Posts by D

July Update – Current Employment

July 15th, 2013
posted by

Current Employment

Early this year, I left Chess.com after just over four years spent teaching, entertaining, designing features, marketing, and working with the chess community. After such a long period of working long hours, almost without a break, I decided to take a bit of a break and consider what I wanted to do next with my life.

Although I am no longer as optimistic as I was then about my talents, my child-hood dream was to be a writer, and I concluded that this was the time to dedicate myself to that endeavor.

It’s been a couple months now, and here are two things I’ve found:
– Working on two projects at once is working out just as well as I imagined: I don’t lose my focus by having 8 things to think about; nor do I get bored and frustrated being forced to plug away at a single thing all the time.
– Writing is even harder than I imagined, and in both 4-hour and 3-hour blocks I noticed a sharp decline in productivity along with fatigue towards the end. Best has been 1.5-2 hours at a time. After 20-30 minutes of garden work, I’m good to get back at it.

The two projects I am currently working on are:
– A collection of essays, as is pretty obvious from this site itself. I am publishing drafts of the essays up here for feedback.
– A novel, in collaboration with a friend. We alternate writing chapters between meetings where we plot out the next several chapters, discuss character developments, and give each other feedback on what we have written so far.

The other projects that I have in mind to possibly get to at some point include:
– a non-fiction book about the chess world (for which I have more than 50% of the first draft).
– a collection of rap songs on social issues
– a collection of rap songs about the chess world
– a collection of short stories (fiction)
– a novel

I should add that not only has writing proven extremely challenging, but it has been interesting and rewarding!

The other project that has been taking some of my time is learning to grow food– one of the first practical skills I’ve ever sought to acquire. First we planted seedlings in egg cartons; then friends gifted us a bunch of small starter plants. We build a planter, and some other make-shift plant boxes, bought some soil to help get started, and then tended the plants carefully for two months. Almost all of them have been thriving– lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mint, basil, squash, green beans, kale… It has been a deeply satisfying experience both to nurture cute buds all the way to adult plants nearly my size, and to gather food in our yard and eat it. I feel much more like a living being, using my body and mind, than I did before leading a 99% intellectual (and largely online) existence.

Celebrating Independence

July 5th, 2013
posted by

Yesterday (July 3rd) on a bus I overheard a person on their cell phone: “I’m not celebrating that! My ancestors were slaves, man, we didn’t get any kind of independence!” I relayed this perspective to a friend, and their response was: “yeah, not only the slaves, but very few people gained any real independence or freedom from the American Revolution; basically if you were a property owner who was paying taxes, those are the only people who were gaining anything.” This makes sense; the government soon established as the United States of America did not extend basic rights to the majority of people living there, so we may presume that those revolting from England and forming that new nation were a local elite, simply fighting with the elites in England over the profits of colonial production.

I went to have a new read of the Declaration of Independence, and found it just as beautiful as ever: in the succinct and elegant formulations of the essential equality and freedom of all people and the dependence of government on the will of the people rather than vice versa, the writing hits nary a wrong note, and gives no indication that anyone is not included in “all Men.” Perhaps it was just an understanding at the time that “all Men” meant all land-owning white males? Sometimes I use the word “man” to mean humankind without respect to gender in sentences where “human” or “mankind” does not fit well.

I thought I’d do a little investigation[1] into the signatories of the Declaration of Independence hoping thereby to illuminate whether this was a milestone to be celebrated or just another squabble among the ruling elites. Along with many fascinating and diverse lives, I found a couple overwhelming patterns. They were all white males, and pretty much all land-owners. Every one of them was involved in politics to some extent, but beyond that, the most common occupations were law (over 50%), followed by plantation-owner and merchant. So while the group included fast friends and bitter rivals, slave owners and a couple abolitionists, it is fair to say that it was an assemblage of the bourgeoisie of the day. If I had to guess, I would say they had both fine ideas and the economic interests of their friends and families in their minds as they put forward the revered Declaration. So to me this is still an event to study, before I decide whether or not to celebrate it. I also wonder if there are other days in U.S. history that we should be celebrating more.

Footnotes

  1. Thank you, Wikipedia! []

1 Morning, 3 Conversations, 1 Conclusion

June 30th, 2013
posted by

My friend and I had planned to take a train together to the south Peninsula where we both worked. He texted me as I waited at the train station: “I had to drive, because I was afraid walking I might miss the train.” He was a few minutes late because he’d had trouble getting up that morning, and we drove in his car rather than waiting for the next train, because he was afraid of being late to work.

As I rode with Friend 1, I had the following text exchange with a mutual friend:
Friend 2: “I’m so sleepy! How r u”
Me: “hey. head hurts so much. left home at 7 to head to mtv.”

By 8:15 am, we were all at work, and another friend was texting me from her med school class:
Friend 3: “just spilled my snack on the floor. i am so sleepy. in class. so sleepy.”
Me: “my head hurts too…”
F3: “i can’t conco;kkkkk”
F3: “ooops i cant concentrate”
M: “ouch”
F3: “i know”
“i am going to sleep alot tonight”
M: “sounds good”
“i am going to take a bath tonight
and then sleeeeeep”

This longer conversation elaborates on what is actually going on in each of the other brief interactions: people are not sleeping enough. Not sleeping enough has dire consequences: lowered intelligence, long-term memory loss, poor reflexes, irritability and lack of patience in human interactions, lack of energy for family and community, susceptibility to indoctrination, and the list goes on. In a 2006 paper, the Institute of Medicine claim that sleep loss is associated with a range of health problems including: hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke.[1] As one example of the impact on our society: “Almost 20% of serious car crash injuries in the general population are associated with driver sleepiness.” Or as you see in the above conversation, you lose the ability to text accurately, the ability to use your fingers to move snacks from a bag to your mouth, and the ability to concentrate.

