Archive for March, 2011

28th March
written by Randy

I recently read an article online somewhere, written by a professional knife sharpener. Due to the nature of his job, this isn’t a guy who is going to have a blog, with weekly posts about the latest news and insights in knife sharpening. There’s just not that much to say about it, that couldn’t be summed up in one article.

He said that two simple things, above all else, could keep a sharp edge on a knife, and save people from having to pay him for his services: stop tossing your knives into a drawer, and stop putting them in the dishwasher, both of which are activities that result in the knife being banged into other objects, brutally affecting the sharp cutting edge.

I’ve been thinking about this simple advice almost obsessively for much longer than I want to admit. Why isn’t this obvious to people?

I started to see a connection, though, after recently spending an extended amount of time in Italy. I stayed in dozens of hotels across the country of Italy, and only two of them had washcloths. I wondered “without a washcloth, how does one clean himself?”

But all these hotels had soap. Soap was never forgotten. And it started to become clear that the idea was to rub the soap all over your body, as if the innate “cleanness” of the soap would magically pass on it’s “clean” properties to your skin upon contact. Absurd. (I will note that everywhere I went in Italy, people were sick, but I’m sure there’s no connection!)

This soap situation began to give me insight into the knife situation. And it also reminded me of another, similar phenomenon that I see: pills.

Pills are, frankly speaking, the most ridiculous form of witch-doctor science I can imagine. When you ingest a chemical, it first goes into your stomach, where it begins to break down. Depending on the type of pill, it may dissolve quickly and rapidly enter into the blood stream, or it may first take a detour through the small intestine where it must be broken down further. (Various types of pills are broken down by various digestive chemicals in the human body.)

Eventually, though, the chemicals in that pill are passed into the blood stream, where they are distributed to the entire body. That is, after all, how the circulatory system works, right? Or did you think that when you take a headache pill, there was some instruction set encoded on the pill that magically sent it straight to your head, bypassing the rest of your body?

This is why we have things called “side-effects,” because what you do to your body affects your whole body. Yes, sure, I know that there are some chemicals which have more notable reactions in localized places and insignificant effects everywhere else. But those are far fewer than you think.

The point is this: objects are not innately endowed with certain abilities as a result of their name. Neither are people. Calling something a knife does not magically make it a good cutting instrument. Calling something a pill does not give it the ability to cure certain things. Soap is not inherently clean.

This kind of thinking is dangerously ignorant, yet it infects our society at an alarming rate. People don’t stop at using this simplification to label knives as sharp, or soap as clean. People presume that a professional is better at something than an amateur, even thought the only difference is that one uses that activity to earn a living. People assume that because I don’t use soap I must stink, when actually they’re more likely to stink because they do use it!

“The world is not black and white,” people like to say. A knife can be dull. Soap can be dirty. A pill can cause more problems than it fixes. It’s dangerous to label things. It’s much more important to understand them.

25th March
written by Randy


Why did I decide to run a marathon this year?

Oh yeah, that’s right. I signed up because I have to conquer this thing. That’s true, I do.

Status so far? Definitely not conquered.

I have finally started running. I went out to run a few times this week, and each time, I’ve made it to around 1km before my lungs just couldn’t take any more punishment.

My body is fine. My strength is fine. My stamina is fine. (Who needs stamina for 1km?) But my lungs just can’t do it. I really hope they learn how. And soon!

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22nd March
written by Randy

This week was a major turning point in my minimalist mission. Since my return from Italy, I have removed at least one item from my closet every day. Most days more than one. After four weeks, I had amassed such a pile that it filled six large plastic bags.

And this wasn’t junk. Remember, I got rid of everything that didn’t fit or look right back in November, right after getting rid of everything white. No, in this huge pile were designer shirts, designer pants, suits, sportcoats, wool winter coats, sweaters, dress shoes…

Gosh, I had a lot of clothes! Think about that for a moment: I’ve been dumping clothes since November — that’s almost five months! I’m certainly not a hoarder, and I never thought of myself as much of a consumer, but holy cow, I had an unreasonable amount of clothing!

But think I’ve finally gotten down to a what is reasonable. Now that everything has been donated, this is all the clothes I own::

  • 2 pr of jeans
  • 1 pr of gray cotton pants
  • 2 pr dress pants (1 black, 1 gray)
  • 3 t-shirts (2 black, 1 gray)
  • 7 long-sleeve button-up shirts
  • 3 short-sleeve button-up shirts
  • 3 polo shirts
  • 1 gray sweater
  • 1 black zip-up sweater
  • 2 suits (1 black, 1 brown)
  • 1 long wool winter coat
  • 1 short nylon winter coat
  • black leather boots
  • black leather shoes
  • brown leather shoes
  • athletic shoes
  • 1 Adidas workout suit
  • 4 pr boxers
  • 4 pr socks
  • 1 pr shorts
  • 1 pr swim shorts

I suppose it’s possible that I’ve missed something, but I’m pretty certain this is everything. So if you count everything, that’s 42 items. And if you cheat the way popular internet minimalists do, you can group the underwear and group the socks and call say 34.

