Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Year's Resolutions (DRAFT)

So here's a list of things I'd like to do differently next year:

1) Stop starting business meetings by introducing myself as "Hi, I'm a new hire on the IS Core Team, and [jump on table and wrap cape around self dramatically] I'M BATMAN!!!"

2) Stop going to work in a cape and Batman mask.

3) Blog once a day week month more often than I have in the past I get done watching "How I Met Your Mother"

4) Finish "How I Met Your Mother"

5) Build a cave under my house.

6) Learn how to program VBA make pretty graphs in Excel.

7) Stop reading liberal-propaganda websites written by trolls, and Reddit.

8) Run for President, if only to steal enough of Ron Paul's votes so he doesn't win.

9) Save Gotham City. Again.

10) Eat more vegetables (by going to Chipotle more often)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Best the Americans Have to Offer Us, Part One

Coming out this winter is Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a film based on the seminal spy novel by John le Carre. While purists and old-timers will point to the seven-part BBC miniseries as the only "true" version of the le Carre story, I'm quite excited to see it, based on the trailer (which uses Danny Elfman's "Wolf Suite" from the Wolfman to excellent effect) and of course, the cast list:

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Monkey Parable
(as told by a CoWorker)

There once were some scientists, who, in the time before the ASPCA, decided to test some monkeys.

They set up a large cage with a very long ramp on one end that winded all the way along the sides, to reach the top of a "peak", on which they put a basket of juicy, sweet fruit.

They then put a monkey in the cage. The monkey sniffed, smelled the fruit, and climbed all the way up to the top. When he got there, he reached out for the fruit, and the researchers hit him with a blast of ice-cold water that knocked him off the peak.

Confused, he climbed the ramp again, reached out again, and got knocked around by the ice-cold jet spray again. The monkey was smart; he only needed to be shown twice that going to the top of the peak would result in him being attacked.

They then introduced a second monkey. The first monkey sat placidly and watched while the second one climbed to the top. The second monkey reached for the fruit, and the researchers blasted him with water, but they also blasted the first monkey, who hadn't done anything. It was repeated a second time, and the second monkey learned not to go to the top of the ramp, and the first one learned that if ANYONE went to the top he would get attacked.

Third monkey introduced, third monkey goes to the top, and this time, all three are blasted with water. When third monkey decides to go up to the ramp again, the first and second monkeys beat him up. The third monkey realizes if he goes up the ramp, the other two will beat him up.

Monkey #1 is removed, and #2 and #3 see #4 enter and try to go up the ramp. They beat up #4 to keep him from going up the ramp.

Monkey #4 is confused, but then when #2 is taken away, he helps #3 beat up #5 to keep him from going up the ramp, even though the researchers put away the hose. And so on it goes, with each subsequent monkey helping keep other monkeys from going up the ramp, without ever knowing why.

Moral of the story: think about what we do sometimes. Are we monkeys?

(Some people think so)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Summer Book Reviews (Where I Brag About My Erudition)

Edit: forgot a book, which, when I realized it, made me drop the grade a little.

New books I read this summer:

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu (B-): I dropped the grade from a B+ because I had forgotten I read this book this summer, which calls into question how good it really is. Yu creates a mind-bending universe with lots of little metafictional tidbits; after a while I got really irritated and shut off the part of my brain that was trying to make sense of it (Douglas Adams did all this much, much better). However, while Yu is not a great SF writer, he is a great writer: his story is really about a boy trying to reconnect with his broken family, and it's hard not to empathize with the well-drawn characters he creates.

Declare, Tim Powers (A): A really, really good mashup of spy fiction (compared to Le Carre, but the comparison I would make is a pulpy Robert Ludlum), Cold War history, and fantasy (maybe a little on the Eldritch Horror side).

