Monday, July 09, 2007

CEO Comedy Hour

"There are four equal managing members. I am the most equal of the four."

"The names of the funds are pretty long and strange, but they do make sense. It's not just like 'Chewbacca 5' or something. There's logic to it."

"I couldn't manage to make those corners rounded. [Sigh.] For those who haven't had the pleasure of using really sucks. Really. [Pause.] It's an evil, evil program. [Pause.]"

"I just visited the Ben and Jerry's factory. It's sad that those dudes sold out. [Pause.]"

"Always be a little cranky."

Information Battlespace VI: A Sign for a Store

"Electronic Concepts: The Digital Experience."

I think it sold cameras, maybe some porno. No concepts that I could see, but then again I was across the street.

Only in New York!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Semi-Demi-Hemi-Adulthood: Day 1.5

I forgot to bring underwear.

Also, there's no toothpaste here, although I don't blame myself for that one. I just went to Duane Reade to buy the cheapest brand possible, which turns out to be Aim "Multi-Benefit" (cleans, freshens, protects (those are the benefits)); as soon as I got back into the apartment, I nervously googled around to make sure there was no Chinese antifreeze lurking in my cut-rate tube.

I secretly hope there is.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Pep Talk on the Eve of Employment

xxB9erxx: i gotta sleep. but i gotta tell u, even though u dont really need me to say this. work is absolutely the worst thing in the world. its so bad. so fucking bad. you are going to be so miserable you dont even know

A Controversy

Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, trans. E.F.J. Payne (New York: Dover Publications, 1969), 1:272:

[W]e shall not speak...of a "law for for freedom"...Generally we shall not speak of "ought" at all, for we speak in this way to children and to peoples still in their infancy, but not to those who have appropriated to themselves all the culture of a mature age. It is indeed a palpable contradiction to call the will free and yet to prescribe for it laws by which it is to will.

On the other hand:

cover of The Oxford Handbook of Free Will

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Four Things: Two about Rap, and Two about the Past vs. the Present

  1. In the midst of an okay piece on T.I. (profoundly weakened by its super-lame attempt to analyze a stupid verse from "What You Know" using the vocabulary of old-fashioned poetry), Kelefa Sanneh makes a good point succinctly:

    All this split-personality stuff is patently absurd..., though evidently it’s a common enough response to the impossible demands of hip-hop, which more or less requires its stars — even, or especially, the veterans — to say ridiculous things, and mean them.

  2. An example of a problem with certain rap lines: in "Gangsta Grillz" (on In My Mind (The Prequel)), Pharrell says, describing the exterior of (I think) the Magic City strip club in Atlanta, "So many Phantoms the parking lot look like a graveyard." Now, the Phantom is a luxury car. Its name means "ghost." Ghosts hang around in graveyards (I guess). But a parking lot full of cars whose name means "ghost" does not look any more like a graveyard than a regular parking lot does (okay maybe a little bit but not much!). "So many friends of mine whom I refer to as 'dog' the club looked like a veterinarian's office." "So many Beatles the studio looked like Keyhole's bed because Keyhole's bed has a lot of bugs (beetles) on it."

    But how am I going to explain all of this to Pharrell? It's not that I think he's too dumb too understand; I just don't think he's a very good listener.

  3. The Iraqi boy band Unknown to No One (you have, by definition, heard of it), apparently still exists, but now it's based in the UK. I think I first read about these guys in a Sunday Telegraph article (linked to somewhere or other), which I just now re-dug up on LexisNexis. March 9, 2003 -- war just 11 days away. And even in this puff piece, we find a warning: "Given the fears that an American-led invasion could ignite a bloody civil war in Iraq, Unknown To No One is an impressively harmonious ethnic mix. Art Haroutunian and Shant Zawar are Armenian Christians; Nadeem Hamid and Hassan Ali, a 21-year-old biology student, are Arab Muslims, while Diyar Diler, also 21 and an English student, is a Kurd. When they are not rehearsing, the singers -- who all speak good English -- meet in Baghdad's popular coffee shops and video game arcades. They are opposed to war, but prefer not to discuss politics." Wise.

  4. A year ago (I really need to clear out my "blog ideas" file one of these days), Defamer dropped a post with the title "Paris Hilton Plunges World into Black Hole of Meaninglessness," linking to a Sun interview in which Paris said:

    Simple Life is a reality show and people might assume it’s real. But it’s fake.

    “All reality shows are fake basically. When you have a camera on you, you are not going to act yourself.

    “So before I started the show I thought I’d make a character like the movies Legally Blonde and Clueless mixed together, with a rich girl all-in-one.

