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Pretending to be my wife Thu, Jun 22, 2017
I called my cable company's customer service the other day, and based on some previous negative experiences I had, I told them I was my wife.  The account is in her name, so she needs to be the one who makes account changes.  Some companies will let you call and have the account holder nearby to give their verbal blessing.  But I just told them I was her.  What are they gonna do, not believe me?  Ask me anything.  I know her birthday, her mother's maiden name, her social security number, the hospital she was born in.  I know where she's lived, what cars she's owned, the name of her bridesmaid.  I know the answer to every possible security question they can ask.  That effectively makes me her.  Aside from the customer service rep being a little thrown off at first, it worked like a charm. #business

Loss leaders and the secondhand marketplace Wed, Jun 21, 2017
I was in the market for some exercise equipment recently, and I figured I'd buy some of it secondhand from eBay or Craigslist since lots of people make fitness goals and quickly abandon them.  I assumed there'd be a pretty big market of lightly-used low-priced exercise equipment.  I was wrong, but for a different reason.  It turns out there's a modest market for used equipment, but the better market is for brand-new equipment from giant companies with small margins or loss leaders.  A loss leader is a product sold at a loss with the intention of attracting additional business.  Amazon and Walmart can sell a product for little to no profit because they know you'll buy a bunch of other stuff from them.  That works out great for customers who want to pay low prices, which is pretty much all customers.  It doesn't work out great for the secondhand marketplace.  With the advent of free shipping, the secondhand marketplace is essentially obsolete.  I was able to order a piece of equipment, brand new, from a big reputable company, shipped for free in three days, for less than I could've bought the same piece of equipment, used, either shipped across the country (at a significant cost), or picked up from someone that lives near me.  Loss leaders have killed the secondhand marketplace. #business

How to dress like an adult Wed, Jun 14, 2017
I was at a wedding this past weekend, and the bride's older brother was dressed like an idiot.  Not because he didn't feel like dressing for the occasion, but because he apparently never learned how to dress like an adult.  I'm no fashion expert, but I feel like there are a few simple rules to follow when you reach the age of maturity and don't want to look like an idiot: 
  1. If you're wearing a collared shirt, iron it.  Sometimes you can get away with a somewhat wrinkled shirt in a casual situation, but if you're at work or a formal occasion, that shit won't fly.  It's ridiculously obvious you bought that white button-down shirt on the drive over because it still has the crease marks from the packaging.
  2. If you tuck your shirt in, wear a belt.  It doesn't make a difference if you need a belt or not; just wear one.  I don't know why this is a rule, but I remember learning it from my dad and subsequently judging everyone who broke the rule.
  3. If you wear a tie, tuck it under your collar.  There's no better way to signal to the world that you're an incompetent dumbass than by having your tie stick out of your collar as if your stumbly bumbly childlike fingers were unable to accomplish a simple mechanical task.
  4. If you're at a wedding, wear a tie.  If you're at a job interview, wear a tie.  If you're at a formal occasion where most men are wearing ties, wear a tie.
This message is for you, Mr. No Tie Creased White Shirt with No Belt at a Wedding. #lifestyle

America catching up Fri, Jun 02, 2017
Trump just pulled out of the Paris climate agreement.  This move was ridiculously widely criticized, but I think he's actually onto something.  America as a nation isn't really good at starting things.  We're better when we're second, like with the industrial revolution (England was first, America created the modern economy) and the world wars (Europe started them, America finished them).  But actually probably the best example of this was the space race.  The Soviet Union won the space race.  They launched the first satellite into space, and later the first human.  America claimed victory by being the first to reach the moon, but that simply ignored the previous achievements by the Russians.  And the whole reason there was a "race" was because America got beat.  That, coupled with some military tension, turned it into a competition, and any competition America enters (not begins), America wins.  So in a way, pulling out of the climate agreement could be a good thing.  Other countries like China and Russia will take the lead and improve the earth while getting fantastically wealthy.  Then in another 15 or 20 years, America will blow the competition out of the water and claim victory. #science

Prohibition embarrassment Wed, May 31, 2017
I've been to a bunch of breweries, wineries, and distilleries in recent years, and one topic that always gets mentioned by the owner or tour guide is Prohibition.  I can't help but wonder at all the people who lost businesses and livelihoods because of a stupid misguided attempt to legislate morality.  Certain liquor producers were able to stay in business by selling "medicinal" alcohol or sacramental wine, which is such an obvious farce, it amazes me anyone allowed it to happen.  What's interesting is that even Scottish tour guides mention Prohibition because the global demand for Scotch whisky decreased measurably as a direct result. 

