Category Archives: Living fine

Driving easy

Reading through my political blog list (though not commenting on them much) the issue of the double-nickel speed limit has been raised as a means of saving gas. I’m not a big fan of having to force people to drive slower, especially since I doubt the safety of our highways would be increased by slowing people down. The reason I say this is because there are too many folks on the road who are impatient, selfish, aggressive, and don’t respect the rules anyway.

Remember: if someone can get away with bending the rules a little bit, they will. In Maryland it’s a ticket offense to drive ten MPH over the speed limit, so you have people burning just a little more and going 70 on a 65, 60 on a 55, just to save ten seconds a mile to get to where they’re going. (Personally I draw the slow-drive line at 45, which is the sweet spot for my car and I can roll along at 1500RPM. Sadly they put stoplights on streets that slow.)

I understand, folks. Your time is valuable. In fact it is so valuable that the 5 minutes you save for every hour you drive is worth the ill will you produce on the road weaving in and out of traffic, edging people out from merge lanes, and riding someone’s rear bumper, right? Well, not everyone’s as self-important as you. People have told me that us slowpokes doing the speed limit on the right lane are a danger on the road because we force the impatient ones to have to switch lanes. I don’t think I even have to justify that with a rebuttal. I just want it to hang in the air for a second so it can sink in. In fact, let me place it in its own paragraph, with complete emphasis.

People have told me that us slowpokes doing the speed limit on the right lane are a danger on the road because we force the impatient ones to have to switch lanes.

Seriously, who is the greater danger on the road? Might I make a suggestion instead? Chill the hell out. Roll your window down in great weather, feel the wind in your face, take it easy, let the workday blow away with every second you stick your hand out the window and feel the breeze through your fingers. You can’t change the way people drive, but you can certainly change the way you react to them. It took a while, and I admit to being hypercritical (and no, I don’t mean hypocritical in this context) at times and grumbling under my breath, but I don’t let that affect the way I drive. Despite that personal quirk, this change of attitude helps a lot to prep me for my gym time after work. I am refreshed despite fifty miles of driving in rush hour traffic. And all this without the gubmint reducing my speed limit.

Thanks for the eczema, fellas

This is me grumbling about my previous job, where I used to dissect cadavers in the name of medical research. All those gloves and handwashing? Yes, it helped limit my risk of infection. Yes, it helped protect me against a lot of things and the only thing I would do differently is apply for that job in the first place, but seriously: I now have a patch of eczema on my right hand and that shit never ever goes away.

I have a constant reminder of the five months I spent there. Hope you all rot in hell.

Changes

Every time I return from a trip to the beach, something in me changes. For that reason, while I am very excited about them, I have held beach trips with great caution. Days after I returned from Fort Lauderdale, I quit my job. (Granted, the job was terrible: I sat at a computer typing all night, had minimal opportunity for promotion or growth and was a hyper-critical environment that had little tolerance for mistakes.) I don’t think my trip to Rehoboth Beach would count, though. That short vacation was a tad botched by a wrong choice of hotel, bad water conditions and just this feeling that it didn’t go our way. The jellyfish invasion doomed the day’s potential for swimming.

My trip to Ocean City this year feels significant. It marked a few personal milestones: it was my first vacation I spent generally alone; it was also the longest trip I took in my car, and alone, at that. It doesn’t seem like much, but the trip gave me plenty of time for introspection. I found out I like long drives, too.

The details of my trip will be written later. This post is about this site, and what I want to place here. I have written time and again about how I am tired of writing about politics, or the news. This trip to the beach has drained me of all passion for newsworthy matters of “great importance.” I am no longer inclined to comment on this year’s election, or the conflict between Russia and its neighbors, or the Olympics, or the local news. I maintain my opinionated mindset, but I am less inclined to record it here, or anywhere.

This trip to the beach has shown me the importance of verbal and intellectual triage. I was without my laptop, and I felt free from the shackles of the need to acquire as much information as I could about things that may or may not be important. This has always been the scary talent that I have, that my teachers in high school and college would always take note. I am a voracious consumer of information. My recall is remarkable. It is this talent that has gotten me through professionally, but on a personal level it is a difficult ability to manage. Some people watch the morning news while having breakfast and their morning coffee. I have spent many mornings seated in front of my computer, reading blog posts on Google Reader, blazing past posts in between bites and gulps. It was my own version of Patrick Bateman’s morning routine. It was my warm blanket, comfortable and familiar. It was my mental prison cell.

