March 31, 2004


Matty, the elusive author of Inspiration Strikes, was accepted to Harvard Business School today. So if you see an asian dude with a monocle and a big cigar, it's not The Man, it's just The Matt.

Posted by bpadams at 03:05 PM | Comments (10)

March 30, 2004

The Oppressor

I, I am he who comforts you;
    why then are you afraid of a mere mortal who must die?
    a human being who fades like grass?
You have forgotten the LORD your Maker,
    who stretched out the heavens
    and laid the foundations of the earth.
You fear continually all day long
    because of the fury of the oppressor,
    who is bent on destruction.
    But where is the fury of the oppressor?
Isaiah 51:12-13

There are two ways to consider events in the Bible: diachronic and synchronic. Diachronic is how we experience the world; one thing happens, then another, then another, and so on. Time is sequential, and events that are separated by time are distinct. A synchronic interpretation removes this constraint, and events happens simultaneously. Instead of being ordered by the dimension of time, they are linked by commonality. All periods of grace and beauty are together, interchangeable. And all periods of sadness and despair are collected and fused together as well.

A close family of friends was given a piece of this misery almost five years ago. The youngest son, a little older than me, was riding his bike one night when he was struck by a car and killed. They never found the killers, and, to be honest, the sheriff's office didn't look very hard. A boy was killed on his bike by a hit-and-skip. It's a horrible tragedy, but with no witnesses and a paucity of physical evidence, they did very little. To them, someone died. Happens on the news every night. Sometimes they can find the person who did it, sometimes they can't. This was a can't.

To the boy's mother and father, our family friends, can't simply wouldn't do. They have spent the last five years of their lives working tirelessly to find the driver of that car. They have exhausted their life's savings on lawyers, investigators, and forensic experts in an effort to accurately reconstruct what happened that night. The net result was a civil suit, completed yesterday, against a man who might have been the owner of what might have been the van. The verdict will most likely be delivered today.

I am not a parent, and I fully recognize that I simply can't understand the grief they feel. I have watched as they sacrificed the last five years of their lives in pursuit of an explanation of what happened that night. A sad (and probably wrong) decision by the judge in the case has precluded any damages of any kind, and so the verdict will consist of a one word opinion from eight people that reflects a "preponderance of the evidence." Is it more likely than not that this is the man responsible for the death of their son?

I know it's what they say that they want. And I'm sure that they feel that this will help end their grief. But I can't believe that it will. The verdict will be appealed by whoever disagrees with it, and the issues will be re-examined. The defendant will never admit he was the culprit, and we'll never know for sure if he's telling the truth. Ultimately, the legal system will have consumed all of their time and resources without changing the underlying truth: Andrew is dead and he should be alive. It is as heartbreaking as it is eternal. The very nature of some injuries, it seems, it that they absolutely cannot be rectified.

This is, to me, the oppressive fact: what is done cannot be undone. Our legal system is nothing but a way of keeping score. The horrible things that happen in the world happen, and all we can do, as humans, is submit ourselves to their happening. Not in the sense that we must all have faith in a grand design, but in the sense that we are all caught up in a system of being that is, in many respects, unknowable and yet utterly real and immediate. The pain these parents have felt over the last five years won't in any way be lessened or ablated by today's events. The verdict will just be one more thing that happens.

Which is why, even though I am not myself a spiritual man, I hope and pray that something good happens for them. If God did stretch out the heavens and lay the foundation of the earth, I hope that he remembers these poor parents and, indeed, comforts them.

Posted by bpadams at 11:22 AM | Comments (13)

March 29, 2004

Box 5 of 12

I am still in the process of moving into my new lab space. I had a really great idea for a blog post, but it's still packed away in a box somewhere (along with all my goddamn pens and pencils). Meanwhile, I'm pondering the important questions of big, open, collaborative spaces. Questions like:

  • The blessing radius. How far away does a sneezer have to be before I can comfortably offer no blessings? Audible distance? Line of sight? Because I can now hear sneezes from people who are literally about 70 feet to my right.

  • Hellos and goodbyes. If I want to leave, do I have to tell people where I'm going? What if we just had a conversation and now I want to run to the bathroom? Should I say good morning to all eight people who work in my space when I get here?

  • Tech support. Is it ok for me to turn to a co-worker and ask, say, how to get connected to the network? Is it ok for me to say I don't know if I do, but don't want to tell them? What about monitor backgrounds of scandalous women?

    Posted by bpadams at 04:14 PM | Comments (24)
  • March 28, 2004

    Go On. I Dare You.

    Just try to see Jersey Girl without crying at any point during the movie. My little group went 0-for-5. Damn that Kevin Smith and his movie making ability.

