not actually blow offs

in the past i was a serious nose-to-the-grindstone student.  at the age of 8 i decided i wanted to be the valedictorian of my high school class because when i asked my dad what the word meant he said, "it's like being the best of the best."  i concept stuck and became a goal.

well, i made it.  4.0 back before there was such thing as "advanced placement," or grade point averages that could actually be higher than that (which are a disservice to modern society, by the way).

college was a different story.  i graduated bottom of my class with a 2.04 GPA("the lowest in the history of this university" as my oh-so-kind admissions dean informed me) ... not because of drugs, sex or rock 'n' roll (unfortunately), but rather because of severe depression, crossed with absolute revulsion of the way the university environment was run.  my hatred of the school is so intense that, to this day, i still don't refer to it by name in anything i write, including in my books.

there were two classes i took in the past that i considered to be blow-offs at the time that turned out to be incredibly (bordering on indescribably) useful.

one was spanish.  i took it for five years from three different teachers.  i thought it was hard and unwieldy.  my gringo accent was so bad that even i would flinch when i spoke.  when i did my homework i'd always arranged my pee chees in order of subjects i was doing the worst in, down to subjects i was doing the best ... that way, if i didn't have enough time to get everything done (from my endless procrastination -- which is one of my biggest problems to this very day).  inevitably spanish would either be on top, or just below english ... which made me dread it just that much more.

but there were some things i liked about the class.  it pushed an edge in me that needed pushing.  i was shy and uncomfortable with speaking in class -- especially when people were concerned about how you were saying things at least as much as what you were saying.  i needed that practice.  i could tell.

it also had a heavy theory aspect.that i found attractive.  i was becoming concerned with thing like past-perfect tenses of verbs.  weirdly, spanish was making me better at english.

over time i got confident and cocky.  i was reading cervantes in spanish (in fact, my comprehension in spanish was better than it was in english -- probably because i paid closer attention when i read spanish).  i knew about the mestizo problems in mexico.  i re-wrote the ending of a famous spanish story i didn't like and produced it as a radio play*.  i picked up smatterings of other languages -especially russian- because my teacher had made the mistake of saying "no english will be spoken in this class -- ever," instead of saying, "we will speak only spanish in this class."

and then i quit.

but what i didn't know is how important spanish would become in my later life.  it lets me travel with impunity in spanish and italian speaking countries.  it lets me read french and understand the gist of it.  it helps me understand latin.

i've lived most of my life in the western US.  spanish is easily the second most common language here.  there are physical and sociological areas where it is easily the predominate language.  i actually speak it a couple of times a week -- and read it at least every-other day.

yes, my diction is still abhorrent and i've lost the ability to conjugate in anything but the present tense.  but spanish class gave me the confidence to ignore all that and communicate.  i don't care if my listener laughs, cries, sneers, shudders or snorts when i talk as long as they know what the hell i'm trying to say.  i'll even pantomime like marcel marceau as i butcher one of the world's loveliest languages if i have to; but i never walk away misunderstood.

it's not an exaggeration to say that spanish class, crossed with a rick steves book i once read, is what gave me the ability to travel the world. and i've seen a fair amount of it.

and it wouldn't have happened without spanish class.

and that's cool.

the other class that's been unreasonably helpful is typing. i took it in 8th grade to fill in a place in my schedule that didn't really have any other classes that i could tolerate. it seemed like the least hateful option of what was available.

the class in itself was a riot. all the hottest cheerleaders. a couple homely girls. all the studliest football players (because they wanted to be in the class with the hottest cheerleaders). and me. aside from being the only circumcised man in a turkish sauna, i have never been more out of place.

manual typewriters were a bitch (although the mechanism itself was pretty cool). my speed was abysmal. my manual dexterity laughably questionable.

but ...

if your main male competition is a bunch of football players who are either ogling the chicks asses (make no mistake, they were definitely worth ogling) or figuring out how they can jump out the back window when the teacher wasn't looking (it wasn't worth jumping out of), it's not hard to stand out as best boy in class. i remember my teacher nearly weeping, more than once, when she saw both how incredibly hard i was trying (while having the most pathetic of results), and simultaneously feeling sorry for how hormone-lacking i was in this world of full-on rage.  

as i recall it was the last B i ever got in school (valedictorian qualifications don't start until 9th grade).

my graduation speed was 32 words per minute.

having worked in the computer industry (or simply taking a look at how many fricken 'blogs i have), i don't have to tell you how important typing has become.

sure, i have never figured out how a shift key works, but my speed with my thumbs only on a hiptop is almost exactly equal to my 9-finger speed on a manual all those years ago (fast enough, in fact, that i've had strangers truly agape watching me type).

yeah, i might hold regret over the fact i never had a piece of that cheerleader ass, but i'm sure as hell glad i never jumped out the window. (and knowing what i know now about ass in general, i wouldn't trade it.)

*i ended the story with "and castello washed ashore, with his severed leg tucked under his arm," instead of whatever insipid sappy ending it had.  the teacher loved it.  several years later i came very very close to being assaulted by a woman who had translated the same story as a senior project in her spanish class, with the same teacher.  when she handed in her translation, the instructor said, "that's not how this story ends," and summarily gave her a C+.  this, in turn, would have endangered a goal she had of being valedictorian had it not been for long discussions, some forms of definitive proof.  (probably resulting in her shaving five years off the end of her life.)  it took me awhile talk her down off the psychological ledge. in fact i was surprised by how hard it was to even put a sentence together, as she pummeled my chest.  que lastima.

bilingual computer games of the present

here in the future nearly everyone in the first world has a computer, or access to one. they've been smaller, cheaper and more sociologically important than we imagined in the past.

