Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ethereal Standard Time?

I watched Ghostbusters II this evening, and found myself bothered by a couple of typical movie conventions that came up in the course of the film.

First, the plot centers around a cosmic plot that involves the coming of the new year.
Let's get this straight right now: New Year's Day represents exactly one thing in a cosmic sense - that the earth has yet again reached an arbitrarily chosen point in the its orbit around the sun. And here's the funny thing about arbitrarily chosen things: Their very nature as arbitrarily chosen precludes the possibility of them having some sort of deeper significance, no matter how hungover you are.

What's even more galling about it is the concept that anything from the ethereal plain or the religious afterlife would give a flying rat's ass about the new year. Presumably, these things which harness and use powers we can't begin to comprehend aren't bound by humanity's arbitrarily designated descriptions of time. Hell, I'm not bound by the dates in my appointment book, and I'm not even some sort of psychic, much less a demigod, angel, or other transcendental creature.

The second of convention that really gets me is that everything relies on local time in the movie. For instance, the antagonist in the movie is able to reincarnate himself at the beginning of the year. But apparently the entire ethereal plain is bound to Eastern Standard Time, because it's not like it was 12:01 on January 1st in Tokyo 13 hours before it was in New York City.

So, what the hell? The antagonist is a 17th Century Moldovan tyrant whose spirit has been stored in a painting and is planning to reincarnate himself via a psychomagnotheric plasm. I mean, if he's from Moldova, why is he stuck on Eastern Standard Time? Why not Moldovan Standard Time? Why not use a little bit of that resurrection power from the slime to do it at any damn time that pleases you? Is resurrection via slime like an international flight? If you miss it are you that screwed? (I guess missing the international flight is still worse. At least if you miss the resurrection you're just dead, but missing a flight back home means that you'll have to deal with airline personnel.)

Oh, and on the subject of time, was I the only one who got pissed off in American Treasure when they did the whole shadow casting on a spot at a certain time thing? It would only work for like a week out of the year, courtesy of the earth's 23 degree tilt on its axis. Lazy bastard writers fit in the daylight savings workaround, but they never managed to explain that one.

Anyway, I figured I'd share this with you in yet another example of my Knowledge Ruins Everything Series of Blog Posts.

Also, I guess that I should give fair warning that I will be offering free throat punches to anyone who decides to ask why it is I'm completely comfortable with slime that can make the Statue of Liberty walk or a treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence, but clearly really pissed off about such trifling matters as time zones. That's for me to know and you to never ask.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Life Lessons

From the Denver Post:

Wonder if Wilt Chamberlain ever felt bad about putting up 100 points
against the Knicks in 1962?

A Texas high school girls basketball team on the winning end of a 100-0 game has a case of blowout remorse. Officials from The Covenant School, a private Christian school in Dallas, are trying to do the right thing by seeking a forfeit and apologizing for the winning margin.

Thursday on the school's website, the head of the school, Kyle Queal, said, "It is shameful and an embarrassment that this happened." He went on to say that Covenant has made "a formal request to forfeit the game recognizing that a victory without honor is a great loss."

Last week, Covenant defeated Dallas Academy 100-0. Dallas Academy has eight girls on its team. It is winless over the last four seasons.

A parent who attended the game told The Associated Press that Covenant continued to make 3-pointers — even in the fourth quarter.

Queal said the game "does not reflect a Christ-like and honorable approach to competition. We humbly apologize for our actions and seek the forgiveness of Dallas Academy, TAPPS and our community."

The Dallas Academy has accepted the apology and said it is excited about some of the attention it is receiving from the loss, including an invitation from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to see an NBA game from his suite.

As if a 100 point loss wasn't bad enough, now these girls are being taught life lessons that can only be a disservice to them:

1. If you lose badly enough, people will feel bad for you and reward your poor performance.

Just ask the French. They got bailed out of two world wars this way.

There is no excuse to teach a young person this lesson. It transfers all too easily from basketball to real life. "Maybe just being an alcoholic won't be enough. But if I manage to become an alcholic, prostitute, single mother, drug addict, and cripple all in one week... then, someone will coddle me! I'm going to need a feather boa, fishnet stockings, some hypodermic needles, a bottle of vodka, a baseball bat, and someone who is willing to use all of them on me."

Not only are they beign showered with pity, these girls are getting their first win in four years! Why? Because they managed to elevate losing to a new low. Consider this analogy involving real-life consequences, and tell me which one doesn't fit:

A. You fail at work: you get fired.

B. You fail at love: you get dumped.

C. You fail to follow traffic laws: you get a ticket.

D. You fail to drink responsibly: you puke.

E. You fail to play offense, defense, or anything resembling basketball: you win by forfeit and get to go to a Mavs game in the owner's suite.