    Posted by bpadams at 12:45 AM | Comments (12)

    March 26, 2004


    I'm no theology professor. Hell, I'm only about halfway through my Bible class. But I can tell you this: if you're sharing a scorpion bowl in a silent bar with a fellow blogger, and the music suddenly starts, and it just happens to start with the very song this fellow blogger mentioned in your blog way back when, well, that's just God saying: YOU TWO SHOULD BE FRIENDS.

    Posted by bpadams at 06:15 AM | Comments (14)

    March 25, 2004

    "So? How Did It Go?"

    It was fine. I went into the evening convinced that I should let bygones be bygones. But let's just say that there's still plenty of room up here on the high road.

    She showed up about five minutes after I got there, and the geometry of the situation forced us into a public display of affection. I was all ready for a "why-can't-we-be-friends" platonic embrace, but she jilted me with a 45-degree turnoff (a one-arm-slappy thing). And it didn't help that she had a who-farted look on her face the whole time. To add insult to injury, she then proceeded to dominate the conversation with a topic that completely excluded me (a Harvard-alumni only kind of thing), and, because no one else was there, I was forced to sit with a dumb smile on my face.

    But, eventually, other folks showed up, and it was really great to reconnect with some other wonderful people. The night turned out to be fantastic and fun -- including the ending. She left early (she always leaves everything early so that everyone can coo over her), and she stooped so low as to interrupt my talking group, give everyone a nice, personalized goodbye, and then look at me (again: "who farted?"), and say "bye." Everyone else looked at me like I must have shot her dog (when the truth is -- metaphorically speaking -- SHE shot MY dog).

    Well, I wasn't going to stand there and look like the bad guy. So, as she was leaving (one of her little minions was walking her to the bus stop), I excused myself, and, in full view of my little group, stopped her and said, "Hey -- just wanted to say congratulations on your engagement" (I had overheard that she was recently engaged). She looked surprised and disgusted, like she'd stepped in dog poop, and just walked out.

    When I returned to my little talking group, there was a stunned silence. I'd had about three beers, so I said the only thing that popped into my pointy little head.

    "Oh, SNAP!"

    The moral of the story: Always take the high road. It allows you to dump trash down on the low road.

    Posted by bpadams at 09:38 AM | Comments (14)

    March 24, 2004

    Br(k-)yan A(stroglide)dams

    It's official. I've gone off the deep end.

    I was in a meeting last night with a bunch of knuckleheads talking about the resident adviser (RA) program for fraternities. I am an RA, and, therefore, a staunch proponent of the program. Many of the other attendees were not. I was trying to explain why I think the program was/is critical.

    Knucklehead: Look, MIT promised this would be a temporary program, it's time is up, and I think it should go away.

    Me: But it accomplishes so much! Like, it helps communication between the students and MIT.

    Knucklehead: I don't want communication with MIT.

    Me: You need communication with MIT. Don't you see? We're all in bed together -- the alumni, the undergraduates, and the MIT administration. We're all in bed together and ... (inspirational flash) ... the RAs are like the lubricant! We're either going to be in bed together with lubricant or without it, and personally, I think the lubricant helps.

    Guy Sitting Next To Me: (touches my hand, whispers) You're turning a little red, dude.

    Posted by bpadams at 11:15 AM | Comments (14)

    March 23, 2004

    Hold My Grudge While I Dance Josey

    Dear Miss Manners:

    A few months ago, I received an invitation to join some old friends for an informal reunion of a volunteer group. I accepted, thinking that it would be fun to reconnect with a number of people that I haven't seen in a while. Then, through a little birdie I like to call "Evite," I found out that an old flame will be among the attendees.

    The circumstances around this old flame are suitably horrifying: it's your basic boy-meets-girl, girl-shuns-boy-because-she-has-a-boyfriend, boy-pursues-girl's-friend, girl-suddenly-shows-interest-despite-boyfriend, girl-returns-to-shunning-boy-and-lies-to-her-friend-about-boy story. Suffice it to say that I still can't have a conversation about her without gritting my teeth and swearing.

    Of course, it's been ages since I last saw her, probably close to four years. I have, in that time, met someone who makes me happy -- no sublimated feelings of desire here. I also recognize that it all worked out in the end, and that we all make mistakes in our journey through life (although few of us are able to make them with the air of self-righteousness that this particular person ... whoops, there I go again).

    My question is this: should I still go? If I go, should I be nice to this person? Civil, but cold? Honest? I am open to suggestions here.


    "Michael Bolton"

    PS: I study the Bible, so don't try laying that Joseph-story God-uses-evil-for-good-so-it's-cool bullshit on me.

    Dear Mike,

    The standard advice in this situation is, of course, to take the "civil but cold" route. It's the well-mannered thing to do, yes, but it's also the smart thing to do. You may run into this person, or someone who knows this person, later in life. Your behavior toward her will color how others look at you. And, mostly, you want to be able to enjoy your other friends without her getting in the way.

