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Next Muffin

next muffin

I have realized that I’m fairly contemplative and like to sit down and think about medical cases, but the busy medical system doesn’t allow for that much contemplation. There are too many patients, too little time. One of the nurses I worked with commented on a resident: “He’s great but he takes too long. He gets fascinated with the cases. He needs to learn to churn ’em and burn ’em.”

I spent 7 weeks in Ghana and got sick and got to experience being a patient over there. It was even worse – the doctor saw about 200 patients/day. There was no extensive history and physical. Just, “What are your symptoms?” and next thing I knew I was getting a malaria shot and pills to take with no explanation of my diagnosis (and I probably didn’t have malaria).

Sometimes in clinic I feel like this Ross Noble skit, only instead of “Next Muffin,” it’s “Next Patient:”

Silly humor is the humor for me

jokes about bad things

I was in the grocery store the other day and we were prancing around being silly. Suddenly I got off on the wrong humor-path and made jokes about dark material. It could have been funny ha ha and onto the next joke, but my friend had some traumatic experiences related to what I was joking about and said not to make jokes about that stuff.

Comedians make dark jokes all the time, and I often think they are funny. If someone else does it, I don’t have to be as actively involved. I can turn off the set if South Park gets a little too mean. But I don’t  want to go there with my humor anymore. Every time I do lately it seems to backfire and I feel bad. And even if I get away with a dark joke, what’s the point? I’m too sensitive for that kind of humor, and it doesn’t uplift me. As far as I’m concerned, a good rule will be to joke about what I know. If I have a particular traumatic experience and want to joke about it, that’s fine, but I shouldn’t be making jokes about other people’s trauma.

It ended up being fine, and we found one of those mini peppers on the ground on the way out of the grocery store. I put the pepper into a bouquet of tulips. It blended in just perfect. We made jokes about replacing tulips with peppers. When boyfriends bought these bouquets for their girlfriends they’d have some explaining to do. Silly humor is the humor for me.


Mediocre by the metrics

mediocre by the metrics

I spent my whole life studying to get good grades, but getting good grades these days seems kind of silly to me. Spending all my time learning stack of books number 1 means I am not learning stack of books number 2. And stack of books number 2 might provide me with intellectual growth, self-insight, and fascination.

So getting super good grades right now doesn’t seem like a marker that I am smart, it seems like a marker that I’m missing out. I guess from now on I’ll be mediocre, as measured by tests. Maybe this means I’ll be a waste. But after a while I hope I’ll at least feel more like an individual. Time spent looking at the sky is time when I can puzzle over the world, myself, and get new ideas.



Good cultures are all about permission. Cultures can be improved by giving people permission to do things that make sense. Not giving permission to do good things creates fear and destructive habits. Below is a list of things I need to remind myself I have permission to do. In parentheses I have put the initials of the people who have said these things to me.

Dear self, you have permission to:

  1. Ask questions, even to your superiors (RF)
  2. Have long hair at work (JW)
  3. After doing activity x, do something neutral to reflect before transitioning to activity y (JJ)
  4. Come home after a long day of work and do nothing (AC)
  5. Ride your bike and think and process the world (DV)
  6. Say no when you don’t feel safe in an acrobatic or dance move (SS)

One reason I like self-help books and advice speeches is they give me permission to not feel bad about doing things that go against the grain. Right now, I’m taking a long time contemplating my medical career decision, and everyone is saying: “Go, go, go. Decide, decide, decide.” But John Cleese says that it’s good to take the maximum amount of time to contemplate, because that leads to a better solution. He even gives a comeback to say to people who pressure me: “Look Babycakes, I don’t HAVE to decide until Tuesday, and I’m not chickening out of my creative discomfort by taking a snap decision before then, that’s too easy!”

Lost love letters

lost love letters

When two friends stop in the street to talk about the weather, they don’t actually care about the weather. They have stopped to say to each other, “I enjoy your company. We are still friends.” – David Mamet

One of the most meaningful letter exchanges I have ever had was between an ex-girlfriend and me that took place after we had been broken up for several years. In this exchange, I told her how I felt, and she told me how she felt. Though we wouldn’t pursue being together, we both said, “I love you” in our own little ways.

There’s a simple tactic used by therapists in family therapy. They have kids draw out the members of their family as circles. They then have them put a straight line between individuals if they have a good relationship, and a jagged line if they have a relationship filled with conflict. The kids draw it like they see it.

I like this simple way of looking at things. In some cultures, words don’t matter that much. What matters is who is talking to whom, and how they are talking. What mattered in my letter exchange with my ex-girlfriend was not what the letters said, but that the letters existed in the first place. If the letters got lost, it wouldn’t matter because they were just expressions of underlying good vibes.

