A Great Reason To Stop Reading the News

22 09 2014

Would you believe that it can be very traumatic just to hear about someone else’s traumatic experience? It’s called vicarious trauma and here is an interesting quote from the following book:


Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE): A revolutionary new method for stress/trauma recovery

“It is very common for people who have not experienced the same trauma as their loved ones to be even more bitter, vengeful, angry and resentful than the person who endured and survived the traumatic experience. Imagination is a powerful thought process of the human species. It can however, be a dangerous and powerful weapon if it is not connected to the body’s experience of reality. This is why those who suffer can often forgive more easily than those who only imagined another’s suffering. Those who imagine the suffering of another are often more angry, bitter, and vengeful than the victim. As a victim, it is oftentimes easier to forgive because one’s own suffering and sorrow are informed by the reality of the body’s survival.”

So simply put, when you live through a traumatic experience your body knows you survived and helps you feel relief. If you recount a traumatic experience (in vivid detail) it is unlikely you can get the listener to also experience the relief. Similarly if you read violent/messed up news stories, watch things like crime dramas, or watch shows such as real life murder mysteries (see the South Park Murder Porn episode) you can experience the trauma but never the relief. Despite it being second hand it can add up and leave your body physiologically showing signs of trauma, which as you can guess, is not good.

I was reminded of this quote when recently reading an article on Fragging in the Vietnam War.

This Sergeant went on to tell me he was on a patrol with a commanding officer who insisted they follow him into what they, as experienced soldiers, knew was an ambush.  The officer refused to budge and finally one of the men shot him dead.  I asked the Sergeant what he did and he said he had no choice but to arrest the offender who had probably saved lives.

Quite a story right? The next line is “He was eerily calm relating these stories.”  What I think the author really meant to say is, “I perceived it to be eerie that he was so calm while relating this story because I found it so disturbing.” To the Sergeant telling the story, he has lived with it everyday for the past 40 years, it’s old news, something he may have struggled with for decades, perhaps with the help of several therapists, and eventually he was able to relay the story “calmly.” But to the listener, this is fresh news and quite a vivid picture. The listener doesn’t know about the 10 years it took to cope with it, nor do they have any idea that imagining this story in their head can bring it to life for their body.

Now imagine reading/watching news stories like this every day of your life and you get the idea of why the modern “news”, aka click bait, is horrible for your health. For your reference, I just turned off my news blocker and here are the top stories on Yahoo! News (note, this is just the main site, not the crime site or the please scare me site)

  • Pentagon: US, partners begin airstrikes in Syria
  • WH intruder had 800 rounds of ammo
  • 3 missing Afghan soldiers found at Canadian border
  • New Jersey hiker killed by black bear: police
  • California wildfire crews brace for weather shift

My heart rate went up just reading those headlines.


A few more musings and a personal note:

Perhaps this is why the current generation seems desensitized. Day in and day out we are exposed to these kind of violent news stories, and to not be desensitized would be a death sentence. But I don’t think we’re truly desensitized. I recall a time when this was really pounded into my soul. A brief bit of background, I played a lot of video games involving killing and watched plenty of rated R movies with plenty of body parts flying before the following story takes place. If anyone was going to be desensitized to violence by games and movies as the media and crazy parents would have us believe, it would have been me.


In AP US History class sophomore year my teacher showed us a video about the Vietnam war. The video started off boring, like most history videos, then out of nowhere there was a scene of a handcuffed man being shot in the head and killed.

I don’t remember if I actually did, but my instinct was to jump out of my chair and scream. Holy shit! That guy was just fucking killed! In real fucking life!  There didn’t appear to be any warning, in the video it didn’t look like there was an argument; the man is tied up and just standing there handcuffed.Then a uniformed man nonchalantly walks around him, pulls up his gun, and shoots the handcuffed man in the head. Don’t feel too bad for the handcuffed man though, he had just finished leading a death squad in the killing of the families of enemy officers.

I was absolutely shocked. I wanted to puke (and honestly I do right now after watching the video again). All those years of being “desensitized by violent video games and movies,” and I reacted just like anyone would expect a normal kid to react.

