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Non-local drivers Wed, Feb 21, 2018
I find myself getting irrationally angry at people driving in or around my area when said people are not from my area.  Part of it stems from how different cultures drive.  My home state of New Jersey tends to breed aggressive drivers, while neighboring states tend to breed the exact opposite.  Similarly, state laws sometimes differ in whether the left lane of a two- or three-lane highway is strictly for passing or not.  My opinion is that if you're in the left lane and someone is behind you, move. 

Related to this is the fact that I mostly use local roads to commute to and from work, which I do every day of my life.  It's a routine.  I know the speed limits.  I know the stop signs and traffic lights.  I know when I need to turn and when someone in front of me is going to turn.  A non-local driver typically doesn't know where they're going or what they're looking for.  This used to happen to me all the time when my road was the seventh left in my neighborhood.  I'd get stuck behind someone who clearly wasn't local, and I'd see them pump their brakes at every single intersection.  In that sense, a non-local driver is just an obstacle between me and my home. 

Another thing, especially across state lines and near tourist attractions, is the matter of money.  I live here.  I pay high taxes, and part of what helps me maintain my sanity is the thought that my taxes go towards paying for the roads I use.  I don't really like the idea of some freeloader using something I paid for, especially when that freeloader is a bad driver.  I realize that many non-local drivers work where they're driving, and so their employer likely pays local taxes.  Regardless, my feelings are the same. 

But I think the main thing that gets to me is the idea of any one road being a through-street from one location to another.  I grew up on a through-street, and my entire goal in life has been to live on a non-through-street (mission accomplished, by the way).  But for whatever reason, it just really bothered me that someone would drive their vehicle, with their loud engines and creaky suspensions, blasting their music and throwing their trash out the window, in the location where I lived and ate and slept.  It didn't help that our house was really close to the road.  It sort of felt like the street was part of our property, and it sort of was since we shared a fairly long border.  Having unwanted people invading my borders was a real source of anguish. #travel

Death traditions Thu, Feb 15, 2018
I've talked about this before, but I find the entirety of human cultural practices regarding death to be completely ridiculous.  Viewings consist of dressing up a corpse in formal wear and makeup and storing them in an open box so people can look at them.  Why that's comforting for people, I'll never understand.  I find dead bodies to be fairly repulsive, not only because historically they've been the carriers of disease, but also because of this weird psychological thing I have where if something looks alive but isn't it makes me uncomfortable. 

The two funerals I've witnessed recently have both consisted of an open-casket viewing on one day followed by a formal memorial service and burial the next day.  Why do we need to extend this process any longer than it needs to be?  Another funeral I went to had a closed-casket memorial service, followed by a trip to the cemetery where there was an additional memorial service, followed by everyone standing around confused because the body needed to be cremated.  Did the first memorial service not count? 

Storing corpses underground in heavy wooden boxes is weird.  Storing them next to a bunch of other corpses is even weirder.  "This is where we keep all our corpses."  Ok, bro.  I just can't comprehend why a person would want to visit a location of corpse storage to remind themselves their loved one is dead, as opposed to remembering their memory through pictures or ... memories.  A lot of it feels like we do it for the dead person, but I'm nearly certain they don't care. #sociology

Subjective medicine Mon, Feb 12, 2018
I was talking to my doctor about treatment options for an ailment, and I said I wanted to approach it scientifically.  I wanted to take some sort of measurement before treatment, then a measurement after treatment to quantify the effect, instead of relying on how I feel before and after, which is subjective.  He said something that sort of blew my mind:  It might be better to measure the outcome subjectively if the outcome is subjective in nature.  In other words, if I could measure some quantity before and after and they showed no difference yet I felt better, the treatment is a success despite the measurement being inconclusive.  I feel like a more rigorous response would be that the process needs a better metric, but that's not the point.  I thought his response was pretty insightful coming from a profession that often operates from a sort of guess-and-check framework. #health

Burning up on re-entry Wed, Jan 31, 2018
There's a lot of confusion regarding why certain objects burn up on re-entry into earth's atmosphere.  There was confusion on my part until I figured out how to explain it to myself, if that makes any sense.  So here's the deal:  it doesn't happen because the atmosphere is hot.  In fact, the atmosphere gets thinner and thinner (i.e. less air) as altitude increases, so it's actually quite cold near space. 

