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More on modern wars Thu, Aug 30, 2007
Following up on my previous post about modern wars, I have these additional (and mostly unrelated) thoughts: 
  1. Generally speaking, I believe that violence defeats violence.  The stronger guy wins the fight.  Often the best way to defeat an opponent is with force.
  2. However, sometimes this isn't true, such as when the violence is terroristic in nature.  Most terrorist action is fueled by beliefs and emotion, thus largely disregarding logic.  A history (or maybe psychology) professor in college once said, "You can't rationalize with irrational people."  So no amount of force or violence will convince terrorists that they're in the wrong.
  3. In situations where violence won't work, diplomatic and/or economic sanctions seem to work quite well.  Money is an extremely powerful motivator.

GPS sucks Thu, Aug 30, 2007
Despite the booming industry created by the newly utilized global positioning system satellites, I have one thing to say:  GPS devices suck. 

For one, they're phenomenally expensive.  Even the most basic device costs around $200, and that's only because it's using outdated technology and competing with hundreds of knockoffs.  I think it's safe to assume the plastic casing of a GPS device doesn't cost much, and I would assume neither does the software.  So basically, you're paying for a little radio transmitter/receiver chip.  Why hasn't demand for these things driven down prices?  It's not like it's a new technology.  It's been around since the 1970s and operational since the early 90s. 

Second, GPS devices are incredibly unintuitive and extremely user unfriendly.  Why are there functions to name marked points and input data if there's no keyboard?  And why is the onscreen keyboard like those Nintendo games from 1987, organized in alphabetical order?  Keyboards haven't been organized in alphabetical order since the invention of the typewriter!  A touchscreen would be a vast improvement, as would a bigger display and a move intuitive menu system.  Honestly, for $200 you'd think I could get a device with a screen larger than a 10-year-old cell phone.  And full-color! 

Third, battery power for handheld devices is generally laughable.  Twelve hours between charges?  That won't even last a moderate weekend hike!  The last thing I need when I'm lost in the middle of the woods is an expensive chunk of plastic and silicon with a dead battery. 

Finally, although I'm impressed by vehicle navigation models that give turn-by-turn directions and tell you where the closest McDonald's is, I don't really need turn-by-turn directions or the location of the closest McDonald's.  I'm pretty good at finding my way around places, even if I've never been there before.  And to find the nearest McDonald's, I can probably just turn in a circle and find two or three. 

P.S. - "Recalculating route" shouldn't take 60 seconds to complete.  Even MapQuest loads faster than that. #technology

Snake in the bathroom Thu, Aug 30, 2007
I have a few fears involving animals in unlikely locations.  There's the whole "spider under the toilet seat" story usually affecting people on overseas flights.  There's the "alligators in the sewer" story, usually involving a city with an underground sewer system.  And now there's a new one:  A snake in the bathroom.  The problem is, that last one just happened to me about 5 minutes ago. 

Actually, it happened to a guy I work with, but I went in the bathroom and confirmed that there was indeed a 4-foot-long black snake curled around a pipe under the sink.  As if I didn't have enough things to fear, now I have to worry about this one.  Some puzzling facts about this incident: 
  1. A snake got in the building.  It's not a bug or a mouse or any other relatively small creature.  It's a 4-foot-long black snake.  In comparison to a mouse, it's gigantic.
  2. The snake went into the bathroom.  Of course it couldn't have just stayed in the lobby or near the door.  It couldn't have slithered around the hallway or anything like that.  It went into the bathroom, where people are the most vulnerable.
  3. The snake reached the second floor bathroom.  Oh, did I forget to mention that part?  Yes, the snake somehow managed to climb 20 stairs.  I would like to call attention to the fact that snakes have neither arms nor legs.  Please, God, explain to me how a snake climbed stairs.
So there you have it.  A brand new fear, based on a real-life event that happened to me.  Thanks. #entertainment

Communication hierarchy Wed, Aug 29, 2007
I've determined that there's a hierarchy of communication methods.  It goes like this: 
  1. Face-to-face.  This is the best method of communication.  It's what you use when you need something right away.  It's effective at getting things done, but it takes time and effort.
  2. Phone.  You use the phone when it's something important but you don't want to go through as many of the normal social interaction guidelines such as greetings, how are things, nice weather, how's your wife, etc.
  3. Text message.  This is probably the most efficient method of communication.  It requires very little time or effort, and it often gets a quick answer.  But it's completely dependent on the person (a) having a cell phone, (b) turning it on, and (c) having it with them.
  4. Email.  This is sadly the most ineffective method of communication most of the time.  It's a great way of getting things done, but it often depends solely on the receiver, the frequency of checking, and the typical speediness of replies.
I've found several times recently that a complex problem had a simple solution, all because of a phone call.  Instead of emailing or text messaging, the problem was solved immediately by picking up the phone.  However, sometimes phone calls are ineffective because people aren't near their phone.  In that case, text messages are also usually worthless.  Emailing can be the best bet, but it depends on the time of the day and which address is used.  For example, if I email Wendy's personal address, I know she only checks it once or twice a day, so she probably won't be responding very quickly.  If I instead email her work address, it'll automatically get sent to her Blackberry, where she usually gives an instantaneous response.  However, I also have to keep in mind that emails I send to Wendy's work address occasionally get lost, so it's not always reliable. 

