Saturday, June 7, 2014

We All Need Help

I've been doing a lot of reading, lately.

My New Year's Resolution, if you can call it that, was to read a book a week all year, in an attempt to get through my growing collection.

So far, in 22 1/2 weeks, I've read one single book in its entirety. To my credit, I've started about 7 others, and I've learned quite a bit from them. I just never seem to finish.

I suppose that's like my blog posts. I have two good ones in the pipeline right now, but it's hard to find the time to focus and finish them up. Hopefully they'll be coming along this month.

Anyway, I've been reading a lot lately, just not books.

I have about 97 internet tabs open on my phone's browser right now, and at least 10 more on the computer as I type this. Periodically, I bookmark all the open tabs I haven't gotten around to reading and put them in a folder called "Stuff I Was Going To Read," just to clear the clutter, and then they are supplanted by a fresh set of tabs and I never go back and read any of them. I imagine that, some day far in the future, I will pull up the news items from the Crimean Invasion, the civil war in Syria, and the 2014 Winter Olympics, and promptly close them all because the world will already be different then.

When I say that my phone has 97 tabs open, that's not an exaggeration. That's an exact count.

Why does this happen to me? Well, one reason is that I'm curious and there's opportunity to indulge curiosity everywhere on the internet. Most of my stuff comes from my Facebook news feed, where an enormous variety of articles are shared by my 1200-odd contacts, plus regular updates from and other sites I subscribe to.

I'm pretty good at spotting the sensationalist headlines that they use to draw clicks to viral sharing sites, so it's not because of clickbait. I'm actually interested to understand a lot about how the world works, in whatever sphere.

But there's a second reason, or perhaps a primary reason that drives my curiosity: I need help. Like just the normal kind that everybody needs. Most of us don't ask for help as much as we should, I think.

I need help with stuff. With life and all that kinda junk, you know? Just normal things.

You can find recipes and step-by-step instructions for all sorts of things online. You can find tips about life and relationships and how to navigate your early 20s and job searches. There are also funny pictures of cats and jokes and movie reviews and creative projects undertaken by normal, everyday talented people, but those don't occupy the majority of my time on the internet. The majority of my time is spent reading about new discoveries in psychology, or current political issues, or practical advice for this or that, or religion, or lately, feminism and male privilege and patriarchy (more on this later or never). Then there's also the hodgepodge presented on, which is edutainment about science, pop culture, history, and ignorance, which were all my favorite subjects in high school.

Not all of the things I read on the internet are helpful for my daily life. Very few of them are, actually, but I rationalize to myself that it's important because knowledge is the highest form of understanding (I always forget about experience).

"Knowing stuff could come in handy someday if I end up in any sort of situation." I tell myself. The irony of this thought is that I'll probably never end up in any sort of situation at all if I continue operating under the impression that I could someday finish reading the whole of the useful information on the internet.

There are also books all over the floor of my room right now, because I don't have the shelf space to store them here. When I was in the dorms, my books occupied all the shelf space in my room, and my roommates borrowed a couple of them for classes sometimes. In theory, I'm going to read them all someday; that's why I acquired them. There's some self-help and human behavior stuff, and there's philosophy and history and fiction and rhetoric. All of these things are things I must understand in order to properly engage with the world.

In a recent conversation with my dad, he said that some people have more of a desire to understand the world and how to live in it, while others are simply content to live without thinking about it so hard. Clearly, I belong to the former group, but I've been wondering lately if that is my natural inclination or if it's actually rooted in insecurity.

As you may be able to tell from my last post, I struggle with insecurity in my relationships at times. I also believe that having good relationships provides security - whether that is false security or not, I'm not sure yet, but I've definitely found myself seeking it out. In the brief reading I've done on Attachment Theory, it's become pretty clear to me that I have an Anxious-Insecure attachment style - meaning that I worry that I'm not good enough for other people to desire to stay in relationship with me long-term. So my anxiety in relation to my relationships stems from a desire to protect myself - to be secure by being supported by others. (On the other hand, some people may avoid significant relationships in order to protect themselves from the potential pain that could result from them.)

