Saturday, June 27, 2009


In about 5 hours, I'll be headed for our largest state. I'll be hanging around with friends, riding the train, doing a LOT of hiking, hopefully eating fresh salmon, and did I mention hiking?

I've had the packing *list* ready for a week. I'm only assembling it today. For some reason, this triggered me to plow through EVERY stack of clothes I own. This is a task I've been putting off for a year that I need to do to thin out my closet, so when do I do it? When it's not on the critical path. Although I did find some useful hiking stuff. I haven't been using my serious technical gear here because of (a) not as much hiking and (b) short hikes and (c) hot weather. Turns out I had a couple piles of likely stuff that I hadn't used in a while that yielded choice goods. Doesn't mean I have an attractive hiking tops, but I did find my 2nd set of hiking pants.

Now I have a big pile of probably need and a modest pile of want. I'm trying to remind myself that I can buy souvenier clothes there, so it's not like I'll run out. Thinning out is going to be my hardest thing.

Here's my dain bramaged timeline
Laundry - early in week
Make gorp - first today
Put on some root touch up hair color
Repack first aid kit
Sort through all clothes
Try on just about everything I usually like
Pare down to giant pile
Realize I want that yellow shirt and do one more laundry load
Re-copy my travel itinerary
Oh crap! Still need toiletries!
Thin out clothes
Stuff all in bags
Doublecheck wallet
Figure out parking situation
Shower and dress
Fly to Alaska (Anchorage, train to Fairbanks, Denali)

I've been stressing out all week about not being packed despite knowing I had the list, the laundry, and all day today. I even woke up early for me (9am). But today, I'm feeling kinda zen about it all interspersed with short panicked intervals. I should really figure out the parking situation...

But Yay! Alaska! With friends!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Not Pinky

"They're Pinky and the Brain, Pinky and the Brain. One is a genius, the other's insane. They're laboratory mice - their genes have been spliced - they're dinky, they're Pinky and the Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain."

When I was in high school, brain imaging studies were new. There was a theory floating out there that we only used 10% of our brains. I'm never sure where this theory came from because it's one of the stupidest theories ever. Brains use a HUGE percentage of our energy intake. And any scientist, at least any (ahem) materials scientist, knows that everything tends toward a low energy state. Things that require lots of energy to sustain don't get sustained if they aren't important. This goes for muscles and neurons. If we only regularly used 10% of our brains, our brains would shrink to the size of a golf ball, just like our muscles wither and bones lose density if we stay inactive. Even plants do the same - removed from stressors like insects, they don't produce as much of their protective chemicals until the stressors come back. Our bodies plain wouldn't waste the calories on an inactive brain. Brains are enormously important and the body knows it and does a lot to protect them. If you don't eat? Your brain can starve - but only after it sucks nutrients out of every last cell you have outside your brain. But we're not perfect protectors of our brains.

There's a lot to love in this SEED mag article about neruogenesis including the theory (almost certainly correct and primary) that Prozac works by increasing brain cell growth, which is why its effects are delayed several weeks from initiation of treatment. Brains take a lot of energy and coordination. If they're not in the habit of growin, it can take a while to turn it around, grow new bits, link them up, and get them to be a useful part of the network.

But the article points out one of the things that pisses me off most about scientists and science news - scientists will dismiss ideas they can't fit in the current model, until they're forced to see a new model. On the one hand, science allows for new models. On the other hand, people resist change, have a vested (short term) interest in being seen to be right over actually being right, and not every crackpot theory is worth the bother of responding to.

But neurogenesis? Why would that ever be crackpot? Every other part of our body regenerates, why not our brains? "Scientists" dismissed brain growth for years and years. The article even says "10 years ago no one could have imagined that brains grew." Well, I wish I was blogging 10 years ago because I can tell you now that I imagined it then. Learning can't just reroute existing bits, there has to be some growth. It's only sensible. I think it's why reading and driving and paying attention in museums is so exhausting - your brain is consuming your energy allotment. The more you exercise it, the more it gets used to using the energy, and that energy has to do something beyond quivering.

The other "no one thought of that" was the cage environment. A lot of scientists didn't think the cage environment for rats and monkeys affected their experiments because it was a controlled, consistent environment. But we know people go quite insane when locked in solitary confinement, why wouldn't other social mammals? It has always been curious to me that people would dismiss the "home" environment of a lab rat as inconsequential. Yes, it can be tough to control an experiment if you've infected some rats and not others and they can't mix. But in recent years, researchers have found that enhanced environments means their little specimens live longer, heal faster, and grow better. Perhaps neurogenesis was never observed in caged monkeys because their boring sterile environment away from the comforting touch of friends and relatives led to brain tissue die off far outpacing neurogenesis.

Anyhow, statements like "no one could imagine it" really irk the bejezus out of me. But it irks me more to see the work of honest, outside-the-box-thinking scientists marginalized because of it. The extra special perk of this article is that a female researcher and professor is getting the snaps for "inventing" the field. Which really means changing the model. And here's hoping our brains are better for it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Butt Up!

In fast-n-furious vacation mode, I hit a minor jackpot when a work trip coincided with a planned rafting trip. Work paid to get me up to San Jose and back, and I extended the trip by a coupla days, as did the colleague I worked with who has family in that area.

My flight was easy, but my checked bag didn't show. But the airline assured me they knew where it was (back in BUR waiting for the next flight. The hotel was nice and gave me a bathrobe so I could let my travel clothes air out in case they became my work clothes the next day. (I'd gotten complacent about my "always pack a swimsuit and PJs in the carryon" rule.) The luggage arrived at 11:30pm via a shuttle service (my colleague had the rental car and took off for the time I could have collected it myself). At that point I was really grateful to be staying at the hotel for two nights so I didn't have to unpack and repack all within about 7 hours and then be conscious and unruffled for work.

The work stuff went fine. My colleague and I were doing a soft audit of a vendor who we are qualifying. The qual went ok but not smoothly so we went up to see if there was hope it would work smoothly in the future or if we should give up. I got the happy management song and dance, but it did look like they had fairly robust systems in place and we just had to work out some kinks and they'll be ok enough. Then next day was mostly a meet-n-greet because I wanted to see the facility and meet the people I was dealing with and putting my trust in to source some important materials. Their outfit is leaner than I expected, but seems to work ok, and I was glad to see it.

The second company's salesman has been trying hard for our business, and/or enjoys my company for lunch. He and his wife took me out for dinner on Thursday night. (I didn't even ask for dinner at company 1, I figured after a full day of sucking up they were kind of done with us.) I assured my vendor that I love chinese food and we went to a little place they like. It wound up being a little loud with graduation parties. I've honestly never seen an Indian family celebrating at a chinese restaurant before. Gotta love America - or at least the greater San Fransisco area for that. Then there were several other families including one graduate who had had my host's wife as an elementary school teacher! All that noise and chaos, and some low walls, meant we didn't really disturb anyone too much when I choked on my rice.

