27 October 2008

20 October 2008

the stem cell registry

www.marrow.org

A friend's father is treating his cancer with chemotherapy. But it's a rare form and he needs suitable stem cells. We're all hoping that his three siblings will provide a match. If they don't, he turns to the donor registry and they say the chances aren't good.

I didn't even know a stem cell registry existed. Getting on it is like giving blood, so the chance to save a life is certainly worth it. Look into joining.

Yay T&T

Andy asked me out of the blue a while ago about AT&T's business enrollment options. I put in my school address.

Well, today I saw this line on my new bill.
National Account Discount   -11.48
A little googling convinced me it's because I signed up at that page.

Thanks, Andy!

Do other phone companies have stuff like this?

14 October 2008

Computers: D'oh!

A little cross-action between The Colbert Report, Rory's shared items (half way down, Rise of the Financial Machines), and mine (same title).



She is fetching.

26 September 2008

Third day in Rome

The Flickr set for Saturday. I took less pictures that day. It was an absorptive day, and I relaxed the burden of recording. I mostly took pictures when something struck me that I wanted to share.

25 September 2008

An editor should have noticed this, yeah?

I like the idea of the new "PC commercials". But I don't like the "and I have one ring" line at 0:29 by Eva Longoria. It makes her a female stereotype, contrasting the ad's message quite directly.

Location, location, location

I am really happy that my iPhone has GPS. It is awesome. Sometimes it tags the photos I take with coordinates; sometimes it doesn't. I haven't figured out how to control this – a major shortcoming of the included Camera application I think.

Disappointingly, none of my Rome pictures were tagged. So I geotagged them all manually using Flickr's nice interface, and ended up with a map of my Flickr photos in Rome. It's a bit zoomed out to (hopefully) include the photos I'll be adding.

I'll post similar links to the maps for L'aquila, Florence, and Lucca when I prepare those photos.

First two days in Rome

Check out my Flicker set. You can do a slideshow via the button in the upper right. Be sure to turn on the info: I added facts and detailed my two days in the photo descriptions.

Back in one piece

I landed in my bed 24 hours after waking up yesterday. I didn't sleep two winks while traveling. <mom-invisible-ink>I slept one wink on K-10 from home – it was a terrifying wink. Don't tell my mom.</mom-invisible-ink> It's good to be back.

I'm uploading some of the first photos – I took a lot. I'll post about them and share my travel log incrementally.

21 September 2008

Unexpected spandex

I am trying to decide which town in Tuscany to visit by bus tomorrow. Lucca is an option. I've turned to Flickr to just see where is pretty. But if you check-out photos in Lucca from Flickr, you find some unexpected photos. That's an odd place to hold a comic con.

19 September 2008

I'm developing worldliness

OK, that Rome hostel actually sucked. Of course, the other hostellers were fantastic and varied. France + Quebec + Singapore + Kansas + dinner + gelato + an Irish pub in Rome = great night. Charles from France (yes I called him Chuck) and I pursued a nice discussion of existentialism and literature over a Strongbow (oh yes) and a Guinness (natch†) while an Italian who could not speak English did a surprisingly awesome job of covering Elvis and his contemporaries. I also got a hug from a guy from Ohio by finding his specs when they fell on the floor. The entire bar applauded my efforts. I am famous.

(Rome was sweet. L'aquila, too.)

I will surely post about the individuals I met; they've been the most exciting. Roma Inn brought a few, the doctoral symposium brought a few, and hopefully so does Albergo Paolo here in Florence. We shall see. Stay tuned for my dossiers.

But – back on topic – that hostel sucked. It was alright, but I've now learned, having just arrived in my Florence hostel, that hostels get much, much better. Wireless in my room, no plaster falling from the walls not featured in the online photos, no lame techno, door locks (nice), lockers (nicer), home-made breakfast as opposed to old cereal (nicest?), and location. This place is a welcome sight.

(Conference went well.)

† - I've been dying to use that word. Also, the Wiktionary usage example is hilarious.

07 September 2008

And, oh yeah, I'm a hostel snob

$120 for 3 nights... but check this place out.

Jackpot!

White Night 2008 is happening while I'm there!

29 August 2008

Whoops...

So every now and then, I say
Ball's in your court, Ethan.
and nobody ever understands me. It's a quote from MI2. As I remember it, it was spoken about every other line. Well, turns out not. As that transcript shows, the line was only spoken twice, but never with "Ethan." It was "Hunt" and "Mr. McCloy."

I'm going to enjoy saying
Ball's in your court, Mr. McCloy
more than ever before, because "McCloy" is such a fun name to say. However, I suppose I can't be shocked anymore when people have no idea what the hell I'm talking about.

26 August 2008

iPhone disappointment

Gmail provides IMAP, but no push. That means: if I get an email at Gmail, Gmail will not notify my iPhone. Instead, I have to configure my iPhone to poll my Gmail account for new messages. I can do that at 15', 30', or 60' intervals, at the cost of some battery.

Yahoo Mail does provide push. So, I now have Gmail forward a duplicate of most emails (except mailing lists, e.g.) to my Yahoo Mail account and the iPhone gets pushes from that one. But if I reply or compose in the Mail app, it will be from my Yahoo address instead of the Gmail one. That's a bit of a bother.

If the situation were reversed – if I preferred Yahoo for my mail and Gmail was the one that pushed – then I could fix this. In the Gmail account on my iPhone, I could set it to use Yahoo's server for outgoing mail. But, as it stands, I cannot do that for the Yahoo account. I can navigate through the Settings menu and even click the "delete this outgoing mail server" button for the Yahoo server, but nothing happens. No explanation: the iPhone just ignores me.

This probably seems mysterious if you're unfamiliar with the territory. Especially since silently ignoring the user is a very bad user interface behavior, and Apple is usually really good at UIs.

The Internet Pessimists claim this is a business move. You see, Apple provides its own push email service as part of MobileMe. And a MobileMe subscription costs. If I could set my Yahoo account to send via Gmail, I would effect for free the primary feature of MobileMe, push email. But, if I were a Yahoo user, there would be no such issue. The whiners claim that Google, by being a nice partner with Apple, is intentionally not implementing push so as to not compete with MobileMe.

(Putting on my cynic's hat.)

That doesn't make sense to me. The partnership I see is Yahoo and Apple; they're in cahoots to pull (har) iPhone users away from Gmail.

(Switching to the geek hat.)

For those interested, I currently have to tap three times on each composed message in order to switch the "from" address to my Gmail one. At least I can make it work. Alternatively, the Gmail mobile site works quite well in Mobile Safari, so I go there if I'm planning on composing/replying. The Mail app is really just for me being notified about new emails.

(Switching to the runner hat and grabbing water bottle.)

25 August 2008

Italy trip

As that one post alluded to, I'm headed to Italy. I am participating in the ASE 2008 Doctoral Symposium, held in L'Aquila. I'm tacking a few days in Rome on the front- and back-end of the trip. I fly on 10 and 24 September, between Phil's and Sean's weddings.

Any suggested activities? I'm a bit clueless. Rory lent me a 2007 guide, but I haven't started in on it yet.

I give you my list.
That's really it at the moment. The first four are all I remember from my trip in 2001 – excluding Capri and almost drowning in the Mediterranean. I don't want to make my own sight-seeing. I think I just want to go about my normal routine, but do it in Italy.

(What is my normal routine?)

I might couch surf for the last few days!

24 August 2008

Initial iPhone report

I've had it since Friday. It arrived at the store on Monday, but they did not notify me.

Arg.

I like it. Battery life was a problem the first day, and probably will be any other day where I'm so constantly using the internet. Battery life is only an issue if I'm asking the it to entertain me all day, and I won't be. So the major obstacle is fine.

Money is the other major, and I'm not paying much more than I used to for a simple plan plus 200 text messages. (Responsibly) cutting Netflix makes it about even, and I'll occasionally skip a lunch out to make myself feel better. I have disabled text messages (but I haven't updated my voice-mail greeting yet!) and am still figuring out how that will affect me.

