Put Down the Pan and Pick Up a Drill: Information Fracking in the Age of ‘Data Grande’

Ever since Al Gore invented the internet, gun-slinging entrepreneurs, dusty media giants and wagon trains of marketers have been panning the web for nuggets of consumer data. It’s still the Wild West out there but the California gold rush is over and the Texas oil boom is on. Waiting just below the trickling stream of keywords, likes, and basic demographics is a pressurized cavern of consumer data that Facebook’s Open Graph is threatening to blow sky-high.
Last September, at its annual f8 developer conference, Facebook announced that it would be opening itself up to data from other apps, like Spotify and Runkeeper. In the new Open Graph system, third-party applications are now able to pass information about what you were doing in their worlds–like what songs you were listening to or what workouts you had done–back to the social network, to be recorded on users’ profile pages and displayed to their friends – behaviors known as “actions.” The hope is that Actions published to user’s timelines will function as a discovery engine for that users extended network by helping them discover products, videos, articles, digital services, etc.
Thus far, Actions have been effective. Early success stories about Timeline app and Open Graph are impressive. The same goes for mobile. While the opportunities for third parties are great, the benefit to Facebook is even greater. By centralizing people’s online (and offline) behavior around the their platform, Facebook is creating an immense reserve of consumer data that will be an enormous asset to marketers of all ilk.
Not to be outdone, Google, Bing and Yahoo have announced a new initiative called Schema.org that will create and support a common set of schemas for structured data markup on web pages intended to be a rival to Open Graph.
Going blow for blow, the digital arms race is on. News has leaked from Facebook revealing that it will be releasing its new search engine in the very near future. All the big boys (along with patent trolls) are snatching up digital patents trying to get an edge on the competitors.
Will all this data flying around, and the pace of play accelerating, it’s tough to take a step back and ask the tough questions. What are the cultural implications of all openness? Who will regulate and monitor how companies use our data? What is all this data worth and who lays claim to it? 
Zukerberg is forced to walk a very fine line between ensuring that users have “complete control over everything [they] share,” and the privacy issues associated with Facebook’s business philosophy of frictionless sharing.
When sharing is automated, inevitably tidbits of sensitive personal information will make it into the public sphere. Law enforcement’s use of social networking sites in criminal prosecution has already been a contentious subject over the past several months. With the astonishing accuracy of facial recognition software already being licensed to the likes of Microsoft and Facebook, very real questions about the extent of the 4 amendment’s protections need to be discussed.
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Digital rights advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are already very busy addressing civil liberties issues arising from the rapid advancements in telecommunications technology.
Even in the business world, not everyone is drinking the kool-aid. Pandora founder Tim Westergren recognizes that while the company has a strong relationship with Facebook, a significant portion of Pandora’s users are turned off by having their actions published to their Timeline. How can companies strike a balance between monitoring users in the name of improving service and privacy. For now, it’s unclear whether the larger privacy concerns are simply not a genuine deterrent social network users or whether things have progressed so quickly in the past few years that people just haven’t had the time think about it.
After that first taste of Texas tea, everything was destined to change: the economics of the industry, politics, education, and culture. Data is for 21st century information-based industries what petroleum was for the age of mechanization 100 years earlier. For now, advertising is the engine that powers Search and Social. Data is the fuel for that engine, and until we see significant resistance from the public, we can expect the online giants to drill deeper and deeper.

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The Augusta National question

So about three weeks ago the annual Masters Tournament was held in Augusta. This year, however, the tournament was surrounded by an additional layer of controversy not unlike what happened back in 2002. I know I am a little late in bringing this subject up, but better late than never.

For a brief recap, the Masters was protested in 2002 by a group led by Martha Burke. The issue was the fact that there were no women members of Augusta National Golf Club. The protest that was held was hardly successful. Flash forward to 2012, and the issue and Martha Burke have resurfaced. Only this time there was an additional element.

IBM is a long time sponsor of the Masters, and Augusta National has granted membership to IBM’s previous CEOs. IBM’s current CEO is a woman named Virginia Rometty. And Augusta National is still an all-male golf club.

I am not here to start a debate. I just have a hard time seeing the issue here. Augusta National is a private club. As a private organization, it has the right to set its own policies up to and including membership. If a private organization wants to change/update its policies, great. If it thinks the rules it has in place are satisfactory, that is also its prerogative. (Yes, I channeled a little Ron Swanson there…) But the whole point of a private organization is that it sets its own rules and shouldn’t have to have its policies dictated to it by outside sources. This fact seems to be lost on Martha Burke.

