Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Facebook's sudden change explained

Twitter next to Facebook

A couple weeks ago, Facebook changed their home page layout. They opened up a "vote on the layout" page to try and make it more democratic, more user-run and user-friendly. The vote, as of this writing, is 1,259,838 against, and 82,528 for.

Facebook still hasn't reverted it back to what it was.

The old Facebook layout

Why? For a company that just recently declared that it wants to be more user-friendly and allow members to voice their opinions on changes and that if people don't like something they'll change it, they sure aren't changing this. It can't even be a coding issue -- all they need to do is revert back to what it was when it people liked it and it worked just fine. (I refuse to believe Facebook does not have that code somewhere in their exabytes of databases.)

I was reading an article in De
tails today (yes, I read Details, can we move on now?) and they have a short profile of the Twitter founders, Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, and Biz Stone in the "Mavericks of 2009" expose. Being a big fan of Twitter I started reading the article. Towards the bottom it states this:
Bigger does not mean a better balance sheet, as many technorati point out, and it's unclear whether the new revenue model--based on charging companies to certify their tweets--will ever justify their having walked away from a $500 million buyout from Facebook. (emphasis mine)
And now it all makes sense. Facebook saw Twitter and wanted to incorporate them into the company, into the site and the profiles and the status updates. But Twitter refused. So Facebook just went right ahead and copied it, going so far as to change the "status" to just reading "what's on your mind?"

As stated above, people don't like it. But why not? People like Twitter. People like Facebook. A blend of the two should be exactly what they like, right?

Just as jalapeno-stuffed olives don't go with Cadbury Creme Eggs, Facebook and Twitter don't mix. They each serve a purpose and they each serve that purpose well. Facebook was for social networking, planning events, staying in touch. Twitter was for posting random thoughts you have and allows celebrities to candidly say whatever they want. Combining them just makes it cluttered and foul tasting--the founders of Twitter knew this but the executives at Facebook didn't. Facebook asked for feedback on the new design and they got it with an overwhelming 1.2 million actively speaking out against it and only 82 thousand supporting it. That's a 15.2:1 ratio. Barack Obama was elected with a 1.16:1 ratio.

The simple truth is Facebook didn't update their page because they thought it would be more convenient for people or because they thought people would like it. They did it because Twitter turned them down and now they're trying to take users away from Twitter. It's no different than what other large corporations do to competitors: they try to buy them out, and if that fails, they try to destroy them. Walmart has done it, Philip Morris has done it,

The Corporate Hall of Fame

Microsoft has done it and well, if everyone else is doing, it's probably safe for Facebook to do it, too.

Congratulations, Facebook. You've become the next big corporation. With this coming so close after the terms of use fiasco, it appears the "friendly billion-dollar corporation" appeal you once held that made so many people feel safe is officially gone.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Festival of Colors

For some reason, Provo has a Hare Krishna temple located about 20 minutes south. For the past decade, they've had what's called the 'Festival of Colors' - a religious celebration welcoming the coming of Spring. The celebration is performed by lighting an effigy of a woman/witch/demon on fire (there's a story as to why) and throwing colored corn starch on each other.

Here's a few shots from it:

Start of the event, about 5:20. Estimating 10k people present.


Colors being thrown in front of me; breathing becomes difficult.


It literally blocks out the sun.


For the next 30 minutes, colored powder is flying in every direction.


I actually like this picture of me; not really sure why


Brooke and I in the middle of it all; things starting to slow down.


Group photo of all of us covered in lots of colors.


That's the Festival of Colors. I've got a few more pictures of the crowd before the colors were thrown (the view seen is mostly what was in front of us; there were more people behind us). I might upload them later, but we'll see.

EDIT: I just remembered I have a 'before' and 'after' picture of what I was wearing - solid white pants with a solid white t-shirt. It's on my camera at home; I'll upload it after work.

Friday, March 27, 2009

2 minutes

It feels good, doesn't it?

As I've previously stated, I use my cell phone for an alarm clock. There's a really handy program I've found that has all sorts of features, from playing a list of songs in a random order so you don't always wake up to the same thing to asking you to solve math equations in order to turn it off.

One of the features is an attenuating snooze time. There's a setting for the initial snooze time, then one for the percentage that it will drop each time you hit snooze. I've got the initial snooze set to 10 minutes and it declines 20% each time after that. This means that after hitting snooze 7 times -- now 40 minutes past the initial alarm -- I'm only getting 2 minutes between alarms. And yet for some reason, I still keep hitting snooze.

I know that 2 minutes means nothing in terms of quality of sleep. For that matter, the entirety of time after I hit snooze means almost nothing when it comes to quality of sleep. Science has found that once we're initially woken, another 10 minutes doesn't effect how we function throughout the day. So the intervals of sleep we get after hitting snooze are little more than for our own pleasure -- it serves no real purpose.

