Archive for May, 2011

Fake Exercise

For a normal individual without any sort of physical abnormalities, body weight is a relatively simple mathematical formula.  Your body naturally burns X amount of calories just by being alive.  Physical activity will add Y amount to your caloric expenditure.   If I is the variable for intake, or how much you consume, then:

If I = X + Y, bodyweight will stay the same.

If I < X + Y, bodyweight will fall.

If I > X + Y, bodyweight will rise.

Weight loss or lack thereof is, in most cases, the manipulation of the above function.  Many people diet, which causes a reduction in variable I.  Many will choose to exercise which is an increase in Y.  Some may choose to do both to maximize their results.  Regardless of which route is chosen, as long as the variables change over a prolonged period of time, results will ensue.

Now the office I currently work at is predominantly female.  As a result, weight loss is a frequently broached topic.  Besides the annoyance of listening to so many body image issues so consistently, I don’t see much harm in this chit-chat.  What really bothers me is the loud declaration and gross exaggeration of facts by the most vocal of those who sit around me.

To put it bluntly, these ladies are on the, shall we say, larger side.  For some reason unbeknownst to me, they choose to raucously articulate their physical exploits at least two or three times a week.  Now I have nothing against fat people.  It’s most oftentimes a choice and who am I to judge how they live their life?  But at the end of the day they are fat for a reason, whether it is a lack of self-control, poor dietary habits, or what have you.  So if they really are running marathons, playing volleyball, tennis, and softball, chances are they shouldn’t be fat.  Hell, I’m in great shape and I’m pretty certain that I cannot run as many marathons and partake in as many sports in the period of time they claim.  Nor do I wake up early in the morning for a “quick” three to five mile jog through Central Park when the weather allows.  That is not a ridiculous distance, but neither is it a cakewalk.

Fact of the matter is, if their activity level is truly that high, then they should be far from the rotund states that I see every day.  I don’t mind if they are fat.  I don’t mind if they want to talk about their exercise routines.  Hell, at the end of the day, I really don’t mind that much if they lie about what they do.  But the line is drawn when they belt out their efforts as if they were Moses on the Mount.  No one needs to hear it and if they really want the rest of us to appreciate the pains they go through for weight loss, at least lose the weight first.  It’ll be more believable.

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Bing and Decide… The Internet Just Got Creepier

I was watching the NBA playoffs last night and happened to see a new Bing commercial. While most Bing commercials leave me confused, this one sent a chill down my spine. You can see the commercial here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzetIySG_L0

I also found another commercial advertising the same thing here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0rbyDAQWJY

The commercial is trying to push Bing and Decide, a new way of searching based on a combination of traditional search (Bing) and feedback from social media (Facebook – specifically, things your friends recommend). It is being broadly deployed by Bing as of May 24, 2011 and is also the search engine behind Facebook’s web search. From a technical standpoint, it’s a very interesting concept and can be seen as one path for the evolution of search. Another possibility would be to use information from social media, aggregate the results, and allow the general trending popularity of items affect the search results. Lastly, you can attempt to keep search results purely factual and attempt to predict what people are searching for (this would be similar to what Wolfram Alpha tried to do… but of course you need to be better than a glorified Wikipedia+CliffNotes search engine).

The geek side of me sees this as a very interesting experiment to watch as I’m sure companies like Twitter, Foursquare, etc. would love to get in on this action because it would make their own services more valuable to advertisers. The biggest challenge Microsoft has is finding a way to strike a balance between searching for facts and searching for opinions/suggestions. If they can do this, then the rest of the work lies on Facebook. Can Facebook’s combination of Like buttons, Activity Feeds, RecommendationsProduct Tagging, wall posts, profile information, and overall wealth of information keep on gaining traction? More importantly, can Facebook steer clear of spam and potential abuse – not by just malevolent people but from companies who will try to game the system? Specifically, I can see companies running contests that try to get people to like or tag their product as a way to enter so their products will be pushed up in Bing’s results. Of course, this is exactly what Facebook wants and what Bing fears so I’m wondering who will end up the winner in this relationship.

Then there is the normal side of me that sees this partnership as a huge step towards major creepiness. I’ve purged almost all information from my Facebook account years ago once I realized how public Facebook was making my information (remember, Facebook started as a very exclusive and private community for just students – that’s when I was convinced to join by my friends). The only reason I even keep my account around is so my friends have a way to contact me since so many of them love using Facebook in lieu of emails. Now that I see this Bing/Facebook mashup, I wonder how long it will be before Google follows suit and I can no longer keep myself distanced from Facebook (or other social media). The internet is reaching a point where you can either stay anonymous by not using Facebook, Twitter, etc. or run the risk of having your entire life be visible on the internet. We may even reach the point where you cannot be anonymous no matter what you do as all those social media widgets are following you even when you aren’t using those services. At some point, every user of the internet may turn into a product that is being sold by all of the big companies to advertisers – a truly scary thought. Imagine the possibilities of subliminal, targeted advertising in such a world.

