3 Movies That Make/Made Me Cry


In ascending order of tear volume:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
I just saw this last night, and teared up at the two parts I knew I would. Won't spoil it for those who haven't seen the movie or read the book, but the first and last deaths of this movie are just really heartwrenching as a fan of the series.

Toy Story 3
I mentioned this in my review of Toy Story 3, but this movie is all about growing up and moving on to new phases in one's life, and how friendships fit into these changes. Watching it in the theater so close to graduating college, it just hit me in a way that I could fully relate.

Homeward Bound
I swear, if the ending to Homeward Bound doesn't make you bawl uncontrollably, you have no soul. Or, at the very least, are not a dog person. But you also probably have no soul. I remember going home one weekend, and walking into the house to find my sister watching this movie on TV. It was near the end, so I sat down to watch with her. And we were both just a MESS after it. I can't even THINK about this ending without crying.

Now, please excuse me while I wipe the tears from my face after watching the ending on YouTube.

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Open and Closed


Today, Facebook announced some major updates to their messaging system. There was a lot of speculation over the weekend that they were going to be launching an email client, perhaps in an effort to compete with Google and Gmail. And while email is definitely a part of this new messaging system, it isn't strictly email - it's a new way of handling messages altogether.

The service is currently opt-in (which means Facebook is learning about how to roll out features), so until I get a chance to give it a try for myself, I'll hold off commenting about it. If you want to learn more, you can read their blog post I linked to above, or watch a recording of their announcement. You can also catch Gizmodo's wrap-up of it, or read arguments for and against, courtesy of Lifehacker.

This announcement, however, has inspired me to write on something that I've been giving a good amount of thought to lately - open and closed systems.

At the risk of oversimplifying, let's define the two as follows:

An "open system" is one in which the system user, more or less, controls what they can do in it. A key component of an open system is the ability of a user to break from the intended use.

A "closed system", by contrast, is one where the system designers dictate what can be done within it. It is, by design, difficult to break from the intended use or funtionality.

These definitions are geared somewhat more toward technical/computer systems, but the general ideas can be applied to many things:

A game of solitare, played with physical cards, is an open system - you can break from the rules if you so desire. The same game, on a computer, is a closed system - breaking from the rules is, by design, impossible (unless you hack it somehow).

Driving a car is, relatively speaking, an open system - you control what you bring in it, how fast you drive, where you drive, when you leave, where you park, etc. Riding a bus is a more closed system - you lose some of this control. Even less open would be air travel (as new TSA regulations are clearly demonstrating).

In the tech realm, we have high-profile clashes between Microsoft and Apple for operating systems. Windows is more open, which has the effect of making it more vulnerable to viruses. Apple controls their system more strictly, which affords users more protections, at the expense of some flexibility in what they can do with it.

This mentality extends to mobile phones, where Apple's iPhone is fairly well locked down - they tightly regulate what apps you can download. Google's Android system is more open; one of their ads proudly proclaims that "when there's no limit to what Droid gets, there's no limit to what Droid does".

And, speaking of Google, they're battling Facebook over online identities. Facebook very tightly controls your information, and has only just started allowing users to pull their information back out. Facebook is notoriously difficult to leave (there's no simple "cancel account" feature - only a "deactivate" feature). And you can really see the difference in their approaches by looking at Facebook versus Buzz.

Facebook doesn't play nice with other services, though they DO make it fairly easy to connect OTHER sites to Facebook. They pull data one-way, into their closed system.

Google Buzz, on the other hand, is fairly minimal in features of its own. Instead, they allow you to integrate other services of your choice to Buzz, without locking down the data. By comparison, Buzz is pretty open.

The way Facebook and Google, two GIANT aggregators of personal data, treat this data is a wonderful example of differing philosophies. Facebook, by nature of trying to "map your social network", MUST tie your data to you. There's no other way for it to work. Facebook wants to aggregate your personal data, and use it to map how you connect with other people. And, in (presumably) an effort to keep you on the Facebook system, they close this system, making it hard to export the data it has collected.

Google also collects data from its many users, and there's no way for a user to really "delete" the data Google has collected about search habits, program use, etc. The difference, however, is that Google's information is more or less anonymous. They don't need to tie your search data to you in particular - just that SOME user has made that search.

When I was watching Facebook's live stream (that I linked to above) earlier today, they talked at one point about the differences between how Facebook and "other services" (really, Google, and Gmail in particular) serve ads. Google determines the ads to serve based on the content of the messages; when I open an email from Toshiba, I'm served ads about laptop computers. Facebook, by contrast, serves ads based on the information you've given them. In my case, I often get ads for games, despite what content I'm viewing. This difference gives an illustration of how the data they collect is used.

Now, none of this is meant to push one style of system over another, in general or in specific circumstances. Both have benefits, depending on the situation. As a general rule, I prefer open systems (so if my tone in describing closed systems above is slightly more negative, you know why). I think power and control should belong to the user, not the designer - good design, in my opinion, should GRANT users freedom, not take it away.

But I know not everybody agrees. There are tons of people who prefer the "just works" mentality of Macs, even if a more appropriate claim is "just works - but only in the way we intend". And that's fine - consumers certainly have the choice to use whatever system they prefer. The most important thing, really, is to understand the limitations and rules of the system you choose to interact with.

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Wheel of Fortune Ad


There's a giant billboard on Olympic and Barrington advertising Wheel of Fortune. It shows the following partially completed puzzle:

H _ T   T _ E
J _ C K P _ T

Now, obviously, the answer is HIT THE JACKPOT. But this board CAN'T POSSIBLY EXIST! If somebody had guessed the letter 'H' (as evidenced by it existing in 'HIT'), then it would have to have been present in 'THE'!

How you make an ad for your puzzle game, and fail that miserably, is beyond me.

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During the past week, my good friend Courtney was attacked by a couple of men in Mozambique, where she's stationed with the Peace Corps. A few days later, her sister was attacked by some random girl in San Francisco. These two events, besides being what I can only imagine was a very scary few days for their family, serve as an unfortunate reminder that the world we live in isn't always a nice place. Fortunately, they're both ok.

When I was teaching Taekwondo during my senior year of high school, the instructor I taught for had a lot of experience with attacker profiling. When we would do self-defense work, our sessions always included talks about how best to protect ourselves from being attacked in the first place. After all, the best way to take a punch is to be somewhere else when it lands. In light of these two events, I want to share some of this info here.

Note that what follows is general advice. There are a million and one scenarios that you can dream up, all requiring their own response and advice (even though me writing this post is a response to what happened to my friends, some of this doesn't even apply to their scenarios). And obviously take it all with a grain of salt, as I'm not a professional in any of this. That all said...

Most crimes are ones of opportunity and/or passion*
Courtney's attackers were two guys she passed on her way to meet up with friends. She didn't know them, and their attack wasn't premeditated - she described them as "two bored young men who thought I might have had money". Her sister's attacker was a random girl in the street, who flipped out for some reason. People don't (generally) break into cars at random - they pick ones where they can see an exposed iPod, cell phone, GPS system, etc; anything to make it WORTH trying to break in. They're also more likely to look for one they can easily get into (i.e., an unlocked one).

So you can rest more easily knowing that there's very little chance somebody is out there, actively plotting how they're going to attack you in the future. Which means, there are things you can do to lower your chances of getting attacked, independent of the potential attackers.

*Note that one crime in particular does NOT follow this trend - according to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, approximately 73% of rape victims know their assailants. Of course, some of these attacks are ALSO crimes of passion/opportunity, and the general strategies to follow are also applicable (though the specifics vary).

Criminals are COWARDS
Put yourself in the shoes of an attacker for a moment. If you're trying to steal somebody's phone/camera/purse/etc., who are you going to try to take from? A guy built like an NFL player, or a girl built like a ballerina? And are you going to go it alone, or would you like a partner? Instances like Courtney's illustrate this perfectly - she was attacked by two tall guys around the age of 20. Two on one is the ultimate cowardly move, but it doesn't matter - they wanted to take her money, so they went after somebody they had a size and numbers advantage over. They're aiming for minimal risk, maximum reward.

So one of the best ways to protect yourself is to make yourself an "unattractive" target, both before and, if necessary, during a potential attack. Unfortunately, there are some characteristics that make you more susceptible, that are just beyond your control: namely, gender and body type. Females are more likely to be targeted, simply because of their gender. I hate that this is true, but it is. Same with smaller people (so somebody like me, who isn't particularly tall or buff, is at a higher risk than other guys).

