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Go West, Young Man.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.13.10

Ezra linked to this video on how people conceive of time in different cultures. One brief point made at 8:30 is how busy Americans perceive themselves to be. The video describes a study that asked Americans how busy they feel compared to the previous year, and then asks what they would do if they had an eight day week. Everyone says "Eight day week! That would be the best! We'd get so much more accomplished." The point is that people would not use the extra day to introduce some leisure into their life.

The thing is, they asked the wrong question. They need to ask "What would you do if you had a 27 hour day?" Because that's the dream. Then you could wait to go to sleep until you're exhausted and still get eight hours of sleep. None of this bullshit about finding the sweet spot of minimal exhaustion where you can just barely stand to get up in the morning and be tired enough to fall asleep easily at night.

If I had three extra hours, I'd pad my evening, leisure, and sleep time. Assuming my job held steady, I wouldn't feel any need to increase my work time. Whereas if I had an extra day per week, I'd think in terms of weekly accomplishments, which are much more work-related.

(At one point my parents took a boat west across the Atlantic ocean, and so they enjoyed 25 hour days for five of the days. Live the dream! Travel west slowly!)


 

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Kvetch, kvetch.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.12.10

I'm annoyed with my haircut. I asked for a bob, and instead of getting my standard bob haircut, I got something with duck's ass fringe sticking out from underneath. I don't want duck's ass fringe sticking out from underneath. It rests on my neck, which doesn't feel as nice as when there's no hair resting on my neck, and I don't like the way it looks. (On me.)

Plus now I have to find stupid photos on the internet, print them out, return to the stupid salon, and ask the lady to revisit my stupid haircut. A bob haircut does not have stupid duck's ass fringe sticking out from underneath it, in the back, okay?


 

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I imagine they are rarely asked, yes

Posted by Ben
on 08.12.10

I know you will probably ask, why would anyone read Paul Graham on a topic that is not identical with Lisp, and it's a good question. However, the following is just so much whatever it is that I can't resist. Dispense wisdom, O hacker!

What philosophy books would you recommend?

I can't think of any I'd recommend. What I learned from trying to study philosophy is that the place to look is in other fields. If you understand math or history or aeronautical engineering very well, the most abstract of the things you know are what philosophy is supposed to be teaching. Books on philosophy per se are either highly technical stuff that doesn't matter much, or vague concatenations of abstractions their own authors didn't fully understand (e.g. Hegel).

It can be interesting to study ancient philosophy, but more as a kind of accident report than to teach you anything useful.

Glad that's settled.


 

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Guest Post - Witt

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.12.10

A newly identified syndrome that primarily affects political bloggers can wreak havoc on unsuspecting members of the public, say observers, and little is being done to curb its spread.

It's called Policymaking Without Investment (PWI), and it seems to be particularly common among white men.

"PWI occurs when a blogger or commentator proposes a public policy that would have little to no effect on their own lives," says Jane, an amateur researcher who was one of the first to detect the signs of a widespread syndrome within disconnected blog posts and articles.

The writer outlines a convincing fantasy of how his idea would play out, complete with links or references to other commentators. Often, he'll engage in a vigorous debate over its merits...with his own peers.

"You calculate costs and benefits differently when it's your own life," says Jane. "Think how much easier it is to tell someone else to dump a boyfriend or buy a house. When you're making those decisions for yourself, it's a much more complicated process."

When you're making recommendations for another, she points out, you may be inclined to play up the benefits -- A job in Asia? Sounds fun! But when considering the same choice for yourself, potential drawbacks will loom larger. Live somewhere I don't speak the language? Move away from my family?

Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with people having opinions about issues that don't affect them personally. The danger comes when idle speculation or academic debate is seen by elected officials or government policymakers as a genuine blueprint for action.

"It's not unlike the board game Risk," says Jane. "You can get really caught up in the strategy and the little playing pieces, and lose track of the fact that real people have to live with the compromises you're imposing on them."

Such compromises may include timing (is it better to bring a gay marriage case to the Supreme Court now, or wait a few years?), health and safety (is it really worth pushing for abortion to be included in standard health insurance coverage?), and even membership in society (would giving up the 14th Amendment commitment to birthright citizenship be worth it if it meant other immigration legislation could be passed?)

The PWI theory has its critics, most notably among sufferers themselves.

"Most try to argue that they *are* invested," says Jane. "Their first instinct is to gesture towards a way in which their most recent PWI effort really does affect their lives on a daily basis. Sometimes they have a case, but it's usually pretty lame."