    Of course, the civil-but-cold route is going to leave you feeling just that: civil, but cold. And I think you recognize that, and it's why you wrote to me. You want to do something bold, something deeply meaningful. So let me suggest an alternative.

    Grow the fuck up.

    Look, your facade of humor isn't hiding your obviously-still-hurt feelings from anyone. Why not just admit to yourself that your feelings were hurt at the time and they're hurt to this day? You want to lash out at this girl because it's a cheap way of putting those hurt feelings to use.

    But come on! I've heard you sing "When A Man Loves a Woman!" You know the lyrics: "Because baby! Baa-ee-aa-ee-aa-ee-aa-by (mumbles)!" Listen to the lesson there -- when love gets involved, you get all cliched and inscrutable. She did stupid things, you did stupid things. Don't compound them by making it worse.

    Moreover, even though you think it's bullshit, Joseph was right. If this girl hadn't screwed up the relationship with her friend, it might not have worked out with your current girlfriend. Did you think of that? Is that bullshit?

    And, while growing up, get a haircut, you goddamn hippie.


    Little Miss Know-It-All:

    Now who's hiding feelings with humor? Why don't you just say it. You don't know what to do. What kind of advice says to change your inner feelings? That's not advice, that's condescension. Maybe if you came out of your ivory tower and got down in the mud with the rest of us, you'd see what it's like to have real feelings.

    You're useless, and your website looks like crap.

    Eat it,

    --Bry, er, Mike

    If you don't like my advice, don't take it. But please keep your childish ramblings to yourself. You know what? Don't go to the party. You clearly don't have the mental stability. And no one ever liked you anyway.



    Hums to herself quietly ...

    Posted by bpadams at 11:12 AM | Comments (26)

    March 22, 2004

    Bryan Gone Wild

    It's Spring Break here at MIT, and if I were a saucy young undergraduate, you can bet that I'd be involved in various sexual hijinks, irresponsible use of alcohol, and indecent exposure. Sadly, I'm not, and so I'm reduced to flashing my ID, pounding twelve-ounce waters, and getting involved in a love triangle between Tivo and Playstation. Oh boy! Keep an eye out for Snoop Dogg!

    But the fact that I'm not "caught on tape" doesn't prevent me from taking glee in watching, oh, say, Donald Rumsfeld gone wild.

    "Oh Don. Is there anything you can't infuse with an air of dickishness?"
    -- Jon Stewart, Daily Show

    Posted by bpadams at 03:34 PM | Comments (13)

    March 19, 2004

    You Turn Me Upside Down ...

    Sonia and I had a full social calendar last night -- dinner with her sister and her boyfriend, drinks with another one of her friends, drinks with one of my friends. So we allotted some extra time to get ready beforehand. Turns out it wasn't enough.

    "Does my shirt look strange?" she asked me. I gave her the affirmative grunt without really looking, as prescribed by the guy code. "Something about it feels strange ..." Sure. Ok. Whatever.

    So we go out to dinner, everything's fine. We come home, Soners peels her shirt off -- "Ow!" she exclaims.

    Turns out she had it on inside out. Which is sort of funny.

    It was a button-down shirt (the buttons scraped her stomach taking it off). Which is really funny.

    "You're not going to put this on the blog, are you?" she asked.

    "Of course not," I told her.

    Posted by bpadams at 03:05 PM | Comments (13)

    March 17, 2004


    I have finally finished the gotta-be-almost-final draft of my PhD thesis proposal. I feel like I've kicked a basketball-sized rock out of my shoe. It's here, in PDF format, if you're the kind of person who likes that sort of thing. And if you read it and have serious feedback, I'm all ears.

    Meanwhile, the Canadian Fembot is coming for a visit. Consider yourself forewarned that posting over the next few days is likely to be irregular in frequency and unusually high in mushiness.

    Posted by bpadams at 05:04 PM | Comments (11)


    This, by Nickolas Kristof, is so fucking clever, I'm pissed I didn't say it.(from this column)

    Vehicle fatalities don't get attention because they occur in ones and twos. If people died at the same rate but in one horrifying crash a month that killed 3,500 people, then Mr. Bush and Congress would speedily make auto safety a priority and save thousands of lives a year.

    Posted by bpadams at 09:30 AM | Comments (11)

    March 16, 2004

    At-tax Of The Ten Foot Forms

    Every year, about this time, I sit down with my W2s and my 1099DIVs and my 478Qs and I think the same thought:

    How the hell do people do their taxes?

    Seriously, I wanna know. I mean, my life is about as financially simple as it gets. MIT pays me, I then put some of that money into a Roth IRA, some of it into a mutual fund, and I spend the rest on video games and beer. Yet, suddenly, when I sit down with an online financial program, I'm answering questions like, "Have you made an IRA contribution that is greater than the amount specified by box 13 on your 1099FUK form?" And I'm like, uh ...