In a similar way, I think, I try to learn things in order to protect myself from (potentially) making mistakes, from failing (in hypothetical situations), which is one of my (and many American men's) greatest fears. This is reinforced by the idea that, if you fail, people dislike you, dismiss you, and leave you.

That's how relationships and internet usage go together, I guess. I'm a flesh-and-blood human like everyone else, but I've never really had a safe place to go to be weak and vulnerable and protected when I make mistakes - but I do have a place where I can learn what all the mistakes are over time, in order to avoid them and become acceptable to society.

Honestly, I would like to be able to learn from my mistakes in the context of secure relationships with other people, but it doesn't seem like that's happening that well. This is probably a reflection of the breakdown of society and all that.

So anyway, I think maybe it would be a good thing to just be more vocal and aware of the support that we need from one another at times. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Love and Entitlement

On my 13th birthday, I bought myself a bass guitar. It was a pretty big investment for a kid that age to make, but I was committed to it. At a time in my life when I was just starting to realize that I could actively consume music, I went a little nuts, thinking I could master the art form. My future carreer plans were set: I was going to be a rock star.

As it turns out, the bass guitar has a lot of disadvantages: I had to bring an amp with me if I wanted to go pratice at a friend's house, the bass lines for most pop and rock music of that era are incredibly boring to play, and its size makes it somewhat awkward to transport and play standing up - plus, the "bass player starter pack" that I was able to afford on my saved up allowance didn't include the nicest-sounding, highest-end instrument ever produced. The thing that bugged me the most, though, was that it was just too easy.

My friend Andy started teaching himself guitar. When I'd go over to his house to jam, I brought an old acoustic guitar that belonged to my sister so as not to have to haul my amp. I just used the guitar to pick out some bass lines at first, but Andy taught me to play chords and we looked up tabs on the internet. The guitar had a much bigger initial learning curve, but once I got it, I started feeling pretty good about myself. This instrument had versatility and required skill, not just the ability to play quarter notes on the root of the chord. Gradually, I made the switch, and soon I was asking my bass teacher to teach me stuff about the guitar instead. I'd started out as a bassist, but guitar was my real instrument. This one didn't require membership in a band to be cool; solo guitarists are impressive enough on their own.

Impressing others is important during that phase of life. As a kid who'd spent my elementary school years overseas, speaking another language and living in a different culture, I had a very acute awareness that my best chance for surviving the jump to High School was to adopt all the cool behaviors that I could. I played sports and the guys liked me. I played guitar and the girls did.

I won't say this last part is the whole reason I chose music, but it's not like I was blindsided by it. As much as I was interested in music as a carreer, "I'm buying an instrument so the girls will like me" was one of the primary motivators to my purchase - I couldn't be left in the dust by the guitar-playing guys who were my romantic competition.

Obviously, this demonstrates a pretty immature mindset - what can I say? I was 13 - but it also demonstrates something else: I thought I could earn love. I thought I could gain love from another person by being interesting enough, by meeting enough of their ideal standards, to deserve it.

A few years later, from the comfort of a committed relationship, I mused a little bit about what we call "an entitlement mindset," and how it applies to our interactions with one another.

From my vantage point, at age 17, I thought that anger was generally overused as a control mechanism in relationships. This control-anger arises from a sense that we are owed something - whatever in our minds constitutes "proper" or "appropriate" behavior - from those with whom we interact. Parents become angry when their children defy what they've been told to do, and romantic partners become angry (and hurt) when they feel that the other has broken trust, unwritten rules, or a spoken agreement. Understanding now (but perhaps not then) that I, too, do this, framing it this way delegitimizes the whole process as proper behavior, so much so that I remember telling my girlfriend at one point that she didn't "have the right" to be upset at me over a particular issue (which, obviously, I considered to be an unimportant and unreasonable expectation she placed on me and/or our relationship).

Let's back up for a second, because I came to a prior conclusion that led to adopting that philosophical tenet:

Nobody Owes You Anything

That statement is kinda harsh. It's sobering. And yet, it's become at least a sub-cultural narrative repeated in the growing number of internet articles and blog posts about Millennials, a pointed rebuttal aimed squarely at the collective implicit entitlement of my generation.

