Let’s talk about the weather instead

March 21st, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Deep conversations just make my brain hurt. I would rather talk about the weather.

For instance, have you heard about the Red River flooding near Fargo? So far the dikes are holding, but it’s very hard to predict how flood control systems will hold up until put to the test. When the systems are designed for events that occur, on probability, every100 or 500 years, can residents really feel safe? (Of course, some people consider these recurrence intervals obsolete—and, it seems, with good cause.)

Ok, fine. So maybe breaking weather news is a bit too pedestrian for your tastes. We could talk about global warming… Or is it “global weirding”? (Is all this re-branding just sugar-coating the problem? Maybe people only trust what they see out the window anyway.) What’s that? I’m confusing climate with weather? Fair enough.  It’s too controversial anyway; I don’t like being disagreeable.

Anyway, I find meteorology fascinating. When you think of all the factors that can affect weather patterns, it’s amazing that weathermen can predict them at all.  But I often wonder how much weather forecasting really improves with new technology. How much better are computer models than, say, the “forecast factory” or even The Book of Signs. Have newer computer models actually improved the results, or have they simply corrected biases of previous models by introducing new biases? And what forecasting periods have benefited most from improvements in computer models?

Well, I can tell by your drifting eyes that weather isn’t doing it for you. Would you rather talk about the NCAA Tournament?

Bracketometrics, Bracketalytics, Whatever

March 17th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Disclaimer: This is a sports post. This post and most future sports posts will likely be reruns of posts from a past blog that shall remain nameless.

Only the very dense and very deluded believe that hours of rumination significantly increase one’s odds of picking the winning bracket in an NCAA tournament pool.

What is “significantly”? I don’t know; 3%? 5%? Whatever the case, most players realize that as long as everyone understands the simple concept,

team with lower seed number = theoretical better team

the playing field is more or less level.

Even if rigorous analysis could raise one’s odds of winning, say, 3% on a $200 pot, would any of us really labor that much for $6 in guaranteed money?

But ruminate we do. Why? Well, it’s true that most people—myself included—are losers who would rather put our minds to useless-but-familiar tasks (like, well…) than try something difficult, but this doesn’t explain our end motivation.

If we accept that marginal returns vanish beyond a short amount of consideration, the motivation must be non-monetary. Some suggestions:

1. Saving face. If I lose, at least I can do so with a coherent, defensible strategy.

2. Personal statement. The teams I pick signal my fan allegiances, betting strategies, preferred styles of basketball, etc.

3. Slacker’s remorse. If I lose, at least I gave it my all.

4. Show of knowledge. The more facts I give consideration, the more it proves I know. I don’t care if I win; I just want to prove myself most knowledgeable.

I’m sure there are more.

I used to be a 4, then a 1. Now I’m a 2. I like to ally myself with volatile, fast-paced teams. Two years ago I picked Tennessee to win the title, not because I thought the pick would optimize my odds of winning money. Instead, I decided that I would feel less disappointment in losing money than in watching the Vols win a national title without me on the bandwagon. Of course, they didn’t even make the Final Four.

Ultimately, if I have any advice, it’s to pick the outcomes you’d like to see. Think this is bad betting strategy? You should read more.

Armchair psych: So easy to like, so hard to admit it

March 16th, 2010 § 6 comments § permalink

Over the last two years, Lady Gaga has probably had more words written about her than any person deserves in a lifetime.

New blog—My turn! Here goes:

There are probably people who genuinely dislike Lady Gaga’s music and brand, but I don’t think there are many. At least, there are fewer than those who profess it. This sort of denial is common, and in the case of Lady Gaga, the roots are easy to spot. Aside from the males spooked by common association with things faggoty, I would guess the plurality have Gaga envy, and the rest are aspiring snobs.

[UPDATE 3/17: Manning fustigates my argument in no less than 1,000 words.]

What an exhibitionist! (I wish I were one.)

