2008-12-26

A Good Dog...


Everyone knows at least one good dog. Even if you're allergic, a devout cat lover, or generally petrified of canines, you know a good dog. And the reason that you know a good dog because nearly every dog is a good dog.

I think it's because dogs are fundamentally happy. You come home, and they're happy to see you. You take them for a walk, and they're happy to go out. You hear them bark and let them in, and they're happy to come in. They're happy to eat, sleep, run, and play. All they need is someone to be with, and they're happy. We can learn a lot about happiness, I think, from our dogs.

Dog Rules for Happiness:
  • Work everyday. Every dog's work is different, but equally important. Some play catch, some herd sheep, some run in the cold, and some have to guard the house.
  • Play everyday. Do something other than work for at least a little while. Even if it seems really stupid to everyone, like chasing your tail, or disemboweling a stuffed animal, go for it.
  • Sleep as much as possible, just remember to wake up for all the important stuff: kids going to school, dads coming home from work, and, of course, when you need to go to the bathroom.
  • Watch out for strangers, but be willing to love everyone. Sure, dogs may be wary at first, with a little sniffing and pawing, but dogs will warm up to anyone who is kind to them. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the car you drive, how much you make, or what you look like, a dog will love you.
In spite of these admirable traits, dogs do have their detractors. I've heard it all before: they're too smelly, they make inconvenient messes, and can be unexpectedly expensive. But, the reality is that life is smelly, messy, and expensive more often and not. And if there's anything that we can learn from a dog, it's how to be happy and loving in spite of circumstance.

The hard part about having dogs, though, is that they is inevitably die before their owners. When the time comes, it's incredibly hard to say goodbye to such a selfless friend. I could cite countless amounts of personal anecdotes, but I don't think I have the emotional strength for it. In the end, that's the the greatest proof that everyone needs a good dog, because even though we know that we will outlive them, we take them into our homes anyway, because we know that we will end getting far more than we give.

2008-12-22

Empty...


My brain is just, empty. I can't think of anything to write. Probably not a bad thing. I am in Hawaii, after all.

2008-12-16

Merry Christmas



I wish I could take credit for this piece of holiday goodness, but my roommate is the one who will win the Golden Globe.

2008-11-27

Over the river and through the woods...

Two weeks ago, I made my annual pilgrimage to Idaho for Thanksgiving. Along with my Utah residency, it has become part of my holiday routine to get into the car Thursday morning for the lonely three hour schlep, salivating all the way.

It's an interesting drive, mostly because the interstate is a completely different experience. Instead of semis barreling cross-country, it's flotillas of mini-vans and SUVs loaded with children descending on grandma's house in Blackfoot or Rexburg. Occasionally, you'll see one of these Mormon assault vehicles pulled off to the side of road, adults scurrying about frantically. It's quite easy to guess that some sort of bodily fluid emergency has occurred. And then there are the typical car shenanigans, like the little girl who had crawled up on the rear dash and was making fish faces against the glass.

The pinnacle of the Thanksgiving tomfoolery, however, was my father's recent purchase: A TURKEY FRYER, because nothing says Thanksgiving like a medieval apparatus that boils oil to sufficient temperature to cook a bird the size of carry on luggage in under an hour. Of course, any device imbued with such great power must also come with great responsible, and the turkey fryer is no exception. And like a toddler with super powers, the turkey fryer has been known to to do the following in the hands of your average trailer park chef:

This is why the turkey fryer is accompanied with all sort of warnings:
  1. Don't operate the fryer indoors. (For those of you who thought it would be cool to boil 5 gallons of oil on the kitchen stove.)
  2. Make sure the turkey is completely thawed and dry. (Remember how water an oil don't mix? Now picture water and boiling oil.)
  3. Turn off the flame before lowering the turkey into the oil. (See figure above.)
  4. Do not operate the fryer barefoot. (Really?)
Fortunately, we followed the directions, and our frying went without incident. Looking back, though, I must think about what an odd sight it must have been, the three males of the household, my father in a lawn chair, solemnly gathered around the aluminum pot that contained our Thanksgiving. Rest assured, also, that frying does nothing to diminish the turkey's tryptophan content. I was still quite able to sleep through the football game.

2008-11-18

Stuff I like...

My last post was unintentionally whiny. To make up for it, I'd like to highlight a few things that make me happy -- which seems very appropriate this time of year.

  • Sleep: I am the king of sleep. Few things make me happier than sleep. Though I have a hard time reaching unconsciousness, nothing short of an air raid siren can wake me up. I set all my alarms (clock radio, cell phone, and atomic clock) to wake up in the morning. On Saturday morning, I love waking up and realizing that I can go straight back to bed. And I don't think I am ever more contented than when I curl up on the downstairs sofa and fall asleep in front of the afternoon football game.

  • King size beds: With one of these, it's no wonder I love sleep so much. The ability to lie in bed with nary a hand or foot dangling over is the first step to sleeping nirvana. The great irony is that I only sleep comfortably if I confine myself one side of the bed. If I sleep in the middle, I lose all frame of reference and can't remember where things are when I wake up. Odd, I know, but there's a hidden benefit in that the unused side of the bed is great as a laundry staging area.

  • Fresh sheets: does this really need an explanation? Every king size bed needs high thread count sheets, freshly washed. Speaking of, does anybody know which side the scrunchy sides go? I never get it right.

  • Grape Nuts: when you stumble out of your king sized bed, you need breakfast. And though I know they are neither grape nor nut, I always have an industrial sized box of Grape Nuts in my pantry. The great thing about Grape Nuts is that they are three different foods depending on how long you leave them in milk. In stage 1, the pea-gravel stage, they function as mouth exfoliant; in stage 2, the soft outer coating lubricates the crunchy center enough so that they slide in between your teeth so that you have a snack for later; and in stage 3, the Grape Nuts and expand and fuse into some sort of impenetrable wheat lattice that is impervious to water and most soaps. (I discovered stage 3 by accident after leaving a bowl of Grape Nuts in the car all day. I envision potential aerospace applications.)

  • Costco: Where else can you get an industrial sized box of Grape Nuts, a gallon sized can of semi-liquid nacho cheese product, and those really great uncooked flour tortillas that are just as good as Cafe Rio's? Costco people, Costco. AND, they have an unheard of 90 day return policy on electronics that lets you take back your perfectly good iPod for the new one that costs 100 dollars less? I like Costco so much that I have begun to call it "The Costco" in casual conversation. Don't fear, though, I refuse to say "Wal-Marts"


  • Sunday Dinner: I am blessed with a mother of no small culinary talent who frequently dazzled on Sunday. She mastered the oven timer with such prowess that the smell of the roast as you came home from church was enough to bring you to your knees. And when I went off to college, she endured countless calls in my quest to recreate that perfect Sunday dinner. I have achieved a measure of success, and now I realize that Sunday seems eerily incomplete without some form of gravy at the afternoon meal. We may have traded the gravy boat for a Pyrex measuring cup (much easier for mass application), but the spirit of Sunday dinner is alive and well at my new house. Even though we're just a houseful of single dudes, there's something sublime about sharing roast medium well roast beef with friends before you go fall asleep in front of the football game.

2008-11-11

More randomness...



Lately, my mind has felt like Boggle. Every few minutes someone shakes my head, turns over the little egg timer, and I'm left trying to make words from random letters until the last grain of sand finally falls.