Since I usually did my best thinking when not doing homework, I kept right on thinking until I realized this: if no one owes me anything, I can't be mad about not receiving it from them. I don't deserve it by my mere existence, and the only things I could possibly be entitled to are things that I've earned, that I've paid a fair price for, and that someone else has agreed to give me. All other things are gifts of generosity.

"Relational commitments can fairly be understood as emotional (spiritual?) contracts between two parties who determine by agreement that they have mutual obligations to behave lovingly towards one another," I concluded.

Ok, that's not the sum of things, but it's at least a good, analytical working definition from which I can muse onward.

"So, then," the thought continued, "outside of mutually understood unwritten rules and spoken agreements, the two parties in a romance are bound by no obligations of conduct. There are, of course, rules of good practice, but both individuals must be voluntary adherents to these rules if they are to work. Of primary importance in the commitment is what exactly the commitment is."

(And of course, the gifts of relational generosity are just the little perks and bonuses - technically, they couldn't be covered under a contract of mandatory reciprocity, because that simultaneously ruins the fun and makes them involuntary and, therefore, not generous, but they nevertheless should be included somewhere in each relationship.)

Partly because I'm an emotionless jerk who speaks of love like it's an impersonal movement of free market forces, but mostly for other reasons, that girl dumped me with absolutely no regard for my guitar playing skills.

Devastated as I was, I needed a rebound relationship. The next week, I (clumsily, and without clarifying that I intended it to be a date) asked a cute soprano from the school choir if she wanted to go bowling with me that weekend ("we'll both bring a couple friends so it won't be intimidating and we can get to know each other," I thought). Nothing came of that besides a phone call in which I made my intentions slightly clearer and a follow up text from her making vague reference to already being in a casual, unofficial relationship with someone, sort of, and not wanting to "mess it up."

Life went on as normal: I would periodically choose a woman and attempt to show her how irresistibly cool I was in hopes of winning her affections. Earning love. Proving my worth. Trying to show that I deserve her time, attention, emotional energy, and admiration.

Life went on as normal: I would soothe my insecurities by making people laugh, speaking winningly, attending social events and flashing my knowledge of various trivia. My roommates thought I was the bomb. The ladies wanted to get to know me better.

Life went on as normal: I would compensate, and people would eat it up. People enjoyed my company - the palatable, pop-culture-savvy, secretly-bilingual, never-satisfied-with-the-status-quo Stephen was a free-spirited riot, a musical comedian, and a fount of unexpected wisdom. 

But like is different than love. Like is easy to come by, because it's completely non-committal, and it can be earned by doing the right things, looking the right way, having the right kinds of crazy impulses, and being captivatingly relatable. It's strictly related to your public persona - and who's that guy?

Love is giving yourself to another such that they can bear their souls and fear no harm. Love pointedly addresses the ugly, unglamorous parts of a person and chooses, unwaveringly, to honor them.
"Love is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs...It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." 1 Corinthians 13:5,7
"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13
Love is tender, unhindered self-sacrifice. Who can ask that of another?

To bring this all around and explain my last post:
I periodically encounter crises of identity, big life transitions, or overwhelming frustrations, and I foolishly turn to people that I hope can understand, care, and help. Some truly don't understand. Some have more pressing matters before them. Some simply don't know how to help. Alone and helpless, I feel worthless.

The solution is simple, though. It's right there:
Love lavishes immeasurable value on its object.

But when my pleas are met with such anemic replies, my heart is gripped with fear:

Love Is Costly, and No One Owes Me Anything

Love is costly, and no one ever will owe it to me. I can't do anything to earn it, buy it, barter for it - I can't even ask for it like it's some small favor. It's one of those "gifts of generosity" - it's all of them. People have to just choose whether or not they're going to love me, and I can't control it.

And that scares the hell out of me, because I don't think they will.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Happy Birthday

It's already past midnight, but I think that, having been born a little later in the morning, I have a few more hours before being exactly 25 years old.

