Monday, April 30, 2007

Computers, Music, and...Music *on* Computers?

One of the things that kept me busy over last weekend (Friday in particular) was finishing up my final project for my IDS 110 class on computers and web design. In case you didn't guess, the final project is actually making a webpage. Actually, it's writing a report on something relating to the Internet and making a website about it. I worked long and hard on my website, but I think it turned out alright. My topic was online anonymity. I think...I think I may have gone a little overboard, I'm not sure. I was talking with one of my fellow classmates.

Me: "How's the project going for you?"
Him: "Not bad. I really don't want to have to write all that stuff, though."
Me: "I don't blame you. I finished writing my report. It was pretty exhausting."
Him: "Oh, you're done? How long did yours turn out to be?"
Me: "Well, I just did a primitive copy/paste into Word, but it came out to be about 12 pages."
Him: "..."
Me: "Single-spaced."
Him: "You're insane. That's bordering on thesis paper length."
Me: "Oh-hoh-hoh, it has a ways to go before it could be considered that."

Still, I may have done a wittle eency-weency bit more than they asked for. However, there was a lot of information to be found, and I have high standards for myself. Put those two together, and you have a 12 page report...single-spaced.

(P.S. If you want to look at all the other websites in my section to compare them to mine, you can find them here. Some won't be complete until Tuesday at noon, but you can get of an idea of how mine compares with the rest of the class.)

Why do I bring this up? Mainly, because I thought it was the only good segue into my next topic. Sometimes going to a lecture can be most enlightening. Anyone who's taken Professor Muller's Physics for Future Presidents can attest to this (and anyone who hasn't really, really, really should, or at least watch the webcasts!). I had a lecture like this in my IDS 110 class last week, and it was enlightening for its own reason.

We had Tim Westergreen, a web entrepreneur, come in. Even though he was a Stanford grad, there was no sense of animosity towards us. He talked to us about the trials and tribulations of starting up his online business. It's a pretty interesting talk; you should check it out here (and if you listen closely really closely, you can hear some zombie-voiced punk asking him a question near the end). Oh, wait, I didn't tell you what program he started. It's called Pandora.

Never heard of it?

Yeah, me neither.

However, I am currently hooked on it, and given that their main source of advertising is word-of-mouth via the so-called "blogosphere", I decided that I should give them a little pitch for you, being part of this sphere and all. I think you'll like it.

Basically, Pandora is an online radio service, totally legit and all that jazz. What separates it is from other online radio, however, is that it is fully customizable. It tries to play music that it will think you'll enjoy based on a series of hundreds of algorithms and their system called the "Music Genome Program".

Like the name implies the music genome program is an attempt to "map out" the DNA of music. At first, this sounds kind of hefty (and somewhat nefarious), but it's basically an attempt to simulate, as they say themselves, a friend who knows a lot of different music, and can tell you what you'll like, based on the qualities of the music you already do like. They use a bunch of different attributes. And by "a bunch", I mean A LOT. Take a gander (and that's not even the complete list). So, they use these attributes to create your own, personalized stations.

For example, say you entered in, oh, I don't know, Coldplay. In addition to playing a few Coldplay songs, it will play songs that have a similar feel to Coldplay's music, but are by a variety of artists (many of which are unknowns). While listening, you have the choice to skip to the next song, but the real nice thing is that you can give a "Thumbs Up" or a "Thumbs Down" to every song you hear. This helps to fine-tune the station to within the specified parameters based on your preferences and the set algorithms.

And what's more, it's free. Well, you can pay $36 a year if you don't want ads, but I don't mind them, so its free for me. It's also commercial free, and you can switch from one of your stations to another at the drop of a hat (or the click of a button, one of the two). So its almost better than normal radio (except, of course, that you have to be at a computer). The only problem is that it doesn't have much in the way of classical or soundtracks (ack!) but they say they're working on it.

I highly recommend using it. The founder's a really nice guy, and the service is great. Like I said, I'm using it as my new primary source for indoor music. My current favorite channel is the "Vertical Horizon" channel. It has a nice, mellow rock thang going on that I think a lot of people would like (I'm looking at you, Dad). Oh, and I recommend downloading this application so that you don't alway need a browser window open when using the program.

So, that's my piece. Happy listening!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Small Exchange of Letters...

Whoops, sorry about no update on Friday. Things have been kinda crazy for the last few days. Maybe I'll explain more later (maybe). In the meantime, I'd like to share something with you.

In case you've never seen my MySpace blog-space (and if not, you didn't do your homework), one of them is a picture blog about my first experiences at Cal, in particular Clark Kerr Campus. Take a quick look at it if you'd like. I'll wait...

...Okay, so I received (dammit, I spelled it wrong again!) a letter from an obviously prestigious MySpace society, "The Society of Elves", entitles "On Your Pics".

"Oh, good," thought I, "Someone is writing to tell me how good I am at photo editing!" Alas, no, it turned out to be...well, I'll just let you read it for yourself.


I grew up here, and know some things that may or may not interest you. While Sather Gate is the "official" entry to campus, it was originally the actual entry. The campus is slowly destroying my home town, as per their stated long range plans. To keep that from happening, many home owners are now only selling to people who agree to sell to other residential owners, and specifically *not* UC. The regents love to push, until they have to be reminded occasionally that this is a town full of people lacking neither influence nor funds.

The so-called Clark Kerr Campus was a series of historical buildings that the university claimed to have restored when in fact they merely patched and painted. I know, I was a student on the work crew that did the job. The set of buildings is actually the former California School for The Deaf and Blind, the second oldest group of buildings in the city. The university paid for a geological study that "proved" that the school was on the Hayward fault line, forcing the school to move. Mysteriously, the finding has since been invalidated, apparently a small mistake of a few hundred yards was made. The punchline? The new site of the California School for The Deaf and BLind turns out to actually be on a fault line, but they can't afford to move again.

Did you know that more suicides have taken place in your back yard than almost anywhere in the world? That's because it's a traditional place of death for the natives, and the tradition goes on. Hundreds of people with terminal illnesses have gone there to end their lives over the last couple of decades, that's why you see campus pseudo-cops up there every few days. CSD Hill, as it has been called for years, has three tiers. According to ancient native custom, if you're dying and you make it to the top of that first hill, it's a good death. Because this was a sacred dying place, this section of this side of the bay was uninhabited until the Peralta family arrived.

When I was a teenager, we'd wander across the CSD campus around 3 :AM, and frequently see kids playing basketball in silence. They'd stop and stare at us, and we'd wave and pass on through. We'd try to remember not to look up at the windows, because there'd usually be one or two kids screaming silently, their mouths open, faces contorted in agony, but no sound. We saw a man packing a car one night, and he told us "You shouldn't be here, this place isn't right". When we asked what he meant, he explained that some of the children over the years had died, and that they tended to plague the living children. We thought he was kidding, but someone came out and tried to talk to him, and he refused to remain or go inside and discuss it. Turns out he'd seen something that frightened him badly enough that he didn't want to return.

We still thought it was a load of crap, but now I'm not so sure. If you or any of your friends become depressed or frightened for no reason, please, seek the company of others. Don't stay alone in that place. Since the university took it over, there have been student suicides there. In fact, most of the student suicides of the last decade have been there. Warn your friends. CKC may well be haunted; at the very least, there may be environmental factors that cause chemical depression and.or hallucinations.

By the end of this letter, I was laughing. Literally, laughing out loud. Of course, this was too great of an opportunity to pass up, so I decided to write back to this 45-year-old male. Here's my letter:

To the Society of Elves (or at least, whoever’s in charge),

Thank you for your correspondence. I always enjoy when someone takes the time to write to me. I feel it would be ungrateful of me not to reciprocate.

Before I go further, I think I should make a few clarifying statements. I am a business major with an enjoyment of economics, so I tend to look at things in an economic way. I also am currently a Resident Assistant at the “so-called” (and actually-called) Clark Kerr Campus. Additionally, I act as an unofficial historian, as I (and my freshman roommate) have contributed to a variety of Wikipedia pages on CKC and Cal in general. Doing so, we did quite a bit of research and investigation on a variety of topics. And as it turns out, I actually was aware that Sather Gate used to be the actual entrance to the university, as you can see in this picture from 1945.

