dal niente

Month: November, 2012

Back in School

It wasn’t a very long time off, but now I’m back.  Summer school, just one class, four saturdays from 9:00 to 17:00.  Kinda painful in some ways, but it’s nice to have it in a compact sort of way with long days, rather than spread out over several days over several weeks. Saves me time on commuting at the very least.


Today’s class is Global Issues in Competition Law & Policy.  Lets see how it goes…

Environmental Mods versus Tool Development

Every now and then, I’ll play [SiB] at a game of Baduk.  Aside from [CM], he’s the player who I’ve learned the most from over the years.  He’s still a fair bit stronger than me, and more importantly, he’s good at explaining battle concepts in understandable ways, so it’s always really useful for me to get some feedback from his about my technique.


The nice thing about Baduk is that, at least at my level, there are computer games that I can practice against (at the higher levels, apparently high level humans can quickly learn the algorithms behind AI baduk games, and easily exploit them).  That means that when I am learning a new, particular technique, I can test it out against an opponent that consistently reacts in the same way.  That gives me a lot more useful feedback than playing a human, because a human opponent will learn as I learn, and their responses will adapt to me in a range of ways from subtle to obvious.  That makes it hard for me to really quantify the changes going on in me, because I’m measuring my results against a human that is simultaneously growing.  Computer simulations help me to really test my progress with a technique inside out, because the benchmark that I’m testing my progress against will maintain consistent reactions.


I’m not someone who can do something purely for the sake of grinding at it– I need to know, at the very least, that I’m making some progress.  Note that even the concept of “grinding” in a videogame is a bit out of context here– grinding in games is a controlled envirtonment where your opponent is static, and you will notice the advantages you accrue.


What I’m getting at, in any case, is that in the pursuit of success, it’s not only important to do the work, but it’s equally important to me to make sure I set up mechanisms by which I can recognise that I’m making progress.  I consciously try, whenever taking something up, to create a model of work and learning whereby there are automatically checkpoints that I can use to quantify my progress with the matter.  After all, it’s hard to do anything when you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere– if you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, you just wonder what’s the point of even trying, and that has a huge toll on fighting spirit.


The tricky part is applying the concept to the more complicated areas of life.


The more complicated parts of life arise out of the fact that life seldom throws you exactly the same situation twice.  You seldom get to try and develop yourself in exactly the same scenario.


For example– say you haven’t found that special someone yet, and you’re still going through the process of trying to land that second date.  You might have learned all sorts of things of “dos” and “do nots” up until then, but you can’t just abide by that too strictly– it takes two to tango, and the other person you’re trying to interact with is completely different from the way things worked with people in the past.


So, when it comes to the complicated stuff, it’s not just a question of building and testing new tools. Bruce Lee, more than once, said that it’s not daily addition, but daily reduction.  What this means is that in a lot of situations, the answer isn’t always to add to your arsenal or toolbox– sometimes, it’s about making the problems themselves simpler, so they can be solved by existing tools.

Of course, there’s only so much that you can break a complicated problem into smaller ones before you just have a huge mess of disintegrated parts that make no sense.  However, going back to what I said earlier, if for no other reason, it is very important to define a problem in easier to chew pieces because at least then you know that you’re getting somewhere.  Knowing is half the battle!

The Ghost and the Shell and the Mind

So, I guess, in rereading what I just wrote– the big question is, where is my Ghost?

The Ghost and the Shell

“There are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind, like all the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure, I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others, but my thoughts and memories are unique only to me, and I carry a sense of my own destiny. Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way. All of that blends to create a mixture that forms me and gives rise to my conscience.” Mokoto Kusanagi


Last Thursday, I went to a medical imaging lab to get some x-rays and an ultrasound taken.  Nothing serious, mind you.  Or rather, nothing new.  A couple of weeks ago, I went to the university clinic to speak to a GP about the various limitations on the movement of some of my joints.  While I’ve accumulated a fair amount of damage over the years, in particular, I have a pretty bad right shoulder, left hip socket, and left ankle.