It's telling, she adds, that the principles of equal participation are so ingrained in American thought that people even feel the need to do this. "In other countries, people might look at you funny for even asking the question. Don't you WANT smart, educated people making good decisions for the rest of us?"

Indeed, some PWI defenders make a case for expertise, and their perspective has some support. "There's a weird tension in American society," explains Jane. "On the one hand, we mistrust book learning. On the other hand, we love experts. Just think of Dr. Phil."

Others point out that bloggers and commentators can be taken to task by their readers, who may have a wider variety of life experience. "That happens sometimes," admits Jane. "But it still doesn't make up for the megaphone and bully pulpit that these guys have. By default, their argument is going to look stronger. And a lot of times, a personal illustration of why the policy proposal is going to hurt them is dismissed by the blogger or others as 'argument by anecdote' -- even if the original proposal was doing the same thing."

As the syndrome gains recognition, what outcome is she hoping for? "I don't expect PWI will be eradicated anytime soon," says Jane, who views it as similar to driving under the influence. "You want to name it and shame it so people take conscious steps to avoid doing it. You don't expect them to give up alcohol."


 

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A snack for the laborers

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.11.10

Labor and delivery and interventions in the US is a big messy topic on which I have extensive, judgmental opinions. (A phrase that is tossed around a lot is "the cascade of interventions" to describe how any one intervention - pitocin, epidural - is likely to lead others and increase your odds of a C-section. The C-section rate at our local hospital is 40%.)

One point that is often made in favor of the home birth is that labor and delivery is not an illness to be cured. Overwhelmingly, things will probably progress naturally and healthfully. Hospitals tend to approach all patients as illnesses to be cured, which means they err on the side of performing interventions, and aren't bothered that as a consequence, they are escalating the number of women ending up with C-sections.

Case in point is the near-universal ban on being allowed food while you're in labor. The reason is that if things go very wrong - worse than C-section wrong - and you need to be put under general anesthesia, you could aspirate, unless they did the standard procedure of inserting an endotracheal tube.

One would never deny athletes food heading into a sport event on the premise that they might get very injured and get put under general anesthesia and doctors might have to put a tube down to keep them from aspirating. But labor and delivery isn't compared to an intense, healthy feat of body. In most hospitals, there's an expectation that you'll be hooked up already via pitocin or epidural, and so running an IV line to get you basic fluids is no big deal. Only, it confines you to bed. Which can really be a big fucking deal if you'd rather be up and moving about.

Plenty of women would say that they were not at all interested in food whatsoever. I wasn't, although I was very glad to eat some miso soup that the doula prepared while we were still at home. But labor can drag on for days. Spending days unnecessarily tethered to an IV because your hospital has a strict policy that all laboring women may need general anesthesia at any moment is insane and infuriating.

(Unrelatedly, my mom delivered my brother in 1971 at Walter Reed Hospital and was strapped down. Really! She was horrified. I'm horrified as well.)


 

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Disorganized Thoughts About Bike Commuting

Posted by LizardBreath
on 08.11.10

I've been doing this for about a year now, taking the winter off because it's too dark to bike home rather than the weather (if you missed the recent discussion in comments, the problem isn't the dark generally, it's a stretch of the bike trail where the headlights of oncoming traffic are literally blinding for about a mile, making it too unpleasant for me to bike after dark.) Thoughts:

It's funny how hard it is to impress yourself. A year ago, I would have been totally in awe of someone who habitually biked 50-100 miles a week in 13 mile chunks, and would have assumed that they were in really good physical shape. Looking at myself now, I'm a little fitter than I was last year, but nothing to write home about -- doing other physical stuff, I still get tired about as quickly as I would have in the past. (The threshold level for blogging is lower than for writing home.) I'm in good shape for me, but not wildly better than I get to on my ordinary cycle of running a couple times a week for a few months and then forgetting about it for six.

Same with biking skill -- I've put somewhere around 2,000 miles on the bike in the last year, which I'd think would be enough to see a big skill differential. Only a couple of those a day are in traffic, though, and that hasn't turned into fearless expertise in biking in city traffic. Traffic still scares the heck out of me (although I do now occasionally turn left by merging into traffic rather than waiting for the light to change and doing it like a pedestrian.)

Biking significantly faster has been elusive as well. I've been chasing the goal of doing my 13.5 miles in under an hour, and my best time is still yesterday's 1:01:04. (That's with traffic and streetlights at both ends -- cruising on the flat, I'm averaging between 15 and 17 mph on a good day, up from maybe 13 or so when I started.)

