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Real World – Rob Brogan

March 4, 2018Comments are off for this post.

Little pieces

I’m riding a train this morning to work. Not the subway but an actual train from Philadelphia to NYC. It brings back potent nostalgia for Barcelona.‬

When I was a teacher I would take a regional train from BCN to Molins del Rei. I didn’t mind the commute, in fact I got excited every time I got on the train. I got excited because I was SO new that I could feel myself getting better every class I taught.‬

I also loved the small amount of money. I can’t remember but I think it was about €60. I got paid daily, in cash. The day that it was enough to cover rent that month, felt like such an accomplishment: one more month I could make it as an immigrant.

In the United States right now that can be a heavy word, immigrant, but to clarify my circumstance: I moved to Barcelona with two suitcases of clothes, a good amount of savings and a plan to support myself teaching English. I used my savings, taught English, but was unable to secure a visa. So, being undocumented really limited my travel. I couldn’t hop around Europe as I hoped, but Catalunya was enough for me. I also couldn’t go back to the USA until I was comfortable with the possibility I’d be barred from coming back to my new home in Barcelona.

When I filled my envelope under the mattress markered with RENT, the rest was mine. Each day I went to work was another 40 to 60 euros for cheap beer, jamón serrano, galletas Principe, wine, subway tickets, pay-as-you-go cell phone “top ups.” They had ATM style kiosks around shopping centers where you type in your phone number, insert the cash, and then your available balance on the phone gets updated. Wow.

So, each time I got on a train I would look out the window and soak up the sequence of quotidian landscapes. I didn’t know how long I would be there. Each day was an exciting step and I just wanted to keep going.

I can’t help comparing this feeling to present day. Now I ride a train and feel that nostalgia, but rarely look forward to work. Maybe it’s because I don’t have the daily reward and the Pavlovian effect has worn off. I definitely need work to pay the bills, but it’s no longer a day-to-day survival. I also don’t feel that daily progression that I did with being a new teacher. Now I work with a big company that only dares take incremental steps toward some undefined goal of “generate more money/customers.” Most employees aren’t needed for a specific day like a teacher is required each day for a class to happen. My work is spread out over the course of weeks, months, and then I don’t see a final result sometimes for a year.

There isn’t an inherent negative to taking the long view. In fact sometimes it is most valuable. [The Long Now Foundation] I also recall feeling a little lost in Barcelona, taking life in little pieces, with no idea how they added up to a big piece or what the next big piece should be. I’m sitting here on the train again, no longer at a loss for the big pieces, but missing the delight of the little ones.

Perhaps writing is one way to get them. Actually writing this very message feels like mixing the pallet of big and little, but to get meta about it, the act of writing is small in itself. I like that.

June 30, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Your “personal stock”

I don't necessarily agree with everything said in the following, but I stumbled upon this question in Quora, which was by pure chance that I didn't instantly delete the newsletter from my email, and found it refreshingly plain, yet (mostly) accurate. My reservations are on the part of social performance and skills of entertaining - i.e. playing the guitar - but I get the main idea. I suppose some of these aren't interesting to me, but they would apply to someone far more successful than I. Either way... just sharing:

Q: What can I start doing now that will help me a lot in about five years?
I will appreciate any suggestion. You might want to know that I'm 23 years old and currently a physics student with large desire for progress, not only in my profession but also in all aspects of life.
A: Want to see your personal stock double or more in five years? Here's the prescription.
We are all evaluated and judged in social and work settings all the time and usually in a brief instant. We are not judged on education. We are not judged on grades. We are not judged on IQ.

We are judged on skills, pretty much solely. People prefer the company of those who are physically handy and socially adept. Competence counts. In fact, people with high IQ or lots of schooling but low skill levels can be judged quite negatively.

  • Can you change a flat tire or swap out a dead car battery?
  • Can you pick up a guitar and entertain a room?
  • Are you handy at crafts?

Even more important are the social skills, particularly...

  • Are you an excellent listener?
  • Can you instantly make people at ease in your presence?
  • Can you control the atmosphere in a room, making it light or serious as appropriate?
  • Do you have moral courage? Are you willing to say and do the necessary in any circumstance rather than shrink back?