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Magic (of the) Library

I have always loved the library, for many reasons. It's full of books, and I've always loved books (even when I couldn't read). It carries a very strong connection to the idea of "home" for me; when I lived overseas we would come back to the US for breaks and such, and my parents would always take me to the library. Also, when we came home in the summer, the library would always have its air-conditioning set to "Earth-Killing Mode", and you know that any place where they lower the internal temperature to that of a meat freezer is a place where you want to hang out (to help me appreciate this point, my family would always have us play on the playground across the street in the Human-Killing Humidity before we would go into the library itself).

My public library when I was growing up didn't have wireless Internet (nobody did) or a coffee shop or a play pen or avant-garde architecture; but it was clean, and big (to a child), and cold (did I mention it was always cold inside?) and it was full of books. The librarians (they were all ladies, and older ones too; I didn't meet a male or under-40 librarian until I was in high school) were friendly and never judgmental about my reading choices; they sponsored different events at the library, including a children's puppet show that came in and showed how evil developers turn primeval untouched thousand-year-old forests into strip malls if Kids Like You don't beg their Powerful Parents to stop being capitalists (I think I have that right).

At the public library I would check out 10 books at a time (mother's limit), and most of them were about a specific subject as I grew older:

1st grade: Cowboys
2nd grade: Cowboys
3rd grade: Submarines (Hunt for Red October is a life-altering movie, dude- "I would have liked to have seen Montana"- and it taught me that The Star-Spangled Banner is NOT, in fact, the coolest anthem in the world)
4th grade: Submarines, but with actual technical details instead of pretty drawings
5th grade: STAR WARS (my uncle gave me a copy of Specter of the Past, which blew my mind...there was a Star Wars after the movies? With years and about 10,000 pages of perspective (not kidding; I read through every one of the New Jedi Order novels except for Dark Journey, which was just too emo, and a lot of the "Classic" EU stuff too, X-Wing, Kevin Anderson's, etc.) I realized Specter of the Past and its sequel were about as good as it was going to get- maybe it's not good to start a kid there.
6th grade: Star Wars AND Star Trek (what, you think I thought all of science fiction was confined to the brainchild of George Lucas? Give me credit for refined tastes here). The two books I remember are Dreadnaught! (which, although I didn't know it at the time, is a perfect example of the Mary Sue archetype story) and The Great Starship Race, which was...amusing. Let's leave it at that. 

And on and on. We stopped going to the library often (although we supplemented it with trips to Barnes and Nobles), but the damage was done. I still love libraries, making the trek to the one around the corner from my house every month or so.

As with Used Book havens, I view libraries as a way to find things that are obscure, bizarre, or otherwise marvelously serendipidous. On today's trip, I went to find a couple of books on Sociology, and also Wolves of the Calla, and instead spent most of the time browsing Writer's Market, dreaming of glory (but that's another story). You never know what you'll find there (although there's a surprising number of people looking at...stuff on the computers).

Support your libraries! All I'm sayin'

Monday, July 11, 2011

Courses I Wish I Had Taken in College

Statistics: I don't actually give two s***s (+/-1 s***)  about standard deviation, but understanding statistics helps you to understand assumptions about correlation and causation, two things that are murkier than they seem. Also, it would help me to win arguments, as some people seem to think statistics make everything right.

A Broad Intro Sociology Course: Not just because my girlfriend is a sociology major, but because sociology is one of those murky and ill-defined subjects (like "Cultural Anthropology" and "Semiotics"), and a course I took on it (the applications of classic social capital and such to online social networks) didn't really help. 

Fencing: I tried fencing for a grand total of 45 minutes, and I was terrible at it. Like, terrible. But I think that the value that I add to the world would be immeasurably greater if I could stab people.

Any ROTC Course: Just to see what was up.