I think that If I were a boggle game, these would be my latest words:

  • TEAM (1 point): I hate the word team. I hate it because people use it all the time at work. A group of software developers doesn't constitute a team; it's just a group of poorly dressed nerds with questionable social skills. If I'm on a "team", then I demand a lucrative endorsement contract, an offseason, and the ability to break the law without repercussion. Team is one of the original business buzzwords, way before things like "synergy" and "paradigm shift", and people like to use it to promote camaraderie and give everyone warm fuzzies about working together . For me, though, the word team makes me think of Initech and impending TPS reports.
  • MAYBE (2 points): Let's face it people, Jack Johnson was right: "maybe" pretty much always means no. It particular, it means, "No, but I'm not brave enough to say no, so I'm going to be disingenuous and suggest that I might do something when I really have no intention to do it at all." I'm guilty of it too. Beware the maybe. If you really do mean maybe, then find a different way to say it.
  • LEAF (1 point): My yard is covered with them; beautiful yellow, orange, and amber maple leaves larger than your hand ... which have now been rained on, so they adhere themselves to everything in the yard with the force of some invisible industrial adhesive. They also smell like wet dog. Blech.
  • DOG (1 point): My neighbor has the coolest dogs ever. One looks like a wolf, and the other, well, might actually be a small bear. They never ever bark. A few weeks ago, we were watching these little tiny Yorkies, and every time we'd left them out back to do their doggy business, they'd tear up to the fence at full speed and start barking furiously. Wolf and Bear would then trot over to inspect the ferocious Ewoks. They were pretty unimpressed, despite the fervor of the barking. Then, on Saturday, I went outside with the leaf blower to try and pry the leaves off the lawn. Wolf and Bear came over to see my new Toro leaf blower with cast aluminum impeller. I got pretty much the same reaction as the Yorkies. I'm pretty sure the neighbor dogs think I'm some sort of Labrador that uses power tools.
  • WEIRD (2 points) - Jodi just declared that I am weird. This shouldn't be news to anyone. I only come in one flavor: weird.
And ... time just ran out. Shoot. I'll bet everyone got those same words, too. Oh well, seven points isn't bad.

2008-11-04

No Room for Moderation?


Finally. It's over. The election is finally over. I am sick and tired of polls and talking about politics. Now maybe I can get some work done at the office without some coworker lamenting the end of civilization if so-and so wins. And, finally finally, we can finally start talking about the most important event of fall: college football.

The thing that I hate about politics is that it is so polarizing. Instead of healthy debates and pragmatism on the issues, every position is either totally right or totally wrong. Can't we see that this is an extremely hostile environment for anyone that wants involve themselves in the political process?

To see what I mean, consider the fundamental social need of human beings to belong. Unconsciously, many of us will tone down our personal beliefs if they don't quite match up with the predominant views of the group we wish to join. We do this as a survival mechanism; no one wants to be an outcast. If you don't believe me, just think about the times when you've been found yourself surrounded by people with significantly different viewpoints than you. What was your reaction? Did you express your true views and risk being an outcast, or did you soften your stance to try and fit in?

This desire to "fit in" isn't necessarily a bad thing, because it helps us to empathize with others and understand their position. If, however, we limit ourselves to cliques that share our own points of view, our views will inevitably become more extreme, as each group member suppresses their individuality and prove their membership through a voracious defense of the group's position.

The best example of this, I think, is the worthless vitriol spewed by both liberal and conservative pundits. As de facto leaders of their respective groups, their views are always the most extreme because they constantly have to solidify their position as group leader. As a result, we see the loudmouths of each party become louder and more obnoxious as time goes on.

Given enough time, our desire to fit it can result in an unwillingness to consider alternate views, making conservatives more conservative and liberals more liberal. We have to break this cycle and realize that just because you understand how one group arrives at a particular position doesn't mean that you'll end up agreeing with them. Similarly, it needs to be okay to change their mind on an issue without being labeled as weak.

Interestingly enough, I would have voted for McCain in 2000. He seemed like a moderate voice in increasingly partisan times. Unfortunately, his primary loss to Bush took all the moderate out of him. This time around, he played the party games to secure the nomination, but then tried desperately to define himself as a maverick without alienating the party base. Who knows how things might have turned out if he had been brave enough to run as a true moderate.

What I really want to see in American politics is the candidate who is brave enough to be a true moderate, to think on his or her feet, and acknowledge all points of view. Ultimately, I'm ready for pragmatism instead of platforms.

2008-11-01

Clothes make the man...

I was never a huge fan of Halloween growing up. I blame it on the fickle Idaho weather. It seemed like every costume was foiled by snow or sleet or wind. It's a little disheartening as an eight year old to have to cover your awesome Superman costume with a puffy winter coat. Superman never had to wear a coat on his trips to the the Fortress of Solitude, so it seemed really ignominious to have to have to wear one to just to walk around the block.

This year, though, I was actually looking forward to Halloween, mostly because I rediscovered the power of the costume. This time last year, the roommate and I were lamenting the onerous task of attending costume parties and trying to come with a suitable costume at the last minute, but this year, we planned ahead and decided to go big. And it totally paid off. Who you gonna call?

So, let this be a lesson: the awesomeness of Halloween is directly proportional to the awesomeness of your costume. I'd even call it the first Law of Halloween. I'll let you know when I develop a formula that captures the complex interactions of the differing variables, but it'll probably be something like this:
The Ghostbusters costume is awesome because even though it's not very intricate, it's a great 80's pop culture reference and I totally look like Dan Akroyd. The formula also explains why the girl wandering around with a framed picture of a Freud hanging from her neck wins the award for lamest costume ever. Being too clever can definitely kill a costume. It can also redeem it, as the guy in the AIG bathrobe and slippers proved.

So, Happy Halloween! Remember to never cross the streams.

2008-10-08

My father, a Jedi?

Jedi's are known to eschew technology.

Okay, this post really is the conclusion to the "Chronicles of San Diego", since it gestated while while I was there, but it's a fresh news cycle now, and I'm not above intimating that my father has supernatural powers in an attempt to garner readership. The truth is that if my father has the Force, he's probably not a Jedi, but a Sith like Darth Vader. Not the kind of Sith that chokes people or shoots lighting from his fingertips, since that's just not his nature, but the comic henchman type Sith, one who uses the Force to make the toast pop before its done or loosen that particular bolt in your 2000 Honda Accord every few weeks so that there's an intermittent and unlocatable rattle at freeway speeds.

To understand why he's like Darth Vader, just sleep in the same room with him. I had this chance as he tagged along at the tail end of my week in San Diego. His sisters live in SoCal, so it made perfect sense. I was happy to have the company, but there was one thing I forgot about him, and that is that when he sleeps, he looks and sounds like our favorite Sith lord, thanks to one of these:

Disclaimer: I'm about to make fun of a relatively serious medical condition. Get over it.

My dad has sleep apnea, which is why he wears a mask similar to the one above. Sleep apnea is where you basically forget to breath while you sleep. While this combination of no breathing and sleep is normally characteristic of a medical condition called "death", a victim of sleep apnea only stops breathing for a short period of time -- basically just long enough for the brain to realize that "death" might actually occur if the lungs fail to resume their normal function. The brain then wakes the person up enough to start breathing again, resulting in, needless to say, really horrible sleep. (In some of the worst cases, a sleep apnea sufferer may stop breathing for up to a minute and wake up 30 or more times an hour.)

The mask and apparatus is known as a CPAP, or continuous-positive-airway-pressure machine. The mask is attached to an air pump, which forces air down your throat so you keep breathing. In layman's terms, it's like running a shop-vac in reverse and sticking the hose in your mouth. Fortunately, it's not quite that loud, more like a dust buster drowning in deep shag.

