Cylon IED (Improvised Explosive Device)

cylon.jpgCylons are the bane of the human race, constantly watching us through their roving red eye, plotting to bring about our extinction and the end of our civilization.

After a bathroom trip at the Portland Airport, I now know the truth.

They are already here. Armageddon is nigh.

Step step step. Good, no janitor sign
Sink. Soap. Paper towels. Check
Open stall. Gross. Bastard didn’t flush. Next
Open stall. No TP. Crap. Next
Open stall. Clean seat. TP. Seat covers. Check
Enter. Shut door. Lock
Take off jacket. Hang on hook
[CLICK!] ***FLUSH***. Crap!
Roll roll roll. Wipe wipe wipe seat.
[CLICK!] ***FLUSH***. Crap!
Roll roll roll. Slowly wipe wipe wipe seat
Hold breath. No flush. *sigh*
Place seat cover. Slowly
Hold breath. No flush. *sigh*
Turn around. drop trow
[CLICK!] ***FLUSH***. Crap!
Turn back around. Pull up tighty whiteys
Pants between ankles
Roll roll roll. Slowly wipe wipe wipe seat
Hold breath. No flush. *sigh*
Place seat cover. Slowly
Hold breath. No flush. *sigh*
Turnarounddroptrow! Fast!
Hold breath. No flush! *YES*
Lean in to sit
[CLICK!] ***FLUSH***
Seat cover swirls down. Mother f****r!!!
Turn back around. Pull up tighty whiteys
Pants between ankles
Roll roll roll. Slowly wipe wipe wipe seat
Hold breath. No flush. *sigh*
Place seat cover. Slowly
Hold breath. No flush. *sigh*
Turnarounddroptrow! Fast!
Hold breath. No flush! *YES*
Please please please no no no flush
SIT. slowly. carefully
No flush. *YES*
Roll roll roll
Wipe wipe
[CLICK!] ***FLUSH***
Shit. This sucks
Roll roll roll
Stand up. Dress. Turn around
No flush
Wave hand over sensor
No flush
Cover sensor with palm. Uncover
No flush
*sigh*. Push button on Cylon head
Wait. Wait
[CLICK!] ***FLUSH***

Damn Cylon terrorists. So this is how you plan to drive the human race insane, to render us defenseless when you finally launch the nukes.

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Promoting World Peace

I am much too timid in real life to insult stupid people. Thank goodness for the blogosphere, where I can do it using [square brackets]. Especially if it’s to teach geography or promote world peace. Because it just feels so rewarding.

This was from several years ago. I’m back in California now.

Moving Co Sales Lady: So, you’re moving to Singapore?

Jack: Yes, and I need you to tell me how much it’ll cost to send all my stuff there. [And what's with the mustache on your face. I thought they sell something that melts that stuff. Please consider using it so your upper lip doesn't look like a bright red broom after you eat a Popsicle.]

Moving Co Sales Lady: Singapore…is that, in, like, Africa?

Jack: No. It’s an island-nation towards the bottom of Southeast Asia, right on the equator. [That would be the north/south midpoint on the globe. We'll skip the lesson on lattitude and longitude for now, and stick to one- and two-syllable words.]
Not near Africa. [Please buy a globe and study it. And please seriously consider not having children.]

Moving Co Sales Lady: Oh, yes. I should have figured, since you’re Asian.

Jack: (trying hard to ignore last comment because, again, I’m timid). Since you’re asking, [Even though you didn't ask, but I'll tell you anyway in the hope of furthering world peace.] Singapore has the highest standard of living in Southeast Asia and a very advanced mass transit system. Everybody there speaks 3 or more languages, because learning English and Mandarin in addition to their native Hokkien or Malay is mandatory in their schools. They operate the world’s busiest shipping port. [This is a sincere attempt to reach out and tell you about an interesting place you may want to visit someday. I hope you paid attention instead of getting bored with your eyes glazed over.]

Moving Co Sales Lady: (eyes glazed over, returning to attention) Tell me which items you are going to send, so I can write up an estimate for you.

