Thursday, August 30, 2007

So they're all like "a whole new world" and then Jasmine goes "wait, how big is this carpet?"


I just had the best Concepts recitation ever! Aliens made an appearance, as did Aladdin, Jasmine, and the Genie (who only deals with planar geometry). It kicked ass. I managed to teach polynomial division, too.

It's been a good week. A good day. A good month (and by that I mean, last two weeks or so). A good year. I'm seriously floating on a huge, like, gigantic cloud.

Thank you for everything; I have no complaints whatsoever.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

My room is The Reddest.

Plus, I had Google (the class) today. It is nuts. It's held in the Google Pittsburgh office. It's called "Internet Search Technologies." They greeted us with "Welcome! Help yourself to a snack or something to drink." And by "snack or something to drink" I mean big ol' cookies and a fully stocked cooler full of drinks from your common sodas up to and including brand namey newfangled iced teas. We spent the class talking about how to make algorithms work on huge multi-computer systems. At one point they said they had to have everyone tell them their citizenship, because we'll be getting access to some Google machines, and there are issues with exporting or something if they don't get it cleared up.

Funny, after that cookie and bottle of Propel, I found myself wanting to buy some AdWords or let them read my Gmail or something.

And I'm freaking out about the year starting. I'm not going to have time to do anything ever! Gaaarggh! So I'll quit blogging now.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Fence fence fence party paint school

I'm so done with the fence. Boo-yah. It was kinda fun while it lasted. What am I going to do? I'm going to go hang out by the fence. Great! It'll be fun. I can stay there indefinitely. (Maybe I can't leave... but whatever.)

Party last night was kind of fun. I didn't have the greatest time ever; maybe it's because I was hosting and sort of trying to accommodate guests and stuff. I should just relax like everyone else does when they have a party. The drinks went over well though! Wow, you can make stuff that really tastes great when you know what you're doing. That's cool!

Painting my room now. Got the primer up, going to paint it "Crossfire" red-orange tomorrow. SWEET.

And then school starts Monday. I have so few worries now, and how quickly that will change! My inbox is in the single digits. Oh it is nice.

Not a lot to say. And no comics either. I'll get to that, you know, when I do.

Oh, here's something I have to say! How do people ever have anything to say? I can't make conversation-- I don't come up with these mental connections to ask people about something else or to talk about whatever. It's damn awkward. Particularly now, because I'm getting back to school and talking to people I don't really know, and we don't have any common ground to talk about. Drives me nuts. Probably, though, the more you worry about it, the worse it gets.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Fence blogging = flogging?

Nope. Fence dancing = fancing? I've been big on combining words recently.

I've also been at the fence. It's been nice. We (SnS) built a little house out of flats. It's got a roof and everything. By "we" I mostly mean Julie, Elliot, Daniel, and Kevin, because I didn't help much with the building. I did make dinner at one point though. It's kind of fun, being part of this big ol' hoo hah tradition, although I suspect it's only fun because we're just hanging out in our little hut, and doing things like eating big trays of fruit left over from OC training.

Did I mention I went to New Hampshire too? With Kemal and Adam. We visited Pete at the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge. Neat place, mountain next to it, that's cool. I am not super outdoorsy! Surprise! I was real tired by a 10 mile hike up and down that mountain. My friends were not fazed- they started up a soccer game right afterwards. There was something I was going to say about this. I forgot what it was.

Going to go do an International Orientation thing. I'm a helper with International Orientation. I guess it's cool.

Oh, by the way, why did I EVER think about being an OC (for the real orientation)? That is the dumbest shit ever! All that fake enthusiasm and retarded cheers and motivational talks. I think especially the cheers.
"My head's up high, my feet down low, and this is how I gigolo"?? (in chess notation, they write "??" after a move if it's like a super bad blunder. (EDIT: I wrote "they right ?? ..." before. Who does that?!)) Anyway, that doesn't make any goddamn sense. Here's one:
When I sleep, I like to snore, and this is how I whore!
Here's my head, and here's my butt, and this is how I slut!

