Monday, December 22, 2008

Citizen Kane.

I've checked out Citizen Kane from my local library three times now. But it wasn't until this past Sunday that I actually got around to watching it.

It's the epic story of America's most powerful man, Charles Foster Kane, who managed to burn through a sizable inheritance by pouring it all into his newspaper, The Inquirer. It edged out Casablanca and the grossly overrated The Godfather as AFI's top movie of all time.

Unfortunately, thanks to pop culture (and, specifically, The Simpsons), I've known the ending to Citizen Kane long before I knew anything else about the film. It's a shame, really, considering that it's a bit of a "surprise" (artificial? manufactured?) ending.

I can see why the movie was so highly rated, though. I didn't expect such beauty. Its cinematography easily rivals anything going on today (indeed, it's a lot more experimental than what I would have thought and what happens now -- a simple conversation in a room filmed from the floor's perspective?), and its sheer scope (and length) lend to its epic weight. It's a surprisingly lucid black and white film. Costumes and makeup (which was important since characters are shown at different ages) are very good, and the story is very good. The pacing and development, however, are a little off. It's a grand movie of a grand tale, but it's not absolutely perfect.

On a side note, which is really all they deserve, I also watched Chocolat and The Devil Wears Prada last week. ... Okay, for mindless entertainment, they actually weren't that bad.

Spencer Tweedy Blog.

I've got to keep up. Wilco's native son, drummer-musician/web designer/traveler Spencer Tweedy, has his own blog.

Spencer Tweedy's Blog

It's pretty high-brow for a 13-year-old. Actually, it's magnificent. He has a lot of great observations, and you can assume it's really him writing from the randomly placed 13-year-old-isms. For example, from his latest post, Heaps And Heaps Of Water:

What I nicknamed The Turd (pictured above), is said to have been an ancient fort and defensive position for the indigenous people of New Zealand.

Monday, December 15, 2008

2 Movies, 1 Book.

As I continue to struggle with a seemingly endless amount of options following the completion of my current degree (Ph.D. program?, job?, both?, which kinds?), I'm constantly consuming media in what I think is my extended window of opportunity for learning about other fields. (Which is not to say that I don't think I can learn about other things after I get a job, a career, or a specialty in academics. It is more of a personal belief I have based on things I learned so far that I don't want to take the time to explain at this moment. So there.)

For example, I have about 10 books checked out from the library on different subjects, ranging from sociology, psychology, language, and history. A few of the titles:

The Psychology of Abortion
A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis
The Mind of a Mnemonist
The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

Okay -- I'll concede that all of those have tenuous ties to psychology.

Nevertheless! The purpose of this post is to recount the things I did this weekend...

Movie 1

I picked up The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill from the student library on a recommendation I heard from one of my classes this semester. It's a 2005 documentary (with a soundtrack straight out of 1986) about a free spirit guy, Mark Bittner, who moved to California in search of a music career, then did a few odd jobs before realizing that he didn't want to work at all. Somehow, he ended up in an unused cottage on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. The owners of the property were okay with it... until they decided they wanted to renovate the place. So Mark is given the boot at the end of the movie, and he leaves behind his precious parrots, but don't worry -- it's not all bad in the end.

This movie was very powerful. Mark is a very spiritual dude, and it brought out a bohemian part of me. I too wanted to grow my hair long, shed my office job, and just feed the parrots. Of course, he made a lot of sacrifices doing this, but that's to be expected.

Highly recommended.

Movie 2

Sunday held 2006's The Fountain. It's a beautifully filmed, hard to categorize movie. It's got elements of sci-fi, fantasy, and even a little bit of horror. But it's also weirdly realistic and you can easily identify with it.

It's a very powerful movie, but when I tell you the plot line, it will sound very cheesy. Here we go: There's this dude. And there's this chick. There's a love story. And there's a story about immortality. And time-traveling. Well, not exactly time-traveling, so much as time-hopping in the narrative. So it's a love story across the ages. (The trailer said 1500 A.D., 2000 A.D., and 2500 A.D., though there's no specific mentions of these dates within the movie itself.)

I'd also recommend seeing this movie, though I'd suggest watching it on a fairly nice day, so you can go out and appreciate nature and society after watching it. (I.E. -- It's a bit of a downer at times.)


The book I breezed through this weekend was by renowned writer Margaret Atwood. Titled Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, I thought it would be an interesting read. It was. (Excerpt here.)

But it wasn't what I expected. Instead of a writer's perspective and analysis of the current debt situation, it was instead a writer's perspective on the term debt and it's meaning throughout the ages. Atwood is an apt student of the arts and humanities (especially plays), and she does a few sweeping analyses of religion, plays, literature, and other forms of the arts in her survey of what debt has meant, how it's repaid, and how it helps and hurts both the creditors and the debtors.

There are no practical tips here, but there are a few neat revelations. Of how Ebeneezer Scrooge resembles Faust, of how Shakespearean drama fits in, of how religions view moral/spiritual debt, et al. So, if you'd like to read about the philosophical concept of debt, give this a shot. If you want some more practical tips, check elsewhere.

Overall, it was a good weekend.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Ebert vs. Stein

Roger Ebert recently wrote an enormous response to Ben Stein's documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Apparently, Ebert had been taking flak for not reviewing the movie.

Win Ben Stein's mind

I only discovered after reading this (having read Ebert on and off for years) that his decision to exclude a movie from his reviews has just as much impact as giving a movie a zero-star review. Because any sort of publicity is good publicity (I, for one, am now encouraged to see just how awful Stein's movie is), Ebert ignoring this release spoke volumes. But, in the end, he had to defend himself even against that action (as if Stein's movie were some sort of blockbuster release that everyone saw and that everyone was talking about).

For the record, the professor that Ebert refers to as Prof. Monty Python is actually a professor at FSU here: Michael Ruse. He's a professor of philosophy and director of the History and Philosophy of Science program here. Interesting fellow.

Also for the record, I'll have to agree with Ebert on this one. I guess you could chalk that up to my ongoing higher education. Or to common sense. Either way.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Spoon bonus tracks.

I will only admit to a few nerdy things at a time.

I have been a member of a Spoon messageboard for years, and it's fun to gauge how old fans react to new music and to newer friends. Also cool to talk junk about Spoon, and hear about where Spoon shows up, like when I was in the Village Inn in Tallahassee, and "The Underdog" was playing.

The best part, though, is that these Spoon fans are very dedicated. They organize compilations, point to interviews and downloads, and occasionally discuss other music that might interest me. Today, there was a post from someone who collected and organized all the free downloads Spoon has offered over the past year.

Spoon's Monthly Bonus Tracks (nearly a year)

Thanks to Greg for the listings.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dont Look Back

D.A. Pennebaker's Dont Look Back is supposed to be a seminal film. I didn't find it to be. It was certainly an intimate look at Bob Dylan during his tumultuous early years. But almost too much like Dylan's music and lyrics, the film lacked a sense of direction, a sense of purpose. It was all put out there for everyone to judge, but I don't think enough of the story was shown for anyone to make any sort of interesting conclusions.

The film shows equal amounts concert performances and backstage action. The performances are captivating; the power Dylan holds with a single guitar and his words over thousands of people is remarkable. The backstage action is less remarkable -- there are the expected squabbles, the self-isolating superstar, the posse, the bad-haircut manager, the ignored girlfriend.

But through all of this, you only get a few moments where you see the disaffected Bob Dylan, the youth who sought fame through his music, who obtained it, and who didn't know what the hell to do with it. His music of this period might portray a folk poet who is outspoken with his lyrics, yet softspoken with his delivery. But offstage, he's a jittery mess: aimless, confused, seeking respite from all the attention yet still thriving on that attention.

