2007 Notebook

The Eyes of the World, Part 4

Once again, I’m surprised to learn how others see me. Maybe I’m naïve. With my long hair and beard, perhaps it’s inevitable to occasionally be approached about drugs. My casual wardrobe (e.g., my brother’s old army jacket over plaid flannel shirt and jeans) doesn’t help, and I suspect it’s the reason I was twice mistaken for homeless (once by a homeless person). These mistakes I can understand. Yet the latest revelation has me scratching my head, because people are taking me for someone I see no trace of in myself.

Some folks think my hair is blond.

When I was young, I learned that “blond” meant “yellow”. If you had yellow hair, you were blond. The farthest from blond you could get while still remaining blond was “dirty blond”, which mixed yellow and brown. My sister was dirty blond, so I had a pretty clear reference.

Me? My hair’s light brown, and always has been, so that’s how I’ve thought of it all these years. Yet I now hear a few people saying they consider me blond. And once again, I have that sense of indignation that comes when others’ perceptions of you don’t match your self-image. No!, I want to say, that’s not me! Can’t you distinguish brown from yellow?

But I don’t have the power to change the world’s perception. In the eyes of the world I’m not only a homeless druggie... I’m also blond.


The Urge to Purge

Once every decade I am afflicted by the urge to purge, that is, a desire to reduce the number of my possessions. Specifically, books. My bookshelves are full; books are stacked on top of rows of other books, and rise in piles from the floor. It’s high time to reduce. The hard part is knowing what to keep.

From two previous book purges, I’ve learned some of the questions one should ask when deciding whether to keep a book. There are four primary questions. A “Yes” answer to any is a good indicator that one should keep a book.

  1. Will I reread this book?

    If you plan to reread a book, or have read it several times in the past, it’s a keeper.

  2. Do I refer to this book?

    More important for nonfiction than fiction, but also not exclusively. I’ve often returned to a novel to find a particular quote.

  3. Does this book have sentimental value?

    Although I have no desire to reread any but a few of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, I still regret giving away in my first book purge my Arkham House copies of his works. They might have been the first hardcover books I bought, and were the first books I worked for. The printing and binding were impeccable, showing exactly how a book should be made. Those were not books to give away.

  4. Does this book bring joy?

    I haven’t written an object-oriented program in years, never seriously studied cryptology, or built a building. Yet I won’t give away my copies of Helm, Vlissides, Gamma, and Johnson’s Design Patterns, Schneier’s Applied Cryptography 2nd Ed, or Christopher Alexander’s works. Why? Because those books inspire me. They bring me joy. They stay.

If you find yourself unable to decide whether to give away a book, two final questions might resolve your uncertainty:

  • How difficult would re-acquiring this book be?

    It’s a lot easier to find a copy of The Lord of the Rings or J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books than something obscure like Gene Wolfe’s The Castle of the Otter. The more obscure, the more you should hesitate.

  • Might this book in time gain value?

    The previous questions focus on uses of the book as a book, but some books are primarily commodities.

Of course, these are my guidelines. Why heed the advice of someone with piles of books on his floor?


In “My Religion”, the Important Word is “My”

I hope to someday meet someone who finds the tenets of their religion barbaric or inhuman, but still practices that religion because it’s the one true faith. You’d think that with the variety of human temperament, there would be someone who fundamentally disagrees with their religion, but I’ve never heard of such a person. It makes me wonder whether the religion a person adopts, or their interpretation of a particular religion, is driven more by their nature than by the actual tenets of said religion.

Until proven otherwise, I’ll continue to believe that people adapt their religious belief and practice to their core beliefs, rather than change their core beliefs to conform to their religion.

Or, to put it more succintly: why do we never meet people who hate their faith? (I don’t mean disagreeing with one or even several aspects; I’m talking about rejecting the fundamental premises.)


Notes on Exercise

I’ve always felt that I should exercise more, but it wasn’t until 2004 that I started working out regularly. It’s not one of my passions, so I’ve had to learn persistence. Here’s what I’ve learned that’s made my daily struggle with exercise more successful.

[I’ve written the practices below in the first person, rather than as "you should" directives, because I have no idea if these will work for you. They helped me, but who am I to say what you need?]

  • I made it easy to do.

    Each morning, my computer generates the day’s exercise regimen. It takes no work to set up. It’s just forms on a Web page, so I can access it through my browser. When I finish a set, I check it off. When an exercise is complete, I press a button and it gets timestamped and logged. Not only does this give me an incentive to complete the day’s exercises—it’s satisfying to press that button and make my daily to-do list shorter—the log lets me assess my progress.

    I also minimize the possibility of interruptions by turning off my phone’s ringer until the day’s regimen is finished.

    The final aspect of making it easy to do is to have the time to do it. I’m fortunate in that I have that time. I’m not sure how well I’d keep to it if my schedule were full.

  • I don’t reward myself by not exercising.

    Sometimes I’ll have a great day—or perhaps a rotten one—and I’ll think “I don’t need to exercise today”. For me, that’s a red flag which means “Yes, you do”. When I feel like taking the day off, it’s time to work out.

    In the past, when I’ve let myself break my schedule it quickly became a habit, and led to me stopping exercise for months at a time. These days, I’m not obsessive about completing the day’s regimen—for example, a phone call from a friend in need is more important—but if I’m by myself, I’ve no excuse.

  • All I ever promise myself to do is one set.

    When I don’t feel like working out, I’ll at least do the warm up. Once I’ve done that, I tell myself “I’ll just do the next set. That’s easy enough to do. It would be great if I did the whole regimen, but right now I’m just going to do one set.”.

    It’s a psychological trick that works. Once started, I keep making the promise, and end up completing the day’s regimen.

  • I don’t push too hard.

    I most often injure myself when I’m feeling best and making gains. I want to push harder and do more now. Then I push too hard and hurt myself.

    So I stick to a schedule. I let myself push it a little bit when I’m feeling good, but I don’t add ten pounds & increase the reps of every exercise I’m doing that day. My gains might be smaller, but it beats having to take a few weeks off to heal.

I freely admit that most of this advice was stolen from other people, especially this and this.


If Marriage is About Children...

Some people have argued that marriage should be restricted to one man and one woman because children do best when raised by one mother and one father. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that statement is true. If raising children truly is the most important aspect of marriage, proponents of one-man-one-woman marriage will undoubtedly agree with the following proposals:

  1. If an unmarried male/female couple becomes pregnant, they must marry immediately. If either of the parents-to-be is already married, the child must be given up for adoption.

  2. Married male/female couples must remain married, with the following exceptions:

    1. The couple is childless and the wife is not pregnant after a year of marriage.

    2. One year has elapsed since the youngest of the couple’s children reached adulthood, and the wife is not pregnant.

    In either of these cases, the marriage is automatically dissolved.

  3. If one partner in a marriage with minor children dies, the surviving spouse must either remarry immediately or give the children up for adoption.

Eminently reasonable restrictions, no? They are if you believe that the sole purpose of marriage is raising healthy children. Please, think of the children!

[Of course, that argument is simply homophobia in disguise. The “defense of marriage” folks should advocate preventing people with a high risk of being bad parents from marrying, but they don’t. Singling out one group shows hatred of that group, not rational decision-making.]


Last updated 5 September 2007
All contents ©2007 Mark L. Irons

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