Monday, February 27, 2006

Four Play

Life’s been busy. When it comes to homework, I’ve been putting in a lot of overtime. Basically, I’m trying to get prepared for a mini-vacation my wife and I are taking this week. We’re flying out to visit my dad, who took a job in northern Arkansas last year. He’s been eager to get everyone out there to see where he lives, but Melanie and I have yet to do it. Now that Melanie’s off-track, we’ve got a few days to play. True, I’ve still got classes I should go to, but that’s never inspired me much. So I’ll skip a few days and let my dad fund a mini-vacation. Not too shabby of a deal. Not that I’m dying to find out what Arkansas is all about, but at least it’s hundreds of miles away from my “normal” life. I could use a break.

Because I don’t have much of interest to report, I’ll go ahead and post one of those surveys that typically get passed around via email. I’ve seen this same survey on a handful of other blogs, but my sister recently sent it to my email box. Rather than clutter other people’s inboxes, I’ll just post it here as a voluntary read. And I’m not “tagging” anybody to continue it. Do what you will. I’ll try to write something of greater interest once I’m back from AR.


Four jobs you have had in your life:
1. Pizza deliverer (for about three-and-a-half hours)
2. Clerk at Movie Buffs (a video rental store)
3. Staffing Support Administrator (with American Express—basically a do nothing job)
4. Customer Service Representative (for a newspaper company)

Four movies you would watch over and over:
1. Better Off Dead
2. Back to the Future
3. Waiting for Guffman
4. Kissing Jessica Stein

Four places you have lived:
1. Rose Park (a neighborhood of Salt Lake City)
2. Sugar House (a better neighborhood of SLC)
3. Near the University of Utah (a more downtown-ish neighborhood of SLC)
4. South Salt Lake (a suburb of, you guessed it, SLC)

Four TV shows you love to watch:
1. Amazing Race
2. Arrested Development
3. NewsRadio (from what I remember – it's been a while)
4. Space Ghost: Coast to Coast

Four places you have been on vacation:
1. Seattle, WA
2. New York, NY
3. Washington D.C.
4. Victoria, Canada

Four web sites I visit daily:
1. Gmail
2. Hollywood Stock Exchange
3. My Yahoo!
4. Perseus Digital Library (for homework purposes)

Four of my favorite foods:
1. Red Meat
2. Cheese
3. Garlic
4. Doughnuts

Four places I would rather be right now:
1. Somewhere in Washington
2. Somewhere in Oregon
3. Somewhere in Canada
4. Somewhere in Virginia

Four friends I am tagging that I think will respond....
1. You
2. You
3. You in the hat
4. And you

Thursday, February 16, 2006

My Wife

Although Valentine’s Day is just behind us, I thought I should celebrate my wife. For many, many reasons, Melanie is absolutely my perfect mate. When I met her several years ago, I had been wondering if the ideal woman really could exist. I wasn’t 100% sure what I was looking for, but I knew nobody fit the bill. Nobody even came close. If everyone was so far off-the-mark, I wondered, why should I ever expect to meet my soulmate? Then I met Melanie.

It would be easy to recite the ever-familiar list of qualities that everyone seems to look for in a partner and bestow them upon my wife. It would be honest and it would be accurate. She’s funny, she’s intelligent, she’s sensitive, she’s a looker, etc. etc. But that would be a boring post. As such I will instead focus on her more unique attributes.

1. Her Priorities Are Straight
Melanie is all about family, particularly the two of us. I have no doubt that I am her #1 (and hopefully she knows she is mine). I know that no matter what else we do in life, where we end up living, and so on, we’ll always come first to each other. I don’t have to worry about my goals and her goals ripping us apart in any way, because we are each other’s topmost goal. But even aside from our partnership, Melanie’s ambitions always focus on the meaningful and long-term, never on the superficial or quick road to gratification. She loves family, friends, children, spirituality, and knowledge. She’d never consider the pursuit of these to be a hindrance to her “self-fulfillment.” On the contrary, she couldn’t imagine a more worthwhile way to invest her time and energy.