And since then, the University has been expanding. Though, I must make note, that the University is NOT destroying your home town. Make no mistake, I have a great deal of respect to the people of this town. However, this University has been around for nearly 140 years, and it is the only lifeblood an otherwise husk of a city has. If the University were to be removed, Berkeley would degrade into yet anther Richmond or Oakland. You want something to blame? Well, you could blame the Berkeley city governance, but that only goes back so far. No, the only important factor is the existence of San Francisco. As long as San Francisco stands, economic factors – in particular, housing costs – will keep the surrounding cities down. Unfortunate as it is, that is the inner-city economic dilemma which is true across the nation and world. The UC, with its idealistic student population, provides a small but steady source of income to the mom-and-pop shops in Berkeley which would otherwise be shoved out by the Wal-Marts and McDonalds of the world. To put it bluntly, UC Berkeley has been “Berkeley” longer than the city has. Without the University, the city would be but a shadow of what it is today. As far as home owners selling to non-UC buyers, I find that petty and, quite frankly, moronic, both for economic and social reasons. “Biting the hand that feeds you” seems quite an apt description.

Would you care to expound on when you “patched and painted” the buildings of Clark Kerr? I have access, via my position as an RA, to plenty of receipts from around 1982-1985 for an extensive reconstruction of several of the buildings, such as the removal of asbestos from the walls (asbestos seemed like such a good idea at the time, seeing as the Asylum for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind had the unfortunate tendency to burn down). If you are insinuating that these receipts are complete forgeries, then you have to give the University some credit for creating such an elaborate and long-lasting hoax. The only bitter irony I see in the creation of the CKC is the fact that the city of Berkeley fought the UC to try to make low-income housing, while it ended up being the single most expensive dorm in America. Other than that, the records prove things to be pretty legit. Of course, if you could provide some hard evidence to the contrary, I may sing a different tune.

You know, I did not know that such an absurdly high amount of suicides occur here. It’s especially surprising as a Resident Assistant, as we are given reports of all major police incidents – including suicide – in the area as a way to keep our residents safe. And you know what? I haven’t seen a single instance of suicide. The last person on campus to die was actually an acquaintance of mine (I knew her from one of my classes, and she was training to be an RA, as well), and she died of a pulmonary embolism, God rest her soul. But no, suicide rates in Berkeley are currently the lowest they’ve ever been. Unless, of course, the true numbers are being hidden by the powers-that-be. Again, if you have any documentation to prove your claims, I’d like to see them.

I’m not sure if this is what you were referring to in your anecdote, but children did die in the CSD, mainly through accidents. For example, a mentally ill child wandered into the tunnels underneath the campus and was found weeks later, dead through suffocation. This was unfortunate and most assuredly a shock; it could easily account for the reactions that the people in your anecdote had. In particular, if I were to see such a thing, I would probably be eager to pack up and leave.

That said, I don’t that means there is ANY sort of “depression spirit” in CKC. Maybe things have changed significantly since your day, but Clark Kerr Campus is considered, to quote one of my friends, “the happiest dorm at Cal.” Personally, I probably feel happier living here than I have anywhere else. The only thing that makes me sad in any way about CKC is the fact that I won’t be able to return to it next semester. And no, my mother wasn’t facing the North Star whilst birthing me, giving me an opposite reaction to the “environmental factors” here. In fact, people who live here have almost unequivocally good things to say about living here.

So, I’m not sure what to make of your warnings. However, considering the rest of your correspondence seems a bit lacking-in-evidence at best (and conspiratorial at worst), I don’t think warning my friends will be necessary; we’re doing just fine.

Thanks again for writing, good luck with your society, and have a wonderful day! ^_^

Your friend,
Andrew Schnorr

I'm expecting a letter in the near-future from this gentleman, perhaps calling me a "tool" (if it is indeed G-rated). All in a day's work. Have a good week, everyone!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mini-Blogs, Set Four

John Williams Can Even Give it its Own Theme Song
I've created a new Olympic sport for the more mentally gifted folks amongst us. It's called Thought Put. If you can't tell by the pretty blatant portmanteau, it's a form of Shot Put that harnesses telekinetic powers as opposed to muscles. The rules are pretty similar. You have a small, 8 pound metal ball that you have to throw as far as possible. However, instead of having to put, er, place the shot (the ball) on your neck while twirling around like Mikhail Baryshnikov, you simply lift the shot from the ground and throw it...with your mind.

Now, I recieved the second place medal for Shot Put in the prestigious Mt. SAC track and field tournament. I didn't earn it, mind you, but I still received it, and it's the highlight of my short-lived career. The point is, I consider myself one of the foremost authorities on the sport. And I can assure you that Thought Put would garner at least 40% more views on television than the current incarnation gets. Plus, it will expose all the people with the gift, and they can then become our protectors.

Protecting Our Future
You know, I was thinking about why they keep changing the look of paper currency. Then I suddenly came to a realization. How many times have you heard someone talk about what their plans would be if they suddenly had the ability to travel through time (the conversation comes up more often than you'd think betwixt my associates and me)? A lot of times, what they say is that they'd go back in time, invest a lot of their money, then travel back to the present, when they'd be rich as Nazis. Although I've never seen the movie to any substantial effect, I'm aware this is similar to the plot of Back to the Future II. And that movie shows that the result of such a situation is a dystopian future/alternate present, which most people would agree isn't good.

Enter the US Treasury. Henry Paulson sits down with his staff and talks about this potential disaster. They determine that the only way such a bleak existence can be avoided is by changing the look of money. Why? Consider the following: if you went back to 1975 to invest in Microsoft, you'd need to take lots of money in order to make it big. However, your money in the bank won't travel with you. You're going to need cash for your journey through the years. But what if you went to a stock broker and tried to funnel in a bunch of bills that look like this:

The broker is either going to think that you're either the worst counterfeiter ever, or just plain crazy. You won't even get the opportunity to invest, since nobody will take your "future money" seriously. And Henry Paulson smiles knowingly. Crisis averted.

(Of course, there is always the possibility that you use all your money to buy gold bullion, which will definitely be accepted. However, exchange rates are probably going to lessen your profits, and let's be honest, you'll probably be mugged and robbed before you get to the stock broker.)

Spelling Woes
I swear, I don't think I've ever spelled the word "receive" correctly. Ever. Including just then. And I was consciously trying to spell it correctly, too. Damn "c". Well, thank God for slepl czechers.

I Was Actually Somewhat Serious When I Wrote This
The people who wear the giant character suits at amusement parks...they lead an interesting life. They appear in thousands of photographs for hundreds of families, spread accross the country and the world. They are in pictures with the very young and the very old. They may appear in a picture which remains in a scrapbook for fifty years. And yet...nobody will ever know who they are.

Does anyone ever ask the people in the character costumes how they're doing? No, I don't mean, "Hey, Pluto, how's it going?" I mean, really asking the person how they're doing. I don't think so. Usually, if they speak to the person, they're saying something along the lines of, "Is this what you were hoping you'd do with your life?" (I sometimes think that when I see the guy dressed as the giant Quizno's cup.)

But the next time I go to Disneyland, I think I'm going to go up to the guy in the Mickey costume and say to him something similar to the following:

"You are such an integral part of this place. You are an integral part of the experience for the people who come here. You are one of the primary factors of the smiles that cross the children's faces, but you are anonymous. You make people happy, but they don't know you. Will they ever? Will they ever look at their albums and reminisce, 'Oh, I was so happy when this picture was taken. God bless the person in that suit. They are willing to selflessly bring the happiness to others, with no expectations of reciprocation. After all, how could I ever pay them back if I'll never know them.' Altruism at its finest. You, my friend, are a good person. God bless you, sir or madam."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Petition for the Ages...

Hey hey, folks!

I have a meeting to run off to in a couple minutes, and I've been doing stuff all day, so I decided to use what little time I have today to push my political/verbal agenda.

Last night, I began a petition. No, it's not another one to make me the new Pope. It's a petition to officially change all instances of the word "Britain" to "Britland!" (with the exclamation point). So far, this worthy cause has mustered nine signatures, so we're halfway there (give or take)!

