’s Authors@Google speaker series. This event took place at Google’s Mountain View, CA, headquarters.

Lawrence Lessig

Lawrence Lessig, author of “Free Culture,” visits Google’s New York office as part of the Authors@Google series. This event took place on October 3, 2006.

Steve Wozniak

Steve Wozniak talks about his career at Apple as well as his life and new book “iWoz” at Google.