My Zunivers

27 February 2008

Amateur Photo Critics

If you've ever decided to rot your brain and look around on photography websites, you'll appreciate this.

(I won't reiterate my rants about how digital photography has brought out the worst in pictures and photographers, I'll just send you here.)

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25 February 2008

Sign This

How dumb are people? Really?

When I was a kid, I was told, in no uncertain terms, that people should never sign papers they do not understand. I was also told that people should never take out variable rate loans when interest rates are low. I was also taught that I was responsible for my own actions, not someone else. I learned middle school level math, which is enough to figure out loans but more than most people seem to know-- and they are happy that way.

Fast forward to when I'm an adult. People are taking out loans for houses that they will not be able to afford, focusing on monthly payment numbers rather than loan terms and thinking that they can get whatever they want in life. They signed papers they didn't understand, and when they can't make their payments they cry that it's everyone's fault but their own. The companies didn't tell you that your interest rate could go as high as 15% at the end of year two? Sucks to be you, because while you were sitting there thinking that they were kind people who were going to give you ahouse you can't afford and tell you how out loud four times over to make sure you understood it, they kept their mouths shut and put that stuff in the contract you didn't bother to understand. From a banking standpoint, giving such loans is irresponsible. The consequences of too much of this sort of thing are far-reaching enough that there are even cases where it is illegal. From a consumer standpoint, taking those sorts of loans, legal or not, is no better. People who take such loans, especially to buy things they do not need for basic survival like McMansions, are not helpless victims of bad people at banks. People who take such loans are stupid enablers of bad people at banks.

Of course, houses aren't the only problem. Recently the PA Attorney General's office annoucenced a settlment in a student loan case. People, including one person who happens to be running for attorney general, are throwing up a fit about how it doesn't punish the for-profit company that runs Lehigh Valley College. The Attorney General office basically says a polite version of "People signed contarcts for a service and a way to pay for it, they got the service, and they need to pay for it. Duh." I hope they stick to it, too. There is no reason for what money the company did give to go to the victims because there are no victims. There are people who can't pay money they did not realize they would need to pay, yes, but not victims. Victims are people who have things done to them. Victims are not people who can't do what they said they would do because they didn't realize that they would not be able to do it.

Understand what you are doing, people. It's called personal responsibility. Grown ups are supposed to have it.

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23 February 2008

Life Continues On

I hit a jackpot of sorts this week while searching for jobs. No, I didn't get one, but every person I wrote to, about ten, wrote back to me! That is rare; usually only about 10% of engineers and 50% of physicists and chemists respond. Also, a few of the people do have jobs open or opening, and wanted letters, copies of my papers, and so on. I also have a few other people who want to talk to me on the phone, even in exotic and far away places like Canada. So maybe I will eventually be able to leave my current job and go bore myself somewhere else. Okay, it's actually not that bad. Sometimes I do feel that way, though.

Snow conditions have not allowed skiing. The snow here isn't quite deep enough, but the ice on top is the main problem. This might be the third winter in a row where my insanely cheap skis go unused. (Cheap? Yep. The whole pile cost me under $200 for over $400 of stuff. I need to take care of the boots, too, because since then the bindings have been discontinued. And that is the reason why I can't sell any of it. It's not worth anything unless someone needs this exact set.)

I got a pile of back issues of American Scientist last week, and it's more fun that I had hoped. This is a rather fun science magazine, better than Scientific American in my opinion. Of course, it's made for scientists, not people who wish they were scientists or whoa re scientists compared to their families, so maybe that skews my perception. I especially enjoy Henry Petroski's columns. If you want to know what I mean, go read his memoir Paperboy and then pretend you get five pages of that quality every month. Or go read this article (which covers a subject of great amusement to me because I have next to zero interest in eating or drinking while I drive).

My kids cold is better. That's a good thing. The right side of my head is still putting out gunk. I've got to get that killed off before I get a sinus infection.

Life continues on.

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17 February 2008

What Do White People Like?

This blog can tell you, and it is... well... I can't think of anything original so I'll just have to go with "absolutely hilarious."

Is it offensive? Maybe. Offensive humor it still funny.

Go read some of it already!

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The World Is Sick

The kid throwing up when she gags on phlegm is wearing a little thin over here. I've already lost both pairs of jeans, and tonight my fleece, in this mild epoch my primary jacket, sacrificed its shoulder to prevent a projectile of vomit from flying into who knows what it would have hit from six feet off the floor in the bedroom. My house and person smell of vomit, which just gives people one more reason to wrinkle their noses at me. And my wife is going nuts over it, too, which doesn't help me.

