Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The End of Our One-Car Family

When my wife and I got married, she brought with her a Toyota Camry her father had given to her. About 18 months later, we replaced that car with a Ford Taurus station wagon. Ten years later, we replaced the Taurus with a Honda Pilot. For seventeen years, now, we've been a one-car family (with the possible exception of when we borrowed a car from my parents for 10 months to commute twice a week between Washington and Richmond).

That all ended last week when we bought a second car.

I've become so used to the idea of my economic fortunes being more-aptly described as misfortunes that feeling like I can afford a second car seems more fin de siècle (vis-à-vis the economic cycle) than like a cause for celebration. It's as indicative of the coming crash as shoe-shine boys with stock tips. And if I ever buy a house, well, the Apocalypse will happen the day before I close escrow.

What car did I buy? America's cheapest automobile. Our kids instinctively figured out how to crank down hand-crank windows, but they can't wrap their heads around such basics from my childhood as being responsible for locking their own doors or having to reach through the front seat to unlock the back seat. Rounding out the 1960s technology is the manual transmission. And then, just to signal to everyone that, yes, this car was produced in the 2010s, it features hands-free dialing through a Bluetooth connection.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Limits of Wokeness

Yesterday I was at this event filled with a bunch of woke people. One of them said she has a horse, and another asked, "What's his or her name?"

That type of exclusionary question wouldn't fly in that group if we were talking about a person, but because we were talking about a horse, it went by with no comment. Why aren't we expected to make an allowance for a differently-gendered horse? Because there's no political reason to deny the basics of biology, that horses come in male or female because that's what it takes to produce another horse.

Personally, if I ever get a horse, I'll raise it to only respond to gender-inclusive pronouns, like "zhey" or something, and I'll raise it to be a sassy best friend that has impeccable taste in bridles and apples and other horse stuff.

A Proposal for Declawing Mother's Day

Remember 30 years ago when your ward couldn't do anything for Mother's Day because it hurt the feelings of the single women, the childless women, and the women who'd lost children? No, you can't, because that wasn't a thing back then. But it is now.

What if Mother's Day was ALWAYS the celebration of an absent person, in a sense? Meaning that when we celebrate Mother's Day at my house, we're not in agreement on who the recipient of the accolades is. My kids are celebrating my wife, but I'm not celebrating my wife for being the mother of my children, I'm celebrating my mother for being MY mother. And my mother's not basking in the acclaim, she's celebrating HER mother. And her mother is celebrating the legacy left by her deceased mother. Then the single, childless, and bereft women aren't spending the day feeling out-of-place or second-class, because they have mothers, too.

This would require us to not wish mothers who aren't our OWN mothers "Happy Mother's Day," which I'm fine with. Why do we think a woman needs to hear that from everyone she knows?

"A Random Stranger, you just sound like a dude who doesn't want to have to buy Mother's Day presents for his wife!" Be that as it may, I do it anyway, because

  1. my deadbeat children don't do it on their own
  2. I like buying stuff for my wife and she doesn't like when I do it, so I need plausible excuses (like Mother's Day).

In short, Mother's Day is never about YOU. Although someone else might think it is (because you're that person's mother), you should disagree because you're not your OWN mother. This would go a long way towards fixing the problem we now have.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Jerk Subconscious

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about dreaming up stuff that my conscious brain doesn't know. It wasn't clear to me if I was dreaming truth, which I must be holding in my subconscious brain, or making crap up. I entitled the post "Genius Subconscious or Jerk Subconscious?"

Well, I've discerned the answer.

Last night I had a dream where I was looking at a diagram of a dinosaur's digestive system. I was surprised to see some very strange organs. I reasoned (in the dream), "Dinosaurs are going to be very distinct from current animals, though, so I shouldn't be surprised to see a digestive system that's very distinct from that of current animals."

But part of my brain was awake enough to notice

  1. I was dreaming
  2. it was another one of these dreams where I knew something that I don't actually know
  3. I should try to remember as much as possible so I could look it up once I was awake.
There were two organs with names I remember noting. When I woke up, though, I could only remember one: the hell. Yes, in my dream, dinosaurs had this really large organ around where the intestines should be and it's called the hell.

I woke up this morning and looked up dinosaur anatomy. And there is absolutely nothing like the hell in a dinosaur's digestive system.

