Sunday, September 30, 2012

#hackmylife – Prologue

“To follow the path:
     look to the master,
     follow the master,
     walk with the master,
     see through the master,
     become the master.” (Zen poem)

“If at first you don't succeed, call it version 1.0.” (Anonymous)


I had an epiphany last week. I thought about it, then thought about it some more. And the more I thought about it, the more I knew it had to be done. And it starts tomorrow.

Call it an experiment in evolution. Call it an awakening. Call it what you want. But here’s what it is in essence: time to put up or shut up.

I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. But I’m more sick and tired of not doing anything about it. It gets very comfortable to do that. You get annoyed at something, you complain, then you get more annoyed, then you complain again, and the wheel goes round and round.

Yeah, like a hamster.

No more.

For the next thirty-one days, I am stepping so far out of my comfort zone that I might never be the same again. I certainly hope so.

I am a program that was developed by life's source code and through decades of GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) from others as well as myself, corrupted data and not enough healthy maintenance on the hardware or software. But I'm a hacker. I don't settle for the normal and mundane. I don't follow the herd. So, if I am going to be true to who I am at the core, I am going to hack my life.

So, what will I be doing?

Let’s start off by killing off one of my biggest problems – procrastination. It has to go. Like yesterday. That starts tomorrow. Just kidding. No, that starts now. I will not allow something I need to do to wait to be done. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be delays in the case of a priority. It just means that I will dedicate time to the to-do list and knock some items off. Commitments will be met, no matter what it takes. Learning will be accomplished, no matter what it takes.

Another enemy to be conquered is my constant bad habits. There's too many to list – self-doubt, self-worth, fear, negative attitudes regarding money, just to start – but they need to be defeated. No, not just defeated. Killed. Annihilated. Assassinated. You get the idea.

Next, I will work on my writing. Each day, for the next thirty-one days, I will write something. Not just any something, by the way. I can’t let myself off the hook that easy. No, it will be things that are relative to what’s happening in the world. It will be thought-provoking. I’m open to suggestions, of course. Bring ‘em on.

Health is my next challenge. I will work on my weight. Not because I am one of those guys who think that you have to be a certain weight to be considered attractive. Quite the contrary, I think attractiveness is based on state of mind, not state of body. A “beautiful” woman can have a seriously ugly personality, and that can destroy any of the initial attraction that existed in the beginning. So no, I’m just doing it because I want to live a long live, free of medications that will keep me sick and dependent on even more pharmaceutical remedies for the rest of my life. That, and I’d like to be able to shop for something in the 30s for my waist.

Spirituality is my next hurdle that must, must, MUST be improved. I've made some strides in this, but I'm losing my stride. It's becoming too familiar, and familiarity breeds contempt. I can't develop contempt for the inner spirit within me, so this must be worked on. I can't take this for granted anymore. Not only will I suffer, but those who are around me will, too.

Lastly, I will dedicate time to those who deserve it. My family and friends (real life and online) have always been my biggest supporters, and I often feel that I don’t do enough for them. So I aim to change that. How, I have no clue. But that’s the challenge. You know who you are. You know my heart’s in the right place. Whatever issues we had in the past, let it stay there.

That’s it. New changes. New challenges. No excuses. Are you with me?

#hackmylife starts now.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Common Sense Retail Fail #2

For $225.00, you (yes, you, ordinary citizen in a struggling economy) can buy (drum roll, please)... a bubble blower.

A sterling silver (let that sink in for a moment) bubble blower.

In a design that is copyrighted (seriously?).

Three letters come to mind: W. T. F.

Here's a thought: What kind of punishment do you give the kid who loses this?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Susan G. Komen vs. Planned Parenthood

“Having had cancer, one important thing to know is you’re still the same person at the end. You’re stripped down to near zero. But most people come out the other end feeling more like themselves than ever before.” (Kylie Minogue)


White. Black. Conservative. Liberal. Democrat. Republican. None of these labels will make you more immune to breast cancer than the other. It has no politics. It doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t play favorites.

From the time she was a teenager, my wife has found a lump in her breast on three separate occasions. The first time happened before I met her, and I was with her on the other two. Each time, they were found to be benign. But I can never forget the anticipation and worry as we waited for the doctor to let us know whether the mass found would be harmless or if she was going to be in for years of chemo and hormones.