Lest you think this is a Quarter-Life Crisis post, rest assured that this is, in fact, how I've felt for at least 10 years. Needless to say, I'm not going to be able to get it all out now, nor to have it particularly well ordered, but here's a shot at doing something since I'm probably not going to sleep.

My life is going nowhere. I mean, I know that's not exactly, technically true, but that's the only way I can describe it.

I've never really been successful at anything. I graduated high school in the bottom 5th of my class, and I had to attend summer school for a month following the commencement ceremony to make up an English credit in order to actually earn my diploma (to be fair, this was due to a bureaucratic error).

Now, I realize that this first point can easily be dismissed, because schooling isn't the measure of a person's value - except that, implicitly in the perspective given me by every single person I know, it is. The most important thing I can achieve is to earn at least a 4-year degree, because that alone stands in the way of me ever becoming a useful citizen or contributor to society. Furthermore, I'm "too smart" not to keep banging my head against the wall of higher education; the little progress I've made in the past 7 years really is probably the best use of that time. I'm sure anyone would trade 7 years of their youth for the same privilege.

That's fine. Some people don't go to school. Do what makes you happy.

What makes me happy is playing frisbee, sir. What makes me happy is having meaningful interaction with friends. What makes me happy is feeling understood and validated. What makes me happy is changing the world a little bit for the better for someone.

That crap's not practical, though, is it? I can't make a living at being a good friend, a trustworthy confidant, or a normal person. That's just expected. I'm not allowed to want those things, because just wanting that makes me a slacker with no ambition and no vision.

What makes me happy? Well an alright substitute for happy is daydreaming about being happy someday. The problem is that it's harder and harder to delude myself as time passes - soon enough, "Successful Someday" will have today's date on it, and then it will self-destruct as it comes face-to-face with reality. I get through the reality by hoping for Someday, but all that is is empty hope. The someday that's approaching is just another old day that I wish wasn't what it is.

Yeah, ok. I realize that 25 isn't old. I realize that some people change carreers in their 50s, or that some people don't even start doing what they truly want to do until after retirement. I have a lot of time left, I guess, maybe. But when you're just getting by, time isn't the cure to your woes. As you have more and more days to survive, time becomes a woe.

Great. Another day I can eat, work, and sleep. Another day I can wish for someone to understand me, to actually enjoy me, to value me, to help me discover how I can better the world in some way. Another day people can like me and laugh at my jokes but not really care what happens to me.

So that's all that.

What are the problems?

Well, for one, I suppose my definition of success is a little warped. That's part of why school doesn't work for me. I can't fill out worksheets. I have to pour something of myself into my work, and it takes a lot to dig that stuff out to meet some parameters. Either I write something simultaneously groundbreaking and accurate or it's not worth writing. I can dump verbose nonsense on paper on command, but I'm morally incapable of submitting tripe as anything other than tripe.

That's why this blog has nothing on it, either. I want to share my life, to write what I know and what I'm learning, to be authentic and transparent, but does anyone really wanna read that? It's not all like this, but it does include this sometimes. Whatever I start out talking about all gets muddled and directionless, and the internet's already saturated with bloggers in their 20s whining about this and that and talking out their asses. Besides the fact that everything I know has probably already been said better elsewhere, I don't even know that I've learned much of anything worth passing along. Certainly this isn't.

Another problem, I guess, is that I don't really feel feelings with the exception of despair. Despair and pining and wishfulness. And I don't know how to process them besides writing unnecessarily dramatic blog posts that my grandparents are going to read, I guess.
Ok, that was a bit much. I'm leaving that paragraph there, but I do feel a pretty normal variety of emotions, probably. I've just learned pretty well to stuff most of them and not deal with them and never offend anyone by being too authentically myself. Obviously, the highest virtue is to speak and respond from a place of unblemished rationality, even if that leaves no one ever sure how you feel about anything. At least there's the safety of knowing you can't make an incorrect judgment that way.

