Friday, 29 March 2013


OMELET TIME---I've broken enough eggs---time to make an omelet.

Let's remind ourselves of the problem and suggest a better solution: Every human is beset with three anxieties: DEATH---GUILT---MEANINGLESSNESS.

They mix and mingle in complex ways and taken together, constitute the challenge of life.

Religion attempts to deal with them---offering myths, doctrines, Holy books, commandments, arcane rituals and ethical systems. 

What do we non believers offer? 

Glad you asked?  This is the major challenge to Unitarian Universalist;  the only church that doesn't claim to have a message from God----the only church that can generate meaning without metaphysics.

We deal with the anxiety of death by facing it as courageously as we can----reminding ourselves of Buddha's words:  Life is like getting on board a ship that sails out into the ocean----and SINKS.     THE TRICK IS TO ENJOY THE VOYAGE!

Another parable attributed to Buddha makes the point even stronger:  A man being chased by a tiger falls over a cliff but manages to grab hold of a vine, and he's just hanging there.  Before he falls to his death he notices that a strawberry is growing out of the side of the cliff.  And so, holding on with one hand, he plucks the strawberry, puts it in his mouth, eats it and enjoys it.  ENJOYS IT!  WE ARE ALL HANGING----AND THERE IS NOTHING ELSE TO DO BUT ENJOY THE STRAWBERRIES!!


What an intelligent society does about  the problem of death---is to use brainpower and technology to extend our vigorous lifetimes.  We are making progress;  And I for one think we will continue till eventually we can extend our lives indefinitely.
Unbelievers aren't troubled much by Guilt----hardly a fraction of what troubles believers--- because we don't accept that God---if he exist---has said anything about ethics----especially not sexual ethics.  Advanced societies are rapidly abandoning unreasonable commandments---creating  new---more enlightened--more pleasurable
notions of appropriate behavior.  (America lags behind the new understandings---The president of France OPENLY has a wife and a mistress--hardly creates a ripple over there---I wonder if the wife has a lover)


BUT HOW DO WE GENERATE MEANING?  ----without believing in religion?

I say we unbelievers can generate meaning by playing the game of life with intention and intelligence.

What is meaning?   It's a feeling---of aliveness---purposefulness and connection that exist between the beginning and end of an intention.  Some philosophers call this sequence of events a GAME, A project or a gestalt.  I like to call it a game because we all understand the phrase "the game of life".

Looked at carefully we can see that the essence of a game is that one thing is declared to be important than another.  WHAT IS NOT---is declared to be more important than WHAT IS.  This morning all of you played the church game.  You declared that being here was more important than whatever else you could have done.  Soon this game will be over and you might play the lunch game.  Life is a series of games---large, small and overlapping, where we are moving from what is to what is not.

 It's obvious to us that what is not ----is--- ultimately--not more important than what is---BUT WE DECLARE AND PRETEND THAT IT IS SO THAT WE CAN GET MOVEMENT IN OUR LIVES. The point of all games is to give motion to our lives.(The movement I'm talking about is not just physical motion----reading, thinking or even meditation is a kind of motion---intentional progression from a beginning to an end.)

So the challenge of meaning is the challenge of motion.  We play the game of life by selecting one of our fascinations--- activating intentionality---to get ourselves moving through experience-(making "waves" in the process)-to (hopefully) generate meaning. (a feeling of aliveness) It is awesomely democratic that (by this analysis)  anyone anywhere at any time can generate meaning. ( a feeling of aliveness.) (we generate a small flicker of meaning by scratching an itch)

Only movement can generate meaning,  And here's a couple of things I betcha never thought of : First:  AS YOU MOVE FROM WHAT IS TO WHAT IS NOT----YOU MAKE WAVES-----affect things and people.  WAVES ARE OUR CONTRIBUTION TO THE WORLD. (waves are our effortless, natural contribution to the world)
                   Second:" ALL YOU EVER WANTED TO DO WAS CONTRIBUTE."

It is benevolent irony that actively playing the game of life-- to amuse and fulfill ourselves is the best way to contribute to the world.  Ayn Rand got it right in her book "The Virtue of Selfishness".  Thoreau in living his life selfishly for himself inspired millions to follow their dreams..

Say---are y'all falling asleep on me?

(Audience Noooo---Amen)

Sweet people:  I'm saying that movement is more important than location.  Acquiring is more fun than possessing---getting rich than being rich.

Imagine that your head is a light bulb---your brain is the filament---experience is electricity.  As experience moves through you---you light up!  I say that meaning is Glow.  Sometimes we glow brightly---sometimes dimly--depending on how artfully we move through experience.