I don’t know how it clicked. I didn’t even realize that it had clicked until I came back and didn’t feel like checking the news, or my email. My life went on without me watching the world from this side of the monitor. I had spent three days living and I wasn’t about to snap back into my old ways. I realized that between work and going to the gym (which I treat with professional responsibility to my health and well-being), I don’t allot a lot of time for Everything Else. But it isn’t the amount of time left for Everything Else that counts. What is important is what falls under Everything Else.

“One life to live” somehow sank in. It must be my 28th birthday finally catching up to me: my wounds don’t heal as quickly or as flawlessly. My heart doesn’t beat as fast during workouts of the same intensity as I did two years ago. I was trundling through that period of life between youth and old age where every day and every year blend into some unremarkable amalgam of insignificant events: eat, sleep, work, bills, as the birthdays ticked on. I don’t want to live like this. There are compromises as to what gets done during the twenty four hours a day we all get, but I knew that I wanted to change what goes under Everything Else.

I think the biggest factor that affected this change of view was my sheer determination to get surfing lessons during my trip. I had scheduled them for Sunday evening but the weather ruined the water for everyone and my instructor of choice was booked Monday. I could have gone around looking for someone else but I didn’t want to do that, really. I have told this person I will learn from him. I wanted to stick to that. Instead I spent Monday bodysurfing, and I think I discovered what so many surfers already know about the allure of the sport: no single wave is the same, there is always something new, and it is an environment you can never really master. I learned to relinquish control over a large part of what would happen to me: to trust in my ability to orient myself but also to trust in the general direction of the water.

All these ramblings come down to what I want here. I have been writing online for almost six years and between jobs, personal priorities and the ever increasing population of writers, it has been difficult finding a niche. I think I’m done trying to find that niche to fit myself into. I feel so unworried about the need for significance or relevance that I feel better writing on my site now. I will write, and the readers will come.

Really simple

There’s too much bullshit going about in the fitness industry. The ones at the top of this fugurative food chain are making the most money: publishers, writers, doctors, name it. When I was younger I was skinnier than Barry Oh is now, partly because I was a sickly kid who suffered for months from minor inguinal hernia that wasn’t corrected for a long time, and partly because I had no appetite (which I think tied in with the hernia thing). I think I was eleven when I learned the joys of gourmandism and my weight had been on a steady increase in the sixteen years after that. There were short periods in my life when I did get thinner, due to exercise, more than anything else.

My body still hasn’t settled into what I would call my desired fitness level. But after enough time spent reading study A and study B and news report C and hearing from fitness guru D and Gilad… I always fall back on two authors and one principle. The authors are Covert Bailey and Tom Venuto. The principle is simply calorie deficit. Over a period of time if you eat more than what your body burns, you will gain fat. If you burn a lot more than what your body eats, you will lose fat.

Where it gets a little more complex is how your body reacts to changes in dietary patterns. Some people who choose to eat less than what their body burns force their bodies into starvation mode, causing any excess calories to be stored as fat. Other people who overexercise end up destroying muscle, thus lowering their base metabolic rate. Result? Fat skinny person.

It took me a while but I kinda figured I can lose the fat around my gut and elsewhere by doing high intensity, long duration cardio (I’m doing an hour on an elliptical machine with my HR between 155-165) with a “toning routine” for weightlifting (4×12 as opposed to a bulking route of 3×8, or one set to failure). I’m losing weight, my bodyfat percentage (measured using an impedance meter) has gone down, and I’ve gained tone.

A lot of what we read in the media about fitness tends to appeal to the path of least resistance. The absurd level of contradictions in findings among studies is almost daunting to the casual reader. James Joyner, in the link above, ends his post by saying: “What none of these studies ever explain to my satisfaction is why, if obesity is essentially random, it suddenly appeared on a large scale in Western society about thirty years ago and why you don’t see random fit kids in those television reports of famine in Africa.” That’s because simple truth and simple facts don’t get grant money: our kids are eating more, we don’t cook as well, we drive too much, we watch too much TV, and we don’t want our children playing outside for fear of the latest bogeyman at the ten o’clock news so we stick ‘em in front of a Wii, or worse, any other game console, and expect them to stay fit.

