Saturday, December 31, 2005

Accumulated Baggage

I often bring gifts and trinkets for my relatives when I visit them in Shanghai. This is practically a tradition whose reciprocate manifests when my coffers are refilled at the end of a trip with gifts from my relatives. Gifts are great and all but they invariably lead to the check-in agent at the airport informing me that, yes, there is a limit on the size and weight of luggage one can check in and that, yes, 2187 kilograms is very much over that limit. Silly agents. Don't they realize that it's a cultural imperative that my neutron star of a samsonite suitcase be filled with odds and ends from my relatives?

But the agents are right. Too much stuff carries with it consequences. And since 2005 is ending, it's hard not to draw a parallel between that which will pull my arms out of its sockets when I try to lift it off the carousel and the metaphorical baggage in my own life. It's not bad baggage and, in fact, I realize I'm quite lucky to have life-baggage filled with an assortment of goodies in imitation of my physical baggage. Yet, unfortunately, there are only so many hours in a day and so much space in my life. Inactive hobbies, ambitions, and plans should be discarded to make active ones.

So one resolution for 2006? Start improving things. Pursue fewer interest but obsessively attack the ones I do choose to pursue. And while I'm at it, I should really choose more complementary interests. Fire, alcohol, and cars are not only expensive but just sound really stupid together. But don't think I haven't already thought about performing with fire using alcohol as fuel on top of a car for a parade >)

Happy New Year everyone and best of wishes for another arbitrary 356 days!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Catch 21

The legal drinking age in China is controlled, practically, by each individual parent though in theory it is pretty much in utero. The legal drinking age in the states is, of course, 21 years old. So drinking is always legal in China and if you're over 21, it's also legal in the states. But if you're Chinese, over 21, living in the states, and haven't fully thought through the implications of certain questions, you might run into the following problem:

Store clerk: Will this be all ma'am?

Mom: Yes.

Store clerk: Good choices ma'am. '01 was an excellent year for Napa. That'll be $68.88.

Mom: Great. Credit Card.

Store clerk: Oh I'm sorry! Can I please see your ID?

Mom: My ID?

Store clerk: Yes ma'am.

Mom: Do you know how old I am?

Store clerk: No ma'am. That's why I need to see your ID.

Mom: I'm 47! Why do you need to see my ID??

Store clerk: We need to check the ID of everyone who looks under 35.

Mom: But this is ridiculous! I have a son who is already over 21!

Store clerk: Well I'd check his ID too, ma'am.

Mom: But I'm 47!!! I'm old enough to be your mom! Why would you possibly card me?!?

Store clerk: Ma'am, isn't it a compliment that I'm asking you for your ID?

Mom: ...

So on one hand, it's convenient but you look old and on the other hand, it's inconvenient but people still think you look young...

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Tai Gui La

Buying things on the street in China can be a hassle since you've got to haggle and haggle a lot. It's part of the fun though and a typical exchange goes something like this:

Seller: Hey, you want this hat? It'd look good on you! It's a great hat! BUY THIS HAT!

Me: Uhm, actually, no thanks. What about that lighter though?

Seller: YES! This lighter looks great on you!

Me: I want to use it.

Seller: Yes, sure whatever, you want two?

Me: No. Just one. How much is it?

Seller: 75 yuan.

Me: That's way too expensive!

Seller: But it's a great lighter! See? *demonstrates* It can light cigarettes!

Me: And my pen dispenses controlled amounts of ink upon many surfaces when I roll one end of it over said surfaces. So what? I'm not particularly impressed. How about a bit of a discount?

Seller: How about 70 yuan then?

Me: How about 10 yuan?

Seller: Are you kidding? It costs me more than that to get it in the first place. How about 50 yuan?

Me: 50 is far too expensive! Just give it to me for 10?

Seller: 35 is the lowest I'll go, but I'll also require your first born.

Me: No deal. How about 15? Take it or leave it. And no children.

Seller: Forget it, you're crazy.

Me: Alright, *starts to walk away* I can find some other place to sell that anyway...

Seller: How about 25 then? And forget your firstborn.

Me: Well if you're already at 25 why not 15? *gets out wallet*

Seller: *drools* You're going to bankrupt me! what about 23?

Me: *takes out a 20, a 10, and a 5* How about 35 for two? I'll buy two right now.

Seller: That's 17.5 for each! I can't go that low.

Me: *Offers money to seller* come on...35 is a nice number. I'll give you 35 right now and I'll take two lighters.

Seller: uhm....

Me: *offers*

Seller: *takes money* I don't know that's still...

Me: *takes the lighters* Thanks!

Seller: *mumble grumble mumble*

Me: 1. Seller: 0.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Flushed in Singapore

There is an air of order and efficiency that pervades the Singapore airport and, as is well known, through the rest of its society as well. It's not the newest airport in the world and yet it feels better run and more advanced than many of its younger siblings. It's like the difference between a top of the line but older Mercedes sedan and a new Ford Mondeo. I'm sure the Ford can do more tricks but I'd be much happier in the Merc as I suspect would most.
This cleanliness and organization is wonderful for the most part. Except the toilets. Now maybe I just got a weird one but...

As I'm transferring between terminals F and E in Singapore, I decide to take a bathroom break. Walking in, I notice that everything is spic and span and it smells completely netural. Impressive. Everything looks new and there's even a hook on the door for your coat that HASN'T been broken off. But as I open the door, the toilet flushes.

Obviously a misfire.

Then as I sit down it flushes again.

Well, I joke to myself, the toilet is making predictions. Haha.


Wait a second. This is getting a little ridiculous.

As I reach for the toilet paper, *FLUSH*!

Now it's getting personal you copraphobic receptacle. You're a toilet! Your job is to accept poo! What kind of an existentialist crisis are you having by being a toilet that's afraid of poo!
I get up, it flushes!

OK. Now it's war.

I hurriedly pack up my things and try to stay permanently out of the way of the IR sensor. This is not easy to do but not impossible with a few contortionist tricks I learned form my old Kung Fu master. I'm Chinese. I know Kung Fu and I have Kung Fu master. I mean come on, we ALL do. So I've got my coat and a Duty Free bag in one hand and my backpack on my back and the toilet still hasn't flushed.

I win!

I pat myself on the back (contortionist tricks remember?) and walk out of the stall and let the door slowly close behind me. I had beaten the toilet and its wordless insults. My agility had defeated the overzealous IR sensor. I'm the king of the world!
As I walk over to the sink to wash my hands, the door to the stall closes.

And then the toilet flushes.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Winding Down

The era of 3 posts a day is coming to an end. The exercise started as a promised to a friend but turned into fight for content. As far I see, the content I've been able to come up with has been slowly turning from inspired (if ever it was) to perspired. Sweaty. Stinky. Still, I'm happy to have kept the experiment going for two weeks. Trying to post 3 times a day forces one to review one's life for interesting or important moments. But not only events which might be interesting to me but those which have potential to be amusing or informative for a broader audience. I'm an academic. Ergo, basically, I write for a living. In a way, this has been wonderful professional development.

3 is too much for one day though. My life is simply not interesting enough for 3 posts a day and even if it were, I do not have time to devote to 3 good posts a day. Instead, I will aim for the standard: one. If I can get out one good post a day, I will be fairly happy. And no posts like this cop-out meta-post either >)

So farewell to an intense and prolific (yet indubitably uninspired) period in the life of this blog. We now return you to your regularly scheduled laziness. Thank you.

Radio Silence

I'm about to embark upon an Asian Vacation and probably will not be back to this blog until at least the Monday after this coming one. The trip promises to be an exciting one: family reunion, meeting up with a precious friend, visiting a new country, and of course, the Eating. Been getting a bit of flab around the abs lately and I feel like I'm eating less than before. Is my trust metabolism slowing down? A marathon will fix that right up, I hope.

So radio silence until around the 19th! I hope that my travels will inspire many entries for this space here. Until then, ciao!

Flaming Serendipity

Fire Spinning (something I often indulge in) requires, fundamentally, fuel. There are other prerequisites too but fuel is an interesting variable because it controls the safety and duration of a performance. Coleman's fuel (camping fuel) is the cheapest I've found, at around $5/gallon here. The flame is almost white, and burns very hot. The only problem is that the burn time is not very long and it does not have a very high flash point.

Second on the list is Kerosene. I've not tried it but it is supposed to produce very long burn times, but a dim, smokey flame. Around $7-8/gallon (cheaper for larger sizes). Often mixed with Coleman's 50/50.

Ethanol is useful for colored flames, but produces toxic fumes and destroys wicks, supposedly. Even isopropyl alcohol (70% by volume) will light, but that produces a bluish flame, and does not burn very long.

Finally, there's lamp oil, or liquid paraffin. I've tried a 50/50 mix with Coleman's, which produced slightly longer burn times than pure Coleman's, though nothing about which to write home. Normal lamp oil is also a bit smokey and smells when burnt. Regular is about $8/gallon. Ultra-pure lamp oil has none of the odor or smoke of normal lamp oil but is also much more expensive: about $15/gallon at K-Mart and $30/gallon at Pottery Barn.

What? Pottery Barn?

Normally, I wouldn't buy ultra-pure lamp oil at Pottery Barn, what with it being twice as expensive as K-Mart. But take note, pyros, because during their holiday sale (at least when I was there today browsing), they have 22oz. bottles of ultra-pure lamp oil for $.99! That brings down the per gallon price to around $5. Very nice. I cleaned out the shelves and bought 8 >)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A Whole New World

I'm going to be visiting some relatives soon and so I thought I'd do some shopping, see if there any little gifts which might be cute to bring them. I made a gift run only a few months before though so the pressure is off. As I was musing outloud, B gave me a coupon for $x off $y at Bath & Body Works. Great, I thought, maybe I could find something there.

