Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Australian Critical Thinking Videos!

Here are a series of very short videos created by the Australian Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. They briefly talk about critical reasoning, logic, argument, and logical fallacy.  I just thought that they sort of discussed a pretty geeky topic in a way that's fun and entertaining without being snooty. I also kind of liked the videos because they brought back memories of some of my philosophy classes from my undergraduate days at Trinity. 

True, there are six of these videos, but they're short, and I think they're well executed!

The first video is a short intro to critical thinking.



The second video introduces formal logic and briefly explains logical fallacies (I suffered flashbacks of symbolic logic class)



The third video focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of premises.



The fourth video is about bias and objectivity.



The fifth video looks at the gambler's paradox, examining the mind's tendency to seek patterns and how it can lead us to make mistakes of logic.



The sixth video looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the precautionary principle. The video examines the relative values of probability versus certainty, and here the videos stray farther into an examination of scientific principles as opposed to pure logic.



Annnnyway, I just thought the videos were kind of cool!  I hope at least one or two of you enjoy them!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Weekend Update

Well, the weekend was a good one. The biggest story from the weekend involved the installation of new Pergo flooring at the house on Friday (in the three bedrooms- the rest of the house has tile).  It took me a long time to get around to getting them installed, but I think they look pretty good!



So the new floors required us to move all of my stuff (and Amy's) out of the three bedrooms.  We spent the night at my parents house on Thursday and Friday nights. 
I just want to say thanks again to Mom and Dad for helping with everything from moving furniture, to housing and feeding us, to meeting up with the install guys when I had to be at a meeting for work.  Also, thanks to Ryan for helping with moving furniture before the install.  We really appreciate all of the help!
So, anyway, the flooring project took up a good part of the weekend, but the final product looks nice.
On Saturday night I went to see an improv comedy thing at the Institution Theater with Ryan, Jamie and friends.  Our longtime friend, Carla, had a central role in the performance, which was a sort of improv comedy version of a Lifetime movie.  It was pretty darn entertaining, and Carla did a really good job.
On Sunday we got back in the normal swing of things- running errands, shopping, exercising, etc..
Sunday night I joined Amy at an Oscar party at Jaci and Josh's house.  I can't remember the last time I watched the Oscars, let alone attended an Oscars party, and I hadn't really seen most of the movies.  We had a nice time, though, and really enjoyed the company.  I need to see The Artist and Hugo.   
So that was the weekend.  It was nice.  The weather yesterday was beautiful.
You have to love Austin in the spring!
Hope everyone is doing well.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Weekend Update (with special guest stars Jean and Heidi!)

So the weekend was good.  On Thursday night Amy and I went to see Trombone Shorty, and while we were at the show, Amy's mom, Jean, and her sister, Heidi, were jetting into town.
We didn't hang out with them on Thursday night, but on Friday Amy spent some time during the day hanging out.  Friday night Ryan and Jamie joined the Davis ladies and myself for dinner at the Chuy's on South Mopac, and we all had a really nice time.  Ryan had never met Heidi or Jean before, and Jamie had never met Heidi, so it was a nice chance for all of them to meet, and a good opportunity for the Davis and Steans clans to hang out a bit and relax.  It was a nice evening!
On Saturday I got together with Dad and Ryan for lunch, and then Dad and I put together some storage shelves for my garage.  All of this took place while the Davis women rode with my mom out to Fredericksburg for some shopping and hanging out.  It seems like everyone had a nice day all the way around (even though it rained a bit).



Saturday night we went out to Bess Bistro for dinner in honor or Jean and Heidi's birthdays.  We had a really nice time.  Amy and I really like Bess, and it was really fun to share it.  We all really enjoyed one another's company, and the food was tasty.  There was a small mishap involving our waitress and a glass of wine, but it got us champagne and dessert, so it worked out just fine!


On Sunday Amy spent some more time with her mom and sister in the morning.  In the afternoon they all came back to the house.  The four of us took a walk with Cassidy around our neighborhood, and then we walked over to the Central Market Cafe for lunch.
It was a nice visit.  I really hope Jean and Heidi enjoyed their little vacation here in Austin.  We really enjoyed having them!