My life as a series of tasks

It’s June and my spring cleaning is far from over. Aside from having given away the clothes I can no longer fit into (I beefed up a lot since January), and throwing away crap that I know I will never use (say, a 250-watt computer power supply), I have a few other things to get done before I execute the next steps in what I want to do with myself. In no particular order:

  • Perform the ultimate judge-jury-executioner event on my photo collection. Since I shoot in RAW + JPEG, I have three choices for each picture: lose both, lose RAW, or keep both.
  • Scout old, old backups for music and pictures I have not consolidated into my current documents and bring them all back home.
  • Make drafts for service agreements and go through them with a fine-toothed comb.
  • Take pictures of certain keepsakes from years and years ago, then, throw them out.
  • Write a review for the latest I received from Regnery Publishing: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization, which I got last week.

Winnowing my photo collection will take the longest time, but I think that book review will probably get top billing.

Staycation

Well, I turn twenty-eight on Tuesday and I took off for a long weekend. I won’t be back to work until Wednesday. I’m really not going anywhere far. Logistic and financial shortcomings have prevented me from spending even a night away from my home, but I think I would really, really enjoy the time off.

On writing

Is this medium called blogging something that I have somewhat outgrown? I’ve been giving it a lot of thought lately and I have been prone to writing mini-treatises instead of your typical blog posts. I won’t even try to explain why I write the way I do; suffice to say that in this medium, at times I feel a tad left out. The typical intro-blockquote-comment format—wash, rinse and repeat as many times necessary to prove a point—doesn’t seem to do much for me. For me it’s a case of been there, done that. I’ve been blogging for the better part of five years now, and I think I should have license to wax nostalgic now and again.

As an online writer I have grown to return to my roots of writing offline. My posts have grown lengthier, their scope, broader. I miss writing academic papers, especially now that I am not required to do so (and haven’t been for seven years). I’m far too familiar with the rules of attribution and quotation, of clear editing and paraphrasing. Herein lies my true nostalgia: it is far too easy to simply copy and paste and prepend and append with comments a passage one finds interesting. “What he said” is merely an approximate view into the mind of the quoter. Indeed, there are only so many ways one can paraphrase another, but the effort placed within, the words chosen by the writer is a window into their understanding of the work they are citing.

Such an act takes risk: to have one writer accuse mischaracterization of the person doing the quoting can be definitely embarassing, if not damaging. But isn’t it, too, a window into the way the quoted party writes? I suppose the motivation to blockquote may lean more towards a desire to keep the reader within the confines of one’s own writing (or lack thereof) but how presumptuous can we be about our readers’ habits? There are readers who will take in a paraphrasing, others who will take in a direct quote, and others who will follow a link and go back to the post that led them there. We just can’t know for sure. What I do know is that I see more into a writer’s mind who does their best to sum up a text than to merely post a direct quote. Isn’t that the need that social bookmarking sites try to meet?

“You will never be the same.”

When a valued friend of mine from years ago told me that I will never be the same after I work a particular job, I believed him. The fundamentals of our identities are fixed harder than what most jobs can change about us, but every job that we do, every step that we take in our lives, changes us ever so slightly.

When I worked an overnight job doing data entry, I was able to get a glimpse into the diagnostics business, and how it works. When I worked at Best Buy for sixteen months, I learned a lot, too. And when I worked
at the cadaver lab for five long months, I finally felt to fulfillment exactly what my friend, almost ten years prior, told me.

I have done some gruesome things, all legal, all ethical, all within the requirements of the work. In the months that I was there I barely blogged anything because I did not want to reveal graphic details of what I did. Some procedures were far more excruciating—for the person dissecting, obviously, as dead people don’t feel pain—than others.

All together the job gave me a glimpse into the business of the dead, and I have no ill will towards the work. I do know it wasn’t for me. The non-profit for which I worked was, at its greatest, not opportunistic towards the loss of a loved one, which is far more than what I can say to your standard funeral home, with their fabulous caskets and marble urns. The job also gave me an intense look into the heart of anatomy and physiology, one that I was unable to have in my years in college. Since I had no human cadaver dissections back then, having done so was something for the books. My books, at least.

