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Beach umbrella massacre Wed, Jul 24, 2013
I was at the beach the other day and witnessed yet another beach umbrella get caught up by the wind, tumble across the crowded sand, and nearly impale a person.  I understand why the base of the umbrella is pointed.  It just seems like maybe it shouldn't be.

Fracking discussions Wed, Jul 17, 2013
The documentary Gasland is all about hydraulic fracturing to obtain natural gas, and the discussions (arguments) I've heard about it tend to be completely predictable.  If a person doesn't support fracking, they say, "Pumping harsh chemicals into our ground water causes cancer."  If a person supports fracking, they go with, "It creates jobs and reduces our dependency on foreign oil."  Both points are probably correct, which is why no argument about this topic is ever fruitful.

Subaru vehicle names Wed, Jul 17, 2013
I think Subaru has a problem naming their vehicles.  A few years ago they came out with the B9 Tribeca, and I remember thinking during the incessant advertising of the unfortunately ugly vehicle, why didn't they choose a less clumsy name?  What does the "B9" part even mean?  Just stick with one word.  There's another vehicle out currently called the XV Crosstrek which suffers from the same two-word naming issue.  Which is it, an "XV" or a "Crosstrek"?  And again, what does the "XV" stand for?  The problem with multi-word product names is that if it's hard to remember, it's easy to forget. 

My other gripe is with the "Legacy" line of vehicles.  Legacy has two meanings in normal life:  Either (a) something that's passed down from one generation to the next, or (b) old.  In manufacturing facilities, they refer to their older equipment as "legacy equipment," which is a nicer way of saying there's other stuff out there that's better.  And while the Subaru Legacy is a fine vehicle, it just sounds weird to say, "That's right, I drive a Legacy.  A legacy Legacy."

Zappos psychology Thu, Jul 11, 2013
I've spent a fair amount of money at Zappos recently, and I think I understand why they're successful.  For the uninitiated, they're big on customer service, and specifically on the idea of free shipping and free returns.  The thing that sets them apart from other retailers is that second part, the free returns.  As far as I know, they do free returns for everything, no matter what, probably as long as you don't destroy it before you send it back. 

From an end user perspective, it makes it feel like you're getting away with something.  You can buy $1000 worth of shoes, clothes, and whatnot, and you have the option of sending all of it back, at no cost to you.  And knowing you'll be able to do this, it makes it seem like you're getting something for free.  If you choose to return everything you buy, you're essentially getting free try-ons via mail order.  It's a small benefit, but it's something.  But the psychological component of knowing you're getting a small benefit is mildly rewarding.  Hard to quantify, but there. 

I've been thinking about how a business can run this way and still make money, and I've come to the conclusion that it must be working, because otherwise they wouldn't be around anymore.  The money they make from people keeping things must surely be more than the money they spend for one- and two-way shipping.

Term limits (1) Tue, Jul 09, 2013
Everybody agrees it's good to have term limits for the president of the country.  You don't want a dictator for life.  But it's surprising how few other political offices have term limits.  Or, put another way, no other federal political offices have term limits.  That's ridiculous if you think about it for two seconds.  Especially with three branches of government, and all those checks and balances and whatnot, it's pathetic that a senator or a congressman or a *gasp* supreme court justice can stay in office until they collapse into a pile of goo.  It would be one thing if these people determined the content on the local AM radio station.  But in reality, they determine what the citizens of their country are legally able to do.  Who better to entrust with the future of a nation than a group of rich, old, out-of-touch, sexually-deviant white men?

Semi-parenthood Mon, Jul 08, 2013
I had the privilege of living in a house with a six-year-old for the past week while he went to a nearby summer camp.  What a magical experience:  Structuring my life around the whines and whims of a selfish, annoying, small person with terrible communication skills.  It was like living with another me. 

What I noticed, however, was that parents (and I in effect) tend to savor the brief moments in their day when their kids are absent.  Those first few minutes of a quiet morning before the kid turns on the TV; that brief period of time after the kid complains about the meal you cooked and finally goes back to watching TV; those calm few moments after the kid goes to bed and you can finally relax and do whatever you want.  It seems like the best part about having kids is not having kids. 

