Monday, April 28, 2008

Vonnegut quotes, part 2985073

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."

A tricky little catch for hipsters, eh? If your character is all ironic, look out! While you're running around in fields pretending to be a hippie, maybe you are becoming one. Or say you dress all slick and talk about businesses all the time, maybe you're on your way to tooldom. Or if you talk about John Deere and hot dogs and the good ol' US of A... just sayin'.

There's a good side of this, too: if you pretend to be something good, you will become it. Say you want to be a really cool guy. Act like you are one. If you really are, then you're just being yourself; if not, you will become one soon enough. Or if you want to be an outdoorsman, or a scientist, or an artsy sort of person, or a DJ, or whatever. You can be whatever you want, and it's really easy: just pretend to be it. That's neat.

In other news, speaking of being a DJ, I just played my last WRCT show today. How sad! I like talking, and especially talking to potentially hundreds of people, and especially talking AND forcing my musical choices on potentially hundreds of people.

I tried to make a "best of CMU 2004-2008" playlist, but I don't know how well it turned out. So I promised to make a "best bands that I've heard as my music collection grew to ten times its size over these four years", a "top N" best songs/albums/whatever. I guess albums, I should go with albums. It'll be up in some number of days, maybe a few days, that's all I can promise right now. (life is so hard for us!)

(that's sarcasm. life is easy.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How to travel, how to travel, how to travel...

I guess what I want is experience. Here's my internal debate:

If you're going somewhere, should you do a lot of research, plan your trip out day by day, book your places beforehand? I guess so, right? If not, you'll likely show up and find nowhere left to stay, and know nothing about the place. Still, there's something unsatisfying about that answer, though. It seems so forced. Seems like you'll end up in the same old tourist traps, while some other dude is just rummaging his way around and doing crazy cool things.

But what things? How? Odds are that dude will just get lost or spend some nights sleeping out in a field or something. Lame. Yeah, plan it all out. Just because you planned out where you'll be each day doesn't make the trip any less "real."

But it does, it's all fake fake fake fake. It's so rich-white-person.

Shut up! This whole conversation is rich-white-person! The idea of traveling for fun is rich-white-person! Or at least . Really. Quit your existential mumblings and have a good trip. Whatever way that means. Jesus Christ, you can't even take a vacation without having a mental meltdown.

Yeah, but there's no prestige in a holiday spent kicking back and relaxing. If you're going to travel, you have to travel right.

Wait, are we even arguing anymore? What's the problem here?

I'm not sure. Thank you all for reading this post! I'm so tired, I don't even know what I mean at all anymore! What the shit!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Obama actually said...

Candidates make speeches for WWE Raw

He ACTUALLY SAID "Do you smell what Barack is cooking?" ! Hahahahahahahahaha! Granted, both speeches looked pretty cheesy on paper. And probably were cheesy in reality. But I can't believe he actually said "Do you smell what Barack is cooking"!

Well, he's got my vote right there.

One minor annoyance

I can't seem to find my mouse. I have no idea where it could have gone. This is a most intriguing mystery! Did anyone randomly borrow it this weekend out of my room? Grubb, did you pee on it?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Thank you for everything, etc. etc. etc.

So when I said last weekend was the best weekend ever, I was lying, because THIS weekend was the best weekend ever. Thanks to my old SnS friends who came in from out of town; thanks to Dan for coming in from Cleveland; thanks to CMU for giving us time off to have a carnival.

Thanks to the hundreds of you who cheered and laughed as NPP opened for Human Giant, and overpowering the drunk people who yelled mean things at us. Thanks to Gerrit and Will for being in the show; thanks to the rest of the Players for being flexible with everything. Thanks to Aaron for heroically feeding 50 people a Seder dinner without as much as a dishwasher or garbage disposal.

The list goes on and on, but right now I'm going to Waffle House with Gerrit, Will, Grubb, and Mike Yin. Thanks to you guys too!

