BREAKING NEWS: Santa Claus is not a Home-Wrecker!

>> 30 November 2008

For many years, I have thought that "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" was one of the strangest Christmas songs I've ever heard.  I was always greatly disturbed by the implications of Santa Claus going around kissing people.  It's not merry if she's married, Santa!  But finally, after years of thinking that this song described a very strange (possibly sick) scenario, I have learned the truth.  Rochelle, explained to me that in the song, "Mommy" is not actually kissing Santa Claus.  Instead, she is kissing "Daddy", who has dressed up like Santa Claus.

The good news is that this means Santa Claus is not necessarily a lecherous monster.

The bad news is that the situation described in this song is still really strange.  There are two main interpretations of the scenario described in the song.

  1. "Santa" = Santa.  If the person identified by the singer as "Santa" really is Santa Claus, then this is, without a doubt, the most horrifying song ever written (yes, even worse than "Fergilicious").  The thought of Santa Claus traveling from house to house, smooching all the married women along the way is not a pleasant one.  It would imply that Santa Claus is a home-wrecking skirt-chaser.
  2. "Santa" = Daddy.  If the person identified by the singer as "Santa" is actually Daddy, dressed up like Santa Claus, then this is, without a doubt, one of the strangest families in the world.  First: is it normal for parent's to dress up as Santa when they go to put the presents under the tree?  I can't speak for everyone, but I don't think this normally happens.  Second: the singer claims that his parents thought he was "tucked up in his bedroom fast asleep".  If this is true, then who was the costume for?  Think about that...then shudder!  Third: how stupid is this kid?  What was his thought process?  There is a man in a red suit who looks like my Dad, kissing my mom...OH MY GOSH IT'S SANTA CLAUS!  Idiot.  And finally: this song does not have a happy ending.  The resolution is that the kid still believes in Santa, AND, believes that his mother is cheating on his father.  He'll probably cry when he thinks about what's going to happen in a few months when the Easter Bunny comes around.

I know the song is supposed to be cute - the boy doesn't understand that [SPOILER ALERT!] Santa doesn't really exist - but seriously, this song goes too far.  Is it worth preserving this kid's belief in Santa when it comes at the expense of him thinking that HIS MOTHER IS HAVING EXTRAMARTIAL RELATIONS WITH A MYTHICAL CHARACTER?!  Come on!

In conclusion, "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" is the most disturbing Christmas song ever.

Did I miss any possible interpretations of the song?  Post 'em!


Ask an Expert pt.2

>> 24 November 2008

I am now taking questions for the next "Ask an Expert" post.  This time through, things are going to work a little bit differently.  This time I will only be accepting questions about robots and robot-related sub-categories (i.e., robotics, cyborgs, artificial intelligence, etc.)

I will select the best three questions to answer next week.

And speaking of robots, please enjoy these videos.  The first features a human who dances like a robot (check out the part around 4:30).  The second video features robots that dance like...well, robots.

For questions about doing the robot, you can visit

And please leave your questions below.


How To Waste Time on the Internet

>> 22 November 2008

The internet is FILLED with How-To's and most of them have this thing in common: you'll read the article and then never do the thing it purportedly taught you how to do!  In recent days I have read articles on wikihow about subjects as diverse as, how to make flan, how to make a coin appear to go through your head and out your mouth, and how to ride a unicycle.  But what will I do with this new-found knowledge?  Nothing.

And that's the problem with most how-to articles.  Which is why I have come up with one that is guaranteed to work!  HOW TO WASTE TIME ON THE INTERNET!  The following websites will make you waste your life away.
  •  This news aggrigator is constanly updated with things that you don't really need to know.
  •  This website, along with webcomics in general can guarantee that you laugh your way out of a hard day's work
  •  Watch TV for free!  TV on the internet = DOUBLE TROUBLE!
  •  This is basically Risk for free online.  Play against strangers or invite your friends to slack off with you!
  •  These games about rolling balls and swinging pendulums are embarassingly addictive.
  •  In this free online game, you manage a soccer team in a league where you compete with other human-controlled teams.  You don't actually play - you just oversee the training, tactics, signings, etc. (warning: high soccer nerd factor)
  •  Free online soccer where, unlike hattrick (see above), you actually play against other people.
  •  This place is a blackhole...budget at least one hour for each visit because you will click on and read the linked articles.
  • Google Reader  Subscribe to e-blogs of interest and read them all in one place as soon as they're updated!
  • Facebook  Face it (pun!), the novelty has worn off a little, but I still waste plenty of time when I start looking at someone's new photo-album before I realize that it has 150 pictures!
So there you have it: a bunch of new ways to waste time on the internet and a how-to guide that you might actually use!

