Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Quoteable Quotes

I'm a merciless quoter and teller of anecdotes.

I heard these two today, both related to Bush's:

"Poor George. He can't help it - he was born with a silver foot in his mouth" -- Ann Richards

"Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple" -- Barry Switzer

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pack Light!

On the traveling note, one skill I've tried to pick up is how to travel light.  This first started right after I moved to LA during a (hasty and quick) trip to Scotland.  I was going to be in Scotland for just a little over 4 days, followed by 6 days in Seattle.  Speed was a necessity so I was determined to figure out how to make the trip without checked luggage. 
Undoubtedly the most useful site for my journey was One Bag.  A significant component of my traveling method, the bundling packing approach, comes from that site.  It has far more information than I discuss here, so if you leave this post and go straight to one bag, I won't be offended.
The most obvious way to pack is don't take what you don't need.  I have a smartphone, so I don't need to bring my laptop.  An e-reader would remove the space needed for paperback books -- but I take books anyway (probably breaking my own travel light mantra).  Most soaps I get on the other end, so I keep toiletries to a minimum of utility items like combs, toothbrush, tweezers.  If you need a towel, get a travel towel, which folds into a space smaller than a book.  I was skeptical but the damn things work; though be warned, if you fold em up wet and forget about them for a few days they're going to smell like hell. 
Packed and Ready

The MVP of my traveling is without a doubt my bag.  My bag is a Red Oxx Air Boss, based on a OneBag recommendation.  I had a little bit of sticker shock when I bought it but it's worth every dime.  The bag is sturdy and spacious and combines nicely with bundle folding.  It holds everything I need for a 4-5 day trip, and any more can be supplemented with a smaller companion bag, which still falls within carry on limitations.  The dimensions of the bag allow it to fit in overhead storage with ease, and on shorter trips I've been able to fit it between the overhead bin doors and another suitcase.  I wish everything was built this well!

within the bundle!
A technique I keep mentioning is bundling.  Bundling is how I fold my clothes for travel -- again I must cite OneBag for putting me on to this technique.  Basically it involves folding your clothes over each other until they all fit in a wrapped up bundle the size of a pillow.  Not only does it allow for an impressive clothing to space ratio, but the tight bundle helps prevent wrinkling as well.  It is quite easy to fit many days worth of clothing inside a reasonable bundle (in the bundle above I have 3 sweat shirts, 1 dress shirt, 2 pairs of pants, 5 t-shirts, and a pair of shoes). Below is a diagram for this technique. 

Altogether I haven't had to check a bag in years.  It makes traveling quicker, easier, and with the increasing frequency of back checking costs, cheaper!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Tomorrow night I'm hopping on a plane to Seattle for the Thanksgiving holiday.  With weather conditions in Seattle, it'll be like flying from spring into winter.  I hope I won't freeze, having acclimated to the warmer Los Angeles climate.

Since I've moved to Los Angeles, I estimate I've flown to Seattle 10 times over the course around 16 months.  That looks pretty frequent, but it owes to a couple of factors.  A, I like Seattle and I don't mind going back.  It's close.  B the flights are convenient from an airport about 10-15 minutes away from work, and I can take flights out on a Friday night and return on a Monday morning.

I always figured I'd start making these trips less and less frequently as I'd lived away longer, and while numerically that's not that case, psychologically it's starting to feel that way.  I'm no longer actively planning and anticipating the trips as far in advance as I used to as my weeks and weekends become more full here.  The cumulative changes to my home city are growing each time I return and my new city is becoming more familiar.  My friend Travis McCoy once said to him new places started to become home when they became the place you returned to.  In my mind I'm still making an active choice that LA is not my home, just where I work and live, but I do neither of those is Seattle so that idea will erode.  I've often likened Los Angeles to a black hole, where routine and inertia can pull you in and never let you out.  I may get stuck in the well too eventually.

But as far the next 24 hours, I'm landing (hopefully) in Seattle, blazing into what my friends there are calling Snowpocalypse, Snowmageddon, and my favorite, SnOMG!

