To my daughters

Dear Rose, Alana and Becky –

I am writing to you today to share with you my deep concern about what the candidacy of Donald Trump represents.

Riane Eisler makes the point in her masterwork – The Chalice and the Blade –  that the progress women have made in the last 60 years has elevated their status as high as it has ever been.

Jim Garrett writes  – “The point of Eisler’s study of prehistory and ancient history is to show that the domination of the male gender over the female gender is not an eternal and inevitable feature of human social organization, that another type of society, a Partnership society rooted in gender equality, is possible.”

Today that society is beginning to be well entrenched.  Just under 100 years ago women were given the right to vote in the USA Constitution.  This was followed in the intervening years with steady improvements in women’s pay equality, service in the military, rights to control their bodies, and so forth.  Each of you are in control of your own lives.  I would have it no other way.  But so many more women have so much less freedom and personal control of their lives.

Unfortunately, all of this can be undone – even women like you who have claim and exercise their rights can lose them – in almost no time at all.  In many other societies on the Earth today women’s rights are much worse or non-existent as you know.  The Catholic and Mormon Churches continue to have 2nd class citizenship for women; this is even worse for the world’s more than half a billion Muslim women.

To me, the real hope for our world is that women continue to grow in their participation to full partnership and equality with men.  Nothing less will work and nothing less can save us all.  Women intrinsically see the value of all life – human, animal and plants.  Women innately value the earth and our environment and see that renewable and sustainable approaches must be embraced and further developed quickly.  Women know how long it takes to raise the next generation and how much patience this requires.

Men have been objectifying women for centuries.  We men go through a hormonal period in our teen years where our feelings and emotions see huge swings.  During these formative years we see problem solutions more through the lens of quick resolution, through fighting rather than patient negotiations and discussion.  When you think of the term “bully” it is almost exclusively applied to men.  We are broadly physically stronger and tend to use that to get our way.  In simple family relationships, this results in domination, in countries it results in outcomes that are much worse – wars, starvation, corruption for personal gain.

So it is with these thoughts in mind that I encourage you to –

It is true today that so many people feel the fall election will be an easy win for Hillary but I worry it will not be so.  Bully’s tend to win unless people broadly stand up to them.  Trump has money, bluster, is willing to lie and distort facts to a level we have not seen and his core supporters believe he is telling the truth.

It is to the women of the USA that this defeating of Donald Trump must fall.  You all have to see it as a personal and direct affront to your rights and future.  Please find ways to feel so strongly about this that you get all you know to share this message.  We don’t want to let the past accomplishments come undone after being so hard won.

Much Love,

Dad (Frank Levinson)


Posted in Essays, Personal Stories, Spiritual Threads

Do You Prefer Mercy or Justice?

There is a personality test that was invented by Myers and Briggs that helps groups of people work together better because it shows each member how the other members are different from each other.  When you see this, you can make adjustments and understand what feelings motivate each person.

As a part of this Myers-Briggs test you typically answer a series of questions and then your answers show aspects of your personality.  You can take the test for free here.

Now this essay is not about personalities or psychology.  It is about how to ask questions that reveal things and how to structure judging platforms that are more challenging but provide more solid results.  One of the questions is the title of this essay – “Do you prefer mercy or justice?”  Of course, you prefer both in your life.  We all do.  But if forced to make a choice, you have to think that through more carefully.  Right?

Now, let’s take the hypothetical situation where there is a judging panel of 5 people who will score some contest – a business plan contest will do fine for our example here.  Each judge will score the business teams on five categories and are allowed to award any category up to 10 points where 10 is the best score, and 0 is worst.  So a top plan could score 50 points, and a dismal plan could score 0 points.  Let’s also suppose that we have ten teams but only 3 of them can “win” the competition and be awarded prizes.

If you ever look at the results of such judging, typically you will find that even a range of teams and plans all tend to get scores between about 35 and 50 points.  And so differences between teams is often quite small numerically even though they are not close in capability at all!

A judge in the competition can have an undo influence on the judging panel and its process if that person simply uses the entire scale of scores for the same set of teams.

