March 31, 2009

This Is Dave Beeth Oven

As long-time readers may recall, I have often had less than the best luck with loud neighbours in my various apartments. And even here, in my quiet Cambridge bachelor pad, I am sad to report that things are no different.

Granted, there are no loud frat boys attempting to set world beer pong records directly above my head. No, what I wish to complain about today is my downstairs neighbour, who has recently bought a piano and decided to teach herself to play it by practising the same four bars of the Moonlight fucking Sonata over and over and over again. (A method that, after four weeks, does not seem to be working.) Even that might be quasi-bearable if she restricted her recitals to reasonable hours, but let me answer one of those timeless existential questions for you: there is something worse than waking up to a screeching alarm clock at 7:30 a.m. It's waking up to the same four bars of the Moonlight fucking Sonata over and over and over again at 7:30 a.m.

Still, it could be worse. She could be playing Chopsticks.

March 30, 2009

Wiley

From Newsvine: Urban coyote attacks on rise, alarming residents
DENVER — Thanks to suburban sprawl and a growth in numbers of both people and animals, a rash of coyote encounters has alarmed residents. . .

Residents are warned to not feed coyotes, to keep dogs on short leashes, and to yell or throw rocks at coyotes so they associate humans with bad things.
Yeah, right, that'll work — how many times did Road Runner knock the crap out of that coyote? And he still kept coming back!

That said, here a few other ideas for creating bad associations with humans:

•Persuade the coyote to put its savings into a 401k scheme.

•Show the coyote an entire season of SNL with all the Digital Shorts and Weekend Updates cut out.

•Make the coyote join Facebook and then totally keep it on limited profile.

•Ask the coyote to help you move.

•Treat the coyote to an impromptu a cappella rendition of John Denver's greatest hits.

•Get the coyote a job in a restaurant; then, go there for lunch, spend the entire meal demanding more water, and tip 8%.

•Insist on referring to the coyote as your "homie".

And, of course:

•Drop an anvil on its head.

March 28, 2009

At The Same Time? Surely Not!

Seen in a Netscape gallery about the casting for an upcoming Clinton biopic:



Apparently my undergrads are now writing for Netscape.

March 27, 2009

March 26, 2009

Is The Archbishop of Canterbury The Prime Minister Of The Czech Republic?

From BBC NEWS | UK: God 'will not give happy ending'
God will not intervene to prevent humanity from wreaking disastrous damage to the environment, the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned. . . .

Without a change of heart, Dr Williams warned, the world faced a number of "doomsday scenarios".
Compare BBC News | Europe: Czech PM attacks Obama spending
The Czech prime minister has condemned US President Barack Obama's economic recovery plans . . .

He attacked the US's growing budget deficit and the "Buy America" campaign, saying "all of these steps, these combinations and permanency is the way to hell".
I swear, if the CEO of ABN-AMRO comes out and tells us tomorrow that gay marriage marks the start of the End of Days, I'm going to want alibis from both Rowen Williams and Mirek Topolanek.

March 25, 2009

Jack Bauer Never Rests



Solve for x, where "Student film" = The Lonely Island, episode one, and "Guy dressed up as old lady" = Andy Samberg.

Also, Kiefer has signed on for an eighth season of 24, which kind of takes the sting out of this week's "Jack Bauer has been exposed to biological weapons and must surely die" cliffhanger, I must say.
Sutherland, whose gritty portrayal of the counterterrorism agent has made Bauer an iconic character, said he's committed to the show that's revived his career.

"If I was going to liken '24' to a girlfriend, '24' has been really good to me. And I need to be really good back," Sutherland said.
This means Sutherland will now propose to 24, and then three days before the wedding will reveal he has been seeing a stripper behind its back.

