General Archive

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A New Addition to the Family

I've never been much of a 'dog' guy. It's not that I don't like them, but, as I like to say, that I like other people's dogs. I like wrestling with them, playing tug of war, fetch - all the fun stuff. But I never wanted the responsibility of having to take care of one myself.

Ever since my parents found a box of kittens abandoned in a gutter, I've had cats. Cats are easy to take care of - give 'em food and water and a way to get outside, and they'll be fine. They like human affection, but as long as they have another cat to keep them company, they seem to do just fine when no people are around. Dogs are different - you have to groom them, pick up their crap, take them for walks, actually play with them every day. In a lot of ways, they're like kids, except that they'll never grow up to be able to take care of themselves. Hence, my preference for playing with other people's dogs.

Well, the other day while we were putting up Halloween decorations, a dog roaming around the neighborhood ran into our yard chasing one of the cats. I chased after them to make sure the dog didn't eat the cat, and all it took was a stern word to get the dog to leave the cat alone. Then it decided to stick around in our yard for a while. It was pretty friendly, and my daughter, as she would put it, 'loved on it' quite a bit. Well, a few hours after we'd finished with the decorations and gone back inside, the dog was still on our front door step. That's when we made our biggest mistake - we gave it a bowl of water and a small dish of cat food. It didn't leave after that, and was still out front the next morning.

So, we did the responsible thing. We put up signs around the neighborhood, called the Humane Society, ran an ad in the paper, but we never heard from anybody looking for the dog. I suppose we could have taken her to the pound, but could you do that to a face like this?


So, we decided to keep her, and named her Maddie. She's doing okay so far, but it's still tense with the cats. Right now, the dog gets the back yard, while the cats get the front yard and the house. Hopefully, they'll figure out how to get along. Here's another picture of Maddie to show how big she is:

Maddie & Jeff

BTW, my daughter took both of those pictures.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Economy & Expertise

Wall StreetThe whole issue with the economy and the "Wall Street Bailout" has got me to thinking. First, let me share a related personal account.

I'm an engineer. But, the company I work for is small, so we all wear several hats. One of mine is being the webmaster. That means that my e-mail address is the one used for feedback from our website. I get lots and lots of suggestions from people about how to improve our aircraft - stopping the rotor, using two co-axial rotors, folding the rotor to stow it in flight, I've even gotten a few e-mails proposing perpetual motion machines. Most of these suggestions aren't stupid, just uninformed*. I didn't spend 5 years at the University of Maryland just to learn how to play beer pong and do keg stands. The professors actually taught me the specialized information I'd need to understand aerospace engineering. And the years I've spent on the job have taught me even more. 'Expertise' isn't any empty word, it means something.

So, how does this relate back to the economy? Well, those same people who think they know enough about aeronautics to know better than trained aerospace engineers are the same people who are now making a lot of noise about the economy, thinking they know more than trained economists. When I hear about polls and surveys that try to gauge the public's support for the bailout plan, my fist thought is to wonder how qualified most people are to have a valid opinion on the matter at all.

Personally, I can see the argument from both sides. I don't like bailing out the people that screwed us in the first place, but if the long term effect of not helping them is that I lose my retirement, well, to use a cliché, I don't want to cut off my nose to spite my face. Is the long term effect going to be that bad? I don't know. I know how to design planes, not run an economy. And if the problem's as urgent as some people are saying, I don't have the time to learn enough before a decision has to be made. That's why we're a republic and not a democracy - we do rely on our elected officials to know more about running a country than we do ourselves. So for this case, I'm just going to have to trust the experts, and hope they make the right decision.

Added 2008-10-03 I thought of one more thing to add, and it's important enough to add it here in the main entry so it doesn't get ignored in the comments. One other worry I have with Congress passing this bailout is that they're doing it merely to show that they're doing something, and not necessarily because they understand the bill enough to think that it will work. It's the same theme I've harped on about the TSA and security after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Just because politicians are making a show of taking action doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be effective.

*There are some good suggestions, too, and I don't mind explaining things for the uninformed suggestions, so please, nobody take this as a reason to not e-mail the company. It should also be noted that many people do recognize that they're not experts, and the suggestions are offered humbly. But, there are still quite a few arrogant ignorant people.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Troubling News

A very good friend had a stroke earlier this week. The doctors brought him out of the induced coma this morning, and so far everything's looking hopeful, but it's still so early that it's impossible to tell exactly what the outcome's going to be. So, don't expect any new blog entries for a while.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Political Litmus Test

Litmus PaperI try not to vote for candidates based on single issues. I realize that most of the problems we face are complex, and can be viewed many different ways. I understand that smart people can look at the same problems as me, and come up with different solutions. So, just because I may disagree with a particular candidate on any one particular issue, it's not usually enough to make me automatically against them.

