10 January 2011

Reluctant Tips for Leaving Voicemail

1. Don't.

2. Seriously, do you not have email?

3. Are you leaving a voicemail because whatever you have to say is too complicated to explain via email? If so, abort this ill-thought-out attempt at communication and start over.

4. Or is what you have to say too politically-sensitive to risk leaving an email trail? If so, either you work at the CIA or you're over-dramatizing.

5. If you feel you absolutely must leave me a voice message, please know the following:

a. I have three offices, plus a home office, plus I work remotely from various locations. I don't take work calls on my mobile, so phone is the absolute worst way to contact me; you'd probably have better luck writing your message on a paper airplane and sailing it out your window, trusting to Fate to get it to me.
b. You must leave your phone number or (ideally) email address. It's true that some voicemail systems record the number you're calling from, but since all voicemail systems appear to date from about 1993, you don't want to rely on them.
c. Deleting a voicemail is easy, much easier than listening to a convoluted 108-second message, it doesn't leave a trail the way that deleting an email does, and it can be blamed conveniently on a faulty voicemail system (see above). The point here is, your message must make some sort of sense if you want me to do anything about it. Maybe you weren't expecting to have to leave a message and didn't have remarks prepared - if so, please make use of the option at the end to listen back and re-record.
d. If you need something right now (and have eschewed the far more sensible option of emailing), please listen to the recorded message, which often contains instructions about what to do and who to call with urgent matters. It's always tempting to bypass the greeting, but if you expect me to listen to your message, at least listen to mine first to see if it will solve your problem.
I won't name the person who left me the nonsensical voicemail that prompted this discussion, but I will never get back the mental energy I spent trying to understand what this person needed (urgently!) from me. I'm aware that Google Voice and other similar services provide voicemail transcription at low or no cost, but I haven't found a system that works with my existing work phone number (and accompanying antiquated voicemail system).

I highly recommend this collection of Google Voice transcriptions edited as poetry, with interpretive remarks. Excerpt:
FAITH (Caller: My wife)

I'm sure you're trying to call me
on the other line.

Editor's note: This is a poignant and yearning work. I really hope I was calling her on the other line when she composed this. I hate to disappoint her. That's the last thing in the world I want to do. Life is hard sometimes, and lonely, and I want to be her respite, her refuge, her sanctuary.

Have I disappointed her? Or have I been a good and loving life partner? Am I attentive enough? I need an answer. Google Voice will know. Or, even better, it will help me find the answer for myself.

27 December 2010

Things That Make Me Unsubscribe, Unlike, and Unfollow

-Blog guest posts. I have a short list of blogs I read regularly, and I read them regularly because I enjoy the topics AND the unique viewpoint AND the quality of writing. Don't muck around with this perfect storm by allowing other people's writing to come into my feed under your auspices.

-Creeping photoblogging. Similar to above. I myself don't follow any photoblogs, but some people do. However, using a blog platform you created using your writing as a way to make people look at your photos (no matter how good) is self-indulgent. Put 'em in a separate feed, or just link to your Flickr/Instagram/whatever stream.

-Podcasts and videoblogs. They are an insanely slow way of taking in information, and we hates them. If you must publish them, providing a transcript is not optional. (Note: this applies less to entertainment, more to thoughtful content).

-Contests/deals requiring entrants to retweet your message verbatim or use it as their facebook status. I'm not going to subject my friends or followers to your promotional messages just to win a free copy of your book, free concert tix, etc. Better alternative: require contest entrants to @mention you or link to you in their facebook status - at least this way your fans exercise a little individuality in what they say about you.

-Cluttered blog pages. Unlike many other types of websites (entertainment, gaming, etc.), people are at your blog to read (and maybe share or respond). Make achievement of this goal easy by using a clean design, avoiding over-use of logos and graphics,and minimizing the amount of sales-related content you force on them in the sidebars (Amazon store links, etc.).

