All posts by Owen Scott

If we are defined by our work, then (in order) it's Cherry Picker, Farmhand, Student, Stonemason's Apprentice, Carpenter, Fisheries Technician, Commercial Fisherman, Information Technologist. If it's by where we live, then it's Wyoming, New Jersey, New York, Seattle, Alaska, California. If it's by role, then it's child, son, brother, husband, father. If it's by passion, then it's nature, art, music, writing, technology. If it's by our spirituality, then it's Zen.

Bitcoin, Ethereum, the Blockchain and Initial Coin Offerings

Over the last year I have become completely and utterly entranced by all of the things listed in the topic of this post.  I first began to think about it about a year ago when I watched a documentary on Decado about Bitcoin, coupled with the (even then) sky-high valuation of the currency, and finally in conjunction with a remorseful memory back in 2011 when a tech friend asked me if I had explored Bitcoin and when I answered that I had not, he looked surprised and asked “Why not?”  Which is a question that continues to haunt me today.

But I’ve never been any good with money anyway, so I shouldn’t be too surprised. I have, however, been pretty good with technology, and that’s what I currently find so fascinating with this set of topics. Bitcoin, the blockchain that it is developed on, then the innovation of the Ethereum platform and finally the recent spate of initial coin offerings where companies with little more than a 25-page whitepaper are sometimes raising tens of millions of dollars in literally a few hours. All fascinating stuff.

For the first few months I read and read, and then began to talk about it.  After awhile of that, it became apparent that I was annoying people a little bit, so I decided to explore the possibility of an outlet and settled upon the Podcast.  Mainly, because I like to talk and tell stories.  I decided to focus on a single Initial Coin Offering each week, and I figured I would have about 40 minutes of material to talk about each week – and so “ICO 41” was born.

It turns out to take a LOT more than 41 minutes to produce a 41 minute podcast, but I have to say I have enjoyed just about every minute of it.  I believe I may be conducting my first interview next week. When I first conceived of and chose the podcast avenue, I had ideas for an interview-based podcast, but my current situation doesn’t permit the logistics of conducting scheduled interviews, so I opted for the weekly monologue.  I’ll start to work in interviews as I find the time.  Meanwhile, no matter what happens with it, it will be a fascinating journey. I’m glad that I settled on the podcast concept because I can share what I’m learning with more than just the people I run into on a daily basis – now I can leave them alone.  The best thing about a podcast is that you can press a button and pause the host. Not so easy to do that at a dinner party.

 

Rhincodon typus

We are now happy to know that in mid-May, Los Tiburones Ballena can still be found behind the house. This morning, around 8:30 AM local time, the water just north of El Mogote was flat calm like an Adirondack Lake, practically. As a result it was quite easy to notice offshore about forty yards, the two telltale fins, about nine feet apart, gliding through the water in the most relaxed way imaginable, the tailfin sweeping lazily in a six-foot arc from side to side, and the dorsal lifting slightly out of the water with each sweep as the giant fish moved ahead in about four feet of water. I have seen and swam with these animals in this very water and I can tell you from experience that the pectoral fins would be lightly dragging the smooth bottom, kicking up clouds of light brown sand.

There was only a lone kayaker out there, and he didn’t even seem to notice the huge fish, as he was facing the other way.  However, if nothing else changed, in about six minutes the kayaker would get a nice surprise as the shark would pass him within a foot or so.

I had to get back to work so I couldn’t follow up on that encounter.  It’s nice to know that these fish are not gone for the season, despite the recent tour operators’ posts on FaceBook – “Last chance to see the whale shark before November!!”

Anyway … the main goal right now is to somehow mitigate the sadness of leaving this place. I suppose the knowledge that it exists, and the ability to imagine quite easily a trip here and there to revisit will help.  And to know that before long, it will be possible to make this or some such place like it (although that’s pretty rare to find, I think) an extended home … that should be enough.  As well, and more importantly and sustainably, the internal reminder that there is beauty and peace to be found everywhere, because peace, ultimately, is from within. A clear mind in crowded suburbia is better than a clouded mind in paradise … right? I’ll just keep telling myself that, but niggling in the back of my mind will be the fact that a clear mind in paradise is … well, about as good as it gets.