Monday, November 22, 2010

What the Heck is Krav Maga

At some point or another, usually when I start commenting on what to do during a knife attack or when people ask about the bruises on my forearms (or face and neck and legs...), I mention I do Krav Maga.  Some people have heard of it, but for most people, the response is 'What the heck is Krav Maga?"
IKMF, one of a number of Krav Maga organizations worldwide

In a nutshell Krav Maga is a martial art / hand to hand defensive tactics program taught to the IDF, or Israeli Defense Force.  It originated in the 30's in former Czechoslovakia, largely created by a man named Imi Lichtenfeld, where Jewish townsfolk needed a practical way to defend themselves from encrouching Nazi brownshirts.  When Israel was founded in 1948, Imi became the head of military fitness and hand to hand training, and from then on Krav Maga began to develop as a formal system.  Its Israeli origins have earned it the joking nickname 'Jew Jitsu', but it's very serious and considered to be one of the most effective personal combat systems in the world.  This effectiveness stems from its overriding emphasis on practicality and adaptability in a combat situation.  This has made it a favorite of various military, law enforcement, and personal protection agencies.
This jogger should not have attacked the old guy who happened to have founded Krav Maga

What do I mean by practicality? The first rule of Krav Maga is don't get hurt.  What's the best way to not get hurt? Don't get in a fight! If someone with a gun asks for your wallet, give 'em your goddamn wallet.  There is 0 use getting shot trying to look cool.  There are so many unknowns in any violent confrontation that even highly trained individuals should do their beset to avoid fighting at all.  This is (and if it's not it should be) drilled in from Day One of any effective Krav instruction.

Conflict avoidance is great but it doesn't always succeed.  When it fails, Krav Maga comes in.  Like a wise man once said "don't hit first, but don't hit softly either".  Krav Maga is built around inflicting maximum damage in minimum time to an attacker, operating under the assumption that any attack is life or death.  People revert to gross motor functions when under great stress, so many defense techniques in Krav are intended to build on instinctive moves made to protect your face and body.  Additionally good training involves introducing disorienting factors such as loud noise, dizziness, and strobing lights to try to simulate environmental stress. 
They haven't taught me that one ... yet

Have I ever had to use this in real life? Not so far, though there've been some close calls.  Will I ever? Part of me hopes so to use what I've learned but the smarter part of me hopes not, especially given the extreme danger involved in some of the crazier techniques (handgun disarm while facedown with a guy sitting on you? No thanks).
LA based Krav Maga world wide, my current instructors

 However, it's a system that anyone can learn.  And better yet I've met some really great and well adjusted people doing it.  Fight on!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Design of Everyday Things

On a suggestion from my unwitting mentor, I picked up and read this book, The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald A. Norman

This is a fantastic book which I recommend to anyone.  Norman approaches this book from the perspective of both a frustrated consumer and a researched academic/industry professional, attempting to categorize and quantify the components that most strongly contribute to high usability.

Norman analyzes many things which are encountered daily but taken for granted -- a common example is the shape and appearance of door handles, which he uses to illustrate a number of his design principles.  One of these is affordances, a concept I first discovered here.  Affordances are qualities of objects which indicate how they are to be used: for example, a flat panel affords pushing, whereas a handle designed for gripping affords turning and pulling.  A flat handle on the pulling side of a door is an endless source of frustration for many simply because the shape of the handle indicates the wrong action.  Readers might note that fire doors always are pushed to exit, and not only is the exit panel flat to afford panicked pushing but that the handle also has features to indicate which side of the door the hinges are on.  These affordances are mandated by law.

Another topic on which Norman spends a great deal of time is the concept of errors.  Most users will conclude that if they are unable to use an item properly, it's their fault.  Norman maintains this is really the designer's fault.  Errors are a natural part of use even in a well designed object, and thus errors should be difficult to commit by design, or they should be easily correctable if at all possible.  An example of an error which is hard or impossible to make (referred to as a 'lockout') is the barriers placed in large building staircases between above ground and basement floors: they prevent panicked people from continuing to run down stairs past the exit level.  Like the fire door handles, these are also mandated by law.  The gold standard for errors that are easy to undo are anything that can be reversed with 'ctrl-Z'.  Indeed so many programs have this and it is used so frequently that many of the artists I work with will instinctively reach for these keys even if they're painting with oil and canvas!  Therefore it's not only a good example of easy to correct errors, but also of standardization.

These are just a small sample of the wealth of information contained in The Design of Everyday Things.  Overall Norman emphasizes simplicity, usability, readability, the utilization of natural human motions and intuition, and a host of other robust principles as foundation for design.  This book will give you an appreciation for design you have never noticed before -- from knife handle shapes to the layout of a Chipotle -- as well as allowing you to quantify why you can never figure out which light switch does what in your living room.  Thorough recommendation!

Design of Everyday Things on Amazon

Never too late to start

I've been thinking about creating a blog for a long time, for a number of reasons. Consistency is key, so we'll see how I do