Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Just… no

Started drafting this for the work blog, but I don’t think it’s really appropriate. But it amuses me, so I’ll put it here.

One of the side effects of our new website is that I’m getting a lot more email asking me to sponsor posts or trade links or have someone write a “special” post for our site. Sometimes I’ll ignore them, because they really do appear to be automatic mail and not actually written by anyone who has visited our site.

Also, the few times I’ve responded, I’ve had bad responses. Sometimes people try to argue with me about saying no. Yesterday was one that made me laugh, though. Someone wrote in to the contact address. The entire mail:

I was wondering — How would someone go about sponsoring or advertising on your website?

Thanks,

XXXXXXX

I was pretty sure this was just another spammer scraping addresses, but I responded with “You can’t.” Short, sweet, and to the point; much like his original email. Apparently Mr. Partnership Director didn’t like this response and sends me:

Smart of you to turn down $100,000.00 partnership

I have to admit, I laughed, a lot. Mr “oh so innocent inquiry about sponsorship” now turns into someone offering me a $100K partnership. Nice try. I don’t believe you. (Plus, anyone who was going to approach me with a partnership is going to send mail To Me rather than our generic contact address. In fact! THEY HAVE!)

If you approach someone out of the blue, you don’t get to dictate how they respond to you, and sometimes those responses aren’t going to be what you expected. Yes, I probably could have been more polite and spend time explaining that this is not an advertising supported blog and that we don’t accept sponsored posts. But I was running out the door to a meeting when I saw it, and it was pretty clear he hadn’t put much time into thinking about how he was approaching me. So why should I put time into thinking about how I was responding to him?

Sometimes I really wish spammers weren’t so damn stupid.

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Happy Thanksiving

I’m thankful for so many things these days. It’s not been the best year ever, but it has been full of growth (even if that’s painful).

I’m thankful for Steve and the cats and the life we’ve built for ourselves.

I’m thankful for friends and family.

I’m thankful many of my friends are on the far side of struggles with medical issues, money and jobs.

I’m thankful for the people the universe dumped into my path and forced me to trip over in order to get out of a rut.

I’m thankful that I am able to live in the Bay Area. It is a bit of the world that just suits me and that makes me happy. From the city density to the open spaces, the bay to the coast, the feeling that this is home.

We had a quiet day today. A fairly simple dinner for us: roast chicken, roasted veggies and green beans. I made an apple, persimmon and mincemeat pie (based off this recipe, but I had fewer apples than I thought so I bulked it out with persimmons). Haven’t tried it, yet, but we’ll have that later with some custard.

 

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Science

Science isn’t truth. Science is a method for determining facts. Science is about asking questions and doing the best we can to find the right answers. It’s about understanding our biases as scientists and thinking “OK, now, this may be the answer I wanted / was expecting / will get me funding. Is it really true? What ELSE could be causing this? How can I look at this from a different angle? If I do, what should I expect to be the answer if I’m right?”

It’s about how to look at and think about questions in a way that gives you a way to ask the next questions. It lets you model things in a way that allows you to predict the answer to the next question. If the prediction is wrong, then so is your understanding and you need to take a step back and look at the previous question.

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I don’t normally set resolutions. But that doesn’t mean I don’t set goals. Recently I set the goal that I was going to stop letting the kitchen get so bad that it took 2 cycles of the dishwasher to clear enough space to actually cook.

I’m pleased to say that over the last few weeks this has been a success. And, in fact, it’s become a habit to deal with the kitchen and the dishes. I’ve decluttered many of the kitchen drawers over the last few weeks, among other projects

It’s February and so I’m undergoing my fairly normal seasonal depression. This tends to make everything seem just such a challenge. Getting out of bed? It’s a challenge. Work projects? They’re a challenge. I’ve been desperately hoping that organizing my space will help soothe my mind and lower my stress. It’s not, really. But I have much cleaner spaces in the house which makes it a little easier to tackle the next space.

There is so much more to do to make the house presentable. I’ve been taking on some smaller projects that give me a cleaner space and that’s helping me at least see some progress. OTOH, there are some big projects that need to be done (the office, the garage and the master bedroom closet) but all of those have mostly shared stuff, so that needs to be cooperative but I’m not sure either of us are in a good headspace for cooperative right now).

