Don’t Hide Your Love Away: An Open Letter About Sex and Communication

This post is for men. Ladies, you’re free to read it, and hopefully you can help the guys learn a little about love and sex. Mostly, it’s for all those fools who think it’s better to withhold their feelings. It’s the 21st century. Men are allowed to have a more refined sense of awareness and expression when it comes to their feelings.

John Lennon was wrong. You don’t have to hide your love away. You can, but you’ll regret it. Sure, it may feel like people are laughing at you, and maybe they are. If they are, it’s because you expect to be immune to suffering, yet you bleed out every day by your own hand. Love is something to be experienced to its fullest. You simply can’t do that if you hide it. Men are taught to keep their feelings inside, never to be shared even with their most intimate lovers. Women are taught to be attracted to men who bury their feelings and never discuss them. I’ve met a lot of really feminine women who seek a sensitive, creative, affectionate man in theory, only to act on naive notions of caveman culture, to be beaten into submission and dragged off and raped. I have actually heard educated women say out loud “I wish he would just come over to my house and rape me. God, that would be so hot!” The first time I heard that, I was horrified.

Do we need an intervention? Show me on the Pikachu doll where the bad man touched you, honey.

Jokes aside, it’s much more complicated than that, and yet simple at the same time. Women are indoctrinated at a young age to compartmentalize their affections. Their fathers were busy building the family foundation, earning money so they could, in point of fact, bring home the bacon. That bacon was what the whole family ate every morning, and without it everyone would suffer. Fatherhood evolved as a form of automata. Mom’s job was to fend off disease, starvation, and boredom. Dad’s job was to keep Mom equipped with a constant supply of food, water, and shelter and defend against attacks from external influence. Mom is a nurturing provider, while Dad is a stoic sentinel. These roles are far more pervasive in modern society than we might want to admit.

With the advent of the first world came a more sensible egalitarian philosophy about the delegation of responsibilities in the household. Since Mom is now allowed to vote and earn money, the lines are blurred. The stay-at-home Dad phenomenon became a viable option when Mom’s skills in the workplace were potentially more lucrative than Dad’s skills. The hardest part happens when Mom and Dad both leave the house to exercise their skills to bring home dinner. Yet we still read in popular media all about how families struggle with gender equality in the natural order of things in the home. Men continue to have the attitude that women cook and clean. Women complain about being treated like live-in maids. Women continue to develop complex sexual fantasies involving the rugged and trustworthy milkman, even though milk hasn’t been delivered to anyone’s home in nearly 50yrs. Men continue to develop inherent mistrust of any other man who might wander within 20m of the house when they’re not home, as if their wives are helpless victims-to-be. That doesn’t sound like a healthy respectful atmosphere to me.

At the root of it all is the core behavior of withholding our feelings about love and sex. American culture is steeped in the doubt and self-loathing of sex as currency. We use competitive metaphors to describe how men “win” sex from women by rounding the bases on a baseball field. Teenage boys brag about “making it to third base” instead of talking about how much they respect the girl next door for her creativity and intelligence. In their minds, they are conning her into “giving it up,” as if she derives no pleasure from the experience. Imagine their confusion when she says frankly “I want to have sex with you now.” Some part buried deep in their caveman brain will think she’s deceiving them, that it can’t be so easy. Instead of having open honest communication resulting in mutual satisfaction, their defenses go up and they label her a lying bitch, thus destroying the moment that would otherwise have led rather quickly to the thing they both wanted in the first place.

Have we all regressed to being insecure children about this most fundamental aspect of humanity?

Communication doesn’t need to be the thing that destroys the mystery. I promise there’s plenty of mystery to go around. Communication is the hardest thing anyone can ever do. It requires mountains of patience, a willingness to be humble and honest, substantial self-worth on all sides, and the tools and training to build trust and chart a path to mutually beneficial outcomes. It all comes down to being confident in your own desires and having the courage to state them clearly.

