New Website!

Oops… I forgot to post this update. I should have done this a while ago. Oh well, better late than never.

Now that I have completed my first book and started taking my writing more seriously, I have shifted over a to a new website. I’d love for you to come check out http://www.peterneiger.com where I’ll be blogging regularly and such. 🙂

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Data Visualization: Marijuana in Maine

I’m taking some Coursera courses on Data Visualization using Tableau and decided I need to practice. So I made some things, I’ll probably try to do one project or so per week. I’m sure someone else has made something similar to what I have but it was fun to track down the date and create it myself.

The following map displays how different counties voted on Question 1 to legalize recreational marijuana. Green counties had over 50% support and red counties had less than 50% support. I couldn’t figure out how to get Tableau to display the numbers as a percentage instead of a decimal (it keeps converting percentage to text… whatever, I’ll figure it out).

maine-map

The following graph looks at Median Household Income, Support for Marijuana Legalization, and color codes each county by which Presidential candidate won the majority in that county. As you can see, there seems to be a correlation between a high median household income, increased support for marijuana legalization, and voting for Clinton. I also compared median age, percent of the population over 60, and how white the county was (Maine is SUPER white… like, unbelievably so), but none of those data points seemed to correlate.

issue-1-vs-median-household-income

So, curious about some data that you’d like to see visualized? Shoot me a message, I’m always looking for new projects. Until then, I’m going to keep tweaking this to make it more aesthetic and play with other data.

November Update

Hi, everyone!

I know I’ve been basically MIA for the last month, but I have not been idle. I started re-reading “4-Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss and started to take the lessons to heart. Instead of just reading the book I started taking the proactive steps that he recommends to accomplish my long-term goals.

There was one question asked in the book that really struck home and pulled me away from blogging for a while.  “Are you inventing things to do to avoid the important?”. Sadly, I was doing that, a lot. This blog was one of the things that I would use as an excuse for why I wasn’t writing my book. I justified ignoring my book on the grounds that I wrote for my blog, but the result was zero pages of book and dozens of blog posts of varied quality. I was using my creative energy towards something that wasn’t in line with my long term goals.So, I wrote that question on a post-it, stuck it to my monitor, and got to work.

Another concept in the book that altered how I work throughout the day was going on a “low-information diet”. I realized that I spent hours on sites like Facebook each day and it really didn’t benefit me. What did I gain through hours of scrolling and reading articles? Sure, I was “informed”, but how did that help my life? The information I read online would anger me or tempt me into debating someone online for no reason, but that create anything. It didn’t help me with my book, it didn’t earn me more money, it didn’t increase the quality time I had with my partner or friends. All it did was take up my time and drain my  mental energy.

Now, I have a Chrome app that only allows me to go on Facebook for 10 minutes per day. The result? I still get the information I need to be “informed” and if I need to get in touch with someone or ask for help on Facebook then 10 minutes is plenty of time to do it. I got hours of my life back each day and I have been redirecting that energy towards improving my daily life and working on my long term creations.

The most important accomplishment in the last month was my writing. I finished the first draft of my book. I went from a blank page to about 40,000 words in 25 days. I would trade over a year of Facebook time for a completed first draft, a month was a very small price. My second accomplishment is my meditation practice, it is still incredibly difficult but I meditated 28 days out of November and I’m up to 20-minutes a day. I have also started training myself to dance with poi, which at this point has done little more than make me realize how uncoordinated I am with my left hand, but I’m enjoying it.

There were other accomplishments as well… cooking new meals weekly, running or biking almost every day (including a 10-mile run), relearned Trigonometry and pre-Calculus on Khan Academy, started a daily Stoic reflection, and teaching myself GIS and data visualization on Coursera. By re-evaluating what I spend my time on and discarding the things that weren’t in line with my goals I ended up with plenty of time in the day. Instead of scrolling Facebook, doing dishes three times a day, or checking emails, I’m working on things that will help me move forward in life. I still clean and check emails, I just don’t do them as a way to put off the difficult work I should be doing. I had to ask myself, instead of spending 15-hours per week (or more) surfing Facebook, what else could I do with my time? How would my fitness level improve if 1/3 of that time went to exercise? Could I become fluent in a foreign language, subject matter, or musical instrument if I spent an hour a day focusing on those instead of reading political blogs? Am I using my time in a way that is going to help me experience the things that I want to experience?