Just how many people out there can do the things I have done? Dieners, forensics professionals, med students and other tissue bank staff not included? How many people can say that they can dismember a corpse into six sections in as little as 30 minutes? And just how many people can say that they have done this day in, day out for the majority of their professional lifespan? I know I can’t say yes to that last one. I found an out, and took it.

It’s been a few months since I started new work. Like I have written before, I am able to use my talents better here; I am cast in a role for which I am appropriate. The words of my old friend still stay with me, though. I will never be the same. And when it’s time for something different, I’m sure this job will have changed me in ways of which I wouldn’t even be aware until I’ve moved on.

I suppose that’s life, or some part of it, ya?

Meet Jay, the hypermiler

I drive from Glen Burnie, MD to College Park, MD everyday in the morning coming from the gym. That’s 6 miles on 695 and 22 miles on 95 going south. I have flown down that route before at 70 to 75 mph and have burned a quarter tank of gas in one round trip doing so. Definitely not good. Now that I have a sixty-mile commute (both ways) every day, how I use my gas has become a bigger concern than what it used to be. After reading about Wayne Gerdes in a magazine and a few other sources, I decided to give it a go.

There is an art to hypermiling, as stated in the second article I linked to. Unlike Gerdes, whose techniques can be a little extreme, I am of the mind that gas economy is not the be-all and end-all of being mindful of fuel economy. That said, I have put together some of my own methods in the effort to save gas.

First and foremost: safety first. Impeding the flow of traffic is a violation in many places, and the last thing I want to do is to be pulled over for that. Driving at fuel-efficient speeds on anything other than the right lane is courting a moving violation, or even worse, an accident. It’s rush hour out there, and there are plenty of people who are, for any reason, in a hurry. The last thing I want to be is the guy who drives 55 on the Interstate. I usually maintain a speed of 60, but that is not an absolute rule. If it is unsafe for me to be that slow on the rightmost lane—most likely because someone is bearing down on me hard and can’t pass to the left—I will speed up.

The slower speeds with which I drive my car actually allow me to be more mindful of everything that goes on in the highway. I am able not only to plan ahead for myself, but even for the people who might be entering the highway right behind me. Despite the slow, I try to be considerate. One thing I have noticed, though, is that I am not alone in the right lane going slower than the rest of the world, and it’s not just the trucks that are doing it, either.

Know the route by heart. It’s the same route I take everyday, and while traffic patterns change constantly, other things remain the same no matter what. Along 95 there are three major bottlenecks in the north half: Route 100, Route 175, and Route 32. These three have double exit lanes, and 175 has a stoplight right after the ramp that causes many unceremonious stops. You can imagine how the traffic almost automatically slows down and backs up on the two right lanes that feed these exits.

Since braking is the big enemy of saving gas, I treat these three choke points a few different ways. If the traffic is stop and go, I will go on the second lane from the left and accelerate gradually to cruising speed and just go past the backed-up traffic. Then I gently swing back to the right lane, slow down, and get back to fuel-saving mode. If the traffic is slow, but moving, I will go with the flow of that traffic but allow for enough space ahead of me to coast without having to hit my brakes should someone slow down. I have done this plenty of times not just on the way to work but especially on the way home. So many cars are in the left lane speeding up and slamming on their brakes thirty seconds later while I plod steadily along in dense traffic at a comfortable 45mph. In fourth gear, my tachometer doesn’t go past 1500rpm. I’m barely using any gas.

Enjoy the ride. Why the hell not be entertained? At the slower speeds I’m going, I can take a moment here and there to take in a few breathtaking views along the way. I can enjoy the music I listen to instead of just using it to drown out the road noise.

These are just a few things I have learned over the past few weeks by taking it easy on the road. The fact that it’s easy on my wallet is just one benefit. What I find more important is that it’s made the commute to and from work less stressful and, most of the time, enjoyable.

New job

I started my new job this past Monday in College Park, Maryland. No longer do I work at the cadaver lab, which I barely mentioned for a multitude of purposes.

One thing I realized in switching jobs is that there is a vast difference in outcomes when a person is cast in the wrong—or right—role in an organization. Looking back at my time at the lab I have realized how very little of my potential I was able to realize over there. I was unable to use my strengths and my gregarious personality to anyone’s advantage, until very late in the game when I spoke with researchers and took care of any orders they had. It was, however, not enough. Bottom line, I was unhappy.

