Saturday, July 10, 2010


In my continuing quest to simplify my life, I've started standardizing some things in my life. Part of that has been about developing routines to simplify my day-to-day life, although that's not really different than how I normally operate. Everyone will develop daily routines to efficiently get through mundane tasks and move on to dealing with the rest of the day. Mostly though, I've been moving towards standardizing my possessions and things I need to use. Simplifying the products I use has made my daily life less of a hassle. The things I've changed include:

  1. Tupperware. When I'm cleaning up the kitchen at night and putting food away, nothing annoys me more than seeing a pile of mismatched tupperware and lids. I'm already doing the odious task of kitchen cleanup (usually sometime around 10 o'clock at night); the last thing I want to deal with is searching through a wretched pile of containers and lids to find a match. Consequently, I settled on only three styles of containers: round takeout plastic tubs, cylinder soup takeout containers, and rectangular Gladware. Everything else, I gave away or put away somewhere.
  2. Phones. Since I handle all things electronic or tech-related in my household, I finally decided having my wife on Virgin Mobile and me on Page Plus was a royal P.I.T.A. I told my wife to burn up her minutes and then switched her to Page Plus. I then switched us all to Motorola phones so we'd only be using chargers with mini-usb connectors. Having to deal with finding the right charger for our phones is now not a problem since all our phones use the same type of charger. There's no confusion of plugging the power connector into the headphone port as I've witnessed some of my family members do with Nokia phones. And when I need to hack the phones (to customize a ringtone or something), there's plenty of online resources for reference.
  3. Electronics. A myriad of different charger and connectivity options works ok for me. It doesn't seem to work so well for many members of my household and family, so I heavily favor devices which use common plugs. If a device uses a proprietary connector (instead of mini-usb), it loses massive points. This applies to cameras, gps, mp3 players, etc. Some devices idiotically have proprietary audio connectors so you can't use standard 3.5mm or 2.5mm headphones. I don't care how cool the device is. That's a sign of a company trying to screw you over. There's no good reason to re-invent the connector wheel other than to charge extra money, lock you into a product, and royally piss you off when you can't find the special connector. I unfortunately do still have a Sandisk mp3 player which uses a proprietary connector, but it was cheap. When it gets replaced, I'll pick a player which uses a mini-usb connector so I don't have to keep extra proprietary cables around.
  4. Batteries. Other than stuff like the smoke alarm, alarm clocks, and wrist watches, everything else I have that requires semi-regular battery changing uses either AAA or AA batteries. Flashlights, mp3 player, remote controls, noise cancelling headphones, etc. are all using AA or AAA batteries. No more AAAA, C, D, CR123, or crappy button cell batteries are allowed.
There are some other things I'm working my way to standardizing:

  1. Socks. I wear mostly white athletic socks, but I have white socks from different sock packs that my parents gave me. The problem is that all of those socks are either different brands or styles. It's not a huge deal, but it is mildly irritating matching up socks when I'm doing my laundry. While I'm folding my laundry, I think I have a matching pair of socks only to find that one sock as a red line and the other one doesn't. Next round, I'm getting all the same socks (other than my dress socks anyhow).
  2. Operating systems. My wife uses Mac OS X. I unfortunately use Mac OS X, Windows XP, Windows 7, Linux, and whatever operating systems and variants my work requires. It's good to be familiar with them all, but heterogeneous computing environments not so great when the rest of the family isn't as technically inclined as I am. I should probably migrate every computer that's not work-related to Mac for the sake of my tech support sanity.
  3. Filing System. My wife and I aren't fully merged in terms of paperwork. This is ok for things that are work-related, but inconvenient for stuff like referencing our apartment lease, renewing the car registration, or looking up any household related documents. I should probably suck it up and buy a scanner so all our documents are in an electronic archive. The only thing holding me back is that being the one in charge of things tech-related, I'll end up doing all the scanning, and that's just a hell of a lot of paperwork.
  4. Cookware. I would never buy a cookware set since you always get pieces that are useless to you and just take up valuable kitchen storage space. I am however consciously choosing my cookware replacements so that lids are interchangeable. Having a lid that works on only one pot or pan is a nuisance. Then there's the fact that I'm hooked on induction cooktops, which requires ferromagnetic cookware. The days of having cookware that's non-magnetic in my kitchen are numbered. I'm slowly switching everything to ferromagnetic stainless steel.
And of course, there are things over which I have no control that I wish were more standardized:
  1. Screws. One thing that I hate is something that uses multiple screw types, whether it be furniture or a gadget. The engineer who decides that simultaneously using flathead, Phillips, hex head, and tri-wing screws is a good idea deserves to taken out back and beaten.
  2. Mattresses. Shopping for a mattress follows closely behind shopping for a car in things I don't like to do. How hard can it be to buy a bed? Theoretically not very hard. But the thing is you can't easily comparison shop. The product lines are intentionally stratified and obfuscated so you can never make direct comparisons. Each store may carry the same manufacturers, but they all carry different named brands/product lines with the specs just different enough that apples to apples comparisons aren't possible.
  3. Clothing sizes. I know it's worse for women's clothing, but it's still irritating in the men's clothing department. Depending on the manufacturer and the country of origin, a shirt that is small, medium, large, or x-large may be the correct size for me. Even with something that's measurable like waist measurements, things are maddeningly inconsistent. Some pants with a 32" waist fit me just right, and others with a 30" waist fall off me. That just shouldn't happen.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Lessons from Fist of the North Star, part II

