After realizing just how crappy my blog looked on a mobile device, I decided to update its looks. I was almost ready to just quit Typepad and move to Wordpress, but found a way to work through it on Typepad. Typepad has some great support, too. They were able to swiftly fix a problem I had with the "Search" feature. So, hopefully all looks much better now.
Did I ever cure my clutter problem? Well, I don't know if it's something that can be "cured" entirely. Now please don't think for one second that I'm giving you the sort of line you hear from 12-step programs about alcohol for example being a "disease" and alcoholics remaining alcoholics for life. I don't buy that philosophy. Like alcoholism, pack-ratism or hoarding are extreme human behaviors, and I do sincerely believe that behaviors can be exampled and reprogrammed. No, what I mean by not being so sure that clutter has a cure, is that I've come to realize that this is something you just have to keep on top of every now and then. Just like a good car needs to have its oil changed once in a while, a home needs to be decluttered once in a while. So I'll continue to do what I've done before: document the progress, while telling silly stories and giving advice along the way.
Have I made any progress in the years since I've been doing this blog? Have I learned anything? You bet! The photos speak for themselves. As I recently updated the "About" page of this site to say, there's no way I would have been able to move out of my last apartment if I hadn't started taking action on this.
I've also been able to change my behaviors and shake old habits that worked against me, such as buying a lot of stuff on impulse when I didn't really need it. And again, I'm not anti-materialism. I am shamelessly pro-materialism, and I don't take the pseudo-Buddhist stance that I see a lot of these anti-hoarding blogs and books take on. But the catch, as I've said in the past, is that getting too focused on the excitement of acquiring new things can lead to not getting the full enjoyment out of the things you already have. I have gotten better and better at looking at looking at things in a store and saying, "No, I'm not going to buy this. I have something just like this at home that I haven't used yet, or haven't taken out and enjoyed in a long time.", and at leaving a store empty-handed.
Unfortunately, I've had lapses along the way. Clutter has an odd way of creeping up invisibly. The build-ups can happen so gradually that you don't always notice it until maybe you have a guest over the house, or trip on something, or can't find something important. Then it's time for another full-on battle with the clutter. So again, I'll be sharing some updates on this over the next few weeks.
Oh yeah, and I turned 40 this year. With that, has come a mid-life crisis of sorts. But in a good way. I'm sure I'll make mentions of that here and there too.
As always, if you just want to read the posts that have to do with clutter clean-up, and not my rants and other blog posts, then you can just click on the "Clutter Combat" category tag.
The short version? The day after Obama's 2008 election, the winning numbers of the Illinois Pick-3 state lottery was 666. So naturally, the conspiracy theorists freaked out over it. After all, the chances of this are 1/1000, right? Well, not quite.
Being the nerd and the asshole that I am, I can't pass up the opportunity to both work on a fun math puzzle and debunk a conspiracy theorist. So here we go.
Let L be the number of "Pick-3" daily lottery drawings that happen in the US on a given day. Most states have a daily Pick-3 lottery: Colorado, NJ, Arizona, Wisconsin, California, to name but a few. In fact, Illinois has the drawing TWICE daily, as does Ohio, Missouri, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Virginia, Maine, New York, and probably more. Texas does their Pick-3 only six days a week, but FOUR times daily. A handy source for these is the lottery links page on usa[.]gov. In any case, the probability that 666 will NOT show up in any of these L lottery drawings is (999/1000)^L.
Now let n be the number of different days that we can associate as being somehow specially related to President Obama. This is not limited to "the day after Obamas [sic] election", but also the very day of the 2008 election, the day before, the day of the 2004 election, the days before and after this, the day he was sworn in, the one-year anniversaries of these days, and so on. The probability of NOT getting 666 on one of these "significant" days is therefore: ((999/1000)^L)^n.
Therefore, the probability that you DO get '666' on at least one of these lottery drawings on one of these days is 1 - ((999/1000)^L)^n.
