Sunday, June 22, 2008

Vanity wins

We all know that it's frustrating to think of the perfect thing to say after it's too late to say it. I also think it's frustrating to think of something pretty witty and say it to a small audience in a situation that isn't relatable to the typical person (and therefore not suitable for a stand-up comedy act).

Thus, I hereby expose my entire readership to these under-exposed witticisms that I came up with. These conversations actually happened (though they may be paraphrased) and my responses I actually said:

Scene: Physics professor has taken a box labeled "Lab Snacks" (one of our suppliers occasionally throws in a snack with our equipment orders) and put a few electronic parts in it. ROHS compliant (ROHS=Restriction of Hazardous Substances) is a designation given to electronics parts if they contain sufficiently low levels of lead and other dangerous substances.

Professor: Here are some snacks.
Archiblog: Oh good, I'm hungry.
Professor: Actually, it's just that power supply I have to mount!
Archiblog: That doesn't look appetizing at all. . .unless those components are ROHS compliant.
All (except guy who didn't know what ROHS was): ha ha ha.

Scene: Friends are discussing ways to complete a CS minor.

Gabep: So, should I take a class that's really easy and teaches you how to surf the web and stuff or a class that actually makes you work?
Archiblog: Well, considering that in my daily life I surf the web a lot more than I work. . .
All: ha ha ha.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Open-Mic Night II

The competition really intimidated me. One guy had a real hook instead of one of his hands--a real hook! He made a call-back to the questionnaire question (obviously, the right answer was hook because there are so many great hook jokes)! That hook gave him so much material, it didn't seem fair--kind of like that olympic runner whose bionic, er, artificial legs give him an unfair advantage. If having fake legs helps you run, having one hand is a huge advantage in comedy (the logical extension of this is that Darth Vader could probably really knock 'em dead if he tried--maybe those guys he chokes are really dying of laughter that is so intense that they can't breathe or make noise or act like they're having fun).

There was also a half-black, half-white guy there. He was hilarious. How is a white guy like me supposed to compete with a fellow who has the entire world of awkward race-relations from which to harvest his jokes? Another guy looked just like the guy on the Verizon commercials. I concede that all of the aforementioned were talented. Other people had other great material. I suppose in a sense every comic has his own unique set of jokes that he can pull off because of who he is. I found myself secretly hoping that someone would bomb before I had to go on. I nearly left and nearly didn't come back (though I was closer to leaving than not coming back. . .since you have to leave before you don't come back, I guess).

My set went pretty well. Early on I got a big laugh with clapping (well, I could hear clapping in the low-fi recording I made), which is a big prize for a comic. My pacing was ok (I talked a little too fast and said a few too many words, but not by much on either count). I forgot which jokes I would do and skipped a bunch, but since I had intended to do 3 minutes and I used up 2.5, I think I was ok (perhaps it was an impeccable timing instinct that made me leave the stage 30 seconds before time?). I got some other decent-sized laughs (some of which I'd tentatively characterize as "big").

The toughest thing was that the jokes that I thought were really funny I either forgot to say or they didn't go over as well with the crowd as I thought. The premise that got the best reception I thought was so corny that it almost seemed Vaudevillian ("I've been told I have a face that only a mother could love. . .which is a real shame since I'm only interested in women who don't already have kids. . ." etc.).

Overall I think it was good and worthwhile. I hope the club bigwigs agree.

Open-Mic Night

So tonight I took the plunge and performed my first-ever original, 2.5 minute stand-up comedy routine. It went well. A couple things:

I read a book on stand-up comedy and the author practically guaranteed that many in the audience at my first open-mic night would be drunk. I know we were on BYU campus, but there wasn't even anyone who appeared a little disoriented (except me).

They gave those of us who wanted to join the club a questionnaire. I think my answers were pretty good. I got my name, email address, etc. right. They asked with what artificial object we'd replace our hand if we lost it in a garbage disposal accident. I wasn't sure if this was a serious test, or a test of our funniness, so I put that I'd attach one of those soap-dispensing sponges with handles until I got to the hospital. That was good because if that answer's not funny/clever/resourceful enough, then the reader will probably think that once I get to the hospital, I'll pick something really funny/clever/resourceful (a rubber chicken? a gun? a hook? a U.S. savings bond? a name tag? Al Gore? there is no right answer! (though in real life, hook is a common one)).

