Mar 28, 2013

Most People Genuinely Don't Understand Phobias

I’ve lived with a phobia as long as I can remember. I don’t know why it’s there, and I’ve never been able to fully overcome it. While it in itself is frustrating, it makes me sad when I realize that “most people” really don’t understand what the strain on someone’s psyche is when they have a phobia.

We’ve probably met people with arachnophobia, or claustrophobia - or at least recognize the term by name. I’ve heard people claim to have these phobias that genuinely did not express the symptoms of phobia when faced with their trigger - and people that do. I worry that the term is potentially overused in circumstances where it isn’t relevant. For reference, the former is like someone who really hates tomatoes, and the latter is like someone who is violently allergic to tomatoes - really quite different. The most common response given when I tell someone about my phobia is “Yeah, I don’t really like ______ either.” The extreme understatement of “I don’t really like” is astonishing.

Let me try to break it down for you. Mentioning the word gives me a shot of adrenaline equivalent to the epinephrine I get with the shot when my dentist numbs my teeth. Increased heart rate, tightness in the chest, and anxiety are obvious and immediate reactions - just to the mention of the word (and no - I’m not going to tell you what mine is, for that very reason). Someone with a phobia, when confronted by their trigger, is going to experience an uncontrollable and irrational fear of that trigger. A friend of mine with arachnophobia saw a tiny spider on their windshield while driving and was paralyzed by their fear and hyperventilating immediately. This lead to the rest of the car immediately in fear for their lives because the person driving could no longer focus on driving - all they could focus on was the fear and the source of that fear. I’m going to guess that most of you relate to the passengers - because a car without a driver is much more life-threatening than a tiny spider. Key point: not to someone with arachnophobia, that spider is far more terrifying than the uncontrolled motor vehicle. I got the spider and tossed it out the car, but they were still not okay. This is a feeling I’m familiar with, and even I should be better at recognizing and responding to it in others.

Now, to an outside observer - the level of fear is crazy over something that is not, in fact, life-threatening. True, it isn’t - but their subconscious responds as though they are under threat. If someone you knew was held up and their life was threatened while a gun was at their head - you would expect that level of fear. If they never wanted to go back to the place they experienced that trauma, or never wanted to see the person responsible again, or even if they wanted revenge for what was done to them - it probably wouldn’t surprise you. Yet it is the same level of fear experienced by people with phobias. When someone expresses that level of fear over something that isn’t actually life-threatening - the response is much different.

When I’ve experienced this fear, the expectation of people around me is often that I should be fine. Nothing traumatizing “actually” happened, so I should just get over it. I spend all of my energy repressing the trauma I’ve experienced - pretending I’m okay because that’s what everyone wants and expects from me. In reality, I’m really NOT okay. I get PTSD from my phobia - it’s not life-threatening, but I experience waking nightmares about every time I’ve encountered my trigger - including instances from over 20 years ago. I have trouble relaxing because when I stop for a second to think, or just be - that’s when my mind likes to torment me with every possible memory of my fear. I’ve been asked if I’d rather die or face my fear - I’d honestly rather die than be subjected to it intentionally even once. That once will become thousands of times in my lifetime that will haunt me in ways I don’t want to imagine, because I already know how much it haunts me now.

The worst of it is, I’ve grown a lot - I’ve learned a lot about my phobia, and I’ve accepted that others do not see it the way I do. And, most importantly - that I can’t blame them for that. That fear, and the repression of that fear leads to a lot of anger at the outside world. You want to cry out at them for not understanding your needs, punish them for torturing you, and ask them why they hate you so much because you can’t imagine that someone who likes or loves you could put you through that much pain. When really, they just don’t understand the level of intense emotions you’re feeling. They can’t even imagine them, because to them - your trigger is about as scary to them as the screen you’re currently reading this on.

Even in knowing this, I cannot control my fear. My fear is an inherent characteristic of my person because I started experiencing symptoms before I was old enough for preschool, and although I try to be better - I inevitably fail. Every encounter is a dice roll, and over time I’ve been able to lower the dc of my will save - but every roll changes the dc making it harder and harder to behave like a “normal” person. As in Russian Roulette, each click that isn’t loaded only raises the tension through the possibility that the next chamber is the one that’s loaded. Once I fail that will save - there is no turning back, the dam is broken and I am so far from okay that it will take me weeks to truly be myself again. You can look forward to anger, fear, depression, and anxiety flowing out of me for days. Then, after I’ve survived that phase, you can watch while I hate myself for all the shitty shit that I did while I was in that phase, and for all the raw emotional sewage that my trigger swept upon me. I hate myself for being this way. I wish I could magically make the fear go away too. I don’t enjoy any part of it, and it would be awesome if my trigger didn’t exist in the world so I would never have to face it again. Maybe then I could feel sane.

