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Here's a link to a recent article about me. I thought it was especially well written.

http://www.mercurynews.com/entertainment/ci_12148055


As regular readers know, I lost my voice for several years thanks to a vocal condition called spasmodic dysphonia. I regained my ability to speak thanks to the one surgeon in the world who pioneered a fix for this problem.

I sound terrible on the video because I was drawing and talking at the same time, so you hear me mumbling and searching for the right words. I don't multitask well. So unfortunately that's my "normal" voice. The spasmodic dysphonia problem is 100% gone. When I'm not distracted, my voice is better now than it ever was, largely because I did so much vocal training before discovering the surgery. I actually came out ahead on this deal.

If you have read anything about my use of affirmations, you might be interested to know that the only affirmation I've employed for the past several years has been "I Scott will speak perfectly." This was a worthy test of affirmations since most voice experts said spasmodic dysphonia was incurable. I'd guess that 99% of the people with the same condition believe it can't be fixed, and that belief will make it true for them. I chose to believe the opposite. So while I still don't speak "perfectly," I'm already better than my old "normal" voice.

 
How can you make money from this whole global warming thing? I mentioned back in January that I was investing in a water resources portfolio (PHO) under the theory that water would be the next bubble. So far I'm up 9%, but the market is up in general, so that's no big deal. Global warming is predicted to cause massive droughts in some places, so this seems like a good hedge.

But it got me thinking that there must be a way for believers in global warming to profit at the expense of skeptics, assuming the believers are right. For investment purposes it doesn't matter what is causing global warming. All that matters is that it is happening and apparently already unstoppable according to a growing consensus of scientists.

The obvious stock plays have already been run up. If you invest now in solar, wind, and other green energy players, you might be getting in late. And some other better technology could overtake them. I'm looking for an investment that doesn't involve green technology.

For example, I already play soccer and tennis at indoor facilities. If there was a stock you could buy in some company that was building indoor sports clubs that would be a good play. You'll need them when it gets hotter.

Food supplies will be disrupted in some places and maybe improved in others. If you could find a way to invest in an agribusiness that has its operations in places likely to have improved growing conditions with global warming that might be a play.

Maybe real estate is the way to go, but it's harder to diversify. The idea is to find places that have just okay weather now that will have terrific weather later. That seems too risky. Real estate is influenced by too many other factors.

The best investment hedge might be as simple as a portfolio of sunscreen manufacturers.

What are your global warming investment ideas? And resist the urge to say, "beachfront property in Idaho."
 
Yesterday I spent several hours at a photo shoot. The photographer was an award-winning top-of-his-field professional with an almost supernatural sense of visual rightness. At one point he was taking some profile shots of me and I mentioned that I thought I had a "good side" but couldn't remember which one it was. So he had me face left, then right. As soon as I turned right he said, "It's that one." No hesitation. No doubt about it.

I find this to be an inconvenient sort of knowledge. For the rest of my life, every time I talk to someone I will want to cheat my face toward the good side. I will never again make eye contact unless it by peripheral vision. In the interest of public safety I will only walk on the side of the street that puts my good side toward traffic.

I feel like a hunchback who doesn't want anyone standing behind him because he knows people will stare at his hump. I fear people will be looking at my ugly side and wondering if it is the first sign of swine flu.  

I'm thinking of getting an eye patch for my ugly eye. Then I'll put in a Bluetooth headset to disguise my ugly ear hole. I considered wearing a hat to hide the upper part of my ugly head but it would be rude to wear a hat indoors. My best bet is to convert to a religion that requires a turban and doesn't have an issue with mutton chop sideburns on one side.

If I put it all together just right it will be a look. On one side I will be an unnaturally handsome cartoonist, just like always, but my ugly side will be transformed into an Elvis pirate Sikh theme with just a hint of douche bag cell phone user. I'm sort of an artist, so I think I can pull that off.

Or was it my other side that the photographer said was my good one? Shit.
 
I'm in a photo shoot this afternoon for an upcoming article in Wired. No time for a proper blog entry, but my Google Alert just dredged up a Dilbert-related link that made me laugh out loud. It's cruel. It's juvenile. And yet so clever.

http://caps.fool.com/blogs/viewpost.aspx?bpid=187982&t=01001019292467236494

Dennis Kneale interviewed me recently during a satellite media tour that I did for my Dilbert 2.0 book . I like him. But I laughed anyway.

Speaking of my big-ol'-coffee table book, Dilbert 2.0, the economy is your friend once again. Thanks to a worldwide slump in book sales, especially on the high end, you can scarf up the best work I have ever done for an embarrassingly low price: http://www.amazon.com/Dilbert-2-0-20-Years/dp/0740777351. It makes a good gift because people will assume it cost more. And when they buy their next gift for you, they might try to match what they think you spent on them and you come out ahead. It's like free money.
 
A spy informs me that one firm is already telling its employees to avoid shaking hands as a way to lower the risks of swine flu. I can see this sort of policy catching on. My informant wonders what sort of greeting should replace the handshake. I'm on it.