How about "Show us how to get down" "No way!" "I said, show us how to get down!" "Okay! D-O-W-N and that's the way to get down!" Also dumb. I wish you could apply that argumentation to different parts of life:
"Hey officer, I wasn't going that fast, let me off with a warning!"
"No way!"
"I said, let me off with a warning!"
"Okay! W-A-R-N-I-N-G; no ticket for you, you're going free!" (dances)

Good lord, they're practicing their inspirational speeches now. God help us.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

God don't let me be a snob

If I had to make a prayer right now, it would sound something like that. Aargh. In practicing the hobbies that I like (for example, cooking and learning to mix drinks), I've developed this sort of food-snobby attitude. I can't fathom why people are content to buy premade foods and shop at Wal-Mart and drink Bud Light and so on. This is my problem, not theirs; to each his own. But the more I hang around Real Adults, the more I realize that food (and drink) snobbery doesn't make you unique, it just makes you another Whole Foods Asshole.

Yes, I like nice food; if you say stuff like "organic cage-free locally grown farmers market" enough, I'll get all hot and bothered. I also think everyone should buy organic cage-free locally grown farmers market stuff all the time. But so many people are real pompous about it, and I'd rather subsist on frozen pizzas from Aldi than sit around and chit-chat with people who try to hide their unhappiness behind a conversation about how happy they are that they're paying double for a Certified Organic seal.

The point is: I'll keep going on my merry way, but please, if I'm being a snob, smack me around a little bit so I realize not EVERYONE cares how great those blueberries were. Or whatever.

I feel like there's more to this post that maybe I'll expand some other time. Right now, it's past my bedtime.

EDIT: What's wrong with people pretending to be better than others? Nothing, inherently. I mean, if guy A is an ass, and guy B is a good guy, there's nothing wrong with B thinking he's better than A. But the thing with food snobs/organic snobs/etc is that they're not saving the world. They just buy different things. And "saving the world through buying different things" is like donating lots of money to charity... it rings hollow. It's nice, but it really doesn't do that much. Does it? If you want to be green/environmental/whatever, don't buy a hybrid and organic beans; downsize your house to a condo somewhere. Stop eating so damn much.

Still just thoughts swirling in my head, and not a coherent argument for or against anything yet. And my rice has just finished cooking so I better go save it.


They do everyone's job better than everyone. The Google Revolution is coming, and it's going to be great.

Monday, August 13, 2007

What I Do (tm)

A couple people have asked me over the last few days what I've been doing all summer, and it's taken me way too many words and I've probably not said anything comprehensible at all. Here's a hopefully concise version of it.

So there are these Machine Translation (MT) systems out there. There are a lot of different kinds, depending on how far up the pyramid they go. A graphic would help here:
Okay. See, you start with an English sentence, and you can translate by just going word-for-word (like Babelfish : "the red house" -> "el rojo casa").
Or you can do some analysis on morphology, meaning you deconstruct each word and then reassemble. (like "I walked" -> (I + walk-past-tense) -> "yo caminé")
Or you can go further to analyze the syntax of the sentence, like "I walked to the store" -> Noun (I) + verb (walk-past-tense) + prepositional phrase (to the store) -> "yo caminé a la tienda." This can be useful with languages like German, where word order sometimes flips around a bit.
Or you can analyze the sentence for its meaning, and this is where things get a little hairy. It'd be something like "I walked to the store" -> (first-person pronoun) + (moving on two feet) + (to the store) -> "yo caminé a la tienda."
And then if you're a real baller, you can translate everything into Interlingua, The One Universal Language (which doesn't exist, but bear with me) and then reconstruct in the target language. This hasn't worked very well, so far.

