Deferred Interactivity

I’m not proud of the fact that I am not a gregarious person. I tend to be socially anxious, unless I’m with people I’ve known and liked for some time. When necessary I can compensate by “faking it”. While I don’t exactly embrace this characteristic about myself, I don’t think this has to be bad: a person is the way they are and shouldn’t always feel guilty about that (although I think that often society disagrees). However, for the sake of consideration, I’m willing to stipulate that social anxiety is not a desirable personality trait. Now, with some tendencies we may not like about ourselves, simply repeating the disliked behavior enough times can cure or eliminate the anathema. Perhaps the unliked activity builds up up metaphorical calluses, or exercises atrophied metaphorical mental muscles. For example, until recently I wasn’t a flosser. I’ve always known I should floss, much as I know I should (perhaps) interact better and more often with people. With flossing I started slowly, literally one tooth-gap the first day, two the second, etc., until I was doing the upper teeth one day and the lower teeth the next, and really hating it. The metaphorical scar tissue or muscles weren’t happening. It turns out that the floss I was using sucked, and when I started using a better floss, I immediately switched to doing the whole jaw every day, and I’ve kept it up.

With socializing, especially with strangers or just acquaintances, things are different. I have repeatedly gone from the rewarding sloth of minimum interaction, to increasing amounts of it, generally dictated by necessity (such as job situation), until a breaking point arrives. “Breaking point” may be an exaggeration; what I mean is that after enough of these interactions of necessity, there is a lull, that prompts my becoming overwhelmed (perhaps I exaggerate: suffused? permeated?) with feelings of relief and “I never want to do that again”. Perhaps this “lull” is partially self-created; I simply start backing off and avoiding participation in optional events. If frequent social interactions are again required soon thereafter, I really have negative feelings.

I use words like “perhaps” and “exaggerate” above to convey some skepticism about whether all this is necessarily a problem. Certainly, it makes various life situations more difficult, and certain career paths likely impossible. I will never be a glad-handing manipulator. Don’t get me wrong: I use those negative-connotation words to emphasize my own feelings. What for me are glad-handing and manipulation are for others sincere attempts to help people take advantage of mutually beneficial opportunities, although I don’t doubt that there are actual exploitative, zero/negative-sum glad-handing manipulators: they do suck.

Possibly ironically, I love public speaking. Maybe this is a dominance behavior. I am grandiose and have an agenda, and frankly I find most people haven’t thought through or properly studied the areas of my own interest and advocacy – to be sure many of them are more or less grandiose and have their own agendas – and they would benefit from listening to my perspective. To be fair, I usually take the attitude that I, too, would benefit from others’ perspectives. I am delighted to be found wrong about things that are important to me, if “found wrong” means as demonstrated using factual information and logical argument rather than self-righteousness and ideology. My ego may be the “improved floss” that encourages me in public speaking. Whether there is “improved floss” for me socializing somehow, I wonder.

Enchilada Sauce

In accordance with belikeme’s policy, I hereby exhort you to “be like me” with this post.

Suddenly hankering for enchiladas, I studied the first several (non-ad) hits from searching “enchilada recipe”. Evidently the sauce is a major determinant of success, so I instead pulled up the first few hits for “enchilada sauce”. Many of these flogged the “just 10 or 15 minutes” needed to complete the recipe. Reading further, I realized that these entries were based on tomato sauce, adding ground cumin along with onion, garlic, and chili powders, and whisking the spices with flour into a roux. I inferred they did this to easily achieve smoothness, but with so much liquid they needed the flour a thickener. I wasn’t interested in such a short cut, so I decided to start with diced tomatoes, adding actual onions and garlic, adjusting the thickness with stock (to thin) or tomato paste (to thicken) if needed. Doing some desultory web research, one garlic clove per half teaspoon of garlic powder seemed to be the consensus, so I doubled that (we’re not garlic freaks, but most recipe amounts of garlic don’t pack enough flavor for us). Similarly, I found that one tablespoon of onion powder corresponds to a medium sized onion. With this slight modification to the ingredient list, I was ready.