There's no empirical evidence on the subject, but I can confirm that when research is done in the future, it will prove that having everyone say "Britland!" instead of "Britain" will make the world a happier and safer place.

You can use the comments section as a kind of online signature, and then I'll just forge transcribe your John Hancock onto the physical petition. C'mon, 115 readers who don't comment, this is your time to shine!

For Great Britland!

....And, I'm off. Toodles!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Proposition to my Blogging Comrades...

In my blogging class on Monday, Miguel (the facilitator) made a very interesting suggestion. He said that, seeing as I had passed the 60-post requirement, I was pretty much free to do what I wanted for the rest of the year. He said I could shut down the blog (which I, of course, have no intention of doing), or possibly donate my excess posts to some of the other class members.

Donate my excess posts? What a novel idea. However, there's a slight flaw in it. I have a limited number of posts to give away. How, then, would I decide who the recipient of my posts should be? I can see arguments for the various sides.
-On the one hand, the people who have less than 20 (or perhaps 10) posts obviously need them the most, because even if they received the full extent of my charity, they'll still have to post more than those with 30 or 40 posts.
-On the other hand, an argument could easily be made for those with the 30 or 40 posts. "We've put more time and effort into our work; we just happen to be a few posts short. Why should people be rewarded for doing less?"

Now, hold on there, buckaroos! This is quite a conundrum, particularly since I don't want to play favorites or anything. Basically, giving away free posts to some and not others would be inherently unfair.

Still, I want to help people out with my excess posts. I will do this using capitalism! One of my fellow classmates suggested that I charge a dollar per posts. I considered it, but then realized that setting an arbitrary price would be inefficient. The basic method of finding out the profit-maximizing price in an open market is with the almighty supply and demand curve. To those who aren't economically inclined, the supply/demand graph shows how many of a certain good people are willing to buy and sell at a particular price. The look for our graph would look like this:

The higher the price is, the more I am willing to sell, but the less others are willing to buy. At the equilibrium point, however, everyone's happy (especially me). Everyone who was willing to buy at the equilibrium price is buying, and those who aren't willing to buy at that price...isn't.

(In all honesty, the actual graph for my blog post market looks a little different; the supply curve should probably be a lot more vertical. However, it makes little difference in practical terms, it may become more horizontal in the future, and [above all else] I'm too lazy to change it, so nyah!)

So, here's how I'm going to do this. I am going to have my excess posts from my 61st until whatever post I'm on when the class ends (or a few days before) up for sale. Keep in mind that a good number of my posts are over 500 words, so that makes life easier for you. This will be done auction-style. Basically, you give me a number of posts you want, and the price-per-post you're willing to pay me. I accept cash, personal check, and PayPal payments.

The starting price is $0.25/post (because as a adolescent male, I loooove quarters), and it can go as high as you're willing to pay. You can put in your bids in the comment section. If nobody bids, nobody gets anything; it's no skin off my greedy back.

Oh, and for those who are a little disheartened about the post requirement and think it's going to be difficult to finish them off, just watch the first 2:50 of this video and let Jack Albertson's singing inspire you (just ignore the kid).

So, for those who want to bid, happy bidding!

NOTE: The preceding post was irrelevant outside of the blogging DeCal and should not have been read by any of my other readers.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Riddle Me This, Riddle Me...That?

Okay, first off, thanks to everyone who wished me luck with giving tours for Cal Day. As luck would have it, I didn't have to give any tours, instead sitting behind the front desk for almost six hours, answering questions and directing others to give tours. I'd say it went rather well, overall (the other part of my weekend was kind of lousy, but I don't think you want me to go into that).

But that's not why you're here! You have riddles on the brain, don't you? (Yes, yes you do, and nothing you can say will convince me otherwise.) So without further ado, here's the answer to the cliffhanger riddle that you were left with last week. In case you've forgotten (or didn't read [tsk, tsk]), here it is again:
"I am a simple character, but if you place me in the middle of a battle, I transform it from a match of brains to one of brawn."
Before I jump into the answer, let's look at the various aspects of the riddle, one by one:

Oh, right...Don't read this if you want to figure out the answer with no help!!!

...Okay, then.

-"I am a simple character..." has 27 different definitions for the word "character". However, we can narrow it down to about 22, since we can tell that it's a noun. Furthermore, there's a bit of repetition in the definitions, so let's point it down to a few basic categories:
-A person or thing that has a role in some fiction or non-fiction work.
-A trait of a person or thing.
-A visual mark or symbol, such as a piece of a language.
So that's three kinda broad categories. And I can assure you, the answer to the riddle is one of those three. And it's "simple" (whatever that means). If you'd like, you can take this new information and try to fit it into your answer. Don't worry, I'll wait.




Ready for the next part?

-"...if you place me in the middle of a battle..." So here we're talking about some sort of battle. And the character gets placed in the middle of it. This is, of course, a common expression, but for all we know, our character friend could be placed literally in the middle of the battle, between the two opposing one way or another.

I'll let you marinate on that for a minute. More below...




Okay, next part.

-"...I transform it from a match of brains to one of brawn." This, of course, is the main part of the riddle. In order to figure it out, we have to think about what qualifies as a battle of brains and one of brawn. Let's look at the "brawn" category first, as it's a little easier to figure out. Basically, the following things could be defined as battles of brawn, in one way or another:
-A battle betwixt armies.
-An arm-wrestling match.
-A boxing match/WWF WWE wrestling match.

But what about a battle of brains? What kinds of battles of wits do we have?
-Academic competitions.
-Legal battles in court.
-Um...telekinetic fights?

So those are some examples. And we're looking for something that can change a battle of brains to one of brawn. I can guarantee you, the answer lies somewhere within those options. Percolate on that for a minute. I'll still be here.




Okay, are you ready to put everything together? Yes? Good! On we go!

In my examples of battles, I gave you a hint in the form of an ever-so-subtle "one of these things is not like the others" moments. You may or may not have seen it; it's pretty technical (some of my other victims have claimed it's esoteric even, but I refuted that, seeing as I don't specialize in the field in question).

Let's take two men. The first one's name is Evans. The second's is McEnroe. They are involved in some sort of battle. Consider all the options above for the various battles that they could be engaged with each other in.

See it yet?




Alright. I've teased you long enough. The battle of brawn is mostly irrelevant, as they're mostly the same. The battle of brains, though, is important. Insofar as this riddle goes, it's a legal battle. And so, there is some simple character that, when placed in the middle of the "battle," can change it from a legal battle (of brains) to a boxing match (of brawn).


Consider the options for what a character is. Again, they are:
-A person or thing which has a role in some fiction or non-fiction work.
-A trait of a person or thing.
-A visual mark or symbol, such as a piece of a language.

Eh, eh? Think outside the box here...think...



Please tell me you have a better idea now. Consider what the title would be for this if it were a legal battle and if it were for a boxing match.


...This is you last chance to guess...

Okay. Here we go. If this were a legal battle, the title would be:
Evans v. McEnroe

If, on the other hand, it were a boxing match, the title would be:
Evans vs. McEnroe

If you can't see it now, I'm truly sorry. But the answer to the riddle is the following:


That's it. "S" is a simple character, being a solitary letter (a visual symbol that is part of a language) that is placed in the middle of the battle (or the middle of the battle's title, betwixt the names of the two participants), that changes it from a match of brains (a legal battle) to one of brawn (a boxing match or anything else like that). So that's the answer.


So there, now the next time I give a riddle of my own creation, you'll have an idea of the thought process behind solving it.

Friday, April 20, 2007

This Title is a Complete Non-Sequitor!!!

I have to be off to bed early tonight, as I have to get up early tomorrow to give tours to all the lovely folks who come in for Cal Day to see the Res Halls.

...And I have to answer those parents' questions. *Shudder*

Them: "Isn't Clark Kerr really far from campus?"
Me: "Well, it's a little less than a mile to get to Sproul Plaza, and can take you 10 to 20 minutes, depending on how fast you walk. But it's good for you."
My Mind: "Didn't you come here from campus? Is your puerile mind so dense you can't remember how far it was?!"