    So I fall back on a time-tested strategy: I call my mom.

    And she has the answers! It's not even all that hard for her -- she just tells me, oh, you can ignore that, or you should claim that, or whatever. And so I do what she tells me, I answer a few more questions, I get scared, and then I call her again. Repeat this cycle about 12 times, and I'm done.

    But what do other people do? Well, I took an informal survey, and ... it turns out that EVERYONE calls their mom. Seriously, I asked about 9 of my friends, and at least 7 of them got their parents (or parents' accountants) involved. Some people, in fact, just pack up all their forms and send them off to their parents. Evidently the X in "Gen X" stands for "Place and X in box 42 if your parents prepared your taxes for you."

    So I have an idea.

    We have this whole baby-boom-slash-Social-Security problem, right? They're all going to retire and there won't be enough of us working folks to pay for all their applesauce and diapers. Well I say that we turn our impending army of geezers into a large, grumpy, cane-waving tax-preparation company. They can be the Second Greatest Generation! And all the extra hours that we currently spend secretly doing our taxes at work, we'll spend actually doing work, and the result will be a rise in productivity that will offset the shortfalls in Social Security (I haven't crunched these numbers yet -- I'll have my mom do it later). Ta-da! Problem solved!

    Either that, or finally take Steve Forbes' idea and go with a flat tax.

    Posted by bpadams at 08:03 AM | Comments (24)

    March 15, 2004

    Laptops For "Sale"

    I've told you about how we're moving into a new building, right? Well, this is moving week. Lots of packing, throwing away, stacking boxes, etc etc. Also: lots of email about what it will be like in the new building, including the new security system. Security is a big fat hairy deal because we've had close to a dozen laptops stolen over the last year. We're evidently one big collective "easy mark."

    For the record, I suggested we stage an elaborate hoax wherein an intruder is nearly beaten to within an inch of his life by frenzied grad students for trying to swipe a laptop, just to show all the other criminals what might happen. Or, in my case, what would happen, since I value my laptop more than all my other possessions combined. Of course, no one listened to me. Stupidheads.

    Anyway, these thefts happened in what I would consider a pretty decent security environment. There's a security guard at the front door who dutifully sleeps or does his/her nails while anyone and everyone walks by. Then, on each floor, the elevator lobby is locked after business hours, and keys are tightly restricted only to people who go into headquarters and ask for one. Finally, each office, holding about three grad students, has an individual lock, held only by the occupants of that office.

    Our new security system is ... different. First, there are no keys; everything will operate with the MIT ID card, which is now one of those proximity deals where you can just wave it at a box and have it recognize you. So the security guard will be replaced by an after-hours card reader for access to the building. The elevator lobbies will be similar, although I think they will now be keyed to just the residents on that floor.

    However, the office locks have been replaced by what my boss euphemistically titled "a new security attitude." Because grad students will no longer have offices and will instead just have cubicles, once you've passed an elevator lobby, you're free to roam the floor. Everyone will lock down their laptops, but everything else -- books, papers, external speakers, etc. -- will be secured by asking all lab members to "Please walk up to anyone who you don't know and say 'Can I help you?'" (actual quote from the email). Sounds great! I can't envision a scenario where THAT might not work!

    So, in that spirit, I'm enacting a new security protocol here at the BAB. If you're visiting and you're not supposed to be here, you must send me and email answering the following questions:

    1.) Can I help you?
    2.) Oh yeah, well, what does YOUR mother smell like?
    3.) No, why don't YOU go eat dirt?

    Posted by bpadams at 10:39 AM | Comments (8)

    March 14, 2004

    Nobody Likes An I-Told-You-So ...

    So I'll just say "I previously informed you of the matter."

    Posted by bpadams at 10:52 AM | Comments (4)

    March 12, 2004

    The Not-So-Grand Challenge

    I need to inoculate you against a news story you're going to read about in the next few days. It's a tragic tale -- one more example of the Machiavellian nature of our current federal administration. But it's going to be damaging, and I want to do my part to mitigate the damage.

    On Saturday, March 13, DARPA will host the Grand Challenge: 25 vehicles without drivers racing a still-secret 200+ mile course from LA to Vegas (ok, Barstow to Primm, but the same idea). They will have 10 hours to traverse the route -- some of it on-road, some off-road, and some way-off-road. The teams will get the start and end points a few hours before the race, tweak their software, and set their robots off. First vehicle to Vegas, er, Primm, wins a million dollars.

    Let me spoil the ending for you: the vehicles are going to do poorly. It is very possible that none of them will make it. You'll read about how some robot never made it more than a mile, or how one robot got trapped under a bridge, or how some robot got lost and almost drove to Mexico. You will certainly see footage of a robot car crashing. And then, to make things worse, you'll learn that these cars had GPS waypoints -- waypoints! -- to guide them, and ask how the hell those eggheads could screw this up. Finally, you'll get a look at the field and find that most of the entries look like they were built in someone's backyard.