So, now that I have my time somewhat under control, what are the other pain points in my life? What behaviors do I have that are not taking me to my goals? The first one that stands out is alcohol consumption. In November I consumed 52 alcoholic drinks (and I’ll probably drink a couple tonight at Naughty Bingo). I am not saying I should abstain, alcohol consumption can be justified as both a goal of life (it brings pleasure) and as a tool for long-term happiness (helps make friends), but it is clear that isn’t the case for ALL my drinking. Those 52 drinks last month equal about 2.5 lbs of fat from calories (roughly), and it also cost me around $200. Not only that, if I drank more than 3 drinks in a night my average time running the next day was 9 minutes, if I drank less than three drinks my average running time the next day was 25 minutes. Drinking clearly comes with some direct and indirect costs. My plan for December is to cut alcohol consumption in half, so only 26 drinks during the month and only one night with over 3 drinks.

How I spend my money is another place that could be improved, particularly when it comes to books. Right now my bookshelf has 44 unread books, 3 books I’m currently reading, and 16 completed books. All of these books were purchased in the last two months. I need to re-evaluate how I decide to purchase books. So, I’m taking all my credit card information off of Amazon. If I want to purchase a book I need to enter in the card information by hand each time. I’m also going to try and put a 48-hour waiting period on all purchases (is there an app for that?). I can’t think of a single scenario where I need a book in a tight time frame. Also, no new book purchases until my “unread” shelf is down to ten books, which means I either read 34 books or I realize that I will never read them and I donate them to the used bookstore down the street.

I also need to figure out how to make friends, as lame as that sounds. It is tough as an adult in a new city to meet people, particularly when I work from home. I’ve started working through Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and it has some great tips that I’m going to proactively use, but I’m such an introvert and homebody that it is hard to force myself out of my shell. Luckily, Wilmington has a ton of opportunities for me to do social things around my interests (Dungeons and Dragons, board games, yoga, fitness, rock climbing, vegan, spirituality, etc). This isn’t really an area that I’m wasting time or energy, it is an area that I haven’t dedicated resources to like I should. Instead, I have gotten in the habit of focusing all my friend energy into Facebook (don’t get me wrong, I love my connections on there, but I need something more physical in my life).

So, that is how my November went. I didn’t announce a lot of this stuff ahead of time because I’ve found that announcing something actually discourages me from accomplishing it. Saying “I’m writing a book!” feels like it is productive when it really isn’t. It is better for me to write a book and say “I wrote a book!”. Looking forward to making that announcement is an incentive for me.

I’m looking forward to December and to seeing how my new goals and projects work out. I may try to blog a little bit, but only if I feel a real drive to do it. It can be stressful sometimes, but I try and remember to not take any of it too seriously. The point of life is to have fun, not to be 100% productive. If I have a few days (or more) where I accomplish nothing, that’s cool. Sometimes you need to lounge in front of Netflix with pizza and Oreos instead of going to the gym. Immediate pleasure is sometimes reason enough to do something.

Infection

Creation is a disease. It is a virus. Once it infects a person it slowly, but surely takes over your entire being.

It is a small, invisible lifeform that moves from cell to cell in your body and takes control. It intoxicates to host and turns all energy towards the act of creating.

Once it takes hold, it is nearly impossible to destroy. Your only hope is to stop it early on. A blog is easy to stop when you’ve only posted a few things. A chapter or two of your novel can be tossed into an unmarked folder on your desktop. The paint and paintbrushes you ordered off of Amazon can sit in the corner “until tomorrow”. The guitar you borrowed from your father can gather dust in the closet after only a night or two of picking. The running shoes that cost $85 can sit by the door every morning if you’ve only run a few miles and you’re “too sore”, “running late”, or it is “too cold”.

