What’s Important?

Yesterday night I had one of those brief moments of existential thought. I’ll admit I had just consumed a very alcoholic beverage which may have helped me get there. Anyways, the thought that occurred to me was that I spend a lot of time doing things that truly don’t matter to me. I was having a really good evening and was wondering why I didn’t get that feeling more often. That thought lead to the two following questions:

What am I doing that I think is a waste of time?

Well that’s an easy one. I currently spend far too much time watching media – mainly Netflix. When I think about my day there are a few exciting bits that pop out and some satisfaction from a job well done. I have never thought back on my day and thought, boy am I glad I watched those three episodes (usually more) of whatever Netflix recommended I watch.

The problem isn’t really Netflix/TV/whatever but the frame of mind I’m in while consuming certain types of media. The fact that it’s completely passive is the part that kills me. The idea that I want to sit there at the end of the day and just be a vegetable makes me hate myself a little. Visual media is a great thing (a picture being worth a thousand words and all that), but like most things only in moderation. So on that note, I’ve decided that I am going to avoid watching television of any kind for the next 3 months. I’m going to try to go cold turkey since if I try to set up arbitrary guidelines I’m certain I’ll cheat. The one exception I may make is that it’s possible I go to a movie or two, a relatively small concession time-wise.

I haven’t been able to find any solid statistics but based on various news sources – they don’t seem to provide very specific information on how their data was collected – suggest that the average Westerner watched around 3.5-4 hours of television per day in 2017. That seems like a lot at first glance, but when I think about my average day it doesn’t seem to be too far from reality.  Assuming I’m able to free up 3.5 to 4 hours of my time up per day, that leads us to the second and arguably more important question.

What should I be doing that I wouldn’t think is a waste of time?

There’s a few things I “should” be doing. Like eating better and going to the gym. And if I’m being completely honest, there’s really no excuse for not going to the gym (or doing some kind of physical activity) for 30 – 60 minutes per day. So lets be optimistic and say that I’m going to spend 60 minutes at the gym per day that leaves me around 2.5 hours.

I’ve just recently moved to Germany (approximately 6 months ago) and I’ve been fairly inconsistent with my German lessons. This can be partially blamed on my work, I’ve traveled quite a bit which effectively disallows for consistent courses. However, I’m also partially to blame in that I could easily put at least another 1 to 2 hours per night into my German with self-study. Starting next week, I’ll be starting a course that takes place twice a week. The remaining days of the week I’ll have to force myself to study.

Finally, I’ll be trying to bring this site back from the dead – and putting up content on a semi-regular basis. While writing on a blog that nobody reads is probably a waste of time, I find it a little therapeutic and at a bare minimum it’s some creative writing. Since finishing my Master’s degree at the end of 2014 the amount of structured writing I’ve done has been fairly minimal and it’s definitely something I could work on.

Until next time – hopefully soon,

Eric

Short Obsession with Memory

During the last few months I’ve had a short obsession with memory. I can’t remember exactly what started me on this obsession (irony) but it lead me to reading “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything” by Joshua Foer. Joshua Foer is a journalist who, by chance, covered a story on competitive memorization. It follows his journey to becoming the 2006 U.S.A Memory Champion a year later.

I highly recommend this book. It does not discuss in great detail the memory techniques used but I found it to be very informative, engaging, and easy to read.

It ignited my curiosity in the subject and convinced me to read a slightly more technical work called “Your Memory: How it works and How to Improve it” by Kenneth L. Higbee Ph.D. This book delves more deeply into how memory works (what is known, what isn’t, the tried and tested methods, history, etc.). It is definitely still meant for a layman but focuses more on the topic of techniques.

The way I think of memory has changed after reading these books. I used to think (in retrospect I did not think particularly hard) of memory as just a blob. My senses pick up information and my mind should just realize what’s going on and store absolutely everything. And when I try to remember something (and fail) it’s my mind that’s failing me.