I'm not going to escape until truly enticed. There are SSH clients – even in the app store – but I have not investigated.

Likes

  • Automatically geocoding my photos is also awesome. The camera is weak, but anybody who would complain should have a dedicated camera device.
  • Makes good use of the vCard spec for contacts; cooperates with Address Book.
  • Syncing is a snap.
  • Mobile Safari is a very nice interface.
  • The alarm app is well-designed.
  • I've used YouTube more than I expected.

Dislikes

  • To save battery, I disable Wi-Fi and 3G when I don't need them, but this requires a few menus. It'd be nice if a few simpleton apps could do this and make it one tap.
  • I miss being able to get near a certain contact by hitting the key for the first letter; gesturing is relatively inaccurate. The pane of favorites helps.
  • The GPS is sometimes sluggish to acquire, even without buildings. Especially on the highway, it seems. I wonder if the speed is a factor.
  • The app store gives no refunds, and there's no way to really know what the functionality of an app is until you purchase. I've been burnt by two apps ($23) so far.
  • The app store has a really bad search function.
  • Two of my pictures were apparently taken at a desert in China. The camera app gives no indication of the current GPS accuracy (it starts at about a few hundred kilometers – or half the globe apparently – and works its way down to about 10 meters), so I have no idea if it's prepared to tag a photo (it tags them automatically) with /accurate/ location data.
  • No photo apps can upload photographs (circumventing iPhoto) without stripping out the location metadata. Seems it's an SDK limitation as of yet. (So says Karl van Rondow via an appreciated, prompt email response.)
  • I don't see a seek-bar when it's in iPod mode; that's pretty lame.
  • No exposed file system.

Mehs

  • 3G isn't yet in Lawrence, but I've been told by December. This may affect battery life.
  • A bigger form factor than I'm accustomed to.
  • No Flash apps in Mobile Safari yet.
  • No EDGE data while talking (perhaps with 3G, haven't tried it).

Annie


Annie
Originally uploaded by nicolas.frisby
Holla

Online Hotel Booking Debacle

I used a website to book a hotel for my Italy trip. When I hit the submit button for my credit card information, FireFox told me the data was being sent without encryption and allowed me to cancel the submission. Then I found a confirmation email in my inbox anyway! Huh?

But before I found the confirmation email, I had switched to another website to book the same hotel, but for $100 more. I then used the first website's lame, non-interactive "chat" feature to request that they cancel my transaction.

Then I noticed that the second website (a much superior website except for the price) offered a much more certain cancellation procedure, so I did that just to be sure I didn't get a double purchase.

I then realized that the surprise confirmation was probably some how valid: Would their system be bad enough to send me a confirmation email without actually receiving my credit card info? That seems like something even the most sloppy company wouldn't let happen. Because it was $100 cheaper, I sent them another "chat" message asking them to ignore my first one and just verify with me that the confirmation is valid and they actually have my credit card information. Then I sent them an email trying to explain the whole situation, because this is kind of ridiculous.

Any bets on what is going to happen? For full disclosure: I only included my "booking ID" in the email, not the two messages.

19 August 2008

41 Whys

I was Googling for information on that thing little kids do when they just keep asking "Why?" I didn't really find the discussion I was after, but I did find this Wikipedia article. And that will have to do as my hook.

Last night, during an insomnia spat, it dawned on me that existentialism is basically the reason that little kid always wins.
  1. Wow, Micheal Phelps is awesome!
  2. Because he won 8 gold medals; that's an amazing achievement.
  3. Because that's really hard to do.
  4. Because there were many other good competitors.
  5. Because they were very dedicated to training.
  6. Because they wanted to win Olympic gold medals.
  7. Because people respect gold medals.
  8. Because most people cannot do it.
  9. Because they haven't trained enough.
  10. Because it doesn't seem worth the effort.
  11. Because they don't like it that much and they don't believe they could ever reach the Olympic level.
  12. Because they are not successful enough.
  13. Because it wasn't in their genetics or formative experiences.
  14. Because their parents didn't make it a priority.
  15. Because they weren't good at it.
  16. For the same reasons their children aren't.
  17. Because that's how people become dedicated enough to sporting activities to get to the Olympics.
  18. Because there's really no other reason to put that much effort in.
  19. Because sporting activities are not really of any importance.
  20. Because sports don't have any inherent value for people except for the competitors.
  21. Because sports don't really affect other people.
  22. Because their livelihoods don't depend on the outcome, except for risk-takers.
  23. Because our quality of life depends on caring for ourselves and our loved ones and having the freedom to make choices.
  24. Because modern Western culture emphasizes family and freedom.
  25. Because those are our traditions.
  26. Because people acting under those beliefs have survived – it's social evolution.
  27. Because families sustain the young and then provide unconditional emotional support while capitalism justifies actions that give people an advantage.
  28. Because the roles of bread-winner and home-keeper were effective at raising healthy and capable children and anonymizing inequity behind markets means consumers don't realize the ultimate, negative consequences of their actions.
  29. Because "out of sight, out of mind."
  30. Because abstract things that don't affect our immediate safety don't carry much weight in our minds.
  31. Because the human mind evolved in environments that did not include such complex systems.
  32. Because before we formed societies, there were no natural systems under our influence that actually had indirect consequences on our survival, like global warming, terrorism, deforestation, water pollution, or fair trade. (Things like meteors and natural climate change did exist, but we had no mental model of our influence over those things.)
  33. Because no human system could effect change on a global scale.
  34. Because no human systems had yet reached the global scale.
  35. Because there weren't enough of us yet.
  36. Because our species' growth rate wasn't that big.
  37. Because we didn't have the knowledge to survive en masse.
  38. Because we didn't develop language until relatively recently.
  39. I don't know.
  40. I'm tired.
  41. I just played 40 rounds of the why game with you!
  42. Want some cake?
Disagree with anything?

It always boils down to something like "I don't know why we were the first species to develop language; we just were." And that's a pretty dissatisfying reason to work with when you're trying to make a difficult decision. There is no root cause to rely on, unless you bring faith into the picture. But I also find that dissatisfying. I'm looking for some reason that exists beyond my mind.

Here's what I find most frustrating. Tyler C just got a free subscription to Seed magazine, and in the first issue there was an article that caught my eye. One of the two experts says,
[Thoughtful evolutionary biologists are] saying, "Look, there are basic aspects to human nature that are common to all members of our species and have been there a long time." What's exciting is that we've developed this cognitive mechanism to free us from the things that determine so much of our behavior. And by doing so, we've sort of cut the rope from the rest of the animal kingdom.
Emphasis mine. That sentence pisses me off. I can identify my natural tendencies, I just don't know if I should listen to them. "Being free of them" is really confusing. Very few things compare to their immediacy, but our societal norms tell me it's laudable to deny some of them and to embrace others. Who says so? Why is that?
  1. Because philosophy over the past 3000 years has not identified – Ooooo! Is that cream cheese icing?
Whatever the reason, is it good enough? Or is it also something vacuous and underwhelming like, "we just were."

11 August 2008

02 August 2008

An odd justification for stewardship

I had dinner with Ilya last night. We like to discuss how we make decisions and to butt heads about it, but part with a smile anyway. During our discussion, I realized one reason why the notion of planetary stewardship – sustainability and such – appeals to me.

I recently recognized my existentialist thoughts as such. The relevant idea is that values do not exist outside of individuals: there is no way to justify an action outside of yourself. I find this debilitating. I cannot justify the consequences of my potential actions, so I have trouble choosing an action. I'm scared to act if I can't explain why it's the right thing to do. And I can't because – rationally – such a "right thing" simply does not exist.

One reason stewardship appeals to me, I realized, is because it minimizes consequences. I strive to not influence the planet. I want it to proceed as if we were not here. There's an angelic, ethereal feel to that: existing without leaving a mark.

It's interesting that an accepted value such as sustainability can be derived from self-doubt.

