Friday, March 25, 2005

gadzooks! toons, extemporaneous fan mail and all that jazz

The death anniversary today was most enjoyable. Having reveled since daybreak and continuing to revel now well after nightfall, I've grown giddy without horns emerging from the skull or an appendage sprouting from the tailbone. It never ceases to amaze me the euphoric stupor hours spent watching television can cause. The first round of amusement came from rebroadcast '90s science shows where scientists plead for the credibility of concepts now considered obvious; there is sinister, megalomaniacal humor in watching top-rated physicists reduced to uttering 'multiverse' with great hesitation, akin to watching Dr. Evil finger quote 'laser'. The second round of amusement came from flash toons, which I consider part of television despite not requiring a television set per se, one of which contains Mario and Luigi in coarsely pixilated form reenacting battles with Gumbas and Bowser in a masterfully choreographed spoof.[1] With a remix of nostalgic nintendo music perfecting the ambiance, even alcohol, were it present, could not add to the ecstasy. Ah, yes; may there be more days reserved for ecclesiastical solidarity. Cake, anyone?[2]

Credit for today's fruitfulness needs to also go towards my mother, without whose nagging at sun rise to make a deposit at the bank, fetch two packets of screws from Waterworks, and buy a gallon of milk, I would have woken up at dinnertime. Wasn't I supposed to find my own apartment after moving back to Connecticut last June?

Ehem. So, anyways; while other rounds of amusement occurred, such as viewing Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, their details elude me in my state of euphoria. One facet I do recall is my surprising, recent leaning toward things Indian. Below is the email I spontaneously wrote to a professor at Penn State regarding his rather popularly reproduced compilation of evidences[3] attacking the Aryan Invasion Theory, a theory of India's past initially purported by colonial powers and later glorified by the Third Reich:
Prof. Dinesh Agrawal,

I was surprised and delighted to see your consolidation of evidences many other scholars had espoused piecemeal, none individually denting the scholastic machinery that has made the hypothesis of an Aryan invasion of India a ubiquitous fact.

Although it was a reproduction of your 1995 soc.religion.hindu newsgroup mailing, I just recently read it. Having earlier read of excavations and other findings of significance in chronicling the history of ancient India, I long ago concluded that the position of supporting Aryan invasion of India having had happened was untenable; yet, I have seen and am continuing to see a growing adoption of this occidental view in general American education as India becomes a growing interest to the world. I have reservations and mixed feelings towards the transition, from where India is not taught about at all, to where it is taught under a vintage, hesperian lens.

Even among those I know were educated in India, to whom the weaknesses in AIT have been explained in Indian education, some shrug at their learnings as being nationalistic or unduly saffronized, while others, adamant about their xenogenic Aryan or indigenous Dravidian ethnicity, indulge in cliquish behavior under the faulty premise. Such baneful perceptions are reminders of the era we live in, birthed by lingering effects of colonialism and an attempt at discovering self-identity under globalization in which the West is inarguably the leader.

My questions to you are, what steps are being taken to correct historical inaccuracies; which governing bodies are providing the brief excerpts about India's history, ostensibly factual to the believing reader, that have managed their way into countless textbooks and governmental pamphlets; and why are universities, many of which have 'veritas' somewhere in their motto, dismissing the pursuit of truth on the grounds of lack of interest or by alluding that AIT opposition must be a special-interest group akin to evolution doubters attempting to overturn science with specious zealotry?

After watching insurmountable evidence contrarian to AIT be diligently gathered, verified by peers, and reported on by those in the scientific community devoting serious thought and time to Indian history, I am nonplussed at the general education system's insistence on republishing as the authority on Indian history the resources authored by those having put in the least thought and the least time. Only at the higher echelons of education, where being uncritical is a liability, is AIT successfully challenged. What is your view on this?

(My Name)

Yes, I rather love emailing strangers my prattle on obscure topics. I was amazed when I received Prof. Dinesh's quick reply, the content of which I won't publish without his consent, partly due to netiquette, and partly because there undoubtedly is some law requiring I obtain consent. In line with my recent attraction to Indianness, I found, an amusing blogpository (my coinage) of a half dozen Indian American bloggers with comedic reflections on life as it relates to Desis.

