April 30, 2003

Choose your own post

What kind of post are you looking for here? I've got a selection for you to choose from. Read whatever suits your fancy.

Anecdotal, vaguely political
It appears I will soon be trading in my current car for a newer, better one (at the Mom and Dad car dealership. Motto: "You couldn't beat our price, mathematically speaking, unless WE paid YOU"). Step one in this process is inquiring about changes in insuance rates.

Massachusetts auto insurance is "regulated," which is to say that insurance companies decide how much profit they want to make, and then the state sets the premiums at that level (and, of course, requires you to buy it). Nice work, if you can get it.

I currently own a little green 1988 Mercedes 190D. Very little monetary value, it's a safe car and runs well, just not practical to own a diesel in New England. Insurance rates are ~$1100/year. My proposed new car is a 1998 Honda CR-V. Only 60k miles and it's in pristine condition. Worth more than my current car by, literally, an order of magnitude. Insurance rates: ~$800/year. How could my current car (1/10th the value of the new car) be more expensive to insure?

Actual quote from the insurance guy, who was also flabbergasted by this result: "If you try to use logic to figure out these rates, you'll find it doesn't work. You just have to take their word for it."

So let me see if I understand. The state requires us to insure our vehicles, and then provides a system for pricing that insurance that is, for all intents and purposes, completely arbitrary. This seems fair.

Meta
I'm still learning the blog world, and the whole rhubarb going on over at K's house is so interesting. I won't summarize, but I'll ask the question: Is it ok to criticize someone in the comments box (if you do it nicely and reasonably, not like that jerk Appalled)?

Philosophical
That whole rhubarb reminded me about a question I've had for some time. The thing that troubles me more than anything else, politically speaking, is how little real conversation there is between liberals and conservatives. I bet that everyone who reads this blog is at least a social liberal, if not an economic and political one as well. Even in my meatspace life, I have very little contact with those who don't think like me.

This strikes me as a problem. I'm troubled when I see people who have obviously been philosophically isolated, like the indestructible Rick Santorum, and yet, I'm similarly isolated. Anyone know of any conservative blogs that I can try to infiltrate?

*Extra credit: If you're a conservative and use the comment box to criticize my critique of auto insurance pricing, you will receive a gold star.

Posted by bpadams at 01:06 PM | Comments (7)

April 29, 2003

Grinding to a halt

The day from hell draws
to a merciful close. I
accomplished nothing.

Wait. When resting head
on desk, accidentally
depressed the space bar.

The result of my
seven hour day of work:
One zillion spaces.

From the bleeding edge
Of robot research ("Japan"),
some MPEGs to see.

Man and Robot shove,
then bow, then hug each other.
This can't be progress.

(Warning: These movies
are likely to bore the shit
out of you. Sorry.)

Robot and man, fighting (big fat 7 meg mpeg)

Robot and man, bowing, hugging (even bigger, fatter 17 meg mpeg)

Posted by bpadams at 06:01 PM | Comments (3)

Breakdown

I am a mess.

I agreed long ago to donate platelets at 8am this morning. I decided, long ago, that I wanted to be on the list for marrow donation, and donating platelets three times is the easiest way to do that. Today was the third and final appointment, although I'm still not sure I understand exactly what they do. I tried reading the brochure about it the first time I went, but it was filled with word-parts like "-pheresis" and "-coagulate", which didn't help. My understanding is that they take a whole bunch of blood out of your body, pick through it for the good stuff, and then leave you with whatever they don't want. Sort of like eating trail mix with my dad.

Anyway, I showed up this morning for my appointment already feeling tired from the early morning experiments on supra-audial frequency resonance in my room. Not looking good. My brain was also operating at well below maximum speed. See, my homunculus has taken leave, and all I'm left with is a collection of Incompetent Middle Managers (IMMs). I also haven't shaved in over a week in a pathetic and unsuccessful attempt to hide a small cold sore on my mouth.

