Friday, February 29, 2008

What Price to Avoid Loss?

Earlier this week the New York Times ran a very interesting article about the psychology of choices, namely our reluctance to give up choices in spite of our own best interests.

The article profiles the collaboration of behavioral economics professors Dan Ariely and Jiwoong Shin, of MIT and Yale respectively. Ariely has been getting buzz for the book he's written about his research, titled Predictably Irrational.

Using computer games that involve opening doors for cash rewards under the constraint of limited turns, the two have demonstrated that people will go to great lengths to avoid losing an option (a door, in this case).
"Closing a door on an option is experienced as a loss, and people are willing to pay a price to avoid the emotion of loss, " Dr. Ariely says. In the experiment, the price was easy to measure in lost cash. In life, the costs are less obvious — wasted time, missed opportunities. If you are afraid to drop any project at the office, you pay for it at home.

"We may work more hours at our jobs," Dr. Ariely writes in his book, "without realizing that the childhood of our sons and daughters is slipping away. Sometimes these doors close too slowly for us to see them vanishing."

This reminded me of Schnarch's writings on two-choice dilemmas, anxiety-provoiking situations that involve mutually exclusive choices. His focus was primarily how they affect committed relationships, and it's interesting to note how the NYT article cites marriage as one way we resolve a dilemma earlier in life.

The article is interesting because it underscores the universality of such dilemmas and the lengths that we go to avoid the loss that choice brings. In linking to this article from his blog, University of Tennessee Knoxville law professor Glenn Reynolds cited a short article he wrote for the Yale Law Report, published in 1990. As I was reading these articles and looked back on my experiences from all of this, I began to remember specific moments from the agonizingly long job search last year.

Early on in the search, I had a lot of misgivings about whether my skills were marketable. Once I started to get interest from recruiters and potential employers, I started to feel overwhelmed by the number of interviewing opportunities, at times feeling frustrated that I didn't have enough days to do traveling interviews.

In the back of my mind, I had developed some additional beliefs. First was that in the past, I had settled for less both in my professional pursuits and my marriage, in essence forfeiting choices that would bring about major change. The second belief was that I was running out of time, verging on being too old to jump-start my career.

By July, when my wife threw down the separation gauntlet and my lead with the Online Payment Subsidiary of the Big Online Auction Company crumbled, I had this fear that if I did find something, especially local to the area, I would be somehow settling for less again.

By the time December rolled around, I was being pulled in three directions -- hold out for a resurrected offer from Susie Student Loan, hope that Company Line would make a decision, or make a run for Bonded and Insured. Although I was excited about getting the offer from Company Line, I felt a little bit of let-down that I had finally closed the door on the distant opportunities.

Two months into my new job, I am a much happier person professionally. There are stresses, and I make mistakes as I learn. The difference is that the day-to-day setbacks are just minor detours in a larger trip.

My work is producing usable material, and people are benefiting from it. A new developer hired on this week, and as I serve as his mentor, I begin to realize just how much I have learned in this short time. I am building friendships at work, and slowly developing my own social life.

The sense of loss from roads not taken no longer sits at the forefront of my mind, and that is a Good Thing indeed!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Late Night Listening XXI: A Horrible Confession

I think it's time I came out and just fessed up. Your pathologically verbose blogger in residence has a skeleton in his closet, and it doesn't involve any inappropriate relationships with younger lobbyists.

No, it's worse than that... I bought a 45 of Robey's version of "One Night in Bangkok" in the early 80s. I was reminded of this earlier this week because my brother sent me a link to a You Tube clip of the music video.

I don't ever recall seeing this video at the time, but watching it reminds me of another horrible secret. Sometimes... I miss big hair.

OK. Now I feel better.

On a tangential note, this was going on just around the bend from my workplace, so I moseyed on over to watch to see what the fuss was all about. The article fails to mention the five or six rather hearty souls outside the building who were holding up huge signs for Ron Paul and using every instance that the front doors were opened to make extra noise and chant their candidate's name[1]. Thank you, Digg, you've made politics that much more amusing.

[1] -- No, I wasn't one of them.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Getting out on a Saturday

This weekend, my wife took the kids down to my dad and stepmom's for the rest of the weekend and then took her mom with her to a riverboat casino as a birthday gift. I guess her mom hadn't "been to the boat" since her dad had the stroke in May 2005.

Earlier this week, I tried to schedule a massage, but the clinic I went to in November was booked for their morning and afternoon sessions, so I decided to get out and do something different.

A Google search turned up an independent coffee shop on the south side of town that I had never heard about. I checked out the place, and I couldn't believe that such a place existed on this part of town.

