Life of a Stick


  • Category Archives Family
  • Be Paranoid, But Not Too Paranoid

    When I was young, my mother would give me a lot of advice that was quite normal. Don’t talk to strangers, don’t wander off alone, etc. She also gave me advice that was a little more extreme, but could still be considered within the bounds of normal, such as not telling anyone how much money you make. I also picked up other things form her, such as worrying about what random people I don’t know might think of me if I do certain actions or say certain things.

    In short, I was raised to be paranoid.

    I want to be clear what paranoia is. Paranoia is an action. It inspires you to do things. Fear is the opposite emotion. Fear stops you from acting. If you’re fearful of a building, you don’t go into it. If you’re paranoid of a building, you don’t go into it without a bulletproof vest, rubber soled shoes, and informing your next of kin.

    I like to think of paranoia in the same terms as absolute zero. As far as science can tell, there is no (yet known) maximum temperature, but the minimum temperature is currently believed to be 0 Kelvin (about -460 Fahrenheit, and -270 Celcius). The same applies for paranoia, with carelessness on the absolute low end of the scale.

    The scale of paranoia looks like this to me:

    Extreme paranoia  <-----------|-----------o  Complete Carelessness
                              Caution

    The guy who goes to the store and leaves his engine running and the car door open is further to the right, near careless, and the guy who sets up The Club, takes out his stereo, locks the doors, and sets the car alarm is deeper in the side of paranoia.

    But while you can have an absolute lowest level of carelessness where you simply can’t take any less precautions, you cannot reach the upper maximum of paranoia. Just ask any paranoid network administrator whether he has enough backup copies of his data.

    As we can see in this example, a certain amount of caution is useful. Simply bringing the car keys with you makes it more difficult for someone to steal your car. Locking the door prevents them from being able to rummage through your car’s interior, and so on.

    However, we all know someone who takes it too far. There’s a reason the word “paranoid” is not a word with positive connotations.

    So how far is too far? The answer contains two parts.

    The first is society norms.

    If you’re out in the country, locking your car or even taking the keys with you is probably not a major concern. You may even be mocked (politely) for being paranoid if you lock your car while visiting a country relative.

    However, parking in Seattle is well known and documented as not being as safe. You’re encouraged to lock your car, and put any valuables in the trunk. (People are less likely to break into a car if they can’t see the valuables.)

    The second is risk assessment.

    If you’re out in the country and know that there’s still a slight chance, however small, that someone could steal your car, you may still lock it despite friendly mocking.

    But if you’re in a big city and your car is dirty and damaged, and you’re only going into a store for five minutes, you may not even bother locking it.

    So, in the end, how much paranoia is too much, and how much is just being cautious?

    Let’s talk about hoarding real quick. If you’ve seen the television show Hoarders, you’re familiar with some of the crazy things that people can stockpile. But what’s the difference between a collector and a hoarder? Someone may have thousands of coins or stamps or soda bottles, but still be a collector and not a hoarder.

    I believe the difference is organization. If your collection does not affect your daily life, you’re a collector. If it does, you’re hoarding. Affecting your daily life means that you need to walk around or over things, you’re unable to access floors and counters and tables, etc.

    The same principle of disrupting your daily life applies to paranoia. If you can push one button and immediately have 15 offsite backups of your data, that’s simply being cautious. Very, very cautious. However, if you spend hours every week burning DVDs and mailing them to a dozen safety deposit boxes across the globe, that’s paranoia.

    So remember kids: Spend enough time to keep yourself safe from things that can hurt you, but don’t waste your life trying to protect yourself from things you don’t even know will happen. Sometimes it’s better to pick up the broken pieces once every couple years than it is to spend an hour every day preventing it from being broken.


  • Getting Shot

    Let me dig into the past and tell a fun story of my youth.

    I visited some relatives in Utah again recently, and cleared up a few facts about this story that I hadn’t been remembering correctly. So hopefully this will be one of the more accurate retellings that I’ve done.

    I live in Washington state, near Seattle. However, a lot of my relatives are in Utah. Every few years, we take a jaunt over there and say hello to everyone.

    A couple decades ago, when I was about nine years old, we had one of our family reunions and took a trip over there. My father and uncle decided it would be a good idea to play around with some of the guns they had. And by “play around” I mean take the guns up into the hills, away from people, and have a big dirt hill backdrop and set up targets. Guns are dangerous things, and it’s important to be professional when playing with them.