Anyway, the approach we're using is still mostly word-for-word. It's not as dumb as Babelfish, because it includes triples of words ("trigrams") instead of just words, so it'll know "the red house" -> "la casa roja", not "el rojo casa." So instead of a big word-to-word dictionary, we need a super-big dictionary of three-word phrases. You can't just go to Webster and look that up... you have to build this yourself. So we need a lot of parallel phrases in English and, say, German. Where can we find that? Wikipedia. See on the lower right, where it says "this page in other languages"? Great! So if you look for something thrilling like, say, Subprime mortgage financial crisis, you can easily click on the "Francais" link and see that, in French, it's "Crise des subprimes." Now, whenever our translation system wants to translate an article containing "subprime mortgage financial crisis" into French, instead of looking for each word, it just goes, bam, crise des subprimes.

What have I done? Mostly extracted those page titles, using databases and other cool things, and found that there's not too much interesting that we can do. Maybe we can use other bits of Wikipedia to find more translated phrases. Maybe we can use knowledge that we learn about these words to help us out further. (like if you know "Stevie Wonder" is a guy's name, then we don't have to translate it at all, so we won't accidentally go with "maravilla del Stevie.")

Okay, what do I actually do? Mostly dick around with databases and other stupid things. Bang out some code. Read some papers, and then get confused. If you've never read academic papers, like Academic Papers, you're in for a treat. Pick up whatever journal is preeminent in your field, or whatever conference is The Big One, and start reading. If you can follow it for more than like two pages, congratulations! You're a grad student!

Seriously, though, I'm trying. Eventually this whole field will make sense. I'm figuring I'll solve machine translation (and every other language-related problem) within the next three years.

I'm starting next year by pushing all this Wikipedia nonsense to the back burner. We're going to try to develop a representation of language by going all the way up to the semantic level. Yeah. We're teaching computers what sentences mean. That's right. And we're going to test it by using recipes. So by Spring 2008, I will not only have a badass thesis of like tens of pages, but I'll also have this great recipe software I've always dreamed of.

Yeah yeah yeah yeah! Languages are it! The wave of the future! I've got new comics coming up check them out.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Album Order Challenge

Among a few friends last night, I got into a somewhat heated discussion as to the best way to order tracks on an album. We agreed that track 1 isn't the ideal location for the best song on an album, the real "knockout punch" if you will. However, my esteemed colleague, one Mr. Gray, insisted that track 2 was the place for it, whereas I preferred it to be buried a little deeper, at track 4.

Before I start, let me make sure I have the particulars of the argument straight.
My point of view: Track 4 is probably the best spot for your best song. It's the centerpiece of the album, it really should show off the best of what you've got and what you're offering to the audience. Track 1 should be an attention-getter, but tracks 2 and 3 should sort of warm up to the big hit at track 4. If you put your centerpiece at track 2, it's too front-heavy, and the end of your album will lag a bit.
Brian's view (and correct me if I'm wrong): Track 2 is the spot for such a song. While that doesn't mean that the best song goes at track 2, it does mean that track 2 should set the tone. Often, track 2 would be the single. Track 4 is less than good because it's too late; people have already judged the album by then, and some people don't even get to track 4.

With that somewhat vaguely defined, I'll put forth the format of the experiment: I'll pick 20 random albums from my itunes ( a random shuffle; yes, that does favor bands that have more songs on the albums, but it's usually pretty close shut up shut up). For each album, if it's a great album, I'll examine the track ordering (particularly 2 and 4) to see what makes it great, and if it's not so good, I'll look at tracks 2 and 4 for an example of what not to do. Obvious "concept albums" are excepted; if we're talking about The Wall, say, Pink Floyd can do whatever they want with the track ordering, fine. All tracks, including short intros, will be counted as songs (after reflection, I've decided this is the way to go, because pretty much the only thing that intros and interludes count for is the album as a whole.)

So if an album is in favor of the track 2 theory, it gives Beej a point if it's good, and a negative point if it's bad. If it's in favor of track 4, the same holds for me.