Jack: Well, pretty much everything here in my apartment. Except for the electrical items, of course. [And please don't touch anything I own. I know that your touching my stuff is unlikely to cause my future children to flunk geography, but I'm not taking any chances.]

Moving Co Sales Lady: (lower jaw touching floor, expression of horror on face) They don’t have electricity in Singapore?!

Jack: They do have electricity there. [See my short intro to Singapore from 2 seconds ago. They have a subway. It runs on electricity, not hamster wheel power. I guess my hopes for world peace are shot until natural selection phases out people like you.]
They just use a different voltage, so my alarm clock and toaster won’t work there. [You dumb pud. Here's ten bucks for the peach fuzz remover.]

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The Spoiledest Generation

This is admittedly from my own personal perspective, and is not meant to be a general observation that applies to everybody.

My father came to the United States with $80 in his pocket and no friends or personal contacts in America. He had to borrow money for his plane ticket. My mother came here also with hardly any money, and didn’t know anybody but my dad. They were not married at the time- she was friends with my dad’s sister, who asked my dad to find my mom a place to stay and help her enroll in junior college.

My mom initially stayed with a nice family, trading some babysitting and household chores for room and board while she went to junior college. That is, until she kept getting sick and the family asked her to move out. After my parents married, my father went to night school for his accounting degree. In addition to night school, he worked two jobs to support my mom and his sister (my aunt came over for a short while), both of whom were attending junior college.

Most in my parents’ generation don’t speak English well. They didn’t have access to high paying jobs when they were building their lives. They usually had to start their own businesses, funded with money they personally borrowed from family and friends. Despite the disadvantages they faced, my parents and those of their generation managed -through hard work, sacrifice, and sheer determination- to raise a family, bring lots of relatives over, and help each other attain at least a middle class income.

I think being so accustomed to self-sacrifice compelled my parents and those like them to shelter their offspring from the same difficulties they themselves faced throughout their lives. And in some ways, I think our parents’ good intentions had unintended consequences, because we the children certainly took advantage of it. I was afforded a private education my entire life- it was costly and my parents had to sacrifice a lot to send me to private school and college, but they always managed to come up with the tuition somehow. I never really had to work to earn spending money when I was young- my parents always gave me a generous allowance even though they sometimes struggled to pay the mortgage and other bills. At most I would help out at the family business on weekends. But that was more like just hanging out in downtown L.A. on Saturdays and doing a smidgeon of work here and there when I got bored or felt inspired.

Naturally, my experience is similar to those of many of my friends and cousins. Most of us would help out our parents here and there, but mostly we just took everything we had for granted. We hung out, went to school, and spent our parents’ money. We whined, cajoled, and demanded our way to some shiny new car when we got our drivers’ licenses. We went skiing in the winter, went to New York or Europe in the summer, and bought excessively expensive camping gear for class trips in the fall. All on our parents’ dime.

Now our parents are nearing retirement age, and we are all grown up, with responsibilities and families of our own. We have college degrees and professional careers, nice cars, expensive homes and large mortgages to match. Yet we are not all that actively focused on building savings and assets. Many of us have high enough income that, with a lot of saving and some calculated risk, could lead to true wealth accumulation and ultimate financial security. But we don’t care about that. As a generation of shallow imposters, we simply care about projecting the perception of wealth. We can point endlessly to the marketeers and McKinsey consultants who have propagated the mass luxury market, but ultimately we have nobody to blame but ourselves. We don’t pay much attention to the only part of our financial lives that we have 100% control over: costs. We simply want our luxury cars, trophy houses with granite kitchens, designer clothes, meals at fancy restaurants that serve bland food. And we don’t want them when we can truly afford them. We want them now. Instead of thinking about asset allocation, we think about whether we have enough cash coming in every month to make the payments that support our lifestyle. In our minds, the high income spigot feeds from a bottomless well and never gets clogged.

