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Purpose of environmentalism Mon, Sep 29, 2014
I used to think of environmentalism as a sort of "save the trees" hippie movement that was more concerned with plants and animals than with people.  But recently I've started to realize that that's a little naive, to say the least.  From my limited understanding and experience with environmentalism, it's basically the idea that we, humans, should be concerned with the environment, not just because we feel bad for some endangered toads or whatever, but because "the environment" encompasses pretty much everything, and by affecting one part of the environment, we're really affecting ourselves.  It's essentially a selfish pursuit.  The sun provides energy to plants, which feed us (and animals) and also generate oxygen to breathe.  Mess up one part of that equation -- sun visibility, plants, animals, air -- and you have problems across the board.  It's not so much that we can accurately predict what will happen if we mess something up, but the lack of predictable accuracy is kind of the whole point. 

What doesn't make sense to me is when people are anti-environmentalism.  I get that jobs and the economy and politics are important, but do people realize that without a suitably healthy environment, we'll all be dead?  Where do you think your food comes from?  What do you think your food eats?  The shortsightedness of it is frightening. #science

Phone conferences and speakerphone Tue, Sep 23, 2014
One of the ways my employer tries to save money is by doing phone conferences where people call in to a central number and conduct their meetings as if all the people were in the same room.  The problem is that for whatever reason, my co-workers like to emulate a typical chaotic meeting environment by leaving their phone on speakerphone.  That way, everyone in the cubicle farm can hear that person pretending to do work.  It's like wasting your time sitting in a meeting, except you don't even have to show up. #business

Scotland trip Fri, Sep 19, 2014
The wife and I recently spent 10 or so days in Scotland driving around, sightseeing, and sampling the local aqua vitae.  We flew into and out of Edinburgh, visited castles in Edinburgh, Stirling, and near Loch Ness, and drove through or stayed in Callender, Fort William, Inverness, Dinnet, and Aberfeldy. 

We sampled and mostly enjoyed the local fare, which largely consisted of fried meats and potatoes, though the haggis was an interesting detour.  There seemed to be about ten or so different meals that were available at every restaurant around the country.  None of them were bad, but there wasn't much variation. 

We visited and toured a few distilleries including Glen Ord, Cardhu, Macallan, and Glenlivet, and I personally tried about 30 different kinds of Scotch whisky throughout the trip.  Before the trip, I hadn't tried too many Scotches that I was a fan of, but I came home with an enormous appreciation for Glen Ord, Macallan Amber, and The Dalmore.  Even the wife, who is by no means a drinker of hard alcohol, could appreciate the difference between different brands and flavors, and even liked a few. 

The landscape was surprisingly stark.  There were green pastures and forests followed closely by rocky hills and steep slopes.  The weather was largely cool and wet, but we got a couple days of sunny warmth.  Because of the on-off rain, my shoes and socks kept getting wet, which was not cool. 

Good god, the Scots love their sheep.  Every hill and field seen from a distance was covered in tiny white dots.  Though the much beloved highland cow was seldom seen. 

The castles and history were great to see in person.  It's always amazing when you can walk around a structure that's been standing for 500 years.  An interesting side note is that many of the churches are no longer churches; instead they're tourist information centers and business offices. 

I had driven on the left side of the road one time before in Grand Cayman, so it wasn't entirely foreign.  But it was still foreign.  I got used to it after a week or so, but it still didn't feel quite right.  I attempted to teach my wife how to drive stick, which was interesting because we were in a foreign country with unintelligible road signs, driving on the left while sitting on the right and shifting gears left-handed, on a one-lane two-way road that wound through farms where we had to frequently stop for cattle and sheep.  It was a moderate success. 

The language barrier was pretty minimal.  I expected to have some problems understanding people because I'm bad at understanding people whose accent doesn't match my own.  But even in the more rural parts, the language was pretty understandable. 

Our visit happened to almost coincide with the Scottish vote for independence from the UK.  The "Yes" campaign's alternative "No Thanks" nicely sums up the friendly nature of the vote. 

