Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rubik's Cube

This weekend I came closer than ever before to solving a Rubik's cube. That's not saying a whole lot, considering all I was able to do previously was get a single side/row. But I figured out how to get two of the three rows. Now, I'm not sure that getting the first two rows first is the way to go about solving the whole thing, but each time that I get a little further, I understand more about how the Rubik's cube works and how various moves will affect the placement of certain squares.

After the first time I got two rows, I spent a good chunk of the weekend learning to do it consistently, until the moves became second nature the same way getting one row used to be. It requires thinking ahead one or two moves further than before, so it was an interesting challenge to wrap my head around it (figuratively speaking). I know there are tips to solving a Rubik's cube online, but I've decided to be my stubborn self and figure it out on my own. It's more fun that way. Plus, I feel like I get a more concrete feel for how the Rubik's cube works.

I suspect it will be quite a while before I solve that last row. I generally get within 4, 5, or 6 squares of solving it completely, but any squares I get in the bottom row are, so far, purely by chance.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Giving and Receiving

There seems to be some confusion about giving and it's moral value. It is no secret that giving something to another person, be it a gift, a compliment, or help, can be extremely rewarding. I'm sure most people have some personal experience that confirms this. The confusion comes in when one is offered these same things by others. For those who have become convinced that giving is the way to go, they may become reluctant, even afraid, to take very much from those around them. I know I was.

Really, it wasn't until I wanted to give more than I had in the past, until I started encountering people that weren't willing to accept what I was trying to give them, that I realized where the error in my logic was. If everyone is trying to give, but unwilling to receive, then no one will get anywhere. A gift is not complete until it's been accepted by the other person. What I realized then was that I was actually doing other people a disservice by shying away from compliments or feeling guilty about taking "too much" help.

I remembered how frustrated I felt those times when I wasn't able to give what I wanted to, how natural it was for me to want to do something good, and how hurt I was when friends seemed to doubt the sincerity of my offer. Was I making other people feel that way by feeling too guilty to accept things from them, or being reluctant about it?

I came to the conclusion that the better thing to do would be to accept what was offered to me. If someone gives me a compliment now, I fight the initial urge to deny it or slink off and simply say "thank you". I try to say it with as much sincerity as the person who gave the compliment, because that way I might give them some small amount of happiness back. You can learn pretty quickly how to tell when someone truly wants to offer you something or is just being polite. Once you get to that point, it becomes much easier to distinguish between "taking" and "accepting".

The acceptance of another person's offer is, in itself, a gift of gratitude.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Idealism Vs. Realism

"Idealism" and "realism" are an ambiguous couple of labels, and yet many people are very passionate about being one or the other. I happen to be one of those people. I am a die-hard idealist.

Now before an epic battle breaks out between the Idealists and Realists (I entertain myself by imagining I have just enough readers to form a couple very small armies), I think I should explain the value I see in idealism. And heck, realism too, while I'm at it.

To me, idealistic thinking means seeing the potential all around. It's seeing how things could be improved. It's seeing where things are being done inefficiently, incorrectly, cruelly or immorally and saying, "Hey, we don't have to take this any more, we can change things!" And yes, sometimes it's seeing the big picture as it could be, even if that's something very different from the way it is.

My original definitions were that realism is "going with the flow" and aiming only for the things that can be accomplished in the short-term (one lifetime, at the most), whereas idealism is aiming for something that could take a lifetime or many lifetimes to accomplish or get close to. Personally, I'd rather spend my whole life trying for something important and failing, a few times, many times, maybe even go my whole life and never get there, than I would only thinking about and accomplishing things that mean little to me.

For me, I would feel empty inside if I gave up on my ideals. If I said to myself, for example, "Oh well, there will always be war. Not much I can do about that. Might as well not worry about it if it's not affecting me directly." I'd rather say, "One day there may be peace." Even if it often feels like a lost cause and like the human race seems to only want to speed the process of destroying itself. I really am prepared to dedicate my life, not to some physical task or to a predetermined set of externally measurable accomplishments, but to an idea. The idea that the world has so much potential, and that as individuals and as a whole we can reach it.

Then it occurred to me that maybe I was being a bit hard on realism. After all, it's always good to know what one can do in the here and now. With such large scale goals derived from idealism, it can be overwhelming sometimes, seeing the disconnect between the current reality and the "ideal" and trying to figure out how on Earth to go from one to the other. Seen in that light, realism means being able to tell what can be done now, and therefore can be useful in encouraging people to act rather than simply think about it. What I was wrong about was assuming that short-term actions necessarily reinforce "the way things are". In fact, if those short-term actions are in the spirit of an ideal, peace for example, then they are inherently valuable in and of themselves.

Perhaps both idealism and realism are needed in life. Too little realism, and one winds up living completely in their head, too confused to move towards their goals. Too little idealism, and one loses imagination and can only see a tiny portion of the possibilities. So, if I set my goals high as an idealist, then use a healthy dose of realism to figure out the more immediate steps to take, I guess that would make me a realistic idealist! That's something I'd like to work towards, I think.

How do other people define or think of realism and idealism? Which would you rather be, a realistic idealist, or an idealistic realist?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wounded Mouse Part 3

Today I released the mouse. I figured it's wounds have probably closed up by now, and it was a lot more active, running around the cage and such, yesterday and today. So I waited until the cats were asleep (and snoring), then went into the back yard. The mouse made it very clear that it was "ready to go" as soon as I opened the lid to the cage. I had to tip the whole thing sideways and wait a couple of minutes before it finally got the idea and found the exit. I'm sorry to say mice are not as smart as rats; this one kept pooping in the water... Nevertheless, it eventually found its way out and bounded off across the leafy ground. It very quickly found cover and that was that.

