"That you may ruminate"

Archive for January, 2009

..On Cass Sunstein and the Elderly.

Posted by Steve on January 26, 2009

With regards to this and this: I affirmatively support the “senior death discount”, I believe it should be used in all governmental decision-making, and I consider Cass Sunstein’s support for it to be a pro, not a con, of his nomination. That approach doesn’t “artificially lower the cost” element of cost-benefit analysis, it corrects a grossly overinflated benefit element. Yes, pollution is bad, but not in any way because of any harm to the health of the elderly. The remaining lives of the elderly are worth less than the remaining lives of the young, and it’s past time we went back to living – and setting public policy – accordingly. Instead, groups like the AARP and this CRP are working to extend already too-long lives and enhance the elderly’s unjust stranglehold on American law. Like PETA, the Brady Campaign, the National Right to Life Committee, and Proposition 8 supporters, they are actively working to make our lives, our country, and our world all worse.

Face it, the most effective way to fix social security would obviously be to implement a Logan’s Run solution. Barring that, say because we choose to be generous and kind and make sure we don’t dispose of the elderly prematurely, it seems the obvious thing to do is to just set a cap on how many years a retiree can withdraw from it. There’s no need for anyone to live to 80, let alone past it. Each year you live, your life matters less. Eventually, it just doesn’t matter. Don’t waste your life fighting that fact, just accept it and be happy while you can.

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…On Cake Mockery.

Posted by Steve on January 25, 2009

Sometimes, the internet makes me laugh. Case in point: when I discovered Cake Wrecks and spent the better part of a half hour laughing uproariously. Ordinarily, cake decorating is not something that interests me (although this one time, a lady at work brought in an impressively-made cake that was decorated to look like a taco), since I don’t usually bother with even baking the cake. But when the cakes are such gems as a No Sexual Harassment cake, the Let’s Snow Rotisserie Chicken cake, or my personal favorite, the Winter cake, cake decoration becomes interesting because it’s absolutely hilarious.

Oh, and for the record? I want sprinkles.

Posted in Other people's blogging, Websites | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

…On Chicken.

Posted by Steve on January 24, 2009

I’ve been sick the past two weeks or so: first with a cold/flu (I can’t tell the difference) that’s been going around at work, and then on Monday that cold (which I’m still just getting over) set off a flare-up of what may well be the single most perfectly-adapted-to-humans virus in existence. Seriously, I think HSV-1 may well be the best-adapted virus humans have. It infects damn near everyone, since it 1) causes life-long infections, 2) sheds from you when you’re asymptomatic, and 3) gets spread by kissing babies, sharing food, and all other sorts of things that humans do because we’re social animals and just coincidentally make sure kids get exposed to it. Then, barring unfortunate infection of the wrong body part (if it gets in your eye it can cause blindness, and if it gets in your brain it can cause potentially fatal encephalitis, but such infections are very, very rare because HSV-1 isn’t just adapted to humans, it’s adapted to one specific nerve in the human head! Getting passed into someone’s genitals through oral sex is a risk, but genital HSV-1 infections are a lot less severe than genital HSV-2 infections, what with being on the far end of the body from that nerve HSV-1’s adapted to, and what with HSV-2 being adapted to genitals and a nerve down by them in the coccyx), in a person with a healthy & functional immune system the worst symptoms it can cause are… ugly, uncomfortable blisters that last for about a week. And a lot fewer of them, for that matter, than Herpes #3 (chickenpox) can – though, of course, chickenpox isn’t a herpes simplex virus, it’s a herpes zoster virus, and accordingly gets to be called “varicella zoster virus” instead of “herpes simplex virus 3”, apparently because it acquired the name “chickenpox” as a diminutive from “smallpox”, and “varicella” is somehow derivable from “variola”, which is the Latin name for the smallpox virus. I have no idea what distinguishes “zoster” from “simplex”. Might just be that the two simplex virii impart some level of resistance/semi-immunity to each other, but not to a zoster virus. I’m a transportation engineer, not a virologist.

And this post is about chicken, not virii.

See, when you’re sick – especially with a cold or the flu – chicken soup is good for you. No doubt a fair portion of that’s placebo effect from being told by Mom and Dad and Gary Larson that chicken soup is good for the flu (and number two, it’s nobody we know). There’s more to it, though. Soup in general (I find) is easy to eat when ill, and helps soothe the throat and sinuses. And chicken soup, as I’ve learned to make it, comes with many nutrients, what with the carrots, celery, peppers, lemon, onions, herbs, and of course, chicken meat, chicken marrow, and chicken-enhancing-broth.

Wait, something doesn’t belong in that list… Oh, yeah! Chicken-enhancing-broth, that’s what doesn’t!

One of the things I’ve started doing more of is paying attention to the labels of the food I buy. And I’ve noticed on some chickens, the label says, “Contains up to X% retained water.” Every time “retained water” gets specified, X is a single-digit-number – in some cases (generally a whole Perdue ), it’s all of “1”. On other chickens, though, it says, “Enhanced with up to Y% broth.” Generally, when broth gets specified, Y is a double-digit number – either 12 or 15 (although I seem to remember seeing a 9 once).