So when I found out about Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, my first instinct was to donate. And one of the reasons I did was because in my research, I learned that they funded Planned Parenthood.

Fact: According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States and the second leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer.

When many people hear Planned Parenthood, the first thought to those of a narrow, tunnel-vision mindset is abortion. True, they do provide that, but one of their main directives is to provide health care to women who can’t afford it. This includes pap smears, mammograms, and other services that are necessary for living a long, healthy life.

Unless you’ve been living underground for the last two years, it has been obvious that Planned Parenthood has been in a fight to stay alive. It has been under assault on various fronts by many forces who feel that it’s best to throw the baby (women’s services) out with the bath water (abortion). Now, Susan G. Komen has decided that it will no longer provide funding to Planned Parenthood.

Susan G. Komen’s CEO, Nancy Brinker, says that the decision is not political in any way. But since she is a Republican and a donor to Republican political candidates, it makes me wonder whether this is a coincidence. I’m sure that many others have the same suspicion.

Fact: A woman’s chance of having invasive cancer: 1 in 8. The chance of dying from breast cancer: 1 in 36. Number of breast cancer survivors in the United States: 2.5 million.

I know that Planned Parenthood is not the only place that provides these services. I know that Susan G. Komen provides funding to many other organizations, hospitals and clinics that can provide them. But consider the fact that for many people who are part of the “working poor,” who live one check away from poverty and who have to make a choice between paying for insurance and being able to afford their rent, Planned Parenthood was the only option for them. Also consider that the alternatives (community health clinics) are available, but only to those who live under a certain income, which you usually disqualify yourself from once you get a job. A deadly Catch-22 to find oneself in, to be certain.

Fact: Estimated new cases of breast cancer in 2011: 232,620 (230,480 were women). Estimated cases of death due to breast cancer in 2011: 39,970 (39,520 were women).

Susan G. Komen has a right to choose who it grants money to and who it will not. But with the economy still struggling to recover, with more people losing jobs and benefits, and with the divide between the rich and the poor growing wider than ever, it’s disappointing to see that Susan G. Komen’s pink hands seem to be getting a little redder.

All stats provided by American Cancer Society. For more information, click here. For more information on Planned Parenthood, click here. For more information on Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, click here.

Friday, January 20, 2012

To B*tch or Not To B*tch [Updated]

Warning: This post is about to get very, VERY real. If you are sensitive, easily offended, or need your mother’s permission to read this, I would seriously suggest that you click here. You have been warned.

bitch [bich] (noun) – 1. A female dog. 2. Slang: (a) a malicious, unpleasant, selfish person, especially a woman. (b) a lewd woman. (c) Disparaging and offensive: any woman. (verb) – 3. Slang: To complain, gripe.

“99 problems
But a bitch ain't one
If you're having girl problems
I feel bad for you, son
I've got got 99 problems
But a bitch ain't one” (Jay-Z, “99 Problems”)


I have a problem and I’m going to bitch about it. I’m going to bitch about the word “bitch”.

Why, you ask, would I do such a thing? Is it that I like to use the word? Does it flow so eloquently from my tongue, rolling off of it like a well-versed sonnet? Is it a regular part of my vocabulary, which includes such awesome words as “awesomesauce”, “technicality”, and “yes, I can legally get away with this”?

Actually, yes and no.

I do not like to use the noun form, even when I am referring to a female dog. To me, a dog, whether it is male or female, is a dog. A cat, who could be a contender for the word due to its attitude, is simply a cat to me (and what is the name of a female cat anyway?).

The verb form and I, however, are longtime friends. Usually, it comes in one of several forms, including the following:
  • “What are you bitching about now?”
  • “Bitch, bitch, nag, nag!”
  • “Quit yer bitching!”
And for the record, no, it is never directed at my wife. I, for one, like sleeping on a bed without having to keep one eye open. It is usually directed at close friends and it is always in a playful manner.

“So,” you ask, “why are you bitching at the word bitch?”

Jay-Z, that’s why.