I wound up spending the better part of the afternoon and early evening here working and conversing with some of the regulars, and I stuck around to see a couple of acoustic singer/songwriter acts.

I'll be back here again soon. I felt like I was in my element.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

#1 Reason I Will Not Be the Black Sheep in My In-Laws' Eyes

If your family tree does not fork... you might be a redneck
-- Jeff Foxworthy

During a phone conversation between my wife and her mother this evening, my wife made the mistake of asking for further information when her mother made vague references to drama going on in her life.

My wife has a cousin, the daughter of one her mother's sisters, who left her first husband for her father-in-law (the husband's father). She has children by both of them, making the kids both uncle/niece as well as half-siblings. By the grace of something I can only describe as divine, I have seen these people only a few times in my life.

Close to two years ago, my wife's maternal grandparents moved back to the area from the Rocky Mountain state, bringing along their adult daughter, who lives with them. Apparently husband #2/ex-father-in-law has taken a fancy to that daughter, and the feeling is apparently quite mutual.

So, the woman who dumped her husband for her father-in-law is now getting dumped for her aunt. Apparently the children, who are either in their upper teens or adults now, have threatened violence against their great aunt for this adulterous act.

This is the stuff of Springer, folks. Karma for the trailer park set.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Maybe I Need a Plan 'B' or Two?

An experience this morning brought me to the realization that I might need to rethink my morning commute procedure.

With the exception of Tuesdays, when I have to use an alternate route to pick up my daughters from their dance class, I use a bus line that has a stop that's two blocks from my house.

The stop is located on a busy thoroughfare, with six lanes of traffic. It sits about two thirds of a way between two traffic lighted intersections not more than half a mile apart.

Crossing this road is not easy, but the traffic is mostly northbound in the morning, making it easy to reach the median. The best time to cross the northbound lanes is after the south light has turned red, and the last of the green light traffic has gone by.

The stop itself is maybe 50 feet south of the entrance to an apartment complex. Between the complex and the east edge of the highway is a drainage ditch that spans 15 - 20 feet, and has a drop of maybe 10 feet. The slope is lined with stones to prevent erosion.

It has haunted the back of my mind, but to date had not played out, that this stuation would be very awkward in the event of heavy snowfall. The stop would be a spot where snow would be plowed, but I've mollified that concern by speculating that the bus would stop at the entrance of the complex in that situation.

This morning, we got just under two inches of snowfall. No big deal, I would have thought, so I made my way to the bus stop, giving myself extra time to make it across the snow covered side streets.

I made it to my stop with maybe seven minutes left to spare. I stand there, waiting patiently. The six lane highway was wet, but clear of snow. The cars that passed by didn't seem to be creating too much of a spray. I thought I would be OK.

A few minutes later, I saw it, making its way through the south intersection. It was something I hadn't taken into account with the light snowfall. It was almost a deer-in-headlights moment.

Now, those of you who got into experimental music in the late 80s may recall a group by the name of Negativland. They had one song titled "Car Bomb", so picture the intensity used when they shout that title at the end of a verse.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Negativland, think of the move A Bug's Life towards the end, when raindrops start falling on the colony.

Yep, the voice in my mind shrieked, "SNOW PLOW"!

I watched the behemoth as he started to make his way up the highway. He must have been scraping the edge, because he was kicking up quite a bit of material, and the arc of saline slush was reaching well past the point of where I stood a the stop.

So, I did a 180 and started booking it due north, trying my best to move as quickly as I could without losing my footing, for if I were to slip to the right, I'd be headed for the ditch. I made it to the apartment complex entrance and safety not more than two seconds before the plow passed by.

As I watched it go by, plow engaged and orange sparks floating sporadically from the asphalt, I noticed that he had moved to the center lane. I wasn't sure if he had done that as part of a plan, or whether he had seen me and moved out of the way as a courtesy.

I was grateful that I emerged from that moment sans slush and injury, but it made me think that I need to have a more concrete backup plan for boarding the bus in bad weather.

Two options have come to mind:

  1. Instead of risking life and limb crossing the six lanes, board the outbound bus and ride it as it makes its turn back into town. This isn't too unreasonable since the bus line terminates about two miles south of my stop. The bus runs by on the 55s and 25s of the hour, and would make its way past the other side about 15 minutes later.

  2. Drive to a major shopping center along the line and board from there. There is a stop not much more than a mile from my house at a huge shopping center, but it would trade off the morning lane crossing with an evening lane crossing in potentially busier conditions.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sunday Morning Singalong: Installment II

There was much rejoicing on the fifth of this month, for my children took possession of a newly released CD/DVD combo by They Might Be Giants -- Here Come the 1 2 3s. .

