Reader’s Digest

In middle school, there was a magazine drive every year. To motivate us to sell, we were given ‘weevils’ — multicolored fuzzy pom-poms with googly eyes and stick-on feet worth exactly nothing — for each magazine subscription sold. It worked on me.

But, while I was a spoiled child able to convince my mother to subscribe, I was an utter failure outside of my house. That’s why she still has half a bookshelf full of National Geographics that we leafed through at best. They were too pretty to recycle. “We’ll read them someday.” That was more than ten years ago.

Sometimes I find a copy of Reader’s Digest under furniture or at the bottom of a box. Those I devoured cover to cover. I think my mother took the title too literally, imagining that each one contained summaries of great books that she didn’t actually want to read. They didn’t, so that ended her interest in them.

I’m not sure why I found them so fascinating, but now I think it’s because they represented what’s at the heart of White America. What does that even mean. Stories of miraculous recoveries from being coated with hot tar, heartwarming stories about giant but gentle bulls, a page of jokes sent in from military families… 20/20 on paper. Engineered to appeal to the least common denominator. Simple and sensationalist. After your heartstrings without being informative.

I was 12 and I knew that they were full of nonsense, but that didn’t stop me from reading every page. I wish I felt the same way about useful texts.

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Israel v Gaza

http://www.israelvgaza.com/

That might be the only thing needed to see that what Israel is doing cannot be called “self-defense” by anyone who is intellectually honest.

I thought Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a bit nutty, but I do agree with him on one thing: Israel should be wiped off the map. Literally. Not in a figurative “annihilate them with nuclear weapons” way. Just, it should be removed from all maps. No one in the international community should recognize Israel as a sovereign state. There should not be a Jewish state. Yes, I’m anti-Zionist. But not just that: I’m against the existence of any religious state. A religious state is an apartheid state where citizens with other beliefs are forced to live by the dominant religion. I don’t think there’s any good justification for it.

I never knew the reasoning behind the bouts of rocket fire from Hamas, but there was a recent NPR piece where the chief information officer of Hamas attempts to explain. His English isn’t great and he’s not the most eloquent, but it’s interesting to hear him say that he just wants freedom for his people and that the Palestinians have been living under siege for so long that many feel they don’t have anything to lose.

There was a protest downtown San Francisco today, but I didn’t attend. I’m skeptical about the value of marching in protests. But I’d like to do something. The most promising thing I’ve found is the BDS movement. Any other suggestions? If there’s anything I can do to get the U.S. to end its support of Israel or generally to get Israel off the map and out of the news, I’d love to hear it.

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Chamber music

Tonight I attended a performance of UCSF’s Chamber Music Society. The video is of my favorite of the pieces they played (played by not-them).

It’s transcribed from an organ piece. But I was destined to like this piece. It’s Handel. It’s a passacaglia. It’s on strings.

I was also at the SF Symphony this past weekend. The contrast between the two experiences makes me think I prefer chamber music. I don’t care for the dramatics of having dozens of musicians anyway. It isn’t the temperamental clashing that makes me feel like I have a soul. It’s the melody. The more… how shall I put this .. amabile, the better.

At this event, there were hardly any old people, as compared to the demographic of the SF Symphony’s audience. That means, no coughing or dying tainted the playing. No one was dressed especially nicely. No one had a much fancier seat than anyone else. No one was there to “see and be seen”. There were no crowds. The room wasn’t even half full, and it wasn’t even as large as the biggest lecture halls I’ve had class in. Everyone was there for the music.

It was also more personal: the musicians introduced themselves and gave brief introductions to their chosen pieces. They chose what they played for us, so even that tells us a bit about them as people. All of them were either affiliated with UCSF medical school or had jobs in unrelated sectors (like software engineering): all of the musicians were hobbyists playing for the fun of it. I got to sit close enough to see their faces. Ah, I hope for a summer full of such concerts! Let me know if you are aware of any in San Francisco, won’t you?

Oh, and for anyone who’s curious, here’s the original Handel organ passacaglia:

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100 happy days

I found out about this challenge through a Facebook friend, and decided to try it. I could end up with a fun series of photos, at least.

I’ve been doing it for almost a week, and I’ve found that it’s helped me actually do more each day, and pay more attention to things that make me smile. These are just a few so far.