To be brilliantly lit is what we all want.  How do you know when you are lit up---alive and on purpose?  WHEN WHAT YOU ARE DOING IS SO INTERESTING THAT YOU LOSE TRACK OF TIME.  Psychologist have given a name to this feeling---FLOW. 

Here is the best short summary I know for a meaningful life:
     1. Respond to your fascinations, (some things fascinate you--some don't)
     2. Wake up your creativity. (creativity is concept transfer)
     3. Share yourself---somehow--with others. (Brian Swimm)

Gimme an Amen folks--I'm almost home.

(Audience Amen)

I want to make crystal clear the difference between a believer and those playing the game of life courageously.

A believer obeys----a game player plays.

A believer yearns for destination---a game player enjoys the going.

A believer's goal is salvation; a game player's goal is aliveness.

A believer wants to be "right"; a game player wants to be satisfied.

A believer lies about the uncertainties of life---A game player accepts the uncertainties.

A believer thinks he standing on a solid rock of doctrine---a game player knows he's on a rolling ball. (the earth)

A believer thinks he can't live without an infallible guide---A game player knows there is no infallible guide.

A believer seeks to do what is "right" A game player to do what is appropriate.

My fellow earthlings.  Are we clear about the difference between a believer and a game player? ( an experiencer)  If so say Amen.

(Audience Amen)

When enough people move beyond beliefs to experience---the world will be transformed.  Wars will end.  People will stop persecuting and dominating others because being satisfied will be more important than being right.


All this can be ours if we will only UNBELIEVE.

(prolonged applause and cheering)

(copyright 1981 by Randall Vining)

Thursday, 28 March 2013



Now I ask you---why are so many people believing so much stuff?

People swallow religious beliefs largely because they are indoctrinated by their parents and culture.  Humans worldwide create then swallow religious beliefs for the same reasons they currently swallow tranquilizers-----TO MAKE ANXIETY GO AWAY.

Only humans, it seems, suffer anxiety, probably because our big brains became aware of our mortality.  Only we---know we will die.  Anxiety is uneasiness without an object.  It's different from fear---which has an object.

Anxiety comes in three forms: The anxieties of death, guilt and meaninglessness.  All of us feel all three of them at some level of our being.

The anxiety of death is the dread of extinction.

The anxiety of guilt is the knowledge we all live with--that there is a gap between what we are and what we could be.

The anxiety of meaninglessness is the need we all feel for something---around which to orient our lives---in terms of which to understand ourselves---and to which to give our energies.

What religion, nearly all religion is about is artificially easing these anxieties.  Are you listening to me?

(audience: Yeah)
(Voice: but we're not believing)

For the anxiety of death,  religious leaders prescribe a belief pill.  They want you to believe there is an afterlife.  They preach heaven and hell as a certainty.

For the anxiety of guilt they prescribe pills of repentance, atonement and salvation by faith.  The tragedy of believing their redemptive hogwash is that it distracts us from experiencing our way through our feelings of guilt.

And for the anxiety of meaninglessness---they also have a pill.  It's called the Christian Ethic, The Islamic, Judaic, Marxist ethic etc---all of which are codes of conduct extrapolated from doctrines and designed to tell you how God wants you to run your life.

Swallow these pills---they are saying and you won't feel the anxiety of death, guilt or meaninglessness.  The truth is, if you swallow their pills you won't feel much of anything.

(Audience: Amen)

Do you know what  religious pills are called?  DOGMADRINE.

(Audience: Laughter)

Religion IS an answer to the stresses of life---A BAD ANSWER.  It is artificial, temporary, destructive and damned expensive.  We have a world full of religious junkies afraid to get on the roller coaster of life without their belief pills---their tranquilizers against anxiety.

My message today is that belief is DUMB!  Believing is an inappropriate response to the challenge of these fundamental anxieties. Let's all say it again: BELIEVING INTEFERES WITH EXPERIENCING.

Oh brothers and sisters don't you go filtering the living waters of life through some polluting belief system!  Drink straight and raw, right out of the stream of your own experience!

Do I hear some trembling soul saying: "But is it safe to drink that way?" No it's not safe----it's stimulating!  And how does the water taste?  Well------ it taste--- the way it taste.

Now I ask you:  what have you been drinking?  My bet is that you've got a bottle of that old religious rotgut hidden somewhere and when times get tough, I bet you slip out back and take a nip!


