dal niente

Month: February, 2012

The Data Whisperer

[Zanshin] came up with that name for me, and I kinda like it.

My part-time job, which helps me get through my law degree without starving, consists of data management for a major Sydney company. The official title is something like “Data Collection Officer” or something like that, but there’s actually a fair amount of work that we do that doesn’t involve calling people up. Mostly it has to do with fixing bugs in the data that are introduced due to human error. In theory though, aside from error correction, most of the raw data comes from manually calling up clients and obtaining it from them. It’s not as bad a call centre job as you can imagine, because the people we’re calling are expecting our calls.

It’s kinda strange that in this day and age the job like this still exists. You’d think that there could be automated systems set up so that the necessary data would automatically be reported electronically between our departments, but somehow, we’re still doing this the old fashioned way.

Our progress through the day tends to be measured by how much raw data we can obtain, in the form of entries. I found out that the average for an experienced peer, through calling, is somewhere in the neighborhood of about 70 to 80 entries per working day. I found out that I was getting about 80 entires as well, but it was a pretty non-stop day of extremely repetitive work.

I’ve found a bit of a backdoor to the raw data though. You see, I don’t really like calling. Despite that the people we’re calling mostly expect us to be calling, they’re not very efficient at providing us with the answers we need when we actually do ring them up. So, we get all sorts of runarounds: we’re put on hold; told to leave messages; told we’ll get a call back; told to send a formal written request for the data; told to call someone on their mobile; etc. All sorts of things that, really, shouldn’t be happening in an efficient environment– and it all happens because people are basically the weakest links. By that, I mean, humans are the weakest links.

I’ve found a way to get around that though. I’ve found it’s possible to get to a lot of the data through just looking at concurrent data gathered by other automated sources– basically, electronic clues that, if you did some basic math in your head, you could arrive at the same conclusions that you would if you managed to talk to a real human. The raw data isn’t always available through reading the concurrent sources, but when it is, it’s much faster. Instead of spending on average about 1-3 minutes per call (on hold, mostly), I might simply be able to luck out and read interpret the concurrent data, which gives lets me have a result in about…. 13 seconds.

You do the math. It means that I can get the same amount of results in about a tenth or twentieth of the amount of time it should take me.

It means I have more time to do other things.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

I think to some degree we all do the same thing when it comes to dealing with people. What humans are willing to communicate to me is usually the weakest link of information. If, instead, we find objective projections of their actions, their situations, their positions, etc– oftentimes, it gives us shortcuts as to figuring out what they’re about. Sherlock Holmes’ ability to size people up simply based on superficial clues is an extreme example.

All I’m saying, people can say what they want– but some things speak louder and more accurately than what they say. There are other ways to be informed.

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Hilly Sydney

Sydney is extremely hilly.

Today, I tried a new route to work– it’s the same distance from home, but it involves one less pair of hills. The result? A 30 minute comute is reduced to about 17 minutes. Pretty sweet!

I find it fun to figure out these kinds of things. It’s a good start to the day.

(A bit of a gamble though, because if the shortcut hadn’t worked out, I’d probably have been late.)

O-Week

So, today was the last day for the O-Week stall for the Baduk Club. That’s a relief– standing out in the open for over 7 hours per day is pretty tiresome.

It was surprisingly fun though, and we got some good results. We signed up 75 new members on Monday, and about another 50 or so between Tuesday and Wednesday. That’s pretty good considering we had a terrible location, and that, well, it’s baduk. It’s not exactly the most popular passtime out there.

We ran the workshop after the stall closed today. At the workshop we were basically teaching beginners how to play, and that was fun in it’s own way– I think I learn a lot by teaching the game, so it was as useful for the n00bs as it was for me.

I look forward to just the regular club seessions though. I mean, although I’ll still be doing largely the same thing, it’ll be without the 7 hours on my feet!

Products without Expertise

The idea of finding people who actually know anything about what they’re selling is such a foreign concept nowadays. There’s a distinct difference between a salesperson and someone who actually knows the product– and oftentimes, that’s why I make a case for small businesses. Because small businesses give a damn about the subject of their business in many cases.

When’s the last time you went to a big box looking for computer parts and actually found someone who knew what they were talking about and who actually cared about helping you, more than they wanted to just sell you something that was convenient for them? When I was shopping for a netbook for example, I ran into a samsung model that looked interesting, and it had a sticker on it that said that it had a “Dual Boot OS.” Since I’d been out of the Windows game for several years now, I asked the salesperson what OSes it came with.