But once creation starts to reproduce and get results, there is no stopping it. When you get the habit of writing every day and finish your book, you soon want to start a podcast. When you run daily and realize the rhythm of your feet matches the beat from a song, you want to start playing a musical instrument. When you recognize the patterns in the paintings around the room as mathematical principles you want to write a book about Leonardo DiVinci. Using your mind to make something new makes you wonder what your body is capable of, and vice versa. Creation infects every fiber of your mind, body, and soul and makes you wonder “what if?”. How strong could I be? What can I create with paint or chalk or music or poetry? Exploration of your own potential unlocks creativity that nobody can contain, and success isn’t about outside recognition but the completion of a task, and that motivates you on to the next thing you are curious about.

Creation creates creation.

You better stop now, or else there will be no stopping you.

Why I Run

It took some effort to pull my front door open, it always sticks on cold mornings. That’s just one of the quirks of this weird old house. As I stepped out into the morning air my dog looked up at me from the couch with a look of confusion and disgust. “What the hell are you doing human? If you are going out there at least close the door, I don’t have thick fur.” he seemed to say.

What the hell was I doing? It was bitter cold out, autumn has overtaken summer with a vengeance and the air burns my lungs in the morning hours. My hands immediately start to curl up in search of warmth, reminding me again that I need to buy some gloves. Oh well, I can buy gloves later. Right now I’m going to run in a big circle around a park a few times with the soccer moms and retired folks.

The reasons I run are varied, and I need all of them to keep me moving. Getting out the door usually requires me to focus on the short-term benefits. Running wakes me up and suppresses my appetite to prevent snacking. It also gets the blood flowing through my body and clears my head. Running in the morning has consistently improved my  job performance and my writing, and it keeps me motivated to take care of my body and life. When I don’t run I’m more likely to spend the day on the couch with Oreos and Netflix being a sloth, but when I run in the morning I tend to get my errands done, eat fairly healthy, and get a lot of work done. This first positive action in the morning sets the tone for the day.

But those reasons really only get my out the door and to my first mental wall (usually around mile 2). I need more than that if I’m going to push past the walls and keep running. For that type of motivation, I need to focus on the long term and philosophical reasons I run.

The first reason, as cliche as it sounds, is my partner. My body is kind of a gift to her and I want to take care of it. I want to be healthy enough that our lives can be long and fun together and that means investing a little bit of time now for a big payoff later. An investment in me is an investment in us. I also really like it when my partner tells me she finds me attractive, particularly when she is specific. There is just nothing that boosts my self-esteem like when she wraps her hands around me and says “wow, I can feel your abs”. Is it superficial? Sure. Do I care? Not really. I like feeling sexy to her and myself. It is kind of cool to step out of the shower and see myself in the mirror and be happy with what I see.

The second reason is related to my partner. Well, it is at least related to our relationship. Since we have a “not completely monogamous” relationship I have opportunities to be intimate with others with my partner’s consent. I can’t really fall into the “now that we’re married she’s stuck with me so I can let my body go” trap if I want to keep having the sexual variety and experiences that I’m interested in. I realize that attracting a intimate partner (or to get people to keep sending me sexy snaps @pneiger) is more difficult if you don’t appear healthy, particularly when I can’t offer any type of romantic relationship. When I lack the ability to provide love for a future partner I need to make up for that in other ways, being fit and providing friendship is a way I can do that.

Another reason I run is kind of quasi-spiritual. I see my body as the most amazing gift I’ve ever received. I don’t think there is a god out there that gave me a body, but if there is one then it seems like I should show respect for that gift. I wouldn’t take something my mom gave me and treat it like shit, why would I do that with my body if it is a gift from a loving god? It seems pretty disrespectful to eat junk and neglect your health if your body comes from god. Anyway, I don’t really believe that, but I do think this life and body is a gift of sorts from the universe. As such, I want to treat it well and see just I can do with it. I love self-experimentation and my body is an opportunity to see what my potential really is. I want to try and run 100 miles or be physically fit enough to explore space someday. I want to try and live until the point when death becomes optional.