Well, that was it for the weekend.  Yesterday I had the day off for President's Day.  Beautiful weather!  I spent a lot of the day moving stuff around in my house in preparation for getting some new floors put in next weekend, but I had the windows open, the radio on, and my trusty dog at my side, so it was a pretty nice day, all in all.
That's it!  Hope all is well out there.  I can feel spring in the air here in Austin, and this makes me very happy.  :-)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Trombone Shorty

Last night Amy and I went to The Moody Theater to see Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue.  The show was great!  The Dirty Dozen Brass Band opened.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band's opening set was really good, and really could have stood alone as a show unto itself.  They were great to listen to, and they really seemed to be enjoying themselves.  They got a great crowd reaction, which was really nice given the fact taht they were in an opening slot (sometimes opening bands just don't get a fair shake).  I'd be more than happy to just go see them headline sometime. 




Troy Andrews (aka, Trombone Shorty) is not only an amazingly talented horn player (trombone and trumpet) and singer- he also has a certain sense of old school, hardworking showmanship that brings to mind James Brown and other classic funk, blues, and soul performers (maybe Ray Charles?).  He has a great stage persona, working hard to win the audience over with his talent and energy.  It's kind of a welcome change in an era when many musicians (especially talented ones) seem to approach performance with a "the audience is fortunate to have the chance to hear me" attitude.
Orleans Avenue was a great backing band- extremely capable musicians who seemed to be having a great time with the crowd.
Anyway, Amy and I both had a really fun time.  It felt sort of like being at a giant party with a really good house band!  Also, once again, the experience of seeing a show at The Moody Theater was really cool.  Really good sound, and it's fun to see a show right downtown Austin.
Very nice night!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

American Central

This is another Wastewood song.  I wrote after Ryan and I took a trip to Costa Rica together back in 2008.  Reed does some shaker work on this one (okay, maybe they aren't actually shakers, but they're some sort of shaker-like percussion instrument).


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!!

Going to keep this short because it's just a day that you only care about if you care about it.
I love you, Amy!
Thanks for being my Valentine!!!

Hope everyone has a nice day. :-)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Quick Weekend Update

Our weekend was sort of a weird mix of being low key and mildly busy.
On Friday Amy joined me for a quick happy hour party to celebrate birthdays with some courthouse people.  Afterward we went over to play games with Reid, Jim, and Seth.  We played Navegador, a strategy board game about the Portuguese Age of Discovery.  It was fun.  We've played these games several times now, and I think I'm just finally starting to get the hang of them a little.  And it's always nice of Reid to have us over.  We enjoy both the company and the games.
On Saturday we took Cassidy to the park, exercised, and... I'm not sure what....
I know we watched a movie.  Tristram Shandy:  A Cock and Bull Story.  It was interesting.  Sort of a mockumentary about the making of a British historical costume drama.  Definitely different than what I was expecting.  It was funny, but its comedy ranged from simple giggle-inducing slapstick to more thought provoking satire about "art" films and the kind of people who make and watch them.  In the end, I liked it.   
Sunday involved church and shopping and band practice.
Amy's thinking of joining Central Presbyterian Church, and I've been going with on Sundays.  Nice people.  They really pride themselves on being open minded, welcoming of diversity, and tolerant of other viewpoints, beliefs, and faiths.  On top of that, their sermons tend to be sort of interesting and thought provoking.  It's good.
Other from church we did some grocery shopping (driving over there in the sleet!), I got a haircut, and we had band practice.
Amy made some really good pasta in white wine sauce afterward with spinach and sausage.  Very good.
So, not too exciting this weekend, but very pleasant.  :-)

Hope everyone else has been doing well!

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Pontchartrain

So a couple of years ago I wrote some songs and recorded them with Reed.  We weren't abandoning good ol' Mono Ensemble, but various guys in the band had been doing different side projects (which is a healthy thing when a band has been playing together as long as Mono), and this was a little side project for us.  The name of our side band became Wastewood, taken from a local nickname for our beloved alma mater- Westwood High.  I wrote some songs, Reed came up with drum parts, and we did some recording in our free time.  I wrote this one in 2007 after a roadtrip to New Orleans with Reed, Andy, and Rami to see The Police.  Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Happy Birthday, Amy!

Many happy returns, Amy!  I love you.  I hope you have a really, really good birthday, and I'm grateful for the chance to take these laps around the sun with you! 
 