In reality, I should have thought of my mind as a bunch Wikipedia articles. I’ve got a bunch of contributors (my vision, audio, etc.) who can write articles very quickly. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to make links between articles particularly well. Sure every once in a while they’ll put something in but most of the time it requires active attention. The biggest problem is that people don’t have an efficient search function. What they do have is the ability to jump quickly between already linked articles.

Growing up, everyone forms a list of topics that are very well linked together. These are the things that are ingrained and form the cornerstone of your memory. These are things that are meaningful either because you were actually interested or because it’s been forced to be meaningful through schooling or experience. The best way to remember something new is to find a way of making sure that new information can be linked to as many of those old articles as possible (making something meaningful). This is a possible explanation as to why people tend to specialize in something. They have an interest, and it is easier to expand on that interest than it is to start something new since it takes active effort to make these new connections.

There are many ways to make something meaningful. Just spending a lot of time will add meaning to something. Repeating something might convince your mind that it’s meaningful. Combining multiples senses can help.

There are however some clever little tricks that can be used to improve your memory. Spatial memory (visual memory for places) is particularly efficient. If you try to visualize a place you walked through, you could probably do it pretty easily. This probably has some evolutionary background relating to not getting lost. The method of loci (or memory palace) centers on the fact that you’ve memorize a place and can imagine yourself walking through it. Continuing my analogy, this is a wikipedia page that you know exists and can call up at will. Now if you want to memorize something like a list you simply need to come up with a way of conjuring those items along the path you’re walking (creating links in your wikipedia page). The fact that you’ve got a path provides a first link which makes things easier to remember.  Instead of thinking directly about an item, you’re thinking of the path and can hopefully remember that item you’ve conjured on that path.

In summation, it all comes down to how meaningful you can make the information you are trying to remember and create as many links/hooks as possible. Sure you can trick your mind into giving meaning to something that wouldn’t normally have much meaning to you but it takes more effort. By practicing memory skills you could reduce the effort involved. But just like everything, there’s always going to be some effort and people tend to be lazy.

I don’t think my memory has improved from reading either of these books – I haven’t been willing to put the effort involved in using the techniques described. I may not remember the titles of these books in a years time but I’ll definitely remember large chunks of the content and at least apply the basic principles when it comes to simply learning new information.

Reading “Tools of Titans”

I’m currently reading the book “Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers” by Tim Ferriss. The book is a distilled account of some of the interviews that Tim Ferriss has performed on his podcast.  He has what I would consider many interesting guests (such as Arnold Schwarzenegger) and provides short quotes from the longer interviews that he performed.

Before finding this book I’d never heard of Tim Ferriss – but now I’ve listened to several of his podcasts and will probably continue in the future. The book itself is pretty poorly organized. Some “chapters” are short and provide very little information or insight while others go on for pages and provide so much information that it’s quite difficult to distill without re-reading.  But, considering the quantity of interviews performed and the length of a normal interview I appreciate the convenience of having a condensed version.

I don’t want to review the book in detail – as I think it would devolve into a summary of the quotes I found the most interesting. I would recommend this book to anyone who has not heard a significant portion of Tim Ferriss’ podcasts.

Basics of Thermodynamics

Thermodynamics is a branch of physics which I believe everyone should study for at least a short period of time. It is at once so simple that intuitively most people already understand it without any formal education yet at the same time so complex that some of the nuances escape graduate students who specifically study the topic.I’m a little biased in my appreciation of thermodynamics as it was/is a relatively large part of my educational background – metallurgical modeling and chemical engineering heavily relies on thermodynamics. Because of my interest in thermodynamics, I’ve decided that I will make multiple posts explaining the basics of thermodynamics while giving examples that may (or not) interest whoever is reading this site.