-Inappropriate usage of location-aware tools. Right (or at least defensible): checking in on Foursquare to see who else is there. Wrong: routing all check-ins to your facebook/twitter profile. Also applies to trip- and event-planning tools (TripIt, Plancast, etc.)

Short list of other, slightly more venial sins: links in blog posts that don't automatically open in a new tab/window. re-tweeting services that drop off or break the links. profile pics and avatars that don't contain, primarily, your face (logos are acceptable for companies, but not photos of your children, pets, etc.). non-ironic use of 'hubby', DH, 'my lady' and similar ways to refer obliquely to your significant other.

10 December 2010

On Infatuation

Experienced an immediate (although brief) infatuation with the coffee shop guy today because I admired the enthusiasm and élan he showed in taking my latte order. I used to be embarrassed about the ease and alacrity with which I develop crushes, but I've found that all forms of love (even silly infatuations) are doors to spiritual growth, since they represent a sudden seeking for something we deeply desire but didn't even realize we were missing. Like an artist obsessed with a beautiful (or ugly) face glimpsed for a moment on the subway, the fixation lasts until we identify and internalize whatever unique quality caught our mind's eye. Once the artist has successfully rendered his vision into art, made it tangible and therefore able to be possessed, the obsession lifts.

Except when it doesn't. Sometimes a face casually encountered takes on the character of a muse, propelling the artist along through sketch after sketch, each effort incomplete, capturing and possessing an aspect of the desired but never the entirety. Marriage may be the only solution for an artist or lover in this position, securing access to the beloved for eternity, which will still be an insufficient amount of time to process and absorb the many uniquenesses of the desired one.

12 July 2010

The Ladies' Man: Taxonomical Distinctions

I recently watched The Perfect Husband (as part of my ongoing Tim Roth infatuation) and had some thoughts about different types of "Ladies' Men." The words below (Don Juan, Lothario, Casanova) are usually used as rough synonyms, but in my research I discovered entirely different emotional tones:

The Don Juan (or Lothario, if you prefer), is a serial womanizer - his career is built on a pattern of taking advantage of women's affections, generally leaving them in the lurch when the inevitable yearning for the next conquest begins. The Don Juan's focus is fundamentally on the use of (large numbers of) sexual conquests to prove his own masculinity and success as a man. (He's well-acquainted with a relentless internal monologue on the topic of his own inferiority as a man; more often than not, this inner voice is the voice of his father.) His lovers often live to regret their dalliances with him, particularly as Don Juans are master manipulators of feminine emotions and inclined to be irresponsible about such matters as discretion and birth control.

The Casanova is no seeker of self-aggrandizement; his goal is simply (and magnificently) 'salvation through love.' He genuinely loves women and enjoys their company; each of his affairs (and he has many - some brief, some extended, very often concurrent) is truly a love affair. Nevertheless, since no woman can replace her whose love really is capable of granting salvation - his mother, either in warm childhood memories or in wistful childhood imagination - each affair ends in its time, usually with care taken to minimize harm (emotional or social) to the woman. Casanova's affairs are subject to recurrence years or decades later, because he leaves behind him a warm affection that is easily rekindled.

Additional distinctions:

A Don Juan is preoccupied with his own manliness, so is prone to other manly excesses such as fighting, over-indulging in drink, etc. A Casanova prefers the company of women, since men have nothing to offer him in his quest, so eschews many traditional strongholds of masculinity; hunting and brawling have little appeal. In fact, the sexual orientation of a Casanova may, from time to time, be called into question for this reason.

For a Don Juan, sexual pleasure is of secondary concern, and is liable to get lost in the need to demonstrate sexual prowess; he's likely to be an aggressive and persistent (but not especially skilled or subtle) lover. A Casanova views sex as an expression of the (often short-term but still real) love between the parties, and is also likely to have made love with any number of older women in his youth; he's usually a skilled and sensitive lover, knowledgeable in the ways of pleasuring a woman.

