Panettone Tin

A few years ago I filled an enormous, beautiful tin with freshly ground peanut butter. A week ago, I emptied some very stale peanut butter from a spacious, lovely tin. Now I have a big, attractive, empty tin that smells like stale peanut butter.

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What can I do with this tin? Well, it just so happens that my tin reminds me of a popcorn container I had a long time ago. It had four different kinds of popcorn all in the same tin. The secret was putting paper or some lightweight separator between the different kinds of popcorn, making one single big tin into a veritable smorgasbord of snack food, one that would be very nice to bring to a party! I have some cardboard that could serve this purpose.

The trick is to cut the cardboard short enough to fit in the tin. One carboard wall should be taller than the other. Cut a vertical slice nearly all the way up the taller cardboard, far enough to fit the other cardboard wall in, but leaving enough room for the taller wall to remain stable. Then stick the taller wall on the smaller, and voila!

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Your very own multi-snack tin! Now, what to put in it? Four different kinds of popcorn? Four different kinds of peanuts? Four different kinds of Chex Mix? Individually-wrapped candy? A medley of different snack foods? That’s up to you! Fill it up and take it to a big party! See if people can empty such a massive container as hard as they try! Fill it with different variations on a favorite recipe and see which runs out first (provided you have a recipe for dry snack food)! If you put foods with a long shelf life in you can keep this tin around as a treat for guests! That is, if you have a tin like this to start with like I did.

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Being a Villager

Now maybe somebody has a better term for this, but here goes: I am inventing a new meaning for the term “Villager,” which comes from the proverbial “It takes a village to raise a child.” I define it as “One who, rather than having his or her own child, satisfies his or her nurturing impulse through assisting, to whatever degree, in the raising of other people’s children.” I think that the future that I want for myself may lay in being a villager.

I’m already doing a little bit of “villaging,” for lack of a better term, dedicating about four hours a week to tutoring my first cousin once removed Kamyia in mathematics and generally attempting to help her enjoy learning and challenging herself. It’s never easy to know how much help one has been to a child, but for my part I’ve enjoyed working with and supporting Kamyia. This is a powerful argument in favor of being a villager.

Another argument comes from the ethical perspective. Having a child in a world short on resources and full of unwanted children is an inherently selfish act. I’ve heard the argument that overpopulation is more of an issue in developing countries than in first-world countries like ours, but taken to its logical conclusion this is more of an argument for adopting a child from a developing country than for having a child of one’s own.

An argument against villaging is that one loses out on some mind-altering experience of parenthood. I can believe the case that the experience of having and raising one’s own child is incomparable to any amount of working with the children of others. However, I could argue that life is full of experiences that one can’t possibly understand until one has had them, and to attempt to have all such experiences is a fruitless endeavor. Therefore, we must prioritize our lives, and decide what experiences we are willing to work for and what experiences we can bring ourselves to miss out on. Parenting is a massive opportunity cost, and there is some disagreement to the common assumption that the joy it provides is enough to make up for the loss of freedom.

My goal is to experience the most rewarding parts of having a child while minimizing the least rewarding parts. I consider rewards of parenthood to be watching and helping a child grow emotionally as well as physically as well as the relationship that also grows and matures with the child, possibly well into adulthood. Besides the incredible financial and opportunity cost, the least rewarding parts include lots of gross cleaning activities the experience of which I do not mind missing out on at all.

In other words, I want something of the “Grandpa” experience (showing up every once in a while to spoil your grandkids rotten), which generally it seems like people assume must be earned by going through the father experience, but I don’t think that’s the case. Why shouldn’t I go for just the best parts of raising a child, especially since, by being a “villager” who aims to teach and help the children grow rather than just spoiling them it can hardly be argued that I’m doing anything but good?

DogeCoin!

It’s one of those things that has to be said with an exclamation point. Those of you who have not heard of cryptocurrency are probably wondering what a dogecoin is, and those of you who have heard of cryptocurrency are probably slapping your foreheads and wondering what I’m thinking and why I’ve gotten myself wrapped up in one of these ridiculous things that have flooded the speculative commodity market. 

To the former group, a cryptocurrency is a currency that exists entirely on the Internet. An individual keeps a little data on his or her computer and he or she gets access to a wealth of, well, wealth. Each of these currencies is distributed to people according to various mechanisms and then spreads around the world, much like any other good or money, via trade and gifts. These cryptocurrencies have become exceedingly popular, and now hundreds of them are in existence, each one slightly different from the others. That’s essentially all you need to know about cryptocurrency to get the general idea.

What makes DogeCoin stand out from its ilk is its community. Dogecoin is based on the “Doge” meme.

This is a specialized member of the animal caption family of memes involving a particular shiba inu making a strangely distrustful expression. Much like the LOLcat, the Doge features a particular made-up dialect unique to itself. “Wow” begins many sentences of Doge-speak, generally followed by a vague emphasizer (“much,” “very,” “so”) and a word that does not grammatically fit that emphasizer (“much successful!” “very altruism!” “so scare!”). One commenter has provided a link to a more detailed linguistic analysis of Doge-speak. The doge face itself has been reproduced in a vast array of different forms.