There are few times in history when you have a chance to create a new and lasting custom. I say we put our collective minds together and come up with a business greeting that involves no skin-to-skin contact and no exchange of bodily fluids.  I will open the bidding by suggesting the forearm bump. I already use this method jokingly with my friend who has germ issues. It's like crossing swords except you cross your sleeved forearm. The cooties don't have time to penetrate two layers of sleeves. Or so he thinks.

This new swine flu greeting still needs something extra, such as both people saying, "Huzaaa!" when their forearms touch.

An alternate move would involve making a fist and holding it up to your snout sideways, as if you are forming a pig's snout, snorting then finishing with a fist bump. That's still hand-on-hand contact, but at least it's the clean side.

Who has a better idea for a handshake replacement?
 
The human mind is wired to accept ridiculous reasons as if they are legitimate. Studies have shown that people are more likely to agree to a favor if the word "because" is used in the request. It doesn't seem to matter what follows that word. As long as the sentence is in the form of a reason, people accept it as though some actual reason is present. (See the book Influence.)

I've often used this method. I think I've mentioned these uses before, but I will reiterate to set up my larger point.

Guys tend to argue over who picks up the check after dinner. In cases where I know this situation is likely to arise, I prepare a ridiculous "because" reason that I trot out when the moment is right. After allowing the other guy or guys to make their ceremonial attempt at paying, I say something like "I'll pay today because this is the seven month anniversary of when you bought your car. Congratulations." I'm exaggerating slightly, but it isn't hard to come up with some trivial reason why you should pay. The funny thing is that any reason you offer will settle the discussion. It works every time.

Another situation in which the ridiculous reason works is when a large dinner group is being served and only half of the people have their dishes. Everyone sits there staring at their food as it cools, trying to be polite. In these cases I say loudly "According to etiquette, you can start eating as soon as three people have been served." Everyone instantly digs in. I think I read that rule of etiquette somewhere, but it's clearly a random number. There is nothing special about three. Ridiculous reasons win again.

I mention these examples because I think the world needs another ridiculous rule to solve some big problems. And it's no fair saying my new rule is ridiculous because that's exactly the point. The new rule would be this: Any land controlled by a country for 50 years straight is legitimately theirs. It's like a statute of limitations for armed resistance.

Obviously the people living in the disputed lands will reject this rule when it kicks in. It's really for the benefit of others who might be inclined to help the continued struggle for independence. Most struggles depend on outside help. This rule allows the outside helpers to withdraw without being dishonorable.

While the 50 year rule is clearly arbitrary and ridiculous, our minds allow us to accept such things as if they are real rules. So in time it might influence the inhabitants of the disputed lands to accept their situation. Realistically, if a country is controlled for 50 years, it's probably going to stay controlled. Continued resistance doesn't benefit anyone.

Consider all of the international struggles that involve lands conquered more than 50 years ago, or approaching that. The partisans need a reason to stop fighting that doesn't sound like they are a bunch of quitters. Honor is at stake. The 50 year rule is the non-reason reason.

I am aware that this rule, if followed, would sanction enormous unfairness, subjugation, apartheid, and worse. But those things would happen with or without the rule. The only difference is how many innocent people die trying to change a situation that is unlikely to change.
 
As regular readers know, I don't generally explain my comics. But I'm going to make two exceptions. I think they deserve it.

My comic on 4-21-09 featured an Elbonian pig that no longer needed to play fetch because of the economic downturn. Huh? That doesn't even make sense, does it?



The intended but failed joke was that in Elbonia their pets are pigs. Thus the pig was practicing his fetching. You see, fetching doesn't come naturally to pigs. They need to practice on their own. But that's not the joke. The joke was that in good times the pig is a pet and in bad times he's dinner.

This wasn't my best work, according to the comments online, and I am forced to agree. Some readers were confused. Others imagined a cleverer joke than I actually wrote, based on a strip years earlier where the pig was minister of finance for Elbonia. That theory held that his bad job performance was catching up with him.

My second failed strip of late involved Dogbert trying out the flash feature on the company's new cell phone. This one didn't work but it's only half my fault this time.



The problem this time is that the outside service that adds color to daily strips (mine and others) decided the dead guy should be Dilbert, and they colored his necktie to conform to that theory. The dead guy is supposed to be Ted. I never color anyone's tie with Dilbert's distinctive style for exactly this reason. (I only color the Sunday strips myself.) Correct coloring wouldn't have been enough to save this comic, but it didn't help either.

You might wonder why I go through patches where Dilbert comics mostly suck for a few weeks, such as this one, and patches where I seem to be on top of my game. Some of it is probably just a matter of diet, exercise and sleep. But the bigger part is that I try different ways to go at the comics for a few weeks at a time. Notice that both of the comics that failed are missing an action scene that is implied. In the pig strip you don't see the future dinner preparations, and in the camera flash scene you don't see the flash itself happening. In both cases someone expires, and in both cases the topic is more fantastical than the usual office happenings.