You can really sort bikers by speed by looking at what they're wearing: I'm slower than anyone in a cycling jersey, except for people with an obvious social reason to be loafing, and counting people in ripped clothes wearing giant bike chains as belts as cycling jerseys; I'm faster than the bulk of women in work clothes, and probably better than half of men in work clothes -- in both cases that's probably not a fitness advantage, but a reluctance on their part to get sweaty. Casual, non-work/non-cycling gear wearers are variable, but often slower than work clothes. Trying to guess speed by body type doesn't work well at all once you separate out the stringy-no-body-fat guys in jerseys -- I'm as likely to be passed by someone distinctly overweight as by someone reasonably fit looking, and vice-versa.

Tire pressure: this one's weird, and may be Brompton-specific, because the tiny little tires require high pressure. My tires need more air about once a month, which seems very frequent to me -- I'll have a couple of grim, laborious rides where I start thinking that biking just sucks, and then I'll remember to check my tires, and find out that while they still feel firm, they're down from 80psi to 25. And then I start going much faster. I'd think I had a slow leak, but both tires are pretty much in sync.

Bike fit -- I think I understand this a little better now, and my bike doesn't fit well, as much as I love it. Bromptons are for little people -- I'm only 5' 7", and with the seat all the way up, it's not comfortable to pedal with the ball of my foot on the pedal. If I want to straighten my leg out, I'm pedaling with my instep. There's a taller seat post, but the bike's a little short for me as well -- I want the handlebars to be a couple of inches further forward -- and I think if I got the taller seat post, I'd feel really out of balance crouching down to the handlebars. It's not that bad, but if it weren't for the storage issues, I'd prefer a real bike.

I keep on thinking I should capitalize on my new biking prowess by taking some long rides on the weekends, maybe with some hills in them, which my commute doesn't really have (other than the very short, very steep hill I complain about. But that's not the same thing as doing a couple of miles up an incline). Haven't done it yet, though, and don't seem likely to. I have taken the kids downtown on the bike path a couple of times -- biking from 218th St to 84th to go to the movies makes it feel like a real accomplishment.

Overall, though, it's been wonderful: the most positive major life change I've made in the last couple of years. Adding between one and two hours of being outdoors exercising while I look at the Hudson River and the pretty people around me to my workday has just made life a whole lot better. Anyone thinking about doing a long bike commute, it's highly recommended.


 

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Idle Thought For Junior Lawyers

Posted by LizardBreath
on 08.11.10

(The ones with jobs, that is.) If you're asking someone senior for some quick help on a legal issue, don't try to save their time by crafting a tightly framed specific question. Ramble through a couple of minutes of what's going on in the case and why you're asking before you get to it. If you understood what was going on clearly enough that you could get a tightly worded question that actually identified what you needed to know framed, you would have been able to look up the answer pretty easily -- rambling about the case a little will help your advisor to figure out what the actual problem is.

I've had this interaction a couple of times lately (and been on the other end of it myself in the past) -- junior person asks a nice clear question with an unambiguous answer, I answer it, chat a little, and in the course of the chat find out that applying the answer I gave would have steered the asker dead wrong in context. Not wasting people's time is a good thing, of course, but worrying too much about that kind of efficiency is its own kind of problem.


 

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It's my to-do list, is the thing.

Posted by Stanley
on 08.10.10

All hail! I have whittled my gmail down to ten unanswered/pending-someone-else's-input-in-order-to-respond e-mails and my work e-mail down to fourteen. These are very good numbers, you must understand.


 

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Listen Up

Posted by Stanley
on 08.10.10

Sifu sends along this "Ira Glass" rap song, which he also posted deep in some recent comment thread. Quoth the Tweety, "It's profoundly...something. Something very unfogged."

I went too many years without knowing about Gershon Kingsley's "Popcorn", so I share it for the few who don't know.

What did you bring to the music potluck?


 

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Hey! We let you go. You're WELCOME.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.10.10

A former Guantanamo detainee is running for Parliament in the upcoming Afghanistan elections.

Nusrat says he used to believe the Americans were good people. But that was before U.S. soldiers arrested him and his 80-year-old father in March 2003 and sent them to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"When they took me to the airplane, when they shaved my beard, I realized that Americans are the most cruel people in the world, and they're very stupid. Someone whose crime is not proved, so you destroy his whole life. And in the world you claim that you are the protector of the human rights, and you're doing such actions with a human being," Nusrat says.

Nusrat admits he did once work with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former mujahideen warlord who once enjoyed American support against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Nusrat says it has been years since he had any connection with the warlord, who is now leading a large insurgent faction.