For the sake of the argument, let's say that L=40 (though it's probably higher). As for special days, I only just named 14 off the top of my head. With these numbers, you get a roughly 43% chance of '666' showing up. To have a greater than 50% chance of '666' showing up in one of these lotteries on a 'special' day, all you need to have is n>17. And again, this is assuming that L=40, when it's probably higher. We're also ignoring Pick-4 drawings that could begin or end with '666'. Heck, we're ignoring all other sorts of events in which the number "666" might randomly show up in some form or another: stock prices, budget costs, etc.
QED (though if you find a flaw in my math, please do email me and I'll correct it)
The moral of the story: numerical coincidences like this aren't so amazing when you take into account the full number of statistical trials you can have. In this case, that means looking at more than just one lottery and looking at more than just one day deemed to be somehow significant.
Have any of you ever heard the following urban legend? When I was a kid growing up in New England in the 80s, I heard a story that went something like this:
"A little boy was playing around in his house. He tried balancing himself on a basketball. While on top of the basketball, he took a plant that was hanging from the ceiling, and wrapped the long ropes of the plant holder around his neck, just to horse around. He lost his balance, slipped off the basketball, and hung himself."
I suspect this is a completely bogus urban myth, because it has all the signs of one:
1) Everybody who told this story, swore that it happened to the son of a friend of a friend or a friend. Of course, they could never say who (what town, the name of the kid, when exactly it happened, etc.)
2) It's a story that people love to tell and really want to believe on some level. Namely, parents loved to tell it because they thought it was a good "real" story with the lesson of "Don't horse around with things involving your neck, kids.", or similar.
3) It sounds physically impossible. I can't imagine a hanging plant with strings long enough for a kid to wrap around his neck, tight enough so that he wouldn't unravel or stretch the ropes out enough to be able to touch the ground after falling off the basketball. Never mind strong enough to support all the additional weight.
It got so ridiculous that my brother got yelled at for standing on a basketball in the livingroom. "Don't do that!" my mom yelled. "A boy HUNG himself doing that!" It didn't matter that there was absolutely nothing hanging from the ceiling anywhere in the room, nor even any furniture near where he was standing.
I've never been able to find any information about this story. Trying to search on the details these days brings back a more recent story about a kid who hung himself on a basketball hoop, but obviously that's not the same story, and not from the same time. You have to wonder how these things get started, though.
Conspiracy theorists are both amusing and sad people. Michael Shermer writes a lot about the conspiracy theorist mentality in his book "Why People Believe Strange Things", which I'd suggest for a more comprehensive view on this topic.
I've noticed that when you keep pushing a conspiracy theorist to back up his or her claims about something, eventually you'll discover some underlying emotional cause that drives the whole belief in the first place. For example, the "vaccines cause autism" goons are typically parents who, like most parents, are completely paranoid about the health of their children. Holocaust "revisionists" are invariably anti-Semetic when you get right down to it. Lunar Hoax Advocates (people who believe that the moon landing was faked in a film studio) typically have a compulsive hatred and distrust of the US government. I've also noticed that if you don't take the same position as they do, then YOU'RE made out to sound like the irrational bad guy, as if there's no middle ground. ("What are you saying, that I shouldn't be concerned about my kid's health?!?", "Oh, well do you think Jews deserve a free pass when it comes to [this and that]?", "Oh, do you just blindly believe whatever the government tells you?")
Recently I saw a massively shared pic on Facebook (where else?) stating, "Although 25 million people have died from AIDS, and even more are living with HIV/AIDS, the US government patented a cure in 1996. US Patent 5,676,977".
Geez, where to begin?
First, let's look at the implied message, and the reason why people share this pic on social networking sites. The message implied here is that a cure for AIDS has been known since at least 1996, that the US government knows about this and even found it themselves (they patented the idea, after all), but isn't letting people use it. Why? Well, I guess because the government is just evil and doesn't care.
