Monday, June 4, 2018

Blue State Privilege

You know what irritates me? People who say things like, "I want everyone who lives in a state that voted for Trump to suffer." You know why that irritates me? Because I live in a state that voted for Trump and I DIDN'T vote for the Tangerine Tyrant. Yet because I have the misfortune of living in a state which votes Republican, if it can be bothered to vote at all (TN has the LOWEST voter turnout in the country) they want to see me suffer.

Well, okay, maybe they don't want to see me suffer, but lots of people in this state suffer. That way those people will vote for a Democratic candidate for all the "right" reasons. Me? Personally, I don't care why you vote Democratic. Maybe you think that the candidate is "sexy," or maybe you're mad because the Republican candidate doesn't support Trump enough. It doesn't matter to me, all I know is that the more Republicans that are in power, the worse my life is (and as a white male, I can only guess at the kind of horror show it must be for someone who ISN'T a white male).

I don't have the luxury of picking such things. All I care about is that the candidate has a "D" next to their name and that they'll occasionally vote with the Democrats as a whole. Would I like a candidate who was a clone of someone like Hillary or Elizabeth Warren? You're goddamned right I would, but if all I can get is someone who only votes with fellow Democrats 51% of the time, I'm going to take them without hesitation because I know that they're far fucking better than what I have now, which are Trumpian sycophants.

But go ahead with your blue state privilege and hold out for that perfect candidate and voters who are in lockstep with you. That's fine. Just know that I'll be at every Democratic event in my state that I can, and I'll be pushing MY agenda (which is probably far more radical than what you want). And if we ever find ourselves in a reversed situation, know that I will NOT suggest that you should suffer because you live in a state which voted in a way I don't agree with. Know that I will do what I can to see that you're well taken care of, that you don't have to worry that the loss of a job or a sudden illness will bankrupt you and put you out on the streets.

You and I may disagree, but that doesn't mean that I want to see you suffer for it. I know what homelessness is like, I know how humiliating it is to have to beg people for help to cover your basic needs. And because I know these things (and other things far worse) I don't want anyone to have to endure them, regardless of what their political beliefs are. So I will fight to see that nobody else has to endure them. Because if I don't, then I am no better than the society which inflicted them upon me.

Monday, October 16, 2017

How I Wish Don Draper Worked For Silicon Valley

I sit here, trying to watch a program on a streaming service, but as I try to do so, I'm being bombarded with ads.  Now, I know that the people behind the streaming service will tell me that the only reason I'm able to watch it is because of the ads.  That's fine.  Doesn't bother me in the least, except for the fact that the ads are for things I have absolutely no interest in.  

Even worse, there's no mechanism for me to tell the people behind the streaming service what kinds of ads I'd like to see.  There's absolutely no point in showing me an ad for a new car, regardless of make or model, I can't afford one.  Absolutely, utterly cannot.  My annual income is less than $30K/yr, so forget about my being able to buy the cheapest new car out there.  I can't do it.  Yet, you insist on doing it.

You know what ads I'd watch without any reservations?  What ads would get me to click on a link?  What ads which would have me salivating more for them than any content I might be looking for on the web?  Ones which were aimed at helping someone who is desperately poor to make enough money to be able to afford a new car.  Or hell, damned near anything at all.  Show me those.

I don't care how many videos of dancing turnip twaddlers you show me, for the low, low, price of just 10 easy payments of $19.95/week, I can't afford one.  I can't.  Most of the crap I buy comes from places like Goodwill or other bargain basement places.  Why?  Because my income is barely $300/wk.  Either show me things that I can afford, or ways in which I can make more money, or GTFO.  I can't even tell you that an ad has no interest to me because you're so bad at targeting a market you know you can't make that option available, as most of the people who see that ad would tell you to go fuck yourself.

Don Draper instinctively understood markets.  He didn't need big data to be a success.  You have more data at your fingertips than Draper did, but you can't convince me to buy anything.  Why?  Because it doesn't matter to me how fucking awesome a Lexus might be, I can't afford even a crappy used one.  Yet you insist on showing me ads for the latest Lexus model.  I don't want that.

And fuck your claims that you need more data about me before you can effectively target me.  That's bullshit.  You've got my street address, thanks to my ISP, that alone should be enough to tell you that I can't afford a new car, let alone a new Lexus.  Yet, you insist on showing me ads for them.  Why?  You claim that the ads are supposed to show me products which will help to make my life better, and certainly, if I watch an ad about turnip twaddlers, I'm shown how my life is incomplete without one.  Yet, you don't show me the one thing that I need: The means to be able to afford one.

