Archive for March, 2012

In the current relationship that I’m in, there’s a certain benefit to it that others aren’t so lucky – on Thursdays, we go to the wife’s place for dinner with her parents.

We don’t go every week, I’d say 2 out of 3 weeks, or 3 out of 4.  This is something that the wife had been doing even before she met me and now it has continued with me tagging along.

What differentiates me from many of my friends is that the wife is local to the area, whereas many of my friends who are married are both from out of state.  Thus, they do not have relatives in the area so as to take advantage of this.  But even then, of those that have one or both parents in the area, I’m not sure how many of them have this particular advantage.  Maybe it’s an Asian thing?

The flip side is this interferes with my weight-control goals.  Every Friday I see a spike in my weight and it’s because I eat so much the evening before (and lunch leftovers the next day).

But what am I supposed to do?  Not eat it?  Perish the thought!  It’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.


Above is a screenshot I took with my phone from yesterday.  There’s (starting at the top and going clockwise) salmon with mayonnaise-like sauce, noodles, baked cod, some green vegetable, beef stew, chicken and a chicken-and-vegetable mix.  Afterwards, there’s dessert (usually fruit) and tea.  Always tea, every time.  No exceptions.

I’m pretty lucky.

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One thing I have learned since being married (actually, since even a long time before) is that the words that the wife says don’t mean what I normally expect them to mean.  Indeed, sometimes they have the total opposite meaning of what I think they should.

The three words that are completely untrue are “I don’t care.”  What these words really mean is “Keep guessing until you get to the one that I want.”

For example, let’s say that we are going to a restaurant.  I’ll say “Where do you want to go?”

Wife: I don’t care.

Me: Want to go here?

Wife: No.

Me: (Pointing to another place) Here?

Wife: No.

Me: There?

Wife: No.

Me: Well, where do you want to go?

Wife: I don’t care.

This manifests itself most frequently when deciding on a place to eat.  For example, this past weekend, we didn’t have much lunch and after the hike we were driving around, thinking about getting food.

Wife: I’m sooooooooo h-uuuuuuuu-ngryyyyyy!

(We walk by a restaurant).

Me: Want to eat here?

Wife: Mmm, no. 

(One minute passes)

Wife: I’m sooooooooo h-uuuuuuuu-ngryyyyyy!

(We walk by another restaurant)

Me: How about here?

Wife: No.

(One minute passes)

Wife: I’m sooooooooo h-uuuuuuuu-ngryyyyyy! I will pass out if I don’t get food in me in the next 3 seconds!  I’ll eat anything!

Me: We could stop at this place and have something.

Wife: No, I don’t want to eat here.

This continued for a couple more minutes before we finally settled on just grabbing something from a grocery store.

I am becoming fluent in another dialect of English.

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This past weekend, the wife and I went to the San Juan islands in northwestern Washington, which are situated between Washington state and Vancouver island.  The San Juans are slightly north of Victoria, BC.

We were there for Friday and Saturday, and then on Sunday we went to Orcas island.

While driving around the Orcas, we went for a hike.  This was a 7 mile hike round trip with around a 1000 foot elevation gain.  Even though I’ve been going hiking for over a year, I still don’t feel like I’m in good shape.  I get tired from doing tons of uphill walking, have to catch my breath and can’t wait until I’m done… and this is only 7 miles!  Last year, the wife forced me to do 8-12 miles!  And in New Zealand, there was even a 15 miler!

Anyhow, we did this hike on Orcas and at the top of Mt. Constitution, there is a lookout tower where you can climb up and view all around Puget Sound:

That’s me up there.

While at the top, I took around.  I couldn’t tell what I was looking at but luckily there is a sign that says what is what.  I read the sign and looked out in the distance and what I did I see?


I used my phone and took a picture.  Below you can little white buildings beneath the snow on the mountains.  It doesn’t show up that well in the picture but you can see it very well in person.

I thought it was cool.  I’m all like “Vancouver!  Vancouver!  I see it!”




So that’s what I did last weekend.

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Way back in 2003 or 2004, I used to play sponge hockey with a group of friends.  These friends also played in a touch football league.  I didn’t play, although I have always enjoyed football.  With my bad hips, I wouldn’t be able to play today.

Anyhow, one time the captain of their team – who was an incredible athlete and could run circles around anyone in sponge hockey – asked me if we wanted to get together and play a game of football against them.  I said “Sure!  It sounds like fun!”

I asked a bunch of guys my age from the church I was attending at the time to see if they wanted to play.  A bunch of people said yes, and so that’s what we did.  We played a pickup game one Sunday afternoon, and we figured this one scrimmage game qualified as as ready to play.

How wrong that was.

We got to the field about 6:30 pm and my brother and I were the only ones from our side there.  We waited for a bit, wondering where the other goonies from our team were.  Eventually they all showed up (late).  We prepared to play.

Unfortunately, we weren’t prepared for the level of preparation this other team had.  Unlike us, they had actual predefined plays, and they had a good quarterback.  You see, their QB could run faster than anyone else on our team, and we sent our slowest guy to rush after him.  Not a good strategy.

The way the game worked was that the QB had the ball snapped to him 5 yards back from the line of scrimmage, and they could do a full rush (i.e., no steamboats) but they had to start 5 yards back.  This meant that as the QB, you had perhaps three seconds to get rid of the ball before the defender arrived at you and tagged you.  No one on our team was prepared for that.

I still remember bits and pieces from that game:

  • On the opening kickoff, they tried something funny.  They tried to lateral the ball across the field from one kick returner to another.  I knew this was coming and figured I could recover the fumble but never got there in time.