Even knowing this, I still groggily lean over my bed, reach around my bookcase, and hit the snooze button each and every morning. And I'll keep doing so, because at 7 AM, 2 minutes is a lot of sleep.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Flooding

Moorhead, MN

I'm from Moorhead, Minnesota. I love that town. It's flat, simple, and the biggest draw is a viking boat that a guy built because he felt like it. It's now in a tented, museum-like building and the junior high school is (was) named after him. Moorhead is also mentioned once in the Coen brothers' film, The Big Lebowski; that's about it for national recognition. It's a town of about 30,000 that borders Fargo, North Dakota (also a city from a Coen brothers' film). The only thing separating them is a state line and the Red River. The same river that is currently 2x it's normal depth and flooding both cities to national disaster levels.

I live in Utah now. It's alright. But it's not the same as my home -- there's no real sense of community here. I think it comes with larger cities and metropolitan areas. Fargo-Moorhead had a community. Part of the reason for that is because the winters are harsh (temperatures as low as -40 F/C with windchill and 80+ inches of snow) and in the springs then bring (usually) a bit of flooding. In 1997 the town got a record snowfall of 117 inches -- that's 9 feet and 8 inches of snow. Then it melted and the river flooded up to 39.6 feet from it's usual 17 or 18 feet. In those conditions, if you don't band together with your community and help each other out, you don't survive.

1897, 40'1"; 2009, ~ 41"

Today the Red River sits at 38' 6" and it's expected to rise to 41' this weekend. To date, the highest recorded level is 40' 1" in 1897 (pictured).

Right now I'm sitting in my office in Utah in front of a computer, working on a few things for the IT department of my company. And I feel remarkably, utterly, useless. My friends and their families are on the verge of being flooded and losing their homes and there's nothing I can do to help. In 1997 I helped sandbag some, but I was only 12 years old at the time and there's only so much a 12-year old can do. Now I'm 24 and in much better shape to help aid in this disaster. I'm also 1,200 miles away. I feel awful that my home community is being devastated and there's not a thing I can do about it.

A friend of mine from school, Jen Matthees (her brother, Chris, was a close friend of mine in school), has been posting a video diary about the flood for the past few days. For those not in the area, it gives a personal look and explanation about what it's like. It can be viewed here.

EDIT: I've been informed that the new crest prediction for Saturday is 42 feet, 24 feet above flood level or 2.3x normal levels.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Overslept

I overslept today. My cell phone has an alarm program that plays various tracks from the Katamari Damacy soundtrack to wake me up, starting silent and slowly increasing the volume over time to gently wake me. Turns out the red X on the top corner of that program isn't a good substitute for the big SNOOZE button that takes up 50% of the screen. Apparently it just closes the program down. Who knew.

I'd blog more, but I'm passed my update time already and I'm not sure what I'd write about right now -- my brain is still trying to find reality.

Instead, enjoy a short clip about Rusty, the narcoleptic dog: (originally posted on twitpic while they were doing maintenance)



That's how I feel today.

(I'm still searching for the next video in the "_____ on a Treadmill" series.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Walmart paying less than slave labor?

Have things changed?

Talking with some friends about businesses today, we came across the subject of ethics and morality in businesses. Walmart was brought up as a company that has grown rapidly and it was stated that they must have done something "right" -- I say "right" because what Walton has done is exploit workers to get the lowest possible prices. I pointed out that adjusting for inflation, Walmart probably uses the equivalent of slave labor. This got me wondering what the actual numbers are, so I did some digging.

I won't go on and on and on about the evils of Walmart; that's been done ad nauseum. What I will do is present a little research on wages for employees adjusted for inflation. Details from the 1820's (slave era America) isn't of the highest quality so I can't say the data is exact, but it gives a good idea.

Using this calculator for inflation, we can compare current US minimum wage laws ($6.55 as of July 24th, 2008), we can compare it to unskilled labor from 1820:

2008: $6.55
1820: $0.03

Multiplying the hourly rate by the average hours worked per year by a full-time employee (8 hour days, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year = 2,000 hours) and those worked by the average slave (18 hour days, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year = 6,552 hours), we find the average salary each would have been paid (slaves weren't paid, but this is what they would have been making):

2008: $13,100.00 (at 40 hour weeks)
1820: $00,196.56 (at 126 hour weeks)

That's the annual salary for unskilled labor. As I said, slaves weren't paid, but they were provided food and housing. Having no numbers for 1820 cost of living (housing, food, clothing) it's hard to say exactly how the numbers compare. Using rough numbers for housing ($500 a month), food ($150 a month), transportation ($75 month), I'm going to assume about $725 per month for average living for one person in the US, more for families. Multiplying $725 by 12 we get an idea for the minimum cost of living in the US in 2008, $8,700. That is the a rough estimate of the bare minimum for housing, food, and getting to and from work -- and it's a conservative one at that, especially for a family.