    My older brother, about a year and a half older than me, was there. But my younger sister stayed back at the house. And as I mentioned, my father and uncle were also there. I remember other figures being there, but I don’t remember any faces or names.

    All of the guns that we had were .22′s. At least, all of the guns that they gave the kids were .22′s. I remember both pistols and rifles that we were allowed to play with. The way the cycle went was that the kid would be given a gun. They could expend the magazine*, then they would return the gun to an adult, and be given a new, loaded gun.

    The first thing the adults did was to keep the children entertained. They set up some empty pop cans on an old log, then gave the kids loaded guns, ready to fire. Then they went out beyond the pop cans and started setting up more distant targets for the adults. While young, I felt that something was wrong with this picture, and asked if we should be shooting these loaded guns while there were people out beyond the targets. I was told no, that probably wasn’t a good idea. So I waited for them to come back before doing so.

    My attempts to shoot the pop cans did not go very well. While a .22 pistol is fairly easy to control in the hands of an adult, I was a nine year old boy, and was a runt compared to much of my family. I also didn’t know the first thing about handling a firearm, and the short crash course I was given wasn’t good enough. I would pull the trigger, and the gun would leap upwards as the bullet was fired, and completely miss the target.

    After a while of this, my father took notice and told me to hold the gun still. To not let it jump away from you, but try to control it. How novel! I would try this method instead.

    My first attempt at holding the gun still went fantastically. I fired at a pop can and hit it. The bullet went right through the middle of it, leaving a small clean hole, and the pop can didn’t even move. I had expected it to bounce around when it was hit, like with a baseball bat.

    I was so excited I wanted to share this with everyone. I pointed the gun towards the ground — I wasn’t interested in shooting anyone by accident — and pointed at the pop can, excitedly trying to tell my dad what I’d just done.

    Then the gun went off.

    I’m not sure how it happened. Maybe I pointed with one hand and ended up clenching the other. Maybe I jostled my weight, and the gun bounced a bit, and my finger (which was still on the trigger) ended up pulling the trigger as the gun came back down.

    However it happened, it wasn’t a problem. I was aiming the gun at the ground. Though apparently the bullet had hit the ground with such force that it sent a vibration up my leg, because it felt kind of weird. I took a look down to try to find the hole in the ground where the bullet went, but noticed a little trickle of blood coming out from under the lip of my shorts.

    My memory of the following events isn’t really impaired. But the memory of them is a bit different. Like I was dipped in a vat of freezing water.

    My first response, as a nine year old child, was to burst into tears. “Daaad,” I whined. “I shot my leg!”

    My dad’s response is priceless, and I share it with you now so you may have the wisdom to respond with something of the same when your child encounters a similar situation. My dad’s reply was, “walk it off.”

    The first aid kit was retrieved, and I received a small band aid on the outside of my leg and just below the knee. There was no exit wound, and the entrance wound was as small as the hole on the pop can I had shot just before. I was then loaded up into the car, and made to lie in the back seat. I remember trying to figure out a way to wear a seat belt in such a position — wouldn’t want to get hurt in case the car crashed, and people were a little more excited than normal.

    We stopped by the house on the way to the hospital. My mom and sister looked from the doorway. I remember my mom’s expression being horrified. My little sister, just a child, was clinging to her leg. Looking up, she asked, “does this mean we don’t get to go to the water park?”

    My next memory was being carried through the walls of the hospital. I was being carried through the air by two people. One was my father, I think the other was my uncle. I remember the walls being uneven, with some support beams every now and then. Twice they ran my injured leg into one of the support beams.

    My father was then arrested, because apparently that’s what happens when someone gets shot. My mom waved goodbye to him and stayed with her son.

    My uncle is a lawyer of no small fame. I remember one time we visited, and there were a lot of signs around, as he was running for the position of a judge. My father, being my uncle’s brother, shares the same last name, so he wasn’t held for very long. It’s good to have friends in high places.

    I stayed in the hospital in Utah for two weeks before I was able to go back home. It was some days before they could do surgery to remove what fragments of the bullet they could. However, they had a Nintendo at the hospital. My parents had never let me get one, and it was so awesome.

