Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Counting the Omer, Day 4

Busy day.  No time to write much.

I will simply say that God can teach me two things at a time.

One thing I can seek after and struggle with in prayer.

And second, a bit more in understanding humility.

More than two things makes me flounder.  I miss part of what God wants me learn.  I need to repeat the lesson.

Happily, God knows my limitations and is patient to give me lessons at a pace I can internalize.

Lately life has been so busy and full that I have not been dutiful to keep asking for both types of lessons.  With Spring gardening, sick kids, and a big to-do list it is easy to slip into learning hodge-podge from circumstances.  That works a little, but is as inefficient as trying to learn geometry by doing home improvement projects.

So one goal during the days of counting the omer is to get back to whole-heartedly pursuing both types of lessons.

More details tomorrow.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Counting the Omer, Day 3

Yesterday I started to write about changing habits.  Time to continue...

Earlier today I wrote about types of motivation.

By nature I am (in that essay's vocabulary) proactive and eudaimonic.  There are ways I can arrange my schedule and to-do lists that make me confident I can do well.  I am most relaxed and happy when I have a desirable schedule and routines.

But for the past six years I have been a househusband.

So much for being able to arrange my schedule routines!  I do not even get to expect to sleep through the night or eat a meal uninterrupted.

For example, consider tonight's dinner.  The boys and I had salmon quesadillas, and I also had some scrambled eggs.  We ate in the back yard.  I ate dinner in little bits, interrupted by keeping the boys on track, getting them drinks and later apple, grilling more quesadillas, changing a dirty diaper, and washing dishes promptly to keep the fish smell out of the house.

That's okay.  I can be patient until I some day get a calm, relaxing, prayerful meal.  But eating while metaphorically juggling does make me relish having a bite of sweet dessert, and that brief relaxing pleasure fades so quickly.  I'm really not good at being hedonic.  But when I am unable to be eudaimonic, my body naturally tries the alternative despite knowing it is less effective for me.

Anyway, one of my resolutions during the days of counting the omer is to try to better feed by eudaimonic nature.  This should make me happier, and less interrupted by my mostly-ineffective hedonic habits.

The boys are old enough that I can put up some boundaries and they understand.  They do not always get to ask me with questions.  I get some typing time (like right now!) when they need to entertain themselves instead of asking me to entertain them.  I get some prayer time where being physically still does not mean I am idle and interruptible.  I can practice tai chi again and they know to let me finish the short routine.  I get some evening time at the dojo each week without them.

I expect this will reduce how much I snack on chocolate and feel the need to let my brain tune out by reading unimportant online news and blogs.


I have noticed my math students fit into four different categories.

I should carefully define how I use the diagram's four words.
Proactive people approach tasks like a swing dance lead: they supply the energy and momentum, and organize what will happen.  They make very specific plans.  They focus on schedules and effort.

Reactive people approach tasks like a swing dance follow: they react to external energy and momentum and fill it with their personal style.  They make vague plans.  They focus on emotion and bargains.

Eudaimonic people think most about overall wellbeing.  They often make choices that arrange their life to have stable happiness.

Hedonic people think about specific comfort and discomfort.  They often make choices to enjoy immediate pleasures or avoid immediate anxiety.
Let's consider what students of each type might say to themselves to help motivate themselves to do math homework.

(Obviously, most real-life students will be motivated by a blend of these types.  Yet some types will be more strongly influential than others.  Students reading this essay will think, "Yeah, I am mostly that one with some of this and that.")

The proactive, eudaimonic student 

I will set aside specific times and places to study each week.  I will make myself do the homework.  I know that if I arrange my week in a way that makes homework a priority then I will not fall behind in class.  Falling behind causes trouble.  I believe I can pass any class if I never fall behind.

I will keep aware of my potential resources: office hours, tutoring, the library's collection of the textbook publisher's videos for each section, online math videos, my roommate's friend who is great at math, etc.  If I ever start falling behind I will pick one more resource to start using.

