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Science is a method Thu, Mar 26, 2015
Science is really a method, or a way to do things, instead of being a thing.  I find it odd when people say they're "interested in science" or "studying science."  Which science?  Biological science?  Chemical science?  Physical science?  Science is the method that's proven successful at figuring stuff out about the natural world.  There might've been a better way before science came around, and there might be an even better method in the future.  But for now, it's what works.  And the cool thing is that it can work for anyone.  It helps if you're careful and thorough, but the same science used by Person A in Place M at Time X can be used by Person B in Place N at Time Y.  It doesn't require secret knowledge, or large sums of money, or powerful authority.  It's the everyman method of learning things. 

Most people approach situations somewhat scientifically, I would argue, by default.  In problem solving, people often employ the trial-and-error approach, which is really just a subset of the scientific method.  The things that are "tried" are usually based on some educated guess for what will hopefully actually work.  The result is either a failure or a success, leading to an unstated conclusion about the result of the experiment.  Anybody can do that.  That's science. #science

Laconism Thu, Mar 26, 2015
I didn't realize I was a fan of laconism
A laconic phrase or laconism is a concise or terse statement, especially a blunt and elliptical reply.

It is named after Laconia, the region of Greece including the city of Sparta, whose inhabitants had a reputation for verbal austerity and were famous for their blunt and often pithy remarks.
NFL coach Bill Belichick's take on a recent rule change is along the same lines:  "Whatever the rule is, it is."  But that might instead be a tautology, or a truism, or a platitude.  They're all sort of related. #language

Trusting experts Mon, Mar 23, 2015
At some point in the last few years, I realized I'm an expert at my job.  I'm not an expert because I know the most or because I'm the best at what I do.  I'm an expert simply as a result of doing my specific, complex job for about ten years.  If someone showed up at my job and told me how to do it or questioned why I did it a certain way (which has happened), I would calmly but confidently explain to them why I'm right and they're wrong.  I'm not closed to new ideas, but there are certain aspects of my job that are simply settled matters of math and physics.  That stuff isn't changing. 

Around the time I realized I was an expert, I realized that other people are also experts in their respective fields.  Specifically scientists.  I used to want to question the methods used by evolutionary scientists or the conclusions drawn by climate scientists.  But then I realized that my questioning of their basic methods of research is equivalent to someone questioning the math and physics of my core job duties.  Feel free to question in a friendly inquisitive manner, but be prepared to eat your words and feel like an idiot.  If you can even grasp the entirety of what I actually do (which isn't that complex but takes some getting used to), I can almost guarantee that you won't present an idea that hasn't already been presented, dissected, and rejected. 

That's why it bothers me when non-experts question experts about things like evolution, climate change, and immunization.  The internet has made everyone quasi-experts about everything.  But when 99.85% of experts agree on evolution, or when 97.2% of experts agree on climate change, or when 86% of experts agree on vaccines, I think it's time to recognize who the real experts are.  Hint:  It's probably not you. #science

Robot religion Wed, Mar 11, 2015
Assuming we humans eventually figure out how to create a machine that achieves some sort of consciousness, I think it's time we start worrying about the inevitability of a massive series of wars fought between competing sects of robot religions.  There are a few assumptions involved, but I don't think they're outlandish: 
  1. We'll probably create a Terminator-like robot that can teach itself.
  2. If it learns from us, it'll learn what we learned:  Racism, bigotry, homophobia, sexism, and religion.
  3. This will happen more than once.
  4. Different religions don't get along, therefore war.
The singularity is expected to happen sometime in the next 50-100 years, so expect a robot savior in about 150 years, a confusing and mistranslated series of robot religious texts in 500 years, and a robot religious war for the next several thousand years.  Enjoy! #religion

Telework fiasco Fri, Mar 06, 2015
I'd like to record a story from work for the sake of posterity. 

My job offers the option of teleworking, i.e. working from home, 2-4 days per month.  If your role is suitable for teleworking and you can be trusted to work alone without supervision, you can sit around in your sweatpants on your couch while doing official work.  I made the cut.  It's a good gig. 

But there's one caveat:  If the workplace is closed due to weather, normal workers are dismissed with pay, while teleworkers are expected to telework.  So in other words, teleworkers are expected to work while everyone else is getting paid to not work.  It's unfair, but it's the rule.  The original idea was to have the entire workforce telework so that normal business could continue even during a weather emergency.  That didn't work out, but we're left with some of the remnants of a good idea.  So whenever a snow storm is headed our way, the bosses remind all the teleworkers to bring home their laptops and whatnot in case the office is closed. 

A few weeks ago I left work early on a Thursday afternoon.  I had off on Friday.  I didn't bring my laptop or notepad home (i.e. teleworking materials) because I planned to return to work on Monday like normal.  I didn't check the weather report for Monday because it was four days away and the weather forecasters had just predicted a major snowpocalypse that didn't end up happening.  Fast forward to Monday, and the office is closed due to weather.  I didn't have my telework equipment at home with me, so I didn't do anything that day and used the administrative leave that was offered to all the non-teleworkers. 

