Beyond the Yellow vMeme

To take the next step and become useful in the world of tomorrow, we need to re-integrate science and spirit.

I have written in the past that I seem to function mostly in the Yellow vMeme (as seen in Spiral Dynamics). I also said that I very much doubt I will ever go beyond that. This is as far as it goes, I thought. I am no longer so sure of that. Given enough lifetime, I think the upward pull may continue to take me onward to the next level. But it is an uncertain thing yet, and will be a close call at best.

In the more religious terminology of Kofuku no Kagaku (Happy Science), the turquoise vMeme is called the 7th dimension, the realm of angels (saints) and bodhisattvas. These are people who live for helping others and keeping the world on the right track. In more psychological terms we may say they have transcended the ego as the center of their life. They obviously still have an ego, without which personal identity would not function. But the ego is no longer the axis on which their lives turn.

During the Yellow vMeme we gain a systemic insight in how the world works, and realize that we are a (not very big) part of it. With this humility and understanding, we can look for the points where we can be useful and help the world (or rather our tiny corner of it, usually) get on the right track. But we still kind of do this at our convenience and for our own reasons. We are not compelled by a deep insight that makes us consider our earthly lives little more than a projection of a higher plan that was in action long before us and will continue to go on long after our passing.

Compare to the Bodhisattva vows, some of which I found listed here. I was particularly smitten with this poem:

May I be a guard for those who are protectorless,
A guide for those who journey on the road;
For those who wish to go across the water,
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

May I be an isle for those who yearn for landfall,
And a lamp for those who long for light;
For those who need a resting place, a bed,
For all who need a servant, may I be a slave.

May I be the wishing jewel, the vase of plenty,
A word of power, and the supreme remedy.
May I be the trees of miracles,
And for every being, the abundant cow.

Like the great earth and the other elements,
Enduring as the sky itself endures,
For the boundless multitude of living beings,
May I be the ground and vessel of their life.

Thus, for every single thing that lives,
In number like the boundless reaches of the sky,
May I be their sustenance and nourishment
Until they pass beyond the bounds of suffering.

The last line is the key. As long as there are other beings who live in ignorance, confusion and suffering, those who have found the cause of these things must live to help them. For there is no true difference between us and them, we are merely instances of the same origin, branches of the same tree if you want.

I have had the good luck in my life to meet people who were to some degree such saints. I say “to some degree” because people don’t actually fit into boxes. The levels we talk about are more like milestones along a road. And even that is not right, because humans are not that stable. We are more like waves. The sudden, foaming waves tend to fade as we grow deeper, but there are other, longer waves that I read about in the autobiography of saints. Some of these waves last for years. And there are still “peak experiences”, where for a brief time you see something you cannot understand in your everyday state of mind.

To make things even more complex, humans have different lines of development in their lives, and some lines may be far ahead of others. For most people, the cognitive line – theoretical understanding – is far ahead of the rest. This is why a child can agree and expound on why homework is a good idea in theory, as long as he does not remember that this may mean he has to do his own homework too. This is not actually hypocrisy, because you are on your way to it. The hypocrisy is to consistently pretend that you have already reached the level you have seen ahead of you. Mocking your children in such a situation will cause them to lose courage. This is expressly forbidden in the New Testament. I cannot offhand think of a similar injunction in other religions, but it should come automatically when you understand how the human mind works, whether or not you are religious.

The purpose of religion is of course not to control you, but to bring an understanding of the human world – which is mostly a world of the mind – in a consistent framework. The more you understand how the human mind works, the more your understanding will become similar to a religion. Neither Confucius nor even Gautama the Buddha intended to start a religion; their teachings were philosophies of the mind. But all you need to change that into a religion is to start worshiping the philosopher and add some decorative props.

In any case, whether or not you feel religious, you need to develop a deep understanding of the human mind, because that is where we actually live. The experienced human world is not made of quarks and gluons.

Actually, let us make a short stop right there. According to current scientific knowledge, quarks make up the neutrons and protons in the nucleus of the atom. Two Up quarks and one Down quark make a proton, while one Up quark and tow Down quarks make a neutron. There are many other types of quarks with varying properties and interaction, but only those two are part of ordinary matter and always in those combinations. Now, say that someone is an expert on quarks. He knows them all by name and can list off all their properties and interactions, as well as when they were theorized and by whom and when they were discovered and where. In short, our friend is a veritable quark genius. But unfortunately he has forgotten, or never learned, the rather narrow connection between this “realm of quarks” and the atomic nucleus. While he is surely a genius, his knowledge is not actually connected to the world he lives in.

This is how it is with many people. They know a lot of things but they don’t know how these things connect to the actual life we live as humans. I used to be like that too. I would collect random facts but I did not connect them in an unbroken chain to the actual life I lived.

A characteristic of the Yellow vMeme is the ability to see things as systems, to see them as integrated, to see where they fit together, see one thing as part of another. But there is still often something that is lacking: Seeing oneself in all this. We may see our bodies as part of an unbroken physical structure, but the actual experience of being ourselves is separate from this. We may have learned some theory about the mind being a product of the brain, and since we know a lot about matter and very little about mind (not to say spirit), we kind of take the easy way out by labeling the mind as a kind of by-product of the brain. So the brain, we think, makes mind in much the same way that the kidneys make urine.

If we stop at this stage, a disconnect continues to exist between what we actually experience as true and what we theoretically claim to believe is true. If we explore the world of the mind, we realize that it is very large, very detailed, and governed by its own laws. These laws can not be derived from the physical laws that govern the material brain.