"Are you in good health?" Marie asks. She's the nurse who'll be stabbing me today. I say yes, although she's skeptical on the basis of visual evidence. The IMM in charge of my right arm decides to try to give her a rousing, sailor-like fist-pump, but my half-heartedness makes it seem more like a twitch, or perhaps a dirty gesture. Marie graciously pretends not to see. The IMM circulates a memo suggesting a temporary ban on any further attempts at gesture.

After I've satisfied her that I haven't done anything to taint my blood like having sex with a man for money or visiting England, she leads me back to the beds and starts to prepare the needles. For me, this is the worst part, because I know that she's about to say, "This will feel like a little pinch," which, in the medical community, means, "This will feel like I'm goring you with a bic pen." She can see that I'm about to poop my khakis in anticipation, and tries to alleviate the tension with small talk.

"You saw the marathon?" she asks, looking at my marathon 2002 t-shirt.

"No, I ran it!" I say. She smiles and looks at me with the same face you would give a 5-year-old who tells you that he fixed his daddy's car. I clearly don't look capable of running down the street. An upper level IMM notices Marie's look and dispatches a few flunkies to check the veracity of this improbable claim. The flunkies give him a dirty look and step outside for a smoke.

Once I've been pierced, the real fun begins. My resting pulse is low -- she measured 58 after I walked in -- so unless I keep my blood pumping, the blood-sucking machine becomes dissatisfied and beeps, causing a nurse to come over and irritatedly ask me if I'm still squeezing the plush novelty they stuck in my right hand. I learned after my first donation that the only way to combat this is to flex all the muscles in my body at regular intervals. Unfortunately, this makes it look like I'm sort of making out with myself under the cheap little blanket they give to keep warm.

And this problem is compounded by the fact that Marie is new. I ask her if I can look at the little readout on the blood-sucking machine so I can see if my wiggling is enough to satisfy it, but she refuses. What is that thing going to say that I can't see?

SUBJECT APPEARS TO BE A CORPSE. REMOVE ALL BODILY FLUIDS? [Y/n]

Anyhow, without my little readout to monitor, I'm lost. I try to stay active, wiggling around like a worm on a hook, but I get tired and slow down. The machine beeps angrily. Marie isn't sure what to do. She calls over another nurse, who implores me (again) to squeeze the doll mouse. I say I'll try, and squeeze the mouse demonstrably to indicate my compliance. No luck. It beeps again, and now the head nurse comes over with some intern-looking woman. All appear concerned, but are trying to keep me calm.

"Did you see the marathon?" asks the intern girl, indicating my shirt.

"I actually ran it in 2002!" I croak. Several IMMs have sided with Marie on this issue and scoff openly. "That's how I got this shirt," I say out loud, despite the fact that it was actually bought for me by my friend who ran it with me. Several IMMs pounce on this as a blatant lie, and point out that the flunkies never came back with any memories of running the marathon. I am a fraud.

The nurse committee decides to slow the blood-sucking down, and I respond gratefully by redoubling my wiggling efforts. After another half hour, the machine indicates a completed operation (was that a belch?), and Marie comes over.

I'm writhing, pitiful and earnest, bags under my eyes and 6-day beard on my chin. I'm sweating from exertion and the stuffiness of the room. Marie takes the pens out of my arms and gets me some OJ.

"Are you going to make it out of here ok?" she asks. I say that I think I will, but then I remember the lies I told about marathoning. She holds my hand as she walks me to the door. She offers me a cab, but I refuse and stagger off into the sun.

Now I'm back at work, and I already feel like I've worked an entire day. It's only 11:30? Are you serious? Can we get a flunkie to check this out?

Posted by bpadams at 11:45 AM | Comments (7)

Pros, cons, and frats

We're still early in our relationship, you and me. We still get all dressed up for our dates, and I'm still spending a lot of time worrying about having stuff in my teeth. We're trying to "keep the mystery alive." And I respect that, I really do. But sometimes, you just have to pee with the door open. So let me 'fess up to something here.

