Friday was a somewhat productive day at school. I’ve completed the majority of the coding and “hard” work for the current paper and now I am in the writing stage. In the early evening I stepped outside to call and wake up Hani (12 hour time difference) and to eat my lunch.

A man approached me while I was eating. He wasn’t unfamiliar; I think I’ve seen him around the electrical engineering buildings before. I was eating the last of my pretzels and admiring a pair of road bikes parked nearby (a post on my bikeless status is forthcoming). The man (quite tall, carrying a closed umbrella) walked past, presumably leaving for the day.

I paced idly, crunching. When I turned around, the man was walking back towards me with that direct-yet-indirect approach one uses when approaching someone who is otherwise engaged. I stopped pacing and he stepped forward and asked, somewhat disjointedly,

Have we talked before? I think I’ve? We’ve met? Before?

I had no idea who he was (besides having possibly seen him “around”) and so responded,

Um.. I.. don’t think so?

He then continued,

I was wondering if I could ask your opinion about something…

What a strange opening! Why ask the opinion of someone that you’re not even certain you’ve met before? He went on,

…about Jesus.

Ah. The “we’ve met before” was, as they say, an angle. This was an unusual confrontation – apparently he was leaving for the day when my presence inspired him to recite his patter. Perhaps I was eating with particular lust; perhaps I was eyeing bikes with envy. Perhaps I was kneeling before a statue of Baal.

We talked briefly.

When he had earned this day his daily bread he made to leave. Before he went on his way and left me to my pretzels he said,

Well, good luck. In life. In everything. We may never meet again.

There is something ominous in those words. Was he implying my demise? Would he be instrumental in it? Was he foretelling his own passing? Would it involve a cross?



I felt ill on Friday and decided to stay home; my sickness was minor (and legitimate), but reminded me of fodder for my blog. Fodder. My blog is cow-like, grazing on ideas like a ruminating ruminant. I’m sure there is a corresponding analogy for the udder, but in the interest of my readers I will avoid going down that path!

My wellbeing, or rather my estimation of my wellbeing, is easily influenced. My brain, upon hearing about illness or encountering a sick person, immediately begins to suggest, to hint, to my body that it also suffers from the same affliction. I am aware of this problem – I do not actually believe that I am sick, but somewhere deep in the grey folds of my brain a few synapses decide that I will respond accordingly, regardless.

Synapse Fred: So… hear about that swine flu?
Synapse Charlie: Ah, yes, swine flu.
Synapse Fred: Nate doesn’t seem too worried about it.
Synapse Charlie: Nope, seems not.
Synapse Fred: I was thinking…
Synapse Charlie: It takes at least two of us to call it thought. That’s why there’s two of us in this story Nate is making up!
Synapse Fred: We were thinking, how about making Nate feel sick? You know, nothing serious, just a general malaise with associated effects.
Synapse Charlie: Let’s do it. You call the stomach and get things unsettled while I check in with the lungs and work up a tightened chest.

As I said, I am well aware that these devious synapses fire as they do. Interestingly, that knowledge is not sufficient to prevent the feelings. Instead I am forced to outsmart my own brain. (Who, then, is doing the outsmarting? Perhaps my estimation of my own intelligence is equally unbalanced!)

There are some symptoms of illness that the brain cannot fake, and I check these whenever I am feeling sick; if these symptoms are not present I ignore those that are.

  1. Muscle tone: when you fall sick, in general, muscle tone increases. This means that when in a resting position your muscles are slightly more tensed than they would ordinarily be. As I am very thin this is easily detectable.
  2. Wheezing: I become slightly asthmatic when I get sick, a minor inconvenience that I’ve had since I was a baby. I have an inhaler for this purpose. The difference between a tight chest and asthmatic effects are easily distinguishible.
  3. Fever: Fevers, I have read, are related to confusion of the glands that control temperature monitoring in the body; as they recalibrate and tell the body to cool, the sufferer feels alternately hot and cold. As this is an unintentional feature of a sick body, my brain does not fake it and the hot-cold feverish feeling is a true signal of illness.

Some signals I cannot trust, and have learned to ignore as they can come and go as quickly as the duration of a new pharmaceutical advertisement on television.

  1. Headache: my brain will summon a headache if I so much as think about the words “head” and “ache” in a 30 minute timeframe.
  2. Nausea and related stomach annoyances: did I read about someone falling ill? Meet someone who coughed? Eat a piece of meat that spent more than 30 seconds on the plate between cooking and consumption? How about a nice upset stomach to go along with it?
  3. Dizziness: the illness in question need not even include dizziness as a symptom for my mind to induce the same.

