I’ve talked about this in a slightly different form before, but I’m a firm believer in the value of rest. There are obviously many scientific studies that show the effect of rest on both physical and mental well-being with everything from the rebuilding and repair of muscle tissue to the development of synapses in the brain. It’s an obvious need that we all have as humans.

However, although most humans get some sort of routine of sleep at night and take some amount of rest from normal work activities, I’d like to suggest that you challenge yourself on how you rest. My hypothesis is that many people can gain a significant amount of improvement specifically in their mental and creative capacity through a more intentional application of rest.

Our world is busy and hectic. I’m sure that humans have said this since the dawn of time. When the first nomadic tribes started using horses instead of just walking, I’m sure there was some naysayer in desert garb who said “Our lives are so BUSY now — we have to take care of horses now in addition to everything else.” I don’t mean to suggest that we’re unique in having busy and hectic lives. I think that many, if not most cultures have felt similarly in the past. However, I’m suggesting that we attempt to enjoy our life by avoiding both the temptation to muscle our way through it or to run away from it. It doesn’t matter what it is that makes us busy or what it is that makes our days feel hectic, we need to set apart time to retract from this without completely giving up.


I am a Christian and I do believe that prayer is a powerful and meaningful “retreat” that is, in itself, a form of rest. Christian prayer is the idea of direct communication with a loving God who we claim as our father. However, for Christians or non-Christians alike, I believe that there is an additional rest or retreat that is valuable.

First off, I’m guessing that most readers at this point will make the assumption that I will now talk about “shutting off the cell phone” or “logging off of Facebook” or “turning of the TV”. These are all commonly called for activities. The idea that somehow retreating from technology will solve our problems. What I’m suggesting isn’t necessarily in conflict with that, but I believe it’s far more purposeful. Technology does not make our lives meaningless or boring or depressing or hectic. However, any technology that we use day-in and day-out is something that we should take a break from periodically. If you do not use a computer except on the weekends, I think the idea that you should “take a break” from using it is a little silly.

The purpose of rest and retreat is to allow for a certain sort of healing and recovery. Just as with muscles, we do need an opportunity to not use technology if we expect to be better in using it in the future. We need to identify areas where we can be “mentally muscle-bound”. These are areas where we have developed skills or abilities that are perhaps not well balanced or contrasted with other skills that are being ignored.

For whatever reason, our brains have the strange ability to compensate for senses that are unavailable. Although most people will initially stumble and have trouble operating completely in the dark (as if they are totally blind), over time, the other sense can be honed to fill in a large part of the gap that eyesight previously provided. It seems natural to me that the same applies in other skills and abilities. We should ensure that we are not reliant on one “sense” so much that we are helpless when it becomes unavailable. By “sense” here, I mean some piece of technology, some ability, some tool, some technique. If the only way we typically communicate is through writing an email, we should consider taking a break from email in order to hone our ability to communicate in other mediums. If we are used to reading relatively short articles or blurbs of information (such as blog posts and mainstream media articles) we should take a break to focus on our ability to dig deep into lengthy and complex works.

Self-improvement involves constant analysis of where we are. Be aware of what you do often, and what you do infrequently and when possible, take breaks that allow you to hone those skills or those areas where you feel you’ve fallen out of practice or familiarity.

And when you need it, never think twice about taking a nap. We all need rest.


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Since just a few days after the New Year, I’ve been on a new diet. Thus far, it’s been a success in the sort of way that I think all good diets should be:

  • I have been losing weight at a fairly consistent rate (about 2lbs per week on average)
  • My energy levels are the same or higher than before the diet started
  • I do not constantly crave or fantasize about food
  • I can feel and notice an increase in my stamina as I exercise

Some diets I’ve tried in the past have resulted in rapid weight loss (maybe 4-5lbs a week) but I was unable to stay on them consistently. It felt like like a type of torture and every day was horrible. I felt tired and weak, I constantly thought about food, and I just struggled every day. This was especially the case for the Atkin’s diet. In one case (many years back), I was able to lose a substantial amount of weight over about 3 months, but the weight came back pretty quickly within a year.

