Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Sentence I Read This Morning

"The core function of a university is to educate students."

I am not going to cite the sentence. Of course it is from an academic article. I have written worse sentences, but this one caught my eye this morning.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Fiber Plus Bars

I am sitting in my communal office. I have been trying to increase my fiber intake. I get up to correct my laptop stand. I faintly fart. Thankfully I didn't shit myself. And like the soldier I am, I went about my business like nothing happened.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Do I Go To The Spring Game Or Not?

There is no such thing as Hokie Nation or Red Sox Nation or Yankee Nation.  They don't exist.  They are fictional constructs.  Fictional constructs that help the media describe events.  "Nation" is just a word to generalize, to aggregate, to demonize, to patriotize.

But we want "nations."  We want the order, the identity, the rules, the standards that "nations" give us.  Most people run into problems when they lose their identity, when they lose their tribe, when they lose their "nation".  They search for something, and they usually end up lost, at least for a time.  

There is something important, something significant, something essential to having an identity.  I don't know if that identify has to come from a "nation."  But it has to come from somewhere.       

Friday, April 24, 2009

Free Writing Friday Afternoon

You have to have a vision before it can be implemented.

You have to have help to implement anything.

The guy in the office beside me was a good athlete, a good catcher. I am sure he could throw a lot of people out. I was just learning how to hit when I stopped playing ball. He couldn't throw anyone out anymore. And I can't hit anymore.

Struggle is part of life and not necessarily a bad thing.

You'd better stand for something or you will fall for anything.

Spring games are what they are. Exhibitions.

Some times you have to get excited about something. As GGM says, "You have to blow out the pipes." I haven't gotten really angry lately. Anger isn't always a bad thing.

Over and out, good buddy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Some Things

1.  I am really digging Google's Chrome.  It reminds of Opera but seems more stable.

2.  I have been listening to too much Pandora.  I cannot make a decision on Coldplay.  Most of the time I just don't feel them, but they keep popping up and I don't ban them from my playlist.

3.  I started a post on the foolishness of buying a house.  The idea was that I (and most people) place value on things that does not hold value for other people.  The house I grew up in is worth much more to me and my parents than anyone else.  Cars are the same way.  In other words, houses are not investments unless you treat them like an investment.  (I was going to use this logic as support for my new assessment system.)  I was going to relate this to my personal struggles.  Maybe I am not valuing the right things.  But I didn't finish the post.

4.  Coldplay came on Pandora again.  I skipped the song but did not ban them.  

5.  I haven't called my shot put buddy.  I will soon.  I hope.

6.  I might make Chrome my default browser today.

7.  The song from Pandora I am listening to now isn't very good either.  But it is better than Sports Radio.  

8.  My next research project is going to be on what kills more brain cells: sports talk radio or country music stations.  Every now and then I like listening, but I never feel that good afterwards.  It always seems like I am listening to avoid thinking. 

Monday, April 20, 2009

I Once Knew This Guy

He was one of the best athletes I ever met. He could dunk a basketball. He could bench 365 pounds without trying. He almost qualified for nationals in the shot-put. He was a great friend.

He saw athletics as this thing where if you worked hard, good things would come to you. I saw academics as this thing where if you worked hard, good things would come to you. We would argue about this all of the time, accusing the other of being lazy. I would say he could be a better student. He was a great friend.

He would say I could be a better athlete. We used to play basketball with this freshman. We screwed with that freshman so much he wanted to cry. He was a great friend.

I went to graduate school. I don't think he ever graduated. He was a great friend.

We've talked once or twice in the last six years. Yesterday, he found me, sent me his numbers, and asked me to call him. He was a great friend.

I can't do it. I don't want to do it. I can't face calling him and rehashing my last few years. I am not that unhappy. I just don't want to talk right now. I just don't want revisit the past or catch up. I want to concentrate on the future. I want to move forward. I want to be better than I am right now. But I will eventually call. He was a great friend.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Acid Reflux, Emergency Rooms, And Habits

A month ago I spent an afternoon in a Richmond (VCU) Emergency Room. As I had done three times in the previous month, I got something stuck in my throat. My acid reflux had inflamed my throat. I forgot to thoroughly chew a piece of apple, and I choked. I tried to throw it up for three hours. I tried to relax. But it just stayed there. I was getting dehydrated. I had a hour and half commute home. I was making a fool of myself. I had to do something. The ladies in the office were concerned. The emergency room was two blocks away. So I went.

Once I "sign in" to the emergency room, I swallow the apple to a point where I am not regurgitating, and I can swallow water. I keep asking if I should leave, because there are some really sick people there. The nurses, all say "stay." I am in an emergency room with a number of sick prisoners from local jails, correction officers assigned to watch them, and state troopers investigating traumatic accidents. The orderlies and maintenance workers are discussing their sexual exploits and what they would like to do with some of the student nurses. I do not want to "stay." But I do, and it will cost me a few hundred dollars.

Earlier in the day I drank black coffee from Starbucks. This has always had a detrimental effect on my acid reflux. My stress level was high. This has always had a detrimental effect on my acid reflux. I had choked three times in the previous month. I started taking Prilosec again, but it clearly wasn't solving the problem. It was just helping mask the symptoms and the real causes. It was just helping maintain my bad habits of black coffee and stress.

Most of life is habit. If you step back and evaluate most of your daily decisions, they involve some type of "rule of thumb," some type of decision rule based on experience and past information. Black coffee wakes me up. Writing this blog makes me feel better and helps me avoid other things I have to do.