“Windows 7,” he said.

“But it says here: dual boot. So what’s the second one?”

“Oh, that. Uh… Android.”

“Really? Can you show me how it works?”

At which point, he powered off the laptop, restarted it, and when things went straight to windows, he said: “There you go!”

“Um… can I see how this thing runs Windows. I mean. How do you boot it into Android?”

At which point… he rebooted it, back into Windows 7 again, and said: “There you go.”

“That’s still Windows.”

“Nah, the Android login just looks like Windows.”

Are you kidding me, motherfucker??

“It says Windows 7 right there.”

“Oh, well, that’s just a customizable wallpaper.”

I raised my eyebrows. “You’re telling me that you have a dual boot system here, and the best way you show it off is by making the second OS look exactly like the first one?”

Anyways. I bought my netbook elsewhere.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

I was looking online recently for some handwraps for boxing. Handwraps are long strips of material, usually cotton, kinda like giant bandages that you wrap around your knuckles, hands, and wrists. Their job is to protect your joints and the small bones they cover from shifting around independently too much when you land heavy hits. [CM] has been getting more into boxing lately, to the point where she wants to try her University’s boxing club. So I went on eBay to take a look at what’s around. Of course, I found what I expected– the cheapest stuff is from Hong Kong. And while they advertise the handwraps accurately as being for the protection of your wrists (mostly), almost all the photos show the wraps incorrectly warpped. Some of them even show the “boxer’s” hands giving a thumbs up. I think most people who are looking for hand wraps online probably know what they’re looking for (and probably know how to wrap their hands) but if you just saw these stock photos and warpped your hands as such, you’d very likely get a false sense of security and break your wrists if you did any serious work on a bag. I mean, seriously: why advertise that your wraps are for protecting wrists, if in the pictures, the wraps aren’t even around the person’s wrists???

I mean, okay, I don’t expect you to get De La Hoya to be your hand model, and I can even forgive that the hand model you did choose has fat rolls at the ends of the wraps, but please– the product. Pay attention to you goddam product.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

I’ve been trying over the past year or so to be a more ethical consumer. In most cases, that means buying from small businesses when I can. It also means chosing products from companies that have good track records in terms of industrial relations.

In most cases it means refraining from buying anything I don’t need, which is the simplest, and best solution.

But when I do need something, I like it to be cheap. And it’s difficult to balance out wanting to aspire to a better world when the people who sell things the cheapest aren’t the ones who necessarily deserve my business.

Thoughts on Substance

It’s been a long term since I’ve thought about the word “substance.” I didn’t invent the word, but I think I started using it the way I did because I couldn’t quite figure out a way to describe the “stuff” that people are made of. I think that the term has fallen a bit out of my usual vocabulary, mostly because my terminology started changing a bit ever since I started playing baduk. There’s something about using japanese terms (I don’t actually speak japanese) which someone adds a certain amount of novelty and mystery to a concept. Using foreign terms instantly adds +10 to credibility, because the term itself is somehow loaded enough to warrant using the original foreign word, and not some half un-nuanced translation.

I think that whenever it comes to figuring out things about life, there needs to be a vocabulary involved. I’m not saying this expressly with the idea of japanese terms in mind– I mean, there are a lot of other words that I borrow from other languages every now and then. My point is just that there needs to be some sort of identification of concepts in order to think about them modularly.

On the other hand, a word’s definition can be used with such categorical power that it obscures the big picture. So, no matter what kind of terminology we’re using, whether it’s specific or broad, the more specific it is, the more broadly we need to understand it; conversely, the more broad the concept, the more specifically we need to understand its application.

So anyway, back to substance.

It’s a “good stuff” kind of stuff, but really, how would you describe it?

Substance is not necessarily charisma
It’s not exactly charisma– although people with substance, when you get to know them, might be charistmatic. It’s not always the case though.

I mean, someone could be totally awesome at something, They could be totally freaking badass, but they’re absolutely impossible to get along with. Think, for example, Mohammed Ali– incredible amounts of substance, but, if you were in the same profession as him during his prime, he was absolutely infuriating. But you couldn’t deny that he had something. Some sorta “gung-fu.” Something about him that you could fear as much as you could respect.