Let me take another example. Let us say you have a coworker who is supposed to analyze data on his computer, but then the boss walks in and finds him playing a computer game instead. The unlucky fellow makes the following excuse: “But it was on the computer!” That’s pretty lame, don’t you think? But the fact is that a lot of people run software on their own brain that everyone with good sense should realize will not get the job done. You cannot just explain that by saying “my brain did it!” This is the kind of disconnect we have a lot of in our age, and we have to get past this to get to the next level.

Our fascination with matter is not quite a bad thing. Thanks to it, we now live longer and healthier lives, we can enjoy pleasures fit for kings, and accomplish what would recently have looked like miracles. Like communicate with people all around the world in the blink of an eye. But at the same time, there are epidemics of problems that stem from the mind: Avoidable depressions, substance abuse, eating disorders, obesity, diabetes and numerous other lifestyle diseases. Statistics show clearly that deeply, actively religious people are less exposed to these.

There has to be a way to integrate these worlds. To gain our spirit back without going back to the middle ages. And those who find the way are obliged to share it.

A day without blizzard

The Batman does not shop here.  (The Mothman, on the other hand…)

When I say “A day without blizzard”, I am not referring to a certain computer game publisher, for I have not played any of their games in… a couple years?  Possibly a little more.  No, I am referring to the somewhat sensational fact that there was not icy wind and whirling snow today. It was overcast and a couple degrees above freezing. It actually tipped above freezing yesterday sometime.  I think this is the whole full day of so mild weather here since the Copenhagen climate summit. Certainly since I moved here, but that is barely a month ago. No, it has been icy cold much, much longer than that, since sometime in December at least.

Speaking of the moving, and it being a month ago, my old landlord called on Thursday and expressed very vague worries.  This is a trait of the family, or at least shared by his mother and grandmother, that they tend to be extremely polite to the point of just barely hinting at anything at all, but evidently he is worried about his house somehow.  That is not without reason, because his family got another house soundly trashed by an immigrant family before they rented out this. If he hasn’t been and looked at it, he cannot know what state it is in. On the other hand, I don’t see what keeps him from going there, seeing how I had emptied my part of it when last we met (when he came with the key to the basement door so we could get my washing machine out). Given that it was empty then, he is well aware that I don’t live there, I would think, so there is no reason to be uncertain about whether or not I should have paid rent for this month.  I did politely inform him that I am still paying the electricity.

To be honest, I thought this was a pretty good arrangement for all involved.  I have been kind of busy moving in here (and keeping the place from freezing over or getting lost in the snow) so I have only rough-washed the old place and not yet hired the cleaning company to complete the job. (Actually I e-mailed them a bit over a week ago, but I guess they don’t read mail, at least not at the mail address listed on their web site.)  It was my distinct impression that my landlord was not going to rent the place out again, but would clear the whole house out and sell it.  Now, clearing the basement and loft and the stuff they had standing in “my” part of the house is itself a labor of Hercules and will likely take them months.  So I rather felt I was doing them a favor by paying the utility bill for their house until such a time that I could get it sparkling clean.

In any case, the landlord seems eager to get the whole thing over with, for some reason. Perhaps he has reconsidered and wants to rent it out again?  Or perhaps that was the plan all along but he was too polite to say so?  I guess I can find out in a couple months if I really am that curious. As it is, however, I went over today and did some more washing of the bathroom and picked up some things that were left behind during the two days of moving. Light willing I may go there again on Monday late in the afternoon and try to get the vacuum cleaner with me home on the bus. It is not really too large for that, although it will look slightly humiliating to drag it around like that.

On Tuesday, I promised the landlord, I will leave work a bit early so we can look at the place together.  He really wanted to do that on March 1, but I have an important thing to do at work that day which won’t be finished early.

He is a nice guy and I have only had good things to say about him, but honestly? If I could get a stranger to pay my utility bills on the coldest winter in decades, I should have been grateful, not suspicious. Just saying.  It is not like I’m skipping the bill or anything.  His grandmother knows where I live, after all.  (She has a daughter not far from here, and it is a very transparent little place. There are probably already all kinds of rumors about me. ^_*)

But today was a day without blizzard and very little sleet.  I came home with a bucked (which I had used in the old house) filled with canned food. Then I walked to the local grocer, pictured above.  Yes, it is really called “Joker”, but in Norwegian this means “wildcard”, not Batman’s arch-nemesis and the incarnation of postmodernism. It has a surprisingly broad selection for a rural shop, but relatively few of each thing.  I bought three of the four (or was that five?) packets of  really cheap noodles.  Well, really cheap by Norwegian standards, about half the price of others. They taste much the same to me, and each packet has five smaller packets in it, each of them just about the right size for a full meal for me.   One of these keeps me fed pretty much all evening, for pocket change.

On the other hand, there’s half an hour of brisk walk each way, so there goes some of the calories before I even get home to cook them.  Not having a car certainly pays off in the form of exercise. Of course, you could still walk even if you had a car, but the flesh is weak.  My flesh would definitely have been weaker, not to mention softer and more plentiful, if I had a car.

The fields were white, pretty much everything was except the road and some of the houses, when I walked home with my bag filled with food.  (I also bought some yogurt and juice so I had a full bag.) But I enjoyed the mild weather, amused to think that just above freezing actually feels mild to me now.  In fall, I would probably have been freezing.  But for now, a day without blizzard is a blessing.  I am sure it will be hot enough come summer.  May we all be there to whine about it. ^_^

From Jennicam to Happy Science

“You never thought angels wore business suits,” says Edison in the anime “The Laws of Eternity”. Well, I am starting to see lots of angels around, even if some of them may be angels only for me.