A lot of us in the kids’ generation probably would have benefitted greatly from facing more career and financial hardship. I can’t help but think that our priorities would be quite different- we’d probably care a lot more about having cash in the bank and a lot less about 5 star hotels and home decorating. It would certainly adjust our expectations and make us more grateful for what we have. Since when did lifestyle become a worthwhile goal? Financial security for yourself and your family is a worthwhile goal. Fostering strong personal relationships with your family and friends is a worthwhile goal. Indulging in expensive wine and custom furniture are not.

It’s funny how, despite all of my negative observations about my generation, in my parents’ eyes they feel that their goal in life has been accomplished. From the day I was born, all they really wanted was to assure that I lead a life filled with happiness and security, no matter the sacrifice to them.

For my own generation, though, I wonder about how we will look back on our own lives when we are old and retired. We’re in our late twenties and early thirties now. For our entire working lives we’ve never experienced an economic downturn that’s lasted longer than a year or two. We’ve never been net borrowers with interest rates at 13%. We’ve never owned a house for 10 years without seeing it appreciate. We’ve never had a favorite aunt or sister ask us for a large personal loan to start some risky business. We’ve never felt compelled to seriously consider such a request simply because we don’t want our loved ones to go from their menial day jobs to the graveyard shift at a gas station every night just to pay their bills. We’ve never had to decide between taking a vacation and paying our kids’ tuition. We’ve never had to defer paying a credit card bill to free up enough cash for a down payment for our teenage child’s first car. We’ve never faced true hardship in any way that is remotely comparable to what our parents had to endure.

Today we face war in Iraq, diplomatic conflict with a defiant Iran, the threat of terrorism, a breathtakingly large trade deficit, and a receding (perhaps bursting) real estate market. It is quite possible that in the unforeseen future looms a protracted economic downturn. One that adversely affects the careers and livelihoods of the majority of us who are now in our prime. On Wall Street they have a saying: “In a bull market, everyone can claim to be a genius. But a bear market truly separates the men from the boys.” I wonder how our character holds up if we ever encounter such hardship.

And perhaps many of us will be blessed from the day we are born to the day we die with the inheritance of a sheltered existence that our parents so dearly bought for us. That would certainly be good for our own comfort, but how does that affect the way we raise our own children, and the values we pass onto them? When all of us -our parents’ and our own generation- are all long dead and gone, how do our incomplete set of values translate into any sort of a lasting, constructive legacy for future generations? Decades from now, when people look back on my own generation, will they comment on our outstanding character? I don’t think they will. I think they will condemn us for our unhealthy sense of entitlement. For failing to recognize that the greatest inheritance our parents left to us is not the fancy education or the down payment on our first house, but rather the selfless example they set and the strength of character they embodied in building truly meaningful lives.

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Jack’s Artery Blockade

A few days ago, my wife Pat whipped up some brown sugar-glazed pork. The official Thai name for it is “moo+ wan+”, or “sweet pork”. (The “+” means to inflect up at the end of the word, as if you were asking a question in English.) My friends who have tasted it affectionately refer to it as “artery blockade” or “the fibrillator”. It’s a little bit like pig candy, but with three times the sugar and stir fried in oil instead of baked.

I scooped a big ol’ helping onto a plate and thought, “Hey! I should blog this! I bet people will want to know how to make it, even if they’re too scared to eat it!” So I benignly reach for the digicam. Pat then lets out a shriek:

Pat: No! You left a little grease streak on the side of the plate! If you’re gonna blog it let me clean it up!

Jack: I don’t think people will care. They know I’m a slob in the blogosphere like I am in real life. This is not some fancy food blog with fancy pictures.

Pat: You want me to put it on a nicer plate or something?

Jack: Again….ain’t my style. Function over form. Substance over style. Step aside. I’m taking the picture.

Pat: You want me to add some chopped scallions to it, to give it some color?

Jack: OK how about this…why don’t you hold up this wooden spatula and smile for the camera. I can always use a picture of you in your pajamas to accompany the picture of Jack’s Famous Artery Blockade.

