Sunday, April 29, 2007

Solve this problem quickly, using your basic instincts

A baseball bat and a ball combined cost 1 dollar and ten cents. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

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You should give your answer before you have time to read this sentence, and if you already have read it, you have completely ruined everything and and you are an absolute waste to society.

ANYWAY, if you did answer the question quickly, like I did today when it was posed to me, and apparently like 55% of Harvard grads did as well, you probably answered incorrectly. You probably said that the ball costs 10 cents. But this is not an algebra question. The issue the question raises is whether we can ever really trust our own reasoning. If we make simple computational errors like this all the time, which we probably do, then how can we be so sure that any conclusions we come to are ever objectively right?

Third Eye Blind explains existentialism

Wikipedia tells us that the San Francisco based-band got its name because lead singer Stephan Jenkins had just read a book about the metaphysical idea of a third mind's eye, and the rest of the band apparently agreed that the name didn't suck. But this has nothing to do with why their music helps me to understand a relatively obscure philosophical form of thought. Nor does my understanding have anything to do with Stephan Jenkins at all, who by all accounts is a loud-mouthed prick. Instead, it has to do with turning 16, getting my license, and having to commute to the city every day.

I think that we can all agree that we don't really have much choice over what kind of music that we listen to until we start to drive. When you're in the house, you either listen to the kind of music that the rest of family listens to, or the opposite of the kind of music the rest of your family listens to. This applies in all situations with some generational gaps; for example, if your parents listened to The Rolling Stones, our generations logical equivalent would be Nirvana, The Eagles probably correlate with Fall Out Boy, and Marvin Gaye probably leads to Jay-Z. Then again, if you choose to react against the music the rest of your family listens to, that could potentially lead to the awkward situation where the mom that grew up listening to The Beach Boys walks in to her son's room while he's blasting the Wu Tang Clan's "Gravel Pit."

But the thing is, all of this changes once you turn 16 and start to drive. Suddenly you technically have control over the radio, you have control over the volume, and you have control over what CD is blaring at any specific moment. Which brings us back to existentialism, which is (grossly simplified) the idea that we control each of our own universes and as such ought to take accountability for our actions. The classic example that is posed to explain the theory is that anybody who worked for the Nazis in WWII made a choice to do so, despite what kind of pressures they may have been facing to take part. But we all know that it would be unfair to apply this theory to anybody too young, because they have been proportionally influenced by their parents. So, what better cut off date than when you turn 16 and start to drive? Your parents might not like it, but when you get behind the steering wheel and put the pedal to the medal, you can go wherever you want. And listen to whatever kind of shitty music you'd like to.

And when I was 16 I started to listen to Third Eye Blind heavily. For the longest time, I rationalized my liking of the band whenever anyone questioned me by saying that my brother stored all of their CDs in the car anyway, or that I was obligated to support them since they hail from San Francisco, or that I was just really high. But when I heard two months ago that they were coming to Poughkeepsie for a show, I faced the theoretically existential but very real dilemma of whether I was obligated to drop everything and go see them. Does listening to their stuff for such a long time mandate that I am a fan, or can I just right it off to mere circumstance that I ended up hearing so much of their music? Do you blame everyone that participated in the Holocaust, or just those with a certain degree of autonomy?

Sitting at the Chance Theater last Wednesday, with its overpriced drinks but surprisingly clean bathrooms, I realized that it doesn't really matter, and I realized that it really matters a lot. It doesn't matter why I was there because I was there anyway, but it matters why I was there a lot because I would have to explain to everybody why I went. Which, in a way, is a lot like Third Eye Blind's music: if you really listen, it's not that deep, but if you don't expect anything and just listen, it's really deep. So, best of luck to Third Eye Blind as they continue on their tour across the country. I hope they bust out again in 2007 with their fourth album. They are from San Francisco, after all.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Golden State Warriors and Iraq

I know that most of you are probably thinking, "Adonal Foyle and Zarko Cabarkapa finally submitted their joint proposal to the United Nations?!?!" No, no, no, I'm not even sure that they ever even had one. This is about how the Warriors are teaching America some valuable lessons that they could apply to the war in Iraq, if only we would listen.