As the title suggests, the CD is loaded with songs that talk about different numbers. These guys retain their quirkly lyrical style and survey a wide variety of musical styles, making this quite palatable for the parent as well as the child.

I'm partial to "Seven" and "Pirate Girls Nine", but the best one by far is "Seven Days of the Week (I Never Go to Work)". I can't help but watch this and think they were crafting a tribute to Monty Python.

When I watch this, I'm reminded of the "Philosopher's Song" and the "Lumberjack Song".

And now for something completely different -- the omnibus report on the various dimensions of my existence for the past three weeks...


Work continues to keep me very busy. Perhaps the biggest news item is that my boss and I have started work on a major project slated to go live in about a month. It's all new architecture and new code.

We spent two days off site at the beginning of February, one day at his house and another at a coffee shop near his house, doing research on the ways that other consumer blogging services do things and trying to learn from the successes and mistakes.

One byproduct of this effort is that I've come to learn this blog's hosting service's template language in a greater depth than I had ever imagined. I've also been immersed in learning XSLT and XPath.

My boss was out of town the better part of the first full week of February on business, so I was delegated the role of giving the departmental briefing at the monthly meeting on Feb. 8. I prepared some PowerPoint slides and ran them by my boss for accuracy and completeness. He signed off on most of them, and the presentation went pretty well. He said that the one of the co-founders had good things to say about it.

The company continues to grow in size. Since I started at the end of December, they have taken on five new employees, and within our department, we will see two new people start. One will be in a week, and then another in the week to follow. The word is that the technical guys will be moving from our current space to some new rooms that we're taking over.

My work blog is now up to 16 posts, and two posts pending approval. Loyal and trusted readers who are interested in getting the URL or the RSS feed are welcome to e-mail me using the address in this blog's sidebar.

I've been riding the bus faithfully. The only work days that I have driven were those where I met my boss off site. I did scope out possible bus routes, but it would have taken me over an hour and a half one way to get there. By my estimates, I've managed to reduce my gasoline consumption by 50 gallons.


I am now sleeping on the bed that I acquired in late October of last year. Last weekend, one of my wife's old friends from the Land of Lincoln came over to visit. To prepare for the stay, she cleaned up our younger daughter's old room and had the mattress moved into there.

The enlarged paychecks have been used to get bills caught up and balances paid down. Before the end of May, we should have one debt retired that was costing us a couple hundred bucks a month.

My younger daughter turned three on Groundhog Day. She's in full throttle princess mode, so she's been playing a lot of dress-up involving tiaras, dresses and heels.

My wife has been mum on the idea to move to the neighboring township. I think a big chunk of that has been because she's been dealing with drama at the preschool co-operative.

She serves as president on the co-op's board, and she reports to the co-op's director. In the past, the director served at least two years as president of the co-op, and she has a history of being a bad delegator. Even when she delegates things, she will change her mind and do things herself, which irks those who get assigned tasks. My wife's preschool mom friend serves in two roles. She is one of the co-op's two teachers, and she also is the co-op treasurer.

Now for the drama...

There is another mother in the co-op who has become increasingly vocal about the finances of the co-op. Earlier in the school year, she raised concerns that the co-op doesn't have enough money in savings. About a month ago, she started asking for information on the school's budget. The preschool mom friend had to deal with most of the grunt work. My wife had to deal with the other mother's complaining. It seemed like every time the board produced the requested information, the mother would ask for more detailed information. It got to the point where she was wanting to see bank statement information to see where money was being spent.

As my wife was venting about this to me, I said that they should have never let it escalate to this level. The board should have been more assertive about what kinds of information would be provided, setting appropriate boundaries. Transparency didn't mean that they had to give up every bank statement. I said it sounded as if the parent was taking an adversarial stance, as if she was some self-proclaimed auditor.

I suppose that things would have died down eventually, but something happened to complicate the matter. About two weeks ago, the auditing mom notified my wife and her daughter's teacher that her daughter had head lice. This was the second time this year her child had been diagnosed, and the third instance of head lice this school year, which was some sort of record because these things were pretty rare.

The co-op has a policy it follows with regards to infestation, based on state law and guidance from the CDC and the county board of health. Confidentiality is guarded. Only the affected student's teacher and the president know the identity of the child. The teacher was not preschool mom friend, but that didn't stop preschool mom friend from badgering my wife for the identity. My wife was strong, and refused to disclose the information.

A few days later, the affected child's mother contacted the board about her child and did it in a way that resulted in revealing her identity to the rest of the board. Preschool mom friend was livid, most likely because the two already had an adversarial relationship prior. She complained that the other teacher did not do a good enough job of cleaning the classroom after the outbreak and that they needed to do a top-to-bottom cleanup of the classroom facilities.