So was this just a coincidental morning, or is there a pattern? If so, why are people not sleeping enough? What can we do to correct the situation?

Well, I’m glad you asked, because I’m writing specifically to answer those questions.

1) This was no coincidence. I am tired at least 9 days out of 10. I would say that among 20-40 year old housemates that I have had in the last couple years, that rate would be about 8/10 or more. I can only think of one person (who did not have a job or go to school), who was not consistently tired. Think of the people you know well and interact with on a daily basis– what percentage of them seem tired? If this was the one time that Friend 3 or I had felt tired, would we be talking about plans to sleep with all the anticipation of seeing your favorite band live for the first time? No.
Think of how much coffee is drunk in the U.S. (the 1/3 of Americans who drink coffee average over 3 cups per day[2] ). Think of how common “energy” drinks have become.[3] Think of the assumptions made in the “5-hour Energy” commercials[4] : that everyone is so tired that they can not make it through their day without a chemical boost of some kind. This is a pervasive problem: our health, sanity, intelligence, and more are at risk because of sleep deprivation. A CDC survey of adults in 12 states had the following self-reported results: 35% sleep less than 7 hours per night, 38% had unintentionally fallen asleep during the day within the preceding month, and 5% had fallen asleep while driving within that same 30 days.[5]

2) Why don’t people sleep enough? You know before I even say it: they’re out partying. The common folk are just too intent on socializing and having a nice easy time of it to get around to sleeping. No wait– that’s right, it’s WORK. There are a couple reasons Americans work too hard.
First, the demands placed on American workers have been escalating the last few decades. 27% work more than forty hours/week; on top of which we average 51 minutes commuting to and from work, and hours of work-related tasks from home; 5% work two jobs.[6] Think again about those 5-hour energy commercials– why are the subjects so tired? Because they are stuck at work endlessly. The one person I know well who doesn’t suffer from chronic sleep deprivation? A man without a job. As people are squeezed to a lower and lower standard of living, they become ever more desperate for a job. Which means that on the one hand they will work for lower pay or on the other hand they will do *more* work for the same pay.
Companies like 5-hour Energy, which claim to be helping you get through that work day, are actually cynically and knowingly forcing you to work longer days. By creating a new standard of how hard people can work, they force everyone to work longer in order to compete with the first people who start taking these drugs. Is there someone out there who is willing to do your job all year without taking a vacation? Then you’d better not take a vacation if you want to keep that job.
Generalizing, there is a power dynamic between workers and employers (corporations, generally). As the balance of power shifts ever further in favor of corporations, they are in a position to ask ever more of workers, while workers are in a position to acquiesce to ever more. This is the primary underlying cause of ever greater sleep problems: the increasing power of corporations.
The second reason, less important since it primarily affects the small middle class, is ambition. These self-motivated individuals want to attend a ‘highly ranked’ school, work at a ‘highly ranked’ firm, get a promotion sooner, etc. There are often professional hurdles to get where you want, such as 3 years of 90-hour/week slave labor as a resident if you want to be a doctor. Many of these people would not self-identify as ambitious; they have just been following a prescribed path laid before them at a young age. But the behavior they exhibit is goal-oriented, fatalistic, and elitist: they *must* reach some elite position. And the tiering of positions along with the hard work of these over-achievers is used to chasten others for not working hard enough, and to move the blame from the employers to the employees when their job does not treat them well.

3) Once you’ve asked the right questions, and analyzed a situation, the answers have a way of emerging. There are a few things we can do to unravel this problem. First, we can foster a better culture, valuing thoughtfulness and devaluing the trappings of elitism; placing importance on what we do, and less importance on where we get.
The two most crucial possible remedies are similar and mutually reinforcing, so it’s hard to say in which order they should be pursued. We need to work less, and we need to reduce the power of corporations. Each of these would lead naturally to the other: if we all worked less, corporations would control less and less of our lives, extract less profit from us, and be forced to treat us better, since we were no longer agreeing to as horrible terms of exploitation. Thus their power would be decreased. On the other hand, if we lowered the power of corporations (e.g. by breaking them into smaller pieces, or by having actual labor laws (40 hour work week?), or by convicting them and punishing them for their crimes), they would not be able to force people to work as long, and thus people would find time to sleep more.
Another easy thing we can all do is pass on the stimulants like caffeine; whatever extra they allow us to do is almost surely less valuable than sleeping. When we feel fatigue or pain or a headache, this is an important message from our body, which we should heed.

I hope you understood this; if not, one of us needs to sleeeeeep a lot tonight :-)

Footnotes

  1. Institute of Medicine. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2006. []
  2. CoffeeResearch.Org []
  3. 400 Million gallons in USA in 2010; 1.2 gallons/person []
  4. here’s one if you haven’t seen them []
  5. CDC. Insufficient Sleep is a Public Health Epidemic []
  6. US Census []