Friday, September 30, 2011

Technology in the Octagon

After several hours locked in mortal combat, my router finally tapped out. I now have Internet in my office. Let the gratuitous blogging commence!

$1,609.65

That's how much I lose each year from my neighbor's noises, according to this website.

I completely disagree that loud sex is the biggest problem when it comes to neighbor noises. I've lived in attached housing for the past 14 years of my life, and I have heard neighbor sex four times.

  1. 1998: As a missionary in Sheboygan, WI.
  2. 2007: Our downstairs neighbors in Lawrence, KS (I could only hear them because I was up late doing something quiet in the room right above their bedroom).
  3. 2010: White trash neighbors in Virginia (and to be fair to them, I'm pretty sure we gave them the idea by first being loud ourselves that night).
  4. 2010: Same neighbors, but in the middle of a Sunday afternoon.
During the same period, though, we've gone through half-a-dozen sets of neighbors whose music and television habits make it nearly impossible for me to sleep.

I'd actually prefer loud sex. It would be over in 15 minutes*, and it might help me have more-pleasant dreams. I think this story leads with the sex angle just to get it more attention.

* = time estimate based on commonly-prevailing American sexual practices, not on my nearly-unstoppable personal experiences.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Graduate School

I went to college for a while. Or rather, I didn't go to college, exactly, which was why they kicked me out after a year on the rolls. I landed a pretty good job, and for a little bit I thought maybe I didn't need to go back.

The thing is, I like learning, so even if I didn't need a college degree, if I was going to be taking classes and gaining knowledge, I might as well come out of it with a degree. I mean, I once accidentally elbowed a hole in a wall and had to use a map to cover it up. A degree could be useful for those times that I didn't have a map on hand.

I was going to finish in English, because I liked reading and could write reasonably well. I didn't actually like English classes, though, and I did enjoy economics. Since it didn't matter either way professionally--my pretty good job couldn't really make use of either degree--I jumped to economics.

We moved to Kansas for a job that sort of fell through for a while. During that "oh crap" time, a guy in the ward decided to be nice and have us over to help me polish my résumé and plan my career. He asked, "What are you going to do in school?" I said, "I'm going to get my bachelor's in economics." He said, in a pained way, "I mean for graduate school." In his mind, it was a given I would be getting a graduate degree. I told him people had recommended law school to me, but I didn't really feel like it. I'd get my bachelor's and stop. His attitude seemed to say, "Why'd I waste my evening trying to help a guy who's such an idiot."

That was six years ago. Now I'm one semester away from my dissertation. What made the difference? Well, this graph on Mike Mandel's blog sums up what I came to understand:

I'm not saying it doesn't suck. It totally does, especially when you believe (as I do) that most education credentials don't actually represent a difference in intelligence. When everyone gets a bachelor's degree, it no longer represents being in the smartest 10%. To do that, you have to take another four years and thousands more dollars. The "college is for everyone" policy supported by America's leaders, teachers, and parents, wastes billions of dollars a year. It also delays your earning years, cutting the most lucrative years off the end of your career.

It's a terrible system that only gets worse the more people go to school. Because of the collective action problem (no one individual will be the first to forgo college on his own), it has to be resolved from a leadership perspective. Show me the leader, however, who will tell America's students, "Don't stay in school." Until that happens, the value of a college education will continue to erode away.

"Do You Hear That, Your Highness? Those Are the Shrieking Eels"

I was browsing my own blog (which is probably the modern equivalent of staring at yourself in the mirror) and I came across this important video. I decided I needed to reblog it because it answers so many important questions, like "What does everyone have against America, anyway?" and "On what basis do commentators call our society 'decadent'?"

Oh, I can't look away!

Title from "The Princess Bride."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Miscellany

My current morning scripture routine is the Doctrine and Covenants. And since we've been too lazy to find our lesson schedules since we've moved, it's become our evening scripture routine, too.

