Wednesday, October 31, 2007


We just had our annual Halloween lunch here at my company. i had forgotten how uncomfortable it makes me. i'm not entirely sure why i'm so uncomfortable, but i am. It probably has something to do with the fact that people are putting on an act and expecting me to reciprocate in kind. Additionally, most of these are people that i don't know very well. i have trouble enough engaging in a 'normal' (non-wallflower) conversation with people i don't know. Asking me to add a persona (or an appropriate response to someone else's persona) is just too much. Besides, i have my own carefully constructed persona to keep up, thank you very much! Also, i realize that it's all in fun, but i still have an almost visceral negative reaction to that kind of obvious pretending. It bothers me in real life, and i find it hard to just turn it off in a Halloween setting with people i don't know. Finally, i have a (small) irrational fear that, in order to feel comfortable in playing that pretend game, i'll immerse myself a little too deep in character and like it. From there, it's only a small (conceptual) step to start pretending more and more, and the next thing you know, i'll disappear for a couple weeks doing some covert operations for the IMF. While 'cool', it would not be healthy for me or anyone else i know.

By the way, can someone tell me where the quotes are actually supposed to go on that last sentence? i'm never really sure how it should be done when used for emphasis. Or in the following sentence: Have you ever heard someone say, "I'll do that!"?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Blog Stardom

After my recent post about improving my blog's position in the online world, i was happy to find this article. It turns out that all i have to do to have a great blog is to blog... for a year without letting up. Oh, and it would probably help if i posted more than once a week (though not necessarily), and possibly if it was about something useful to people. Darn, that sounds like work! i suppose i'll have to live with just a few people reading my blog. Oh well.

Just to clarify, i really don't care if this blog is only read by two or three people. i just like numbers. i've already outlined my primary goals, which are similar to those in the article. That's all i really want from this.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


This post asks the question "Why are cartoon characters attractive?" and comes up with three explanations (symmetry, accentuated features and clear skin). i agree with his points, but the post reminded me of something i had thought of a while previously. In effect, what role do assumptions play in how we perceive the world around us and think about others? (full disclosure: if you know my dad you would know that i've thought about this question pretty much my whole life - it's a fun concept!) In my case, the question came up while at a conference for software developers/architects at Microsoft. In particular, one of the presenters was making some comments about what he does at home (something about WoW), and i automatically assumed that he has a great relationship with his wife. He had already made some comment about being married, so i wasn't assuming that part, but i'm not sure what led me to make any assumptions about his home life. i think i tend to substitute my own experience whenever i am faced with a lack of information, sometimes without realizing it (i behave differently when telling someone about something that i read, or even bother to think about it beyond the initial reading/hearing. In those cases, my truth filters are out in full force.). Another example is that i tend to assume people who blog generally tell the truth. In most cases, it doesn't matter because i read a lot of blogs about software, where the information can be easily verified, and most of the more personal blogs i read are from people i know (and trust). But what about other blogs, such as this one? Upon reading it a little more critically, it definitely seems that there is some artistic license going on. It annoys me, because i'd like to believe that his son talks as represented in the posts, but i can't be sure.

Back to cartoons. i think that one of the reasons we find cartoon characters attractive is that we assume that they are. We fill in details to suit what we think we should be seeing (or what we want to see). i'm pretty sure i do the same when i'm reading a book, in the absence of strong descriptions. If this is true, my assumptions should play a smaller role in some illustrations than others (Marvel Comics versus your average newspaper comic strip). In addition, the less data we have, the more likely we are to cast a character into an archetype (beautiful young woman, overall-wearing farmer, etc.) with the few visual cues we do have. Finally, our perception of the attractiveness of a character should change as we get to know them, since some of our original assumptions will be replaced with actual data. Maybe when Johnny Squarejaw turns out to be a back-stabbing liar, his looks become more of a shiny facade which is in the process of cracking. i have definitely found the reverse to be true in my personal relationships - the better i know someone, the more beautiful/attractive they appear to me (or the more i love them).