If you said "E," congratulations! You live on Planet Earth with the rest of us.

2. None of this was their fault.

They lost. 100-0. One hundred. To zero. In other words, during the course of the game, they never even managed to get off a single good shot. They never managed to draw a foul and then sink a single free throw. They never once drove to the hoop to make a lay-up. They never so much as accomplished a single thing that a basketball player should. Admittedly, it was probably excessive for the winners to be draining threes in the 4th quarter. But to attribute the "shame and embarassment" of this debacle only to the winning team is an insult to athletics, the concept of competition, and anyone who has ever been better at something than someone else.

Imagine how simple minimizing this pathetic performance could have been. What if the girls from Dallas Academy (henceforth refered to as the "losers") had done nothing more than thrown a few hard fouls when Covenant (henceforth refered to as the "winners") kept shooting threes? I'll bet you after a couple of those winners would have thought long and hard before shooting from outside the arc again.

3. People paying attention to you as a result of your failures is good.

The Academy is apparently "excited" about this attention. Insanity, I say!

I will grant that in Hollywood, they say that there's no such thing as bad press. That's because their job is to be famous. Thus, being by being in the news, Hollywood celebrities are doing their jobs, regardless of the personality flaw, emotional outburst, or criminal act that resulted in the coverage.

A school, in the meantime, shouldn't be in the news for fostering such ineptitude that its players are incapable of winning even once in four years, then capping such an extraordinary under-achievement with a 100-0 loss. You know what this tells me about Dallas Academy? They don't care about winning. As I've mentioned, this isn't the kind of thing I want children taught. In fact, this type of lesson is the very reason a lot of kids are removed from public schools in the first place.

So, let's do these girls a favor. Instead of giving them hugs and kisses and a fake victory and telling them that everyone thinks they're special, let's show them some real love and tell them the four lessons they should have learned:

1. You lost by a very wide margin. You should have performed better.

2. You do not have to like that this is the case. In fact, you should not like that this is the case.

3. The solution to the problem of feeling bad about losing is to improve to the point that you win. Winners don't have to feel bad because they didn't lose.

4. Unless, of course, they rout an inferior team, at which point society will demand they apologize for it. So, if you're gonna stomp 'em, stop at about a 75 point margin. 60 if you really want to be safe.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

For the Record

Today was all the hoopla about the particle accelerator. I just want to go on the record predicting that a movie featuring a particle accelerator as part of the plot will come out of Hollywood in the next year and a half.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Dialog Concerning Things That Go Bump in The Night

[Ed stirs in bed, waking Mary.]

ED: What was that!?

MARY: What is it, honey?

ED: I thought I heard something.

THIRD VOICE: You heard nothing.

ED: Oh, perfect! Back to bed then.

MARY: Didn't you hear that?

ED: Hear what?

MARY: That voice.

ED: Yes. But he said I heard nothing and put my concerns to rest. I intend to follow their lead.

MARY: But you heard him! He's something!

ED: Conceded. But that was after I thought I heard a noise that could indicate some sort of malfeasance afoot. The voice was dissimilar enough to assure me that it wasn't the same noise I thought I heard, so I'm quite happy to return to sleep if you'll let me, dear.

MARY: But couldn't he have been what you heard in the first place?

ED: Based on the dissimilarity of the sounds, I doubt it. Particularly given that I have now been assured that I did not, in fact, hear a first noise. The voice could hardly be responsible for something that didn't happen.

MARY: What if he was what you heard in the first place? Might not the same thing be responsible for two sounds?

ED: You seem to keep forgetting that I don't believe the first sound existed. The question hardly seems relevant when I will only admit to hearing one sound. However, if it will set your mind at ease, I speak for the moment as if I had heard a noise before the voice. In that case, I don't believe that there is any compelling reason for you to believe that the two noises are connected.

MARY: You heard one noise, then the voice seconds later.

ED: If I were to sneeze right now and the neighbors' house exploded moments later, would you accuse me of blowing up the neighbors' house?

MARY: Hardly! But -

ED: They operate on the same principal, darling.

MARY: But surely the two being so close together in space and time must make some difference.

ED: So if I were to sneeze in the neighbors' house, I would then be responsible for the ensuing explosion?

MARY: No. But there's a chance you could have if your sneeze somehow caused a spark due to static electricity which subsequently ignited natural gas that had rather unfortunately accumulated in the house as a result of some other happenstance.

