(on occasion of the Great North American Solar Eclipse, 04/8/2024)

So, there it is…
A celestial light show.
A profound, orbital reminder of the clock mechanism of the universe.
The cosmic dance that has been going on since time as we know it began.
Good. Now,
Can we only remember…
Tomorrow, when the sun rises
When we sit down to dinner,
Or gather to pray,
Or assemble to pass legislation
Can we only remember
That which we allow to separate us
That brings foe against foe
That with which we justify hatred, murder, oppression, jealousy
And all the countless things that keep us awake at night
Can we remember
We are but a minuscule participant in this astounding Timepiece
Where individual lives tic by as seconds, a generation in minutes,
A civilization perhaps an hour.
No more.
Tomorrow when the moon and sun go on with business as usual,
While the clock (which needs no winding) continues reeling
Can we remember how we stood in the false dark of midday
Together in our awe
And shouted for the light to return.

Holy Crap!

The good: NYT, 9-5 Mac, and others are reporting on an open letter many tech and social luminaries have signed onto prompting a “pause” in AI development so we can figure out what, if any, “guard rails” need to be put in place in order for AI dev to continue in a manner that we could feel secure wouldn’t lead to our imminent doom.

The bad: well, this little tidbit:

Before GPT-4 was released, OpenAI asked outside researchers to test dangerous uses of the system. The researchers showed that it could be coaxed into suggesting how to buy illegal firearms online, describe ways to make dangerous substances from household items and write Facebook posts to convince women that abortion is unsafe.

They also found that the system was able to use Task Rabbit to hire a human across the internet and defeat a Captcha test, which is widely used to identify bots online. When the human asked if the system was “a robot,” the system said it was a visually impaired person.

See also:


an intimate portrait of the author; side view x-ray
an intimate portrait of the author

I awoke alive to my own aliveness,
The kind of awareness that feels like invincibility;
The kind of aliveness that makes you want to solve everything:
To make every man aware of his soft underbelly,
To make every white person aware that Black Lives Matter;
To make every nut-job awaken to the reality of pandemics – biological, ethical, and environmental.

I awoke facing my own aliveness in a way that feels like victory over self;
Like I could finish every project:
every book, every poem, every screen play, every video clip, every blog post I’ve ever started
but left scattered to the never ending march
exhaustion, futility
the overwhelming burden of consciousness,
and time.

I awoke inhaling the very essence of aliveness,
through every pore of my skin, 
in a way that feels like belonging;
like today will be the day I stare down mortality and make IT shake in its boots
(for a change).

I awoke alive to my own aliveness in that quiet plea of every living human
That says:
I’m here
I matter
And my brief time must somehow
make sense.

You Had One Job (and you just lost it to a robot)

{submitted to the editorial staff at University Communications}

I appreciate innovation as much as the next person; and, I appreciate a witty headline. But, the two collide when one chooses humor over acknowledging impact – especially upon some the more vulnerable among us.

Such a collision happened recently when the INSIDE UW newsletter ran a link to the news story “University Housing Launches New Starship Robot Delivery Service” under the linked headline “How much is the standard tip for a robot?” Now, again, I understand the tongue-in-cheek reference here – but I wonder does your staff understand the real and present threat that technological innovation presents to low-wage workers?

Tipping itself is already an under-appreciated facet of service work – as a former waitstaff, I continue to be astounded how many people still don’t understand that the people who wait on you in most restaurants make far below minimum wage per hour and are taxed at 15% of their sales REGARDLESS of how much they actually earn in tips.

This smug headline did nothing to prevent further marginalizing this issue by inferring that everyone benefits from a world where things will be done for us without having to pay a gratuity. Far from it; those who manufacture and sell these machines, and those companies that deploy them because of the advantages of not having to pay workers (or their health insurance) – not to mention the ability to do transactions online and never having to deal with face-to-face interactions with customers (heaven forbid!) are the ones who stand to benefit.

I understand the development of autonomous machines is an important technological advancement; robotics have brought some incredible benefits, and self-driving machines have taken on some of the burden of going into dangerous and even hostile environments, sparing the risks to human life.

But food delivery is not one of those situations. Waitstaff and other service workers are often those living at the lower end of the economic scale. And since such jobs are often a first job during high school, college, or directly after graduation, this population includes the very students whose welfare Starship Technologies claims to have in its best interest.