Substance is not physical strength
And on the other hand… I’ll give you a very simple example. Doing martial arts doesn’t mean I’m necessarily good at deffending myself, but what it does give me is a pretty accurate understanding how humans are really quite fragile. (Which is probably why a lot of my concept of street fighting has to do with pretending to beg for mercy, and then unleashing a sudden finishing move.) So, basically, what I mean is– if I was standing face to face with someone, I could really hurt someone just like that. Break a nose. Poke out an eye. Punch someone in the throat. Pull their hair. Whatever. In fact, you could do it too, and that’s my point: anyone could hurt anyone, given an opportunity. My point though is that this doesn’t necessarily make me a bigger man (it wouldn’t make you a bigger man or woman either) if you did actually hurt someone.

Take… for example… Ghandi. Mother Theresa. Felix Mandella. They’re so fragile as humans, as are we all. Much more fragile than, say, your typical WWE wrestler, or even the more mundane guys and gals that you see at the gym every day.

But if suddenly, you decided to initiate a fistfight with Ghandi (especially Ghandi), who do you think people would say won the fight? You could beat an old man like Ghandi (in his prime) to a pulp– but people would still think you were the loser. Which contrasts with the situation when you pick a fistfight with Mohammed Ali (who would beat the living shit out of you). If you picked a fight with Mohammed Ali, and he beat the crap out of you, people would still think you were a total shithead: they’d still say he won. So how is it that either way, you “lost”? Why is it that either way, you’re a loser?

What I’m getting at is that substance, in many contexts, has nothing to do with physical strength. In relativity, you could be physically stronger than someone, or physically weaker than someone, but that won’t be why people measure you to have less substance than someone.

This is observation, that substance is not physical strength, is something that people often forget. Or rather, it’s something we take as granted. Take for example the masculine, patriarchal world we live in. The assumption that men have made (and continue to make) is that men have more substance than women in the majority of contexts. Indeed, even women make this mistake. If someone says the word “soldier” or “police officer” the majority of us will think of men. The “doctor” figure is the ‘medical expert’ and is typically the man, wheras women are regarded as lower in the social heirarchy– they’re the nurses, that is to say, the women who are subordinates of the men of medicine.

I’m being highly exaggerative, but consider it: how many situations do you know of place men in a privleged position, simply because they’re men, and that the reasoning behind this is somehow that their strength, either actual physical strength or some associated persona of agressiveness, is equated with substance?

Substance is not just willpower
At the same time, it’s not something that’s simply willpower, or intent, or having resolution. For example… I don’t know the complete story of what’s going on in Montreal with the university protests, but from my position reading the newspaper reports, it sounds like a buncha spoiled lazy students who are upset that they’ll have to pay a bit more for their tuition. So, they’ve taken up this habit of “occupying” the administrative buildings, and then they get all upset when McGill University, after days of restraint, calls up police to basically say, okay okay, you’ve had your fun, but now you have to get the fuck off our private property so we can get some work done. And then these students start mouthing off about power to students, and fighting against authority, and all that stuff.

I’m for student activism mind you, but there’s a certain point when activism is winning through minor-terrorism. Sure, you may get what you want in the end, but does that justify your means? Is throwing a collective tantrum, even if you manage to do so with megaphones and a lot of people, enough?

I guess what I’m getting at is that I don’t recognise substance in people who can’t be rational, and can’t be helpful to the problems they’re denouncing. In the case of the student protests– okay, I see your point. Tuition hikes are bad. But if you want to really do something about this situation, it’s not enough to show solidarity, it’s not enough to show off your fighting spirit– show me a solution. And at that, make it a realistic one. Otherwise, you’re just bitching, you’re really just riling everyone up for nothing. You know, McGill University actually runs an annual debt? And you’re saying that they can’t raise tuition? Where do you think they should get the money from?

What I’m saying is that there needs to somehow be an intersection between what you want and what is possible. You can’t just will something to happen just because, essentially, you’re this emotional enough about a subject. Your anger, indignation, etc… it’s not enough. So while willpower is part of substance, there needs to be a practical element to it.

Substance should probably be applicable in several contexts
Some people are good at certain things, but people with real substance seem to be good at lots of things. And it’s not just that they are good at X, Y, and Z– rather, they are good at A, which is something that is useful in X, Y, and Z. In other words, substance isn’t a technical skill– it’s the mechanics or mentality or philosophy behind the development of specific skills. It is the philosophy of the garage, rather than the quality of a particular hammer or screwdriver.

