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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

Debating climate change Mon, Apr 04, 2016
I had a nice little discussion about climate change this morning with some coworkers.  When I say "nice little" I mean "big stupid".  It didn't go well, and I got a little angry.  Not punch-a-coworker angry, but take-a-cigar-break angry. 

First, it annoys me when people are wrong about scientifically verifiable facts.  The thing with facts, and the thing with the scientific method, is that it's open-access.  Anyone can look at evidence, test a theory, and come to a conclusion.  A bunch of climate scientists already did that.  This is the closest thing to a fact that science produces. 

Let me take a brief moment to point out why the "argument from authority" counter-argument doesn't make sense in this instance.  The argument from authority comes from the period of time when a king or a priest could say something and claim that because of their authority, the thing they said was true.  The difference with science, I'll say again, is that science and data and observation are available to anyone with a brain and opposable thumbs.  Scientists can be authorities in their respective fields, but the things they say can be very easily tested and disproved if so desired. 

Second, it bothers me when otherwise thoughtful, intelligent people demonstrate such a ridiculously flawed logic in their viewpoint.  If the person was an idiot, or a presidential candidate, I could at least sort of understand.  But when I respect your brainpower and you believe dumb things, it causes me pain.  Should I now doubt other things you say, things regarding the job that you and I do side by side?  If I can't trust you to accept facts regarding one topic, why should I accept your facts on a different topic? 

You may ask why this matters, and that's a fair question.  Honestly, whether you believe it or not, the climate is changing.  So I can take heart that I'll be proven right in the end.  But it's not about being right; it's about the flawed logic people use to determine what they think and believe.  If this was an opinion about a debatable topic, I wouldn't feel the need to prove a person wrong.  When your life is dictated by shitty logic, how am I supposed to know that you'll apply proper logic to which pedal is the gas and which is the brake? 

Finally, it pisses me off when issues get politicized.  As soon as an issue gets even a hint of political attention, a line is drawn; you're either on the right or the left, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat.  There's no middle ground.  Also, if you didn't have an opinion beforehand, your political affiliation will tell you how to think.  It's surprising to me that more people don't see how their beliefs are essentially handed to them by the ideology to which they subscribe.  I guess I'm guilty of this as well, but I like to keep referencing the idea that I'VE CHANGED MY MIND BEFORE, which I feel establishes the fact that I can occasionally form an opinion apart from the hive mind. #science

On progress Wed, Mar 16, 2016
I guess I'm a progressive.  I say "I guess" because it's hard for me to imagine being the opposite, i.e. regressive.  What's the final outcome of moving backwards from progress?  Living in caves, crawling back into the sea, and being subsumed into the Big Crunch?  It literally makes no sense to me.  In fact many regressive ideas make no sense to me: 
  • Opposing gay marriage?  I think gay people should be allowed to legally marry, because the alternative is arbitrary, benefits no one, and hurts many.
  • Anti-abortion?  I think people should have control over their own bodies, and I think abortion should be legal.  The alternative is state control over personal freedom, which I've been led to believe is a bad thing.
  • Anti-immigration?  I think people fleeing war should be treated like people who might be criminals, instead of criminals who might be people.
I haven't always been progressive.  I used to be conservative, which is a belief system that wants everything to remain the way it is, or the way it was, or the way it used to be thousands of years ago.  Thousands of years ago, we didn't know the concept of zero.  We used to own people as property.  We used to publicly execute people whom we believed to be practitioners of witchcraft and magic.  These are all ideas that we progressed out of, rightfully so. 

Progress is sort of unavoidable.  When machines made farming and manufacturing more efficient, if you didn't jump on the bandwagon, you went out of business.  When germs were discovered to cause illness, if you didn't wash your hands, you died of dysentery.  Progress is often called a march, i.e. it's happening whether you join in or not. 

I'm a progressive not because I necessarily have benevolent feelings towards my fellow man or benevolent feelings at all.  I'm a progressive because regressivism is a ridiculous alternative and a dying ideal. #psychology

Receiving gifts Tue, Mar 08, 2016
Let me just come out and say it:  I don't like receiving gifts.  I know that makes me a terrible, selfish person who is incapable of enjoying the well-meaning benevolence of others.  Oh well.  At least I'm honest. 