I am now nearly 60 episodes into Fist of the North Star. That comes out to about 40 episodes watched in the past 3 weeks, only two of which I've actively watched the series. Hey, what can I say? When your wife is off traveling to foreign lands, you have a lot more free time living a bachelor life. Anyhow, I've picked up some new lessons hidden in the plot of FOTNS. I'm still really enjoying watching Kenshiro kick ass, but these little points stuck out for me:

  1. Yuda wears lipstick and looks like a fugly woman. He also happens to be under the "star of deception." Rei pulled a similar stunt earlier in the series. He dressed as a woman to lure unwitting bandits into his trap. Lessons learned: (a) South Star fist martial artists are well versed in the cross-dressing arts, and (b) Never trust a transvestite.
  2. Kenshiro gets his arm bone "shattered" by Raoh in their battle, yet continues using his arm to fight in the subsequent episodes. Apparently, with muscles big enough, you can move your arm freely without any skeletal structure in place.
  3. When Rei is defeated by Raoh and only has three days left to live, he decides to avenge Mamiya. That involves traveling to 2 different cities... on foot... while occasionally spitting up blood... being overall weakened... and walking through the desert with no water. Yet, he and Kenshiro manage to walk between two cities easily within that three day window. And this is after we have seen that Bat has repaired his dune buggy in an earlier episode. I was mistaken to think the characters were Japanese. They must be crazy Europeans since they prefer walking to driving, even when it makes more sense to drive.
  4. If you suspect a cross-dressing, flaming martial artist is gay, then your suspicions are probably grounded in truth. Yuda started wearing lipstick after his bromance obsession with Rei.
  5. How can you identify bad guy martial artists? Because they all practice martial arts from foreign lands or need weapons other than their hands. You practice the ultimate Chinese kempo style XYZ? You're probably a bad guy about to be killed by Kenshiro. Invincible Persian spinning blades? Ditto. Also, if they look a lot bigger than the villagers, then they are probably bad guys.
  6. Of course, midgets are also evil. All short characters who aren't children are evil.
  7. Kenshiro is color-blind. He mistakes Mamiya for Yuria, despite their hair colors being quite different. Or maybe even in post-apocalyptic Japan, it's still fashionable to constantly change your hair color.
  8. The radiation from the nuclear war has changed biology and laws of energy (or mass) conservation. Characters often grow and shrink in size quite dramatically (particularly the bad guys, and especially around battle scenes). Must be all the radioactive energy in the environment.
  9. All of Yuda's henchmen are branded with "UD." I'm all for school pride, but that's no reason to make all of your underlings show off your school. And how the heck did Yuda get into the University of Delaware? He strikes me as more the type to go to Brown.
  10. After deciding to devote his remaining three days of life to saving his beloved Mamiya, Rei suffers exponentially greater pain from Toki extending his life and has his hair turn completely white. He manages to kill Yuda for Mamiya, but still dies in the end. What does this illustrate? "Women: can't live with them, and if you try you'll suffer, have your hair turn gray, and you still won't be able to live with them."

Sunday, May 30, 2010

What motivates you?

In the capitalistic model, it's money. But we all know (hopefully we all know) that money isn't everything. So, then what does motivate us? I thought this video had an interesting answer:

I thought the results of higher financial incentives leading to worse performance in cognitive and creative jobs was telling. It mirrors my own experience. Don't get me wrong. I DO like getting paid and would have absolutely no complaints about earning more money. But that's never been the drive behind my choices. I was groomed for and pushed to medical school most of my youth, primarily because the medical professions pay well. That didn't sit well with me since I'm pretty sure I couldn't stand doing a job I hated merely for money. So, I became a black sheep in the family by going to engineering school. There are a ton of jobs out there that I could have done that would be paying a heck of a lot more than I earn now, but I decided that job misery simply wasn't worth it.