- You can take away the home court advantage, but it will only get you so far. The Warriors just "took away" the home court advantage from Dallas by winning the first game on their court, but where has it gotten them, really? We still have to win the series, and in order to really capitalize on the victory we'd have to win three games in a row at the Oracle Arena, a task as tall as it is unfunny. We can mitigate the fact that we are fighting on the insurgents' soil with superior technology and speedy transport, but ultimately we still have to stop the insurgency on the ground level.

- They just don't stop coming. Even once the Warriors beat the soulless Mavericks, we'll still have to tango with the next challenger, likely Houston's duo of Chinese giant Yao Ming and American-bred Tracy "I just woke up" McGrady. From then on we could take on Pheonix, the Spurs, or maybe even the Godless Adulterer himself, Kobe Bryant. Even if we manage to take out the local militia that exists in Iraq now, who's to say that reinforcements won't come poring in from extremist populations in surrounding nations? A conundrum as simple as it is real.

- The people that we're fighting against will go to any length to win. Let's not sugar-coat things here. Dirk Nowitzki's pointy elbows and Mark Cuban's referee intimidation tactics are akin (on a metaphoric level) to suicide bombers and oil embargoes in the Middle East. This is total war, where you go hard to the basket on every possession because it could very well be your last. But it leaves us drained, drained of soldiers in the saddest sense, drained of dollars in the most ironic sense, and drained of energy in the most annoying sense. What if another war starts up, what if we make it to the next round? We will have the resources to defend ourselves, or we will have to rely on our neighbors the Canadians to help defend us? That would be the basketball equivalent of Sarunas Jasikevicius going 45 minutes.

Despite all this, we push forward, behind Baron Davis' million dollar smile and the campaign financing of George W.'s millionaire oil tycoon buddies. Somewhere, deep on the horizon, lies a moral, a conclusion, a way for America to find itself while it watches grown men run up and down an 84-foot court. It seems to tell me that there's no way we'll ever win, and just like Alexander the Great and numerous 8-seeds before us, we'll wind up condemned to a footnote in the history books of yet another failed Iraqi nation-building attempt, of yet another failed run-and-gun offense. But from the other stratosphere I spot hope: an end to Iraq, the National Basketball Championship, looming there, refusing to go away. And you and I, America, are stuck in the middle, trying to decide whether it's worth rooting for my hometown team or whether I should just give up and vote Green. To quote the Notorious B.I.G., "you either slangin' crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot." Preach, Biggie, preach. We're listening.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Warriors in the Playoffs?

I've been both a basketball and a Bay Area sports fan my whole life. That's why it has always been so sad for me to deal with the perpetually downtrodden Warriors, a team that for as long as I can remember have been absolutely terrible. And when I say terrible, I mean terrible. The team hasn't made the playoffs in thirteen years, and considering that more than half of the teams make the playoffs each year, that number appears to be borderline statistically impossible. Yet I've watched year after year as we've overpaid slow and overrated players (Adonal Foyle, Troy Murphy, Mike Dunleavy... the list continues) to go out and lose ballgames.

Finally, this year they seem to have gotten their act together to a certain extent. They traded two of the slowest players in the league and got back some youth and excitement from the Pacers. We've rattled off 15 out of 20 games, and if we win tonight, we're in the playoffs for the first time ever. It's hard not to get excited. But I've been let down by anybody in life, it's been the Warriors, and with every national media source seemingly handing them the playoff spot, I'm not exactly overzealous with confidence. If the Clippers win and we lose tonight, they have the tiebreaker over us, so they'll get into the playoffs instead.