Update (06/01/2011):

Bam! Google joins in on the social creepiness fun with its +1 button.

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Cold Dead Space

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

Remember hearing that quote growing up? Teachers, coaches, and principals loved spouting that line to impressionable young kids as an alternative to “Try your best!” Of course children aren’t the smartest people in the world, and real life tends to lack the inspirational speeches that help explain the parable of the day.  Thus, the proper meaning of this phrase is often misunderstood. I implore any adults reading this to stick with simple, unmistakable phrases like “Try your best!” instead of attempting to sound super sophisticated. Why? Well for one, why are you trying to impress a children with your smarts? You can tell them that the sun is the size of a quarter and they’ll believe you. More importantly, quotes can easily be misunderstood and result in a very shitty childhood. Case study: me.

I grew up thinking this phrase meant “Always aim to be the best.” Being the dumb, straightforward kid I that I was, I never thought twice about this piece of advice. I poured my heart and soul into everything I did and always aimed to be #1. This meant studying like a madmen for tests, spending endless hours on academic projects, and training my ass off in sports all the while thinking that the only thing standing between me and first place was the amount of effort I put in. Watching television only reinforced the idea that hard work leads to results. Even the dumb people on those shows had a hidden talent for something, and eventually hard work will allow them to blossom and acheive something amazing. Yay! Drinks all around! Cheers!

Well fuck all of that! The results of my efforts? I landed on the moon a grand total of one time and that was only after all the competition in my grade decided to skip ahead to varsity while I stayed behind.  Apparantly, I wasn’t good enough for varsity. Oh, and if that single victory wasn’t soul sucking enough, my name was misspelled on the award. A permanent reminder that my victory was empty. The rest of my formative years can be summed up as a decade of floating in the cold dead space “among the stars.” Still, I kept believing that I had some sort of hidden talent that was yet to be revealed. That is until I made my way into a national competition and experienced first hand the difference between hard working talented people and hard working normal people. I squarely fell on the normal side.   No amount of hard work will ever close that gap.  This episode promptly shattered my confidence and competitive drive.

Now if someone had explained to me that “Shoot for the moon” did not mean “Gun for number one,” then I’m sure I would not have been disappointed by all of those non-first place finishes. Of course all of this despair could have been avoided if adults just used the simple phrase “Try your best.” This would have had the same effect of pushing me to work hard but without all of the soul crushing disappointment. So this is a hearty “Fuck you!” to all adults who have uttered this phrase without the proper explanation. Please remember to use the KISS principle when speaking with children and keep it simple, stupid!

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Office Gossip

I think most of my recent griping is going to be focused on the office.  My office environment is slowly shredding my sanity, and the behavior that is leading to this issue is something I can vent about through this blog.  So vent I shall.

Water coolers, the stereotypical gathering place where co-workers gather and gossip.  A place to waste away a couple minutes of otherwise boringly spent time pushing keys and papers at the desk—an escape if you will.  Now there isn’t a water cooler at every office, but people make due.  Kitchens, hallways, whatever the case may be.  People find their own little retreats.  Unfortunately for me, my cube neighbors’ retreat is situated in their cubes.  Cubicles are not recording studios.  Not much acoustic blocking engineering went into their creation.

Now that wouldn’t normally be an issue.  I’m not a touchy guy and I like to think of myself as being pretty laid back.  However, it’s a whole different ballgame when people refuse to speak at a normal conversational decibel level.  The group of cubes right over my rather insignificant cube wall covers an area of a good 200 square feet.  Good amount of space for three but by no means is it acreage worthy of the noise that is generated from within.  They are loud, and for no reason, it’s pretty damn annoying.  That’s strike number one.

The louder things are, the harder they are to filter out.  Regrettably, I’ve never been good at filtering at any level, one of the reasons why I can’t listen to music while I work.  I would start focusing on the song.  The result is that each minute of the conversation is a bullet of information that I don’t want to know being shot directly into my brain.  That’s not even the worst part.  If the topic is not work related, which it isn’t most of the time, then each conversation runs a gamut of a whopping three to five themes—weight loss, shopping, wardrobe, and the occasional trip/special event and celebrity gossip.