For those of you who lived under a rock for the last decade, Jay-Z is one of the most talented rappers in the entertainment industry. Not only that, but he is also a successful businessman who used the money he earned as a rapper to invest in businesses that will provide a legacy for him and his family for, say, forever and a day. He is part owner of the New Jersey Nets, created a clothing line called Rocawear, and is part-owner of a chain of sports bars called the 40/40 Club. He is also about to be celebrating his third year of marriage to his wife, Beyoncé Knowles, and just recently had the pleasure of becoming a father when they gave birth to their daughter, Blue Ivy Carter.

As you can tell, I am a fan. A huge one. My playlist proves this.

“So,” you ask, “what does Jay-Z have to do about you bitching at the word bitch?”

Simple, really. Recently, he declared that he would no longer use the word “bitch” in his music anymore now that he has a daughter. While it is commendable that he will no longer use a word that is degrading and insulting to women, I just feel that it’s a decision that is too little, too late.

Fact is, Jay-Z accumulated his wealth because of the prolific use of this word, as well as several others that many people find either obscene, misogynistic or both. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a firm believer in freedom of speech and, as a fan of his, I’m fully aware that many of the lyrics in his songs contain words that I won’t allow my children to listen to. But I also ascribe to the fact that I am an educated adult who can listed to the lyrics and not aspire to wake up the next morning and become a drug dealer or gangsta rapper who thinks that life is all about expensive cars, hanging in the club and “making it rain” in the strip club.

Many of his fans, who are younger than me, who lack the understanding that he is, first and foremost, a businessman whose business is selling records (in his case, millions). And the first rule of business is that if what your selling works, keep doing it. In the meantime, all of these fans see him as a role model and someone to aspire to be. Unfortunately, they don’t want to be businessmen and owners; instead, they aspire to be gangstas whose pants hang off their ass and call women bitches and hos. Why? ‘Cause Jay-Z does it. They want to hang out in the clubs and be in the VIP section. Why? ‘Cause Jay-Z likes to. They want to drink Cristal. Why? ‘Cause Jay-Z likes it.

So he made money hand-over-fist this way, but now that he has a daughter, it’s wrong. To me, it’s semi-hypocritical. And I say this because it’s not as if he is going to give an over-the-air apology for it or have a PSA that is played on urban radio explaining why it was wrong in the first place and to tell young men that it’s not okay to call women bitches and hos. And it’s not as if he was going to give back that money that he made on account of those lyrics.

To me, it’s the same as seeing a family whose fortune was made through slavery publicly decry that what they did was wrong in a press conference, yet offer no restitution for what they did.

“We became rich on slavery. But it was wrong. Our bad. Thank you.”

Unfortunately, I don’t see this changing anything among the young in our community. Jay-Z is not the only rapper they look up to. And as long as these rappers put their business interests ahead of the education of the community, it is simply going to be more of the same. As long as their music videos show women dancing in clothes that looks painted on, our young women will think of that as the personification of beauty. And as long as they continue to use the word bitch as a label for any woman, that will be the word that will fly out of the mouths of our youth.

Commendable? Yes. But does it suddenly make him a hero? No.

Sadly, it’s an awakening that is too little, too late.

Update: Uh-oh! Looks like even Blue Ivy isn't as safe as we thought anymore. In a New York Daily News article, when asked about his pledge in a poem to drop the word “bitch” from his vocabulary, he scoffed (their words, emphasis mine) and said:
“That poem and story are fake,” Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, revealed.
Looks like he was right. He might have 99 problems, but “bitch” ain't one of them.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lest We Forget - 9/11

10 years ago, I was at work when I heard the news. At the time, we had a customer service area on our floor, so I walked over and looked at the television which was repeating over and over about a plane slamming into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

My first thought was: Is this a movie commercial? This can’t be real. Nobody’s crazy enough to do this.

I was waiting for something, anything that indicated that it wasn’t real. That this was a 2001 version of the War of the Worlds radio show that terrorized everyone into thinking that a real Martian invasion was happening, playing on our fears of the unknown. But it never came.

Then the second crash happened. Tears rolled down my eyes. New York was where I was born and raised and watching this happen was like watching a relative getting shot and killed.

I started calling all of the family I had there. My brother, aunt, and many cousins called New York home. And with each message from the automated message saying that all circuits were busy, I grew more and more worried. As I reached out to the other family members outside of New York, I realized I was not alone in thinking this.

