Hello readers!

This blog is too often ignored, mostly because I post to friends at Facebook, and I can filter my posts so easily there. I’ll promise to try to try harder at posting. If you’re reading this, tell me so I have some idea of who still reads (or more likely, still has it on their RSS feed reader).

Halloween Through The Ages

Because I’ve always wanted this all in one place, may I present the last 10 years of Halloween costumes.

2002 – Sacred Heart Jesus

2003 – Warrior angel

2004 – Lego Minifig

2005 – Ghostbuster

2006 – Turn-of-the-century strongman

2007 – Fidel Castro

2008 – Classic devil

2009 – Chicken-pecked Colonal Sanders

2010 – Perverted chicken

2011 – Blue Man Group member

2012 – Jamie Hyneman of the Mythbusters

Facebook analytics – How long since we’ve seen each other?

Today’s question: How long has it been since I’ve seen my Facebook friends?

Facebook makes for weird relationships – I’m closer with some people now than I ever was in high school or college, but often I haven’t seen those people in person in 10 or 15 years. Others I was very close to back then, and while we’re friends here, we don’t communicate often. First, the breakdown. I’ve seen:

10 (4%) of my Facebook friends today;
7 (3%) more in the last week;
16 (6%) between a week and a month ago;
21 (8%) between a month and six months ago;
13 (5%) between six months and a year ago;
72 (28%) between a year and five years ago;
30 (12%) between five and ten years ago;
73 (28%) between 10 and 20 years ago;
6 (2%) more than 20 years ago;
and 8 (3%) of you I’ve never met.

I’m not going to graph this out, but looking at the numbers, the majority of my FB friends fit into the “between a year and five years ago” and “between ten and twenty years ago” categories. The lull between (“between five and ten years ago”) is curious, and systematic of how you can make statistics “lie”. If I rewrote these categories to include a slightly longer time frame for the last two categories (say “between five and twelve years ago” and “between twelve and twenty-five years ago”), the 5-12 group would be the largest, by far, because it would include all the college friends I haven’t seen since graduation. An even larger group would be those I haven’t seen since between 1996 and 2000 (the end of high school through the end of college). It’s all about the questions you ask, and how your group your answers.

Otherwise, the numbers above are pretty much as I expected. With the exception of my girlfriend, everyone I’ve seen today I work with. Most of the folks I’ve seen in the last week and last month, as well. My core group of friends almost all fit into the “1-6 months ago” category due to summer get-togethers. 1-5 years is filled with ex-coworkers, and the larger groups in longer time frames mostly with school chums.

But what does it all mean? Clearly, we need to get together more often.

In which I live up to my condescending nature, and invite you to join me.

I’m starting to realize (with some help from friends) that I’ve been kinda preachy as of late; I’m telling everyone what’s best for them in terms of working (work less, and get paid for it), relaxing (relax more) and eating (eat what you want, and don’t “settle” for mediocre).

You know what? I’m okay with this.

I fully accept that the kind of stuff I’ve been advocating (via blog posts and Facebook updates, mainly) can be annoying. If it’s annoying, please don’t read it or spend any time thinking about it. My goal isn’t to annoy, and I’m under no delusion that everyone wants my advice, or that it’s necessarily right for everyone. But I do want to share what works for me, ’cause I love you, internets.

Yes, even you.

So if you’re already annoyed, or think you might be, turn around. I won’t be offended in the least. For everyone else, a recap of what’s been on my mind lately:

Work and Relaxing: Too many of us work to much. Even worse, many of us work on our time off out of some odd sense of duty/obligation to our employers. And the worst of all, we’re not all getting paid for this work. People are willingly taking a pay cut (working for free effectively cuts your pay per hour) because they think they’re supposed to, or because “everyone does”.

No! Not everyone does!

If you don’t like the word “lazy”, choose a synonym, but I’m here to advocate being lazy, on your time. Do your job and do it awesomely, but when you’re off work, be off work. Be off work as hardcore as possible. Do it with all your might. I don’t care if you’re parasailing or hobbying or pontificating or sitting your beautiful lazy butt on the couch reading or watching television: take back your time. It’s yours, not theirs. You’re a big boy or girl, you’ve been in the workforce for many years. Stand up and tell your boss that you’re working your hours, then you’re going home. Sure, sometimes you’ll have to work a little overtime to finish something. But make sure you’re paid for it. And make sure it’s absolutely “sometimes”. Otherwise, you’re getting screwed, and you’re the only person responsible for that.

Food: I think about food a lot. A whole lot. Because it’s awesome, you guys. I’m lucky to have a wonderful relationship with food – I enjoy eating it, I enjoy manipulating it to get something awesome out of it, and I don’t have any guilt about what I eat. I know it’s not as simple as that for everyone, but in the very least, you can like what you’re doing while you’re doing it. This should be true for most aspects of your life, but the road toward happy coexistence with food (if you’re not there already) is not hating it. You and food aren’t going your separate ways, so you might as well get along.

