Observer's Notes

The ideas of a thoughtful college student (Updated Whenever)

  • Welcome to Observer’s Notes!

    I'm Brian. This is my blog. I write about things that I think about, since verbalizing it helps me put things in more concrete terms. So here you'll find my occasional thoughts.
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Overqualified (writing project)

Posted by Brian on May 23, 2010

I’ve been really into Joey Comeau’s Overqualified lately. If you’ve never checked it out, I highly recommend doing so. He basically writes stories in the form of fake resume cover letters. It’s a surprisingly fun medium for story-telling. I decided to try my hand at one, since I haven’t done anything creative in a long time, and I really love writing.

Obviously nothing in this story is true. It’s just a story.

To: Microsoft
Re: What happened to me?

Dear Microsoft,

I am writing to apply for a software engineer position with your company. I have enclosed with this letter a copy of my resume for your review, but let me save you the time. I have never worked as a software engineer, or in any IT-related position. I have no relevant degrees. In short, I have nothing your company wants. I have nothing your company needs. But I do have something everyone else needs. But I need this job to make it happen.

The problem is that your software eviscerates people, Microsoft. It takes their quirks, their qualities, their flaws, and shoves them so far down they disappear. Your software certainly eviscerated me. Every day for fifteen years I sat down in front of your software. I stared at it for days, sometimes nights, on end. At the end, I could barely remember the sound of my wife’s voice, or the color of her eyes, or the way our bodies met and seemed to melt together. I was asleep, Microsoft, and it took a bottle of sleeping pills to wake me up.

It’s not that I blame you; how customers use your software is my psychotic boss’s responsibility, not yours. But you and I can fix this. And the answer is webcams. With access to your resources, we can program your software to recognize the warning signs: lethargy; bags under the eyes; that bottle of liquor you think no one knows about; desperate phone calls asking if you’re working late again, and if you’re OK, and if you love that job more than her.

And then your software tries to fix the problem. Sure, it’ll start out gentle. Maybe a few pop-up messages. Don’t you have some personal days left? How’re the kids doing? Weren’t you here last weekend too? Then it gets more aggressive. Every Google search becomes a dinner reservation for two. Explicit emails get “accidentally” sent to the boss. Quarterly reports get reformatted into order forms for that toy you don’t know your son wants. Eventually, Microsoft, your most desperate users will have no choice to but to leave and live and love.

It may be too late for her, but maybe together we can save someone else.


Brian Hettinger


Posted in Computers, Literature, Technology, Uncategorized, Windows | Leave a Comment »

Mock Trial Regionals

Posted by Brian on February 27, 2010

So, the Mock Trial regionals for this season were last weekend in Spokane. It was definitely a fun weekend. If nothing else, I learned that the team is a really great group to travel with. They’re talented, supportive, and most of all fun to hang out with.

It wasn’t really a winning season though. Out of eight judges over four rounds, we won two and lost six. Not exactly a stellar record. I didn’t win an All-Region Award either (I won two last year), which I’ll admit was disappointing. But despite that, I still feel like it was a totally worthwhile season. Mostly because it was more  of a learning season, for the team as a whole and definitely for me individually. I really feel like I’m growing in my advocacy skills, technically and substantively. I feel comfortable enough with the substance of trial that I’ve been able to focus on style. I think this was cemented for me when I was able to radically alter one of my cross-examinations after opposing counsel made an unexpected tactical move. I always used to wonder how attorneys managed to pay attention to so many different things in the courtroom while also trying a case. Now I’m starting to get it. And it’s fun.

I feel like I got a taste of real-world issues this season, too. I’ve been thinking lately about whether criminal law is really the field I want to go into. I’m starting to have my doubts, despite how much I love it. It’s not exactly a trade secret that law practice can be a difficult career. I’ve heard Rex say before that sometimes he’d have to take vacations after major cases because his body just couldn’t take the stress anymore. I got a (very small) taste of this. In our third round, the judges both said that I seemed angry. I think the first clue was when I started snapping at the defendant during Cross. Most of you have never seen me actually perform, but take my word that I’m usually much more controlled than that.

At the end of that round, I was straight-up exhausted. Performance-wise we were struggling, we had some tough breaks with our evidence getting excluded, and we’d been at this for two days with very little sleep. By the time I stood up to give my Closing, I just didn’t have the energy or passion that an aggressive argument demands. Not even close. And this is Mock Trial. As in, not real trial. That makes me wonder about how demanding real criminal trials are. I have no doubt that I could handle it, but I question whether I want to handle it.

