Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Beware: The Junk Drawer

This weekend I arrived at a stunning realization. As with most moments when the world begins to make sense, I concurrently realized the realization was painfully obvious. So much so that the handful of smart readers of this blog may sigh in disbelief at their loyal blogger's naivete.

But here goes. I was cleaning out the junk drawer - much can be written about the junk drawer, we all have one or more, storing relics and receipts of concerts, napkins, business cards, and 9 volt batteries and such. Wherein I came across a book, "Women Don't Lie - Men Don't Listen" by the humble Mr. Doc Love, the self-proclaimed "first man in 6000 years to understand women."

(Disclaimer: Go ahead and snicker, but I did not buy this book. Unfortunately I'm forbidden to tell the story of how it arrived in my junk drawer, which only serves to further your suspicions of guilt, but...) Let's get to it.

Men will only go out when they are interested, women will go out just to go out.

On Monday morning someone asks a guy, "What did you do this weekend?" He can say, "went out, got hammered with friends," or "watched the playoffs and drank some beers." Surely not the most interesting of lives but acceptable nonetheless. If a girl walks into the same office and says, "I drank a bottle of Merlot and watched The Notebook," she's a loser in the world of women. I'm not saying it's fair, but it's that simple.

Therefore, a guy, with a seemingly endless list of things to do - not a productive list mind you - will only break from it and spend time & money with a girl he's interested in. Meanwhile, a girl, by the simple act of going out, can shun most social retributions - even if the date was a complete bomb (guys get blamed for lame dates).

Mass confusion arrives when the guy assumes a girl is interested because she's going out with him, and a girl assumes a guy is busy at work when he says he's busy at work.

According to the Doc, if a girl doesn't call back quickly she's not interested. If she calls back and goes out with you she's evaluating you, if she goes out about five times she's interested.

I'll add that if a guy doesn't call back he's not interested. If he does he's interested. If he goes out for five dates he may or may not be interested. For once a girl decides she's in - a rare event indeed, at this very moment of clarity for her the guy begins to evaluate.
This is where things get really tricky. So I'll leave it to the pros, like Doc Love, and to the nameless but not forgotten caveman who understood women 6000 years ago.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My beautiful friend actually wants to marry you, seriously!

Lately I've actually been fascinated by MySpace spam... seriously.

Here's a snippet from one of the more obvious:

I know this might seem somewhat strange, but it's 100% true.

My friend lives in another country and speaks pretty good English. She has been raised to believe that a woman should please and serve her man in every way possible, as this is their culture.

She wants to move to America and is looking for a man, a future husband, to bring her in and have a wonderful fulfilling life together. She's not extremely picky, but of course wants somebody she is compatible with. She is in her early to mid twenties. This is her picture.

The link to the picture was broken in the original email as well. Lucky for the spammer and her friend I'm way into cubism and find a square and two adjacent isosceles triangles terribly exciting.

Here's the thing about MySpace spam - it feeds off the weaker aspects of the male psyche. I'm sure one could say the same about any con, but MySpace is a unique offender in that the spammer is assumed to know something about the person they're spamming. The assumption is that the spammer has read the profile while the reality is some robot found the profile and sent the message.

Most MySpace spams feature a hot chick, scantily clad. The male is supposed to click her profile leading to her personal page, wherein she writes about the prudish policies of My Space, and offers links to more risque sites, and the aforementioned male, like a mouse following morsels of cheese, is supposed to follow along.

The particular cross-section of the male psyche at play here is the very modern notion of getting something for nothing. The secret fantasy is - "I could get the hot girl that all the athletes / rock stars get if she only knew me." The MySpace profile provides the backdrop to state all the attributes everyone else supposedly ignores. Once satisfied with his profile, he only has to sit back and wait for the girls to flood his inbox. Forget first dates and chivalry, this system is no different than doing anything online, which is mostly about instant gratification.

Not this all may seem a bit unbelievable - for obviously a man knows spam when he sees it. But ask any guy who has seen such spam, and ask if they clicked thru "just in case" at least once. If that does not suffice, consider the fact that the spammer is at war with MySpace trying to get their messages thru - not with the method itself.

If all that doesn't suffice, consider all of this is aimed mostly at those barely old enough to buy smokes. Now feel free to claim you had the self-esteem to know better at that age, and I will feel just as free to call you a liar.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

It wasn't always this way.

I'm reading a seminal book by Richard M. Weaver called "Ideas Have Consequences." The major theme will probably bubble-up in future posts. A minor topic Weaver touches on is an area I think the handful of smart readers of this blog are interested in - and that's work.