  • Our team was so out of shape!  These were a bunch of guys in their twenties running around, puffing and pulling muscles like they were in their 60’s.  “Ow!  My leg! A charley horse!”  “Oh, I’m so tired!”  “Can’t we call a timeout?”  My brother and I were the only ones on our team that felt fine while the other fatties struggled after the first 15 minutes.

  • Their offense killed us.  Their QB was so good that he would frequently run for the first down (10 yards) and then stop so that we could catch up to him and tag him.  He did this because it was a friendly game, knew that they overpowered us, and wanted to get in some good fun.  That was a bit humiliating.

  • Their defense killed us.  Our QB’s couldn’t get rid of the ball quick enough, and eventually they sent a slower rusher in so that we would have time to think.

  • I was our team’s starting QB and I couldn’t do anything at first.  Indeed, I even threw an interception to one of the guys on the hockey team.  I sucked. 

    But I didn’t suck as much as our other QB. I will create an anagram of the letters in his name and call him “Yentil.”  Yentil was an even crappier QB than me.  He threw two interceptions, back-to-back, and both of them were returned for touchdowns.  To the same guy as me!  Yentil!  You can’t be QB anymore!

  • But it wasn’t all bad news.  We calmed down and sorted out a plan.  Down by three touchdowns, eventually we got our act together, no thanks to me.  We led a drive down the field with me back in as QB (since Yentil sucked).  We got down near the goal line and I ran in a touchdown.  Score!

  • With the game still not over, eventually I led our team down the field on another drive.  I threw for another touchdown, and I think it was to my brother.  Score!  I also remember throwing another long ball to him (not sure for a touchdown or a conversion) that was tipped away at the last second.

In the end we lost the game 35-14 (touchdowns are worth 7 points).  But two of their TD’s came off of interception returns.  And of our 14 points, I ran one in and threw for the other.

I think that made me the Team MVP.

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Following up from my previous chapter on How I Met Your Mother, I thought I’d give you the next phase of the story.

Kids, the last story I told you didn’t have a happy ending.  But let me tell you the next part of the story!

The year was 2005 and I had been in my job for just under a year.  I was getting pretty good at it, and I was a spritely 26 years old.  This was all before my hips went bad.

I was working in downtown Winnipeg, and every once in a while my coworkers and I would walk four blocks down to Winnipeg Square where we would get something to eat from the food vendors.  I would buy something once in a while (say, one out of four visits) but my co-workers would get something every time.  I went because I liked going for walks and it was good exercise (something I still do today).

On each of the four corners of Winnipeg Square, in underground tunnels, there are the four big banks – Bank of Montreal, CIBC, Scotiabank and TD.  Royal Bank is there, too, but not right on the corner (my memory is failing me here; which bank is not represented on that corner?).  At the time, I was into stock trading and so I thought of myself as a rather suave investor.  I wasn’t, but I tried hard.  Much harder than today.

Anyhow, one time me and a co-worker walked downtown and he had to stop at the Customer Service desk of CIBC.  Working there was a girl whom I shall refer to as Stacey.  He had some business to do and I realized that she was really friendly and cheerful, not to mention physically attractive.  On the way back, both me and my co-worker chatted about this reality and I realized that I was intrigued.  You may even say interested.

I didn’t have an excuse to go down to Winnipeg Square every day.  I just didn’t have that much business to attend to.  But when I did, I would make excuses to see if she was at the Customer Service desk and I would stop by and make conversation, at least to be visible.  One fortunate coincidence was that I banked at CIBC as my main bank, so I naturally had things to do there from time to time.  Well, by golly, I would go to the tellers for one reason or another and on the way out just happen to say hi to Stacey.

This was my strategy for the first few weeks.  I didn’t have the guts to ask her out directly (something that didn’t change from my experience years earlier).

Why not?  Well, I wasn’t sure whether or not she would say yes.  I wasn’t prepared to take the risk of rejection.

But it wasn’t like I made no moves.

One tactic I’m quite proud of is that one day we were chatting briefly on one of our “chance” encounters and I gave her my business card.  I forget why I did that.  I asked her if she had an email address and I asked to her write it on the back of my business card and give it back to me.  She did!  If I would have been really gutsy, I would have then asked her, as a follow up, to put her phone number on the back.  Alas, I didn’t have the courage to go for broke.

That summer, I was performing in a group magic performance with two other friends during the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.  The three of us wrote a mini-play called “The Wizard’s Classroom and Igor, too!”  I wrote most of the dialogue and structured the plot, and we had fun performing the 30-minute show.

The Forks

One day, while we were chatting during yet another chance encounter that I made sure occurred on my walk to the Square, I asked her if she was going to the Fringe Festival.  She said that she was planning to check out one of the shows that her friend was performing in.  I said “Oh, you should come and check out my show!”  She said she would.

To me, this was a victory.

Yet on the evening we did our show (it began at 8 pm or 8:30), I scanned the audience yet Stacey was no where to be seen.  I thought “Maybe later” and the show must go on.  Yet we did our 40 minute show and at no point did I ever see her.  She didn’t show up.

The victory morphed into a failure.

I never called her on this.  You can see that I was more bold than in my previous attempt, but I still wasn’t straight up “Do you want to go out?” because I wasn’t sure what the answer would be (years later, I would determine that I was right to be so cautious).

I think I emailed her once, possibly twice, but I never heard anything back.  And as time passed, I slowly started to lose interest.  It never went away, but it certainly wasn’t the same peak as before.

We still had “chance” encounters one or two days per week at my strolls past the Winnipeg Square, but she wasn’t working at the same desk nearly as often.