Given his obsession with his own status, a Don Juan tends to pursue young women of great beauty, high social status, etc. ; naturally these affairs must become known by at least some, in order to serve their purpose as marks on the Don Juan's personal scorecard. A Casanova is minimally interested in social perceptions of his affairs, and indeed tends to be quite discreet; his lovers may vary considerably in age, personal beauty and social standing.

Anyone care to suggest some further distinctions or subtypes?

19 February 2010

Why Can't Women Ski Jump in the Olympics?

As part of my ongoing indignation about how female athletes are treated in the Olympics, I researched this question, and found a helpful Time article by Claire Suddath outlining the efforts made to bring women's ski jump to Vancouver in 2010:

The IOC announced its original decision to exclude women jumpers from the Vancouver Olympics back in 2006. At the time, a women's world championship didn't exist yet and females had only been participating in the FIS Continental Cup — a notch below a world championship — for two years. The sport didn't have very many high-profile, FIS-sanctioned competitions, but that too may have been due to gender bias. In 2005, Gian Franco Kasper, FIS president and a member of the IOC [International Olympic Committee], said that he didn't think women should ski jump because the sport "seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view."
Suddath goes on to discuss the 2009 lawsuit filed in Vancouver by ten female ski jumpers against the IOC. (As it turned out, the British Columbia Supreme Court determined that it didn't have jurisdiction over international organizations, even though the IOC's actions were a clear violation of Canada's civil rights laws.)
So will the IOC approve women's ski jump for 2014? "We'll have to wait and see," IOC member Dick Pound said in an interview [...]. "If in the meantime you're making all kinds of allegations about the IOC and how it's discriminating on the basis of gender," he warned, "the IOC may say, 'Oh yeah, I remember them. They're the ones that embarrassed us and caused us a lot of trouble of trouble in Vancouver, maybe they should wait another four years or eight years.'"
It's too bad that no country's civil rights protections can touch the IOC, because I'm pretty sure this statement is an illegal threat of retaliation for an attempt to correct discriminatory practices.

(I was reading along with this article, nodding violently, right up until the final paragraph. Ironically, Suddath ends the article by noting that for now, "the girls remain on the sidelines." Really? After detailing the way the IOC has been making decisions about what events are or aren't safe for female athletes for almost 100 years now, doesn't it seem at all inappropriate to refer to these athletes as 'girls'?)

Incidentally, over at Feministing they're having a discussion about how come, after the men's luge starting point was lowered to the women's starting point following the death of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili during training, the women were forced to start from the 'junior' start point. I haven't found a definitive answer as to why the women are supposed to start at a lower point than the men in the first place; the commenters at the link above seem to think it's about the lower average body weight of the female competitors. The women lugers, particularly the German competitors, were mightily pissed off about the change. I'm tempted to say they're probably feeling a bit better after taking the gold and bronze medals, but probably they're still mad; I would be.

Update: Insightful Sociological Images post on the role of weight (and gender) in Olympic ski jumping:
Sociologists recognize sport as a terrain on which social claims about gender are demonstrated.  Not letting women play is one way that the mythology of men’s physical dominance has been maintained.

30 December 2009

A Miscellany of Avatar Thoughts

1. The first thought in my head after the film was that it reminded me forcefully of FernGully: The Last Rainforest, both in plot and in visuals. The next thought was of "Call Me Joe," a classic sci-fi novella by Poul Anderson about a human paraplegic who (as part of a scientific mission) inhabits a blue centaur-like body on the surface of Jupiter and eventually elects to transfer himself permanently into this altogether better embodiment. Then I realized that all of these plot themes probably appear in hundreds of other works of fiction, and decided to let go of being indignant about it.

2. I did not interpret the movie as being about 'race' so much as about what invariably happens when a technologically-sophisticated culture wants something possessed by a technologically-primitive culture. Maybe I don't understand what these folks mean by 'race'.

