Friday, May 30, 2008

5-30-08: Follow-up on "That's a Great Question"

My buddy Scotty came up with a nice addendum to my previous post on the "That's a Great Question" debacle that seems to be spreading.

He pointed out that the phrase is frequently used when the person answering the "great question" has no idea what the answer could, or should, be. This touches upon a separate issue of people being afraid to utter the horribly embarrassing phrase "I don't know." It's amazing how people will actually bullshit for a minute or two, or more, instead of simply saying "Well, you know what, I don't know the answer. But I will find out." It's almost as though all the talking will make them appear smarter. But, it's usually easy to see through. When they start to use catch phrases and cliches, then you know they're bullshitting.

So, in summary, don't be afraid to just say "I don't know." It's easier than you think.

(Side note): If you're bored and want to try tuning into a truly funny radio show, check out the Tony Kornheiser Show. The guy is really funny. I listen to the podcast at work all the time.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

5-29-08: “That’s a Great Question”

Have you ever been at a speech or meeting and heard the following response from a question: "That's a great question," followed by the answer to asked question.


What's the point in this little preface? Why bother complimenting the question? Is it just filler?


I think it is mostly used to buy the person answering the question some time, but there might be some other psychology behind the scenes. Maybe it is used to hide a bad answer. If you say something nice about some one, they might be more likely to accept a mediocre answer.


I think it's a bit wasteful. There really is no purpose to commenting on the question by saying it's a "great one." If it's misleading or loaded, sure, you can make a comment. You could even preface it by saying something about how you might not have the expertise to full answer a question. But saying "that's a great question" doesn't add anything.


The next time some one begins answering one of your questions with "Wow, that's a great question," do every one a favor: interrupt them with "Thanks. I expect a great answer in return."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

5-28-08: Things to Do in DC

I figured it would be a nice change to take a day or two off of the complaining and just give some observations about some spots I visited on the trip to Philadelphia and DC.

This is from the perspective of an engineer in his early 20's. So, if you are reading this as part of a plan for a trip there with your kids and family, be mindful of the perspective.

There's a nice bar in Philadelphia called National Mechanics. It has some weird stuff on the wall, but it's a nice spot. We were there in the mid afternoon on a Saturday, and it wasn't too busy. It has a very interesting selection of beers, including one called "Hoptimus Prime," which is one of the "hoppiest" beers I have ever had, but it was still pretty good. The other one I liked was the Flying Fish. The bartender was a nice Irish woman in her mid 40's.

 As far as DC goes, we went to a couple decent bars. But, on the bus trip back, I was told by a local (a girl in her mid 20's from the DC area who is a grad student at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn) that there are a lot of good spots around the Adams Morgan stop on the DC Metro. The two spots that we liked were Biddy Mulligan's at Dupont Circle and The 51st State around Foggy Bottom. Mulligan's had a bit of an older crowd, but the beer selection was really good and the food was decent. The wait was rather long for the food, though. The 51st State had some interesting local and imported brews, including a dandy red ale called Maudite by Unibroue. The food was not so great, though. Stop in for a beer or two and look at some of the posters on the wall. They had a nice Sinn Fein one.

 Just a couple little bits that might be considered advice:

 -         DC involves a lot of walking. A lot of walking. If the Metro is closed, like at 1:30AM on a Sunday/Monday, get a cab. We walked almost three miles from Dupont Circle back to our hotel. Not fun. I still have blisters. You will do enough walking around the Mall.

-         See the monuments at night. They're really great to see then with the lighting and the crowds are limited. There aren't any kids around then. One of the strangest sights was when we saw all the bats flying around the Washington Monument. It's also a bit cooler at night, which makes for a nicer time.

 On a side note, I watched Fantastic Four 2 last night. Awful. Just awful.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

5-27-08: Trip to DC

I took a little trip down to lovely Washington DC this past weekend with a couple buddies. We took the train down, and made a quick stop in Philadelphia.