I make my own chile powder. Onions and garlic are great as-is, but roasting them adds a certain delectable smokiness to any vegetable. We were running low on roasted garlic, which we like to keep around for ad lib seasoning, so I tossed some onion chunks, garlic heads (with most of the skin removed and the tips sliced off) and carrots (for later – if I’m going roast things, might as well fill up the oven) in oil, and stuck them in a 425 °F oven. The sizes weren’t uniform, so I harvested the pieces as they got nice and brown. We were also low on chili powder, and our guests were not really aux fait (or is that por cieto?) with hot spiciness, so I made some of that too. Two kinds: one mostly mild guajillos, and the other a mix of chipotles, New Mexicos, and guajillos. For chili powder I take some dried chilis, and, using shears, cut off the stems, halve them lengthwise and scrape off the seeds, then cut the strips into small pieces and toast them in a cast iron pan until they are just about to smoke. Then I pulverize them in a coffee whacker (which is not a grinder, by the way).

To assemble the sauce I needed some stock, and as I was planning to make chicken enchiladas, I bought two rotisserie chickens at the grocery store, stripped off the meat and boiled down (way down) the meaty carcasses. When refrigerated, my stock is really stiff. The meat I chopped into small bits for assembling the enchiladas later. I made two portions of sauce, one mild, and one hotter. For each portion I put half a drained 28 oz can of diced tomatoes into a food processer, with about an onion’s worth of roasted onion and four large roasted garlic cloves. A quarter cup of chile powder, a teaspoon of ground cumin, and half a teaspoon of ground black pepper finished it off. I processed the whole mass down to a fine puree, a total of about 60 seconds, pausing to scrape down the sides a few times, then put the mix into a pan with 2/3 of a chicken’s worth of my condensed stock. It was pretty thick, so I added half the reserved tomato juice and some water, brought it to a simmer and let it cook for 20 minutes. When cool, I put it in the fridge for the next evening’s get-together. Next time I will add more heat to the “hot” chili powder, maybe double the amount, and double the number of garlic cloves.

The Cult of Dozenality

Among my super-aspirations is the adoption of base twelve, or “dozenal” for my arithmetic. Here I utilize the prefix “super” to imply I expect to never actually pursue this aspiration, or at least not to the point of actually calculating in dozenal routinely. Adopting various computational bases is of course routine in computer science, which runs on base two (binary), with bases eight (octal) and sixteen (hexadecimal) frequently used as easy shorthand for the fundamental base. Base twelve, however (formally “duodecimal” although as implied I prefer “dozenal”), doesn’t buy you anything in computer science; the supposed advantage is that 12 is evenly divided by 2, 3, 4, and 6, forcing fewer infinitely repeating decimal representations of fractions than the usual base ten (decimal). I’m not sure fewer infinite representations is that much of an advantage: fewer is not zero. Nevertheless, unless I am the victim of some variant of Poe’s law, some folks seriously advocate adoption of this boutique number base, citing further purported advantages you can read about on your own.

No, my super-aspiration has more to do with self-improvement. In my teens, I played with various techniques from The Memory Book by Lorayne and Lucas. These techniques do work, I enjoyed using them, and I still make limited use of some of them. For example, I use the so-called “Major” system to memorize a PIN or phone number. However, beyond simple daily uses I’m not convinced they are much more than mere stunts. If you really get into a topic, the mere repetition of recalling or re-looking-up needed information while studying does similar work. However, I do fancy that when one needs to quickly acquire a relatively high facility in a topic with lots of material to memorize, some of these techniques would be useful for getting up to speed.