That said, I believe in the Warriors. It's been too long, and now it's our time. Give 'em hell, boys. You've got supporters all across the country.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Virginia Tech Shootings

What happened today at Virginia Tech is a terrible thing to hear about. Everybody has discussed it in hushed tones and nobody knows really how to react. On the day of such a horrible event, it's hard not to want to know why it happened. Cognitive Daily has an interesting take on the profiling of such individuals--that they seem to be suicidal in some way. This makes sense in that when you kill your fellow students, innocent people, there can't be an endgame beyond that moment. To me, it seems that only somebody who wanted to die could possibly commit such an act. But really, on a day like today, we should just mourn for the family and friends of those affected. These are my rambled thoughts on a very sad day for any American.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Movie Review: Grindhouse

I say this with the realization that nobody will probably heed my advice, but you really should. If you see Grindhouse, walk out before the second half. Stay for the funny fake ads ("Machete" killed me), stay for the first movie (Planet Terror, very entertaining), but leave before Tarantino's section. My opinion has nothing to do with the fact that the movie is so long, is has to do with the fact that Death Proof may have some of the most boring, useless, and long-winded dialog in the history of any movie. Tarantino has reached a new level of pretentiousness, where he no longer even tries to make a good movie, preferring instead to annoy the $#!@ out of everyone because he knows that they'll watch it anyway. Don't fall into the same trap I did: walk out after the first half. Seriously.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Andy's tips on how to make a paper look longer than it really is

One of the reasons that it's weird for me to do a blog is because I have nothing really that this blog is "about." But the problem with this criticism is that I want to blog, and I don't really have an area of expertise, so my only real option is to write about a lot of random stuff. But if there were to be something that I could definitively claim expertize on, making papers for school seem longer than they really are would be it. So, on the eve of just writing two long papers for school, I'm inspired to share my knowledge. I've split it up into three sections for your viewing convenience, a beginner level (middle school), an intermediate level (high school), and an advanced level (college). The key to remember is that this post is not about trying to cheat or gain an edge over your fellow student, it's about beating the system against an archaic rule (page minimums), and generally bringing down the man.

Beginner:

- One of the most obvious tricks is to change the font. If you want to be obvious about it you can go with Century Gothic or Arial Bold, but the classy move is to change it to Palatino Linotype. It makes the characters a little bit longer vertically without making it look comically large. Some teachers even think it looks better. What they don't know won't hurt them, right?

- Make the margins smaller. Not much too to it here. Once you get out of middle school, teachers will start checking for this kind of stuff, but when you're this young, everything still thinks you're innocent. Please, I haven't been innocent since the first grade when I used to cheat in kickball.

- Use tons of quotes, and if you can, include block quotes where you make the margins smaller. Once you get to the intermediate level teachers will start telling you that you need to "analyze the text" and other liberal bullshit like that. For now, take advantage of the fact that people are just happy to see that you've done the reading.

Intermediate:

- If the beginner method was to make the margins narrower, then the intermediate method is to make the pages shorter. Primarily this should be done at the bottom, because the way that word documents auto-format the paragraphs is always weird and it is easy to claim innocence if your page is a little too short. This is in the intermediate section, however, because it requires slightly more tact.

- Once you've reached the intermediate level, you've probably already begin to understand the beauty that is Google images. What you probably haven't realized is how these images can be your best friends in papers. Simply add a map of Paris in your paper about the French Revolution, or a picture of a typical 18th century bachelor in your essay on Pride and Prejudice, text wrap it, and you're good to go. Whoever said that a picture is worth a thousand words was a wise man indeed.

Advanced:

- Make the periods bigger. The teacher can tell by this point if you make the font size of most of the paper much larger, but just by making the periods font size 16 or 18, you can increase the length of the paper (by making the length between lines longer), and no one will be the wiser.