    “Even my voice is different and the way I dress is different from me in real life. It’s a character I like to play. I think it’s carefree and happy. The public think they know me but they really don’t.”

    So when Paris told Barbara Walters, "I used to act dumb. That act is no longer cute," everyone shouldn't have scoffed. There's a paper trail. I really do think that it was more or less (more? less? that's the issue) an act all along.

Less than Meets the Eye (Oh Snap)

I just saw Transformers.

I think it gave me brain damage.

It is not very surprising, of course, that it failed to rise to the level of high art. But it didn't have to be moronic. It didn't have to be Autobot Comedy Hour. It didn't have to contain the following (approximate) dialogue, spoken in reference to the evil ringtone that the Decepticons somehow use to hack the U.S. military's computer systems:

Blonde Hacker Chick: This goes way beyond Fourier transforms. It's like quantum mechanics.

Skeptical, Uptight Military Guy: Nothing's that advanced. [Except for, well, quantum mechanics. Which describes all that is. --KH.]

Blonde Hacker Chick: This is. It's some kind of...DNA-based computer! I know that sound crazy, but...[Wow, that's so crazy it might work! And, in fact, it has worked since at least 1994, as you too can discover by looking up "DNA computing" on Wikipedia. Also, throughout the movie we are told that the Transformers are "non-biological" -- so they don't have DNA. --KH.]

No, I don't expect perfect scientific accuracy from a Michael Bay movie about alien robots that are also GM cars. But given that everyone in the audience knows that the characters are just talking bullshit, why do these people even bother? And if they feel like they have to insert pseudoscience claptrap in order to give the plot some verisimilitude, why do such a staggeringly half-assed job? Would it kill them to try Google?

At one point, we see the crafty, vicious little boombox robot downloading s33kr1t files from the Pentagon. I may have blinked at the wrong time, but as far as I could tell, most of these files consisted of old New York Times articles.

That's right: the Decepticons are so corrupt that they won't even spring for TimesSelect.

Other points:

  • Fighter jets and airborne Decepticons do battle in the skies of New York (or somewhere -- it's never really explained; Wikipedia's plot summary calls it simply "a nearby city"), but the moviemakers scrupulously -- scrupulously -- avoid depicting any hot plane-on-skyscraper action. They hint, they tease, but they keep us wanting more. I guess we'll have to wait for "Cloverfield" ("it has been widely regarded as a secret movie") or, barring that, my cinematic magnum opus. (Ask me if you don't know.)

  • There's a stupid Guantánamo scene, just as there was in Fantastic Four (the Silver Surfer under the knife). I smell trend piece!

  • Popcorn isn't good, and I should stop eating it.

  • Manohla Dargis panned the movie, and rightfully so. But her zany sentence-three punchline -- "The result is part car commercial, part military recruitment ad, a bumper-to-bumper pileup of big cars, big guns and, as befits its recently weaned target demographic, big breasts" -- is absurdly off the mark. Big breasts? Where, exactly? To be sure, the way the camera treats the female lead, Megan Fox, is embarrassing and exploitative, and, a few times, acutely so. Her "tops" do perhaps fall unrealistically low. But no one in the world would leave Transformers thinking about all the boobies they saw. I mean, even in this FHM shot (awk), it's clear that the photo pervs tried pretty hard to spiff up Fox's cleavage. She's a skinny girl. (And not necessarily a bright one: "Anytime I have a feeling about anything, I get tattooed. I have a poem I wrote on my ribcage and a symbol for strength on my neck, and my boyfriend Brian [Austin Green!!]'s name tattooed next to my pie." Vomit vomit vomit. Note: those three things (a poem she wrote, strength, the loser-y guy on 90210 who put crystal meth in his orange juice so he could study better for the SAT) are the three things Megan Fox has had feelings about. They are probably her interests on Facebook.)

    Anyway: so basically Manohla Dargis thought she was on a riff-roll with her "big" thing, and she figured she would just lie her way through the final term in the series, running on feminist fumes. She takes another crack at the "Transformers hates women" idea later on, writing:

    The actors tend to be more engaging, notably Mr. LaBeouf, who brings energy and a semi-straight face to the dumbest setup. Just as easy on the eyes, though for other reasons, are the two female leads, the genius hacker in throw-her-down heels (Rachael Taylor) and the grease-monkey bombshell (Megan Fox) who helps Sam rise to the manly occasion. These walking, talking dolls register as less human and believable than the Transformers, which may be why they were even allowed inside this boy’s club.

