Friday, June 27, 2008

Thesis Writing is Fun!

I just wrote what may very well become my favorite line of my thesis. It reads as follows:
It is an issue of concern for this project whether Strawson is correct about this, especially since he is not.
To quote Drennon Davis, "Who put that in the muffin house?"

Thursday, June 26, 2008

YouTube Killed the Video Star

Many moons ago, Edison got addicted to a video on our computer featuring a singing hippopotamus with noodles on his back. (I wrote about it at the end of this post.) In the interest of my own sanity, I eventually tried to find other videos that Edison could watch, something new and unfamiliar that could keep his attention while also sparing me a 32,846th straight listen to the hippo song. Of course, this just added another video to Edison’s repertoire, and soon enough I’d be sick of that one as well. I’d then have to find another new video, and the process would repeat itself. Over time, the video collection has expanded to a dozen or so standards, but at least that’s enough to prevent me from having to watch or listen to any one video multiple times in a row … usually, at least.

So, I thought I’d go ahead and share some of these videos with you. Today, I am sharing one of the best and one of the worst. I’ll begin with one of the best.

At nearly three-and-a-half minutes, this video is the longest in Edison’s playlist. It’s a bit predictable, but I have to admit, I find the dramatic slow-motion part that begins just shy of the two-minute mark to be quite humorous. It made me laugh, even on multiple viewings (though not so much anymore). At least that’s something. Take a look:

In contrast, here is an absolutely abysmal video that Eddie and I stumbled upon. It’s one of the very first that Edison became a huge fan of, but it’s painfully unfunny. Its existence can be blamed on a computer program that allows anyone with a microphone to record themselves giving voice to an animated shark whose mouth is supposed to move in response to auditory input. This must be a fairly accessible computer program because there is a whole slew of equally unentertaining videos on YouTube featuring the same animated shark, singing along with Britney Spears or what have you. So, without further ado, check out this video abomination:


Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Atlanta Chronicles: Fact, Fiction, & Forwards

Over a year ago, St. Mac G forwarded me an email designed “for anyone who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, has ever lived in Atlanta, has ever visited Atlanta, ever plans to visit Atlanta, knows anyone who already lives in Atlanta, or knows anyone who has ever heard of Atlanta.” The email is intended as a humorous hyperbole of life in Georgia’s capital city. I always intended to post about it, to examine what the email gets right and where it goes wrong, but for some reason it never happened. Now that I’m less than two months from moving to Florida, I figured I’d better get all my Atlanta commentary out on the table, before it seems entirely irrelevant.

What follows, then, are just some of the Atlanta “facts” presented in the aforementioned forwarded email. After each “fact,” I will offer some commentary, hoping to dispel any unwarranted rumors while acknowledging those things that are spot on. Enjoy.

Atlanta is composed mostly of one-way streets. The only way to get out of downtown Atlanta is to turn around and start over when you reach Greenville, South Carolina.

I feel like the “one-way street phenomenon” is less pronounced in Atlanta than it is in other major cities I’ve visited. I’m actually surprised there aren’t more one-way streets here. The problem for me is that, in Atlanta, there are tons of streets with nearly identical names. What’s worse, the street names change without warning. In some cases, you have to make a hard right or hard left just to stick with the same street name, whereas if you drive straight through the intersection and keep going straight, you’re no longer on the same road. It’s all very counterintuitive. Interestingly, I was told that the apparently random change in any given street name is a relic of legalized racial segregation. In order to make it clear when you had crossed from a white neighborhood into a black neighborhood (or vice versa), the street would bear a new name.

All directions start with, "Go down Peachtree" and include the phrase, "When you see the Waffle House." Except in Cobb County, where all directions begin with, "Go to the Big Chicken."

I can’t vouch for Cobb County, but seeing as how I live on one of the many streets that contain the word “Peachtree,” it’s hard for me not to include “Peachtree” when giving someone directions. And yes, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I suspect there are more Waffle House restaurants in Atlanta than there are human beings.

