These days, most of my gaming is spent looking down and controlling large armies of space marines in epic, strategic battles. My favorite genre of games, however, typically involves playing a single hero (and maybe a few companions) embarking on an epic quest in some fantasy world where my character grows stronger and find magical equipment and loot. Among these games, known as western (as opposed to eastern or Japanese) role-playing games (RPGs), there are several well-known franchises, such as Baldur’s Gate, Diablo, and Mass Effect. One important franchise that I came late to is The Elder Scrolls,. Most recently, I have been playing the 5th installement, Skyrim, but thanks to the generosity of my friend Tom, I had the chance to play in the open beta for The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) this past weekend. Continue reading
This past weekend, Julie and I went up to San Francisco to fulfill my birthday present for her. I said I would get her a messenger bag, but it was important that we find the right bag that would work for her and hopefully last a lifetime. SF is home to Chrome Industries, Timbuk2, and Mission Workshop, so we made a walking day trip out of the store visits around the city. We planned out our route, major stops, and meals, but a big part of these day trips are the unexpected parts, like seeing the Dalai Lama.
On our walk from Uniqlo in the Union Square area to Timbuk2 in Hayes Valley, we passed by the Symphony Hall on the other side of the street where we saw people standing around with signs. As we approached, the letters cleared up to a most surprising protest target: the Dalai Lama. I asked a guy standing on our side what was going on.
“The Dalai Lama is coming out of that door,” he replied.
“Soon?” He nodded in response.
I looked over at Julie, and we agreed that we could wait to see the Dalai Lama. There were a few false alarms when other suited security members walked in and out of the musician’s entrance door. We were amused by an enthusiastic passer-by who happened to carry dog treats in her purse and dog owners who were more permissive of random food than the dog itself.
Several minutes after the police has blocked off the street and the 3 black Suburbans had started their engines, we saw a figure robed in orange emerge from the door. The protesters immediately began their not-so-religious chanting: a call-and-response from a guy on a speakerphone. The first monk went into the first Suburban, but then another monk appeared and went into the second Suburban.
I had seen the Dalai Lama once in real life, and though I couldn’t remember it that well, I was pretty sure that neither of the monks were him. Then, the giant rolling garage door opened, and we saw the feet of more security guys. Behind it, we saw 2 more black cars, which pulled out as soon as possible. They drove off with the rest of the convoy, and I only got to maybe see the Dalai Lama through a tinted car window.
As Julie and I continued our walk, we joked about the “decoy monk” strategy by security. Obviously nothing went wrong with security, but had something happened, it was a pretty clever strategy. Were it, say, George Clooney, it’s somewhat difficult to fake a George Clooney. With the Dalai Lama, however, it’s probably not unlikely that there were more people like me who just know that he’s an old Tibetan guy.
When we planned our trip to the city, we did plan to have a delicious brunch in SoMa somewhere. We didn’t plan to see the Dalai Lama, or to almost see the Dalai Lama, or to see the Dalai Lama impersonators who actually look nothing like the Dalai Lama. We did plan to pick up socks from a shop in the Mission. We didn’t plan to get into a discussion with a Spanish storekeeper about the ethics of eating meat.
In fact, we weren’t even planning to go as of dinnertime the evening before. When Julie told me that her weekend was comparatively light, I off-handedly asked if she wanted to do this day trip to the city, and she agreed. I myself wasn’t actually so resolved to go up, so I hesitated in that moment: I had sketched out the day, but I didn’t have a route or specific stops in mind. Of course, it was only a matter of looking at a map and train schedules, so we figured out the details there.
Had we not decided to go then, however, I’m not sure when we would have gotten around to the trip. I have drifted back and forth on the best way to figure out the best things to do. When I was gung-ho about planning, we ended up waking up early on weekends and rushing to hit train schedules to maximize our time. When I relaxed, we ended up sitting around at home and not getting out there.
Like with many things, it seems the best methods are somewhere in-between and dependent on the situation. In this case, it took the right amount of planning to assemble an exciting itinerary and spontaneity to get out and do it. And the trip itself worked out with both the intended stops and unexpected encounters. I’ll have to stay both intentional and open-minded in the future.
(Author’s Note: I wrote this in my journal a few weeks ago)
A few days ago, I cut myself while chopping vegetables. As I was shifting my knife over to cut again, I just nicked my finger, and though I quickly got a bandaid on and kept cooking, I was still angry at myself for letting it happen. I pride myself on good, safe, efficient knife work, and every time I have cut myself, I know exactly what I did wrong to let it happen.
