Archive for April, 2008

Dating Godless Liberals

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

So I’m gradually getting more and more disenfranchised with the Boston dating scene. Meeting actually interesting people in this town is tough, especially if you’re a godless veggie liberal type who’s looking for such similar traits in someone else.

Over the past year, I’ve been on many “dates” with girls from a certain online dating website. And most of them turn out to be nice enough people, but few of them are interesting enough that I’d want to hang out in the medium-longer term (read: they have to be interesting enough that I’m not just thinking about Karin instead). Remove statistical noise, and the significantly large percentage who are just doing it to take their mind off an ex-boyfriend (thus not really looking for anything but friendship), and you’re left with quite a depressingly dull and boring Boston area dating scene. I’m actually not exaggerating, it really is that bad. I’m not quite at the point of focusing exclusively on longer distance stuff (read: obviously Californians), but it’s almost getting there.

The typical process goes something like: a). review matches. b). remove “matches”. c). contact the one (or maybe two) people I might have something in common with. d). wait a very long time before more “matches” appear. A “match”, as far as dating goes, is someone who is in their 20s, single, liberal/very liberal, non-religious, and who has interests beyond whatever they do for a living. Smoking is usually a deal breaker too. And although nerdy computery types are interesting, I usually find I get on better with lawyers, biologists/medics, artists, writers, activists, etc. Someone with a brain, but preferably not someone who does exactly the same as that which I do for a living.

Although I have many friends with differing viewpoints to my own, the religion and politics things are really areas I’m pretty inflexible on if I’m honest about it (and, if they’re honest, so are most girls) when it comes to relationships. My reasoning comes down to longer term viability, family, things of this nature, where I know such differences have a strong potential to become intractable problems. And anyway, you’d think I’d find what I’m looking for in Boston and Cambridge of all places, but it feels like dating in any major city – everyone’s too busy, these people exist, but you just never find them.

I’m about done with it :)


The Age of Wal-Mart

Monday, April 28th, 2008

So CNBC is airing a 2004 documentary on Walmart this evening, providing various watered down drivel. I enjoyed laughing at this “documentary”, which did at least get me thinking about why I’ve never shopped in a real Walmart store (ASDA in the UK doesn’t count, because UK laws protect consumers and employees to a far greater degree), and never plan to shop there in the future.

They (CNBC) mention how managers are expected to turn up to work at 4:30am, how meetings start by 7:00, and how employees are trained to cut fabric to avoid giving the customer even “a thumb” worth of additional material. And they even (briefly) mention the healthcare situation. But what they don’t mention is that a succesful company shouldn’t be defined by how many hours you can force your worker bees to sandwich into a day, or how much you can shave off healthcare benefits, or even how little you can pay your suppliers for the goods that you sell. These are not good metrics.

I don’t shop in Walmart because I’m not convinced that the employees working there are working in conditions that I would be comfortable with, nor do I believe that it’s acceptable to motivate your entire life around price. A focus on Pricing is helping to damage the fabric of society in US and elsewhere – slowly, over a period of many years – as people become obsessed solely with the best “deal” (that being defined in terms of the lowest dollar amount only). It no longer matters to the average person if a given product is cheaper because the employee selling it has no healthcare, or because the supplier who produced the product employs non-unionised workers in China working in appalling conditions. Just so long as it’s cheap, everything is “good”.

Personally, although I love the US in many ways, I am deeply and personally offended by many business practices here that encourage consumers to forever focus solely on how much they’re paying and not why they’re paying whatever they are. The lack of legislation protecting consumers and employees shocks me on a daily basis, and I genuinely believe society would be much happier and far less stressful with just a few tweaks to the value system. There’s that word, “value”. I dearly wish people would start considering the “value” of goods and services they buy, rather than solely focus on cost. Think about it next time you’re buying your groceries, I know that I do.


They drive close together here

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Those were the words from one of my friends who visited recently. Yes, they do drive close together here, but more than that, Massachusetts drivers are some of the worst I’ve seen anywhere in the world (and I’ve been to India). In general, the odds are good that they don’t know minimum stopping distances (not a required part of testing), generally have an aversion to signals, won’t let you in at all costs, and will generally drive dangerously whenever required.

Since I’ve been living in Mass, I’ve seen more accidents happen in front of my eyes than ever before. I’ve seen side swipes, cyclists nearly hit with doors, cars bouncing off one another at high speed in an intersection, and one of the major highways on the way out to the office is usually closed due to an accident at least a few times a week. I largely attribute this to a severe lack of standards, testing, and the assumption that driving is a right and not the legal privilege that it actually is (yes, even here, it’s not a right to drive a vehicle under the law). My own driving test in Massachusetts lasted around 9 minutes – that was the practical test – and the “theory” exam, well, that was simply laughable. There’s no highway code to asses you on (the driving manual is a joke), but that doesn’t mean that the test doesn’t have to be solely about drink driving legislation. Because what would, anywhere else, be a simple question: “should you drink anything and operate a car?” (no, you really shouldn’t, not even a “couple of beers”) turns into a series of questions that occupy half of the test (the remainder is largely pointless – obviously you shouldn’t ever run over blind people). If you fail the theory, don’t worry, because you can retake it as many times as you like back-to-back until you pass.

