Thursday, May 29, 2008

I Like Technology

Well actually at the moment it's kind of a love hate relationship.
When it work works properly technology is wonderful. It allows me to go back and forth from work in comfort. I can take my lunch hour walks and have thousands of songs and podcasts at my fingertips. I can wash and dry my clothes with ease. My food stays cool or frozen until it's time for me to eat it. I can fire up the mower and have a nicely manicured lawn and a little exercise at will. I can send emails, surf and all that other stuff from my laptop. My car stops properly when I apply the brakes. I can microwave yesterday's dinner and have a warm meal in seconds. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Lately all of these things have taken much more effort that that. Victoria's car keep shredding fan belts. Two of the four MP3 players in the house aren't co-operating. The dryer has blown fuses so frequently that I opted to bypass it rather than to keep feeding it $30 fuses each month. I think I must be some kind of a "Typhoid Mary" for lawn mowers. I've lost count of how many we've had since we got married. My laptop died and had to be replaced a few months ago. Victoria's computer keeps restarting spontaneously for no appear ant reason. The microwave died and had to be replaced last month. I just had to replace the brakes on Victoria's car a month ago. My truck's brakes are squeaking and will likely need replacing soon. And to top it all off our three-year-old fridge decided to blow a capacitor yesterday.
Professionally, I spend all day figuring out how to get various forms of high speed data services to people. So I'd be out of a job without all this technology and every body else's addiction to it. However, there are more than a few times that I just want to get away from all the trouble and live a much simpler life.
In June I'm spending 8 days at Summer Camp with 15 Boy Scouts. There will be a lot of free time. I'm looking forward to being as low tech as possible for the whole week. Perhaps a week without all this "stuff" will give me a new respect for it. But right now I'm just a little overwhelmed by all of it.


Every couple of years my company polls their managers to see what other tasks they can do outside of their normal job skills. Typically this falls right around the time they start negotiating the contract for our union employees. So first think this morning I had to enter what I can do into a database. They kept referring to it as our “skills assessment”. I got a little bit of a chuckle out of the title. After I told a little bit about my previous experience as a digital technician I was seriously tempted to put down a few extras.

Bo staff skills, nun-chuck skill, shooting wolverines with a 12 gauge, etc.

I passed on actually doing it. The folks at corporate may not be Napoleon Dynamite fans. And they may actually expect me to use some of my claimed “skills”.

Monday, May 26, 2008


You may have noticed that I haven't been reviewing as many books as I typically do. I have a few books that I am reading but lately I've just been distracted by Aaron's guitar. We bought him a black, acoustic Ibanez guitar for Christmas. But he seemed to have lost interest as soon as he realized that it wasn't going to be as easy as Playstation's "Guitar Hero". So I've been trying to teach myself how to play a few songs.
I have a couple friends who are really good and thankfully really patient. Eric and Dave have been giving me free lessons and Friday jam sessions to help me out. Victoria has also been a great help by suggesting songs that she likes, so I look up the tabs for it and force myself to learn all the chords. Last night's suggestion was "Time in a Bottle". So it looks like I have 14 new chords to learn in order to play this for her.
Whenever I start out learning a new task I become keenly aware of what it takes for others to do the task. on one hand I've been incredibly disappointed at how simple and easy some guitar songs have been for me to play without one single formal lesson. On the other hand I've gained much more respect for some of the truly talented musicians out there.
My goal in learning guitar is just to sit around with some family and friends and be able to make a few pleasing sounds that they'll find familiar. I just need to figure out how to make that goal fit into my reading schedule too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Sometimes it doesn't take much to make me happy. Recently we had a little reorganization at the phone factory. I wasn't directly involved. I still have a job and I'm actually still going to be designing the same systems in the same area. What did change is who I report to. And my new boss wanted everybody over on the same side of the building. I sat down with him and explained that I'd been working in the same no window, florescent lighting, cube for the better half of a decade and then politely asked if I could take one of the newly vacated window seats. He agreed. Woo Hoo!!
Well last week the IT folks started upgrading all of our computers. I told them that if they timed it right they could save themselves some work. Since I was going to be relocation to the other side of the building they could just install my new machine in the new cube and then take the old one away. I also politely asked if they could "hook me up" with dual monitors.
Monday morning I showed up and walked into my usual cube only to be greeted by a pile of dust bunnies where my monitor used to sit. So I relocated the rest of my stuff to the new cube and began to make myself at home.
I really enjoy the windows and the double monitors. I'll miss the friends who I worked with side by side, but I look forward to making new friends over here and who am I kidding they're only 200' away on the same floor.
It's taken me a couple of days now to get used to the double monitors. It's very convenient not having to close all my research windows in order to see my drafting window. I just leave the research on one monitor and draw on the other. There's a little joke running around the office thanks to Dilbert. Now that I have 2 monitors they are going to require twice as much production. While I doubt I'll be able to meet that goal I definitely feel more productive.
The windows took no getting used to at all. They're due north facing so I never have direct sunlight. The birds and squirrels are a very pleasant distraction.
It's not like I got a raise or anything but having a much better digs at work will make the 40+ hours every week more pleasant.