And as much as I disagree with the use of glowing rectangles (i.e. TV, computers, tablets, phones) in raising children, I finally see the light.  Either you can listen to your kid whine about every god-forsaken thing that crosses his tiny little brain, accept his constant criticism of your actions, your lifestyle, your cooking, and your lack of doing everything he wants, or you can put a phone in front of his face and let him shoot zombies.  It's really a simple choice. 

In conclusion, children are awful.

Government furlough (2) Mon, Jul 08, 2013
As an employee of the federal government, I'm the recent recipient of an 11-week 20% time and pay cut known as the furlough.  Thankfully I don't live a lavish lifestyle and I'm not over my head in debt, so a pay cut won't hurt too much.  And quite honestly, I could stand to work fewer hours.  I'm glad this is happening in the summer, so I can at least enjoy the weather. 

However, the fact that things have reached this point are a damning indictment of the inadequacies of an impotent, incompetent government.  Yes, the Democratic president originally suggested the furlough as a threat to make the Republican Congress reach a deal regarding the federal budget.  And it's ultimately the fault of the Republican Congress that no deal was reached.  Both sides are at fault.  The politicians get to keep their jobs, despite their utter failure to do them.  It's unfortunate that the only real losers in this game are the citizen workers, who receive the privilege of earning less money, all while the politicians point their fingers at each other and think of a new country to bomb. 

To be honest, I'm in favor of cutting government spending.  The government consistently breaks the first rule of budgeting (after the "zeroth" rule of actually passing a budget):  Don't spend more than you make.  And I think everything should get trimmed, not just the untouchable programs.  Trim the military.  Trim social security.  Anyone who's ever worked in a large organization knows there's always a certain amount of dead wood.  Cut it.  Don't punish everyone for the mistakes of the few. 

But my other main gripe is that this is such a stupid solution to a serious problem.  It's a band-aid for a bullet hole.  Instead of giving individual organizations within the government the option as to how they'd like to make budget cuts, the cuts were applied across the board.  What that means on the ground level is that there's no incentive to actually save money.  I can think of a few ways to save money in my own organization (including having everyone take the same day off during the furlough, instead of keeping the building running for only half the normal number of employees).  But there's no reason for me to make that change, since I'll get paid the same amount regardless of what I do or don't do, and I'll also have my pay cut the same amount regardless of what I cut or don't cut.  A very simple seminar in economics or psychology would tell you exactly this. 

And of course there's the issue of employee morale.  I think we sometimes think of government workers as charity cases that have jobs as a kind of gift from the American taxpayer.  That's true to a certain extent, but these are also human beings with car problems, mortgages, and dentist appointments.  I guess I've never been on the receiving end of an across-the-board action, but what's not obvious is that individuals are affected, not organizations.  And when you treat individuals as if they're worthless, they'll act worthless, or they'll leave for greener pastures.  Don't expect great things to come from a forced pay cut, especially when those pay cuts don't affect the top brass. 

There's talk that the furlough might be renewed next year.  My only question is, when will this stop being a reactionary measure stumbled and bumbled out by an ineffectual government bureaucracy, and start being an actual piece of intelligent fiscal policy?  Also, fuck the furlough.

Pioneer Plaque Fri, Jul 05, 2013
I feel like the Pioneer Plaque, an engraved rectangular plate on a spaceship sent from earth to outer space, is a little dumb.  I get the idea:  Find a way to communicate the existence of human life in our solar system, as well as a few tidbits of our knowledge of universal things, to an unknown civilization that has absolutely no way of understanding our language, culture, or anything about us.  But at the same time, it seems to me that if a relatively intelligent human (myself) can't understand what it means, it kind of misses the point. 

It reminds me of Darwin's Tree of Life illustration, which people get tattooed on their bodies, permanently.  I get that it's a historically significant drawing and all, but there are way better methods of representing that kind of information, especially now that it's not the 1860s and we're not living on a boat.