Stephen Jay Gould is famous for his claim that if we could rewind evolution and run it again, we would end up with a completely different biosphere, and certainly not with anything resembling humans. I have to admit that my life looks a lot like that too. But strangely, both evolution and I somehow moved in the right direction, as if subtly influenced by some Great Attractor far beyond our sight. Today I will regale you with the tale of how I ended up with half a bookshelf full of Ryuho Okawa’s books. It is almost as unlikely as life itself!

I know exactly where my reality branched off from what should normally have happened. It was the day I bought, on a whim, an issue of the Norwegian magazine Komputer. It was a magazine for owners of home computers, and this was back when the World Wide Web was fairly new here in Norway. One of the fascinating sights on this new medium was Jennicam. Jenni was a young American woman – a student back when she started this – who lived her life on webcam. She had cameras in both the living room and the bedroom, taking one picture a minute throughout the day and night. People watched her spend her days in front of the computer, and nights sleeping.

I was one of the curious people who checked out her web site after reading about it in Komputer. Naturally I would be curious about what women actually do, strange and unfamiliar beings that they are. Unlike some of her viewers for sure, my curiosity was not primarily sexual, although I did collect a few nice, small (by today’s standard) pictures of her butt, usually in jeans. Pretty tame, I guess. My “buttpic of the month” was a homage to her for getting me started down the path to my own journal.

It was another girl of the same sort, Debra of Soyaratcam (New Zealand) who actually showed me how to do it. She was also living a pretty tame life on the web in the same style, but then her software broke down. For many days, she could not show the automatic pictures of her life. So she wrote a few lines and had a typical picture from the day on top. I pretty much adopted her format, down to the size of the picture, in my original JPG diary. (I think I even took that phrase from her. I searched the Web but found no one else who had it, so for months I thought I was the only one in the world after she went back to her webcam and eventually disappeared.)

After some months, I happened upon another like me. I found that they did not call their diaries diary but “journal”. Searching on this revealed a small community of several hundred people. This was before the age of the blog, so that was pretty much the world population of online diaries at the time. We were pioneers. But more pioneer than I was Al Schroeder, author of the journal Nova Notes. You will find numerous references to this in my early archives. We were strikingly similar in temperament and outlook, despite living on different continent, and despite him being married to a fellow geek and having three sons, two of which were autists. OK, that may be a similarity rather than a difference: It seems now that autism, or at least the main form of it, comes from geeks having children with each others. The same genes that make people smart and able to concentrate, in double dose causes them to become hypersensitive and apt to disappear into their own world.

I counted Schroeder as a friend for several years, and I guess I still do, but he eventually stopped writing his journal to concentrate on his online comics. Before he got that far, however, he had already established contact with other web comic artists, and started to review some of them. One of the first was Sinfest, which despite its name is not about a lot of sin but a kind of philosophical comic with stereotypical people and frequent appearances by God, angels and the Devil. There is a surprising dignity to it, for a humorous comic. I never saw any malice in it, even as it relentlessly revealed human folly in its many forms. If it had not been that good, Schroeder would not have recommended it, and neither would I have continued looking at other online comics.

But I did. I started reading lots of them for a while. Over time, it became common to have forums where readers could write about their impressions, and this often turned into general discussions about life, the universe and everything. Many of the comic creators were college students, and so were many of their readers. Intelligent, curious and often lonely, they were interesting people to get to know. I made many of my online friends this way. And especially from the Acid Reflux forum. Despite its name, it was not about the illness (which I also have to some degree) but a comic that seemed to attract particularly interesting readers. It also saw two of those readers marry each other, and then two more. But unfortunately the writer and the artists did not. So it came to an end, but not before putting me on the next path.

One of my friends there was very enthusiastic about something called “anime”. It turned out to be Japanese cartoon movies. Both these and comic books are even more popular in Japan than here, perhaps because their books are written in an extremely hard to read script, with a mix of sound signs and concept signs. In any case, this girl was in love with these cartoons. She also fell in love with one of the guys on the forum – not me, luckily for them both – and they are still married. But I had found a new interest. While I read very few online comics anymore (mostly those by Al Schroeder, actually), I watch anime fairly regularly.

Japanese culture certainly is fascinating. It is different but still kind of understandable. It is also very varied. Here in Scandinavia at least, Japanese manga (comics) and anime (cartoon movies) are mostly famous for sexually explicit content. The line between pornography and art goes quite a bit further to the sexy side in Japan, it seems. It is perfectly normal for non-religious anime to have random sightings of girls’ panties, for instance. In all fairness, Japanese school uniform skirts really are that short, so in school buildings with stairs it may well happen much the same way in real life. I am not sure why they do this. Then again, it is a foreign country.

I don’t watch anime for that purpose. (That would be crossing the river for water, seeing how I live in Scandinavia, but I also try to live with some degree of self-control when it comes to such things, despite being single.) My favorite are humorous slice of life movies. Luckily there are many of those too.

I was expecting something like that when a fellow anime fan shared a copy of the anime The Laws of Eternity last year. It seemed to be an interesting adventure by a bunch of friends who more or less by accident end up in the spirit world. Well, it is that, but mainly it is a way to visualize the teachings of the religious organization Happy Science (Kofuku no Kagaku, literally “Science of Happiness”). This particular movie was about the spirit world, which can be seen as both the afterlife and our state of mind while we are alive. The attitudes of the various heavens or hells are actually found in people alive in this world, and I could recognize them easily.