I’ve been lately shutting off my phone, not writing many messages to people, and instead focusing on thinking good things to people in my life. Content doesn’t matter that much. Context is much more important. You can say whatever blah blah blah you want. Kids will always know if the lines are jagged or smooth.

Wierdos have more fun

wierdos have more fun

Josh: I went to this mermaid festival on Coney Island yesterday.

Me: What’s that?

Josh: It’s a bunch of wierdos celebrating summer.

Me: Are they dressed like mermaids?

Josh: Some are. Some just aren’t wearing a lot of clothes.

Lately I’ve been hanging out with jugglers, hoola hoopers, fire spinners, slackliners, acrobats, drummers and the like. Passers by might think, “What a bunch of wierdos.” But I think that wierdos have more fun.

I do like humble normal people who can eat a nice meal at Applebees and not have to prove anything to anyone. But at heart I’m a wierdo. For the most part, I’ll skip out on the Applebees to do some cartwheels in the park.

But I get judgmental too. Comic convention people? Super wierd! I have to remind myself that it’s not my place to judge.

“A song is just something to waste your time. I’ll listen to yours if you listen to mine. A song is just something to waste your time. But so is everything else, so do whatever makes you feel fine.” – Jeffrey Lewis.

“We just came back from Japan but maybe I feel more at home here. Freak like…freak like me.” – Kazu Makino, Blonde Redhead

Pillows for adrenals

pillow for adrenals

“Want a bit of unsolicited advice?” my cousin said to me. “Take a nap. If you push yourself and don’t sleep your work won’t be very good. You look tired. You have bags under your eyes.”

Relaxing is a skill. The other day I was at a coffee shop doing work and stressing out. After a few hours of this, I zoned out. I looked at the house across the street as the sun was setting. The textures and colors were so pretty. Time didn’t exist.

Zoning out rocks. When the world is a slow moving soup, ideas can solidify and float slowly past each other. Since they are moving slow, they can click together and make big idea islands. That’s how PCR was invented: on a zoned out car ride in California.

Zoning out is when you really appreciate the incoming sensory streams. Yesterday, I took a walk and  looked up and zoned out. Flies were swarming like schools of fish, bats flew overhead eating them, all with the backdrop of cotton candy-pink clouds. On a daily basis, I miss so much of the world that’s right in front of my eyes.

It’s these pesky adrenal glands. They are the Piglet of the endocrine glands, always stressing out. I’m going to get a surgeon to install tiny inflatable pillows behind my adrenals. When I want to relax, I’ll just push a button and inflate these pillows. My adrenals will then be able to get comfortable, switch off the lights, and take a nap.

When people as me how I lived so long, I tell them that when I was told to stand, I sat. And when I was told to sit, I lied down. – Winston Churchill (I think!)


reflecting is nice

I feel this way about writing too. I often don’t know I have certain ideas in me until I get the pen in motion. It’s funny how what we do can surprise us.

(The squiggly quotes signify a loose quotation, like squiggly equal signs.)

I don’t know the road I should take. It’s ok, I’ll take a guess and move and shake and see where it leads!

Just spent 6 bucks on this domain name…Exciting.

It’s the little things that make you happy in life. Like owning a string of internet characters. Somehow it feels like buying a distant star from a mail order catalog (I think you can still do that). Ownership is so weird.

Anyways, enjoy the new URL :).

Money talking people stress me out

money talking people

To make a business decision, you don’t need much philosophy; all you need is greed, and maybe a little knowledge of how the game works. – Bill Watterson

I crossed paths with a lot of people talking about money today. One man bragged about how much he makes per hour. Another was focused on making extra money here and there by moonlighting. Then I talked to a guy who didn’t have enough money for food. “I’d love to eat asparagus and vegetables,” he said as he salivated, “But you know what I had today before I came here? White rice.”

Capitalism is a money game which plays by its own arbitrary rules. It makes sense to learn them so that you can eat asparagus, but you’ve got to have a soul too.

Have a soul = be interested in the actual work you are doing, not just the paycheck.

Distraught at the thought of losing everything again

They say it’s not how you play the game but if you win

— Jeffrey Lewis, Don’t let the record label take you out to lunch

Cool video on the subject:

As long as there’s a leaf in the world, I can’t be depressed

leaf in my hand

At the end of my brother’s graduation we walked into the natural history museum at Cornell. There I learned that there have been 5 mass extinctions each of which killed over 70% of species on this planet. Wikipedia confirms this.

