Monthly Archives: August 2010


UFC is on TV and right now, and I heard one of the color commentators say, “The judges will render their decision.” A more concise version of this would be: “The judges will decide.” The former should never be seen in writing.

Current Events

I’ve been on a political hiatus of sorts. Yesterday was my first vaguely political comment in a while, and I haven’t commented on current events at all. This is because I feel like keeping up with the news is mostly useless. After reading Fooled By Randomness, I stopped reading The New York Times. Shortly before reading the book, I had stopped paying attention to political blogs. I felt I was addicted and getting nothing out of it. I was always being carried by this stream of information. I decided to exit that stream, dry myself off, and try to figure out where the fuck it was all leading to. If I eventually wanted to create change, I couldn’t be carried away by the swift stream’s flow. I had to maybe get out and dig to affect the path. Maybe throw some rocks in the river. In any case, I’m done with this analogy.

One problem with the news is that it distorts our sense of reality. The news is supposed to inform us, but it very often does the opposite. That is to say, reading the news can leave us worse off than reading nothing at all. Let’s look at one case of how the media created a false perception about youth violence. I give you an excerpt from Killing Monsters: “Youth Vision in Chicago found that adults surveyed cited ‘a general feeling that youth are out of control’ and that most of them attributed their perception to the press. Surveys of newspaper and TV news content show why. One media study found that two-thirds of TV news reports on violent crime in California concerned juveniles or young adults, age groups that actually accounted for less than one-third of the crimes. Another found that news reports on gang activity increased tenfold in the state of Hawaii from 1992 to 1996, while police reports showed that real gang activity remained about the same and that the number of young people arrested for serious crimes had steadily declined” (125-126). Because of the media, people’s perception of risk is highly distorted. They’ll think crime is on the rise when the only thing that is on the rise is media coverage. I’m not going to go into why this happens (because the whole thing is rather complex and I doubt I understand it very well); I’m only going to point out that it does happen. So, I decided that constantly keeping up with the news was distorting my sense of reality (in a bad way), and I stopped reading the news.

With political coverage, I was sucked into the horse-race aspects. After every little thing, the media asks its so-called experts, “How will this affect the midterms?” In reality, it probably will have no effect. Yet they still argue over this. They argue over nothing. It’s rather frustrating, and I didn’t need that frustration. I stopped reading political blogs too. Not only was it no longer pleasurable, it was also distorting reality. It fostered short-term thinking, and I enjoy trying to think strategically.

Thus, you’ll see no return to commenting on the issue of the day. I’m done with that. However, I still do want to talk about politics. All this stuff — the fate of the nation — has interested me for a long time and still does interest me. I’m not done with politics; I’m done with the day-to-day nonsense. I feel as if political commentary is in my blood. I have an overwhelming desire to create, which is why I have to make comics. I’d explode without creative outlets. I also have a desire to comment on politics. I’ll always feel dissatisfied with my blog if I don’t comment on these things. This is why I want to comment on Glenn Beck.

Glenn Beck is involved in a stunt where he’s giving a speech on the anniversary of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I learned about this via Roger Ebert’s twitterfeed. Glenn Beck is a right-wing talk radio host. His rally is some bizarre, audacious attempt to “reclaim” the Civil Rights Movement. Naturally, such a stunt has led to much outrage. AJ Calhoun says, “The ‘Restoring Honor’ parade tarnishes an event whose shared humanity was unlike anything I’ve felt before or since.” Unfortunately, by expressing such outrage, this only give Glenn Beck what he wants. This event is designed to piss people off so that Glenn Beck can get more attention for himself. The reason why I think this is true is because it fits his history in radio. This looks awfully familiar to the more juvenile pranks he used to play when he was getting his start in radio.