Let's begin!
1. iTunes is a piece of crap. It keeps freezing on me. Let's try this again. Okay.

1. Illinois, by Sufjan Stevens. Nice! Okay, this is clearly a great album. And the track order is clearly well-thought-out. Track 2 has a track name that is so long, I can't even find the whole name online. It starts with: "The Black Hawk War, Or, How To Demolish An Entire Civilization And Still Feel Good About Yourself In The Morning, Or, We Apologize For The Inconvenience But You're Gonna Have To Leave Now, Or, 'I Have Fought The Big Knives And Will Continue To Fight...'" It's nice, but it's definitely a warm-up. I mean, it's instrumental. Track 4, on the other hand, is "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.", which may not be the centerpiece of the album, but is one of the most-commented songs on it, and one of the best. Interestingly, the centerpiece would have to be track 3, "Come on! Feel the Illinoise", where the single, "Chicago", is stuffed away at track 9. The only thing that my colleague can say to counter this point is that it's an unusually long album. POINT: ME

2. Daisies of the Galaxy, by Eels. I don't love this album; I don't think it's Eels's best. But then, toss an acoustic guitar in front of me and I'll run screaming. I feel like it sort of folksy-wanders through 14 tracks of ehh. Track 2 is "Packing Blankets", nothing special. Maybe weightier than "I Like Birds" at 4. Neither is stellar. The real star on this album is "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues", the last song; what a baller. Although, I'd argue, that was a gutsy move that didn't turn out too well on his part, because it's a pleasant surprise, but it means the rest of the album is boring. INCONCLUSIVE

SKIPPED: Live at Winterland '68, by Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Co., because I've never actually listened to it. That's embarrassing! I sorta pride myself on actually knowing all the music that's on my computer (as opposed to bragging "I have 89237 gigs of music!"), and I think I am at about 90%, but I'd rather it be 100.

3. Steve Goldberg and the Arch Enemies, by Steve Goldberg. Hah. Well, I think it's a good album, and he is not the kind of guy who would just toss songs onto the album in any old order. Track 2 is "February Third", a fun song, but it takes a few listens to actually stick in your mind. At track 4, "The Spy Part 1" hits, and any song with Part 1 and Part 2 is going to be a focal point of your album. POINT: ME

4. D-D-Don't Don't Stop the Beat, by Junior Senior. I'm tempted to say it's inconclusive, because the only song that matters ("Move Your Feet") is at track 3, but I think they tried to release "Rhythm Bandits" (track 2) as a second or third single, and it's more fun than the embarrassing gay-straight-haha "Chicks and Dicks" throwaway at track 4. And this isn't a good album. NEGATIVE POINT: BEEJ

5. The Futureheads, by the Futureheads. I hate this album! (despite the pretty good critical review, I think) It's 15 songs, each 2:30, each with a British accent and nothing interesting. Track 4, "Decent Days and Nights" is actually one of the standouts, but really, every song is the same. INCONCLUSIVE

6. More Adventurous, by Rilo Kiley. Eeh, it's too folksy for me, and it got a 75 on Metacritic. Is it good? Well, my favorite songs are 1, 3, and 9. (actually, track 9, "Love and War 11/11/46" is really good!) You know what, on that point, I'll say this is a well organized album. 2 or 4? Track 2, "Does He Love You" is no prize, but I really don't like track 4, "Ripcord", so I'll say 2 is better here. "Ripcord" is a two minute throwaway. POINT: BEEJ

7. Waiter: "You Vultures!", by Portugal. The Man. I say this is a solid album! Think a bit of the Mars Volta, except listenable, and Linkin Park, except not sucking. It's no "best of", but it's good, and they keep the hits coming throughout (1, 8, and 10!). Track 2, "Gold Fronts", is the song I'd play on my radio show, I think, and track 4, "AKA M80 The Wolf", is not so good or important. POINT: BEEJ

8. Winter Women, by Matthew Friedberger. Man, a Fiery Furnaces album would be tough enough, and Matt without his sister Eleanor to rein him in is just experimentally noodling all over the place. It's not a bad album, but it's a thick 16 tracks, and if you'd care to make sense of this album's structure, go for it; I sure haven't. INCONCLUSIVE

9. Discovery, by Daft Punk. Your call: "Aerodynamic" (2) or "Harder Better Faster Stronger" (4)? POINT: ME

SKIPPED: Mugimama is this Monkey Music?, by Mugison. This is retarded. Come on.