12 July 2008

Existentialism's notion of freedom

I feel like I never really understood the term until tonight. I'm blockquote-ing this section of the Wikipedia article.
The existentialist concept of freedom is often misunderstood as a sort of liberum arbitrium where almost anything is possible and where values are inconsequential to choice and action. This interpretation of the concept is often related to the insistence on the absurdity of the world and that there are no absolutely "good" or "bad" values.
I'm on board with this. There are no absolute values to be obeyed.
However, that there are no values to be found in the world in-itself doesn't mean that there are no values: Each of us usually already has his values before a consideration of their validity is carried through, and it is, after all, upon these values we act.
I'll reference this previous sentence below. Again, existentialism and I are in accord. I think I pretty much got to where I am by coasting. And then, abruptly, I stopped coasting and am having to deal with the atrophy.
...[M]aking "choices" without allowing one's values to confer differing values to the alternatives, is, in fact, choosing not to make a choice - to "flip a coin," as it were, and to leave everything to chance.
I am acutely aware of this. I feel this way; recall abulia. My frustration with this observation is what leads me to think about these things.
This is considered to be a refusal to live in the consequence of one's freedom, meaning it quickly becomes a sort of bad faith.
"Bad faith" sort of translates to giving up and lying to yourself about it. And I am uncomfortable leaving important decisions to a coin flip.
As such, existentialist freedom isn't situated in some kind of abstract space where everything is possible: Since man is free, and since he already exists in this world, it is implied that his freedom is only in this world, and that it, too, is restricted by it.
Pure freedom – the misinterpretation – is indeed ridiculous. You cannot fly by flapping your naked arms: you are not free to do so. You cannot be a bluejay. Your freedom is inherently bounded in some ways. Recently, I have claimed to "not know myself anymore". What I mean is: I don't know what parts of me constitute restrictions and what parts constitute my free will. Is liking apples more than oranges a restriction? Or a choice? What about having children? Or a dependence on propinquity? What is hardwired in me – a restriction unless I follow asceticism, which I don't – and what it just up to me?
What isn't implied in this account of existential freedom, however, is that one's values are immutable; a consideration of one's values may cause one to reconsider and change them (though this rarely happens).
A big YES here. I used to consider myself a rationalist, but I'm struggling through some emotional times. So I'm less taken with rationalism, since none of this seems rational. Recall the sentence I asked to you remember. I think one of those times when our values change is when we first attempt to validate them. For me, that took place when I first had to make difficult choices. It is embarrassing that I was 24 years old at the time.
A consequence of this fact is that one is not only responsible for one's actions, but also for the values one holds. This entails that a reference to "common values" doesn't "excuse" the individual's actions, because, even though these are the values of the society he is part of, they are also his own in the sense that he could choose them to be different at any time. Thus, the focus on freedom in existentialism is related to the limits of the responsibility one bears as a result of one's freedom: The relationship between freedom and responsibility is one of interdependency, and a clarification of freedom also clarifies what one is responsible for.
The big question: am I responsible for my emotions? When should I use them to make a decision and when should I overrule them?

06 July 2008

Coinage, Sucka!


bleg
A portmanteau of beg and blog: to beg someone to post on a particular subject. I just blegged Graham to continue about LOST.

It's actually a coin flip between bleg and beblog. Bleg is easier to say, but just sounds odd.

03 July 2008

I think I'm obsessed

I dislike modeling dynamic systems. Here's my favorite quote from this article on bees' colony collapse disorder.
If it turns out that [we were wrong], it will be evidence that something is wrong with our model: perhaps it is too crude, perhaps we need better data, or perhaps a contagion is not responsible for colony collapse disorder after all.
I imagine this quote was followed by a drastic, slow shrug. The tricky part is we can only recognize that we don't have enough data or we have the wrong model after the fact &ndash which makes the predictive model pretty silly.

25 June 2008

Goodbye, Netflix!

We'll always have Boston.

(That's where we met and I watched a lot of DVDs.)

20 June 2008

Google me surprises me

I just saw my name on a website I didn't realize I was mentioned on and wondered if it was the top Google result. So I Googled my name. (Doesn't sound so lame when I explain it that way, right?)

I was really surprised. For the longest time the results were always related to my participation in KU's Engineering Student Council. But now they're actually related to my participation in my research community. Kinda neat, kinda freaky.

The results accurately depict my activities of late, except the PHP stuff – those were youthful days... five years ago!

18 June 2008

More than I could ever say in my own defense

Alan Carter defends my goblin-ish low level lighting habits.

On Truthiness

Regarding "telling the truth", my friend Emily says

I have a question: how can you be sure that the truth that you experienced is the truth? Is truth the same for everyone?


I can only suppose that's something that the two of us would work out as we talk. The differences between our truths would remain until they day we tried to tell the truth to one another. And it's helpful to know those differences.

I'd say some truths are the same for everyone, but it gets subtle for sure.

13 June 2008

Advice is tricky

Randy Pausch is stunning. Adrienne sent me this WSJ article a while ago (weeks? months?).

One piece of advice Dr. Pausch has chosen to pass along to his children stuck out to me.
Tell the truth. All the time.
This is about the only rule I'm sure about in life. It doesn't (ever) keep things simple, but that's not the point. Telling the truth – all of it – comes from respect. I respect you. And I respect that I am incapable of determining what you do and do not need to know. Only you can do that, so I opt for fully-informed cooperation.

12 June 2008

Needs a new name...

SynchroSpot is marching its way towards the Android cell phone platform.

I almost bought a new iPhone, but two things stopped me.
  1. Confounded spacetime! It comes out July 11th, not June 11th. My current contract ended yesterday and I was happy to see it as an obvious omen. Mission from God.
  2. 3G doesn't reach Lawrence. The verbage on AT&T's link to their "3G Coverage Viewer" was confusing. Turns out you have to turn on the the 3G overlay. Linwood? Tonganoxie? Basehor? De Soto? Of course they're covered! How could those bastions of culture not have 3G?
The biggest reason I wanted the iPhone was actually for what SynchroSpot does – location-triggered reminders.
Ding! You're near the grocery store: you need more of that foamy hand soap!
Ding! You're leaving Lawrence, do you have your Father's Day card?
Since the iPhone has a GPS unit (my current phone doesn't) and a well supported development platform (strike two), I thought I could finally implement my plan for outsourcing large parts of my brain.

Now I'm just going to wait for the Android phones later this year. No turtlenecks. No dancing to show I know who I really am.

10 June 2008

No celebrity for the NCSE

My dad sent me this. It's a response to the intelligent design movie I talked about earlier.

The counter-argument shows how some particular IDers were acting a fool. However – to me – that approach takes for granted that the viewer already understands why supernatural beings have no place in the science classroom. If the viewer doesn't, then the existence of some silly IDers "caught in the act" probably doesn't sway any opinions. I suggest that the (weak) distinction between ID and creationism isn't meaningful to most people. But it apparently is to the Supreme Court – whence the tomfoolery they exposed.

BRILLIANT IDEA: Why don't local religious communities and the local science teachers coordinate to (respectfully) talk about human origins at the same time of the year in the appropriate places?

Suck on that common sense.

07 June 2008

Ira Glass on stickin' it out

From the host of NPR's This American Life, a nice hope nugget for those of us with creative aspirations.

From my friend Rory's Google Reader shared feed. Beware the volume.

18 May 2008

Abandoning the bonfire and wandering by lantern light

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.
--Carl Jung
Found that quote in Watchmen. Such a beautiful choice of words, kindling. Beautiful and precise.

In recent times I've become paralyzed in the face of opportunities for my life. To what should I apply myself? Searching for my purpose inevitably leads to searching for everyone's purpose. Quickly, I reach the dead-end of the purpose of life. I have no contribution to that question's answer.

I've decided that there is no objective ultimate purpose for me to adopt as my own. Any and every purpose is of our own creation, and so carries no special gravity. We kindle a light of meaning. We create from nothing our passions, deriving both the warmth for our hearth and the righteousness for our violence, both good and evil. The bonfire is beautiful – the flame and ember looks alive – but it consumes indiscriminately.



We're surrounded by the darkness of mere being. I think of Sagan's Pale Blue Dot space photograph and lecture (please read his words, they're quick). In the incomprehensibly vast universe, glows our speck of life, Earth. We breathe meaning into it, building our bonfire to chase back the cold and the dark of our insignificance, in search of safety.

I would find in the safety of the bonfire the purpose of life, the meaning we've kindled, so that I can be assured my choices in my life are wise. Jung's poetic words resonate with Sagan's photograph, shaking me out of that journey. There is no ultimate purpose to justify my actions, there is only what we create; my search is for not.

I have sought a great bonfire to bathe all my confusions and uncertainties in the light of its truth. I imagine that by inspecting the shadows a question casts, I could find a direction that would lead me to a solution. The light would project the problem onto a simpler plane, flattening its complexities, discarding the infinite subtleties, leaving only the salient moral issues so that I could act, righteous in the well delineated answer I found in the question's distilled silhouette.

I found no great bonfire, but instead many bonfires, each as bright as the next. They cast conflicting shadows, so that there are no shadows at all. With the cumulative light of all these bonfires, I see the many facets of my questions about life, all the intricacies and subtle interactions exposed by the incoherent ambience of the many intellectual perspectives, but no single solution dominates the others. There are no simplifying silhouettes, just an even more complicated problem!

So I have spiraled into the flames that I have kindled, obsessed with the search for meaning but making no progress with my original questions about life. I am warm, but I am lost and I fear I will be consumed.

I am now abandoning the bonfires. Together, they shine too bright and burn too hot to do me any good - there are too many absolutisms to be useful. Since I no longer expect to illuminate all of existence, I need just enough light to take the next few steps. It is wasteful and confusing to use anything more.

I'm going to carry a lantern. May it light my path as I wander into the darkness of mere being.

04 May 2008

Schmexperts

I have a hard time recognizing experts. I have no reason to trust them. This quote is sharp to my ears as Moyers interviews expertologists.
We consider ourselves meta experts. Because we have lost any faith in the views of experts. And we don't want to be tarred with that description.

--Victor Navasky

14 April 2008

Exciting

EEEeeeeeee

Nutrition Schmience

Nutrition science seems sillier by the day. From a BBC article:
[UPenn Researchers] wrote: "There is no clear evidence of benefit from drinking increased amounts of water.

"Although we wish we could demolish all of the urban myths found on the Internet regarding the benefits of supplemental water ingestion, we concede there is also no clear evidence of lack of benefit.

"In fact, there is simply a lack of evidence in general."
I read a fun book by Marion Nestle titled What to Eat. "Not enough evidence" is the general rule. Even about water!

Can we just recognize that the human body is incredibly complicated? How does it handle salt? Probably in a way I can understand after a few hours reading. But how does its handling of salt interact with its handling of all the other things you eat? And how you slept? And if you exercised recently? And and and...

The nutritional idea that seems right to me is: eat what we evolved eating. That's probably what my body is good at handling. I have no idea what that means I should eat though.

I like blanched green beans.

13 April 2008

I've contracted abulia

Abulia. Who gave it to me? Marianne said she's had it longer than I have...

First Desire for Nanotechnology

I know I'm a computer geek and all, but nanotechnology freaks me out. That probably bans me a priori from 30% of my professional organizations. But the concept of nearly undetectable tiny robots disturbs me. I think of super-efficient killing-machine gnats. And gnats are gross.

Last night, though, for the first time ever, I had the thought, Hey, that's a great application for nanotechnology. I was flossing. Flossing is incredibly boring. So boring that I would rather fill my mouth with undetectable nanoscale killing machines.

10 April 2008

On "On trust and understanding"

I drafted a post one month ago call "On trust and understanding". It began...
The dichotomy between trust and understanding is new to me. I don't know when exactly I recognized it or by what prompt, but it swept through my thoughts as a unifying duality. You needn't trust something if you can instead understand it.

I recognized that I nearly always prefer to understand than to trust. I'm not religious. I'm hesitant to take advice. And I'm a skeptic and an empiricist – I consider the scientific method to be the best known recipe for true wisdom.
It ran real thin after that, so I stowed it. What I wrote put me in a dark place, hence The Silent Month (The Big Silence, Annie?). Now I'm cannibalizing that post in an attempt to liberate myself from myself (57"?). My favorite part comes after a break-neck discussion of moral skepticism, the futility of all prediction, and life goals.
So pick something and shoot for the stars, huh? What if I shoot for the stars and accidentally take out a jetliner full of infants? Or what if I become so committed to shooting for the stars that I wipe out an entire culture because I need their resources for my giant star laser?
That was for giggles, this is for my emotional blog photo.
I don't know what I am for. I don't know what humanity is for. I don't know where life or the universe came from. No one does. No one ever will. So I only permit myself to wonder about that stuff. How do people choose who or what to trust, anyway? They pick the one that makes them comfortable. Or maybe the one that positively challenges them. Whatever the reason, it comes from inside and inside alone and usually incurs a fair amount of close-mindedness thereafter.

It terrifies me what we sometimes do based on such a silly choice.
I still feel that way.

The heart of the problem actually occurred to me as I put aside "On trust and understanding" and wrote that Ben Stein rant instead. As the opening paragraph showed, I think the scientific method is pretty savvy. But I realized I trust it. I believe in it. I'd brushed that off before as "well, it's different," but now I can't look past it. Even the scientific method is turtles all the way down and that kills me - I thought I was standing on bedrock.

I had put Understanding on a pedestal only to realize I couldn't reach that high. I have principles, yes, but no reasons for them. Realizing that brings a lot of doubt and I'm still trying to choke it all down.

As far as I can tell, moral skepticism can't be directly denied; its biggest problem is its impracticality. Add in Hume's problem of induction and I've got quite the quarter-life quagmire. (That is a 24 Scrabble-point alliteration.)

I'm more lost in life than I've ever been; the ground is not real - there is no ground.

10 March 2008

How I learned to not love Ben Stein

I really liked the game show. And the movie. But now I'm really disappointed. My father and I are frustrated by Stein's new movie Expelled for two reasons. First, it's way overly dramatic. "Who will fight this battle?" Come on. Some people's beliefs are being challenged in the public domain and they are blowing up the issue. And the mud and lightning thing? That's a punch line Stein is using for persuasion. And beyond dramatic, I suspect it's even being deceptive; I think it's pretty obvious that they curtail Dr. Richard Dawkin's statement about "rival doctrines" before he can end his sentence. I'm confident he would have added a qualifying clause such as "a rival doctrine that is not falsifiable." Keep reading to see why I think so.

The key to science's success during the hundreds of years since The Enlightenment has been skepticism (in the scientific sense), rationalism, empiricism, and naturalism, as best embodied by the scientific method. I've included a diagram of the scientific method from this website. This method is a predominant reason for why we have achieved the technological progress as a species that we have today.



The green oval is a lynchpin of the whole thing. Every theory in hard science must be falsifiable by natural evidence - there must be the potential for the theory to be demonstrated wrong in the natural physical world. For instance, if we found some fossils that were significantly out of line with Darwin's theory, then that would be cause for us to look at the new evidence and refine the theory of evolution so that it is improved and once again encompasses the overwhelming majority of evidence. The theory would change since we found out that it was wrong to some degree (small or big) by looking around in the natural world.

Intelligent design/creationism is not science because it are not falsifiable. Period. Full stop. End of discussion. This like explaining why a giraffe is not a piece of fruit. (Don't be confused about the fact that intelligent design and creationism are the same thing – comment if you'd care for a discussion on that which includes a hilarious and embarrassing piece of evidence.)

For that reason, those claims do not belong in the science classroom. Some other classroom, sure, but the claims are simply not science since they are not susceptible to contradiction. They are "invincible" in that sense: how do you test intelligent design? How could anyone ever prove that the world was not created by a higher intelligence? There's no way to do such a thing. This is why Dr. Philip Pettit, Dr. Daniel Dennet, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend J.D. call intelligent design "not a research programme", "propaganda", and "a distraction". A higher intelligence means "supernatural" as far as humanity is concerned and that means outside of the boundaries of science. Sure, maybe someday science will identify a higher intelligence that we can actually interact with in some way within the natural world. But until then such discussions are inappropriate (indeed, fruitless) in scientific disciplines.