I live in a fraternity.

During my undergrad days, I was a frat guy. Moved in after 3 days at MIT and lived there every day untill graduation (minus one summer). And it was a great experience -- I learned a lot, met some swell people, and sure, there were some okay parties. I would definitely do it over again the same way.

Then after graduation, I moved out to Somerville. Somerville's nice. Quiet. There's free parking along the scrawny-tree lined street. My place, with one roommate, was well-kept, and there was plenty of room for both of us. I was no more than a 25-minute walk from work. The rent, including utilities, was about 65% of my net monthy pay as a grad student.

Which is why, when I was contacted about being a Resident Advisor (RA) at an MIT fraternity, I gave it some consideration. Yes, it's noisy, and yes, the fraternities tend to be cramped and dirty, and yes, the liability is laugh-out-loud ridiculous. But these are impressionable youths! I've made my way through the MIT maze, and perhaps I can pass that knowledge along to the next generation and, in so doing, give a little something back to the community that gave me so much. Also: I like money.

See, as an RA, you live for free. MIT pays your rent for an individual room at the house, and you get access to all the same stuff the undergrads do: 3 meals a day prepared by the chef, a parking place right behind the house, internet and phone, laundry, etc. Your Job is pretty simple: be available for the kids, take an interest in what they're doing, and advise them when they start to veer into trouble ("I think that keg-stand is probably a bad idea."). You don't have to police them, and you aren't technically responsible, so it's relatively low stress.

Except times like this. Tonight, a bunch of buttheads decided, at 4:30a, to start up a pool game, which, of course, must be accompanied by loud, loud music. And bass. Oh, the wonders of bass! Makes every pool game complete. Unfortunately, it's all right above my room (I live in the basement), and so any item in my room with the right frequency response -- my curtain rods, the legs on my work table, something inside my monitor -- vibrates just a little with the corresponding notes in the bass line. And so, here I am, awake and unable to shut my room, or my brain, off.

So, like, if you're in Boston and want to come to a totally rockin' party, I gotcha covered. If you want to sleep afterwards, you should probably look into the hotel down the street.

Posted by bpadams at 05:16 AM | Comments (3)

April 28, 2003

Honest

One of the really great things about being me is the email. Not the email from people who actually know me -- those emails tend to include phrases like, "Where's my money?" or "I have a computer problem..." or "You smell."

No, the email that I truly cherish is the email that was intended to go to that "other" Bryan Adams. You know, him. Like this one, which, cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle, etc., I received this morning.

From: "kristina khimichouk" (snip)
Subject: hi
To: bpadams@ai.mit.edu
Date: Mon, 28 Apr 2003 16:14:20 +0400

HIBRIAN!!!HERE I AM . this is me ---Kristina from Ukraine. I am sixsty .

I like to listen your music very much, because it charges me with a great energy and give me a big pleasure for all day! Do you believe me that it becomes so easy on my soul and I feel myself like in paradise, when I listen your music !?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Best of all in the music world I like your songs! I want you be my penfriend. I want you be my pen friend. I KNOW THAT YOU WOULDN íT ANSWER TO ME. Please sand for me your photo!

With big love, KRISTINA.

How am I supposed to answer this?

Posted by bpadams at 09:40 AM | Comments (11)

April 27, 2003

All I want to do is to thank you

Even though I don't know who you are.
You who found my blog page,
By searching for "Bryan Adams" blog.
Whoever you are ...

Posted by bpadams at 11:34 PM | Comments (4)

Sheep? Or goat?

George W. Bush said that he would ask himself, "What would Jesus do?" before any serious decision.

