Mister Schissel's Wild Ride (or, LA Adventure, Here and Back Again)

My last day of work for the year was last Wednesday, and I was determined to squeeze a lot of recreation into my Christmas break. Megan going to TN a few days before me afforded me quite the opportunity.
Wednesday night was poker with friends (+$3!) and then The Hobbit in 3DHFR. I enjoyed it a lot, and struggled home to bed at 1am. It would be the first of many long nights.
Thursday afternoon I arrived in LA and went to Bino's new house to discuss all the improvements he wanted to make. It was fun to take part in the vision. The view is incredible, and the home theatre is going to be fabulous.
We stopped and had truffle burger and fried chicken for dinner at Plan Check. Then we went to the SENS Research Foundation fundraiser featuring Aubrey de Gray. I met some cool people and had great conversations.
Then we went to the pre-party for XFF (Extreme Futurist Fest) at the Standard hotel. The "party" consisted primarily of a room full of crazy people hotboxing an entire hotel room. Not my scene. So we went and ate a snack with one of Bino's friends in the restaurant downstairs with the funniest waiter ever named Jay-mar. Thus ended my second late night at 2am.

Friday was the main event, XFF. Unfortunately, the "main event" got delayed by events and traffic and whatnot, and we ended up showing up around 3pm. Another friend of Bino's, Stephen, drove me when Bino bailed. The ride there, though long, was one of my favorite parts because Stephen is just a hilarious and interesting guy.
XFF is itself was a bust, as far as I was concerned. I assume there were a fair number of interesting people there, but the preparation for the event was crap, and the people were mostly stuck in ill-prepared talks. Few vendors, few alternatives to the main room. Overall, it was disappointing, so I grabbed a bus home.
I got my hopes up again when Bino invited me to a party smack dab in the middle of Beverly Hills. Literally next to Sachs. I borrowed a suit from Bino--his from college!--and we suited up with a bunch of Scotch in tow.
The party was *not* what I expected... I think I got 4 business cards and one "reel."
Once again, though, the night wasn't over. One party/night is not Bino's style. Instead, we headed to 7 Grand, a well-known LA whiskey bar. Thanks to Bino's pull, we skipped the line and went on in. All the bar tenders knew Bino, and it wasn't long before he'd gone to his car to get the Scotch back out and poor for them! It was a funny sight seeing someone serve the bartender. These guys were hardcore Scotch guys and they loved Bino's old and expensive liquor.
I drove Bino's car home and ended my third late late night in a row.
Saturday we didn't even make pretense at going to the XFF (although Stephen tells me it was better on day 2). Instead, I spent most of the daylight hours playing Twilight Struggle with Graydon. Bino helped me, but our combined inexperience was no match for Graydon's previous plays.
That evening we all went to Ray's Grinch party. It was fun--a bit of conversation, a bit of drinking, the classic reading of the Grinch-- but the toll of the previous three nights combined with Graydon's schedule sent me home at a modest 1030pm.
One might suspect that a Sunday night would be relatively tame, especially after the previous nights, but not in Bino-land! We visited friends in the morning, then hit Life of Pi in the afternoon. Bino worked more of his magic and got us better seats that the theatre offered us originally, and it was a pretty good movie. Then we went over to Stephen's house and hung out for awhile before dinner. Dinner was at a nice nearby Italian restaurant and Bino's friend Celine joined us. Then the 4 of us took off for a follies show.
The "end of the world follies" was great: tons of variety acts, music, comedic introductions, etc. A man made a bologna sandwich with his feat, another swallowed swords. There was a juggler and there were wonderful "silk" aerialists. The show was great, but the best part was the after-show. Many of the acts tried out new material, and the atmosphere was just totally relaxed. Cast members were heckling each other. People were dancing. And they finally pulled out a little burlesque!
Then after *that*, Bino and I hung around a little longer. At this point, it was pretty much just cast members and us. We got lots of fascinating one-on-one time with members of the play and Bino did some more networking. When the night started devolving into cast-only congratulations and champagne soaked revelry, Bino and I took our leave.
We got home at a relatively early 1am, but with my 630am flight, I ended up getting just 4 hours of sleep before hopping a cab to LAX. Even with sleep on the plane, I ended up crashing at my in-laws once I arrived in TN.
So, that was the exciting part of vacation! I think the rest will be a *much* tamer and more relaxing chilling in TN for a few days before finally heading back to Tucson.