So last night, B (a different B, a guy) and I went to browse Bath and Body Works. We were both going to attend an end-of-the-quarter dinner at a restaurant but I wanted to swing by the downtown mall before to see if I could use the coupon. B claimed threatened to just stand outside and wait while I browsed this store that would baffle even the cleverest of males (and many unsuspecting females).

"Hi, can I help you find something?"

"No, just looking around, thanks!"

Yeah right. Big fat lie from me. I didn't know what was going on in that store. There are what looks like tubes of paint with the words "aromatherapy" written on them. So are they tubes of aroma? No, it's "body lotion". Then there's a bewildering selection of massage oils, relaxing massage oils, invigorating massage oils, smoothing oils, body wash, body splash, foam wash, etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum say no more say no more. And pillow mist. Pillow mist??? Is that like a pillow finely ground and then suspended in liquid only to be aerosolized? Axe claims to get you hot girls and I've seen Tag Body Spray for Sick Cats but surely my surrounding airspace doesn't need the essence of pillows in it? Ohhhhh, you spray it on the pillows. Why? The better to aid asphyxiophilia, my dear.

5-Minute Book Review: The Shadow of the Wind

Before I start, I would like to credit Shryh for the format. Though I am taking the title very literally so if I stop in the middle of a sentence after 5 minutes, oops.

The Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafon) is one of the more fun books I've read in recent memory. I vaguely remember a sentence somewhere within its covers mentioning that Zafon is a screenwriter and his talent for pacing action certainly shows in TSotW. The grand intrigue is introduced and set up right away but there are many small climaxes to keep your attention as you work through its ~500 pages. The language (translated, granted) is accessible and immediate. You are to enjoy the story for its story, not pore over some obscure literary resonance between an implied meter and the rhythm of the plot.

The content of the intrigue will also appeal to book lovers: it is about a book and the lives that surround it. The set up is that Daniel (boy) somehow comes across a copy of a book titled The Shadow of the Wind and is immediately taken by the author, Julian Carax. As he searches for more of Carax's works, however, he finds that somebody is destroying all the copies of Carax's works. Lots of drama and action follows. Romance, action, the police, it's all here. In a way, it's a Hollywood blockbuster of a book, but in a good way. It is fun action and intrigue, not cheap action and intrigue.

And my 5 minutes are up. Recommended if you need light but engaging reading.

Free Food

As a starving graduate student, I never pass up an opportunity for free food. Meeting with pizza served? I'm there. Free samples at the supermarket? Give me a few more samples, I want to know if I really want to buy it. Professor's invitation to dinner with the class? Yes please! And, of course, I like to maximize the free-ness of our fooding. For example, if I have control over dates, I wouldn't schedule a pizza meeting right after a reception. By gorging yourself at the reception, albeit incurring the disapproving stares of strangers, you can skip dinner, and then leave the pizza for another day!

So much to my dismay, there was a music department party (with wonderful food and drinks), a professor party, and another professor party all on the same day! And shamefully, I did not gorge myself at all three events. What good am I as a starving graduate student if I can't binge-eat enough food at a time to survive for three days? I have disgraced my ancestors.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Net Dependence

You know what I hate? I hate it when Cox breaks their own servers or something and then I can't get on the internet. So I get out their packet and it's all like "go to to get heloh wait! You can't! HAH!". So I call their number and they're all like "your area is being attacked by Mothra. Our Oompa Loompas are on it but we do not have an estimated time of resolution. Go have sexual intercourse with yourself in the meantime." Argh. This has been happening to me once per month, at least.

Yeah yeah, I'm spoiled.

Judicial Vultures

"If you or a loved one has taken Zyprexa and have experienced side effect a, side effect b, or DEATH, please call the offices of Exploitation, Extortion, and Preying Bastards."

Somebody down at the offices of Sokolove didn't copy edit the intern's work apparently. If I've taken Zyprexa and experienced death, I certainly wouldn't be calling no lawyer. And seriously, if you're going to prey on the weak, at least do it logically.

Numa Numa!

Finals time makes for short blog entries and odd things stuck in your head. I've got the numa numa song stuck in mine. You know, numa numa.

The real name of the song is Dragostea Din Tei by a Romanian band called O-Zone. Honestly, it's a pretty good song as far as dance-y pop songs go. It has decent beat, a catchy melody, not the most standard and boring harmonies in the world, and a memorable introduction (Maya hiiii!). It's fun to say numa numa iei, numa numa numa iei a lot too. The video's a bit odd, what with one guy fingering his glasses all the time, some homoerotic overtones, and an airplane with speakers for engines. But hey, numa numa iei, it's all in good fun.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Fire Spinner

I'm the burn starter, lighting instigator.
I'm the flame addicted, pyro illustrated.
I'm a firespinner, twisted firespinner,
you're my firestarter, twisted firestarter.

I'm the bitch you hated, fuel infatuated.
Yeah, I'm the smoke you tasted, fell asphyxiated.
I'm a firespinner, twisted firespinner,
you're my firestarter, twisted firestarter.

I'm the self-appointed, wick detonator.
Yeah, I'm the one invented, new move innovator.
I'm a firespinner, twisted firespinner,
you're my firestarter, twisted firestarter.


I walk into Home Depot looking for lamp oil.

Me: "Excuse me, do you know where you sell lamp oil?"
Attendant #1: "Like propane?"
Me: ", like...lamp...oil."
Attendant #2: "'s probably down around the Garden outside."
Me: "OK, thanks."

I walk to the Garden center. No lamp oil. Walk outside into what seems like the Home Depot abyss: no shoppers, no attendants, almost no lights, almost no roof, just 25 ft. tall shelves of manure, hoses, and more manure. I decide to ask another attendant.

Me: "Excuse me, do you know where lamp oil is?"
Attendant: "Yeah. Aisle one. Right inside of the Garden center."
Me: "Great! Thanks!"

I walk to Aisle One. I walk through it beginning to end. Then I walk through it end to beginning. Then I do it all again. No lamp oil. Am I blind? Walk back down past the aisles looking for an attendant...none in aisle one...none in aisle two...around aisle 13, I get to some people.

Me: "Excuse me, do you know where (the freaking) lamp oil is?"
Attendant: "Hmmm...I'm not sure, but it's not at this end of the store."
Wtf? Do Home Depot attendants get assigned to the left or right side and never the twain shall meet? But let's give him the benefit of the doubt:
Me: "I checked Aisle One and the Garden Center already and didn't see anything."
Attendant: "Huh...yeah, that's where they should be. Not sure why they're not there."
Me: "OK, never mind then. Thanks."

I then roared in rage, drove my fists into the earth, and threw my head back to face the heavens. I saw gods sitting around watching and mocking me. The bastards.

What's the point of having people on the floor if none of them know anything about the store?!?! Screw you Home Depot. I'm going to OSH next time.

Intimidated by the Past

I used to compose music, back in the day. There was a time when I was a brash young musician who thought that he could just let music flow forth from within his mind and out onto the paper, that that was good enough to be called music. The styles I gravitated towards were, predictably, styles which I admired. I wanted to write with the endless melodies of Rachmaninoff, the delicate construction of Chopin, and the epic breadth of Beethoven. Instead, my limited compositional activities culminated (in some people's opinions) in a theme and variations for piano. The theme was, I'm not kidding, the title music for the Disney show Gargoyles. It was a catchy theme and I was in a whimsical mood. The end result was a bit virtuosic and fun, but not exactly good music.

Since then, I haven't composed much. The more I study the works of the masters before me, the more I realize that my writing in their styles is practically pointless. Even if they haven't said everything that could be said, whatever they did say is infinitely more elegant, profound, and beautiful than anything I could possibly even think of considering to perhaps maybe have the thought of uttering. One of these days I'll fully realize that I'm insignificant as far as Western Art Music history is concerned and that I should just write for myself because I like to do it. That day has yet to come.

Incidentally, this same problem has plagued many famous composers in the past. It's much more applicable in their case because they were very talented composers and they still measured themselves against their predecessors. This kind of historical awareness wasn't always there and was only really active in the last 300 years or so. The most famous example is Brahms and Beethoven. Beethoven wrote his incomparable 9 symphonies and afterwards, many composers were convinced that he had completely exhuasted the possiblities of the symphony. This is not an exaggeration.

Each one of Beethoven's symphonies (though mainly from the 3rd onwards) is like a musical universe unto itself. Though they are often cited as exemplars of the symphonic genre, they are anything but typical. Imagine inventing a new language for every new article you write and imagine that this new language must transcend all previous languages. It's a difficult task at best and a nearly impossible one in reality.

Many of Beethoven's succesors were intimidated, and rightly so, by The Nine that Beethoven had left behind. What else could be said after Beethoven's 9th, which not only uses a new musical language but literally creates music out of silence? Brahms was well aware of Beethoven's 830 pound shadow and avoided writing a symphony for a very long time. From conception to completiong, his first symphony took almost 20 years to complete. 20 years! But as Brahms and other composer have proven, the symphonic genre has obviously not been exahusted.

Perhaps people have not always thought this way but at least for now, for my perspective, the past is very much in the present and thus has great power over the future as well. Even so, it need not totally control the present, of course. Maybe it's just me but I'm waiting for the day when I will be able to calmly acknowledge all that has come before me instead of having to contend with it every day.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Being Abstract

Academic research in the humanities is often all about seeing the abstract picture and making abstract connections. It takes quite a bit of thinking and faith before one can convince themselves that a lot of these thoughts aren't just mad ramblings. Most people's intuition would be to reject some of the abstractions that we study as ridiculous, and that wouldn't be too far off. But as far as I'm concerned, even the most far-fetched ideas (provided that nothing is factually or methodologically wrong with the idea) deserve at least 15 minutes' worth of deep, rigorous thought.