In all of this, did anyone stop to ask Mrs. Rometty‘s opinion? Does she even care to be a member of Augusta National? Does she even play golf? If I were her, as CEO of a major corporation, I would be somewhat offended if someone was trying to draft me into their pet cause. Maybe she was asked, and I am just uninformed.

Will Augusta National ever open its doors to female membership? Maybe. Will an all-woman’s college open its doors to men? I’m not holding my breath. But if either of them does, it should be on their own terms. Otherwise, what is the point of having a private club, or college for that matter? If said club is not doing anything illegal, immoral, or unethical, then forcing that organization to change based on a differing set of values is just wrong.

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Video games as a legitimate media

One thing that kind of irks me is the fact that you still cannot bring up video games in a serious conversation and expect to be taken seriously. Because video games are nothing but a child’s toy. To be fair, if you were referring Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, Pac Man, Mortal Kombat, or Legend of Zelda, I would agree with you. Even the computer program I am using to write this agrees with you! It keeps telling me that those game titles are incorrect words. Anyway, I could go on and on with that list. Those games, while fun, hardly provide the mind with real stimulation and would probably never be discussed in the same fashion a movie or book would. However, each of the games I just named are from the 1980s and 1990s. Granted, some are franchises and are still around, but that is when they were started.

In the last 10 – 15 years, the technology available to game makers has become much more sophisticated. This has enabled games to become much more narrative in nature. Many current game franchises boast narrative arcs that are in many ways superior to many current TV shows and movies. Some that come to my mind include the Uncharted series, the Assassin’s Creed series, the Mass Effect series, and pretty much anything from Bethesda Game Studios. Honorable mention to the Metal Gear Solid series, but since its plotline is more convoluted than a daytime soap, it is not as accessible as other games.

What I fail to understand is that if I spend an evening playing a video game, I will be accused of wasting my time. However, if I were to spend the same amount of time reading, that is perfectly acceptable. The same would be said if I chose instead to spend the evening in question watching TV with friends. The argument here is that if you are reading, you are engaging your mind. If you are with friends, you are socializing. Well, you can socialize among friends with games as easily as you can with TV shows. Easier even, thanks to online play. And my counter argument to video games vs. books is what I said earlier – many video game franchises now have narratives that are just as good as any book or TV show. So my question stands, how is a game any less legitimate than traditional forms of entertainment? As proof of my argument, I present this clip from Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception.

No, that was not one long cut scene. Actual gameplay was being presented as well. I picked Uncharted 3 to illustrate some of my previous points. Sure what was presented in that clip was way over the top, but that is what was keeping me engaged. The action sequences are fun to watch play out. I want to know what is going to happen next to the main character, Nathan Drake. The added benefit here is that I have to figure out how Nate is going to get out of the next set of problems that he will encounter. That is something books, movies and TV can offer in only the most limited basis – interactivity.

Allow me to present another example of how video games have evolved into a more sophisticated form of media on par with books and movies – the Mass Effect series. These games currently set the standard on interactive storytelling.  To quickly summarize, Mass Effect is a trilogy of games that I have followed for the last five years. The story, while not entirely original, was very well presented and very engaging. You as the player are given a large amount of freedom to resolve missions as you see fit. You can be anything from a compassionate and noble soldier, a rough around the edges badass, or anything in between.  Also, the games have a game save mechanic where the choices you made in the first two games carry over and affect game play in the third.  Your previous choices affect the outcome of the story.

The big plot twist at the end of the first game was brilliant. Every element in the story up to that point suddenly came together. The climax of the game had a battle that I would argue puts anything seen in Star Wars to shame. The second game in the series built on the strengths of the first. The story was not as strong as Mass Effect 1, but the game itself was still very compelling and so much fun to play that I spent countless hours with it. Based on all of this, I was very excited for the conclusion to the series, Mass Effect 3. I haven’t been excited for something this much since The Dark Knight movie. Ever since completing Mass Effect 2, I was dying to know how this story would end, and how I would go about doing it.