I'm emotionally dependent on other people. I need to have everything I say and feel validated by someone else in order to have any confidence in it. Alternatively, if I'm still confident in what I said and it's not acknowledged by someone (or several people) important to me, I feel misunderstood and alone in the world.

I have control issues, I think, but only over uncontrollable circumstances and other people's actions, you see. Of course my personal locus of control is external.

Related to the last two, I really have trouble achieving any personal goals that no one else expects of me.

Listen, I don't really know who I'm mad at. I'm kinda mad at myself for acting this way, but at the same time, I can't apologize every time I try to be honest. I shouldn't behave like some undeveloped man-child, but if that's what I am, we might as well put it out there and stop pretending.

Maybe this alienated everyone, or maybe it drew in some people I've never met. I guess, finally, I should say that I am actually asking for help, please. This isn't something I can just fix by trying harder, or by just doing my homework, or whatever. I'm going worse than nowhere on my own.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Management Candidate of the Year

I've never really been good at managing time. There are lots of reasons for that, and I may or may not get into them right now. This is just a blog almost just for the sake of writing a blog.

Tonight, I'm just writing to be a writer, in order to set a precedent. You see, ever since I started this blog, I wanted it to be good and to be useful, and that's why I've written largely nothing. That one post from Mexico was the only one of the year 2013. I have about 7 other posts with saved drafts and partially-processed ideas, but I haven't taken the time to read through them, complete the thoughts, or draw conclusions to render them complete and publishable.

See, I don't want to write about my day. I only really want to write about stuff that is life-changing. If I haven't gained an insight that I can offer up as a change in perspective to those around me, of what value is my redaction of my experience? But how can I write something so groundbreaking without first having compiled all the known human data and subjected it to deep analysis and meditative reflection?

A year or two ago, my mother provided me with a valuable insight about myself (as mothers are wont to do). As I recall it, she told me, "You know, I used to think that you weren't ambitious about things, but now I think I've realized that you are over-ambitious." That is why I don't write: my standards are simply too high.

I read a couple of articles today that made a lot of sense to me. One was called "The Mistake Smart People Make," and the other was called "Forget Setting Goals." In these twin articles, James Clear lays out what he has learned about achievement: very simply, you must do things.

The amount of time I spend thinking about writing and considering what I could write is actually fairly ridiculous, seeing that it never comes to fruition. I invest so much energy in trying to prepare myself for the task of writing that I never perform the task. So, inspired by his words, I am performing the task.

In summary, I can't promise that everything I write in here will be stellar, nor compelling, nor that I will always use "nor" correctly, but I will be making an effort to micro-blog on a regular basis so that, eventually, something good might manifest.

I'm also going to occasionally (often) use "manifest" and the like as intransitive verbs and engage in other verbal ham-handedness, but I hope that good may come of this even if I don't stop to apologize for it at every turn.

Have a good night.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

I Thought You Should Know I'm in Mexico.

It’s hard to type on these bumpy roads. It may not help that I’m in the back of a 15-passenger van, directly over the rear axle, and that the local authorities apparently think that speed bumps are the most important element of their transportation infrastructure. My short-term team, two long-term American missionary couples, and four Mexican nationals from the town of Fresnillo are on our way out to a village of the Huichol people, natives of the area who live in the mountains. I thought the four-hour drive would be some nice downtime to type an update, but now even bringing my laptop in the van feels like an absurd proposition. The people down here don’t live like us, and having portable electronic devices on my person feels like flaunting wealth.

Ubiquitous tools that aid us in our American lifestyles, the results of innovation, competition, and technological advancement, are considered luxuries. Electronics are only beginning to be seen as tools to use rather than gadgets to play with. I was thinking of getting a Mexican SIM card so that I could have internet access whenever I needed it, but it seemed like this would not be received well by the locals; instead, I use it only as a camera when I’m out of the apartment. It’s sort of like being in a time-travel movie where I’m just trying not to shatter anyone’s perception of reality with my incredibly-versatile handheld gadget.

