Sunday, September 7, 2008

Desert island

I'm taking Music 100 to satisfy a Fine Arts core requirement. I wasn't expecting much. On the first day of the class, the professor asked everyone to name one album they would take with them if they were trapped on a desert island, and the answers were, well, embarrassing. I wrote down the names of the bands that were mentioned.

  • Dave Matthews
  • Linkin Park
  • Rise Against
  • "Death metal
  • Pearl Jam
  • "Musical soundtracks
  • Maroon 5
  • "Guitar Hero III"
  • Lamb of God
  • Jack Johnson
  • The Eagles
  • "A mix CD" (that's cheating)
  • Prodigy
  • Jack Johnson (again)
  • Lil' Wayne
  • Jack Johnson (again again)
  • 'N Sync
  • Spamalot soundtrack
  • Across the Universe soundtrack
  • Dave Matthews (again)
  • Across the Universes soundtrack (again)


In the class's defense, there were a couple people who named Radiohead, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and a few other notables, including one kid who dropped Daft Punk's Alive 2007 and instantly became my new best friend. The professor chose The Beatles' "The White Album."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Shine a light

Making things green and sustainable is usually an expensive process, but in some cases, the price of technology is dropping so quickly that it’s actually more cost-effective. LEDs are a good example.

I was an intern at the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation a couple summers ago, and one of the projects they undertook was replacing the incandescent bulbs of their streetlights with LED bulbs. (For some reason, the state parks system owns streetlights in Boston.) Even with the cost of installation and new materials, the agency’s electricity bill was reduced so dramatically that it made a return on its investment within the year.

There are other advantages to LEDs. For one, they last longer, which cuts down on the manpower and time to replace burnt out bulbs. Also, LEDs burn out slowly rather than going out completely, which is much safer when used in traffic lights.

Why isn’t every city doing this?

Currently, New York is testing LEDs, and even considering a redesign of the pole.'s Bits blog has a good summary of the advantages:

Not only will the city reduce its power usage 25 to 30 percent, but the bulbs will last 50,000 to 70,000 hours. Today’s sodium lamps are rated at 24,000 hours, which means at that point half of them are dead. The L.E.D. life rating actually means that the bulb will drop below 70 percent of its original brightness after 50,000 hours or so.

Some critics complain that LEDs don’t have the warm glow of an incandescent bulb. Whatever. It still might be a few years until LEDs become inexpensive enough to light our homes, but in the meantime, there’s no reason they shouldn’t light our streets.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Blackberry vs. iPhone, in the office

Ars Technica, my favorite tech-related news source, ran a sharp piece by Don Reisinger titled "How RIM Can Stop the iPhone Onslaught." The headline is on the emphatic side, but the point is clear: will businesses swap their Blackberrys for iPhones?

People who know me recognize my affinity for Apple products, but it’s not an allegiance. I just think that in many areas Apple makes the best tech goods. But here, I think RIM is positioned to make the better smartphone for businesses.

Apple’s main, built-in audience is consumers of personal electronics. They’ve captured that market pretty handily (people are still trying to make "iPod killers"), and expansion into enterprise is a new but inevitable step. The recent introduction of enterprise-focused features on the iPhone, namely interfacing with Microsoft Exchange, shows that Steve Jobs is edging into RIM’s market.

But unlike the iPhone, the Blackberry isn’t designed to be fun. It’s designed to be serious.

I think RIM has potential to better satisfy enterprise needs, and not just because it uses a physical QWERTY keyboard (though that’s important too). Every model of the Blackberry is geared specifically for businesses, which allows the experience to remain (excuse the pun) strictly business.

If RIM keeps their products focused, it’ll force consumers to answer a single question when they go smartphone shopping: business or pleasure?

This will drive a hard wedge into Apple’s ability to penetrate the enterprise market.

What Reisinger understands is that while RIM has several key advantages – physical keyboard, battery life, carrier independence – future versions of the Blackberry will have to innovate to keep up with the iPhone. American companies often create a winning product and sit on it for years. Tech companies are notorious for letting their breadwinners go obsolete (cough, Palm Pilot).

Reisinger’s best suggestion is for RIM to open a competing App Store. It’ll be hard to beat Apple’s software user experience, especially with iTunes integration, but I don’t think it’s asking too much to offer a worthy rival.

Hopefully, RIM doesn’t innovate in the wrong direction either. Matching Apple’s "fun" features toe to toe, RIM doesn’t stand a chance and, even worse, will worsen the user experience in places where the Blackberry already succeeds. (Another common misstep: more features means better product.)

I think the Blackberry is still at a huge advantage in the workplace. It’s got a QWERTY keyboard (not as sexy as touchscreen typing, but far more efficient), a loyal base of customers (Crackberry addicts), and most importantly, an association with business itself. As popular as the iPhone is for the college-aged, I see as many students with new Blackberrys, usually in the hands of business majors and other kids "serious" about their career.