Unfortunately in the case of Mass Effect 3, I – and countless other fans of the series – was left with massive disappointment at the conclusion of the story. I felt that the resolution of the story did not live up to its potential, robbed the story of narrative coherence, and failed to deliver any meaningful denouement for the series as a whole.

Protip: If you have to rely on a deus ex machina to resolve your plot, you have done a poor job at concluding your story and central conflict. There is a good chance that you have also destroyed any narrative coherence that you had up to that point. A deus ex machina sucked as a literary device in ancient Greece, and it still sucks today. Allow me a comparison. Imagine that you have been reading all of the Harry Potter novels. You have grown to like some characters while despising others. You have become interested in the central conflict and how it revolves around Harry, his friends, and the series Big Bad. You have become generally invested in the story and its heroes, and you want to see them standing victorious in the end. Now imagine that that ending had involved the British government becoming aware of the wizarding world and thought that the best course of action was to drop a nuke on Hogwarts. That is what essentially happened at the end of the Mass Effect series. But just so you understand, the other 99% of the series was a joy to play and brilliant in its storytelling.

But my point here is not to complain about something I can’t control. My point is to illustrate that only a well-crafted story – regardless of medium – can generate that sort of reaction from an audience. A reaction that inspires thoughtful and intelligent criticism (which I hope I just delivered). These reactions can run the full range of good and bad depending on how well the audience feels the story was concluded.

A simple toy cannot do that.

Before I sign off, I do need to address one last point – online gaming. I did not want to stick this in at the end of the post, but honestly, I couldn’t find anywhere else to do so where it wouldn’t seem as if I was going off topic. Anyway, some would argue that online capability has produced nothing but countless iterations of Call of Duty and World of Warcraft.  Call of Duty death matches can be fun, but I would never say that it is my preferred venue for gaming. And I refuse to even touch WoW. Grinding for levels is not my idea of entertainment or active engagement. If I wasn’t already clear, I tend to seek out games that will tell me a story. As such, I do agree that too much online gaming is to be avoided.

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Just another day at the office (if said office is in Baghdad)

As I promised at one point, here is a war story. The flowing account takes place in March of 2008, in the neighborhoods just south of Baghdad. I had just taken command of my company…

It was about this time that Baghdad experienced a spike in violence. I was not really tracking that as closely as I should have been, because I would soon find myself directly affected. When we were first planning this day’s mission, it was initially just to pick up some equipment at Third Infantry (3rd ID) Headquarters at Camp Victory. By the time we actually executed, it had been greatly expanded and revised. The original mission was nothing earth shattering or dangerous per say, but trouble did find us. Camp Victory was located at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP), by the way.

After leaving Forward Operating Base (FOB) Kalsu in the morning, our first stop was to drop some items off at FOB Falcon. As we were rolling up Route Jackson (which is actually a main highway into southern Baghdad – Highway 8 if I remember correctly), one of the vehicle gunners called out a suspicious looking piece of trash. Turns out that it was nothing, but who knows if it was actually just a piece of trash, or it really was a component of an IED at one time? Stuff like that definitely gets your attention. Things were improving, but IEDs remained an unfortunate fact of life in Iraq, and incidents like this one are bound to happen if you roll outside the wire enough times. We got to Falcon without further incident, and continued our mission.

We got word before we left Falcon that we were unauthorized to continue north through Baghdad to BIAP, so that necessitated us going back south to the Hwy1/Hwy8 interchange, and proceeding to BIAP via Main Supply Route Tampa, or Highway 1. This of course added to our mission time, and affected the link up I had arranged to pick up equipment at 3ID Headquarters – can’t mess with lunch hour on Camp Victory, I guess. They complained that I was late, which I tried to explain was due to operational constraints. In hind sight, I might have been a little overbearing, but I made it clear that if I had to leave empty handed, I was not going to make a second trip to come get this stuff. Again, I might have been a little overbearing. I guess on some level I was insulted that they didn’t want to believe I was who I said I was without a memo. Also in hindsight, the memo is important. As it turns out, getting paperwork wrong where military property accountability is concerned can cost you thousands of dollars in docked pay. But at that moment, I was just a dumbass, new-guy commander full of piss and vinegar. Anyway…

After concluding our business at Camp Victory, we were getting ready to return to Kalsu when the message came through for us to divert to the Green Zone to make an unscheduled pickup. This was when things started to get a little interesting.

This is what I heard over the radio: “Sir, you’re not going to believe this. We have to go to the Green Zone to pick up Mr. Smith.”

