Friday, April 27, 2007

A Dutch ad

This cracks me up for a couple of reasons:
1. It's not even anywhere near Christmas
2. Santa Claus is "de kerstman" (because Christmas is "kerstmis")
3. "Beltoon" = ringtone
4. "Drink de kerstman onder tafel" sounds funny, even if you don't know it means "drink Santa Claus under the table"
5. "Nogg" with two g's.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

I credit Janet for this link

Alarmist? Yeah. But partially/mostly true? Also, yeah. More and more, it scares me to think that (eventually) there will be another big terrorist attack, and if (god forbid) anyone with certain dictatorial tendencies happens to be in power, he/she could do all sorts of nasty stuff. I mean, we could have our own Reichstag burning down, and then maybe the president declares a state of emergency and hauls off a whole bunch of left-wing media folks to Guantanamo. Whatever.

The president can do this! A possible scenario (and correct me if this can't happen):
(George Bush and I are playing ping-pong somewhere on his big Texas ranch, on one of his many many holidays)
Bush: How many points do I have?
Me: Four.
Bush: No, I have five.
Me: No, it's four. We've played eight points, and we both won four of them.
Bush: No, I have five points.
Me: No, you have four.
Bush: I have five.
Me: Okay, fine. You have five.
Bush: Are you saying that because you want it to be five, or because I really have five?
Me: I don't know! You've got four! Five! However many you want to have!
Bush: I don't believe you. You're an enemy combatant!
(the Secret Service guards whisk me away to Guantanamo, where I remain for the rest of my life, without charges or trial. Waterboarding is a distinct possibility.)

So the only thing that's impossible in that situation is that, in reality, I wouldn't have let him win ANY points. But in all seriousness, it is creepy.

Jews <--> Islamic extremists (in a less politically correct world, this might just be "Muslims")
concentration camps <--> Guantanamo
Enabling Act of 1933 <--> Patriot Act
Do we want to wait for more pretty obvious parallels?

-Dan, who will believe anything you tell him, but is pretty sure that the US is farther in this direction than we should be, and who welcomes dispute, because I hope I'm wrong

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Actual Center Of The World, or, I Had a Better Time in London than You

Back from London, which is huge. I was visiting Erik, a friend from high school (and middle school, and grade school...) who's going to the London School of Economics for a year. That's cool. As such, he's living in pretty much the absolute middle of London. A few minutes walk from Covent Garden (which is pretty cool), Leicester Square (which is not really, unless you're going to a show), and Piccadilly Circus (which is not at all). Between Holborn and Tottenham Court Road stops on the Tube. It's the best location!

However, it also costs a ton, because living in London is straight up "double everything." One pound is more than two dollars, and most things cost the same in pounds as in dollars. Worse than Switzerland even (I think).

Whatever. Totally worth visiting anyway. I'd already seen all the tourist things (Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral, Changing of the Guard, even the London Eye) on previous visits, so I didn't have to do them again, which was great for my energy (because seeing those things all day really saps you somehow), Erik's enthusiasm (I bet he's been to them all multiple times), and my wallet (they all cost like ten pounds. That's like $20 to see a church! Who does that?! Except the Changing of the Guard, which is free, but also lame). So instead, we went to the Tate, some cool restaurants and pubs, neat parks, and a bunch of markets. And it was fantastic!

Interlude: if I ever wrote a travel guide it would look like this:
Dan's Travel Guide
1. don't worry
2. know someone who lives there
(and if you have a lot of money that's nice too)
The End

London has great markets. Maybe even The Best. Here is a guide of things to see, if you find yourself in London:
1. Seven Dials. Go to Covent Garden and go North, and you'll come across this hub-and-spokes shaped area, with the coolest stores and restaurants! Like Neal's Yard, the Monmouth Coffee Co., Magma Books, or some of the theatres.
2. Camden Town Market- they sell a lot of things. Go here if you want to decorate your house or buy clothes, and if you want your house and clothes to be really cool. Also you might run into a bunch of mohawks.
3. Borough Market- The Place to go if you're a snobby foodie. Actually, you don't have to be snobby, just rich. If I had money, I would never get tired of shopping at this place. It's a testament to London that this is only #3.
4. St. James Park- it's so pretty, especially the views across the little lake. The squirrels are (maybe too) friendly.
5. The Tate (Modern)- cool modern art museum. Expanded my horizons a little bit. I couldn't tell you much of what I saw, except that Magritte is still a baller (they only have one painting by him I think), Brancusi is a neat sculptor, and some guy made a video of New York from cameras inside an oil drum that he rolled down the road.
6. Covent Garden- touristy? sure. But also a good place to see some street performers.
7. Portobello Road Market- this is neat too, but more antiques and stuff. Cool food stands though. If you're looking for something to do, you could do worse.
8. Cabinet War Rooms- also pretty neat. Where Churchill and co. directed the WWII efforts from. Still, though, left me wondering if it was worth the 9 pounds (aka $20)

And if you've got a hankerin' to see Westminster Abbey or the Tower, fine, go for it. Make sure to go to some English pubs too though. They're not even fakey replicas- they're still actual English pubs! Very nice!