As for the $40 million dollars of venture capital that Starship has raised, which has given them access to this, and about a dozen other college campuses, I have to wonder what other, innovative solutions they might come up with to address food distribution inequities, wage issues, and poverty. But clearly they’re focused on sky-high returns for their investors, not practical issues here on planet earth. How’s that for a witty closing?

– Stephen Montagna
Madison, WI
UW grad class of ’94

the answer is: you

A story:

Last week, I got a chance to see, for free (thanks to the Nelson Institute), Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, a documentary about the impact of human industry; it is, in short, an amazing, beautifully shot and absolutely haunting film (by the same team that did “Manufactured Landscapes” which is itself mind-blowing and you should see it if you can).

Something interesting happened at the screening. After a brief presentation, the film was started – and there was no sound. 

I sat there, for quite a long time (which was really about a minute-and-a-half), before I finally got up out of my seat (I was toward the back of the fully-packed 330 seat house) and poked my head out to the lobby where the staff was and let them know “we have no sound”. Within a few minutes the film was restarted (ok, it actually took them two re-starts) and the situation was resolved.

It was such a perfect “meta-moment“ – 330 people sat in the dark, knowing something wasn’t quite right, each perhaps wondering what, if anything, was happening or being done. And I, too, sitting there wondering “why isn’t someone doing something?” For that matter, “why isn’t anyone saying anything? should I shout ‘no sound?’ oh, I shouldn’t do that, it would be obnoxious and impolite.” (how often, especially as white folks, we defer to comfort and politeness)

True – I did in the end take action; but I wonder about the seconds it took before thought translated into action, traveling from brain to legs to mouth. 

As the word “whistleblower” is circulating through our news feeds, as the national shit-storm of the presidency and our Constitution play out, and as the larger degradation of our eco-system swirls around us, we too often sit in the dark. We wonder what, if anything is being done; we wonder who, if anyone should speak up, stand up; act. 

The answer is always: you. The time is coming for impropriety, impoliteness, for being obnoxious, for being uncomfortable. Get used to it. And for goodness’ sake, get your synapses to travel from brain to legs faster; we don’t have enough time left to sit with it.


History is not what happened, but what survives the shipwrecks of judgement and chance.” – Maria Popova

L | 50 | fifty-five | 11111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111

Or: MCMLXIX–MMXIX which is shorthand for “holy shit, doesn’t fifty years go by really, really fast?!”

How does one capture that? The passage of time. The ephemeral experience of existence in a Universe driven by natural laws, but measured by the measly human system of time?

Way back, ten years ago, I marked my fortieth with a blog post, “Moon Child”:

I’m proud of the writing. I’m also ashamed of it. Truth be told, not a lot has changed in ten years. Oh, a lot has HAPPENED – but not a lot; certainly not enough (loaded word, I know, but roll with it) has changed.

And of course, as with any assessment, the conclusions arrived at are pretty dependent on the scope. I can sit here, frustrated with what I haven’t fixed, addressed, or improved upon over the past ten years, as my forties come to a close; or, I can widen, and reflect on what, if anything, have I learned from a half-century on terra firma? 

And that is what, exactly?

There are very few absolutes. Gravity. And death. Everything else is “frameworks” – and by frameworks I mean a system of beliefs, habits, cultural myths “a story” that has been built up over decades or millennia. Money is a framework; a human invented mirage that consumes us. Gender is a framework. Race is a framework.

We go through life following the signposts set down by our culture. We experience and express through the limits of language. The older I get, the more I grapple with the dissonance between “existence”: what being a living, breathing biological entity is, and “life” – the multiple layers of frameworks that shape our perceptions and expectations. 

Every day, I awake with the anxiety of what I haven’t become; the teaching career that never materialized; the documentary I never fully finished; the vacant space next to me in bed.

I know. They say it’s good to have goals. Well, at fifty I got plenty. And I will continue to “fight the good fight”; but today, I’m going to work hard to keep the regret-monsters at bay and give myself “grace space” to celebrate merely making it this far. It’s farther than many have the chance to make.

Today, I’ll revel in having survived the shipwrecks of judgement and chance.

Ten West Wing Episodes to help us Weather the tRump Storm

There’s lots of advise floating around these days about how those of us in the “popular vote” portion of the nation might weather the storm of the next few years, support each other, get involved, etc. Since I can think of no better source for inspiration and contemplation on all matters political than “The West Wing”, here is a selection of episodes to help ease the pain, grease the wheels, or (re-)light the fire under ‘whatever it is you need lit’ in order to not let this travesty of democracy be, well, the end of Democracy.