ED: I've never said the two can't be related, simply that there is no compelling reason to believe that they are. I believe that once you see this, you will sleep soundly, aware that the fear that seems to be bothering you is baseless.

MARY: So you are of the opinion that the two noises are not connected?

ED: I am of the opinion that there was only one noise. I had only conceded to the existence of the first noise in an attempt to persuade you to stop worrying.

MARY: It would seem to me that what you have presented is hardly a case to stop worrying. There is little compelling reason to accept a view other than the view that the sounds are connected. It comes from the axiom that the simplest theory is most likely correct. What is simpler: two unusual things creating one unusual noise each or one unusual thing creating two unusual noises?

ED: The question hardly seems relevant, given that I have not admitted to hearing a first noise.

MARY: But you thought you did.

ED: Indeed. It was a misperception. Frankly, I think the simplest theory at this point would be that the second noise was also a result of a misperception on my part.

MARY: In that case, my only worry would be for your hearing. However, I, too, heard the voice. Is it simpler to say that you and I had identical misperceptions or that we had identical correct perceptions?

ED: Likely the latter.

MARY: Then the second voice was real!

ED: You've showed very little. I had conceded to this. It was, in fact, one of the premises that drove me to conclude I had not heard a first noise.

MARY: But how can you trust it?

ED: You heard the same thing I did, and we've agreed that it's more likely we both accurately perceived it than misperceived.

MARY: No! How can you trust what it said? It can't possibly know what you did or did not hear.

ED: I agree that it couldn't be privy to my inner mental states. However, it could be aware of the environment and aware that the conditions required for me to hear something were not met.

MARY: In other words, it heard nothing, so you couldn't have heard something?

ED: Exactly. So long as we are using "hear" as a technical term that denotes the ability to detect sound waves.

MARY: But what if it's lying?

ED: Why would it do that?

MARY: If it created the first noise and wanted to hide its presence.

ED: While I have maintained that there is was only one noise, you have held that there were two, and that they were created by the same thing. If I accept, again, that there were two noises, it hardly seems to me that that object, if its goal were to be clandestine, would create a second noise. As such, the precepts of your theory leave me unconcerned. They should leave you in a similar state.

MARY: But, perhaps by your theory you should be concerned. You believe the second noise - or the only noise in your theory - was caused by something that can both speak and hear?

ED: Yes.

MARY: And isn't it a bit unusual for something that can speak and hear - and isn't us - to be in this room?

ED: Yes.

MARY: Given that unusual circumstance, shouldn't you be concerned?

ED: Indeed.

MARY: Well, aren't you going to get concerned?

ED: I am now.

MARY: You don't seem to be.

ED: I said I am. Does that not lend itself to the perception that I am, in fact, concerned?

MARY: I expected more of a show of concern.

ED: More of a show than an explicit admission?

MARY: Tension in your voice, or springing to your feet, or... or....

ED: So, you don't believe that I am concerned if I am not acting in those ways, my explicit admission to the contrary?

MARY: Might not one lie about being concerned?

ED: Might not one behave in those ways without being concerned?

MARY: Touché.

ED: Mary, I am concerned. But I am also tired. Let us go to sleep and worry tomorrow about whatever unusual thing in our room can speak and hear.

MARY: And if it means us harm?

ED: It had ample opportunity while we spoke. If it meant us harm, we would be harmed by now. Go to sleep, my love.

[They kiss goodnight.]

ED: Goodnight.

MARY: Goodnight.

THIRD VOICE: Goodnight.

Monday, September 1, 2008

On Shit Talk

I received the following e-mail in one of my fantasy football leagues:
We believe this is a new era in the fantasy football league. Not only do the Barbie Dream Drafters know good football, but this is the year the dudes are gonna be taught what it's like to be overpowered and outsmarted by these intelligent feminine football masterminds! Saddle up folks Prepare for an amazing adventure in our pink Barbie convertible!
I'd like to address this supposed "shit talking" on a point-by-point basis here, as I believe shit talk is woefully lacking in the text I just presented:

1. We believe this is a new era in the fantasy football league.

This is a factual statement. There are new players and new rules, thus engendering a new era. Your statement as such cannot be considered shit talk as the only factual statements that can be considered shit talk are those that point out the ways in which your team is considerably better than another team.

"My team is called Barbie Dream Draft. Ha ha ha." Not shit talk.

"Your starting quarterback just tore his hamstring. Ha ha ha." Definitely shit talk.

2. Not only do the Barbie Dream Drafters know good football

Doubtful. You drafted Brett Favre in the Fourth round. (See previous statement on factual statements being acceptable as shit talk.)

To stay on point, however, this statement lacks status as shit talk because it is a normative evaluation of your football knowledge rather than a comparative statement about your knowledge and that of your opponent. To be shit talk you would have to make it very clear that your normative evaluation of the quality being discussed somehow makes you better than your opponent.

"We know good football." Not shit talk.

"My expansive football knowledge dwarfs the pathetic handful of factoids you cling to as your hope for success." Definitely shit talk.

3. but this is the year

This transition when coupled with the statement that follows it does not fulfill the requirements set forth in point number two to create shit talk. The word "but" coupled with the language "not only" functions essentially as the word "and" would, thus creating two unrelated statements. To properly link these two statements in such a way to form shit talk, they should be linked causally.

"We know good football and we are gonna teach you blah blah blah." Not shit talk.

"We know good football, so come week six when you're trying to figure out which of your third-stringers to start in place of your injury-prone starter, we'll be trying to figure out which of our four top-performers to bench because we have such a glut of talent." Definitely shit talk.

4. the dudes are gonna be taught what it's like to be overpowered and outsmarted by these intelligent feminine football masterminds!

This is the closest the e-mail ever comes to shit talk. However, its great flaw is that rests on the assumption that women are worse at fantasy football than men. This isn't a problem because it's untrue. (I'm guessing that it's usually true, in fact.) It's a problem because accepting this assumption causes the shit talker to take the lowest pedestal from which to shit talk. One should always talk shit from the highest position, as the whole point of shit talking is to remind your opponents that you are better than they are.

"I know you think of me as your inferior, but the season's results will force you to accept that I am not." Not shit talk.

"All the people of the world will be forced to take notice of my greatness because it will be drawn in contrast to my opponents' inferiority at a level of comparison last experienced when God said 'let there be light.'" Definitely shit talk.

5. Saddle up folks Prepare for an amazing adventure in our pink Barbie convertible!

An amazing adventure in a pink convertible hardly seems like a threat. In fact, it sounds like the plot of a sleazy movie. When making threats, aim for a humiliating reminder of the fact that you are better than your opponent.

"Prepare for an amazing adventure in our pink Barbie convertible." Not shit talk.

"When I win, you'll be scrubbing my pink convertible with your tongue just to get a taste of what it's like to be as amazing as I am." Definitely shit talk.

If you were wondering, I sent this friendly primer on shit talking to the Barbie Dream Drafters along with this last warning:

"If you think I tore that e-mail to pieces, wait until I face your fantasy team." Definitely shit talk.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I am a Rectangle with Four Sides of Equal Length

Education has ruined rock 'n roll for me.

Let me provide a few examples of songs that are less fun when the listener knows a little too much:

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing by Jack Johnson
In this song, Jack laments that "lovin' somebody don't make them love you." Instead of enjoying the melody at this point, I cannot help but notice that the pronoun and antecedent are not in agreement. To correct this, I'll sing, "lovin' somebody don't make him or her love you." This completely ruins the rhythm, but does get the pronoun to agree.

Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress) by the Hollies

In this song, the singer is working for the FBI. Right before he sees the aforementioned long, cool woman, he is about to call the "D.A. man." Unfortunately, this doesn't jive. The FBI would be working with a federal prosecutor, not a district attorney. I guess we can forgive the mistake, as the Hollies were English, and it's possible that they didn't know the difference. Besides, the song would sound much worse if he were a constable about to call a barrister.

Eight Days a Week by The Beatles
I actually don't have a problem with this song. Adding an additional day to the week seems like a completely legitimate use of hyperbole to express the depth of John and Paul's love. I was just hoping to play on your perception I could be that big of a tool, which couldn't be that much of a stretch after what you just read.

Blues for Yesterday by Charlie Musselwhite
Charlie, at the beginning of the song is riding into the setting sun. In the next verse, he notes that the moon is rising near the sun. Astronomy students will tell you that the moon rises in the East and sets in the West, just like the sun. Thus, if the sun is setting and the moon is near it, the moon must be setting (not rising!) as well. Of course, if this were to change, life on Earth might be radically worse, which would explain why he has the blues for yesterday.

I really hate myself for noticing these types of things.

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Philosophical Dialogue

The Cast:
Bailiff - A burly man, his philosophical interests center mainly around people rising.
Judge - A no-nonsense ruler of his court room, he would wear a powdered wig if he could afford one.
Prosecutor - A cynical, heartless bastard. One of the few lawyers who was even before law school.
Rescartes - A brilliant man, his philosophical ideas are almost identical to those of Rene Descartes with one small twist: Rescartes is a serial killer.

BAILIFF: All rise!

JUDGE: Be seated. I understand we have an interesting case today.