Let’s suppose there are ten teams and 4 of the 5 judges gives scores that are have a small spread in scores.  But one judge gives 7 of the teams 0 points and 3 of them 50 points.  If this happens, it is pretty clear that those 3three teams have a very strong likelihood that they will be the 3 winners!!

An alternative way to do this that preserves fairness is to insist that each judge may only award a total of 50 points throughout the entire contest.  That is that there are ten teams, and each team can get an average of 50 points.  So it is now not possible for every team to even get 35 points let alone the typical average score of perhaps 42 points.  So such a scoring system forces choices akin to the mercy or justice question of Myers-Briggs.

Such a judging system is easy to do using simple electronic computers/tablets or even on a smartphone.  But we often don’t want to be made to judge and accept that there are only going to be a few winners.

I will visit this topic again in the next essay but from an entirely different use case.

Posted in Essays, Personal Stories, Spiritual Threads

The Revolution in OnLine Learning

You may be reading about how online learning is a revolution that is happening all around us.  But for sometime I have been skeptical.  The purpose of this essay is to share with you how my own exploration of this area is now producing worthwhile results.  Hope that you find it useful and will begin your own exploration.

There are many sites for online learning at the university level and high school level.  First let me list a few and give you perspectives on their use and structure –

  • is a site of training videos for learning subjects like Excel Macros, programming, arts and crafts.  It cost $25 per month for basic membership and for this fee you can take unlimited courses as often as you like or have time.  The courses are given by self determined experts, there is no real screening of their credentials such as you would have at major universities.  Still many of the courses are quite good.  It is a good site for keeping up with new technology, for example.
  • Playground Sessions and Artist Works are both music learning websites for a variety of instruments.  Playground Sessions offers basic keyboard lessons for beginners through intermediates and there you can learn complete songs pretty quickly.  Artist Works is at the other end of the spectrum, offering classes in many different instruments where you watch videos from leading master performing figures and where these same famous people give the students direct video feedback from questions submitted by video from their students.
  • Khan Academy is generally a free learning website that focuses on short educational videos in various areas for middle and high school ages.  You can learn algebra or geometry, for example.
  • Udacity offers courses at the college and job skills sharpening level such as Java or Python programming.  The courses cost individually anywhere from $25 to more than $200.
  • Coursera offers courses from some of the finest degree granting institutions in the world and many of the courses are free for those who just want to enrich their lives.  I am currently watching a course on Coursera entitled “A Brief History of Humankind” and it is FANTASTIC.

When I explored this perhaps every 5 years for the past 20 years, I have always come away disappointed but this time it is different.  You can not take courses from the world’s major universities – Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, MIT and more – for free.  You can learn in courses that are taught by the best in the world and they are presented in ways that are refined, thoughtfully organized, with solid graphics and visual aids.

I encourage you to dig in and if you find something worthwhile, send me an email and let me know of the jewels you find.

Frank (


Posted in Essays, Personal Stories, Spiritual Threads

Sticking with Our Tribe or Moving Forward with Logic

Let me start off this essay with a link to a law just passed by the Tennessee legislature.  It bans buses of any type in the state of Tennessee.  It is there because some people feel that a rapid transit system would’ve ran on a 7.1 mile route and served rapidly growing neighborhoods across [Nashville].  This from the same state that once tried to legislate Pi to be 3 and not 3.1415926 …   We are so divided as a country and a planet/people.  We cannot agree to do simple projects for the good because it goes against some embedded interests that for a religious or hidden reason work very hard to defeat it.

There is a terrific program on climate change being shown on Showtime over the next 8 weeks.  The first episode was last Sunday.  The series is entitled Years of Living Dangerously.

The show has 3 revolving stories – one about a drought in Plainview (and Lubbock) Tx, one about the burning of forests in Indonesia and the last about a drought in Syria.  In each case, there are people who are confused and some that are clear.  Of the people who are confused, they are all thoughtful but they have deeply embedded views of the world.  These views come from the people, religions and educational systems that have been with them their entire lives.  After the first hour it is clear that the people in west Texas and Syria are having a drought that will drive deep social and political unrest, change and heartbreak.  And that the corruption of the political process in Indonesia is having an impact on all of the world’s people and there is literally nothing we can do about it.

I highly recommend this series.

