Friday, May 28, 2010

The Other Y

Okay, on a whim, I was looking up basic information on Yale (mostly to find out its physical location) and found, to my surprise, that their seal contains Hebrew!

As a secondary surprise, this (apparently) says "Urim and Thummim"—how interesting! Note that on the banner below, they've translated it to Latin as "Light and Truth".

Curiouser and curiouser...


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Shiny "new" gadget

My pocket gadget of choice is a Palm Tungsten T3. It is a model that was introduced in late 2003, but though it's coming up on its seventh birthday, mine still works great. (I haven't had it for all of those seven years—in fact, I bought it in 2008.)

Anyway, Palm T3 owners share one chronic complaint: Palm manufactured the device with some screws in the bottom that tend to worm their way out of their sockets. Though my Palm arrived with all screws in place, they had fallen out after a year or two. The device still functioned properly, but... well, nobody likes a loose bottom.

I found online that several opportunistic entrepreneurs offer replacement screws, and I even found some advice on how to keep them from falling out once they'd been replaced. Unfortunately, these suppliers charged eight to ten dollars for their services, which was a bit more than I was willing to pay for four tiny screws.

Fortunately, we found the local hobby store. When I asked them about finding these tiny screws, they found them right away. And with that, I tightened up my Palm's bottom (a much more pleasant way for a bottom to be). It feels like a new gadget, so I'm treating it like one!

The only difference is that the new screws are a lovely shade of gold:

Hmm, looks rustic!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Random Musical Tidbit

Happened today across a video of Lisa Bassenge's rendition of a song "Overload". (I really dig the break at 2:23.) She's been affiliated with Jazzanova's Sonar Kollektiv label through her group Micatone, and produced some excellent music then and since. I think this whole subculture of Berlin is taking an exciting tack on contemporary music.

It is of particular note that jazz, an American invention, is being moved along by other countries. Of course, this kind of globalization goes all ways, but it is refreshing to see a different take on the style. Kind of a beneficial cross-pollination, in the musical landscape.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Minor Infraction

(Mom asks cops to handcuff 5-year-old)

Your son's a budding firestarter.
Is a cop the best rebuff?
Though patient helping might be harder,
Parenting's best off the cuff!

My vocab is not rewarded at work

So, I work in a "diverse" working environment. That is, lots of people from different ethnic groups. Which is fantastic. The perspectives that people bring to the table from their varied work experience are a real asset to the team. However, this also means that there are varying degrees of lingual proficiency (at least in English).

Honestly, despite having worked here for coming up on two years, I just realized this yesterday. It probably has something to do with my reading of a book with such a phenomenal vocabulary, which I have been enjoying. New words all the time—what a wonderful experience!

So yesterday, I was present in a meeting when someone used the term "purview". About a third of the room was thrown into confusion by this. Admittedly, it's not a technical word, so it wouldn't be something I would expect a foreigner to know. And it's certainly nobody's fault they don't know every word in what is essentially, to them, a second language.

Nonetheless, I was saddened by the realization that expanding my vocabulary is not likely to bolster rapport with my co-workers, nor is it likely to be the fun cooperative game in which I have participated throughout my life, from my family to my four-two-love friends.

Anybody have any tips on building word power in such an environment?

For now, I guess I'll stick to Scrabble on weekends.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Double Up on Calories!

Many people have died
'Cause of food that's been fried,
But of all the fast foods with a curse,
This corrupt "Double Down"
May be wearing the crown---
A creation for butter or worse.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Importance of Good Neighbors

One of the key decisions of choosing where we would buy a house was the neighborhood. But what concerned us most wasn't the state of the lawns, or the siding, or even the sidewalks. No, our biggest concern was the quality of people we'd be living next to.

The first criteria for neighbors is that they be not crazy. The last thing you want is to be spending the next twenty years next to folks who are unreasonable (whatever your definition of "unreasonable" is). But beyond that, it's worthwhile to find good neighbors.

Good neighbors are an asset in a number of ways. They can be relied on to help out in an emergency, (say, if your basement floods while you're on vacation). They might even have lawn tools they'd be willing to lend. (This last has been a big cash-saver for us.)