It might be an intersection
That said, substance might be related to some sort of intersection between several of the mentioned elements, in varying degrees. As in… it’s not enough to have willpower. But you might need it in conjunction with physical strength, with charisma, etc.

I dunno. These are just random thoughts.

The question is… how does one acquire more substance? I guess that’s the big mystery.

…I suppose that’s why we go to school, isn’t it?

Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3

I’ve spent a fair amount of time playing almost every fighting game, coin-op and console, available in North America, even some of the less common ones like Guilty Gear. At the end of the day though, I’m a Capcom fan. Say what you will about King of Fighters games and whatnot, but I feel that when it boils down to it, Capcom produces the real deal.

The latest that I’ve been playing is Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3– Capcom’s really put together something crazy here, in terms of character design and mechanics. The game modes are still kind poor… I mean, if you want a fighting game, that’s about all you get. They did add “Heroes and Heralds” mode that adds a card collecting pokemon aspect to it, but what I kinda want is something like RPG Mode from Street Fighter Alpha 3. But as to the fighting it promises, it’s great.

Stylish!
More than any other fighting game, UMvC3 allows you to do some crazy stylish combos… and not just strings of 40 buttons pushed in a certain sequence. One difference is that combos now include command moves, that is to say, directions presed with an attack button. This is because the traditional 3 punchs and 3 kicks button layout has been replaced by 3 attacks, one “super” attack, and two assist buttons. It’s similar to MvC2, but wheras MvC2 had 2 punches and 2 picks, where you would essentially double on the light punch to produce the medium, UMvC3 just has Light, Medium, and Heavy attacks to begin with.

And while combos used to mostly be jab, strong, fierce (L, M, H) for most characters, UMvC3 really varies that depending on the character. Sure, the old J,S,F combos work for the traditional street fighter characters, but you can do more if you learn the command combos… so for example, many Wolverine uses L, M, L, M, H, S, while Strider Hiryu uses L, M, H, Fwd+H, S as basic fare.

There’s also a lot of opportunity to bounce the opponent, either off the ground or off the walls– this makes for some pretty amazing stuff that relies on “broken” rhythm combos. Performing an infinite loop combo is one thing, but to have it done with a broken rhythm really adds a certain amount of finesse to things– it gives your opponent the opportunity to see the action slow down for a bit, as if the combo is ending, only it’s really just part of the plan to make them feel even more dominated.

Distinction
Really, they’ve worked hard so that, with the exception of Ryu and Akuma, all the characters are quite distinct from eachother. You can’t play them the same way as you do others, you have to learn their individual combos and tactics. You don’t have a handful of similar characters like in MvC2. They’ve mostly gotten rid of redundant characters.

Countering
There are a fair number of characters who do their best damage with counters. I don’t mean something like a dragon punch– I mean a move that requirse your opponent to hit you in order for it to be effective. I used to be a Dudley player in SF3 and SF4, and relied heavily on mixing it up with the counterpunches. It’s a bit tricky in a game this fast paced, so I’m not nearly good with any of it, but I’ve fought some people online who are really good at it– and it frustrates the hell out me because an all out attack is no longer viable, you really have to work to outsmart the opponent. Native countering (as opposed to assist countering) is something that has been sorely lacking in previous MvC games.

Teleportation
Some characters have teleportation built into their combos. For example, Wesker (from Resident Evil) can smack you, and as you’re flying into the wall, he can teleport under you and continue to combo. Although teleportation is pretty cool when used to combo this way (it falls into the category of “broken rhythm comboing” that I was talking about), it has even more application in another area.

It’s not all that useful against the computer, but the main interest of this is in how it totally shakes up and induces mayhem in player versus player games. The basic rule of standard fighting is to control the distance– but teleporting makes distancing an issue of milliseconds rather than seconds. Some characters are better at it than others, but either way, it adds dimensions of variability to the game. For those who don’t have teleports, things have been balanced out with dashing and double jumping abilities.

X-Factor?
I wasn’t a huge fan of X-Factor when it first came out, but it does have more application in Ultimate compared to the original version. When you engage X-Factor, you gain chipping armor (you can no longer be chipped for the duration), you start healing recoverable damage on your main character, your assistants heal faster, you become a bit faster, and you hit harder. The worse situation your team is in, the more bonus you get to X-Factor, which makes it a real “tide turner.” Especially because X-factor also has a special ability to cancel blockstun or move recovery of any move– so normally, you wouldn’t be able to chain a shinkuhadoken into another shinkuhadoken– but with X-Factor, you can! Basically do the first one, “cancel” the recovery frames with X-factor, and repeat. It conversely works as universal counter as well– if you’re about to die because ryu has you pinned with a shinkuhadoken that’s chipping away your last pixels of life, you can engage X-Factor while he’s frying you to engage chipping armor. Not only that, but if you have some sort of invincible instant super, you can actually use the millisecond of x-factor cancelling to counterattack! Yes, you can beat a shinkuhadoken, even after it’s started roasting you! X-Factor is somewhat old news, because it was already available in the first version of MvC3, but they’ve changed it so that you can now use it in the air as well.

Phoenix Wright
This deserves a category of mention on it’s own.

Phoenix Wright is, really, just one of the most interesting characters to play in Capcom history. Here he is, in a fighting game– he doesn’t punch or kick, but he essentially handles like a normal street fighter character if you hit the buttons. Where he’s different is that, in the course of a round, he has 2 modes of operation: investigation, and trial mode, just like in his own games. In investigation mode, he can actually search for evidence! I mean, literally, you press the buttons, and he crouches on the ground and is like “Aha! I’ve found it!”

You can hold up to 3 pieces of evidence. But not all evidence is good evidence. If it’s useless evidence, you can throw it away (at your opponent, for decent damage I might add). If you chose to keep it, you can make use of it when you switch his attack mode to “trial mode.”

In trial mode, the evidence gains special powers– you can use to them to fire energy blasts of various kinds. A cellphone fires a straight beam, a rose boquet fires and arc, etc…

If you have 3 pieces of good evidence, unlock “judgment mode.”

In judgement mode, you submit your three pieces of good evidence for something like 15 seconds of special abilities… including the “OBJECTION!” finger of supreme power (totally owns Shoryukens, because it’s a projectile anti-air that takes up like a third of the screen). His standard “Paperwork” attack, which normally scatters small arc of papers, is now more like a hellstorm of papercuts from Read or Die, and it gains invincibility as an assist.

The best part though is the level 3 judgement mode super. Instant priority and invincibility (trumps all other supers even if you start later, unless the other one also has instant priority and invincibility). If you see Ryu performing a shinkuhadoken, you can counter it with this. What happens is that Phoenix Wright appears at a podium, and begins a heated cross examination… each pieces of evidence strikes OMG (>.<)* reactions from the opponent. All the way through Wright is slamming his hands down on the podium saying things like "Take that!"

It does a whopping amount of damage too, second highest damage for a single move in the entire game. On a standard opponent, it takes off about 2/3 of their life.

So basically, you can play him like a traditional fighter– or you can get your assists to buy time for you while you conduct an investigation, proceed to trial, and then go to judgement!

I haven’t run into any good Pheonix Wright users online yet, but I’m determined to be one of them.

Anyway, now that I’m done my paper, I’ll have a couple of weeks to play to my heart’s content before the next semester starts 🙂

Good Riddance

Paper is done. It’s worth 90% of my grade, and weighs in at a hefty 28 pages.

These pages seem so light and white compared to the amount of my blood they’ve drank.

Battle Stations!

For the past few days, I’ve been struggling to finish this 15 page essay on feminism’s interaction with contemporary rule of law. Not that I don’t find the topic interesting… in fact, I’m a huge fan of feminist theory in general. The problem is finding 15 pages to write a comparison about two different feminists (MacKinnon and Cornell). Frankly… they don’t often talk about the same things, so it’s a lot like writing an essay about apples and oranges. They’re not the same, so what the essay leans towards is a description of apples and a description of oranges, rather than anything interesting.

I suppose I could come up with something (and I have) but after drafting and redrafting this thing for 2 weeks, I just feel that the final product is rather uninspired. Which bothers me– because like I said, I enjoy the topic immensely, and have since years ago when I first studied it in undergrad. I just can’t seem to find an angle on it. It’s due tomorrow, so I’m going to give it some solid kicking and screaming before I hand it in.

