Monday, January 30, 2006
Getting on my New Year's Resolution
I work engineer hours. I get to work late, work late, play until late, get to sleep late, repeat.

It makes it hard to do things like getting to the store, as they keep civilian hours.

I finally got to buying some shoes last Thursday. I've been climbing two or three times a week, but I finally went running today. 2.72 miles in 23:45. 8:45s. Not too bad, actually, for a guy who hasn't done anything aerobic for a few months. But it hurt.

I know it'll get better, as I've gone through the start running routine probably a dozen times. Getting out of bed tomorrow is going to suck, though.

Here's the XML file, but I'm finding that they're too big to practically pump them into Google Maps. I think there may be too many points or that the XML file is too huge. Solutions to each (in order): data resolution reducing code (based on the current viewing window) and perhaps server code that converts XML to evalable JSON notation for the XmlHttp transfer.

(Update: playing with it more, I realize that it dumps the entire history into one XML file. I'll have to play with this some.)

Back to English: I'll do another run Friday, and then, next week, try to step it up to three times a week over my lunch hour.

Right now, I have a goal of running a good 5k in a race at the end of February.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
Is there life in CA?
My cell phone is used primarily as a social organizing device. I've never really been one to chat on a phone for hours.

I also have an irrational dislike of making phone calls. It's rare that I feel that what I have to say is important enough that I need to disrupt someone else. I don't like it when people do it to me, so I don't like interrupting others.

Email and IM are such better paradigms for me (my freshman year roommate and I used to have desks that faced opposite walls. We'd both work on our computers, each with headphones on. We got to IMing each other while in the same room).

For the most part, the only time I use the phone at length is to call my parents back home. My mother, of course, would rather that this be much more frequent. Occasionally I'll get really busy and not call for a while. I'll start getting more frequent emails from my mom as a result.

Well, I think I really need to call, as I just got this in my inbox:

Subject: is there life in CA?

yes _____

no _____

Love, Mom

America's Finest News Source
The Onion is still novel for a lot of people. It's been expanding slowly to different cities.

I read it from before it was cool, back when it was really only published around Madison and didn't have much of a web presence. In high school, people in the band and orchestra would pick up the latest issue when they were in Madison and we had a stash in one of the instrument lockers.

There's a few people from my hometown that work there.

Nowadays, I really only skim the headlines and then make my way to the AV Club to read movie reviews, Savage Love, and the interview if it's somebody good.

But this week, there was this article:

Second-Graders Wow Audience With School Production Of Equus

Brilliant. I do like how they're still willing to make rather obscure references. I love the photo.

I particularly loved when, after his death, they had a little tagline that read:

Jacques Derrida "Dies"

That one's here.
Friday, January 27, 2006
Results may vary

I saw this political cartoon today. Pretty much sums up what I feel about the recent Palestinian elections.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Ultimate Madison Bar Tour
Ultimate Madison Bar Tour

Why did I never think of this when I was in college?

I really miss our late-night biking bar hops. Ali and I used to tool our Marins around town, visiting random bars and cafes. If I could say I've visited every bar and tavern in Madison, I could honestly say I've accomplished something in my life.

My Marin is sitting right outside my cube.

I need to make it back to Mickey's on Williamson.

(there's also Eating in Madison A to Z which is pretty cool)
Sunday, January 22, 2006
I live with three Duke alums. They watch a lot of basketball.

Yesterday, I watched Duke lose to Georgetown as part of yesterday's day of upsets. I'm west-coast, so I'm up to three hours behind the rest of the country. Across the bottom of the screen, there was a score ticker.

I wasn't wearing my glasses, so I glanced and saw:

Wisconsin 95, North Dakota State 62

My cousin is an assistant coach at NDSU. He used to be under Bo Ryan at Wisconsin, and played for Ryan at UW-Platteville.

Poor guys, I thought, to get routed such. I mentioned it to my roommate.

"Um, it says 55-62"

Whoa. This is one of the few times that I'm excited to see the Badgers lose.

It was all over the news, and front page of for a while. Huge upset. It should really help the program (they recently moved to Division I and are not yet in a conference). Type in his name into Google News and there are hundreds of articles.

