Category Archives: Just for Fun

My New Year’s Resolution: Being, not Doing

It’s no secret that most new year’s resolutions fail.  The reason is less well-known: most people resolve to do something differently in the coming year (e.g. lose weight, improve their relationships, get a raise), but make no concrete or detailed plans for how to do it.  The most effective new year’s resolutions are not vague aspirations, but commitments to specific habits.  The reason this works is threefold: first, specific goals are better than vague ones because they let you measure your progress.  If you resolve merely to “eat better”, it can be difficult to tell if you’ve succeeded.  (Better than what?  What does “better” mean?)  If you resolve, on the other hand, to lose 10 pounds (and keep them off–another common pitfall of new year’s resolutions), you have a specific measure of success.

The second reason specific habits are better is the habit part: changes are more effective if they’re consistent.  In addition to specific measures of success, goals that can be broken down into smaller pieces and made into a routine are more effective, because once they’re routine you no longer have to spend conscious effort on them.  Defaults have incredible power for this very reason, and making a commitment into a routine takes advantage of that power.  A new behavior done once is an exception–a new habit becomes part of who you are.

This leads me to the last, and possibly most important reason why commitments to specific habits work better than vague promises of improvement: they act to alter not just your behavior, but your self-image.  This is the same thing that makes hypnosis (and, to a lesser extent, self-affirmations) effective: it changes not just your behavior, but your fundamental conception of who you are.  This is deep magic: a behavior or commitment affected for someone else’s sake will never be as strong as a change in belief.  The most effective way to make a change in your life is to start thinking of yourself as the kind of person who makes that change.  In that sense, then, the most effective resolution is not to ask yourself what you want to do differently, but who you want to be differently.  To that end, here’s my new year’s resolution for 2014:

I resolve that I am an

  • Attentive
  • Hardworking
  • Ambitious
  • Creator[1]

I chose to be Attentive because I’ve noticed recently that I tend to operate on autopilot a lot, not paying full attention to whatever I’m working on.  Sometimes that’s okay, if I’m paying attention to something else (presumably something more important) instead.  But more often these days, I find myself running on autopilot just because I can, and that’s simply lazy.  So, I am resolving to be someone who gives my full attention to whatever it is I’m working on at that moment.

I chose to be Hardworking for similar reasons.  In college, one of the biggest lessons I learned was how to procrastinate on a deadline–to my misfortune, I discovered that I could often get away with simply not doing a lot of the work, as long as I did well enough on tests and other assignments to keep my grade up.  Unfortunately, that’s not how the real world works: if I miss a deadline at work, the project doesn’t just go away at the end of the semester.  So, I’m resolving to be someone who works hard to accomplish whatever I commit to, and to do my best to get it done on time.

I chose to be Ambitious because I want to make an impact on the world someday, and because I look up to and admire people with similar ambitions.  It may be idealistic to want to singlehandedly change the world for the better…but then, only idealists ever have.  So, I’m resolving to be a person who has high expectations for myself, and who’s never satisfied by the status quo.

Finally, I chose to be a Creator because I wanted to re-affirm my commitment to art and invention.  When I was a small child I wanted to be an inventor–someone who brought their imaginings into the world of reality.  As I got older I realized that literally being an inventor was not the only way to do that: it was possible with art and science as well.  What’s important to me is not necessarily the method by which I influence the world around me, what’s important is merely that I do.  So, I am resolving to be a person who uses their mind and hands to make their thoughts visible to the rest of the world, to actively change it for the better.  In other words…to be an artist.

What are your new year’s resolutions?


[1] Yes, I’m aware that this makes me “A HAC[K]

Digging through some old emails I found an article I’d read years ago that said basically this same thing, only better.



Filed under Diary, Just for Fun, Philosophy

Why Do Mirrors Reverse Left and Right?

When you see your reflection in a mirror, why does your right become its left, but top and bottom stay the same?  I’ve seen this question answered a number of different ways, but the explanation that makes the most sense to me is also, I think, the simplest: mirrors don’t reverse left and right.  They reverse front and back.

Since “left” and “right” are subjective,[1] let’s simplify the discussion a little: imagine that you’re facing due north and there’s a mirror in front of you.  If you jump up, your reflection will also jump up–no reversal.  If you step one foot sideways, to the east, your reflection will also step one foot to the east: not reversed.  But if you step south, away from the mirror, your reflection will move north–the opposite direction.

The reason mirrors seem to reverse left and right, but not up and down, is because when looking at our reflection we automatically imagine ourselves in their position–that is, turned around both left-right and front-back.  This habit comes from a lifetime of interacting with other people and having to interpret their “right”, “left”, “front” and “back” in terms of our own.  When we see our reflection, we reflexively identify it as another person, identical to us in every respect, except with all their features on the “other side”–e.g., a mole on the left side of your face is on the right side from your reflection’s “point of view”.  But it is not the mirror that makes this transformation–it’s us, when we mentally turn ourselves around and put ourselves in our reflection’s shoes!  We are mentally reversing our front-back and left-right, but the mirror reverses only the first.