March 23, 2009

So Much For "Lean Times"

The editors over at AOL Walletpop recently spent some time trawling the AOL message boards for evidence of how restaurants are cutting costs in response to the recession. The results will . . . mildly enrage you, apparently:
I went to Chili's a few weeks ago and ordered the Guiltless Chicken Sandwich Platter. It used to come with the sandwich, a bowl of black beans and a side of grilled veggies. Now you must choose either the beans or the veggie, not both. It still is the same price, less food.
And don't even get me started on the amount of guiltlessness!
Applebees has mini bacon cheeseburgers as an appetizer. They always served 4 burgers. Now they've serve 3 burgers, but the price remains the same. Their excuse is "Now we're using fresh meat." This makes me question the quality of the meat they were serving before!?!?!
I think that's a valid complaint, but you kind of undercut yourself when you continue:
. . . Honestly, the burgers tasted better with the less than fresh meat and I got more of it.
D'oh!

I think my absolute favourite, though, is this person's chilling visit to McDonald's:
I usually ask for extra ketchup and was surprised to see a sign which states, "You will be charged for extra ketchup beyond the norm." Since I didn't know what the norm was, I took my 5 ketchups, which was split between 2 cheeseburgers, 1 big Mac and two mediums fries and left with out making a scene. Times are tough out I guess! Next time I will visit Burger King.
Two cheeseburgers, one Big Mac and two medium fries! Could your heart have withstood you making a scene?! And "times are tough out I guess"? *wipes tear from eye* Priceless.

I can't work out if these people are cheapskates, or fatties, or both.

March 21, 2009

Facebook Fail

Fail Blog eat your heart out.

March 20, 2009

March 19, 2009

Wi Fi Fo Fum

I was sitting around this afternoon waiting to see if my $120-a-year iDisk would sync properly so that I could actually do work on my $1,000 MacBook (it wouldn't; I couldn't; thanks a fucking lot, Apple), and to pass the time I decided to satisfy my curiosity about something I'd been wondering about for a while: "Free Public Wifi".

Perhaps you've seen this network ID somewhere while you've been travelling (and perhaps the issue has already jumped the shark, in which case, apologies) — the promise of exactly what you're always looking for when you're travelling with your laptop. Except every time you see one of the "Free Public Wifi" networks and dare to connect, nothing happens. After my first few times, I quickly gave up, fearing it was some sort of phishing scam ("phishing" is not in the built-in Mac OS dictionary, by the way; thanks a fucking lot, Apple), and today I actually got around to checking.

Well, according to this tech writer's blog, it's a virus without the virus; a completely innocuous by-product of some stupid XP code (thanks a fucking lot, Microsoft) that retains the name of a network you've connected to and re-broadcasts it to invite further connections. So, evidently what happened is that someone, somewhere, actually connected to a network called "Free Public Wifi", and then haplessly carried their laptop off to another location where, unbeknownst to them, it continued to broadcast a "Free Public Wifi" signal that did nothing — except tempt other users in the area looking for free wifi. Each time a new XP machine connected, the network name was duplicated, and each time an affected computer was used in a public place (which was presumably often, given that these computers were owned by people in the habit of looking for public wifi), it invited new machines to join in the fun. And now the "Free Public Wifi" network name has spread across so many computers that you're pretty much guaranteed to find one whenever you're sitting in a busy airport.

It's a neat example of a theory I found endlessly fascinating when I was studying sociology: "the strength of weak ties," an idea first conceived by an American named Mark Granovetter. Basically, he said, the way things like this spread through networks is not through the strong, established sub-networks that we all recognise and take for granted — because these sub-networks don't have many exit points. Viruses (biological ones) are actually a good way to visualise it: a mother coming down with the flu might spread it to the immediate sub-network of her family, but those "strong" ties are not the way that flu will spread through an entire city. For that you need a "weak" tie, like a stranger on a subway — these "weak" ties allow the flu to enter other sub-networks where they can then spread rapidly through new groups of tightly connected individuals.

Likewise, people won't connect to a network called "Free Public Wifi" if they're in a place where they go often (like home, or work, or even a coffee shop they frequent), because in those places they already know what the legitimate wifi networks are — they're still within their circle of "strong" network names. It takes a visit to a new place, or a place (like airports) where there are no "regulars" to speak of and no "strong" ties present, for people to start diddling around with "weak" network names, and that's where this stuff really starts to spread. Would-be virus writers take note, I suppose.

Anyway, thus ends the moment of geekery. Thanks for listening.