So I shouldn’t get depressed about plastic and pollution. Life is brittle, but it can bounce back. Even if everything died off and there was just one tree left, with just a single leaf, that’d still be amazing.

Whenever I go to unpleasant places, I’ll make a habit of taking a leaf in my pocket. When I need some reassurance, I’ll hold the leaf and it will stream its energy into my palm. If there’s a leaf in the world, that means there’s a tree, and that means something’s still ticking on this planet.

A relevant song: Krongu Green Slime, by Jeffrey Lewis

Hug the books

hug the books

This is what I gots to do for the next 4 weeks. The teeter totter has gone to the side of the cerebellum the past few weeks (lots of practicing acroyoga and such) and now the thinking brain has to regain my attention (big test coming up!!!).

I won’t hit the books though. I’ll hug the books! Learning will be fun and explorational if I give the books some time for nice long hugs.

Finally, you’re getting into sensory neuroscience

sensory neuroscience

My boss (a professor who studies the retina) was playing basketball with a colleague who studies the kidney. As of late, this colleague started getting interested in studying the tongue. My boss said to his colleague, “Finally, you’re getting into sensory neuroscience.”

What a cool area! It’s super interesting to know how the world gets coded into neural signals by our sensory organs.

Incidentally, computers have cameras, microphones, speakers, and now, touchscreens. These are gadget-counterparts to our sensory organs. Computers don’t have noses or tongues yet. When these gadgets come out I’ll have to redraw this picture.

Machine sensors are better than human sensors in many departments. They can sense parts per million of gas, tiny amounts of light, etc. In medicine, the doctor used to taste urine to diagnose diabetes. Now we have sensors for that which give exact numbers. It’s a changin’ world.

Gossip is fun

gossip is fun002I heard somewhere that a good Jew doesn’t gossip, doesn’t talk about other people. That’s a hard thing to do, because gossip is so darn fun.

Let’s say someone is mean or inconsiderate towards me. I might think I was in the wrong, but if I discussed the situation with a friend who had the same opinion, I’d feel validated for feeling the way I do.

Gossiping/complaining about people or situations with friends is very satisfying. It’s a way of saying: both of our brains have this little bump that has this little cute hair growing out of it. You see things the way I do. We’re not crazy!

P.S. This is also why I’m so into checking who “likes” these blog posts I write – it’s cool to see people agree with my little brain bumps.

She’s starting to live her life from the inside out

she's starting to live her life from the inside out

People always say: go with your gut. The problem is, with social pressures and practical concerns, I sometimes don’t know what my gut is saying anymore. It takes a lot of discipline to blow off the societal dusts to the point where I can actually hear what my gut is saying. I am working on being quiet and listening to these instincts. Letting my brain explode out onto the world instead of letting the world give me a recipe for how to live.

I once wrote this fairly depressing poem:

All the things that I am supposed to write

Are moving my fingers

Are pressing my fingers

Down into the keys

And after a while

After I have succeeded

And the world has given me

Respect and a paycheck

I will be used to

Having the world

Move my fingers for me

An uplifting counter-point by the Flaming Lips:

She’s starting to live her life from the inside out

The sound of failure calls her name

She’s decided to hear it out

-Flaming Lips, The Sound of Failure

My classmate said: “At this point, if I don’t feel like doing something, screw it. It’s not worth forcing yourself.” Don’t force yourself. A lady I work with said: “I spend most of my time at work, so I better like it.” Do exactly what you want to do, be who you want to be! There was a commercial when I was a kid for some cereal that had the tagline: “We’re kids, we do what we like.” I think adults would be better people if they did what they liked. Not what they liked in a short-term pleasure sugar-buzz way, but in a deep spiritual way. If you’re not hungry, don’t force yourself to eat. If you’re not greedy, don’t accumulate money just because other people are.

Here are some related posts: Big A, Little a, Youthful Idealism.

Life is one big alternation of states

homesick cabin fever

Run around town, go to work. Gotta come home and clean, clean, clean.

Stay at home and read. Stay at home and read. Hang out. Draw and work.

And go out again!

Staying at home is nice, going out is nice. The brain wants a little of this and a little of that.