    More nonsense. "Throw-her-down heels"? It took me just about forever to figure out what she was getting at there (possibly a copy-editing glitch), and even now I have no clue what part of the movie she's thinking of. The hacker wore heels? If that's even true, it was never emphasized. I'm not sure we ever even learned her name. Walking, talking dolls? Sure, but are they any more so than Tyrese or Josh Duhamel? Those smoldering military hunks aren't exactly fully realized characters either. I'm more than willing to entertain the thesis that Michael Bay is a sexist doofus, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a clear signal here against the noisy backdrop of generalized idiocy.

    When a movie tries so hard to paint a target on its own back, it's strange to see Dargis aiming so poorly.

  • Anthony Lane also stumbles:

    The opening scene of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” takes place in deep space. Out of the darkness comes a voice that is deeper still. It makes Barry White sound like a countertenor, and this is what it says: “Before time began, there was the Cube.” Hello? Mr. Rubik?

    Again, a lousy, lazy riff. The Cube is stupid, yes. But only because of how the movie handles it later on. Why is this an intrinsically laughable idea? Because of the Rubik's cube? How is that a joke?

    And then, after describing the original line of Transformers toys, Lane writes (emphasis added):

    Now these delightful objets d’art have a movie to themselves. We should not be surprised. Long ago, when the impact of “Star Wars” was beefed up by a line of merchandise, some of us noticed that the five-inch Lukes and Leias possessed a depth and mobility that was denied to their onscreen counterparts, and, decades later, we have reached the reductio ad absurdum of that rivalry: rather than spin the toys off from the movie, why not build the movie from the toys? “Transformers” is not the first effort in this direction; I distinctly remember finding a couchful of children enraptured by a DVD of “Barbie of Swan Lake” and realizing that Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona” had not, after all, signalled the final disintegration of human personality.

    Sloppy, dumb. No, we should not be surprised. Not only is Transformers "not the first effort in [the] direction" of basing a movie on a toy line, it is not even the first Transformers movie. That came out in 1986 in America and 1989 in Japan ("although early promotional materials titled Transformers the Movie: Apocalypse! Matrix Forever [!] had promised a Summer 1987 Japanese release"). It featured Orson Welles's final movie role! Mr. Lane apparently didn't consult Wikipedia. Who cares, right? I do. You don't get to make your little point about how our culture is so degraded that now we're basing movies on toys ("when it comes to movie characterization, flesh and blood have had their chance. From here on, it’s up to metal and plastic") when the same exact degradation happened, in a directly analogous case, 21 years ago.

    Lane also remarks -- so droll! -- that

    The quarrel between the two sides [the Autobots and the Decepticons] began on their home planet. For the purposes of the movie, however, they duke it out on ours.

    The implicit joke: there's not really a good reason for the 'bots to be fighting here. But just go along with it! The movie is dumb! Yes, the movie is dumb. But this is one of the few points that it actually explains. They're duking it out here because they're all looking for the (hilarious!) Cube, which crash-landed on Earth purely by chance. "For the purposes of the movie"? Yes, but in precisely the same sense that Rosebud turns out to be Orson "Unicron" Welles's sled for the purposes of Citizen Kane. (I love the critical edge of the second paragraph in that Wikipedia entry: "Note that although Unicron would seem to be above factions like Autobot or Decepticon, his toys in the Cybertron and Titanium line were released with the Decepticons.")

    When the critics play just as fast-and-loose with the details as the big-budget auteurs do, who am I supposed to side with? Lil Wayne, Tha Carter II, "Best Rapper Alive": "Fuck 'em! Fuck 'em good, fuck 'em long, fuck 'em hard. Fuck who? Fuck 'em all." Not in a good way.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

They Really Know How to Push My Buttons

From: Hot news <>
Date: Jul 1, 2007 1:28 PM
Subject: New act of terrorism in the ...

Hot news! New act of terrorism in the USA. Thousand victims.

"Hot news!"

An Image to Savor; or, a Watched Pot

The great Cosma Shalizi, summarizing the Bayesian view of statistical mechanics:

Here's an (unfair) way of putting it: water boils because I become sufficiently ignorant of its molecular state.

The Only Technical Question

The end of an old entry by Mark Kleiman from a blog I don't read:

By the way, am I the only one to have noticed that, insofar as the "Nuclear Winter" folks were right, we have the solution to global warming right at hand? The only technical question is how many cities we'd have to nuke to generate the degree of cooling necessary to offset any given degree of warming. Which cities to nuke is, of course, a political, rather than a technical, question.