A few nights ago, we read in D&C 66:10 the following instruction to William E. McLellin: "Commit not adultery--a temptation with which thou hast been troubled." My wife* asked, "How did he feel about this being put out there for everyone to read?" I thought, "I should look that verse up in the four-volume Doctrine and Covenants commentary** I have," and then I thought, "Why haven't I been reading that as I've been going along?"

So now I'm reading the commentary to catch up to where we now are, and then I'll read along. That is my totally boring, round-about way of explaining why I've decided to blog about a few interesting parts of Volume 1.

Regarding the commandment in D&C 35:26 to "lift up your hearts and be glad," Robinson and Garrett make this point:

Is this perhaps the most disobeyed commandment among faithful Latter-day Saints? Often even the most faithful members have difficulty obeying the commandment of the Lord to rejoice, be glad, and fear not. Whether through lack of understanding or lack of faith, they resist the joy that should already be theirs, and they continue to fear for their place in the kingdom. If you are worthy to partake of the sacrament, or if endowed to go to the temple, then reread the assurances of verses 26-27, and be glad! (p. 244)
This reminds me of something I read many years ago in Henry B. Eyring's To Draw Closer to God which greatly challenged my point-of-view then:
I was chatting with my wife at the end of a long day. Three of our children were in the room, listening. I turned and noticed that one of them was watching me--and watching my face intently. And then he asked me, softly, "Why are you unhappy?" I tried to give a reason for my furrowed brow, but I realized later that he could well have been asking this deeper question: "Can I see in you the hope for peace in this life that Jesus promised?" (pp. 132-3)

Regarding D&C 30:1 and the characterization of David Whitmer as having "feared men," Robinson and Garrett write:

Our society generally worries too much about how our peers, colleagues, friends, neighbors, or family might react if we make a "big deal" of our religious convictions, yet we aren't concerned enough about how God will react if we abandon or adjust those convictions in order to "get along." The desire of some people to be considered broad-minded, flexible, or nondogmatic by the world is greater than their desire to be deemed faithful by the Lord--they cannot bring themselves to offend the idols of Babylon. (p. 212)
I read that this afternoon on the bus to an economics seminar where I heard a Mormon say, "The [Mormon] church is trying to rebrand portions of doctrine as folk doctrine, so they can say, 'Some people used to believe this' instead of 'This is our belief.'" I understand the motivation; a lot of people in my program are militantly areligious. I just lost a lot of respect for the speaker, who not only can't hack carrying some doctrines the world deems dubious, but who ascribes cynical posturing to the church as a whole and its leaders in particular to cover his lack of fidelity.

-*-*-*-

Other business: we have a new computer and the spelling check feature of all our browsers isn't working. Be prepared for many more misspellings from me than ever before. Just another way I am revamping my blog to give readers extra value. You're welcome.

Our router was sent to the local store yesterday. As of late this evening, the local store denies any knowledge. I wanted to set up our network this morning. Now I won't get to do it until at least Friday. What does this mean for you, the reader? Fewer blog posts. Again,you're welcome.

Jose Reyes winning the batting title by removing himself from the game is the perfect summation of modern baseball. It is the complete antithesis of Ted Williams. Baseball is the only sport that exists solely on the strength of its fans' nostalgia. It's the Poison Reunion Tour of professional sports.

The Red Sox have no business making the post-season. As I write their position is still undecided, but anyone who tells you they are currently one of the four best teams in the American League needs an intervention.

The Pirates season is over at 72-90. A big improvement over last season, but a huge let-down from July 26th.

* = My wife needs a new blog name. "Super-Hot 111" is just too clanky, and doesn't shorten/abbreviate well. Should I go back to "Persephone" or to something else entirely? I'd open it up for user discussion, but we saw how well my last solicitation of comments went.

** = Robinson, Stephen E. and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants (4 vols.). Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Router Watch 2011 [Insert Dramatic Music Here]

My router was supposed to be delivered last week. Then it was delayed. I started to freak out when I remembered my sister's kitchen cabinets, which were destroyed when the truck caught fire. Maybe my router was involved in a truck accident, like this one.

