Thursday, October 23, 2008

Big news

I kept hoping I'd somehow think of a cool way to introduce this news. But I never did. And now it's been, what, ...12 days since it happened, so it's not really news anymore. But I still feel like I should say something about it, even if everyone who reads this knows already.

In fact, I really want to shout it from the rooftops when I stop to think about it, only I don't want to be one of those guys who won't shut up about it. Maybe I should just shut up and say it before I take all of the magic out of it.

I'm engaged! At the risk of being mushy, I think she's the greatest woman ever! Beautiful, smart, patient (boy, do I need it!), kind, and loads of fun. But you already know her as 2nd of 5. (When she and I, a 4th of 5, become one, what happens? Addition? Averaging? :)

And yes, our Facebook statuses are changed already. Though, I'm thinking another status change won't be the highest priority once the knot has been tied. :)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Of parties and partisanship

I'll just recuse myself from this topic, and instead defer to one much wise than I — George Washington:
All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. [Parties] serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.
I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.
(Emphasis is my own.)

I guess I should have expected last night to turn into the pleasant-faced mudslinging I surprisingly observed. I attempted to persevere; "this is an important decision for our nation," I told myself. But there came a time when enough was enough. I've grown sick of the misrepresentation of opponents, of partisanship, of these candidates, of both parties, and of the omnipresent election coverage.

I suppose I'm lucky that I live in a state that is securely in one party's hands. I won't have to feel any remorse for having failed to elect the "best" (actually, the "better," as there's no use in pretending there are more than two options) candidate. I'm fairly certain I'm going to "waste" my vote on an independent. Someone who's read the Constitution and still believes that it was a good idea.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Economic distortion -- more popular than Social Distortion

I encourage you to read this post about a couple misleading things you may have heard about our recent economic down-turn. It's undeniably a bad for time for Americans, but the scientist in me always sheds a tear when he hears arguments from selectively-picked data. From the post:
It’s true that it’s bad and even historic.... For now, however, Apple is still on track to sell 10 million iPhone 3Gs this year, which says something.
Yesterday’s loss of 777 points was stunning as the largest single-day point loss in Dow history. But as a percentage loss that’s not even in the top 10 Bad Dow Days.
I could also rant and rave about all of the average people who suddenly think they're experts because they watched CNN this morning. Those sort of people that appear to know what they are talking about, but really just regurgitate the (potentially suspect) data they imbibe from their favorite flavor of news outlet -- and then use it to tell whomever they meet what must be done about it. And heaven forbid you disagree. But maybe it's best that I keep that to myself.

I could even pontificate on what, exactly, the strong sales of the new 3G iPhone, even in the face of a possible recession, says. (Hint: ...well, I don't actually think any hints are necessary.)

Anyway, be on guard, both for the market, and for the evening news. Trust no one, Mr. Mulder dear reader.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Cat-like reflexes

I challenge you to watch this video without laughing out loud.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A commercial about nothing

I wonder how many of my friends have seen the recent Bill Gates-Jerry Seinfeld Windows Vista commercials? I first saw them last week, but my mind is still reeling. They say any press is good press, but these are just bizarre. The product never makes an appearance, and the closest they get to talking about Windows is theorizing on whether future computers will be made of cake.

Then again, it's Jerry Seinfeld. What did I expect?

Maybe I should call upon the expertise of marketing extraordinaire, 2ndof5. So, 2nd, tell me, what do you think of those spots?

Unnatural selection

This man is either a genius or just plain crazy. Either way, I think he's my latest hero.

It's not likely that his work will change the world. But I can only hope that, when I retire, I can find something so fascinating to occupy my time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I was watching (more accurately, listening as I did other tasks) to the morning news yesterday, and they mentioned that the report of tax burdens by state was just made available for this year. That didn't catch my ear. What did was their mentioning that Maryland has the fourth highest tax burden! Well, I don't know why I was surprised; I always knew somewhere in my gut that this is a tax-happy state. Maybe it had something to do with my dad telling me about county taxes from the time he lived in Maryland. ("The form asks you to enter your state tax on one line, then on the next multiply by 50% to get your county tax!") Anyway, it was something I was prepared to hear. But number four is pretty high on the list!