However, there are two issues that I use as a kind of litmus test. I won't necessarily support a candidate just because I agree with them on these issues, but it would be very, very hard for me to support a candidate with whom I disagreed - their opponent would have to be pretty darn bad. Those two issues are teaching evolution in school, and accepting that global warming is anthropogenic.

Why those two issues? Well, they're both well supported by evidence, and overwhelmingly supported by experts in the respective fields, so neither one should be controversial. However, they are controversial, which means that practically everybody has been exposed to them. Nobody can say they don't know anything about them because they've never heard of them before.

Let's look at evolution. First of all, evolution is something that everybody should learn about in high school biology. I mean, we're not talking about a cutting edge theory, here - Darwin and Wallace first proposed natural selection to the world almost 150 years ago, and the modern evolutionary synthesis occured over 50 years ago. Second, as I've discussed on this blog before, the evidence for evolution is overwhelming. Seriously. I'm as certain that a chimp, a blue whale, a carrot, and I all evolved from the same eukaryotic ancestor as I am that the Earth's a big hunk of rock in orbit around the Sun. But more important than me being that sure, is that the vast majority of biologists who actually study it are quite sure. So, to doubt evolution requires that someone isn't educated enough, is willing to ignore the consensus of experts, and is willing to ignore evidence in favor of their ideology. All three of those things are very bad for an elected official. Given the overwhelming evidence for evolution, if a candidate accepts it, but still promotes teaching "alternative theories" in science classes, then they're simply pandering. They're trading their principals for votes, when they should be ensuring a sound education for our country's youth.

Global warming may not have as long of a history as evolutionary study, nor the huge, overwhelming evidence to support it, but it still has enough that we can be quite certain that it's real, and that human activity is causing it. (I've written about this before, too.) Well, the actual fact of global warming does have huge, overwhelming evidence to support it. It's only whether or not it's anthropogenic where the evidence is just huge, but maybe not quite overwhelming. Still, when there's as much certainty about something with as big of a potential impact as there is for global warming, policy makers shouldn't be quibbling over minutiae. How to deal with climate change, is something different, since there are so many possible avenues. But to reject anthropogenic global climate change altogether requires, as with evolution, that someone lacks knowledge of the issue, is willing to ignore the consensus of experts, and is willing to ignore evidence in favor of their ideology.

I realize that candidates that don't accept reality on these two subjects tend to be right wing. But left wing politicians need to be careful, too, as it seems that some on the left have a tendency to support alternative medicine, or buy into myths like vaccines causing autism. I don't think those make for quite as strong of a litmus test, since they're not issues that people have heard as much about, so people can have an excuse for being ignorant about them. But still, policy makers should be making informed decisions. So, while supporting alternative medicines might not turn me off from supporting a candidate quite as fast as the two issues above, they better hope that their opponent is worse, because I'm sure not going to be excited about voting for them.

I guess what it comes down to is that I want the politicians representing me to be well educated, informed about current issues, to be able to think rationally about issues, and not ignore evidence because it contradicts their ideology. Is that too much to ask?


Update 2015-01-09
It's been a few years since I've written this, and the two litmus tests I discussed still hold for the same reasons. However, I now feel like there are two additional tests to add, one of which I actually discussed in this entry originally. Those two new tests are marriage equality, and support for evidence based medicine, particularly vaccinations.

Marriage equality is just a basic human right, that finally even has majority support in this country. Only a bigot would be opposed to marriage equality.

Evidence based medicine is so important because of the dire consequences of alternative medicine in certain circumstances. The case I discussed in a recent entry, Tragic Death of a Girl due to Alternative Medicine & Religious Beliefs, drives home just how dangerous alternative medicine can be. A little girl had about a 75% chance of beating a form of leukemia if she'd stuck to chemotherapy, but her parents pulled her out to take her to a quack in Florida who used alternative medicine, and she died as a result. The anti-vax movement is also very dangerous. The plethora of measles outbreaks in recent years, including the Disneyland case that's made recent headlines, shows that these anti-vaxers really are endangering their children and others. For a sobering look at the number of illnesses and deaths due to the anti-vax movement, go visit Anti-Vaccine Body Count.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Stop Using Stupid Words

Well, I was pretty busy this week, so I didn't have time to write a real entry. I did want to point out something, though. Browsing around some other blogs reading about Obama and McCain and their vice presidential candidate choices, I noticed something that really irritates me. If you're one of those people who likes to use words like Rethuglicans, Republicons, Dimmycrat, Dumbocrat, John McSame, Barack Osama bin Laden, or any of those other plays on words, STOP IT! It's not funny. It makes you sound stupid.

As I had to get across to my daughter when she was even younger than she is now, a joke's only funny once. Repeating a joke ad nauseum just makes it look like you're unoriginal.

Please, just use the real terms for these things. Politics is bad enough as it is without resorting to childish name calling.


Selling Out