Boy, DC sure has changed since I was a kid. I went there a couple years ago, but didn't feel like stopping by the Capitol since I'd seen it before. But my buddy Sam had never been to DC, so we made all the usual tourist stops. We went to the Air and Space Museum, which was neat, especially for a few aerospace engineers. We stopped by the National Archives and waited in line to see the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. But, unlike when I was younger, we couldn't take a tour of the Capitol. It's funny how things have changed.

I understand how things aren't as safe as they used to be, so it is important to protect the buildings. It's just too bad that it's not as easy to see them. You can't take a tour of the White House without an appointment from your congressman, or see the Capitol. I'm just glad I got to tour them when I was younger.

But DC is a place you can go to from time to time to really feel good about being an American. With all the stuff in the news and negative feeling and fear of terrorism, it's nice to walk up to the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial at night, when the light is just right, and feel a little chill go down your spine. Going on Memorial Day weekend is especially nice.

I think the coolest part of the trip was visiting the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. I'd seen it before, but watching the changing of the guard is really something special. But the even better part was the laying of wreaths. They had these middle school kids standing at the top of the steps that go down to the tomb, and the sergeant (I'm guessing) in charge marches up to greet them. The funny part about that is that he was completely perfect in his march up the steps, but when he got up to the top he greeted them with a "What's up?!" It was nice to see that. It made them a bit more human. That was just a cool sight to see.

I hope every one had a nice Memorial Day Weekend. Remember to say a prayer for the troops. They're working long and hard to protect us all.

Friday, May 23, 2008

5-23-08: Campaign Religion

Today I saw a clip on TV of John McCain clarifying an issue that seems to be taking hold during this year's campaign for both parties: religion. Well, not religion as a whole, but more specifically the religious ties of the candidates. This really came into the limelight with the scandal involving Barack Obama's former pastor Jeremiah Wright. This time, it was McCain's turn after comments by a man named Rod Parsley, who has apparently made some serious anti-Semitic remarks.

I couldn't care less, and I actually think McCain's comments were right on the money. Just because somebody endorses your campaign does not mean that you endorse their ideas. There is, however, a bit of political manipulation involved, since McCain did seek out the guy's endorsement back in February. Still, to make the connection that McCain agrees with the pastor's views is a stretch.

This all ties in to another issue: why does this matter? I'm not saying it doesn't. I'm just asking why whatever somebody's former pastor says should hold any ground in a political campaign. I think it's simple: the candidates are so similar that any difference or hiccup is magnified. Let's face it: Obama's and Clinton's policies, as a whole, are not that different. Obama may be a bit more extreme, but his lack of experience will offset any real changes he has planned. So, morality comes into focus. And… what's the easiest way to gauge a candidates moral standing? Religion.

As to why John McCain's moral standing is coming into question, as his patriotism is obviously a non-issue with his military and political record, is most likely due to the mainstream news' "flavor of the week" syndrome. Some nut who endorses McCain says something crazy and all of a sudden it becomes part of McCain's platform. It really makes no sense, and the news is not helping this at all. Unless it is something McCain or a representative of his campaign says, I don't see why it should be attached to his campaign. The same goes for Obama and Clinton. All three have had this, or something similar, happen to them this campaign season (Clinton had a small scandal with a campaign contributor a little while ago), and it all it has become is filler.

How about this: instead of bringing along a whole bunch of irrelevant stories, we focus more on the issues. Yes, this is said all of the time, but it still makes sense. Americans in general have short attention spans, and will shift their focus to something else, no matter how important an issue may be, if they are subjected to a constant barrage of meaningless bullshit. It's human nature. So why not do some real journalism and look into the issues and present more facts so that people actually know what each candidate believes? Take the people who find the goofy stories, teach them how to be real journalists by showing them All the President's Men about four or five times, and then send them off to save the world. There are policy differences between Clinton and Obama that people can find out. It's high time everyone learned them.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

5-21-08: Inrix

While listening to a podcast from today, I heard about a company called Inrix. It heralds itself as the "Leading Provider of Traffic Information," and is trying to partner up with some GPS companies to take route finding to the next level: using real-time traffic information.

