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Teachers not teaching Tue, Aug 09, 2016
I'll never forget the time I failed to learn an important school/job skill:  Interpolation, which is a fairly simple mathematical operation to get a specific value from a table of numbers.  I was in class in college, and the professor said something about using interpolation to find a number.  One of the students raised their hand and asked him to explain.  He responded, "You know what interpolation is.  I'm not going over it."  And that was that.  Several students complained, but the professor just moved on without teaching it.  The concept itself isn't all that complicated, and it can be taught pretty easily, especially to engineering students who are already well-versed in math.  I ended up learning it on my own and still use it today on a very regular basis.  I still can't believe I had the privilege of paying to not learn something. 

It happened again another time in college, when I first encountered the concept of a hyperbolic trigonometric function.  It happened the same way, with the professor casually breezing through a part of a problem that had to do with hyperbolic functions.  I'd heard of them before, but had no real idea how to use them or what they were for, and several people in class agreed with my ignorance.  The professor said something along the lines of, "You should already know that," and simply moved on.  To this day, I still have no idea what a hyperbolic function is or what it can possibly be used for, and not only do I not care, I firmly blame that educator for my lack of knowledge. #education

Large groups and cliques Mon, Aug 08, 2016
I was hanging out with a big group of people this weekend (around 50), and several of them lamented the fact that there were cliques.  I've heard this complaint before, and it's never made any sense to me.  How are large groups of people supposed to spend time?  Sitting in a giant circle, with everyone splitting the airtime evenly between everyone's individual interests?  It makes no sense mathematically.  Large groups split into smaller groups very naturally, as people find shared interests and relatable personalities.  It's not a negative thing, as in, "You can't join our clique because you were in that other clique."  It's simple logistics:  Not everyone is identical, and time can't be split between more than say 6 or 8 people.  Any more, and one or two people will dominate the group while the rest sit around and listen.  Trust me as a quiet person, I can only listen to you for so long.  Not to mention the fact that a person like me will almost never say or do anything in front of a group of people that large.  Cliques make large groups of people operate in a realistic setting. #sociology

Extroverts are selfish Thu, Aug 04, 2016
Last week at work, a bunch of people were out of the office either on vacation or taking training.  More than one remaining person came to my desk to talk, lamenting the fact that so few people were around.  These remainders were extroverts, seeking to "recharge" by interacting with other people.  The other people they were interacting with (me) were introverts, who like to "recharge" by not interacting with other people.  I said to my extrovert wife later that extroverts are kind of selfish to force interactions with people who don't want to interact.  The extrovert in her said that introverts are selfish for wanting to keep to themselves instead of giving extroverts someone to interact with.  I guess we're all a little selfish. #sociology

Word quantity vs. quality Wed, Aug 03, 2016
I know a guy who talks a lot.  He has no internal monologue, so every idea that comes to his mind comes straight out his mouth, and every action he takes has its own play-by-play commentary. 

I, on the other hand, don't typically have much to say.  And because of my lack of abundance of words, I tend to try to make my words count.  It's almost like my friend is rich, so he doesn't mind wasting money on stupid stuff, while I'd rather spend my money wisely.  I'm not saying I'm better; it's just my observation. 

But a corollary to this is that I think word quality decreases as quantity increases.  As in, the ratio of useful to worthless words coming out of my friend's mouth is probably around 1:10, while my ratio is something more like 1:4. 

I'm reminded of the title of a book I didn't read (so I have no comment on):  Talk Less, Say More. #sociology

Undecided voters Mon, Jul 25, 2016
As of right now, the current American election landscape features two candidates with the lowest approval ratings in the history of elections.  It's essentially a choice between a shit sandwich and a shit salad.  Literally every human being on earth either hates one candidate, hates the other, or hates them both.  They're pretty terrible people.  At least we can all agree on that. 