Weaver talks about work before the Industrial Revolution, and describes the daily routine as a continuation of prayer. The worker was driven by the desire to work perfectly, to constantly improve their craft under the eyes of God, as this was their significant contribution to the whole.

Take this out of a religious context and it still works. Consider the farmer, who was connected to the land. Let's assume this farmer was an atheist. Each morning the farmer wakes and is at the mercy of nature. Any abrupt change in climate could ruin his livelihood and starve his family. Part of his work is accepting the fact that there are variables out of his control. Each day in the field is therefore a communication with nature. He tends to the field and listens, perceives, touches nature's signals. The farmer has no choice but to accept the fact that his fate lies in a higher power - even if he chooses not to mythologize it.

Take the craftsmen. The craftsmen learns a trade and accepts it for the rest of his life. For the craftsmen the tool he creates is the ultimate reflection of himself. The emphasis is on quality, on creating a most magnificent tool, and then improving on it. For to improve on it is to improve upon himself.

Think about this - if you knew you were going to create horseshoes every single day for the rest of your life, would you create hunks of trash? Or would you begin to craft the most perfect horseshoe that ever existed? The craftsmen who chooses mediocrity has reason to drink, the craftsmen who chooses excellence has good reason to get up early in the morning, as his work has meaning.

Enter the Industrial Revolution, where the machine drives a wedge between the craftsmen and the tool, the farmer and the land. The machine cares not for quality but quantity, nor does it communicate with nature but rather fight it. If a machine could worship, it would worship consistency.

The worker is now a slave to the accountant, who cares only for numbers. This is the point where Marx jumped in and said the worker must revolt against the accountant, then equally disperse the profits. But this doesn't solve the problem does it? The workers can rid themselves of the accountant but they must keep the machine. They cannot revolt against the machine if they want to continue the profits.

Instead, according to Weaver, the worker in the capitalist country essentially plays the game and commoditizes work. Work is then negotiated like any other transaction. And the goal of the workday changes from striving toward perfection to maximizing efficiency. In other words, the worker ceases to create something he's proud of, and instead strives to give the least effort for the best price. Work is therefore severed from any spiritual or worthwhile meaning. The worker no longer worships nature, God, a higher power, but rather a new entity - the consumer. They create for the consumer in the day and become the consumer when not working.

This is where many people start preaching against the material world. Yelling at people to stop buying stuff. The idea is if people quench their desire to have things, they wouldn't need to work so hard to get them, and will therefore be content. I don't agree with this though, because even if one were to own only the bare necessities they would still not answer the problem of what gets them up in the morning and out the door.

I don't have the answer, but I'm leaning toward the idea that serving the consumer doesn't quite light a fire.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The War on Mayo

There is no condiment as sinister as mayonnaise.

A mere spoonful spreads like the gunk from a backed-up toilet, soaking through the vast underbelly of the spongy bread. It's presence is omnipotent. It's taste dreadful. It's power derives from the act of instantly ruining a sandwich.

At what point did it become commonplace to put mayo on a sandwich? Further, at what point did the application of such spread become a requirement to the "yummy sandwich," so as not to be included on the menu listing all the requirements of certain said sandwich? Or even if specifically requested not to be present, the sandwich craftsman most often spreads it anyway. Obviously these folks feel not a hint of fear in doing so. "Who will argue against mayo?" they wonder, "And if they do, I have the world at my side."

And how did this happen? When did the pro-mayo lobby win-out against the anti-mayo contingent, a.k.a. the sandwich traditionalists?

Consider this: An alien lands on Earth in the United States fifty years from now. This particular alien loves to smoke cigarettes and hears Earth has a most interesting climate for producing tobacco. Now fifty years from now it is not unreasonable to believe smoking will be banned just about everywhere save for a few underground saloons. Now this alien, while walking about, learns that he cannot smoke in this section of Earth, but that
  • a. he's welcome to navigate to less-evolved parts of the world where people still have fun, or
  • b. he's welcome to purchase some tobacco to sell and eventually kill his fellow aliens.
Who knows.

My point is I know specifically the moment in time when a majority of the populace decided, "We're done with smoking." That time of course is now. Some civil libertarians are up in arms over the matter, but the lawmakers passed a law that people agreed with and so it is. And frankly, I don't mind the status quo, it's nice not having to bring a bottle of contact solution to the bars at night.

In other words, I get it. As much as I cringe when government starts dictating what people can and can't do, and where they can or can't do it. I can respect a law that everyone respects.

