Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Madd Money: What You Accept, You Teach

I know it seems a little silly to be broadcasting the fact that I want to put some new bumper stickers on my "coffin box" that sits atop my car, but in many cases, that's the cheapest piece of pretentiousness I own (LOL!). See, I'll never forget what one girl I used to date in college said to me... she was from Switzerland, and she found a number of things about the American ethos amusing. When I asked her for examples, her immediate response was the notion of the "bumper sticker"... in her mind, it was the absolute proof of the "pretentiousness" of the Average American... as if we thought that people actually cared enough of our own personal opinions that we would put them on the outsides of our cars for other people to read. I will admit that, for many years, I did not put bumper stickers on my car for this very reason. There is something sort of arrogant about putting things that you feel are important or that you want to say on your car like this... but then again, it's the only "personal commercial real estate" a lot of people, including myself, will ever have (LOL!).

Back a number of years ago, when I bought my Ford Escape, I bought a Packasport box to stash my snowboard, camping gear, or whatever I might need for wherever I might go. Because this thing was out in the sun all day, it was getting fairly ugly looking, so I decided to add some color to it, in the way of Vans logos, snowboard and skateboard stickers, and my preferred cause, that of "Snowboard Outreach Society". I also freely confess that I also post space for the Stanford Pow Wow each year, and I have a sticker that says "save San Bruno Mountain" because, well, I happen to dig the mountain that I can see just from the top of my hill where I live :). Still, they were just corny things I had on there, and I never really thought anyone paid any attention to them... until my friend Adam actually referenced one of them in a Sacrament Meeting talk. Being referenced in church is strange enough. Having a bumper sticker referenced was surreal (LOL!). But it was the one that he picked that got me thinking... I have a sticker where two elderly Native American men are sitting in front of a fire, and the words next to them read "What you accept, you teach!" He said that he wasn't sure what it meant to me, but that it actually helped him gel some of his own talk he wanted to deliver. The meaning behind the phrase is that "if you accept inequality, you teach that inequality is OK" or "if you accept immorality, you teach that immorality is OK". You can fill in the blanks of any number of things, but the take home message that I happen to like is that I can be tolerant of many things, I can be respectful of others, but I do not have to "accept" those things that I do not approve of or wish to influence me and those around me. By doing that, I teach others what I believe.

Which now, long windedly, I admit, brings me to the new additions I hope to add in the coming weeks (when they get here). Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time knows that I abhor debt. I despise it. I wish everyone was free from it. I wish we had a government that wasn't so dependent upon it. I want to show the world that I do NOT accept debt, and therefore, I want to teach other to do all they can to GET AWAY FROM IT!!! In my world view, playing with debt is like playing with snakes... eventually, you WILL GET BIT!!! Thus, these are two new pieces of the Dave Ramsey Show that will be going on my Packasport in prime locations... two stickers, one that reads "Debt is Normal, BE WEIRD!" and one that reads "Live Like No One Else!" fans of the Dave Ramsey Show or "The Total Money Makeover" are already intimately familiar with these phrases. We live in a society that has too long treated debt and indebtedness as a normal fact of life... and oh are we ever paying for it now (collectively). Personally, I love being 100% Debt Free in all ways (no credit card payments, no student loan payments, no mortgage payments, no debt AT ALL), and I want to keep it that way FOREVER if I can! I realize that makes me weird, and frankly, I *LIKE* being weird :). The second one is actually a shortened version of the theme for "the Total Money Makeover". The whole Phrase is "Live like no one else, so that later, you can live like no one else". truthfully, that is my ultimate goal. I want to be able to live in such a way that, should the time come, when my children are grown and my wife and I get the opportunity to go do something great, whether that be to go off and travel, or serve as couple missionaries somewhere else in the world, we'll be able to do it and do it without any constraints. My goal is to be able to be free when I am older. To do that, I refuse to tie myself down today, and that means I will not go into debt. Not now, not ever, if I have anything to say about it.

Thus, I am giving in to the pretentiousness of the stickers, and yes, I know it's arrogant to think that people care what I think or that I would put such a thing on my car. However, I think it's time to show what I accept... and perhaps, just maybe, I may teach someone after all :).

