Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Bionic Ear

Here's an article I found very interesting: It's about a guy who lost his hearing completely, but is now able to hear things via a computer implant in his head. The article is mostly about his quest to hear music well enough to enjoy it again. I found it a very fascinating article. It also makes me think I should be doing something a bit more useful for an occupation other than writing software for portable barcode printers. I always start thinking this way after reading articles about people in the science or engineering fields that are doing very interesting things that actually help make people's lives better. I feel like I never went in the right direction for my work.

It all started back in 1989 with my first two competing job offers out of college - I could work for an environmental firm that made computer models for predicting the affects of oil spills in the ocean or work for a newspaper doing business related computer programming. The newspaper job offer was more than $10,000 higher than the job for the environmental firm. For a young adult just out of college, the difference between $23,000 and $33,000 was more than I could resist. I rationalized the decision in a bunch of different ways, telling myself I could just do the newspaper job for a little while to save up some money and then switch to a job that matched my ideals later. But deep down, I felt like I sold out. And in the end, I suppose I did sell out. I ended up staying at the newspaper for over 10 years. Sure, the work was interesting. I got to do cutting edge Internet-related stuff long before most people even heard of the Internet and the company paid for me to go to school at Brown to get my masters degree, but in the end, it was all very self-indulgent.

Whatever happened to the ideas of trying to get a job that will make the world a better place? I'm not sure. There's no simple answer. At the time I decided to leave the newspaper back in 2000, I was engaged to be married and I was thinking I needed to find a stable family-friendly position in the Rhode Island area (i.e. a job that paid well, that had work I would find interesting, and that had reasonable hours). So, working for a non-profit organization trying to change the world wasn't high on my list. And that is how I ended up where I am now - writing embedded software for portable printers. The work is very interesting and challenging, it pays well, and the hours are very "family friendly" (I basically work 8:00am to 4:30pm Monday through Friday). The only catch thing is, I never did get married, and I don't have a family, so why am I still working where I am? Why not now pursue that ideal of a "worth while" occupation that actually provides some sort of benefit to the world?

Why indeed. That is a very difficult question and I don't think most people will understand my answer. At the risk of people thinking I'm way too obsessive (yeah, like you don't already know that about me...) the main reason is karate. Right now my job has pretty much perfect hours in order for me to take karate classes. And why would karate be so important that I would not even consider changing jobs or moving out of state? Because, as I have mentioned in the past, karate (real karate) is about more than just physical fitness. It's also about self-improvement, character development, and becoming a better person. And since I have found a place that actually teaches these ideals on a day-to-day basis, I don't think I could ever bear to move away from such a positive place. There are many ways to benefit the world, and while I might have a better aptitude at the high-tech sort of work, I really think what I am learning now at the dojo can be of great benefit to the world. Hopefully I will someday be able to help teach this to others.

Hmmmm.... that was a bit of a tangent from talking about an article about bionic ears....

Friday, October 21, 2005


This might come as a surprise to those who know me well and know my interest in gadgets. Today I decided to simplify my life even more - I ditched my fancy-pants PDA mobile phone and switched to a run-of-the-mill flip phone. This was probably the most difficult thing for me so far in my goal towards a simplified life-style. (The TV was easy to ditch - I seldom watched it anyhow.) I'm still not really quite sure why I chose to get rid of the PDA phone - maybe just to see if I could. You see, I've been carrying around a Palm-based PDA for about the past 10 years or so - ever since Palm came out with the first Palm Pilot. Then, about two years ago when I saw the Handspring Treo 600 PDA+phone cominbation, I immediately bought one and have enjoyed the tight integration of wireless Internet access with my PDA. Now that it's gone, no longer will I be able to read the BBC news when dining alone in a restaurant, or snap a picture and type a blog message and immediately post it no matter where I am, or check the weather forecast, or read my email. No more settling disagreements among friends by immediately doing a Google search from my phone to find an answer.

Since it was something I used all the time, I have a definite feeling of loss. But, I think it might be good for me to be a bit more disconnected from the electronic world. I'm in front of a computer 8 hours a day as part of my job and I also have Internet access at home. How connected do I really need to be? Was it really necessary for me to be able to read the news whereever I was? Or check my email? Or post messages like this while paddling out in the bay in my kayak? Sure it was handy, but definitely not necessary. I could be doing other things with my time. Maybe I can spend a bit more time being aware of what's actually around me rather than what's on a little LCD screen in front of me.

