Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Current Events Or Humans

He screamed at them: "What the fuck are you laughing at? Don't you see the world is collapsing? Don't you see you have no future? Don't you see your youth will disappear? Don't you see you will die? But first you will suffer through life. Your youth will waste away. And you won't be laughing."

They were initially shocked, their eyes wide because of fear and surprise. But when he left, they continued to laugh.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

College Football

1. Some times a decent offensive team cannot score. They drive the ball but make mistakes. Or they just cannot get anything going even though many plays are close. Most offenses that have these problems have no identity. They are usually "balanced" offenses without any superstars or "go-to" guys. This is what happened to Tech last night. They played a vastly inferior opponent (from a talent standpoint), a team that would lose three out of ten times to a team of Division III all-stars. They could have ran the ball down the team's throat. They could have passed the ball down the field. But mistakes and a lack of commitment to an identity kept the inferior team in the game. Tech's defense has an identity. They have an attitude. "When in doubt, blitz and take chances in the secondary." Tech's offense has nothing but a few athletes. It also has very little leadership.

2. Coaching matters. Quarterbacks cannot run with the ball in one hand. Once a quarterback decides to run, he has to tuck it and protect the football. A senior center who gets hurt has to know to lay on the field for a few minutes so the back-up center can get a few snaps with the quarterback. It isn't about being a tough guy. It is about smart football. Tech football is not smart. Offenses have to be smart to succeed consistently. Smartness is one of the only things coaches can add to a team.

3. One day I will write up my playoff plan for college football. My first premise is that to have an effective playoff, the number of teams in Division I-A have to be decreased. Each game as to provide information about a team. Florida beating up on the Citadel says nothing. Tech barely beating Duke is just as meaningless. We will never know how good Boise State or Ball State really is. Even if they make it to the BCS and beat a BCS team, we still will not know how good they were.

4. This goes back to number one. I think some coaches are pompous arrogant jerks. They are committed to something and will not sway from it no matter what. This thought is inspired by Michigan football, Bill Callahan's Nebraska and Notre Dame somewhat. In college football, these dogmatists succeed some times. Other times it does not. I still think the best approach is to evaluate talent before the season and on a week to week basis and coach smartness, mental toughness, and an identity. But I am not, have never been, and have no immediate plans to be a coach.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Saturday Afternoon Thoughts

1. I have just spent three hours getting my laptops to immediately connect to a wireless network without password authentication. I had to update drivers. I had to wing some things and get away from the network-given directions. But I finally got it to work. I know why people don't like Windows. Making things simple is not the same as making things work.

2. The most important thing I have learned this past year is to unbutton all the buttons on my polo shirts before I pull them over my head. My big head has ruined too many buttons.

3. There are a lot of free things on the Internet. A whole lot. It really makes me wonder about the future of cable television and DVD rentals.

4. I watched Road House on TV the other night. Part of me prefers my super heroes to have super-natural powers. Part of me does not think vengeance could ever go that far. Smart successful business people are smart and successful because they are reasonable. There were too many potential Pareto improving exchanges between Wesley and Dalton for things to end the way they ended. All it all, it was an entertaining movie.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Organization, Geting Started, And Such

I spend a lot of time contemplating different ways of organizing things. (Now I am thinking about how to organize the first chapter of my dissertation.) I also spend a lot of time trying to get started. So here are my conclusions:

1. Organization, while important, is not key. There are many different ways to organize things. Many of these are only marginally different.

2. The best way to get started (for me) is to jump in and not jump out. In other words, worry about organization later.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"I Am Better Than This"

Multiple times this week I have said this statement to myself. I probably mean: "I am different than them. Or "I want something different than this." But my inter-dialogue uses "better", so I will stick with it. It is probably more proper to say I "thought" this statement, but I am kind-of talking to myself. I try to step outside of myself and pretend to be an objective friend. I know this is silly.

The first time I said it to myself (or thought) was when I was riding a bus at 1:30PM. I had spent the morning getting my oil changed and tires rotated. I spent an extended lunch in the apartment. And when I got on the bus I realized the 1:30PM crowd wasn't too impressive, not the kind of people I wanted to be, not bad people just not the kind I wanted to be. I want to be at work at 1:30PM.

The second time I was eating dinner and playing cards with these people. These people were not my friends or my family. They didn't care about me. These people were friends amongst themselves but couldn't find it in their heart to even act like they cared about me as a person. I couldn't find it in my heart (or the energy) to make them care about me. But I didn't find the energy or the heart to leave either.

The third time I am going to some lecture that ex ante has a 33% chance of being worth my time. The fourth time I am sitting in the lecture, and it is one of the 67%. I have a million of unimportant things to do. I have million things to do that will eventually add up or not add up to my medium and long-term happiness level. But I am sitting there half-listening, avoiding those millions of things.