    You're going to assume that AI has failed.

    Now let me add one more parameter to the competition: no one who takes any government funding is allowed to participate in the race.

    That means that the big robotic companies, most of which have been working on robotic military projects for years with great success, are all disqualified. It also means that all the big graduate labs (like mine) that have traditionally been the leaders in building new and interesting robot prototypes can't participate. Who's left? Well ... basically, people who build robots in their backyards. A high school team. The favorite is a group of undergrads from CMU who are working on a vehicle as a part of a class. Oh, and they flipped their car about a week ago.

    Look, this problem is very, very hard. If I stuck you in a dark room with a steering wheel and the sensory inputs from one of these vehicles, I doubt you could make it. That's not to say it can't be done -- just that it's going to require a lot of resources. You need the best obstacle-avoidance algorithms. You need the most sophisticated sensors to check the terrain. You need the fastest computers to process camera inputs.

    Perhaps more than any of that, though, this contest is all about the small stuff. I'm reminded of something that I heard during the conference: Big Robot Company CEO said, "We don't hire roboticists anymore. We hire people who are experts in important subfields like electrical devices, analog circuit design, or signal processing. Because, that's the trick with these robots -- getting the details right." In this case, almost the entire project is details. Is it difficult to plot a 200 mile course using GPS waypoints? No. Is it difficult to build a car that can drive while avoiding obstacles? A little harder, but it's a problem that's been solved a million times before. The difficulty is getting all the pieces to work together properly -- making sure you're checking the garbage bit on the GPS sensor, using the right connectors on your wires, avoiding electrical noise. This is stuff that requires years of training and experience. And anyone who has those things is disqualified from participating.

    The result is going to be what appears to be a race between 25 brain-damaged DUIs. And everyone's going to say, "Jesus, you AI researchers are DUMB! You can't even build a car that doesn't FLIP ITSELF OVER." And congress will see the results of the race and say, "Jeez, maybe we shouldn't be funding AI research, since they're all idiots." And robot companies are going to say, "No, I'm sorry, we're not hiring now." And I'm going to say, "Would you like fries with that?"

    Just when I thought I couldn't hate this administration any more than I already do ...

    Posted by bpadams at 10:39 AM | Comments (6)

    March 11, 2004

    The Robotics Conference Quiz

    1. You are attending a conference that will feature attendees from many different areas: academia, business, finance, engineering. The proper apparel is:

    a) Long curly hair, a beard, sandals.
    b) A suit
    c) A sweatshirt and cargo pants
    d) T-shirts emblazoned with the company name: SICK

    Highlight for correct answer: Any answer is correct. This is what happens when nerds and business collide -- nobody knows what to wear. For the record, SICK lasers are used in all kids of SICK research, which you can read about in the SICK newsletter. Seriously.

    2. Robotics Industry : Roomba Vacuum :: Computer Industry :

    a) A Speak-and-Spell
    b) CD Player
    c) Calculator
    d) Macintosh II

    Highlight for correct answer: This is the $64K question, and it beats the hell out of me. The Roomba has been successful, but what does that tell us? Are robots the next computer industry? Are they an extension of the electronics industry? Are they a revolution in vacuuming? This is basically all anyone cared about. "Do you have the idea for the next Roomba? No? Then I'm going to network with someone who does."

    3. The most irritating person of the following group is

    a) The smug engineer
    b) The snobby venture capitalist
    c) The idiot journalist
    d) The know-it-all middle manager

    Highlight for correct answer: This is a tough call, but I have to go with D. There was endless discussion among midrange management types about the desperate need for software standards for robots. Without getting too technical here, I'll just observe that you cannot possibly set a standard for industrial robots when no one even has any idea what the next industrial robot will do. They just want standards so that they can squeeze their engineers for more man-hours per month without having to engage in actually learning anything. Also -- this group has the worst hair, far and away.

    Oh yeah, and another thing: If I had to choose another annoying group though, I'd definitely choose C. My #1 rule in talking to someone from the press is: Always remember that this person is going to try to misconstrue what you're saying to make you sound crazy. It never fails. Journalists are not interested in reporting the facts, they are interested in making something up that will sell their publication. If you say you're working on a robot controller for more robust autonomy, when they get done with it, you're working on a robot that will club baby seals with the discarded corpses of migrant workers. Seriously, I hate technical reporters.

    4. The percentage of conference attendees who were male was

    a) 98%
    b) 99%
    c) 99.999%
    d) Information unavailable.

    Highlight for correct answer: Definitely high-nineties, but this is actually a trick question: D. For every verifiable woman, there was at least one person who fell into the general category of "sex: unknown, but unlikely".

    5. The most unsavory household chore, according to the Brookstone PR rep, is

    a) Laundry
    b) Vacuuming
    c) Ironing
    d) Cleaning the bathroom

    Highlight for correct answer: C, if you can believe. I have never found ironing that objectionable, but it's the thing that people generally hate most, followed by the bathroom, followed by vacuuming.

    6. The sound that most accurately describes the likelihood of a robot being able to accomplish the task from #5 is

    a) Pshaw.
    b) Ha ha ha ha.
    c) Deep sigh.
    d) Snort, with evil glare.

    Highlight for correct answer: D is the correct answer here. I seriously had a journalist say to me -- "Oh! What you should do is invent a bunch of robotic spiders that you toss into your closet and each one irons out a little piece of your clothes, and voila!" Oh! Is that all I have to do, doctor? Why don't we shove a little broom up each of their little asses and they can sweep while they walk!

    7. This conference made me feel

    a) Better
    b) Worse
    c) About the same
    d) Confused

    Highlight for correct answer: Probably C. I didn't expect for anyone to have all the answers, but I kind of thought that there would be more creative thinking. The paradox of robots in 2004 is this: we can think of a million things we'd like a theoretical robot to do. And we can make robots do a million different things. But, somehow, there are maybe three things that are in both categories.

    Posted by bpadams at 02:05 PM | Comments (9)

    March 09, 2004

    Sha Na Na Na, Sha Na Na Na Na Na

    This is "get a job" week for me.

    Yesterday, I had a meeting with an Executive VP at MIT to talk about a few hypothetical positions at MIT.

    Today and tomorrow, I'm going to an industrial robotics conference to glad-hand it up with the leading nerds of the build-robots-for-pay crowd.

    Thursday, I think I'll probably play Madden 2004 in franchise mode, just to see what it would be like to be the GM of the Cleveland Browns

    Friday is still free. If anyone has any career options they want to suggest investigating (especially if they involve pizza and/or beer), I'm all ears.

    Posted by bpadams at 07:03 AM | Comments (19)

    March 08, 2004

    The Dispassion

    I finally broke down and saw "The Passion" this weekend, and I am contractually obligated to blog about it. Even though, strangely, I don't have strong feelings about it.

    After much reflection, I've decided that this movie is a lot like most religious arguments: they affirm the believers, infuriate the non-believers, and just make the rest of us wince. I was, for example, surprised at how misleading most of the reviews were -- both positive and negative. It is not, for example, wall-to-wall violence, nor does it completely decontextualize Jesus. There are many flashback scenes to Jesus as a carpenter, to the Sermon on the Mount, to the Last Supper, etc. that give you a sense of why Jesus was dangerous. But the violence, while horrifying and awful, really only rose to the level of a horror flick. My friend Adam's first words coming out of the theater were "Well, it wasn't as disturbing as I thought it would be," and I think that's about right.

    I find the anti-Semitism charge to be off-base. My sister, Laura, whose opinion I respect tremendously, differs with me on this point, saying that the movie is allegorical, and therefore has a greater responsibility to its Jewish characters. I disagree on the grounds that I don't believe the movie is necessarily allegorical. Clearly, it depicts events that have been accorded great importance, and it is no doubt a story to which many other stories refer. But, taken at face value as a story, of what is it symbolic? I believe this movie is a referent and not a reference, and the characters stand for themselves and nothing more.

    I do have two quibbles, one small and one large.

    The small quibble is with the phatasmagoric depiction of the violence. Let's break down one two-second clip. Jesus is being scourged, and at one point, you clearly see one of the bits of glass rip into Jesus' skin and pull out some flesh. The audience let out an audible gasp and I involuntarily looked away. The special effects were that good. It's clear that a great deal of time and effort were spent creating this highly-detailed shot of glass ripping through skin. But to what end? That we may better understand Jesus' suffering? In this case, I believe Mel Gibson lost control of his craft. That scene was about a violent act first and anything else second. I am reminded of Francois Truffaut who argued that you cannot make an anti-war movie because watching a war was, in some sense, an argument for having it. Similarly here, I believe that once you put that level of violence on the screen, that becomes the subject of the movie and, implicitly, an argument for it.

    More than any of that, though, I felt uneasy at the obvious attention paid to the graphic detail of these unwatchable images. There was clearly a borderline-obsessive attention to ensuring a picture-perfect depiction of some really awful physical pain. What kind of man uses such immense resources to create this kind of picture? Seeing this movie makes me believe that Gibson is a deeply, deeply disturbed man.