So allow me to finish this post with a relatively famous quote:

“A theory is the more impressive the greater the simplicity of its premises, the more different kinds of things it relates, and the more extended its area of applicability. Therefore the deep impression that classical thermodynamics made upon me. It is the only physical theory of universal content which I am convinced will never be overthrown, within the framework of applicability of its basic concepts.” -Albert Einstein

Constant Volume Fans

I had a little problem at work where a process was behaving differently in the summer and in the winter. No obvious explanation was available. One thing that did change significantly in the summer and winter was the suction of the ventilation system. Unfortunately, the depression measurements in place weren’t particularly accurate, so I started to wonder what is the potential change in ventilation based on various assumptions concerning air temperature and humidity while using a constant volume fan. In the end, the difference in ventilation didn’t appear to have a significant influence – but it was something that was interesting at the time and may prove useful to consider at a later date.

So here’s the problem, consider that you have a fan that can pull a constant volume. In the summer it’s dealing with air which is at a minimum of 30 degrees centigrade. During the winter the temperature is closer to 10 degrees centigrade. Now since we’re always dealing with the same volume – all that we’re really interested in is  the difference in air density as a function of temperature and humidity.

The following is a table showing the effect of temperature and relative humidity on air density at atmospheric pressure (101325 Pa). The densities were calculated from the ideal gas law – considering a mixture of air (molar mass of 28.9645 g/mol) and water (molar mass of 18.01528 g/mol). The saturation vapour pressure of water was obtained from wikipedia – citing the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics published in 2005. I don’t have my copy of the handbook on me so I couldn’t validate that the values were correctly transcribed.

We can now perform a quick calculation depending on relative humidity. If we consider the simple case of 90 percent humidity – we have a 8.16% increase in density (a relatively significant change in volume is pulled) between 30 and 10 degrees centigrade.

Temperature Humidity
K C 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
273 0 1.29 1.29 1.29 1.29 1.29 1.29 1.29 1.29 1.29 1.29 0.80
283 10 1.25 1.25 1.25 1.24 1.24 1.24 1.24 1.24 1.24 1.24 0.78
293 20 1.20 1.20 1.20 1.20 1.20 1.20 1.20 1.20 1.20 1.19 0.75
303 30 1.16 1.16 1.16 1.16 1.16 1.16 1.15 1.15 1.15 1.15 0.72
313 40 1.13 1.12 1.12 1.12 1.11 1.11 1.11 1.11 1.10 1.10 0.70
323 50 1.09 1.09 1.08 1.08 1.07 1.07 1.06 1.06 1.05 1.05 0.68
333 60 1.06 1.05 1.04 1.04 1.03 1.02 1.01 1.00 1.00 0.99 0.66
343 70 1.03 1.02 1.00 0.99 0.98 0.97 0.96 0.94 0.93 0.92 0.64
353 80 1.00 0.98 0.96 0.95 0.93 0.91 0.89 0.88 0.86 0.84 0.62
363 90 0.97 0.95 0.92 0.90 0.87 0.84 0.82 0.79 0.77 0.74 0.60
373 100 0.95 0.91 0.87 0.84 0.80 0.77 0.73 0.70 0.66 0.62 0.59

Trying to be more consistent

It’s safe to say I’ve been very inconsistent with my posting on this website. I would like to increase my frequency of posting but I’m finding it difficult to find appropriate subjects to discuss. To alleviate a little bit of the tension involved in generating both ideas and content at the same time I am going to give myself a week to come up with an idea and then a week to generate the appropriate post.

Since I’ve already given myself more than enough time to come up with a topic – my next post is going to be a little discussion and information relating to ventilation systems. Namely, the problems that can potentially occur when using a fix speed fan in a ventilation system.

Hopefully, next week I’ll be posting a shiny new post on this topic that probably doesn’t interest anybody else but made me sit down and think for a few minutes.

Reading some older books

Well, I’ve decided to read some older books – following the same vein as Ben Franklin’s Autobiograph (1793) – and looked up some more of the “popular” books on gutenberg.org. This lead me to “How to Analyze People on Site – Through the Science of Human Analysis” (1921) and “The Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness – A Complete Guide for a Gentleman’s Conduct in All his Relations Towards Society” (1860) both of which were not particularly good.

“How to Analyze People on Site” was a complete waste of time, as it’s entirely pseudo-science and makes comments about studies performed but no actual data or reliable information. I continued reading primarily because I don’t like leaving books unfinished and secondly because the style of writing and language used was enough to keep my interested. The whole book is based on the theory that people can be divided into 5 basic categories: alimentives (excessive people – fat people), thoracics (thrillers – people with high/large rib cages), muscular (workers – muscular people), osseus (stubborn people – very bony), and cerebrals (thinkers – disproportionately large heads). I’m simplifying the descriptions a bit. It then goes into various characteristics (both physical and mental) of each type and then suggests that these labels can then be used to judge how people will behave based on physical appearance alone. The authors make the concession that most people aren’t going to be purely one type (people are more complicated) but holds pretty strongly to its thesis that personalities and habits can be correlated directly with physical appearance. It also has advice considering the kind of social relationships, monetary success, etc. that will or won’t work out based on type – which was mildly entertaining. While I don’t recommend this book, as it doesn’t provide much in the way of useful information, it does provide a bunch of stereotypes for people which were a little fun to read due to their absurdity. I found it particularly entertaining that as I was reading the mental descriptions of each type I could relate to each one. It might be interesting to find somebody else who has read this book and inquire about which type they believe I should be classified as.

The Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette was interesting at first. Mainly because of the novelty of reading a book about etiquette and some customs that have long run their course. However, there were large sections that were needlessly repetitive which detracted heavily from the overall reading experience. In addition, the author was overly fond of quoting long passages from Lord Chesterfields works on etiquette which makes me question why I should read this man’s work as opposed to Chesterfield’s. I definitely don’t recommend this book to anyone unless they’re interested in reading a bit about how different social interactions were in the mid to upper classes of society in the mid 1800s.

Autobiography of Ben Franklin

Biographies in general are a departure from my normal reading genre, almost exclusively fantasy. I came to find this book while aimlessly wandering around the internet. I found a few motivational tips that I thought were particularly interesting (mainly life hacks to form habits, be more productive, etc.) and found that Ben Franklin was cited as the source.

I’ve been known to look at the occasional self-help book, such as “The Wealthy Barber” and it’s sequel, but only when a particular subject struck my fancy (i.e. personal finance). In this case, I was bored out of my gourd and with a particularly unpleasant cold. I’d already exhausted my interest in Belgian Netflix and decided I might as well exercise my brain – even if only a little.

Ben Franklin’s autobiography is full of interesting facts concerning his life but what struck me as the most interesting was his writing style and how focused he was on the process of obtaining results and of improving himself and fellow man.

One interesting tool is his thirteen virtues. He had a list, as follows, containing various virtues which he believed were important for the character of any man.

  1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
  11. Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Rather than have fewer virtues, with overarching definitions, he opted for more virtues with more precise meanings. Then, once having these virtues, he prepared a booklet to follow his transgressions against each virtue on a weekly basis. An example format for the pages is shown below. Knowing that applying his focus on all the virtues simultaneously would prove overwhelming, he focused primarily on one virtue each week (13 weeks per cycle).

13 VirtuesSelf improvement is a popular topic, but this is one of the most methodical and practical solutions I’ve seen. It’s simple, it’s specific, measurable, and can be tweaked to preference. In particular, I find it intriguing that he would devise such a self improvement method in his early twenties.

There are several other pieces of advice scattered through this book (not excessively) that may prove to be useful and the subject mattered itself is quite interesting. I recommend anybody with some free time and a little interest to give this short read a shot. A free copy can be obtained from http://www.gutenberg.org.

A Fresh New Start

And there we have it. A brand new start for this website.

I’ve installed WordPress to manage my content and turn this site into a blog instead of a glorified To-Do list – at least in form if not yet in function. Next step, to actually generate some content.

Give me a few weeks and I might have some interesting things to post – depending on your definition of interesting.