Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thinking out loud: Fairness and Ethics

A close friend of mine sent me this interesting Planet Money article the other day

The Fall And Rise Of U.S. Inequality, In 2 Graphs

I don't see why they needed 2 graphs, because they seemed pretty redundant to me. Either way, here's the graph:

It's a really nice way of showing the income inequality in the US, and how's it's changed over time. The take home point is that the richest 1% have seen a huge increase in their income while the middle class has been more or less stagnant for the last 20-30 years.

We talked about this for awhile, but I kept coming back to a question that I come around to in most discussions:

Is this bad? 

This is so tricky for me to answer. I have the gut reaction that most people probably have, and I say to myself "that's not fair!" But then I ask myself, "So what? Life's not fair."

In my discussion with my friend, I realized that this is a topic in which we have vastly different opinions. His approach to determining whether something is ethical often involves asking how fair it is. The more fair it is, the better. And less fair things are bad things.

I find it better to detach myself from questions of fairness in this instance, since my opinion of fairness comes from an emotional reaction, which is often very irrational.

However, I'm sort of a hypocrite, because I think questions of fairness have a place in many other issues. Here's a few of them where I think fairness is really important:

  • The gender pay gap
  • Racial profiling by police
  • Mass incarceration of minor crimes with mandatory minimum sentences

But can I have it both ways? Can fairness be important some times and not others?

I'm not sure that I have an answer to that question yet.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Florida to North Carolina

So we're settling into our new place in Raleigh, North Carolina. Raleigh is such a nice change from the heat and congestion of Miami.

The move felt like it took forever. We tried to find someone to take over our lease, but in the end we had to pay a penalty to get out of lease in Miami. Then my boss, Brian Mapes, was very generous and let us stay in a little building behind his house in Coral Gables that he referred to as a "mother-in-law cottage". It was a very cozy little spot that were are eternally thankful for, since it made our transition much easier.

On our way to North Carolina, we stopped for a night in South Carolina. Andrea's aunt and uncle from Iowa have a house near Mrytle Beach that another Aunt and cousin just happened to be visiting while we were passing through. It was great to see them and have a nice (and free!) place to stay.

The trip was about 12 hours of driving, which was not bad. The hardest part is that we had to drive separate cars, since we had 2 cars and 2 drivers. We listened to a LOT of podcasts. What did people do before podcasts?!?! Andrea listened to one about beer called Strange Brews, which was pretty interesting. I found that it can get boring though, since it's just a couple guys talking to each other about beer. Apparently there's a few podcasts about beer out there. I would never have guessed!

The most addicting podcast was called "Serial". It's one story, told in a dozen episodes or so. The story was about this guy who got convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend. The problem is that the evidence for convicting him was really spotty. But on the other hand, there's no better explanation for why someone would kill her. I highly recommend this podcast for anyone needing to kill a lot of time.

We made it to Raleigh, safe and sound. We found a nice little apartment and that in a really great location so we can bike almost anywhere that we need to go! Andrea got a job at a local bottle shop. I'm still wrapping up research from my last job, but I'm really enjoying work these days.

That's all the news for now!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Year's Resolutions: 2015

2014 was a huge year for me personally. Here's the highlights:

  • Finished my Ph.D.
  • Got my first real science job at the University of Miami
  • Got engaged to the love of my life (!)
  • Travelled to Germany
  • Received the NSF AGS fellowship

Each of those things have left me feeling very lucky. Sometimes I feel bad that it took me longer than most to finish my Ph.D., but that's hardly something to complain about, given that I've found a career that I really enjoy, which something a lot of people don't have.

Last year I made a few goals, one of which I failed to meet. Here's the list from 2014:

  • run at least 2x per week on average (success!)
  • have 3 publications either published or submitted (fail)

I had 1 paper get published, and I submitted another paper in late December, so that's why I failed on the second goal. This year I'm gonna set the same goal again. If the recently submitted paper gets published, that will count. So I have to submit 2 more papers. This shouldn't be hard since I still have most of my Ph.D. dissertation un-published, and I've got all this new interesting stuff from my postdoc job with Brian Mapes at UM.

The running goal was new for me because it was quantifiable. In the past I had made an effort to do similar things, but I was always too vague about it. Like I would tell myself to "run more", but at the end of the year I never had any idea whether I actually done what I hoped to do. This year I made a serious effort to get better about tracking my running. Part of this was to use an app called Strava, for tracking miles and such. Strava is my favorite running/biking app for a few reasons, one of which is how it keeps stats for you. However, since my goal was to run a certain frequency per week, I need to calculate my own stats.

I decided to use Google drive to make a spreadsheet. The great thing about doing it this way is that I can edit it from anywhere, like my phone or office computer. Here's a snapshot of the data for 2014:

I really like this layout that I settled on. I can add more stats to the right hand side if I need to. This layout is nice and compact, and even is easy to work in leap days! The newest version of Google's spreadsheet program has lots of new and useful functions, which I make heavy use of. a good example is my formula for the "#/week" column:

= iferror(COUNTIF(B2:AF2, ">0")*7/count(B2:AF2))

The "iferror" function is a nice way to not have "ERROR" messages all over the place when you are dividing by a "count", which can often be zero.