So when did the tide turn in the application of mayo as a standard to all sandwiches? If there wasn't a moment like the ban on smoking, then other forces must be at play. One might follow the thinking of conspiracy theorists, who surmise that perhaps a global corporation lobbied deli markets into embracing their product? Perhaps.

Of course the glaring alternative is that a majority of people actually like this stuff. This is a status quo I cannot live with.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Cuban needs help

Mark Cuban is taking TV show pitches for HDNet at his blog, which is a really cool thing. I know people who've worked in the TV industry here in LA for six years and have not pitched a show. Now whether something of substance comes out of it is another story. Will it be a case where transparency pays off, as a recent cover of Wired preached? Or will it be another Project Greenlight, which led Affleck/Damon to conclude that, well, maybe all the talent in show business is in LA?

(Of course, the fact that Greenlight produced crap and that 90% of what Hollywood produces is crap, may prove that what Hollywood needs is a revolution from the top down, i.e. new decision-makers and A-lists movie stars, i.e. maybe producers of the Affleck/Damon-sort have as much an idea as to what makes a good story as average joe sixpack. Mamet might agree.)

But Cuban needs help, in more than just story ideas, because HDNet is beginning to lose its appeal. I think Cuban knows this, and it's one of the reasons he's using avante-garde development tactics (in addition to the fact that he believes in the power of blogdom.)

Why? The initial draw for HDNet was its HD programming of course, and now that more networks are supplying HD content, there's less room for HDNet to distinguish itself on that basis alone. In the beginning they probably said, "How do we showcase HD? Sports, nature shows, chicks in bikinis." Done.

Planet Earth is the show HDNet should have had, but Discovery beat them to it. I think Cuban knows this as well. So now what?

Here's my suggestion:

HDNet becomes the HBO for the tech-savvy, bloggin', myspace generation. By HBO I mean highly-literate original content that does not in any way talk down to its audience. In fact, it does the reverse - it educates and at times confuses and frustrates (ex. Sopranos after season 3).

Now you might say there's a channel for this audience, it's G4? But G4 is trying to be MTV - worse than that, it's trying to be old MTV for video games. Let MTV die. Instead, how about putting the camera back on the tripod and asking an intelligent question, or simply telling a story? The content does not have to revolve around Technology per se, though a show set in an IT department (something between The Office and Office Space) is long overdue. But how about a channel that, when choosing its programs, assumes the following of its audience:
  • They are well-educated, computer-savvy, web-savvy, blog-savvy.
  • They research the products they buy for hours in their spare time and therefore could care less about 30 second ads.
  • If they feel they're being preached to or talked-down to, they'll change the channel or turn on the laptop.
The days of wanting to see something "just because it's in HD" are waning - I believe Planet Earth is both the apex of this urge and the demarcation of its decline. I want more "smart popular culture", but in HD. I think there's a space for it, and I think Cuban can fill it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Good limitations

I can't recommend a better blog than Dubious Quality, and I thank the brethren OtohBotohs around here for turning me on to him. It's an almost perfect blog according to the standards laid-out in the Why We Blog post - in that it's a delightful solace from the workday.

Today Dubious posted a snippet regarding Spore - the forthcoming video game from Will Wright, creator of The Sims. In the game, the God-like gamer evolves an organism into a species "through open-ended, on-the-fly, user-guided evolution." (source: Wikipedia)

I first heard about Spore in Chris Anderson's The Long Tail. He was talking about the customization of the means of production for products, like toys, and mentioned that in Spore gamers would be able to create their own Spore-character, send it off to the developer, who would then create a figurine of said Spore and send back to the gamer - all in a matter of weeks, if not shorter. Amazing, I thought.

Well now apparently Spore is hitting productions lags and won't be out until maybe 2009. What would have been amazing a year ago will be maybe-kinda cool two years from now. Which sucks.

Here's Dubious:

I think that for some people, having nearly unlimited budget and total schedule flexibility is a curse. Actually, I wouldn't say that for "some" people--I'd say it for everyone. When no possible choices are excluded, then every possible choice must be considered.

Couldn't agree more. I think one needs to look no further than Star Wars to find an example. The original film is now legendary for the challenges Lucas faced on set. In fact, it almost killed him which is why he took so long to direct again. More Wikipedia:
The production company, not to mention many involved in the actual production, had little faith in the film. According to reports, it was a daily struggle merely to complete the film on time.

Contrast that with The Phantom Menace.

I think a root cause is Lucas did not have positive limitations. No one in pre-production said, "Honestly sir, is it possible that the script has maybe a lot of dialogue?" and it doesn't seem like anyone in post said, "Ya know, I don't wanna overstep here, but my instinct is that I don't quite think this Jar Jar character is really, like really working." (All hypothetical production workers are passive-aggressive by nature.)