I would be several hours before we heard from everyone in New York. I was glad to hear that they were okay. I was even gladder to hear that one of my cousins, who worked in Tower Two, survived because he was late for work that morning.

Of course, in that time, the towers had fallen like Icarus from New York's skyline, the Pentagon was similarly attacked, and a plane that was heading for the White House to do the same was diverted thanks to the passengers who decided that if they were going to die, it would be by their terms and not on the terms of terrorists.

I was saddened by the thought that I would never again see the towers greet me whenever I flew into New York. But that’s nothing compared to those who lost their lives because someone chose that day to inspire fear into our hearts. And that is nothing compared to those of us who chose to show that we would not allow fear to dominate our spirit.

Are we better for 9/11? The opinions will differ depending on who you ask. But one thing is for sure. We were changed by that day. Our country united like never before because we would not, could not let them win. At the same time, we hardened ourselves to the point where things like torture and detaining prisoners without trial became debated rather than remaining absolute lines that we would not cross because we were supposed to be better.

To those who lost someone that day, you have my love, sympathy and prayers. They will never be forgotten.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Regret Me Not

“You see, there is only one constant. One universal. It is the only real truth. Causality. Action, reaction. Cause and effect.” (The Merovingian, “The Matrix: Reloaded”)

“If ‘ifs’ were fifths, we’d all be drunk.” (Author unknown)


[A big thanks to my good friend, Jessica, for this topic. --Ed]

It has taken me 40 years to say this, but I can actually do so with a humble, yet cheesy smile: I do not regret who I am.

Don’t get me wrong. That does not mean that I haven’t done things that I regretted. It doesn’t mean that I have never done anything embarrassing, illegal (the stupid kind, not the felony kind), or both. It doesn’t mean that I have no enemies, anxiously waiting for me to fail or screw up. And it certainly doesn’t mean that my life is perfect and that I have no major concerns or worries.

But I honestly don’t regret who I am.

I wasn’t always this way, or course. Over the majority of my life, I often repeated this same phrase: “If this hadn’t happened, things would be different.” I’m sure that many people say or have said the same thing. It’s easy to say and even easier to believe, because something deep inside of us knows that the world is not going to give anyone a break but there has to be something better than this. It’s that same drive that keeps us going, no matter how bleak our circumstances are.

All of us have a word for it. Hope.

Over time, I made choices, both good and bad. Some of them were brilliant. Some of them were downright stupid. And again, the “if” sentence would rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the past.

If my parents hadn’t divorced…
If I had stayed in New York…
If I had chosen to live with my father instead of my mother…
If I had joined the military…
If I stayed in the engineering program instead of going into computer science…
If I had taken the job offer in New York instead of deciding to continue my college education…
If I had pursued my Master’s degree right away…
If I had waited longer to get married…

If. If. If! I think at this point, if “ifs” were fifths, I’d be in a hospital dying of alcohol poisoning.

I think the turning point for me was about six months ago. One of my best friends, Donna, reminded me of a passage in the Bible that really hit it home for me. It was Romans 8:28:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
She broke it down to me like this: “All of your experiences shaped you into the man you are today. Let’s say that things happened differently. Would you guarantee that you would still be the same person that you are right now?”

After I thought about the question, I knew the answer.

I wouldn’t be as compassionate for my fellow man as I am now. I would’ve been cockier (and probably an asshole on top of that). I wouldn’t have been as appreciative of the little things. I’m sure that my viewpoint on fairness wouldn’t exist. I would be more close-minded. My view of loyalty would be less defined. I would have never started on my spiritual journey when I did, if ever. And, on top of all that, I would have missed out on all of the wonderful people that I know and love.

I would not be the man that God is shaping me to become.

So, for those of you who are struggling with your pasts, wondering if you made the right decisions or if you should’ve taken another road, always remember that all things have a way of working themselves out, especially if you have faith. None of us are immune to causality. Faith just makes it easier to bear.

Plus, if you are someone that I call friend, cousin, brother or sister, then that means that no matter what happened to you or what decision you made, it made you into some that I actually like. As picky as I am, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Seriously though, always remember that until you are dead, you are a work-in-progress. And by the time God’s done with you, you’ll see yourself as the beautiful and wonderfully made being that He envisioned you to be from Day 1.