like in the past, computers can be tedious and annoying, but they're still mostly fun and fascinating.  they're also a LOT easier to use now ... easy enough that you don't need to be able to program to use them -- the vast majority of users don't even know how.

there are tons of games and millions of ways to waste time socially, both with friends and people you don't even actually know, but here's one of my favorites ...

we now have software tools letting you translate from one language to another.  they're extremely fast, taking only fractions of a second to do a change, and can translate from-and-to all the major languages in the world.  (english, by the way, has become widely used -- in a large part because of its pervasiveness in rock n' roll, believe it or not.)

these translators are also sublimely inaccurate.  you can almost always tell what something means, but the translations are riddled with funny and/or bewildering errors.  and this, in turn, lets you play a game ...

you can take a sentence, translate it to another language and translate it back to see how far afield the translation has gone ...

for example, the sentence:

tomorrow i will ride my bike to school

in spanish becomes:

i maƱana en mi bicicleta a la escuela.

but when translated back is:

i am on my bike to school.

so the game you can play is to translate something back and forth between languages until the sentence never changes in english, then show someone that sentence and have them guess what the original sentence was before it went insane.  now sure, i'm the first to admit this isn't the funnest game to ever be invented in the future, but you have to believe me here, it's not the worst (and it's way better than most of the stuff shown on future TV -- a medium so poor that i don't even watch it).

so after translating a sentence back and forth out of icelandic (and don't wig out -- nobody lives there, even in the future -- i just use the language because i can) here's my final draft ...

all d4rw1n to do is give me three oranges, a rabbit and basketball and I will take him to be the greatest man never born.

before you guess, i'll give you a hint.  here's the same sentence finalized with a different translation program (and believe it or not, this stuff in the future is all free -- you don't even have to check it out of the library or anything ... this time i'm switching back and forth between russian):

entire d4rw1n must make in order to give to me 3 oranges, rabbits and basketballs and I [rasmotrim], which was large always oh persona.

don't be fooled by "you get what you pay for."  here in the future there's a lot more free stuff and a lot of it's good -- this just happens to be a bit of a soft spot.  (and no, i have no explanation for the [rasmotrim] comment -- that word means as much to me here in the future as it did in the past ... which is to say, nothing.)

think think think.  what could it be?  well the first one is actually pretty close.  here's my original sentence:

all d4rw1n has to do is give me three oranges, a rabbit and a basketball and i will consider him to be the greatest person ever born.

in closing, as we say in english-japanese-english, "And the reader who becomes the thought and love, I acquired favorite farewell value from future."


the meta topic

from the point of view of the past, one of the things that would have surprised someone about the future is how little we talk about the future in a good sense now.  in the past there was an obsession with the future -- most of it was expressed in science fiction, but much of it was talked about directly in science fact ... we'll go to the moon and establish a base ... we'll farm the oceans ... alchemy will become a reality and we'll figure out how to turn lead into gold.

now whenever we mention the future, it's nearly always in terms of tragedy or trouble lurking just over the horizon ... global warming will kill the entirety of the planet ... there will be a world food shortage ... the oceans buckle under human-caused environmental strain.

(as an aside, my opinion is that much of this future pessimism is caused by television news ... feeding a society that seems to infatuated with fear ... but i'm not wholly informed here -- i don't watch TV.)

in the past there was some talk of trouble in the future, but nearly always it revolved around one of two things: population explosion, or seemingly inevitable nuclear war with what was then known as the USSR.  but unless you were someone like robert mcnamara, you didn't really worry about this stuff -- you left that to the bigger wigs as you tried to figure out just how big the flares in your pants should be.

the world today holds twice as many people as it did in 1969.  given that, if you showed someone from the past the world today, from a ecological point-of-view  (now we say "green") they'd probably be shocked at how little air pollution there is ... and for good reason, it was far worse before things like smoke stack scrubbers and catalytic converters.

if you asked someone from the past to guess what the cleanliness of the future would be like from here, they'd venture that a 40-year future would be even cleaner, given the vector we're on right now.

whether or not that's true doesn't matter.  i think the sociological meta question is more interesting: if we've done this well to this point, why do we no longer have optimism?


welcome to the future vitrine

like any science kid in the 60's (now known as a "geek*"), i had a fascination with what the future might be like.  flying cars, picture phones and men on the moon, sure ... but there'd be other stuff too.  i'd think about it, talk about it.  play with toys about it.  i thought it was amazing and thrilling and scary and so, so very cool.  i couldn't believe that i'd actually live to see the 21st century.

well, i live there now.  and, not surprisingly, it's both more and less than i was expecting.  

the whole purpose of this 'blog is to write about the future from the point of view of the past, the past from the point of view of the future, and the future from where we pen at the moment.

i'll be joined on here by my good friend, d4rw1n.  a close friend of my brother's growing up, he's now a power international trade lawyer in washington DC.  together we've trod the deserts of rajasthan, danced to kraftwerk and eaten the very best in cheap oysters.  he heard about my idea and it struck a chord.  d4rw1n's an analyst and a titan ... i'm extremely interested to hear what he has to say.

we'll be updating this sporadically, but continually.

(side note: i've always called this idea, "i live in the future," but some spudnut has locked that blogspot address without updating it so i've settled for this name instead.)

if you'd like to contribute a piece, either as a one-off, or as an ongoing member, please let me know.  we'd love to have you play along.

before you go, consider this: right this very moment is the youngest you'll ever be for the rest of your life.  

(and ask yourself this question, is the comment above tangential to the topic as a whole?  or is your answer far more sinister than that.)

welcome to the future vitrine.  i hope you enjoy the view.

*a term that, in the past, was more of an answer to a trivia question than anything else -- it referred to carnies that would bite the heads off of chickens in sideshows.