Congrats, Saul.
On Focus
(For those of that aren't Javascript programmers, the title is a pun).

Anyway, I just got home from the cinema. A friend and I saw Pride and Prejudice. It's been out for a while, and I had read a favorable article in Slate.

I really liked it. I remember disliking the book, but that's likely related to the fact that I read it overnight on a deadline.

I also made this realization: it's likely that more than half of the movies I see in theaters these days are distributed by Focus Features.

In college, my cinema going had dropped off. A lot of my movie watching was DVDs with friends. A lot of my own movie watching was older movies, many off of the AFI 100 Years Series.

But I've been going to the movies a lot more now. Part of this is due to the rise of lower-budget, niche-market filmmaking. I think the blockbuster action movie era is slowly dying. Houses like Focus Features and Warner Independent are arms of the larger studios, finding and distributing good independent films or producing them themselves.

I couldn't be happier. The movies are getting intelligent again.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
'Tis a Gift to be Simple...
Or, "Living simply in one of the most expensive places in America."

At dinner last night with friends, a coworker and I were discussing money matters. I had commented on how much lower my living expenses were than my income--that, now with the new fiscal year (I was trying to live very frugally and get money into accounts before January), I've got money sitting in my checking account that I intend to invest and pay off loans early. She seemed surprised by this.

It's eerie how I'm becoming my dad (in personality as well as looks). One inherited attribute is tightfistedness. My dad makes a good salary, but our family spending is far below income. For years, my father would park in the parking lot at work, next to the Lexuses and Accuras, in his big red pickup truck. A few years ago he finally broke down and bought a Trailblazer (my tree-hugging heart went reeling, but my folks have recently redeemed themselves by buying a Prius). Most of his money goes into retirement investments. He'll retire as soon as he can.

I have the following monthly financial obligations:
Add those together: $1230. Multiply by twelve months: $14760 (although it should be noted that the car loan actually goes towards a liquifiable possession). I make more than that.

(Aside: Fortunately, unlike a lot of Googlers, I don't have any student loans. My family is littered with Wisconsin alumni, and that's where I went with scholarships that made it pretty cheap. I took five years to graduate with degrees in computer science, political science, and economics. Take that, Stanford.)

Of course, any money I spend is post-income-tax, meaning that there has already been 30% or so taken out of it.

Post-tax income X 70ish% = Pre-tax income.

Rearranging terms:

Post-tax income = Pre-tax income X 1 / 70ish%

1 / 70ish% = 1.42ish%.

Spending money on things means that I really pay almost 50% more than the real cost, especially if you consider sales tax on a lot of things.

The result: I don't like spending money on things. Despite being a tax-and-spend liberal, I don't like wasting money and I'd rather not pay taxes on things if I can avoid it.

The only real other expenses I have are entertainment (including dining. Most of my food I get at work) and media (music, books, etc). A lot of the money that I earn and don't spend goes into a 401(k) account, which, fortunately, I don't have to pay income taxes on until I take it out when I retire (and only at that annual income tax rate, which wil be lower than what I pay now), and, being in my early twenties, has 30+ years to grow. The added benefit of this is that it reduces my taxable income, and I don't have to pay taxes on the most highly-taxed dollars (marginal tax rates increase with income).

The 401(k) is a good thing. Americans' savings rate is abysmal. The amount of consumer debt is mind-boggling. If there's anything that shakes my confidence in the theory of rational self-interested economic actors, it's Americans. Americans rack up high-interest credit card debt to buy unnecessary things, and they apparently don't realize the true cost of such actions. In the less-than-economic rhetoric of George Carlin (sorry about the language), Americans spend "money they don't have on shit they don't need."

I'm not a rabid anti-materialist or anything, but I own the following pieces of furniture.The other day, I bought a TV for $50 (I'm actually still waiting on it). My desktop computer I bought from SWAP for $57 (including monitor).

Part of it is that I like to be able to move easily. I still haven't gotten away from the move-yearly college mentality.