Friday, February 20, 2009

The "Married Meme"

Yeah, I know, it's a cheap blog post, but hey, for those that are actually interested in the daily dynamic of Christina's and my life, as well as some tidbits I may not have talked about elsewhere, well, here ya' go :).

This is kind of like the 25 things - except there are pre-decided questions and it's about you and your spouse, not just you.

* What is your anniversary date?
December 5

* What are your middle names?
Mine is Spencer, hers is Judith

* How long have you been together?
Together together? or married together? We started dating in September of 1990, so that would be 18+ years. We both had a non-exclusive dating clause for awhile, but got serious about six months after that. We've been married since 1992 (16 years)

* How long did you know each other before you started dating?
About a week.

* Who asked who out?
I did.

* How old are each of of you?
I’m three days shy of one year older than Christina.

* Whose siblings do/did you see the most?
Christina’s an only child, so I win this by default :).

* Do you have any children together?
All of them :) (seriously, three)

* What about pets
We’ve had a few over the years; two budgerigars, a cockatiel, an African grey parrot, and a rotating menagerie of fish. Most recent addition to the family is Rikku our beloved Pembroke Corgi :)

* Did you go to the same school?
Nope, I grew up in Danville, and she grew up in San Bruno.

* Are you from the same home town?
See above.

* Who is the smartest?
Depends on the topic. I can claim more “book smarts” in certain things, but I think Christina does better than me in a lot of “common sense” and “street smarts” areas.

* Who is the most sensitive?
Christina, hands down (LOL!).

* Where do you eat out most as a couple?
We have a rotating circuit of Sushi and Thai places we go to.

* Who has the worst temper?
I think we’re about the same in this category. Neither of us tends to get mad unless we’re both overly tired or frustrated with something.

* Who does the cooking?
Most of the time Christina, but I have some kitchen skills, too :)

* Who is more social?
When we first got together, I was (came from years of being a musician). These days, I think it’s a draw.

* Who is the neat-freak?
Christina, by a long shot (LOL!)

* Who is the more stubborn?
Neither of us are really stubborn. We kinda’ pride ourselves on being able to see the others view and being willing to take other ideas into account.

* Who hogs the bed?
Typically, me.

* Who wakes up earlier?
Me definitely, I’m out the door most days before 5:00 AM.

* Where was your first date?
Mandarin Chinese restaurant in Millbrae, CA, followed by a walk along “Hotel Row” in Burlingame right next to San Francisco Bay.

* Who has the bigger family?
Me. Christina’s an only child, I am the oldest of four.

* How do you spend the holidays?
Our families are both nearby, so we spend Christmas eve at our house with Christina’s parents, and then we spend Christmas day over at my parents place.

* Who is more jealous?
I don't think either of us are. (Christina actually calls me “oblivious” on that front a lot of the time (LOL!))

* How long did it take to get serious?
About 6 months, though I think we both saw definite rumblings in that direction after about 6 weeks. We both had some trust issues to work through (I was a singer for a rock band at the time, can’t say I blamed her for not wanting to rush anything there (LOL!) ).

* Who does/did the laundry?
She does.

* Who’s better with the computer?
I am, but then I should hope so seeing my livelihood revolves around them :).

* Who drives when you are together?
Any drive that’s more than two or three miles, me (LOL!).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ego Over Matter: New Goal, New Purpose, All Vanity!!!

I would love to claim that my reasons for getting in shape, for training, for trying to get stronger were all for altruistic reasons. You know the pep talk... "I want to get in shape to run a marathon for cancer research" or "I want to become strong enough to make a real difference in work projects that matter to my community". I'm sure there are people out there that have these sentiments. I just don't happen to be one of them. Truth be told, I rarely get myself in shape for any reasons that are not entirely self driven or self-motivated... well, OK, that's not entirely true; I did go into overdrive back in 2007 because my wife did pointedly tell me when I had an elevated ADL blood test "I don't want you to die!" I'll admit, that is motivating and in a selfless way :).

But still, left to my own devices, I'm happy to be left to my own devices. Something of either immense importance, or at least appealing to my baser vanity must come to the fore for me to *really* get serious, and that something has now happened, or at least the potential for it happening is very great... HIGH WIRE is actively in the discussion and searching phase for a venue to hold a reunion show. HIGH WIRE in its finished form came together in November of 1989, so 2009 is the 20th anniversary of that forming. We want to play live to celebrate that fact. Which means I'll have to get on stage and sing. Do you think I'll hop on stage fat, flabby and out of shape?!


