Downsizing My Life and Moving

I just bought a new place. It’s about less than half the size of my house and just what the doctor ordered.
Basically, I’ve got too much crap. And I need to get rid of as much of it as possible. I don’t know what the crap is in my garage, I never use it, and have come to the conclusion that I don’t need it to be sitting in my garage…or in the rest of my house.
This house is also just too much space for one guy. It encourages crap to pile up and I finally get fed up with it all last November and bought my new condo in Palo Alto (current house in Cupertino).
My plan is to buy all new furniture and furnish the PA condo first. Then, I will move everything I want to keep over there. Anything that is left in the old house is up for trashing or garage sale or giving away.
Thankfully, almost all of the furniture has arrived and now I can start the long process of getting all the stuff I want to keep over to it. I still may need a storage cube, but that’s ok. The cathartic process of cleaning up and throwing away stuff I don’t need is going to get rid of all the rest.
I can’t wait for the finality of downsizing my life. It takes a huge weight off my shoulders. Having so much stuff isn’t satisfying and ultimately harmful, in my view. Yes money can buy you lots of things, but in the end, having every freakin’ thing in the universe isn’t going to make you happy.

Dirty Air

When I first got to NYC and started living in my apartment, I noticed black dust on countertops and constantly dirty floors. Every time I returned to NYC, I would see more black dust all over everything – how they got into my sealed apartment I do not know. The edges of my windows were crusted with dirty soot from years of exposure to the smog of Manhattan. The first time I opened them, I was greeted by a cloud of black dust shook loose by my jerking the window open. Needless to say, I refuse to open them now as they left the window sill and nearby floor covered with the soot.
A friend of mine who lived in NYC said she always cleaning. Always wiping off everything, always mopping the floors in an attempt to keep ahead of the black soot that seemed to settle on everything every day. It was the one thing she hated about NYC and never seemed to be able to fix.
On my first bike ride, I came back with black soot dots all over my legs from riding behind the taxis and on dirty roads. I ran screaming into the shower to scrub it off!
This is what you get used to living in a big city. Dirty air. You ignore it. It’s the price you pay for getting the benefits of hanging out in the Big Apple and experiencing all it has to offer.
It grossed me out. I’m used to wonderful Northern California air away from smog and exhaust fumes. I sought to fight this somehow!
I bought a Sharper Image Ionic Breeze air purifier. I also put this special filter on a vent which continually spewed black bits onto my kitchen countertops.
Every two weeks I pull out the electrodes of the Ionic Breeze and note they are covered with black soot. It’s pretty disgusting to clean off and I’m glad it’s out of the air I breathe. Miraculously, I dust less. After months of mopping the floors they are finally looking shiny. And no more black bits on my countertop although it does look like time to replace the vent filter as its turning black.
It is time for us as a society to do better than spewing more soot into the air. We still have a long way to go to fight the inertia of old technologies and a political machine that is strangely resistant to creating a cleaner world for our children.
I still run in Manhattan, sucking in the soot filled air and not thinking about what I’m breathing in. But I don’t bike outside any more. Somehow if I don’t see it on my body, it makes it easier to ignore…?.

I Didn’t Learn SH*T in my EE Classes, Part II

OK OK so I slept on it and had further thoughts on this. Technology has made products a helluva lot more complex but they work better, and they’re smaller and use less power, etc. etc. In the recent past, you could actually work on your own car because everything was mechanical; now you need a laptop to read the diagnostics and you end up replacing the whole unit because there is a microcontroller in there that you can’t just replace by itself. It’s easier to replace the whole thing.
Sometimes I think that technology has made us stupider. When I was a kid, my dad and I created crystal radios from scratch and they would actually work. Today, create a XM radio from scratch? Pretty tough. Even basic stuff like soap – in the old days, settlers in the West would make soap from leftover grease and fat. They’d put it all in a big tub and stir it with some other ingredients (which I have forgotten) and it would eventually thicken into soap. Now you just go to the supermarket and buy it.
Ever read apocalyptic science fiction like Lucifer’s Hammer by Jerry Pournelle or Dies the Fire, The Protector’s War, or The Meeting at Corvallis by S. M. Stirling? Some major event happens like a meteor hits earth or nuclear war, or technology is wiped out. Humans need to survive, so all the stuff you get in modern civilization is quickly being hoarded and used up and nobody is replacing it, because factories are destroyed. Pretty soon, people are back to making the basic stuff all over again.
It’s a little scary sometimes and makes you wonder what would happen in a world where you’d really have to go back to all the SH*T you learned in EE class and rebuild some of that from scratch…