And yet, you can't swing your arms without banging into a news story like this. The EITC is a tremendous boost for people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. The community center where I volunteer always has a big poster and flyers making sure that their clients are aware of the EITC and how to use it. This new style of enforcement will at best raise the cost of using it and at worst, screw people out of using a legitimate piece of the tax code.

I wonder if W. has read this parable. And I wonder if he'd have the gall to ask Jesus for a birth certificate.

Posted by bpadams at 12:28 PM | Comments (3)

April 25, 2003

Knock, and it shall be opened

I was going to write about how depressing the news is, or how bummed I am that it's going to rain this weekend, or how much I disliked "Knockaround Guys," which I watched last night. But, aw jeez, it's Friday. There must be something good out there that's blog-worthy?

So let me tell you about the most interesting thing that's happened at work in some time.

Our lab is currently in a transition period -- we spent the last 7 or so years gulping down a whole pitcher of funding, but now we've finished, wiped our mouth on our collective sleeve, and started the process of smiling at strangers who look like the might buy the next round. And, sure enough, an old friend has offered to keep the party going ... but with a catch.

We can have money if we can get a robot to go through a closed door.

This probably strikes you as totally weak. Robots can't go through doors? Well ... uh ... not if they're closed, not technically, no. The dirty little truth about robots c. 2003 is that they can't (really) do much that involves intentionally changing their environment. Sure, you can get a robot to, say, vacuum a room , or mow the lawn, but that's mostly just a stupid program that drives around without hitting things and has a vacuum cleaner or lawn mower hitched to it's ass. Hardly the stuff of R2D2 legend. Remember when he saved Luke from the trash compactor with that little probe thing? That was so cool.

Anyway, our job is to make some progress on that front, and we're being given some neat toys to start with. Specifically, we're getting a modified version of the Segway, one that's been designed to have a robot built on top. We've also already built a whole slew of vision programs for robots that look around. Up 'til now, though, our robots only had to ... I dunno, look cute, wave, whatever. They've never actually had to do anything. (Yes, yes, sort of like grad student).

Now, it's time to apply some mettle to metal. We need to write some programs and build some sort of contraption that will allow a Segway to roll up to a random door, find the door knob/handle, open it (push or pull), and roll through. Do it, and the funding money will come pouring out of the tap in a cold, frothy stream. Fail, and start looking for a job fixing VCRs.

Will it work? Will we pull together to create a robot that raises the bar for autonomous manipulation everywhere? Or will we be forced to look to a corporate sponsor who will make us turn awful tricks so that we can perform unsatisfying "research" on plush toys? Will we ...

Hey! Where are you going? Aren't you interested? Aw nuts ... lost another one.

Posted by bpadams at 12:35 PM | Comments (8)

April 24, 2003

USA Today Sucks

This is probably what I get for having USA Today Editorials on my yahoo page ... but I ran across this quote today in an editorial favoring tax cuts:

"Currently, dividends are taxed as corporate income to businesses that pay them, and then as personal income to individual shareholders receiving the dividends ... [O]f course, it is fundamentally unfair to tax the same income twice."

Of course! It's unfair! Except for the fact that EVERY SINGLE DOLLAR that passes through my hands is taxed twice, first as income tax, then as sales tax. I mean, Jesus, I don't know diddly-poo about money and even I know that.

And even then, the "double taxation" that he describes isn't double taxation on a person (the corporation is taxed once and then the people taxed once), it's a double taxation on the money! This guy is actually advocating for the fair treatment of currency.

But hey, I suppose I do take the feelings of my money for granted. In addition to being taxed twice, my money has to spend all day sitting in my sweaty wallet, getting bent into that ugly tri-fold-against-my-ass shape. In the spirit of public service, I'm going to take the $6 out of my wallet, lay it on my desk, and talk nicely to it before I spend it on lunch.

Posted by bpadams at 11:48 AM | Comments (3)

Blog weak

I've completed a week of blogging. No, thank you, but hold your applause until the end.