Please, be aware of this fear. When you know someone with a phobia, or see someone express this abject fear over something completely harmless to you - accept that they are afraid and that is all that matters. Get them away from their trigger, and do your best to be helpful if they want you to do anything they think will help them recover. Because honestly, there’s a phobia for nearly anything you can think of, and no matter how crazy it seems to you - the person experiencing that fear is living it in real time as though someone is about to kill them. It is not a joke, and it is out of their control. Also, no matter how many times you tell them they’re okay - they aren’t okay, but it’s okay that they aren’t okay - got it?

Aug 28, 2012

Circumcision Recommended (sort of)

This week the American Academy of Pediatrics updated their recommendations regarding routine neonatal circumcision. Their updated policy recommends circumcision for babies (kind of sort of, if you feel like it) [source].

The article states, "Circumcision has been shown to reduce the risk of sexually-transmitted infections including HIV," but it doesn't link to the original studies, or name them.

It is likely they are referring to the most recent studies on circumcision and STDs [source]. These studies were done on adult men in Africa who had sex with multiple female partners with no condoms, and it found that circumcision reduced the transmission of STDs in that population group. The fine print is that 72 circumcisions would be required to prevent one case of HIV in this population group. The protective effect is absent for homosexual partners, would be reduced for a monogamous couple, and in any case a condom provides greater protection.

This study should not be a compelling reason to perform surgery on a baby, whom you would not expect to be engaging in frequent sex with multiple female partners for quite some time. What if the child ends up being homosexual? What if the child decides to be celibate? What if the child has a monogamous relationship? Isn't the child going to be taught to practice safe sex and use condoms anyway?

The AAP says,
"parents are entitled to factually correct and non-biased information about circumcision and must be allowed to weight the health benefits and risks in light of their own cultural, religious and personal preferences,"
but that is not how science is done. It is wrong to say that parents ought to weigh the benefits based on the latest science *and* their cultural, religious, and personal preferences. Science doesn't work like that. You don't get to use science "except" for when it contradicts your preconceived notions.

According to the article,
"The AAP statement does not recommend routine circumcision for all newborn males, but does believe that 'the benefits are enough to warrant access to the procedures for those families choosing it.'"
This is a deceptive statement that is counting on poor reading comprehension from those whom it is targeting. The AAP is saying circumcision is medically beneficial, but they can't really recommend it, unless your culture tells you to do it. There are benefits, but they are so negligible the AAP can't recommend it, unless you really want it. It's like the US government's no fly list: people who are so dangerous they can't be let on a plane, but so innocent they can't be charged with a crime!

Two-faced efforts to have your cake and eat it too are the result of sensationalist politicking.

The article mentions that that circumcision has been "shown to educe the risk of penile cancer, as well as cervical cancer in sexual partners." It is pushing the bounds of decency to mention of reducing the risk of cervical cancer in female partners when recommending circumcision for a baby. What if the baby grows up homosexual or celibate?

Can you imagine if we had evidence that female circumcision reduced the risk of penile cancer in male partners of the woman? Would anyone even remotely consider performing corrective surgery on a female baby to prevent her future hypothetical male partners from getting a disease? I mean, anyone aside from the patriarchal religious nutbags for whom that would be an obvious choice.

As a society, we don't go around castrating people with HIV because 'studies have shown a castrated man is 99% less likely to spread STDs than one who has his balls intact'. If we want to reduce the chance of penile cancer entirely, we could just remove the entire penis! Butchering healthy flesh to prevent hypothetical disease is lunatic. After all, breast removal surgery for your girls would reduce breast cancer rates by an even greater margin, but that's obviously an insane path to pursue.

Although the article doesn't mention it, it is worth nothing that circumcision removes 50-60% of the skin around the penis [source]. The foreskin is dense with nerve endings and classified as an erogenous zone, due to the type of nerves and density. It is a healthy part of the body, and like any other part of the body it can become diseased, but that doesn't warrant preemptive amputation.