Although I’ve been expressing a contempt for the media, some journalism is actually very good. I recently read this profile about how Glenn Beck got started in radio. It chronicles his radio career from the beginning. Before talk radio, his shows followed the morning zoo formula. Zaitchik explains, “Before the X-rated in-studio antics of the shock jocks, there were the skit-writing shlock jocks of the zoo. In it purest form, the wacky, zany, fast-paced zoo formula consisted of an ensemble cast employing fake voices, loosely scripted skits, adolescent pranks, short topical rants, and spoof songs, backed by a Top 40 soundtrack and peppered with news and traffic reports.” His talk radio antics are influenced by this style.

Here’s one of his early stunts designed to get attention:

Beck and Hattrick began their show far behind Kelly’s market-leading show on KZZP. As they continued to get clobbered, Beck grew obsessed with getting his name on the leading station. His first attempt to get Kelly to mention him on the air came shortly after his arrival. “I walked out to get the paper one Saturday morning,” remembers Kelly. “When I turned around, I saw that my entire house was covered in Y95 bumper stickers. The windows, the garage doors, the locks — everything. But I refused to mention Beck’s name on the air, which drove him nuts.”

And here’s one particularly nasty stunt he pulled on a rival dj:

“A couple days after Kelly’s wife, Terry, had a miscarriage, Beck called her live on the air and says, ‘We hear you had a miscarriage,’ ” remembers Brad Miller, a former Y95 DJ and Clear Channel programmer. “When Terry said, ‘Yes,’ Beck proceeded to joke about how Bruce [Kelly] apparently can’t do anything right — about he can’t even have a baby.”

Let’s look at one more stunt:

Along with a new partner, Beck wanted a new mascot. He spent two weeks calling veterinarians and pet stores live on the air, getting advice on gerbils. After choosing one, he announced that he was going to train the world’s first bank-tube astronaut. Every day Beck would announce an update, some new detail about the gerbil’s first mission. One day, he made a little cape; the next, he named the animal “Gerry the Gerbil.” Each development was accompanied by a press release. When all the pieces were in place, Beck and Gray visited a local bank and sent the animal to a teller with a known fear of rodents.

“The build-up was amazing, masterful,” says a former director at the station. “PETA was flipping out, picketing the station every day. Beck’s on the local news. He took a stupid stunt and turned it into weeks of compelling high-publicity radio. He always knew how to get attention, how to get people talking about him.”

So, this MLK stunt is nothing new for Beck. It’s nastiness designed to get attention. This is a prank that’s supposed to piss people off so Beck gets more attention. One get get much attention by generating outrage.

It’s the same as in his FM days:

“Beck turned Y95 into a guerrilla station,” says Kelly. “It was an example of the zoo thing getting out of control. It became just about pissing people off…” [emphasis mine]

Even some of Glenn Beck’s ideological allies question his motives:

Meanwhile, at least one tea party group rejected Beck’s entreaties to assist with the march, concluding he was offering little in return for its organizational know-how and credibility, while giving preferential treatment to FreedomWorks, which is paying to sponsor Beck’s radio show. The group’s leader, who requested anonymity to avoid antagonizing Beck, said, “All he’s doing is trying to use us to promote himself.”

This seems to support my notion that Glenn Beck’s stunt is mostly attention-mongering and doesn’t really serve a political purpose.

I’m going to stop here before I descend into speculation about Glenn Beck’s motives. I don’t want to really talk about whether he’s in it for the money or he cares about politics or whatever. I don’t know Beck, so I can’t really say much about him. However, based on the profile of his early days in radio, this speech/rally feels very much like something nasty he would’ve done in order to get attention. It feels like a prank. Now it’s just dressed up in political clothing.

America’s Errors

Recognizing US mistakes/atrocities doesn’t mean that I hate America or that I wish ill upon my fellow citizens. For example, the US murdered millions of Native Americans. Yet I don’t advocate modern-day scalping missions against US citizens. This isn’t even nuance; it’s just pure idiocy from people who can’t recognize the distinction.

Fantasy Football Team Names

I’m in two fantasy football leagues this year. Here are my team names:

1) The BART Police

I wanted something that said ruthless, that said I’d shoot you in the back of the head even if you were unarmed.

