Deadly Food Allergy: A Blessing?

A question I have pondered recently: are my deadly food allergies (peanuts) really a blessing in disguise?

My first thought, it has given me strength to be different. Standing out, not participating with the group, is regularly required for my survival. A common experience, as long as I can remember is being in a room, usually a cafeteria, full of people eating peanut butter infused food. Peanut butter rice crispy bars were a frequent treat at Santaquin Elementary School. Something I have just realized, these foods that I was unable to eat were considered a treat by most everyone else. I can only imagine my avoidance of the food was even more strange to other people. “Why in the world would I avoid eating a treat?”, they were probably thinking. Getting strange looks and harassment was common.

Living with a life threatening allergy has also increased my ability for attention to technical details. From a young age I needed to ask for food ingredients and how the food was prepared. This is something I took for granted. Until recently I didn’t realize that this was a strange thing to do. From my perspective it is and has always been perfectly reasonable. Like looking both ways when crossing the street. Both cars and peanuts are deadly to me. Avoiding getting hit by a car is common among people, but a deadly food allergy is not. Looking back, I can see that I did realize this on an unconscious level. I learned to avoid asking what was in all food, sure it is risky, but I learned to categorize food. Thinking about the categories, they are: high probability of being safe, probably safe, risky, and high risk foods. The foods with a high probability of being safe, like fresh fruit, or other food where the ingredients are clear, I didn’t need to ask about their ingredients or how they were prepared. Other foods, like anything with chocolate, are high risk for peanuts and peanut butter, those I would ask or just avoid, not being worth the risk. People’s methods of food preparation are also risky, like using the same knife to spread both the jam and the peanut butter on a PB&J sandwich. If I don’t know that a jar of jam hasn’t been contaminated, I don’t even risk eating the jam.

I have discovered that paying attention to details and being OK with looking strange in a group setting, both are useful for eating healthy!
I’ve started eating a wider variety of healthy food the last few years. I’ve never wanted to try Panda Express but my wife enjoys their food, so I thought I’d give it a try. I went into the restaurant and saw how they dished up the food, there is the possibility of them using the same spoon to dish up the peanut food with the non peanut food. Seeing that I decided not to risk eating there. I used to love milk shakes, but peanut butter ingredients are regularly mixed on the same mixer and I have been exposed a few too many times. I now avoid ordering milkshakes (it helps that milk now also gives me congestion and stomach issues…).
Realizing that I was used to this (apparent) strange life of being picky and inquisitive about what I eat, I decided to use it to my advantage and eat more healthily. I currently choose to eat whole grains and avoid sugar based foods. Sure it’s a little awkward turning away cookies, donuts, pie, cake, and candy at social gatherings; but, for me it’s not that weird, I’ve always turned down peanut butter cookies, rice crispy treats, snickers, butter finger, peanut butter sandwiches, and many other foods mixed with peanuts!

Perhaps peanuts will be the death of me someday, but hopefully heart disease and diabetes will not! So it seems, I can look at this allergy and challenge in my life as a blessing and not a curse.

How about you? Any challenges that you could say “why me?” – that seem to have no benefit to your life? Could they really be a blessing?

Are You Stacking the Odds?

Much of life requires taking actions, in which you only have a chance at success, and most of the time, the odds of success are unknown. Regularly I will “risk the odds” and I often experience success. This has caused me to ponder “why?” on many occasions. I have decided that stacking the odds in my favor, a skill I honed through playing games, is one of the keys to my success.

Role-playing games (RPGs) make this concept much more clear. Let’s use the action to attack an enemy. In most role-playing games there is an attack action that factors in your game characters attributes with some random factor, a dice role, for tabletop role-playing games. In my online RPG Rule the Seas if your strength is significantly greater than your opponent’s defense, and you attack first, you will win. A player can increase their strength or defense by equipping items, but you can only equip nine different types of items. Some items give more strength than defense, and others give more defense. If you want to damage players with greater defense you’ll need to focus on equipping strength items. By focusing on increasing the strength attribute you are stacking the odds in favor of you winning when you strike first. On the flip side you could focus on defense and hope to withstand your attacker through a longer fight. There are other attributes and abilities you can focus on with your equipment, you could also choose to equip the most visually attractive items, regardless of their combat abilities. To play well you must pick an equipment strategy and stack the odds in favor of winning with that strategy.

Stacking the odds in life also requires choosing a strategy. For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that maintaining a healthy body shape is our strategy for increased happiness. There are many habits we can “equip” to increase our odds of getting and staying in shape: eating fruits and vegetables, avoiding added sugar, eating whole grains, eating balanced meals, weekly strength and aerobic training, walking 10,000 steps per day, limiting saturated fats, limiting carbs, and on and on…
Will any of these alone ensure a healthy shape? Will ten of them employed at the same time guarantee it? No, it is still possible to have unhealthy levels of body fat while doing many activities to avoid it.
The key is, each activity increases your odds of success.

There is a famous scene in Star Wars, where Han Solo says “Never Tell Me The Odds!”

