Category: Personal

Happy PI Day, Einstein!

Today was Pi Day, the day marked by nerds and mathical folks because the important mathematical constant pi has a value of 3.14. So March 14 = 3/14. Get it?

Anyway, it’s also the birthday of the most famous physicist in the history of the world, Albert Einstein, who was born on this date in 1879.

Albert Einstein at Age 25

Albert Einstein at Age 25

Dr. Einstein was something of a prodigy. At age 26, in 1905, he had what many of his biographers have described as a Miracle Year. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Zurich that year and also published four of his most important and influential papers on the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity, and the equivalence of mass and energy. These established him as a pre-eminent theoretical physicist.

I’m equally fascinated by Einstein’s deep understanding of religion and religiosity. While not religious in the traditional sense, Einstein, if he were alive today, would probably easily accept the label, “spiritual but not religious.” He actually co-authored the book Einstein on Cosmic Religions and Other Opinions and Aphorisms with George Bernard Shaw. He also wrote a famous article for the New York Times Magazine entitled “Science and Religion” which was later collected into my favorite volume of Einstein thought, Ideas and Opinions.

Anyway, I love the coincidence of Pi and Einstein’s birthday.

I’m Back! Almost

Faithful readers of this little corer of the blogosphere may perhaps have noted my absence for the last week or so. I was taken by ambulance to the emergency room last Tuesday afternoon for what turned out to be a very severe infection. After three days, I was transferred to a skilled nursing facility where I’ve spent the last four. I expect to be discharged this weekend and hopefully returning to whatever passes for normalcy in my life a few days thereafter.

Much appreciation to all who offered prayer and energy healing.

It is good to have survived another major health challenge.

Farewell, My Canine Friend

My_EinsteinMy longtime friend, companion and pet dog Albert Einstein Shafer died today. For 15 years, he filled my life and its odd moments with joy, laughter, reminders of what unconditional love looks like and simple Beingness. I will miss his physical form but I will keep him alive in my heart until I too make my transition. And who knows about the Beyond?

The first time I met Einstein was in a pet shop. My family and I had lost a Lahsa named Isaac (yeah, Newton) unexpectedly some time before and I was absolutely resistant to the idea of having another pet. But my wife and daughters were of the opposite persuasion.

On this particular occasion, they asked me to go into a pet store “just so they could show me this cute puppy.” (Note to self: Never believe that line of malarkey again.) Before I knew it, one of the sales reps had thrust this infinitesimal ball of wiggly fur into my hands. My wife and I went into a small area where we put the dog on the ground and watched him frolic a bit. At one point, he found himself struggling to get over my shoe and I was enchanted.

After a suitable time, I said to the dog (Note to self: Never talk to cute puppies directly.), “OK, we have to leave now. Go to your Mommy.” Before I could stand up, my wife had paid for the dog and signed the papers and Little Einstein was ours.

I can’t say I’ve regretted that decision one time.

Goodbye, Little Buddy. Catch you on the other side! And thanks for being who you were and still are in my life.


Pescatarian Report Card

My six-week experiment with Pescatarianism as a dietary lifestyle ended on Friday. I can report that I was 100% faithful to the plan for the entire period, that I didn’t feel deprived in any sense of the word, but that I did find the diet reduced my energy level noticeably and caused some digestive problems which have persisted.

I am sure there are ways to mitigate those effects. But part of my reason for choosing to follow this diet was to avoid having to spend so much time worrying about and analyzing various eating options at every turn. if I couldn’t make the lifestyle essentially automatic and have it work for me, it was clearly not for me. I tend not to pay a lot of attention to the daily minutiae of living.

After further research and thinking, I’ve decided that one source of my problems has been lack of protein intake. I have not had seafood every day (too expensive), relying instead on other vegetarian sources of protein, which I have apparently not eaten in sufficient quantities (or perhaps combinations) to achieve my desired result.

I spent some time talking with various friends and acquaintances about my findings, read quite a large number of online resources, and decided to make a modest revision to my pescatarian regime. One day each week, I will allow myself to eat meat of some sort in an effort to boost protein intake without having to spend a lot of time and effort trying to figure out how to do that.

When I do eat meat, I am going to make sure it is meat I really enjoy.

I’m going to try this for another six weeks, monitoring the results, and then reassess.

Hello and Thanks for All the Fish

Proud Pescatarian LogoToday I am embarking on a 60-day trial return to my former eating lifestyle, pescatarianism. This is a variant on vegetarianism (which it decidedly is not) in which I choose foods from the lacto-ovo (cheese and eggs OK) lifestyle and add seafood. So my focus will be on vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains and fish.

I came to this decision in the early morning hours today as I was meditating on my health and contemplating my obligations as a member of the human race.

Last evening I had a slightly scary experience of what I learned is called a “hypertensive urgency.” At first, I thought it was a hypertensive emergency, which would have had me call 911 for transport to the emergency room. But the secondary symptom I had was, I was able to determine with meditative insight, not shortness of breath but rather gas caused by an ill-advised eating choice I’d made. Still, my blood pressure was 210/75, well above the safe upper limit of 180 my doctor wants me to stay below.