The Motion Video Course: Making montages with fancy editing and rotoscoping all day, for credit? YES. Except not at 8:45am, which is when this course was offered. My laziness regarding waking up in the mornings also prevented me from taking an intro to Statistics course, and from going insane my senior year.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Booklist for Summer 2011

Here are the books I have either read or am planning on reading this summer (if I've read it a grade goes next to it, and I will try to edit in a review here): 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On Seeing the Gays

As some of you may know, the governor of New York signed a bill into a law that allows gay people to get married, since New York is the most progressive, forward-thinking, trend-setting state in the Union. It was definitely the first state to allow this (no it wasn't) (it wasn't even second) (that is to say, there were five other states that were more trend-setting than New York was, a fact that seems to conveniently have slipped the minds of LGBTQ advocates all weekend) (in fact, it was beaten to the punch by IOWA, which is a Midwestern state so backwards that they still haven't gotten Duke Nukem Forever) (New York getting beaten at anything by Iowa is like the tortoise beating the hare, if the hare kept talking about how much better his pizza was than everyone else's).

As a consequence, there was a massive Pride Parade in New York City last weekend, where thousands of people took to the streets in fanciful corporate logo'd floats to demonstrate how much they loved being gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/queer, and in the case of one group, how much they hate Israel. (There was also a group of "bi-brarians" proudly holding up signs that show where sex and gender studies are located in the Dewey Decimal system.)

I happened to be in NYC for the weekend to visit my friend I-Banker, along with several other old schoolmates. One of them suggested we go to the Pride Parade, "so we can be part of history!" (I mentioned what I said above, that even Iowa already has gay marriage. My friend's response was both sucker-punch-y and optimistic: she said once New York does something, the entire country follows. /facepalm.gif)

So we went to go see the parade. When I went to visit Sam Clam's Disco last summer (a notorious hotspot for LGBTQ culture, although they don't have gay marriage) (seriously guys, if Iowa has it already...), there was a large Pride Parade, which I didn't go to (I apparently missed an impromptu performance by the Backstreet Boys, or maybe N'SYNC).

There were all the requisite stereotypes on display, but there was also a large number of normal/normally-dressed people, just happy to be there. I'm not quite sure I can emulate the feeling of being Proud and Out, but I compare it to going to a convention and knowing that, not only does Han Shoot First, but there are thousands- maybe millions- of others who feel the same way. To be a minority that is so roundly hated, stereotyped, and dismissed has to be crushingly depressing, and lonely. To know that there are others who are like you, that you're part of something you can be Proud of in public...well, I can see why that might be so appealing.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I'm Going to be a FAMOUS AUTHOR someday, and YOU'LL BE SORRY

I have always had a fascination with books. Even as a child, when I couldn't actually read, I would demand to be read to: my illustrated children's Bible (I carried that tattered thing around until one day in Sunday school the children's pastor told everyone to turn to Matthew something or other, and I realized everyone else had graduated to actual, non-story-based Bibles), the picture books in my Montessouri preschool (so much nature! so many trees! so much sharing!), my mother's handpicked collection of illustrated Korean fairy tales (they were printed in English on one side and Hangul on the other side). Anything and everything.

Reading (and, eventually) writing was shrouded in an almost occult-like mystery for me. I was the last person in my Kindergarten class to learn how to read, a fact that wracked my little 4-year-old self (5-year old self? 6-year old self?) with anxiety. So much anxiety- I would cry and wail (partly to get attention; I love attention, more on this later) because everyone else could read gooder than I could.

And then it happened (which should be written as follows: "IT happened!!!"), which is how I describe it. One day I woke up and could ready pretty much everything- jumping straight from illiteracy to being able to read books, newspapers, magazines, medicine bottle labels, etc. Phonics, diction, and grammar were all internalized. Although I couldn't understand much of the cultural context that went with "adult" fiction (I was always sneaking pages of Tom Clancy here and there), I didn't have any trouble actually reading it, and picked up vocabulary rapidly. I'm sure there was a bit of a learning curve, but all I remember is one day not being able to read and the next day reading everything in the school library.

I describe reading and writing as being innate talents for me. Paradoxically, I had a really hard time in freshman English composition in high school, because I already knew how to read and write with perfect grammar; I just didn't know what the names for any of the parts of speech, or how to diagram a sentence- tools that English teachers used to teach students for whom English construction didn't come naturally. It came with reading lots and lots and lots of books all throughout elementary school (my ability to absorb information very quickly came in handy here). I was like an incredibly sophisticated Support Vector Machine learning tool- feed me context, I'll spit out rules.