In other news, I played a game of baduk last week against a 9kyu player (same rank as me). I tried applying some of the theories that I learned, but haven’t really well internalized, from Younggil’s baduk school in Strathfield… and I beat him! I thought it was a damn tight match. Neither of us made any huge mistakes, but in the end, I won by about 30 points. A few days later, I checked my rank and was surprised to find that my rank had changed– I’m now a 8kyu! Which is a pretty big deal to me, because I’ve been stuck at the 9kyu rank since… what? Last June or July? I was so stuck that I even dropped to 10kyu in November when I tried to overhaul my technique. Chances are, I’ll play some games at 8kyu level and just get murdered, and I’ll drop back to 9kyu again… but for now, I’m just happy to have finally crossed this line.

I’ve been going to the law faculty board meetings, and it’s an interesting lot. The discussions are a lot more approachable than I thought, and it’s interesting to see how, in these backrooms, the shape of the lawschool’s direction is formed. At the last meeting, which was a panel to perform curriculum review, I was the only student representative. Among some of the other board members were a trio of professors who, literally, wrote the books for their respective subjects, so it was a bit daunting to say the least. I didn’t say anything during the whole meeting because the stuff that was going on way way over my league, but that’s probably normal considering that the board is usually composed of educators (and not students). In any case, I think getting the faculty representative job was a good idea for me. It’s a lot of beaureaucracy, but there is a method to the madness, and I feel that the reports and discussions I have to write up are making a difference here and there.

The orientation week for the new semester is coming up, and preperations are going well for my baduk club’s events. We’ll be running a stall for 3 days to basically try and attract new members to the club, as well as running a workshop to introduce the basics to beginners. Hopefully all will go well. I’ll write more about this whole event closer to the date.

[CM] is back in town, and today, a friend of hers from Vancouver arrived in Sydney as well. She’ll be staying with us for about a month. The apartment has more than enough room in my opinion, but CM is being a bit of a fussy overachiever when it comes to being hospitable. The apartment has never been this clean or tidy since I arrived here. It’s nice though that CM has a close friend in Sydney, because that has been one of the problems (for both of us) since our arrival– we just don’t have any close ties to anyone in Sydney yet. Familiar faces of significant history are few and far between, so I must live vicariously through the occasional electronic moments of connection with people back home (which are usually quite sparse).

I don’t feel homesick, because I’m not exactly that sort of person, and I do sign up for enough stuff that I often forget to slow down and be social– but it will probably be nice to have some activity in the apartment.

That said, I’m going to get back to this damn paper so I can get it out of the way and have time to have some fun.

Xanga signouts

It’s pissed me off for a long time now, but does anyone else have the problem that Xanga randomly forgets your password, even if you tell it to save on login?

I’ve had the problem for as long as I can remember on both of my laptops, across thee different operating systems and in two different browsers. Am I don’t something wrong? It doesn’t happen for other sites…

sudo yourself

I don’t write about relationships (specifically relationship problems) much nowadays, beacause I have [CM], and CM has me. To be sure, we have our ups and downs: we have our misunderstandings, we have our overreactions, and we have our skirmishes, but at the end of the day, we’re in a great place together.

I went out for drinks with my co-workers from the National Children’s Youth Law Centre on Thursday. It was a good choice– CM pushed me to go to it because since I got to Australia, I’ve been making very few efforts to make (and maintain) new friendships. I guess in a strange dependent kind of way, I rely on CM for all my companionship while here. I wouldn’t say I’m a very emotionally needy person, but I did notice that while she was away in Asia to visit family for the last 3 weeks, I’ve been living in a very mechanical way. I mean, for the first 2 weeks that she was gone, I didn’t do any groceries. All I did was go to summer school or to work, come home, and survive off of our home stockpile of things like frozen dim sum, dumplings, canned food, rice and pasta. Not once did I cook something that I would serve to guests, and that’s the point– despite being someone who really enjoys good food, I’d never go to a great restaurant alone. Company, specifically CM’s company, but generally any company, makes things taste better.

These past 3 weeks that CM has been gone (she’ll be back tomorrow night) have been useful though. They’ve given me the chance to recallibrate myself totally. Even my roomies were out of town for most of the last 3 weeks, so I basically lived in solitary. It’s the first time I’ve been like that since South Korea.

What did a solitary version of me look like in South Korea? Well, at first, it wasn’t pretty. But like now, it’s a cathartic process I think. It’s what made me reiterate to myself that for all the relationships to others around us, fundamentally, we need to figure out who is “I” first. The benefit of being alone is that for every thing that happens, you only have yourself to blame or credit.