As a side note: if monetary incentives are mostly ineffective at boosting job performance, you have to wonder why it's so commonly used in the financial sector. That would seem to select for greedy, self-interested people who get dumbed down by the financial incentives. Maybe that's not the greatest combination for an industry which drives a large portion of the country's economy.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lessons from Fist of the North Star

I've recently started watching Fist of the North Star since I've discovered the Hulu has the complete series. I had watched the animated movie in college, but I never saw the t.v. series. I'm around 17 episodes into the 152 episode series, and I must say I am enjoying it (1980's graphics and all). But I am glad that I didn't watch the series as a kid. While it is technically a cartoon, I'm not entirely sure my 7-year old self would have been quite ready for all the animated gore. I also think that the cartoon quirks may have taught me some erroneous lessons. So far, I've noted several themes/messages/patterns in Fist of the North Star:

  1. To be a bad-ass protagonist in a manga series, you apparently need to have black hair, a triangular head, and really bushy eyebrows. That way, you can be readily distinguished from the evil European-looking arch-nemesis who has blond hair and well trimmed eyebrows. In fact, you can identify the rightful inheritor of the North Star Fist by the black hair, triangular head, and bushy eyebrows since everyone else appears to have different colored hair, round heads, and thinner eyebrows.
  2. You can identify the powerful characters by the ginormous pecs, thick arms, and thin waists. The bodybuilder "V" shape is the ideal martial artist shape because it allows maximal punching power. Kenshiro beats all of his enormous opponents because they have thick midsections and legs in comparisons to their chest and arms. Apparently, Kenshiro's ability to tap 100% of his body's potential has to do with his bodybuilder's physique.
  3. There's no need to worry about running out of oil. Even in post-apocalyptic Earth, there's plenty of gasoline for the multitudes of vehicles.
  4. There are 708 pressure points which Kenshiro can strike to brutally maim and explode his enemies. There are about 208 bones in the human body, and 640 skeletal muscles. Assuming those pressure points are evenly distributed, Kenshiro can pretty much hit anywhere to kill his opponents.
  5. You can easily identify the grunt bad guys. They have mohawks, tattoos, and ride motorcycles. They pretty much look like the bad guys from Mad Max.
  6. It looks like even in post-apocalyptic Earth, we still haven't gotten rid of cheap muscle shirts manufactured in sweatshops. All Kenshiro has to do is flex and the shirt disintegrates. He must be single-handedly keeping the Chinese t-shirt industry afloat by constantly destroying his shirts in every battle.
  7. Nothing says "endearing" and "lovable" character like a pre-pubescent orphan girl who constantly whines and longs for Ken (in a weird Freudian way) whenever he goes off into battle. That said pre-pubescent girl then proceeds to get hit on by a pre-pubescent boy around episode 14. Apparently, post-apocalyptic earth has fostered dysfunctional romances.
  8. Tapping 100% of your potential power depends on shouting the right syllables in a high-pitched voice. Something like "a-tah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tah" followed by an emphatic "watah!" while hitting your opponent is sure to put the massive hurt on.
  9. To follow the previous point, announcing the poetic name of your deadly moves makes them more effective. For example, hitting 20 opponents and then saying "North Star 1000 crack fist" is sure to explode all opponents standing in your way.
  10. Yuria must be an extraordinary harp player because that harp she plays is enormous. Most regular humans wouldn't even be able to reach all the strings. Kenshiro must love her because of her supernormal powers to play strings out of reach. It sure isn't for her musical talent. She apparently can't hide her mood since she plays melodies in a minor key when she's sad and a major key when she's feeling more hopeful.
  11. Shin apparently suffers from the same problem as the James Bond bad guys. You'd think that after the first few times of Ken destroying his minions, he'd send the full forces to crush him, but that's not the case. Rather, he likes having his minions fall to Ken one-by-one and then angrily swear that next time Ken will certainly be stopped.
Despite all these points, I'm still thoroughly enjoying the series. There's something gratifying about the cheesiness and animated bad-guy head explosions. And hearing the predictable "you don't know that you are already dead" hasn't gotten old even after 17 episodes. I'm sure I'll find more quirks (and plot problems) with the cartoon, but I plan on finishing all 152 episodes anyway.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Weight bearing exercise

Conventional wisdom tells us that weight training increases bone density (ex. here and here). The force of your muscles moving a load stresses the bones slightly and causes them to grow back stronger. That's a decidedly good thing, at least assuming that you don't do anything really (excuse the pun) bone-headed like lift weights you're not ready for or do exercises with terrible technique. Imagine my surprise when I catch this bit of news: "Weight-bearing exercise does not prevent increased bone turnover."

