Monday, July 31, 2006

Fortress of Solitude Alert #1

Props to our thriving youth group at Coram Deo (3 people, including the pastor, but who's counting?) for going to the river to feed homeless people. Of note: according to those on the street, Sunday is the hardest day to get food (whether this means int he soup kitchens, or just do-gooders on the street I do not know - I wasn't there). Go figure.

Things to do someday

For the low, low price of $600 you too can spend a half-night looking through the 60-inch diameter telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory near L.A. You can even get a group of up to 25 people to share the experience. For $1100, you can have all night, from dusk to dawn.

That could be pretty stinkin' cool.


Saturday, July 29, 2006


Having pulled the hard drive from my sister's laptop to try and recover data from a computer that no longer wants to boot, I offer this advice: don't trust your precious documents to a laptop hard drive. Nothing that small can be as reliable as the 3.5" drives in your desktop. And you should back those up, too.

This thing is slow, only functions if it feels like it, and as I said before it fails to boot up the computer it's in.

I also learned that if you change too much hardware in your computer, it decides you need to reactivate Windows. That was 15 minutes I could have spent doing many other things this morning. Okay, not really, but it's still an inconvinience to call in to Microsoft.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Sunday Mornings

Why do we go to church on Sunday mornings? Not "what are some reasons that Christians may once have met on Sunday mornings," but why do we, here and now, feel some compulsion to meet on Sunday mornings. I have heard it suggested that for an unchurched person, Sunday morning is a time one associates with church - hence, that's when they are most likely to show up.

The church I'm becoming involved in (PLUG: Coram Deo) is, among other things, committed to being different - not for the sake of being different, but because the status quo just isn't enough. Different is not a matter of the music style, the kinds of dress allowed, or having a coffee bar in the back. If that was all the change I could imagine, I'd be sorely tempted to ditch the church altogether.

The church is also committed to service - being Christ to others, in the flesh (as it were). Not "I'll-mow-your-lawn-if-you-listen-to-my-presentation-of-the-gospel," but motivated simply by the desire to serve. An end, not a means.

So I figure, why not use Sunday morning as a time to get our hands dirty serving the community? The world sees Christians and Sunday mornings like something from the Simpsons - we all get dressed up, huddle together, learn about the evils of the world, sing some songs, and go home eager to catch the afternoon football game. What would the world think if Christians made it a point to have their "Sunday morning service" become a time for Sunday morning service?

What if Sunday morning were spent visiting the sick, clothing the naked, and feeding the hungry? What if the focal point of the Christian Week was serving others, not huddling away from them in our fortress of solitude? For the local church to say "This gathering is not to be your focus. Your focus is to be out there, serving as Christ did."

Perhaps it is pointless and unnoticed symbolism. But I think it could be meaningful, especially (and perhaps only) if the heart is moved to match it.

Global Warming

There are a couple of key questions in the global warming debate. I am not a paleoclimatologist, so I am hardly qualified to speak about the mechanisms and history of the temperature of the earth. The question is, are they?

Things we need to know, and seperate from each other:
1) Is the earth warming up? This can be observed from current data. Recent years do seem warmer than previous years, but this is with no more than about a couple-hundred-year window.

2) Does this warming deviate from the long-run history of the earth? This is a crucial question. More below.

3) Is any deviation from long-term trends due to human activity? Another point suspected, and modeled, but I have heard that said models are somewhat shaky. The Earth is really frickin' complex. To claim to fully know how X affects Y when a direct result cannot be observed is something that leaves me nervous.

More on Question #2. The U.S. House of Representatives committee on Energy and Commerce recently held a couple hearings on Global Warming. At issue is a temperature reconstruction done for the UN IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) in 2001, and for an academic paper in 1998 that shows the temperature of the earth spiking to unseen heights in the 1900's, dating back more than 1,000 years. This would be significant. The problem is that the statistical methods used to do the reconstruction appear (1) not to have been worked on with any statisticians, (2) to be fundamentaly flawed - intentionally or unintentionally - in a way that predicts the end result whether the historical data or even random data is inserted.

An independent panel was comissioned to look into this. Their results are worth looking at. A website I read regularly has put together some of the excerpts from the first hearing on the subject. The attitude of the Democratic congressmen seems to be this: "We know the truth, don't bother us with your facts. Your facts might run counter to the Truth. You are here not to address the Truth, but to satisfy a partisan agenda. You are hypocritical in your analysis of the Truth." I was shocked to read some of these statements.

I prefer the report the most. Written by a statistician who voted for Gore, I trust it to be less partisan. The key issues brought up are (1) The statistical tools were misused, (2) the academic review of the work was done with people the authors knew and collaborated with on other papers, instead of independent experts, and (3) No experts in a key field (statistics) were consulted, despite multiple authors being from schools with excellent stats departments.

