An accomplishment!

I’ve written 11,116 words over the last month (not counting this post). That’s an average of 383 words per day! It’s no 50,000-word novel, but it feels like progress.

Two days ago my number of published posts exceeded my number of drafts. I’m glad this flipped – seeing drafts (63) vs. posts (22) discouraged me from publishing posts many, many times.

Solipsistic Q&A

Q. Am I contributing something by writing? Do I actually have things to say?

A. Writing for a month proves to me that I have some things to say, but I’m still in an absorbing phase of my life. I often envy those who are creative producers, i.e. people who appear to be bursting with interesting content all the time. I feel pressure to eventually get to the point of steadily outputting useful things, but perhaps no productive person is entirely idea outflows. In any case, I look forward to further idea incubation: reading and learning and thinking more. So… sort of.

Q. Has this been useful?

A. Two things have been useful – the interactions sparked with friends, and the forceful practice of daily ‘published’ writing. It’s easy to forget that being fluent with written words is important until forced to write something meaningful. So for the sake of writing important work emails, writing complaint letters to companies, writing online dating profiles, etc., it’s always good to be in practice. Yes!

Q. Do I have improved goals for writing?

A. Partially I wanted to practice writing just because I think it’s an important avenue of expression. I haven’t found any thematic topics that I strongly wish to cover, and for this reason, I feel like it would be difficult to develop an audience for my writing outside of my friends. I enjoy meaningful essays and perhaps I’d like to work on writing and publishing meaningful essays in the near future. This may require further exploring for topics that interest me or a more specific voice. So… not really?

Q. What will I do with my time, now that I’ve established I have at least 1-2 hours per day of free time?

A. I’m definitely going to take a break from writing for now. I’ll spend more time with Max to make up for neglecting him occasionally with a panicked excuse of “BUT I NEED TO WRITE A POST TODAY!!” I’ll skate, play the piano, sing Christmas music, and consider book recommendations.

Thanks for reading!

Really, I appreciate it. I love the feeling of connection when someone tells me they thought about something that I thought about. I wish we could swim around in our thoughts together all the time!

I have a pair of pants made of an athletic, greyish-green material, with ankle cuffs. If they sound unseemly, it’s because they are, so I call these my “ugly pants” and I usually wear them over leggings when I’m cold. I could call them a less insulting name, but I delight in the idea that I can wear ugliness, in the same way as I can wear maroon or leather. It’s a way to own beauty.

Society is weird about beauty

One of my most hated marketing initiatives is Dove’s campaign for fake beauty. This is the series of ads where a corporation declares that EVERYONE MUST BE BEAUTIFUL and then preys on women’s insecurities about feeling sub-beautiful, just like every other corporation. The problem is that people of average looks are not beautiful (in the model sense), in the same way that people of average intelligence are not geniuses.

And who cares? Being average in appearance, intelligence, or any other single trait does not doom us to uselessness or unhappy lives.

Beauty is particularly weird because society assumes it’s a fixed trait and then does a lot of judging. Being non-beautiful becomes hard because it’s easy to feel worthless, while being beautiful becomes hard because it becomes all people notice. The only answer is to sneer at beauty as a trait and own it like clothing.

In reality, human beauty is not some transcendent, immutable quality; rather, it’s mundane and adjustable. Anyone can significantly alter their level of attractiveness with clothing, makeup, hair, or posture. And those are just instantaneous changes – long-term, we can also change our diets, adopt exercise regimes, or visit plastic surgeons.

The realization that I could adjust my attractiveness freed me from beauty. That’s why I love my ugly pants!

Unlike many of my peers who started late careers in software, I’ve actually been programming since my early teens. Silly Harry Potter sites on geocities, BASIC programming and Lego Robotics in middle school enrichment programs, Java and MATLAB in college.

But it wasn’t until I was 25 that I finally decided programming could be a career. It was after an assignment at DevBootcamp where we parsed HTML from craigslist and displayed summary information on the command line. Then, I concretely understood how code is powerful and connective.

