Sunday, June 29, 2008

6-28-08: Good Movie; Bad Movie

I watched two movies this weekend. One was in a tiny theatre, which was neat, and the other was at home via Pay Per View.

The first movie was called Mongol. It's a foreign film featuring Asian actors and directed and produced by a Russian named Sergei Bodrov. It is about the early life of Genghis Khan, known in the movie as Temudgin. It's an interesting, well-made movie that featured excellent cinematography and very good acting. It starts from the time when Temudgin was a child and son of a Khan, or leader in Mongol. His father is poisoned, and Temudgin goes through a series of trials to become the great leader Genghis Khan. It is the first of an epic trilogy, and I can't wait to see the other two.

The second movie I saw came out a short while ago. It was National Treasure: Book of Secrets, the sequel to the popular movie featuring Nicolas Cage. Book of Secrets featured a great cast, including Ed Harris and Helen Mirren among others. The plot revolves around a post-Civil War conspiracy involving the ancestor of Benjamin Gates, played by Nicolas Cage. They seek to prove his innocence in the plot to assassinate President Lincoln. Despite the cool scenery and decent action scenes, I wasn't too impressed. I'm pretty sure Cage was wasted during the filming of it, or else the director, Jon Turteltaub, just felt like having Cage be as silly as possible during some scenes. The plot had some holes in it, which are forgiveable since it's not based on real events, but it just didn't seem to make any sense. The first film was a bit closer to reality. This one just seemed rushed and unpolished. They did, however, leave it open for a third one, which I don't think I will see.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

6-28-08: Euro Final

After a month of breathtaking action, tomorrow is the big day: the Final. Spain vs. Germany.

I'm going to be watching the match with a friend of mine, who happens to be of German descent. I'm neither Spanish nor German; I'm just looking forward to a good game.

As far as a guess goes, I've got Spain winning 2-1.

Make sure to catch the game. It will be on ABC at 2:45 Eastern.

Friday, June 27, 2008

6-27-08: The Economics of Tipping the Pizza Guy

For a few years, starting my senior year in high school and continuing during school breaks in college, I worked at a small, non-chain pizza shop. It was an interesting job, with interesting people. Most of the job involved delivering food to customers. It didn't pay too well most of the time, unless I was tipped well. Then, money could be pretty decent. The only real highlight was that I could listen to baseball games on the radio while working. That wasn't too bad. Free food helped, too.

Delivering pizza is a dull job, and can be more strenuous than you think. Over time, you get better at it. You just need to learn the routine and memorize the major roads in town. My pizza shop delivered to three towns, and covered quite a substantial area for a rural/suburban setting. During hot weather it could be pretty brutal, and traffic could suck. Most of the drivers gave it their all to get to the house as quickly as possible.

The most frustrating part of the job was when drivers weren't tipped because the customer assumed it was the driver's fault that an order arrived later than anticipated. The employee taking the order over the phone usually gave an estimated time of arrival, and sometimes they weren't paying attention and would day "30-35 minutes," when it was obvious that most of the orders weren't leaving the store until 30 minutes after being called in.

I was a driver who also took orders when I wasn't on the road, so I defended my fellow drivers. I would go so far as to call the customers of any late orders (which were quite common during busy times) letting them know that the driver had just left with the order. The employees who worked the phones and didn't drive didn't get it and frequently asked why it was such a big deal. I always gave the "getting stiffed by the customer is a really bad time" sort of response. My boss, the owner, also didn't get it sometimes, and would deliberately tell those taking phone orders to limit the time. I think he thought customers would rather hear a shorter time of delivery than an honest one. It didn't cost him anything. It only cost the drivers.

So, here are the economics of why you should always, always tip the driver (unless of course he is outwardly rude to you):

First, most drivers rely heavily on tips. Most don't get paid per delivery, and receive a meager hourly wage. Tips are everything.

Second, they're taking food from the store to your home. They are showing an effort. They usually have to look at a map, figure out the best way to get there (sometimes making multiple deliveries), find your house (which can be quite difficult if you decide not to put a number anywhere), and fight traffic on the way over.