Looking at the sleep apnea mask, it's pretty easy to see why Darth Vader had his encased in a black enamel shroud. It's much more intimidating that way. Your average CPAP user *might* be able to pass for some sort of fighter pilot, if not for the flannel pajamas and characteristically non-fighter pilot type build. (Sleep apnea is MUCH more common in people of a particular size.)

When my dad first brought the CPAP home, and my fits of laughter died down, I actually gave it a try. It's kind of like wearing an octupus, in a not too unpleasant way, and the air being forced down your throat does actually ease breathing. This is all great, until you open your mouth, at which point all the air being pumped up your nose flies out this new exit and turns your nasal passages into a sort of booger wind-tunnel.

Sharing a room with dad using the CPAP is interesting to say the least. The machine, for the most part, produces pretty much white noise, but the person tethered to the machine will inevitably do sleep type things like roll over, swallow, mumble, etc, which now produce all sorts of interesting gurgles and whistles, much like the geothermally active areas of Yellowstone park. That said, the CPAP is definitely worth it. My father sleeps so much better, and has tons more energy as a consequence. And, now that we know my dad has sleep apnea, it explains all those nights when I would come upstairs and find his 6 foot tall body scrunched into the 4 foot wide loveseat, snoring away.


I wonder if he found a home remedy for his undiagnosed condition. Still, I think he prefers the CPAP to the flower print loveseat. I think he's relatively proud of the cachet this little medical device gives him, even if the TSA always assumes that the hose/pump apparatus is nearly as likely to blow up an airplane as my laptop. The first time I took him to San Diego, in fact, he tried on the CPAP in the middle of the day to show my aunts how it worked. They laughed nearly as hard as I did. Go Darth Dad. And leave my Accord alone.

2008-09-27

The Chronicles of San Diego, Part II


Business travel is frequently vexing because you spend so much time alone when the work day is over. It's hard not feel like a social pariah when you walk into a restaurant and say, "Table for one." Consequently, it's tempting to take get carryout or take delivery in your room every night, but your waistline will definitely suffer. Truth be told, the only perk of company travel is dining on the company dime, so you ought to enjoy it even if you travel alone.

Nearly every part of the country has some regional cuisine that is done really well, so there's no reason to suffer through the generic chain food, regardless of where you are. Inevitably, company meetings and such will be at Chili's or some other place you've been a million times, so don't eat there unless you really feel the need to eat something you've already eaten before.

Still, it can be hard to travel and eat alone. Here's what I do:
  • Use the web. Type in your current location and see what local restaurants are well rated. There are gems in most places. I had amazing shrimp in Sunnyvale and excellent lamb chops in Harlem because I did a little searching.
  • Order a beverage. I don't drink, but I always order a beverage of some kind. This automatically ups your check just a little bit and gives your server an excuse to visit your table. You'll inevitably get better service.
  • Don't be afraid to sit at the bar, even if you don't drink. I usually get great service from the bar, and there are almost always TVs or music or something that is much less alienating than sitting in a booth by yourself.
  • Stretch out the meal. When you dine alone, you'll notice that your food arrives much faster, and you finish quicker because there's no one to talk to. Even at a really nice restaurant, you can be in and out in well under an hour, and then you'll inevitably feel unsatisfied. Besides making a deliberate attempt to slow down, I frequently order a soup or an appetizer with dinner, just because it makes the meal more of an experience.
  • Ask about the specials. Unless you're at the Cheesecake Factory, the specials are usually actually special. They're the freshest ingredients, chef's specialty, or whatever. Your server will definitely know what most people order.
  • Get used to the alone-ness. Relish it. Once you go to a movie by yourself, you'll wonder why you ever try to corral a group of people to try and go to a movie. Dining alone can be the same way.


This week in San Diego has been a culinary masterpiece. I come here often enough that I have some of my favorite haunts. First is Point Loma Seafoods: a fresh fish market that also serves lunch. They have AMAZING chowder. Warning: they only take cash. Second is Phil's: Texas style BBQ, great blues. Beef ribs that would satisfy Fred Flinstone. Warning: closed on Mondays. This time, I also visited the Chart House at Dana Point, and it was simply amazing -- great view.

2008-09-22

The Chonicles of San Diego, Pt1

Once again, I find myself on a work trip. When people ask me about what's new in life, the thing that usually comes to mind is my latest or upcoming travel, because so many people seem interested in the novelty of getting paid to travel. Sometimes I think people assume that it's exotic and exciting; lots of power suits and power lunches and really intense motivational speeches in high rise buildings. I hate to dash any illusions you might have, but right now I'm sitting in a mostly empty office in jeans and a t-shirt, blogging.

Still, I thought it would be fun to chronicle this trip on the blog. I'm going to see if I can come up with at least one good story for every day that I'm here.

I landed in San Diego at 11:30 this afternoon. I swear that we taxied FOREVER. It made me wonder if the airport is really like a big mall parking lot on Saturday, and the pilot tooling around in his 737 looking for a spot that's close to the food court but still doesn't make him walk through the lingerie section of JCPenny. In my mind I can hear the co-pilot yell, "Look! You passed a perfectly good spot right back there! We can WALK."


Still, the day has been good thus far. I enjoyed lunch at Point Loma Seafoods; a seared Ahi sandwhich and bowl of claw chowder. I'm sure we'll talk about food later, so I'll leave it at that. The highlight of the day, though, was this guy panhandling in the median of the street. He was walking up and down past the cars waiting to turn left. He held a sign that said: "BET YOU CAN'T HIT ME WITH A QUARTER."


How's that for a challenge?

2008-09-17

I'm a victm!

In today's edition of "What I Learned", I'm taking you back to 1991, when cinema changed forever. This was the year that Hollywood proved three things: 1) that no film is too asinine to justify an even more asinine sequel, 2) acting skills are entirely optional in film making and 3) Death is really funny.

Now wait, did you think I meant that death, as in dying, was funny? No, no, I meant "Death" with a capital "D" is funny. Specifically, this guy:

Figured it out yet? Yes, we're talking about this trio:

In case you forgot, the first time we encountered Bill and Ted on their Excellent Adventure, they used a time traveling phone booth to collect historical figures (as in actual people) for a report so that they don't flunk out of high school. In the end, we learn that Bill and Ted's totally non-heinous band is critical to the history of the world, and that's why they couldn't flunk history. (Nevermind the fact that they could have used the time machine to study, but whatever.)

Well, in 1991's Bogus Journey, evil robot versions of Bill and Ted are sent from the future to kill the good Bill and Ted and prevent them from playing in the battle of the bands. (MTV's take on the Terminator, if you will.) Good Bill and Ted meet a totally egregious loogie filled demise and then have to journey through limbo, hell, heaven and challenge Death to make it back to San Dimas in time to save the babes and rock the show. Sound awesome? Totally.

So awesome, in fact, that me and my nerdy high school friends suspended our traditional bickering about the plausibility of time travel to quote the movie incessantly. These were our favorites:
[Bill and Ted are falling to hell.]
Bill: Dude, this is a totally deep hole.

Ted: I can't believe Missy divorced your Dad and married mine.
Bill: Shut up, Ted.

Bill: Hey, you wanna play 20 questions?
Ted: Okay! I got one!
Bill: Are you a mineral?
Ted: Yeah!
Bill: Are you a tank?
Ted: Yeah!