Oh, and icing on the cake, I caught the kid's cold. My rather advanced immune system is dealing with it nicely, and I know how to hold my phlegm, but guess what? It's really cold outside right now, and that makes the air dry, and that makes sleep a horrendous affair. I have a humidifier, but it doesn't put out enough moisture for our bedroom so I don't bother. Dry air in the winter and the associated lack of sleep when I have a cold are the reason that I wonder why so many people who I know hate summer colds more than winter colds. In the summer I can still sleep when I have a cold. Of course, I have asthma with every cold no matter what time of year it is, so maybe summer makes breathing harder for those other people or something.

On the bright side, I'm doing two different kinds of simulations for my research right now. One is the kind I've done for years, which I can't start because the model we're using needs a phenomenological kick in the nuts. Another is the stuff I picked up in Kansas, which finally works but has this annoying habit of not saving its data to files. Yes, it is coded properly. My computer Chelsea is the trouble. Why is this lack of research the bright side? Because I'm getting paid to do nothing. Yes, it's a very bitter and sarcastic bright side.

If I were awake enough I'd go sit in a corner and cry, but as it is I'm finding myself rather numb for such a display of self pity. Tonight it took me an hour and half to read ten pages of Michener's Space (newspapers and my new stack of back issues of American Scientist would take too much energy) and hallucinating that the clock must be running slow because it's not that late already after reading so little, is it? I'm usually pretty level-headed, so when I spend a few hours thinking that a clock is ahead from going slow I am obviously having a problem.

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14 February 2008

The Case for Melancholy

Go on, be a little sad.

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13 February 2008


We have Crappy weather. No, it is not crappy because it's cold and dismal. I like that. It's Crappy because it's February and we're having another central Virginia winter. You know, the kind with sleet and freezing rain and little substantial snow? This is the third in a row, I think. If we could just sell the snow plows and salt stockpiles, we'd be all set to celebrate winter like the Mason-Dixon is up north.

I've got simulations running right now, which makes me happy because I am getting work done. I should look for jobs again sometime.

I need to change my political candidates over on the side. I've got one quitter and one probable loser, it seems. The quitter is actually my main choice, but I'm probably going to need to cash both of them in for the Confusing Little Man.

My kid has a cold. She's taking it well, but it's a stress on the parental units who must hold her more, dress her more, and (for one) feed her more.

Baby toys are kind of fun. If you agree then you too need to get out of the house more.

Why do people drink bottled water? It's really expensive, even in large quantities.

I took some pictures tonight out my window. Maybe I'll share them. I need to figure out if this little feature in them is a wisp of fog or an internal lens reflection from the nearby snowplow. If it's from the plow, I'll pack them away in my "messed up photos" box and whine to myself every time I see them about how I need a lens hood. (And with a month until my birthday, I could use one of those... and a flash with a flash cord....)

You know, I used to write in this blog on things of substance. I used to feel like I was saying something, even if nobody was listening. Lately, I feel like I'm just listing my life and whinging. Of course, if that saves you from three minutes a day of getting work done for some crappy employer, don't worry. I'm not ging anywhere. (Besides that, there as post from last summer with a link to a picture of me with my hair in an awful disarray. Can you believe that single post, found via a Google image search, accounts for about 20% of my page hits?)

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12 February 2008


As you sit around reading, your wife disappears into the bathroom to-- how do I say it politely?-- "spray some fertilizer" sums it up well. You go to the bedroom to calm the crying baby while your wife finishes putting yesterday, quite literally, into the porcelain throne. The crying baby starts coughing a lot as she cries because she has a little cold, so you pat her gently. She then throws up for some reason, which isn't bad except that she's lying on her back, still coughing, and not yet smart enough to understand that this poses a problem. As the wee one realizes that she is doing the wrong thing she holds her breath while you flip her over. This not only drains her mouth but finishes the regurgitation, which takes out her yellow ducky bag (her pajamas), the fitted sheet, and your arm with a mucousy, vomitous goopiness. Prone on the bed with her face in a puddle of puke, the baby eventually figures out that she can breathe, so she does, complete with the pitiful wailing coughing that anyone emits when their lungs and throat are half full of puke acid. With everything alive and stable, you shrug your shoulders, get the paper towels and a washcloth, request a clean sheet and baby pajamas from your wife (now finished with her deed) and clean it all up. You change the baby's diaper, too, because she managed to take a dump while she ralphed. Then you wash your hands and go back to reading your book, thinking that nothing strange has happened to you except that you now have a story that will gross out your friends. Of course, that just means that nothing strange happened at all.