This is a big deal. Ostensibly, the broth-enhancement is done to make the chicken meat juicier and tastier, and by extension preferable to competing chicken, after cooking. Of course, since chicken soup means leaving the chicken in boiling water until the meat falls off the bones and the marrow seeps out into the water (gotta have that marrow flavor – and it’s a lot quicker with chicken than ox-tail, let me tell you!), juicy isn’t an issue under the circumstances that had me looking for chicken this time, and at other times, well, I don’t to try baking or pan-frying a chicken that’s leaking broth like a soggy sponge. What’s sort of an issue is that the broth makes for a very clear and noticeable (both in what the label reports and what you can taste) difference in the sodium content of the chicken. What is definitely an issue is that 12% or 15% of an enhanced chicken isn’t chicken – but you get charged for it as though it is. Remember, the grocery store charges you for chicken by weight. Assuming a 12%-enhanced chicken, a 5-pound chicken (on the small side for a fryer, but plenty for soup, since your soup’s going to be getting a bunch of vegetables and stuff in the pot too – not to mention water, and some sort of starch like rice or noodles), and a $1.50/lb price (which is steep, but I wouldn’t say it’s excessively so, and it makes the math way easier), the chicken costs you $7.50. Being charitable and treating “enhanced with up to 12% broth” as meaning “We take the weight of Actual Chicken and add up to 12% of that, to get the weight you’re charged for” (as opposed to “12% of what you’re being charged for is broth”, which would be a little bit more broth and a little bet less Gallus gallus), then a full 8.57 ounces – just over half a pound – of what you’re paying for is broth enhancer. So, of that $7.50, you’ve paid $6.70 for chicken, and $.90 for broth. Which, needless to say, will buy you any number of other, more useful, things at that same grocery store, ranging from a cabbage to a pair of Kiwi Fruits to a can of chicken broth you can actually use (say, for cooking couscous).

In short… pay attention to the chicken you buy, lest your money get wasted on non-chicken filler.

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…On Proposed Bush/Obama Regulations.

Posted by Steve on January 18, 2009

A year ago, the Bush Administration announced a set of sweeping, far-reaching changes to Federal regulations that affect (with no hyperbole whatsoever), on a daily basis the lives of every single person in America who ventures outside their house. This comprehensive rewrite of Federal regulations received minimal media attention, and lost in the shuffle is the fact that though the Final Rule hasn’t yet been announced, there is absolutely no question that the Obama Administration will enact these rules, in substantially identical form to what the Bush Administration proposed, some time in 2009. Oh, a few adjustments may have been made due to public comment – and you know, we had a full seven months to send in comments, and if you’re like me you didn’t provide one because you didn’t even know about it – but for the most part, the 552 pages of rewritten text, 417 pages of redrawn figures, and 79 pages of reconstituted tables that the Bush Administration proposed in January 2008 are pretty much what the Obama Administration will finalize this year. Dire stuff.

And what is this late-breaking news? Why, only the Proposed Amendments to the MUTCD! That’s right, we’re going to get a 2009 Edition, which will replace the 2003 Edition with Revisions 1 and 2, Dated 2007 (which replaced 2003 Edition with Revision 1, Dated November 2004 which replaced 2003 Edition, which replaced Millenium Edition, which replaced 1988 Edition, ad nauseum back to the original in 1935).

This is great stuff, people. And don’t think for a second I was exaggerating when I said the changes affect everyone who leaves their house. “But I ride a train to work!” you object. Ah, then you’ll be affected by the new “Section 4C.10 Warrant 9, Intersection Near a Highway-Rail Grade Crossing”, not to mention any Part 10 changes. You ride a bus? New signs for bus lanes in Part 2, new markings for them in Part 3. Ditto bike lanes, and toss in any changes to Part 9. You’re a pedestrian? Different signs in Part 2, different markings in 3 (including some new guidance on how to do a mid-block crosswalk), they’ve redone the signal warrant for peds to be based on plotted volume curves instead of a volume threshold and taken the gaps element out of the warrant altogether, and there’s a whole new device, in a whole new Chapter 4F, “Pedestrian Hybrid Signals”. I think it should be obvious that any changes to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices is going to affect people who drive.

And come to think of it, the renumbered Chapter 4G’s got changes to signals (including a new Hybrid Signal) for Emergency Vehicle driveways, so that’ll affect even people who don’t leave their house. Indirectly, but still.

So, there’s those changes proposed, and many are coming. And before you get to thinking they’re trivial stuff for transportation weenies, think again. Take one proposal: to change the pedestrian walking speed from 4 ft/s to 3.5 ft/s when timing traffic signals. This is a big deal, since it affects the minimum amount of time the sign has to say “WALK”, and how much time we have to give the green parallel to that “WALK” signal – even if there aren’t cars there that need it. Adding a whole new sort of thing for drivers to see and obey – those hybrid pedestrian signals, that’ll be two red balls next to each other with a yellow ball below their centerline – is a big deal.