I found the data online here. (You have to scroll the embedded document to the bottom for 2008 numbers.) New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut top the list, with Maryland hot on their heels. Virginia is #18 -- too bad I'm not living there anymore! (DC would fall into the #8 position, but it's not a state. Sorry!) Alaska (tax incentives for living there), Nevada (gambling revenue), and Wyoming (...?) are the three least taxed states.

Nevada sounds like it could be a nice place to live.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Red hot

When you're hot, you're hot. But when you're hot on you're birthday, you're on fire.

My auto insurance expired with the turn of the month, and I had until July 11th to begin paying for the next six months. However, my insurance policy was still associated with Virginia. True, I have been in Maryland for a while, but I figured the policy would update itself when it renewed. I had given the company my new address and I had even gone through the "change vehicle location" steps on their website. However, upon checking my statement online, I discovered that my assumption, however reasonable, was not realized.

So I placed a call to the company and got through to a representative immediately. As if that wasn't surprising enough, I was told that, with the same coverage options, my Maryland policy would be $2 less per six months than my previous Virginia policy. I know that's a small amount, but when you're ready for a $50 increase -- because, let's face it, everything costs more in Maryland -- any decrease is pretty incredible.

Then there was lunch. I try to take it a little later than most people. I find that a delayed lunch helps make the afternoon move faster in addition to helping me avoid the crowd in the lunchroom. Well, imagine my joyful surprise when I made for the lunchroom at 1pm and entered just as a large meeting was getting out -- a large meeting with two leftover pizzas and homemade chocolate chip cookies! Our office has a "free table," where any extra or unwanted foods are placed. Given that anyone and everyone loves free food (it doesn't even have to be particularly good to get taken!), two pizzas have about a 5-minute life expectancy on that table. So, yeah, I lucked out pretty good, huh?

I know the day is far from over, and I really shouldn't tempt fate, but with the way the day has been going, plus a party (just for me!) after institute tonight, I'm prepared to call this a pretty awesome birthday!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


I was feeling pretty ill a couple weeks ago, but I'm better now. I wasn't going to mention it, but it kind of fit with the title here.

Anyway, there have been a few instances in the past couple of weeks when I realized that some quirky behavior I exhibit is really not that uncommon. So I wanted to toss this one out, too, and see if it's the same.

While reading this article (regarding animals blocking an airport runway) I came across a quote:
"The monitor lizards -- they look frightening but they are harmless animals," he said. "But they can grow about three to four feet long. And at the velocity a plane lands, the [lizards] can still cause damage."
Now, am I the only person who reads things like this and wonders what the man really said instead of "lizards?" I like to imagine all sorts of colorful epithets inserted in that sentence that CNN just couldn't print. Please tell me I'm not.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Right place, right time

Everyone in the DC area noticed the severe storm that came through last Wednesday. I don't pay too much attention to the news, and even I heard about it enough in advance to be prepared. But when another severe storm came through on Saturday night, I hadn't been warned.

I was probably out of the loop because it was the weekend, and I had been focusing on other things. I had a day planned from the start to the end with fun and uplifting things to do. When the storm came, I was just about 10 miles north of my home, at the adult session of our stake conference. Afterward, I went out to eat with a few other young people. We only received very light rain, but did get to hear thunder and see some impressive lightning to the south. It was only when I got home that I realized how bad the storm had been. A huge limb was down, blocking half of the road into my neighborhood. As I turned onto my street, the usually beautiful tree lining both sides of the road and the median were missing several large limbs as well -- of course, they were on the street. The parking lot in my apartment complex likewise has a plentiful supply of trees, so there were many smaller limbs scattered all of the lot. Sirens could be heard throughout the neighborhood. I saw my neighbor on the way into my apartment, and he informed me that I missed out on 60 mph winds and coin-sized hail.