March 16, 2009

L'Arbitraire du Signe



I think that is about as highbrow as my post titles have ever been.

So, I'm back from L.A. A few of the highlights:

•My first trip to In-N-Out Burger. In Canada, a "double-double" is a coffee with two creams and two sugars; in America, it is two beef patties smothered in several varieties of fatty condiments. Go figure.

•Copious hours of Rock Band.

•A visit to the Stone Brewery in San Diego. I had a delicious lunch and then a FREE tour complete with FREE beer. Highly recommended. Lunch included my first encounter with "beer cheese" (≈cheese blended with beer and tabasco, and served with pretzels), which I think helps solidify my above point about American culture. Also my arteries.

•Copious amounts of drinking.

•J.T. Ross, a really pretty fabulous blues musician, doing a live show for me, my hostess, and George Wendt's new wife, among others. (She was my only "celebrity" sighting, though allegedly Mad TV's Mo Collins was sitting behind us in the beer garden on my last day.)

•Copious amounts of napping, to recuperate from aforementioned Rock Band and drinking.

•More firsts: the Getty, Skee-Ball, visiting a witty t-shirt store without buying a witty t-shirt.

•Fun, and wonderful company.

...And now I'm back to the real world; I spent three hours today sorting mail at my internship. Woot.

March 15, 2009

(Milestones In Blogging, #4345)

Take note: this is my 500th post on pundigrions, and, including everything posted at exBostonian, the 1,111th at hotscot.blogspot.com.

Never mind the amount of time spent on Facebook; shudder at the number of hours contained at this URL.

I'm taking the red-eye back to Boston tonight, so expect a few musings on — or at least pictures from — L.A., later this week.

March 13, 2009

March 10, 2009

Milestones In Blogging, #4344

I'm flying to L.A. today, for a few days of sun and spring break. Drinks will be drunk, girls will go wild, and sensible bedtimes will be adhered to on each and every night.

And, when I say I'm flying to L.A., I mean: I'm flying to L.A. Thanks to the beneficence of Virgin America and their inflight wifi service, this is the first post to this blog ever made at thirty thousand feet. To wit, some aviation-related facts:

•The first inflight internet service required planes to be connected to the ground via a giant modem cable. The service was interrupted whenever pilots picked up to call air traffic control.

•Perez Hilton famously took advantage of inflight internet in November last year to post a picture of Sarah Jessica Parker over which he had scrawled "OMG!!" in white capital letters. He received a Peabody award.

•Because aircraft travel at several hundred miles per hour, I can start this blog post over Pennsylvania and finish it over Kentucky. Though I guess that makes it equivalent to West Virginia, so maybe I don't want to be bragging.

•In November of last year, Patrick McGuffin became the first man to join the Mile High Club without the help of a second person — all thanks to inflight internet.

•I can see your house from here!

•Facebook is not any more relevant to real life when accessed at thirty thousand feet.

•Migrating birds use upper-atmosphere wireless signals to check on their stocks while in transit. They also post tweets. SPLABANGO!

March 09, 2009

Rent, Eat Your Heart Out

I heard on NPR the other day about a Taiwanese study showing that college students who blog regularly about their personal lives are happier than those who don't. This seemed like a positive effect of the internet that was worth blogging about, so I set about trying to find the study on Google. It wasn't in fact, that interesting, but I did, in the process of Googling, find out another fact about Web 2.0 that is so depressing as to cancel out any positive effect of blogging about a gazillion times over.

Every day, 3 billion minutes globally are spent on Facebook. That is the equivalent of fifty-seven centuries, or, roughly speaking, the same amount of time that has elapsed since the beginning of the Ancient Egyptian empire. That's right, folks: we are currently pouring the entirety of human history into FACEBOOK, approximately once a day. If that doesn't sober you up, you may wish to consider that, at that rate, every ten days or so of Facebook use (or 57,000 years) is roughly equal to the amount of time that Homo sapiens has been a distinct biological species.

So keep updating those statuses, people.