Bill: Dude, there's no way I can possibly do infinity push-ups.
Ted: Maybe if he lets us do them girly-style?

Ted: Dude!
Bill: What?
Ted: Hell sucks!
Bill: Definitely!
Ted: We were totally lied to by our album covers.

Ted: Who's that?
Bill: Ted, it's the Grim Reaper, dude!
Ted: Oh. How's it hangin' Death?

Bill: Ted.
Ted: Yeah?
Bill: If I die, you can have my Megadeth collection.
Ted: But, dude, we're already dead.
Bill: Oh. Well then they're yours, dude.

[Bill and Ted beat the Grim Reaper at Twister]
Bill: You played very well, Death, especially with your totally heavy Death robes.
Death: Don't patronize me.

Death: Don't overlook my butt, I work out all the time. And reaping burns a lot of calories.

In fact, I say that we quoted these movies just a little too much. I totally blame them for my gross overuse of the words "totally" and "dude". I promise I am not a surfer stuck in 1988, just a victim of the most non-non-non-non-non-heinous Bill and Ted.

2008-09-07

Laissez-"fair"?

Anyone else feel like they've been sucker punched in the groin by Adam Smith's "invisible hand" lately? The fall of Fannie and Freddie this weekend was the last straw. I was righteously indignant when my taxes were spent on artery clogging government pork, but I'm unconsolably incensed when they are spent to rescue profit mongering shareholders, home flippers, and people with irresponsibly large mortgages.

The thing that irritates me most of all is that I have to admit to myself that the government MUST step in. They have no choice. We can't let the two mortgage giants twist in the wind as they rightfully should, because there are lots and lots of honest, hard-working people who want that part of the American dream that is home ownership, and they need Mac and Mae to help them with their loans.

How did we get in this mess? I think it goes back to Adam Smith. Like many American industries of the late 80s and 90s, the banking industry experienced a fair amount of deregulation. Then, in the mid 90s, the economy picked up steam, and everyone was doing well. It seemed like deregulation was the way to go. Soon, the number of investment firms ballooned and everyone was getting into stocks and securities. It seemed like easy money. The problem was that companies were now beholden to very fickle shareholders who primarily wanted a higher stock price regardless of what it meant to the company. Executives were replaced, CEO salaries skyrocketed, and the temptation to satiate shareholders was so great that many companies start to post paper profits.

This all ended when the dot com bubble burst and Enron et al collapsed. At this point, the government had to step in like it had in the past. Sure, the market was free with deregulation, but too many people were too greedy. The markets and the companies that traded on them simply HAD to be more closely monitored. After all, a lot of honest hardworking people were hurt when their pensions and 401k burst along with the dot com bubble. In the end, it was the regular folk that were most hurt. The venture capitalists/investor types were only shaken up. And since there would be no more lucrative IPOs and acquisitions, they needed a new place to make their money. Unfortunately, they settled on the mortgage market.

Soon, the mortgage market heated up along with the real estate market. Interest rates were low, and everybody was getting into real estate. People starting flipping homes. Home ownership became a short term investment vehicle rather than a means to a permanent domicile. Investors loved it. Banks loved it too because they could sign people up for terrible variable rate mortgages which they could then sell to investors, who actually expected to see that 10 or 12% interest after the two years were up on the ARM. With deregulation, banks could be more aggresive in marketing mortgages to consumers, relaxing lending requirements, and could become very creative in how they bundled up the mortgages to sell to investors. Suddenly, "second mortgages" somehow became "home equity loans" and people could afford the cabin/boat/RV that they always wanted. It seemed like everyone was winning.

It was inevitable, though, that prices would fall. The market was saturated by real estate gurus, flippers, and investors clamoring for share price -- which had all speculatively inflated the market. Meanwhile, interest rates had been too low for too long. This had weakening the dollar, making US investments look bad in general, and causing general instability in the markets. When those investing in mortgages started to realize that there really is no such thing as a free lunch, they jumped ship, just like the home flippers and the family earning 100k a year and living in a half million dollar home on the bench.

The companies did their best the massage the numbers, hoping to hold out until the market rebounded. Mortgages were fundamentally sound, risk-free investments, right? Well, it turns out the Freddie and Fannie were counting some mortgages as capital assets, as if it was an absolutely sure thing that they would be repaid at the full interest rate. Well, who in their right mind is going to pay a 12% interest on a mortgage that is now upside-down? No one, that's who. The people buying the mortgages should have known it, too, as should the people trying to profit off of the hot market. Why people were willing to take such risks with something as important as a family's home, or millions of homes across America, I will never know.

So, are you mad yet? I hope so. Our tax dollars are going to be used to keep these companies afloat. In our efforts to be more laissez-faire, we end up being tens times less so, and exactly because we have to protect ourselves from all the capitalist asshats that assured us that a more market freedom would be better for us all.

2008-08-20

Sotally Tober!!!

My dear friend Travis scored some free tickets to see Jack Johnson on Monday. I wanted to see Jack anyway, so this was a major windfall. What could be better than spending a warm summer night sitting on a lawn with a bunch of your friends and listening to cool island tunes? ...Doing all of that for FREE, of course. Add to this the fact that concerts are probably the third best venue* to people-watch, and you have a recipe for an enlightening evening.

We saw dudes that looked like chicks and chicks that looked like dudes; guys toking up and a girl really upset that the guys has toked up without her; lots and lots of drunk people and one guy who started his drinking by pouring the rum for his rum and coke out of his sandal.

The coup de gras, though, was the bear woman. I call her the bear woman because her size and look reminded me of a bear walking upright. She was also rubbing up against this very tall and long haired male in a way that remarkably reminiscent of a bear scratching against a tree. She was also very hammered. The whole thing looked an awful lot like this:



The highlight of the whole evening, though, was when the bear lady started to get her freak on a few yards in front of us. It was very a Woodstock-esque flailing sort of dance. In her hammered state, she meandered all over this couple's blanket and knocked over their overpriced soft drinks. As they reached down to prevent the beverages from soaking their blanket, the bear lady had the audacity to slur, "You guys should really put those somewhere else, you know..."

We looked at each other in dumbfounded amazement. They needed to move their drinks because she danced into them? Well, someone took as much umbrage to this as we did, and it was this pint sized gal next to us. She stood right up and accosted the drunk lady. I didn't hear most of the conversation, but the sight of a young 5' 2" and very clearly Mormon woman scolding an indignant, overweight and drunken hippie was something to behold. What was even funnier was the way the woman's husband very calmly watched the whole interaction seated on the blanket until it looked like it might turn into a poking and pushing match. At this point, he calmly stood up behind his wife, put his hands on her soldier, and said, "Dear, let's not forget that you have a 2 year old and a 5 month old at home..."

Well, the cooler heads prevails, the drunk hippie wandered away to scratch her back against the tree again , and we applauded the pint size defender as she settled back onto her blanket. One of my friends said, "We were so close to getting up; good for you!" And she replied, "I kind of wanted to go to Relief Society with a black eye." Her husband is probably still rolling his eyes and shaking his head in disbelief.


*My poll data indicates that state fairs and airports are the two other venues ideal for people watching.

2008-07-26

Sometimes, I hate being right.

Eight years is a long time; about 1/10 of an American life span, and I'll bet you already know where this post is going. As I look at this year's Presidential race, I've spent a lot of time thinking about past races; specifically the ones in which I've voted. With the benefit of hindsight, it's enlightening to look back at what I thought then and compare it with how things have gone.

