Are you being overserved?

I recently read Bob Newhart's memoirs, I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This, published in 2006.  If you like Bob Newhart, you'll like this book.  It goes over his career, from how he got into the comedy business to the movies and television shows he did.  He includes some of his early material that was on his comedy albums, as well.

The book is enjoyable, but there is one thing in it that kind of bothered me.  Not a big deal, really, just a nitpick on my part.  He tells an anecdote from when he was working in a movie.  He explains how he went out with some of the cast one night after filming and got drunk. The next day he was unexpectedly called in to shoot a scene, and he was feeling terrible with a hangover, but the director thought he nailed the scene the way he wanted him to. 

Now, actually, Bob doesn't say he got drunk.  Instead, he says that at some point he realized that he had been overserved.  "Overserved"?   He was the one who was ordering drinks and drinking them.  "Overserved" makes it sound like it wasn't his fault that he got drunk--it was the bartender's fault. 

 Now I realize that when one drinks, it's not hard to make bad judgements and drink too much, but that doesn't relieve one of the responsibility for getting or being drunk.  But it really wasn't the bartender's fault; it was Bob's fault.

Admittedly, this is a small part of the anecdote, and an even smaller part of the book as a whole.  I still recommend the book for anyone who likes Bob Newhart or good comedy.  That word just stuck in my mind even after I had read the book, and I thought I would comment on it.  After all, what's a blog for, if not for me to say what's on my mind?


Safe, Homemade Eggnog

Happy Holidays! I like eggnog, but it's expensive to buy. So, as I'm in the habit of doing, I looked up eggnog recipes on the internet, and instead of following any particular recipe, I took the general gist of them to make up my own eggnog.

Essentially, you want to mix one cup of milk, cream, or half-and-half (or some combination of these) with one egg. Of course, you add sugar (I like to use brown sugar instead of regular sugar), cinnamon and vanilla, and why not? Most recipes call for a bit of salt, although I'm not sure what the salt does for it. Stir it all up good, and let it sit in the refrigerator until chilled.

The problem with most eggnog recipes is that it calls for raw eggs. Raw eggs are generally safe to eat, but I have heard that there is a 1 in 100 chance of encountering bacteria in raw eggs that will make you sick. The solution is to this problem is to gently heat the eggnog mixture to kill the bacteria. From what I've read, it needs to reach 160 degrees to kill any possible bacteria. Be sure to stir occasionally to keep the sugar from settling and burning on the bottom of the pan. Burned eggnog isn't quite so tasty. Then chill it as before.

I had been mixing milk with cream and/or half-and-half, or evaporated milk to make the eggnog a bit thicker, but cooking it will make it thicker, too, and helps give it that yellowish color that commercial eggnogs have.

This will make a thick, rich eggnog, so go easy on it, for the sake of your waistline. Or have eggnog for breakfast instead of your normal fare.


For extra flavor, add in some bananas and/or strawberries into the mix. Strawberry Banana Eggnog is especially tasty, and the fruit makes it a bit healthier, too.

It's funny how eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon figure in a variety of foods. One simple variation to the eggnog recipe is to add corn starch to it to thicken it up even more, and viola! You've just made pudding instead of eggnog. Add the bananas and it's banana pudding instead of vanilla pudding.

Or use less milk in the mixture, and you can then dip bread in the mixture and fry it in a pan for french toast. Brown it on both sides, top it with powdered sugar and syrup. Or as before, top it with bananas or strawberries

Do you see what I mean? I'm no expert at cooking, but if you can get the general idea behind a recipe, then it's easy to eyeball the ingredients instead of scrupulously measuring everything, and you can work on different variations to the basic recipe. Just remember that if you do a lot of tasting while it's cooking, then cut down accordingly on the actual meal portion when it's done!


Happiness and the Nature of Man

So, I'm currently reading a book called Work and the Nature of Man, by Frederick Herzberg. This is another used book I picked up at a thrift store a few years ago, but I'm only now getting around to reading. Yes, I'm bad about not reading books right away. I've read a lot of books over my lifetime, but even so, you would not want to see my piles of unread books just gathering dust, waiting for me to pick them up.

Anyway, Frederick Herzberg was a psychologist who had this theory about workers and satisfaction in the workplace. He called it the Motivation-Hygiene theory, but it is also referred to as the Two-Factor Theory. Essentially, he says one set of factors lead to dissatisfaction in the workplace, while an entirely different set of factors lead to satisfaction in the workplace, as opposed to one set of factors that are on a continuum from satisfaction to dissatisfaction.

