Thursday, January 17, 2019


I have a colleague who uses "reply all" e-mails to publicly air his grievances with our dean, and I have a dean with too thin of skin to not "reply all" his answers. So for several years, now, the entire college has been witness to some awkward e-mail disputes.

Yesterday, this flared up again. The dean has had some unsubstantiated accusations made against him, so we brought in an outside investigator, whose final report found that the accusations were unsubstantiated. The colleague asked for distribution of the final report instead of just a summary of the findings. The dean answered, "I know you have the report because you filed a Freedom of Information Act request for it." The colleague answered, "So can I share the report?" The dean said he doesn't have the authority to authorize that.

Then, a new twist: a different colleague used "reply all" to tell the first colleague to not include her on future e-mails about this issue.

Is this the height of irony? Or next-level trolling? Or rank hypocrisy? If I had more job security and/or fewer dependents, I'd "reply all" something about how "reply all" is supposed to be used.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A Missing Market

Tyler Cowen likes to talk about "markets in everything," but the government shutdown has made me wonder why this particular market is missing: ultra-low-interest loans to furloughed government employees.

The way I understand it, when the government does (eventually) reopen, every government employee will receive back-pay, so they don't have an income problem, they have a cash-flow problem. And if interest is the price of risk, the fact that there's very little risk of these employees not (eventually) receiving this back-pay should mean that willing lenders will compete the required interest rate down very low.

The absence of this market means either: 1) there's a real chance the government will never re-open, 2) there's a missing enforcement mechanism (or the existing enforcement mechanisms are not sufficiently low-cost), 3) the size of the federal payroll dwarfs available private capital for loans, 4) involved parties get more utility from having cash-flow-strapped government workers. Options 1, 2, and 3 don't seem realistic to me.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Home-Made Dust Jacket

A few months ago, the sister of one of the older members of our ward died. This ward member has been sorting through her sister's things, and asked me if I might want any books. And this was how, in December, I became the owner of Hugh Nibley's World and the Prophets.

Problem: the super 70s book design doesn't look a thing like the other Nibley books I own, which all have a uniform look to them.

I set about making a dust jacket for my new book. I measured the dust jackets of the other books in the series and ended up with a file I'd created in Microsoft Publisher. Then I went to the local print shop.

The people there were very nice, but we weren't really understanding each other well. They were using industry jargon and I was having to Google the terms. Finally, the woman from the print shop determined that it was slightly too large to print on a sheet of Mylar, so I'd basically need to get a tiny poster made. But the poster would be on paper and the other dust jackets I was trying to match were much more similar to the Mylar. So we went through some rounds of editing back and forth, and then, after two holidays, and a shipment of toner from New Jersey, today I picked up my new book cover.

The poster was going to be around $20, but this Mylar sheet was $2.68.

Right now, I only have two of the books with me at work. Later tonight, I'll place it next to the other books it (now) matches.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Fear of Shame Works As a Motivation

Since disclosing my daily to-do list last week, I Reaganed on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. That's the first time I've Reaganed on consecutive days, and the first time I've Reaganed three days in a month. I'm excited to keep this going this week. Maybe I'll even Reagan on a weekend this month!

Friday, January 04, 2019


I wrote a special commemorative post for my 1,000th post, and for my 2,000th post, but my 3,000th post was this post from last month. Whoops.

What's been my main lesson from keeping a blog for 12 and a half years? It's this: blogs aren't really a thing anymore. If people found out today that I have a blog, that would be the same as me back in high school finding out that one of my teachers still mimeographed a newsletter. Or distributed his music on eight-track cassettes.

So what's next for "A Random Stranger"? Well, in the words of Troy McClure, "Magic powers! Wedding after wedding after wedding! And did someone say, 'Long-lost triplets'?" That should last me another 3,021 posts.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

2019 Routine

While I'm telling you all my behaviors for this year, why not show you the latest (paper) version of my daily to-do list.

With a few exceptions, these items have comprised my daily to-do list for a few years, now. It's just been the past three months or so that I've been using this template I found online at (I'm not trying to obscure their logo, I'm just trying to add some extra rows!).

Why is it written in cursive? Because I can, baby! A couple months ago, I read Julia Cameron's Artist's Way and she puts a lot of emphasis on "morning pages." I thought, "If I'm going to be handwriting so much, I should use it as handwriting practice." I haven't written regularly in cursive in almost 30 years (aside from once a year when I answer my kids' letter to Santa Claus, when I need to disguise my handwriting). So I started writing in cursive again. Plus, it's my passive-aggressive way to get back at young people; when they are all, like, "I can't believe you don't have bitcoin-mining sex-robots," I can be, like, "Yeah, well you can't even READ!"

