Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Litching Swetters

While driving home from karate class tonight, I was singing along to a song (yes, I sing when alone in my car) and accidentally made a spoonerism of one of the lyrics. In this case, it was the phrase "green dress" getting turned into "dreen gress". (Bonus points to whoever can identify what song I was singing.) This got me to wondering what actually causes spoonerisms. It also got me wondering whether there might be a corresponding physical manifestation of spoonerisms - i.e. accidentally switching two physical movements in a series.

For example, every once in a while in karate I'll completely botch a certain move in an odd way. It's not like I forget how to do something (well, I do that, too, but that's not what I'm talking about right now), but instead my brain transposes the actions and it comes out what I call "inside-out". I might be trying to do a high block, which is a fairly simple movement of bringing the arm in towards the center line of the body, then upward, with a rotation of the arm at the end. (Hmmm... that's not the best description, but hopefully it's close enough so you get a rough idea of what I'm trying to describe.) High blocks are something we practice lots and lots of times in class and I've certainly done several hundred (perhaps thousands) of them this past year. Yet just recently in class, while doing some high block exercises I suddenly found my arm doing something that definitely wasn't a high block. At the time, I was kind of baffled by what was happening and it took me a few repetitions to get back on track. Afterwards I tried to figure out what I had been doing that was wrong and I eventually realized it was transposing two of the actions and my arm was trying to twist first, then move up. It was all happening at a subconscious level, so I wasn't really sure why it happened, but now that I'm thinking about switching letters in language (i.e. spoonerisms), I was wondering if maybe there's a corresponding thing in the physical motor-skill realm.

Unfortunately, in my brief search online, I haven't been able to find any reference to what causes spoonerisms. There are plently of web sites that list amusing spoonerims, but I failed to find anything that actually attempted to investigate the cause.

Cause and Effect

One of the principles of Buddhism is to be mindful of your actions, for everything has a cause and effect and sometimes it can manifest itself in unexpected ways.

Today at work when I was headed out for lunch, I mentioned to the receptionist that it was free cone day at Ben & Jerry's. When I got back from lunch, I again ran into the receptionist and now she was outside on her lunch break going for a walk. She asked me if I had gone to the ice cream shop and if it really was free cone day. I replied it was. About a half-hour later, an email message from the director of human resources was sent to all the employees (about 200 people) telling them it was free cone day at Ben & Jerry's. It turns out the receptionist had sent a message to her boss (the director of HR) to let her know about the free ice cream, and this in turn led the director of HR to send the message on to all the employees. So, my casual mentioning of the free ice cream to the receptionist ended up being relayed to about 200 other people in just an hour later. Too bad I didn't have something a bit more important to say that could have been relayed to 200 people. But, it is a good illustration of how you should be mindful of what you say and do, as you never know what the ripple effect might be.

Mmmmm.... chocolate peanut butter swirl

I just tried a new Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor - chocolate peanut butter swirl. As the name implies, it's chocolate ice cream with peanut butter swirled in. But it's not just any ol' peanut butter. It's chunky peanut butter, so you get lots of peanut pieces. If you like chocolate and peanut butter, I think you'll find it's quite good!

And to make matters even better, it was free! And the line was quite short - only a five minute wait, or less.

Free Cone Day!

It's free cone day at all the Ben & Jerry's shops today! And it's a nice sunny day, so it's a good time to go and wait in a long line for a free ice cream cone. But wouldn't you know it? No one else at work wants to go during lunch to get a free cone. Oh calamity! I guess no one else holds ice cream in such high esteem. Oh well...

Monday, April 24, 2006

Book recommendation

I need to preface this book recommendation with a disclaimer. There's the old saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover." In this case, it's definitely true. I'm about to recommend one of those "Complete Idiot's Guide" books - specifically, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Zen Living. Whenever I'm in a bookstore, I always avoid even picking up one of those bright orange colored "Idiot's" books. It's probably an ego thing - I don't want someone to look over seeing me holding a book for an idiot. I prefer to think I'm no idiot. Why would I be reading a book for an idiot?

Well, I must admit, all my prejudices were completely wrong - at least with this one particular book. Several months ago a friend lent me a copy of the Zen Living book and I think it's great. I eventually had to return my friend's copy, but I liked it enough to buy a copy of it this past week. (Actually, I bought two copies - one I gave to another friend.) It's recently been republished as a second edition - I'm not really sure what's been revised other than the cover artwork - it now has a picture of some lotus flowers rather than someone sitting on the beach meditating. But still, if you are curious about the ideas of Zen I'd highly recommend this book. It's written in a very straightforward easy to read manner.

The only minor quibble I have with the book is the overuse of the cutesy named side bar comments that appear on almost every page - "Nirvana Notes," "Monkey Mind," and "One Hand Clapping". It's apparantly a trademark of the Idiot's Guides in general - they have several different side bar categories and give them goofy names, and then plaster them all over the book. I dunno, maybe the publisher thinks idiots like that kind of stuff. I find it annoying.

Pointless thoughts of the day

Here's my pointless thought of the day: why does it feel so good to let out a breath and make an "ahhhh" noise after quickly drinking a refreshing beverage?

