Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Best of Andy

If you're new to this blog and don't want to spend too much time snooping around all of the middling posts, you've come to the right place. Here are some of my best posts by category:

Psychology
Iterating Towards Thinking Less

Bad Experiences and Great Stories
The Cognitive Dissonance of Long Books
On Jealousy
The Conformity Theory
Ways to Offset the Fear of Death

Statistics
Why Have Free Throw Percentages Remained Constant?
How to Lie With Anecdotes
Prediction Markets Suck?
Tuesday Statisticz: Music That Makes Countries Rich
Does Correlation Equal Causation?
Tuesday Statisticz: The Dude Would Have Voted Libertarian
Tuesday Statisticz: Calculating The Buddha's Caloric Intake
Is the Internet an Echo Chamber?


Philosophy
Envision Victims But Not Villians
Counter Examples in Real Life
On Boredom
Notes from the Buddha
Cranky Altruism
Making You Think

Rating Systems
The Myth of the Rational Movie Rater
Rating Incompleteness Theorem
Book Ratings

How imdb Determines the Top 250

Sports
Focal Foul Calls in Biased Refereeing
Why Aren't There More Knuckleballers?
The Golden State Warriors and Iraq
Is ESPN Going the Way of MTV?
My Contribution to Humanity
Kobe and the Self Serving Bias

Random Musings
Updated Thoughts on Climate Change
Why Some Ideas Fail
Grand Theft Cinema
Cultural Variance in Saying Good-Bye
Andy Sets a New World Record
Chess Misdiagnosed as a Game of Intellect
Peanut Butter and Jelly
The Top 10 Christ Figures

If you'd like to get in touch with me, you can either leave a comment on one of the posts or send me an e-mail at amckenz(at)gmail(dot)com. I would love to talk to you about writing, blogging, science, or whatever. I respond to e-mail religiously.

If you are feeling vindictive, you can check out the Worst of Andy as well, an aggregation of my most terrible posts.

The Stress/Creativity Model

I used to think that I couldn't accomplish anything productive unless I was stressed, because naturally stress forces one into action. But not I'm thinking that it's really more that I'm unable to accomplish anything creative, original, or worthwhile without annoying my friends about how much work I have. I think most people will agree with me that it's not hard to do something menial like math homework, but if you have to compose a piece or write an essay, it's hard to do anything good unless you're really stressed out while you're doing it. Here's the model that sums up this phenomenon (if the text is blurry blame Microsoft paint for being so bootleg--click on the image to enlarge): My original game plan was to try to ignore this relationship and do my assignments and such early. It was a great idea, but unforunately only worked zero times. So I needed something new.

Then I heard about Dostoesvky, famous Russian author, who you if you don't know, you should probably find out. I've read some of his stuff and let me tell you that on the whole the hype is for real. Anyway, the story about him is that after he would have money from the relative success of one of his former books, he would go to the casino and gamble it all away until he was broke again, apparently because he thought that unless he was hungry, he wouldn't be able to write.

My first thoughts upon hearing this story were that it is pretty legit to gamble away all of your money and not even pretend to try to win, and that all Russians remain crazy in my eyes. But then his ideas got me thinking, and I realized that he had totally the same problem that I have, only 150 years ago. However, instead of trying the ignore strategy, which legitimately doesn't work at all, he embraced his problems head on and went about finding ways to make himself more stressed. Well, why don't I do that too? My initial thoughts of ways to make myself more stressed, and thus give a much needed early boost to the creative process, are to e-mail my teacher beforehand and tell him that my paper is really nice, thus enhancing the pressure on me to write a really nice paper, or have somebody make me drink lot of hot sauce if they don't like what I've done.

But those ideas are kind of lame. Does anybody have any others? My gpa and coolness are in the hands of you, the loyal reader. Don't let me down.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Failed Blog Post Series, Part II

Failed Blog Post -- "Having a "calling" in life." I was going to write about how I think having a calling in life is a entirely ridiculous and patently absurd concept, but then I decided that just because I don't have one doesn't mean that I can't let others have their fun. I'll just stand and mock from a comfortable distance.

Failed Blog Post -- "The Platform Phenomenon." This was an idea I had while following the upcoming election a little bit and stumbled across some criticism of Barack Obama for his lack of a distinct platform. I would argue that being an effective leader is more about reacting to what's happening around you and working with others more than having good ideas yourself. Part of people's fallacy in overrating the importance of the head in any organization is that the people below him would be making a lot of the decisions. Obviously ideas are important, but a platform is an oversimplification of ideas so that it can be marketed. This post failed because it has blatant contradictions all over it and it's only effective selling point is the alliteration in the title.