I should sit down with Rex and talk about what the job was like for him.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

In which Brian is frustrated by shoddy electronics

Posted by Brian on July 5, 2009

Am I the only one who’s noticed in recent years that electronics simply aren’t made well anymore? Every time I find myself contemplating purchasing something electronics-related, I don’t find myself asking if something will go wrong with; I find myself asking when and how something will go wrong with it.

A quick list of things that have gone wrong in the last six months:

  • Kodak M863 digital camera – This one prompted this note. It just decided to stop turning on one day. Now I have to send it to be repaired.
  • Xbox 360 – Couldn’t transfer data as customer service said I could. Ended up having to wipe my hard drive to get rid of corrupted files. Never did solve this problem.
  • Printer/Power strip – Not sure what the problem is here, but the printer just randomly doesn’t turn on sometimes.
  • Computer – I don’t even want to talk about this one. My old laptop had a million problems, all of which were resolved when I bought a Mac.
  • Television – Internal bulb is faulty. This one resulted in a class-action lawsuit and a check every few months for a new bulb.

It’s not just me, either. According to the website EMS Now, an electronics manufacturing industry e-magazine:

“Reports of the quality shortcomings of electronic products are starting to appear. The Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter ran an article on 27 September 2007 stating that “because of electronics, new cars have more flaws than before,” and that according to Volvo, “electronics are the automotive Achilles’ heel.”

I’m sure all of you could share similar horror stories with some product or another. This confuses me. I have my gripes with free-market economic systems, to be sure. But one thing I do love about the free market is that consumers have the power to reward companies who make good products by buying only good products. If a company makes a product that is useful, well-made and reliable, the consumers have the power to support that company’s product, thus encouraging other companies to match or exceed that quality. In the same way, consumers have the power to discourage poor products by choosing not to buy poor products. In theory, this leads to higher-quality products available to consumers, since poorly-made products aren’t profitable to companies.

But, clearly, that’s not happening. So where’s the hitch in the system? Part of it is definitely with the companies that make these faulty products. As much as we’d like to believe that companies are motivated to make good products, if all or most companies make bad products then there’s no incentive. Most major electronics manufacturers have outsourced parts, manufacturing, and labor to countries with less strict labor laws. The result of this is that they can afford to make crappy products. Well-made products, though ideal for consumers, are often more expensive for companies to produce. It’s cheaper for them to use cheap parts assembled as quickly as possible, and rely on sale volume and savings elsewhere to make up for return and repair costs. If one company had decided to adopt this practice, that probably could be corrected. However, this is an industry-wide practice that results in lower quality products across the board.

But it’s not all the fault of the manufacturers. Let’s face it, we as consumers are not blameless. I’ve been happy with my Kodak camera so far. I’ve had it just under a year, and it’s just stopped working. So being a responsible consumer, the right thing for me to do would be to stop buying Kodak products and get a camera that’s well-made…right?

Well, that’s exactly what I’m not doing. Instead I’m cashing in on the warranty and sending it in for repair. The culture of consumerism says that we want high-quality products for rock-bottom prices. That’s just not possible. And given a choice, we’ll always go for the cheaper product that’s going to need to be replaced in a year. We don’t invest in electronics, they’re just another disposable object. This encourages companies to make poorly-made products, because making high-quality products cost more, and they have to pass that cost on to consumers; a cost consumers aren’t willing to pay. We’d rather just buy a new one when the old one breaks. It’s consumerism. The companies know what we’re willing to buy, and that’s not expensive products.

What do you guys think? Is the recent trend of low-quality electronics the fault of companies or consumers?

Posted in Computers, Technology | 1 Comment »

This I Believe

Posted by Brian on October 11, 2008

This is an essay I wrote for my freshman inquiry class. I’m quite happy with how it turned out, so I thought I’d share it here. This isn’t due until Tuesday, so feel free to leave me constructive criticism.


“You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.” This is what Brian Johnson realizes in the movie The Breakfast Club after spending a Saturday in detention with four other students from different social groups. At first they fight and argue. But as they learn more about each other, they see that they really aren’t all that different. When I first saw The Breakfast Club, I was inspired. Not just because it was a good movie, but because it echoed one of my long-held beliefs. I believe that every person is unique, and beyond explanation by a simple stereotype.