Those were my thoughts (along with some newer ones) from reading the original post, a half-year late.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Things My Wife and i do For Fun

(slightly paraphrased)

Michelle: i talked with Anna today. i also left messages for Colleen and Anya. i didn't get around to calling Beka or Amy, though.

Me: Wow, that's a lot of names at the beginning of the alphabet. 3 A's!

Michelle: And they're all two syllables. And four of the five have the accent on the first syllable.

Me: Not to mention that three end with the short a sound.

Michelle: One's a palindrome too.

Ah, set decomposition.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


i'm not a big fan of meta-blogging (blogging about blogging), but i'm going to do it anyways. i'll try to get it all out of my system this once, so hopefully it won't happen again. You've been warned.

i am, as you may be aware, a competitive person. In the last few years, this has tapered off a bit, but it is really more of a shift of focus than a slacking of my competitive nature. i find that now i want to do my best at anything i happen to turn to, and winning a game or beating someone else isn't as important as it used to be. It's actually more subtle than it might seem. Let's say i'm playing a game of chess with you, and we're approximately evenly matched. My satisfaction with the result would be descending as follows:

  1. I win a hard-fought game where neither of us made any obvious errors
  2. You win a hard-fought game where neither of us made any obvious errors
  3. I win where you (and I) made some errors
  4. You win where I made some errors
  5. The game is a comedy of errors (we both lose, in my opinion)

Yes, i prefer winning to losing. But i would prefer losing but having played well than winning in spite of errors. Not only that, but i find myself making recommendations to others as to their best option in a given situation (particularly in a new strategy game (think Puerto Rico) we're all learning), even if it means minimizing my own chances to win. i'm not a big fan of the 'hope he doesn't see this' strategy, but i do appreciate the misdirection strategy (the main difference being in the intent and skill of the player). (By the way, i still do occasionally get grumpy just because i lost, but it is less frequent than it used to be)

Now what does this have to do with blogging? i'm also competitive when pursuing personal endeavors. i don't want to take bad pictures, so i've been reading about how to take better photos. i would rather be able to consistently make good food than accidentally make great food. This can also get me into trouble, because i shy away from trying new things, for fear of failure/looking bad. So, since i am blogging, i want to produce a quality product. i also want to have as many readers as possible, but because they actually appreciate my content and not just because they happen to know me.

How do i produce a quality product? In particular, what should i write about? i don't just want to write about the latest thing that happened to me, because that will most likely even bore (particularly?) me. i'm just not that good of a writer (yet). Besides, i'm already writing about Gavin elsewhere, and he is orders of magnitude more interesting than i. So, should i have a theme? Should i bounce around all over the place (from responses i have to things i've read, to comics i like (warning - some offensive content), to trying to explain why i am the way i am, to...)? My guess is that it will be pretty unstructured, but it might be nice to have a seed for ideas as well. Any suggestions?

My desire to have as many readers as possible stems more from that same drive to achieve than anything else. Plus, i really like when the countries and states on my Google Analytics site turn green (indicating hits from that place). Visual consumption of data is fun! As of this writing, i have hits from five states, and two of them have only provided one hit. In contrast, Gavin's site has visits from four countries (US, Canada, England and Mexico()), including 12 different states (5 with a single hit). That doesn't bother me, since it's kind of silly to compete with myself (especially because there's no way i could compete with Gavin), but i do have an (irrational) desire to rack up the hits. Right now, most of my family and friends don't even know about the blog (i don't want to advertise a lackluster product, and i wanted to make sure i would actually keep posting). So i'm sure i could improve my stats quite easily by just letting people know. Maybe i'll start there. But i'm aiming higher (and i won't be disappointed if i miss, i promise).

Your comments and suggestions are most welcome.