Thus, Ego Over Matter gets re purposed again, and this time it's "training for the show". I remember full well the effort it took to sing for over an hour "back in tha' day", and that was when I was young, resilient and in practice. I am none of those things today, or to be more honest, I'm a lot less of those things today. Thus it stands that I must take the bull by the horns, make a commitment, and go for broke, here and now, and give it all I've got.

The last time I made a firm goal, I made it to get to a particular body weight. I'm not going to do that this time around. Nope, I want to get all nerdy and really go for a target, perhaps a crazy one; I want to reach 10% body fat by the day of the show. If that sounds like it's lean to you, that's because it is, especially for me. I routinely float around 25% body fat, which means I need to make nearly a 50% total reduction of fat stores by our performance date (currently looking to be around mid August). That's six months. It's ON!!!

Usually, attitude has to come first, then resolve, and then concrete actions. Attitude and resolve I now have, and the concrete actions are already starting to come into play, including my "triple play". Everyone who knows me knows there are three "concrete items" that appear, and when all of them are in place and in active use, they know that Michael is in "Serious Mode". Those concrete items are:

* the increased supply of bulk chewing gum (usually Trident) and packs just about everywhere.

* the increased consumption of strongly made Cinnamon and Lemongrass Sweet Tea (this is a rooibos/red tea and thus entirely herbal and thus entirely kosher within LDS standards and following the letter and spirit of the Word of Wisdom, and yes, I've checked repeatedly :) ).

* the consistent purchase of frozen mixed vegetables and the bulk purchase of Tapatio Hot Sauce

Everyone claims they have a "secret weapon" or a talisman they use regularly when they want to get to goal. These are my triple threat, and they are my most oft used tools. I will say here and now that, when I try to drop pounds and get in shape, my spice-o-meter goes to an absolute extreme, to the point where I am practically drinking shot glasses of Tapatio and other hot sauces (LOL!). I associate the capsaicin burn with progress, and thus I welcome it :).

No EOM entry is complete without the "statement of truth", so it has to start here and now, with a declaration: Today I weighed in at 232 pounds. It's ten pounds down from my all time high of 242, but it's 40 pounds up from my 30's and 40's all time best of 190. Again, this time, I'm going to try to steer clear of just looking at weight, and I'm going to pay a lot more attention to actual body fat percentages. And this time, I'm going to get even geekier... I'm going back in time and using some techniques that I learned from an old compatriot of a fitness newsgroup I used to participate with. Using those techniques, in 2000, I went from 235 to 200 in 12 weeks, and was the most ripped I'd ever been. It's time to see if I can make lightning strike twice, and oh yes, I will share it all here :).

Goal determined: check
Purpose defined: check
Goal sufficient to get ego invested: oh heck yes (LOL!)
Start Date: February 19th, 2009
Estimated Completion: Mid August, 2009
Proof of Success: pictures, videos and live recordings of the actual show

And away we go :)!!!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dealing With Limitations

Well, it's been a week since I've written a blog entry. There are a few reasons for that, the first and foremost being my lower back is still an issue, and sitting down for extended periods is difficult. This has made my somewhat prodigious blog output dry up for a bit, and frankly, I think I needed the break.

As I was going through and reviewing my posts, there has been a marked "duplicate" sense in the posts I've been writing. I've realized that this is because, frankly, there's not enough happening in my everyday life to make unique enough blog posts to justify an every day entry.

What has been interesting in these past few weeks since this whole back issue came into my life (again), is that I've had to actually look at seeing which things I was doing were really important, and which thing I had to just say "sorry, I can't do that" or "this just hurts too much to deal with". While I have had to deal with some frustration at that fact, it's actually forced me to prioritize some things differently. It's also made it clear that convalescing is a long process and it really cuts into the rest of my life, so I think I really need to make not getting into these situations a priority (LOL!).

I will start writing blog posts again later this week, but it's going to be a slower pace going forward. It was interesting writing every day for awhile (almost three months), but I've decided that there are other things that need to be handled for the time being, so for those who like reading me daily, hopefully this will mean better writing, just less frequently.