Pictures coming soon!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Here's an article about a guy who is "happy"

A real champ, and also, I like this magazine.

But somehow, it seems like the same old story. I feel like I know everything I'd need to know to get pretty well enlightened; I just have to go make these changes in my life. What I mean is that reading more isn't going to do it for me. Maybe that's true, maybe not.

One thing that reading more will help: what am I going to do with my life? Ideally I'll stumble on a really cool problem, dive into it, research it for a bunch of years, come out with a few extra letters after my name, and be a happy, erudite, often-teaching Professor. Slightly less ideally I'll get a job at a software giant, rise through the ranks, and be a happy, productive, rich Computer Guy. Even more ideally, I'll spend a few years traveling the world until I get sick of it, write the Alex Grubb Book of Things That Are The Best, and settle down into one of the tracks above. In reality, I'll bounce between options for a bunch of years, and then find it. Hmm.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Scotch and who?

The following is a list of people in Scotch'n'Soda that I don't know at all. Like, I wouldn't recognize them if they hit me with a brick on the street. And this is just from the board position nominees, so they must be major players in the whole SnS scene.
(just first names because I'm sure they don't want their names on some random guy's blog who doesn't know them)


This is great for SnS!
-Da"out of touch"n

Music gush of the minute

Okay, my mp3 player (Samsung YP-U2J, don't ever buy it) has refused to connect to my computer, rendering it pretty useless (unless you want to listen to Of Montreal, Mates of State, Scott Walker, or a book about learning Dutch...), so I haven't been up on all the latest tunes.

I haven't made up my mind about Neon Bible yet. I can't decide if this is Arcade Fire's next step on the track to being the next Talking Heads or Radiohead or other monumental band with "head" in the name (not that they sound anything like those two; they're just examples of how their reputation could turn out, I think), or if all their hype is still fueled by the (rightful) hype about Funeral.

If Metacritic is to be trusted, this is the year that all the bands we were hoping wouldn't slump didn't. Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Andrew Bird, Of Montreal, the Shins, Ted Leo, !!!, Modest Mouse, etc. are all 75+. But whatever, I haven't heard most of those yet, so back to Neon Bible:

I mean, Black Mirror and Neon Bible could be slow, brooding masterpieces, or they could just be slow, brooding songs. Keep the Car Running is upbeat and fun, but it's just Headlights Look Like Diamonds. You could say Antichrist Television Blues is awesome, or you could say it's monotonous and long. I love "No Cars Go" a lot, but that's just straight up recycled.

The one thing you can't argue with, though, is that Intervention is pretty goddamn cathartic. How can they get away with making the entire song one big crescendo? And all the lyrics, I don't know if they fit together, but "working for the church while your family dies", "hear the soldier groan all quiet and alone", "don't want to fight, don't want to die, just want to hear you cry"... every line is a big ol' grandiose and paranoid image. Two thumbs up.

Hot Chip is pretty great too, Grizzly Bear is too laid back and solemn for me, RJD2 is pretty cool although I appreciate the more techno stuff than the more hip-hop stuff, Art Brut is funny although I really can't stand another British-accent-punky band right now, and I don't know about Islands yet. (I'm really appreciating the old Unicorns album that I never really listened to that much)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A quick thought about evolution and capacities and adrenaline

Hey! Just back from a grand trip with my family. More on that later. Right now, an unrelated thought:

Brussels Airport just went on strike yesterday. So all the people who were on the flights yesterday probably got rescheduled for something soon, because airplanes are always 3/4 full or something. Now, the airplanes could just totally book all their flights to capacity, but then what happens if a strike (or whatever) happens? Everyone who's on those flights just gets held up forever. Maybe they'll get on a flight in 6 months. That won't do. It's a catastrophe.

Similarly, we humans have a certain physical capacity. And then we've got adrenaline, and a little extra capacity. How much more would we die if we didn't have that, and just operated on full strength all the time?

For example (with apologies if this point is already so clear that an example is pedantic and tiresome). Say I can bench press x pounds. Now, if there were a giant brick falling on me or something, and I had to push it away so it didn't crush me (this is an arbitrary situation that illustrates how bench pressing isn't really all that useful, but that's another issue), I could probably bench press 1.25x pounds, or x+20, or something.

Wouldn't it be nice if I could just lift 1.25x all the time? I could do bigger, better things! I could lift heavier things! Other guys in the gym would cower in fear! But then, one day while I'm lifting my maximum amount, a fly would land on the bar, and I'd be crushed.

I mean, unless there was a spotter. (who would probably be yelling "come on dude, you can do it! This is all you! I'm not even lifting it at all!")

The point is, it would be a lot easier to die (or pass out, or whatever) if our body operated at max capacity all the time. (which is kind of counterintuitive, but not as counterintuitive as Nash Equilibria.) I wonder if there's a lesson to be learned in that.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Black (music) Forest, and Here Comes the Sun

You know, they call rap and hip-hop "black music" here? Just throwing that out there.

Yeah, so two things happened over the last few days: I went to the Black Forest, and life got a lot easier.