Maybe it's just a coincidence, but I like to think that my car (and I, of course) was kept safe because I was in the right place.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Rocky Mountain Kai

Wow. Has it been a month already? I got pretty distracted.

One thing that has occupied my time and attention has been my goal to read a book every two months. I know that's not a very ambitious goal, but it's a big improvement over nothing. I never did report back on my January-February reading, but yes, I did complete The Numbers Behind NUMB3RS. Then I picked out a much longer book for March-April -- The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography (alternately subtitled The Secret History of Codes and Code Breaking). It seems the science field really loves its subtitles. Well, as April drew to a close, I knew I would not finish this book in time. However, I did finish, but May was half over before that time. Still, I'm not worried, because since then, I have read another book. While not fitting into my science/math theme, The Five People You Meet in Heaven was a great read.

That makes 3 books in less than five months, so I'm ahead of my goal. But I still have over a month left in this May-June period, so I won't be resting on my laurels. My bishop will be holding a discussion with all of the adult men of the ward in early June on the topic of the priesthood, and he will give out a copy of Men of Valor to each individual. To ensure participation in the discussion, the bishop has given some copies of the book to some of the brethren ahead of time. In light of another event (discussed below), I became one of these brethren. So I need to finish this book with a couple weeks. After that, I'll still be nearly a month ahead of schedule. Maybe I'll use that time to get a head start on another lengthy tome.

Another object of time and attention has been my new responsibilities at church. I was called to be the assistant ward clerk, and I was specifically given the responsibilities for finances. Now, I don't know the first thing about finances, but that's okay. My largest tasks are accounting for donations, reimbursing members for approved expenses, and handling fast offering assistance. Most of these are pretty straight forward in their own right; the difficult is documenting it all properly. It's all done electronically, and I'm no stranger to computers. But the church's computerized financial system is stranger than anything I've encountered before. I require help from my predecessor fairly often.

Last week I also had the opportunity to spend the better part of a week in Colorado Springs. My sister and her husband moved out there rather recently for his work. But the main reason for the visit was the first birthday of my only nephew (so far). Kai is an adorable one-year-old now. He walks with ever increasing confidence, but his shy speech betrays the engineering backgrounds of his father and uncle! His toy collection gathered several new, flashing, noise-making entries, and he made a mess of his birthday cupcake -- just the way a first birthday should be. While I was in town (accompanied by the proud grandparents), I also had the chance to see some of the sights. I spent time at the Air Force Academy, the Garden of the Gods, Cave of the Winds, and the Anasazi Cliff Dwellings. And what trip to Colorado Springs is complete without a meal and show at the Flying W Ranch? Despite the unpleasantness of the air travel (complete with restrictions that resulted in my mother's toothpaste being confiscated), in the end, it was a very fun trip.

Since I really should be working, I won't take the time right now to post pictures. But I'll put some up soon.

Update: The pictures are here! (Finally!)

Here's Kai with his mommy.

And his daddy.

Here's the chapel at the Air Force Academy. My parents got married in there.

It's quite beautiful inside!

It took me several tries to get my dad's camera to focus on the right thing here. This is the Siamese Twins formation at the Garden of the Gods framing Pike's Peak.

The Anasazi cliff dwellings.

And finally the Flying W Wranglers. Apparently a few of them are frequent champions with their respective instruments at national competitions!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Working? Hardly

In 1942, Britain realized they were short of staff at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. (The school was working on breaking the Enigma's encryption, a vital war effort.) So, they placed a crossword puzzle in the Daily Telegraph, and challenged readers to complete it within 12 minutes. 25 readers responded as having done so, were invited in, and were issued a second puzzle with the same time restriction. 5 completed the puzzle in the time frame, and a sixth had only one word remaining. All six were interviewed and recruited to the school.