I don’t need to know the details of their latest diet or juice cleanse or body image issues.  I don’t need to know where they went to look at x, y, z, why they ended up buying x, y, z and what their plans are for those items.  I don’t need to know what they think of each other’s ensemble on a daily basis.  And for the love of all that is holy, someone please expand their vocabulary to encompass more than the single adjective of “cute.”  Cute does not describe anything.  The use of cute is nothing but a nod of approval, in which case they only need to nod once.  There is no reason that they need to rearrange their sentence four different ways when the only adjective they use is cute.  This particular issue is soastronomical on the annoyance scale that it covers both strikes two and three.

There are so many things in the world people can talk about.  A terrorist just died after a decade long man hunt.  Japan is in crisis.  A handful of European countries are hanging onto their economic lives.  Commodities are out of control.  Gas prices have hit over four dollars a barrel in some places.  There are hundreds of people rebelling across the Middle East.  Hell, Donald Trump is contemplating a run at the White House.  The list is infinitely long.  Why won’t they talk about anything remotely intelligent or important?  At least then I can listen and be educated asto their opinions on some events and issues.

Alas, it is not so.  Instead I’m subjugated to listening to the lowest common denominator of female gossip eight hours a day, five days a week, and every morning my brain wakes up screaming in terror of what waits only a short train ride away.  Let the countdown begin.

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America is doomed.

Some of you may have heard of the PROTECT IP Act (link provided to the latest draft that I know of – 5/19/2011) and how some big corporations (RIAA vs Google) have been duking it out over whether this bill should be legalized. Now most common folk aren’t going to understand much about what this bill means so I’ll try to point you towards sources that break the bill down into layman’s terms. First off, the PROTECT IP Act is the successor to the failed COICA bill (which can be seen as the US version of ACTA), both of which were introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. If you want to read about why ACTA and COICA failed, be my guest. There are tons of articles out there discussing how horrid those bills are and why they should not pass. I would like to talk about the PROTECT IP Act and how it is a sign of America’s downfall.

First off, straight from the bill itself, is the soul and purpose of the bill:

To prevent online threats to economic creativity and theft of intellectual property, and for other purposes.

For now, I’m going to ignore the “and for other purposes” part since that is so goddamn vague (Honestly? “other purposes?”.) Instead, we shall talk about the lofty goals of this bill and why it is being pushed. Big corporations like the RIAA, MPAA, etc. have lobbied the government to push for laws that will help them protect their intellectual property from things like piracy and… well yeah, the big thing is piracy (torrents, file sharing, etc.). Protecting their works of art is fine but why use such generic language? If this quote is truly the goal of the bill, then it should allow all rightsholders, those controlled by big corporations (a la the RIAA), and individuals, like indie bands, bloggers, freelance artists, etc., to be able to protect their creative works from theft. I mean, that is the goal right?

Wrong.

If you read through the bill, it immediately becomes clear that this bill is meant to stop rogue websites that promote piracy per the bill’s definition. Of course what they don’t tell you is that the bill’s definition is sufficiently broad enough to encompass search engines–Google, Bing, Yahoo, as well. Now you’d think, “Hey this will help individuals like us right?” Well yes and no.

After doing “due diligence” in contacting said website, you’d have to go to the courts and wait for them to approve your notice for take down. Great… except for the court fees, legal documents, and the fact that being an individual means you’d have to wait for the court to get to your file. Once that happens, you better hope you don’t get taken to court as there is nothing in the bill to protect you from having to fight your way through a lengthy court battle that you probably can’t pay for. The amount of legal crap rightsholders will have to go through, while justified as being required, is completely unfeasible for individuals.

The true goal of this bill is that it allows “qualifying plaintiffs” that have either money or power to push their agenda through without having to wait. Obviously big corporations like the RIAA get a huge edge here but the real concern is that Attorney Generals have also been given the same rights as rightsholders. Weird because their position allows them to bypass any sort of waiting period and the worst part: there is no language specifying who the Attorney Generals represent. They aren’t directly representing any specific rightsholders, and they can use the power granted by this bill to just take down websites based on what they believe to be “theft.” This is essentially no different than what is happening with the Department of Homeland Security and the ICE take downs which have already hit many innocent websites to which the DHS has already fessed up.

So America is doomed.

The government is trying to push a law that:

  • Allows Attorney Generals to immediately take down any website they want based on what they perceive to be theft. Theft being anything they think infringes on some form of intellectual property.
    1. Allows big corporations (RIAA, MPAA, newspapers, etc.) to take down any websites they believe infringe on their rights. If the take down was done in bad faith? You’d have to prove it before getting your site back in a lengthy court battle that you surely cannot afford. Goodbye bloggers.
  • Allows individual rightsholders from not being able to do the reverse and barely helping them from stopping people from pirating their works. Is a newspaper copying your blog? Well too fucking bad. All they have to do is respond to your request to remove the infringing material and then do nothing about it because taking them to court over what constitutes “due diligence” is not something you can afford.

In what way does this help individual rightsholders? In the end, all this does is give the government more power to silence free speech (yes, you are right Google and thank you for not sugar coating the situation) and further enhance the power of big corporations. This will hurt you, me, and every goddamn person who makes the foundation of this country. If you want to fight back, now is the time because once this bill passes, there is no fucking thing you can do to stop the government as they are giving themselves immunity (quoted from the bill):

(B) IMMUNITY FROM LIABILITY.—Any en-20 tity receiving an order under this subsection, 21 and any director, officer, employee, or agent 22 thereof, shall not be liable to any party for any 23 acts reasonably designed to comply with this 24 subsection or reasonably arising from such 25 order, other than in an action pursuant to sub-13 GRA11400 S.L.C. 1 section (e), and any actions taken by customers 2 of such entity to circumvent any restriction on 3 access to the Internet domain instituted pursu-4 ant to this subsection or any act, failure, or in-5 ability to restrict access to an Internet domain 6 that is the subject of a court order issued pur-7 suant to this subsection despite good faith ef-8 forts to do so by such entity shall not be used 9 by any person in any claim or cause of action 10 against such entity, other than in an action 11 pursuant to subsection (e).

Of course, the media is so focused on the big names fighting over this bill that no one is bothering to listen to individuals. Distracting language is being used to draw attention away from how this bill does jack shit for the rest of us. Isn’t it a fun time to be an American? Even if we try to fight for our rights, no one is listening anyway. It’s like they’re already gone.

 

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Spitting

Please don’t spit in the street.  There are plenty of trash cans and other waste receptacles.  If you must spit, please do so away from the masses.  Maybe do it in a corner or edge of a building where it has a much lower probability of touching another human being.  Nobody wants to see your phlegm hit the sidewalk or accidentally step in it.  I understand that the sole of my shoes will block me from direct contact and that I’m probably stepping in much grosser things every day.  But just the thought of it is pretty unpleasant and we could all use a little less unpleasantness in our lives.

The worst is when someone spits somewhere people go for recreational purposes, like large lawns in the summer time for example.  Do you know what people do on large lawns in the summer?  They sit on them.  Or lay on them.  Many use towels, but some don’t.  And regardless of whether or not there is a degree of separation between mucous and skin, it’s still very disgusting to be on the receiving end of the contact.

Another place is a playground or basketball court.  I’ve seen many a young man spit around the court while playing basketball.  While I’ve never seen anyone spit directly on the court, I must ask another question.  Do you know where loose balls go?  They are called loose balls for a reason and many times it goes out of bounds.  Out of bounds to where all that spit is.  People dribble basketballs with their hands.  I really don’t understand why people spit with abandon everywhere they go with no thoughts as to how it will impact those around them.  It just isn’t very hygienic.

Next time you decide that you need to divulge some of your bodily fluids in a highly public arena please consider whether or not you’re willing to have whoever is next to you spit on you.  If the answer is no, what makes you think others around you are willing to touch your discharge?  Pretty good question right?

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Gym Annoyance

I live in a high rise apartment building with a relatively good gym on premise. It’s a little on the small side for a building with so many residences, but fairly comfortable for the true number of people who actually use it. I don’t always have quite the amount of room to spread out that I’d like, but I’m able to save money on a gym membership so I’m reasonably content most of the time.

I consider myself to be relatively healthy. I eat well and live an active life that includes three visits to said gym per week. I don’t particularly like or dislike the gym so it’s really the people there that make or break the experience. People who frequent the gym fall into a multitude of distinct categories.

There are the meat heads. They show up to pump as much iron as possible, grunt as much as possible, check themselves out during and between sets in the limited number of mirrors available, and generally do what meat heads do. Their workouts are typically long, inefficient, and primarily focused on the beach muscles. There are the inexperienced ladies. They show up to hold a couple of small dumbbells, do some random exercises they recently saw in a magazine, try a couple machines, and walk around. They might sweat, they might not, but they usually linger for a short period of time and then head home. There are the cardio fiends. No explanation needed. There are the weak willed. They show up only during holidays, pre-warm weather, and any time new gym membership spikes due to a gnawing sense of guilt and a slowly expanding waistline.

The list continues and I could probably write multiple excerpts on the ecosystem of gyms. Unfortunately, that is not what this blog is about. I just tend to meander when I write. No, the true topic of this article is a creature that defies all of the gym’s natural rules and sits in a new genus I created specifically for her. It’s rare for me to complain specifically about one single person. I like to generalize and extend my thoughts onto the action itself rather than the individual. However, I will make an exception in this case. I dub her Gymnasion Obesus Molestia.

What are the traits of said genus you ask? Well, it pretty much boils down to being fat, loud, obnoxious, and totally incapable of being in the gym without pissing off the other patrons. She shows up with a trainer who I feel incredibly sorry for. The warm-up consists of chatting and more chatting. I don’t mind when people have conversations in the gym, but being very loud when you’re only a foot away from your intended target in a quiet space is rather uncalled for. Furthermore, she does not chat because she has anything interesting to say but rather to delay the onset of the physical activity that she’s paying good money for.

When her trainer finally gets her to begin, the complaints begin. It usually starts with something about the excruciating pain that any physical activity inflicts, followed closely by an equally loud dose on how crazy her routine is. It then spirals into something about her trainer bullying her and making the routine harder than it needs to be. The entire cycle take maybe 2 minutes to complete and is repeated every two or three reps of a ten to fifteen rep set. Note that she stops moving when the complaining begins so she’s not actually feeling any pain while she’s talking. Then multiply that by the forty-five minutes that she spends in the gym. The sheer amount of complaining this woman does probably burns more calories than any of those sessions. My workouts tend to focus on efficiency.

My sessions are one hour long and I go early in the morning so I don’t have to fight over any single piece of equipment I might have to monopolize. I work out in a total body circuit that hits everything hard and fast, leaving my muscles spent and ready for that satisfying ache of a job well done. That being said, it is no easy task to push myself that hard when a Gymnasion Obesus Molestia is in my presence. The stuff that comes out of her mouth is by no means akin to Pericles’ Funeral Oration or anything else that inspires and drives men to new heights.  Working out in that environment feels like carving my way through ooze. It slows me down, drains me, and leaves my mind and body bruised and battered like I’d just survived a twelve round brawl with a couple of dudes from the movie 300.

I just might have stumbled upon the modern day reincarnation of the Siren. The only difference being that instead of a seductress with the head of a woman and the body of a bird that sings sailors to their briny doom, she has the head of a woman, the body of a pig/turkey, and a voice that drives men to their breaking point of human tolerance and physical endurance.

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Lazy Elevator Rider

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Riding the elevator for three floors or less should be outlawed for those individuals who have no medical condition preventing them from walking.  The average height of a floor in a building is roughly twelve feet, rounding up for good measure gives fifteen.  Adding in a liberal five feet between floors yields a vertical climb of forty feet to get to the third floor.

That’s all, just forty feet.  That’s probably less distance than the average American walks on their circuits between TV, fridge, and restroom on any given night.  No one is asking these people to climb that distance on a rope, on the outside of the building, or in any other sort of physically taxing way.  It’s a walk up stairs that pass United States building codes for safety and ergonomics.  These stairs are not hard to climb for the average individual.  It really just boils down to laziness.  I can appreciate laziness.  Everyone, me included, is guilty of lapsing into laziness a lot of the time.  But I try to refrain from lazy behavior when it might be a nuisance to others.  And believe me lazy elevator riding is incredibly annoying.

People generally lean toward the unhappier side early in the morning, during evening commutes, and other periods when they are in a rush.  That’s understandable.  Now imagine riding down from the fifteenth floor, stopping, going, stopping, going, each extra passenger slowly grating on your nerves.  Then when you’re almost there, the elevator stops on the second floor and in waltzes a perfectly healthy two legged human being.  Your ride is prolonged for another precious thirty seconds.  Thirty seconds that you will never get back.  Thirty seconds that might have made you miss your train or bus.  Going down is generally more annoying than up, but not by much.

The worst offenders of lazy elevator riding are those individuals who do it to go to the gym.  Let me reiterate that—the gym.  You’re going to a place where people go to sweat and indulge in hard physical activity and you can’t walk a couple of stairs?  The extreme irony comes from those who ride for a floor only to hop onto a treadmill, elliptical, cycling machine, and the granddaddy of them all, the stair master.  As I lay witness to these instances unfolding, my brain literally blue screens from its inability to process the reasoning behind such an act.  The people are taking the elevator to go climb stairs.  Mind boggling.

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