I think this is pretty awesome. I'm looking forward to a time when even local traffic is closely monitored to make finding the quickest route from Point A to Point B a snap. Ideally it would give you two options if one route takes less time but has a longer travel distance and the other route is the opposite. They have that option now in most systems, just not with accurate, real-time traffic information.

I'm pretty sure Inrix utilizes a lot of data mining to provide traffic information. It uses mountains of historical data, then takes into account factors like time of day, day of week, and probably weather and season and God knows what else to calculate the best way to get where you want to go.

I work with algorithms all the time, though I myself don't design all of the algorithms. I mostly analyze and test them. But they do fascinate me. I like to figure out ways to use them to make life a little more efficient. I think the most interesting part is just breaking down different aspects of one's everyday life and seeing what would make things a little easier, or at least a bit more fun. Some things are just plain ol' mundane and could be done with less energy. The morning commute is one of them.

I've posted about this specific topic before, and am reminded of it almost daily. The other day I was heading over to meet a college buddy of mine who is starting an internship at my company. He just found a place near my office. I knew vaguely where it was, but I plugged in the address on my Garmin GPS (mostly out of vanity) just so I wouldn't get lost. Sure enough, it took me down some of the main roads, where I ran into traffic. I then drove by a street I knew full well would have saved me 5-10 minutes of time by cutting off most of the traffic. It wasn't quite a direct route, but if the Garmin had taken into account live traffic, I could have saved a few minutes.

Writing that last paragraph sparked a thought: what if every one had one of these? Would the fact that everyone would likely be looking for the faster route disrupt traffic conditions? You could theoretically have a nearly deserted main street and crowded side streets, with people switching to and from the routes. It could be chaos.

But then I thought that, if you factored in historical data into the equation (in what's called a "voting algorithm" in the business), you could avoid the problem. My other thought was that local traffic might not be as big a problem since most people probably wouldn't use GPS once they learned how to get to and from work. GPS systems are used more frequently for unfamiliar travelers.

I would also hope that the system would have ways to avoid the "game theory" sort of scenario described above, where routes would be changed to address traffic from people using the same system, which would change routes again. It's similar to pilot-induced oscillations, where you would constantly be lagging behind in trying to stabilize the system. Perhaps it would simply take into account a "convenience" factor that would stick to one route even if it weren't the 100% best route if it meant not having to worry about changing routes.

What I envision is a system that would use one of two (or even both) methods. The first would be sort of like the Nielsen Ratings system, in that it would randomly use live data gathered from different vehicles and calculate traffic congestion that would be available to all drivers. I think this has some really cool upsides, but many downsides. First, the amount of processing power required is immense, making it almost not worth it. I'm sure within 10 years this won't be a problem as processing power increases so rapidly, so maybe it won't be an issue. Then there's the invasion of privacy issues people would have. The Big Brother fear of being tracked scares a lot of people, which is understandable. But, it would be pretty cool.

The other method would be one where sensors are installed at intersections and on roadways that detect traffic frequency. It would remain anonymous, which might help with the Big Brother problem, and such sensors are already in place. If the police can track people who run red lights, why not let them track traffic conditions? That's poor logic, but I'm sure there's data just like this being collected right now. My guess would be that this system simply needs to be expanded to roads that are susceptible to high traffic conditions.

I think the first system is the ideal one if it were possible to remain anonymous, since less equipment would need to be installed on roadways. In some places it's simply too difficult to install the system, and maintenance might be a problem. The downside is that some roads might not be worth the effort, since if a road is infrequently used there wouldn't be a point in either installing the sensor equipment or taking a "random sample" of a couple cars. There'd have to be a way to keep individual cars anonymous. The second system would likely be the easier to use right now, since such equipment already exists at many major intersections. I think for now we could just stick to what Inrix is doing and use historical data, but we can always dream.

By the way, these posts are time-stamped with dates and all that, so if you do plan on stealing my idea and getting it patented, good luck. Or, if you have already come up with this idea and have yet to patent it, my services are available for a nominal fee.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

5-20-08: Euro 2008

I'm really excited about the upcoming UEFA European Football Championship coming up in a couple of weeks. I've been following soccer pretty regularly, mostly the English Premier League, for a solid year now. I watched a lot of the World Cup two summers ago, which sparked my interest in a sport I played a lot when I was younger.