Take for example the following scenario: There are two things called A and B. Then we describe an attribute we can ascribe to these things and call it Q. Now we have one of many directions to take. We can analyze how either A or B is Q or not Q. Then we can say how A and B put together is Q. Notice that this is already a couple levels of abstraction beyond the normal. Let's say Q is "exciting". We're not saying A is exciting and we're not saying B is exciting. We're saying that the A and B put together (not C, just A and B as a group) is exciting. OK, now let's ascend further up the abstraction ladder. We can then talk about the relationship itself bewteen A and B (or some aspect thereof) as being Q. Of course Q may be a quality that only arises out of two other things and so the relationship between A and B as an entity may have to interact with something else outside the world of A and B in order to realize this quality Q.

So this is what us academics do all day long. Think craaaazy thoughts like what I just delineated. But as silly as all that sounded, there are ways to apply it fruitfully in order to produce worthy paths of study. Being an academic isn't thinking up silly abstractions. It's exploring all kinds of abstractions and being able to discover the profound thoughts that lurk behind certain abstractions, even if they seem silly and overwrought at the beginning.

Sounds that Make You Go "Eeeaaaggghhh...."

Some rather horrific noises one might have to deal with:
  • Place your cellular phone close to any speaker that is turned on. Wait for somebody to send you a text message or call you. You'll get a loud intermittent (at the beginning, and then constant) buzz on the speakers from electromagnetic interference. Eeaaagghh level: 4/5.
  • The sound of a fax machine doing its high-pitched thing. Push that start button as soon as you can or get a better fax machine. Eeaaagghh level: 3/5.
  • The sound of a modem making a connection with your internet service provider. The prevalence of the sound and the fact that it had some sort of a structure to it (BEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeee khhhhhhhhhhhhhh DINGdonnng DINGdonnng DINGeep khhhhhhhhh KHHHHHHHHHHHH) made it almost musical. Except that it was a horrible abomination of a noise that many of us had to listen to at one point or another. Eeaaagghh level: 3/5.
  • Take one(1) piece of styrofoam. Take one(1) knife. Mutilate styrofoam with knife vigorously. Allow ensuing sound to rape your ears. Eeaaagghh level: 5/5.

Rulers of the Net

There was a push by the EU to move control of the internet away from US hands a while ago. But out comes Condoleezza Rice swingin', bitch slapping the EU with a letter about internet governance and thus the control of the internet is still in US hands. And now, that letter she wrote has been published. As the article notes, it's pretty stern language for a diplomatic letter and was instrumental in defusing debates about inter-governmental control of the internet. The delegates from the EU were reported as being somewhat miffed to be handed such a slap and, on the other hand, glad that at least they walked away with a box of Rice a Roni, the San Francisco Treat. So thank the Lord and Condoleezza the internet is still in control by the Land of the Free. Amen.

Or wait. Is the Land of the Free, which houses ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ), without its own influences? It was proposed that a .xxx domain be made available for all sites providing pr0nography (euphemistically "adult content") and for a while, it seemed like it was going to happen. With all porn sites restricted to this domain, average users of the internet would much less likely run into a p0rn site accidentally (remember anyone?) and could easily block out all the pr0n spam. Seems like a great idea right?

But then ICANN delayed the plans because the Bush administration opposed it. It's fine to be conservative and to want to protect your kids from the pervasive smut out there but isn't that what .xxx helps us do? How does an argument like "n0rp shouldn't have its own domain. That would be like glorifying it." make sense when faced with, oh I don't know, REALITY. So ICANN is in the land of the free but not free from crazy puritanical influences.

And apparently not free from pride either: ICANN again dropped the plan beginning of this December, supposedly because they didn't want to portray the addition of a .xxx domain as a flaw in the existing internet architecture, which would look bad in front of the EU who does want to get control away from the Americans.

Of course, relatively speaking, the US is a pretty darn good place of governance for a decentralized entity such as the internet and yet it is obviously not without its flaws. It's fine to get on the moral and philosophical high ground to berate others in order to maintain control (it's politics after all), but perhaps such criticism should be applied to ourselves at some point in the near future.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Wax Scottish

I've got a thing for Scotch. Not the Scotch, mind you, but their brews. Oh the heady aromas and complex taste of a good Scotch Whisky is, if not to die for, to spend lots of money for. It's not a taste for everyone but it certainly is one for me. Everything from the sweet smell wafting up from the fermented concotion, to the tingling sting in your nostrils when you take a deep sniff, to the unique flavors dancing on your's enough to drive a man (who likes his scotch) to stupid grins.

And while Scotch Whisky may taste like Scottish Whiskey, some exploration will quickly reveal drastic differences in taste characteristics between the regions. Single Malt Scotch is separated into regions (similar to categorizing wine characteristics by regions) and each region of course has their own taste. I'm currently in love with Islay (pronounced eye-la) scotches, though can only recall the tastes of Laphroaig 10 yr. and Lagavulin 16yr.. Both highly recommended. Heavy peat bog smells and warm, savory smells and tastes. The other region I'm somewhat familiar with is Highland, which tends to be palatable to a broader audience because the flavors are usually less sharp and more smooth. Oban 14 yr., Glenlivet 18 yr., and Glenmorangie 12yr. all offer wonderful experiences. Don't know much about Speyside (have tried Balvenie Doublewood 12 yr. but can't comment on comparison to others) or Lowland yet but getting there.

So next time you have chance to try a scotch, get one of the better ones available, sit back, and really enjoy all that the glass has to offer from the color, to the smell, to the taste, and even beyond. A glass of scotch is a complex thing. Be creative and let it stimulate all your senses.

Source of Ebola Found

Origins of Ebola Found!

Research traced the Ebola, a viral hemorrhagic fever, to fruit bats. Fruit bats! Apparently people in the region are used to catching fruit bats for food and this is how the first outbreaks probably came about. This isn't a cure by any means but it's a significant breakthrough nonetheless. Since Ebola can have a fatality rate as high as 90% and acts very quickly, it's a scary thing indeed. Symptoms are rather grotesque as well (at least I think so. Victims don't squirt blood or anything but something that kills you by inernal bleeding or necrosis of the organs is plenty scary, thank you). Outbreaks, if they happen, still need to be controlled and a cure would be ideal but with this new discovery, perhaps most outbreaks could be prevented.

Different Kinds of Pain

Article 2, Section 4, Paragraph 3, Sentence 5, Word 13, Syllable 1, Letter 2 of the Handbook for Men declares proudly "o". That's right. That "o" is part of a bigger word "good" which is in part of a larger concept: "Working out is good." Yes indeed, all men enjoy working out. We all secretly want to be buff enuff for...looking good naked. Because really guys, admit it, that's the main reason for working out isn't it.

Though of course, like any activity, shaping up the body comes with its own set of parameters and rules. The pithy "no pain no gain" rule is surprisingly true but like all overachieving adages, it misses out on the subtleties entirely and always raises a hand for every damn question the teacher asks! Teacher's pet. For one thing, there are different kinds of pain as there are different kinds of gain. Call me a masochist if you will but I like the pain associated with a good workout, whether through weight lifting or running, aerobic or anaerobic. But the pains differ.

Imagine you haven't worked out for a long time (not very hard for me) and decide to get back to the gym. You go through your by-now-abnormal weight lifting routine and feel good. Next day, you walk around with your arms practically akimbo because everything is sore. Now imagine that you played tennis for 2 hours after a similarly long period of inactivity. The next day, you are also sore, but in a different way than the weight-lifting sore. Each carries with it its own feeling and benefits. This isn't news to most of you, probably, but I'm sitting here relishing my own soreness and felt like talking about it and you can't stop me!

Thursday, December 01, 2005


There are a lot of creative people out there. Case in point: Altoid's "Tin Million Uses" contest where contestants compete for the title of the most creative use of an Altoid's tin as something other than an Altoid's tin. The winner (Jon Lennon!) made a Theremin out of an Altoid. Well, close anyway.

Altoid's website is correct in saying that Lennon made a light-based theremin, an instrument whose pitch is determined by the amount of light it detects.'s article about Lennon's creation misses the crucial "light-based" modifier and instead asserts that a theremin is an instrument whose pitch is determined by light.


Let's get a real theremin in here.

There we go. A theremin (wikiwiki!) is an instrument invented by Léon Theremin that accepts two types of inputs: the right hand (typically) controls the pitch by moving up or down and the left hand controls volume by moving closer and farther away from the second loopy antenna. It's not used very often and theremin masters are few (if any) and far in between. What Lennon has created, then, is an instrument that is somewhat like a theremin in that it is an electronic device that produces a pitch based on an external input. Then again, the same can be said of a turntable or an electronic keyboard. The similarities are easy to see but a light-based theremin is not equal to's assertion that a theremin is an instrument that is based on light. Poor Leon isn't very famous anyway so the least we could do is to not reduce his instrument down to an Altoid tin and get its parameters wrong. Besides, his instrument had pitch and volume, with vibrato and tremolo possiblities using smaller finger gestures.

Yeah I'm a nitpicky music nerd and I'm bitching about Kudos to Lennon for winning the Tin Millions contest with a musical device though.

PS You know the original Star Trek theme? That's a theremin. (And Hellboy used it too!!!...???)

Do you want a chipset with that?

I've been helping my friend B look for a good laptop replacement recently. B needs a thin-and-light laptop that has to be sturdy and includes a CD/DVD drive. As far as I'm concerned, a Thinkpad is still the best bet. They're a bit more expensive but I will gladly pay for the extra build quality. They look ugly, unfortunately, but they work well. On the Mac side an iBook is always good too but I don't have enough artsy fartsy snobbery to recommend a Mac (Kidding! Or am I?).

