Friday, December 16, 2011

A poem for my son's 10th birthday

Fencer, student, adventurer, son
The best big brother imaginable,
Learning so fast, yet hardly begun,
A spirit that is indomitable.

A father could not be more proud,
Of all you have created,
Sometimes quiet, sometimes loud,
But always brilliant and elated.

Quick of body and of mind,
Helping, laughing, playing, grand,
Patient, thoughtful, clever, kind,
I’ve seen it all, I know firsthand.

The course is set for clear sailing,
Discoveries are yours for taking,
Happy Birthday Galen,
You are legend in the making.

-Your Father

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My Future Self

This is a metaphor that Des and I have started to use frequently. Or maybe not a metaphor, but a turn of phrase, a way of reframing thoughts so that we can make better decisions. It goes kind of like this:

You have three selves. Your past self, your current self, and your future self.

Now, my current self used to worry a lot about himself. He stole from my future self so he could get better stuff. He spent a lot of time complaining about what a bastard his past self was, stealing all his time and money. But he didn't worry much about his future self, because he was sure that guy would be in a much better position and would be able to afford all the money he was borrowing.

Here is a diagram of this:

In case it's not clear, let me explain the metaphor a bit. I would bitch and moan about the bad decisions I made, and how I wish I hadn't eaten out so much last month, because I needed that money now. I'd berate myself for having made such a horrible decision. At the same time I'd use credit cards or student loans to buy things, including eating out and other frivolities. That's what I mean by stealing money from my future self -- when you take on debt that's what you're doing. When you put off chores that's what you're doing. You're assuming your future self will somehow have more money and time than your present self. And if you're wrong, you just do it again. And again. And your future self never gets anything. Poor future self...

Making procrastinating and piling up debt are kind of mean things to do to our future self. Pretty soon, we'll be that future self, and look back and wonder why our past self is such a selfish jerk. So we got to thinking, right? Wouldn't our current self be enjoying life more if our past self would just show it a bit more love? Maybe our future self would appreciate it if we sent it a little present every now and then?

Here is a diagram of what I try to do now:

So when we exercise, it's a gift to our future self. When we save money, it's so our future self can have an easier time, and maybe a bit of fun. When I do the dishes the night before, it's so I can have a nice clean kitchen the next morning. When we don't buy a new electric gizmo, it's so our future self can have a camping trip.

And you know what? I like life a lot better when my past self stops being such a jerk. When he sends me presents, I get to open them and be happy. All I have to do is show a little love to my future self, and everything is so much more tolerable. I end up with less debt, less guilt, and more fun.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Des asked my opinion on something today. It was an important decision with lots of pros and cons both way.

She was teetering back and forth.

Which meant that whatever opinion I had was what she would end up doing. It would add a few pounds to that side of the teeter totter, and off she'd go.

Now, for a normal person this might not seem like too horrible a spot to be put in. But it was simply too much power, too much responsibility, for my fragile little mind.

I mean, if she's going to do whatever I say, doesn't that make me fundamentally responsible for the outcomes of my decision? What if I don't clearly understand the problem? What if I try to pick what will make her happy, and instead she ends up miserable? How can I bear the weight of such a decision?

So of course, I attempted to redirect. I suggested getting more information, asking around, and so forth. I hoped I sounded reasonable, and not like I was trying to avoid constructing an Opinion.

However, I'm a terrible bluffer. She saw right through that and punched holes in my feeble delay tactics.

Time to try again... I just want you to be happy. You know, so do the happy choice. I hoped this get her to tip her hand as to what option would genuinely make her happier. I should have known better... if the decision was that easy, she would have made it without me. "What would make me happy? What would make me happy? What would make me happy is if you put actual thought into your reply and came up with a real opinion of your own instead of just trying to make me happy!"

I'm not sure if my failure to comprehend that is because it makes no sense or because I make no sense. Either way, an insufficient quantity of sense was being made.

I thought about it for a while. Or rather, I had a meta-thought process where I thought about the conversation itself instead of what she actually wanted me to think about. I decided that the only thing worse than doing what I said would be doing the opposite of what I said. "Should I wear the white or green dress?" "Green." Pause. "Really? Wow. I'm going with white. Thanks anyway." See, that makes me wonder why bother asking for my opinion in the first place, if you already seem to know exactly what you are going to do.

At any rate, eventually a decision was made, and I tried hard for it not to be me who made it. Not all by myself at any rate. I think it went well (but that's just my opinion).

Red Chile Sauce

Finally got my ratios finalized on this one.

Merak's New Mexico Red Chile Sauce

3 tbs vegetable oil
3 tbs flour
1/3 cup New Mexico red chile powder
2 cups water
1/4 tsp Mexican oregano (this stuff is stronger than you'd think)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt

In a saucepan, make a roux out of the oil and flour. Cook on medium until bubbly. Whisk in the chile powder. The result will be alarmingly lumpy -- but don't worry, chile powder breaks apart instantly in water. Whisk in the 2 cups water and watch the lumps disappear. Add all the seasonings and simmer for 10 minutes, whisking occasionally.

I use powdered onion and garlic so the sauce will end up smooth. There's no reason you can't use actual chopped and sauteed garlic and onion instead if you want.

Do not use stock or broth instead of the water. Just water. I experimented and the extra flavor depth of stock just didn't taste right.