Would I like to be able to be able to afford one?  Holy fuck, man!  That's a stupid question.  Of course, I'd like to be able to blow money on something as useless as a turnip twaddler and never have to think about it. But you don't show me that.  You don't even show me anything remotely related to that.  Why?  Because you don't know me.

Even worse than that, you don't want to know me.  Unlike Draper, who not only instinctually had an understanding of what people want, but also was willing to see what science had to say on the subject.  You are so enthralled with the concept of "big data" that you've forgotten to ask me what I want.  I'll be happy to tell you.  Hell, I'll let you mine every aspect of my personal data if it enables me to be able to afford a new Lexus.  I won't buy a new car, for reasons I'll be happy to explain to you, but I can't certainly make it worth your while.  If you're willing to have a dialogue with me on the subject.  So far, that doesn't seem to be the case.  When it is, let me know. I'll be happy to give you whatever personal information you need, and stare at as many ads as you like.  Until then, I'm going to block, or ignore every ad you thrust at me, because it isn't offering me a product/service I want.  Draper would understand that, and so far as I've been able to tell, not only do you not understand that, but you don't even want to be told that your ideas might be wrong.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Cruelty of Suicide

Twenty-three years ago, today, my best friend at the time, Jim, died from suicide.  In some ways, his death was understandable.  He was HIV+, his lover had died the year before from AIDS, and due to medical malpractice, Jim was in constant pain.  It might have been possible to ease his pain, had he been able to hang on for just a year or so more, because that's when a flood of new treatments for HIV and his spinal injury were released.  He had no way of knowing that, of course, and like almost all gay men in the late 80s/early 90s, he had watched multitudes of his friends get sick and die from the disease.  This could do nothing but tear at his soul, after all, what does it do you to go on living, if all your friends are dead?

Jim was one of the most eclectic people I've ever known.  He was interested in nearly everything, and had an in-depth knowledge of subjects to the point where he'd tell you something, and you'd find it hard to believe that he could know such a thing.  Later on, you'd find out that Jim was right.  And his sense of humor was vicious.  If he found a weak spot, something you were irrationally sensitive about, he'd "work" that nerve to the point where you just about to freak out, then back off the subject, only to later, some times after days, weeks, or months, come back right to that point, and needle you again.

Jim was one of the most talented musicians I've ever met.  Not only could he play a number of instruments, but he composed a number of works, and had the broadest taste in music of anyone I've ever encountered.  If you named a genre, not only did he have recordings of that genre, but he had music by obscure individuals who influenced the big names in that particular genre.  If he hadn't heard it, it probably wasn't worth listening to.

He was also obsessed with the number twenty-three, for reasons too complicated to go into here. As well as coincidences.  Tonight, I stumble across a band, whom I've never heard of before, but who's style Jim would have completely enjoyed.  When I heard it, I immediately wished Jim was still around so I could share it with him.  I won't claim to be the kind of friend who remembers the date when someone died, but I don't have any trouble figuring out when Jim passed.  He died on the same day, at the exact same time, as one of his favorite musicians: Frank Zappa.  When I heard the music, thought of Jim, I remembered that it was the beginning of December when he left us, so I checked to see when Zappa died.  Turns out that it was twenty-three years ago today.

The only person who could truly appreciate the confluence of events leading me to write this blog post is Jim.  And he's no longer here.  I don't blame Jim for his suicide.  Being in constant physical pain, and never knowing if the next phone you get is going to be someone telling you that a friend has died from the same disease you have, and that has taken so many of your friends, is more than enough to push someone to kill themselves.  But I just wish, for a moment, that there was a way to let Jim know what happened to me tonight, so I could hear his maniacal laughter one last time, telling me that he'd found a way to fuck with me that I never could have suspected.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

With the Election of Trump, We Need Science More Than Ever. Here's How You Can Help

In addition to undermining the progress made by women, the LGBT community, and others, we can expect a Trump Administration to  cut funding for the sciences.  Whether it's because President-Elect Trump doesn't care about science (as many close to him claim), or because Republicans think that it's not something the government has a right to be involved in, or because they don't believe in things like global warming, the sciences are going to be needing our support as well.

