Wednesday, January 31, 2007


As a student of physics, I find myself relying on grants to fund my work. Understandably, receiving a rejection letter for a grant can make for a disappointing day.

Do you want to know what can really compensate for a rejection letter? Winning two lotteries! I did win, the emails came that same week. Why would I even need to get funding for my research when I can get money for nothing? I didn't even know I was eligible for the UK National Lottery, but that didn't stop me from winning. Ditto for the Netherlands-based STAATS LOTERIJ. Right there with my rejection letter were two acceptance letters. I don't need to spend hours writing about my work for a pittance, I can win much larger sums of money just by someone getting a hold of my email address. I am pretty sure that I am not obligated to use the prize money on just research, either.

So to everyone who's ever rejected a grant request, take a lesson from the UK National Lottery and the STAATS LOTERIJ. Their grammar and spelling may be inexplicably atrocious, but they sure know how to make a guy's day.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Port Wine Stain or a Sad Day for America

The other night as I socialized with some of my peers, I raised the question as to whether I or Mikhail Gorbachev was better looking. Their response was appalling.

It would have been understandable (though ego-shattering) if they had responded that there was no contest and that Gorbachev was clearly better-looking. Failing to note that Mr. Gorbachev and I share the same rare skin condition was also something that could be expected. Even though my choice of persons to whom to compare myself probably seemed a little bit non-sequitur to a person unfamiliar with port wine stains, I concede that port wine stains are uncommon and do not pose any serious threat to one's health and thus can't be expected to occupy much of a place within one's cognizance of problems in the world. Even if they couldn't really remember what Mr. Gorbachev looked like, I suppose it would have been alright.

But it wasn't this. You see, they didn't even know who Mr. Gorbachev was.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Songs with the F-word not in them and the Intentional fallacy

So, I am not much of a fan of explicit music. I now have a quandary. In literary analysis, the technique of trying to analyze a work by interpreting the intentions of the author is considered bad form and bears the name "intentional fallacy." There is a song that I like, where it sounds like they are saying a curse word. Now, I've examined the lyrics and it is clear that there is no expletive there. But the question is, if that's what I hear, does it even matter what the singer was trying to put there? It is compounded now because, after listening to that part several times to see what the lyrics are, it is now very difficult to not hear the expletive. Have I now projected my own propensity to hear offensive lyrics onto what others interpret as a perfectly clean piece of music? What does this say about me? Worse, that's the only part of the song I can even remember.

So, if you hear me humming Float On by Modest Mouse, know that I am probably thinking a cuss word and wincing inside.

Here's a game you can't win:

It's the game of not thinking about something. The other day I saw an ad for a certain beer. It was one of those viral deals where they had pretended to be apologizing for another ad. Intrigued, I googled their supposedly offensive ad and found myself in their trap! I was enraged! Because of their stupid stunt they had tricked me into thinking about their brand for several minutes! I found the ad on YouTube; I learned about their closed brewery in Latrobe, Pennsylvania; I read about their superior taste. I don't even drink beer.

The worst part of it all is that even when I was mad, I thought about how mad I was at their stupid brand. Unfortunately, because time in a person's head is like press (it's all good), there was no way to win. It's like a Chinese finger trap: the more you want to escape, the tighter it holds on to you. There is no way to get the time back. They beat me and, with every word I type, they win a little bit more. Curse you, beer company whose name I will not mention! May your marketing team launch a terrible ad campaign next time!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Curioser and curioser

I was applying for an internship with the DOE and I came across the strangest question. Here is a screen shot. Naturally, my answer was no. But really, who would answer yes?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Don't follow the crowd

Tonight as I walked from the Northern part of campus toward the Southern, I noticed what seemed to be a lot of people heading North. I thought they must be about to attend something cool and, instead of asking them where they were going, I followed them. Most of them dispersed and went toward the freshman dorms.

Never follow the crowd without asking them where they're headed.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A great title

James Bond films often make plays on cliched phrases (Live and Let Die, Die Another Day, etc.). Bond is also known for being more promiscuous than the average Briton. Thus, I have come up with the perfect title for the next movie:

'Til Birth Do Us Part

Though I hate to be cynical or critical of my own suggestion for a title, I think it appropriate to comment that perhaps 'Til Conception Do Us Part might be a more accurate description of Mr. Bond's disposition when it comes to relationships with women.


