Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Goals: Round 1

Not much progress towards all-encompassing life goals, but I will pursue a few goals from Goals 0.0.  I want a Health goal because it's important, a Communication goal because that frustrates me so much, and a Nerdness goal because ... well, it's fun.  Today's winners are:
Health: Slam dunk a basketball successfully on 5 consecutive tries.
Nerdness: Memorize the major bodies of water in the world.  I've got it narrowed down to 211.*
Communication: Keep up this blog.  I've written a post for each of the last 30 days, but I want to hit 100 before adding another goal, so we'll revisit this on November 10.
I'll further elaborate the first two goals and my approaches in later posts, but for now, let the games begin!

*I found my spreadsheet for memorizing all 50 U.S. states and capitals, and have them down again.  Feel free to quiz me on this in any way at any point in time - gotta stay on my toes.

Monday, August 30, 2010

In Praise of Excellence

I've watched as much as possible of Team USA's preparation and entry into the 2010 FIBA World Championships.  (fyi it's basketball)  Many fans aren't interested because most of our opponents are severely overmatched, making those games blowouts.  I love blowouts!  We need close games every so often to keep the tension alive, but a blowout allows players to show the limits of what they can push themselves to - Durant tapping a steal around his man and taking it all the way down the court for a 2-handed slam, Iguodala stealing the ball before the ballhandler knows he's there.  When winning's out of the equation, they can focus on their basketball art and give us the elemental thrill that first made us love the game.  The losing team gets to do the same as their best players take more initiative and wow us.  In a true blowout, even the backups strut their stuff.

I'd never want a season without close games - any champion needs to be tested to earn the title - but a few blowouts make for relaxed enjoyment as well, and a reminder of what makes the best players so excellent.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Challenge Accepted

A Facebook comment on my Goals 0.0 post suggested I should tackle memorizing the major bodies of water in the world first.  I figure why not - it's as good a direction as any.  But now what list do I use?  I can find a list of 31, 147, or over 700 (more than half of these are rivers).  147 feels like a solid compromise, but I'm open to suggestions.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Keeping Score, Take 2

My cousin Eric, a psychiatrist, posted the following comment on yesterday's blog post about teacher evaluations, and it's worth discussing for another day.

Charles, this is an issue that we struggle with in medicine too. There is a strong push to rate doctors, but there is huge disagreement as to how to do it fairly. Every doctor, when faced with being ranked on their outcomes, claims that their patients are sicker than their colleagues', and so any comparison would be apples to oranges. This is of course true of some of them, but can't be true of all of them, logically. So we need a way of ranking just how sick the patients are to begin with (or, for teachers, just how much "potential" each student might have?). Another thorny problem is the fact that teachers and doctors and other professionals deal with human beings (as opposed to, say, widgets), and that humans have a way of doing what they want to do regardless of what their teachers or doctors try to persuade or "make" them do. We just don't have the same control over our "product" as many other workers do. Thirdly, the measurement process cannot be more burdensome than the job itself, however to really do it in ways that capture all the qualities you want in a teacher or doctor or whatever, it seems like it might have to be. Test scores are easy to measure, but don't tell the whole story, just as blood glucose levels or cholesterol levels or scores on a depression questionnaire are easy to measure but don't tell the whole story about what makes a good doctor. But the data is easy to get, so this is what is measured. It's like the old joke about the drunk guy looking for his keys under the streetlight, when he lost them 50 feet away. When asked why he was looking there, he replied "because that's where the light is."
I agree with you that teachers, and doctors, should be evaluated to encourage improvement in quality. The measurement problem, however, is formidable. 

Excellent points on the measurement problem, but our products might not be that different.  There was a "good ole days" (and might still be some good ole employers) when a computer system made up the entire product.  However, we now deliver the ability for our customers to achieve their goals.  We can't just provide an Inventory Report - we validate the inventory data, allow users to modify incorrect numbers, and lock a final version.  Only then can the client confidently use the Inventory Report for budgeting and planning.  I had clients who gave us terrible data files, made a mishmash of modifying it in every way possible, and blamed us for their decisions based on their own data (fortunately, we don't have any of these at S3).  Protecting clients against themselves takes far more time than building the reports, our official output.  People are messy.

I'm not minimizing the added difficulty of dealing with patients/students - my doctor's a saint for putting up with me, and teachers are the most patient people I know.  At some point, though, the outcome is all that matters, regardless of the subject or circumstance.  We may not have enough metadata about education to achieve that level of measurement rigor*, but teachers need to define and enforce their own evaluation, or others will arbitrarily impose easy-to-get metrics like the value-add score.