The difference made by good neighbors is huge. I would gladly take a sloppy neighborhood with great, genuine people over a perfectly manicured community filled with catty, comparative characters.

How do you find out beforehand whether the crowd you'll be joining is one you like? Just ask! The day after we reached mutual acceptance on the house, we headed out to the neighborhood and knocked every door on the street until we found someone at home. The guy who answered was cordial and cheerfully gave us the lowdown on the dynamic of the neighborhood, and the words he used to describe it were encouraging (to us)—"quiet," "nice," and "friendly." (He also gave us some good information on the house, like the fact that its roof was replaced eight years ago.)

If you're already living somewhere, you might be able to create good neighbors. Simple goodwill goes a long way in this regard, whether that means extending an invitation to your kid's graduation, or giving a simple holiday gift. We've discovered that a homemade loaf of bread can open many doors.

Maybe the best way to have good neighbors is to be one yourself.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Shandy, the Bone, and You

In Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach, he briefly outlines an allegory. To paraphrase:

Shandy is a dog, and her master has just thrown her favorite bone to her. Unfortunately, the master's aim is a bit off, so it lands just the other side of a chain-link fence. Down the fence some thirty feet is an open gate. There's that tasty bone, sitting right next to the dog's nose, except for that troublesome fence. What does the dog do?

Some dogs will sniff at the bone, eye it hungrily, and never move away from it. After all, if the goal is to get closer to the bone, going farther away from it is ludicrous.

Or is it?

Smarter dogs will view the problem in a different light. Namely, that the first goal is to get around the fence, and then getting to the bone is possible. Hence, going through the gate gets the dog closer to the goal, even though it is moving physically farther from the bone.

In our human minds, we wouldn't have much trouble getting to the other side of the fence. But we run into similar problems all the time. In particular, the goal of material comfort.

On the surface, getting a lot of comfort seems easy: just buy a bunch of luxury items that will make your life better! Of course, if you don't have the available resources, then you can just charge it on credit. After all, the goal is to be comfortable, so make it as comfortable as you can!

Unfortunately, this breaks down eventually, usually when someone is saddled with more debt than they can carry.

Paradoxically, the real solution to having material comfort often involves going without for some time (at least to some degree), so one can get a firm financial footing. Who would have thought that buying less things would enable one to have more (and more lasting) material comforts?

Next time you're faced with a problem (particularly one where you're repeatedly stuck in the same spot), consider Shandy and the bone—try looking for a gate!

You are what you eat...

...but also what you breathe.

Did you know that plants are largely built off the carbon they pull out of the carbon dioxide in the air? People also get a large part of their intake from the air around them, which is fortunate since there's so much of it.

Similarly, your mind isn't based just on what you intentionally consume ("eat")—it's largely influenced by the environment around it (what you "breathe"). If you find that your mind isn't growing like it should, evaluate what you're putting in it, but also think about where it lives. Forget polluted places, whether they're polluted with noise, clutter, or even attitude. Get more encouraging friends, a positive workplace, or a quiet place, and give your mind what it needs to flourish.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Different Tools for Different Problems

When I have a task to accomplish around the house, I reach for my trusty toolbox. In it are tools for all sorts of things. In fact, an important part of any home improvement job is figuring out which tools to use. A wrench and a hammer each have their uses, but they are not interchangeable.

In my college computer projects, a similar problem existed: choosing a computer language to suit the task at hand proved to be a difficult but important prerequisite to completing the work. C++ and Haskell are different tools that require and even enforce differing solutions.

In changing the way your life is going, there are different tools, too: setting goals, introspecting, analyzing patterns, and social support structures are just a few of them. Again, all useful, but hardly interchangeable.

It's usually worthwhile to give some consideration as to which tools best fit a job. Note that you don't always go with the best tool—you might instead choose a tool you already have, or even better, one in which you're already proficient.

Just be mindful that your choice of tool will change how you solve the problem, and how well.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Long Read, Short Read

Okay, I've finally finished my recent read of Godel, Escher, Bach. To break from the wordy, dense style of that work, I took on a less ambitious project, and a more pleasant one: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, by Ian Fleming. Instead of a month, this book took me just a day (a refreshing fact).

