Category Archives: University

A (Not So) Brief Interlude

A Poor Apology (Read: Excuses)

So… I’ve been gone.  For two months.  Or three.  Though I think it’s been four since I was last updating regularly.  And that’s a bit depressing. But what can I say?  School is far from easy.  Learning new programming languages is time consuming.  As is reading Shakespeare, making statistics, performing discrete math (for those who don’t know, don’t ask), and trying to pass American politics without going to class.  All of that in addition to working part-time as a physical liaison in my university library’s IT department.  Yeah, I’ve been a busy bee.

 

Recap (Read: The Last Three Months, Abridged)

Tom had a job.  Probably still has a job.  He works at the Gelman library fixing computers for patrons and staff members.  His responsibilities also include a bunch of other weird tech things, but the official title is Student Staff Technician.

Tom still has a girlfriend.  Some might find that genuinely surprising. He’s spent most of the last two weeks there.

Tom is in California.  That’s where he lives.  It has been in the seventies for most of his stay and he will be more than depressed to return to blood-freezing temperatures.

Tom is surviving his education.  He is a computer science student at the George Washington University and has something like a 3.4 GPA.  If only he was actually learning things…

 

Another New Direction (Aren’t you loving these?)

So at first this was a whatever blog.  It contained whatever was on my mind and I attempted to write about it to the best of my ability.  I tried to make it openly accessible, no inside-jokes or dreadfully boring personal recounts.

Then it became a media blog with a heavy film focus.  I wrote about a considerable number of films from 2011 and some of the news that was leaked before the films reached theaters.

Now, (insert suspenseful music), it will sort of go back to the former.  It will be whatever I think is cool, but I’ll try to keep it to things that the public has access to: open buildings and spaces, stores, products, media, etc.  Stories will be kept to brief anecdotes because the world loves hearing about how I nearly die and yet remain out of a hospital.

 

To The Future

Let’s see if there’s anything new tomorrow.

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What the hell is going on upon The Hill?

For those of you who don’t know, I go to school in Washington, DC.  I’m a student of the GWU School of Engineering and Applied Science, currently studying computer science.  Often, the first question I’m asked after saying this is, ‘why are you at GW again?’  Well, I was originally a political science major (poli sci [not poly sci, people who write it that way are stupid]).  I took a few courses and, while I passed them all with satisfactory marks, I didn’t have the same level of enthusiasm as some of my peers.  So I started thinking about changing majors, but then I remembered that I wanted to rule the free world.  So I looked into partisan politics at my school.  And I realised that people are stupid.  No, not like the regular kind of stupid where I’m waiting behind somebody who doesn’t know how to use an ATM, I’m talking really stupid.  Finally getting to the point, this stupidity has caused me to write the following post:

For the last week or so, if you live in America, you heard people screaming about how the federal government was going to shut down due to the inability for Congress to authorize a budget.  Apparently there were demands from the Right, which were sent to the Left, who revised the demands and sent it back to the Right, who added more exclamation points and sent it back to the Left… and this went on forever.  Until something like five days ago.  Then everybody got more upset because of a stipulation that all budget proposals must sit for three days before being voted on or something.  So eventually we hit this three-day mark and an agreement wasn’t met so THE WHOLE COUNTRY WAS GOING TO BURN AND IT WALL ALL THE LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT-RIGHT-UP-UP-DOWN-DOWN-LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT-RIGHT-B-A-TEABAGGERS’ FAULT!!!  Well, that’s what it sounded like…nes11joy

See, I distanced myself leagues away from this issue.  That’s not to say that I didn’t know something was happening.  No, when my facebook and twitter feeds started exploding with libellous messages about political parties I hadn’t heard of, I figured that something was going on.  So I did what any GW student wanting to stay informed does, I went to the wendys-frostycafeteria and ate Wendy’s.  And while I was devouring a delicious FrostyTM , I watched one of the 14 flat screens playing CNN.  (This is more or less how I got the first half of the previous paragraph.)  Back to the distancing though, it’s easy to say that I’m lazy.  And I do say it, a lot, because I’m lazy and it’s easy (see how that works?).  But when it comes to this issue, it was more a matter of intelligence.  Not only did I realize that being indignant and/or in favour of either side would do nothing to bring about a resolution, unlike many of my peers, I also realised something else: that everybody is stupid and the politicians are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.  (Okay, that second part needs some clarification, but I’ll elaborate on the whole thing in the next few paragraphs.)