A few scenes stuck out in my mind. There was a drawn-out section where Joan Baez was playing guitar and singing. She was sitting right behind Dylan, who was at a desk with a typewriter. I thought that she was singing rather loudly, but Dylan didn't seem to pay attention. Frankly, it would have bothered me if someone was doing that while I was trying to write, but Dylan would have a pregnant pause, then start pecking away at the keys again. I think this was a telling moment -- one that showed their relationship almost outright: Baez was so close to things, but Dylan couldn't pay attention, absorbed in his own world of things.

Another fiery moment comes when someone breaks a glass during one of Dylan's performances (I think the glass might have been onstage or somewhere where he could see it). After the show, Dylan is going off on some dude, just yelling and yelling about how he didn't want someone to get hurt by the glass. He seemed really highstrung, but he never seemed to get out of hand -- only pushing people slightly on the shoulder and calling people "cats." Ahh, the sixties.

There was a moment in a hotel room where one of Dylan's entourage plays a song and sings for everyone. There's a hush, and Dylan says "That's a great song." He proceeds to take the guitar and essentially try to show up the guy. It's a toss-up of who wins this showdown, but everyone in the film quietly acknowledges Dylan's presence throughout both backstage performances.

And the scene that stuck out to me the most came where Dylan was lecturing a reporter from Time on how absurd magazine journalism was. On how, if he wanted to know the state of things, he would never look towards Time or Newsweek because the people who write for them are cowards. How he would just look around at the world. And if those magazines would just print something real and true to life, Dylan would respect them more. (When asked what sort of real thing should be shown, Dylan is caught off guard and mentions something about a "tramp vomiting.") He says that he's not a folk singer, but when asked why not, he refuses to explain it to the reporter because he knows the reporter wouldn't understand. He says that he knows everything about the reporter and understands him completely just by looking at him, and the reporter would never fully understand Dylan no matter how long he tried. He says that nothing the reporter says or writes will affect Dylan, and he surmises that nothing he says can affect the reporter.

Yet throughout the whole film, you see a Dylan buried in newspapers, reading quotes outloud, and playing off his reactions as being mock offended. "Give the anarchist a cigarette!" But it really does touch him and you can tell. He's a young, fresh-faced artist with still no signs of wear, but every quote he reads, and every piece of information he eagerly receives about his competitor, Donovan, he soaks up and it becomes a part of him. It's absorbed into his world, and it starts to take a toll. No wonder he went electric right after this (you get a little hint of this when Dylan talks to some guys he meets on tour -- they're in an electric guitar band): he likes being the center of the media's attention, and being antagonistic.

This film has obvious influences on others, and what first springs to mind is Jeff Tweedy's Sunken Treasure: Live in the Pacific Northwest. The difference here is that Tweedy talks directly to the camera as if someone is interviewing him, but with Dylan, it really is a fly-on-the-wall approach, although you have to wonder how much of what happened was the result of knowing that he was on camera. It's not a bad film, especially if you're interested in Dylan lore (this is definitely a staple of that lore). But if you're not a fan of the music, you probably won't be a fan of the movie. Well, who knows. This was sort of like reality television forty years before. Maybe that'll appeal to people.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Blogging about blogging and other postmodern meta ontological quandaries

If you kept reading past the title of this post, you are to be congratulated on your determination to learn, though you may not learn anything about any of those specialized terms there (mainly because I don't know too much about them myself).

I recently bought an issue of Wired because it had pretty pictures and it has that nice feel on the cover. And I wanted to be hip. But every Wired article I've ever read in the magazine can be found online. So I'm hip enough to read it in the magazine, but not online.

And now, I'm losing hip points by blogging about it. Because the first article in the current issue is on how blogging is a thing of the past -- its shining star has faded. It's been commercialized. It's lost its face.

Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004

Besides the fact that I enjoy using services that work perfectly well for me (which is why I've stuck with T-Mobile for six years; I redesigned my Blogger blog, [Post]Modern College Life, instead of converting to the sleek Wordpress format; and I will continue to purchase Britt Daniel's music until kingdom come), I have some other qualms about Paul Boutin's urgings. Just because businesses have manhandled the blog format to conduct their own business on the web (with teams of writers spewing out 30 posts a day) doesn't mean that normal people should stop blogging. Because people blogging about issues are going to reach a different network of readers than the big business blogs do. It's just like magazine production -- big businesses (Time, Newsweek, US Weekly) are going to reach their audience, and so are city magazines (Tallahassee, Phoenix) and even smaller, local magazines. Because people don't turn to the New Yorker to see what's happening in their local environment.

Sure, there will be overlap. Amateur entertainment reviewers (games, tv, movies, music, art) will certainly be eclipsed by devoted blogs. But the cool thing about blogs: you can write about anything. Unless you're trying to start a blogging career (which would probably work best by attaching yourself to one of those mainstream blogs that Boutin wrote about), you don't have to fit a format, and you don't have to write about things that don't interest you.

I blog for leisure and assume that no one reads any of my words. This might be dangerous in terms of revealing too much personal information, but that's something that I don't really care about at this time. I honestly think that encouraging average people to sit down for about 15 minutes and compose a post (however sloppily) can only help their focus, their thoughts, their writing. I don't see any detriments to blogging (outside of being "unhip"). Of course it might "waste your time." But if you spend hours on end blogging instead of doing your job or going to classes or studying for classes, shouldn't you reexamine your life and perhaps reconsider what it is that you really want to do? If you enjoy blogging, do it, maybe even full time (though, because the internet has made news instant, you won't get much sleep). If you don't blog, please give it a try. But no matter what, don't slog at people who do.

I must get around to another point. I was searching for this Wired article so I could blog about it, and the highest relevant search return was for another unhip blogger blogging about the blogging article, WIRED: Don't Blog Anymore -- Wait...What Was That?!?. I found what I wanted to in 5 seconds of Googling, as opposed to going to and wading through ads and dicking around on the site for a few minutes until I found the article that I wanted. Imagine that. Another benefit to grassroots blogging. Blogging making life easier in searches.

This Wired is the first thing in a while that has made me want to post on this blog. For me, it had the opposite of its desired effect on readers. I've been off and on with this thing for four years, but I keep it around because I want an outlet that I rule where I can spout off any belief I have, or reveal any information I find without fear of censure or harassment (outside of occasional blogging bots) or death. Yes, people still die for their beliefs in this day and age. And if I were in a less accommodating country with stricter laws about what can and what cannot be voiced, I might be up for trial for some of the things I've written about (or what I might have written about under that type of control). The right to the written word is not a God-given right: human language is not absolutely innate because if you're not exposed to speech or to a writing system, you don't learn it. If raised in the wilderness, by wolves perhaps (it has happened), you may learn a rudimentary system of body language, but nothing to match the complexity of human language. It's a phenomenon, and it's a gift. So use it. And wisely.

(By the way. Have you heard of Kindle? I think we should get rid of books.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Racial issues STILL at play.

Last night after the reality set in, Karl Rove was on Fox News talking about how race is no longer a factor in America. How older generations who lived through the '40s and '50s might still see race in different terms, but today's youth, this new generation, is blind to race. And now, the biggest headline in the world is:

"OBAMA: Racial Barrier Falls as Voters Embrace Call for Change"

I thought this might be coming.

A victory for Barack Obama is certainly a victory for breaking race barriers. However, racial tensions DO NOT disappear in one generation -- who do you think was raising the youth of today? Space aliens?