I know teachers who evaluate their own efforts and work to improve their evaluation, but I've never seen a group/union/department adopt outcome-based standards with any accountability.  I'm sure exceptions exist, but this needs to be a broad trend in education to improve teachers' public image, and, most importantly, students' educations.

*Not that I'm an education expert, but I know so much less about medical practice that I have no idea how much this applies to your field.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Keeping Score

The Los Angeles Times will publish evaluations of over 6,000 elementary teachers on its website (story here), which reflect their students' improvement on test scores.  The union, predictably, rages against the injustice of it all, and attacks the administration, the evaluations' statistical process, and the media.  What the union does not do is suggest how to properly evaluate teachers.

Education is difficult to quantify, especially with so little agreement on educational goals.  Teachers have a justifiable fear of both individual principals' reviews, which can reflect political and personal issues, and calculated scores which cannot capture a teacher's full impact.  What does?  Probably some combination, much like other professions.  I get scores and commentary on my reviews - we don't calculate our numbers, but some companies do.

I can't put into words how much I respect teachers (and am frustrated that I lack the skills to be one), but we need a way to eliminate the bad, reward the good, and spread best practices to help the rest.  Educators should lead the charge with effective accountability that parents and taxpayers can understand. The current system obstructs this kind of effort, but if teachers don't find a solution, they'll have to live with the system's.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


DISCLAIMER #1: I won't give details or names on this incident, but don't worry - the other people are not family, coworkers, or common friends that you might hang out with.  And they're definitely not you.

I got angry at a couple of people last night, and rediscovered one of my biggest fears.  Me.  When I get upset, I huff and puff and my words emotionally stomp around the room.  As long as I'm talking about me or my problem, it's roid-rage Tom Bombadil.  That's where I was while with other people last night.

While fuming afterwards, I crossed the line into quiet anger, which focused on the other people.  My anger doesn't build on the bluster of upset, like an avalanche surging relentlessly.  This monster calmly, arrogantly uses words like Dexter's scalpel, slashing quickly but deeply and precisely for maximum pain.  He's cool, aloof, focused on harm, and never wavers.

He scares the crap out of me because he's good.  I can't remember letting the monster out of my head since middle school, back when my semantic blades did more to inspire bullies than to deter them.  He only plays inside my head, reveling in his plans.  Last night I wanted to give him free rein, and let whatever might happen, happen.  The idea still intrigues me, but the responsibility for his effects on anyone ... my mind revolts at even conceptualizing it.  I notice the anticipatory reveling stops when the assault is delivered - I/he avoid thinking about anything after that.

Dunno how to close this entry.  I don't know what to do with the monster, besides avoidance.  Just needed to express it - maybe this will help.

DISCLAIMER #2: This is a rare occurrence.  I frequently get quiet or upset without anything like this internal turmoil.  Just wanted to reassure you that this doesn't apply to our regular interactions.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Goals 0.0

A while back I listed goals I had while growing up.  I'm still trying to determine goals, and thought the next step would be listing out everything I've considered wanting to do/be in recent memory.  Consider this a preliminary brainstorming session - could add more to any category or even more categories - in no particular order.  Your feedback is highly encouraged.