This was how I bumped into Happy Science, and I was surprised by the effect of the movie. I watched it repeatedly, sometimes twice in the same day, something I almost never do. I felt that watching it made it easier to live the way I wanted to in my daily life. I have tried to buy this and other movies from the organization, but this seems to be hard to do for an individual. They probably have their reasons for that, though I don’t know what.

Google Books lets you read a few scattered pages of a book online if the publisher allows this. That is the case with the English translations of the Happy Science books. By reading those few pages, I realized that these books were even more inspiring than the movie. They were more practical and down to earth, an everyday wisdom that added to the understanding I had gained through my own Christianity. Seeing the same things from a different perspective gave me a sense of depth that I had lacked before, or at least had less of.

I am still not sure what to say about this, or what will happen with my life from here on out. But this came into my life just when I was finally ready to understand it. If not for idly buying that magazine that day, it is quite unlikely that I would have bumped into them in my lifetime.

There are many such “coincidences” in my life. But then again there are many such coincidences in the world. Suspiciously many, don’t you think?

Grace – the vertical jet stream?

This is how the humble people view the world:  “With all these wonderful people, I spend every day in happiness.” Because they are acutely aware of their own imperfection, they easily appreciate the effort of others who also have to struggle (and sometimes fail) to do the right thing. The resulting gratitude is typical of the people who practice self-reflection. In the middle of this world they live in the Realm of the Good, a paradise of the heart.

I am not a theologian, luckily.  And so I will happily skip the many detailed debates within Christianity about the nature of grace.  There is evidently a lot of confusion about this, much to my surprise. Instead, I will seek to extend the concept so that it can be seen as immediately useful by all except the extreme materialist.

(There are different degrees of materialism, of course. The common moderate materialist will act and talk as if spirit exists, or at least the domains in which spirit is manifest, such as truth & beauty & virtue.  However, if asked outright, he will claim that spirit is a secondary reality, which emanates from matter and cannot exist independently from matter.  An extreme materialist, on the other hand, will regard spirit as pure illusion, the brain’s mistaken attempts to understand its own workings.  To such a person, love is simply the genes attempt to perpetuate themselves, and grace is as real as luck, that is to say, pure fantasy.)

Now, if we accept – even if just for the sake of living within civilization – that there is spiritual dimension to life, whatever its origin… Then we can imagine this dimension as vertical, as do pretty much all the world’s religions, who agree that not only is it vertical, but higher is better. Obviously the modern reader will not take this literally, but rather as a metaphor.  In this context, we can think of grace as a force that lifts us up.  A kind of counter-gravity from above, or a rising wind, like a vertical jet stream which can immensely help us if we place ourselves in the right position.

The Christian Bible says: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6.) The interesting part is that this does not place any other restrictions on the grace.  It does not specify, for instance, that God gives grace to the humble Christian or even to the humble religious person.  The humility itself seems to be sufficient.  If this is the case, then the Christian concept of grace merges with the Buddhist doctrine of salvation through self-reflection.  The purpose of self-reflection is exactly humility in practice:  To find our imperfections and see them as a serious problem rather than just comparing ourselves with someone who seem to behave worse than us. So even though the Buddhist does not (necessarily) believe in a god, he is still seeking the same grace in the same place where it is found by the Christian, namely in humility.

Now, I am not saying that all (or even two) religions are equal, or that it does not matter whether you are religious or not. It is not that simple, probably.  But it would seem that grace is a more universal concept than you would think from Christian theology.

I guess what I am saying is that regardless of all other things, having a realistic view of your own shortcomings and taking responsibility will make you a better person. Whether it will give you eternal happiness, I can’t say.  But it is certainly worth a try if only for the happiness you get down here.  When you have tried that for a while, you may want to consider your further course.

Digging in and out

Itadakimasu! “Let’s dig in!” I have seen the Japanese word translated that way occasionally, and it can certainly look like it, as it is said immediately before one starts eating. But actually this is a religious custom and the phrase means “I will receive”, “I humbly receive”, “I gratefully receive” depending on whom you ask. Now, having this attitude toward snow…

As I told you yesterday, I came halfway at best in my attempt to dig myself out of the house and establish connection with the nearest cleared road. On the bright side, I did get my heat pump excavated, and the general vicinity of the house, and started getting into the biggest snow drift before I gave up. I also got to experience the feeling of being exhausted without being winded, something that I hear is perfectly normal for humans.

I guess the reason why I have rarely if ever felt it before is that my family tends to burn a higher proportion of fat rather than carbs. It is not just us, it is very common on the west coast of Norway. This kind of people can eat lots of fat but it melts away again as they go about their daily life. It is probably an adaptation to a climate that is great for rising livestock but bad for grains. People would have less starch in their diet and more fat, so the genes of the survivors reflect this. Heart infarct is generally uncommon in the province where I grew up, and extremely rare in my family on my mother’s side. I know less about my father’s family, but it seems it actually could happen if you lived long enough. In any case, the point is, your blood sugar does not run out if you are not burning it, or very little of it.

It may be just old age, or perhaps my years on a low-fat diet has caused the body to switch to an alternate mode. (Although I currently have enough body fat, though it took me a year to replenish it after I was forced to shift to low-fat by some mysterious illness.) In any case, today I consciously worked slowly, to make sure I did not get winded, just breathing deeper than usual. This keeps the body in fat-burning mode, as fat is a more plentiful but slower energy source.