Why does the fact that DogeCoin is deliberately goofy in a relatively well-defined way make it a more valuable commodity? Simply put, it’s fun. The people attracted to DogeCoin are not just intimidating high-stakes traders, die-hard libertarians, and the impenetrable cryptography geek community, anyone with a computer and an appreciation of silly pictures of animals could be coaxed into becoming a “shibe” (pronounced “Sheeb” or “Shibay”), a member of the DogeCoin community.

As an owner of a DogeCoin account, I recently accepted 150,000 DogeCoin from my roommate Nate as collateral for a loan of $200. When Nate paid me back, I announced on  the DogeCoin subreddit (a forum for DogeCoin enthusiasts) that I had just completed the first recorded DogeCoin-backed loan. A couple days later I’ve received forty-four comments and over 200 DOGE in “tips,” which are an easy way to give small amounts of DogeCoin to posts that one appreciates on the DogeCoin subreddit.  Currently a DogeCoin is worth approximately a tenth of a penny, so that’s twenty cents.

That’s not the point, though. The reason that DogeCoin is valuable is because DogeCoin doesn’t have to be valuable. It’s the first cryptocurrency to have a community that likes it for more than just the money they could supposedly make from it. At one tenth of a cent per coin, DogeCoin has inspired my roommate to make a service to sell people Robusta coffee beans for DogeCoin, and it inspired my other roommate to buy a collection of high-end computing hardware and run a process to get him DogeCoin. If you remember the last post of the “The Cold Apartment” post series, the purpose of the rig that was heating J’s room was to mine DogeCoin. It inspired me to write this post to explain the phenomenon. DogeCoin also inspires people to do good, spawning the “DogeCoin Foundation,” which shortly after its creation scrabbled together enough funds to send the Jamaican bobsled team to the winter Olympics. If you’re ready to be inspired, here’s a video to confuse the heck out of you:

To The Moon!

Personal Religion

We don’t spend a lot of time staring at the cruel, absurd universe

My roommate Nate said something very interesting recently. My friend Greg and I were telling him about the horrible, regressive, anti-consumer, anti-environmental agreements in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and he told us he’d rather not hear about it.  This surprised me because I consider Nate to be the most politically active person I know. Not only does he generally keep up with politics, Nate actively gets involved in political controversies. Most recently he put North Carolina State University’s climate science program on the map and appeared in the News and Observer for arranging the controversial “Shored Up” to be shown at the Hunt Library.

Nate succinctly explained that if he could not expect to have any effect on an event happening in the world, its only value to him is the effect it has on him. Therefore, learning of a depressing, awful deal like the TPP has only the effect of making it more difficult for him to believe in a generally good world, making him stressed and less hopeful, and may even hurt his ability to affect the parts of the world he can change.

This is tremendously interesting to me because it ties in neatly with a concept I’ve been considering that I call “personal religion.” Here I define a “religion” as any belief having intrinsic value outside its truth or falsehood. An organized religion such as Christianity has various beliefs that, irrelevant of whether they are fact or fiction  have enormous effects on both the world at large and their believers.

I define a personal religion as a religion, as defined above, that an individual keeps for his or her emotional benefit, whether knowingly or not. I suspect that everyone has personal religion. Athletes believe that their team will be the team to win the next game. Entrepreneurs believe that their struggling company is imminently close to a breakthrough. Parents believe in their hearts that their children will grow up to be successful and happy. A cancer patient believes that his chemotherapy will send his tumor into remission. Descartes might agree that we all choose to believe that what we experience every day is truly reality. Nate chooses to believe that the world is generally a good place, emotionally if not intellectually, which I think is why he prefers to avoid bad news when he can help it. One of my personal religions I share with the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

In the vast majority of cases, our religions harm no-one. They are merely the tools we use to cope with the uncertainty in our lives. Just as our more mundane earthly religions reassure us and help us through this life,  belief in the supernatural, in life after death, helps us not to fear the next. I personally like to entertain a personal religion of reincarnation, or even an admittedly absurd faith in the imminent technological singularity which will grant me immortality, rather than torment myself with my inevitable demise.

Did you notice that I admit the absurdity of my own belief? F. Scott Fitzgerald said “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”  A motivated entrepreneur believes in his business, but a wise one hedges his bets. An aspiring actor believes she will make the big time, but gets a technical degree to fall back on. The cancer patient writes his will.

Religion is a wonderful and beautiful shield that protects us from the cruel absurdity of the universe. But when it comes to making decisions, we should rely on our own understanding. Our decisions that affect ourselves and other people should be based on the evidence that we see in front of us, be it an umpteenth audition failure, an economic downturn, or the results of a cancer screening. What we want to be true is often different from what is. Sometimes the cost of avoiding the truth is greater than the cost of staring the universe in the face in all its absurd cruelty.

