Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas vacation recap

As I write this, we are still making our way up I95 from Florida. I didn't sleep well last night so after about 3 1/2 hours on the road this morning I have relinquished the keys to Chrissy somewhere in North Carolina. We are both working tomorrow but should be home by around 3 or 4pm today so all is good.

This trip has certainly been a busy one with visits to multiple theme parks, an Aquarium, and lots of good food.  On the way down we spent a night in Richmond with one of Chrissy's friends, then a night at dad's before hitting up Disney World for the day.  We mostly went to see the magic kingdom expansion but while there I made a great discovery; I can ride (at least some) roller coasters now.

We rode Splash Mountain twice, Big Thunder Railroad once, and much to my surprise, I even fit on Space Mountain for two runs! I forgot how much I enjoyed roller coasters. We ate dinner at Epcot and headed down to Mom's.

The dogs are just as plentiful (7) and crazy as ever. Somehow Mack manages to still get around despite being as large as a horse and 10 1/2 years old.  Mom & George are doing well also.

We managed to meat up with my stepbrother Sean before he headed off to NC and get in some mini golf too. Once Heather and Stacey were in town, we had dinner with everyone (Mom, George, Heather, Stacey, Pop Pop, Chrissy and I) at Stonewood grill and it was amazing.

Heather, Stacey, Chrissy and I all went to Busch Gardens Tampa on Sunday (with my renewed love and fitting in coasters) for another day of fun. While I did need a little assistance getting the harnesses fully strapped on most of the rides, I was able to ride all of the coasters I had planned on. I'll wait until I have had the plastic surgery to hit any more amusement parks though.

Christmas Eve we had the gift exchange followed by a  nice family dinner at Mom's. Chrissy had a few too many cosmos (followed by wine at dinner) so she didn't even make it to desert that night.

Christmas morning we drove up to dad's for our gift exchange and dinner there before Chrissy and I had to hit the road for Maryland. We made it up to Santee, SC last night and left the hotel early this morning before the weather got worse down there.  So, now we are still somewhere in North Carolina and the rain has picked up. I am going to shut my eyes for a few so I can be ready to take back over behind the wheel.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tragedy and Gun Control

I wasn't originally going to write this blog post yet, but my Twitter, Facebook and Google+ feeds are blowing up with gun control ranting on both sides.  On one side is the "OMG BAN THE GUNS" and on the other side is posting of articles about people getting killed with other thing like hammers and then the person asking, "So where is all the crying for hammer legislation?"  First, my prediction: Nothing will change.  The second this happen, every strongly pro-gun person dug in for a battle even before it started.

Ok, so here is my position.  I am fine with people owning guns.  I don't own any, and I have only gone shooting once in my life (trap shooting with a shotgun).  If I did decide a buy a gun, I would choose either a handgun if I felt the need for self-protection or a shotgun if I was mostly buying it for sport (trap shooting).  I am also more moderate in my pro-gun stance in that I would be perfectly fine with the assault weapons ban coming back into place and strict licensing and registration being required for ALL firearms.

Some of the....crazier...people I know would put up VERY strong protest to that because then "the government knows who owns the guns so they know who to go after first."  If our government and political climate were more similar to that of a country that can execute you only for your religious beliefs, I would buy that argument.  If things really did start to get that bad, there would be signs that started ahead of time and those super paranoid people would probably "bug out" at that point anyway and go into hiding.

As for the the right to bear arms, it doesn't say what TYPE of arms you are allowed to own in the constitution.  Does the right to bear arms mean you should be able to buy an AR-15?  How about an F16 with heat-seeking missiles?  It is currently almost impossible to purchase an automatic weapon and not too many people scream about that, so what does an AR-15 buy you instead of a normal hunting rifle, shotgun or hand gun?  I know people who have already started buying several guns (before this recent incident) because they were worried "Obama's gonna take our guns" (which also shows a gross glossing over of the fact that Congress would have to pass something first before the President can sign it).

I am also somewhat conflicted about my opinions on requirements such as trigger guards and gun locks.  If someone has a legitimate concern for public safety and have a gun as a result of that, they wouldn't be able to respond quickly to an intruder.  But if a child lives in the house, I am MORE in support of such devices though (or a small bio-metric gun safe that can be opened quickly).