I Didn’t Learn SH*T in my EE Classes

Today I’m in NYC and I arrive to a busted microwave. Actually I didn’t discover it was broken; a buddy of mine stayed at my place a few weeks back and found it was busted – well he put these soy burgers in there and they probably overloaded it hahah. (Just kidding.)
Anyways, you can’t live in NYC without a microwave. In the city of takeout/delivery, how can you not reheat something instantly?
So I call the handyman guy in my building and he comes over to take a look. He says to me that all you gotta do is take out the circuit board and re-solder everything on it. He says that sometimes over time, cooking oil can cause the soldered joints to become non-conductive since the microwave sits over the range. He proceeds to unscrew the board and takes it away.
A few minutes later, he comes back with the fixed board. He reinstalls it and then turns it on and, WOW, it works. UNBELIEVABLE.
It reminds me of my dad. Once he gets me to come over because his big screen TV is busted. He gets me to go behind the TV and unscrew the back and take out the circuit board. I give him the circuit board and he looks at it for a minute and then points to a transformer (one of 100 components on this board) and says, “I think this is broken. We need to replace this.” I look at him in wonder. How the f*ck did he know that was broken? He goes upstairs and finds a spare transformer (oh a random spare transformer upstairs in his bedroom…) and comes back down. He hands it to me and tells me to unsolder the old one and put in the new one.
My skills do include soldering so I whip out my handy dandy soldering iron and replace it pronto, but all the while wondering “WTF this can’t be the problem…?” I take the circuit board and put it back into the TV. I replace the back panel and plug it in, and IT WORKS.
I think about when my father learned electronics. Back then, electronics were simpler. Radios and stuff were just easier to put together and fix and none of these integrated circuits. Lots of big tubes and transformers and things that you didn’t need a microscope to see. You learned their theory, and how they worked together, and you could pretty much build a radio from scratch.
Look at me. I went through many electrical engineering classes in college and I can’t fix crap. What a waste of an education. I pay all this money to learn the same stuff that my dad learns and I can’t do anything with it. Can’t fix a TV or a microwave. I AM WORTHLESS.

Addicted To Time Shifted TV: My Tivo Broke

My Tivo broke. It did this reboot thing and then froze in perpetual reboot. So after about 2 weeks, I pull out the mega home entertainment cage in which it sits and unplug/replug the Tivo to restart it. Then, when it finally successfully boots up, I notice there is no video coming from my DirecTV box. I call DirecTV customer service and, amazingly, they help me fix it fast (not bad for customer service).
In weeks past I would have panicked; to miss my favorite TV series would have driven me crazy! But now I don’t care. I have my video iPod and buy all my TV shows through iTunes.
TV has certainly transformed. I used to watch TV all the time and found that annoyingly I’d have to be home at the same time favorite shows were on. Depending on the show and/or the time, that was either easy or damn near impossible. Then, the VCR gets invented and now the game is to remember when to program the VCR, assuming you can figure out how to set the clock which was the biggest running joke of the hardware UI community for decades.
Then TV shows became boring to me. Somehow writers of TV shows didn’t have the right formula to interest me. All we saw were stupid reality shows and the knockoffs, which I hated. I stopped watching TV altogether.
The introduction of Tivo to the world helped a bit. But still, it was the content that mattered, not the technology.
Today is a different story. Some really fantastic storytelling is happening in lots of shows, and in very creative ways. Plots that twist and turn, humor of the darkest sort (my kind of humor!). Lots of delving into science fiction which I naturally love. My favorite shows:
Desperate Housewives
Battlestar Galactica
But all of this show watching was made really palatable by technology. Given my busy lifestyle, I am now never in front of the TV when a show is on. First it was Tivo that saved the day. Now I could time shift my TV watching to when I wanted to watch and not at the network’s whim. But even that was too restrictive.
The next big innovation was the video iPod and the selling of TV shows through iTunes. Now I could not only time shift TV, but I could bring it with me! Wow! Sitting on a plane or airport lounge, I could watch a show there while waiting to board. Using a iPod dock connected to my TV, I could watch an iPod show on my TV. It was the ultimate in portability – and I didn’t mind watching shows on that little screen as well.
Great content, great technology. What more could I ask for?