I also have been reading a book – The Fourth Turning.  The main thesis of this book is that in the course of human history there are major cycles that repeat themselves about every 80-100 years.  That it takes 4 generations of people (a generation being 20-25 years) before we forget how we forged our last real political and social alignment and then – often in the furnace of large scale death and destruction – we forge a new alliance.

In the USA, these major events happened in 1776 (revolutionary war), 1860 (civil war), 1940 (WW2) and we are coming up to one very soon.  In each case the future of our society hung completely in the balance and we agreed to change directions.  But not without lots of heartbreak.  This will be the first one we have to face with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, cyber warfare, and such.

At the end of each 4 generation cycle, we find that there are groups who are totally at odds with one another.  In the revolutionary war, there were colonists who were deeply loyal to Britain and the King, and there were those just as fervent for change.  In the civil war, it was clearly about slavery and not just states rights and there were people on both sides so at odds that only large scale killing of brothers and families could pave the way forward.

Today clearly (as you see in the first episode of Years of Living Dangerously), we are in a time of deep devision and mistrust between groups in our society.  Many believe that climate change is a lie or worse a hoax by the liberal establishment to be pushed onto others to enhance their own political future.  The governor of Texas does not believe it is real.  Most republicans do not believe it is real.

It is when we get to these seemingly unreconcilable differences that we are in the most horrific trouble.  And now it appears we will have to experience it with weapons and a global interconnectedness that was never present in the past.

Are there opinions you are holding that are so important that you want to risk global chaos more massive than anything we have ever seen?

Think about it.

Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives, Spiritual Threads

A Creepy Thought

Recently I looked into taking a mid-winter trip to Iceland to be present there for the Winter Solstice. And it turns out that the only airline that flies to this small country of 320,000 people is Iceland Air.  It turns out that this year we won’t go but perhaps sometime soon.

Now if you looked at the title of this essay you may be asking – “just want is so creepy about Iceland” and the answer is nothing.

But for weeks now I have been getting ads inside pages that show up with ads for Icelandic Air.  And that is where the creepy parts starts.  A brief whimsy about a trip and now I am constantly reminded that I have not yet booked my trip to Iceland.  How did this happen?  It happened because I wrote to a friend using gmail about this idea for the trip and even shared some Iceland Air flight times and dates.  That was enough, Google had me.  And the ads started to show up each time I did a web search.

Now lately I have been using Google Hangouts  quite a bit for voice and video calls and SWG team conferences.  And what we discuss is private or at least we would like to think so.   Right?

But if you have heard about Siri which is Apple’s voice recognition and command system – which I have to say is very good for my uses – the buzz from others is that Google’s is much better and handle’s a wider range of voices and languages.


So how soon will Google be using the voice traffic flowing through the system to do targeted ads and reference selling based on voice input?  And how much more communication do we do daily using our voices than we do with email?  And how much more private do we think our voice conversations are than email?

Suppose there was a phone app that used little power but listened to you ALL THE TIME using your mobile phone’s microphone and capabilities.  Would we start getting ads for deeply personal stuff?

I see you may be running out of condoms Tom, so I have taken the liberty of ordering some for you from Amazon …

And what if a few years behind this comes development of visual input and understanding again for helping target our needs?

You see gMail is free just because Google reads it and uses the information in a “non-personally-intrusive” ways to target ads for their users.  But voice and visual cues are even more powerful, I suspect.  So could it be that Google is offering free voice and video chatting, meetings and phone service so that they can expand their knowledge of how to be a more effective advertising platform?

Hmmm.  More than 90% of Google’s revenue comes from ads.  Right?

There is no other motive for offering free services than to gain advantage to your main business purpose and to increase that revenue.

Welcome to the future.  Are you a deep user of Google Hangouts?  Do you like them more than Skype?

How far behind do you think Microsoft is in this game?  (They do own Skype …)

Posted in Essays, Personal Stories, Spiritual Threads, StartUp Ideas

What Cost Freedom?

I am reminded that as a young fellow I loved Crosby Still Nash and Young.  On their early live album – “Four Way Street” – one of the tracks is a short 2 minutes entitled “Find the Cost of Freedom”; connect with the lyrics here.  And watch them perform it (longer and very beautiful version) here.