Better Living Through Fiction

I was reading a good fantasy book the other day, and I noted that the hero had incredible willpower. Then I realized that, for a fictional character, having willpower is as easy as writing "He had incredible willpower." Of course, a good author will spice it up a bit, show-not-tell, but it all comes down to words.

So I thought, maybe I should do that. Maybe I should *write* my way into willpower. The next time I wanted a cookie, I wrote, "He looked at the cookie with practiced disdain and pushed it away, permitting himself a small smile at his triumph." And it worked. It made it much easier for me to overcome that urge.

Being a thoroughly (self) trained (pop) psychologist, I can imagine some reasons this may work.

1) Vividly and concretely imagining something seems to make it more real. Writing forces you to be more concrete in your visualization.

2) Writing in the past tense makes an event fait acompli. For me, this makes it easier to experience the reward for an act well-done.

3) Perspective. When I have a craving, in that moment it seems like the biggest thing in the world. When I take a moment to write about it, however, I can shrink it down to the miniscule thing that it is. Especially if my fictional proxy happens to be avoiding that cookie for the sake of SAVING THE WORLD.

So, I'm still road-testing this whole technique, but I encourage others to join me in the experiment. Feel free to extend the technique beyond dieting to motivating positive acts like exercise, homework, self-improvement, whatever.

I was going to release a book called "The Twitter Diet" where I explained how to use this technique to lose weight 140 characters at a time, but I realized it would be a pretty short book. So I'm just writing this LJ entry and givin' it away for free!

child endangerment?

So, I had a weird experience on my walk home from the gym tonight.
I saw three young children (ages 7,5,4) leaving their house and wandering around with no adult. This threw up a red flag, but wasn't necessarily a problem. Then I noticed the two youngest were pretty distraught. I approached the kids and talked to them, and eventually extracted the story that Mom and Dad had had a fight, and Dad had gone off looking for Mommy. They had been left alone, and were afraid.

The oldest wanted to call her Nana, but their home phone was broken. I let her use my cell, but she either didn't quite know her number, or Nana wasn't home. So I wait around a few more minutes, trying to keep the two younger ones from freaking out and/or running in the middle of the street as it gets dark out. Then I decide to call 911. As I'm describing the awkward situation, Dad pulls up. So, I try to explain to him as non-accusingly as possible that I found his kids running in the street and stayed with them. He seemed distracted and just sort of said "it's fine now," and we left it at that. No "thanks" or embarrassment or explanation or anything.

So I left.

Do you think I should do anything? I have Nana's number in my cell phone (maybe). I tried to call, but it goes to a generic message service. I know their address, so I could stop back, or call child services or something. Or I could just assume it's not a problem. Any thoughts?

The regular irregular

Originally published at Jason's Fresh Produce. You can comment here or there.

This month was our birthdays.

Last month was a vacation.

Solar cells. Refinancing the house. TiVo.

Budgeting is hard with “one time” expenses, but life is full of one time deals. The same holds true for dieting, or for getting projects done on time.

The best way I’ve found of dealing with this is to amortize, or look at expenses over a long period of time and spread out the cost. If you have better solutions, let me know!

TED talk review–Tim Ferris

Originally published at Jason's Fresh Produce. You can comment here or there.

Inspired by Cort, I downloaded all the TED talk podcasts to my iPod and I’ve been listening to them on my commute.

Listen to the talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_ferriss_smash_fear_learn_anything.html

This morning I listened to Tim Ferriss, author of “The 4-hour Work Week,” talking about his ability to deconstruct things. I’m familiar with Ferris previously from his book and his TV-series (in which he demonstrating his skill by picking up complex activities in a single week).

I’ve come to the conclusion that he must be somewhat OCD. He studies his chosen activity–whether it is Tango, Japanese language, or archery–with an unbelievable focus, and he repeats the “building block” pieces hundreds or thousands of times.

His demonstrations engender, at least in me, equal parts awe, jealousy, and doubt. Is he really doing that? I wish I could do that. (Or do I?).

It would definitely be awesome to be able to do a mean tango, or speak Japanese, but would it be useful? Would it be fulfilling? Would the week (or month, or 6 months) of intense learning be fun, or painful? Would it be worth it? Most of us have the handy exucse of work insulating us from ever having to find out.

Anyway, the talk is somewhat thought provoking, but short on details. Like most Tim Ferriss produce, it is mostly about Tim Ferriss. He’s sort of like a more arrogant Tony Robbins.

Life imitating art?

Originally published at Jason's Fresh Produce. You can comment here or there.

