Weekend Getaway

When Mac and Pam called to invite us to spend the weekend at a family beach house, we jumped at the chance. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to get away and relax. It’s been an even longer time since we did so with the Proffitt-Smiths.

Kris and I had intended to leave early on Friday afternoon, but various delays — including a disastrous “short cut” through Tigard/Sherwood/McMinnville — found us just three minutes ahead of Mac and Pam on the highway to Lincoln City. Our hosts humored me by agreeing to meet for dinner at Mo’s, an Oregon landmark.

Mo’s is where I first learned to eat clam chowder. It was the summer after my senior year in high school, and somebody — perhaps Stan Oyer, though I cannot recall exactly — convinced me to give the stuff a try. I liked it. It tasted like Dad’s potato soup. I have many fond memories of the place. I haven’t been to Mo’s for many, many years, however, and I must confess the place is disappointing. The chowder is average at best. I did enjoy my chicken-fried steak, but that’s mainly because the breading was crispy and delicious. (Sometimes I just get in a chicken-fried steak mood, you know?)

After dinner we stopped for ice cream before heading the beach house belonging to Mac’s aunt. After the Liam and Megan went to bed, the four adults spent some time chatting. Very nice.

On Saturday, we spent a lot of time on the beach. I made use of my little camera’s video capabilities:

I spent some time wading in the cold, cold ocean waters. My toes and legs were numb! In the afternoon, we watched the Oregon Ducks defeat the USC Trojans 24-17, and then spent some more time on the beach.

I would have liked to stay one more night, but Kris and I decided we needed to get things done on Sunday, so we drove home. Instead of heading home through Salem, I decided to head north. But in Tillamook, I had a moment of doubt: drive to Forest Grove on Highway 6 or head north to Highway 26? I made a Bad Choice, heading north. After an extra hour of driving, we finally cut over to 26 on Highway 53, a nasty, twisty little road. We arrived home an hour later than we should have.

We did some yard work on Sunday, though my efforts were cut short when I managed to mow over the metal edging around Kris’ rose garden. The mower blade cut into the edging and then bent as it tried to continue spinning. Ugh.

In the evening, we joined the MNF group at Jeremy and Jennifer’s for pumpkin carving. Kris and I were both out of sorts, though; we were both beginning to come down with colds. We woke this morning feeling crummier, so we both stayed home from work. Kris has slept most of the day. I’ve spent a lot of my day in the bathtub (surprise!) reading Gone With the Wind.

In all, it was a relaxing weekend. Just what I needed!

Autumn at Rosings Park

The past two Sundays have been lovely here in Oak Grove: cool and grey and damp. Last week Kris called me downstairs to look at the dew-covered spider webs, like tiny crystal structures hanging from the house, from the roses, from the camellias. I grabbed my camera to make a quick video tour of the place.

The unexpurgated edition of this video features 20 seconds of Kris playing Dance Dance Revolution, but she has exercised spousal privilege and prohibited me from posting it. If you’d like to see the full thing, let me know in person.

The rain has been falling thick and heavy lately. We’ve had nearly 1-1/2 inches of rain in the past three days. I know that’s not a huge total, but it’s seemed to come in downpours rather than our constant Oregon drizzle. (Of course, we’ve had a month of that constant Oregon drizzle, so maybe a change of pace is welcome.)

The Einstein Principle

From Study Hacks comes The Einstein Principle: Accomplish More by Doing Less.

Einstein’s push for general relativity highlights an important reality about accomplishment. We are most productive when we focus on a very small number of projects on which we can devote a large amount of attention. Achievements worth achieving require hard work. There is no shortcut here. Be it starting up a new college club or starting a new business, eventually, effort, sustained over a long amount of time, is required.

In a perfect world, we would all be Einsteins. We would each have only one, or at most two, projects in the three major spheres of our lives: professional, extracurricular, and personal. And we would be allowed to focus on this specialized set, in exclusion, as we push the projects to impressive conclusions.