This paragraph is TMI. Skip to the next one if you don't like things gross.
And by choked, I mean almost called 911 choked. For some reason I choke on rice. It has happened to me since college. I get this very painful lump in my throat, make gagging noises that don't do anything to expel the rice, my eyes water, and I swallow convulsively for a few minutes until the lump goes down and I'm fine. This time, though, I tried to drink some water to help flush it down and it wouldn't go down! I didn't panic exactly, but I did worry and start testing my breathing. I had a little but not a lot. And this time I gagged up a pile of rice and broccoli. And mucous like there was no tomorrow. It didn't seem to stop either. So after the manager brought over some extra napkins and cleaned away my plate, I went to the bathroom - with the host's wife, I know better than to go alone in an emergency - I yakked up some more rice and mucous. Mom? This is why I don't own rice. Don't know why steak goes down fine and rice gets stuck but there you have it. Made a FANTASTIC impresson, I'm sure. Yet my host still schlepped me all the way to SF the next day.

After the rice incident, I met with friend A for lunch in the Mission District for Thai food. sigh. Yes with rice. I was very, very careful to take small bites, chew thoroughly, and alternate foods. My friend and I had a nice chat then she kindly dropped me and my bags off at the BART station. I took the BART to the east bay and got picked up by my 4th ride of the day and spent and enjoyable afternoon window shopping with my college roommate M. After dinner, she (M) hauled me up toward Sacramento to meet up with yet another friend M. The friend to friend connections all went very smoothly. I showed them pictures on my camera and in retaliation, my roommate showed me games on her Nintendo DS which she loves as much as I like making people look at my portable slideshow.

Funny how on vacation, I always wind up getting up early. Two days of early for work, then two days of early for fun. Saturday my friend and I geared up and met up with more friends and friends of friends for a rafting trip. I went with this group 3 years ago just after I moved out here (in lieu of Dershstock) and decided to give it another go. The rafting company provides two-man kayak like inflatable self-bailing rafts which are awesome, and 3-5 man rafts which are not. It's critical to have even numbers for this trip or someone will not have a good boat. With all the friends and friends of friends, we managed an even number. Whew! It did turn out that we got one boatmate from hell, but on the whole, things went well.

The river level was down a lot this year. That meant that instead of fewer rapids and longer stretches of calm, there were more small rapids with exposed, or barely exposed rocks. We all spent lots of time exercising our ab muscles rocking and shifting our weight trying to get unstuck from all the rocks we ran afoul of. Sometimes the cry of "butt up!" was the only warning I got in the back of the boat that we were even near a rock - they were sneaky. We navigated by waiting for other people to make it through cleanly and following them, or waiting until they got stuck and navigating around them, or knocking them off the rock only to get stuck ourselves.

Aside from a couple of large rapids though, it's mostly a river you can do drunk and backwards. And we did some of it drunk and backwards. I think I drank more on saturday than I usually do in a month of sundays. I did manage not to do any of the river upside down - only getting badly stuck under one set of shrubs at the very end of the second day - although the same can't be said for everyone in our group. One couple lost one paddle and bent their remaining paddle. Fortunately someone was picking up floating paddles and redistributing them, or was at least willing to trade a paddle for beer. One of our peeps gave a found paddle to the guy "paddling" with an adult blow up doll (named Beyonce).

Everyone managed to get down the Cache Creek one way or another, with varying degrees of being wet. And the wetness wasn't all from dumping out or splashing. Did I mention the drunk part? There were also water toys. Probably the bit that most amused me was was when one of the bigger boats came by with 3 guys and a girl who shot at us with one supersoaker. Most of our group had just beached for some down time and to collect our errant rafts. Almost as one, 6 supersoakers came up out of the bottoms of our boats and returned fire. The look on the first boaters' faces was priceless! I have no idea how many if those supersoakers came home with us but we were prepared for none. It's the same river where I found my so attractive "rafting hat" that I keep in the back of my car for emergency sun protection; pretty much everything exits the raft at some point.

The rafting is a two day affair with camping in between. We staked out a good campsite and got the tents up. Then proceeded to get sunburned while sitting around drinking. There was more sitting around this year because the first day's river run was shorter due to construction. A couple from our group decided to use the time to take a "short walk" and wound up summiting a nearby hill only returned at dusk, missing the huge feast of appetizers and dinner they serve to keep us fat and happy. One pound potatoes, I kid you not. Usually they do some disco kind of thing, but not this year. I'm not sure if it was the temporary campsite or what, but being the weekend of the solstice we would have welcomed more group activity to burn up the daylight. We'd met some people (ok, drunken Irishmen) on the river who would have been fun to hang around with more.

I was surprised that I managed to wake up fairly easily after a night of very gusty winds and chittering bats and, well, sleeping in a tent with no air mattress. The sleeping bag was pretty padded, as advertised, but still. I'd hydrated fairly well and made it to breakfast and got the camp broken back down and my stuff packed up to be on the first bus. There was some confusion though and I didn't get to raft with my other friend because we didn't get the timing right and she missed the first bus out (or we took off without the last two, there are varying opinions). We did meet up later and spent more time swapping boat partners the second day since two of the first day rafters elected to bail on the second day. It was a little weird being the exact same run as the day before rather than an extension, but it worked out ok. The second day was faster since we were going home after, with some drinking, but not much. The last half of my run was spent with a young teenage girl with my first name. The all otter boat!

Finally, having manged to keep the sunburn on my shins to a dull pink, and picking up the picture of our boat shooting the big rapid with me looking serious and friend S looking zen with her eyes shut and her paddle straight overhead (which I only vaguely remember her doing since she paddled a lot early in the rapid and I was focused on steering), we headed out. I got a much needed shower, reassembled all my goods while friend M drove me back to the airport.

Despite checking in only 4 hours before the Southwest flight, I still got a great boarding number and was in the second row. Which put me across from my second big celebrity sighting! Seth Green was in the first row! They made him put a bag up over the second row due to no stowage space for carryons in his row, so he wound up getting off right in front of me. I'm pretty sure the 6'5" or so guy he was traveling with was at least part bodyguard. I gotta tell ya, I knew SG was short, but, dang! He comes up to just over my collarbone. Still cute though. I managed not to give into the impulse to nudge him down the stairs or initiate conversation or rest my chin on his hat.