(By the way, if you are looking to get rid of a few pounds, the “fat burning” slow exercise is overrated. Yes, you are burning mostly fat, but because of the slowness you are not burning MUCH of anything. You will have to keep it up for a long time, and most people have too much to do to actually keep exercising for a long time. For the average modern person, who exercises for health, it is better to work out harder (if your health allows, of course). If however you have a fixed amount of work to do (like, say, shoveling a ton or two of snow) then doing it slowly will indeed burn off fat. And if you live on a low-fat diet for unrelated reasons, then it will take its sweet time coming back on.)

Don’t worry, I still have fat enough to survive for weeks at the very least! Just a little bit less of it than yesterday. As an added bonus, I kept radiating heat for a while after I came in. So yes, I gratefully receive! Although I am sure I can get fed up if it just keeps coming and coming. Even if it snowed candy, I would be fed up after some days, I am sure!

PS: I do have food too. Today I had leftover rice / pasta / tomato / maize stew from yesterday. Pretty good, although it was a bit too spicy for my tastes yesterday. It felt less intense today, quite enjoyable.

Trapped in the snow

You know it is winter when you try to open the door and come face to face with a snowdrift almost as tall as yourself.

OK, so perhaps I am not trapped in the classic movie scene style, in the howling blizzard and with a cute heroine. Wait, that is classic anime style. Anyway, not quite like that. Not even in the sense of not being able to get out the door, although I had to squeeze out sideways. I may even be able to leave the property, if my life depends on it, but not with dignity. The snow drifts are close to my own height, and the path I shoveled is utterly erased except near the house, where the walls keep the wind at bay.

I started with the stairs in front of the door, and gradually cleared a small space so I could go in and out freely. I shoveled a path through the nearest snow drift to the small stretch of open road. I made a road in to the side of the house and excavated the heat pump, which was almost hidden in snow. And then I faced the open field, where snowdrifts stretched like dunes of the desert. I came less than half the way to the nearest cleared road, however, before I was exhausted and found it safest to go inside.

I had already eaten before I went out to work on the snow, but I took a few glasses of Pepsi and water. (Don’t you think ordinary cola is too strong without watering it a bit? I use about 40% water, I’d estimate. So three or four glasses would be more like two glasses of pure cola. There will be a test on this topic.) I relaxed in front of the computer, and even napped a couple minutes. I felt fine when I went back out. Already some snow had accumulated during the couple hours or more, so I cleared that away first, then resumed the Herculean labor of extending the road.

I had been out less than half an hour and cleared only a few feet of the huge snow drift, when I noticed that something was not working as expected. I was not breathing hard, but my heart was still laboring way too much. Now, there was no pain or anything like that, but it was out of proportion. Usually with that kind of heartbeat I should be winded. I was also weakening rapidly. Yes, this is what normals experience when they run out of blood sugar, I think. I have heard them tell about it, but it came as a bit of a surprise to me. I usually get tired in my muscles before I get that far. I don’t get to the point where I am lightheaded and weak etc. Or did not until now. I suppose that must be what happened, but who knows.

In any case, it was obvious that my body was not able to process energy at the speed needed to keep working, even though I got enough oxygen. So I went back inside again. But seriously, two glasses of Pepsi is not enough for half an hour of shoveling? I am disappointed. I mean people are like “Oh Noes Its All Sugar OMG Help!!1”

If it is as I believe, then there is at least a silver lining: Until my glycogen reserves are rebuilt, I am going to transmute sucrose into that instead of fat. Of course, making fat even from sucrose is not very efficient in humans, but still. The liver is awesome (except as food, blech!). While I am relaxing, it is working full tilt, doing advanced organic chemistry for the whole body. I expect that when the morning comes, my muscles and the liver itself will be fully loaded with enough glycogen for another 24 hours of software support and playing The Sims 3. Of course, it is anybody’s guess how much snow shoveling that translates into.

I hate looking like a heathen to my new neighbors, but I think I shall have to work on the Sunday. (It is not actually a holy day, you know, or rather not more than most days. But I don’t expect the local farmers to know that.) But that is for another day, and we don’t have that until we receive it, if ever.

Oh no, not again…

The cold has returned, but not with the same deep freezer temperatures we had earlier in winter. It is more around -7C  (around 20F).  But along with the wind, it has once again become hard to keep the house warm.  We had a couple “mild” days with only -1 or so, and little wind.  It was quite easy to keep the whole house warm then.  Now, not so much.

Oh, and the water in the bathroom faucet is gone again.  I would have thought that using it a couple times a day would be enough, but evidently not.  It was fine when I came home from work, now it is dry again.  And will remain so until the temperature again returns to around the melting point.  Let us hope that is not too long.  At least I managed to set the kitchen faucet dripping before it could freeze up too. I can always wash my hands there.  There is no dripping option for the shower, it is very much on/off, so I guess that one is a goner too.

Luckily spring usually starts sometime in March here, not necessarily to the point where the snow disappears, but it would be a rare year that the temperature is not above zero for a couple days at least in March.  Then again this has been a rare winter so far, both here in Norway and elsewhere.

This morning I shoveled a path through the snow drifts, just in time to get to the bus.  When I returned from work, the path was gone.  “I knew the path was narrow, but it is gone now” as depressed Christians say.   Yes, there seems to be depressed Christians.  I won’t make any guesses as to why. I am sure others have strong opinions on that, especially those who have either never been depressed or never been Christian.  Anyway, it takes a bit more than a snow gale to depress me these days.  I had to wade through snow to my knees, if not more, but I did remove the drift that was building in front of the main door.  There are actually 3 outer doors in the house, so it should be a rare wind that managed to pack drifts around them all.  Tomorrow, Light willing, I will shovel a new path through the trackless snow.  Think of it as negative calories!