So, the 2000 election reminds me a great deal of the 2008 election. The outgoing President was unpopular, there were economic rumblings on the horizon, and I wasn't wowed by either candidate. In fact, I was downright worried by both of them. One seemed stiff, and out of touch, the other a bumbling country boy. In the end, I marginally favored the stuffy guy, despite serious reservations. In the end, it didn't really matter who I liked anyway, because my state was only going to go one way.

So, eight years later, it is interesting to look back at some of my misgiving about the man who would eventually become President. It's sad to say that I was right about some of them:
  • Nepotism and cronyism: coming from an entitled upbringing with the attached good ole' boy mentality, I was concerned that Bush, rather than picking the best person for the job, would select advisers that most agreed with him. A certain amount of this is to be expected with any political office, but I think that a truly savvy politician will also bring in people of differing opinions and skills to create a well rounded administration. When Collin Powell, an internationally respected individual, departed as Secretary of State and Condoleeza Rice, a mediocre NSA chief, was selected as replacement, I realized that Bush was surrounded himself with "yes" men. Bush's failure in this area reached its apex when he nominated the woefully unqualified Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. I think that the WMD debacle resulted largely from Bush's cronyism, as well as a woefully unprepared FEMA after hurricane Katrina.
  • Ties to oil: the Bush family is well known for its ties to the oil business. Ties to any industry don't inherently make anyone unsuitable for office, but you have to accept a certain amount of deference to that industry while they're in office. In this case, Bush's oil and related energy policies have recently proved disastrous. The industry is enjoying record profits from record prices, which are contributing to the overall slowing of the economy. A more enlightened policy regarding energy, like updated mpg requirements and tighter environmental controls on electrical production might have actually spurred development in alternative fuels and energy as world oil supplies became inevitably tight.
  • Foreign policy: as governor of Texas, one's foreign policy experience is limited largely to Mexico. And, to his credit, President Bush has does well, I think, with our neighbor to the south and immigration policy (though Congress wasn't helpful.) Worldwide, though, gaining a reputation as a bully was certainly not desirable. Though I think we must always act in our own self defense without waiting for international consensus, we must do so considerately and conscientiously. The younger Bush could have learned a great deal from his father in this area, who very delicately handled the collapsing Soviet Union and the first withdrawal from Iraq. Back then, Cheney as Sec. Def., provided a compelling analysis of what would happen in Iraq if Saddam was deposed: sectarian violence and political instability that would require an occupying force. I don't understand, why, then, we were so unprepared for what was going to happen. Needless to say that greater international support might have drastically altered the course of the conflict, particularly given the massive civilian casualties that have resulted in Iraq.
  • Church and State: while I admire President Bush for being a man of faith, I saw his use of the evangelical vote as a double edged sword. I feared that his mixing of religion and politics could have undesirable consequences. This was realized by the failure of many of his faith based initiatives. Though a cause and effect relationship is certainly hard to establish, I find it extremely interesting that teen pregnancy rates have increased (abstinence only sex ed, anyone?) and abortion rates have not fallen. Meanwhile, the Republican party has become significantly more conservative as it has to court the increasingly vocal and fickle evangelical vote.
  • Fiscal/Economic policy: though Republicans are generally thought to be fiscally conservative, their hawkish natures and continual desire to cut taxes frequently have the opposite effect. Bush seemed to fall right in line in this area. It was amazing to me that facing a recession, he elected to increase spending while cutting taxes and sending the nation to war. This ballooned the deficit, lowered confidence in American industry abroad, and began to slow the economic engine of the country. Couple this with the deflation of the housing market, and I think that the current administration shoulders a great deal of responsbility for our current predicament. It wouldn't suprise me too much if we soon find that laissez faire enforcement of the housing market contributed to our current situation.
  • Intelligence: simply put, I thought Bush wasn't smart enough to be President. I'm not talking about his minor gaffes that made for comedy routine fodder, since those things happen to everyone, but I do think that being President requires a truly significant intellect. The economy, foreign policy, and budgetary matters are extraordinarily complex. No amount of bravado, charm, or humor can mask a failure to understand the issues. I think Bush's failings fundamentally stem from this, particularly in dealing with the economy and the budget deficit.
So, this may sound like a huge round of "I told you so", but that's not my intent at all. Nor am I trying to jump on the Bush bashing bandwagon. Instead, these are the things that genuinely concerned me about the candidate. There's no doubt that a similar list could have been made had Al Gore been president. In the end, your concerns regarding a Presidential candidate will almost certainly manifest themselves when the person is in office. Though the extent of such manifestations are totally unknowable, we can at least look at the curent state of the nation to see which flaws would hurt us the most.

2008-07-25

Totally random...


  • I don't understand lactose intolerance. By which I mean, why is called lactose intolerance? Who was that first person that said, "No! I refuse! I WILL NOT TOLERATE LACTOSE!" Somehow it seems like a misappropriate of a word that already has context in much more distressing issues like racial or religious intolerance. I think we should come up with a different name for lactose intolerance. Something like: "My parents failed me genetically because I can't eat ice cream or cheese without my stomach acting like Mt. Vesuvius."
  • Where do my hangers go? I have acquired no additional clothing, and yet I do not have hangers enough for the clothes I have. The situation gets worse every time I do laundry. As a child I used to stretch hangars over my head and wear them around the house, but my head is of such a size now that they generally break, so I stopped doing that.
  • Growing up, we never could find lids for the Tupperware. We had a whole drawer fully of lids (and twist-ties, thumbtacks, and junk), but apparently the lids went with some OTHER Tupperware. Now that I have my own house, all I have are lids. Seriously. Who is using all this lidless Tupperware? I did use a bunch once to measure how much water my sprinklers were putting on the lawn, but I'm pretty sure I gathered them all up.
  • Why do Americans take perfectly good entrees and turn them into salads? Tacos, burritos, pizza, buffalo wings, etc. All these things are great foods by themselves -- how does serving them on a bed of lettuce with a lime/chipotle/raspberry/vinaigrette/sun dried kumquat dressing make them better? It certainly can't make them healthier...
  • I'm convinced that most of the problems that women have with men result from women assuming that men are much smarter that we actually are. But rest assured, we REALLY ARE that stupid. Need proof? Tom Cruise: divorced Nicole. Tom Arnold: married Roseanne.
  • We see a lot in the news about the dangers of leaving children and pets in cars in hot summer days. (Seriously people, DON'T DO IT!) But what about old people? The other day at Dick's market, there was a very surly looking 80 year old sitting in a sweltering Camry. The window was rolled down, but he looked like he was getting grouchier by the minute.
  • I'm pretty sure that Wal-Mart wishes that the department of homeland security would scale back airport security so they can have their employees back.

2008-07-19

The Dog/Cat Debate

I know that people feel strongly about their choice of pets. Me, I'm a dog person. It's not that I don't like cats, but they don't seem to like me. Growing up, my best friend had a Siamese named Rosebud. I was never anything but nice to that cat. But, every time she saw me, she would hiss like I was the undead:

So, I'm not a cat fan. I don't really dislike them though. I'm a sucker for the purring and all that, like anyone without cat allergies. Cuddle factor aside, I think it's pretty clear which animal is superior in the dog/cat debate.

My roommate, Dane, and I had this argument all the time. He thought that the cat's independence and cleanliness made it the perfect pet. He thought dogs were dumb -- primarily because they hung around with people, which Dane also thought were dumb.

And Dane was right. Dogs' have a weak point in that they are slaves to the affection of their humans (and vice-versa). But when it comes down to it, there's one argument that trumps them all in favor of the dog: There's no such thing as a "seeing-eye cat."

