Posts Tagged fun times

Late Night Journalism

A late night post seems like it deserves a topic of a similar sort – a story of some of my escapades in high school, late at night.

I was editor in chief of my high school’s student newspaper, the Flagship (it actually changed from Albatross to Flagship my sophomore year, the year I entered the Journalism class), through my senior year.  I wasn’t the best editor ever, but I thought I did a good job and I definitely felt like I had learned and applied a ton from my predecessors.  During my junior year, when I was a section editor, I had to stay late-late-late on the Friday before each issue (we published roughly monthly, with papers printed Monday.  This was especially true of an event night, like Homecoming, which often occurred on our publish-Friday.  Oops!

So I stayed late, and wrote the story about Homecoming, and was up with other punch-drunk people around 11pm Friday night, with our grizzled Journalism teacher Mr. Bare staying out of the kindness of his heart, when two of my senior friends recommended we go run around outside.

Obviously, we went to go run around outside, in the parking lot.  Everyone (there were six of us – the two seniors, me and another junior, and two sophomores) was laughing their heads off, but because we were so tired/adrenaline filled/crazy, someone almost got run over by a car coming through the lot.  It was a sobering moment, and certainly served to curtail (some of) the laughter.  We went back inside soon thereafter, but despite the near-tragedy (maybe because of?) it really bonded us together.

Also reminds me of people just going out into the courtyard during finals in college and screaming their heads off, just to release steam.  Sometimes you just have to go run around outside. :)

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For my mom’s 50th birthday, I went skydiving with her.  We did tandem dives, which meant we were strapped to an instructor and did the dive with them having the primary parachute.  In remote Hollister, CA, we got a quick overview of the dive and prepped with our instructors, then boarded a tiny plane with a fully open side door.  As we ascended, my instructor yelled to get my attention.

He came over and in slightly lower volume, told me his plan was to turn around as we jumped and wave to my mom (her instructor also had a video camera to capture the moment).  I will admit, I was focused on how insane it was that I was about to jump out of a plane, so I nodded in agreement.  When our turn was up, and I spent all of my energy pushing down the animal instinct to avoid falling out the side door, he (and I, attached) jumped out and performed what I can only assume was a maximum speed twist.

“Now wave!” he shouted in my ear.  I distinctly remember hearing that, but I certainly didn’t see anything as I experienced acute vertigo and my vision blacked out for a few seconds.  I don’t think I actually waved, but I can’t remember the video coverage because I am sure I blocked it out of my memory.

The dive was amazingly wonderful after that though, and the view was spectacular.  The moral of the story: I definitely need to gut-check when someone much more excited or much more experienced than I has a “plan” that might be a little over the top for me to join in on.

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Ditch Day 2001

(You may want to read yesterday’s Ditch Day 1999 first, if you haven’t already.)

I had a great time with my Sophomore year stack (themed “Sneakers” and put on my some of my favorite college friends), but I feel like most of that experience was just good times with friends, and good tips on how to build my own stack when it came to that.  Today I wanted to talk about my Junior year’s Ditch Day, though, because of how upset I was.

You see, at that point I had already teamed up with Todd, Tom and Garrett to start designing this awesome, totally fun and highly themed Ender’s Game stack.  Unfortunately for us, when we woke up for 2001’s Ditch Day and started perusing the available stacks, one of the Seniors had “scooped” us with an Ender’s Game stack of her own.  I was so upset, thinking about how much work we had wasted, and what sort of plan we would have to come up with to “fix” this problem.  The four of us even all went on the same stack, which was an excellent mystery-style concoction that had the same fun feel as the Redhead Conspiracy, but I was grumpy and complained much of the time about the Ender’s Game stack.

Three interesting mistakes I made that day: I didn’t go on the Ender’s Game stack, which would have been a good mood check and also a good source of interesting ideas (I was later made aware of how unthemed it really was, when you got right down to it); I dwelled on why somebody else doing our theme was bad for us, instead of focusing on constructive stuff (like working on a new theme, or why it could be good for us); and I missed out on some of the fun of the stack I actually did go on.

I know one of my weaknesses is that I dwell too much on the negative potential of situations, but that day put it in sharp relief for me when later I looked back and realized what I was doing.