3. I was interested in the analogy of the Pandora planet to a vast, possibly intelligent network. It's possible that this was just a way of talking about it without coming out and saying "magic," but I'm more interested in what it would be like if the Na'vi really are inhabiting a planet-wide neural network. It might mean that, rather than being technologically primitive (i.e., at an early stage in the development of tools), they're technologically naive: they have zero need for tools to mediate their interactions with their environment, since they're able to interface directly with the 'mind' of their planet and accomplish what they need in that way.

4. One of the most striking images for me was when Neytiri, the hot daughter of the Na'vi chief, is holding protagonist Jake Sully in his (injured) human form. We're used to images of huge male monsters/aliens picking up human-sized (often blonde) female characters; it was so unexpected to see a larger, more powerful female character holding/protecting a weakened, child-like male hero. The only analogy available for me here was the Pietá, which come to think of it, isn't inappropriate; in fact, maybe it was an intentional bit of cinematography.

5. Lore Sjöberg writes:

Spock ears may be the driving force behind the Trek phenomenon. Roddenberry apparently tapped into one of the strongest symbols in the Universal Geek Unconscious. Somewhere in the back of the mind of every D&D-playing junior-high-schooler is the equation "pointy ears = cool." Elves, Vulcans, Yoda, six-breasted Cat Women -- wherever you find dweeby wish-fulfillment, you find pointy ears.
Pointy ears, check. Also, they swivel, which is cool.

6. People keep saying this film is the Star Wars of generation Y. This seems true in terms of representing a quantum leap in special effects. But Star Wars came packaged with an entire mythology and backstory that just isn't present in Avatar. The film is making so much money that I can't imagine they won't want to make a sequel, but I can't see it becoming part of the American collective unconscious the way Star Wars has, or even the way The Matrix has.

31 March 2008

For those who, like me, sometimes want to write a book:

If you want to write, kill the magic: a book is just a bunch of writing. Anyone can write a book. It might suck or be incomprehensible, but so what: it’s still a book. Nothing is stopping you right now from collecting all of your elementary school book reports, or drunken napkin scribbles, binding them together at Kinko's for $20, slapping a title on the cover, and qualifying as an author. Want to write a good book? OK, but get in line since most pro authors are still trying to figure that out too.

Writing a good book, compared to a bad one, involves one thing. Work. No one wants to hear this, but if you take two books off any shelf, I’ll bet my pants the author of the better book worked harder than the author of the other one. Call it effort, study, practice, whatever. Sure there are tricks here and there, but really writing is a kind of work.
I intend to print this out, put it on my wall, and review regularly (from The Berkun Blog).

21 March 2008

Good Friday links

RBC has an astoundingly interesting point-by-point comparison of the (two) trials of Jesus Christ leading up to his execution (widely believed to be miscarriages of justice) vs. two sets of trials at Guantanamo Bay, using 22 criteria from Human Rights First. A fascinating read, but I'm inclined to disagree with one of the scoring conventions, where the author counts 'not applicable because anachronistic' as equivalent to 'meets this criterion.' In other words, legal rights that are now recognized in the US count against the Gitmo trials and in favor of the JC trials, since these rights weren't recognized in ancient Jewish or Roman law. I guess this is an okay way to compare 'adherence to proper legal procedure,' since this attribute is defined by which procedures were in place at the time, but certainly not for comparing 'fairness' or 'justice,' unless by these terms you only mean 'adherence to proper legal procedure' with no substantive expectations.

More info on the political context of Jesus' trials.

17 March 2008

Coolest web fact I did not know:

Via Wikipedia:

reCAPTCHA supplies subscribing websites with images of words that optical character recognition software has been unable to read. The subscribing websites (whose purpose is generally unrelated to the book digitization project) present these images for humans to decipher as CAPTCHA words, as part of their normal validation procedures. They then return the results to the reCAPTCHA service, thereby contributing to the digitization project. The result is that the university receives approximately 3,000 man hours per day of free labor to help in the preservation of books.