2008-07-06

Rockets' Red Glare


I love the 4th of July. I live for the 4th of July. It has everything I need: staying up late, BBQ, and pyrotechnics. I only have one problem with the 4th of July, and that is Lee Greenwood. His song "God Bless the USA" drives me crazy. Now, before you brand me some unpatriotic jerk, let me explain:

The song, to be frank, is trite drivel. All the great patriotic songs, the Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, etc, were written by poets; psalms to the hopes of a young nation. There's no way that a pop song, much less a 60's-esque country song, can really capture the majesty of a country that grew from 13 rowdy colonies into a country that became a haven and hope for people the world over.

Greenwood's song, instead, plays off of sentiment -- trying to kindle patriotic support by invoking remembrances of those who paid the ultimate price. The end result is that I invariably feel an odd sense of guilt, because there are times when I'm not proud of what my country has done, and that this somehow dishonors the fallen. I don't think anything could be further from the truth, though. This is a country built on dissent, after all. Jefferson himself said, "a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing."

Ultimately, I think that those who sacrificed didn't do it for any as abstract as a flag or nationalistic pride. When I think of a GI storming the beach at Normandy, I can't imagine visions of eagles and patriotic bunting are in the forefront of his mind. Instead, I see him thinking of his family, his home, and the good things of this life. And that's why he fights, because he thinks that other people should have the right to those good things as well. In the end, it is his hopes and ideals that define him, and truly define what it is to be an American. This is where the flag gets its meaning. America is a reflection of his sacrifice, not the other way around.

When I stand and sing the Star Spangled Banner and my eyes mist, it's not so much because of the flag or even the song, but because I realize that I share the same ideals as those who did sacrifice and am indebted to them. I am humbled and honored to be counted among those that paid the ultimate sacrifice or the sacrifice of a life dutifully lived. In the end, my duty is to live according to the principles of freedom on which the country was founded, according to the dictates of my own conscience. Sometimes this means that I may not agree with everything that my country has done or will do, but it doesn't make me any less patriotic.

2008-07-03

Owl


I bought an owl two weeks ago. And, as Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.

....But he looks less like this:








....And more like this:



He's hanging from a branch in my cherry tree, swaying and turning gently in the breeze. You probably wonder if it felt odd to buy an 18 inch plastic owl. Yes, a little. I figure that's why they invented self checkout.

But my sheepishness has yet to be rewarded. The birds that are raping and pillaging the tree for freshly ripened cherries seem completely unbothered by my owl. When I come out of the house in the morning, it sounds like some sort of deranged sale, a cacophony of shrieks, chirps and flapping, like women fighting over the a pair of discount shoes. And then, as I approach the tree, the birds explode out of it, sometimes a half dozen of them. So, this leads me to believe that they are completely unafraid of my plastic bird of prey. Maybe they have a grasp of physics and realize that he's essentially floating in mid-air?

I'm even pretty sure they pooped on him. As if being plastic wasn't hard enough.

2008-06-19

Upgrades

I complain alot about traveling. Not the fact that I travel, but the process of traveling itself. Everyone knows what I'm talking about, right? Terrible airlines, being poked and prodded by security, unbelievably lame rental cars, middle seats, unintelligible drivers,

So, somehow, somewhere, I must have done something right, because this trip has been surreal in it's splendor.

Here's the evidence:

1) Flight leaves at 11:00 AM. Can you get a more perfect time than that? You don't have to wake up early to make the flight, the airport is wonderfully empty, and you still arrive late enough in the day that no one expects you to go work.
2) Plane not close to full. I got my OWN ROW. I sat in the middle so I could see all three TVs. One tuned to the PGA championship, one for random flipping, and one for the news.
3) Rental car: Dodge charger! (If you've heard my rant about the PT cruiser, enough said.)
4) Hotel upgrades. I arrive at the hotel just having achieved "Gold" status. They tell me that they've upgraded my room. I'm in a wing of the hotel I've never stayed in the before. I open the door, and I realize that I have a 3 room suite. No, I am not making this up. I have two king beds in two separate rooms, two bathrooms, and three total TVs. I feel almost guilty about it.

So, there you go.

Karma?

2008-06-05

World Perspective II

Okay, so my post about organic foods causing the apocalypse might have been a bit alarmist and a bit of a slippery slope argument. But I think it still makes the point that the trends and policies in first world countries (that's basically anyone who might read this) may have unintended negative consequences on the world at large. So while we think that we are very benevolent and magnanimous, we are also at the same time hurting those less fortunate than us. Need proof? Here's another example...

In the 1962, a book called Silent Spring was published that questioned the side effects of DDT. DDT was, at the time, an inexpensive pesticide that was used widely to control insect pests, particularly mosquitoes. There were questions, however, about the overall healthiness of DDT as well as its effect on the environment. One of the most disturbing claims was that the catastrophic collapse of eagle populations in the US was caused by the thinning of their eggs' shells, which was, in turn, caused by the birds' food sources being contaminated by DDT.

Indeed, Silent Spring was a wake up call. We realized that we could wreak havoc on the environment through inappropriate chemical use. This led to a complete ban of DDT in the US. European and other developed countries followed suit. The environment responded positively to the ban, and bird populations recovered when we switched to newer, more targeted, and necessarily more expensive pesticides. In most respects, the DDT ban appeared to be a great success -- proof that we were willing to pay the price to do the right thing to care for the Earth.

The thing that we forget in this story is that by this time malaria was really no longer a problem in the US. What used to be a common and debilitating illness was pretty much eradicated in this country draining swamps, lots of spraying, and high standard of medical care. Ironically, we ended up banning DDT about the same time we no longer needed it.

But what about the rest of the world that still suffered from endemic malaria? For them, the reality is that DDT remained (and remains) an excellent repellent with little environmental impact when used to for home treatment rather than general mosquito abatement. Despite this potential, many Western aid organizations working in malaria prevention refused to fund DDT use, despite its very low cost. Can you imagine trying to solicit donations from charitable Americans to use a banned pesticide? In effect, the ban had stigmatized DDT.

It's a bit revisionist to claim that DDT use might have impacted malaria, but the statistics from the CDC and WHO are telling regardless. Every year, there are nearly half a billion cases of malaria, causing more than one million deaths -- the vast majority of them being children. It doesn't take a calculator to realize that even a very small percentage of half a billion remains an enormous number. In the US, we happily paid the cost to eliminate DDT -- an inconsequential sum for a wealthy nation -- but was there a global cost?

To be continued...

2008-05-30

Perspective

I know this isn't news to anyone, but how we experience life is largely dependent on the angle from which we approach it. What interests me more, however, is my recent realization that the global experience is also subject to the same laws of perspective that apply to the individual. That is to say, given time, distance, or point of view, the accepted reality of any society, culture, or nation may in fact be invalid from an alternate, and usually larger, perspective.

We know this to be true, because some perspectives are flawed from virtually every exterior angle, like cultures that oppress women or participate in genocide. But even a democracy like the US, in spite of our potent ideals and position in the world, is not exempt from these problems, and I think our perspectives can be flawed in much more subtle ways.

There's a high ironic example, I think, in the rapid growth in our consumption of organic foods. The perspective causing this trend, I assume, is the belief that foods grown without chemicals are more healthy for us than those foods grown using pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. On it's face, this seems like a sound viewpoint -- natural is healthy, right? The interesting point to me, however, is that while organic foods may be healthier for those that consume them, they may actually be less healthy from a global perspective.