Part of the reason this belief is so important to me is because it’s one I don’t often see practiced anymore. In The Breakfast Club, Brian Johnson is the “nerd” of the group. He feels pressure from his friends and family to be the perfect student. I identified with Brian Johnson. Not only were we similar in name, but Brian Johnson and I were similar in social group. In middle school, my English teacher passed back a grammar test and asked me to read my score aloud. Timidly I said, “100%.” Everyone else in the class had failed. As our teacher chewed out the rest of the class, I heard someone behind me whisper “nerd.” The kids around me chuckled, and I pretended not to hear.

That single word would come to be my label for several years. I was the “nerd,” and everyone knew it. In reality, I was an average student; English just happened to be my strong subject. But because of one test in middle school, everyone thought they knew who I was. Of course, I was more complex than being just a nerd. But many people didn’t see the point in looking beyond the label they had stuck on me, and as a result they assumed I was a person that I really wasn’t.

Society has made it too easy to summarize a person in one word: jock and nerd; Republican and Democrat; Christian and Muslim. We try to make the world black and white, because gray is hard to understand. It is in the nature of humanity to fear that which is different. So rather than try to understand people who are different from us, we instead mold them to a fit a definition we already know. But no matter how hard society tries, the world is not black and white. As Brian Johnson discovered, no one is as simple as a one-word label. No one is just a brain, or a jock, a basket case, a princess, or a criminal. We see others as we want to see them: in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. Instead, we should try to see others as they truly are: unique.

Posted in College, Life, Society | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Reaction to the Presidential Debate

Posted by Brian on September 26, 2008

Just a few of my thoughts on the presidential debate tonight.

My first reaction was that this election year is really starting to get contentious. We haven’t seen a lot of the political attacks that are somewhat typical of election years, but tonight both candidates seemed to come out swinging. Obama especially surprised me with how direct and aggressive he was with some of his comments, particularly listing all the things McCain was wrong about in regards to the Iraq conflict. (It’s also significant to note that according to NBC’s polling center, that was the moment which got the highest rating from the test audience.) Obama also seemed to have a slightly mocking tone throughout the debate. “Mocking” seems too strong a word, but he certainly was not genuinely

Speaking of the polling center, one of the test audience members mentioned that Obama seemed relaxed and articulate, whereas McCain seemed slightly tense. I would generally agree with that. Obviously both candidates were doing their damndest to leave one another behind, but McCain seemed to be working much harder at it than Obama did. From what I’ve heard (and I don’t necessarily verify the accuracy of this), a lot of the evidence McCain cited throughout the debate was either misleading or misconstrued, particularly when he would refer to Obama’s voting record or prior statements. Unfortunately, Senator Obama was not nearly as effective as he should have been at refuting these false claims. He seemed to merely say it was false, offer a one-sentence meager explanation, and move on to a new point. I really wish he’d clarified more on how McCain was misrepresenting his record.

Though the debate was definitely not a slam-dunk for the democratic candidate. McCain’s forte is definitely foreign policy, and though I disagree with his general approach, the man definitely knows what he’s talking about. He had a lot of historical and factual evidence to support his positions. Obama stayed toe-to-toe with McCain fairly well, and in my opinion he presented a logical, well-argued case for a more diplomatic approach to foreign policy. But in terms of evidence, McCain definitely came out ahead. Unfortunately, most Americans aren’t familiar enough with the history he was referencing to truly get the crux of his argument. I know I wasn’t. Most of it happened before I was born, but I knew enough to get the basic idea.

On a weird note: was it just me or did McCain seem to deify General Petraeus? Nearly every time he talked about the man he referred to him as the “great general” or something else spectacular like that.

Overall, it was a very good debate. Neither candidate ran away with it, and both had strong sections and less-strong sections. I highly doubt tonight will play a large role in the general election. I’ll be interested to see the vice-presidential debate. I believe those two will play a large role in deciding November’s results.

Posted in election, politics | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Child’s Play

Posted by Brian on August 24, 2008

I haven’t blogged in a while, so when I came across the idea for today’s topic, I knew I had to write this.

I don’t know how many of you read Penny Arcade. It’s a very popular web comic that lampoons gaming culture and those involved in it. Jack Thompson is a popular subject (read as: target). But then again, he deserves it. If you don’t know Jack Thompson, he’s a very staunch advocate of the theory that video games are a societal ill which train kids for violence. If I had the chance, I’d show Mr. Thompson Child’s Play, an organization run and supported by the gaming society.