I'm filled with questions:


  • How do you find the time? I won't say this is my least productive week ever, but let's just say that, in the code-vs-blog battle, my code is like aragorn and legolas and all those pantywaists with the arrows, whereas my blog is like a thousand thousand steaming orcs.

  • What's the deal with links? I've linked some, unlinked others, rearranged the list, etc. Frankly, it seems like a social hazzard. When can I take someone off? When can I put someone on? And isn't moving people up and down just a little, you know, "if you like me, check this box"?

  • How good should my posts be? Should they be not-funny in a lame way, like the Ebert post? Should they be written in one draft, like the previous post? Should they totally suck despite lengthy revision, like the post on dads? Should I go back and rate them based on how many comments they generate? Speaking of which ...

  • How many comments should I make on your blogs? Lots of times, I read something you guys write and I think (get ready, this is eight years of post-secondary education here), "Huh." That's it. "Huh." (Well, sometimes when it's Matt, I think, "Pff"). Then I think, "Jesus, I need a really good comment for THAT." So I minimize the window and leave it sitting in my taskbar, messing up my whole task-bar-system, until I can think of something. Meanwhile, orcs have blown a hole in my wall and are rushing around my brain and steaming up my glasses.

I'm filled with many more questions (how long should a post be?), but I fear this post is already too long. I heartily welcome answers to these questions, if only because the large comment number will validate my feelings.

You may now applaud. Really. Go right ahead. Start ... now.

Posted by bpadams at 09:34 AM | Comments (10)

April 23, 2003

Bits and bobs

Three signs that it's time to go home.

1. I had stopped going to the sandwich store down the street because I had made "friends" with the sandwich shop guy, and he always kept me there for a lengthy chat when I just wanted to pick up a sandwich and run back. The "Uncle Leo" of sandwich guys. So I stopped going. For seriously, about a year and a half.

Until recently -- I was craving their chicken parm sub. So I went back. And for the first few trips, I managed to avoid the guy. Until today. I walk in, literally having not seen him since I began my personal boycott, and he says, "Bryan! I thought you'd left for good!" and proceeds to go on a lengthy diatribe about the new CS building down the street. Sometimes, it's not so good to be remembered.

2. My officemate is trying to finish his PhD thesis. He's now given to looking up from his pile of crap and spouting of non-sequitors. As his mentee and officemate, I'm compelled to respond. This is getting increasingly difficult. Today: "It's amazing to me how all learning theory is framed in the language of constraint -- it's like all meaning must exist in the context of a larger, but finite, space of possibilities." Uh huh. My thoughts exactly.

3. The fact that this guy is a United States Senator blows my mind. Has he gone off the deep end, or are there people out there who really want someone like him making laws?

"The idea is that the state doesn't have rights to limit individuals' wants and passions. I disagree with that." -- Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.

Should we start the clock on his backpedaling, phony-bologna, "what I meant to say was ..." spin campaign?

Posted by bpadams at 07:57 PM | Comments (4)

Why I'm a bad grad student

This paper is sent to me as something of interest.

Good grad student: This paper implies that neural development stems in large part from a genetically pre-determined connection map.

Me: Hey! A paper about "eye of newt"! Hee hee!

Posted by bpadams at 02:36 PM | Comments (3)

Poppa was a rolling stone

I spent my Tuesday night at a bar talking about, of all things, dads.

Without destroying this post with exposition, I was having a conversation with two sisters about their father (with whom I just had dinner and spent a few days). They both perceived him as distant and uninvolved; the kind of dad who made sure there was food on the table and could help with homework, but not a lot of hugs and tea parties. No deep scars; they recognize (and appreciate) that he probably did the best he could. They're also both smart enough to realize that their father is probably the way he is because his father was sort of distant and academic. So he parented in the only way he ever really knew. What can you do?