Admittedly, I’ve spent more time with the iPhone than the Blackberry, but really, that says more about me than the smartphones.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A fear of Spanish

In yesterday’s New York Times, Sam Roberts wrote a piece titled "In a Generation, Minorities May Be the U.S. Majority." Nothing grabs people’s attention like the threat of foreign invasion.

The Census Bureau projects that by 2050, there will be more non-whites in the U.S. than whites. The cause is not an increase in immigrants, but higher birth rates among immigrants.

For some reason, this drives people crazy. Personally, I don’t believe that the average American is too racist to deal with a non-white majority. (This could be true though; I’m just giving people the benefit of the doubt.) Instead, I think they’re just afraid that Spanish will become the official language of the United States.

And really, who wants to learn a foreign language?

Of course, I doubt the U.S. will ever be a Spanish-dominated country. Sure, you can push the number 2 on your touch-tone phone for a Spanish menu, but this is an accommodation, not a linguistic takeover. Everybody calm down.

This prediction by the Census Bureau supports my point. We’ll see an increase in immigrant births rather than aliens. Minorities born, raised, and educated in the United States learn English. They want to and, more importantly, have to. This should be compelling reason to naturalize immigrants and give them a fair place in our school system.

Somewhat ironically, the same folks who fear the immigrant population most are also the same people attempting to limit their upward mobility. Much of it has to do with the way articles like this are phrased, which I can’t stand. Even by these projections, whites will still make up 46% of the country, with the Hispanic population at 30%. I think it’s misleading to lump all minorities into a single category, because what that’s really saying is "non-whites will outnumber whites."

God forbid!

That, to me, is the most compelling evidence that people are still very uncomfortable with a little ethnic diversity.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I'm just saying there are similarities

Anyway, Sex Drive looks mediocre, but could be fun. Here's the trailer.

Monday, August 11, 2008

What Facebook teaches me about language

I learned the difference between the words "quote" and "quotation" last night. As it turns out, quote should be used solely as a verb, while quotation is a noun. So you couldn’t have a Kanye West quote, but you could quote him. More specifics here.

This is one of those common misusages that has now become accepted, similar to the way octopi is now an acceptable plural for octopus.

I noticed this only because Facebook changed the Favorite Quotes field in their user profiles to Favorite Quotations. This reveals that I either have an eye for detail or just spend too much time on Facebook.

Still, I think Facebook reveals some discussion-worthy issues with the English language.

Another problem the site has confronted is the grammatical person. The issue stems from users who don’t define their gender, which forces the Mini-Feed to report, "Sally Shapiro posted new photos in their album Drunk Party Photos Part 10." This is grammatically incorrect. Even though "they" is gender-neutral, usage is strictly for the plural third person, not singular. Wikipedia documents the trouble in full. The right way would be to say, "Sally Shapiro posted new photos in his/her album," but of course, this looks silly.

Recently, I had a long, nerdy conversation about the development of language and the need for a singular third-person pronoun, even if that meant inventing one. Some writers, most notably Steven Levitt of the Freakonomics blog, default to "she" rather than "he/she." It’s not a bad alternative, but I think we can come up with a better answer. We also have to consider the movement of people who don’t want to specify a gender.

Anyway, back to Facebook. The site has over 80 million users worldwide, and if Zuckerberg and Co. implemented a new singular third-person pronoun – and it really doesn’t matter what that word is – they could have a hand in the way the English language evolves. It's hard to deny that the internet won't have a major effect on how we write and speak in the future.

Hopefully it’s the influence of Facebook rather than this site.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Emails from the (somewhat) famous

I have, on occasion, sent email to moderately famous people. I know, it sounds a bit like writing letters to a movie star.

Last week, I sent an email to The New York Times personal tech columnist David Pogue detailing my experiences with Cuil. Pogue is a great writer known for his good-natured, dorky sense of humor. I figured that the story would amuse him. He replied:

David Pogue
Tech Columnist, The New York Times

He’s probably the kind of guy who responds to all of his email.

Earlier this semester, my International Political Economy professor said that Robert Gilpin established the hegemonic stability theory and invented the Peanut M&M. This fact tickled me--maybe I couldn’t decide which achievement was greater--so I sent him an email for confirmation.

I understand that Raymond Vernon, associated until his death some years ago with Harvard University, was the originator. RGG

I didn’t have the heart to tell my prof that he was wrong.

In high school, I took an Intro to Psychology class that I loathed. My teacher mainly used a video lecture series by Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist best known for the Stanford Prison Experiment. His videos were pretty tacky, and since I was in high school, I thought it would be hilarious to send him an email. My sarcasm-drenched message “complimented” Zimbardo’s lectures and talked about the textbook we were using in class.

His response:

thanks for your supportive note
Makes me glad I did that series

Regards to your teacher

But your teacher should be using one of my textbooks which are both great
Psychology and Life, 17th ed, Allyn & Bacon Pub
Core Concepts in Psychology, 5th ed. Allyn & Bacon.
Phil Zimbardo

I bet Stanley Milgram would never be arrogant enough to recommend his own textbooks.