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I decided to write a blog entry entirely using the WordPress app on my Samsung Moment. It’s my first time doing it, and I’d like to see how well the app works.

In addition, it’s a good opportunity to focus on how far our technology has come.

Yesterday I tethered my phone to my laptop (using the PDAnet app), allowing the computer to access the internet while I was riding along on Interstate 77 at 80+ miles per hour.

I’ve been using the Google Translate app recently, just for fun. I can speak into my phone in English and have it speak back a translation in another language. It’s almost like a personal Babelfish.

I’ve been scanning book covers and product labels with Google Goggles app, and I’ve been scanning barcodes and QR codes with the Barcode Scanner app. It’s a very quick way to transfer information for the purpose of search or storage.

When my nephew wanted ice cream in High Point, NC, I used the Google Places app to quickly find the closest Ben & Jerry’s and used Google Maps Navigation to get us there.

Yes. I like Google apps. But I do have an Android phone, after all. Luckily, I have one with a slide-out keyboard. If I didn’t, I imagine that this blog entry would have been harder to write.

I have a high IQ. Well… actually I have no idea what my IQ is. But I’m a member of Mensa, and ostensibly the organization wouldn’t allow my membership if my IQ wasn’t fairly high.

But there are many types of intelligence that will not necessarily be reflected in a measure of one’s IQ. If you are an auto mechanic who knows everything there is to know about fixing cars, then I consider you to be a genius in your field. If you are a fluent speaker of several languages, then your linguistic intelligence is superior to mine. Even professional athletes have a high level of intelligence — a physical ingenuity of body control and muscle memory.

The most recognizable form of intelligence, however, is that which is measured by standardized testing: one’s mastery of mathematics, of logic, and of a primary language. In a way, this is understandable; these skills are among the most basic and essential for processing the world we live in. Yet many otherwise intelligent people find it difficult to excel in one or more of these areas.

I have a theory that developing a higher IQ is not as hard as it might seem. With the following tips, you might be able to release your inner genius — or to build upon the intelligence you already possess:

1. Read. A lot.

This is a case in which the conventional wisdom is correct. Reading builds focus, strengthens vocabulary, broadens horizons, and improves communication skills. When it comes to building intelligence, the importance of reading cannot be over-emphasized. But here are a few tips to get the most out of your reading:

  • Read a variety of material. I know people who refuse to read fiction, thinking that they won’t get anything valuable from it. I also know people who don’t read nonfiction because they don’t think they’ll find it entertaining. I can personally attest to having read a lot of very informative fiction and some extremely entertaining nonfiction. Reading a wide range of materials is like a comprehensive workout for your brain; it will keep your left brain and right brain in optimum shape, and it might even expose you to some subject matter that you wouldn’t encounter otherwise.
  • If you have difficulty with a story or an article that you’re reading, if you find it boring or your mind starts to wander, take a break and come back to it later. Don’t give up on it; not finishing the things you read is a bad habit to get into. Besides, you might find the part that you would have left unread to be valuable information, and it will almost certainly be easier to continue reading after you’ve given your mind a rest.
  • If you come across a word you’re not familiar with, stop and look it up. These days, many of us have immediate internet access at our fingertips. If you do, there’s no excuse for bypassing a new word without finding out its definition. If you don’t have internet access, you should keep a dictionary close at hand when you read. Reading, and learning words as you read, is one of the fastest and most enjoyable ways to expand your vocabulary. And if you stop and look up the word before you continue reading, you’ll be able to use it in context right away when you resume. If you don’t look up the word immediately, however, there’s a good chance you’ll forget to do it later. Which brings us to the next point:

2. If you don’t know something, ask.

That could mean anything from consulting an expert to searching for answers on Google to performing a scientific experiment. The point is that you try not to pass up an opportunity to learn. The more knowledge you accumulate and retain, the closer you will be to releasing the genius inside you.

If you’re like me, you sometimes have the inclination to pretend you know something that you don’t really know. Try not to. This kind of pretence usually has one of two results: embarassment for you, or the spread of misinformation to others. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing something. After all, you never know anything until you learn it from somewhere. Think of knowledge as 90% curiosity and 10% memory. If you don’t ask, you’ll never learn.