Monday, February 9, 2009

I'm a Signed Musician :)

HIGH WIRE, circa August 1990
To hear HIGH WIRE's music, go here.

Well, this will require a bit of 'splaining, but it's been an interesting turn of events, and I figured this is a good a place as any to spell out what has been happening the past few months, and what will continue to happen in the coming year (or years :)?).

Back in December, I received an email from an old friend who played in a band called Alleycat Scratch. We often played at similar venues and also shared the stage at times. This friend now works for an independent record label down in Southern California called Demon Doll Records. Demon Doll specializes in putting out material from our shared genre (i.e. an emphasis on glam hard rock from the late 80's and early 90's). This label has a compilation they put out called "Glamnation, volume (n)" and at the time of the email, they were prepping to release Volume 5. It was through this cycle of releases that we were contacted and asked if we would like to have our material appear on the compilation. I explained that I was not actually able to make that decision by myself, but I would get in touch with all of my former band mates and see if they were willing to do it.

The month of December saw me put on my detective's cap and hunt down my old band mates. Facebook proved to be invaluable in this process; lo and behold, all but one of my band mates has one. The last holdout I found through talking to some friends, and as we all bantered about and discussed this opportunity, we all realized that, yeah, we'd love to have the chance to have the material that we wrote be published. So we all said yes, we signed a contract to allow them to use the song and pay us a royalty for the use, and that was that... or so we all thought.

Earlier in January, we were contacted by the president of the label and asked if we would like to have an actual full length CD released of our material. We all thought it sounded interesting, so we said "let's see the terms". Basically, it's a standard two year deal in which they own our material and will release it on CD an other venues, and in return we get paid a percentage of sales and a mechanical royalty for any and all songs sold. After we all had some collective comments to the effect of "OK, what year is it?!" we agreed to sign and turn over our tracks to be released. The final paperwork for this was finalized last Friday, February 6, 2009.

It's been a surreal few weeks, one in which a lot of odd feelings have come to the surface, and a lot of great conversations have been held. These guys were like family to me at one time, and it's great to see that there is still a lot of that feeling still there. It's also going to be great to have an actual tangible CD that I can point to and say "See this? This is who we used to be, and this is what we did!" In a way, it finally legitimized the years I tried to break into this business. Am I under any illusions that this is going to be some big break or a shot at stardom? No, I have no illusions in that area. Mostly, I'm just excited that someone other than us took an interest in us and said "hey, you know what? There may be a group of people out there that would like to buy your material, and we'd like to put it out." What's more, it may also be a chance for all of us to get out there and play again (perhaps sometime in the August 2009 time frame.

I guess we'll have to see what transpires from here, but as I've been saying in many other places regarding this unique and interesting turn of events... here's to future days :).

Friday, February 6, 2009

An Amerikajin Learning Nihongo: My Further Adventures With Japanese

Well, it's been five weeks since I started my quest to learn Japanese (Nihongo). I broke my rule of not buying anything to accomplish this goal, in that I decided to have one dedicated resource to practice with, and I do that with my Nintendo DS and the Ubisoft game/application "My Japanese Coach". In some ways I have learned a lot, but in other ways I fgeel like I haven't learned much of anything. According to the program I have mastered 175 words and 35 kana characters. Before you say that sounds awesome, that's the equivalent of a toddler about to go into pre-school (LOL!).

I realized that my biggest challenge is that I'm still to readily clinging to the western alphabet as a crutch to compile and understand what I'm seeing and reading. Because if this, I end up going through several steps process any of the things I work with. As an example, some Japanese texts use roman letters to allow western speakers to see what it is they are trying to say. This is called roma-ji, and it's exactly what it sounds like, Japanese written in roman letters. The problem is, most stuff in Japan is not writen in romaji and it gets quickly sidelined. The reason? just about everything written beyond instructional level is written in kana or kanji. The expectation is that the speaker and learner get up to speed on kana as quickly as they can so that they don't need to use the roma-ji.

At this point in time, my brain does a three step process to translate anything. First, I have to look at the kana letters (the one's I know, in any event) and my brain converts these to roma-ji. Then I look at the roma-ji and convert it to english to process it and understand it. Afterwards, I then craft my reply or response in English, then mentally sound it out and view it as roma-ji and then go through the process of writing it out as though it were kana.