Successful people are resented as a matter of course, but especially so with Gaga. Her success seems within arm’s reach but walled behind a thick pane of glass. In her, we see someone who—beneath the layers miscellany—looks and is a lot like ourselves, if only we were brazen enough to wear it.

Of course, most of us aren’t because we perceive that higher powers and broad social pressures won’t allow it. When we see someone defy those assumptions and not only be accepted but adored for it, our regrets of stifled self-expression come to the surface, and we turn it on Gaga—aggressively, in the form of resentment, and passively, in the form of feigned indifference. Protecting the youth is one way to make the former seem like altruism.

(video i.e. the inspiration for this post h/t Colleen)

At the risk of being sexist (a risk I generally ignore) the effect is stronger for women, who already suffer enough repression without Lady Gaga rubbing it in. What’s especially bothersome, I think, is her self-awareness. The success is not the spawn of innocent savant or a depraved monster, but of a person with access to the things we desire, plus a great deal more.

Of course, others may simply resent that her brand is not their brand. Her brand is successful; theirs is not. (Metalheads?)

But that’s only the creators; the collectors find her music and style difficult to reconcile with their existing frameworks for high-status art. And of course, rejection saves face; readjustment is work and an admission of fallibility.

I think a lot of educated people, even after 50-plus years of rock and roll, are still gripped by the idea that writing catchy music is a low-brow form of witchcraft, contrived and corporatized to buy the souls of the unwashed masses. This is sad because pop music is fun, and the ability to create and perform it well is a gift. Embrace it.

Unintended consequences

March 15th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Actual quotations—suspiciously made-up-sounding:


Shtick (sort of) aped from this guy.

I only work on Tuesdays

March 9th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I need to make an apology to you readers. Fortunately, I have very few of you to accept this apology, and it’s for the least disruptive of all transgressions: nothing.

Jason publicized this blog about a week ago, just in time for me to disappear. No, I didn’t call in an early retirement. I just don’t write much outside of Tuesdays. Typically, it’s the only day of the week when I’m both expulsive and reclusive enough to create in long(er) form, so I’ll stay at the office until the stoplights shut down, leaving just in time to get home and collapse in bed. Some of that time is spent on writing.

My posts will always be irregular, but over time, I’ll build a backlog to bleed out on the off-days, at which point you can expect more self-publicizing and better content. In the meantime, try to be patient with the dead periods and filler material.

Again, I apologize for the lack of intrusion.

I was saying ‘Booo-lago’

March 3rd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

This is mean:

They laughed during the introductions, when a campus leader said the College Democrats invited the indicted Illinois ex-governor to speak to “make sure tomorrow’s leaders respect the rule of law.”

They laughed when someone insisted that tapping Blagojevich to lead an ethics discussion was akin to asking Tiger Woods to lecture on fidelity.

And they laughed when he compared himself to Thomas Jefferson, Elvis and a mythical Greek figure.

Sisyphus, I’d guess.

Since leaving office, he has sung an Elvis song at a block party, attended a performance of a musical mocking his demise and sent his wife to Costa Rica to compete in a jungle-based reality show.

He will appear on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” later this month, the commercials for which show him joking about getting fired and suggest a trained chimp could type faster than him.

Blagojevich denied his jester-for-hire persona was part of his media strategy. Instead, he said, it’s the only way to pay his mortgage and send his two daughters to private school.

So… this:

I understand the logic; I just question his figures.

“It’s just a horrible, horrible thing,” he said. “But this is a life lesson for our children.”

No, for all of us.

This doesn’t seem like a very good argument

March 2nd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

This is a challenge to the idea that depression has an evolutionary purpose, which is (roughly) to force us to think more deeply:

“Individuals with major depression often don’t groom, bathe and sometimes don’t even use the toilet,” Hagen says. They also significantly “reduce investment in child care,” which could have detrimental effects on the survival of offspring. The steep fitness costs of these behaviors, Hagen says, would not be offset by “more uninterrupted time to think.”