  • Languages (I'm terrible at speaking/listening, but reading/writing)
    • Sign
    • Spanish
    • Chinese
    • Japanese
    • French (resurrected from high school/college)
    • German
    • Arabic
  • Mastery of a Topic
    • Nations (culture/history/mythology/politics/economy
      • Turkey
      • India
      • Scandinavia
      • Scotland
    • People
      • Albert Einstein
      • Aristotle
      • Augustine of Hippo
      • Thomas Aquinas
      • people whose names don't start with A - I promise, I'm interested
    • History
      • early Chistian church
      • Rennaissance
      • Enlightenment
      • democratic revolutions through history
      • Persian history
    • Religion
      • Islam
    • Current Issues
      • healthcare
      • campaign finance
      • environment
      • Constitutional/political processes
  • Trivia to keep the mind flexible and win pub games
    • US states/capitals
    • Canadian provinces/capitals
    • Mexican states/capitals
    • Countries/capitals
    • Major bodies of water
    • Presidents/Vice-Presidents
    • Greek letters
  • Write
    • Blog (well I'm accomplishing something on this list!)
    • Published stories
    • Published/referenced essays
  • Read
    • Bible in parallel with several different versions (database to store and analyze?)
    • Qur'an
    • Other religions' texts
    • complete Isaac Asimov series
    • all Hugo/Nebula award winners
    • Brittanica Great Books selections
  • Programming
    • Earn Oracle certification of some kind
    • Learn non-SQL language to actually build a usable tool
    • Put my finances-tracking spreadsheet into a database/app
    • Use data to "solve" Farkle
    • List management application for help with memorization (see Trivia)
  • Places
    • Live in other states/countries long enough to get a feel for them (although I have no doubt Austin, TX, will remain my favorite)
    • Summit mountains - not adventure/rock-climbing, just hikes up the Rockies, etc.
    • There's no place I couldn't find something to enjoy
    • Apply that last bullet point to Central Texas
  • Physical Activity/Health
    • Dunk a basketball
    • Be able to flick a racquetball from anywhere on the court to the back wall
    • Play 1-2 hours of decent basketball
    • Play hard for a full racquetball game
    • Swim
    • Stop needing pills
    • Wear an XL size
  • Impact on the World
    • Improve public education
    • Improve access to facts/objective expertise
Th-th-th-that's all, folks.  Until I think about it some more.

    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    Awake Fail

    I'm staring at the computer trying to come up with a topic, but my eyes are literally closing of their own accord.  It's a fail, but hopefully my timely admission will allow me to make it up in the near future.  Thank you for your patience and understanding!

    Monday, August 23, 2010

    The Importance of Being Polite

    I try to return service employees' interest conversationally.  "How are you doing?"  "Good.  And you?" or "Have a good day."  "You too."  It gets me in trouble sometimes, primarily at movie theaters: "Enjoy your movie."  "You t ... er, thanks."  Seems like I make that exact mistake at least once a month.

    Sunday, August 22, 2010

    True Price

    I like doing mental math.  I enjoyed it more (and more successfully) when I practiced in high school, but still figure out tax, tip, and the occasional oddly-precise trivia question (Wednesday-night Tavern trivia usually has a Nerd Round math question which results in an unusual fraction).  But I rarely know how much I have to pay for something - anything! - until the bill arrives.

    There are a lot of factors in prices - tax and certain fees are about the only thing the seller can't control.  However they do know enough to calculate them at the time of sale.  Yet AT&T will never even estimate your next total bill, just the "base price" of the plan they're sticking you with.  Restaurants don't include enough to pay waitstaff a living wage.  Car dealerships advertise prices that don't include "extras" like air conditioning.  This is Texas: air conditioning is more critical than brakes.

    Why is this burden on the consumer?  Lemon laws put the burden of acceptable quality on the seller.  Why not force sellers to list the true price?  As a consumer, I don't care how much of the price is taxes, how much of it is fees, how much reflects the seller's cost.  I need to know how much cash makes the bright shiny thing mine.  Sellers, put the full price of the product (including features being shown) on advertisements at least as big as the company name.  If it can vary, put a price that covers all situations or don't list the price.  But if a price is on an ad, I should be able to go wherever you're advertising, and buy it right there for that much cash.  If there's a price sticker on an item, that should be what the cashier asks for.  This seems like a simple rule that keeps the burden of naming the price on the party that defines it.

    As for tips, I like to tip for good service, and don't mind it for average service, but let's apply minimum wage (ideally a living wage) to all employees, so I don't have to keep bad waiters off food stamps.

    What's wrong with a True Price system?  It could affect marketing, but it affects all competitors equally.  It could hide taxes, but those could still be broken out on the receipt - or even in the ads - just as long as the full price is also shown.

    Saturday, August 21, 2010

    The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

    This book has a few flaws.  The male lead Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist/magazine editor just like the author!  Unsurprisingly, the author describes in deep detail what Blomkvist enjoys about his job, reminding the reader why you don't want that job.  The author also considered himself a tech expert, and describes every piece of computer equipment ad nauseam.

    Howver, those flaws only stand out because the book is amazing.  A great story with intense characters (although I look forward to more backstory in the sequels) that draws the reader along without resorting to Dan Brown-style gimmicks.  There are some very disturbing scenes (I don't want to see the movie, although it's supposed to be excellent, because of a few of these), but they're never superfluous.  I can't recommend it enough, and I'm looking forward to reading the sequels.

    Forgot one thing when I first wrote this review: the translation impresses me even more than the writing.  Reg Keeland took a well-written Swedish book, and produced an at-least-as-well-written English version, which is amazing.