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Ditch Day 1999

I knew the night before that it was upon us.  I was up late playing Starcraft (1) with Jeremy, and people sure were up late moving heavy objects around outside.  But it was still exciting to be roused by the raucous call of “Wake up, frosh [freshmen]!  It’s Ditch Day!”  And so my first Caltech Ditch Day experience began, as I moved groggily out into the Blacker courtyard.

Ditch Day at Caltech is like a combination puzzle/scavenger hunt, where all of the non-Seniors — including much of the teaching and school staff! — take part in elaborate themed missions traditionally called “stacks” (the term is rooted in a bit too much lore for this blog).  Said stacks usually conclude with “breaking in” to the absent Senior’s room and collecting a group reward for a day well done.  One of my Senior mentors, Dave Tytell, had teamed up with fellow redhead Walt, and they created a thrilling adventure in their Redheaded Conspiracy stack.

There were a few of awesome parts to this stack – (a) it was all freshmen, so we had a great time figuring stuff out as we went, (b) it was a bunch of really fun pieces with a minimum of overarching theme, which was a lesson I wish I had applied better to my own Senior stack, and (c) it took us to the tops of buildings and the depths of sub-sub-sub-basements, which definitely was a comfort zone shift.

My favorite moment from the Redhead Conspiracy stack:  we dropped a bucket of multiple colors of bouncy balls from the top of the tallest building on campus (Millikin Library) with a news crew watching.   We were telling each other as we did it “you know, they are going to ask us to count these next…” and sure enough, there was a note at the bottom of the bucket.  But we were wrong – it was far worse than we expected!  They asked us to figure out the relative fractions of colors in the bucket!  Oof.  It was a fun hour or so of combing the courtyard below for bouncy balls, though – we even recruited passersby.

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Wallyball is all about the right amount of randomness plus a lot of teamwork and a lot of mental calculations (that feel great when they work out, and feel silly when they don’t!).  The basic premise is that it is volleyball, with a volleyball-sized raquetball, in a raquetball court, with a volleyball net.  Yeah, crazy, I know.  The walls are legal, even on serves, as long as you don’t hit the ceiling or back wall (or two walls) on the over.

I’ve been playing it off and on with a great, fluid crew from Wizards Saturdays for almost two years.  It’s a fun group activity, even though the activity level is much lower than volleyball.  Usually this is because the ball is hitting a lot of walls / you can use the walls to propel your shot into position – as opposed to normal volleyball, where it’s all about position and shot strength / type.  We’ve had more than a fair share of injuries, because like raquetball, the ball can move in unexpected and dangerous ways.

Overall, it’s great fun, and I recommend it to everyone.  Nothing quite compares (in my team physical activity experience) to the coordination of a volleyball bump-set-serve with the walls to add power… and then continuing the volley with an amazing dig and off-the-wall return.  It’s not really volleyball, but I think I love it more for that, having been crushed in volleyball too many times. 😉

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Comfort Zone

Each person has a set of things they are comfortable with, and generally the complementary set of things they are not comfortable with.  Experience has taught me that trying to step outside of your personal comfort zone by doing some of those activities is a great way to grow and also better define oneself.  For example, I think both skydiving and scuba were well outside my comfort zone, but I did both and I’m glad I did.

I think the category of stuff outside one’s comfort zone can be further broken down into Risk and Danger.  The Risky stuff comes with complementary rewards – some of it can be hard to do (asking a girl out, for example, or running a distance event with asthma) but it’s generally pretty rewarding when you finish.  The Dangerous stuff is the stuff I like to think of as reckless – the chance of personal harm or irrevocable psychological damage is high (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating to make a point), and so it’s not usually a good idea.  A great example of this is “Green Street Racing,” a proposed activity wherein two drivers late at night take Pasadena’s one-way Green St. in reverse from Caltech to downtown (i.e. in the direction opposite to the one way).  It’s funny to talk about, but actually doing it borders suicidal.

I am quite happy to do stuff in the Risk zone, but my naturally inhibited nature means I might believe an activity is in the Danger zone.  Finding a better way to evaluate activities when they are suggested is a goal of mine – I don’t think my default answer of “no, and here’s why” is a great one, but I fear “yeah, sure!” could be worse.  Maybe it’s as simple as saying “yeah, but first let’s talk it through,” just to get a bit more thought-time before leaping headfirst into craziness.