All in all a thoroughly successful trip, full of friends, small bits of drama, lots of water for splashing in, not lots of water for bathing in, food, shared tasty beverages, a chance celebrity sighting, and the work went smoothly.

Next week, Alaska. Friend M from the rafting and I will be traveling together to meet up with another book club friend and doing touristy stuff and local stuff. Expectations are high.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I had all sorts of intentions regarding posting pictures of my weekend. There was a rollerskating glassblowing demo that got decended upon by the midnight riders. I have a series of tree photos from one of my hikes showing the seasonal change. I have some more scraggly trees. I don't have photos from my sunday sailing adventure because I wasn't willing to risk a dip in the drink or dropping the camera. Then I came home from sailing and crashed because regulating my body temperature and making vitamin D is exhausting. So all those hours of uploading photos and lovingly crafting them into a blog went all to hell as I slept the day away.

If you need a picture fix, my Vegas travel buddy has posted a good account of our trip. A lot of his pictures look like a lot of my pictures - I was hard pressed to know which were which, so anything I might eventually work up might look a lot like this anyway. Or you can go back to the scraggly tree slideshow.

At any rate, I'm going to be traveling for work tomorrow and for pleasure over the weekend so the update rate here might drop off. (Go look at the pictures! Plus I added "Solano Skipper's Log" to the sidebar - I'll be hanging with her this weekend. If you like pictures, check out her blog!)


I keep seeing the headline today about Sotomayor "defending" her membership to an elite Latina's lawyer's group. I'm ok with someone asking why it's ok for her to join an exclusive group when it's not ok for white men, but I'm not ok with someone equating it with a "men's club" and failing to see the reasonableness of the association. Over on the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi recently wrote something I found very profound, and this fits the theme perfectly.
Conservatism, with its belief in institutions, traditions, and the past, will seemingly always privilege (perhaps inadvertently) the powerful over the powerless. Institutions, traditions and the past belong to those with power. Privileging them, privileges their agents. ...
To be a true conservative is to be more disturbed by victimology, than actual victimizing. It is to claim to abhor evil--but to abhor the response to evil even more.

The reason a female hispanic lawyer would join a group of female hispanic lawyers has nothing to do with discriminating against non-female hispanic lawyers and everything to do with responding to discrimination against female hispanic laywers. When you make no headway in the established structures, you make your own structure. For someone to call that group out as racist or sexist is to miss a point so obvious I can barely find the words to point out its obviousness.

I belong to a group of Women Engineers. (What is a group of Men Engineers called? IEEE... yes it's joke.) I've never had problems joining a group of male engineers, but there still exist reasons to join up with women. There are still issues that need to be worked on. There are still power struggles that get exacerbated in mixed sex gatherings. The chances of me taking a leadership position - which is a skill building thing to do - is much greater in my smaller group. Then I can take that experience and build off it and use those skills in my career.

I could probably do something similar in a male dominated group, but Sotomayor could not have. Heck, 10 years earlier and she might not have gotten into Princeton at all. Do people have no sense that the reaction to being discriminated against is not, in itself, discriminatory? If not, why not? If a male judge in this day and age was shown to be in an exclusive all white, all baptist, all straight, all male group of lawyers, it would not be ok. Because that is a group where people with power are excluding those without power, for the sake of excluding people without power, generally because they consider those other people inferior. People without power joining up to gain power and experience and voice so they can break into the ranks of those with power, is a proactive way to work for equality, not against it.

May the day come when we won't have women's softball and men's baseball or need Women's engineering or lawyering groups, but that day is not here yet. And to deny someone the very real benefits of joining such a group is the very height of not understanding why they exist in the first place. Sheesh!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ripe Old Age

My parents have the amazing ability to keep pets and plants alive long past their usual lifespan. Such is the case with the family cat. We got Tanga when she was a too-small kitty who would hop around like Tigger, and had the stripes to go with the name. But that seemed a little wrong, and her coloring did have a bit of the grey kangaroo so we mixed up Kanga and Tigger to get Tanga.

She was a bit of a standoffish alleycat in temperament. She liked to go into the wilderness of the back yard, also shared with deer, enormous racoons, a snotty woodchuck, birds, rabbits, squirrels, and the occasional fox or bobcat. Her 'street smarts' stood her in good stead though. She became deaf as a reaction to her vaccinations, so we made her wear a bell on a harness. Even deaf, declawed, and wearing a bell, she could still stalk the birds and rabbits and squirrels and avoided the predators.

The thing with deaf cats, though, is they aren't afraid of motor noises. Her favorite thing in the world was to be vacuumed. (I've spent fruitless time looking for a picture of her during a vacuum massage.) Second place was probably getting her damp paws blowdried after a romp outside in wet grass or snow. Third was knocking over breakables or eating guppies out of the fish tank - "what, I thought they were snacks!" - until mom figured out where the fish were disappearing to. Mom said she got cuddlier with advancing age, but my allergies to her which weren't noticeable when I lived there full time became horrendous when visiting after moving out, so I have to take that on faith.

Recently though, Tanga'd been having trouble walking up stairs. Then this weekend she stopped walking pretty much at all, and didn't eat anything either. So mom took the day off to hold her for a while before taking her to the vet to be put down. Dad emailed back that they buried her in the yard under a new plant. It's hard to lose a pet, even if I haven't seen her in about 3 years. I'm not sure how my parents are going to take it, even though they knew the end was near. They've had Tanga for 21 active years (maybe even 22, we lost track) which is a good run for a cat. Bye, kitty.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

There is No Try

In the attempt to get fit and maximize my nearly free karate lessons, I did another class today after work. We did some really good stretches and standard calesthenics to warm up. Then they paired us up M-M, F-F and we choked each other. Some moves were fairly easy, but some were above my third lesson abilities. (Picture Ferris Bueller saying "never had one lesson".) People were still really nice to me, as they generally are to new people. I cracked one guy up by introducing myself as the "FNG".

I did notice a difference between how seriously I tried to do the holds vs. the other ladies I was working with. One did some things very well, and the other was pretty hesitant and kind of limp. On one hand, it's unnerving to grab a stranger by the throat after a pleasant greeting, and not hurt them while learning to hurt them. My thought on doing the exercise was that I don't want to practice doing the moves so wrong that it would be worse than not knowing. But I also don't want to hurt someone accidentally either. I can't claim any great skill, but I tried to stay focused and do the moves properly but gently. I'm not sure I'm great at gently.