Religion's as hard to get rid of as a stray cat.  Throw it out the front door and it comes sneaking in the back.  I betcha we've got people in this audience who read the astrology section of the newspaper.

(Murmurs )

Uh-uh!  Now you think I've quit preaching and gone to meddling!


And now, for the benefit of the forgetful---I will tell you what I have told you:

Believers are liars when they claim to know what they don't know at all.

Believers are cowards when they won't face up to the insecurities of life.

Believers are tyrants when they impose their beliefs on their children.

Believers are gamblers when they bet their whole lives on some unprovable system.

Believers are idolaters when they elevate something that is finite to the status of infinite.  To believe that the Bible or the Koran or any of the other 27 major "Holy Books" is the word of God is idolatry.

Believers are insane when their beliefs cause them to respond inappropriately to life!

(Can I get an Amen?--Audience Amen)

Friends, lest we go away with hostility in our hearts, let's hurry up to say that we love the believers and deplore the damage believing does.

And lest we go away with smugness---let's all acknowledge  that we're all guilty of believing.  None of us have entirely rid ourselves of rigid notions.

I still say, however, that it is as inappropriate for grown up people to be believing doctrines as it is for 30 year olds to be talking baby talk.

I know what you're thinking about now:  Enough already with breaking eggs---Make us an omelet.  I hear you!  OK here goes:


Wednesday, 27 March 2013


Apologies for not having this up yesterday.  Spent the day launching Laurie on a solo trip down the Colorado River and then moving myself on to a different site.  Here I am almost exactly where I was a year ago.  Friends will join me here. Wonder If I'm making any progress?  Anyway, Here's the speech continued:

Oh listen to me sweet people: To the extent that we believe stuff---have rigid notions about the way things are---we lose our appreciation for the complexity and mystery of life.  Our universe is pulsating and alive and incredibly complicated.  Only a "beginners mind" is appropriate to its challenge.

 The biggest, most damaging lie that believers believe---is that ethics---the right way to live--- is revealed by God---through Holy men or holy books.----and that once revealed----it's absolutely true---and forever binding. And that our duty is to obey. Most people believe this lie.  If we have a duty---it is to RESPOND---RESPOND--to every new situation before us.

 Ethics  is not revealed by God---it is created by people---slowly---over time and out of our common experience---we shape our notions of right and wrong.  Our current ethics is our current fabric of agreement----and it slowly evolves.

 In your lifetime you have seen ethics evolve on issues such as premarital sex---abortion---civil rights---corporal punishment---the death penalty---homosexuality---women's rights---children's rights animal rights.

And we're far from finished---slowly, slowly we are fine tuning our sensibilities to give more and more people freedom and justice and opportunity.

Believers are forever obstructing ethical progress.  So often we have to drag them kicking and screaming into the new understanding: Let me name a few instances:

Jehova Witnesses have to be forced by court order to allow a life saving blood transfusion for their children.

Believing Catholics have trouble acting appropriately regarding birth control, abortion, divorce and homosexuality.

An orthodox jew cannot act appropriately regarding pork or the promised land.

nor a Quaker about war

Nor Mennonites about modern technology.

All these insanities and a thousand more-- would vanish if people would stop believing and start experiencing life.

Religion tries to freeze ethical evolution---don't let it freeze you into a lifetime of plodding obedience.

 Even if----even if we knew all the right rules of living life----and spent our time obeying them---it would be a low order of existence. 

Imagine that you have 2 kids---one of them seeks to fulfill himself by obedience---following all your rules.  The other one seeks to fulfill himself by creatively responding to his world.  Which would you admire?

Imagine there's a God-----Do you Think he admires those people who spend a lifetime seeking out his will----seeking his guidance---doing his will?

Or would he admire most---those people who co-create with him---inventing their own life.

(audience: amen)

How much needless agonizing guilt would disappear if believers could see that we the people create ethics---that it is not revealed by god.

(audience: amen)


Monday, 25 March 2013


But enough of the bad news. Would you like some

good news?

(Audience: Yeah!)

My brothers and sisters, in this vast desert of dogmatism there is an oasis! Hallelujah!

(Audience: Hallelujah!)
In this churning sea of belief, there is a small, safe harbor. Praise the Lord!
(Audience: Praise the Lord!)

In this dark swamp of dogma, there is a shaft of light! Yes, there is!

(Audience: Yes, there is!)
And that oasis and that harbor and that shaft of light is none other than our own Unitarian Church. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!
(Audience: Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!)


(Applause. Amens. Laughter.)

Blessings upon you, my people!