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    Frodo and Harry Potter in the same link!!!

    Because I have to share anything that references two of my all-time favorite series: http://img715.imageshack.us/img715/5453/hairyplagarism2.jpg

    PS If you really want Tolkien plagiarism, try Terry Brooks' Shannara series.

    Thursday, August 19, 2010

    Sticker Solution

    The Setup: We switched cars tonight, and a police officer pulled Laura over, giving her a ticket for my out-of-date vehicle registration sticker.  They will waive the ticket when we show that we registered on time, but still charge a $20 dismissal fee and require a visit to the courthouse.

    Disclaimer: I registered on time, but have not changed the car's sticker.  I failed to meet the legal requirement.  My bad, and Laura's stuck dealing with it.  This annoys me, which might influence my analysis.

    The Problem: We will pay $20 for a registration violation that never happened.  The ticket has a 20-day grace period to register your vehicle, so I assume everyone who gets this ticket pays only $20.  That can't make up the cost of the officer's time in delivering the ticket, and the courthouse's receipt and processing of the dismissal fee, so everyone loses financially.  Even more costly is (or should be) the officer's lost time to investigate or prevent crimes THAT ACTUALLY HARM ANYONE IN ANY WAY!!! (OK, got that off my chest.)

    Registration is not the problem - we should charge car-related expenses to car owners and verify insurance.  But current enforcement requires a police officer to look at stickers on windshields.  Let me repeat: police officers are spending time looking at stickers on windshields.  And each pullover for a bad sticker loses money.  Isn't this a problem in every way?

    The Solution: A server somewhere already sends the registration bill based on vehicle titles.  Assuming a server also records payments, the system can identify delinquent drivers, and take direct action against them without distracting police officers.  Require offenders to pay the registration plus a significant late fee before purchasing insurance, paying their property tax, paying fines related to subsequent arrests/tickets, or transferring the car's title.  Won't this collect the fees at much less cost (in dollars and public safety) than having police officers spend time looking at stickers?  And we haven't even considered the cost of producing and mailing stickers.

    Some people might think the system would cost more.  Not at all - my employer, S3 Technologies, already checks every doctor applying for Medicaid reimbursement in Texas for fraud (you can check your doctor's history at http://doctors.s3.com/), and analyzes every trade executed in the major stock exchanges.  Matching up drivers, payments, and collection opportunities would be right up our alley.  Regardless of who builds the solution, let's agree that our police officers' time would be better spent on actual crime than bureaucratic negligence, and find a better answer.

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    Filling the Gaps

    What's more important in a blog?  Writing every day, or having something worth writing about?  The first is my goal, so I'll default in that direction, but it feels ... wasteful.  Not of my time - the practice can't hurt - but the audience deserves better, right?

    Well, only you can decide what you deserve.  Please comment on how you'd like me to fill future days when no ideas are worth a full post (I've spent an hour starting and rejecting entries on Brett Favre's unretirement, a review of The Expendables, and Dr. Laura's Palin-level incomprehension of the First Amendment).  Use writing prompts?  Creative writing?  Stories from my life?  Jokes?  Pictures of cute kittens?  Something else I haven't come up with?

    All ideas are welcome!

    Since I have failed in my duty to enlighten and entertain, please enjoy this video on how to get people to use the stairs instead of the escalator: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=453467908759&ref=mf

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010


    I realized this morning that one of my most valued personal ambitions is timespace.  There is always enough time to do things, and usually relax a bit*, but it's great to have more room in the schedule to really enjoy the time.  Timespace is when I've woken up early enough to do some reading before work, or the miraculous weekend day with nothing scheduled.  Timespace is what I miss when I have something booked every night after work, or try to schedule an hour of exercise every day, or have so much to do that I'm scrambling from place to place.  I'm probably greedy wanting some every day, but it's the most luxurious feeling I know.

    It's tough to maintain it, because timespace's enemy isn't usually the things I have to do - it's the things I want to do.  I love meeting up with people, getting things done, staying up late for a movie or to write the day's blog post, but then I feel temporally scrunched until the next potential timespace.  I'm not sure of the best approach to resolve this, but I'll need discipline to find a smoother balance.  This seems like an area to work on as a goal.

    *I don't have children, but I understand those of you who do are probably aghast that I'm so greedy as to want more than a little relaxation.  Please don't hate me.