2) Hedonic Treadmills

Our motto is this: Win or lose, we revert to the same baseline level of happiness.

Rejected team name: Teacher, Can I use the Iupati?

From Relevance to Realtime

I want to believe that there’s something different about the web today, and I’m not just being like, “Man, the internet was so much cooler when I was 12 years old! Now it sucks!” So, here’s my latest rationalization (or narrative construction). I think there has been a shift from relevance to realtime. Early bloggers liked the idea of filtering the internet. Facebook gave us updates based on relevance rather than in realtime. According to Alexa, Google is #1, and Facebook is #2. Search is all about presenting us with relevance. Facebook is about getting pageviews by constantly relaying our inane comments. Blah, blah, blah. Anyway, huge difference between getting what’s new and getting what’s relevant. Undoubtedly, I’m smearing the future for a past that wasn’t so neat as I remember. After all, I still had e-mail. It still feels like a shift to me, though. At least from a personal standpoint, there was a shift in the way I consumed internet content.


I decided to go online to find a way to get rid of my books. I discovered BookMooch. You list your books, people request them, and you mail the books to them. If you mail a book, you get points. You can then request books using these points. Pretty cool.

I joined up and somebody in Denmark wants some of my books. I need to make sure to reply tomorrow.

This is pretty exciting. See, I don’t completely hate the internet. I’m just tired of going on it because I have to feed my addiction, rather than going on it for fun.

BTW, anyone have any suggestions for good webcomics?


An amazing thing happened while I was working two jobs: I stopped watching TV. Well, not entirely. But I no longer go to the TV and turn it on to mindlessly tune out. If it’s on, and someone is watching, I may watch; it becomes a social activity. I may also watch something on DVD. (Recently, this has been the Avatar TV series.)

I had always been the one who loved commercials and asked people if they had seen them. Now, someone may reference a commercial, and I have no idea what they’re talking about. This feels good.

I feel as if I’ve broken some entrapping bond. I feel freer. I still love TV, but I don’t need it as a solo time-wasting activity. When I eat, I read or I just eat, instead of watching the TV. It’s amazing. When I get my own place, I don’t think I’ll even need cable TV. (This may depend on the roommate, but I’d now even prefer not having it.)

I’ve also broken another bond. I stopped obsessively reading political blogs. I was tired of the noise (as opposed to signal). Tired of obsessing over every minor kerfuffle that didn’t matter a week later. Although I have wanted to try this out for a while, I made no conscious decision to do this. It just kind of happened. I was working two jobs and didn’t have the energy for it. Again, this feels good. There’s a lot of garbage out there, and the bloggers I was reading didn’t help me filter the information. I was just stuck on the information treadmill. Too much noise.

I still look at Andrew Sullivan’s blog, and Glenn Greenwald’s blog, but not obsessively. I like them as writers. I like what they cover, but I don’t get as sucked into everything.

This doesn’t mean that I’ll ignore everything, but if something becomes important, I’m sure it’ll filter up to me.

Along the way, I also stopped reading the New York Times. After reading Fooled by Randomness, I’m suspicious of most journalism. If you can even call it that. I suppose it’s just noise too.

I’m currently reading Say Everything (thank you Lloyd!), and I find it interesting that a lot of the early bloggers considered themselves filters. The internet, even in its infancy, had so much, and they found the good stuff.

What strikes me is how the web has evolved. The web today is the thing you use to check facebook 20 times a day. It’s an addiction machine. Pull the lever, get rewarded with variable amounts of information. In fact, facebook is a good example of how the web has evolved. Do you remember life before The Stream?

Let’s look at facebook now: My homepage is a list of constant updates. Just tiny bits of text. Maybe people will like it or comment on it. It updates in realtime.