Completing an entire day's tasks is "Reaganing." Currently, on average, I Reagan about twice per month.

My main to-do list is on my phone, using the Todoist app, but the paper allows for the identification of long-term trends (which Todoist only offers on a paying account).

It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: this isn't intended as anything other than a more-credible commitment to these goals. I'll be less likely to, say, take off the last two weeks of a month (ahem, December) if there's an increased likelihood that someone I know might one day ask, "So what's the deal with your to-do list these days?" Seriously, when you live a life that's this craptacular, the idea that anyone could ever think you were engaging in a humblebrag is baffling.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

2019 Goals

I've written before about my hesitancy to publicize my goals. TL;DR: I don't like to do it.

However, comma, people will tell you that publicly committing to goals will make you more likely to achieve them. And risking money helps, too: hence things like StickK. But I'm too poor to try that. ("That's the point, moron." Pipe down, conscience!) So I'll go with a quasi-public commitment here on my blog. (Why quasi-public? Aren't blogs, like, public public? Well, my stat tracker tells me that scores of Italians are visiting this blog every day, but I bet they're just pornbots. It's been months since I've had an interaction with a person I know IRL. But there are some of them who know--or at least at one time knew--about this blog, so declarations made here are conceivably commitments to friends.)

Last year I read Your Best Year Ever by Michael Hyatt. In it, he identifies 10 life areas for possible goals, and two types of goals (habit or achievement). He also says not to be a jackass who sets 20 goals, but oh well, that's what I've done.

Spiritualmonthly temple attendanceread the Bible
Intellectualwrite 1,000 words per daycomplete 2019 reading plan
Emotionalmorning and evening yogaown a beagle
Physicaldaily walk/run and exercisesweigh 180 lbs.
Maritalmonthly dinner out at wife's restaurant of choicelist of 30 "bucket list" items found in Men's Health article
Parentalweekend dates with individual kidstwin baby girls
Socialextend a missionary invitation weeklyhost 12 dinner parties
Vocationalpublish one article per quartercomplete Ph.D.
Avocationalpractice piano dailyfinish DuoLingo's Mandarin course and pass HSK-3
Financialsave 10% of each paycheckretire revolving debt

If only one of my goals was "learn how to make a table in HTML," I'd be 5% done already!

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

2019 Reading Plan

I'm trying something new this year: I gave a list of 400 to-read books to my wife and daughter and asked them to act as a Book-of-the-Month Club for me, selecting two books each month from the list and getting them from the library. That's why 24 of the books on my reading plan are currently unknown to me.