But this doesn’t happen…

Our problem is that we don’t know in advance which project might turn out to be our theory of relativity and which are duds. Because of this, most ambitious people I know, myself included, follow a different strategy. We sow lots of project seeds. We e-mail a lot of people, join a lot of clubs, commit to a lot of minor projects, set up lots of meetings, constantly send out feelers to friends and connections regarding our latest brainstorm. We don’t know which seed will ultimately take root and grow, so, by planting many, we expose ourselves to enough randomness, over time, to maximize our chance of a big deal, interesting, life-changing success eventually happening.

These numerous seeds, however, have a tendency to transform into weeds. While some of them clearly grow into pursuits worth continuing, and others die off quickly, many, instead, exist in a shadowy in-between state where they demand our time but offer little promise of reward in the end.

These weed projects violate the Einstein principle.

We can no longer focus on a small number of important project, but find ourselves, instead, rushing between an increasingly overwhelming slate full of a variety of obligations. This time fracture can prevent real accomplishment. Imagine if Einstein maintained a blog, wrote a book, joined a bunch of clubs at ETH, and tried to master rowing at the same time he was working on General Relativity? We’d still be living in the age of Newton.

Filed for future reference.

Better Use of Leisure Time: Self-Improvement Tips from 1950

I’ve written before about how profitable it can be to use your free time to engage in money-making hobbies. But even if your hobbies don’t earn you money directly, you can still use them to develop useful skills, skills that may help you earn more down the road. From 1950, here’s a short film describing the advantages of making better use of leisure time:

Time. Leisure time. Did you ever stop to think how much leisure time you really have? Some of us put our leisure time to good use, and some of us — Ken Michaels, for example — spend most of our leisure time just moping.

“Moping” has many modern forms: idle television consumption, World of Warcraft, surfing the internet. There’s nothing wrong with doing things for pleasure on occasion, but I agree that everyone can profit from a productive hobby. The film points out that better use of leisure time offers three advantages:

  1. It’s a pleasant change from work. Some people have jobs they love, but most of us just tolerate work at best. A productive hobby can provide a sense of accomplishment while being enjoyable.
  2. It improves the body and mind. Whether you build a cabinet, knit a sweater, or write a blog entry, a productive hobby can help keep your mind sharp. Hiking or biking are great ways to stay physically fit.
  3. It provides long-range goals. In the film, Ken’s father plans to build furniture for his entire house. My wife likes to can fruits and vegetables, giving us inexpensive and healthy food year-round.

After watching this video, I began to wonder: how much leisure time do we have? I found an article on the number of hours worked throughout U.S. history. From table five, here’s how a typical American male household head spent his day in 1880 and in 1995:

Activity 1880 1995
Sleep 8 8
Meals and hygiene 2 2
Chores 2 2
Travel to and from work 1 1
Work 8.5 4.7
Illness .7 .5
Left over for leisure activities 1.8 5.8


In 1880, the average man worked 182,100 hours during his life and had only 43,800 leisure hours. In 1995, he worked 122,400 lifetime hours and had 176,100 hours at his disposal for leisure.

This article is fascinating, by the way, though you may have to wade through some dull spots to find the good stuff. Take a look at the postwar international comparisons to see how much time Americans spend working in comparison to other countries. (And while you’re at it, compare the workloads of men and women.) Or read the section on the shorter hours movement in the United States.

Picky but Adventurous

Jason sent me a New York Times article about kids who are picky eaters.

As many of you know, I have a reputation as something of a picky eater. The way I like to think of it is that I may be a picky eater, but I’m adventurous. That is, I don’t like certain foods (mushrooms, broccoli, green beans, mushroom, broccoli, coffee, mushrooms, broccoli, etc.) but I am willing to try new and different cuisines. Kris, on the other hand, is not picky, but she’s unadventurous.

Anyhow, the NYT article reports on recent research from Dr. Lucy Cooke at University College London:

According to the report, 78 percent is genetic and the other 22 percent environmental.