We don’t actually need to know the odds to stack the odds, we only need to know if the actions we are taking align with our strategy and increase the odds of success. For example, developing a great marriage or relationships with my parents or children, these are not strategies where I need to know the odds of success.

I have learned that being persistent is a key part of this concept. When we refuse to give up, keep stacking the odds, and keep rolling the dice, we will experience success again and again (and eventually conquer our enemies and shed those fat pounds!).

Role-playing games not only provide an example of how to “Stack the Odds”, they also function as an excellent way to practice. Do you have a favorite RPG and are you learning to stack the odds?

Egotistical or Self-Aware?

After writing many posts about myself, a concern crept into my mind, am I being egotistical and selfish or am I becoming more self-aware?
“Know thyself” is generally considered wise.
Being egotistical is not.
Often one seems to be confused with the other.
Is this one of those fine lines where a virtue can turn into a vice?

John D. Mayer Ph.D says “People who display such an ability [to know thyself] understand themselves and know who they are.  They evaluate others more accurately and therefore make more allowances for others’ foibles; they are better at acknowledging their own limitations, too”. Making allowances for others’ weaknesses and acknowledging ones own limitations doesn’t sound like being egotistical!

“Our Ego Is the Enemy of Self-Awareness” states Sara Canaday.  In her article by the same name, she makes several good points. Confronting the reality of yourself, truly looking at our weaknesses and strengths always includes pain.  To our ego the pain isn’t worth the price of genuine self-knowledge.  She provides several good suggestions for improving self-awareness, take a look, if you dare!

Bringing back everything to yourself or relating to yourself can seem self-obsessed, especially if done in a rude way (which is not necessarily selfish, it could be a lack of social skills).  I found an interesting post by Peter Kowalke on where he shares his experience with self-awareness and how it’s different from selfishness.  He does make a point that we should guard against selfishness and there seems to be a risk of it in the unschooling method.

Using this knowledge, my plan is to keep writing and assessing myself. My hope is to improve self-awareness and avoid being egotistical.

What is your plan?


Know Thyself by John D. Mayer Ph.D

Our Ego Is the Enemy of Self-Awareness by Sara Canaday.

The Fine Line Between Self-Awareness and Selfishness By Peter Kowalke

Fantasy or Science Fiction?

My wife and I had a fairly long discussion about Fantasy vs. Science Fiction.

We both read the book Dragonflight this January of 2015 – the first fiction book that I’ve read in several years… I’d been so busy studying educational books, that I decided I should take a break!

The book essentially starts in a medieval setting and involves Dragons. Seems like fantasy, right?

The introduction mentions that the people on the planet traveled from earth and colonized there. That the dragons and dragon riders evolved together, forming a bond. From my angle it leans more towards science fiction. An interesting twist of making dragons an alien species, or in other words, Science fiction with a fantasy feel to it.

In this sense the book seems to have been of both genres, very cool!

Often Fantasy has magic and science fiction does not. The book Dragonflight does not contain magic in the sense of Wizards and spells, however the characters have special abilities that seem like magic.
This brings to mind the quote from Science Fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Based on a Poll in 1987, Dragonflight ranked at number nine among the 33 “All-Time Best Fantasy Novels”, seems lots of folks considered it a Fantasy book…
Let us consider Ware Shelly’s History of Science fiction Mind Map!

[The History of Science Fiction]


If you take a closer look at the dark blue/purple you will see Star Wars.
If you look near the top middle you will see C.S. Lewis Narnia stories listed.
Unable to locate Dragonflight on it, I did some google searching but still couldn’t locate a list of all books listed, please let me know if you do!

On there is a good Q&A about this question.
The discussion is interesting, it also brings the Horror genre into the mix…

What do you think? What makes a book fantasy, science fiction, or both?

My Identity: Freedom or Captivity?

My 16 year old daughter wants me to purchase her $150 Kelly Clarkson tickets. We got into a discussion about how she should have been saving her money that she earns from babysitting. She said something like “I guess I’m just not a person who saves money”. Something about that statement was like a stab in the brain, at the moment I wasn’t sure exactly why. I told her that she can change and start saving, but something about the statement was bothering me, something more than her not saving the money.

After some pondering, I realized the issue was with wrapping her identity around something negative. With saying “I’m not a person who does X good thing” you limit or “damn” yourself. On the flip side you can create a similar negative effect by stating something like “I’m just a person who does Y negative thing” (e.g. eats junk food, hates to exercise, doesn’t like people, etc…).

This is part of the Labeling Theory – From wikipedia: “Frank Tannenbaum first introduced the idea of ‘tagging’. While conducting his studies with delinquent youth, he found that a negative tag or label often contributed to further involvement in delinquent activities. This initial tagging may cause the individual to adopt it as part of their identity.”

Many years ago, personality typing engrossed me, I particularly liked the the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®). In this theory there are 16 general personality types.
Every type has its strengths and weaknesses.
I mostly identified with one type, the INTP. This type is supposed to be drained by interactions with people (all types starting with “I” are introverts and have this same issue). There is danger in thinking this, I found myself avoiding people more because it seemed like the wise thing to do, based on my personality. I have discovered that people don’t drain me, exerting effort is tiring, sometimes it’s people, sometimes it’s thinking hard, writing code or even playing a challenging video game can all cause me to experience this “drain”. Depending on the interaction, all those same things can also excite me and provide great satisfaction and motivation.