Finally, things came to a head.  I don’t remember the trigger for this, maybe I got a bit more bold and made a move, but that doesn’t sound like me.  Instead, I got an email from her saying something like she and her ex had gotten back together, and she felt that I deserved to know.

And that was that.

I went through my memory and scanned the conversations.  The reason she was non-committal was because she was tied up elsewhere in another relationship and I never had a chance.  If I had been straight up and went for it, I would have been told “no.”  That would have sucked.  Although getting this news also sucked.  But it was clear that she was trying to be nice and let me down easy.  She was trying to avoid hurting my feelings.

I told the story to a friend of mine and he commended me for having the guts (literally: cajones) for making a move like that – trying to pick up a stranger like that while she was at work.  It didn’t succeed, but I admit that it did take guts to do something like that and I’m glad I did it. 

It didn’t work out, and this story doesn’t have a happy ending either, but as it turns out, in the long run it didn’t matter.

And that’s the second chapter in the story of How I Met Your Mother.

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Yesterday, I returned to the dentist to get some fillings put in.  The week previous was a checkup, this was the real thing.  5 years ago, in my twenties, I had zero fillings.  Now I have 10.


I remember the first time I had fillings put in with this dentist, in December 2010, it sucked.  I remember gagging and feeling super uncomfortable.  Because I have tight jaw muscles and gag reflex, they had to put that stupid plastic sheet in my mouth which made the experience even worse.  I hated it.  I never wanted to go back again.

But I have to go back.  You have to go back to the dentist twice per year.  And if you slack (like I did for years) it comes back to haunt you and it will suck when you get there.

This time I had to get three more fillings put in my top teeth on the right hand side of my mouth.  I went in there super worried – the needle would hurt, I’d be gagging the whole time and my jaw would ache.  And they’d pinch my lips with their hands while working with their hands and rest it on my lip which would press against my teeth.  All of this has happened before.

And yes, my jaw muscles ached.  And the needles hurt a bit.  And I gagged some.  And my lips pinched.  But from start to finish, to put in three fillings, it only took less than 45 minutes.

That wasn’t that bad at all!  I was shocked!  At that rate, I wouldn’t mind going back to the dentist.

The thing is that while we all dislike going to the dentist and getting fillings done, the fillings are my own fault.  All of my new ones are between my teeth.  All of them, in the molars.

It’s because food bits get stuck in there and I am a slacker when it comes to flossing.  The reason is that my teeth are tight and it’s tough to get floss in there (and they messed up a filling last time and it’s virtually impossible to get floss in between those two molars).  Some teeth are so tight that every time I floss them, it hurts.  So I don’t do it.

But during the last week, I flossed every single day.  Twice per day.  If I don’t want fillings, I need to brush and floss.  Experience shows that brushing twice per day isn’t good enough because you still get cavities between your teeth.   I plan to continue flossing regularly… after I eat (not before; why would anyone brush and floss before they eat?). 

After all, I would rather floss then get a filling.

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Recently I’ve been learning a lot about science.  As a kid, even now, I frequently wonder “What’s outside the universe?  Does it have an edge?  If it does, what’s outside the edge of the universe?  And if it doesn’t have an edge, how can it go on forever?”  I’m sure that you, reading this now, have wondered the same thing.


I draw the above as a 3-dimensional box because it’s easier to draw than a sphere, but the concept is the same.  What happens when you get to the edge of the universe?

This is a difficult question to answer, but science and cosmology are trying.  The current theory as to the origin of the universe is that all matter used to be condensed into a super small, super dense point and then one day it started expanding rapidly:

This is called the Big Bang Theory.  This contrasts from the Steady State Theory of the universe which says that it had always existed, without beginning or end.  The developer of the Steady State Theory, Fred Hoyle, is the one that came up with the name of the Big Bang, and he meant it as a derisive term (in order to make fun of it). 

Yet as science gathered more data, the Big Bang theory took hold because we have evidence that galaxies are moving away from each other, which implies that at one point in the past they must have been closer to each other.  Go back far enough in time and they are all mashed together in one super-dense point.

You look at that image and say “Okay, the universe is expanding in a conical shape and is getting bigger.  But what’s outside of that conical shape?  What’s down by the arrows?

To explain it, imagine that you live in a world where you can only move in two dimensions – left and right, or forward and back.  If you moved far enough to the left, eventually you’d bump up against the edges of your 2D universe and you would want to know what’s on the other side (kind of like that pivotal scene in The Truman Show).

Or would you?

The universe you live in is not flat, but instead is a sphere:


Imagine that you are a point on that sphere and you start traveling along one of those dotted lines.  If you went along one of them far enough, you would not eventually hit a “wall at the edge” of the universe but instead you would end up back where you started!  You travel far enough and eventually you finish right where you began.

In our own universe, it is expanding in three dimensions.  This is hard to visualize, but it’s not just up-and-down, and left-and-right, but also into-and-out-of the page.  In mathematics, we depict a 3-d model with x,y,z coordinates where the z-axis comes out of the page towards you, or into the page away from you:


In the universe, it is expanding in all directions like a sphere.  And just like a real sphere, if you travel far enough in any one direction along any of the axes, you end up where you began!

In the 2D sphere world, there is no 3rd dimension just like in our universe there is triangle with 4 sides, or a rope with one end.  It’s a logical contradiction.  Therefore, you don’t ask in the 2D world what is outside the sphere because there is no outside there sphere.  To attempt to get outside the sphere you end up where you began.

Similarly, in our own world, there is no “outside” the universe because if you go far enough in one direction, you get back to where you started.  I know it’s hard to think about it this way, but it’s what we know based upon observation.  It’s easy to think about with the sphere or the cone, but that 3rd dimension trips us up because it’s not how we interact with the world nor do we have shapes to draw on paper that approximate it.