Monday, February 06, 2012

The Weekend

The weekend was really good!
On Friday night Amy and I braved a few rain showers to drive out to Gruene Hall to see the Old 97's.  It was a really fun show.  I used to listen to the Old 97's way back when I was in college and early law school, but somehow I had sort of forgotten about them, which was a dumb thing to do.  Amy's a fan, and her enthusiasm for the band helped return them to their rightful place on my radar.
(the Old 97's play a dancehall in what I can only assume
must be in Ohio)
The Old 97's play a fairly unique version of fast paced alternative country (which definitely has as driving rock feel to it), and their lyrics are smart, witty, and sometimes poignant.  They're from Dallas, originally, and although their songs run a wide range of topics, they don't let you forget that they're from Texas and pretty proud of it.  They're a national/international act at this point, and I've got to say that they're a really cool group to have out their touring as ambassadors for Texas music. 
(photobomb by random drunk guy
notwithstanding, I like this picture!)
(it turns out that Amy can appreciate
a dusty ol' dancehall!)
The Old 97's put on a really fun, uptempo, high energy live show, and it felt really cool to be seeing them wind up their tour at one of the oldest dancehalls in Texas (the band seemed pretty excited about the show, too- it sounded like a number of them had family who'd travelled to come to the show).  I'm not exactly a cowboy hat and boot wearing kind of guy, but I've made my home in Texas since early elementary school, and I'm here to say that seeing the Old 97's show at Gruene Hall was one of those experiences that made me feel good about living in this crazy ol' state.

(somehow Rhett Miller snuck on during
Caitlin Rose's set to get a better look at Amy)
The opening act was Caitlin Rose.  She was really good, too.  Mostly mellower than the Old 97s, with a sort of Patsy Cline vibe.  Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller joined Caitlin and her band onstage for one of her faster songs, "Shanghai Cigarettes".





(Mom getting props for the cake
Dad got for Amy!)
On Saturday we went over to my parents house to see my folks, Ryan and Jamie, and our family friend, Barb Boullear, who was visiting from Phoenix.  We had a nice lunch and hung out for a while and then Mom ambushed Amy with a birthday cake, which was awfully nice.
It was good to see Barb again and have a chance to hang out with the fam.
Saturday night we hung out at home and watched The Spanish Prisoner.  I had only seen it once, a long time ago, and I wanted to watch it again.  It's an interesting movie.  Like a lot of David Mamet's stuff, it sort of feels like a play.  Anyway, it's probably not for everyone, but I enjoyed watching it again.


(somehow musicals make Jaci, Heidi,
and Amy smile) 
On Sunday night we went to see Wicked at Bass Concert Hall with our friends, Jaci and Heidi.  It was really fun.  Kind of a birthday celebration for Amy (her birthday is the 7th).  We went out to dinner at Parkside beforehand and had some really good food (strange location over there on the old, main part of 6th Street, but a nice place) and then we went to the musical after that.
Wicked, true to the reports, was really good.  It was funny and clever (I didn't really know the story, so it was interesting to see how it dovetailed into The Wizard of Oz), and the music was really good.  I'd heard some Broadway hopefuls singing songs from Wicked when I was up in a bar in New York a while back (performers worked at this place when they were between performance gigs), and I've been wanting to see it ever since. 
It was a really nice night.

So that was the weekend.  Very fun. 
Life is good these days.  ;-)

Hope everyone is doing well!

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Old 97's

We saw these guys last night at Gruene Hall.  I'm embarrassed to say that I had forgotten a bit about the Old 97's over the years, but they put on a really great show (they're a little more lively on stage than they are in the studio on this clip, but the sound was good on this, so I wanted to use it).
Anyhoo, the Old 97's play some good music, and even if you're not always so inclined, they'll make you proud to be a Texan!  ;-)


Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Age of Corporate Rule

So here's my usual word of warning for a post in which I'm likely to ramble a bit about politics and the world.  Read at your own risk...