Pat then shrieks even louder and runs upstairs to hide from the digicam, the sound of her giggling receding up the stairwell (she can’t help but giggle even in times of extreme distress- at least if our house ever catches fire at night I’ll be awakened by the sound of giggling).

Alas, after that whole ordeal, below is the “recipe” for Jack’s Artery Blockade. Don’t even ask me about portions and cooking times…just use The Force when you cook, like my grandma.

  1. Add some oil to a medium hot pan or wok
  2. Throw in some sliced pork or cooked bacon
  3. Add some fish sauce. I’m Thai-Chinese but not a Thai-Chinese snob (can’t we all just get along?), so I use fish sauce like the recipe calls for, not soy sauce
  4. Add some white pepper
  5. Add some brown sugar
  6. DO NOT add garlic. I like garlic, but it tastes funny in this dish
  7. DO NOT add vegetables. They suck
  8. Stir
  9. Let the meat simmer for a bit
  10. Push all the meat toward the outer edges of the pan or wok, leaving a hole in the middle
  11. You will see the sugary sauce (aka “Jack’s Super Secret Artery Blockade Sauce”) begin to evaporate in the center of the pan. I think fancy cooksters call this a reduction. Like, “Siamese Pork Cutlet with a Lana’i Sugar Cane Reduction”. Since I won’t be charging $20 for this dish (I don’t have nice enough plates- my fine china is made of plastic), I just call it “evaporating pig meat juice”
  12. Lower the heat to medium-low to medium
  13. Sprinkle more sugar periodically and stir
  14. Over time the juice will continue to evaporate and form a glaze. Keep on alternately stirring and then creating a space in the middle for the juice to evaporate.
  15. It’s ready to eat after it’s simmered and stirred for a while, when the pork has hardened somewhat and the glaze gels and is no longer like gravy
  16. Sprinkle chopped scallions over the top before serving, for presentation

I actually object to the last step, but as I type this Pat is dangling my six pack of Costco bacon over the trash can, saying “Tell them to add scallions. Now. Bitch.

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FOB or Not?!?!

FOB. ABC. No, I’m not singing a song that teaches kids to spell.

F-O-B! (pronounced “fob”, but usually with an exclamation, like “FOB!!!”) means Flresh-Off-Boat! A! B! C! means Amelican Bohn Chinese! Just a decade or two ago, Asian immigrants (FOB!) and their children (ABC! like me!), considered these labels to be badges of shame, connoting traits that just didn’t fit into the great American landscape:

FOB – Multi-variable length hair style accompanied by splotchy sideburns. Thin polyester jackets with two tone color schemes. White socks with sandals. Even worse- hiked up dark socks with sandals and shorts. Some funky, unsophisticated-sounding, non-European, definitely non-American chop suey accent.

ABC – Rice rockets (Japanese compact cars, for the uninitiated) with dark tinted front windows. High SAT math scores. (They just had to ruin the curve didn’t they?). Bad at sports. Socially awkward when outnumbered by WASPs.

Amazing how much can change in just a few decades. Most FOBs (at least from my parents’ generation) are a self-selecting group of earnest, enterprising, risk-taking individuals- how many of us would leave our homeland to pursue some nebulous, unquantifiable opportunity in a far away place where we don’t speak the language? As a result, many FOBs prospered. Don’t act all surprised. Just because they don’t speak English well doesn’t mean they’re bad at business. (pet peeve side note: if you are speaking to somebody who is not fluent in English, speak more slowly if you want them to actually understand you. Speaking louder does not help them understand you any better).

And FOBs’ ABC kids -with one foot in America and maybe a small toehold in some land across the Pacific (still gotta eat rice for 3 out of every 5 meals!)- actually scored ok on the SAT verbals. They played sports. Joined the debate team. Went to college (*ahem* University of Caucasians Lost among Asians). Became professionals. Lawyers. Doctors. Engineers. Internet tycoons. Intellectuals. Artists. Token Asian Guys on movie sets. A few semi-funny comedians. They wedged themselves into the great American landscape.

