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.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

New blog!

My influence knows no bounds. Not really.

My friend and current-but-soon-to-be-ex band leader Matt An Agent of Change has started a new blog detailing his upcoming exciting adventures in the Big Apple. And now that he has the [Post]Modern College Life Bump, he should really be going places.

Like New York.

That reminds me: I was thinking the other day how there should be a space after the brackets: [Post] Modern College Life. But I liked the pun on "postmodern," so I purposely stuck them close together.

This new blog makes me want to update my busted template, which is more than four years old. I hear nowadays you can put pictures and stuff in your posts.

There. Now that's how you hotlink! (j/k, lol!)

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Favicon: yet another website addition.

Today I ventured to make my own favicon.

It all started when I saw this blog post about how Google had some trouble designing a favicon for their site that was both pretty and functional (across platforms). So I got to searching around and found a great, simple, sleek tool for making favicons online right at (I didn't know any .cc sites still existed!).

It took about 30 seconds for me to think about what to use for a favicon (the website has a very nice "import a photo" tool that favicons your fave fotos). I needed something simple, maybe just a group of solids... so I picked a painting by Piet Mondrian off his Wikipedia page -- it was a painting I had written a paper about in an undergrad class.

Now, behold! A favicon!

For the record.

1. No, I am not Hispanic and
2. No, I do not speak Spanish.
3. Yes, I am Filipino, but
3. No, I do not speak Tagalog.
4. Yes, I did graduate with a degree in psychology, but
5. No, I do not want to become a psychologist;
6. No, I will not diagnose you (this is no longer funny); and
7. No, I do not know what I will do with my B.A. in Psychology.
8. No, I do not know what I will do with my B.A. in Humanities.
9. No, I do not know what I will do with my M.A. in Humanities.
10. Yes, I am in a band and yes, I do write about music, but
11. No, I will not sing for you just because you asked me and
12. No, I probably do not listen to/like the bands you listen to/like.
13. No, beards are not itchy.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Dynamic of Being in 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day'

Some films are genre pieces intended to make a quick buck within the latest trend of animated movies about animals, say, or portraits of empowered women in the Victorian age. I found something slightly different with Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

Although setting and plot made it look like something I might usually avoid at all costs, I was interested to see how Frances McDormand and Amy Adams, two actresses who have repeatedly proved their worth in cinema, would work together. McDormand came off as the wise old spinster with the character of Miss Pettigrew, who, despite some social ineptitude, manages to control the chaotic social world of Adams' Delysia Lafosse with the efficient, broad strokes of a master artist. But outside of the central theme (the impact of social class on defining the meaning of love) and the rather obvious plot developments, Miss Pettigrew offered something else to think about.

As Pettigrew weasels her way into the role of Lafosse's "social secretary," mending the ensuing chaos around her with quick thinking and witty turns of phrase, it soon becomes apparent that the whole world itself would have fallen apart without this main character's accidental arrival. Pettigrew immediately helps Lafosse usher off one suitor and deflect another, and Lafosse responds with a sort of "What would I ever do without you?" But the answer is clear -- even if Pettigrew hadn't shown up, Lafosse would still have somehow gotten rid of scrappy Phil before Nick appeared, or else have explained it all away with her charm. It's evident that her philandering has been going on for some time now, and her character doesn't need the accidental help of Pettigrew to set the situation right. Lafosse's sense of self-preservation would have kicked in, and she would have done anything to get rid of Phil in time, or else she would have said anything to Nick to cover up her indiscretions (a simple, "Oh, I was just auditioning for Phil's play, honey!" would have sufficed). This is reinforced later, when the audience finds out that both Nick and Lafosse's other suitor, Michael, already have a keen sense of what is going on and have just dealt with it all along.

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So, this is just the first in a long series of events where Pettigrew's presence seems absolutely necessary in the plot development of the movie. It's almost as if she's an omniscient character who peeks in every so often to push two elements together, just to step back again and observe all the events going on. Pettigrew instructs Michael to "Slug [Nick] in the jaw!" when things go sour between Nick and Lafosse, but wouldn't Michael have figured this out sooner or later anyway? After all, Michael -- the "extremely passionate" street musician who yearns for Lafosse, even though he knows that she is really "Sarah Grub" from plain old Pennsylvania -- hates Nick, and hates that injustice he witnesses when Nick tells Delysia what to do. The punch was well on its way already regardless of Pettigrew's fervent interjection.

Miss Pettigrew's actual "omnipotent" power of directing the actions of others around her is actually quite subdued. Enacting the old debate over determinism, the movie presents her as a necessary element of Lafosse's chaotic world, but, in fact, everything would have turned out very similar without Pettigrew around.

Another (lesser) emphasis in the film is morality. Pettigrew stretches the truth for Lafosse out of some strange devotion to Lafosse, her new boss. Is this dishonest, or is this just part of the job? For the aristocracy (which, according to Pettigrew, plays games with love), it seems like there are no aspects of morality, and Pettigrew is just fighting fire with fire, doing her best job as social secretary. But she realizes the morality of her actions, trying to opt out of the job at various points in the movie. Something, though, always pulls her back.

There are other entertaining aspects of the movie, but these are more apparent and less thought provoking. (The running gag of Miss Pettigrew's attempt to get any sort of food is one.) And while it's nothing that I would strongly recommend, I just thought I'd share my impressions on the film, stressing the point that sometimes you can find some interesting ideas in movies or other things that you might have dismissed as unnecessary. (I suppose according to my argument that Miss Pettigrew is unnecessary to the development of the movie, but, in fact, it is her presence that causes such interesting ideas [of determinism and morality] to unfold.)

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Sometimes typos are good...

I'm number one for "kungfu panga"!!!

New work computer.

We all just got new computers at work, and for some reason buying 19-inch flat-panel widescreen monitors was cheaper than just getting flat 17-inchers. So now I'm staring down a 1440 X 900 resolution (it started out at a warped 1024 X 768), afraid to open the Firefox window to the whole screen.

The monitor is dominating my desk. The keyboard and mouse are smaller, blacker, and sleeker than my previous ones. I got Google Desktop. All is well.

Pretty good for a camera phone, huh?

The monitor is raised so high on its stand, that I can now place my Dwight Schrute bobblehead (thanks, B!) dead center, underneath the towering menace like a priest under a high altar. I have USB ports now. Several. Two are even coming out of my monitor.

This is a shame, since I can't make this computer recognize new hardware (camera, mp3 player) without administrative access. But I can thumb drive it, though, I guess.

And, for no other reason than I just found this online, here are some church bells -- courtesy of Public Domain Sounds:

(I also just found this schweet thing, the portable Nvu, which, barring any complications, shall take place of my lost FrontPage program.)

. . . Allllright. This post could use one more piece of multimedia flair. How about the first YouTube search result for "Dwight Schrute"?