Other social skills are important...

  • Can you speak from the heart?
  • Are you free from glib, gratuitous, offensive and non-productive remarks?
  • Can you compete when necessary, collaborate when necessary?

The social graces are also important...

  • Can you dance? play the piano? sing? tell rousing stories? etc.

There are bonus points for gender cross-over skills. When a woman can...

  • Use common tools competently.
  • Not shrink in the company of males.
  • Roll up her sleeves and do hard physical work when necessary.

Or a man can...

  • Comfort an upset child.
  • Cook, sew, do laundry.
  • Feel at home in the company of women.

Such cross-over skills indicate androgyny, or high skills across the masculine and feminine range. The highest slots in society are usually home to the androgynous.

Figure out the skills you'd like to possess. Take classes. Read books. Practice every day. Push yourself. Build on your strengths and eliminate your weaknesses. It's fun, a great way to make friends, and your stock will rise quickly.

May 19, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Getting Political

Oh look, an update! Fight For The Future Blog

Don't worry, just for a little bit... only while I have to!
For the record, I generally hate politics and think of it as a system incongruent with our ideals, but almost entirely unresponsive in practice. I feel entirely ineffective as a citizen, and this entire post is most likely going to be useless, but when something has a great enough emotional weight it will move anyone to try what they believe to be impossible.

Net Neutrality = The Internet as you probably think of it right now

It's important to me to feel that I will always have full access to any corner of the internet. I also don't like bills, but that's another story.

What, in broad strokes, the FCC and Internet Service Providers (ISP) are doing:

  • Chopping up the internet website by website, based on demand
    • i.e. Netflix > Yahoo
  • Popular sites become an extra commodity – even if you pay for the service itself
    • i.e. Buying a cable sports/movie "package" for TV
  • Less popular sites, like this one that actually provide a voice for people, will trickle in at much slower speeds.
  • Don't forget that "popular" is now decided by your provider (Comcast, Verizon, etc) and American politics shows that those with more money are also closer to politics. So, despite sounding like a conspiracy theory, a risk of complete or partial (slow/reduced access) censorship is very real. China has been doing this for years. It's called the Great Firewall of China by the outside world. Google it while you can.

I'm not suggesting that my site is important - by any means - but the lack of hierarchy, the freedom of choice, the delight of discovery, whatever you want to call it, is dependent on a blind or neutral connection to all of the websites in the world: Net Neutrality.

We have lost this battle. The United States does not legally require your service providers to be neutral with regards to the internet content they serve you. To finish off the saying... we haven't lost the war.

Illustrated Explanation of Net Neutrality

This video does a much better job than I did:

Related petitions

Fight For the Future: Tell the FCC we need Net Neutrality Remove Tom Wheeler from his position as FCC Chairman

April 14, 2014Comments are off for this post.


I've been taking pictures of interesting doors lately, but haven't shared them. That's probably because I doubt many (any) will find it them interesting as I do, but I get excited to see someone take a mundane form and exercise their creativity.

February 6, 2014Comments are off for this post.


Once we have a firm practice of compassion our state of mind becomes stronger which leads to inner peace, giving rise to self-confidence, which reduces fear. This makes for constructive members of the community. Self-centredness on the other hand leads to distance, suspicion, mistrust and loneliness, with unhappiness as the result.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama

January 30, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Algae Blooms from Space, Estonia

Mapbox + NASA Satellite

From the Mapbox blog:
This algae, a type of cyanobacteria, can be found in almost every terrestrial and aquatic habitat - but with the right conditions can bloom and be seen from space as blue-green patches that swirl following surface currents. Lines cutting across the image are the traces of ships.

Check out the Mapbox blog for full details and source.

November 25, 2013Comments are off for this post.

A Rare Look At The Tunnels Under San Francisco

The idea that there was something literally deeper to explore beneath the white-bread suburbia we lived in utterly captivated my 12-year-old mind.

