goldkin: goldkin tsa whuh (tsa whuh)
Tonight, I lost $2.35 on the streets of San Francisco to what was likely a professional busker.* Surprisingly, I do not regret the transaction at all; as below, it gave me the opportunity to analyze my own social vulnerabilities while paying a professional for his experience.

While returning from a late meal at 11:25PM, a lanky fellow in his late twenties or early thirties approached me wearing a heavy backpack, clean denim jeans, and a dark T-shirt. He initially asked me for bus fare, claiming that he was a lost college student, and repeatedly stating that it wasn't for drug money as he "wasn't a druggie." Despite his plea, I declined his initial request on impulse.

At this point, he thanked me for my time and left in the direction of the route 36 bus that had just appeared on Third and Market, which had just stopped on its northeasternly journey. It was empty, sans the bus driver, and he started to politely tap on the door to hail the driver without sparing a single look back towards me. It was at this point that I decided his story had a chance of being genuine; after all, he had taken many of the right steps to confirm his story and had maintained consistency after being greylisted. At this point, I figured that the cost of a potential miss at philanthropy on my psychological state was higher than the cost of his bus fare, and if I were wrong, it would still make for an excellent story.

After money changed hands, he gave me additional routing information. As the story went, he wished to take "the 30" bus to his house in Monteca, repeatedly stating that he had only been here for 7 days and didn't know any of the routes. Neither did I, but a quick search on Google confirmed the route was correct and had a timetable one block away to take him where he needed to go. At this point, I was given a profuse showing of relief and an impromptu hug (hey, this is San Francisco), and he quickly departed. I smelled no odor of any drugs on him, so at that point, I assumed he was probably clean.

In fact, I would have been completely convinced his story was genuine, until he hailed a pickup truck and could loudly be heard giving his thanks to the driver from across the intersection, plausibly for the same story.

Did I get ripped off? Probably. But it was worth it, to analyze exactly what social engineering was required to trigger compassion over the possibility of physical loss. Either way, he got paid for his trouble, and I left the transaction wiser than before.

* I initially reported $2.25, but I'd forgotten that a dime had slipped into my grasp in my rapid grab for pocket change.
goldkin: i has book (goldkin bookly)
For the past month and a half, I've been listening to lectures from The Great Courses as an experiment passed down through my family. My father is an avid customer of theirs of six or seven years now, and I only just now decided to invest in their merchandise for the first time after one of their brochures mistakenly showed up in my mailbox addressed to him.

I've really been liking the experience so far. Each lecture series is divided into a set of audio or video lectures of 30-45 minutes apiece, usually in an even number of installments priced at around $5-10 per lecture. This is, however, rarely the going rate. The Teaching Company is entirely up front about the fact that the sales price -- typically, 70% off -- is the actual price they expect customers to pay for any given lecture series. Furthermore, RetailMeNot keeps a running catalog of their additional promotions that push the price even lower. So, it's common for me to get a 24-lecture course with an anchor cost of, say, $129.95, for $19.95 after sales and additional deals.

What's notable is how much better the lectures are than what you find on iTunes U or large swathes of MIT OpenCourseWare. This isn't to say that the content or discipline areas are notably different. Rather, the attention paid to detail, teaching excellence, and production values are much higher, and the result is a much more enjoyable experience that I can absorb very quickly.

The reasons for this is are interesting. Unlike free teaching initiatives that put their course content out there for the world to see (and in many cases, as an afterthought), The Great Courses selects only for professors that have established reputations in teaching excellence instead of just strength of publications. They then invite these professors to craft courses built solely for individual learners interested in surveying the material, or for those learners whom want a deeper understanding of their desired subject areas, focusing on the lecture content instead of their courses' homework and project components. This injects an element that many of the lectures I've listened to from other sources have trouble conveying -- genuine passion and intrigue for the material -- that might otherwise get filtered out or fail to make it to students due to the rigors of repetition and research priorities.

I find that, while this isn't a replacement for the research and structured lesson plans of a good course found in Coursera, Udacity, OpenCourseWare, MITx, or any of the other initiatives to make online learning accessible, that it fills the need for the introductory stages of learning to enjoy new subjects of study. I find that to be uniquely valuable, amidst the increasing degrees of noise and uncertainty in where and how to study.

For, they're not just teaching me new information that I didn't know previously, but rather, how to value and love the study of it as well. This ensures that as a self-learner, I will be more proactive and empowered to tackle the material in deeper research, and I believe that makes all the difference.
goldkin: i has book (Default)
Over the past few weeks, a strange sense of peace has settled its way into my life. I'm not sure what to make of it, but it's brought gifts and emotions that I'd thought long since forgotten.

This is due, in part, to reprising my spiritual practice, taking up meditation (read: picking up where I left off), and otherwise simplifying my outlook on life. It's also due to crafting a more relaxed schedule at work and easing my life at home. All of this has reminded me just how much I value simplification, and exactly why I care about Zen the ways I do.*

Most startling of all, I find myself genuinely happy. This snuck up on me entirely without warning, implying that I require surprisingly little to just enjoy my surroundings, my time, and my method of living life. And it's left me entirely without posting buffer as a result, implying I'd spent far too much time complaining and far too little writing posts like this one.

So, it's interesting that I'd be jarred out of this state of complacency peace-of-mind by an interview offer from Amazon. What's there isn't a bad fit by any means, but it's reminded me both of my weaknesses in the market, and the sheer fact that I don't care very much about them.

I guess where I'm going with this is, I'm finally seeing things from the other side. Whereas I spent the previous year looking down at everything I'd left behind, or forgotten, or generally failed to do in the past decade from an external perspective, now I'm spending time looking forward from right here and now. I'm finding that I require very little to just enjoy being myself, and in fact, I'm genuinely happy right where I am.

The promise of Better Things, Higher Income, or Greater Perks just isn't what I'm driven by at all. In fact, it's entirely antithetical to my outlook on life.

As I sit here typing this, I find that I have little or no drive for external reward whatsoever. I suppose I'm much more introverted than I'd originally gave myself credit for, and because of it, am more interested in the intrinsic rewards of healthy reading, meditation, and spiritual practice.

In other words, even though I have a pay raise waving in my face, I don't require it. I'm happy where I am. And even though I doubt I'd make it in (my algorithmic theory is depressingly weak by market standards), I find that I actually enjoy where I work right now, making the whole issue moot.

This isn't to say that I'm uninterested in mental or spiritual growth. Rather, I acknowledge that these goals have no tie to the externalities of that market and are entirely my own. I'm very interested in brushing up on my higher order math and algorithmic theory, for instance -- not because it'll gain me a high paying job at some future point in the market, but because I'm genuinely intrigued by the simplicity of complex problems and in working wonders with very simple tools. And I'm very interested in keeping my spiritual practices, not because I think they'll give me some attainable reward, but because they offer the balance, simplicity, and happiness that I've striven for my entire life.

In other words, it's no longer about benchmarking myself against other people. In fact, it never has been. I simply needed to inspect my life for its base elements and realize: I'm exactly where I want to be.

So, what's next? I'm not really sure. Whatever it is, I'm sure I'll enjoy it. :)

* Zen being my significant other. She rather likes the name, even though it causes Much Confusion as I bring other forms of Zen into my life.

October 2015

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