You might be surprised how exciting it is to express that you’d like to lick something off your partner’s naked body and see them reach for the whipped cream and start slicing berries. The simple act of participation can be orders of magnitude more interesting than the hope of being overpowered. And with the right kind of open expression, you can ask to be roughly handled, bordering on abuse, taking you closer to the edge than you ever thought possible, all without ever losing the trust and safety with your partner. This is possible because of open discussion. In fact, conversation is what brings us all closer together, not just the mingling of slippery body parts. Just remember to agree on a safe word and always respect the safe word. Knowing where the line is and refusing to cross it will help strengthen your bond. When you’re near that line, remind your partner how much you love them. Actually, any time you think of your partner during the day, let them know. Over time, you’ll find those little moments add up to a deeper relationship.

Also remember this: vaginas are tough; testicles are the fragile parts. Think about that next time you call someone a pussy.

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Breaking the Skin: Some Thoughts on Nanotechnology

Many of us have seen Star Trek, where the doctor has this little handheld gadget that delivers medicine into your neck. It’s allegedly painless and harmless as long as you hold still. At least, that’s what the fictional dialog would have us believe. Well, this morning, in random conversation that often takes place around the front desk of First Wave Venture Center (http://firstwaveventurecenter.org), an idea was born. Probably not the first time anyone has ever thought about this, but new to us and fun to talk about.

The conversation evolved from acupuncture to an intern’s fear of needles to a story about a splinter. Somehow, we stumbled onto the concept of a blood sugar measurement kit. That prompted us to vamp about how much better it would be to extract blood for the measurement without the pin prick. Instead of thinking of a stiff metal tube that must penetrate the skin and the wall of a vein, maybe we could find another way to deliver medication or extract blood. Someone mentioned the idea of equipment inside the body that might interface with equipment outside the body to achieve the desired result.

To be clear, when I say “equipment,” I mean some man-made device implanted in the body.

I like the idea of nanotechnology embedded in my body if it’s painless, unobtrusive, and doesn’t require a recharge. If such a device could ease in the extraction of blood or delivery of medication, it’s worth any trivial irritation, especially for regular occasions. Diabetics would love to be able to test their blood sugar without pricking their finger several times a day. This all sounds great, and I can envision a surgical procedure for installation. Let’s take it one step further and challenge ourselves to do it with a device that only temporarily embeds itself in the body.

Imagine a spacefaring vessel docking at a station. (Trust me, this is going to make sense) There is typically an airlock umbilical mechanism that connects the two structures together in a way that allows people to move from one to the other without freezing and exploding in open space. The station literally reaches out to the docking ship, grabs ahold, and forces a fluid through the resulting sealed cavity. If we extend this metaphor, we might think of the station as the doctor’s gadget and the docking ship as the skin on your neck. As the surface of the gadget approaches your skin, it injects a mechanism into your skin, gently enough to leave skin undamaged, but firmly enough to transfer fluids. If we establish several of these conduits across the contact surface, we can increase the flow rate and reduce the impact of the device on the surrounding tissue. Then, once the desired amount of fluid transfers, the mechanism disengages and retracts from the skin, leaving no wound or evidence of the exchange.

We don’t yet know how to design the nanotechnology that might repeatably self-assemble and form a fluid transfer seal, nor how to protect the tissue from wear, nor how to convince the politicians that it’s safe and better than needles. Those challenges are for another day.

Endnote: special thanks to our intern, Holly Bishop, for indulging my crazy ramblings this morning, as I distracted her from her front desk duties and attempted to solve a nanobiology problem with an aerospace solution.

Texting Without Typing

Two years ago, I was dating a lovely young lady working her way toward medical school. She was working part-time in a lab, assisting a post-doc with research in electroencephalography, measuring and analyzing brain waves. One day, I was invited to tour the lab and experience some of their work first-hand. I say “experience” instead of “see” or “observe” because it was very much a hands-on experience, and a fascinating one at that. She sat me down in a chair in front of a computer with a grid of letters on it and showed me what looked like a lunch lady hair net designed by a steampunk technophile.

“This is what we’ll use to read your mind”, she said. “Just kidding. It can’t do that quite yet.”