Like a lot of conspiracy theories, the underlying stories and motivations don't seem to be very consistent. Some claim that the government secretly create the disease in the first place, while others claim that the disease itself is just a myth and a scare tactic used by the government. Also, if the government is supposedly only out to control people and take their money, then why wouldn't they be employing this cure, and thus make billions of dollars on selling the treatment? For that matter, it's doubtful that nobody else in the medical industry has seen this patent in the 18 years of its existence, so why hasn't anybody else been getting use of the patent to make millions? I'm sure the conspiracy theorists can make up newer details of the conspiracy to rationalize these inconsistencies away.
All a patent means is that somebody patened the idea. There are lots of silly patents to things that range from the ridiculous to the physically impossible, like time machines and several unworkable hydraulic machines, not to mention quack tonics circa 1900. Should we claim that the government is "hiding" these things from us too? Not to mention, doing a poor job at hiding them if any schmuck with an internet connection can find them within a few minutes?
What do they mean by "the US government patented a cure"? Do they mean they "patented" it as in "they came up with the idea and filed for the patent", or "they received the patent application from somebody, and passed it"? If it's the latter, well, that's the job of the US Patent and Trademark Office anyway. But it seems like they're trying to imply that "the government" (naturally, they don't mention which official or department specificially) came up with the idea. The actual patent doesn't seem to imply this. And what does US Patent 5,676,977 say in the first place?
Here's a link to the actual patent. If you read it, you'll see that it's a patent on a specific type of treatment for AIDS patients, namely "with tetrasilver tetroxide molecular crystal devices". The patent is owned by Marvis S. Antelman of Antelman Technologies Ltd. I've tried searching around for this Antelman Technologies group, and all I seem to get are conspiracy theory articles about this same patent. That makes me suspect that "Antelman Technologies Ltd." is a one-man show, but I digress; it's not "the government". You can see a scan of the original paper if you click on "images", then use the gold arrow buttons on the left to navigate through the 4 pages.
So is it a cure? Well, the paper seems to indicate that two groups of 5 people got single injections and were cured. Aside from one who died, that is. And 9 of them got liver inflamations. The paper says that there was a control group too, but the data for that doesn't seem to be listed. Also, " The rationale for selecting them was based on facts presented in an article by Peter H. Duesberg and Brian J. Ellison entitled "Is The AIDS Virus A Science Fiction?" (Policy Review, Summer 1990 pp. 40-51)", which sounds a little supicious to say the least. I'm no health expert, but at the very least it sounds like more trials than this one from 1996 would have to be done. Then again, maybe people have already done just that and found out that there really wasn't a cure in this at all. But it's so much easier to make up and believe in a fascinating government cover-up story.
"I hate a dirty joke, I do, unless it's told by someone who... knows how to tell it." - Groucho Marx, Animal Crackers (1930)
It seems that this captioned photo has been making its rounds again on Facebook: a woman is holding a sign that says "this is what a feminist looks like", and somebody later captioned it "that's pretty much what I expected". I could have sworn that I've already written about this here, but I guess I didn't. Here's the link to an article that she wrote in response, and my own thoughts on all of this below that.
Now everybody who's seen this photo seems to have one of two reactions: 1) "LOL", or 2) "That's so mean/offensive to women/feminists/fat people!" Well, here's my third-side opinion: I wasn't offended, but I didn't find it funny either.
Do I think women are feminists are off-limits to ridicule? Hell no. I've seen some great feminist-bashing comedy before. I sincerely believe that no group or topic is inherently off-limits to make jokes about. That includes comedy that bashes my own ethnicity, gender, profession (Dilbert, anyone?), and so on. The catch however is that it actually has to be a good joke: well-constructed, witty, well-executed, etc. This wasn't one of them.
Yes, I understand why the joke is SUPPOSED to be funny: a woman who's trying to stand up and say "I'm a feminist", is seen as redundant because she already looks like a stereotypical feminist. That's what the joke here is supposed to be. I get that.