Stein attempts to frame this whole movie as a freedom of speech "battle." The authors who are putting forward creationism/intelligent design as science have been spurned from the science community and had their submitted articles rejected since they have abandoned an essential pillar of scientific practice, falsifiability. This is not a free speech issue in anyway. These are professionals who are being held accountable for their speech in a purely professional way. It means something to be a scientist, and if your writings contradict the very foundations of science, then your participation will not be welcomed in that community. The same thing would happen in any professional community; if a lawyer seriously misrepresented a client or lied in court, they would be ousted or even jailed.

For this abuse of his (false) authority, perversion of the issue of freedom of speech, and blatant pandering, Ben Stein has fallen from my list of enjoyable celebrities. Expelled indeed.

07 March 2008

Earmarks

Bill Moyer's Journal spotlights some great reporting by David Heath and Hal Burton (ha!) of the Seattle Times. Here's the earmark database from the report. A recent article by Heath includes a link to a US government database mandated by a law sponsored (to some degree; Heath's article wasn't clear) by both McCain and Obama.

Banning earmarks is part of the Change Congress pledge:
  1. No money from lobbyists/PACS.
  2. Ban "earmarks"
  3. Support public financing of campaigns.

03 March 2008

Dear everyone who might ever write a survey,

Consider this example question from a survey:
"You always stick to the plan."
Do you strongly agree agree slightly agree slightly disagree disagree or strongly disagree?
This irks me so very much. How can you build a severity into the statement and then ask me to assign a severity to my agreement? What does it mean to slightly agree that I always stick to the plan? Stop thinking or else you'll have an aneurysm (1'53" mark).

I've groaned out loud numerous times when taking surveys that have these on them. This sort of question, unfortunately, is not a rarity.

So if you ever write a survey, please confine adjectives of severity to the answers; leave them out of the questions. Please. For me. For rationality.

That's so recherche

As a I am a comp sci person, words that describe themselves make me giggle. Recherche's the latest. The self-reference is called recursion, and it's important. It comes in a few varieties, one of which is frustratingly simultaneously always correct but always useless: x = x. Can't argue with that. Also can't do much with it. The word examples tickle me because, for instance, recherche is recherche is non-trivially true – the word is indeed exotic and exquisite and sometimes even pretentious.

28 February 2008

LOST's Excellent Adventure

LOST has jumped the shark. Desmond and Sayid are the Wyld Stallyns! Excellent! *Air guitar* I'd say Farady's new 'do makes for a good Rufus.

... I'm still watching it.

26 February 2008

Scraping THOMAS

I thought my legislative opinion idea was pretty clever. Dani did not. She said it would be a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. I could use clarification on that waste of taxpayer dollars part. (I should add that I think this should all be electronic.) Unfortunately, I cannot disagree with her about the fact that the opinion would probably be relegated to an intern; all I can ask is for congressional peer pressure (hah!) to hold legislators to the expectation that they write their own opinions.

Dani suggested two alternatives: seek out legislators' newsletters (which I haven't yet done), and "dig around" to find transcripts of the floors' debates. For the latter option, I have found this gem. It updates once-a-day-ish to serve out the Daily Digest (=summary) of the Congressional Record. Who knew?

I used Page2RSS to setup this RSS feed for the page, since I couldn't find one. (It's the aughts people! What the hell?!) The results can be pretty cryptic, but at least I get notification whenever the site changes – that is, whenever Congress does something. If anyone can manage to scrape a better feed – or knows where to find one – please do let me know!

(I hope this is legal.)

I haven't discerned if the precise transcript of the floors' activities are available through THOMAS. That sure would be nice. Dani – maybe you can elaborate on your "digging" suggestion? Perhaps C-SPAN? Thanks for the suggestion to seek this out.

And another

This one is less impressive, but way more throw-back. It's old school in its simplicity and characters, too. SNESish.

23 February 2008

NSIYNTBP

Not Safe If You Need To Be Productive. Tycho linked to Iron Dukes, and damn him for doing so.

Don't give me that "I'm an adult, I don't play games" cruft – click through and enjoy.

We $hall see

I really liked this. I know next to nothing of Lupe, but I have enjoyed the work of Kanye and Pharrell before. Maybe that means they're like Mos Def? Quality stuff all around.

Even beyond the music, that video is killer. I'm with the RCRD LBL author looking forward to more outlets for Va$htie.

[Thanks to Rory for passing that one along.]

22 February 2008

I've been found out!

I absolutely hate Mario Party. From Tycho:
[Gabe] was trying to figure out why he likes Smash but not other pieces in the Nintendo oeuvre, specifically Mario Party, though he's troubled by the communist tendencies of Mario Kart as well - but Smash is nothing like those games. In the two titles I've just mentioned, a suite of "balance mechanisms" designed to promote fairness or randomize outcomes assert themselves. Enforced fairness has a way of feeling unfair to those who excel. If you're playing to have fun with your friends, these are all opportunities for joy. If you play videogames to express your dominion over others, they are impediments to your regime.

21 February 2008

A moment of awareness and an admission of self

Heavy title for a post about a band. What I realized is that I will not acheive the persuasion of Dan or Lindsey. I just don't do that sort of thing. So I'll let SPIN.com do it for me Re: What Made Milwaukee Famous. I like this band. The song on that page is from the upcoming album, which I've never heard, but I really like the first album. The album I know and love is probably low brow and repetitive compared to the new one, but I like repetitions of good. And, once again, those captives in my car have asked about WMMF before – so I'm not totally crazy.

Though I'm not selling the band, I can tell a story. One that might even shake the very foundations of marriage. Might.

Kyle loves Katie Daryl. It was love at first television. Short story even shorter, since I lived with Kyle I ended up watching a bunch of HDNet's True Music. WMMF was on one of those episodes (note: she has her own theme music!) along with The Blue Van and Toby Lightman – both of which I like, though The Blue Van is a bit sloppy for my taste. I digress.

Katie Daryl is cool (and beloved) and WMMF makes good music. In searching for a "representative" song from Trying to Never Catch Up, I couldn't really find one. So maybe my repetitive comment is way off base. Paying no mind to that, I'll throw "Idecide" out there as a rep along with "Hopelist" as a demonstration of some breadth. The album has many great lyrics (due in part to sonorous and compelling delivery, but the words do indicate a keen, young wisdom) and "Hopelist" contains more than its fair share.

Enjoy.

19 February 2008

"That Guy" is actually awesome

[Sorry about misspelling both the first and last name. It's late.]

I do realize this is my third post in about an hour, but this one is the only one truly of the moment, so bear with me.

I have just found that freakin' guy. I went to Ashley Parsons' blog because of her amazing work regarding... recent events. That's how I got there: curious if she'd joined in on the press release. I immediately became derailed from my search when I read about her super hero husband, Jeremy. Dude's got big ups. Skills, even.

So this post is really just a high ten (hiyo!) to Jeremy. Well done, sir! While your actions obviously mean so much to her, they also mean a lot to others: hope and inspiration. Keep on keepin' on.

Legislative Opinions

Judges write an opinion explaining the reason for a court decision. This document situates the current case within the expanses of legal history and identifies the salient features and premises which formed the final conclusions. It's a judge's job to decide, and the opinion is how they explain that they're doing it well.

I would like written opinions from our representatives and senators. It's a member of Congress's job to vote; I would appreciate an explanation. Legislative opinions would identify insights along with confusions. Even indications of kowtowing to lobbyists or the party line might surface. The opinions must be accessible: one to two pages of plain English. The reasons described ought to be the legislator's own, concrete reasons specific to this vote. Lack of citation would be cause for impeachment; we the constituency need to know how those reasons were developed (interviews, statistics, texts, etc)¹.