Speaking of, I'm considering a move to the city in the next few months. Ali might be moving to San Francisco. If so, rent would be a little higher (but not much, surprisingly. While the home sales market in San Francisco is insane, rents have not made a similar rise), but parking would be around $200 a month. That seems excessive. There's a shuttle to Google, so I'd likely sell my car and rent Zipcars when necessary.
Friday, January 20, 2006
Google News
ABC News was at work today. They did the evening news from here.

Had you been watching closely, you would have caught a glimpse of Doctor Awesome.

I was sitting on the wooden beam.

Story here.

Update: Webcast here.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Old blog
I've talked to the people at the UPL and got back into the database. I've changed all the permissions so that the old blog (kinda) works. Mind the error messages.

I'm going to try to import all of the stuff onto this blog using the Blogger API.

I'm actually having a lot of fun reading these old entries. They go back to May 2004.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Minimum Wage
Good article in the New York Times magazine this week:

What is a Living Wage?

Excellent overview of the topic in the United States, with a particularly good section outlining the importance of Card and Krueger's Myth and measurement: The New Economics of the Minimum Wage. As an economics student, the potential backfiring effects of a minimum wage increase are pounded into your head (mandated higher wages reduces the demand for minimum-wage workers, hurting those that such laws are meant to help).

But empirical econometric data from Card and Krueger have stirred interest in the topic among economists--apparently, such laws don't have a significant impact on unemployment. What was once presented as a truism in introductory economics textbooks is now, itself, crumbling. There are now--get this--economists supporting an increase in the minimum wage.

Earned income tax credits are also cool. It's really sad that 15-25% go uncollected.
Saturday, January 14, 2006
Around the World
I've got this blog hooked up to Google Analytics. One of my favorite things about it is the Geo Map Overlay.

There's a screenshot of the last 500 hits posted on a map (yes, Wisconsin is a bit overrepresented).

Since there's a link off the Google Blog to this blog, I get a lot of pretty random traffic (40% of traffic comes from the Google Blog. About 70% of all visitors are new visitors). And it's really cool to see where they're coming from. People from India, Japan, Russia, Brazil, and Australia read about me bowling in Nekoosa, Wisconsin.

It sneaks up on you, but sometimes you get these gentle little reminders that the Internet is totally sweet.
These are my friends with the machetes.
I spent the evening at home for once, trying to blow off some steam. I played guitar for a while, and then started surfing old friends' sites.

I came across this photo of Alex's. I had forgotten how much I loved it. Alex is the one in the sandals.

If you click, the caption reads "These are my friends with the machetes. Nice folks."

The photo is from his trip last summer to Guatemala. He's told me the story. These guys aren't criminals. They're a citizen police force that patrols the streets at night.

I also came across the Isthmus's Flickr page. It was a nostolgic romp through Madison. Man, I miss that city.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Yes sir, Mr. President
In college, I was relatively politically active and was fortunate enough to get the chance to shake hands with Al Gore, Howard Dean, and John Kerry while they were campaigning. Since then, I've started getting worried that shaking hands with me was bad luck for Presidential aspirants, as none of them ever made it to the Oval Office.

Until today, I've never seen a President in person. Since I'm a rather loyal Democrat and the Democratic Party has made a hobby of losing the presidency (well, or at least not getting their candidate sworn in), I'd really only have two opportunities: Clinton and Carter

Quick side story: my Republican music professor in college once met George W. Bush in 2000. He was visiting family friends out-of-state and the campaign happened to come through. He mentioned that he was a professor at Madison and was voting for him, and I think Bush quipped something like "I guess that's one."

Today, Jimmy Carter visited the 'Plex to talk about the Carter Center and talk about his bestselling book. I had told my mom he was coming--she said she was jealous. Last night, I dug through my old moving boxes in my room and got out one of the sentimental items I had brought with me: a 1976 Carter-Mondale button that I bought from an antiques store in Minocqua, Wisconsin. I wore it to the talk today.

I got down to the talk early to snag a good seat. At 81, he came across as very articulate and passionate. He's gotten a lot of flak for breaking the "unwritten rule" of the post-Presidency: no criticizing the current administration. He met with Fidel Castro in 2002. He's been pretty vocal in his opposition to the Bush administration, likening them to fundamentalists abroad.

