bear, bearsuit

It's information ... dat you get ... in a commercial

I've found a few recent commercials fascinatingly-Freudian and comically absurd.

I saw two different ads in a recent campaign which left me confused for 2 seconds, and laughing for 10 minutes. Both begin with "every day" people who find themselves in a situation where they feel inadequate. In one, a woman and her child are rudely cut in front of in line for a slide. A "girly man" is finished loading his tofu and vegetables into a grocery store conveyor belt, and drools over another man's massive pile of bloody meat. The solution to both dilemmas is obvious -- Consolation from friends or loved ones? Self-confidence? Absolutely not! The American consumer of today is much wiser than that -- they know well that the way to feel better about themselves ends with them running out and buying a Hummer (R) brand battle tank!

I believe in the grocery store version, they even flashed up some words like "regain your manhood." Well, I guess some sophisticated market research informed them that crystal-gripping hippies were not their key demographic. Adult children are!

Nice contrast to another recent car add, where the car company actually took a jab at competitors' "gas guzzlers." Not something I'd have expected from them. And only 30 years too late. Way to take a risk, guys! Tell us that cigarettes are bad, too. Next thing you know, Tom Daschle will finally come out against the war (just as soon as it looks politically favorable enough - he didn't seem to have a problem going along with it for the first few years). Speaking of which...

I saw an ad for the Army Reserve. The majority of it consisted of this dialog, basically repeated 5 times:

Son: "It's the Army Reserve. It'll be really good for me."
Father: "It's the Army."

Eventually, the father slightly softens his stance when his son tells him that it will help pay for college. (Unlike college loans). The Army knows that they're fighting an uphill battle against their public perception and what they seem to represent. We're inching closer to them finally hosting bake sales.
  • Current Music
    Loveline - (Drew's Greatest Night)
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Simple Pleasures

Do yourself a favor: Go to Google Maps, move over to England, and check out their city names.

It looks like England's out of my plans in Europe this summer, so I unfortunately won't be able to vist any of the following: Littleworth, Wigginton, Butler's End, Barton in the Beans, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Upper Longdon, Minworth, Badsey, and last but not least - The Leigh.

Most of those are in the same area, too.
  • Current Music
bear, bearsuit

On Incompletion

Here's a free-form essay I'm turning in tomorrow. It's in the style of the first essayist, Michel de Montaigne. He wrote essays in the 1500s that resemble blog entries to an amazing degree. Free-form, lots of digressions, all from his own perspective, not trying to convince the reader, and usually citing little real evidence. He even used a really obnoxious background image of his favorite emo band, and some inane animations.


On Incompletion

It usually finish my assignments just barely before they are due. From my first quarter, when I was enrolled in five separate courses, I have repeatedly managed sizable workloads with (mostly) high-quality results. However, this phenomenon also occurs when my responsibilities are half as large. If I were tasked to sort a deck of cards, the final king would come to rest mere minutes before the stack's collection. The difference between two minutes and a week of sorting would be approximately one rubber band, fit snuggly across four faces of the deck. Given a month, I am confident I would muster the effort to add a second band (lengthwise).

My shortcoming is not a lack of personal goals. I have a plethora of ideas I would love to implement. Countless hours of thought have constructed many thick neural pathways in my mind. Yet, code, essays, and a book remain (almost entirely) unwritten. As you may imagine, I have not even seriously contemplated any potential art projects. I’m not an artist by any stretch of the imagination. That much I have been realistic about.

This day-and-age, distractions are everywhere. Modern video games can be engrossing for hours at a time; the Internet brings vast amounts of information (useful and otherwise) within several keystrokes; fond friends fill massive contact lists; digital cable television provides hundreds of channels; more novels exist now than ever. Though I successfully avoid the latter two, I admit a bit of knowledge and entertainment addiction. The immediate satisfaction from interactive science fiction tends to trump my desire to keep ahead of deadlines. Would I rather write a finely-tuned essay on the importance of personal responsibility, or play ten hours of “Clam Digger II: Clampocalypse?”

Perhaps my inefficiency stems as a defense for personal time. We are told that completing work early relieves the anxiety associated with unfinished business. Finish a job ahead of schedule, and you will enjoy the same amount of leisure, worry-free. I doubt I would have as much free time if I got an early start on my work. Details which I normally brush aside with a quick “there's no time left for that” would suddenly receive undue attention. In any case, I lost my fear of deadlines long ago. Late-night work sessions are a college student's best friend.

If I gave myself deadlines for my own goals, I could simulate a heavy workload at all times. Then I would accomplish those tasks situated between “real work” and pure play. These tasks could, appropriately, have priority lower than “must-finish” chores and higher than “will-finish” entertainment goals. This scheme suffers a fatal flaw: real consequences. If I fail to turn in a handful of projects for a course, my grade will suffer in an intuitive way; the results are similar with relaxation and my general mood. Yet, an indefinite delay for a piece of writing (which nobody anticipates) does not affect me in a tangible way. Neither (I suspect), would the benefits of publishing a piece of my work be obvious, nor the benefits of keeping my bedroom and dishes spotless.

Now, why am I so concerned with the way I do my work? As I stated, I do good work when required. Many, I suppose, would be perfectly satisfied with this situation. But the facts are simple: if I could simply spend ten percent of my spare time on on tasks more important than reading every bit of high-tech news that marches its way across my favorite websites, I could be significantly more productive with my life. Increased productivity is the most fool-proof way to extend one's life – most importantly, one's healthy and active youth. I would much rather work a little harder now than regret living a “merely average” life upon retrospect. Being a computer engineer, I deeply appreciate the impact of performance improvements. Imagine if we were all ten percent more effective with our lives.

One hypothesis I've formed is that the large variety of work I encounter in my day-to-day school life prevents me from approaching my potential efficiency. Currently, I shift my attention between basic chemistry, biology, robot design, classic literature, a radio-frequency identification tag group project, the ever-horrifying career hunt, and a handful of extra-curricular activities. Not only are there a substantial number of topics, most have little in common with each other (subjectmatter, responsibilities, and scheduling). Michel De Montaigne offered similar sentiments in his brief essay On Idleness:

The mind that has no fixed aim loses itself, for, as they say, to be everywhere is to be nowhere.

These disparate tasks require frequent task-switching. Each switch includes the overhead of process re-orientation. As David Meyer notes in his work on task-switching (“Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching”, 2001), humans are very poor at rapidly re-focusing their attention on different jobs. Thus, I reserve great hope in my near-future/post-graduation. Restricting myself to a select few major topics and much-more-regulated work schedules may prove to positively affect my effectiveness. Or I may just be lazy.

  • Current Music
    Jurassic 5 - Swing Set
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Important Work

After reading through this good, brief article about procrastination (I'm definitely a type C procrastinator when I'm in a useful streak, though I maintain the "bad" habits when I'm in a lull, like now), I followed the internal link to a speech by Richard Hamming about doing important, great scientific work:

You've got to work on important problems. I deny that it is all luck, but I admit there is a fair element of luck. I subscribe to Pasteur's "Luck favors the prepared mind." I favor heavily what I did. Friday afternoons for years - great thoughts only - means that I committed 10% of my time trying to understand the bigger problems in the field, i.e. what was and what was not important. I found in the early days I had believed 'this' and yet had spent all week marching in 'that' direction. It was kind of foolish. If I really believe the action is over there, why do I march in this direction? I either had to change my goal or change what I did. So I changed something I did and I marched in the direction I thought was important. It's that easy.

-- Richard Hamming, You and Your Research
  • Current Music
    Patchen & Jianda - Wish
bear, bearsuit

Be The Signal, Not The Noise

One of my role models/idols, Jeff Waugh, has a saying:
Be the signal, not the noise.

That is, communicate to convey relevant and useful information, not simply to communicate. Useless or significantly-inaccurate ramblings (noise) obscure important truths and ideas. As communication speeds up (beyond the current, incredibly rapid, pace), the amount of noise enveloping pertinent information will increase.

It's a lot easier to spend an hour talking about a football game or post a link to a "Which type of vegetable identifies YOU?" quiz than it is to conduct and publish a scientific study on nutritional habits of a large population or write a carefully-reasoned argument against the negative effects of corporate political contributions.

Which class of communication is more socially-useful at the end of the day? Which sounds more like the hiss of your speakers when no music is playing?


Of course, we can't restrict ourselves to purely high-minded discourse, because it's not mentally-sustainable. Extreme stances are often too much for a human to maintain. If your goal is for people to not eat meat, it's a lot more reasonable to ask someone to forgo mammal flesh than leap from carnivore to vegan in two days flat, if you want the commitment to last (and thus have a more significant impact). But a life saturated with the conversational equivalent of day-time soap operas is a fairly pathetic one.

A Life of Significance

Meaningful communication is a subset of the necessity of leading a meaningful life. We can't all be brain surgeons or cure cancer, but we can refuse to spend our lives designing decorative pie tins or hosting a trashy talk show where miserable people scream and throw chairs at each other. Not every action has to be the "most important" action to take at any particular moment in time. But we can spend some time discussing (and acting upon) the best methods of social justice, improving the availability of healthy food, and raising children to be conscientious, intelligent, and open-minded individuals.

Nobody can force you take an active interest in the importance of leading an overall meaningful life, nor can they force you to avoid polluting mindspace with a bunch of meaningless fluff. You have to make the choice yourself.
  • Current Music
    Be the Signal, Not the Noise
bear, bearsuit

How to Become a Zombie in 3 Short Days

A couple weeks ago, I pounded on a programming assignment non-stop through (and beyond) the three-day weekend. In short, throw this in a blender:

  • networking
  • client and server file transfer
  • fault tolerance for every single packet (intended to be) transmitted
  • sliding window algorithm (much more complicated than it sounds)
  • threading

For anyone not familiar with networking or software, here's an equivalent list:

  • over-stimulated wumpus frobnicating
  • kangaroo racing
  • hyper-threaded smibdey larting
  • parallel Fermi-planes
  • Faraday's magic wand

How to become a zombie

  1. First, make sure you're almost out of food

  2. Do the same for clean clothes

  3. Withdraw yourself to whichever room your computer is in. Avoid leaving it, as much as humanly (or zombily, depending on which phase you're in) possible

  4. Crack open a can of caffeinated soda. This action will soon enough replace breathing for you, so get your technique down pat.

  5. Start pounding on that code. Don't bother cleaning any of it up as you go along - hell, you're practically done already!

  6. Make sure to name variables inconsistently. Life's more fun when you have to figure out whether an int is network or host byte order every time you use each function.

  7. Since you don't have any food in the house, only eat meals out of the house. Skip lunches (don't worry, you'll forget to eat anyhow).

  8. When you do take breaks, make sure they involve either computer games or watching video on your computer. It's important you not give your eyes a rest.

  9. Since the project is complicated enough, you won't need to introduce bugs manually. There'll be plenty. But just to keep things interesting, don't write any notes about how you squash bugs. The next time you see the same bug show up, you'll get to figure out out again. That's like a 2-for-1!

  10. Sleep as much as you'd like. If you've been following your strict soda regiment, you still won't feel rested when you wake up.

  11. If you're lucky, your roommates and their friends will hoot and hollar all night (hopefully two nights in a row). Not that it matters. You'll stay up later than them anyhow.

  12. Repeat for a total of at least 3 days

  13. BRAINS
  • Current Mood
    amused amused
Carl, Chair

New Rule: Definitions

New rule: dictionary definitions can't include complicated words. I want to look up one word, not three.

Smarmy - adj.: unpleasantly and excessively suave or ingratiating in manner or speech; "buttery praise"; "gave him a fulsome introduction"; "an oily sycophantic press agent"; "oleaginous hypocrisy"; "smarmy self-importance"; "the unctuous Uriah Heep"

Half of those look familiar. I'm sure I learned them some time in middle school or high school. But flowery words have been about as useful to me as scuba gear in an ass-kicking contest since then.

  • Current Music
    Aphex Twin - Come on, you slags!
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Drive to LA

For my friends who were skeptical of my choice to drive down to LA via highway 101 (instead of highway 5):

Driving from Milpitas down 101 to Westwood vs. taking 5 adds 40 miles and about 40 minutes. Coming from Livermore, the difference is 70 miles (and about an hour).

Furthermore, using 5 from Livermore: 334 mi (about 5 hours 27 mins); from Milpitas: 340 mi (about 5 hours 51 mins). This is because, coming from Milpitas, you have to head east on 156 to reach 5. So it takes longer, even though Milpitas is farther south than Livermore.

(All numbers and armchair analysis used Google Maps).

Either way, I'm not driving that much again any time soon :)
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Fuzzy Math

I read an article in the Los Altos Crier the other day about taser guns and their opposition (apparently they've killed about 125 people in North America in the last 10 years or so).

The article stated that a taser gun sends a 50,000 volt drop over the person it's used on.

Later, it mentions a man who has gotten tased by the police 16 times, "for a total of 800,000 volts".

Yay, journalism!

They may want to include this while they're at it: the other day, I filled up my tires to 30 psi -- for a total of 120 psi!
  • Current Mood
    amused amused