November 2009
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30          
Sep   Dec





(Done with Mirrors)

(Statistical blah blah blah)

Other Blogs I Read
Regularly Often

Athletics Nation

Andrew Sullivan
(Daily Dish)

Kevin Drum
(Political Animal)

(Obsidian Wings)

 Thursday, November 26, 2009

Here's something I'm wondering today.

A stereotype in America says that a foreign exchange student or au pair from Europe is a likely prospect for a casual fling. I'm told that in Europe, the American college student on travel vacation is similarly viewed as "easy". Both ideas are probably exaggerated, but I suspect they are based on some truth.

It is generally believed, and I think it's probably true, that a person is more likely to have an affair while out of town on business. I think it's also true that men are more likely to buy the services of prostitutes or quasi-prostitutes when out of town on business.

Married couples whose sex life is flagging will often seek to revive it by taking a vacation. Apparently they find sex more exciting when it's in a nice hotel in some exotic locale.

The common theme here is that people want to have sex more when they're traveling away from home.

Aside from the convenience factors, might there not be a genetic component to this urge? It seems plausible that humans with a gene that makes them want to have sex away from home would do a better job of spreading their genetic material far and wide, and thus natural selection would favor that gene.

10:39:25 PM  [permalink]  comment []  

 Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Blogs I Love

Last week I discovered Penelope Trunk's blog. I am smitten. I am utterly fascinated by her compulsive openness as a diarist.

Now, she will be the first to acknowledge that a blogger is not truly transparent since she controls the story and decides what to tell and what not to tell. And there is plenty of evidence to suggest she wouldn't hesitate to reinvent herself. Even so, her blog does not read like someone trying to assert control of her identity by saying, "this is who I am". Rather, it reads like someone on a long voyage of self-discovery, lovingly detailing all her fascinating discoveries like young Darwin on the Beagle. I love that.

In retrospect it seems surprising I never discovered her before. She has a knack for finding notoriety on an almost monthly basis (most recently, here), and her blog is apparently a large and prominent one. But then, if I look at a list of other large and prominent blogs, I find that most of them I've never even heard of. Apparently, vast as it seems to me, the Internet I inhabit is just a small corner of the universe.

It wasn't until later that I realized this actually isn't my first encounter with her. Back in July, links from some other conversation led me to this post, a dramatic one even for her. But I had read it in only in isolation and didn't explore her any further. Last week I read dozens upon dozens of posts — which Penelope, ever the self-promoter, makes very easy with tons of links — before I stumbled upon that one and realized it was the same person.

The post explains quite a bit, but I'm glad I didn't make the connection until later, because I think it would have distracted me in a way that would have kept me from appreciating her. I have also since discovered that the people who hate her (and there are many) really really hate her. And they write about it with such conviction that it makes me question myself and wonder if I should hate her too. So I do question myself, and the conclusion I reach is that no, I still like her.


Aside from her disarming openness, Penelope Trunk shows personality of a type familiar to me: the strong and independendent, slightly crazy diva, who is always on the go, afraid of nothing, and invariably the center of attention. I have a history of being attracted to women of this type. If I knew Ms Trunk personally, I would probably be in love with her. That's not a good thing. I have gradually come to discover that women of this type — as much as I adore them, and even, I would venture to say, understand them better than most men do — simply aren't compatible with me. Actually I question whether they're compatible with anyone (and I doubt Ms Trunk would disagree).

(Note: This is not a veiled reference to my wife. I hate to have to even say it, but I know if I don't some readers will be tempted to misread between the lines. My wife resembles some of those things and is very different from some others, but in any case she isn't what I'm talking about.)

An example of a personality type that I don't fall for but probably would be very compatible with is my other favorite blogger, Megan McArdle. She writes about herself far less often, so I can't be sure of this, but my sense of her is that while she is very adventurous intellectually, in real life she is a geeky and girly, cozy homebody.

What I love about Megan McArdle is how she thinks. She manages to have that impossible combination where she has earthy common sense that refuses to take conventional wisdom for granted, but at the same time prodigiously knowledgeable about her topics and ready to go digging and find out about anything she doesn't know. I love that. Too many bloggers are intelligent or clever or brilliant. McArdle is just smart. Smart like dirt.

