Life of a Stick


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  • Always Move Forward

    A man I once knew moved across the country to start a new life. Things didn’t work out as well as he’d hoped, and after much heartache he decided to move back. He asked me my thoughts on such an action, and I made them clear:

    Always move forward. If you are running from your problems and escaping to the familiar, I cannot condone that. But if you are regrouping, gathering your strength, and traveling to familiar territory for your advantage in friends, family, and work, then by all means, move forward.

    Moving forward rather than running away means you get to face your problems and resolve them, rather than putting them in a the closet where they can fester and smell up the place. You move from your position to a position of strength, rather than to a position of weakness. And you can feel confident about your choices, instead of feeling guilty and shameful.

    Interestingly enough, many times the difference between moving forward and running away is your perspective. How you look at it.

    I recently heard of a talented friend who has decided to drop out of college and change careers. They’re very good at what they’re studying, but can’t find fulfillment in it. If they could learn to accept their skill instead of believe they don’t have talent, and if they could learn to manage stress, they would do just fine. But knowing the problem and actually being able to (or wanting to) solve it are two different beasts.

    Sometimes we do come across problems in life we simply cannot overcome immediately. Moving forward in these cases can involve a strategic retreat to a stronger position. Once we’re in a comfortable and stable position, without the stress and horror, we can then bandage our wounds, strengthen ourselves, and prepare to dive into the breach again.

    A withdrawl to gain strength is moving forward, as long as it’s viewed that way, and not as a retreat. Pushing forward against a wall when weakened will make you give, not the wall. Stepping back to get a running start can let you vault over it.

    And as before, the difference is all in how you perceive it. If you consider yourself a failure and a quitter, you’ll just feel sorry for yourself and fail to progress. If you realize you’re doing it for your benefit, there’s logical and good reasons, and you’re actively seeking happiness and good things for your life and others, then you will find those things.

    One thing’s for certain, though. If we’re not moving forward, then by elimination we’re stagnating or sliding backwards.


  • 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.


  • Best Time To Sleep

    I was considering making a big and interesting blog post, but instead I’ll show you this chart:

    Exhaustion vs Productivity

    Exhaustion vs Productivity

    Now I’m going to bed.


  • 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

     


  • End Fall 2008 Semester

    The first half of my junior year at DigiPen has ended. It was a really rough road, and I think reflecting back on it has helped me notice some interesting things about myself and about what I consider to be some “universal truths” I’ve heard. I’d like to outline what happened, wax poetic about it, and then explain some principles that may help others organize and maintain their own lives.

    So the first mistake I did was a lesson I’d already learned, but didn’t properly plan to avoid. I did plan to avoid it, it just wasn’t properly planned to be avoided.

    The lesson was that I can’t handle outside projects and go to college at the same time. At least not DigiPen. So when I was planning the schedule for the dragons I made in Second Life, I planned to be able to finish during the summer, a month before school started.

    Well, two months into the semester, I finished the project. It was actually only two months behind schedule, since I’d spend the first month of summer doing some work on Booster Logic. All in all, not very well executed on my part.

    Before I talk about the aftereffects of splitting my time between school and a project, I’d like to mention three things. One, how I tend to handle projects before me. Two, the “worker’s guilt” I grew up with. Three, the concept of three (or four) elements of the body and maintaining a balance between them, which you may consider a universal truth if you want to play with the idea and test it yourself.

    So first, when I approach a project I approach it single-mindedly. Eating, sleeping, whatever else — it gets in the way. Naturally this doesn’t work very well on long-term projects. Fortunately, I can dial my obsession back a bit and make it a “normal job” thing and spend a few hours each day relaxing (read: gaming) and sleeping, so I can preform the job better from a rested state. That tends to work well.

    Second, due to religion and other factors, I was taught to accept tasks, my own or otherwise, if I “could” do them. Working and staying busy is a good thing. However, when is the point where you can’t do more? To find your limit, just do as much as you can, and see when you can’t do more. Until now, I’d never found my limit. I was always capable of more.

    Third, I’ve heard say that the body has four… let’s call them reserves. Four reserves. They are: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. If you’re not religious, just lump spiritual into emotional. It’s important to maintain a balance between these. If we’re making it a game with little health bars, let’s say when the a reserve bottoms out, you can still preform activities that drain that reserve, but it drains all the other reserves twice as fast as it would the original.

    So here’s what happened. Those two months of doing this project and school drained my physically (no sleep), and mentally (full power to school and this project). My emotional and spiritual reserve then bottomed out, and I broke. For the first time in my life, I simply could not. I was bedridden for a week. The week after that I was useless.

    When I made it back to school, I was limping in everything. I could hardly focus or motivate myself on school tasks, let alone anything else. I’d “crashed” before, but never this far, this hard. For the first time in my life, when faced with the option of more tasks, I simply could not. I was barely able to do what I was already obligated to do.

    I’ve decided to take winter break off rather than try to do some kind of work. My reserves are totally shot, and hopefully I can bring them back up by having a real vacation.

    The whole situation is actually really scary, and hopefully something I’ve pulled a lot of lessons away from so I don’t make a mistake like that again.


  • There’s Moss on my Rock!

    So I bought Photoshop, as you all know. And I also bought Poser, which some of you may not know. And a friend (tek_hed) recently gave me a Wacom tablet. And I do so love art, even if I’m not the best at drawing it and find it difficult to force the pencil to touch paper at times.

    And what have I been doing about it? Nothing! I’ve got all these neat toys and nothing is going on! I think it’s about time I got the ball rolling again and started up with my comics and stuff. So I’ve set a goal!

    Goal: Update a comic a day, round robin style. If I’m in a slump with ideas or just feeling lousy, color the Morrowind Comic instead of making a new comic. If there’s no comic to color, force myself to draw at least a one-panel filler for whatever comic is next in the rotation.

    For those of you that don’t know, I’ve been feeling worse and worse the past few weeks. I’ve been tired, lethargic, having annoying and persistant headaches, exhausted, and I’ve just generally not felt well. I’ve been visiting doctors for months, and had an MRI (that was expensive) many blood tests, and finally I had a “sleep study” done.

    According to the MRI I have a healthy brain with healthy, normal sinuses. According to the blood tests I don’t have an ulcer or infection or low iron or anything, and I’m not even malnourished.

    But the sleep test! Finally something that came back positive! I’ve got sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is when one stops breathing during the night, pulling them out of REM sleep so they can fix the problem.

    So the solution is to get a CPAP (That’s a P, not an R), which fortunately is just a machine. Some sleep apnea requires surgery to fix, but most people only need a “Continuous Positive Air Pressure” machine. Basically a small air compressor that keeps air flowing in through their nose to keep the airway from collapsing.

    It’ll probably be another couple weeks before I can get in to do another sleep study so they can find out the pressure to use on the CPAP. But I might as well do what I can in the meantime. Like waking up.



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