I agree with the conclusion of the article, "opting for or against circumcision is one of the first and most important [decisions] a parent can make for a newborn son." It's an important decision, and one that shouldn't be based on dogma.

Jul 8, 2012

Seeking Approval

I don't usually seek approval from others. I make a point of not caring what others think, except insofar as if "they" disapprove, I must be doing something right!

But there's one aspect I do care about, and it's always puzzled me. That aspect is writing. I do care what others think about my writing. Maybe that's not so odd, but as I examined this uncharacteristic caring of what others think, it got odder.

I'd honestly feel better if some of my writing got accepted into a printed magazine or anthology that had thousands of readers, than if I posted my writing on the internet and got tens of thousands of readers, or even just a few dozen who personally like my work.

I know that's silly. Of course I would rather have a fan base that likes my work specifically as opposed to just being another name in some compendium, but that's not how I feel. It's one of those things where it's like I'm looking in at myself from outside a glass wall, wondering "what is that person doing, thinking like that? How odd."

Apparently I want the Machines of Industry to pick up my stuff, print it, and put it out there. Because...then it would be official? But I spend my spare time talking about how the concepts of "official" and "society" are arbitrary and not particularly virtuous! I'm a student of the school of the death of the author, and I believe the deaths of the information gatekeepers is a wonderful thing. Viva la democratization of data!

So it's funny, but there it is. I'd be that's not an uncommon way of feeling. The glittery appeal of the establishment has its charms.

Mar 4, 2012

Horsepower to Weight to Cost

While watching too much Top Gear, I decided to do a little number crunching to see what the fastest car I could find--for the money.

The metric I decided on was (horsepower to weight)*(cost), as both numbers are lower-is-better. We'll call this metric "X". Lower X is better, obviously.

Well, here's the list:

10: Porsche Boxter

  • Weight: 2888 pounds
  • Power: 265 HP
  • Weight/HP: 10.90
  • Price: $49,500
  • X: 539,550

9: Bicycle (and me on it)

The lesson here: don't buy a Porsche.
  • Weight: ~200 pounds
  • Power: 0.1 HP
  • Weight/HP: 2000
  • Price: $200
  • X: 400,000

8: Mazda Rx8

  • Weight: 3065 pounds
  • Power: 232 HP
  • Weight/HP: 13.21
  • Price: $26,795
  • X: 353,961

7: Mazda Miata

  • Weight: 2447 pounds
  • Power: 167 HP
  • Weight/HP: 14.65
  • Price: $26,470
  • X: 343,835

6: Dodge Charger

  • Weight: 3834 pounds (auto)
  • Power: 305 HP
  • Weight/HP: 12.57
  • Price: $26,420
  • X: 332,099

5: Mazda Speed3

  • Weight: 3281 pounds
  • Power: 263 HP
  • Weight/HP: 12.47
  • Price: $24,000
  • X: 329,457

4: Kia Forte Coupe

  • Weight: 2844 pounds
  • Power: 173 HP
  • Weight/HP: 16.44
  • Price: $19,350
  • X: 318,114

3: Hyundai Veloster

  • Weight: 2950 pounds
  • Power: 201 HP
  • Weight/HP: 14.44
  • Price: $18,075
  • X: 265,341

2: Ford Mustang GT

  • Weight: 3631 pounds
  • Power: 412 HP
  • Weight/HP: 8.81
  • Price: $29,710
  • X: 261,745
...and the winner is...

1: Ford Mustang v6

  • Weight: 3453 pounds
  • Power: 305 HP
  • Weight/HP: 11.32
  • Price: $22,310
  • X: 252,549

So, the lesson here is that if you pick this particular arbitrary metric, you should totally buy a big, heavy, powerful, cheap American muscle car--but not the really powerful one. That's right, the v6 Mustang is the most horsepower-to-weight-to-money ratio car I checked stats for.

That being said, it does tend to make the otherwise hideous Veloster an interesting entrant. It also speaks highly of Fish's Kia. It does, however, slightly tarnish my fantasy of owning an RX8 or Miata...

Jan 17, 2012

.999 repeating does not equal 1

Scott Wilhelm nerd-sniped me with this video that claims infinity equals -1

The method used in the video is being basically the same method used in the false proof that .999 repeating = 1.

