What You Say?!?

July 28, 2004 8:36 am

I love rain during work hours because I get to watch the smokers go nuts. They pace in front of the windows or glass doors, agitated and nervous like the rain is some kind of advancing ARMY OF DOOM. Some of them eventually sit and attempt to wait for the rain to stop, but a large number just resign themselves to getting completely soaked in order to have their nicotine fix.

Speaking of smokers, I'm sick of the ones that keep bitching about the price of cigarettes. Whine about income or property taxes, but don't whine about your hard earned cash being dumped into a chemical dependency that you have a definite possibility of overcoming if you just put some damn effort into it. It's not unfair of the government to ream you for your addiction, and I'll tell you why: consider the high cigarette tax as penance for fucking with the health care system. The fact that you are willingly poisoning yourself everyday, increasing your risk for all sorts of cancers and diseases, not to mention potential birth defects, means you are more likely to land yourself in the hospital some day. If you want fairness, then the burden of that hospital treatment should be shouldered mostly by you and your fellow smokers, not by those of us who choose a healthier lifestyle. So either get help to quit or shut up and pay the Man!

July 20, 2004 10:09 pm

Some belated 4th of July pics from the STWing gathering - watch out, nerds ahead! :-P

The 4th is quite simply not the 4th without grillin'...
...and lots o'beer!
Mmmm, cheeseburger goodness:
Some indoor fun:
And then some hawt outdoor pool fun:

July 19, 2004 10:25 am

Finally got around to posting some pictures of the apartment that Vic and I currently live in. It's pretty easy to tell the place is occupied by newly graduated ivy leaguers with fierce nerdy streaks who are still adjusting to the concept of disposable income.

July 16, 2004 8:35 am

I read an interesting piece published by The Century Foundation, a U.S. public policy organization who states its mission is "to persuade those who care about issues such as economic inequality, population aging, homeland security, discontent with government and politics, and national security that significant improvements are possible even when the conventional wisdom says they are not." A noble, yet extremely difficult, cause. Which is why I have been reading their publications, to see how they go about this incredibly complex mission of theirs.

Because of the nature of my company, I've developed a keen interest in State budgets. So naturally I was drawn to the article The "Red" States: How Governors Ended Up With Huge Deficits (note: article is in PDF). I highly recommend this one - it's short, succint, and clear. Its purpose is to debunk some myths regarding State spending. The deficits in many States, the article claims, is not caused by local government throwing money at useless endeavors (though some of this does indeed occur), but by a combination of rising costs and tax cuts. The former eats away at the current cash pool, the latter prevents future cash from coming in.

The article stresses that a State's two most expensive responsibilities, Medicaid and Education, have outpaced inflation in terms of cost. The State has virtually no control over this, much like the way I as a Penn student had no control over tuition hikes each year. I feel horrible for the State's dilemma (how can you justify cutting spending on either of these two programs?!), but I'm disappointed that the article presents no suggestions on how to reform Medicaid and Education cost structures so that they don't rise like mushroom clouds.

Another point I thought most interesting was how States lose lots of potential revenue through internet sales. The policy that you can't charge sales tax online unless you have a physical presence in the buyer's state is estimated to create about $66 Billion of potential revenue lost to States as whole. I admit to taking advantage of this no-tax policy all the time without second thought, but that figure is astounding. Needless to say, it could definitely help in plugging up some budget holes. I know some States, like Michigan, have begun to request that taxpayers account for online purchases when filling out their tax forms. But to the best of my knowledge, most people don't bother.

At any rate, the article brings up some issues I hadn't considered. It did leave me kind of unsatisfied in that no solutions were presented, but at the same time, pinpointing the problems accurately is a step in the right direction.

July 13, 2004 4:30 pm

The SQL function "COUNT" has been giving me difficulties lately. For some odd reason, I keep typing it as "CUNT" so not only do I get a syntax error, but I alternate between giggling hysterically and glancing over my shoulder in nervous guilt. You have to admit, reading down a script filled with instances of "CUNT(*)" is pretty funny.

Um. Or maybe not.

July 9, 2004 3:32 pm

So now you officially can't use a handheld cell phone while driving in New Jersey. A law recently went into effect that makes handheld cell phone usage a secondary offense, except in case of emergencies, such as dialing 911 to report an accident, fire, or unsafe driving conditions. So if you get pulled over for speeding and the cop saw that you were talking on a handheld cell while doing it, you pay an additional fine. I'm a huge fan of this policy - it's always made sense to me that we should eliminate as many driving distractions from our lives as possible. Which is why I am quite surprised by the wealth of opposition in the U.S. to cell phone bans, as indicated here. Look at all the other countries with laws already in place. How come only 2 of our states have bans in effect? Why can't laws like this get pushed through more easily?

Most arguments I have seen against cell phone bans center around 3 points:
  • Drivers have the right to perform certain functions while driving. These rights are granted to them by the State through the sanction of a valid driver's license. Motorists should be able to choose whether to use a handheld cell phone or not, and laws should not be put in place that take away that choice.
  • For some, use of a cell phone is essential to their job. A handheld cell phone is more efficient, of better communication quality, and more convenient than a handsfree headset. Being forced to set up a handsfree cell phone is not only annoying, but results in a decline of productivity from employees.
  • There's no substantial proof that talking on a handheld cell phone decreases driving ability more than other distractions. A few studies have been conducted, but none of notable sample size or relevance. Ultimately, a cell phone is no more detrimental to concentration than tuning the radio, eating, inserting a tape/CD, putting on makeup, or attending children - all actions which are legal.
There are other points out there, but these seem to cover the majority of opinions. And now, onto the ranting!