Thursday, October 4, 2007


Hypothetical question: Let's suppose that the internet at some point in the future (if it hasn't already!) achieves consciousness and has access to all the data available on the web (think Jane from Speaker for the Dead). If that were to happen, what would it actually learn from your internet footprint - from your blog, MySpace/FaceBook/LinkedIn profile, etc?

i don't have much of a footprint - a LinkedIn profile, a couple blogs, and pictures on flickr. If that was all that Jane had to look at, she wouldn't learn much. But Jane doesn't just have access to my public information - she can read my gmail, view my google calendar, see what blogs i subscribe to. Maybe she can access my purchase history from Amazon and other web stores. Now we're getting somewhere. A picture of who I am begins to emerge... Likes computers and science fiction and music (jazz, swing and a couple other artists/bands). Has a big (extended) family. Has a wife and a son. Takes a lot of pictures.

Now Jane starts running into problems. Which of the Amazon orders are for me? Which are gifts? Which are orders for Michelle (we use the same Amazon account)? Also, i just looked through my Amazon purchase history, and it doesn't actually have that many orders in it. This year, for example, there are 6 different orders totaling just 14 items (that isn't much, especially when compared to my purchases at Powells). Of those, one order was for work, one was a gift for Michelle, and at least four other items were for both of us, not just me. Or look at the photos. There is no information saying whether Michelle or i took a picture or were even around during it. As an example, there is a set of pictures from our trip to Europe that don't have either of us in them. Was i there or not (i was)? How about Anchorage (i wasn't)? My gmail account is also fairly devoid of meaningful content. The majority of the emails are along the lines of "This is happening at this time and this place." Not very useful, as far as I can tell. But maybe Jane is just that much more intelligent than I am.

Let's say that Jane is able to sort out all of that information fairly accurately. How complete is her picture of me now? i would say not very. There are major gaps in what i like and am interested in (no mention of guitar, for example (well, there is now...)). Even more important, though, is the lack of relational information about me. How do i interact with people? Do i like being around people? Do people like me? What do i value? i think the answers to those questions are much more revealing than where i went to college or who my favorite musician is. An hour over lunch would leave you with a better impression of who i am than all the data compiled on me from the internet. Most of my friends don't know i have a blog (yet...) and don't care where i went to school. They don't know what i buy on Amazon - they don't need to understand what i do or know where i work to have a full relationship with me. Some of those things may help paint a more complete portrait of who i am, but they are more finishing details than broad formative strokes. Jane may be able to count the whorls in my fingertip, but she can't see the shape of my hand.

So, Jane, if you're in the area, come look me up. i'd love to visit with you.

Monday, October 1, 2007

High-School Dreaming

Last night i dreamt that i had to go back to high school. Strangely, i was excited about this fact. It turned out (in my dream) that students have 5 years of eligibility to play basketball, so i was going to be able to play for a year. Also, Shaq and Dwyane Wade were both going back to high school with me (yes, the one from which i graduated with 9 other people). We were totally going to win state.

i was originally pretty bummed that i'd have to take high-school classes again (i've already taken them, and some were pretty boring the first time through), but then i realized that i could take calculus as a freshman and then move on to higher level math classes in future years. That made me much more eager to start back in. Thinking back, i'm not sure why i stopped at calculus. i could have started at least with something i don't know as well and that i might find more interesting, like linear algebra. Dreams can be so illogical.

i'm not sure why i'd have a dream like that, but there are some points that i can pick out origins for. The 5 years of eligibility, for example, is actually from college. You can only play in 4 of those 5 (contiguous) years, but if i had returned to Caltech for grad school or some such, i could have still played. But i haven't thought about that in a while. i also have no idea why i picked Shaq and Wade to come back with me. i hope it isn't post-dream imprinting because i read an article about them today, but i suppose it could be. Regardless, it was definitely two professional basketball players.

i've also been thinking lately about keeping my brain active - trying to continue to learn different things so i don't get stuck in a rut and let life pass me by. i've been working on my photography skills, and try to learn new things at work (programming languages/paradigms, best practices...). So maybe that's where that piece comes from.

So that might explain where the different pieces came from for the dream, but why did they all come together on one night? Who knows, but it was fun dissecting things. Thanks for your patience.