Running is also tied to my life philosophy of libertarianism and minimalism. I believe in personal responsibility, including self-defense. But self-defense isn’t just owning a well-maintained firearm and practicing your marksmanship because other humans are not the only danger we face. It is very unlikely that I will need to use my gun to save my life, but it is very likely that I will need a healthy heart and immune system to save my life. I exercise because I love my life and I want to increase the quality and quantity of it. Eating junk food and neglecting your health is to commit slow suicide, it is anti-life.  Life starts with the body. As for minimalism, if I want to live a life with few possessions and lots of leisure time, I need to stay healthy. Health expenses add up quickly and I need to take as much responsibility for minimizing those costs as my genetics will allow.

Like all philosophical views, this is just my ideal, one that I fail at regularly. I’m not trying to get on my pulpit and put others down (just last night I ate way too much ice cream and cookies and seriously slacked on my exercise), this is just meant to illustrate what I think about to keep my body moving when I hit walls while running.

Another source of inspiration is my nieces and nephews. I want to be alive and healthy throughout as much of their lives as I can. I want to celebrate victories with them and be there to comfort them when they are hurting. I want to provide guidance, support, and my perspective on life (if my siblings are foolish enough to let them). I’ve seen first hand with family and friends how being unhealthy can shorten the quality and quantity of your life. there are plenty of people my age (35) who can’t walk up stairs, play with their children, or travel because of their health. I want to postpone that as long as I can. I imagine this drive to be healthy and see their children grow up is even stronger in parents. I know how much I care for my nieces and nephews, but I’m sure that pales in comparison for the love parents feel. Maintaining a healthy body and being a good example seems like it would come hand-in-hand with parenting.

I don’t love running, but I don’t loathe it anymore either. It takes effort every day to get out and pound the pavement, but it is slowly getting easier and I keep finding more reasons to run. Hopefully, that continues and I’ll be in my 70’s running 8-minute miles around the park still.

 

Post-Script: I forgot one thing, I’m kind of a hedonist. I enjoy pleasurable experiences such as recreational drug use and ice cream. In order to balance the damage those experiences do to my body I need to exercise. A long life is boring if it doesn’t include pleasure.

Sex on the Mind

I can’t really remember how old I was when I became truly conscious of sex and sexuality. There are few memories of mine that stand out, but they don’t really focus in on a particular age. I remember watching Time Trax with my parents and being super embarrassed because one of the characters said something like, “Do you always think about sex? Are you a 13-year old boy?” and I was 13 at the time. I remember crying all night long when I was 15 or so because I had an orgasm and had now betrayed Christ and my future wife. I remember at the age 12 thinking a “wet dream” was when you peed the bed (something I did until I was 13) and having no idea what a “boner” was.

My formal sex education was pretty abysmal. I had a couple courses in school throughout the years, but my parents never even mentioned sex. I just knew that being gay was bad, sex was only for married people, and even having sexual thoughts were evil. This prohibitionist approach left me both ignorant to healthy sexuality and obsessed with it. The more I tried to not think about sex the more it came to my mind, and my relationship with others (particularly women) suffered because of it.

During my school and military years, I viewed women primarily through a sexual lens. Even after I had sex for the first time at 23 I was still kind of obsessed. I went from sexuality being completely taboo to a grand desire to “make up for lost time”. I really didn’t start to have a healthier view of relationships until late in my college career. My relationships with women stopped being exclusively sexual, but they still had a sexual component. But I don’t think that is a bad thing.

We all have a sexual side that I find interesting, but my relationships with other people are much more well-rounded. I used to see a person and through them into one of two categories: want to have sex with and don’t want to have sex with. People in the first category got more of my attention and interest. I realize this was pretty shitty of me. I had a lot of growing up to do and very little exposure to healthy sexuality or alternative points of view.