But beyond the still-emerging field of information technology, tools and conveniences run in short supply here. Our team is helping to redo the roof of the local church. This involves removing a layer of concrete a couple inches thick from a flat roof roughly the size of a basketball court. In the United States, anyone doing concrete work on their own property would go rent a handheld electric jackhammer from a local tool shop, and most general contractors probably own one of their own. Manual labor in Mexico, however, is a little more manual than that. We had to go at it with pickaxes, sledgehammers, chisels, pry bars, and shovels – there were no power tools available, and none of the nationals seemed like they’d even considered the possibility. This is how it’s done around here: you don’t expect there to be an easier answer down the road; you just use the tools you’ve got and employ leverage in whatever way you can. Overall, I think it’s pretty rewarding this way, because you have to work a lot more closely with the mechanical principles you’re employing.

After tearing up the floor, we had to haul large piles of sand and gravel onto the roof, along with several 50kg bags of cement, to mix new mortar and concrete. This process involved shovels, ropes, and buckets, (plus some shoulders and ladders for the bags of cement) rather than such things as excavators and forklifts. I tried to makeshift a pulley system, but soon realized that the plastic bottle caps that would form part of the assembly wouldn’t support the weight required.
Lastly, a tower of cinder blocks about 5 feet shorter than the church roof had been neatly stacked behind the building. This was moved onto the roof in a very orderly manner, with a man on top of the stack tossing blocks upwards onto the roof, and a man down below selecting which pieces to move without toppling the whole structure, Jenga-style.

It wasn’t bad work, but it just felt very jury-rigged. To get water for the cement, we ended up siphoning it out of a tank on the roof top (which is another cool use of physics, by the way) because there wasn’t a spigot on it. To draw a horizontal line, rather than using a bubble level, two of the guys leading the project used the water level inside a clear hose to mark spots that were the same height.
Anyways, we’ve made some great progress this week in the fight against this area’s annual 10 inches of precipitation. Incidentally, this is one of the places that boasts a “rainy season,” and it seems that most of its expected rainfall for the year has come since we’ve started the roof repairs.

I wish I had more time to type and edit and post between all the work that we are doing here, but consider this a better-than-nothing update for now. To give you a glimmer of hope that more updates will come, I should mention that I’m required to do a certain amount of writing to receive academic credit for this trip, so I’ll at least have some more reflections that I can post in here in the next few weeks. 

Thanks for reading!


P.S. The Huichol village trip was yesterday, but it took me a little time and opportunity to reorder the word salad that I threw down on the drive up. I'll write a post about that ministry later.

Monday, December 10, 2012

How To Not Crash In Snow (Manual Transmission)

More than 13 inches of snow have fallen in the Twin Cities in the past 24 hours. As the driver of a manual-transmission automobile and as a seasoned veteran of catastrophe, I assembled this simple guide to the physics of snow driving as a gift to my fellow man. May it teach you the way.

I'll try to start from basics to be thorough, but I will also try to cover the topic rather quickly, without a million words.

There are three pedals on your manual-transmission vehicle.
When pressed, the furthest right pedal increases the speed of your engine.
When pressed, the middle pedal slows, limits, stops, or prevents the rotation of your wheels.
When pressed, the left pedal disengages the connection between engine speed and tire speed. If this pedal is released, the engine and the wheels will attempt to move in unison according to whichever gear is selected, or they will continue to move independently if your stick is in neutral.

To maintain traction, you want the speed at which your wheels are rotating to match the speed at which you are covering ground. If your car is moving more speedily than your wheels are rotating, you are skidding or sliding. If your car is moving more slowly than your wheels are rotating, you are spinning your tires. While it's obvious in either case that you have bad traction, both of these things actually make your traction worse; in other words, they prevent you from regaining traction and control of your vehicle. The best way to maintain or regain traction is by having your wheels rotate at the speed at which you are covering ground.