Grabbing someone by the neck was very freaky. I don't really know my own strength generally. We played with a standing choke with thumbs on the throat (above and below the adam's apple) by swallowing to feel the throat parts move and it was an odd sensation. I abstained from doing a takedown from upright to floor with my arm wrapped around someone's neck. I did do the other ones. They got complicated and a little silly. There was throwing a leg up and over a shoulder then neck. There was tickling.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wax On

When I had my glass booth at the fair last friday, the booth two over was a local Karate place. As I understand it, it's part of a chain. They were offering a deal: for $20 I get a uniform, 4 private lessons, and all the group lessons I could make it to for a month.

Now I'm working on getting my $20 worth. I had a private lesson on tuesday where I learned a palm-heel strike and defensive positions 1-4 (2 positions, R & L). It went pretty well. The sensei said I was very strong, but I'm never sure if they mean that or if they just want me to stick with it. A friend assured me that if they didn't think that, then they would say "you need to build up your strength by coming to more lessons" which made sense too.

Today, I felt like, well, let's just say it took 4 Tylenol to feel semi-warmed over. It was a pretty low energy day. But I decided to try out the group class and see how it went. It went pretty well! My only other (non-yoga) martial arts lesson in Aikido was all about falling. Snowboarding lessons are all about falling. Today's lesson was all about falling - and getting back up. I think the universe might be trying to tell me something.

It's also the case that one of the few people I know around town wound up being at the Border's book store over lunch earlier this week, and at the dojo today. Odd. Thrilling. Hopefully this means the universe wants me to be invited to another party.

At any rate, we did a circuit of various things to warm up and get the heart pumping, and I learned more blocks and a kick to get through that. Then fell down a lot. (We'll see how my ass is doing tomorrow.) But I got an enthusiastic qualified "you did very well for your first time", so hey. And I feel better than before I went which is pretty well the whole point. Wax off, all.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Long Game

Now that I'm on the Obama topic, I can't let it go. These thoughts have been brewing for a while. I know I've been a long winded, blogging fool this week, but bear with me at least this once more, please. And weigh in if you would.

As we've seen from the Presidential race of 2008, President Obama plays a long game and is particularly adept at the rope-a-dope strategy. I was ready to vote for him after the DNC speech in 2004. I remember sitting in my Golf at the top of Sycamore street being so mesmerized by his oration that I would not risk missing any by crossing the street, heading inside, and up three and a half flights of stairs. "Move over Kerry, the hamster rescue was touching, but I wanna vote for this guy". Obama knew better than to be too obvious then, but he laid the groundwork. Then got the rest of us to work like crazy to get him elected last year.

During the campaign, I had a co-worker come by saying "he's got to show some aggression!" and I said, "Are you crazy? The worst thing he can do is show himself to be an angry black man." Not that McCain did himself any favors with the crazy white man display, but if Obama had acted like McCain, he wouldn't have been given any slack or quarter for missteps. And over time, his calm, thoughtful presence showed McCain to be knee-jerk and crazy and not really high caliber leadership material. After years and years of the Bush Administration screaming at us to "Be Fearful!", "Some Evildoer Could Kill You In Your Sleep", "We Must Do Something, Anything Now!", Obama said "calm down and think it through." I can't tell you how much relief his mere demeanor brings me after so many years of batshit crazy on the bully pulpit. And his focus on the future which respects the past.

His speech in Cairo started by saying "Together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress." While using those words in praise of Egyptian institutions, it brought home to me the perfect description of Obama's core philosophy as I see it - the harmony between tradition and progress. It's how and why he speaks to traditional conservatives and liberal progressives and picks up most of the independent "centers". His respect for the past and hope for the future and a desire to make both fit together is something he manages to convey better than anyone else I've ever heard.

I've heard comments about the talk saying "it's only a speech", "it's just words, not action", "Not all of that will happen", or "he's going to need to follow that with action". The first response completely fails to understand anything about how the universe works and in particular how relationships work. The second response is true, kind of - the mere fact of his being in the Middle East, addressing them and us as grownups was an action Bush never did and never could have. It's cumulative soft power whose full effects might never be known or properly attributed that he's building.

Obama got in front of an audience of millions and laid out a possible vision of the future and how we can managed to rub along together without exterminating one another. Whether or not any of his vision ever happens, the vision is now extant. And to the many middle eastern countries with half their population age 15 or younger (think about that for a second), these people will come of age with the knowledge of that vision and Obama's calm example. Whether or not action is taken by Obama or today's 15 year olds when they rise to power, or their kids who are raised on a different vision, I do not doubt that at least some good things will come from this.

During his campaign and almost every speech he can work it into, Obama lays out similar ideals for America and Americans. Those who say that failing to succeed at all the ideals means failure of all frustrate me. It's like saying an olympic high jumper failed because she didn't reach her goal of 7 feet when she won gold on a 6'10" jump. She set the goal at 7 feet because setting the goal at 6'9" feet doesn't get her as far, and still feels like it could be attainable. (Incidentally, the men's record holder at just under 8 feet is named Sotomayor.)

Setting high but realistic seeming goals is the first step to attaining those goals. No, you don't achieve goals without work, without action. But without the goals as a guide, energy is expended going in 80 different directions that would be more effective when focused in only one (or 5) directions. You might achieve something, but it's almost never as impressive as what happens when actions are focused toward a goal or set of goals. You just plain can't do it the other way around. So the campaign and Cairo, they're setting the goalposts so we know which direction to send the team running.

  • Being a materials engineer I can't help but make the analogy with some natural mechanisms both for building, transforming, and sculpting materials. To build a solid out of a liquid, you need two processes - nucleation and growth. Without places of low energy to form around, crystals won't grow. With all the nucleations sites needed but insufficient growth conditions, crystals won't grow. It takes both in a balance. More growth means bigger crystals, more nucleation means more crystals. When pilots seed clouds, they are adding nucleation sites into the clouds hoping that the growth condition for raindrops is there, ready to act, if only there is an accessible place to act upon.

  • Similarly there is fire. A pile of dry sticks won't catch fire without a spark. A spark won't light a pile of wet sticks. Fire needs the dry condition and the spark or it won't go.

  • If you hit anything with enough force, you'll overcome the molecular binding energy and shatter it like a hammer through a window. But if you want to sculpt something like glass or stone, you need to break it carefully. To do that, you need to make one part weaker than the neighboring parts and then apply force there. The force needs to be enough to propagate the crack without being enough to shatter the surrounding area. Applying the force first is useless at best and damaging at worst. But delineating where the force should be applied, then applying the force will crack the glass or stone along the proscribed line. Or maybe it veers off the line a little and the sculpture of an Indian Chief becomes a smaller nosed white settler - it remains a face, but a modified one. I can't sell glass with a chip in it because one day the sun shining on it will nudge that chip and make it shatter - it will feel unexpected but it is predictable.