I read an editorial today that I agree with. The context was all the hubbub about whether or not candidates for President wear American flag lapel pins. Personally I'd rather we focus the discussion on real issues that affect our country rather than these discussions that ultimately have no impact on me whatsoever. Here are the comments from the editorial. I've posted them completely. Although his political leanings are very different than mine I share his desire to focus on real issues rather than this faux-patriotism.

Let me tell you something: When I'm on the golf course and I slip my wedding ring into my golf bag, the Rev. Jacquie Hood Martin is still my wife. When we shoot hoops and I remove my Texas A&M University ring from my right hand, I still love my school. The fact that I can no longer wear my 1987 class ring from Houston's Jack Yates High School doesn't mean I don't cherish the crimson and gold. And I may not be able to fit into the shirt I pledged in, but I will be a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. until the day I die.

I am an unapologetic Christian, but you won't see a cross dangling from my neck or a James Avery charm bracelet on my wrist. Why? Because my love of Jesus Christ is in my heart.

This debate is useless, tiresome and distracting. Why? Because if there are members of Congress who wear a flag lapel pin but refuse to shore up our borders, don't do enough to stop the flow of drugs into our neighborhoods, or don't help to eradicate the gaps between the haves and have nots, then are they truly fighting for the concerns of Americans, or playing on the emotions of people by what's on their lapel?

We're better than that. We're smarter than that. It's time that we make decisions based on substance, which is what we say we actually care about. But maybe we're just lying to ourselves about that, too.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Logical Fallacies

For about a year now I've been considering the idea of posting a weekly logical fallacy. At first I thought it would just be boring. However some recent events have caused me to realize that the world could use another lesson or two on how logic really works compared to how people think it works.

Circular reasoning
A couple of friends of mine and I were curious as to why so many fleet vehicles are painted white. I speculated that since white paint reflects more light then white cars wouldn't get as hot. A friend of mine countered by claiming that white paint is cheaper. So I asked, "Is white paint really cheaper?" His response, "Of course it is, why else would there be so many white cars out there?" I've never before had such an obvious case of circular reasoning presented to me as if it was logic. In his mind white cars are more abundant because the paint is cheaper and his evidence that the paint is cheaper is because white cars are more abundant. The car's color is proof of cheap paint and cheap paint is proof of the car's color.
In my suggestion I started with an established scientific fact; the color white reflects more light than other colors. Therefore, a white car would not absorb as much heat as a green car.
Granted this is a relatively trivial water cooler conversation but I've seen the same illogic used in much more serious issues. I am all for debating controversial issues. I just think that our justifications should be based on logic and not circular reasoning.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Since December I've been trying to teach myself how to play guitar. I just thought this was cool enough to want to share.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Barr? Libertarian?

So as if our current election cycle isn't weird enough, Bob Barr has now announced that he is going to try to be the Libertarian party candidate. I will allow anybody to change their opinions on any issue. But this just smacks of political opportunism. Barr's voting record shows a blatant disregard for personal liberties. His actions show that he is economically and socially conservative. His campaign against John Linder a few years ago also shows that he will do whatever it takes to stay in power.
It'll take more than putting an L after your name for me to believe that you've changed Bob.