I think what makes this particular tournament interesting, though not nearly a World Cup, is that I now recognize a lot of the names of players from the teams that qualified. It'd be a lot easier if England had made it, but… that's how it goes. The games will pretty much be on (almost) every day between June 7th and June 29th at either 12:00N or 2:45PM (Eastern). ESPN/ABC is covering all of the games. Some will be on ESPN2, others on ESPN Classic. The final on June 29th will be on ABC.

If you're even the least bit interested in the sport (e.g. you watched some of the World Cup), I strongly encourage you to watch some of the games. Here are the ones I have marked on my calendar:

Sunday, June 8th: Germany vs. Poland @ 2:45PM ET on ESPN2
Tuesday, June 17th: France vs. Italy @ 2:45PM ET on ESPN (World Cup Final rematch)
Sunday, June 29th: Final @ 2:45PM on ABC

You can find the schedule for all games here.

Should be a blast.

Monday, May 19, 2008

5-19-08: Another No Hitter

I remember last September watching Clay Buchholz make history, and really thought I witnessed something special.

Then tonight happened. Same venue. Same result. Different pitcher.

Jon Lester, who has already been crowned a hero after recovering from cancer to win the deciding Game 4 of the 2007 World Series, became a part of an exclusive club by pitching a no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals tonight. It was a really special moment, and I'm really happy for the guy. I know I'm just a fan, and it's just a game, but sometimes it's more. Tonight is one of those moments where it means more than just balls and strikes.

Awesome job, Jon.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

ING Direct (shameless plug)

I've had an account with them for years and didn't see this video until today.

(Side note: Let me know if you plan on signing up for a new account. They give out referral bonuses to both parties.)

5-18-08: Potential to Consume

Did you ever wonder what the point is to making a whole lot of money? This is something that's been discussed by many, many people many, many times, so you're not likely to read anything new in this blog post.

So what I'd like to do is to just share a couple observations:

It seems like most people understand that money does not necessarily provide happiness, which is good. But many people seem to value others by their monetary wealth. Isn't that odd? Most people want to be happy. They realize money won't necessarily get them there. But... to be considered elite, all you need to do is make a whole lot of money.

I think another way to refer to monetary wealth is "potential to consume." I think it taps into the primal nature of most people. They see some one with more potential to consume the same resources, and it's simple jealousy. It does not necessarily mean they are jealous of another's happiness, though. Sure, you can easily be jealous of another person's happiness, but that frequently has nothing to do with that person's monetary wealth. Some of the happiest people I know almost never mention money.

But I also think there is a key difference to being a "materialist" and trying to achieve the most potential to consume. Materialism is a part of that, of course. It's more of an end result. Some one who is materially wealthy has stuff that they might not use to consume further. Art is a great example. Most people hold on to it, so it does not directly affect their potential to consume. Monetary wealth is an easy indicator of this potential, and it's also easy to see from the outside. Net worth does take into account other forms of possession, but people want to know how many figures are on your paycheck.

I'm not saying this is wrong, either. I just think some parts of this are odd. There is an obvious disconnect between one's happiness and one's potential to consume; I'm not trying to make the connection here, since I don't really see any logical connection to make. Many advertising agencies have tried many different methods to make this connection. One of my favorites is from the cover of a gun magazine, made famous by a songwriter named John Lennon in a song called "Happiness is a Warm Gun."

Friday, May 16, 2008 Freakonomics: The Perils of Free Coffee

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OPINION   | May 16, 2008
Freakonomics: The Perils of Free Coffee
Stephen J. Dubner
As prices go, “free” is an interesting one. Dan Ariely plays with the idea in his book Predictably Irrational, as does Seth Godin — and Chris Andersen has gone so far as to suggest that “$0.00 is the Future of Business.” There are, of course, a lot of different kinds of “free.” Giving away a [...]

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

5-15-08: Natural Disasters

It seems like nature is fighting back a bit recently. With the terrible earthquake in China, the cyclone in Burma, and tornadoes all across the midwestern United States, it's not looking too promising for humanity in general. Oh well, we had a good run.