Peachtree Street has no beginning and no end and is not to be confused with: Peachtree Circle Peachtree Place Peachtree Lane Peachtree Road Peachtree Parkway Peachtree Run Peachtree Terrace Peachtree Avenue Peachtree Commons Peachtree Battle Peachtree Corners New Peachtree Old Peachtree West Peachtree Peachtree-Dunwoody Peachtree-Chamblee Peachtree Industrial Boulevard

This barely scratches the surface. According to the Frommer’s Atlanta guide I perused shortly after moving to Georgia, Atlanta has over 100 streets with the word “Peachtree” in the name. I’m not kidding.

Atlantans only know their way to work and their way home. If you ask anyone for directions, they will always send you down Peachtree.

Very true. After two years of living here, my knowledge of how to get anywhere other than my school, the post office, the grocery store, church, and Papa John’s is next to nil.

Atlanta is the home of Coca-Cola. Coke's all they drink there, so don't ask for any other soft drink unless it's made by Coca-Cola.

More true than I’d like. I generally prefer Coke over Pepsi, but as anyone who has read my blog more than once or twice can tell you, my number one beverage choice is the Pepsi-produced Mountain Dew. In Utah, this was not a problem. It seemed any gas station you went into had both Pepsi and Coke products available in the fountain. For some reason this seems incredibly rare in Atlanta. When I first moved here, I had a dickens of a time finding a gas station that featured Mountain Dew on tap. Luckily, Melanie and I eventually discovered QuikTrip (or QT, pronounced “cutie,” a charmingly appropriate nickname). QT not only has the cheapest gas prices in town, it also has some of the best tasting fountain Mountain Dew (or Fountain Dew, as I lovingly call it) in all of America. QuikTrip will be sorely missed when I move to Tallahassee. (For the record, the first gas station that I found with Fountain Dew in Atlanta was a BP. The Mountain Dew tasted heavily watered down, but at the time it was considered a joyous discovery. I almost wrote a celebratory post about it at the time, entitled “God Save the Queen.”)

The gates at Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport are about 32 miles away from the Main Concourse, so wear sneakers and pack a lunch.

The Atlanta airport is big, and supposedly it is the busiest airport in America. But if you use the airport train to get from one concourse or terminal to another, it doesn’t strike me as a difficult airport to get around. And if you fly Delta and take the public train (not the airport train) to the airport, you’ll be dropped off right at the Delta check-in desk. It’s ultra convenient.

The 8am rush hour is from 6:00 to 10:30 AM. The 5pm rush hour is from 2:30 to 7:30 PM. Friday's rush hour starts Thursday afternoon and lasts through 2am Saturday.

Sad, but pretty much true. I originally thought the traffic in Atlanta wasn’t so bad, but I quickly had to recant that view. The 5pm rush hour is exaggerated a bit here, however. I’d say it doesn’t get too horrible until about 4 PM, but depending on where you’re headed, it might not clear up by 7:30. One time when Melanie and I were returning to Atlanta from a weekend out of town, the freeway traffic became dead stopped approximately 30 miles prior to reaching Atlanta. That was on a Sunday afternoon.

The falling of one raindrop causes all drivers to immediately forget all traffic rules. If a single snowflake falls, the city is paralyzed for three days and it's on all the channels as a news flash every 15 minutes for a week. Overnight, all grocery stores will be sold out of milk, bread, bottled water, toilet paper, and beer.

This is exaggerated, particularly when it comes to the rain. It does snow in Atlanta on occasion, and it has even snowed for us a handful of times (though it didn’t snow at all during out first winter here). True, they canceled our church 24 hours ahead of time because of the snow, which strikes a native Utahan such as myself as very premature, but nobody acted like it was a big deal. As for the rain, Atlanta is very used to it. The most treacherous thunderstorms I’ve ever experienced have been in Atlanta. Often enough, a Georgia thunderstorm sounds like multiple freight trains are dropping out of the sky and landing in a giant pit a few miles away. Lightning flashes, and almost immediately you are treated to a long, tremendously loud, booming reverberation. It’s quite an experience.