A Common Problem among Those Who Post on Comics-Oriented Message Boards

In a comment on Newsarama responding to a positive review of the upcoming Transformers film, the user "bigdaddyhub" wrote, no doubt breathlessly, "Now all I need is another fat kid to chest bump when I see this movie!!!"

Not Really Worth Blogging

Martin Baxter and Andrew Rennie, Financial Calculus (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 65: "We could suppress those paths which had path probability zero, but now we have lost something. Those paths may have been P-impossible but they are Q-possible. If we throw them away, then we have lost information about Q just where it is relevant -- paths which are Q-possible."

But are they Kim possible?!


UPDATE: I should mention that I killed a ladybug with this book. As an instrument of death, it is slender and elegant, the .22-caliber pistol of quantitative-finance literary insecticides.


My bedroom is across from a bathroom. I am on my bed (a popular watering-hole for the local arthropod population), reading about stochastic calculus and not understanding a dWt of it (jokes for nerds, jokes for nerds), when my mother appears in the doorway, apparently on the way to the loo. Apropos of nothing, she says,

"I don't like Bon Jovi anymore."

I look up, but by then she's gone.

There Was a Law and Order Episode Like This, but the Culprits Were Evil, Not Crazy

Via BoingBoing, via Mind Hacks, a six-year-old article from the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine:

A young man was admitted from prison to a psychiatric facility after reports that he had been acting in a bizarre manner. He had been arrested for stealing motor vehicles and assaults with weapons. At interview he was found to be experiencing the delusion that he was a player inside a computer game (adult-certificate game, widely available) in which points are scored for stealing cars, killing assailants and avoiding police vehicles. Psychotic symptoms had emerged slowly over two years. His family had noticed him becoming increasingly withdrawn and isolated from social activities. He developed delusions that strangers were planning to kill him and also experienced auditory hallucinations, constantly hearing an abusive and derogatory voice. Previously a computer enthusiast, he began to play computer games incessantly. He felt that the games were communicating with him via the headphones. In a complex delusional system he came to believe he was inside one of these games and had to steal a car to start scoring points. He broke into a car and drove off at speed, believing he had `invulnerable' fuel and so could not run out of petrol. To gain points he chose to steal increasingly powerful vehicles, threatening and assaulting the owners with weapons. Later he said he would have had no regrets if he had killed someone, since this would have increased his score.

Of course, as I told my personal rabbi, it's possible that we're all having this delusion all the time, except that the virtual world we're confusing for reality is just Second Life, so nothing bad really happens.

Information Battlespace V: The China Question

In the most recent version of the Defense Department's annual report to Congress on "The Military Power of the People's Republic of China" (PDF), after a few paragraphs on anti-satellite weapons that quote Colonel Yuan Zelu as explaining that "[The] goal of a space shock and awe strike is [to] deter the enemy, not to provoke the enemy into combat," we find a section under the heading "Information Warfare." Apparently "a November 2006 Liberation Army Daily commentator" wrote about the importance of getting "the upper hand of the enemy in a war under conditions of informatization"; this objective requires "making full use of the permeability, sharable property [Napster?!], and connection of information to realize the organic merging of materials, energy, and information to form a combined fighting strength." The term "information blockade" gets tossed about. This is no small beer: the People's Liberation Army sees "computer network critical to achieving 'electromagnetic dominance' early in a conflict."


Perhaps we shouldn't worry about China's quest for electromagnetic dominance. After all, America still pwnz0rz the internet, right? Maybe, but this (coincidental?) juxtaposition gives some cause for concern:

It's no wonder that China is free to seek "cyber edge" when NO ONE HAS TAKEN THE TIME TO UNDERSTAND WHAT BLOGGING REALLY IS.

Take some time today, people. Your country needs you.

Friday, June 29, 2007

No No No

A spider was just crawling across my bed. It tried to hide in my computer, probably seeking superpowers. I kept that from happening, but I think the thing is still alive.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Information Battlespace IV: Department of This Thing Looks Like That Thing

Uh oh. Behold the Internet (or, more precisely, "the hierarchical structure of the Internet, based on the connections between individual nodes (such as service providers)"):

network picture of the Internet, looking like a big HAL eye

Cf. Hal (or, more precisely, "Heuristically Programmed Algorithmic Computer") 9000:

picture of Hal 9000's camera eye

Scared yet? You should be. "At the center of the Internet are about 80 core nodes through which most traffic flows. Remove the core, and 70 percent of the other nodes are still able to function through peer-to-peer connections."

See also terrorism, the brain, and biology in general. Remember that New Yorker article about how hemispherectomies aren't a big deal? Apparently nothing can be damaged ever.