If you left your friend and went looking for it, eventually you’d come around and see the back of his head no matter which way you went.

And that’s what’s “outside” of the universe.

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Ever since I had my second hip surgery in January 2010, I haven’t played many sports.  My hip just hasn’t felt good enough to play.  I tested it once that summer but it wasn’t strong enough to last for an hour and a half playing badminton.

But now I want to get back into it.

Unfortunately, I currently have no place to play.  I used to play at the Pro Club in Bellevue which is the gym I go to, but I don’t want to go back there.

Why not?

For two reasons:

  1. I’m out of my league. 

    The people at the Pro Club are really good.  Whenever I play there, they are so much better than I am that I feel like I’m dragging down whoever I’m playing with.  I used to think I was a decent player, but when I’m down there I’m either the worst or second worst guy there (I know there’s another guy who’s worse than me because I beat him).

    It’s no fun playing sports when you can’t compete with anyone and you’re aren’t making progress at getting better.  I had nobody show me how to improve except for one person who showed me why my lobs were crappy (I was swinging from my elbow instead of my arm).

  2. I don’t like the people there

    This is the most important part.  I don’t like the people at the Pro Club because they don’t go out of their way to be inclusive.  Not in the least.

    I’m kind of shy and I go there by myself.  I would go on Sundays and the games are all doubles.  What happens is people play a set, the game ends and then the people leave the court and new people sitting on the bench come in and play.  People then rotate in and out and everyone gets a chance to play.

    But not at Pro Club.  I felt that many times, the people were very “clique-y”.  What would happen is that a group of four people would play a game.  When it was over, they would look at each other, change players amongst themselves (the same four) and then play another game.  They wouldn’t change players with people on the bench.

    And when there were people on the bench, they would just trade in and out with the same people, over and over again.  It was like “Okay, us six people are playing together with each other.”  In order for me to get in games, I’d have to find people who came alone or I would need to butt in and get onto the court when a game finished and hope that they wouldn’t go back into their cliques and play with each other… again.  Because I am at such a lower level than they are, I feel intimidated breaking into their groups.  And then I don’t get to play.  It sucks.

Especially because of (2), I haven’t gone back to Pro Club.  When I used to live in England, a group of people from church used to play every Friday at a gym not far from where I lived.  I would walk there.  I loved playing badminton with those folks, even though I wasn’t very good. 

I enjoyed it because I played with people that I knew and the leader of the group went out of his way to be inclusive.  He would organize the games and make sure that everyone got a chance to play and not just sit on the bench.  It was a lot of fun and it’s one of my fondest memories of living in England.  I miss that.

And that’s what got me to thinking about starting playing badminton again, but starting up a group of badminton players with a bunch of friends.  And I’d run it the same way my friends ran it back in England – going out of my way to be inclusive.  I’d make sure that everyone got a chance to play, at least if I were in charge.  That’s what makes the game fun.

Back in England, afterwards, we’d all head up to the lounge in the gym and have a beer (they served alcohol at the gym… seriously).  I wouldn’t have a beer, but others would buy me a Coke.  That was also fun, and people would chat about random things.

I want to recapture that.  Anyone want to play badminton with me?

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I didn’t get my first zit/pimple/acne until I was 16 years old.  It appeared on my forehead.  I knew it was coming because all teenagers go through that phase and I was no different.  What was different was that this phase lasted much longer than I thought it should have.

Most people go through this and it tapers out in their late teens or early twenties.  I’m 33 and I still get the occasional breakout, and it’s very annoying.  But at least now it’s occasional.  Throughout my entire 20’s I had a few zits here and there on my face almost continuously.  Whenever one showed up and went away after several days, another would arrive somewhere else.  This always occurred.

I thought that this was unfair.  Why is it that everyone else doesn’t have them anymore at my age, yet I still do?  Zits are annoying because (a) they can be painful, and (b) more importantly, they’re unsightly.  This did affect my confidence somewhat in the dating realm.  While women may or may not have cared, I noticed they were there and it bugged me and made me more hesitant to take a shot.

I washed my face twice per day with special soaps.  I used all sorts of different lotions and they worked to varying degree – and none of them worked that well.  I did pretty much everything that the Internet says that you should and shouldn’t do, yet I still had these things on my cheeks (mostly), chin (once in a while) and forehead (less often).  The only thing I comforted myself with was believing that because my skin exuded so much oil, I’d have wrinkles much later in life, keeping me looking younger, longer.  Unfortunately, starting in my 30’s, lines started showing up on my forehead and around my eyebrows.  So much for that.

This all added up to a whole lot of unfairness.  Still getting pimples, and skin aging the same as everyone else.  Awesome.

Yet in the past couple of years I finally discovered some techniques that help.  I’ve done them both at the same time so I’m not sure which one accounts for the majority of the solution, but I’m telling them in the order in which I think they are effective:

  1. My pillowcase

    I read somewhere that if you have problems with acne, you should change your pillowcase every couple of days.  The reason is that at night, your face emits oils (it does this during the day, too). The pillowcase absorbs them, but then you spend the night sleeping on it and the oils, which clogs your pores.  This contributes to new zits.

    I went through my memory.  For years in my 20’s, most of the zits on my face were on my left side.  I slept mostly on my left side.  Now that I sleep on my right side more, the zits appear more frequently on the right side of my face.

    I started changing my pillowcase every three days or so.  When I do this consistently, the acne is much better.  I have fewer ones and they don’t last as long.  When I forget to change my pillowcase, they come back.