But you see my point? Direct the force before applying it or you go nowhere. Dry the grass if you want it alight or dampen and hide the matches it if you don't. Growth doesn't happen without have a good place to anchor. In all cases, two potentially unlikely things have to happen in the proper sequence in order to give rise to the desired result. The Cairo speech is the notch at the edge of the glass, the nucleation of the ideas. Actions ought to follow, but they couldn't come first, and they might take years to materialize. And who yet knows who all the actors will be?

This is the stuff I think of when I think of DADT (Don't Ask, Don't Tell), the policy by which we drum decorated, necessary soldiers, sailors, and marines out of the military at a time when it's ridiculous to fire an Arabian translator with a security clearance. Obama moved quickly to quash the top down policy of torture, but on this, we don't hear much. He could just have other things on his plate, but when is there ever a good time to fight for civil rights? It's always concurrent with other challenges. My hope is that he's letting us work ourselves into a frenzy demanding that this archaic restriction on homosexuals be removed by seeing how retarded it is to fire distinguished West Point graduates with stellar service records. At which point our legislators hand him the law and he signs it.

Because we've seen him move swiftly for human rights, it feels wrong to have to wait for this, in this day and age. I have the feeling though, that if the repeal comes bottom up, not top down, it won't come back whereas if he slaps it down, it'll be back after the next electoral turnover. Maybe not, but it happens with every cycle of women's rights with every change of president so the worry is real. Enough people still feel justified in their intolerance of gays that simply going for it might be more trouble in the long run than fighting for it now but taking another year or two. Maybe I'm giving him too much credit and he just wants nothing to do with it, sympathetic notecards to dismissed lesbian soldiers notwithstanding. He doesn't seem super excited about this as a pet project, but it's possible that as he couldn't afford to campaign as a scary, angry black man, he might not yet feel that it's politically feasible to be seen driving the fabulous into the military, but politically feasible to allow it to happen. He's politically canny and smarter than me, but I hope I'm calling this one correctly.

Monday, June 8, 2009

My Ears are That Big

I read the press article earlier today about the Steven Colbert show's first Iraq broadcast. It mentioned that President Obama would have a small role and he'd get a military buzz cut. Sometimes I get a little disturbed by the Colbert Show's humor. Not tonight. This was worth staying up for and full on funny; my eyes are still leaking. The short bit showed Obama and a general as having a good sense of humor in the name of troop morale. ("Your spy satellites are so good you heard him say I need a haircut?" "No, my ears are that big.") Not to mention, Colbert doesn't look half bad in the new do. I'm sure some cockup will complain tomorrow about how Obama and the General wasted their precious time, but you won't get me to agree. We send the troops to the sandbox, we don't begrudge them an officially sanctioned chuckle now and again.

Same with whatever GOP numbnutz who complained about Obama taking Military 1 to NY for a date with his wife. And the media outlet who thought that complaint made a first page story. Numbnutz probably didn't make the distinction between people who sometimes travel on corporate or military jets for work but not for personal business, and the President who ALWAYS and ONLY travels in the official transport. When he has a free Friday night, he can't just dial up Expedia (DOT! COM!) on his crackberry and book a commuter flight. And what, the man can't show his wife a good time in NY after putting the family through 2 years of long separations, campaigning, and a total lack of privacy for the rest of their lives? If the President can't treat the first lady to a dinner and a Broadway show every now and again (say, once every 5 months or so at the current rate), what good is the gig? All y'all "family values" folks should take a lesson there. If you keep a promise to your wife? That's good family values.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Predictably Happy?

The Atlantic has a very interesting article on happiness and success, which given the framework for this blog, I can't help but link to.
What Makes Us Happy? by Joshua Wolf Shenk
It's four pages, but if you click on the "printer friendly version" at the bottom of page one, it'll pop up the whole article in one page. While I'm extremely interested in this topic I still haven't finished it yet - I'm a product of the MTV "what's next, I'm bored!" generation X after all - but I do appreciate the detail, tone, and extent of the article enough to recommend it, even if you only read page one.

The focus is a longitudinal (read "long term") study started in the 1930s and continuing with varied depth until today. The "Grant Study" profiled a couple hundred Harvard men and followed them for years and many are still alive and participating. The study motivation was feeling that too much of medicine focused on identifying and preventing the sick and abnormal. The study originator wanted to focus on identifying and encouraging normality, health, happiness, and success. I can get behind that.

What they found though, was that "lives were too big, too weird, too full of subtleties and contradictions to fit any easy conception of 'successful living'...(the most inspiring triumphs were often studies in hardship)." I can get behind that too! A former boss had done some reading on what made women successful in business, and the author found the only correlation between women seen as successful (by popular consensus) was that they successfully overcame a hardship that could have derailed them. In grand tradition, what didn't kill them made them stronger. It's not about living a charmed life, it's reacting to bad stuff in a positive, growth oriented way. That's not to say one can't grieve for loss, but one can't turn the grief into an excuse for future loss. When you cannot control what happens to you, you can control how you respond to it. And if you find yourself responding badly, you can get help to figure out how to respond better.

I spend rather a lot of time pondering "success". There are always spikes of pondering after reading the alumni news and hearing about how many classmates started and sold two companies to Microsoft then had their 2nd child while earning a solo pilot's license on paid sabbatical which they used to bring humanitarian supplies to disaster zones before curing paralysis in lab rats. Gah! Almost no one can live up to that kind of bar. But the thing is, no one writes into the alumni news with their worst, lowest updates. So we construct a ruler based on the best thing that everyone did and have no idea how often they bitched about wasting time on laundry. A ruler based on the thing that everyone does best is not a fair comparison. Even more, I don't want to live up to that bar because I don't want to do those things! (Ok, I'd take a paid sabbatical!)

To figure out what success is, one has to ask oneself for the definition first. One of the many things I detested about the Bush administration was that he spoke often about Victory and Success without ever defining what he meant by Victory and Success. When you make a condition of policy "we must be successful and victorious in Iraq" before we can leave, it's utterly meaningless. They talked often about timelines, but never that I heard of about milestones. Timeline speak is "we'll leave Iraq in August". Milestone speak is "we'll leave Iraq when the democratic government has had one round of 90% non-violent elections, with 90% non-violent power transistions, fewer than 1 suicide bombing a month, and at least 50% of the country has reliable electric and water supplies for 20+ hours a day." That's stuff you can turn into directed action - get people on board with elections, provide deterrence security for the transition teams, make suicide bombings unacceptable culturally (that might be too much, but it's necessary for a stable society), and get security and engineers on the electric and water supplies and distribution system, and the local neighborhoods invested in keeping them sound. /rant

Back to the happiness for regular-guy people. Is success retiring with $3 Million by age 55? Is success working at a craft until the day you die? Is success working to help people overcome problems (medical, natural disaster, mental, etc...)? Is success doing anything to avoid working retail sales? Is success having and raising 4 healthy kids? Is success going to your beach house twice a month or twice a year? Is success being able to afford your favorite coffee every morning? Is success starting your own company and running it forever? Or starting one and selling it?