Excerpts Here
Full Report Here (PDF, 1.4 MB)
Committee Page Here

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Originally uploaded by Titania1980.

I couldn't help but think of Josie and the Pussycats, when Josie in a fit of subliminal cruelty tells the most innocent girl "Puppies turn into dogs who grow old and die!"

We later see her playing with puppies at a pet store looking very distraught.

It made me sad, too. Our Golden Retriever is old, and won't last much longer. I think she'll be 14 in December.

Ed: "her" = the innocent girl, not Josie.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Reality/Talent Shows

They are everywhere. On the only channels I get to a visible degree, every one is a reality-talent show. A talent show, a dance show, a modeling show, a singing show. My other options are PBS (documentary about a sinking ship), TBN (sometimes amusing, though even it wasn't coming in well today) and the Spanish-language channel.

I suppose people that don't like talk radio feel the same way, especially on the AM band. I think the audience-participation genre on both TV and radio has a powerful draw.

The problem with the TV shows is that they are all the same. Especially the singing show - they even have an annoying British guy. Painful, it was.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Breaking Stereotypes

Not everyone on the street is a n'er-do-well, drug-addicted loser. You knew this, right? Bad things can happen to honest people. It's good to be reminded of that, lest you feel unsympathetic.

Homeless Man Returns $21,000 in Savings Bonds

Unintended Consequences

Interesting happenings in Las Vegas. Due to the number of homeless people that have crowded local parks, the city decided to make feeding them there illegal.

I can see good and bad reasons behind this. I'm curious to know what others think.

Personally, I think it's a symptom of "I don't want to see the problem, and want it to go away." Put the homeless in distant shelters, far from where I might see them.

Monday, July 24, 2006


I ate there for lunch last Tuesday, because if I had gone to North Carolina and not tried this mythic dining establishment, I'd have woken up one morning with a chicken head in my bed, or something similarly daunting.

It was located in the local mall's food court. I ended up getting a chicken caesar wrap. Perhaps I didn't make the best choice. It was good, but hardly mythic. But I did not sample their food time and again - that one meal was it. I might have tried again for dinner, but ended up having dinner at proper restaurants with coworkers, classmates, and the instructor.

I think I'm just hard to impress. In-N-Out is good, but I'd not drive hours out of my way to go there. Same with Krispy Kreme. If I want a good burger, I think a local place has to be the thing. Have an Awful-Awful at the Nugget in downtown Reno (not the Sparks Nugget). Eat at a stool in the diner. That is a proper fast-food meal. Get a chocolate shake, too.

I so wish I could go there for lunch right now. [cries]

Friday, July 21, 2006


A joke a fellow economist told me as we rode in the taxi to the airport for our return trip:

A group of economists are stranded on a desert island. They have but one can of beans, and set out deciding what should be done with it. Economist #1 says "All right. First, assume we have a can opener..."

Economists like to state assumptions. I think everyone makes them, but we have some sick love for letting everyone know when we make them. In that vein, assume that the idea of a musical Ideal holds true - that some music by its composition comes closer to stirring up complex thoughts, images, feelings, or somehow representing seeming inherently non-musical things, like Superman. My follow-up question is this:

What songs do you know that seem to come close to capturing some Ideal? Ground rules: lyrics that make you think of things are not allowed (sorry, Kaysi!), because that would be poetic. Lyrics in languages you do not know are okay, as are pure instrumental pieces.

I'm back from North Carolina. I left my hotel yesterday at 1 EDT. I arrived home at 2am EDT (11:00 PDT). That was long, and I hear some such trips are even longer. A globe-trotter I am not. I am now cruelly and strangely awake (though at a time I'd normally be at work) though I am almost unable to stand for exhaustion.

I saw a Blue Ridge Road, I am not sure if it was the aforementioned Blue Ridge Parkway. It ran right by Crabtree Mall, which was where we took all our meals, being a short walk (doable,, but only in the evening) from the hotel. More stories are probably forthcoming, but I'm putting pictures up on Flickr (the few that I took).

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Musical Ideal

I have heard that Plato advanced the idea that there exists an objective Ideal of things, that everything in the natural world is more or less like. An Ideal chair, and Ideal triangle, etc. To the extent that things are more like that Ideal, they are more accurate.

I was wondering today, as I listened to the Superman theme song on my stereo: is it possible that there is an Ideal musical representations for inherently non-musical things? Like, is there an Ideal Superman song that somehow perfectly captures the essence of Superman? That any musical theme related to this subject is judged by, approved of, to the extent that it matches the Ideal?

