One Year Without Alcohol

I went one year without drinking. There were three separate occasions I more or less got pressured into pretend sipping or an aperitif but otherwise I was sober the whole time and didn’t really obsess about it. It took a while for friends and people around me to realize I was dead serious about not drinking but once I established the fact, people left me alone. I ended up having a shot of tequila about one week after the anniversary. That seriously messed my head up. The alcohol felt like it got injected into my veins and took me a while to ground myself. For about a week after the tequila kept popping into my head.


Now I know why alcoholics and drug addicts need to stop cold turkey. It’s crazy but you spend all this time avoiding it and you don’t realize how much your commitment and reinforcement of values are doing behind the scene. One one level, you’re freed from all the baggage of keeping your “streak” going. On the other hand, you need to make sure all hell doesn’t break loose and wait for it to pass. I was never a heavy drinker though I always had a tendency to binge. When I stopped drinking my propensity to drink was getting more and more frequent. I abstained from alcohol a couple months before. This time I was slowly getting fed up with myself at how easily I’d go for a beer or two after work to relax, rather than just let the stress go, and then the tipping point came when I had too many drinks and totally embarrassed myself. Something inside me told me that I had to hit the “reset” button. So, I said to myself, “I’m not drinking for at least six months”.


What happens when you don’t drink alcohol? This is what happened with me.


  1. Slept way better.
  2. Felt way better.
  3. Went out less.
  4. Never stayed until the morning train at a party (this being Japan).
  5. People around you drink less.
  6. You manage to socialize with people at parties anyway (you just need to get used to it at first, if you’re shy and use alcohol to loosen up)

I know that recent studies claim heavy drinkers still live longer than people who don’t drink. These studies contradict each other every other month but I wouldn’t doubt the social component of drinking leads to better health. Still, I can’t really deny that I feel a lot better not drinking because the quality of life is way better when there’s no alcohol from last night in your system even without hangovers. It’s a lifestyle choice. Although that tequila shot puts me back on a new journey, I’d rather not go back to drinking although I’m not going to be fanatic about it. Just go with the flow and right now I’m not feeling alcohol.

Leverage iPhone Custom URL Schemes with Remember the Milk

One of the great things about having remember the milk on the iPhone is portability. You have access to your tasks anywhere with the wonderful official iphone app but it doesn’t have tight integration with mobile specific tasks like call or sms or email someone right? Not quite.


The trick is to use custom url schemes. You can add tasks to RTM with the url set as a custom url scheme and it will launch the designated app. With the quick add task syntax, it would be like:


call for appointment tel://5559898


text bob sms://5559898


Those custom urls can be clicked from the task’s url field and will launch the designated application. Unfortunately, mailto: doesn’t work too well (you get “mailto” prepended the address) but for calls and text it works great.

5 Startup Lessons I Learned from a Farmer

Several weeks ago I spend a few days on Nakagomi Orchard (facebook page) WWOOFing. The idea was to get away from city life and spend time away from technology by volunteering on a farm in exchange for food and board. I never expected to see entrepreneurial spirit in full force. Our host, Nakagomi Kazumasa was not your typical farmer. Armed with a masters degree in literature from an American university, he was well-read and passionate about farming. Farming in Japan is a declining industry even as the country is fully dependent on imports (Japan’s self-sufficiency is around 40%) and real income for farmers is around half of what it used to be in the immediate post war era (hence why his parents could afford to send him to the states for college despite the wider economic gap with the United States at the time). When you combine this with Japan’s aging population and the ongoing migration of young people to the city for jobs and other opportunities the picture is quite bleak. In fact, many farmers in the area are going out of business due to financial difficulties, the lack of a heir or a combination of both. The fact that Nakagomi Orchard can weather this storm in a declining industry shows that they are doing something quite right. Here’s a short list of things that I saw at the farm that any startup should take heed.