“Any meditation position that you stick with for a length of time will become unattractive.” – Susan O’Connell, Zen Teacher

Low self-esteem, anyone?

gross crap soup

Today I snapped a picture of a friend dozing off in class. Problem was, my camera flashed and I got a lot of weird looks. I felt bad for a while…

As I recovered from this incident on the car ride home, I did a little self-psychoanalysis. Here’s my theory  about why I’m over-sensitive:

Growing up, I was always the kid that got made fun of. During my lowest point, I had a bully sit next to me every day on the bus and tell me I didn’t have any friends. “Name one person who is your friend…” he’d say, and I’d cry because I couldn’t name anyone. So after a decade of not fitting in despite trying, maybe I got wired to think I was no good. Also, genetics probably plays a role since a lot of my family members are sensitive too.

Right now, I have friends and family who treat me like super yummy soup, so I’ve got no license to complain. But all it takes is a minor slip-up and I start thinking I am gross-crap soup. Usually I recover fast enough and it’s no biggie.

I want to stop thinking  things are my fault by default. If I don’t catch a frisbee in a game or bump into someone in the hallway, I’d like to move on to the next play or help pick up the person’s stuff without saying “sorry” obsequiously. Maybe it wasn’t my fault and even if it was what matters is improvement.

I’m not saying it’s good to never feel bad. This is how we social creatures learn to not snap pictures in class and behave. But I’d like to shake myself off quicker. I’d like to be more content just sitting quietly and listening, and not needing to always be smart and funny and proving that I’m this super yummy soup. I’d like a warm inner glow, where I can just relax and be secure with myself. Is there any store where I can get that?

The next time I get yelled at, I’ll try reminding myself that I’m just a bit player in the lives of most people around me. I’ll try visualizing myself as a big shiny metal can without a label. I’ll say to myself: “Most people don’t think I’m gross crap soup, they have no judgments towards me at all.”

I think this mental pattern will be a tough one to change (though it might slowly get better). But maybe that’s ok. If you too are super sensitive and have the “gross crap soup” syndrome, you are not alone! Gross Crap Soupers, let’s stick together!

Nationalism blows

Uncle Sam

Professional sports and nationalism have a lot in common. I heard a story of young girl at a Buffalo Bills game, maybe 11 years old. She was standing up and cheering for the opposite team. A man threw a full beer can at her head. She got knocked out.

Talk about a loyal fan. 

Nationalism and sports loyalty tap into the same brain circuit. Maybe this circuit is in our brains because we evolved in a world when tribes had to band together to defeat the enemy, so it made sense to see the other side as inhuman so you could fight them. Nowadays, though, this circuit creates all sorts of nasty things. And you can be a really smart person and still have this circuit turned on. It’s an emotional thing.

The rest of this post is a collection of quotes on the theme that nationalism blows.


I recently stayed with couchsurfing host named Erik who traveled around the world for a year. He had this to say on the topic:

I used to think that the solution to intolerance was travelling. If only people traveled, they would see that all people are basically the same. They want a good job, food for their family, and a little vacation. But that’s not true. I had a friend who was a smart guy. He joined the military and traveled all around the world. When he came back he said: I’ve realized that all people are kind of the same. But I just want to give a toast to the American Dream, which motivates us to be better, and to have all the freedoms and great things that we enjoy here. To America!



Here’s one from a great little book on evolutionary biology:

As we write, there are many parts of the world where it is obvious to outsiders, and to many of the inhabitants, that almost everyone would be better off if they ceased to identify with the subgroups – Muslim, Serb or Croat; Tutsi or Hutu; Jew or Arab; Protestant or Catholic – and worked together for the common good. Yet a sufficient proportion of the population identify with one or other subgroup, rather than with the human population of the region as a whole, to make such cooperation impossible. Why?

The clue is that group identity, and hence behavior, is influenced by myth and ritual, as well as, and even to the exclusion of rational self-interest. Historical myths concerning people’s origins, reinforced by ritual, are a powerful influence on human behavior. Why should this be so? What we are seeking as an evolutionary explanation for a universal human characteristic –the ability to be socialized (or indoctrinated, depending on your point of view) by myth. The particular stories, tunes, apparel and ritual behavior that bind a group together are clearly cultural, but the capacity to be influenced by them is innate, and calls for an evolutionary explanation.

-John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry, The Origins of Life


And just for something a little different:

I dreamt one thousand basketball courts / Nothing holier than sports – CocoRosie, K-Hole


George Carlin!

People are wonderful. I love individuals. I hate groups of people. I hate a group of people with a ‘common purpose’. ‘Cause pretty soon they have little hats. And armbands. And fight songs. And a list of people they’re going to visit at 3am. – George Carlin


Punk Rock!

