Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Quick thoughts and updates

1) "What kind of classes are you taking?" is a 500 times better class than "what classes are you taking?" Nobody cares about what actual classes people are in unless they are very close and are likely to forget anyway. My parents asked me 189203 times this summer what classes I was taking, and I'm sure they still don't know. Not only that, but most students hate to answer this question because they get asked all the time. I would say it'd be better just to find out generally what type of stuff they're interested in, if anything.

2) I couldn't be more excited for this upcoming year.

3) By the end of last year, I had stopped saying "hella." When I realized this, I couldn't even look at myself in the mirror for three days, I was so ashamed. When you don't say hella, you let the whole bay area down. I pledge to continue saying hella all year this time, and hopefully my whole life. It could be cool to try to work it into writing too. Any thoughts on this? Is it too colloquial?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Book Review: Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek

Tim Ferriss does a lot of things right in his first serious foray into the writing world. He crammed his book full of very useful life-hacking tips, including actual websites where these ideas could be followed up on. He included tons of interesting tidbits about his life and how he has seen angles that others haven't been able to. And perhaps most importantly, he emphasizes that each of us can be just as successful if we put our mind to it and maintain the right attitude. This book doesn't lack details, which separates it from many of the other self-help books I have read and is probably one of the key reasons that it has been so high-grossing.

Nevertheless, his book wasn't flawless. One of the main gripes I had with Ferriss's style was his attitude that the world should be working for you. He suggests that everything be outsourced, from checking your mail to researching column topics, so that you can pursue the things that you ought to care about. This is a cute idea, but there are two problems it doesn't account for:

a) You can't take an order or check a pulse while you're halfway around the world. Doing your business mobile works for some industries, but certainly not all of them.

b) It totally disregards the notion that your occupation is at least partially about doing some good in the world. If you want to be an activist, Ferriss encourages you to streamline your main occupation and commit yourself to volunteering. But what about organizations that provide valuable services or perform research critical to solving novel diseases? Maybe I'm young and idealistic, but I think that some professions might be worth not quitting.

Ferriss writes funny, quick, and interesting. You have to respect the way he has reinvented his own life. But keep in mind that while forging your own path in life is admirable, the way he specifically did it may not be for everybody.

Friday, August 24, 2007

J.K. Rowling's Last Metaphor

One of the reasons that the Harry Potter series has been so successful is Rowling's ability to illuminate problems with her society by portraying slightly altered versions of the same issues in the her fantastical wizarding world. For example, wizards who are not direct descendants of other wizards are considered "half-bloods" if one of their parents is a Muggle (the wizard term for a non-wizard) or, worse yet, "mudbloods" if both their parents were Muggles. This problem is absurd to the reader, which is partly Rowling's point because such name calling is shockingly similar to much of the racism that occurs in our real world. Countless other such metaphors are found in the series, exploring the issues that she finds important in her life through the fictional lives of Harry and friends.

While most of these metaphors make a lot of sense, the one thing that I have never understood is the reason why many in the wizarding world are unwilling to call Voldemort, the main "bad guy," by his real name. They prefer to call him "You-Know-Who," or if they are very serious about the whole thing, "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named." Harry never believed in this taboo about Voldermort's name, prefering instead to follow Dumbledore's advice that "fear of the name only increases fear of the thing itself." Rowling obviously included this phenomenon for a reason, for yet another social commentary, but I had up until now not been able to figure out why.

It took the death of an old classmate of mine about two weeks ago to enlighten me. While pondering how sad it is that he died, I've reflected upon how we as a society don't really discuss death until it affects us immediately. I've been lucky in that I haven't had to experience much death in my young life, but this classmate was one of the first people my age who I had known for a long time, whose house I had been over to, and who had made an impact upon my life. I think there are many reasons why death is such a hushed topic, one of which must be a fear that it will lead to unnecessary melancholy.

Through this reflection I believe I understand Rowling's last metaphor, the most convoluted yet one of the most powerful points in her series. Fear of a "name," or fear of talking about something, will only increase fear of the thing itself. The less we talk about death publicly, the more we will fear it privately. Do you agree?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

No regrets

It's easy to say no regrets when everything is going good, but when you turn down a chance to go to the Giants game where Barry Bonds hits his 756th home run, suddenly it's not so easy.

I was even going to write a line here about my excuse for why I didn't go to the game, but I don't even care. No excuses, no regrets. (Just a blog post.)

Reviews, reviewers, and the yahoos that refuse to believe in a collective rating system

One of my teachers in middle school once assigned us for homework to flip a coin 100 times and record the results of each toss. Pretty easy, we thought, especially since it would be so easy to fabricate. A couple of heads here, a couple of tails there, make sure it’s all even, and viola. Easier than cheating at monopoly when you’re the banker.

The next day, we whipped out our papers for our teacher to inspect. Some of us had made the numbers up and some of us had actually flipped the coins. Our instructor began to walk around the room, checking each paper, and declaring which of had told the truth and which of us were compulsively lying little bastards.

Apparently he was able to tell which ones were forgeries because these wasn't very much statistical variance. Real sheets will have some sequences with many of one result in a row or in a clump. The kids who faked it generally just wrote “heads, tails, heads, tails,” with maybe an occasional “tails, tails, heads.”

What on earth does this have to do with reviews? I’ll tell you what. After reviewers claim that one selection is excellent, they feel obligated, much like the nefarious students, to reverse the claim for their next review. Even if this phenomenon doesn’t operate on a conscious level, I would argue that they feel at least a subconscious pull against the current movie if they enjoyed their previous one.

For the record, they are certainly justified in their self-consciousness about how many movies in a row they give the thumps up or down. If a critic gives the old “two thumbs way up” to everything, then how much weight will his endorsement begin to hold? So I’m not blaming any movie critic in particular for falling victim to this. It’s human nature, so hate the game not the player, right?

But while I’m not attacking their persona, I am attacking their livelihood. Give it up, people, and embrace the collective rating system that is IMDB. You love it, you just don’t know it yet.

Editor’s Note: I still retain the right to become a movie reviewer at some point in my life, in which case this post will be deleted and anyone that may have seen it will be exterminated. Consider yourself duly warned.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Movie Review: The Simpsons

We all love movies that start with a bang, and The Simpsons movie definitely delivers, with a quick itchy and scratchy sketch leading right into a nice ironic segue making fun of the audience for paying for something that they could conceivably "watch for free on TV!"

But for many of the old time fans who watched the Simpsons in the early and middle nineties every Sunday night at 8:00, begging their parents to stay up "just to watch one show," we know that we can't get the real Simpsons on TV anymore. The TV show has grown stale, too Homer-centric and too played out.

So have they been saving all of the good jokes for the past 6 years for this movie? Color me lukewarm. I think that most of the good press they've been getting is due to some lowered expectations because most TV to movie flicks flop and the benefit of the doubt because of all the goodwill they've built up over the last 17 years.

Then again, it wasn't at all bad, and we probably owe the writers and creators of the show our $10, considering all the good they've brought into our lives. So if you are a fan, or if you ever were, go pay your respects at the box office and join the phenomenon. Who knows, you'll probably even chuckle a couple of times along the way.

Rated 7/10 on imdb.com.