And America over time also began to reflect a slight yellow glow. White guys got yellow fever. They got married (one married my cousin. Go Rob!). They produced hybrid offspring (who apparently are “half white/half right”! haha courtesy of Jonathan Chin). Asian cuisines got fused into gourmet menus (by white chefs, but us Asians are more pragmatic than proud so we’ll take it anyway). Japanese cars set the new gold standard for reliability in the world’s largest automobile market. Jackie Chan made some hit movies in Engrish. Ang Lee won an Oscar. Everyone’s into yoga.

I don’t know if it’s cool to be a FOB or ABC. But any negative connotation with FOBiness has definitely been rapidly receding. Many value their FOB- and ABC-dom: It’s advantageous to have a rich multilingual, multicultural background when you inhabit a rapidly shrinking globe.

So whether you’re yellow, brown, black, red, white, or any other color (Barney:purple; Kermit:green…they’re American, aren’t they?!), let’s test your FOB-IQ! Since many FOBs these days are quite cosmopolitan, with respectable hairstyles, department store wardrobes and fluency in multiple languages, it may be more difficult than you think to figure out which of my friends below is FOB (born outside the U.S.).

For each of the pictures below, take your best guess…FOB or Not!!! The answers are in InvisoText.

(hold down your mouse button and scroll your over the white area to the right of each picture)

FOB or Not?!?!

Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.
Walter! He no FOB! He born in USA!!!

FOB or Not?!?!

Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.FOB!!! But Uma is married to a CA (Caucasian American) so she is undertaking a 7 step de-FOBbing program. She may even learn to bake one day. (Asians stir fry. They don’t bake).

FOB or Not?!?!

Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.
HE NO FOB!!! Not only is Bobby not a FOB, he’s half white!!!

FOB or Not?!?!

Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.
NOT FOB!!! Jon is ABC!!! But still a math major.

FOB or Not?!?!

Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.
Trick question!!! Lisa is not Asian (can you tell by the picture?), but she was born in South Africa- Honorary FOB! (Some would argue that affluent white immigrants are FOPs: Fresh Off the Plane! That is at least two classes above FOB if you are counting purely by mode of transportation.)

FOB or Not?!?!

Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.
Another trick question!!! Diana was born in Singapore, and currently lives in Singapore! NOT FOB!!! But if she lived in the U.S. she would be FOB!!!

FOB or Not?!?!

Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.
NOT FOB!!! Jenny is ABC, born in USA! She eats only hamburgers and speaks only English. She’s what’s called a banana (yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Hey, I just repeat this stuff…I don’t make it up).

FOB or Not?!?!

Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.
Super duper trick question!!! Clockwise from top left:
Shont: Half ABA! (American-Born-Armenian!)
Pat: FOB!!!
Katrina: All American! Not FOB, Not ABC, Not ABA!
Baby Olivia: Not FOB, Not ABC, 1/4 ABA! (“and damn pwoud ob it!” she adds).

FOB or Not?!?!

Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.
Phil! He’s of Korean descent, but despite the FOB-like hairstyle and unintentional half-’stache (so difficult to distinguish between “FOB”, “grunge” and “slob” appearance these days), Phil HE NOT FOB!!!

FOB or Not?!?!

Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.
Yet another trick question! (us ABCs are so tricky! Maybe it’s something we learned from our FOB parents!). Sandy hails from Canada, but lives in Cambridge, MA. He’s a FOC! (Fresh Out of the Car).

FOB or Not?!?!

Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.
Shirley! She’s NOT FOB! She’s an ABC! Can’t you tell? with a name like Shirley?!? That’s totally an ABC name.

FOB or Not?!?!

Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.
Tammy! Her brother is FOB! But she is ABC!!!

FOB or Not?!?!

Click your mouse here, hold down the mouse button and drag down over the white space below to see the answer.
Will! Born in Taiwan!!! FOB!!! Well, at least by the definition of FOB that I posited above. Will though would probably rather fight you to the death than allow you to call him a FOB! There are distinctions among foreign-born Americans, spanning varying degrees of FOBiness. Will mostly grew up in the U.S., so despite his pimped-out ride (FOB/ABC style), Will would argue that he and newly arrived FOBby FOBs don’t have too much in common!