If you're in the market for a fun read, you might try it. But don't expect it to be too much like the Disney movie...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Digital Difference

Some time ago, I bought an Nikon's D40 (now out of production, but still available refurbished). It has enough features to allow me all the expressive power of which I am currently capable. That is, I don't know for sure why I would want a "better" (more expensive) one.

A few months after my purchase, I was discussing a couple of photographs with another amateur photographer. In the midst of the discussion, he asked me nonchalantly, "So, how many megapixels does your camera have?"

I couldn't tell him.

It's not that I don't have a head for numbers. And it's not that I didn't do any research. No, the matter of megapixel count simply was not something that entered into the question of which camera to buy. Mostly because, even at large 8 1/2"x11" prints (like the kind I have hanging on my wall right now), it is nigh impossible to make out any graininess, even with pictures taken on my old Canon PowerShot (rocking a hefty 2.0 megapixels).

Another reason that megapixel counts are misleading is that the higher numbers don't (usually) mean bigger sensors. For example, "doubling" the megapixel count will actually do nothing more than shrink the size of each pixel, all other things being equal. And shrinking those pixels lessens their sensitivity to light, and therefore increases noise.

So if you're looking for a camera with expressive power, there are more important things than megapixels. Two of the biggies are ease of use and lens selection (if you're getting an SLR).

Funnily enough, megapixel counts seem to be a big part of how camera manufacturers differentiate between their models. Maybe that's because it's a number, and an easy one to increase between revisions. One thing's for sure: in the digital world, what's marketed isn't necessarily what's important.

Maybe that's true in other areas as well.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Saving with No Regrets

Retirement saving is a big theme that I hear among older people. Mostly, they seem to lament not having saved more in their earlier years of wage-earning. Presumably, that darn past self of theirs should have given up the fun toys and frivolities of youth so that their present self could reap the benefits!

Since I'm under thirty years old, the typical retirement age of sixty-five is the second most distant life event I can think of, next to being dead (hopefully). With longer left until retirement than all the time I have experienced thus far in my life, how am I supposed to plan for it?

Despite my doubts as to how much is "enough" to save, we have settled on a strategy for now: we try to be frugal in our buying decisions, and any extra money we have goes to savings. We spend enough to have everything we need, with some comforts to boot. And we even put some of our budget toward "frivolous" things that are important to us, like travel. But we have agreed that those extras will improve our quality of life here and now, as well as in the future when we have those memories on which to reflect.

And that's something I won't regret in forty years.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Big Book Blues

April was a long month, but in terms of book's I read, I have precious little to show for it. I haven't been spending much less time reading; the problem (if I may call it so) is that I am tackling a much larger book than usual: Douglas Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach. Weighing in at 742 pages, my edition is a hefty one. I've been doing my best to cart it around with me, but lugging it on the bus is a challenge, and it's been rainy enough lately that I haven't dared take it outside much.

Oddly, this book has inclined me toward buying a Kindle (or similar gadget). I know that for most every book I've read up to now, I haven't entertained thoughts of instead having a slim electronic gadget. And it seems silly to drop several hundred dollars just so that I won't have to hold this one heavy book. Nevertheless, the idea has now entered my mind.

Maybe Amazon's target audience was people who read dictionary-sized books for fun.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Catching Up after Falling Behind

With the beginning of "the lusty month of May", my new habit is to stick to a daily exercise routine. This is not a new goal—I had the exact same goal last year, when I was initially trying to get into doing some regular exercise. Why the repeat?

In March, some personal health issues prevented me from sticking with my routine, and I didn't recover at all during the month of April. May is here, and it is time to get on board again, but my habit is broken. (I tried getting started yesterday to verify this—it was tough!)

So with May starting up, I have a decision to make on which monthly goal I would like to pursue. While I would love to tackle something bigger and better this month, I realize that I have taken a few steps back, and I should work back up to where I left off.

When you get out of a habit, don't be afraid to take some time to get back into it—it sets a foundation for further progress..