Be passionate


Within 10 minutes of arriving on the farm I was whisked away to the orchard, dressed in overalls with tools in hand. After a small break and introduction I was weeding around a variety of trees. Kazu told us that weeding is an important part of farming because the weeds suffocate the roots and steal nutrients that should go to the trees. You have to get the root of the weeds otherwise it would grow back stronger but not damage the roots. Lazy farmers with badly tended orchards suffered lower yields and low quality crops.


Kazu was very friendly but laser-focused on farming. He never told anyone to work harder or faster but his passion was contagious and it kept an assortment of volunteers focused on work. While weeding he would go into details about the process of farming and the work involved as the season progressed.


It wasn’t just him either, everyone in the family was passionate about the family business, something I’ll go into more depth.


Everyone is an entrepreneur


Another striking feature of the orchard was how everyone in the family was essentially an entrepreneur. The family spanned several generations from grandmother, sons and wife, and grandchild. Everyone had their own role. Grandmother tended to the house, making lunch or readying snacks for the tea breaks that punctuated farm work. The daughter-in-law cooked dinner for the volunteers. Kazu oversaw work on the farm and the nephew helped out.


However, at a moment’s notice the daughter-in-law would be driving a van to the orchard busing volunteers and giving them directions. You could ask any member of the family what tomorrow’s weather forecast was and they would tell you including the highs and lows. At one point a shipping company visited us during lunch break and it turned into an impromptu business meeting where they compared shipping costs with the competitor and discussed the pros and cons in detail. It was amazing how quickly family members would switch between roles and adjust to the environment. They were very sensitive to the business and political climate in addition to the weather. Grandma read the newspaper daily and the daughter-in-law always watched the news. Everyone had a stake in keeping the orchard running and it showed.


Innovate, innovate, innovate


One thing that came up over and over again during our stay is how the orchard continued to innovate. Nakagomi Orchard pioneered a variety of new farming techniques in the area that significantly increased yield (Kazu’s brother is head of agricultural research at one of the prefecture’s labs). Not only that, the orchard constantly innovated by opening up direct sales channels and experiment with a variety of marketing strategies. They were always searching for newer and better ways to increase their yield or sales (either increasing profit margins or cutting costs). It was crucial to their survival because other orchards in the area would quickly copy any innovative technique they saw as successful. Even nature kept them on their toes, a technique that worked on keeping birds away one season rarely worked after a couple months. This lead Kazu to seek a competitive advantage that other orchards in the area couldn’t easily replicate.


Marketing


One thing Kazu was quick to incorporate was internet technology. Whether it be social media, SEO, blogging or international volunteers (via WWOOF), Kazu put his English skills to good work to take advantage of this. While the Orchard’s website might not win any design awards, it places highly in search engines for a variety of terms that ensure a constant flow of customers and volunteers. Neighboring farms might imitate any old school marketing technique but none of them can match Kazu’s web savy. Through a combination of these skills he was able to sell his orchard’s products directly (better margins than going through the local agricultural association), have a steady flow of volunteers to help with the labor shortage, and ensure that his orchard got a steady flow of attention.


Stay open


How does Kazu keep up with all this? For one he is always open to suggestions. Many volunteers who come and go give him suggestions and information regarding social media. In fact, the facebook page was something I suggested with the other volunteers that were there. He simply said, “thanks for the suggestion, lets do it”.


While, getting away from the city and the internet in general was refreshing, seeing a real entrepreneur in action was probably the best thing about the trip (not to mention a breath-taking view of Mt. Fuji). When you’re knee deep in tech blogs it’s easy to forget that there is a whole wealth of knowledge that startups can learn from by stepping outside and talking with people doing their thing in traditional industry. You never know what you might learn.

Where Do Old Goals Go to Die?

Perhaps the most important thing you can do when you set a goal is to decide what happens after you achieve them or fail in your pursuit. This past three months has been a hectic one in many respects. One of the many things on my agenda was to lose weight. I’m not overweight by any means. In fact, by BMI (Body Mass Index) I need to gain weight but of course these fancy weight scales tell you how much body fat you have and I was something like 15%. Over the course of roughly three months I continued to modify and experiment with my diet. I started with portion control and settled on eating meat for breakfast to jump start my day and make sure my body didn’t think it was starving despite not having as much food as before.