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Ya Mon

Our last port of call was in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.  Mick and I signed up for a combo excursion – Zip Line and River Tubing!  How could you go wrong?  The main problem with the day’s adventure is that the previous night’s adventure was a bit taxing and man-was-I-tired.  Since I was a little out of sorts in the morning during breakfast, I forgot my beach towel in the room and had to mad dash down to the bus to meet everyone.  I also forgot my sunscreen so both of us were dreading the harsh misery of the Jamaican sun.

Fun facts about Jamaica:

  • Their drivers are about as aggressive as Italian drivers.  When we were driving up the mountain to get into the canopy, and the single-lane road became steadily narrower (trapped between a cliff-face and a drop-off), there were numerous times another vehicle would honk-honk-honk and zoom by us.  Ridiculous.
  • Since tourism is their #1 industry, their social norms have modified accordingly.  At the end of our excursion, I had some shady dealings with one of the photographers to get some photos of the river tubing – he pointed at the $60 price tag for 18 photos, then agreed to a “deal” of $35 for the set… as long as I paid $25 to the register and $10 to him.  Shady!
  • Most of the people I talked to were both grumpy and friendly.  It was sort of odd; my guess is seeing so many clueless American tourists each day was a major factor.

The zip line portion could have been longer – it was three too-quick lines between platforms.  Mick even suggested we ask to do it again immediately afterward (after all, we already had the gear on).  I had tons of fun whooping and zooming down from the high point to the first tree-platform… but the process of zip lining is very much an unstable balance equilibrium problem.  The more you consciously try to adjust your position / rotation on the line, the harder it is to keep from twisting.  By the time I realized this, I was already heading down the last part of the line.

By contrast, the river tubing was relaxing and fun, but a tad too long.  The best part of that were the rapids (obv) but there were only three real white-watery sections.  The plus side (for our poor sunscorched heads) was that over 75% of the river tubing was under canopy cover and quite cool.

Even despite (or maybe due to) almost-drowning in Grand Cayman, I preferred it to Ocho Rios – possibly just because it wasn’t as “in your face” about the tourism.

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Just Breathe

Our second stop on the Magic Cruise was the island of Grand Cayman – not only was it spectacularly beautiful, but there was an exciting excursion on the docket for me: beginner’s scuba diving, a significant upgrade from snorkeling last year.

The experience was composed of three parts: the lecture, the training and the dive.  Each part took about a half-hour, with a bit of break in between for putting on / taking off gear.  Our dive instructor Moke told us we would be limited to no deeper than 40 feet (this sounded shallow when I heard it, but not once I was actually in the water!) and gave us a detailed lecture on why humans and water don’t mix.  When you have to keep track of EVERYTHING you do – including breathing and internal pressure – in the water, it gets pretty draining and pretty nerve-wracking very fast!

After the lecture, I thought I had a good idea of what I needed to do in the water to have a successful scuba dive.  After all, Moke claimed that via careful application of grey matter we would be able to think our way through the problems of being underwater.  What I failed to realize until I had the gear on, at the bottom of the pool, watching Moke demonstrate our emergency skills, was that the animal brain inside is very very powerful and can seize control from the more rational grey matter lightning fast.

The skills we had to demonstrate seemed easy enough: if anything happens in the water, like you lose your breathing regulator (“reg”) or you get water in your facemask, you need to be able to cope.  So Moke looks at me there at the bottom of the pool, and making slow and deliberate movements, removes his reg, pushes it over his shoulder, and carefully touches his way to the dangling hoses and retrieves it.

Then he points at me.  Now you, his motions indicate.

I remove my reg and as I go to push it behind me, the animal mind takes over.  YOU ARE DROWNING, it screams, YOU IDIOT!  Unable to keep a steady stream of bubbles going, I forcefully exhale (bad) and try to inhale (much worse), and then motion to Moke that I need to surface.  He’s concerned (rightfully so) and tells me to relax.  Yes, yes, I know I need to relax.  Here on the surface, everything sounds so simple!

This goes on about three more times before he motions for me to surface again.

“You need to relax,” he states again, and I keep nodding.  He looks at me thoughtfully, and then makes a recommendation.  “Try humming.”