Them: "How do I know my child will be eating healthy in the cafeteria?"
Me: "Our dining commons serve a large variety of foods, but we do try to keep the food as healthy as possible. We also have the nation's most extensive organic food program."
My Mind: "Listen, Chubby McCheese, if you would have taught your kids good eating habits to begin with, you wouldn't need to ask that question!"

Them: "This place seems a lot nicer than the rest? Do you think it's bad for the students to be living in such luxury while others aren't?"
Me: "Well, while it may seem nicer in comparison to some of the other units, it's still a residence hall, not a hotel or spa. The University doesn't want people so spoiled that they won't do their work! But I wouldn't say there's any real inequality between units."
My Mind: "That question sounds like commie talk to me, you proletariat punk!"

But I think the most I've ever been annoyed with a parent's question was last year, when I was but a humble resident whose room was part of the tour. To make the most of the time we had to stay in the room, my roommate Kris and I were simply sitting and getting some work done. Then come in the parents.

One of Them: "Are you really doing work, or is this just some show you're putting on for us to make you college boys look good?"
Another One of Them: "And is your room always this clean, or did the RA's make you clean up your mess?"
Us: "Uh, no, it's pretty much always like this."
Our Collective Minds: "You bastards! You dare question our integrity and our cleanliness?! We will @^$)&#* END you!!!"

And I learned about 11 months afterward that we were supposed to get gift certificates to Yogurt Park for doing that. Bah!

So anyway, wish me luck with that...nonsense.

Oh! In the meantime, I have a riddle for everyone! (Yay!) What's different about this riddle is that I actually made it up, which is really awesome because although I looooove riddles (and if you do too, here's a great place to find them), I've never thought up one myself. So, anyway, here goes:

"I am a simple character, but if you place me in the middle of a battle, I transform it from a match of brains to one of brawn."

Yes, it is a little tricky, but it still works (though I'm sure the answer will have a bit of contention). I'll post the answer later. Put your guesses in the comments!


Thursday, April 19, 2007

I Have a Dream (Two, in Fact)!

As I've mentioned before, I have fairly vivid dreams, and when I try to explain them to people, they always think I've kept some of my anti-malaria pills from my trip to Africa. I actually attribute these dreams to my mother, as she also tends to have...well, I'd define them less as "dreams" and more as "visions."

Anyhoo, I've had a nice little stream of dreams in the past few days. I think I'll spend a little bit of time discussing them. The reason I'm doing such is because I'd like to make a request regarding the first one, and the second one...well, after witnessing the second one, I have somewhat of a demand to make.

Dream 1 (The Request)
For some reason, I have a recurring theme of being a counselor of some sort. I would attribute this to my being an RA, but I've had them for years and years, way before I even came to Cal. Usually, my charge is in some unusual place, such as an alligator-infested Disneyland, or a giant insane asylum slowly moving on tank treads through the desert. Well, in this dream, I was a counselor in some sort of 1980s Sci-Fi movie future where we ride around on hover-scooter-things. And that's basically all we did. In fact, the entirety of my counseling/crime fighting involved my chasing some crook on a hover scooter until he fell off (presumably to his death; we were in the stratosphere at the time).

But that's not important. What's important is what happened at the end of the dream. Near the end, I walk into a giant warehouse of sorts, where I see members of my family watching a video. To my surprise, it's a workout video with my pregnant sister as the host (in case you're wondering, nobody was exercising; they were just sitting on the couch eating chips). In the workout video was music playing; it seemed to be a parody of a song I recognized.
Me: "What song is that supposed to be?"
My Sister: "Oh, it's White Hot."
Me: "White Hot?"
My Sister: "Yeah, you know: 'White hot! Calling from the pavement..."
Me: "Oh, yeah, I know that song."

And then I woke up. Here's the thing: I don't know that song. According to Google, no such lyrics exist. In fact, the only song with the title "White Hot" is by Tom Cochrane, and it ain't even close. The more I thought about it though, the more nonsensical the lyrics became. Then I thought to myself, "Wait, I think the actual lyrics (at least, lyrics that make more sense) are 'Wipeout, falling to the pavement...'" Unfortunately, that didn't find anything either. Now, I don't want another 10-year dream mystery on my hands, so I'm going to reach out to the Intertubes to see if anyone know the answers to which I seek.

So, here's the best information I can give. It's a rock song, and it sounds like it could be from the 80s or 90s. And all I know from it is a single piece from the chorus. It's near impossible for me to describe the tune online (not being a composer and all), so I'm just going to try the half-hearted solution of vocalizing the tune. And yes, I realize it is a horrid half-hearted rendition. Please keep in mind that I was recording these at 1am, when I wasn't able to be loud and "rocker-like". I'm an okay singer, but for more flowing songs (a good example would be the song "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing"). So don't judge my American Idol prospects from these pieces. The first is just my "whammy-bar" rendition of the song, while the second is an incredibly lame attempt at my (apparently made-up) vocals, though it rapidly degrades into nothing more than a series of "doot-doos".

So, if you can tell from that piddly amount of information what song I dreamt about, I would be somewhat in your debt. Why am I so sure that it's not a song from my actual imagination? Well, let's just say that the last time I thought I "dream-composed" a song, I found out a year and a half later that it was the theme song from The Patriot. So my record in that sense isn't too great.

Dream 2 (The Demand)
I usually don't wake up in fright in the middle of the night, but this time I did. It wasn't a nightmare, but rather a scary image. In my dream, I was just awakening from my sleep, and when I looked in the mirror, I say that my goatee had been crudely cut off. That gave me such a start that I immediately woke up and felt my chin.

Funny, perhaps, but it's actually a real fear of mine that someone, as some sick idea of a prank, may cut off my goatee while I sleep. And I think if they did, I would go mad. And no, I don't think that's over-reacting. I may have to lose my goatee some day, but that's completely different from having it taken away from you. My goatee took me about 8 months to get to its current length and density. I don't think the ladies would enjoy it if someone cut off their long, luxurious hair while they slept. It's a violation of a person, and cutting off my goatee would be a violation of me.

In short, my demand is this: don't cut off my goatee while I sleep. It would not be a good situation for anyone.

Um, sweet dreams!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Somebody Saaaaaaaaave Meeee!!!

So, last night we had a program about safety and self-defense at CKC. It wasn't a response to the shootings in Virginia; the timing was purely coincidental. While I am probably not the first person a predator is going to come after, it can never hurt to know a self-defense trick or two, so I decided to go to the program (well, couple that with the fact that one of my friends/co-workers was in charge of it and guilted me into going).

One of the first things I noticed when I was at the program: I was the tallest person there. And you know what? That felt good. You see, I have this inborn desire to be taller than others. In fact, when I first came to Cal and saw my roommate for the first time, the first thought that came to my head was, "Damn! He's taller than me." (By less than an inch, though, and we turned out to be the best of friends.) I'm not intimidated by those taller than me, mind you, just...well, let's just say I don't like to have to look up to people; just a pet peeve, you know.

So, being the tallest person at the program, I was immediately tagged by the instructor. "You don't get hassled much, I bet. You're big, you have a barrel like (though I'm going to revise history by using my new word, "Barrelesque") body, and a tough face with prominent facial hair. Most people are going to try an easier target." I figured she was going to ask me to leave at that point, seeing as I'm obviously too intimidating to be picked on, but she allowed me to remain.

And then we got on with the training. For those who haven't taken a self-defense class, here are the five "fingers" of self-defense.

1.Escape - Basically, getting out of a bad situation as fast as you can. The best thing you could do, but the least fun to practice.

2.Non-Verbal - Stopping possible perpetrators with a "no-means-no" look. This is where I really shine. Thanks to my staring-contest experience, I can whip out an impressive "no-means-no" face on a dime. While the other people couldn't help but giggle when they stared at our practice perp(etrator), I looked him square in the eyes, as though to say, "Hey, you, don't come to me looking for trouble; I've taken a self-defense course, and I could eat you up, spit you out, and take your carcass to Denny's to be a blue-plate special, which I will then eat and spit out again...and I won't give the waitress a tip, punk!"