Thanks to Ram for the sermon from afar. Thank you for everything; I have no complaints whatsoever. If you say something enough, it becomes true.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


There's a really great function that sneaks in when you start learning about AI. It's called "argmax" and they throw it in there without even really explaining it as if it were entirely self-explanatory. It means "the value of the variable that makes the expression maximum." So, for example: (and sorry about lack of typesetting)

argmaxx -(x-3)2 = 3

because the way to maximize -(x-3)2 is by putting in 3 for x. If you take the "max" instead, it'd be 0:

max -(x-3)2 = 0

because any negative squared thing is never going to get bigger than 0.

But the great thing about argmax is that you can use it in contexts that are not quite so mathy. If p is a product:

argmaxp price(p)

means "the price of the most expensive product." But even better, you can talk about it even when you have no freakin' clue how to evaluate it. Let c be a career among all the possible careers you could take:

argmaxc happiness(your life, your family, your friends, your belongings, c)

and that represents the career that will make you the happiest, given everything else. Okay, so what's this all leading up to? If you have a group of people and they want to do a thing, but they want to do different things, you should do the thing that makes the most people the happiest. If every person i assigned an enjoyment value eij for each thing j that he/she wanted to do, then just add up the enjoyment values and take the argmax.

argmaxj sumi eij

This is exactly Beej's "voting game." If there are two choices of things to do, A and B, and there are three people, p1, p2, and p3, and the votes go like this:
      A    B
p1  3    4
p2  5    1
p3  2    4
you add this all up, and thing A gets 10 points and thing B gets 9 points, so you should do thing A. Even though p1 and p3 would rather do thing B, p2 REALLY wants thing A, so thing A is the thing to do.

This is a great algorithm! It leads to maximal total enjoyment, right? So that's cool. p1 and p3 can't complain, because if they had really wanted to do thing 2, they could have given it a higher score. If they really didn't want to do thing 1, they could have given it fewer points.

But there seems to be one small flaw: p1 and p3 might be a little irritated at this; after all, they're the majority! They might perceive p2 as "pushy." And they'll feel like p2 "owes" them something; they're caving to him this time. Maybe next time p2 should let p1 and p3 do what they want, even if p2 wins the voting game again.

One solution: everyone can only use a total of 10 points per game. When someone wins, everyone else gets "bonus" points equal to what they voted but lost. So in the example above, p1 gets 7 and p3 gets 6 (p2 gets 0). This represents what p2 "owes" them for winning. They p1 and p3 are sad now, but will be more likely to be happy in the future.

This is not great because that's a lot of remembering. But I feel like, over time, everyone will be optimally happy.

p2 wins and everyone else chill the fuck out!

play the voting game, deal with the results, and don't harbor resentment about it.

Beej, I'm officially a convert (although maybe we should allow values up to 10 to allow more variation. Or maybe it's fine as is).

Monday, April 14, 2008

I need to read articles like this more often

The Rebel Sell
Maybe it's because I just drank some (Starbucks brand) coffee, but as I'm reading this article, I keep going "Yeah! Right on!" It's long, but worth the read. It's also 6 years old, I guess, but still rings pretty true to me.

There are evils in the world brought on by big corporations, and we're in a world driven by consumption, sure. But buying a lot of things won't stop it. Even if you're buying underground music CD's, clothes from REI, or Guatemalan handcrafts. It's the same "keeping up with the Joneses" in a 2008 form.

And my holding this opinion makes me more counter-cultural, because I'm being so much more counter-cultural than you, I'm being counter-counter-cultural. Booyah.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Thank you for everything, etc. etc.

This weekend has been fantastic.

Friday night we had our improv show with Irony City. It may have been the caffeine, but I think it couldn't have gone over better. We were really darn funny for our set, and I kept feeling like I was walking this line of "oh my god this show is great don't fuck up" and then I DIDN'T, and neither did anyone else, which is weird because that's not a feeling you want to have while you're improvising, you want to have the feeling of "it's okay, I can do whatever", but somehow it worked out. Then Irony City was really funny, as always. I really like their troupe, they all have strong points, especially Greg and Atom, who are geniuses. And our combo time was the best of both worlds.