Slaves were given housing and food and didn't need to transport to work. We can say that those things were their "payment." While minimum wage still has a Walmart employee on minimum wage with no benefits working full time making $4,100 more than is needed for a conservative living, it doesn't factor in any medical or other expenditures. If you consider a mother with two or three kids, the cost of living goes up significantly and that $4,100 extra will most likely become a deficit.

Without more accurate information a real analysis is hard to do. And yes, one can make the argument that the slaves weren't able to leave, the living conditions were worse, etc.

Keep in mind the slaves also worked 18 hour days, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year (according to sources). If we do a comparison and equalize the hours, and say slaves worked 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, with the minimum wage hourly rate, the slave number changes from $196.56 to $60. Again, numbers from 1820 are hard to come by, but it wouldn't be a stretch to say that it cost more than $60 a year for housing, food, and clothing for a family. On that comparison, Walmart actually pays their employees less than slaves were given.

[These are very rough numbers and estimations/guesses were used. I am not a historian nor economist. If anyone has more accurate information I could look at I'd appreciate it.]

Monday, March 23, 2009

Twix

Buddhist-like perfection

When I was a kid, there were two kinds of Twix bars: regular and peanut butter. Everyone knew peanut butter were far superior.

Then Mars, Inc. decided it would be a good idea to release new kinds of Twix bars: chocolate fudge and cookies and cream. The fudge bars were basically the same as the regulars but with chocolate fudge-like stuff in place of the caramel. The cookies and cream had vanilla-esque stuff on top of the cookie, attempting to mimic an Oreo in bar form.

Neither of these variations -- nor others that would follow -- lasted long. The peanut butter Twix was, as previously stated, the greatest. It was the Reigning Lord of Twix bars. Then in 1997 someone at Mars, Inc. decided it would be a good idea to discontinue the peanut butter twix leaving only the caramel Twix and some pathetic ice cream variations. In 2000 Mars, Inc. realized they were complete morons, brought back the peanut butter Twix bars, and I sincerely hope whoever had the idea of removing it in the first place was promptly demoted to the mail room.

This weekend I was at CostCo and found a black and red box labeled "Twix PB" on it. Presuming this meant "Twix peanut butter," or "peanut butter Twix" I bought it. Apparently this is yet another new line they've released, not my beloved peanut butter Twix. It's similar -- almost the same -- but there's a chocolate shortbread cookie in it instead of the traditional plain/butter flavor. I'm not sure how I feel about this. It's good, sure, but it's not what I want. It's not pure. It's not the peanut butter Twix bar of my childhood; the Twix where you can eat off the peanut butter from the top, then the chocolate from around the edge of the cookie, and lastly the cookie itself. It's a ritual, like twisting and licking the inside of an Oreo or dipping sushi in soy sauce -- that's just how you eat it. While the process is still there, the beautiful combination of flavors between the peanut butter, chocolate, and shortbread is now thrown off. The zen balance is lost.

I wish companies would realize what they've got and stop trying to always update things. Some things do need to be updated and should be changed to keep up -- things like electronics, computers, cars (some models), and some types of clothing. But I'm also of the mentality that if it isn't broken, don't fix it. Mars, Inc., please, stop messing with the Twix bar. It is among the greatest candy bars on the market, only surpassed by the Milky Way Dark/Midnight and perhaps Crunch bars, but neither of those requires a ritual for complete satisfaction.

Something many companies need to learn (Facebook, I'm looking at you): don't mess with something that people like and that works.

EDIT: I just found out that Mars, Inc. discontinued the traditional peanut butter Twix bars in 2007. Twix PB are the only ones made now.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Would it be better if we were on the barter system?

If I were to put 6 cans of Coca-Cola in a college dorm refrigerator, they would be gone within about a day, taken by people who did not own them. If I put 6 $1 bills in the same refrigerator, they'd still be there a week later. As good, honest people, we are far more comfortable taking objects that do not belong to us than taking money directly.

Last year Dan Ariely wrote a book titled Predictably Irrational where he explains and presents his research in the field of behavioral economics -- how economic factors effect our behavior. The book is incredible and if you're at all interested in economics and how price effects us, it's worth picking up. Some of his findings are presented in the talk he gave at TED this year. It can be watched here.

One of the most fascinating findings of his research is how people reacted towards cheating with non-monetary rewards. When given a direct monetary reward, they cheated a little bit. When given a non-monetary reward that was then exchanged for money across the room -- literally 15 feet away at a different table -- people cheat in much larger degrees. A similar, yet significantly less scientific, study that he conducted was putting the 6 cans of Coke in the dorm refrigerators that I just mentioned.

This should come as no surprise. We don't think twice about taking a pen from work but none of us would take $0.10 out of the cash register, even though the monetary amount is about the same. Companies and managers are the same: I can't think of a single office or workplace manager that would fire an employee for taking a pen, while taking any monetary amount from the cash register or safe would be grounds for immediate termination and even legal action.