And once you’ve happily reached that point (it’s different for everyone, and that’s cool), you should work your way toward loving food, and never settling for something less. Stuff your face, but it do it with something awesome. If you’re counting, save your calories for the best stuff, even if it means eating less. If you’re not counting, don’t fill up on bad bread: fill up on some amazin’ fuckin’ fresh-baked loaf of awesome.

I have a lot more advice to give (because I’m full of it), and I hope you can stick around and annoy me a little bit, too. We’re all in this together, and we might as well get the very most out of it.

Your checklist for the coming work week.

1. Make sure you’re dreading Monday and/or the length of the week.
2. So as not to get enough sleep, make sure you’re over scheduling.
3. As usual, work hours you’re not getting paid for, for “the good of the company” and/or “your future”.
4. Stress out.
5. Have work be such an overwhelming force in your life that you feel the need to escape on the weekends, instead of being able to enjoy your day-to-day.
You wouldn’t seriously write this list or advocate it; why are so many of you planning on checking most of these items off? Reclaim your life, friends!


Author’s note: This is the first in a series of entries where I tell you what to do. 
Sometimes, while relaxing or doing nothing important, I think to myself, “Am I wasting my life? Shouldn’t I be climbing mountains or cleaning something or writing a novel?” Then I remember – and this is the important part, folks – that relaxation is an absolutely vital part of existence, and something people don’t do enough.
Honestly: do you relax enough? Or are you too busy? Perhaps guilted into thinking that you “should” be doing something else?
Stop doing things. Relax.
Yes, I know different things are relaxing to different people. And I appreciate that most people get a little relaxing in most days. But is it enough? How much do we need? Is a glut of relaxation during vacation enough to fill in for the days where your days are totally filled up?
I’ve always been a pretty good advocate for relaxing, but a recent influx of Facebook updates from friends about long office hours and wasted weekends has made me take up the torch anew. People I care about have been tricked (by The Man, probably) into thinking that they need to be working for free, or that their jobs are more important than their personal lives. Could they be right?
No! No, I say!
Life is meant to be lived, and enjoyed. You should be doing what you want, and a vital part of actually enjoying life is relaxing, not working for someone else all the time. Life can be short, friends – on your deathbed, you’re not going to think you didn’t work enough. Enjoy life!

It’s time for writing!

I’ll start this by tooting my own horn a bit: I’m realizing I’m a pretty good writer, and I kinda like to do it. I never liked writing papers in school, but that’s mostly because someone else told me what I needed to write. I was also a teenager at the time, and had much better things to do with my life than actually study or know the material, so the grades reflected that. Now I’m an adult, and I can write about anything I want. Literally anything, and people will read it. That’s crazy power.
Oh, and I’m tired of looking at that “pink slime” picture below, so this post will bump it down.
So I’m writing, and I’ve tasked myself to do a little of it every day. Some I’ll publish, some I won’t. Some might be fiction or other similar projects, and I already have some essays for Insignifica planned.
I think what’s been stopping me writing much lately was getting over burnout: I wrote a post every day on the old Insignifica for years, and by the end, it was a chore. I also felt like I needed to write to an audience, which isn’t a bad thing, but it is a limiting one. So now I can write to you, here, or to no one, here. Or I can write to you in private, or to no one, in private. I can write five thousands words, or fifty. I realize I need to write to get even better at writing, but I don’t need to involve you, something which we can both be happy about.
So this is being ranting and unwieldy, which is wonderful. Keep reading, there’s more of this coming, whether you see it or not.

Pink Slime and human nature

Once more, this story is going around. And once again, all I see is meat eaters freaking out about eating meat.
For those of you unfamiliar: When all the meat possible is removed by hand from an animal post-slaughter, the bones, along with other parts that edible meat is sticking to, go through a process of mechnical separation, separating the very small leftover meat from the non-ediables. This mechanically separated meat is then used as a filler in other meat products.
Sounds kinda disgusting, but no worse than the rest of the slaughting process. And generally, I feel that anything that produces less waste is a good thing (and so do the meat processors, I imagine). But seeing the above photo, masses of internet citizens (vegetarians and meat eaters both, though I’ve seen more from the meat eaters) have collectively freaked out about it.
I really don’t see it as being much different from most other ground meat preparations, honestly. The beef version typically has ammonium hydroxide (an USDA-approved antimicrobial) added to kill e. coli, while the pork and chicken versions don’t. This is also freaking people out, generally those who don’t know about the hundreds of chemicals already fed to and used in the slaughter of animals. Hint: You don’t want to know.
There are, of course, other processes out there for dealing with leftover bits of meat. After you kill an animal and remove all the meat you can, many processors boil the bones to extract tiny bits of meat. This also serves to de-marrow the bones, break down the skin and connective tissue, etc. This process converts natural collagen into a type of gelatin, thickening the mixture as well. Sounds disguesting too, yes? Well, I’ve just described the horrible process that your grandmother used to make chicken or beef stock in her own kitchen. That monster!
We have a weird tendency in our society to freak out about meat if it doesn’t look like what we think meat should look like (a steak, a cooked chicken breast, etc). Once it’s dead animal flesh, we should use all we can. The truly horrible parts of the process exist mainly in the treatment and slaughter of the animals, but that part doesn’t seem to phase people. As long as the muscle tissue looks like what we expect the muscle tissue to look like on our plate, it’s delicious. But when we get a glimpse into the process, we’re forced to think about it.
Maybe that’s for the best.

