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.