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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

Accept the answer Fri, Apr 21, 2017
One of my coworkers just said a pretty profound thing.  We were talking about how the Cassini spacecraft used nuclear power, and people at the time were scared of the prospect of a nuclear anything flying over their heads.  Even in the event of a disaster, the amount of radioactive material spread out over the earth's surface would've been indistinguishable from other naturally-occurring radioactive sources.  In other words, it was a non-issue.  I said, "People are pretty dumb."  I corrected myself and said, "But don't be afraid to ask the question."  He responded with, "And don't be afraid to accept the answer." #science

Spring anxiety Wed, Apr 19, 2017
The weather just started to get warm near me, and I have a bunch of outdoor projects in mind.  I find myself experiencing a bit of anxiety each year around this time, because for the past several months I've been doing essentially nothing, and now the weather is nice so I can finally do something.  There's a limited amount of time for planting things or clearing brush, and there are certain things that need to be completed before other things are started (e.g. changing oil before running lawn mower).  I keep waking up on Saturday mornings nearly at a sprint because there's so much I want to get done.  And god forbid it rains. #lifestyle

On trigger warnings Tue, Apr 18, 2017
On the Media did an interview a while back with Cornell professor Kate Manne discussing the positive aspects of trigger warnings: 
KATE MANNE:  Mm, I mean, the reason I give trigger warnings is I'm teaching material that traditionally people have been protected from in the academy. There is very little discussion, say, of misogyny and sexual assault in Philosophy until feminist philosophers began to introduce those topics. So it's not obvious to me that this is really about coddling, so much as that's an expression of resentment to extending basic consideration and kindness to people when, in fact, new and more challenging topics are under discussion.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  The weird thing is that the banner of academic freedom has been picked up by both sides of this discussion.

KATE MANNE:  Yeah.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  What I see is the creation of an environment where it is the professors that are being curtailed in their speech.

KATE MANNE:  Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of people who historically have been very privileged are feeling unfree because members of historically subordinated groups are freer to morally criticize their statements.
I haven't encountered trigger warnings in real life, so I have mixed feelings.  But like any issue these days, most people have simply followed the lead of their political party to determine their stance without actually thinking about it.  This interview presented a pretty rational viewpoint. #psychology

Chemical weapons Mon, Apr 17, 2017
This may be somewhat poorly timed, in light of the recent chemical weapon attack in Syria, but here we go anyway:  I don't think chemical weapons are all that bad.  Yes, they're bad when used against innocent civilians.  But I would argue that all weapons are bad when used against innocent civilians.  That's not the issue I'm addressing.  I just don't think poisonous chemicals, when used to defeat opponents in a war, are worse than say the kinetic energy of a bullet or the chemical reaction energy of an explosion.  It's odd to me that we draw the line here.  I'll admit that chemical weapons are generally harder to focus on a small area since their delivery method hinges on poisoning the air.  And it's true that chemical weapons are usually invisible, and that they cause a fair amount of suffering before death.  But I still think it's weird that the entire world gets up in arms at the idea of chemical weapons, but nobody bats an eye when we use chemically-propelled high-velocity chunks of metal to cause tissue damage and blood loss. #politics

Cancel the noise Tue, Mar 28, 2017
I have issues with background noise, especially when I need to concentrate.  In college I used to sometimes wear a set of over-the-ear hearing protection earmuffs when I was studying.  Never outside my dorm room though, because I didn't want to be known as that guy.  Years later I was gifted a pair of noise-canceling headphones, which were pretty awesome except when the battery got low.  Around the same time I discovered the wonders of white noise, or more specifically brown noise which has a more calming tone. 

A related issue is my inability to sleep through any type of sound, whether it's talking in the next room or snoring right next to me.  I'm surprised it took me this long to discover, but standard foam ear plugs work wonders.  I end up wearing them most nights just so my stupid cats don't wake me up.  But they're also perfect for hotels and friends' houses with unfamiliar surroundings and unexpectedly early risers.  I wish I knew about these in college; I wouldn't have had to call the cops on the guy down the hall whose alarm went off for seven hours straight while he wasn't in the room. #lifestyle

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