Another nice thing about Google spreadsheets is the plotting capabilities. Here's a plot of the "# per week" and "miles per week":
The big dip in the middle is when we were travelling in Germany. in order to pack light I didn't even bring my running shoes, but I did do a ton of walking, so I don't feel bad about it. But because of some large gaps in my running, I barely made my goal at 2.03 runs per week!

So now I need to make some new goals for this year. I'm gonna up my weekly frequency, and also add a goal on getting my pace much faster. To do this I've made a new Google spreadsheet that can average times! it's pretty sweet. While I'm at it, I'm also adding a spreadsheet to track my weight, so this year's end-of-year summary should be pretty interesting.

To wrap up, here's my resolutions for 2015:

  • Run 2.5 times per week on average
  • Get my average pace down to at least 9:30
  • Get my end of year weight down to 165 (which will be harder if I start lifting again)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

We're Engaged!

She said yes! Not that I was worried....

I had been trying to propose for a while now, but several time my plans fell apart. Initially, I found a problem in my credit report, which luckily was nothing serious, but ultimately made it impossible to buy the ring I wanted. To make it worse, the credit reporting agency said it would require "opening an investigation" and take 30-45 days to correct a minor error! Somehow a credit fairy swooped in a cleared it all up in a couple weeks.

My first ideas were pretty big. First I wanted to have a barbershop quartet sing For the Longest Time by Billy Joel. But it turned out to be really hard to hire an a cappella group in Miami. Another time I had made reservations at a place that sits on a 16th floor terrace It was going to be at sunset in a big gesture written out on a elegant dessert. However, the day before some friends invited to happy hour at the same place!!! I couldn't get ahold of them, and I couldn't just casually mention that we go back to the same place the next day, so I cancelled the reservation.

I was getting somewhat discouraged. There never seemed to be a good time, and I couldn't find a place that felt right. Then on Oct. 11, I decided to try again at the Redfish Grill, which is in a state park and right next to the water. I was gonna "show up early" and suggest that we take a walk since our reservation wasn't for another 30 min. Then I would ask her on the beach and have a table waiting for us afterward. But as I called that morning to arrange the reservation I found out that the place was closed for a private event! I was pretty bummed, but I resolved that I would just wait another week and try to find a good day to try again. Later that day we went to a restaurant called "Swine" that is in Coral Gables, and has excellent food. The host ended up seating us upstairs and where we were all alone! In a flash on spontaneity I said "I forgot my wallet in the car" and went to get the ring. I gave my monologue, told her how I felt, got down on one knee and asked her to marry me. 

Although, it wasn't a very flashy proposal, Andrea's cousin, Mark, got me thinking that she wouldn't really like a public proposal. It was much more special for it to be a low key thing just between us. And it was even better that it was a total surprise!

And here's the obligatory ring picture:

We've talked a bit about getting married, but we haven't really talked about specifics of wedding planning and neither us really know what we want to do. So there will be lots more to report in the coming months!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Standing Desk ver. 1

I've wanted to try a standing desk for a while now, for a lot of reasons. Most recently, I've been working longer hours, and having trouble sleeping. I go to bed feeling like I hardly did anything all day, even though I actually did!

I started doing more research, and came across several articles and blog posts, saying,

and while I'm not exactly suffering from sedentary death syndrome, I thought it would be worthwhile to give standing a try. Eventually, if all goes well then I'll make myself a more permanent standing desk out of steel pipe, like this one, but in the mean time I needed a cheap alternative to test this idea out. There was this idea for making a standing desk converter for $22 using Ikea stuff, but Ikea was far away, and I felt like I could come up with something simpler.

Enter concrete blocks!

These things are just the right height I needed when you stand one on end (16 in), and at less than $2 each, they are dirt cheap! On the downside they are heavy and a pain in the ass to move, but they are just so cheap and perfect for a standing desk trial period.

So without further ado, I give you the first version of my standing desk!

I also got an anti-fatigue mat because most articles say everyone buys one of these at some point to help their feet. Tomorrow will be a full standing workday, so wish me luck!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Homeless in Miami

We arrived in Miami on August 1, 2014, and for 12 days we were totally homeless!!! We had signed a lease on a condo and we thought everything was in order. But when we arrived we learned that the paperwork for our application to the condo association (like an HOA) got lost in the shuffle! Every following day was filled with hope that they would get to our paperwork and be able to give us the key to our place, but for 12 long days we were continually disappointed.

Luckily, we didn't lose out on the rent during that period. There were some other unintended benefits...

For the weekends where we knew there was no chance of getting into our place we booked a room through AirBnB. This was my first experience with this site, but it was great. The first place we stayed was just an extra room in a young couples condo. We stayed in touch with these guys, and a couple weeks later they bought a boat and took us out for a joy ride! It's good to have friends with a boat.

On another occasion we got put up by my uncle Mike in Fort Lauderdale, who had a friend with a unoccupied condo. The condo was a little warm at night, because the AC wasn't working properly, but we were right on the beach. I wish I could wake up to the sunrise over the ocean out my balcony window every morning! I'm really glad we met Mike and his wife Janice. They couldn't be nicer! On another occasion we hung out on the beach and did some paddle boarding.

Our nomadic period also helped us get better acquainted with the layout of Miami. I've never actually lived in such a large city, and my internal GPS doesn't work as well an Andrea's, so I really benefitted from all the time we spent driving around aimlessly.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Germany Video

It took me awhile to put this together, and then it got locked up with our stuff while moving. So, without further ado.....

Ta Da!