Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gone Dark

I haven't posted in a while.

This usually means one of two things.

1) I'm super stressed and depressed and can't bring myself to write an honest post about it without feeling more like a whiny attention whore.
2) Things are going super crazy awesome fun times I have no down time.

Feel free to speculate on which option is currently in effect.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Around the Interwebs

This week was pretty good for news that interested me.

By which I mean actively blocking most of the political yamhammering.

Game News:
A retrospective on the development of Dear Esther. I've been a huge fan of this guy from the beginning, and it's quite a riveting piece on the turmoil and craziness involved with launching the remake of the mod. Also, he's super talented.

If you don't have enough DRM-free games to play on your Android, Linux, or Mac (I'm gonna assume you have plenty on your PC) Humble Indie Bundle has yet another bundle. I now have games to play on my phone while I poop that aren't Dominion.

Homefront was a AAA-ish shooter back in the day. It didn't do too hot. Here's the story of the poor dev studio. The byline is The long, tortured journey of Homefront, so that kinda gives a glimpse of what it's about. Still a fascinating read of what AAA game development is like.

The Dystopia mod announced patch 1.4. I thought they had stopped developing this! For those that don't know, Dystopia is a free Source game in a cyberpunk future. It involves meatspace and cyberspace, awesome weapons, cool tech, implants, classes, and really inventive maps. Biggest problem is navigating the maps and "solving" each map, due to the symmetric nature of each one. However, it appears they're trying to remedy the map/UI problem once again.

Tech (the future):
Microsoft announced they can not only transcribe your speech, and then convert it based on sentences/context, but then play it back in your own voice. :O

The Fight by Dustin Curtis. Pairs well with

In case you were wondering how the map looks for this last election, but setup so the size of a region represents its importance.

Just plain COOL:
Walk off the Earth is a YouTube band. They have several good covers, and have made some of their own songs. You probably know them best from their 5-person-on-1-guitar cover of Somebody That I Used To Know by Gotye. They made this video using a single cut, but the parts are all out of order. Fastforwarding and rewinding puts them back in order. WUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUH?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Methods of Preparation

I feel like there are two methods of preparation for an event. 

The first is to be over prepared.  When I had a concert I would diligently practice my part over and over until I knew all of it by heart. Then I would mess with it to see if I could still perform it. Perhaps moving up or down an octave giving it a new sound and body position. Or adding syncopation. Or playing it as fast or as slow as I could. All to shake up what was becoming sedentary in my brain and muscles. These variations ensured I knew the part inside and out. 

This paid off quite well. Inserted restart points helped me get through a difficult piece. Once the piano had a stuck key so throughout the piece I had to pull it back up before striking that note again. Don't ask how I managed. I recall it being an almost reflexive and flawless performance. I also remember someone being quite surprised I pulled it off. These extra layers of preparation meant I was flexible enough and able to freely react to new situations are they arose instead of devoting all of my concentration on execution of the piece.

But these are the foibles of youth. Looking back I realize just how much free time I had to devote to these extra explorations. As I grew older my time shrank, I wanted to do more things, and I started to develop a sense of doing just enough to get by. What was the minimum amount of time I could devote and still have reasonable chances at success. So a relatively rock solid record of completely confident performances segued to usually successful events with the occasional mess up. Slowly I became aware of expectations and nervous sweating or lip shaking snuck into the performances. This is the other method. Prepare consistently and build up enough to make success relatively likely. This is often how physical feats are prepared. Most people I know (i.e. not competitive marathon runners) prepare for a marathon not by running marathons but running shorter distances. At the actual event they push their limits to cross that finish line.

So on one hand you can try to perfect your craft. You ensure that you will succeed by over preparing. By exploring the boundaries of your skills in such a way you build in a safety buffer for mistakes. The event itself then leads to a more natural feeling where expression is the key motivation. Or you can make the event the edge of your reach. Crossing the finish line is the goal, so you devote enough time to succeed even if you trip and stumble a few times.

One obviously takes much more time than the other. If you have the time and drive you can prepare and ensure success. If you don't, or can't devote enough time (it's usually the latter) then we often aim for passing. I wish we had enough time to flourish and thrive. But we don't.

Still, if you are dedicated enough and passionate enough you can still make an art of something. Whether it be making art, musical instruments, or programming code, if you devote enough time to create not just mediocre passing quality but extraordinarily refined pieces then I applaud you. And I am sure the rest of the world will as well.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Cheering for Complimenters

To be honest I usually am not depressed. I have bouts of depression, but my constant self-bashing is not an indication of constant self-loathing. I merely try to manage expectations and seek to present the truth. I know exactly how far I have to improve and am under no delusions of this fact.

That doesn't seem to deter the Complimenters.

I hope you know a few of these. Every time they see you they give a smile and cheer your entry. Whenever you praise them they don't dismiss it like I do, they turn it around and tell you how awesome you are in that same category. Somehow they always know exactly what to say to build you up and cheer you up.

Just last week we were at Midtown Stomp Swing Dancing. One of the guys in attendance is good. Scary good. If his partner is new he can guide them flawlessly through the basic and moderate moves. If his partner is skilled he kicks it up a notch whirling them around the floor and leaving them breathless. I once watched him in action and stood amazed, trying to watch for him to reuse a move so I could tease out how he did it. He didn't repeat most of them. When he sat down at the end of the song I complimented him going, "Man, that was awesome. Your partner definitely had fun. You're making the rest of us look bad!" He just looked at me and said, "Nah man, you the man. And now it's your time." Bam. Instant turnaround.

Suffice to say these people are awesome and make the people around them feel awesome.

It's not just in off-handed compliments. Complimenters are exceptional discussion leaders. They make sure to reiterate the points brought up and name the specific person who contributed. If there is a tangent or mistake in a point they carefully bring the topic back around without assigning blame. People are almost never wrong, they instead just missed something. Plus when they present their view it doesn't sound like a capstone trump card coming from the leader. You don't feel like you stumbled on their correct answer. They tease out the connections between everyone's points, reinforce the ones they liked and felt were important, but still give credit to the ones who brought it up as their idea.

Plus, they never seem to give up. I am pretty sure a few of them read this blog and so they know I do not need the compliments. But they keep coming. Another day another smile and a welcoming invitation to share about my day. Even when you keep your face neutral and hide away how uplifting that thought was, they seem undeterred.

So what makes these people Complimenters? No idea. I think it has to do with the intent to see the world from the brighter side. You actively look for things to compliment people on. These are not the Facebook picture spam generic feel-good compliments. These are targeted personal compliments. They require investment, thought, and custom-tailoring. When there is a negative, actively figuring out how to bring it around to the positive. Plus it isn't about them feeling better. It is about focusing and investing in the other person. It is uplifting others at no benefit to themselves.

I'm sure they could use a few Compliments of their own, so try becoming one yourself. Start with thanking and complimenting the Complimenters in your life. 'Cause they're awesome and deserve to feel good about it.

Friday, October 12, 2012

How I Self-Evaluate

In case it isn't obvious, a good portion of this blog is used as an expression of things going on in my head. Often times it tackles a subject where I find myself deficient. I have been asked how I do self-evaluations to discover these problems and attempt to fix them. This post will try to lay out the basics of the process. This only is a rough outline, so take it with a grain of salt. I don't have a checklist I follow nor a 5 Step Plan that I adopted. This is just what I tend to do based on self-evaluations of my self-evaluations.

First is to notice there is a problem. This can take a variety of forms. I may be feeling down for an unknown reason. There isn't a serious tragedy in my family, everything seems to be moving along as normal, but I wake up to the realization I don't feel happy. That might be the first clue. Another trigger is when I feel a strong emotion of hate or anger, especially towards an individual. I will often run into triage mode and try to tease out the why of that reaction. Sometimes I am merely ruminating on the events of the day and realize when things could have gone better. Not only in aspects where I made a mistake but also when I feel it could have been more awesome. In short, if I ever feel strong negative emotions I tend to try to find the root cause.

Next is to trace the problem. Let's say I get angry at another individual. After realizing this anger, I try to figure out why. Identifying the source is usually easy. They made a certain remark and I reacted. Perhaps it was the way they said it, or the body language associated. It could be a particular action such as arriving late or bailing on our plans. The hard part is tracing the cause-and-effect. As detailed in this You Are Not So Smart post, it is extremely difficult to pinpoint exactly why you reach a particular emotional state. Even when we think we know why we often times get it wrong. So when you begin the trace, keep this problem in the back of your mind.

The trace itself is difficult to explain. I've armed myself over the years with a lot of knowledge in psychology and behavioral issues. Also over the years of tweaking and prodding my mind I've started to develop a rough mental map of how I tick. So I am very aware of plenty of biases that might explain the current response I've identified. These can range from things that are universal, like a dislike of haughty individuals. Or they can be personal gripes, especially problems I know I have or have been working on.

Once a root cause is known there comes a decision. Is this a real problem that I should address? If I feel it is a fixable flaw then I will move to the next step. For example, if I think it is because of pride I will try to work on my pride issue. But if it is because of an injustice then there is no reason to beat myself up about it. This is also the checkpoint where I think about the other side of the problem. Am I over thinking this problem, and am I really at fault here? Perhaps it really is the other person is a jerk. Or perhaps I am just imagining a slight and overreacting. This helps temper my actions so I am not randomly fixing un-fixable problems.