I-285, the loop that encircles Atlanta, which has a posted speed limit of 55 mph (but you have to maintain 80 mph just to keep from getting run over), is known to truckers as "The Watermelon 500."

I don’t know anything about the watermelon nickname, but you’re definitely causing problems if you’re going only 55 mph (assuming it’s not one of the 12-hours worth of “rush hour” in which you’re not moving at all). Atlanta drivers are horrible.

There are 10,000 types of spiders. All 10,000 live in Georgia, plus a couple no one has seen before.

Coming from the relatively dry Intermountain West region of the United States, Melanie and I have had to get used to the horrific bug problem that the South harbors. The word “bug” has a completely different connotation to me now than it did when I lived in Salt Lake City. Thanks to Atlanta, I’ve now encountered insects that are the size of bugs I had previously seen only in museums, pinned to a piece of corkboard. This goes not only for spiders, but for roaches (the dreaded Palmetto having made one too many appearances during my Atlanta tenure), millipedes, bumblebees (so big they look like flying eggplants), and other unidentified crawling objects (UCO’s).

If you notice a vine trying to wrap itself around your leg, you have about 20 seconds to escape, before you are completely captured and covered with Kudzu, another ill-advised "import," like the carp, starling, English sparrow, and other ''exotic wonders."

I noticed the Kudzu right away, but it looked rather cool to me. I had never heard the word before, and I didn’t know it was considered a weed. It does cover tons of trees here, but to me it looks lush and ivy-like. It makes my train commute a little more scenic.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Donuts Make My Brown Eyes Blue

Last Saturday, I wrote about a surprise package from two wonderful friends, a package that included a box of delectable snack cakes—Hostess Chocodiles—available only in the western United States. In passing, I mentioned another scrumptious Hostess product that has limited geographical distribution. More specifically, I mentioned these:

And how did I acquire a photograph of these particular treats? By snapping it myself, because I received yet another surprise package from these same wonderful friends! I’m almost embarrassed by the generosity these two friends have shown Melanie and me over the years. If I didn’t know any better, I’d be worried that one day I’m going to be approached by these friends and asked to whack somebody, and just as I’m about to protest, I’ll be confronted with a list of all the things these two have done for me, and I won’t be able to say no, and I’ll suffer the shame of being a contract killer who was partially paid off in jelly-filled donuts. Luckily, these two friends are wonderfully wholesome people and I don’t have anything to worry about. And if they ever decide to kill someone, I don’t think they’d trouble their friends with it. Heck, they might even ask if there’s anybody they can kill for me while they’re at it. That’s how sweet they are.

So, as officially as I am capable of doing so, I am now beatifying these two friends. They shall now be known as the patron saints of Hostess products. Commence veneration.

NOTE: I appreciate those of you who have, sincerely or otherwise, offered to send along similar packages of goodies currently unavailable to me in Georgia. Do not let the generosity of these two friends dissuade you. Your package will be every bit as appreciated.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Book Review: World War Z

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
by Max Brooks

Rating: 3 of 5 stars

The subtitle of World War Z says it all – it is an “oral history of the Zombie War,” a collection of survival stories looking back on an event – the outbreak of a zombie plague – that nearly destroyed humankind. This fictitious work was recommended to me by a couple of enthusiastic fans, but I failed to find the book overly engrossing. This is due largely to the book’s format. World War Z consists entirely of retrospective, first-person accounts that (generally) have little to do with one another. It is an inherently dry way of presenting a story. There is little opportunity for the reader to feel any genuine suspense, and hence there is little motivation to push forward to find out what’s going to happen next. Realistically enough, some of the interviews—and I hesitate to call them such, for the interviewer’s presence is negligible—are more interesting than others, but nothing really borders on fascinating. It took me several chapters to feel even slightly invested in the book.