I will compare my notes with those of some classmates.  That will help me learn what kind of math notes help me most.  If someone else seems to be a much better note taker than I am, I will ask if they can teach me their way.

The proactive, hedonic student 

I will set aside specific times and places to study each week.  After each study time I will schedule getting together with friends.

I will make myself do the homework.  It will be easier to get the homework done while I am looking forward to having fun afterwards.

I recognize that discouragement is normal and temporary.  I will push through any discouragement.  If I need to bribe myself by eating a chocolate chip after each homework problem, so be it.

I am afraid to ask questions during class.  I'll ask one each week.  If I don't then I will go up to my teacher after class on Friday and apologize for not asking my questions.  That would be horrible, so I know I'll ask one question.  Probably on Mondays to get it done with.

I believe I can succeed.   I can reach my goals.

The reactive, eudaimonic student

This homework intimidates me but I will show it who is boss!  When I finish a homework assignment I will celebrate using social media so my friends can say 'good job!' and I will feel happy.

I will join a study group so the expectation of attending it will keep me from procrastinating.  Also, in the study group I will sometimes be the person who give hints and help to others and that will make me feel good.

After a test I will get some tutoring from my friend who is great at math.  If I do well her congratulations will make feel good.  Knowing she will be looking at my tests' scratch work will motivate me to write my step-by-step answers nicely, which will itself help my test scores.

I will take great notes.  If there is someone in my class who needs a copy of someone's notes (I know disability services sometimes recommends this to people) I will volunteer.  That will make me feel useful and happy.  And I'll have good notes!

I realize I am afraid to ask questions during math class.  I made a bargain with my roommate: whichever of us asks the more questions in our math classes each week buys the other a fancy coffee during the weekend.

The reactive, hedonic student

This homework intimidates me but I will show it who is boss!  Each day I will not eat deserts until my homework is done.

I know that listening to music slows me down, but after I complete three-quarters of the problems I will turn on my music anyway so I finish in a better mood.

I will mark the tests on my calendar with the big red words "math test!".  A little fear helps prevent procrastination.  I am going to worry about the tests anyway.  I might as well use that worry to help get my homework done on time.

I know I have some strengths.  I am organized.  I can focus when studying.  I passed the previous math class.  I like going to class.  I want to do well.  When I feel discouraged I will think about these strengths.

I realize I am afraid to ask questions during math class.  When I do ask questions I will applaud my bravery.  I might even do a little dance after class.

All four types of students can motivate themselves, complete the homework, and succeed in math.  But how they do it is very different!

LCC has a nice flyer about study tips.  The LCC Testing Office has online study tips.  My own math website has study tips.

The majority of these study tips seem to assume students can be proactive and eudaimonic.  But sociologists are learning more about how these motivation types are a deep part of us, and geneticists are learning more about how they are more inherent than learnable.

Perhaps I should go through all of these study tips to see how well they sort by motivation type?

Or perhaps I should offer that as a small extra-credit assignment to my math students the first week of each term?

Does anyone have other tips or advice for helping students of different motivations?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Counting the Omer, Day 2

Sundown again.  Day two of counting the omer.

As Pesach approached, I considered what habits to change during the days of the counting of the omer.

One decision was to restrict my "entertain myself" computer time to online sermons and reviewing my old sermons to pick some to prioritize for rewriting as scriptural concept essays.

That turned out to be a fairly easy goal.  As I wrote about earlier today, during the past month the corner of the manosphere that I read most has collapsed.  So I found someone interesting to follow on the Pathfinder forums.  When I felt a need to read something unimportant and mentally undemanding, I used the forum discussions in which he participated.  Now I only need drop that routine.  Since it is a new routine I do not care about, it is easy to drop.

I also thought quite a bit about interesting things to blog about, but postponed doing that blogging.  Now I can have a nice "brain dump" feeling by writing blog posts, instead of unproductively reading what other people write.