Jose’ Marti’

It says a lot about the Cuban people that the national figure that seems most revered and noted in even more places that Castro, Che , or any of the other modern revolutionaries was primarily a poet, philosopher and writer.

Jose’ Marti is everywhere in Cuba. From the multitude of statues in every village and city, to his words inscribed on the entrances of Freemasonry lodges, we see his thoughts and advice.  Quotes like “Happiness exists on earth, and it is won through prudent exercise of reason, knowledge of the harmony of the universe, and constant practice of generosity.”

What I didn’t quite understand and now do, since I returned from a very brief visit there, is that the 1959 revolution that was engineered by the Castro brothers was in fact an extension of the original struggle of independence from Spain, which occurred in the latter part of the 19th century. And so we see quotes like:

“To change masters is not to be free.”  Or … more explicitly,

“It is my duty to prevent, through the independence of Cuba, the U.S.A. from spreading over the West Indies and falling with added weight upon other lands of Our America. All I have done up to now and shall do hereafter is to that end…. I know the Monster, because I have lived in its lair–and my weapon is only the slingshot of David.”

There is much to see and learn about this small country, but even the most cursory visit approached with thoughtfulness and curiosity cannot fail to lead to a deep impression. I certainly came away amazed by the place. If you consider what this country has accomplished against all odds, and with very, very little help from anyone (particularly after 1993), they have every right to be as proud as I found them to be. With a literacy rate higher than plenty of industrialized nations, and yet operating on what amounts to a horse-drawn, agrarian society, the place is a delight of juxtaposition.

If you go, you should understand that you will certainly be initially viewed as someone with wealth beyond imagination and who can easily part with any acceptable fraction of that wealth in order to make someone’s day just a little bit easier.  This will be true – but don’t let that stop you from making a meaningful connection, because under that necessary and mercantile veneer sometimes lies a quick and honest humanistic, fraternal response.

My personal opinion based on the short but meaningful visit that I had is that by and large, the Cuban people are proud of who they are, what they have done with their country over the last 60 years, and they do not believe themselves to be political prisoners.  It would best to look very carefully at the messages you receive from those that have strong outside opinions of the place – and instead approach the country with an open mind. Make every effort to have honest conversation with as many Cubans as you can.  Then, draw your own conclusions.

Tobacco Field and Drying Hut - Vinales

Tobacco fields and a drying hut in Vinales

El Mogote

Just about seven thousand years ago the place in which we now live – the actual land mass itself, did not exist. It was formed, apparently, over about 1,000 years between 6,000 and 5,000 years ago, and started as a little nub, a “punta” on the western corner of what was then an Ensenada (a cove) across the bay from La Paz, B.C.S. in Mexico. The little punta grew, slowly, with the deposit of sand particles, thanks to a current from the north and west.  Little by little, the punta grew into a sandbar, and as the sandbar grew toward the other end of the bay, the current was then channeled and funneled around in a clockwise motion, and began to deposit more particles on the southern side of the sandbar, thus building up what would become, over time, land. Or at least very sandy land.  If you are as curious as I was about the formation of this fascinating land mass, you can read all about it here.

A few months ago I met a guy who worked for the Mexican Immigration department and because of a mistake on my part, I ended up sort of stuck with him on his 90-minute duty of monitoring traffic as is drove off the ferry from Mazatlan,  which, that morning, consisted of him chatting with me for 90 minutes about all sorts of things.  One of which was his memories as a child, where he and his buddies would temporarily hijack an old rowboat, or sometimes just wide floating boards, and paddle the 1/4 mile from town to the eastern beaches of El Mogote – just to have access to a place that was then, empty and wild.

With the exception of about 90 luxury homes, and ten large condominium buildings, four of which are unfinished and abandoned, as well as a pretty nice golf course winding through the sandy desert that is the wide, eastern end of El Mogote, and the various people here to inhabit, from time to time, those buildings, plus the people who run it on a daily basis, it is still empty and wild.