<Family-only interest alert>

I took some gas relief medication and meditated for 15 minutes focusing on my blood pressure and my cardio-vascular system. At the end of that time, my BP was down to 164/55 but the breathing problem was only slightly better. 30 minutes later, the BP had shot back up to 201/66 but the breathing was easing. I did another relaxation exercise and 15 minutes later the BP was 145/58 and my breathing was normal.

</Family-only interest alert>

I awoke about 3:30 a.m. which is not entirely uncommon for me. I decided to spend some meditation time on my health. Over the course of the next 20 or so minutes, I got a strong message from Spirit that I would greatly benefit by improving my diet. At one point, I had been a pretty strict pescatarian, in fact fairly close to vegetarian, only eating fish once or twice a week. But as happens when we don’t do things mindfully, I had allowed my diet to slip back into old, unhealthy patterns.

So I decided that I’ll try a very regulated pescatarian diet for 60 days and see how I feel at the end of that time.

I won’t bore you with daily or even weekly updates but I will add posts here if and when new insights or information occur to me.

As it happens, this lifestyle also has the potential to significantly reduce my environmental impact. Production of beef, pork and to a lesser extent poultry requires the use of many natural resources in much larger proportions than that required to produce the same amount of nutritional value in fish and plants. So eating this way will make a contribution, however small, to reducing the effect of global climate change.

Stay tuned. Or not. 😀

A Strange Sight

walking-reading-bookI saw a strange, strange sight on my way to my office this afternoon. It’s something I thought I’d never see again as long as I lived.

There was this man walking along the sidewalk. He was quite young, probably a student at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. His eyes were down, fixated on what was in his hands.

But what was in his hands was not a smartphone. It wasn’t a tablet, either. Nope, this guy was walking along on a sunny but chill afternoon reading a book! I mean, an honest-to-goodness, printed and bound, physically real book printed on dead trees! I almost slammed on my brakes!

it’s good to know that reading and books aren’t dead.



Spock is Dead

Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame died today.

Mr. Spock as played by Leonard Nimoy, who died Feb 27, 2015, at age 83

Mr. Spock as played by Leonard Nimoy, who died Feb 27, 2015, at age 83

Leonard Nimoy, who played the role of the coolly logical alien with the one-word name, died at the age of 83 in his Southern California home. The cause of death was advanced-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). That is the disease that ultimately killed my mother and with which I have recently been tentatively diagnosed, so it hits even closer to home that it otherwise would have.

Mr. Spock was my favorite Star Trek character. I always had an inner image of myself as a resolutely rational man. I was an atheist because rational people didn’t believe in religious or spiritual mumbo-jumbo. In high school, I’d set my sights on becoming one of the first professional xenobiologists, thinking about and studying alien life forms.

More recently, Nimoy had made an off-screen voice appearance on my favorite sitcom of all time, “The Big Bang Theory,” whose protagonists are also fans of his.

This New York Times obituary was a great read and brought up a lot of memories of the non-Spock Nimoy, including his stint on another of my favorite TV series, “Mission: Impossible.”

So Spock goes on to greater adventures and I can only say to the great man who played him, “Live long and prosper.”


How I Got Interested in ETI

(NOTE: This was originally part of my post on the November 2014 European Space Agency Rosetta/Philae mission. After reading it, I decided it was far too detailed for what most people who might be interested in that piece would want to know. So I broke it into this separate autobiographical sketch. If you read it and are interested, then you might want to check out the post of which it was originally a part.)

It was 1962. I was about to graduate from high school at the somewhat unusually young age of 17 years, 3 months. I was viewed by friends, teachers and family as something of a genius, a bit too old to be a prodigy but pretty damn smart nonetheless. I never saw myself quite in that light but I did know I was good at thinking, problem-solving and writing. That year, my high school had it first-ever National Merit Scholarship finalists and I was one of the three. When we were being interviewed for the local paper, the reporter asked all of us what our career aspirations were.

I had long since decided I wanted to be a xenobiologist (a word you still can’t find on, though its root, xenobiology is defined there). I had never heard the word; nor did I know anyone who was then interested in the “field”. But I knew I spent an inordinate amount of time wondering what life forms on other planets might look like and how it might come into existence and what it might do all day. I reasoned that if such life forms were based on other elements than carbon, “life” might have to be redefined. And if that were the case, then “life” might well exist in billions of places in the universe.

You’re probably too young to remember, but in October 1957, the demon Soviet Union “won” the race to space with the launch of Sputnik. The United States launched its first satellite, Explorer I, in January of the following year but in the intervening period, the Soviets launched a second satellite, Sputnik 2. (A bit of irony there; “Sputnik” translates to Satellite 1″, so Sputnik 2 translates to “Satellite 1 2”.)

Less than five years later, there I was, a life-long sci-fi buff, author of a dozen or so short stories in the genre in my own right, having built my first computer (a pegboard-and-metal-clip-and-light-bulb contraption that a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena helped me with when I was a member of the local Explorer Scouts). I was the de facto leader of a group of about 12 precocious science fiction fans who held the position that s-f was the best predictor of science, and probably always would be.