As far as I know, legislative opinions don't exist. I've never even heard of the idea. (Which seems a bit ridiculous.) Of course, every campaign includes the politician's general opinion on a per issue basis, but these are undelivered speeches, persuading instead of explaining. They're too abstract and tailored to be of much use and geared on what the politician will do once elected. But the opinion I want to read justifies what the elected official has done. An opinion for each vote would help legislators share concrete, specific beliefs with the public. It would answer the questions: What was right with this bill? What was wrong with this amendment? An opinion leaving these questions unanswered would indicate the absence of understanding, of research, and of respect for accountability.

I would immediately sign up for my representatives' and senators' opinion newsletter.

¹ The sneaky computer scientist in me knows that data mining citations would identify references of particular import, pangs of the party line, and even traces of opinion-plagiarism.

18 February 2008

Minutiae from the Tubes

Daniel LaRusso, anyone?

I must partake before my death.

Alfred is my prediction with regards to the Kellen of the future. (Sorry to ostracize so many of you, but it's just so true.)

Whoever lives near this place ought to leave, ASAP – pretty, yes, but creepy.

Philip Zimbardo wanders a bit outside of his stomping grounds in the presence of the Mighty Colbert Hammer of Truthiness. (Watch at least from 3'45" to the end).

14 February 2008

From Bobby Long and Lawson Pines

I just watched A Love Song for Bobby Long. It was (sternly) recommended to me by Parker's father, and it was quite good. The front half certainly coasted on volition's momentum, but by the end the film had become quite a nice story to know.

Travolta plays the cracking, empty shell of a literary professor, retired and retreated to New Orleans. He and his trapped protégé toss quotes back and forth throughout the film; I'm sharing here the recitations that struck me as deftly placed dialogue.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot, LITTLE GIDDING
That though I loved them for their faults
As much as for their good,
My friends were enemies on stilts
With their heads in a cunning cloud.

Dylan Thomas, TO OTHERS THAN YOU
One dies only once, and then for such a long time!

Molière, Le Dépit amoureux

13 February 2008

Voluntary Simplicity duplicity

My new book is Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin. I'm only part way through the first chapter, but I'm already loving and hating every other paragraph. One will summarize most of my current thoughts on life and the next will coat the idea in such blatantly proselytistic, existential, spiritual unity fluff that I'm almost put off from my own ideas.

For instance, Table 1 contrasts the Industrial-Era View's belief that "Identity is defined by material possessions and social position" with the Ecological-Era View's belief that "Identity is revealed through our loving and creative participation in life." Well, no shit that sounds better. Or "The individual is defined by his or her body and is ultimately separate and alone" versus "The individual is both unique and an inseparable part of the larger universe; identity is not limited to our physical existence." My reaction, Mr. Elgin.

The seemingly good chance of finding a holistic presentation of the principles I've gathered and developed as I struggle for my own two feet in this world is certainly enough to keep me reading. Hopefully he stops switching between drab and pastel palettes during his contrasts. And hopefully he doesn't use spirituality as the ultimate source of purpose. I'm looking for thoughtful, illuminating, applicable expressions of these notions, not a one-size-fits-all Hallmark card.

... That sure sounds caustic. I am looking forward to reading more.

12 February 2008

The other end of YouTube

Adrienne passed along a link that her mother shared with her to an NPR story about the classical music on YouTube. Turns out, there's lots of great stuff on the NPR website for music wonks, including concerts and songs of the day. (Note the RSS feeds on those pages, people!)

06 February 2008

Emails instead of RSS? Yes, yes, right away!

The kids are all hip to RSS and Atom, nowadays. They are really helpful if you're comfortable with them and you're tracking many websites, but they can be a bit overwhelming if you're following just a couple websites.

If, instead of figuring what RSS is all about, you'd just like to receive an email whenever there's a new post, try SendMeRSS, BotABlog, or RSSFwd. These services use an RSS feed behind the scenes to monitor a website for you and send an email whenever there is something new on it. This isn't so much a "recommendation" since I haven't used any of them myself, but I tracked them down for a friend who requested such a service and they seem pretty solid. Maybe you'll find them useful. But read the fine print, because you can't blame me!

Even as I suggest alternatives for the reluctant, I really must encourage you to join the syndication crowd by finding yourself an aggregator, especially one that is web-based. That is really the only step you need to take. Choose an aggregator and then just keep an eye out for the syndication icon: . This is like the shift from film-based to digital cameras – don't get left behind!

A gentle explanation from What Is RSS?:
RSS solves a problem for people who regularly use the web. It allows you to easily stay informed by retrieving the latest content from the sites you are interested in. You save time by not needing to visit each site individually. You ensure your privacy, by not needing to join each site's email newsletter. The number of sites offering RSS feeds is growing rapidly and includes big names like Yahoo News.

Not the war, not the economy, not the Fair Tax, not health care...

My concern is ubiquitous corruption. Representative Waxman, chairman of the House committee on oversight, spent 40 minutes with Bill Moyers discussing how the executive branch's tactics have hindered Waxman's oversight duties.

While Moyer's interview focuses on corruption within the scope of government contracts in Iraq, please recognize that corruption is everywhere. It subverts every attempt at soundly achieving any public good. The interests of the free market, in its perpetual search for profits, have naturally infiltrated government agencies in order to subvert the oversight that would restrict the profits of irresponsible and unaccountable private entities such as Blackwater and First Kuwait.

Many politicians and civil servants harbor interests in conflict with the duties of their public office either directly through personal and financial relationships or indirectly through the private sector sponsorship and influence that helped them attain the office. Until such undue influence is ousted, no enacted public policy will solely serve the public good.

Fantastico!

To do: write will and choose epitaph

"Life, you are fine. Death, you stink." – Claudio Villa's gravestone.

04 February 2008

Another mystery named

The dilemma at the heart of qualia really unsettled me as a child. How did I know that my red and your red were the same red? The colors of the world, the rapidity of depth's vanishing act, the smell of burning cookies (sob), could all be completely different to you than they are to me.

That still freaks me out.

Win a cookie!

Of Montreal's The Party's Crashing Us Now has two lines that will forever catch my attention. Whoever guesses those lyrics first wins a cookie. (Seriously, I'll buy you a nice one.)

I fail my words

I feel a bit like an ass when I link a word to its definition as I do in some of my posts. When I do so, it is my way of saying, "Hey! Did you know this word? I didn't." Just had to get that out there.

I mentioned Benjamin Barber's book Consumed in one of those lifestyle posts. He's smart. He used big words. Here's the ones that were new to me. While I "had a feeling" for some of them, there was never much confidence.
  1. Something exhibiting exigency is something urgent.
  2. A depredation is a raid.
  3. Succor is synonymous with relief.
  4. A crass person has less than honorable intentions.
  5. To redress is to make right.
  6. By dint of means the same as because of.
  7. A paean is an expression (a song, it seems) of triumph.
  8. Someone with fealty has some serious loyalty.
  9. To limn is to describe.
  10. Mendacity is untruthfulness.
  11. Something coterminus has the same boundaries as the primary subject.
  12. A coeval is a contemporary, and anything coeval is also contemporaneous.
  13. Seditious words support rebellion.
  14. Establishing hegemony attains a strong position of control.
  15. Something facile is too simple, too easy. [An ironic definition considering this post, eh?]
  16. Something fustian is presented as if it's really important, like inspirational and grand words.
  17. Imprimatur is one's approval, the "go ahead."
  18. Something fecund is fertile or prolific, especially with regard to intellectual matters.
  19. A polemic is an ardent refutal of an opinion or principle (or the author of such a counter argument).
  20. The commonweal is the public well-being. Weal can also occur by itself just as would well-being.
I'm glad there was a round number of these words. I Googled for these definitions, so they are gleaned from Merriam Webster, the free dictionary, and others. Merriam Webster was pretty awesome.

01 February 2008

Great film, great music

It seems Big Night is referred to as a food film; apparently I need to watch more of those. It's slow at parts, but you will be soundly rewarded for mustering a little patience. The last scene is a keystone conclusion the likes of which I haven't seen recently. Simple, pertinent, poignant, and reassuring – just how I like my finales.

I recommend the film if you have the slightest romance with food. That's not to say there aren't plots running the drama gamut, you'll just need to have a soft spot for food to enjoy all of this one.