On the other hand, the book thrives on realism. Though collectively the interviews are a bit too homogenous in tone (even despite the supposed geographical diversity of the interview subjects), Brooks effectively presents a wide array of psychological reactions to a planet in crisis. What we read here is what we could, should, and would expect if anything so devastating (even if more realistic) ever occurs. In the end, then, what makes World War Z so terrifying is not the zombies, but the sheer plausibility with which Brooks paints a picture of a world—our world—as it faces an apocalyptic threat for which it is scarcely prepared. Let us pray that there will never be a reason to look back on Brooks as a kind of quasi-Nostradamus. Of course, if there is, I trust the survivor stories will prove more intriguing than Brooks has managed to create here.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Chocodile Defense

So, despite all my complaining about not getting enough sleep, I stayed up until almost 2 a.m. last night. I blame it on the high sugar content of the following delectable snacks, which showed up as a part of a surprise package from two extremely generous and wonderful friends (this guy and this gal):

I have not seen Chocodiles since moving to Georgia, and I’ve heard that there are certain Hostess products that simply are not available in all areas of the United States. Another favorite, the raspberry-filled powdered donuts, are supposedly available only in certain regions and thus have not been seen by me in a couple of years. You won’t find either of these products listed on the official Hostess website, in fact, and Wikipedia, the site that simply cannot go wrong, confirms that Chocodiles are available only in the west.

In all fairness, though, part of why I stayed up so late is that I’ve been working on revamping my blog. You haven’t seen the changes because everything’s still in the research and development stage, but when the new format is unveiled, it will blow your mind! I’ve been thinking about shaking things up for a while now, and since I’ll be moving to Tallahassee and starting yet another chapter of my life in less than two months, it seems like an appropriate time to make a change. I’m even renaming the blog. My original plan was to do a subtle rechristening, Sucking on Florida Oranges. But I’ve come up with something I like better, something that completely abandons the orange motif I established shortly after my blog debuted in September ’04. I’m excited.

Melanie has already introduced some changes to her blog, so if you have a moment, go check out what she’s done with the place. It’s cool.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Step Right Up to the Microphone!

(... er, on second thought, maybe not!)

Bill Cosby is all about clean, family-friendly stand-up comedy, right? So does anybody want to explain what Mr. Cosby is doing with the microphone in this picture? I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he has reverted only to flatulence jokes. If he's getting any more lowbrow than that, I'm afraid it could severely distort my Saturday morning memories of Mr. Cosby instructing children to "jiggle their jigglers" and suck on his "pudding pops."

Thursday, June 05, 2008

I'm Sorry, Who Are You?

As you all know, I applied to various Ph.D. programs at the end of December. Most programs said they’d let applicants know by March 15th whether or not they’d been accepted. If you were accepted into a program, you were generally required to let the school know by April 15th whether or not you had accepted the offer.

I applied to five doctoral programs, and up until yesterday, I had only heard back from four of them—three declines and one acceptance. For whatever reason, University of California-Riverside is just now informing some applicants that they have not been admitted, and while I suppose it’s good to know the school didn’t just lose track of my application (which I honestly wondered about at this point), I now find myself feeling rather offended. Opening their email and reading how sorry they were to inform me that I would not be one of the six incoming students during the fall 2008 semester, I couldn’t help but feel like, “Nice try, UCR! But I’m the one that dumped you!”

Perhaps it’s petty, but it really does feel like that. The image that comes to my mind is of a snotty girl at a dance, going up to some guy whom she thinks wants to dance with her because he was looking her over an hour ago, and she says to him in a phony sympathetic voice, “Gee, sorry, but I'm not going to dance with you! I know you would have wanted to, what with me being so perfect and beautiful and all! But too bad! Sorry!” And as the girl walks off, the guy is like, “Huh? Who was that?” And due to his pride, once he realizes what’s happened, he wants to find that girl again and tell her how not interested he is, how he doesn’t even want to dance with her, but of course that would be to no avail—it would only make him look insecure, even though he really, truly, honestly doesn’t care.