My right shoulder loses strength at certain angles.  It’s still enough to play recreational badminton with, but I don’t think that I could handle competition training anymore.  The damager here is probably due to martial arts, but it probably got much worse with the repetitive swing action of badminton over the years.

My left hip, I’m not sure where that problem came up.  To explain what’s wrong with it, imagine bringing your knee up to your chest– I can do that with my right let.  But my left knee  can’t be brought more than perpendicular to the rest of my body when I”m lying flat on my back.

My left ankle gives me pain at the surface of the joint (around my instep) when I put too much pressure on it.


Needless to say, these aren’t good problems to have when doing judo, because I don’t get to chose how I’ll be thrown.  I often have to roll or breakfall in various directions, and that often means that a lot of my joints get singled out under the weight of the rest of my body being thrown on it.  (It’s a very different sort of problem to striking, where it’s the weight of my opponent being thrown into a single strike at a single point of impact.)

Anyways, after spending about 45 minutes at the clinic a couple of weeks ago, and another 45 minutes getting x-rayed and ultrasounded a couple of days ago, I can’t help but feel that it changes some of the ideas about the way I look at existence.

Over the decades, especially when I was first starting martial arts, I’ve become increasingly aware of the connection between the physical body and the mental elements. Depending on how cynical you want to get though, you can probably translate a lot of the mental elements of existence into electrochemical processess— that’s not what I want to talk about.


In the beginning, when I started doing martial arts, it was about discovering the potential of my body.  Before I took up Jeet Kune Do, I was a weak kid– terrible at most sports and not at all athletic.  I often got bullied and I had no self confidence– those things all tied together I think.  At least, the idea that a weak body goes with a weak mind was what I used to think.


As I trained more, my body got stronger– it gave me confidence in myself.  I never realised that I could be as strong as I was.  And I’m not talking about any sense of external scale– I’m not saying I was tougher or stronger or faster than other people.  I’m saying that I could be stronger than I ever imagined as a kid.  Training throughout the years like that helped define me and my sense of growth gave me purpose in life– I wanted to get better at everything, now that I suddenly knew that I could.

And as I grew in this way, body and mind, I shifted my worldview to one where both the mind and the body could be infinitely trained.  In times of mental hardship, I would work my body– and it would pull my mind back on track by demonstrating “yes, you can do this.”  And in times where I suffered from injuries, I would pull my body back with my mind– I’d convince myself that the pain was only temporary, and that these sensations of suffering were just weakness leaving me.


I would say that over the years when my zealousness for martial arts were at their most intense, if you had asked me, my philosophy would definately say that it was all about a fluidity between my mind and my body.  The two states– one physical, and one ethereal– were inseperable.  In a sense, fighting spirit was somewhere in between– it was the intellectual challenges I placed on myself, with benchmarks of feedback and sensation provided by the body.


Nowadays though, my perception of that has changed.  The recent x-ray and u/s results enforce this new line of thought.
  I haven’t figured out a way to describe it yet, but I guess, in the end, it comes down to mortality.


Just who am I?


Am I this body? Am I this mind, and these thoughts?  If I am my body– then that might follow with the old healthcare perception of treating the physical symptoms of disease and injury.  By that standard, how alive a person is is measured on a sliding scale from  perfect physical health to death, with injury and disease in between.

The state of the body is clearly linked to who I am in my head– I limit myself in different ways based on the particularities of my physique.  I don’t, for example, enjoy the confidence of a marathon runner running a marathon, because that’s not something I can do.


But what if how alive I am is determined by what goes on in my mind?  That might follow the idea that they teach you in elementary schools, where books open up adventure and fantasy to you.


The thing is, I don’t think being alive is one or the other, mutually excuslively.  You can’t be physically in tip top condition, but be a coward, crippled by mental problems.  On the other thand, you can’t be the most brilliant mind on the planet, but be suffering from quadriplegia.


I mean, you can– but that’s not my idea of being alive.


I’m starting to think though that it’s not a combination of the two, or a mutual exclusivity of one or the other, but instead… a series of stages.  There is a gradual change in perspective as the years go on, and perhaps, those changes– the shedding of that which is no longer suitable– are what define life.