Though, I realized that being happy isn’t particularly difficult for me. If a macaroon can make me happy, it’s not really a “challenge” is it? So, maybe an interesting idea would be to share something you learned every day for 100 days. A “today I learned” series, perhaps? Nothing too general or too small! Encouraging lifelong curiosity and learning is as important to me. Maybe I should try that. I guess it doesn’t lend itself as much to Instagram and social media though, so it might not have quite the viral power.

I’ll give it a go in a personal journal for now, and if I end up learning worthwhile things this way, I may write a weekly compilation in this blog. Until then, Cece says hi!

 

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Manifesto of Elliot Rodger

If you want to read it for yourself, it’s here (let me know if that link stops working).

If you’d rather read a synopsis, you’re in the right place. I read the whole thing in just a few hours. He begins at the beginning: his idyllic childhood in England. His move to the US at the age of 5. School, friends, etc. His hobbies throughout the years may sound familiar: Pokemon, Halo, skateboarding, World of Warcraft. Sounds like the average Redditor.

Strange thing is how oddly specific he is. He names parks he went to as a child. Friends from grade school by first and last name. Each nice restaurant. He calls his father’s car “the Mercedes SUV” even if he’s already mentioned it in the last sentence and could switch to using “car” with no confusion. He remembers the names of his elementary school teachers and what desserts his grandmother fed him a decade ago on holiday. His family’s lawyer claims he had high functioning form of Asperger’s.

What was really interesting about him is that he didn’t hate women. Not really. He desperately wanted a girlfriend (a tall, skinny blonde, of course), but no girls ever talked to him. He was also obsessed with material things: clothes, mansion, car, hair, having lots of money. His logic was that he could only attract (deserve?) the sort of girl he wanted if he had millions of dollars and fancy cars. And his conclusion was that he needed to win the lottery, since that was the only quick way to get the kind of money he needed to attract his pretty blondes. He spent thousands on the lottery, but only after using the ideas found in The Secret (ie, picturing himself winning the lottery over and over again).

It’s funny that he couldn’t see his own contradictions at all. He spoke of the men who managed to sleep with the girls he so desperately wanted. He called them slobs. He said they were barbaric. Low class. Ugly. Poor. Then why would he, Elliot, need fancy cars and many millions to attract the same girls?

The killing spree was, in his mind, revenge on sexually active men for getting what he never had, and on women, for denying him sex and love, which he believed he deserved more than other men. He started out just being angry when he saw couples. Then he had a phase where he would spill his drink on happy couples. There is, perhaps, some amusing Freudian analysis to be made here — dousing coveted blonde beauties in liquids… I giggled a little when I read this because it sounds so childish. “He’s got what I want so I know! I’ll pour my drink on them!”

He does make one point which I think has some merit:

Women should not have the right to choose who to mate with. That choice should be made for them by civilized men of
intelligence. If women had the freedom to choose which men to mate with, like they do today, they would breed with stupid, degenerate men, which would only produce stupid, degenerate offspring. This in turn would hinder the advancement of humanity. Not only hinder it, but devolve humanity completely.

Though, personally, I wouldn’t restrict it to women. Rather, most people aren’t doing a great job  of choosing mates. If they were, at least half of the population wouldn’t be breeding at all (everyone with IQ below median should find themselves un-mate-able if people were making good choices).

All in all, the case of Elliot Rodger makes me sad. He grew up extremely privileged and wealthy. He visited 6 different countries before the age of 5 and would go on to have many lengthy international holidays. He attended film premieres, mingled with the Hollywood elite and their offspring, got basically everything he ever asked his mother for. Yet, he was unhappy. He wanted his mother to re-marry: someone even wealthier, because he thought it would solve all his problems. Where on earth did he get the idea that more money would fix things? Oh, right, this is America. Of course. It’s the only thing that matters here. More generally, I think we can all find a shadow of this in our own lives: we focus most of our attention on the one thing we don’t have, becoming unable to enjoy the rest.

I’m sad because he was smart. The people he killed, they were probably smart too. Why don’t we ever hear about the San Francisco homeless population massacring one another? Entire prison populations having a shank orgy resulting in the deaths of hundreds of violent offenders? Now that might actually be useful! But this, these. These deaths are a pity.

From his writing, I can tell that he was a sweet, thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent boy. His only downfall was caring so much about what others thought of him: having rigid ideas of success and worthwhileness, all of it validated only externally. As fiction, his Manifesto would’ve been one of the most brilliant books I’ve ever read. It’s better than Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.