    I now have three pillowcases.  Every three days, I rotate the pillowcase completely around so the opposite side is facing me (my pillow is a memory foam so it only fits one way).  Three days after that, I change pillowcases completely.

    Using this strategy, I have managed to cut down on the number of new zits that appear.  I’ve put a post-it note by my bed writing down the last date I changed my pillowcase.

  2. Changing my diet

    When I was growing up, I heard that diet contributes to zits, like fast food or sugary snacks.  But later on, I heard that diet has nothing to do with pimples and that the relationship is actually a myth.  And that’s what I believed for years.

    I don’t know if there’s proof of it, but I suspect that there is.  The reason is that a big part of acne is caused by hormones, and hormones are influenced by diet.  I learned last year that carbohydrates cause your liver to release the hormone insulin which is what causes your body to store food energy as fat.  When I learned that, I thought “Hmm, could diet cause your hormones to go into overdrive and cause more pimples?”

    This would lend credence to the theory that sugary foods do cause pimples.  Sugar causes all sorts of bad things to your body, and this theory probably wouldn’t exist unless there was some basis for it.  And I’d read elsewhere, in passing, that your diet does affect your pimples.  It’s not the same for everyone, but I was prepared to test the theory.

    The problem is that I didn’t eat a lot of sugar.  But I did eat white bread and potato salad and jam and pasta.  And I also drank orange juice.  All of these foods contain carbohydrates, or in the case of orange juice, sugar.  I cut back on a lot of carbs (except rice, brown bread and some pasta) and since then, the problem has gotten better.

    I don’t know if the diet=acne theory is correct since I’ve been doing it the same time as changing my pillowcase, but since last summer the amount of zits appearing on my face is less than it was before.

Doing these two things has helped a lot.  I still get zits but not nearly as many, and the really painful ones are fewer still.  They also don’t last as long.  Compared to 10 years ago, my face looks tons better.

If I had to choose between both of these techniques, (1) wins hands down, but I still watch my diet, wash my face, and use anti-pimple products.

Maybe one day I’ll get clear skin for good.

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I’m currently 33 years old, and it’s been 16 years since I graduated from high school.  I look back at that and say “Ay, Caramba!  Where has the time gone?  I remember when I was 16 years old!”  Since I can’t remember any part of my life earlier than when I was three, 16 years is over half my life ago.

Lately I’ve been thinking to myself “What advice would I give to kids (and that’s what they are) who are just graduating from high school?”  Looking at my life, I’ve had some successes and some failures.  And while I still have a long ways to go, here’s some things I would tell people about the future:

  • You don’t have to go to an expensive college… if you even go at all.

    I used to think that it was good for most of the population to go to university (Americans call it college, Canadians call it university, the British call it unie).  Even if you do don’t get a degree that’s related to real life, post-secondary education broadens your thinking and introduces you to a whole new set of friends and experiences that had never been available to you before.

    That’s still true, but the problem is that the cost of a university education is skyrocketing.  In my first year of university, tuition was $3300 per year.  In my fourth year, it was about $4000.  I lived at home and graduated with only $12,000 in student loans.  I was pretty lucky.

    But since then, tuition costs have increased faster than anything, including inflation and health care.  It wouldn’t be unusual for a student to graduate with $64,000 in debt when you factor in tuition and living costs for a four-year degree.

    If you’re going to graduate with $64,000 in debt – or more – it’s hard to justify getting that degree because you start off so far behind in life.  You have to make monthly payments, which you’ll be paying forever, and if you declare bankruptcy your loan payments don’t go away.  Unless you’re going into a high paying field like medicine or law (in which case you’ll be even further behind), you need to re-evaluate what you want to do.

    Keep your costs under control.  Don’t get into too much debt.  If you’re really a go-getter, you’ll be successful even if you don’t get a degree.  Or go to a junior college.  Or better yet, travel for a year.  Volunteer overseas.  That’ll broaden your perspective as much as going to university.

    Just don’t bury yourself under a mountain of debt.

  • Don’t buy a house.

    If you’re 18 years old, then chances are your parents are about 10 years older than me, give or take a few years.  The world has changed a lot since your parents bought a home.

    I’ve whined on this blog many times about how buying a home is my worst financial decision ever.  However, it wasn’t until recently that I learned why. 

    The market is distorted.

    You see, back in time, up until about 2000, you had to put down a 20% down payment on a home.  Because that was such a large amount, a significant number of people could not afford to buy one because they couldn’t save up that much money.  That kept demand in check.

    But starting in 2000 or 2001 or so, those restrictions eased.  People were able to buy a house with 10% down, 5% down, 3% down (like me), or even nothing down.  People also didn’t have to provide proof of income, so people making $40,000/year were buying $500,000 houses.

    The result of this is a market distortion.  Because it became easier to buy a house, demand skyrocketed, and so did the price of housing.  Whereas before the market set the price of housing at roughly the rate of population growth and the rate of inflation, now price increases were going faster than logic would dictate.  Prices were out of control.

    So why not buy a house?  First, prices are still too high.  They are coming down but still are not in line with the historical averages.  When you buy something, you should always make sure you are getting good value (this goes for stocks, cars, clothes, furniture, and so forth).  Right now, houses are still not good value.

    Most people move every 8-10 years.  If you buy an overpriced house, you won’t be able to take advantage of the appreciation in price and because of the costs of moving (real estate fees, taxes).  Buying a house now will put you behind the 8-ball.

    The price of housing will eventually come down and finally it will make sense for you to buy one.  But that time is not yet.  I figure we’re still 3-4 years away, at least in the Seattle area.

    How will you know?