At that time I was first hearing that song, the Vietnam war was raging and people my age were being drafted and going off to fight far from home and increasingly without purpose.  But it was a time of confusion not clarity.

Still what was clear then was that “freedom” was something that we valued dearly here in the USA.  It was part of our founding DNA and something upon which we had never wavered.

But today, I am not so sure.  For example what level of privacy and true secrecy is good or bad going forward.  In the past, we believed that an individual had a constitutional right to privacy that was very extensive and pretty absolute.  If you were writing a journal in your home, it was yours and its contents protected under privacy laws.
But increasingly, we find ourselves facing more complex issues of freedom and privacy.  Today if you keep that same journal but use software and keeps the journal in Google Drive do those same laws protect the privacy of that journal?
Let’s take a couple of extreme cases.  As recently as 200 years ago the level of powerful weapons in the world were not very effective guns (“don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes” was really an admonition not to shoot until you could have a chance of hitting the target; guns at that time were not accurate at all.) and some cannons that could shoot limitedly effective shells (cannon balls).  So the devastation of a powerful figure in a single moment had a range of a less than 1 mile and the damage to human life was limited to probably 100 meters or less.
In the last 100 years we have reached the point in technology where damage from weapons of mass destruction can be launched to any point globally from the most distant point and where the devastation unleashed from a single such weapon can be the killing of tens of millions of people.
What if we look another 100 years and calculate that such changes in destructive capability continue to grow at the current rate?  Is this absurd?  Not really – the game changing weapon in Iraq and Afghanistan was the USA drone fleet.  Today you can purchase capable drones that can use GPS to fly nearly 50 miles and land to within 25 feed for less than a few thousand dollars.  They can carry a reasonable payload and once launched with a program they cannot be stopped unless shot down.  A young person who does not even have a drivers license can buy one for about the cost of 2 video game systems.
They are available and so are nasty things to put inside them.
So then the question naturally arises – is Earth and its inhabitants a collection of individuals who deserve perfect privacy and personal freedom?
or …
is Earth and its inhabitants more like a single human body where all must agree to work together at some level for the survival of the whole?
Carried to the ultimate extreme of a single weapon of massive power created by single individual at next to nothing cost using only simple tools … do we believe that deserves privacy or freedom?  When is the protection of the collective worth more than the freedom of a single individual?  And how do we agree to balance freedom/privacy on the one hand and global safety/security on the other.
We have been asking that question in Guantanamo, inside the NSA and outside recently in the revelations by Edward Snowden.  Many Americans believe very strongly in their “Right to bear arms” and yet this results in approximately 15,000 deaths per year, most of which would be prevented with gun laws like exist in most of the rest of the whole world.
Today things are so different from the past when the biggest WMD was a sword and armor and people barely knew geometry and algebra and pre-newtonian physics.
interesting speculation.
How will we today “Find the Cost of Freedom?”

Posted in Essays, Personal Stories, Spiritual Threads

Music and Stayin’ Young

I turned 60 this past weekend and it was a series of celebrations with friends and family.  I have never celebrated better and with even some ease.  Birthday’s have not been my thing in the past.  I am reminded of one of the 25 Great Questions … “How old would you be if you didn’t know?” … Yeah …

One of the things that I find keeps me feeling younger is to keep engaged with young people and not as some sage or wisdom dispenser but as someone who gives them freedom to lead and who tries to appreciate new things.

And one way I do this is to keep open to new music.  I so love music generally and am always delighted when I find some new musician or song that I did not know before.