Fortunately, the cut was on the backside of my finger just below my nail, so it hasn’t really affected my ability to do anything. Sometimes, the smallest injuries can cause tremendous irritation, like having the blister on the ball of your foot or getting a paper cut on a butt wiping finger. Suddenly, an otherwise irrelevant part of your body is the most sensitive and noticed spot. It makes me appreciate those strange, forgotten parts.
The appreciation goes beyond simple awareness of the body part and into appreciation of the activity itself. My ongoing forearm problems have made me realize how I have centered everything I do upon the computer. Obviously I work on my computer, and I play games on my computer. I also write on my computer because of my blog. I do a lot of reading online. I watch TV almost exclusively through internet streaming. Oddly, those last few items shouldn’t even require the computer, but they have ended up converging on this device.
My latest malady of tremendous annoyance but not deserving of real sympathy is a canker sore on the underside of my tongue. Having never had a canker sore as far as I can remember, I’m going to pretend that this one was particularly bad. When my tongue is in a neutral position, it is hardly noticeable, but it is located such that both speaking and chewing are quite painful.
Maybe those who interact with me regularly won’t be surprised, but I have found it really hard to resist talking. When people ask me what I enjoy doing or what my hobbies are, I usually have to think about it. I might mention playing video games or cooking, but those are particular activities that I do at discrete times and not as often as I would like. I do, however, talk a lot, and I guess I like cooking because I enjoy eating so much. I never realized how important talking and eating are to me except when it was an effortful process to make it happen.
I have figured out workarounds. I have tried to talk without moving my tongue, which makes my fast speech even more difficult to understand. I compensate by gesturing a lot, though that gets silly quickly. I also have tried to avoid solid food, but that let to me to finding calories in drinking orange juice, which doesn’t interact well with canker sores. I guess I’ll just shut up and eat my food. And I’ll try to enjoy it, too.
Happy New Year everyone. I will continue my annual tradition of New Year Hopes, which are like New Year’s resolutions, except that they’re called something different because I was trying to be different when I started them. And now, it’s a tradition, so I’m stuck with it.
I have had a painful move out of psychology. Since I did research while I was still in school, I considered myself reasonably critical of experiments, basically fluent in psychological phenomenon, and quite up-to-date on recent findings. After I left school, I tried to keep in touch primarily through science writing, which I have actually found quite disappointing.
I’m generally disappointed by science reporting, and it’s entirely my own fault. Writers do report on recent findings, but I am rarely satisfied reading their accounts. I wonder how accurate their reporting is and whether they truly understood the paper. Even if they understood it and report it honestly, I wonder whether they have delivered a complete report of the paper. And even if they got all of that right, I wonder whether it’s properly contextualized in the body of knowledge and what else I’m missing. Of course, none of this is the fault of the journalist: they write for a wider audience, and they might actually have done everything correctly. It’s my problem that I don’t trust 3rd party reports. I would only feel comfortable having read the original paper and done the background myself, and I’m clearly unwilling to do that, or else I would still be in academia.
The other popular psychology writing comes in longer books or pieces from writers like Malcolm Gladwell or Jonah Lehrer and programs like Radio Lab. For awhile, I let these carry me, but the revelation that Lehrer self-plagiarized and fabricated quotes (see wikipedia’s references) made me re-evaluate this entire process, and I ended up being turned off by all of that as well. All of my above concerns are actually amplified here. The difference is that these pieces typically tell a “story” about what’s going on. A book or radio piece needs a compelling theme, and to do that, the writers pick and choose their science to fit their narrative, which can be quite misleading. Examples off the top of my head are Lehrer reporting on only 1 result from a paper and Radio Lab reporting on unfinished work.
So what’s left is science writing by actual scientists, and thankfully, I read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. Kahneman is a Nobel Award-winning psychologist whose work in heuristics and biases is taught in Psychology 101 classes. In this book, he shares key findings in his research areas over his career. He starts out by describing the 2 systems of thinking, the “fast” (automatic) and “slow” (deliberate) from the title. From there, he continues into how our automatic processing compels us towards statistically incorrect and inconsistent decision-making.
Beyond his credentials, Kahneman presents the material in what I believe is a compelling, accessible, and most importantly, honest manner. The 2 systems of thinking are the theme to this book, but he uses them out of necessity and accessibility, not artificial unity, which he is careful to point out. He presents studies individually and offers some of the alternative explanations for the phenomenon. Although other writers may take broad themes from these results, he understands and limits his conclusions and lessons to the scope of the study.
