The Hunger

Food and pregnancy are an interesting combo. Two of the most famous symptoms of pregnancy are craving a particular kind of food, and morning sickness. Not two things you'd expect to go together very well.

So far we seem to be doing pretty well. I've been bracing myself for weird cravings and midnight runs to the grocery store, Taco Bell, etc... for weeks but they haven't materialized. Their was a brief run where The Mrs. was craving watermelon, but a few mushy ones as they were on their way out of season seem to have cured her of that.

She's apparently experiencing the opposite of food cravings. Well, not quiet the opposite, which would be nausea*. The hunger is there. And seems to be worse than pre-pregnancy because apparently there's less stomach space. She gets full after eating very little, and hungry very quickly.

Nah, the opposite I'm talking about is a hunger, but not for anything we have in the house. She wants something, but can't figure out what. We'll go through a list of everything in the fridge, but none of it is appealing. At first I thought that was the opposite of craving, but as I've been sitting here typing I've decided the worst kind of craving. It's a mystery craving. It could get ugly once we figure out the object of the mystery craving.

*I don't think there's much nausea, but that's subject to the opinion of The Mrs. herself.


We Got Cocky

Forget the rain dances. Just wash your car and decide to leave your laundry outside on the clothes line to dry over night. Antecdotal evidence leads me to believe this is all you need to do to make it rain.


How Much Should The Media Know?

Awhile back the Tennessean got a hold of a list of state employees names, titles, and how much they're paid. They posted this as a searchable database on their website. If you've ever had a job then you can probably imagine what kind of havoc this created around state offices. It's almost never good for a group of people that work together to know how much all their coworkers get paid. It never fails to foster resentment among friends.

Well they're doing it again now. The state Department of Personnel received an info request from the Tennessean again. I guess after the mayhem when the Tennessean published it last time, someone thought it was good to give us advance notice this time because I obtained a copy of the info request. The request came by email and was quiet specific in what it wanted. It laid out the desired database of info in the order they wanted, what went into each field, and how to format the data so they could import it to their own software.

Now I can understand why the Tennessean wants salary information on state employees. I still think it was irresponsible of them to publish it as a searchable database, but I can see how they might find some newsworthy things in there. What disturbs me is that this time they specifically asked for home addresses of every employee. Not just cities or zip codes so they could do some sort of geographic analysis. They asked for specific street addresses.

It has caused quite a stir in the office. The responses I've personally witnessed range from outrage to apathy. My personnel response is probably outraged apathy. I think it's a little outrageous, but there's nothing I can really do to change it. If I get bored this weekend maybe I'll email the Tennessean and my state representatives, but I'm fairly certain it would be a waste of time. Frankly I'm just glad they aren't giving out social security numbers.

That actually happened to a co-worker once. He was working on a controversial project (State Route 840) and a landowner was upset that it was taking part of his property. So the guy came downtown and requested my co-worker's personnel record. The personnel folks gave it to him everything they had and didn't block out social security numbers, addresses, or personal phone numbers. The only reason my co-worker was ever even aware of this was because the outraged landowner also made a stop at our office with the file in hand. This is also a guy that had threatened TDOT surveyors with a rifle so the whole thing was pretty ugly.

I checked the Tennessee Code. According to TCA 10-7-5.03 everything in my personnel file is public record. It doesn't even except health records or social security numbers. According to state law they could probably even get the bank account number where my paycheck is deposited. The only reason that stuff isn't giving out is because of the Feds.

So I'm curious about what non-governement employees think. Any of you think it's good for the Tennessean to have my personnel info in a searchable database on their website? How much of my info are you guys entitled to? I'm a small fish so most likely nothing will ever come of it, but there is a certain principle here.