Thus we find ourselves in a place that can only be described as a sort of mini-paradise of daily circumstance that would be impossible to achieve in the United States, even if we were as rich as the people at places like Emerald Bay in the former county in which we lived, where houses like the one in which we live now, in the same proximity to salt water, cost far more than $10,000,000.  This is because even there, as well as in places like Malibu, you cannot walk down to the beach at 8 AM and literally see NOT ONE PERSON for eleven miles of beach, with crystal clear Sea of Cortez water gently lapping the shore. I don’t care how much money you have.  You just can’t.

And so we know precisely how ridiculously lucky we are, and while we may not always succeed, we  have the intent, every day, to make the most of these moments that will not be able replicated anytime soon, since nothing lasts forever, and certainly not this kind of thing.

Every day something appears that is a small miracle of beauty, and since I have always wondered what it might be like to live right on the ocean, and now I know, it is every bit as amazing as living in the woods, because the sea, like the forest, is alive with wonder. For instance, one day about a month ago, there appeared just after high tide, a one-meter wide, 1+ mile long and two-inch deep ribbon of tiny slimy living things, which, upon investigation, turned out to be half-inch, young California Sea Hares.  When touched, these creatures exuded a purple dye, although that didn’t stop us from shoveling hundreds of handfuls back into the water in a sort of silly, futile attempt at saving a tiny fraction of what had washed up and would end up drying out and being pulled into the sea, dead, at the next high tide.  This was almost certainly a natural event, and not the result of pollution, but me not being a marine biologist, it will go down as just a simple mystery and memory.

That’s just one thing. A couple of months ago a couple of us happened to be sitting in the back patio and spotted a strange fin making its way laterally in front of us, about 20 yards off shore.  Most definitely NOT a porpoise. We dragged the kayak down quickly and easily caught up with the creature.  Quite the opposite of the tiny sea hares, this proved to be an 18-foot fish – twice the size our our kayak – a whale shark.  It was fairly easy to keep up with, as it swam slowly around the shallow water with its impossibly wide mouth open, to trap the tiny things it eats. A spectacular event, with its constellation of white spots in its ridiculously long back, almost touching the bottom of our kayak.  It seemed entirely oblivious to us – or perhaps simply unafraid.  What, precisely, could hurt such a creature in twelve feet of water?

One would think that it would be an absolute no-brainer to simply stay here, indefinitely.  It is by no means impossible, but not likely.  Simply because there are other forces at work.  Kids, in their development, and no matter what age, need social interaction with others outside the family. As broken and disappointing as is the American education system, there is something to be said for children going to a classroom filled with other kids where language is no barrier, and friendships can develop, as well as daily, social interaction of a wide variety, good and bad, can be practiced, unconsciously as a muscle would be by a simple daily walk or swim. Just last night we saw a great movie that portrayed this concept in about the best way I have ever seen out of Hollywood.

Knowing that this situation is temporary has a good affect, though.  At age 55, we know very well how fast a single year goes by, and thus the incentive is to make the most of every amazing day.  The other great benefit with this experience is that we will, at some future point, remember that this is possible to engineer, even if not here. Whether it be here in this strange place, or another, provided there is life left in us, there is nothing to stop the pursuit , and thus the attainment of a daily existence such as this.

Change

There is some disagreement as to whether an individual can change.  There are some who believe that there is a core set of behavioral “settings” practically hard-coded in an individual, and that to go up against those factors is a monumental task, often doomed to failure. And that the closest those behaviors are to the human fundamental systems – let’s say “eating” for one – the harder it is to make significant changes. I would agree with the concept that it is more challenging to change those types of behaviors, but I would disagree that it’s practically impossible.

If we take eating, which is a good example on a lot of levels, and we look at the number of systems that have been developed to help people overcome unhealthy eating habits, we have to conclude that this is one tough subject.  No question.  And yet, strangely simple things sometimes happen – perhaps anecdotal, but actual nonetheless.  I offer my own humble experience.  A story.

After the age of 40, maintaining an optimal ratio of body fat, overall fitness, and good nutrition became more challenging.  This definitely had to do with the fact that at around that time I quit a very physical lifestyle (working in Alaska on fishing boats) and went full-time into IT, but it also had to do with aging, I’m sure.  Getting married, having kids, slowing down.  Less hormones, etc. etc. I’m sure this is no surprise.