I admit, I was a bit bummed not to get into UCR when I first assumed that I hadn’t, but I’ve since counted myself very fortunate not to have been admitted. Had I received an offer from them early on, I probably would have accepted it. Here’s why that would be a problem: one of the two main experts in the philosophical field that I’ve been emphasizing so far is leaving UCR. Had I known about this in the first place, I would have seriously reconsidered UCR. They are a great school for many areas of philosophy, but they are taking a serious hit as far as what I specialize in. It’s hard to be completely confident about a hypothetical situation, but I really do believe that Florida State University may have been my top choice had I know about this prominent faculty member’s departure ahead of time.

The bottom line is, FSU is turning out to be the precise school I would want to go to. And hearing back from UCR at this point strikes me as ridiculous. I’m all the more offended because I had tried contacting UCR a couple of times back in April, and I couldn’t get a response. Now that I’ve moved on, now that almost every successful Ph.D. applicant in the world has committed to some program or another, UCR shows up to say “sorry.” Psssh! Get over yourself, UCR!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Book Review: In Defense of Sin

In Defense of Sin In Defense of Sin by John Portmann

rating: 2 of 5 stars

In Defense of Sin is guilty of bait-and-switch. The book purports to be an anthology of writings (both essays and snippets from classic literature) extolling the virtues of what are commonly regarded as sins—greed, deceit, adultery, suicide, and more. It’s an intriguing idea, but few and far between are the writings that truly speak to this end. To cite one egregious example, the section titled “In Defense of Lust” features an essay that argues not that lust has some sort of intrinsic merit or inherent value, but that engaging in cybersex does not constitute infidelity. In my mind, this is not a matter of an essay going off-topic, it is a matter of the essay never being on-topic to begin with! An even more convoluted example is Jonathan Swift’s satire “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burden to Their Parents or the Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public” being touted as a “defense of murder.” Though this tongue-in-cheek endorsement of infanticide is humorous, it in no way gives the reader any new considerations about murder, pro or con. (Leaving one to ask, “so what was the point?”)

There are a couple of thought-provoking chapters included here (Anthony Ellis’ article on casual sex, which is questionably tagged as a “defense of promiscuity,” is quite good and does a much better job of addressing lust than does the aforementioned article on cybersex), but overall the book is off-base. It misrepresents itself and in turn has the propensity to insult the reader who expects the book to live up to the description on its cover, which states that it will “surprise, intrigue, and provoke you.” Funny … when I was told not to judge a book by its cover, I somehow thought the book description was the one exception!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Tallahassee Wishlist

The following is a list of things I would like to acquire as I move to Tallahasee to begin my Ph.D. program this August:
  • A new computer (current one is several years old, has iffy performance at times, and the hard drive is basically full)
  • A laptop (more and more, this seems like a wise thing to own – as a father of two and a Ph.D. student, it would probably be useful to have the option of being out of the house and working at the same time, and yet not be forced to be on campus using a computer lab or reliant on some 30-minute-limit per use public library computer)
  • A new backpack (the most necessary item of the bunch, I suppose; my current one is slowly disintegrating)
  • New clothes (esp. shorts! In Florida, will I ever want to wear long pants again?)
  • A new couch (our current one is rather worn down and I’d rather not invest the effort into moving it)
  • Some new books (it wouldn’t hurt to beef up my collection of free will literature, since that is what I’ll be focusing on; I own surprisingly few of the “standards”)
  • A portable mp3 player – e.g., an iPod (I’ve got plenty of music on my computer, but nothing portable on which to play it. I’ve heard that you can probably get a basic mp3 player for as low $20 nowadays. Really, I should have purchased one of these two years ago, since I imagine my daily commuting time in Atlanta has far outshined what I’ll be doing in Tally. Then again, Tally doesn’t have a train. It’s all bus, baby.)

The following is a list of things I am likely to acquire as I move to Tallahasee to begin my Ph.D. program this August:

  • A new backpack (for the reasons stated above)

Ahhh, the life of a grad student!