So I ask B what kind of general specifications she's looking for and like any normal consumer, and rightly so, she has no idea. She wonders if 512MB RAM is fast enough and which processor she should get. Isn't the Centrino a better processor than the Celeron? She'll need to do word processing and web surfing on the computer so she should get at least a Pentium M 2.0GHz right? Or is a Centrino better?

For those in the know, comparing Centrino to Celeron is like wondering which is better to sit on, a chair or a dining set. But B isn't really to blame for her confusion. Intel has pushed the "Centrino" label so much that it's a small miracle people haven't forgotten what a processor is entirely. The myriad labels and acronyms with which marketing departments rape the naive and unsuspecting minds of the average innocent consumer is frightening.

And it can't be helped. There is power in an identity, and power in a name. Exclusive brands and labels do exactly that, exclude, and by doing so create a sense of power for those who choose to put forth the effort (and often money) to be included. So what if you can't even find a place to see the Lamborghini Murcielago? Can you even spell Lamborghini? Can you even pronounce Murcielago? Correctly? Give us our 3,500% markup and then we'll talk.

Addicted to Net

NYTimes reports on treating internet addiction.

I'm not denying that there can be such a thing as internet addiction. I mean, I have no problems not using the internet for an extended amount of time. The cold sweat, hot flashes, accelerated heart beat, and panic attacks I get when not on the internet are just coincidences, I assure you. Me? Depdendent? Never.

On the other hand, an addiction to the internet is similar to an addiction to martial arts, throwing cats, or singing about the color blue: it's behvioral. And as such, I would imagine that there are usually underlying reasons for the addiction whether it's a need for escapism or personal identity or whatever else. In short, treating internet addiction as a new entity per se seems a bit unnecessary to me. Is this "new" addiction any different than entertaining and escpaist vices that have come up in the past?
"It's breaking new ground," Ms. Ewing said. "But an addiction is an addiction."

Now wait a second...if an addiction is an addiction, how is the internet addiction (which is just an addiction after all) breaking new ground? I agree with the latter part of Ms. Wing's assessment but I'm not sure about this ground-breaking business. At the very most, we're still on one plot of land and we're now digging over by the rhododendra instead of messing around with the shrubbery.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Pitch Class Sets Part the Third

First Read: Pitch Class Sets Part the Second and Pitch Class Sets Part the First

So no we've got all these funky chords and we need to name them. Why do we want to name them? For the same reason we name traditional chords: because the sonorities all sound similar. A C major chord sounds like a C major anyway you play it as long as it has even the meaning of C-E-G behind it. With atonal chords, the aural similarities may not be readily apparent to most but the idea is that with a trained ear, you can hear it. Pitch class set theory allows you to talk about it with your music theory nerds. I mean friends.

So let's say you've got this crazy chord that goes C-D#-E-F#. In numbers, that would be 0-3-4-6. Without going into the actual details, let's call that chord "4-5". The first number denotes the cardinality of the chord you're naming (in essence, the number of distinct pitches it contains) and the second number denotes a unique identifier. Some pioneering theorists named Allen Forte looked at every possible chord combination and gave them names back in the day so now us nerds talk about how 3-7 is related to 6-18 and how it's cool that 4-Z15 and 4-Z29 are m5 or m7 related and such. Again, without getting into the craziness, pitch class set theory is, preliminarily, a way to abstractly equate atonal chords.

Once you get the basics of identifying chords down, then you can start analyzing relationship between them. We're trained to hear in a diatonic doe-ray-me-far-sew-la-tea-doe kind of way so hearing progression from C Major to G Major is easy for us. Hearing the change between a a4-Z15 and 4-Z29 chord is pretty much impossible for most of us. Pitch class set theory gives us an edifice, albeit mostly an academic rather than aural one, with which to grapple with atonal music (of the Schoenbergian variety).

That's enough pitch class set theory for now. Perhaps I'll come back later and explain some of the mechanics of it in detail. I know you're just dying to hear that!

Spinning Advice

Some advice on practicing spinning poi:

Make your own practice poi. Small bags of rice in socks will do. And in a pinch, you can smack your opponent with your dirty sock-poi and demand satisfaction. Much more humiliating than a glove and if you're lucky, he'll get an infection and die from that nasty sock poi you've been swinging around everywhere before you'll have to avoid confronting him at the appointed time because you're a pansy and never really wanted a duel in the first place but goddamit you can't retract a satisfaction demand.

For the guys: watch out for your groin. You're going to be working on that forward 5-beat weave and you're going to think you're the (somewhat effeminate) man when you start getting it down when all of a sudden, *fwap*, a rice bag nails you in the groin. Then it's an emphatic *ooph*, a bit of doubling over, some embarassed laughter, and no kids for Johnny. Don't let poi ruin your chances to propagate your seed. Let your social awkwardness and that nervous tick do it instead. It's what they're there for.

For the girls: secretly watch your boyfriend practice poi. Sooner or later he'll smack himself in the groin and it'll be hilarious. No children for you guys but it's not like you wanted to poop out a mankind propagator anytime soon or anything and besides, you were thinking about ditching him in a month or two anyway. I mean seriously, what is UP with that hair???

Where do you get it?

Ever notice how there are things which you know exist and which you know are used by a lot of people but have absolutely no idea how to get? An item which everybody knows about and perhaps some even use but you just can't find it anywhere? I've got one for you: Kerosene.

There are kerosene heaters, even kerosene lamps and I can get those at Home Depot. Great, so one would think Home Depot might have kerosene. Nope.

OK then, since kerosene is a liquid fuel that is much safer and less volatile than some other readily available fuels (like gasoline or even Coleman fuel), perhaps could conceivably use it for camping? Maybe a sporting goods store with a camping section will have it. SportsMart: Yes on the Coleman, but no on the kerosene.

Well maybe a pharamacy/general store like RiteAid will have it. Ask an attendant: yes! They have kerosene! Alright! Right down here aaaaand oh wait that's Coleman. Note to self: cheaper than SportsMart.

Alright, last ditch effort, let's go to the supermarket.
Me: "Do you know if you sell any kerosene?"
Attendant: "Sorry, what?"
Me: "Do you know if you sell any kerosene?"
Attendant: "I don't know..uh..."
Me: "Or just the section where kerosene would be in...?"
Attendant: "Oh, I uh, I don't know what that is. What did you say?"
Me: "Kerosene."
Attendant: "Clariseen? What is that?"
Me: "Oh it's a kind of liquid fuel."
Attendant: "Is it like lighter fluid? We have those in aisle 6..."
Me: "No, it's not lighter fluid actually. It's's kerosene..."
Attendant: "OK, let me call somebody and ask. *dials phone* Hey do you know if we carry any claritin"
Me: "kerosene"
Attendant: "...uh...klarosene"
Me: "kerosene(!!!)"
Attendant: "oh, uh...kerosene? Yeah? OK."
Me: "Oh, and if you don't, could you please ask where I might be able to get some?"
Attendant: "Oh we have it. It's right down aisle 6."
Me: "OK thanks! *runs down aisle 6* *comes back* This...this is lighter fluid."
Attendant: "Oh...yeah, I don't know."
Attendant: "Are you stepping? What do you need kerosene for anyway?"
Me: "It's none of your business! You want to take this outside?"
Attendant: "Hell yeah! I'll wait, what? what are you doing? Stop squirting lighter fluid on me! Is that a match? Get a way from me with that match you fraaagggghhhhh!!!!! I'm on fire!!!!"
Me: "That's what I needed it for but I guess lighter fluid will do."

So where was I? Oh right! Kerosene. Where does one buy kerosene? And really, I want kerosene for fire spinning purposes, not for whimsical immolation though it's not like the latter doesn't appeal to me a great deal.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Interlude: Getting Smashed

There's a ring of sites called wherein the gimmick is that they take donations from the readers, buy a coveted tech item, and smash it. Cnet just did a short article on it and talks about negative reactions to these sites. For example:

"This is not harmless fun, it is pure poison. Their enjoyment comes not from the achievement of values, but from the destruction of the values of others. Their response to the phenomenon a happy man, is to take his happiness and mangle it. This is what Ayn Rand so eloquently identified as, 'hatred of the good for being good."
From The Benjo Blog
No, cyanide is pure poison. And in case you missed it, Benjo, they're destroying an XBOX360, not the values of others. Let me make that clear again: it's only an XBOX360! And it's not somebody else's XBOX360, it's their own! How is that destroying somebody else's anything, much less their values??? In the not-so-grand scheme of things, this is less important than a speck of flour underneath your couch next to that hideous floral-pattern chair which, despite it being very comfortable and cheap, is just wrong. The problem I see with such a reaction is that it forcefully imputes meanings to an act which was neither intended as being particularly meaningful nor as something which could shoulder the burden of all these extra subtexts. And right, Ayn Rand, the practical philosopher of our times. *snort* I'm a fan of her philosophy and books but I don't ever delude myself by mistaking an interesting point of view with an applicable one. Ad hominem attacks are pointless too. For example:

"Even if these neanderthals were simply smashing an expensive object in mindless glee, I would still feel contempt."


"But these cretins are much worse than cave men."
From The Benjo Blog
And since when, Benjo, did you become the supreme arbiter of all that is good in the universe? What happened to free speech? Neandertals might have judged others without a second thought but surely, Benjo, we are above this? A case might be made that destroying an XBOX and deriving satisfaction from its destruction is similar in nature to a sort of societal nihilism and masochism. Rejoice in other people's pain, criticize all that is good for no other reason than to be contrary, and otherwise encourage the rotting of our morals and ethics, hoorah. But the fundamental flaw in such a comparison is the scale and impact of said act. In some far off abstract philosophical land (incidentally where Ayn Rand lived) the scale might not matter but in reality, it does.