(Laughter. Applause.)

We have no doctrines, no revelation. We're fallible. We're finite. And there are those who say we are fuzzy.

Be proud of it, my people! When it comes to fuzziness, We're NUMBER ONE!

(Applause. Cheers.)
One by one we have quit believing doctrines:  The Trinity---The deity of Jesus---The resurrection---Hell---Revelation (Holy books).
How can you have a Church without doctrines?  We build our church around Values and community.
I share with you this morning a happy vision. It's Bertrand Russell's vision of Judgment Day. Says he, "Someday all mankind may have to account for where it's put its trust. Someday all mankind will be ushered before the Almighty. And the Almighty will say, 'All of you who did not believe in me, step forward.'" And Russell says, "Me and a handful of others will step forward." And the Almighty will say, "You didn't believe in me, did you? But then, there never was any conclusive proof even of my existence. Therefore, you were the only honest people on earth. Blessed are thou. Enter ye into the kingdom of rest."

(Cheers. Applause.)

"Now, for the rest of you. You believed in me, but you believed in me in order to escape the anxieties of living. You are essentially cowards and liars, and so depart from me, for I am ashamed of you."

(Audience: Amen!)

Beware, brothers and sisters! On that judgment day, it is believers who would be cast into the lake of fire. Verily, I say unto you, broad is the way that leads to religious belief, and many there be that enter in. And narrow is the gate to courageous living, and few there be that find it.

             (Audience: Oh, no-o-o-o!)

All of humankind is like that man in a dark forest with only a small candle for a light. It's not much, but it's all he's got. And a second man comes up to him and whispers in his ear, "Blow out your candle." That second man is a theologian.

The theologians and preachers of this world are asking you to blow out the candle of your own reason and follow them.

Believing In religion, according to George Carlin, is like wearing elevator shoes: at first you get a lift, but if you wear them long enough, you get crippled,


Karl Marx was right about religion. It is the opiate of the people.

Now, what is belief? Belief is accepting some thing as true without having experienced It. It's uncritical trust, and it's blind faith. People believe in things like astrology, golden books, flying saucers, the resurrection of Jesus or the infallibility of the Pope.
The opposite of belief is experience. If you experience something, then you know it's the truth, but the same thing believed is a lie. IF YOU EXPERIENCE SOMETHING, THEN YOU KNOW IT'S THE TRUTH, BUT THE SAME THING BELIEVED IS A LIE! Belief is presupposition, prejudice.

But, you say, we can't function without beliefs. Well, I agree that we can't function without theories and ideas. We do need a mental framework to help us interpret our experience of the world. But ideas are not like religious beliefs, because we wouldn't claim any certainty for them. They are working hypotheses – I call them notions.

A belief is a hardened notion, and a believer is someone who's suffering from hardening of the notions.


It's an unfortunate limitation of language that lumps religious beliefs and working hypotheses into the same word – belief. You will no doubt continue to use the word, belief, but don't let your notions harden into beliefs. Make sure your notions are soft: you might have to eat them. And treat your notions like relatives: entertain them, but don't marry them.

END OF PART 2------Part 3 tomorrow---Really---I'm going to quit breaking eggs and make an omelet---soon.  Randy

Sunday, 24 March 2013


A UNITARIAN REVIVAL SPEECH ----Most recently delivered 3/17/13 at the Unitarian Church of Yuma Az.  This is a fierce attack on belief systems----don't read it if you're likely to be offended.  I hope to show the alternative to na├»ve belief.

 I wrote it in 1981 and have presented it perhaps a hundred times to Unitarian Churches Nationwide.
 I had more hair in those days
 ----- had my 15 minutes of fame on Radio and even Christian television as we debated on air.
The group here printed this special church bulletin for my presentation. 

By phone and comment I've been dared to let this Genie out of its bottle---So what the hell---here goes:

It's too much for one blog entry so I'll just do it in bite sized installments

Laurie somehow managed to capture a sample of me in full-throttle rant and you can hear it on youtube.  Please don't click on it till you read the set-up. (You'll think I'm crazy)

Years ago, My Unitarian friends in New Orleans, knowing I was trained to preach in a Baptist Seminary and knowing I had quit believing in conventional religion, suggested that I preach a Unitarian Sermon in the style of an Evangelical fire and brimstone preacher.  I did so and it was a hit---preached it around the nation----- still do it occasionally.