10. Lincoln, by They Might Be Giants. Great album, but I don't know this track order at all, because I've only heard these songs on "Then: The Earlier Years." Let's take a look! Okay, "Ana Ng" is far and away the best on this album and probably the second best thing TMBG's ever done, and maybe in my top 20 songs of all time. It's track 1. After that, a cool-down is in order, so "Cowtown" is a goofy, relaxing track 2; "Lie Still, Little Bottle" brings you through track 3 to this album's third best song, "Purple Toupee", at track 4. Props to them for saving "They'll Need a Crane" all the way at 14. POINT: ME

11. Liquid Tension Experiment 1, by Liquid Tension Experiment. Crazy instrumental supergroup, including a bunch of Dream Theater, I think. Good album, but the centerpiece is a five-part "Three Minute Warning" at the end, plus "Paradigm Shift" at track 1. 2 and 4 are both interludey throwaways. (the fact that the interludes are 3:26 and 2:00 points to this album's reckless indulgence) INCONCLUSIVE

12. Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, by PJ Harvey. Great album. Ergh; but it's sort of a big mood, not a bunch of ups and downs. (except "The Mess We're In", at 7, which is cool) "Good Fortune" (2) and "One Line" (4) are both good... I'd argue "One Line" fits more with the theme of this album, so I'll give myself a weak point. POINT: ME

13. The Sunlandic Twins, by Of Montreal. One of my favorites ever. Tracks 1-7 are a stream of sonic gold. But I'd say the graph of awesomeness vs. track goes like this:
Track 2 is a little better than track 4. I'll give you this one. POINT: BEEJ

14. CSS, by Cansei de Ser Sexy. Damn! There's only one good song, and it's "Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above," and it's track 4. NEGATIVE POINT: ME

15. The Real Thing, by Faith No More. While FNM is a respectable band (listen to the album Angel Dust), and some of Mike Patton's other stuff is even cooler, this album is still sorta a touchstone for rap-rock. Singles are tracks 2 ("Epic"... you know, that "you want it all but you can't have it" song) and 3 ("Falling to Pieces"). Responsible for Linkin Park -> Not a good album. NEGATIVE POINT: BEEJ

SKIPPED: Push Bar Man to Open Old Wounds, by Belle and Sebastian. It's a collection of old EP's and B-sides, so the track list isn't really relevant.

16. Talking Heads 77, by Talking Heads. Great album, but the hits are, in my mind, all in the second half ("The Book I Read", "Don't Worry About the Government", and of course "Psycho Killer.") I give them credit for that. "New Feeling" at 2 is a lot more important to the album than "Happy Day"- it gives you that goofy jerky Talking Heads feel, and "Happy Day" at 4 doesn't do much. POINT: BEEJ

SKIPPED: Frank's Wild Years by Tom Waits. It's on my iPod now, honest!

SKIPPED: Boat of Confidence by the Pathways. This album is no good, I don't know why I ripped it, I've listened to it like twice, and I always mean to delete it. Okay, it's deleted now.

17. Let Me Introduce My Friends, by I'm from Barcelona. One, maybe two good songs, and they're #3 and #4. Treehouse (4) is the better of the two. But this is a bad album. NEGATIVE POINT: ME

18. Everything All The Time, by Band of Horses. I'm not a big fan of this album, but the critics kinda like it. Track 4 ("Funeral") is really the centerpiece, and the only really notable song, though. I like "Our Swords" (3) better. POINT: ME

SKIPPED: Thought for Food, by the Books. I think they're a concept band. Don't ask me what concept that is.

19. Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum, by Tally Hall. Didn't we already discuss this? Well, it is good, anyway. The songs, individually, are hit or miss, but they manage to space it out well so there's no dead stretch. It's frustrating that we're debating "Taken for a Ride" (4) vs. "Greener" (2), when they're surrounded by "Good Day" (1), "Welcome to Tally Hall" (3), and "The Bidding" (5). But given those two, "Taken for a Ride" is really the better song. "Greener" is straight out of Yellowcard or, I dunno, Dashboard Confessional or something, while "Taken for a Ride" is a good dose of Tally Hall with a couple punches of the Polyphonic Spree. POINT: ME

SKIPPED: Geogaddi, by Boards of Canada. Sorry to skip so many! I don't know each individual track on this one well enough to comment. I just know I really like this sound.

20. Bows and Arrows, by the Walkmen. Aargh! Screw the Walkmen! This album sucks a lot. Besides "The Rat" (2), every song is a bunch of whining to death. NEGATIVE POINT: BEEJ

So, add them all up, and what do you get? 7 - 2 = 5 for me, 4 - 3 = 1 for Beej. Hey, surprise, I did a little survey by myself, on my own rules, and I won. This is not how science works. Or even criticism. But I did convince myself, and if I didn't convince you, well, I welcome thoughtful critiques!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Belle and Sebastian and The Knife and Justice and Staind

That's been my last month... one part halcyon, one part straight out rocking and everything I hoped it could be, one part pounding and driving (in a good way!), and one little bit of boring sticking its face in the door at the end there.

I'd say it's had its ups and downs, but really, it's only had its ups. For like three weeks I was on fire! Firing on all pistons all the time! I wanted nothing more than to be doing whatever I was doing in five minutes (which means I was startlingly close, like five minutes away, from being pretty much enlightened all the time). I've said before I think I get manic depression without the "depression" part; if so, I just had a big bout of mania.

A few instances stick in my head. Exactly twice, I got this absolutely exhilarating feeling while I was biking to work down the hill in Schenley Park. It's a pretty ride- a road through a golf course- and definitely the best commute I've ever had. It's been lovely weather- not too hot, often cloudy (and I love my clouds). Plus, I was going downhill, which is always nice. Anyway, I felt ACTUALLY THERE, I just was absorbing all the outside color, and I was listening to great music, so I was soaking that in too, and it was so euphoric my eyes just started tearing up and I couldn't even pedal, I just coasted, loving the moment. I mean, it was orgasmic, in a sense, or like the high points of mushrooms (would hypothetically be if I had ever tried them). I also felt like "maybe this is it; this is what nirvana is like; this is what those monks who meditate their whole lives always feel like."

All the same, I figured I'd be more enlightened, on the whole. Why? I dunno, because I spent a semester in Europe? (Note to spiritual seekers: you won't find it studying in Europe. The typical study abroad is a glorified five-month vacation with classes sometimes.) Because it was foreign? Because I hung out with stoners? I dunno why I thought I'd change in big ways from just one semester. But I felt good, in Europe, and at home, and here again. I felt like life made sense, and yeah, it's uncertain, but I'll do fine. Don't worry. You can do whatever you want.

So what's wrong? Well, the edge is wearing off; I'm getting a little bored with my work; waking up in the morning isn't so easy anymore. The biggest thing is that I'm still the same old me, neurotic and mostly Western. I worry a lot. I'm not at ease, even with my friends. I know what I should be doing (focus on others, not be full of myself), but I don't have the presence of mind to do it. And the more you worry, the more you're concentrating on yourself, and it's a spiral into your own goddamn belly button. So I'll stop talking about it now!

To remind myself: thank you for everything; I have no complaints whatsoever.