Lastly, assuming it is a legitimate problem, I think about how to remedy it. This is extremely difficult. For starters I try to formulate a panacea for the symptom itself. So if I was angry with someone I relax and let the anger slip away. The tough part is developing a plan to remedy the core problem. This sometimes leads to very odd cognitive dissonance, bouts of depression, and in general feeling like crap. Other times it can create a goal that I will keep in my mind and try to work on over time. Another important aspect is to figure out the scope of the solution. For example, when I hear about modern-day slavery I get fairly angry. However, my solution isn't give away all of my money and possessions and donate them to charity. But it also isn't do nothing either.

This generic flow is perhaps best illustrated via example. Hypothetically, I get really annoyed with someone expressing their opinion on a subject under discussion. I notice this, pause, the try to tussle out why. After all, they are entitled to their own opinion, others are expressing theirs and it doesn't bother me, so why this opinion from this person?

Was it the person? Possibly. I don't particularly like this person. They rub me the wrong way sometimes. Why? Well, they seem to have certain personality flaws, they act in particular patterns, and maybe I see myself in that and resent that. Also they demonstrate certain traits that I once did but I now feel are beneath me or in my past. So I feel like this person is beneath me. That's a problem.

Was it the opinion? Hm, on the surface it sounds OK but there's an underlying connotation there. It sounds like a certain ideology I once had but now am ashamed of. I feel there is fundamental flaw. And that flaw is WRONG.

Should I do something? For the problem of the person, yes. I shouldn't feel like I am superior to another person, especially in a roundtable discussion like this. I will have to work on my pride and making sure to give an extra ounce of compassion for this person. I will need to identify the character traits I dislike and see in myself and work on those. For the opinion? Perhaps. Why do I feel like it is so wrong? Should I come out and confront the underlying assumptions? That might make this a pointless argument. They probably don't realize the flaw. They will see me as warping their opinion into something it is not. So I shouldn't directly confront and correct it. Do I stay silent? Is this a big enough problem to lead others down a wrong path? Hm, probably not. I suppose I should just bite my tongue and not worry about the details. And is it actually wrong? I'll need to look back on why I changed my opinion and ensure it is still sound.

This can set off a cascade of other self-evaluations. Also, almost always I decide if the problem is about me and what I should do about it to myself. I figure I only have control over myself, so I should work more on me and less on others. This is not a system for developing why I'm better than someone else, or why I have the right answer over others. It is a system to kick myself in the gut, yell why I suck, then pick myself off the ground a little wiser and a little better.

So yeah, welcome to my insane mind. I recommend you only try this if you are of strong fortitude and willing to look at all the gunk inside. Otherwise you will get to enjoy lovely bouts of Imposter Syndrome and depression.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Seeking Connection

Humans are very social creatures. It could be argued that everything we do is a form of signaling to others. We signal, "I belong to this group. I have these resources. I am a nice, kind person who will share with you." We develop social structures and circles of friends. We grow up in families and crave attention and acceptance. In fact, it is theorized self-esteem is an indicator of how strong we think our social bonds are and therefore our personal worth, not the other way around. So it should come to no surprise that we tend to be on the lookout for commonalities with which to build relationships.

I like to get excited about similarities. I pick up on simple commonalities and suddenly have a burst of hope that I might make a new friend. Simple things like people using the same Pyrex bowls to hold their lunches. Or noticing other Asians in the area (there are lots of Whites and Indians where I live, not as many Chinese/Japanese). Or noticing someone driving the same car. Even driving along the same route as you. Maybe they're going where I'm going, or live near where I live. How cool would that be!

I think this speaks volumes about us as a species. We really, really want to have connections. We really, really want to meet new people. A new person is a whole new set of possibilities. A potential best friend. An interesting companion. Perhaps a soul mate. Or a mentor. Or just the guy who gets you tickets to that one show and you have a great time.

Oddly enough we also fear these connections. What if people don't like me? How do I break into an ongoing conversation? Maybe I won't even see those people again. We value our connections so much we fear we won't have a good enough connection! We often can't take the risk. At least that's what we tell ourselves.

And yet I have never had a moment while taking with some friends that I wouldn't mind a new person joining. I have yet to meet a group who actively hates people on the outside (political/religious discussions being an exception). Perhaps I just hang with the right people, but usually groups are willing to take on a few extra. It means better chances of members hanging out. It means if I'm tired of some of them I can break off and hang with the others.

True, there are exceptions. Douchebags are generally frowned upon. Attention-seekers tend to be shrugged off. And if a group becomes too large sub-groups will form with the more like-minded individuals spending extra time together. If you're deep in a personal conversation it's nice when people respect that and just buzz off. Yet I have never once felt weird about adding a new face to the crowd at large. We always open the circle and accommodate the new person. They just have to show interest and stand near the circle.

Still we build up these complicated routines. Prepare all the right lines. Practice and review our interactions. It's all a giant house of cards and at the first sign of trouble we bolt, "dignity" intact. Instead of approaching the circle we sit with a cup in one hand and our back to the wall waiting, testing the group to see who comes to us. Who will put in the effort and make it worth your while for YOU to invest?

How sad.

Try being a little more bold. Ask for a name and remember it. Learn something and find common ground. You might find a new friend. At worst, you go your separate ways.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Becoming the "Other"

Sermons, lessons, and articles all have a very specific tone to them when dealing with "others".

A sermon might bring up an example of how some person did wrong. For example, I recently listened to one on how different people respond differently to your aid. In one case it was a poor person. After helping to pay their rent, it became infeasible to support them any longer and the speaker went over to tell them so. They were rebuffed with a series of slurs and thrown out of the house. He realized that by throwing money at the problem, he wasn't helping them get back on their feet. Different people will respond differently he said. There were other instances where even using the wrong information and wrong techniques people would improve and become whole. But with "correct" systems others wouldn't. It was an excellent illustration of why we need personalized efforts, of why it often is dependent on the individual you are helping, or why sometimes it is all out of your control. This was all from the viewpoint of us. This was the viewpoint of the trained to help "others".

Another anecdote was commenting on how broken individuals can end up as leeches. They come with a story of being hurt and being in need and no one was there. So, you feel for them and come alongside them. But then they latch on to you. They devour your time and energy and emotional endurance. Finally they pop off after you're drained and can't give any more. They are that way because they only consume and are broken. They are surrounded by love but they never seem to have enough or can't feel it. It was done with humorous enactments and we all have seen these "other people" in action. But again, this is from the viewpoint of us normal people. The ones being devoured and preyed on by those "others".

This article covers the subject of "The Distress of the Privileged" and clucks its tongue at those poor privileged slobs. They grew up in times past and suddenly the world around them has changed. They are no longer in the right, and in fact are accused of being the Bad Guys. Suddenly, they have a real distress and need to be validated since without their notice or consent the world around them has turned against them. But don't hate them! They are well-meaning good people who are just out of their element now. We should come to them with kindness and love and bring them over to our side. If only their eyes were opened, and they weren't rebuffed by hostility they too can join our humble ways. Address their distress but help them realize it pales in scope to our pain and distress. We should treat the "others" with love and not look down too much on their backward ways.

This very blog is founded on this principle. In one respect it is about my own views, musings I've had, and things I want to work on. But it is written in such a way that I still come out the victor. I am at least trying. I have evaluated and seen the faults and seek to change them. Unlike those "others" out there. Those fools who have yet to see how inefficient they are, unable to face fears or come to terms with putting on airs for the world at large.

Time and time again I see piece after piece about those "others" out there. Clucking tongues at their backwardness. Sighs at their silly notions. Laughs at their poor grasp on the facts. We nod knowingly and give each other slaps on the back safe in the feeling that we are the elite, well-adjusted, all-knowing, capable, clear-minded individuals who can help and correct these poor souls. Noblesse Oblige.

Too often though I can't share in that. Too often I wonder if I am not that "other" person. Am I ungrateful to the help I've been given and will scream and curse if it's all taken away? Do I leech off my peers and friends looking for an emotional hit from them contributing nothing? Am I one of the privileged stuck in times past?

And that simply scares the crap out of me.

Often times because I am quite explicitly the "other" person. For the majority of my life I identified as Republican (and all my liberal friends may now boo and hiss). So all those articles making fun of Republicans, taking quotes out of context, reading horrible horrible things into the comments and ideas they had were painful. I was filled with rage and indignation. I was wounded that they would dismiss my views so easily and think me such a fool. I hated it when people would approach me for conversation on one hand then post a down-the-line dismissal of my side on the other. I now sit somewhere between the two parties and simply get a sound beating from both ends.

Or some of the articles on how horrible heterosexual well-educated men are. We are evil or simply naive and knowingly or unknowingly are reinforcing an oppressive patriarchy. We are so afraid of losing our power we will go to great lengths to subvert the feminine power. Well, except those few feminist males. You're OK. On one hand yeah people should get on board with this. On the other hand I'm exactly the person they're talking about. And the language they use hurts.

