Friday, May 06, 2005

My Pet Fat

A few weeks ago -- after only seven years of procrastination -- I finally got around to joining the fitness center at my office. My body includes a great deal of, erm, "safety padding," and I figured as long as I'm getting ready to quit my job and entirely uproot my life anyway, maybe this would be a good time to try to pick up a more consistent exercise habit.

Things have been going pretty well. Before this, my activity patterns tended to be very uneven -- IE, a month or two of couch-potatodom, followed by the occasional strenuous exercise, such as climbing pyramids in Mexico or playing snow football in Pennsylvania. Typically said strenuous exercise would result in aches and pains the next day. So I was expecting the same thing from the workout program. So far, however, I've been pleasantly surprised. Apparently using actual, approved workout equipment and a reasonable exercise plan avoids the stress of my former (in)activity patterns.

Pet Fat This is all leading up to a hilarious blurb I came across in today's paper. Inspired by the pet rock craze of the mid-1970s, it seems that New Jersey marketing specialist Jay Jacobs has come up with the idea of My Pet Fat as a motivational tool for those with abundant portable strategic energy reserves.

Pet fat is available in several sizes, with a 1 pound gob (representing 3500 calories) going for about $35. According to the article, "[t}hey are made of vinyl plastic, they are soft and pliable, they are slightly oily, they are amber-colored, with touches of red that suggest capillaries -- and they are gross."

(Note: while writing this post, I also came across this "virtual pet rock" software for MacOS. I've gotta get me some of that!)

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Followed by possible vague left-wing paranoia of the week

Part of me wants to get incensed about the new "suggestion" that you give your birth date when checking in for an airline flight -- it definitely reeks of the reductions in civil liberties that have been brought on by the Patriot Act and its ilk.

But another, more rational, part of me says that this is a total non-issue for the simple reason that there's nothing new about it.

Here's why: You've been required to show your photo ID (drivers license or passport) at the airport for years. And every drivers license or passport has your birthdate prominently emblazoned on it. So this new policy is simply asking for information that the airlines and the TSA already had access to.

I suppose there is some additional risk to civil liberties from the government actually collecting the information. But probably not enough to make it worth making a scene by "refusing" to give my birth date.

(I tried this once when a clerk at Motel 6 demanded my birthdate in order to rent a room, but when she cited corporate policy and refused to budge, I caved rather than going in search of a new motel. Yup, I'm a pushover.)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Right wing bonehead of the week

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: (Off Camera) But, sir, you have described this in pretty, this whole battle is pretty apocalyptic terms. You've said that Liberals are engaged in an all-out assault on Christianity, that Democrats will appoint judges who don't share our Christian values and will dismantle Christian culture, and that the out-of-control judiciary, and this was in your last book "Courting Disaster" is the most serious threat America has faced in nearly 400 years of history, more serious than al Qaeda, more serious than Nazi Germany and Japan, more serious than the Civil War?

PAT ROBERTSON: George, I really believe that. I think they are destroying the fabric that holds our nation together. There is an assault on marriage. There's an assault on human sexuality, as Judge Scalia said, they've taken sides in the culture war and on top of that if we have a democracy, the democratic processes should be that we can elect representatives who will share our point of view and vote those things into law.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: (Off Camera) But, sir, let me just stop you there. How can you say that these judges are a more serious threat than Islamic terrorists who slammed into the World Trade Center?

PAT ROBERTSON: It depends on how you look at culture. If you look over the course of a hundred years, I think the gradual erosion of the consensus that's held our country together is probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings. I think we're going to control al Qaeda. I think we're going to get Osama bin Laden. We won in Afghanistan. We won in Iraq, and we can contain that. But if there's an erosion at home, you know, Thomas Jefferson warned about a tyranny of an oligarchy and if we surrender our democracy to the tyranny of an oligarchy, we've made a terrible mistake.

-- ABC News Transcript of "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," May 1, 2005

Good grief. As Tom Regan points out, the difference between Pat Robertson and most of the rest of us is that he doesn't ever seem to realize when he's said something profoundly stupid.

MoveOnPac is running a campaign about this particular interview, and I was ticked off enough to sign the petition.