He often brings up the topic of his own faith. It really gets to me.

(Just to point this out, now would be a good time to read that disclaimer on the left about me not speaking for my employer)

I'm a Democrat from a rural area. That's an increasingly rare statement. Somehow, in the last 25 years, the Democratic party has lost its position with hard-working, religious, rural America. My church growing up didn't have this rabid obsession with homosexuality and abortion (See the ELCA's statements on homosexuality, abortion, and the death penalty).

The Democratic Party has been doing terribly with religious groups. Partially, it's due to the galvanizing effect of Roe v. Wade, when socially conservative Christians really began to take an interest in the political process.

It bothers me that Christians can blindly follow the Republican Party while they're gutting social services, starting wars, stuffing cronies into the bureaucracy, and suffering lobbying ethics scandals. I'm no Biblical scholar, but I remember there being a lot more in there about helping the poor that what you would assume by the way the party is acting. So I'm glad Carter is saying something about it. Somebody has to.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
No, not really.
Those of you that know me in person know that I have an exceptionally dry sense of humor.

My brothers and I get our humor from our Dad's side, where coming up with the off-hand, one-line witty comment is a form of sport. My mother's side is much more the memorize-a-joke type. Family events with that side is an exercise in bearing through an onslaught of jokes that you've likely heard before or didn't want to hear in the first place.

The first key to dry witty humor is speed--in conversation, after a statement is made, one has a split-second to come up with something and spit it out or it's not worth saying. For me, this has become almost reflexive.

The second key is the deadpan delivery--after the line, one must remain relatively serious. The deliverer can't "push his own joke" by trying to instigate laughter by laughing himself.

Back in the Midwest, I never really had a problem with people understanding when I was and was not joking. This style of humor is simply endemic to the region. Letterman and Carson are from from Indiana and Nebraska. On public radio, think of Wisconin's Feldman's Whad'ya Know? or Minnesota's Keillor's Prairie Home Companion. Feldman's career is based on the wise crack. In Keillor's funniest moments, he's delivering the material with the utmost earnestness and sincerity.

Sometimes on the weekends, I force fellow car occupants to listen A Prairie Home Companion. They don't get why it's funny.

Now, living in California, I find there to be a bit of a humor barrier. Much too frequently, one of my comments will result in a blank stare back at me. Oftentimes, people don't understand that I'm joking; they wonder why I would say such an odd and random thing. Sometimes, they begin debating me on the point. I have to then stop them and explain that I was being sarcastic--I didn't mean what I said.

This has become a minor annoyance in my day-to-day life.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Up In Smoke
From my hometown paper:

Owner Sentenced for Torching House

The house was here.

I remember seeing the house go up. It was two Augusts ago, and I was home from college before classes started. I had gone to church that morning with my family. Driving home, we saw a huge plume of black smoke, miles beyond where our house was. It looked like it could have been a forest fire, but the smoke looked too dark for that, which made us fear that a plane might have gone down. We drove up as close as we could until we saw the police cars barricading the road.
Monday, January 09, 2006
Adventures in Small-Town America
Note: This post was originally started December 30th while I was home, but I didn't finish it until now.

I, as a devoted Keillor fan, would be fooling myself if I were to count my hometown among those that inspired the fabled Lake Wobegon. Wisconsin Rapids is on the far eastern edge of the plains-state Norwegian ELCA Lutheran demographic. While there is farming around here, the area's economic history is much more deeply rooted in Great-Lakes-region manufacturing. The convergence of forests and a river made the city a quintessential mill town, its fate tied to the greater boom and bust of the manufacturing sector in this country. The primary employer in this city was Consolidated Papers, started in 1894, and bought out in 2000 by the Swedish-Finnish Stora Enso. Many nearby communities were dependent on other paper-making companies. The Nekoosa and Port Edwards mills were run by the Nekoosa-Edwards Paper Company, which merged with Great Northern in 1970 to create the Great Northern Nekoosa Paper Corporation, which merged into Georgia Pacific, who sold the plants to Domtar in 2001 (GP itself was bought out about a month and a half ago by Koch).