At first, it was about money.  I didn't like the fact that someone was spending money on me, because gift-giving is largely a social convention that's often a de facto obligation.  That's why there are gift exchanges.  You get a gift, but you also have to give a gift.  We all like to pretend that's not the case.  Go on, keep pretending. 

I've realized some people just honestly like giving gifts.  It makes them feel better, which is an oddly selfish form of generosity.  But I try not to think about that, or the fact that they probably can't afford it, or how many more worthy things they could be spending their money on.  People enjoy spending their money, for better or worse. 

Getting past the financial aspect of it, there's the practical aspect:  If I want something, I'll probably buy it myself.  I have a job, and I make money.  I buy the things I want.  If I haven't bought something, it probably means I don't want it.  There are exceptions to this rule, and most of those exceptions are consumables.  Honestly, buy me all the chocolate and whiskey you want.  I'm fine with that.  But don't buy me a large appliance.  Don't buy me a decorative object that doesn't serve a purpose.  Yes, I have a house with lots of empty space at the moment.  No, that doesn't mean I want to fill it with somebody else's ideas. 

I know, I know.  First world problems.  But that's how I feel. #psychology

10000 hours at work Mon, Mar 07, 2016
The "10000 hours rule" is the idea that people who are great at something tend to spend roughly 10000 hours getting there.  I was thinking recently, in light of my post about trusting experts, and I realized I passed the 10000-hour mark at work quite a while ago.  If there are 52 weeks in a year and you work maybe 48, and you work 40 hours per week, that's 1920 hours per year.  That means it would take 5.2 years to surpass the 10000-hour mark.  Of course not all those hours are spent productively performing the core duties of one's job.  But probably sometime between 5 and 10 years at a job, a person essentially becomes an expert. #business

Multitasking failure Mon, Jan 04, 2016
I've recently entered a stage in life exemplified by my complete inability to finish a single goddamn task.  Being in a new house of course means I have a bunch of little things to accomplish.  Let me just fix this doorknob real quick ... oh look, this light switch is loose ... damn light bulb is out.  By the end of the day, I accomplish literally nothing.  I've found that the only way to actually complete anything is to actively ignore all other things that could get in the way.  So as I'm fixing the mismatched electrical outlet cover, I'll notice the loose railing ... and just ignore it.  If I'm feeling ambitious, I'll write it down and get to it later.  But the only way I can do anything is to only do one thing.  Multitasking is a myth. #lifestyle

Paying more for better things Thu, Dec 31, 2015
I can't remember when it happened, but sometime in the last five years or so, I flipped the switch from always seeking out the cheapest alternative, to occasionally paying more for better things.  Case in point:  I switched from Sprint to Verizon as my cell phone provider.  I initially went with Sprint because they had the lowest prices for the most features.  That may still be true (with their unlimited data), but Sprint has notoriously poor coverage, and cheap and abundant features don't make up for poor cell service.

I also recently switched cable providers because I'd rather have a good product for more money than a bad product for less money.  This idea has some sort of boundary which I'm still figuring out.  I won't pay more money for better clothes or a better car or better wine, UNLESS of course the more expensive things offer me something I value more highly than thriftiness.  I spend more for shoes because I'd rather be comfortable than not.  I bought my car because it had the exact features I wanted (all-wheel drive and gas mileage), sort of regardless of price.  But once you start factoring in more than one requirement, your options get more limited, and saving money becomes less of an option. 

The bottom line is that spending more money for certain things now brings me more pleasure than spending less money on a worse version of things. #money

Antisocial on Facebook Thu, Dec 31, 2015
It took me a long time to join Facebook, because literally every single aspect of it sounded unappealing.  Connecting with people?  Finding friends from college, or even high school?  Who would want that? 

But I joined, and quickly discovered something that appeals to an antisocial person like myself:  I can be antisocial while pretending to be social.  Facebook connections can act as a sociability stand-in:  I'm keeping up with your life circumstances and the things you care about, but I don't have to actively interact with you to do so.  It's completely passive, unless I want to give a thumbs-up or leave a comment.  It doesn't necessarily need to be a stand-in; I can also have a social relationship with you in real life.  But the passive nature of it and the lack of direct social contact allows a person like myself, who doesn't enjoy a ton of social interaction, to maintain some form of sociability without actually being sociable. #sociology

Caring about issues Thu, Dec 31, 2015
People really only care about issues when they're directly affected.  Cases in point:  #politics

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