There is been so much over the past year that I want to share some of it with you all and then make some observations –

  • Foster the People played the 2012 Bridge concert and they clearly blew away all the other groups playing there.  Wow!  And FTP are clearly is a band that I would not have encountered without going to that annual event.  They played it acoustic which was different for them.  Mark Foster played 6+ different instruments (guitar, marimba, piano, pump organ, drums, some middle east string instrument).  If you want a feel for their acoustic side watch this.
  • Sons of Bill have a terrific Christmas concert that I have attended the past 2 years and in the spirit of full disclosure, my newest son-in-law is their lead guitarist.  Still they now play to sold out mid-sized venues pretty frequently so I am not alone in my admiration.  Really like “Radio Can’t Rewind” among others, you can see Sam play it here.
  • Gillian Welch is one that I added from a suggestion by my daughter Alana.  I especially like “Look at Miss Ohio” but the Revelator is more well known.  You can watch her play in the same tiny venue as Foster the People above here.
  • Susie Stevens was sent to me by a friend from the mountains in Southern California.  You can listen to some clips of her music on iTunes or here.  I especially like “Anywhere” and “Silk and Steel”.
  • Last but way up there is Kristin Erickson.  I like so many of her songs – but for starters I recommend “Take a Breath”.  She is a person who has traveled so far in life and experienced so much and it clearly shines through her music.

There are more but this list can make the points needed for this essay.

First is that except for Foster the People, much of this music you have likely never heard before … and it is all great, unique, inspiring.  We get spoon fed so much of what we listen to, that becomes overplayed by radio and hyped by labels and media that we forget that there is an amazingly rich culture out there for us to experience.

Second is that I find that many people my age keep listening to music that is from some past time and they forget that creativity is happening by so many people around them right now.  As we all stay engaged and recognize this wonderful fact, we will be more open to new ideas and especially those coming from young people.

(I know I probably should be using Spotify or something like that to do this sharing better … still learning new things but often takes longer for this old dog.

BTW, we are updating the SWG website to something much better so stay tuned …. and then I promise to post more frequently!)

Oh, and while I just turned 60 about 1 month ago, I choose 45.


Posted in Essays, Personal Stories, Spiritual Threads

Photo Fun and Insights




Iraq Power System - Click to Enlarge

Iraq Power System – Click to Enlarge

I recently traveled to the Kurdish portion of Iraq and was able to see many interesting things.  I was in the town of Sulaymaniyah which is about 1M people.  they are all VERY nice and want to bootstrap themselves into a collaborating part of the rest of the modern world.  I visited the American University there which is independent but similar to the ones in Cairo and Beirut.

The Kurds are the largest distinct ethnic group in the world without their own country.  There are Kurds in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.  I learned that the Kurdish language was for a long time primarily used as a way to transcribe Kurdish poetry.  These are an art-filled people with the ability to express themselves beautifully.  While there I attended a poetry reading by one of the most prominent living Kurdish poets.  Fun.

On the last day I was there, I walked around the town with a knowledgable guide who walked me into the oldest part of town where the buildings were constructed using older techniques – mud and straw as building materials.  And there I was able to see a unique electrical power system that is pictured in the photo above.  This post is about that photo.

I took the photo with my iPhone using its new “panorama” feature.  So the photo spans probably more than a 180 degree view of where I stood.  First notice all of the wires.  They are all headed back to the back upper right hand corner of the photo where you can just see an orange fuel tank, probably diesel.  At that location is a internal combustion generator for the local electricity.  All of the individual users of this generator have separate power lines that lead from the generator to their homes!  I believe this is the case because the power meters on the homes may be compromised or even power vampired before the meter so … each individual line is billed based on a meter back at the generator that cannot be compromised. And the people using the power must pay what the meter there says so they police their own power lines for cheating.  Ha.

Now look at all of the power lines, there are hundreds in this photo alone.

Also this photo has 2 artifacts of the panorama software.  A person with a ladder walked through the photo as I was taking it and you can see the ladder but in pieces towards the left side of this photo.  Also a young person dressed like in the USA in jeans and sort of a hoodie walked through and he is at the far right but only his shoes and lower legs and his hoodie.  Ha.

Hope you enjoy all that you can see in this photo.

Write me if you have questions or ideas you want to see discussed.

Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives, Personal Stories, Spiritual Threads

What We Pass On

Lately I have been reading books on climate change.

