Friday, June 30, 2006

Proud To Be American

I ran the Washington Duke cross country trail the other day. At my speed, I probably should classify it as a jog. For those not from around Duke, the trail is basically a 3 mile path through the woods around the perimeter of the hotel and golf course. People from Connecticut would classify it as a little hilly. People from Texas (or Florida) could easily mistake the trail for the Rocky Mountains. I know because I was collaborating with Rice University last week. The biggest hill in Houston is an onramp.

The point is I was wearing a T-Shirt running that had a US flag and said “Proud to be an American”. (I still remember buying that shirt in the East Campus store shortly after the attacks on September 11, 2001.) After my run, I stopped at Sam’s Quik Shop to get a Gatorade. I was thirsty. When paying for my drink I was practically interrogated by the clerk and other shoppers for wearing said shirt. He asked me what exactly I was proud of. At the time I didn’t have a very good answer.

After some pondering, I am now very amused that the guy who makes his living SELLING GASOLINE asked me this question. (For readers in the future: The price of oil today is about $70/barrel and has basically doubled in the past 2 year.) By no means is our country perfect, but that doesn’t mean I’m not proud to be a part of it. We must have something good going for us if one of today’s big issues is illegal immigration.

In demonstration of my patriotism and in honor of our nation’s 230th birthday, I will be hosting my 3rd Annual July 4th BBQ at my house. What could be more American than that?

Also, if you haven't already done so, I highly recommend checking out the winning photos from the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography by Todd Heisler. My favorite is below:

When 2nd Lt. James Cathey's body arrived at the Reno Airport, Marines climbed into the cargo hold of the plane and draped the flag over his casket as passengers watched the family gather on the tarmac. During the arrival of another Marine's casket last year at Denver International Airport, Major Steve Beck described the scene as one of the most powerful in the process. "See the people in the windows? They sit right there in the plane, watching those Marines. You gotta wonder what's going through their minds, knowing that they're on the plane that brought him home," he said. "They're going to remember being on that plane for the rest of their lives. And they should."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

On advice

I have found that when one seeks the advice of another person it takes one of three forms. Alice and Bob are the two generic characters in any worthwhile cryptography example, so I will use them here. For those not familiar with our friends, Alice traditionally tries to send a message to Bob. (More on Alice and Bob at Wikipedia)

Here, it is Alice asking for Bob’s advice. This will be amusing because I’m officially using generic names, but they carry obvious gender externalities. Keep this in mind the next time you are asked things like “Does this dress make me look fat?”

The three forms:

  1. Alice genuinely wants Bob’s advice. Alice has some problem in which she feels Bob is either as or more qualified to handle. If he was less knowledgeable about the subject, Alice would find someone else to ask for advice. (Insert cryptographic reference: she could ask Carol or Charlie)
  2. Alice has a problem, but already has a solution in the back of her mind. She asks Bob for advice, but really wants reassurance in making this decision. Alice wants Bob to reflect Alice’s already defined opinion back her to alleviate her doubts.
  3. Alice has a problem, but doesn’t actually want to move closer to a resolution. Alice wants to share frustration with Bob, and simply rant about her situation. The problem may eventually be solved, but not now. To avoid talking to herself, Alice talks to Bob.

Let us analyze:

In situation one, Alice must admit that Bob is better suited to solve the problem. This can actually be pretty hard to do, depending on the circumstances. There’s a comfort associated with being in control of a situation. Inherently, you give that up when following the lead of another person. If asking for advice in this form, we must first ask ourselves a question. Would we follow the other person’s advice even if we don’t understand their reasoning?

Situation two is interesting because it may be difficult for Bob to know what the hidden solution is. If Bob doesn’t know what the ‘right’ answer is, he may unintentionally propose a different solution. This can be disastrous because Alice was simply seeking reassurance in the first place.

Lastly, everyone has been in situations where they just need to rant. One calls up a friend initially asking for an opinion or advice, but the conversation quickly turns one sided. Similarities to situation two can be drawn easily, because Alice really just wants support.

I find all three cases completely valid and reasonable. When being asked for advice, though, the first challenge is determining where one fits into the decision making process. Only then, can one appropriately respond.

What do you think?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

My first post

Today, I enter the world of blogging. In the past, I've tried keeping a journal before, but I just never could get into the habit of updating it. It was always a struggle to find the right words to describe the world as I see it. I will try to overcome these obstacles as I look toward the future. As I move forward, I hope to record snippets from my life. Someday, I may enjoy looking back on my adventures. For the time being, I hope this will help me to organize some of my thoughts and provide interested friends with a glimpse of my life. Hopefully it will be entertaining.

I shall set the philosophy aside for now and close with an anecdote from my latest trip to the grocery store:
I was at the deli counter and wanted to purchase some smoked turkey. Casually, I asked the attendant to slice me 0.4 lb. of turkey. She seemed to have significant difficulty interpreting my request, nearly slicing me 4lbs! I explained that I wanted the scale to read 0.4, which is a little less than a half a pound and a little more than a third of a pound. One would have thought Kroger employees would be a little more comfortable with fractions and decimals, especially those working in the deli! Does Harris Teeter have more educated employees? Should I have ordered in ounces or kilograms? (That would have been especially enjoyable.)

My rationale: In the past, I have found that 1 lb is usually good for about 5 sandwiches. I wanted enough for 2 this week, hence the order for 2/5 lb. Anticipating my fraction’s unconventional denominator, I tried to make everyone’s life easier by converting to decimal. Apparently I thought wrong.

My first example of what has been, is, and will become "Classic Portnoy".