Failed Blog Post -- "The Switch." This post was talking about how I was considering changing my name when I introduce myself from Andy to Andrew. It was mainly in response to everybody questioning "Eddy?" after I say Andy, ostensibly because they have issues with their ears. Andrew would reduce this confusion. I'm still definitely throwing this idea around, but somehow I feel like I would be selling out if I did so, and as you guys know, I am 100% about keeping it real around here.

Failed Blog Post -- "The Sports/Life Analogy." I wrote this one in the thick of basketball season when people were beginning to explain to me how sports were so similar to life. I am reticent to agree, because I think in many situations sports value things that might not always be valued outside of sports. Arrogance often trumps all in sports, as can a form of mindlessness, what is sometimes termed in basketball as a player who "has no conscience." But I think that we would all agree that, especially in our evolving ever-neoteric society, these qualities are not exactly fresh to death. Indeed, there are lots of reasons why making blanket statements about sport teaching lessons for life may be misguided. But ultimately, I realized that the better my post and the more well worded my explanations, the more of my own nose I would be cutting off to spite my face.

Editor's Note: These got way too long. Part III will attempt to keep them shorter. You're probably thinking, "What's that you say, there's going to be a part three? Awesome!!" Well, yes, but don't get your hopes up for soon. I've got to come up with some more post ideas and then fail at them. Wish me bad luck!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

This post may contain spoilers, but to be honest if you haven't finished reading the book you probably shouldn't even be on the internet anyway.

I'm really too mentally exhausted to write anything beyond a few simple sentences about J.K. Rowling's last installment, but I felt an obligation to my fans to give a couple of remarks about the finish to probably the greatest book series ever.

The book is very ambitious in it explorations of death, examining what may happen after you die, the way people react to the death of others, and the apparent honor in overcoming one's fear of death. It uses a lot of the surreal elements that her world allows to allow for some pretty creative angles. It works because she's built up each of these characters so much throughout the series and because we care so much when each of the characters dies. But as a stand-alone book I don't think it would be that effective, because it didn't have any of the fun side-plot like the Triwizard tournament or Harry's various love affairs that the other books had to help advance the plot. Reading the last 200 pages is a draining process; an absolute emotional roller coaster ride.

That said, I loved it, and (serious spoiler alert!) I'm really happy that she didn't kill off Harry at the end. There was a moment there when you had to be pretty sure that he was going to die, but then Rowling pulled off a cool effect where everyone thought he was dead and he sort of got to visit his own funeral, which I think is sort of a weird dream that lots of people have. That and the stuff about Dumbledore imperfect character were the strongest parts of the book. I also liked the epilogue if only because it effectively prevented anybody from making a sequel. All in all a strong finish, and I don't have to recommend the book to anybody, because if you're not a dweeb you'll read it anyway.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Failed Blog Post Series, Part I

Failed blog posts are like mistakes that you sort of regret the next day. You aren't exactly happy about it, and you tell yourself you wouldn't do it again, but you don't tell anyone about them, and subconsciously save them for a future lazy Sunday afternoon when you can't think of anything else to write about.

Of course, you forget that your Sundays are generally pretty busy after all, and before you know it you have tons and tons of old blog posts that you have no use for. So that's where this series is coming in: I'm going to briefly list the general scheme of these posts for your viewing pleasure, and them delete them from my drafts folder so I never have to see them again.

Failed Blog Post: "I Hate Political Parties." This was an old idea I had that mixes up a serving size of unrealistic idealism with a helping of ignorance, tossed with some sprinkles of teen angst. Then again, I still don't like the idea of political parties, I just don't see how not voting is going to help anything.

Failed Blog Post: "Scientific Articles Aren't Really as Complicated as they Appear." I thought this could be an awesome post until I realized that it was just a thinly veiled attempt to brag about something that really wasn't worth boasting about in the first place. It's been in my draft folder for over 6 months now.

Failed Blog Post: "In Defense of Normal People." This was supposed to be a post wondering aloud why the weird was valued so much more highly than the normal in our society. Then I remembered that this didn't apply in our society at all, just in the bubble that is Vassar. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.

Failed Blog Post: "Never Question Enthusiasm." This post was inspired by how annoying it is when somebody is really into something and then somebody else is like, "dude, why do you care so much?," and the first person just feels stupid. I decided not to post it because I thought it might hit too close to home.

Well, that's it for now! Part II will probably be coming up soon though, because this feels like spring cleaning all over again, only with ideas instead of dust, and a keyboard instead of Windex.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Palindromaholics Anonymous

Do you ever find yourself looking for palindromes on the digital clock on your DVD player more often than you actually watch the movie? Do you make a wish whenever you see a palindrome like 12:21 or 6:46 on your computer? Do you certainly not condone, but can see why a cult would agree to a mass suicide on a day, and at a time, that is a palindrome? Do you think that today is hands down the most legit day of the year?

If so, then palindromaholics anonymous is the place for you. Welcome, you're one of us now.