Here is a short list of books that are VERY readable and whose points are well made –

  • Storms of My Grandchildren by James Hansen – Book by one of the leading USA climate scientists.  Starts with the known facts and then extrapolates to consequences
  • Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air by David MacKay – a dissection of UK energy uses and sources today, then projects efficiency savings and new technology for generation; takes all of this and then shows what it will take to make things be in balance
  • Whole Earth Discipline by Stewart Brand – a thoughtful telling of how we must adopt modern technologies by a person who has deep street cred in fighting some of what he now advocates
  • Abundance by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler – why humans tend to be pessimistic and like bad news; how to see the world in more balanced ways
  • Keeping Our Cool by Andrew Weaver – long time Canada member of IPCC, thoughtful telling of science behind climate change told for all including non-scientists
This list should keep you busy and provide some thoughts for your vacation reading.
In reading these, I am repeatedly struck by the immensity of the challenges we are building for ourselves in the future.
Modern new agencies present climate change as a scientific inquiry where there is considerable differences of opinion and where the outcomes are uncertain.  It is clear from all my reading that this simply is not so.  Weaver makes the case most explicitly.  Science is clear as it can be that we are now in the early to middle stages of human driven climate change because we are mining all of the carbon the earth has stored away over millions of years and putting it back into our atmosphere in the form of CO2 in a matter of a couple hundred years.  The impact of this will be global warming, the melting of polar ice and all glaciers, the acidification of the ocean waters.  Any one of these will have dramatic consequences for all life (including human) on planet earth.  There are no peer reviewed journals where there are published articles that challenge these statements in any credible way.
Now the point of this essay is not to go further into climate, but to ask a different question.
Don’t we always seem to pass onto our children and grandchildren the solutions to past problems and the dilemmas of future problems?
In the founding of the USA more than 225 years ago, the constitution allowed for slavery.  It was part of the balance or deal struck in order to create the Union.  But 80 years later we had to fight a civil war that was massively damaging to our still new nation just to over turn that legacy.
In the ending of WWI, the winning nations demanded reparations that broke the German and other losing countries economies and gave rise to WW2.
Even further back we can see that the industrial revolution was the turn of technologies that now gives rise to climate change … it is when we started massive extraction and combustion of fossile fuels.  The industrial revolution is also the moment in time when much more of humanity was able to share in the common riches and simple life enhancing articles that were only traditionally available to the super rich.  Clean water, underwear, dishes and silverware – you get the idea – were once only available to kings and their households.  All developed nations have this as a baseline for all their citizens and this is rapidly spreading to all humanity.
So we are consuming ground based carbon and putting CO2 into the atmosphere in return we are getting a more universally educated, healthy and basic living standards for every person on earth.
My question in this essay is: Are we creating a problem that cannot be solved in fulfilling and providing fairness to all or are we once again not having enough confidence in our children and their children to take care of the future?
The contention by some very thoughtful people is that this time we are running up against absolute limits of the earth’s resources – fully depleted fossil fuels, drained aquifers, too much CO2 in the atmosphere.  And they are marshaling very convincing scientific arguments.
History suggest another outcome.  We have consistently underestimated human kind’s ability to invent and mitigate the perceived risks of the future through greater innovation both in terms of scientific advances as well as social advances.  We are not the same people we were 200 years ago when the industrial revolution started us on the road of climate change.   We have mastered technology and vast landscapes of science.  But we have also built new institutions in terms of governing structures, businesses, philanthropy and such.
When I consider the only the scientific evidence I find very little in the way of comfort.  But when I consider the entire human record then there is hope.

Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives, Personal Stories, Spiritual Threads

A Small Prediction

I am reading the Steve Jobs biography.

In it, when he returns to Apple and takes over for Gil Amelio, he wants to kill the Newton basically because it is inelegant.  The author quotes – He disdained the idea of having a stylus or pen for writing on the screen.  “God gave us ten styluses”, he would say, waving around his fingers.  “Let’s not invent another.”

He reused this same argument at the introduction of the original iPhone … see it here … “Nobody wants a stylus” … he proclaimed some 10 years later … same sentiment.

So what will be one feature of the upcoming Apple TV that is a full screen real device (not the small box)?

Clearly I can hear the question – “Nobody wants a remote … all they do is get lost, broken, discharged” … “lets use our God given remote … our voice”

The metaphor is just as accurate.  Our voice is our version of remote communications and it is infinitely more exact and able to communicate than a pad full of buttons.

Clearly it will be one key feature.

Posted in Essays, Spiritual Threads, StartUp Ideas