Thursday, April 30, 2009

God, this is going to be embarrassing if swine flu DOES become a big deal

Still, it's not.

Things that make me happy:
This essay about how transit-oriented development is not just liberal wackiness. (augh, I said no politics, I know... maybe this can slip by because it's about uniting behind a cause that will help everyone and not just "left is right and right is wrong"?)
"Undeclared" by the Dodos. This album ("Visiter") is RIYL Death Cab meets Animal Collective, and this song is fully on the Ben Gibbard side of the spectrum, and if you don't like it you probably have no feelings. (a song I like without electricity! shocking!)
Biking biking biking!
Ignite Seattle. This was the coolest thing. First, there's a contest for how to build the tallest tower out of five sheets of paper, plus tape, in like a half hour. Recalling my 8th grade science class failure, I shied away at first, but eventually decided to try it anyway. (with Sarah, Daniel, and this other guy named Adam who needed a team). Our result: 37 inches. It looked like a sad giraffe.
But then like 20 people gave 5-minute talks on pretty much just "something that is cool. (and nerdy.)" Everything from "how mitochondria work" to "how we'll manufacture things on small scales in the future" to "people geek out about legos a lot" to "stick maps of the Marshall Islands". Super great stuff. They say they're having this quarterly, and I'm going to the next ones for sure.
Japan tomorrow! (well, I will arrive on Saturday. But I'm leaving tomorrow.)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dear The National Fearmongers, ahem, The Media

You have made someone I care about very worried about swine flu.

Getting swine flu is like getting the regular flu.

Under 2000 people have caught the 2009 swine flu and under 100 have died. We're still talking a death rate comparable to being struck by lightning. (756 deaths / 13 years = 58 deaths per year.)

In the best case scenario, you're actually very concerned about this, which just means you're all gullible or you don't understand statistics or there are other psychological things going on inside your heads. In the likely scenario, it's a slow news week and you need to sell papers. In the conspiracy-theory scenario, you're all in cahoots trying to keep us afraid so that we channel all our energy into fighting Eastasia or something else sinister.

Whatever. Just shut the hell up.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Hunger challenge: recap

In case you missed it, I was doing the Hunger Challenge last week. Dramatic as that sounds, all it amounts to is feeding myself using only $7/day (which is the maximum food stamp benefit). No food from other people or anything either. (That means no Google food. I did drink their coffee and tea, though. Call it necessary medication for the office lifestyle. If you really want to split hairs, next time I'll buy a bunch of cheap tea for a dollar.)

I went to QFC, to prove that any of you can do this too at your local grocery store. I could probably do better at Trader's Joe, maybe I could do better at the Pike Place Market, and I could definitely do better at an International District Asian grocery store (a small one, not Uwajimaya). I only charged things that I actually ate, and if I used something that I already had in the house, I approximated how much it would cost.

Here's how my expenses turned out:
A honeydew melon: 2.23 (on super sale, 40c/lb)
1/2 dozen eggs: 2.89/2 = 1.45 (not the cheap eggs, these were somewhat "free range" or something- whatever, if you're at QFC you're not going to get humane eggs anyway. you can pay more, but all you get is "organic" or "omega-3".)
1 1/2 lb onions (about half a 3-lb bag): 1.99/2 = 1.00
Tofu: 2.69 (why is tofu so expensive at QFC?)
1 green pepper: 1.50
2 apples: 1.01
1/2 bulb garlic: 0.72/2=0.36
about 5 carrots: 0.88 (fact: actual big carrots usually cost about half of the "baby-cut" kind)
2 broccolis: 0.89 (on sale)
1 c. brown rice (1/50 of a huge $20 bag): 0.40
2 c. groats, barley, quinoa, and millet: about 2.00
3 c. whole wheat flour: 0.70
1/2 bunch spinach that we already had: 1.00
1/2 cabbage that we already had: about 1.50
1/2 stick butter: about 0.50
about 1/2 c. peanut butter throughout the week: maybe 1.00? I didn't track the peanut butter so well...
1 tsp caraway, 2 bay leaves, some marjoram, thyme, and an occasional glug of soy sauce: about 1.00
1 package whole wheat orzo: 4.00
2 more apples: 1.30
maybe 1/4 c. tahini? 0.50?
3 beers (rolling rock/henry weinhard): 3.30
1 beer at a bar (rainier): 2.00 + 1.00 = 3.00
= 32.34.
We'll call it even at $35, to allow for error in the spices and stuff.

Things I made out of all this include a loaf of bread, orzo and broccoli soup, a tofu scramble, cabbage and spinach with eggs (which was great), and a big thing of mixed grains (like oatmeal but better). I did pretty well for 4.5 days.

