Jon Aquino's Mental Garden

Engineering beautiful software jon aquino labs | personal blog

Monday, April 08, 2013

Moving to a new blog

I'm moving my blog to a different system. It still needs some tweaking and prettying up. Anyway, it's at jona.ca.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Growly Notes - like OneNote but for Mac

I'm trying out a free Mac app called Growly Notes. I need a kind of "space" in which to record ideas, and I need it to be organized so I can find it again quickly later. This app may fit the bill. It has a bit of a following. And it's colorful, which is nice.

Also see the Lifehacker review.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Pine cones open up when you bring them inside

My fiancee has been collecting pine cones for room decorations, and one cool thing we discovered is that they open up after you bring them inside. I'm not sure if it's caused by the warmth or the dryness or something else.

A day or two after you bring them in, you'll see that they gradually splay open. Evidently they are doing this to expose the seeds inside.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Two life-changing questions to ask yourself each day

There is a traditional practice of asking oneself the following two questions at the end of each day. It also works great with other people – my fiancée and I enjoy asking each other:.

1. What are you most grateful for today?
2. What are you least grateful for today?

There are other ways to ask them as well: What increased/drained your energy today? What brought you consolation/desolation today? What part of today did you really like/dislike?

The idea is that by reviewing your day and looking for what brought you life vs. what drained your energy, over time you will see patterns in the things that give you joy, and the things that don't. And you can make decisions that lead you to more of the former and less of the latter.

I read a recommendation for this book which talks more about it.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Favorite drink: Milkshake

Man, I just love milkshakes. I don't like pop or coffee that much, but it's nice to have a good, thick milkshake. I am enjoying one made out of cookies-and-cream ice cream right now. Better than a Frappucino or a Blizzard.

I was watching how they make a milkshake, and it seems that (at least at Just Desserts at SFO Airport) all they do is stick ice cream in a blender. Good 'nuff.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A better way to brush your teeth

Yesterday Mila informed me that various people have pioneered improved ways to brush one's teeth. One of the ways is the Bass Method. Basically, you point the brush into your gums at a 45 degree angle and jiggle the brush. See description (scroll down to "Modified Bass brushing technique") and video.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Make your own mini Moleskine notebook for (almost) free

Moleskine makes these nice mini notebooks that are so small you can slip them into your wallet. But they cost $10 for two. Here I'm going to show you how to make something pretty similar using materials you probably already have at home. All you need are:

  • a 3x5" writing pad
  • a 3x5" index card
  • a stapler
First grab a bunch of paper from your writing pad, and put it on top of the index card:


Next, fold everything in half:


Add a couple of staples along the fold:


And voila, you have a mini Moleskine-like notebook that you can stick in your jacket or wallet. I like to write the date in front – since these cost essentially 0 cents to make, I end up making a lot of them over the course of a year. Enjoy!


Saturday, May 19, 2012

New todo-list system: One-Minute Todo List

I was trying a todo-list system called SuperFocus, in which you keep your todos in a notebook, and you must do at least one item on each page before moving on to look at the items on the next page.

But I got frustrated with it because tonight I had 10 minutes to do something from my lists, and I had a ton of important stuff in the last few pages. But because I have to do at least one item on a page before moving to the next page, I was stuck a few pages back on: polish shoes.

That tells me that there is something wrong with this system.

So I'm trying yet another todo-list system. This one is called the One-Minute Todo List. Here is a link to the free e-book PDF. The basic idea is to have three lists:

  • Critical Now (stuff that must be done today). Max 5 items. 
  • Opportunity Now (stuff to do within the next 10 days, when you get an opportunity). Max 20 items. Review daily.
  • Over-The-Horizon (stuff that could be done after 10 days). Unlimited items. Review weekly.
The third, unlimited list scares me a bit - it could get really huge. Anyway, we'll see how it goes.

One of the advantages of trying out a new to-do list system is that you can start with an empty list :-)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Spotted license plate 000 NPE

The significance of this odd spotting will probably only make sense to computer programmers (NPE = Null Pointer Exception), but a few days ago, Mila and I were following an SUV with license plate 000 NPE, which is quite amusing. I don't think it is a customized vanity plate – here in British Columbia, license plates have three numbers followed by three letters, or three letters followed by three numbers. It could be a genuine coincidence.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Figured out my favorite kind of music: poetry recordings

I don't have a favorite kind of music that I like to listen to. If you ask me, "What's your favorite kind of music?", I have no answer. I like a song, but I soon tire of it.

