Monthly Archives: July 2013

Daily Prompt: Pat on the Back

Woo! I did it! Successfully completed my Blog Every Day in July challenge. Sweet!

I’m pretty excited about that, and proud of myself for getting it done, but that’s not what this post is about. Because today, the Daily Prompt is to “tell someone you’re proud of just how proud you are.” So instead of spending this post selfishly congratulating myself for actually making consistent use of my blog (finally), I want to congratulate someone else who deserves it a lot more: Caroliena Cabada from Polyprotic Amory. Caroliena created her blog around the same time I created mine: November of 2012. However, unlike me, she started posting regularly right away. After my first couple of posts around the end of November/beginning of December, I didn’t post again for another two months. And after that random post in the middle of February, I didn’t post again until…well, until I started this blog-every-day challenge, one month ago.

And guess who inspired me to blog every day? Caroliena. In fact, she didn’t just “inspire” me in some kind of nebulous, wishy-washy tangential way: she straight-up challenged me to actually use my blog, to blog every day in July alongside her. When I would hesitate, she would prod me forward, and before I knew it I was writing a post every day. She provided the impetus for me to sit down and do it. She would often give me prompts and advice and suggestions, but even when she didn’t, just seeing how successful she has been at maintaining her blog for the better part of the past year galvanized me to work harder, smarter, and more on my own. Caroliena wasn’t just helpful, she was an exemplar. From the time we created our blogs until the end of June, I wrote a grand total of three measly posts. She wrote one hundred forty-one.

Because, see, that’s the kind of person Caroliena is. Not just with WordPress; with everything. I remember staying up late talking with her about why I’m vegetarian (which will probably be the subject of quite a few of my posts in the future), back when she herself was still a carnivore. Next thing I knew, she was going vegan. Caroliena is the kind of person who really listens, better than almost anyone I know. What makes her a good listener is that she doesn’t just listen; she listens, carefully and thoughtfully, and then acts on what she learns. She really takes things to heart. Back when we both still used Facebook, I would go on and on about how fucked up that corporation’s business model is. I would disparage it nonstop. But I still used it. She was the one to delete hers first; even though I was the one who had suggested the idea, I found myself following her example, not the other way around. That’s how she rolls. And it’s been the same with WordPress: when I was considering setting up a blog, almost a year ago now, I told her about it. She had never heard of it before, but no sooner had I told her about it than she made a WordPress account of her own. She beat me to it, because she took everything I knew in theory and put it into practice.

Caroliena never ceases to amaze me. She is continually outdoing herself, and outdoing even the people she looks up to. Where she looks at someone and thinks how much she can learn from them, she herself ends up teaching them just as much as they teach her. It’s not often that you find yourself looking up to someone who also looks up to you, but I look up to Caroliena more and more every day. Everything she learns, she takes to a whole new level, to the point that even when you’re the one who started her off on something, you find yourself following her example. I envy her professors: she is the best learner anyone could ask for. I’m proud of her. And I’m so grateful to her for helping me learn to actually embody the things that we both believe in.

Well done, Caroliena. You rock. For listening, for being you, for always being ready to take it to the next level. I’m proud of you.

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Looking Forward to Visiting Home

In about a week, I will be heading back home to Berkeley, California, to visit my family and friends back home. I can’t wait. I’ve been thinking about the trip a lot lately. Planning what I want to do while I’m home, figuring out what I want to bring with me, that sort of thing, yes, but also thinking about all the things I miss about Berkeley. I’ve loved the time I’ve spent living in New York, but there are some things that I find myself wistfully reminiscing about when I think about going back home. Here are some of the top contenders for “things I miss the most about Berkeley.”

1) Being able to see the sky…. After my first year in New York, I flew home to the San Francisco airport, fortunately avoiding Asiana airlines. When I first came out of the airport, and was on my way home, I found myself marveling at how much of the sky I could see just by looking out the window of the BART. (BART is short for Bay Area Rapid Transit, for folks who aren’t familiar with it. It’s the subway system for the whole Bay Area, and it costs about ten times as much as the NYC subway; I don’t miss that part.) I felt like I had flown to Montana by accident. Here in Manhattan, in the course of a normal day, you only really see little patches of sky, never the whole sweep from horizon to horizon. You never get the “inverted bowl” effect here. Instead, you’re always just catching glimpses of these fragmented slivers of sky between the skyscrapers. I miss being able to look up and see nothing but sky.

