A Post!

Yes, the long neglected Portland blog. In which I describe the experience of living in Portland. Hmmm.

Well as it stands I think I have to shift the theme a bit – or at least my perception of it – since at this point the oddness of Portland is well known to all (thanks primarily to the show Portlandia)

No, for all the fanfare about its eccentricities, the main thing about Portland for me is that it’s just a nice place to live: mild weather, interesting folks, affordable rent and sundries, good food, bike-able, walk-able, fun…there’s nothing particularly “Portland-y” about my daily life, except perhaps how enjoyable it is.

On the other hand, I did have vegan chocolate truffles for the first time today. (Made from coconut milk instead of heavy cream. Who knew?) I also stopped by the local do-it-yourself bike shop to work on my bike. Which I rode to the farmer’s market. But these Portland-y things are now just normal – not deserving or requiring a whole blog (let alone a lumbering sketch comedy show…)

Yes, Portland is awesome and weird!

After three years of living here, though, Portland qua Portland is no longer such an interesting topic for me. I believe I’ll be more inclined to post here if I can just allow myself to write about whatever strikes my fancy. So…I’m looking forward to that.

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Crater Lake National Park

As a city dweller who ordinarily makes do with a bike and an occasional bus ride, it’s nice to have friends with cars who want to go rambling in Nature!  Recently one such friend took me to spend a few days camping at Crater Lake, about 5 hours south of Portland.  The lake is a collapsed volcano that filled with water over the course of 8,000 years.

The deepest lake in the US, it is pristine and unbelievably blue:

That little island of rock is known as “The Phantom Sailboat”

I came back with almost 75 pictures of this one body of water — but it was so breathtaking that every time we drove by the thing, it was impossible to resist taking another picture!

We were able to hike down to the water level, which was lovely on the way down. Surprisingly, though, it was a strenuous haul on the way back up. Funny how hills work…

The dormant volcano also created these bizarre rock formations, known as “pinnacles.”  I like that alien landscape look.

As I’ve probably mentioned before, I never had much interest in hiking or camping before moving out here. But, as of a couple days ago, I’m now a card-carrying REI member!

No delightful summer would be complete without at least one jaunt into the wilderness — seems like that’s the rule for living in Oregon, and I’m happy to comply.

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I “like” Newcastle Brown Ale

Here’s why: 



Irony is a very clever social media strategy, if you think about the current cultural climate.

OK, back to radio silence!

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Desiderata (Leonard Nimoy edition)

As it turns out, I am working two jobs right now.  This explains why blogging has been a little light as of late. (Yeah, that’s a lot of alliteration.)

Anyway, one of my job titles is “support specialist” at a house for recovering addicts.

I was hanging around in the living room of said house and saw that someone posted this prose poem prominently on the wall.  I love it, I think it’s inspirational and succinct and basically correct; it’s just good stuff.  There’s nothing in there that I don’t agree with.  But writing the whole thing out here is a little long winded and preachy for my taste, so I invite you to enjoy this youtube video instead:

It’s Leonard Nimoy reading the poem, accompanied by a montage of Leonard Nimoy images. Amazing!

Kind of ironic given that Nimoy famously suffered the debilitating effects of alcoholism, but didn’t mention anything about it in either of his autobiographies…

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Breaking Bad is Amazing

There can be little argument that Arrested Development is one of the finest TV shows ever produced. But it is essentially a pre-recession show: the characters are careless, shallow, and rich, the plot follows executive hijinks at a real estate development company, and the humor revolves around intricate post-modern inside jokes. It’s a lighter-than-air comedy that couldn’t be more delighted with itself.

What people may not know is that Breaking Bad is also one of the best shows ever produced, and perhaps the definitive post-recession show. It’s a brooding drama about wasted talent, the struggle to make ends meet on a middle class paycheck, and the dark temptations of power.