Me: “You’re joking, right? Please tell me you’re not serious.” (Of course what I actually said was more F-Bomb laced.)

Sergeant: “Sir, I haven’t been in a joking mood all day.”

We were also informed that we needed to swing by FOB Falcon – again – to make a second pick up. My guess is that Air had gone Red (meaning weather had grounded all helicopters), but I was never really sure. And if I have not made it clear, the route into Falcon was treacherous; it was known to be booby trapped with explosively formed projectiles (EFPs). Whatever the reason, the soldier in question had been stranded, and my patrol was in the neighborhood. This meant we had to drive through Baghdad to the Green Zone (IZ), make the pick-up of the State Dept. guy, come back through BIAP and head south on MSR Tampa to the Hwy1/Hwy8 interchange, and then turn north up to FOB Falcon. After that was done, then were could return to base at FOB Kalsu. Remember, we couldn’t travel on certain routes in the city, which is why we were stuck taking the long way around. This is the type of crap that happens in movies – usually before something bad – and apparently, it was par for the course here as well.

The main road from BIAP to the IZ is designated as Route Irish. It is not that long of a drive, but there was plenty of radio chatter at the time, and I was about to find out why. Once we got to the IZ, we had to pass one of the main hospitals. There was a crowd outside, and some were injured. Rockets had hit earlier. As soon as we pulled into our link up site, the guys we were picking up lost no time in making contact with us. They were anxious to leave, as the Green Zone had already been hit with 5 or 6 rocket attacks that day. As we were moving to leave, everyone in the immediate area started to run towards the nearest bunker. More rockets were inbound. As far as we were concerned, a moving target was safer than a stationary one and we hauled ass.

By the time we passed back through BIAP and reached the Hwy1/Hwy8 Interchange, it was beginning to get dark. As we started to roll north on ASR Jackson, things got very eerie. The streets were deserted. There was absolutely no vehicle or pedestrian traffic. This is known to happen when the enemy is planning an ambush.

Sergeant #1: “Hey, are you seeing this? There’s nothing here. Not good. I don’t like it.”

Sergeant #2: “Keep rolling. Let’s just get through and get it done.”

Thankfully, we reached Falcon without incident, and completed our second pickup. On the way back south to MSR Tampa, one of the gunners again called out a suspicious looking object. As before, it was just a piece of debris. However, this time the object in question really did look like it could have been a component for an EFP. It was even resting at an odd angle. It was a definite “Oh Crap” moment. In the end, who knows what it really was? I was certainly glad to get back to FOB Kalsu later that night. Missions that I subsequently went on proceeded much more smoothly.

I later found out that everything that had happened that afternoon was all related to the Shia uprising that took place at the end of March. The streets were possibly deserted because a curfew might have been in effect. As you can see, even with all our technology and communications capabilities, the fog of war still very much exists. The ultimate end state in response to the repeated attacks on the Green Zone was that U.S. and Iraqi Forces took the fight into the Sadr City slum on the eastern side of Baghdad. We had to go into that area eventually. Hopefully some lasting measure of law and order was put into place due that effort and the many that followed for the next few years.

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The new reality of reading books.

Note before you start reading this one – this post was actually intended to be a part of a class presentation.  But as is often the case in creative endeavors, it was never used and left on the proverbial cutting room floor.  So I decided to post it here.  Enjoy.

It used to be that if you wanted to read a book, periodical, or magazine, you had one of two options: you went to the library or to a bookstore. These two options are still very much in existence, but consider the impact of the internet and the radical effect it has had on the way we receive much of our media input.

When I think of books, the image that almost immediately crosses my mind is the Amazon.com homepage. Launched in 1996, it was revolutionary in that it offered a wide variety books – far more than could ever be offered by a single store – and it would ship books that you purchased to an address of your choosing. You know longer had to go to a library or store to get new reading material; it came to you. Amazon.com has since grown into a global corporation that offers far more products than books to include movies, games, and electronics. Speaking of electronics…

In 2007, Amazon.com launched the Kindle, an e-reader that enabled a customer to download books from Amazon.com directly. No waiting on a book to be shipped. You could now download a book instantly. And the Kindle itself is capable of storing hundreds of e-books. Think about this for a second. Thanks to new technology, you can carry hundreds of books in your backpack, briefcase, pocket book, etc. at the same time. Not 10 years ago, this was physically impossible.