So what is my diet? It doesn’t exactly have a name. It incorporates elements of the Atkin’s diet, some of the grain-free stuff, and intermittent fasting — basically, whatever I’ve found works for me. Here are the basic rules:

  • Don’t eat before 10am.
  • Don’t eat after 2pm.
  • Minimize processed foods and sugars
  • Minimize wheat (and grains overall)
  • Mostly focus on protein — no need to avoid fat from meat sources
  • Eat slowly and stop when I feel full
  • Eat meals, not snacks during this time (two small meals at say 10am and 1:45pm are fine, but avoid grazing)
  • Lots of water
  • Nothing with artificial sweeteners
  • Coffee, tea, other non-caloric drinks are fine outside of the “eating hours”

This is the basic set of rules. I do make a few adjustments to this core set of rules. The adjustments are really to cover social situations where diets make social interactions frustrating or awkward. Eating with family and friends is a wonderful and enjoyable social experience, and I don’t think that a diet should force that part of our life to be radically altered.

  • No more than once a week, I can shift the times from 10am-2pm to 5pm-7pm provided I go to bed after 11pm.
  • I have diet break days (where really anything goes) once a month (on average). This allows me to participate in things like holiday celebrations and birthdays with the family.
  • Once a week, I allow myself a small amount of alcohol (whiskey, wine, cidar — I try to stay away from beer) in the evening provided I go to bed after 11pm.

The social “adaptations” to this diet are not required, they’re simply there to allow me to feel a little more human with other people. It’s not as if I have to shift my schedule, or have a drink with friends, or even have a break day. In fact, I’ve found that on this diet, that I usually really restrain myself in these situations. It gives me the flexibility to not be the one guy who never has a glass of wine. But if I’m really not feeling like some, I can (and sometimes do) skip.

I’ve lost about 22lbs so far.

I previously had a number of issues related to diet:

  • Constant or increasing weight
  • Back pain almost every morning
  • Trouble sleeping at night (sometimes)
  • Lethargy in the afternoon/evenings
  • Symptoms like those of IBS

These are basically gone.

The one change in my habits is that I sometimes do take an afternoon nap. I sometimes do feel a little tired about an hour or two after eating my mid-day meal. Also, mentally, I feel that it’s quite helpful to nap for 30 minutes to an hour each day.

This diet works for me. I am not saying that this diet will work for you. I believe that one of the main problems with diets in general is that human bodies are very different and it’s difficult to find something that works particularly well for just YOU.

A quick note about the statement about grains. I’m not a “gluten-free” person, nor do I think all people ought or should avoid grains. However, from my own anecdotal evidence, it seems I do better without grains in general. Rice is the best for me — I can handle that pretty well. Quinoa also seems OK. I mostly avoid corn, but I have it in small amounts sometimes. Wheat seems to cause the most trouble for me. But oddly, not in all forms. For example, tortillas seem fine in most cases. In general, it seems like the puffier the bread, the worse it is for me. Those sourdough loaves or the sandwich bread at Subway are the worst. It may be that I’m actually sensitive to a preservative or something related to yeast, but I’m not really sure.

I think it’s a good idea to spend time learning about what works well for your body in particular — not just reading books, but experimenting on yourself. What can you handle and what can’t you handle? How do different types of foods make you feel? Reading books and doing research is good, but ultimately, it’s about what works for you physically (so you can feel good) and what works mentally (so you can stay on your diet).



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Self-confidence can be a great thing, so long as you are truly capable of those things that you are confident about.

Feeling good about your own abilities can be very powerful. And correspondingly, lack of self-esteem can be a real problem. We ought to be confident with others when we’re dealing with things that we are experts on. If we are a successful business-person, we should feel confident about talking about how our business runs and how we got it to where it is.

Feeling as if our own opinion is intrinsically worth less than others is definitely an issue and I’m sure many people struggle with it. But I think that overall our culture struggles much more with misplaced self-confidence than with a self-esteem problem.

Children are often taught that their work is excellent, even when it’s really not when compared to their peers. They are taught that they are incredibly smart, when they really aren’t.

The word “excellent” should really mean something different than “good”. If I have a good employee, I mean that he performs his duties well and does a good job. This does not make him excellent. Excellent implies that he truly stands out among employees as a particularly exceptional character.