“People have really dismissed this as an idea because they have been looking at the social associations between parents and their children,” Dr. Cooke said. “I came from a position of not wanting to blame parents.”

Nutritionists, pediatricians and academic researchers have recently shifted focus to children who eat too much instead of those who eat too little. But cases of obesity are less frequent than bouts of pickiness.

In some families, communal meals become brutal battlegrounds, if they haven’t been altogether abandoned. Cooks break under the weight of devising a thousand variations on macaroni and cheese. Strolls through the farmers’ markets are replaced with trudges through the frozen food aisle.

For parents who know that sharing the fruits of the kitchen with family is one of the deep pleasures of cooking, having a child who rejects most food is a unique sort of heartbreak.

Hugh Garvey, an editor at Bon Appétit magazine, knows the heartbreak firsthand. He shares his experience on gastrokid.com, a blog he created with a British pal that details the gastronomic life of families. His daughter, 6, is an omnivore’s dream child. But his son, 3, will eat only brown food.

“The way I comfort myself is the way any quasi-sane parent comforts himself,” Mr. Garvey said. “It’s like potty training. Eventually, they’re going to graduate from diapers. In the end, he’ll eat something green.”

Of course, it doesn’t help me to know that my picky eating is genetic. What I really need to know is how to get over it.

[New York Times: Picky eaters? They get it from you]

The Curse of E-Mail

I now declare e-mail bankruptcy every month or two. Things are that bad.

The last time I did this was September 26th. Things were fine for a few days. I stayed on top of things. Then earlier this week, my life all of a sudden went into busy mode again. Monday was busy at Custom Box. Yesterday I spent several hours trying to write a pair of essays for Get Rich Slowly. Today I had to make a sales call, and that took all morning.

The net effect of this is that I’m now behind on e-mail again. I started the evening with more than 100 messages in my inbox. These are not spam messages. These are not blog comments. These are actual messages that merit a reply of some sort. I’ve already filtered out the other stuff. I spent two hours tonight acting on the messages, and I’ve managed to whittle the total down to 58. But that’s still 58 messages that need some sort of action. Even if each message only takes an average of three minutes, that’s three hours I still need to find to work on e-mail.

I need a secretary.

The Number One Reason Women are So Rare on the Internet

Kris and all her little friends love the web comic xkcd. They even ordered a bunch of t-shirts featuring their favorite xkcd slogans: “Stand back, I’m going to try science!” “Science — it works, bitches!”, etc. (My personal favorite is the “make me a sandwich, SUDO make me a sandwich”, but that’s because I’m a computer geek.)

Anyhow, I really liked this recent episode of the comic and felt inclined to share:

I’ve begun to believe there should be an age limit for the internet. At 18 you can get a learner’s permit that allows you to look at sites, but not comment. At 21, you can have a full-fledged license. The stuff that young men post is just inane.

(Can you tell I’ve been spending too much time on Digg lately?)

Dance Dance Devolution

Well, after a summer of not using the Wii very much, Kris and I are back into it. We’ve both been doing our daily Wii Sports “fitness mode”. “I was 23 yesterday,” Kris just told me. For myself, my bowling skills have devolved, and I’ve been in the upper twenties and low thirties lately.

Speaking of devolution: At long last, I’ve actually played a Dance Dance Revolution game and understood it. Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party was released for the Wii recently. Our copy arrived today. As soon as I got home, I plugged it in and we gave it a go.

We suck.

We have difficulty keeping time with the precision the game requires. And I can tell from the little avatars on the screen that I’d have better luck if I just loosend up and danced around to the beat, but I can’t stop trying to mash the little arrows with the footpad. I must say, though, that I do better than Kris does, which is a surprise. (Still, I think that’s a short-lived thing.)

DDR is some exercise, too. Put on a couple of consecutive fast dance songs, and you can work up quite a sweat!

I’m glad to have added this game to our arsenal, though. We don’t have any real party games, but this looks like it qualifies. And I hear Guitar Hero can be pretty fun, too. That comes out in a few weeks…

Meanwhile, I’ll try to find my rhythm…