I am better than this. And I will get better.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Something I Have Been Thinking About

I wonder if gas mileage is still important. I see by their ads that GM, Ford, and Chrysler want to think not (at least GM--their ads are the most prominent). But they still put gas mileage in their ads. I cannot decide if this is a good strategy or not. Yeah, the Chevy Silverado gets good gas mileage for a truck, but it really doesn't get good gas mileage compared to a Prius.

I like trucks, but I don't think I will ever buy a truck for its gas mileage. And when funds are low and times tough, the one thing I can control is gas mileage. After these last few months, I am always going to care about gas mileage and efficiency. I wonder what the average American will care about.

Personally, I think we might have reached a tipping point where efficiency and reducing our interdependence on oil will trump SUVs, power, and comfort.

My dad thinks differently. I guess we will see.

Some Things I Have Learned

1. Learning how to work through your successes is just as difficult as learning how to work through your failures.

2. Dependability and reliability are important traits in people and products.*

3. Women who wear heels on Saturday mornings when it is raining want men to look at them.

4. "Do the best you can" is cliche but good advice.

5. Ironing makes pants look better, but I haven't decided if it is worth it.

6. Some times you just have to buy something. It makes you feel better. It is better than smoking or drinking. And it can be cheaper if you are smart. "Do something" is cliche but good advice.

*At first I thought dependability and reliability were redundant, but I think reliability is ex ante and dependability is ex post. They are positively correlated no doubt. A reliable person anticipates. A dependable person reacts. You get in a reliable car knowing it will start. You get in a dependable car not knowing if it will start but knowing if it does then it will get you where you need to go or let you know quickly that it won't. This is reaching and unproductive but I am doing something.

Third Post I Have Started In Three Days

At twelve, Jeff had a 40 year old woman's ass. His father was a cross country coach and distance runner. His mother had a 40 year old woman's ass. Jeff was doomed by genetics. He had no fast twitch muscles.

We were good friends. He loved Aerosmith and professional wrestling. I enjoyed professional wrestling. But after twelve I had enough fast twitch muscles to make me an average high school football player and shot putter. He did not. He continued to love Aerosmith and professional wrestling. He learned to enjoy pot and alcohol and a life without adult sensibilities. He failed out of college. He became a management trainee at Wal-Mart. And I haven't seen him since. I am sure he is well. I am sure he hasn't escaped his genetics. His father was an English teacher. His mother was a banker. I am sure he is doing fine now and has found some adult sensibilities.

I am sure we would have a good time catching up. But I doubt if either of us have the time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Neither Necessary Nor Helpful But Something I Felt Like Writing

I am sitting at Deet's Place. Deet's Place is Virginia Tech's on-campus coffee shop. In front of me is a co-ed whose thighs are protruding through her too short shorts. Behind me are two girls trying really hard to be good college students. Beside me are two guys trying to get laid. Deet's Place is a whole lot like the Eagle's Nest at my alma mater Bridgewater College. I suspect it is a whole lot like every college in America.

It is October 16th. It has been a year and a half since a crazy adolescent passed Deet's Place on his way to kill 32 unexpecting Hokies. It has been five years since I arrived on this campus. I want to say something has changed. I want to say Virginia Tech is a better place or at least a safer place. But either one would be lies. Besides construction zones and the rare building completion, this place hasn't changed much in five years.

Maybe things are not supposed to change. I never believed that "the only constant is change." Places and people change but at the end of the day, most of life stays the same. I get up. I eat. I breath. I love. I hate. I long. I sleep. Same old shit, different day.

When I saw the video of the crazy adolescent, all I could think about was what if I had made the effort to talk to him. What if I sat down with him in Deet's Place or the D2 cafeteria? What if someone became his friend instead of his enemy? Most of this was foolish. But "We Are Virginia Tech." "We are all Hokies today." I vowed to make a change. Life was too precious to be worrying about co-ed's thighs. Life was too precious to be so introverted that crazy people were able to slip through the cracks. I have felt some of the loneliness that crazy kid must have felt. It hurts. It does not justify what he did. But it hurts. We cannot deny pain.

I remember the press conferences. I remember that the University President (who is and was more of a politician than an educator) refused to say: "Let us grieve. We will review our policies. We will learn from this. But this is not about blame. It is about recovery. It is about grief. It is about making life changes for the better. Let us grieve." He did a great public relations job. Applications were up. Virginia Tech capitalized on the nation's attention. But the university did not change. Except the new dorms and research buildings being built.

Doors to most buildings are now difficult to chain shut. There are other ways to block doors. There are boards telling people what to do during an emergency. These serve as constant reminders of the evil of that day. There are electronic updatable boards telling people if there is an emergency. There are automatic Emails and text messages. I do not know what good these will do in case of a a real emergency. I guess they might help after the fact, but I do not see their prevention value.

I remember going into Deet's place a few weeks after the shootings. All I could think about was that you would need state troopers at every door. And it still wouldn't be enough. That was the moment when I got over the shootings. We have to live. We have to be. I have given up trying to explain unexplainable things.