This weekend I was going to clean our kitchen bookshelf and pull off all the non-cookbooks. But then I looked at it and decided it was somehow symbolic of our lives (being a mixture of textbooks, computer books and cookbooks) and I wasn’t sure I was ready to get rid of that.

I should start running again. Monday. Hah.

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Full Circle

I wrote this for the work blog, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for there. But, I think it’s not a bad bit of reflection, so I’ll post it here.

My first job in the anti-abuse / email space was working for a company that outsourced abuse desk and security services to large network providers. Previous to that I had been working as a researcher in various molecular biology labs. Academia and research have their own culture and one major part of it is that if you tell someone the facts as you know them you don’t have to pay much attention to tone. The facts, and the science, speaks for itself.

Moving from that environment to the emotionally charged one of abuse and compliance was a bit of a shock. Early on in my career change, a large customer of the network provider had some spam issues. I was part of a group of people, including individuals from a major blacklisting company and representatives of the network provider, that headed down to Mountain View for a discussion with the customer about their mailing practices.

After the meeting, my boss told me that one of the staffers at the customer described me as ‘combative and un-helpful.’ My boss didn’t have a problem with this, it was my job to be the hard line and enforce the network provider’s policies. And part of why I was hired into that position was my rather blunt communication style: explain the facts and let reality speak for itself.

Despite the fact that my boss was totally supportive of me, I thought a lot about that meeting and being called ‘combative and unhelpful.’ I wondered if I couldn’t be more effective by learning to speak in a more open and less confrontational way.

I still believe there are times when being blunt and ‘combative and un-helpful’ is an appropriate reaction to a situation. Sometimes you need to draw a line in the sand and hold that line. But there are also cases where moving a discussion forward takes someone to lighten up a bit, someone to be friendly and helpful, even in the midst of conflict.

Today I got an email from someone telling me my recent participating in a high conflict situation have been “helpful and non-combative.” The word choice so reflected and contradicted that earlier VP’s statements, I had to laugh.

I still hate conflict. But I’m getting a lot better at it.

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I knew it…

WordPress suggested tags for my post last night.

Snapshot 1:10:13 9:18 AMApparently, even WordPress thinks bacon is a vegetable. Or at least food prepared with bacon is vegetarian.

I knew it.

 

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Gun Control, mental health and rights

One of the things I’m seeing a number of people say is “one guy with a shoe bomb and I have to take off my shoes to get on an airplane. But we can’t talk about gun control!”

I hate airport security theater. Hate. Hate. Hate. It is evil, it strips rights away from law abiding people in the US. It is borne of a need to look like we’re doing something and distracts from what we could be doing to actually make air travel safer. I am a firm believer that if a terrorist gets to an airport, that is a security failure in and of itself. Terrorists should be stopped before they get to the airport.

Or the school.

I’ve been mostly following the coverage on the BBC website. I don’t trust most of the US outlets to fact check before they publish something. One thing I saw today is that he tried to buy a gun yesterday, but was turned away from the store.

That tells me that more gun control isn’t necessarily the answer. The laws we have in place stopped him from buying a gun. The weapons he used were legally purchased. The “security theater” in this case is stopping people from lawfully buying guns if they may have a family member that is unstable or prone to violence.

Um. Isn’t that most of us?

I don’t quite understand most of the people who so loudly argue that guns are a right. To me, they sound very, very scared of everything and think the only way to protect themselves is to arm themselves. But I do understand rights, and I do know that the courts have upheld the 2nd amendment in ways that mean we should respect those rights. (Oh, how I wish someone had standing to take a 4th amendment case to the Supreme court, but that’s a bit of a pipe dream.)

I also don’t necessarily buy that he was mentally ill. Not everyone who acts in an evil fashion is doing it from illness. Sometimes they are just Bad and Wrong. And they do Bad and Wrong things. But that is something that we will know more about in the days to come.

I do think, though, that there is something about our current culture that has gone off the rails. I don’t even know what the underlying issue might be, or how to tease out what to do about it. But it really seems like there is a lack of inhibition or an inability to deal with anger or frustration that triggers certain people to do awful things. We think about it when we hear about these mass shootings. But I can’t help thinking there is a socialization problem. Something we, as a society, are failing at. Or maybe not.

But, I can’t help thinking we’ve gone wrong somewhere. I just have no idea where.