So whether you’re wondering how to make pizza dough, or how to use HTML, or how to read music; the information is available to you to a greater extent than it ever was for previous generations. Take advantage of it. Although our technological advances are not always the best choice:

3. Do the math.

Whenever practical, do math in your head. Or at least on paper. It’s a great way to keep your mind sharp, and it’s sure to impress your friends. Some people find math intimidating; others are actually soothed by the logic of mathematics, the strict adherence to a set of rules. Either way, it can be tempting to turn to the calculator function of your cell phone or computer. But there are a few tips that can make the numbers a bit easier to crunch:

  • For multiplication, the most important equation to remember is this: A*(B+C)=A*B+A*C. It’s a simple formula, but incredibly helpful. For example, if I asked you to multiply 44 and 23, it might seem daunting initially. If you just try to multiply the two numbers in your head, you’re likely to get stuck. But using the formula, you can see that 44*23=(44*20)+(44*3). Those two equations are a lot easier to do in your head, giving you 880+132. Your final answer is 1012.
  • For percentages, simply multiply the numbers and move the decimal point two spaces. If you want to impress your date by mentally calculating the tip for dinner, simply round up your bill to the nearest whole dollar amount and multiply (using the formula above if necessary). For example, if the cost of the meal is $23.56, round up to $24.00 even. If you want to leave a 15% tip, multiply 24*15. That’s the same as (24*10) + (24*5), which comes out to 240+120. 360 is your total, and moving the decimal place two spaces to the left gives you your tip of $3.60.

If these methods don’t come easily to you, practice them until they do. There are other techniques to make math easier, as well. Find them, and practice them, and you’ll feel more like a genius every time you do.

4. Keep an open mind.

This is the last tip that I’m going to share in this post, but it’s one of the most important. There’s always more to learn; if you think otherwise then you’re on an intellectual road to nowhere. Always be willing to listen to new ideas, evaluate them, and make decisions based on logic rather than emotion or peer pressure. Knowledge can be gained from anywhere, and from anyone. But only those who seek it with curiosity and an open mind are likely to find it.

Thanks for reading through to the end. If you have any other tips, feel free to share.

This past Friday, April 16th, was the first Foursquare Day. I participated. Many others did. Many more should have.

If you’re not familiar with Foursquare, it’s a location-based application which combines social networking with a sort of urban exploration game. It’s often been referred to as “the next Twitter”; a comparison which seems oddly appetizing to business types, given that the wildly popular, four-year-old Twitter has only recently come up with an unexpectedly pedestrian plan to turn a profit.

Foursquare isn’t quite yet spreading like wildfire, due largely to a general public perception that is, perhaps ironically, similar to that of Twitter: “What’s the point?”

I still hear the question asked about Twitter four years after its inception, and I still find it difficult to explain when people ask me. Twitter is a brain-dump, sure. It’s also a great tool for networking and promotion, if one knows how to implement it. But so is Facebook. So why would one need a Twitter account if one already has a Facebook account? The short answers are that Twitter has a “smartphone convenience factor” that is not quite present with Facebook, Twitter allows more of a feeling of individualized communication, and of course it doesn’t hurt from a marketing standpoint to carry your eggs in different baskets. In fact, to an extent, the more baskets you have the more eggs you can carry.

Which brings us to Foursquare. “What’s the point?” I didn’t quite have an answer to that question at first, either. Foursquare’s stated purpose is to “encourage you to discover new places and challenge you to explore your neighborhood in new ways.” Okay. Great.

This is how it works: if you are at a location or business, you are able to “check in” using your smartphone (or other form of internet access; smartphone apps are usually most convenient.) If you  have friend connections on Foursquare, you can see where you friends have checked in and when. Badges are awarded for achievements, similar to video game achievement awards. If you have the most check-ins at a place, you become the “mayor” of that place. Yeah, it sounded kinda ridiculous to me at first too.

When I signed up (about two weeks ago), it was in order to try Foursquare out and see if I would find it useful, as I do Twitter. I was able to check in at a Publix supermarket parking lot. So far it wasn’t impressing me. “What’s the point?”

Then I heard about Foursquare Day. Quick background: Foursquare Day was dreamed up little over a month ago by a Tampa optometrist named Nate Bonilla-Warford. The idea was that on April 16th, local businesses would offer specials to patrons who “checked in” on that day, or who had become “mayor” by that time. At the end of the day there would be a “swarm” at a predetermined location. A “swarm” involves at least 50 people checking in at the same place within a short time period.

I thought that it would be a cool thing to participate in. It was conceived in Tampa, and it was focused on drawing attention to local businesses. I’m all about that, of course, so I began promoting Foursquare Day via Twitter and Facebook. By the time I heard about it, the Foursquare Day idea was spreading to different cities around the world, which made it even more intriguing. I was excited.

Then April 16th rolled around.

Let me begin by saying that the people who put Foursquare Day together and promoted it did a really great job. And I’m glad that all the people who participated chose to do so. I just wish that more people had participated.