To think I used to pester my parents and older siblings with questions like this all day long when I was a kid. I remember learning the definition of inquisitive at a very young age. My older brother said something like, "Why do you always have to be so inquisitive?" Since I was used to him calling me names like "rump steak", I figured inquisitive must be some sort of insulting term I hadn't yet learned...

Nowadays, I suppose all the inquisitive kids can just use Google to find out anything they want to know. I wonder if I would have turned out any different if I had the Internet when I was a kid...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Nothing to see here. Move along.

Since my last report about frivolous spending, I'm happy to report I haven't made any more unwarranted purchases. That's a whole month, which is a big deal for me and my usual carefree spending habits.

I'll keep this post short and just end with this picture:

Cookies and tea... Yes, not a very exciting picture. While visiting the Rhombuses (or is it Rhombi? Or Rhomboids?) in New Hampshire a few weeks ago, I was goofing around with my camera and snapped this picture. For a reason I can't quite remember any more, one of the friends requested I put it on my blog, so here it is.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Are culls really necessary?

There's an article from the BBC about how Canadian fishermen are in the process of performing a cull of baby harp seals. Just a few - only 325,000. (Yes, that's 325 THOUSAND!) They claim it's necessary to control the seal population. I found the use of the word cull interesting. I was only familiar with the more innocuous definition: to select from a large quantity; obtain from a variety of sources, but the second usage found in my dictionary is quite accurate: reduce the population of (a wild animal) by selective slaughter.

Sometimes the news makes me quite angry. One could argue the human population is growing out of control in certain places in the world, but you don't see any rational person proposing a selective slaughter of the humans to keep things in check. Why is it considered ok with other animals? And in this case, an organization even offered to provide $16 million to the Canadian government as an incentive to stop the slaughter. $16 million is what the gov't estimates is the money earned from the killing. So, what was the gov't's response to the offer? "No thanks." Apparently they prefer to earn their money through death.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Best Job in America?

A friend at work just forward to me a link to an article in Money Magazine. Apparantly, I have the best job in America.  Well, it's not my specific job that is the best, but the career of software engineering in general. 

Personally, I don't really know if I'd call it the best job.  I think there are much better career choices as far as making a positive impact on society.  I greatly admire the people who make the sacrifice of a high paying career to instead work toward the betterment of society.  Those are the people who trully have the best jobs.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Great Blue Heron

I went kayaking with a friend yesterday and saw this great blue heron when we were getting ready to head home.

It's such an ungainly looking bird when it flies. But I don't mean that as a criticism. It's a very beautiful bird. It's just got such enormous wings and long legs and neck, when it gets moving through the air it looks a bit odd.

Where does it go?

Last night, just before going to bed, I stepped on the bathroom scale and was surprised to see I weighed exactly 160 pounds. This is the most I've ever weighed, and I was so surprised I actually stepped off and on the scale several times to verify I was really reading it correctly. I even double-checked the calibration to make sure the scale returned to zero when I stepped off, and sure enough, everything checked out. Somehow I had gained 5 pounds in the past few days. I was kind of excited since I tend to think I'm always a bit under-weight. Oddly, when I woke up this morning, I weighed myself again and I was back to 155. What's up with that? Where'd the extra 5 pounds go? It's not like I go jogging in my sleep or anything like that (at least, I don't think I do, although I did used to sleep-walk when I was a kid.... hmmm.....).

Anyhow, I found it odd that I could simply lose 5 pounds in my sleep. Maybe this is normal. I don't normally weigh myself all the time, so maybe my weight changes overnight all the time and I never realized it. But 5 pounds? That seems like a lot to me.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Book recommendation?

A total stranger sent me a one line message today that said, "Have you ever read Ruling Your World?"  The title threw me off a bit, since I thought it was some sort of "be aggresive" business type book.  I did a quick search on Amazon and it looks like a very good book on living life by following the principals of Buddhism.  Has anyone read it?  Here's a small excerpt from a chapter:

Contemplating worldly gain and loss reveals that we spend part of our life trying to get it together, and the other part watching it fall apart. As soon as we have time-"I have a whole hour free"-we are losing it. As soon as we make a friend, we're losing him. As soon as we have fame, it becomes tinged with notoriety. As soon as we have wealth, we're losing it. Looking for something new to gain helps us forget to look but a few seconds back at the last thing that we lost. Fabricating this chain of desire is how we keep ourselves in samsara [the cycle of desire and suffering]. We are using instability to try to make stability. We're investing in hope and fear, banking on denial of a simple truth: all the pleasure the world can offer eventually turns to pain. Everything we gain is subject to loss. Why do we put all that effort into gain when, in the end, we are going to lose it? (p 124) 

I think I might track down a copy to read.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Finding the Stress Point

For the past two weeks or so, I've had this minor twitch on the lower edge of my left eye. From what I've read about such things, there can be several causes - lack of sleep, eye strain, or stress. When I was in high school and college I would occasionally get such a twitch, but it would only last a day or so and could usually be attributed to lack of sleep.