Before that, they gave me updates, but not in realtime. I wasn’t bombarded by everybody’s posts. The algorithm wasn’t great, but facebook showed me what it thought was most relevant. Can you fucking imagine that? It filtered by importance, rather than time.

Before that, I had a profile. I had a page devoted to displaying my personality. I had my own Wall, and to communicate, people had to post on my Wall. To talk back, I had to post on their Wall. Now, we don’t have to interact with each other; our comments kiss in the Stream. If you don’t want to comment, you can “like” something. You don’t have to make any effort to fucking find me. You just have to type something in the Stream.

This is all territory I’ve been over, but I’ll stop myself before I repeat my rants. I just want you to note that facebook evolved. It changed into what it is now. Now, it’s an addiction machine. The more addicted you are, the more pageviews facebook gets, and the more revenue flows into their pockets. Before, it was a clean alternative to MySpace.

One more thing: Everyone sees everything. Everything I say has shifted from being merely public to being broadcasted to everyone. Stevie told me she always feels as if she is performing when posting something on facebook. What happened to social networking? What happened to relationships? It’s just this mix of update soup. It doesn’t even taste good; none of the ingredients are filtered.

Goddamn, I used to be excited about the web. Web 2.0 is just noise and bloat.

Luckily, the web has evolved into what it is today. That means it can evolve into something else, right?

What creates the incentives for this kind of crap that creates noise is the metric of pageviews. So, I suppose releasing myself from this metric can partially release me from the dictates of noise.

I’m partially skeptical though. To extend this analogy to the breaking point: Evolution is adaptation to an environment. Part of this environment is the human mind. We get addicted to what the web dishes out. We’ve designed something to exploit our cognitive capabilities. Perhaps there’s no way out?

I’m even tired of e-mailing. But I suppose that’s partially how I use it. I’m tired of seeing everything all mashed in there. Subscriptions. Personal e-mails. Automated backups. I can’t really find what’s important.

As much as I’ve been hating on links, they’re still fucking amazing. Which is what makes me sad about reblogging. I feel like the web loses some of its conversational quality.

Anyway, I’m losing steam with what I’m saying. I want to end on a more positive note. That the web evolved into this shit-mess it is today (I’m over-generalizing), and I think it can be better. We can change the medium. It used to be exciting, and I’m working on projects that will make me excited about it again.


Oh wow! Larry Whitman: Data Entry Maverick is almost done! Richard and I finished all the video editing today. The only thing left is to add some music. (Oh, and the “production company” credits, haha.)

Time to start party planning!

Not Working Two Jobs

This week, at work, has been torture. When I was working two jobs, I never thought it would be the case that the week after would be the hardest. (Although I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that they took away half my cubicle.)

Apart from work, though, life feels good. During the two jobs period, I still saw my close friends at least every week. However, those friends outside my circle I didn’t see as much. I’m reconnecting with them now.

I still have some grading to finish up, but I’m not so stressed about it. Last night, Stevie and I graded with the Arcade Fire concert on youtube in the background. Sometimes I marvel at modern life. I’ve had meetings with squirrels and graded while watching a concert.

This weekend I’ll be apartment hunting. I’m not going to dilly-dally with this. I’ll find a place that satisfies me, and then get it. It may be on the pricey end, but I’ll pay for a good location, a good room, and I’ll be able to afford it since I won’t own a car.

By the way, I’m on the hunt for programming jobs. I’m mostly a web programmer. I know PHP, Java, C++, and I’m learning Ruby. I also know HTML, CSS, and JavaScript (jQuery).

If you, dear reader, know of a job, or know of anyone who wants a web site done, you know where to find me. =)

I love Friday.

(Also to-do: Write something to Lloyd)

Changing Your Thinking

I’m trying to figure out what makes a Good Book so good. For some books, I think they’re good because they change the way you think. That means you’re not just finding facts and adding them to your repertoire of knowledge. No, it means that the book also destroys knowledge. Things that you thought were true are no longer true. Now, I don’t mean this in a superficial “this goes against conventional wisdom! / too-clever journalist” kind of way. The destruction of knowledge should be highly personal. It should not be “Oh, people usually think this is true, but now I know better.” One should not feel clever, but instead more aware of one’s ignorance.