People are essentially jingoistic. Look at a football parade tonight, and you’ll see how jingoistic they are. It doesn’t matter whether it’s guns of football. When the men are out, they’re out. -Crass


One of the world’s most decorated generals:

Let the workers in these plants get the same wages — all the workers, all presidents, all executives, all directors, all managers, all bankers — yes, and all generals and all admirals and all officers and all politicians and all government office holders — everyone in the nation be restricted to a total monthly income not to exceed that paid to the soldier in the trenches!  Let all these kings and tycoons and masters of business and all those workers in industry and all our senators and governors and majors pay half of their monthly $30 wage to their families and pay war risk insurance and buy Liberty Bonds.  

Why shouldn’t they?  They aren’t running any risk of being killed or of having their bodies mangled or their minds shattered. They aren’t sleeping in muddy trenches. They aren’t hungry. The soldiers are!  Give capital and industry and labor thirty days to think it over and you will find, by that time, there will be no war. That will smash the war racket — that and nothing else. –Major General Smedley Butler



First, recognize that the people catalyzing conflict are generally not the majority in any given instance. It’s usually a militant group, a collective of extremists, or government officials who decide which outsiders are allies and which are enemies. They decide who is good and who is bad, and when and where violence will be used as a tool for political/economic/philosophical gain. They draw the lines in the sand, and tell us the people on the other side of those lines are different. – Colin Wright

Facebook breakup

facebook breakup

I started an experiment to stay off facebook for a month. I did this because:

  • I was compulsively checking facebook. When I posted a comment or blog post, I craved the positive feedback of “likes.” This felt unnatural to me. I shouldn’t spend my time seeking the approval of far-away acquaintances I may never have even had a real conversation with.
  • I was getting updates on people I didn’t know very well, and these people’s babies and adventures were invading my consciousness.
  • Facebook itself was becoming my best friend. I would talk to it, see how it was doing in my idle minutes, and spend more time with it than any of my real friends.
  • After a while of going to events I got invited to via facebook, I lost track of who my friends were, because facebook was doing all the inviting. I started to long for the phone call invite to a party. A phone call or even a text invite says: “We’re friends, and I care about your presence at this thingy.” All a facebook invite says is, “I clicked a box next to your name.”

After 2 days without facebook, I have found that I’m doing a lot more phone calls and hanging out with people in person. Some of my 1-D friends are becoming 2-D and even 3-D! I have a friend who has a broken phone and memorizes her friends’ numbers. If these are your friends, put some time and effort into memorizing their digits. That says something!

We only have a limited number of hours in a day. Talking to a sphere of 40 people on facebook quasi-regularly means you aren’t talking to a sphere of 10 people very regularly in real life. I don’t know about you, but I like my friends three-dimensional. Without facebook, some of my 1-D friends are vanishing, but that means other friends are gaining extra pixels, coming into a closer orbit.

That said, I think I’ll be doing a monthly facebook day, because I do like facebook in moderation. I’ll stay friends with this ex but there’s got to be limits.

Don’t be a meanie!

don't be a meanie!Hobbies give perspective and fun, whether its handstands or airplanes or golf, it’s all good.

“I’m an environmental engineer who should have been an illustrator. Drawing is much more than a hobby for me. I draw out of necessity. I’ve gotten yelled at in so many meetings for drawing.” – Guy in a coffee shop drawing with an india ink pen (6/17/2013)

Hobbies can be big or little or somewhere in between.

How to get married in 1.5 months (wisdom from orthodox jews)

how to get married in 1.5 months

Had a convo with my rabbi on the subject of marriage. He went to Israel because he heard there was this great girl for him there. He got to know her over the span of 1.5 months, and then married her. Here is the 3-step method by which my rabbi found his wife:

  1. Values. He already shared a lot of values with his wife because he was looking for her in the orthodox community.
  2. Checklist. Even though the prospective pair were both orthodox, some of their ideas still could be different and cause tension in the relationship. So my rabbi went through a mental checklist with her to get her views on certain issues. For instance, how much work would my rabbi’s wife expect him to put into rearing the kids? My rabbi came from a very traditional family where his mom did 100% of the work with the kids and his dad never changed a diaper.  He wanted to pitch in more than his dad, but still thought his wife should do a majority of the work. My rabbi discussed these issues with his future wife to make sure she more or less agreed.
  3. Emotion. Only after making sure that 1 and 2 were compatible, did he put his emotional chips on the table. They had chemistry, and so they got married!

In secular culture, people do this process backwards. They first get into emotional relationships based on physical attraction. Then later on they talk about values. If they realize that they have different values from their significant other, it can be hard to call-off the relationship, because they are already emotionally involved. So people with major incompatibilities sometimes get married, and this leads to problems down the line.