    When it costs less to buy a house and make mortgage payments + property taxes + insurance + maintenance than it does to rent an equivalent place, then it’s time to buy.

  • Don’t worry if you haven’t got your life figured out yet.

    When I graduated from high school, I planned to go into Computer Science but eventually switched to Computer Engineering (a mixture of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering).  I wanted to do hardware but eventually switched to software… until I started working for Lucent in England and started working on hardware.

    I spent some time doing street performing, then I did some time writing software to simulate trading stocks, then I spent some time working on hardware (and got fired after a month), then I did odd jobs for a while, then I began fighting spam at age 25.  Here I am, almost 8 years later and I’m still doing it.  But you can see I bounced around.

    And even then, I don’t know if I want to fight spam forever.  I toy with the idea of putting a lot of my resources behind trying to perform in Vegas for a year as a magician.  Sometimes I think I’d like to do something other than spam – like write financial software for a trading firm.  Or even be a stock trader (though I’d probably suck at that).

    But even though it’s kind of random, it’s still stuff that conforms to my interests.  My advice to young people is that you’ll probably end up following your interests anyhow so don’t worry if you don’t get there right away.  And even if you don’t follow your interests, you’ll still do it in your spare time.  If you’re really exceptional, you’ll get there eventually.

    So don’t worry too much about that.  Your skills take you to the place that you want to end up anyhow (most of the time).

  • The flip side of not figuring it out.

    Related to my previous point, you may not have life figured out, and you may conform to your interests anyhow, but there’s a caveat – you also conform to your skills.

    The reason I’m not a stock trader today is because I’m not good enough.  The reason I never made it as a street magician is because I’m wasn’t good enough.  I’m good at writing and people pay me to write.  I’m good at fighting spam and people pay me to fight spam.  But they don’t pay me to play sports, sing, or do carpentry.

    Thus, my advice to people who are in situations that keep spinning their wheels and never seem to get ahead is that you will need to examine yourself.  Is the reason you can’t get ahead because you don’t have the skills and you’re being paid what you’re worth?  Be brutally honest with yourself.

And that’s the advice I’d give to young people.

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Last week I pulled off a miracle – I convinced the wife to get rid of clothes and shoes she doesn’t wear anymore.

We don’t have a very big place, only a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom condo.  It’s only 845 square feet and it’s not like we have a lot of closet space.  We don’t.  Ergo, I try to cut back on how much stuff we have because if we ever have to move, it takes forever to pack it up and unpack it.  And I don’t want our place cluttered up with random stuff because we don’t have storage for it.

And most importantly, we don’t need it.

When it comes to clothes, I have to look at myself.  How many shirts and pants do I need?  I wear the same 7 or 8 shirts over and over again.  I wear the same 5 or 6 pairs of pants to work over and over again.  I have some other clothes for hiking and for lounging around the place.  And that probably constitutes 90% of the clothes that I wear.  The fact is that I have more clothes than I need.

There’s a small tail of clothes that I wear occasionally, like my suit and some nicer clothes.  But that is in the minority (and I like wearing my suit).

Every once in a while, I go through my clothes and put into bags the things I never wear.  I think to myself “Self, if I haven’t worn these in the past year, will I really wear them again in the next year?”

And every time my brain says “You might need it!  Keep it!”

I have to tell my brain to shut up.  I then say “Shut up, Self!  If I haven’t worn it in the past 365 days, I’m probably not going to wear it anytime soon.  History has proven to me that I won’t miss it.”  Then it goes into the bag to donate.  If I am not going to wear it, why not give it to someone who can?  Better it goes to someone who needs it than someone who doesn’t and would rather have the empty space.  It’s a win/win situation.

I also did something else this year.  In my closet where the clothes are hanging, I turned around all the hangers so that the hook part is facing out.  In other words, rather than lifting and bringing the hanger towards you, you have to lift, push it towards the wall and then loop it beneath the hanging bar towards you.  I did this at the start of the year.  If, on December 31, I have not flipped any of the hangers around, the clothes on that hanger get donated.  It’s a way to force me to get rid of things I don’t use.

I also managed to convince the wife to get rid of things she doesn’t wear.  Whereas a minor miracle occurred when she returned some boots to the store that she didn’t wear and had bought previously (and therefore hadn’t attained an attachment to them), a major miracle occurred when she agreed to give away some old shoes she never wears.

I understand that some women have a fanatical attachment/obsession with shoes.  The wife went through all of hers and decided to get rid of 6 of her 26 pairs.  I know some of you women reading this will say “Pfft.  26?  I have twice that number!”

To which I respond “How many of those would you miss if you got rid of them?”

As North Americans, we have a lot of stuff.  I prefer to simplify my horde rather than increase it.

But of course, my unused magic effects are exempt from this requirement.  Getting rid of those would just be crazy.

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Khan Academy

The other day, I stumbled across the website Khan Academy.  This website is amazing.  If you haven’t visited it yet, you need to do it.

The web page is an online learning tool with hundreds of topics.  It’s geared towards students in that it has tutorials on Calculus, Chemistry and Physics, but it also covers topics like Heart Disease, the Vietnam War, and Economics.  I’ve learned a lot already.

Each video is the site creator, Salman Khan (a former hedge fund manager), drawing doodles on a black screen.  You don’t see Khan himself.  Instead, what you see is a black screen and then a little “mouse” icon draws on the screen, like a black board.  He also narrates each lesson.  Some videos have pictures on them, too.

His motivation for this is that our minds are like blank, black screens.  Whenever we learn a new concept, it’s like something lights up in our minds.  That’s the image he was going for.