There is no direct explanation for why this phenomenon occurs. Why should we be more comfortable stealing something for $1 than stealing $1 itself? The value is the same. If anything it would seem more likely that the money would be stolen more often because it is something that everyone can use and enjoy. Beverage choices are personal and some people might not like Coke. From this simple logic we can definitively say that a $1 bill has a higher demand across society than a bottle of Coke. (I changed to bottle from can because a 20oz of Coke is usually priced around $1, thus making them more equal in monetary value.) Yet research indicates otherwise.

One possible way to avoid this would be simply to remove money altogether. Make the goods themselves the money. That way, stealing goods would be -- in what is perhaps the weakest theory I have ever proposed -- stealing money. People who think of themselves as good and moral should then be less likely to cheat or steal in any degree. If there is no money in society, and in fact the objects themselves are bartered and traded directly, then the objects themselves should be respected as money is. Of course this poses issues with things like defining "value" -- if I don't like Coke, I might not be willing to trade a single Snickers bars for a 12-pack of Coke. Or conversely, if I'm starving I may be more willing to trade my Macbook for a five-course, gourmet meal. While today the same situations may produce the same results, if I were to give my Macbook to a store for a meal, they would most likely credit me with several free meals as well. My Macbook has a monetary value -- a standard value that can be directly compared to the value of the meal and thus we can know what quantities should be traded fairly.

Money is simply another form of bartering. But it's viewed with a respectful reverence. We respect money that belongs to our friends. My old roommate and I used to find spare change lying around the house and we'd put it on the coffee table, assuming it belongs to the other person. Quarters, dimes, and nickels would sit on that coffee table for weeks going unclaimed because we always assumed they belonged to the other person and we didn't want to steal from each other. But we never thought twice about taking objects of the same value (a glass of milk) from the other.

One explanation for this is the money is seen as more valuable, going off the Coke explanation earlier, and as such we're less likely to take it. This is comparable to saying that you'd take a friend's Bic pen, but not their DVDs. The Bic pen is worth $0.10, the DVD is worth $15 -- 150x the pen's value. This would imply that there must be a value, not necessarily a monetary value, to which we won't cross when it comes to dishonesty. Money is universally accepted and as such has a greater value than objects, this could explain why we don't take money. Higher value means we're more respectful. If we standing next to a new Porsche 911 we'd probably be more respectful around it than a 1992 Honda Accord. The Porsche has a much higher value, and higher values lead to us giving more respect.

If we were solely on the barter system, would the same ethics transfer over? Would we become more respectful of others' property and their belongings, since those belongings would then become what they need to use to survive? I would argue yes, they would. I'm more willing to drink a bottle of Coke from a friend's place because it's a bottle of Coke -- all you can do with it is drink it. I suppose in theory I could take it to the grocery store and demand they give me a cash refund for it, but the monetary value of it is hardly worth the effort I'd have to put into it. That argument also falls apart for things that cannot be returned, like a gallon of milk. Once opened I can't return it for money. The only thing I can do with it is drink it. It has lost significant value because it is limited in functionality and usefulness. If it were more valuable, it may cross the threshold of value above which I would feel comfortable crossing.

As a people, we're ok cheating/stealing a little bit. That much has been revealed by research. When money is removed, even by one step, we're more likely to cheat/steal larger amounts. The value of objects is less than that of money itself. If we remove money from the system, we raise the value of the objects, thus reducing the amount by which we're willing to cheat/steal. An advanced society with laws and a moral code based on the barter system should have a lower rate of loss in business and theft.

[This is only a quick idea. Before expanding any further I would like to see data on theft rates and honesty in societies that still use the barter system. Though social factors could hinder such things because if any locations do use the barter system they wouldn't be advanced societies, so cultural and societal factors may raise the level of criminal activity and ethics. I have also left out the subject of criminals and directly dishonest people, speaking solely of those who believe themselves to be good, honest people. Factoring in criminals may completely destroy this theory.]

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bread tunnel

On average, I eat two sandwiches a day. For breakfast I make a peanut butter and jam sandwich, for lunch usually a meat/cheese sandwich or perhaps just another PB&J depending on what's available.

Going to make the sandwiches of the day, I'm greeted with this:

Down the hole: you can see 6 slices here, minus the 2 I took out and used.

It's a tunnel, about 2" wide and 1" high, boring through no less than 8 slices of bread. (In reality probably more; I just found it and I don't know how many slices were used up prior to my discovery.) I've seen air pockets in bread before, but not like this. I'm literally missing 15% of my loaf of bread.

It took some careful knife work to get the the peanut butter and jam around the hole without having any fall through. I cheated on the meat and cheese sandwich -- a slice of provolone on each piece made a nice base layer for everything else.

Even though I have gotten functionality out of these slices, I can't help but feel somewhat robbed that 15% of my bread is physically absent. It's like I got lite bread, now with 15% fewer calories (and bread).

