Monthly Archives: December 2008

Another Year, Another Revolution

I re-read my entire notebook for this year. I suppose I should call it a journal or a diary, but it’s less about logging my life and more about logging my notes. Semantics aside, I highly recommend keeping a journal. As Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Re-reading the notebook, which began in mid-December of 2007, allowed me to enter a state of hyper-self-awareness. I know who I am, and I know where I’ve been.

It was interesting seeing how I was an emotional wreck during April and then pulled myself out of it through asserting my agency, or focusing on what I could control.

The main theme of 2008 was “positivity.” I forced myself to focus on the positive rather than the negative. If I wanted to improve myself, I had to focus on what I did well, rather than what I did wrong. In addition, if problems arose, I had to force myself to ask, “What’s the solution?” Besides “positivity,” the other key phrase I kept seeing pop up was “solution-oriented.” Because of my focus on these related concepts, I believe I am now a better person than I was at the beginning of 2008. In fact, reading through the entries, the me of January 2008 seems like a completely different person. This is akin to reading weblog entries from several years ago; my mind used to work in a completely different fashion. My worldview at the end of the year is way different. I suppose this isn’t unsurprising for a 21 year old to change like that, but I like this version of myself way better.

I know that being an optimist does not come naturally to me. I was not born an optimist, and I was rather pessimistic at the beginning of 2007 (worried about war with Iran). I thought it would be a bad year. I was more positive at the beginning of 2008, but now the habit of positivity has been strengthened.

I learned something about “habit.” I used to throw the word around, but I didn’t really know what it meant. A habit is something that requires active management. It’s not that I have this permanent habit of positivity. I have to recommit to being a positive, solution-oriented person each and every day.

One of my resolutions was to read at least 50 books on the year. I accomplished that. I’ll give you all the list later. I’m proud of the reading that I’ve done, mostly because I’ve learned a lot from the books I’ve read. They’ve helped improve my life and my life-philosophy.

I wanted to accomplish a lot for 2008, whatever that means. I wanted concrete achievements. I once again slipped with The Chalkboard Manifesto. I mean, I updated way more consistently and started the blog, but I don’t have any profits or merchandise. It’s disappointing, but I won’t dwell on it.

Honestly, I’d much rather have what I do now than a little extra cash or popularity. I don’t really know how to explain what this “it” is. It’s a whole different way of thinking. It’s my different patterns of thought. It’s my more confident demeanor. It’s my optimism. It’s my commitment to self-improvement. It took a year to build. It took a year of great gains and big back-slides. It took a year of tiny steps backward and tiny steps forward. The end result was a revolution.

I’ll be busy over the next few days, so I’m not sure when I’ll get the chance to write what I want to do for 2009. So I’m just going to write what I can now.

For some reason, I like to name my years. I’m not quite sure when this started. Some years it’s more helpful than others. For 2009, I’m christening it the Year of Discipline. I will develop an evolving list of “Iron Laws,” which I will follow in order to make myself a more virtuous person. My conception of “virtue” extends beyond ethics. I’m going to make myself a more excellent human being. I am committed to being a better, more disciplined person by the end of the year.

I do have concerns about being too robotic. But this year, I want to make a point to take myself a little more seriously than normal. A little less of the absurd attitude. In writing, it’s better to learn and master the rules before you begin breaking them. With ethical precepts, you should first have a good moral compass before you break with certain ethical commands for a greater good. This year I err on the side of discipline rather than freedom.

The initial list will be called the “Iron Laws.” This is meant to evoke an image of them being unyielding and rigid. I’m kind of following Gracian’s idea to “let your own dictates be stricter than the precepts of any law” (aphorism 6). I’ll take this metaphor a little futher. The laws are more like swords than chains. As I smash these laws up against reality, they will chip and some will break. So although there will be discipline, I’ll still be testing and these “laws” will evolve through time — hey, kind of like real laws. The point, at first, is just to get a list started. You can’t edit what you don’t have written down, after all.

I’m also considering a list of “exercises.” I want to improve my writing and speech-making. I’ll have to commit to daily/weekly activities in order to get the necessary practice time.

I also have two resolutions which I shall not share with anyone, at this point in time.