First, a word about Unitarian/Universalist. If you don't know who they are or what they don't believe---you'd be surprised that any church would dare hear a speech like this. They are a very small denomination.  Google them on Wikipedia to get the gist of them.                                 They are about 40% Atheist---40% Agnostics and 20% hodge podge.  They have rejected doctrines and embraced values and community----are proud to count 4 presidents in their numbers: Jefferson, both Adams and Taft.  Also Emerson, Thoreau and a long list of thinking people you can check out.

So----only Unitarians are open minded enough to hear a sermon such as  this.

I told my audience that we lose a lot of joy in life by refusing to play other people's games-----and invited them to play the revival game with me. (we practiced shouting out HALLELUJAH---PRAISE THE LORD and AMEN )  I told them that I would be "breaking some eggs" but that I intended to "make an omelet"--so stick with me.
(at the end of this segment I will put the youtube link so you can hear me in full-throttle rant) Really, I do get more positive as the speech goes on.
                              BELIEVE AND BE DAMNED

We got trouble – TROUBLE – right here in "Yuma city," with a capital "T" and that rhymes with "B" and that stands for BELIEF.

My friends, we have a city full of people who are running away from life and into religion--- trying to find security in a belief system.

At this very moment, in this very city, there are several hundred people of one denomination worshiping with great fervor. What they have in common is a belief---a belief in an infallible book. Yes, you heard me right! I mean to say, they believe this book contains the infallible word of God, every jot and every tittle. What they want ----- is to transform this world into their version--- of that book.


(Audience: No-o-o-o!)

In this denomination alone there are thirteen million people. We got TROUBLE!


In another church in this city, even as I speak, 800 people are engaging in a very devotional worship. What they have in common is the belief in an infallible man. Yes, you heard me right! I mean to say, they believe that when this man speaks on faith, morals (ex cathedra,)---he is infallible.   what they want is a world that reflects their ethical view. You wouldn't like that world either.

Well, brace yourself. Do you know how many people
believe that? Worldwide, 1.2 billion people. We got

(Audience: Amen!)

I tell you an astonishing thing: there is another group worshipping at this moment in this city who believe in a golden book! Yes, you heard me right, a golden book! They believe that Joseph Smith dug out of a hillside in New York the Book of Mormon, which is the Infallible word of God and the perfect plan for the implementation of God's kingdom on earth. You know how many people believe that? Fourteen million people. We got TROUBLE!

(Audience: We got trouble!)

I'll tell you an ugly thing this morning. On the ground in Jonestown, Guyana, there were 900-and-some odd dead people – men, women and children.  The children were on the ground  because they were murdered by believers. And the reason the men and women were on the ground because they believed. (I have a cynical friend who says, "At least, it removed them from the gene pool.") The People's Temple is just one of hundreds of cults that swallow up the lives of millions of people. What all cults have in common is --- belief--- that they have received from God a revelation, and/or divinely appointed leader.  This absolute authority requires absolute submission and total life commitment. Cults are the most deadly form of belief system. In the vast swamp of religion, cults are the quicksand. We got TROUBLE!

(Audience: Amen!)

We have trouble in  the Islamic world.  About a billion people really believe that Mohammed flew to heaven on a winged horse and that an Angel dictated the Koran to him----that it contains the infallible word of God.  They want to make the whole world Islamic.  Many want to impose harsh Sharia law on everybody.  And I don't need to remind you that the 911 terrorists were all Muslims.  Sam Harris in his bestselling book "The End of Faith"  says that "Islam, more than any other religion humans have devised has all the makings of a cult of death". That it is a machinery of intolerance and suicidal grandiosity-----WE GOT TROUBLE.
(Audience: Yeah! Trouble!)

The true believers that contaminate our world are not all religious.  I remind you that Communist idealogy brought 70 years of world tension and warfare---killing countless millions.  At its height, it had 2 billion people in its grip.----WE GOT TROUBLE.

(Audience: Trouble! Amen!)

What all these millions and billions of people have in common Is their willingness to believe. Somebody tells them  something is true and they believe it,---- often for the rest of their lives--- – and that's very bad news for the rest of us.

Isn't it clear, my brothers, that the vast majority of people in the world are committed to some sort of belief system that they consider to be ultimate? Most of them claim to have received an infallible revelation from God, but these so-called revelations don't agree with one another. Each is sure that they are absolutely right and all the others are wrong, or only partially right.