I was thinking about planning my life and something occurred to me: I bet a lot of people fail to leave enough time to die. Think about it: dying can take more than an entire day. Imagine if you had planned to run some errands the day you die. I bet you wouldn't get any of them done. For example, if you were to die in a car accident, it could be hours before you're extracted from the rubble. You might then go to the hospital to die or maybe the coroner will arrive and declare you dead right there. In any case, by the time the coroner records your time of death, several unproductive hours could have passed--the last hours of your life (according to the time of death recorded by the coroner) will have been lost and your whole day will have been shot. Debilitating diseases are even more time-consuming. People are hospitalized for weeks, sometimes years, before their disease finally gets the best of them. I bet it's really hard to exercise, shop, do laundry, study, meet with friends, etc. while you're in a hospital being killed slowly by some infirmity. So, if you're appointment with death is only an hour long, you best leave some open time before death so you can make sure you don't have to change your plans while you languish and suffer before finally kicking the bucket.


The other night I saw some ducks in a mostly-frozen pond. There was only a little bit of space where they could swim. I thought they should've flown South or something, but apparently these ones had decided to settle right where they were. They looked cold and miserable, so I tried to help them. I started stepping on the ice with the intention of breaking it. I found that the only sections of ice that I could break were near the ducks' hole. They looked frightened when I started stepping on their ice to break it, but I think they were grateful. After a little bit I decided that stepping on ice with the intention of breaking it in sub-freezing temperatures might be dangerous, so I stopped.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Why 24 isn't based on my life.

I like 24. Though comparing oneself to Jack Bauer may be risky, I admit that I tend to do it. I am not sure what it is that my day-to-day life lacks that makes it a bad script for an episode of 24, but if even one hour of Jack Bauer's doings were based on my life, it would probably end the career of all of the involved writers. Here is a pitch for an episode that is a completely accurate description of an hour of my life. Imagine a writer describing this to his colleagues as they work on the next episode of 24:

The following takes place between 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm:
So, we open with Jack Bauer realizing that the car he borrowed from his grandparents is too dirty to return and that he only has a few more hours before it has to be back. We cut to him driving to a car wash. At the Chevron station, the automatic car wash is closed because of weather. We show the side-story of his grandparents at the airport preparing to board their plane--Jack has to return the car before they come back. He goes to another car wash and, upon positioning the car to be washed, he realizes that he only has one dollar in his wallet. He jumps into the car and floors it around the block to go to the ATM at the 7-11 across the street. Cut to Jack's roommate who's waiting to follow Jack to his grandparents' house and then drive him back. His roommate is watching TV. We slow up the pace a bit, as Jack buys a donut with his recently acquired 20 dollar bill and begins to consume it (the donut, not the bill). Cut to the clock.

Jack jumps back in the car and--using those unstable camera shots to show commotion--he jumps out and runs to the change machine. He starts with the pink foamer and it looks like things are going to be alright, but wait! It's too cold. It looks like Jack's efforts may have amounted to little more than scrubbing the layer of ice outside the car, rather than clearing dirt and ice from the car itself. What's more the pink soap foam is freezing! Now Jack has a car that's not only dirty, but now has a layer of frozen pink soap on top of its layer of ice. Just when it looks like things aren't going to work, the timer starts beeping and there's only a minute left before the foam stops. Even worse, Jack forgot to put on his mittens and his hands are looking like they're going to get frostbite! Jack puts the foamer on the ground and the foamer starts making a mess all over his shoes, but he doesn't care. He has to get those mittens on. Just as he starts to insert his hand into the mitten, he sees that his hands are covered in pink foam. We show a quick shot of the door handle he had just foamed before opening the car door to get his mittens. After wiping them on his pants, he covers his hands, but the timer runs out and he has to shell out another $1.50. Jack's grandparents are now on the plane and settling in for a long ride. Jack sets the car wash to rinse mode this time and again the timer starts to look like it's running out. Jack's roommate changes the channel. Jack puts in more quarters, but there's still frozen, pink foam on the car. This time he's out of quarters. Fumbling with his mittens and the hose, we leave Jack and cut to the clock.

We come back and, after a quick trip to the change machine, Jack has to put another $1.50 in the machine to start it. It's looking like things are almost done when Jack notices that there's less than a minute left and that there's a big pocket of frozen pink foam that he hadn't rinsed. The tension builds as the ice that Jack is trying to remove from the car is replaced by the ice that he is creating by spraying the car with water in sub-freezing temperatures. Finally, Jack sees that he's out of time and goes to the vacuum. After a stranger accosts him and inquires as to Jack's estimation of the futility of his efforts, Jack inserts his $0.75 and starts to vacuum--but the vacuum isn't working. The possibility of losing his $0.75 motivates the added urgency with which Jack checks the hose for obstructions. He grabs the nearest object--a little pocket-tool-- and starts to jam it desperately into the opening of the vacuum hose. It looks like the hose is clogged with slush and mud--possibly the same thing that Jack was trying to vacuum up when the vacuum stopped working. Jack weakly attempts to remove the nozzle, but he's not strong enough. Realizing that he's about to lose his money, Jack vacuums up what he still can with the partially obstructed hose. The floor of the car is still dirty. Cut to the clock.