English: "where is the bathroom?"
Roma-ji: "otearai wa doku desu ka?"
Kana: "おてあらい わ どく です か?"

Now, to make matters even more interesting, if you spend a lot of time learning kana, it's only going to take you so far. While the above is accurate, it's the long way to say something. The kanji would be much more compact and in some cases, many words can be combined into a single kanji character. I'm not even close to there yet (LOL!).

What I have been doing is spending a lot of time practicing my various kana characters, and my goals is to have them on immediate recall whenever I need to write them. Some of these I have down pretty well. Others I'm still trying to commit to memory. by way of comparison, here are the sounds I have covered directly:

a e u i o
ka ke ku ki ko
ga ge gu gi go
ta te tsu ti to
da de du di do
sa se su shi so
na ne nu ne no
ha hi fu he ho
pa pi pu pe po
ma mi mu me mo
ra ri ru re ro

and this is their corresponding kana (hirigana to be more accurate, as this is what is used for purely Japanese words):

あ え う い お
か け く き こ
が げ ぐ ぎ ご
た て つ ち と
だ で づ ぢ ど
さ せ す し そ
な ね ぬ ね の
は ひ ふ へ ほ
ぱ ぴ ぷ ぺ ぽ
ま み む め も
ら り る れ ろ

What's interesting is that a lot of the characters repeat, but they use symbols called "dakuten", which are like quotation marks next to a character, or a "handakuten", which looks like a small circle in the upper left hand corner of the character. This is actually kind of efficient, in that it allows reuse of characters and ilustrates a slightly different sound (frankly, there are quite a few words in English where such a device would be very helpful :) ).

So as I stand here today with my barely pre-school age vocabulary, I have a much greater appreciation for the time and energy it will take for me to get to my goal of being conversant in Japanese by the end of this year. Still, all big goals can be broken down to small steps... and right now, I feel like I'm talking some mighty small steps, but I'm hoping I will be considerably farther along by this time next month. Wish me luck :).

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Swiss Ball to The Rescue!!!

Yeah, I know I haven't been posting much these past few days, but I have a fairly good reason... my back has been driving me crazy, and that makes sitting at the computer for log stretches somewhat difficult. However, I decided that enough was enough, and I had to bring an old friend back into my life and have it help me get back to my regular self as soon as is feasible.

Who is that old friend, you may ask? It's name is "Swiss Ball", or at least that's what I've been referring to them as as long as I've been using them, which is the better part of fifteen years off and on. Swiss balls are large, heavy-duty inflatable balls. they have a diameter anywhere from 45cm to 75 cm ( or 18 to 30 inches). It's been used for lots of different things over the years, including exercise, Pilate's, sports training, stability training, yoga, and even birthing, but for me the greatest value of a Swiss Ball, especially in my current reality, is that it becomes the replacement for my main chair.

Whenever a person has a trunk injury (in this case, my back) there tends to be a slow process of rehabilitation and healing that takes place. In addition to trying to get mobility back to the spine, lower back and hips, there is also the challenge of trying to make sure that adequate stimulation (in an appropriate manner and over an appropriate amount of time) gets placed on the affected area. This is where the Swiss Ball is worth its weight in gold. By replacing the chair with the ball, the person sitting on it has to constantly adjust their center of gravity and move along with the ball. this makes sitting an active event rather than a passive one, and it allows the back to stretch and roll during an extended period. Over the past few days, I have found putting this little device into use has done a great deal to increase my overall comfort for when I have to sit for extended periods (and let's face it, as a computer type dude in my work life, I have to sit a *lot*).

there's one other benefit to having this ball as a chair as well. Whenever I feel like the back is getting too compressed or the affected muscles start to spasm or ache, it's an easy thing to just rock back and use the ball to stretch out the affected area, and then to lean forward and get a great stretch to both the lower back and my hamstrings as well.

So here I am back in the saddle, or I guess in this case, riding the hippety hop (to borrow a mental image from a friend of mine when I told him i was using a Swiss Ball for a Chair... he commented that he was going to replace his office chair with a Hippety Hop, and that the handle was actually quite useful... the funny thing is, not only can I see him doing this, I think he may be on to something (LOL!).

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Korean Drama: Tom is Tempting Me Again (LOL!)

It’s been awhile since I wrote about the manic focus I had on the series “Jumong”, which was introduced to me by my friend Tom at church. For those who don’t remember, Tom is the President of a company called Ya Entertainment, and their mission is to bring Korean Drama to the United States and do so in a way that is both high quality and very accessible to the average American viewer, though the average American viewer will have to be comfortable reading subtitles, as that’s the only translation provided. Personally, I prefer it this way, because I can then hear the nuances of the original actors in their native Korean, and enjoy the performances that they did, rather than try to listen to a dubbed version.

Since Jumong ran its course (and then ran through several of my co-workers; quite a feat when you consider that this is an 82 hour franchise!), I have been jonesing for some new stuff to see, but I felt really awkward saying to Tom “Hey man, can you hook me up with another series?” without sounding like a cheapskate, but at the same time, not want to invest a lot of money on a series I may or may not be totally into. Fortunately, Tom and Ya Entertainment have given some thought to folks like us, and so Tom handed me a couple of “sampler disks” for two shows they are currently producing to gauge my opinion. Oh Tom, you are so kind, and at the same time, you are so cruel (LOL!).

So what are these two new shows?

The first one is called “The Grand Chef” and it is a modern drama that takes place in Seoul, at what is considered the premier restaurant in South Korea. The owner and head of the restaurant is the grandson of the man who was the Chef to the Last Korean Emperor prior to 1910. The story revolves around three of the chef’s in the restaurant and, in the first three episodes, focuses on the idea that the owner and master will make a competition to see who will succeed him. Will it be his eldest son and, as many would consider, his rightful heir? Would it go to a young and ambitious man who has worked his way up to being a director of the restaurant without family ties? Or would it go to the adopted son of a family friend who, up until this time, hasn’t shown much desire to really be involved at the high level of the restaurant? For those thinking “hey, this set up sounds familiar”, you would not be amiss in thinking that… when I have described this series to others, the comment back is “Wow, it sounds like “Jumong” with food!”… and in many ways, that’s exactly how it seems. I cannot help but draw parallels between The Grand Chef and Jumong, especially since Won Ki-joon is playing the role of the “middle” of the three, the same position and type of role that he played as Prince Yeongpo in Jumong (and while many of his facial features and associated elements will immediately remind viewers familiar with Jumong of Yeongpo, he is a much more assured and self-confident character, and much more proficient in what he does than Yeongpo was). The three episodes that I saw were high quality, engaging storytelling, and made me care about all of the characters. In short, I want to see more of this one.

By contrast, “The King and I” is a story that takes place in Korea’s Josun Dynasty (or the equivalent of our middle ages and colonial period). It is the story of court eunuchs, and their interaction with the throne and the government. They were confidantes, political power players, and witnesses to history, and in many ways quietly shaped that history. The story is based on Chuh-sun, described as the Josun Dynasty's most famous eunuch. From what I have read, this is the first series to actually be dedicated to this subject and this group of men and the sacrifices they made to serve the royal court. One of the treats of seeing this program's first episodes is to see Jeon Kwang Yeol (King Geumwha in “Jumong”) play the role of Jo Chi-gyeom, the head of the eunuchs. We see the court intrigues, the development of a triangle that spans generations, and the ultimate struggle that sets the stage to tell the story of these less well known figures of Korean history. One thing to be aware of... this program tells it like it is, and make no mistake, you understand very quickly what it means to be a eunuch, and what the process is. Though it doesn’t show it graphically, it absolutely makes it very clear the process, and the methods used at the time, and the reference and example made when the eunuchs carry the porcelain jars, and what they actually contain inside, definitely leaves a mental image that will not be quickly forgotten. Any time we want to think that we have made sacrifices for our goals and dreams, watch this series and you may think twice about that! Again, it was only three episodes, but wow, what an incredible three episodes it was… and yes, I want to see more of this one.

So again, thank you Tom, for introducing these shows to me… and curse you, Tom, for introducing these shows to me (LOL!). Your marketing worked, I’m hooked, and I want to see both all the way through now.