Read the above links for more details, but essentially, the dissatisfaction factors relate to physiological factors, or factors involving comfort and the avoidance of pain. The satisfaction factors deal with psychological factors, or factors involving accomplishments and self-actualization of the individual.

While Herzberg was focused on workplace or job satisfaction, his theory would seem to apply to general satisfaction or happiness, as well, and not just in our jobs. Herzberg himself seems to realize this, and at one point talks about what's wrong with monasticism or asceticism.

People basically have two types of needs. The first is simply taking care of material needs, to avoid pain, hunger, and other discomforts--these are physiological needs. The second set of needs involve psychological growth and development--things relating to learning, competency, goal-setting and accomplishment (or achievement). In short, factors relating to the self-actualization of the individual.

Merely meeting one's physical needs only leads to avoiding pain and discomfort, i.e., avoiding dissatisfaction, but it does not lead to satisfaction. Ascetics, realizing this, think that avoiding materialistic comforts will lead to happiness. This is flawed according to Herzberg, because it ignores the psychological needs that are necessary to real satisfaction.

So the old saying, "money can't buy happiness," seems to be true. Money can buy material comforts, ensuring that we avoid the dissatisfaction of pain and discomort, but money cannot "buy" competence, true accomplishment or achievement, or self-actualization, since that requires psychological development and growth.


What Is Music?

Most people like music of some kind, even if they are not musicians themselves. But not everybody likes the same kinds of music. So what is music? Why do we like some kinds of music but not others?

Frankly, I'm not sure I can provide good answers, but I know where to start. I define music in a very broad and basic way: music is any sound or set of sounds intended for aesthetic pleasure. Pretty vague, eh?

So let's be more specific. Sounds are used in a variety of ways and situations. A car horn is honked, a doorbell rings, a computer beeps, or a phone rings. These sounds are not primarily intended to be music, but to indicate something--someone's at the door, someone's calling, the computer has a problem, or you've cut a driver off in traffic. But of course, you've probably heard a fancy doorbell, and who hasn't heard any number of cell phone ringtones? Their musical aspect is secondary, though, to their primary purpose.

So when a garage band gets together, or an orchestra performs, the primary purpose is for the listening pleasure of their audience. Whether or not the band is good is a secondary question, the intent is there. Even thirty seconds of silence could be considered "music" if a composer intends it for aesthetic pleasure (see John Cage's 4'33" for example).

While we commonly listen to rock, country, jazz, classical, showtunes, etc, with clearly defined instruments, parts, and musical construction (melody, harmony, rhythm, etc.), usually based on the 12-tone system, much more variety is possible in music. While I'm very fond of artists like Genesis, Steely Dan, and Christopher Cross, more experimental artists like Tangerine Dream and Ned Lagin have created music that is undeniably different from what most people are used to, but which must be considered music, nonetheless, at least by my definition. Whether you like it or not is a different question.

Which brings me to another point: familiarity. Music in general seems to be pleasing to us because of pattern recognition--this is especially true with pop music, but even complex classical works are based upon a pattern that can be discerned, even if only after several listenings.

Of course, thanks to modern technology like multi-track recording and digital processing, even a modern pop song can be very sonically complex, although not in the same way as a Bach concerto. When the rock band Asia came out with their debut album in 1982, one of its impressive technological features was that it was recorded with 32 tracks (for a 4-man rock band, mind you).

On top of pattern recognition, though, is simple repetition. We often tend to like songs more after we've heard them a few times. Much commercial radioplay was based upon heavy rotation of popular songs, but were they in heavy rotation because they were popular, or were they popular because they were in heavy rotation?

One of my early attempts to understand popular music basically just stated that people want to hear what they are already familiar with, but with some slight difference or novelty to keep it interesting. An interesting idea, but ultimately, one that fails to consider the wide variety of musical backgrounds that people come from.


Intellectual Property and Theft

There's quite a controversy brewing over intellectual property (IP) these days, thanks to the computer and the internet. Music companies and movie companies want to preserve and increase their profits, and think that illegal downloading of music and movies is depriving them of revenues.

I've argued before that there is not necessarily a one-to-one relationship between an illegal download and a lost sale. It's quite possible that someone would download a file where they would not be willing to pay the full retail price for an album or movie. Or someone might download it, and then decide they like it enough that they do go ahead and buy it, and/or recommend it to friends who may also buy it. Thus, there may well be no loss of sale related to the download, and it may actually increase sales.