I gained 20 pounds in the three months after the shootings. I have lost 110 pounds in the fifteen months since. It was just something I did. The doctor told me I was going to eventually die. So I lost weight. I vowed to make a change.

But I am still a lonely introvert sitting at Deet's Place commenting on crazy adolescent males trying to score. I still do no have the courage to sit down with the guy who looks lonely, the guy or the girl who looks like the world has left a gaping wound upon their heart.

At a conference in Orlando, a fellow graduate student from Siberia asked if anything had changed at Tech. I was taken back by the question and gave a quick and unthoughtful response.

Now I would answer: "No. Was anything supposed to?"

Before It Is Too Late

I read an article about "patients as consumers" this morning. It was long but reviewed how the law has treated health care patients.

Universal health care worries me. I worry about incentives for innovation. I worry about moral hazard. I worry about someone else determining what treatments my parents get or don't get. But I really don't think it is worth it to spend much time opposing it. Given my history, my genes, my feelings I am betting at worst it will be a wash for me.

But I still think the major problem is fixed costs. It takes so much investment to train doctors, nurses, and technicians. It takes so much investment in research for new drugs and new machines. Once the doctor is trained and the machine is paid for the marginal cost is relatively low.

I also think that doctors have a psychic (market) power over patients. Doctors do not do cost-benefit analysis with patients. Patients do not do a cost-benefit analysis and trust their doctor. Evidence based medicine can help this, but I do not trust statistics, especially when comes to a discrete event like life or death. I also believe in the placebo effect.

My answer has been some type of "flex" plan where patients make an up-front yearly contribution to fixed costs, and then pay the marginal costs during each visit. HMOs proved that this would probably not work. A single hospital would probably not be able to support all of every patient's needs, and the number of people needed to contribute to the program makes it private feasibility doubtful. People like choice and do not like long-term contracts.

So what I am saying is that I curious to see what our President-elect really does about health care. I say this while I am debating whether to go to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned or the doctor to get preventive blood tests done. It is all about trade-offs.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Rocky III, Eye Doctors, And Pat Jordan

I watched a little of Rocky III last night. I caught the Rocky-Adrian "I'm afraid" scene. I am sure it is on YouTube. Paraphrasing, Rocky says he is scared for the first time in his life. He finally had something to lose, and it scared him.

Rocky was born a fighter, not a boxer but a fighter. He was dumb, but he could take a punch. He could always punch back. I always thought Rocky I ended perfectly. Rocky goes fifteen rounds, but he loses. But he also wins by just remaining standing. This is life.

I go to the Wal-Mart eye doctor yesterday. I am the only patient in the office, but the doctor is out on a break. He gets back fifteen minutes later. In the middle of his consultation he takes a phone call. We talk about football, politics, the machine he uses, and his guitar collection. I don't think the guy really cares about being an eye doctor.

Pat Jordan has repeated numerous times that he was and is a pitcher. Writing is just something he did to make money.

At one time I had a grander point here, but I have forgotten it. I guess what I am trying to say is that finding "who one really is" takes a lifetime. It isn't easy. Some people never find out exactly who they are. Some people give up and don't care who they are. But when one really finds out who they are, even if it is just a little piece, they should hold on to it. It doesn't mean they shouldn't question or challenge it. It just means "being happy in your own skin" is a good feeling.

Something I Wrote To Myself A Few Years Ago

"What does it all mean, Mr. Natural?"

"Don't mean sheeit."

You spend have your life redefining greatness. The other half you spend attempting to impress people who can't help but disappoint you. Meritocracies would be no fun. Of course, you are wasting your life, but what is your next best opportunity? It never comes to you; it can't. "No one said this was going to be easy."--J.C.M "You have to march to the beat of your own fucking drummer."--J.S. It will kill you, but if the music stops, you might as well be dead. They can't give you a grade on how much you care. They don't care, so why should you?

(I was (am) in a bad habit of talking to myself. Using "you" instead of "I" weakens the point.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Small Town Coffee Shops

I am sitting in this small town coffee shop, overpriced sandwiches, overpriced coffee, and overpriced bakery goods warmed up in the microwave. I say this is me. A small coffee shop in a small town is what I want. I want to get up at 5:00AM and not go home until 9:00PM. I want to have something that is mine. Something I can build. Something I can create.

But how long could I get up at 5:00AM? A month, six months, a year? How long before I get tired? How long before I lose the energy to create? Isn't energy the scarce resource? Isn't the loss of energy what doomed the video store? Didn't my uncle do the same thing except he had pool tables and gambling machines in the back? Didn't he eventually get "tired out?" Haven't I learned anything from the last few years?

That is the debate, regimentation versus organic order. I get up at 6:30AM (give or take twenty minutes and somewhat dependent on daylight savings time) without an alarm clock. Is it a good thing to force myself to get up earlier? Do I need that regimentation?

If the last few months has taught us anything, it is that uncertainty abounds. The world cannot be broken down into probabilities. Humans cannot understand probabilities anyway. Unfortunately, this says nothing about regimentation or organic order. But it does make me feel better.