Perhaps there's some narcissism here, because in some ways she thinks like I do. Her initial instincts are to take a libertarian view of everything. But that's just a framework, and when she fills in the details it's always more complicated than the libertarian model. She writes often enough on political matters, but I'm not sure how one categorizes her politically. I've seen her called "conservative", but she doesn't seem especially conservative to me. I think she just gets thrown into the "conservative intellectual" rubric only because the mainstream Republican Party has become so backward and stupid that anyone with an interesting thought who isn't clearly inside the Obamanian big tent must necessarily be counted as "conservative".

Hers would probably be my favorite blog by now if it weren't for the fact that I'm so utterly uninterested in her main topics of discussion. (Financial markets and health care reform. Ugh.) But I love reading her anyway, because I love how she looks at things. And fortunately she occasionally writes about something else.


I'm not really keen on Penelope Trunk's main topic of discussion either. In fact, I hate it. In theory, she writes career advice, and I basically hate anything careerist. But her "about this blog" page acknowledges two topics:

This blog is about career advice. And about me.

She may as well add that her third pet topic is the search for personal happiness. Of those three topics, I like two.

I confess that Penelope has re-inspired me as a blogger, but only by her example, not by her advice. She has several posts filled with pointers about how to have a successful blog, and I hate them all. They're all about career goals, networking, staying focused on your core topic, attracting links, and building up traffic. Blech, blech, blech, blech and blech. But her example ... it's wonderful.

On the happiness topic, she loves to quote Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness, which I recently picked up from the library but haven't started yet. Apparently somewhere in there Gilbert claims that $40,000 a year is the amount of money it takes to make a person happy, and anything beyond that does not meaningfully correlate with personal happiness.

This rings true to me, because I had unconsciously intuited the same number. Presumably the careerists Ms Trunk is advising are approaching this figure from above, assuming that more money will make them happy and being told that this smaller amount is all it takes. As a lifelong under-achiever I've always approached it from the bottom. There have been a few times in my life when I've had a career, and looking back at them, I notice that my annual income always plateaued right around $40,000. As soon as I reach that amount, that's when I start looking to reduce my hours, take unpaid leave, or quit altogether. It's as if I instinctively know that I've got all the money I need and would rather start to reclaim my time for other projects rather than make any unnecessary excess.

Since this post is turning into an all-Penelope love poem anyway, I may as well quote a few of my favorite passages from her, just because I want to. (Unlike me, she loves to be quoted and linked.)

PMS is just your body telling your brain that you need to start crying about the stuff that you’ve been ignoring all month. [full post]


If you’re wondering how bad your commute is, try asking the people you come home to at night. If your roommate says you’re a monster until you’ve had two beers, you know you’re in trouble. If your roommate is a cat, you might not get such helpful feedback, but you can take a look at averages. [full post]


Here’s another idea, David. How about approaching all those guys with Blackberries at soccer games? Let me ask you something. Do those guys check their email when they’re getting a blow job? Of course not. Do you know why? Because it’s INTERESTING. They are checking their blackberries during soccer because soccer is boring. [full post]


You think the eccentrics are trying to be eccentric, but they are not. It's not fun to be eccentric if you really are. It's only fun to be eccentric if you aren't. [full post]

And one from Megan McArdle for good measure:

You do not have better willpower than they do. You do not "care about myself" more. You are not more "serious about a healthy lifestyle" because you took off the eight pounds you gained at Christmas. You are no more qualified to lecture the obese on how to lose weight than I am qualified to lecture my short friends on how to become tall. You just have a different environmental and genetic legacy than they do. You're not superior. You're just somewhat thinner. [full post]

Hmm. McArdle's writing does lend itself as well to excerpting. That's probably another one of Trunk's "how to be a successful blogger" strategies.

10:43:58 PM  [permalink]  comment []  

 Thursday, November 19, 2009
Some day your kids will see that

When I was a teenager, when a few daring young women were starting to get tattoos, a common horrified reaction from older folk was something like, "Don’t you know that’s permanent? Imagine what people will think when you’re 70 years old and you have a tattoo of a butterfly on your boob." I was a logical lad, so I imagined ... and I concluded that if the popularity of tattoos continued to increase (as indeed it did), then by the time she was 70 it would be commonplace and people would just think, "Oh, there’s another old lady with a tattoo on her boob."