Fortunately, though, it usually isn’t. Nate, for example, can easily ignore the TPP if it makes him uncomfortable because it’s not likely he’d be able to do much about it individually anyway. Also, I can keep denying that I’ll ever die for decades to come! I’ll see y’all at the technological singularity, when we’ll be able to scan our brains and replicate them in software. I look forward to the day when I’ll live forever as a free-roaming artificial intelligence on the Internet!

The Meeting

<- Continued from 54 Degrees

Upon Nate’s return, our house assumed an internal temperature of a balmy 63 degrees. One day, I came home to find it turned up to 65, which was too high. I asked Nate about the situation, and he told me that he was dreadfully ill, and needed the heat turned up or he, Nate paused for effect,  would certainly die.

I carefully weighed the cost of the extra two degrees against my roommate’s untimely demise and grudgingly agreed to let the temperature stay at 65 until J came home. That evening, true to his word, Nate lay curled on his bed in the fetal position, repeatedly calling my phone and leaving messages of him retching and hacking up his lungs and various other vital organs.

The next day I checked my messages and was duly satisfied that Nate had not been bluffing about his illness. I was particularly impressed when he demonstrated his delirium by leaving a message of six minutes of silence followed by “Hello, hello? Who is this?” and hanging up. Eventually, J told me, Nate had given up trying to get in touch with me and called him instead. J had gotten Nate’s medicine from CVS and rescued him from death’s icy clutches.

The next day, the temperature was back down to fifty-four degrees. Evidently there had been a meeting (with a quorum of two out of three household members). Nate would heat his room with a space heater, and to make up the electricity difference we would go below mine-strike level again in the rest of the house.

I put up with it for three days. Eventually when I was worried my fingers might snap off from being allowed to get so cold, I went to have a conversation with Nate, who was now feeling much better.

“Nate,” I said, somewhat reluctantly, “I think… I think it’s too cold.”

“You’ll get no argument from me,” said Nate.

“Yeah, I think we should have a meeting and decide the right temperature once and for all,” I said.

“Just turn it up,” Nate replied, rubbing his hands together to keep them from getting frostbite and making no attempt to hide that he was wondering when I would let him go back into his warm little room.

“No, no, no,” I insisted. “This thermostat has been changed without the input of the whole house too many times. This time we all agree.”

“Ok,” said Nate, “go get J, then.”

So I went and knocked on J’s door. When I told him I wanted to have a meeting about the temperature, J came down to the thermostat and said “What temperature do you want it at?”

This caught me off guard, so I said, “63, I guess.”

“Ok, ” J said. Without missing a beat he punched the thermostat back up to 63 and returned to his room. Nate, satisfied that the issue had been resolved, also left. “Good meeting, everyone!” I called after them both.

On my way up the stairs I remained baffled at J’s mysterious ability to be comfortable at any temperature. As I climbed the stairs and reached the landing, a blast of hot air from his room answered my question. Looking through a crack in J’s door, I saw a rack of open-air processors covering his entire desk. An enormous box fan distributed the heat from this collection around the room. Upon returning from the restroom, J explained that an enormous process running on those processors had been heating his room for the last few weeks. I remain convinced that J knows how to handle cold temperatures, but evidently it wasn’t what he was doing this time.

Now that Nate has his personal heater, and J has his superheated processors, we cover up the vents in their rooms and use the HVAC to heat the kitchen and my room. It seems to have ended the conflicts and confusion, at least.

Fifty-Four degrees

Part 2 of The Cold Apartment
(<- Read Part 1)

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Fifty-four degrees for a week was no sweat. Sure, I had to wear my coat around the house, but my bed, once it got warmed, was very warm indeed. It became quite difficult to leave it in the morning. My fingers seemed to move more slowly than usual when I took my gloves off to type in my room. I came to empathize more closely with cold-blooded animals who simply cannot move when the temperature drops too low.

J returned first. When I bragged that I had passed his challenge, he was surprised. He told me that he had never meant to challenge me. He thought that I was leaving for the break as well and that he was cooling what would soon be an empty house.  When Nate came back he told me that it’s illegal to heat a mine shaft less than 55 degrees, and miners have gone on strike for less than what I did to myself.

Now let’s fast-forward one year. J and Nate switched rooms and now Nate was beside the kitchen and J was next to me. With respect to  my newly proven ability to withstand cold temperatures, J made 54 the standard house temperature. Fortunately, the weather had not yet gotten that cold even outside.

Then the Polar Vortex hit. Duke Energy sent out an email asking us to all try and conserve energy, so J, as any good citizen would, did so. The catch was that he used the current temperature of our house – 54 degrees – as the baseline, so he put the temperature down to 48 degrees. Nate was to come home shortly, at which point J and I agreed that 48 degrees would not fly, so I was happy to do my part to help keep Duke Energy from being overwhelmed. I solemnly donned my long-johns,  sweater,  subzero-rated jacket with the hood up, three pairs of socks, earmuffs, and  ski-mask and shivered violently on my couch, secure in the knowledge that I was doing the right thing.

Next Week: Giving up on finding a shared temperature

(Continue to “The Meeting” ->)

It's about whatever I say it's about