And on the practical economics side, I did end up saving over $150 by returning the fancy Treo 650 phone in exchange for a more simple mobile phone. Plus I'll be saving another $40 a month by no longer having an Internet plan with my mobile phone. So, that money saved can go towards something else more worth while.

I suppose I'll have to wait and see if I still think this was a good idea once some more time passes.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Pizza Preferences

I've been in a training class at work this week and lunch has been provided. A couple of the days we have ordered out for pizza. There are about a dozen people taking the class and I am the only vegetarian in the group, so we have been ordering 3 "meat" pizzas and 1 veggie pizza. The funny thing is, when the food arrives and people are actually choosing which pizza to eat, the veggie pizza ends up being the most popular. In fact, today when I went to get a second slice, the veggie pizza was already gone.

It's interesting that if you ask people what they want on a pizza they'll usually include some form of meat, but when presented with a choice of pizzas right in front of them, it seems people will frequently opt for a veggie slice.

Of course, this is just a small sample of people, but it is something I've observed in the past with other groups pizza eating habits as well.

Monday, October 17, 2005


As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I'm trying to work on some things for personal improvement. One of them is "patience". An online dictionary site defines patience as "good-natured tolerance of delay or incompetence". I find that is something I really need to work on. It's easy to be good-natured when things are going well, but it's another story when one is under stress.

So, I've been trying to be aware of when I might lose my patience and get frustrated with delays or with things I might perceive as "incompetence". Surprising, I found that just being aware of when I started reacting that way actually helped me reduce having such a negative reaction. Rather than having the impulse to get frustrated, I found trying to keep a positive attitude about the situation actually improved my mood. After a while, it starts to become a habit to keep a positive outlook in a situation. If you are the type of person who gets easily frustrated or aggravated when things go wrong, I'd highly recommend trying to be aware of when you find yourself reacting that way. Try to think of something positive about the situation. For example, if you are stuck in traffic, don't think of it as a loss of time or worry about all the cars in front of you. You can't make them go away. Maybe instead you can use the extra time to plan your day, or admire the scenery, or listen to the news on the radio. I know it sounds simple, but it really does help. It might be easier than you think to keep those negative feelings from happening. I think in the past I just got in the habit of having a negative reaction and accepted that that was how I am. Instead, I found it is possible to change. It takes some effort, but it is doable.

Earlier last week I realized I was making progress when I was trying to reassemble a desk that I had moved up a flight of stairs. I was a bit tired and was lying on the floor on my back trying to put in a screw and it kept falling out and I'd have to search around for it and try again. Normally after 3 or 4 times of this happening I'd be very aggravated with my own incompetence and would have let out a loud "GRRRRRRRR" or "ARGGGGG" and maybe I would have given the desk a wack for good measure. But instead, I just found myself laughing at the situation. Instead of thinking it was a frustrating situation, I was thinking how silly I must have looked if someone had seen me trying in vain to put that screw in place. So I remained good natured. And isn't that what patience is all about? (At least that's what that dictionary web site said.) Another option is I could just be insane now. :-) But at least I'm in a good mood.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

How I spent my holiday weekend

A friend of mine whom I regulary chat with via email sent me a message today asking if I was ok. He said he hadn't heard from me in over a week, which was a bit unusual since I am usually "online" fairly often. I then realized I also hadn't posted anything here on my blog in quite a while either. The reason for my lack of computer communication was I had the priviege of hosting an interesting guest at my condo this past holiday weekend. A teacher, Sensei Tetsuo Takamiyagi, was visiting from Okinawa, Japan. He is a teacher of a rare form of martial arts and was visiting the dojo where I take classes to give a two day seminar. You can see a bit of his background here: It is interesting to note that his visit to several schools in the US this month was the first time this form of martial arts (Motobu Udun-di) has ever been taught in the US.

So, I was pretty excited about this visitor. Since he was staying with me, I needed to make my condo presentable. All of my free time last week involved a lot of cleaning (hence the pile of Lego being given away, as mentioned in my last post). I owe a great deal of thanks to a friend of mine who volunteered to help me with the difficult task of sorting through years of accumulated stuff. I definitely wouldn't have been able to keep up the motivation to sort through it all on my own. Thanks to her, my condo now looks the best it ever has. I'll definitely strive to keep it that way.