Some bad habits are necessary. But a successful life involves overcoming bad habits and replacing them with less bad habits. This is what I am trying to do, and that has to be good enough.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An Idea I Almost Forgot

In a nearby community, the county increased property value assessments on a number of houses. As expected during these times, this caused an outrage with some of the owners. "It just doesn't make any sense. The housing market is bottomed out, and "they" increased my taxes."

My libertarian side says this situation is purely government failure. There shouldn't be property taxes and government. This is just another example of government coercing people.

My realistic side says we have to pay for some local quasi-public goods and services. Property taxes meet the wherewithal principle. There could be a worse way, and nothing is changing soon.

My economist side says the problem is valuation. These assessments are just made-up. I have seen a lot of economic valuation models, and they all have flaws. (They are all bullshit.) So here is what I think, if the county assesses a house at $X, they should have to be willing and able to buy the house at $X. If the owner thinks his house is assessed at too high of a value, he can sell it to the taxing authority. And the taxing authority would have to buy it or reassess. People could truly "vote with their feet" by moving in and out of communities.

This idea is certainly not new. But I was reminded of it when I reading this about changing the rules in baseball and football. The problem with changing rules is not rational benefits and costs, but something more visceral. Changing rules causes emotional responses, causes a fundamentally different way of viewing things. My first reaction to Posnanski's post was "sometimes you just have to win." Kneeling and intentional walks are about winning. But this isn't a rational response. It is just how I view the world. No rationale is going change my mind.

It is hard to change rules. And maybe that is a good thing. And maybe it isn't. But I certainly don't want to eliminate the intentional walk or the ability to kneel down to end football games.

But I do want to change the way counties assess property values.

(Yeah, Posnanski says the same thing except better, but I had to try.)

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Charles Bukowksi Quote Of The Day

From Ham on Rye pg. 194:

"And yet I knew that what I saw wasn't as simple and good as it appeared. There was a price to be paid for it all, a general falsity, that could be easily believed, and could be the first step down a dead-end street. The band began to play again and the boys and girls began to dance again and the lights revolved overhead throwing shades of gold, then red, then blue, then green, then gold again on the couples. As I watched them I said to myself, someday my dance will begin. When that day comes I will have something that they don't have.

But then it got to be too much for me."

Monday, April 06, 2009

Opening Day

I hear these commentators talk about how every baseball fan has hope for their team this week. Every team has a chance to win the pennant. Every team has a chance to be special.

I should feel this way about the Braves, especially after last night, but I don't. They don't have the bats to win. Their pitching is old, injury-prone, and inconsistent. They might stay close, but the cream (the Mets and the Phillies and even the Marlins) will rise to the top before the year is done.

But it is opening day and Spring is officially here, so I am going forget the Braves and take full advantage of my radio subscription.

"Make It Up. Make It Happen."*

I won my "Bracket Challenge." Now I have to get the organizer to pay out. This might be difficult. This is another problem I don't necessarily need. It is another thing to pass the time.

I had Michigan State losing in the first round. I am ranked 60,537 in Facebook. So either I was lucky or my competitors were bad.

But some times, you just have to win.

*This is in David Allen's Getting Things Done. I know he wasn't the first to write it, but I am too lazy to look up the reference.

Friday, April 03, 2009

What I Am Doing Or What I Have To Do Or What I Should Be Doing...

Research is all about producing information and selling the information you produce. The best researchers sell themselves with their information. Most research takes some leap of faith. People cannot have faith in research or information. They can only have faith in people.

My dad knows how to sell. No, my dad has learned how to sell. He tries. He fails. He takes calculated risks, not probabilistically conceived but based on instinct and experience. He sells his information and himself very well.

It is time for me to start following his example.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A Liberal Arts Education

I went to this conference in Portland, Oregon. When I got off the plane, my surgically repaired leg hurt. It rained most of the time I was there. But I enjoyed the city.

It was an interdisciplinary conference. I am eating breakfast with an entomologist, a weed scientist, a computer scientist and an ecologist. Because of my liberal arts education, I could keep up with the conversations. My Eastern European colleague could not. The ecologist resorted to drawing pictures and giving a Biology 101 lesson. Some of this was due to English. But most of it was because the colleague had never had to take a biology or ecology class.

Some times knowing a bunch of useless crap is helpful, but on average, I can't tell if it is worth it.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Economics Of Blogging

I am becoming an adult. I have adult responsibilities. I have "things to do." I even have things "I have to do." Blogging is probably not important, but it is therapeutic. Therapy is some times needed.

Some thoughts from the previous month:

1. I like (respect) curious people. It bothers me that our health care economists have not asked me how or why I lost weight. They seem much more concerned with averages and abstractions while I am curious about individuals and reality. I admit there are benefits and costs to curiosity, but I prefer curious people.

2. In relation to number one, most people (including researchers) are zombies. They only come alive with caffeine or some external force. Finding a person who is really alive all the time is rare. Most people live separate lives. My dad loved running the concession stand for the local junior baseball league. Then it was the video store. The thing that worries me is that neither he or my uncles have been able to sustain that passion.

3. If North Carolina wins Saturday, I win my bracket pool. I was last before the Sweet Sixteen. I chose my teams based on random numbers. I had seven out of eight in the Elite Eight. It really is just a crap shoot.