2) …Especially the stars. During the day, since work and classes often keep me indoors a lot of the time, the absence of the sky isn’t quite so bad. But at night, when the city is all lit up, blazing and blaring and bright, you can barely even see a single star. It’s not as though there isn’t light pollution in Berkeley, too, but on a clear night, you can clearly and distinctly see whole constellations, even walking down a brightly lit street. From the hills up above the city, you can look out and see the whole sweep of stars across the sky, It’s not as clear and pure and bright as the view of the Milky Way from Deep Springs (a tiny little self-sufficient college/farm in the middle of nowhere along the California-Nevada border), which is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my entire life, but compared to the featureless blackness above New York, it might as well be.

3) The smell of the sea. Even though Manhattan is technically a lot closer to the sea proper (as opposed to the Bay) than Berkeley is, you’d never know that from the air. In Berkeley, there is pretty much always a sea breeze, and it actually smells like a sea breeze. It’s cool on your face and salty on your tongue. In New York, it’s often windy, but the wind just doesn’t smell like anything. (If you’re lucky.) Of course, the fact that the summers here are so much hotter and wetter doesn’t help; right when you need a refreshing sea breeze, you instead get a blast of garbage-scented wind, as hot and humid as can be.

4) Radical philosophy and politics. New York is way too staid and conservative for me. Yeah, I said it.

5) Random piles of free stuff everywhere. Yes, really. See, people in Berkeley have this thing about leaving stuff at the curb. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else. I mean, yes, I’ve seen (and occasionally even claimed) things left on the curbs in New York, and in other places, but Berkeley folks are just on a whole different plane of existence when it comes to free curbside scrounging. You can literally find anything on the curb in Berkeley. Each year, NYU organizes this “Green Apple Move-Out” program where students leave their stuff in big bins to be donated. Anything in the bins is fair game until the bins are taken away for donation, however, so anyone who stays for the summer (e.g. me) can just go down to the basement of their residence hall and find basically anything they could possibly want. In Berkeley, that’s just what walking down the street is like. Every day. Anything and everything that people don’t need or want, they just give away, for free, to random anonymous strangers. Now that’s what you’d call “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” right?

You can find furniture, clothes, shoes, bags, appliances, lamps, antiques, bicycles, sports equipment, vast collections of books and films…even expensive electronics, from cameras to computers, if the weather is good. (Watch out for anything with a piece of paper taped to it that just says “WORKS,” though. It probably doesn’t.) And, on the flipside, anything of yours that you want to get rid of can simply be left on the curb, no disposal necessary. No matter how useless, broken, gross, or otherwise defective an item might be, it will be gone within an hour. You may not be able to imagine how there could actually be a single person on Earth who would find your item useful, but trust me, that person exists, and they live in Berkeley. One of my father’s colleagues, a longtime Berkeley resident, once joked that in Berkeley, you could leave a dead body by the curb in front of your house…and it would be gone before you got back to your porch. I’ve personally never tried that one, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

So, there you have it. That’s a little tribute to the spirit of Berkeley. There is so much more, of course, but these are some of the most significant things I miss about Berkeley itself. Naturally, I’m looking forward to seeing friends and family, but it isn’t just the individual people I miss, but the place itself. The feel of it. If I could get a full refund on my plane ticket now, and magically have all my family and friends come visit me here in New York instead, I wouldn’t do it. I miss Berkeley itself, and I can’t wait to be headed back there, even if it’s just for a couple weeks before the schoolyear starts up again. Goin’ ‘ome!

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Getting Up Early. Really Early.

I should get up early more often. Maybe not as early as I did today, though.