Some more points from the conversation:

  • Both people in a marriage should be ready to compromise. He talked about a couple where the girl grew up in a family where the mom and dad had separate bank accounts. The couple got into an argument about a purchase, and the girl said: “You think this is a waste of money, but I don’t. I will work to make the money I need to buy it.” In effect, the girl doesn’t want to compromise. According to my rabbi, this is a problem.
  • Personality differences are OK. My rabbi is a homebody, his wife likes to go out. These differences are less important if all this other stuff is there. She can compromise and he can too.
  • Love should grow over time in a relationship. A couple should have chemistry initially, but love grows from the work the pair put in together, day in and day out.

Backrubs for everybody!

stat back rub

Got home tonight badly in need of a backrub and thought, “This is how I feel quite a lot these days.” I bet our patients are badly in need of backrubs too. And we always forget to order the backrub consult!

A cardiologist said in a lecture today: “Every field has it’s go-to drug with a lot of benefit and minimal side effects. In cardiology, it’s beta blockers. For the most part, every one of my patients should be on a beta blocker.” What about backrubs? We need more trials on the effects of backrubs. I bet the results would be astonishing.

Attending (to a bunch of students): “What are the treatments that reduce mortality in COPD?”

Student: “Oxygen and smoking cessation.”

“And backrubs!” I almost blurted out. I guess I’ll have to wait until the randomized trials get done before I can say that… 😦

Medicine make sense!

Just added a section of this blog called Medicine Make Sense!

Medicine has so much cool goop in it. This page is a place to process that goop logically and appreciate its beauty without the stress of “You have to know this, I don’t care if you understand it or not. I don’t care if it has percolated through your brain to the point where you get it and can actually use it. I just care that you memorize certain buzzwords for the test. Mwwwwwwahahahaha!”

Shazam! Lazam! Alakazam! One-two-three…Medicine make sense!

I know it’s completely irrational, but I’m still scared to death of middle school jocks

patterns are tough to break

I was walking down the street and saw these middle school jocks playing lacross and thought about saying “Hi.” But in my head I instantly morphed into the unpopular kid I was in middle school and walked by, laying low. “Phew, that was a close one, thank god they didn’t make fun of me!”

I bet if I went to my high school reunion I’d act all high-schooly around all my former classmates, trying to be cool. The brain has all these little patterns of neurons hiding in there. Even if they aren’t being used right now, they can be activated. Mental patterns probably last longer than FOREVER postage stamps.

(But I suppose recognizing them is the first step to either changing them or not activating them in counter-productive ways).

Technology Cafe

technology cafe

“He who creates new technologies is gambling in human lives.” – don’t know the source.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the discoveries of quantum physics didn’t come with the side effect of possible nuclear war?  Wouldn’t it be nice if cars were kept in our garages only for fun road-trips, and didn’t have the side effect of changing our cities into suburban sprawls? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go to the technology cafe and order sandwiches with only the desirable aspects of different technologies? Sadly, once we let a new technology out of the bag, there’s no controlling how it changes the world.

“Oh, you don’t use facebook because you think it’s creepy how they analyze all of your personal information? I can respect that, but it’s going to be a pain in the butt to communicate with you now.”

“Oh, you don’t use a car because you want to save the planet? I can respect that, but now I have to drive you places because our city is all sprawled out.”

Handwriting experiment

handwriting experiment

There’s a nearly 5-fold increase in the time that it takes to produce pretty letters vs. scraggly ones.

It’s probably similar in other industries. I have a family friend who is a glassblower who said that people aren’t paying $400 for beautiful vases anymore when they can get cheap ones from Wal-Mart for $20. I guess it’s all a trade-off and IKEA has its place in our go-go-go throwaway world. But it’s nice to be a craftsman and get lost in the art when you can. Plus the investment pays off if you actually use the well-made thing you make or buy. You have something that’s a pleasure to use, won’t break, and works better.

A friend: “Whenever anyone asks my how I make something, I always say that the #1 ingredient is love.”

My uncle: “If you don’t do something well, then don’t do it at all.”

What if everything I did I did with love. What if every project was an immortality project, something that I was doing to be remembered for after I die? What if every project felt real?

It’s OK not to have it all

it's ok not to have it allI like nature and warm weather, but live in a cold town and spend most of my time indoors.

A professor once said to me, “Each thing you love doing is like a finger on a hand, and people that are doing all the things they love have all 5 of their fingers outstretched all the time. Most of the time I walk around with about 3.5 out of 5 of my fingers outstretched.”

So that’s life. You work and you work and you work and you still end up unfulfilled in certain ways and fulfilled in other ways and it’s all good.