I believe that both of those proofs are wrong. The problem is that they are engaging in mathematical legerdemain and using an infinite series as a real number. But I don't believe it is mathematically possible to use infinite series as a real number. You can't multiply it by anything. It is infinite. You end up with terms that cannot be mixed, like a blue mile or a red 65 miles per hour. It just doesn't make sense or describe anything real.

This is here is some fucking crazy calculus, but I think it is basically saying you cannot treat an infinite series as a sum, which is what the .999.. = 1 and the infinity video are trying to do. See the part beginning with:
Before we move on to a different topic let’s discuss multiplication of series briefly.
It says that you cannot treat multiplying a series as just multiplying the constant terms, you have to distribute each term into each other and then combine them, which is literally impossible when dealing with an infinite series. The only way to do it is to represent it with notation (which is another infinite series), but you cannot derive a real number out of it. And that is the key. An infinite series is not a sequence of numbers. See the concluding two paragraphs:
We’ll leave this section with an important warning about terminology. Don’t get sequences and series confused! A sequence is a list of numbers written in a specific order while an infinite series is a limit of a sequence of finite series and hence, if it exists will be a single value.

So, once again, a sequence is a list of numbers while a series is a single number, provided it makes sense to even compute the series. Students will often confuse the two and try to use facts pertaining to one on the other. However, since they are different beasts this just won’t work. There will be problems where we are using both sequences and series so we’ll always have to remember that they are different.
In that the infinity video, the speaker is giving us an infinite series and then claiming that is identical to a sequence of digits that can be cancelled out using another sequence. But you can't do that. You can't compare an infinite series to a sequence in that way. It's an abuse of terms.

An infinite series is a single number, provided it makes sense to even compute the series. And in that case the computation of the series is a number, but that is not the same thing as saying the series itself is the number. That's the same as how a fully grown apple seed is a tree, but an apple seed itself is not a tree.

If you want to perform mathematics using series you must use only series. In that case you are using notation so you would use .999.. and never resolve it to a real number. If you have an infinite series and you want to use it with real numbers you must take the limit of it, which is more crazy calculus but as I understand it it is a way to find the real number to which the series gets the closest (if any) with infinitely diminishing margin of error. In the case of .999.. that is in fact 1, because there is no real number closer to .999.. than 1.

BUT, in this case we aren't saying that .999.. equals 1, we are saying that the limit of .999.. is equivalent to one. Those are not the same statements.


You can say that 1 = 1 or that .999 to infinity = .999 to infinity, but you cannot say that .999 to infinity equals 1. It is exactly like this:
An apple equals a fruit.
An orange equals a fruit.
If you cancel out the fruit term, you get an apple equals an orange.
But you can't compare apples to oranges!

The infinity video I believe both has the method wrong and the conclusion wrong. Infinity is not equal to -1, because the limit of infinity is not -1.

The .999 repeating equals 1 has the method wrong, because you can't perform sequential number calculations on an infinite series, and the conclusion is syntactically wrong. It's the limit of .999.. that is equal to 1.

I know some posters on Dark Taco are much better trained math wizards than I. What say you?

Oct 23, 2011

The House Rental Industry Sucks

A multitude of property management companies carve up the rental space into countless little overlapping fiefdoms making it difficult to rent a house and wasting home owners money. This is generally bad for everyone involved and needs to stop.

Every town/suburb I've looked for housing in, has multitudes of rental/property management agencies. So if you want to rent a particular house you have to deal with one group of incompetent twits. If you instead want to rent the house across the street you get to deal with a completely different set of inept knuckle draggers.

Most property management offices will require you to fill out an application with all kinds of basic information and pay for a credit check. Not that difficult, but each and every place you look at will have a different application an yet another $35 credit check. To add insult to injury they will probably require that you fax them your application if you cannot make it to their office durring business hours.

This is ridiculous! For one thing, "office hours" are probably the standard 9-5, which doesn't make a lick of sense. If I have a steady job to pay rent, you might suppose I would be busy from 9-5, probably.  So I can't make it in durring office hours, I'll just fax that application in. Oh wait, the fax didn't go through, the line was busy, the machine at Kinkos was labeled wrong and I fed my application through upside down so your machine just spit out 3 blank pages, the application came through but my signature was cut off, what else could go wrong. Fax machines are and have always been a terrible idea.