Finally, the car looks alright and Jack has to make it back. He almost gets killed in traffic by an oncoming truck while trying to change lanes because he had deposited a thick film of ice on his rear-view mirrors. He looks for a parking space and finds one. He runs in and can't find his thank-you notes. The episode ends with Jack searching desperately for his thank-you notes while his roommate puts laundry in a basket. His grandparents are getting beverage service on the plane.

Monday, January 8, 2007

FBI's Most Wanted Person of the Year: You

In 2006, the World Wide Web became a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of criminals and making them matter.

To be sure, there are individuals we could blame for the many painful and disturbing things that happened throughout the years. From mobsters to terrorist cells, it often seems that the history of egregious crimes reads like the biographies of infamous and terrible men. From Osama bin Laden to Al Capone, from James J. "Whitey" Bulger to Warren Jeffs, it seems that 80% of the crimes are committed by 20% of criminals.

But look at 2006 through a different lens and you'll see another story, one that isn't about crime syndicates or criminal masterminds. It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the cosmic compendium of copyright violations that are YouTube and those elusive file-sharing programs. It's about the increasing prevalence of identity theft. It's about phishing and scams that originate from all over the world. It's about the sexual predators and stalkers that pervade social networking sites. It's about the many wresting power from the few and harming one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.

And we weren't just victims, we also committed crimes. Like crazy. We scammed people on eBay and made up false and poorly-punctuated stories about Nigerians with inordinate amounts of money who inexplicably need a total stranger to transfer it to his account and retain an unusually large commission. We camcordered movies before their release dates and built tools to distribute unlicensed versions of software.

Who are these people? Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I'm not going to watch Lost tonight. I'm going to turn on my computer and attempt to acquire personal information about people by telling them they've won a British Lottery? I'm going to mash up someone's reputation with libelous, anonymous comments? I'm going to illegally redistribute pirated copies of software or movies or songs? Who has that time and that energy and that passion?

The answer is, you do. And for seizing the reins of the global criminal opportunities, for founding and framing the new digital crime structure, for beating the pros at their own game, the FBI's Most Wanted Person of the Year for 2006 is you.

Airlines and Expectations

The long period during which airlines worked to lower our expectations may soon be coming to an end based on anecdotal evidence collected during the week of 1 Jan 07-7 Jan 07.

One consumer reports being delighted to find that the flight attendants gave him extra generous portions during the in-flight snack and beverage services. He reportedly received an entire can of cranapple juice without his even asking. "The guy next to me asked for the can and they must have thought it was me, so I guess that's why they did it," he says.

He was also "tickled pink" that during the second in-flight snack service his inquiry regarding the shortbread cookies followed by his request for peanuts resulted in his receiving not only peanuts, but also the shortbread cookie. "I didn't even want the cookie," he says, "but I was impressed that they gave it to me anyway just for my asking what it was. They also gave me three bags of peanuts, while I was expecting only one."

According to the consumer, he was so pleased with their service that he nearly went to Delta's website to leave positive feedback for that particular flight. "I was about to click on the 'contact us' link when I got distracted doing something else."

When asked if he planned to fly Delta airlines again, he admitted that he didn't have any concrete plans right now, but did indicate that he would ". . .definitely do it again. . ." if given the chance.

Cingular's fewest dropped calls: Is it ethical?

Cingular advertises famously that it has the fewest dropped calls of any major carrier. Though I can't refute that, there is an issue that I believe needs to come to light.

What about those calls that technically aren't dropped, but during which the two participants aren't really communicating with one another?


caller 1: (hears that there's no more static) You still there? Hello? (Walks around, mutters a bit, continues in a louder voice) HELLO? (more frantically) HELLO? (looks at his phone).

caller 2: (at the same time) What was that? I can't hear you. Is it you or me?(walks around, looks at his phone, says things so that strangers who are eavesdropping won't think he's crazy, but will know that he is getting bad reception).

If dropping a call were likened to the death of a phone call, I think these calls are in the equivalent of a permanent vegetative state. They are no longer connecting people in any meaningful way and are being forcibly supported against the course of nature.