The plot follows Walter White, a brilliant but timid chemistry teacher stuck in a thankless job and a decaying marriage. When Walter, played with otherworldly intensity by Bryan “Dad from Malcom in the Middle” Cranston, receives a cancer diagnosis that’s equivalent to a short order death sentence, he takes matters into his own hands. He decides to use his chemistry expertise to create the purest and most potent crystal methamphetamine in the country.

Suburban Albuquerque, NM (ravaged both by the spread of crystal meth and the collapse of the housing bubble) is the perfect setting for this story — sunny all the time yet extraordinarily bleak. It’s also worth noting that the desert, and this unlikely city right in the middle of it, is photographed beautifully.

The show proceeds slowly and awkwardly, as Walter must find some entry into the drug trade while also fooling his innocent wife and son, who sense his desperation. He happens upon a former student, a shiftless drug addict whose affected urban speech and careless attitude clash with Walt’s meticulousness — and (finally) allows us a little fun. The two are hopelessly out of their depth, and soon blunder into danger. Walt’s family life goes from tense to barely watchable, with the threat of a DEA raid or a brutal gang reprisal lurking in the shadows. In order to lead this double life, Walt gradually slips away from the moral mainstream, from mild mannered everyman to fraught anti-hero. As the suspense builds, Walt finds himself enjoying the thrill of this transformation, even as his life crumbles around him.

I am running late so I’m gonna wind this up: Watch Breaking Bad! Like The Wire, it’s so good, and so unexpectedly pertinent to the real world, that it’s hard to believe such a show was ever made.

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You build your way up

I like this exploration of how to solve the problem of procrastination, so I thought I’d excerpt it here:

Kahneman and Tversky, the guys who first really began to probe human cognitive errors, found in their research that there was a systematic human tendency to either under or overestimate the expected value of a reward that varied as a function of time.

I’ll give you an example. Do you want a dollar today, or 10 dollars in a year? Most people will say a dollar today. How about a dollar today, or 10 dollars in a week? I would take 10 dollars in a week. But does this make sense? I mean, in the first case, I make 9 dollars fewer. Yet, in the second example, I suddenly flip my preference.

It turns out that human motivation is heavily influenced by expectations of how imminent the reward is perceived to be. People overestimate the value of the reward if the reward is imminent, and increasingly discount the value of the reward, the further away it is in time. In other words, your perceived utility of an outcome increases with temporal proximity.

So playing skyrim now is more valuable than an A on your paper until temporal proximity increases the value of that A on the paper, which is when you stay up all night finishing it. One way to try to work around it is to give yourself an immediate reward for forward thinking goal oriented behaviour. You can, for instance, create a situation where you will reward yourself with a tub of ice cream when you’ve put in 4 hours of work. How can you get around it without resorting to this? Have high level executive functionality. Which to some extent can be exercised by simply practicing doing things you don’t want to. So, start small, do 5 minutes of dishes per day. When you have no problem keeping up this routine, add in more tasks with short term punishment but long term reward. You build your way up.

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Chinese Idioms writing project

Over the past several years I’ve become aware of two things I need to do.  These are vague, guilty conscience needs that constantly swirl around in the back of my mind: I need to write more, and I need to practice Chinese more.  No matter what else is going on, I believe that I always, always will have those two requirements making me squirm.

So here’s my idea for an as yet untitled writing project. It’s an attempt to kill two birds with one stone.  Here’s how it works: someone once gave me a book of Chinese proverbs or idioms, also known as cheng yu (成语).  Each phrase is rendered in Chinese characters along with pin yin pronunciation and an English translation.  For this project, I would pick one proverb every day, digest the meaning of the phrase, then write a couple paragraphs about whatever it makes me think of.  This should take something like 20 minutes a day.  This way I’ll be in the habit of writing something every day, while also learning some new Chinese phrases.

Once I have a bunch of stuff down, I’ll compile the good ones into an occasional blog post or maybe even print out a ‘zine!

Now my book has an average of about 7 Chinese idioms on each of its 584 pages – so if I go in order, one by one, it’ll only take me about 11 years to go through all of them.

I did my first one today, on 11/20/11. Check back in with me on 11/20/22 and see how it’s going!

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