It had a bunch of electrodes woven into it, each of which had a wire attached to it. The wires bundled together at the back, like a ponytail, and snaked away to a data acquisition unit with what looked like at least 64 channels. Once the hair net was strapped on, she started squirting electrolytic gel into each electrode. They use the same gel used by ultrasound technicians, so anyone who’s ever had an ultrasound knows a little about what I’m talking about here. It’s cold, slippery, and slightly sticky. It has special electrical properties to help reduce noise in the signals.

“Ok, now stare at the grid of letters. When we start, you’ll see cursors advancing through the grid. Just focus on one letter at a time and be patient,” she said. “Here we go.”

I watched as two cursors stepped quickly through the grid. I thought of the letter D. After about ten seconds, the test completed, and the letter D displayed in the output field.

“Oh, that’s fucking badass,” I said. We continued.

As the tests proceeded, the scientist part of me wanted to start performing experiments and try to find the weaknesses in the current system. It wasn’t flawless, but I was amazed at its ability to guess correctly most of the time. Guess is the wrong word. The machine was interpreting electrical activity in my brain and using that information to determine, with impressive accuracy, something that seems impossible – my thoughts.

“Now for the fun part,” she said, as she switched from one app to another on the laptop. “This one lets you free-form the letters. We needed to calibrate it for your brain with the other one. Try to spell a sentence.”

A few minutes later, I had spelled “this is cool” on the display, without touching the keyboard or saying anything out loud. With nothing but this strange looking hair net, stuck to my scalp with cold sticky gel, I had written a sentence.

Fast forward to today. Since that experience, someone has used similar technology to draft a tweet. It won’t be long before researchers find a way to interact with the brain without the sticky hair net wired to a laptop. Eventually, we’ll be able to message each other with a thought. To me, this represents an enormous challenge to the tool makers. Someone will be given the herculean task of designing a tool that allows people to share thoughts with others, message each other, and (most importantly) filter out the garbage. If you think Twitter or Facebook have a low signal-to-noise ratio now, imagine how much worse that would be when it’s downloaded right into your brain. The current privacy filters Facebook has integrated will not be sufficient to control this level of connectedness.

I don’t fully believe we can imagine a system that will be able to manage these issues. Mostly, I believe this is an emergent behavior, not something designed by a master architect. This is the realm of tools catching up to the creativity and innovation of average citizens, some of whom randomly start trends like the retweet, the mention, the hashtag, the overheard, and other yet-undiscovered trends. This is also a social construct, governed by rules that transcend technology. Social pressures will undoubtedly weigh heavily in the decisions of the collective minds of the community. Drunk tweeting evolves into drunk electrotelepathy, but both are equally embarrassing. As Hollywood has shown us time and time again, though, your brain is a very intimate place, and it’s very easy to see how something like this could cross the boundary from harassment into something that has no name yet, but could be described as the virtual extension of rape.

As this technology evolves, we must be vigilant in our protections of individual rights and the philosophy of “just because we can doesn’t mean we should.” After all, what does it say of us when we develop technology to allow a man to ask his wife with his mind to grab him a beer instead of promoting that the man simply get off his lazy ass and get his own damn beer? Still, my creative mind races with potentially beneficial uses for this tech, but that is a story for another time.

21st Century Business Development at Tampa Bay WaVE

I’ve been a strong supporter of the co-working concept for years. As someone who has worked remotely for more than 75% of my career, I’ve seen the persistent need for a space where free agents from all facets of the web-based business development community can converge in space and time to collaborate. In the multi-disciplinary environment promoted by the co-working atmosphere, the unprecedented quality and diversity of opinion and raw perspective allow projects to crystallize very quickly. Participants communicate freely, respectfully, and openly. Everyone walks away from the table feeling like they contributed something, helped others, and gained something themselves. Whether it’s the candid analysis of what can and can not be done from the engineers, the bold inspiration and influence of creatives, or the market awareness and pragmatism of business analysts, the key is getting a representative sample of all the players in the same room, so they can interact in real-time.

