Twitter is Sexually Harassing Me

>> 25 February 2010

In the course of the last twenty-four hours, I have received six direct messages on Twitter from people who I follow and personally know. The contents of these direct messages have been - to put it mildly - lurid.

According to Twitter, all of my friends (alleged males included) are actually lonely 24 year old women with ravenous sexual appetites who just can't seem to find the right man.

My interest in Twitter has already been in precipitous decline, but this might be the thing that pushes me over the edge. Twitter spam viruses are an annoyance that I can do without.

Questions for Discussion:
  1. Have you been harassed by Twitter?
  2. Anyone out there still excited about Twitter?


Sundries and Such: Olympics Edition

>> 22 February 2010

The Winter Olympics are underway. Here's what I think about them:

  • Ice Dancing. While I appreciate how difficult it must be to coordinate and synchronize their movements so precisely, when I see the costumes that they wear, I can't help but feel that the unrelenting teasing that they assuredly experienced as teenage ice-dancers was well deserved.
  • Two-Man Luge. Who was it who said, "You know what would make this sport better? If I got a dude to lay on top of me while I compete." What does the second guy do?
  • Snowboarding. Shaun White has a death-wish and is extremely entertaining to watch.
  • Apollo Ohno. Apparently, he is NBC's favorite person, which is why he always appears to be wearing makeup in preparation for an interview.
  • Ski Cross. This is the best event in the Winter Olympics. Snowboard Cross is pretty cool too, but crashes an skis are so much more dramatic, so it edges out the victory.
Questions for Discussion:
  1. Winter Olympics or Summer Olympics: which one do you prefer?
  2. What has been your favorite event of the Olympics?
  3. Hypothetical Question: How many ice-dancers could you fend off in a physical confrontation? What if the confrontation were taking place on ice?!


Great Moments in History: My Drive to the Barber

>> 19 February 2010

According to Google Maps, it takes 9-10 minutes to drive from our apartment to Cameron Village, where I went to get my hair cut. But Google Maps doesn't take road-miracles into account. I made the trip in four minutes and thirty seconds. 4:30!

Here is a map of the route I took. Green circles indicate times when I came to a stoplight or traffic circle (there were ten lights and three circles) and did not have to stop. The red circles represent times that I needed to stop - which as you'll notice, was only once I got to a parking space.

For any of you who are inclined towards mathematics, you might realize that the probability of making 10 consecutive green lights is not tremendously high. If we assign each light a 50% chance of being green at any given time, then the probability of making 10 consecutive lights is 0.5^10, which comes out to 0.00098, or, in other words there is a 0.098% chance of making all ten lights.

The truth is slightly more complicated, though. First, the probability of any given light being green is much less than 0.5. For some lights (like left turn arrows) the probability is probably very small - in the 0.1 range, while others (like most of the straight ahead and right turn lights that I caught) are more likely to fall somewhere in the 0.4 range. As a rough estimate, I will say that the probability of making any given green light without having to stop is somewhere in the ballpark of 0.3. At a probability of 0.3 per light, the probability becomes much lower (0.3^10 = 5.9 x 10^-6, which works out to a 0.0006% chance).

On the other hand, the status of the traffic lights is not determined randomly. Presumably, some traffic engineer had to make some decisions about how to time the lights so that traffic can move as efficiently as possible. So, let's assume that for the first light of my trip, I experienced a normal 0.3 probability of getting a green light, but, due to the dilligence of the traffic engineers, all subsequent green lights (on the same road) have a probability of 0.7. Also, the seventh light in my route is almost always green, so I will assign it a probability of 0.9. This would make my probability of getting there without a red light:
0.3 x 0.7 x 0.7 x 0.7 x 0.7 x 0.7 x 0.9 x 0.3 x 0.7 x 0.7. This comes out to a probability of 0.0067, or a 0.67% chance.

The philosopher David Hume once commented that a miracle is simply an event with a very low likelihood of occuring (I'm paraphrasing). The rationale is that if something is impossible, it cannot occur (by definition). If it could occur, then it is not impossible. The less likely the event, the more miraculous it is if that event occurs. So, in this sense, I am going to claim that my green lights, with a probability of 0.0067, constitute a minor Humean miracle.

Questions For Discussion:
  1. What is your greatest driving achievement of all time?
  2. What is the top speed you have ever driven (as the driver, not a passenger)? I think my top speed is probably a dowdy 85 or 90 mph.
  3. Yellow light. Do you brake or speed up?