Third, gas is expensive. When I stopped delivering pizza, it was ~ $2.25 per gallon. It's twice as expensive now, and that was less than three years ago. It's getting to a point where it is costing drivers money to make a delivery if they get stiffed.

Most importantly, if you do not tip the driver, it can become a problem for all parties involved.
Let me give you a scenario from my experience:

I was on a delivery to a house that was difficult to find. There was no number on it, and I drove by it a couple times before finally correctly guessing it was the house I was looking for. I was maybe 5 minutes later than anticipated, mostly because the delivery was the second one made on a two-delivery run. The customer, for whatever reason, decided to point that out, and said they weren't going to tip me because "I could have picked it up myself in less time." My response, knowing full well I wasn't going to get anything out of it, was simply "That's probably true. Sorry to waste your time."

Economics is all about incentives. What would my incentive be to hustle more the next time I made a delivery to that house? Not much, knowing if I was even a minute late it wouldn't matter. So, what ended up happening was, whenever a delivery order popped up to that house, I always made sure that house was on a multiple-delivery run so as to not waste my time and effort. It's a form of spreading the risk. That house was a known risk. The other house on the delivery run might not be so bad, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt and always went there first. The result was often that I got to the house later than usual, and was either stiffed or tipped poorly. If that customer was lucky enough to get me on the phone when the order was made, I always mentioned how the delivery times would be long that night (even if we weren't exactly at our busiest), and suggested that it might take less time for them to get their food if they came in. They always, sarcastically, said "No thanks, I'd like it delivered." That was just ammunition for me when the one time I took the order and delivered it, when they gave the same "It could have taken me less time to pick it up myself." My response then: "Sir, I took the order. I gave you the option, letting you know full well it would take a while. You still said no. This time, it's your own fault. Thanks for the $1.50. Have a nice day."

The guy stared at me while I walked away and said "I'm going to call the manager!" I stopped, turned around, and said (honestly): "Sir, I am the manager for tonight. I'll call you back when I get back to the store and read the message."

They never called again.

You might ask "So where are those economics you hinted at earlier?" Here you go:

- Stiffing me the first time pissed me off and made me re-order my delivery priorities. I had no incentive to get to that house earlier.
- Continually stiffing me, and consequently being disingenuous, led me to prove to the customer that they were actually just lazy.
- Stupidly pointing out the customer's own laziness (hey, I'm only human) caused them to not order from the pizza place again.

So, you see, it cost all parties involved in the end. The funny part is, the exact opposite scenario is more common. Good tippers got special treatment from drivers. Their orders went out earlier, got there faster, and the drivers were often very friendly. Those customers, in turn, were often happier, and were more likely to order food from my pizza place.

In summary, always tip the pizza guy. Or, do what I do, and pick your order up. I do that because I don't trust delivery guys after experiencing the hell they sometimes go through to get the food to your door.

Thursday, June 26, 2008 Goal: Henry Turns the Tide for Steve Nash's Squad

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This is pretty cool. I think I'll take a half day and go to the next one.

SPORTS   | June 26, 2008
Goal: Henry Turns the Tide for Steve Nash's Squad
Joshua Robinson
It took his side going 2-0 down for Thierry Henry to click into gear. But when he did, the result was devastating. He scored twice and provided the attacking flair for Steve Nash’s team, wearing yellow, in their 9-4 victory over Claudio Reyna’s blue-clad side in Wednesday night’s charity pickup game in Chinatown’s Roosevelt Park. “The boys [...]

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008 Freakonomics: Why Do You Lie? The Perils of Self-Reporting

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OPINION   | June 23, 2008
Freakonomics: Why Do You Lie? The Perils of Self-Reporting
Stephen J. Dubner
I am always surprised at how easily, and cheaply, we humans lie. Have you ever been in a conversation about, say, a particular book and been tempted to say you’ve read it even though you haven’t? I am guessing the answer is yes. But why would anyone bother to lie in such a low-stakes situation? The book lie [...]