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11 February 2008


I haven't been here much lately. I've been spending a good deal of time over at This Party. The bad news about This Party, at least for those disinterested in politics, is that the four of us who contribute keep to political subjects. The good news that it's pretty interactive over there between the four or so readers (who happen to be contributors, but let's not get bogged down in details). If you have any interest, check it out. Currently the definition of "conservative" is up for discussion, along with lots of amusing or downright scary things. That's an inclusive or.

Let's see... since I last wrote, my PhD adviser has decided to keep me as a postdoc, at a lower pay rate so that he can afford me, for the next sixth months or so. This isn't a fixed length contract, so I'm free to leave if I find another job.

The other good news is that the man and I had a chat about people like me. He doesn't find it odd at all that I don't have a job. In fact, he told me all about many different people he knew at different times who did and didn't have trouble getting physics jobs, and said that he only correlation he could find was the years that they were looking for work. Some years are good, others are bad. So, that made me feel better, because now I know two things. First, he doesn't think it's my fault that I can't get a job. Second, he is happy to have me around as long as I get some stuff done.

I had a really bad day on Sunday. I haven't been sleeping well, and the combination of that and being up early just ruined my ability to think. With my filter gone, I managed to yell at my wife twice in the morning. The second thing was important, the first one wasn't, but that doesn't matter. What matters is my credibility, which is ruined when I raise my voice. Anyway, I later on had a more calm talk with her about safely merging onto the highway (where I concluded that she should get some free points; her problem is only a problem because she's doing what everyone does driving in Texas) and I decided that I can buy a new toothbrush to use until the other one turns up.

At lunch today the sky clouded over and some snow fell . We were up at City View, and the view of the snow was really cool. The snow itself had a neat consistency from being wet and packed onto things by dry wind. I want a desert with that texture!

Two people I know will be having babies soon. That's actually two pairs of people, and in both cases I really only know the male unit, having passingly said hello the female unit in each pair only once or twice in my life. I wish them, um... the best of times? Ha-ha-ha! Boy are they in for it! Um... anyway....

One of my MySpace friends disappeared. I was about to say that I don't know who it is, but I just figured it out. This is way less interesting than the current soap opera going on around one of the professors at school. I'm especially interested in the faculty-faculty interaction. My inner sociologist is amused by these sorts of things. "What do a kindergarten diploma and a PhD have in common? They both say you're smart enough to start first grade. What is the difference between having a kindergarten diploma and having a PhD? Having a kindergarten diploma means that next year in school you'll need to learn how to get along with new kids in first grade, but having a PhD means that you'll soon get a job where you'll need to remember how get along with kindergarteners."

I came here to post because I was overfilled with joy. Apparently I must have buggered up something in that Fortran code I went to Kansas to pick up, because, miracle or miracles, my original copies (I thought that what I had been working with was an original, but it wasn't) managed to work flawlessly! w00t! I can start getting research done again! I must have turned a tab into a space somewhere or something. Yes, Fortran 77 is that picky. Why do you think it's given Fortran a bad name? Don't start on me.

Having quit my technical post at my church, I'm resisting the urge to be cynical about today's technical goof ups, which once again had about nothing to do with the audio rig. People at my church are pretty cool, despite being... how did my sister and I summarize it? "Like farmers, only from the suburbs"? I have some theological differences with that bunch, and more differences about how churches should function, but when it comes down to it you can't get much better than a group of 100 people where you watch out for them, they watch out for you, and you know that they'll be there when you need them. I am looking for something else to do around the church. Apparently the only things needed right now are people to work with the kids. Does anyone have any suggestions besides "Teach the kids evolution"?

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06 February 2008

Score Zero for Clean Freaks

Hey, this sounds a lot like me!

Note to anal retentive sterilize the world parents-- I'd ask you to dip yourself in sewage except that sewage, unlike most of the things you have trouble dealing with, actually is unsafe.

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03 February 2008

Just Some Stuff...

My kid hasn't been doing much lately. Other than filling out a bit more and making more complicated squawking noises, she seems to be doing very little. I can only assume that she's developing internally somehow.

Are the New England Patriots the best sports team of all time? Is Brady the best athlete ever? I have a better question-- can the monkeys who find sports talk and news interesting comprehend the recency effect? I also have an answer-- no.