A Martian View of Problem Solving

A long time ago, I read the famous book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray. I remembered that at the time of my reading, I laughed at its contents in the sense that a lot of things in it were so stereotypical about men and women. I could relate to experiencing every one of its comments in both myself and in others. But after reading it, I really didn’t take it all that seriously to study and remember what it said, and certainly I didn’t change any of my behaviors after reading it.
That is,..until I got divorced, at which time I set myself on a path to do better at everything relationship-wise that I thought I wasn’t doing well.
Last night, I had dinner with two friends, a recent couple. Somehow in our conversation, the topic of problem solving came up.
Now what is “problem solving”?
While generally this is more commonly found in men, I have also found women who exhibit this behavior. Basically, you sit with another person. In relationships, it is usually a guy sitting with a woman. You start talking, and the woman (stereotypically) starts talking about some problem she is experiencing. She is frustrated, or in need, or having trouble with her job or manager – something like that. Then you start telling her that she should just go and do this or that and the problem is solved. After you say that, the woman gets super upset. Then, you proceed to ask her what is wrong. She says that she just wants to be supported. You say that if she would solve the problem, the all the bad feelings will go away. And by the way, I gave you some answers – COOL! problem instantly solved, right? This goes on, usually sliding downward into a huge argument with neither side understanding what is wrong or getting to a better place.
Sound familiar? Let’s analyze what’s wrong with this situation:
1. Most guys are brought up to be problem solvers. Men solve problems. They are great engineers, doctors, whatever. Their whole life is built around having huge problems to solve and upon solving those problems, you feel great and important. It’s worked before with great results, why wouldn’t it work here?
2. Women are brought up to be supportive in nature first before problem solvers. They like to communicate and think verbally, and any issues they have will often come up. It comes out and they want to support at that point in time. Solving the problem is the last thing they want; they want to know someone cares and is listening to them because in the act of getting out and feeling supported, they feel better.
3. Men don’t understand women. Women don’t understand men. And certainly neither have worked specifically on how to communicate with the other sex at this level. I don’t know about you, but I never took any class on it in school.
4. Men and women both expect the other read each others minds. Last time I checked, I don’t have ESP so I guess this isn’t happening.
5. A note on getting “your problems solved”. Generally in this kind of conversational situation, it makes you feel like an idiot, that you can’t solve problems by yourself, and that you can’t think for yourself and that you’re incapable, ineffective, a bad person, etc. etc. This is what the other person is feeling when you try to solve their problems.
Is there a time for problem solving? Yes there is. But it ain’t now.
It took me a long time to understand this and how it related to my own life and relationships. It also took a long time to learn how to do this better, which is basically reinforcing behaviors and responses more effective and appropriate to communicating and relating to the opposite sex. Here is what I realized and did:
1. You have to realize there are two people here. But, you will never change another person unless that other person wants to change. In my experience, it is a rare (and joyous) occurrence if the other person is willing to change with you in this area.
2. So mostly you have to change yourself. I worked on this for months. It is like burning a new habit into your brain. Remember, I’ve had 38+ years of training in the “martian” way of communicating and relating. I think it took me about 4 months of thinking about it and practicing it every single day.
3. I needed new language tools. So I memorized some typical lines which work great like:
“Oh yes that is hard”
“It must be difficult.”
“Feeling that way is tough.”
Also, reflecting back what the other person said also works great. For example:
YOU: “My boss hates me.”
ME: “Yeah it must be really hard if you need to go to work every day and deal with a boss who hates you”
By the way, this is the WRONG response:
YOU: “My boss hates me”
ME: “Why don’t you get a new job?”
It’s called validation – the knowledge that the problem you are experiencing is real and that someone else sees it the same way. Very useful tool.
4. You need to communicate and not read minds. It’s much better that way than waiting for the other person to “figure it out why I’m so upset.” Mind reading DOESN’T work. Respecting the other person by just coming out and saying what’s going on is much better. Increasing your vocabulary in “feelings words” really works here. (You’re probably chuckling that I had to go to that list and memorize it; let me tell you – many people both women and men have never in their lives used words like these…ever. It has to be learned and become part of their normal set of vocabulary usage). Another great list is the needs list.
5. I needed to flip my mind to a new goal when meeting with people. This goal was literally:
“As I sit here at (dinner, meeting, coffee, etc.) with my (friend, girlfriend, etc.), I am going to just sit here and enjoy the moment. I will leave all solving of the world’s problems at the door, and just enjoy hearing about another person’s life and I will get an opportunity to talk about my life. This will be in all aspects of our lives, from the bad to the good, and there is no need to solve any problem (today, tonite, etc.).”
For a long time, I would repeat this to myself before walking into a dinner or meeting with someone. Like I said, it was many months before it became habit.
You know what – it worked GREAT.
What happened:
1. I became a better friend to everyone. Not just women but men too. Certainly my relationships have become much better as well.
2. I understood the opposite sex much better and could relate in a more useful and meaningful way.
3. I also (unexpectedly) became more sensitive and attuned myself. My sensitivity radar jumped to all sorts of things that were non-verbal signals on how I should react in certain situations.
We can laugh all we want and complain that the opposite sex doesn’t understand us and we don’t understand them. That may be true, and perhaps we’ll always be from different planets in some aspect – but like it or not, we have to learn to deal with the opposite sex, and to live with them for a long time.
A good friend of mine said something really insightful to me once. He said:
“Society teaches us to be great doctors, lawyers, physicists, and rocket scientists. We go to school for 12 years, college for 4, and then who knows how many years of graduate school afterwards and you know what, we become GREAT doctors, lawyers, physicists, and rocket scientists. But society NEVER teaches you how to relate to another person for the rest of your life…”
…which arguably when all is said and done, a helluva lot more important than being a rocket scientist.