The comics I am drawing now, that will run in late June, are back to standard office material. If I did too much of either the fantastic or the mundane it would cause a sort of snow blindness for the material. And I've found that the best way to draw young males into reading the strip is to kill some characters now and then. So while the quality of the strip has been down for the past few weeks, young readership probably went up.

I might be crazy, but I'm crazy like a pig.

 
I'm always fascinated when an incremental change to an existing technology creates a new application. For example, you can browse the Internet with your phone, but its usefulness is limited to times when a regular computer isn't handy. Eventually, when your phone's browser speed approaches the speed of your regular computer, you won't bother getting off the couch to check something online. That's like a new application.

I was reminded of this while trying to make choices for the home we're building. As you might imagine, there is a huge amount of home-related information online. But if you want to Google up some ideas for decorating a tall wall, you're out of luck. If you want to see a bunch of cabinet types that fit with our look, you have to go on a scavenger hunt online. The Internet is surprisingly unhelpful for house design. But over time it will evolve into that application.

I predict that by the year 2030 or so you will be able to design an entire home online without much help from architects, designers, engineers, or landscapers. That expertise will all be handled with software, the same way TurboTax took over for the expertise of tax preparers.

As I work through the home design process, I'm struck by the fact there are so many clear rules. The process begs for programming more than art. For example, you want your kitchen near the interior door from the garage, and you want your washing machine relatively near the bedrooms, and so on. I should be able to tell my software my requirements for number of bedrooms, budget, and features, and have it spit out all the designs that meet my criteria. The software would optimize the house shape and orientation for my lot size and even make sure the plumbing distances were minimized. The program could make sure the design met all the local codes and restrictions. And it would be the greenest home that is practical.

The user would still make the final aesthetic decisions, but choosing only from a menu of homes that met his criteria. And he could walk through a 3D model before making any decisions. If he decided to add a bathroom, the entire floor plan would reconfigure to accommodate the change without breaking any rules.

So if your kid wants to become an architect, consider talking him out of it.
 
Yesterday my post was about preserving your knees so you can enjoy your body for the long term. Several people expressed the opposite philosophy, that you should enjoy life now, even if it means more health problems later. I hear that same philosophy when I get into discussions about proper diet. But it seems to me that unless you are already taking heroin, you aren't being true to your own philosophy. You should be enjoying a good high now, not worried about what happens later.

I rarely make an important decision without considering the 60-year implication. My cash flow projections for retirement end at age 110. That's why the house we're building has an elevator.

I've always been this way. When I was in second grade I was already planning for my life as it is now, spending hours each day drawing comics. I assumed that would be my job. My focus changed by high school, to becoming a lawyer, so I buckled down and got good grades, figuring I'd need them. Things change, but I always have a plan.

The downside of planning so far ahead is that you worry more, and you probably enjoy today less. The upside is that your golden years might be a bit shinier. I'm not saying my approach is the best, but I don't think it's fair to call the "live for today" approach any kind of philosophy unless you're also quitting your job, having unprotected sex with strangers, and snorting coke. Junkies have a philosophy. You have rationalizations.
 
Yesterday I was chatting with a fellow in his thirties who was complaining about his knees. He's training for a big race, running several times a week, and that's a lot to ask of knees, especially if you're sporting a few extra pounds.

He's a smart guy, successful in his career, knows where he's going, with a lovely wife and kid. Apparently he sets high goals and is willing to push through the pain to achieve them. I admire that.

But I also wonder if he's made a good engineering choice for his body. As regular readers know, I see the human body as a moist robot. Happiness is a function of making sure the chemistry of your brain has the right mixture of raw materials. And to get there you need to make good engineering choices plus have a little luck.

As I see it, this fellow has chosen the one sport most likely to destroy his knees: running long distances on pavement. That's like building a skyscraper on a sand foundation. He runs a high risk of blowing out a knee or two, leading to less exercise, higher weight, health issues, and ultimately a suboptimal mixture of brain chemicals. I'll bet you can name three friends who have already taken that path.

By way of contrast, much of my life is designed to protect my knees. My preferred sport is tennis, so we're building a court at our future home that will have a relatively cushioned surface. It makes a big difference on knees, and it's the main reason we're building a home instead of buying one.

My other major exercise is indoor soccer on artificial turf, which is surprisingly easy on the knees unless I get a kick or a twist. The new artificial turfs are better engineered to avoid the injuries typical of the earlier versions. You can run all day on it and the knees feel great.

My non-sport cardio exercise involves a recumbent bike, which is ideal for knees. My doctor recommended it for that reason. Our new home will also have a pool, so I will add swimming to the mix. And I put a lot of effort into staying within my recommended weight range because experts say every pound on your buttocks feels like five to your knees.

You could argue (convincingly) that my choice of soccer isn't a good risk for my knees. But the over-30 league isn't that dangerous, relatively speaking, and I've dropped four pounds since the season started. Okay, okay, I agree that's a rationalization for "I like to play soccer." But you see the point. Be good to your knees or.

 
 
 
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