Except ... my dad's dad was probably the white version of that guy. Worked for years as a machinist, loved sports and beer. The two stories that jump to mind are him 1.) turning to my dad and saying, "What the hell do you think you're doing?" after my 16-year-old dad, trying to take an exit and failing, drove the family car onto a highway median and 2.) after bonking heads with my dad while both were trying to look at an engine, asking my ever-trusting pop to turn around and then immediately booting him in the ass. He drank beer at the bar in his basement with his buddies and lived for the fishing trips they'd all take in the summers. Give this guy three ambitious daughters and you probably get similar results.

And yet my dad broke the chain. Not just because he forewent many occasions where I richly deserved a turn-around-ass-booting, but also in the sense that he knew what toys my sisters liked to play with. He went to countless dance recitals, plays, musicals, and band concerts (not all for his daughters, mind you) and actually liked them. He stomached a son who buttoned his shirt all the way to the top well into high school. The poor guy even had to put up with a son who took voice lessons and shrieked Italian arias in the dining room on Friday afternoons when other sons were suiting up to play football.

Thinking about all this, I slowly realized that all you had to do was turn a few knobs on my dad, and he could have very easily been the jock dad who treats his son more like a hot prospect. Or turn a few knobs on these sisters' dad, and he's pouring tea for Jem dolls. Who knows?

I'm not sure what to make of all this. Except to say that my mother would be so mad if she knew I blogged about my dad first.

Posted by bpadams at 11:56 AM | Comments (12)

April 22, 2003

Irritating

One thing that's nice about blogs is that they prevent you from reading the news.

For example, it appears that Illinois State Senator Mattie Hunter has finally decided to stop the avalanche of madness from Chicago sports fans. See, there have been 2 incidents in the last year of sports fans, frustrated by life or something, charging onto the field to punch out a coach or an umpire or whatever.

These fans are idiots. And they deserve whatever they have coming to them. But ... a bill? Really? After 2 incidents? For the Chicago White Sox? Is that the most important thing to be focusing on here? Illinois has a million folks looking for subsidized housing and 230,000 units.

Three guys run out onto a baseball field in a year and the state of Illinois creates a bill to address the problem. More than 750,000 folks are in need of subsidized housing that doesn't exist ... shouldn't that correspond to roughly 250,000 bills?

Bah. What can you do except organize your CDs, heat up a french bread pizza, watch a chick flick, and bitch at all the lame-o's out there.

Posted by bpadams at 03:31 PM | Comments (5)

Obsession Confession

It's probably about time I 'fess up.

My name is Bryan, and I'm an Ebert-holic.

It all started innocently enough: I was performing my very first job here at the lab, a job which involved a long wait while my computer performed an extensive computation. Tweak parameters, sit for 20 minutes, GOTO Tweak. One can only read the sports pages for so long, and since it was 1997, blogging wasn't around yet. Looking back now, I can see that my idle hands were about to be used by the devil.

I don't even remember how I stumbled onto Ebert's search page, but I do remember looking up reviews for all the movies I could remember seeing. Reading his words, I felt a rush that I had never experienced before. I laughed out loud at my desk. I read unfamiliar words which I had to look up. I pieced together a basic knowledge of film theory. In no time at all, I was hooked.

A few-reviews-a-day habit quickly escalated into an all-morning-wasting problem. I was staying up late at night to read reviews of movies I hadn't even seen. I would see a link to a review I hadn't read, and I HAD TO READ IT RIGHT NOW. I would bring up a page, gorge myself, and then slouch back in my chair, spent. Friday mornings were binge days: new reviews were published around 6:45a. I would set my alarm, open my eyes, reach out of bed for my laptop, and read up before I even got out of bed. It was an illness.

Like many in my position, it took that final horrifying episode to get me to stop. My lowest moment came in the form of a class project. Needing to demonstrate my (lack of) dexterity with machine learning techniques, I downloaded over 500 reviews by hand and cut-and-pasted them into Excel (a classic cry for help). I then parameterized the text of the reviews and used a variety of techniques to predict the star rating.