I Feel Patronized

Maybe it's just me, but as I was reading the comment war about citizen journalists versus professional journalists I noticed something interesting. If you haven't read the thread, I'll save you the trouble. Clint Brewer, editor of the Nashville City Paper, and his counterpart at the Nashville Scene, Liz Garrigan, were having a heated discussion with several local bloggers over the quality of writing in their publications versus blogs.

The thing that I noticed was that both Mr. Brewer and Ms Garrigan used the phrase, 'Sorry if I hurt your feelings.' To me that sounds like an attempt at patronizing and minimizing complainers by making them sound like whiney little kids. I was all ready to do a post about the importance of emotions and how wrong it was that people use that phrase as an argument killer because 'feelings' are an important part of the human condition. Then I realized maybe it isn't most people. Maybe it's just me that thinks that was condascending. I don't think it's just me, but I appeal to you readers to help me out.

I'm not talking about friends and family members. I'm talking about people at work, or newspaper editors in online discussions. People that don't know you. I assume it's condascending in those situations because I assume strangers really don't much care about my feelings.

So anyone want to proffer an opinion? When you're in a disagreement with someone and they say 'sorry I hurt your feelings' does it make you feel better or worse?


Demanding Quality Control

I loves me some irony. And this sure seems like a good case of it. Yesterday I spent a little time reading the thread with the infamous quote from Liz Garrigan (editor of the Nashville Scene) about the high standards her publication has and how most bloggers would never be able to live up to them (see comment #2 in the thread). Then last evening I went to my weekly Citizen's Police Academy session. One of the presentations was by a Vice Sergeant. He was reliving the glory of the prostitution and adult business crack down back in 2005. As part of his presentation he shows us a copy of the Scene and mentions how they published lots of ads for prostitutes back in the day.

From what the sarge said, they had some pretty good tape on the guy. Apparently the Scene employee selling the ads helped them phrase the copy to make their point without making their point (if you get my point). To paraphrase the vice cop, "We told him our girls gave great oral sex and he advised us on how to say it in the ad."

Now that's an example of some fine quality control. (Okay fine, not quiet what Liz meant, but still....) Makes me wonder if the Scene asked for pictures before posting the ads just to make sure everything was up to standard.
Disclaimer: I make no claim to be a citizen journalist and I made no phone calls to the Scene. I did however research the story slightly on Google and using the Scene's online archives. In the process I came across this letter page. If you look closely I'm sure you can find one of Nashville's more crotchety bloggers who also happens to be a new dad.


This Post is Structurally Deficient

Looks like it's time for another engineering post. Today's discussion is about structurally deficient bridges. Inspired by all the finger pointing due to I-35 falling into the Mississippi River out in Minneapolis.

Let's get the stats out of the way first. Right now, Tennessee has 1,202 bridges rated structurally deficient. That's out of 19,519. So 6% of our bridges are structurally deficient.

So what does that mean? It means that the bridge has a problem of some kind. The kind of problem that should be watched. Structurally deficient is a classification that means we watch that bridge a little more closely than the others just to make sure the problem doesn't grow. It's a way of prioritizing bridge needs. It does NOT necessarily mean that the bridge has to be immediately fixed. The ones that need to be immediately fixed are easy to see. They're the ones that you aren't allowed to drive across. And trust me, these things are watched very closely. I know the guys that do it.

So what if it was structurally deficient??? That does't necessarily mean it needs to be replaced. I'll go so far as to say Minnesota no doubt had the money to replace that bridge if they'd wanted. But they were probably spending it on bridges that had been closed for safety reasons. That's what the structurally deficient watch list is for. Prioritizing. There was just apparently something bigger wrong than anyone thought. Maybe somebody screwed up. Maybe they didn't.

Sometimes bad things happens and it's not any ones fault. Bridges are complicated. The only way to know for sure what kind of shape it's in is to take it apart. I think the problem with that method is obvious. You have to kill the patient in order to find out how healthy he is. So you have to settle for what you can find out by looking and doing things that don't hurt the patient.