So, does this mean that -- as long as I have no other tasks to perform -- I can do puzzles at work guilt-free?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Kiter's remorse

I tried flying my stunt kite today, because the wind was supposed to be 13 mph. However, my cheap, heavy kite can't fly in the wind unless it's steady, rather than gusty -- and it was gusty. (Actually, I stood out for several minutes, and only felt two gusts, and from vastly different directions. So sad.) :(

I think I might have to put this kite away for now, and reserve it strictly for beach use. However, I found this kite. It's flyable even in no wind (check out the video), and it's affordable! It also has short line, which is supposed to increase responsiveness and make tricks easier to learn. Maybe then I'll be able to do something with my other one when I take it to the beach. That's my hope, at least. (Even if I can't get it to do tricks, I can always put a tail on it and just do loops and turns, leaving a trail in the sky. I think that would look cool.)

I just need to get to the beach, so I can use that big (heavy) one. I've never been to beaches up here in Maryland -- either out at the eastern shore or the Chesapeake Bay. The bay is actually fairly close, while the eastern shore is about three hours out. But I don't know how the wind will be as good at the bay. Still, it should make a fun trip someday.

What do you think?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Volleyball keeps a dear school

Lessons learned from hours of volleyball on a Friday night:
  1. Playing as a 5'5" hitter: humbling.
  2. Playing as a setter in a 6-2: fun.
  3. Playing as a setter in a 5-1: tiring.
  4. Playing as a setter in a 4-1: awkward.
  5. Playing for six hours: sore.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The customer [data] is always wrong

It's been some time since I've written here. I could offer excuses, but I already have those recorded for posterity on just about every page of my journal. In truth, I haven't had my schedule be so dictated to me that I couldn't take the time to write here. I think my problem is twofold: 1) I try to make these posts perfect (I write and rewrite until my grammar is flawless, at least to my limited understanding of the English language), interesting to read, and long enough to have some substance; 2) I don't want to spend that much of my free time writing blog posts.

It used to be that I wasn't busy every minute I was at work, so I could write little-by-little there. Well, that's changed. I've even been putting in overtime to finish a very important project, for which I have a large amount of responsibility. I also don't often have things in my life that qualify as "interesting to other people," and I'm not good at just discussing something on my mind; it almost has to be an external event to get me to talk about it. The project is rather interesting, and would make a perfect subject for a post -- if I were permitted to talk about it.

At risk of sounding like a whiner, I wanted to detail the trials I've had with my first major move. It's kind of funny looking back on them. Some are resolved, some still aren't, and every now and then another one pops up. I hope I've seen the last of them, but I'm not counting on it. So I present, for your amusement, the list. When I moved from Virginia to Maryland....

My apartment complex:
  • got the address wrong on my lease agreement, twice.
  • raised the rent noticeably between the time they accepted my application and moved me in.
My phone company:
  • took over a month to activate my DSL service.
  • failed to send a DSL modem with my service activation kit.
  • sent the modem later, but charged me for it when it was supposed to be free (as part of my service plan). On top of that, the charge was 50% more than the advertised fee for the modem independently.
  • charges my credit card directly, rather than sending any kind of bill or statement. So I was rather lucky that I even noticed the overcharge.
  • drops my cellular phone calls rather frequently in my new residence.
My power company:
  • wanted me to give them my SSN. I refused at first.
  • wanted to charge me in the triple-digits for a deposit, for some reason that they wouldn't tell me.
  • had to activate my service three times. This is because I had the address change twice. After the first activation, I realized that they wanted to charge me the large deposit because I had not given them my SSN, which they intended to use for a credit check.
  • eventually got my SSN out of me. (I didn't have much money at the time of the move, or else I would have gladly paid for the deposit.) But they still managed to misspell my name, and repeated attempts to correct them have gone unacknowledged. (I wrote them a very passive-agressive note about it.)
My car company:
  • associated my new car with a person from New Jersey with my first and last name in their database. They also recorded it as not being attached to any service plan, despite the thousands of dollars they charged me for one.
  • replaced this information with more incorrect information. They got my apartment number wrong, but even worse, put me in Minnesota instead of Maryland.
Meanwhile, the USPS:
  • always managed to get my bills to me, no matter how messed up address and charges were!
Is it any wonder that I'm not in a hurry to activate any other service, like a land-line phone or cable/satellite TV?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Numbers, numbers, everywhere