Rule 1: (If you don't have Anti-lock brakes) Your brake should be used less in the winter. More accurately, your brake should only be used gently and at low speeds in the winter. This sounds like weird advice, but I'll explain why: the brake's only function is to slow or stop the rotation of the tires. Abruptly stopping the rotation of the tires, or even slowing it beyond a certain amount on a slippery surface, will change you from rolling to skidding. You have less traction and less control. Slowly decreasing the rotation speed of your tires will slow you down more quickly than quickly decreasing the rotation speed of your tires. NOTE: If your car has ABS (anti-lock braking system), which started coming standard on cars that are too new for college students to drive, this does not apply, because the ABS is designed exactly to keep your wheels rolling while you are slowing down rather than locking them in place when you slam on the pedal. Pumping the brake on older cars is a way to do the same thing, and I would recommend that in cases where your instinct tells you to slam on the brakes.

Rule 2: The clutch should only be used when shifting gears or when shifting into and out of gear. This is sort of a rule year-round, but it can be broken during the warm months when I like to take it out of gear and coast at times.
If you worry about the clutch less, it maintains the correlation between your engine speed and your wheel speed. If you noticed before, I mentioned that your accelerator controls your engine speed, but then all I've mentioned so far as being important to skidding is your wheel speed. Avoiding needlessly taking it out of gear or coasting down hills, for example, maintains the accelerator pedal's relevance to the problem at hand.

Rule 3: Use your accelerator to decelerate. Or, perhaps, decelerate by un-using your accelerator.
For the wheels and engine to move together, one of them has to be controlling the speed of the other. When you're not causing the engine to run at a certain speed with your foot on the accelerator, the momentum of your car and the rotation speed of your wheels gets transferred back into the engine rotation through the same mechanism (in reverse) that causes the engine to increase your wheel speed. If your car is in gear and moving and you let off the gas pedal, the car will slow down.
Now, letting off the gas pedal slows your wheels down much less abruptly than a tap of the brakes, and therefore avoids losing traction by going into a skid. This is good, but if you actually want to stop anytime soon, you may tell me that it is simply too much less abruptly.

Rule 4/Life Skill: Downshifting
Downshifting is intentionally using the momentum of your car, rather than pressure on the accelerator pedal, to increase the RPM of your engine, with the goal of draining some of your wheels' momentum in order to achieve a skidless deceleration.
Very simply, each gear will make your car travel at a different speed, even if you keep pressure on the accelerator exactly constant. As an example, if I run my engine at 2000 RPM, I will be going about 6 MPH in 1st gear, 16 MPH in 2nd, 26 MPH in 3rd, 36 MPH in 4th, and 46 MPH in 5th. Regardless of the mechanics or details of this, I'm sure you have to be familiar with this occurrence in order to even drive a manual, so I'll stop elaborating on this specific aspect of it.
If your foot is off the accelerator, your engine speed naturally wants to drop to below 1000 RPM. (Mine usually idles at 700-800.) However, you usually want to drive in the range between 1800 and 2500 RPM for maximum efficiency.
So here's an example: I'm travelling at 26 MPH in 3rd gear, with my engine at 2000 RPM. I'm 100 feet or so from a Stop sign. Rather than beginning to brake, I shift downward into second and let off the accelerator. As I release the clutch after my shift, all of a sudden, I'm going 26 MPH in second gear, and my engine, which wants to drop to 700 RPM, is instead forced up to 3200 RPM. Suction is generated in the combustion chambers in the engine (very relevant to the process, but not necessarily important to understand), and the engine speed drops fairly quickly, slowing the wheels along with it because their fates are bound until I hit the clutch again. By the time the engine drops to 1500 RPM, which has only taken a couple of seconds, I'm down to 12 MPH and I'm not skidding. Then I can try my luck at downshifting to 1st or I can just calmly pump my brakes to a smooth stop. Heck, at that point, I could even slam them and probably stop before much of my car slid slightly askew into the intersection.