To carry this trend further, in 2012 most smartphones and tablets have the capability of installing e-book apps. You don’t even need to buy a Kindle, really. You merely need to download the Kindle app. You can be in a conversation at your office and have a book recommended to you. Using the Kindle app on your phone, you purchase a new book. Since you also have the same app on your tablet, both devices sync and are updated by your Amazon.com account. You can now have a new book anytime you want it, anywhere you want it, on multiple devices. The same holds true for various magazine and periodical apps and features. All of these media sources available on one compact device. And most of those devices can stream movies and T.V. shows as well.

No, this posting was not intended as free advertising for Amazon.com. However, as a loyal Amazon.com customer for the last 13 years, I highly recommend their services and Kindle products and apps.

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In Defense of Video Games

So since I started my short series of posts with a defense, I think I’ll close with one.

As I was doing my daily news speed reading, because seriously if I didn’t skim, I’d never make it off the Starbucks stool, I came across some new developments in the Norway massacre trial. Apparently the murdering psychopath, I mean alleged murdering psychopath, has said that he played Modern Warfare 2 as a way to practice his shooting technique. As you can probably imagine, this will most likely open a can of worms where extremists will argue the malicious intent of violent video games, and the gamers will have to get off the couch long enough to roll their eyes at the ridiculousness of this argument. Perhaps gamers might take to the internet as means of a counter-strike, but ultimately they will shortly find it safe enough to return to their game and extend their kill streak.

In short, absent a new rating system for those violent, violent video games, the world will remain unchanged even in the face of this disturbing development. So, let’s go ahead and nip this in the bud. Shall we?

Now, let me be clear: I am not a gamer. In fact, I have the coordination of a bat without sonar capability. That being said, I have had a year of video game glory. It involved Mario-Kart, the Nintendo 64, and a banana peel: I was invincible, perhaps even an assassin. I’ve also had some prideful moments on Golden Eye, and I’m not talking about the one for Super Nintendo. The point is while I’ve had some experience, I’ve had nothing that could compare to the craziness of Grand Theft Auto, Halo, and Modern-Gears of Duty-Portal-Bio-Battlefield of Destruction-Half-Warfare whatever.

With all of this in mind, I might just be a neutral party, and as such I’m going to propose my opinion. It is as follows:

Using Modern Warfare 2 as shooting practice? Really? How does that qualify as shooting practice? You don’t actually get a gun, you get a controller. So, at most, playing a lot of Modern Warfare 2, might make you very good at pushing a button, which could be dangerous. However, let’s give credit where credit’s due. If the definition of a violent video game is the ability for it to be used as a means of shooting practice, well then the most violent video game mankind has ever been exposed to would be Duck Hunt. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, you actually get a gun in Duck Hunt, a brightly colored gun whose only purpose was to bring those damn, cocky ducks down.

Logically speaking, if Duck Hunt is supposed to train you to be a crack-shot with a gun, I’ve put in enough hours to be a sniper. Unfortunately for me, I cannot in good faith add sniper to my list of resume skills. My aim is terrible. I couldn’t hit the broad side of a building if my life depended on it, granted that confession probably means that no one will stand with me in case of zombie apocalypse, but I digress. Duck Hunt has not improved my shot. My gun sensor may have been off, or I may have been that bad, but in either case, the ducks knew to rest easy when I was behind the trigger.

Now, some dissenters may say that Modern Warfare 2 doesn’t need a gun to help people kill people. They might argue that the game improves the reflexes needed to kill mass amounts of people, and that alone is enough to crucify the simulation. However, I would have to respond that any game could improve reflexes, let’s not limit it to just the violent ones. Rock Band improves dexterity and reaction time, maybe not enough to play an actual instrument or anything, but still. How about improving reflexes for the whole body? I’m looking at you Dance, Dance Revolution. Maybe it’s so dangerous that it has the ability to train a young army for a real revolution (not a positive one of course, it is a video game after all).

All of this sounds ridiculous, because it is. Video games don’t make crazies, crazies make crazies. Maybe we are a little desensitized (graphic wars, graphic language, Tosh.O in general), but let me point out that my Texan grandmother can snap a chicken’s neck with a fair amount of brutal efficiency. I’m still not desensitized enough to do that. However, if I keep playing video games, maybe there’s still time for me to get there.