The Republicans will cry out that racism is dead, we are in to the age of acceptance, while they continue to dominate politics and the wealthy sector of America. Affirmative Action is still a very important issue as we try to enroll men and women who, fifty years ago, could not use the same toilet as white men and women, much less sit in the same classrooms or read the same books. People who, for the first half of this country's existence, were by and large seen as buffoons and baboons in cultural affairs, even as white America looked favorably on (and even sometimes adopted) aspects of black culture, such as blues and jazz.

Race is not dead. We are not a colorblind America. People will still self-segregate to a point, and others will view them as one section of society. The two places I've lived show this. Anyone who lives in Melbourne has heard to avoid University Boulevard and the surrounding area, especially at night and on weekends. In Tallahassee, people warn against venturing into Frenchtown after hours. For better or worse, blacks are still sectioning off, and whites are still discriminating against them.

As other news networks put it, this is indeed a milestone for race relations, but it is only another small peak in an overall uphill battle. Be careful not to label racism where it does not exist, but also take care not to dismiss the issue altogether.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Politics is like water.

Politics is like water:

You never want to drink it, because there's always soda or coffee or whiskey around, and you think it's good for you, but you also know it's a part of everything you drink, and it is in most food you eat, so you're probably safe not having to drink it directly every day.

Some people can use it to cleanse themselves. Others, such as policemen with very high-powered hoses, can use it to deter people from doing or thinking things (think: riots). Still others, like construction workers, use very high-powered versions of it to, say, remove paint from a wall.

You can swim around in it. You can drown in it.

It may feel refreshing sometimes. At other times, it could be loaded with junk -- chemicals, bacteria. It can be paired with a hint of a flavor, though, like passionfruit patriotism, to try to get you to drink more of it.

Sometimes it rains down, sometimes it evaporates.

But too much of it can kill you.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Rubik's Cube.

Someone just walked into the office and picked up my Rubik's cube, looking at it intently, looking determined.

"You're not a Rubik's cube whiz, are you?"
"Yeah, I gotta solve it now that I saw it."

Ever since I dug my Rubik's cube out of my closet at home, I've hoped that someone would come into the office knowing how to solve it quickly (I never learned how to do it myself). Statistically, I figured that if I left it up there for a year or so, sooner or later someone would come along who knew how to do it.

She spent the next five minutes or so looking at all the sides, then rapidly flipping columns and rows, then reassessing. Very mathematical, very precise.

"It's an old one," she said, as she struggled to push a few of the turns through.

After she was all done solving it properly, she placed it carefully back on the counter. Then, reconsidering, she picked it up again and did a few turns, leaving it so that each different side had one color in the middle tile and another color around the border. The whole encounter took all of five minutes, and then she briskly walked out as I yelled "Thanks!" after her.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Biden v. Palin

Just a few observations about the Vice Presidential debate last night, while it's still fresh in my mind. I'll use my Twitter feed as a reference, since I was forced to post certain comments during the debate and didn't want to run to the computer.

Photo from the NY Times.


For the American voters already with a voting choice in their mind, I don't think this debate had much of an impact. Both candidates were strong in their own respect and neither visibly faltered. Even for voters who are decided but are somewhat on the fence, I still don't think this debate could have swung the vote over to the other side.

For the average, undecided voters, I also think this was a sort of toss up. I think average American Joe Six-Pack (we'll say a person with some college education but no degrees) will have recognized Palin's efforts to dodge questions and revert to spewing out unrelated information for any question she did not want to answer. But I also think the average American will have been confused by Joe Biden's rhetoric at times -- I mean, he did talk about a lot of issues, a lot of constitutional stuff. One time he listed like three or four Middle Eastern regions/topics in rapid succession. A lot of average Americans aren't going to know what he was talking about some of the time.


Photo from CNN.

I'm going to start with Biden, because I think for Americans with moderate to high levels of education behind them (let's say a bachelor's degree and up), he was the outright winner. Anyone who gives a shit about the rules of a formal debate recognizes Biden's efforts to answer every single question directly. He was amazing in this respect -- I had never seen a politician promptly address every topic through at him. The only question he may have sidestepped, which, coincidentally, was the dumbest question of the night, was:

Probably the biggest cliche about the vice-presidency is that it's a heartbeat away, everybody's waiting to see what would happen if the worst happened. How would -- you disagree on some things from your principles, you [Palin] disagree on drilling in Alaska, the National Wildlife Refuge, you [Biden] disagree on the surveillance law, at least you have in the past. How would a Biden administration be different from an Obama administration if that were to happen.

I mean, it was blatantly obvious that this was a question for Palin. And even though it's a very relevant topic, the framing of this question -- how would you differ from your running mate if he died and you had to take helm -- is just so easily sidestepped by reiterating talking points about their campaign. From what I remember, Biden answered everything else. The ones that stand out in my mind as being exceptionally handled were the ones about his Achilles' Heel and the one about what sort of things he had to change in his views since he began holding office (both of which Palin rather clumsily side-stepped).

Biden also kept a serious, formal tone, only joining in with Palin's joking on one occasion.


Photo from the London Times Online.

Alright, I have to give it to the gal -- she did relatively well. She didn't falter at any time (unless you consider side-stepping half the questions "faltering"), and she threw out a few jabs, cracked a few jokes, gave us the "straight talk" and talked about her "Team of Mavericks" (which I want to adopt as a new name for our cover band). She appealed to the average American, and she looked good -- had good poise, kept her cool, and was always ready with a response, even though most of the time it had no relevance whatsoever to the current discussion point. But I guess the average American doesn't care about that anyway. So she did pretty well for the audience she was targeting.


She dropped the ball when she said that she only been at this whole Washington thing for five weeks and hadn't really promised anything yet. So, yeah, I mean, we can't hold you against your word if you don't have any.

Again when she said that Biden "made it clear that [she] was an outsider to Washington". C'mon Palin. We know where you're going with this, but even I felt bad for her after that one.

She insisted that we not point fingers back at the Bush administration (e.g., history), although she went on to exalt Ronald Reagan and basically align McCain/Palin with Reagan.

She diverted nearly every discussion to talk about strong things in her campaign notes. She almost never answered a question directly. She attacked Biden and Obama more and more fiercely than Biden would. Which is good for her because she's seen as a feisty Maverick (team of mavericks!), but Biden just stood there and straight-up refuted every single attack she put out with simple facts.


"Obama voted against funding the troops."
"... McCain voted the exact same way on that measure."

"Obama voted 94 times to raise taxes."
"... That's a faulty measure, but if we're using it, then McCain voted 207 times to raise taxes."

"I'm an outsider Maverick to Washington and you're old and have lots of experience."
"Thank you."

My Favorite Moments

My second-favorite moment of the night was one of the only times Biden challenged/attacked Palin on something. After she gave one of her spiels about being a hockey mom, he came back with "I didn't hear a single policy change from Bush's Middle East policies and McCain's." WHOA. Slow down, Joe! But, I mean, he just railed her on that point -- Obama/Biden have definitive, key differences in their approaches to certain Middle East countries, and McCain/Palin haven't formulated a single difference in their proposed approaches to any of those situations. And Palin didn't outright argue with his point. Personally, I want some people who will really change things if they don't work, and this excuse that McCain just "hasn't formulated a plan yet" doesn't come off too hot either.

But my most favorite moment of the night, by far, was when Palin threw out some shit about being a hockey mom from middle class America, sitting around the table wondering how they will pay for health insurance, and how she has a special needs child, and whatever.

Biden comes back with his stories of his family: how his father left, and how his wife and daughter died, and how he didn't know what to think about the future for his children. He became genuinely emotional (I honestly believe he wasn't faking that) and choked up about his response, and they cut:

"Governor Palin?"