Further, what if you want three of these things and only get one? Are you successful? Do you feel successful? Only you can say. And if you get the sense that you're not, only you can decide to change your focus and maybe look at the world thru a new lens.

I have found that by occasionally taking time to write down 3 things that made me happy during a day, regardless of the shitstorm that may also have occurred, I have found it easier to accept happiness. Writing down the good things at the end of the day means that I stop focusing on the bad stuff and remember the good stuff. I don't forget the bad stuff, I just don't let it be my primary focus. The more I search for things that make me happy, the easier it is to find them. Focusing on happy things makes it easier to find the good in the bad as well as the good in the good.

Can't Resist Temptation

Saturday felt laid back mostly because I had Friday afternoon off. I actually worked pretty hard for the afternoon, but it was fun too. I had a booth at a local event to sell some glass. Like so:
layout of glass flowers, ornaments, and pumpkins

It was one of the dampest days I've ever spent in CA. No downpours this time, but a series of small showers, the final one about 10 minutes before I arrived to set up meaning I got a lot of grass and mud on my tires and undercarriage. Four hours later, and the sky looked like the Simpson's intro:
Blue sky with ornaments

Whether due to the rain, the venue, the fact that it's the fair's first year to have vendors, or the police car parked at the end of my row, we had no sales. Literally. Almost everything bought was bought by other vendors, and that was scanty too since we had no traffic so no one was feeling flush. I got no one for 2 hours even wandering by. People came by later but claimed to not be carrying money. Whatev. I chalk it up to a learning experience and a day of fresh air. It did remind me how much I detest humidity but was otherwise pretty nice. The first tablecloth that got rained on and drenched was dry before I left, so it wasn't so humid that an east coaster would notice, I'll bet.

The booth buyin was $40. The Tupperware cake carrier was $30. The Pampered Chef garlic press was $17 n change. (They were on my list, I swear.) $20 for a month of martial arts with a personal training session. Plus a half day vacation time and $150 in studio fees to stock up on flowers. But all in all, it was worth doing because I learned stuff which would make me more prepared and organized for my next sale. And I got time to stick ribbons on the remaining unstrung ornaments. I found a good dremel bit for dulling the sharp stem ends, and confirmed that the cordless dremel is a good thing to have on hand. I'm convinced that if a tent is not provided, I will want to provide one even if glass looks better in the sun. It wasn't a cheap lesson as such, but it was not unaffordable nor altogether a waste of time. It helped that the PC vendor gave me play-doh with my garlic press and the lady selling hand decorated grocery bags next to me was cheerful and chatty.

Plus, I managed to convince myself to put away everything last night so today was super relaxed. (The concept of not being done until things are put away is still kind of foreign to me.) I got up at noon and organized the purse (prev post). I took all the trash out of the car, organized the trunk, and got the car washed. I settled into the freshly washed and gassed car and took off up the freeway. One of the Starbucks' CD compilations is on rotation in my car. It was a fun soundtrack as it went from "If you always get up late, you're never gonna be on time." Good thing I didn't have to be on time. I can't tell you how tempted I was to just keep driving to San Fransisco every time I saw the mileage sign, while listening to "Temptation". Then taking these photos, mostly out of the sunroof, while listening to "I can see clearly now the rain has gone".

The open road, the Pacific, some funky clouds, and cliffs. The darkest stripe of cloud actually looked like a gentle horizontal tornado for good while.
101N toward santa barbara

Seriously, one can get quite the moment of zen along this stretch of highway.
more road and water and sky

The hillside that's a dark silhouette above looks more like this in light. It's not for no reason this area gets mudslides when too much water is added to such a structure.
steep rutted dun hillside with green scrubby plants

I managed not to drive to San Fran, or even all the way to Santa Barbara. Instead, I got off on several smaller exits and drove around a bit, exploring. I found some extremely large, elaborate, well fenced beach homes. Elsewhere, I was able to find this stretch of beach.
traditional near sunset view of sun reflecting off water near beach with pier

To get to the beach you have to scramble over some rocks like these, there is no path down from the parking area. As I was snapping this photo, the guy next to me poked me to get my attention and pointed out a pod of dolphins jumping around not far away. Several leaped completely out of the water, as seen on TV! The rarity wasn't the dolphin maneuver, but my being there to see it.
waves, boulders, driftwood log

Lastly, picture wise, I had stopped along the way at a couple of roadside stands because I missed the farmer's market this week to go pick up the glass I didn't sell and it's cherry season. I think they send all the pretty cherries out of state. This batch of cherries had a lower incidence of what I call the parasitic twins, but there were still quite a few.
rectangular glass tray with deformed cherries arrayed on top

While some of them fill out equally and look like a ripe, red, monkey butt, most are asymmetric and look like these Skeksis.
evil Skeksis from the Dark Crystal

From another angle, they still look a little disconcerting, don't you think?
closeup side view cherries with bumps on top

To round out the day, I managed a good chat with people at the bar when I stopped for fried scallops, then redeemed a coupon and a dollar fifty to finally see Star Trek on IMAX. I gave in to temptation to buy fresh strawberries and cherries and take in the scenery of the open road. Another lazy Southern California day.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Every once in a while I clean out and reorganize my purse. I've gotten heartily sick of digging out stuff from the pit of my current bag so it was time to organize or switch. This purse is a cheerful orange floral backpack thing the date brought me from Hawaii. I like the summery outside but the inside is just a sack with one small pocket. Usually a purse I choose has 3 main compartments plus a zipped pocket for feminine needs and meds, plus a pocket each for the cell and camera. This one is just chaos. I try to keep it cleared out but it only takes a week or two and it's back to where the people behind me at the grocery store are mentally stabbing me while I dig for the store card to activate my savings.

This time, I went to my not inconsiderable stash of smaller bags and decided to add a step to actually laying hands on an item by sorting most of the stuff into these smaller bags/wallety things. The current allocation is
  1. money & ID & insurance wallet
  2. coupon & gift card wallet
  3. coin purse
  4. Meds/first aid
  5. tools
  6. food
  7. makeup
The camera has its own case, the pens float free as does the ibuprofen bottle that doesn't fit in the first aid sleeve. There's a notebook with games in it that closes with elastic. The phone has a cliphanger and clips to the drawstring, as do extra hair clips. The work badge, lipgloss, and wetwipes are in the outer pocket. I think this could work.