    Turns out the bullet missed a major nerve center by an inch. I used to have partial numbness on my right foot, though it’s mostly gone now. The bullet had traveled down my leg, shattering both the tibia and the fibula, and stopping about at my ankle. The small hole below my knee on the outside is still visible, and I still have a long scar down by my ankle where they cut me open. When I flex my shin, things visibly bunch up a little funny, too. No pins, no rods, no screws. I was young enough that things eventually healed on their own.

    I believe I was in the cast for two months. Eventually it went from a full leg cast to a knee-down cast. And while I never did regain full mobility in my foot (I can’t lift my toes up on the right as far as the left) I blame that on me being lazy and not exercising it after the fact like the doctor told me.

    No serious lasting physical effects from all this.

    Years later, I believe it was in middle school, one of the teachers shared a statistic with the class. One in thirty people will be shot by the time they’re 20 years old. “That means,” she said, “someone in this classroom will be shot by the time you’re 20.” One of my friends stood up and yelled, “Creighton’s saved us all! He’s already been shot!”

    So the moral of the story is: If you’re going to do something stupid, do it while you’re young so you can heal better, and have a good story to tell. Oh, and maybe you’ll get to play some Nintendo, too.

    *A common mistake is to call the magazine of a firearm a “clip.” A proper explanation of the two can be found in this article: Clip vs. Magazine: A Lesson in Firearm Terminology

     


  • How To Make Goals Work For You

    Introduction
    I’ve recently come across a Truth which has had a rather large impact on my life. The pieces for it have been in my life for a while, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that they’ve clicked. And the more time moves on, the more it becomes a central part of my life.

    Prelude Parts
    So when I was young, and I’d do stupid things, or things my parents didn’t understand, and my mom would explain to me that nothing happens without a reason. I’ve found that to be true. There are some situations where the reason isn’t immediately obvious or is otherwise unknown, but there’s always a reason. Science dedicates itself to finding out reasons. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to specifically talk about people’s actions and the reasons for them.

    Another piece of the puzzle is one of those business-speak paradigms. I hate those business “paradigms.” That’s an entirely different blog post, though. Anyway, one of those things businesses always talk about is creating goals. Which is another piece of the puzzle.

    The last piece is a cardboard box I saw. That comes later.

    An Example
    So those two pieces: a reason for everything, and having goals. Let me start with an example.

    Jane sees Sue enjoying some ice cream. Jane tells Sue that she’s going to get fat if she keeps eating ice cream.

    Very simple. At least the surface is. Let’s take a look under the hood and see what’s really going on.

    Two things have happened in the example:
    1) Sue is eating ice cream.
    2) Jane is telling Sue she is going to get fat.

    Here’s the key to it. Sue is not just eating ice cream. She’s working towards a goal. And Jane is not just talking to Sue. Jane is also working towards a goal. The common misunderstanding is that people’s actions are exactly what you see, and that’s almost never the case.

    What is Sue’s goal? When I eat ice cream, I usually have a few reasons that bring me to that action.
    a) I love how it tastes and want to experience that sensation.
    b) It’s really hot out and I want to cool down, but sucking on ice cubes isn’t near as fun.
    c) I’m bitter and angry and want to enjoy something.

    These are goals. Ice cream is a means to an end. Ice cream is not the only solution for any of the above goals. Each of those goals above could have various other solutions.

    Sue may have similar goals for eating ice cream. If you know Sue well enough, you may be able to see behind the action and into her reasons. Unfortunately, I just made Sue up on the spot, and know nothing about her. Some friend I am.

    Now how about Jane? Nagging on poor little Sue, right? Maybe not. The reason behind spoken words is a lot harder than actions. The actions can just have a shadow goal behind them. Words imply their own shadow goal because they have meaning in themselves. However, speaking words is just like any other action. The goal may be totally unrelated to the words spoken.

    Once again, I’ll example my own reasons for saying something like this.
    a) Reminding someone else of something helps me remember it. I may nag someone about getting fat because I’m worried about my own weight.
    b) I may be doing them a favor. Reminding them about their diet they’ve told me about.
    c) If I’m not paying attention, I may apply stereotypes or generalizations to someone. Thus, all women are worried about their weight, see last reason.

    So what’s Jane’s reason? If you know her, or witness the exchange with some general knowledge of social behavior, you may be able to formulate your own guesses as to the goals behind the actions.

    And that’s the point behind the example: Every action someone takes has at least one goal behind it.

    The Usefulness
    So now you know that everyone’s actions have a goal or two behind them. Why do you care?

