Thursday, December 27, 2007

The brother on the Metro with the red sweater and the black New Balances needs to keep his voice down when he talks on his cell phone

I am ever so sorry to bother you at this time, but I'd like to finish this business sooner rather than later.

No sir, I don't think that's quite right.

I deeply respect your opinion, but I am afraid I cannot agree. You must understand the bond that exists between owner and house. People get attached to their houses, they put a lot of work into them, and it is truly dreadful to see that destroyed.

It's more than just a money issue, more than just the work of rebuilding a house, buying new clothes; it's a deeply spiritual issue: a home is a sanctuary, a fortress against the larger world. Personally, I would not think it joyful to watch it burn down.

I don't mean to pry into your personal business sir, but has your house ever burned down? I don't want to presume anything, but I think you might feel differently if it had.

Well, if you ask for my opinion, I have to say that the horse should not be mourned for, but rather the drowner himself. You see, it is not his own fault, but rather the fault of the cruel, miserable world he was raised in, where horse-drowning is tolerated. As to who should do the mourning, it is the whole world, for we cannot ignore the life of even one horse-drowner. Or course, the matter is open for interpretation and I would be very interested to hear your opinion.

Are you accusing me of drowning horses?

Sir, I assure you, I may have drowned a few horses in my youth, but my horse-drowning days are long past.

Yes, again, your horses are perfectly safe with me.

Well, I do believe that it is a reasonable precaution. You see, water has two primary uses: extinguishing burning houses and drowning horses. It's unfortunate that the two sometimes overlap, but it's inevitable.

I've always said that it's unfortunate when business interests and personal interests conflict, but I hope you can trust my judgment.

Thank you for your concern.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Problem With Wikipedia

The problem with Wikipedia is not biased information or lack of accuracy. Wikipedia is not perfect of course, but it is remarkably accurate, much more so than one might expect from such a project. The real problem is much more subtle. It is really part of a greater problem with the Internet as a whole, but Wikipedia magnifies this problem greatly.

Wikipedia is not anywhere close to accumulating all the world's knowledge. But remember how in Oregon Trail when you would kill a buffalo that weighed 900 pounds, you would only be able to carry back 200 pounds of meat? It's like that, but imagine that the buffalo weighed a million tons. 200 pounds is only a small fraction of 1 million tons, but it's still a lot of meat, and it's more meat than you are going to find anywhere else (except perhaps at university libraries and other libraries like the library of congress; there might be a little more meat at libraries, but it tends to be separated by lots of bones so it is difficult to find the meat that you want). And with Wikipedia, if you bring back 200 pounds of meat, you might wake up the next morning to find that you now have 202 pounds of meat.

But the knowledge in Wikipedia is too large and too easily accessible for our own good. If one has a source of knowledge like Wikipedia that is no more than a few minutes away, incentive for knowing stuff ourselves decreases. If Wikipedia can know just as effectively as you, why know at all? Knowledge has become vulgar and devalued. Since so much of it is now so easily accessible, people forget how valuable and important all knowledge is. Consider this passage from Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco, where Casaubon, the protagonist, invents a profession for himself:
A sudden illumination: I had a trade after all. I would set up a cultural investigation agency, be a kind of private eye of learning.

Instead of sticking my nose into all-night dives and cathouses, I would skulk around bookshops, libraries, corridors of university departments. Then I'd sit in my office, my feet propped on the desk, drinking, from a Dixie cup, the whiskey I’'d brought up from the corner store in a paper bag. The phone rings and a man says: "Listen, I’'m translating this book and came across something or someone called Motakallimun. What the hell is it?"

Give me two days, I tell him. Then I go to the library, flip through some card catalogs, give the man in the reference office a cigarette, and pick up a clue. That evening I invite an instructor in Islamic studies out for a drink. I buy him a couple of beers and he drops his guard, gives me the lowdown for nothing. I call the client back. "All right, the Motakallimun were radical Moslem theologians at the time of Avicenna. They said the world was a sort of just cloud of accidents that formed particular shapes only by an instantaneous and temporary act of the divine will. If God was distracted for even a moment, the universe would fall to pieces, into a meaningless anarchy of atoms. That enough for you? The job took me three days. Pay what you think is fair."