What's more, the music is amazing. I need a name for it so I can track down more of it.

29 January 2008

27 January 2008

I write choppy

Whenever I read the rough drafts of paragraphs in my research publications, my writing is really choppy. While searching for an answer to the question of capitalizing the word after a colon (no answer found), I discovered the hyperbaton – it looks like I use a lot of those. So I suppose that's the formal term for choppy.

One fix suggested to me was to replace ", which" with "that" wholesale. I went with it. But it turns out that it's wrong! The 'pedia entry for comma provides a nice counter-example with these two sentences:
I cut down all the trees, which were over six feet tall.
I cut down all the trees that were over six feet tall.

In the first case, there are no trees left standing. In the second, any trees that were under six feet were not cut down. I think this is restrictive versus non-restrictive usage.

[Update 2 Feb 2008 – From an English professor who seems to identify me as one of the worst writers in the world:

A paradoxical mnemonic: use that to tell which, and which to tell that.]

Lessig Starts on Corruption

I've been doing some critical introspection regarding my distaste for politics. Corruption is all I see; but at the same time, I'm certain that's an over-simplification – there must be good people in there. Rory sent me a lecture regarding corruption by Larry Lessig, who has become the guru on copyright in the last decade. Within this lecture, I have found some respite from my cynicism regarding politics.

I must recommend watching the entire lecture. It's an hour long, but I think it is a rare opportunity to listen the first lecture on a new topic as a scholar of Lessig's caliber is approaching it.

While Lessig addresses the issue of corruption without restricting the discourse to any particular domain, he does spend some time with the case of government. In particular, he cites a double-barrel claim put forward by Dennis Thompson. They claim that legislators themselves are less corrupt – that is, more principled – than ever before in Congress, but Congress itself suffers from "institutional corruption" anyway.

I am rightly recognizing an institutional corruption but am wrongly projecting it onto the politicians. The influence of money on campaigns remains obvious, but I should dole out a bigger beneficial slice of doubt to individual politicians. I made reference to this in my previous post by saying that even the good-willed politicians are doomed, but maybe more of them wield noble intentions than I had thought. They just end up faltering because of the institution's inherent problems.

Now this still doesn't suggest any individual action, but at least someone perspicacious is recognizing and attacking the things that plague me. It has helped me find some immediate hope through refinement of my opinions, and it also offers the long-term hope of a plan. Somebody trustworthy is working on it.

Godspeed, Professor Lessig!


P.P. - Lessig is changing his scholarly focus in part because he believes academics ought to reestablish their "capital" every ten years. I like this idea a lot.

24 January 2008

Top 3 Cruise Theories

Tom Cruise became a supporter of Scientology in 1990, according to the 'pedia. Here's my top 3 favorite theories for why.

Tom Cruise has not slept since 1990.

This would explain a lot, I think. Crazy things happen when you don't get sleep. There was one time I was up almost all night programming a web server. When my alarm clock beeped after the hour or so of sleep I got, I incorporated it into my dream and tried to reprogram it so it would stop beeping. I missed class.

Tom Cruise lost a bet with his wife Mimi Rogers that the 49ers wouldn't win their 4th Super Bowl.

I wish I could say I saw that Super Bowl. It's not that I can say for sure that I didn't see that Super Bowl, it's just that I was 7 years old and can't remember. It was the Denver Bronco's third fruitless trip to the Super Bowl in four years, and Elway just never did it for me. But this is about Tom, not me. I'm sure plenty of people have joined a church because they lost a football bet to their wife.

Tom Cruise is on an infiltration mission.

This is my favorite theory simply because I've always loved the Cruiseman. These last few years have made it pretty hard for me to keep my chin up, so a hopeful theory is a good theory (aside that's bad science). I hear that Cruise is the second most powerful Scientologist in the Church. I don't know what power level that means he's at, but I'm thinking that once he's the most powerful Scientologist, we'll see his true purpose when Michael Clarke Duncan in a stock car and Anthony Edwards in an F-14 collide with Tom Cruise dropping from an HVAC vent in a beautiful fireball that quiets the Church forever. Best of all, this theory has some evidence: the background music in the interview with Cruise shown at the Scientology Academy Awards.

[Update – 26 January 2008 – I just watched Top Gun on AMC today. 1986. Great flick, but everyone was (unrealistically?) unsympathetic when Goose died. They called Maverick a quitter because he was sad his best friend died. Geeez.]

23 January 2008

The Story of Stuff, Consumed, Living Simply

Appreciation and stewardship, neither makes sense without the other. Yet here we are.

Yes, Annie Leonard is hokey. But she's an activist, not an actress – err – she's an expert, more accurately. Her presentation got me thinking about my consumerist habits again. Leonard claims that I'm caught up in a system. What system is that? The result of almost a century of short-sighted capitalist success. According to Benjamin Barber's Consumed, this whole situation is a natural consequence of America entering the twilight of capitalism where industries manufacture needs instead of goods. It's not that their product satisfies my needs; no, they have crap to sell and they need me to buy it. Lots of people seem to agree. (I know Andy is one of them - I've never met anyone who despises advertising as much as he does.) Barber steers clear of Leonard's emotional hooks by making it explicit that he does not think this is some diabolical plan.

Barber explains that our perils are a natural consequence of unchecked capitalism: it is simply in the companies' best interest to perpetuate an "infantilist ethos" in America. Since our true needs are mostly satiated, there are only wants to target now. Thus, children make better consumers than adults, so whatever just happens to make adults into children will be the profitable plan. Barber writes a book about this because it's having a detrimental effect on our democracy. Children do not make better citizens than adults.

Barber demonstrates how capitalism interferes with democracy in a simple and fundamental way. Prices in today's market do not reflect the true cost of the product (like Leonard's radio). Thus, when individuals entrust social decisions to the markets, consequences result that no individual would have championed as a public good. I'll leave you to conjure your favorite such consequence, but I'll surmise that global warming, the Iraq war, outsourcing jobs, Enron-esque corruption, $500 million campaign budgets, and Walmart benefits packages might be popular options.

I am aboard the "oh shit, something's wrong" wagon. Part of me can say that it's just a quarter-life crisis - I'm searching for importance and immediacy in my life. Another part of me can quite readily believe that we're starting to see the consequences of the unfettered success of capitalism. So what am I to do?

Politics is a dead-end (actually it's two dead-ends). Barber's infantalism is evident there too. Leonard would say it's a system in crisis. Politics is a world of persuasion and deceit to which I'm quite averse. Even the fresh-blooded good-willed Young Turks are doomed; the lobbyists and party strategists are deeply rooted. I want to discuss and to affect public policy, but I don't see my vote - or my support of a candidate - as an effective means to that end. I asked my senators a direct question and received a generic two-page mailer regurgitating information. The system is broken and rotting from the inside out, and I don't believe it can be used to fix itself. I'm probably pissing off Dani with this paragraph, so I'll move on to my point.

Until I find a positive outlet†, my response will be voluntary simplicity. My favorite thing so far is to refuse plastic bags when I buy anything. I don't need a plastic bag to carry home the pair of socks I just bought! I've had to be fast about it - going for the bag is a knee-jerk reaction for cashiers. I've bought canvas bags for groceries, but I forget them. Turns out it's kind of fun to carry it all out to the car precariously balanced in my arms. Plastic bags are just the most obvious unnecessity‡ that I'm trying to learn to avoid. I'm trying to wear clothes more than once before washing them. And the cold weather has culled this one, but obviously riding my bike to class and to the office is a good idea. Eating-in has been like flossing (which is like trying to quit smoking); it feels good, but only after it's over and done. These are simple things, but they are lowering my "footprint" and my costs.