The smashourstuff ring is nothing more than a few sites devoted to a few uninspired stunts. If we're going to talk about publicity stunts, the antics of Hollywood deserve much more attention than one broken XBox? If Benjo really believes that our society is going to hell because we're disparaging good because it is good, why not go after bigger fish? Using as an example is like speaking about how a particular brand of butter is no longer available and then using that as an example for world poverty.

I don't think we should criticize the good just because it's good and we certainly should criticize the bad if it's bad. But I do not believe that we can criticize something and label it as bad just because it does not fit our own definitions of "good." Not good is not necessarily bad. And we certainly can not then generalize a very small example of "not good" to epic proportions. While I disagree with Benjo's point of view, I am more than happy that he can hold it without retribution. I just have a problem with his angle of attack which to me seems a bit unsound. But if you don't agree with me I will destroy my XBOX360 by hurling a kitten at it (her name is Bubbles) repeatedly until both have expired. This will in turn precipitate the total collapse of civilization as we know it, so just watch it buddy.

Pitch Class Sets Part the Second

First Read: Pitch Class Sets Part the First

How does one assign numbers to pitches? Easy. There are twelve chromatic pitches to cover: A, A#, B, C, C#, D, C#, E, F, F#, G, and G#. We could get all silly and assign 1 to A, 18 to A#, and 6,655,321 to C but that's not really all that useful. Instead, we arbitrarily pick C to be 0 and go up from there. So: C=0, C#=1, D=2, D#=3, E=4, and so on and so forth until we get to B=11. Calling the pitches the numebrs through 11 is convenient because it equalizes their importance. There is no "key" of A where A is important. A will always be 9 so just live with it. The numbers also take advantage of an existing arithmetic system, namely arithmetic (har har har). Figuring out the interval between A and D# takes some thought and often involves, for many, visualizing a keyboard. With pitch numbers, it's easy once you know the numbers well. D=2 and A#= 10 so from A# to D is 10 to 2 is 4 (remember that the pitches wrap around so 2 is in essence 14) and from D to A# is 8.

The wrapping nature of pitches is the reason why they are called pitch class. For most people, hearing a C really on a cello sounds similar to hearing the same C high on a violin. They're both Cs but one sounds low and sounds high. This is the concept of octave equivalence. So the numbers stand for not a single pitch but a pitch class, regardless of the octave (this is the same as calling a note a C rather than a C3, for example).

So we've got pitch classes, now we need to get sets in there. Fundamentally, chords are bunches of notes played at the same time. Given enough importance, they become entities in their own right and retain identity through deformation, separation of its constituents, and other tranformations. A C major chord sounds like a C Major chord whether you play C, E, and G all at the same time or one after another. The sonority is the same. But after old Ahnold (the Schoenberg one) comes along, it's pointless to call something C Major because that harmony is assoicated with the old notion of a scale. Instead, we could have chords like C, C#, E, G, and Ab all played at the same time. What would you call that? A C-15 chord with a raised 15th, a flat 13th, and missing 7th, 9th, and 11th? Seems silly. Here's were the sets of pitch class set theory comes in.

Continued in the next and final installment of this exciting new series!

Pitch Class Sets Part the First

Advanced Music Theory is often compared to mathematics but the resemblance is superficial at best. Both involve systems of discrete units, true, but at that level of abstraction, mathematics is similar to far more things than music theory (like social sciences or even linguistics). And for those not in the know, I think one specific branch of modern music theory is responsible for giving lay people the impression that music theory requires math: pitch class set theory.

Most of the music that we listen to, whether classical or popular, is scalar, meaning that pitches and their functions are derived with an implicit scalar structure in the background. By far the most popular in recent memory (say from 1700 onwards for the Western World) are the major and minor scales. For people who remember the sound of music, "Homer: Doh! Marge: A deer! Lisa: A female deer!" teaches you how to sing the major scale. The scale gives the tones one sings a field with guideposts. Some tones are more important and stable, other are more tense and create interest, while others serve as signs to lead you from one tone to the next. Without a scalar structure that differentiates pitches, one could imagine a flat musical landscape which generates little or no possiblities at all for interesting music.

Pitch class set theory came about when the scale was in essence obliterated by Arnold Schoenberg and his 12-tone system. Schoenberg did flatten the musical landscape by putting all 12 chromatic tones in the Western equal-temperament system on equal footing. His music harmonic, not scalar, and focuses on pitch sonorities rather than pitch stability. Calling something C and something else C# made no sense in this context because C# was no longer an embellishment of C by rising a half step higher. C# was the same as Db, which is the same as B double sharp, and so on and so forth. So what's an analyst to do? Assign the pitches numbers!

Part II in the next post...

Monday, November 28, 2005

Cathartic Repetition

I'm becoming more and more convinced that a rote repetition is the key to cathartic events. For me anyway, a reptitious sequence of events is a great antidote to the free form academic thinking that makes up the rest of my life. Of course, montonous actions are no fun either. Licking and sealing 1,000 envelopes is hardly cathartic. But skills which can be improved upon by repetition (like fire spinning, the recent obsession) can be wonderful for the spirit. There is a sense of accomplishment and of certainty which lends much stability to one's mental outlook. There is also the ease of being able to focus on one act, facilitating an ignorance of worldly worries and stress. Note to self: next time I need to procrastinate, don't do anything creative. Instead, practice fire spinning or some other skill. Much better for the soul.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Unseen Work

So long without an update! I've been a bad boy. Oh yes. I need a spank. Oh yeah. Right ther...oh hi. Sorry.

It's ultimately a good thing but I hate it when a chunk of my work goes unseen. First the down side. Let's say I'm working on a piece of code (as I have been) and I continually find different ways to perform the task/process I want. So after a week of exploring different options, I'll come upon a solution that takes fewer lines and is more stable than all the pasghetti code I've written. Why is this bad? It's not, but for purposes of vanity, if anybody were ever to look at the code, they might "wow, this isn't so hard. It's just invoking these couple of functions." But see, it IS hard. Don't you see, dammit, that it took me an entire week to find those functions!

On the other hand, it is good in the end. A generalization of Occam's razor does work in most cases: simpler is better. Why do

int i = 0;
while (i < 5) {

when you can do

for (i = 0; i < 5; i++) {

right? So in the end, the simpler and more logical solution is better but it doesn't show the sweat and toil that it cost you to get there. But perhaps this is the case for a lot of people and the next time I see elegant code, I shouldn't think "That wasn't so hard" and instead "I wonder how much knowledge and research it took to find such a simple way of doing things."

Saturday, November 12, 2005


Bush Contends Partisan Critics Hurt War Effort

OK, but don't Partisan Critics Contend War Effort Hurts America? So which is more important, Bush or America? Hmmm...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

What's on the radio?

Being a specialist in classical music makes one sensitive to the kind of incongruous information hollywood tries to pass off as intelligent conversation. The same applies to a specialist in any field I suppose but classical music is a field that fewer and fewer people know well. Most people would laugh at a mechanic considering listening to an engine and wondering if it's the rear differential that's leaking or the steering wheel that needs new leather. The difference between Debussy and Scriabin, on the other hand, is in essence non-existent for most people. To me though, one is a french "impressionsitic" composer hopped up on mythical creatures and the other a Russian mystic hoping to bring you to close to that brilliant distant star until you burn up in its flames and experience some kind of spiritual ecstasy. Oh, and their music sounds absolutely nothing alike too.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Chromatic Saturation

I've always thought that the best classical music academic would be someone who knows pretty much all of classical music. Somebody who is as familiar with David Del Tredici as he is with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Obviously, this is impossible because almost nobody has such a tremendous musical memory and even if somebody did, he/she would not have the time to consume all available music. So, instead, us musical academics do what we can with the music that we have in our heads, eclectic though it may be.

But what seems like even the most odd connections should not be dismissed as random coincidence. On the other hand, such connections need to be carefully examined for what they are. Some sonic connections may lead to deeper analyses and others may just be nothing more than a superficial coincidence. On that note (pun intended):

The first "theme" of Prokofiev's Toccata is a "12-tone" melody compound melody. It starts from the mid-range and expands to an A octave over a d minor arpeggio. It systematically and tonally saturates the chromatic octave. The theme from the fugue from Musica Ricercata XI by Ligeti is very similar. It is also a compound melody that branches out from the middle of an octave and chromatically expands to fill an octave (also starts on A, incidentally). What is more interesting than the superificial resemblance is how these similar structures act in similar ways despite their chronological separation. Both melodies are an exaggeration, almost an exploration, of the limits of certain aspects of tonality.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Physical Humor

Here's something I find hilarious:

The setup: Go to the gym and really work on one muscle group. For example, I'll go to the gym for a short workout Monday night and do only bench presses and tricep-related exercises. Since all bench press exercises work out your triceps a bit too, it's usually a good idea to just do the two muscle groups (chest and triceps) together. On these muscle-group-specific days, I try to really wear myself out for maximum benefits and usually, I do. I know I've done a good day when quotidian activities start to become difficult.

What's harder to do when you have almost no tricep strength? Pulling a t-shirt off over your head (almost impossible without wiggling). Standing up from a chair by supporting your upper body with your arms first. Operating the manual transmission (if the shifter is a hefty one) of a sports car.

But here's the really funny one, at least to me. Try to do a push up.

Predictably, when I try, I get about 1/10 of the way down and then I just collapse onto the floor. For some reason, I'm always laughing out loud to myself throughout this entire process. It's just an odd sensation to have the muscles be there, to know that the muscles are working, but then not be able to get them to work beyond a very minimal level. No matter how much I make my brain send signals to the arms to use more strength, it doesn't happen. It's an weirdly funny sensation. I suggest everyone try it at least once!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Irrelevance of Irrelevance

The traditional analysis of knolwedge goes something like this:

Let S be a an agent, for example a person.
Let P be a an proposition, for example "Shaq is taller than I am".
S knows that P if and only if:
  1. P is true
  2. S believes that P
  3. S is justified in believing that P
The Gettier Problem challenges this formulation by disconnecting condition 1 with conditions 2 and 3. Knowledge = Justified True Belief works when the Justification and Belief is directly related to the Truth. But because of the vagueness of the formulation, K=JTB can be cleverly circumvented.

A Gettier belief is one which cirucmvents the traditional analysis of knowledge. The classic example: imagine you jutifiably believe A and B and make a deduction C. Little do you know, A is false. However, by pure coincidence, C turns out to be true anyway. So C is a justified true belief (which would imply knowledge) but most people wouldn't classify that as knowledge since one of the premises, A is false. It's correctness by luck.

Somebody in class today brought up the fact that A and B are not necessarily relevant. The example used was that in competing for a job, Shaq believes that Kobe will get the job and that Kobe has 10 coins in his pockets. A student brought up the fact that Kobe having 10 coins is irrelevant to Kob getting a job. It doesn't matter what belief Shaq has for Kobe, the end result (in a Gettier belief) is that the man who gets the job has ten coins in his pockets. This turns out to be correct because it turns out that Shaq gets the job after all (it's all a big hoax). So it doesn't matter what the second belief is: coins, potatos, the color blue. Irrelevance, in this case, is precisely irrelevant.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Truth About Cars

There's a sort of "auto blog" I visit frequently called The Truth About Cars. It is a compilation of reviews of new cars and editorials about the consumer-level automobile industry. The writing (mostly by founder Robert Farago) is fun and well constructed. In some ways, I prefer Robert's review style over Jeremy Clarkson's florid and highly British reviews which, entertaining and astute as they are, are sometimes too editorial. (Here's a sample: "...we [Europe] have Lotus, Ferrari, Maserati and Aston Martin. And they [America] have the Ford F-150 Lightning pick-up truck: 0-60mph in a millionth of a second. Enough space in the back for a dead bear. And on a challenging road about as much fun as a wasabi enema." This in a post about the new Ford Mustang GT, which isn't even mentioned until page 2.)

What I really love about The Truth About Cars is that Farago isn't afraid to dish out The Truth. If the Subaru B9 Tribeca looks like it's got a flying vagina on its front fascia, then Farago is one person who wouldn't be afraid to point that out. That very review, in fact, got Farago canceled from the SF Chronicle, which is a shame. For reviews to be worth something, they really have to be reviews, not advertisements. A threat from Subaru should have not affected the review in anyway, lest journalistic integrity be compromised. And who compromises journalistic integrity these days? Psssh, I mean come on, right?

Farago's editorials (of which there are many) are also insightful. His thoughts on the impending doom of GM has constituted an entire series of editorials (called, appropriately, GM Deathwatch) which are all worthy reading material, even if you don't know what's going on right now with cars in America. They're examples of well thought out and constructed viewpoints articulated in a clear and engaging manner. They are worth a read even if you don't care about cars.

But what am I thinking. Who doesn't like cars?

Monday, October 10, 2005


Too often in academia, students and aspiring scholars lose sight of the bigger picture. In music, a harmonic analysis of a Beethoven is great and all but what's the point? The ultimate goal of a harmonic analysis isn't itself but the support of some greater musical point. Seen as such, the study of analysis per se is not a particularly worthy endeavour unless you are doing studying meta-theory or the historiography of analysis. But then the subject isn't music but rather the analysis of music.

On the other hand, encouraging students to grapple with broader issues sometimes sacrifices technical precision. Let's say somebody threw a Stravinsky piece for you to look at. As is often with Stravinsky pieces, an aural sampling of the music yields, from the perspective of traditional (common-practice and romantic) harmonic and rhythmic practices, a level of discomfort. Much of Stravinsky's music pointedly sets up and then destroys expectations. One point a student might make as a first-level analysis is that despite the static nature of the surface (static because expectations are continually disrupted) belies meticulous planning or perhaps some sense of a goal.

That point could be a good one but it needs some kind of evidence to support it. One can not just opine that there's a feeling, out there somewhere in the ether, that underneath the disruptive rhythmic figures a deeper teleology exists. The buzzwords are there but the more precise analystical back up isn't. One can't sacrifice one for the other. A less musical parallel would be to opine that there's some relationship between the American intellectual atmosphere post World War II and immigration patterns during and after the War. Surely there is a correlation and a honors thesis in there somewhere but the opinion can't stop there. It's a matter of scope and ruthless academic consistency and it is a never ending struggle for the scholar.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Don't Ask Your Boss to be a Reference

A pretty obvious (in hindsight) lesson learned:

I am in school now, studying a fairly obscure academic subject, pursuing a PhD in it, and generally being a great big nerd. But that's not nerdy enough for me, no no no no NO! I am also working in a tech company. Geek^2. It does help pay the bills though and it is a fun job. I really enjoy it and adore my manager so I can't complain. In fact, I realize that I'm damn lucky.

But along comes cool tech company #2 (CTC2, as opposed to CTC1) to solicit me for a job with them. CTC2 would be a dream company to explore but I have history with CTC1 and they can offer me much more financial stability than CTC2 can. So I'm mulling this cash vs cool problem over and CTC2 says I can at least send in my resume and see if they will actually offer me a position. "Sure," I think, "that can't hurt."

So, I start updating my resume. I get to the references section and see one name. Better add some others. I add a professor with whom I have worked and then I add my current boss. I call the professor to ask for permission and she says OK. Great. One more to go. I call up my current boss and explain the situation and he says "No, I don't think that's a good idea." At this point I am thinking that maybe I offended him with even considering CTC2 or something but no, it's much simpler.

Scenario 1: My boss hates me. Why would I want him to be a reference? He would just say nasty things and I'll never get any job.

Scenario 2: My boss likes me. He would like to keep me as an employee. Why should he help me leave him? He probably won't like but he probably won't volunteer any information about me that might make me more appealing to CTC2 or any other CTC.

So either way, my boss isn't going to say great things about me to a propspective employer. Ergo I should not use him as a reference. Thankfully, the situation is closer to #2. In retrospect, it was a pretty simple. Also, in retorspect, I was a complete dumbass for not realizing this until my boss laid it out for me. My hindsight is 20/20 but my vision looking forward is apparently legally blind.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


I have another theory. Bear with me here.

The internet is an anonymous medium so people are very lax about looking at horse porn, spouting their own retarded opinions that are wrong, and generally typing horifically. You've all seen it. Ppl who type lik dis an use craaaazy abrev. lol ttyle wtf? But there is something even worse than AIM-speak. Something more annoying, more basic, and which infringes upon the most fundamental of netiquette rules.


My theory is that there are two types of people who type like that: those who are aware that they are doing that, and those who aren't. For those who are aware, well, it's their choice to be ostracized by all the internet and remain a pariah in the real and virtual worlds. Losers! But for those who aren't aware, I think perhaps that at some point they hit the Caps Lock key and then could never figure out how to turn it back off. One day they're typing along happily and all of a sudDEN OOPS! NO MORE SPEAKING QUIETLY! TIME TO WAKE UP THE NEIGHBORHOOD!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

To Sneeze or To Orgasm?

One day, I'm hanging up curtains in my dining area. No, there aren't any windows in the dining areas but curtains are being hung anyway. I know, wild huh? But it's an interior decoration experiment at the suggestion of a trusted friend so I thought might as well try it. (The finished product looks alright actually.) I'm hanging these curtains on an afternoon amidst a busy schedule. Homework to do, a recruitment call from a coveted technology company coming in soon, and there I am standing on top of my dining table putting anchors into my drywall. Incorrectly at first too, I later realized.

But anyway, the rails on which the curtains hang are secured through two hook-like anchors at either end. These hooks are themselves secured to the drywall by two screws. When you don't want to precisely measure the distances the two hooks should be apart, how far from the ceiling the holes should be drilled, etc., you secure one hook at a decent place and then use the rail and the second hook to judge. In essence, hold the full assembly in one hand and do the drilling, anchoring, and screwing (ahem!) with the other hand.

So I'm there with the hook and the rail in one hand, drill in the other, and I feel a big sneeze coming. One of those ones that will rattle the heavens and shake the earth though at that moment, more important than any meterological or geographical consequences, I was thinking about how my hands would move. I'm on the verge of an unstoppable sneeze. I'm on the ahh...ahhhhh...AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH part when suddenly I lose my grip on the drill and think it's going to fall.

Oh shiSaved!

I make the catch in time and there's adrenaline rushing through my blood tunnels, pulsating in time with the beat of my blood pumper. And a second later, I make a wonderful realization: I don't have to sneeze anymore!

So, the moral of the story is: sneezing is a an impulse that is trumped by the sympathetic nervous system being activated. The sympathetic nervous system is also responsible for the "fight-or-flight" response, as well as having an orgasm. So logically, if you're about to sneeze, one way to stop it would be to be threatened by an attacker. Another way is to have an orgasm right then and there. Both hard to produce but hey, you don't want to drop that drill on to your dining room table. Nasty dent that would make.

Monday, September 26, 2005


I've never had an eye for precious stones or metals. I chalk it up to malefeasance (huhuhu). And since I've never had that particular set of retinas and matching irises, I've never understood carats. Or karats. Or even carats. What the hell is it?