I later sat down and thought about why I reacted that way despite all my “experience” with violence and I realized that this was the first time I had ever seen anyone actually die. In the back of my head I felt like I had seen someone die before, after all I had seen plenty of movies with blood and guts all over the place and even played games where I actively killed people; but this completely different and I knew it on a fundamental level, instantly, without hesitation. Years of violent games and movies that were supposed to be fucking up my brain, had near zero impact on my reaction to seeing death for the first time. Not even death, a video of a death. The games and movies didn’t mess me up; instead, what really got to me were things I knew to be real, things like that video and the news.

Interestingly enough, South Park had an episode about this as well as the video above. In this episode the kids are playing detective and get an old couple to pay them to solve the mystery of what happened to a pie on the windowsill. They found out the dog did it, but come up with this really fucked up explanation about how the old man was planning to kill his wife to eat the pie but the dog beat him to the pie before he had a chance to kill his wife. The old people are like, WTF?! What are you kids watching on TV?! You might think they would say NCIS or Law and Order SVU, but their reply is simply: “nothing, just the news.”

Oh and if you haven’t seen Bowling For Columbine, it’s basically about how Canada also has violent video games and movies, but doesn’t have the same violent news the US seems to be obsessed with, and how this could be connected with the difference in violent crime.


Memorization tip for test taking

17 09 2014

Just wanted to share this tip I came up with myself in college (although I’m sure someone in the world has thought of it). It is intended for use in engineering/math type classes with limited or no use of a cheat sheet. Let’s call it the short term memory cheat sheet.

Step 1: Make a 1 page cheat sheet of equations/material you need to remember. It should only be material you don’t remember (no easy equations like F = ma), and it should be sectioned in a grid of some kind. Each time you review the sheet, try to “place” the items in their grid space, and remember them spatially.
Here’s a very complicated example taken from https://www.cfa.harvard.edu/~afriedman/CheatSheetsIndex.html


Step 2: Read over the sheet a few times after writing it. Go to sleep.

Step 3: Review the sheet the morning of the test.

Step 4: Have the sheet on your desk, trying to memorize as much as you can while waiting for the professor to hand out the tests. Up until the professor tells you to put everything away.

Step 5: This is important: when you get your test, turn it over and draw the same grid you had on the cheat sheet you just put away in your backpack. This helps with visualization. If you get scrap paper you can use one of those. If your professor prints double sided and you have no clean sheet of paper, get creative.

Step 6: Fill in as much as you can remember. Speed is important as you’re relying on your short term memory. Try to visualize the sections of the grid, and what each contains. Regurgitate as much as you can as fast as you can, before reading anything. Remember every minute you’re writing down your cheat sheet is a minute you lose to take the actual test.

Boom, now you have a cheat sheet for a test that does not allow any cheat sheet! Feel free to link to this page if your professor thinks you cheated. Then tell them, with the internet, memorization is getting pretty pointless.

Bonus tip: When you do get a cheat sheet, if you write in one direction with red pen and then turn the paper 90° and write in blue pen, you can fit twice as many notes.

Synergistic Tech Development

9 09 2014

2020 is a satellite in the back

Wilderness survival is for the wilderness

3 08 2014

A common misconception among tough guys seems to be that if the world ends, they think they will be able to live off the land near a populated area.

Dead wrong. Emphasis on the word dead.

In the LA/OC area there are about 13 million people. If the SHTF, they will all be looking for food and water, it will be a blood bath of competition. There’s no way the land can support even 1/10th of the amount of people who will be displaced.

The amount of food stored in LA/OC without trucks/trains/planes constantly rolling in is about five days worth, according to Collapse. Assuming half  the people are wiped out and none of the food is damaged, that’s 10 days. Say you can ration about 50% and we add in food not normally counted in the food supply (emergency stored food etc), and maybe the remaining population would last a month. Maybe.

Best strategy for a regional disaster? Get out of the region! But whatever you do, definitely don’t assume you can use wilderness survival skills to last very long when there are millions of people roaming the countryside.

Today I saved a life

22 07 2014

And all it cost my friend is a beer. 5 bucks for a life, not a bad deal. You may be wondering what I did to save my friend’s life; did I pull him from a fire? No. Did I stop a gunman from shooting him? No.

I fixed the front brakes on his bicycle.

The front brakes on a bicycle account for about 80% of maximum braking power. That’s a huge difference in stopping power if your front brakes are out! Can you imagine riding down a hill and having a stoplight change from green to red on you? Not a pretty picture. So yes, today I saved a life, zero cost for me except a few minutes.