A Rare Look At The Tunnels Under San Francisco

Photo Essay on: The Bold Italic

November 13, 2013Comments are off for this post.

Quality handouts

One thing I've found unique to New York (being from the midwest originally), is the occasional street donation of things left behind by people moving. People move so often in this city, that you're bound to find a good table, fan, or even some clothes and books. Today I came home to see a stack of hardcover books outside my apartment - all in excellent condition - and I couldn't help but grab four of them!

Thank you, anonymous.

Yours truly,

September 20, 2013Comments are off for this post.

Colorful Hike Through the Smoky Mountains

Colorful Hike Through the Smoky Mountains
Smithsonian Photo of the Day
Photo and caption by Ana Sanchez-Moreland (Charlotte, NC); Photographed October 2012, Gatlinburg,TN

July 8, 2013Comments are off for this post.

The Megaro Project, London

In early 2012 AoC completed the largest mural in London, a monumental 450m2 painting opposite St. Pancras International Train Station. The mural was painted by four members of the collective and encompasses two sides of the five storey Georgian building.

The mural took three weeks to complete with the artists collaborating to create a single work that utilised their individual styles and perspectives.

Source: The Megaro Project

July 6, 2013Comments are off for this post.

Personal Challenges

Do you ever set up personal challenges? A short-term goal?
I find that some things are easier to accomplish when you view them as impermanent. If you ask yourself to "improve," you typically imagine that you start a positive habit or behavior and continue for the rest of your life, getting better and better. Life is never linear however, and things don't happen as we expect. So with that in mind, I prefer to dabble in self-improvement. Here are a few examples that I have done:

One-Week Vegetarianism

After watching one too many food documentaries on Netflix, I felt increasing doubt about the health and safety of our meat industry – out of them all, I recommend Food Inc. Netflix | Amazon Prime if you want a starting point. Steak quickly ceased to look delicious and I started to compare our food with the rest of our industries, cutting corners and cheapening quality as much as possible. Despite these thoughts, I wasn't prepared to suddenly become a vegetarian. So, I challenged myself to go one week without red meat.

After some anguish of choice, and rude awakening to how many meal options tend to include meat, I was kind of frustrated, but felt very accomplished at the end of the week. It was difficult, and I managed. So, I posed to myself, what's the harm in trying to go for two weeks without meat? That slipped into a month, and into three, and now I've been vegetarian for two years without ever really setting out to become one.

One-Week Veganism

The beauty of these reasonable, short-term challenges is that I'm not setting myself up for a life-long goal or expectation. Recently, I tried to take my vegetarianism to the next level, and I made it three days of complete veganism, but a small portion of seafood on the weekend, and lunch with co-workers quickly derailed me. I'm okay with that. Maybe I'll try again some other time. Challenge failed.

One-Week No Beer

The important caveat here is: alcohol is okay, beer isn't. I felt like I had gotten into the habit of drinking beer every day at lunch, and then in plenty throughout the weekend. I feared for my gut, and felt increasingly guilty about sucking down all this liquid bread. So, I decided to challenge myself to stop drinking beer for one week. I can happily say I've just finished that week without a single drop of beer! I've had some wine, delicious rum punch, margaritas, and gin and tonics along the way... but my goal was no beer, and I stuck to that. I understand that fancy cocktails have quite a few sugars in them too, and maybe I'll start to cut down on those. We'll see.

The lesson for all of these is this: moderation.

There's no need or reason to go cold-turkey – unless you're suddenly pregnant and a smoker or something like that. So, if you have something you'd like to try or be, then why not set up a small window of time and simple BE (or do) it? If you fail, then you fail. Try again later. If you succeed with your week (or whatever you choose), then ask yourself if you'd like to try and go double-or-nothing. It just might be worth it. I for one, am personally very glad that I ended up becoming a long-term vegetarian, and probably never would have if I was asked to or thought I needed to do that for the rest of my life. The exercise of actually doing something, seeing that it isn't as hard as expected, or even seeing that it's hard, but you're more perserverant than expected is really gratifying.

July 4, 2013Comments are off for this post.

Independence Day — Brooklyn, NY