Humming is the trick that does it.  Not only is it relaxing to hum slightly (and gives my subconscious a much better estimate of when I will “run out of air” while I retrieve my reg), but I can keep a steady stream of bubbles to maintain my air properly.

After that, the dive itself was super easy.  Moke refused to give me my camera for the first few minutes, but once I gave him my fifth okay sign, he relented.  I saw some amazing angelfish and a school of squid, along with quite a bit of beautiful coral.  I’m not sure I want to go scuba again, but despite the pool’s near-drowning, overall the experience was pretty spectacular.

Watch Facebook for my developed pictures (need to get them developed the old fashioned way, since I used waterproof disposables) later this week or next!

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Influence and Trust

This is sort of a secret combined cruise-and-philosophy/psychology blog (mwa ha ha)… or maybe now not so secret.  Anyway!  On the cruise, I often found myself sitting with a group of people where I knew one of them from the previous Magic Cruise (or through previously established Seattle friendships) and was able to bootstrap my way to new friends via introductions through that person.   I’m sure everyone has experience with this phenomenon in multi-group situations: when one group meets another, there is nearly always bridging going on through mutual connections.

Thanks to Lindsey, Steve, Peter, Dwayne, Patrick and Roberto, I met a ton of awesome new folks and with their (often merely implicit) support, quickly developed friendships through them.  The development of these relationships is an interesting study for me, since if you observe carefully, you can tell that at some point you + new friend have a stronger connection than you + old friend.  On rare occasions (I can think of only a few times over the years this has happened to me), you + new friend can develop a stronger bond than old friend + new friend.

I want a word to describe the strength of the connection between the pairs in you-old-new; the unsatisfactory word I have used in the past is Influence, because generally speaking the stronger the connection, the more likely you are to ask and receive something (a favor, a thought) from that friend.  But really that just describes the effect; the cause is closer to comfort and trust.  When you are out far past your normal bedtime (which before the cruise was like, 9-10pm?) drinking and socializing with new friends until roughly 3am, and you do it many nights in a row (despite the pounding headaches in the morning!), that is definitely indicative of comfort.

But what about trust?  My stab at the source of trust is something like: as you interact with a person, you are subconsciously testing them for reasonable responses.  Reasonable, in this case, is what you consider reasonable (highly subjective).  Each time you get a reasonable response, or are “pleasantly surprised” in some way (I think because any positive emotion gets mapped at least a little into the trust-o-meter, at least in my case), your trust toward the other person ticks up a notch.

I have a thought experiment I’ll discuss another time that helps me consider the usefulness of an Influence metric.

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Magic Cruise

I’m planning on spending a good portion of this week talking about the cruise from whence I just returned.  There’s a ton to talk about, but not so much that I can keep my account to friends in person, my article for the Wizards website, and these blogs all separate… so I apologize in advance if I keep repeating myself.  It was totally awesome, so it’s not like I feel *that* bad about covering the same ground more than once.

Big thanks to Mick for coming along as my non-Magic roommate (although he did appear to have a good time reading cards and asking questions about our Magic-related “DI La” discussions) and to Bill for posting to guskintelligence while I was gone!

One interesting point that came up – I think from Dwayne, or Peter, or both – during the cruise was how well constructed Carnival (and assumedly other cruise lines) has made the boat space.  There aren’t a huge number of places where people can be to hang out, and that means not only are you running into the same people over and over, but you definitely feel like you have choice when in reality Carnival is exerting indirect control on where you spend your time.

In our particular case, all of the sitdown bars were clustered on deck 5 (Promenade) near the dance club and the casino.  Food and pools/hot tubs were mostly on deck 9 (Lido).  There were certainly exceptions to this layout, but for the most part it got people to the same place without ordering them there, which was nice.

One reason I love, and will continue to return to, the Magic Cruise is that not only is the backdrop a cruise with amazing tropical destinations (I’ll be talking about those in future posts), but you also get essentially for free a group of social, friendly gamers along with you for the ride.  Magic is being played by someone during most of the sea-time, so if you want to (and there were certainly times I needed my fix), you can join in for multiplayer or draft.  But also, there’s just a good core group of people who are up for hanging out and doing cruise-y stuff without the added pressure of leaving one’s normal comfort zone.

Of course, leaving one’s comfort zone is a key piece to any adventurous experience and I did that too – more about that later!

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