A weird thought. But maybe it's not as crazy as it sounds. Music stirs responses in people - certain types of music are designed to provoke certain responses. Given that music is thus related to a non-musical emotion, thought, or feeling is it not possible that the Ideal representation of a person or character combines those themes in a way that captures their essence?
In other news, I'm going to be in North Carolina for a week, learning new and interesting words to curse the humidity with. But I plan to take my camera, not that a class for learning how to better interpret labor market data is expected to provide many scenic opportunities.


I hate to see people condemned by their environment to a life of famine, poverty, disease and death. I believe that the best way to change this in the long run is not through charity, but through the creation of systems that tend to reduce those effects.

I have heard, and would tend to agree that the best global predictor of health is a first-world economy, by leaps and bounds. And yet through the structure of our aid programs we propogate the poverty we claim to be working to eliminate.

A question was posed, after a fashion, based on the concept that pooer, even destitue groups of people seem happier than we in the great ol' US seem to be. That even seems to make sense. My first response would have been "you mean, those who live past the age of five seem generally happier" but that would have been both harsh and a distraction from the matter at hand. But, also true.

Happiness is a funny thing. Economists labor under the idea that more stuff makes people happier - allocating goods and services in a way that maximises individual "utility" is what economics is founded on. But it is an important principle that utility is not comparable between people. You can't simply sum up a population's utilities, because there isn't an accurate measure of such things. This is how having more things in the US may not make us happier than people in poor nations: we have lots of stuff, but that simply forms the background of our lives - and additional happiness-inducing things sufffer from diminishing marginal returns.

Expectations are crucial - the same event, with different expectations, produces all sorts of different emotional responses. At a wedding, the bride and groom and those who expect much happiness for the two of them rejoice. A man going through a bitter divorce may feel pity for the expected misery these two are headed for; I am sad because I am reminded of something I desire but don't expect for myself. Joy, pity, sorrow. One event. Is any of these feelings inaccurate?

For people in Kenya, poverty, disease and death are likely expectations for many people. Those things that are not poverty, disease and death are therefore welcome events, and all the better because of the gulf between those expectations and reality. For Americans, health, wealth and success are the expectations, and those things which fall short of those expectations are all the worse by comparison. And so a can of cold soda for a Kenyan may be an unbelievable joy while it is something the American consumes without thinking.

Should we, therefore, decide that in order to make people happy we will impoverish the world? Throw ourselves in front of the bullet of wealth? Is it better that a healthy child is an expectation, or that a healthy child seems to be a miracle, it is so rare an event?

In the best of both worlds, we receive the former (many healthy births, and other good things) without ceasing to be grateful for them. It is with this attitude that I would love to see the world changed: abundance with gratitude, not to the benevolent US or Gates Foundation, but to the giver of all good gifts.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Credit where...

Being thankful, in big things or small things, is important. Looking past blessings to focus on trials makes one bitter, angry, and unwilling to relate to God. In that vein:

It was a small thing I asked. I even said that it was, but in light of recent events, I quite literally asked God to just cut me a break. I changed out my spark plugs, and wanted to give my car one last chance to pass smog, before I took it into the shop for a warranty service they couldn't perform because the car's error code had been erased by a previous diagnostic check. By taking the car to the shop today, I would commit myself to letting my registration lapse and having to pay it, plus shop fees closer to $1000 than to $500, at at time when money's tight and I'd have to be out of town.

I drove around, waiting for the car to cycle through it's onboard diagnostic checks, to re-trigger the Check Engine light. To Carson and back for work, to Claim Jumper, Barnes & Noble and back last night, and to Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and back today. No Check Engine light, but that probably just means that the engine hasn't cycled.

I decided to take it and get it smogged, because just driving around all day seemed futile. I took it in, got it smogged... and it passed!

This is very happy for me. The engine had not cycled through the diagnostics yet, but that did not (contrary to my assumption) mean an automatic fail. My car is now registered for another year, leaving me free to pursue the other maintenance as I have the finances to do so.

This is quite a weight of my shoulders, and for that I am glad. Thanks, God.

P.S. If all is well when you read this, Abby and/orTim, Congratulations!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Reader Input Required

This is probably an unoriginal idea, but you've surely noticed the anti-spam "enter a bunch of random letters" thing if you've ever tried to comment. Your mission is to give me a sentence, poem, or other minor literary composition using only those letters as the first or last letters of what you write, in order. If you can repeat the string more than once, you'll be even cooler. I'll elaborate with a self-comment:

General Social Survey

Want to know what people think? The General Social Survey is for you.

Something I stumbled across:

85.4 percent of respondants (~15,000 people) approve of a man punching another man if he breaks into his house - the most excusable reason.

84.7 approve if a man sees another man hitting a woman.

Defense of a female stranger almost coequal to defending your house from invasion? Chivalry lives (at least as an ideal)!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

For What It's Worth

I have a different gripe than the one that's been typical the past several months.