They asked us to draw a shape that represented us. I drew a fetus (which I still am in the world of stand-up comedy--not least because I almost turned out to be as wimpy as a fetus after seeing some of the other comics (see next entry)). They asked why we were interested in stand-up and I said to improve circulation and posture, though that might have been the anxiety-induced, self-diagnosed tachycardia talking.

Stay tuned next time for the rest of the story. . .

j. larry. a.

Elementary school voting

I hate to be cynical, but I recall in elementary school having to vote in mock elections so that we could practice being good citizens. You know, I think our voting then was a lot like how we vote nowadays: then, as now, we were ill-informed, we voted predictably based on demographic lines and our votes didn't count for much.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


When you sneeze and someone says "bless you," do you ever feel bad if you have to sneeze again? Almost as if you were taking advantage of their willingness to say "bless you?" How I hate to impose on strangers even if my poor head is about to explode. Maybe people say "bless you" as a way to guilt you into not sneezing anymore.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

To a bystander

The other day I was walking to my car and I realize I might have given someone the wrong impression. As I walked, said bystander may have heard, "Dang it! This American life is over."

I would like to clear this up right now.

There is no cause for alarm. No American life that I am aware of had recently terminated. What I actually said would better be transcribed as "Dang it! 'This American Life' is over." I'm an Ira Glass fan, you see.

Two-hand touch

When I was a kid, I played touch football with some guys at church once. I remember they said that you had to touch with both hands below the waist for it to count as a tackle.

Child safety programs at school had successfully instilled in me an irrational fear of being touched below the waist, but this was not my entire objection.

Instead, I reasoned that it seemed counter-intuitive to insist that the touch be only below the waist while other sports, like boxing, look very unfavorably on contact below the waist. Imagine a match where every punch had to land below the other guy's waist. Certainly, that type of trauma has its own intrinsic comic value, but I predict any such rule would be unpopular among boxers.

Maybe it would attract different kinds of boxers. All the would-be boxer-intellectuals who shied away from pro boxing for fear of chronic brain-damage may finally get their chance (assuming they have unnaturally high tolerances for pain).

Sunday, March 9, 2008

On feeling like a criminal.

I think that the ability to seem innocent is probably a great asset to criminals, but if criminals start to monopolize innocent-looking behavior, what behaviors will be left for the billions of innocent people in the world?

Two examples:

My apartment building is quite symmetrical. About three times per week, I mistakenly walk into this other apartment that's across the way from mine. This is usually a short visit, consisting of my looking around, looking confused and then looking to go to my regular apartment. The other week, however, they sent an email to the campus community about a burglar who matches my height and build who goes into unlocked apartments during the day and steals things. I just hope that no one confuses me with my evil doppelganger.

Example 2:

The other day I went to pick up my little brother at his work in Springville (the actual place shall remain nameless so as not to help criminals). It was late and my phone had died. Having no way to get a hold of him, I knocked on the door and the security guard let me in.

I explained my predicament. He asked if I had my brother's number, which I stored only in my dead phone.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket to look for my brother's number and lost control of the phone. After a bit of bumbling, the phone flew off my fingertips and under a chair. I was embarrassed at my clumsiness, but as I crawled under the chair to get the phone I felt something entirely distinct: guilt. It occurred to me that this normal-looking behavior was exactly the sort of thing a criminal would do.

Wasn't it a little too convenient that my phone had died, thereby necessitating my after-hours entrance into the building? Isn't it a little suspicious that my brother needs picking-up long after the building has closed at a time when virtually no one is working? Why hadn't I been able to name the division he works in or give any other information besides my brother's name to demonstrate that he really works there? Doesn't it seem a little implausible that the phone that is too dead to make a phone call somehow might have enough juice to find his phone number? Didn't the way I juggled my phone before dropping it seem a little bit choreographed? Wasn't it a little weird that to retrieve my phone, I had to crawl on my hands and knees? Isn't this exactly the sort of thing a criminal would do if he were trying to distract the guard from his watch? Couldn't this be a ruse to allow me to retrieve a weapon of some sort?