This concept has the potential to revolutionize online learning. If I had this tool when I was a kid, I probably could have learned even more than I think I did while growing up.  I was definitely born too early in the world’s history.

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I suspect that many people will disagree with what I have to say in this post.  However, it’s been floating around in my head for a long time and it’s time I wrote it down.

Many people today use religion as the basis of their morality.  As a philosophical concept, conservative Christians say that God is the source of all morality, and whatever He says in the Bible that is moral really is moral.

I don’t have issues with this so long as it is applied consistently.  Where the problem lays is when the concept of morality is reconciled with the concept of biblical inerrancy.

Biblical inerrancy says that everything in the Bible is true.  While there is some wriggle room here, I’m not going to go into the finer points of what it is because we know what it is.  If the writer in the Bible asserts something, then it is correct.  If the writer in the Bible says that God did something, then it is moral because God is the source of all morality.

I think most conservative Christians would agree with that.

Recently, I was browsing Khan Academy and I decided to watch the video of the Vietnam War.  During that war, there was an incident called the My Lai massacre.  This occurred in March, 1968 and it involved American soldiers committing mass murder against a Vietnam village and most of the victims were women, children (including babies) and elderly people.  To add insult to injury, only one soldier was ever found guilty of committing crimes but only served 3 1/2 years of house arrest.

Americans used to think that other militaries were unethical but their own soldiers would take the high road.  What My Lai demonstrated is that even American soldiers will commit immoral, heinous acts.  The My Lai massacre is one of the black eyes in American history; if you do a Bing search for it, it will depress you.  My Lai is one of the worst immoral American acts that the US military has committed.

You can’t read up on this incident and say “Hmm, well, this was actually a good thing that transpired.  While it looks evil, it was really good and decent.”  You also can’t say “Well, we weren’t there so who’s to say what’s right and wrong?”  If your military shoots and kills several hundred unarmed citizens – including women and infants – then that is morally wrong.  There’s no weaseling out of it.

I bring up the My Lai massacre to contrast it with another Biblical passage:

Deuteronomy 7:1-2: When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations– and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally.

Later on, God orders the destruction of the Amalekites:

1 Samuel 15:2-3: This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’"

Here we have two clear examples where God orders the massacre of all human beings, young and old.  On the surface, this sounds horrible.  Digging deeper, it is horrible!

But if you believe in Biblical inerrancy, you have a conundrum:

  1. Everything that God does is good and moral.
  2. God ordered something that is morally wrong.
  3. Since the Bible is inerrant and it says that God did it, he must have done it.

These three beliefs cause people cognitive dissonance – a mental discomfort caused by holding conflicting beliefs.  When this occurs, people have a motivational drive to reduce this dissonance by altering existing beliefs or adding new ones to make things consistent.  For example, smokers know that smoking is bad for them but they rationalize it by saying that they’ll defy the odds and won’t suffer the consequences, or that it isn’t that bad for them, or they’ll quit before any damage is done.  These are all wrong but it allows the smoker to continue smoking.

Cognitive dissonance is one of the most studied theories in psychology, and I’ll bet everyone reading this knows someone who does this (not including themselves).

In the above (3) points, if you believe all three then you will experience cognitive dissonance.  And depending upon which beliefs are strongest, you’ll rationalize away one in order bring them in line with the other two.

Most people who I bring this up with rationalize (2) – that God ordered something that is morally wrong.  Norman Geisler is a Christian theologian that rationalizes away the act’s immorality by saying the following:

  1. The Canaanites had a sinful culture and practice human sacrifice.  Because they were so evil, they had to be destroyed (or forfeited their right to exist). 

    To counter this, I say that it doesn’t justify killing children and infants.

  2. They were utterly opposed to Israel.  Even if Israel displaced them, they would continually raid their villages. 

    To counter this, I say that Israel had a good military if they were able to drive them out.  They would have to maintain that military anyhow to protect against other raiders.

  3. Since God has created life, God can take it away.  He can do whatever He wants with life.

    To counter this, I say that creating life does not give you the right to cause other people harm.  People, once they exist, have a right to continue existing.  These are real people, not inanimate objects.  What’s the difference between saying you can kill them whenever you want and saying you can torture them with physical pain for your amusement whenever you want?

If you don’t buy my objections to Geisler’s rationale, that’s fine.  You may well agree with Geisler.  But are you agreeing with him because it confirms your confirmation bias (that the Bible is inerrant) and thus resolves your cognitive dissonance?  Or because you think his logic is spot on and that killing all of these people was morally good?

If you do agree with Geisler and that this act was perfectly valid, consider this: on the one hand, you are claiming that the genocide of the villagers – including women, children and the elderly – in Vietnam by the Americans is morally wrong.  And on the other hand, you are claiming that the genocide of the Amalekites – including women, children and the elderly – in Canaan by the Israelites is morally good.

This means that, to you, genocide is not wrong in the absolute sense.  You can’t say that mass murder against defenseless civilians is always wrong.  You can’t say it because you have to add a caveat – “unless God says that it’s okay.”

And that’s why I am uncomfortable with a conservative Christian saying that they believe in Biblical inerrancy while simultaneously claiming that God is the source of morality.  If you are saying that genocide is sometimes morally good, and the morality of genocide is a pretty important thing to get right, then how can you claim moral authority on other things?

Luke 16:10 – Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.

That’s the tricky issue of morality and inerrancy.  If you can’t categorically say that genocide is always wrong, then I suspect that you are resolving your own cognitive dissonance because it’s pretty clear how morally unambiguous that is. 

This inconsistency about what is a clear cut issue makes me skeptical about other claims to morality (e.g., if you’re wrong about this, what else are you wrong on?).