The problem however is that she simply does NOT look like a stereotypical feminist. The stereotype is that a feminist is butch, unisex-clothed, has no hips, and is angry. This woman has nail polish, a woman's sweater, women's eyeglasses, full-figured curves, and is smiling. So where does the "expected" part come in?
Really, where is the joke? Is it merely because she's fat? Well, I know that many men have an aversion to both fat women and feminists, but to think that one trait implies the other is really stretching it. Now if it was k.d. lang holding the sign, OR if it was the same fat woman holding a sign that read "This is what a Krispy-Kremes customer looks like", THEN I think the joke would work. Alas, it doesn't work as is.
So here's today's comedy lesson, folks: if you're going to do an offensive joke based on stereotypes, then have your target actually FIT the stereotype of the group you're using!
I'm currently wearing large headphones and listening to Alice Cooper's "Love It To Death" album (1971) on my turntable. I bought it in a little record store in New Hampshire some time around 1990, when my Alice fanaticism was taking off. The record was one of many items I had Alice autograph when I first met him in 1996.
No, I'm not a vinyl snob. In fact I still don't buy the claim that vinyl is some amazingly sonically superior medium. "But, but, it's how music was meant to sound!" No, it's how music HAD to be listened to, because we didn't have much of a choice. Vinyl is scratchier, distorted, and cumbersome. I have had both vinyl and CD copies of some of the same albums, listened to both through good systems, and concluded that my ears preferred the clarity of a CD. I trust my ears more than hipsters.
I got rid of most of my old vinyl, and if I buy any these days, it's because I can't find the recording on CD (some of my 1950s Martin Denny records come to mind), or it's something I stumbled upon in a store that looked really good and was cheap (some comedy albums come to mind). But even in those cases, the first thing I do is transfer it to my hard drive.
So why was I listening tonight? Well, I also just bought a 4-record box set from the Black Crowes, and started listening to that when I decided to put on something else. Listening to vinyl is certainly a different experience because of the rituals involved in the set up, and having to pay more attention to the process because you're going to have to get up and flip slides, let alone change records after an hour or less. I understand the appeal. But inherent superiority? No, I'm not buying it.
I noticed a huge spike in the number of visitors to this blog on January 1st. My guess is that there are lots of people who have a clutter problem in their home, made a New Year's resolution to get rid of it this year, and stumbled upon my blog while searching for resources to help them clean up their home.
Do New Year's resolutions (NYRs) "work"? Well, truth be told, most people give up on them by March, maybe even February. My friend Tania wrote a great post on her own blog on "New Years Resolutions and Lame Excuses", expressing the frustrations of seeing her gym clog up with the NYR people. (And I'm borrowing her "NYR" abbreviation here -- thanks, Tania!)
Now I'm certainly not here to discourage people. Plenty of people have been able to set a goal and achieve it, whether they started on January 1st or some other date of the year, and whether or not it was getting rid of overwhelming clutter in their homes. So what made them different from the people who didn't meet their NYRs? I suppose the obvious answer is "Well, they just didn't give up!", but that seems a little too simple to me. A buzz phrase like "Be motivated!" is easier said than done.
So for what it's worth, here's my advice on how to actually see your NYRs through to completion. Yes, I know that some of this is going to sound trite, or "obvious", or "common sense". Yes, I know that you've probably read a lot of these points elsewhere before, whether it was on somebody else's blog or at some "goal-setting workshop" seminar. But maybe that's because there's really some truth to it.