TV Time: Comedies

>> 18 February 2010

Rhetorical question: Which is more fun, watching TV or reading about me watching TV? If you said that it was more fun to read about me watching TV, then you're in luck because that is exactly what this post is about - me watching TV! Let's break it down by show:

How I Met Your Mother: This show has become a venerable television institution. Currently in its fifth season, HIMYM has made me laugh for 102 episodes and has only disappointed me once (an episode in season 3 called 'The Yips,' which, for some reason, was not funny to me at all). For a while during this season, I have felt that the main story has sort of been derailed (Ted looking for the girl of his dreams) but the characters are all so funny and the minutae of their lives is so entertaining that I don't really care when (or if) they ever get back to the main story in earnest.

Parks and Recreation: The funniest show on television right now.

The Office: In LOST!, they used an atomic bomb to reset the time line. In The Office, they used a business acquisition. Following Dunder-Mifflin's acquisition by the Sabre Corporation, the show has basically been rewound to season two. We have: a salesman in love with the receptionist, but afraid to tell her how he feels (was: Jim & Pam; now: Andy & Erin), an incompetent boss and a more talented subordinate (was: Michael & Jim; now: Michael & Jim), and a boss who is going to clash with Michael as she tries to keep him under control (was: Jan Levinson-Gould; now: Jo Bennett). So, we are basically back where we were at the beginning of season two. For a while, I thought that The Office was going to be the story of how Jim comes to understand Michael (and maybe acts like Michael a little bit). Each time Jim gets promoted and takes on more responsibility and more frustration at his co-workers, he gradually becomes more and more sympathetic to Michael and begins to recognize some method in the madness. Now, I don't think that is going to happen. I don't care, though. The show still makes me laugh, so I'll go along and follow the show back to season two.

30 Rock: The last two episodes have rekindled my excitement for the show. Along with Arrested Development, 30 Rock remains one of the few shows that can bring the jokes so fast that I miss some of them because I was laughing too hard at others.

Community: I still haven't completely made up my mind about this show. On one hand, it is pretty funny on a fairly consistent basis and the ensemble cast is pretty excellent. On the other hand, so much of the humor is referential humor (about films that came out when I was two years old) that a lot of jokes don't make sense to me. Also, the whole 'meta-TV' thing is sort of heavy handed. Consider How I Met Your Mother. HIMYM is 'meta' in a clever way; the narrator's euphemisms are shown on screen exactly as he describes them (for example, when he censors 'smoking weed' and instead says 'eating a sandwich' and we see him and his friends passing a sub sandwich in a smokey dorm room). This sort of meta-commentary brings attention to the fact that you are watching a television program by reminding you that they can show you anything that they want to, regardless of what 'actually happened' in the fictional world of the show. Community tends to be a little more obvious about its artifice. Often, a character on the show (usually Abed), will say something like, "Wow, this is just like in X movie where character Y has to accomplish task Z." Many films and television programs exist in a sort of world-without-TV. In real life, we might say in response to something strange, "This reminds me of the X-Files." On a science-fiction show, however, (V, Fringe, Flash Forward, etc.) you will never hear a character say, "Wow! This is just like the X-Files." Community seems committed to creating a world where the characters watch a lot of TV and a lot of movies and draw parallels to their own lives. And although it can be a little much for my taste in the show, it is also interesting to see what it's like to watch TV-watchers on TV.

Modern Family: There's nothing particularly ground-breaking about the show, but the great cast really brings the laughs. Phil's Valentine's Day alter ego, Clive Bixby (complete with nametag!), was a particular highlight.

I still need to talk about Fringe, LOST!, and Chuck, but since this post has already turned fairly book-report-ish, I'm just going to cofine myself to comedies at this time. Stay tuned for more writing about watching TV!

Questions for Discussion:
  1. Which of these shows do you watch?
  2. What hilarious comedies am I missing?
  3. Which is more fun, watching TV or reading about me watching TV? (not rhetorical this time).
  4. Favorite comedy series of all time?


Book Review: The Fountainhead

>> 16 February 2010

The Fountainhead The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A novel is like a chocolate souffle; it contains only a few ingredients but can be very difficult to make correctly. In the case of the chocolate souffle, the ingredients are sugar, eggs, and chocolate. For a novel, the ingredients are character, setting, and plot. Setting is important, but not vital. Conrad's Heart of Darkness was still good when it was translocated to Vietnam in Apocalypse Now and just about everything that Shakespeare ever wrote has been re-imagined in a different setting (Hamlet set in a pride of lions in Africa, Macbeth set in Feudal Japan, Romeo and Juliet as gangsters in Miami, and so on), usually with results that don't diverge too much from the original. You could even make the case that all a novel really needs are good characters, because in many cases (and in most good novels) the plots arise from the characters and their motivations. For example, if Odysseus had been happy to remain in Troy following the war, then the events recorded in The Odyssey would not have taken place. If Odysseus didn't want so badly to get home, then there would have been no plot and no story. So we have whittled it down to the bare essentials: A good novel has characters with desires and motivations. And unfortunately, even on this extremely generous criterion, The Fountainhead fails to deliver.

First, the writing is atrocious. I will share with you the following passage from the novel and then, will say no more on the matter because this passage speaks for itself. In this passage, Rand is describing a newspaper, published by the billionaire maverick (and self-made-man, who, according to the novel, never received a favor from anyone in his entire life! [I'm not making that up. Not one favor. Ever.:]).

It's enormous headlines, glaring pictures, and oversimplified text hit the senses and entered men's consciousness without any necessity for an intermediary process of reason, like food shot through the rectum, requiring no digestion.
The Fountainhead p 395
700 pages of this.

Second, the characters in this book are little more than crudely imagined ciphers which Rand uses as place-holders for her philosophical ideas (more on this later). The hero, Howard Roark is committed only to the principle that he will do exactly what he wants to do and nothing more. But as it turns out, the only thing he wants to do is 'refuse to compromise.' He doesn't care if his career as an architect is successful. He doesn't care if his designs are ever built and turned into buildings. He doesn't care when his magnum opus, The Temple of the Human Spirit, is ruined. What does Howard Roark want? I have no idea. The other characters are equally baffling. The villain of the novel, Ellsworth Toohey, appears to be motivated only by the idea that talented people should be crushed. He has no personal stake in the matter; but simply wants to make sure that Howard Roark can't succeed. Why? Because Rand was more concerned about making sure that her characters represented certain ideas or attitudes than she was about making them interesting.

You might think that if Ayn Rand was going to forgo interesting characters and plot for the sake of philosophical discourse, that the philosophy would at least be 1) interesting and 2) intellectually defensible. Unfortunately, it is not either of these. Her idea, called Objectivism, is basically the claim that rational self-interest is the highest moral good. This idea is represented by Howard Roark, whose unwillingness to compromise his principles is the principle theme of the novel. Roark sometimes takes the pursuit of his self-interest to uncomfortable lengths, like in the scene where he rapes Dominic Francon, but Rand seems to suggest that Roark's actions are excusable because he is acting out of rational self-interest and anything done in rational self-interest is morally praiseworthy. But frankly, the fact that rape is permissible in Rand's moral system is not the coup-de-grace for her theory of Objectivism. The problem is actually much deeper than this. In her formulation of of Objectivism, Rand presents her theory as if it were true without offering any evidence for why this should be the case.

In a sense, Objectivism is Nietzsche made inconsistent. Nietzsche said (in a nutshell) that there are no objective moral values - there is no such thing as right or wrong - and that each individual must exercise his or her own freedom to decide what sorts of things he or she values, and must then take responsibility for acting according to those values. He calls this ability to create and exert our own moral code, 'the will to power.' Or in other words, according to Nietzsche, we must abide by our own unique principles and values because there is nothing else to rely on. Rand tries to reverse this equation. She says: everyone must create and adhere to their own system of values and doing so is a correct objective moral value. Unfortunately, the only way that her premise seems plausible is if there are no objective moral values. This problematic because it is essentially begging the question. Her argument looks like this: there are no objective moral values, therefore, everyone must live by his own values, therefore, living by ones own values is an objective moral value. She asserts that rational self-interest is an objective moral value because it allows the individual to live and subsequently, makes all of the individual's values possible, as if it were axiomatic, when in fact, she hasn't shown that a person may not rationally prefer to have no values, or even, prefer not to live.

I know many people whose tastes and opinions I respect who like this book; however, I fail to see anything in it. The characters don't even rise to the level of caricature, the plot is a long and jumbled mess that never really got anywhere, and the philosophical insights might seem impressive if you aren't used to philosophy, but any rigorous inspection reveals that the ideas don't hold water. Do yourself a favor and read something else.