But there is a recording that I enjoy listening to over and over: The Caedmon Poetry Collection: A Century of Poets Reading Their Work. Here you can hear T.S. Eliot, e e cummings, Auden, Yeats, Pound, etc. reading their work. I wish there were a link to a page with some audio samples that I could share with you.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Is God fond of us?

Last night I was at a coffee shop with Mila and in the course of our conversation, she mentioned that "God is crazy in love with us." Father Dave said something like this a few weeks ago as well. My question is, is it proper to think of God as being deeply or "crazy" in love with me? It "would be nice", but I haven't heard or read this viewpoint from an authoritative source.

Is God vengeful or loving? This question disturbed me, so I have spent the past three hours this morning Googling around for something, anything, that can help me to come to grips with this question. Is he both? Check out the famous icon of Christ Pantocrator below:

Christ Pantocrator

Note how the left half of the face is gentle and the right half is stern, representing his human and divine natures. I like the gentle side but am a bit worried about the stern side.

Many Christians intellectually believe that God is unconditionally loving, but in their hearts they believe that he is stern and vengeful. Here's a not-bad article that I came across on the subject. Google also linked me to an excerpt from the book What Catholics Believe which asks, "How can a God of love also be a vengeful God who demands suffering of his son?" It then starts to get good and talks about the parable of the prodigal son, but then suddenly, page 59-61 are not shown in this preview.

Another book I turned to this morning was Good Goats, which was recommended to me some years ago. One idea from it that rings true for me is that God loves you at least as the person who loves you the most. Nice idea, right? I can believe it, but unfortunately the book is spoiled by some ideas that strike me as heretical, at least to a Catholic - it questions mortal sin and hell, which are traditional Catholic teachings, and this despite the authors being Catholic. So I needed to look elsewhere for answers.

Long story short, I finally turned to Pope Benedict XVI's 2006 letter Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love). It is a long letter, but I needed to read it this morning. I was getting confused by all the various viewpoints on the question, and I needed something authoritative, a dose of sanity. I won't go into detail here (if you have the same question as me, go read it - it's great), but below are some highlights:
  • While "God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being", he is "at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love".
  • "Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa."
  • "This divine activity now takes on dramatic form when, in Jesus Christ, it is God himself who goes in search of the “stray sheep”, a suffering and lost humanity."
So my understanding now is that, yes, it is proper to view God as being "a lover with all the passion of a true love". Not the "puppy love" that the words "crazy in love with us" may evoke, but the deeper love that is more like that between husband and wife. Have I fully figured out what the love of God is like? No. As Augustine said, "If you understand it, it is not God." Is God vengeful? Maybe, in an odd, roundabout way - he can get angry (as husband and wife can), but he also provides a way out. Do I fully understand this? No. But I'm a bit more at peace with the idea of God being a lover, with the image of marriage being a key to understanding it.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Rembrandt's painting "The return of the prodigal son"

You gotta love Rembrandt's painting, "The return of the prodigal son". That's the elder brother peeking around the column in the background.

Rembrandt-The return of the prodigal son

Henri Nouwen has a highly reviewed book about this painting and the parable behind it. I haven't yet read the book, but it seems to be about moving from being the prodigal son, to being the elder brother, to being the welcoming father.

The Compleat Gentleman: 10 Favorite Quotes

There is a book called The Compleat Gentleman (2009) on what it means to be a gentleman. To be honest, I found a good deal of it boring, but it did have some good bits. Here are ten of my favorite quotes:

1. "He is a man who stands up for others - sometimes even for his enemies - often when those others have no clue that he is there for them."

2. "Most of the time a gentleman is just a mild-mannered fellow whom folks may take for granted. But when the job of saving the world comes up, there's a change in the man."

3. "There is simply no substitute for strength of character, and in boys, or men, this requires two things increasingly rare in our time: knowledge of the past and a vision of the future."