So now I know: my subconscious is a jerk, taking advantage of the gullibility of my sleeping brain to feed me all kinds of made-up crap that I probably think is real now. Thanks a lot, jerk brain.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

The Modern American Diet

About 18 months ago, a construction crew broke ground on a Circle K near our house. I thought, "While I work on my dissertation over the summer of 2017, I'll be able to buy my candy there!" But then, evidently, someone challenged the construction manager to take as long as possible finishing a mostly-completed job, and we ended up with a seemingly-done-but-empty Circle K for a long time. Maybe it was one of those deals where two guys on the work site were talking and one said, "If you walk half the distance to the door today, and then half the remaining distance tomorrow, and you do that over and over, how many days does it take you to reach the door?" and the second guy said, "Um, like a week?" and the first guy said, "No, it takes forever," and the supervisor overheard this and was, like, "I doubt the veracity of your argument!" so the first guy was, like, "Why don't you try it with--I don't know--maybe with finishing this job? Do half of what's remaining every day and see how many days it takes!" and the supervisor said, "You're on, bud!" That's just about the only explanation for not opening a finished store for almost a year. I even tweeted at Circle K two months ago, "Why isn't your new store in Jax FL on Beach Blvd ever opening? It's been nearly done for 6 mos.!" They did not respond, but the next day they DID have concrete guys show up and pour the sidewalks. That's why I'm justified in referring to myself as "local hero."

Anyway, the Circle K opened last week, with absolutely no fanfare at all. I think their plan was to gaslight us into thinking it had been open all along. "That's crazy talk! We've been in business for MONTHS! You're probably living in a simulation." So last night, my wife and I were at Target and I wanted to eat a NutRageous. The checkstand we selected didn't have any NutRageouses, so we checked out the neighboring checkstands. Remember back in the good old days, when two adjacent checkstands had different candy selections? Well, no longer. Every checkstand had exactly the same candy selection, in exactly the same locations. So we left Target. Then my wife said, "I want to drive past our Walmart to see if it really closes for the night now like their signs say it will." And since the new Circle K is across the street from the Walmart, I decided to stop there for a NutRageous.

We got inside and were shocked to see all the candy was $2.09. I said, "The bastards broke the two-dollar barrier! Candy isn't supposed to be more than $1.89!" We had just been at Target, where one could buy a DVD of Ferris Bueller's Day Off for $4. Are we REALLY supposed to believe that eating two candy bars is more beneficial than owning Ferris Bueller's Day Off on DVD?! That's insane!

So we wandered around their store and prepared to leave empty-handed. But then I saw a sign. It said, "Buy any size fountain drink for $0.79 and get a king-size Hershey's or Reese's candy bar for $1." I said to my wife, "So I can spend $2.09 on a candy bar, or I can spend $1.79 and get the same candy bar with a soda?" She said, "It seems like it." So I went over to get a fountain drink. I asked my wife, "What should I get?" She suggested, "Water?" Which would have been the smart choice, but I wanted to make these economically-illiterate fools pay for their folly, so I got lemonade.

At the register, the total came to $1.92. I gave the cashier $2.02. First she tried to get me to give her more money, figuring I hadn't heard about the "ninety" part. Then she said, "Don't you want to keep your pennies?" Does ANYONE ever want to keep his pennies?! I could see that I had needlessly confused her, so I said, "This way you give me a dime," which she did. Maybe I should have asked for more, like $50 or something.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Local Radio Time Warp

I served as a missionary from early 1997 to early 1999. In October of 1997, I got transferred to a new area. My companion liked to go life weights at the YWCA on p-day. The weight room had a radio that was on. There are a number of songs and bands that I identify with that two-month period of going to the Y.

The "alternative" radio station here in Jacksonville seems to have hired the music director from that weight-room radio station. What's more, it seems the music director has been in a two-decades coma, unaware of any music that has been created since late 1997. I know this sounds unlikely, but it's more likely than the alternative explanation, which is that someone who KNOWS of the past 20 years of music is saying to himself, "People these days love to listen to Uncle Kracker and Sugar Ray."

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Strange Charitable Decisions

The other day I went through the drive-through at Arby's. (Don't judge me--I love their gyros.) The woman asked me if I wanted to make a one-dollar donation to help end child hunger. I said sure. When I got to the window, she said that in return for my donation, I got a coupon for a free slider on my next visit. Sliders sell for $1.19 plus tax.

Why are they doing things this way? I could (theoretically) bankrupt Arby's by repeatedly donating one dollar to end child hunger (assuming food is sold for close to marginal cost, an assumption I understand to be true). Why wouldn't Arby's just donate the dollar themselves and save nineteen cents?

One explanation could be good will. Arby's could make the donation and I'd never know about it and then Arby's didn't do anything except reduce child hunger, whereas this way they reduce child hunger and get me to know about what swell guys they are. It could be worth the nineteen-cent loss for that type of good will.