Apparently, a carat can be two things: A unit of weight or a unit of purity. As a unit of weight, it is applied to gems and equals 200 milligrams. It is further divided into 100 points. Simple arithmetic yields 1 point = 2 milligrams. Why don't people just say so! A 300 milligram VVS2 F sounds about as sexy to me as a 1.5 carat VVS2 F. Why do we need an abstract unit of measurement on top of an existing one? Are jewelers that bored?

And Zoroaster forbid you buy the stone and don't set it in gold. More carats! As a unit of purity applied to gold, the number of carats indicates purity in a percentage with 24 equal to 100%. So for example, 12 carats equals 50% gold. Here, I suppose, there could be a psychological difference. "I've got a 12 carat gold ring on me finger" sounds slightly more appealing than "I've got a 50% gold ring on me finger." It begs the hot dog question: "What's in the other 50%?" Rat guts, my friend, rat guts.

So what a carat is can be pretty confusing for the unbaptized. In the US, however, the carat that indicates purity is often written as karat so as to avoid confusion between carat and carat. But that also means that some carats are karats and some carats are carats but a karat is never a carat unless it's a carat. Aiyah.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Friday Cop Out

The weekend approaches, and I am bereft of what little creativity I manage to muster up usually. I don't get writers' block (or is that writer's block? I can't even punctuate anymore!) because I refuse to call my self a writer. I write. I play the piano. But I am not a writer and I am not a pianist. It's a rather picky distinction but I like to reserve a lexical level for true professionalism. Being able to pick out chopsticks (and I do mean on the piano, not from the kitchen aisle at Super Big Fat American Obese K-Mart Plus 24hr HYPER-ULTRA-EXTREME MACH 10 with a New Pacakge but Same Great Taste!) does not make one a pianist. Only people who have either devoted their life to the piano or have reached a high level of maturity as a musician on the piano should be called pianists.

Hehehehehe. I said pianist.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


It is really amazing how much clutter and unorganized objects can shrink the perceived space of a room. I'm sitting in my new apartment amidst a forest of stainless steel poles and I have half an hour before people come over. The place looks like an Ikea showroom (I wish!) but I've come to terms with that. Cheap and modern looking furniture isn't easily acquired if one discounts Ikea! But moving boxes, bags, discarded packaging, and sundry are strewn about.

OK, time for aggressive cleaning.

No more saving packaging since I don't plan on moving for a few years. Out with the plastic bags on the couch and in with open space. After about 20 minutes of aggressive trash collecting (and discarding) and putting things outs of sight, my living room doubled in size. I think people, including me, often neglect the impact of the absence of something. Fledgling interior decorators such as myself probably neglect space, neophyte composers may neglect rests, and perhaps even inexperienced scientists neglect what is not seen or observed. The "negative" is as much an quantifiable thing as the "positive". It merely takes an inversion of viewpoints to switch from one to the other.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


The second floor bathrooms of my office in San Jose has a few stalls. I usually use the first one one approaches, next to the urinals. It's not official but in my mind it's my rightful toilet, a scatological birthright. The chamber is not just a porcelain centerpiece though. No, it even has a stainless steel rail to the right, when seated upon the centerpiece, to aid in rising, I assume, from a s[h]itting position. On this rail, almost always, is left a portion of the newspaper, neatly folded to reveal the comics and games section.

Now I'm a speed defecator (did I just say that?). I don't indulge on the toilet by reading a magazine, reading a book, or, like some, writing a book (or at least about the temporal equivalent thereof). Just today though, I decided to glance at the comics and games section. There's a game that involves finding as may subwords as possible from a main word. Each letter can be used only once and words must be four or more letters in length. For example, the word "section" could contain "sect", "scion", "stone", "tine", "tines", "tons", "scone", "ties", "tics", "tins", and so and so forth. The challenge is to get as many subwords as possible within 30 minutes. The creators of the puzzle tells you how many subwords can be found and you go to it.

It may have been destiny or it might have been a sign from Uranus but I think today's word was special, even fated (date, daft, deaf, feat, fade, fate). Perhaps you want to try the game too? Find 24 subwords, within the main word, within 30 minutes.

Are you ready?

The main word is: Erupted.

My list is below. I'm pretty sure I got all 24 in around 15 minutes. Corrections appreciated.

In the order that I thought of them:

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

This Post is Rated M for Mature

There's a nice article in the NYTimes (free reg. req.) about swearing. There's a good overview of some work done on what parts of the brain generate curses and how it is a fixture of human speech ever since the dawn of homo sapiens. But I was rather disturbed at a passage near the beginning of the article:

"Incensed by what it sees as a virtual pandemic of verbal vulgarity issuing from the diverse likes of Howard Stern, Bono of U2 and Robert Novak, the United
States Senate is poised to consider a bill that would sharply increase the penalty for obscenity on the air.

By raising the fines that would be levied against offending broadcasters some fifteenfold, to a fee of about $500,000 per crudity broadcast, and by threatening to revoke the licenses of repeat polluters, the Senate seeks to return to the public square the gentler tenor of yesteryear, when seldom were heard any scurrilous words, and famous guys were not foul mouthed all day."

If ever you doubted the good old US of A was actually the US of Puritanical Manicas, now is the time to repent. Cast away those doubts and come to the light! Suggesting that profanities be limited on pukishly wholesome family programming is one thing but putting it into law is, frankly, fucking ridonculous. While we're on the subject and since I can say what I want: fuck fuck fuckity fuck fucking FUCK ass shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit! Suck it, Senate!

And it's not like the censoring measure reallys work either. The infamous bleeps on TV or radio are almost more profane and titillating than the actual swears themselves. If swearing is bad enough as it is, why wrap it in more taboo? Add to that the fact that most bleeps cover only the vowels and you have a farce of a cover up. Think about the last time you heard somebody say shblipt on the Radio or seeing Jon Stewart say "cobleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeepck". Lewis Black also brings up a valid point: Bono never said "Fuck". He said "fook". What is "fook" anyway?

In the end, curses aren't specific words. There's nothing about about the sound or the words per se that makes them curses. If congress wants to ban specific words, they will have to revise the bill every few years to keep up with the current fashion in profanities. But what happens to the old words? Are they desanitized? And if they do not pursue this irrational course of action and instead aim for the more retarded but logical goal of prohibiting a context of swearing, then they are really out of their fooking minds.

So which is it going to be, you puritanical crazies? Do we arbitrarily designate certain words as swear words and forbid them (can I still say "Vaseline"?) or do we disallow swearing altogether, because it certainly doesn't seem like you are going to leave us alone.

Now everyone all together, say it with me:
(Try it. You'll like it.)

Monday, September 19, 2005

More Driving

I was doing a lot of driving related to moving but I've also been doing a lot of driving for work. I spend every other week in San Jose (300 miles away from Santa Barbara) being a techie rather than an academic. Yes, I'm like geek^2. Anyway, there's really no point to this post except some rambling complaints about my relationship to driving.

I don't like driving long distances on roads that don't have twists and turns.
I don't like people who do not realize that on a two lane highway, the left lane is not the "fast lane". It is the "passing lane". Used to pass people. So if you're going to drive as fast as the person in the normal lane to the right, use the normal lane so as to avoid forming a moving roadblock!
I don't like that my butt hurts about 75 minutes into any drive. Being really skinny isn't always advantageous.
I love to drive with the top down but the Californian sun can be brutal.
I don't like that US roads aren't racetrack-flat like the autobahn.
On second thought, I'm rather disappointed that all roads aren't like race tracks. With no other cars on them. And with soft walls made of cotton candy!
It's the twenty first freaking century! Where's teleportation?

Yes, boohoo, I am complaining about trifling trivialities on drives in a convertible in sunny California. Let the stoning begin.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Sonic Addiction

You know what I think would be a great name for a band? Volume 26.

Anyway, a few weeks back in Shanghai, I met a brother of an uncle who wanted to buy a piano for his daughter. The Chinese way of getting things done is to find somebody in the family (or the friend of somebody in the family) who is an expert at what you want and then get their advice on it. So it was I got "dragged" into selecting a piano for this family. I say "dragged" because testing and selecting a piano for me is like a kid in a candy store. After testing out all the lower echelon selections and fulfilling my blood oath at a Yamaha dealership, I went next door to a Steinway dealership. Now excuse me as I wax enthusiastic, anthropomorphic, and avec fromage.

Heaven! And with Saint Peter nowhere in sight! Instead, I ask an angel (presumedly) if I could try out the pianos. She says yes. That makes her an angel, which means I am definitely in heaven. Working my way from the front of the store to the back, I alight my fingers upon keys connected to soundboards of increasing size and greater sound quality. Near the back of the store is a glass room with omgomgomg!!!

Steinway D 9' Concert Grand!

My heart jumps up to my right scapula and the rest of my internal organs instantly realign to compensate. I utter a barely contained request to the angel if I could try out the piano.

Ambiguous response, but it sounds positive. No. Impossible. How can anyone waltz in an expect to be given permission to play on the concert grand? I ask again, half cursing at myself for my own stupidity. Why not assume a yes and then take it from there? Oh well, it can't hurt to hear the response.


Angel or no she was no longer of any consequence to my world. Sit down on the bench. No. Must sit straighter. This piano deserves the best that I can give. Touch middle C with a firm but gentle middle finger of the right hand. Instant bliss. The time for slow, focused appreciation of sound was over. Fast forward to drawing torrents of sound out of the keyboard and boy does it deliver. The treble is bright, sharp, but does not grate on the ears. The bass is deeper than the reaches of interstellar space and just as wide and expansive. In short, this is what I idealize when I think of the sound of a piano.