It was worse than it sounds. I was a complete mess by the end of this project. I had neglected my research for months. I had stolen memory from other computers and put it in my laptop to help handle the giant data set (this is true). I was lying to my advisor about how I spent my time. The monkey on my back had taken over.

I'd like to say that I had the gumption to quit, but the truth is that the deadline came and I turned it in. Went from a B- to an A for the class on the basis of my project alone. I dodged a bullet.

After that, I eased up on reviews. Sure, I'd read on Friday, but I was reading to find out what to see, not just to get high. And these days, I even occasionally miss the reviews on Friday and don't read them until the weekend. I finally figured out that I don't need to read reviews to have fun. I'm not cured, but I know I can make it if I just take it one review day at a time.

Posted by bpadams at 10:46 AM | Comments (6)

April 20, 2003

Easter

A beautiful sunny day in Boston created an intense brunch-market on Newbury Street. After a dainty little meal at Tealuxe, my overly enthusiastic metabolism is squirreling away my blood sugar and causing me to slow down to a more blog-philic speed.

Which is good, because this has been a strange Easter weekend. Haunting, but in a very maudlin sort of way. Like someone's trying to make an extremely ineffectual "Little Bryan discovers the meaning of Easter" after-school special.

Like: I went to see Jesus Christ Superstar on Friday night. Normally, this wouldn't be exceptional in any way; I like musicals, and JCS is one of my favorites. Bought the tickets months ago. I would have seen it whenever it came to town, so it's just a goofy coincidence that I watched a recreation of the passion on Good Friday. Of course, the production made for very weak symbolism: Jesus in khakis? Rent-i-fied choreography? A soundtrack that would fit right in on the local oldies station? Not really the stuff of deep reflection. I walked out whistling King Herod's tune.

But the Attack of Easter was not to be thwarted by my nonchalance. We went to the neighborhood bar to play some games with a little group of friends. But instead of trivial pursuit or boggle, we ended up playing a game called "Scruples." The whole point of the game is to ask tricksy little ethical questions printed on cards ("You dent a car in the parking lot. Do you leave a note?"), and then debate the answers among friends. Don't get me wrong: no deep conversation or startling revelations. In fact, our group's particular brand of ethical discussion relied heavily on beer and the use of rhetorical markers such as "butthead" and "moron." But the game does ask you to evaluate the topography of your own moral space at some interesting points.

And, as if this silly sequence wasn't enough, I ended up reading scripture at 2am on Easter. A friend made a comment about "Hallelujah vegans" and their eating habits based on the book of Genesis. Debate ensued ("Butthead!" ... "Moron!"), so out came a Bible. Suddenly, in a plot development that would have any creative writing teacher reaching for the really fat red sharpie, I'm flipping around in Matthew. The words of Jesus were helpfully written in red. "Whoever has a desire to keep his life safe will have it taken from him; but whoever gives up his life because of me, will have it given back to him. Enough already.

I live in an environment where religion is regularly subject to ridicule. And I've taken my fair share of cheap shots at believers from the comfortable atheist's armchair. But this Easter has reminded me of the thing I miss most about being a Christian: the assurance of forgiveness and eternal life. It's easy to look into the washbasin of modern Christianity and frown disapprovingly on some very dirty bathwater. From pedophile priests to a perplexing endorsement of social conservatism, one can easily justify tossing the entire contents out on the lawn. I know I found a great deal of glee in that very act. But every now and again, I look wistfully at the wet spot and remember. Remember feeling like someone had sacrificed for me, and like that sacrifice was going to make everything ok for me, for ever and ever, amen.

I think my glucagon levels are finally falling again, and so I must resurrect myself off the couch. I sort of hope that the Easter Offensive is over and I can return to my blissful ignorance of all things spiritual. But some small part of me hopes that I can't.

Posted by bpadams at 04:05 PM | Comments (7)

April 18, 2003

Meetings

As a graduate student, I don't have to go to many meetings. I enjoy the ones that I do have, though, since they provide an opportunity to observe the various meeting characters. Perhaps you've met some of them?

Ax Grinder He comes to the meeting with one point to make, and he will make it endlessly. He's sort of like a carnival barker -- when he sees a discussion walking by with cotton candy and a fist full of tickets, he does everything in his verbal power to get it to come into his tent to see: the amazing and overrepresented point. It's fun to watch him work ... "However will he take a discussion about food service and make it about risk management?"

Dr. Lunatic A close relative of the ax grinder, but without an ax. He rescuses any meeting that looks dangerously close to ending by injecting an irrelevant idea from left field that will absolutely REQUIRE another 5 minutes of discussion, if only to shut him up. Veteran lunatics are actually able to get people who have already gotten up to sit back down.

The Life-Shortener The life-shortener operates more insidiously. He shortens each meeting attendee's life by making already-firmly-established points over again, preferably from a perspective that's already shared by everyone in the room. While he can't repeat what someone else said verbatim, he will choose his words carefully so as to minimize the transmission of new information. Ax-grinders look to these people for moral support.

That Guy from the Simsons Episode Where Fat Tony and the Asian Mafia Fight Who's Wearing a White Suit and Standing Cross-armed In Homer's words, "[He] hasn't done anything yet ... he's gonna do something and you know it's gonna be good!" These guys sit silently, emitting powerful disapproval rays. When you begin to speak, they look at you as if every word you say is providing them with ammunition for the moment when, breaking out of their silence, they will proceed to tear down every idea and thought you ever had. I am afraid of these men and will write nothing more that they might find and use against me.

Professor Important This person must get to their next meeting so urgently that they effectively undermine the entire point of the meeting. Every comment is preceded with, "I don't know if we'll have time to get to this today, but ..." or "I need to leave soon, but I wanted to say ..." or "I've vastly overestimated both my importance to you and to other people, so ..." (ok, they rarely say that last thing out loud). I imagine that these people rush from meeting to meeting, destroying them one at a time, sort of like meeting locusts.

I'm leaving some out, like Show-Up-Late-with-Food Guy, Inaudible Talker, and Captain Inscrutible. But, frankly, I have another meeting to get to.

Posted by bpadams at 10:38 AM | Comments (9)

April 17, 2003

My new best friends

"One more lap dance?" she says, unbelieving scowl on her face. "Haven't you dorks all spent yourselves playing video games?"


"It was Unreal Tournament -- tell her it was Unreal Tournament!" Matty hisses from the other side of the door. "Explain to her how fun it is to be the assassin!"


She looks over at the beefcake boyfriend in the sleeveless leather jacket. He somehow contorts his wiggum-esque pig-face into something even worse -- something that could be mistaken for Miss Piggie's dirty uncle. He snorts his approval.


"Fine," he says, jabbing a cloved hand into my chest, "But if I catch anyone trying to slip their video game controller into her underwear again, I swear to god ..."


As we walk back in, the entire crowd shouts, "Whazzzzuuuuup!" and someone cues up the Who Let the Dogs out mp3 ...


Let the good times roll.

Posted by bpadams at 07:02 PM | Comments (5)

April 16, 2003

You guys playin' cards?

Capri pants. "Who let the dogs out?" Whazzzup? Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Starting your own blog.


Seriously, I feel like the last guy at the party. I walk in, ready to whoop it up ... but the stripper has already jumped out of the cake, given the lap dances, and retired to the front porch with her giant biker boyfriend and a cigarette. Meanwhile, everyone's in the family room, asleep or huddled around the playstation, and the fridge has nothing in it but peanut butter and two no-name wine coolers.


But hey, I'm here! I bought a six-pack of meister-brau, and I'm ready to get bizz-ay! So let's get down.


Posted by bpadams at 06:22 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack