Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Report on the combined Midwest - Intermountain regional Salsa Night

It was a complete success. Salsa was eaten. Marshmellows were roasted. Conversations were had. Jokes were made. Fights among 2 year olds were broken up. Unfortunately, the only pictures that were taken are on Jon and Katie's camera, and we don't expect them to post those here until they get back to Michigan- plus the fact that we didn't remember to take pictures until after Morgan and Alison had left.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Jumping Tracks

So its been a year and 5 months since I started applying for jobs and wouldn't you know it, I'm still unemployed. I've therefore decided to channel John McCain and temporarily suspend my campaign for pres.. I mean for gainful employment. Like McCain, I am not calling off my campaign, I'm just shifting my attention to more immediate concerns, namely, our meltdown in my family's financial sector. I have decided that to rescue my families financial crisis it will require a quick infusion of capital to stabilize things and prevent a run by all the creditors on our bank account. My economic advisors have advised me that even though this is not a long term solution to our financial problems, it is a necessary step to restore confidence in my families financial system.

In all seriousness though, I've scaled back considerably the amount of time I spend looking for jobs that eventually will either ignore me or reject me. Instead, I am continuing the subbing, but also added side jobs like installing sprinkler systems, refinishing hardwood floors, and tutoring. What has surprised me is how lucrative the field of tutoring can be- I put a few ads on craigslist, and I already have 7-8 regular clients (1-5 times per week) just 2 weeks after I put the ads up. My schedule is now full.

I'm not a big believer in things happening for reasons- if your dog got run over, it was an accident. God did not plan that. If you lost your job, well, life just sucks sometimes and you just have to pull yourself up again- God is not out to get you, and I don't even think he made you lose your job so that he could teach you neat things about patience. What he does do is help you take the random crap that happens to you and make you grow with it.

However, my job situation is.... a little weird. Lets face it, the unemployment rate for physics phd's is like 1%. Nearly everyone gets a job after they graduate with a physics phd. Am I broken? Could it be that God is causing this to push me in another direction? Does He do that? I didn't think so, but, I have been known to be wrong.

I few months ago, I had this idea pop into my head for a business. When I first thought of it, I couldn't stop thinking about it. That first night I layed in bed for hours thinking about it before finally coming downstairs at 2 in the morning to do a little internet research on it before I could go to bed. It was all I could think about for days. I went on vacation to Seattle, and after being distracted by a potential job offer there for a week or so (and one in Orem), I'm back thinking about it because a friend in my ward I had talked to about it brought it up and told me a business associate of his wants to do something similar- except he wants to handle all the advertising for the company. This same friend told me he could think of a bunch of people who would 100% be customers of this company. Another friend that same day told me he knew people who would definitely spend thousands of dollars with our company. Again, I can't stop thinking about it.

The problem is, I've run some numbers, and the only way for this company to be profitable is for it to become Walmart sized with revenue streams of billions of dollars. Thats just crazy talk to think a guy like me could start or handle something that big. Maybe Walmart is a stretch, but it needs to be big to work- not big at all at once, I mean it will have time to grow over several years, but the model works best at large scales. But people don't come out of nowhere with no money and start a company as big as Google. Do they?

So thats my dilemma. I've got an idea I think will really work. I've got life circumstances that seem to be pushing me to make my own success rather than working for someone else's success at an established company. If all continues as it seems to be developing, our financial situation will stabilize with these odd jobs and tutoring. But I keep running up against the wall of thinking that this is too big for me. I've never run a business. Its just too big. Could I really do it? I don't know.

But I've decided to make the initial steps. I know someone in the industry in question, and he has agreed to meet with me and go over my ideas and business plan. At least then I'll have a professional opinion on whether it is even feasible. I'm going to talk to the advertising guy and see what his ideas are. I'm going to talk to another guy I know who runs his own company and pick his brain on the ins and outs of employing people and moving materials and getting labor done, and how those all might apply to my idea.

After all that, if I get the green light from these people, and possibly Jenny, you might be reading the ramblings of the next Henry Paulson. He is bald, after all.

Or, in a few months one of you will ask me "what ever happened to that idea...", and I'll stare blankly at the screen and type "what idea?".


Midwest chapter - Intermountain chapter Salsa Night

We are pleased to announce the 2nd annual combined Midwest chapter - Intermountain chapter Salsa Night. It will take place on Monday, September 29th at around 6:00 pm at the Webb residence. Salsa and beverages provided - byoc.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tooting Jenny's horn (again)

I remember tooting Jenny's horn a few months ago here when I told everyone about the online seminar on Alma 32 that she was participating in. Well they finished that up, and held a conference at BYU, each presenting the papers they all wrote as a result. It was featured today on the front page of the online religion section of the Deseret News. When the podcast comes out, listen to Jenny's- its quite good, and even pretty understandable for a layman like me (or is it laman?)


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Want a Good Laugh

This is by far one of the funniest things I have ever heard. Enjoy.


It's Alive!!!

I've always been jealous of Nick's garden - hundreds of tomatoes, peppers, onions, lettuce, tomatillos and more. So this year I decided to plant my own little Washington garden. I chose two spots (as an experiment) and planted the same set of tomatos and peppers in each. In one spot, the plants grew and grew and grew, but there were few flowers and no tomatos. In the other spot, the plants stayed low and bushy - they didn't even seem to need the supports I put around them.

But finally, as summer is drawing it's last breath, my garden is alive. The big plants have a couple of green tomatos, but the low and bushy plants have a ton of tomatos all over them. I picked half a dozen ripe red and yellow tomatos today and another half dozen cherry tomatos. I left the orange tomatos to let them ripen on the vine a little longer. I also picked our first hot banana pepper last week and put it into our taco night toppings.

The only problem is, I grow midgets. All of those tomatos I picked fit in one hand. The tomatos look mostly like cherry tomatos, and some of the cherry tomatos are only as big as my thumbnail. The green bell peppers are about an inch and a half across, and the jalapeno and hot banana peppers are only a couple of inches long.

At least they still taste good. I'm going to leave the peppers as long as I can in the hopes that they are still growing larger. And I'm going to eat my tomatos by the handful.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Science Marches Forward

A toaster has been made that will take information from the web and burn it into your toast.

What would you burn into your morning toast?


Monday, September 15, 2008

The Salsa Lesson

In Priest's quorum on Sunday, I gave the "Salsa Lesson". I didn't call it that when I gave it, but when one of the priests gave the closing prayer he said, "and please help us to apply this salsa lesson to our daily lives..." (as the class snickered). One of the boys spontaneously said afterwards, "I don't think I'll ever forget THIS lesson. Thus was born the "Salsa Lesson", which I will probably give this time of year to whatever class I teach in the future.

It started with the class voting for the most manly person in the room- who was toughest, could take the most pain, etc. After we had decided on the victim, we went on a field trip to the kitchen (young men love field trips at church- instant attention grabber), where we sat him down in front of several bowls of salsa, some chips, a cup full of water, and an empty cup. The salsa immediately in front of him was made of almost pure habanero, jalapeno, serrano and tabasco peppers, with a little tomato for color, and some salt and lime. The other bowls had mild salsa with slight differences in spiciness.

I instructed the manly priest to load up a chip with the hot salsa, and eat it. He did. He turned bright red. After he had swallowed, I then had him test the mild salsas, and tell me which one was the hottest, which was the mildest, etc. (he got it right, but admitted he was just guessing). When he finished testing the salsas, he immediately grabbed the water and started chugging. I told him to hold up, and asked him if he was sure he wanted the water- wouldn't he prefer something else? Maybe something that would actually neutralize the heat? He paused for a moment, and asked, can I have some milk? I opened the fridge, took out the milk and poured him a cup- in the empty cup next to his water.