Think about looking at yourself with a video camera.  Here, left-right and front-back are both reversed (if you’re facing your recording, that is–if you’re looking at yourself from the back then nothing will be reversed).  If you move towards the screen (e.g. north), your recording moves in the opposite direction (e.g. south); if you move to your right (e.g. east), your recording still moves in the opposite direction (e.g. west).  The same goes for text printed on a shirt: in a recording, front-back and left-right are both switched, just like they would be on another person, so the text is legible; but in a reflection, only front and back are switched, so–just like a transparency sheet viewed from the wrong direction–the text appears “backwards”.[2]  To prove that the text on your shirt is not reversed left-to-right in a mirror, you could remove the shirt and point it at a bright light so that you can read it from the inside (in other words, the back–but with the right sleeve still on your right and the left sleeve still on your left).  The text will look just like it does in the mirror: front and back reversed, but left and right the same.

Feeling enlightened?  Confused?  Got a better explanation?  Let me hear it in the comments!


[1] As a child, I once asked my parents how people knew what side of the road to drive on, to keep from crashing.  When they told me “you drive on the right”, I was still confused–“whose right?” I thought.  It took me a while to realize that it didn’t matter–if you’re traveling in the other direction, “right” is on the other side.  This is not an intuitive idea.

[2] If the image I linked is confusing you, think about it this way: the text on the transparency is viewed from the front, so it is perfectly readable.  The mirror “sees” the transparency from the back, so from its perspective the text is reversed front-to-back (just as it would be if you were looking at the other side of the transparency).  But the mirror itself reverses front and back when it reflects the text back to you, so the reflection still appears legible because front and back have been reversed twice.

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Filed under Just for Fun, Science

BREAKING NEWS: Obama Actually Muslim, Osama Actually Jew

In our top story today, CIA officials earlier revealed that an extensive, top-secret investigation has concluded that Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th president of the United States of America, not only was not born in the U.S., but is in fact a Muslim extremist who hates America and everything it stands for.

“This was shocking for all of us,” says Zeke Retagent, the CIA operative in charge of the investigation. “But the deeper we dug, the harder it was to deny. There’s no doubt about it–Barack Obama is a terrorist bent on destroying everything this nation holds dear.”

In what some may consider even more shocking news, investigation into what is now being called the “Obama Conspiracy” revealed that Osama bin Laden, long reviled as the founder of al-Qaeda and the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, is in fact a devout orthodox Jew who had nothing to do with the attacks.

“He was really just a scapegoat,” says Retagent, whose investigation uncovered irrefutable evidence that Osama was forced at gunpoint to take responsibility for the attacks. “Obama was the real mastermind, he orchestrated the whole thing. 9/11, the recession, school shootings, the budget crisis, YouTube comments–all Obama’s ideas, brought to fruition through careful planning and a diabolical, systematic undermining of the U.S. government from the inside out.”

When faced with these charges, Obama gave an inspirational and eloquent public denial that was nevertheless soon drowned out by the hisses and boos of the furious crowd. His call for an “appeal to reason, prudence, and common Human sense and decency” came shortly before the crowd broke through the protective police barrier and secret service agents, trampling the man to death. Reports from the scene indicate that in his last moments Obama showed his true colors, shouting “La ilaha illAllah!” (“there is no God but Allah”) and “Damn you infidels to Hell!” When asked why he had ignored Obama’s moving denial and attacked, one man on the scene replied, “Yeah, Obama was pretty good at giving speeches. So was Hitler. You think that’s just a coincidence?”

Soon after Obama’s address it was revealed that Osama bin Laden, long believed to have been killed in a covert U.S. operation (one that dramatically boosted the president’s approval rating), was actually being held in a secret detention facility as leverage to ensure the continued cooperation of al-Qaeda. Osama delivered an official address apologizing for falsely taking responsibility for the attacks on the World Trade Center, claiming a “shameful weakness in the face of death”. He also indicated he harbored no ill will towards the American government, and advocated for a peaceful reconciliation. The alleged terrorist organization al-Qaeda, which was non-violent until Obama militarized it, will return to its former operations of charity work, education advocacy, and weekly Torah readings at their local community center.

The charges against Obama have naturally engendered suspicion against his staff, particularly the now-acting president Joe Biden, who was sworn in soon after Obama’s disastrous statement. According to Mr. Retagent, however, “none of the evidence so far points to Biden. As far as we can tell, Obama was acting alone.” Retagent stressed that the investigation was ongoing, although he went on to say “We don’t really expect to find anything. I mean, come on–his name is ‘Joe Biden.’ That’s about as un-Muslim as it gets.”

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Filed under Just for Fun