I played too much flight simulator this week.

I find it odd that my church wants the sound person to be there at Buttcrack-O-Dawn on Sundays in the name of giving our best to God but they can't even get someone literate to proofread the church's written materials. I like to skip the spell check and break grammar rules, but I at least know where I'm doing it at. See! Right there!

Speaking of grammar, in my opinion some of the "rules" of grammar are not reflections of use but rather are reflections of what some detail-mongering fools have decided "should" be use. Most people can't get a handle on life without lots of "shoulds," even in places where they don't belong. Those folks need to grow a spine. Of course, grammar "rules" are not useless. Grammar "rules" are warning signs on the path to poor sentences and the resulting poor communication. Sometimes when you break a "rule" you can recreate the sentence from scratch to express the same idea better than you could by had keeping everything the same except for changes required by the "rule." And if you can communicate better to the intended reader with a broken grammar "rule," break it.

I got two new houseplants today. Actually, my sister got them. We also got potting soil. We also bought a snow shovel for her car because I couldn't find one around Christmas. I need to cut off a foot of the handle so that she can fit it into her car.

I really miss singing in the choir, a lot. I'm probably not going to be gainfully employed by the time of the concert, so I really should be singing. Oh, well. Music means a lot to me, and I'm not making any these days.

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02 February 2008

Farewell Umpie

I bought Umpie in early August 2004, a few weeks before I bought Chelsea. Umpie is a 128MB flash drive. I lost his cap not long after I got him, and yet I continued to keep him in my pocket all this time. His bare connector behaved well until late last summer when I kicked him before my dissertation defense. Even now he works, if you twist him a little. He's red, a color I don't like, but he had shiny accents, as any good Lexar does. His outer layer of shiny stuff slowly decayed and recently fell off, but after rubbing off the glue I found another layer.

Umpie cost me $25, a decent price at the time. Even if he still worked well, I need to replace him. I've got a couple hundred megabytes of stuff on my work servers and I need to clean that up. I also need reliable backup carrier and transporter for essential things on Chelsea, who is now Old and Feeble.

Today, the mailman brought a shiny new USB drive. My new toy, Gigasaurus, holds 4GB of stuff and cost as much as I paid for Umpie. Gigasaurus is a Corsair, made of rubber on the outside, and came with a foot long extension cable and a tacky lanyard. He's already holding a gygabyte of crap for me. I'm hoping we have a good relationship. His cap is much more secure than Umpie's ever was, and his LED is blue so that I can see it even in all the bass ackwards front USB ports on older Dell computers. He pulls in files reasonably fast.

Gigasaurus, now holding Umpie's last contents, is headed to my pocket to get his rubber coated in lint. Umpie is off to my museum once I have a heart to take him off my keyring. Hey, a working USB device with less than a gig of storage will be worth something someday. I just know it.

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No Fries for You!

Um, what the heck? Some skinny twig state legislator (and former pharmaceutical salesman) in Mississippi has decided to introduce a bill to make it illegal for a restaurant to serve obese people. The definition of "obese" and how restaurants should determine it will come from the state health department, and no penalties are listed for non-compliance. What is he trying to accomplish with this? Hide the fat people?

Especially discouraging is the bad spot the health department is handed. They will need to balance interests of restaurateurs, sound science, public health (especially spending, when you get down to it) and hordes of fat people (which Mississippi has per capita, to boot). Would such a law really prevent only he most obese from, say, buffets? Or would it prevent anyone with a BMI over 32 from having so much as a ketchup pack and a water? One of the co-authors isn't looking so slender himself, so we do need to think about this. As someone who is medically obese* thanks to some idiot health policy people not realizing that weight is a function of height cubed, I am sensitive about health policy people mucking up my chances of lunch, even if it is lunch in some backwards state that I hope I never need to visit. I hate to think that somewhere in the United States I would be forced to buy food at a grocery store and not a restaurant because some buffoon thought he could solve his state's health and welfare problems that way.

At first I didn't know how seriously to take this. He could just be trying to "raise an issue" or some nonsense, and I have no doubt that even if he is misguided he has some kind of sincere motive. But then I noticed that the Mississippi legislature has Comic Sans font on their pages. I can't take that seriously.

[* I should lose some weight, but no doctor tells me to aim even as low as an overweight BMI. They know that for someone my height and build the BMI boundary for obesity, 250 pounds, is absurd.]

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