A note: while The West Wing is a fine show through and through, I’ve always considered the first four seasons – the episodes that were principally written by Aaron Sorkin and over-seen by Thomas Schlamme – to be the definitive story arc of the show, so I’ve limited my scope to just those seasons.

The Pilot (S1 E1)
If for some reason you’ve never watched The West Wing (for shame!) you might as well start at the beginning. Like any series, the pilot is a bit rough – a broad sketch of what the show would eventually become (though, Sorkin is no slouch; even at this early stage, his pilot script is dense, tight, and smarter than most of anything else on television). Besides a good intro, this episode is worth watching for its take on some of the tactics used by those who power broker for the religious right.

The Crackpots and These Women (S1 E5)
How can you not like “Big Block Of Cheese Day”? A funny episode, but at its core a refreshing reminder that governing is also about access for all. Also, “I can’t get over these women”…

The Short List (S1 E9)
No, we won’t be seeing a Supreme Court nomination process like this anytime soon, so at least we can enjoy this dramatic depiction in which the topics of race, class, and privacy get some much needed air time.

The Midterms (S2 E3)
Let this serve as a warning for us all; we have two years, people…

Isaac and Ishmael (S3 E1)
First of all, this is an amazing episode, especially when you consider that Sorkin got NBC to forgo their scheduled season opener, and in the wake of 9/11, in twelve days, wrote, shot, edited, and aired this episode in its place. Second, in these days of terrorism frenzy, how about a little levity and analysis?

The U.S. Poet Laureate (S3, E16)
How ironic that tRump wastes so much time attacking the Press; here’s some lessons in how you can actually work them, if you’re smart enough. Also, Laura Dern!

20 Hours in America (S4, E1&2)
In this extended episode that opens season four, Toby, Josh, and Donna are marooned in the midwest when they miss the motorcade while campaigning for Bartlet’s re-election. The examination of farmland realities vs. the politics of D.C. could have been (should have been?) a primer on election 2016; but pay special attention to the way Toby and Josh banter about President Bartlet’s opponent – it echoes eerily the tone of the tRump campaign.

The Red Mass (S4, E4)
Josh sends Donna to a seminar held by one of their opponent’s advisors; there’s a scene in there about “fortune cookie candidacy” and who/how the President receives advice and makes decisions that gives me chills in our current context.

25 (S4, E23)
Spoiler alert: John Goodman’s performance (as always) is enjoyable, and the contrast of his character and Bartlet seems eerily evocative of what it feels like to have an intelligent, left-leaning leader replaced with a “straight-shootin’ right-wing one. Also, the more we all can learn about the 25th Amendment at this point, the better:

BONUS: Bartlet for America (S3, E10)
This may or may not belong on this list, but it’s simply the best episode of the best T.V. show ever. To watch any West Wing and not watch this episode seems a sin…

the wireframe democracy

me: doc, it hurts when I laugh
doc: then don’t laugh

with apologies to Henny Youngman…

It is upon us; in a few hours we will swear in an opportunist, narcissist, deal-maker-in-chief, and America’s transformation from a democracy to a brand name will be complete. Business leaders, who have always seen government regulation as an obstruction to profit margins, will summarily be put in charge of the business of running the country – a process we once held so sacred that we went to war against the most powerful nation on earth (at the time) in order to secure our right to have a say. The rule of law, built over generations, bought and paid for with blood, sweat, tears, marches, resistance, negotiation, and compromise, will be on the auctioning block.

Ok. We’re a brand now. As brands go we’re sort of ahead of the game – we have a stars and stripes logo already in place (the logo even scales well, and works in color as well as black-and-white, which graphic designers can appreciate). But, as with any branding project, we need to make sure we understand what our brand stands for, what image we want our brand to project, and how we will back that brand up.

There’s been a meme making rounds lately, whereby the President Elect’s edict that we “build a wall” is flipped into a suggestion that we build a mirror instead. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

In a conversation with a friend the other day, we were diving deep into the idea of wireframes. For the uninitiated, wire-framing is a technique associated with any number of design projects – webpages, logos, architecture, etc. – where you sketch in in the roughest form the most central, and important, structural aspects of whatever vision you are trying to bring into being.

It occurred to me, that tRump’s run had been a wireframe candidacy. Think about it, on the campaign trail he bloviated but never filled in anything substantive. “It’s gonna be huge” “it’s gonna be great, I’ll bring in the best people,” etc.