March 06, 2009

March 04, 2009

A Moment of Philosophising

Extremely dedicated readers will remember that, a few years ago, I was in a writer's circle in Montreal, and that at one point I linked here to a story that had been posted on the blog of that same writer's circle; it was about a man who develops a bizarre and sudden obsession with food, and explored the effect of that obsession on his life and marriage. Then, at the end of the story, we discover that he has a brain tumour, and the reader is supposed to be left asking: is the brain tumour "to blame" for his change in behaviour? Is he still responsible? To what extent, basically, are we just a sum of our parts?

Well, three-and-a-half years later, I'm still working on that !£*$&$!!! story, and last night I had it workshopped in the Revision class I'm taking. And I was stunned — simply stunned! — that at least half of those present missed the delicate philosophical quandary altogether, assuming outright and explicitly that if the character has a brain tumour, he is completely absolved of all responsibility for his actions (direct quote, more or less).

Excuse me? No he isn't! Am I on my own here? It seems to me that you absolutely cannot dismiss reprehensible behaviour because a person has a brain disorder and "isn't in control" of his or her actions. Has our society really become that medicalised, that fast? If you truly believe that a person is totally at the mercy of whatever genes, or chemical imbalances, or electrical impulses make up his or her body, how can you reconcile that with any sort of belief in free will or — dare I say it? — the soul?

I mean, look, I'm as rational-minded as the next guy, but I like to think — and, indeed, our whole culture is based on the assumption that — we have some control over our actions at all times. You can't say that a brain tumour (or whatever) just "switches off" free will; if you believe that a brain tumour controls your behaviour absolutely, then you must ipso facto accept that your brain (and I mean, the physical mush in your head, not some abstract conception of "mind" or "consciousness") controls your behaviour absolutely. And if you accept that, how can you maintain any kind of faith in those august human traits like responsibility and intent, bravery and cowardice — good, dammit!, and evil? If all human behaviour boils down to the random firing of neurons in our heads, then everything is just a load of poppycock. Which is a little depressing.

Anyway, suffice it to say, this wasn't really very effectively conveyed by the story, and I now have the unenviable task of revising it for something like the twelfth time, and trying to raise some of these issues without coming off as clunky and didactic.

Or I guess I could just paste a link to this blog post at the end of the manuscript. Hmm.

March 03, 2009

Quizling

From BBC NEWS | Entertainment: University quiz team disqualified
The BBC has disqualified the winners of University Challenge for breaking the rules by using a contestant who was no longer a student.

The title has been transferred to the University of Manchester, who were beaten by Corpus Christi College, Oxford on the TV quiz last week. . . .

[Manchester] team captain, Matthew Yeo, commented: "While we accept the decision of the University Challenge judges, we are saddened to have been awarded the trophy under such circumstances.

"In order to spare any more hurt at this time we want to draw a line underneath this. We knew the decision wasn't in our hands and we're very saddened. But the decision was not ours to be made. We've certainly been awarded a victory but it saddens us that it happened in this way. To prevent further heartache for all eight of us we don't want to say any more."
You know, it's extremely comforting that, even in these times of social and economic turmoil, the people of Britain can still come together like this, and be scandalised by something completely trivial and ridiculous.

The "tragic" (actual quote) blight on British student anoraks everywhere boiled down to one member of the Corpus Christi team, Sam Kay, who, though a student at the start of this year's series, was working as an accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers by the time the final was filmed. Said a spokesperson for the BBC: "Clearly anybody who was stupid enough to accept a job in the financial sector these days has no place on a prize-winning quiz team."

At the start of the final Kay announced that he was studying chemistry, but after the show aired
PricewaterhouseCoopers told the BBC Mr Kay was employed as a graduate accountant last September.
Ah, so this is why we're in the midst of a global financial crisis — because all the whistleblowers are too busy watching f*!$ing Jeopardy!!
One Manchester University student said for her team to win under these circumstances "tarnished" the victory.

Cori Bromfeld, 22, said: "People in the future will say that we only won because the other team cheated."
...Oh, the cruel lens of history! Always showing things the way they actually are!

American readers: University Challenge. As far as I'm concerned, the frantic zoom and orgasmic announcer shouting the last name and college of the person buzzing in is the best feature of any TV quiz show ever created anywhere.