These past few weeks, I’ve been doing well for myself. I started exercising a lot more regularly… usually about 4 out of 7 days, I go and do some work on the punching bag, on top of biking 20km or so every second day. I’ve dropped my weight from 156 pounds (soft, but not quite fat) to 147 (lean, but not totally mean). I might not be in nearly as good fighting condition as I was back when I was at MAC or training for the black belt, but I think I’ve reached something different– it’s a peak physical form for a normal lifestyle. I guess to some of you real martial arts devoutees out there, martial arts are part of your every day routine. For me, it’s not. I have difficulty sticking to one school or one club, and hence, my involvement is usually sporadic– and I consider it a ‘special’ period where I can train and maintain interest. What’s different about this now is that, unlike a school or club where there is a social aspect of pressure (as well as a monetary one), my current method has no pressure– I can quit any day. Which, conversely, means that every day that I do train, it’s a conscious choice, a decision I make to push myself. I’ve also stepped forward and been planning stuff to get the Baduk Club off it’s ass, and I’ve started stirring up shit at the faculty board meetings. Last week, some coworkers and I put the finishing touches on a huge submission to the Australian Government, regarding the proposed condolidation of anti-descrimination legislation. Considering that I’m only a 2nd semester law student, I consider it a pretty big deal. Today, I’m going to be working on my final paper for my summer class, which I’ve chosen to do on feminism.

Yeah, make no mistake– I’m patting myself on the back.

And I’m not saying that I was only able to do these things because CM is out of the way or something. Actually, without anyone in my life for the last 3 weeks, I’ve been able to do things just for myself, with me as my boss, and that has made me a better person. And being a better person means that I can be better at being us.

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It’s the difference between “doing something for yourself,” and doing something for yourself. They both kind of lead to the same observable result, but only one of them is sustainable in the background.

The version in quotations has to do with following through with an empirically good practice, but the reason behind it is that you’ve put yourself in a situation where you feel guilty for not doing it. For example, you spent X dollars on that gym membership, you go to church because it’s what you’ve always done, or you get dragged to parties you don’t want to go to and really don’t enjoy. You’re in those kinds of situations not because of the actual benefits of the practice– the benefits turn out to be a side effect. But deep down, the only reason why you got that far is because don’t want to look bad to the people you know there by not showing up, or beacuse you “already started so you might as well finish.” The bottom line is that this is a modus operandi driven by guilt.

The second version, in italics, has to do with you doing something for yourself. It bears all the daily strain of wanting to do something because you know you can just quit, but you must satisfy the your own expectations. This method is driven by thirst, curiosity, willpower or dissatisfaction. There’s lots of ways you can fuel yourself, emotionally. Heck, you can even draw on jealousy or revenge.

But certainly, I’ve learned that guilt is one of the poorest of all fuels, and it’s dangerous specifically because it’s a lot harder to notice working than the other sources.

It goes in stages though. There’s that saying that the first step is the hardest, and that momentum will carry you through. It’s all downhill from there. You’ve heard them before. But I think that the application of these ideas is more nuanced thant he proverbs relay– sure, once you start something, you may very well want to finish it. But what do you get out of it? Did the acts really make you feel more whole, or did they just further disconnect your actions from who you are by setting the subject of your actions outside of you? Is all that momentum just from guilt?

It’s a dangerous trap I think. And you see everywhere how lots of technically “successful” people are extremely productive– yet they seem to have no actual control over their lives. Not everyone, of course. But a fundamental recurring problem is “selflessness” or “being social.” I’m not talking about the work you produce– I’m talking about the goals we set. It happens because acts are done to satisfy guilt, rather than to simply will a better future.

There are the goals we set and the result of the work we do. Our goals need to be selfish, and they need to be individual. Yes, I know that people will spout all this nonsense about how you should put others before you and all that– but the truth is, you need to love yourself before you can love others. You need to make sure you are satisfied with who you are, and if you’re not, you need to be working on that. Otherwise, you’re in a zero-sum game– for all that stuff you do for others, you’ll be spending just as much time being propped up when you break down. Some people call this give and take of emotional tampon-ism “friendship” or “love,” but I call it un-commital parasitism. I don’t call it symbiosis, because symbiosis meanas that it’s good for both– I’m specifically framing it as parasitism, because both people are actually poisoning eachother. They’re just so inept at it that they can’t kill eachother.

A partner in life isn’t someone shouldn’t be someone you’re tethered to for the very air you breathe– they should be someone who helps you grow, so that you can love them (and the world) more.

Everyone needs to understand that in all relationships of unknown people, the only common denominator is you, yourself. So, do the math: is it more efficient to change and improve every relationship and person you meet, or maybe, you should just improve yourself, and start everything from much higher base stats?

I don’t think I’m explaining myself all that well.

I guess what I was trying to get at is that last thursday, when I was at drinks, a lot of the conversation revolved around relationships. I should point out that in most cases, I was the only guy in a circle of 6 girls talking about things. And this is what I observe.

Whenever there are relationship problems, it usually has to do with people not knowing what they want. By knowing what they want, I don’t mean things necessarily like predicting where you’ll be in 5 years, how many children you want, or whatever. Nor do I mean that, before you get into a relationship, you know excatly what kind of guy or girl you’re looking for. By knowing what they want, I don’t even mean knowing, as in it’s done and here’s the answer. I guess I’m assuming that everyone should KNOW that they WANT to be better at being themselves. I guess what I mean is that people need to accept responsibility for their lives. It’s not enough to just pledge it– you have to start taking actions that put you out of your comfort zone, which is the only way to get you to that better place. You need to be be ready to endure mistakes and hardship. And you need to want more happiness than you have.

All the girls at the table who had problems usually had them in terms of some issues of communication with their others. Lack of communication is a huge problem, because then you can’t figure out if you’re on the same track. On one hand, it’s a problem because they make it sound like the communication is the only problem– as if, if the channels were opened, then the boy could somehow just make everything better. No. It doesn’t work on that alone. The “solution” doesn’t come just from just the other side– it needs to come from you, too. You know why the feminists killed chilvalry? Because they realized they didn’t need balls to change their world. Girls: yes you can. Guys: stop being so mysterious about your shortcomings. If you don’t know what you’re doing, tell her. Put all the cards on the table, play a round open hand so you can learn how to play together.

And if you really, really don’t like what’s going on? Dump him/her. It may be a mistake, it might be the best thing you’ve ever done, but at least you’ve made an action based on your thoughts, and it’s something you can learn from.

Of course, there is always that debate about finding the balance between love, as expressed in your tolerance (or ignoring of) of their bullshit, versus love, as expressed in your wanting to make the other person better. But you’ll never figure out what this balance is unless you set it, and stand behind it. Communication, really, is just a declaration of your balance. The only real advice I have for people is that they should make their own advice. Seeking advice is largely a way of scapegoating responsibility in the event of mistakes. I’m not saying that you should have an immovable “take it or leave it” stance to relationships, but what I am saying is that you ought to be transparent to the best of your ability, and you ought to expect transparency from your other. Because if there’s no communication, that means there’s no connection– and you’re really just infatuated with who you think they might be, or how they treat you, rather than who he/she is.

On the flipside, sure, you can a learn a lot from others– but I guess what I’m questioning is people who seek more and more advice and wonder and wonder about what’s wrong, but still can’t get it right? If the advice route isnt’ working, the problem is that you’re having difficulty internalizing others’ theories and applying it to your unique circumstances. That’s normal for a lot of people. Because you are who you are. Some people can take advice and really make it work for them, but not everyone is like that. Again, you need to stop feeling guily about failing other peoples’ standards. Heck, maybe even this post makes you feel guilty. STOP THAT.

If the general rules don’t work for you, then stop trying to fit triangles into squares– stop being so masculine and thinking that everything can be solved with a hammer. Understand instead that if the current dialogue doesn’t help, you’ll have to start a new one: your own.

For the record, I have a great relationship with CM. I’m saying that because I want to gloat. I’m saying that because I have so many emotional, physical, economic, educational and whateverelse battlescars from building myself up to be the man who finally met her one day– and that’s how I make my end of us work. It’s only because I’ve been selfish that I can be selfless around her. I know that it sounds like this is all “me me me” but really, my point in this post is that that is just the start. The real product of it all is how I have so little to write about relationships, because I’m happy with mine.

That said, I’m really excited that she’s going to be back in Sydney tomorrow night. I’m really quite tired of trying to sleep alone, and eating frozen food. I think I’ve had enough “me” for a while, and I need her to balance things out, reconnect me to the world.