    My bigger quibble has to do with this movie's part in a larger Christian movement. This movie is such an elaborate production that it has a sense of being right. I couldn't escape an in-your-face message: "This is what happened to Jesus, accurate to the last drop of blood. You can either face it or you can turn away, but you can't deny it." Without saying too much about how any argument cast in such terms is an instant turn-off, I would like to observe that I believe Jesus made two points (both, in some sense, serving to undermine the earlier Covenant Code of the Jews). The first is that we are all sinners, and nothing we do ourselves can redeem us. The second is that we must follow the example of God's toward us by being good and merciful to our fellow man. Or, if I had to summarize it in four words, "Be humble and loving." But when you make a movie filled with the worst images of violence and gore and suggest that it was ordained by God -- is that humble? Expensive, detailed, graphic depictions of brutality and hate -- is that a loving? For me, it boils down to this: would Jesus have wanted this movie made?

    I have no idea. And, actually, I have very little to contribute to the discussion. If you're the kind of person who's going to love the Passion, then go see it. If it's going to infuriate or disturb you, don't go. I don't believe Mel Gibson and his movie are so profound as to make much of a difference either way.

    Posted by bpadams at 10:57 AM | Comments (21)

    March 03, 2004

    God Promised To Finish My Thesis

    I'm running a little low on words today because I am trying to simultaneously write my thesis proposal, an essay for Bible class, and an article for a fraternity newsletter. I want to write one magnum opus about how God told me to build a robot frat boy, but that's probably not going to cut it.

    Instead, I'm starting with the Bible essay. I'm pondering Genesis 50:19-20: "Joseph said to [his brothers], 'Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.'" Anyone with thoughts about the nature of evil and God's will get an official shout-out in my essay. Bonus points for a reference to The Apprentice, gay marriage, and/or a Technicolor dream coat.

    Posted by bpadams at 02:39 PM | Comments (19)

    March 02, 2004

    NBC: Needs Better Conclusion

    I'm not a habitual reality show viewer, but I did catch the final episode of Average Joe: Hawaii last night. One of the promos roped me in with the tidbit that Brian, the Average Joe, was from Boston. So I watched. But I'm sorry, NBC, I refused to be shocked by your ending. I think everything turned out just right.

    Now, I should preface my remarks by saying that I understand that this is just television. And that network executives are looking for ratings, and that those ratings are most assuredly gained by flattering your viewers and reaffirming their beliefs. Anyone looking for something mentally stimulating on television is probably dumb enough to be watching in the first place.

    That being said: woah.

    For the non-watchers out there (and I hope and pray that this is most people), the final episode boiled down to a choice between two guys for our cupcake subject, Larissa. Fighting out of the red corner, weighing in at 165 pounds of chiseled geekmeat is No-Chin Brian, an auditor from East Boston who has never pronounced an R in his whole life. In the blue corner, we have Gil, a greased-up hairless little weasel from Florida who was imported during a mid-show infusion of bodybuilder types. It's clear that this show had fun with the jocks-versus-dorks angle, and I'm particularly sorry that I missed the episode where, if the clips are to be believed, the jocks took on the nerds in dodgeball (the slo-mo cam of a dork getting hit in the head was pure gold). As the winners from their respective camps, Brian and Gil are both straight out of central casting. They each took the cupcake out on one final date to give her, and the gawking audience, one more chance to understand how perfectly stereotypical they each are.

    Evil Hairless Gil takes Larissa to one of his construction sites and makes her spackle the walls, then treating her to a ride on a cigarette boat which went, according to Gil, "like a hundred miles an hour." All of this must have been really romantic, if sheetrock repair follwed by a 50mph wind in your face is your idea of romance. Sadly, Gil ended the night on a down note when, during the required candle-lit dinner, he demonstrated that, like all really attractive and beefy guys, he's an emotional retard who thinks he wants to be an actor (this, after saying earlier in the day that he has to stay in Florida because of his "reputation" as a contractor).

    No-Chin Brian, on the other hand, treated Larissa to a ride on a not-so-obviously-penis-compensation boat in Boston Harbor, complete with the catch-and-release of two lobsters, one of whom he playfully named Gil. He then took her to Fenway Park (including a cameo by Tim Wakefield, my favorite baseball player of all time) for some extremely awkward exchanges that demonstrated that, like all really nerdy and hopeless guys, he is also an emotional retard who can't bring himself to say "I love you" to a woman he clearly loves. He performed better during the candle-lit dinner event, which took place at a location that I'm pretty sure is only available to archetypal nerds on reality shows.

    It's important to highlight how manipulative the editing process was here: Brian should have had a halo floating above his geeky little head, and Gil might as well have offered to kick sand in the face of every individual male viewer. Larissa's little voice-overs about the dates made it clear that she thinks Gil is probably a dick -- doesn't want to move, doesn't really care to express himself, oils his chest relentlessly -- and Brian is cute and earnest and fully deserving of some surely-long-awaited nookie.