    Quick Links

    Another story in the Times about the emerging danger of concussions: http://tinyurl.com/alsconcuss

    If Dan Quayle's son has managed to dumb down the family name, Bristol's floor is limitless: http://tinyurl.com/quaylet

    Monday, August 16, 2010

    Baby Steps

    I haven't exercised much, but I encountered another obstacle this weekend, some foot problems from last Friday's flag football game.  Due to my diabetes, I have to be especially careful with extremities, so anything foot-heavy (racquetball, basketball, jump rope, etc.) is off the table for a little while.  I got some good suggestions from friends on dynamic stretches and leg/core exercises that will help, and started trying them tonight.  It seems a little light, but I definitely felt pressure in muscles I haven't felt in a while.  Figured I'd record it here, and see if anyone had any suggestions for improving it.


    • Swing straight-out arms to left, then right, and back again for 30-60 seconds.
    • Bend straightened torso to the left and right 10 times, holding the extreme positions for 2 seconds at a time.
    • Twist straightened torso to the left and right 15 times.
    • From the widest possible stance, touch each hand to the opposite foot (well, towards, in my case), and repeat 10 times, staying in constant motion. (The last reach went about 2 inches longer than the first, so I'd guess it worked.)
    • Holding the right leg and body as still as possible, swing straightened left leg as far as possible forward and backwards 10 times.  Repeat with right leg.

    Exercise (hopefully will add more soon):

    • 3-stage squat: Bend slightly at the knees, hold 2 seconds, bend further, hold 2 seconds, bend into a full squat, hold 5 seconds, and stop at both intermediate levels on the way back up.  Tonight I repeated this 5 times, but plan to improve it.
    Thighs, calves, and mid- to lower-back definitely felt the pressure, but a couple hours later, there's no pain, so I didn't push too hard.  I'll try to maintain this energy level, and maybe even step it up over the week.  Every journey starts with a single step, or stretching in preparation for that step.

    Sunday, August 15, 2010

    Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

    I usually read a book before seeing its movie, but I walked into this one blind.  And I loved it.  It makes fun of so much - comic books and video games are the most obvious targets, but indie rock bands, actors, vegans, boys, girls, Canada, the satire knows no bounds.  Frequent comic-book stylings might turn some people off, but they melded perfectly into the experience.  The actors won't win any Oscars, but none of them distracted from the story (except possibly Michael Cera's hair, which was still part of the story), and Ellen Wong handled The Three Faces of Knives Chau superbly.  The story was so good that I plan to buy the graphic novel to see which of the hinted-at subplots were fleshed out originally.

    I wouldn't call this movie a must-see, but it entertains consistently for most of its screen time.  Laura thought it got a little boring after Evil Ex #3, but I enjoyed the different styles of stories and fights behind the other Exes.  I give it 7 out of 10.

    (Whew - midnight deadline to get something up has been reached!)

    Saturday, August 14, 2010

    Just Another Mosque

    When the courts find someone guilty of a crime, they punish the criminal.  Our government does not directly punish his family, nor the criminal's employer, social clubs, favorite football team, or his church.  If an organization conspires, we only punish those responsible, not other affiliates (i.e., if Round Rock's First Baptist Church blew up Main Street, we would not levy fines or jail sentences against other Baptist churches and pastors).

    So why the outcry over a community center that includes a mosque near Ground Zero?  Not on the site, not in view of the site, but three blocks away where another building already stood.  Any private development, whether religious, commercial, or residential, would be inappropriate on the site itself, but this lot is normal real estate in the area.  They want the site at least in part for its proximity, but I assume that has affected the value of all surrounding real estate, and many other purchasing decisions.  If the planned building celebrated the destruction or mocked the tragedy (such as neo-Nazis building a WWII museum at a former concentration camp), we should stop it.  But the developer and imam leading the mosque have a long, consistent history of preaching tolerance and interfaith harmony.

    My heart still burns for the victims' families, but I don't see what jurisdiction they have outside the site.  I admire Gov. Paterson's offer of free land to build the development elsewhere - a great gesture towards a win-win solution.  But I find myself once again most impressed with President Obama.  He is the only high-profile politician enduring serious attempts to label him Muslim and non-American, and could have avoided comment on the mosque as a local issue.  But he dove in to defend religious freedom for all, knowing this would give snipers more ammo.  I want more politicians willing to do that, and I'd like to see the President do it more himself, but I've got to give credit where credit's due.

    P.S. My information is heavily based on Newsweek's cover story, although it's consistent with everything else I've read.  Please let me know any factual errors I'm making, or any other comments that strike you.