View all my reviews >>


Disc or Disk?

>> 10 February 2010

Fact: they are not the same thing.

After always feeling confused when I wrote the word 'disc' or 'disk,' I finally decided to look it up. The results were educational.

A disc contains optical data, encoded in binary format on the surface of the disc as a series of non-reflective pits (0) and reflective lands (1). The information on a disc is retrieved when the disc is spun and illuminated with a laser diode. Examples include: CDs, laser discs (remember these?), DVDs, mini-discs (remember these?), and Blu-ray discs.

The term disk refers to a broader category of data storage devices that stores digital information on rotating platters by magnetic, optical, or physical means. So, a disc is always a disk, but in many cases, a disk is not a disc. Got it? Some examples are hard disk drives and floppy disks (remember those?).

The hard disk drive was a substantial upgrade from magnetic tape which had been used prior to its advent. Now, it is only a matter of time before solid state drives (your USB drive is a prominent example) replace hard disk drives for most consumer use.

Congratulations! We've learned something today.

Questions for Discussion:
  1. Which obsolete media storage technology do you miss? Laser discs? Casette tapes? Beta-max?
  2. Was this disc vs. disk question weighing on you as heavily as it weighed on me?


Sundries and Such

>> 09 February 2010

Lots of things to blog about. No time for full paragraphs. Let's get down to it:

  • Re: LOST! season premiere last week. The 2 hour episode was pretty good but included what has got to be the worst scene I have ever seen on any television program ever, in which a dying character says: "There's something really really really important that I need to tell you before I die..." and then the character dies. On the other hand, in true LOST! fashion, there was a pretty good amount of pistol whipping going on.
  • Re: Catchy songs. Bill Callahan's 2009 release, Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle is as excellent as its title is cumbersome. Here's a song from it. I love how the last phrase of the song gradually gets completed over the course of the repeated chorus: "If you could only stop your heart beat for one heart beat." I guess it doesn't make tons of sense, but it's still a pretty great song.

  • Re: Books. I've been flying through the books lately; I'm finishing up my seventh book of 2010 (The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolano), although some vacation days and a snowy weekend helped and I doubt that I can maintain this pace through the rest of the year. Anyway, I am not bragging - I know that most of you know how to read - but rather, I am trying to explain the recent profligacy of book reviews on this e-blog. In fact, the only reason that there aren't more of them is that I don't get the sense that they are too popular with the readers of this e-blog, so I'm trying not to alienate the people who keep me company on this little corner of the Internet.
  • Re: 'Internet.' Turns out that this word is supposed to be capitalized. Apparently it is a proper noun. I would never have guessed. Also spelling related: is there a word that is harder to spell than 'occasion?' I swear, this word is insane. Why would you have two C's and only one S? That is totally backwards. If you are going to have two of any letter, it should be S.
  • Re: iPad. I'm not going to buy one. Although, in fairness, I might not be the target market. After all, my cell phone is still only that: a cell phone. I can call and text and that's it.
Questions for Discussion:
  1. Do you watch LOST!? If so, what do you think of the season so far (please avoid spoilers insofar as it is possible to talk about LOST! without spoilers)?
  2. Bill Callahan: thumbs up or thumbs down?
  3. Do you hate reading my book reviews? Give it to me straight Intranet!
  4. Will it always be the lower-case internet to you?
  5. iPad: discuss.


Bruce Hornsby + Spoon

>> 04 February 2010

Dear Internet,

Since their newest album, Transference, came out, I have been listening to Spoon a lot. Specifically, one song, "Who Makes Your Money?" is particularly addictive.

Here's another live version. Audio only.

I am also addicted to Bruce Hornsby's 1986 hit single "The Way It Is." Maybe it is that little piano riff before the chorus. The triplets: G-B-G, F-A-E, C-E-G/D. The melody: "That's just the way it is..."

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Are you currently addicted to any songs? Which ones?
  2. Is it lame to be 'really into Bruce Hornsby?'
  3. How many of you heard the Bruce Hornsby song and thought: Wait, isn't that a Tupac song?
  4. Most addictive, stuck-in-your-head-for-days song of all time?


  © Blogger template Webnolia by 2009

Back to TOP  

document.write(unescape("%3Cscript src='" + gaJsHost + "' type='text/javascript'%3E%3C/script%3E"));