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

6-24-08: RIP George Carlin

For those who haven't heard, George Carlin, renowned funny man, died on Sunday at the age of 71. I've read a few of his books, and watched several of his stand-up specials. Of all the comedians out there, I put him right at the top. He was easily the funniest, cleverest, and most impressive performer in all of comedy.

What I liked most about George was how his humor could be transported across all media. Though he was truly funniest on stage, his albums and books had their own charm. A lot of comedians rely on timing. George just needed a smart crowd. He might have been crass, crude, and sometimes disgusting, but it was all funny. He bent the rules, and in doing so created new ones. He deliberately found the line, crossed it, and pointed out how there probably shouldn't have been a line there in the first place! And all with a smile at the end.

I never met George Carlin, or saw him live, but some of his observations have had small effects on my life. I see certain things he's written or spoken about, and apply some of his skepticism to them. If anything, it makes life a bit more interesting. I've derived quite a bit of my own humor from George.

On my way to class last night I heard a snippet of an interview he did on NPR's "Fresh Air" several years ago:

"In the first world war, that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was seventy years ago. Then a whole generation went by and the second world war came along and very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn't seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock! Battle fatigue. Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison Avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion. Hey, were up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It's totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car. Then of course, came the war in Viet Nam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it's no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder. Still eight syllables, but we've added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder. I'll bet you if we'd of still been calling it shell shock, some of those Viet Nam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I'll betcha. I'll betcha."

We'll all miss you, George.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

6-22-08: "A lot of run-around for an iPod Shuffle"

It's not often I post a story about something I've done or gone through, but this particular story (which is still ongoing) is semi-humorous:

A few weeks ago I stupidly left my iPod Shuffle in the washing machine. It was a gift from a close friend, and I had it for about a year. I felt pretty bad about it, but I'm keeping it for sentimental value, though it no longer works.

After a week of letting it dry and it not working, I determined that it would probably just be best to fork over the $50 and buy a new one. So, I went onto the Apple Store and ordered a new one. I wanted an exact replacement: Green, 1 GB, with my e-mail address engraved on the back. Nothing too tricky.

A few days later I get an iPod Shuffle in the mail (after waiting an extra day because the package needed an indirect signature). I opened it up, and the color didn't look quite green. It was, in fact, a blue iPod Shuffle. I wasn't really peeved about it, but it wasn't what I ordered, so I called up Apple Support to get a new one. The guy on the phone was great, and told me to just ship back the wrong one and I'd be getting a new one in the mail. So, I packed up the one they sent me and shipped it back (they gave me a shipping label).

A day or so later, I see a charge on my credit card for ~ $50. I wasn't sure exactly why, so I called up Apple to ask if I was in any danger of having to pay the 10% restocking fee. I wasn't expecting to, since it wasn't a return so much as it was a defective item. The guy on the phone, again very polite, told me not to worry about it. On top of that, he told me the iPod Shuffle that was on its way wasn't what I ordered (it had no engraving). I said "No big deal, so long as it's the right color."

Package arrived. I got another blue one. With no engraving.

So I called up Apple Support yet again, and was on the phone with a great guy named Gary, from the Bronx. Gary, who I would guess was in his 50's, was extremely helpful, and almost seemed more upset about me getting the wrong iPod Shuffle in the mail twice than I was! Anyway, after talking to Gary for a while about New York and such, he tells me I can keep the one they sent me and they'd just ship me a new one. I was surprised and delighted.

Then yesterday I get an e-mail with a new shipping label for the (second) blue one they sent me. Confused, I called Apple Support today to find out why they would tell me to keep it and yet send me a shipping label. I spoke with another guy, who was yet again very polite (Apple Support is pretty darn good), who told me not to worry about the charges on the credit card, and that I shouldn't have been charged in the first place. He then told me to ship the one they most recently sent me back, just so I won't get charged for it. As a very kind gesture, he told me Apple would send me another iPod Shuffle. His comment was "Seems to be a lot of run-around for an iPod Shuffle." I laughed and said: "Yep, but I think it's just karma coming back at me for leaving my old one in the washing machine." He laughed.

So, it's been about 10 days, and I'm without my green iPod Shuffle. One can only wonder what I'll be getting in the mail this week. The funny part is, I'm almost enjoying the process in some odd way.

Friday, June 20, 2008

6-20-08: Teenage Pregnancy in Gloucester

Pretty disturbing news out of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Apparently, a group of girls, none over the age of 16, from Gloucester High School, made a pact to all get pregnant at around the same time. The story stems from an investigation made into a mysterious spike in teen pregnancies at the high school. This year, there were 17 pregnant female students at that school, and about half of them were involved in this pact. Protests were waged by school officials, and the town is in a bit of an uproar. The normal rate of pregnancy at the school was four per year. My high school averages around two (none back in my senior year).

I first heard of the story from a friend, but was quite surprised to hear it discussed on The Tony Kornheiser Show today. Mr. Tony was pretty much spot on with his comments. He basically questioned the motives of the girls and wondered what would possess a group of girls to make a pact to do something like this. They're obviously too young to be able to support a child, and it only puts a burden on the family if they decide to keep the baby. They just seemed to be desperate to get pregnant, which is scary. One of them allegedly slept with a homeless man to keep her end of the pact. It's deeply disturbing to me.

Christopher Farmer, Superintendent, told WBZ-TV, that most of the girls involved in the pact had low self-esteem and "wanted love in their lives." They almost hoped that the babies would love them without question. It seems that all of them severely lack any foresight.

It's strange timing that I should hear about this story today. Last night I began reading Freakonomics, a book by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (who also are behind the Freakonomics blog). The first chapter told the story of Norma L. McCorvey, later known as Jane Roe. Back in 1970, McCorvey, a poor, uneducated, unskilled, alcoholic, drug-abusing single woman, found herself pregnant. McCorvey was living in Dallas, Texas, where it was illegal to seek an abortion. What ended up as the story of one woman became a national phenomenon, when in 1973, Roe v. Wade was settled in the Supreme Court in favor of Roe. Abortion was legalized nationwide.

Dubner and Levitt contest that Roe v. Wade was more than just a moral issue of pro-life advocates vs. abortion supporters. It was, in fact, the likely cause of the decline of the teenage crime rate in the mid 1990's. How? Do the math. A child born in the mid to late 1970's, when abortion became much more widespread, would have reached his or her late teens in the mid 1990's. For example, a boy born in 1975 would turn 18 in 1993. What would the likelihood have been for him to become a criminal had he been born in a poor family to a single mother who couldn't afford the child? What if that child hadn't been born at all? It's simple population control.

I'm not saying abortion would solve the world's problems. I'm not even advocating it in one broad stroke. I don't think it should be up to the Federal Government either way. I just think this particular story about desperate high school girls, who need anything in their lives except for an innocent child, reminds people that there are cases where the child's well-being should take precedence. I also won't go so far as some in the Gloucester community are going in saying that the girls should be force fed morning-after pills (that seems to be an even bigger moral issue). I just think the parents need to be more involved in showing their daughters that a baby is not a fad or a sign of maturity. It's a fucking baby.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

6-19-08: Alternative Transportation

With the high price of gas these days, a lot of people seem to be seeking alternative means of transportation. I've even considered taking a bicycle AND train to work, though right now that's not really feasible. I'd need to move closer to the train to even attempt that. But, it's doable.

This goes back to the phrase "necessity is the mother of invention." People really need to get creative to save money on getting to and from work. It might not be necessary, but it does help save some bucks. That's why I think it's neat to see blogs like the Streetsblog. It's just interesting to see when people think outside the box a little bit.

I'm planning on taking my bike to work one day, probably in the late summer or in the fall. I live 8.5 miles, via back roads, away from the office, so it's really not too bad. I just need to get the bike serviced. I haven't really ridden it for years. But, the office has a gym with showers, and a bike rack in the garage. Why not?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

6-18-08: The Celtics

I'll premise this by saying that I am not a huge basketball fan. I tolerate basketball in short spurts. I watched a bit of the NCAA Tournament and the NBA this season, mostly because the Celtics had a great season. So, if this appears like a bandwagon jumping post, it's because it partly is.

My first memory of seeing a professional sporting event was seeing Larry Bird play at the old Boston Garden with my dad. I was very young. All I really remember is how loud the buzzer was, and that it was constantly going off. But, I loved watching Larry Bird. I would always pretend to shoot like him when I shot hoops. I was, however, very untalented and am a poor basketball player. But I grew up watching the Celtics.

So, when the Celtics won last night, I watched the entire game. It was incredible. I asked my dad, who has followed the team since his childhood (though, like me, not nearly as closely as the Red Sox or Bruins), if he would rather have seen the game stay close, or stay a blow-out. He immediately went for the blow-out score like last night. I tend to agree.

I think the problem with the NBA playoffs is how predictable they are. Well, maybe not the Finals, but a lot of people had the Celtics playing the Lakers for months. With baseball, hockey, and football, you don't always get that. But, playoff basketball is still entertaining, and watching Paul Pierce, who has been in basketball hell for the past few years, finally win, was just great to see. I don't think they'll repeat next year, or in the next few years, but it's still great to see them win again.

It's just too bad the city is so jaded now with winning.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

6-17-08: Has the Internet Caused the Extinction of “Know-it-alls”?

I'm what you might call a classic rock geek. I grew up listening to a lot of it because my dad would always tune into classic rock stations. I think a lot of kids my age had the same experience; I just hung on to it. So, despite my having lost a bit of the edge since, I knew almost every classic rock song (title and artist) on the radio, in high school.

But with the internet spreading rapidly to mobile devices, is my strange hobby of classic rock geekdom worth it any more? With a few clicks (or touch pad touches) on a mobile device like an iPhone, one could look up the lyrics to any song and know pretty much everything they'd like to know about it, in a matter of seconds to minutes. Sitting around committing useless facts of information to memory is simply not as cool as it used to be.

But has the internet really caused the extinction of smug "know-it-alls" in general? I'm thinking along the lines of incentives. People are know-it-alls to be smug and arrogant. Trust me, I know. I am one. I am indeed better than you. Ha. Well, at least at naming classic rock songs. But anyway, where is the incentive to be a know-it-all nowadays?

I think it's a matter of being knowledgeable vs. resourceful. Resourceful people are growing in numbers, as it is increasingly easier to access information. But knowledge isn't something you get easy. You do still have to commit things to memory. That's a skill the internet also helps. There's simply more stuff out there to memorize. Before the mobile internet, it was enough to know the title of a song and the artist to impress people. Now, you have to know goofy shit like where the artist is from, or the name of the album the song is on, or some stupid fact like "The drummer still had both arms when they began recording this album." But with the internet, know-it-alls can find this stuff, too! They are simply upping their game.

So the next time some cocky know-it-all spews off some useless piece of information about some minute detail in a conversation, make him earn his title: bust out that iPhone 2.0 and make him go one step further.

I will give you an example from the classic rock realm:

Let's say you're hanging around with some friends watching TV. A commercial comes on with "The Weight" by The Band as the music. One of your friends, a classic rock geek, says "This is 'The Weight' by The Band." You immediately draw to your hip, your iPhone ready (I don't own an iPhone), do a quick Google search (I don't own a Google, either) and say "Well, buddy, from where did 'The Band' get its name?" If he is a true geek, he should know.

In case you were wondering, The Band was originally called "The Hawks," but became known as "The Band" while touring with Bob Dylan when he went electric.

Monday, June 16, 2008

6-16-08: Congratulations Charlie Morton

I found out today that the best pitcher to come out of my high school, Charlie Morton, won his Major League debut on Saturday. I heard that he had been called up to the majors, but wasn't sure when his start was. Back in 2002, he was drafted in the third round by the Atlanta Braves, but I didn't hear anything from him for years. Then, last week, he's in the majors. Pretty wild.
Despite spending 5 1/2 years in the minors, I think it's all worth it if you can pitch like he did. Best of luck, and congratulations, to Charlie Morton. Now I'll have something to talk to his sister about at the reunion in August.
Happy 24th, ENS Bridge!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

80's Cleaning Montage

6-15-08: Euro 2008 Update

My predictions haven't exactly panned out, at all, for Euro 2008. France and Italy could actually both be eliminated. Odd stuff.

Here are the current standings:

Group A:

1. Portugal
2. Czech Republic
3. Turkey
4. Switzerland

Group B:

1. Croatia
2. Germany
3. Austria
4. Poland

Group C:

1. Netherlands
2. Romania
3. France
4. Italy

Group D:

1. Spain
2. Sweden
3. Russia
4. Greece

Assuming things stay the way they are, here will be the matches for the Quarter-finals:

Portugal vs. Germany
Croatia vs. Czech Republic
Netherlands vs. Sweden
Spain vs. Romania

My predictions for the Semi-Finals are:

Portugal vs. Croatia
Netherlands vs. Spain

With a Final of:

Portugal vs. Spain

With a European Champion of:


Thursday, June 12, 2008

6-12-08: One Year (late)

Yesterday was the one year mark of my career in the engineering industry. I meant to post something last night but got caught up in some grad school homework and whatnot.

Just some observations I've made:

-    An engineering degree is more of a means to obtain an engineering job. It doesn't necessarily help you do your job well. I don't do a whole lot of real engineering.
-    You learn 90% of your job while working.
-    Office politics are real and have to be dealt with.
-    People usually assume you know something when you probably don't. Asking questions is not only used to obtain information; it helps you get out of trouble by not making an ass out of yourself. Always ask questions.
-    Older engineers are, in general, really great guys and are great to talk to. I prefer talking to them more than some of the guys my age.
-    Person to person communication is more effective than just e-mailing people. This is something I definitely need to work on, but I also find myself enjoying it more and more. E-mailing people only really helps when you're working with software or need to send a massive amount of information.
-    People are extremely defensive when criticized, especially when their work is questioned.
-    Ageism works both ways.
-    You often have to deal with things by yourself, including finding work to do. People don't just hand things to you.

Overall, it's been an enjoyable experience thus far. I'm looking forward to seeing what the next year will be like.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

6-10-08: Habits

I realized that I am indeed a creature of habit. I have my normal routine, like any one else. I have my preferred way of doing things, like any one else. But the really funny thing is to take notice of these routines. It helps keep things in perspective.

Here are a few of the goofier ones (off the top of my head):

-    I get my hair cut every 7 weeks. This stems from my life as an undergraduate. I went to college at WPI, which has terms that last 7 weeks with breaks in between. That's when I would get my hair cut. I just stick to that schedule.
-    I used to (and sometimes still do) only get out of bed at times nearest to a 10 minute increment. For instance, if it is 6:58, I'll wait until 7:00. But, I usually don't wait more than 5 minutes. That's just lazy.
-    I go to the gym on alternating days of the week. I rarely go on consecutive days. This is actually a tip from my uncle, since it's a good idea to give your body a day's rest.
-    I rotate the glass in between sips when I drink (if I'm not using a straw). I never drink from the same spot on the glass on consecutive sips. I have no idea where I developed that.
-    I used to only take an even number of steps in between certain spans while walking. It varied, but I liked to stick to even steps to keep both feet working at equal levels. I think I stopped doing that a few years ago.
-    I don't write the actual date on a check or any business-related document on a Sunday. I'll either write the date of the preceding Saturday or the following Monday. I picked that one up from my grandfather, who said "You can't do business on a Sunday."
-    I wear my socks inside out because they feel more comfortable that way. I stole that one directly from the film Finding Forrester.
-    I never drink soda before noon.
-    I try to avoid drinking coffee on consecutive mornings. I like to alternate that with tea, but it's not a big deal.
-    When dining with people older than me, I usually (though not always) wait until the oldest person is served before eating. This comes from something I was taught growing up in that I couldn't eat until my mother began eating. I still stick to the habit when I eat with my parents.
-    I alternate days that I wash my hair in the shower. I got this one from a good friend who told me it made your hair less oily. I think it just helps save money on shampoo.
-    I slow down in school zones and when I pass a Catholic church. One is because of the law, the other is to remind myself of what one looks like in case I get quizzed when I die.