I’m no expert on natural selection, but how would that refute the hypothesis? The severe cases he’s referring to are obvious outliers, who–by gene mutation or whatever–got too much of a useful thing.

Anyway, the conclusion seems pretty obvious from experience, but the article does seem interesting. I skimmed about half of it.

Sleeping on the sly

March 2nd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Workplace napping is a hobby horse of mine, so I’m sure I’ll come back to the topic in future posts. But quickly–this sort of thing drives me insane. Everyone knows that everyone gets tired in the afternoon–why the collective deceit at all?

Say what you will to claims that naps increase productivity, but the likelihood is that productivity losses from napping–if they exist at all–are negligible. But deceiving coworkers? THAT’S BAD. Even the littlest deceptions–”I don’t surf the web;” “I don’t nod off”–breed mistrust, and mistrust is a killer. A good company doesn’t force its workers to choose between unnecessary discomfort and deceit.

You don’t want me when I’m in 3pm mood anyway, so if you just let me sleep, we’re all better off.

Organizer on Tuesdays, creator in the summer, European in the bathroom

March 2nd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I took this Careerpath.com Color Career Counselor test (via Mental Floss) earlier this morning and was labeled an “Organizer” first, “Creator” second. I took it again a few minutes ago following slightly different impulses (most significantly, preferring blue to red) and was labeled a “Doer” first, “Organizer” second.

I never see much value in these tests because preference is so context-dependent.  This test is (literally) a vivid example. I assume the intention is that we’ll select on general color preference, but I don’t think this is possible. The color we prefer to look at the most on a car exterior is usually not the same as our favorite color M&M or, in this case, our favorite color on a monitor.

Gold offends my eyes on a monitor, but I painted my kitchen gold.  Then there is the issue of mood. Here is the first Google result for “color and mood.”

The last page, I think, has more choices than our brains can properly weight. Also, I found myself inclined to sort–that is, eliminate similar colors consecutively, whether or not it followed my “true” order of preference with respect to all the remaining colors.

Ultimately, there’s no substitute for self-awareness, and we can never know if we’ll like a job until we work it for all days, moods, and seasons. At least this test is sort of pretty.

The Obligatory Introductory Post

March 2nd, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

To be perfectly clear: I have no good reason to author a blog, and I am well aware of this. Reiterating paragraph two of the “About” page, I have no expertise or specialized knowledge, so it will be nearly impossible for this blog to provide any real value. If I eventually find that kind of focus, great. But until further notice, it’s about vanity.

I think being expressive, critical, and self-aware–as most writers are–offers three options; either:

a) accept that you have nothing unique to share and clam up before the really smart people realize you’re a fraud;

b) lie in the weeds until you’re certain that you have something unique and valuable to share, risking that the day will never come; or

c) put your self-esteem on priority–ignore your inadequacy and enjoy the approval from low places.

I choose c). After all, no one is paying me, and no one has to pay attention. How did we end up where people get paid to express themselves anyway? I’m happy that we are free to make money by writing, but no one should get paid to write.

I think most people choose c), and I’m happy for that. Everyone has their own small audience, and for most of us, it’s gotten bigger. I like this. I like that we don’t all have to either be the Beatles or settle for laughs at the company picnic.

I’ll probably keep most of my posts light both in mood and words, and I’ll try to use pictures wherever I can. I read a lot, but I don’t particularly like it. Reading is overrated, and we should do less of it. I also write a lot but only because I don’t have many good alternatives. I like pictures and colors and funny sounds. What words I do use I’ll try to keep meaningful and arranged in short paragraphs. Concision goes against my instincts, but it’s something I’m working hard at.

I’ll try to post frequently and indiscriminately at the start, though in general, I alternate expulsive phases with absorptive ones. I’ll try to bank posts to smooth out the cycle, but posts will likely become less frequent and regular. Also, I may have shards of future posts in this one, so I apologize in advance for any reruns.