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Human extinction Mon, Jun 30, 2014
One of the most interesting and surprising facts I've learned in recent years concerns human extinction.  Neil DeGrasse Tyson put it like this in Death by Black Hole:  "Fact is, humans cannot really kill Earth.  Our planet will remain in orbit around the Sun, along with its planetary brethren, long after Homo sapiens has become extinct by whatever cause."  That's a fairly nonchalant way of referring to the near certainty of humans going extinct.  It's a fascinating and somewhat scary thing to think about, but it's based on a few pieces of solid reasoning:  Assuming we don't kill ourselves with bullets or nuclear bombs, there's a good possibility we'll be wiped out by a global pandemic.  If that doesn't happen, there's a good chance we've trashed the earth enough to make it nearly inhospitable to life.  But even if those two things don't happen, there's still the fact that no species in the history of our planet has lived longer than a few million years.  People like to talk about our galaxy's impending collision with the Andromeda galaxy in 4 billion years, or the death of the sun in 5 billion years.  But current thinking suggests that humans will go extinct way before that time.  And that's a crazy thing to think about. #science

Armand Hammer vs. Arm & Hammer Mon, Jun 30, 2014
Armand Hammer was a guy who owned Occidental Petroleum for many years.  His name sounds suspiciously like Arm & Hammer, the company that makes baking soda and other household products.  Wikipedia sums it up thusly
In the 1980s Hammer owned a considerable amount of stock in Church and Dwight, the company that manufactures Arm & Hammer products; he also served on its board of directors. But the Arm & Hammer company's brand name did not originate with Armand Hammer. It was in use some 31 years before Hammer was born.
Slightly mind-blowing. #business

The Great Whiskey Spill Wed, Jun 25, 2014
A tragic yet funny thing happened when we were traveling around Kentucky bourbon country.  I bought several bottles of various bourbons and put them in the hatchback area of the rental car.  I left them in there overnight and the next day while we hung out with some friends. 

When I went to get something from the car the next evening, I was met with a thick, unbearable cloud of alcohol scent.  It was like an alcohol explosion in my sinuses.  What had happened was that one of the bottles popped its cork stopper and spilled half its contents onto the fabric of the rental car.  Not only did it pop its top, it popped its top through the plastic seal that held the cork in place.  That's some energetic ethanol! 

I was bummed that I spilled some good whiskey and wasted some money.  But the real issue was that our rental car smelled unmistakably like alcohol, which isn't a good thing for a motor vehicle to smell like.  So I opened the windows and let everything air out overnight, and I even sprayed Febreze on the mats and let them dry in the sun. 

When we got in the car to continue on our journey, the smell was still definitely there.  I was hoping maybe some fresh air at 70 mph would help the situation, or maybe air conditioning would magically clean things up.  After driving for a few hours, the smell seemed to have vanished.  But every time we left the car and re-entered, it was back.  Thankfully, the alcohol smell had vanished, and it left in its place the sweet, smokey, caramel aroma of finely aged bourbon.  Certainly an improvement over the new-car small of a rental car! 

I contacted the bourbon company and told them my sad story, and they were actually apologetic about the packaging failure and offered me a refund!  In return I told them I'd tell this story as an homage to them and their generosity.  So thanks, Wild Turkey!  Russell's Reserve 10 Year Old is some damn fine bourbon.

Cosmos finale five rules Tue, Jun 24, 2014
I missed the last episode of Cosmos, so I missed this invocation by host Neil deGrasse Tyson about the five simple rules of science: 
  1. Question authority.  No idea is true just because someone says so, including me.
  2. Think for yourself.  Question yourself.  Don't believe anything just because you want to.  Believing something doesn't make it so.
  3. Test ideas by the evidence gained from observation and experiment.  If a favorite idea fails a well-designed test, it's wrong.  Get over it.
  4. Follow the evidence, wherever it leads.  If you have no evidence, reserve judgment.
  5. Remember, you could be wrong.  Even the best scientists have been wrong about some things.
That's some good stuff.  Every time I started watching an episode, I would feel reluctant to press play because I didn't feel like turning my brain on and having to think about something.  But every single time, I got completely sucked in and didn't mind having to think.  What a great TV series. #science

TN & KY Mon, Jun 23, 2014
I recently finished a trip to Tennessee and Kentucky.  When I told people I would be traveling there, the most common response was, "Why?"  Bourbon and fireflies, naturally. 