(As a side note, since I was giving away a large number of items to help simplify my lifestyle, one of my friends at work asked me last week if I thought I was dying or something. He was concerned since it seemed each day I brought in something new that was looking for a home. In case anyone is wondering the same thing - no, I'm not dying. I'm quite healthy, thank you. I'm just trying to get rid of many of the things in life I just don't need.)

As for the actual visit of the martial arts teacher, I think it went very well. Those of you who know me know I'm not usually very talkative when around people I don't know well, so I thought this was going to be a challenge. But I also thought it would be a good experience to help me. As it turns out, the lack of talking on my part wasn't a problem. For his "day job" Takamiyagi-san is a motivational speaker, and his English is quite good, so there was never a conversational problem. Also, another student from the dojo joined me with the tour guide duties, so the morning trips to Boston and Newport on Saturday and Sunday were a lot less stressful than they could have been. The main thing I was surprised by was how mentally tiring the experience was. I think it was due to trying to constantly be alert to the needs of a guest, always trying to actively listen, and make sure my manners were always proper. The last thing I wanted to do was accidentally offend a visitor from another country.

The 2 day seminar was a worthwhile experience, too. I'm glad I was able to have the opportunity to take part in it. We learned many interesting and effective "soft" techniques, such as joint manipulations, and even had time to learn a Motobu Udun-di bo kata. It was also worthwhile to experience first-hand the teaching style of a teacher from Okinawa. Some day I hope to visit Okinawa (perhaps when I'm a more advanced karate student so I can appreciate it more), but in case I never do get the chance, this was the next best thing.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

A tad excessive

I'm trying to simplify my life. One of my weaknesses in the past has been if I see something in the store that interests me and I can afford it, I'll buy it. Several years ago I became a bit obsessed with acquiring Lego. As can be seen in this picture (which shows about 1/2 of my collection), I've accumulated quite a bit of it. I don't have a family to support, and have no debt other than my mortgage, so I didn't have any sort of inhibitors to get me to stop and think whether I really should be buying this stuff. In the back of my mind I think I might have been using an excuse that someday I might have a family and the kids would enjoy playing with the Lego, but this is even way to much stuff for a few kids, never mind one single adult.

Looking at it all piled in one place is pretty embarassing. Talk about being out of control! So, it's all going away. The stuff that is in unopened boxes will hopefully go to Toys for Tots or some other worthwhile cause like that, some will go to my nieces and nephews if my sisters give their approval and the kids are interested in it. Some will go to other friends of mine with kids. I'm still trying to figure out what to do with the Lego Mindstorms robotics and technic stuff. That's probably the hardest for me to part with since I actually tinkered with it quite a bit at one point in time. (If you do a search on Google for "lego" and "sensors", the web site with my lego tinkering is the second search result returned - and I haven't updated that site in years.)

So, anyway, the point of all this isn't really to talk about Lego but is instead to remind me to control my spending habits a bit and not just buy something because I want it at the time. I should concentrate on the things I really need... like that newest XBox 360 game system. (Ha ha... just kidding about that last bit, really.) Seriously, though, there are more worthwhile things I could be doing with my money rather than being so self-indulgent. It's sometimes hard to avoid the constant barrage of advertisements, but I think a much simpler lifestyle would be better for me. It's strange how the mind works though. I'll be perfectly content and then receive a catalog in the mail and suddenly I find myself thinking a want to buy some new item which before I saw it, I didn't even know it existed and hence didn't want it. Why is it a human impulse to want to acquire stuff? Even when you do get what you want, you then soon after find you want something else. It reminds me of a saying an economics professor (Dr. Yngve Ramstead) freshman year of college at URI concluded the class with at the end of the semester. I think he attributed it to Buddha and it was something along the lines of "True happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have." There was a recent pop song that also included a similar line, but my economics class was back around 1986, so the professor definitely wasn't quoting Sheryl Crow. Although I don't know if it really is a Buddhist quote, that saying is what initially piqued my interest in Buddhist philosophy. Not that I've been actively studying Buddhism for the past 20 years - it was just one of those things that got me thinking that I really ought to learn more about Buddhism some day since it seems to have some very good points of view for living life. 20 years later and now I'm finally starting to learn a bit more about it.