So, back to the interview. When the reporter asked me what I wanted to be, I said, “xenobiologist.” She couldn’t understand. She asked me to spell it. She asked me to explain it. The more I tried, the more tongue-tied I became. After a couple of minutes of this — my fellow scholarship finalists snickering at my dilemma — I decided to switch tactics. “Actually, I’m just joking with you. I really want to be a lawyer.”

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief at the return to familiarity and we concluded the interview.

The next day when the story came out in the newspaper, my father was absolutely furious at me. “They’re giving science scholarships out like water, you idiot!” he literally screamed at me over dinner. “You could write your ticket to any science university in the country…hell, in the WORLD…and you say you want to be another dime-a-dozen lawyer? How the hell do you expect me to afford college now?”

I hadn’t thought about that. But in that sequence of events, my interest in xeniobiology died a quiet death. (A grade of “F” in my first-semester chemistry class at the University of Michigan didn’t help.) Looking back, I gave up on my inexplicable dream in those few weeks and nothing has been the same since. (Not that I’d change my life for any of that now, but there were times in the 1960’s and 1970’s when I sure regretted that pressured choice.)

How I Tamed the gMail Beast…and You Can, Too!

Google gMail LogoYesterday, I posted an entry on this blog about having tamed the Gmail beast. I hope it didn’t come across as too much gloating, but it’s been a long time coming.

Today, I thought I would share briefly how I did this. The process is divided into two steps.

Step one: clear your inbox

To begin with, I had far more emails in my inbox then you are likely ever to see. I’m serious. It’s so embarrassing, that I’m not going to tell you how many there were. Suffice to say it was in the tens of thousands So where to start?

I made an arbitrary decision that any email, whether I had opened it or not, that had been sitting in my inbox for more than 30 days was likely to be of little or no value. I realize that cutoff date may not work for you. That’s fine. Just come up with some age for emails that marks them as stale. Then, I simply mass deleted all of them. In my case, I found a Google Apps script that, with some modification, did this job for me. You may or may not need such a script, depending on how many emails you have to get rid of. If you do, I would refer you to this site, which not only teaches you how to script your Gmail, it also provides numerous sample scripts which you can use as is or modify to suit your needs. Great site.

After I ran that script, I had a few thousand remaining emails to deal with. It took me about two hours, but I finally dealt with all of those by either filing them or deleting them. (In a little bit, I will tell you what my ongoing process is for dealing with email. These steps are derived from that process.)

Next, I set up a procedure for dealing with my most troublesome category of email: long, interesting pieces that I want to read, but in the interest of efficiency, not right now. After a good bit of exploration, I decided to use Evernote to solve this problem. I simply created a new notebook in my premium Evernote account called “ReadLater”.  It turned out that Evernote, at least for premium accounts, includes an email address to which you can send items to be stored in your notebooks. How cool is that? In addition, by modifying the subject line in your emails, you can direct an emailed item to a specific notebook.

Step two: handle each email once.

Many years ago, well before computers became commonplace, a business coach gave me a valuable tip. “Never handle any piece of paper twice,” he said. Over the years, I have tried, not always successfully, to follow that advice. But I realized in reviewing my email habits, that I was violating the principle over and over. I realized then that it was time to systematize my interaction with my inbox to eliminate, or at least drastically reduce, that inefficient pattern.

So, starting with a clean inbox, I decided that I would look at each incoming email that Gmail, based on many years of experience with my preferences, determined was important, and decide, based on a quick scan of the sender, subject, and excerpt displayed in my inbox, how to dispose of each email.

Many, I could delete without much thought. (Clearly, I need to unsubscribe from some things!)

Some I could see required a fairly easy response, or needed an immediate action. Those I opened and dealt with appropriately.

Email that was primarily informational in nature I found fell into two categories: stuff I wanted to file for later retrieval, and stuff I wanted to read completely, but not urgently. Items that fell into the first category I drag to a Gmail folder to label them so that I can find them when I need them. Items that fell into the second category are those I referred to earlier as my main email nemesis. But now, dealing with these is a piece of cake. I simply forward them to my Evernote account to be read later and delete them. Problem solved.

Since I can tke all of these actions on a relatively small number of emails fairly quickly, I’m spending far less time managing my email more effectively than ever.

It remains to be seen how long this system will work for me, but I’m pretty excited at the prospects.


I Tamed the gMail Beast!

Google ChromeScreenSnapz010

Check that out, would you? In case you can’t make out the fine type, it says:

“Woohoo! You’ve read all the important messages in your inbox.”

Nothing important and unread. Nothing important and read. An empty Important inbox in gMail. First time ever, I think. And I’ve been using gMail at least four years.

How’d I do it?

Really simple. It’s a combination of tactics. I’ll be posting a more detailed guide soon, but for now, here’s the shorthand:

  1. Delete all email in the Inbox that is older than some arbitrary value (I chose 30 days).
  2. Go through and manually deal with that email by deleting, filing or marking it to be read later.
  3. When your Inbox is empty, you’re ready to start handling your email strategically instead of letting it handle you.

Watch this space. More to come.