In conclusion, this was a good trip.  It was a little pricey because of the length of the flight and the currency conversion.  We had a good time checking out the cities, small towns, and mountainous back country, as well as sampling some of the local food and drink.  But because of the nearly constant cold and wet, we probably won't be returning.  No hard feelings though. #travel

Ancestral ambiguity Tue, Aug 26, 2014
At what point in a person's family history do their ancestors stop being what they used to be and start being who they presently are?  My family tree has always been a little unclear to me.  My parents have information about some family members going back to around the mid-1800s, but before that it's muddy.  And the information they have is that my ancestors have been born and raised in America for at least four or five generations.  Their surnames aren't overtly Italian or Irish or German, and we're not black or Asian, so I'm probably a mixture of various breeds of British.  But I'm not British.  And my parents and their parents aren't British.  So at some point in time, my ancestors stopped identifying themselves by their history.  And that was likely the case for my ancestors' ancestors, who went to England by leaving some other ancestry behind.  And so on.  Modern human civilization likely started in Africa, so we're all technically Africans.  But what about before that?  Primordial oozians? #lifestyle

Capitalism vs. environmentalism (2) Mon, Aug 04, 2014
I'm a bit ignorant on the topic of economic policies, but it seems from the outside that capitalism is pretty good at making people rich by sort of exploiting other people and things.  That's fine and all, because it enables class mobility.  But I think an even bigger issue is the exploitation of things that don't have a voice, namely the environment.  Capitalism has a tendency to bleed things dry, like oil wells and forests.  As long as people make money, it's deemed a success.  I think -- and I'm pretty sure I'm right about this -- there's a limit to how much capitalism can exploit the environment.  It's fine for now because there's a lot of nature and a lot of money being made.  But at some point, the wells will dry up and the forests will disappear, and no amount of money will be able to undo it.  I like capitalism, but I think it should be regulated to an extent. #economics

Large gatherings Tue, Jul 29, 2014
It took me up until about a few weeks ago to realize that I hate large gatherings and I don't have to feel bad about it.  I'm an introvert, and I find large groups of people intimidating and unnerving.  Who am I supposed to talk to?  Where should I stand?  Why is everyone watching me?  The whole thing is terrible, and what I realized is that I can simply not go.  I didn't go to a BBQ at work.  It felt awesome.  I'm not going to a wedding reception this weekend.  Couldn't feel better about it.  I wish I realized this sooner in life. 

This all stems from a few particular things about introversion.  One is that being around people is draining for me.  My energy comes from being alone, or not interacting with other people much.  The other is the quality of interaction I experience at large gatherings.  If I don't know people, will we talk about where we live or work?  Pass.  If I do know people, will the setting be intimate enough to talk about things, or will the music be too loud to hear anything?  I value conversation, but only when it gets past the introductory stuff.  If it's just simple stuff, I can play along for a little while, or I could just skip the event entirely.  I think I'll just skip the event entirely. #psychology

Scientifically Accurate animations Tue, Jul 29, 2014
Fox made an animated series of videos called Scientifically Accurate that portray common cartoons and video game characters in a more scientific way.  For example, Spongebob would have no organs and wouldn't move, and Sonic the Hedgehog would eat things and rub the scent on himself.  Equal parts informative and terrifying. #entertainment

Apologies and compensation Tue, Jul 15, 2014
I had an appointment for one of my pets last week at the vet.  I arrived a few minutes early (by accident).  I waited an entire hour before seeing the vet.  More than once during that hour, I was told, "Sorry for the wait."  Since it wasn't ok, I didn't say, "It's ok."  I just gave a slight smile and an acknowledging nod.  When I finally saw the vet, she apologized and explained that there was an emergency regarding another pet.  I nodded in acknowledgement. 

I believe they made the ethically right decision of treating the emergency as more important than the routine appointment.  I would've done the same thing.  And I don't think they made me wait just to mess with me.  But it doesn't negate the fact that (a) I had an appointment, and (b) I had to wait for an hour.  Apologizing didn't give me my time back, and it didn't take away my annoyance. 

I think the proper way to apologize in that scenario is with some form of compensation, probably either a refund on what I already paid or a free visit some other time.  The way I see it, they broke the appointment contract.  But since it was an unforeseen circumstance, I can understand why the appointment wasn't kept.  Seeing that the business was still making money (positive) while treating an emergency (positive) while not keeping my appointment (negative), the only person in the equation who didn't benefit was me.  It stands to reason that the business should compensate for that. #psychology

Very Short Introductions Tue, Jul 15, 2014
Very Short Introductions is a series of books on various topics that cover just enough to provide some good information without overwhelming the reader or getting too in-depth.  They're all about 150-200 pages, and they're written by different authors so the "voice" isn't always the same.  I've read several of them and like them a lot. #entertainment

Cilantro and soap Thu, Jul 10, 2014
Apparently cilantro tastes like soap for some people, and there's a scientific reason why. #science

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