Joking aside, doesn't it seem funny how, since the Katrina disaster, one of the first things that comes up in the news is the response time and breadth of the government in the affected country? China caught a lot of flack from the international community with the bad weather last winter; Burma's junta is getting nailed every day because people think they're too paranoid; the Federal Government is still hearing it about Katrina. It seems so rare that people are praising governments for their responses. I think the only recent disaster that resulted in satisfactory government response was the tsunami in Southeast Asia a few years back.

I don't know if this is a recent trend or it has always been like this, so far as people jumping on governments for not responding well to disasters. Maybe it's just that the critics are more easily heard nowadays, or maybe it just helps to get better ratings. I'm sick of it, to be honest. These are called disasters for a reason: they're unexpectedly devastating. Of course governments and aide workers will have a tough time helping the victims. It's not like they're deliberately ignoring people.

I think this is probably more of an issue in America than anywhere else. We seem to have become a society that lives by the motto "sue first, ask questions later." Everything is a criticism. Everything needs to be perfect. Please, just relax. I know things can always be better, but it doesn't mean you need to call some paranoid military men in Burma "the Devil." Sure, they're probably not the best thing for their country, but they've been in power for quite a while now.

I think it's great that so many people want to help the victims in China and Burma, don't get me wrong. I think it's awesome that the Chinese are actually allowing Japanese aide workers to come in and help. There are positive signs in all of this, which is encouraging. But blindly blaming a government for not predicting such a disaster is not constructive. God forbid something like that ever happens where you live. Just say a quick prayer for the poor souls who have lost family, friends, their homes... everything. Don't blame a person or a government or a culture for a natural disaster. Shit happens. Stay positive.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

5-14-08: The Florida and Michigan Debate

I was going to make a post about government response times during natural disasters, but I saw an interesting video today about the whole Michigan and Florida Democratic Convention debacle. I forget the name of the program, but the host basically goes through some of the facts behind the story about how Florida and Michigan have been denied representation at the upcoming Democratic National Convention because they violated DNC rules (agreed to by all Democratic Presidential candidates well in advance) and moved up their primaries.

The interesting part of the video is when Chuck Schumer (a Clinton supporter) takes a shot at Obama by saying (something like): "Candidates take advantage of the situation that benefits them," and shrugs off any notion that any wrong-doing was done. I'm not saying Clinton cheated, but isn't his point a bit odd in this case? One could also make the argument that Clinton might be taking advantage of the fact that she had been given favorable results in the two states (well, Obama wasn't even on the Michigan ballot, and neither candidate campaigned in Florida). Obama can easily take the higher ground and say "I'm just keeping my promise that I would follow the agreed-upon DNC rules" (which Clinton also agreed to).

Why is she changing her mind? Of course, she'll say it's because she believes in the power of democracy, and that people deserve a chance to be heard. But... she's also saying she doesn't feel like playing by the rules. She's a rule-changing supporter. Do you want that sort of policy being administered by your next President? Come on, Democrats, you can't be serious. I know Hillary is a smart and powerful woman, and has done a lot in her career. You'd hope she'd be above this sort of thing. Though I don't support his policies, I'm going to side with Obama on this particular issue. Rules are rules, Hill-Dawg. You can't fairly call President Bush a Constitution-bashing totalitarian if you can't even follow your own party's rules.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

5-13-08: Ballot Bowl 2008

My soon-to-be famous bike-riding buddy Scotty and I were talking the other day at lunch about how sick we were of Ballot Bowl 2008 (a.k.a. CNN's coverage of the current election).

There are a few key reasons why this particular election has gotten really old:

1) It started way too early. How long has it been, 18 months? Two babies could have been born in that timeframe. And the Democrats don't even have a candidate yet. I remember all the excitement leading up to Iowa, then New Hampshire, then Super Tuesday. And that was in February. It seemed like it had lasted forever then.

2) Everything is over-hyped. Even hype itself is now over-hyped. Even the previous sentence, the best one ever, is over-hyped. Today was the West Virginia primary. Now, I know people from West Virginia, and they're great people, but I really wasn't chomping at the bit to see their returns. I figured it would be a Clinton victory, but that didn't stop the media from making it out to be the most important political event since the Magna Carta. Please, people, keep things in context.

3) Too many obsolete sports analogies. Ballot Bowl? Come on. The Super Bowl was months ago (fortunately). College bowl games ended 4.5 months ago. Why stick with the "bowl" theme? What are you going to say next, that Hillary is "fourth and long with seconds left on the clock"? Does Obama have a good defensive line? How's his running back? It's a bit ridiculous. While we're at it, why not go with a baseball theme? Shit, it could be sponsored by MLB. You could call it the World Series of Politics. It would be right after the World Series of Poker in the dictionary. At the very least, it might get some free advertisement that way; sort of like people dialing a wrong number.

It's scary when I admit that I'm almost looking forward to seeing another debate featuring John McCain. Yikes.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

5-10-08: Slow Down, Save Gas

What really bugs me about this whole "energy crisis" is that many people complain about high gas prices, but really don't do anything about it. There are simple ways to save money on gas that don't adversely affect your life.

One thing to do is to just slow down a little bit. You don't need to floor it everywhere you go. I still see a lot of people driving around like they're late to something, even though they probably just drive like that anyway. Slowing down saves gas, which in turn saves you money. Plus, you get to enjoy the scenery a bit more. Please, slow down.

And, try to keep the quick acceleration and deceleration to a minimum. You really don't need to slam on the brakes and stay right on the bumper of the car in front of you, especially in city traffic. It's just stupid. Try to be a bit more considerate to others and you'll both save yourself some money, and maybe you'll even feel a bit better for being nice.

It's about taking it easy, folks.

If I forget to post tomorrow, have a Happy Mother's Day.

Friday, May 9, 2008

5-9-08: This Might Blow Your Mind

There's a concept out there that I've heard of but don't remember the name. I've tried entering stuff on Google to find out, to no avail. Basically, it's a combination of physics, pseudo-science, philosophy, and religion. I like to refer to it as the Relative Order Theory. It's actually more of an observation, and this is in no way a real scientific theory.

What this concept consists of is a belief that we are living in a world that is mostly chaos, but we somehow find order in it. Many people, myself included, treat this order as a sort of Divine Intervention. I've often thought, either while driving or on a hike, of how wonderful it is that airplanes don't randomly fall out of the sky, and that natural disasters like the tragedy in Burma are relatively rare.

This probably sounds insane to most people, but it's an interesting concept. I really started to think about it more and more when I read more about quantum theory and how many physical laws aren't really true at the sub-atomic level. Things can be in two places at once. We never really "touch" anything because the electrons repel each other. It's all relative. And, it's all in your head.

Which leads to the wonder of it all. How is it that we can function in such relative stability, with things going on around us that we are either unaware of or simply cannot control? Most people take it for granted, but sometimes I just look around and try to observe some of the smaller things.

I think this also involves something I call "natural vanity" in people. Man-made global warming proponents seem to exhibit some of this. We humans think we determine how everything works. It's part of our psyche. If it's not in our control, then it's some one else's fault. Did you ever notice that? It happens to me all the time. It's either my fault or another person's fault. Few people are mature, or wise, enough to not blame something on another person when it's probably not their fault.

But then again, it usually is some one's fault. People put themselves in situations, and it's ultimately their fault for being there (unless it's obviously some nut who randomly intervenes from out of nowhere). But that's also the issue: people naturally associate fault with any action or event. That concept is part of our normal operation, so it's only natural that we associate fault with all natural occurrences. Well, not all, but most. It can drive people insane.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

5-7-08: White Lies

Have you ever been in one of those really awkward situations where you had to lie to a friend or family member about something to avoid worsening the situation? I'm not talking about anything major, though, just a weird little "white lie" situation? Aren't those a bitch? I hate 'em.

Well, I was thinking while gassing up today about something, which I have since completely forgotten about, but it was probably about whether or not it's the job of a true friend to lie about the little things. Not necessarily the entire job; just part of it. Is it really the right thing to do as a friend?