Anyway, this is how I feel after I’ve finished Fooled By Randomness. Whole classes of knowledge are being destroyed.

This doesn’t apply to all books.

On music…

When I’m in a certain mood, I can listen to Arcade Fire’s Crown of Love five times in a row.

On summer…

The idea of summer once felt absurd. It was a leftover from agricultural times. How inefficient!

Of course, our industrial culture is just as abnormal, if not more abnormal. Children should get the staggered long breaks of year-long school, plus the entire summer.

Party Hats

On Party Hats…

Just getting my thoughts out there:

I’m building a simple web app I’ve codenamed Party Hats. I’m calling it a conversation tool, I guess. No anonymity. Everyone must be approved to join the conversation. Each day is a separate conversation (to preserve ephemerality). Users should have the option to customize their posts in some fashion (like colors). It’ll have links on one side, so you can link to people’s blogs and stuff. All the links will be on the main page, not in an individual profile. In fact, there are no profiles.

(Basically, I saw metaverse and wanted to build some type of Ruby on Rails clone.)

On the Oldness of the Web…

Currently reading Scott Rosenberg’s Say Everything, which is a history of blogging. I’m reading the first chapter and what strikes me is the newness of the web when it first came out. Publishing was made easy. It was revolutionary.

I remember being excited about the web before too. Now, though, I’m hostile towards the web. I’m an addicted man pulling the lever of a slot machine (check e-mail, check twitter). I’m just looking for the next hit and the variable rewards keep me addicted. The web is rewiring my brain into a superficial mess. It’s all rather depressing.

More unorganized thoughts:

My next tool after Party Hats will be an anti-CMS. I don’t want to manage content. I want to fucking write. Some tools have gotten out of hand; they’re too feature-laden, too complicated. I’m glad Tumblr is easy enough.

On reblogging and blockquotes:

Blockquotes bug me. I noticed it when I wrote that blog post with the links at the bottom. I get extremely annoyed when students quote something and don’t explain it. Yet on the web, that’s what I’m doing all the time. When I didn’t have the crutch of the link, I had to provide context for what I wrote. It makes for less sloppy thinking. Without context, the reader can infer what he wants to infer. There is no communication. So it’s just rant + disconnected blockquote. It’s bad writing.

Reblogging bugs me even more. Why think when you can just post something someone else wrote? Sorry if you, dear reader, feel as if I’m attacking you. I don’t think reblogging is all terrible. It’s just that it circumvents what I find exciting about the internet: There’s no creation going on. If there’s intent and purpose, it can be okay to consciously remix items via reblogging. Okay, what’s really bugging me is that we had one student who seemed super excited about blogging, but I never see her thoughts, just her haphazard reblogging. (I doubt she’s reading this now, but if you are, I would love to see your thoughts in text. [bad grammarz don’t care])

On being raw…

I’ve had a tendency to complain that my writing on my blog isn’t polished enough. I want to go in the completely opposite direction. I want to write when I’m inspired and just post it here. Who cares who sees it? Who cares how bad it is? I just want to write it all down first. Even if I don’t rewrite a particular post, I still revisit the ideas a million times anyway. It’ll all get polished somehow, I think.

Certainly, this approach is more exciting to me. It will be a nice experiment.

What I’m Reading

I’m currently reading Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. After I found his philosophical notebook Opacity, I thought, “I should buy his books.” But I had so much else to read! The thought, though, kept gnawing and gnawing at me. I had to buy one of his books. It called to my soul.

So, I bought it. And I’m enjoying it very much. I like a lot of what this guy says. Perhaps it’s not so much his ideas that attract me (they do!), but his contempt for the same types of people I despise.

[I don’t feel like doing much more than shallow thinking for this particular blog post.]