Almost like our own world

2013/12/17 at 08:53
World War Z by Max Brooks

World War Z by Max Brooks

I am currently listening to the audio version of World War Z. I’m really enjoying it, but one thing about it bugs me. None of the interviewees uses the word ‘zombie.’ I have to assume that the author made the same decision as the creators of other zombie stories: to place their story in a universe that is pretty much exactly like our own, but with one difference: the cultural concept of zombies does not exist in the story’s universe. I understand the narrative need for this choice, but still, it nags at me.

Update: OK, the? narrator and several interviewees have used the word ‘zombie,’ but there is still no indication that the concept existed before the war.

Running man

2013/11/28 at 08:27

As a kid, I wasn’t very intentionally athletic; I didn’t take part in sports leagues (mostly because I lived in the middle of nowhere) and my interest in school athletics died out after middle school when it got competitive. In high school, I fulfilled my PE credits with marching band.

Despite my lack of interest in physical fitness, when I was 16 or 17 I started jogging, and I’ve been at it since pretty regularly since. The other day, I decided to total up the number of miles I’ve probably run in my life. I’m currently running 12-20 miles per week, but there were periods–especially when the kids were young and we lived in a colder climate–where I ran a lot less. So, I figure 10 miles per week or 500 miles per year is a safe average. At that rate, I’ve run around 16,500 miles in 33 years. Again, let’s round that down to a nice 15K miles for good measure. I find that amazing!

Just sayin’…

2013/11/28 at 08:14

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(found on Reddit)

The psychology of poverty

2013/08/07 at 06:35

I recently had a short conversation with a coworker about poverty and providing social services. My coworker expressed the opinion that he’s reluctant to provide social services to poor people since he has observed poor people spending money on luxury items. I told him that I disagreed, but unfortunately we were interrupted by work and never got to finish the conversation.

I’ve been thinking about this conversation since then, and while I have some very firm opinions on this matter, it dawned on me that I may not be able to communicate them very coherently. So, I took this issue to Facebook to get input from friends.

One friend pointed me to research on the psychology of poverty. In summary, the additional cognitive load of being poor directly contributes to poor people making poor decisions. With a little searching, I found this paper (PDF) which offers a good analogy of how one aspect of this works:

Imagine packing for a trip, using either a small or large suitcase. If you have a large suitcase, it is an easy task to pack everything important with room to spare. You may even choose not to completely fill the suitcase. With a small suitcase, however, the task becomes much more complex. If not all important items will fit, you must consider trade-offs, such as what to take out if one more item is added. The suitcase can represent any resource, such as money. In that case, someone with ample resources can easily purchase all needed items with money left over. They may consider the wisdom and value of a particular small purchase, but are not likely to explicitly consider what other item must be given up in its place. In contrast, someone with limited funds must spend a lot of time and mental energy thinking about what to purchase, as each item chosen means some other item or items is foregone. In other words, having fewer resources makes decision-making much more complex. Complex problems draw on limited cognitive resources, which in turn means that there are fewer resources available for self-control.

Introduction to linguistics

2013/08/07 at 06:26

The answers to this Quora question provide an entertaining introduction to several aspects of linguistics: What are some English language rules that native speakers don’t know, but still follow? Among several very good answers, this one is very succinct:

Expletive infixation

If you want to insert ‘fucking’ in the middle of a word you know exactly where to do it. You say Colo-fuckin-rado, not Co-fuckin-lorado.

Even more surprisingly, if you want to insert ‘diddley’ in the middle of a word, like Ned Flanders from The Simpsons, you know where to put that and it’s not the same place. (Note: Flanders’s also duplicates a syllable so it’s slightly different.)

Still more surprisingly, the rule that explains this placement can be explained in terms of prosody which is an entire dimension of linguistic (and almost musical) rules that few people seem to be aware they use.

Tie-dye party

2013/07/13 at 14:27

A couple of months ago, a very creative friend of ours hosted a tie-dye party. It’s actually quite an involved process. You have to soak the shirts for 15 minutes in advance, then tie and dye them, and then 24 hours later, you have to rinse them thoroughly, apply a fixative and then wash them with a fixative detergent.

She purchased the dyes and other chemicals (about $160 worth, I think she said) and then invited several families over to do the tie-dying in her front yard. The following evening, I spent several hours rinsing our clothing on the deck and washing them. We had a lot of fun, and I made the shirt below, as well as a couple of T-shirts. I’m afraid my attention to detail wasn’t very good, but every time I wear this shirt, I get compliments, so I guess I did well enough.

Stan's fetching swimming attire

Do you know anyone who…?

2013/05/02 at 10:56

Recently, Charlie Pierce got thinking about how well Americans of one group know others outside their group. He got a polling organization to ask a set of “Do you know anyone who…?” questions, and here are the results:

Results: The percentage of Americans who don’t know anyone who…

  • Died in Iraq or Afghanistan: 87%
  • Is part of a married gay couple: 76%
  • Was a victim of gun violence: 73%
  • Has HIV/AIDS or died of AIDS: 72%
  • Is an illegal immigrant: 71%
  • Is a millionaire: 63%
  • Is in jail: 62%
  • Committed suicide: 59%
  • Had an abortion: 49%
  • Lost his/her job in the financial crisis: 46%
  • Doesn’t have health care: 31%
  • Has been arrested: 26%
  • Owns a gun: 22%
  • Served in the military: 17%

In reading through the list, I realized I do, in fact, know people who meet almost all of these criteria.

Here are my responses:

  • Died in Iraq or Afghanistan: No
  • Is part of a married gay couple: Yes
  • Was a victim of gun violence: Yes
  • Has HIV/AIDS or died of AIDS: Yes
  • Is an illegal immigrant: Yes
  • Is a millionaire: Yes
  • Is in jail: Yes
  • Committed suicide: attempted, yes, succeeded, not that I can think of.
  • Had an abortion: Yes
  • Lost his/her job in the financial crisis: Depends on how you define ‘financial crisis’
  • Doesn’t have health care: Yes
  • Has been arrested: Yes
  • Owns a gun: Yes
  • Served in the military: Yes

So, I apparently have a much broader experience than the average American. I would like to think that it makes me more accepting, but I don’t want to flatter myself. I’m not sure what else to take from this survey and my answers except to try to keep in mind that many of the people around me do not have such broad experience with their fellow residents of the US.

On the death of RSS

2013/04/03 at 13:07

I’ve been an avid user of Google Reader for several years, and I am bummed about Google’s decision to shutter it. To be honest, I hadn’t thought much about the life of the underlying technology: RSS. In this blog post, Ryan Holiday offers his opinion on why RSS, along with Google alerts and Delicious, is dying:

Think about it: in an ad impression-and pageview-driven business, a service [such as an RSS reader] that allows users to opt out of the noise and get content delivered directly to them is dangerous. When the common practice for bloggers is to publish first, verify second, the paper trail of Google Reader can be an embarrassment. And when sites do everything they can to hook you and increase the critical “time on site” metric or hit you with retargeting cookies, off-site RSS Readers once again stand in the way.

In other words, RSS is impervious to blogging’s worst, but most profitable, traits.

Depressing but probably accurate.

 

Watson in the laundry

2013/03/31 at 12:44

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The mystery poster

2013/03/18 at 12:57

In 1982-83, I was a high school exchange student in Austria. A few months after I returned home, my friend Jim sent me the political poster below that he had found in Graz. He identified the blond guy on the left with the bandaged head as me. It sure looks like me, and it was–and still is–very common to find me with a bumped head, but I had  no recollection of this photo being taken. So, either I attended a political event that I don’t remember or my Austrian doppelgänger did.