Regardless, guns and gun control is a very complicated issue that strongly divides our nation.  Personally, I think we should try and solve things like the fiscal cliff before we worry about gun control.  I have no problem with the discussion occurring, but having it occur now won't accomplish much.  Nothing happened after the Congresswoman in Arizona was shot.  Nothing happened after the movie theater shooting.  Nothing happened after the mall shooting just weeks ago.

The Connecticut Tragedy and News Coverage

First, while it seems that Morgan Freeman didn't actually say that quote that everyone is sharing on Facebook, I very much agree with the sentiment.  Here is the quote:
You want to know why. This may sound cynical, but here's why

It's because of the way the media reports it. Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities. [name removed] and [name removed] are household names, but do you know the name of a single *victim* of Columbine? Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basements see the news and want to top it by doing something worse, and going out in a memorable way. Why a grade school? Why children? Because he'll be remembered as a horrible monster, instead of a sad nobody

CNN's article says that if the body count "holds up", this will rank as the second deadliest shooting behind Virginia Tech, as if statistics somehow make one shooting worse than another. Then they post a video interview of third-graders for all the details of what they saw and heard while the shootings were happening. Fox News has plastered the killer's face on all their reports for hours. Any articles or news stories yet that focus on the victims and ignore the killer's identity? None that I've seen yet. Because they don't sell. So congratulations, sensationalist media, you've just lit the fire for someone to top this and knock off a day care center or a maternity ward next.

You can help by forgetting you ever read this man's name, and remembering the name of at least one victim. You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem. You can help by turning off the news.
I have heard that local news outlets and the police don't release articles about people who jump of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to prevent people from doing it just to get their names in the paper.  After the Batman theater shooting, some news outlets refused to print the shooters name or photos on their front page for the first day, but then he was plastered everywhere immediately after that.  I can understand sharing some of the information in the case of public safety (for instance, if the suspect is still at large) but if the suspect is already in custody or dead, don't publish their name.  Don't publish their photo.  Write articles that are about the victims, the act, and the motive, but not the person who carried out the event in the case of these "lone gunman" style attacks.  I even went so far as to remove the two names from the quote above.

Eventually their names and photo may have to be published so that law enforcement can reach out to the public to gather more information but even then, it does not need to be front page news.  Especially if they were killed during the act, there is very little to be gained by allowing them to live on in infamy.  If they are standing trial, publish those details once the trial is underway (which can also help prevent some bias on the part of the jury).  Also, stop using these types of incidents to try and start a conversation about gun control.  It is impossible to have a rational discussion about gun control in America during normal times, but that is infinitely worse immediately after incidents such as this have occurred.  I will write up another blog post about my gun control thoughts another time.  In the mean time, I will close with this.  First, I was relieved to learn that my College roommate's daughter was in a different elementary school 20 minutes away and was safe.  Second, I am going to publish the list of victims below. (Source USAToday)
Charlotte Bacon (2/22/06), 6 years old, female
Daniel Barden (9/25/05), 7 years old, male
Rachel Davino (7/17/83), Staff member, 29 years old, female
Olivia Engel (7/18/06), 6 years old, female
Josephine Gay (12/11/05), 7 years old, female
Ana M. Marquez-Greene (4/4/06), 6 years old, female
Dylan Hockley (3/8/06), 6 years old, male
Dawn Hochsprung (6/28/65), Principal, 47 years old, female
Madeleine F. Hsu (7/10/06), 6 years old, female
Catherine V. Hubbard (6/8/06), 6 years old, female
Chase Kowalski (10/31/05), 7 years old, male
Nancy Lanza, 52 years old, female (mother of shooter)
Jesse Lewis (6/30/06), 6 years old, male
James Mattioli (03/22/06), 6 years old, male
Grace McDonnell (11/4/05), 7 years old, female
Anne Marie Murphy (7/25/60), Staff member, 52 years old, female
Emilie Parker (05/12/06), 6 years old, female
Jack Pinto (05/05/06), 6 years old, male
Noah Pozner (11/20/06), 6 years old, male
Caroline Previdi (9/07/06), 6 years old, female
Jessica Rekos (5/10/06), 6 years old, female
Avielle Richman (11/17/06) 6 years old, female
Lauren Rousseau (June 1982), Staff member, 30 years old, female
Mary Sherlach (2/11/56), Staff member, 56 years old, female
Victoria Soto (11/04/85), Staff member, 27 years old, female
Benjamin Wheeler (09/12/06), 6 years old, male
Allison N. Wyatt (07/03/06), 6 years old, female