But it felt natural to me. It felt easy, unlike math, which required me to practice and practice and practice, while my friends seemed to understand and absorb new concepts instantly; or sports, where I could envision the body movements needed to do things perfectly, but never twist my body to match my mind's eye; or, heaven forbid, foreign languages, which I basically gave up on. When I was taught to diagram sentences or to write complex-deductive paragraphs or use the five-paragraph essay format, it felt clunky, like being given a bunch of mountain-climbing ropes and spikes when you've been free-climbing for years with no problems.

Meanwhile, despite the attempts of years of Asian family peer pressure and Montessouri education trying to squash my competitive, selfish, attention-hungry nature, one little element of my life managed to survive the "everyone's a winner"/"we're all special in different ways"/"the nail that stands out gets hammered down" brainwash-and-purge societal conditioning of my life. That was, of course, writing. I wanted to write when I was young, making weird retellings of the media that consumed my attention- Moby Dick, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the Hardy Boys novels (and about six of the Nancy Drew ones, purchased by my loving grandmother), Star Wars, the ten minutes of Hunt for Red October my parents allowed me to watch, and others.

I kept writing, off and on, mostly attempts to quash new ideas and characters into this mega-long story about gun-totin' mercenaries and secret agents and aliens and undersea battles and space races and explosions and cyborgs and submarines and stuff that I kept adding on to. In 8th grade I came up with about five different story ideas (that have stuck with me; I'm working on turning one of them into a novel right now).

But in addition to wanting to write things, to have created things, I also wanted to be a writer. I wanted- and still want- to be the star, a little celebrity, to see interviews and QA with my responses popping up on the Internet, to see people quote chunks of my work and claim I stole this idea or inspired that one. I want to see my work on the New and Bestseller shelves at Barnes and Noble. I want to call myself an Author. I love the attention. I want it. In writing, I want to be the star.

I've seen and heard different authors talk, and been privileged to meet a number of them (briefly). The ones I can remember off the top of my head:

-My middle school brought in a lady (can't remember her name) who had written a biography of Aun Sung Suu Kyi, a lady none of us had ever heard of (the next time I heard of her, it was ten years later and she had been released from house arrest and my girlfriend's friend wanted to drink victory shots in celebration). She also had written a biography of the Dalai Lama. I remember her mostly because our principal asked us to do something called "waving wheat", which is a tradition at her home school of the University of Kansas. Also, she told us a story about how the Dalai Lama had been kind of a jerk when he was kid- he would make his bodyguards pretend to be soldiers and then "sneak up and attack them" in the nighttime, pretending to be a ninja or whatnot. This moved him slightly ahead of Pope John Paul in the heads-of-church rankings in my head.

-They also brought in Jack Gantos, who was a great speaker; he walked us through the process of creating a story based on your own life (he used an anecdote about his mother firing a gun and thinking she had killed someone which was very funny and unfortunately I cannot reconstruct). He was witty, engaging, and made the writing process very relatable. Mr. Gantos wrote a book called Joey Pizga Swallowed the Key, which unfortunately I never ended up looking up despite promising to do so.

-I also saw Clive Gifford, from whom I bought a book called Learn How to Juggle, which promised to teach even klutzes to juggle. Unfortunately, I never did.

-I had an opportunity to see Orson Scott Card, author of Ender's Game (which had recently become one of my favorite novels) speak. He didn't read anything from his novels, but he did speak for a while about a number of salient topics: censorship, book sales, how to get started as a writer, and a lot of hilarious stories about life in general. I became a fan of his off-the-wall reviews which he still writes at his website.

-In college, I missed the opportunity to see Salman Rushdie speak at an event, and William Gibson speak at another. *retroactive facepalm*

I think to be a good writer you have to have a little egotism. Let me show you a list of famously self-centered jerks, with the names removed to protect the innocent:

-Writer A had a ticket on a convoy ship to Europe during WWII. Writer A's wife had a plane ticket (significantly safer; U-boats have difficulty shooting down planes at this point in time). Writer A forces his wife to take the convoy ship while he takes the plane.