Oh, to the one person who reads this without my prodding, apologies for not posting a blog for nearly two weeks.

2005-04-06 15:34 Update — Drats, blogpository already coined! Cursed elund steals my coinage by developing a time-machine to travel back to 2003:

12-03-2003, 12:18 PM
Blogging has been going on for decades. I think it's hilarious that once somebody attached a funny sounding name to the activity that it suddenly became popular.

I don't have a blog, but I have nothing against them. Blogs come in different forms. Some are platforms for pundits and industry critics, some are really .plan files, some are online diaries, and some act as news aggregators, regurgitating or deep linking to new things on the web. Most have a little bit of each. Slashdot is sort of a public repository blog when you think of about it. A blogpository, if you will.

Blogging gives you a vehicle for adding freeform site content. If you don't have a blog, everything you add to your site needs a purpose. But if you have a blog, just blather away, opine on the business or other sites, or talk about your day. Don't have any news? Mention somebody else's news. It's easy, quick, up-to-date "content." If you find a way to be interesting, it's a good way to get regular visitors to your site.

On the negative side, making a successful blog requires -- besides interesting things to say -- commitment. With the exception of joke blog sites like Gabriel's dullest blog in the world, it takes daily or at least weekly effort to keep a blog updated. Like many team game development projects, it's easy to lose steam and fall apart. It's hard to garner new blog visitors when they see yours is updated infrequently, no matter how interesting your posts are.

Blogging can take less blatant forms, too. On my website I have a news box where I can post what's going on at Gearhand Studios. If I wanted to, I could update this every day. I don't, because I'm just pretty sure I couldn't say something interesting and topical every day. At least not in it's current format. It's definitely worth thinking more about.

quotted from indiegamer
google cache also available.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

hackneyed and lackluster musings of an interviewer, part II

In my previous animadversions concerning grades, I complained about how positive correlation between classroom scores and future achievement is waning, and I opined that standardized scores would benefit interviewers and mitigate nonsensical school grading. Only fittingly, the efficacy of contemporary standardized exams needs to be critiqued.

Standardized exams truly and dutifully bear the responsibility to provide a metric on which students can be compared, thereby giving institutions insight on applicants' relative success in the future. In theory, the purpose of any exam is to emulate "the ideal exam", a formally defined concept. In reality, however, avarice adulterates the specification. To understand how existing exams are flawed, let us first understand the ideal.

Mathematically, the ideal exam is represented as an exam E for some success predicate S where, for all pairings (A,B) such that A scores higher on E than does B, then A does better at S than does B. Obviously, when E=S, we have a trivial solution of prediction. The commercial value of E exists only when the results for E can be attained long before the results for S are realized. Such augury comes at the cost of accuracy. An imperfect E can only try to maximize the percentage of its better-worse pairings (A,B) which satisfy the condition that A does better at S than B. When the percentage is over 50%, then we say E positively correlates with S. Since a random set would have 50% of the pairings satisfying the relative-success criteria, E must have a positive correlation significantly above 50% to avoid being dismissed as a joke.

Generally, any university aims to admit students who will excel at the curriculum provided by the university. To aid this endeavor, standardized tests like the SAT try to provide positive correlation with doing well in an undergraduate curriculum. Yet, certain universities, feeling behooved to reanalyze their past students in an attempt to improve the selection process, quantitavely discovered that the SAT correlates more poorly than ACT, AP exams, and other standardized scoring means in predicting undergraduate performance. For quite some time it had been popular for schools to simultaneously accept ACT or SAT, but the growing futility of the SAT goaded the powerful University of California system to almost abandon the SAT altogether.[1] At the risk of losing the patronage of Berkeley, UCLA, and others in the UC system, and for fear such a UC decision would cascade to Texas and New England, ETS has dangerously pulled a prototype exam away from scrutiny and is today recasting it as the new SAT.