Write it out. This goes for the next two items, at the very least. You may say, "Oh no, I don't have to write it out. I've got it." No, write it down. That means turning away from a screen for 5 minutes, grabbing a pen and a piece of paper, not opening a new window and typing. "Uh, well, my handwriting sucks." Well gee, maybe that's because you don't write enough. Hey, maybe improving your handwriting -- to the level of legibility -- should be one of your goals this year. Look, you don't have to write an essay, here. Just half of a page may do. If you can't even do something as mundane as that, then what makes you think you can accomplish the goal you have in mind? When you write something out, you're not only being more affirmative with yourself, but you also won't fall into the trap of rewording the goal in your mind as the year goes on. And these next two things are the things you'll write down:
Have your goal(s) be specific and objectively observable/measurable. That's because if your goal is really vague, then you're not really going to know if and when you've met it, let alone if you're headed in the right direction. I know lots of people for example make a resolution "To lose weight". Or rather, since most goal-setting programs will tell you to reword things in the grammatically positive: "To be thin". OK, but what does that mean? Do you know how much weight you want to lose? When to lose it by? Those are things that you can actually measure along the way. Have you checked with a doctor or some other health professional (read: not some random free BMI website that you found) to make sure you're not being too unrealistic or risky, like thinking you can lose 50 pounds in a week? Regarding clutter, the same goes for resolutions like "To get my house clean". That's great. But again, be more specific with yourself. Maybe there's one specific room that needs the most attention. Maybe getting all non-furniture items off of the floor in one room would be an amazing enough goal itself. But I'll talk more about individual tasks in the third point.
WHY do you want this? No, really: why? As silly as it sounds, you'd be surprised how easy it can be to get so caught up in tasks that you overlook why you're doing them in the first place. Then you can fall into the trap where you find yourself doing tasks just for the sake of doing them. Think of the great things you'll gain by meeting the goal. Then think of some more. Write them down (yes, short-hand and sentence fragments are OK, just get them out of your head and on to paper, where you can look at them). This not only helps you keep things going in the right direction, but also gives you the drive in the first place. Maybe you want your home to be clutter-free because you want to be able to have friends over the house. And you don't want to have to keep on tripping over stuff. You're sick of not knowing where things are. You know there are buried treasures underneath all of those papers that can get you money on Craigslist. You know that you deserve to have a home that you can be happy about having. Whatever the reasons, write them down. It shouldn't take too long.
Break your goal down into smaller goals. Another problem with a vaguely-stated goal is that it can sound really huge. It's generally easier to do a dozen small tasks than it is to do one giant, intimidating task. So break down your goal into parts. For example, maybe "Clean my house" breaks down into: 1) get all the papers off the floor in the bedroom, 2) clean my shower, 3) go through the things in this stack of boxes, etc. If you're a real ADHD type, maybe you can break them up in some way that isn't necessarily sequential. For example, break things down into 20 different parts that are pretty much independent of each other, so that you can pick different ones to work in different orders on a whim. Of course, still have something like "Complete 3 of these tasks by the end of the month, then 5 more next month, etc." as your goals.
Similarly, break it down into time segments. Instead of having one goal for this calendar year, you can break down down month by month, or into quarters (that means four 3-month periods, for those of you who suck at math). It's good to have at least some kinds of deadlines other than December 31st. This makes it less likely for you to blow things off. You know that terribly cliche job interview question of "Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?" Well, try that with "3 months", "6 months", "9 months" and "1 year".
Get some resources. Maybe you know some people who have the same things you want to achieve, and they'd be willing to give you some advice or guidance. Maybe you need to get a book or two on the topic, or find places where you can take lessons on something. Chances are good that other people have done whatever it is you want, or at least something very comparatively similar. Make use of that information. But only really listen to the ones who have results to show, not some random stranger from the internet.
Make the work desirable. Now here's something that they usually don't tell you at all of these fluffy goal-setting seminars. If you view the upcoming work ahead as being an inconvenient pain in the ass, then you're probably not going to really work at it. Make the work an indulgence, not an act of self-loathing discipline. This does NOT mean you have to be self-deceiving. I'm not telling you to get on the treadmill until your heart is about to burst, and try to tell yourself that you love it. You can however think of going to the gym as the time when you get to get out of the house and away from most of the people you have to deal with, and a time that you can listen to your favorite music without interruptions. Maybe there's a similar way to take an activity you need to do, and view the same exact activity as the opportunity to simultaneously do something you enjoy. As I've said here in the past, this blog helped me finally get off my ass and clean my house because cleaning something meant having something to blog about, and a good excuse to be my usual witty wise-ass self to the public by writing things like this.