Was I crazy for not seeing this in all the other examples I’d encountered? Maybe. My predominant experience with code up to that point was games – mazes, space invader, etc. (And a bit of isolated laboratory data analysis.) I never feared studying software because of my gender or my perceived intelligence, but its conflation with games drove me away, because I consider games a waste of time.

There are good reasons for teaching with games – they are modular and isolated, and they have clear, satisfying goals. Programming as a career sometimes feels like a game, because it’s easy to focus on creating good code structures while disconnecting from ultimate uses, like “this is for running a corporate ticketing system.” And many of the failings of the tech industry are from forgetting that code has actual consequences (facebook news) or getting lost in an insular world (every app that mails you something inconsequential). So I think it’s appropriate to be wary of the games.

 

Why I boycott Frontier

Once I was tricked into flying on Frontier because I did a quick flight search on kayak and their flight was slightly cheaper than other options. Then I realized they didn’t offer an electronic boarding pass; this was probably to charge me an extra $30 for my carry-on at check-in. Maybe I should have known, but I didn’t – and Frontier certainly didn’t inform me. No, a tiny, message on kayak that baggage fees may exist does not count. Spirit asks for baggage plans and provides prices during the flight booking process, before payment – that counts.

Deceit as a business strategy is not cool. Capitalism should not require that customers become experts on the industry tricks for the goods and services they purchase. Frontier is in a fairly commoditized business, so I’m happy to pay a few more dollars occasionally to always avoid them. (But I needn’t.)

Why I hate Airbnb but still use them

I was in a lyft over the summer where the driver, who recently moved to Portland, told me that she planned to buy a house purely to rent it on Airbnb, preferably in a nice area where only rich people could afford to vacation. I mortally fear being in enclosed, fast-moving spaces with offended people, so I didn’t say what I was thinking. Which was “WHAT? You’re literally making Portland worse!!!”

Airbnb is a societal problem where it benefits all individuals to use it while traveling, and it benefits individuals who use it to rent out their houses. But it makes everyone worse off in cities with limited housing, due to higher costs and likely missed tax revenue. I have no respect for Airbnb, which is a tragedy of the commons masquerading as a sharing economy. Tragedy of the commons problems require regulation, and Airbnb, being in denial, has no interest in enforcing or aiding regulation. Shameful.

(But I still use Airbnb when I travel.)

Better to complain publicly than boycott 

I’m arriving at the conclusion that personal boycotting doesn’t matter. I keep forgetting my power cord for work and then borrowing my coworkers’, and my manager pointed out, “Er… Apple’s probably not going to notice if we buy you an extra cord.”

More menacing, boycotting suggests that regulating unethical companies is a personal responsibility. Should it be our responsibility to boycott food manufacturers that poison people? No, that’s the FDA’s responsibility, and for good reason. Citizen coordination can’t overcome power collected by every long-standing organization with interests that aren’t aligned with citizens.

As individuals, it’s respectable to consider the impact of our economic choices. But suffering to make an unnoticed point isn’t going to help, so at least annoy your friends and complain.

 

I was a picky eater as a child, and over the years, I’ve collected food-related fantasies that loosely fit into “If I were royalty, I would request…” Today I categorized those food fantasies into three main groups.

High Effort Food Fantasies

The prime example of this is grapefruit or pomelo. When peeled properly, grapefruit pieces are pristine juice-laden pods without membrane to distract from the tart and fragrant experience. But this state requires much effort – peeling off the skin and pith, separating the membrane, removing the seeds. Industrially peeled grapefruit is not comparable, especially when suspended in sugary fluids for unknown periods. If I were royalty, I would surely request freshly peeled grapefruit, likely prepared in my presence so I could watch expert peeling.

On the other hand, I would also request a steady supply of sunflower seeds that i would crack myself.

High-Consistency Food Fantasies

Blueberries rank highly on my list of favorite summer snacks, and I imagined they were solid blue on the inside until last year – a surprise, but not disappointing. Small fruits are disappointing in that every instance differs in sweetness, texture, ripeness, etc. I expect the royal grapefruit peeler would also study how to control or select for perfect-consistency blueberry servings. I’d be content too with a giant blueberry the size of an apple with consistent flavor and mouthfeel throughout.