- People seem to have an idea that you can only put footnotes on history research papers. But who made up that rule? Footnote words from urbandictionary.com in your english papers, some existential thinker in your philosophy papers, and Keynesian thought in your econ papers. Not only does the footnote lengthen the line it's on, it also adds the descriptive line at the bottom of the page, and the useful black line separating your text from your footnote descriptions. This is why endnotes are for dorks and footnotes are for the cool kids.

All these tips are legit, tried and true. If any teacher calls you on one of them, good. Calmly explain to them that page minimums are a joke and that most geniuses weren't understand as children anyway. If possible, swipe the evidence from their clutches and run like hell. Happy lengthening!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Farming in the Snow

I've been doing field work this semester at the Vassar Farm this semester because I wanted to a) get my hands a little bit dirty, b) be outside more often, and c) see what it is like to work at a farm. Of course, all three of those desires have backfired because my hands have gotten a lot dirty, I've subsequently realized that I could have just as easily gone outside to throw a frisbee, and discovered that I not only would get to see what it is like to work at a farm, but I would actually have to do the work.

Luckily, I've been sort of enjoying it in an ironic "I deserve this" self-masticating kind-of way, and that's something. This Thursday was a prime example, when we were measuring out the fields and pounding stakes into the ground. Suddenly, white specks began to fall from the ground. Some of them hit me on my sweatshirt, and I had to push them off. It became apparent that they weren't going to stop falling anytime soon, and I wondered what we were going to do about it. Would we seek refuge somewhere? "It's snowing, Andy, in case you haven't noticed," Asher, the guy I was working with, finally remarked. I guess people don't stop being hungry when it's cold out. And that was when I found that it's much easier to count your blessings when they are staring you in the face.

Lee Yearly's lecture on the Toaist idea of useless wandering

Lee Yearly, professor at Stanford University and teacher of my current philosophy professor, was the philosophy department's main speaker this year. Flushed with curiosity, I attended. Some random thoughts from his presentation:

1) The best orators all seem to all include tons of stories when they talk. I think we all love stories because they are such a good way of showing ideas without having to explicitly explain them. I want to make a point to learn more stories. I think that the practice has been looked down upon because it may not the best way to construct a persuasive argument, but there is lots of upside to telling a short story.

2) One of his main points was that society seems to have a way of using up "useful" people, and that we all seem to have a good idea of the use of being useful, but we don't have a very good idea of the use of the useless. I don't really understand the idea, but at the time I found it quite profound, because his prime example was pre-medicine students taking organic chemistry for the sole purpose of becoming a doctor in the future, even though they hated the class. Everyone always enjoys a good pre-med joke. Stupid pre-med students.

3) One point that did resonate with me was that we shouldn't take things in the present so seriously, because we have no way of knowing whether or not they will be "good" or "bad" in the long run. That point sort of reminded me of a refrigerator magnet I once saw that said something along the lines of, "Things will work out okay in the end. If they aren't okay, then it's not the end." As was the motto of our junior year basketball team, "indeed."

I still don't love philosophy, but if it's growing on me it's because it really has a way of getting you to think. I mean, the use of the useless? That's ridiculous. But somehow, if you start to think about these things for way longer than you should, they start to grow on you. And it's pretty money.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Florida versus Ohio State

Having predicted the finals correctly for the first time since 2002 when my boy Jarrett Jack and Georgia Tech almost made me the envy of the whole male population at my high school, I am naturally very pumped for this game. I think it comes down to Ohio State needing to force turnovers against a taller Florida team. On a more personal level, I hope that Oden stays out of foul trouble for two reasons:

1) So I can see him play and decide whether I would pick him over Kevin Durant of Texas with the #1 selection

2) As my economics teacher put it, so we can all see "Joakin Noah get slapped around a little bit." Couldn't agree more, the French pig needs to get taught a lesson or two about how we do things in the states.

Prediction: I'm sticking with my guns and going with Ohio State. No way that Florida wins both the football and basketball ships in the same year.