Part of my reason for asking is this: who else would tell you the honest truth? You might say "a perfect stranger wouldn't be afraid to tell you," but I would contest that the complete opposite is more likely to occur. When is the last time some one you had never met before gave you a straight and honest answer? Sure, they might be more likely to insult you or something, but how is even that the truth? People are more likely to avoid the situation, seeing as how they are complete strangers, and just pass off with a white lie. But... that's the issue. Where can you find the honest truth?

What I'm trying to do is to teach you about one of my peculiar personality traits. Some have called it a flaw, but they're idiots. There I go again. Sorry.

What I like to do, and this is only with good friends, is be honest with them at inopportune moments. No, I don't seek to embarrass them; I just give them the honest truth in a way in which they will remember, or at least pay attention to, more easily. Take, for example, last Friday. I was at a pretty good bar in South Norwalk with a few high school buddies, one of whom happened to be the girl I dated my senior year of high school. We were having a fun time, then this band came on and played incredibly loudly right in front of us (since we were at the bar right in front of the small stage). After a while I grew tired of the music. When asked by the girl I used to date if I was bored, I replied: "Yes. Yes I am."

I wasn't really bored. I just didn't want to get any more deaf listening to cover songs of bands I don't like. So, it was a white lie told to gain a non-white-lie result. Is that really a white lie? I guess by definition... it isn't.

I refer to this as Tactical Semi-Selfish Truth Telling, or TSSTT for you acronym fans. I just made that up, actually, but I'm sure it will make its way on to any day now. I've found that, if used sparingly, TSSTT can be quite useful. It's best to be used only in situations where offending some one is not an issue, which is usually up to your own conscience or aptitude for feeling guilty. I've told people they were self-centered out of the blue in order for them to stop talking. It does the trick, but they're usually too shocked, and in denial, to do anything constructive. Mission accomplished.

I see this as more of a bullshit-avoidance method, too. People may say they hate bullshit, but most of the time, that itself is bullshit. Everybody hates it, otherwise it would probably have a better nickname. If it was cool, maybe it would be golden-goose shit or something along those lines. Bulls are incredibly disliked creatures. Why else would they have entire sports derived around humiliating them?

Anyway, the point is that I don't think every one should use only white lies to help out their friends. Sometimes they just need a good dose of truth. They may hate you, but you're being a true friend to them. But don't be a jerk about it. That's one more thing, along with bullshit, that the world could do without.

By the way, congratulations again on making nationals, Scotty.

Monday, May 5, 2008

5-5-08: Cinco de Mayo!

I think Cinco de Mayo is one of those rare non-American holidays that is probably celebrated more in the United States than in any other country, including Mexico. Not celebrated as hard, just celebrated by more people. That's a toss-up, though. I'm just guessing by population size, since the U.S. has about three times as many people. Even if only half of the U.S. population celebrated (by at least saying "Happy Cinco de Mayo"), and the entire population of Mexico celebrated in a similar or more grandiose way, we'd have them beat. Take that, NAFTA!

Either way, I just got back from lunch (I am at a MATLAB Simulink training session off-site in an office park in Trumbull at a place called New Horizons). I had leftover Mexican from last night. Great burrito.

Happy Cinco de Mayo, amigos. Vaya con Dios.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

5-3-08: Why You Shouldn't Go Out and Buy Gas "Before It Goes Up"

About a week or two ago I was having a conversation with some of my co-workers on the high cost of gasoline. It's something I'm sure thousands of people were doing at the exact same time. It's a pain for every one.

Towards the end of the conversation, one of my co-workers jokingly said "It almost makes sense to just go out and fill up now before the price goes up tomorrow!"

That got me thinking: does that really make sense?

The Law of Supply and Demand holds true in every free market, making it also true in oil and gasoline. Despite all the influence a weak dollar or outrageous speculation may have, supply and demand still play a major role in determining the price of gasoline. That's why prices go up in the "driving season," which starts later this month. The more people drive, the higher the cost. It's simply due to higher demand.