For now, I’m going to leave it at 42, because it’s a lucky number, and because I’ve still got things to dispose of on my bookshelf and in my desk. I know I’m still over 100. But the really exciting detail is that finally, after more than 4 months, I’m done with the topic of clothing! I may drop one or two more items, later in the year, but I can say now, without any doubt in my mind, that I have a minimalist wardrobe.

And on the topic of donating, I also donated an older laptop to someone in need of a computer. I probably could have sold it, but the money I’d have gotten wouldn’t compare to the feeling I get from helping someone. So while I was taking everything else out of the apartment at the beginning of this week, I carried that laptop off to UPS and sent it away, too.

17th March
written by Randy

I pretty much have nothing to hide. I can think of very few things that I think are too personal to share with anyone who asks. And if I think those details might be of interest or of help to someone who reads my blog(s), I don’t see any reason not to share them publicly. Because, you see, I really have nothing to hide.

The person I am online is the person I am offline. I’m not acting. I’m not pretending. I may limit the subjects I talk about to only those which seem to interest the readers of a particular blog, or the people in the group I’m standing among, but I’m not tailoring my behavior or personality to fit the crowd I’m in at any given time.

What you see is what you get.

But even though I’ve been living in this relatively open, relatively public, online manner for more than 6 years now, I never stop being surprised by the reactions of others. People discover “oh, you have another blog?” and they act is if they’ve caught me at some kind of lie, or discovered some kind of hidden secret about me. I find this reaction unbelievable, perhaps even crazy, because if it were really such a secret, it wouldn’t be online!

From time to time, people take an interest in me as a person (I can’t guess why anyone would be interested in me, but it happens) and they start digging. Oh, and there’s so much to find! I have a lot to say about language learning. I am a programmer, with lots of opinions about my career. I have plenty to say about goals and adventure. I also have a great passion for photography. I have a lot to say about photography (NSFW). And I’ve made my fair share of artistic photos (also NSFW).

I say a lot of helpful things. And also some amazingly controversial things. And some funny things. And among the right people, I also say some rather personal things. I am passionate about being phoneless. And since I have a lot of foreign friends, I also try to share some of the more interesting details about being in America.

I have done many interesting things, and there are many more interesting things I want to do in my life, and not all of them are on my bucket list. I have been to a lot of places, and there are many more places I want to go.

Wanna see me acting like a retard? I’m on YouTube. Wanna see my error-filled attempts at writing in other languages? That’s public too. So are my stupid attempts at being funny to Italians. You can see what I reading on Google. You can look at my Amazon wish list. Hell, I even share what music I’m listening to.

None of this is a secret.

It’s all right here, in the open. I don’t care if you’re a potential employer, or a potential girlfriend or wife, or just some random person who, for whatever unthinkable reason, finds me interesting — it’s all right here. I don’t hide. Judge me if you want, it’ll just save me the time I might have wasted trying to be your friend.

The only thing I do not share is other people’s business. Getting involved in my life does not automatically mean it’s open season on someone else’s life. So I won’t write about my father’s business, or my friends’ business, or my brother’s business, or (when I have one) my girlfriend’s business. That’s not my place. And if you’re one of those people, I expect you to appreciate that I keep your privacy in your hands, not mine. Don’t come to me upset because I didn’t mention you… just be glad that I left as your own issue to manage. If you want to share something, share it on your blog. I’ll happily link to it.

But me? I’m an open book. You think you’ve discovered some secret about me? I’ll bet you there’s a lot more, right there, publicly available to the world, in those links above.

What about you? Are you honest about who you are, or are you pretending, like everyone else? Do you have the balls to put your entire life online? If not, the rest assured, you don’t have any room to judge me for what you find.

9th March
written by Randy

One of the life-changing things I learned last year was to stop making lame excuses when a travel opportunity comes up. Now, when presented with an opportunity, I simply ask myself “is there any reason why I can’t go?” And as it turns out, the answer is usually no. So now I go!

I recently made a friend in Poland, who invited me to visit. Yeah, that’s pretty cool. But even more cool, is that there’s an empty second room, so that means no hotel costs. Suddenly this sounds like a very affordable trip!

So… is there any reason I can’t go? My work contract ends in a little more than two weeks. I can afford the plane ticket. And I’ve got at least five more cities to visit before my travel goal is met for the year. It’s unexpected, and early in the year, but this actually sounds perfect!

And so, I’m leaving March 30th and returning April 12th, and I’m going to see Poland, and who knows what else. Now it’s time to do some hardcare Polish language practice!

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