Buffalo is a great place with great people. I’m probably at 3.5 out of 5 right now too and will be like that even if I move to a tropical island. 5/5 is a ridiculous goal.

Sober Drugs

Sober Drugs

The best kind of drugs are the drugs you train your neurons to make themselves. Then you don’t need a dealer.

My brother said, “If I’m sitting without anything to do, I just look at patterns in things, and I’m content.” The brain has an ability to be fascinated by the world with zero exogenous substances, but you have to train this ability. Drugs are much easier. You swallow a substance and feel a certain way. But doing them a lot makes the brain less self-reliant.

Shel Silverstein said it well in this poem.

One real danger with drugs is that they take up way too much brain real estate. For instance, when I was drinking coffee, I would be thinking about coffee a lot of the time.

A heroin addict patient of mine who is checking into rehab said: I want to get excited about normal life stuff, not thinking about drugs all the time.

To an extent, we are all linked up to addictions: everyone needs food, for example. But it’s nice to clear as many addictions out of the brain as possible. For instance, fasting to prove to yourself that you don’t really need food that much, and you don’t need to be thinking about it all the time, because it won’t be the end of the world if you miss a meal.

Saying no to drugs and other addictions really means cleaning house in the brain.

A quote from a drug-focused episode of This American Life:

My dad was a good dad. He read to us every night, took us on long hikes in search of snakes and salamanders to keep as pets. But his drug use did leave at least one lasting effect on me. I can’t hear any story about a seemingly functional pot-head with anything but a skeptical ear.

From magazine features about rappers who are constantly high but still put out platinum records to casual asides about this friend I know who smokes weed all day but is a great husband and father, some part of me just can’t buy it, can’t help but think, there’s more to that story. There’s always something being run from. And there’s always at least one person wondering, is that something me?

On the flipside, it is cool to experience alternate states of consciousness, because this helps break out of mental patterns. Drugs offer one way to do this, but there are also non-pharmaceutical ways. Here is a running list of my sober drugs:

  • Yoga. Doing a long sequence alone in the living room is hard. Having a buddy or going to a class helps.
  • Trampoline. This is great if I get into a flow, but the first 5 minutes are hard.
  • Running, or any sports involving running.
  • Contact improv. Especially effective with eyes closed.
  • Silent hikes. To do this, team up with a group and walk through the woods for a few hours, without talking. It is also possible to go on a silent hike through a city.
  • Non-doing. Turn off all distractions and let the moment bloom. One specific way to do this is to get up early in the morning and watch the sun rise, or to watch the sun set. It’s very cool and rarely done in our indoor-based world.
  • Realistic drawing. Trying to sketch something realistically activates a different set of mental patterns that emphasize attention and deconstrution of the world (vs. judgement). For more on this, see: Drawing on the right side of the brain.
  • Acroyoga. This requires a lot of concentration and communication and brings me right into the moment.
  • Thai massage. This requires time, and a willingness to not rush and pay attention.
  • Music. Especially when dancing or moving to it.

With so many sober drugs to choose from, who needs psychedelics?

See also: Righteousness programming and Brain and body, going for a nice long walk together. Addictions to drugs, like addictions to anything material, lead to a kind of mental slavery. It’s no wonder 12-step programs are usually religious at heart.

This is me lying in bed thinking about what medical specialty to go into

how i feel about picking a medical specialty001

When I get home from the hospital I don’t want to do anything, so I just lie in bed like this.

Maybe after 39.8 more hours of this, I’ll make a decision…

Us kids are spoiled with too many choices, said my mom. Drawing this cartoon made me realize how silly this over-thinking activity is. All the roads are beautiful.

UPDATE (6/7/14): I just read this article and it really helped me make a choice. Now I can get out of bed and live and learn!

Let’s live close to each other

lets try to live close to each other

When my great uncle’s kids were thinking of leaving Moldova for Israel, he and his wife said: “Our whole family will leave as a unit, on one airplane.” And so they left together and stayed close-knit as a family.

Technology is nice. Skype lets you see people. Facebook let’s you wish people “Happy Birthday” once a year. But the list of “Happy Birthdays” on my facebook is not generally a list of the closest people in my life.

Today is my brother’s birthday. I thought about wishing him “Happy Birthday” on facebook, but instead my family drove to see him in 3D. Society places a lot of emphasis on careers and this leads to families and friends living far apart, being 2D at best.

There’s a lot of value in living in one place for a long time. My uncle said: “How can you compare the friends I have here to the ones back home? I grew up with those people. I knew them for 40 years. They didn’t need to call and ask if they could come over.”