But before that, sleep. Although I may need to put on some more clothes first… ^_^

EDIT to add:

Oh, something good happened today that I should share!  I have a label on my mailbox that says “No unaddressed mail”, because I don’t want to risk losing letters in between the dozens of fliers, advert-paid newspapers etc.  But today I got an unaddressed sheet.  I did not mind at all though, because it was from the Agricultural Office of the region and was marked “Distributed unadressed to farmers and small farm holders in the region.”  It is the first time in many years that I have been mistaken for a farmer, and I really enjoyed it.  I admit it certainly looks that way, seen from the main road. ^_^

Negative calories

Since it was dark before I was finished shoveling, I’ll just re-use an old picture of the unbroken snow where there was supposed to be a road.

“Think of it as negative calories” said the voice in my head, or perhaps it was me. Anyway, it snowed when I got up in the morning, and it kept snowing practically to the end of the workday.  So when I came home, I had some work to do with my aluminum spade.  And I did it.  I re-opened the path from the house to the neighbor’s road (the plow has never returned after the one time it saved us from death by washing machine) and I made the path twice as wide while I was at it.  Of course, if we get one windy night, it may all be lost, because it crosses a wide open field where the north wind has all the time it wants to build up speed and pick up snow to put in my path.  But for now, I am content.  Think of it as negative calories.

As I mentioned, I lost a bit of weight during the move.  My daily calorie intake is not calibrated for packing and moving tons of stuff (probably literally, given that we drove that big car at least four times).  And probably not yet for shoveling a lengthy path through the snow, either. Although that could possibly become a habit if the winter just goes on.  Not that I am that keen to lose weight.  Rather I joke with my American friends:  “Depose Obama! Give us our global warming back!”  (Although I actually know quite well that climate and weather act on very different time scales, climate being a glacial process in the literal sense of the word.  I wonder how many eco-people know that though. We have literally seen nothing yet – it was warmer during the Viking age.)

Anyway, I guess I lost some calories shoveling, but at least I did not lose my lunch. Although the thought did visit me, as I have been not-quite-queasy all afternoon and evening.  I don’t think this is related to the pain in my lower right side, right inside the hip bone.  Shoveling snow and feeling that pain each time I straightened up, I vividly remembered feeling the exact same pain when I was widening the exact same path the week before I moved in.  So, around 3 weeks ago.  It wasn’t there all the time though, it came back this morning or during the night.  Not typical of appendicitis to appear randomly like that, I think.  Besides, with appendicitis you get sick first and the pain moves from all over to settle in the side.  Well, there are exceptions. There are also people who get hit by meteors.  I hope I fall in neither of these categories. In fact, I hope not to fall at all for a long while.  At least not by the wayside.  Falling in temptation – well, I don’t hope for that either really.  It has been known to happen though, somewhat depending on how harmless the temptation seems.

Today, for instance, I bought a pastry (Danish-style) for a late lunch, even though such things are absolutely soaked in fat, and you know I get violently sick from eating more than a little fat. That is why I can lose weight so easily and spend so long putting it back on, although it does return eventually.  Well, I did not fall all the way to the bottom of this temptation, I only ate half of it.  My vague feeling of being over-fed is just as likely to come from the Pepsi I had for brunch, or even the sweetened fruit yogurt.  I have been feeding myself a lot of sugar lately, and I feel that way too.

In happier news (if we can get happier than negative calories), it has been mild the last couple days – only a couple degrees below freezing.  I guess it says something about this winter that this really feels mild.  I don’t go outside in my shirt exactly, but I can easily keep the house warm in this weather. That is a wonderful feeling, after having had to sit with a thermo jacket in the home office, and being roasted on one side and frozen on the other in the living room where I have kept the wood stove burning.  It still burns, but now the whole room is pleasantly warm. And not just the room.  The fan in the heat pump is blowing through the home office (but I sit to the side of the jet stream) and through the small outer hallway into the living room.  The living room is open to the kitchen, and I have the door open from the kitchen to the inner hallway, and from there to the bathroom and from there to the washing room. The inner hallway also contains the stairs to the upper floor, so the warm air rises up there on its own. That way, the whole house is covered with just the heat pump and the wood stove.  Well, and a small radiator in the bed room, though I would not have needed it if I liked to sleep cold like most people do.

I still have some calories to burn on unpacking, as things are standing in bags and boxes all over the place still.  The truth is that many of them stood in bags and boxes before too, except many of the bags and boxes were inside the deep cupboards I had there but don’t have here.  I intend to take the content from some of them and simply get rid of it without ever finding a place for it.  If I live long enough, which I sincerely hope. Keep watching this space to see if I’m still around!

Doctor visit and Google

Being alone is scary for neurotypical humans.  Obviously their vocal cords never fall into disuse with that attitude.  Not so us porcupines.

Yes, doctor visit and Google are connected, even if just a little.  It all started like this:

For years, I have not talked much. Well, hardly at all outside work, and not much at work. After all, I work with computers. I also help people with their computer problems, but for years I mostly did so for the dozens of people in the same house.  Looking back, I did not know how good a time I had!  Not that it is all that bad now.  But back then, there was little reason to say more than a few words when someone had problems. I would go to their office and see for myself.  If they talked to me, they could see that I was listening, so there was no need for me to talk except for essential questions and the occasional reassurance.

The years passed, and my voice fell into disuse. There may be other reasons why my throat now gets sore after five minutes, but it is hard to know.  After all, it is not easy to track the development of a voice problem if you don’t speak!  I was happy with it that way. “Where there are many words, there is no lack of sin” as the Bible says, and indeed the constant talking of people seem to me a hallmark of their superficiality. (I was a massive talker myself when I was a child, and at least a ways into my teens. Possibly longer.)