With the blueberry studies underway, I would outlaw sandwiches that are too large to hold and sandwiches where the innards slide around during consumption (seriously, how unsavory does that sound?). I would instead request sandwich sets of multiple bite-sized mini-sandwiches, each containing the same proportions of ingredients. None would contain crusts.

Top of the Muffin Fantasies

Many of us, like Elaine Benes, fantasize about popping off the top of the muffin and throwing out the stump. I’d like to eat only asparagus tips and the soft centers of chocolate chip cookies. These fantasies would be the most easily implemented, but they make me feel worst about my personal goodness. It’s treating food enjoyment as a zero-sum game, whereas I could imagine that the society would eventually develop a robot to peel grapefruit, for the enjoyment of all. Waste comprises an indispensable part of the luxurious enjoyment of top of the muffin fantasies.

Why did I write this?

I don’t know, perhaps to make use of overthinking. Perhaps to publicize the urgent crisis of slippery-innard sandwiches.

Evaluating Limitations

Ice is a more limited resource on public sessions, so it’s a challenging setting to practice figure skating. Sometimes it’s self-destructive to compromise on resources when learning – for example, it would be terrible to rent skates instead of buy them, because bad skates make it impossible to learn correct form.

When starting out, skating on public sessions are great! You can practice most basic skills, and public sessions may be the only option anyway, besides group lessons. Without time pressure, it can be nice (and effective!) to work on one difficult skill for an entire public session, because that’s the easiest way to detect progress. I also found that working on something invited helpful suggestions from more advanced skaters.

Once past the basic levels, I don’t advise practicing on public sessions as a substitute for freestyle sessions; having space is too important for jumps and spins. But attending additional public sessions is still useful if you have things to practice or polish. Often I’ve found that doing things slowly on a public session promotes the body awareness I need to solidify a skill. Public sessions are often at more times (not only in the pre-dawn hours) and they’re cheaper. They’re also an opportunity to build confidence by skating on a rougher surface and a good time to make friends!

Following are suggestions of things to practice on a public session.

Beginning skills:

  • Forward skating on one foot
  • Forward swizzles / wiggles
  • Forward stroking
  • Lunges
  • All types of stops
  • Edges in semi-circles
  • Crossovers (around curves, or if you can find a less-trafficked circle)
  • Mohawks
  • Turning from forward to backward / vice versa on two feet

More advanced skills:

  • Forward power pulls
  • Forward cross rolls
  • Three turns or brackets in semi-circles
  • Beginning one-rotation twizzles
  • Spread eagles
  • Pivots (these might be a beginning skill. But I only recently realized I should know them, so I don’t know where to put them)
  • Centering spin exercises (I have a lot of trouble pulling into my spins correctly, so my coach suggested I start them standing still from my feet in a T position)
  • Backspins

Being careful

It’s necessary to be respectful of people around you at public sessions, because most people won’t be able to respond quickly. It’s possible to skate backwards if you can spot an open area, or if someone is watching out for you. A center space can be good for practicing regular spins, although camel spins make me a little paranoid since they take up more space.

 

When I was eight, my parents moved us into their first house, in central PA. They didn’t have any friends in the area, so they called everyone in the phone book with a Chinese-sounding last name (being central PA, this was not many people) and invited them to a pizza party. I was a kid then, so my only significant memory of that gathering was the pizza. But I’m aware that twenty years later, some of their best friends were the strangers with the right last names in the phone book.

I sort of envy this systematic way of gathering random people. It’s not like now where people are unevenly findable because everyone’s on different web sites and has to opt-in. Of course, it’s lucky that my parents sought a factor available in a phone book, which doesn’t contain very deep data. The lack of deep data may also be a positive, because it assured that the people my parents befriended were diverse too. (Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are many different kinds of Chinese people, or any minority group.)

