Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What I Hate About Berkeley

1. It's highly impersonal.
With over 25,000 other undergraduates and 100+ seat lecture halls, you feel alone and disconnected. The underpaid school staff and advisers are short tampered if you take a little to long to ask a question or have follow-up questions. Professors are extremely busy. You don't get the sense that they have any time to invest to spend talking to you.

2. It's hard to make friends.
Being white, it's hard fitting into an Asian-majority environment. Even though I am not Anglo Saxon, nor Protestant, nor from a privileged family, the students discriminate against you by excluding you from their social circles. In addition, I am shy so unless someone reaches out to me, it's really hard for me to make friends, even though I try. Other students are always busy studying or attending various clubs.

3. It's stressful.
The highly competitive academic environment, combined with a lack of support from friends and faculty, creates a perfect storm for an emotional breakdown. Everyone puts a facade of being "perfect". They pretend like they are fine while you think that you're the only one loosing one's mind over the finals and a lack of social life. You feel like you don't measure up to others. Always in doubt if you belong here or you got here by accident. Always feeling behind everybody else in achievement, whenever you see somebody get an internship, a good grade in a class, an award, a leadership position, a job.

4. It's ghetto.
It's full of that which is weird. Nobody is either friendly or nice, on the contrary, many are rude. There are also the righteous, angry, smug old people telling your friend to put out her cigarette, and that she is too young to smoke because she is Asian, even thought she is 23. There are many weird bums and hitchhikers begging on almost every corner of the street and along Telegraph. It's annoying and distressing to see so many people homeless yet not being able to help them. It makes you feel hopeless - that in case you become homeless nobody would be there to help you. There are a lot of hippies and hipsters, who are mostly dirty, ultra-liberal, pot-smoking, lazy lowlifes. You can smell weed on every corner of the street, even when there isn't anybody within a 50-feet radius. Most students - especially with regards to dating - are socially retarded. There is graffiti on the walls, no large chain book stores within 20 miles of campus. I saw a bum reliving himself on a newsstand in bright daylight on the busy street Shattack. It's terribly uncomfortable to drive in. The myriad of one and two-way roads are deformed and as uncomfortable and complicated to navigate through as in SF. It's terribly uncomfortable to drive in. The housing is vastly overpriced and the housing conditions are deplorable. Most houses are over 100 years old, uncomfortable, with inadequate heating, dirty, and squeaky.

5. It's too politically correct.
You have to have an "open mind" about things like people's race, gender, sexual orientation, food preferences, and whatnot. It's frowned upon to say "that's gay", or Asian (vs Asian-American), or "acting black", or calling somebody a "pussy", or asking a vegan/vegetarian why they are vegan/vegetarian. You have to recycle and frown upon Hummers. Environmentalism is almost a religion.

6. There's no nightlife.
The city shuts down at 10pm. There is literally one club in the whole Berkeley, the Shattack Downlow. And mostly attended by older non-student population. Most restaurants close by 9 or 10, except for a few last-resort diners and a doughnut shop. Even the 24-Hour Fitness there closes at midnight. The only redemption is the 24-hour Safeway down College ave. Basically if you want to hang out with your friends or a date after 9pm, you'll have a really hard time finding anything to do outside.

7. Its parking.
If you have a car (which is essential if you want to avoid the dreadful AC Transit), you'll have to allocate about $500 per semester for traffic tickets, towing, and parking meters. The city has a horrible "street sweeping" policy, where each side of each street has street sweeping on a different day of every month. The parking enforcement is merciless on the poor students who struggle to pay for tuition and have tens of thousands in loans. It is a miracle to find parking anytime before 10pm within two blocks of campus. And the parking meters have a 1 or 2 hour limits. I'd expect more from a city that collect this much money from its meters and parking tickets. If you wish to park near a Starbucks to get a coffee you'll be circling around for 30 minutes before finding a spot.

8. Its streets.
The myriad of the dirty one and two-way roads are deformed and as uncomfortable and complicated to navigate through as in SF. The student are completely inconsiderate of the cars and treat the road as sidewalks, assuming they always have the right-of-way. If you are from a suburban area, you'd think every student wants to die. The students are completely inconsiderate of the cars and treat the road as sidewalks, assuming they always have the right-of-way.

9. Its weather.
It's cold and it's cloudy.

10. Its anti-Semitic sentiment.
From satirical articles in the Heuristic Squelch, to Upper Sproul Plaza "free Palestine" protesters, to bumper stickers sold on Telegraph stands saying "end the occupation", to a professor drawing the star of David to demonstrate the six enablers of capitalism - one on each of the star's corners.

11. Its "activism".
In Berkeley, there is always something to protest. Pick an issue. From cupcake bake sales to cutting down a tree. Through protests, students distract each others' learning through occupying classrooms buildings and entire buildings. In addition you have to hear the annoying helicopters circling above campus. The righteous bumper stickers covering the cars are a great example. Maybe it had an impact back in the 60's, but now it's just a cliche.

12. The students' school pride.
Although highly stupid, a low degree of school pride and competition with Stanford is healthy. However, you know it's gone too far when students make another cry at a football game for wearing a red shirt, yelling "take off that red shirt". Every freshman wears a Cal sweater, emphasizing their inadequate sense of fashion and sexual inaptitude. And nobody talks badly of Cal, even though it has major flaws.

This list may give an impression that Berkeley is a terrible city. That's correct! However, there are certain things I love about it: the intellectual environment, ambitious people, countless ethnic foods, bars, beers, best gelato I've had, close to SF, Lake Tahoe, and Napa Valley.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cell Phone Use While Driving Is Safe

According to a 2001 AAA traffic safety report, cell phone use is the eighth most reported cause of distraction-related accidents at 1.5 percent. If fact, adjusting the radio/cassette/CD, other occupant in vehicle, adjusting vehicle/climate control, and eating/drinking while driving are all more distracting than using/dialing cell phone (Table 1).

Table 1

Crash cases involving distracted drivers constitute under 13% of all cases, which makes cell phone use a laughable 0.2% (.13 * .015) of all cases.

Here is what Wikipedia says:
Meta-analysesA 2005 review by the Hawaiian legislature entitled "Cell Phone Use and Motor Vehicle Collisions: A Review of the Studies" contains an analysis of studies on cell phone/motor vehicle accident causality. A key finding was that: "No studies were found that directly address and resolve the issue of whether a causal relation exists between cellular telephone use while operating a motor vehicle and motor vehicle collisions."[10]Meta-analysis by the Canadian Automobile Association[11] and the University of Illinois[12] found that response time while using both hands-free and hand-held phones was approximately 0.5 standard deviations higher than normal driving (i.e., an average driver, while talking on a cell phone, has response times of a driver in roughly the 40th percentile).
I need to repeat that: "No studies were found that directly address and resolve the issue of whether a causal relation exists between cellular telephone use while operating a motor vehicle and motor vehicle collisions."

The second study found that cell phone use is distracting - decreases response time by about 10%. Not a significant figure. Besides, this study has nothing to do with vehicular crushes. Of course talking on the cell phone creates distraction but there is no evidence that it causes car crashes.

Similarly:

As a percentage of distraction-related accidents

In September 2010, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a report on distracted driving fatalities for 2009. The NHTSA considers distracted driving to include some of the following as distractions: other occupants in the car, eating, drinking, smoking, adjusting radio, adjusting environmental control, reaching for object in car, and cell phone use. In 2009 in the U.S. there was a reported 5,474 people killed by distracted drivers. Of those 995 were considered to be killed by drivers distracted by cell phones. The report doesn't state whether this under or over represents the level of cell phone use amongst drivers, and whether there is a causal relationship.[5]
A 2003 study of U.S. crash data states that driver inattention is estimated to be a factor in between 20 to 50 percent of all police-reported crashes. Driver distraction, a sub-category of inattention, has been estimated to be a contributing factor in 8 to 13 percent of all crashes. Of distraction-related accidents, cell phone use may range from 1.5 to 5 percent of contributing factors.[6] However, large percentages of unknowns in each of those categories may cause inaccuracies in these estimations. A 2001 study sponsored by The American Automobile Association recorded "Unknown Driver Attention Status" for 41.5 percent of crashes, and "Unknown Distraction" in 8.6 percent of all distraction related accidents.[7]According to NHTSA, "There is clearly inadequate reporting of crashes".[8]
The NHTSA report states that there was a reported 5,474 people killed by distracted drivers is 2009 in the U.S., 16% of 33,808 total (Table 2). Of those, 995 (18% of distracted, 3% of total) were considered to be killed by drivers distracted by cell phones.