So let's say the price goes to $3.90 a gallon next week or the week after, which is very likely since it's damn near that right now. People will freak out and say "Oh God I need to buy gas before it hits $4.00 a gallon!" So, many people, who do not need to fill up necessarily, go out and fill up the rest of their tank.

What happens? Well, supply and demand takes hold. Depending on how widespread the "buy it sooner than later" mentality is, this method will artificially drive up the cost of gas because all the oil companies see is a rise in demand. They don't care why this is happening; they just see that people are buying gas left and right. Maybe the companies think it's an early start to the driving season, who knows. What happens once more people than normal gas up in a short span of time is that it appears as if the demand has gone up (which it technically has since so many people want to buy gas), and the price is raised as a result. It's basically a self-fulfilling prophecy (pardon the pun).

The moral of the story is: if every one stayed calm and bought gas when they needed it, and didn't go out and "panic buy" to beat the market, the likely result is that the gas prices will stay lower for longer. Once you start buying more for no particular reason, it only accelerates things and we get caught up in a vicious cycle of higher and higher gasoline prices until people simply stop driving.

Nuclear power anyone?

Friday, May 2, 2008

5-2-08: Absolute Power

I was watching V for Vendetta the other night and began thinking of all the similar dystopia-themed books and films I've read and watched, like 1984, Equilibrium, and Fahrenheit 451 (just to name a few; I also loved Blade Runner). I began to wonder what the point was of creating such a society, or why it continued to function.

Then I forgot about it for a couple days until I parked my car and walked into the Fairfield University library, where I am currently typing this blog entry. I thought of a goofy, but possibly realistic, philosophy: what if human nature eventually took over anyway? What I mean is, let's say you have a perfectly free society, a pseudo-Utopia where people are free to act practically with no laws to prevent them from doing anything they wish. People are perfectly free to speak their minds, but let's say, for argument's sake, that they are forbidden to murder (let's make that the only rule).

How long would such a society last before utter chaos ruled? People are bound to disagree; it's human nature. People would eventually split and factionalize, just like in The Lord of the Flies, for the purpose of survival. A society that started off well eventually became split into warring groups.

Now let's say you have a dystopia, where Big Brother rules over you. You are miserable, but you are at least safe from physical harm. You really have no choice in what you do, but every one is pretty much the same. Nobody is at war, because nobody really cares anymore. They just want to survive.

There are obvious differences between these two scenarios, but one thing is very much in common: humanity's need to survive. Whatever twisted, totalitarian approach is taken by power hungry leadership, they are enabled by that society out of fear, and a need to survive.

Now, this isn't to say it has to be this way. There is definitely the possibility to find a comfortable middle ground, which is what modern society is struggling day in and day out to find. Some like a few more rules, some like a few less, but we all function under the same human nature. I like to look at the similarities between groups, the ones they refuse to acknowledge. When I see a story on the Isrealis fighting off Palestinian freedom-fighters (or terrorists, whatever floats your boat), I try to take a step back and look at how both of them are essentially fighting for the same reason. Oftentimes it will lead to a mutual hatred that seemingly cannot be eliminated, only controlled.

But do people really want a Utopia? I'd contest that we really don't. Whenever I hear some one say "I just want world peace," I wonder what they mean by it. Some say world peace means "Nobody fighting against any one else." But then I just say "Well, that's your opinion, but I doubt every one on the West Bank feels the same way." Some people just want to see another race of people wiped out. So, in the quest for world peace, how does that factor in?

What I essentially believe is that relativism is a falsehood, which is something the Pope mentioned frequently in his recent visit to the United States. What I mean by relativism is the mentality that everything is simply from a certain point of view, that things need to be taken in context. Bullshit. People who think like that all the time are merely hiding their true feelings. And I'm not saying this has to be a conscious thing. People who say "Well if you look at it from their point of view," you are simply revealing your own bias. People are naturally biased, so "relativism" is just a way to hide how you feel. Sure, it can be a good idea to try to figure out how people think about a certain thing, but you have to be able to tell right from wrong. Otherwise, after a while, you'll find yourself living in a hell on Earth and wondering where things went wrong.