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Summer Umbrella Wreath

My friends would tell you that I decorate my front door for every holiday, I mean EVERY holiday. So from Halloween until Easter there is something decorative on my door at all times. There is always a depression that ensues when I can’t figure out what to celebrate between Easter and Memorial Day. This year I decided to celebrate the warm temperatures with a festive, bright and cheery paper umbrella wreath.

I first came across this idea on Pinterest and saw it again in Food Network Magazine.  Both places raved about how quick, easy and cheap this wreath was to make. So I gave it a try!

To start, you need to purchase a package of paper parasols/umbrellas, which can be found at Party City for only $5. Just a little side note, you will have tons left over for some Cinco de Mayo margaritas! You will also need a 14″ foam wreath, which I found at Michael’s for only $5.99.

Now just start opening the umbrellas and sticking them into the foam wreath.

About 15 minutes later you will have a complete umbrella wreath. This wreath is a great way to brighten up any door for the summer and just in time for a fiesta!

 

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Association of Health Care Journalists, Master the Conversation

The health and medical journalism program recently attended the Association of Health Care Journalists 2012 conference held in Atlanta, GA. The University of Georgia (UGA), along with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University were conference hosts. Children’s Healthcare and Emory University provided participants with field trips and UGA sponsored a high-tech workshop designed to help improve video skills, social media engagement, and master Google. 

The main point I took home came from NPR’s Matt Thompson and that is “master the conversation.” By master the conversation, Thompson is referring to the online conversation. Whether it’s happening on Twitter, Facebook, or blogs, journalists need to master and engage their followers. Too often journalists write their stories or blogs, read the comments section and never bother to respond to readers. Thompson argues that their is tremendous value in using the comments section to further the conversation. So the next time you see someone wrote a comment in response to your blog or tweet, engage them, asks questions, and most of all create interest!

The highlight of the conference had to be the Bio-curious flashmob. Hmj’ers performed a flashmob version of the official “Let’s Move” dance. Check it out, http://youtu.be/hHRH3CT4H3g.

 

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A Girl Named Julia

When I woke up Thursday morning,  I fully expected a no-frills type a day; took a shower, had some yogurt, watch a little Mike and Mike in the morning, a usual morning for me. I agreed to help out fellow grad student Mark  with a video project on video games and college athletics. About 11am, he got over to my apartment, we did an interview, and it was done, no problem. In the mid-afternoon, I had to meet Andrea over at the 4th floor of Grady to go over our case study. After the meeting, I stuck around to work on a few reports for Dr. Lee’s Telecomm policy class. Later that night, I was supposed to go out dinner with a few friends, but the plan fell through. It got be around 5:30, I decided to head back to my apartment and take a nap because I had gotten sick a day earlier. I wanted to go out to dinner around 7 so I could get back and do laundry. It was a well thought out plan. (A important note here) I fell asleep around 6:15, didn’t get until 7. So, I woke up, threw some clothes on, and headed out to The Blind Pig Tavern on Atlanta Hwy. I sit down at the bar, order a drink, and tune my eyes to watching Heat vs. Bulls the big TV behind the bar. I ate, talked with the lovely bartender for a bit, sat until the end of the first half and kindly asked for my check. As I’m settling up with the check, a very attractive girl sits at the bar next to me.  She’s about  5’9” tall, long brown hair, hazel green eyes, mid-20’s, slender figure.

I didn’t think anything of it, until she turns to me and asks “Are there more lively bars around here?” I responded with a humble “No.” I then ask her almost as a reactionary response, “Are you new here in town?” She responds with a quick yes, but with a caveat. She told me she had very recently moved down from D.C. with her boyfriend, who was not with her. She then tells me her relationship has gone very sour and its her birthday. At this moment, my mind was screaming at me, “Walk Away, Walk Away, Walk Away!!!,” but as usually is the case with me, I did not. She asks for my name, I kindly give it to her (of course she doesn’t believe its my real name. What else is new?). I then ask for hers, and she tells me her name is  Julia.

