Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Baffling Kerfuffle

I bet you chuckled a little bit inside when you read that title. "Kerfuffle" is quite an amusing word. There are probably many reasons for this: scarcity, number of syllables, the letter k, etc., but I maintain that a good part of its hilarity is thanks to the double f. Think about it. There's something innately humorous about the double f. Ruffle, miffed, fluff, doff, muffin, spliff; there's nothing overtly funny about those words, but they all sound a little bit silly.

So the double f is funny. Big deal. You might say the same thing about the double o. "w00t" owes much of its recent success to the double o in my opinion (or double zero, typographically speaking). But the double f is a much stranger case, because the double f sounds exactly the same as the single f; yet you don't laugh at words like rift, file, or safe. The single f is everywhere. It's ordinary. Why does adding the supernumerary f make a word so much more lighthearted? It's yet another conundrum in the often baffling field of — well, what would this be? Psycholinguistics, maybe? I don't know. Whoever ends up studying it might find themselves in a soundproof room, listening to various f sounds, when a fellow linguist, fed up with the study's inanity, barges in and bashes them in the head with a plush toy. In other words, they might find themselves in a muffled scuffle being buffeted by a fluffy ruffian.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Egg Nog

I subscribe to the no-Christmas-before-Thanksgiving rule, but I bent that rule to the point of breaking last week. I bought a carton of egg nog. Egg Nog is the nectar of the gods. It is very important to understand, however, that different brands of egg nog taste completely different. Here's the breakdown of the brands I've tried, from best to worst:

  1. Æ (Anderson Erickson)

    Æ is the taste. It is the (literal) gold standard to which all other egg nogs must be compared. Manhattan, Kansas has some serious problems, and one of them is that Æ dairy products are nowhere to be found. Ten months out of the year I couldn't care less, but for the three weeks I'm here after Thanksgiving, it is a constant annoyance.

  2. Southern Comfort

    This is the only acceptable substitute I have found for Æ. Props to my roommate Paul for introducing me to it. (It's not alcoholic, in case you're wondering.) It's good, but is not as buttery and delicious as the benchmark.

  3. Roberts Dairy

    [Finding photos of particular brands of egg nog is surprisingly difficult.]

    Not great. It's a little bit chalky and bland. I've had a few other generic dairy egg nogs, and they all taste similar to Roberts.

  4. Land O'Lakes

    I can't find this on Land O'Lakes' website anymore, so that's a good sign. This is not egg nog. It tastes like glue. I don't know what it's made from, but I remember checking the ingredients to see what made it so terrible.

If you think that you don't like egg nog, but don't know what brand it was that you tried, I really encourage you to give it another chance with SoCo or Æ. They really are in a different league. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that I have tried some homemade egg nog, and the taste was much closer to my two favorite brands than the other stuff.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What I've Been Doing

Hello dear Readers,

The inspiration reservoir has been dry for a week now, so I feel compelled to submit an "I'm alive" post. Here's what I've been up to in the last week:

While some of these events have been quite exciting, I haven't really been able to squeeze any blog material out of them, because some of them I already talked about, and others are not interesting to anyone but me. Sorry. I'm trying to do better.

I think part of the problem is that I get so focused on a couple things at a time. I write about them when I first get into them, then that's all I think about for weeks on end, so no other subjects have time to enter my brain. And I can't keep writing about the one subject, because no one else cares to hear that level of detail. Sometimes this nerdy tendency for me to obsess over learning new things makes the rest of my life difficult. Blast.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Improv Everywhere

I love these guys. You may have seen this video of theirs where two hundred people freeze simultaneously in Grand Central Station, but that's only a tiny taste of the fun psychological mischief that this sneaky organization has unleashed on New York City and inspired around the globe since 2001. My current favorite mission of theirs:

Food Court Musical.

Check out their other videos. The missions that Charlie Todd and his minions devise are endlessly clever. I totally want to be a part of a Kansas chapter. Found one. It's in Kansas City.

Someone needs to start a K-State branch: someone who's really clever and good at organizing people, i.e. not me. I'm a follower. A good one, though! I deserve a GE Followship Award.

Friday, November 7, 2008

YouTubers: intelligent as garden-variety tubers.

YouTube is pretty amazing. You can find a video of just about anything. You can then send the video to all your friends, and rave about how awesome it is, then they send it to their friends, and so on, and the video "goes viral."

There is an interesting phenomenon that accompanies this viral video spread. I call it the "telephone effect". Remember the game you played in kindergarten? It's like that. Every time this video gets sent from one person to the next, any information that the sender uses to introduce the video to his* friend gets (mis)read, (mis)interpreted, then (mis)remembered when the video is sent to the next person.