1. The Home Ranch, by Ralph Moody (Little Britches #3)

2. Mary Emma and Company, by Ralph Moody (Little Britches #4)

3. The Fields of Home, by Ralph Moody (Little Britches #5)

4. Shaking the Nickel Bush, by Ralph Moody (Little Britches #6)


5. Journey to Munich, by Jacqueline Winspear (#12)

6. In This Grave Hour, by Jacqueline Winspear (#13)

7. To Die but Once, by Jacqueline Winspear (#14)


8. Tales of Wrykyn and Elsewhere, by P.G. Wodehouse

9. The Gold Bat, by P.G. Wodehouse

10. Money in the Bank, by P.G. Wodehouse

11. Something Fresh, by P.G. Wodehouse

12. Leave It to Psmith, by P.G. Wodehouse

13. Lord Emsworth and Others, by P.G. Wodehouse


14-37. library books chosen by wife and daughter


38. Name as Key-Word, by Matthew L. Bowen

39. Mormon Scientist, by Henry J. Eyring

40. Voyages of the Book of Mormon, by George Potter, et Al.

41. The Power of Everyday Missionaries, by Clayton M. Christensen

42. Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes


43. The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope

44. Chinese: An Essential Grammar, by Yip Po-Ching and Don Rimmington

45. Great Basin Kingdom, by Leonard J. Arrington

46. Holy Bible (NRSV w/ Apocrypha)

47. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien


48. The Mortal Messiah, Book 3, by Bruce R. McConkie

49. The Mortal Messiah, Book 4, by Bruce R. McConkie

50. The Millennial Messiah, by Bruce R. McConkie

51. Temple and Cosmos, by Hugh Nibley


52. Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

53. The Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare

54. King John, by William Shakespeare


55. Write No Matter What, by Joli Jensen

56. A Generation of Sociopaths, by Bruce Cannon Gibney

57. Be the Parent, Please, by Naomi Schaefer Riley

58. Rickshaw Boy, by Lao She

59. The Moral Economy, by Samuel Bowles

60. The Rationale of Central Banking, by Vera C. Smith

61. The Servile State, by Hilaire Belloc

62. Scarcity, by Sendhil Mullainathan

63. A Humane Economy, Wilhelm Röpke

64. Red Star Over China, by Edgar Snow

65. 摩尔门经

66. The Three Nephites, by Bruce E. Dana


67. Bubble in the Bathtub, by Jo Nesbø

68. After You with the Pistol, by Kyril Bonfiglioli

69. The Revolt of the Public, by Martin Gurri

70. Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

Friday, December 28, 2018

Birthday Boy

Yesterday was my birthday. We drove around town doing small things we hadn't done before, like visiting a popular park and riding the people-mover-thing they have downtown.

In many ways, this year has been a year of personal bests. For instance, I've never been as old as I am now, as fat as I am now, or as poor as I am now. That's something, isn't it?

Over the next few days, I'll disclose my final totals for 2018 accomplishments and my 2019 goals.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

All the Work Was Worth It

We decided to move to China in January 2014. We started learning Mandarin Chinese immediately. So I'm coming up on five years of studying now. When a newborn Chinese kid spends five years studying Mandarin, he's fluent. Me? I've passed HSK-2 and could probably pass HSK-3 (out of six levels).

Monday was Christmas Eve. We go to eat Chinese food on Christmas Eve. We have a place in town we like, but the ambiance is terrible. So, since we moved this summer and now we have a new closest Chinese restaurant, we decided to go there.

My wife called to make sure they were open on Christmas Eve night. The proprietor answered the phone in Chinese (promising) and then didn't really make sense when the conversation switched to English (double promising). But I didn't want to plan on going there and then have to scramble if we showed up and the place was closed, so when I had to go out for a bit in the afternoon, I decided to drive past the restaurant and see what their signs said.

I drove around the front, and could only see a neon "OPEN" sign. I drove around the back and stopped to read the shut-down drive-thru (triple promising) menu board. A man had come out the back door for a cigarette break. He was smoking the super-stinky extra-cancer cigarettes you can only find in China (quadruple promising--how would you even go about getting those in the US?!).

A RANDOM STRANGER: Are you open tonight?

CHINESE COOK: Sorry,no, Chinese.

ARS: 今天晚上,你们开门了吗? [Are you open tonight?]

CC: Sorry, no, Chinese.

Now, a couple different possibilities presented themselves:

  1. I had insensitively confused a some-other-ethnicity cook for a Chinese cook and he was telling me that he didn't speak Chinese.
  2. He didn't speak Mandarin (because he spoke Cantonese or some other language, as hundreds of millions of Chinese people do).
  3. He's used to telling white guys "Sorry, no, Chinese," and he didn't actually listen to the words I said.
  4. My Mandarin is so terrible that he didn't recognize the words I was saying as Chinese.

Number Four is the only real possibility.

ARS: 你会说普通话吗? [Do you speak Mandarin?]

CC: 会。 [Yes.]

ARS: 今天晚上, 你们开门了吗? [Are you open tonight?]

CC: 开。 [Yes.]

ARS: 你们关门了什么时候? [What time do you close?]

CC: 十。 [Ten.]

However, his accent was so far from Received Pronunciation, as it were, that it sounded like he had said they closed at four. When I repeated it back to him, he held up ten fingers.

ARS: 我们回来。 [We'll be back.]

How was the actual food? Well, it was exactly like a restaurant in China, and I mean that in every positive and negative sense. The only indication that we were actually in America and not at some mom-and-pop place in Fengtai District was that the water came to us on ice, not boiling.

Gun-Loving Church Members

There's a type of church member who maintains an entire arsenal sufficient for a mid-sized militia. So I wondered what that group would think of Mormon, Chapter 7:

And now, behold, I would speak somewhat unto the remnant of this people who are spared, if it so be that God may give unto them my words, that they may know of the things of their fathers; yea, I speak unto you, ye remnant of the house of Israel; and these are the words which I speak: [....] Know ye that ye must lay down your weapons of war, and delight no more in the shedding of blood, and take them not again, save it be that God shall command you. [Mormon 7:1, 4]
The Anti-Nephi-Lehis weren't just a bunch of crackpots with an insane understanding of their obligations to their enemies, but rather an example to follow.