This was all followed by regular and intense exercise. For the final leg of the program I was hitting the gym everyday for 9 days straight and met all my targets. Body fat on last measure is 10% and I look like Kate Moss in her hey day. Whether that’s good or bad is another story but it was intense.


Any serious undertaking is more or less a battle fought within. Get on that machine, you order yourself. Hell no, you want to die? Then there’s a soothing devil there to caress you once manage to trick yourself into self-punishment. Hey, you more than deserve that bag of chips, isn’t the whole purpose of exercise to not have to watch what you eat? Of course, the voice of reason knows that the most strenuous of cardiovascular exercise sessions can’t possibly amount to a bag of chips. Sad but true.


We can all give our best every now and then but the real challenge is to be consistent. The challenge of consistency is the need to micro-manage yourself, to be the drill sergeant from hell there to yell into your ear a tirade of sweet obscenities until you finally decide that getting the bastard of your back is infinitely more comforting than avoiding the task at hand.


The biggest danger of these arbitrary goals is achieving them. What do you do when you achieve a goal? Or even when you are forced to give up? The smart thing is to have another greater goal on the horizon, to keep setting milestones and revising your grand design on a constant basis to align with your progress. However, the more intense the effort the more harder it will be to reign in the “celebration” phase when you let everything go to hell in a hand basket. It’s especially true with physical fitness because the benefits fade away much quicker than they come.


I guess there’s a reason why obsessive-compulsive types with just the right amount of talent go on to achieve great things because they’re never satisfied even when they hit their limits, they persevere and keep pushing. I turned to a variety of people for inspiration but I’m definitely not them. Time to look for new goals and revisit my long-term strategy.

Replacing the Office Chair with an Exercise Ball

Last week I replaced my office chair with an exercise ball. I actually bought two, one for the home and one for the office. I was looking for more ways to do something about my sedentary lifestyle as a desk monkey. Sales people get to make phone calls and go out of the office (so long as they close the deal). Management can always schedule a meeting here and there or even go on a business trip wherever they want. Programmers get to fidget in their seat all they and stare at their monitor. For exercise you go to the local cafe to grab a coffee, unless you work for one of those famous IT companies filled with toys.


The stereotypical programmer is either heroine-chic thin or fat as a balloon but on average a bit on the flabby side at best. You wont find many hardcore programmers curling barbells as they knock out one algorithmic marvel after another. So basically, I came to the conclusion, the only variable I can safely change is the surface I sit on.


I was never able to sit still for so long as I can remember. If I stay in the same spot for more than 15 minutes I get restless and impatient to the point where I have to jump out of the seat. It’s almost a disease really. I’ve always wanted to be one of those cool IT people sitting on one of those bouncy balls. It made the office look more fun and innovative. Of course, that image of exercise balls being cool probably died with the first IT bubble but I guess it’s never to late to rekindle fond memories.


I ordered a set of exercise balls off of Amazon for around $20 total. As I pushed my office chair to the side and started inflating the ball, I got cold, knowing looks from co-workers (“yeah, those used to be cool at my last office, didn’t do a damn thing for you after a while”), kicks (to the ball), and people wanting to try it. All the typical reactions I read about in doing some background research.


The first day was hell. I didn’t inflate the ball enough so it was a bit low for my desk. The thing about sitting on these exercise balls is that they are essentially fluid, unstable surfaces to sit on. You need to constantly shift your weight around to maintain your balance. As a result, paradoxically it may seem, you end up having to keep your back straighter than you usually do because it offers you the most balance and least effort on such surfaces.


My posture has always been bad even before becoming a programmer. I never was into sports to begin with and really didn’t care about posture. Naturally, my posture kept getting worse. On top of that I’m near-sighted so when I concentrate on something I tend to lean into the screen more than most people, making things even worse.