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Another day, another shooting

I don’t really have words right now. Like many people I am shocked and heartbroken about the shooting in CT today. All those little kids just … gone. The VA Tech shootings were hard for me, because I spent 4 years of my life on that campus. But this, somehow, seems much, much worse. I saw someone comment that the empty classroom would follow students through their school years, and yeah, it will.

Many of the folks on my friends list posted a West Wing clip.

…The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They’re our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars. God bless their memory, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

I also wish that we, as a nation, could have a conversation about gun control. I wish we could talk about why these tragedies happen. I wish we could have a discussion about the problem. I wish we could talk about it. Despite what Pres. Bartlett said above, we apparently can’t meet the challenge. We may not be able to do what is hard.

Because today is too soon. And tomorrow is too soon. And next week will be too late. And then we’ll have another shooting. And then it will be too soon. And then it will be too late.

Are we really so incapable of meeting the challenge of mass shootings?

There are too many angels in heaven tonight. There are too many empty beds and empty arms. And I have no faith that this will not happen over and over and over again. And we can’t even have a conversation about guns.

Here’s where I feel like I have to put in a disclaimer because otherwise people are going to go nucking futz trying to paint me as an anti-gun person. I’m not anti-gun. I’m not sure regulation or gun control is a solution. It’s very possible it won’t be. But we can’t even discuss it, and that makes me sad.

Why can’t we discuss it? What is wrong with having the conversation?

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Ralfaca as therapy

I wrote this as a long comment on FB, but don’t see any reason not to post it here.

Something has been bothering me about the whole Ann Romney / Ralfaca thing, and I finally figured out what it was. Everyone is taking the “Ralfaca is a therapy horse” at face value. But she’s not a therapy horse, she’s a high end performance athlete. At the level Ralfaca competes at putting someone who needs riding therapy on her is going to harm her performance. That’s not a criticism, there are people that have horses shown by their trainers and they Do Not Ride them during the competition season.

In the back of my mind I’ve always wondered what kind of therapy Ann Romney does on Ralfaca. Riding a grand prix dressage horse is not easy. The dressage barn I interviewed at for an instructor position (oh these billion years ago) had one grand prix horse that was used to teach riders what the proper moves felt like. But not just anyone was allowed to ride him.

Also, therapy horses need to have certain personalities. “Bombproof” would be the colloquial term for it. Particularly for someone with MS, who may not have the muscular control that is needed to stay in the saddle when something scary happens. And we’ve seen that even grand prix horses can spook and have a bit of a issue (see: David Marcus at the Olympic dressage competition).

I’m pretty convinced that Ralfaca is not an actual therapy horse for her. This doesn’t mean I have any problem with her owning an expensive Grand Prix horse, or backing Jan Ebling and his farm, or supporting the team. That’s how many of the really great riders make their living. But just because she owns the horse doesn’t mean she rides her. And I don’t think she does, at least not regularly enough to “get relief from MS.”

 

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Someone is wrong on the internet

A long time ago, when I was deep in my research career, I spent a lot of time answering biology and physiology questions online in some of the pet newsgroups. I was somewhat naïve and still believed people would always make rational choices when presented with facts.

(Stop laughing. I still believe it. I just know it’s more about how I want the world to work rather than how the world actually works. The facts say I’m wrong that people are always rational actors.)

I learned, though, that there were a lot of people who didn’t want facts. They wanted their biases confirmed and their choices validated. It taught me a lot about online arguing. Sometimes it wasn’t worth arguing with people, it wasn’t worth confronting their errors and biases because they weren’t in a place to hear the facts.

There was one case, though, where I didn’t speak up. And someone lost a beloved pet because I didn’t choose to confront the woo. It didn’t mean I confronted woo more often, but it did mean that I would address bad or poor biology.

I’m currently watching a online friend drive down a road where she is buying into a lot of bad biology. It’s clearly desperation. She isn’t a rational actor because she’s been dealing with this illness for years. I am struggling with interfering. I don’t think what she’s doing is actively harmful, and it’s clear medicine doesn’t have an answer for the problem.

I don’t want to increase her pain or her stress. She’s doing the best she can do. I don’t think this will result in permanent damage. But what if I’m wrong? What if a quiet word about how she shouldn’t trust this website to solve all her problems will prevent harm? Is challenging her conceptions themselves harmful to where she is now?

If only people actually were rational. Then providing facts would not be such a confrontation.

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