Tampa Bay WaVE is a non-profit organization devoted to providing web venture entrepreneurs with space to work together to solve the hard problems that have a real impact on the community. WaVE members work together to help each other overcome obstacles and roadblocks presented by the ever-changing ecosystem of technology-based businesses. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to be a pioneer, an early adopter of this 21st century approach to business development. My latest challenge is to build a streaming media distribution, authentication, and e-commerce framework for Internet TV. As the VP of Engineering for Red Hawk Interactive, my primary directive is to push the cutting edge of what is possible, to set a new standard for quality and utility in the TV space. Thanks to the relationships we’re building by being affiliated with Tampa Bay WaVE, I have complete confidence in our ability to deliver an innovative solution by the end of this year.

The energy in the WaVE office is incredible. We’re really excited to be an early tenant, and we expect the other offices to fill up quickly. We started the week painting a full floor-to-ceiling whiteboard in our office. As of Friday, we’ve already nearly filled the wall with branding ideas, money-making strategies, and project plans. It seems silly, but there’s something about being allowed to write on the wall that inspires a level of playful creativity I have never experienced in a traditional office. We even used the wall as part of a video chat with our branding and marketing partners, Head of Lettuce Media.

Bottom line: if you’re building a web-based and/or technology business in Tampa Bay, you can do no better than the Tampa Bay WaVE co-working space. The energy and level of creative and technical expertise is awe-inspiring. The location – across from the Tampa Convention Center in the heart of downtown – is central to the region. The parking is free and ample. The only thing that’s missing is an in-house coffee/tea/beer/wine bar and café. Hey, a guy can dream, right?

Inspiration From an Unlikely Source

I’m working on branding design for my new subscription service-as-a-service business (EnrollMint™), and I’m visually developing a theme that ties in currency and security. The service will eventually have an iPhone/iPad app to track customer and subscription analytics and display them on your mobile device. Since that requires an icon and a few other branding assets, I figured now is as good a time as any to get started with some concepts. I churned out some filth before I decided to backpedal and see if I could find inspiration in google images.

I like the association of coins with the mint, and I also like the column style building facade that inspires trust and a sense of long-lasting integrity. From there, I expanded into something I love, integrating simple typography into shapes. This was one of my favorite exercises in 2D design class in college. Immediately, I thought “mint starts with m; so does money” and my mind jumped to the visual similarity of the legs of the m (lower case) and the columns in the building facade.

Here’s a snapshot of the evolution of the concept:

evolution of the EnrollMint logo

The evolution started with the curly arrow in the top left, which I quickly scrapped because of the difficulty of conveying a scroll or “important document” impression, compounded by the wide horizontal aspect. Icons need to be square or round to be most effective. I started to incorporate the sense of people in the image, but the first impression I get when I imagine a bunch of stick figures superimposed over the stairs of a column building, I think “tourists visiting the Lincoln Memorial.” Nice image, but not exactly giving you the impression of making money.

I struggled with minutia, like the round parts of the m, and how to integrate them cleanly into the column headers. That didn’t really settle out until I rendered it smaller and wrapped it with a circular border to represent the raised edge around the perimeter of a coin. The coin transition also solved my problem of how to integrate the word “enroll” into the image. Since coins typically have text around the edge, offset and justified to follow the curve of the coin, this was a perfect place to put the text.

Here’s a close-up of the resulting product:

concept for EnrollMint logo

This will likely evolve into logos, icons, and assorted image assets for the web and mobile apps.

Where did this inspiration come from? Much of it came from a project I did a few years ago as a favor to my then girlfriend, Dru. She was turning 25, and we had a party at my place to celebrate. I designed and printed the invitations. She liked the idea of a quarter century theme, so we found a quarter image, took some side pictures of her, and used them to assemble a picture of a quarter with the word “dollar” replaced with “century” and Washington’s face replaced with Dru’s face. Who knew I’d use a very similar technique years later on a completely unrelated project? (There are two easter eggs also. One is fairly easy to spot. If anyone gets the other, I’ll be extremely surprised.)

Here’s the finished invitation, for your amusement (important details redacted, of course):

Dru's 25th Birthday Party Invitation (Redacted)

I am not a professional designer (far from it), but I think they turned out really well. I’m even more pleased that I can use this theme for these vital branding assets for an exciting and potentially lucrative project.