See, for me, this morning was one of those mornings when you wake up long, long before you planned to, but can’t fall back asleep. To be precise, I woke up at 2:35 in the morning. To put that in context, as though it wasn’t absurd enough already, it is not a rare occurrence for me to stay up past 2:35 AM before going to sleep in the first place. (What can I say; I’m in college.) I had gone to sleep very early last night, but by “very early,” I mean 11:30 PM or so. Now, I don’t care how many folks tell me that the Ubermann sleep cycle is actually a thing; three hours of sleep is significantly less than you need to get in a night. So that wasn’t the best thing that could have happened.

But here’s the thing: despite the fact that I hadn’t planned to wake up that early, despite the fact that I didn’t get nearly enough sleep, I’m really grateful that it worked out that way. Because I’m the kind of person who stays up late, reading or writing or working or thinking, I forget how precious those silent early morning hours can be. Something about the stillness of the sleeping city creates this sense of freedom, as though time has somehow been paused, and you’ve been given this extra little bubble of space and time in which to work on whatever it is you need to do. It’s both a relaxing feeling and a motivating one. This time-out-of-time doesn’t feel as though it really “counts” against your day, so even if you get nothing done, you aren’t losing valuable “actual” time. You’re free to be unproductive. But by the same token, because it feels like you’ve been given this secret extra time that isn’t supposed to be there, you feel inspired to make the most of it.

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call myself a “morning person,” since it did take quite a lot of tea to propel me from “can’t sleep” to “actually awake,” but I feel as though I’ve rediscovered something special that was there all along. Back when I was in high school (I can’t believe I just said that), I would have to get up by 6:00 AM every morning from sophomore year on, because my school district thought it would be a genius idea to make sure that anyone who took Advanced Placement science courses either A) couldn’t participate in any kind of extracurricular activities after school or B) had to start class at 7:25 AM. These AP courses all required an additional lab period, which was only available in the hour before school started or the hour after it ended. Anyway, because I had to get up so early regardless, I found myself getting up earlier and earlier, using the time before school each morning to work on my schoolwork, or get some writing done, or just sit and read. Some of those predawn hours were among the most productive times in my life.

Since starting college, however, I’ve been spoiled by remarkably lucky class timetables, with next to nothing scheduled for any earlier than 9:00 AM. Between that and the natural temptation to stay up late, either alone or with friends, I’ve ended up going to bed later (and waking up a lot later) than I did a few years ago. I bet I probably get a healthier amount of sleep now, on the whole, but sometimes I think I might actually be more productive in the mornings than at night.

So, I’m going to test it out. For the next few weeks, I’m going to make myself go to sleep before 1:00 in the morning, and wake up before 7:00 AM. It will certainly be easier than usual to fall asleep (and stay asleep, hopefully) tonight; I’m exhausted. The waking up is the tricky part, or, at least, it will be tomorrow morning. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe I’ll even start blogging in the mornings, rather than at night. Who knows?

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Furniture Rearrangement Therapy

I really like rearranging my room. Not for any purpose, not because the old arrangement was flawed in some way, or even because the new arrangement is any better. Just because. I enjoy every aspect of it, from the actual act of rearranging the furniture to the end result, looking around my “new” room. I just love it. In fact, get this: I even enjoy rearranging everything, seeing how it looks in a different alignment, then putting everything back exactly the way it was before, or perhaps very slightly altered.

I imagine that sounds a little silly. Why go to the trouble of rearranging your room when there’s nothing wrong with the old arrangement? Especially if you’re just going to put everything back the way it was before at the end. Isn’t that a waste of effort? I mean, some of that furniture is heavy. And you know what, that very well might be the case for most people. But I find it calming, and at the same time incredibly psychologically and physically invigorating. When I’m feeling under the weather, either from bodily illness or from dwelling too much all the worst things, I find it both soothing and rejuvenating to rearrange my room. The more radical the rearrangement, the better, whether or not I return the room to its original configuration afterwards.

There are a whole variety of reasons why this works for me, I think, and it’s hard to pick out any one of them as more important than another. However, I’m certain that a significant contributing factor is the simple fact that it requires physical activity, which gets the good old endorphins flowing. and that’s always nice. Especially when I’m feeling less than my best because of what I’ve come to think of as “excessive Palantir-gazing,” or spending too much time reading about how totally screwed up the entire world is right now, just standing up and moving around can help overcome the hopeless, nihilistic lethargy that is an occupational hazard of knowing just how bad things are.

It’s not just the physical activity, however, or I’d feel just as great after doing a whole bunch of situps, which I certainly don’t. I think a big part of it is that I like seeing my actions actually have a tangible effect in the real world. It takes some intellectual effort to conceptualize the difference that, for example, signing a petition can make. Or voting. Or any number of other kinds of infinitesimal contributions to a greater good. And especially for someone with a skeptical frame of mind, constantly questioning everything you’re told even when you’re the one telling yourself something, there is always a persistent voice in the back of your head telling you that none of it means a damn thing. When you actually set yourself a physical, down-to-earth task, however, you reignite your sense of your own agency; even the most skeptical mind can’t deny that something has changed after you move your furniture around, even if it’s not something that makes any difference outside your own room. It symbolically reminds you that if you just get up and actually do something, you can change things.

There are other aspects to it, too. A major one is that I don’t like things to stay the same. If everything in my room has been in the same place for more than a couple weeks, I start to get antsy. I want to move everything around, or get rid of some things, or occasionally even add something new. I don’t like the feeling of being stuck in a rut, doing things the same way over and over again without ever changing it up. Even when I make a change and then decide I was better off with the original setup, I don’t regret making the change. If I weren’t constantly trying other arrangements, on what grounds could I honestly claim that this arrangement was actually the one I liked best? There’s a saying that you’re only as young as the last time you changed your mind, and even if I’m only changing my mind about something small, like where to put my recycling bin, I like to keep myself as young as possible.

Even when I end up with the same arrangement I started with, I find that it still has that feel of “newness” to it, as though I’ve just started out on some new adventure, going in a brand new direction, and anything is possible. It’s as though, even though everything is technically in the same place, there’s a whole new room where the old one used to be. It keeps me from taking everything for granted; it stops me from letting my living space just fade into a blurred backdrop in my mind. Even when the changes are subtle, I take immense pleasure in the fact that basically every time anyone comes into my room, they notice that something is different from how it was last time.

So that, folks, is furniture rearrangement therapy. It has never failed to make me feel at least somewhat better afterwards. I have no idea whether or not it works at all for anyone else, but hey, why not give it a shot?

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Happy Birthday, StarCraft 2!

Three years ago today, StarCraft 2 officially came out. Happy birthday!

For those who don’t know, StarCraft 2 is a real-time strategy (RTS) computer game. Each player commands a military force, starting from a small main base and gathering resources to spend on training units and researching technologies, which are in turn used to secure more resource-rich locations and establish bases there. You win when all opposing players have been defeated, either because you destroy all their structures or because they surrender, departing with a “gg” (for “good game”). Although as many as eight players can participate in a game, and games can be created to feature everything from even teams (4v4, 3v3, etc) to insane “outmatched” scenarios (1v7, etc) to chaotic free-for-alls (omnium contra omnes), the game is designed and balanced around the good old-fashioned 1v1 two-player combat experience. Two players enter; only one can emerge victorious.*

I love RTS games. I grew up with them; they have had an immeasurable influence on my patterns of thought, and have been invaluable in honing my strategic thinking. Ever since I first sat down in front of a computer to play Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, my first RTS game, I was completely hooked. I soon found my way to StarCraft—not StarCraft 2, mind you, not the one that was released three years ago, but StarCraft 1, the original, released in 1998. Yeah, that’s right, fifteen years ago. Back then, playing computer games was far more of a challenge than it is today. The real battle wasn’t against your human opponent, but against the programmed-in limitations of the game’s interface and the suicidal insanity of your own units’ AI. Despite the fact that you could only select twelve of your units at a time (though you could have well over 100 military units at a time in an average game), could only select one structure at a time (though you could have dozens and dozens at a time in an average game), and that sort of thing, it was an immensely fun and competitive experience. In fact, StarCraft was so competitive that it became a professional e-sport, and quickly became, effectively, the national sport of South Korea. Seriously. It was only last year that StarCraft 2 replaced StarCraft on South Korea’s televised e-sports channels. Yes, you read that correctly.