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Funny Thing Happened at the Office Holiday Party

I attended my office "Holiday party" today and one of my interns ended up sitting at the same table as me.  At one point they started handing out door prizes by drawing names out of a hat. The person to my right won one, I won the next one, and the person to my left won either the next one or the one after that (someone at another table may have won a prize in there).  They guy who won the first door prize said to my intern "Hey, you are next."  I jokingly said "He's an intern, only 'real people' can win prizes" and we all had a good laugh. Right after I said that, the person to the left of my intern won a door prize.  That's right, it literally skipped JUST my intern.  One other person at our table ended up winning a door prize as well.  After the last person at our table won, the intern would have been next again in the trip around the table, and I said "What do you expect, you have two strikes against you.  You are an intern, and you don't have a soul" (he is a ginger).  He wasn't too happy with me for having not won a door prize.  He swears I cursed him.  Granted, the door prizes were only $5.00 gift cards, but the timing of my original comment was just incredible.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Speed doesn't kill, Δv does

People always like to say "Speed Kills" but really, it isn't the speed that kills, it is the acceleration when you hit something.  If speed killed, we would probably all be dead.  The earth's rotational speed at the equator is over 1,000 mph.  Our rotation around the sun is at 67,000 mph.  Our galaxy is moving at a blistering 600 km/s relative to the universe (600 km/s is about 1.3 MILLION miles per hour)[1].  Going 85 mph is not going to suddenly kill me.  Hitting a wall at 85 mph might do it though, but that is caused by acceleration.

This is why crumple zones exist.  The idea of crumple zones is to make a crash last as long as possible.  That may sound counter intuitive, but velocity = acceleration x time.  If you are going from 85 mph -> 0 mph, the idea is to extend the time to reduce the amount of acceleration and thus reduce the amount of force exerted on your body (because force = mass x acceleration). These are the things you learn in physics class.  I could do more math to prove the point, but why bother?

I will say there is some point where speed can kill when that speed is sufficiently different than the surrounding particles (such as air).  For instance, having something travel at 9/10s of the speed of light at ground level is bad!  For comparison, that is 604 MILLION miles per hour.  I don't know where that threshold is where things go from ok, to painful, to deadly, but people aren't reffering to such extreme speeds when they say "Speed Kills".

The point is, next time someone tells you speed kills, let them know they are wrong in the practical sense.  Well, unless it is a police officer who pulled you over, they might not find it amusing.

While having this discussion with a co-worker, she posed an interesting question which I have told her to submit to what-if.xkcd.com, so I won't spoil that by posting it here, but I hope it is picked because I would love to read the response to that one.

[1]: http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/answers/971028e.html

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Exclusive Rights - And Why They Tend to Screw Consumers

A recent bit of good news actually came out about Netflix streaming and their new exclusive license with Disney.  Now, that is actually somewhat good for me, since I am a Netflix subscriber.  At the same time, I am reminded how much exclusive licenses piss me off and screw consumers.  Let's rewind.

Not that long ago, there were two different licensed NFL Football Video Games available on XBox.  Madden and NFL2K5.  Madden was $49, NFL2K5 was $19.  I bought NFL2K5 despite the fact that I had been a Madden fan-boy for years.  I was amazed by how good of a product NFL2K5 was and was glad I bought that one.  Shortly after that, Electronics Arts inked an exclusive deal with the NFL and the NFLPA, eliminating their competition in both price and innovation.  EA made tons of money, the NFL made tons of money, gamers got screwed!

2K Sports responded by inking a similar deal with MLB.  Surprise, surprise, same result.  MLB and 2K sports - Happy.  Gamers - Screwed!

As different studios sign exclusive deals with different streaming services, that means people who want to stream all of the movies they may want they have to subscribe to multiple streaming services.  Want to get all of the NFL games every week?  You'll be forking over money to DirectTV, even if you are streaming them ONLINE.

So, as a Netflix subscriber I am happy they inked their deal with Disney, but I feel bad for anyone who uses any other online streaming service.  Exclusive licenses mostly suck for consumers, but since they seem to be good for studios*, don't expect them to change.  *Except for the exclusive contract between MLB and 2K Sports, that apparently didn't work out well for 2K Sports.