I started to feel like maybe the guard was beginning to suspect something. Heck, I was beginning to suspect something.

I tried to find the number in the phone, but it died each time before I could get it. The guard apparently did not have access to some kind of corporate directory (the sort of fact that any competent criminal's pre-crime research would have easily revealed). It looked like the only way to get a hold of my brother was to walk through the dark, mostly-empty building looking for him.

The guard said he'd go with me and we could look for my brother. I couldn't believe it. The guard obviously didn't suspect a thing. He was believing my string of unlikely coincidences just like he would fall for the ruse of an actual criminal. This made me feel more guilty. Not only was I suspiciously innocent, disorganized and clueless, but if I were malicious, I'd be good at it.

We walked and after a few seconds the guard was away from his post and (probably) out of range of any security cameras. "If I were a criminal, I'd be thinking, 'I've got him just where I want him,'" I thought. I knew this was exactly the part where a criminal could pull out a gun or something.

I started making a conscious effort not to do anything suspicious. This was a maddening proposition. Do I stay right near the guard or do I wander a bit so as to cover more ground and demonstrate that I consider myself beyond suspicion? What are they protecting in here and how do I act like I'm not trying to steal it? What kinds of assaults would the guard be vulnerable to and how can I make sure not to look like I'm about to attempt any of them?

We finally found my brother. His existence validated all my claims (I knew that only a criminal with much more sophistication than I had would've planted an inside man like that). In my mind, I was exonerated.

Criminals have ruined some of our best benign behaviors. Can you bring a violin case to a speakeasy without arousing suspicions? Can you dump a bag that's about the size and shape of a human body into the East River without looking bad? Can you offer someone "protection" in exchange for money without giving the wrong impression? What about boarding a plane while Muslim, requesting seat belt extenders, and sitting in a seat that's not your assigned seat?

P. S. I suppose I should thank that guy whoever he is for trusting me. It made my life easier and I suppose I was worthy of his trust.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

I beat the system

You may notice that my most recent blog post was posted in the future. I started writing it in February, but didn't finish it and post it until today. I finally posted it, it posted it on the date when I started jotting down my ideas, not the day when I actually made the post public. I noticed that I could change the post date to any date, even a date in the future. So, I hope that my post on Feeling like a Criminal doesn't look anachronistic by the time the real March 9, 2008 rolls around.

On Asking Permission

Kids try a lot of different techniques to finagle permission from their parents. One ruse I tried was to ask each parent individually and then go with the answer I liked best. This did not work even once. In fact, this was the surest way to get a negative response from both--as soon as they got to collude, they would immediately agree to whichever answer was less desirable to me.

So, if asking both parents leads to an almost-certain negative response, is there some converse principle that leads to a positive one? Sure. If you want to guarantee a positive answer, ask neither.

An Unfortunate Circumstance

Hell is having to eat from vending machines and only having $10 bills.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Compulsive blog-checking, bad timing

I confess: I often find myself so desperate for a mindless way to waste my time that I frequently check the livebookmark I have to my own blog as if something new to read would appear. What disappointment! Everything that's posted I've already read and I never find a post that I didn't see coming for weeks in advance. Oh well.

Speaking of compulsive time-wasting, I just had one of the best or worst Presidents' days ever. I sat down to eat lunch and watched part of A&E's CSI: Miami marathon. After an unusually long lunch (let's just say that if you were a typical hourly worker who takes 1/2 hour for lunch, it would take you 12 workdays to tally up as much lunchtime as I had just today), I watched Horatio Kane solve between 12 and 20 murders. Considering that Miami only has about 54 murders a year, I suppose that just with just four or five days like this per year, Mr. Kane can realistically solve all the murders within his jurisdiction. This probably explains why he operates outside his jurisdiction so much. Over the course of the day, I saw him thwart a terrorist attack, conduct an investigation in New York City and solve a crime that was committed in Iraq. When asked how he gets authority to investigate these crimes, it's always because the people in charge of these places just sort-of give him the authority.