In the Major system, you associate the digits 0-9 with consonants, then add vowels at whim to create mnemonic words that then help you memorize long numbers. For example, my German phone number is “boil doobie lich car”. I imagine myself boiling a doobie in my kitchen while looking out the window at what would normally (!) be a bunch of clowns piling into a car, except it is a bunch of lich monsters from Dungeons and Dragons. The so-called “person-action-object” (PAO) system (not described in Lorayne and Lucas) riffs on this groove by associating every two-digit number with a memorable person (whose name is derived from the numbers by the Major system) performing a stereotypical action, say “Santa handing out gifts”. With these pre-memorized mnemonics, you can then even more quickly memorize long numbers, or create multidimensional arrays of memorized items. Again, follow the links if you are interested.

My conceit is that I would derive a dozenal Major/PAO system from twelve, rather than ten, digits. Not to memorize long dozenal numbers (how often does one need to do that?), but to create 12 x 12 x … 12 arrays, so I could memorize arrays of 144, rather than 100, or 1,728, rather than 1,000 items, etc. As I say, this is super-aspirational, and I doubt I’ll ever pursue it seriously. I have gotten so far as to often do 6 or 12, rather than 5 or 10, tedious things at a time. A mundane, but satisfying aspiration.

Everything, All at Once

Trail Stories #1

Ever since I moved to Seattle, I have been an enthusiastic hiker, with many day hikes and multi-day camping trips to my name. Most of my outdoor recreation has been in the Cascades and Olympics of Washington State. However, one of my most memorable outings was in the Cabinet Mountains of Western Montana. Bear country (note: when somebody intones “bear country”, they mean Griz).

Our trip started on a Friday evening. “Radical” and I left work at one of the Lesser Satans, and set off on a six-hour drive with Messrs. “Snow”, “Dog”, and “Silver”, joining “Jack” in Spokane for some late Chinese. We expected a night’s sleep before leaving early the next morning. Relating the details of this leg of the journey would entertain but distract, so I simply note that although Radical’s minivan was totaled, nobody was injured. The Police cuffed and hauled away the drunk guy who managed to rear-end a parked vehicle in a cul-de-sac. The expected sleep didn’t really happen. We took “Jack’s” Suburban, hitting Libby for breakfast, then driving on to the Granite Lake trailhead.

Exhausted but functioning (biorhythms, caffeine, and in my case chicken fried steak), we were on-trail with plenty of time, but soon hit an obstacle. Official “wilderness areas” in the US are among the least maintained natural zones. The first major creek we came to was unbridged and had to be forded. I do not recommend combining exhaustion, slippery rocks, rushing thigh-high ice-water, and sixty-pound packs. We were pretty sapped after an arduous crossing so early in the day, and even managed to lose “Snow” for a few hours at another ford. Stupid, exhausted young men.

In Bear Country, one establishes two camps. One for cooking and another, at least 200 feet away, for the tents. In Bear Country I can hardly sleep, even when wiped out. Every sound, real or imagined, is Griz come to kill us. Still, even unrested, our first full day of day hiking and rafting was Class A. For me it got even better. It was late afternoon at the cooking camp, and I realized I had left something important in my tent. As I finally found that it had somehow slipped underneath my Thermarest, I heard an enormous “crack!”. Instinct ascribed agency to a Bear, spiking my pulse, but intellect said the sound was wrong for that. I leapt out and started looking around. The tent camp had a great view of the range just southwest of Snowshoe Peak, where some more enormous cracking noises attracted my eyes to an avalanche in the mountains above the lake. Snow pouring from one bowl to another, down, down, down, crack! crack! crack! I had never seen such wild drama. Suffused with the ecstasy of two days’ strenuous, sleep-deprived, magic-surrounded exertion, I achieved epiphany. Everything I knew about chemistry, physics, astronomy, geochemical cycles, biology, ecology, whatever, revolved in my mind’s eye simultaneously. Unfortunately for my companions, the woods obscured the view from the cooking camp, and by the time they followed my shrieks of “Holy Fuck”, the event was over. Although disappointed, they were excited that I had found what I was looking for, and were perhaps appeased as I shared it around.

The return drive also had its moments, but would also distract if related. Try driving across the Columbia to Vantage with high winds in a totaled minivan. Or don’t.