Today is not the revolution. In fact, I won’t be able to point to a bloody day of revolution. It’ll be like 2008 with the leaps forward and backward slides. But by the end of the year, I will be a completely different person than the one who is currently writing this entry. I will be more disciplined and more virtuous, while retaining my positivity.


Well, only one final left. I’ve already written 30 pages worth of essays, and co-wrote a report for a computer programming project. I’ve barely studied for that last final too. Yeah, it’s a rough life, haha. Almost done. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Heck, it just might be beginning to look like Christmas.

I have this idea to post all of my essays from previous years on this web site. Maybe I can tell if I’ve improved or not.

Senior Bureaucrats

Note to future self:

This is why, when people ask me, “Have you gotten to [some political appointee]?” I tell them that the real goal is to network with the career bureaucrats just below and around that appointee. That’s why I love briefing SESers (senior executive service) and top-line general service players in government conferences. Give me a room of 500 of these players, and you’ve got a serious quorum of influencers.

Link: Thomas Barnett, Wrote it many times, now confirmed by research.

pen and paper technology – is that it?

I asked my friend Lance if I could reprint this note he had on facebook. He agreed, so here it is. I am a paper and pen kind of person; I would never bring a laptop to class. Yet I do agree that the way we teach and the way we test, especially, seems kind of primitive. Anyway, I still have an essay to finish. I’ll write my own comments on this later.

pen and paper technology – is that it?

As I study for my last final in school, NeuroAnatomy, I revert back to taking notes with a pen, writing bullets and key points and drawing arrows. I now realize that I only do this because it will make me pass the test. I am only allowed to be tested with the ancient tools of a pen and paper.

The test is not about whether or not I have the ability to understand concepts in NeuroAnatomy, nor is it really about NeuroAnatomy. Rather, it is about seeing if I can digest information using the tools the teacher finds most attractive, the pen and paper, and if I can represent that information using those same tools. What the hell is that? There’s not much I can show you about the brain with a pen and a piece of paper…

I have realized that I can learn anything I want and it’s definitely not a matter of passing tests. All it’s about is digesting information and piecing it together in a way that reveals a new truth about the world. And trying to create tools better than a pen and a paper to discover or recreate information.

I will do diligence in writing my notes with my pen on my lined sheets of paper because I will be tested and only allowed to use a pen and a paper. If I were only allowed to use images and conversation, I would practice communicating with other people about the answers to fabricated problems, just so I could pass that test. But let it be known, this doesn’t get me any closer to understanding “NeuroAnatomy”, it just teaches me how much better I can make it for other people learning NeuroAnatomy.

I would rather be tested by seeing if I could program an application that showed how cell signaling worked in the limbic system or how the visual system constructs images. Or to see if I could rewrite the NeuroAnatomy textbook using today’s amazing programming frameworks and Wikipedia, so that it made more sense, or to see if I could aggregate all the data on the internet about NeuroAnatomy to allow students to learn better. That would show you much more whether or not I knew NeuroAnatomy.


Ever think about how you hardly ever remember anything complex by writing it down? Some day we’ll be teachers and students won’t be using pens and paper anymore, or even a text editor on the computer which just postpones the learning problem. We need interactive and engaging experiences to really understand anything important.

Essay Regression

There was an interesting description of the useless kind of practice in Talent is Overrated. He describes a golfing session where he just hits the balls around, without any plan on what to work on. While this kind of practice can maintain a certain skill level, it is not a path for improvement.

I see the same thing with my essays. I’m just writing things, but I’m not really responding to any feedback I get. In fact, I fear my skills have regressed because I just rediscovered that I should be writing outlines.

My Current State of Mind

I was always struck by the early modern philosophers’ confidence in the process of introspection. I feel an emotion, and I am often very puzzled as to what is causing me to have that emotion. Maybe my rational mind is just unnaturally severed from my emotions. I don’t think so. I don’t even know what introspection or memory really mean. Your past self is dead, and your present self is just imagining himself as a past self. If I remember correctly from Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness, then memory often involves imagination. Yet those memories are something right? They’re not pure confabulation because they’re based on something that you remember. Anyway, even in the present moment, I often feel like a stranger looking into my own mind. There is an emotional experiencer, and then there is a rational mind trying to figure out what is going on. It really is a puzzle why I feel the way I do. I am rather sympathetic to Ryle’s formulation of one not really knowing oneself in a way different than other people know that same person. I hang out with myself all the time, so I am better able to figure out why I feel certain ways. So after this crude representation of Gilbert’s, Ryle’s, and my own thoughts, I turn to something less abstract and just tell you how I’m feeling right now. The caveat, though, is that these are mere suppositions.