Well, Walmart's tracking feature shows that it is being delivered to my local store today. Depending on when it arrives, I could have a wireless network as early as tomorrow afternoon. (Not tomorrow morning because I have to take our car for an emissions inspection in the morning. Don't worry, I don't plan on blogging that.)

When the network is up and I can blog more freely, the first thing on deck is an author interview I conducted via e-mail. After that, it's just no-holds-barred blogging. Like being in the blogging octagon. A Random Stranger, bomaye!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Winner, Winner, But Alas, No Chicken Dinner

Good thing I waited until late Friday to check for a giveaway winner. Before 10pm we didn't have a winning entry.

We can all learn a lot from this contest. You will learn the correct answer, and I have learned that my blog has even fewer regular readers than I suspected. (This contest had four respondants. Pioneer Woman's most-recent movie quiz had over 50 entries. Not that I read Pioneer Woman, but I'm aware that that lady gets a lot of blog traffic.) Perhaps the lackluster response to my blog is because it's not the kind of blog that demands attention. When my router gets here (the date of which Walmart pushed back a week), I will attempt to begin making ammends.

Stephen guessed writing a poem on the desktop. Steve guessed tying up a yellow gorilla to Amish furniture. Heather guessed (in a comment on another post) chatting online with babes all day (and then accused me of malfeascence when her guess didn't appear where she thought it would be). And Angela guessed grating a giant block of cheese onto chips.

And the winner is...Angela!

Mothering a flute makes you a motherfluter.

Yes, Kip was grating cheese on a plate of chips, and when Napoleon asks him, "Will you bring me my Chap Stick?" Kip looks wistfully at the plate of nacent nachos and says, "I'm really busy right now." (Fuller analysis of Kip's nacho recipe can be found here. Pioneer Woman would alter the recipe by adding rare cheeses and three-and-a-half gallons of heavy whipping cream.)

Angela's prize is in the works. I'll post about it once she receives it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Libertarian Economist: Non Sequitur?

Again from Gary J. Miller's Managerial Dilemmas:

Individual liberty must be purchased at the cost of efficiency, or vice versa. (p. 26)

Is this an accurate summation of today's political divide? I don't think so. It's not so much efficiency on one side of the debate, but rent-seeking. There's individual liberty, and then there's money to be made and power to be had in controlling the individual liberty of others.

Giveaway Quiz

On your sworn honor, you must not look for the answer to this question on the Internet, ask a friend, or go check the movie. Leave a comment with your answer.

In the movie "Napoleon Dynamite," what was Kip doing right before he tells Napoleon, "I'm really busy right now"?

I'll check the entries sometime later this week. Maybe Friday? Sure, Friday. Why not. Multiple correct answers will get the random.org treatment I did last time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"You Know I Hear a Lot of Talk"

Frank Black responded to ambient noise by heading to the stereo store. I respond by calling the cops. Tomato, incorrect-pronunciation-of-tomato.

The point is, I'm getting to the age where neck-stabbing is no longer advisable. Young people who want to stab their neighbors in the neck are passionate; old people who want to stab necks are unbalanced. Like Bridget Fonda's character says in "Singles," "Somewhere around 25, bizarre becomes immature." And by the time you're my age (33), you have to judge your accomplishments against those of your peers. What have other 33-year-olds managed to do? Well, only save all of humanity from sin and death. But I'm not far behind: I used to have a newspaper column.

So as you can see, I've got some massive peer pressure leaning on me to forgo my childish ways. The sad fact is, I'm a man, and, like Bill McNeal would say, "When I was a child I thought as a child and spoke as a child, but when I became a man I took that child out back and had him shot."

Our previous neighbors listened to music so loudly the lyrics were clearly discernible through the walls, down a floor, and on the other side of the house. Over our back fence were neighbors who prided themselves on being old enough to drink on the patio at 3 am on a weeknight. We recently moved and I was looking forward to leaving the terrible neighbors behind, but now we have a neighbor who sleeps with the television on all night. Tuned to action/adventure movies.