StarCraft 2 is a lot easier to play well than StarCraft was, largely because it doesn’t require at least 120 actions per minute (in other words, two clicks each second, every second of the game) just to keep your own units under control and prevent them from spazzing out. This means that the skill cap is a lot lower, but it also means that the game is more accessible to folks who aren’t particularly familiar with RTS games already. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone who likes any kind of strategy games, competitive games, or just computer games in general. For that matter, I pretty much recommend it to everyone.

See, StarCraft 2, like StarCraft, isn’t just a game that you play and enjoy and then forget about. It’s a game that you get invested in, a game that you strive to be better at. I honestly feel that over the last three years, playing StarCraft 2 has made me a better student, a better writer, and a better person. I’m coming on strong with the rhetoric, I know, but hear me out. First off, anything that inspires you to strive for improvement, in any medium, has the potential to make you better at everything else. It sounds weird to say it, but learning is a skill. There are better and worse ways to learn, and you can teach yourself to be a better learner. Learning isn’t just any old skill, either; it’s the single most useful skill there is. In a way, it’s really the only skill there is. If you can teach yourself to become a good learner, then whatever else you want to learn to be, you’re halfway there already.

Playing StarCraft 2 has helped me learn how to critically evaluate my own work in any medium. It has helped me get into the habit of comparing myself to the best, and always holding myself to a higher standard, because when you play the same game you watch professional gamers play, that habit simply emerges. And it has taught me the kind of lessons you can apply to every aspect of life—that consistent and directed practice are the road to success; that the best strategy isn’t the one that has the most, but the one that does the most with the least; that flashy moves and the element of surprise might make you win more in the short term, but in the long run, nothing beats mastery of the fundamental, less exciting aspects of the game. Maintaining consistent worker and army production, spending your resources on useful things rather than accumulating a useless surplus, constantly scouting the map to maintain an awareness of your surroundings—these things aren’t as cool-looking as mastering a single early surprise attack strategy, but they will make you a better player.

So, on StarCraft 2’s third birthday, I just want to express my gratitude and appreciation for that amazing game. Happy birthday, StarCraft 2! And thank you.

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A Blogging Milestone: Fifty Folks Following

Today, this blog reached fifty followers. That’s pretty cool.

I want to thank everyone who has been reading, liking, commenting, and following throughout the past month as I have been doing my blog every day challenge. Honestly, I started off with the assumption that few folks would actually be reading any of what I wrote, but after only three weeks or so, I’m already approaching 1000 views, which never ceases to amaze me. Not only that, but you all have given me a great opportunity to find like-minded folks to share ideas with. Even when I’ve encountered disagreements, sometimes that’s fun too, and they’ve given me something to write about, which is always fun. I’ve really been enjoying the feeling of finding a global community of thinking folks to discuss interesting things with. It’s something I want to keep working at, both for myself and for everyone who has been enjoying what I write.

Which brings me to an important topic: the future of this blog after my blog every day challenge ends in a few days. After giving it a good, honest try, I’m pretty certain that blogging every day isn’t for me. Because I usually like to write fairly lengthy posts, and because I like to actually link to public sources (when possible) for the claims I make, blogging every day leaves me feeling torn between spending a good long time crafting what I consider to be an excellent post and actually having something finished by the end of the day. After all, although I am a student, and it is the summertime, I do actually have a summer job, and that does take up time. I think I would really enjoy blogging every day, if I didn’t have other obligations to fulfill. (This is why I considered majoring in journalism, and still sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had.) But since my list of “other obligations” will only get longer as the summer ends and the schoolyear starts up again, it wouldn’t be honest or responsible to claim that I plan to continue daily blogging going forward.

However, just because I won’t be posting every day doesn’t mean that this blog will be going dormant after the end of this month. It won’t be. Instead, what you can expect is something along the lines of one long, well-crafted, fully-sourced post each week. I will probably be writing some very short “mini-posts” each week as well, interspersed in between the more in-depth ones. You can also expect to see a greater degree of reblogging things I find and enjoy on other folks’ blogs, and by “a greater degree” I mean “I’ll do that at all.” Since my positive WordPress experience has been largely the result of the community response, whether through views, likes, or follows, I want to spend a little less time posting my own stuff, and a little more time reading what others are posting, then sharing things I find noteworthy by reblogging them here.