I know I must have missed a lot of internet black-holes.  What are you favorite time wasters?


Phun With Philosophy: Freedom

>> 20 November 2008

When I tell people that I am studying philosophy, they invariably ask me the same question: "What do you want to do with that?"  Followed by this astute observation: "I can't think of many jobs that pay you to just sit around and philosophize."  I usually hem and haw a little bit and give some sort of self-deprecating answer.  But not any more.  The next time someone asks me, "what can you do with a degree in philosophy?" I will answer proudly...Write about it on my e-blog!  So, with that said, welcome to the first installment of Fun with Philosophy!

The question of whether individual freedom exists is a classic in metaphysics.  But what does it mean to be free?  Consider this example:
Dirk, a brilliant neurologist, decides to do a little experiment on his room-mate Tom in which Tom plays solitaire without stopping until he wins a game.  Dirk has installed a device in Tom's brain which, if Tom at any point stops playing solitaire, can be triggered to hijack Tom's brain and force him to keep playing solitaire.  If Tom stops playing, Dirk will use the device to make Tom play. 

So, they run the experiment, and, as it turns out, Tom loves solitaire and plays it enthusiastically for twenty minutes before he wins a game and the experiment ends.  Dirk doesn't have to use the device because Tom didn't stop playing.  Tom wanted to play and so he did.
Now, the questions is: Was Tom's playing solitaire an action which he did freely?  On one hand, it seems like it was a free action because Tom was doing exactly what he wanted to do.  But on the other hand, it seems like his action was not free because he could not have done otherwise.  If he had tried to stop playing solitaire, Dirk would have triggered the device and hijacked Tom's brain, forcing him to keep playing.  Does freedom mean being able to do the specific things which we choose to do?  Or does it mean being able to do anything which is physically possible?

What do you think?  Was Tom's action free or not?


Christmas Music

>> 19 November 2008

Yes, it's true.  I'm not ashamed to admit it.  I have already started listening to Christmas music.  It's not like I listen to it all the time or anything, but it's creeping into my rotation.  Unfortunately I don't have a whole lot of Christmas music.  My catalogue of Christmas music:

  • Bright Eyes Christmas Album (sort of irritating except for "Blue Christmas")
  • Clay Aiken Christmas (Exactly what you'd expect)
  • Brian Setzer Boogie Christmas (It's amazing how many Christmas songs can accomodate a rockabilly guitar solo)
  • Seven different Sufjan Stevens Christmas CDs (he did one a year for a while and they're all pretty awesome)
  • James Taylor Christmas (pretty solid)
So, as the holidays get closer, I'm going to need some more material to listen to.  What are some of your favorite Christmas Albums (or individual songs) leave them in the comments so I can keep the Christmas spirit going until Dec. 25th!


Ask an Expert: Answers

>> 15 November 2008

Last weekend, I introduced my new, "Ask an Expert" segment, in which you, the internet, submit questions to this e-blog for me (the expert) to answer.  There were some very good questions posted, and I hope that my answers are sufficiently expertly.

Q: Noel wrote: Dear Expert, Why is Kanye West obsessed with the auto tune machine?  It's really bothering me.
A:  Thanks for the question Noel!  First, a little bit of background for the readers who are not familiar with this.  Auto-Tune is a program which can be run in digital recording studios to make pitch corrections to audio files.  In other words, it can make an out-of-tune singer sound in-tune.  The parameters of this program can be set so that natural variations in pitch get "corrected" to a fixed note, producing the effect you hear in this Kanye West song:

Now, as to why he is using this technique - the answer is simple.  He wants to officially join the elite ranks of musicians who have successfully used auto-tune.  The list is formidable: Cher (who's single, Believe, is the first notable use of the technique), Kid Rock (Only God Knows Why), Daft Punk (One More Time), Lil Wayne (Lollipop),  Jo-Jo (Too Little Too Late), T-Pain (every song).  In other words, by using this technique, he is hoping that people will consider him a part of this highest eschalon of musical ability.

Q: Anonymous asked: Which aspects of TimeCube make them the greatest rock band of the 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd, centuries?
A: I will answer this question with a question so you can see how silly it truly is.  What is the best thing about Angels?  Duh!  They're perfect, so how can you single out one aspect for consideration?  What color is a rainbow?  Um...let me see...every color!  TimeCube is the best band in the history of the world and will fight anyone who claims otherwise.

Q: Mary wrote: I refuse to ask you question (sic).  Instead, here's a statement of fact: I will win our e-blogging contest.
A: Remember, "ONE MAN'S FACT IS ANOTHER MAN'S FICTION!"  Think about that for a while!

Q: Greg Vlazny wrote: Dear Internet, how will my son react to having a new baby sister in the house next week?
A:  First of all, congratulations!  Second, this was a trick question because your new baby is actually going to be a boy.  Sure the doctors may say it's a girl, but let's face it...they can't be absolutely certain until the baby is born, and I'm predicting a suprising twist: IT'S A BOY!

Q: Teri wrote: what are the chemical reactions that take place to allow a material (namely in food applications) to increase its viscosity in response to an increase in shear rate?
A: I have two things to say about this.  First, I DO understand the question.  I want everyone to be totally clear about this!  Second, this question overlooks the more important questions of why there are CHEMICAL REACTIONS GOING ON IN OUR FOOD!  I think it's a shame that we have grown so complacent about eating chemicals.  For instance, tomatoes contain high doses of chemicals like L-ascorbate, B-3 Niacin, and potassium.  WHAT THE HECK PEOPLE, ARE WE GOING TO STAND FOR THIS?!?  From this moment forward, I intend to eat only those foods which contain no chemical-compounds.  The one exception is water - I will consume that particular chemical compound, but none others - and only if I drink it from a trendy water-bottle which is made of chemical free aluminum.  So in conclusion, be afraid of science!

Thanks for your questions!  Post your questions for the next "Ask an Expert" session and I'll answer them in one week's time!


File this under "WHAT?!"

>> 14 November 2008

President George W. Bush poses with members of the Arizona State University Men's and Women's Track Team Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008, during a photo opportunity with 2008 NCAA Sports Champions at the White House.
First, it's pretty cool to have a picture of yourself with the president.  Second, it's even cooler to have this picture of yourself with the president.  My advice to the people in this picture: have this sucker enlarged to an 8x10 format, print it on quality photo-paper, go to a craft-store and purchase an inexpensive frame (matting optional), put the picture in the frame, and then find a place to hang the framed picture.  That way when people come over they'll be like, "Whoa, is that you with the president, making some sort of gangish sign?"  And you can say, "Yeah.  That's what it is."

Anyway, that's what I would do.

post count +1


Introducing: "Turning Points"

>> 13 November 2008

Whenever I ask people what they want to see more of on this e-blog, they invariably give the same answer: thematic continuity in the form of reoccuring features and segments.  Earlier in the week, I addressed this issue by introducing the "Ask an Expert" segment.  I now offer a second segment for your e-blog pleasure: "Turning Points"

This series of posts will essentially consist of me looking at the week's news and identifying the "turning points" where nations, individuals, or institutions go from worse.  In other words, this segment is an analysis of the decisions which make the difference between an honest mistake and downright slap-in-the-face stupidity.

The inagural "Turning Point" comes to us courtesy of Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia.  Now, a bit of history to put this in context: during a campaign stop in Colorado, Barack Obama mentioned that he felt the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps needed to grow.  He then made the following comment:
"We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded."
This statement is rather strange, and Rep. Broun was probably right to bring it up and even object to it.

But wait, there's a "turning point" and boy is it good!  Rep. Broun said: 
It may sound a bit crazy and off base, but the thing is, he’s the one who proposed this national security force. I’m just trying to bring attention to the fact that we may — may not, I hope not — but we may have a problem with that type of philosophy of radical socialism or Marxism. That’s exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it’s exactly what the Soviet Union did. When he’s proposing to have a national security force that’s answering to him, that is as strong as the U.S. military, he’s showing me signs of being Marxist.”
Here's what we can conclude:
  1. Paul Broun does not really know what a "Marxist" is.  The word he was thinking of was "totalitarian".  Dictionary, homeboy.
  2. It is a bad idea to make a press statement that begins with the words, "It may sound a bit crazy..."
  3. The distinguished representative does not know what "comparing" means.  "I'm not comparing him to Adolf Hitler. What I'm saying is there is the potential of going down that road."  I'm no expert but that sounds like a comparison I am an expert and that is a comparison.
  4. The whole thing is a tad crazy.
Rep. Paul Broun faced a "turning point", and I think it's safe to say he took the least expected turn.

If you have any good examples of "turning points" that you would like to see discussed, feel free to share a link to the news story.


NBC Doesn't Believe in Physics

>> 10 November 2008

There is a new series on NBC, called Crusoe, which tells the story of Robinson Crusoe.  You may be wondering: how long can they really stretch this series out before it just gets irritating?  And that would be a valid concern - how many times can we watch this guy fail to build an adequate raft and still care?

Anyway...this is a clip from the show, in which Friday, Crusoe's native-helper-friend, falls down a hole and gets pinned down by a heavy log.  Unfortunately, it turns out that the hole is slowly filling with water, and it appears Friday will DROWN!  They spend the next ten minutes trying to figure out how to rescue Friday from the rising water.

In the end, Crusoe builds a little catapult thing that launches the log off of Friday and allows him to escape.  But there's a problem - WHAT KIND OF LOG DOESN'T FLOAT IN WATER?!  The entire time - during what was supposed to be the most suspenseful scene - I couldn't stop thinking about why the log wasn't floating?  Even if it didn't float enough for him to swim under, the boyancy of the wood should have at least made it possible for him to lift the log off.  I guess on TV they are not clever enough to figure out that wood floats.  DANG!

Also, don't forget to post your questions for the first ever Ask an Expert.


Ask an Expert, pt. 1

>> 09 November 2008

I am introducing a new feature of this e-blog.  It's called, "Ask an Expert" where I take questions from you, dear internet, and answer them.  Technically, there are very few subjects about which I am an expert, however, what I lack in expertise and knowledge, I make up for in taking-myself-seriously, so I feel confident that I will be able to answer any and all questions - if not accurately, then at least enthusiastically.

Submit your questions during the week, and I'll answer them next weekend.  For this first round of Ask an Expert, I'll be accepting and answering questions about any topic.  So, submit away, and I'll look  forward to answering any and all questions.

Remember, this can't work without your questions, so FIRE AWAY!


Proposition 8

>> 06 November 2008

Warning: boring political post to at your own risk!
So, many of you have probably heard about the passage of Proposition 8 in California.  Proposition 8 is an amendment to the state constitution of California which prevents gay marriage by defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman.  The debate was heated (to say the least) and the measure eventually passed.  And I'm still not sure what to think about it.

On one hand, this can be seen as a clear victory for the traditional family.  It's no secret that a good family is a very important factor in child development, and while I'm sure gay couples can make good, loving parents, it's not clear what impact this arrangement would have on children.  We read all the time about the struggles of children who grow up without a father to serve as a male role-model, and in a family with two mothers, it's not clear how this situation would be resolved.  (Although, gay couples are allowed to adopt children, even if they are not married and there doesn't seem to be any way of preventing a lesbian couple from getting pregnant and then raising the child together).  In any case, there is a strong case to make for the traditional family.  For many people, there are also religious reasons for opposing gay marriages.