Child’s Play is a charitable organization started by the same two guys that write Penny Arcade. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind organization. What Child’s Play does is partner with Amazon and childrens’ hospitals worldwide to provide games and entertainment to children with long-term diseases, who spend most to all of their time in a hospital. The hospitals and kids create wish lists on Amazon, and then generous gamers can view the wish list for the hospital of their choice, and purchase anything on the list. Whatever they purchase is then shipped from Amazon directly to the hospital for the children. Large items such as consoles are often kept by the hospital for all patients to enjoy, while other items are given to children as gifts. Child’s Play also receives a commission from Amazon for each sale, which is then donated to the hospital. In addition, they’re a registered “eBay Giving Works Charity,” which means that you can sell an item on eBay and have 100% of the profit go to Child’s Play.

At first, buying video games for kids doesn’t seem all that impressive. But, imagine actually having to stay in a hospital for months or even years at a time. I can’t imagine how scared, lonely and restless I would be. Video games provide these kids with a means of entertainment, a refuge from the fright of a hospital where the children can have some fun. Not to mention the financial benefit from the donated commissions. Most donations come during the holiday season, giving some holiday joy to the kids as well.

Child’s Play has raised well over $3 million since its inception in 2003, and over $1 million in 2007 alone. This is an amazing organization. Look for me to (hopefully) start a fundraiser at PSU around the holiday season for Child’s Play. (I’ll need help!!) If you have a little extra money, or something you want to sell on eBay, give it a look. Child’s Play home page. You can also choose a hospital to buy for from that page, or donate by PayPal.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Brian on August 8, 2008

I know I’ve been absolutely horrible about keeping my promise to blog weekly. Since summer started I’ve just had nothing to write about.

There is a blog forthcoming though. I want to write something in relation to leaving for college; I’m just not sure yet what I want to say. So, I’ll probably have something of substance up (hopefully) by Sunday or Monday.

Posted in Blogging | Leave a Comment »

Review of "The World Ends With You"

Posted by Brian on June 28, 2008

Role-playing games are stuck in a rut. That’s a hard truth for an RPG-lover such as myself to accept, but unfortunately it’s true. For some reason, game developers are fixated on the conception that RPGs have to be set in a fantastic medieval world and focus around a silent sword-wielding hero who uses his magical powers to fulfill an ancient prophecy. For some games, this works; the two Golden Sun games did it beautifully and still remain two of my favorite games, and of course The Legend of Zelda still remains fun. But for many, many others it’s a tired formula that developers stick to because people keep buying it.

That’s why it’s so nice to see Square Enix, one of the worst offenders, put out a game as fresh and innovative as The World Ends With You. This game truly shakes off a vast majority of the old RPG stereotypes, and uses those it does retain in new ways that just plain work. I can guarantee that you’ve never seen anything quite like this game, and probably won’t again for quite a long time.

The World Ends With You throws you into the role of Neku, an antisocial and asshole-ish teenager who wakes up mysteriously in the middle of the Shibuya district of Tokyo. Not that unusual…until he realizes that even though he can see and hear everyone in Shibuya, no one in Shibuya can see or hear him. Neku soon learns that he’s been thrown into the Reapers’ Game, a sadistic challenge with very high stakes: “fail, and face erasure.”

I start with this category because it’s the most basic. The World Ends With You uses a simple graphical scheme: 2D character sprites, art-based story sequences with very little animation, and an isometric camera angle.

That’s not to say, though, that the game isn’t absolutely gorgeous. The backgrounds have unique scrolling effect as your character moves about the screen, that really has to be seen to be understood. The character art is well-done as well. Now, normally I’m not a fan of the dramatic and zipper-laden character designs of Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts, and The World Ends With You does feature similar character art. But part of what annoyed me about those character designs was that they made no sense in context of a medieval setting. They make more sense set in the fashion-obsessed Shibuya district, and even come off as believable.