Speaking to a friend who works at a bakery, she told me about a loaf of bread she once took out of the oven that was over half an air pocket. That would have been rather interesting: it'd make for a good bread bowl at least, if unintentionally.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Culinarily, I've never been normal

Yes, this was my favorite food

Throughout school, it's common for teacher's to ask questions like "what is your favorite color?" (green) and "what's your favorite tv show?" (DuckTales). One of these questions was always "what is your favorite food?" and while most children eagerly responded with pizza or nachos or chocolate in kindergarten, my answer was slightly different: broccoli.

I've never shied away from greens and vegetables. While my sister would sit at the dinner table for hours while my parents did their best to make her eat her peas, mine were usually the first thing gone from my plate. (I never liked split pea soup, though). This fondness for vegetables led to me usually attacking vegetable trays at holidays and parties. Carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, and the crème de les légumes: olives.

Culinary splendor

I know I just said broccoli was my favorite, but I preferred it steamed; raw I would still eat it and still enjoyed it, but not as quickly as I would go for olives. A can of black olives was better than candy to me. Literally -- one year for Christmas, when my brother and sister got mini-Snickers and mini-Reeses peanut butter cups, I got a can of black olives in my stocking. I was as happy as could be about it, too. I never liked the green, pimento stuffed olives; just the black ones. Never really liked Kalamata olives, either. They're too salty.

In college, when I was working the graveyard shift with Will, we got in the habit of going to the grocery store at 6:30 AM when we got off work. With this we found that Hornbacher's, our local grocery store, had an olive bar at one of their locations. At this time, Will was more adventuresome with new foods than I was and loved olives, so he was always trying new kinds. I'd usually try and olive or two of the bunch he'd buy; I remember the jalapeno stuff and garlic stuff olives were good. I also remember the blue cheese olives actually making us open the car door and spit them out as fast as possible. Seriously, they were awful.

Two days ago while I was at the grocery store they had olives on sale. Sadly these weren't olive bar olives just the jar olives -- I haven't seen an olive bar in Utah yet. I decided I'd give them a try and picked up a jar of Napoleon brand jalapeno stuffed green olives. When I got home I opened them and tried one -- it was an amazing combination of savory and sweet, spicy and mild, tangy and tart.

Flavorful and beautiful

I loved it. A serving is only two olives and contains 100mg of sodium, so trying to conserve my purchase, enjoy the taste and not die of sodium all go hand-in-hand.

I know olives aren't something everyone enjoys. And I'm ok with that, because it means there are more of them for me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patty's Day

"Yeah, it's St. Patty's Day, everyone's Irish tonight. Why don't you just pull up a stool and have a drink with us?"
~Murphy McManus, The Boondock Saints





Happy St. Patrick's Day!!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Inspiration

Calliope

What inspires you?

A few months ago when I started a weekday update schedule, I would write three or four days worth of thoughts in one sitting. Recently, I've been lacking inspiration on what to write. Partially because I don't want to repeat what I've already said, and there's only so many topics I can write essays about. Much of what I write initially comes from something that happens in my life, but unless I'm able to write things down then and there, I often forget them. What little quips and (I think) interesting thoughts I have I write to twitter when it happens. From time to time I'll write blog ideas on there, but as I said, unless I write them shortly thereafter, when I come back to the idea I've either lost inspiration to write about it or it suddenly doesn't seem interesting.

I've had a blog post about symbolism that I've been meaning to write for three months now. Mostly about how Christianity got the short end of the Cool Looking Symbols stick. Once a week or so I'll think that I should write it -- usually while driving to or from work -- and then when I finally get to a computer the idea is unappealing.

Maybe this happens to a lot of writers. I don't think I quite qualify as a "writer" though. Just someone with a blog.

I'm considering starting up a weekly short story kind of thing. Every Thursday or Friday instead of a normal update I'd write a short story. I've been reading a collection of short stories since I finished This Is Your Brain On Music (which was incredible) and I think it'd be fun to write something creative. Nothing more than a page or two. It'd be fun to try, at least.

Friday, March 13, 2009

NyQuil

I'm still kind of sick, but doing much better than I was yesterday. Moving was hard yesterday. Normally I move around when I sleep, but on Thursday morning I woke up in exactly the same position I was in when I went to sleep: lying flat on my back with my arms at my side.

Thanks to that beautiful, green, viscous liquid I was able to sleep through the night. I know they make it in cherry flavor now but that just screams to the world, "I'm a sissy who can't handle the taste of real NyQuil." When I take a swig of NyQuil I want to be reminded that I'm a man. Then I want to pass out for at least 8 hours.

It's such a glorious thing.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sick

Out of commission today. Should be back to normal tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

An Eternal Connection

Like Joel and Clementine

I was talking to an old friend the other day and we were talking about visiting each other this summer. We've had a long history and through it all we've not just stayed friends, but good friends. I made the comment that no matter what happens we seem to be eternally connected since we've been through a lot together and our relationship hasn't always been easy. She agreed, and we both said that we're glad we have this bond. We've actually reached a point where no matter what happens, we both know we'll always have each other.

I think everyone needs a friend like that. My relationship with her is easily the most important in my life, next to immediate family. Over the next few years we'll probably get in arguments, there's a good chance we won't want to talk to each other at some point, but when all is said and done, we'll still be friends and we'll be back to talking and visiting each other again.

I love her and I know she loves me. We might not be in love, but there's more between us than I've seen in most married couples. We're eternally connected; drawn to each other. No matter where we live or what we do, we have each other.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Collection of thoughts

Over the last week I twittered a lot. If you didn't catch the updates, here's a compilation of my thoughts for the last week:
  • Packed for Wisconsin and Rhode Island. Should probably try to get some sleep.
  • Made it to the airport on time despite hitting 'off' instead of 'snooze' this morning.
  • I think twitter was made with travel in mind.
  • Waiting in line for seat assignment. They never said 'get in a line,' we just did. 'Bah'ing should start soon.
  • The big yellow exclamation mark on the monitor declaring 'FLIGHT OVERBOOKED' instills confidence in Delta airlines.
  • Oo, I was one of the lucky ones: I actually got the seat I paid for 3 weeks ago! That shouldn't be an accomplishment for an airline, but...
  • Exit row seating. Am I up to the responsibility? I think I am.
  • Just landed in Minneapolis. Slept during takeoff with minimal drooling on myself. No exit row responsibilities needed.
  • Does anyone order anything from Sky Mall? Has anyone thought, mid-commercial-flight, that they need a personal lap pool in their house?
  • Exiting a plane by stairs onto the runway makes me feel like one of The Beatles.
  • http://twitpic.com/1tojk -*facepalm*
  • 360 Burrito at the MSP airport = Chipotle if they tried to do international food without actually going anywhere. Edible, but generic taste.
  • The loudspeakers just asked a woman to pick up a courtesy phone and dial 911 for a message. That can't be a good message.
  • I just heard someone on CNN say 'I love Rush Limbaugh. I cherish the sound of his voice.' First the Fox News store, now this. *facepalm*
  • For the first time in my life, I am willfully in Wisconsin.
  • I just found out I've had my headphones in backwards all day. Meh.
  • Well it made more sense to wear them the other way. The right cord is longer than the left and the ipod is on my right.
  • I really want an ice cream cone.
  • One thing I don't miss about the Midwest: the country radio stations.
  • I need to start using twitter to log blog ideas. I keep thinking of great topics, then losing them. Not unlike Liz Gilbert's 'geniuses.'
  • I have less than $1000 on my credit card. This hasn't happened for about 5 years.
  • I like WI now.
  • http://twitpic.com/1v1at - This was supposed to be in the last post.
  • It took Sprint picture mail 5 hours to get me a photo. Customer service said it can take up to 3 days. That is a terrible system.
  • Either Alisha hit the wrong button or you have to pop the trunk on VW Beetles to get to the gas.
  • She hit the wrong button.
  • My flight has been cancelled for no discernible reason. I'm confused.
  • Driving to O'hare to catch my next flight. Well done United.
  • I'm half convinced United cancelled this flight and put us on bus instead just to save money.
  • Finally on the plane. O'hare is too freaking big. I'm also wondering if anyone else on this flight is DO bound. I'm guessing yes.
  • In RI. Why do programs aplogize for unexpected crashes? Are there expected ones? Also, note to self: 10,000 hours of practice.
  • Just realized I have no idea where I'm going.
  • I'm at the wrong Hilton.
  • Sid's memory scares me.
  • Everyone on the IRC is exactly like they are in real life. It's awesome and weird at the same time.
  • This phone is so worth it. It's been a lifesaver on this trip.
  • "$10 a day for internet? For $10 a day you can hire a Chinese kid to run back and forth memorizing 1's and 0's." -Orga
  • The Rock Band tournament isn't impressing me.
  • I just owned Mark (Sprawl) in sumo suit wrestling.
  • It is officially impossible to be inconspicuous with Sid.
  • Air mattresses were not meant to stack.
  • http://twitpic.com/1x3ku - Just met Tiger Woods
  • "You got Guinness in my shoe." *takes off shoe and pours out beer* -Orga
  • Nerds and facial hair don't mix.
  • Last night I saw Watchmen: it was good. Very true to the novel. Robert Downey Junior was amazing. Period.
  • Sid was telling everyone the Comedian was him -- I just checked. You're right; he's wrong.
  • Last night at DO -- I am now, for the first time this weekend, playing video games (Guitar Hero World Tour).
  • Digital Overload Sumo Wrestling: http://is.gd/mtkh and http://is.gd/mtku
  • Traveling again today. Twitter will be frequently updated. Stay tuned for more as the story develops.
  • Danishes: breakfast of champions and fat people. Even better when paid for by gift cards you won.
  • I should sign up for frequent flyer plans. I've flown like 9 times in the last year. I'm an old pro now.
  • There's an old lady staring at me while I'm waiting for the plane. I think she's trying to eat my soul.
  • I can feel my soul being sucked out by this old woman. It tickles.
  • I keep forgetting that caffeine is a potent diarrhetic.
  • Someone should make a drink called 'Umm' since that's what most people say first when asked what they want.
  • I wonder what music my mother listened to while I was in the womb. (This is what I think about while flying.)
  • Reading about evolutionary theory and biology is somewhat disheartening: everything boils down to wanting to get it on as much as possible.
  • When sharing an armrest, I suggest not taking up the whole bloody thing and then some. It lessens the desire of your neighbor to kill you.
  • http://twitpic.com/1yl4j - I love bacon dispensers.
  • I just counted 47 cents in a urinal at Detroit's airport so I added 6 cents of my own.
  • I just saw a woman: black boots, jeans, white shirt, red jacket, piercing eyes and red hair to match. A vision of perfection.
  • I hate The Grateful Dead. Their music is dull and reminiscent of eating playdoh with my ears.
  • I just found out Neil (@neilhimself) was in the Detroit airport the same time I was. I would have run across it to simply shake his hand.
  • I'm not sure it's entirely normal to see exposed wires on a plane. Or to think "I wonder what would happen if I cut this."
So. Yeah.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Online personas