Don't attempt to control the spiciness by reducing or increasing the amount of chile powder. It will change the texture of the sauce. Instead you should blend mild/medium/hot powder to your tastes (I use half medium, half hot). Making this sauce with other types of chile powder might be terrible. They might be wonderful. I don't know. Go experiment and get back to me!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Merak's Buttermilk Waffles

Made this up this morning and they turned out amazing. Lots of recipes call for whipping the egg whites, or adding seltzer for bubbles, but these seemed to turn out light and crispy without such things.

Substituting corn starch for some of the flour reduces the protein ratio, simulating cake flour. This probably accounts for some of the airy crispiness. I might tweak the ratios a bit.

For sixth of a cup measurements, I just eyeball half a third cup.

Merak's Buttermilk Waffles
1 5/6 cups all-purpose flour
1/6 cup corn starch
1/2 tbs sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

3 tbs butter
2 tbs vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
~1/2 cup milk, to proper consistency

Brief instructions: 

Combine until combined. Cook until cooked.

Verbose instructions:

Combine dry ingredients.

In a separate microwave-safe bowl, combine the butter and oil. Microwave for 30 seconds or so until the butter is just melted. If you left it in too long and it's hot, let it cool off for a minute or two. Whisk in the eggs until it's a creamy, smooth consistency. Whisk in the buttermilk. Don't add the milk.

Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Since buttermilk seems to vary in consistency, sometimes being very smooth like milk and sometimes being almost as thick as yogurt, I add the milk to make it just right. This is a matter of judgment. I just know "batter consistency" when I see it. It might not need any. It might need the entire 1/2 cup.

Cook in your waffle iron. I like them extra crispy, so I use my iron's darkest setting. But you'll have to experiment to see what setting you like best on your machine. I also spray mine with no-stick spray before each waffle, even though with a properly seasoned iron you don't need to (some people say absolutely you should NOT do this). I find it fries the outside of the waffle slightly, making a lighter and crispier outer crust.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Poem: The Forgotten Poet

The Forgotten Poet

In the rush of adult life
In the crush of joyous years
The poet of yourth has forgotten how
To shed his inky poet tears.

So little time for reflecting self
To putting musical philosophy to pen
Years not wasted, but years not spent
Years merely saved 'till scribed again.

Awaken poet, from unversed sleep
Your love and fantasies await
For you have seen where dragons fly
And gently touched the cheek of fate.

Merak Spielman 11/12/2007

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hanlon's Razor and the Golden Rule

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." I usually tack on "incompetence" or "ignorance" on there as well.

Somewhere along the line, as a very young child, I internalized this. I'm not sure how or why. But even before I had heard the actual saying, I couldn't ever bring myself to comprehend the possibility of people deliberately being mean.

Perhaps I should blame an excess of empathy... maybe my mom asked me one too many times, "How do you think that makes so and so feel?"

Or maybe I suffer from an extreme version of the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." I would never want somebody to knowingly do or say something that would hurt my feelings, so I would never knowingly and willingly do such things to others. So I can't really rationalize how other people might be doing so -- I just can't put myself in their shoes.

There are consequences to this belief. Most people seem to be under the impression that the world is full of people who deliberately act with malice to promote their own self interest. In contrast, I see a world full of well-meaning, but truly, truly, stupid, incompetent, and ignorant people.

I'm really not sure which way is better.

But it takes me a long time to reach the conclusion that somebody is being deliberately cruel or malicious, and at that point, all I can do is file them in the category of extreme mental illness. I toss them in with all the sociopaths and psychopaths and megalomaniacs of the world. The only way I can come to grips with it is to assume they're not in their right minds.

I know, in my heart, that everybody is rationalizing their actions based on what they think is right and good and virtuous. And while I might disagree with them, I don't like the idea of trying to change them. Because I wouldn't want anybody to change me, you know, just because they thought I was wrong.

As I said, there are consequences for these philosophies.

I have a hard time putting my own interests ahead of other people's. I feel bad. How do I really know I deserve something more than them?

And when somebody does something to me that negatively affects me, I assume it was because they didn't know any better. Or they didn't understand I wouldn't like it. Or they had a really hard decision to make, and this really was the least painful of many options. I have to trust in their benevolence. Or it would break my brain. Some people automatically assume there's a level of dislike or hatred influencing people's decisions... I can't think that way. Because I can't make decisions that way. I treat people with kindness and respect no matter how they're treating me.

Carried to its logical conclusion, this would completely paralyze me as a person. And from time to time I think it has. There's a whole element of human interaction that I just don't get. It makes it hard to understand, for instance, office politics. I'd never be able to be a manager, because I could never make a decision that would make my employees upset.

I feel bad applying for a job, because I might get hired over somebody who needs the job more, just because I'm a better interviewee.

I feel bad getting birthday presents because I'm certain the money people spent on me could have gone towards their debts. What right do I have to negatively influence their finances?

If somebody has a strong opinion, I go along with what they're saying even if I think they're wrong. Because if they feel that strongly about it, they'd be upset not getting to get what they want, and I usually don't care that much anyway...

And somehow I assume everybody else is thinking the same way.

Now, I know logically this can't be the case. But it's one thing to say things and quite another to truly believe them. Most people see the world through the lens of their own beliefs. So I see everybody as empathic and caring and constantly worrying about making people upset.

And when they seem to violate that mold, I assume they're just stupid, or ignorant, or incompetent. And I feel pity and sadness, but never anger or hatred. I just don't know how.