Now, the mouse is out of the house and has its chance in the wild. It was with great difficulty that I kept from naming it, but every single time I've named some wild little creature I'm trying to save, it always winds up dying! I'm not superstitious, but those are some pretty bad odds. This time, though, things seem to have gone rather well.

Monday, July 4, 2011

4th of July Wanderings

Happy 4th of July, world! Well, United States, at any rate. Not sure how much the rest of the world cares... Personally I'm in it for the fireworks. Or am I?

These last few years on the 4th, the trend seems to be that I start thinking about my relationships with the people I'm close to, more than any other day of the year. It has something to do with childhood memories of sitting with my parents in a field or on a crowded parking garage roof with folding chairs and blankets. Waiting for the fireworks and seeing them set off in distant cities.

See, now days it's not the same as when I was a kid. One year I was back East with my uncle and we saw the Boston Pops, which was awesome. And a couple years ago my mom and I went to see fireworks by a lake and met a bunch of people that live on boats, and even though my dad didn't come with us that time, it came pretty close to feeling the way it used to. But there's been a few years in there where something seemed to be missing.

Other holidays changing doesn't seem to bother me; I don't care that I'm too old to go trick or treating anymore, if we don't put up a Christmas tree, if we don't remember to light the candles for Chanukah, if I don't get a birthday cake, or even if there there are no potato latkes for Pesach... are right, there have to be latkes, but my point is that I'm usually all right with change.

Luckily, this year, my new friend and I managed to be out and about and get a lot of wandering in. And we may not see fireworks, but I feel good about the day. I guess that for whatever reason, on 4th of July, I just have to get out of the house and not be on my own.

Does anyone else have a holiday or tradition that affects them like this?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Wounded Mouse Part 2

Update: I checked in on our little friend a few minutes ago, and it seems to be alive and well enough to run to the other side of the cage when I peeked in (see previous post). I replaced the cap-full of water and put a few more of its favorite seeds in. It had picked out every sunflower seed in the food bowl, which is exactly what our pet rats used to do when we raised them. I also put a small amount of fresh veggies, since the mouse ate the ones from last night. Just some carrots and celery, since I read these are good "in moderation" and that's what I had in the fridge. I know mice need a balanced diet, but this should do for a couple days until I get something better.

I'm going to be gone most the day, so maybe later today or tomorrow I can get some mouse feed, a little fruit, and a proper water bottle for rodents (the kind where they lick at it, causing the ball bearing to get pushed back long enough for some water to come out). Before I leave I'll try cleaning its wounds again, then let it be for the day and hope for the best.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Wounded Mouse Part 1

I'm currently house sitting and taking care of a garden and two cats. Kneeda is a mostly grey cat with splotches of orange. Oliver is an orange Manx. Apparently, a bunch of mice have decided to move in as well. The first night I realized this was when I saw one scurry across the floor and under the washing machine. I set the live trap (took me quite a while, too), but so far the cats are the only ones that have had any success catching them.

The second night after the first sighting, Oliver stood guard, trying to pounce on the little mouse tail that would, on rare occasions poke out from under the stove. Kneeda, in the mean time, had managed to catch one. She caught and released it several times, chasing it all over the house for half an hour. That must have been a funny scene; panicked mouse scrambling from hiding place to hiding place, cat stalking, chasing, and intercepting it, and then me bumbling along after the both of them, plastic bowl in hand, ready to rescue the rodent in case Kneeda succeeded in catching it. Finally, the mouse hid where neither I nor the cat could locate it.

Several days passed without a mouse sighting. However, they did steal a chocolate chip cookie. I found the third-to-last one had fallen under the grate of one of the burners on the stove and had been nibbled at all around the edges. Shortly after which it vanished entirely.

Today was more eventful on the rodent front. Around 6 pm, I was called away most insistently from my computer by Oliver, who had caught a mouse. Such an event is not uncommon for Oliver, who in two weeks time has also caught four lizards and two baby garter snakes (all of which were released unharmed back outside). I was able to pick up the mouse without much difficulty, since it was frozen to the spot in fear. I placed it in a small container with a couple socks temporarily, but when I went to take it outside again, I discovered a spot of blood on one of the socks. Luckily I remembered that there was a spare cage for rodents in the tool shed, so I placed the mouse in that while I figured out what to do about its wounds.

The internet wasn't giving me answers as quickly as I would have liked, and I was worried because I knew cats' saliva has a lot of bacteria. Plus, for all I knew, a little blood loss for a mouse could be cause for concern. So I called my mom. She told me to take some hydrogen peroxide and dilute it a lot with water, then dab it on the wounds with a Q-tip. Easier said than done. I tried taking the mouse out of the cage, but had to put it back because it almost escaped. I had a hard time even seeing where the wound was, but I did my best to clean where I thought it was. Hopefully I managed to disinfect something... The mouse promptly burrowed back into the socks.

After a little research and some scavenging around the house, I put some bird seed mix and a small amount of raw veggies in the food bowl for the mouse. The only thing I couldn't find was a water bottle for rodents. Instead I settled for a small cap of water. I made sure it was filled very shallowly, since a friend told me about how surprisingly little water it takes for mice to drown. These tasks complete, I covered the cage with my sweater to keep it dark and let the mouse rest for a few hours.

Checked in on my little ward just before midnight, and it was asleep in the seeds (good to know it found the food). Still breathing. We'll see how he/she is doing in the morning.