When we are babies, and when we are young, we’re idiots– but we have all our health to run around and play all day, and sleep when we’re tired.  Our lives are governed by physical rather than intellectual demands.  Then we develop an understanding of ourself and the world– sometimes, we lose touch with our physiques.  Especially around adolescence, when we’re growing in all the wrong ways that don’t make sense to us.


At that point, some people will stay the rest of their lives with a certain understanding of their personal connections between mind and body– but some others will develop that understanding further.  Depending on which way they start, they’ll probably go the other way after.


For me, the discovery that I could be physically stronger was a huge thing for me.  It wasn’t easy, but with training, I could punch, I could kick, and I could take a beating– and I could get better at it.  I could hit from different angles, and I’d see the reaction on my opponent’s face getting worse off the better I got at it.  I could ride a bike up a hill without switching down gears.  I could hit a shuttlecock with the flick of my wrist, and it would rocket to the opposite corner of the court.   Comapred to learning an activity that deals deals exclusively with intellectual applications, an activity that involves the body is an entirely different level of engagement– there’s a muscle memory in there, as if your mind itself resides in the body. 


Which makes sense– otherwise, you’d never be able to properly swing a racket at a tennis ball.  You can’t think your way through something like that– you can practice, and let your body do the calculations at a subconscious level.


The thing that changes as I get older is my understanding of the body.


You see, I used to think that my body was a lot more indespensible.  But, especially as you get injured, I’ve started to question how much of “me” is in my body.  We’ll start with the outside, for example.  When you learn to ride a bike, they say you never forget.  But that doesn’t mean that you can ride a different bike every day and feel comfortable.  When you ride one bike enough, you get a feel for it– it becomes like an extension of your body.


Once, on my way to work in the rain, I was almost killed when a car ran a red light and almost pasted me. It missed my by a few inches, and didn’t even stop afterwards, doing something like 60kmph.  It was only because I was really used to that bike (“Goldie”) that I managed to crunch on the brakes and twitch the steering just enough to avoid it getting t-boned by it.

In that way, that bike was like an extension of my body.  It had sentimental value to it as well.  Does that mean that it has a part of your soul in it though?  Is the amount of soul I have in it proportional to the sentimentality I have for it?


What if I changed the brakes?  Replaced a flat tube?  How many pieces could I replace on that bike before it is no longer the bike with my soul in it?

I retired that bike eventually, because it got badly damaged in a crash.  Does that mean a part of me died? Or is all of me that’s important carried in my mind?


In a similar way, injuries to your physical body raise similar questions.  How much of “you” is defined by your physical being?  My injuries are not to the extent that I’ve ever lost a limb– but in many ways, I’m limited in the kinds of things I can do because of my injuries.  Does that change who I am?


What kinds of questions would it raise if one day, I could get an artificial hip joint?  What if one day, I could have cybernetic parts?


And even now– I have enough command of my body that in many situations, I can ignore pain.  In a sense, my body is a tool– as much as a bicycle– and it doesn’t govern my life.  In the same way that I consider maintaining a bicycle and it’s parts, my increased understanding of my body over the years has given my body an even more accessorial role in my life.  If something doesn’t work, replace it.  If you don’t have the right tool for the job, improvise.


So where does my body stop, and where does my intellect begin?


And where is “who” I am?  Is it my body?  Or is it my intellect?  Or is somewhere in between?


Consider: how affected is the identify of someone who undergoes an amputation?  Less severely– what if you spent all your life riding that one bicycle, to the point where you feel a kinship with it– how many flat tires, broken chains, and other parts do you have to swap before you start to wonder if it is the “same” bike as it used to be?



Which brings me to a final set of  questions: is your sense of identity static?  Is it modular?

No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to DIE

Even with school out, all I’ve really managed to do with my vacation so far is go play a few days worth of video games and judo.  I’ve still got jobs and volunteer work, so that takes up a fair amount of time, and I’m a bit out of touch with pop culture.  It’s a very different way of life to college, when at least my work was in theatres so I could always keep up with what was current.