I also realized that in almost any line of work, it’s not so much the work, it’s the people. And in the short stint that I had at the lab, there was a drastic change in the way the people have become, and I am quite sure I responded in kind, the way I know how.

I’ve been here all of five days and already I feel within my element. I am now able to use my enjoyment of conversation to something productive. I’m sure this job will come with its own challenges but at the very least, they’re something I’m quite familiar with.

What a day for news

Like the title said. Heath Ledger bought the farm. Fred Thompson is out of the presidential race. Clinton and Obama squabbling like, well, whatever.

Someone tell Billy Joel he needs to rewrite We Didn’t Start The Fire to include this year.

I think I’m going to curl up in bed, have some tea and read a book.

A piece of personal history

My personal possessions tend to fall under one of three categories: the utilitarian, the reserve, and the totemic.

Utilitarian sounds simple enough: these are the things that I use on a daily basis, until they get run down and battered and they stop working. When that time comes, the reserve come into play. I find my own buying habits quite interesting. Whenever some things I know I will use down the line go on sale, I never buy just one. Most of the time I stop at two, but three or four of the same thing on sale is not unheard of. That is the general rule especially when it comes to shoes. The sneakers I buy never go out of style—they’re mostly skate shoes—and they are generally expensive except when they go on clearance. Then the only frustration lies in finding a pair in my size.

I have a small chest of the things I consider totemic: small tokens from my past the remind me of experiences worth remembering during periods of reverie. Many of them have been around for at least ten years, from way back during my high school days. But the collection is always ongoing and growing.

Last night I went out to dinner with my friend to the same sushi restaurant that, on a whim, we decided to try out last summer. The place stuck, with its ambiance, great service, affordable prices, and close proximity to both of our homes. With my ever expanding hobby into tea, we have always admired the cups in which they served our tea. After much deliberation, I decided to speak with the manager and was able to convince him to sell me two: one for me, one for my friend. To the common onlooker it’s just yet another Asian tea cup, but to me, it is a symbol of many more things.

I’m a sentimental packrat, in other words. And a photo, to top it all off:

A very special tea cup.

A very special tea cup.

Gym talk

Every gym has its own culture, and I’m pretty glad the place I joined isn’t full of meatheads at all. It wasn’t crowded at all but even where there was a small cluster around a few particular machines everyone was courteous enough to offer turns and what not. Joining here appears to be one of the better decisions I made for myself so far.

One of my favorite parts is the actual drive to the gym itself. It’s one mile of neighborhood driving and eight miles of highway. Three stoplights total. And unlike so many out there who find the back and forth commute to be one of the bigger chores of life, my five minute drive to work sometimes isn’t enough to satisfy a certain need. I get my speed on the way to the gym and back.

So that’s pretty much how life is going to look like for a while. Work, rest, gym, sleep, wash, rinse, repeat, with a few occasional social events here and there, of course.

I joined a gym

After much hemming, hawing and self-doubt I did some financial math and decided to join Gold’s. About damn time. Toured the facility, liked what I saw, it has all the machines I need, yadda, yadda.

Things are looking up. Or out, like in the following picture:

The view from the swaying bridge at Patapsco Valley State Park

The view from the swaying bridge at Patapsco Valley State Park

Maybe I’m just seasonally affective

Apropos of yesterday’s post, I decided to go back to the same state park that I went to yesterday in a state of melancholy. It must be the sun, or the lovely weather. They could be factors, but I’m definitely less glum despite my going out alone for picture taking today.

Sandy Point State Park is basically at the foot of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and the beach there provides an enthralling view. It’s also one of the few places from which you can take a photo of the bridge and not be questioned on the basis of national security. However, I am to tease, and would rather post this introspective photo that I took, at least for tonight:

A lonely beach toy set on the banks of the Chesapeake bay.

A lonely beach toy set on the banks of the Chesapeake bay.

On itinerant photography

I have mentioned briefly before on my site that I now own a car. The significance of that can be a underplayed without the context that this is my first car and that I arrived at the moment that I’ve been waiting for last September, and on my mother’s birthday, no less. In less than four months I’ve driven it over four thousand miles. The freedom it offers is quite amazing, and even now I am still amazed at the time I have spent pending this period in my life.