1. Only shift down one at a time. If you're going 50 in 5th gear and you drop to 3rd and your engine is uncomfortably and unexpectedly forced up to 4000 RPM, that's too much and you will skid.
2. As a general precaution against abruptness, always re-engage the clutch with gentleness and tact. Make sure all parties are comfortable with what you are about to do before dropping the full weight on them.
3. Decelerate before turns, not in the midst of them. Try to gently accelerate out of turns, so that your front wheels are pulling you through the end of the turn and toward your destination. NOTE: Do not do this with a rear-wheel-drive car.
4. Down hills are easier to navigate than up hills. Roll down steep ones in 2nd or 1st gear and with your foot gently holding or pumping the brake, being sure that your wheels are indeed rolling, but only ever so slowly. NOTE: Do not use this strategy for rear-wheel-drive cars. It is not advised to drive on snowy hills at all with RWD.
5. In the unfortunate instance that you may be required to stop on an up-facing hill, use your hand brake in place of your foot brake to avoid the slight roll-back experienced at take-off. Put the shifter in 1st, bring the clutch right up to the point of engagement, coax the accelerator downward with only one toe, and then release the hand brake so that the first movement you make is forward and upward. NOTE: Please don't do this if your car is rear-wheel-drive. Seriously, just drive backwards in the winter if that's your only option.

I hope that these tips improve your road safety. Failing that, I hope that a cute girl offers to help push you out of the snow bank in which you find yourself.

Best wishes (with specifics mentioned immediately above),


P.S. I haven't blogged consistently since 10th grade, and I've felt rusty every time that I've written on here thus far. Oh well.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Right to left

Well, here's something I didn't expect: I'm typing from right to left in English. The internet in Egypt is obnoxious because it automatically gives you the arabic version of the site based on the location of your ISP. As a result, I'm typing this in an Arabic-arrangement window, so my cursor is lingering before the beginning of my sentences even though my words are going on the end. I just wonder what will happen to my final punctuation.

So, I've been able to type with both hands since about 5 minutes after my last post, but I'll try to think of another excuse for not updating in a second. Oh yeah; it's cuz I never get time to think. It's a vicious cycle: I think I would have more of a handle on things if I blogged more, but I also don't feel like I have enough of a handle on things to really have anything to update everyone on. I guess I do, though, and I think I might get to it once I give up on this paragraph.

Hey, try to guess the two most common names in Egypt. If you guessed Mohammed and Ahmed, you're right. However, among Coptic Christians, there are two names with incomparable ubiquity: Mina and Abanoub. At the boys' orphanage we visited last week, I thought a kid was playing a game where he says "babanoubabanoubabanoubabanoubabanouba", apparently because all the Abanoubs wanted to introduce themselves together, except for one. While a solid 80% of the children went by that name, I've yet to meet an adult male whose name isn't Mina. There were a few who introduced themselves otherwise, but I assume they're all nicknames so that people can differentiate a bit. One guy was named Camel.

Today marks the third full Tuesday since we arrived in Egypt. Three weeks- almost half our trip- seems to have gone by way too quickly. Our first 5 days were spent exploring and shopping and stuff, so today marks the beginning of our third week of ministry. Tuesdays, we visit a center for street kids that is an hour-and-a-half drive away, kinda near the Pyramids of Giza on the other side of Cairo. We prepare different skits based on our recollections of Aesop's fables, the parables of Jesus, or sometimes original compositions designed to teach them the values that they need to know in order to live in society. Previously, we'd do a short program and then just play with the kids, but because one of their default settings is play-fighting, we've been asked to create longer programs and discourage the free play idea. I think that Tuesdays are some of our favorite days, as a team. The girls on our team are a very creative and somewhat crafty group, so putting together paper masks and other props for all the skits is really facilitated by that.
On Mondays and Wednesdays, we visit the homes of Sudanese refugees and share with them words of encouragement and different things we've been learning in our personal readings of the Bible. I really enjoy this ministry because it's encouraging to me when I can encourage others, and having to draw themes out of the scriptures really helps me to understand the nature and teachings of Jesus more than I have before.
 Since Easter is scheduled differently for the Eastern church and the Western church, this past Thursday was Maundy Thursday. Partly because the schools were closed, and partly because it was Martina's 23rd birthday, we had a slightly modified schedule from our usual Thursday school and gender-divided orphanage visits.

Man, I have a meeting soon, because I'm co-in charge today, so I guess I'll have to fill you in on the other interesting stuff later. This is a great place to stop, right? Yeah.