Like someone I know, I too am a little disappointed in the low amount of reading I do. (Unlike said someone, I don't think 15 books in half a year is "far too few." But maybe my judgment is clouded because my mind is "rotting in the abscesses of illiteracy" more so than said individual.) So, I've determined that I want to read more -- and not just fiction, though that can be a fun experience. I want to learn, and to "better myself," whatever that entails. To this end, I've determined that I will read at least one non-fiction book per month every other month. (No need to set the bar excessively high. I'd hate to fail and be consequently turned off to reading. Like exercise.)

I determined that I should stick to my interests. For example, last year, I read Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, and I really enjoyed it. So I began by perusing the physics section of the local ginormous chain book store/music store/movie store/coffee house. (Unofficial slogan: "Consoooom. Get hyped up. Repeat.") I browsed the titles and was a little overwhelmed. There were books on topics I had never heard of. I was looking for something that would be similar to Hawking's book, but focused more narrowly on a single topic, like quantum physics or string theory. Not finding the perfect book, I next wandered over to the astronomy aisle. This search was more directed, but still time-consuming. Eventually I found a book on binocular stargazing, a hobby I'm taking up. But I would classify that book as more of a guide than a non-fiction book. So I still didn't have a book to fit my demanding criteria.

Then it happened, by total chance. On the way out of the science section and towards the checkout counters, my eyes inadvertently scanned over the mathematics section, specifically a bookcase that was parallel to the aisle, while all the others are perpendicular. And I saw what I immediately knew would be my first book: The Numbers Behind NUMB3RS: Solving Crime with Mathematics. The book is co-authored by NPR's 'Math Guy' and the math consultant for Numb3rs. I've only read three chapters of the book thus far, but it's very interesting, even if you're not a math geek. (In fact, it's geared towards the layperson, so math geeks might find the book less interesting than the average person would.) It describes the background of the methods Charlie (the mathematician on the show) uses: who developed them, how they work, and how they've been put to use to catch or prosecute criminals.

Anyway, you can see I'm excited about reading again. And now, some numbers of my own:

5 - Ideal number of words in the title of a CNN news feed item. This leads to some difficult-to-comprehend headlines in the name of brevity. An example: "Sardinia row as trash ship docks." That's one extra word, and I still don't understand it. Is the city rowing a small boat? Or are they engaged in a quarrel?

3 - Number of thermometers in my living room. (One is on my digital clock. The other two are Galileo thermometers, which are awesome.)

76 - Degrees Fahrenheit my thermometers read at which I stop shivering in my apartment. (They can't all be reading higher than the actual temperature, can they?)

65 - Dollar amount Verizon tried to overcharge me on my first internet bill. Did they hope I wouldn't notice?

60 - Minutes spent getting Verizon to give me a credit to my bill. (Apparently they can't revise their bills?) I hate calling customer service. From any company.

1 - Number of tasks I had at work a a weeks ago.

0 - Number of tasks I have at work now.

2 - Number of changes in ownership of my employer in the past 3 years.

92 M - Dollars being paid out (from stock shares) to employees' 401K plans due to the most recent acquisition of the company. (Even though the amount per employee is calculated from his time with the company, making my amount small, my estimated amount is still enough to make me glad I was hired before the buy-out.)

33 - Days since my last blog entry. (Sorry. (I'm assuming you read this blog because you like it and/or me.))

4 - Days this entry has been written but unreleased because it's only "nearly complete." It's still not complete in my mind, but whatever. I'm done with worrying about making it perfect. If I have other things to say, I'll revisit them in other entries.

P.S. Vote in the poll. Just a reminder for those of you who use readers instead of visiting my site.