I am waiting for myself to write 2 essays. I am currently at the state of mind where I am thinking, “I am this close to just saying, ‘Fuck it, I quit. Who cares about college?'” When it comes to writing essays, that’s just a normal stage of thought I go through. Honestly, it’s like the 7 stages of grief or something. I go through a certain number of stages when I have to write an essay. One of those stages includes complaining on the internet about the work I have to do. If I took the time, I could probably produce a general timeline of what happens when I do an essay. Now, I was about to say that this would be an entirely useless activity, but I’m not sure that it would be entirely useless. This year, I’ve become increasingly self-aware about my essay-writing process. I’ve been trying to stifle the griping, since I think it’s generally useless. And now, here I am editing my thoughts again, where I think that griping might actually be an essential part of my essay writing rather than a superfluous one. Hm. Nonetheless, I am still at the stage where I think this is entirely useless and wonder what the point of it is.

I can’t call that feeling merely a byproduct of the essay-writing process. I think it is a feeling that I generally have about college that is activated when I write essays. In fact, after I’m done with college, I’m going to write an essay entitled, “Thanks for nothing, you greedy bastards.”


Crazy dream:

I was walking around my old high school campus with a friend of mine. (Note: This campus was nothing like my real high school, but way to go dream logic.) We would periodically stop outside doors and just listen in to what was going on, trying to spy on the kids. Would recognize any of them?

Eventually, we walked outside, then back in another door, and found a waffle shop. It wasn’t a separate room or anything. It was just plopped in a hallway, more like a food shop that you would find in a mall. On top was a large menu of various waffle options. The counter was made of white tiles, along with a small strip of red lights. Behind the counter was just one Hispanic lady in her 40s who didn’t speak very good English.

At first, I saw an option on the menu that said “Napoleon Waffles.” I really wanted to know what type of waffle that was. When I came for a closer inspection, that item didn’t actually exist. Still, there were a wide array of mouth-watering options. Each menu option had a delicious picture of waffles smothered with different fruits and syrups. One that stood out was covered in cinnamon apples. Also, bananas and pecans. Mm. I decided against those, though, because they seemed so familiar and I wanted something new. I remembered a recent delicious trip to IHOP.

There were also some more curious, unique menu options. There were tiny, half-dollar sized waffles that were marmalade-flavored. At the counter, I also saw red waffles, about half the size of normal waffles, which were labeled “Hot!” Apparently, those were spicy waffles.

What does this dream mean? I’m pretty damn sure that the waffles are a metaphor for waffles. I am craving delicious waffles.

Link Dump

Various links I found interesting:

Huckabee Claims Civil Rights Of Gays Are Not Being Violated: They Aren’t Getting Their ‘Skulls Cracked’
This is disappointing. I’ve generally found Huckabee to be more reasonable. I seem to recall him being a voice of reason when the Jeremiah Wright issue was going full-blast. Huckabee will be on the Daily Show tonight. I hope Jon Stewart grills him.

Deficits and the Future
I should read and re-read this, so I will have a basic understanding of what’s going on. I should be able to counter those “we should stop spending” arguments.

Walesa’s Mustache, the Dalai Lama’s Smile, and Sarkozy’s Je Ne Sais Quoi
Not sure why this article caught my eye. It’s not terribly informative, nor is it particularly well-written. I do want to keep in mind that I would like to have this kind of star power when I have a political career.

After Deadline
Interesting blog from the NY Times:

After Deadline examines questions of grammar, usage and style encountered by writers and editors of The Times.

It is adapted from a weekly newsroom critique overseen by Philip B. Corbett, the deputy news editor who is also in charge of The Times’s style manual. The goal is not to chastise, but to point out recurring problems and suggest solutions.

Since most writers are likely to encounter similar troubles, we think these observations might interest general readers, too.

LeBron James “Chalk” Commercial for Nike Zoom LeBron VI
I am just loving everything about this commercial.