Fortunately, most Christians don’t rationalize this sort of thing the way Geisler does.  They just don’t think about it (another technique to resolve the cognitive dissonance).  You will never see anyone going around praising God for destroying the Amalekites.  But when pressed, a lot of people would rationalize it in some way.  And that makes me uncomfortable.

That’s how I see things.

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Your brain has a curious phenomenon – it remembers events better than they actually were.  And unpleasant events are downplayed such that they you remember them as less bad than what you felt at the time.

I will give you an example.

Today I went to the dentist.  Before I went, I wasn’t feeling nervous or anything.  I didn’t want to go, but nobody wants to go to the dentist.  After all, who wants someone poking around with sharp objects inside your mouth?  And jabbing needles into your soft tissue?  And putting weird chemicals into your mouth that taste weird?

As I got there, I was feeling fine.  But as soon as they stuck the plastic thing in my mouth to take the x-ray, I suddenly recalled “Oh, yeah, I don’t like this.”  When they started poking around inside my mouth and my jaw was getting sore, I remembered “Right, this part isn’t fun.”  And when they take the scraper and scrape stuff off my teeth and it hurts, I’m like “I wish I wasn’t here.”

Yet as soon as I leave the dentist I think to myself “Gee, that wasn’t so bad” even though it was less than 5 minutes before I wanted to get out of there.  Even now, I have to go back next week for a couple of fillings and I’m like “Meh.”  But last time I had fillings done on my upper teeth, it was a truly suck-worthy experience.  I never want to do it again (note to self: floss more).

And it’s all because your brain is programmed to fade bad memories into the background (which explains why women give birth more than once).

Sometimes I wish my brain were a little less optimistic.  But if that were true, I’d never go back to the dentist.

A true catch-22.

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The past couple of weeks I have been going back to the gym in an effort to rehabilitate my hip.  Even though I could do 80% of my exercises at home, I don’t do it at home.  I’m too lazy and get distracted.  Ergo, I have to motivate myself to go.

The problem is at the gym, there are other people around.  This doesn’t matter for nearly every person there.

Except for one.

I do some motions where I have to start in one position and then rotate 90 degrees to complete the motion (before returning back to the starting position).  I go up to the wall with the railing and grip it and start doing the exercise.  However, while I was doing it, this one other guy came and stood near me and began to stretch near the same bar, as he is entitled to do.

But he stank.

Normally people don’t smell the greatest in a gym because of their sweat, but most people aren’t sweating that much (I rarely do).  But this guy was an older Indian guy who also smelled of curry.  It took my breath away (in a bad way).  It smelled bad.

This meant that I had to do the move, turn in his direction and gasp for breath as the odor hit my nasal passages.  I finally resorted to returning to the rest position, rotating and holding my breath, then turning back and breathing out again, filling my lungs with sweet, sweet oxygen.

That saved me.

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When I was in the third grade, I had my meanest teacher ever – Mrs. Butler.  I know that as we get older our memories are not as accurate as we think, but I clearly remember that she was my meanest teacher.  My sister can confirm this as she had her four years earlier in the first grade.  In fact, we both have the same nickname for her – Mrs. Butthead.

I can’t remember exactly what else made her so mean, but I know that she yelled at kids and was intimidating.  Sure, she had her moments of niceness and could be gentle, but it was overshadowed by her other traits.  I wouldn’t remember her for being mean if she really weren’t mean because I sure remember other teachers being nice (like my fourth grade teacher Mrs. MacFadyen).

My mother used to say that she must have been a good teacher.  Because all of the kids were scared of her, we weren’t goofing off and therefore listened in class and learned a lot.

Even if it were true that all the kids were scared of her, this theory is wrong.  Cognitive neuroscience shows that people learn more when they are in a good mood: our decisions are better, our recall is better and we don’t make as many mistakes.  When emotions like fear or anger are present, our judgment is impaired.

The one incident that stands out in my mind is one that cements my recall of her.  It doesn’t matter whatever else my memories are of Mrs. Butthe— Butler because this one overrides them all.

In 1987, my family took a vacation down to California where we spent two or three weeks with my aunt.  My parents got permission to take me out of school during that time, but in return when I got back I had to stay in during recess to make up for the work that I missed.  It was a fair tradeoff, I guess.  I needed to catch up.

I don’t remember how many recesses I had to stay in for.  A week?  Two weeks?  We had three recesses per day and I had to stay in for morning and afternoon (15 minutes) but I could go out for lunch.


The week I got back, I stayed in during the two recess breaks for the first couple of days and caught up on my work.  But later on during the week I did go out for recess in the afternoon.

Why did I do this? 

Because I forgot about it.  I was only 8 years old.  What do you expect?  I wanted to be with my friends.  I just straight up forgot.

Afterwards, about half an hour or later or so, I was sitting at my desk doing my work, head down.  I heard the teacher walk up behind me but I wasn’t paying attention.  I suddenly felt a painful SMACK on the back of my head!

It hurt.  Mrs. Butler had slapped me.  The next part is a blur, but the teacher “explained” to me (in a loud voice) that I was supposed to do my catch up work and instead I went out for recess.  Maybe she thought I did it on purpose.  I was sorry for what I did and pledged to catch up.

I never told my parents about this because I thought that I deserved it.  I violated the terms of the agreement.  But looking back on it, I did not deserve to be slapped like that – from behind – at only the age of 8.  I was just a kid, I didn’t bring it upon myself.  Certainly it did not require corporal punishment.

That incident sticks out in my mind and it will forever.  It is the lasting impression I have of Mrs. Butthead.

And that’s the story of the time my teacher slapped me on the back of the head.

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