I heard the Skyfall theme sung by Adelle on the radio today for the first time.  Even though it’s a shortened version, I think it’s pretty badass.  [CM] is the one who who indtroduced me to Adelle a while back, but though I’ve listened to a few of her albums, it’s never really been my kind of music.  But Bond music?  That’s a genre in itself.  

If I had to compare, I’d say that Madonna’s Die Another Day was the other song to really stand out.  Though it was interesting, I’m a sucker for tradition.  I want the background to be saturated with a full brass and string section.  The Skyfall song has this ethereal, sinister feel to it– it has this sense of constant ebb and flow of a tide of impending something.    Die Another Day, on the other hand, was more of a techno-dancey sorta thing, and by nature didn’t really go anywhere– it was just the sort of song you’d hear at a club that you could hear at any point and it would more or less sound the same.  Skyfall definately has a lot more attitude to it.


Adelle definately has the voice and the charisma in it to carry a bond song.  I find that the backing music was okay though– it really is carried through by Adelle mostly.


If you want to hear a really bitchin Bond song?  Look up the Goldfinger theme ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51Wg6k9cWhM ) , which I think is the hands down best Bond song so far.  In that song, you hear the trumpets, the trombones, the french horns, and even the tambourine clearly trying to sell you something– it’s this picture of a moonlight small brass quartet playing in a posh riverside Cairo cafe, and the tambourine evokes some dangerous images of snake charmers and mediteranean / dessert culture when all that stuff still used to be categorically villanous.  And this is where Bond works.


I don’t know if Adelle would fit as a singer for Goldfinger, because Adelle doesn’t seem… hmm… positively cheerily bombastic enough.  She has a very different weight to her voice, like a well tuned snarl at it’s brightest and a piercing cyncism at least.  Basically, I don’t think she can make a song that ever really sounds happy.



I loved James Bond movies when I was a kid, although I never really understood the subtones of alcoholism and misogyny until I was much older.  The image of Bond wasn’t even about the suits, it was really all about the cool toys.   That was even cooler when I started watching James Bond Junior (the cartoon) everyday after school.


Once Daniel Craig came onboard, things changed a bit– there were markedly less toys than there used to be (although the in-car defribilator was one of my favourites).  But just because he’s Daniel Craig, and he’s willing to be shot and to take a shitload of abuse, I am still onboard because I like this interpretation of a rougher, up-to-his-knees kind of character.

first world problems

my work computer at the NGO only has 2 USB ports, so I have to chose between mouse, keyboard and phone

Beta Test, or be Dragged into the Street and Shot

Whoever designs enrolment and registration systems for schools should be shot.


It’s a basic concept of any type of software production that before you let the public use it (or, in the case of school registrations, force them to use it) you should get some people to try it out, and see what they thought about the way you did things.  Then, you take that feedback, and then you make changes to the interface so that there’s some connection between the functions that the programmers included and the usability by the average person.

If I have to constantly click on the help button, which refers me to external PDFs explaining how to register, and I need to keep on tabbing between browsers with student handbooks, AND if I need a piece of scrap paper to write things down on the side?  Then that means that the registration system is a piece of shit.  This isn’t the stone age– we have writing, and far from it, we have semi-intelligent algorithms.  You should be able to ask to show me a list of classes that are available, let me tick off which ones I’m interested in, and then give me a summary of ways that I can make these classes fit, or what my options are.


I should not have to be doing the legwork when I’m paying a school to teach me.  Spending a couple of hours on enrolment is not homework that I’m credited for, nor should I need to be.


I guarantee that if you took the average law school professor and told him to enrol for a full semester of courses, they wouldn’t be able to figure it out without calling the help line.


I have actually registered for a class. I did it a few weeks ago.  Today, I figured I’d try and figure out what date the class started.  It actually took me about fifteen minutes of browsing websites, including my student homepage, the school intranet, and a bunch of handbook PDFs.  That’s bullshit.  Do you hear me, school registration people? You fuckers need to get your shit together and get the fuck out of the dark ages!!  You have gone technological, because that’s cut your staffing costs, but in terms of usability, this is no better than the telephone or in-person registration systems that I used to have to deal with a decade ago.  If I have to spend 15 minutes to find out when my first day of classes is (and believe me, it’s not obvious, because several classes start at different weeks) then either you need to make this system easier so I can find things faster, or you need to walk me through this.