Once you have your license, you can forget about ever using those signals (don’t worry, they don’t seem to care about teaching you to use them in the first place, but in case you ever bothered to learn to use mirrors and signals), because a large number of the other drivers won’t bother. They’ll happily swerve and overtake/undertake/anytake all without even bothering to indicate intention – or if they do, it’ll be after they’ve already started moving. And there’s no requirement for the signals to actually be a different colour from the rear breaking lights, which really helps keep you awake if you’re driving in poor visibility. When you get where you’re going, don’t expect anyone to let you in. If you use your signals at this point, you’re doomed to failure – it’s a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you must be looking, so other people should immediately cut you up, and go crazy, anything to prevent you from making the move you might be considering. And anyway, don’t worry if you miss your exit, because enough drivers here will happily back up on the highway to get to a missed exit – after all, it’s faster and far more dangerous, and so therefore in keeping with other best practices.

And you needn’t worry about that semi (UK: HGV – Heavy Goods Vehicle) driver who’s overtaking and performing dangerous manoeuvres at high speed on the highway. Because he (or she) are clearly getting enough sleep and rest, after all, there’s no tacograph system in operation, nothing but minimal paper record requirements separating the operating company (with its motivation to get goods to their destination as quickly as possible) from its profit. Of course, I personally think Europe goes too far with its legislation in this respect, so I guess on some level it’s nice to know that many US states do largely nothing in return. I guess on some level, that balances things out quite nicely.

Now, this is where you’re wondering if I’m going to come out praising the UK system. The answer, of course, is that I’m not. I don’t think the UK has all the answers – I certainly think the DSA (Driving Standards Agency) is run by assclowns who couldn’t figure out how to run any kind of commercial operation, so they run a government agency instead – but I do at least think that the UK is setting an example in terms of testing quality that some US states really should look into. You’ve got to ask yourself, when you live in the State with one of the worst accident rates, is it really that people are fundamentally unable to drive vehicles in MA, or is it actually that the standards are so fundamentally low and lacking that they serve to create the mess that is the level of accidents, auto insurance rates, and other craziness. It’s not actually funny, in spite of my use of sarcasm to describe driving here, it’s actually shamefully appalling.

Of course, this isn’t the case of every driver. I don’t think I’m the best driver by any means, and I’ve seen some great examples of excellent driving in Massachusetts and throughout the US. I just wish there were some actual (non-laughable) national standards being applied, some consistency, and more of a desire to use education as a preventative measure rather than a tendency towards being reactionary after the fact.


I’m going vegetarian

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

So, it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and I’ve finally decided that I’m going to go vegetarian. Not vegan – I’ll still eat dairy and eggs for now, but I have decided to give up seafood in addition to not having eaten meat in three years.

I gave up meat one day a few years ago. I got to a point where I had a personal epiphany. I realized that animals were being slaughtered in brutal ways, sandwiched into machines, and squirted in plastic containers in regular geometric shapes before being sold for consumption by people who prefer not to know where it comes from. I realized that I am actually only comfortable eating food I’m willing to prepare from scratch myself – and I can’t bring myself to kill animals. On some level, I actually respect those who are willing to do this; at least they’re consistent all the way.

Back in the 1990s and early 21st century, I was the biggest consumer of KFC in the UK. I could have won a prize for my unhealthy diet, and those late night trips helped me invent the notion of “4th meal”, way before Taco Bell corporation trademarked it. I was huge (over 215lbs – I am now generally under 165lbs and trying to get down to 154), very unhealthy, and I loved to eat murdered chicken covered in whatever sauce was available, with a few sides, and some chips (US: French Fries). Then, one day, I woke up. I realized this was unhealthy, and worse, that I was contributing to a global problem that is the meat industry that cares only about profit, at all costs (environment, animal welfare, etc.).

Religion came into it on some level too. I’ve never been religious, per se. But it’s only in recent times that I’ve actually moved myself from the “agnostic” to the “atheist” pigeon hole. And in so doing, I’ve re-evaluated my importance in the world. There is no “god given right” to eat animals. They’re not lower life forms who deserve to die for our pleasure, and we should not be killing them to put them on our tables at night. As human beings, we don’t need to eat meat to enjoy ourselves, but society chooses to do this – especially in the US, where everything contains some kind of meat unless specifically labeled otherwise. Just ask American Airlines, next time they fail to supply a vegetarian meal and offer to take the meat out of it for you – this has happened on several separate occasions.

Actually, it was a slow bubbling process to reach that realization – that I should stop eating meat. I guess I started to really think about it when I went to a mechatronics lecture given by the IEEE back in the last century. I was probably the only “highschool” kid there, and don’t worry if you’ve never heard of the term. Essentially, without going into mechatronics on a larger level, the presenter talked about the most elaborate and most highly automated cattle slaughtering machine yet conceived. Literally, a cow goes in at one end, and burgers come out at the other. You can completely remove yourself from the process, just like we enjoy doing in other aspects of our modern day lives.

It’s funny how you can kid yourself into thinking it’s ok to eat seafood when you’ve given up meat. I guess I labeled salmon as somehow a lower form of life, and oysters, well, they clearly didn’t even deserve the time of day. But after one too many exercises in self rationalizing my actions, I’ve decided I can’t continue to kid myself into thinking it’s ok to eat fish and sea food and not eat meat too. I’ve simply got to give up that tasty salmon because it’s the right thing to do. Not because I particularly dislike the food – quite the contrary – but because it’s the only rational and right thing for me to be doing at this stage in my life.

And don’t worry, I won’t tell you what you “should” or “should not” do. That’s entirely your call – and that’s another way we can distinguish ourselves as human beings, by not trying to convert others but solely by living our own lives in ways in which we feel morally comfortable within ourselves.