Friday, work was rough. (To be fair, Thursday, Wednesday, and Tuesday were also rough. To be even more fair, it was I who made them rough. But still, no fun.) So by Friday, they announced at work that they were bringing in ice cream because we (previously) donated the most to a food bank, and goddamn if I'm not going to eat ice cream. So I had that. And then I drank more beer that night too which was not in the budget. So I guess I didn't quite make it.

But the point is, you can make it. You can eat cheaply and not eat crap. You will probably eat more cheaply if you don't eat crap. Also, it doesn't really take that much time: I cooked on Monday for a few hours, and then made the tofu on I think Wednesday. AND, I'm not a super chef blogger. This goes out to all you "starving" college students. (not to actual poor people. I mean, I hope they can eat well and cheaply too, but if they don't, I'm not going to say it's their own fault. being poor is not easy.)

And the further point is just that! Being poor is not easy! $7 per day doesn't sound so bad, but then it's $2.33 per meal. No other food. (maybe your grocery budget is less than that, but what about restaurants and takeout?) And when you're looking at that, even a teaspoon of a spice can become a significant fraction of the meal. I did eat a little grainier than I would have liked, and not so vegetableful. And a couple times, I was actually hungry (imagine that). I guess 4 beers/week fits in with this budget, or maybe like a thing of ice cream instead or whatever, but there is not much room for luxury.

That's all! Enjoy your food, and maybe pause for a moment and be like "it is nice to have this."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

If you were 1000 years old, what would you do with all those years?

First, let me just do one thing:

Hey? Hey? You can see the rest on jluxenberg's photostream.

Topic switch.

I had a funny dream last night. I was hanging around with Luke Skywalker, and we were going to fight some big villain, like a big showdown thing, and we both knew it was a big showdown, and we were walking into the villain's lair, but the villain and his henchmen thought that we didn't know, so they disguised the whole place as an airport. We were like going down underground and it was all "okay, here's the concourse, here's the gate, we'll check your bags". At one point we stopped by some lockers and picked up our lightsabers. Uhh, you know. Eventually we got to the room where the big showdown was supposed to happen, and it was a big stadium, like a basketball arena, but we couldn't fight yet, because a girls' college basketball game was taking place. We could hear the announcer saying "she's going up for a slam dunk, and... holy shit!" as the girl herself ended up in the basket somehow. But I was bummed because I knew I wasn't going to be asleep still when the fight happened, and I wanted to beat Darth Vader. Or whomever.

The interesting thing is, though, I had a real sense that time went all wonky. I knew that I was going to wake up before the fight happened, even before I woke up. It's like at the very instant I woke up, a huge flurry of brainwave activity happened, and I only later "remembered" it as a sequential story. Maybe that's what people mean when they say time is just an illusion, or that it's as bendy as the other three dimensions, or that the afterlife is outside time, or something.

Topic shift.

I got hit with a blast of rampant existentialism on my bike on the way home. I was feeling particularly like "what's the point of existing?" (oh my god disclaimer don't get me wrong i'm not all depressed and jumping off a bridge or something oh my god) I mean, I used to say "my life exists to make things better for other people," but now I'm not so sure. I was all about "making life better" but in a pretty impersonal way, like if I could develop better routing algorithms to get food to starving people or something. All this "I want to do great things," it's all kind of just so I can feel better than thou, or at least as good as thou. Not that I don't want to do great things; just... it seems like the whole mountain climber thing, like I'd have to keep climbing higher and higher mountains and I'd never be satisfied, so why bother climbing any mountains at all?

You know "It's a Wonderful Life"? Where, if this guy never lived, his town would be Pottersville, taken over by the rich evil tycoon, and his brother would be dead, or whatever? If he never lived, things would be worse. If I never lived, well, things would be different. My spot at CMU, say, would have been taken by another kid. So my friends there would have met another person instead of me; maybe they would have gotten along better, maybe worse, whatever. Some people might be sadder because they had one less fun guy to goof around with; some people might be happier because they got one of my roles in a play or they weren't shunned by me so hard. Google Analytics might not be so pretty. Or maybe it would have; Google's not hurting for applicants, they could have just hired someone else.

Nevermind, it's the whole voting argument. "You have to vote, it really does make things better!" Similarly, "it's good that I exist, I really do make things better!" I've convinced myself of both of these at one point, and I've convinced myself unimpeachably, like "if you ever think these things are false, you're wrong", or at least "you better really rewire your head really friggin hard if you're going to try to convince me that those are false, and to do so, you'll probably be moving in a direction that you don't like, so you probably shouldn't."