Once you've made a donation to someone like Planned Parenthood (in Mike Pence's name, of course), spare a little for the sciences as well.  Here's a list of science related organizations you can donate to, or consider donating to a local science museum, as they'll no doubt be needing the funds as well.

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AKA the AAAS)  The AAAS seeks to "advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people."

The Planetary Society  The Planetary Society sponsors projects that will seed innovative space technologies, nurtures creative young minds, and is a vital advocate for our future in space.

The Union of Concerned Scientists

Archaeological Institute of America  The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) promotes archaeological inquiry and public understanding of the material record of the human past to foster an appreciation of diverse cultures and our shared humanity.  The AIA supports archaeologists, their research and its dissemination, and the ethical practice of archaeology.  The AIA educates people of all ages about the significance of archaeological discovery and advocates the preservation of the world's archaeological heritage. 

There are also scientists who've turned to crowdfunding to pay for their work. Experiment is one site where you can donate to support scientists working on the next breakthrough.  Here's a journal article on how scientists can begin crowdfunding their research.  There is a hunger for science out there in the general public for science, and we need to make sure that it keeps getting fed.

Friday, November 20, 2015

I Got to See Neil deGrasse-Tyson Speak in Nashville Last Night, and It Was Incredible!!!!!

Okay, there's just no way to talk about seeing Dr. Tyson concisely and give you the full flavor of the talk, so this is going to be long.  I'll put up some pictures I took last night to try and break up the text, but if you want to know what he talked about for basically the first 30 minutes, and was a general theme which ran through the four hour lecture, then this piece he wrote for HuffPo, is what you want to read.  Before I get into the nitty gritty of his talk, let me offer some advice to folks wanting to see him, so they can get the most out of the evening.

  1. If he's doing two lectures over two days, with a "Meet and Greet" before each lecture (provided you pay extra), buy tickets for both days, getting the ones for the "Meet and Greet" on the second day, if you want to ask him questions.  You'll probably have different questions after you see him speak than you did before, and the only way you can be certain (unless you're one of the first three people at one of the mics) you can ask him is by being at the "Meet and Greet."
  2. Don't try to sound smart when you ask your question.  If you try to sound smart, you'll just end up asking a really long question that's confusing to people.  Be quick because NDT will probably take a long time in answering your question, which means fewer folks can ask their questions.  Neil's really laid back when he speaks, so don't think you have to be at all formal or fancy.  One of the first things he does after he walks on stage is kick off his shoes and walk around in his socks.
  3. Bring the kids, but make sure they have a nap before the show.  The talk is aimed at a broad audience, and the topics are presented at about the same level as they were on Cosmos.  There was a young girl about 7 or 8 in the seat in front of me, and she had a great time, until she got tired and had to curl up and sleep in her seat.  One of the lucky guys who got to ask questions mentioned that his young daughter was a big fan of NDT and wanted him to ask NDT a question, at which point, Neil did some good natured shaming of the guy for not bringing his daughter to the show.  Neil also took the last round of questions from kids (so you might want to get them to ask your question for you).
  4. There's no intermission during the talk, so don't drink a lot before the show, as you're not going to want to miss something because you had to get up and pee in the middle of it.  (That happened a lot.)
  5. Don't be afraid to shout answers to his questions.  He builds that into his show, and wants people to shout answers.
  6. Make sure your phone's batteries are fully charged before you go, and disable your flash.  Bring multiple devices if you can, so you can snap as many pics as possible (especially if you've got a shitty phone like I've got and it takes 20 seconds to launch the camera app).  My battery was pretty low when he started, so I didn't get to take as many pics as I wanted, and when I took a pic of the stage, before even most of the audience was seated, and my flash went off, I had an usher running over to me lecturing me about how photos were prohibited "for copyright reasons."  I stifled the urge to point out to her that the only thing on the stage which could even remotely be considered "copyrighted material" was the image on the screen, and since that was a NASA photo, by law, its public domain.

All right, on to the talk.  This is a pic of the entrance to the theater where Tyson spoke.

There's a bit of surrealism in seeing a leading scientist speak in a theater named after a President who isn't praised for his intellect.  (And then there's the whole matter of Jackson being a slave owning racist.)

Here's the stage before NDT came out.

He was introduced by a long-haired, bearded, "hippie" local artist, Herb Williams, who gave a touching story about how a science teacher at his school when he was a kid inspired him.  When Neil walked out, he briefly talked about Herb's art, which are sculptures made from crayons.

