Efforts to understand, improve, or do less harm to the world around me.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Harassment vs. free speech

I'm really torn by this video (very somber stuff). In short: a rape victim who told her story on Youtube (seen by more than a million people) was slandered and lampooned online. On one hand, we preserve Internet freedoms even when they're offensive and therefore must protect the prankster or malcontent. On the other end, supporting crime victims by preventing harassment after their assault.

By posting this video online, did she make herself a public person and thus submit herself to responses by the sophomoric and sociopathic alike? Or by letting these types of responses continue, are we hurting the reporting of and recovery from sexual assault? Whatever your choice, there's a danger in moving too fast.

Hopefully, the Electronic Frontier Foundation discusses her case in some capacity.

Fox News certain of failure

I totally called it -- Fox News has already fully evaluated the Obama presidency. Stewart isn't the most centrist of commentators but having seen some of this myself, I know just how disinterested Fox is in giving the new president any benefit of the doubt.

From the steady hand in news that brought you the "terrorist fist bump".

Powerful women

Why do powerful, assertive women have difficulty with relationships in a world where equality is supposed to be increasing? Someone asked and I answered.
In a generic sense, the American picture of femininity is women is still that you're not supposed to ask for sex, you're not supposed to express desire, and only posit a casual interest. I'm conscious of this and I still fall into it; a girl who takes the initiative can be sexy but when she takes control of the situation, its unfamiliar territory and inevitably I feel out of control.

Still, I do like and want powerful women because, for myself, I need someone who can handle things. Its not that I don't want to take care of her in some capacity, its that I've been in so many situations where I played some kind of savior role. To swoop in and save her felt great, but those situations where it was impossible to do anything? It was just that much more frustrating. Additionally, you're not a mature adult i you're not handling your own thing.

Still, not to get all men-are-from-mars on you, guys do need to feel useful. Even guys who choose powerful women still want to feel helpful or a part of their lives. Totally independent women definitely don't need us and -- the idea goes -- don't want us either.
What bothers me is I feel like this question and my answer could have been written at any time in the past 30 years. Either my response is too generic or attitudes really haven't changed.

Related : How to be a great girlfriend

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I keep hearing about this anonymous graffiti artist, who just recently showed up in Palestine. He's the sort that if someone caught him, it would probably only be to get him to sign an autograph.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Recommendations for learning a language (pt 2)

Basic words and mechanics
Knowing advanced grammar helps with understanding complex language and beautiful literature. But the key first words of any language should always be useful -- knowing the word for danger, caution, etc. Then essential words like hunger, thirst, and bathroom are all key. Necessities should always have priority over other parts of language simply because in extreme situations they could save you a lot of grief.

If you can handle it, there's no better or faster way to learn. At first, native speakers will often get frustrated and give up and its often embarrassing, but you get instant feedback on your progress. Since your budget might not allow travel ...

Find someone to talk to

One story I heard was of a man who would strike up conversation with anyone who even looked vaguely Spanish. He was so warm and friendly, no one minded.

Regardless of how, there's a powerful difference between reading and speaking a language (even with Spanish). Even if you seek out someone trying to learn your language, this can still be beneficial. You are forced to speak with someone who is trying to understand you and who you are trying to understand.

Taking a class

If you're taking a class, your whole world should be your class. From the first day, hit your work hard -- don't put off anything. Its not like your other classes that you can put off until a few days before the test. Try to bring elements from class into your everyday life -- any extra work you can do will make the midterm and final easier.

Small amounts add up
One metaphor that works is to imagine the work you do as a drop in the bucket. After 100 days of small amounts of work, you will have an enormous amount of water. This helps prevent frustration associated with learning a language without letting you forget anything.

You may feel like doing just a little everyday is taking too long but keep in mind most people and newspapers know and use around 1,000 words. That may seem like a lot of work but knowing a language already, you automatically have a vocabulary of 10,000+ words and sayings.

(part 1)

Recommendations for learning a language

Note: although links often reference Spanish, this should apply to learning other languages too.

What is frustrating about learning another language is that everyone learns differently. Language classes try to address the visual, audio, and interactive learner but often fail. The best approach is therefore every approach, or the Shotgun method. Try to shoot for the widest possible area and different methods. Even unconventional or silly ones. These may end up being the best way for you to learn.

As such, go to a used bookstore and pick up various items that teach your language. Write out defintions or try flash cards. Read newspapers, read books, find someone to talk to.

How not to learn
The way to forget is very universal: not practicing. As such, working on the language of choice everyday for at least 15 minutes is key to learning it. Even if you just listen to an audio book or radio program for 15 minutes. When it happens every day it stays in your short term memory and improves comprehension. Make it part of your routine.

Recommended tools

Ways to make it fun
If doing something isn't painful or annoying, you're much more likely to keep up with it. So if you like music, try to find music you enjoy. For example, I fell in love with Mana's Amar es Combatir. If you like movies, try watching nothing but movies in the language you are trying to learn. I like indie film and found a lot of enjoyment in the films of Pedro Almodóvar and Alfonso Cuarón. You can watch regular movies with foreign language subtitles but I've had mixed success with this.