After the rejection from Piper Alderman, I’ve been making conscious efforts to work that dissapointment out of my head.  I’m not someone who meditates.  I know some people who do, such as [Paladin] most notably, but I think it’s just not for me.  In all fairness, I suppose I haven’t really tried all that hard at it more than a dozen times.  Maybe I should give it another go?


I am not someone who deals well with emptiness– so if there is dissapointment in my life, somehow coming to terms with it or annuling the hurt it makes doesn’t necessarily make things better for me.  The thing is, such an event takes up space in my mind and spirit– and if I were to remove it or annul it, what would happen the moment that it was gone?  There’s emptiness.


I suppose it’s not so much that I can’t get rid the symptoms of such an event.  It’s more that I don’t like the emptiness that follows after getting it over with.  The big question is “What’s next?”


Looking at my own habits, I think what I do instead of annuling that event is to substitute it with something new.  I need to draw my attention on something else, and give myself purpose.


I think that’s the worst thing about being dissapointed.  When you’re dissapointed, it’s a hard kick in the shin for your sense of purpose– you suddenly feel immobile and unable to go further.  There are two elements to dissapointment– there’s the psycho-spirituatl element of it, and then there’s the factual “reality” element of it.


The reality of most situations of dissaopintment is that we’re never as old as we think, and it’s never too late, and we always have more chances.  Basically: you can try again.


However, the psycho-spiritual element of it is a bit tougher to tweak, because of our pride.  We like to think that we get what we deserve, and, more importantly, we like to think that we deserve something just because we want it badly enough.  Truth is, good things and bad things happen to people all the time for dumb luck reasons, and that messes with our sense of entitlement.  If we can’t trust our sense of deservingness, and if we can’t trust the external world to reward our genuine efforts when we deserve something, we start to doubt the mechanics of the game and wonder if we can ever get anywhere.


Following dissapointment, that’s exactly what happens: the reality of a situation probably hasn’t changed, but our expectations on the psycho-spiritual level have taken a bad hit.

Whiel it is true that if we hadn’t put so much expectation on something, we might not be dissapointed, what fun would a world be without a sense of real accomplishment, a real sense of satisfaction when we do get what we want?  It’s a double edged sword– it’s the reason why we take so many things for granted.  The things we take for granted are the elements of life where they are simply a reality– msot of us  have no sense of “deserving” a bed to sleep in, running water, or food on the table, because these are things that we don’t need make any  psycho-spiritual investments in.  As such, we don’t really care: that stuff just is.


So it seems rather inevitable that when we want things, and we’re dissapointed, we might feel that we wish we didn’t want it, because it would hurt less.    Is that what we’re supposed to do though?


I wonder if that’s exactly what leads to a dulling of the spirit that results in people realising, one day, that life is boring.


I always tell people that my way of dealing with any sort of negative emotions is to channel it into anger.  If you can get angry, you can move on to plotting new ways of doing things.  You can move on to getting even. Not necessarily with that particular stymied goal– it could be something larger.  You can take it out on life and win something else just to spite it for ever daring to oppose you that other time.


Moments of dissapointment are good refresher courses for me.  Yes, it’d be great if I could just have “won” in the first place.  Havnig “lost,” the best thing to do is to salvage as much from the situation as possible and learn from it; apply all that in the next fight.


I’m reminded of a scene from the old Mel Gibson movie, Payback.  At some point, he gets into a car, tells his passenger to buckle up– and then puts in a mouthguard.  Then drives at full speed, and has a head on collision with another car on purpose.  Because that’s what he needed to do.


Gibson criticisms aside, there’s a parable in there somewhere.  I own like 3-4 mouthguards actually, and whenever I’m doing contact activities, I wear it.  A mouthguard prevents your upper and lower teeth from chipping eachother when you take a shot in the face, or when you grit too hard.  When you take an upwards blow in the chin, the mouthguard acts as a shock absorber, buffering some of the damage from slamming your brain against the inside walls of your skull. 