Driving is a privelege, not a right. You don't have the right to speed. You don't have the right to run red lights. You don't have the right to consume alcohol while driving. To say a motorist has the right of choice when it comes to operating a motor vehicle is utterly false. When you obtain a driver's license, you are granted certain permissions, yes, but not without restrictions. There are laws regulating your behavior when it comes to driving. These laws are not passed because the Man wants to bring you down, but because a motor vehicle is the most dangerous possession of any American household that is used on a daily basis. Lives are entrusted to drivers, and drivers should not be able to make certain choices, so that they do not betray that trust.

On the second point: I have no idea why people think a headset is not as clear as the phone itself. Most static comes from signal weakness, not the internals of the device. If your headset has an ear bud, the thing is in your ear!!! You can't get clearer than that. And headphones are just as close to your ear as your cell will ever be. We've done wonders with headset tech, so it's no excuse to say you won't be able to hear. As for talking, cell phone microphones are extremely sensitive. Most people don't realize that they are already talking way louder than needed on their cell phones. The same goes for headset microphones. You can usually clip the microphone to a shirt collar, and the transmission is just as clear as your handheld, sometimes better. In practice, a headset is comparable to the actual cell phone in communication quality. I have a free headset that came with my phone (and many places are giving these things away at no cost), and the clarity is no different than holding my phone up to my ear.

As for productivity on the road: (1) an employee who dies in a car crash is even less efficient and productive and (2) an employee who is too lazy to take the time to set up a handsfree environment is probably not all that productive to begin with. The steps are very easy - first, program voice controls into your cell phone (any corporate device worth the money you've spent on it should have this feature). Second, hook up the headset. And that's it. Now all you have to do is say the name of the party, and you never have to touch your phone again to make a call. And it only takes 10 seconds to set up a headset upon entry into a vehicle. If doing a 10 second task to ensure a more quality drive is "annoying," then you should probably double check that their work in other areas. More likely than not, you're employing a lazy ass.

Also, hooking up a cell phone headset is no more inconvenient than buckling your seat belt or preparing a CD to listen to before you head out. Eventually it becomes habit. I had an adjustment period of like 1 day, and now it's second nature. Once everything is hooked up, there's no difference in performance or productivity - it's just like using a handheld call phone, except now you have two hands free to operate the vehicle.

The third point has the most validity. Yes, the scientific community is still unsure about the true danger of handheld cell phone usage relative to other distractions. It's not easy to study, and I'm sure different states yield different results. But I do think we're all in agreement that driving while distracted, whether it be cell phone or not, endangers others. Just because actions like eating fries or applying makeup while driving are popular doesn't make them safe. But of all the distractions out there on the road, using a handheld cell phone is the most easily tracked and enforced. While most actions distract you for a few seconds, a call can last the entire duration of the drive - this means minutes, even hours. This is bad in that the timeframe for irresponsible driving is much greater, but good in that it's easy to catch. We could make inserting a tape while driving illegal, but who's going to see that? And even if you're caught, how can it be proven that you were doing it? There are no video cameras in your car, or the cop's car (that can see that fine a grain anyways). But its very apparent when a driver is using their phone, plus, it's easy to see if a handsfree kit is not hooked up after you've been pulled over. And call times can be retrieved from the provider if appropriate

Also, many distractions in a car are instigated by the driver or a passenger - someone who is at least semi-aware of what's going on and can refrain from conversation in order to allow more concentrated driving. With a cell phone, not only is making outbound calls a distraction, but you also have the urge to field incoming calls. A caller has no clue about the status of your drive. He/she has no concept of the current traffic pattern, your speed, or whether you're in the middle of a complex manuever. And yet, human nature for most people is to fumble around for the phone in fear of missing a potentially important call. This causes a huge lapse in attentiveness, especially if you need to look around to find the phone, reach out and obtain it, read the caller id, then press talk or flip it open. At least when changing your CD, you're more likely to wait until the next red light. This double onslaught of distraction, from both the driver and the callers, makes cell phones potentially twice as distracting. There may be no data as of yet to back this up, but it is one feature of a handheld cell phone that sets it apart from other driving distractions.

Ideally, all distractions should be illegal and driving should only be about driving, not about putting on makeup, fussing with your children, conducting business, or audio experience. But of all the multitasking we do behind the wheel to endanger ourselves and others, handheld cell phone usage is by far the most enforceable through law.

There you have it. I just don't understand why people keep fighting this. Cell phone use is not a necessity or a legislative civil right. It's a luxury item, enjoyed by millions like coffee or chocolate, but not essential to survival. And it's not like any of these laws ban cell phones in cars entirely. They only ban you from keeping your hand away from the wheel and onto a little piece of metal for minutes at a time. Everything about a handsfree cell phone policy is better than using a handheld when it comes to driving safety and communications flexibility, and it's a testament to the stupidity and laziness of this county's masses that we don't have a nationwide ban.

See archived entries for June 2004.
See archived entries for May 2004.

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