I was nervous about this week. Excited, too, but quite nervous. I spend hours a day talking with a group of people online since I'm online all day for work. This last week I was flying to WI and then RI to meet them and actually spend time with them. Truthfully; I didn't fully know what to expect.

While it would require some persistence and impressive role playing to fake who you are for over two years online, it is not impossible. Furthermore, some people are very different in person compared to who they are online. I didn't know if the people I was meeting would be the same group of sarcastic hecklers I knew them as or if they would be really quiet and reserved or whatever else. I generally think I'm quieter in person, but for the most part I'm the same. (We hadn't been together more than a day when Eric made the comment, "Leave Tim alone for more than 5 minutes and he finds a way to get a discussion about education or physics going." -- He was right. It had been maybe 2 minutes till Mike and I were discussing math and physics waiting in line.)

Our group for the weekend

I can honestly say that, much to my surprise, everyone I talk to day-in and day-out online are almost exactly the same as they are in person. It's remarkable, refreshing, and very cool. They have the same sarcastic comments, the same jovial attitudes, and even the same hierarchical positions -- we all pretty much followed Eric around all weekend; as he put it, "people usually follow the loud guy in groups, and I'm loud."

I'm really glad I made this trip. It was a blast. I'm looking forward to next year.

Posted at the entrance

The most ironic thing of the weekend? This is a gaming convention put on by a gaming webcomic: I didn't pick up or turn on a single video game all week. My DS hasn't been turned on once, I never sat in front of a TV or a computer with the intent of gaming. All I did was hang out with friends and talk. It was worth it.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Traveling

I'm flying to RI today. Twitter will most likely be my main source of both entertainment and communication.

This is all I can think of at the moment. It was a long night last night so I didn't get anything written. Something tomorrow, though.

And I found this picture from Japan online -- not sure what it is or why it exists, but here you go.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

When sleeping on a cot

This kid knows what's up

There is one thing to remember: heat is lost through the cot itself.

Unlike a regular bed where the mattress insulates the sleeper, a cot is simply a thin layer of non-insulated fabric. Heat dissipates quickly through it. So when cuddled up on one for the night, with a big blanket on top, only half of the body is effectively covered. In order to keep heat in -- and thus sleep warmly throughout the night -- one must wrap oneself in a cocoon of blankets. Only then can warm, peaceful sleep be attained.

I learned this two nights ago. Last night, I put it to practice. I slept much better last night.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Unexpected Company

Landing in Milwaukee

I'm in Wisconsin right now visiting friends. On Friday I head to Rhode Island to, again, visit friends and play games all weekend long.

I flew into Milwaukee around 4:45 PM and my friend picked me up. From there we went to see a play that was premiering at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee today (Oedipus Rex; good, but slightly over acted on the part of Oedipus).

That night, while getting ready for bed, I needed to head to the restroom to brush my teeth. (The last time I visited friends I didn't brush my teeth the first night and woke up with a horrendous feeling in my mouth; since then I've always brushed my teeth before bed.) I collected my things and went to the facilities. Closing the door behind me, I noticed there was a black cat with white paws perched on the toilet. Looking to my immediate right, a bright calico cat

Beat it; I was here first

was sitting in the middle of the sink, directly under the faucet, looking at me as if to say, "Excuse me, I'm napping here." I grew up with cats, but I've never seen them hang out in a bathroom. They didn't appear to be eager to leave, so I closed the door and did my thing.

When I went to take the cat out of the sink so that I could turn on the faucet and brush my teeth, the cat put up quite a fuss. Apparently she didn't want to leave the sink. At the same time, I didn't want to brush my teeth and spit on someone else's cat -- it doesn't seem like something a good house guest does. I decided that common courtesy outweighed the cat's preference and removed the cat as it meow'd in annoyance. While brushing my teeth, the cats continued to roll playfully on the floor or simply stare at me in fascination; one began purring for no discernible reason.