Pity party pity party! Maybe it is. Maybe I should accept more sympathy, and give out more sympathy too. My party line has been, if you're feeling like this, "shape the fuck up, Charlie Brown" (inside joke with, err, one friend from high school) but maybe that's not a good way to live.

To take one more mental leap which makes perfect sense to me but might just be so many words on my blog, this line of thought leads me to something I've wondered for a while. How do you be loving to everyone but still maintain the ability to pick and choose your friends? If I read the stuff on this blog post, and I didn't know who wrote it, I would say that's fine for that person, I'm sorry he feels that way, and all the same I don't want to be this person's friend because he sounds whiny. But if one of my friends wrote it, I mean, I would feel supportive to my friend. It's not like I'd want to end our friendship. But if he/she was always like this, maybe I would. So I don't love that friend unconditionally. But if I did love everyone unconditionally, like you're supposed to, how could I make time for the people I like the most? How could I even like anyone the most?

Topic shift.

I might sign up for Twitter.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Blogging: way down; a lot of great food; and the Hunger Challenge.

Things have been quiet around here. First I decided to cut out politics, because it wasn't doing me much good. (for the record, I feel a lot better politics-free.) Then I decided to cut out even food-politics, because that'll all go in another site I make someday. (I'm making slow but sure progress.) Then I slowed way down on that because I realized I don't have to save the world immediately. I'm working on the whole happiness thing, but when I say that, it sounds like I'm just moving right along like I have been the rest of my life. It's different; I feel like I'm doing better than before. A few key points, and I'll try to make it not sound sappy, because it doesn't feel sappy to me, but it might come across that way: (if you want, jump down for info about Portland or the Hunger Challenge.)

- I am a great person. Self-worth is intrinsic. It doesn't depend on what you think of me, or what dumb things I do.
- To believe that, I have to believe that YOU are a great person too, whoever you are, and that's a little harder for me to believe, but I'm getting there. One hangup is "if everyone is so great, how can you decide not to hang out with someone?" I don't mean the people who are mean to you (it's easy to avoid them; just say "I like you but you don't like me, that's your problem"), but what about the people who are kind of annoying? The people who might want to like you, and you can like them back as a person, but you don't want to be around them for whatever reason? This seems like a minor problem. It's just a "social graces" sort of thing.
- So I'm already great, so I don't have to save the world in order to be worth other people's affection, so there's less pressure. Even if all I do is go to work to earn some money, then spend it on housing and food, and you know, love people n'at, that's enough.
- Given that there's less pressure, it's not so bad to just take time out sometimes and say "I am having fun now!" or "that tree is pretty" or "boy it feels nice outside." (formerly I would sometimes think "man, I hate how it feels nice outside, because it makes me feel guilty to be inside"... that is ridiculous.)
- Oh, speaking of how I'm great, I have feelings and stuff. Yeah, really, even though I joke about being a robot because I dig the logics a lot, I am an all-around human being. 's true. So I can use those sometimes. That's okay.
- Plus Buddhism! I got in a traffic jam today. There was nothing wrong with that. I was in no big hurry to get home. I was with Sarah and Daniel. So I tried mostly successfully not to attach suffering to it, and that worked pretty well.
- and by the way, I can be happy. All this idealism isn't just another failed bid that will end in disillusionment. My life is pretty good.

So day-to-day life is more or less the same as it ever was, but I'm shifting my focus bit by bit. I'll keep you posted. When I reach enlightenment and attain complete control over mind and body, I'll post "omg totes levitating right now" or something.

Speaking of life, went to Portland this weekend! Stayed with Daniel's friend Henry and his roommates. Cool folks! Cool city! Cool comic convention! (does it make me a super dork if I went to two comic conventions in the same month?) But this was less nerdstock and more "I draw a comic online." I liked the comics here more. Also, unrelatedly, cool Saturday Market!

And cool food. Man. We ate at four places there, all of them stellar for 22-year-oldsmen. First night: Hopworks Urban Brewery, with a great Belgian-style Dubbel for $3.50. (also a "pint of pretzels", which means three meter-long freshly-baked pretzels in a beer stein.) Second day: Pine State Biscuits, which will clog your arteries for sure, but man biscuits are maybe my favorite white bread. Plus, a lot of interesting-sounding topics for said biscuits. (big sandwich plus coffee: like $9) Second evening: Saburo's sushi. The biggest and tastiest nigiri I've ever seen, and rolls the size of small burritos. Had a great squid nigiri (2 pcs, $3.50) and an eel roll. (thing I've unfortunately found out since: you shouldn't eat unagi (freshwater eel). another site agrees. anago is a "maybe". if you just order "eel" and you don't know which one you're getting, it's probably unagi.) Third day: brunch at Gravy. Literally enough food for two generous meals. Three would be reasonable. Including super good french toast and a scramble with tofu.

In short, thanks Henry for the choices, thanks Portland for being cool, I'll have to visit again. (but nope, not moving there, I heart Seattle, which is nice)

Finally, it's time for the Hunger Challenge! The plan: to eat for $7/day. To see what it's like to only get $7 food stamps and have to feed yourself with it. My viewpoint: whatever! That's easy! One rule I've made in addition to the other rules: I can use existing food that I own, if I count out how much it would cost. I'll let you know how it goes. (and hey, join me if you want!)

(for the record, I think it's ridiculous that having $7/day for food is the "hunger challenge." sheesh. how about a handful of rice per day? that's hungry and challenging.)

Finally finally, in the category of things that make me happy and corporations not always being evil, shouts out to Cigna, for covering me for one doctor's appt I made without realizing it would not be covered (b/c it was in cleveland, derf) and to Zipcar, for not hitting us with a late charge when we drove back late and another person had rented the same car.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.

That I haven't posted photos yet from last weekend or even elaborated much besides "I bought a coat and then last weekend was cool."

So Seattle has conventions, you know, like big cities do, right. Last weekend was the Emerald City Comic Con. Sarah and Daniel suggested that we go, because they've read a couple of the webcomic authors who will be there. (I have since too, and I like them too)

So it'll be like nerdfest, right? (I mean, I say this in a self-mocking way, not like "I'm going to go hang out with all the nerrrrddss"... even going to a comic con makes you lose all rights to make fun of people for nerding. Besides, who am I trying to kid? Thank god there are no pictures online of when I went to see the Matrix Reloaded dressed as Agent Smith. On second thought, that was hella fun, and I don't care what you say.) Now, when you're going to a nerdfest, you can act all hip and above-it-all and like "oh, I'm just cultural slumming" (or "I'm going LARPing to write a story about it"), or you can geek the hell out. And Sarah and I, we go big or go home.

Now what's nerdy that we like? Hint: it's British, the villains have plungers for arms, and the spaceship is a police box.

Yes, we were Doctor Who and Rose Tyler. Sadly, Jared has most of the good pictures. In the meantime, here's this:

EDIT: hi-res here. you know, because you'll probably want a poster of this for your wall.

Monday, April 06, 2009

A coat story, in which I posit 10 as the next funny number after 3

On Saturday Sarah and I set out to find a coat. A trench coat, really. Any long brown coat would do. A suit would be nice but not necessary, cheap Converse All-stars would be nice too but we knew where to find those so no problem, but the trench coat was the tricky one. I had done some investigation beforehand and found maybe like 12 long coats at the Value Village, but they were all way too big and not the right style, so I didn't buy any. I figured I'd spend about $20 at a thrift store somewhere.

So we started at the Crossroads Trendy Resale Shop near my house. No long coats. Up to the U District (where soulja boy and electric six hang out) to the Buffalo Exchange Trendy Resale Shop. Again, no long coats, but some pants that looked promising. Over to the Red Light Vintage and Resale Shop; some kinda neat suits but they were priced at like $100-150 and had rips and stuff. Goodwill had a similar lack of long coats. Argh! Despair starts to worm its dirty little fingers into our minds. Express bus downtown to the Ross Discount Clothes store; no winter coats. Out of season. Duh. H&M Trendy New Clothes: again, out of season.

At this point, we are standing outside Nordstrom. Well hey, a department store, right? They'll have some coats, anyway, even if they're out of my price range. We waltz in, past the pianoman (because you see it is classy), down to the men's department, and I stride confidently up to a salesman and proclaim "I would like a trench coat!" He points me over to the wall a little bit like the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Aha! Look at those coats! Perfect! And now, mind you, my price range had crept up steadily with each failure, from $20 to $40, to $60, and was at this point pushing $80.

I pick a coat and look at the price tag. Eight hundred ninety five dollars! Harh! I am off by an entire order of magnitude! This is funny! Because, you see, had the price been $100, I would have bought it; $200, I would have wishy-washed a lot; $500, 'fraid not. But being off by a factor of 10: that's funny.

The thrilling conclusion: we leave, wander around and look for some more thrift stores that aren't there because they're not the best at making sure their Google Maps listings are up-to-date, we almost fight, Sarah suggests we go to Macy's, I say no way they won't have anything we want for sure, she says let's try anyway, I agree to take a quick look, I ask a man while she looks around, the man says they have no coats but Sarah finds some anyway, there are exactly three styles left on a clearance rack and exactly one coat that fits a man as small-chested as I, and that coat is the brilliant shining paragon of coat-that-I-wanted for 75% off and I walk home $100 poorer but 1000% more awesome the next day.

What happened the next day? Stay tuned, dear reader...