It's (sort of) official

Today I finally sat down with my current boss (and my former boss who I still sort of work for in a dotted line sort of way) and told them about my plans to leave town at the end of the year. The meetings went pretty smoothly. The biggest hitch had to do with what I would have to do to remain eligible for the company's 2005 performance bonus program. Suffice it to say that I may now be working here (or at least telecommuting) right up to the point classes start in January up in Boston. That's not ideal, but, on the other hand, the extra paychecks will help with the tuition, and a bonus check in February would definitely help.

We also ran into a bit of a snag over my plans to take three weeks off in October to go to Spain. The new boss' position is that he doesn't allow anyone to take three weeks off at a time even if they have the vacation time available. (This is what I so dislike about the corporate culture of US companies as opposed to those in Europe.) However, this issue seemed to go away after I conveyed that the trip was already pretty definite, and that if I didn't get the time off I would probably make September 24 my last day at the company. (Am I bluffing? Who knows... But I have already paid for the tickets, so it would be a pretty big deal to reschedule or cancel the trip. Since I think it's to their benefit to keep me around as long as possible, I doubt they'll call me on it.)

The fact that I'm giving my notice 8 months in advance adds some interesting twists to the whole thing. For example, they're talking about hiring my successor(s) and having him/her/them start while I'm still here so that I can impart all my wisdom. That could be interesting.

I'm taking in plurals because the idea came up of possibly splitting my job into two parts and essentially hiring 1.5-2 new people to replace me. I think may make a lot of sense given the amount of stress I've had trying to manage two chronically-understaffed departments at once. The big question is whether they'll find the money for that.

We're meeting again next week to talk about all this. Progress continues. Now that I've gotten this over with, my next step is to formally notify Simmons of my deferral plans, and to officially notify the other two schools that they are out of the running.

The Wikipedia Reliability Index

I had a brainstorm in the shower this morning. I'd been playing around adding information to Wikipedia. Wikipedia, as you may know, is a collaborative encyclopedia that literally anyone can update. The idea behind this "open-source" information model is that anyone can add or correct information, and that eventually bad information will be weeded out through a process of natural selection.

The problem with this, at least according to lots of folks, is that the instability of the information and systemic bias in the encylcopedia makes it unsuitable for use as a serious reference work.

This is a complex problem, and not one that can be easily solved. Some have even proposed a formal peer review process for articles. But there might be a way to increase the awareness of potential problems without the organizational overhead of trying to coordinate formal reviews of a constantly-changing work.

Here's my idea in a nutshell: every article in the Wikipedia should include a mathematically-calculated "reliability score" that gives the user a general idea of how likely the article is to be correct.

It would take some work to figure out the perfect formula for this. My initial thinking is that more page views and more edits should generally increase the score, since this indicates that the article has been subjected to a high level of scrutiny. A large number of recent edits (say, within the last 6 months), however, should reduce the score, since this tends to indicate that the article is in flux. Long edits (based on percentage of total article length) should, in general, also reduce the score more than "minor" edits, since they fundamentally change the content of the article.

It would also be possible to incorporate subjective criteria -- for example, number of sites linking to the article according to Google, and perhaps a rating system where users can vote on the accuracy of the information (along the lines of the "did you find this article helpful" links you often see in tech support databases.)

These factors would need to be incorporated in such a way that one person could not unduly influence the ranking.

It is possible that someone has already proposed this idea (if so, someone please point me in the right direction.) If not, consider it proposed!

Monday, May 02, 2005

the company we keep

In glancing through my traffic reports, I just discovered that someone found this site by doing an image search for "illegal girls" in MetaCrawler. I unwittingly clicked the link to find out how the heck that happened, only to find a page full of thumbnails of rather graphic porn surrounding a single photo I took of girl scouts marching in the Takoma Park Independence Day Parade last year. It seems that I referred to "illegal fireworks" in the paragraph above the photo and Girl Scouts in the alt tag, and that was enough to group my poor little ol' blog with neighbors like "," "," and "" and "" Charming, no?

Mi hermano va a viajar a España con mí y mis padres.

After some deliberation, my youngest brother has decided to join us on the trip to Spain in October. This is the brother currently living a life of poverty while working at an after-school program for inner city youth, so the money is an issue. But we found a really good airfare ($110 less than my parents and I paid for the same trip! grr.) And we agreed on various measures to keep his costs down. So this is slowly turning into a family trip. Should be an interesting experience, since the furthest we ever made it on family vacations when I was little was to Michigan.

The other brother is still deliberating, but doesn't seem especially interested in going to Spain in the first place.