The first day of sitting on an exercise ball was the roughest. The second I started sitting on the ball my back suddenly went straight as an arrow. It was strange because it happened so naturally as I wiggled to gain stability when I first sat on the ball. After a short while my upper back was in excruciating pain from maintaining a straight line from my head down to my ball. While I wanted to relax my posture a bit, doing so would ruin my balance so there I was frozen in pain. Each day got better and from the second day I didn’t have any upper back pain. However, near the end of every workday my lower back would get really worked hard and tense from keeping my back straight. Being restless to start with now I was jumping out my seat all the time to relieve the muscle ache or rolling my hips on the ball to stretch out the small of my back.


After only spending a week on the ball my posture improved quite dramatically. I noticed the difference after only a day when I was looking at party pictures the day after I used the ball for a full day. I was just standing as I normally would without really trying to keep my back straight, yet it looked more straight than usual. It does seem to help you burn more calories too. The problem is I’ve been eating a lot more as well. Another side benefit is it keeps me from doing overtime since I can’t just slouch in my cheap, pretender of an ergonomic chair all day. My back muscles are in too much pain to stay any longer than eight hours.


It’s still too early to see how this whole thing will work out but it seems to have all kinds of benefits. Aside from getting extra exercise and better posture for free I can do all kinds of stretches whilst remaining seated just by rolling the ball around and stretching out my mid-section. When I do get to sit on a regular chair it feels like heaven too. However, sitting on an exercise ball helps you maintain more concentration though since it heightens your self-awareness. Not sure how long this phase of mine will last. I guess we’ll see.

Regaining Focus

My eyesight’s really taken a turn for the worse these last two years. I started wearing glasses for the first time in my life starting this year. When I was a kid I was diagnosed with a mild case of lazy eye where I relied on one eye more than the other. As an adult the eyes sort of specialized one for reading and other short range tasks and the other for seeing everything else. I’ve always had 20/20 vision in one eye and never really noticed anything in daily life. However, working as a programmer amidst this digital revolution just made things unbearable these past two years.


During the day I’d really be staring into the computer as if my life depended on it. As a result my eyesight simply kept getting worse in the other eye to the point where it did affect my daily life. The blurred visions of my bad eye would interfere with my good. On top of that my eyes were getting crossed especially after a long session of work.


I figured that if I could correct the vision in the bad eye things would improve so instead of glasses I tried Ortho-K contacts lenses. These are pricy contacts that you wear before sleep (yes, you read that right) and wake up with corrected vision. You take the contacts out and live a life of 20/20 vision without glasses. At least that’s the theory and I’m sure that’s how it works for most but for me I ended up waking up to double vision because my eyes were crossed and after decades of relying on one eye I couldn’t focus things in distance (although for close range things were OK). This causes a lot of problems because I see things in double and they cross into each other. It was like a bad hallucination because if I looked at the road I’d see cars crashing into each other head on and people all around me as twins going all over. I had to learn how to ignore one of the visions to avoid bumping into things. Of course, my eyes didn’t improve a bit. I had sight but not focus. It’s really terrifying when you think about it, seeing things not as they are but as they are packaged by your eyes and mind.


All this did was make things worse and my cross eye condition just deteriorated further to the point where on bad days I couldn’t look people in the eye because one eye would look into theirs while another would be reading a poster on the adjacent wall. I hated pictures because I couldn’t look into the camera. I’d be the guy with a half-crazy look and the only one looking in a wildly different direction from everyone else.


You don’t realize what something as common as having two eyes looking in the same direction is until you lose it. I’d go to job interviews praying for a “good eye day” and hoping even if my eyes are crossed that they wouldn’t hold it against me. Still, it makes you more awkward and reserved in social situations.


The funny thing is that my condition started improving out of the blue. I have to make a conscious effort but I can focus my eyes at close range. It’s really weird because when I see double, I have to will my eyes to focus and then I see things sharp and in focus. I can actually feel the muscles in my eyes contract and align my pupils. The the eye muscles give and I need to close my eyes and refocus. Also, once my eyes start seeing double I can’t refocus on the fly, I need to close my eyes and refocus (at least at the end of a long day at work).