I checked in at over ten locations that were offering Foursquare Day specials, and I spent money at almost every one. I did so because I felt that part of the purpose of the event was to demonstrate to businesses that Foursquare (and the tech community) can be a valuable promotional tool. To that end, I’m not sure that we succeeded. At the time of this writing, several Tampa businesses that offered specials on the Foursquare Day website have a total of only three or four check-ins. Ever. It’s a little disappointing that they reached out and didn’t get much of a response. Hopefully we can do better next year.

I understand that not everyone was able to participate to the extent that I did, and I also know that there may be some benefits to businesses that are not quite as noticeable as immediate sales. For example, I think that the businesses listed on the Foursquare Day website may have gained some notoriety behind the scenes. I’m a primary administrator for the Facebook page of a business that participated, and in the week leading up to Foursquare Day we had an unusual jump in Facebook fans. That could be a coincidence but I don’t think so.

But even if it is, I personally gained awareness of businesses that I previously was unacquainted with, some of which are hidden treasures of Tampa. Examples are Cafe Hey on Franklin Street and the Why Not Boutique on MacDill. If a few of us found great new places, we can tell our friends about them. And they can tell their friends.

Now, thanks to Foursquare Day, I see the point of Foursquare.

I’m looking forward to the next Foursquare Day, and what I’m hoping will be an increase in participation.

Groupthink

There’s been some controversy recently about Erykah Badu’s video for her single “Window Seat”, which features the singer as she emerges from a vehicle and strolls through Dallas, gradually shedding her clothing until she is completely nude. From the point that she loses her shirt, the word “evolving” is prominently displayed across her back. Once she is completely devoid of clothing, she collapses at the sound of a gunshot, in the area near where President John Kennedy was assassinated. On the ground where she falls, the word “groupthink” seems to bleed out of her head (the gunshot and the word, of course, were added post-production). If you’re one of the few people who haven’t seen it, you can watch the video here (go ahead, it won’t kill you):

As she lies on the ground, the word “groupthink” is shouted, and then Badu’s voice is heard: “They who play it safe are quick to assassinate what they don’t understand. They move in packs, ingesting more and more fear with every act of hate on one another. They feel more comfortable in groups, less guilt to swallow. They are us. This is what we have become, afraid to respect the individual.”

In the time since the video released and the controversy arose, Badu has explained her motivations and has been attempting to provoke a dialogue about groupthink. Via Twitter (http://twitter.com/fatbellybella), she said: “being honest CAN get u assassinated. Your character, spirit,& sometimes physically. Interesting. What drives this? Keep dialoging.”

The singer’s piece of performance art seems to have succeeded in what appears to have been one of its goals: to create a story on which the news media at large would be unable to resist reporting in such a way as to drive public opinion. Most major news reports are focusing on the simple facts that Badu was naked in a public place with people (including children) present. The intent of the message, along with most other relevent details, is going largely unreported.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines groupthink as “a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics.” We are conforming to group values and ethics if we immediately jump to the conclusion that Badu was wrong to be nude in public, or even that she was wrong to do so with children present. It would be hard to argue that there was any harm done by the performance. I doubt that anyone present was traumatized. If that’s the case, then why was the performance automatically “wrong”?

That’s not to say that it wasn’t; rather it’s a reminder that in order to be individuals we have to think things through on an individual basis. If you’ve chosen to adopt the beliefs of a religion or a political party simply because your family or friends hold those beliefs, then you’re engaging in groupthink. If you spread rumors without checking to determine their veracity, you’re promoting groupthink. We all do it; the point is that we need to be conscious of that fact, so that our awareness will at least result in our doing it less. We have to analyze the choices we make, and try to make sure that we’re doing things — and believing things — for a reason. That is how we will continue growing, and evolving, as individuals.

I recently saw the documentary “Good Hair”, which was created by Chris Rock. It deals with our society’s perception of black people’s hair (particularly black women’s hair), the effects of this perception on the people, and the business behind it.

Chris Rock made the movie for his daughters, but I recommend it to everyone — especially black women. I think it’s something that could be life-changing, if only in a small way. For example, I don’t understand how any mother could give her young daughter a perm after seeing this film.

There are a lot of black women (and women of other backgrounds as well) living today with irreparably damaged hair and scalps due to perms they received as children. For those who don’t know, a perm is a process to straighten hair using harmful chemicals. (The film depicts the same chemicals dissolving raw meat and eating through aluminum cans.) If poorly done, the process can result in severe chemical burns to the scalp and permanent hair loss. Even if correctly done, the process can permanently impair the hair’s ability to grow and damage the texture of the hair.