Objects burn up on re-entry because they're going ridiculously fast.  And when a fast-moving object comes into contact with a stationary or slow-moving object (in this case, air), its speed energy gets converted to heat energy.  It's kind of like jumping into a pool.  Your speed slows down because you went from air (low density, easy to travel through) to water (higher density, harder to travel through).  But when you jump in a pool, you don't feel a change in temperature because you probably weren't traveling that fast on the way in. 

It's kind of hard to compare it to something that happens in normal life, because we don't experience those types of speed differences, like ever.  Objects in orbit around the earth are traveling tangentially to earth's surface at about 17,000 miles per hour.  The reason we don't know much about objects traveling at 17,000-ish miles per hour is because they would burn up in our atmosphere!  Some objects in space are moving much faster than that (such as meteors and asteroids that have been flung out of some other orbit).  In that case the speed difference can be much bigger, which tends to make things explode. 

There was a question online about why Felix Baumgartner, the guy who rode a balloon into space and jumped off, didn't burn up on re-entry.  The answer is simply that he wasn't traveling that fast because he didn't start from orbit.  Sure, he sped up on the way down, but only as fast as the air around him allowed.  He didn't start at 17,000 miles per hour.  He started at roughly zero. 

Finally, the way objects can avoid burning up on re-entry is to enter the atmosphere slowly over time instead of all at once.  That's achieved by choosing the right re-entry angle.  There's that line from Apollo 13:  "The re-entry corridor is in fact so narrow ... that if this basketball were the Earth ... the crew would have to hit a target no thicker than this piece of paper." All that's saying is that the angle at which you enter the atmosphere has to be pretty precise, but since the earth is much bigger than a basketball, the angle is much bigger than the thickness of paper.  Sometimes making things sound simple makes them sound more complicated. #science

Evidence at work Tue, Jan 30, 2018
I was in a meeting at work last week where a contractor was going through a Powerpoint presentation about their product, making statements like "it will travel [X] far" and "the sensor will operate accurately" and "our algorithm will avoid common pitfalls".  I was asked for my "expert" opinion afterwards, and instead of questioning every claim they made, I simply said this: 
"The contractor needs to provide evidence for stated claims instead of just assuming we'll believe them because they said it out loud.  In general, there were a lot of statements of fact without any evidence to back them up.  I'm not saying they were lying about anything.  But a simple [plot of results] or [data from a test] would do more to establish a fact than simply writing a sentence on a Powerpoint slide."
It's a little surprising to me that this type of thing needs to be stated.  But at the same time, I have no problem being the person who states it.  I've always been a little skeptical about everything.  And even if the final result turns out to be wrong, at least use critical thinking skills and logical reasoning to make your case.  Arguments from authority and proclamations by fiat are things used by dictators and strongmen.  State your claim, make your case, and prove your point with evidence. #science

Trump outrage levels Tue, Jan 16, 2018
It's surprising to me how different people have different levels of astonishment and outrage concerning the goings-on of Donald Trump.  It feels like it's about once a week where some new person or group of people exclaim, "Can you believe what Trump just did/said/Tweeted?"  Yes, in fact I can.  He Tweet-taunted that North Korea guy?  I can believe that.  He bumbled out an apology for something he definitely did?  Sounds about right.  He called a bunch of countries "shitholes"?  Yep, I can believe that.  I would literally believe anything.  The man is capable of so much more (or less) than that.  I wish I could make a prediction here, but I feel like I'm not creative enough to come up with a terrible enough thing to predict.  Don't worry, he'll continue to surprise and amaze us. 

And obviously (hopefully it's obvious), this is all quite bad.  The elected leader of the free world should not do fucking horseshit like that, and it pains me to have to write that idea as if it's something that needs to be said or written and not just known from birth.  It's embarrassing to witness this, but that's what people wanted. 

Anyway, here's a very related thing I wrote about outrage fatigue. #politics

Timeliness of search results Tue, Jan 09, 2018
A problem I think the tech world needs to address is the timeliness of search results.  For example, I just searched for something about an Android app, and the first search result was from 8 years ago.  And that's searching for relatively modern technology.  It's sometimes completely useless trying to get pertinent information about topics that have existed in some form for quite a while.  Ooh someone else had the same problem with their dishwasher?  Just kidding that website was last updated in 1997.  Oh my favorite band is playing nearby?  Just kidding that band no longer exists, and the venue burned down last century. 