Neil took two jabs at himself right when he started speaking.  The first was that he asked how many people were there "against their will."  He then apologized for them having to listen to him speak, and implied that he wasn't anyone who was really famous.  (Which got great laughs.)

 And the second was that he mocked himself over his involvement in the demotion of Pluto.  Giving a brief recap of the events which got him nominated as the "planet killer."

He then explained that the lecture on what science is that he was going to give was chosen by the folks who asked him to speak in Nashville, and that we should blame them, not him, if it wasn't what we wanted to hear about.

He then talked about the five senses, and asked if anyone in the audience thought they had a "sixth sense of some kind."  Right away, I'm wondering where he's going with this.  Was he actually going to have a discussion about ESP or similar woo? Was he going to debate with someone on the subject?  He got a smattering of hands from the audience, indicating that some people there did believe that they had a "sixth sense."  His response?  "I don't care.  Do you know why I don't care?"  At this point he clicked over to a slide which had a listing of some of the ways scientists can study things, such as chemical analysis, magnetic fields, X-rays, gamma rays, and the like.  "Here's why I don't care, because scientists have thousands of different ways in which they can study things.  They're not limited to just six."

The next slide featured various scientific instruments, like an MRI, multimeter, and a few others which Neil claimed to have forgotten the name of.  I think that this was a test to help him gauge the audience, because he gave the same lecture the night before (and he's probably given it dozens of times in the past), so I doubt if he didn't really remember, but only feigned that to see if anybody there knew what they were, and/or how responsive the audience was.  He explained how scientists use various instruments to study the universe, and that what any single scientist said wasn't necessarily important, but that when groups of scientists study something and all of them get similar results, its what is considered to be an "objective truth" since it can be measured and studied by other people who get almost the same result, we know that its true for everybody.

Personal truths, he said, are things which one believes to be true, but we have no way of measuring, or that there's not an overwhelming consensus on.  His example was that there are about 2 billion Christians in the world and about 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, out of a total population of 7 billion people on the planet.  Clearly, he pointed out, this means that any statement about a religious belief has to be considered a "personal truth," and that any society which passed laws based on cultural traditions, religious beliefs, or political beliefs, was using subjective truths, and would be a dictatorship.  A society which passed laws based on objective truths, is one in which everyone can flourish and that is one which we should all strive to live in.  This got a huge round of applause from everyone in the audience.

In a way, it was at this point, that he finished talking about what's in the HuffPo piece I linked to at the beginning.  There are elements in that, which were yet to come in his talk, but they're as comparable as saying that the Star Wars movies are about a family squabble.  It's accurate, but it leaves out oh so many of the details.

For example, he talked about how textbooks illustrate the distance between the Earth and the Moon, and showed (while explaining why) that its misleading.  He talked about the metric system, and how America gets a slightly bad rap when it comes to our use (or lack thereof) of the metric system.  Pointing out that nobody in the US had ever bought a "quart of Pepsi" and that we were using a metric currency system before the Brits.  He also seemed to take great delight in the term "Murica!" and was unable to contain his laughter after I shouted "Yeehaw!" in response to him saying "Murica!" at one point.

He talked about us sending robots to Mars, and the Mars One project.

He said that he had serious doubts about Mars One before he spoke to Bas Lansdorp, and that he still had doubts after speaking to Bas, but not as many as he did before.  He did feel, however, that what was most important was that there were people out there like Bas trying to push the envelope, because that was the only way in which we learned anything, it was the only way we have survived as long as a species as we have.

This brought him to talking about the Rosetta Mission, and he took great pains to point out that it was a European mission.  Without disparaging them at all, he made it clear that he wasn't happy that we hadn't done something similar.  He used this mission to lambaste the media for images such as this:
And this:

Because while they were accurate in terms of scale, they gave a false impression of what an impact of a comet would do to the Earth.  Meteor Crater, in Arizona was hit by an object only 160 ft in diameter.

  Comet  67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, where Rosetta is, by contrast, is 1 mile in diameter.  That meteor which exploded over Russia a couple of years ago?  You know, the one with the dash cam videos recording its path across the sky?  Yeah, that was 20 meters in diameter.  Over 1K people were injured when it exploded with a force greater than the bombs used at Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

He talked about how we really need to pay attention to  such things and that we're constantly discovering new ones that cross the orbit of the Earth, which means that sooner or later, they'll hit us.