-Writer B wrote back to an 11-year-old's fanmail with a note that said, "yeah yeah, i'm the greatest, quit wasting my time with stupid questions"

-Writer C is the only person in the history of the developed world to wear an eyepatch and yet not be a cool person.

-Writer D was famous for saying, "If you don't have something nice to say about someone, come sit by me"

Guess who they are? Yep! You're right: Ernst Hemingway, Isaac Asimov, James Joyce, and Truman Capote, and they were total douchebags to everyone (this is a totally logical argument, bear with me). (No it's not).

As a writer, part of my bulging ego is that when I read stuff, I criticize. I think I can do it better. I **know** I can do it better, or so I think. Ender's Game? Too much convenient mysticism. King Lear? The characters jerk around so much that I half-expect to see "Script by George Lucas" at the end of it. All the King's Men? They misspelled the governor's name; it should be "H-U-E-Y L-O-N-G". As I Lay Dying? The ending isn't milked for full comedic potential. Dune? Egads, man, lay off the acid for a minute.

(There are a few exceptions to this: there is no way I'll ever write something as beautifully interconnected and multi-layered, and also as entertaining, as Cryptonomicon, and I have a hard time believing I could write something as grounded in emotional suffering as Toni Morrison or Wuthering Heights)

Arrogance can help drive you to create great work, but I think the thing that is currently missing from the Author's toolbelt is the grit to back it up. In fact, because I do have some natural gift, I've been able to coast and haven't worked hard enough to be able to develop certain useful skills. And more dangerously, because of my ego, I think it should be easy.

Writing is not, in any way, "easy". It is work. Hemingway didn't just spend all day being a huge jerk to everyone (he once said of Faulkner: "Does he think he can make people feel big emotions by using big words?"), he would first get naked and tie his leg to a chair until he had written a certain number words, and then he would be a huge jerk to everyone. Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes quite eloquently about it here. (not about naked Hemingway; about discipline). Even the most talentless pop star puts in thousands of hours at the gym and several hours learning about music before being able to swim in cash and reality TV show offers; why should writing be any different?

Someday, I hope I can develop the work ethic to be a "real" writer. In the meantime, I'm going to be like that pickup legend who could have made it to the big leagues if he played organized. And also on the Internet.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lost and Found

While trying to dig up some old demographic information, I stumbled across an archived email in my Gmail account that was a forward from another Gmail account...which had the handle of a fictional megacorporation I imagined in a story I wrote when I was in 10th grade. Yet I had only ever owned a single Gmail account, and this wasn't it. I had literally no recollection of this email account.

To find out what was in this account that I had forgotten about was driving me forward, the way that a music historian might be driven forward to find out more about a lost Mozart symphony if he found a scrap of sheet music (in Mozart's handwriting) that started with a suspiciously familiar sequence of notes...

I had an eerie sense of deja vu as I attempted to recover the password for this account and see what it contained- the security question was one that also pertained to that story, and I could not for the life of me outguess the (presumably) 10th grade version of the Author.

Finally, I had it send a recovery link to another one of my old accounts, which I thankfully *could* remember the password to, and I opened up this mystery Gmail account to reveal...

That it was a private account set entirely aside to house my correspondence with my best friend from 8th grade. I actually laughed out loud. It was brilliant. And it got better when I started actually reading those emails.

If I have time and a cruel inclination, I might post some of the emails I sent from that account, which are so hilariously emo and bizarre that they don't seem painful anymore. Time will do that to you, I guess.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ahh, Catty Disses

h/t to You can't really pick a favorite one, but this one is pretty baller:
[My grandfather] and his brother were at a dance, and his brother went up and asked a girl to dance. She said, “No thanks, I’m very particular about who I dance with.” He immediately replied, “I’m not, that’s why I asked you.”