Data represents deaths within 30 days of accident. Source: U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Traffic Safety Facts, annual; and unpublished data. See Internet site.

Moreover, the report doesn't state whether there is a causal relationship between cell phone use and distracted driving fatalities.

Some possible explanations for this may include defensive driving -adjusting to the increased distraction, e.g., slowing down.

Other arguments stem from the steady decline in automobile fatalities (9.7% decrease from 2008 to 2009) despite the increase in cell phone subscriptions.  

In conclusion, while talking on the phone may create distraction, it does not translate into auto accidents. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Are You Happy?!

Many things have been said about happiness. To me, I can not feel it anymore. Some say sadness is necessary to know happiness, like the night is necessary to know the day. For me all feeling is unipolar. Being depressed so long I noticed that my perspective on pleasure has shifted dramatically relative to what I used to feel. My average feeling—what I feel most of the time—has slid way down the happiness scale, and feeling "normal"—what everyone else feels and takes for granted in their daily life—is the highest form of happiness that I am able to attain. That feeling, what living is for other human beings, for me is happiness. To me, happiness is the functionality of the serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine receptors in my brain. It is not a choice. One can not be happy drowning, alone, against one's will, and without seeing the end of one's misery—while being expected to function normally in life.

—Excerpt from my journal, 3/18/10 4:02 AM
What is the secret to happiness? Is this really the most important question to ask? Then what is? The focus on Positive Psychology has a wide-ranging detrimental effect of people obsessing over being happy to the point where they are in despair over not being totally happy, if such a thing is even possible. If we could put a drug in the tap water that would make everybody happy, would we want that? Is happiness the highest achievement we should seek in life?
"Nowadays, it’s not enough to be happy—if you can be even happier. The American Dream and the pursuit of happiness have morphed from a quest for general contentment to the idea that you must be happy at all times and in every way."
—Lori Gottlieb
"One should never direct people towards happiness, because happiness too is an idol of the market-place. One should direct them towards mutual affection. A beast gnawing at its prey can be happy too, but only human beings can feel affection for each other, and this is the highest achievement they can aspire to."
—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

What is happiness? It's inner peace. Where does it come from? Your friends, parents, sister and brother. Having something to do - something that you enjoy. A hobby. Having a goal - something to look forward to. But a prerequisite for happiness is a health. A healthy physical as well as mental states are necessities. If a man is suffering from depression, he is unable to feel happy no matter ho hard he tries, due to anhedonia; it is simply impossible. And lastly, having just enough money - $75,000 a year - to cover necessities as well as a little extra.

This state of happiness is fleeting and always incomplete. It's the "pursuit of happiness" - a constant journey, not a destination. Perhaps we never can experience happiness in the exploited sense that it is made out to be. Appreciation of the present moment - and of what you have - friends, food, legal rights, etc. (whatever it is that you are thankful for) is also necessary.

"There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state to another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of life."
—Alexandre Dumas
Maybe one needs to die in order to live. I felt like I was dead. With nothing to look forward to, zero worth, only pain and misery and my unruly mind landing my thoughts on the darkest of subjects. This is not life in any sense. Each day--a drag. I got to the point when I did not want to wake up, because living was truly a trying task—trying to shed off the thoughts of death.

—Excerpt from my journal, 3/18/10
"The Grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for."
—Allan K. Chalmers
Maybe happiness is having something to do, or, more generally, having a something that you look forward to doing—purpose.
—Excerpt from my journal, 3/18/10
So, here are the ingredients for happiness:
  • Mental and physical health (being reasonably free from, e.g., depression and chronic pain)
  • Something to do (to experience "flow" — an activity that utilizes your skills to the highest level)
  • Something to love (a lover, a friend, a pet, an activity)
  • Something to hope for (purpose)
  • Appreciate what you have - for to be happy there must be something that you want but don't have
  • Antidepressants, cognitive-behavioral therapy, meditation.