In my company, as in many companies, we have annual performance reviews. During these reviews, our manager assigned a nProud!umber between 1 and 5 that indicates our performance for the year. I had one manager who consistently gave 4 and 5 ratings to all his staff. His explanation was that “we only hire the best and the brightest, and you all are exceptional employees”. This really isn’t the point of the evaluation. The point is to show which employee or employees from the larger set of all employees truly are exceptional. Most employees should probably be given a 3 rating — the description next to this number indicates that an employee with a 3 rating “consistently performs his duties as assigned and meets deadlines” (or something to that effect). In reality, that describes most good workers. People that you want to stay with the company forever if possible and that are a delight to work with and spend time with.

To make everyone special is to make no one special. The point of lifting some people up as experts in their field, or people deserving of honor and reward, is because they truly outshine those around them.

But to take this back into the realm of self-confidence, I think that far too many people in the modern believe that they have amazing “skills” when really their skill is mediocre at best. Consider those who have written some code in their life. Programming has become a very common auxilliary task for many professions. People who work with computers in various fields find it useful to spend some time writing code of some sort to automate, or simplify, or reduce complexity in their ordinary jobs. This is great for them, but they are not experts in most cases.

I’m here to burst some bubbles. Spending a few hours, or a few days, or even a few weeks learning a new skill does not make you an expert. Furthermore, going to a university for an undergraduate degree, or even a graduate degree, does not make you an expert. Even spending years of your life exercising a skill does not make you an expert.

Let me explain what I mean by an analogy: Playing the piano is a lot of fun. Many people enjoy it and many people are even good at it. There are very few experts. I cannot simply become an expert because I practice each day or because I go to an expensive school or because I buy expensive pianos.

Becoming an expert at something is a combination of the effort that you put into a skill and the inherent talent that you possess for that skill.

Keep in mind, it’s not enough to just spend time with something. Some people will never excel at something even if they are passionate about it. I’ve read books by authors who have written for over 40 years whose books are still drivel. I’ve seen construction work done by people with years of experience in a variety of contracting work that’s still awful. I’ve seen software that’s written by veterans of coding who had to punch out their code on ancient computer systems that’s simply terrible.

I’d encourage the following:

  1. Don’t expect people to respect you and your work because you were educated in a particular field. Having an MBA does not mean you know how to run a business.
  2. Don’t think that because you work in an industry, you are therefore an expert in that industry. There are far too many people in jobs that they are lucky to have, and really aren’t qualified for.
  3. Critique the praise you receive. Are they simply flattering you because you can do something for them? Are they ignorant of your actual skills? Simply because many people praise your abilities, does not mean that you are exceptionally good at what you do.

But, you might ask, what’s the point of being all negative about your own abilities? Am I just being a killjoy that encourages morbid introspection and wants you to run yourself down professionally?

I think the best answer is that you cannot become an expert at something when you already believe you are one. We learn best from our failures. The smartest people I know are people who are painfully aware of many areas where they lack knowledge and ability. They actively pursue these areas and attempt to fill gaps where they know they are less than they can be. They become experts in part because of their own innate talent, but also because of their dogged determination.

So be humble. Never assume you are the smartest person in the room. Never talk down to others when they share an idea. Be ready to learn from anyone. Sure, there will be idiots that you interact with in life and people that rapidly show themselves to be ignorant of areas that you are very knowledgeable about. You certainly are smarter than some people. But if you start with the idea that you are very smart, very experienced, and very wise, you’re very likely to get to no smarter, no more experienced, and no wiser through your interactions with others.

Also, it’s just annoying.

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Stopping by the Medicine Cabinet on a Winter Night

“Whose Tylenol is this?” I say.

It isn’t mine – ran out today

They will not care, nor even hear

I pop the top without delay


My hoarse throat’s longing for a beer

There’s still a ringing in my ear

And on my face, burning with heat

There streams an undesired tear


A chill runs from my head to feet

I scurry back to bed tout suite

The hot and oscillating sweep

Of bedside heater warms my sheet


I try to rest — try counting sheep

But all I want to do is weep

And still the coughs keep me from sleep,

And still the coughs keep me from sleep.


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Top 10 Things We Should be Informed About

I saw some recent Quora posts about the “Top 10 things that we should be informed about“. The responses were mostly depressing. There is some good content and information that could be gleaned from what was said, but most of it seemed either obvious or somewhat worthless.