I realize this probably doesn't make any sense, so let me explain. Consider, for example, that organically grown foods typically have 50% lower yields than traditional crops. In other words, if you have two equal sized fields, the organic one will produce half as much crop as the traditional method. This shouldn't be a surprise, since this is the whole reason that pesticides were developed in the first place. This also explains why organic foods typically cost twice as much or more. This isn't a big deal in a wealthy nation like the United States, where people typically spend less than 10% of their income on food, but what effect might it have on world food prices if even a modest number of farmers produced half as much crop as before? And what's the subsequent effect on people who spend nearly all their income on food?

In general, I wonder if organic foods are grown successfully because the general crop population is rendered disease free through treatment -- much like a child in the US who skips a vaccine, but never catches the disease because 99% of the other children did get the vaccine. Such a child would almost certainly catch the disease if the general populace weren't vaccinated. I have to wonder if the same principle applies to organic crops? Are they at higher risk for wholesale failures, like the potato famine?

Am I saying that organic foods are bad? No. Certainly the resurgence of organic food can teach us that perhaps we are too dependent on fertilizers and pesticides, and there is probably a good middle ground and certain crops that can be grow very well organically. But a global perspective should make us think twice about launching headlong into the organification of everything we eat. After all, the vast majority of the world population is much more worried about having enough to eat than the particulars of how it was grown.

In the end, it's all a matter of perspective. What are the hidden costs of ours?

...to be continued...

2008-05-23

What I learned back east...

It's good to be back -- back from visiting the east coast for work. It was a whirlwind tour, involving 6 different airports, 4 different hotel rooms, and 2 different rental cars (neither of which were PT cruisers!) After a trip like this, there are two things I like to do:
  1. Sleep a ton. Seriously. My clock gets SO messed up when I travel. I'm already a huge night owl, so it doesn't take much for me to slip entirely into the schedule where I sleep all day and work at night. I woke up today at 2 PM.
  2. Reflect on what I learned this trip. That part follows:
What I learned:
  1. Cleaning before you go on a trip is totally worth it. When I got home late last night, it was so wonderful to walk into a clean room with a freshly made bed and no piles of laundry around. I think this is because when you travel, every time you step into your hotel room, that's how it looks... Now, if I could just train my roommates to clean up after themselves...
  2. Connecticut feels like a Norman Rockwell painting -- farmhouses in lush green fields separated by towering but still welcoming forest. I could totally live there. It was quaint and rustic, but still only 2 hours from Boston and 2 hours from NY, and they still had really great high speed internet.
  3. DC traffic has to be the worst traffic EVER. On my way out of town, I decided to drop by the national cathedral (see item 4). I was near the new Nationals stadium just south of the Capitol. Google tells me that the distance I covered was 7.6 miles, but it took the better part of an hour. (And no, this wasn't rush hour or anything, it was 10:00 am!) DC is this hideous mess of one way streets and roundabouts. I'm sure that L'Enfant designed it this way because the all lines made cool shapes on the paper. I'm also convinced that our Senators and Congresspeople arrive in DC full of hope and ready to work, but are completely embittered and partisan after their first week because they spend 50% of their time in a car.
  4. The national cathedral is AMAZING. The 6th largest cathedral in the world, and it took 80 years to complete. The craftsmanship is exquisite. One thing I did find very interesting is the names of the benefactors that were carved into various places around the cathedral. I worry that this might have started the insane sponsorship craze that we see today. Someone we went from, "This alcove dedicated in holiness by Frank and Deborah Sneddlesmith," to "INVESCO field" instead of Mile High stadium. C'mon people. Isn't God going to know that you funded this pillar, or paid for this pew? Why does everyone else need to know too?
Well, I'm tired again all of the sudden. To much thinking about work, I guess.

2008-05-13

Humor .. in a galaxy far, far away....

Can you count how many times Shakespeare, Homer, Austen, and the other great literary minds have their works retold, spoofed, and lampooned? I can't. If it's true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the surest measure of a work's popularity is in its number of imitators.

If you accept this premise, then I have no choice to conclude, despite every line of George Lucas' dialog, that Star Wars is clearly among the pinnacle of film. It's been 30 years since it came out, and in spite of Jar Jar Binx, Hayden Christiansen, and the world's craziest numbering scheme ( 4..5..6...1..2..3), fans are still turning out an absurd amount of material in homage.

And, fortunately, you don't have to be a nerd to enjoy it (though it mights help):

  • This Soundtrack is OSHA approved.
  • Paper or Plastic?

  • I'm just glad Dog the Bounty Hunter hasn't spoofed Boba Fett

  • Do to think Emporer got his MBA?
  • Most Interesting Use of a Golf Ball Retriever

  • Which one of those buttons calls your mom to come pick you up?

  • Even the Brits get it!
    • If you can tolerate a little dirty mouthed British comedy, then check this out by Eddie Izzard.

2008-05-06

Soledad

Last night, I ate dinner at the San Diego harbor in a restaurant perched at the end of pier that extended over the sullen pacific. I enjoyed fresh tilapia with mango salsa while watching the crimson sunset coax sail boats back to their slips. Afterwards, I took a leisurely drive up the coast to Mt. Soledad, where I enjoyed an amazing view of the San Diego temple, La Jolla, and the pacific coastline stretching into the inky horizon.


As you might suspect, it was a spectacular evening...perfect in nearly every way...except that I was with 3 other dudes from work.

This, my friends, is the irony of the business trip.

2008-05-02

The Buck Stops

I loathe group projects. Despite the years that have passed since I was in school and forced to work with a smattering of half committed nincompoops, I remember well the pain of the group project. I thought I'd left those those days behind, but I have sadly learned that the group project is alive and well at my work; not because of the people I work with, but because our company frequently has to work with other companies on the same project.

Just this last week, I was in the room as members of three companies sat down to discuss the less than stellar performance of our jointly produced project. It was then that I started to have flashbacks. There was finger pointing, blame shifting, spinning, and every other tactic you'd expect from an under performing group member suddenly being assessed by the professor. We all suspected that one of the companies hadn't done its job (thankfully, not mine) and was circling the wagons to deflect blame -- as the simplest cause for the failure was a component for which they were responsible. But, they insisted that there were software defects, that the installed parts weren't that different form the specifications, and their engineers had done the necessary calculations to prove it on paper.

This went on for days. With our collective reputations on the line, my company painstakingly discounted every possible defect in the system, one at a time, until finally, the delinquent group member had to admit, begrudgingly, that they had NOT done their job, and it WAS THEIR FAULT. At this point, were we relieved that the problem was solved? No! We were frustrated and angry that four days and a dozen people's time were wasted in chasing down nonexistent problems.

Of course, we do deserve some blame for not being more insistent that they own up to their responsibility, but there is only so much you can do do motivate an ass that refuses to budge -- and you end up shouldering the load yourself to make any progress at all. This is what I really hate about the group project, being held hostage by one's own work ethic in the face of uncooperative and lazy group-mates.

Truman was right: The buck stops here. No one is ever served, least of all ourselves, by avoiding responsibility. Not only do we invariably look bad, in the end, we accomplish nothing.

2008-04-27

N-Stage Facebook


I'm ashamed to admit it, but I'm on Facebook. I think it was the post Christmas coma, induced by excessive food and football, that made me susceptible to the virulence of this internet illness. It's been four months since I was infected with Facebook but I fear my case may be terminal. I outline here the progression of my illness as a cautionary tale so that you may avoid a similar fate.