One of the joys that my owning a car has brought me has been the freedom to go wherever I want—though I am quite pragmatic as to where—in order to take photos. I love the fact that I am quite an itenerant photographer. I can wake up extra early to catch the sun rise, or stay out late to wait for it to set. I don’t have to rely on anyone else to take me anywhere for my hobby.

But you know what I miss the most? It’s spending photography time with my friends who share the same passion and interest. It’s always been fun to have a friend or two come along with me to take pictures, because perspectives are always different and different people see different things when they capture the same scene.

It is when I am maudlin and feeling lonely that it hurts the most to go out and take pictures by myself.

The view from the banks of the Patapsco River

The view from the banks of the Patapsco River at the State Park in Elkridge, Maryland

Jonas Green State Park, Annapolis, MD

Sunset at Jonas Green State Park, Dec 25

Maryland, like all of the states, has its share of state parks. Many of them are well known and tend to occupy a vast area. Not so with this little cove on the Severn River. There’s a little area for walking along the water, and the rest is occupied by the remnants of a bridge that is now used as a fishing pier.

What this park lacks in size, it makes up for in terms of the view. In the winter the sun sets almost directly behind the new bridge, and the above photo is one of many I have taken there.

I have stood in the cold and the wind with my camera and some hot tea.

I have waited for the right moment day, after day, after day, to capture moments like these.

I am most at peace during these times. And now, I’d like to share.

Conversation killer

I consider myself a very sociable guy, by most standards. This can be at odds with my general tendency to stay home unless I’m really, really feeling like meeting up with people and having a good time. I spend a lot of time with my friends, but sometimes I will go out to parties and meet with new people, all the better to expand my social circle and try to find different people with whom to engage in a range of activities that, say, one friend might not be interested in.

One pet peeve of mine, as I’m sure is one that many might share, is the general tendency for the newly acquainted to ask each other about their livelihoods. A typical conversation follows:

“Hi! I’m Jay.”

“Hi. I’m Justin” (Or whatever name it may be, since by the way this conversation will degrade it really doesn’t matter.)

“So, how do you know (insert name of host of party here)?”

“Oh, we went to school together.”

“That’s nice, it’s nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too. So…” (And here it comes in three, two, one…) “What do you do?”

At this point I’m just tempted to go into a list of all the fun things I like to do on my free time: photography, driving up to sights heretofore unseen, drawing, listening to good music, movies, long walks on the beach. But we all got-damn know that that is not quite what “Justin,” or whoever it may be, means when they ask “what do you do?”

Take note, I am in no way ashamed of what I do for a living. Working in a cadaver lab, however, raises the curiosity factor by this much and frankly, I spend forty hours a week, and then some, at work and the last thing I want to do in my free time is to talk about work. It’s work, dammit. Why is it anyone’s business what I do, anyway? Many, many times, I lie. My typical answer is “I work for the government.” That usually shuts the occupation portion of the conversation down almost instantly. I used to feel bad about it, but I figure it’s easier for whomever it is I’m talking to to find something else to talk about.

I never really got the rationale for being so curious about someone’s line of work. Is it a means by which someone can feel better than the other? Culturally, and this I can observe being an immigrant and all, I find that a lot of Americans take pride in their work. To be honest, good work will always bring about a good sense of pride and self. But for Fred’s sake! What we do for a living is only a small part of who we are. Can’t we find something else to talk about?

Tea and withdrawal therapy

For at least two years I’ve been in a trench war with smoking. I’d be without for a few months, “something” would “happen” and I’d pick up the habit, and then I’d fight it again for quite a bit… Wash, rinse, repeat. Come to think of it, this vicious cycle might be worse for my lungs than if I were a consistent smoker.

Lately though, I have been doing better, and I’ve had the best of help from loose-leaf green tea. I buy mine from Teavana at the Mall in Columbia, in half-pound quantities every two weeks. For forty dollars a month for very good tea, it has the cost of smoking beat.

After experimenting around with different mixtures of rooibos and other herbal teas, I’ve gone back to good ol’ green tea, Japanese sencha, to be exact, which is less pungent than Chinese varieties of green tea. Now that the fall is getting a bit harsher, tea has been a source of great comfort and stress relief.