Black forest first! I've got a good travel-narration on my pictures site, so check that out shut up. Here, I'll share thoughts about it instead: it was fun, and pretty, although I was almost more impressed by Freiburg than the Schwarzwald itself. I think it's all because of expectations. I was expecting trees wider than a Smart Car and taller than a Köln Dom, creating an eerily dim (nay, black) setting, with the ground covered by moss, and, you know, elves popping out here and there, and if they wouldn't mind posing for a picture that would be nice. It wasn't that. I kept thinking I could see the same thing back home. But I did take a few moments here and there to just enjoy being out in the woods (and by the lake), and that was nice, so I consider it a big old success.

Plus, you know, there's my whole motto about how your primary goal while you're traveling will end up irrelevant, and the things along the way will be memorable. Like how, after our long hike, we stopped in this little diner (in a end-of-the-line tiny train station, no less, in a place called "Seebrugg") and got some soup, and they gave us each a shot of plum-flavored honey schnapps afterward, and what a great drink, and it was perfect. (Brought home a bottle, souvenir-hunting and liquor-swilling tourist that I am.)

Or how Freiburg has The Best little market, all around their (big, impressive) cathedral, almost every day! Or how it has little canals in the roads and is very eco-friendly. All those trees... it had a similar feel to Seattle, and I think that was because of the smell or the cleanliness of the air or something. Oh, and I almost forgot the great restaurant we went to! Friday night, we got in late and we were hungry, so we kind of stumbled into the first place that looked cool, and it was cool! Classic German bar sort of thing. I had some Badische Nudelsuppe (from Baden-Wurttemburg, the name of the region) and a half Flammkuche, which I didn't know what it was, but it turned out to be an Alsatian thin, crispy pizza-ish thing (a "tart", I suppose. Don't start calling French dishes pizzas.), with some kind of awesome bacon and cheese.

It was also fun to play interpreter, as my little bit of German was a little more than Andy's no German. I helped him get a 5-day German railpass for less than the cost of the ticket to Freiburg. I felt so useful! But still a whole lot of people spoke English. It still surprises me.

But yeah. Freiburg is a great city. It'd be fun to live there for a bit. In a sustainable house, you know. It's like Maastricht, except you'd have more crunchy people and less rich people. (the prices were nice too!) And the Black Forest is a cool place. I'd love to get to explore it more.

The other thing that happened was my project presentation and exams. First of all, the project presentation was great. Our robot didn't quite solve the maze (he needs a little nudge whenever he hits a crossroads), but we did better than most of the groups, I think, and the teacher was so impressed by all the nifty tricks we did that I'm not sure if he even noticed the shortcomings. High-fives all around, and now we can move on with our lives.

Exams were fine too; I think I did well enough in both to get grades that translate into A's. Competitive, though: their scale is from 0 to 10, with about an 8 = A, 7=B, 6=C, etc. That extra differentiation at the top sucks. I mean, at CMU, you can get A-'s in all your classes and get a 4.0. In the Netherlands, you'd get an 8.0, I guess, which is worse than some other kid's 10.0. (That other kid would be Daniel or Michael, the two German guys I worked with.) But hey, I don't think these grades even get factored in to my GPA, so whatever. The classes are done, and I did pretty well.

That means I have no classes this weekend, my family's coming, and next block is two easy classes. Rock on. The sun is shining, it's market day, and I got very little sleep last night but I'm feeling fine!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Let's throw the word "emo" around some more. Also, "carb."

Panic at the Disco isn't emo, guys, really!

That's like a black guy in the pre-civil-war South saying "hey guys, I'm not black!", with the difference being that there's nothing inherently wrong with being black.

More accurately, it'd be like a pack of Spamsicles (a Spamsicle being still hypothetical, but you never know) yelling out "There are no carbs at all in us!" It's false, but it's almost true. However, saying it is unnecessary; furthermore, they only feel compelled to say it because all their contemporaries are being bashed for having these evil little "carb" monsters lurking about. Finally, it entirely misses the point.

Speaking of carbs, what's the deal? Is the current low-carb, high-protein craze (which has gone beyond the Atkins diet and seeped into a lot of consciousnesses, like mine) correct? Or is it like the 90's low-fat craze, which has seeped into not only consciousnesses but also everything, with the result being that low-fat stuff is still all around us, despite the yelps of every doctor ever, who really would like to emphasize that unsaturated fats are good for you? Will proteins soon become the next fats, and carbohydrates glorified as the new Grand High Macronutrient? What IS the right balance, calorie-wise, of carbs/fats/proteins? Is it the seemingly sensible (to an Atkins-influenced mind) 40/30/30, or the old-fashioned 60/30/10? And will these three titans battle it out in their inflatable gladiator jousting bouncy room until the end of time, or will the doctors blow the whistle and kindly inform them it doesn't even matter?

Meanwhile, the Germans will continue to cut out that second level of the food pyramid (you know, the one with all the foods of green and other colors) and replace it with beer, and still be somewhat relatively more healthy than us?

Report (and pictures) from the Black Forest coming up, but first, there's studying to be done, and a filthy room to be cleaned.