It was unexpected company, and it reminded me that I love cats and really wish I had one. A dog would be nice, too.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Don't Negate

A fairly accurate depiction

While attending Moorhead Senior High School I took "Beginning Acting" seven times. School policy was that you only got credit for an elective class the first three times you took it. I didn't care; the class was a blast.

It was exactly what the name sounds like: beginning acting. It covered group projects, duo scenes, monologues, pantomime, improvisation. And it was always 6th or 7th period; a great way to finish the day with relaxation and playing theater games.

There are two distinct things I remember from that class. The first occurred while playing a game where one person would do an action, and someone else would go up do a complimentary action as if to be another part of a machine. Lee and I ran up almost immediately -- I began making a motion reminiscent of pounding a nail into a door, Lee standing in front of me making a "whoomf" sound each time I hit the nail. I was Martin Luther pounding the 95 Thesis onto the door of the cathedral; Lee was the door. From there on the rest of the day was filled with obscure historical references, most of which needed explaining as the class was half underclassmen.

The second thing I remember is what our teacher, Ms. Meyer-Larson, told us was the first rule of improv: don't negate. Improv is hard. Those who are good at it, like any professional in their own trade, make it look effortless.

Great show; great cast

Watching Who's Line is it Anyway?, Ryan Stiles, Colin Mockery, Wayne Brady, and whatever 4th person they have for the week make it look like it's the most natural thing in the world. The truth is, they all followed the first rule of improv -- they never negated one another. Negating completely destroys the flow of a scene; it destroys the idea the other person had in place of your own. It's selfish and rude. It does the same to real life.

I've been taking a break from watching Buffy and Angel recently (I think going through 5 seasons in two weeks warrants a bit of a break) and am watching Frasier again. Like many sitcoms, there are often moments of great humor that arise from hiding details, subtle lies, or misunderstandings, all of which are kept up by the various characters improving through the facade with humorous results. I've often wondered what would happen in real life if such events arised and all I can think is that invariably someone -- most likely myself -- would simply say something like "wow, you're totally lying. She's not your wife, she's just a friend that you're saying is your wife because you don't want that guy to know that you don't want to date him." Humor would not ensue and more than one person would probably find it rather insulting.

This is true for other situations, not just farces or trickery. I enjoy truths and facts. It grates at me when people say something that is either not true or only a half truth, or, worse still, when they claim something to be true as if they were well informed when in fact they're not. Spreading lies under the guise of truth is among the most harmful things I believe someone can do. At the same time, I try to stay as informed as possible. I do feel at times that perhaps I get too forceful about such things and it is something I do need to work on. I negate people when I see things that I know to be incorrect. While this is useful for politics and science, it is less so for games or simply goofing around with friends. And I do feel bad about that. Just as negating ruins the flow of an improv scene, it can ruin the fun friends are having. It's a killjoy.

I'm going to try to do that less in the future. While I do still believe it beneficial to correct people when they are declaring falsities as truths when it comes to politics or legalities,

www.licd.com

the next time a friend needs me to answer the phone and say that I'm a director at NASA and provide them a job reference, I suppose I could do that.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Black Beans and Rice

Culinary simplicity

On Friday I went to lunch at a Mexican grill place called Costa Vida; I had a great steak taco on a whole wheat tortilla (made fresh in front of me) with a side of black beans and rice. While the taco was fantastic, the taste of the black beans and rice stuck with me over the weekend. There was something simple, natural, and flavorful about them.

Yesterday the urge to taste them again was overwhelming, so I took some rice I had made up, opened a can of black beans, and combined the two. I added some Cholula hot sauce, a little oregano, a pinch of salt, and just a hint of Worchestershire sauce. It was exquisite. All the flavors combining, the subtlety of the beans, the rice keeping everything in check so nothing becomes over powering, the Worchestershire sauce adding a great salty background flavor. I couldn't believe such a simple meal could be so wonderful and highly nutritional. And the total cost of it was about $0.30.

I suppose I shouldn't be so suprised. Much of the world's population subsists on rice, beans, and variations thereof. If it's good enough for over a billion people I see no reason why it shouldn't be good enough for me. Rice and beans are both rather high in protein and fiber and extremely low in fat. Beans are something I've never used much in cooking; they always seemed foreign to me in the kitchen. Growing up in Minnesota the cooking usually consisted of potatoes, maybe chicken, and canned corn/peas/green beans. Only when chili was made would my parents use kidney beans. Just in the past month I tried making chili and have I started using beans. I used to make a black beans and rice dish with peppers and Caribbean seasonings -- which is extremely good -- but it was always a bit fancier and took more preparation. I think the peppers overpowered the rice and beans. Actually I know they did. Without them, the natural flavors of can compliment the light sauce additions creating an earthy flavor that tastes like life itself.

I have a feeling that some black beans, some rice, and a little hot sauce will become a new staple for me around home.