He pushed out to Pluto.

And rehashed, briefly, the comments he made at the beginning about what makes a planet a planet.  He also "blamed" this image for causing "problems."

This led to a comparison to Voyager, and its famous "Pale Blue Dot" photo.

Which was really a continuation of the famous Apollo 8 "Earth Rise" photo taken in 1968.

And it was this photo, coming in at the end of a year filled with turmoil which is what led to the start of the environmental movement, the creation of the EPA, NOAA, Earth Day, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and a host of other positive things all happened when we were pushing out from Earth.  When we monkeys were reaching for something greater than ourselves, and touching an entirely new frontier.

He described how that led to the Cassini mission, which reached Saturn in 2005.  Then he stopped, said that didn't seem right, and asked if it was.  Someone in the audience shouted that Cassini reached Saturn in 2004, and Neil quickly changed the year on the slide.  (Clearly this was a stunt on his part, because he mentioned that before any of the data could be sent back, he made his first appearance on the Today Show right as Cassini was arriving at Saturn.  He also handed Matt Lauer his ass.  I don't think you're going to forget that.  BTW, he said he'll be back on the Today Show on Monday, Nov. 23rd, 2015.)

It was at this point that he talked about his friends at NASA who worked on Cassini wanting to duplicate the "Pale Blue Dot" image in 2013.  But they had the problem that the sun was too bright to be able to take a picture of the Earth, so they had to wait until Saturn was between the sun and Cassini, but the Earth was still visible.

He stopped when the picture of Earth, visible just below the shadow of Saturn's rings was on the screen behind him.

He asked that they turn all the lights down in the theater, so that the only illumination came from the screen behind him, his voice dropped to a Barry White level as he said, "I shall now read from 'the Book of Carl'."  A huge cheer went up from everyone, because we knew what was coming next.  As Neil read Carl's Pale Blue Dot, the picture on the screen behind him, slowly changed.  It shifted to various far distant images of Earth, taken by Cassini and Voyager.  Some of which were able to show our Moon.

(Our understanding of the distances involved having been increased thanks to the earlier part of his presentation.)

Do I need to say that he got a standing ovation when he was finished?  Or that there were people wiping away tears?  Or that I probably wasn't the only one who was thankful he didn't play the version from the end of Cosmos from last year.  You know, this one:

Because I'd have been bawling like a baby if he had.  They brought the lights up, and it was time for questions.  I won't give all of them, because I don't remember all of them, and I certainly can't do justice to his answers.  Someone asked him what kinds of discoveries did he hope to see in the coming decades, and he talked about how the string theorists are trying to prove that its possible for space to boil away like water over a fire.  He said he can't even grasp what that means, let alone how it could happen.  Someone else asked if he thought that intelligent civilizations might have destroyed themselves.  His answer was a short, "Yes!" with a look that told you he strongly believed that we might be one of them soon (and after he got the laugh he was seeking, he expounded upon the topic).  Another question asked about his biggest failure, and he described being kicked out of grad school because his advisors thought that he was spending too much time on the wrestling team and dance team.  This forced him to move back home to his parents house, along with his then girlfriend, who'd also dropped out of grad school.  He said that while this looked bad to him at the time, since he was certain that folks who'd kicked him out of grad school never expected him to amount to much (Oops.), it taught him how to prioritize.  It was also when he proposed to his girlfriend (who accepted and is still his wife after 27 years, BTW, he had a little trouble on the math on that one).  She later went on to work for Bloomberg.

Okay, this thing is hugely long, and I still haven't covered vast amounts of what he discussed both before and during the Q & A session.  To succinctly sum up the lecture, its like the Cosmos TV series and a Grateful Dead concert all in one.  And I really hope that folks make bootleg recordings of his lectures, just like they did Grateful Dead shows.  Yeah, I know, Dr. Tyson worked hard at preparing his lecture, and people paid good money to see it, but having watched him on Cosmos, on The Daily Show, and read some of his books, I can tell you that the best bootleg recording of his lecture doesn't capture what its like to be in the same room with him and a couple thousand science geeks.  That's something which you have to experience, but hearing or seeing a bootleg of his lecture will certainly whet your appetite for going to one.  If you're asking me should you drive a couple hundred miles to see him speak, I have to say that you absolutely should.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


Ignore this.  Sooner or later there will be something interesting here.  In the meantime, I've done this to try and get an idea if I've actually configured things correctly.