Now after all this one might think of me as a hypochondriac. That is untrue however; after a long time dealing with a brain that inflicts symptoms on a whim I have become astute at distinguishing between the two. Originally (when I became aware of this issue) I hoped that as I became used to ignoring false witnesses to my health I would naturally stop reacting in such a way. Unfortunately this seems not to be the case.

Does my body want to be sick? Does my brain have it in for my body? Is this all leading up to a fatal retelling of the tale of the boy who cried wolf? Am I to be done in by a cold after long ignoring annoying minor symptoms? Let’s hope not: I’m not likely to start listening to my brain’s diagnosis now!

I am a computer engineer by degree. You might think that makes me proficient at modern technology, at gadgetry. If in fact you thought this I’ll grant you an opportunity to make a retraction; while the use of computers and specialized electronic devices abounds in computer engineering, the study itself does not confer any worldly skills of the sort an outsider might expect.

Perhaps you might now think that a correlation still exists, but it is by association and not causation – that self-identifying as a computer engineer implies technological prowess. The construction of this suggestion belies the innocence it pretends; clearly I intend more deception!

That is the case: I am terribly inept at popular electronics. I browse Facebook with the mouse at arm’s length, leaning back in my chair squinting, as if by distance I can avoid the complexies contained within. I punch at the buttons on my phone with thick fingers, grunting the rude language of prehistoric man. Sweat drips down my sloped forehead as I confront a television’s remote control. Befuddling.

With the proper time and equipment I could certainly construct a mobile phone of some worth. But once constructed, my lack of ability to use the same would convince one not having read the previous sentence that I am a man that does not belong in this time. The watcher would shake his head; “give this man a rock and a stick with which to hit it – modern technology pains his primitive brain.”

What is the cause of this deficiency? I don’t know. I am simply much more comfortable working with abstract mathematical constructs than with an MP3 player. Unfortunately I am too young to draw on the “absent-minded professor” image or to take on a Knuth-like ascetism about the subject matter with which I work. For the time being I will simply scratch my head with a crooked finger and continue carving my research into convenient rocks.

It is my wont to spread information as I acquire it: hence, my desire to teach. When I was in third grade I had a large blue hardcover book entitled “The Big Book of Facts”: the bible from which I preached, incessantly, gems of knowledge to my family.

Sitting at my pulpit (the lunch table, typically) I would open with “Here’s something you didn’t know…” Feel free to take a moment to appreciate my family’s restraint, as evident by my continued existence!

I have long since outgrown such childish evangelism; now I have a large repetiore of phrases with which to begin the enlightenment of my captive congregation! Take another moment to appreciate my fiancee’s restraint.

One such piece of information (there should be a noun: informatum, as for data / datum) involves walking with a full coffee mug. I was taught at some point (in keeping with the theme I should say it came to me in a dream, borne by blue hardcover angels) that it is best to keep one’s eyes straight ahead while carrying coffee. One’s natural inclination is to watch the liquid to ensure it doesn’t spill, but as per The Big Book of Facts, or whichever prophet wore its mantel that day, this leads to overcompensation. The best strategy is to walk slowly without looking at the coffee.

I have rigorously adhered to this “fact” and repeated it many times. It was only during the last few weeks, while walking between buildings with my daily second cup (the first being at home with breakfast) that I dared question its validity. You see, for as long as I have been faithfully marching, eyes front and center, I have also been routinely covering myself in coffee.

I attributed the spillage to my own clumsiness, or perhaps simply walking too fast. But during my second cup ritual I have noticed that when I transgress and stare intently into the mug as I walk, I reach my office with nary a drop upon my shirt.

Heresy! cries The Big Book of Facts. Heresy! echoes the congregation. And so my faith, my unblinking adherence, to the Big Book is shattered. My apostasy is apparent, my excommunication imminent. I am no doubt damned to an eternal coffee cup of bitter grounds; no sweet brew awaits my passing.

Will this disproof of coffee cup canon lead to a stop in my obscure fact evangelism? Of course not! “The coffee cup passage is a metaphor”, I will apologize. “The liquid is symbolic; the mug, a vessel representing the soul. Let thine eyes dwell not upon thine soul or surely thou will stumble.”

Go ahead, take another moment for my fiancee; her patience is incredible!