I’ve spoken to two people about him, and both have said “He’s really cute!” or something along those lines. I think the true tragedy here is that maybe he was so shy that girls who would’ve been interested interpreted his behavior as disinterest.

Here’s a much more thorough synopsis of Elliot Rodger from Mashable.

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Pinecone Research Western Union scam

First, note that this scam is not actually run by Pinecone Research, which is a reputable paid survey site. Did you receive an email that looks something like this?

I looked at the sender, and it was spoofed very well, as “scott@pineconeresearch.com”. I almost fell for it because I have been a mystery shopper in the past, and I’ve been offered what I thought to be ridiculous sums to do shops ($75 for a Greyhound bus shop, for example).

Here’s the tipoff though. When you click the link, it takes you somewhere other than the domain “https://www.pineconeresearch.com”. In my case it was “http://www.pinecone-research.global-overloads.com/m/ios/a/a.html” where the details were explained: classic check-cashing fraud. They’ll send a check in the mail, which I cash, keep some for myself, then wire the rest via Western Union to someone else. Sure. Here’s what that page might look like:

Below that you simply give them a mailing address and they send you a nice (fake) check to cash. But you’re too smart for that, you did a quick search before giving them any information and you found this. Good for you! Need extra proof that this “survey” is too good to be true? There’s a page on the real Pinecone Research website warning people about it. Sorry to be the bringer of bad news, but at least you didn’t lose any money, right?

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No-poo

Perhaps there is an argument to be made that I shouldn’t encourage dirty engineers and dirty French people to be even dirtier. But the no-poo movement is too good not to share.

First, what is it? The theory is that shampoo strips hair of natural oils, making your scalp produce more oil than it otherwise would. Which makes it necessary to use more shampoo, usually in a day or two just to keep that oily, clumpy feeling away. To prevent this, the no-poo movement advises switching to baking soda then eventually washing hair with just water.

I was also skeptical at first. But let’s be honest: I’m lazy and the idea of washing my hair once every two weeks instead of every other day or so was extremely appealing. I didn’t want to mention it until I was sure it was going to work for me, and now I’m sure. I’ve been doing it for over two years and I usually go 3 weeks to a month between hair washings. No one seems to notice. My hair actually looks better, if anything.

If you want to give it a try, there are many tutorials online, but I find that it’s not a fussy regime. For example, I don’t even measure. I just scoop what I’d estimate to be about 2 teaspoons of baking soda into a handy wash bottle like this (available for about $6):

Fill it up with water, shake it well, then baste my scalp with the solution. I then use a shampoo brush to make sure everything is thoroughly distributed. Mine is shaped like an octopus, but one like this I’m sure would also work (you can get it for $5):

That’s it! A standard box of baking soda costs less than $1 and lasts me over a year. I don’t have to wash my hair more than once a month or so.

Oh, and I also have a bristle brush to help distribute the scalp oils to the rest of my hair. Mine is ridiculously expensive, but I love it. A much more reasonable alternative sells for around $7.50:

Really, none of these things are even strictly necessary. They just make the experience more convenient for me. There are many resources online, and entire blogs dedicated to it. But if you’re sick of feeling forced to wash your hair every day, this may be perfect for you. Just try! I’m sure you’ve got a box of baking soda somewhere in your kitchen…

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Kitten season at Animal Care and Control

I volunteer at San Francisco Animal Care and Control with the cats, and it’s like a free spa day. Nothing’s more relaxing than having a purring kitten in your arms. Interested? The next orientation is on June 14. More info on the SFACC website. It’s getting into the height of kitten season so we could sure use your help.

If you don’t have time or live far away, you can help out by donating something from their Amazon wishlist.

If you’re interested in adopting, you couldn’t have chosen a better time! Next weekend, May 31-June 1 is a special annual event in San Francisco: Maddie’s Pet Adoption Days, when all adoptions are free.

When I volunteer, I can hang out with fluffballs like this:

 

 

You may think that a volunteer has to do things like clean cages or mop floors, but it isn’t true. All you have to do is come in and cuddle with kittens like this:

 

 

Otherwise they just hang out in their cages all day and are very sad. And bored. Look at those eyes. How can you resist?

 

 

Many are cuddlebugs…

 

 

 

 

… who will literally fall asleep on you

 

 

And many are models, who like to lounge close by and bask in your company.