Even better, Kahneman raises meaningful and thoughtful questions. Instead of leaving the reader with a sense of awe for the science and some vague speculation, Kahneman finds the actual limits of the science and discusses the impact of it on daily life to public policy.
The catch of the book is that it is quite long at almost 500 pages, and it can get quite dense. Despite that, Kahneman avoids the pedantic writing of true academia and mixes in real life lessons for the reader and uses anecdotes to enliven (but not prove) his points. If his Nobel Prize didn’t do it, his writing this book should convince you of how seriously and deeply he has thought about his research and its broad consequences for the rest of us. If you’re human, it’s worth the read.
Thanksgiving has passed, and the holiday season is well underway. As is now American tradition, there’s outcry about how commercialized Christmas and other December holidays have become, but there are also the more heartwarming parts. There’s the tree decorating that I don’t do because I just go home a few days before Christmas. There’s the gift shopping that I don’t do because my family is too pragmatic to leave purchase suitability is to chance. There’s even the family time that my family can’t quite make because we’re all using our vacation time differently.
I personally only have two holiday traditions. First, I start wearing my Santa hat 2 or 3 weeks before Christmas. It’s not particularly creative, but it’s rare enough that strangers may be incorrectly convinced of my holiday spirit. It also happens to be a great way to keep my head warm since my haircut is not optimized for winter. Continue reading
Almost 2 months ago, I signed up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I started writing at midnight on the 1st fueled by Halloween candy, and this afternoon around 3:33 PM, I completed my novel, which weighs in at 51,877 words. I’m so glad to be done. In fact, I’m so glad that I don’t have to write any more for it that I’m writing more for it indirectly.
First, if you would like to read it, the first draft is available online at GitHub (disclaimer: it’s bad). Here’s the pitch:
A group of high school students play their ongoing game of Dungeons & Dragons. As they complete quests and approach the end of the game, they find their insight into problems in their real lives as well. Continue reading
Growing up, my family went on 1 vacation a year. Typically, we would go on a 10 to 16 day road trip during the summer to see some major American city. Despite having lived in Canada for half of my childhood, Canada apparently wasn’t worth seeing to my parents, who had already seen it and actually determined vacation itineraries.
So, we would pick a Boston or a Atlanta and drive, seeing national parks, museums, and Fairfield Inns along the way. We weren’t too much into trying local cuisines. The trunk was usually loaded with 2 crates and a cooler of crackers and cereal. My fondest memories of meals were continental breakfasts in hotels and the amazing hotel room-prepared combination of ramen, salad, and chocolate milk (we did this more than once). And so while the parts I most enjoyed of vacation were swimming in the hotel pool and watching SportsCenter, I’m thinking that we mostly spent vacations either in the car or at a museum or park.
Nowadays, my mom mostly vacations on cruises, but I did have the pleasure of going to Paris for a week on vacation with my mom, sister, aunt, and 2 (female) cousins. Continue reading
I think my fiction writing is really bad. While biking home at night a few months ago, I came up with the premise for a sci-fi world that would allow me to write all sorts of fun short stories. I set a goal for myself to write exactly a page in my notebook every night before going to sleep. Two weeks later, I had 14 pages going nowhere, and I shut it down.
To be honest, I thought it would be pretty easy. I have been blogging fairly regularly for over 8 years now, and I can write a couple hundred words in maybe a half hour for it. It turns out, however, that blogging is one of the easier forms of writing. The audience typically isn’t very harsh, the posts aren’t too long, you can reflect on recent experiences, and you can work out the point as you’re writing. Fiction isn’t so forgiving. Even short stories are longer than blog posts, what you create must be somewhat original, and my experience is that the ending won’t write itself. I definitely lack those skills.
For the past 6 years, I have been using my Samsung SGH-A707 flip phone. It wasn’t my first phone: I actually had a Nokia brick for most of my senior year of high school, but most of my phone experience is with this thing.
But as of roughly 24 hours ago, I have joined the modern world and picked up a iPhone 5S.
I saw 2 main reasons for upgrading to a smartphone. First, I was still driving like it was 1999 and printing out or writing down directions from Google Maps. When that failed, I relied on the resources of my navigator to pull out their smartphone and lead us back in the right direction. Second, everyone believes that mobile is the future (or at least the present), and since I work in that industry, I was quickly becoming disconnected with potential users and their use cases. Unless I wanted to begin working on web apps for either babies before their first phone or senior citizens incapable of using smartphones, I needed to step up. Continue reading