    Ever been offended by a friend? Maybe his goal was innocent, and he just didn’t word it properly. I know I have a problem with failing to word my goals clearly.

    Ever found yourself behaving oddly? Acting to impress someone? What possessed you to behave like that? It’s actually pretty easy to find out what your own goals for things are with a little introspection.

    This is useful because it makes your life easier. It prevents misunderstandings. It helps you understand yourself and communicate more clearly. It lets you see through people’s lies, or their poorly worded sentences, to the true meaning behind what they’re saying.

    And if you’re on the other side of the coin, it lets you know people can be keeping an eye out for goals. By picking your actions based on false goals you think they would want to see, you can disguise your true intent better. But I didn’t say that.

    Goal Based Planning
    So let’s take this concept and put it into application.

    One of my biggest beefs with massively-multiplayer online games (MMOGs) is that they’re all the same. There’s a few that are slightly different, and a few that have creative ideas or small unique features, but barring a few outliers everything is pretty much the same. And to me, that really kills the fun because I’ve already played “that game.” Sure, a new story would be nice, but the story never comes fast enough to be interesting. There’s too much “game” which I’ve already experienced.

    So let me take a detour real quick and return to that cardboard box I mentioning at the beginning. It’s a small one. It held candy bars or something. My mom had taken the last bar, and I was in the way of the recyclables, so she asked me to fold it up and toss it in with the rest of the cardboard. As I started folding it up, I realized it was a very different style of cardboard box. I turned it over in my hands, looking at it, and realized why. They had built it in such a way that the top easily popped off so you could access the candy bars, even if they’d fallen sideways along the bottom when there was just a few left. By doing that, they had to redesign the rest of the box so it could still hold its shape properly.

    What that company did is look at their goal: We need a box that lets people access the contents. And they designed it from the ground up to meet their goal. I’m sure they had a few other goals, like reasonably cheap to print and make, is about yea big, and doesn’t make people sue us.

    Looking at that cardboard box, I saw a company that could have just done what everyone else had done, but instead figured out what their goal was and worked towards that.

    Looking at MMOGs, I see company after company that builds the same “cardboard box.” I’m sure the reason is fairly simple. They picked their goals differently than I would. Maybe they just wanted money, and so they design the game to be like all the other games out there that make money. Maybe they just wanted to focus on telling their unique story, so they just used a cardboard box like everyone else used and painted it differently. Or, it’s possible the companies themselves don’t know what their main goal was and they were just having fun.

    In some situations, the goal is speed. Doing what you know “already works” is a great shortcut in that situation. But when you’ve got the time, or the item is important enough, just churning out what already exists because it worked for someone else is a poor substitute. Figure out what your goal is and work towards that.

    Summary

    • Anything someone says or does has a goal behind it, which may not match what they’re doing through either poor skills or intentional misdirection. By analyzing their behavior, you can plot a path to their goal and find their true intentions.
    • Beginning anything by listing out the ultimate goal, and then the lesser goals, you can create something worthwhile. Instead of just another cardboard box.

     


  • DreamKeepers Happenings

    For those of you that don’t know, I’m really big on webcomics. I have several that I read regularly, and odds are I’ve at least heard of it if it’s worth mentioning.

    A while back, I came across a webcomic called DreamKeepers. It was cute, funny, entertaining, well drawn, and all around neat.

    One of the things I hate about webcomics is when they give you like five pages and then they’re all “Oh, HA! You thought this was a free comic! No, we just put five pages of our published comic online. Now you should buy it.”

    Another solution, which I find much better, is the route that Digger took. You get two hundred and eighty five comics, and then you have to pay to see the rest. BUT, if you’re good with schedules, you can see the current page every day. I would much prefer if there was some large gap in the middle that was moving, so you could keep reading you’d just be behind. But it’s a lot less evil than just putting up a couple pages.

    The least evil solution I’ve seen, which is why I purchased DreamKeepers when I’ve never purchased a dead-tree version of a webcomic before, was that not only did it offer a small sample of the book version (19 pages) but it has a pre-book webcomic that’s updated weekly.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to read the DreamKeeper’s physical comic book. It arrived and my mom saw it. She said, “Hey, I wasn’t allowed to have comic books when I was a kid,” took it, and walked off, thumbing through it. Based on the webcomic, I have no doubts about its quality.

    In other news, I still need to post my past grades. I don’t even know when the last time I posted them was. And I don’t know if I’ve posted my upcoming fall schedule, either.