Of course, there are also older cats. They’re calmer, everlasting purrboxes. Here are a couple who wanted to curl up in my lap forever

 

 

 

And of course, I can’t forget to mention, my very own kitten came from SF ACC just about a year ago. The little weirdo purrs when she gets her nails trimmed and lays down only where it’s inconvenient for you. You want a cat just like her don’t you?

En bref:
volunteer
donate
adopt

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A life worth living

Believe me, I am not an expert on this. What I realised about  year ago while working for a startup was that somehow, despite earning more money than I ever had in my life, being able to buy just about anything I wanted and having plenty of opportunities to socialize with my quirky, crazy-brilliant friends, I didn’t really think my life was worth living.

Everything was a dark grey, especially on Sunday night. Worse on Monday morning. Dread filled me. But it was confusing. My income was above the 95th percentile for my age group. I had a boyfriend (a very good person!) I had been dating for a couple of years. Everything looked excellent on paper. Who was I not to be happy? On top of everything, guilt. So many people had it worse than me. What did I even want?

I wanted a life worth living. But I made the mistake of using everyone else’s definition. I never asked myself the question “what do I want” because I assumed that having what everyone else wants for should make me happy too. Wrong.

There is a story I’ve read in passing: a professor presents a container filled with rocks and asks his students if it’s full. “Yes,” they respond. He then pours pebbles in, until the spaces between the rocks are filled too. He asks again. They respond “yes” again. He repeats this twice more, with sand, then water. The point of his demonstration is that if he had done this exercise in any other order, not everything would fit. This story has been used as a metaphor for life: what we put in first should be of primary importance to us.

That was my mistake. The things I spent the most time on were the things I valued the least: my job, Tumblr, playing flash games on Facebook, watching TV shows. The latter 3 made time pass more quickly. But there was nothing I was looking forward to… I was squandering time until my eventual death, I suppose.

I hesitate to tell you my conclusions because I’m sure they won’t be yours. The point is that you have to ask yourself what the rocks are. What are the most important things in your life? It may be counterintuitive, but you probably don’t treat them that way. Suppose you’re a math graduate student (this was once my story) and you have obligations in decreasing importance to you: your research, studying for your quals, your homework, and your teaching obligations. However, the less important something is to you, the more urgent the deadlines are, so you spend time doing those things first and neglect the more important things.

Life is similar! It maybe be extremely important that you paint or write or travel, but none of those things have “urgent” deadlines. So you put them off, sometimes forever. Meanwhile, what gets your attention? That work email to fix a build. Doing the laundry. Once you’ve taken care of all the things you have to do now, you’re too drained to even think about reading Dostoyevsky or practicing Liebestraum on the piano, so you end up playing Candy Crush with the rest of your time.

tl;dr — the first step in having a life worth living is figuring out what is important to you.

North Beach at sunset, before cioppino at Sotto Mare

For me, of course, it’s the Bohemian ideals. Perhaps they’ll each get their own entry one day: Truth, Beauty, Freedom (and above all else) Love.

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How to get out of paying an auto-added gratuity

You and 5 of your friends go to a restaurant for dinner. Service is lacking: the waiter bumbles the order, 2 people go the entire meal without seeing their food, you wait 10 minutes just for your drinks, and yet the waiter has time to chat with his buddies. When your friend with nut allergies almost chokes to death at the table because there were peanuts in his dish even though he specifically said he was allergic to nuts, the waiter doesn’t even comp the meal.

Then the bill arrives and there’s an 18% gratuity tacked on. You try to complain to the manager about the lacking service, but all up and down the line you only hear “that is restaurant policy.” What can you do? I’ve done this, and it works.

1. Cross out the line with the gratuity

2. Pay with a credit card

3. Take a picture of the receipt

Of course, the service doesn’t have to be egregious. If you, for whatever reason, don’t believe that the server deserves an 18% gratuity, you can’t be forced to pay it. Why? Your credit card company owes no allegiance to the restaurant, but makes money off every transaction you make. Whose side will Chase bank take? Yours!

If the restaurant runs the bill through with the auto-added gratuity, simply dispute the charge with your credit card company and email them a photo of the receipt. You can also elaborate on the circumstances, but the credit card company cares about your happiness. The merchant won’t stop taking Visa, but you have dozens of different banks eager for your business, so you are at an advantage.

I think too few people know about this, and they think they have to pay up because it says so right there on the menu. Waiters may also tend to neglect bigger groups because they have a guaranteed tip. Don’t be bullied by restaurant policy: the automatic gratuities can’t be enforced. More importantly, they won’t be enforced by your credit card company.

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