    Friday, August 13, 2010

    Random Thought

    Is there a better feeling than watching your fellow driver who flew past you slam on their brakes as your lane takes you ahead of them?  Wait, there is - watching it happen to the same driver after 3 consecutive passes.

    This is all I've got in me today - I'll write more tomorrow.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    The Name of the Wind

    I just finished Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind, which starts the epic fantasy Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy. Many elements are standard - boy (almost never a girl) loses family, lives a rough life, but his unusual skills and pluck draw him up in the world. Same as you'll find in the books of David Eddings (actually all of his series are point-by-point mirrors of each other - can you plagiarize yourself?), Terry Goodkind, and many more.

    Yet I couldn't put it down. I'm almost angry now I have to wait until March for the sequel. And this book was published in 2007 - no idea when the trilogy will finish! The style is easy to read without any gimmicks, and the voice is familiarly sarcastic - Rothfuss has been photographed in a Joss Whedon Is My Master Now t-shirt, so he and I would get along just fine. He wrote the book well, but there's one element that really draws me to it.

    Many stories give a high importance to books, or a specific Book, which is natural since authors tend to be readers. But the hero's bibliophilia struck a deep chord in me. His only connection to his past is a book - I think the only thing I have from my childhood in Hawaii is Lord of the Rings. His goal is to attend the University, primarily to immerse himself in the Archives containing millions of books. That is a goal, an obsession, I can relate to. Many lines in the book made me laugh out loud (sorry Laura!), but the book-loving parts drew me completely into the story. I wish I could find more books like this one.

    Thanks, Andy, for the most excellent birthday present.

    P.S. A quick Web search tells me the next two books are already written (where are they and why don't I have them?!?), and a second trilogy is already planned. Excellent. Most excellent.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010


    CAUTION: I'm a little dark and despairing (and whiny?) about my weight in this post. I'm not writing this for encouragement or sympathy, just feel a need to think this through and write it down for me. Feel free to skip it, and if not, to respond (or not) however you'd like.

    A few truly exceptional people decide to improve themselves just because they want to. Most of the rest of us, after some behavior or addiction gets worse and worse, reach a point that we can't bear the cost and make our change. This point varies across all extremes, from "Oof, my size 2 pants are a little tight!" or "I can only distinguish 4 of my 6-pack abs!" to "I don't know where my child is tonight." or "I don't like being in the emergency room." The latter level, of course, is the dramatic focus of most popular media, but the people whose bottom point isn't rock bottom are also making decisions based on their need to change.

    I'm overweight. I sweat conspicuously at normal temperatures or with the mildest activity. I've broken chairs (at a wedding reception being the most memorably embarrassing), and not fit in others. I have diabetes, with symptoms that already influence my life and an even more unpleasant long-term prognosis.

    Last May I stubbed my toe and went on since there wasn't any pain. The next day it was completely purple (although fortunately undamaged) but still painless, which led to my efforts last summer to lose weight and try to get a handle on my diabetes. In addition to my scare, I had encouragement and scholarship donations to egg me on. After losing 32.5 pounds in 2 months, I'm back to where I was (and have fluctuated pretty significantly since).

    Where's my bottom? I'm really truly afraid to find out. And more afraid that there's nothing to find.

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    Goals -1.0

    I'm still trying to figure out my goals. Yeah, I want to be healthier, I want to communicate/write better, but for what? What do I do with the extra time and ability? The people in my life are hugely important to me, but I need something to aim for. I've had trouble with this question for a long time, so I figured reviewing past goals might help.

    The earliest thing I can remember wanting to be is a fighter pilot (only partly inspired by Robotech). As I realized that fighter pilots weren't safe and someone told me I was too tall for the cockpits, I decided on being a lawyer, but had no idea what that meant. I also loved the idea of "solving" basketball intellectually in a way that would let me play in the NBA. Um, that didn't happen, although if Isiah Thomas and David Kahn can be general managers, someone should let me run a team.

    In school, I got good grades and worked to get them, but there wasn't a goal of being #1 so much as beating Susie in a competition that stretched back to elementary school. While I wanted to be Student Council President and other positions I got to hold, none of them were goals where the failure would have meant a loss to me (I'm still surprised I won the SC election - I think it was the only contested race I've ever won).