You might argue that this is good. After all, tribalism is natural. It help reinforce the healthy community we are building. Plus, with my visceral reactions I am realizing my faults. I can identify with the "others" and become one of "us." I am one of those select "others" we have tried to reach for so long and now you are coming around! This should be an article about my triumph and keen sense of being able to learn from any circumstance, even when I'm told I'm part of the "us" crowd. Three cheers for me!

Still hurts.

Still scares the crap out of me.

Still exposes to me how little I've grown and how much further I need to climb.

I could just recede. I can curl up and stop listening. If only I wasn't noble and kept trying, or was dumber and didn't see, or didn't care and stayed down. There is so much I could do. And I really want to sometimes. And I do sometimes.

Have you ever experienced this? Stood in a crowd and suddenly realized you identify with the caricature being painted? Realized that if you don't smile and go along you run the risk of being the "other" paraded on stage for all to see? Have you ever taken a look at your own writing or piece and wondered what it is like to be the "other" you are painting?

Friday, September 28, 2012

On My Mind: Where's the Justice?

In my last post I talked about the perversion of demanding a reward. I did X, therefore I deserve Y. For example, I'm a nice guy, where is the girl I'm owed?

This post will look at the other side of the coin.

There are some things that, in theory, should be easy to get mad about. Holocaust? Extremely tragic and justifiably we should be angry about it. Rape? A violation of a person and should be dealt with accordingly. Serial Killers with no remorse? Probably not the healthiest thing to have in our populace. Jerk embezzles millions of dollars of your money? I'd be pretty pissed.

And really, that's all a good thing.

There was an article about a particular atheist (hat tip Skye). He was visiting a Buddhist Retreat. Overall the stay was bearable, but at one point someone finds out he's a Jew. The next question is "Do you think it’s time for the Jews to work to change the karma that caused the Holocaust?" As a result the author was a little pissed. One of my friends commented thusly:
Complete inner peace comes at a cost. In many ways it is the act of shedding one's humanity and accepting a larger perspective in which the struggles and problems of humanity are trivial. As a result you feel disconnected from reality and become desensitized to the world around you. You may be at peace within, but the world outside still burns.

One of humanity's defining features is the ability to feel strong emotional responses to things. Whether it is the anger at a terrible deed or the jubilation from a joyous occasion, emotion is a powerful reminder of the preciousness of life. But emotions are a double edged sword that can both cause and cure suffering. Anger without restraint can drive otherwise rational and non-violent people to respond to terrible acts with more terrible acts.

I like to think that true enlightenment lies between these two extremes, in embracing emotion and letting it move you to action without allowing it to control you.
That second paragraph is what I mean. To feel emotions. To feel passionately about a subject. That is a good thing. To desire good in the world, to want the best of others, that is a good thing. We should be able to feel emotions. We should be angry about things like this:

But sometimes we hold back a little. After all, in our western culture it's the enlightened level-headed philosophers who are the greatest right? We should be poised. We should rationally work through these problems. Letting emotions and gut instincts rule us means we devolve into savages and follow our poor misconstrued judgement. And yes, that is good.

Just don't think it's OK to withdraw and hide in a shell and make it all rational. Living in a world of pain and feeling nothing sounds good, but what about a world of love and not feeling it either. Being unable to feel hate sounds like a great idea, but what about when that hate is deserved and is what can drive you to action? Sure we can talk about being motivated by love only and how noble it is, but they are two sides of the same coin (Dark Side of Force anyone?). Feeling emotional responses means loving something and being angry when that something is taken away.

There is of course a darker side to this. I believe that while we should love and feel vehemently about justice we should also raise up mercy. A rigid worldview that only desires justice is like the unbending Inspector Javert of Les Miserables. Giving everyone their due means punishing those who slip. It means continuing the cycles of poverty. It means you have to have perfect knowledge to give out perfect justice. But we can't. We instead have to work on hunches and bits of information fed to us. And I feel there are many times when mercy should triumph.

Sadly, there are some people who bringing harsh reprimands is the only way to get them to pay attention. It is the only thing they respond to initially. We can talk about an ideal world of love and compassion, but sometimes anger and pressure can be an effective tool to snap someone out of their hole. On a few occasions I've received blunt treatment from a friend. It hurt a lot. But it also forced me to re-evaluate things in a new light. It prompted growth now that my focus was tuned into the problem. Anger can provide focus and can be an effective tool. Hopefully we resort to it as a method of last resort, but to ignore it completely robs us of efficiency.

I think it is OK to get angry. I think being angry shows we feel. It shows that we care. It is something that can kick us into high gear to do something about it. Yes it can be perverted, and no we shouldn't randomly lash out when hurt and angry. But I feel like righteous anger is a thing. And it is OK to rave and shout sometimes. Because it's a response you only have when you care deeply about something.

And caring matters.

On My Mind: Where's my Dinner?

This is something I've been pondering a bit.
In a memorable scene from the 1998 film Pleasantville (in which two 1998 teen-agers are transported into the black-and-white world of a 1950s TV show), the father of the TV-perfect Parker family returns from work and says the magic words “Honey, I’m home!”, expecting them to conjure up a smiling wife, adorable children, and dinner on the table.
This time, though, it doesn’t work. No wife, no kids, no food. Confused, he repeats the invocation, as if he must have said it wrong. After searching the house, he wanders out into the rain and plaintively questions this strangely malfunctioning Universe: “Where’s my dinner?”
The Distress of the Privileged (via Ariana and Maddy)

This particular scene was used to illustrate why people who are well off can often feel threatened as society changes around them. They feel like victims of change. They aren't evil, they did what they thought was right and society thought was right. But society changed, and suddenly they're the bad guy. But all they want is dinner! Read the whole thing. It's excellent, I can relate to parts of it and some day I should do a post on it.

But for today I'm going to hijack this theme and talk about something slightly different.

For a decent chunk of my life I believed suffering was good. I believed that being the underdog was a suitable place for me. I thought that with enough suffering, with enough doing good, I would be rewarded down the road.

There were plenty of reasonable reasons for this belief. It was always the good tormented kid in the story who got the golden dragon. It was the kind and abused maiden who got a Fairy Godmother and went to the ball and found a prince. I was taught good deeds in secret were worth more than works in public, the former bringing its own eventual rewards. I was trained to bear trials because in the end things got better. Our society lauds the person who does great things but shuns the attention. We revere the humble and the patient and those willing to press through trials.

I'm not saying any of this is bad. We love rooting for underdogs. We should give hope to the downtrodden. We should reward the humble and those who go through trials.

The problem is the perversion.

The problem is when people do all this and start to ask where's my dinner?

One classic example of dinner is getting the girl. did an excellent article on why modern men are trained to hate women. It's a bit of a male apologist rant, and certainly paints a caricature of males as sex-crazed dolts, but much of it rings true. Of note for this topic is reason #5: men are trained that they will be rewarded with a woman:
We were told this by every movie, TV show, novel, comic book, video game and song we encountered. When the Karate Kid wins the tournament, his prize is a trophy and Elisabeth Shue. Neo saves the world and is awarded Trinity. Marty McFly gets his dream girl, John McClane gets his ex-wife back, Keanu "Speed" Reeves gets Sandra Bullock, Shia LaBeouf gets Megan Fox in Transformers, Iron Man gets Pepper Potts, the hero in Avatar gets the hottest Na'vi, Shrek gets Fiona, Bill Murray gets Sigourney Weaver in Ghostbusters, Frodo gets Sam, WALL-E gets EVE ... and so on.
<...>So it's very frustrating, and I mean frustrating to the point of violence, when we don't get what we're owed. A contract has been broken. These women, by exercising their own choices, are denying it to us. It's why every Nice Guy is shocked to find that buying gifts for a girl and doing her favors won't win him sex.
See what I mean?

This is also tucked within another excellent article (which you should read, hat tip to Liana) on why many nerds don't like the Big Bang Theory TV series. Here's the interesting lines:
We don’t root for Leonard and Penny to get together because we think they’re a good match. We feel sorry for Leonard, we think Penny’s out of his league and we root for the underdog.
Again, reinforcing the concept that the underdog should be rewarded. It is their due. If I can garner enough sympathy maybe they'll cheer for me to get Penny too.

This isn't limited to getting the girl/guy. If I work hard enough eventually my skills will grow and I will be rewarded with a better job. If I strive long enough my inner talent will shine through. If I work out enough or learn the right lines people will like me. After I suffer enough I deserve happiness and comfort. This conversion of acquisition of self-value into automatic rewards is a permeating force.

After reading through some of these articles I found myself getting kinda freaked out. I was falling into this trap myself. I would intentionally flog myself, put myself down, grind my nose into the dust and not care because by golly I would get my reward in the future. If I do just the right things the universe's natural karma or whatnot would shower me with rewards. Work hard, get a great job. Play possum now in social settings, bring out a zinger at the right moment and get the girl. Fill mind with information, one day just unload and crush your opponent intellectually. Don't worry about losing face now, the universe will grant you power and fame for your efforts.

I would be asking where's my dinner.