What's even worse, people assume things (often wrongly) about the videos, and then send these assumptions into the corrupt "telephone" system: assumptions like whether the video (or audio) is real or fake, as recorded or edited, who created the video, who wrote the music in a video, whether the video is original, or has been edited from its original form.

It's this issue of crediting the original creators that irks me the most. I can't count how many times someone has uploaded something that they put a lot of work into, then someone else takes it, puts some different music over it, and re-posts it without giving any credit to the creator. I couldn't care less about how many times a video is copied, edited, or re-posted, but come on people, just mention where you got your source material.

Add to all this the asinine comments under every single video on YouTube, and you just wonder: Who are these people, and how can they be so foolish?

Challenge: Try to leave a comment on a video that is so stupid that other YouTubers realize you are joking. It's near impossible.

* English desperately needs a neuter singular human pronoun. I often use "they," but while less awkward than "he or she," its plurality is still confusing.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Whenever I get excited about a project, it basically consumes my life for a little while. Last week, I decided to put together a Dr. Horrible costume for Halloween. This required sewing a special style of lab coat — my first sewing project ever. I started on Tuesday night, and basically worked on it every free minute I had until Friday. It was worth it, though. I learned a new skill, and had the best Dr. Horrible costume in probably at least a hundred mile radius.

(Sub-mini-blog: Of course, most people didn't know who I was, but I didn't care. I am not a crowd pleaser. Doing the same thing as everyone else bores me out of my mind. I do the things that I want to do, and when I find other people who share my interests, it's an instantaneous connection. Every time someone came up and said, "Oh my god! It's Dr. Horrible!", it was an awesome little surprise.)

After the construction was complete, my room looked like it had been hit by a bomb. Tissue and newspaper patterns, shreds of white twill, electronic parts, and cardboard scraps littered the floor. I should have taken a picture of that, too.

Soon after I cleaned up the mess, I stumbled across my new project: the Arduino.

On the nerd scale, this project rates pretty high, but I'm super stoked for it. The arduino is a "physical computing platform"; basically a microprocessor that you can program from your computer over a USB cable, then use it to control various electronic gadgets that you build: robots, lights, games, audio equipment... anything you can imagine, really. Someone made a Tetris game out of one:

It's on backorder right now, but in a week or two, when it arrives along with the 1,107 various electronic parts I ordered, I am going to spend days locked in my room, inventing, programming, and playing with new electronic gadgets. I can't wait. If you have any brilliant (and relatively simple) gadget ideas, please send them my way.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Election Predictions

Does anyone think McCain even has a chance? I certainly don't.

The polls give Obama a little over 50% of the popular vote right now, and McCain a little over 40%. The election could reflect those polls pretty closely, but if votes were weighted by excitement factor, Obama would win in a landslide.

Let me show you what I mean. Here's a graph from a google trends search I did:

Now, obviously this is not a scientific study. There are literally dozens — perhaps hundreds — of uncontrolled variables here, but the results are interesting nonetheless. Basically, what this says is that there have been between two and three times as many google searches of the word "Obama" as "McCain" in the last 12 months: that's 72% to 28%.

I also included the vice presidential candidates. Now this is interesting to me. Look at Obama compared to Biden, and McCain compared to Palin. Basically no one gives a crap about Biden, but Palin is more popular than McCain!

Anyway, normally I find election day kind of exciting, but I don't think there'll be any surprises this year. Obama by a mile.

The Wild West

My generation is the first to grow up with the internet. We saw it in its infancy: AOL. We marveled at the speed and content of the world wide web, even in the bandwidth-starved, multimedia-free days of dial-up. We saw the dawn of file sharing with Napster, which precipitated intellectual property law into a tumult which I believe will not settle for years. Blogging, social networking, open-sourcing… the list of cultural phenomena created by this series of tubes goes on and on.

And all this has happened in the last ten or fifteen years.

Today, the internet is still pretty much unregulated. But what will happen in the future? Will internet law enforcement become commonplace? Will we look back on the 00's with nostalgia for the wild, untamed frontier, where you could gamble online, download movies without fear of being thrown in prison, or look at porn without having to digitally prove your identity? It's the wild west out there right now. How long will it take before the digital world as we know it evolves beyond recognition? Years? Decades? Centuries? I don't know, but I'm excited to stick around for at least a few decades to find out.

Whatever happens, our generation can say, "I was there when it all started."