Naturally, I am changing some other habits also.  But I will be strategic and save that discussion for a future blog post.

Two Types of the Top Hundredth of a Percent

America has two top one-hundredths of a percent.

The Top 0.01% Annual Earners

An interesting analysis of the 1% was recently reported in the Atlantic.

The top one percent of American earners are barely growing in their share of wealth.  Even the top tenth of a percent are only increasing their share slowly and erratically.

But the top hundredth of a percent have increased their share by a huge amount.

These groups are demographically worlds apart.

The top one percent are mostly small business owners.  The "lower half" of the top one percent of earners have annual incomes between $350,000 and $500,000 per year, and usually about half that after taxes and retirement contributions.

The top hundredth of a percent are those brokers and bankers (and to a lesser extent CEOs) who got very lucky in the stock market last year.  Their annual income was over $5 million!  Few of the top hundredth of a percent stay at that level for long, because the stock market is a harsh mistress.

I recommend Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book The Black Swan for an easy to read glimpse at the crazy and horrific world in which the  top hundredth of a percent temporarily can live.

The small business earners are increasingly encumbered by Federal legislation, and are not feeling like they enjoy much political influence.

The very top earners can be politically influential for a few years.  But most are too busy buying and enjoying cars and yachts and homes to enjoy before their luck in the stock market changes and they go bankrupt.

The Top 0.01% Wealth Holders

The top hundredth of a percent of wealth holders in America are very different people than the top hundredth of a percent of wealth earners.

Families can pass along wealth and political influence without ever earning as much during a single year as the brokers and bankers who get luckiest in the stock market.

But only 8% of these top wealth holders were born wealthy or inherited wealth.  Joshua Kennon has written two interesting reports about the country's top wealth holders.  Most are self-made success stories that hide their wealth from family and friends.

Measuring a family's net worth is difficult for many reasons (Joshua writes well about these).  But as a rough estimates these "new elite" own at least $5 million in investments.

(An entire 8% of American households have a net worth of $1 million or more.  But that can be paying off a mortgage without having any substantial liquid investments.)

The urban top wealth holders are politically influential.  In the 2010 election cycle, a few more than 25,000 Americans together contributed $744 million.  That was one-quarter of what all individuals contributed, and more than 80% of party committee money.

These donors lived primarily in New York, Washington, Chicago, and Los Angeles.  They are the top urban wealth holders.  These are the people who influence politics with money.

Tangentially, much of "politics influenced by money" is from groups, not individuals.

Consider the Affordable Care Act, which at its core is a compromise between the hospitals and health insurers.  Those two groups have opposed interests and "battle" using enormous wealth and political influence.  Their people are nearly all members of the 99% of earners and holders, "normal folks" who would claim to be just looking out for their jobs.

Smiley is Six

Smiley turned six earlier this month.

He recently had a small growth spurt.  Now he weighs 41.6 pounds and is 44 inches tall.

Having finally reached forty pounds, he can use a booster seat in the car.  That makes it easier for us to drive a friend somewhere, and possible for Grandma and Grandpa to take him places in their vehicle.

Watching the Manosphere Crumble

I have mentioned the manosphere in three blog posts.  Reading those blogs has more-or-less served its purpose for me.

As I reported last month when discussing the state of my projects, my essays for my boys about appropriate masculinity are halfway done.  The rate at which manosphere blogs gave me new and worthwhile ideas to think about has slowed to a trickle.  A few insights get repeated, but very seldom with increased depth.

Moreover, during the past month the manosphere has crumbled.

Athol and Dalrock are writing very little.  Those are two who most often introduce new ideas that a married Christian might care about.

The blogs I found most entertaining to read because of good writing and interesting personal journeys have died: LaidNYC, Danny, Sunshine Mary.

Foundational bloggers I did not read much have isolated themselves: Roosh a year ago, and now Danger and Play and Matt Forney.  After publishing his book, Rollo is writing much less and somewhat distancing himself.

Overall, the problem is clear.  Trying to clarify and solve problems without grace and forgiveness produces too much negativity and bitterness.

Men who have knowledge and experience about self-improvement want to share advice.

But when the conversations inevitably turn from "building yourself" to "helping society" these men become distracted by hurts and injustices and have very little to offer.

Protestant Christianity teaches that we need God's help to become who we should be.  Judaism teaches that acts of righteousness heal a broken world.

The collapse of the manosphere has been a fascinating demonstration of how we equally need God's help for a third a less dramatic goal: to maintain our world with small repairs as vice wears it down.

Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.
  --Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus

Smiley Watches the Film Hero

Four years ago I wrote about watching the film Hero.

Smiley is now old enough to need this film.  The more I watch it the more I enjoy it.

During our walk home from school, I started a discussion with Smiley.
Me: I got a new movie from the library that you will like.  But first you have to answer a question.

Smiley: Okay.

Me: You do lots of different kinds of fighting.  You learn jiu-jitsu at the dojo.  In the back yard you play with boffer swords.  In the playroom when Kiki visited you ran around pretending to shoot fire at each other.  Why do you like fighting?

Smiley: Because it is fun.

Me: What makes it fun?

Smiley: Because it is nice.

Me: What makes it nice?  Is it the same nice for the jiu-jitsu and the boffer swords and the pretending to shoot fire?

Smiley: I do not know.

Me: You can watch a little of the movie.  When you have more answers you can watch more.
Later he added:
Smiley:  Because it is challenging.
My goal with the conversation is for him to find in his own life the lessons the film teaches about being a warrior.  Then the film will help confirm something personal, rather than introduce new ideas.

The dojo tries to teach the same lessons the film does.  The instructors, Adam and Terry, spend time talking about how act when threatened by a bully.  Thankfully, Smiley has never been bullied and so far all of this is for him abstract theory.

Eventually I hope through discussion to lead Smiley to notice in his life the progression:

1. I gain self-discipline by practicing fighting when alone.
2. I gain confidence by practicing fighting with friends.
3. I gain pride by knowing I could defend myself from a bully if I needed to.
4. I gain peace by not needing to think or worry about bullies.

That evolution should be why boys like fighting.

This roughly fits the English version of what the king learns in the film.

"I have just come to a realization! This scroll by Broken Sword contains no secrets of his swordsmanship. What this reveals is his highest ideal. In the first state, man and sword become one and each other. Here, even a blade of grass can be used as a lethal weapon. In the next stage, the sword resides not in the hand but in the heart. Even without a weapon, the warrior can slay his enemy from a hundred paces. But the ultimate ideal is when the sword disappears altogether. The warrior embraces all around him. The desire to kill no longer exists. Only peace remains."
Tangentially, the Chinese is reported to be quite different.
"There is no wonder you didn’t understand! This character that Broken Sword wrote has nothing to do with his swordsmanship. He wrote it with his heart! I am not as good as Broken Sword, and neither are you! Broken Sword has foreseen the trend and the future. He is telling you, by advising you to think of tian xia (all people), that it is destined for Qin to conquer the other six nations. Life or death of any individuals will never change the course of history. So it is up to you if you want to kill me. But whether or not you do, the fate of tian xia (the world) will not be altered because tian xia (the public) will get what it wants and deserves once the trend of history has been determined."

The film also comments on what an ideal hero is like.

The hero should be strong yet flexible mentally.  A hero is loyal to his or her beliefs, true to his or her promises, skilled at negotiating, and eager to learn new understandings.

The hero should also be strong yet flexible physically.  A hero is brave, full of energy, and passionate about art.  The hero can use fighting for self-protection, demonstrations of self-mastery, accomplishing a goal, or expressing deep emotion.  The hero does not fight unless challenged, and is able to fight without hurting his opponents.

Smiley is not yet old enough to understand all of those lessons.  The Hero film will be useful again in later years.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Counting the Omer, Day 1

The sun is setting.  The Shabbat during Pesach is ending.  The coming day is First Fruits and the first day of counting the omer.


ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך הולם, אשר קדשנו במיצותיו וצונו על ספירת העומר
היום יום אחד לעומר

Baruch atah, Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam,
  Blessed are you, my Lord, our God, King of the Universe,
asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav
   who has sanctified us with his commandments
v'tzivanu al sefirat ha'omer.
  and has commanded us concerning the counting of the omer.
Ha'yom yom echad la'omer
  Today is one day of the omer.

The fifty days between First Fruits and Shavuot are similar to the fifty days between Tish B'Av and Rosh Hashanah.  Both are times of prayerful introspection.

The counting of the omer emphasizes becoming pure so we are fit to receive what God wants to give us.  Later, the final fifty days of the year emphasize repentance and interpersonal forgiveness to minimize or perhaps defuse the negative consequences of our past year's mistakes.

It seemed appropriate to try blogging one year's introspection and personal growth.

36 Techniques in 23 Classes

I have written before about studying Gracie jiu-jitsu combatives curriculum at McKenzie Martial Arts.

(Smiley is learning a simplified version appropriate for his age group.)

A sample of these lessons is available online.  My big December holiday present was the complete set of lessons on DVD.

The curriculum explores thirty-six techniques, each of which has a few variations.  At the dojo these are arranged into twenty-three classes so that each class can have both stand-up portion and on-the-mat portions.

Below is how the techniques fit into the classes, for my own archival use to know which to review at home before class to best learn the material.

(There are not twenty-three distinct stand-up techniques, so many of these are seen twice during the cycle of lessons.)

Class 1
1. Trap and Role Escape
6. Leg Hook Takedown

Class 2
2. Americana Armlock
7. Clinch (Aggressive Opponent)

Class 3
3. Positional Control - Mount
14. Body Fold Takedown

Class 4
4. Take the Back
5. Rear Naked Choke
15. Clinch (Conservative Opponent)

Class 5
8. Punch Block Series (Stages 1 through 4)
23. Guillotine Choke

Class 6
9. Straight Armlock (Mount)
32. Guillotine Defense

Class 7
10. Triangle Choke
30. Haymaker Punch Defense

Class 8
11. Elevator Sweep
29. Rear Takedown

Class 9
12. Elbow Escape (Mount)
21. Pull Guard

Class 10
13. Positional Control - Side Mount
17. Double Leg Takedown

Class 11
16. Headlock Counters
26. Standing Headlock Defense

Class 12
18. Headlock Escape 1
34. Standing Armlock

Class 13
19. Straight Armlock (Guard)
7. Clinch (Aggressive Opponent -- again

Class 14
20. Double Ankle Sweep
23. Guillotine Choke -- again

Class 15
22. Headlock Escape 2
15. Clinch (Conservative Opponent) -- again

Class 16
24. Shrimp Escape
14. Body Fold Takedown -- again

Class 17
25. Kimura Armlock
6. Leg Hook Takedown -- again

Class 18
27. Punch Block Series (Stage 5)
30. Haymaker Punch Defense -- again

Class 19
28. Hook Sweep
32. Guillotine Defense -- again

Class 20
31. Take the Back (Guard)
26. Standing Headlock Defense -- again

Class 21
33. Elbow Escape (Side Mount)
21. Pull Guard -- again

Class 22
35. Twisting Arm Control
29. Rear Takedown -- again

Class 23
36. Double Underhook Pass
17. Double Leg Takedown -- again

Finally Finished Proccessing Photographs from 2013

I finally finished going through 2013 photos to give the best ones from the end of December captions and put them online.

I have finished January photos for 2014 and started a new album for the new Gregorian year.

I have a new profile photo, too!

The somewhat sad attempt for me to rock the bow tie and Hawaiian shirt together is replaced.