Ways to make it useful
If you find a reason to learn your language. If you know you're going to travel to Europe in a year, you might feel a real push to learn a language to prepare you for your visit. If you volunteer somewhere and a lot of people there speak another language, you can get real feedback on your learning process. If you are single and can talk to people of the opposite sex who don't speak English, that's a huge draw. Realize that people with accents are always automatically more sexy.

(part 2)

The truth about high fructose corn syrup

According to The Corn Refiners Association, HFCS isn't bad. Now come on, would they lie?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Getting more from Palm TX (and other Palm devices)

Countless hours trying to get my Palm to work better have yielded the following:

Palm TX Problems and Solutions
  • Fragile - Screen is easily scratched (there are ways to prevent this but its just not as well made as iPhone). Solution: Palm Aluminum Case has kept my Palm safe for 2 years now and lasted through many drops. (Note that included belt clip was useless.)
  • Keyboard - Barely adequate keyboard input options and not happy with the flimsy external keyboard I bought. Solution: not much - some touch-screen updates are available (including this free one) with mixed success.
  • Stylus - many of the buttons are too small for even pinky-fingers. Solution: if you lose your stylus, you can just use the corner of an SD card. Works fine.
  • iPod - out of the box, has very few multimedia options. Solution: Get a commercial product pTunes to compete. It plays about 10 different audio formats (far better than iPod). Its also essential to get the "razr 480" skin.
  • Limited space. Tiny compared to an iPod or iPhone. Solution: several 2 Gig SD cards usually helps with this both for music and documents. Don't buy less or more than 2 Gig cards.
  • Maps - some options ... the free GoogleMaps works okay (kinda slow) but needs to be near a WiFi signal to work - look into the flawed but useful EarthComber
  • Integration with OS - very poor by comparison. I don't like Outlook. For Mac, Missing Sync - a separate commercial program - works far better but also fairly restricted to Mac OS default tools.
  • Video - Super basic video format options. Solution: TCPMP - the basic version is more than adequate fro most audio work -- it plays MP3 and a few other standard formats. Ultra simple. Advanced version has the advantage of playing lots of audio and video formats, as well as having a graphic equalizer. (Have not tested.)
  • Office - not bad with included Docs to Go program but but advanced features come with the full version. Opens a MANY more formats (including .docx -- Office 2007).
  • Clutter - to get things off the device you have to do a hard reset. Solution: need a commercial Uninstaller program .
  • Calculator - adequate but you might want more. Solution: EasyCalc - an advanced calculator program that allows you to modify strings of numbers, add parenthesis, and more, to allow for some fairly complex math operations.
  • Network Integration - can sync the device over a wireless network but that's it. Solution: WifileLT is the best I've found and it only allows moving one file at a time.
  • Company - Palm, despite positive recent news, is not a company that keeps up with its products. Solution: don't bother with the company web site, just surf the internet for solutions.
  • Pricey - In the two years I've owned one, never goes down in price (makes buying a replacement harder). Solution: purchase used.
Finally, be sure to pick up BigClock and WorldClock as well as at least one 2 Gig SD card.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Narcissism in America

The Daily Show had a piece about how George W. Bush really doesn't understand (a clip from of an excellent full episode) what people are upset with him about. 

A few years ago, a movie called The Corporation discussed that while companies have been given human rights in the past 200 years, they don't act very human (in fact they seem mentally ill).  Similarly, a list of traits listed for Narcissistic personality disorder seemed weirdly American lately or maybe just how to envision a sort of taking all the worst parts of hawkish conservative beliefs in America.
  1. has a grandiose sense of self-importance
  2. is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love (the endless needs of capitolism)
  3. believes that he or she is "special" and unique (for example being chosen by God)
  4. requires excessive admiration
  5. has a sense of entitlement
  6. is interpersonally exploitative
  7. lacks empathy
  8. is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
  9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
Recasting belief systems as mental dissorders is familiar political ground.  Someone else has commented on this issue as well, coming to some of the same conclusions.  On the other side politically, conservative radio comentator Michael Savage has written a book saying that liberalism is a disorder.  No one involved so far is a qualified psychologist or political scientist who can really speak to this.

Please note that there are a number of obvious problems with this analysis being applied directly to W.  He's obviously a somewhat empathetic person and he's admitted that there have been at the very least dissapointments -- something that a NPD would never do.  Further, he clearly doesn't require excessive admiration or his popularity rating would be more of a concern.

Determining cause

Superstitions are often attributed to bad reasoning techniques for determining causes, also known as causal fallacies, where when one act seems to cause another. For example, a dance that changes the weather or a coin in a fountain getting us that job we wanted. Similarly, we are also encouraged to think about the reverse; we seek the origins of our situation that are more obvious.