2. She Doesn’t Bore Me – Ever!
I’ve honestly never known a couple that didn’t get tired of each other, at least occasionally. I’m not talking about having a fight and needing time to calm down, I’m talking about simply getting on each other’s nerves because you’re “always” together. I’ve known Melanie for several years now, I’m around her all the time, and I don’t ever get sick of her. Conversation is never difficult or awkward. No matter how long we’ve been around each other, we’ve got something to say to each other and we’re eager to hear it. And when I’m not around her, I always look forward to being around her again. She is genuinely my best friend.

3. She is Not “Girly”
Makeup and shopping do not even begin to register on Melanie’s radar of importance. As such, I am never subjected to hours upon hours of combing the malls or visiting department stores, we don’t have to set a wardrobe allowance to ensure our financial situation remains stable, and I don’t have to wait seven hours for her to get ready to go somewhere! How much luckier could I be? Yet despite her great disinterest in these things, Melanie remains beautiful. She does not attempt to represent the counterculture by dressing “crazy” or by intentionally being a slob. She just doesn’t fall prey to the notion that a woman must adorn herself in a wide array of chemicals and fabrics before she is presentable to the world. All I can say is thank goodness! (P.S. She'll kill the spiders!)

4. She Appreciates Things
I don’t just mean she’s grateful—she really notices (and enjoys noticing) details. One of the first things I found enchanting about Melanie is that she never failed to point out a gorgeous sky. She’s aware of her surroundings and finds the good in them. Intellectually, she’s also very observant. We have great conversations because she is always looking deeply at situations and considering the underlying layers and meanings that can be found therein. Musically, she gets excited by the nearly imperceptible nuances that make a great song even better. She also appreciates other people. Meet her once and tell her about your second cousin’s best friend’s landlord’s daughter having surgery in a week, and she’ll ask you how it went when she runs into you again three years later. She’ll even remember the girl’s name (as well as everybody else’s)!

5. She is the Perfect Blend of Extrovert/Introvert
Unlike many people I have met, Melanie radiates a cool confidence. On the other hand, I know she is shy and a bit self-conscious. I find this very endearing. She manages to convey a calm, collected, and sure-of-herself demeanor, yet she never appears arrogant, cocky, or anything other than humble and sincere. She is not loud and doesn’t demand attention, yet she is always poised and professional when a situation requires it. When the situation is more casual, she can talk to strangers with the greatest of ease and ensures they feel completely comfortable. That my wife contributes to the atmosphere of a social gathering without dominating it is truly a charm.

I could go on and on, but these are just some of the things I love most about the woman I married. Reading a brief summary of her best attributes won’t do her justice of course, and I realize this. Still, maybe you’ll begin to see why I’m head over heels in love with her.

Happy belated Valentine’s Day everyone!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Absurdity in Advertising

Recently I saw a billboard for a bank (or credit union or something similar). The ad showed one apple surrounded by a bunch of oranges. The apple had the bank logo on it. I don’t remember what the billboard actually said, but it was playing on the whole “you can’t compare apples to oranges” spiel. What the ad was obviously trying to say is that no other bank compares to its own. “We are one-of-a-kind.” That sort of thing.

If you think about it, however, the whole apples-vs-oranges maxim is based on two things being incomparable to each other—not because one is far superior, but because a comparison isn’t even valid or fair. People may incorrectly use it to mean the former, but that would be a mistake. The point is supposed to be that you literally can’t compare them, not that you shouldn’t or that it’s pointless to do so. You CANNOT! Moreover, this adage is often used to suggest that two incomparable things are, within their own respective spheres, worthy of equal esteem. For example, one might ask, “Which is better, fettuccine alfredo or Seattle, Washington?” The respondent may rightfully pull the apples-and-oranges axiom out of their hat, claiming the question is unfair and arguing that both Seattle and fettuccine alfredo are wonderful in ways that have nothing to do with one another.

So what is the underlying message of the billboard I saw? That the bank being advertised, while perhaps one-of-a-kind, is actually no better or worse than any other bank. They just do things differently. Not differently in a good way, mind you. Just differently. In other words, you could be just as happy banking somewhere else. The possibility even remains that the advertised bank is of lesser quality than the other banks. But you still couldn’t compare them.

If you’ve seen the Yoplait® Light commercial that’s been playing recently (and which has played annually for several years now), you’ll notice a similar problem. In the ad, a woman looks forward to wearing her bathing suit with confidence. To achieve this goal, she spends her days snacking on Yoplait’s low-fat yogurt. A crucial component of the commercial is its use of the 1960’s pop-tune “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini.” Ironically, anyone truly familiar with the song will know that its lyrics tell of a woman who feels horribly uncomfortable in her swimsuit and dreads the idea of anyone seeing her in it. Its message is the polar opposite of what the Yoplait commercial wishes to convey.

Bottom line: perhaps there is more truth in advertising than we’d ever supposed.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Tales from the Honeymoon Part 8: All Abhorred, America!

Canada was a wonderful experience. I wish I could say our honeymoon ended on a high-note, but once we began our return to the States, it seemed fate had other plans in mind.

It all began with Amtrak. As part of our vacation package, Melanie and I were able to choose between bussing or training back into Seattle. We opted for the latter—the seemingly more romantic mode of transit. The result was sheer tedium. Originally told we’d arrive in Seattle around 9:45pm, we didn’t get off the train until 10:30. The four-and-a-half hour commute would have taken less than three by car. But did the train at least provide a unique display of lush northwestern splendor? No. It was dark shortly after we departed. All the train provided was a 30-mile-per-hour headache. The rocking and squeaking was incessant. It was stuffy and hot. It was torture. The one positive outcome of riding the train was watching The March of the Penguins. Sadly, I had to spend $8 to buy the headphones necessary to listen to it. I felt it was a waste of money to spend money on something I already owned, but I would have done anything to distract myself from the train ride itself. (Illogically enough, I would have felt better spending eight bucks on an Amtrak-only version of headphones, since that would constitute an “unavoidable” expense. The fact that I owned headphones and simply didn’t have them on me made me feel worse about buying some. Stupid, I know.)

For our final night in Seattle, Melanie and I stayed at the chic Hotel Ändra. Frankly, it was too hip and contemporary for our tastes. This was sad because I had been more excited about this hotel than any other, and it easily ended up being our least favorite. I think it was designed for the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy set. It had funky artwork, dark elevators with TVs in them, and—in lieu of an ice machine—pre-measured, individual-sized bags of ice tied up with string. How cute. Due to our late arrival and semi-early departure, we didn’t even make use of the coolest feature, a widescreen plasma television hanging on our suite’s “living room” wall.

The “living room” in question. Notice the funky colors and patterns on the furniture. See what I mean? On the right, you can see the TV hanging on the wall. Nifty.

A small peek at the equally small bathroom. Cornflower blue was the right choice for wall paint. It keeps customers calm while showering in a room the size of a New York City apartment closet.

The bedroom, which provides more evidence of the hotel’s “hipness” (though I do admit to liking the purple bedside lamps). That top blanket was extremely heavy and warm and shaggy. It was basically a carpet.

On our final morning of the honeymoon, Melanie and I decided to eat at the hotel’s restaurant, Lola. Started by a supposedly renowned local chef, I had long looked forward to the “made-to-order doughnuts” promised by their online menu. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but, accompanied by vanilla mascarpone and apricot jam, they sounded truly delectable. Melanie opted for the granola with fruit and Greek yogurt. We both ordered orange juice and, once again, paid dearly for it. Apparently oranges are a rare commodity in the Pacific Northwest, as the cheapest glass of orange juice we could find was six bucks!

The food ended up being all about presentation. The doughnuts turned out to be nothing more than doughnut holes. They were brought out in a white lunch sack filled with cinnamon and sugar. Before spilling them onto my plate, the waitress coated the doughnuts by shaking the bag violently. Then, in keeping with the pretentiousness of the restaurant, the waitress did not merely open the bag and pour out the six pastry puffs. Rather, she took a pair of scissors and cut off the top half of the bag. Then she dumped them onto my plate. It was an interesting (if not altogether pointless) routine. Although I felt like I had just witnessed a magic trick, I withheld my applause.

My entire $10 order of “doughnuts.” For the same price, I could have had two dozen full-sized doughnuts from Krispy Kreme. Still, they were admittedly tasty. Due to its whiteness, the mascarpone is hidden in this picture. The only evidence of it is the partially obscured Lola logo on my plate.

Melanie’s granola looked promising. It had a heaping mound of yogurt and fresh blueberries on top. Then I tasted it. Not wanting to ruin my wife’s appetite, I did not immediately tell her my opinion. Due in large part to the sour flavor of the yogurt, I thought it quite literally tasted like vomit.

An attractive serving of granola à la barf.

After our fifty-dollar snack, we hadn’t much time before needing to head to the airport. Nevertheless, I had enough time to play around with the hotel room windows, opening them and leaning out and discovering what views were hiding behind our walls. Little did we know, our room had a view of the Space Needle—you just had to hang half way out of the window before you could see it.

When Melanie and I got to the airport, we were sad to be heading home. We were excited to begin our new life together, but the time had naturally passed more quickly than either of us would have hoped. Of course, I was pleased that Mountain Dew would no longer be in short supply. Other than that, the honeymoon was already beginning to feel nostalgic. And now, less than four months later, it easily seems like a year ago.

A vending machine at Sea-Tac International Airport. Notice the bounteous supply of Mountain Dew? God bless the USA!

So there it is. The honeymoon, in a very prolonged nutshell. I hope everyone (or at least someone) has enjoyed reading about it.

The end … of the beginning…

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Against All Odds

If you flip a coin, there’s supposedly a 50-50 chance* of it coming up heads. Even if you’ve flipped the coin two hundred times in a row and it has always come up heads, there’s a 50% chance it won’t do so on the next flip. Or so they say. Personally, I’d start betting on heads, but that’s me.

Probability is something that drives me crazy. On the one hand, it makes sense. If I randomly select one card from a standard deck, I know it’s “unlikely” to be the two of hearts. Then again, if it is the two of hearts, it is still “unlikely” to be so. This is where everything goes down the toilet for me.

Yes, I realize one of the challenges of studying probability is that much of it is counterintuitive. That’s not my problem. My problem is that, often times, probability doesn’t really seem to mean anything at all. At all! For example, whilst eating M&Ms the other day, I had the following thought:

Say you have ten M&Ms in a bag. Five are red, five are blue. If you reach in and pull out any two (without looking, of course), odds are you’ll pull out two of the same color. Why? Because there are three possible outcomes: (1) two reds, (2) two blues, and (3) one of each color. This means there is a 2 in 3 chance of pulling out two of the same color.

As far as I understand, this is correct. Now here’s the problem: if you perform the same experiment but pull out one M&M at a time (even without looking until you’re completely done), your odds change. You suddenly have a 50% chance of pulling out different colors. Why? Because there are four possible outcomes. In order of pulling them out, these are the potential results:
  1. Red, red
  2. Red, blue
  3. Blue, red
  4. Blue, blue
This suggests that pulling out two M&Ms at once affects the likelihood of what colors you end up with. Can this possibly make any sense!?!?

Okay, I admit, once you pull out one red M&M, you then have a 5 in 9 chance of pulling out a blue. Therefore, by pulling them out individually, your odds of pulling out different colors increases just a tad. But not enough to jump from 33% to 50% odds! That just seems ludicrous. But isn’t that what we’re obligated to believing?

“Truth,” if there is such a thing (as I believe there is), shouldn’t be dependent upon our knowledge of it. But probability is wholly based on knowledge. If three men are in a room and we know one of them is a murderer, do they each have a 33% likelihood of being the murderer? Well, the non-murderers aren’t somehow 33% murderers, just as the actual murderer is not 33% a murderer. The murderer knows who the murderer is, so for him there is no such thing as probability in the matter. Thus, if probability is in any sense true, it is only true in a relative sense.

Things like this drive me crazy. I don’t know why it’s been in my head lately, but I’m not too fond of it. Thanks for letting me rant.

*This may not be 100% accurate, but that’s ultimately beside the point. Don’t be anal. Just read the post and understand what I’m getting at. We all accept that a coin toss very closely approximates a 50-50 scenario.