PROSECUTOR: Yes, your honor. The defendant has told me he will refuse to enter a plea due to unncertainty.

JUDGE: Do I understand this correctly, Mr. Rescartes?

RESCARTES: Yes, your honor. I cannot enter a plea because I am not certain that what I am accused of doing actually happened.

JUDGE: Then you want to enter a plea of not guilty by mental defect?

RESCARTES: No, sir. I don't believe we can know whether any crime occurred.

JUDGE: A young woman is dead, Mr. Rescartes. She was stabbed. By you. In front of a priest, a nun, and a rabbi. Do you think they were lying?

RESCARTES: I do not question their honesty, sir. I question the accuracy of their perceptions.

JUDGE: All of them have 20/20 vision. You handed them your driver's license to examine after you finished, and the blood sample you provided for them matches your DNA. I hardly think you are the victim of a case of mistaken identity.

RESCARTES: I do not question that they perceived what they say they perceived, I question whether they accurately perceived what they say they perceived.

JUDGE: So, they all suffered from a delusion?

RESCARTES: Such a nasty word, delusion. I prefer to simply cast doubt on their perceptions by noting that our senses can deceive us. Something far away can appear small, but actually be large. Ipso facto, the senses cannot be trusted.

JUDGE: I fail to see the connection between the properties of light waves and the veracity of a statement by a man of the cloth.

RESCARTES: It stems from the notion that if we can determine that one of our senses might deceive us, we ought to reject all that it tells us.

JUDGE: That may be the standard you wish to use in your life, sir, but it is not the standard of this court.

RESCARTES: But it is exactly the standard of this court.

JUDGE: No, Mr. Descartes. We use the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

RESCARTES: This doubt is reasonable. It was arrived at through the use of reason!

JUDGE: Equivocate in my courtroom again, Mr. Rescartes, and I will hold you in contempt.

RESCARTES: But, your honor, how can you be certain I am even here to be contemptuous?

JUDGE: I can’t. And you can’t be sure that you are either, if I get your drift. Thus, you shouldn’t be too worried about me locking you up because you won’t be sure you’re incarcerated.

RESCARTES: That hardly seems like a fair application of my principles, your honor.

JUDGE: Tell it to the appeals court, Mr. Rescartes.

RESCARTES: But if I go to jail for this, it greatly increases the chances of a negative outcome in my civil case, sir. The parents of this girl seem to think that the fact that she ended up in an ambulance means that I owe them a hefty sum of money.

JUDGE: Ambulo ergo sum, eh?

RESCARTES (Scowling at the pun): Something of the sort. I urge you to reconsider.

JUDGE: No chance, Mr. Rescartes. Go to jail.

The judge bangs his gavel, Rescartes is taken away, and the next case on the docket is called.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Lessons Learned in College

For those who doubt the value of a college education, I'd like to share brief snippets from some of the classes I've taken. They provide a mere sampling of the voluminous knowledge I gained in pursuit of my degree. Please feel free to substitute this list for the course catalog if you want to know what is taught in a given class.

Philosophy 2030: Theories of Mind

Captain Kirk is not real.
Fortunately for those who run Star Trek conventions, one must take a philosophy class to learn this.

Physics 1120: Electricity & Magnetism
If a charged particle moves through a B-Field, a force acts upon it.
Apparently, this is true even if there is not a runner on first.

Economics 1030: Business & Economy
Despite his ruinous economic policies, Kim Jong Il still thinks North Korea is a great place to live.
This is largely because Kim Jong Il's economic policies can be summed up as "give your possessions to Kim Jong Il."

Philosophy 3010: History of Modern Philosophy
If God can create existence ex nihilo, he can certainly blink a deer out of existence.
This information is particularly pertinent to those in wildlife management fields.

Astronomy 2030: Black Holes
Hawking Radiation is a major turn-off.
While the mechanism by which black holes radiate energy is fascinating, it is not a suitable topic for a first date. Trust me.

Political Science 4241: Constitutional Law
By the Acts of Congress of Feb. 28th, 1795, ch.36 (1 Stat. at L., 424), and 3d of March 1807, ch. 39 (1 Stat. at L. 443), [the President] is authorized to call out the militia and use military and naval forces of the United States.
In retrospect, this is obvious. I'm embarrassed that I didn't know it until I took this class.

Philosophy 1440: Introductory Logic
It is fallacious to say, "Given that if JFK was murdered by the CIA, then JFK would be dead, and given that JFK is dead, he must have been murdered by the CIA."
It is shockingly easy to disprove conspiracy theories.

Lessons like these that taught me that the real value of education is not found in the wisdom you gain, but in the diploma you earn.