Is it humane to maintain these calls the way they do or (to use a euphemism) should they be put to sleep? It seems cruel to let a call languish like that just to keep the call mortality rate down. Hopefully together we can minimize the pain that these calls entail for everyone involved.


Some of you may know me from my exploits in the J. L. Archiband. I now introduce you to the newest content to be created with the intention of expanding the J. L. Archibrand. Please, enjoy these ridiculous anecdotes and occasional nonsensical musings.

Life Lessons

As I cleaned out my refrigerator, I found some leftover food my Grandmother had given me that had since gone bad in a Prego jar. My first impulse was to throw it away, but then I got to wondering if she had expected me to return the Prego jar.

Lesson 1:

Throw away the stupid Prego jar if this ever happens.

I checked to see if we had a garbage disposal. We have a switch and I flipped it to see if it ran.

Lesson 2:

That one of the switches near the sink doesn't turn on a light is not alone sufficient to conclude that you have a garbage disposal. Make sure to listen for a whirring or humming noise and check your drain for anything that remotely resembles a garbage disposal. If you are about to clog the drain with a jar of meat and beans, don't think you can skip these steps just because your penury of thought regarding the possible consequences of dumping the jar's contents into the sink without a garbage disposal has led you to conclude that it wouldn't matter much anyway. Do this process before you start to dump the jar, not after the meat and beans are already falling.

Once the former foodstuffs had found their way to the sink I tried to rinse it down. A reasonable observer will not be surprised to find that the drain was clogged.

Lesson 3:

Use that little strainer thing before you clog the sink and have to use a pitcher to scoop the water out.

When I realized it was hopeless, I decided to go to the grocery store to get some Drano.

Lesson 4:

All this over a Prego jar? If you're plan includes making a special trip to the grocery store and buying a bottle of Drano after clogging the sink, you should just buy a new bottle of Prego and dump it out. It is, after all, less expensive and less noxious than Drano.

The Drano wasn't working super well, but I did notice that the other sink did drain. Unfortunately, I couldn't get enough water to flow to be sure that the Drano was working. Seeing that the entire clog must have been in the first part of the drain, I took heart and started to poke at it with a knife.

Lesson 5:

If your knife is skinny enough to fall down the drain and you think "hey, wouldn't that be terrible if this knife fell out of my hands and down the drain," don't loosen your grip on the knife.

Once the knife was in the drain, I knew that what had been a minor problem (spoiled food in a disposable jar) had now escalated into a much larger (and more time-consuming problem (a knife, a bunch of drano and rancid food in a very inaccessible section of pipe).

I had earlier noticed that some of the pipe fittings were loose enough to be moved by hand. Oddly, after having fiddled with them before I had managed to tighten them to the point that they no longer felt like they were able to be loosened or tightened by hand.

I undid one and then the other and then redid the one so as not to make a huge mess.

Lesson 6:

Put something in place to catch the water/Drano mix that is going to spurt from the pipe as soon as you loosen it.

Lesson 7:

Don't splash Drano all over your new shirt.

I found a plastic bag and put it beneath the pipe.

Lesson 8:

The following are not very good for catching fluid while plumbing:
empty can of Drano (the opening is too small), grocery bag (they are leaky), Prego jar that you're trying to save (the opening is small and so is the carrying capacity).

Finally I was able to remove the knife and then, with quick bursts of water get the meat and beans to flow through the pipe and mostly into the Prego jar.

Lesson 9:

If you are using a Prego jar to catch the fluid from a drain and the jar gets full of water with chunks of meat and beans, don't think you can empty the jar into the sink you're working on or any other sink whose drain feeds into that same pipe. The toilet works well, but make sure to flush to destroy the evidence (although, what do we put in the toilet besides food after being chewed up and processed with chemicals?)

I then proceeded to rinse out the u-shaped piece of pipe I had removed.

Lesson 10:

When rinsing out a u-shaped pipe, be advised that the water might flow through the pipe and around the sink rather than into the sink, thereby making a huge, watery mess on your kitchen counter.

Lesson 11:

If you are making a huge, watery mess with your pipe, rationalize it by noting that the drain in the sink you are using is not properly attached and that the water that goes down the drain would just drench some Prego jar whose mouth isn't really big enough to catch all of the water, so it is probably better to get the water all over the counter top and microwave instead.

Finally I put it all together and I was done.

Lesson 12:

If you are going to go to heroic lengths to save a Prego jar, pack it carefully so you don't drop it on your way down the stairs.

Lesson 13:

To all my friends, if you ever need help with plumbing, you know on whom you can call: a plumber. Please, never try these things yourself, they'll ruin your day.