So I was reading this column from David Rothkopf last week in Time about his views on what sort of actions might be required in order to help "fix" capitalism in a way that might help revitalize not only the America economy, but the economy of the rest of the world as well.  Rothkopf had a well written piece which touched upon a number of the reservations, concerns, and fears that I've been feeling for quite a while now about the balance/interaction between corporate and governmental power.
To begin, Rothkopf tried to underscore exactly how much power corporations have these days.  He points out that many multinational corporations have more economic and financial clout than the governments of a significant number of smaller countries, and that even in large, industrialized nations, corporations have managed to take advantage of outdated laws and loophole technicalities to leverage themselves into unrivaled positions of political power and influence (the 14th Amendment was created in order to protect First Amendment and due process rights for human beings, but corporations, wrapping themselves in the legal fiction of "personhood" have appropriated civil rights for themselves that have allowed them to influence the machniations of government in ways that were never intended).  Corporations reach across international borders to play countries off of one another during business disputes, and multinationals exploit the tactical advantages of operating in various nations while simultaneously trying to avoid the obligations of various operations by sheltering assets and taking advantage of political and governmental protections in one country over another.
One of my main points of agreement with Rothkopf was in pointing out that the fear and mistrust that many citizens have in regard to their government probably ought to be directed at least as strongly toward the private sector, given the influence that corporate interests exert on governmental institutions and society in their relentless pursuit of profit.
In particular, I really liked this quote:

"The current argument that larger government impinges on rather than protects or advances individual liberties is a far cry from the ideas that fueled England’s Glorious Revolution and the American Revolution. It ignores the fact that the void created by smaller government is often not filled by “liberty.” When matters like the global environment or regulation of derivatives trading are left entirely to market forces, for instance, outcomes tend to serve the most powerful because markets neither have a conscience nor do they ensure opportunity. Rather, they seek efficiency, and efficiency loves scale, and enterprises that grow to scale become elephants stamping out opportunities around them."

The argument that any action undertaken by the government inherently impinges upon liberty has grown tiresome, especially when coupled with the notion that virtually all action undertaken by private markets have a natural tendency to enhance freedom and liberty.
Rothkopf reminds us that efficient, powerful businesses will tirelessly seek to do the one thing that any truly successful business exists to do- make money.  Businesses may project an image of being "green" or socially conscious or morally enlightened, but, in the end, a private sector corporation exists to make money.  If it doesn't make money, it ceases to exist, and although it may sacrifice some short term profitability in order to build a brand or secure long term public relations victories, in the end, a private company will always be about effectively producing money.  If a company isn't going to make money in either the short or long term, it's either going to go away, or it's going to undergo changes that will allow it to become profitable.
And this need to pursue profit isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Of course, corporations provide us with the goods and services that give us a high quality of life.  They sell the things that they want and need.  Corporations are extremely useful creatures. 
But they're beasts of burden that, if left unbridled, will ultimately run human beings over or turn on them if those human beings are standing between the companies and the profits that they hunger for.  Corporations aren't really concerned about clean air or water, working conditions, wages, or fairness in the marketplace.
The fact that corporations exist in order to produce profit really isn't a negative feature unless the public loses sight of this existential characteristic and begins to believe private sector propaganda about the endless benevolence of the free market versus the inherent liberty-crushing, stifling nature of government.
As Rothkopf pointed out, corporations love efficiency, and, at times, profit minded efficiency runs counter to human interest.  The most efficient corporations may grow into giant, monolithic entities which manage to use their economic power and political clout to drive smaller competitors out of the market.  Wages, job opportunities, and benefits may stagnate as fewer, elite groups of large, robust corporations come to dominate and control the marketplace (a process made easier if they get too strong a voice in government and are able to stifle competition).   

At any rate, I'm not here to lead some sort of communist charge against corporations.  I'm all for the successful operation and strength of the private sector.  I still believe that our capitalist economy has helped to make our country a powerful, safe nation with a high standard of living.
But I've just been annoyed with all of the trash talking about our evil government lately, and I'm tired of the romanticization of the private sector.  I'm worn out hearing about how everything would be so much better if super rich individuals and corporate America were just left alone to run wild, free, and unfettered. 
Free market capitalism is great, but I'm still entirely comfortable with the role of government being one of setting regulations on the activities of private businesses and limits on their power.  In fact, I tend to think that corporations have already exceeded their appropriate boundaries in many areas (corporate involvement in politics in the post Citizens United era being one prime example).
Mostly, I'm just tired of the fact that everyone is so paranoid about the government wrecking the economy and our lives when there's another, maybe even scarier, 800 pound gorilla in the room.

So that's it.  Nothing revloutionary, I know.  Rothkopf's short piece just resonated with me. 
Hope you're having a good day!