Are you as crazy as I am?

Monday, June 9, 2008

6-9-08: Does McCain Really Need to Pretend to be a Conservative?

There seems to be a lot of talk this campaign about how conservatives need to go. Others think new conservatives need to come in and keep the agenda going. John McCain is talking about how his change is better than Obama's, and that liberals are the devil and whatnot.

I'm more concerned with conservatism. It's primarily because I consider myself a conservative. But… I'm not what I'd consider a stereotypical conservative. I'm not a "Bible-thumper" or a gun-toter or what have you. I'm more of a fiscal conservative. I couldn't really care less about gay marriage or abortion. If you want to write a law telling people who you'll likely never come into contact with how they should live their lives, it just doesn't seem very Christian to me. I'll pass on that.

So what is a conservative, then? To me, it's some one who believes in the principles of a small government, a disciplined economic policy that stresses the importance of free markets, strong states' rights, and a (basically) non-interventionist foreign policy based on aid and diplomacy. I think a lot of people get too caught up on the social side of conservatism. That's where all the passion is, and so goes the attention. Few people really talk about the other issues (probably because they aren't good news stories).

I do not think John McCain is a conservative, at least not in my eyes. His energy policies are moderate at best. His economic policies are relatively decent, especially with his stress on low taxes. Overall, he's an OK politician. He's not conservative, but him being a moderate isn't the end of the world. But, for whatever reason, he keeps on plugging away at voters, trying to convince people he is a conservative. I don't think he'll keep this up, seeing as even as a moderate he's further to the right than Obama is. I think McCain can get more done simply because he's less radical. Why not stress that? Isn't that what really matters?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

6-7-08: Euro 2008 Picks

Euro 2008 has begun. Matches begin today. With that in mind, here are my picks for the group stage. Bold and italicized names are the teams I expect to advance:

Group A:

Czech Republic

Group B:


Group C:


Group D:


Let's see how this goes. Hopefully a bit better than March Madness.

Friday, June 6, 2008

6-6-08: Push/Pull Progression

I was in the bathroom today and thought of an interesting concept. It's nothing groundbreaking or all that innovative. I'm not sure where the idea came from, but I think it had something to do with how the softball team I pitched against last night (slow pitch, mind you) did a good job alternating height from batter to batter. It was a good balance. We still outscored them (though somehow lost via forfeit; we found out this morning to our disappointment).

The concept is this: there are people in the world who try to make things more efficient. They look at a system, look for the flaws, and try to fix it. At the same time, there are people in the world who make things bigger or better by adding on. The first group of people that comes to mind with the latter personality is the art-loving part of society. They take a good looking house and make it look better through artistic expression.

This is a sort of balancing act. While some keep adding on, others make things more efficient. You can see it everywhere in politics, technology, business, sports, or any major industry of human interaction. The age-old Liberal vs. Conservative argument is based on the role of government in the life of the individual, and it's a constant battle. Some of the more remarkable electronics companies, like Apple, are known for making complex electronics look sleek and easy. It's an incredibly difficult process.

I think this push/pull relationship is necessary for society to progress, and it works in many dimensions. It's also not true that any one person has to be a pusher or a puller. It often depends on the topic, or even your age. While some people are more often pullers, like engineers, and others pushers, like artists, there are times when they may both look at something and say "This needs to be fixed." Every one has at least a little of both going on at any one time.

