Wednesday, January 30, 2008

New Header

Those of you who read this blog solely through your RSS reader (which is highly encouraged) might not have noticed the picture of the Golden Gate bridge now on the top of the page. It's pretty cool, you might as well click through and check it out.

The photo was taken by Andrew Hess on a remarkably clear day over winter break, and you can check out more of his photos here. Thanks man.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Who is acting less optimally?

a) He who spends all class perusing facebook on his laptop, or
b) He who sits next to him and haughtily looks down at him for not paying attention?

I would initially assume a, but I'm beginning to think that it might be b. Being proud of yourself for not procrastinating can be dangerous. Suddenly you're also not paying attention to the material. At least the person on facebook is enjoying himself. The other option is, of course,

c) He who daydreams of posting in his blog, instead of listening to the teacher of his Learning and Behavior class.

I think we can all agree that c is the most contemptible.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Mark Cuban vs. Daniel Plainview in There Will be Blood

I like Mark Cuban's blog, but his post a couple of weeks ago about his competitiveness was eerily similar to the oil tycoon Daniel Plainview in There Will be Blood. Don't believe me? Here are some quotes from his post and the movie. You try to tell the difference.

"That's what success is all about. It's about the edge."

"I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed."

"...when the girlfriends you have had in the last couple years asked you which was more important, them or your business, you gave the right answer."

"What's this? Why don't I own this... why don't I own this?"

"I love the competition. I love the fire of it."

"Do you think God is going to come down here and save you for being stupid? He doesn't save stupid people."

"I see the worst in people. I don't need to look past seeing them to get all I need."

"It's very simple. It's whether or not you have the edge and have the guts to use it."

Cuban's post is here, the quotes from There Will be Blood are here. I'll post the answers are in the comments. I love Cuban, but at times he sounds a tad insane.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tips on Writing, Part I

No, not my tips on writing, silly. This is part one of my future ongoing series, tentatively titled "tips from authors whom I respect." I just finished reading Jack Kerouac's On the Road, and as he is fresh on my mind, there could be no better place to start.

He has a list of 30 concise and conversational tips for "Spontaneous Prose," of which I have chosen my favorites. Where exactly do you think I found it.

3) Try never to get drunk outside your own house

6) Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind

11) Visionary tics shivering in the chest

17) Write in recollection and amazement for y[ou]rself

20) Believe in the holy contour of life

29) You're a Genius all the time

I found that number 20 is the trait most distinct to Kerouac. If you want to describe something, you must believe that there is order in it, and he believed that there was a beautiful order to the world. Dying relatively young probably didn't hurt his artistic credibility either.

One man's slippery quest into pseudo-intellectualism

There are two sides to this gripe. One side believes that movies are meant to be judged based on their intent. So "B" movies are lovely, and B minus movies are even better. Their argument, as one commenter on imdb recently aptly put it, is that "sometimes a cigar is just a smoke, and a movie is just entertainment."

The other side of the gripe believes that this is patently absurd. The fact is, smoking a cigar will give you lung cancer, and there is no reason to watch a B movie when there are so many A movies out there.

Some might say, "but Andy, what if you just want to watch a movie, and you don't care about whether or not it is good, you just want to relax." This is the kind of thinking that recently persuaded a group of 8 young men to watch "Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood," the Wayan brother's spoof on movies about the hood. And don't get me wrong, there were a lot of laughs between minutes one and ten of the movie. Quite a few laughs, indeed. But then everybody was bored. The movie was not good. Everybody knew that it was going to be not good. Many people had already seen it.

And yet we watched it anyway. Our American culture does not understand post-modernism. We don't know how to apply it constructively to our lives. It doesn't matter what the filmmakers were "trying" to do when they made the movie. To quote the sexual harassment video on The Office, "intent is irrelevant."

Unfortunately, this is just noise. Nobody is reading this post. Nobody cares. Everybody is going to continue watching horrible movies, and continue to post-hoc rationalize it by saying that they didn't want to watch a good movie, they just wanted to be entertained. Cognitive dissonance does not allow you to waste your time; if you chose to watch the movie and spent time watching it, you must have liked it. I'm losing my faith in the youth of America. Nobody is reading this post. Nobody understands post-modernism. Everybody is going to continue watching horrible movies. I don't understand post-modernism. My life is in shambles.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Who clicks on ads?

I keep reading about how pay-per-click is the way to make money online these days. My only question is, who on earth clicks on those things?

If I want to buy something on the internet, I'll probably go to amazon or ebay. If I want some sort of information, I'd search google or wikipedia. Note that nowhere in this model am I clicking on random links that I see on a whim. I can't remember clicking on an ad in the last 3 months, even the ad sense ones that are meant to predict what I'll like.

My working hypothesis to explain this is that most people are less experienced on the internet, and don't know what they're doing when they click on these ads. If this is true, then ad-based revenue might be in for a downturn as the public in general becomes more net-savvy over time.

Will advertisers counter by becoming more invasive? Let's hope not.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

No country for old business models

Seth Godin on the state of the music industry: "The music business had a spectacular run alongside the baby boomers.... It was a well-greased system, but the key question: why did it deserve to last forever? It didn't. Yours doesn't either."

So the next time you feel sorry for Lil Wayne because his music keeps leaking, or fall for some record label's drivel when they try to guilt trip you, remember that this is no country for old business models. The world doesn't owe you anything. It was here first.