My car didn't pass smog. The repairs are surprisingly costly, for something that doesn't actually keep the vehicle from running (and which aren't covered by my extended warranty, of course). The costs come at a bad time. The timing, in conjunction with my cross-country trip, couldn't be much worse.

It's all quite frustrating.

But for what it's worth, it's something else to distract me from my primary frustrations.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


In a (patently silly) conversation through Google E-mail, the word vineyard came up. The following ad appeared on the side of my screen, and made me chuckle:

Vineyard For Sale
Low Priced Vineyard.
Huge Selection!


I had been doing pretty good. Life stinks, so you move on, try new things, look on the positive side of things, right? Accept the things you cannot change, and change the things you can like Ty on crack.

And then small reminders come. And a sense of being stuck in the same old scenario returns. Hoplessness. Will things ever change? Wallowing in self-pity is not fun, but oh so easy.

It takes an act of will, of discipline to stop, and I've never been too good at that. To choose not to wallow in that which blunts the edge of reality but does nothing to change it. To accept that things have changed, and get to work rediscovering your place in the world.

I knew on New Year's Eve as I thought about the year behind and the year ahead that things would be different. They had to be. They are different, in ways I had feared more than in ways I had hoped. But time is experienced in an inexorable march, and to spend my time wishing I could go back and change things is a waste.

The new year is now closer than the old. Perhaps that is a fitting metaphor for moving ahead. Travelling paths I fear to tread, with a strength that is not my own, to and end I cannot see is tremendously scary. But simply sitting down and demanding that the world grind to a stop so I can adjust to things is not an option. I can sit, but the world continues to go.

So I accept it: she's dating a presumably wonderful guy who makes her ridiculously happy. I'm left alone with regrets for time and emotions invested in someone who proved to be just like everyone else, wondering what might have been if I had taken other opportunities I instead passed on for her sake. But I didn't, and those too have passed. She was my yesterday: today and tomorrow are all I have to work with.

Where to from here, then? For now: lunch.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Global Domination

I really like this game. Except when I lose, unless I can think of a good excuse to comfort myself with. Among my roommate and our friends, I am expected to win each and every time. When I don't, it is reckoned a failure on my part. Which begs the question - why play? It is a no-win situation, right?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Genuinely Clever

I must admit, I liked some of the writing in this movie review. A sample:
Anyway, as Jack, Will, and Elizabeth work cooperatively, the makers of "Dead Man's Chest" hurl obstacles in the trio's way with the tenacity -- and undifferentiated agitation -- of shipboard monkeys.

Cute Overload

Have you heard of this site? It's URL is self-descriptive:


As I was leaving for work, I turned off the TV as they were starting a story about the shuttle Discovery docking with the ISS. As I walked out the door, it struck me how news that our space shuttle is docking with the space station seemed ordinary.

We have a space station. A permanently-manned outpost whizzing around the Earth something like 7 times a day (remember when just to make it around the Earth was an extrordinary feat requiring years and years of travel?). That's pretty cool, even if it is rather small. Perhaps it is boring because it's just a small outpost - not like a booming port city, but an outpost.

But it is in the nature of exploration for outposts to become larger, growing from a destination to a point for embarking on travel to what like beyond. St. Louis was once the edge of civilization - the Gateway to the West. Now, it's considered Midwest, or even East.

I wonder what it will be like 100 years from now. Probably nothing like we can expect - as I doubt that in 1906 our world today was in the minds of the most incredible visionaries.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Human Body

Is it miraculous, or is it just the human body once again showing it can do more than even the experts think?

Link: Boston Globe Article

Monday, July 03, 2006


I heard it asserted the other night that we cannot love other people save through the power of Christ. I used to take this as a given truth, not being aware of much of the world beyond my church. How, then, could anyone follow any other church, any other philosophy? Should not our love shine forth like a beacon to everyone, a self-evident sign of our identity?

In my experience, my closest friends, none of whom are churched people can be as loving or more loving than Christians I know. All of us were there in a heartbeat when the father of one of our group passed away - arriving before the sun not because we could do much, but to be there. We went to the mortuary with his family. We began the process of getting his effects in order. Mostly, we were just there - and I doubt anyone thought for a moment there was anywhere else we should have been.

My Mormon cousins are kind people whose company I prefer to many other people I know. They offered their homes when my sister and I went to Salt Lake for the NCAA Tournament, and I watched as one spent some noticeable time on the phone trying to help an aquaintance from church find housing in another state.

I am uncertain if we are the sole chalice of love in a cruel and uncaring world. If we are, how is it that so many others imitate it so convincingly? If we are not, what do we make of "all my will know that you are my disciples if you love one another"?

Do we simply love too little? What would the love we ought to have look like? And why don't we seem to have it? I'd love to get your thoughts on this.