The first stop was in Lynchburg, TN to visit the Jack Daniel's distillery.  Since Jack is sold all over the world and is ridiculously commercialized, I was expecting this to be more of a front for a larger and more industrialized operation.  But in reality, the factory was kind of quaint.  They still do a lot of stuff by hand, and it was a really cool tour.  And the small town of Lynchburg felt like a movie set, but it was real. 

Next up was Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the synchronous fireflies.  This was a gamble because the fireflies are only in certain areas at certain times of the year.  But thankfully we found them, and they were awesome.  It's hard to describe the sight, other than by saying it's a bunch of fireflies that blink chaotically and occasionally synchronize.  But the sheer number of these bugs and the show they put on is kind of breathtaking. 

We stayed in Gatlingburg, TN, which was an experience in itself.  A southern friend called it "Disney World for southerners" and that about sums it up.  Waffle Houses, moonshine, and obesity.  Aside from some good breakfasts and the proximity to a national park, this is a place I'd rather not revisit. 

After all that, we headed to Kentucky bourbon country, with a quick stop at the Toyota factory in Georgetown, KY that made my Camry.  Buffalo Trace was a quaint old place whose barrel house smelled amazing.  Wild Turkey was a modern industrial operation, clean and brand-spanking new.  Four Roses looked kind of like a catering center with a distillery attached.  Each place offered a tasting of several of their products, and I wound up finding a few new things I like.  Plus we went to a few bars and liquor stores and found stuff that isn't available in our local stores.  Our checked bag for the flight home came in at just under 50 lbs. 

Part of the reason for our trip was because we kept getting invites from our Kentucky friend's family to visit them at their lake house in Eddyville, KY.  So we obliged.  We did a little relaxing and waterskiing (attempted anyway), which was a nice break from our ~500 miles driven. 

On the way back to Nashville, we stopped at Mammoth Cave for a quick tour.  Once in Nashville, we visited the Parthenon, which is an awesome historical site in the middle of a modern city.  Finally, we visited some honky tonk bars in the downtown area and heard some live country music.  That place was alive and kicking, and it was a Monday night! 

The reason we flew into and out of Nashville was because they had the cheapest flights.  Driving around the area on state roads and interstates was ridiculously easy.  No traffic, no problems.  If I had to do it again, I would probably still start in Nashville, but I'd try to stay in or around Bardstown, KY, which was a nice small town close to a bunch of the bourbon action.  Visiting three or four distilleries in one day is about as much as you can reasonably do.  I unfortunately only scheduled one day of distillery tours because I didn't want to get burnt out from all the booze talk.  Next time I'll be ready for more.  #travel

Categorizing purchases Thu, Jun 05, 2014
I've noticed I tend to unintentionally group purchases into one of three categories:  expenses, hobbies, or investments.  Expenses are things that are basically just the cost of doing business, or the cost of living life.  This includes gas and groceries, but I also lump things like wine into this category.  Obviously wine isn't an essential item, but I've reached the point where I drink wine almost as regularly as I use gas to power my car, i.e. every day. 

Hobbies are things that cost a decent amount of money, but the cost gets spread out over time.  I like bourbon whiskey, and I probably have $300-400 worth of it in my house at the moment.  That price point was daunting when I first started getting into whiskey, because I felt like I'd never be able to try the brands I wanted to try without putting up a big chunk of change.  But spread out over time at $30 a bottle or so, the cost wasn't that big.  It's not small or regular enough that I'd call it a cost of living life, but small enough that I can buy a bottle every few months or so and not have to think about it. 

I'd like to get into Scotch, but that counts as an investment in my book.  A bottle of Scotch is often 2-3 times the price of a bottle of bourbon.  Investments require planning and budgeting, and because of their increased price (and my relatively un-lavish lifestyle), it seems like they should be treated as such.  Obviously I would never mix good Scotch with Coke, but even drinking it regularly would feel a little wrong.  Since I don't light my cigars with hundred dollar bills, it feels like expensive purchases should be treated differently, as investments. 

Anyway, this was supposed to be about money, and it became a thing about booze.  C'est la vie. #money