The dirty work

Anyone who's anyone knows that I plan to watch imdb's top 250. Apparently I'm not alone. My friend Jay recently showed me, which is a website that helps you to track your progress doing just that.

Here's my joint, currently 144/250. As you can see, I've done work on the top 100. I'm missing a couple in the top 50, M and Paths of Glory, mainly because I can't find them anywhere. I would let that stop me, but champions stop for nobody.

Set goals, be accountable, watch movies, play the game, do work, get paid. It's not pretty, but somebody has to do it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Horror sublimation

Jesse Berrett, who taught me US history through film back in high school (some of whose films I did not appreciate at the time, but later noticed on imdb's top 250 and realized were brilliant), had a crazy idea back in high school. Essentially he thought that the "torture-porn" genre of films, the Hostel's and Saw's of the world, were successful because the US public needs some way to sublimate our horror over the Iraq war. There's some other mumbo jumbo too, it all sounds oddly Freudian to me. You can read his full argument here.

Quite frankly, I originally chalked up the argument to random neuronal noise, since he is generally such a critical thinker (the man did read 233 books last year). But his bringing it up again has me worried. Maybe he's right.

So I started thinking of other movies that glorify and perhaps are precursors of this "torture-porn". Reservoir Dogs, Fargo, and Pulp Fiction all came to mind. Each of these movies were critically acclaimed and achieved some commercial success, and each contains some pretty gruesome scenes that could be equated to Saw or Hostel. I seem to remember one character losing an ear, and another having an unfortunate accident with a wood chipper. Is he on to something?

There's only one problem, that observant readers may have already caught on to. Those movies came out in the 90s, blissfully well before the War on Terrorism. So it seems that if these scenes were already popular before the Iraq war, then their popularity now cannot be due to the Iraq war. In our psychology class this semester, we learned something about correlation not being equal to causation. I don't really understand the concept, but I think it might be relevant.

ANYWAYS, I give Jesse a B+ for effort. There's a lot of good stuff here, I just don't think you tie it together well enough.

(PS: that is what Jesse wrote on seemingly every one of my essays that semester. I would show you, but they've all been burned, along with everything else I've ever gotten a B on.)

(PPS: which happens to be a lot of things.)

(PPPS: that is the last time I will grade one of your blog posts Jesse, they are generally rather astute, but I couldn't resist. I'm sure you'll understand.)

Andy sets a new world record; everyone is amazed, the crowd goes wild

From Hawthorne Avenue to Noyes House of Vassar College in just 10 hours, 14 minutes? I left my doorstep at 7:56 AM PT and swiped in to Noyes at 8:18 PM ET. Unless I have done some faulty math, I'm pretty sure that I set a world record.

First of all, I'd like to thank the California Highway Patrol, for not pulling me over when I was going a little bit over the speed limit on 101, and when I ran that yellow light on 19th avenue. Much obliged. I also have to thank the guy on the bus to Grand Central who begrudgingly let me sit next to him, even though I had a couple of bags and a nasty case of the sniffles. Finally, I'd like to thank the plethora of cab drivers lined up outside of the Poughkeepsie train station to drive me to Vassar. Your names will go down in posterity.

I'd also like to personally apologize to the old lady I may have tripped when I was sprinting through Grand Central (I'm not sure, I didn't have time to look back), and the foreigner who I shoved out of the way at the ticket line when he approached me to ask a question. I'm sure you both understand. Duty calls.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Heightism in Water Fountains

If there are two water fountains side-by-side, the lower one predominantly has a more powerful stream and often gives colder water. I'm not sure why this is, although I suspect it has something to do with physics. It would make intuitive sense that if the water has to travel farther up against gravity to reach the higher water fountain, then it would be more difficult to achieve the same strength of the stream.

Now normally I might not care too much (especially considering that I'm not all that tall), but with all of these ostensibly respectable economists calling for a tall tax, I thought I would point out that it's not all gravy to be above 6'2" or so. Sometimes, when I have to bend down, it hurts my knees.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Years Resolutions

-- One man, 50 books, 365 days. Any suggestions for books I should read are welcome in the comments, especially non-fiction stuff.

-- Continue watching's top 250, with the ultimate goal of seeing them all before I graduate from college. I have about 120 movies left to watch.

By the way, for anybody that still argues that Rotten Tomatoes is better than imdb, check out their top 100 compared to the imdb's top 250. I hesitate to link to them because I don't generally support their tactics, but seriously people. Toy Story 2, #1 overall? Most of their choices are passable, but you might as well not settle for second best. Imdb sees Rotten Tomatoes's 40 opinions on a movie, and raises it 10,000.

Addendum: I've also heard some talk that Metacritic is the authoritative site to visit. Here's their top 200. I think that they tend to overrate animated movies (Ratatouille #6, Spirited Away #11, etc.), and recent movies (Sideways #13, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon #16). I also have to say that Before Sunset is way too high at #46. But you shouldn't take my word for it, you should take everybody's word for it via a collective ranking system like imdb's.

Double addendum: AFI's top 100 lists from 1997 and 2007. Actually my favorite non-imdb list, which is surprising because it is probably the most often trashed. Does seem to hold a bias against newer movies, however.

And this post is now decidedly no longer about my New Year's resolutions. Whatever.