Magician Let’s start with “people are stupid”.  Done.  Next thing… Okay, fine, I’ll elaborate upon my obtuse invective. (I’m torn right now because I wanted to make a joke about stupid people and triangles, but I realised they never would have made it this far.  Damn my logical brain.)  In all honesty*, my issue with partisan politics, without devolving into the ‘they’re all hacks’ kind of argument, is that they’re (for the most part, some may be true statesmen) something between lawyers, conmen, and magicians.  (Some people would argue that I’ve basically listed the same thing three times.  They are grossly similar…)  And people trust them with a theoretical** amount of money.  That’s why people are stupid when they begin complaining.

Now for the more exciting part, why they’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.  I feel that using the word “supposed” may have been misleading as most people believe that Congress is supposed to be improving the country, not having pathetic squabbles that may force people to look for alternative work during a furlough.  However, they’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing as politicians (conmen, lawyers, and magicians).  Simply put, they maintain these charades to build up a rapport with their constituents.  By not settling for the minimum cuts proposed by Democrats, the Republicans can maintain the message that they’re spendthrift and devoted to cutting the deficit.  Likewise, by not agreeing to all the cuts proposed by Republicans, the Democrats will continue to say that they have America’s best interests at heart and are maintaining necessary services for American citizens. 

For the most part though, all of the cuts and programs, it’s pointless.  Individual members of congress will only jump at porkbarreling (“minor” additions to bills that provide funding for things in their hometown to win over district voters) and major, publicized issues that they’ll be able to stand behind later.  In fact, that’s why this is going on.  By not passing a budget, for which the difference between the two parties’ proposals is merely a drop in the ocean at this point, they’ve managed to gain a ridiculous amount of publicity.  This same publicity is what they’ll use to influence voters next year when they’ll claim to have fought for the programs you deserve or that they’re true to getting the country out of a financial hole.  Either way, regardless of what side you’re on, your still profiting from this “disaster”. 

BUT TOM, IF THEY DON’T PASS A BUDGET, THE CONGRESS PEOPLE DON’T GET PAID!!!  WHY WOULD THEY DO SOMETHING THAT KEEPS THEM FROM GETTING THEIR OWN PAYCHECKS?!?!?!  Thanks for asking, concerned reader.  Well, it really doesn’t make a difference to them.  While the salary is certainly… important, to congress (who actually sets their own salaries…) it’s not a huge issue.  These aren’t people who live paycheck-to-paycheck and they know that they’ll have a budget long before they even begin thinking about low balances. 

So that’s why the craziness in the media and among my peers is stupid.  But wait, here’s the kicker.  A resolution, (not an official budget, but an agreement to continue paying people until a budget is passed (or September, whichever comes first), was passed last night.  For the most part, it was highly in favour of the Republicans.  So, by looking at the state of government-sponsored programs or their spending records, it seems that the Republicans won.  And that’s true, they definitely won a larger victory here, especially so if imagesyou’re Boehner (who probably looks something akin to the messiah right now).  However, from a rhetorical/focused-on-being-re-elected standpoint, both sides won.  Republicans have proved themselves to their constituents, and, as long as they didn’t vote in favour of the initial proposals, Democrats can blame the effects on a Republican majority in the House and wanting to make sure that hard-working people got paid.

In the end, the real person who lost was you (American citizens, if you’re an international reader… I’m honestly surprised that you read this).  You were lied to, convincingly, and have probably been manipulated by media coverage and politicians to continue to further their agenda.  But who am I kidding, right?  If you watch a politically-charged news outlet and actually know who your congressmen are, you’re probably going to vote for them again unless they seriously change their platform to whatever you despise.  So, all of this was pretty much moot.  But if you’re not old enough to vote, don’t vote, or are actually moderate, well, think about it.

 

*Mini-tangent: I once learned that saying this is often an attempt at reinforcing a false statement because the person saying it doesn’t believe that it will be accepted.  Ergo, upon hearing this, one should question the veracity of the statement. 

**I say “theoretical” because, as the congressmen and women discuss it, it’s merely figures in a document.  I also use “theoretical” because they can determine virtually any amount they please. 

Biopower (In)Action

I will admit that when I first read the word “biopower”, my mind immediately envisioned a scene similar to the Matrix as the camera pans across the sea of pods that the machines use to harness the power of humanity.  Now, upon discovering the meaning and applications of this term, I can say that it’s roughly the metaphoric equivalent of the aforementioned scene.