In Rapids, at least, the Consolidated buyout has been difficult on the town. After the buyout came rounds of layoffs. Not many new families are moving to the area, and they recently announced the closing of the elementary school where I went to kindergarten. There are two shopping malls, both of which have a sizable number of conspicuously vacant storefronts. There are now eight separate cash advance shops in three miles of 8th Street, the city's main drag, (and there are surely more elsewhere) serving a population of a bit over 18,000 . They've gone up primarily because they're profitable and because there are plenty of vacant storefronts with low rents. I don't remember there being any when I was growing up.

My growing up in a small industrial town is why, despite my background in economics, I'm merely a tepid free trader. Yes, I understand that by opening up markets, capital will be reallocated to more efficient applications. But those same forces have been tearing right into my hometown over the last decade. It gets really sad to go back.

A friend of mine and I spent three nights hitting the town. We're both graduates of the local Lincoln High School and have gone on to lead relatively interesting lives. I'm a software engineer in Silicon Valley--he's in grad school near Chicago, studying viola. Most of our friends that were home for the holidays only stayed a few days. We passed the time by dropping by drinking and bowling establishments in the area each night. Part of it was an extension of our adolescence--we weren't able to visit the bars in high school, and, having returned home, we got to see a separate world that we knew existed but never saw.

Our first night out, we stuck to the city, visiting "bar row," the small street of bars that stood on the other side of the river from what was, before the city sprawled eastward, the downtown. Nick and I haven't seen each other for a number of years, so we spent the time catching up at Hollyrocks. We headed to Johnny's on 8th, then headed on the highway out of town and visited Goose's, and stopped back at bar row to help The Bar close.

But the second night was much more interesting. We decided to go bowling, so we stopped at Bowlmor Lanes in town, but it was packed. We figured we'd have better luck if we headed towards Nekoosa to Evergreen Lanes, a pretty rurally isolated alley. Nick and I bowled a few games. It was certainly a departure from my days spent around Silicon Valley types. A few lanes over, a teenager was bowling with a completely transparent bowling ball that had, encased inside, a confederate flag.

We continued across the river to Nekoosa, Wisconsin, population 2,590, and drove up to one of the paper mills. Across the street were the four or five bars frequented by after-shift workers. We went into one, took a seat at the bar, and ordered pints of Point (at an amazing $1.50 each). We eventually struck up a conversation with two colorful brothers, probably around 50 years old, that worked at the mill next door.

The older of the two was the talker. What began as a discussion of the Packers (his tirade against Mike Sherman, interestingly enough, foreshadowed Sherman's firing the next week) flowed into stories of him and his brother bringing a fake wheelchair to get into the front of the line for the rides at Six Flags. He launched into a denunciation of NAFTA and outlined conspiracy theories concerning credit card companies and government tracking of financial data. I hardly followed.

But Nick and I were thoroughly entertained and pleased to have spent the evening there. We stayed at the bar until near closing, then went for a walk around the small downtown (which, primarily, is bars, a mill, and a gas station). The temperature was just above freezing, and a light drizzling rain was falling, giving the well-lit mill a bit of a halo. Other than the drone of the mill, the town was silent. I contemplated the town for a bit. It's been around for a long time, but it's hardly a speck on the map.

The third night we went out with Clara, another friend from school who was back for the holidays from Mali, where she was on a Fullbright. We bowled again, but then headed out, past Nekoosa. We saw a sign for Rainbow Casino, which was past Nekoosa on the highway. I had never been.

We stopped for a beer and then put a few dollars into the slot machines. The casino was brightly lit (with the same drizzling halo effect as the mill) and isolated out on a rural highway with an incredible number of cars outside for a Thursday night. Inside, there wasn't much else than the constant beeping of the slot machines--hardly anyone talking. People that looked like they didn't have quarters to spare were plugging the machines with quarters, eyes glued to the screens. I felt bad, like I was intruding. The scene was depressing.

I've never been fond of the concept of casinos. They seem to feed off of people's irrationality--exploiting a psychological weakness and, in the process, skimming money from folks that don't have a lot to begin with. The bells and lights seem so heartless, mindlessly flashing and grabbing attention to draw people to them, half-promising the clanking of flowing coins if you just pull one more time.

We left and hit a bar on the way home, playing darts until closing time.

It was really weird to be back.
Sunday, January 08, 2006
The Sog Blog
Paulzy and I have an odd relationship. The fact that it even exists is pretty serendipitous. When Dave and I were doing SERFing, he happened to see the blog title pop up on the main Blogger site, recognized the name (the SERF is the Southeast Recreational Facility), visited and left a message. As a result, I started reading his blog. Eventually, I dropped him a note that we should pick up a beer sometime, and met in the real world after, probably, 9 months. Now I count him in my circle of friends even though we've probably only met up with each other a handful of times in the real world.

We have a surprising amount in common--primarily, we're both liberals from roughly the same geographic area of Northern Wisconsin. I've always had an interest in "prairie progressivism," the old-school rural politics of the DFL and the even old-schoolier Progressive Party (you ever been to a Democratic Party meeting in a town of 866 people? I have. Several). Give the two of us beer and barstools and we'll chat (increasingly nonsensically as intoxication increases) for hours.

Anyway, to avoid doing work at work, there's often a flurry of e-mails between the two of us (he still lives near Madison). The topics generally revolve around politics, sports, and the tech industry. But we also both like discussing Paul Soglin, Madison's former mayor (somebody out there, please write a Wikipedia entry). My mom's also a fan, as he was mayor when she was at Wisconsin. He's the former "Red Mayor" that came to power out of the anti-war protests of the late 60's and matured to become a rather pragmatic and effective public administrator. Ironically enough, he was narrowly beaten from the left in 2003 general election by the current Mayor Dave (who I also admire) after the unpopular incumbent Sue Bauman lost in the primary.

Reading the WSJ today (the Wisconsin State Journal, not that crony rag from New York), I saw this article:

Political bloggers blossom in Wisconsin

In the article, they mentioned Paul Soglin's blog, Waxing America, that he apparently started in October. It should be interesting reading. I've put it on the menu on the left (no pun intended).
Sunday, January 01, 2006
Be it resolved...
If this is 2006, then SERFing was started almost two years ago. SERFing was the blog that Dave and I originally started to document our New Year's Resolution to go to the gym. It was my first blog ever on Blogger.

Being geeks, we had to include technology. After each workout, we entered our workout data into a MySQL database that ran on a computer in my dorm room. That computer also ran an Apache server that served a few PHP scripts that used JpGraph to make graphs of that data. A tiny bit of Javascript in the Blogger template, and there was an image in the margin that visitors could play with and select which things they wanted graphed.

The most motivating graph, however, was the graph of our weights. Dave, being a twig of a boy, stayed pretty constant, but SERFing visitors were able to watch as I dropped 20 pounds over a few months. It was a pretty good motivator. The following summer was my Crazy Biking Summer, where my new blog was primarily about how I biked a lot.

I've really been slacking since that summer. Last school year I was busy with a lot of credits and a half-time job. Last summer, I was busy with moving across the country. This last fall I've been busy with working like crazy.

So, my New Year's resolution (drumroll...):

I will finally run a freakin marathon this year. The San Francisco Marathon, in fact. I might even have people to do it with me.

It's quite a ways off, so my resolution is to start running around the 'plex to get back into running shape.

But Doctor Awesome, how will you fit this into your busy schedule?

Every day, I take an hour-long lunch in during which I make up sarcastic things to say to people I'm sitting with (sometimes I even say them). With my new plan, I will go running during those lunches (initially twice a week, then thrice).

How do you plan to stay motivated?

Tech! Over break, I've updated my old GPS demo to be a prototype running log. This being 2006, it uses AJAX and XML. Web 2.0, man.

If you're using a browser that supports the canvas tag (Firefox 1.5+ or recent Safari), you'll see a graph of altitude and speed. I hope to make the log actually good in the near future. It runs off of XML files generated by my Forerunner.

I may also motivate myself by buying a Nano or something if I'm still actually doing this in March.

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