    I will make a post when my Seawolf project is finished for Second Life, though. If I haven’t mentioned it, I make Boats with a friend. We’re working on something else now, though, but have been careful not to make the information public and only gotten the opinion of close friends and professionals. It’s really, really, really awesome though. Really.


  • How to Catch a Mouse

    In nine easy steps. Click the images to open another window with a larger version.

    Step 1:
    Please a mousetrap under the sink.

    Step 2:
    When the mouse triggers the mousetrap, rush to it, only to find that it was too smart to actually get caught and is running around under the sink.

    Step 3:
    Throw a bowl on top of it.
    Optional: Place something heavy on top of the bowl.

    Step 4:
    Stick something under the bowl, like a plate, to seal the mouse in.

    Step 5:
    Realize the plate isn’t flat enough when the mouse gets out. Panic and try to catch him under the plate. Become shocked when the plate is not the bowl. Then recapture the mouse under the bowl.

    Step 6:
    Slide something clear and flat under the bowl, like a ziplock bag.

    Step 7:
    Tape it up.

    No, really. Go wild!

    Step 8:
    Take some pictures of the mouse through the clear plastic.

    Step 9:
    Drive a few miles away and let it go, because you’re too squeamish to kill it.


  • Surgery and Rollcages

    My sister recently got her adenoids out. She was supposed to get her tonsils and adenoids out, but the doctor doing the surgery decided that they adenoids didn’t need to come out. So a little after she got out of surgery the second time, she decided it would be a good idea to go four wheeling with her finance.

    She came over and told us about it afterwards. “Yeah, the rollcage works great. None of the windows even broke or cracked. We just rolled it back over and drove away. We had to replace some transmission fluid that leaked out, but it was fine.”

    Here’s a picture:

    Sister's Rolled Truck


  • Attack Moth of Doom

    I was helping my mom with a problem on the computer, and took a break to check on something in my room. As I opened the door, a moth came out and flew in my face, then ran off and sat on the wall.

    I gathered the medium-to-large sized moth up in my hands, intending to release him outside. My mom’s computer was on the way to the back door, so I figured I’d show her the moth. I walked up to her with my hands cupped together, and held them in front of her.

    “Isn’t not going to attack me, is it?” she asked.

    “Yes,” I said sarcastically.

    I slowly uncupped my hands so I wouldn’t make it fly away, but it still did, and went straight for her neck. She screamed, it fluttered around there for a bit, then went for the ceiling.

    Then she started hitting me. She always does that when I scare her. And I’m usually laughing too hard to fight back. It’s just not fair.


  • Famous Family

    My brother made a forum thread about a road trip. The thread currently has 177,000 views. I haven’t seen a thread with that many views in ages.


  • Best Practical Joke

    I’m filling out some scholarship stuff (a scholarship is where people give you money to go to college with the purpose promoting themselves in some form), and I ran across one that was very interesting. They didn’t want me to answer the generic questions, “Why do you want to go to school and how would this money help you?” They answered some rather unique ones. One of them, which I will answer now, is:

    Describe the best practical joke that you have ever pulled on someone or that someone else has pulled on you.

    One morning many years ago I found myself awake at an early hour. It was a school day, so I would be going to school and my mother to work. My mother is not a morning person, and was still asleep. I calmly walked into her bedroom, and I knew she was paying attention because her eyes opened barely long enough to see I wasn’t an axe murderer than closed again. I knelt by her bed, saying, “It’s ok mom. I already called the fire department. You can sleep a few minutes longer.” Thirty seconds later her eyes shot open.


  • Typical Wakeup

    I woke up this “morning” at 2pm and stumbled out of my bedroom only to encounter my brother rushing downstairs.

    “My computer broke,” he says, so I stumble after him for more details. Typical things — bluescreen, won’t boot anymore, etc. Then as we get to his room he rushes out the door and says, “Gotta go help dad before he runs that car into a tree.”

    So I stumble into his room and boot. One of the HDs isn’t being auto-detected. I’m trying to pry the case open when he comes back in and says, “Nevermind. He was trying to run it into a tree.”

    I fiddled with the ribbon cable and his HD started working again, but this isn’t the first time it’s given problems and I already replaced the last ribbon cable with a factory sealed one, so his hard drive may be dying.

    And my dad successful ran the car into a tree. The end.

    PS: That’s how you put bumpers on some cars apparently.



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