Another explanation could be to reduce the amount they have to contribute. They didn't tell me about the coupon until after I made the donation. Customers who are unaware of the coupon will make fewer donations, so then Arby's doesn't have as large of a charitable donation and they get to blame their stinginess on their customers. "We would have give you more, but those rat bastards kept refusing!"

Also, we need to recognize that I definitely made the donation but Arby's only potentially gives me a free slider. I have to remember to go back, and to use the coupon. The uncertainty that I'll do that could, at some levels of uncertainty, make it cheaper for Arby's to give out money-losing coupons than to make the donation themselves. For values of rho less than 0.84, then $1 > ρ($1.19). Arby's could just be confident that there's a less-than-eighty-four-percent chance I'll use the coupon.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

End of Semester

I've finished teaching for the semester. Spring term was so much better than Fall term was. In Fall, I wanted to find a new career, but now I'd be fine with sticking with this. (That's right, I'm one of those inspiring teachers who feel the weight of the calling to teach and respond, "I'd be fine with sticking with this.")

One thing I hate about the end of semester is the sob stories from students who want me to give them a grade they didn't earn. I've heard about sorority positions that will be lost, scholarships that will be lost, job reimbursements that will be lost. Sometimes the student has the nerve to ask me to make up for someone else's grading decision, as when a student last semester told me

  1. he needs a 3.0 for scholarship purposes, so
  2. I need to give him an A.
Which means that a different professor gave him a C and he needs me to negate its effect.

I sent my students a message before recording their final exam scores last week. I told them that anyone who asked for a grade increase would find himself outside the class curve. That got rid of most of these messages. One student, though, didn't read his e-mail until after sending me a note about how close he was to the grade break and how much he needed the next grade up. Just a few minutes later, he sent another message that read, "Please disregard my previous message."

Monday, April 30, 2018

Implications of "Sons of God and Daughters of Men"

Here are two things that I thought about in connection with the "Adam was the first enlightened humanoid" theory I outlined a bit here.

1. This could be the origin of the racism justification used periodically over time, that the discriminated-against racial group is sub-human. I don't believe that God would support such a view, obviously, given that Adam was given a charge to be a good steward of the world and its creatures. Given how the idea of "covenant people" is supposed to work, Adam's descendants are supposed to improve the lot of humanoids, not dominate them. But it's a short step from being "chosen" to be "superior." I could see that the origins of racism could be the mistaken idea that "we're children of God and that other group is just animals."

2. I read once that Arthur C. Clarke once said something along the lines of, "Any sufficiently-advanced technology would appear to be magic." So could the sudden change resulting from contact with Adam's descendants be mistaken for alien influence? You can't heave a brick at The History Channel without hitting an "ancient aliens" documentary. Egyptian pyramids as space craft beacons and whatnot. Instead of alien contact, though, could it be that Egyptians made God-adjacent-people contact, with identical results? The scriptural accounts of Egyptian interaction with Abraham and Joseph (from both the Bible and the Pearl of Great Price) seem to indicate a people who weren't entirely strangers to the concepts of Abraham's God. When that first contact was made, was it as influential as a "first contact" with an alien race would be?

I'm not saying I'm right about any of this. I just think they might be areas of interest.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Changing Definitions of Risk?

Here's a crazy article I found out about from Marginal Revolution: the Penn State Outing Club (which is a club for outdoor activities, not a club for revealing the sexual orientation of students) can no longer participate in outdoor activities because they are too risky. It's not that the club has become riskier, it's that our threshold for risk has dropped. What makes them "too dangerous" now is their trips to areas without cell-phone coverage. They've always been doing that, but now being an area like that is too risky when compared to the baseline experience, which is constant cell coverage, I guess.

Is it proper for us to change our idea of risk? My first reaction is to say no, but I can see the logic behind it. We used to be okay with things because they were the only way of doing things, but now that safer things exist, we now say the old way is unacceptable. Like walking home from school. I'm related to a guy who died walking home from school in the 1920s; there's some risk there, even if it's slight. Just because we were okay with something in the past doesn't mean we need to ignore safety improvements.

However, comma, some activities have safer ways of making them happen, and some don't. There's a safer way to get to school now, but there's currently no way to have an outdoor experience in wilderness areas while remaining in cell-phone coverage. Our standard shouldn't be "is there a safer thing to do?" but "is there a safer way to participate in THIS activity?" And since Penn State doesn't have a safer alternative, the Outing Club should be allowed to continue doing what they've been doing.