It really wasn’t until I went to Burning Man and had some deep conversations (thanks, MDMA) that I got a healthier view of sexuality. Now, when I see a person I recognize that they have a sexual side but it isn’t my primary driver for getting to know them. This has opened the door for me to have stronger bonds with people that I find sexually attractive because I see them as complete individuals. I want to know about their sexual interests, but I also want to know about their philosophical views, artistic passions, life aspirations, and favorite type of ice cream.

Seeing people as more than just “would bang” or “wouldn’t bang” has also given me opportunities to grow closer to people that I am not initially sexually attracted to. As those relationships grow I learn about their sexuality too. Guess what, “unattractive” people have a sexual side that is just as fascinating and passionate as “attractive” people.

I think there is a danger if you view the world from the two extremes. We shouldn’t view people as primarily sexual beings, but we also shouldn’t ignore the fact that people are sexual. Sexuality is natural and beautiful and we should be comfortable discussing it openly. We can easily talk about our favorite food, movies, or Continental philosopher (note: I don’t know what a continental philosopher is but I have some well-read friends that I hate them… I think, maybe they love them), why can’t we discuss sex just as easily? When someone tells me about how they love rock climbing I don’t assume they want to go rock climbing with me, and I shouldn’t assume they want to bump uglies with me just because we are talking about sex. I think life would be better if every subject was open for conversation and we agreed to be explicit about our desires and interests. Oh, and maybe view every person as a deep and complex individual who can teach us something.

PS: Dearest friends who I viewed primarily as a potential sex partner. I’m sorry about that. I am glad you stuck with me and overlooked that side of me. Some of us have had some great sex in the past, some of us might in the future, and some of us probably never will. And that’s okay. Just like it is okay that some of us have a history/future/no future of cooking together, discussing our favorite X-Men, skinny-dipping, and hiking together. I value you each in my life for the beautifully diverse tapestry that you present. You aren’t just genitalia, a brain, a body, etc to me, you are all those things combined. I still struggle with this, it is still a knee-jerk mental reaction when I see an attractive man or woman to think “damn, I’d like to get up in that”, but I catch myself and try to correct my mental course. It is a struggle, but with the struggle comes improvement. I love you.

How would your daily life change if you had $100 million?

In 4-Hour Workweek Tim Ferriss asks, “What would you do, day to day, if you had $100 million in the bank?”. I never have an answer to this type of question. I have no idea what I’d do. I wish I could claim a passion for art or even travel, but I really have no clue. This type of question is supposed to direct me towards goals, but I can never come up with a satisfactory answer that differs much from what I do now.

I like to read, but I do that now. I like to exercise, but time and money aren’t restricting that. Money isn’t really a travel restriction and right now I like being stable. So I don’t know. It sucks not knowing. I can’t imagine a big bank account would change my life much. There aren’t really any “things” that I want and can’t afford, and major trips I can save up for pretty easily. I’m not a wealthy person, I just have limited desires and my income covers it (mostly because of my choices like not having children and not owning a car).

So what the hell would I do if I didn’t have to work for a living? I’d probably just keep working the way I am now. I’d put in 30ish hours of work because it is flexible, I like my co-workers and the job is a good mixture of challenging and steady. I’d keep reading, working out, and trying new things. I’d go to festivals (like I do now) and spend too much time on Facebook (like I do now).

Basically, the status quo is good and that scares the hell out of me. The only thing I can think of to do with a full bank account is donate the money to charity or start a charity here in Wilmington that is focused on harm prevention (free birth control and condoms, clean needles, housing and support for the homeless, etc). Maybe that should be my goal, get rich to take care of others.

In one of Isaac Morehouse’s recent podcast, he discussed what areas of our economy that are ripe for innovation. Basically, if the government is involved then it is probably run inefficiently and needs to be improved. The state is heavily involved with taking care of the needy (partially because churches have decided to spend their resources elsewhere and have mostly abandoned Christ), so maybe it is time for the market to try and provide that. I’m sure most of what I’d like to do is illegal, but I guess if I was rich that is what I’d do. I’d help those in need and maybe set up a basic income guarantee for those in my community. The state won’t take care of us, and when they try they will fuck it up.