Because my wife is in the fitness industry, I had access to both methods and information to mitigate this, but it was still pretty tough – somewhat of a struggle.  Never more than 15-20 pounds overweight, but like millions of other non-starving people, I felt the need to try out some “systems” to keep myself in check.  While most of these worked in the short term, none of them worked in any kind of permanent fashion with respect to behavioral food-choice changes.  After even a month or so I would slide back into habits that were simply not that great for me, and I would creep back up to a place where I felt uncomfortable.

This last cycle was the worst. No desire to exercise, about 22 pounds overweight, eating poorly, sleeping worse, and beset with strange symptoms of digestive distress, etc. etc.  I was sick. I decided to break down and see a doctor.

I’ve had some trouble over the years consuming medical care.  I never really found a consistent medical professional who took a holistic approach and who was as reluctant to prescribe medication as I was reluctant to consume it. This time I vowed to find a holistic doctor, but when I visited the website / database of my insurance provider zero results for holistic/alternative/naturopathic were returned.  In Southern California?  How was this possible. A quick call revealed, simply, that my insurance plan didn’t cover that kind of medical care.  I toyed with the idea of paying retail – which I did a few years ago .. and instead decided to try something slightly different.  I made use of the database to search on things like strange languages – I reasoned that if a doctor spoke something like Urdu, he or she might have a slightly different approach.  Was worth a try, anyway.

So, I picked from a set of about four doctors within 10 miles of my house who spoke interesting languages – chose the first one.  “Dr. Jay Amin.” When I showed up at his office – I asked for nothing more than a complete physical examination – I was ushered into a waiting room.  I looked up, and saw a shelf of proprietary nutrient supplements with the brand “Ziolife.”  I pulled a large red bottle of liquid from the shelf and read – echoes of Dr. Bronner and Bragg from way back when were sparked.  I liked what I read. It was possible that maybe I had found my doctor.

Turns out  that, like the Matrix, there is a “Blue” and a “Red” bottled product.  I took them both home.  Drank an ounce in the AM, and and ounce at night. Did this for a about a week, and in that time began to see a fairly profound difference. Slept better. Had more energy in the AM.

About 10 days later, I got the results from the blood work.  The PA casually explained that I was “pre-diabetic” and that I should “pretty much cut the carbs.”  I knew this , and over the years had done various iterations and permutations of the Atkins/Lindora concept.  This time, though, no “system.”  I just stopped eating carbs.  Within reason.  I ate some – enough to keep my energy up, and I believe that perhaps the ingestion of the Ziolife supplement may have had an effect that mitigated the desire for carbs – I’m not really sure if that was it, or if it was the better sleeping patterns… in any case, this was the easiest change I’d experienced.  The pounds started to slip off me.  Within 3 months I lost 19.5 pounds.  Had tons of energy, actually felt the desire and ENJOYED (first time ever) working out.  For some reason I don’t have a desire for bread, for pasta, for milk (not that there are carbs there, but I have always loved lots and lots of milk … which is probably not so great at my age) , and no desire for anything with sugar in it.  And I grew up eating every night a “goodie” – even when were our most poor, like in 1969 when were were on welfare, we always had room for a Twinkie or whatever at night.  Nothing now, and no desire for it.

It’s a bit odd.  I don’t really have an explanation for it.  The only thing I can say is that the only difference between this experience and all of the other times I have tried various systems is that this time I’m using, with great consistency, “Ziolife’ – morning and night. And I don’t miss.

So … there you have it.  A story about a guy who just kind of changed the way  he approached food and thus life.  So yeah, it’s possible, even when the factor is as fundamental as how we obtain the substance that keeps us alive.

David Bowie

Alas, no time to write at length about Mr. Bowie.  I think I speak for more than my own generation when I say that David Bowie will be missed.  And, I think it’s true to say that if one is measured in the amount of influence they have on the thoughts and actions of others, David Bowie is up there.

I grew up with a wide range of friends – ex-NYC Irish transplants, Marxist Intellectuals who-later-turned-special-forces-and-vanished-under-mysterious-circumstances, down-home rural near-appalachians, junior rock-and-rollers, whatever the hell I was … we all loved Bowie.

Good-bye Mr. Bowie … and all the others that you were.

