The Micawber factor (of 2)

Jacob and I were discussing material possessions yesterday. To reduce stress in this busy age, should you get rid of almost everything? I realized that for me, such minimalism is not the answer. For me, contentment differs from stress by a very practical factor of 2, which I summarize in this personal version of the Micawber principle*: Drawers half-full, result happiness. Drawers overflowing, result misery.

What goes for drawers and cupboards applies to time, too. If all your hours are scheduled, you’re miserable, but if half your hours are scheduled, you’re stimulated. I don’t want empty drawers and I don’t want empty days. I want plenty of life and plenty of possessions. You just have to keep on top of that factor of 2 to make sure you are the master, not them.

*From David Copperfield: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.”

[27 July 2014]

Egomania on wheels

When I’m biking, I get aggravated by pedestrians who step into the road without looking and cars that drive into the bike lane without caring.  One day a pedestrian or a car may knock me innocently down.  If they knock me into traffic, I could be seriously injured or even killed.  I feel angry at the stupidity of these dangerous and irresponsible people.

There is something ugly here. Honesty compels me to admit that there’s a part of me that hopes the other guy will misbehave.  If he misbehaved a bit in the last block, I watch eagerly, expecting and secretly hoping he’ll do something even more outrageous in the next block, thereby vindicating my judgement of him as as bad person.  There’s even a part of me that imagines it might not be too bad if an accident happened. Maybe this is the impulse toward martyrdom.

But mostly it’s about ego of the more quotidian variety.  The worse the other guy is, the clearer my superiority. Ugly.

[13 July 2014]

The value of a book

I bought the beautiful second edition of Horn and Johnson’s Matrix Analysis at the SIAM meeting in Chicago last week. This morning I biked in to the office with the book in my bag, looking forward to adding it to my linear algebra collection.

But I had an uneasy feeling. Was it possible I had already bought this volume earlier, and forgotten? It was a relief to reach my office and find that no, it wasn’t already on the shelf. I didn’t own two copies.

Curious, eh? Given a choice between owning two copies of a fine book and just one, I preferred the latter.

[14 July 2014]

Youth is fleeting again

Teenagers have always been healthy and beautiful, even in ancient times. But in those days, youth didn’t last long. By 25, the beauty was gone, and by 35, you were old.

Then along came miracles of modernity, and for many lucky people man’s five years of beauty extended to ten, twenty, thirty. Health and vitality became not just a phase but the normal condition of adulthood.

I’ve just spent a week in heartland USA. I saw that teenagers are sexy, just as they have always been. By age 30, though, most of them have sizeable bellies, and a fair fraction are obese. Years of hamburgers and donuts add up, and by age 40, these people are out of the game. Youth is becoming fleeting again.

[30 May 2014]