Now that I’m middle-aged I’m sometimes shocked at how cavalier young people are about having pictures of themselves passed around. When I was in school, a girl would have been mortified if guys got hold of a private picture. Nowadays she’s likely to stand naked in front of a mirror with a cell phone — possibly strategically covering her naughty bits or possibly not — and snap a picture to send to her boyfriend and/or attach with a personal ad. And if her friend says, "Omigod, aren’t you worried that it will get spread all over the internet?" her answer might well be, "Whatever. I don’t care."

People of my generation, not to mention those even older, tend to be shocked by this (even as the dirty old men among us help contribute to spreading it all over the internet). A common thought is, "Some day your kids are going to see that," and even for someone like me — who is pretty open-minded in general (and also a dirty old man) — my reaction is "Eeew, that’s so creepy and wrong".

But then I remember the tattoos, and I think maybe that’s not a big deal. Maybe in 2070 some 12-year-old boys will be poking around on whatever the technology of the day is and one will say, "Hey, look! Here’s an old video of grandma having sex with some guy." And maybe grandma will be in the room and she’ll say, "Really? Let me see. ... Oh, hey, that’s Dylan. He was nice. I wonder whatever happened to him." And maybe that won’t be the least bit awkward for any of them because by 2070 it will just be normal to see pictures of your grandmother having sex.

6:00:01 PM  [permalink]  comment []  

 Wednesday, November 18, 2009
To Ourselves and Our Posterity

By way of Megan McArdle, I come upon this article on Slate which discusses the difficult problem of how to label buried nuclear waste in such a way that our distant predecessors 12,000 years from now will not only be able to interpret the danger warnings but also believe them enough to heed them.

I suppose this is an interesting intellectual puzzle, but I can't get interested in it because with every sentence I read, all I can think of is, "Why on earth would I care about the health of people 12,000 years in the future??"

To tell the truth, I don't think there even will be any human beings at all 12,000 years from now. I'm not quite as gloomy as my philosophy professor friend who calmly and rationally predicts that some sort of ecological catastrophe will wipe out at least a tenth of the world's population within his lifetime, but I do think it more likely than not that our species will be extinguished some time before 10,000 years are up.

But that's not even the point. Even supposing people do exist 12,000 years from now, who are they to us? Possibly they are our great-to-the-360th grandchildren. But what the heck does that mean? Do you feel any connection whatsoever to your great-to-the-360th grandparents, who lived around the time when homo sapiens first discovered agriculture? Most of us can't even name our third cousins. Most of us don't even care about the health of villagers in Guatemala right now. Yet somehow I'm to believe we're going to spare no expense in assuring that 12,000 years from now Zogdor doesn't accidentally poison himself by digging up some old plutonium? (Assuming Zogdor even exists.) (And that he isn't a robot immune to poisoning anyway.) My mind boggles.

I wonder if this is another science fiction thing. I often find that the culture of science fiction warps people's thinking when considering risks and probabilities of unlikely events. (Or at least the thinking of literate, geeky types; ordinary people seem less afflicted by this.) Like when people fret about how we'll escape when the stars of the galactic core all go supernova, or how how it will affect our society when we colonize other solar systems. Uh, hello, even the nearest one is more than four light years away. That means it is, at minimum, a four-year trip. And that's assuming you travel at the speed of light, at which point, among other things, your mass becomes infinite. And yet, everyone seems so certain that somehow we are going to defy this fundamental law of nature because ... warp speed! wormholes! tachyon beams! I mean, that's what they do in all the books, right?

So maybe this is why people think handsome blonde Captain Joe Johnson is going to be exploring the ruins of Yucca Mountain 12,000 years from now. Because that's exactly what would happen in a movie.

12:21:40 AM  [permalink]  comment []  

 Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Faster Than a Speeding Bullet

Earlier this year, my favorite former player on my favorite baseball team — Rickey Henderson of the Oakland Athletics — was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

His plaque looks like this:

In case that picture is unreadable or has been taken down by the time you're reading this, the main text says:

Faster than a speeding bullet, scored more runs (2,295) and stole more bases (1,406) than any player in history, combined power, plate disclipline, flair and an uncanny ability to electrify crowds. Hit .279 with 3,055 hits, 297 home runs and 1,115 RBIs, set records for home runs to lead off game (81) and unintentional walks (2,129). A ten-time All-Star and the 1990 A.L. MVP, led league in steals 12 times, including three 100-plus seasons and a modern-day record 130 thefts in 1982. Won World Series with Oakland and Toronto.