I did some research on bridge failures back in 2000 when I wrote my thesis, and maybe I'll go into those a little more if I decide it's not too boring, but that's for another post. My rant today is about all this finger pointing. Save it for later. None of you have any idea yet what caused that bridge to fall down. Trust me, we'll find out. As soon as the survivors and the bodies are out of the way the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will be there. And they'll be crawling up the nether regions of every single person involved in building that bridge, inspecting that bridge, or even thinking about that bridge. They'll tell us why it failed. In detail and in triplicate. The NTSB doesn't hesitate to point fingers. Once they have evidence.

If you only take one thing away from this post, here's what it should be. Sometimes it's just impossible to tell when a bridge will collapse. It's the bane of every bridge engineer, and I've written before about how it makes me worry. I've worked with a few guys who designed bridges that failed. It isn't something that's easy to live with. So quit blaming people until you know who to blame.

And now I'm going to reverse myself a little for those of you who still feel the need to blame someone for this tragedy. Let's talk for a minute about closing dangerous bridges. I think the Demonbreun Street bridge proves that TDOT is willing to close a bridge when it needs to be done, despite the consequences.

It's also a good case study for the pressures on bridge engineers. Everyone and their dog complained when that bridge was closed. There were cries of everything from "But how will people find my business?" to "I want the head of whoever let it get this bad!". Now, by show of hands, who thinks the whining and recriminations foster doing the right thing?

It's simple really. There are so many pressures that you just don't close a bridge until you're really absolutely sure that it's dangerous. Especially not a huge one that a hundred thousand commuters use every day. Something has got to be very wrong in order to close the bridge, and the folks in Minnesota probably just didn't see anything that looked very bad. Obviously they missed something.

If you can't take the rest of the speech to heart and still feel the need to blame someone, then point some of that blame on everyone who has a car. And remember this the next time you complain about too much road construction going on around town.

** I admit this is a little bit of rant. Lack of infrastructure funding is a pet problem of mine, and it's glad to see some non-engineers talking about it. But I hate the way things are already being oversimplified and politicized. For once, I agree with Chris Wage.

here for details on the lack of infrastructure funding, and here for a few facts and figures about bridges in Tennessee.


Sleeping Dogs Tell Untruths

All that talk about Bobcat Goldthwait in my last post reminded me of an interesting movie that I'm going to recommend to all you adultish readers.

Bobcat wrote and directed a movie called Sleeping Dogs Lie. It's about secrets. Amy, the female lead has one. And it's a doozy. If you're the conservative type, it could very easily cause you to turn the movie off in the first five minutes. But if you roll with it, it's really an interesting movie. Though it has some scenes that pained me to watch.

The first few minutes establish Amy's (the female lead) terrible secret. I'm not going to tell you what her secret is, but let's just say the movie title refers to more than that old saying about how it's best to let sleeping dogs lie. To the movie's credit, they handle it pretty well, and throughout the movie they never imply that it's an okay thing to do. Amy never defends it.

After the big reveal the movie flashes forward to a future relationship. Her guy thinks that they're getting so close that they should tell alllllll their secrets. But she's not convinced. He proceeds to share some pretty tame 'deep, dark secrets' from his own past, and eventually she is convinced to tell him. Lots of drama and black comedy ensue, but it boils down to one thing. Some secrets should be kept that way.

According to some things I'e read, Bobcat wanted to contrast the popular conception of the American family with the darker reality. I'm not sure I'd consider the family in this movie 'reality' but it was certainly dark, and it's a good depiction of family dynamics with recriminations and reconciliation.

It's very low budget (most of the crew was hired off CraigsList), and it has its slow moments. But overall I liked it. I got two real points from it.

1) Some secrets aren't meant for anyone else.
2) Decisions you make can cause you heartache and trouble for years after.

There's some title ambiguity apparently. When I got the DVD from NetFlix it was called Sleeping Dogs Lie. But apparently it was making the rounds of the film festivals with the title Stay.