4. "The process of character development begins and matures in the home."

5. "Protect the weak and less fortunate."

6. "He is also a man of silence, a man reconciled to his own death."

7. "A gentleman is dedicated to the virtue of goodness. He believes he ought to do the right thing."

8. "He respects her, listens to her, and does all that he can to give her what she desires. This is true in terms of her existential ambitions, and it is equally - if not especially - true of her physical needs."

9. "Some of the most important things about a man are the things he keeps from most people all the time and from those closest to him until the time is right."

10. "'A gentleman,' Confucius said, 'is distressed by his own lack of capacity; he is never distressed at the failure of others to recognize his merits.'"

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Canada Food Guide

In Canada we have something called the Canada Food Guide, which recommends that each day, adult men have 8-10 "servings" of vegetables/fruit, 8 of bread/rice/grain-products, 2 of milk/alternatives, and 3 of meat/alternatives.

Reading this makes me realize that my bachelor's diet of Mr. Noodles, eggs, and cereal is not enough. I'm definitely going to be changing how I eat to be healthier and more in line with this guide.

Are you making sure you are eating healthy?

Thursday, April 05, 2012

10^24 (a trillion trillion) = number of stars in the universe = number of atoms in a cubic foot of air

First, go look at this picture of a tiny patch of the sky at night. Be amazed: those aren't stars – those are galaxies.

Consider that there are estimated to be a trillion (1012) galaxies in the universe:
1000000000000

And that each galaxy contains about a trillion (1012) stars:
1000000000000

So how many stars are there? About a trillion trillion (1024):
1000000000000000000000000

This is hard to imagine. In our everyday experience, do we ever come across a trillion trillion of anything? Actually, yes – there are about a trillion trillion molecules in a cubic foot of air:
1000000000000000000000000

Another way to remember this is that it is roughly the same as Avogadro's number (about 6x1023), or the number of atoms in a gram of hydrogen atoms.

(Pondering immense quantities like these can make an atheist or a theist out of a person, the latter particularly if you accept Aquinas’s proofs that God is, among other things, existence itself.)

Monday, March 26, 2012

The 5 Love Languages

That's the title of an interesting book by Gary Chapman on 5 different types of communication that people like to receive:

  • Words of Affirmation (praise, compliments, etc.)
  • Quality Time
  • Physical Touch (hugs, etc.)
  • Acts of Service (doing the dishes, taking out the trash, etc.)
  • Receiving Gifts
Above I have arranged them starting with the ones I like best. Feel free to praise and compliment me :-). Quality time is also good. And, what can I say, I like to give hugs to my family. On the other hand, acts of service and gifts are nice, but honestly they don't do a lot for me.

I want to know: what are your top 3?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Tech news recommendation: Hacker News

I gave up on RSS feeds (after many years of tracking dozens of them) because they consumed too much precious time each day. At work I asked for someone to recommend one good news source for tech news.

Golf recommended a great one: Hacker News. It's a great 1-page list of top tech news of the day. I find the items there relevant, to me anyway.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Jesus had a beard

If the Shroud of Turin actually shows the face of Jesus, then it is interesting to note that, yes, Jesus did have a beard, and quite a full one. His face is also stockier and more rectangular than the delicate face we are accustomed to seeing in paintings.

Mila (the woman I am courting) pointed out to me that it is notable that this image had to wait for modern technology (i.e., photographic negatives) before it could be clearly shown.


The face on the shroud (left) and its photographic negative (right) (source).

Saturday, March 03, 2012

GTD Overwhelm

I've been practicing GTD for, I don't know, 7 or 8 years now and I feel overwhelmed. I'm not doing the stuff on the lists, and I have too much stuff on my lists. I'm going to start fresh with a new system called AutoFocus.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Line drawings (free, royalty free)

There's a great online collection of free line drawings from copyright-expired books. I used some recently to spice up a booklet I made. Here are a couple of examples:


Saturday, February 04, 2012

On being late

Argh. I just made the woman I am courting 25 minutes late for a meeting. I feel very guilty about this. I have this tendency to "squeeze" time - trying to be "productive" by doing things before I need to leave, then not giving myself enough travel time.