But while that may be a good, practical argument, it is far short of an adequate moral argument. Does the downloader have the moral right to download a file without the creator or owner's permission? Frankly, as much as I might like it otherwise, I tend to think the answer is no, you can only justify downloading or copying if it is with their permission, allowing for fair use exceptions and back-up copies. After all, let's be totally fair. If I have legal ownership of the file, I may want to put it on more than one computer, or on a portable player, or back it up to an external drive or disc in case my hard drive crashes and loses the data.

And I might argue that the creators and companies should change their business models to recognize the ease of copying digital files, and how that can help sales as well as hurt sales.

One problem I see is in how the problem is actually defined. I referred to the problem as illegal downloading, but many pro-IP people refer to it as theft or piracy, and for that matter, we say that we are talking about "intellectual property". But ideas cannot truly be owned, only thought of. Only the physical media that an idea is saved or incorporated in can be property and be owned, not the idea itself. Real property is stolen by depriving the owner the use of that property so that the thief can use the property instead: a cd player, a computer, a television, a car, etc. When an illegal download occurs, the downloader can enjoy the content, but the owner is not deprived of the content, either. So how can it be considered as 'theft'?

Again, I'm not saying that it's okay to download without the owner's permission, but I do think that thinking about the problem in the wrong way, with the wrong terms and concepts, will do nothing but muddle the issue and make it that much harder to deal with and resolve. The law and the legal system too often gets in the way of achieving true justice, and this is just one more example of that, unless we start thinking about this issue in terms that are closest to the reality of the situation.

Epistemology has a profound impact on how we think about things and how we act based upon that thinking. A proper understanding of the problem is necessary to work on the best and most workable solution to the problem. Improper use of the terms 'property' and 'theft' not only makes illegal downloading more difficult to deal with, it also muddles our thinking about real property and real theft. More confusion in the legal system is the last thing we need.

No alarm clock

I don't wake up to an alarm clock. No harsh buzzing or loud radio to wake me up. I have an alarm clock in my bedroom, but it's just there to keep the time--I haven't set the alarm in something like fifteen years or so.

I just wake up at some point in time. I have a regular 8 to 5 job, and I usually wake up about 6:30 in the morning. It's a habit. I don't remember exactly how I got started without the alarm clock, but I remember that at some point in the early 90's, I didn't have a job for about six months. An aunt had given me a somewhat large sum of money, and so I quit my job and slept in every day until the money started running low and I decided I needed to go back to work.

During this period of unemployment, I went to sleep when I felt like it, and woke up when I felt like it--I wasn't on any kind of schedule, except that the Perry Mason TV show came on a local UHF channel at 11:00 am, so I always made sure I was up in time for that.

But when I went back to work, I still didn't bother with the alarm clock--I didn't need it, and I haven't needed it since then. I try to make sure I get to bed early enough so that I get a decent amount of sleep, eight hours, or something close to that. When I went to bed, I would tell myself what time I wanted to wake up, and lo and behold, I would wake up at just about that time.

Over the years, this has become a habit, and I don't need to tell myself what time I want to wake up, unless I need to make a change to my regular schedule.

I must admit it's not perfect. I've occasionally overslept when I've stayed up way too late past my normal bedtime, or when I've been sick. Usually I "oversleep" by waking up first and then going back to sleep instead of getting up, rather than just sleeping through my normal wake-up time.

So does this really mean anything important, or is just one of my peculiarities? I don't know, but I imagine if I can do it, then many other people should be able to do it, too. It's a matter of habit, and of allowing yourself enough time to sleep, and of putting your subconsciousness to work by telling yourself when you want to wake up. It really is nicer to wake up to silence, instead of to a harsh buzzer or loud music. If you need something to smash in the morning, keep some empty aluminum cans or something handy.


Eating Orange Peels

I never used to eat orange peels, but I've started doing it recently. In my efforts to lose weight, I thought that chewing on the orange peels would keep me from munching on other snack foods. The result is not a complete success, but it does seem to help.

Of course, I was a bit worried about how safe it was to eat the peel, but a Google search showed several sites indicating that they are safe to eat. Just be sure to wash them first so that there's no lingering wax or pesticides on the skin.

Now the taste of the orange peel isn't all that good, especially the white stuff, technically called the pith, is pretty bitter. You can get around this by eating the peel along with the fruit itself, or here's a site with a recipe for chocolate covered orange peel.

A big suprise for me was the possibility that eating the orange peel may be healthier than eating the actual fruit.