Yet women continue to get perms for themselves and for their children, because our society values straighter hair. For this reason as well, many women get hair weaves. This is a process by which long hair is sewn, woven, or glued into a woman’s existing hair. Sometimes artificial hair is used, since it’s cheaper, but the look and feel of the hair will usually give it away as fake. Most women who can afford it go for the more expensive authentic human hair, and it’s a very big business.

What I didn’t know, and what “Good Hair” brought attention to, is where much of that authentic human hair originates. According to the film, many Indian people are led to shave their heads at least twice in their lifetime in a ritual devoted to their god. This is the same hair that is then taken and sold to Westerners for profit. India is a country of a billion people, many of them poor. I wonder just how much money is made from this hair that is sacrificed for religious purposes. And I wonder how many of the people really know that wealthy Americans are wearing their hair.

It’s hard to blame the people who buy the weaves or get the perms: the fact is that hair of African origin is considered less acceptable in the professional or political world. Actresses feel that they need to straighten their hair in order to get more work, particularly in leading-lady roles. Politicians feel that they need to straighten or cut their hair in order to be electable. Office workers feel the need to assimilate in order to get hired or promoted. This is evidence of the pervading racism in our society.

As an example, we can look at President Barack Obama. Some people have speculated that his election as president was evidence of an end to racism in the United States. But that theory is called into question by the president’s haircut. No U.S. president in history has worn his hair cut short as Barack Obama does. Why? Because if Obama wore his hair the same length as Bush or Clinton did, he would not be as accepted by society. If he still wore the short afro that he wore as a college student, he almost certainly would not have been nominated by his party for the presidency.

I encourage everyone to watch “Good Hair”. If you are not a black woman, you might learn something about black women. If you are a black woman, you might learn something about yourself.

My New Blog

Hello, everyone, and welcome to my new blog.

My former website, www.mattmurchison.com, now redirects to this blog, which I’m calling Rain of Things — a reference to part of a voicemail message as it was erroneously transcribed by Google Voice. I decided to transfer my domain name to a WordPress blog because of the relative ease of maintenance. I’m not a web designer; in fact, I’m still learning about WordPress as I go along. There will be changes made to Rain of Things as I figure out new stuff to do.

The name is also a kind of reference to what I expect the nature of the blog to be: there will be no particular focus, and I’ll be writing about whatever I want, whenever I want. It subject matter will consist of whatever things happen to rain down from my mind, and it will be as unpredictable as the weather.

There are, however, certain things that I’m interested in which are likely to be recurring themes in the blog. I’ll list a few of them, so you’ll have some idea what to expect:

1) Politics: I think of myself as an independent-minded progressive. I’m currently a strong supporter of President Obama and most of his initiatives. If it makes your blood boil to read anything positive opinions about Barack Obama, you may want to skip this blog — at least on the days when I’m discussing politics. If I think the president is wrong about something I’ll say so. But I believe that he’s a very intelligent, practical man and more often than not I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. My previous blog entry (the first of this blog) is about President Obama, and will give you some idea of where I stand on politics. Though it’s hard not to be cynical about political motivations and media reporting after reading stories like this one.

2) Geek stuff: I like gadgets, science, and technology — as well as science fiction. There’s kind of a wide range here, but I regularly read blogs like Gizmodo and Engadget, I subscribe to Wired magazine, I love Doctor Who, and I think Jonathan Coulton‘s songs are hilarious. So there’s an idea.

My personal gadgetry includes a Dell Studio 15 laptop, a Samsung Moment Android phone, and a Nintendo Wii. I’m probably most likely to discuss those items or related info (i.e. Android apps, Wii games, etc.), but I’m also interested in technology that I don’t currently use but might use in the future. So I may blog about that as well.

You’ll see my Twitter updates to your right if you’re on the home page, and they’ll give you a good idea of what I’m thinking about and what news stories I’m interested in. I subscribe to RSS feeds in Google Reader and I tend to tweet links to stories that I find most interesting throughout the day. My tweets and RSS feeds are also routed to Google Buzz, so if you prefer to find me there you’ll see much of the same stuff.

3) Food: I’ve recently started posting restaurant reviews on Yelp, and I expect to be doing more of those in the future. I consider myself a “foodie”, and I love to try new things. I don’t eat mammals, though, (because that would be class cannibalism) and I try to eat a relatively healthy diet. I like to cook, and I tend to be experimental in the kitchen. I’m also a big fan of tea.

4) Religion: A lot of my friends, family, and acquaintances identify themselves as Christians. I am not Christian, nor am I a member of any other organized religion. I’ll go into more depth on this subject in a future blog.

5) Writing: I’m a poet, songwriter, and novelist. I might even publish some free short stories to this blog, if it seems like the readers are interested. I also might talk about issues dealing with writing techniques and the publishing industry in general.