This whole conundrum could be solved by a secure web form, and a centralized credit check. I would do one credit check and it would be good for say 3 months, durring which time I could just send my results electronically with my on-line application to any agency. Wouldn't that be nice?

Earlier I say this whole pile of last weeks dinner wastes home owners money, let me justify that claim. When a home owner wants to rent out her house but doesn't want all the hassle of actually being a landlord, she can turn to a property management company to do the dirty work for her.  Property management agencies typically get paid monthy  for maintenance and get a finders feed based of the first months rent when a new tenant moves in.

This means the motivation is all wrong, the property management company is motivated not to get a new tenant as soon as possible but instead with as little work on their part as possible. Which ads up to the property staying vacant longer and the potential renter gets lousy service. The owner is out months of rent and the renter if frustrated to the point of accepting whatever they can find, instead of exactly what they want.

If we could change the industry so that the agencies would be financially motivated by helping the renter find a place rather than doing as little work as possible, houses would rent faster and renters would be happier.

This has been a rant by The Angry Hippy thanks fore reading.

Dec 31, 2010

Solar Reigns in the Black Forest

One thing I keep running into while visiting southern Germay is a perponderance of alternative energy. Windmills and solar panels are in every skyline. Even though you cannot see the sun.

Take this barn for an example. I took this picture in a sleepy little wine producing village that is over a thousand years old. By my best guess the barn in the picture is over 500 years old, and covering almost its entire southern roof are two huge solar arrays.

To put this amazing blending of ancient and modern in perspective, I haven't seen the sun in weeks, its not like we are in sunny California where solar collectors would work year round.

Anyway, just wanted to share this amazing observation bulidings older than the country I live in with state of the art technology on the roofs. Lets get it together and follow Germany's example. If we were willing to put solar pannels on every available surface like they are, we would be a lot closer to energy independance.

auf wiedersehen
Posted by Picasa

Dec 6, 2010

Bad Science Journalism

Seriously, does the bad even need to be up there anymore, or has Science Journalism become synonymous with Bad for other people as well. I was reading this article from reuters about Solving the Anti-Matter Mystery. There are some problems with this post in my opinion.
First off, they don't mention what the Anti-Matter mystery is really, maybe they are hiding underneath the sink. They also confuse it with solar power, dark energy and dark matter. They also seem to be convinced that we don't know what it's made of, perhaps that was the mystery. Also mysteriously absent was the fact that anti-particles have been being stored at accelerator facilities for years, and that this was significant because they were neutral atoms being stored. I guess they mentioned the word neutral in the article somewhere else, it's good enough right?
Maybe I'm being too critical, but it seems like you could quickly modify this article to be about nearly anything by just changing some nouns.

Jul 17, 2010

Cutout Cake (Image Overload)

This week in Dessert Theatre, I concocted a special treat for my sister's birthday. I spent quite a bit of time planning, and though the cake wasn't perfect, it came out wonderfully in the end.

I pulled resources from bakebakebake, the LJ community, as always, and went to my two standby recipes. My sister asked for a white cake with vanilla frosting. When asked about colors, she said blue and green. My trusty white cake recipe from came to my side, heavily fused with Wilton's icing coloring. My basic vanilla buttercream recipe* - a rich, buttery and smooth frosting - did the trick of icing, also heavily infused with Wilton's coloring.

What is truly special about the cake is what I did to the inside, though:

I was inspired by this tutorial, which can also be found within the annals of bakebakebake.

But I made four separate cake recipes, and four batches of buttercream. What did I do with all the extra, you ask? Well, I'm so glad you asked...

Cake balls! Heavily inspired by many, many places, most notably Bakerella.

These were pretty delicious, and I found out that, per ounce, dark chocolate gets more coverage than milk or white chocolate, as it is thinner when melted.

All in all, I produced a 6" wide 7.5" tall cake, and 88 cake balls. For more photos, in progress shots, and images of my dirty kitchen, you can check out the Picasa album.

*I have no idea where I found this, but recipe as follows:
1 stick butter (1/2 cup), room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tbsp hot water
Beat until smooth and creamy
(If the butter is too cold, you'll get a spotty effect in the icing)

Jul 11, 2010

Cass Divine - A Web Comedy: Episode 0

Our proto-episode is live on Kickstarter!

We're still trying to drum up interest, so go check out some of the extra features we're hosting exclusively on Kickstarter!