As first, Facebook seems harmless enough -- nothing more than a simple way to re-connect with old friends. It's almost like a game, remembering people that you once knew but were too busy to really keep in touch with. Soon, you're "friends" with all your old college roommates, neighbors, and ward members. You're thrilled! Compiling your acquaintances from the last several years can give you anywhere from 50-100 friends. You had no idea you were so popular ... but apparently you are awesome.

It's this initial realization of e-awesomeness that gets things rolling. Once your Facebook roster is full, the fever becomes hard set, and you start looking through your friends' friends and photos of people you don't know at all. When you run into real people, you ask, "Are you on Facebook?" And then you realized that you're already "friends".

At this point, you realize that you've become septic, because you're actually talking about Facebook in the real world. It even gets so bad that when people ask you how so-and-so is doing, you repeat things that you learned by reading so-and-so's wall -- not by actually talking to them. That's when I realized that I have N-stage Facebook, a chronic condition that can be ameliorated but never cured.

If you can get past the hypnotizing allure of having 100's of "friends", you realize that Facebook is such a strange phenomenon. It boggles the mind that millions and millions of people are documenting their lives in this huge online forum. The sheer weirdness of the thing really hit me during a spate of friend's updating their relationship status' in the last few weeks. People breaking up and getting together all over the place. Am I the only one that thinks this is really weird?

2008-04-17

Irony Redux

The day that I canceled-my-credit-cards-just-hours-before-my-wallet-was-returned had even more ironic surprises for me. That morning, out of concern for the lost wallet and identity theft (or at least having to explain to some credit card company employee that I did not, in fact, buy a go cart, a goat, 20 inch rims for my Honda, or whatever it is that identity thieves buy), I woke up early, earlier than that night's sleep should have allowed. Given my fatigue, I threw a warm can of Dr. Pepper from the pantry into the freezer's ice bin. The goal was rapid cooling, so that when I left for work, the can would be prepped for the mid-commute consumption. I was well aware of the potential consequences.

In case you have never frozen your favorite canned and carbonated beverage, let me explain the physics* involved. First Fact: Water is magic. It expands when it freezes. This expansion is what makes ice float. Second Fact: The main ingredient of any soft drink is water. Q.E.D: when you freeze a can of soda, the can will expand. Since the contents are already under the pressure of carbonation...viola, the can may well explode in an icy inferno.

I know this. I've done this. I've gleefully watched it happen to the unsuspecting. I specifically told myself, when I put the can in the freezer, that I needed to remove it before I left for work, or the consequences would be dire.

Imagine my shock and self loathing, then, when I was greeted with the following site when I returned home that night:

Yes, gentle reader. I am an idiot. What you see is indeed frozen Dr. Pepper sprayed everywhere. And I mean EVERY-WHERE: in the gears of the ice maker, all over the frozen vegetables, and the ice cream in the door. As you can see, the poor ice maker took the brunt of it.

And this is what happened to the can:

To be honest, the whole situation was so hilarious that I couldn't even be mad, even though it took probably half an hour to chisel frozen soft drink from my freezer walls. Why wasn't I mad? First: I knew better, and remembered that I knew better, but forgot anyway. And second, how can you be mad at physics? The outcome was inevitable. It's like being mad at gravity. There's no point. And, look at what happened to the can! Isn't that COOL?



*Yes, I oversimplified. If you can endure some nerdiness, here's some thought into exactly what happened with the can.

WARNING: SCIENCE FOLLOWS

At first, I was surprised that the can exploded quite so violently and stuck to the walls. I mean, if you freeze a bottle of water, it doesn't explode, it just distends. The key, I think, lies in the combination of sweeteners and carbonation in the soda. The sweeteners lower the freezing point of the water, just like anti-freeze. This means that the can must cool below 32 degrees before much expansion will occur. Most freezers are at 0 F or colder, so no big deal there. What this means, though, is that the liquid is super cold when the can ruptures. When the can finally does rupture from expansion, the carbon dioxide that is dissolved in the water (the carbonation) quickly "boils" out of the water. The CO2 is very anxious to escape because of the additional pressure of expansion. It is this rapid release of gas that sprays the soda everywhere. Finally, as the C02 evaporates, it takes energy with it, leaving the soda even colder than it was in the can. This means that the soda hits the freezer walls as a nearly frozen slush, explaining the artful and rock hard Dr. Pepper all over the freezer.

2008-04-13

Irony

Ever have a string of bad luck? You know, those times when the fates combine and life just gets weird? Now, I'm not talking about truly bad stuff -- that kind of stuff is just hard. What I'm talking about are the random things that are equal parts irritant and divine humor.

My latest bought started last Tuesday at work. Being last to leave, it was up to me to lock up. I had just armed the door when I realized that my wallet was still on the desk. The alarm system gives you a minute from the time its armed until the door needs to be locked. For that minute, it beeps incessantly like a movie bomb, which really added to the suspense as I rushed back to get the wallet. But I made it! Door locked and wallet retrieved, all without the security guards dispatched.

Several hours later though, I couldn't find the wallet I'd pseudo-heroically retrieved. I didn't think much of it, since wallets usually go AWOL for a few hours at a time, all the time. But Wednesday morning, wallet still missing, I began to wonder if I had imagined the scene from the day before. At work, I still couldn't find the wallet, and after two hours of searching, I decided to face facts that somewhere in the 10 feet from the door and the car, I'd lost it. Resigning myself to fate, I made the call to cancel my cards, and realized that for the next 3 to 5 days, I'd be trying to survive without plastic.

On the phone with the banks, I had this surreal sense that my wallet would be returned only if I canceled my cards. You may think I'm a pessimist, but I'd prefer to think that I have a highly developed sense of irony. Well, my ironic sense was completed vindicated when, less than two hours later, some random guy walked in off the street with my wallet. Contents completely intact.

Oh well, such is life. I guess I'll have to remember how to write a check.

A question to my readers. Should I have given some cash or other reward to the person that returned my wallet? What would you have done?

Why I Live Here

I sometimes wonder why I live in Utah. There are lots of things I don't really like about it: extreme conservatism, poor education funding, night life that shuts down at 10:00, gun nuts, urban sprawl, being part of the religious majority which seems at times to abuse its power, and, well, Utah county in general.

But then, there are times when I remember why it is that I do live here. Yesterday was one of those days. Even though the high was going to be in the 60s, I woke up at 7:00, left at 8:00, and by 9:00 was snowboarding on that famous Utah powder. It was phenomenal -- a cloudless sky, no lift lines, and well groomed runs. And just two days before, on April 10th, I enjoyed one of the BEST powder days all season (and there have been a LOT of good ones this year.)

I love to live in a place that has real seasons, instead of just varying degrees of rain and heat. Partially, I think it comes from growing up in Idaho, where the culture is, at times, still very tied to the land and farming. Don't get me wrong, I didn't grow up on a farm, I grew up in a suburb, but I went to high school with the children of farmers. My friends took a week off of school in the fall for the potato harvest and moved irrigation pipe in the summer. Life for them is inextricably tied to the seasons. Spring for planting, summer for growing, fall for harvest, and winter, well, winter is for snow.

Without the snow, everything else grinds to a halt. At church, we fasted for snow and talked solemnly about the prospect of a wet winter. And I think that's why I tolerate winter, because it's essential. Though I dislike the short days, long nights, and cold as much as anyone, I have to appreciate it. And, if winter really is so important, then I might as well enjoy it.