Sure, there’s little things you probably won’t notice, like no longer having “2-Way” or “3-Way” plaques under STOP signs (and I would’ve sent in a comment opposing that change for the 2-Way plaques, had I known to), or a narrow “Keep Right” sign for the tips of narrow medians (silly looking, but reasonable). But the big things…

I’m not opposed to the idea of the hybrid pedestrian signal, but I don’t like how they work. The vehicular display is blank (lights are out) and the ped heads have solid “DON’T WALK” until a pedestrian pushes the button to cross the street. Then, one yellow light starts flashing, then it goes solid. Ok, flashing’s a little weird, but it draws attention to the lights coming on, and we all know what a solid yellow light means: solid red’s coming, get ready to stop. Low and behold, the two side-by-side red balls will come on solid, and the pedestrian’s “DON’T WALK” will change to “WALK”. Excellent, it’s consistent with what everyone knows and is familiar with: solid red means you must stop, “WALK” means you have right-of-way to cross the street (which won’t stop some jackasses from honking at you or just plain nearly hitting you). Here’s the thing: when the ped clearance starts up and their display changes from “WALK” to a flashing “DON’T WALK” (you know, “sprint across the street”), the two solid reds will become flashing reds. That’s what I don’t like: flashing side-by-side red balls have a use already: at-grade rail crossings. Now, the thinking is that having them on the hybrid pedestrian signal will indicate that the lights are getting ready to turn out and the drivers are about to be able to go again, but I think all they’ll do is confuse drivers. I think instead, the solid reds should stay until the “DON’T WALK” goes solid, and then the reds should just go out. No flashing reds at all.

Had I known to, I’d have sent in a comment to that effect.

Oh well.

Anyway, sooner or later President Obama and Secretary… Damnedifiknow (hey, I’ll admit, only Secretary of Transportation ever who I can name is Norman Mineta) will put out the final rule (the MUTCD’s legal status has been previously explained on this blog) and the 2009 Edition will come out. Now you know about it, and now you can take a look at the proposals for it yourself.

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…On How To Immobilize Your Arms For A Day.

Posted by Steve on January 11, 2009

Step 1: Go to the gym Saturday morning. Do lots of weights involving pulling motions, like Preacher Curls, Seated Row, and Reverse Curls.
Step 2: Go the range Saturday evening. Fire 150 rounds with your new 1911 and around 30 or 40 rounds with your buddy’s 9mm Glock.
Step 3: Spend Sunday doing The Robot because your arms won’t straighten.

I suppose, in the interests of honesty, I should admit it’s been… way too many… months since I’d done Step 1, which is probably the bigger cause of the stiffness and soreness in the biceps (and I wasn’t really exaggerating that I couldn’t straighten my arms today – especially not the right arm) than the time at the range. Still.

As for my new gun, I ended up not getting the Taurus 1911-clone I’d been planning on and got a Rock Island Armory M1911A1 instead. I still kind of regret that, since the Taurus would’ve had a few nice features that I’m missing out on: painted dovetail sights, a real nice beavertail, ambidextrous safety. On the other hand, the Rock Island cost me a few hundred less, and my understanding from reading a few 1911-themed webforums is that it’s good value for the money, a high-quality starter gun if you will, and is one of the guns on the market truest to the original design (I suppose that means to the 1924 A1 addition, not the original-original Model 1911, but then the 1924 update only changed external features, which for the most part were minimal and are hard to notice). It came with an aftermarket magazine, so I’ve got an 8+1 instead of a 7+1, but I’m not really going to complain about that. And while I do wish I had night sights and a beavertail, there’s something really nice about using a century-old design. It appeals to me to use a machine that, though built recently (in the Philippines), is true to a design from a hundred years back.

I do have an annoyance with the cost of ammo. Granted, there’s a good reason for the stuff to cost twice as much as 9×19: it’s twice as much bullet (230 grains versus 115 grains), but the best price I’ve been able to find is still $0.30 a round for FMJ. As my friend can get 9×19 for around $0.20 a round… he gets 50% more rounds per dollar.

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…On Facebook… for Professionals!

Posted by Steve on January 2, 2009

When I went to my parents’ house for Christmas, my brother-in-law and my dad had a conversation about something called “Linked In“, which my brother-in-law described as “like Facebook for professionals. Well, when I got back home, and went in to work on Monday, there was a posting on the company intranet about how Linked In can be a useful tool for establishing and maintaining contacts with potential clients, and its use is encouraged so long as appropriate etiquette and decorum is maintained, but it shouldn’t be treated as a substitute for facetime with clients.

Well, prompted by that, I decided to register. Whee, now I’m on another social network. Hopefully, this one will in fact turn out useful. Since I’ve been registered for less than six hours, I can’t give a review or commentary on it, but that’ll be coming forth.

As to Facebook… I think I’ve mentioned this before, but when I started using it, it was I think my freshman year at Vanderbilt and you had to have a college email address to register. For that matter, your college had to be on the list of colleges that it had been set up for (every week it opened up to more and more colleges – I guess it was just as they worked down a list). It’s changed a lot since then. Although being limited to college students obviously shut out a lot of people, it gave it a core purpose. Kind of like Linked In has, I guess. So maybe my brother-in-law’s comparison was pretty good.

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