My wife countered with the guidelines from the CDC and the board of health, saying that many of the measures that preschool mom was demanding were unreasonable, excessive, and based on misinformation. The preschool mom friend kept her own kids from school for a few days in protest, and one of the other moms, who had recently been on the receiving end of one of those director delegation switches, joined in on protest, too.

I'm not exactly sure how things got resolved, but last week it was stressing out my wife badly enough that she complained about lower gastrointestinal distress.

Last weekend, my wife had us go with her to a kindergarten open house for our older daughter. The kindergarten is operated by a pre-school co-operative, and I think I would have been more supportive towards my wife's desires had it not been for the fact that the co-op is located on the northeast side of town, a 19.3 mile drive.

I thought to myself, "Who in the hell sends their kids to a preschool that many miles away?" I had just switched jobs and gained a major break on fuel consumption, and now she was pushing for daily minivan trips for her totalling 75 - 80 miles per day.

Later, she admitted that she was hoping some of the other moms on the south side would sign up for it, too, so that they could carpool. I don't think that's going to happen, so I think we've managed to dodge that bullet.

I celebrated my 39th birthday quietly, trying not to dwell too much on it. On Thursday, my wife had the kids help her decorate a small heart shaped cake with chocolate frosting and candy hearts. I got some new jeans and new wallet, both of which I needed badly. My mom met me downtown for lunch on Friday afternoon.

I really could use another massage, and I think I'm going to try to get one set up for next weekend when the kids are out of town at their grandparents.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

And While We're on the Subject of Folk Music

I heard this song for the first time on The Loft (XM-50) last week, and I fell in love with it because it's everything that's right about folk rock -- Poco's "Rose of Cimarron".

And if you thought it couldn't get any better, here is Emmylou Harris' version:

YouTube is a wonderful thing, indeed.

Schnarch in a Nutshell -- Folk Edition

I was listening to The Village (XM-15) yesterday morning and heard a song titled "Two Way Waltz", recorded by Kate Wolf back in 1979. It predates the publication of Constructing the Sexual Crucible by 12 years, but it captures the theme of simultaneous love and hate for one's spouse so well. The song closes with most elegant expression of differentiation of self that I've ever read.
For two ways can sometimes make one,
That's stronger than either alone.
So dancers join hands, for the two-way waltz
But take the steps on your own.

2am... Rebranded!

No, your eyes do not deceive you. For the first time since I started this blog in the summer of 2006, I have changed the template to a brand new look, migrating from the Minima template to a sleeker, yet still reserved, Tekka template.

But that's not all that's changed on this blog... Over on the sidebar, there is still my blog roll. They'll still take you to the blogs as advertised, but they do more than that. They provide a guide to social networks. To understand how and why, let's look back at a couple of posts.

A little over four months ago, I blogged about how people are trying to figure out a way to extract a deeper meaning from the web.

Because a lot of webpages do not use HTML's full repertoire of tags and attributes to communicate the page's semantics, there's only so much a computer can glean from a page's content. The web's big thinkers envision a day where websites do provide this kind of information, making it easier for someone to search on a desired topic. This goal is sometimes referred to as the Semantic Web or Web 3.0.

One facet of a Semantic Web is a more visible Social Graph. The Social Graph refers to the way people are connected by relationships, be it personal or professional.

Some of these relationships can be inferred the friend lists on social networking websites like MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn, but for the most part, these relationships are walled off by each social networking site.

It turns out that a lot of regular hyperlinks are the byproduct of such relationships. I hinted at this in a comment over at Restoring the Covenant when I wrote about visualizing links between blogs. The problem is that not all hyperlinks convey this information, and the HTML <A> tag doesn't indicate the extent of the relationship.

Late last summer, an essay was published calling for an infrastructure to make relationship information more portable. Since then, there have been some efforts by these sites to open up their data via web service APIs. Google has tried to create a lingua franca with its OpenSocial API.

Now there is an effort to encourage people to add semantics to their blog rolls. Dubbing itself as the Xhtml Friends Network, they have devised a way to take advantage of the current HTML standards.

The HTML <A> tag has an attribute called rel that can be used to provide information about the relationship of the current document to the document pointed to by the link. There is a list of relationship types, but the standard leaves open the possibility for extension:
Authors may wish to define additional link types not described in this specification. If they do so, they should use a profile to cite the conventions used to define the link types.

And that's exactly what XFN is doing. The profile can be found at their website.

So I've upgraded most of the blogroll with these relationship attributes, using the guidelines for the values in the profile. I've also submitted my site's URL to the Rubhub social search site.

XFN provides step-by-step instructions on how to do this. They also provide links to tools to assist you in editing the HTML.

I invite all blog readers who are bloggers themselves to help build a more sociable web!