Miller hits the mark again

Non Sequitor by Wiley Miller

More on Parables

I seem to have a problem with parables. I'm never quite sure to which character I'm supposed to relate. For years I had a problem with the parable of the Prodigal's Son. I kept relating to much to wrong brother.
In our deacon's quorum lesson yesterday a friend of mine taught a great lesson on forgiveness. The lesson book had a story about a group of people that were hiking in Arizona. One of the hikers gets bitten by a rattlesnake. The rest decide to hunt down and kill the snake. In the mean time the victim hasn't been treated and the poison is infiltrating her leg. By the time her friends come back with the dead snake her leg is so bad that it eventually had to be amputated. Their act of vengeance against the snake had cost their friend her leg. If they had focused on treating the problem, rather that revenge, her leg may have been saved.
I recognize the desired perspective of the story is that we look through the eyes of one of the friends. How should I respond when I am given a choice between helping another and seeking revenge. If they had forgiven the snake the problem would have not been allowed to reach the point of losing a limb.
Now comes my perspective problem. After a little thinking I found myself relating to the girl who lost her leg. I've been in situations before where something happened beyond my control and I suffered the results of the inaction or mis-action of others.
I've also been in a few situations where I was the snake. Although I may have done something wrong from the hiker's perspective I was just protecting myself and now I can't seem to get a break.
The intended lesson of forgiveness is not lost on me. I can just see a lot of value in trying to relate to all of the characters in parables and not just the prime character.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Friday, May 09, 2008

Science Project

My 13-year old son is home-schooled. Last week he started a science experiment of his own design. He decided to test a few of the additives that people put into fresh flowers to make them stay fresh longer. The protocol consisted of filling 4 identical glasses with 8 ounces of water at the same temperature. One glass was left alone as a control. The second glass had 1 tablespoon of sugar added. The next had two aspirins added. And in the last we added one packet of the plant food that came with the flowers. Into each glass we placed one small flower, with the stems cut to the same length. All the glasses we placed in the window sill in the kitchen.
I thought he'd come up with a pretty good protocol and I was looking forward to seeing his results. Well a week went by and all four of the flowers showed no real change. My son was a little upset. He wondered what had gone wrong and wanted to start over rather than write up his conclusions. I took advantage of this teaching moment to explain that he needs to complete his observations and turn in the report. I them explained that this is probably how 99% of all science experiments end. Astronomers don't find new asteroids every time the look into the sky. Research doctors don't see measurable effects of new drugs every day. Even though Aaron's experiment did not product the effect that he wanted he still had learned something. As his experiment was designed ,5 days is not enough time to measure any difference in the effect of the chemicals being tested. Although mundane this is important information that future researchers could use to improve their experiments. Aaron agreed and is currently writing up his conclusions.
Science is sometimes victim to publication bias. Like Aaron they are hesitant to publish studies that don't have dramatic results. Dramatic or not the results are still science and those result should be published. Personally, I think that there is just as much value in a study that says "Acupuncture does not have a measurable effect on pain under controlled tests" is just as valuable as a study that say, "An aspirin a day will lower your chance of a heart attack". Both give me concrete practical data that I can use to live a better life.
I probably took Aaron's report a little more personally than I should have. When I was in High School I worked with my father, a CDC microbiologist, on a science project. I hypothesized that military labs would be less accurate than civilian labs in testing for certain diseases. I took data from all over the world that had already been collected and just analyzed it in a way nobody had thought of before. My dad was really excited for me and even thought that I'd win the science fair. I got an "Honorable Mention". One of the judges said that I should have actually done some of the lab work myself for better marks. Never mind that I had a sample size of several thousand lab tests, she didn't think it was science because I used a computer rather than a test tube. Another said it would have been more impressive if I hadn't disproven my hypothesis. He actually suggested that I should have rewritten my initial hypothesis so it looked I had successfully predicted the result. Not only did I find this suggestion unethical it is not what real science is all about. In the long run I didn't walk away felling like my project was a failure. I learned that there is no statistical difference in the ability of military labs to detect certain diseases or civilian labs' ability to detect the same diseases.
My dad eventually took my report and got it published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a peer reviewed science journal. That meant more to me than the "Honorable Mention" from my science teachers.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Turning off your brain