The flip side of this argument is a slightly heady question about the role of laws in our society, which, although it is slightly abstract, is nonetheless important.  As far as I can determine, laws may be one of two types: 1) laws which exist to protect individual freedoms and property and 2) laws which exist to guarantee that citizens behave in a morally acceptable way.  For example, laws against murder fall under the first category because these laws protect a basic right of the citizens of this country.  Helmet laws, for instance, are an example of the second kind of law; if I choose to ride a motorcycle without a helmet it is a foolish decision, but my decision is not directly infringing on the rights of anyone else.  If I were killed in an accident while riding without a helment, it would cause great distress and sadness for my family and friends and for the other driver.  In light of this sadness, we can say that it is unethical for me to ride without a helmet.  Even so, it does not violate anyone's rights; sadly, we do not have the right to avoid sorrow.

I think that in general, laws ought to be construed as means to protect individual liberties, and that actions which do not directly infringe upon the rights of other should be legal, no matter how foolish or morally repugnant we find them.  By this line of reasoning, drunk driving should be illegal because it can violate the rights of others, but being drunk, while not exactly an honorable thing, should be legal, so long as the "drunkard" does not harm anyone.

My qualm about the passage of Proposition 8 is that it seems to be a law of the second category.  It limits the freedoms of a certain minority group (in this case, homosexual couples) without protecting anyone else's rights.  Or in other words, gay marriage, which does not, in any obvious way, infringe upon the rights of others, was made illegal because the majority of voters consider it wrong.  Even if it is wrong, I'm not sure it should be illegal.

Let's consider a parallel example.  Mormons are a religious minority in this country, so presumably, for most non-Mormons, a wedding performed in a Mormon temple (aka, a sealing) is really no big deal.  For members of the LDS church, however, it is extremely important.  What if the majority of voters in CA, for some reason, decided that they thought temple-weddings should be illegal and voted to amend the constitution to define marriage as "the union of a man and a women that is not performed in a Mormon temple"?  Sound far fetched?  It is.  It is very far-fetched and there's no way it's going to happen, but it is a parallel example.  The simple fact is that in the case of Proposition 8, we have an example of the majority dictating what is allowed and what is not allowed based on their beliefs.  It may seem fine as long as you're in the majority who's calling the shots, but it's a raw deal if you're in the minority.

The US Constitution has typically been amended to either address some procedural question or to grant more freedom and rights to the citizens of the country: 1-10 - the Bill of Rights, 13 - the abolition of slavery, 15 - sufferage not restricted by race, 19 - women's sufferage, 26 - lowers voting age to 18.  The 18th amendment, which enforced the prohibition of alcohol, restricted freedom, but did so across the board, to all citizens of the country.  Now, Proposition 8 was an amendment to the state constitution of CA, and not to the US Constitution, but nevertheless, I worry that it sets a bad precedent to use the constitution of the state to target and restrict the rights of a minority group.  I hope that the minority groups (religious, political, etc.) to which I belong are never suppressed by the constitution of my state.

This post is a little out of keeping with the general tone of this e-blog, I know.  But I have been thinking about this a lot.  I think, in the end, the big question is not whether gay marriage is right or wrong.  The big question we have to answer is whether or not it should be legal to do things that are wrong, provided they don't violate the rights of others.  Should the majority have the right to decide how the minority should live?  I'm not sure, but I worry that Proposition 8 may have set a dangerous precedent.

Think I'm way off base?  Any thoughts to share?  Leave your comments below.



>> 05 November 2008

I am in the computer lab at NC State right now, trying to do anything other than finish the paper which I have to turn in in two hours. Perfect time for an e-blog right? Here are a few updates:

  • Erik's home. My brother Erik just got back from being a missionary in Colorado. He went back home to California, but we got to see him last weekend in Atlanta.
  • Speaking of Atlanta - while we were there we went to the Coca-cola museum and got to try sodas from around the world. Here is my listing of continents (not N. America) in terms of the quality of their soft-drinks: Asia --> Latin America (close second) --> Africa --> Europe.
  • Barack Obama is our new president
  • How do you become a pollster? What a great job title! But pollster just a fun way to say statistician?
  • Mary is using serious surge tactics and I'm not sure if I can hold on to win the e-blogging award for prolific posting. I will try though, even at the risk of my posts becoming increasingly banal.
  • If anyone wants to volunteer to write my paper about Astrophel and Stella, please contact me ASAP. If it is after 12:25 PM, then don't worry about it.


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