Biopower, to the uninitiated, is the practice of outsourcing development of a product to its user-base.  It was a term popularized by the French, social historian, Michel Foucault.  By his account, it is the harnessing of “life itself”.  Essentially, it is the greatest thing to ever happen commercially, socially, and in virtually every other field.baguette1

So far, you know that it means ‘making people do stuff’ and that is has some relation to a French guy.  Let’s get specific.  How about an example?  What does Tom love?  Halo.  So, for those Halo players out there, you’ll get this.  For everybody else, I’ll now shove Bungie’s holy grail down through your retinas.  Halo Reach comes with an updated version of an older feature called Forge, designed to allow users to modify their gameplay according to the built-in physics engine.  Through Forge, users can design their own maps for multiplayer use and, in the most extreme cases, create entirely new games.   An excellent example and application of forcing the Forge engine to it’s maximum, is Rooster Teeth’s Achievement Horse

Now that the Great Bungie Gods have been appeased, I can betray them and tell you why they included this feature:  Because it makes them immortal.  (Insert god-like sound effects)  This probably needs some explanation.  As I see it, there are four levels of game-life based off the type of game:Halo-_Reach_box_art

1.  Casual game – Tetris

2.  Storyboard game – Mario (let’s say Super Mario Bros.)

3.  Multiplayer game – Halo 2

4.  Open theatre game – Halo Reach/Minecraft/Sims

By the odd nature of human beings, those in the first category seem to explode in popularity and last forever.  However, due to the casual nature of the game (tautology fail), they’re often priced lowly (Angry Birds is $0.99, Halo Reach is $59.99).  Those in the second category are often dependent upon the franchise to determine how long the game will remain popular.  Despite this, their lives’ are inherently finite.  The third category routinely extends extends the life of those in the second category as it provides a further outlet for users that have completed and/or grown bored with the story.

But the focus of this piece is the games that fall into the fourth category.  These games have the ability to exist indefinitely, constantly upgraded by the users who enjoy them.  Realistically, they’ll be made obsolete by future versions of games in the same franchise or eventually be rendered unplayable as the consoles fall into disrepair. 

But the biopower feature has a greater effect than immortalizing a game.  In fact, that’s a terrible thing.  Game developers don’t want to build a game that people will purchase one copy of, they want to develop a game that explodes in purchases and that attaches customers to their franchise. 

So what benefit (spoilers: it’s economic), does this type of game provide for the developers?  It allows them to cut corners on design.  Okay, that’s not exactly fair.  It allows them to spend less time writing code for specific objects, layouts, etc.  By outsourcing design to the users, developers not only gain a creative base that shares their creations, they’re also able to produce the game faster and cut costs that would normally go to graphics design and writers. 

Case in point, Minecraft.  A game that has recently exploded in popularity, I can honestly say that I haven’t seen graphics that poor in almost a decade.  But does it matter?  No, not in the least.  Why?  Because people don’t care.  They don’t want to be able to see every blade of grass because it would destroy them.  This game awakens the obsessive-compulsive sectors that normally lie dormant within the general population.  And it drives mortal men to madness.  Well, maybe not madness necessarily, but it certainly opens a portal for a single man to entrap himself within his own dominion.  It does what Blizzard still can’t manage:  It mentally enslaves a single person. 

cthulhu spriteWhy am I telling you this?  Do I secretly hate Minecraft?  Am I sick of Bungie profiting off its customers?  Have I finally gone insane?!?  No.  I just think it’s a really interesting concept.  Selling a product that isn’t actually a product.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  It’s closer to selling the videogame equivalent of a colour-by-numbers drawing.  No, that analogy isn’t close enough.  Hmmm…  Okay, it’s the videogame version of a box of Legos.  You can construct virtually anything you can think of, but you’re limited by the amount of Legos you have and whether or not the object you have in mind utilizes non-Euclidian geometry. 

Well, that’s all for now.  For anybody who’s interested in learning more about this and the amazing economics of videogames, I would recommend reading Nick Dyer’s Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games.  (Biopower Play, the inspiration for this article, is chapter 5)

Starbucks: The Confession

After ripping on a cup and, to some degree, the company, I’ve decided that I should come out of the closet.  I am… a Starbucks addict.  Yes, though it pains me to say it, I don’t think I could function without my morning Sugar-Free Hazelnut Venti Americano.  If memory serves, and I’ve not had one today, it’s three shots of espresso with a couple pumps of sugar-free syrup, and the remainder of the cup is filled with hot water.  Altogether, it’s about the same strength of the drip coffee, but Starbucks drip coffee is kind of miserable. 