Granted, there have been many times I intentionally don't do something because I fear I am playing into this problem. If I've told you about my experience with the Fear of Man, you know that for a while I was debating speaking publicly about what had occurred because I thought I might be playing into this issue. But there are other times where I sit with righteous indignation awaiting my reward for the suffering I had endured.

I am also not saying you shouldn't do hard work nor suffer and expect no benefit. I had to take music lessons for much of my youth, and I am pretty horrible at playing instruments. I didn't exactly wow anyone. I didn't do them because I derived pleasure from it. Mostly I was told I had to do it. Yet I am grateful my parents pushed me through all of that work for the skills I acquired. Math was often hard, puzzling, and in 99% of my life isn't a benefit. But there are those 1% moments when I use what I know to see beyond what everyone sees. Things in my mind just click a little differently because of the "useless" knowledge I acquired. Some of my favorites times in my life were when the deadlines were looming and I had to turn up the effort to hardcore only-work-eat-and-sleep levels. I felt accomplished. I did amazing things. You can do amazing things when you put your mind to it. You can have awesome feats if you're willing to get a little grimy, get your nose rubbed in the dirt, and suck it up. Suffering can be used for good. Suffering can and is rewarded.

So, what to do?

I know what not to do. Don't take suffering as a down payment for reward in the future. Sometimes bad stuff just happens for no reason than this is a messed up world. But on the other hand, don't do nothing either. I have been paralyzed and missed several opportunities to do something because I thought my intentions were tainted by this issue. Even if they were, I could have touched more lives and done more good if I had stepped out with a bit of faith and gumption. And each time I have stepped forward things have worked out  with lives made just a bit better for it.

Perhaps the best way is to live in the present. Don't look back and dwell on all your suffering and think that privileges you to something. This is a huge problem today with people feeling slighted and exacting revenge or claiming moral superiority due to their scars. Don't look forward and fear this as a corrupting force. That only serves to debilitate you and cause you to stumble. Simply step out with a bit of courage. Attempt things with pure intent. And find the reward in the actions themselves. The rest is dessert. You already have your dinner. Now shut up and eat it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why I Don't Like to Talk About Politics

Ugh. Stupid 24/7 News Cycles. One day it's candidate A did something stupid. The next candidate B isn't looking so good in the polls. Then gaffes from the staff come out. Then there's a Joe Biden sighting with ice cream.

Frankly, I don't like talking about politics. It boils down to a few reasons.

First, usually when a discussion erupts there are at least two people who are more passionate and well-informed than me, so I just let them do all the talking.

Also, I think I'm weird. I have on many occasions switched positions after hearing some strong interesting evidence I didn't know about before. This is apparently rare since I never seem to see other people doing the same. More often than not the "winning" group claims victory and sweeps all opposing points away as poppycock while the "losing" group licks their wounds, return to their echo chamber of choice, and research how to win next time (again sweeping away all opposing points as poppycock). So, these things tend to be futile.

Finally, I'm super weird. I subscribe to both Instapundit (a right-wing blogosphere commentary and aggregator) and Mother Jones (one of the most left-wing publications around). I literally will see a piece of news break and both sides react completely differently. What is weird is that if you only listen to one side they sound completely reasonable. I went on a binge of just reading Mother Jones and found myself slowly starting to agree with everything they wrote. Previously I only knew about Instapundit and was becoming a hardcore Conservative. The net result is that now I can stand and see the merits and faults of both sides. I try to rationally understand and take seriously both positions. That makes things awkward.

To my liberal friends, I am a conservative. I will bring in points from the Right to counter their rhetoric. Especially when it starts getting pretentious with phrases like "How can anyone believe..." As it turns out, there are people out there who do believe that, and feel they arrived at said conclusion based on factual logical thought and evidence. Some may be ignorant of facts, but others have some legitimate bones to pick.

To my conservative friends, I am a liberal. I will drop-kick someone when they try to parrot an oversimplified talking point. No, liberals are not an evil conspiracy bent on making sure the working class is dependent on them. No that statistic is taken way out of context and doesn't account for the other underlying problems.

This odd position adds tension to relationships, often ends with the fiery avalanche of facts and figures I didn't know about, and generally isn't beneficial to most conversations.

In short, I tend to end up as that other guy. The one who either doesn't speak up or seems to always not be on your side. So unless a serious error arises and one side is doing all the talking, I'll let others do the fighting. Besides, it's hard to talk when your mouth is full of popcorn. And popcorn is delicious.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Stereotypes and Surprises

On a few occasions people have commented that they "didn't expect that" from me.

From my standard introductions, I fit the bill of a classic Asian nerd. I'm medium-to-short height, medium build, short black hair, wear glasses, young looking, not especially ripped (read: weakling), I work at Intel, I have an advanced college degree, I play games, and know quite a bit about lots of things. Sounds like the perfect classical Asian nerd. Knowing this, it should follow that I also know about the latest tech, tend to have the newest gadgets, can be counted on to do quick mental math, always texting, am handy with computers, play an instrument, have conservative values, tend to be socially reserved, don't do any sports, stay at home a lot, know my native language, not understand social norms, always eat rice, scored a perfect score on the SAT, play DDR, and put forth a smile no matter what. Sure some of those are true, but not all of them.

At first glance, I easily fall into a stereotype. I know many of my friends fall into similar stereotypes. You've got ripped jocks. You have delicate beautiful girls. You have quiet giants. You have charismatic business men. From a glance, you can categorize most people and get quite a lot right. After all, stereotypes have an element of truth to them. Plus, once they realize they fit in a stereotypical grouping, we naturally tend to gravitate towards fulfilling those expectations. If you already go to the gym and are complimented on how strong you are, you realize that is a unique and valuable feature and continue to get stronger by going to the gym and living that lifestyle. If you are known as the pretty girl you tend to reinforce that notion and add to that valuable commodity through style, make-up, and careful diets. (This is why you should compliment kids on their hard work and not on innate ability. The former develops their desire to keep trying harder challenges and pushing their limits. The latter causes them to seek simple tests and maintain a high score.)

But that doesn't mean the stereotype encompasses everything. We used to have a saying that in Mudd West were the destructive explosive people, South was the quiet people, North were the Beer pong players, and East was where the nerds of the nerds went. I happened to live in East, and after telling this anecdote to the tour groups I'd shrug and say so. Considering I am a rather well-adjusted geek who had just led them on a tour through half of the campus, I hoped some would realize not all nerds and geeks are stuck in their parent's bedrooms and unable to socialize.

Similarly, sometimes I can surprise people who only think of the stereotyped Asian nerd. For example, I have been told I'm quite competent at dancing (I still think I'm crap). This doesn't fit in the classic socially awkward stereotype they have in their mind. Or when I pick up on certain subtle social cues. And those times when I just put it on the line and act completely silly and outrageous. Or surprise people on something I know about the styles and mannerisms of women. These all seem abnormal to people who only know me as an Asian nerd.

Yet we all use stereotypes to categorize others. Even without meeting people we make snap judgements based on how they look and carry themselves. Oh, that girl has a short spiky hair style, she must be a firecracker. Probably lots of fun but you might get tired out if you pursue her and can't keep up the energy level. That guy is wearing a sports jersey. Probably follows the teams, knows lots of facts, might drink lots of beer and probably plays a sport if he's ripped. If not, maybe he's a frat boy. That carries its own load of benefits and stigmas. Oh that guy is wearing skinny jeans and has some tattoos. Gotta be a hipster listening to his hipster music and silently judging us all ironically. Snap decisions just from a glance and we think we know all about them. And once we get hard labels it gets worse as our biases start to leak out. That person identifies Republican? Must be closed off in their own little world of delusions and hates gays. Also, evil incarnate, delusional, ill-informed, or a combination of the above.

And this isn't restricted to personality types and moral value systems. Perfect example is age. At first glance some might think I'm as young as 16. But others have guessed I'm as old as 30 based on my behavior. Or based on someones car what their driving style is. Or their income bracket. Apparently, since I have a Masters degree, I make over $100,000 annually.

Personally, I try to surprise people. Let them think what they want. If they want to know the truth, they'll ask me or find out if they hang around enough (sidenote: ask me a straight question and I will give an honest answer). And perhaps eventually they'll realize I'm not what they expect and start to see me as a unique individual. Someone who can pull a 180 and surprise people. Someone who isn't what he seems at first glance. I like to think I have a few surprises still.

So why then do I feel it is OK to place labels and stereotypes on others?

Try meeting people and seeing them for who they are. Your gut profiling might get you a few traits right, but be prepared to be surprised by the rest.

Friday, September 7, 2012

About Me: Managing Expectations

I'm pretty sure people are lying about me.

You know. Those stories about how I'm an excellent cook. Or how I'm an amazing listener AND talker. Or my epic skills at dancing. Or my dazzling musical abilities. Or my ability to know random relevant facts and act as the local walking encyclopedia.

Pretty sure those are all lies.

OK, OK, there are some kernels of truth in them. I am at least a competent chef (cut things, boil water, combine!). I can shut-up and listen intently when you want to talk and will carry a conversation if no one else will. I at least know the basics of dancing (hold hands out, walk in circle right?). I have played musical instruments. And did you know... ah heck with it.

What I mean is that I am very careful about managing people's expectations of me. I'd rather have someone have a low opinion of me and be pleasantly surprised at my competence.