It only works and short range but the range is incrementally increasing at a very slow pace and after a long day of coding I look like I’m insane. I also can’t focus on faces for some reason. I actually have to spend time re-training my eyes to focus after a long day and bear my eye muscles tightening to correct my focus. Still, I’m happy because at least now I have hope that with a little more practice I can keep my eyes aligned and maybe even lead a life with normal sight some time soon. I really don’t like the cross eyed look and double vision is hazardous for your health. They eye focus exercises seem to keep my eye alignment in check so we’ll see.


However, it’s a blessing in disguise because it teaches you the importance of focus. Focusing means seeing things correctly and for what they are. It’s the only way to move forward without going down the wrong path or injuring yourself.

What Do You Believe in?

The other day as I was heading out to the city and walking to the station, two youths on mountain bikes stopped me in the street. They were dressed in black windbreakers and wearing helmets. It was obvious they weren’t from Japan or at least not completely Japanese because nobody wears helmets. One young man was Japanese and the other was from Utah. At first I thought they were tourists or someone looking for directions, turns out they were missionary volunteers for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’m not going to switch religions on a street corner but it came at a time when I was thinking about the power of conviction and belief. They believed in what they were doing and believed it would be good for others and that’s what gives them the confidence and courage to approach strangers and try to convert them.


Do you believe in what you’re doing? Do you have conviction? I think happiness is over-rated. Important but over-rated. There’s a word for people who pursue happiness out of context, drug addicts and dilettantes. And you’ll find them amongst the filthy rich as well as the dirt poor.


Being happy all the time probably means you’re not pushing hard enough. Most people are going to have miserable moments during the course of getting things done, moments when you don’t want to go any further, moments when you want to give up, moments when you just want to run away. The only things that can keep you going are conviction, drive, ambition, belief, and confidence. That isn’t to say that we should all be burned out and depressed every day of the week. We must have satisfaction in what we do. That’s really the key. Yeah, it was a tough day and it sure had some difficult moments but I got through and I got something done, something important to me. That’s the quality that will keep you going and some day you’ll have your moment when the hard work comes together.


The missionaries drove home a lot of important things that I’ve forgotten lately a lot of things that you don’t realize you’re missing as you accumulate a jaded outlook on life. The power of conviction is what makes terrorists so dangerous because they actually believe in what they are doing. They aren’t violent lunatics as the media or Department of Homeland Security will have you believe. They are simply fanatics who are willing to kill and be killed to change the world and achieve what they believe is right. You simply can’t fight that unless you have conviction and belief in something that will stop them. Of course, the saving grace is that terrorists are a niche, they are destructive and negative so they can only appeal to the angry, disenchanted and forlorn.


You simply can’t perform at your best unless you believe in what you’re doing and are excited about what you want to accomplish. Success and failure can both lead you down the dreaded path of complacency, apathy, and depression. Why? Because you lose your future. We’ve all seen both ends of the spectrum. People who were wildly successful suddenly lose their bearings and drift endlessly, cruising on past merits. They may still be more successful than the average but they lose their shine. Or maybe we’ve seen someone weighed down by a lifetime of failure never realizing what they are capable of or even trying to see what they can do, a lifetime of lost opportunities and misery. It doesn’t always have to be that way as long as you’re constantly keeping your eyes on what really matters to you as a person, still it can be the hardest thing in the world, but even when you face the most difficult moment in your life and lose everything you got, the scariest moment will be when someone shatters or shakes your belief. Take a moment to think about that.

2008 Retrospective, the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Don’t have any nuggets of wisdom no sweeping panoramas of life as we know it from this year called 2008. It was a roller coaster ride for certain. From my privy knowledge so far, 2009 will be even more of a roller coaster ride.


New Career, New Disappointments


It’s been quite a rocky reboot of my career since re-entering the work force. What on earth I was thinking to become a programmer with no prior experience, no formal education in the field, and well on years I will never know but it was the only career I could think of having spent the past couple of years playing with the web. Alas, work and play are rarely the same thing.