If I had more space I would draw the distinction between struggle and limitations, but this post is long enough already.

If you'd prefer more philosophical evidence then take a look at Rollo May's The Courage to Create, where May argues that limitations are essential to the creative process. Rather than try to summarize from memory, I pulled these quotes from a blog called In a Dark Time:
May’s major argument is that 'conflict presupposes limits, and the struggle with limits is actually the source of creative productions... The limits are as necessary as those provided by the banks of a river, without which the water would be dispersed on the earth and there would be no river-that is, the river is constituted by the tension between the flowing water and the banks. Art in the same way requires limits as a necessary factor in its birth.”

I've often wondered why the best works of artists are usually their first, and I think the fact that they have to fight against all kinds of limitations has something to do with it. Once achieved though, these same artists, armed with unlimited resources, cannot stop the flood.

Podcast Pick of the Day - Windows Weekly

Windows Weekly
Episode 24: And Hilarity Ensued
Run Time: 48:11

Hosted by Paul Thurrott and Leo Laporte, Windows Weekly is a weekly podcast focusing on Microsoft and the latest in technology. This episode featured HD-DVD woes, HD-DVD software, Dell and Ubuntu, Microsoft’s earnings, Vista Anytime upgrades, Paul’s CHK DISC anecdote, Silverlight 1.1 is a self-contained version of .NET and IE8.

Microsoft’s quarterly earnings perspective (from the podcast):
What these companies earn in a quarter, Microsoft earns the same amount in the following time periods:

  • Red Hat – 10 hours
  • Research and Motion (Blackberry creators) – 4 days
  • Starbucks – 4 days
  • McDonalds – 14 days
  • Apple – 14 days
  • Google – 18 days
  • Coke – 23 days
  • Walmart – 10 weeks

Microsoft profits 55 million dollars a day. I think articles declaring Microsoft’s death are greatly exaggerated.

The podcast can be found on iTunes and here.


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A Gift Card is better than Cash. Right?

With Mother's Day and Father's Day coming up I figured it would be a good time to post this link. Well, maybe the fact I just read the article 5 minutes ago has more to do with the timing. Anyway, the article is written by Dubner and Levitt - I'm tellin ya - they're good. It's a quick read.

Here's the first sentence.... "What do a gym membership, a bottle of prescription pills and a holiday gift card have in common?"

Monday, May 7, 2007

Just flip it.

While reading through Jeff's super weekend leisure links post of Friday, I stumbled upon an interesting piece of reverse-thinking.

Here's the post, and here's the snippet.

In an effort to prove poker as a game of skill as opposed to a game of chance (and thereby possibly qualify it for legal online gambling*), poker pro Annie Duke explains as such:

...Duke offers a simple but compelling argument (attributed to David Sklansky and Duke’s brother Howard Lederer) for poker as a game of skill and not purely chance.

The gist is this: forget about winning at poker, and think for a moment about losing. Is it possible to intentionally lose a poker game?

The answer is yes, of course. Is it possible, meanwhile, to intentionally lose a game like Baccarat or roulette or craps?

There is a name for this method of argument, which I cannot remember, but it was first introduced to me via Jonah Goldberg** who said (and I grossly paraphrase) - to test an arguments foundation simply flip it and see if the reverse works.

The example he used was violence in movies, and whether or not violence had an adverse affect on moviegoers. And it went something like this: if one says that violence in movies does not affect the public in a bad way, then one cannot say the "good stuff" like social-awareness and whatnot affects the public in a good way. In other words, either the movie has impact on the moviegoer or it doesn't. Whether or not that impact is positive or negative doesn't matter for to admit one is to accept the other.

I, for one, who has studied and watched 1000s of movies believe the impact is negligible. I don't think people who watch Grindhouse want to go killing people in a stunt car***, nor do I think people who watch Extreme Home Makeover donate to the Goodwill the next day.

But the line of thinking, as just that, is worthy of note.

* The ban on online gambling is an inexcusable piece of legislation affecting millions of honest Americans during an election cycle when the Republicans needed every possible vote. At the very least they could have regulated online poker and created another Lotto - useless to everyone except those who play it. Or, they could have let people do whatever they want with their credit cards and hard-earned money.

** Goldberg on "24"

*** Some may bring-in the Virginia Tech murderer and the movie Old Boy as Exhibit A, and certainly that topic is worthy of a top-level discussion some time. But for now let me say I'm not ready to start censoring entertainment with the caveat that there might be another Cho out there eating it up, for if that were the criteria, I don't there think would be any entertainment.