Aside from the generally slapdash quality of the prose, what most intrigues me about this text is the word that's missing: "other". It does not say that Rickey stole more bases than any other player in history; it says he stole more bases than any player in history. Which includes himself.

You can think of that as an editing error if you like, but I prefer to think of it as a metaphysical conundrum. If God is omnipotent, is he able to create a stone so heavy that He cannot lift it?

How fast is Rickey? Rickey is so fast that he can steal more bases than Rickey. (And nobody steals more bases than Rickey.)

12:16:08 AM  [permalink]  comment []  

 Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Close States

Here's a fun little geography riddle I thought up while driving home this evening: Which two U.S. states are nearest to each other without actually sharing a border?

My first thought is and , which seems like a pretty solid guess, but I haven't really thought it through.

(That's special invisible type there, in case you want to guess on your own. Just select the paragraph when you're ready to read the spoilers.)

Later: Some other ideas: or are geographically interesting, but I don't think they win. The states are just bigger out west. and also seem promising. Ooh, wait, I just thought of . That's the only one I think might actually beat my original guess. I'm not sure how one goes about measuring if it's close.

Still later: Oh, duh. The correct answer must surely be and . It seems so obvious in retrospect. Not just obvious, but boring, too. So I guess my little riddle isn't such an interesting one after all. Oh well.

Still later again: One could make an argument for and . Careful examination suggests that they're closest of all, but the same examination calls into question what counts as sharing a border. Look at the map and you'll see what I mean.

11:34:54 PM  [permalink]  comment []  

 Sunday, September 13, 2009
Blog Update

Hmm. Looking through the archive, I see the last time I was posting with any regularity was early March.

Not that I need an excuse for not posting, but that's the time of year when my day job gets especially busy and stays that way till April 15. Immediately after that I had a rather significant crisis in my personal life (which I don't care to discuss here, though nearly all my regular readers know what I'm talking about). That in turn necessitating moving, with all the distraction and disruption entailed in the process of packing up and settling in again elsewhere.

That takes me up to early June. For the rest of the summer, I don't know, I guess I just fell out of the habit. This post is by way of falling back into the habit.

After past resurrections of Benzene, I've set a goal of posting daily for a while. I don't expect that this time, but I do want to get back to two or three posts a week. I have several months worth of half-written posts either in notes or in my head, and most of them are no less interesting now than they were when they were fresh. I also still haven't given up on my "books I've read" series, even though I'm more than a year behind and may have lost track of a few.

The Future of Benzene

A few weeks ago, I got an email from the makers of Radio (the brand of blog software I use) informing me that they will discontinue their service at the end of this calendar year. I ended up on Radio more or less by accident; it's what Pete was using at the time, so I followed his example. Not long after that Pete moved on to one of the free services, but I was happy enough with Radio so I stayed put. Radio is run as a subscription service, and for $40 a month you get whatever updates they make to the software plus server space for your blog. I'm not sure I ever updated the software, since it was working just fine for me without upgrading, but I figured the $40/year was a small price to pay for not having to think about how to make my blog work.

Now I do have to think. Some time between now and the end of the year, I need to decide whether to migrate to some other service, continue in Radio but upload it somewhere else, or just hang up the blog altogether and call it quits. All three seem plausible to me.

Radio software has an option for uploading to an address other than Radio's default space. I've never tried it but I assume it's not hard. My problem is figuring out where I'd go. I keep a mirror of Benzene on my hard drive at home, and the entire archive is 8.7 MB, more than half of which is 2004, my first year. That doesn't strike me as very large — its smaller than one medium-sized video file — but I still don't have anywhere to put it. My Earthlink service gives me five email addresses with 5 MB of space for each. Since I'm only using about two and a half of those for other stuff, I'd have enough space if only I could combine two of the 5 MB allotments into one, but I don't think I can do that.

If anyone out there has any advice for cheap low-traffic webspace, I'd be interested in hearing it. I'm also interested in recommendations for other blog software to switch to.

11:39:22 PM  [permalink]  comment []