The new job was an eye-opening experience in more ways than one. The dynamics of a large (at least for a web company) and established corporate machine was something that I understood in principle but had to see first hand. If you could imagine a slave colony of typists writing complex, esoteric commands into a terminal while crackers cracked their whips while laughing with a beer in their other hand, you pretty much got my impression of what it’s like to work in a corporation. I’m being totally unfair and prejudiced but still.


One thing I realized is how I totally suck at programming. The bugs and slow spells were really killing me career-wise. Still, I lost total motivation to do anything about it. Everything that could go wrong went wrong and in the end I had to throw in the towel.


Re-discovering Productivity


As a result of my career woes I did re-discover the importance of productivity. Being away from the work force made me too soft and lazy. That’s one thing that working in an office full of people is good for. You get to see people that are good at their game first hand, working it and making a difference. It forces you to run. You get put in front of a train, get a 5 minute head start and then you run like hell or get run over. I’ve taken a renewed interest in GTD and thanks to the iphone and tools like remember the milk, I’m much more productive but I still have a long ways to go.


Lately, my focus is not so much on the process itself, I think I’ve got a decent flow now. Putting tasks into the task lists, getting them done, prioritizing them, re-organizing tasks and ultimately letting go of things that you just can’t do or are taking too much energy.


Buying an iPhone


I was actually waiting in line the day the iPhone 3G started selling in Japan. It was a crazy roller coaster ride of anticipation and frustration with Japanese language input, crashing, and ultra-long backups. Most of the issues seem fixed but even at firmware 2.2, the iPhone has a lot of features that just aren’t quite there whether it’s lack of copy and paste, no horizontal mode for email input, regression to manual syncing of video, and a lot of other minor niggly stuff. They did improve a lot though, just wish the iPhone debuted the 3G with 2.2 and not the half-finished beta they forced on early adopters.


However, the iPhone helped turn my under-used phone into a powerful productivity tool and portable communication device. It opened my eyes to the possibilities of mobile computing and gaming. As a result, I’ve been able to juggle a lot more with a lot less. Really answering emails on the go, managing contacts, social calendars, task lists, and other media. Coming from the ipod touch I completely stopped watching videos though.




Hard Drive Crash


My hard drive crashed twice in 2008. First time I had no backup of my media stuff but my flickr account, ipod, and code repositories saved the day. Still, I didn’t want to go through the ordeal of putting the humpty dumpty pieces together so I bought a Time Capsule. True to form, I actually did have to use the Time Capsule to restore my mac. After all the Time Capsule-induced kernel panics and other nastiness, I can finally say that this is one investment that repaid itself. Wish I did it sooner. Oh, and both hard drives were aftermarket Hitachis, I’ll never buy their hard drives again.


Welcome Back to the Social


This summer I finally got back into the social swing of things. I pretty much stayed away from socializing for a year and a half or so. My career demands were calming down in twisted equilibrium I finally established after coming to terms with the current situation. A friend’s chance homecoming to Japan renewed my motivation to re-connect with the friends I’ve neglected for so long. As a result, my social calendar exploded and my social group was resurrected from a long coma. I plunged into FaceBook into a big way and was amazed through and through by how much of a viable platform it is for socializing. It’s been slew of parties since and the promotion of parties thereof. I must say that my thirst for socializing is more than quenched but for 2009 I’ll try to redefine the experience for myself and others to see if I can take it to the next level.


New Styles


Experimented with a radical new “style” so to speak. Went from long hair to buzz cut and back on the road to long hair again. Some people look good with a shaved head some don’t. For 2009 I’m going to go posh. I’ve forsaken fashion for economy much too long. I’ll also be wearing glasses. My eye sight has gotten so bad that I was developing a really serious case of cross-eye. People didn’t know which way I was looking and I didn’t know which way I was looking. Too much time in front of a computer does that to you so I’m wearing glasses now. Things are much better and kinda like the Harry Potter look though I doubt the ladies will appreciate it as much (at least the kind of ladies I appreciate).