Neku and Joshua
Neku and Joshua

In terms of audio, the game boasts one of the strongest soundtracks on a handheld game. Where most RPGs pack in dramatic, violin-led instrumental pieces specific to locations, The World Ends With You features a full soundtrack of catchy J-rock tunes. And rather than have one song or theme specific to each location, the game changes songs randomly every so often as you’re changing areas. Though normally not a fan of J-Rock, I found myself hitting YouTube more than a couple times looking for certain songs that were stuck  in my head. Square Enix also added in significant voice work, mostly during combat. Neku and his partner will talk to each other during fights, be it in the form of voicing frustration when things turn ugly or a satisfied bit of bragging at the end of a successful battle. Spoken dialogue in story sequences is reserved for only the most dramatic moments, with the rest being text and animation-based with the occasional voice effect. Overall, it works very well.

A strong storyline is an important part of the RPG genre. Never let anyone tell you differently. An RPG without a compelling story leaves its players with no motivation to advance through the game. Thankfully, this is not a problem you will experience while playing The World Ends With You. At several points, I found myself having to put down the game for a while because the story was compelling me to move TOO quickly through the main game (I like my games to last).

I won’t give away much more than I said above about the story, so let’s just suffice it to say that there are several “Oh, SNAP!” (which then progress to “OH SHIT!” and finally “…no way…”) moments that always leave you wanting to know what happens next. The writing very rarely feels forced, probably because the modern setting left the writers free to use modern language and slang, and the result is fluid and believable dialogue. At times, it can even be quite witty. It’s a nice change from the forced medieval dialogue in other RPGs.

But the bottom line is that good storytelling is something a game either has or doesn’t, and The World Ends With You has it. James played for 20 minutes and lost interest. His loss. =)

I saved this category for last because it’s where The World Ends With You truly shines. In some RPGs, a very compelling story can make up for lackluster gameplay; players will keep going through the monotonous game to see the end of the amazing story.

The World Ends With You suffers no such problem.

The most innovative part of this game is the combat system. Here’s a twist: you control two separate characters on two separate screens with two separate control schemes in real time. While trying to balance several other factors. Sound fun yet? Don’t worry, it’s not as complicated as it sounds.

The battle system consists of Neku on the bottom screen and his partner du jour on the top screen. The two of them share a life bar which spans both screens. When this life bar is depleted, both characters die and it’s game over for you. The enemies in The World Ends With You are called Noise, and come in many different shapes and sizes. Each Noise in battle exists on both the top and bottom screens. Erase a Noise on one screen, it’s erased on the other as well (which makes combat significantly easier).

Cross Stride Battle System
The Cross-Stride Battle System

Neku attacks via “pins,” which grant Neku touch-controlled combat powers (a select few are also activated by microphone input). There are over 300 pins in the game, with many different control mechanisms. One pin may require you to slash across an enemy with your stylus to make Neku move in and attack, while another may be activated by tapping an empty space on the screen to fire an energy bullet. Each pin has a gauge of how much it can be used in battle, and when that gauge is emptied the pin will take a few seconds to “reboot,” then it’s good to go all over again. Neku starts the game being able to wear three pins, but by the end can equip up to six. The only drawback I’ve found to this is that many of pins have the same touch command, so trying to equip two pins with the same command will result in you not being able to control which pin Neku uses. Square Enix was aware of this problem, so if you want to equip two such pins, you can set one to be a “subslot” pin. Holding L or R during battle will toggle between your “subslot” and regular pins, giving you more control over your pins. The game still sometimes confuses which command you want to use, but it doesn’t happen enough to be bothersome.

Neku’s partner on the top screen attacks via the D-pad (or ABXY for lefties). By performing certain tasks on the top screen with your partner, you can earn “Fusion Stars.” Earn enough Fusion Stars and Neku and his partner will perform a joint attack for major damage to all enemies. There are three partners in the game, which are switched by storyline events. Each partner has a unique method of earning Fusion Stars, ranging from matching card suits to playing a simple guessing/memory game while attacking. Your partners’ differences in style keep the combat system from getting stale halfway through the game; you’ll have to learn to use each partner to his or her fullest potential in order to be successful.

It’s very intimidating at first, but the game eases you into all the mechanics pretty gently. Plus you’re not expected to focus on both screens at once. The first time one of your characters lands a combo finisher, a green “light puck” will appear and pass to the other character. When that character finishes a combo, the puck passes back, and so on. The more you volley the puck, the stronger your finishers become. The game advises you early on to focus on the screen with the puck, and that’s a pretty winning strategy. Some late-story enemies can only be hurt by the character with the puck. Of course, against many bosses this goes right out the window, but that’s another story.