My initial response ran the gamut from wanting to stab him in the neck to wishing my guardian angel would stab him in the neck for me. But then I remembered that I was trying to move beyond neck stabbing. (That should totally be the title of Dr. Phil's next book: "Beyond Neck Stabbing." Patent pending, Phil.)

Enter Marpac Corporation, the maker of the SleepMate 980A. Perhaps it is the very model Frank Black got. But mine wasn't available at the local stereo store (primarily because stereo stores don't exist anymore). It also wasn't available at Target or Bed, Bath, and Et Cetera. But it was available for free home delivery from walmart.com.

It arrived yesterday. My wife told me, "It's smaller than I expected." (Hearing that from her brought back memories of our wedding night.) She was expecting something as large as a dehumidifier. I can understand: Miami Sound Machine was, like, 10 guys.

Because my blog aspires to greatness, I've included something called "pictures." It's a revolutionary new technology that allows me to describe things in a real half-assed way. I think it's really going to catch on. I know I appreciate it.

Here it is in all its glory: behold the SleepMate 980A and weep!

Of course, it's hard to tell here how large it is. (That was my line on our wedding night.) To put it in perspective, you need to see it next to an everyday object. Like, say, a pair of my glasses.

What ruins the comparison, though, is when I tell you that that pair is my novelty oversized pair.

The SleepMate 980A has TWO different thingies to twist to adjust the sound, and it has two volume settings, too. (Okay, so it's not Frank Black's model; he could turn his up to 10.) Previous nights in our new house I've slept up to 11 hours and woken up exhausted. (Sleeping 11 hours is not recommended for those who have to be somewhere before 1:30 in the afternoon.) Last night I slept for 7 hours and dreamed the entire time. (Dreams are supposed to be signs of restful sleep, which then points out a glaring inconsistency in Christian doctrine when "O Little Town of Bethlehem" claims deep sleeps are dreamless. Ergo, there is no God.)

So now I'm one of those freaky old people who has specialized machines to do jobs most people don't even know were desirable. But it was either that or stab some necks.

NOTE: All of this was made possible by a generous grant to my bank account by God, who has heard my constant pleas that He "hook a brotha up" and somewhat attenuated my crushing poverty. Yea, God!

Title quote from the Frank Black song "White Noise Maker."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Router-Watch: Day Whatever

No router yet. But word on the street (read: text from my wife) says my sleep machine arrived in the mail today. Expect a breathless review tomorrow. Anything to distract us from this awful anxiety we all feel regarding my router's delivery.

Relationship Advice From an Economist

From Gary J. Miller's Managerial Dilemmas: The Political Economy of Hierarchy we get this tip sure to provide marital bliss:

Hanging up the phone is crucial, because keeping the conversation going is a tacit admission that the commitment is negotiable. (p. 45)
Seriously, though, I'm enjoying this book more than I usually enjoy required reading. I almost read ahead. (Almost.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Seriously, Better Things Are Coming Soon

My router is supposed to show up at the local Wal-Mart sometime between tomorrow and next Monday. With a router, I'll have Internet in my office, and then I'll be blogging, like, thirty-six posts a day. I promise.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What Am I, an Indian?

I just had to ride the shuttle to campus sitting in the shuttle stairwell, along with another passenger. The shuttle looked a little something like this.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Childhood Misperceptions

I don't know if I ever told you about this, but I have two jobs now. One of them is teaching economics at my graduate university, and the other is "Program Manager" for a financial company.

I'll be the first to tell you that I have no idea what the hell a program manager does. What programs am I managing? Or is it more like if we had any programs, I'd be the guy doing the managing? Anyway, all I know is I spend periods of time trying to figure out what the CEO wants me to do and then some more time trying to do that.

A few weeks ago, what he wanted was for me to accompany him to a client meeting in the District. So I shaved, put on a suit, and Metroed my ass in there.