Infinite Jest

I suppose I was about 14 when my father began talking in earnest to me about Ulysses. His stories were mostly about Joyce himself, and how he would write letters to his sister (he was in Italy) and asked her to visit a particular street, and count the steps between this and that, for the detail of the city that we was writing about. He also talked about how it was all at once an allegory, a modern retelling of an ancient Greek classic, a book full of jokes delivered in a dry Irish manner, as well as obscure references.  He explained how it was a book that was banned at one point, and the silliness of that decision, since the book could barely be read at all without a guidebook. That it was an experimental novel, and that no modern writer had attempted anything quite like it until that point, and that the man was clearly a genius.

All of this intrigued me – at this point Ulysses would have been about the 20th important book that he introduced me to – and I made a weak attempt at reading it. I gave up pretty quickly, and didn’t return for another serious attempt until I was 18, and that time I made it through, although missing a great deal along the way. Two years later I used Gilbert’s guide, and finally read the book with an understanding worthy of what the author put into it.

In 1996 my father was nearing the end of his life.  Sadly, I still relied on him to qualify and recommend books to read.  Not that I was reading all that much then, since I was twisted up a bit in various relationships with women, and working a bit harder than I should have.  Since my father was literally sick and tired, I don’t think he much noticed the arrival of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.  If he had, and had the energy to approach it, I think I would have gotten a letter about the book – similar that it is to Ulysses in certain ways. (This is what I love about this particular blog.  Responses are not allowed.  So whoever you are, anonymous, pissed-off reader who loves to argue about every damned thing you read – you can’t respond to my opinion — painful, huh?)

It’s certainly experimental, and in my opinion, the work of genius – but why is the writing good, really?  Well, one of the things I admire about good writing is economy.  Not that you would call the entire novel here in question “economical”, but listen to this:

“Three faces have resolved into place above summer-weight sportcoats and half-Windsor across a polished pine conference table shiny with the spidered light of an Arizona noon.”

One sentence and what do we get? Time, place, a sense of stiffness and propriety.Without paying very close attention to the reality before you, there is no way to come up with “spidered light.” What does it say about the observer if faces resolve into place? Something, I would wager.

Like Ulysses, this epic (one might say exhausting) work is rife with obscure references – mostly of our own time and place, and like Ulysses, a wicked sense of humor pervades. Because I wasn’t born before 1930, I suppose I didn’t see quite the amount of humor that my father found in Ulysses, but I find myself laughing out loud while reading Infinite Jest. I will admit that there are passages that I succumb to and (god forbid) skip forward through, but all in all, this book is very much worth the work.

I share the general consensus that Wallace’s suicide was a terrible waste, but hey, leaving something like this behind is a hell of lot more than most of us will contribute, even as we push through to the natural end.

Read this. I think you will be better for it.

 

 

 

Africa

In the late part of the 90’s, on the last boat I worked on, the Ocean Rover, there were three or four absolutely lovely African women who worked in the fish factory below-decks. It’s like a tonic for me to bring up the distant memory of their smiling faces and high laughter – smiling no matter the weather, the long hours, the heaving of the ship – and more, the singing. It’s the singing that makes my heart swell with the simple memory, so wonderful were their voices in harmony, rising above the grinding and screeching of the conveyors and fish slicing machinery. They sang all the time, it seemed. We were so very lucky on that boat.

These were such happy people, the happiest on the boat – that boat that had a dozen or so nationalities as any given time. They are reason that I discovered Angelique Kidjo and a host of others from places like Mali and Cape Verde.

We carry all the psychological medicine we need right inside ourselves. It’s just a matter of bringing up those memories whenever they may be needed.

“We”

We are fortunate to note that as we approach this fifty-fourth year, we continue to observe wonderful things.  Maybe you are wondering first, who this “We” refers to.  Well, I was thinking how remarkable it was that my consciousness, memory, and by all appearances, this physical body belongs to the same person that occupied it, say, at a Grateful Dead concert in 1977.  And yet, the person who attended that concert is long gone.  I couldn’t go back and occupy that consciousness anymore than I could travel to Venus and camp out for the weekend.  So what is going on here?  We are dying, don’t you know, every minute of every day.  We lumber on from one stray thought to another, and every moment, we die and are reborn.  But of course we know none of it.  We stubbornly hold to the tenuous agreement, from moment to moment, that we know precisely who we are and what we are doing here.  In fact, we are many.  We are infinite.  This “I” should be thought of as the summary of all that came before it.  So how could we be anything but “We?”