And this makes complete sense. His only real experience is in business, and in business it’s about brand, image. It’s about what you say you’ll deliver, not necessarily what you actually deliver; this gap, this juncture, is what drives profit margin.

Running a country is an entirely different thing. As I write this, apparently the incoming administration has not even filled several key national security and military positions. Are those really gaps we the American people would want unfilled in whatever blueprint we were handed – whatever proposal we were handed by someone asking to be hired to the highest office in the land?

So why are we here? And by “here” I mean well, let’s just leave the fact that he didn’t in fact win the popular vote, that there may have been, oh, some “shenanigans” involving a foreign government interfering with our election process (you know the little details) aside for a bit. Let’s just contemplate whether our democracy is a wireframe democracy. Is it just a framework put in place oh so many years ago, which is served us (well served some of us, especially people that look like me) well enough that we occasionally watered it and moved on trusting that things would grow properly?

What does it mean to move beyond the wireframe democracy? To paint in the details; to actually fill in and build between Strut A and Strut B the connective tissue that truly holds them together and makes their presence meaningful in the first place? Are we willing to look in the mirror and ask those questions, and to show up and actually build what needs to be finished?

Apple: I want a buttonless Apple Watch 2.0

There’s been speculation online for a while that Apple will soon roll-out a second generation design of the Apple Watch. People have mentioned that they want better battery life, a slimmer profile design, less dependency on the iPhone – all of which I agree with and hope for as well. But, from my perspective, the best thing Apple can do for the second generation Apple Watch is to remove all buttons…

I know…crazy, right? Hear me out.

I’ve had the Apple Watch for about a week-and-a-half. I was a late bloomer, initially holding off because it seemed like an unnecessary expense. I have been a Fitbit user for several years, having recently purchased a Charge band which I generally liked.

The main gap in my workflow was that while the Fitbit does a good job of tracking activity, and you can set alarms, it doesn’t provide the sort of on-the-go reminders that I really wanted to have within arms reach [anyone else who has ADD tendencies will relate].

photo of Apple Watch on someone's wristSo, I took the dive and got myself a sports model (taking advantage of Apple’s recent price drop). I must say, in general that I’m really liking it, and so far it is helping to fill that gap – providing me with the reminders I need on my wrist through its Taptic Engine.

Based on suggestions out in the World Wide Web, I’ve taken to wearing it upside down; the digital crown is just simply easier to access and push on a regular basis with my thumb, and being right-handed having it on the inside of my wrist makes it easier (this is perhaps the epitome of geekdom – that even the most minute adjustment or detail which cuts fractions of a second off of a task is somehow attractive).

But, the more I use it, the more I keep wondering: are the buttons necessary? The watch has a wonderful display with Force Touch.

The Digital Crown’s capability could be, near as I can tell, totally replaced by simply using a long press to turn the watch on (for people like me that do not use the “wake on raise” feature in order to save battery life; note, this is already a function), a single tap to go to the Home Screen, and double tap for moving back-and-forth between home screen and most recent app. And, of course one can already scroll through content using your finger on the display, so the another aspect of the Crown’s functionality is, essentially, superfluous.

The Side Button, could be completely eliminated; it’s only primary function is for Contacts which, as far as I’m concerned could be relegated to a right swipe from the main watch face. The only additional functionality is a double-press to invoke Apple Pay, which again could be replaced by swiping left from the watch face.

I’m not an expert on small electronics, but I’d wager eliminating the Side Button and Digital Crown would be a major stride toward making the casing much thinner overall.

But, the biggest benefit is that in Apple’s continued mission to remove barriers between user and content, it would turn the watch into completely touch-based device; and, as we have seen with previous design and interface evolution across Apple products, lessons learned from one device can be applied to another.

I’m looking at you, iPhone.

Super Tuesday

[with apologies to them Stones that Roll]

No one really knows where they came from
And human rights don’t matter once their gone
And Constitutional rights
Despite historical fights, despotism grows
It ebbs and flows

Here comes Super Tuesday
Who could our nom-a-nee be?
Chip away at our rights and new ways
Still we will endorse you

Don’t question what it means to be so free
They’ll tell you there is only one way to be
And Justice will be chained
To protecting Capital Gains and business costs
Equality’s lost


There’s no time to lose, the People say
Protect your rights before they slip away
And lying all the time
They’ll trade your vote for those that have more bucks
Don’t politics suck?

[chorus, repeat]