Here, Family Guy addresses not recognizing causes.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

How to get over the Flu (Part 1)

Sometimes you have a viral flu or a cold that just won't quit. Here's some tricks I use to get through it.
  1. Zicam - cold prevention drugs ONLY work right up front (read the bottle). After the initial symptoms, they're worthless.
  2. Get warm - at first sign of a cold coming (scratchy throat, achy body, cough), get in bed and get very warm under the covers. Cook yourself a little bit, although not too much; when you're extra warm (not just comfortably warm), your body doesn't have to spend energy on keeping your body temperature up. Also, as you feel hotter, you tend to feel more lethargic and tired.
  3. Get horrizontal - of course the next step ... keeps fluid from getting into your lungs and developing a cough.
  4. Stay in bed - if you do have the flu, eventually you're going to get cabin fever. Get books on tape, movies, and anything that will help your mind stay active but keep your body inactive.
  5. Take more vitamins - the rationale is that you're drinking a lot of fluid and you're probably cycling out lots of nutrients in this process. Also, taking extra Vitamin C doesn't help according to studies I've read, but I like to suck on them to get their acidity to kill nasty bacteria in my throat.
  6. Coughing - if you do develop a cough (and are trying to cut down on the amount of medicine you take like me), take some medicine to help you sleep at night, but during the day just suck on cough drops.
  7. Multi-Symptom Drugs (like Nyquil) - avoid. If you can't, try taking half the recommended amount before taking a full dose. You probably don't need the full amount. Drink a lot of water with them as alcohol dehydrates you.
  8. Showers - hot showers or baths are a wonderful alternative to drugs. Kills germs and cleans the sinuses ... or ...
  9. My sinus trick - a pan of hot water that's steaming and a little mouthwash. Clears me right up.
  10. Drink Fluids - OJ, lemonade, etc. Avoid apple juice from concentrate as this is usually almost entirely sugar.
  11. Fruits - if you can put together any fresh fruits, this is the same thing -- foods that are 90% water are great. They're easy to digest and help keep you hydrated.
  12. Protein - your body is using up a lot of this. I drink some health shakes to keep on top of this but there are MANY sources.
  13. Chicken Noodle Soup - I've read this from several sources : the stuff has enzymes that help shorten colds.
  14. Nose pain - you can get simple saline for your nose to shoot up and clean out your sinuses. Its a little gross to think about but feels like heaven when you're sick. (No I haven't tried some of the other nose-clearing items on the market.)
Thoughts? Suggestions? Disagree?

Part 2: How to be sick (few more suggestions)

Game: Armor Defense - strategy

A surprising game was recently posted over at Armor Game (Full-screen version, small-window version).  Gloriously, this game has the holy duality of being easy to pick up and difficult to master.  Further, unlike many "defense"-style games you can actively get involved in the fighting, rather than just set up and watch.  Unfortunately, the game can be a little painful the first few rounds so, after spending a lot of time with it, I decided to come up with a few pointers on how to get to the meat of the game where it gets really fun.

As with most defense games, there are three major concepts:
  1. Keep defenses out of harm's way, yet close to the action.
  2. Get money from taking out enemies that you spend to try to manage the increasing difficulty.
  3. Put money into core improvements, or infrastructure -- not just more guns.  The game quickly loses its flavor if you only purchase more fighters
  • Rounds 1 and 2: with a little practice, you can handle this with just one Ruler.  You have to let the kids pass in front of him and then pick him up and drop him in front of them again for a second pass.  Put ALL your other money into upgrading your interest rate (in the lower left hand corner)
  • Rounds 3 and 4: as bullies appear (characters who can knock you over), you must add another cheap attacker, the Toy Gun.  Put him on the hood of the bus.
  • Your next purchase when you get the money should be a Ballooner -- he does splash damage and will help take out groups
  • First boss: just set all three characters in front of the fort.
  • Your next purchase will be another Ballooner and spread them out -- splash damage is great but if the enemies aren't grouped together, it doesn't mean much.  As they move across the screen they're more likely to group up.
  • You should continue contributing to building interest.  Before the second boss, you should have this filled up to the max.
  • With a little work, you can fit three characters on the hood of the bus -- this is ideal.
  • Start to upgrade your Shooter and try to get him to level 3 before anyone else.  Then your Ballooner.  Then when the second boss shows up, just repeatedly set them behind the boss as he advances.
  • This one is NOT obvious: once the bullies start becoming unmanagable, put your Ruler on the second floor of your base.
  • Parents can be temporarily managed by giving them a low-level character to take all the way back across the screen again.  Once the parents get destroyed, you can move your character back to position.
That's a good start to what could become a much longer strategy guide.  Post some kind of response if you want more, or post your own hints.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Creating a better interface

I'm constantly seeing spy movies like the latest 007 and a few years ago with Minority Report featuring remarkable and beautiful user interface tools. Having read up on most spy agencies, I know this is entirely fiction.

Still, Adobe is going to put out something for more easily developing a system interface (warning: people in video are lame). The product is aimed obviously at web developers but I have little doubt it will find its way to your next computer purchase.

This is a nice bridge for designers and artists to move into animation and interface, which is somewhere they usually don't want to go because it involves getting their hands dirty with code and programming. Having worked with both Photoshop and Flash, seeing the almost painfully obvious transition of layers into animation structures was really killer -- that kind painful "why didn't I think of that" moment. This is the first time I've been glad that Adobe bought Macromedia; its a great marriage of Flash with Photoshop/Illustrator.

(Image from gizmodo, thanks to Kim for telling me about this)