My response to that headline was a bafflement. I thought there was going to be some crap study on how weight bearing exercise didn't do anything for your bone health. Turns out that it's a study about how jogging and walking don't mitigate the increased bone turnover that occurs during weight loss. Apparently, you have increased bone remodeling when you lose a lot of body weight. This makes inherent sense: less weight = less load on the bones = less stimulation for bone growth. The thing that bothers me with the study is how "load-bearing" exercises are defined. I guess getting my ass up and walking around is technically putting a load on my bones. But it's as much of a load bearing exercise for a healthy person as is picking up a remote to change the channel on the idiot box. I'm not sure when "walking" and "light jogging" became considered "load-bearing" exercises. Have we became that sedentary that everyday activities have become tough exercise?

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Years Resolutions 2010

I read some interesting statistics on New Year's resolutions of which I wasn't aware. Apparently, something like 40-45% of American adults make resolutions. Of those who make resolutions, the numbers sticking to their resolutions continually dwindle over the course of the year. Eventually, less than 50% of people who make resolutions actually keep them. That comes out to 20-2% of Americans who make and keep their resolutions. It's not a great success rate, but the upside is that people who set resolutions make more progress than if those who never set them at all.

Looking back on 2009

Anyhow, it's another year down, and another year of New Year's resolutions for me. How did I fare with last year's goals? Not great, but not too bad. I didn't do great with my goal of having more "me" time. I did end up having more time for myself by virtue of quitting my job with my last tyrannical boss and taking up a new job with a new company run by sane people. On the other hand, my time just filled up with other things. Some of those things were out of my control, like my wife being in her tenure review year and thus shifting a lot of responsibilities to me. Other factors were under my control, like my habit of try to do too much.

My goal of getting into a consistent I-Liq Chuan training was also a mixed success. My personal practice habits were pretty hit or miss all year. I did manage to get myself into consistent daily meditation practice though, and I did manage to get my class started. I've been told that my spinning hands has improved despite my poor practice habits, so I've managed to accomplish something with regards to my ILC training (if not as much as I'd hope to accomplish).

As far as my fitness goals went, I think I was also only half successful. I finally got the handstand, though it's a little wobbly and I can't hold it for more than 4-5 seconds. The iron cross goal was too ambitious, but I can actually get my arms out to maybe 60ish degrees, which is far better than it would be if I had never made that goal. I can do a dragon flag and almost do a full front lever, but both of those strength skills aren't rock solid yet. I got up to a 70 lb weighted pull up and dip (just another 80 lbs to go for the 2X bodyweight goal). Deadlifts maxed out at 225lbs for me, so I'm still about 75 lbs shy of the 2X bodyweight pull there. I didn't meet any of my fitness goals, but I knew they were too ambitious. I just made really good progress towards them.

Looking forward to 2010

So, what are my resolutions for this year? Well, I'm going to try being less ambitious this year. I'm intentionally not going to make any fitness goals. I'm just going to continue having fun working out with my buddies and continue making steady progress to the goals I set out previously. I'm also going to purposefully not make any specific goals of improving my Mandarin, picking up my guitars again, dropping my body fat, etc. My only two goals this year are to:
  1. Simplify - There was just too much going on last year. It was too easy to get overwhelmed. I had no chance of pursuing anything when my plate was so full that I didn't even know where to begin. So, this year, I'm going to try to cut out more unnecessary items from my life, in terms of material things, pointless tasks, and mental clutter. If I can simplify my life, then I'll be better able to get back to other goals I want to pursue.
  2. Improve my I-Liq Chuan - I know, it's a goal every year, but I've been told I'm supposed to test soon for my student level 5 and instructor lever 2. That means I can't be so lackadaisical about my personal training. So, I have to get my own training in on a more consistent basis in addition to teaching classes. On the flip side, I also want to raise my students' level of understanding and get them ready to start testing and to do more partner oriented training.
So, that's it. Here's to another year of improvement.