I had to read Book XII of Aristotle’s Metaphysics for class today. The whole thing about the heavens moving in circles came up. Apparently, the Greeks used to think that the planets and heavenly sphere (all those stars) moved in circles. This continued well throughout the Middle Ages. It was interesting how Aristotle’s metaphysics dictated how circles were so divine. I mean, to put it crudely, he thought to move perpetually, you had to move in a circle. Yet the thing is, the Scholastics during the Middle Ages would’ve rejected the metaphysical parts of that whole thing because Aristotle rules out a singular creation event. Somehow, they still thought the circles made sense though.

From our modern view, the epicycles seem silly. However, I guess it’s better to impose some sort of way of understanding the motion rather than saying that the planets just randomly wander through the sky. I just don’t understand why the circles had to be so special.

Aristotle literally thought the heavens were divine. With religion in general, it’s interesting to see how religion tries to save itself by presenting literal myths as allegory. (Well, not everyone.) I mean, the Catholic church sanctions silly “miracles” in its process of creating saints. Sorry, I just think it’s all just as crude as those divine heavenly circles.

[NOTE: Bah, I don’t like the way I’m writing at all. I really should not write late at night and leave things completely unedited. However, it’s better to have some imperfect writing out there, than to have nothing out at all. I need to create a habit.]


I keep telling myself I need to write something here in this weblog, and everytime I pull up the weblog I draw a blank. So I’m just going to write various things that come to mind. This coming week should be hellish. I basically have two big essays due next Monday. Blah, blah, who cares?

I’m really sick of my writing now, in terms of sentence structure. I need to do some exercises where I vary my sentence structure.

I’m working on changing some things about myself, and I also think I need to re-brand my online identity. I want to get a new name for this weblog. I wouldn’t delete this. In fact, I’d probably try to migrate all the old entries over to the new site. Okay, so maybe I would eventually let this domain expire, but I’d keep all the old entries. I did let expire. By the way, most of the stuff is up at

Yeah, change certain things about myself is very vague. I guess I want to be purposely vague because I’m not sure how I want to change, or if any of these experiments will work out. I do want to work on the various skills that would make me a successful politician. If you know any politicians, you should tell me. I want to ask them: “What is the most important skill to have in order to become a successful politician? Where and how can I get this skill?”

I recently read a book called Talent is Overrated. Interestly, my friend thought I was reading Gladwell’s new book Outliers. I’m not the biggest fan of Gladwell. He’s a fantastic writer, and I really admire the way he puts together anecdotes. However, I felt like Blink was mostly fluff. When it comes to non-fiction, I tend to like stuff that’s practical and can improve my everyday life. (My definition of practical probably is still more abstract than many people.) Hence why I picked up Talent is Overrated instead of Outliers when I was stuck in Chicago waiting for my delayed connecting flight. It devotes a lot to describing the process of deliberate practice. I should enumerate these but I’m rather tired so perhaps I’ll stop writing now. Or not.

I’m over 50 books on the year now. So I’ll have read more than 1 book a week by the end of the year. That’s not bad. That includes school books, but that’s so totally not cheating. I read way more during the summer than during the school year. Plus, I don’t think you can not count stuff like Crime and Punishment.

I need to become more versed in policy. I need to become an expert in some type of field. I realized that I’m pretty damn ignorant about a lot of things. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. At least I can recognize when I’m just spouting off, unlike the talking heads on cable news. I’m thinking energy policy is something good to look into. I recently read a book by a husband and wife team that seemed like a good primer on the issues. I don’t think it had enough math or science. I can understand that you’d want to make it accessible, and I think that was my original intention when I picked it up — that is, to find something easy to read for someone who doesn’t know much. Well, now I’m primed, and now I need to learn more. Plus, it was really big on biofuels (not corn).

What will be the biggest issues over the next 10 years? The next 50 years?

Okay, that’s enough unedited rambling. That should help me get back into the swing of things. Of course, weblogging is kind of about being unedited. Still, I need to be a good writer in general, not just a blogger. (No offense to blogging, but I need to augment my writing skills beyond blogging.)

No wait, one last comment. I can be pretty vicious when I criticize people’s arguments or writing. If I can apply this same standard to myself, then I’ll be a damn good writer.