    In college, I initially set goals of being consecutively the president of Honors Business Association, Undergraduate Business Council, and Student Government while adding a liberal arts Plan 1 Honors program to my business degree with minors in French and German. Absolutely none of those things happened, and I loved almost every moment of college. Maybe that's where I got off goals - realizing how awesome life could turn out without a road map.

    Since college, I can't think of any goals I've set, except weight goals that have always ended badly. I have a great job in an industry that works for me, but I don't think it's been a goal. I've had a few ideas like working on a charter school or revamping public education, but never set goals to achieve them.

    The last few paragraphs have been in my head all day. As I typed them out, it hit me that I have tried a number of efforts and had ideas, but none of them have come to anything. If they were goals, I would have failed. Not to psychoanalyze myself (although what else is a freeform blog?), but there's sadness with that idea. Since college, I've lacked an energy/activity level that kept me in a position to enjoy my unplanned college career. I need to get back to that, and maybe small goals can get me there.

    Hmm I'm not sure what to do with this post. Definitely need a version 0.0 and eventually a 1.0 or something like that.

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    Movies and Books and Tigers, Oh My!

    Someone asked me this weekend what my favorite movie is, and I was stumped. Lord of the Rings is the easy answer, but I don't know if that holds up. To me, the question is asking what would I always want to see and want anyone I know to see, and even LotR doesn't always capture me. Swingers, Princess Bride, Little Miss Sunshine, Shrek, so many movies would have to be in the conversation I don't know that favorite applies any more. I think writing and plot are my main attractors, though.

    Someone today asked me about favorite TV shows (no idea why my media preferences are suddenly popular). In the non-singular, this is easy, but I realized that I seem to be attracted to TV musicals. Long before Glee, Buffy's musical episode might qualify as my favorite TV episode ever. Songs from Scrubs (not so much their musical episode, but they incorporated songs well), Buffy, West Wing, Joan of Arc, and other shows seem to have stuck episodes in my head as well. It doesn't apply so much to musical movies or shows per se - individual songs in random scenes suit me best. West Wing was one of the best at this - the Season 3 finale with Hallelujah playing over Agent Donovan's death, and the musical Shakespeare celebrating the glory of battle over the assassination order, haunt me when I come across a rerun on Bravo.

    I can't tell if this makes me sappy or just very open to musical suggestion. Or especially sensitive to awesomeness, which is the conclusion I'm drawing.

    One other note on media: I had a friend who protested for months (and apparently years before that) that Harry Potter couldn't be any good and she refused to read it. I finally badgered her into it, and today she raced through 200 pages of Order of the Phoenix. Moral of the story: I am always right, and your life will be better if you heed me.

    Sunday, August 8, 2010


    While Laura was in Scotland, the TV shows had voiceovers describing the action, which detracted from the experience. For example, the movie Catwoman featured "Patience knocks out the thief with a carefully placed scissor kick, but leaves him alive," and "Patience wears leather pants with feline slashes highlighting her legs and bottom." I've tried to watch a children's anime series from my youth called Robotech, in which a narrator at least 3 times an episode has to tell us which way the characters and plot are moving because the writers couldn't do anything coherently.

    How would I want my life narrated for the Truman Show I'm undoubtedly starring in? I'd go with the stream-of-consciousness torrent of Scrubs, from my perspective. Maybe with a cooler voice though, say James Earl Jones? (No offense to Zach Braff, who's great, just not for me.) Or the voice could change as needed - sometimes Jones, sometimes Anthony Stewart Head, sometimes Ian McKellan, sometimes Billy Dee Williams (I probably wouldn't need that one very much), sometimes Terry Tate. All those voices would make life almost as much fun as the old Fox show Herman's Head.

    Saturday, August 7, 2010


    Today I went to talk to a friend's daughter. She's starting high school, and is already worrying about how to get into college, especially since life complications will take up a lot of her time and energy. My plan was to reassure her, and maybe help direct her efforts to help her future applications.

    She seemed reassured, but otherwise she didn't need anything from me. She's doing large volunteer projects involving baking at/for SafePlace, and has plans to expand it to include teaching baking to resident children. It's the kind of thing that has a greater impact than most high school students (and most others, for that matters), and it couldn't be better tailored to college applications. There was a lot else that impressed me that I'm not sure I can go into, but it was a good conversation.

    All in all, it's the applications from kids like her that inspire me. It gets me part-raring to go, part-frustrated every spring when I read hundreds of these, and getting to talk to one face-to-face today had no frustrating component. It was a good day.