Having taken the SAT II subject tests MathIIC, Writing, and Chemistry, I do feel that ETS is correct in principle to strengthen the SAT with the essay portion of the Writing exam and the slightly more difficult math questions from the MathIIC exam. However, the triviality of each question and the pressures of time make the premise of the SAT as irremediably meaningless as a thousand-question examination of single-digit addition problems. Speed at so automatable a task can hardly correlate with any professional success.[2] The AP exams - also overseen by ETS - ask fewer, more arduous questions and are akin to undergraduate finals. Why will ETS not follow their own standards for crafting AP exams when they ponder on the SAT standard? Profits, perhaps. Despite ETS being a nonprofit organization, they have US$153mil in their coffers,[3] mostly from the inexpensive to manufacture SAT exams with comparatively high test-taking fees. Moreover, modeling the SAT after the costlier AP exams would necessitate fees many would consider exorbitant,[4] and would therefore shoo ETS customers to rival test makers. While the problem can be remedied by pledging to operate on a wafer-thin profit margin, ETS is unlikely to be as charitable as its tax-exempt status stipulates it be. It is a pity such pecuniary aspects plague academia so.

Special Mention: The inspiration for this blog, and most of the facts and figures, come from an NPR article by Bob Schaeffer, SAT: A Cynical Marketing Ploy. In NPR's defense, despite Schaeffer's harrowing tale of the deleterious effects of the SAT, there are numerous NPR stories giddily espousing the exam and its new format.[5]

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Egads! Spurious Dickens, Spackled Cars, and Feckless Me

I stumbled upon a great stash of opinion articles last night. Thank you Maud Newton for your blog on Giles Coren's groundbreaking revealments about Dickens on, without which I would not have found Chris Ayres' taxonomy of Beverly Hills - which tries to be about overpriced cookies in Los Angeles, a rambling segue into the Michael Jackson trial. To those with illusions of internet efficiency, please be aware that is apparently powered by avian transport, so I would encourage getting some coffee while the poor postal pigeon meanders its way to the nearest telegraph-equipped outpost.

Excepting the opinion articles, yesterday was a rather unholy culmination of the weather's malignancy towards my innocent car and my own saturnine wallowing. Pampered by garages at home and at work, I thought little noticing out my window the pretty early morning downfall of powdery snow. Now I see how vile and stygian that snow really is! My subconscious cleverly had repressed memories of studying in Troy, NY and my daily sufferings there at carving my car out from a block of ice itself buried in a mound of snow. My even now thawing hands cannot believe that the garage's annexation by plumbing widgets menacingly laid there would lead to my driving today in a hovering igloo with circular windows dug out.

Enough about New Englanders' banal plights; what of my saturnine wallowing? I had lost a check, a rather sizable one, equal to a few months worth of salary. Convinced I merely misplaced it, I ransacked the house, studied every pocket in my coat like a tailor, and gave my igloo car so thorough an examination the TSA's rectal search would seem scant. When the realization it may truly be lost dawned, I tried to distract myself with work, food, and online opinion articles, all to no avail. After having slept the troubled night of a fugitive, a denouement of sorts occurred this morning. I mustered the courage to overcome embarrassment, phoning the issuer and requesting my sought-after check be cancelled and a new one be issued. Relaxed at having overcome such trepidation, I noticed a moment after hanging up that beneath a few stacks of office stationary was slid askew an envelope containing, yes, my sought-after check. I redialed and ignominiously cancelled my cancellation. Ugh; I'm a scatterbrained moron.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

NPR? I am not addicted to Faberge Eggs!

Some days I really miss the little things I grew accustomed to when living in California. Today was one such day. After the first month of scanning radio stations in Connecticut, I gave up trying to find NPR. Several months ensued and I found being a menace on the highway with my cell phone was a reasonable alternative to silence. Today, I found NPR on AM 820, faintly suffocated by another station in the morning and rendered unintelligible by two or three other stations in the evening. Only King Tantalus can empathize with the feeling of seeing such delicious fruit so close without ever being able to taste it. Although I wished I had never found AM 820 while I struggled to keep sane under the hisses, crackles, and divergent music phasing in and out, the onset of madness did jolt my memory enough to remember a colleague of mine at Oracle who would listen to NPR through! Duh, why was I unable to realize this months ago?!

Before the wrong ideas circulate based on my incessant pining over NPR, bear in mind that NPR is an FM station with the crispest, clearest reception imaginable across the entire SF Bay Area, and that its local franchise, KQED, broadcasts three to four television stations as well. You can perhaps see how weaning away from something that sacrosanct and integral to everyday life can be traumatizing. I admit NY Times' op-eds by Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd ameliorated the otherwise harsh life without NPR, but the attempts of columnists always lack the vigor and buoyancy of a live debate. Bill Maher's Real-Time on HBO was another saving grace, albeit during half a year and even then only weekly. Notwithstanding the alternatives, I am overjoyed at the new prospect of reacquainting myself with NPR.

P.S. addiction to Faberge Eggs is not a laughing matter; it afflicts many people annually, depleting their monetary capital, devastating their ability to sustain relationships with family and friends, and causing early onset of gingivitis.[1] To help those whose lives have been thusly distraught, please send donations to my Cayman islands account[2] and I will see that it reaches those who truly need it.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Beyond the Impropriety of Ward Churchill

The now infamous Professor Ward Churchill may not have been in his element when he described the slain financiers of the World Trade Center as genocidal middlemen, as Adolf Eichmanns of a freemarkets system of amoral efficiency. Despite Churchill's impropriety and lapses in tact, his arguments appeal to those of us weary of ignorance and complacency in an era of mass-produced sorrow.

Cogs in the wheel, most of us are feckless, mired in mundane livelihoods. Our collective departure from agrarian lifestyle, arguably the greatest monument to civilization, gave rise to a flurry of thinkers and buttressed an era of accomplishments; in spite of this, we are knowingly degenerating to days of hunters and gatherers, days when free time ceases to exist.

Lessons from Churchill teach how ignorance of one's evil deeds does not equate to innocence. Just as the judiciary pities very little the reckless driver who, with no intent to harm, slaughters a man, morality should pity very little those who, without evil intent, do evil. Certainly, the crime without intent is lesser, but the criminal is never innocent. Blissfully ignorant of extraordinary renditions, society abidingly supports the machinery to torture. Innocent? We are not, and we mustn't pretend to be.

Like criminal law and its perennial amendments, morality serves a particular purpose and we must accordingly redefine morality to serve more greatly its purpose. While laws govern the tactics of our welfare, our immediate needs for safety, morals govern the strategy of our welfare, our needs to live through the next millennium.

So long as we are content, believing we are journeying on the moral high-ground, our small peon-scaled atrocities can be overlooked, thereby giving free reign for our collective atrocities to engulf any hopes for the long-term viability of our civilization. Therefore, with the strategy of civilization's longevity in mind, it is imperative to redefine morality. Ever-increasing population will only further exacerbate the need to fundamentally feel guilt over our minor infractions. Our only recourse is to guide ourselves to the Gandhian philosophy where we must be the change we wish to see in the world.

Readdressing Churchill, we indeed need to view those complacent in their crimes as guilty, as well as ourselves; even if we are not the hammer to bludgeon the skull of a defenselessly quivering man, we cannot feel innocent filing the paperwork approving the action. To adjudicate our own lives' actions, we must set aside time in our day for consulting a new, contemporary, moral compass. With greater time spent reflecting, we may shed myopia and its cohort ignorance;[1] hopefully, an expanded awareness and culpability will prescribe the good actions we should take. The alternative is to decay into darkness.

2005-03-08 03:10 Update — U.Colorado struck with curse: NY Times 2005.03.07 (registration required, yada yada).

One can only marvel at how the nation's ill-willed mutterings skipped past teflon Churchill and onto president Elizabeth Hoffman for an unrelated sex and alcohol scandal involving recruitment policies of jocks.

Cheers to Churchill despite his inopportunely having had shedded his reticence. Condolences on being forced to step down, Liz.

Friday, March 04, 2005

hackneyed and lackluster musings of an interviewer

Bell-curves are not fractals; yet, educators thrust bell-curves on classes consisting purposely of individuals chosen for scholastic achievement! The upper end of the curve is elongated, skewed, and forced into fitting the ideal with the same intelligence of an idiot kid jamming shapes into wrong holes. I would typically pity such a kid, and the plight of his or her parents for ceaselessly having to replace cracked plastic toys. At least the educator has to wait a year before a replacement.

Were the formulated grades not inane enough, they are summed and divided across uneven classes, arising at a meaningless gpa. How embarrassing it is when grade-point darlings fail even the most rudimentary questions! Perhaps these darlings need two separate scores, one encompassing their tactics at ephemeral memorization, another spanning true knowledge.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

the menu is, monkey brains

I'm livid with embarrassment over the state of education in this country. No, John T. Gatto is of no use; that half-bake and his neologisms and coinage deserve their place on the funny-farm. I won't even touch the morose subject of the degeneration of secularism in education. The decline of scholastic achievements among youth is saved for a day when I've a ready box of antacid. Something succinct and more pertinent to imminent catastrophe catches my attention. The utter and replete dilution of any and all schools of thought will definitely percolate up until society stagnates, or worse, implodes.

Pop-culture has always been pervasive, a concept absolutely unsurprising and uneventfully invariable. The notion raising eyebrows is its new floral-colored, pixie-powered permeability of inescapable range. Since the days of hermits, societies have offered great respect and aegis to their brethren at the cusp of hamlets. No longer do engrossing troglodytes receive enthralled visitors' kisses at the feet; it's truly for the better; a single improperly inhaled toe hair can asphyxiate a weary, gasping, traveler. Supplanting the hairy toe man, satchel-wearing academes now reign as the new defense against a rising deluge of groupthink. At least, I thought so.

The next generation of erudite insulation fillers for the cold vacuous halls of academia disappoints. Not yet weaned from sensationalist drivel, these men and women are about as iconoclastic as Janet Jackson with her lesson in anatomy.[1] Worse, with hyper-specialization only a step away from creating the first human-sized transistor, none of these matriculated lads 'n lassies has any clue on his or her position on anything of significance. "We shouldn't form opinions. It's best to assume all possibilities are valid." - fine; then, at least have the opinion that people shouldn't form opinions. Something worth causing a brouhaha needs to spring from college campuses before the next Galileo not waiting for any church gouges his own eye out for seeing things, thereby scoring a possible interview with E!.

Agreed, there are innumerable subcultures and self-described counterculture groups littered about urban dwellings. Most, however, believe indoctrination is remedied with Ayn Rand peeking out of their backpack, body piercings, and a philosophical outlook about as dangerous as a house pet named Rover. Elsewhere, our neighbors still reeling from "The War of Northern Aggression"[2] turn gay marriages and stem cell research into contentious topics. Oi vey! When the only opposition comes from the same people who still consider evolution contentious, I have serious reservations. However, I recused myself from the topic of declining secularism. At the moment, my quibbles are with the mass communication infrastructure, partly mechanized, partly electrified, and completely stupefied. The monolithic culture of apathy and acquiescence spreads on the internet like plaque on the teeth of a hershey-bar junkie. While I personally love the idea of cultural diffusion, I abhor homogeneity. The new library of the world has pages and sentences from various books interleaved. Goldie Locks, where’s your glass slipper?

Rarefied by the cruelties of numbers, critical thinkers have always required the pressure and density of a school or university to crystallize.[3] I don’t see that crystallization happening anymore; they come in a potato, go out serving french fries. In today’s pervasive soup de jour, how will even a professor not smell like an onion? Float! Float my little nematode! Float until you’ve something to latch onto!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

priestcraft, a pious ode

Adult children kneel before you in scores, awaiting you, a master raconteur who serves sweetened thousand year old stories. None resist these delicious tales, salted with reactionary principles, peppered with donation-box chicaneries.

O, your humility knows no bounds; first we are made a plaintive lot, then your philanthropy saves us from our dismay. Your predilection for our salvation keeps us in your edacious embrace, shielded from recreants and their infectiously latitudinarian ways.

You offer such elegant sophistry, simplifying the multifarious thinking one otherwise needs. One hardly could reproduce such a spectacularly specious feat.

O, how greatly you enamor your flock, professing the virtues of moderation on gilded podiums, abstinence under the sanguine light of stained-glass windows, and the teachings of an ascetic in such a meretriciously preternatural an abode.

You have no need for red piping, your white suffices; your machinations are the envy of cabals the world over.