Lately my work has changed so that user support is now mostly on the phone. This is very nearly the worst kind of talking for me, as I have to speak fairly loudly and clearly.  (Talking in a noisy place is even worse though.) I have been allowed to do mostly non-talking work after I explained the situation to my boss.  But the work at which I am competent is slowly being phased out, and despite numerous requests I have not been formally taught anything new.  For obvious reasons, I cannot just ask my innumerable contacts inside [Himitsu Corp.] since I don’t have any, not speaking to people.

So in the end, after talking (painfully) with an old friend about the matter, I called the rural clinic where my “fixed physician” works (that is a literal translation of the Norwegian word “fastlege”, although the concept itself is hard to believe for the American reader.  Basically you are assigned a doctor from those who have a deal with the State, but you can apply for another if you feel the need to.)  I got an appointment for today at 11AM.

This morning I got a mail from Google, since I had added a mail alert to my appointment.  (I am horrible with appointments, especially doctor and dentist.) This ability to add mail and on-screen alerts is nifty enough, but what impressed me was the extra service:  The name of the rural clinic, which I had added in the location field even though I knew where it was, was now blue and underlined. Yes, it was a link to a local map.  It is not like I needed that, but I was impressed that Google had located the address on its own, without me needing to ask.  Since the name was unique (probably in the world, given that it contains a special Scandinavian letter) it was probably easy for Google to find, but it was still nice of them to do it without being asked.

I, for one, welcome our new robotic underlings.

The doctor visit went well enough.  The doctor jumped to the same conclusion that I had at first, that the symptom was probably caused by inactivity.  It is not something a doctor comes into contact with every year, I bet, since all humans except monks are chatting like their lives depend on it. Which it well may:  Dolphins in isolation die in a matter of hours or a few days at most, while humans take longer but usually go more or less mad after a fairly short time in solitary confinement. It is in fact classified as cruel and unusual, if I remember correctly.  I am no big fan of confinement myself, but given food I would probably be happy to spend a few weeks alone in my house. So I am not exactly normal. (Thank the Light…)

Speaking of which, at some point the doctor suddenly asked if I felt fear when talking on the phone (or “angst”, which in Europe means something more like panic than the trite teenager navelgazing the word refers to in America). I was a bit taken aback by this, although I do live in the nerve pill belt of Norway.  No, I certainly am not afraid of my fellow humans, I assured him.  I don’t like to talk to them, or I would have done so on my free time as well, but I don’t fear them.  (Now, traveling by car, that I fear. You are locked in a small metal box hurtling away at tremendous speed, surrounded by other such boxes also at extreme speed, controlled by humans of on average not very high IQ, not very stable emotions, but grossly inflated self-confidence.  What is not to fear?  That I am even still alive is a miracle of Biblical proportions, is how I see it. Telephones though?  No.  Not until they start trashing about at lethal speed.)

There is no pill for the affliction, as expected.  (I have peeked around online after all.) Again, this makes sense if it really comes from prolonged silence, since this is so rare. The doctor promised to refer me to a specialist, who will send me a letter with the appointment in good time.  It will take at least a few weeks, thought the doctor. Having lived with this for years, I am OK with that.  There may be laryngoscopy though, if worse comes to worse. This may not necessarily prove fatal, but I notice that in lawyer-happy countries you have to sign a form that says it is your own fault if you die from it. We don’t have that here in Norway, as you can’t sue doctors anyway. They are partially employed by the  State and even if they accidentally kill someone, they only get a stern “Uff da!”.  If they just keep killing and killing people, they may eventually be asked to stop practicing, but this is exceedingly rare.  Of course, it is exceedingly rare that people die from this stuff anyway, but I just want to point out that Norway is not America.  Mostly we are thankful for that, of course.

But until further notice, if I don’t keel over from unrelated reasons, I should make sure to talk some every day, and keep water handy for drinking between bouts of talking.  This sound advice set me back a few dollars, the State probably pays another goodly sum for the doctor’s time.  I think the fact that we have to pay anything at all is mostly to discourage people from showing up with random insignificant stuff.  Of course, we do that anyway, we just don’t know it is insignificant until at some point during the visit.

Now, back to Google.

There is something new out, called Google Buzz.  It is a kind of stab at the social media scene, FaceBook and MySpace and the gang.  Twitter too, I guess, but Buzz actually has some integration with Twitter.  Basically it is a microblogging software, meant to write short quick messages.  It shows up next to the inbox in Gmail, and if you have Gmail you becomes a member automatically.  It will add contacts that you have a lot of conversation with, or so it says.  It did not add anyone for me, but this may be because the one person who mails me does not use Gmail…

In addition to posting things on your Buzz homepage (like the “wall” in a certain competitor) it also harvests Twitter, as already mentioned.  Unfortunately it is one way only, probably because Twitter has a much smaller maximum post length. But even short posts are not relayed.  Another source is Google chat status messages. (Like, “Out for lunch”, “Meeting with boss”, “Busy making love” – not necessarily in that sequence and not necessarily right after each other.) Then it harvests pictures from Picasa Web and Flickr, videos from YouTube and blog posts from Blogger / Blogspot.  So much for microblogging.  It is clearly pretty open for Google-owned stuff, while few outsiders get in. No LiveJournal, no WordPress, and noticeably no FaceBook in either direction. Rivalry from first buzz!