I'd say the primary purpose of the internet is the accessibility of information.  That's why search is such a fundamental part of it.  But when search results are crowded out by obsolete information from eons past, it dilutes the functionality of search, which dilutes the entire internet.  Yes, I know I can sort by date.  But that's not always ideal, and can be easily gamed by nefarious people trying to get pageviews. 

Please, internet, figure out a way to deal with your own aging. #technology

Bumbling to success Tue, Jan 02, 2018
I'm not a fan of this Trump guy, obviously.  He's a tactless fool, and I don't think history will look back too kindly on him or his presidency.  And yet, I've partitioned off a small part of my mind to allow for the possibility that he'll succeed in the end.  It might not be intentional or willful on his part, but some of his policies and actions might actually make things better.  One piece of evidence to support this is the series of heated Senate races that have happened recently.  People are more interested in politics now because they don't want more Donald Trumps.  Similarly, the ongoing sexual harassment upheaval is a direct result of his pre-election behavior.  Bringing attention to social issues and achieving justice is important, and would've likely continued to languish without Trump. 

I think the real question is whether Donald Trump is ignorant of his effectiveness in a Mr. Bean kind of way, or if he's really the grand illusionist that some people think he is, performing seemingly stupid actions all in service of a much larger overall theme.  Time will tell. #politics

Gender Wed, Dec 13, 2017
This Facebook post from a biology teacher about gender identity and gender expression is quite enlightening: 
I just commented this on a transphobic post that was all like, "In a sexual species, females have two X chromosomes and males have an X and a Y, I'm not a bigot it's just science." I'm a science teacher so I responded with this.

First of all, in a sexual species, you can have females be XX and males be X (insects), you can have females be ZW and males be ZZ (birds), you can have females be females because they developed in a warm environment and males be males because they developed in a cool environment (reptiles), you can have females be females because they lost a penis sword fighting contest (some flatworms), you can have males be males because they were born female, but changed sexes because the only male in their group died (parrotfish and clownfish), you can have males look and act like females because they are trying to get close enough to actual females to mate with them (cuttlefish, bluegills, others), or you can be one of thousands of sexes (slime mold, some mushrooms.) Oh, did you mean humans? Oh ok then. You can be male because you were born female, but you have 5-alphareductase deficiency and so you grew a penis at age 12. You can be female because you have an X and a Y chromosome but you are insensitive to androgens, and so you have a female body. You can be female because you have an X and a Y chromosome but your Y is missing the SRY gene, and so you have a female body. You can be male because you have two X chromosomes, but one of your X's HAS an SRY gene, and so you have a male body. You can be male because you have two X chromosomes- but also a Y. You can be female because you have only one X chromosome at all. And you can be male because you have two X chromosomes, but your heart and brain are male. And vice - effing - versa. Don't use science to justify your bigotry. The world is way too weird for that shit.
I've sent it to a few people who've asserted that gender is simply what's written on your birth certificate.  I don't claim to understand all this, but I'm at least open to the idea that it's not as simple as it seems. #science

Paying for labor Fri, Dec 01, 2017
I just paid for some routine maintenance on my car yesterday.  More than I had planned, but oh well.  I could've probably done some of the work myself (definitely the cabin air filter), but it would've required me to (a) figure out the exact part to buy, (b) actually buy the part, (c) figure out how to replace the part, and (d) take time out of my life to do the work.  Most projects I attempt end up taking more time than I anticipate and more aggravation than I desire.  Last weekend I replaced a kitchen faucet.  It took 4 hours:  3:58 to uninstall the old rusted faucet, and 0:02 to install the new one.  That's how things go for me.  I guess if I did that type of work on a regular basis, I would get more efficient at it.  But still, I find myself paying for labor more often these days, especially when that labor is even slightly skilled.  I do my own lawn work because it requires almost no skill.  It just requires equipment and time.  I do some of my own plumbing, but generally not if soldering is involved.  Car work requires equipment, time, and knowledge, which I'm ok with paying someone else for. #business

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