And SHE IS FLOORED. She has no response to that. So she's looking down at her notes, then she slowly raises her face, puts on her best shit-eater's grin, and spits some shit about how McCain is a maverick.

My honorable mentions are when Joe Biden referred to himself in third person.




Even though Biden technically won the debate by answering all the questions and all, I fear that Biden and Obama are still looking too professorial (someone used this word in their description of Obama and I think it fits). Ultimately, it might come down to:

"Well, do I want to vote for someone who knows a lot more than I do about complicated issues, and one who can discuss them intelligently... or do I want someone whom I can relate to, who was a mom in middle America and who will cater to my needs (even though she won't)?"

Man, I hope people recognize this time around that we need professional leaders who know a lot more than we do. And, to end: personally, I would vote for four more years of George W. Bush if Palin even has the remotest possibility of becoming our president. The prospect genuinely scares me on a daily basis.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008



Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Work email from the archives.

I'm deleting about a hundred messages a day from my work email account, because it's slow on the upload. I used to house over 2,000 messages, but I'm trying to get it down to 500 or so. Here's a gem I found (font in tact from original):


From: Justin de la Cruz
Sent: Wednesday, February 06, 2008 2:29 PM
Subject: Teaching award binder update.


Please ignore my last email to you.

I just noticed that the grade distribution and syllabi information have to date back to Fall 2002 for the distinguished teaching award binder. I have attached an updated spreadsheet for the grade totals. I will find your grade distributions for Spring 2005 to Summer 2007. I do not have access to your grades before Spring 2005, so if you could fill out the attachment or give me the data for grades from Fall 2002 to Fall 2004, then I could fill it in for you.

Sorry for the confusion,



Subject: RE: Teaching award binder update.

Thanks Justin. I appreciate your help. I am about to nuts.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Blog plug.

Robby's been hitting on some interesting stuff over at his blog, everything is so absurd. You should check it out.

I mean, I like Pandora, dislike Comcast, and see the potential in Google Chrome, too.

Cool pic:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The literary Lebowski.

The Big Lebowski is very high-brow, by the way. If anybody questions the academic merit of it, you can discuss how Oedipal it is (among other things).

One of the major things in Freud's Oedipus Complex is the son wanting to sleep with the mother. Consider when The Dude is introduced to "Mrs. Lebowski" ("Oh, you're Bunny.") -- she immediately offers to do sexual things. He's a Lebowski, she's a Lebowski. But she's married to an older, father figure ("Go get a job, sir!"), so she is at least somewhat introduced as a "mother figure" to The Dude's "son figure."

And then recall how The Dude in fact DOES sleep with another Lebowski -- Maude. Even though this would play into a sort of "sister" in my theoretical setup, there is still much parental tension displayed ("I'm sorry your stepmother is a nympho..." "Please don't call her my stepmother.").

To stretch this aspect a bit more, all The Dude ever wanted was to get his rug back -- a yearning to restore the status of his home ("It really tied the room together") -- possibly a display of getting his parents back together or trying to mend a broken home from his youth.

Another powerful aspect of the Oedipus Complex is displayed through the film's threats of castration -- this was a major part of Freud's theory too. The father would fear that the son would castrate him, in order to render him useless so that the son may take the father's place with the mother figure. The Germans threaten The Dude with castration and The Dude in turn threatens Larry with castration. (Neither of these come from a "son figure" wanting to castrate a "father figure", but the mere inclusion of the threats ties it in together with Freud.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Rambling: On Music.

Sometimes I find myself falling in love with music again. Not specific tunes or albums, just the concept. That hackneyed statement that every human civilization/society that we've ever known about had music in it. Singing, instruments.

"Music: What the fuck?"

This happened today as I was driving around town, listening to Morrissey's Vauxhall and I full blast. I remember that it took me a while to get into this album. I just skipped to "Billy Bud" and "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get." But I really like all of it now.

So this magical pondering of music infiltrated my afternoon... until I made the mistake of watching this:

What the hell is up with Jethro Tull? I think (once I find the disc space) I'm going to download this whole album (which is just the one song performed above, but 40 minutes longer) and just listen to it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Boring day at work.

I wrote this after a long, boring day at work. I think I might be slipping. (Click to see larger.)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Forest for the Trees.

I'm currently reading Betsy Lerner's The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers and the first half was very engaging. It was all about writers' personalities and finding the muse and all that. Lot of great quotes, lot of great anecdotes -- the lady worked for 10 years as a book editor and now works as a literary agent for authors.

I'm also reading The Iliad, which is less engaging, to say the least.

Google Calendar!

I've gotten an overwhelming response to my Google calendar for work. Two others I work with have already asked me about helping them to organize and publish a calendar for their own purposes. I will gladly do so.

I'm so ingrained with Google, it's almost scary. Many of my friends find it scary. They think Google will turn evil, will steal my information, will steal my identity, and I'll be left in the trash heap of the internet. I'm not so concerned. I'm young and trusting and able to bounce back.

My next work project will be toying around with starting a blog for the office. It wouldn't be for official updates, no, but for something more mundane: I get TONS of emails from email listservs and I just don't want to hang on to them. I figure I might just forward all the potentially useless information I get to a blog (one can publish posts via email) and just save things that way and delete all this junk from my inbox. Because as soon as I start purging messages, be sure that will be the day someone asks me: "Do you know when that speaker is coming? Do you know what his topic will be?"

I'm unsure if this will be a useless venture.

(And although Google Calendar is a great tool, I have yet to utilize it for my personal purposes. I might find that I need a personal calendar sometime, but I'd rather keep things bouncing around in my noggin for now.)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Chrome-colored lenses.

Oh my goodness. It's so fast. I can feel the power surging through my fingertips. It's like the Matrix (1).

Since I mostly just use Google applications when I'm online, I figured the smartest thing would be to use the Google browser (G00GCHROME -- THROW SOME Ds ON IT). And this is the smartest thing they could have worked on. And it's the best thing since FireFox. Sure, it will take adjusting, as any great thing does. But it's great, and if you don't believe me, read this:

"It's great."


Sunday, August 31, 2008

New books.

All apologies to my stalwart readers: I have been busy at my job with the first week of college classes, with my own academic pursuits, with reading, with writing. Not so much 'rithmatic.

I have read voraciously over the summer. After finishing A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Dave Eggers) a couple weeks ago, I was worried that I wouldn't find anything else that could keep my attention or pique my interest.

By chance, I've come across a number of books that I have started (many just a few pages) and that look like they will be enjoyable. I'm already mostly through Gabriel Zaid's So Many Books, which is required reading for my "Intro to Editing and Publishing" class this semester.

It is a pleasantly short read, and it mostly comes off as a self-help book for writers and readers. It alternates between supporting your dreams of becoming published (most books need only a few thousand readers to make money) and squashing your hopes of making it big with a book (millions of books are printed -- much more than are read -- and yours will turn into a chunk of paper garbage in a growing heap). Along the way are delightful anecdotes and interesting statistics. The author is Mexican and it was translated, but it comes across splendidly in translation. Very fresh. I think it should be required reading for anyone who plans to write a book, or anyone who reads books.

The next couple are by David J. Levitin and deal with music in the brain and cognitive neuroscience: This Is Your Brain On Music, and The World In Six Songs. Interesting material that I may review later if I get around to reading them.

There are others, of course. So many others...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Like manna from heaven, we are now able to scan documents into the copier and send them as a PDF via email to anyone. ANYONE.

This completes my scan evolution here at work:

1) Flatbed scanner, one document at a time. (Average job time: ~20 minutes)
2) Document feeder. (Average job time: ~10 minutes)
3) Copier + document feeder + instant email. (Average job time: ~10 seconds)

Most of the time was sucked up by an imaging program that took FOREVER to recognize the scanned information.