But, there are a lot of things you CAN do to help. When possible, travel with somebody else. Doesn't even need to be a guy (if you're a girl) - a group of two people is FAR less likely to be bothered. And of course, traveling with more people is even better.

Be alert. Know your surroundings. Walk confidently, with your head up. Avoid using headphones, playing with your phone, or other noticeable distractions if you're somewhere a little more remote. This has the added bonus of not broadcasting that you're carrying an expensive piece of technology. Some people advocate talking on the phone with somebody, so that it's obvious to anybody around that you're in contact with somebody. I can see the benefits of this, and it might help prevent being attacked, but might encourage somebody to just snatch your phone and take off. So that's something to consider too.

Try to travel in well-lit, populated areas. More people, and more visibility, means more witnesses and people who could intervene, which means you're a less attractive target. If you think you're being followed, get to some place like this. Or, head towards a police station/car/officer.

If you are attacked
There are a lot of ways to react to various attacks/grabs/etc., but there's no way I could possibly explain them in a text format. And to be able to do them effectively, you need to practice them, at full (or near-full) speed. So if you have the opportunity to take a self-defense class (maybe one offered by the local police dept.), I'd recommend doing that. But there are some general things you can keep in mind:

First and foremost, USE YOUR VOICE (if possible). Yell, scream, do anything to attract attention. Again, they're cowards - attention is the LAST thing the attacker wants. Also, it's disorienting to the attacker.

If you're going to kick, keep them low. You DON'T want your leg grabbed - that's a good way to suffer an injury and/or go to the ground. Honestly, you'll probably be better off using your knees to aim for the groin/inner thigh.

Don't be afraid to scratch/claw, especially at the face (and the EYES). Bite if you need to (as gross as this is going to sound, if you bite an attacker, do so with the intention of ripping out a chunk of flesh). Despite what boxers and Hollywood might make you think, punching to the jaw is probably not going to help much - but you can mess somebody up pretty bad by slamming the bottom of your fist into the side of the neck, or on the collarbone (which is a fairly weak bone).

Of course, you aren't likely going to have time to aim very well, so do whatever feels most natural. You want to get the person off you, try to stay off the ground, and as soon as possible, RUN AWAY.

My instructor used to say you have 30 seconds to thwart them, or to get away. After 30 seconds, you start becoming much more trouble than it's worth. Don't be fooled - 30 seconds is a LONG time to fight somebody off, so don't take that lightly.

Here's a (slightly edited) excerpt from Courtney's account, which I think illustrates all of this perfectly:

"I started flailing and kicking and managed to pry dude #1’s arm off of my throat and kicked dude #2 somewhere around his head, and then tuck and rolled just in time to hit dude #1 with an elbow. This was much less badass than it sounds.... But I don’t think they expected me to fight so after a little while (it felt like ages) I was able to jump up and they let me go. I pulled off my sandals and ran..."

Note that the advice for avoiding conflict doesn't help so much in her sister's case, where she was attacked out of the blue, due to some kind of aggression, as opposed to an attempted theft. But the fighting aspects DO help. Some other general notes to consider:

You are stronger than you think
When I was teaching Taekwondo, one of the most interesting things was when we started teaching board breaking technique. We had a variety of plastic boards that snapped together with "teeth" of varying length (like these). Longer teeth were tougher to break. They ranged from fairly weak ones that could break apart just by hitting the ground at the right speed/spot, to ones that were the equivalent of two inches of pine wood.

Our high school-aged (and older) students, both men and women, were routinely able to break this 2" board with just a little bit of practice - provided they didn't realize which board it was they were trying to break! If they knew they were going after that strong, their mind would get in the way, and they would struggle.

Granted, you need the right technique and good aim to hit the board just right, but the point is that even 16-year old girls were capable of hitting with enough force to break TWO INCHES of pine. Your body can hit plenty hard, so don't hold back if you find yourself in a dangerous situation. Imagine what a strike with that much force would do if you hit an attacker in the side of the head.

Get support
Courtney mentioned this in her post, but it bears repeating: if you, or somebody you know, is attacked like this, find support from friends, family, or even get professional counseling if it's a particularly scary situation. Something like this can really change your perspective on your every day life, whether you are the victim, or just happen to know the victim. Heck, me writing this 1600+ word post is my way of dealing with the fact that one of my best friends was attacked, 13,000 miles away from me. It's scary.

This has been a really, really long post, but I hope people find it helpful. But more than that, I hope you never, ever need find yourself in a situation like this. This advice applies mainly random attacks similar to Courtney's, and I know there are a lot of potential situations that can arise that this may not necessarily apply to. Again, I'm not an expert, but if anybody reading this wants my take on these other situations (how to deal with somebody who is armed, who demands you to hand over your purse/wallet, rather than just attacking, etc.), drop them in the comments, and I can make another post for them.

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In Opposition to "Privilege"


In social justice theory, one big focus point (for UCLA's Office of Residential Life, at any rate), is the concept of privilege. The basic idea is that there are "privileged" and "non-privileged" racial/gendered/sexual orientation/ability/etc. groups, with the former holding social power over the latter. The "privileged" group is almost always the one with a social majority (I actually can't think of any cases where this isn't true, but I don't want to make an absolute statement). When this power is exerted (especially with the aim of maintaining the power gap), you get oppression. An easy example is the Prop 8 campaign in California - the privileged, heterosexual majority imposed their will, oppressing the homosexual minority, taking away their right to marriage.

Now, privilege clearly exists. There's the example above, and countless others - like how I can walk alone at night with relative safety, while my female friends don't always enjoy the same luxury, simply because they were born female. Or how a white person is, for the most part, immune to racial profiling by police (many of whom are also white). Denying the existence of this phenomenon, and the problems it can lead to, is naïve at best; oppressive at worst.

That said, I've never been able to sit through a talk about privilege without becoming increasingly frustrated at the presenters. Because while privilege clearly exists, the way the concept is applied is shaky at best.

A presenter could start by saying how I have inherent privileges for being a straight, white, able-bodied* male. And I would agree wholeheartedly. Then they could say how I have inherent privileges because of my age. And I would counter that people older than me ALSO have inherent privileges (don't suffer from "youthism"). And the presenter would concede that both groups have certain privileges that the other does not, and that as we grow older, we essentially "trade" our old ones for new ones. And I would agree.

But this is about as far as we would get before I would start to get annoyed. Because the next thing to point out is my college education. They would then point to the fact that I live by myself in good-sized one-bedroom/one-bathroom apartment in West Los Angeles. They would mention my car. They would point to the obvious luxury goods I have in my apartment (Xbox, nice TV, nice laptop).

And they would use all of this to "prove" just how "privileged" I am. And at this point, I would want to punch them in the face. Not because "the truth hurts", but because they are cleverly using double-meanings to devalue my accomplishments.

See, the word "privilege" is VERY carefully chosen - the word, on its own, means "a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor" (via the Merriam-Webster online dictionary). The important takeaway from this definition is that privileges are advantages that are granted to a person. And by carefully choosing to use this word, it allows people to basically devalue the accomplishments of other people.

I am not privileged to have attended UCLA - I EARNED that right through hard work. And lest anybody try to suggest that my high school's quality or something helped me get there, keep in mind that many of my classmates, attending the same high school, taking the same classes, living in the same city, with the same resources available to them, did NOT get into UCLA. My hometown demographic may have given me some help over other people, but I still had to EARN it.

And when I got there? I worked TWO jobs for my last three years there to help pay for it. I made SACRIFICES to be an RA and lower my cost. And I needed to, because my "privileged" background afforded me a whopping ZERO dollars in financial aid.

After graduating, I was offered the opportunity to work full-time at the place I had interned at for those 3 years. I got that offer because I WORKED HARD, and proved my importance to the company. And I know that I'm fortunate to have a good job, especially in this economy, but nothing was GIVEN to me - I EARNED this job, and I pay for my apartment, and all my luxury goods, entirely with money that I EARN.

Of course, my current status could be used to oppress people who lack these same advantages. And in that regard, it's still valid to discuss them - but we need to discuss them as "advantages", not as "privileges".

And we can include characteristics that are ACTUALLY granted (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) in the label of "advantages". So let's start doing that, and stop trying to be sneaky in undermining the hard work people put in to get to where they are.