But no matter who we are, and how mired or entrenched we are in our tiny bubbles and mirrors that we call our minds, we are occasionally awakened, even if for a moment.  It could happen at any time, but mainly it only happens when we see something truly extraordinary. And that happened recently.

I was on a trail in the San Bernardino mountains, scouting unlikely and decidedly unpopular micro-lots of land that were coming up for auction at a tax sale, when I glimpsed, appearing out of the mist like some kind of movie trailer, a figure that I couldn’t quite believe I was seeing.  It was a man, slowly walking toward me, but clothed entirely in buckskin.  He paused as he approached, as surprised to see me as I was to see him, and as he came closer I began to see just how remarkable this person really was.  His clothes were entirely hand-sewn with homemade leather strips.  He wore an elaborate buckskin jacket with what I suppose was a gray fox pelt draped over the shoulders – head still attached – and which had a true function, as the water that was coming from the sky in an early-morning light shower, rolled off the pelt to the ground, missing his back by inches.  His hat was covered in feathers, and also hand-sewn from deer hide.  He carried two long knives, one clearly hand-made with an antler for a handle, the other a more traditional Buck or maybe even a Shrade.

I fumbled over my introduction, nervous and out of place as I felt, with my GPS and my clipboard with printed land plats.  He regarded me for a moment and I quickly explained about the auction.  He nodded, and said, “Ah yeah, you guys come up here every once in a while, with your GPS and your clipboards, but I nothing much ever comes out of it.’. And I could tell he was happy about that.  I explained that I might be a bit different, and talked about the project with my son in the Catskills where I had spent a week or so constructing a half a lean-to out of logs not too long ago.  His attitude changed a bit after that, and he opened up about himself.  Told me not to bother with buying a piece of property when there was so much Federal land around.  He himself had arrived six years before and disappeared into those mountains,. He told me that if I kept walking and paid enough attention I would find the house that he had built deep in those woods, where he raised ducks and chickens for food, and hunted deer to stay alive.

He was the real deal, of that I was sure, and I have never met anyone quite like him – despite years in Alaska and the Adirondacks.  How unlikely that I would have this sort of encounter in southern California, of all places.  It was the drive down the mountain to this extreme version of suburbia that underscores my original point – that person who had those few words with a true mountain man is not the same person as that which pushes through each day as an expert in Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  Neither is more real than the other, They make up this concept of “we.”. How else are we to reconcile the endless myriad moments of this life but to separate them into a million different lives?

 

Hubris

That sporting events mirror military contests, or perhaps replace them, is not a new idea. But it’s amazing how both reflect so perfectly the human tendency toward the reckless at the moment when it counts most.

Napoleon marched 600,000 troops across the Niemen River in June of 1812, and came back with 20,000. William Nester, of St. John’s University in NY says it was a combination of hubris and brinksmanship.

This sounds very much like Pete Carroll’s decision just a few minutes ago to throw the ball at the precise moment when every Pop Warner kid in the world knew that it was the wrong thing to do.

We must ask why, but must we really? The Napoleon example is only one of the most famous. There are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of stories exactly like it. It’s what we as a species do, over and over again. It’s the result of a lifetime of the Ego whispering in our ear every moment of every day. And it doesn’t matter if you huddle around a parchment map of Europe for eight days with your generals, or if you have 40 seconds to think about it — same result.

Yeah, it’s the Ego that we need to make the plays in the first place, no question. But as hard as professional NFL coaches train their player’s bodies, they need to spend at least 2% as much time training their own minds. Listen to the Ego when you know it’s not feeding you a line of bullshit, but be sure to know the difference between what it does and doesn’t do well.

The only way to know that is to sit very quietly for long periods of time and watch that xīn rú yuánhóu at work. Watch it from a distance, with some amusement, and a detached sense of humor. Doing this, even for just a few minutes of every day, will drastically reduce the number of times you are tricked, when it counts the most.

Have a Seat, Pete.