A lot of conviction in life can be analogised to putting on a mouth guard.  It means, simply, recognising that shit can go down.  You can play all your cards right but it might still not be enough.  In that case, you just need to do everything you can to prevent it from getting to your head.  You need to bite down, grit your teeth, and be ready to take a few to deal a few.


Putting a mouthguard in isn’t just addressing the harshess of reality– it also means that you’ve made a psycho-spiritual decision to accept that thigns are likely to deviate from plans.


So, that law firm internship I was going for didn’t turn out. Bummer.

On a side note, the xanga app on android is total shit.


I started reading a manga called Shin Kotaru Makaritou, which is about a japanese Karate club that decides, one day, to switch to judo.  It’s not the best manga out there (there’s no character development) but, for who they are, the characters are funny and their interactions are funny.   It reminds me a lot of Ranma 1/2.  

I mostly started reading it because I wanted a more fun way of learning the names of japanese terms being thrown around in my judo class.  However, like with many other mangas that involve people learning legendary techniques and becoming stronger, I’m getting kind of hooked on this one.


I’ve also started playing Disgaea 4 on PS3, which I find is strange– I’ve never played a Disgaea game before, although [Vittek] and [CM] both have.  My first impression was “It looks like Final Fantasy Tactics” which is true, but that’s where the similarity ends. FFT had a much more ‘strict’ feel to it– if you made certain mistakes, you could really ruin a stage.  Indeed, I actually stopped playing the FFT remake on PSP (although I’d previously beaten it on PSX, or was it PS2?) because it was once so hard that it was impossible for me to beat a certain stage that i was autosaved into, with no backup saves anywhere else– gamebreaking, I know, and a stupid mistake to make.


Anyway, Disgaea might look a lot like FFT to me, but the battle system is a hella lot larger.  The voice acting is also incredible, and the scripting is hillarious (if you’re in the mood for it).  The game also has so much depth to it, it’s mind boggling.  I think I’ve been playing this game for like 10 hours now, and the game is still making me play tutorials for things that I haven’t learned how to do yet.



CM is working on exam preparation right now, so I mostly stay around close by as “support staff.”  We take turns during exam sessions, since hers and mine aren’t at the same time.  That means that while she’s in exam mode, I do the cooking, cleaning, groceries and errands, so that she can basically exist to study.  It’s not a hard existence being a house-boyfriend, because aside from those things that I do do in that role, I’m basically playing videogames, reading, or going to judo.  But hey, that’s what summer vacation is for, right?  I would probably go to judo 5 times a week if I could, but honestly, my body can’t take more than twice per week.




This state of doing whatever I want won’t last forever– pretty soon, I’ll be starting my new job for the Germans once a week.  And hopefully, I’ll get a positive result from that clerkship with the mid tier firm, because that’ll take all the stress off the rest of my degree by removing the hunt for a grad job.  I think I’m getting better and not getting my hopes up.

When I went out 8 applications last semester and only got 1 bite, it was a crushing blow to me.  I think, however, that because I got that 1 bite, I somehow conjured up this idea in my head that I deserved to get that job more than anyone else– when in reality, my situation has nothing to do with my entitlement.


So I’ve been working on refining my expectations in life.  Perhaps, this more accurately doesn’t mean that I don’t hope for the best– it’s just that I prepare to keep trying new angles, on the assumption that I haven’t yet won.  It’s not so much that I’m working on backup plans (more applications) constantly.  I’m of the opinion that I’m qualified for these positions I’m applying for– hella more qualified than a lot of the others apply and getting in.  So what’s holding me back? Sometimes, it’s plain dumb luck.  And the basic moral of the story is that I can’t be faulted for not having great luck like some people.


As such, the simple solution is not to get into a mindset of “backup plans” or “plan N.”  That makes me feel like I’m constantly losing, or settling.


I’ve found that, rather, the better theme to follow is overkill.  Just throw fire and forget missiles, salvo after salvo, with the intention of winning everything without actually checking to see what targets you’ve actually tagged– because in the end, if you scorch the earth, it’s all your mark!