This is all to say that gatherings are important, and I hope everyone’s found a nice one of their own for Thanksgiving!

The Ladder of Abstraction

Earlier in this month of writing, Max read one of my posts and told me to “climb down the ladder of abstraction.” It’s true, I default to communicating in concepts, not examples. Better writers climb up and down the ladder – up (more abstract) to convey the importance of the topic, and down (more concrete) to offer realism and a better chance to relate.

Radio is my savior from elitism

I’ve accumulated many snobby preferences, but I am not a radio elitist. (This is related, I promise.)

First, when I’m driving, I love listening to radio call-in shows like “Second Date Update” or “Hump Day Dump Day.” A recent segment featured a man who stopped calling because his date decreed that he must attend her family’s Christmas gatherings if their relationship became serious. They got along splendidly otherwise, and he wanted to go on a second date, with one condition: that she agree to consider attending Christmas with his family just once. And she refused! Ahh! What a raw examination of the human condition!

Second, I appreciate country music, and I’m surprised how often it’s people’s “I’ll listen to anything but X” genre. Country music is uniquely accessible because the chords are pleasant, and the lyrics are vivid and relatable. So I’m willing to ignore the dumb songs featuring archaic gender roles (identity is overall weird in music) and relish the convincing portrayals of love – Taylor Swift’s “Our song is a slamming screen door / Sneaking out late tapping on your window” – or revenge – Carrie Underwood’s “I dug my key into the side / Of his pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive / Carved my name into his leather seats”. Wow, that’s graphic writing set to music.

Even beyond those top hits, it’s the norm of country music to tell stories and note that we often fall in love with people while wearing jeans. I love both wearing jeans and falling in love! Hopefully listening to country music can help me down the ladder of abstraction.

 

 

Being boring while drunk(ish)

A few years ago I was out drinking and a friend told me that my behavior was the same as usual. I’d had probably three drinks (an immense amount by my standards), and I certainly felt different, i.e. worse. Sometime since then I decided against wasting time, money, and health on a drug that (to me) tastes unremarkable-to-awful and produces boring side effects.

I’m still puzzled by why we bother ingesting substances that are ‘acquired tastes.’ What’s wrong with the tastes we already have? Are they not challenging enough? Is this a grass is always greener scenario? Is it because ‘acquired tastes’ are mostly drugs/poisons that trick the brain?

Pickles

On the other hand, once I decided to acquire a taste for pickles, and that proved to be a good, forward-thinking decision given their ubiquity in burgers.

How I hate fun

I’m going to be a serious fun-killer here, and point out how messed up it is that a good portion of fun activities for adults involve and/or require drug use. It’s even an expected activity for the workplace. That’s crazy! Professional organizations expect and support unnecessary drug use. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll write about why I hate coffee too.

Alcohol might be benign and funny for most people, but a significant number of adults (1 in 12 according to the NCADD) ‘suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence.’ That’s an insane amount of damage to our society. And for what? For lowest-common-denominator fun? For drugging away our inhibitions and stunting our development of real bravery? For filling voids where more fulfilling activities belong?

I don’t mean this to be a judgmental post. Everyone should feel free to have fun, and I have my own mindless fun-but-not-fulfilling activities. But at a societal level, where work and dating and friendship are so heavily influenced by a drug, I’m sure there’s something wrong.

 

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Freestyle sessions at Lloyd Center started again this morning, after a year under construction. I skated by myself for an hour and almost ran into the tree a couple of times doing backward spirals. Silly holidays. The rink is even smaller now, and the ice quality is mediocre, but I’m thrilled to have a skating venue 15 minutes away by bike!

Physical proximity to enriching things is so essential. I’m grateful to live in a small city with a range of transportation options, including consistent support for biking. In October I visited Atlanta, GA and I was shocked at how treacherous it felt to walk there – I was nearly run over while crossing WITH the pedestrian signal. I expect the drivers get grumpy from often sitting on unpredictable freeways. Did you know that more roads actually lead to more traffic? The 8-lane highway planners in Atlanta missed the memo.