So, to the special fifty folks who have chosen to follow Uncivilized Thinking, keep an eye out! You may stop by one day to find one of your own posts featured here. Thanks again for being awesome!

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Weinergate Reloaded

So, as it turns out, Anthony Weiner didn’t emerge from his sexting scandal “a changed man.” But here’s my question: who cares?

As I’ve talked about before, I’m not in favor of cheating in any form. If you agree to enter into a sexually and emotionally monogamous relationship, I think you’re a bit silly, but it was your own fault. When you inevitably feel a sexual and/or emotional attraction to someone other than your monogamous partner, you should own up to it and respond accordingly: either leave the relationship you’re in, renegotiate the terms of the relationship to accommodate your non-monogamous nature, or turn away from your newfound attraction and stay with your partner. Personally, I think the first and last options don’t really address the issue, just postpone it. Whether you choose the old relationship or the new one, there will come a time when the situation will repeat itself: you will find yourself once again attracted to someone who isn’t your chosen partner, and you’ll just be stuck in this endless cycle of serially monogamous misery. You can kick the can down the road all your life, but it would make a lot more sense to just face up to the fact that monogamy doesn’t actually work for most humans. But let’s bracket that discussion for now. The point is, as I see it, cheating on your partner is almost as absurd as being monogamous in the first place. Why did you bother imposing these silly, arbitrary, and unrealistic rules on yourself if you were going to break them anyway?

But none of that matters. Because the private lives of our political leaders have essentially no bearing on how well they govern. Think of President Kennedy. JFK cheated on his wife Jacqueline constantly, sleeping with hundreds if not thousands of barely-legal interns while he was President. Jackie was well aware of all this, and didn’t really care, which was eminently fair of her, since she herself had an affair with actor Richard Burton and even some good old-fashioned hate sex with JFK’s old flame Marilyn Monroe in the Lincoln Bedroom. (She later famously had an extended affair with her husband’s brother, though they were both married at the time, and not to each other.) This makes for salacious reading material, which is why the media goes crazy over “sex scandals;” it’s a chance to get the average bloke interested in political news. But here’s the thing: all those flings had no effect on Kennedy’s ability to govern. The guy basically averted nuclear armageddon during the Cuban Missile Crisis, despite the fact that the “red telephone” system wasn’t even in place yet. (In fact, it was this crisis that prompted the creation of the White House-Kremlin hotline.) He created the Peace Corps. He established the first nuclear test ban treaty. He scrapped Eisenhower’s anti-Keynesian economic policy, and set off an economic boom that lasted a decade and has been unmatched ever since. I’d say that’s a job well done. And all the while, he was screwing interns in the Oval Office—as many as ten a week, according to Jackie.

We shouldn’t waste our time judging, or even discovering, the private lives of politicians. They have a right to privacy, just like us, and if we don’t want the politicians to violate our privacy (with, for example, warrantless wiretapping and NSA spying), then we should respect theirs. Even though it’s dishonest, I don’t care when they lie to the public about their affairs to protect their family’s privacy. Their marital problems are their business, not ours. In fact, this may not even be a marital problem so much as a marital abnormality. Given that Anthony Weiner’s wife Huma Abedin has stuck with him and actively supported his run for mayor through both waves of the “scandal” over his dick picks, for all we know, she doesn’t actually mind his internet flirting. It’s worth noting, of course, that although this gets labeled a “sex scandal,” Weiner doesn’t seem to have ever had any physical contact with any of the women involved. Photos were exchanged, sexy messages were typed, even some phone “sex” was had, but Weiner never actually slept with anyone but his wife during their marriage (as far as we know). Maybe there is an agreement between Weiner and his wife that some things are okay, but others wouldn’t be. Who knows? But the important thing is this: What Weiner does in his private life, and what Abedin thinks about it, doesn’t matter. What matters is his policy. He’s not running for “husband of the year,” or “most tactful sexter,” he’s running for mayor of New York City.

We don’t judge our sexual partners by whether or not they’d make good politicians. We shouldn’t judge our politicians by whether or not they’d make good partners.

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