It was late summer, so there were plenty of tourists around. And I could clearly remember my time as a tourist around Washington. I would see two guys in suits walking along a sidewalk, talking business, and I would think, "Those two guys are powerful people making a lasting impact on human civilization." Or something like that. I mean, I was only twelve, so it probably came out as something closer to, "Dude!" But the idea was there, inchoate.

Now, though, any tourist looking at the two of us walking around who is thinking that is grossly misinformed. Maybe not about my boss, but definitely about me. I am not a powerful person. I live so far outside the city that I've had the following conversation more than once:

Them: "Where is that? Out the Orange Line?"

Me: "Yeah, you ride the Orange Line to the end, then you keep going for a while."

Them: ?!?!

I only own one car, it has over 150,000 miles on it, and it won't start unless the air conditioning is turned off (and that only increases the probability of a start, it by no means sets p = 1). I save Metro cards with 20 cents on them for later use.

I felt like a fraud, like I was leading tourists to look up to me when they had absolutely no business doing so. Had someone told teenage me, "You'll have a financial job in the District when you grow up," teenage me would have thought, "Sweet, I make the big time!" Well, teenage me and assorted tourists, this is by no means the big time.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Turning an Organizational Corner

Home Internet is up and running now (though without a router). My home office is organized enough for me to work at the desk. Most of the furniture is put together and placed where it belongs. I'm very nearly ready to declare "Full speed ahead!"

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Tennessee's Kids

Here's a news story about a mother possibly facing child neglect charges for allowing her daughter to ride her bike to school. It's in Elizabethton, Tennessee, where I was last Saturday.

I drove through town on the main highway. Their Pizza Hut was so pimped-out that I thought it was a new pizza restaurant I'd never heard of before. At the time I thought, "I should go back and take a picture of that for blogging purposes," but then I thought, "No, I'll be able to find it online." I can't find it online, and now the blogging community is a little bit poorer for it.

The point is that Elizabethton is not a large town. Maybe traffic gets busy in the morning and the evening, but not around a community school. I can't find a map of Harold McCormick Elementary's service area online (get with the times, Elizabethton Schools!), but the news article notes the girl is not riding on a highway. But since a kid was once killed on that street, the mother must be negligent.

Other places kids were once killed include cars, bathtubs, and Disneyland. The list of negligent parents just became much longer.

The office notes that the girl was riding INTO traffic. That's actually the preferred way to ride when there are no sidewalks, so you can see if a car is going to hit you. Cars swerving to avoid the girl show which drivers should be ticketed for reckless driving, not which kid shouldn't be riding a bike.

Economist Bryan Caplan has made the point that we have perceived safety issues which don't actually correspond to real mortality rates. Conscientious parents insist their kids don't talk to strangers, but statistically more children are killed by head injuries in cars. I know a lady who uses Facebook as a place to excoriate parents with improper safety seats for their kids, but she doesn't make her kids wear helmets in the car. Is she REALLY concerned with safety, or is she just posturing?

Every kid now alive will one day die. Is my job as a parent to make that date as far in the future as possible? If so, I should keep my kids locked in a bomb shelter. We realize there must be something else parents should be optimizing. The Elizabethton Police need to back off and let a girl ride her bike.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Random Movie Thoughts

Probably about a year ago, we rented "Did You Hear About the Morgans?," the unfortunately-titled Hugh Grant/Sarah Jessica Parker movie. I had read negative reviews of the movie, but my wife and I enjoy Hugh Grant, so we splurged and spent $1.05 to get it from Redbox.

Here's why I think it got negative reviews: it deals with infidelity and marital trust issues, and in a non-trivial way. The previews show that the eponymous Morgans are heading towards divorce, but this is a very different divorce than that in "Two Weeks Notice," which was just a plot device played for a few laughs.

I sort of liked the more-serious aspects of "DYHATM?" But you can't just drop that on an audience that thinks they're going to be seeing a romantic comedy.