Thank you if you came to our show. You made it the best. Improv is so much more fun when there are 45 people (literally) cheering you on. Good show all around.

Then we had our British party, and it was so fun too! Thanks Greg for inspiration and a meat pie, thanks to all of you who came just for being there. I can't say what made it such a great atmosphere, but just every conversation I was in, I kept thinking "I care a lot about this person and I'm glad to be hanging out with him/her."
Plus, drinking lots of Pimm's and lemonade and Brandies Alexander is always a classy and fun thing to do.

Saturday night too, going to Mad Mex with Sarah, Beej, Daniel, and Hannah, because why not? It was great! Again, a small group of close friends is about the best thing one can ask for. And $5 good food never hurts.

Today I sat at the fence all day. Uneventful, but somewhat enjoyable nonetheless.

And somewhere in this weekend, I finished the 11-411 project, about question answering for wikipedia articles, and I got that little rush of excitement from finishing a program and I remembered that I LIKE what I do, and also that I'm not terrible at it. I'm the luckiest guy in the universe.

And then this is really kind of funny:
and there's one for CMU, which is a little eerie because I know some of these people.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

This blog is becoming more and more like a digg account every day

Or a digg page or whatever you call it, one of those pages where you just list links that you like. But here is a link that I like:
Michael Pollan explains it all
(warning: long article. You don't have to read it all, just read what you want.)

If someone said to me "lay out your beliefs on food", I would probably just link to this guy, because he says a lot of things that I agree with and he presents them in a well-formulated argument, which is something that I haven't done since 12th grade English class. (We scientists lose our ability to write, you humanitarians lose your ability to do math. Not that that's a good thing.)

Also he's so damn reasonable, which is something I really value in an arguer. I'm glad he never strays into saying "meat is murder" or "you people buying your frozen dinners are wrong" or "McDonald's is killing the environment" or whatever because that would alienate his opponents, and we won't get anything done if we can't have a reasonable conversation.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


This merited a news story? Also, awesome.

Shit, philosophy time again

Okay, a quote that's rattling around my brain:
"If you're only happy based on your life circumstances, you're not really happy at all."
"If the only things that make you happy are temporary and fleeting (your work, your possessions, even your friends), your happiness is really only temporary and fleeting."
"If you're only happy when things are going well, you're doing it wrong."
or something to that effect.
Is that something real that a super-enlightened Buddhist guy (or other happy person) has said or would say? Or am I making this up?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

My Ecuadorian Food Diary

Thought you might enjoy this. I mean, maybe not, whatever. In a sense, it's sort of like a toothbrushing diary (4/8/08: used Colgate Total, spearmint flavor. 4/9/08: Colgate Total spearmint and floss. 4/10/08: Aquafresh!) but in another sense, it's neat, because I ate a lot of cool fruits.

Food in Ecuador, and there was a lot of it, recounted with more details than you care about, but missing some foods that I would like to have remembered, and also missing guinea pigs, because we did not eat them

Saturday (3/8/08 if you're counting)
Lunch/dinner in Quito:
Crispy roasted corn (some salty, some sweet; our guide said they called them "dogshit")
empanadas with a pink spicy sauce
lomo fritado (pork)
hominy (I think)
potato (or maybe plantain) patties
salsa-type stuff
cooked fig in syrup with some bland cheese
red wine
naranjilla and tomate de arbol fruits and their juices
Snack on the way to Muisne: Chifles (plantain chips, in a bag, from a gas station)

Sunday 3/9
Pineapple (which was white, not yellow at all, and not super-sweet, but pretty good)
Rice, beans
Fried mahi mahi nuggets
Carrot/cucumber/lettuce salad
Fried plantains
Somewhere out on a trail: Guava (or something. Andres insisted it was different from guayaba, which we call guava. Some sleuthing only reveals that what we ate may be this? But it came in a long pod.)
Cauliflower and carrots salad
Some donutty things with chocolate sauce