Airline Silliness

I just read an article in The Economist, issue dated 9/9/06, entitled “Fear of Flying: Welcome Aboard” (I’ve also posted the body of the article from emailing it to myself in a previous post).
It verifies some things I’ve thought about flying, since I fly so much. And it reveals how silly some things are on airplanes today.
Silliness #1:
They always tell you to shut off all electronic devices. They say cellphones and other devices can interfere with navigation systems. But the real reason is that they interfere with mobile networks at the airport. I’ve personally accidentally left my cellphone on many times and the airplane still got off the ground, with nobody announcing that “hey our navigation screens have so much static that we can’t tell where we’re going, so please re-check all your damn devices which we let you on the plane with, even though they may crash the plane but we let you on anyways with them.”
That just makes a crapload of sense of letting people onboard with devices and things that could crash the plane.
Corollary #1a:
It’s impossible to take into account everything that somebody can bring on board that could crash the plane. Case in point: detection of terrorists who are creative enough to mix explosives out of ordinarily innocuous fluids. We need to go to source of the problems or find better solutions.
Silliness #2:
Life vests in case of water landing. As the article states that in the history of wide bodied aircraft successfully landing on water is zero. Hmmm….
And those cool inflatable slides which detach as rafts. Well, if the plane can’t touchdown safely in water, what good are these rafts?
Silliness #3:
Listening to all those inane announcements like “Cross Check” and feeling secure about everything.
Does anyone even know what that is? Maybe it’s important to the stewards but I have no idea what it means. Maybe I feel a little better that simply because people sound official, it actually means they know what they’re doing…?
Just shut up and let me go to sleep. Oh wait, we’re landing and they just told me to put the seat in its most upright position for landing, or translate: it’s MOST UNCOMFORTABLE position because my spine is now in its worst ergonomic position since designers of aircraft seats have never taken a class in ergonomics. And yet I’ve landed numerous times with the seat accidentally tilted back and nothing bad has happened at all.