I think any sane person can admit these days that Prohibition was a resounding failure.  It not only didn't lastingly decrease demand, it created an immediate de facto black market.  It's such a stain on our country's more recent history, that I sort of feel a sense of embarrassment for it.  We allowed some religious blowhards to enact legislation to limit the rights of all citizens.  I wish I could say we collectively learned from this experience, but we didn't, e.g. drug laws and marriage equality.  Restricting other people's personal rights in the name of one group's religious beliefs is pretty much always bad. #sociology

Just leave already Wed, May 24, 2017
One of my coworkers announced that she's taking a "temporary" one-year assignment overseas, which I believe she'll turn into a permanent departure because she hates her job.  That's fine and all -- except it's not because she's just piling her work responsibilities onto other people, just like she did when she got pregnant, twice -- but as soon as she announced it, she was dead to me.  It was like a breakup.  We each have to move on; go our separate ways.  Except that something got messed up with her paperwork, so she's currently in limbo.  Now it's worse than a breakup.  It's like being broken up, but still living with a person.  You see each other in the kitchen.  You chat in the hallway -- "How are things?  You look well."  But really all I want is for this shitty limbo process to be over.  Either stay or go.  But since you've burned me before, just go.  Make up your mind, get your paperwork together, and just go.  You're dead to me but you're still here.  You're like a corpse. #business

Experimentalism Wed, May 17, 2017
I guess I would call myself an experimentalist in the sense that, in the quest to solve a problem, I'm willing to try anything, regardless of how unconventional the solution is or how anecdotal the outcome might be.  This kind of goes against the scientific method a little bit, where you're supposed to develop an educated guess, not a wild ass one.  And that guess should probably be based in some sort of reality, preferably with some sort of valid reasoning.  But I always come back to the simple fact that if it works, it works.  I have a fairly rigid worldview, but I'm somewhat open to having my mind changed by actual results. 

This comes up a lot with medical treatments for illnesses and injuries.  There's a lot of quackery online about taking some supplement or applying some magical oil to cure something "doctors don't want you to know about".  Despite the lack of solid science supporting many of these types of treatments (and usually the abundance of solid science disproving the claims), I'm open to at least a few of them.  But at the same time, I'm fine with rejecting them when they turn out to be useless.  Too many people like to focus only on positive outcomes and simply ignore the negative ones.  If your solution doesn't work, reject it.  Simple as that. #science

Worthless pride Tue, May 16, 2017
One of the experiences I mentioned about the gulf coast trip was the scammers/grifters in New Orleans who would bet you they could guess where you got your shoes (answer:  on your feet).  There were a few other scams like this, and it's apparently so common, our guide book mentioned it and there are entire websites devoted to teaching you how to avoid these stupid scams.  I've been to a lot of different places on the planet, and I can't remember one that had as many worthless people doing stupid shit for tourist money.  Actually scratch that -- most of the Caribbean was probably worse.  I guess I expected a little more from a modern American city with a stable economy. 

But here's my thing:  Unless you're a homeless person with no other option (didn't appear to be the case), how does a scam artist go around all day, bilking money out of friendly unsuspecting tourists, and go home at the end of the day and feel any sense of pride or accomplishment?  "How was work today, Joe?"  "Oh pretty good, I scammed a young couple on their honeymoon out of $7."  Fan-fucking-tastic work, Joe.  You're really contributing to the world here.  You're making people enjoy their stay in your piss-soaked city.  Surely they'll go home and say to their friends, "Hey go check out New Orleans; it's full of awesome people who pretend to be friendly but then get mad when they spray something on your shoes and expect you to give them money to clean it off." #sociology

Gulf coast trip Tue, May 16, 2017
Last week, the wife and I went on a little fly-then-drive trip from Austin, TX to Pensacola, FL.  I'd never been to a bunch of the areas along the way, plus I was able to check two states off the list:  Louisiana and Mississippi.  This was the second trip we've done that was relatively unplanned.  We had plane tickets, a rental car, and a general plan, but we decided on the specifics as we went. 
Day 1:  Flew to Austin and stayed in a somewhat crappy hotel.  I figured it wouldn't be too bad since it was close to the Omni, which is a fancy chain.  I was wrong. 

Day 2:  Walked around Austin including the University of Texas and South Congress Street.  I thought I would enjoy this city more.  It's not that I didn't enjoy it, and it could be largely dependent on the spots we visited, but it just wasn't all that great.  I didn't feel bad about leaving mid-afternoon and driving to Galveston.  On the way, we drove through Smithville, which I'm told is featured in the movie Hope Floats, and also La Grange, which is the subject of an excellent ZZ Top song. 

Day 3:  We stayed in Galveston near the beach, which had its ups and downs.  It was sort of a cool little beach town, minus the fact that the main road that runs through town is loud with trucks and motorcycles.  The town seems to have a history of getting destroyed by hurricanes, but it had some cool old buildings.  After lunch, we headed to Jennings, LA, but not before taking two ferries and stopping at the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge where we saw a ridiculous number of alligators and some weird birds

Day 4:  From Jennings, we headed to Lafayette, LA for some awesome local food at Johnson's Boucaniere and a brief tour of the Acadian Cultural Center, which played a really whiny video about how the French settlers in the area were forcibly displaced from Nova Scotia.  Then we drove to New Orleans and tore up the town a bit on Bourbon Street.  My favorite t-shirt said, "I got bourbon faced on shit street." 