I always thought those words with squiggly lines were just especially clever CAPTCHA tests; I had no idea they were actually part of an incredibly cool distributed processing scheme. Spammers, of course, have learned how to use a reversed version of this system where a program entices real humans to decipher CAPTCHAs, in return for which they get to view racy images for free.

14 March 2008

Friday fun links: time travel and economics

Tyler Cowen and Glen Whitman think about the effects of time travel on, respectively, interest rates and immigration. The conversation started when Tyler linked to Paul Krugman's 1978 paper, The Theory of Interstellar Trade (PDF).

12 March 2008

Reflexive inactivity

Brian Moore, in a good post about us 'crazy legalizing libertarians':

This might be a bit nitpicky, but I also like the abuse of the term “reflex,” as if cultural libertarians were reactively doing something in this situation. It works for cultural moralism — when confronted with the stimulus of prostitution, they spring into action by calling for prohibition. When the cultural libertarians hear of prostitution, they say, “So?” You can’t reflexively do nothing.
I dunno -- I suppose amongst the blogger community the libertarians are a bit more considered and thoughtful about their preference for private action, but most regular, workaday libertarians I know are actually exactly like this: present them with a new potential policy problem, and their gut reaction is, "So what?" In other words, "please now provide arguments for why this problem needs solving on a coercive, governmental scale." In fact, I'd go so far as to argue that this is the distinguishing characteristic of the natural-born libertarian -- a robust intuition that the burden of proof is always on the party proposing new/more governmental action.

10 March 2008

How to deal with know-it-all philosophy majors:

Eliezer Y. introduces a technique bound to make college parties much less violent (if somewhat less fun):

When you are faced with an unanswerable question - a question to which it seems impossible to even imagine an answer - there is a simple trick which can turn the question solvable. Compare:

"Why do I have free will?"

"Why do I think I have free will?"

The nice thing about the second question is that it is guaranteed to
have a real answer... [...]

Cognitive science may not seem so lofty and glorious as metaphysics. But at least questions of cognitive science are solvable. Finding an answer may not be easy, but at least an answer exists.

Coming Up: Startup Weekend Boulder (Round Two)

Startup Weekend, in which a bunch of people spend one weekend building and launching a tech startup, was created here in Boulder in July 2007 (launching VoSnap). It's now spread to about 15 other cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Boston and London, and Boulder II is coming up next weekend, March 21-23, hosted by the University of Colorado. Register using the link above, or go read local rockstar-entrepreneur David Cohen's top ten reasons to go.

Somebody Put Something in My Drink

There's an AP investigative report out today detailing the wide variety of pharmaceuticals to be found in the American water supply -- we're talking about very very small concentrations, which seem to be harmless in the short term, but there's some reasonable concern about what consequences we might see in a decade or two from constant, low-level exposure to antibiotics, antidepressants, sex hormones and heart meds (among others).

One interesting thing about this: the AP article says these drugs are finding their way into the water after being incompletely metabolized by patients, but there's no mention of the drugs being dumped in, full-strength, by health care facilities. Speaking from my own experience, I can say that a single medium-sized nursing facility might dispose of thousands of pills a month from expired or discontinued prescriptions by flushing them down the toilet. Hospitals and pharmacies, who knows? What's frustrating about this, aside from issues of water contamination, is that there's no mechanism in place to convert these wasted meds into meds for developing-world medical projects. I assume there are several sophisticated political and economic explanations for this, but seriously, dumping wasted drugs into our own water supply seems nearly as smart as subsidizing farmers to not grow corn (which would go bad, because it can't be shipped off to staving countries, for similar reasons).