Isn't it clear, my sisters, that the conflicts between belief systems are a major cause of world tensions? Believers against believers! It was believers who went on crusades. It is believers who wage "holy" wars. It is believers who conduct inquisitions and pogroms and witch burnings and censorship and moral repression and "blue laws."
Isn't it also clear, sweet people, that when one of these belief systems becomes the overwhelming majority in a society. it will try to impose its values on the minority. It will try to legislate its view of righteousness as, for example, in Iran. Never since the Dark Ages have so many people been so willing to believe so much stuff. (Did you know that transcendental meditators believe they can fly?)


Do you think that any of these belief systems can prove that its doctrines are true?

(Audiences No-o-o-o!)

Do you think that religious people are anxious to verify their cosmic claims?

(Audience: No-o-O-O)

Too long we have been sentimental about these wild-eyed fanatics, these self-righteous true believers. I stand up and say out loud what you've no doubt thought many times: believers are a damnable and a dangerous bunch! They're standing in the way of progress. They're standing in the way of peace!


Believers are not peacemakers and they never have been. Pretensions of certainty is what creates wars and strife. They "know" they're right, that God is on their side. The world has suffered and is suffering because people are willing to believe stuff!

(Audience: Amen!)

It is believers who oppose effective birth control and abortion, who are trying even now to take away a woman's right to terminate pregnancy.

The pro-life fanatics would force the victim of a rape to bear an unwanted child. Yes, they would!

(Audience: Amen!)

It was believers in North Dakota last Friday who passed a law forbidding all abortions for any reason after the fetal heart begins to beat.


True believers value their beliefs more than they value people, and that makes them dangerous.

(Audience: Loud Amens.)

And the stronger their beliefs, the more likely they are to persecute others!

(Audience: Amen!)

No matter how loud I preach, somebody falls asleep. For the benefit of those who just woke up, I will tell you what I have told you.


My brothers and sisters, beliefs are like rats!  But  these rats carry a plague!--- And the plague that they carry--- is Persecution – and War – and Arrogance – and Guilt – and Wasted Lives!---- If I had my way, we would make one heap of all the world's old ratty beliefs, open the lid to that festering pit and


(Applause. Cheers.)

Unbelieve! UNBELIEVE! UNDO IT! DUMP IT! SHUCK IT! And be born again as an honest human being who does not claim to know more than he really knows.

END OF PART ONE--- To hear my one minute rant  click here:

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Why it’s Hard to Set a Standard and Maximize Short-Term Profit

After my post yesterday on Kevin Lynch’s move to Apple (link), Infinity Softworks CEO Elia Freedman sent me a followup question:

“This line is interesting: ‘You can’t set a standard in tech and maximize short-term profit at the same time.’ Talk more about this?”

He’s right, I did assert that without explaining it. So here goes:

There are a couple of different tech industry things that we call standards. The first type of standard is a product that almost everyone uses because it has critical mass: Microsoft Word, Internet Explorer, etc. The second type of standard is a technology or tech specification that almost everyone builds on or incorporates into relevant products: HTML, JPEG, etc.

Once in a while you can establish a standard without limiting your short-term revenue (Adobe Photoshop is probably an example; it's carried a premium price ever since it was introduced in 1990). But in most cases, to establish a tech standard you have to limit your near-term profitability. Sometimes that means lowering your margins for quarters or years until the standard is established. In other cases it means permanently giving up some revenue streams in order to create a position of power.

A few examples:

—Adobe gradually gave away PDF in order to solidify it as a standard for document interchange. At first Adobe made the PDF reader free of charge, and eventually it gave away the PDF standard itself, enabling other companies to create PDF readers and creators that competed with Adobe. This move enabled PDF to become one of the most resilient standards in computing. Think about it – despite the hostility of much of the Internet community, and full-bore attacks from Microsoft and others, PDF continues to be a standard today.

When Adobe gave up control over PDF, it reduced the near-term revenue it could have earned through selling PDF readers and creator apps. This undoubtedly lowered Adobe’s quarterly revenue for a while, but it enabled PDF to survive as a standard when many other Adobe standards have withered away. Plus Adobe managed to keep a nice business selling PDF management software to large companies.

—Amazon has been selling e-reader devices at cost for several years in order to jumpstart the market for ebooks. I doubt Amazon will ever make much money from its hardware, but it’s willing to make that sacrifice in order to control the ebook transition and establish itself as the standard electronic bookstore.

—Google doesn’t charge license fees to use Android in a smartphone. This played a huge role in the early adoption of Android by phone makers; I think there’s a good chance the OS would never have taken off if Google had tried to charge for it. Google obviously hopes to make the money back through bundled services, but it’s not clear how successful that will be, and in the meantime Android is a huge cost sink for Google.