So I have had this a couple days now, since it came out.  I turned off the option to show who was following me and who I was following. I don’t have a problem with telling who I read, or would read if they posted anything, but it is not my right to publish choices that other people have made.  They may have reasons to not want to appear online more than strictly necessary, for all I know.  Since you either have to publish both or none, none it is.

So I worked a bit on my Google profile (which is mostly hidden for those of you who are not my contacts) and there it was again.  I had typed in my address, and Google showed it in the map. OK, so it is two houses wrong, but it is really close.  Again, I did nothing to instigate this.  It just integrated Google Maps on its own.

This is boding well, I think.  Computers should not just answer our questions, they should also have the answers to the questions we didn’t know we could ask.

This is not the only invention that makes life easier for computer users. For instance Windows Vista introduced Superfetch, which keeps track of what programs you use and load them while you don’t use the machine.  This would have been an awesome idea if people used computers with lots of memory at the time Vista was released, but most only do that now that Microsoft has switched to the more memory-frugal Windows 7. Still, it was a good idea, in principle, especially if you don’t have users like me who gets deeply suspicious when the computer starts running the hard disk in my absence.  Is it perhaps a virus, is what I think then.  But eventually I drew the conclusion that it was Vista that was the virus.  Still, it works well enough now that I have a 64 bits processor and 4GB RAM.

In the future, if any, I hope to see computer programs that take advantage of extra information they have, to make life easier for the users.  I also hope to be able to talk, but even more I hope not to need to.

Fructose, corn syrup and doom

What does carrying heavy stuff through the snow have to do with fructose? Read and find out!

Let us start this with me, as I am after all the main character here! I noticed after moving that I had lost a few pounds. Not surprising, with all the heavy lifting and little time for meals. My calorie intake is suitable for an office worker, not a mover. Now, it was only a few pounds, so I am not waking up in the night with hunger pangs as I did when I lost most of my fat reserves in 2005. And I will no doubt put these pounds back on over the next few months if nothing disastrous happens. But if I had lived in America, I would have put them back on even faster.

The reason is that I have a medical condition that makes it impossible for me to eat fat except in tiny amounts. You don’t realize how much fat there is in everyday food until it makes you spend some time in the bathroom shaking and trying to throw up. But there is another way to build fat without actually eating it. I am talking about fructose. This extra sweet sugar is naturally found in honey and many fruits, but it is not quite the essence of health you would expect from its origin.

Fructose can only be processed by the liver, whereas glucose can be used directly by every cell in the body. As a result, eating a meal rich in fructose will not cause the same sugar spikes – sudden increases in blood sugar – that is feared by diabetics and panicky relatives of diabetics. Due to the pervasive notion that blood sugar is bad, you can actually see fructose advertised as health food. The reality is a bit more gloomy. Also, in reality there is doubt about whether sugar spikes do any harm. It is the constant high blood sugar over months and years that causes damage from diabetes. Most of us don’t live long enough for the sum of our sugar spikes do do irreparable harm, especially since our body does repair itself if it is not under constant attack. But it seems fair to say that the slower processing of fructose gives a more stable blood sugar. It also seems to be widely accepted that sugar spikes cause a “rebound” which in many people cause feelings of hunger, weakness or tiredness as the blood sugar temporarily go below the usual value.

As a matter of fact, after hard work or exercise fructose will mainly be converted to glycogen, the body’s quick energy reserve, which is stored in the liver and the muscles. This is stuff you want to have lots of, but you can’t. The liver stores about enough for a day’s use, so the only way to store more of it is to burn more of it during the day, that is to say, work harder. On a regular basis.

When the liver’s store of glycogen is filled, however, things take a nasty turn. The same liver will now try to transform the sucrose into fat, or at least triglycerids, an important component of fat. As I have said occasionally, humans suck at making fat, but we excel in storing it. However, sucrose has a better chance at becoming fat than has glucose, lactose, maltose etc. It is a slow process, and a portion of the energy is lost as heat, but eventually some fat is produced. When the body attempts the same with glucose, almost all of it is burned up in the process. So sucrose is worth considering if you, like me, can only eat small quantities of fat due to some problem with absorption or processing of fatty foods. In the end, I don’t live an active enough life for lack of fat to become a problem, so my fructose box is still mostly full, but your fat problems may vary.

Actually most people’s fat problems is that they have too much fat, not too little. And fructose won’t help there. Neither will being American, since this country uses a disproportionate amount of High Fructose Corn Syrup which no other part of the world comes near.

Natural corn syrup contains mostly glucose, but Hight Fructose Corn Syrup has added large amounts of chemically refined fructose. The benefit of this is that fructose tastes sweeter than any other digestible sugar. Ordinary table sugar, which is used as a sweetener in most of the world, contains sucrose which tastes less sweet but breaks down in the body to glucose and fructose. Based on this, one would expect HFCS to be healthier than table sugar, as you can get the same sweetness by adding less. This has not happened though: Instead, Americans have gotten used to their sweets just tasting sweeter than elsewhere.

In an age where few people have manual labor (except when moving, evidently…) the conversion of fructose into fat is a risk factor for obesity. But what is perhaps just as disturbing is that it occupies the liver, which has many important tasks to do in body chemistry. Like alcohol, fructose can overtax the liver eventually and cause lasting damage, although outright death from liver failure is exceedingly rare in both cases. Rather, the liver is less effective in its daily task of neutralizing certain mildly toxic compounds, converting various foodstuffs to their optimal form for use by the body and brain, and storing energy between meals.

So all in all, I think I’ll rather live with feeling a bit hungrier for a few weeks.