*I'm not technically able-bodied - my eyesight is incredibly poor, and without the aid of corrective lenses, it would be much harder for me to function in society (without my contacts, I can't even use a computer normally - I need to lean in really close and squint. Hard to do my job that way!). But since I can very easily, with very few (and very mild) side effects, overcome this handicap, I generally consider myself able-bodied.

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Expected v. Actual Results in Probability


This post is inspired by a tweet Aubrey sent out, and by this xkcd comic. Aubrey's tweet read:

"If planes had a 50% chance of crashing, would you get on them? #marriage"
This is, of course, a reference to the common claim that half of all marriages end in divorce. I don't have any actual research to confirm or deny that rate, but it's irrelevant to the point of this article. Also, I'm going to go ahead and ignore the fact that comparing a plane crash to divorce is hardly a fair comparison... the point of this article isn't to refute her claim, but to illustrate some math that's often incorrectly used in regards to probabilities.

Basically, there's an assumption at play in Aubrey's tweet (which is what the xkcd comic refers to). The assumption is that a 50% success rate for marriages means that every new marriage has only a 50% chance of succeeding. But this isn't really the case.

Consider a quarter. If you flip it, you have a 50% chance of getting heads. Now, take a quarter, and flip it 10 times. The EXPECTED outcome is 5 heads, 5 tails. But that won't always be the case - you could very easily get 6 or 7 of one (and, in rare instances, 10 of the same). This outcome is the ACTUAL (or experimental) outcome, and it won't always match the expected outcome.

If you flip a coin 10 times, and get 7 heads, you have a 70% success rate (if you call heads a success). But your next flip STILL has only a 50% success rate - the past results have no effect on the future.*

So the fact that half of all marriages in the past failed has no bearing on the success/failure of any one given marriage. And this makes sense, when you think about it: not all marriages are created equally, after all. The odds of any given marriage succeeding depend on a multitude of factors, none of which is the success of all marriages to come before.

The comic plays off this too. The character is referencing the fact that lightning only kills one in 7,000,000 Americans each year, and assumes that makes it pretty safe to play in the lightning. But them being out there drastically increases their likelihood. One in 7,000,000 is an actual result, not the "expected" one.

Long story short - Probabilities determine the results, not the other way around.

*This is the memoryless principle. It's also a key element of the gambler's fallacy - the idea that being on a losing streak means you have a higher chance of winning. That's not true at all - your odds of winning are not affected by the win/loss ratio of the games you've already played.

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Everybody Calm Down: Childhood Edition


Today's edition of Everybody Calm Down comes courtesy of NPR. Perhaps a post about parents being overprotective of their children isn't very relevant to anybody who reads my blog, but still:

5 Worries Parents Should Drop, And 5 They Shouldn't

Long story short? Give them a helmet and a seatbelt. I also suggest imparting a little bit of common sense, just to be safe.

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Heads Up!


I just got a call from an unknown number claiming that my debit card had been deactivated due to security reasons, and allowing me to reactivate it via phone. Choosing that option prompted the system to ask me for my card number, at which point I promptly hung up. Seemed WAY too fishy (and the brokenly robotic voice didn't inspire confidence). A quick call to my bank turned up no security holds on my card, which makes sense because I rarely use it for anything other than paying off my credit card.

So be aware of this! If you get a call from somebody (a robot OR a real person) asking for your card information like that (no matter how legit it may seem), DON'T give it out! Same goes for emails asking for your login information to "verify your account".

It's always better to hang up, and call the company yourself (or visit the website yourself, as the case may be), so you can be certain that your interactions are legit!

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Everybody Calm Down: Obama Gridlock Edition


Yesterday afternoon (around 5pm), President Obama flew into LA for a fundraising event in Hancock Park. Rather than arrive by helicopter at his destination, he landed somewhere (I'm not sure where exactly), and traveled via motorcade to his destination. This was unannounced, which really is to be expected. However, this motorcade trip led to the closing of many East-West streets in LA, causing absurd amounts of gridlock that lasted well into the event he was attending. And since there weren't even announcements about closings of streets, people didn't know to look for alternate routes (not that LA even HAS many viable ones). You can read a little bit more about it here and here.

People are, as you can imagine, VERY angry. After all, some people sat in traffic for HOURS. Such anger is to be expected, and quite frankly, perfectly justified. What happened was ridiculous, and calls for an investigation are not unreasonable either*.

But to blame Obama for causing all of this is completely off-base. If you actually think President Obama sat down and planned all the details of this trip himself, choosing what route to take to his destination, which streets to close, and for how long, then you are delusional. In fact, if you think you can even NAME the person in the Obama administration who is directly responsible, you are delusional. Obama probably made the decision to attend the fundraiser, at which point scheduling came down his personal aides, the Secret Service, and other White House staff. They then coordinated with local authorities (aka, LAPD) to prepare the streets.

Somebody (or a handful of somebodies) in that mess of people made the decision to shut down the streets, and for how long. It could have been on the White House end, or on the LAPD end - or both. But it certainly wasn't a decision that came "from the top".

Blaming the president for things is fun, and reactionary headlines help to sell dying papers and drive all-important clicks on web articles, but it's not really realistic. Of course, as the figurehead, he really should issue an apology. This won't satisfy anybody, of course, but it's the right thing to do. Hopefully, the results of this lead to better planning in the future, and maybe they'll have raised a bit more awareness to LA's traffic problem (not that I have high hopes anything will come of it).

To anybody who tries to argue that he never should have come out here in the first place, that as President, he has more important things to do: you may be right. But if you really think that McCain wouldn't have been out SOMEWHERE fundraising were he President, you are sadly mistaken. These midterm elections are important for both parties, and to believe that a Republican wouldn't have done the same thing is pretty naïve. Besides, with a Republican's "lower taxes", it would've been a BIGGER hit had he done it. =P

So let's all calm down, take a big breath, and blame something more reasonable. Like the LAPD!

*While an investigation is probably warranted, I think somebody should really weight the costs v. benefits of doing so. Is it worth spending MORE taxpayer money to assign blame to this particular waste? I don't have the answer, but it's something to consider.

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One More From This Book


Here's a quote about ability (and pushing people to realize their ability) that I'm really loving from the book I'm reading:

"Our best educational experiences were ones in which adults insisted we could do better when in fact we COULD do better; our worst educational experiences were ones in which adults insisted we could do better when in fact we COULD NOT do better."

- Charles Murray, Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality (page 45)

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College Libraries


At work the other day, we had a gift exchange as part of our prize for hitting a group project objective. We all made requests, and got the things we asked for (all on the company, to a limit), but the exchange idea was still pretty cool. I had a huge list of books to pick from, and the one that my gift-giver selected for me was "Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality", by Charles Murray (2008).

(As an aside, I just started it today, so the two-part post I'm working on about paying teachers more hasn't been influenced by this book. Part 2 is almost done, just needs the finishing touches).

So far, I'm loving it. And there are a lot of times that I've found myself agreeing with what he is saying, or even remembering having those thoughts myself. I'll write more about it when I finish, but I did find this one passage interesting enough to write about now:

He argues that "A brick-and-mortar campus is increasingly obsolete". One of the reasons a traditional campus used to make sense was that they provided an economically feasible way to feature a robust academic library. But now, with the internet (especially Google Books and Google Scholar), the importance of a large physical library is lessened. Murray says that "Libraries will still be a selling point for colleges, but as a place for students to study in pleasant surroundings".

When I read this, I was immediately reminded of two things. First, that in my four years at UCLA, I NEVER used a library for research. Or for checking out books. I used a study room in one library ONCE, because I was meeting some classmates who were already there. The only other times I set foot in the library was to look around - once before signing my Statement of Intent to Register, and once when my sister came to visit.

Second, there were only three reason I EVER heard friends, residents, or classmates give for going to the library - a quiet place to study, to nap between classes, or to grab a book on reserve (aka, their classroom textbook that they chose to check out, rather than purchase). I also know of people who would use the library for internet access when they didn't otherwise have it for whatever reason.

In four years here, I NEVER knew of somebody using a library to do research. I'm not saying that nobody does, but at least as far as my social/academic network is concerned, Murray was spot on.

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Pay Our Teachers More, Part 1


A lot of people suggest this as a way to fix our schools. A lot of other people counter it by bringing up the "fact" (which I haven't verified, hence the quotes) that the US already spends more money per student than any other developed nation, and we are one of the worst academically. Throwing more money at the problem, these people say, isn't going to help.

I say yes and no. We do need to pay our teachers more, but I don't say this in the vain hope that if we throw enough money at education, it will magically fix itself. That's not going to happen. And I know that we can't necessarily afford to suddenly raise teacher salaries across the board - such money doesn't just exist. We need to get it from somewhere. My vote is to lower the pay of administrators, both at the site level and the district level.

This isn't just some idealistic thought - it's backed up by economics.

Before jumping right into education, let's just look at why people in general take the jobs they do. People take the jobs that give them the best combination of personal and financial satisfaction out of all jobs available to them. How important each of these two are varies from person to person, but they are the two big things at play. So when somebody moves to a new job, they are doing so because the gains in personal satisfaction outweigh the losses in financial satisfaction, or vice versa. Ideally, both go up, but so long as there is a net gain, people will at least consider the change, and a big enough net gain will almost guarantee it.

(Side note: Obviously, if you were let go from your old job, your new one may be a step down in both categories, but the new job you take is likely the one that gives you the best combination of those factors.)

Key point: People take jobs to maximize their personal and financial satisfactions (in some combination, which varies by person).

So, how does this tie into education, and why does it mean we should pay teachers more and admins less?

Think about our current situation, and the people who become teachers. For the most part, a teacher could be paid more doing something in their field OTHER than teaching... so why do they teach? Remembering takeaway #3, there are only two real reasons a person would go into teaching, which won't pay as well as other jobs in their field:

1) The person loves teaching, and their personal satisfaction from doing it is worth the lower pay. These are generally GOOD teachers.
2) The person is unable to get a better-paying job in their field, so they settle for teaching, which is the best available to them. These are generally BAD teachers, and the ones responsible for the saying "Those that can, do. Those that can't, teach." I hate this quote because it completely discounts the first group, but it does apply to the second group.

There is, of course, a third group: Those who are unwilling to take a pay cut to teach. Some of these people wouldn't be good teachers; in fact, many probably wouldn't be. But some could have potential that is never realized, and there are definitely some in this group who would WANT to teach, but literally cannot afford the pay cut. These people, with their drive, have the potential to be really good. So how do we get them?

Imagine if the starting teacher salary was $200,000/year. This would attract everybody from groups 1 and 2, and those in group 3 that aren't currently paid that much. You would have SO MANY people applying for teaching jobs that you could handpick the very best. There would be no need to settle for the people who are settling for teaching (aka, most of group 2). I don't think this is a feasible number of course, but it does show something very important, which happens to be the first reason we should raise teacher salaries:

Higher teacher pay would attract more potential teachers, both good and bad. But more people for the same number of spots means you can handpick the very best.

In Part 2, I'll give another reason why teachers should be paid more - and why administrators should be paid less.

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Magic Bracelets!


While at home over the weekend, the following commercial came on:

Of course, the whole thing just screamed "SCAM" to me, and I scoffed at it. But then my mom says that she actually has something similar, and it seems to work for her (she has the EFX brand bracelet). One of her hospital coworkers had mentioned it, and my mom decided to try it.

I laughed, because it seemed ridiculous, but asked her about it. She said it feels just like wearing a bracelet (like a Livestrong band or something), but said that she has been sleeping better since using it. And not sleeping better as in some vague definition of it either - sleeping better, as in not waking up at 3am every morning like she has for the past few years.

That got me slightly intrigued, so my sister and I decided to recreate one of the demo tests, and do one of our own, to see what the deal was. Here's what we found:

First, we did a balance test. My sister (a cheerleader) stood on one foot, arms outstretched, and my mom pushed down on her arms. This caused her to lose balance on the side of the body with the foot up, as you would expect. Then my sister put on the bracelet, and repeated it - this time, she remained stable on her foot. Still skeptical, it was my turn.

So I started without the bracelet, and when my mom went to push on my arms, I fought to keep my balance, pushing up harder with my weak side, bending my knee slightly, etc. While I didn't lose balance the way my sister did, I was still pushed more to my weak side, despite my struggles. Then I put on the bracelet, and repeated it. To my surprise, I didn't need to struggle to keep balance, and I remained more stable than the first time. This shocked me.

(Side note: When I put it on, I didn't feel anything in particular. There's no humming or buzzing of the band, and there's no instantaneous change of feeling in the body. Which is why seeing a visible change in performance did actually shock me!)

We then tried it with a stretching drill. Standing up, feet together, we stretched down to see how far we could reach. My sister could touch her fingers to the ground, and I reached mid-shin. WITH the bracelet, however, my sister was touching her palms to the ground, and I could touch my ankles. That's good for about a 3-4 inch gain for us both. Just for the sake of completeness, I did it one more time after taking the bracelet off - back to touching mid-shin.

After reading a bit on the internet, I've found some people saying things like this really do work for them, and others saying it did nothing. Perhaps it is all placebo effect, but my sister and I were both skeptical before trying it, not thinking it would really do anything, so I'm not entirely convinced it's the placebo effect.

I'm also not entirely convinced that getting one would have any profound impact on me, but in testing it out, it did enough to at least get me curious. They're only $20-30 (depending on brand and where you buy it), which is cheap enough for me to justify getting one to test a bit more thoroughly.

Any thoughts?

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Toy Story 3


Look, long story short - if you liked Toy Story 1 and 2, you owe it to yourself to see Toy Story 3. It did not disappoint. But there's more to it... this movie really shaped how I view the entire trilogy. Maybe it's because I'm old enough now to evaluate things this way. Or maybe it's because it wasn't until this storyline that everything COULD click the way it did. To be honest, it's probably a bit of both.

If you're just curious about if I enjoyed my last couple of hours in the theater, the answer is a definite yes. Find a time to go, and enjoy yet another good Pixar film.

But if you want to know more about WHY this movie was so good, then read ahead. (Note: I'm not going to talk about any key details of the movie, and I don't think there are really any spoilers in here, but if you want to see the movie with a totally clean slate, then maybe come back and read this after you've seen it.)

The first Toy Story was released in November of 1995 - I was only seven years old at the time. I remember being totally taken in by the idea that toys were having their own adventures when I wasn't there, and I'm sure that while I was watching it in theaters, a part of my mind wondered what all my LEGO figurines were up to back home (maybe starting a band?). It was a movie with heart, and the characters were so human, despite being toys.

Fast-forward 4 years, and I'm in the theater to see Toy Story 2. I'm 11 years old, but by this point, I've come to learn that when good animated movies get sequels, they usually aren't as good. So I was excited to get caught up with the toys again, but also apprehensive. But Toy Story 2 was every bit as good as the first. It was goofy, didn't take itself too seriously, yet still managed to pull at the heartstrings. It really built on the theme of friendship that the first one established - both a friendship between the toys (and one that grows to include the new toys, at that), and the bond between Andy and his toys. Maybe not a friendship in a traditional sense, but there was a mutual need between both parties for one another.

And now, TEN years later, Pixar comes out with Toy Story 3. At this point, Pixar has a track record - they make GOOD movies. And being SO far removed from the first 2, you know it isn't Pixar trying to milk a franchise while it's hot. No, this is Pixar going to back to their toys, to their beginning (Toy Story was their first movie, after all), and giving it one last hurrah before retiring it.

I'm not entirely sure if younger kids will fully appreciate the movie. Part of what makes it so good is that it HAS been 10 years - we, as viewers, have grown up, we have new toys to play with, and we'd kind of forgotten about Toy Story. We, as viewers (those who grew up with this series, at least), parallel the character of Andy. And it's fitting that he plays a slightly more prominent role in this film. Still not major, but one of the most powerful scenes in the entire movie centers on him, and his relationship with the toys.

This was a movie about growing up, and moving on. About dealing with the loss of (or at least, separation from) old friends. And it was handled very well. As somebody who just graduated from college, and is facing the need to grow up and move on some more, the movie really hit home. It isn't a movie about toys - it's a movie about friends, and about life coming full circle.

Toy Story 3 elevates the entire series from a goofy little story about toys and friendship to a heartfelt look at friendship and growing up. It takes the two very good movies before it, and makes all three of them (when taken as a whole) into a powerful, very grown-up story, while still staying true to the signature goofiness.

The Toy Story trilogy, I think, needs to be considered as one of the top movie trilogies of all time - THAT'S how good this movie was.

So go see it. Embrace your childhood as you enter the theater, but be ready to grow up over the course of the 103 minute runtime. That's what Toy Story did; it grew up in this movie. And it takes you along for the ride.

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Summer Time


And the living's busy. Now that I've graduated, and moved out of my home of three years (miss you Dykstra!), it's time to start focusing on the future. I still have 2 classes to finish up with, and I'm living on campus until September, so this summer is going to serve as a kind of transitional period for me. I think that'll be good though, and I'm excited for it. I have three main goals for this summer, and ideally, these will carry on into my "adult life" after the summer:

1. Reduce Clutter - As I discovered in the moving process on Sunday, I have a LOT of stuff. I definitely don't need it all, so I'm going to make an effort to reduce that significantly, and better organize the stuff I do keep. This applies not only to physical stuff, but digital stuff - cleaning out & organizing photos and such. I need to do a good job of this on the stuff I already have, and then make sure I maintain it as I acquire new stuff (by actually getting rid of stuff when I get new things).

2. Live Healthier - This is an intentionally broad category. It's not enough to just eat better (and I already eat farily well for the most part). I could become obsessed with counting calories, and becoming a slave to nutrition fact sheets, but that kind of obsession isn't very healthy mentally or emotionally. This is a total lifestyle goal - eat better, exercise more regularly, and keep myself mentally and emotionally fresh. The first two are easier to figure out how to do, but the third is going to be tougher. Hopefully, not having a 24-hour responsibility for over 100 people will help me get some more "me time". As for how I'll use that time...

3. Embrace/Engage Arts - I'm not a very skilled artist/writer/musician/etc, and this is something I came to terms with long ago. That said, I still enjoy to at least experiment with them, and engage myself in artistic endeavors. I hope to use some of my extra time to focus on things of this nature, and I'm hoping it'll prove helpful in regards to point #2.

Last summer, I found it very relaxing to just write short stories as they came to me, the result of which is One-Eyed Cowboy (also featuring a drawing of mine). I hope to add to that some more, and work on some drawings/paintings to add to my Flickr. I'm also already planning some photo days with Ben, which will hopefully result in some nice photography stuff. The one other thing I did was have my parents bring my keyboard up, so hopefully I can learn some basics and songs. And if I get inspired to work on non-artsy projects, I'm going to do those as well.

The important thing is that I'm not going to FORCE any of this; I want to go for it when inspiration strikes, and just enjoy it. Becoming obsessed with doing something just for the sake of doing it isn't going to help with my healthier lifestyle goal.

Separate from these goals (though I guess tangentially related), I'm going to update this blog more. I kind of fell off for a bit, with school, work, friends, and everything else. This blog has always been written primarily for me, so I don't feel bad about lack of updates, but I hope that more regular updates becomes part of everything going forward. As I work on (and hit) some of the above goals, I'll definitely have stuff to talk about.

Happy summer everybody!

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Two Pictures


If I had to sum up my four years at UCLA in just two pictures, and really capture why the leaving process is so emotional, it would be the following two pictures. The first was found in my lounge one day, and the second was taken by one of my fellow RAs prior to our team closing activity. Both capture the essence of what I love about UCLA:

I'm at peace with the fast-approaching end, but I do hope my future will have options to experience these emotions again.

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Required Watching


Say what you will about the show "Glee", but I think this scene from this week's episode is one that EVERYBODY should see. Obviously, spoiler alert for those who watch, but aren't yet caught up.

(Quick background for those unfamiliar with the show: the first kid talking, Kurt, is openly gay. The second kid, Finn, has just moved in with Kurt, because their parents moved in together. Finn isn't happy about moving in, or sharing a room. The third guy is Kurt's father, Burt.)

I like this clip for two important reasons - first, the early half does a good job of bringing up the difference between words on their own, and what you're REALLY saying when you use them. Trying to disguise your true meaning doesn't make you clever - it makes you a coward. And in cases like these, it makes you a cowardly bigot. Second, it's just some damn good parenting.

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The Show Must Go On


Right now, it's 2:30am, and I'm listening to Queen and I just finished writing my "senior will" (basically, my letter to my current team, to be printed in our yearbook). Very fittingly, the song that is currently playing is "The Show Must Go On".

Sitting down to write my will was far more emotional than I anticipated. It forced me to confront the fact that, in 4 weeks' time, I'm done. An entire chapter of my life is closed, only to be remembered, but never relived. I'm not okay with this now, and I know that in the coming weeks, it'll only get harder.

But at the same time, I'm comforted by my music. The show must indeed go on, even after I (and many of my closest friends) have left. Our show is changing, but it will still go on. The Dykstra show also continues, to played out by the very capable people I've had the honor and pleasure to work with this past year.

And as one of these soon-to-be returners so wisely predicted, writing things out has been really helpful. It's not making the process any less painful, but it's helping me to accept it.

After all, the show WILL go on.

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Facebook Privacy Overhaul


I've been meaning to really clean up and lock down my Facebook account, given that I'm going to start looking for jobs in the near future. And given all the general privacy concerns that keep cropping up, I decided tonight was as good a time as any.

I don't really like Facebook, but considering the massive install base, it's not really useful for me to just delete it altogether. There are lots of other services that do specific things better than Facebook does, but they're decentralized. I wrote about how I like that Google Buzz works to correct this, but it's still not all the way there. So for now, Facebook needs to remain. But I wanted to go more draconian on it.

Basically, I set up 3 main contact lists: Friends (for close, personal friends), Family (for family members, and family friends), and Professional (for work-related contacts, past and present). I then went through every one of the privacy settings, and set which of these groups were allowed to view that aspect of my profile (or if it was open to my entire friends list).

Most of my profile is visible only to those on the Friends or Family lists, with select things made more or less restrictive, depending. For example, only people on the Friends list can see tagged photos of me, but anybody can post on my wall. The Professional list gets access to some of my contact information that is hidden from the vast majority of my contacts, because the people on that list might want/need to email me, where random kids from high school can just use Facebook to contact me. Things like that.

Of course, this doesn't mean I'm going to just post anything and everything to Facebook, and trust these settings to keep it away from most people. I'm going to continue to be proactive in what gets put online associated with my name and such (as I always have been), and I would recommend that anybody who uses this method still goes through and cleans stuff up manually.

Also, I still have concerns about Facebook's storage and use of my info, so I pulled out a lot of it. Granted, much of it is easily discoverable on this blog, or my site, but at least it isn't being automatically aggregated.

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Last One Out, Hit The Lights


A while back, Microsoft discontinued support for old Xbox titles on Xbox Live, mainly because they were holding back features that they wanted to implement. This is an inconvenience for people who still played older games online, but for the most part, those online communities had pretty much died.

That is, except for Halo 2, which still maintained a sizable player base long after the release of Halo 3. And as of earlier today, there are still 14 people connected and playing games of Halo 2 online. I don't know if they're actively playing, or just leaving their characters idle (I assume a mix of the two), but these 14 are essentially prolonging the final death of Halo 2 online multiplayer. Nobody else can join in (I tried earlier - access to the servers is cut off), but they're still there until they disconnect (or Microsoft kills the servers completely), or until their consoles overheat.

I enjoyed reading the comments on this article about it, because there's something so very poetic about this entire situation. Imagine being one of the last 14 people to play a game online, watching as your numbers slowly whittle, being claimed by disconnects. Imagine being the only person left, starting up a game, and existing in an empty world, until finally, you too disconnect, and it's all over.

Very haunting.

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Everybody Calm Down: Bomb Edition


There's kind of an underlying theme to my last post about hours spent playing video games, which is that people tend to overreact and blow things out of proportion too easily. Personally, I think a lot of this has to do with the media (in terms of video games, negative reporting on "video game addiction" and "violent video games" causes people to have these warped senses of them). It's not just reporting though - movies, books, and even games show things in a consistently over-exaggerated manner, which influences how we see the real world.

That is, of course, unless we calm down, and think for a moment. This advice can apply to a TON of things. I've already addressed time spent on gaming, which was inspired by a real-life interaction I had. Today, I'm going to look back to the summer, and talk about explosives.

Last summer, while I was living in Westwood, there was a standoff/bomb threat down at the Federal Building (located on the corner of Veteran and Wilshire). I was living north along Veteran, approximately 1 mile away.

One of my roommates actually worked AT the Federal Building, which made the situation a bit scarier, though also provided us with a bit more information "from the inside". The building itself was evacuated (as best they could), as was a nearby apartment complex. What I remember most about this situation, however, was how much people in our apartment complex (and others nearby) were freaking out. And while a bomb threat right down the street is scary in theory, most people were seriously concerned about our personal safety. I remember telling them at the time that we were safe, but they were freaking about what would happen to us if the bomb detonated.

Despite what you may see in movies and games and TV shows, bombs (especially those made by crazies from Westchester, and transported in a small car) DON'T have nearly the blast radius you might think. Do you know what kind/strength of bomb it would require to cause massive structural damage within a 1 mile radius?

Well, it'd need to be equivalent in strength to the Little Boy - aka, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

(NOTE: Being a powerful nuclear warhead, the Little Boy did cause significant damage beyond that 1 mile structural damage radius, in the form of fire and radiation. But for more conventional explosives, the damage comes from the blast itself, any shrapnel released, and the subsequent shockwave if the bomb is big enough.)

I can guarantee that the dude at the Federal Building did NOT have a nuclear weapon in the trunk of his car. IF he had a bomb, it would likely be some crudely made explosive with a pretty small blast radius - hence the evacuation of only one apartment complex (right across the street).

Of course, this would still be highly dangerous to people in the area (especially if it was also blowing up cars), but there was no way it was going to reach us almost a mile away. The worst we would've suffered would be some ear ringing.

Conclusion? The world is not what you see in the movies. Calm down, and think rationally about situations - you'll save yourself a TON of unnecessary worry.

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Fun With Numbers


At lunch the other day, a friend of mine said she "didn't like guys who played video games", claiming that there's a certain age in which we should outgrow them, and implying that continuing to play was a "waste of our lives". I found this to be very interesting. It's not a new claim by any means, so my mind immediately started thinking of the usual counters, such as:

- I don't really watch movies that often, choosing to play games instead (rather than in addition to); something I mentioned briefly in this post.

- What would you have me do instead? Work a job? I currently have TWO. Go out with friends? I do that on a regular basis. Go to sporting events? I was a regular attendee of UCLA football games for the past 4 years. Go to concerts? Did that too.

But a few days later, I saw a comment on a blog post that inspired me to look objectively at the amount of time I've spent "gaming" over the years. And to go further, I'll compare it against some other things, just for some context.

Interested? Read on...

I think the best way to start this is with the video game franchise that has claimed the most total hours of my life - Pokemon. I mentioned in my games post that I've kept up with the series since the beginning, and listed reasons why I still enjoy it today. No need to rehash them here, but I will point out quickly that my enjoyment of the games over the years is due to how they are as games - I don't watch the show or anything of that nature. So please try to suspend any claims about the game being "for kids".

So, how many hours have I spent on the games? Here's a rough estimate of the breakdown:

Generation 1 - 200 hours
Generation 2 - 300 hours
Generation 3 - 200 hours
Generation 4 - 200 hours
TOTAL: 900 hours

WOW, that's a lot of my life I've spent on these games, right? Well, not so fast. The US release date for the first Generation 1 games (each generation has a few different versions released throughout the generation span) was September of 1998. That's TWELVE (ok, 11.5) years ago. So how exactly does 900 hours break down over 11.5 years?

11.5 years * 365 days/year * 24 hours/day = 100,740 hours

So how much of my life over the past 11.5 years have I spent playing Pokemon?

900/100,740 = .0089, which is LESS than 1% of the time. Hmmmm. How much is that per week?

1 week = 7 days * 24 hours/day = 168 hours

0.89% of 168 = 1.5 hours.

That's my average. One and a half hours each week. Roughly 20 minutes a day. That's VERY little, actually.

But what about some other games? Certainly Call of Duty has to be up there!

Total time: 14 hours online play + roughly 20 hours campaign = roughly 25 hours (rounded)

I got Call of Duty for Christmas of 2007, meaning I've been playing for 2.33 years.

2.33 years * 365 days/year * 24 hours/day = 20,410 hours

25/20,410 = .0012

So over the last 2+ years, how much time have I spent playing Call of Duty?

168 hours/week * .0012 = .20 hours, or less than 15 minutes per week on Call of Duty.

I could keep going for other games (Mass Effect - 70 hours over 2.33 years, which comes out to roughly half an hour each week, for example), but I think I've provided a pretty good picture of just how much (or little) time I truly spend on gaming.

But just to really drive it home, let's look at something totally different; what some people might call the exact opposite of gaming. That thing is sports.

For all of middle and high school (7 years total), I was involved in some kind of sport. It was mostly Taekwondo, except for my freshman year of HS, which was football.

Football was roughly 6 or 7 hours a week (plus game time). The years after, when I was mostly teaching Taekwondo, I spent roughly 6-8 hours per week doing that (more when it came close to competitions). But in the years before high school, when I was competing regularly, and working toward my black belt, I would spend at least 2 hours EVERY DAY practicing Taekwondo.

Which means during middle school, I was spending more time every DAY on sports than I was in a WEEK on Pokemon (I was also playing other games on our N64, but as we've seen, NOT that much).

So next time you think about chastising somebody for the amount of time they spend playing games, ask yourself if maybe you are VASTLY overestimating the true number.

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Digital Natives


My dad is a high school math teacher. And his mother was an English teacher. Education kind of runs in our family, and I've long known that I also want to teach eventually. I'm quite happy doing other things for now, to gain various experiences and such (because I think being well-rounded helps make you a better teacher), but I know that at some point, I want to be teaching.

As such, I put a good amount of thought into educational systems and class structures as I come across them. I love getting new class syllabi just to see what that professor's grading methodology is. Some I'm a big fan of, others I very much dislike, but I'm always thinking about it.

So I found this article by The Economist to be interesting. It talks about the "Millennial Generation" (roughly, those born between 1980 and 2000), also known as "digital natives", and how growing up with modern technology has changed our needs as students. It's an interesting read (not very long at all), and worth checking out, but if you want the sparknotes version, here it is:

Some people think that, because we are very comfortable using things like Facebook and Youtube, it's time to completely overhaul the education system to incorporate this new technology. After all, we aren't the same people our parents were. Others disagree, claiming that as a whole, we are no better or worse at utilizing technology than any other generation (just because I find use in blogging doesn't mean our entire generation does).

My opinion? I think it's a little of both.

I definitely do not think we need a massive overhaul of our education system to better accommodate this generation. (Side note: I actually DO believe we need to massively overhaul our education system, but for very different reasons. That's a topic for another time though). The idea mentioned in the article of professors moving their lectures to Facebook is kind of ridiculous to me. I consider myself a fairly tech-oriented person, and I have zero-interest in taking classes via Facebook.

At the same time, I think we're doing students a major disservice by completely ignoring these technologies; or more importantly, ignoring how they've impacted the ways we interact with each other to aggregate (and even generate) knowledge. This is along the same lines of what I was talking about in my post on a newer "Culture of Communication".

Think about how the current generation of students learned to acquire knowledge - looking it up online. Even very tech-averse people still use Google (or something to that effect) to look for information. For somebody of our generation, the answer to the question "What year was the Magna Carta signed?" is "Let's find out."

Quick aside - When you read that last part, did you know that the answer is 1215? Probably not. Did you think about looking it up, either right then, or maybe after you finish reading? More likely.

What I think needs to be modified because of this is how we are tested, not necessarily how we are taught. In particular, I think open-book, open-note, calculators-allowed (when relevant) tests should be the RULE, not the exception.

This quarter, I had 2 finals that were open everything, 1 that was open book only (no notes, no calculator - though a calculator wasn't really relevant), and one that was closed everything.

The three that were open (to varying degrees)? The professors told us that we needed to understand the material, how things worked, how to solve the problems, etc. The one closed test? The professor told us we had to memorize every term, every formula, every value.

How exactly is that helpful? A test like that doesn't test my ability, it tests my memory. And in this day and age, what I can memorize is worth far less than what I can do. A couple of my friends were taking a poetry class, and had to memorize the tiniest details about 60+ poems. WHY? In the "real world", they can look up the details of a specific poem. Memorizing them doesn't help anybody.

I feel like the opposition to open tests comes from the belief that somebody can just roll in and find all the answers, getting a grade that doesn't reflect their knowledge. But if you think about it (and craft your tests intelligently), this isn't the case.

Back to the poetry class. One of the sections (if I remember correctly) gave an excerpt from some poems, and asked for the author, title, and year. Obviously, in an open-book test, this is simple. Which leads them to "close" their tests, when really, they need to redesign them.

Give a poem, and have the person analyze it, using techniques discussed in class. They should be allowed to look up similar poems in their book, look at their notes on analysis, and use that to guide their analysis. THAT'S a realistic, and doable test.

And if the person never went to class, having the book won't help. Sure, they can look up a poem, but they aren't going to know what to do with it. Same with math - just because I can look up formulas and theorems doesn't mean I'm going to understand them cold. Studying is still important.

But that's what happens - it requires studying, practice, trial and error; not memorizing.

THAT is what we "digital natives" need to change in education, more than anything. We need the method of our evaluation to reflect a realistic scenario. Grades become a better signifier of capability, and WE are better able to assess our skills.

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Bon Jovi


I can't believe that, with all the opportunities I had to procrastinate from school these past few weeks, I failed to blog about the Bon Jovi concert from a few weeks back. Considering all the random inane shit I post, I can't believe I never got around to writing about the concert. Oh well, better late than never!

In short: It was epic.

First, some background as to how this all happened. Back at the end of Fall Quarter, a bunch of us were in Vegas (because we're awesome like that). And while we were walking around, Alex and I saw a video billboard advertising Bon Jovi at the MGM. Alex mentioned how he'd seen Bon Jovi once before, in his senior year of high school, and how it was epic. We talked about looking into it when we got home, and then proceeded to go crazy in Vegas for a few days (again, because we're awesome like that).

Fast-forward a couple of days - I'm sitting at home, bored, wishing I could do something awesome like Vegas again (side note: I love going home. And I needed the rest. But I was still on a Vegas high). Then I remembered Bon Jovi. A quick search on Ticketmaster gave two options:

1) Las Vegas on a Saturday
2) Los Angeles the Thursday before

Naturally, we set our sights on a huge weekend trip to Vegas, but that didn't pan out because tickets sold out. So we got Matt in on the awesome, bought 3 tickets to see them in the Staples Center, and proceeded to have 9 weeks of school.

Now, for the actual concert, with pictures & video (from other people, because we weren't that close):

We got to the Staples Center about half an hour early, found $5 parking only a couple blocks away (SCORE!), and made our way in. Seats were way up in the nosebleeds, but there was still a good view of the stage. Matt saw Jay Leno outside. Dashboard Confessional opened - very odd pairing of bands, but they weren't bad. Just wasn't what we were in the mood for.

At about 8:30, the real concert began. And it went for almost 3 hours. Three glorious hours. Say what you will about Bon Jovi, but these guys know how to rock. The entire audience was up and into it the whole time. And not obnoxious fangirl screaming like you see in regards to the Jonas Brothers or some shit. Actually up, enjoying the music and the atmosphere, singing along, etc.

They had these CRAZY video screens going the whole time. They were all wires, and moved around, combining in different ways. Sometimes they were one giant videoboard. Other times, they were 8 smaller ones. Or they'd just be flying all around doing crazy shit. It was really impressive. You can see the TVs (while separated) really well in this picture:

We had the pleasure of having a lady in the front of our row (wearing a shirt that just said "ROCKSTAR") who was INTENSE. She got up, pounding her fists in the air, high-fiving everybody around her, dancing, singing, leaning over the rail to high-five the people BELOW us, and all kinds of shit. Glorious entertainment.

Compared to her, I kind of felt like an imposter - I knew some of the big hit songs, but I wasn't (nor am I) some kind of Bon Jovi superfan. I enjoy that kind of music in general, and I'll be honest - I was really there to see him play 3 songs:

1) "You Give Love a Bad Name"
2) "Wanted Dead or Alive"
3) "Livin' on a Prayer"

They could've played those and walked out, and I probably would've been content. But instead, they played a ton of newer stuff (and some old stuff I didn't recognize), along with a few fan favorites - "You Give Love a Bad Name", "Bad Medicine", "It's My Life" - and even snuck in a nice surprise coming out to sing "Hallelujah". And then they ended with something from the new album ("Love's The Only Rule", if I remember right).

They all walked off stage, but we knew it couldn't be over. There were still 2 songs from that list they hadn't played! Plus, the lights were still off. I will never understand the people who actually left. Because after a few minutes of applause, we see their shadows come back out, and BAM!

Really didn't expect them to play "Runaway", and apparently it's not one they regularly play. He said afterwards that "some of the crew really wanted to hear that one". It's one of my favorites though, so I was pleasantly surprised. Then was another one from the new album ("Thorn In My Side", which I really liked), followed by the missing hits: "Wanted Dead or Alive", and then "Livin' on a Prayer" to finish it off:

For all the awesomeness of the concert though, what with learning some new songs that I really like ("Born To Be My Baby") and rocking out to some long-time favorites, the most powerful moment to me wasn't during a song. It was something Jon said near the end (before launching into "Wanted Dead or Alive"). I don't remember the exact wording, but it was something pretty close to:

"Don't think that there's ever a day that I take this for granted. I know it's not 1984 any more. It's 2010, and to still be filling places like this... We wouldn't be here, if you weren't out there. So thank you."

For somebody who's been "living the dream" for almost 20 years now, it's amazing how humble and aware he is. They gave us a show more than worth what we paid (best $60 I've ever spent), bringing an entire stadium of people to their feet, and you could tell they loved it every bit as much as we did.

In short: It. Was. Epic.

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Bloomingdale's. Or, Obscenity in Cost


I went to the Beverly Center with some friends yesterday, because I needed to buy a new jacket after losing the one I owned and really liked. After doing all of our actual shopping, we wandered around Bloomingdale's for a little while.

Now, I knew it was a fancy store, and that stuff was going to be expensive. But I was completely shocked when I found myself looking at a nice dress shirt for almost $200. Then a jacket along the lines of what I'd gone to buy for closer to $300. Or the blazer/sport coat (whatever it was) for over $800.

To me, this is OBSCENELY expensive. I can understand shelling out a bit more money for a nicer brand and quality product, but much of what I saw there was at least 4-5 times as expensive as something of a similar style and look. So I'm going to do a little experiment, to show just how ridiculous their prices are.

Let's construct an outfit from the Bloomingdale's store that mimics what I'd wear on a given day. That is, plain shoes, socks, boxers, jeans, a t-shirt, and a light zippered jacket. These are all things that are comparable in appearance to what I normally wear:

Boxers ($17.50)
Socks ($6 for one pair)
Shoes ($95 - these are slip-ons, but it's closest in appearance)
Straight-Leg Jeans ($170)
Solid Color T-Shirt ($35)
Light Zippered Jacket ($295)

Total Outfit Cost: $618.50

Now, let's construct the same outfit, only we'll buy stuff from Kohl's instead:

Boxers ($9.50 for one pair)
Socks ($4 for one pair)
Shoes ($45)
Straight-Leg Jeans ($45)
Solid Color T-Shirt ($12)
Light Jacket ($28.90 from Heritage, the jacket I own)

Total Outfit Cost: $144.40

The outfit from Bloomingdale's is rougly 4x as much as the one from Kohl's. Granted, these are stores on two opposite ends of the spectrum, but really, you wouldn't be able to notice a significant difference between the outfits from afar. Possibly not even up close.

And I have a hard time believing that the difference in structural quality (or comfort quality, or whatever) is worth that significant of a price increase. It's ok to spring a little bit, but really, the prices at Bloomingdale's seem obscenely high.

Though I'm sure my fashion-conscious friends will disagree with this assessment...

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Google Buzz Is Genius


Google Buzz is a new social networking service/feature launched recently that integrates with your Gmail account. And I think it is fantastic. Once people start messing around with the API and making some good clients for it, amongst other things, I can see this replacing Facebook, for anybody willing to take the short time to make the switch.

Before I go on, I do want to point out that Google Buzz is INCREDIBLY easy to turn off - just go to the bottom of your Gmail inbox, and click "turn off buzz". Done. BUT, before you just dismiss it as another "Twitter-y piece of shit", at least read over this, and see why I think it's cool. If you're still unconvinced, then turn it off! But don't pass snap judgments, ESPECIALLY if you already have any kind of social networking profile.

The first thing to understand is that when it comes to social networking, Facebook is king right now. There are other sites that are similar to Facebook, of course, and some are definitely preferred for certain things (MySpace for band profiles, or LinkedIn for business use are a good examples). But really, Facebook, and the sites most like it, rule social networking.

This, to me, is a problem. Because Facebook sucks. It really does. Here's a list of things you can do with Facebook, as well as a site that does that thing just as well, if not better:

Status updates (Twitter)
Messaging (Gmail)
Photo sharing (Flickr)
Video sharing (YouTube)
Chat (not a site, but applications - AIM, Gchat, etc.)
Events (Google Calendar - you can create events, invite people, set reminders, etc.)
Notes (Blogger)

Facebook is just an amalgam of a bunch of other ideas, but poorly implemented. It would be far better if people just used a combination of the above (or similar) services - and by combination, I do mean that you pick and choose which ones. So if you don't plan to use Twitter, then you don't. (side note - I've never understood why people rail against Twitter, then proceed to post short status updates on Facebook. It's the same damn thing!)

The only reasons people won't do this, and will instead stick with Facebook, is that it's all in one place, and all (or most) of their friends/contacts are there too. The install base is what's keeping Facebook alive.

Google Buzz threatens that, and in a good way for users. See, remember when I said that if we'd all use a combination of better services, you could pick and choose which of the services to use? Google Buzz allows you to do this, without sacrificing your access to what your friends choose to use!

So say you don't want to use Twitter. That's fine. But I like to use Twitter. And if we're both using Google Buzz, you'll be able to see my tweets (still think that's a silly term, but whatever), even though you aren't on Twitter (since I've linked my accounts). This, to me, is awesome.

Anybody who wants to follow me on Buzz will be able to see when I update my blog, add pictures to Flickr, send a Tweet, add a video to Youtube, etc. It's all there, in one central location, like with Facebook. But UNLIKE Facebook, it doesn't require ME to use the Facebook photo/video/etc. upload - I can use a superior service.

And if there's somebody that I don't want having this kind of access, I can block them. But the other cool thing is that Buzz pulls from your common contacts, which means the people who can follow me by default are the people I already talk to on a regular basis, and thus are people I'm likely to want to have this access. And again, I can block anybody I don't want.

It isn't perfect, and it really should've had some kind of configuration thing so you can set privacy BEFORE you start using it, but it's still pretty sweet once you set it up. Better than Facebook, by far. Pretty sure that once I graduate college, I'll cut my Facebook page down tremendously. Those people I'm "friends" with, but don't really talk to, will still be able to look me up and contact me if needed, but I'll have these other, better services (congregated via Buzz) to contact & interact with the people who matter.

Long story short: Tweak the privacy settings, play around with it for a bit. It really isn't obtrusive, and if you still don't like it, the turn it off. But let's not freak out at the first sign of progress...

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Google's Super Bowl Ad


Some of this year's ads were pretty good, some others were pretty bad (the overuse of variations on the "dramatic chipmunk" meme being a prime offender). But I think the 'Search Stories' ad by Google was the best one overall.

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Umbrella Etiquette


The rains are back. And so are the umbrellas. My opinions on umbrellas are well documented. I was talking to my boss about it, and she mentioned posting a link on "umbrella etiquette" on Facebook during the last set of rains.

I found the post, which you can read here, and I was very pleased. If people would follow these rules, we'd all be better off. It doesn't change the fact that umbrellas, by their nature, lead to more inefficiency in walking, but following these rules does help to minimize this inefficiency.

Hell, if EVERYBODY followed these rules, you could make a case that the benefits of staying dry(er) outweigh the costs in efficiency. But until people do, I stand by my dislike of umbrellas.

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Sliding Doors Update


Got an email from my dad this morning, and in it, he referenced my post on having sliding doors in a house. Turns out, I didn't just randomly have this thought come to me. I was pulling it from memory - my grandparents' house has these! They're called pocket doors, and they are actually really cool. I'm a fan; I could totally see having these in a house of mine. There's a picture gallery of them here, for those who are interested.

Looks like the track is on top, and it seems to be a fairly robust stabilizing track. And like I mentioned in my earlier post, the door itself IS wider than the frame, so it is stabilized by the wall as well as the track. I don't remember my grandparents' doors being flimsy or swaying much, and they've been there since my dad was a kid, so it looks like this is a totally feasible thing. Pretty sweet.

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A Culture of Communication


One question that has always frustrated me is the one my mom and dad ask every so often, “Why don’t you just CALL the person, rather than text them?” It’s frustrating not because it’s a bad or ignorant question, but because I never really knew how to answer it. I always had an answer in the back of my mind, but I could never do a good job of articulating it.

Another thing I’ve had trouble articulating is why I’m opposed to “door knocking” as an RA, especially in regards to fundraising. To clarify quickly for non-RAs, “door knocking” is pretty much what it sounds like – you go up and down the floor, knocking on each door to tell the residents something. It could be about an upcoming program, or in many cases (especially with the Haiti earthquake), to fundraise. This practice has always bothered me, but like the question about texting over calling, I could never really explain WHY. I just knew it did.

Today though, I was thinking about this, and realized that the answer to both questions is pretty much the same. It’s a rude practice! I know this is kind of an odd conclusion, but bear with me for a bit. I will say that this conclusion doesn’t apply across the board; there are always situations where this is not the case. But I’ll come back to that later.

I guess the first thing to look at is how technology has shaped the culture of our generation. We are all about connections and information, because these are things we have rapid access to. Using my computer or my phone, I can easily keep up to date on the people I know (via Facebook, Twitter, blogs) and those I don’t know personally (via Twitter and blogs). I can easily access information, be it directions, movie/restaurant reviews, a drink recipe, or the answer to some random question. I can easily contact people via text messages, IM, or even video chat. And in the other direction, I can easily use these services to update people on my life, and be contacted by them.

We, as a generation, are very “plugged in”. There are varying degrees of this, of course. I’m fairly connected (I have Facebook, Twitter, a blog, an under-construction website, a smartphone, etc.), but there are people much more connected than I am. And there are people who are far less connected than I am. But for the most part, our generation is more connected than our parents’. But for all this connectivity, we also have control.

I can shut down my computer just as easily as I can fire up Google to do a search. I can turn off my phone (like I do at night) when I don’t want to use the connective capabilities it provides. For all this information and networking available quite literally AT my fingertips, I can choose to shut it all out. I can do it temporarily (by ignoring stuff for the duration of a TV show), longer-term (by shutting things down), or semi-permanently (by deactivating accounts).

I can, with very few exceptions, control how and when people can contact me. We access and disseminate information at OUR pace, not anybody else’s. That is a privilege our generation enjoys, and it’s afforded to us by this same technology. There’s a tacit understanding in our generation that people will contact you back at their leisure. I’ll comment on your blog, respond to your forum post, reply to your email, or return your text message when I get around to it. And that’s ok with you. That’s how our culture works. And once I’ve responded, I know you’ll then respond at YOUR leisure.

What I don’t like about “door knocking” and actually calling people is that these are remnants of an older generation’s communication style. When somebody calls you, or knocks on your door, they are DEMANDING your attention at that VERY moment. You can choose to ignore them, of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are DEMANDING your attention. They expect an answer right away. It doesn’t fit into our culture, and it's rude.

There are times, of course, when these practices do make sense. If I’m expecting you, or there’s some information I need to get to/from you immediately, calling is appropriate. For example, I was getting ready to go pick up a friend from LAX earlier this week, when he texted saying that he found another ride. I didn’t look at the text right away, as I was getting stuff. And when he didn’t get a response from me, he called to let me know. In this case, he needed to get the info to me that I didn’t need to drive to LAX anymore, so the call was acceptable (and appreciated; I didn’t want to deal with traffic unnecessarily). But even in this case, he tried a method more in-line with our generation’s style first.

There are other reasons, of course, why phone calls are less desirable – phone conversations are not very private, it’s not always feasible to TAKE the phone call, etc. But I think the most important part (and the thing our generation understands tacitly) is that it’s just rude to demand their attention.

Door knocking in the dorms is a slightly different beast, because in-person communication is NOT something our generation shuns (despite what parents might think). Maybe it’s just somebody stopping by to say hi, but the fact remains that you may not be prepared to have a guest, or you may not have time to talk. It sucks, yes, but if I’m studying (it’s rare, but it happens!), I don’t want you coming by and demanding my presence. That’s selfish – you are taking away my ability to decide when it’s also convenient to me. And when you move away from a casual visit, towards fundraising, the problem gets compounded. You are demanding my presence, only to pressure me into donating money? I don’t care how good of a cause it’s for, that’s still rude. Slip a note under my door, and let me bring you money when I have time. Or catch me in the hallway, but ASK if I have a moment first. Don’t just assume.

Ok, so that’s kind of long. But I haven’t updated in a few weeks, so no complaining! I think this kind of stuff is really interesting. I want to write something later about different styles of communication facilitated by different technologies, but I’m waiting until I finish Infotopia by Cass Sunstein, since it also touches on these topics.

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