On Freedom

It’s good to know when to quit.
Last week, I officially passed control of Orange County Atheists – an organization I founded in 2005 – to three long-time members and friends. They’ll plan the meetings and be in charge of all the little things like restaurant reservations, website updates, and mailing lists, and I’ll just be a member, coming to meetings as I please, with no larger responsibility.
When you break it down, I’m only freeing up about 20 minutes a month (not counting the meeting), but on a grand scale, it’s been absolutely liberating.
No longer am I “in charge”. I don’t have to be the “face” of the organization, deal with new (and sometimes very odd) group members, or feel responsible to be at every meeting. And while no one thing was actually stressful, combined it become something I no longer loved doing, and that was reason enough for me to pass it on.
To a lot of people, this is quitting, and there’s nothing good about it. I used to feel the same way, too – my life is full of projects like this that I eventually gave up on, or stopped doing, or sometimes passed on to others. I was always happy for the free time, but there was often something lingering in the back of my head that said “you could have done better, and you should have spent more time on it”.
For a long time, I believed it.
But more recently, I’m finding that so many of the stresses in our lives are entirely up to us to handle. And for me, pending, regular obligations (even of things I love/loved) grate at me like nothing else. To use the cliche, they take up valuable real estate in my brain, the same way that long-term work assignments or homework do. They’re always back there, and while not overwhelming, I’m generally happier without them. And as soon as I made the decision to stop leading OC Atheists, I felt that happiness again, so I knew it was the right decision.
So what’s next? Somewhat paradoxically, another project. It’s not that I don’t enjoy doing these things, but everything has a life cycle, and I have a part in that cycle that I’ll love for a while, put up with for a while, and perhaps learn to hate after a while. Knowing when to get off the ride (while keeping things tidy on the way out if others count on you) is knowing yourself, and a path toward happiness.

What is “processed”?

It all started with a simple question: Could I go without processed foods for 30 days?

Sure, I thought. I’d done a similar 30-day challenge before (buying no prepared foods like bread, sauces, etc. for a month), and while it was difficult, I learned a lot. So, I said to myself, what exactly does “processed” mean?

Then the fun began.

I like definitions, and bounderies. You can’t break a rule (on purpose) until you know what it is, and it’s better if you know where it came from and why it’s there. I’ve heard my entire life that “processed” foods are bad, we should all eat fewer of them, and that obesity/poor health/malnutrion/low resale value of your car are all the fault of these damn processed foods.

Like many things nutrition, “processed” is most often defined by the “I know it when I see it” test. Cheese puffs? Processed. Apples? Nope. Hot dogs? Oh yeah. Cookies? Well, that depends on what kind. How about cheese? Those yellow squares have to be, but what about a block of cheddar? Does it matter if it’s made by hand and sold at twice the price at Whole Foods?

But what, exactly, makes those foods processed? Is it the ingrediants? Many of the definitions I’ve found specify one of two tests (if not both) – you have to be able to recognize and pronounce all the ingredients, and it has to be something you could make in your kitchen. But if I can’t pronounce or don’t recognize something, does that make it processed, or just mean I’m uninformed? And I certainly can’t make most breakfast cereals at home (Make a corn flake. I dare you), or cheeses for that matter. But neither is commenly placed in the “processed” pile.

Maybe it’s what happens to the food – tearing it down, recombining, adding some fillers – that makes it bad. But that would lump hot dogs in with everything with flour in it – that can’t be right. Almost all food preperation requires similar steps unless you’re eating raw, so I’m not liking this defintion either.

Perhaps a food’s “closeness to nature” is the best way to judge. Fruit off the tree? Awesome. Same fruit in a can – “processed”? Maybe. Meat off the bone of any animal you killed? Assuming cooking isn’t “processing”, you’re in good shape. How about milk? Sure, if it comes straight from the cow to your glass. But almost all milk is pasteurized to kill bacteria and homogenized to keep it from separating, both done through some funky processes. And that’s how I like it, thank you very much.

In the end, there isn’t a good definition, because “processed” or not isn’t the right way to look at our food. We need to see how food is prepared, what’s lost or retained via processing, and eat everything in moderation and as part of an overall healthy diet.