We all then had our own chips and salsa, then went back to the classroom for the lesson. We read Isaiah 55:1, which says:

Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

I asked them to interpret the object lesson I gave them. This was the part I liked, since they actually all participated and were throwing out ideas- their interest was piqued. It is funner for a teenager boy to figure out a puzzle than to listen to a lesson. They settled on, with my help, something like this: The hot salsa is sin. When you sin, you desensitize your soul/emotions/feelings such that you no longer can feel the quiet whisperings of the spirit (or alternatively, you no longer are shocked by the "little" sins- you're past feeling). When it feels too hot, you reach for the nearest thing you think will bring relief. The nearest thing doesn't always help like you think it should (ie, drugs, alcohol, porn, etc.) Usually, you need someone to tell you where to get help (missionaries), and you need to actually ask for the help (the boy asking for the milk is like a sinner asking for the atonement). The milk offered was given instantly and free, as much as the asker needed.

We also got into a little discussion about common symbols in the scriptures: water, bread, milk, wine, blood, seeds, sheep.

My question is this: the lesson went over very well, and I think I will use a variation of it every year. What can I do to tweak/improve it, whether in the salsa demonstration itself, or in the lesson that comes afterward?



Friday, September 12, 2008

Political, but funny.

In all the partisan rancor and bitterness, its always nice to remember things weren't always this way. Oh wait, they have been. This article made me laugh- especially the John Adams 'ad' at the end.


My Baby Makes Me Happy

No, not Lucy (though she can be fun to have around sometimes...), my other baby- the one I had while I was a freshman at Harvey Mudd College in 1997. This baby's name is The Midnight Echo. It is (now) a really good A Cappella group at the Claremont colleges in SoCal. When I got down there in late August of 1997, I was fresh out of my high school's jazz choir and I wanted to be in another select group that performed a cappella music. I auditioned for the only co-ed group down there at the time, The Claremont Shades. I was turned down. Little did they know they unleashed my vengeful wrath, prompting me to form my own group of shades rejects, which we unimaginatively named "the bitter rejects". We soon changed this name to the Midnight Echo.

We started out small that fall semester, with only about 8 or so members, and we weren't very good (since we basically accepted anyone that was rejected from the other group). Spring semester, we cleaned house a little (I gave a few members their pink slips. Gently.) and we held auditions and picked up 6 or 7 more pretty good singers. We held several concerts, went on tour to Santa Monica, and recorded a cd (several group members were missing, and several others were drunk, so it wasn't of the highest quality). Many people told us we were even better than the original group that rejected us, though I think they were being kind.

I just found them on facebook. They are still there after 11 years, still holding auditions and performing. It's fun to see something that you started last a long time. Here's their face book page: Midnight Echo
And here are the Shades.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Celebration Time

If you don’t care about college football or about sports in general, then maybe you should skip this one.

First, some background:
BYU’s football team played Washington in Seattle on Saturday. It was a close game throughout. Near the end of the game Washington was down by seven points but was putting together a successful drive. Washington’s quarterback, Jake Locker, ran the ball into the end-zone for a touchdown with 2 seconds left on the clock. This brought Washington within one point and gave them a chance to either tie the game or go ahead (by trying for a two point conversion) on the point-after-touchdown attempt. Locker celebrated by throwing the ball into the air, jumping up and down with his teammates for a few seconds and returning to the sideline. There was no dancing, no taunting, no ball spiking, and no pulling a sharpie out of his sock to sign autographs. The officials called an “unsportsmanlike conduct” penalty for the celebration, which BYU had the choice of assessing on the point-after-touchdown or on the following kickoff. BYU chose to assess the penalty on the point-after-touchdown attempt and so instead of the ball starting on the 3-yard line, it was moved back to the 18-yard line. Washington attempted to kick for the extra point, but the attempt was blocked by BYU. This essentially ended the game with BYU winning by one point, because all BYU had to do was to catch Washington’s kickoff and kneel down to let the clock run out. Also, BYU was also assessed an “unsportsmanlike conduct” penalty for their celebration of the blocked kick.
After the game, the official (realizing the potential controversy for calling a penalty that possibly affected the outcome of the game) explained in a press conference that Locker broke the rules, specifically by throwing the ball into the air after the touchdown, and that they had no choice but to penalize the team – otherwise they would not be doing their jobs.
The official’s comments didn’t head off the controversy, which seems to have been pretty significant. It has bothered me for a few reasons, but the biggest is that people support their opinions with such blatantly faulty logic. By “people”, I mean sportswriters and the people who comment on their online articles. I realize that looking for logical arguments among the online comments is wishful thinking, but the sportswriters should know better. Below I will repeat several of the arguments made, along with commentary and a grade on the logic of the argument.