In conclusion, it's almost like there's a separate hierarchy of communication methods for each individual person.  I recommend not communicating at all. #psychology

Antiques Wed, Aug 29, 2007
I'm surprised not only by how little interest I have in antiques, but by how much interest other people have in them.  I was driving home from work yesterday and I was forced to inhale some dirty exhaust from a classic car, a yellow Barracuda.  It was a nice-looking car, and its engine sounded powerful.  But in all honesty, I can't see myself ever owning a classic car like this.  For me, a car is a functional object.  It gets me from point A to point B.  A classic car would be about as useful to me as a classic computer.  Old, obsolete hardware, uncomfortable, poorly ventilated, susceptible to spontaneous fires.  It was almost comical to watch the guy driving the car try to get in a comfortable position in that giant bench seat with no headrest.  He kept himself cool by rolling the windows down.  I wonder what he does when it's in the 90s?  In the 10s?  I appreciate the idea of a classic car.  It's more about the look and the sentimental value.  But honestly, I like my adjustable seat and my headrest. 

That got me thinking:  What antiques would actually be valuable to me?  Most antiques I can think of are functional objects:  Tables, chairs, lamps.  If it's not functional, I would assume it's artsy, and I don't venture into those lands.  I can see the value of antiques if older things were build stronger and made to last.  Certain hand tools, for example, were made to last generations.  And they do.  Hand tools these days are made of cheaper, more readily available materials (e.g. plastic), and the quality isn't nearly what it once was.  But what you gain in durability, you sacrifice in functionality.  I could use a screwdriver from the 1800s, or I could use an electric drill I bought a few years ago.  I could attempt to keep a classic car in running condition, or I could depend on my Toyota Camry.  My Toyota Camry probably won't run in 20 years, but by then, we'll be driving around in personal hovercraft so it won't matter (ha!).  Also, I doubt anyone would want to resurrect a 20-year Camry.  It just doesn't have the same appeal as a typical classic car.  And if antiques are about appeal (visual or psychological), it looks like I won't be getting into them any time soon. #psychology

eBay doesn't always suck (2) Wed, Aug 29, 2007
A few months ago, I was pretty mad at eBay because of the whole sniping thing.  A few recent experiences reminded me that eBay can be a useful service if used properly. 

Since getting a new cell phone, I had been thinking about selling my old one.  After looking at some of the Treo 650s currently being sold on eBay, I was unsure if I could sell mine at all, let alone get a decent price for it.  I decided to try it out and see what happened.  About 15 minutes after I listed it, somebody bought it.  I still don't know why the person bought mine as opposed to any of the other ones listed in better condition and for better prices.  It might've been because I uploaded detailed pictures of it (showing scratches and wear) and I wrote a good description.  But whatever the deciding factor was, I don't really care.  I got a portion of my money back, and it happened through eBay. 

Last week, I was looking around eBay for some accessories for my new phone.  That's when I discovered a great thing:  Because my new Treo 700 is essentially the same shape and uses the same hardware as my older Treo 650, all the accessories are the same.  So the market for Treo accessories is absolutely flooded with 3-4 years of aftermarket products, and many of these products end up on eBay.  It's capitalism at work:  Supply outweighs demand, so prices go down.  All this benefits me, and it makes me conclude that eBay doesn't suck as much as I thought. 

In conclusion, eBay is good for selling things that have a high demand, and for buying things that have a low demand.  Also, I find the Buy It Now option the only way to go.  Buying things through auctions is essentially useless, since you're bound to get outbid by a computer.  eBay should consider changing its focus from auctions to simple marketplaces. #business

Feline portability (2) Tue, Aug 28, 2007
One thing Wendy and I think about every time we travel is that we wish cats were portable.  People brings dogs everywhere:  Car rides, hikes, planes (to an extent).  But cats just aren't portable.  They generally freak out in cars (ours throw up), they run away when they're outside, and I won't even think about taking a cat on a plane.  Our cats are especially unportable because they're inside cats.  Whenever they get a taste of outside, they have a tendency to run away and engage in dangerous activities like rolling around in the street and chasing stray cats.  I suppose if they were raised outside (like the barn cats from when I was a kid), they might be more comfortable in unfamiliar environments like on a trail in the middle of the woods.  But as it is, our cats are little pansies, incapable of travel, even if only to the vet down the street.  To anyone trying to decide between getting a cat or a dog, remember that while dogs slobber and stink, they're much more portable than cats. #nature

Newt Tue, Aug 28, 2007
This little fella is an eastern newt (a type of salamander), found along the Appalachian Trail this weekend in northwest NJ.  He was kind enough to hold still for a few minutes while I took some pictures.  Technically, he's actually called a "red eft" because that's what newts are called when they leave the water and change color. 


Classics (10) Fri, Aug 24, 2007
I have a desire to read some classic works of literature (or at least hear them read to me).  I figure maybe my teenage mind wasn't ready to accept the brilliance contained in the pages of Great Expectations and Moby Dick when I was forced to read them in high school. 

I recently downloaded the audiobook version of Atlas Shrugged.  I listened to the first few hours of it (I think it goes on for about 14,000 hours) and I just wasn't captivated enough to continue listening to it.  I understood the story, I learned about the characters, but something still didn't get through to me.  I realize this book is a little heavy on the artistic aspect of literature, what with the 10-minute long descriptions of peoples' faces and fictional corporate history.  I'm just not interested enough to continue listening. 

I guess the classics won't ever appeal to me.  They sucked when I was 15 and they still suck 10 years later.  So much for growing up. #entertainment

Belated birthday wishes Fri, Aug 24, 2007
I received a card in the mail the other day wishing me a belated happy birthday.  I appreciate the thought.  But my birthday was exactly 4 months ago.  How long after a person's birthday is it no longer acceptable to send belated wishes?  I would say 1 month.  After a month or two, I think it's better to wait till the following year. #sociology

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