Every once in a great while, I clean out AND reorganize my wallet. Usually, it's just before a big trip when I want to make sure I have a clear list of all the items in case they need replacing. The wallet is normally a tri-fold, but it hasn't gone beyond bi-fold in maybe 6 months. This one has been a long time coming, motivated by an upcoming trip to Alaska. The key to this reorg working longer than a week is that I've decided to separate credit cards and necessary membership cards from gift cards and voluntary membership card and stick the latter with coupons in an overengineered flat leather case I couldn't resist at the J.Crew register a few years ago but never found a solid use for. The separation of gift cards and buy-12-get-one-free offers means I can now fold my wallet closed again, which makes me happy.

Other stuff I did in the reorg included re-writing the list of emergency and friend contacts. Now that I have a cell phone, I don't know anyone's phone numbers by heart, but cell phones can get lost or run out of juice. And were I incapacitated but possessed of the wallet, I'd want someone to know there were people to call who might care. Judging by the names, I'm pretty sure the last time I did that, I lived in MA, although I'd tacked my CA work number on there. I've got a more current mix now.

Lastly, I've decided to take out all the fortunes I've been accumulating. And share them with you. Personally, I group them into "positive fortunes", "funny descriptions", "descriptions that resonate with me", "Instructions", & "Engrish". Extra bonus points to those in more than one group. I'd be interested in hearing what you think this selection says about me. Or barring that, pick one and guess why I saved it.
  • Past inspirations and experiences will be helpful in your job
  • You are a happy man
  • Your love life will be happy and harmonious
  • Your sense of humor is a joy to all
  • You have inexhaustible wisdom and power
  • Versatility is one of your outstanding traits
  • Maybe you can live on the moon in the next century (Was this was from 1999 or a hope for a very long life?)
  • An interesting musical opportunity is in your near future (accompanied by a picture of a bumblebee)
  • The best profit of the future is the past
  • Keep your plans secret for now
  • Sing and rejoice, fortune is smiling on you
  • You are contemplating some action which will bring credit upon you
  • You will be awarded some great honor
  • You will be fortunate in the opportunities presented to you
  • A pleasant surprise is in store for you
  • A friend will be important to you and your forthcoming success
  • Happiness always accompanies with you
May happiness always accompany with you.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Drunkard's Math

I've picked up Mlodinow's book The Drunkard's Walk off my TBR and started in on it as I was falling asleep. True to form, when I got pissed off, I woke up. (Sex scenes, on the other hand, usually put me out like a light, right at the start. I have not run across those yet in this book.) Chapter 2 starts with the same example quoted by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers. Basically, you're given the history of a fictional woman Linda, and asked to rank a list of possible outcomes by probability. Then they explain to you why your answer is "wrong" according to probability. It bothered me when I read it in Gladwell and it bothered me again at the source. But I'm cooling off because I've figured out why the answer and explanation both piss me off.

The three main results at hand are that Linda is:
  1. active in the women's movement (AWM)
  2. a bank teller (BT) AND active in the women's movement
  3. a bank teller
This is the order most people list as the probable outcome based on the fact that Linda is a feminist and shows no bank teller tendencies. It's more likely that she's be AWM and stumble into banking, being the reasoning. But according to probability, two outcomes are always less likely than one outcome so BT AND AWM is less likely than either BT or AWM in isolation. Whether it's at all likely that Linda will become a bank teller, it is always less likely that she will be both a bank teller AND active in the women's movement.

The part that pissed me off was that the author's thesis is that people ignore the rules of randomness and probability to their detriment, but his answer and explanation ignored the rules of logic to his and our detriment. His explanation is something like "oh, she could have a good reason to give up on the activist stuff" making A less likely, A+B is always less likely than A or B in isolation. The issue with the "she could have had a good reason" explanation is that it's both dismissive of the student/reader and dismissive of probability. Given the inputs and the stated "correct answer", it's not helpful in explaining anything and is not likely besides. Given a test question with similar answers but no personal history to start off with, people generally order the results A, A+B, A+B+C. So what gives here?

This Caltech prof is baffled that some people cling to the notion that the order is 1,2,3 rather than 1,3,2 even when the probability is explained. I'd be one of those people and here's why. (Might mean my answer is still wrong, but here goes.*) I can tell you now it's not that "she could have a good reason to give up on the activist stuff".

If young Linda had an equal chance at either AWM or BT, we get
50% AWM,
50% BT
Even if we know AWM > BT and to get 50%, 40%, AWM+BT comes out lower at 20% as they explained always happens. Clearly misordered, no?

First, we're given Linda's "history" and a reason to favor AWM over BT. The history is very strongly weighted to suggest AWM is very likely and BT is a shot in the dark. Given some random schmo we know nothing about, we can guess his or her probability of taking any given job with any given activity as equal for the sake of the problem. For Linda, the issue with the "correct" answer is that in A and B are not isolated in this particular problem but have a relationship to Linda's history, which we're told to consider relevant. We cannot dissociate the probabilities of these two things. (It's not clear from the discussion whether or not the test designers ever argue the probability of AWM over BT or grade down for making that assumption but I suspect not.) Her probability of AWM >> BT. So intuitively, we predict that she'd be more likely to stick with the AWM than give it up and rate AWM+BT higher than BT.

For instance, given her background, I'd rate a 95% chance of AWM and a generous 10% chance of BT. The mathematical probability AWM AND BT is then is 9.5%, less than the 10% chance of being a bank teller. So the order as explained would be

95% AWM
10% BT

Still clearly wrong, no?

Second, the answers do not occur in a vacuum, so given the history input for the question and the outcome list above, the implied options are really INTERPRETED as:
because logically, if the last option was "BT and may or may not be AWM", it makes the third answer non-separable from the second answer, so the only way that BT alone could be a logical and distinct option in this list is that it means she is both a Bank Teller and NOT active in the women's movement.

Using the probabilities above (AWM 95%, BT 10%) the outcome for this more logical list is different and matches the intuition.
85.5% AWM NOT BT

The "NOT BT" in the first statement has some effect but it's negligible to the sequencing of the rest of the list because BT << AWM means anything with +BT will be much less (<<) likely than anything with +AWM. For the same reason in reverse, "NOT AWM" has a huge effect on sequencing.

While it's entirely probable that Linda does not stay active in the women's movement because "oh, she could have a good reason to give up on the activist stuff", it remains consistently much less likely for her to become a bank teller and the relative probabilities hold. In fact, NOT AWM is more probable than BT NOT AWM at 5% over 0.5%. For completeness, and because the primary objection to the "correct" answer was that the probability of the Linda of record giving up AWM was lower than the "correct" answer implied, let's add NOT AWM, NOT BT. That leaves
85.5% AWM NOT BT
Which is what people figured out anyway. It wasn't that the couldn't do probability, it was that the "correct" answer didn't account for the NOT factor and it should have.