Many of the items people mentioned sounded like the cryptic scribblings of a self-help guru:

  • Happiness is a conscious choice
  • Right here, right now. Mindfulness extends life infinitely
  • Self-awareness is the lubricant to all social friction
  • You both need and don’t need other people

They were sometimes self-centered:

  • Know how to talk to rich people
  • If you cannot picture your life partner making you laugh 50 years from now, bail out

Some just seemed to be a sounding-board for chips on shoulders:

  • The best way to judge any religion or sect is to observe countries that it has dominated for at least a century
  • No matter what you do, you will never be able to fix your parent’s problems
  • If you don’t get into university or if it’s just that you don’t want to go, don’t sweat it
  • Being Average is OK

Some lists were at least more focused on the conventional wisdom of the day and were trying to emphasize the importance of virtues of some sort at least in a humanistic framework:

  • Your health, not just now but in the future is critical. Take care of it.
  • Honesty, integrity, reliability, decency, kindness, and the like, should  become givens in your life where others can easily see them.
  • Understand the power of science

Here is my list. I realize that this list is somewhat arbitrary and could of course be different if I were to have written this 5 years ago, 5 years in the future or even next week:

  1. Seek wisdom, but understand that although knowledge is important, it is not the same as wisdom
  2. Do good, but realize that doing good does not make you or the world a better place by itself, but you should still do it
  3. Love people, but know that loving is not the same as agreeing with
  4. Pursue truth, but realize that although truth is objective, how one believes things to be true is interpreted individually
  5. Respect authority, but be willing to stand up to it when it is wrong
  6. Live for God’s glory, but be aware that you will always be fighting the temptation to replace God with yourself
  7. Help others, but not because you ever expect them to help you
  8. Question your motives, but don’t be paralyzed by your imperfections
  9. Defend the defenseless and stand up against injustice and evil, but realize that many who you join forces with are doing so for bad or selfish reasons
  10. Determining your own success should consider not just this life you live now but more importantly, eternity

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The Bunker [writing snippet]

“But where does it end?” Asked the child patiently. He was a young boy — somewhere between 6 and 7 years old and still full of wonder and curiosity.

“What if I told you it went on and on for ever?” I said.

“Well — nothing can go on and on forever… It has to have an end somewhere.”

“What about space?” I asked, “If you go in a spaceship away from the sun, will you eventually get to the edge of something?”

The boy rolled his eyes, “But that’s different… This is just a tunnel”.

“Well, it’s a long tunnel but if you must know Derek, it ends about 3 kilometers from here in another chamber  much like this one.” The room we were standing in now was quite large — maybe 40 to 50 feet tall and a little wider. From where we stood, it basically looked as long as it was wide. One side of the room was an iron gate through which we had just entered, and the other side of the room tapered down into a vestibule and a long corridor shot off straight north of our present location. It was this passage that Derek was staring down now. And it was a bit strange. The dimensions were perfect. From where we stood, with our flashlights in hand, it was a perfectly straight line down the tunnel. The light only carried so far and limited how far we could see, but the effect of the perfectly square cut walls of the channel resulted in an effect that seemed too real to be real. I guessed it was because I was used to thinking of underground tunnels like this in terms of sewers or ancient catacombs — functional structures and ones made with imperfect tools. But this was no sewer or catacomb. We were currently standing in a service entry to one of the most extensive bunker complexes in the world.

“How long is a kilometer?” Derek piped in, interrupting my thoughts.

“Well, it’s like a mile, but shorter.”

“Well if it’s like a mile, why not just say a mile?” asked the curious Derek.

“Mainly because the rest of the world has got used to using kilometers and is asking us why we don’t just use them”, I parried.

“Well, everyone knows how long a mile is”, he responded. “If I walked to school, I’d have to walk one and a half miles. A mile is long but you can walk that far if you need to.”

“The main reason, actually, is because the units are hard to work with.” Derek just looked at me blankly. “The units that we use for a mile are hard to convert to other units. Do you know how many feet make a mile?” I asked.

“A lot — over 5,000 I think”

“Right — it’s actually 5,280 feet in each mile. And there are 12 inches in each foot.” Those are hard numbers to work with. With kilometers, they measure it to be exactly 1,000 meters. And 1 meter is exactly 100 centimeters, and each centimeter is exactly 10 millimeters. It’s easy because everything is divisible by ten”. I was starting to feel a little pedantic.

