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.


† - (‡) 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?

01 January 2008

The Annie Parsons Project

I have had my first taste of online super-stardom. A complete stranger posted a positive comment! This was really exciting. It just barely eeked out that always-sought-after approval of Dan, because it also introduced a mystery! Who was she?!

(I've already had the pleasure of deleting an anonymous negative comment. Sign on or shut up.)

Annie observed that even she didn't know how she got to my blog. Standard online stalking practice immediately ensued. I learned that she was hilarious, gorgeous, in and out of KC, and Christian. She also kinda looked familiar. Graham – that handsome engineer – became my primary suspect.

I saw Graham at some themeless, unexpected, and seemingly spontaneous party last night and showed him Annie's profile. No luck, but I had my first cohort. And a most capable cohort he proved to be. I will happily act as a reference for any future P.I. work, Graham.
9:22p tonight, I randomly went on my friend Rachel B's FB page. As I scrolled down I noticed a Ms Annie Parsons had posted on her wall:

Annie Parsons (Nashville, TN) wrote
at 8:24pm on December 23rd, 2007
I do love singing with you. :) xo

Rachel is my friend from K-State. Im guessing Annie got to your blog through mine through Rachel's...

I expect a date to come out of this. for me.

Im joking about the date.
Thus ends (begins?) the Annie Parsons Project after not even 24 hours. (Have you heard that one before?)

Graham was so helpful, yet I reward his efforts by airing his deepest hopes and dreams entrusted through the most private and secure of missives. Some sort of man code compels me to betray him. Also the most naïve and honest hope that I have that eHarmony touch. To be fair, I was the first to break the eternal and ubiquitous two-guys-looking-at-a-pretty-woman ice with a "you should ask her out" joke. To be fair about being fair, I just had gotten out of a conversation with three ladies about attractive actors. My inner caveman is not running the show.

Yes, Graham, I know, this was totally not cool of me. Compelled, I tell you! I feel like I'm in middle school again.

Hello Annie!
Sorry Graham.

The end of The End of America

The best quote was a quote.
When America gets fascism it will be called anti-fascism.
Ten sounded like an awful lot of steps. But – including such resonant moves as surveilling citizens (check), invoking an external threat (check), establishing a paramilitary force (check), targeting journalists (double check), and establishing secret prisons (double check) – all of Naomi Wolf's steps in The End of America raised my eyebrows ten distinct notches.

Wolf presents each step by juxtaposing recent and historic fascist government actions to reveal analogy. Quite persuasive, but it's that crafty persuasion that's hard to share with others and doesn't offer any solutions. "Regain our civic society" – but how? I see the problems, Wolf has cataloged evidence, but I don't know what to do. This happy fluffy crap is useless, because politicians don't need to listen. I emailed my senator two weeks ago via the address on his "contact" page and I have received no response. I shrug. The Daily Show shows back-to-back clips of Bush contradicting and excusing himself. We laugh. Accountability is just a buzz word.

(Transition? What?)

To her credit, Wolf rescues the Founders from the evil clutches of textbooks and wipes off the dust. She writes them as struggling revolutionaries, not fixtures of history. In their time, few people were politicians and politicians alone; it was a duty separate from one's career. The system they built was fresh, malleable, hopeful, and crafted to distribute power. Times have changed and so has the system. Career politicians are entrenched in a broken and stale corporate-government complex that I don't believe I can affect from the outside. And I can't afford (the money or the time) to be a politician, so what should I do? How can I be part of a civic society without it being a second job? Maybe it needs to be second job. Err – back to the point – it was neat to see the Founders in a humanizing light.

I found evidence to support my extant questions and even some new ones, but no answers. Hmm? What's that you say? Well, how am I suppose to know what you'll get from it? Ha!

(Tidbit: I shake with frustration at the utterance of the price of freedom. I much prefer this line by Wolf, though it trips me up without any prosody.
The price of liberty, the generation that debated and created the Constitution understood, is eternal vigilance.)

I'm taking applications

When I adopt a world view and select an elite team to impart it on other continents, I will found

Nicolas Frisby's Amazing Flying Disciples.