Those are just some examples to give you an idea; I might also use this blog for movie or book reviews, or anything else that I feel like writing about. There aren’t really any limitations.

If you have any questions to ask me or are interested in debating any of my opinions, feel free to post comments. I’ll most likely reply.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you check me out in the future. I wish you all the best.

Matt

P.S.

For those of you who speak the language, these are a few of my favorite things:

        

During the 2008 election, the conservative media arm (led by the likes of Rush “Health Care Reform is Reparations” Limbaugh, Glenn “Obama Hates White People” Beck, and Sean “Uh, Duh” Hannity) managed to pull off an astonishing feat, one that rivals the Democrats’ historic achievement in getting Barack Obama elected to the presidency. Their accomplishment was very subtle, but it continues to be extremely impactful to our nation and to President Obama’s young administration. What they achieved was effectively this: to convince much of the United States that the remarkably practical, pensive, moderately progressive Senator Barack Obama was a socialist liberal extremist. What makes the success of this message so amazing is that they didn’t convince only conservatives of its veracity. They convinced some liberals as well.

While Barack Obama sold himself as the incredibly pragmatic, common sense, even-minded intellectual that was, Limbaugh and company were selling him also – as the blindly partisan ultra-liberal that he wasn’t. This created something of a win-win situation for conservatives. Unable to avoid the big loss, they still achieved a smaller win: by successfully selling their narrative, they left a lot of liberals with buyers’ remorse.

Make no mistake, progressives: the man you voted into office is not (and never represented himself as) a black Dennis Kucinich or a cool Ralph Nader. Practical is probably the adjective that best describes our president. He is not without occasional  missteps, but the majority of the moves he makes are designed to get things done, and to get them done in as intelligent and bipartisan a manner as possible. His great experiment has been an attempt to unite the country as he strengthened and improved it. His great error may not only have been an underestimation of the stubbornness of his opposition, but also an overestimation of the patience and understanding of his supporters.

 The man made countless speeches telling us what he planned to do as president. He even published a book during the campaign outlining his proposed agenda. There have naturally been a few changes in the interim, but the basics are still there. There are no surprises. We, the voters, knew (or should have known) what we were getting in exchange for our votes.

So why do so many Americans seem shocked that either a) Obama is being too liberal, or b) Obama is not being liberal enough? Those in the first group are being brainwashed by the conservative media arm. Those in the second group, apparently, were being brainwashed by the same conservative media during the campaign.

The conservative media is a powerful force in this country, and they are experts at using a thin veil of truth to cover an ugly heap of lies. They are ingenious at twisting the facts to fit their agenda, at using fear as a tool of manipulation, and at convincing the populace the two plus two equals socialism. The media influences the populace, the populace influences members of Congress, and we end up with stagnation and obstruction on Capitol Hill.

During Barack Obama’s recent healthcare reform summit with Democrat and Republican leaders, the Republicans repeatedly brought up the fact that recent polls show that over 50% of Americans are opposed to the healthcare bill. They used this to argue that the bill should be scrapped and started over, with the result being a more conservative bill which, presumably, the American people want.

But, as Joe Biden said, politicians shouldn’t presume to know what the American people want. On the face of it, a poll that shows a majority of the American people opposed to the healthcare bill seems to indicate that the conservatives are favored on the issue, especially if that’s all that’s reported. Especially if you ignore all of the polls which indicate that the Democrats are more trusted on healthcare than the Republicans. Especially if you ignore the polling that indicates, as the president likes to point out, that a majority of Americans favor particular points in the healthcare bill, even if they oppose the overall bill.

But what’s the explanation for these seemingly contradictory poll results? It’s simple, and it something that the President and the Democrats in Congress should probably start pointing out: the fact is that a large percentage of the people who oppose the healthcare bill oppose it because they feel that it’s not liberal enough. The Huffington Posts and Rachel Maddows of the world, apparently having bought into the conservative myth of Obama as the uber-liberal, have been persuading their followers to accept nothing less than a public option. So there are still many liberals out there who will accept nothing less. They refuse to bargain, they refuse to give an inch. Just like the Republicans.

Which leaves President Obama increasingly lonely in his center-left position. But the center tends to be the area where big, positive changes get made. The center is the area where a practical leader holds sway. The center is the best way to come as close as possible to the elusive idea of “giving the American people what they want.” But the folks on either side have to be willing to give an inch – just an inch – and they haven’t been so far.

So it’s lonely for Barack Obama, seeking the middle ground. But that’s who he is, and that’s who he has been the entire time. Don’t let the conservative media convince you otherwise. 

Update: David Brooks understands.