But what a lot of people like to ignore, or delude themselves into not believing, is that it's a two-party system.  You either vote Democrat, or you vote Republican.  Voting for a third-party candidate is literally throwing your vote away, for the convoluted reason that entire states are won or lost in support of a single candidate, which are then fed into the electoral college system to determine a winner.  Or whatever.  I don't understand how elections work.  But I do understand that if I'm a Republican (hint:  I'm not) voting in a Democrat-heavy state, my vote will likely be outweighed by the rest of the votes.  Not only that, but if I vote for a third-party candidate in either a Republican-heavy or Democrat-heavy state (those are the only choices), my vote will surely be outweighed by the rest of the votes. 

UNLESS everyone gets on the same page and votes for a third-party candidate, which will happen exactly never.  And of course a side effect of voting for a third-party candidate is that it takes votes away from one of the two main candidates, ensuring the victory of the other. 

Anyway, to my main point.  Most people say they're undecided about who to vote for, for the aforementioned scatalogical reasons.  Or more accurately, they're definitely not voting for the opposite party's candidate, but they're not yet comfortable voting for their party's candidate.  My prediction is that all that rhetoric will wash away, and people will vote for whoever is the forerunner of their political party.  That's how the two-party system works.  You can be as undecided as you want, and you can feel uncomfortable about supporting a candidate, but in the end you'll eat that shit, whether it's a sandwich or a salad, because there's literally no other viable option. #politics

Black and blue lives (2) Mon, Jul 25, 2016
There's a debate currently going on in our country about whose lives are more valuable:  Black peoples' or police.  Or at least that's how the debate is framed.  Like any issue in our divisive culture, if you're not on one side you're on the other.  If you support black lives, you hate cops.  If you support all lives, you hate black people.  I think in reality most people generally sit the fence, i.e. they believe that black lives matter, and that blue lives also matter.  This is the correct answer.  Personally, I don't think this needs to be a thing.  Black lives matter; this is true.  Black people seem to get routinely killed by police, while unarmed and in plain view of video cameras.  This is a problem.  The solution, clearly, is not to kill police.  In this case, violence doesn't defeat violence, unless you honestly think you're gonna overthrow the government (good luck with that).  I don't know what the solution is, but I'm pretty sure it's not to scream louder than the people who keep getting shot for little to no reason.  As a twitter-er said "#AllLivesMatter is like I go to the Dr for a broken arm and he says "All Bones Matter" ok but right now let's take care of this broken one".  And as the infamous Rodney King said 24 years ago, "Can we all get along?" #sociology

Melania Trump speech Thu, Jul 21, 2016
I think the whole fracas of Melania Trump's plagiarized speech at the Republican National Convention was an intentional move meant to distract attention away from the fact that the RNC is a complete shitshow. #politics

Diet snacking Thu, Jul 21, 2016
I've felt for a long time that the success or failure of any one particular diet comes down to the snacks you're willing and able to eat.  Most diets consist of cutting something, whether it's calories or carbs or fat or wheat.  It's not particularly difficult to come up with a meal that meets those requirements.  Generally if you stick with lean meat and vegetables, that's all there is to it.  But what about all those times between meals, when you used to eat cookies and crackers and chips and candy?  Diet snacks are usually crappy things like celery sticks and green peppers.  These are unsustainable as snacks unless they're something you normally eat.  The key is to find something that meets the requirements of the diet that also doesn't negatively affect your health in some other way, all while being desirable to you.  Instead of stupid vegetables, go with pickles.  Instead of gluten-free crackers that taste like cardboard, go with corn chips.  There are a million ways to stay within the rules of a diet, but a lot of it comes down to finding snacks you can live with. #food

Peru trip Wed, Jun 15, 2016
The wife and I traveled to the nation of Peru recently.  I didn't really want to go, but she gave me the option of Africa, Antarctica, or Peru, and Peru sounded like the least worst option.  We
  1. flew into Lima and toured around the Miraflores district
  2. flew to Cusco and acclimated to the 11,000-foot elevation
  3. toured around Sacsayhauman, Pisac, the Sacred Valley, and Ollantaytambo, visiting various Incan ruins and archeological sites
  4. took a train to Aguas Calientes and hiked around Machu Picchu (8000 feet)
  5. took a train back to Cusco, then a flight to Puerto Maldonado, then a boat on the Tambopata River to stay in an eco lodge
  6. toured around the Amazon rainforest, admiring colorful wildlife and terrible bugs
  7. flew back to Lima, toured around the historic center, then flew home.
It was a good trip.  We booked it through a travel agency that organized most of the accommodations and provided tour guides.  We had to book some of the in-country flights, but it wasn't too bad.  The in-country flights were short and cheap, and the airports didn't make me feel like a criminal (looking at you, Newark). 