1. Argument: “Locker throwing the ball in the air was an emotional act. He just gave his team a chance to put the game into overtime or to win. He shouldn’t be penalized for an emotional act.”

1. Response: The idea that “emotional acts” shouldn’t be penalized is pretty stupid. So stupid, in fact, that the people who make this argument don’t even believe it. If they did, they would be also be complaining (which they aren’t) about the penalty assessed for BYU’s “emotional” celebration following the blocked kick. I suspect the real complaint these people have is more along the lines of #4.

1. Grade: 0% F

2. Argument: “Locker should not have been assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he wasn’t taunting the other team. He didn’t violate the ‘spirit of the rule’.”

2. Response: There are two ways to interpret this question. One is that the referees should not have called the penalty. Those who argue this point actually are not completely wrong because officials almost always have to use judgment when calling a penalty. However, the idea that he shouldn’t be penalized when he broke the rule (he did) because he didn’t violate the “spirit of the rule” is pretty stupid because it implies that there is some higher law of sports rules that the football rule book can only attempt to communicate in something as quaint as the English language. The rule book is the final authority; its very purpose is to eliminate the emotional and conflicting judgments participants would make based on the inconsistent “spirit of the game” ideal.

2. Grade: 20% F

3. Argument: Same as #2

3. Response: The second way to interpret this argument is that the officials were right to call the penalty, but the rule itself should be changed so that in the future there is a different definition of unsportsmanlike celebration which would cause a penalty. This is a valid point. (This is essentially the referees’ argument.) I actually agree with this one, so I am giving it my stamp of approval too. In any case, there is no logical flaw in this argument: The officials were right to apply the rule because it is their job (logical), and the rule should be changed (opinion).

3. Grade: 100% A

4. Argument: “The official shouldn’t have called the penalty because it affected the outcome of the game. Games shouldn’t be decided based on penalties and officiating.”

4. Response: This is exactly wrong. What are officials for if they don’t affect the outcome of the game? The reason officials have the power to call fouls and assess penalties is to try to offset any influence cheating would have on the outcome of the game with an opposite influence so that the outcome is as fair as possible. How that is best done is certainly debatable, but that the referees’ job to implement those rules should not be. This is an emotional argument that assumes the call was wrong in the first place. One more thing: it’s not very much of a stretch to say that if the referee had not called the penalty, that might have affected the outcome of the game. Therefore, the officials always influence the outcome by deciding when to call and when not to call a penalty.

4. Grade: 0% F

At least two of the sportwriters who have mentioned this in columns have several of these arguments mixed together. See how many you can find in this one, and in this one.

It just makes me mad that people think with their gut instead of their head. They feel something is wrong, then try to come up with reasons they should feel that way. So far, not so bad, right? Everybody does that. But then people don’t wait until they have a good reason to feel the way they do, they just go with the first thing to come to mind that explains their feelings and has a superficial logic to it. Many then argue with each other. They are somewhat surprised to find that no one is swayed by the logic of their respective (illogical) arguments, and instead of reevaluating their own arguments, they just throw insults around. Wait, I forget, are we talking about politics or sports? (Zing!) At least politics matter. If you’re going to get all worked up and emotional about something, at least it should be important. But I guess maybe my getting worked up about the reaction to the unimportant isn't really any better than getting worked up about the unimportant itself…