I’m not saying nomads can’t have great lives, but this is stuff worth thinking about.

We need a different keyboard

we need a different keyboard

It’s so convenient to trash the planet — that key is right underneath our thumbs. Saving the planet? Well, you have to strain to reach that key all the way with your pinky…

When you are tired and busy and have a family to feed, recycling and riding your bike and using reusable grocery bags isn’t top priority. That’s where the government should come in. In Washington DC, plastic bags cost 5 cents, and guess what? People use a lot more reusable bags.

The government should protect the land it governs, not the companies that lobby it. People are pretty simple creatures. They generally follow incentives. The government should make incentives that make us do the right thing for the planet. We need a different keyboard.

Jewel Droppings

work sometimes makes me miserable

Sometimes living in the present is pleasant but doesn’t leave much of a legacy (ant #1).

Sometimes working hard causes stress and feels yucky in the moment, but produces pretty jewel-droppings for the future (ant #2).

It’s up to every individual to decide how much legacy-building and how much present-living they want to do. Working hard and producing a legacy doesn’t have to be stressful, but sometimes it is. For the past few years, I have been studying for tests 99.5% of my days. Today was one of those rare 0.5% of days when I just relaxed, and posted this comic. It sure feels good to be ant #1 right now.

A stop and smell the flowers kind of day

a stop and smell the roses kind of day

So hard to stop and smell the flowers in this hustle bustle life that I had to make a special to-do list for it!

The mentality of “let’s do this thing real quick so I can be at the next thing on time!” saps enjoyment out of the thing you’re doing. Time stinks! What a not-fun invention!

One of my favorite things is spontaneity. For me, when things just happen in an open block of time, it’s unexpected and magical. Last night I had 2 social things to go to. I was stressed at social thing 1 because I had to get to social thing 2 on time (such terrible problems, I know!). My take home lesson: if the goal of my day is leisure, only schedule one thing to do. That way I’m not going from thing 1 to thing 2 to thing 3, always thinking of the next thing. I’m going to thing 1 and jamming with it as long as the jamming’s good.

“I’m hoping I’ll succeed at creating a world that people will want to spend time in regardless of incentives. It’s a ‘stop and smell the flowers’ kind of game.” – Phil Fish, creator of the video game Fez.

Hurry up, hurry up, we have to get to…the present.

Cats got it all figured out


Last night I spent a while playing with a candle. I’d put wax scraps into the burning candle to give it more fuel. It was fun, getting lost playing with candle wax.

All this schooling, all these multiple choice tests, cause me to forget how to play around. It’s fun opening and closing a needle-holder to learn about suturing.  It’s a lot of fun playing with a microscope to learn how to see the retina. It’s fun rearranging words in a text box and coming up with a blog post.

Play is really the best way to learn anything — with time not an issue, with looking good not an issue, with “getting it done” not an issue — just interacting, one on one, with the stuff you’re learning, like a cat playing with string. Cats got it all figured out.

Something totally new and awesome, so unlike anything ever done before its not even in the same category

When I was a kid thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, I wanted to rip through all the clichés and do something totally new. Not something never been done before, but something not even in the same category:


But then I read this quote from Richard Feynman:

I have worked on innumerable problems that you would call humble, but which I enjoyed and felt very good about because I sometimes could partially succeed. For example, experiments on the coefficient of friction on highly polished surfaces, to try to learn something about how friction worked (failure). Or, how elastic properties of crystals depends on the forces between the atoms in them, or how to make electroplated metal stick to plastic objects (like radio knobs). Or, how neutrons diffuse out of Uranium. Or, the reflection of electromagnetic waves from films coating glass. The development of shock waves in explosions. The design of a neutron counter. Why some elements capture electrons from the L-orbits, but not the K-orbits. General theory of how to fold paper to make a certain type of child’s toy (called flexagons). The energy levels in the light nuclei. The theory of turbulence (I have spent several years on it without success). Plus all the “grander” problems of quantum theory.

No problem is too small or too trivial if we can really do something about it. 

And I realized that “awesomeness” doesn’t really matter, it’s just a human invention. Any problem is awesome if you focus on it long enough. It just matters that I work on problems I can solve:

Awesome 2

Spoil my grandkids

spoil my grandkids

(A conversation with a friend during college.)

In college, I thought it was bad to go through life fulfilling the pre-defined patterns of society with no creativity or desire to make the world a better place. But now I realize that it’s not what you do but how you do it. There are many ways of getting rich, getting married, and spoiling your grandkids. And there are good ways to do that stuff too.