Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Thousand marbles



Life is of a finite nature. But, still we live as if it is infinite. We take so many things for granted. We put so many things off to "tomorrow". If only there was a way to drive home the point that life is finite, we think.

Last night my wife was watching a contest on Food Network in which chefs were racing against the clock to prepare elaborate desserts. They had a huge digital clock showing the time remaining, and everyone knew what they had to do, and were concentrating on achieving it. If only, life was like that, it would set our priorities right.

I recently stumbled upon this death clock. The idea is to show the finite nature of our lives, but fails miserably in driving the point home. The main reason being that human beings have a hard time comprehending huge numbers. A classic example is that of smokers. A smoker is told that if he continues to smoke, his life expectancy will be reduced by 2 years (say). His first response: so, what? If you tell the same person that drinking rat poison will kill him in 30 mins (say), he will immediately swear to keep away from rat poison. See the difference: A few years lopped off somewhere in the unfathomable future is not of great concern, but something in the foreseeable future (like today) is taken quite seriously.

In contrast (to the death clock), consider this story (author unknown), and see how it drives home the point:

Thousand Marbles

The older I get, the more I enjoy Saturday mornings. Perhaps it's the quiet solitude that comes with being the first to rise, or maybe it's the unbounded joy of not having to be at work. Either way, the first few hours of a Saturday morning are most enjoyable. A few weeks ago, I was shuffling toward the basement shack with a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and the morning paper in the other. What began as a typical Saturday morning, turned into one of those lessons that life seems to hand you from time to time. Let me tell you about it.

I turned the dial up into the phone portion of the band on my ham radio in order to listen to a Saturday morning swap net. Along the way, I came across an older sounding chap, with a tremendous signal and a golden voice. You know, the kind, he sounded like he should be in the broadcasting business. He was telling whomever he was talking with something about "a thousand marbles".

I was intrigued and stopped to listen to what he had to say. "Well, Tom, it sure sounds like you're busy with your job. I'm sure they pay you well but it's a shame you have to be away from home and your family so much. Hard to believe a young fellow should have to work sixty or seventy hours a week to make ends meet. Too bad you missed your daughter's dance recital."

He continued, "Let me tell you something, Tom, something that has helped me keep a good perspective on my own priorities." And that's when he began to explain his theory of "a thousand marbles."

"You see, I sat down one day and did a little arithmetic. The average person lives about seventy-five years. I know, some live more and some live less, but on average, folks live about seventy-five years."

"Now then, I multiplied 75 times 52 and I came up with 3,900, which is the number of Saturdays that the average person has in their entire lifetime. Now stick with me Tom, I'm getting to the important part."

"It took me until I was fifty-five years old to think about all this in any detail," he went on, "and by that time I had lived through over twenty-eight hundred Saturdays. I got to thinking that if I lived to be seventy-five, I only had about a thousand of them left to enjoy."

"So I went to a toy store and bought every single marble they had. I ended up having to visit three toy stores to round-up 1,000 marbles. I took them home and put them inside of a large, clear plastic container right here in the shack next to my gear. Every Saturday since then, I have taken one marble out and thrown it away."

"I found that by watching the marbles diminish, I focused more on the really important things in life. There is nothing like watching your time here on this earth run out to help get your priorities straight."

"Now let me tell you one last thing before I sign-off with you and take my lovely wife out for breakfast. This morning, I took the very last marble out of the container. I figure if I make it until next Saturday then I have been given a little extra time. And the one thing we can all use is a little more time."

"It was nice to meet you Tom, I hope you spend more time with your family, and I hope to meet you again."

You could have heard a pin drop on the radio when this fellow signed off. I guess he gave us all a lot to think about. I had planned to work on the antenna that morning, and then I was going to meet up with a few hams to work on the next club newsletter. Instead, I went upstairs and woke my wife up with a kiss.

"C'mon honey, I'm taking you and the kids to breakfast."

"What brought this on?" she asked with a smile.

"Oh, nothing special, it's just been a long time since we spent a Saturday together with the kids. Hey, can we stop at a toy store while we're out? I need to buy some marbles."

Make today count for every one you waste can never be lived again.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Boat update



It has been quite sometime since I updated on the boat project. The simple reason being that the project had not progressed much, thanks to the rainy winter weather in Seattle. I finally completed glassing of the entire boat. It is fine to just glass all the seams (strength), and the bottom (wear) of the boat. Since I had ordered tonnes of fiberglass cloth, I thought I will glass the entire boat including the insides. This gives the boat tremendous strength and durability while adding only a few ounces to the weight.

I had to remove the amine blush that had formed on some of the surfaces that I had fiberglassed. Then, I had to sand the cured surface so as to form a uniform as well as rough surface. If I were applying another coat of epoxy on an uncured surface, it would lead to a chemical bond (preferable). Since the first coat had completely cured, I had to sand it in order to form a rough surface for the second coat to cling onto. This forms a mechanical bond, which is not as strong as the chemical bond. Chemical bond occurs at molecular level. Enough theory now. The boat surface looks shiny and beautiful (see pic). Unfortunately, I have to paint it since epoxy degrades with exposure to sunlight. I will be completing the second coat on the outside and then painting the boat. Still thinking of a color scheme... The inside surfaces will be white or off-white. I don't want the surfaces to get hot in the sun.

BTW, we did watch The Sixth Sense last weekend. Of course, since this was the third time, it didn't grip us as much, but the ending did hit us well. I was observing the technical merit of the movie, and I have to say, it is a well made movie.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I see dead people ...

Last night I happened to watch Medium after a long time. I could see the plot through, and it was comical to see the blunders in this episode. This is the episode in which Allison's brother comes over and they both discover that he sees dead people too. They both interact with a dead person throughout the entire episode.

Let's look at some of the great blunders in this half-assed production. First of all, Allison's brother gets the dead girl a beer, and she sits at the table and drinks it. Then comes the scene where the dead girl pulls the brother over herself and kisses him, in order to hide from the bad guys. This second scene is cool. Imagine, that you are one of the unfortunate who cannot see dead people, and you are in this scene. All you see is a well built dude hunched over a sofa, his upper body hanging in mid air. All this is happening in public places with lots of people around. C'mon guys, this is Hollywood. Even for a TV series quality matters.

If you haven't seen the movie "The Sixth Sense", read no further and go watch the movie.

Spoiler ahead:
Go take a look at The Sixth Sense, and tell me when Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) comes in contact with any other human being in the whole movie. That is one good movie. I need to watch that movie again...

Monday, March 13, 2006

New wine in an old bottle

It feels like that is what I am trying to be these days. I always believed that age was no bar when it comes to learning new things. We have all seen or heard of someone who ran his first marathon at age 80+ (got into running at 70+), became a violin virtuoso at a ripe old age, mastered Doom3 at age 90, etc. These are inspiring tales, but achieving that distinction is not easy.

I recently started taking guitar lessons. I went into it confidently since I have a decent ear for music, and always loved the guitar. One of my goals is to be able to play the solo in Hotel California and Comfortably Numb (and a few others). Things started off smoothly until I hit barre chords. Man, they are a pain in the neck. The beauty of the barre chords is that by learning a few chord shapes (just four, for all the major and minor chords), you can play any chord. That is powerful stuff. The chord voicing may not be the same as in your favorite song, but you can play the chord. The difficulty in playing this chord pattern is that you need to create a barre with your index finger of the left hand. This barre should cover all the six strings, while the other fingers are shaping the chord! This is when I thought I will end up with tendonitis.

It is easy to make up ones mind to master something new, at a later age. It is much more difficult for the body to react with the same zeal. Take gymnastics for instance, it is much easier for a 4 year old to learn new tricks since her body is flexible and nimble, than for a 30 year old. Likewise, there are many activities that need physical ability along with mental ability to accomplish them.

I am not complaining that I will never be a rock star. I am just saying that it is going to take me longer than I initially thought ;-)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Material equilibrium



I always believe that we should not be too materialistic. The US economy thrives on people buying new things and replacing things they already have. I have been brought up in a culture where reuse is valued highly. I loved quirky things like the toothpaste squeezer, which lets you get the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube. I had once made a pencil holder using the remnants of an old fountain pen, the main purpose of which was to hold wooden pencils which are too short to hold properly and write. I used to love to come up with gizmos like these. Now, I am in the land of splurge and am forced to throw away reusable things and buy new ones. Of course, it helps our economy, but we, as consumers, need to draw a line at some point.

So, I came up with the law of Material Equilibrium: Make a conscious effort to gauge your needs, and once you achieve critical mass, try to maintain equilibrium rather than exceed it.

Take a simple scenario of the things in your house. You are just out of school and landed a great job, and have some green bills in your pocket and you want to run to the nearest store and buy everything they have. Fine, but let's set our priorities first. Get your necessities first. Then, splurge and get some luxuries. OK, get lots of luxuries. After a while, you are at a point where you own a nice little house filled to the brim with cool things. The next thought in your mind: I need a bigger house to fit all these things. IF you do get a new house with lots of space, you will end up in the same situation a short while later, and will be looking for an even bigger roof. The snowball effect continues until there is no more cash to move/fill up.

Let's stop before we get there. First step is to take inventory of our current possessions. You look around and see that you have all the necessities, and lots of luxuries to keep you warm and cozy. At this point you have reached your critical mass. Of course, this critical mass varies from item to item. So, different things have different masses. That itself will help you prioritize things. Say, you want a new plasma TV. You look around and see 5 tube TVs spread around the house, and then you see an unreliable junker sitting in the garage. You know where you have reached critical mass, and where you need to concentrate.

Once you set your priorities, it is time to maintain equilibrium on the things that have reached critical mass. Let's say you feel the need for a new couch. Then, you have to weigh the real need, and if you really feel the need, you have to get rid of one you currently have. Replace the one you have (which you don't need/want anymore, for some reason) with a newer one (which you need/want). See the struggle to define need and want. You need to consciously determine what you 'Need' versus what you 'Want'. Did you ever wonder why the supermarkets stock milk and bread at the back corner of the store, AND stock up all the junk food on the 'way' to the milk and bread? Milk and bread are essentials, and everyone buys them. While you are making your way to the essentials, the friendly supermarket staff is helping you define what your 'Needs' are;-) And, you end up with a few bags of doritos, chips, etc. All you went to the store was to buy milk and bread!

Once you determine that you have reached critical mass in a certain area, just try to maintain equilibrium. You want something in an area, you need to part with one of the things you already have in that area. That is the theory of maintaining equilibrium.

One day, I was strolling the mall and saw the latest (at that time) digital SLR from Canon, and immediately started salivating. But, my rational mind kicked in (wiped the saliva off), and started thinking. I already own 3 film SLRs, 2 P&S digital cameras, and who knows how many P&S film cameras, and now, I want another one! At that point I decided that I was a little bit over critical mass (way over critical mass, if you ask my wife), and I needed to pare some before getting the digi SLR. So, off went a few of my cameras on Craigslist. I still feel that I need to 'make space' for the new digi SLR. It is going to happen soon.

Sometimes, I feel this imbalance and immediately know that somethings need to be pared. You get that feeling too. You just have to heed that feeling, take a moment and look inside yourself and decide on what you want to do. We don't want to add to the tonnes of garbage that the world generates. Do you?