I’ve noticed that it got harder to write fiction since the invention of the cell phone.

Fiction is based on conflict, and having a ubiquitous means of communication means it is harder to generate believable conflict. The same is true for the internet as an ever-present source of information on almost any topic.

Do you think the same has become true in the real world? Do we actually have less conflict with improved communications? Is there a good way to measure the aggregate amount of “conflict?”

Even owners rent

Originally published at Jason's Fresh Produce. You can comment here or there.

Probably all of us have heard the old adage that owning a home is a path to wealth.

Recently, this truism has been debated quite a bit, but I believe most people will still come down in favor of owning over renting. However, something I realized today is that even owners rent. And this renting is costing them a lot of money. Take a look at your bills.

Allow me to enumerate where you rent, and how you could become an owner:

 1) Electric power: (payoff time for ownership ~10years)

You are renting because the machinery of power generation is not in your hands.

My wife and I recently installed solar panels, and I’ve finally come to realize that a big chunk of our electric bill is a fixed cost the utilities charge just for running a line to your house. Since we’re using a “grid tied” system, I can’t escape that cost. I expect the generation of our own power to pay off in about 10 years (faster if inflation pushes my power costs up). I would save a lot more money by being completely off the grid, but I don’t think the battery technology is up to a cheap initial investment yet.

2) Television content (payoff time for ownership < 1 year!)

We’re paying our cable company $70/mo for cable we almost never watch, just so we can use the DVR that we love. Well, forget that. Last night we bought a TiVo (with lifetime service) for $600. Simple math tells you that we can record broadcast TV to our hearts’ content and earn back our investment in under a year.

Services like netflix, hulu, and the internet in general will let us keep up with non-broadcast shows for a lot less money.

By owning a TiVo and a computer, we’ve put the method of distribution and recording in our own hands.

3) Cell phones (payback for ownership = ? quick?)

This is the next bill I plan to attack. Why are we paying $100/mo when services like Skype let you talk for free. I believe there are already “skype phones” out there that completely hide the mechanics of VoIP and just let you worry about your conversation.


What other bills could we get rid of? Natural gas is cheap, and converting to be all electrical would be expensive. Certainly one can imagine a gas-free home pretty easily, though.  I don’t see how we can avoid paying for internet. Gasoline bills can be reduced by owning a more efficient car, or even (in the future) a solar one.

So, my advice for today is to examine where you can become an owner. It gives you power and saves you money.

Community building, IRL

Originally published at Jason's Fresh Produce. You can comment here or there.

Most of the web has figured out by now that any service or software can be copied or reproduced. The “social web” revolution has been an attempt to incorporate an aspect that can’t be spoofed, namely, community. Why do people use facebook? Because all their friends do. Without the friends, facebook is a (bigger) waste of time.

I haven’t seen much evidence of this trend overflowing to the real world, though, which is silly, because even hardware can be copied.  In particular, I’ve been thinking about real-estate lately. What would you think of a community where modern technology blended with 1950s-style community.

What if there was a central web page for all your neighbors to sign on, set up a profile, share news, and so forth?

Sure, a lot of people might opt out of this, but I think it would be nice to know my neighbors. There are lots of other ways to get to know people, but in a world where an increasing number of marriages are the result of online dating (including mine!) I don’t think we can count out the value of the electronic introduction.

Ideally, such a program could increase the safety and happiness of a community through knowledge sharing and increased trust. 


*To collect the point that may not have made it through: a real-estate developer could set his community apart and give his community non-reproducible value by ingraining a human network.

new teaching methods

Originally published at Jason's Fresh Produce. You can comment here or there.

After reading this article on 5 alternative teaching methods: http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/25926

I began considering the use of technology in classrooms. This is hardly a new field of consideration. The “Harkness method” in paricular, though, made me think of the value of having every student interconnected.

Imagine sitting around a circular table where everyone has a built in tabletop computer. Problems are assigned and worked out in real time. This means that errors can be corrected as soon as they occur! Also, socratic method could be used to guide struggling problem-solvers at the precise point of confusion.

In addition, this could allow for asynchronous pacing since each screen could progress through a lesson at the appropriate speed. Students who finished lessons quickly could either progress ahead and/or help the slower students. Or they could proceed laterally into tangential fields to deepen their understanding while still not getting too far ahead.

Another advantage to this system is that it would allow the collection of a huge amount of real time data. This learning data could be used to improve a student’s individual learning environment. In addition, every student is (more or less) constantly involved and interacting, rather than passively listening (or not listening, as the case may be).