“Welcome Aboard”, The Economist 9/9/06

The posting of the E-mail of the article from The Economist 9/9/06, since news sites always seem to blow away articles after about a week. That also is really bad – a lot of great articles sit in the archives and just now news sites are putting up their archives. What a treasure trove of information and barely accessible. I’ll keep this article up until somebody complains…
Dear Dshen,
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Sep 7th 2006
In-flight announcements are not entirely truthful. What might an honest one sound like?
“GOOD morning, ladies and gentlemen. We are delighted to welcome you aboard Veritas Airways, the airline that tells it like it is. Please ensure that your seat belt is fastened, your seat back is upright and your tray-table is stowed. At Veritas Airways, your safety is our first priority. Actually, that is not quite true: if it were, our seats would be rear-facing, like those in military aircraft, since they are safer in the event of an emergency landing. But then hardly anybody would buy our tickets and we would go bust.
The flight attendants are now pointing out the emergency exits. This is the part of the announcement that you might want to pay attention to.
So stop your sudoku for a minute and listen: knowing in advance where the exits are makes a dramatic difference to your chances of survival if we have to evacuate the aircraft. Also, please keep your seat belt fastened when seated, even if the seat-belt light is not illuminated.
This is to protect you from the risk of clear-air turbulence, a rare but extremely nasty form of disturbance that can cause severe injury.
Imagine the heavy food trolleys jumping into the air and bashing into the overhead lockers, and you will have some idea of how nasty it can be. We don’t want to scare you. Still, keep that seat belt fastened all the same.
Your life-jacket can be found under your seat, but please do not remove it now. In fact, do not bother to look for it at all. In the event of a landing on water, an unprecedented miracle will have occurred, because in the history of aviation the number of wide-bodied aircraft that have made successful landings on water is zero. This aircraft is equipped with inflatable slides that detach to form life rafts, not that it makes any difference. Please remove high-heeled shoes before using the slides. We might as well add that space helmets and anti-gravity belts should also be removed, since even to mention the use of the slides as rafts is to enter the realm of science fiction.
Please switch off all mobile phones, since they can interfere with the aircraft’s navigation systems. At least, that’s what you’ve always been told. The real reason to switch them off is because they interfere with mobile networks on the ground, but somehow that doesn’t sound quite so good. On most flights a few mobile phones are left on by mistake, so if they were really dangerous we would not allow them on board at all, if you think about it. We will have to come clean about this next year, when we introduce in-flight calling across the Veritas fleet. At that point the prospect of taking a cut of the sky-high calling charges will miraculously cause our safety concerns about mobile phones to evaporate.
On channel 11 of our in-flight entertainment system you will find a video consisting of abstract imagery and a new-age soundtrack, with a voice-over explaining some exercises you can do to reduce the risk of deep-vein thrombosis. We are aware that this video is tedious, but it is not meant to be fun. It is meant to limit our liability in the event of lawsuits.
Once we have reached cruising altitude you will be offered a light meal and a choice of beverages–a word that sounds so much better than just saying ‘drinks’, don’t you think? The purpose of these refreshments is partly to keep you in your seats where you cannot do yourselves or anyone else any harm. Please consume alcohol in moderate quantities so that you become mildly sedated but not rowdy. That said, we can always turn the cabin air-quality down a notch or two to help ensure that you are sufficiently drowsy.
After take-off, the most dangerous part of the flight, the captain will say a few words that will either be so quiet that you will not be able to hear them, or so loud that they could wake the dead. So please sit back, relax and enjoy the flight. We appreciate that you have a choice of airlines and we thank you for choosing Veritas, a member of an incomprehensible alliance of obscure foreign outfits, most of which you have never heard of. Cabin crew, please make sure we have remembered to close the doors. Sorry, I mean: ‘Doors to automatic and cross-check’.
Thank you for flying Veritas.”
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The Puffer