There are dangers of saying “I’m not a person who does X positive thing” or “I”m a person who does Y negative thing”. Beware of personality typing, negative self talk, and anything or anyone who inprints these upon you.

Some dangerous and limiting identifiers:
– Lazy
– Not a healthy person
– Hate to learn
– With Criminals
– With Evil/Bad
– Not a “people person”

Good identifiers that give freedom:
– Child of God
– Hard worker
– I have the ability to be disciplined
– Love to learn and grow

What do you identify with, does it hold you back or set you free?

Is Faith Valid?

What exactly is faith and is it valid?

This is a question I asked myself in my mid-twenties. I consider my conclusion to the question a crux in my personal success and well being.

My understanding of faith, is to act on something you believe in, even though you are not completely sure about it. If you believe, but it does not change your actions, or your actions do not show your belief, then it is not faith (only belief). There is a spectrum of faith. The greater the unknown, more faith is required.

A few examples…

When you start a new job you will work for a period of time before you get paid, often between two weeks and a month. This requires faith in your employer, that they will actually pay you. The longer you work for free the greater the faith you are demonstrating.

When you agree to live with another person (roommate, spouse, etc…) you believe that they will treat you and your property in a certain way; by moving-in with them you are showing faith in your ability to live together.

I had a medical procedure done a few years ago. This procedure required that I get put completely out. From my perspective I was sitting in a bed with an IV and then I woke up in a different position. My life was in their hands, I believed that they would perform the procedure agreed upon and that I would come out unscathed; faith was shown when I showed up at the hospital. I had no ill effects from the procedure, but to this day the only reason I know they performed the procedure is because they said they did. I was completely knocked out! That required faith in the medical staff.

This reasoning caused me to ponder, is faith necessary, is it good? Should we try to avoid acting on a belief as much as we possibly can?
What if I applied absence of faith to running my business? Without belief in success or belief that what I’m going to do or am doing will matter, I wouldn’t work on my business. Would anyone? What would our country and world be like without new businesses?

Then I wondered on the scientific process, which requires a hypothesis, an educated guess. Why would anyone perform hours and years of grueling study and research based on a guess? Faith I discovered, is the answer. Faith in the hypothesis, in one’s own abilities, and/or in divine guidance, colleagues, a system, or something else.

Is faith unreasonable? Sometimes it might be, yet it is paramount to any effort. This brings to mind a quote by George Bernard Shaw, “All progress depends on the unreasonable man”. Does this suggest that logic and reason are pointless? From my experience, no; logic and reason are are valuable tools. I do think this means: we must have some kind of belief in a vision, to improve the world. This can be enlightening, we need not be surprised or upset, when our vision and belief seems unreasonable to those who do not share our belief.

Developing an understanding of faith has given me great strength and determination. The things I have faith in, God, myself, my Wife, my family, community, and country have all brought me success and joy.

Is Music Math?

I frequently hear people say: music is [basically] math.
A few examples of people stating something similar:

“Music,” wrote the great 17th-century German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz, “is the sensation of counting without being aware you were counting.”

mathematics is “the basis of sound”

While I can agree that a computer, which is based on math, can play music with excellent precision, and it makes me wonder, is this true, is music essentially mathematical?
Something about this “music is math” concept has always disturbed me…

I listen to Beethoven’s sympathy #9:

and then I think of doing algebra, arithmetic, geometry, or calculus and I think: math and music are far from the same. When I was taught the basics of reading music, I could see how sheet music had mathematical elements. Yet, sheet music seems far from being the music it represents, it’s symbols, merely an abstraction.

I have been listening to How to Listen to and Understand Great Music. The professor asked to be excused while he “has a soapbox moment” and says “music is like music and math is like math” he continued with several examples, expressing his frustration with people lumping music and math together.

This was the first time I had heard an argument against it, and I thought “amen!”. Even with this professor agreeing with my thoughts, I’d like to explore the idea a little further.

Written music, the notes on bars, is at best an abstraction of the physical sound of music. A trained person can use his or her ability and imagination to recreate a musical piece, to something similar, but not exactly the same as when played by another person or instrument.
Musical notation seems closer to a written historical story, something we must each recreate in our mind, hopefully close, yet never the same, and at best, only an approximation of what really happened. Musical writings, and written historical accounts are each a record, hoping to capture a specific piece of reality; in this sense, these do have a similarity with math.

What is math exactly? The exact definition of math is up for debate. Math deals with quantification, abstraction and patterns, it studies physical objects, yet by necessity is always something less, something more abstract. Music is physical, it can be experienced, is more than numbers and the sum of its measurable parts.

This whole “music is math” concept, I think, is a good example of the Reification fallacy:

it is the error of treating as a concrete thing, something which is not concrete, but merely an idea

What do you think, is music math?