I have yet to find a simple, sleek, elegant imaging program (viewing, resizing, cropping). All the programs are large and slow to load and suck. I know there are some online ones, but for now I'm taking the extra steps to learn teh GIMP for this. If anyone knows of any simple image programs (yeah, INFRANview, yeah), let me know.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


It just got better. I just found my new job.

* * * * *

Subject: Enquiry***


Our company BHP Billiton Plc Requires international agents. If you think you can handle this position please write back for more information on our enquiry.

Best Regards,
Karen Wood,
Company Secretary.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Paging Dr. Spam.

I just got what appears to be the cutest spam mail ever. It's from some dude, you got your Kenya, you got your bad English, your promises of 30%. There's a plane crash.

It's like they're not even trying anymore.

Oh yeah, you got your convincing CNN report:

I didn't even read any of it, but I knew it was the cutest. All they needed was my name and fax number. And address.

2003? Shouldn't you at least update the year?

* * * * *

Subject: Dear Sir/Madam Urgent Assistance Needed

Dear Friend,

This Message Might Meet You In Utmost Surprise.

However, It's Just My Urgent Need For Foreign Partner That Made Me To
Contact You For This Transaction.

I Am A Banker By Profession From Burkina Faso In West Africa And
Currently Holding The Post Of Foreign Remittance Director In Our Bank.

I Have The Opportunity Of Transferring The Left Over Fund ($3.5Million)
Of My Bank Client Who Died Along With His Entire Family In
Kenya Plane Crash 2003.

You Can Confirm The Geniuses Of The Deceased Death

The deceased account holder with our bank was Mr, George Brumley, A retired Atlanta Physician, with account number 1036-086, ROUTING No: 91002211 with our bank,

It is therefore upon this discovery that I now decided to make this business proposal to you and for our bank to release the money to you.

You have to follow the instruction which I will be giving to you as the next of kin to the deceased for safety and subsequent disbursement since nobody is coming for it and I don't want this money to go into our bank treasury as unclaimed fund.

I want to assure you that there is no risk in this transaction as you may think, the reason why I contacted you in this transaction is because our late customer Mr. George Brumley, is a foreigner and an indigene (Burkina bey) can not stand as next of kin to our deceased customer unless a foreigner.

In appreciation of your assistance, I am offering you 30% of the total sum. 10% for contingencies (cost of transfer/other charges) likely to be incurred during the course of transaction, while the remaining 60% is for me.

I will not fail to bring to your notice that this transaction is hitch risk free and that you should not entertain any fear as all required arrangements have been made for the transfer.

Upon receipt of your reply. I will send to you by fax or email the text of the application which you will complete and forward to our bank asking for this money to be paid to you as the next of kin to Mr George Brumley.

I want you to assure me of your capability of handling this transfer with trust by giving me the following information's about yourself:

1. NAME IN FULL:................................
2. ADDRESS:.......................................
3. NATIONALITY:...................................
4. AGE:.............................................
5. Sex..............................................
6. OCCUPATION:......................................
7. MARITAL STATUS:..................................
8. PHONE............................................
9. FAX:.............................................

I look forward to your quick reply by email:

Have A Great Day.

Yours Faithfully,

Amuda Sharaf.


Nine days off work means:

-Not having to shower on a daily basis.
-Not having to answer stupid work emails on a daily basis.
-Not having to answer stupid work phone calls on a daily basis.
-Watching the Olympics on a daily basis, religiously, though you've never watched them before.
-Not having the money to travel on a daily basis.
-Reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and wondering why A) You didn't think of that and B) More bad stuff doesn't happen to you so you can write about it and profit from it, sitting back, hands behind your head, feet up on your antique coffee table, sipping exotic espresso and hearing the numbers in your bank account increase.
-Getting back to work and realizing work is a sham.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

"I fly like paper, get high like planes"

(Uh oh. Someone's done it. Some slack-jawed yokel from the Great White North had the moxie to compare Pineapple Express, the new Seth Rogen stoner comedy, to cult classic The Big Lebowski:

As such, "Pineapple Express" is to action movies what "The Big Lebowski" was to film noir: a brilliant pastiche of the genre in which every classic set-up goes spectacularly off-track because the protagonists are always high!

Whatever will Justin say about this? His favorite comedy compared to a rambling movie that takes 111 minutes to do what it could have done in half the time? Stoner jokes stacked on homo jokes alongside racial jokes, violence and grossout humor. Pineapple's plot is an antithesis to the foggy haze of a plot included in Lebowski, the latter of which serves only to confuse watchers, leaving them in awkward suspense while nailing them with off-the-cuff humor. Pineapple's plot is so grossly simplified, it soon turns into a parody of different genre flicks [action, buddy cop] that falls flat in the face of its contemporaries [notably Hot Fuzz].

He probably thinks that Lebowski is forever re-watchable [part of a cult classic's charm], whereas the only reason to watch Pineapple more than once is to figure out what was said when the audience was laughing loudly after a "fuck" joke. The film remains engrossed in its own brand of humor, rarely letting the opportunity for a quick joke about reefer to pass by without one of its characters, alternatively snickering or paranoid, stumbling haphazardly into the joke void, reaching for yet another nugget of stoner wisdom.

Plus, where are all the babes? Justin probably doesn't need to be told that this whole thing is a homo mockfest, but the only woman in the flick was a cop. In full uniform. Sheesh!

I wonder if he'll mention how the trailer was cooler than the movie because of its use of M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes," which he expected to be included in the movie at some key moment.

I think he's still waiting.

Whoa! Gotta go! Here he comes...)

Man, I can't believe Pineapple Express was such a disappointment! I mean, the acting was okay, and a lot of the jokes were funny, but after the first third, you might as well just leave the theater and go get some snacks or something. Or pizza... mmm.

Come on! They didn't even use "Paper Planes"!

2/5 stars.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Letter of complaint to Comcast.

Mr. Germano,

I will send this complaint to my local office as well. I had a bundle package of cable and internet installed at my home yesterday, Saturday August 2, 2008. The installers acted very unprofessionally, taking personal phone calls while they were installing my equipment, tracking dirt into my home. They never introduced themselves, they never showed me how to use the internet or cable services, even though I told them I've never used digital cable before, and after they left I had to take additional steps to set up the internet connection. I had to figure out this setup process on my own and it was not obvious. About an hour after they left, one of the installers returned to disturb me at home by asking about an expensive piece of testing equipment he had left behind. He said it was worth about $1400, and I was able to locate it under the desk they had been working on for my internet connection.

But all of the above pales in comparison to what arose tonight (Sunday evening the day after installation). The cable and internet have been working properly, but out of nowhere tonight, the cable box started sending a message that all of the channels that had been available were now "not authorized". Apparently, the installers never reported the box number that they installed to the main office here, so it was never registered and is not on my account. They did something strange when they were here, too -- they installed one cable box and left it running for about 10 minutes. Then they decided to use a different cable box, even though the current one was working fine. I don't know what that was about at all.

I just got done with a 40-minute call to customer service and the person I talked to was very nice and helpful. (Actually, the first person I talked to tried to transfer me to someone else, and I ended up back in the holding queue...) The person on the phone sent word to the local office and set up a service call for tomorrow evening, which I thought was very prompt and professional. It was the at the very opposite spectrum of behavior from the people who installed my Comcast services, who were very unprofessional.

I thought I would send word about this, since Comcast has a virtual monopoly on the market here in Tallahassee, Florida, and it is the cheapest outlet for obtaining both internet and cable service in one monthly bill. However, I am not hesitant to seek out other local providers (no matter the cost) if I do not receive proper customer service with Comcast. I am modestly requesting a reimbursement of my installation fee for these services for the egregious grievances listed above, which have caused me a significant amount of inconvenience. I am available via telephone and email ( if further discussion or an even more detailed account of this matter is required.

Thank you for your time.


Justin de la Cruz

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cross Country

Let's just quit our jobs and stop going to school and hitchhike across the country like David Sedaris did in the '60s (or was it the '70s?) but less gay and dangerous and labor-intensive and more fun and adventurous. We'll live off the American land, not suckling the teats of society like those no-good boozehound bums on the street that ask you for your last quarter when you need to scrounge that loose change together just to buy a cup of coffee and make some sense of your life. No: we'll do good, honest work, pulling apples off trees in the Pacific Northwest, picking cotton in the South, raking leaves off the lawns of middle America, hell, even doing some of those Dirty Jobs like on that one TV show.

But that's one thing: we won't have TV except in the Bohemian cafes and sports bars and sometimes Greyhound buses, none of which we'll be able to afford. So we'll cut our hands up on rosy thorn bushes for the local flowershop in Shreveport, Louisiana and keep barreling along on our search -- not for the American Dream like Hunter S. Thompson did (or said he did), nor for any Jack Kerouac- or Forrest Gump-style soulsearching. We won't know what we're looking for, but we'll continue looking; we'll know what we want, but I'm not sure that we'll know when we find it.

We're in good standing, so it will take a while before anyone notices that we're gone, and by that time we'll have ripped apart our entire identities, burning our social security cards for warmth in New England, sprinkling tiny pieces of our driver licenses across each state that we visit. Instead of taking samples of the soil like the forlorn soldiers who choose not to forget, we'll leave our own personal trademarks at each wayward stop, chipping our name into a mountainside, running our fingers along the surface of the freshly poured cement in front of an elementary school, spraying the tunnels with our messages of hope. As students and responsible, culturally aware young men and women, we've worked for so long to reduce our carbon footprints, but we'll have to let our feet grow a little for this expedition: we won't just disappear Into the Wild, we'll rub elbows with the highway truckers, take rides from soccer moms, grab cups of joe with everyman Joe Schmoe (6:30 a.m. at that little diner just off Exit 10 -- you know the one).

We'll get to know our America -- not the America of our fathers or our celebrities or our politicians or our historical literary figures. We'll find out what makes everything pulse, day in, day out, and when we finally figure it out, only then can we bring it all to an end.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fall course.

I just grabbed a contemporary lit course for fall. I'm excited about it because it has the following required book list:

Flying Home and Other Stories: Ralph Ellison
As I Lay Dying: William Faulkner
Portrait of a Lady: Henry James
Jesus' Son: Denis Johnson
Slaughterhouse-Five: Kurt Vonnegut
House of Mirth: Edith Wharton

...Not so much about the first and the last books, but since I've read one (Slaughterhouse) and have started another (Portrait) and another (Jesus' Son) looks pretty cool and I've wanted to read Faulkner with guided instruction, I think it'll be pretty cool.

Here's to hoping that the professor is not a wackjob.

Charlie Bartlett?

I'm glad this movie was good. From the trailer, I thought it could go either way. But it turned out to maintain its quirky humor throughout the movie, which was impressive.

It's a fresh take on the high school movie -- it has all the components other films do (including the too-smart-for-school youngster and the obligatory high school play penned by the local dweebus), but somehow it spins it in a new direction.

Charlie Bartlett is thusly awarded the PMCL bump.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gone, and hopefully relegated to a footnote in history...

I just read this commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education (which, by the way, is a great publication -- I'm even thinking of subscribing after I leave this job where I have free access) called Gone, and Being Forgotten (you probably won't be able to view it without an online subscription, but I'll paste relevant parts). [Edit - I was feeling generous, so I hosted this article on my webspace. - J.D.]

It starts out:

"How is it that Freud is not taught in psychology departments, Marx is not taught in economics, and Hegel is hardly taught in philosophy?"

And immediately I thought, "Because they're not important anymore?"

I know a fair bit about Marx, less about Hegel and far too much about Freud than I would care. As I read along this commentary, I wondered if the author was a psychologist, an economist, a philosopher, or some sort of humanities guy. Well, he turned out to be an historian.

"If educated individuals were asked to name leading historical thinkers in psychology, philosophy, and economics, surely Freud, Hegel, and Marx would figure high on the list. Yet they have vanished from their home disciplines. How can this be?"

Well, it is because learning about the failed lessons of history only helps to an extent. I was frustrated that I had to take a course about "The History of Psychology" for my B.S., but I did recognize the importance of the class. Even though I knew most of it already, I assumed that many others would not be familiar with Freud and B.F. Skinner and all.

But to write an entire commentary about how these thinkers are being pushed into the background? Do you want to know why? Because everyone and their mom went apeshit over these guys, even though their work and theories turned out to be mostly honky.

"Yet, much like psychology, philosophy has proved unwelcoming for thinkers paddling against the mainstream."

Here, the author, Russell Jacoby, seems to suggest that people who support these great thinkers -- Hegel, Freud, Marx -- in their "correct" arenas (philosophy, psychology, economics, respectively) are "paddling against the mainstream" and are thus forced out of the fields into different areas. One philosopher, John McCumber, who loves Hegel "decamped from philosophy to German" so that he could continue to love him.

Give me a break. I realize that it's a tragedy when someone who devotes their entire career to an historic figure must shift gears. But if your selection of choice is taken out of the canon, what better reason to fight for his place in history? Will you just go with the tide and switch to German studies because you find philosophy "too restrictive". Bone up.

It's dumb to keep emphasizing the work of ancient groundbreakers whose work has been overshadowed by new discoveries. Sure, these guys did some great things and deserve recognition. But no, I don't think every person who wants to be educated in psychology should know the complete ins and outs of Freudian psychology. Dreams, sex, a few complexes and move on.

Besides -- isn't it enough that historians and people studying the humanities in general will keep the flames of these three alive? Let the sciences progress and leave the dinosaurs in the history books.

Columbian coffee... from Columbia!

I had no idea what to do at work this morning. I got in at 8:00 a.m., opened up shop, wrote a couple of emails, and then started browsing Homestar just for the hell of it -- because I haven't been there in ages. I subsequently went on a Facebook posting rampage, listing the games I was playing and the Toons I was watching.

My boss came in at about 9:30 (I was alone in the office till then), and I decided to stop playing games. I had to sit around for a minute to think about what I was going to do, and then I thought "Oh yeah, make coffee."

Literally, just as I was about to get up out of my chair to make some coffee, Vicky, my Columbian boss (from Columbia), said "Hey Justin -- do you make coffee at home?" Yes. Yes, I do.

She came by and gave me a bag of authentic Columbian brew.

It's called Cafe Quindio and has a slogan of "De nuestra tierra lo mejor," which roughly translates to "the best on earth" (the best of our earth?). Roughly, because I don't know any Spanish, but I know what those words mean from Latin.

She said it was so strong that I would probably have to mix it in with other grounds. I doubt it.

She also said that it's officially expired, but that coffee stays good forever.

Let's hope she's right about that one.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pseudo Bucket List.

I hate the term "Bucket List," and although I never saw the movie, I think I would hate that too.

I'm usually all talk about the projects I want to do. I've wanted to write an opera, a concept album, a rock opera (which, I guess all three could be the same thing), study abroad, be a radio DJ, live in a big city for a year or two, learn a second language, write a novel in a month, write an album's worth of songs in a month, write a book of poetry. After I saw Run Fatboy Run, I even wanted to complete a marathon.