What makes it work, at least in my eyes, is that the pullers and pushers appeal to two different mentalities housed in most human beings. Part of us wants to make things better because we are lazy. Yet, part of us wants to make things nicer and more fulfilling. This balance is key, and no one side should receive an overall advantage. Sure, you may think the pullers are winning right now because things are much easier than they used to be, but with the advent of the Internet, do you think interpersonal relationships have gotten better or worse? Are children being raised to rely on technology or utilize it to enhance their developing skills? What progress has been made?

Are you a pusher or a puller?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

CSI Miami - Endless Caruso One Liners

6-5-08: Stanley Cup Champs

It's nice to see the Stanley Cup return to an Original Six team, so I would like to congratulate the Detroit Red Wings on their victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins last night to win the Cup. I don't particularly like the Red Wings, but they played superbly this year and were the most deserving of the crown.

I didn't watch a lot of the series, but I did watch last night's game. I was quite impressed with the overall quality of play, which was refreshing to see. I really hope the NHL gets back on its feet as far as TV ratings and general popularity. I think having two hockey cities in the Stanley Cup Finals was a very good thing, though I do think that if two Original Six teams played, it would have been even better. For those wondering, the Original Six (in alphabetical order by city) are the: Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs. Until 1967, it was just those teams. Since then, through a series of expansions, we now have professional hockey in places like Tampa Bay, San Jose, and Phoenix. Hockey towns!

The funniest thing, though, is how goofy the winning goal was last night. Zetterberg took a shot from the slot, it trickled through Fleury's legs, then he knocked it in with his ass while lying back to try to cover it. Strange way to win, but there is a saying in sports: "It's not about quality. It's about quantity."

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

6-4-08: Unions

I had a pretty good discussion with some co-workers today about unions and their role in today's economy and society in general. All of those involved in the discussion are engineers, and none of us are currently in a union. One of my co-workers was, however, in a musicians union years ago, and did not enjoy is time as a member.

I took a course a few years ago when I was an undergraduate student on the history of American unions. It went through the early development of some of the larger unions, like the American Federation of Labor and the International Workers Association, and included some of the more popular modern day unions like the Teamsters. In the early days of unions, companies were, in general, awful to their employees. So, unions were formed and gave the individual worker some leverage.

Nowadays it seems like the unions are keeping the workers down. I work for a company that had a strike a couple of years ago with many hourly workers. Workers held the strike as a protest against rising health care costs. The company decided to make workers pay more for their own health insurance. The union workers had been paying nothing for health insurance, and were concerned that paying 20% was too much (ignoring the fact that other salaried workers had been doing so for years). They held the strike for a few months, and got next to nothing out of it. By the end, more and more workers were crossing the picket lines, and the union nearly went under. They've been basically hiding in shame ever since.

My buddy belongs to a food workers union. It's required in order to work at Stop & Shop. He pays dues at every paycheck, but doesn't have a vote because he hasn't been in the union long enough. How does that work? What are his dues going to?

The truth is that many (though not all) unions today exist to maintain themselves, like any other business. There are plenty of laws out there to protect the members from unlawful termination and other harassment. Some unions are quite powerful within their sport, like the MLBPA, which has made baseball such a lucrative career. Other unions, like the teachers' unions, are partly responsible for the degradation of such heralded institutions as the United States public education system. Unions did serve an important purpose for a time, but nowadays they seem to do little but be sources of complaint for things that have been historically seen as a privilege. Just look at the recent Writers' Strike. It was over internet-based profits and royalties. It's a far cry from poor working conditions and abusive bosses. Has America gone soft?

I am not in a union. I'm an engineer. I know of no major engineering unions, yet I don't see a tremendous amount of complaint amongst engineers that would be solved by unionization. Why is it that some professions are known as "union jobs"? Where is the line drawn? Are unions really helping their members to advance, or are they operating more similarly to a fence that keeps people in?