Plan it out. Schedule time to work on it. I'm not saying you have to schedule things down to the nearest hour, although I'm sure that approach works for some people. But at least start getting some of the specific tasks planned out by setting aside days and at least rough blocks of time for doing what you have to do. Don't find yourself stuck in March saying, "Gee, I really oughtta start doing this sometime."
Document progress. This is vital for two reasons. First of all, you can't recognize progress if you don't have an earlier point of reference. Maybe this will be "before" and "after" photos. Maybe if your goal is to get thinner, this means recording your weight every week. The other reason to do this is because it motivates you more. You can look back and see that what you're doing is "working", because you're doing better than you were doing before. This also goes back to the point about specific goals: if you try to oversimplify your body as either "fat" or "skinny", or your home as either "cluttered" or "clean", then invariably you're going to see that things aren't perfect, and thus mistakenly think that you're still in the former category, and thus think that you're not making any progress. You're not going to accomplish everything in one day.
Again, I know a lot of these may sound lame, but I think these are the sorts of things that separate a person who makes New Years Resolutions and meets them, from the majority of people who make them and never go anywhere beyond that. Which one are you?
If you found this blog entry via searching the web for solutions on how to replace the battery in your talking Cyberman figure, well then, you're at the right place! If not, well, then you might learn something about wristwatch batteries. And Doctor Who.
I've been a fan of Doctor Who since I started watching as a toddler in the 1970s. Not surprisingly, I do have a lot of Doctor Who stuff. One of these is a talking figure of my favorite Doctor Who enemy, the Cybermen. I bought my talking Cyberman in a comic book shop a few years ago. Press the button in the middle of the chest, and you can hear one of several recorded phrases.
The talking of course is battery-operated. Unfortunately the phrases eventually became no longer audible, so I knew I had to change the battery. For a lot of collectors, I'm sure the mentality is "Don't press the button so much! You don't want to ever have to replace the battery! That's because it might involve opening it up, and you could scratch or break it in the process!" I can understand that. But if like me you'd rather have your Cyberman figure talking, instead of having the batteries rotting away inside, then here's how to change the battery.
First, disconnect the hose that's attached to the front of the Cyberman. Yes, it pulls off.
Now pull off the entire head and chest plate. It's all one piece, and there's a peg underneath the back that holds it in place. If you pull the back piece away from the body, you can pull it off without breaking it.
Underneath is a little gray plastic box, whose top door is screwed shut with a tiny philips screw. Get a small philips screwdriver and unscrew it, then take off this lid. You'll see two batteries inside. So what kind of batteries do you need? That's a good question. It turns out that there are multiple correct answers. The etchings inside the case itself say to use two 1.5-volt "LR44" batteries. I removed the dead batteries, put them in my pocket, and went down to the store to look for new LR44 batteries. I couldn't find any. I certainly saw other watch batteries, but none with that size number. I thought that surely I could only use LR44, right? I mean you wouldn't be able to put C batteries in a device that takes D batteries, or AAA batteries in a device that takes AA batteries, right?
Well it turns out that watch batteries, also known as "Button Cell" batteries, are a little different. I learned that there are actually multiple model names for these particular batteries which are all compatible. Whether it's "LR44", "303", "357", different manufacturers use slightly different names, but they're all 1.5 volts and roughly the same size. Wikipedia has a handy page on the topic. I bought a pack of Rayovac "303/357" and put them in. Screwed the lid back on, put the Cyberman head back on and...it works again!
Have I already told you enough about a topic you don't care about? No? Then watch this clip with a review of the figure: