Thank you, Nextbus

Even when we had a car, my wife and I still took the bus. There was a time when I used the car for work, and she took the bus to work; and then she used the car for school, and I took the bus to work. And even on the weekends, sometimes it was better to take the bus than to try to find parking. Now that we don’t have a car, we are almost completely reliant on the bus and walking.

Taking the bus in past years was at times painful (and I don’t just mean some of the crazy/smelly people on the bus). There were times when my wife would be waiting at the bus stop for forty minutes in the rain or I would be waiting for fifty minutes in the cold. You had no idea when the bus would come. Sometimes you’d have just missed it. Sometimes it would be coming just as you arrived. Other times you would just wait and wait and wait.

Enter Nextbus, a wonder of the internet and the only reason I have added web access to my mobile phone. Even though it’s not 100% accurate, Nextbus has changed my travel life. I know exactly when the next bus will arrive. If it’s coming in forty-five minutes, I know to seek an alternate route or just walk. If one bus is coming only five or ten minutes after the previous bus, I know it will not be crowded. My wait times for buses have significantly decreased. Now that it’s the rainy season in San Francisco, I’m especially grateful for Nextbus. I just wish there were more Nextbus displays at bus stops so I wouldn’t have to use my cell phone to check for the next arrival (a minor annoyance at best).

Christianity Life

Is “Merry Christmas” Offensive?

This is something I’ve never understood. Maybe Jewish people (since the few Muslim people I know are not offended by the phrase) can explain to me what’s offensive about “Merry Christmas.”

Yes, I realize Christmas is ostensibly a Christian holiday celebrating the Messiah that the Jews believe is still to come. Yes, I realize that the holiday season brings about mangers and many Christian-oriented carols.

Nevertheless, the holiday is essentially a secular one that is celebrated by many atheists, agnostics, and other non-Christians. It has come to be a holiday season about shopping, gift-giving, family, well-wishing, and eating. It should be common knowledge that the meaning of words change over time and a lot of the Christ has gone out of Christmas, which is fine by me.

I’m very much against the conservative Christian crusade to “reclaim Christmas.” I’m fine with Christmas being a primarily secular holiday—all the more reason for people not to be offended by it. If you’re not Christian, buy gifts, put up a Christmas tree and decorate it, have a festive meal with your loved ones, sing non-religiously themed Christmas carols. If you are a Christian, sing the Christian-themed carols and put up your little manger scenes, but don’t force those things on other people.

Frankly, as a Christian, I don’t see the birth of Christ as being relatively theologically significant. If you are a Christian, Good Friday should be far more important to you, with Easter coming a close second. Of course, this problem of oversignifying the birth of Jesus is just one instance of the general phenomenon of people making too big a deal of birthdays in general. Wouldn’t the day Malcolm X first encountered Allah in prison be more important in his life than the day his mother happened to give birth to him? Wouldn’t the day Susan Brownmiller wrote Against Our Will be more important in her life than the day her mother happened to give birth to her?

If Jesus is important in your life, why alienate your Jewish friends? You can celebrate Good Friday—the day Jesus died for your sins; not the day Jesus was all dirty and smelly and crying in a manger (never mind the fact that he wasn’t actually born on December 25). Let’s not reclaim Christmas for Christians. Let Christmas be a secular holiday of good cheer for everyone. Merry Christmas, everybody. Yes, I mean “Merry Christmas, everybody.”


Does nature want to be nurtured?

I’ve often had people react, when they see me write for the first time, “I didn’t know you were left-handed!” to which I reply “I’m not.” This response usually leaves people with confused looks on their faces, surely thinking (if they don’t actually say it aloud) But I see you writing with your left hand. Some people think I’m ambidextrous. Others think I’m just lying.

Over the years, I’ve also had some folks who don’t know I’m not really left-handed try to work out the narrative in their own heads, “Oh, you draw and are into music. Left-handed people are supposed to be a bit more creative.” At this artificial correlation I can only laugh.

I am not left-handed. I was born right-handed, and I use my right hand for almost every task (sharpening pencils, using scissors, eating with chopsticks, throwing a ball). What throws people off is the fact that I write (only with pencil, pen, or a paintbrush—not with chalk on a chalk board) with my left hand.

It all started when I was seven years old. My brother is five years older than me and always taught me things way beyond my grade level, including big words. When he mentioned ambidextrousness, I was fascinated. I wanted to be ambidextrous. Naive “scientist” that I was, I thought that I was “born” right-handed, so I must be right-handed and will always be right-handed. So, “logically,” if I just added left-handedness, I’d be ambidextrous. So I kept practicing and practicing writing with my left hand, and I neglected to keep practicing with my right hand. In the end, instead of adding left-handedness to my right-handedness, I switched hands. Now, over twenty years later, I still can’t write with my right hand.

I recently found out that a friend of mine’s father stuttered because his father had forced him to switch from left-handedness to right-handedness. When he tried to force her from left-handedness and noticed her beginning to stutter, he immediately laid off and let her remain left-handed.

These two anecdotes shed an interesting light on the whole nature v. nurture debate. Clearly, there is a general handedness inclination. I was, in fact, “born” right-handed, and my friend was “born” left-handed. She might have been able to switch but then would have developed a stutter like her father’s. I switched with no noticeable side effects (other than people’s disbelief when I tell them I’m not really left-handed). Unless you have some reason to believe that switching from the right hand to the left hand is somehow easier than vice versa, the only other feasible explanation is that the ability for nurture to properly adjust nature greatly depends on the perception of agency on the part of the switcher. The potential stutter in my friend and actual stutter in her father are clearly defense mechanisms against being forced to switch hands. I, on the other hand, had no need for such a defense mechanism, since I was not being forced to switch hands. I switched hands out of curiosity and my own determination.

That’s why I think debates about whether being gay is genetic or not are irrelevant. Nature can be shaped and changed. But when we stigmatize what someone considers a part of herself, that desire for change will not be an inwardly motivated one; it will be perceived as an outside force that needs to be resisted. The internal narrative will run more like “You cannot change who I am. This is who I am. Who are you to try to change me?” instead of “I don’t know if I feel like this. Maybe I’ll try something else.”

The focus on such debates should not be on whether it is possible to change but on whether it is desirable to change and, if it is desirable, what are the ideal circumstances that would facilitate an effective change.


The cat left a gift

The other day, we were out with my sister-in-law doing fun stuff. When we returned home, our cat had left a little pile of poop in my sister-in-law’s guest bed. At first we thought he was protesting (he hasn’t done a protest poop in six years, but we figured it might have been time again), but we didn’t know what he was protesting… we fed him. We cuddled him. Everything seemed good.

Then, we realized the closet where we kept his litter had its door closed completely. If the closet door is mostly closed, he can still fidget it open with his paw, but if it’s closed completely, he can’t get in. Then we felt really bad and gave him a treat for having to put up with his bathroom door being closed. We pictured him whimpering pitifully in front of his bathroom door (Why won’t it open? It usually opens. I need to poop!).

Well, now we’ve taped the door so that it can never close completely. Our poor kitty. (Don’t worry—we washed the sheet after throwing out the poop pile.)


Life without TV…?

Our TV broke last night. It’s a rear projection, and the projecting color convergence is now off and can’t be fixed through conventional means. I got to know Google well, and I even tried Sony’s lousy online tech support (chat). Why they don’t have an easy way to adjust the convergence through the menus is beyond me.

In the meantime (until we get it repaired), my wife and I are realizing we spend a lot of time with the TV. We watch TV. We watch DVDs. She plays PS3. We play Wii. All of these activities involve the TV. Life without TV is quite a change for us. Of course, I realize many people (including a few of our close friends) don’t have any TVs, and they do just fine. It’s just a little jarring when you’re used to having something, and then you don’t realize until it malfunctions just how much it’s become a part of your lifestyle.

We chose to give away our car, but we didn’t choose to have the TV suddenly crap out on us.

Life Movies

Watching Torture

Last night, I watched Pan’s Labrynth—not a bad movie. But I get squeamish when it comes to watching torture in movies, even if the actual act isn’t shown on screen. Reservoir Dogs is one of my favorite movies, but I always have to fast-forward the ear-cutting scene.

Oddly enough, I have a certain fascination with the Pinochet regime in Chile (mainly because the torture is often described rather than shown). I can watch Death and the Maiden many times (I’ve read the play, too). I’ve read some of Ariel Dorfman’s nonfiction writings on Pinochet as well and watched TV documentaries about it. There’s something very sobering and chilling about real-life accounts of torture, as opposed to the gross-out factor involved in most movie torture. The former makes me cry, while the latter makes me cringe.


I stapled my finger

I’m a moron. I stapled my finger at work today.

It’s one of those things that if I’d seen a child or even a teenager do, I’d think, Silly youngster, when you’re older, you’ll know from experience not to do such things. But today I was a silly youngster. I was stapling a piece of paper to a small board. For some strange reason, I thought it was a good idea to put my hand behind the other side of the board to hold it still while I stapled it. You guessed it—the staple went right through the board and punctured my finger.

It hurt like hell. I’m officially a moron and a silly youngster. I’m glad we have bandages and medical cream at work.


Learning to Knit

My wife recently started up a knitting group for our church. We had our first meeting last week. Since then, I’ve tried to get a little better at it. Casting on, supposedly one of the toughest parts, came quite easy to me. Knitting itself (the stitches after casting on) is what’s tough for me. Likewise, the metal needles were supposed to be easier, but I kept accidentally slipping the yarn off the needles (the metal is too slick, not enough friction), so I switched to wooden needles, and that’s much better for me.

I have a history of this being true—I tend to find the “easier” things harder and the “harder” things easier. For example, when I learned guitar, I was supposed to start with cheating chords (e.g., for F major), and I found the cheating chords harder to pick up than the “harder” barre chords. When I was learning to draw comic books “the Marvel way,” I was supposed to use pens for thin lines, since that was supposedly easier than using a brush. I preferred to use a brush for thin lines.

Knitting has been pretty touch all-around, though. It isn’t as effortless as it appears when people just sit there frantically clacking together needle points. Well, maybe I’ll get to that point eventually. Wish me luck!

Health Life

“Vegetarian” doesn’t even begin to describe…

Even though in most aspects of life I’m pretty easygoing, when it comes to food, I can be quite difficult. What movie are we going to see? Well, I’ll express my opinion, but if the vote goes against me, I’m not going to kick up a fuss about having to see Scary Movie 16 or serious-movie-about-the-Middle-East-and-Americans 20. What restaurant are we going to eat at? Well, then there’s only so far I can be accommodating.

I’ve met quite a number of liberals who became vegetarian for political reasons (humanitarian or economic) and then gave up after a year, five years, or even ten years. The taste of meat lured them back in… usually, for some strange reason, a hot dog. Well, I’ve been a practicing vegetarian for sixteen years and a wannabe vegetarian for twenty-five years. It has to do with taste, not politics, so I know I’m not going to be changing that any time soon. I’m just picky, and meat isn’t included in the limited repertoire of foods I eat. Without listing every single food I eat or don’t eat, the best way to sum up my diet would be (in order of preference) sugar, fat, dairy, starch, fruits, and cooked vegetables. I don’t like seafood (though if I’m stuck in a seafood restaurant, I’ll eat the shrimp—the least offensive seafood). I don’t like meat. I don’t like spicy food.

But when you don’t know someone well, it takes too much explaining to go into a huge list of all the foods I like or don’t like. The simplest way to sum it up is “I’m vegetarian.” I am vegetarian, but that’s just the beginning of the story. Those who know me best usually chime in to clarify shortly afterwards: “He’s not vegetarian. He’s just picky.”

Computers Life

Facebook is a little crazy…

So I caved finally and joined Facebook. While I like the functionality of it, I think it’s a little scary that one company is privy to that much information about people’s pasts and relationships. They know where you went to school, who you associated with, whom you still want to be in touch with, what you’re currently excited about. I did read their privacy policy and terms of use, and they seem okay, but it’s still nuts they even have all that information. I suppose, though, they do offer a service, and people find that service useful.

I signed up this morning (less than ten hours ago), and I already have fifteen friends. There’s an amusing aspect of the friendship approval process—you can specify how you know the person (went to school together, hooked up once, know through a friend, etc.), and one of the ways you can specify how you know the person while you’re approving her as a friend is I don’t know this person. That made me chuckle inside, because I know exactly what that’s for. It’s for the people who like to have as many “friends” as possible just for the status of it or the appearance of being well-liked or well-connected.

So far, though, I’m still wondering what’s so great about Facebook, apart from putting you back in touch with those friends you lost touch with in the first place. It seems like Friendster but with a more reliable server and more bandwidth. After setting up an account, logging in, adding a few friends, and customizing my preferences, I was still left (just as I’d been with Friendster) wondering, “Okay. So now what?”

Maybe I’ll change my mind. My wife is a Facebook addict, and maybe she’s giving me a preview of my life to come. I knew I’d get sucked into the Facebook cult sooner or later!