My hook for this post says appreciation and stewardship come as a package. I appreciate the beauty of this world - I live it, breathe it. But I have not been a steward. My interest in The Story of Stuff, Consumed, and living simply reflect a coming of age. I was first averse to politics and then avoided the issues themselves. I was raised in a world of consumption and then participated in it like a child - saving isn't just not fun, it's difficult, confusing, and overwhelming. Well, I've grown up and am dissatisfied with some of the result. Annie Leonard inspires conscious consuming and Benjamin Barber inspires citizenship. I've started the improvements privately, righting my own wrongs, but, as Barber says, there is no such thing as a private citizen - it's an oxymoron. I must develop a public voice. Ready to engage in a public forum without political poles, I see none. Where has it gone? Was it ever there? I'm honestly interested in the issues now, and I'm disenfranchised by my own cynicism.

(I'm struggling to end this post on an up-beat.) I will avoid politics as long as possible, but I am aware that doing so may in fact lead to a personal impasse. Until then, I seek apolitical communities of practice executing and championing conscious consumption.



† It took a while, but I've finally resigned to start on the local level. But my search has really just begun. Since I've been enjoying reading about social concerns so much, a book club seems like a cool idea. It could be a start.
‡ I'm sad to see that word already exists.



Post post (ha ha) - I've watched the Story of Stuff video a few more times since I first started this post, and it's been less moving. The ideas stand, but the shallow attempts at persuasion have become abrasive. I still think it's a thing to see - awareness and such. It got my blood flowing. But, I have a few favorite parts to mock now. You should read these after you've watched it.
  • Who buys a radio? At Radioshack? What?
  • "Trashing the ... (401 - page not found) ... (User PIN incorrect, please try again) ... (No hablo Inglés) ... (Sorry, we don't have that in stock) ... (Oh boy, I'm in the middle of an environmentalist speech) ... planet."
  • "...carried by wind currents!" Like how swallows (2:20 mark) carry coconuts.

21 January 2008

Stunning (just to sneak another one in)

The very last clip in this film's trailer is stunning. Terrifying. Stunning. Muddling. Stunning.

13 January 2008

I Forget Things

I'll go upstairs and forget why. I'll buy all ingredients for the recipe but one from the store. Worst and most frequent of all is the truly intended but ultimately doomed I'll call you. But I'm a geek and that usually spells hope.

Historically, my attempts at todo lists rather quickly became oppressively comprehensive anthologies of failure. There was this one time I had a tiny pocket calendar and an equally tiny pen and a rubber band. That actually worked really well until I lost it in a grown-up's jungle gym in St. Louis. Fans of the PDA/smart-phone are probably scratching their heads right now. Bulk, yo; I'm a pockets man and just don't have room for those bricks. And they try to be too many things at once, in my opinion. (The iPhone is a sweet step in the right direction, but I'll wait for a bit more innovation.) Victory was eventually mine, and that victory was Remember the Milk.

The best part of RTM is how well its designers accommodate my cell phone. After a one-time setup, if you give an RTM task a due time instead of just a a due date, it will send an email 30 minutes prior. Since all phones have an email address†, I configured RTM to remind me about really important tasks – no matter where I am – by sending a text to my cell phone.

So RTM can send stuff to my phone, but can my phone send stuff to RTM? Answer: yes yes. I can send a text message to a provided email address with a wee bit of formatting (a T: here and D: there) and the task shows up presto. Alternatively, RTM cooperates with Jott.

I actually found Jott weeks before RTM. It helped me not forget things since it takes just a 30 second (tops-ish) phone call to put a transcribed email in my inbox. Schuper schweet. But it's not a task manager. Jott and RTM recognized one another's awesomeness and now I can use Jott to make a phone call that results in a new task in my RTM list. Me saying "Buy tooth paste, 8pm" while riding in the car to the North Carolina airport means I get a text message on the drive home from MCI.

RTM is proactive and not blind; the designers have hooked into the services Google provides. There's a Gmail/Firefox widget as well as an iGoogle widget. This means we Google users can access RTM within our conventional, daily web destinations. (Also, for Mac users, there's a plug-in for the indispensable Quicksilver launcher.)

RTM and Jott have helped me form an integrated todo system that functions way beyond a list. With accessibility from my cell phone and my email, I'm never out of reach. Of course, it's just as easy to ignore RTM as with other todo lists, but I've found I kind of enjoy using this one and that helps me stick to it. It is comprehensive, convenient, and free‡.

If you would like help setting this up, I'll provide some step by step instructions in response to the first of such requests posted in the comments.

† To find your email address, write the best joke you know in a text message on your phone. When you go to send it, you should see an option to enter an email address. Put your own email address in there. Your phone's email address will be waiting in your inbox. There are easier ways online, but the search works best given a particular provider and I don't know yours.
‡ Except for the ubiquitous text message fees.

Rock Band's 1980s Ancestor

12 January 2008

Flying Tips

I have secrets to share about flying on planes. Hello, government spies.

The TSA doesn't let you bring water bottles on the plane because you can't bring water bottles past security. The only safe water bottles are the $4 bottles on the other side. Also, the in-flight service gives you very small water cups on the flight, packed with ice. Two things for you to know:
  1. You can ask for multiple cups of water when the cart comes down the isle. I usually ask for one with ice and one without. Steward people are nice.
  2. You can bring a water bottle onto the plane. What? Hell yes you can. It just has to be empty when you pass through security. If it's not empty, the joyless zombies take it and throw it away (Recycle? Fmeh.). The drones won't even let you drink it in front of them even though you could have chugged it 30 seconds ago. Once you get through the oddly placed door frame, just fill up at a water fountain. This sort of thing is how I win.
* * *

I've been doing the water bottle thing for a while now, which isn't surprising since I've been winning for a while now. Now it's lessons on sleeping on a plane.

One new thing I learned on the flight back from NYC is that you don't have to be uncomfortable on the plane. What what? Hell yes you can. Studies have shown† that the number one factor inhibiting sleep on planes is acquiring a comfortable position. Here's the trick. It might be specific to the plane I was on, but I'm willing to put it out there just in case it helps you. I always have trouble making my neck comfortable when I'm on the plane, even if I'm next to a window. The wall curves in too quickly for me to get the right angle. My "go to" option is to put my bag on my lap and my hoodie (always have a hoodie on a plane) and another coat on top of that if I have one. It's comfortable enough for me to fall asleep, but I ache pretty good when I come to. It also makes me look weird. Or at least really drunk.

The new sleep solution is to sit as upright as possible. What what what? Hell yes upright. The trick is to get your neck (or at least most of your head) above the back of the seat. The seat I was in actually got softer up there and I was able to comfortably tilt my head back on a cushion. Moreover I found the sense of space up there relaxed me compared to the low cage to which I was accustomed.

My sleep number was 13-F.

fin

† - (‡) I surveyed myself on the flight back.
‡ - That symbol is my favorite because it is called a "dagger." This one is a "double dagger," Raph style※.
※ - Yes, I know Raphael used sai¹.
¹ - Sai is the plural of sai.

[Update 13 Jan 2008: A related list of foods allowed through security (secret handshake to Tyler C). And I forgot to mention that the service crew has refilled my water bottle on the plane.]

04 January 2008

Tipping Folly

NYC is a tippy place, and I've already screwed up twice.

For the shuttle from the airport to Midtown, I made my reservation online, including tip. But dispatch didn't tell the driver that, so I had to say, "I already tipped you $3 online." How lame must that sound? Moreover, my "proof of purchase" didn't show the tip, so I'm not even sure he got it. And what if he didn't deserve $3?

I took a surprisingly awesome free tour of the Grand Central Terminal neighborhood. The guide was excellent, but I didn't have any cash. Free meant free right up until he finished and I realized "He did so well! I'll give him a good tip... err." I darted off both out of embarrassment and in search of an ATM. Found one, but it only leaked $20s.

Lessons I've learned so far: tipping in advance/online and neglecting tip cash just because a service is free are both unsmart.

On a related note, I rarely feel comfortable when deciding how much. Tight wads aren't cool. Big tippers try too hard. And rarely will I tip if I know someone makes full wages. I'm pretty sure Sonic Drive-In workers make full wages. What about those restaurants where you order at the register? I've actually asked "Do you make full wages?" before – yep, I'm that uncouth. Fortunately, it was a high school kid who didn't realize that I was really asking "Should I give you extra money?"

Anyone know of a general rule/resource for knowing who to tip and how much?