And if it just gets to be too much, there are several options to tailor the difficulty to suit. You can set the battles to Easy, Normal or Hard settings at any point during the game, and also set whether your partner should be controlled by AI after a certain amount of time. The game also lets you adjust your characters’ level; setting yourself to a level below your maximum increases the frequency and quality of prizes in battle. So if you’re looking to just get the through the story you can set the difficulty to easy and let the AI control your partner. But if you’re looking for a challenge, set it to Hard, turn off the AI and keep your characters at Level 1. But be warned: you’ll be in for a real hard game.

The World Ends With You also has a pretty serious case of featureitis. The clothing system borders somewhere between OCD and anal retentive, with each article falling into one of 13 brand names. As you travel Shibuya, certain brands will fall in and out of fashion, which can at best double your attack power but at worst half it. Additionally, as you buy more and more from certain shops, the shopkeepers will grow to like you and reveal new items for sale and add abilities to the items you own. There’s a marbles-like minigame; a Mingle Mode which picks up any DS in wireless mode and gives you experience while they’re in range; the ability to change the menu music; and a whole host of others. I could go on for pages, but just know that there are more customizable options in this game than in just about any other, and all of them make for a more fulfilling experience.

This is one of the best RPGs to come out in a long time. My only regret is that it wasn’t longer (though there is a significant post-game quest). That’s the only reason I don’t give this game a perfect score. But otherwise: great story, great battle mechanics, great options and features. Square Enix broke a lot of boundaries with The World Ends With You, and made a smash hit out of it. I highly recommend this game to any fan of RPGs. This is the kind of game that doesn’t come along very often, and one that’s probably going to get passed up by a lot of people for not having a franchise label. It’s a shame, really. Few games are as progressive as this one, and should be celebrated more.


Posted in Nintendo, Technology, Video Games | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

My Cheat Sheet

Posted by Brian on June 10, 2008

I am officially done with high school. It’s been four years, and they’ve all been incredible. Obviously with the passing of such an important part of my life, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my experiences. I had a lot of trouble deciding what to write for this blog, because I just couldn’t find a good way to summarize my high school experience. The person I am today is significantly different than the person I was four years ago. I don’t think you can explain something like that in one entry on a web site, no matter how good a writer you are.

But there is one very tangible thing I’ve taken away from Gresham High School: knowledge. I’m not talking about history or math or science. I firmly believe that the most lesson of high school is how to function in real life. There are so many things that I learned in high school that weren’t taught in a classroom. So I decided that the beset way to reflect on my high school experience would be to make a written record of those lessons. They’re the most important ones I’ll ever learn.

1. People are always more important
This is definitely the most important lesson I learned. I know that because it’s the one I mostly frequently violated, so I saw all the consequences. Honestly, I owe 100% of this lesson to IB. There were times I was so busy that I felt like I didn’t have time to maintain healthy friendships. Because like a lot of important things in life, personal relationships take a lot of work to maintain. And as I explained in previous entries, when I felt that stressed out I pushed away everyone around me.

But the core of what I learned is that life is almost impossible without at least a few close friends. Those same times when I felt so busy were also the times when I most desperately needed my friends. When you’re stressed out, irritable, worried and tired, a solid support network is the most helpful thing in the world. Life is just too hard to handle alone.

Because at the end of the day, having scads of money won’t make you happy. A fast sports car might be exciting for the couple months a year you can drive it, but it won’t lend any lasting meaning to your life. I know it sounds corny, but it’s true. Useful though it may be, my full IB diploma is not going to be the key to my future happiness. It’s going to be people. So to everyone who made me more important than studying or sports, thank you.

2. Never surrender
Again, IB taught me this one. You’d think with all these things, IB is a great program. But it really taught me a lot of things in a tough way; similar to how you learn not to walk under pianos when a piano falls on your head. IB was just so damn hard that it forces you to be better. When things get that hard, it’s very easy to throw in the towel and say, “It cannot be done.”

I was very tempted to do that, more than a few times. My CAS hours come to mind. When I hit March and realized that I had done 0 of the required 50 volunteer hours, I was tempted to call it impossible and just give up. Thankfully, a few key people discouraged me from taking that route. Part of what I learned throughout high school is that impossible situations are rarely impossible; they just require you to go above and beyond what you think you’re capable of. As it turns out, we almost always underestimate just how amazing we can be. George Eliot once wrote that “necessity does the work of courage.”