So MY thesis is that the people who listed the original order got both the probability AND the logic of this problem right, but the Caltech professor got the logic wrong and thus solved the problem incorrectly because his probabilities were based on incomplete descriptions. And not because "he could have a good reason to give up on the math stuff". And given that Mlodinow chides people only a couple of pages earlier for not considering "A NOT B", it's fair to chide him for not considering it here.

* My answer could not-unique if there's some randomly selected A and B with A > B such that the sequence changes. My answer could be incorrect if there is good reason to exclude "NOT AWM" from BT, but in the problem as given, there is not good reason to do so.

I am leaving it as an exercise to the reader to figure out at which independent percentages of A > B that the order goes from

And thinking about it a little more, I think the question and answer are badly presented. It does show that absent a more complete understanding of the question being asked, one can get the "answer" wrong. Consider using my earlier stated probabilities, here are ALL the options in order:

95% AWM - [BT or NOT BT]
85.5% AWM NOT BT
10% BT - [AWM or NOT AWM]

So it is the case that BT > AWM AND BT and always will be. But the question was set up to imply BT NOT AWM, not BT. I read it as "if you ran into Linda at a reunion, how surprised would you be to find she is X", each answer is unique. But each answer is not unique. If one were working on this at, say, work and only had a few options (and not 600), one could list all the possibilities like I did above and then say "are we interested in BT or BT NOT AWM? Because it matters. This does raise an interesting facet of sorting out possibilities and coming to a more complete understanding of the situation by adding in options that aren't listed in the hope of sorting through the ones that are.

But I maintain that to answer the question, one orders BT NOT AWM after BT because it is calculated from the BT NOT AWM inference. If the goal is to point out when and when not to add the "Not" into probability calculations, or the risks of doing so, the given explanation still fails.


But to give the man his props, he did explain something really important socially in Chapter 1. Long term studies show that positive reinforcement leads to better behavior and outcomes than negative reinforcement. This is seemingly contradicted by short term observations that if you praise someone for doing a great job, their next effort is usually not as good, but if you yell at them for doing a bad job, their next effort is usually better. Here, he gets both the logic and the probability right, and gives everyone a way to explain two seemingly contradictory experiences.

The concept is performing to the norm. Your work on any given day tends to be of consistent quality, but can vary for better or worse. Your work on any given day is LIKELY to be near the mean of your usual work. Let's call this GOOD. So no matter what you did today, your work tomorrow is most likely going to be GOOD. On rare occasions, you do GREAT or BAD work that is out of the norm enough to invite comment.

If you do BAD work today and get yelled at, tomorrow's work will likely be GOOD thru sheer probability. (Unless you get so upset that you tie one on and can't work as well with a hangover.) But when you have that merely GOOD day, GOOD is still better than BAD. The conclusion reached is that the yelling worked because your work improves from BAD to GOOD.

You see where this is going? Yep. If you do GREAT work today, you're still likely to only do GOOD work tomorrow. Since you got heaps of praise for doing GREAT then only did GOOD afterward, the observation is that praise doesn't work because your work went from GREAT to GOOD which is observed as a step backward.

Over the long haul, continued praise for GREAT work, raises the level of GOOD work more than continued berating for BAD work does but those differences in GOOD are in the noise of day to day observation. So for all you folks out there cheering on your kids for getting an A and coaching them through the Ds, and cheering the dog for pooping in the right place, you're on the right track.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Something to Talk About

Today's Trinity:
Well. I hope you all know my abhorence for the people who terrorize abortion providers and women who need their services. Making it impossible to get a legal abortion is their goal. Clearly they will incite people to kill to, um, show how killing is bad. Not only did we lose a tireless supporter of women in dire straits with the death of Dr. Tiller, we lost one of the few people who had the knowledge and training to provide that support. The knowledge of the current generation of doctors has been circumscribed by religion and legislature both. Banning certain procedures that can be used for abortions also means that they don't get learned for those cases that aren't abortions. Let me know if I should do more preaching to the choir here. But for the most part, I already commented to people who were *gasp* wrong on the internet and mostly worked the immediate ire out of my system that way. The good part was I read a lot of good blog posts on the topic, even from people from whom it was unexpected.

Our general manager was pleased by our engineering team's explanation for a customer return. Customer returns are bad, and a big deal requiring updates to the general manager, but if you can explain root cause and further prevention, they'll most likely forgive you and keep buying. Ironically, sometimes they like you even more for doing good technical and recovery work that they wouldn't have seen had you not had an incident in the first place. The reason I'm pleased about this is that our small group of engineers worked well together to brainstorm possible explanations based on the given, but sparse, data, refined that to the most plausible options, and one of the plausible trials gives a compellingly similar signature. It took inputs and ideas from all of us - each individually not very significant - and turned out a rational and reasonable explanation of the failure, the extent of failure, and a way to prevent such failures in future. The sum being much greater than the parts. Hopefully I don't go in tomorrow to find it all torn asunder. Often there's no good answer in cases like these. Being able to have a sensible explanation to offer feels like we're way ahead of the game.

Donuts! I didn't get breakfast at home and wound up eating from my emergency stash of provisions in my desk for lunch. This was mitigated by the free donuts I got for breakfast and afternoon snack by someone who brought them in to share. I think it means that yet another colleague had a baby (which would make 3 in 2 weeks) but it's not someone I work closely with. And yet they still gave me donuts. Yum!

Ok, not quite trinity. Quaternary Happiness?
I caught a bit of a somewhat antagonistic interview on NPR's On Point. The guest wrote a book "Life! Inc. How the World Became a Corporation" about the roots of our views on capitalism and I learned some shocking things. But good things. They're about how economies form in small groups in the absence of centralized monetary distribution. In essence, producers of value (food, goods, service) in a small group with no "currency" add value to their economy by doing these valuable things. The more they do, the more the economy is worth. More work doesn't mean someone else gets less. You're all growing the pie. Whereas when money is handed out from a central point, we all compete for parts of the pie. Before the plagues wiped out the masses, western civilization was (shocking to hear) actually pretty prosporous for this reason. There were lots of traders and farmers and whathave you. It didn't go south until the state started sponsoring monopolies and quelling the competition. And if they hadn't done that, would we still think of corporations/capitalism as we do today? Likely not. But they did and we do. But that doesn't mean we can't ask if our current situation is working for us and see if we can make some small course corrections. Anyhow, that's my understanding from the little the host let the author say. I guess I'll have to buy the book.