—Many open source companies operate by giving away their software and then charging for services or other ancillary products related to them. This approach defers revenue until the software becomes established as a widely-adopted standard.

As I explain in Map the Future, strategies like this are very problematic for an analytical company that focuses on logical cost-benefit planning. The benefits of establishing a standard are usually nebulous and risky, while the costs are immediate and painful. Faced with that kind of choice, most analytical companies will focus on tangible near-term opportunities. Thus Adobe made the prudent and logical decision to make money from Flash Lite when it had the chance, rather than sacrificing revenue to possibly make it a standard in the future.

You made your choice, now you have to live with it.

In the tech industry, the road to hell is often paved with prudent business decisions.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013



Friends come and camp with us ---hike with us and go on their way.  We enjoy the convenient location of Paradise casino---within walking distance of the movies and restaurants and parks.
 A street fair in Old town---great band--enough to stir me to dance---I've learned a move or two from the street dancer in Silver City, NM.
A nearby patch of weeds is home to a real Kodger---an old guy content to sit in his chair and enjoy the day---sleep in that small tent at night.  I wonder if I'll end up that way.  One could do worse: (nursing home) 
 More dental work in Algodones:  You remember my goal is to get all my teeth back in working order. 
 This little old lady lives inside that hole---collects what she considers useful stuff.  Her hideaway is just inside Mexico.  You can see the border fence at upper right. 
 Dr Dominguez my root canal guy--(a Rubio associate ph-928-255-0897) He's just finished giving me one and in one hour will install a post---then two hours after that, I will get impressions made for a new crown---then a functional temporary crown installed---all this in one day.  The completed crown will be installed in one week.
 I walk around town between treatments---noticed this car plastered with post it notes.  Each one said in Spanish: I love you.
 There is the boundary wall and international marker.
 But look here!  A sizable chunk of it just fell away as Mexicans digging at it's base for free gravel---undermined it.  Guards are posted as repairs are being made.
 Meet Joseph, an old friend from Tampa Fla stopping by for a visit.  He told me about the Toltec philosophy of 5 agreements. (presumably with yourself)(presumably for the good life)
1. Impecable speech---especially inside your head--to yourself.
2, Don't take anything personally
3. Don't make assumptions.
4. Do your best.
5. Listen with skepticism.
 We had a great time catching up on 25 years of separation.
 Almost every day one or more of these drifts over our rigs.
This one landed right there. 
 Saw this mysterious figure shambling out of the bushes about a quarter mile away.
Was intrigued--backtracked his steps and found his camp. 
Look carefully at this bicycle wheel.  It is a hobo relic from yesteryear---has no tire or tube----thats rubber strips wrapped round and round to function as a tire.  We found it in an old hobo camp two miles away. 
Along with this---I think it's a hobo cooking aparatus.  Note the cutaway section at the bottom ---for firewood. 
Here is a real live bush dweller that you've met before---Glen--The one who built the unique house of sticks.  I met him this day as he was dragging another stick home---not unlike a beaver--forever improving his lodge. 
That's his house of sticks.  Laurie and I walked all round it one day.
Want you to see this engineering marvel---the Yuma Siphon.

Yuma's share of water from the Colorado River is routed here from several miles upstream and apparantly dead ends right here---ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE RIVER. (for a really good reason but that's another story)
Ah---but it doesn't dead end here---see that whirlpool.  It flows down a concrete lined hole----85 feet ---into a large tunnel---THAT GOES UNDER THE COLORADO RIVER and then flows up on the other side.  A U shaped engineering feat that dazzled the nation when it was first built early in the century. 
 Here's the water rising on the Yuma side of the river about a thousand feet away.
 Here's what the tunnel looked like during construction.  It's 17 feet in diameter.
 A pair of roadrunners outside my rig---they come almost daily---and they won't eat bread.  They want meat.  I give them bologna.
Here's a teaser for my next entry:  I was invited by the Unitarians to preach a humanistic sermon---and I did----My most outrageous speech entitled BELIEVE AND BE DAMNED.  Laurie filmed it and I propose to show you about a minute of it.  She says that if I show it I will lose all my readers---We shall see!

Kevin Lynch and Adobe: Shooting the Messenger

There’s been some nasty commentary about Apple’s decision to hire Kevin Lynch from Adobe. John Gruber at Daring Fireball has been especially acerbic, and there certainly are some things Lynch has said that look dumb when you read them today. But while I usually agree with the Fireball, in this case I think you need to look beyond Lynch’s statements and understand the situation he was in at Adobe.