You never know what you’re capable of until you’re asked to give everything you’ve got. I could have given up on my IB diploma, but I didn’t, and I’m better off for it. It’s always easier to give up than to try harder. Giving up, you have a 0% chance of success. At least when you try, you have a shot. So to everyone who pushed me when I didn’t push myself, thank you.

3. Forgive
Everybody likes to quote the phrase “To err is human.” It seems like not a lot of people remember that there’s actually a second part to that particularly axiom: “to err is human, but to forgive is divine.” That’s one of my favorite expressions. I can’t say I learned this particular lesson first-hand. Rather, it was more like second-hand. I learned just how amazing a gift forgiveness can be when it was given to me, especially when I thought I didn’t deserve it.

If you’re ever looking for a way to kill a friendship, holding a grudge would definitely be a good option. There are always two choices: forgive a person, or stay angry. Staying angry doesn’t accomplish anything, and only serves to make everyone feel worse. You only get angrier and angrier the more you think about it, and the person you’re mad at just feels worse and worse the angrier you get; forgiveness, on the other hand, brings positive feelings. I’m not saying you should act as if they did nothing wrong. But I am saying that mistakes serious to warrant completely alienating a person are once in a lifetime (if even that much).

I definitely wouldn’t be close to any of the people I’m close to today if they hadn’t forgiven me something during our relationship. For that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. So to everyone who forgave me when it would have been easier to stay angry, thank you.

4. Don’t be someone else
This is a very close second for the “most important” award. I’m quite fond of how Dr. Seuss phrased it: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Dr. Seuss is honestly one of the most intelligent people ever. He hit the nail on the head with this bit of wisdom: there’s no sense in not being yourself.

The way I see it, being yourself weeds out the people in life that you don’t really want around you. The people who love you for who you are also happen to be the people who will stand by you when things take a turn for the worst. They’re the ones who will forgive you when you make a mistake. They’re the ones who will put you first. In my experience, the ones who don’t appreciate you for who you really are end up being the ones who head for the hills at the first sign of trouble. Then you end up alone, right when you most need the support of others. Also, when you try to be someone that you’re not, it’s very easy to become someone you don’t want to be. There were a few times over the last 4 years when I’ve tried to impress a particular person or group by acting differently than I would have had I just been myself. 100% of the time when that happened, I ended up doing something I later regretted.

There have been so many people throughout the years who have genuinely liked me for me. It’s reassuring. Words cannot describe the effect that’s had on me and my self-confidence. So to everyone who saw through the cynicism and sarcasm, and appreciated me for who I really am, I cannot thank you enough.


And of course, there are so many more I could write about. Now I know what you’re thinking: “Brian, did you actually accomplish anything by writing this? I already knew all this stuff.” Well, so did I. But knowing that these things should be true doesn’t mean that these things will be true. Just as I sometimes forget what year Hitler seized power in Germany, I will almost definitely forget these lessons sometime in the near future. It’s human nature that the moments when these lessons are most relevant are also the moments when they will be the last things on our minds.

It’s easy to sit and write about these ideals in front of a computer, with nothing happening to make me apply these principles. No, the exam for these lessons will be much more unexpected, and much more difficult. I know I haven’t imparted any unique wisdom (everyone learns these things), nor have I created a particularly stunning piece of writing. But what I hope I have created is a gentle reminder. A “cheat sheet,” something I can look back on somewhere down the line and remember that this is how I want to live my life. I know I will screw up. We all will. I just want this to help me screw up a little bit less.

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Filler Blog: 18 Rules for Living

Posted by Brian on June 8, 2008

There’s a graduation blog forthcoming, I promise. It’s just taking me much longer than usual to write. It’s turning out to be one of my favorite pieces I’ve written though. In the meantime, I stumbled across the Dalai Lama’s 18 rules for living today. I think they’re absolutely brilliant, so I thought I’d share them with you here:

  1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
  2. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
  3. Follow the three Rs:
    1. Respect for self
    2. Respect for others
    3. Responsibility for all your actions.
  4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
  5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
  6. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.
  7. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
  8. Spend some time alone every day.
  9. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.
  10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
  11. Live a good, honourable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.
  12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
  13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don’t bring up the past.
  14. Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.
  15. Be gentle with the earth.
  16. Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.
  17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
  18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.

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