I tried out a variety of pieces on that divine beast and eventually left my temporary steed giddy with delight but also sad at the impending departure. It was love at first hearing and our short relationship was passionate. I can only look forward to the day when we'll meet again.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Moving Day 3

Assembling so much furniture brings with it an appreciation for the clean logic that Ikea furniture assembly possesses. From my personal experience, most Ikea furniture goes together really quickly, is reasonably sturdy for something so resembling Legos, and much of the building process is intuitive. Compare this with a non-Ikea wine rack which came with no instructions and with no indication of front/back orientation. Wouldn't be so bad if I didn't find out the hard way that there was a specific orientation I had to follow.

So, three Cheers for Ikea!

Hip hip, cheap!
Hip hip, clean lines!
Hip hip, 20 Swedish meatballs with potatoes for only $5.99!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Moving Day 2

In the past 5 days I have driven:

On Saturday,
From Santa Barbara to Redondo Beach (about 100 miles)

On Sunday,
From Redondo Beach to Capistrano Beach (about 60 miles)
From Capistrano Beach to USC main campus (about 60 miles)
From USC main campus to Pasadena (about 25 miles)
From Pasadena to Burbank (about 15 miles)
From Burbank to USC main campus (about 20 miles)
From USC main campus to Carson (about 10 miles)
From Carson to Santa Barbara (about 110 miles)

On Monday:
Back and forth a few times between sublet and new apartment.

On Tuesday:
More back and forth betwen sublet and new apartment.

On Wednesday,
From Santa Barbara to Carson (about 110 miles)
From Carson to Capistrano Beach (about 50 miles)
From Capistrano Beach to Santa Barbara (about 160 miles)

Total Distance: 1 bajillion kilofatigues

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Moving Day 1

Moving, physically. Wondering if my new apartment will be inspire me to refresh my writing. Realistically, it'll take up more of my time and energy that should be spent on writing but who can resist decorating and replacing ugly light fixtures with halogen pendants? Not me.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Mind Your Own Philanthropy

In the aftermath of Katrina, as after any disaster, there are plenty of people who devote their own time and energies to helping the survivors. Every little bit does help, often times regardless of the helper's sincerity. For a family who has lost everything, a meal is ultimately a meal whether it is cooked by the Red Cross, an altruistic samaritan, or a celebrity looking for some extra exposure.[1] Some people, however, are not content with their own efforts but feel the need to convert others. I'm not a big fan of these people.

I recently saw a posting on an internet forum wondering why people in Santa Barbara weren't making more posts on this forum and banding together to help the survivors of Katrina. That's all well and good except the poster forgot a few things:
1) Not many people read the forum he posted on. It follows that even for people who have looked at this forum as a way to communicate, they probably would have (and should have) decided that it was not an effective method to get the message across.
2) People who are helping are busy doing that, helping, not reading on the 'net.
3) What is the poster doing posting these exhortations instead of actually doing something?

After so many tragedies, there are people who talk, complain, analyze but ultimately do nothing. Not only that, they blindly try to impose their own vague sense of right and wrong on others around them. It's not a terribly far cry from blindly evangelical religious fanatics and their often times narrow minded deeds. Trying to get others to rally around a cause is understandable but beating them with your own moral tonfa is not acceptable to me.

Friday, September 09, 2005

So Trusting!

Here's something that probably would never happen in China:

I'm browsing around craigslist again and see an FM transmitter for the iPod. My car doesn't have a tape deck (only a CD) so I've always considered this as a solution but always found it expensive ($30+). I have a CD burner so why don't I just burn CDs for those long trips? I've also heard lots of bad reviews about sound quality from these transmitters but I drive a convertible with the top down most of the time so audiophile quality sound is not what I'm looking for. Still, 4GB of music is tempting so when I saw a $15 transmitter on craigslist, I praised craigslist, made the usual sacrifice of the head of a pig wrapped in USB cables, and emailed the seller right away.

30 minutes later. Score! It's mine! Remind myself: "firewire cables next time!"

I reply with a suggested time for the illicit transaction but it seems the seller is busy the next two days. The only time slot he has free is Friday between 4:30 and 5:00. "I'll be busy slaughtering pigs for the sacrifice!" I think to myself so that's out. So the seller suggests (and this is the part that wouldn't happen in China) that he leave the FM transmitter outside his house and that I can come and pick it up. The plan is I go to his house, drop about .0336 ounces of gold (at today's market prices) into an envelope and slip it under his door, kill the cop on the stakeout, dispose of his body, and walk away with the transmitter.

What if somebody else takes it before I get there? What if I take it and claim that somebody else must have taken it? I wouldn't do such a thing and even if I did, the seller would be out $15 until such time as he hires the mafia to go after my knee caps (he does have my number), in which case he'd be out a favor, I'd be out some kneecaps and mobility, and nobody would be happy. Except for the mafia, those bastards.

So the moral of the story? People in America are pretty trusting (yay). People in China can't afford to be (oh well). And never get the mafia to resolve your issues(those irrefusible bastards).

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Column A or Column B?

The academic world is very asynchronous and temporally nebulous compared to the corporate world. My personal viewpoint is that of an academic (in music) with two arms typing out code for a computer company every once in a while and it is an interesting one. For example, there is never an end to any projects in academia. Sure, you can get your PhD or you can finish writing an article but where does that take you? A PhD dissertation should be continued, and is often turned into a book. An article becomes nothing more than a local accomplishment in the grand scheme of your academic studies. It's not that there isn't a finish to projects but that there's no finish studying. In contrast, one could imagine a clean break in the corporate world by switching jobs, projects, or just by making one customer happy. The satisfaction is much more immediate and often times, well, satisfying.

Two examples from [my] real life:

1) A coworker needs a tool to help him do some rote tasks. I jump on a projet to write him a little application to help him perform the tasks. In essence a single-minded piece of software that makes one little aspect of my coworker's job easier (and saves him carpal tunnel). Written in a day, debugged and added changes over a period of 2 weeks as we live tested it. Done.

2) I write a paper for a quarter-long seminar. The paper gets turned into an abstract and is sent to both a local and a national conference. I am accepted into the local conference so I give a talk to my colleagues and professors at my university to prepare. Get feedback and suggestions. Then I run off and give the same talk at the local conference. Get feedback and suggestions. Receive news that I've been accepted to present at the national conference as well. Procrastinate. Research some more. Expand the presentation. [From here on it's the future.] Give the paper at the national conference. Get feedback and suggestions. Further expand presentation into an article. Submit article to journals until accepted. Article is published. Feel good. Repeat entire process with another presentation/article but which draws upon similar themes I've explored in this article. Unite both and others into dissertation. Get PhD. Get associate professorship job. Write book exploring further exploring the same theme and satellite articles as well. By now, reference my own articles as a source. Schmooze at conferences. Get tenure. Write articles that meta-explore the themes of my academic career. Get old. Write broad articles (or books) about the history of the themes I've explored. Get older, write historiography of the themes I've explored applied to a broader field. Death. Arrive at the afterlife. Monitor progress of other people continuing my work. See little to none. Discouraged. Stops monitoring progress and goes off to frolick in the heavenly fields with the celestial virgins forever more. Projects finally ends.

Which one do you prefer? Then again, as labored as I make the academic process seem, one is promised fields in which to frolick with virgins. Why else would I be in academia?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


In a post somewhere on d4 'n3t, I read this:

"The Red Cross states that if half of those Americans living within 2 miles of a Coinstar machine donated just $1 in spare change to the Red Cross, it would raise more than $65 million to support American Red Cross lifesaving services in communities nationwide!"

I am not eloquent enough to make general comments about Katrina and the chaos it has caused, save for expressing my sympathy to those who have suffered in its wake. I am, however, enough of a nerd to look at the above statement and wonder about those figures. So let's take a look at the numbers.

At $1 per American, it would take 65,000,000 people to generate $65,000,000. Since half of all Americans living within 2 miles of a Coinstar machine can generate $65,000,000, all Americans living within 2 miles of a Coinstar machine could generate twice that, $130,000,000, which then translates into 130,000,000 Americans. The population of the United States of America is approximately 295,734,134 and so roughly 40% of all Americans live within 2 miles of a Coinstar machine.

Can that possibly be true? I never realized Coinstar had such an empire...within 2 miles of which I, at least, am not. Either that or someone is exaggerating a wee bit.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Glass Is Broken

I remember reading somewhere about a teacher railing against negatives, how we're teaching our kids to see the bad things in life rather than the good. For an example, she recounted the following: she wrote down a set of six arithmetic problems with answers on a large sheet of paper and showed it to her elementary school class. For example:

3 + 5 = 8
5 + 7 = 12
2+ 6 = 7
9 + 2 = 11
1 + 5 = 6
4+ 5 = 9

When asked to say something meaningful about this set of problems, all of her students pointed out that 2 + 6 = 7 is wrong. The teacher then went on to complain about how not a single student said that the other five equations are correct. This, she thinks, shows the negativity we teach our kids.

What a load of shit, in my opinion.

There is seeing the good in situations and then there is complacency. In a classroom situation, in which even the kids understand that the purpose is to learn, any good student will try to improve. Seeing the 5 correct equations and then just leaving them as is, that kind of an answer would worry me far more than the supposedly "negative" one. An adult interpretation would be: "Oh look, there are five gas mains that work! I'm being positive! Screw all you naysayers going on about the one that's ruptured a leak the size of me bum in downtown manhattan. You're all negative." [Petulance added for empahsis.]

Picking out what's wrong with a situation and leaving it at that is as short sighted as this teacher's interpretation of her students' responses. Picking out what's wrong and fixing, resolving, or improving the situation is what we should be teaching kids. As far as I can see, the real problem in this story is not that the kids are seeing the negative side of things, but that the teachers is.