The people were nice and were eager to show us their country and tell us about their ancestors.  The language barrier was there a little bit, but most people spoke English way better than our attempts at broken Spanish. 

The history and architecture were pretty amazing.  Most of what remains are rock walls and structures made of carved granite, worked by hand, and hauled into place by simple manpower 500-1000 years ago.  It's mind-boggling to think about, and it's awesome that so much is still there, but it's a shame the lousy Spanish conquistadors hauled a bunch away to built their stupid gaudy churches. 

The elevation was a bit challenging at times, but we took it slow and acclimated fairly quickly.  We knew to keep hydrated, not drink a lot of alcohol, and generally not overexert ourselves the minute we got to high altitude.  By the time we got to Machu Picchu, we felt fine walking all around the mountaintop fortress. 

The jungle was our least favorite part for a variety of reasons, the least of which was the size and quantity of spiders.  It was the dry season, so at least the mosquitos weren't too bad.  We did get to see several species of monkeys as well as a giant gathering of colorful macaws at a clay lick, so that was cool.  But living in constant fear of finding a spider in your shoe, or stepping on a spider on your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, or rolling onto a spider in your bed ... those parts weren't cool.  Maybe I was overreacting; maybe I barely made it out alive. 

Another thing that diminished our jungle experience was the food poisoning (or related illness) we contracted almost exactly the moment we reached our bungalow in the jungalow.  There was limited electricity, and limited plumbing, and that made things less than ideal as we nearly shat ourselves to death.  It's ok though, we're better now. 

In positive news, the exchange rate was good, so it was fairly cheap to eat, stay, and fly within the country.  The food was good, though fairly simple and/or similar to American faire.  I did manage to eat alpaca, which tasted like beef, and cow heart, which wasn't great. 

Wildlife encounters:  At the peak of Machu Picchu, a lizard was on the ground by my feet, looked up at me, jumped on my leg, crawled up by back and down my arm onto the rock wall behind me.  Later in the jungle, our tour guided caught a baby caiman (freshwater crocodile) and handed it to me as he explained all about its anatomy and lifestyle. 

All in all, this was a good trip.  There were some ups and downs, but it was positive overall.  That said, we probably won't be going back. #travel

Capitalism vs. healthcare Tue, Apr 05, 2016
I've felt for a while now that capitalism is inherently harmful to healthcare.  Right from the get-go, I think it's morally wrong to profit from sickness and death.  That seems pretty clear to me.  I don't think everything should simply be free; doctors and medicine cost money.  But profitability, especially for publicly-traded companies, shouldn't be the thing that prevents people from affording medicine. 

Pharmaceutical companies are harmed (in a sense) by capitalism in two key ways:  (1) In seeking a profit, a company will only develop drugs that have the largest market and/or the lowest development costs, and (2) due to the arguably deleterious patent and trademark system, a company can and will charge as much as they want regardless of the actual cost to develop and produce a drug.  The standard rationale is that the company needs to recoup research and development costs.  But a simple web search shows a number of pharmaceutical companies perform quite well for their investors, which we like to separate from the idea of profiting from sickness and death. 

Health insurance companies are a necessary evil because they allow large groups of people to afford unexpected, large expenses.  But when an insurance company is publicly traded, which many are, their mission changes from providing a necessary service for humans to providing a profit for investors.  This, again, is an idea we like to think of as free market capitalism producing profits, instead of corporations profiting from people dying. 

I think capitalism is largely a good economic system, capable of incentivizing great ideas and allowing class mobility.  But unregulated free market capitalism, especially with regards to the healthcare industry, directly profits from disease and death.  This is a bad thing. #money #health

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