    So, of course, she chooses Gil. And, in a twist of fate that came as a complete surprise to any viewers who happened to be dead, it turns out that Gil is, in fact, a dick, revealing his true dick colors by dumping Larissa when he learns her shocking secret -- she once dated Fabio (I'm serious -- may God strike me down if I'm lying). For any viewers who didn't get the point (again, I'm looking at the corpse demographic here), we're treated to a lengthy shot of Larissa sitting on the couch and looking mournful while images of the suddenly-not-looking-so-bad Brian flash in the upper left hand corner of the screen. The show closes with our poor little cupcake finally driving the nail home with one more blow to the head: "Shame on me."

    Sadly, the Aesop ending was blunted for me for two reasons. First, she had such a great date with Brian and such a shitty date with Gil that it would have just been bad television for her to make the pick that made sense. The outrage you feel seeing your new best buddy Brian get the shaft is the very currency that television trades in. It would have been like watching a Law and Order episode where, in fact, the father did NOT molest the kid and then cover up the murder. It was so probable as to be impossible, if you get what I'm saying.

    The second reason is that I think that Brian actually lucked out here. I have a personal philosophy about relationships that says that they are an amazingly effective self-organizing system. If a relationship is meant to happen, it tends to work itself out, and if it's not, it won't. That's not to say that you don't have to put effort into your relationship -- you do. It's part of the equation. How much effort you're willing to put in and what form that effort takes is just one more axis along which two individuals have to align themselves if they are going to have a successful romantic entanglement. And so, for Brian, the proof was in the pudding: if Larissa is the kind of guy who's going to choose a budding Baywatch star who's all wrong for her over you, then she wasn't the right girl. And any girl who'd allow herself to be involved in such a maudlin conclusion clearly doesn't have all the hamster wheels turning at full speed upstairs, if you get me.

    Bri -- if you're out there and you're reading this, let's go get drunk at Crossroads and then pee on pictures of Larissa. My treat.

    Posted by bpadams at 03:22 PM | Comments (18)

    March 01, 2004

    A Few Words On "Political Blogs"

    About a months ago, Krissa made an interesting suggestion. Basically, she said, there are political blogs and there are personal blogs, and her preference was for personal blogs. And, in the comments, I agreed with her, mostly. But now, every time I write a political post, that comment comes up from behind me and taps me on the shoulder. "I thought you said you didn't like political blogs," it says.

    Well, I don't. I mean, I don't really read Instapundit or Talking Points Memo or Andrew Sullivan. And almost all the blogs in my newly-expanded blogroll fall into the "personal" category. And I would categorize this blog as a "personal" blog, I guess. So shouldn't I refrain from all the political rants and try to focus on my personal life?

    Well, the problem is that, from a (public) personal standpoint, I'm not really that interesting. I mean, the fun-to-read drama of single life is behind me, and I like it that way. Good for me, bad for the blog. And I intentionally try to avoid bitching about my job (probably the sine qua non of the blogging medium) because, even though it sucks from time to time, I wouldn't trade jobs with anyone I know personally. Again, good for me, bad for the blog. So if I were to focus this blog on what remains in my personal life, you'd get a lot of posts like:

    March 1, 2004
    Got up a little earlier than usual today. At work by 8:30a. Didn't interact with a single soul until 6:30p, when I called Sonia. We talked until 7p, at which point I went home. I went running until 9pm, watched TiVo until midnight, and fell asleep.

    I mean, seriously, that's an accurate summary for at least half of the days of my life. My weekends are generally the same, but with only the first and last sentences.

    Now some people are really great at looking at their lives from a bizarre angle and making it funny. Greg Howard can write about a long eyebrow hair and it's worth reading. Jules can share a traumatic childhood story and it's worth reading. And every now and then, something legitimately funny or interesting or moving happens to me, and I write about it. But, generally speaking, it's not how I fill my days.

    So what does fill my days? Well, to be honest, politics fills a lot of it. I talk politics all the time with my folks. I read the news every day, sometimes for hours. I love talking about politics with my friends, to the extend that they'll let me. I've even convinced Sonia, who generally doesn't care about such things, to watch Meet the Press with me every weekend. And the things I see and hear influence the way I live my life. It was part of why I started volunteering on technology and poverty issues. It was part of what convinced me not to go to law school (although a crappy LSAT helped with that, too). It was part of why I joined my fraternity's alumni board of directors.

    I guess what I'm saying is that, for me, politics are personal. And if I didn't write about politics in this space, I'd either write a lot less or write a lot less interesting things. And you wouldn't be getting the whole Bryan Adams experience, which is, I guess, what you're here for.

    So, with that, I'm officially going to stop self-flagellating about whether or not this is a "political" blog, or a funny stories blog, or a diary, or what. I'm just going to write whatever the hell I feel like writing about on any given day. And if you don't like it, well, you and Batman can start a club for people who don't like my blog. As long as I can derive some shallow pleasure from watching my sitemeter results, I'll be happy.

    Posted by bpadams at 10:39 AM | Comments (12)