Despite all these general, whimsical yearnings, there are a few things that keep coming back to me and keep calling out to me.

1) I think I could write a cohesive album's worth of material. Technically, I have much more than that (I haven't been keeping count but I'd guess 70 songs or so), but I think the goal for this would be to be working towards an end product. Not even necessarily a concept album, just begin with the intent to finish a good 40 or minutes or so of music. I feel the need for it all to be my compositions (and words), but if I could work with some musicians to record it all that would be splendid.

2) Record #1. I think this would be much more difficult than #1 itself. If I had the opportunity, though, I think 1 & 2 could go down simultaneously.

3) Conversational and reading understanding of another language. I'm not settled on one yet, but I feel that this is within my reach. Someone once told me that I was too old and shouldn't consider learning another language. He usually had good advice, but I labeled that comment under "hooey".

4) Book. I don't feel a novel calling out to me, but I think I could combine some creative essays with some poetry and a short story or two (maybe even some news articles) to make some sort of super-book that spans genres.

5) Comic strip. Sometimes I get an idea that I think would make a decent stand-up joke. Other times I think of something funny I could write in an email or essay. I think a comic strip would lie somewhere in the middle -- a not-too-serious playground where I could process all of my extraneous humor into a few panels.

These are the major ones. Sure, I'd like to learn how to play piano, but it's not really calling out to me. I've already built a makeshift website, which was previously one of my major goals (and now I'm working on getting a newer template!). But these aren't like new year's resolutions are anything -- they will be done, just when they want to be.

Then I can blog about it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Frazzled, Rocked.

This morning was gross. I came in to an office that was 80 degrees and on the rise. That might not sound that bad, but inside a building, with no open air, 80 is stifling. Especially since I've been used to cooler.

It took maybe 2.5 hours for two different service people and three different phone calls to get around to making it cooler in here.

Meanwhile I'm asked about two different projects, doing copies for a retired professor who doesn't know how to do them, and managing several odds and ends (work emails) all while dealing with this heat. I guess it wasn't all that bad, but it was gross.

Here's hoping for a cool, breezy afternoon.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Fogetting Sarah Marshall.

Good movie. Funny movie. Good twists. Great writing. Very funny. Surprisingly mature. Fantastic editing. Decent music. Pleasantly goofy. Bad trailer. Good movie.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Currently on the bookdar.

My reading of Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady has been currently interrupted. I stopped about a week ago and plowed through Fear and Loathing.

Yesterday, I picked up a copy of Lolita because it was on a table of "Summer Reading" suggestions at Barnes & Noble and because I was curious.

I am infinitely amused that this edition has "John Ray" listed as the author of the forward on Amazon.

I'm going to pick up a copy of it from the library and keep reading, because I made it through about 27 pages yesterday and it was fantastic.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bam! New Blog look!

I finally got around to widgeting with all the gadgets on these new Blogger templates. They're really great. A real time waster. I can foresee hours of tinkering with this. At work, mainly.

Man, back in the OH-FOUR when I started up this bitch, there wasn't shit to fuck with. I was all writing in ONES and ZEROS tryin' to get some pictures to appear where I wanted them. Don't even talk about widgets. Nobody knew what a widget was back then. Now there's more shit to mess with in Blogger than you can wave a stick at.

(You see, with a new Blog look, there is necessarily a lot of cursing. Them's the rules.)

( . . . But maybe it's because there's a lot of crap going on now and I'm getting some nervous energy/stress out.)

(Either way, either way.)

(And here is an explicit thanks to Matt C. for starting a blog and for making me realize how bad mine looked. I actually spent the whole morning at work reading his posts -- catching up. Thanks a lot, dude.)

P.S. - Updating my template has undoubtedly altered the look of my older posts forever. Because, well, there are so many of them that I refuse to even think about going back to fix every single picture. So if you're browsing the archives, be prepared to see pictures cut off and things looking generally ugly. Which, well, they looked ugly anyway. If you're really curious, drop me a line and I can explain how things used to be in Blogger before Google took over and made it a lot easier and better looking for everyone.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Updates to follow...

I was sitting around wondering why I let my blog continue to look so ugly. Specifically, I was reading Matt's blog and noticed how sleek it looked.

So I updated my template and now I will be able to access a few more features. I'll try to update the HTML now to suit my tastes (especially so that it looks the same across regular AND widescreen monitors, and so it looks decent across browsers too), but that might take a while. At least I've taken the first step in the right direction.

Heck, I might even try changing to one of those new-fangled looking templates, too. Who knows?


Above is the most productive thing I did at work today. And it's definitely way too goth/emo for my tastes. So yeah, it was that sort of day.

Constitutional Amendments.

On a whim, I decided to look up this day in history. Every friday in my high school American History class my teacher would read the day in history from the newspaper.

I got down to the one about "The Senate voted 50-48 against a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage" in 2004 and it immediately struck me that making a blanket constitutional amendment about marriage was pretty odd. I mean, the constitutional amendments, from what I understand, were added (the first ten as the bill of rights) so that the federal government would not have so much implicit power. As a measure to enhance individual state power, the much-bandied-about-but-hardly-ever-portrayed-clearly "founding fathers" intended to strike a key balance with such an amendment as number X:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Legal rights, tax procedures, voting rights, election procedures -- sure, put those in a legal document about the behavior of the nation. But it starts to get shaky for me around the prohibition amendment. I know there a lot of ins and outs to starting a country, but outlawing an obvious economic staple? Back then, the farmers were still profiting from the production of alcohol (in addition to shopkeepers and others) and the government just takes that away? Did they know about the Whiskey Rebellion? (Which, by the way, I think it's funny that the national government fought to stamp out a rebellion that was in response to a national tax -- isn't that part of the reason that the American Revolution took place? Stamp tax and all that -- "No taxation without representation" . . . ?)

But, anyway, it's my belief that introducing an amendment about marriage, civil or religious unions, or anything like that is even more ridiculous than an amendment banning a commodity. Many of the amendments are for giving rights: Yes, women CAN vote. Yes, black people CAN vote. Yes, 18-year-olds CAN vote. Others ban questionable government practices: No, your stuff CANNOT be searched unless... No, you CANNOT assign excessive bail... No, soldiers CANNOT board your house during peace.

But what other amendments ban the action of the citizens, besides the failed prohibition one?

My point is, taken in comparison to the other amendments, some crap about marriage is way out in left field. Especially if it's banning a certain type of marriage. Even though it might be phrased positively (e.g., YES, a man and a woman CAN get married), the idea of ruling out something like this in our national codex is laughable.

Now, surely there are worse situations. Some cultures in some countries kill citizens just because they married someone from the same TOWN (even if they're not even remotely related), but still, this is kind of ridiculous.

So sure -- send it to the state level. Twenty-six state constitutions (according to Wikipedia) already have regulations against same-sex marriages. Oh yeah, and get ready for number twenty-seven.

Loving 'Fear and Loathing' in Tallahassee.

I was at Borders last Friday, reading a section of Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady. It's an interesting novel so far, but it takes its time with things -- descriptions of characters go on for pages, and much of the action happens in people's heads. I finished a chapter and took a break to walk around.

I spotted a display of books and saw if there was anything I was interested in. After a moment, I spotted Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It had the movie cover (Johnny Depp's distorted face snaking up vertically) and all I could think of was how thoroughly uninterested I was in the movie.

I grabbed it anyway and headed back to flip through a couple of pages. 50 pages later, I decided that it must be my next read, and, reserving a copy from the library, I promptly blazed through the book in three days. It's not that hard to do -- very easy to understand. Very action-packed.

It was possibly the farthest extreme from Henry James, and it made me want to see the movie again. One of the things I gathered from the reading was that I treat my body and my car very well, and there is much I could do to push the boundaries of both. The Big Lebowski also showed this to me, but I am not too interested in doing anything from either of those two things (except maybe going bowling).

Fear and Loathing is pretty absurd, and as I made my way through the text I found it extremely difficult to determine how much weight I would give to the classification of "nonfiction / journalism" that was printed on the back cover. Thompson makes strong, serious points in the midst of some very humorous scenes, and the whole thing comes off as powerful as Catch-22 or Slaughterhouse-Five. The war here is the war on drugs, and Thompson delivers the battle reports from the drug culture side of things through a frenetic, paranoid state.

It's a quick, light read. Now back to Mr. James.

* * *

Update: I knew it! I know nothing of Thompson or this book, but I had a feeling that it was more or less true, but it had to be fictionalized at points, of course. Don't find me naive.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Water foul.

I saw two ducks doing it today at Lake Ella. It happened like this:

The smaller one was in a shallow area of water, and the bigger one stepped up on the other's back, like they were a pair of burglars in a bad comedy flick hopping over a security wall at night. The one standing up looked around a while, and then it started kicking / stomping the one underneath. It was pushing the bottom duck's head in the water and holding it down. Then it lowered down and kept pecking at the lower duck's head, dunking it in the water for long periods.

The bottom one remained still, and halfway through, after I hadn't seen it move the whole time, I thought that the bottom duck might have been dead. The top duck could have been picking pieces out of it, trying to eat it, like hungry lobsters are known to do.

Near the end, another duck came swimming quickly toward the pair. Some small turtles also gathered 'round. I thought that they were trying to rescue the lower duck.

(Homer thinks back to the way he learned about sex as a child...

Homer: "Zookeeper! Zookeeper! Those two monkeys are killing each other!"
Zookeeper: (whispering) They're doing it.


It was all over within three minutes or so, then both ducks waded to shore and spread their wings, elegantly flicking the water off their fowl bodies.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Satire, sarcasm, and evolutionary advantage.

I got around to self-googling again in the office today, because I'm vain and generally bored at work. This time, one of the top hits was my attempt to pull off a bit of Colbert-style satire at the FSView & Florida Flambeau, where I used to work.

Somehow people got the wrong interpretation of my satire. I was just trying to rib a bit (ribbit) on an editorial I had seen published a few days prior, which was certainly not satirical. Nor was it even from our school -- which means our doofus of an editor-in-chief had picked it out himself.

Then, I decided to search for the name of the article itself: "Deport All Current Illegal Immigrants." This is what showed up -- a livejournal post from an FSU student. My favorite comment on the post is "Th... that's so outlandish it reads like satire." But, as I've said before, I wasn't able to make everyone understand my intent, which means my attempt at satire failed (for the majority of readers). Though, in fact, I tried to make it sound a lot like the "real" argument against immigrants, partially to show how ridiculous it is. But it still didn't work.

Then, I happened to read somewhere else where the author of the livejournal posted that she was excited that "science has deemed sarcasm an important survival skill," which I thought was funny and a little ironic, since she didn't understand my satire. But I hadn't heard of any recent news stories about this, so after yet another search, I found this gem: Sarcasm Seen as Evolutionary Survival Skill (via this blog post about it).

This article is great, because it has a person who doesn't understand sarcasm getting eaten by a lion. Gold.

But it is interesting that Ms. Small is defending sarcasm as a sign of evolutionary development. Humor, I can see, but sarcasm? Sure, why not. Sounds like a great theory. But, no, seriously...

It reminded me of this exchange:

Calvin: Isn't it strange that evolution would give us a sense of humor? It's weird that we have a physiological response to absurdity. We laugh at nonsense.

Hobbes, walking away: I suppose if we couldn't laugh at things that don't make sense, we couldn't react to a lot of life.

Calvin, now alone: I can't tell if that's funny or really scary.


So go ahead and try to not take everything so seriously today. Especially if it's satire.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Google Story.

My current reading is by David Vise and Michael Malseed.

The authors are journalists from The Washington Post and therefore is fairly straightforward and . . . journalistic. I enjoy the style.

The first half of the book was pretty entertaining -- it went through the background of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, once rival Stanford Ph.D. students, now multi-billionaires. It was interesting because I didn't know anything about the story, or how hot Stanford was (is) in computer science and how the scene benefited from being close to Silicon Valley as well as being close to some venture capitalists. Also interesting was that Stanford specifically fostered an atmosphere where star students were encouraged to work on commercial ventures with their professors, who would take a stake in their students' companies and become stinking rich. There was a point where a Stanford student said that it was hard to go to parties, because there would always be people around offering them a high-paying job to quit school and work for them.

And although Page and Brin came from a strong background of academia, they were "forced" to leave grad school to manage their system because only they could do it right. Boo hoo.

But now the book is slowing down in the second half. I just read an entire chapter on different people that use and love Google. But I just hit another fascinating part, actually, about when Gmail was unveiled.

Apparently, everyone went Chicken Little on the guys because they thought that having an entire gigabyte of storage for everyone would lend itself to government evil-doings (personal privacy for email messages only lasted 180 days). Congressmen introduced state legislature against Gmail, there were petitions, the whole deal. No one seemed to address the fact that this was a voluntary service -- and free at that. In fact, there were only 1,000 accounts available at first, just to test it out and make it generate some mystique.

If you don't want to allow yourself to be tracked (another big issue was scanning Gmail messages to display relevant ads), just don't use the service. Everyone else complaining that this sort of service would snowball and soon everyone would be at risk everywhere are morons. Gmail has only made others try harder on what is still lousy online email services.

There are a few things that are not explained. I would have preferred a more detailed, slightly more technical explanation of the Google search method. But it does say that the guys started out using a lot of cheap parts and building a string of cheap personal pcs, linked with custom-written software. And then they just started downloading every page of the internet so they could search through it quickly. Which is pretty ingenious.

Also, apparently all of this background information is online too.

Whoa, and so is your Google History.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The life and times of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Today a graduate student who comes into my office every so often started telling me his life story. He is a bit of a talker who is hard to get away from. Especially if your job involves staying at your desk.

But this time I was glad to let him talk. He told me about how he got his bachelors in humanities in 1976, then tried going to grad school for philosophy but dropped out ("for one reason or another"). Soon, on a fluke, he found himself getting involved in computer science, and as he did odd jobs and such, he ended up pursuing a masters in CS in the early '80s.

He then worked as a computer programmer and consultant for close to twenty years when, all of a sudden in 2001, according to him, "the bottom fell out." He was finishing up a typical consulting job, which are by nature short-lived employments, and then he went out to find another gig, which he had been able to do within a couple of weeks between jobs before. But everyone he called in Chicago (where he had lived and worked) either said that they weren't hiring or that the person he knew at the firm had retired or gotten replaced. All of his contacts were suddenly absent, and his savings dwindled until he decided to move back in with his parents in Florida.

Now, at who knows what age (hint: obvious combover), he plods along in graduate studies in history. He partly chose history to get away from the quickly paced "technical business" where everyone wanted someone with six months of experience in the newest version of software. He viewed history as more stable, more reliable -- as he said, "The South isn't going to win the civil war because of some new discovery in history".

Then, he asked about me and we chatted some shit about cognitive science (where artificial intelligence meets cognitive psychology) and I told him I didn't really know what I wanted to do. And I don't. But I know one thing -- that I don't want something like this to happen to me. And God willing, it won't.