Enough is enough. Based on articles like this one, I'm going to promise myself to double the expected travel time (according to Google Maps or whatever) and add a 20-30-min buffer (depending on familiarity/importance).

May we all be LATE NO MORE. Do you have trouble with being late? Any tips on getting rid of this bad habit?



Sunday, January 15, 2012

On forgetting an anniversary

I have been trying to buy some roses each month for the woman I am courting, on the monthly anniversary of our courtship. Today, it didn't go as planned - I actually bought the roses, but I forgot to give them - I left them behind in the car when I picked her up for Mass. And she told me later that she was expecting them too. So I felt a bit bad.

How does one deal with the guilt or regret that accompanies failure? She said that I could just bring the roses tomorrow, but you still feel bad because things didn't go perfectly. One approach is to follow the advice of the AA prayer ("God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change...") and just accept the fact that it now lies outside of your control, and just move on. But still, you feel bad about the failure. Is there another way to look at it?

You could say, it's God's fault/will (or it's fate). Then you wouldn't feel so bad. But then you'd start feeling bad again because you know deep down that it actually was your fault.

The way that works for me is to realize that yes, it is my fault, but God can make some good come of it. Aquinas demonstrated that God is existence itself; so as I see it, when we mess up, he can order things so that good can come of it nevertheless. There is also a Bible verse that says that "in everything God works for good." So it is interesting to see, when bad things happen, whether any positive things can happen as well.

Such as this blog post! It's something good that sprung up from my failure, and maybe there's someone that will be helped by it.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

How to shred a document by hand

Here's a simple way to shred a document by hand. It's easier and more effective than just ripping it up haphazardly.

First, take the thing you want to shred (a document, or just your address), and fold it many times:




Then cut it once:




Finally, put one half in your recycling bin and the other half in a garbage can. If you do that, it should be pretty safe.

Friday, December 30, 2011

20 seconds of courage

A couple of days ago, I watched a movie called "We Bought A Zoo". I thought it was pretty good. Anyway, I liked the following quote:
Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just, literally, 20 seconds of just embarassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Buying gas like an investment

My brother does this interesting thing when he buys gas, similar to "dollar cost averaging" in investing (i.e., investing the same amount each month, regardless of whether the price is high or low).

Basically he pays the same amount at the pump on each visit ($20), regardless of whether gas prices are high or low.

I was trying to think if this has any real benefit, and actually I think it does. When gas prices are low, $20 will last a long time, which is good. When gas prices are high, $20 will last a short time, and you will be forced to retry again soon - so you will have more frequent opportunities to try again for a lower price. Kind of makes sense.

Compare this to filling the tank to the top every time. You will be visiting the gas station at a constant time interval, without the automatic adaptation mechanism described above.

Interesting!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Most versatile dance move for any music

I recently found myself in a dancing situation at a Christmas party, and really had no clue what I was doing. Afterwards, I did some googling on the subject, and found this useful video on a basic dance move that works for a variety of types of music.

If you are as inept at dancing as I am, check out the following video:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Giving up RSS feeds

I'm considering giving up daily reading of RSS feeds, in order to gain some extra time each day.

This Wikipedia article is spurring me on to try this: How to Live on 24 Hours a Day.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Undercurrent

There is in this place an undercurrent of muck
But under this muck is a bed of stone
And sweet music makes a space in the muck
And in places, massy walls push the muck aside.

But sometimes the muck seeps in through the walls
Weakens them to the verge of collapse
Then sweet music cleans the muck from the stone
And fire burns the muck away.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Concoction for killing a cold

My friend Dale bombards himself with the following medications at the onset of a cold or flu. He says it works every time:

  • Cold FX
  • Airborne
  • Buckley's
  • Echinacea tea
  • Humidifier with Eucalyptus drops
  • Halls
  • Fisherman's Friend
  • Spicy food
  • Teas

iPhone earbuds have a built-in microphone

Wow - I did not know that the earbuds that come with your iPhone have a built-in microphone. And it seems clearer than the iPhone's built-in mic. This is cool. I was a bit concerned about cell-phone radiation on long calls (sometimes I get a "cell-phone headache"), and this saves me from having to buy a headset.