What happened next literally left me speechless; Julia goes off on this hour-long rant about her personal life, which includes a tale of cheating on her ex-boyfriend with her current boyfriend, her one-time use of heroin,  mis-treatment by her boyfriend, driving down to Miami from Palm Beach to have a fling, the list goes on. While she’s telling me this, two things are going through my mind; 1. Is Julia being honest with me? or 2. This woman well and truly fascinates me, and I must learn more to gain understanding. After Julia finishes her rant,  she apologizes to me. I told her, “Its okay, you don’t need to apologize to me.” Julia then asks me for my thoughts on her, I responded with not being able to form a single damn word. I get a reprieve as she runs to the bathroom. While she is gone, my mind is scrambling to make sense of what was just heard, and I ask myself, “How do I not come off as judgemental?” I had to frame my analysis so it wouldn’t offend her, plus give a constructive criticism. Julia kept referring to herself as a “crazy bitch.” She repeated the term a number of times. I tried to tell her otherwise, coining the word shameless. She seemed to take kindly to the word, as much as warming up to me. I asked her why she was so promiscuous, she responded with not wanting to be alone. I was sympathetic, some people just don’t want to be alone. After my consoling/counseling of the poor girl, she decided to do the same thing to me. She pointed out the very obvious flaw in my personality; the fact that I’m wound tighter than a lugnut. She lamented that even I was thoughtful and attractive, I lacked a certain confidence to entice women. I couldn’t deny it, there I sat no more than 6 inches from her face, and I could not pull the trigger. My guess was caution was the better part of valor, or I have no guts at all. The point of her introspection was I don’t live for the moment. There it was, here is a woman who is totally free, able to play by her own social norms.

Before I wrap up this story, I’m going to give a little background on Julia; Born in Lithuania in 1987, speaks fluent Russian, graduated with a Masters’ degree in Business at Georgetown, and is incredibly gorgeous. Anyways, I concluded the night by walking her back to the car, giving her a hug and kissing her on the cheek. I drove to my apartment, got out of the car, went to bed, and tried to sleep. Suffice to say I didn’t sleep well, I couldn’t stop thinking about her.

If there is a lesson learned out of all of this, I learned I can not make a plan, for it will turn on its head. Fate has a funny way of showing itself, maybe its being at the right place at the right time, or it’s shutting up and listening to a girl named Julia.

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It’s genetic. Is that supposed to make me feel better?

It is incredibly difficult for me to share the following info about myself, but I think it’s very important because I believe people will rarely pay attention to medical issues unless they know someone who has been personally affected.

On Monday morning I received a phone call from my dermatologist that a mole I had removed two weeks before tested positive for melanoma, my second in less than two years.  While you all were in class discussing social media and government, I was having outpatient surgery on my thigh.  Today is my birthday, so it was a really great way to celebrate.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and it’s on the rise in young people ages 20-34.  If you want to learn more, the Skin Cancer Foundation has a ton of great information, and there is a great skin type quiz that can help you determine if you are at greater risk.  In the interest of brevity, suffice to say I can check pretty much all the boxes.

I have always had a lot of freckles and several moles since childhood and for a while friends and family would tell me to go get a particular mole checked out on my back.  I didn’t go to the dermatologist for a long time, despite the comprehensive free health care I have had since joining the military nearly 8 years ago.  When I finally went to the doctor, he took one look and said, “I’m gonna take that one.”  That’s all he said, but I heard the concern in his voice.  He biopsied that one and two others, and told me they would call me only there was a problem.

Six months later…  Out of the blue the doctor called me six months after that visit to inform me that I had a melanoma and that my sample had been lost at the lab for all that time.  He and his office workers had neglected to follow up with the lab on my samples, meaning that they may never have discovered my results.  I won’t go into the details of the follow-up treatment I went through other than to say that I now have a four-inch long scar on my upper back.  I didn’t need chemo or radiation.

This post is not intended to be a treatise on the on-going health insurance debate, and it’s not a scare tactic.  This is just my way of asking you all to be proactive about your own health care.  If you think something isn’t being handled appropriately, or if you think there’s something wrong that the doctor says is nothing, make them check it out anyway.  Many of you are probably still on your parents’ insurance so you may not know how important it is to find a job that can provide you with that coverage.  If I didn’t have the excellent coverage that I do have I may never have had it checked.  With melanoma, it is almost 98% curable if caught early enough, which both of mine were.  So bottom line, get yourself checked out if you see something that looks weird.

If you have questions, I’ll be glad to answer them.  But PLEASE, don’t treat me like a sick person when you see me in class.  I’m fine – really.  And STOP TANNING ALREADY!

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