Friday, October 17, 2008

The latest and greatest

I've actually got two computers on which I regularly work. One is a big Compaq laptop running an Athlon XP-M at a whopping 1.6 GHz, and the other is a desktop running an Athlon XP at 1.8 GHz. Both computers at this point are probably over 5 years old. For someone who spends so much time working on computers, you'd think that I'd get some new systems. But the funny thing is that both computers suit my needs just fine... ok, at least when I'm not doing serious programming work. Overall though, my computing needs are fairly modest.

Several years ago, I'd be itching to upgrade my systems. Nowadays, I do a little research to price out a new system only to decide a day later that it's not worth the money to upgrade when my computers suit my needs just fine. The only new thing that I want is a new, bigger lcd monitor. Other than that, there's not much else I actually need. I find the same goes for all the gadgets I see on the market. I don't want a fancy-schmancy smart phone. That would mean an expensive phone plan, expensive phone, and being tethered to work more. That seems like a horrible idea to me. My mp3 player needs are also modest. I only really listen to my workout mix at the gym or Mandarin lesson podcasts. The only feature I really need there is a user friendly navigation menu to get to the mp3 I want to play.

I think once I hit my 30s, had to move several times, and got more into mindfulness training, the message of uncluttering has taken a bigger role in my life. I really don't want more stuff in my life unless it serves a well-defined purpose and doesn't just waste time and space. I find I have more peace of mind having fewer material possessions and not wanting stuff. What I want in life isn't more possessions; I rather prefer having more time. Material possessions are a poor substitute for time spent with Gen, with family and friends, and for myself.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Truth in advertising

One thing that annoys me is advertising that is technically correct, but in a stupid sort of way. I guess the marketing must work. It sure feels like the people being targeted are real morons though, which is why I must find the advertising so aggravating. Even though I rag on the general public not being that bright, I do like to think people have some shred of intelligence. Call me an optimist.

So, what type of marketing am I thinking about? Well, I'll start with some food examples. We recently bought a jar of honey. The label on the front says it's fat free. Once when I was grocery shopping, I saw a sign in front of a display of grapes with the message: "Did you know that grapes are a naturally fat and cholesterol free?" You don't say? And don't get me started on "light" ice cream. The only reason it's light is because it's whipped up with air. You get less ice cream per serving because the servings are defined by volume (which is now half air instead of ice cream). As a non-food example, I was once shopping with my former housemates when we came across the household cleaners section. One of the cleaners was advertising its improved vinegar containing formula and boosted sanitation power. Good grief! Vinegar has been used as an economical cleaning solution for decades, and it's dirt cheap. I couldn't believe this cleaner was more expensive because they added some measly vinegar.

Marketing isn't inherently evil (ok, maybe that point is a little debatable), but does it really have to assume we're stupid?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wealth perspective

While reading MillionaireMommyNextDoor, I came across a quote that I really liked:

"...if you and your family are going to be truly happy in having lived a rich and rewarding life, it is essential that they and you develop friendships and relationships outside the home. If home ownership has become too all-consuming for you, then maybe it is time you really consider downsizing your home investment. Our lives have meaning only in so much as we interact productively, emotionally, and spiritually with our community. Let us hope that, regardless of what happens to home prices in the future, we never lose sight of this important truth." - John Talbot, The Coming Crash in the Housing Market
While the topic of the book isn't particularly pleasant (unless you're into schadenfreude), the quoted passage resonates with my own values. I enjoy financial well-being as much as anyone, but I enjoy that financial well-being a whole lot less if I have to make a lot of sacrifices in my relationships to my wife, family, friends, etc. Like most good Asian boys, I was conditioned pretty early to want to earn a lot of money. Fortunately, lessons of coveting material wealth didn't sink in too deeply.

Ironically, the older I get, the more I worry about money, but the less I value it. I'm getting old enough now to care more about how I'm going to fund my children's college tuition, build up my retirement account, and deal with the inevitable bumps in life. At the same time, just earning money doesn't bring me any fulfillment in life and thus has limited personal value. Like everything else, it's a balancing act. Material wealth allows me to live my life, but attaining material wealth tends to hinder the act of living. The true key is realizing that wealth is the means to an end. What seems (to me) to have brought our current economic meltdown is that wealth itself became the destination instead of the vehicle. Greed--which I define here as the desire for more wealth for the sake of wealth--brought about the financially stupid decisions which lead our economy to the crapper.