So did you get any right? Is your FOB IQ sufficient?

Here is another test to gauge your FOB sensibilities. I am not providing answers to these- you will have to consult your own personal FOB or ABC friends for enlightenment:

When you go out for Chinese food, where do you go?
- PF Chang’s
- Sam Woo BBQ

What’s your favorite dish there?
- Chicken lettuce cups
- Boiled tripe

When you finish eating at a Korean restaurant and they give you a little cup of milky white liquid with little pellets on the bottom, what do you do with it?
- Rinse your fingers
- Drink it

When you order a rice dish at a Thai place, what utensils do you use? (Note: This may be a trick question. And if you are trying to game it, having guessed what I guessed you will guess, well then it may turn out to be a *trick-trick* question, where I have guessed what you guessed I guessed you would guess…)
- Chopsticks
- Fork and spoon

When you buy a new tv, what is the first thing you do to it?
- Remove the stickers
- Wrap the remote control in Saran Wrap

What floor, in a building, would you least want to be on?
- 4
- 13

What’s your opinion of durian?
- Tastes like heaven
- Smells like hell

When you go on vacation and arrive at your destination, what’s the first thing you look for?
- The spa
- Chinese food

In what order do you prioritize the following weekend activities:
- Eating
- Shopping
- Camping
- Eating
- Hiking
- Shopping
- Eating
- Reading
- Shopping
- Partying
- Eating
- Concerts
- Shopping
- Eating

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Maximizers and Satisfisers

Our friends Cung and Alice introduced us to this Maximizer/Satisfiser concept. I’ve since expanded on it so it’s probably unrecognizable to them at this point. Thank goodness for creative license. I guess one person’s creative license is another person’s bastardized brainchild.

Maximizers price shop. They compare. They check out floor samples. They do lots of research on the internet before making a purchase. They’re not necessarily cheap- they often like and want good stuff. They figure out what to buy based on the vectoring of such factors as features, quality, price, looks and cachet. I’m not quite sure how to graph that -there aren’t enough axes if your feeble mind, like mine, is unable to conceptualize beyond three dimensions- but you get the point. They always want it at the lowest possible price. Well, the lowest price from a reputable vendor that doesn’t sell their wares out of the trunk of an ’82 Buick. Sometimes the cost in time and effort exceeds the actual dollar savings or the added utility of getting the best features in an item, but they go through the exercise anyway. For some, finding the best deal becomes a bit of sport. It’s not like they always need to get the best deal for something- it’s just that they can’t sleep at night unless they know they did. Maximizers can also sometimes fall into the grip of analysis paralysis, in which case they just don’t buy anything for a while to give them time to consider even more details that range in importance from earth shattering (well, maybe not quite earth shattering but somewhat important) to insignificant. Maximizers I bet are often insomniacs (Me).

I bet a lot of “maximizers” hail from middle or upper-middle class backgrounds. Pat’s friend from med school, Justin (he is an Australian heterosexual guy who wears cosmetics- go figure), once told us about his summer selling shoes at a department store. The kids from lower income families would save up for a new pair of sneakers, and when they finally had enough money they would walk into the shoe department, point to the pair they want, and wear them out of the store with the tags still attached. Easy sale. The rich customers would go in, usually without much of a clue, ask the clerk which one or two styles they recommend, take a quick look, and make a choice pretty quickly. Price is not terribly important to them, and they just buy what seems to look good and feels comfortable. Again, easy sale.

The middle class customers, however (especially the educated, working professional types) would go into the store and examine every little aspect of each style they were considering, to the most minute detail. They would compare and contrast the material, the price, the stitching (memo to shoe shoppers: it doesn’t matter if it’s American or European, Nike or Addidas- they’re all manufactured in the same shoe factory in China by some lady who used to be a farmer but now lives in one of the factory dorms, eats in the factory cafeteria, sends her two kids to the factory school, and now spends 12 hours of her day stitching your Nike running shoes that you just discarded last week after you accidentally stepped in a big steaming pile of dog poo). Definitely not an easy sale.

Satisfisers are the store clerk’s wet dream. The rich shopper example from the shoe store is a classic satisfiser. They know what they want (“Honey…I stepped in some dog poo…I’m going to get a new pair of shoes!”). They drive to the mall to get it. They ask the clerk which one looks good. They might try one on to be sure the thing’s not a foot death-trap. They go “hmmm…I like the little bright red flap on the back of the shoe…let’s see…$250…sounds good!” Then they whip out the credit card, and are quickly on their way.

Satisfisers don’t do endless amounts of research. At most they’ll ask one of their maximizer friends what to get and where to get it. If their maximizer friend starts to expound too much on the pros and cons of the different choices, the satisfiser’s brain automatically switches to thinking about something totally different- this is a highly evolved defense mechanism designed to keep the satisfiser brain from being overloaded with seemingly useless details. Satisfisers I bet fall asleep before their heads hit the pillow (Pat).

Ok so I called myself an insomniac and classified myself a maximizer. That’s not entirely true. I often have trouble sleeping, but I am not really a maximizer. I am a cheapskate. Cheapskates are cheap for cheap’s sake. They revel in being cheap, and they don’t care too much about quality. They just want it to do the job, and most importantly they want it cheap.

If Neutrogena Shampoo is considered good and reasonably priced (Pat), the cheapskate buys Suave anyway because it’s cheap and besides, it’ll take at least 15 years of continued use before it makes you permanently bald (me). In those 15 years, the cheapskate would have saved $2,343.53 in inflation-adjusted dollars by using Suave instead of Neutrogena. If that’s not more valuable than personal scalp-follicle longevity, I don’t know what is.

Cheapskates don’t throw anything away, because that AC/DC adapter for the cheapskate’s now-damaged, discarded calculator may come in handy someday in the future. Who knows, maybe one day they’ll make an iPod that needs the same voltage, wattage and plug size as that Canon calculator from 1988. Or that broken cordless phone. The one with so much static buzzing that you can’t actually hear any discernible sounds, and on the other end the person talking to you thinks you’re calling from Alpha Centauri. That thing’s still in the linen closet, with the power adapter neatly taped to it. Just in case McGyver shows up with some bad guys on his tail and needs to construct a morse code communicator with the parts.

Mind you this is all relative. Some people can afford a luxury car but still drive a Civic. They are cheap. If they drive a Lexus, they are likely maximizers (lowest maintenance luxury car). If they drive a BMW, they are likely satisfisers (fun to drive, but they didn’t quite consider the high maintenance costs when they bought it). Some people can only afford a 1985 Civic but drive a brand new Acura. They are headed for personal bankruptcy at worst, or a lifetime of renting their home at best.

Ok so now you know what I am. Which one are you?

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Life Lessons from Family & Friends – Jason A

jason.jpgWe are the sum of our experiences, and those we know and love are the ones who teach us the most about life and happiness. Everyone in my life has contributed to making me a better person, and i am compelled to share with others what I have gained from each of them, out of gratitude and as a testament to them, and perhaps with a small hope that their examples will contribute constructively to others’ lives. This is the first installment.Jason and i have known each other since 7th grade. Back then he wore a black Member’s Only jacket and had thicker hair. We became excellent friends in high school, where we co-founded the informal Camel Club, which was comprised entirely of two members, no more and no less, kind of like the sith lords from a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. we are currently considering an exception to the two member rule- the induction of a third member, one Radley A, Jason’s 1 year old son. The camel club was devoted to doing nothing but sitting around and laughing at stupid jokes. The only “official” activity was the official camel club song, which comprised of the smurf and hawaii 5-0 themes, sung simultaneously. little radley will have to learn at least the melody of one of the songs to qualify for induction. or we can just give him a can of blue food coloring and a jar of cotton balls. he’ll mess around in it and inadvertently make himself into a baby papa smurf in no time.

Jason is definitely much smarter than me (not hard to do, yhheeeeppp). He has a very high iq and an innate curiosity about how things work. my love for physically taking stuff apart and deconstructing concepts (which often gets me in deep doo doo!) was mostly picked up from jason over decades of inevitable osmosis. He is a very deep thinker of the most genuine kind- he actually cares about understanding the things that occupy his brain without much thought to declaring them to others with an intention to impress. he’s taught me about proper swimming form, electrical wiring, physics, philosophy, and countless other things (yes, we’re nerdy). in addition to all of these things, jason taught me perhaps the most important lesson of all (if it’s not the most important, i would say that it is the most pervasive, as it influences my thoughts and actions every day).

While others may buy baby bjorns to snugly attach their babies to themselves, jason concocted one from an airplane blanket. he would much rather understand how something fundamentally works and implement it himself than buy some whiz-bang gizmo that’s supposed to do the same thing at 10 times the price but breaks after two uses with no way of fixing it. in high school, at the peak of my own unchecked materialism, i once picked up jason at the airport. i asked him if he had a backpack full of diversions for the plane ride, and he simply pulled a wrinkled paperback out of his hoodie pouch and said that it was his in-air entertainment. it was as if a light bulb had literally blinked on inside my head. i thought about the all-manner-of-gizmos i’d have had on my own person had i been on that flight. and how convincing myself that i had to have all of that stuff to survive the boredom of an airplane flight was -partially at least- simply a way to fill a hole in my own soul; to validate my own ill-defined self worth.

in an era of excess and blatant consumerism, it’s easy to get caught up and forget what the true sources of one’s happiness are. like many people, i’ve read and heard a lot of stuff from countless brilliant philosophers, poets, pundits, screenwriters, gurus, know-it-alls and blowhards about materialism and how it affects society and the human condition. i’m even buddhist, having been born into a buddhist family. but buddhists have their own share of blatant materialists who pray for bmw’s. but i never truly understood what true detachment and freedom from material things meant until jason demonstrated it to me in that single moment at the airport, and in countless other similar moments and conversations.

there is a zen-inspired poetry as well to jasonism. there is beauty in simplicity, and fulfillment in understanding, having and doing exactly what’s needed; no more and no less. i’m a sailboat guy, not a speedboat guy (actually, i’m not nautical at all but you get the picture). i prefer a swiss army knife to a giant toolbox. books and magazines are much more practical for a plane or train ride than a walkman, laptop, dvd player or anything else that’s battery operated. disposable containers and wrappers are better than empty boxes and cases that you have to lug back home even after you’ve consumed the contents. a lexus gives you dual zone air conditioning, but a honda gives you the freedom to park in a tight spot without caring about getting a ding on your door. sometimes more is more, but it’s almost always more burdensome.

it’s been many years since high school, and today i like most adults have many financial responsibilities. but pat and i are fortunate- we live comfortably, spend modestly, don’t worry too much about money, and travel to see far-off friends and family when we can. but everything that i own was purchased for its utility, and not for my gratification, to seek validation from others, or to otherwise inflate my ego. i drive a honda, not a mercedes benz or bmw. i use a cheap charcoal grill instead of a fancy built-in gas number, and i enjoy the ritual of stacking and lighting the coals. i buy computers that are a few generations behind the cutting edge. same for my digital camera, cell phone, and every other electronic doo-dad i have. i wear wal-mart sandals and not birkenstocks. i’ll only buy the birkenstocks if the wal-mart or target ones don’t fit my overly wide feet. i invest in low cost index funds and not high fee hedge funds. my floating pool recliner is a single thick sheet of flexible foam that is way more comfortable than the fancy doohickeys that cost twice as much. i buy nothing from the sharper image.

yes, i own these things. but they do not own me.

i am defined by my actions. not by my possessions.

for these life-changing insights, i owe jason a debt i can never fully repay.

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