Today I went to SFO on my way to Hawaii and was directed to step to the side. I thought they would pat me down (ooo those rubber gloves feel good) and then wave that magic wand all over me.
Instead, they directed me to a new gizmo. As I walked up, it looked like a new metal detector. But as I got closer, I noticed there were glass doors in the front. A TSA woman mumbled something super quick at me and said to step up and get into the booth/arch thing and just listen to the instructions. Then, I started thinking – this is weird – is this some X-ray machine I hadn’t heard about?
I step up the first shoe prints and wait for the machine to tell me to get inside. Then it speaks and I get inside. As I stand there, the lights turn red and POOF POOF POOF super strong air blasts blow at me and messes up my hair!
I realize then this is one of those new puffer explosive chemical detection machines. Neat! It tries to loosen up particles on me by the strong air streams and then sucks them in for detection.
About a minute later, the lights turn green and I walk out without trouble.
Very cool detection technologies out there now – I can only hope they make flying safer. But somehow I just don’t think they will be able to catch everything that is possible to create mayhem.
I am reminded of a cartoon that a friend told me about in Newsweek showing two naked people about to pass through security and they remark to the (dressed) people behind them in line, ‘it’s just easier this way’. It echoed my thoughts exactly.
We can keep putting more and more sophisticated detectors and we should, but clever people will continually find ways to circumvent them.
I applaud the British police forces for discovering the plot this last month and preventing them from getting onboard IN THE FIRST PLACE.
It just shows that prevention is the best medicine in the war on terrorism. Treating the symptoms only delays the inevitable, but treating the root cause is the best way.

My PC is cranking down again

Two weeks ago was last straw. My PC was just cranking down that it was painful to do anything. I would doubleclick on something and it would just sit there. I would wonder if I actually did click on something or maybe I just mis-clicked. It was super frustrating.
And every year, it’s the same thing.
On average, I buy a new PC about every 2 years. Part of that reason is because something new and faster is out, but sometimes it’s simply because my PC has gotten loaded with so much crap that it just eventually takes Windows to a crawl.
At times, I can fix it by deinstalling stuff. Other times, there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do from a program installation standpoint. I’ve removed everything I can that I don’t need and still it won’t speed up. Performance on what was advertised to be a fast PC grinds to a halt.
Why does this happen anyways? Is Windows just so screwed up that it can’t handle a graceful evolution of a user who accumulates more data and software over time? Certainly Windows is just too complex for any normal person to fix. At one time, I could have administered my PC and Windows. But not now. It’s changed so much and you can spend days looking up books, stuff on webpages, and trying various things to see if they will actually work.
It’s a huge waste of time. Perhaps on par with the productivity hit of having a super slow PC.
So I have to buy a new PC. Instead of trying to figure out what I can do with my current system, I opt to pay a few thousand dollars and just buy a new machine. Isn’t that ridiculous? The other option I have is to dig up my restore CDs and just wipe my system. But then I’d have to know how to back up all my data and programs, and assuming that I didn’t forget to copy something, then spend hours, if not days, reinstalling every program that I have. I just don’t have time for it.
This time I got a little lucky. First I bought Diskeeper 10 and it seems to work pretty good at defrag-ing my hard drives. That helped, but system response was sluggish.
Then I bought 512MB RAM, which was a slight adventure in figuring out exactly what module was needed for a 2 year old machine. Amazing how these standards have changed in only 2 years as new PC models have been introduced.
I install that and it seems that system response is zippier. But it wasn’t back to the way it was when I bought the machine.
I keep thinking about this. Why is it such a pain in the neck to keep my Windows PC running at full speed? UNIX doesn’t seem to have this problem, or the Mac. Instead, most of the time I resort to buying a completely new machine instead of going through wasted time and frustration of trying to figure out exactly what was cranking down my machine now.
It just doesn’t seem right. But for now, my machine seems to be running a little better. It makes one think about money versus time spent or wasted versus the growing complexity of software for PCs. I long for a time when my PC will run reliably and speedily as other electronic devices, like my XBOX or mobile phone.