That is what the quest for knowledge should be like. Today that translator would just open up Firefox and type "wp Motakallimun". The quest for knowledge is shortened so greatly, that you don't appreciate how valuable the knowledge you receive is. If you have a lime tree in your back yard and grow your own limes and make your own lime juice, you probably appreciate lime juice more than those who go to the store and buy lime juice in a bottle. Except that the appreciation of knowledge is more important than appreciation of lime juice. Honestly, who even buys lime juice?

If this all seems a bit elitist, that's because it is. I recognize that, at the same time, greater accessibility to knowledge is a good thing. No one should be priced out of knowledge. The cost of knowledge should not be a trans-Atlantic crossing to read an ancient book located only in some European library. No monetary expenditure should be required, the poor should have access to knowledge also. Casaubon shouldn't be able to make a living charging for information. But knowledge cannot be too easy to get either. How to resolve this dilemma? Scramble Wikipedia. Keep all the information, but make everything difficult to find. Imagine. You pull up Wikipedia, but you find that you have been redirected to the front page of Ukranian Wikipedia. After a few more tries, you manage to get Wikipedia speaking English again. You search for Bartolomeo Vanzetti, but instead you end up with the article on the 1948 Philadelphia Athletics. You realize immediately that the Search function has been tampered with and that you will get nowhere using that. You formulate an alternate plan of attack. Starting on the current page, what chain of links will take you to your destination fastest? How about American League->New York Yankees->Joe DiMaggio->Famous Italian-Americans->Vanzetti? Thwarted again when the link to American League actually takes you to List of Defunct Korean Automakers. A thought occurs to you. Though it is highly improbable that you will ever need to know the name of a single defunct Korean automaker, much less 15 of them, the chance is non-zero, and at the time when you need the knowledge the most, you know it will be impossible to get back to this page. You print out the page just in case and file it under 'L', for 'List of Defunct Korean Automakers.' Twenty years later you get into an argument with a Korean diplomat about the relative reliability of Korean and American cars. You know that there is a Korean automaker that went bankrupt after its vehicles were shown to be prone to massive explosions. You rush down to the filing cabinet in the basement, hoping to return upstairs triumphant, shouting out the name of Taisoon or Wajbai or whatever the name of the company was, knowing that that one word will win the debate for you. You look around madly in your filing cabinet, first under 'K' for Korean, then under 'A' for Automobile and 'C' for cars, but you can't remember where you filed it twenty years earlier. You dash over to your computer, hoping desperately that Wikipedia will cooperate, but your search for Korean Cars only turns up an article on Nikola Tesla. You return upstairs, dejected, having no answers to the Korean's argument and forced to accept defeat. But back to the present. You are still searching for Vanzetti. You give up on finding a link to the page within Wikipedia and resort to Google. Your search results include a link to Wikipedia, which you click. Wikipedia notes your perseverance and offers a compromise. If you agree to rewrite two articles on the Spanish Civil War, it will let you read the article you desire. Too worn out to fight Wikipedia anymore, you agree to its terms. You will now truly appreciate whatever information you eventually get about Vanzetti and Italian anarchism.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

I Found This Awesome Journal In A Ditch

12/15/29000 BC - 39° N 76° W
I am a hunter. I am one of the leaders of the tribe. I live in North America. Most of the tribe depends on my hunting. We need animals for food and clothing. We use caves as shelters. My family does not see me very much because I am hunting. My Father is the leader of the tribe. Soon he will die and my older brother will become leader. Most people in our tribe short lives but our family has always lived longer. It is winter and colder than usual. The food is very scare this winter. The enmies of the tribe are another tribe who are dying out. To survive they steal food and sometimes even babies from us. My name is Matha. My fathers name is Mat. My father is the wisest man. My wive's name is Noka. I have an twelve year-old son who does not have a name yet. He will probably be Matha II. All my family lives in one cave. My family includes me, my wife, my son, my father, my older brother, my brother's wife and children and some important elders. The cave is built in to a cliff face and is very high. Other smaller caves are connected.
I have a lucky hunting stone which I always carry when I hunt. Everyone works for themselves in the tribe. My lucky stone can kill a rabbit and a squirrel in one slash and kan kill a deer or other big animals with the help of a boulder. I also hunt with animals claws and Teeth. We use fire to cook our meals. There is a bay nearby to get water. We speak Jalpese. This winter food is very scarce. Many people are dying. When I am out hunting I find a stranger. Even though he speaks Jalpenese his language is strangely the same. He gives me a bird he calls the oriole. We call it the Baltimore Oriole since we live in Baltimore.
He brings good luck. People stop dying. Winter ends. As a celebration of the good luck and the new year we dropped a stone from a tree. This is how the tradition of dropping a ball when the new year came from.
Today I am out hunting. I find a field with tall brown grass. A rabbit runs through the field. Some parts of the grass fall off. The rabbit eats these things. I try eating them. Mmm... wholesome and delicous. I name it wheat. I collect some wheat. Later that day I grind the wheat with my hunting stone. I mix the wheat with water. And put it over rocks over the fire. It become solid. I eat it. Mmm... wholesome and delicious. I call this bread. Then I go home and share with the tribe wheat and fire. Today I find a man named MoJo. He gives me strange and mysterious food to which I say Mmm... wholesome and delicous. I also give him wheat.

It is a cold winter. Not even Clepo (what we named the baltimore oriole) can bring good weather. Meat and Wheat are scare. Right now I am teaching my son to hunt with Clepo. My son says he is cold. I tell him no true hunter is cold and he should. son does very bad hunting. Clepo does most of the work. We see a deer. Clepo pecks on the deers head. The deer raises his front legs giving me a perfect chance at his heart. I attack with my bear claw. I tell my son to bring it back and prepare it. I cannot find anything else on my hunt. When I get back the snow is three knees high or 1+1/2 legs high. The temperature is 2 layers of deerskin. Even Clepo sleeps in side the cave tonite. When we wake up the entrance is blocked with a snow drift. Clepo trys to peck through it but it is frozen solid. Clepo finds an opening. It is one knee high and one knee across. We bring all our food and all our people. We meet an other tribe. in the tunnel. We fight them. They kill Clepo. We run back to our cave Clepo is about to be burned when he becomes alive again. He is very sick. I go to Old Flexico to find my friend MoJo I find he has moved to Sumer. I see the plans for a Sky Jig. I make a Sky Jig. I like flying it. Clepo can not fly right now. He likes to sit on top of it. I make some sky jigs for my wife and son. We decided to move to Sumer to visit my friend. We cannot decide whether to go the long safe way or the short dangerous way. my father has given me permission to live a way from my tribe if we want to. We decide to go the short dangerous way across the big waters. We attach food to the Sky Jigs. We are prepared to go at the dark of 22 bright lights after the white cold fluffy stuff. We leave on 23 bright lights since the white cold fluffy stuff. We soon reach the big waters. We take turns sleeping on top of each other. 7 bright lights since we left. We are all tired. The skins on the Sky Jig are ripping. 10 bright lights after we left there is almost no wind and skins left. We land on some land. I can tell people lived there. I remake the Sky Jigs and replenish our food supply. I name this place Sap Green because my friend lived in a place called Sap Green. We leave again two bright lights after we arrive. Before we leave I gets some yellow crescent food and sweet plant. We also take yellow dotted food. We are about to leave when the ground starts to shake we see red stuff coming out we get on our Sky jigs and fly away. We look back Sap Green is exploding. I call this Sap Green exploding. We make it to big land in 3 bright lights. We land on big land. I spear one of the animals. When I skin it. but the skin curls up. This gives me an idea. I rip of a piece of skin. It rolls up. I throw it around. I sew it togher with tree stems. Then I put a flint point on the end. I call this a spear ball. I will use this as a weapon. Then I have another idea. I rip another piece out. It rolls up into a sphere. I sew it toghter. Just then, "I think Where is Clepo." I run back to the camp made of Sky Jigs. he is not there. I ask my wife and son if they had seen him. They say no. I think about where I had last seen him. He was on top of my Sky Jig because his wing was not completly better yet. When we set up the Sky Jig tent he was inside. Then I saw him come flying in. His wing was good again! He comes with me to work on the sphere. This is what it looks like.

Since I cannot add a spear point to it I make a game out of it. I climb up a tree and make a circle out of a stem. I climb down the tree and try to throw the sphere into the circle it is very hard. When I make it in a yell a word that makes no sense. It sounds like this Jali. I call this game Jaliball. Now it is time for us to go on Sky Jig I pack the Jaliball, the spear ball and some food. We go on Sky Jigs for 7 bright lights. Then we see medium size waters. We land and get more food before we cross these waters. It only takes 1 bright light to cross it. Then we stop and head northword to Sumer. We get to Sumer. I cannot find any caves that my friend might live. I relax with some Jaliball. It is getting too easy. I make two circles to shoot the Jaliball and 2 people play. Each person gets one basket and they compete to see who can get the most Jalis. I look hard for my friend MoJo. One day I look in a tree for MoJo. The I fall down and black out.

Much more to come soon... I'll try to get the pictures up also.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

We're studying relativity in physics (seriously)

So, I've been writing some comics and one of them goes something like this:
Person 1: This soup is too hot.
Person 2: Dude, yesterday you were complaining the soup was too cold.
Person 1: Yeh, I don't really care what temperature my soup is.
Person 2: ...
Person 1: I just like to complain.
This kinda reminds me of something else. I don't remember what the origin of this story is, but it features some stepdaughter type hated by her stepmother or something like that. The daughter faces a dilemma: if she washes her hands too much she is accused of being wasteful, too little and she is accused of being filthy. The mother just likes to complain. She could just as easily praise the daughter for being cleanly in the first case or for being thrifty in the second case.

The first noble truth of Buddhism is dukkha, suffering. All life is suffering. But not really. See, there are three types of dukkha. The first, dukkha-dukkha, is the stuff that actually involves actually suffering and pain, stubbing your toe, losing a parent, etc. The second type, viparinama-dukkha, is basically the suffering of happiness. Every happy moment eventually ends and that end brings sadness. So happiness is just the deferment of suffering and nothing else. Make sense? But the Buddhists are really just taking the evil stepmother's view of the world. They could just as easily make their first noble truth happiness. Then you can split it into happiness-happiness and sadness-happiness, the latter being the result of the end of suffering, like the huge relief you feel when you finish your finals. But I said there were three types of dukkha. What is the third? Well, it's called sankhara-dukkha and is the suffering of conditioned states and the five aggregates. I'm not even going to pretend I know what that means.

But what is to pretend? The word pretentious comes from the word pretend, or at least they have some common ancestor sometime in the not so far past. Someone who is pretentious affects mannerisms that are not his own, so that he appears more sophisticated, more intelligent, more important than he actually is. Pretentious people pretend to be something they are not. But what about someone who is naturally stuck-up? No pretension there. They are only pretentious if they act humble.

It is clear that pretending is more than a child's make-believe. Perhaps as a child, you pretended that you were a king or a queen. But you were not a pretender to a throne. Pretenders to the throne do much more than pretend. Often they will fight and kill to make their claim to the throne. This is a strange name indeed. But even stranger is the name for pretenders to the papacy. What is an antipope? Unlike matter and antimatter, popes and antipopes do not annihilate when then collide. Unlike the antichrist, an antipope does not... well, I don't know, the antichrist isn't a pretender to messiahdom is he? But a strange title still. (I find it appropriate at this point to note that I have always found the term "unbirthday" rather strange as well. It sounds as if one is celebrating the day one was unborn, rather than celebrating any day on which one was not born. I've always thought that "antibirthday" would be more appropriate.) But back to antipopes, is there any analogous use of the prefix anti-? Jefferson Davis was never antipresident of the United States. But I suppose this is not the best example, as the Confederacy claimed to be a separate country from the USA, rather than a government in exile. Better example: if Hu Jianto is the president of China, is Chen Shui-bian the antipresident of China? I think so. At least, this is the situation in the PRC, the UN, the US, and most of the rest of the world. In the ROC and the handful of countries around the world that recognize the Taipei government (you forgot Kiribati!), Hu Jianto is actually the antipresident of China. And in the minds of those who confound the ROC and the other ROC (Taiwan changes its official national motto to "We running this rap shit"), Jay-Z is the president of China the other two are the antipresidents. But whatever. All reference frames are equally valid, right?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Minty Breath

I discovered the following on my laptop today. I don't actually remember writing this, but I'm pretty sure that I am the author, as it incorporates the four main themes of my life: Bob Dylan, blueberries, renaming myself, and Wikipedia en español. I kinda like it, so I decided to post it here. The full title, unfortunately, did not fit in the Blogger title field. Instead, the title appears immediately below.

A Group Of Words Which Might Resemble A Bubble Released Into Water By The Exhalation Of A Diver With Minty Breath: Less Substantial Than That Which Surrounds It, But With A Slightly Different Scent

Whenever I meet a prospective student on grounds, which, fortunately for the University, does not occur often, I tell them not only to not attend UVa, but not to go to college at all. When met with questioning looks, I explain that I plan to drop out as soon as possible and get to work on fulfilling my great goal in life: becoming Bob Dylan.

After many years of thought, I have developed and patented the three-step plan to become Bob Dylan:

  1. Learn to play guitar (and harmonica)
  2. Sing
  3. Change your Jewish last name to something that sounds cool

The last step is clearly the most difficult. If I had to change my first name, I would adopt the name José faster than a small rodent would flee from a hungry owl. But change of this name segment is not part of the plan. Deviance from the plan will not be tolerated. Apparently, Dylan named himself after one of his favorite poets, Dylan Thomas. Or, as Spanish wikipedia puts it, "Es en este momento en el que cambia su nombre por el de Bob Dylan, para lo que, según algunos, se inspiró en el poeta Dylan Thomas, aunque el propio Bob Dylan siempre ha negado este particular." I would follow this path in rechristening myself, but, I'm not gonna lie, I don't really read much poetry. Now some of you might have a problem with this last sentence. Wasn't Dylan famed for his poetical lyrics? How can someone with that type of attitude towards poetry become Bob Dylan? But you are focusing on the wrong part of that sentence above. Wasn't Dylan also famed for the honesty of his lyrics? Maybe not, but you can at least pretend so until you finish reading this something. When viewed in light of the fact that you are currently pretending to be true, the sentence in question shows how fit I am to become Dylan. Not only does it show that I can become Dylan, it also shows how the only possible course in my life is to become Dylan, that I have no choice in this endeavor. Which means that I must choose a name.

Bob Dylan liked poets and I like ninjas. Therefore I should name myself after a ninja. But I like other things besides ninjas. How do I know that I should name myself after a ninja, and not after, say, a blueberry pie? I like blueberries a lot because of their magical properties. After countless observations, I have discovered that blueberries can disappear. You can verify this fact yourself with the following simple experiment:

  1. Put a blueberry on the ground
  2. Walk about 30 yards away from the blueberry
  3. Look at where the blueberry once was

You will find that you can no longer see the blueberry. Because of this disappearing property of blueberries, I can only assume that the "dark matter" that physicists say makes up the majority of our Universe is actually large numbers of invisible blueberries. (It would require about one octodecillion of blueberries to account for all the dark matter in the observable universe. And octodecillion is actually a real word.) I have reason to believe that Bob Dylan was also aware of the berry-ific nature of our Universe. Examine the following lyric:

The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin' on like a bird that flew,
Tangled up in blue.

The "bird that flew" is clearly an interstellar space craft "tangled up in [a cluster of deep space] blue[berries]." It's true. Do you know what else is true? I still don't know what to name myself. Suggestions are welcome. Conclusions are not.

Monday, January 15, 2007

An Enemy

I've drawn a comic!

(Panel 1)

(Panel 2)

(Panel 3)

(Panel 4)

(Panel 5)

(Panel 6)

The comic has been somewhat mangled by JPEG-ness and scaling (the coloring of the hat is off and so are some of the nuances of the hair), so you should check out the comic in all its uncompressed, full-size glory.

An analysis of this comic follows, but the author would like to note that the following analysis is non-normative and should not be considered the definitive interpretation. The author recognizes that since the comic portrays with great accuracy the entirety of the human experience, many meanings will arise and become apparent to readers that were not intended by the author, and that these meanings and interpretations are equally as valid as those discussed below. This author believes strongly that holding the exclusive rights to interpret this creative masterwork would be pure fascism. The author is hesitant to publish this criticism at all, fearing that though his readers have read this disclaimer, they will not take its message to heart and will be biased towards the author's own interpretation. However, he has faith in the intelligence of his readers, and thus, it follows.

In Panel 1, we meet our unnamed protagonist. He is being harassed by a waiter who appears to be grasping the table, ready to pick it up and fling it at our hero if he does not reply promptly. Our hero peruses his menu, unshaken by the violent presence standing two feet away from him. Note the fact that neither the sitter nor the waiter has a mouth. This deformity raises many questions. How do the speakers speak? How does the sitter eat or drink? Initially, we wonder whether the waiter simply wishes to taunt our hero with his opening line. We imagine the exchange going something like this:
[unseen in the background are the waiter's buddies, keen to observe the scene, anticipating a few laughs when our hero gets riled up by the waiter's comment, which will needlessly bring attention to his facial abnormality]
"And would you like anything to drink with your meal, sir?"
[a few snickers from the peanut gallery]
"Excuse me?"
[the crowd is disappointed that the sitter has not lost his cool. but, they figure, it is only a matter of time.]
"Oh, wait, you can't drink anything. You don't have a mouth, do you? Wouldn't you like to have a mouth like I do, you worthless, mouthless alley cat?"
[the crowd looks in awe upon their leader for the magnificence speech he has just presented]
"You don't have a mouth either."
[they realize the truth of his statement. crushed and embarrassed, they turn the other way and pretend not to know the waiter]
However, this is not actually what happens, of course. The rest of the comic makes it clear that the waiter's comment is indeed serious. It appears that unnamed protagonist can indeed drink, even without a mouth. We must look for a figurative interpretation of mouthlessness. It is apparent that this anomalous face relates the plight of the common man, as represented by our hero, to that of the hungry ghost. The common man must live his entire life with his desires unfulfilled, while the wealthy sit in their mansions of decadence, satisfied to paralysis. This cannot and will not last forever. Soon the proletariat will rise up and overtake the capitalist pigs. Though in this scene, the waiter is the enemy of the unnamed protagonist, they are united in mouthlessness, and will soon put their differences aside and fight united on the battlefield of the imminent class war.

Not much changes in Panel 2. The waiter still stands on the verge on violence and our hero remains deep in concentration, contemplating his beverage of choice. However, despite the lack of plot advancement, the richness of the art in this panel can not be overestimated. It is also important to note the changes of hairstyle that our hero experiences throughout the comic. In Panel 1, his hair most closely resembles that of Bob Dylan, but as the scene progresses, this similarity fades and his hairstyle degenerates into an black, anarchic, shape-shifting blob. As Bob Dylan is a famous creator of pseudo-intellectual qusai-poetical verse, so this progression clearly represents the growing popular anti-intellectual sentiment and the the increased emphasis on raw strength and violence which accompanies this.

In Panel 3, an important development occurs. The waiter removes his hands from the table. The sitter has apparently telepathically communicated with the waiter, explaining their common predicament of mouthlessness, and convincing him of the need for friendship and cooperation between members of their class.

There is a great controversy over the meaning of Panel 4. The interpretation that most scholars favor is that it shows the result of a miscommunication between the protagonist and Ryan Church. Due to this miscommunication, Ryan thinks that the initial attempt to convince the waiter of the need for brotherhood and peace among the mouthless has failed. Using his powers of extreme stealth, he is able to dress the waiter in a green sweater without being noticed. He then steps to the side of the table and introduces himself. However, his words are spoken in a menacing manner, and the fact that he is holding a bat makes it clear that he is threatening the waiter. The green shirt symbolizes money, and the pursuit thereof. The bat symbolizes the beating he will receive if he continues his pursuit of money. Of course, this whole scene is unnecessary, as the waiter has already been converted.

All this confusion is cleared up and the sitter finishes his order, as shown in Panel 5. The waiter has grasped the table again, but this is merely out of habit, rather than out of malice. The fact that our hero has only ordered water indicates that he must avoid luxuries such as soda and alcohol.

Panel 6 shows the deep friendship that the sitter and the waiter will enjoy in the future.