Rampant Bridge Speculation

These were good enough that I decided to swing by the library and post them on my lunch break. Some very good photos of the bridge collapse in Minneapolis last night.

This is just speculation based solely on those photos and the ones I saw at CNN, but it's very interesting how the entire bridge seems to be wrenched toward one end. That gives you a pretty good idea of where the first failure happened. Judging from what I could tell in the photos it looks like one of the supports on the bank collapsed. I don't recall the exact figure, but upwards of 80% of all bridge failures are caused by water, or something that happens on the water. If this one went the way it looks to me, then it was some kind of structural failure, or something traveling the road under the bridge hit a support.

Disclaimer: This is all just my opinion based on very little evidence. I reserve the right to change my mind if better evidence comes out as time passes.


Citizen's On Patrol

Our neighborhood has a very active neighborhood watch. That's both a good and bad thing when dealing with a neighborhood watch. It's good when there are suspicious people in the neighborhood, but it's bad when a man wants to take a leak in his back yard.

Contrary to what you might think at this point, this post isn't about the manifold joys of peeing outside. A few months back, our neighborhood watch coordinator forwarded us a press release about the Citizen's Police Academy. The Mrs. and I both thought it sounded pretty cool, so we both applied. We also both got in. So we've been spending one night a week at the Hermitage Precinct learning about the various parts of the Nashville Police Department.

On our first night, there was a slouchy looking fellow in a suit loitering around the parking lot by himself. Turns out that the fellow was none other than our esteemed mayor coming to give the welcoming speech along with Chief Serpas. I really thought the mayor would be taller.

The sessions have been very informative. We've had sessions on domestic violence, motorcycle patrol, DUI enforcement, terrorism, officer training, canine officers, horse officers, and of course the requisite recruiting presentation. We still have sessions on vice, prostitution, and gangs to come. Extra curricular activities include an officer ride-along, a trip to the gun range, observing court proceedings, and a trip to the communications call center. I spent an enjoyable Saturday morning at the gun range shooting a Glock service revolver, an AK-47, the shotgun all the officers keep in their car, and a Tommy gun. My very pregnant wife did a second shift ride along with an officer in the Hermitage Precinct, which surprisingly enough includes some pretty bad areas that I've always considered to be part of Antioch. She reported back that it was an interesting day with equal amounts excitement and boredom.

Some of the speakers are really good, and you can tell most of them really enjoy their jobs. They make it sound pretty glamorous. I have to keep reminding myself that these folks are higher up and they're speaking to us because they have cool jobs as detectives and such. They seem to have a lot more fun than the officers who have to deal with the tedious business of handling citizen calls, sheparding drunks, and keeping people from killing each other.

It's also been an eye opener as far as learning about my fellow Nashvillians. You can tell a lot by the questions they ask. There are certain people in the class that have some pretty specific agendas to pursue and others who like to tell us what great people good they are. It's amazing what you can work into the form of a question if you try. There's even at least one woman that I feel justified in calling a police groupie. She always sidles up to whatever male officer happens to be around and she likes to drop stories about how she's 'in' with other officers.

It's really amusing to me that they work very hard to stress that the class won't make you a police officer. From day one they keep hammering that at us. You have to wonder what has happened in the past to convince the legal department that it's necessary to push that at us.

It's a very informative class. The presentation of the topics is a little uneven depending on the skill of the presenter, but I recommend it for everybody. Anyone who works or lives in Davidson County is eligible. Just don't forget they check you for warrants and be sure to pay all your parking tickets before you apply.

*Every time I hear anyone say 'Citizen's Police Academy' I can't help but laugh. To me that phrase is forever linked to a certain Police Academy movie. You know, the one where Bobcat Goldthwait is converted from evil gang leader to upstanding police officer. It also features a pre-Basic Instinct Sharon Stone and was, sadly, the last one with Mahoney.