Monday 3/10
Breakfast/walking through jungle:
Fresh coconuts and coconut water (which is really good)
Cherimoya (also awesome, tastes like yogurt)
Instant coffee (ignorant I thought that they grew and drank a lot of coffee in Ecuador. Not so! And the coffee they drink is all instant, or boiled down hardcore so you have to dilute it to drink it.)
Guanabana (aka Soursop, and totally different from Guava or Guayaba.)
Beef stew with peppers
Plantain pancakes with chocolate
Lettuce leaves
Dinner: I forgot

Tuesday 3/11: No idea! Sick all day!

Wednesday 3/12: Sick most of the day! Had some shrimp and a cassava thing for dinner.

Thursday 3/13:
Some kind of very salty omelet
Other pancakey thing
Lunch (at a lady's house in Muisne):
Soup with beef, cassava, etc. in broth
Fish in coconut lime sauce (awesome)
Dinner: forgot

Friday 3/14:
Some kind of banana pancakes
Maracuya (passion fruit) juice
Lunch: Ceviche with shrimp, lime, tomato, hot peppers, some herb. Possibly the best thing I ate the whole trip.
Plantain chips
Dinner (on beach):
Fried fish
Rice, beans
Plantain patties
Sometime throughout the evening:
A few caipirinhas. (apparently popular in Ecuador as well as Brazil.)

Saturday 3/15: don't really remember.

Sunday 3/16: a huge breakfast with no rice or bananas in sight.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Ads for cake mix in Argentina

like this one are much better than ads for cake mix here. (plus I'll buy anything if it's got an ad by AiH. Oh wait, not a Sprint phone.)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A few things, no theme, unlike my radio show

1. If you're not aware, my radio show is on Mondays 2-4pm on WRCT 88.3fm (or at I call it "special topics in modern pop music" because I want to try to educate listeners a little bit about what I know about pop music and its various sub- or related genres. My former show was called "I will tell you the names of the songs that I play". I'm big on the college radio station as music education, in addition to just fun music, because you can get out your ipod and play just fun music. (or Japanese noise rock, or whatever) But it's up to us flesh-and-blood DJs on a real-life radio to try to expose you to the newest and best.

This week I played acousticky folky singer-songwriter stuff. (I didn't like it. But other people might.) I played about 3 songs, then got on the air and said what I thought about them and who they were. (might have been Sufjan Stevens, Cat Power, or something) A guy called in and said he really appreciated how I told the listeners who was playing and made some kind of connection to the music, because most DJs just play music for an hour. I felt like my four years as a WRCT DJ were finally validated. It was really nice. Thanks, guy!

2. Speaking of music, Vampire Weekend is actually great. Sometimes I'll be listening to instrumental electronic stuff or grandiose post-rocky soundscapes or whatever, and I'll really just want something goddamn catchy and happy!

3. No longer speaking of music, this weekend was even better. Thank you, weekends!

4. Hate to end on a philosophical note, but I'm wondering (after going to Ecuador, although I was wondering before going to Ecuador too) what one person's responsibility is in this world.

For example, here are some responsibilities:
- Don't be a jerk. This is the most basic thing you can do: not make the world a WORSE place. Don't kill, hurt, steal, cheat, etc. But if this is all you accomplish, it by no means makes you a good person at all.
- Love other people. That's important.
- Work. Do what you're good at, and do it well. I think this is a requirement; think of the world as a commune. If you don't produce anything, you're hurting the world, because you take up things.
- Be happy. I'm pretty sure this is a responsibility, as well as a right.
- Help others, in the "service" sense. I'm not so sure about this. St. Ignatius High School would say "definitely yes." The world at large would say "meh, whatever." I mean, should I spend one day a month building a house or something? Donate 10% of my income to charity? Does that really help the world? Should I do that for my own good? Or is this just somewhat-Christian-upbringing guilt speaking?