There are many possible reasons for this. One might say it is to ensure truth and accuracy. I don't want people to incorrectly think too highly of me if I'm not sufficiently awesome. Or perhaps it is part of my strategy to outwardly show weakness and inwardly carry strength. Blame Asian culture for that one and an infatuation with subterfuge (that's a whole blog post in itself). Or maybe it is because I overly value surprise and dislike being let down. So why get other people's opinions of me up and set myself up to disappoint them? Could be due to how I've seen boasters get ripped to shreds and felt personal injury from believing in them; and I don't want others to make that mistake with me.

Perhaps the root of all of this is I'm a risk-adverse coward who can't take the heat and constantly sets himself up for failure and shuns the limelight out of some masochistic belief that greatness and rewards go to those who are intentionally humble but that means gaming the system which is bad and I'm a bad person and -

This application of managing other people's expectations also trickles into my expectations of myself. I would rather be pleasantly surprised at my own competence than be brutally crushed. This is why I typically avoid playing games on ranked ladders. Sure I know roughly where my skills are, but there's a certain comfort in being an enigma without a strict score stuck next to my name everywhere I go. I'd rather grind my low-level skills and suddenly burst through the next level than constantly strain and fail to reach something just out of my grasp. I'm more oriented towards the journey and not in setting goalposts. (Sidenote: developing good fundamentals in something is a good thing. Just perhaps overemphasized by my practices)

I believe to a certain extent we all try to manage our expectations, both from others and of ourselves. We'd like to be well-thought of by others. We all want that special guy or girl to think highly of us. We'd rather stand high on the social ladder than be thought of as incompetent whiny silly people that are dismissed and discarded. And ideally we should have realistic hopes and expectations of our own abilities. It would be quite foolish for you to think you could fly unaided. But accurately knowing if you can make a jump or run a certain distance is useful knowledge. Knowing when you've over-committed to a project is beneficial.

And all of this is based on past events. The feedback loop of guess, check, and evaluate helps us to revise our expectations. I know from past experience that I can't run a mile faster than 7 minutes. Since I'm more out of shape now than I was then, I don't expect to be able to even break 8 minutes. But we also try to tweak them consciously. Intentionally say certain things. Intentionally act certain ways. Intentionally getting your hopes up or becoming extremely wary and cynical. These are all alterations of your expectations or signalling to others to change their expectations of you.

That isn't to say management of expectations is a bad thing. Be careful to not fall into a naturalist fallacy and assume we shouldn't try to manage expectations. Keeping things in line is a useful skill. Making sure your expectations are realistic is healthy and helps keep you locked into reality. Intentional management can benefit you greatly. It is why you start with your best foot forward in relationships and job interviews. You shouldn't think too lowly of yourself, and you should be wary when you start to worship someone else as an infallible deity instead of the human they are.

But try for a little bit not micro-managing expectations. Let things balloon when they're good and deflate when they're bad. Don't care quite so much what others think and rely on your actions to speak louder than the rumors. It just might raise your own expectations of yourself, without you resorting to ice cream.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Circles of Friends

I love a good analogy.

Let's think about circles of friends like a castle. And let's be egotistical and say you're the king/queen of the realm.

First you've got the wild woods beyond. Unknowns lurk there. Tiger and lion and bears. Strangers.

Then you've got the cultivated lands. You can see people in the distance, but you don't really know them. They're far away, but at least they're a part of your kingdom.

A little closer is the town. Transactions are made. Infrastructure built. It houses many but you can't know everything about all of them. It's a mix of people from trained and skilled artisans to merchants who take care of finances. It is full of laborers and movers and shakers. You do business with them, they get something from you.

Then you arrive at the castle walls. These are your "real" friends. You protect them. You give freely of your resources. This isn't just business anymore, you see them on a regular basis and are personable. And if something should happen they will be some of the first to rally to the walls and help defend the kingdom. Note that the courtyard can still hold many people, and in some ways is a subset of the surrounding village. But the difference is the dependability. On the outside of the wall it's almost purely business. Inside the wall it's shared interests.

Next is within the keep. For simplicity I like to just to the Great Hall. Here court is held. Here all the advisers convene. Discussions are had, jests are thrown, and proclamations fall first upon these ears. These people know you very, very well. You enjoy their company, and value their insight. This is also where the family often resides. They help keep council and celebrate with your success.

Lastly is the council chamber itself. Within here everything is laid bare. Exactly how well the coffers are going. The rumors of roving bands of marauders. The health of the kingdom and of the ruler. Intimate secrets are exchanged. Remember, in the Great Hall you act the ruler. Things are going smoothly, justice must be upheld. But in the council chamber defenses come down and the real worries are allowed to be presented. Plans are hashed out. Advice given and taken. And what is said in that chamber rarely spills out. These are the closest of friends who will understand when things are going bad, and secretly rejoice when things are going well. They stand as equals when you sit with them. Not a ruler, but as a person.

Friday, August 10, 2012

About Me: Fears

I think I have common enough fears. Things like failing expectations and commitment and rejection. But there's yet another deep rooted fear I have.

I fear being in a crowd and being unable to be heard and noticed.

In some respects it is a mixture of other fears. A fear of suffocation. A fear of being alone. A fear of making no difference and having no merit. But perhaps the core of it all is the fear of being helpless.

If you read the archives, I have several posts about trying to identify problems a be a better person. I am a huge advocate of self-improvement because at the very least you can change yourself. So I obviously like to think I have some control over things. I also like to plan ahead so I know what to do. I try to feed my mind with information so I can be ready at any time in any situation. I like to think I am capable of changing hearts, minds, and attitudes. I like to believe people will notice my talents, skills, and inherent value.

But being stripped bare, having no influence. No power to change others. No power to even help myself or make someone notice me. That scares the heck out of me.

It is one thing to die alone in the woods. Or to suffocate in a cave with no one around. But to stand in a crowd, fully functional, fully capable, but unable to be heard or noticed. That's not only being alone. That is being ignored. That is being rejected. That is being one of the faceless numbers that mull about with no rhyme or reason. That is being reduced to nothing. And with all your powers and abilities and voice and capacity stripped away and made meaningless. All the lessons learned wasted. All the strength and stamina voided. All the wit and charm not even mocked but completely unminded. It unnerves me.

What is it you fear?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Hindsight: The Fine Line of Being a TA

This is a little dump of some of the benefits and bores of being a TA.

Commence the double-talk.

Advantage: You're not the Teacher
Perhaps the greatest benefit of being a TA is you're a teacher, but not THE teacher. You know, the person who actually has the responsibility to get everything done. You're free to help out the students, but you don't have to do some of the overhead like create a lesson plan, design the homeworks and tests, or get down in the muck for the final grade curving equations. Nope, you're free of all of that. Instead, you get to help the students along and teach what is prescribed for them by the real teacher. Heck, even if you have to do a little pinch-lecturing for them they should provide some notes on what they were going to do and you just have to not fall flat on your face. Sounds like a pretty good gig!

Aggravation: You're not the Teacher
Perhaps the biggest bore of being a TA is that you are completely dependent on the actual teacher. So, if you feel like something was too hard or too soft, you have no say whatsoever. Feel like the class is being poorly taught? Try explaining that to someone who's been doing this for 10+ years and has "honed" their classes into this perfect form they bestow upon the students this day. Timing of assignments and tests? Completely out of your hands. All you can do is shrug, say the professor is on it, and hope for the best.

Advantage: Being the liaison for the students
One really cool thing about being a TA is that you are someone the professor will probably listen to. You're supposed to be their trusted aide. You get their ear! Plus, the students see you as a kind of friend. You're there to help and so if there's grumblings it doesn't take much to get them expressed. Then you can ferry them on up to the professor and changes can be made.

Aggravation: Being in a position of authority
Since you have been bestowed a position of power and are now a duly appointed representative of the school there are certain things you have to be careful of. For one thing, people will take what you say a bit more seriously. This isn't a problem for say advising about how to do homework, but it can come around to bite you if you enjoy sarcastic or off-the-wall humor. If you perform acts unbecoming of your station it will reflect poorly on yourself, the school, and the profession. Even better, you're extra liable. Yup. Do something silly and the whole system may come crashing down on your head. Your body will show up after a few days in the gutter clutching what remains of your research and no one will talk about it again. Seriously. So, don't screw up. Keep the swear words down. Never EVER mention drugs or alcohol. Any degrading comments can be taken out of context and seen as a personal attack and then you're hosed.

Aggravation: Being in a position of authority (part 2)
This problem is doubled in magnitude because you also want to be friends with the students. So now you're caught between general familiarity and being in the position of power. I have actually been criticized as playing favorites in one class I helped out as a TA. Their logic was the students I seemed to know by the end of the quarter were doing better. Thus, I must be playing favorites! Unfortunately, I believe they forgot to account for the fact that these students were the ones who kept asking me for help. Of course they were doing better. They were being proactive at learning the material and getting advice when possible. However, it's the semblance of favoritism that kills you. It's not about the truth, it's what others think is the truth.

So, now you have to balance being the students' friends and also holding them at an arm's length to preserve your upstanding nature as an authority figure. Ugh.

Advantage: Getting to Help Students
One of the main flaws in being a graduate student is that you don't have to take classes. While many may rejoice as the prospect, I've garnered the knowledge that often times classes are the best position to meet and get to know other people. Well, that and LAN parties, but that's another topic entirely. Basically, being a TA means you not only are forced to interact with other students, you probably have to interact with all of them. You'll get to know them, some of their strengths and weaknesses, and develop a bit of a repertoire as well. It is also really interesting to TA several classes and have some of the same students show up and you can really see their growth. Plus, being helpful in my mind is one of the most awesomest things to do, and immensely fulfilling.

Aggravation: Helping Students
Sometimes, your students just don't get it, just don't put in the time, just don't have the time, or flat out don't care. And they expect you to pull them across the finish line. Even worse are the ones you know can totally do this and ace the class if they only put in a few more hours, but they just do the bare minimum and scoot away with a B.

Advantage: The Pay for 10 Hours a Week
Each TA position is only supposed to take 10 hours a week. As reimbursement, you get fee remission and around $900 a month. Not bad!

Aggravation: 10 Hours a Week?
For some classes, 10 hours a week is the minimum you need to put in. One quarter I ended up pulling a few 20+ hour weeks for the last 3 weeks to help students with their final projects and do all the grading. I literally came into the lab in the morning, held office hours as a review for the final, started grading, and didn't leave until 10pm that night. Oh, and that was the grading for just the final projects. The Final took me another 6 hours. Blasted not getting a key.

So, overall, being a TA is tough. Still, it pays the bills and I totally enjoyed doing it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Experimental: A House Tour

Greetings! And welcome to the abode of Mr. Brand.

Please do come in. I suppose you'd first like the grand tour of this place. It does appear you've traveled quite a ways to be here.

Come along now. You're a shy one, aren't you? Don't worry, I won't hurt you. But I would recommend you watch your step. Lots of random pipes sticking out of the floors around here. Simply shoddy work I say.

If we had known you were coming we might have cleaned it all up a bit. Oh dear, do be careful with that stack of books. That's precisely what I mean. Things being left wherever. Dreadful mess. Do watch your step, a few nasty pipes here. Don't want to trip and land flat on your face. Wouldn't do at all to cover the axons in blood now would it.

Ah, here is the Master Study. Quite cozy. You'll note the various stations around the room and the Victorian chair behind the aluminum control board. It's perched on the gray wood pedestal in the back. Lots of access to all the files and books and whatnot behind those oak doors over yonder across the room. Dreadful mess in there, but much quicker than running down to the archives. Plus this room has the best air conditioning around. Always exactly the right temperature. Makes it easier to get in the groove Mr. Brand says. I say if he wanted to get in the groove he should get rid of those infernal speakers. Always blasting music in here. Terribly distracting I think. Ah, but what do I know.

Come along, still much to see. These hallways you may notice are inspired by old mountain hunting lodges. Strong stone floors, rough hewn wooden walls, and large beams for the rafters. All steel rebar just like in the old days. Although these electric lights ruin the atmosphere a little. And the lack of moose heads. We're not much for decorating around here. Unless you count the piles of books left here and there. Short-term storage he always claims.

Now here's a very nice place, the Artery. Plenty of canvases to paint on and screens to bring up fond memories for inspiration. Or not so fond memories. We don't always paint pretty pictures of butterflies in here. No, that'd be terribly boring. Always fun to dim the lights a little and give a good scare. A few dabs of red for eyes can really make a piece you know. Completely changes the atmosphere. And fear isn't about what you see, it is about what you don't see. Oh good heavens look at me babbling about the art of fear. Must be dreadfully boring for you. Let's move along here shall we? Do mind your step, the antiques here are quite valuable.

And here we are. Through these doors now. And this is the Grand Library. Many many things filed away and indexed and stacked. Sometimes I wonder if we have too much in here. Too bad we don't clean up, things keep getting lost. Especially in the Deep Archives. Not enough light back there, and I swear someone keeps playing tricks and is mucking up all the good books with little annotations and whatnot. Why, just last week I retrieved a story about this birthday party and I could have sworn there was some other fellow in it but all the pictures were scribbled over. Terrible waste, impossible to make the fellow's face and name out. Pity, it was such a nice story. There was cake and dancing and everything.

Oh dear me, I've been babbling again. Well, that concludes our brief tour of Mr. Brand's home. Would you care to have an escort back to the exit? Oh, but I insist. I can't very well leave you alone in here. Too many things you could break, and I couldn't forgive myself if you got lost. Yes, I'm quite sure you're a very capable young man, but you see, we didn't have time to clean up and there are some very sensitive items around that must be looked after and -

Oh my.

Well, if we're doing it that way I suppose I can't refuse. Although really I do think the sword is a bit overly dramatic don't you think? Something tells me you think it makes you elegant and refined. But I say a gun would work just as well.

I see. Guess that's very thoughtful of you, thinking about collateral. Although there would still be the matter of the rug. It is quite soft and blood doesn't come out well.

Yes I know you didn't come here for cleaning lessons. In fact, your surprise at seeing me here at all told me much more than that. But of course you weren't expecting me around. Not many households are able to be staffed at all, let alone now at night. But, you already knew that. You're not a common burglar.

Oh, my mistake. A thief is it? Just as well. I'm afraid you won't be finding what you're looking for. See, I was lying about leaving things scattered around. You really think Mr. Brand and I would leave important memories like that just littered around the place? Especially ones concerning the latest Datajack prototypes. And don't go looking for a safe either. We like to keep the place a little messy with a purpose. Makes it easier to get to things ourselves, but also much harder for someone else to find it. That didn't mean you have my permission to go running down the aisles.

Blast it boy, stop running about. By the way, did you like the architecture? I thought it a nice touch as well. Too often you come in and are greeted by random globes of light or bubbling brooks in forests or massive walls of filing cabinets. Why not have a bit of class when running from one cortex to another, hm? Although we do need to work on the plumbing. Still haven't gotten those blasted capillary lines stowed neatly away.

Why no, good sir, I am not stalling. I am merely talking to myself while I follow you. I strongly doubt you have need to kill me, and I have no intention of intervening with your search. Oh my, I did say be careful with those book piles. They're quite unstable, and liable to land on you at some time if you keep yanking them out at random. No I am not insulting you, just giving you a few pointers. Well, to you the same then.

Now if you're quite done running down the aisles and pulling memories at random, I can escort you to the exit and we can be civil about this. Ah, it was worth a shot. Now put that down before you get someone hurt. I like my head where it is thank you very much. But I won't be helping you.

Well, that smarts.

ahem That smarts quite a bit really. But really you should have cough let me escort you out. You see, this architecture - this maze of passageways - isn't just for show really. My employer is aptly skilled at rearranging things. I think you'll have quite a doozy of a time just finding the exit from here. A couple of piles are probably moved around. And even if you do, the axon hallways will undoubtedly be different than on your way in.

ahem. Yes, I suppose you are a bit fucked, but do watch your language. Did you really think it was going to be that easy to waltz into this mind and sample a few secrets? Please, you just made the worst mistake of your cough cough miserable little career. Mr. Brand is rated a Level 3 Psianst.

Oh please, I'm already bleeding out. No need to stab me again. cough No, more holes won't make me tell you the cough cough bloody way out. In fact, it makes it much harder to show you the way out since I can't - well come now, I don't have a foot anymore.  cough Very brilliant you silly cough bastard. How am I supposed to walk now? Brilliant cough cough brilliant solution old chap. cough cough wheeze

Bah, enough of this. I will take my leave and leave you to your silly prattling. Come now, you didn't figure it out? I'm the daemon of Michael Brand you ignorant twat. This is my dominion, my very own mind. I can do whatever I please, including healing my own bloody mental projection in my own bloody mind space. I am not stupid, but apparently you are. Good luck finding your way out. I'm afraid you'll be here for quite a while. A little game instead of killing you. Let's see if you can escape my maze as I rearrange it on the fly. Maybe I'll make a mistake and you'll sneak through a crack. Or maybe I'll be able to keep you buried in layers upon layers of walls of books. Surrounded by my memories. All the information you could want about me and yet you will never find what you are looking for.

Ah, you are finally getting it now. Good. All the more reason to just kill yourself now isn't it? Not much hope of you competing with me in my own home now is there. If you live long enough, perhaps I'll even bring in a screen so you can see what happens to your poor body outside. Datajacking into someone else's mind does leave the physical body so...vulnerable.

Cheery-o. Enjoy your stay in my humble abode. I'd say come again, but, well, it just doesn't feel appropriate.

Friday, July 20, 2012

About Me: Humor and Sarcasm

I swear I will finish up that creative writing piece that's been sitting in my saved posts for almost a month now...

If you've spent any decent amount of time with me, you should know I really enjoy good humor. There is just something about cracking a smile and letting out a giant whooping laugh. I live for the moments when you can't even stand up and are gasping for breath because you're laughing so hard (it has happened, it is glorious). Oddly enough I've had people compliment me on my smile and laugh. Which while kinda cool is honestly one of the weirdest compliments I've gotten.

However, I don't enjoy all humor. I require humor to have at least some wit to it. Sure I will grin at most things, but there are certain thresholds where I deem it too mundane or generic or lame. But a clever turn on the head, a sharp pun, or a situation that you just can't manufacture even if you tried, those are what I laugh about. Obviously this is all subjective and whatnot.

As a slight digression, most humor is funny because of the absurdity of it all. You intentionally put something in a weird situation. Or take a mundane situation and add an element of wonky. Or tear down something established and reveal how odd it really is (if you squint). This is why roasts are funny. You take a normal person, usually someone you know intimately, and throw around their best and worst traits for all to see and joke about. Something you would normally never do in good civilized company.

My default joking mechanism is taking potshots at people. Attributing to them a completely absurd situation or attribute. Like if I joke about what kept me up late into the night. I could say something along the lines of me and four others guys penetrated deeply into five others. It was really fun, screams of pain all around, in fact one of the guys was dressed up as the Queen of Pain. Of course, I'm still a virgin, and heterosexual to boot, so ~obviously~ this didn't happen. Right? Well, that's just a really weird way of describing a game of DotA2 when my team pushed into enemy territory and had a massive teamfight where we won. =p

So yeah, I'm a deadpan snarker. Or at least try to be.

There are a few key elements to making this work. First, I have to know about the person. I don't want to unintentionally bring up something they don't want to talk about. Otherwise to steer clear I have to do something extremely outlandish that no one could believe. But the better I know someone, the tighter I can play. Which leads to point that the best jokes are ones people partially believe. Duping a few people into second-guessing their beliefs is the core of all this. It's easy to dismiss the outlandish, but taking a step back, making sure you're OK, is what gets investment and thought into the joke. Even better if the target rolls with it and pretends that what I just said was gospel truth. Then people get really confused and hilarity ensues. Finally, you have to let people in on the fact there was a joke. Otherwise bad things happen. Luckily if you put the proper tells in people will figure it out. But sometimes I have to make sure people realize I don't in fact make 100k. 'Cause, you know, all people with advanced degrees make minimum 100k.

The nice advantage of being a bit of a jokester is security. You get away with a lot of things, and if something you tried was an honest attempt gone wrong, you can sometimes play it off like a joke. Like trying to hit on a girl and she gives you a weird look? Crack a smile. Lining up a few perhaps sensitive characteristics of an individual? Just keep going into the ludicrous and listeners don't know where the truth ended and the lie started.

Unfortunately it also means people can't take you seriously. I find it can be hard to put it all on the line (yeah, it can be argued I'm a huge wuss and hide behind humor and intentionally lowered expectations). And if I do, sometimes people just smile and assume I'm playing another joke. This is why tells are extremely important. Making sure there is a distinct jump between the plausible and the unreal is important. For example, every time I use the word "obviously" I'm usually intentionally taking a really silly position. Or when I make a list, the later ones are probably the fakes, especially when they come in sets of three. "I went shopping, then I went to another party, then I went and killed 10 people." Hopefully these help distinguish between the times I'm being completely serious and when I'm being a snarky jerk. Cadence of voice helps when telling the joke live, but through text I rely on other cues.  (apparently some people read my updates/blogs with my voice in their heads). Without these listeners can't tell if you are capable of being serious. And trust me, I can get pretty darn serious, and it'd be a shame for someone to not realize it when I am.

People who don't know about my snarky and sometimes biting comments might get a little put off. I've had on two separate occasions two different friends tell me they originally thought I hated them. Like, hardcore hating them. Luckily they learned that actually means I like them. I don't make fun of people I don't like and enjoy poking fun at. I like making people I like laugh. So, if I've ever offended you with my humor, this is a direct and public apology. I was hoping you'd get a good laugh out of it. <3

So that's a bit about me. I am a giant tension diffusal mechanism. I will intentionally poke fun at myself to help lighten a situation. And don't be surprised if I throw in a completely ludicrous comment about you. I'm just trying to make people smile. =D

Speaking of, enjoy this video that always makes me smile:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Quarter of My Life Gone By


Some random events that have happened to me, in no particular order:
  • Successfully went to State Level for History Day. Was the only one who used a screen with media and slideshows that year if I recall.
  • Successfully pulled off a Senior Recital. Granted, I'm still horrible compared to others, but it was a nice feather in my cap.
  • Created and maintained a recurring LAN event. A 24 hour LAN event. We were seriously delusional by the end.
  • Got punched in the face. Hard. Not while doing martial arts.
  • Learn the basics of martial arts. As in enough to know to run the hell away from almost everyone.
  • Got a job.
  • Got an internship.
  • Went to one of the most high-octane amazing colleges ever and learn a crap ton. Plus meet amazing people.
  • Went to a medicore school that showed me some bad sides of academia but provided me development on the social and spiritual sides. Also meet amazing people.
  • Got a car. Expect it to last 6 months. Have it last over a year.
  • Edit lots of videos. Be really bad at it. But excite brother enough that he does badass job at it.
  • Found several clubs. They mostly don't matter. Except that one that got funding to build a game library. It's doing awesomely.
  • Learned to cook. Still learning to cook.
  • Became Section Leader.
  • Kickin' ass in Drill Downs.
  • Lived in Austin Texas. It was really freakin' hot that year. But had some quality times there. Like swimming in a spring.
  • Learned to be competent at dancing. And by competent I mean not a complete fool on the floor.
  • Lots and lots of games. Including playing pro for a very brief period (for certain definitions of "pro").
  • Plenty of late nights.
  • Massive road trips. Both with and without family. Thank goodness I don't get carsick and can read and play games.
  • Playing at Disneyland. Repeatedly. Their backstage is crazy cool.
  • Traveling! China is furthest so far. Still have to hit up Europe and Japan.
  • Running through the airport with my Clinic team to try and catch our flight.
  • Getting on the wrong plane.
  • First taste of alcohol. On a flight home from a successful presentation.
  • Being completely messed up after going wine tasting.
  • Realizing the academic structure of High School wasn't conducive to my plans and forging my own path.
  • Changing clothes in a bus. Weekly. For four years.
  • Switching school districts and realizing everything had changed.
  • Listening to things on a CD Player. Heck, listening to records and tapes!
  • Playing games from floppy disks and being required to know what our sound card was.
  • Mowing lawns. Lots and lots of lawns. I miss the old lawnmower that didn't break.
  • Making forts inside the piles of orange branches after a long day of trimming the tree.
  • Sitting down to start a game, realize I can't save, and just powering through the rest of the game. Much to the enjoyment of the spectators.
  • Winning at giving speeches. Also being forced to give speeches every week.
  • Learning to powerwalk so you can race to the classroom while not "running".
  • Realizing after the fact that the flute is considered a girl instrument in elementary/middle school.
  • Being mocked incessantly for being the only one wearing the school uniform.
  • Being really bad at basketball. Mostly because I never practiced. Turns out that's kinda helpful for being good at something.
  • Getting in trouble for programming my calculator while I was supposed to be taking notes. Still aced the class.
  • Getting into too many arguments over things that don't really matter.
Here's to another 25 years! Hopefully they will involve a girlfriend/wife, a house, and more awesome times with the people around me.

Friday, July 6, 2012


Wednesday, the day I usually write this entry, was July 4th.

There was much cooking and rejoicing. And no writing.

And my other pieces I have sitting around aren't good enough to publish.

Instead, enjoy this video of some awesome music.

Friday, June 29, 2012

On My Mind: Social Investments

In the continuing vein of maximizing your return on time investment Wait. That's never been a theme you idiot.

Shush voice in my head.

Anyways, I have lived much of my life roughly according to the following: "if you are awesome enough, people will naturally be attracted to you." Or, another way of putting it, your natural state should be able to make people interested. Be yourself. And if being yourself = being awesome, you are a winner. This has the underlying assumptions that 1) people are naturally interested in cool/interesting people and 2) organically grown "natural" relationships are the best.

The first one makes a lot of sense at face value. I certainly like hanging around interesting people. They tend to make life interesting.

It's the second reason that can be a bit of a trap. On one hand, you don't want to force fake relationships. Being someone you are not, hiding behind a mask, is not healthy and can lead to some very unhappy moments. Plus you either will always have a barrier up (not conducive to deep relationship and trust me people will pick up on it), will have to work really hard to maintain the persona for an extended period of time through a variety of complicated situations (hint, really hard), or eventually somehow morph into that person (hint, really freakin' hard). So don't go around trying to please people, you have to be yourself. On the other hand, taking things "naturally" means to some a very passive approach to relationships. You just be yourself and "let the win roll in" as it were. People who are worth it and like me will naturally flock to me and I just have to wait for them to come.

Just FYI, that's complete and utter crap. You're complete crap Not now dangit.

People may care about how naturally awesome you are. We get interested and wowed by athletes and brilliant minds and smooth talkers. But as detailed in this article they are even more interested in whether you will invest in their lives. If you are not interested in them, then most people are not interested in you.

I mean, let's face it. Why would I expect people to come and ask me to hang out if I never ask them? If I continually say I have a scheduling conflict why would they keep inviting me to events? If I never put effort into a relationship, a sharing of a life, then why expect someone else to put theirs out in the open? Because I'm just that awesome and if-only-they-took-the-time-to-find-out-the-real-me and

yeah right.