Later that week I was approached by my boss who said that since I was a teleworker, I should've been prepared to telework four days in advance over a long weekend.  And since I didn't telework, I would be charged vacation time, because that's essentially what it was.  I presented my side of the story, which I felt was completely reasonable, and I hoped he would see my side of things and grant me an exemption.  He was reluctant, so I pointed out that whether I teleworked or used administrative leave, it would've cost the organization the exact same amount of money, and there was really no benefit to punishing me for an accidental oversight. 

His reply was the following, paraphrased:  There are rules.  I (the boss) must follow these rules.  If I don't follow these rules, I'll hear about it from my boss, and he'll hear about it from his boss, etc.  Request denied. 

I asked him what the actual consequences would be for him if he stood up for me.  We work for a pretty lenient organization, so there's almost no way for people to get fired.  His reply was that it could affect his annual performance review, which might affect his potential annual bonus.  I confirmed with a coworker later that bonuses top out at around $2500, which is not nothing, but also not life-changing. 

In the end, my request for a one time exemption from the rule was denied.  My immediate supervisor (under my boss) said he would've gone to bat for me if he was in charge, and that in the future it's often easier to lie about things like this.  He didn't technically say that, but I completed his sentences for him, and he gave me a wink-wink nudge-nudge. 

I was under the impression that bosses are there to look out for their employees, to advocate for them.  What I experienced was a completely robotic, selfish interpretation of outdated, arbitrary rules.  I almost can't fault my boss because I would've probably done the same thing if I were in his position.  But that's why I'm not in his position.  I'm not a people person; I'm a worker.  If I could transform myself into a boss, I'd rather treat my employees like responsible though flawed adults, instead of lying cheating children.  People tend to act the way you treat them, so expect lying and cheating from me in the future. #business

Changing one's mind Tue, Mar 03, 2015
I feel like changing one's mind about something is unfairly looked down upon.  Obviously I'm a little biased because I've changed my mind about some pretty big things in the recent past.  Oddly enough, I used to feel the opposite about this particular topic of changing one's mind, but then I changed my mind. 

I remember a past presidential election when one candidate was criticized for being a flip-flopper, i.e. he changed his mind about something, perhaps more than once.  I think it's essential for a politician to change his/her mind about issues, both as a result of new information and also to accommodate the changing views of their constituents.  If you're an elected official representing the views of the people, your views should change to match those of the people, not the other way around. 

And this presupposes that people's views change, which they do.  And they should.  If views didn't change, we'd still be burning witches and lynching black people.  If people didn't change, they'd be the same person as a 20-year-old that they were as a 5-year-old.  Or a 40-year-old via a 20-year-old. 

The only thing that doesn't change is change.  It's ok to change your mind. #psychology

Public vs. private entities Mon, Feb 23, 2015
I liked this part of a recent Freakonomics episode interviewing the head of the World Bank: 
Well, I think market forces are critical here. And sometimes people say, "Well, you know, the private sector does everything better." And I don't know that that's really the case so much as the private-sector entities that did it poorly no longer exist, right? Because they go out of business. And public-sector entities can stay in business for a very long time no matter how poor their performance is.
Good take on both points.  Bad businesses can and do fail.  Bad government isn't allowed to fail.  Maybe it should be. #business

HP vs. LOTR Wed, Feb 18, 2015
I started reading the Lord of the Rings a few weeks ago, and I immediately noticed several similarities to the Harry Potter books.  In both stories, the main character, seemingly setting out on his own before being joined by his helpful friends, goes on a quest to destroy an object containing the soul of the antagonist referred to as the Dark Lord.  This main character has interactions with wizards, trolls, and elves, has to avoid undead dark creatures who bring cold sadness to everyone they meet, and receives a nearly mortal wound that somehow connects him telepathically to the antagonist.  I'm no literary critic, but these things were obvious even to me. #entertainment

Grades and money Wed, Feb 11, 2015
When I was in school, my primary motivation was to get good grades.  I think I knew that good grades wouldn't necessarily guarantee me success in the future, but I was pretty sure bad grades would likely set me up for future failure. 

I have almost the exact same viewpoint today concerning money.  I know money can't buy me everything, but I'm also quite sure that a lack of money can't buy shit. #money

AWD success Tue, Feb 03, 2015
I never believed the hype about All Wheel Drive.  People would say how much better it was in snow and ice, but it mostly just seemed to make people drive more recklessly in bad conditions.  It wasn't until about two years ago when I finally drove in a friend's AWD car in the snow that I realized the difference.  My front-wheel drive car would routinely spin its wheels on very gentle slopes, even in my nearly flat driveway.  My friend's car had no problem getting around in slick conditions, even on snow-covered, icy, steep driveways in frigid Vermont, where we often visit for ski/snowboard trips. 

Fast forward to this past weekend, when I got the chance to take my new AWD car to Vermont and drive in snowy conditions.  Not only was it snowing pretty heavily, but Vermont seems to take a wait-and-see approach to plowing and salting the roads.  Several large trucks couldn't make it up and over the mountains in the area, and even a Honda Accord driver had to turn around and give up after spinning his tires on a steep part and making no headway up the hill.  The real coup de grace was on a relatively small side road, where I was driving behind an SUV on a moderately steep incline.  The SUV started spinning its tires and not making any forward progress, so the driver waved me around.  From a dead stop on a slippery incline, I pressed the gas pedal and just went.  I passed the stranded driver and got to my destination without a single problem.  I will literally never own another vehicle that doesn't have four driven wheels. #travel

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