Granted, a lot of it does sort-of have to do with his job, but all these exotic places he goes (not to mention beautiful Miami) make the episodes difficult for me to turn away from. In addition to his far-reaching investigative skills, he also managed to prosecute a city-councilwoman's husband and successfully investigate a murder where all the prime suspects were members of his investigative team.

Here are some bad strategies for stopping watching CSI:Miami marathons:

1. Tell yourself that you'll stop at the end of this episode, but then decide to "just watch the beginning part of this next episode where they show the crime." It never works. You won't be able to stop wondering who committed the crime and what crazy details will be revealed until they've already got the show going. It is equally unsatisfying to stop in the middle of an episode or even at the end of an episode.

Well, actually that's it. That's my terrible strategy.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Helpful Explanation

Found on the back of a power strip I bought:

"With use of electronic equipment in almost all facets of life, even momentary outages and power quality problems can adversely affect customers at home and work."

-Electric Power Research Institute

I'm not sure what sort of research these guys did to back this up, but I consider myself warned.

I'm also pretty sure that my power strip does nothing to prevent outages.

Think you're safe at home? You're not. What about at work? You're not safe if you use electricity. Think there's some other facet of life where a momentary outage or power quality problem won't possibly adversely affect you? Think again--especially if that facet of your life involves the use of electronic equipment.

I almost wonder if they could generalize this idea to things besides electricity:

Maybe, "If you depend on X and X fails, you could be adversely affected."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Library Bias

I was in the library the other day looking at a display that was ostensibly about the design of campus. Take a look at the statistics I gathered:

5 panels talk about different buildings around campus (the BYA building, Maeser Bldg, plans in general and the JFS family living center).

8 panels and one 2-sided banner are dedicated to the library.

These panels assert that they are depicting the "library as heart" and that "[no building], I believe, is as important as the library" and that ". . .a library is the heart and substance of a university."

I think that maybe they should have put a panel that says "full disclosure: the designer of this exhibit works for the library).

On Strategies for Winning the Super Bowl

The other day I was pretty stressed about a physics test I was going to have. Everything about it looked bad: it was timed, closed-book and the problems seemed difficult.

Well, after a long day of taking a long time to finish a problem set that I thought would be about like the test, I stopped to watch Conan O'Brien.

His guest was Michael Strahan of the NY Giants. O'Brien mentioned how intimidating it must have been to play an undefeated team like the Patriots (full disclosure: I wanted the Pats to win). He asked about Strahan's strategy. Strahan said that the team just went out there to "have fun" and that this enabled them not to get psyched out.

Wow. So, to beat a team that is heavily favored and widely regarded as the best football franchise of the decade, a team that is famous for making very few errors and consistently scoring, all Strahan had to do was have fun at them.

It sounded too good to be true, but I bought it and applied it to my own life. Since actually learning the material for my test seemed out of the question at that point, I decided to go with the strategy of going out there and having fun.

It wasn't easy; I had to repeat it to myself many times before the test.

But, do you know what? It worked.

At least, I think it did.

On Imitation

So, I was reading in the Science Times section of the New York Times about how people who subtly imitate one another end up liking one another better. I decided that I would try it.

Experience 1: success

I was walking near the library between classes. There were hundreds of people in view. One guy turned his head to my right. I recalled the article I'd read and, hoping to form a bond with him, waited about 2 seconds and then turned my head to the right. By the time I looked back he was out of view (and I'd forgotten what he looked like), but I figure we formed some kind of deep bond.

Experience 2: less success

I walked a little further and saw someone with a look on their face that seemed to express cold and a little bit of ill will. I waited 2 seconds and then imitated them. They were already gone by the time I made my look, so I don't know if they appreciated my imitation of them. The next person I saw had the same look on their face. I was feeling quite confident, and continued with that look on my face.

Experience 3: failure

I saw a girl on her cell phone and wanted to stop and pull mine out too. I thought this might seem a little contrived and so chickened out.

Experience 4: success more or less

I was in the library and thought I needed to pay a fine. I tried to imitate the girl at the counter. She said there was no fine. I did not believe her. She insisted and I stopped trying to persuade her.

Experience 5: success

I got some CDs from the library. I don't know how much I imitated the attendant, but I felt pretty giddy after checking out more of Herbie Hancock's discography than I could ever possibly learn to appreciate (at no cost to me, suckers!). I'm not sure if I was really doing a good job of imitating, but for some reason I felt like I was some kind of smooth operator because I felt like I had somehow charmed the attendant at the music library into retrieving the CDs with the desired call number (which is actually her main job).

Experience 6: success

I was walking across the street and a car that was trying to stop for me skidded right in front of where I was walking. The driver looked at me with a big smile on his face. I smiled too. We were both obviously amused by something that, if it had happened 4 seconds later would have killed me. I felt a bond with him.

So, there you go.

The Library Giveth and the Library Taketh Away

I used to think I knew how to be a cheapskate. In a class of 20+ people I was the only one at the beginning of the semester to rent his textbook from the library at the unbelievably low rate of 2 visits to the library web page per month.

The Library, however, reminded of the great power she wields over her patrons (and possibly the reason other people do not so readily submit to her influence) a few weeks later when she recalled my book.

Apparently some other patron had been deemed more in need of the book than I and, having already used it for more than a month, I was informed both by email and a regular letter written on bright green paper that I needed to return the book or face a steep penalty.

The whole prospect seemed pretty dubious. Who could possibly want this book more than I do? How do I know they still need it and didn't just go and buy it somewhere? Why didn't they recall the other copy that was due about the same time as mine?

I visited the library to ask. I asked half in earnest and half hoping to elicit some bit of information that I could use to track down the would-be library patron and break his library card!

The Library is caring. She does not reveal that kind of information about her patrons.

Well, I relented and gave the book back. I was sad, but only for a little bit.

You see, I've found a new mistress: the bookstore! Though certainly more expensive up front, the bookstore doesn't care what I do with my book.

I found a book that was obviously new except for a minor tear on the first page that was repaired. I got it for the used price.

As I walked home, I couldn't stop looking at my new book. It was the same book I'd already had from the library and a book that I would never have bought if it weren't for this class, but just knowing that this book was mine, that it would accompany for as long as I kept track of it filled me with inexplicable joy. It was a mixture between the satisfaction of having indulged in a slightly luxurious purchase (I can't buy many things for $95 without running out of money) and having a new friend. I inhaled the exquisite aroma of its never-before-read pages. I held it in my hands, trying to grasp just exactly what its dimensions are. I put my hand across its cover and imagined testifying in court after being sworn in by putting my hand on such a very attractive book.* I even imagined myself reading the book and went so far as to pretend to read it.

In the end, I was happy. Maybe that's what the Library wanted all along.

*Note: The author does not mean to suggest that the book is of more value than scripture. Its exposition of Maxwell's equations, however, is based on some of the most certain and best-tested science in existence (at least on the scales we usually talk about). We must overlook Griffiths' apparent abuse of the notion of hidden momentum.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

More on failure

I watched a show on trans-orbital lobotomy and Dr. Freeman, the man who worked most of his career to pioneer/popularize it.

The show disturbed me for 3 reasons:

1. There were pictures of people with metal spikes in their eyes who were having the procedure.

2. Anything that screws up the brain makes me nervous.

3. People who get them and their family members didn't always get the chance to give permission.

4. The procedure fell out of favor with the larger medical community in almost all cases and Dr. Freeman spent the last years of his life searching out his old patients and trying to see how they did. I don't know how I would react if, during my lifetime, all my work was rejected. It would make me really sad. I would not have the courage to abandon my life's work in the face of compelling evidence that my well-intentioned work was actually quite deleterious. That I lack this courage makes me worried about if I'll ever attempt anything of import.


I went to a poetry reading. L. Gregerson was the name of the lady who came.

I had a physics class at the same hour as the reading and I had the distinct feeling that I was being unfaithful to physics. I can imagine the headlines in the tabloids: Archiblog snubs long-time interest, seen spending afternoon with other discipline.

The reading was truly excellent as far as I can tell, which to be perfectly honest isn't very far. When I listen to poetry, I have trouble parsing more than 5 or 6 words in a row. As the poet reads, I mostly think, "Ah, yes, those words in that order comprise a short phrase that could have some meaning." By the time this thought is done, though, I've missed several lines. It's almost like I'm just spot-checking each poem for syntactical errors.

I love the aura of the poetry reading. The poems are a sort of lyrical bath. I never absorb them, but I love how artsy I feel when I'm exposed to them. For a moment, I feel that my life is entirely cliche and that this lady, with her eloquent artsiness, has liberated me by endowing me with the vague aspiration not to be so cliche. It wears off, but I still like it.

The whole time I struggle with the urge to start writing "poetically" right then and there. Now, when I say "poetically," I mostly mean that when I think the words in my head, I imagine that I'm saying them with the sort of intonation a beatnik at a poetry jam would use. I also struggle with the uncontrollable urge to write "Hope. . . springs. . ." just like the guy in that Hyundai commercial did (you know: the one with the poetry slam).

I spend a lot of time looking at the people and trying to find evidence for many stereotypes I maintain for poetry enthusiasts. My stereotypes have mostly to do with personality. My evidence is gleaned entirely from their looks. It was quite easy to confirm all of my stereotypes.

I also spent some time trying to decide if I should have a crush on the English professor who introduced the poet. I didn't see a ring and she seems young. She is also well-spoken, educated and has a real job.

At the end, they gave us bagels and let us mingle with the poet. I'll confess: I was more excited to be able to tell my friends that I've eaten a bagel with cream cheese in the special collections section of the library (where normally no food is allowed) than I was to meet the poet (to whom I did not even speak).


So long for now,


Failure and other thoughts from last Friday

Item: I saw a headline in the NYT: "French Bank Says Rogue Trader Lost $7 Billion." When I saw it, a huge grin creeped across my face. I eagerly read both articles about the unfortunate escapades of Mr. Jerome Kerviel.

What induced my euphoria? I'm not sure. I think part of it is that failure on this scale is truly exceptional--so much that it is almost cartoonish. Imagine reading a list of the world's failures: students fail classes, CEOs post bad quarters, alcoholics relapse, I did not win an essay contest I entered and Jerome Kerviel single-handedly and (so far) inexplicably subverts every safeguard in place to make thousands of unauthorized, unprofitable trades, thereby losing more money than the entire GDP of Cambodia. Remember: this is just one guy in just one year!

If it doesn't inspire you that otherwise undistinguished people in free societies can fail so abjectly, I don't know what does.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

WARNING: Posts that seem short are actually quite long.

I just discovered that my last post (which I thought rather short) was really medium-length.

I was thinking the other day about roommates. There's a rumor that if one's roommate dies during the semester, one gets straight A's automatically. Needless to say, this has altered considerably my conception of the ideal roommate.

So, I guess this is a vindication for anyone whose ever been stiffed by a potential roommate because they do drugs, drive recklessly or are affiliated with a professional crime organization.

Hello World!

I send all my readers my most cordial salutations.

They say the key to writing a well-read blog is to write often. I, obviously, subscribe to the theory that less is more. Actually I write today to say that I'm taking my blog offline.

Just kidding! As I was writing, I wanted to feel what it felt like to type that sentence--not much different than other sentences in case you're wondering.

The truth is I write for two reasons:

1. I very much dislike my last post and I'm a tinge embarrassed to direct people to it. It's kind of whiny and self-indulgent. It demonstrated excessive insecurity and was written way too late at night. It's not that it's immoral or insincere, it's just that it's a voice I don't usually use (or is it a voice the world's not ready to hear? no, I don't think so). It's still up, but anyway.

2. I am writing an essay for an essay contest. It doesn't have to be long, but I'm suffering from writer's block.

I know what you're thinking: "But Mr. Archiblog--isn't it ironic that you divert yourself from your inability to write by writing something?"

Yes, it is, but I'm sure you're all actually thinking: "Mr. Archiblog, why don't you just submit some playful banter about whatever comes into you're head. It's certainly good enough for the likes of me based on the fact that I'm reading this very paragraph this very instant."

Well, thanks.

Onto other news:

I found a place to live. What's that? You weren't even worried? Well, considering that I was barely worried myself until about a week after school started, I don't blame you. I did feel a little bit like the Palestinian people: displaced and perfectly willing to accept without hesitation offers that were available in the past, but are no longer possible.