Let me start with a little history. Adobe is a software powerhouse, with a long and very successful history in publishing and multimedia. But despite all its successes, I think it deserves to go down in history as the company that choked when it had the opportunity to rule the world, not once but twice.

In the formative years of the Internet, Adobe could have set the standard for formatting web pages. Adobe PostScript was far more sophisticated and capable than HTML, which became core standard for displaying web pages. HTML is basically a text formatting specification. You give it a bunch of text tagged with suggestions for things like “this should be bold” or “underline this” or “this is a link,” and then the browser does its best to interpret the tags. HTML was derived from a formatting standard used in academia and government publishing, and it’s great for long text-only reports. But it was not designed to mix text and graphics. That’s why we still struggle to fully integrate great graphics with the web even today.

In contrast, PostScript is a programming language designed to mix text and graphics effortlessly. You can use it to control exactly where every pixel and image goes on the screen, and exactly how it looks. It was so powerful and so far ahead of its time that Steve Jobs’ NeXT chose it as the graphics language for its workstations. Using PostScript, you could easily draw things twenty years ago that we still can’t do on web pages today. The nagging incompatibilities and formatting weirdnesses we have to cope with from HTML, the fragile hacks and workarounds that web page designers live with every day...none of that had to happen.

Unfortunately, Adobe was so obsessed with making money selling PostScript interpreters that it was unwilling to make PostScript an open standard when it could have made a difference.  And so Adobe missed the chance to set the graphics standard for the web.

Fast forward a few years, and Adobe again fumbled the chance for greatness, this time with Flash. This wasn’t just Adobe’s fault; it was a joint project with Macromedia, which Adobe bought in 2005. Flash became the dominant animation and video playback standard for the web because, unlike the situation with PostScript, the player was free. There was no cost for users or tech companies to adopt the standard, and so it spread wildly, boosted by a bundling deal with Microsoft (link). There was a time in the early 2000s, prior to the iPhone and Android, when the mobile phone world was ripe for a takeover by software that would let you produce great visuals on a smartphone. Palm OS was too weak for the task, Windows CE was a mess, and Symbian was, well, Symbian. Macromedia, and later Adobe, could have set the standard for mobile phone graphics if they had given away the Flash player for mobile phones. But Macromedia had lucked into a licensing deal under which Japan’s NTT DoCoMo paid to put Flash on millions of mobile phones (link). Macromedia and Adobe fell in love with that revenue stream and decided they could extract money from every other mobile phone company in the world by charging for the player.

I’d call that move arrogant, but it was more than that – it was stupid. You can’t set a standard in tech and maximize short-term profit at the same time. For a few years of profit, Adobe sacrificed the opportunity to dominate the mobile phone market for a generation, and in the process fatally weakened Flash on the PC as well.

I could go on and on about the opportunities Adobe squandered: AIR,’s a depressing list that reminds me of the stories people tell about Xerox PARC. If I thought Kevin Lynch was the executive responsible for those moves, I’d be shocked that Apple hired him. But as far as I can tell, they were made by other people, and he was stuck playing out the hand he was dealt. I’ve been there, I’ve done that. If you’re part of a team you do the best you can and trust that the folks around you will do theirs. If you want to fault Kevin for something, fault him for staying so long at a company that was putting quarterly profits ahead of long-term investment.

So my reaction to the Lynch hiring depends on what Apple’s going to ask him to do, and we don’t know that yet. If Apple wants him to run business strategy I’ll be worried, because I don’t think he had great role models at Adobe. If Apple wants him to run marketing I’ll be alarmed. But I think Apple has hired him as a technologist. In that role he’s extremely smart and easy to work with, and Apple fans, I think he can be an asset to the company.

Disclosure: I did a little bit of consulting for Adobe in the past, and have met Kevin Lynch. This article doesn’t include any confidential or inside information.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Coming Soon: My Book on Business Strategy

I’m getting ready to publish my book on business strategy, Map the Future. It’s all about how a business should plan for the future, and how to manage the functions that help you make those plans: competitive analysis, market research, and advanced technology. It’s not a case study book; it’s more like a business cookbook, with detailed how-to instructions on everything from segmenting the market for a new product to influencing people who don't want to listen.

I’ll post more about the book when it ships, but in the meantime I wanted to offer a review copy to any journalists or bloggers who want to look at it. If you’re interested, please write to me at the address here. Be sure to include the URL of your publication or blog.

Now that the book’s finally done, I can get back to blogging. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on, and I’ve been dying to dig into it.