    Friday, August 6, 2010


    The Onion wrote a story about the 350,000 clones that eminent Sports Illustrated writer Peter King must use to visit so many training camps and file so many stories. King's response on Twitter: "I am honored, Onion." (fyi his Twitter ID is SI_PeterKing if you'd like to follow him - he is a good writer and better journalist.)

    That might be the highest praise - being so well known that satire uses you as its starting point. Could also be the lowest condemnation, as Lindsay Lohan has proven. I'm sure Mr. King has more straightforward awards that he treasures more, but I see this as a larger acknowledgement from the fringes - he's not just the ink in his magazine, he's now others' paper.

    Being such a presence beckons as an interesting goal - how would one train for that? (I'm betting not using the third person would be a good start.)

    Thursday, August 5, 2010


    I love football. I played it for a year in 8th grade, enjoyed following my Round Rock Dragons, and have been a vocal fan of the glorious University of Texas Longhorns since the 1990 Shock the Nation season. I never found an NFL team to really own, just following UT alumni and playing fantasy football, but I can enjoy almost any game that doesn't include Terrell Owens.

    But I think I'm done. Research is showing that we are sacrificing our gladiators, especially their brains, for our entertainment. High school football players have brain plaques at levels equal to advanced Parkinson patients. College running backs (not the lineman who smashes into brick walls at high speeds on every play) endure the equivalent impact of 3 average car collisions on their heads in a practice. Not a game, a practice.

    The research isn't conclusive, although there's a lot of trees to pretend there's no forest. At this point, I wouldn't let my son play football, and I can't be a part of encouraging other people's sons to put themselves in this position. So I'm trying to drop out of football - I really don't know if I can avoid watching UT all season, but that's the plan for now.

    I know this won't change anything, I don't expect most football fans to agree and I support whatever they choose to do, but I need to do this for me. If only there was a way to train to avoid football.

    Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Rants?

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    Only 3 Days?

    Writing daily shouldn't hurt, but I'm already out of ideas. It's like half-mile #2 would be for me in training for a marathon (ok, ok, half-mile #1). So break out the first crutch: time to work on one of my goals.

    I want to "improve my health" - what does that mean?
    • get rid of diabetes (temporarily, it will return as I get older)
    • not have to take daily medication
    • not sweat in normal temperatures/activities
    • be able to help with normal efforts like moving people into new homes
    • only need the Tall part of Big & Tall clothing stores
    Pretty much it means losing weight - otherwise I'm healthier than probably most of you think. Bad cholesterol, blood pressure, heart measurements, it's all pretty good. So let's set a target of weighing 250 pounds - that will at least put me in sight of all of those goals.

    I know the basics of how to get there. Suggestions are always welcome, although I can't promise to follow through on any particular one.

    Stretch goal: dunk a basketball. God gave me the first 100 inches - I just need to provide 20 more.

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010

    Beyond Air Conditioning

    I hate heat. I'm not a fan of exercising, but especially exposed to heat, bright sunlight, heat, bugs, heat, and so many things air conditioning seems to protect me from. Tonight I took a walk just as the sun dipped below the horizon, and headed out to some nearby fields instead of the tree-lined park or the little boxes made of ticky-tacky.

    The colors were amazing - the sky went from afternoon blue across to the dark grey of approaching night. The clouds were at various times fiery red and orange, fluffy white, and a darkening purple as the light shifted west. More engrossing to me was the massive tapestry of different greens woven across the fields and trees with occasional sparks of red and yellow flowers. The entire tableau just hit me as something worth leaving the air conditioning behind. Well, sometimes, at least.

    Here's to finding more things to draw me out.

    Monday, August 2, 2010

    Getting Started

    I'm stealing an idea from my preacher - that seems like a sin, but I bet he's OK with it. Wade Hodges discussed the difference between trying (making an effort but with a plan in place for failure) and training - not just doing, but preparing and practicing in an effort to live a life where you can do the committed act more naturally. That concept clicked with me. So I'm Training.

    Now I just need a goal to train to. Defining that goal has been surprisingly difficult. Two things I know I want to work towards are improving my health (overweight diabetic in mid-30s) and writing. Most training is towards one goal, but I need more than that to stay active, so I'm aiming for 3 things right now: get healthier, write every day, and get the goals worded well.

    Not all of my posts will be about the process - that would really stunt any potential growth in writing. But initially I'm sure I'll talk more about each of these. I hope any readers out there enjoy this journey with me, and please comment - conversations are always more fun than yelling into the void.