I purchase one of these drinks every morning from Monday to Thursday from the Starbucks under Gelman Library.  This Starbucks has one person to take your drink order, either one or two people on the registers, and three people serving drinks.  Now, being at the centre of a university, it’s fairly busy in the morning…and the afternoon…and the evening.  While I can often walk in and only three or four people will be in line ahead of me, there are mornings where the queue will be fifteen to twenty deep.  It’s not abnormal for me to stand in line for fifteen minutes before waiting five minutes for my drink to be made.  And for that reason, there have been several instances in which I’ve skipped my history lecture to get my coffee because I’m a zombie in java due to the inability of my school shuttle to travel five miles in twenty minutes. 

The worst part of being an addict of the most-bashed coffee corporation in history, and shopping in the bipolar Starbucks-of-doom, and missing classes to support a physiological need for caffeine, is that I don’t actually mind it.  I enjoy popping in to the Starbucks, smelling brewed coffee (which I refuse to order unless I’m going to drink more than six cups), and occasionally purchasing a muffin.  It’s pleasant and detracts from my usual routine of running between buildings and eating only because I know I won’t have another chance to eat for anywhere between five and seven hours. 

And for those who despise Starbucks like fundamentalist Christians despise Charles Darwin, these aren’t excuses.  I enjoy the feel of the a coffee shop.  I enjoy the smells and the sounds and not interacting with the people.  I applaud Starbucks for creating the most ubiquitous coffee shop on the planet.  And while I was disappointed that the Trenta is only available for cold drinks (I’d love four shots of espresso instead of three), I’ll continue to purchase my order until somebody legalizes the intravenous drip.

America: Love it or Leave it!

I love that phrase.  And not for the right reasons.  While I like to think that I’m a patriot, or at least not a domestic terrorist, the line is simply ridiculous.  As fate loves to put me in creative situations (read: random happenstances in which my creativity is invoked during periods when I obviously have something to do), I received a sheet of paper from a TA with a list of logical fallacies.  It’s a fairly standard list containing the same fallacies I was taught in high school, but it had examples that were fun to giggle at.  And, to my glee, it included the line above.  According to the sheet, this is an example of false dilemma, notably the limiting of an issue to two solutions when more exist.  But you know what?  I believe in transparency.  And, as an American, I enjoy options.  So, I present the following to be read in this form: (issue:solution)

Issue: America

Solutions:

  • Love it.
  • Leave it.
  • Ignore it.
  • Have mild qualms about it.
  • Think about it constantly.
  • Think about it inconsistently.
  • Have mixed feelings about it.
  • Feel the need to force your opinion of it onto others.
  • Paint a picture of it.
  • Hate it.
  • Drive across it.
  • Eat on it.
  • Fly to it.
  • Eat in it.
  • Eat away from it.
  • Dirty it.
  • Fly away from it.
  • Clean it.
  • Confuse it.
  • Lie to it.
  • Fly over it.
  • Swim to it.
  • Die in it.
  • Kill for it.
  • Practice medicine in it.
  • Suffer a malpractice suit in it because you’re not actually a surgeon.
  • Wear a suit in it.
  • Lose your coat in it.
  • Export a stolen car from it.
  • Go to jail for ten years after being convicted of GTA in it.
  • Experience it’s prison system.
  • Launder money though it.
  • Make billions and pay taxes in it.
  • Forget that you live in it until the IRS audits you.
  • Attempt to live off-the-grid and realize it’s impossible within it.
  • Invent a weapon that you can mass-market to its citizens.
  • Take pride in knowing that, despite the global opinion of being an evil glutton, everybody wants to be like you.
  • Take a history course on it.
  • Realize that during WWII, it also had internment camps.
  • Remember that it once segregated people by the amount of melanin their body produced.
  • Accept that it has done grotesque things to the English language.
  • Wonder why it measures things by the pound, foot, and liquid ounce.
  • Read a book in it.
  • Fly its flag.
  • Burn its flag.
  • Fly its burning flag.
  • Pretend it’s Canada.
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