Money, money, money, continued

2006/07/31 at 21:23

Over at slacktivist, Fred has another post about wealth (see my earlier post). While reading the comments to Fred’s latest post, I was reminded of an experience I had a couple of years ago.
One evening, I stopped on my way home from work at the local grocery store to grab a couple of items. As I was waiting to check out, I noticed that the couple at the register were doing something I didn’t immediately recognize. I started to pay attention and realized that they were checking the balance on their EBT card. The cashier told them their balance was less than three dollars. Then the woman dug in her purse and came up with two or three dollars. They ended up putting back part of their intended $5 purchase and paying with the couple of dollars that they had on them. It suddenly dawned on me that this was all the money they had to their names.
We’ve certainly had to budget carefully and do with less to make it from paycheck to paycheck sometimes. After doing the checkbook, I’ve said to Katie numerous times, “We’re broke until payday”, but, I realize, not broke like the couple in H.E.B. I have little idea what this couple’s life is like. It makes me grateful for the blessings that I have and I try to keep in mind how fortunate I am.

The state of computational linguistics

2006/07/31 at 08:29

As the video below demonstrates, getting computers to work with human language is hard–even after decades of research and development.

Money, money, money…

2006/07/26 at 10:14

Over at Slacktivist and Making Light there are lively discussions about ‘Could you live on X amount of money?’ Lots of commenters are chiming in with their mimimum requirements. For me, though, all those participants are missing the point of the discussion. This comment at Slacktivist expresses my sentiments exactly (though more eloquently than I could have done so):

For me, my happiness for their good fortune turns to scorn for their blind privilege when they go from, ‘I wouldn’t know how to live on only 100k a year’ or ‘I wouldn’t want to try to live on only 100k a year’ to ‘I couldn’t live on 100k a year’. I understand that you don’t want to downgrade your lifestyle; who would? I understand that you’ve never had to live on 100k, let alone 50k, let alone 30k, and it’s very understandable that you regard the prospect of trying with some trepidation.
But you could do it. Lots of people do it, because they must, because they have no choice. And if you had no choice, you’d do it, too. So be grateful. Be humble. Help those who don’t have your staggering luck, to be amongst the richest people living in the richest country. You don’t deserve it, nobody could, so at least be thoughtful about it.

One of my biggest fears in life is that I’ll feel entitled to something. For me, being part of an intentional faith community is one of the biggest antidotes to feelings of entitlement. It helps me to keep in mind just how miniscule I am in the grand scheme of things.

The finished product

2006/07/26 at 08:52

The finished product

Our living room with the newly installed parquet wood flooring. We still have to install the quarter round and paint the baseboards, though.

The wastefulness of fund raising

2006/07/24 at 11:53

I’ve recently started reading several good economics blogs. Via one of those blogs, I ran across this post about the economics of charity races:

Charity runs where participants solicit friends, family and colleagues for donations have always perplexed me. . . The puzzle is the wastefulness of the training effort. Those soliciting me for sponsorship have cited upwards of 40 hours spent training for the event; we can view this training time as being pure waste from the charity’s perspective. An alternative arrangement where race participants instead devote their training time to providing volunteer work for the charity, followed by a parade of volunteers rather than a race, would seem to satisfy the criteria listed above: costly and verifiable effort coupled with publicity. And, the hours of wasteful training would be converted into useful work.

This analysis reminds me of my own thoughts regarding fundraisers for school and other groups. Children and their parents spend vast amounts of time peddling stuff that people may or may not want in order to earn the group a margin of the money collected (to be fair, it seems the margins vary widely from one campaign to another).
As such a parent, I don’t really see that my child is gaining any particularly useful experiences from the endeavor (not compared to the experiences of spending time with the actual organization for which they’re collecting money), and I think that I could just donate more money than the profit margin on the goods that my kid sells and save everyone a lot of hassle.
One of my favorite fund raising events of the last few years was when the local high school band was raising money to participate in a parade across the country. They sold band booster signs to put in your yard. In reality, you got a sign in return for a donation. Yes, the band members had to spend time raising the money, but I assume the cost of the signs was small compared to the donation being requested ($20 or $25, as I recall), so the profit margin was high. They were not exactly just begging for handouts, they got free advertising with every sale, and they weren’t trying to sell people something that they didn’t really want or need.
Don’t get me started about Girl Scout cookies.

Rough weekend

2006/07/24 at 08:20


This is how I spent my weekend. I installed ~400 square feet of parquet hardwood flooring. I’m glad to be at work on Monday so I can give my aching body some rest.

Eureka!

2006/07/21 at 15:25

I watched the first episode of SciFi’s new series Eureka, and I have to say, it was pretty awful. It was very clear to me that the producers came up with a concept and characters first, and then wrote the screenplay for the first episode afterwards. In several cases, characters, character traits, and plot turns bore no significant role in the story told in this first episode. They were seemingly added only as needed exposition for the series.
For instance:

  • The dog catcher and the omnipresent dog. What the hell was that all about except to introduce a character in the series?
  • The psychoanalyst cum innkeeper has the hots for the the marshall/innkeeper. That subplot had no bearing on this episode. It was clearly included as exposition for the series. Let me guess, they’re going to be romantically involved
  • Marshall suddenly decides, with no motivation, to follow the dog into the forest. What do you know, he sees burned trees and cows (important to show’s concept and plot of this episode). What an amazing coincidence!

In addition to that, the portrayal of the relationship between the marshall/sheriff and his daughter was just abyssmal.
I don’t think I’ll be programming my DVR to record the weekly episodes of Eureka.

A sickening idea

2006/07/20 at 20:36

This just makes me sick:

US Airways wants to make the most out of a nauseating situation. The Tempe, Ariz.-based airline plans to sell advertisements on its air-sickness bags _ those pint-sized expandable envelopes tucked between the in-flight magazines and safety cards.
“They’re in every back seat pocket,” said spokesman Phil Gee. “We figure while it’s there, why don’t we make it multipurpose?”

Strong opinions, weakly held

2006/07/20 at 13:43

Today, I ran across Bob Sutton’s blog, Work Matters. Just up my alley: he shares lots of practical applications of some fairly esoteric ideas. I found Bob’s blog via this post: Strong Opinions, Weakly Held. In it, Bob shares this insight:

A couple years ago, I was talking the Palo Alto’s Institute for the Future’s Bob Johansen about wisdom, and he explained that – to deal with an uncertain future and still move forward – they advise people to have “strong opinions, which are weakly held.” They’ve been giving this advice for years, and I understand that it was first developed by Instituite Director Paul Saffo. Bob explained that weak opinions are problematic because people aren’t inspired to develop the best arguments possible for them, or to put forth the energy required to test them. Bob explained that it was just as important, however, to not be too attached to what you believe because, otherwise, it undermines your ability to “see” and “hear” evidence that clashes with your opinions.

That’s an eloquent description that I find ever so sensible. I do indeed have strong opinions, and like my friend Rafe Colburn, I like to think my opinions are based on well considered evidence, and that I’m willing to change my opinions in light of new evidence.

F*ck Computational Linguistics

2006/07/20 at 10:55

I’m not too sure what I think of this comic, but hey, it’s not often that computational linguists are mentioned in any context. I’ll take what I can get.