3.Verbal - Basically, this is uses words to empower you against a perpetrator. But if used in every day conversation with completely innocent people, it will just make you look like a bitch.
*At the Golden Bear Cafe*
Person: "Excuse me, is this seat taken?"
Me: "You can't sit there."
Person: "Why not? Is someone sitting-"
Me: *Standing and putting my hand up.* "STOP! Leave me alone!"
Person: "But-"
Me: "LEAVE ME ALONE! Step back!"
Person: "I-"
Me: "Step back! STEP BACK! Leave me alone! STEP! BACK!"
Person: "Okay, okay...bitch."

4.Physical - Here we go! This was obviously the most fun part to practice. The lesson they taught is that you attack a perp, and you don't stop attacking until they're either running away or "lying still on the ground." (Of course, if interpreted literally, the defender could get pretty gruesome. Are they slowly crawling away while pleading for mercy? Kick 'em in the groin! Oh, they're leg's still twitching? A shoulder to the back of the neck should fix that.)

Basically, we were taught three basic moves, and I can't remember the names of any of them. However, they were are follows:
1. Basically, strike someone's throat with the area between your thumb and index finger, effectively crushing their windpipe.
2. I think this was called the basic palm, but it's striking people with the palm of your hand, such as to the chest, jaw, or nose (the latter of which will drive their nose bone up and piece their brain...hmm, I wonder how much liability comes with these maneuvers).
3. Doing a soccer kick to someone's shin. As someone who had a numb right shin for a year after having it smashed against in a car accident, I can confirm that the shin is indeed quite sensitive.

So, one of the things everyone did was practice these moves, all while shouting "NO!" in a pseudo-karate kinda way. And that's all fine and good for most people. It was very interesting to see the different people's methods. Some people (I don't mind mentioning they were of the female influence) had high, shrieking screams, while others were much more muted (probably more out of modesty than anything.) Then they got to me. People were interested in seeing how "the big guy" would act, particularly my co-workers, who always know me primarily for my charming and/or twisted wit. So I was kind of giggling before I got to work.
Instructor: "You a little embarrassed?"
Me: "No, it's just that I have a very throaty yell."
Instructor: "Oh, are you sick? I can yell with you too, if it helps?"
Me: "No, I'm sure people will be able to hear it fine."

I guess she misinterpreted my use of the word throaty to mean "breathy" or something like that. No, when I yell, I sound like I should be the lead singer in a death metal band (the backup singers are the ones with the more harmonious voices). So, I charge at this guy howling like a bionic monkey "NONONONONOYESNONONO!!!" (I messed up at some point.) Basically, it looks as though I was about to bite into his chest and rip out his heart. If a police officer saw me, I think he'd identify it as "attempted cannibalism" before "self-defense".

5. Compliance - This one is in regard to trying to talk through your problems (I think), but I just imagine the following scenario:
Perp: "Can I beat you up?"
Me: "Sure, I got a minute."
...Yeah, I didn't pay much attention at this part in the program (it only lasted a full two minutes anyway).

And then we had snacks (I pocketed a boatload of Tootsie Rolls). When all was said and done, I'm pretty sure most of the people were a lot more ready for any potential attack. And me? Well, I had done nothing more than prove my insanity. And I made up the word "barrelesque." Good times.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Creative Writing Exercise, Part 1

In the meeting of my Blog DeCal this Monday, it was determined that instead of doing critiques of our classmates weekly, we would simply have writing exercises (I was ambivalent to the subject, so I abstained from voting). This Monday, we were given a phrase and left to our own machinations. (The phrase, coincidentally, was "A man walks into a laundromat with a dog named Jesus.") The idea was to get people's creative juices (the kind that have a really salty taste) flowing, as well as give people things to post on their blog.

Originally, I was going to keep my piece locked away in the iron grip of my orange folder, but I've noticed that quite a few of the classmates have put theirs on the Intertubes. And though I've been told it's nothing to be ashamed of, I would hate to be thought of as a pariah. So take of this what you will; the rhythm is wonky as hell, but it's pretty okay on the whole.

A man walks into a laundromat with a dog named Jesus,
Wearing worn-out shoes and threadbare clothes;
He has only three quarters left in his lint-filled pocket;
The fourth was used to buy a most beautiful rose.
The old man sits on a bench, staring up at the ceiling,
The flickering lights and the electric fan in repose;
The disapproving owner walks over and coughs out to him,
"This ain't a place to be starin', it's a place to wash clothes."
The old man laughs and turns his gray eyes to the owner;
"You're the son of the previous proprietor, I suppose.
Don't mistake me for some random tramp and his dog;
No, sir, I've been waiting for my laundry since God only knows."
The owner is perplexed and sits down on the bench;
The dog named Jesus digs into his palm with its nose;
"I was a patron here when your daddy owned the place;
That was back when I wore better-looking clothes.
I dropped off my laundry into that washer in the corner,
And went off downtown to watch the movie shows.
That's when I saw sweet Ms. Margaret Sullivan,
God's most beautiful creature from head to toes.
She smiled at me from under her veiled hat,
And held out in her hand a magnificent rose;
When I saw the sign that said 'One Nickel Apiece,'
I cried out like a fool in love, 'I'll take one of those!'
She gave me the rose and a kiss on the cheek,
And I almost fell to my knees, ready to propose;
But that's when her boyfriend came out from behind a corner;
Seeing that ruffian, my mind, my heart, my body all froze.
He began screaming and swinging wildly at me,
And I struggled to fight back, to match all his blows;
I did seem to have the advantage of height and speed,
But to be perfectly honest, he was a tough contender to oppose.
I feel no particular need to go into the gory details;
But rest assured, good sir, there were plenty of those.
Suffice to say, the next thing I remember, I was in bed;
And found it was surprisingly difficult to move when I arose.
The astounded nurse told me that I was in a coma for many years,
And I must tell you, sir, that feeling was the lowest of lows;
To look at myself in the mirror and see an old man in my stead;
And everyone else wonders where the time goes.
I later decided in jest and see if my laundry was finally done;
And on my way, I saw a young girl who was selling a rose.
They cost a quarter now, but I was happy to give her the coin,
Now I'll remember Ms. Margaret Sullivan when it reaches my nose."
The old man stretches his arms and slowly stands from the bench,
Saying to the owner "I best get back before it snows."
A man walks out of laundromat with a dog named Jesus,
And I have no idea where he goes.

So that's that. I'll be honest; the whole coma story was just me being lazy. If I ever write a full version, the guy will probably have been in prison, or sent off to war, or some other interesting story that would take about three times as many lines. Anyhoo, that was my little creative exercise, the "one-rhyme wonder."


Monday, April 16, 2007

A Very Sad Day

I had another post thought of and partly written, but in light of the prominent news story of the day, I felt that I should take some time out to talk about it.

I am always deeply saddened when I hear news about killings. I really can't think of a more dishonorable act than to to take a gun and systematically kill off innocent people, with whom you have no previous relation to, and who have no ways to defend themselves. But I always have had a particular disgust with people who can kill students. People who are only beginning to experience what this world has to offer. It's sad and sickening.

This particular tragedy hits pretty close to home for me, for two reasons. First of all, it's at a college. In all the school shootings I've seen in recent years, the victims have been high schoolers and such. I essentially had a preconception that "that sort of thing doesn't happen in college." But it can, and it did. This particular tragedy happened at Virginia Tech, but it could have just have easily happened in any school, even at UC Berkeley. We always think that we're safe until someone comes along and proves us wrong.

The second reason that this really gets me is the fact that a number of the killings were done in their dormitories. Their residence halls. The kinds of places that I work at. And I can't help but wonder...what would have happen if it occurred here? What would I have done? What could I have done? People think RAs have the power to do things, but we're just students, like everyone else, and just as fragile as everyone else. I suppose it does me no good worrying about such things, but still, it's hard to help.

I'm pretty sure that we (students and especially hall staff) are going to be on high alert in the upcoming future. There's always the immediate danger of copycat crimes, and after that, we're still going to have this in the back of our minds. As sad as it is that we do have to think about such a thing, it's a fact of life.

I apologize if this seems a bit incoherent; I'm just feeling a bit incoherent now.


Whatever divine power you believe in, please pray for the souls of those people who have prematurely gone to their rest. And pray for the perpetrator of the crime; their soul obviously needs it.

And call your family. Tell them you love them.

Rest in peace, friends.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Last 60 Posts: A Retrospective

For all those who haven't been here since this blog's inception, or have since forgotten, The Lobotomist's Dream began as a requirement for a class at Berkeley. Of course, I have plans to go beyond that, but in case you ever hear me mention something about "the blog DeCal", that's what I'm talking about.

That said, yesterday, I hit somewhat of a milestone, at least insofar as the class goes. Yesterday was my 60th post. In this class, the major requirement for the semester is to complete 60 posts in your blog, 15 of which had to be over 500 words. This was calculated as having an average of 4 posts a week, with one 500-worder per week. In truth, this was actually a step down from what was written on the original syllabus, which said that we needed 5 a week (for a grand total of 75 posts), but it still seems like a good amount.

If I'm not mistaken (and I'm not), I'm the first person in the class to reach 60 posts, and I've actually done so prematurely (mainly because I write an average of 5 times a week). So, if I wanted to, I could simply log off of my Blogger account, never touching this page again, and still have my obligation fulfilled.

...But I'm not like that. I'm going to continue this blog past it's required limit, just as I'm going to continue past the demise of the class itself. The DeCal was just a catalyst, something to get me started, but now that I've begun, hoo boy!

In honor of this little (big?) moment, I've decided to do some self research and present some statistics about The Lobotomist's Dream. (Keep in mind that these don't include this post; that would make things needlessly complicated.)

Total Number of Posts: 60
Total Word Count: 50,073 (Keep in mind, this is pure article content only, not included titles, comments, or any of that "Posted by such-and-such" nonsense.)
Average Word Count/Post: 834.55 (Well, that kinda blows the whole "1-a-week-should-be-over-500" out of the water, doncha think?)
Total Number of Pages if Pasted on Word: 141
Day Started: Monday, January 22, 2007
Number of Days Blog has Been in Existance: 82
Average Number of Days/Post: 1.367
Average Word Count/Day: 610.65
Number of Times the Term "Sweaty Fat Man" was Used: 14
Approximate Number of Daily Viewers: 100 - 120
Approximate Number of Daily Commenters: 1-3
Total Number of Comments: 114
Average Number of Comments/Post: 1.9
Most Comments on One Post: 9
Earnings from Google AdSense: $85 $0 (Damn AdSense!)

5 Most-Used Tags (With a Tie for 5th Place):
5. Things I Love (8) - Ironically, I started out with quite a few more "Things I Hate" posts, and so I made the first "Things I Love" post to counteract that. It seems as though the tables have love's favor. (And ladies, I'm single!)
5. Conversations (8) - This was actually added retroactively to some posts when I realized that I use a lot of conversations in my posts. I would go so far as to say it's one of my blog's defining features. So it's in the top five.
4. Ranting (10) - This one actually surprised me a bit. I didn't realize I rant so much. I guess I am just a crotchety old man.
3. Fun (11) - I like to consider myself pretty fun, so that's why this is up here. I hope this doesn't mean, though, that the rest of my posts aren't fun.
2. Life at Cal (15) - Not surprising, seeing as I, after all, do go to Cal.
1. Reflections (19) - Okay, this is one is probably higher than it should be. That's because it's my end-all-be-all category that I attached to a lot of stuff where I thought back on something.

Tags I Only Used Once:
1890s, Blood, Comedy, Family, Fashion, Food, History, Influences, Intelligence, Introduction, Language, LaRouche, Love and Such, Mysteries, Nintendo, Perception, Quotes, Religion, School, Sports, Stars, Weather, Wii

Tags I Only Used Once But Plan to Use Again:
1890s, Family, Influences, Intelligence, Language, Nintendo, Quotes, Religion

Joy I Get From Doing This: Priceless.

There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's Andrew Schnorr.

...Wait, that just sounds dirty.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

On Beards

Let us, you and I, speak about beards, shall we?


Everyone has a running joke; that is, one which they like to come to again and again as the years pass. It doesn't have to be a specific joke, per se, but rather a general idea in which they find humor.

My strongest and most stable running joke, by far, is that of beards.

I'm not sure why. Beards and I are intrinsically related, insofar as we have a antagonistifriendly relationship. Now I know what you're thinking: "Antagonistifriendly? What the hell is he talking about?" Well, let me educate you with the following facets of my relationships to beards.

1. "My own 'beard'": Let me make this perfectly clear (for some reason, I made an ironic typo in which I said "let me make this perfectly beard"): I don't have a beard. I always get annoyed when people say, "Oh, I like your beard," or "Oh, I don't like your beard," or "Oh, how long are you going to grow your beard?" When they say this, my left eye squints, my right eye twitches, and I turn to them with what can only be described as a scowl. "Beard?" say I, "I have no beard! And don't you ever call it that again!"

You see, I have a goatee, not a beard. Think of it as a logic problem from the SATs:
All beards are facial hair. Andrew has facial hair. Andrew has a beard.
Not true, my friend. A good rule of thumb is as follows: if the facial hair on the chin connects to the sideburns, it's a beard. Otherwise, it's some other varient of facial hair. Please refer to this style guide from the early 1900s for more information. As you can see, my variety of facial hair falls best under the category of "Petit Goatee".

So please, do not call my goatee a beard. Thank you.

2. "A Mighty Beard": So that's the extent of the antagonistic part of my antagonistifriendly relationship with the beard. However, there are many things about beards (beards on others, mind you) that I find quite amusing. For example, out of the blue one day, I thought of the phrase "a mighty beard." I'm not sure where it came from, but it's stuck with me ever since, and it always tickles me pink when I think of it. I'm giggling right now, in fact. I can just imagine a couple of grizzled sea captain-like characters talking to each other.
Sea Captain 1: "Arr, Ishmael, look at that bearded lad over there."
Sea Captain 2: "Aye, 'tis a mighty beard."

This is especially funny when I actually do see someone with a mighty beard on campus. Usually these people just turn out to be eccentric, homeless, or some combination of the two, but I still say to myself, "'Tis a mighty beard," and smile.

3. "The Beard Bribe": One of my co-workers at CKC was also my RA last year, and he's one of my closest friends at Cal. His name is Carlos, and he's well known for being a snappy dresser and overall handsome fellow. Here's a picture of him for reference (he's the one in the picture that's neither female nor me). Now, Carlos has a very youthful appearance, but he sometimes goes for many days without shaving. Hence, he occasionally has a bit of a stubble, which begs the question, "What would Carlos be like with a beard?"

Now, Carlos also wants a Nintendo Wii. However, he doesn't really want to shell out the money for one. He was going to get one for his birthday, but his family couldn't find one anywhere (a side effect of its popularity).

This is where I come in. Being the devil incarnate, I made Carlos an offer while simultaneously feeling my teeth sharpen. "Carlosssss," I hissed, "If you were to grow out your beard and keep it until your graduation, I'd happily purchasssse a Nintendo Wii for you." (Keep in mind, I made this offer to him at the beginning of the semester, so he'd have to keep it for months.)

"No," he cried, "That will make me look so old."

"Think about it, my friend. You want to be a teacher. Without the beard, you'll ssssimply be 'Carlossss'. With the beard, however, you'll be 'Misssster Lua'. And you'll have a Wii to boot."

Unfortunately, he didn't bite. I was actually willing to go through with the deal, but his heart wasn't in it, I suppose. Still, I found it funny when I was "comic-izing" a bunch of pictures (something I'll cover in more depth later), and the tricks of light and shadow in a picture of him gave him a kind of goatee. 'Ave a look. Don't worry, he'll cave...someday.

4. "The Bearded Party" : I tend to have a preoccupation with creating unorthodox political parties. I was thinking about creating my own ASUC party called the "Eclipse Party" in which our platform is "Fear, Darkness, and the Wailing of Children" (unlike Student Action, we wouldn't hide our true political intentions.) But as far as the US government, I've always thought the best idea would be the Bearded Party. The Bearded Party is, basically, a political party for people who have facial hair, or wish to have it (to include the ladies). It would be sponsored by the political action committee called the "United Citizens Advancing Bearded People Into Politics, As Well As Mustached People, Though Not As Much As Bearded," or UCABPIPAWAMPTNAMAB (pronounced "Oo-cab-pip-ah-wahmpt-nam-ab").

Here's an sample of one of the Bearded Party's speeches: "Did you know that the last President to have a beard was in 1893, with the last mustached President being in 1913. In fact, the last major candidate to have facial hair was Thomas Dewey in 1948! This is discrimination! This is an outrage! Why, some of our greatest Presidents have had beards! Abraham Lincoln, for one.......yeah!"

The goals of the Bearded Party are simple to the point of frightening: create pro-beard policies and revise history. Yes, revise history. For example, every beardless president will be given a full (if not mighty) beard in all their pictures, and every single battle of the Civil War will be renamed "The Battle of Bearded Hill." The list goes on and on.

However, if we were to ever let a member of the Bearded Party ever make it into the Oval Office, it would all be downhill from there. Which brings us to the grim final piece.

5. "Obey the Beard": I have the vision that if we have a dystopian future, we will not be ruled by aliens or by robots. No, in the future, we will all be ruled by a beard. Not by a man with a beard, mind you, but an individual, sentient beard. In this grim future, all with beards are elevated to a seat of power, while the beardless are punished. I'm in the process of making a series of pics/sounds (similar to that Photoshop contest one) that show this future.

Here's the first: "The Four Rules of Beard" - This is basically pro-beard propaganda, telling you to live, love, honor, and obey the Beard, all while listening to some people talk about the virtues of the beard (the voices, incidentally, are from a fairly bearded episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation).

Here's the second: "The Future Home of the Beardless" - This shows a prison cell where a beardless person goes, with some lovely propaganda posters on the wall ("Do not defy your bearded superiors"). The shakiness of the person is a visualization of their going insane. (Oh, the pictures are from "V for Vendetta" and the sound from "Eternal Darkness," in case you were wondering.)

While, as a middle-class white male, I usually don't find the prospect of dystopian futures disturbing, this one definitely doesn't seem pleasant, even with my ample chin tuft.

Okay, I'll stop there. I think you have a pretty good idea of my relationship with beards, and the kinds of things my running joke entails. It's a pretty fun topic, and I've never fully understood why. But, in case you're wondering, I don't plan on ever, EVER growing a full beard. So don't ask.

Have a bearded day!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

And Things Just Got a Little More Complicated

Every Tuesday night, I go to an RA staff meeting. Most of the year, it's with my current staff. However, yesterday was a little different, as I went to the meeting for next year's staff (that is, the staff I will have when I am in Unit 2). As you may remember, I was not thrilled to go to Unit 2. At all. I'm still not particular thrilled at the prospect, but I decided I can get through it.

So, a few thoughts on the new "crew" and our first meeting:
-I was actually surprised at the large amount of familiar faces. Not only were two of the people from my CKC staff, but a little more than half the staff were returners. So it was nice to know that I'm not going to be working with a bunch of strangers.

-There appears to be an overall good sense of humor in the staff, which actually is an important factor to me.

-We played this "Survivor" game, which is basically where you are stranded in some secluded place (we were in Alaska for this one) with a bunch of materials, but you can only keep a small amount of them for some reason. We had to collectively figure out which 15 materials we could keep. It has one main purpose: making people feel either bad or defensive. This is because it always turns out that a relative few people in the group do the most talking, while the rest of the 28 people go unheard. The facilitators then go on about being fair, including everyone, blah, blah, blah. If this were a real survival situation, those quiet people would have already been eaten at this point, so I don't buy it.

(As it turns out, the other CKC vets and I had played the exact same game before. We each did something different: one tried to bring order by writing on the board, one didn't say anything out loud, and one [me] tried to artificially worsen the situation and make us an even worse-looking group by talking a lot and subtly encouraging the other blabbermouths to do so. 'Course, they didn't know that, hehehe.)

-I found out that one of my coworkers went to St. John Bosco, knew a few of my elementary school classmates, as well as one of my high school classmates before he came to St. Anthony.

-Overall, it seems to be a pretty good group.

However, there was one thing I heard that night that definitely perturbed me. While talking with one of the current RAs, I heard that the hall-style RA rooms didn't have their own bathrooms. This came as somewhat of a surprise, as all of the RA rooms at CKC have their own bathrooms. And, having a desire to switch to hall-style next year, this was a rather unnerving revelation, and it may make me rethink my preference.

Here's the thing: I don't like public restrooms. Especially not in dorms. I'm not sure why. It's very irrational thing, I know, but it's also very real. While I wouldn't call it a phobia, there's definitely some traces of such a thing (though I think "anxiety" is a better term). And being stuck with a communal bathroom means more than just using the bathroom in public. It means the following:
-I have to shower in there.
-I have to brush my teeth in there.
-I have to wash dishes in there.
-I have to get my water from there.

I am literally shuddering right now. It's not something I'm good with. When I first came up to Cal, I wasn't sure if I would have to use a hallway bathroom or not. If I did, I was almost ready to not live in the res halls at all, opting instead for an apartment. That's how serious it is.

Now, I could have thought for sure that there were some non-suite rooms in the units that had their own bathrooms. I would literally be willing to pay to have the RA Door (that is, the one with the little plaque that says "Resident Assistant") switched with the door of this room. Seriously. However, that's pretty much an impossibility.

I hope you don't find me too petty to be concerned over such a matter; it's not petty at all to me. And because of it, I may decide to set my preferences to work in the mini-suites with upper-classmen and transfer students, once again forgoing excited youngsters and the possibility of being thought of as an "older brother" character.

...*Sigh* I'm really torn about this.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

'Shopping Around: A Photoshop Evolution

I recently entered a Photoshop contest on a website, and did pretty well. I enjoy picture editing, and so I thought it would be an interesting opportunity to show how one goes about doing a major Photoshop edit. So, I'm going to show you the progression of my entry, from inception to completion.

(Note: Keep in mind, even though I'm going to be explaining the process, this isn't so much a tutorial as it is a look into how I think when I use Photoshop. For example, I'm not going to tell you what a "layer" is, so if you don't know...well, I guess I probably should tell you. In Photoshop, everything is in layers which go on top of a [usually blank] background. Having separate layers allows you to add and delete pieces to the picture without the fear of making serious mistakes, such as completely painting over some guy's face. You can also use them for positioning [i.e. what goes in front, what goes behind, etc.]. There, you happy now?)

Yes? Good! On we go!

So, here's the original picture (just so you know, you can click on any of these pictures to see them at full size, where you can appreciate the changes the most):

...Yeah, don't ask me. I didn't choose it. It's apparently from some Nickelodeon show, and since I abstain from all non-nightly Nickelodeon, I haven't seen it. However, this is the picture they told us to Photoshop, and so I figured I might as well give it a shot. I love a challenge.

Step 1: Think of an idea.

This was actually the hardest of all the steps, by far. I wanted to do something original and clever, while still keeping in spirit with the original picture. Because one of the characters in this picture is a young girl, some people tried to Photoshop this into a Chris Hansen special. That's a territory I seriously wanted to stay away from, because it's (a) unoriginal and (b) not the kind of thing I do.

So, I was wracking my brain for a long time (in truth, it was about 10 minutes, but it seemed like a long time) trying to figure out my angle. Then, out of the aether from which most ideas emerge, I had a thought. What about some sort of undead-like angle? No one had really tried that before, and I could play a bit on the Pirates of the Carribean popularity.

But zombies, while funny in and of themselves on the internet, needed to be done well if I wanted any recognition for this contest. So, I set off to work.

Step 2: Create basic zombie looks.

This is the most fundamental step, I think, but turned out to be very simple. There were only two tools I used for this:
1. The "Clone Stamp" tool, which basically replicates a particular area wherever you want. I used this to make the pupil-less "blanked eye" look which I think works well for the undead. As it turns out, this is one of my favorite Photoshop tricks, as some of my other pictures will attest to.
2. The "Smudge" tool, which basically functions like you'd think it did: by smudging/smearing a piece of the picture. I used this to manipulate the two smiling characters' mouths, making it look like their faces are cut/rotting. I also used it to a lesser extend with the girl's sleeve, giving it a somewhat torn look.
And here's the result:
Step 3: Eliminate the background.
That light-blue sky with whispy clouds; that's doing nothing for me. And unless I'm trying to be ironic (which I'm not), it's not going to work juxtaposing it with such a horrific foreground. So, let's take it out, shall we? This was a simple job for the "eraser" tool.

Step 4: Add new and improved background.
What innocent part of nature is practically synonymous with evil? Lightning, of course! (Which is in truth quite unfair to lightning; c'mon, people, it's just a large buildup of static electricity. You think it's funny and cute when a balloon makes your hair stand, but when it's in large quantities, it's suddenly the embodiement of all things unholy. Sheesh. But I digress.) So, I did a Google search for lightning, copied the first picture I found, resized it a bit, and pasted it behind the foreground layer.
I particularly like the lightning that appears to be striking the house on the right (with the little flourish and everything). That was completely unintentional, but awesome nonetheless.

Step 5: Give them undead coloring.
Of course, something's been missing. Even though they have the look and background of the walking dead, our heroes have very human coloring. That surely won't do. Let's give them a couple weeks of death more to produce that lovely gangrene look. We do this by creating a new layer (I actually made a new layer for each character, but that's just semantics) and painting over all skin layers with a dark green color. You then change the transparency of this layer so it's no longer opaque. I made my transparency 35%, and ended up with the following.

Step 6: Give sleepy-eyes.
This is very minor (in fact, you probably have to look at both pictures large to see the change), but in my opinion, essential. In order to really clinch the whole zombie look, it is essential to have dark rings around the eyes to give them that sunk-back look. It really makes the difference betwixt "zombie" and "person who fell into a bunch of green dye." It's basically the same deal as the skin; just a new layer with some transparent black paint around the eyes.

Step 7: Add a prop for extra potency.
There's a lot of things I could have done for this one. I could have added actual swords, ships masts, ghosts, what have you. However, I thought to myself, "They pirates, and they're zombies. What do they have in common?" Suddenly, it came to me: cutting off people's heads (or, in a zombie's case, ripping it off). So I did a search for heads (and only heads). This was actually a very difficult search, because I'd either get anatomical drawings, random head-shots, or pictures so grotesque that I wouldn't even think to use them.

Eventually, though, I found a party-store site with a fake "skinned head" that I thought meshed well with the zombie theme. The balloon swords in the picture were going to a terrible waste, so I thought I should take advantage of one by impaling the head on it.

Let's stop here for a second. This was my original vision when I started the process, and I had now reached it. I could submit the piece now. However, when looking at it, I wasn't satisfied. There was something...not quite right about the picture. After a little bit of thinking, I realized the problem. It's too bright! The foreground is still too bright and chipper to really get the point across. It had to be darkened to achieve its full potential. And so, I decided to go ahead and keep editing it.

And now, let's continue where we left of.

Step 8: Darken it up/add rain for atmosphere.
At first I just added a new layer, filled it all with black paint, and lowered the transparency. This worked alright, but it just darkened the picture without really adding anything. So, I tried a little trick to make it appear as though it were raining. Here's how it goes:
-Fill in the layer with a dark gray (pure black doesn't work).
-Use the "Smudge Stick" filter with the settings set to their maximums. This gives the layer diagonal streaks.
-Lower the transparency. This gives the look of a raging storm (particularly with the lightning in the background), and you're left with the following:

Step 9: Make it actually rain.
Once again, I wasn't satisfied with how my final product turned out. It was too...too...motionless. I needed a dynamic element. So, I decided to turn this baby from a JPEG into an animated GIF. I did this by increasing the size of the "rain" layer (which actually made it look slightly more realistic) and, using Adobe ImageReady, made 5 frames of animation, in each of which I moved the rain slightly. The result is the following.
Amazing what a little motion will do, eh?

Step 10: Add lightning.
Rain is all fine and good, but if you really want to give the appearance of a storm, what better way than with our evil misunderstood friend lightning. So, I basically duplicated the animation frames a bunch, and then added a few white screens here and there. Not too complicated, really.

Step 11: Add sound and finish it up!
One of the interesting things about the site on which the contest was is the fact that you are allowed/required to add sound. This can really make or break your entry. Luckily, I caught a break. I had previously created a music loop using the song "The Kraken" from Hans Zimmer's Pirates of the Carribean 2 soundtrack. Actually, I only used a small piece from the end of the song, as it loops almost flawlessly. However, up until this point, I have not found a use for that clip. I thought this would be the perfect picture to match it with.

And so, with all that put together, I submitted my entry for the Photoshop contest, in what I entitled "They've Caught the Curse!!!" As they say, "Tada!"

Well, I hope you've enjoyed this look at my Photoshopping. I also hope that you've learned how managable it can be; what may appear to be a complex edit is really just a series of simple edits, with the idea being the hardest part. My entry turned out to be the highest-rated (and most consistently highly-rated) in the contest, as well as the most-viewed. I'd definitely consider that a success under any circumstance, even though it didn't win. And I hope you all at least try some photo-editing one of these days, be it with Photoshop or some other program (and don't worry if you don't have much experience; everything I know, I learned by experimentation and a Google search here and there). It's a challenge, it's fun, and you might just find that you have a knack for it.

Happy 'shopping!

Monday, April 9, 2007

Mini-Blogs, Set Three

Conversations on Advertising

Me: "Wow, that was the most awesome commercial ever."
Co-Worker: "Wait? How is that like a mini-mall?"
Me: "It's probably as close as a furniture store can get to being like a mini-mall."
Co-Worker: "But a mini-mall needs more than one store, doesn't it?"
Me: "Well, being a flea market is kind of like having multiple stores."
Co-Worker: "But how is even like a flea market? It's not a flea market at all."
Me: "...Well, that's irrelevant. The fact of the matter is, it's a memorable ad."
Co-Worker: "But does it make you want to shop at this place."
Me: "Not only does it make me want to shop there, but when I have a daughter, I will offer her hand in marriage to the owner."
Co-Worker: "Won't he be a little old by then?"
Me: "Yeah, but with advertising like this, he's sure to be loaded by that time."

Google & Me
You may notice that I no longer have any AdSense ads up any more. This is because Google kicked me from their service. I pressed them as to the reason, and they told me it was due to this post, because in it, I say the following:
"Take a look around some time at the ads on here. Some of the actual websites can be pretty funny to look at (just don't sign up for them). And whenever you do click on something to laugh at, I get a few cents in my pocket."
And this, in and of itself, breaks the terms of service (I can't tell people to click on ads). I told them that I'd take the whole post down and never make mention of it again if they'd be forgiving. Unfortunately, that didn't appease our Google overlords. And so, I was no longer welcome at AdSense. (I still think that the real reason is because I made fun of their ads, but whatever). So, I decided to take off my ads, since their not doing anything for you me.

Still, when I received a postcard from AdSense (postmarked while we were still on good terms), I got a little teary-eyed.

Google & Me, Part 2
Let it never be said that I hold grudges. I'm currently using another Google application (which I'm sure is run by a completely different part of their company, away from those AdSense folks) called Google Analytics. This is a really interesting/useful tool, and if you use Blogger, it's really easy to add to your blog. Basically, if nothing else, it tells you the following things:
-Visits and page views on a daily basis.
-Percentage of visits by new and returning users.
-The relative locations of your visitors (I find this the most interesting).
-Percentage of visits from various sources.

After having this a few days, I can say the following things:
-Wow, very few people comment (relatively). I have about 120 unique visitors on a day, and very little of that translates into comments. I guess you people like to stay silent (by the way, I can only account for inviting about half of those visitors, so if I've never met you, hi!).

-I have visitors from all over the world! My biggest hot spots are Oakland (meaning Berkeley), Los Angeles, Long Beach, and...Schaumburg? I guess those are my Chicago relatives. I also think I know who's coming from Santiago Chile. The two most interesting places I've seen are Ojala, in what seems to be Sweden, and the delightfully-named Chungbuk, in what I first thought was Vietnam, but turns out to be South Korea (once again proving my ineptitude with geography and navigation).

-It's fun splitting up pie charts into pieces!

A Rose by Any Other Name...
I think they just mulched or manured the plants by my back door. And that sucks, because I need that door open to keep cool. .....My God, does it reek!

And Just Because
Here's a cool online Spirograph-like thing. It's especially fun to watch it work while listening to this music. Almost hypnotic.