The best way of showing how awesome you are is to spend time and share things/experiences/thoughts. Investing in others causes them to open up. And when they open up, they will share about themselves. And if you have commonalities, you can share that part of your life too. And the reciprocation cycle becomes a positive feedback loop. A lot better than waiting for them to ask about your awesomeness that you keep hidden behind a mask of boredom. This is why commonalities naturally form the basis of relationships and friendships. And hatedom like I hate you STOP THAT

Granted, investing in yourself is also good. As many previous posts show I am a huge advocate of self-improvement. But just investing in yourself and expecting the rest of the world to automatically want to be your friend is silly. Why? Because it is rare people will ever find out about your awesome secret skill set. It's kinda a secret. You can't keep charging admission to get a glimpse of "who you really are". People will naturally just head to the attraction that not only doesn't charge an entry fee but gives out free ice cream and hugs to boot.

In short, don't expect people to take time to find out about the "real you" if you don't put in the time to find out the "real them." If you're looking for maximum friendship for your time, invest it in other people instead of yourself. It's more about value added than value extracted. Be the most awesome listener your friends know.

Now if you'll excuse me I have to go beat up myself.

Don't let him get away with this! Call the police! He's a deranged schizophrenic stupid meanie face! HELP! HEL

Friday, June 15, 2012

Father's Day Edition

Oddly enough I'm pretty sure my dad had no idea what he was doing.

Now, he is a terribly awesome dad in general. I mean, he supported the family. He made sure things happened. He took command when called. He made sure we were safe. He was ready to sacrifice it all for us.

But at the same time there were moments it felt like he was grasping at straws. Like a very short period where he decided for our birthdays we'd spend the evening out with him. It was started while I was in middle school and felt kinda weird, and discontinued after a few years. Or how I never got an official "birds and the bees" talk. I picked up how to tie a tie from a book. Father-isms were few. Not at all the classic media portrayal of a father-son relationship.

Instead I learned from his actions. Like how he made sure Mom was taken care of when she got hurt (she broke an ankle once). Or how easy-going he was. How he was willing to chat up random people and learn about their lives. Or the way he could just shrug and let a problem roll off while in the background rapidly fixing it.

Probably the one role that best exemplified this was his work in A/V. One of my childhood memories was playing around in the sound booth during service while my Dad ran sound. Or how we'd get up extra early to setup the sanctuary by running wires and setting up microphones. I was told he was one of the best techs in the church. For special occasions he was usually the one running the system taking meticulous notes during rehearsals of how he wanted to balance the sounds for each song. He was skilled, gifted, and worked diligently making sure everything ran smoothly.

And yet it wasn't a glory job. You only notice the A/V team when things go wrong. He wasn't the head of the A/V teams. If things went badly or I bumped into a switch he'd just swiftly recover and go on instead of blowing up with frustration. He didn't brag; I didn't know how highly prized he was until I was told by others.

I also wasn't forced into anything. Even though other members of the church were curious if I'd eventually succeed him in the sound booth, he just smiled. If I asked about things he would explain, like what feedback was (I may or may not have caused it several times). But I wasn't being forcibly groomed. The way he figured is he'd be open to the possibility but he wouldn't force me to do anything.

This was typical him. Silent infrastructure, a cool head, and providing opportunity without forcing your hand. A classy leader from the background. And although he may not have always known what he was doing, he would never stop trying to do his best.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Juggling Glass Balls

I once had a teacher who told me life is like juggling a bunch of glass balls. You'll want to keep trying to add glass balls, but eventually it'll become harder and harder to keep them all in the air. And if you make a mistake, they go crashing into the ground.

Well, I definitely see this as truth.

On the job alone juggling the myriad of responsibilities and two major products. And within each project the various tasks people always seem to need done right then and there. Everyone seems to think their little job for me must be done right then and there.

Add on to that keeping up with social circles. Navigating different situations, scheduling which events I can and cannot attend, and making the hard choices when two groups' plans conflict. I can't hang out with everyone all the time. And I can't talk with everyone all the time.

Layer on that my own personal hobbies. Writing this blog. Consuming media. Keeping up with the latest headlines in the world. Reading.

Plus the grown-up stuff like paying bills and registering to vote and making sure my car isn't a smoldering hunk of metal because I didn't change the oil. Plus tracking my expenses to make sure I have enough to pay for all the stuff I want to spend my income on while saving an appropriate amount for future major goals and paying down what debts I have. And don't forget time to keep the house clean.

Oh, and if I have the spare cycles, plotting.

I have to put certain balls down and stop trying to juggle them. Or else everything is going to crash and burn.

Friday, June 1, 2012

"No Problem"

I'd like for you to take a moment to think about your default response to someone saying "Thanks!"


I noticed mine is "No Problem." There's nothing inherently wrong with it. It's a common response. It fits the requirements of a response (acknowledgement and acceptance). It isn't terribly haughty ("of course you should thank me"). At first glance.

But it does reveal something else. On my end, it is belittling what I did. I am saying that what I did took no effort nor put me at a disadvantage. There was no sacrifice in my actions. This fits perfectly in the context of trying to maintain an image that everything comes easily for me. That I have it all under control. Nothing can faze me, and really I didn't even break a sweat. I'm just that awesome.


And to the person who just graciously thanked me, from their position I am belittling their thanks. It wasn't something you really had to thank me for. After all, it was just a little thing I did out of my spare time and goodness of my heart. Nothing to it really. You don't even need to really thank me. It was that easy. I can do this all day and not break a sweat, so why are you even thanking me?

Now, as I hope you know those sorts of things don't run through my head. And I am fairly certain those who get this response don't feel ashamed they thanked me either. But still, sometimes it's the most subtle things that make the difference. And it is always the subtle things that reflect the deeper things inside.

What's your reflexive response, and what does it say about you?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Would You Date Yourself?

Think about it for a moment.

OK, done?

Most of the time, I would say no. It's not that I always believe myself to be undateable (although that does cross my mind often). It is because I know some people who share certain characteristics with me, and I can't stand them in others.

Obviously this is a slightly skewed premise to begin with. You do not need a clone of yourself around (unless you are really, really narcissistic). Also, most dating advice seems to be look for a complimentary partner*. Find someone who is similar and shares your outlook and interests, but different enough to bring out the best in you.

However, I still think it is a useful self-evaluation tool. For example, look around your room. How clean is it? If you walked into a prospective person's room and it looked like yours, would you be impressed or repulsed? Or what about some of your idiosyncrasies? I tend to think I am right and am not afraid to say so. But, bringing down the "this is truth" hammer doesn't make for very good conversation. How willing are you to share your internal feelings? The list goes on.

Again, this is a very, very poor metric overall. Studies have shown that while we are decent at pointing out our own failures and weaknesses we are horrible at figuring out our strengths. Overall, most people can rate their looks close to what others would. However, on average, we tend to rate ourselves just a tad lower than others do. Similarly, too often we might get hung up on all the minor failures we've had without noticing the great accomplishments others see. Plus, as the saying goes, you don't have to find the perfect person. You just have to find the one person who says "yes" (and that can put up with your problems).

On the flip side, if you wouldn't date you, what makes you think many others want to either!

This brings up the question "if I think I am inadequate dating material, should I be trying to date?" This doesn't just apply to dating; being "good enough" before you can do X is a very common theme. For many things, it is a legitimate barrier. You don't want to run a marathon without executing a half-marathon first (or having an epic trainer). You probably shouldn't get married without dating first. There are many things in life you should train up to a certain level of competency before attempting. But for others they are merely excuses. For example, you might stink at cooking now, but that doesn't mean you can't learn by doing more cooking. Or, just because you can't run non-stop a mile now doesn't mean you shouldn't start running to get in shape. Which one does dating fall in to? Not sure. Plus, I feel it depends on the person. If it would cause serious problems (you're healing from something), don't do it. On the flip side, don't wait until you're the perfect dateable badass before going out there.

So, if you wouldn't date yourself, the next question is why? And, can you do anything about it? Sitting in a corner waiting for the one to come around who will accept you "for who you are" is a waste of time. That assumes you are perfect as you are, and I'm fairly sure none of us are perfect. If you can identify what the major turn-offs are and remedy them, then you are on your way to becoming a better person. As a byproduct, a more dateable person.

As a caveat, this does NOT mean becoming a totally different person. Molding yourself into someone-you-are-not is possible, but not recommended. I am saying you should look to becoming the best person you can be. Being all that you are. Not becoming someone new. Of course, you can broaden your horizons. Staying in your comfort zone is a great way to stay stagnant, try new things! You might even enjoy them and find a new hobby. But do not change the core of who you are. Just improve the person you are.

So, would you date yourself?

* Some claim this advice is a byproduct of a more "traditional" household where the members would specialize. One would handle one part (income), one would handle the other (domestics) freeing up both to achieve better results in their respective domains. However, society is (possible?) shifting to households not being as specialized, and therefore a shift in marriages being less about specializations in productivity and more about shared experiences. Still, personally I'd rather not marry a clone of myself, but food for thought about the whole "opposites attract" notion.