...

After almost five years, American authorities declared that Nusrat was no longer a threat, and he and his father were released.

He says Karzai is an American puppet, but that's slightly better than the return of the Taliban.

"There are two ways: One is the Taliban way and one is the government. So I choose the government way. I think it is a better way of serving to the country and to the people," Nusrat says.

He sounds pretty unradicalized, if you ask me.

Via Emessily


 

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Christ, What An Asshole

Posted by LizardBreath
on 08.10.10

So there's this listserv for Harlem parents, which has had some conflict over gentrification and varying income levels among participants. And then some nitwit decides to make things better by lecturing people about their charitable obligations:

Which is why it was so surprising when, a few days later, Daniel Reeves, a computer programmer and blogger, responded to a post offering free toddler clothing by suggesting that listserv members stop giving things away and instead auction them off for charity.

"No matter how hard up we are, let's face it, we live in Manhattan," wrote Mr. Reeves, 34 and a father of two small children. "We (as individuals) are really not as worthy a charity as, say, Children's International or Unicef."

For one thing, there's no way you'd be able to auction used baby clothes or stuff for anything like the amount someone would have to spend to buy the same sort of thing under other circumstances -- if the point is to give money away, having people save the money they didn't have to spend because of the used stuff they traded and give that away would be much more efficient. For another, lecturing a broad group of people about how they're all so rich they need to be giving more to charity, without knowledge of their circumstances or current charitable giving? Really unpleasant.

I kind of hope the guy was deliberately making trouble, rather than being such a nitwit that he thought his suggestion was a good idea.


 

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C-ya, chumps!

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.09.10

Hands down, flight attendant Steven Slater, 38, wins Monday, August 9th, 2010.

Slater demanded an apology from the passenger, the official said, but the passenger refused. The two argued before the passenger told Slater to 'f-- off', the official said. The official said that Slater then got on the plane's PA system and directed that same obscenity at all the passengers and added that he especially meant it for the man who refused to apologize.

Slater is alleged to have then activated the plane's inflatable emergency slide, grabbed two beers from the galley, then slid down the chute, the official said.

Via everyone.


 

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The rhythm is the bass, and the bass is the treble.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.09.10
Nate has seventeen cartridges (sixteen residing in the pistol's magazine, with a solitary round placed in the chamber and ready to be fired) to expend on the group of robbers. Afterward, he generously shares the credit for neutralizing the situation with Warren, though it is clear that Nate did all of the difficult work. Putting congratulations aside, Nate quickly reminds himself that he has committed multiple homicides to save Warren before letting his friend know that there are females nearby if he wishes to fornicate with them.

It's always helpful to have these things explained.


 

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Guest Post - E. Messily

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.09.10

HR 3101 /S 3304 has now passed both the house and the senate. The Senate bill has to go back to the House now, I think, and then the president votes.

This is a big deal for deaf and blind (and deafblind) people: TV shows on the internet will now have to be captioned and audio described, cell phones have to be accessible, etc.

Awesomely, this CNN piece about it all is heavily video-based, does not include any captions or descriptions for its videos, and wouldn't be covered by the new law anyway (the only things covered are videos that were originally made for/aired on television- web-only content is still unregulated).

I'm excited because of being able to watch streaming things on Netflix and iTunes (neither of whom ever made any good-faith effort to be accessible, at all, even though there's no technical reason that I can see. Captions for all of these things already exisit, it's just a matter of making them available). And I may have complained before about how when the Daily Show was on Hulu, it had captions, but when Comedy Central pulled it and now it's only on comedycentral.com, there are none. Stupid! Thank goodness for bossy big government.


 

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How Sweet, The Times Remembered My Birthday Was This Week

Posted by LizardBreath
on 08.08.10

And commemorated it with an article aimed at my demographic. I'll be out shopping for a tarp to hide under, thanks.


 

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You can't see the pit where he plots the earth's destruction, though.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 08.08.10

In the lake near Jammies' parent's house is an island owned by some apocryphal Seattle software mucky-muck. So people take their boats over to gawk. The forest isn't particularly dense on this island, so you have a very good view of the paths, the construction workers, and the house.

It would be very isolating - for this guy to have any social contact, it would take a boat ride on top of a normal car ride. And simultaneously so public - all these curiosity-seekers can just peer up at three sides of your curiously castle-esque house from their boats. It's a very well-used lake of which he's in the middle. So the whole thing mostly resembles life as a zoo exhibit. But maybe that's the dream.


 

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