Podcast Pick of the Day - NPR: Story of the Day

NPR: Story of the Day
Weekend Edition for Saturday, May 5, 2007: Survival at a Price in an Iranian Prison
Run Time: 13:47

NPR Story of the Day features “the one story you won’t want to miss." Marina Nemat had her name written on her forehead before she was about to be shot. This and other harrowing scenes are featured in this episode and in her new new memoir detailing her life as a prisoner in Iran, where she endured interrogation, torture and a forced marriage that saved her life.

The podcast can be found on iTunes and here.

Friday, May 4, 2007

A Couple Links For Your Weekend Leisure.

Both of these links are from Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner over at the Freakonomics blog. If you haven't read the book -- you need to. I own about 10 books (I also own 4 game systems, which helps explain why I only own 10 books), 6 of which I read. Freakonomics is the only book I would read twice. I didn't... But me owning it, reading it, and wanting to read it again shows just how entertaining/interesting the book is.

Secondly, if you don't read their blog -- you need to.

Now, on to the links.

First, a post by Dubner: Poker: Skill vs. Chance

My take: Poker is definitely not a game of luck. Luck seems to always squeak its way in, but there's definitely a reason the pros you see on TV - are pros you see on TV - and it's not luck. The reason they always win? If I knew, I'd be a pro you see on TV.

I am defintely looking forward to Dubner's pokernomics outcome.

The second link: The Jock Exchange. This link is from a short Levitt post. Michael Lewis discusses the possibilities of purchasing stock in athletes. It's something to keep an eye on.

For those who don't know, Michael Lewis is the author of Moneyball. A book I do not own, but I have in my possession. I haven't read it yet, though. From what everyone tells me - I need to.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

In case you missed it...

Here's a thoughful reply/rebuttal to my High School Reunion post.

KStringer said...

Having attended my 10 year high school reunion, I think I can agree with some of what you have stated, but not all of it.

The high school reunion is a multi-faceted milestone in our modern lives that is one part reuniting with old friends, one part showing off, one part "whatever happened to that old flame", and for many, several parts closure or at last progress in that regard.

At my reunion I was very curious about how others that I remembered had progressed with their lives and I saw it all - those that had succeeded far beyond expectation, those that had really done nothing with their lives, those that chose the family life, and everything in between. One thing I noticed was that it really didn't matter who was cool in high school, for many of them weren't so "cool" 10 years later. Perhaps it's because being cool took up so much of their time that they never really learned any useful skills for how to succeed after high school.

Of course each of us wants to make a declaration of our accomplishments to our high school class. It is this group of people that is instrumental in definining much about who we are as adults. This is simply an societal evolution of human behavior. We all want to be recognized, to be noticed, to be respected in some fashion. High School is a time of insecurity and anxiety for most of us (or so I believe) and being able to overcome those insecurities and stand tall and proud among these peers is a major psychological milestone for a lot of people, myself included.

I disagree that the high school reunion is a great hoax. I think for many, such as myself it is a time of closure. We are all insecure to some degree I believe and the realization that I had succeeded when so many thought I would fail as well as seeing first hand the very normal successes (family, jobs, etc.) of my class mates made me realize that my drive to cast down the perceived perception my classmates had of me was flawed thinking on my part. It helps to see these people, whom their memories are sometimes so much larger than life, whether good or bad, 10 years later. You can realize then that they are the same as you and that they were the same as you in high school.

I ran into two dear friends at my reunion who I have remained close to ever since though we had lost touch up to the reunion itself. If for no other reason than that, I am glad I went.

Your statement about the "high school reunion complex", where we run into someone from our past and fall into old patterns is very true. Yet, I hope that people can mature enough that they do not fall prey to this condition. Again, it's an opportunity for closure...or as you put it, "...just move on".

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Stocking Stuffer for The Podcast Pundit

A subscription to this mag. (hat tip: LA Observed)

Podcast Pick of the Day - Cranky Geeks

Cranky Geeks
Episode 62
Run Time: 30:00

Hosted by head crank John C. Dvorak, Cranky Geeks is a weekly podcast “cranking” out about all things tech. This episode featured breaking news from Digg, where the encryption key for HD-DVD was posted. Digg originally removed the post, but after user pressure, Digg re-posted the encryption code. The code was previously available on the Internet, but now has been made more accessible through the Digg forums.

Other stories include: SONY’s God of War II party, which included a headless goat, a woman’s $26,000 bill for her stolen phone, the BBC launches free web based On-Demand video, Barbie mp3 player, and rabbit ears to get over-the-air HD signals.

The podcast can be found on iTunes and here.