Day 5:  We stayed in a bed and breakfast that was an old mansion, so it had a 22-step staircase and 15-foot ceilings.  And it was cheap.  We walked around some big houses and a graveyard in the Garden District, then spent the day walking around the French Quarter, before getting dinner at a jazz club. 

Day 6:  Headed in the direction of Mississippi, and happened to stop at NASA's Stennis Space Center for an impromptu museum visit and rocket test facility tour.  Drove along the coast and took a ferry before finally ending up in Gulf Shores, AL. 

Day 7:  Drove to Seaside, FL, which was nice but disappointing, before finally heading to our hotel in Pensacola to relax. 
Austin was nice and clean and new.  Southeast Texas and Louisiana had a lot of oil industry infrastructure.  The beaches in the area were mostly ugly and looked dirty.  I'm not sure if that's related. 

New Orleans was old and dirty.  I liked the live music and bar scene of the French Quarter, but I could easily imagine that getting old.  Pretty much the entire city smelled like urine, the streets were dirty, and the sidewalks were all torn up and crappy, even in front of the rich houses.  I'm sure it's related to their history with hurricanes, but the sidewalks were crumbling because of tree roots, not flooding.  Not a huge issue, but still.  I was disappointed by the number of scammers walking around the touristy areas, offering to guess where you bought your shoes or whatever.  Despite all this, I would go back. 

The beach areas in Alabama and Florida were a lot nicer, but a lot more built-up.  I've already spent a bunch of time in Florida, so I wasn't too pumped about the endless strip malls and beach towns.  After seven days on the road, we were pretty exhausted. 

All in all this was a cool trip.  It was fairly cheap, helped by some credit card points.  It was good to see some faraway parts of the country, and to experience some authentic southern things.  Driving was easy, and we tried to keep it under four hours per day.  The constant unpacking and repacking at a new hotel every night got a little old.  It might've been better to rent an RV. #travel

Tattoo Fri, May 05, 2017
Not many people know this, but I'm planning on getting a tattoo of the solar system on my inner left forearm in a few weeks.  I've thought on and off about getting a tattoo for a while now, and I was always dissuaded by my inability to choose a design.  My uncertainty led me to hold off on the idea altogether, since getting a tattoo isn't a requirement.  My mind was changed somewhat gradually and recently by my advancement in age (35), my choice of topic, and my dissatisfaction at being undecided. 

I chose the solar system for a few reasons.  One is that it's a symbol of humanity's knowledge, specifically knowledge about ourselves and our place in the universe.  The structure, order, and motion of the solar system was really one of the first things we learned using the scientific method.  We knew how the planets moved way before we knew nearly anything about the human body or the history of the earth.  So the solar system is a symbol of knowledge, and of science.  But it's also a symbol of perspective.  We used to think we were the center of the universe.  Later we discovered that our planet isn't even the center of our own solar system.  Our solar system is just one of many, which instantly elicits a sense of smallness.  We're tiny in the grand scheme of things, and that's important to remember. 

Deciding to get a tattoo presented a surprisingly unique challenge:  Predicting how the future me might feel about a tattoo, the design of it, and its placement.  No other choice, action, or event has the same type of emotional baggage attached to it.  I don't worry about whether future me will like the t-shirt I just bought, or will be pleased with my current choice of hairstyle.  I don't worry about how future me will feel about my upcoming vacation plans, or the car I bought, or my current job duties.  I guess you could say choosing a mate might be a similar decision, but at least that involves the feelings of another person.  A tattoo is all about me, and how I imagine my future self will feel.  It's a difficult thing to predict. 

As far as placement, I went with the inner forearm because it's readily visible to me, but not all that readily visible to other people.  I didn't want a tattoo on a body part that I would rarely see on myself, like my upper thigh or my back.  I also didn't want to have to take off my pants to show people my tattoo.  I'm not too concerned about how my tattoo placement will affect me professionally or socially.  If it comes down to it, I can wear long sleeves.  I have a hard time envisioning a situation where (a) I would be forced to wear short sleeves in a setting that forbade tattoos, or (b) tattoos are even forbidden in the first place.  The meaning of tattoos has changed over the years, as has the types of people who get them.  I am slightly concerned about people asking me about my tattoo and why I got it and what it means.  It's more likely people won't even notice in the first place. 

To be perfectly honest, I'm still concerned with (1) getting a permanent mark on my body (2) of a topic or design that will be forever relevant to me (3) in a location visible to other people.  My feelings and concerns on the matter haven't really changed, but I've decided to take a risk.  I don't know whether that's good or bad, but it is what it is. #lifestyle

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