Control systems

I accidentally went for a walk on Sunday. I went out to get the paper and missed. (See Mitch Hedberg, below.) Not really. It was an intentional experiment. I have been remiss in taking cardiovascular exercise (that’s what they used to call it, ‘taking exercise’) for some months. One of my knees is wonky and I’ve been self-prescribing slovenliness as an antidote, but with few results. So I thought I would try walking.

Control systems utilize thresholds to manage goals (see Miriam-Webster, definition 3b). The goal of an air conditioning thermostat is to maintain the temperature in your house. The goal of a toilet valve is to maintain the level of water stored in the tank. The goal of an expressway ramp-metering system is to maintain the flow of traffic on the main artery. In each case, when a threshold is reached (temperature too high, liquid level too low, average speed too slow), a mechanism is invoked to alter the current state (the air conditioner starts cooling, water flows into the tank, the ramp meter lights begin their green and red interval cycling).


Three areas of my life have been patiently waiting for a threshold to be reached: my e-mail inbox, my financial records, and my exercise regimen. The failing state of each of these can be traceable to an identifiable, systemic cause.

In the case of my e-mail inbox, I had a nice little rule-based filing system going until my old Flower Power G3 iMac suddenly stopped booting. I moved the hard drive into a used G4 tower, but the tower stopped working after a few weeks. Fortunately I had backed up almost everything to a nice Mac Mini I got for Christmas ’08, but I didn’t think to back up my e-mail configuration. I had categorized my senders into groups (businesses, organizations, and everyone else in my address book [family and friends]) and routed them into different mailboxes, including Possible Junk for any sender not in my address book. It worked great, but just I haven’t replicated it yet.

In the case of my financial records, a few years ago I got rid of an old filing cabinet before I had purchased a replacement. So that meant that my files, including my financial records, were dumped into a couple of big plastic storage bins to be sorted Someday. Without going into embarrassing detail, that was the beginning of an entropic slide (again, see MW) into a room full of stacks of small and large pieces of paper of unknown, but probable, importance. To make matters worse, my Quicken backup from the failed computer was not readable by a newer version of Quicken, so I’ve been paying bills in an unbalanced state. Not a recipe for relaxation.

In the case of my exercise “system,” for many years I consistently got a nice 20-minute walk at least once a day when I took Greta The Wonder Dog up and down the hills of the neighborhood. Since her passing last February, I don’t think I have made that trek a single time.


Optimistically, it feels like I have hit thresholds on each of these areas this week.

  • I have received 297 messages since Jan 1. It is time to re-create my e-mail rules.
  • Tax season is coming up, and I have no desire to repeat last year’s blind wandering through the smug TurboTax questionnaire. Plus, I cleaned up my office over Christmas just enough to realize how behind my filing system is. And I need to write some checks.
  • In addition to wanting to exercise my gimpy knee, I need to get out in the air (or, in the case of Sunday’s walk, cold mist) to clear my head, the thinking of which has been growing increasingly murky. My decision was aided somewhat by a cute little electronic scale I saw Friday night. Cute, that is, until it tried to tell me what I weigh. Did I say ‘cute’? Mean, I mean.

So I’ve set sail on Organization Adventure. Last Friday I balanced about half of my old bank statements. Saturday I filed last year’s e-mails. And Sunday I took the walk. It was brisk and invigorating.

Or maybe that was just the cup of coffee.

Thresholds of curiosity

In the first paragraph I mentioned Mitch Hedberg, the late comedian to whom my progeny introduced me several years ago. Many of his quotes, including the Target quote I alluded to above, can be found in his WikiQuote entry. Be forewarned that, like most comedians, he follows in the occasionally vulgar footsteps of George Carlin, sprinkling, and even creating, his humor with four-letter words. But he was a funny man, and his humor has survived his tragic demise.

His Wikipedia biography explains that, like Will Rogers, Jack Handey, and Stephen Colbert, much of his humor is based on paraprosdokians, which I of course had to look up. And syllepsis, another unfamiliar word. The examples listed for both terms were quite amusing, at least to me.

In each case, my curiosity exceeded the Click Threshold, and I not only clicked, I also copied, so I could include the links for any curious readers (which, sadly, probably defines most of you. See “curious” in MW.)

When I finally clicked on Steven Wright, considered one of Mitch’s key influences, I apparently reached whatever my click-goal was. I was able to free myself from the potentially endless Wikipedia-loop. My flush tank was full.

I hope yours is too, because that’s all I’m going to write for now.

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