But troubled times are also good times for reflection. Losing money, while never pleasant, is not the end of the world. Keeping the important things in life in perspective is more valuable than any of our worldly possessions.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Secrets (aka how my Sifu hides his secret techniques)

My Sifu has said a funny statement to us several times, and I thought I should share it. The saying goes something like: "I don't need to keep secrets from you. The secrets protect themselves." Of course, I didn't have a recorder handy, so I have to recreate the quote from memory. Anyhow, it's a pretty fitting [and funny] quote. It is true that my Sifu has never kept any martial arts secrets from us. And even if he did, we wouldn't have a deep enough understanding to realize it (ironic, isn't it?).

Most people training martial arts nowadays train it as a fun pasttime or form of exercise rather than as a serious pursuit. There's nothing wrong with that. People should do what makes them happy. But the lack of serious pursuit does have the consequence of producing few people with deep understanding or real proficiency. That leaves a lot of martial artists out there with limited understanding of their arts and less than real-life effectiveness. It's the limitations in understanding that keep the secrets safe. Not like the secrets are all that complicated; in fact, all of them that I've learned so far fall under the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle. My Sifu has told me the same things time and again, with only more refinements as my understanding improves.

Everything has been out in the open from the beginning. It's just up to me to train and reflect enough to grasp the lessons so that I can physically manifest the theoretical concepts. Of course, during the process of training and learning, I feel like I've missed an obvious point every time. I slowly realize that what I've just learned has been presented to me several times before. So, I plod along with my training gradually realizing that the "secrets" are pretty simple. Considering the skill differential between me and my teacher, I can safely say that some secrets will remain safely in the open for the forseeable future.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Great minds think alike?

Do you ever ponder something completely meaningless but yet still infinitely fascinating? Last night, the phrase "great minds think alike" popped into my head, and I got to thinking: why in the world do we use that phrase? Great minds often think differently than everyone else. The collective mind of the masses willingly bends to pop culture, religious idols, and political ranters. Homogenous thinking is a trait of those who don't wish to spend the mental energy for critical thinking. The phrase is nonsensical.

So, where does the phrase actually come from? Well, as best as Google can tell me:

GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE -- "Often quoted in jest today, this saying originated in the seventeenth century as the comic-sounding 'Great wits jump.' Daubridgecourt Belchier first recorded the saying in 'Hans Beer-Pot' (1618) as 'Good wits doe iumpe (agree).'...The expression 'Great minds jump' appeared in the late 1800s..." From "Wise Words and Wives' Tales: The Origins, Meanings and Time-Honored Wisdom of Proverbs and Folk Sayings Olde and New" by Stuart Flexner and Doris Flexner (Avon Books, New York, 1993).
and also:

Used ironically. Both verb and noun have changed in the course of this proverb's history, the earliest instance of the present form thus far discovered being quot. 1898. Jump used absolutely in the sense of ‘agree completely’ or ‘coincide’ is now archaic.

Though he made that verse, Those words were made before. ‥Good wits doe iumpe.
[1618 D. Belchier Hans Beer-Pot D1]
Great wits jump: for the moment Dr. Slop cast his eyes upon his bag‥the very same thought occurred.
[1761 Sterne Tristram Shandy III. ix.]
As great minds jump this proves‥that my Mind is Great!
[1889 A. James Journal 1 Dec. (1964) 61]
Curious how great minds think alike. My pupil wrote me the same explanation about his non-appearance. ‥
[1898 C. G. Robertson Voces Academicae 24]
‘Great minds think alike—that's why we're never in agreement.’
[2002 Washington Times 28 May C9 (Bottomliners cartoon)]
I probably wasted too much time thinking about the phrase and looking up its origins. But then again, I rarely have the time to just pursue such idles. I'm still glad I wasted some time satisfying an academic curiosity.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Ultrasonic Buzz

I'm a bit of an ultrasound imaging geek considering that I spent many years of my life doing ultrasound research. Ultrasound stories in the news invariably pique my interest. I was pleasantly surprised to see this bit of news in the headlines this morning. Apparently, you can create a pretty good facsimile of a fine aged wine using ultrasound. How cool is that? Of course, it doesn't do me an iota of good since I don't actually drink any alcohol.

In a way, this is sort of related to my previous research life. I used to work on improving cardiovascular medicine by applying 3D ultrasound to heart imaging. You could say that making better wines with ultrasound are sort of cardiovascular related, given the studies showing that red wine has some heart protective qualities. Ok, it is a bit of a stretch. Still, I at least found the idea of using ultrasound to age wine to be pretty nifty. It's definitely a bit of technology more likely to quickly make it to the marketplace than my graduate research.