HT: Sand in the Gears

06 March 2008

Maps: Starbucks, Walmart, and more

Via Marginal Revolution, maps representing per capita distribution of Starbucks and Walmart, respectively:

An interesting feature of these maps is that while most areas seem to be saturated with either WM or SB, there's a relative lack of saturation on the east coast -- neither Starbucks nor Walmart has acheived high per capita distribution here. Do east coast shoppers and coffee drinkers have a stronger preference for independents or regional chains?
Here are a couple more maps for comparison--
Median household income (2006 data):

Deaths from heart disease (white males, based on 1997 CDC data):

05 March 2008

A Beginner's Guide to Muslim Bioethics

Too interesting to relegate to the link sidebar; via Wired. Excerpt, from a Brown University anthropologist:

Of course there are always people who are extremists and who take absolutist positions -- but as a scholarly orthodox tradition, Islamic scholars have generally incorporated social contingencies into their opinions about the permissibility of modern practices, especially with the legal tool of "maslaha" -- which is a calculus of weighing particular benefits against risks (measured both socially and spiritually) [...].
The detailed breakdown provided by a bioethicist from King Faisal University (Saudi Arabia) is also highly educational. Although its phrasing is on the strict side, the actual range of technologies permitted is surprising.

21 February 2008

'Bout time somebody sorted this out

Oxford to Study Faith in God:

University of Oxford researchers will spend nearly $4 million to study why mankind embraces God. The grant to the Ian Ramsey Center [sic] for Science and Religion will bring anthropologists, theologians, philosophers and other academics together for three years to study whether belief in a divine being is a basic part of mankind's makeup.
Here is a summary of the project from the Ramsey Centre. In addition to the areas listed above, there will also be a psychologist on the team, but how come there are no neuroscientists? Evolutionary biologists? It seems like these fields would be kind of relevant.

Just not shaping up to be a great week for CU

First, the Board of Regents votes to accept oil-industry exec Bruce Benson as President of the University of Colorado. Here in Boulder, this move is somewhat unpopular -- from anywhere in town, you can feel a kind of menacing rumbling coming from campus. I assume plans for protests are already underway.

UPDATE: This just in, in a memo from the CU Board of Regents:

The Board of Regents recognizes that this decision is unpopular among some important groups. We believe Mr. Benson will reach out to constituents in the first months of his presidency to build bridges and create partnerships, both inside and outside the university.
That Benson had better be one smooth-talkin' sonnuva gun, I say.

Meanwhile, Max Karson is back again -- locals will remember his name from last year when, as a junior at CU-Boulder, he was arrested, suspended and banned from campus after making 'threatening' remarks about the Virginia Tech shootings. (Wikipedia entry describing several other incidents resulting from Karson's enthusiastic exercising of his First Amendment rights.) The latest news is his 'satirical' anti-Asian column in the Campus Press, which has CU officials stepping all over themselves trying to apologize.

UPDATE: Here is a 2006 article in which Karson explains why he works so hard at being inflammatory.

MEANWHILE, the last surviving faculty member who was fired during CU's McCarthy-era Communist witch-hunt died this week.


08 February 2008

07 February 2008

News: Biofuels STILL not the answer

Recent research supports what tech-savvy enviros have known for awhile now: biofuels have alot going for them -- they're cool, easy to understand, easy to engineer and easily integrated into our current car-addiction -- but they are not particularly green. I'll concede that biofuels might be a necessary stop-gap solution, and might at least help decouple the US from the middle east. Unfortunately, the biofuels bandwagon has all the makings of a great political initiative, for the reasons listed above, and is certainly acting to decrease the sense of urgency around the clean energy issue.

The great thing about the research community, though, is that it consists partly of people who like to optimize current solutions (marginally better biofuels, solar power, etc.) and partly of people who like to invent brand-new solutions that will take decades to be ready for scale-up. From a distance, this transition (from re-engineering old energy sources to adopting all new ones) will probably look very neat, the way things do in history texts, but personally I wouldn't mind sitting out the next 30 years or so, which won't look so smooth up close.