Books and More Books


The latter half of 2008 was defined by reconnection with the things I loved to do or used to love. One of those was reading books. I haven’t read books seriously in years really. Too much blogs and email. Sitting still and reading a work of prose or fiction from cover to cover, forming an intellectual panorama of thoughts and scenes spanning hundreds of pages is still an exquisite experience and even more so having seen the alternative of institutionalized ADHD. Re-discovering books meant reconnecting with my intellectual past and unlocking the dark chambers of my mind that lay dormant for so long. It’s amazing how the senses and scenes of past intellectual pursuits come back. The other day I checked out a book I read years ago and passages I read came back so vividly that I knew that I had read it before. The beauty of reading is that the intellectual capital stays with you for so long. I look forward to reading more and building on it for years to come. This time, I wont be wandering from the path.


Current Affairs


I’ve also taken a more serious interest in current affairs. I read the newspaper every day or read every day’s newspaper (if I’m busy). The world is a fast changing place and being in IT you tend to be aloof to current affairs. This is an unfortunate trend plaguing society as a whole and not just IT professionals. Too many people don’t know what’s going on unless it hits Digg or gets twittered to death or posted to FaceBook. It’s too bad that people are becoming oblivious to the history they are living. Newspapers may be a dying breed but I’ll be subscribing to print for some time to come as long as someone keeps printing. That’s not to say I don’t find digital media attractive. I heavily use the Bloomberg app and AP Mobile News. Those apps are some of the most used apps on my iphone. Watching the subprime loan crisis unfold in real-time through Bloomberg was an experience I’ll never forget.


Games!


I own a Nintendo DS Lite that I haven’t touched in months. I bought a couple games on the iPhone like Monkey Ball that I haven’t played along with an assortment of racing games. The games I find myself playing regularly are puzzles like Tangram Puzzle Pro, Sudoku Unlimited, Parking Lot, and Tetsuki. All these games are either puzzles or strategy games. The games are tiring in a way but rewarding in only the way that intellectual challenges are. It’s all part of my drive for self-improvement while having a little bit of fun mixed in. Not denying the entertainment and even benefits of action-packed gaming but as you get older you look for different kicks. Puzzles are an entirely different kind of reward.


Tetsuki is really in a league of its own in the roster. A couple years back I took up playing igo. I played pretty hard and often. Improved quite quickly but far from mastering it on any level. This ancient Chinese game of strategy is so simple yet so complex. You start with 5 basic rules that can be mastered in a sitting. Stones are equal in strength and power, there is no memorization of arbitrary move patterns like Chess. The game unfolds in a way that requires both science and art where you can break down strategy into both logical moves and more pattern heavy strategy. I guess you just have to play it to understand.


Igo is going to be an integral part of my recreation in 2009. Nothing like intellectual competition over a board game to both have fun and exercise your mind.


So What’s in Store for 2009?


Concentration


The year 2009 will be the year I focus on concentration. You can tweak the process so much but in the end it’s the amount of intensity you can deliver and sustain in order to really get anything done. The problem is you can be TOO intense that you crash and burn. I’ve already been there once and don’t intend to go back. I’ve been sort of playing with the idea and testing the limits but in 2009, I really can’t afford not to go all out in order to do something meaningful with my life. So far, there are a couple developments on the horizon that hold a lot of promise for 2009. We’ll see how it all unfolds soon enough.

Life and Friends

Was out the other night with lots of friends I haven’t seen in a while. Caught up some, while seeing how our different lives made us different people while somehow remaining quintessentially the same. Strange how the mellowing effects of age can be sensed in a very real way. It was fun and calming at the same time. Each of us with our ups and downs sharing in each others lives just by sharing the same space and casual conversation. When you think about it, 90% of the banal talk between friends isn’t all that different from a polite conversation you’d have with a casual stranger. Yet it all adds up very differently. There’s trust, acceptance, and care.


It was a good night.