Suppose somebody were to ask you an interesting thought provoking question. If you were willing to have an open minded discussion about the issue both sides might learns something and at the very least you could have a stimulating discussion. I enjoy these types of discussions even if we never come to anything that resembles an answer. It's just fun to ponder the things that we don't quite understand.
Now suppose that every time an interesting question was asked you simply redefined the subject as something that does not require and answer. Well there goes any kind of discussion.
Q: What color is that book?
A: That book does not require a color.
Q: How fast is that car?
A: It is, by definition, speedless.
Q: What time is it?
A: Time is irrelevant.
You see what I mean? Granted these are just silly examples, but all to frequently people apply this same linguistically hopscotch to avoid interesting questions. Over the weekend I was mass CC'ed on an email that answered the question, "Who created God?" The answer given: "God does not require a creator." Huh? What kind of an answer is that? It isn't an answer at all. It's simply defining your subject as something that does not require and answer. This isn't a new concept. This is Aristotle's Cosmological argument just put into simpler English and distributed by email rather than toga clad sages.
What bothers me about this type of an argument is the finality of it. There's nothing left to think about. It's over. The discussion has stopped. Just when we get close to an interesting discussion they simply define the argument as out of bounds. Technically this is a form of the special pleading logical fallacy. If you have to make special exceptions to your subject that you wouldn't allow for other subjects, in this case the well establish concept of cause and effect, then your argument is fallacious. I guess I don't fault them too much. Some people are just more comfortable with concrete truths. I'd just rather have an open-minded discussion.

Busy busy busy

I opened up Firefox yesterday and it opened up to my blog, which hadn't been updated since Tuesday. At first I was a little discouraged that I hadn't done a better job of keeping it updated. I've had an awful lot of things happen in my life in the last week that I needed to blog about. But that is also the reason I hadn't gotten around to blogging. On Wednesday I had to take Rachel to Activitiy Days at church before I taught the scouts CPR. Which wasn't so bad except that Victoria had run off to the zoo with Noah on an overnight field trip. So I had to keep track of the girls while I was teaching scouts as well. Fortunately Rachel and Eve tagged up with Sadie Tayler and Mackenzie Beach and played clue.
Thursday I had to run Eve over to Granny Sue's so she could take her to school. I took a half a day off of work since I had to continue gathering materials and preparing for my Wilderness Survival course. Victoria got home just in time to start packing to go away again on Friday. It was her Birthday but we really didn't have time to celebrate.
Friday I took the day off again to finish all the preparations for my class and to just take it easy before my weekend adventure. I had to assist Aaron with his studies. After that we ran to Bass Pro shops and the fire marshalls to pickup a few last items and to get permission for our fire at the church. We bumped into Jeff Foxworthy at Bass Pro.
Victoria left around 2:00 to pick up a bunch of girl scouts and take them away for the weekend. So again I was going to be a single parent for a few days. I finished packing the car and as soon as Noah got off the bus we headed over to start setting up for my merit badge class. Granny Sue came by around 6:30 to again help out with the kids while I did what I had on my schedule.
The merit badge clinic went very well. I didn't have too many boys show up. I was worried that the group would be so large that it'd be unmanagable. I got a little bit of push back for limiting the class size but in the end nobody challenged it and - was even complimented for doing it. My biggest suprise of the day was during our fire making class. Two of the boys were very deticated to the idea of making fire with two sticks using the bow and spindle method. After about a half an hour of experimentation they actually made it work.
Victoria will be home in a few hours. I really miss her. The kids have actually been very well behaved, but it's just a busy schedule. I always knew that she worked hard and that just being a mom was a big duty. It's humbling to have to do her job and mine every now and then just to get a perspective change.
I got an email while I was camping with the scouts. Aparently there has been a little bit of a shake up at work and I will have a different boss when I show up tomorrow. Ch-ch-changes.