“But why is it harder to remember 5,280 instead of 1,000? They’re both just numbers and they’re both pretty big. Why is it easier just because everything has a ten in it?” asked Derek.

“I don’t know — I guess our brains just can handle it more easily. So for example, it’s harder to multiple 5,280 by 12 compared to multiplying 1,000 by 10.” I said, somewhat unsure I wanted to into detail of why multiplication by the radix of any numeral system was inherently easier. I wondered suddenly if the ancient Babylonians with their base 60 system or perhaps the Mayans with their base 20 system would feel uncomfortable trying to multiply 100 by 100. It sounded weird that they would. Stupid Babylonians. It’s there fault we’re still stuck with 360 degrees in a circle and 60 minutes in an hour.

“I guess that makes sense.” Derek said, jolting me back to the present, “But it doesn’t really help me because I still don’t really know what a kilometer is” he said, somewhat sadly.

“You and 300 million Americans.” I said, glumly.

Just to the left of the long corridor, on the concrete wall was a very large painted number indicating “27”. According to the map that I had been looking at all morning, that was good — service entrance 27 was what we were trying to find and it had actually been fairly easy to get this far.

I was a little surprised by the lack of any sort of security features. There were no visible locks, or mechanisms to restrict entry, no electronics visible of any kind. The iron gate to enter had been shut, but it was held simply by a latch to prevent it from swinging in the wind and probably to keep debris and larger animals from getting in and making a mess. Everywhere I looked, all I saw visible was expertly finished concrete walls.

“Well we better get going. You lead the way Derek.”

Derek already had his flashlight at the ready and he eagerly moved forward toward the corridor. “Let’s do some exploring!” he said with a big goofy smile.


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How do we really enjoy?

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.

Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might,for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

-Ecclesiastes 9.7-10

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

-Ecclesiastes 3.9-13


Good Drink

I don’t take this to be instructions to live a hedonistic life. Nor do I typically like extracting only PART of the massive wisdom  found in Ecclesiastes and trying to make a one-sided point out of it. The whole book definitely has context and these excerpts certainly need to be taken in context.

However, I do sometimes feel that I struggle in one of two ways:

1) Angry, bitter, and frustrated, I fight to “keep the course” and do what I know to be right — I take no time to enjoy, I just keep plugging along. I want to work hard but it’s all about what I need to do.

2) I give up and turn to escapism and for at least certain periods of time, I have a real apathy towards God

Both are inappropriate responses. The goodness of God is great. Work and the satisfaction that comes from good work, building relationships, and enjoying the fruit of hard work is not something that we should feel guilty about basking in and enjoying. This is God’s gift to man and it’s following in the pattern of God — he delights in his creation. And yet, we are also not to be turning away from our work or what we know to be right and short-circuit to the enjoyment of things that we didn’t work for.

It’s not about what we deserve, it’s having the ability to recognize the gifts that we have been given by a loving Father (good work, loving family, adoring wife, skills to share with others, etc.) and truly enjoy them.

Here’s to hoping that in 2014 I can apply these things in my life.

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I have a modest proposal for the state legislature: I think we should pass a law that requires doctors to wear a little badge on their shirt that says “Unclean” if they fail to wash their hands at least 12 times per day. Washing your hands is good! It’s almost free! And any doctor who doesn’t comply with the law is obviously evil for failing to meet our arbitrary standards. Doctors will probably object to this because it’s silly and also because any doctor who doesn’t meet the requirement (regardless of their reason) will look really bad with an “Unclean” badge on their shirt, but that’s not really important because after all they’re evil (see above). It’s our right to have doctors with clean hands!

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Polyphylla decemlineata

10 Lined June Beetle

Polyphylla decemlineata or the Ten-lined June beetle is an interesting little beetle. Patrick saw one of these at school (and later one at home in the backyard) and was intrigued. After digging around on the Internet and searching through quite a few varieties of beetles, we finally identified it. The one we saw did not appear to have such large antennae as some of these specimens (or perhaps they just weren’t unfurled). Ours looked a bit more like the picture on the left.

These things can get kind of large for a beetle and apparently they make a hissing sound if disturbed (although we didn’t try).

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Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled thingsYellowstone in the morning For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings’
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers forth whose beauty is past change;
Praise Him.

Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins

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