The last time I had such an eye-twitch was several years ago and it lasted for about two years! It developed shortly after the sudden and unexpected break-up with my fiancée. For the longest time I wasn't sure what was causing the twitch, and over the course of two years it migrated from one eye to the other and to different parts of my eyelid. It wasn't something that was noticeable to others - it's not like I was winking all the time or anything like that, but it was some sort of minor muscle spasm on the eyelid. If I looked in the mirror when it was happening, I could see a small section of my eyelid contracting or vibrating. It wasn't something I was overly concerned about, but it was a bit annoying since it was going on for so long. What made me realize the cause was when it suddenly stopped. It stopped right after the most bizarre coincidence of my life - when I ran into my ex-fiancée in a nightclub in Providence. It was such a bizarre coincidence because I hadn't seen her in about 2 years, she lived in New Hampshire, so running into to her in Providence was a bit odd, I was supposed to be playing hockey that night but some friends at work invited me to go out with them, and not being one for going out to nightclubs, this was the first time I had gone to a nightclub in about 2 years, and oddest of all - it turned out my ex-fiancée was out on the town for her bachelorette party; she was getting married the next day! If there is some supernatural being controlling our fates, I think who ever is in charge of my fate has a very strange sense of humor. Interestingly, after this chance encounter, my eye-twitch went away.

Which brings me to pondering what is the cause of this current eye-twitch.

I don't think it is a lack of sleep, although I suppose it is possible. I've been trying to cut back a bit on sleep - only getting 7 hours rather than 8. The hope was I would have an extra hour each day and I would get used to having slightly less sleep. The past few days I've gone back to 8 hours of sleep, yet the eye-twitch remains.

Another option is eye strain. I don't think I'm straining my eyes any more than usual. I'm in front of a computer screen the same amount of time as usual. The only difference is the use of my fairly new Mac laptop. While I don't really notice any difference while using it, the Mac screen is rather small (just 12 inches), so maybe there is the possibility that I'm squinting a bit more than usual.

The final option is stress, which I'm thinking is the most likely explanation. The question is, what am I possibly stressed out about? Since my last eye-twitch episode appears to have been caused by a pretty deep subconscious thing (lack of closure in a failed relationship), I'm not even sure if I'll be able to uncover it. But, as an exercise, I'll examine some possible stress points.

First, there's the usual suspect of work, but honestly, work is pretty stress free. I only work 40 hours a week. It's challenging, yet enjoyable. The only time I get a bit stressed out is when I think there's the possibility I might have to travel or I might get out a bit later and miss a karate class. But the last time that actually happened was exactly a year ago, so it's not like it's a common occurrence.

Another consideration is karate. I greatly enjoy karate - it's pretty much all I do outside of work. The thought of not being able to do karate often stresses me out. For example, a few months ago, I was having awful back-pain (I think from when I fell on a hardwood floor while practicing a tonfa kata). The pain was so bad it would wake me up in the middle of the night, and sometimes just walking was very painful. I came very close to going to see a doctor, but I was afraid I'd be told to lay off the karate for a while, which wasn't an answer I wanted to hear. Eventually (after about a month), the pain finally went away. More recently, I've had another concern. For the past few weeks, I've had a really odd pain in my right heel when I straighten my leg and flex my foot upward and towards my shin. It was a painful burning sensation that almost felt like my achilles tendon was tearing away from my heel bone. This got so bad and persisted for so long that a few days ago I was tempted to go see a doctor. But first I did a bunch of Internet research. From what I've read about achilles tendon problems (such as achilles tendonitis), the best solution is to give the leg/foot a rest - worst case, the foot/ankle will be put in a cast to give the tendon a rest. I didn't want to be told to not practice karate for a few weeks, or worse, be stuck in a cast, so even though it probably wasn't the wisest recourse, I decided against going to see a doctor. I figured I'd give it some more time, and maybe go a little easier on the stretching with that foot. Surprisingly, after last night's karate class which involved a lot of kicking bags, I noticed today that my heel actually has very little pain when I flex my foot. It almost feels normal. I'm not really sure why hitting my foot repeatedly would actually make my heel feel better, but it did. So, if my eye-twitch now goes away, I'll blame my heel. :-)

One other cause of stress I can think of is my obsessive nature and how it relates to karate. I try to be the best I can at whatever I do, yet lately karate has become very challenging. It's not necessarily challenging in a strictly physically demanding sense, it's more that there are certain details I'm struggling with and they just require a lot of practice and patience in order to improve. Sometimes I feel like I've hit a wall, like nothing is improving, which I suppose stresses me out a bit at times. I have to keep in mind that what is important is that I just remain mindful of what I am working on and keep at it. There will always be certain details that will be a challenge for me. That's one of the features of karate - the deeper you look, there's always room for improvement. It's not going to ever be something that I can say, "Ah, now I'm finished." It's a lifelong challenge.

Now looking back on my possible stress points makes me realize that I really ought not to be stressed out about anything. In all these instances of potential stress, the stress is due to me worrying or anticipating something that might not even happen (What if I have to work late and miss a karate class? What if I get injured? What if I never get any better? ). That's not very Zen-like. I'm not sure how I got so far off track. There's really no sense worrying...

Now I just have to convince my eye of that.