Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reciprocal altruism.

I have had an e-mail starred in my inbox for 5 months now, intending to write a blog post about it.  It's about time that I actually do it.

The motivation is an article sent by my friend Rob:

It concerns one of my favorite topics: science and religion, and whether they are reconcilable.  The author seems to think they are.  I, for the most part, think they are not.  At least, science is not compatible with religion as the institutions exist today.

As the article notes, religious apologists often argue that science cannot explain our moral instincts of right and wrong.  Wright points to the notion of "reciprocal altruism" (benefit through mutual cooperation), which may have played a part in the evolution of our moral senses.  I think this is right.

I would only add that this evolution occurred on a cultural scale.  I don't think that we are born with an innate sense of right and wrong, but are instead raised to learn right from wrong.  Through teaching, observation, and rational thought, we learn how this works.

Wright seems to imply that "convergence" on moral instincts due to reciprocal altruism is evidence that objective moral truths exist.  I happen to disagree with this idea, but I do not completely dismiss it (there are also non-theistic motivations for thinking they exist).  I do, however, think that the analogy to stereopsis and perception of three dimensions is a bad one.

The main point of the article is that science and religion are compatible.  Basically, you can use the scientific theory of evolution through natural selection (along with this notion of reciprocal altruism) in conjunction with belief in a creator that set it all in motion.  Note, however, that in order to use this approach, believers must still abandon the Judeo-Christian conception of an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent God; but they can still keep a creator.  This is why science is not compatible with current theology, though it is possible that religion could evolve into some sort of deism that is compatible with this approach.

Wright argues that in order for peace to be achieved concessions must be made on the atheist side as well.  I will grant him that the idea of a creator is compatible with science, and I feel like most atheists (though not the really stubborn, belligerent ones) would do this as well.  However, that is not the argument that theists are making.  If/when religious discourse abandons irrationality, then real dialogue can begin.  It seems logical to observe complexity and wonder if that is evidence of a designer, or to observe "convergence" and wonder if there are objective truths.  Debating from that point of view would be more worthwhile than using beliefs based on blind acceptance of a book of myths.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

This is not a New Year's resolution.

School's out!  W00t!  Note to not wait until finals week to start your 10+ page philosophy papers.  Those last couple of weeks almost took me back to my days of pulling all-nighters as an undergrad.  Yeah, you can't do that when you have to work 40 hours a week.  This is where I pledge to manage my time more effectively next semester...and then end up failing horribly again.  Speaking of next semester, I'm switching to 2 math classes and 1 philosophy class (after Boeing made some massive changes to their tuition reimbursement program...but that's a topic I'm probably better off not blogging about).

So now that I don't have work, school, or soccer (and haven't for the past 5 days) until work on Monday (I guess Sunday for soccer), it's time to get my life in order.  Here's how bad things are...

I have a puzzle that's been sitting in the same state (only the border is complete) on one of the desks in my home office for the past year. I haven't gotten around to filing the CDs that are sitting around my living room since I moved into my house 2 years and 7 months ago.  Nor have I put up the artwork that I bought right before that time.  In the last year, I've almost bought as many books, intending to read them all, as the number of pages that I've so far read in all of them combined.

I need to get that task list under control.  My excuse has been that every time I've had a significant break from work/school, I've been on a trip somewhere around the world.  I can't say that this winter break, so it's time to do something about it.  The break has been semi-productive so far, but not as much as I would like it to be.  Perhaps I should be a hermit for the next few days and straighten all these things out.  My goal for next year, then, is to have everything in its right place.  Maybe I'll make that my new theme song...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mew @ Metro (12/7/2009)

The first time I saw Mew in concert was at the Pitchfork Music Festival, where they played an abbreviated set (which is normal unless you're a headliner).  Being the fanboy that I am, I was eagerly anticipating seeing a proper Mew show, and had high hopes.  The band for the most part met expectations, though they did not significantly exceed them.

Tom and I showed up to Metro (a block away from Wrigley Field) about halfway into the opener's (All The Day Holiday) set.  Mew did not have a band touring with them during their brief North American jaunt, and instead chose to have bands audition to open for them in each city.  All The Day Holiday wasn't a bad choice, and I dug a couple of the songs I caught enough to give their album a listen yesterday.

We viewed the Mew set (the whole show, actually) from the upper balcony of the Metro.  The venue was a lot smaller than I expected.  This is generally a good thing, as it makes for a more "intimate" time with the band.  However, there were a couple of layers of people between us and the railing, so our view could have been better.

Their actual performance was pretty good.  They started off with four songs off And the Glass Handed Kites, including the trademark back-to-back "Special" (which I dedicated to Tom) and "The Zookeeper's Boy" move, followed by a couple from Frengers.  After this they rattled off five from my favorite album this year, No More Stories... (I'll spare you the full 23-word title), before finishing up the main set with one more oldie.  The encore was also heavy on Kites, with one from Stories, and one freaky interlude which featured a talking teddy bear.  I was quite surprised that they did not end the show with "Comforting Sounds", which seems to have been their standard closer (and what they closed with at Pitchfork).  "New Terrain", which seems like a natural opener (it was used this way at Pitchfork), was not played either.  You can find the full setlist here.

Speaking of freakishness, I would guess that a not insignificant portion of the crowd had nightmares that night after watching the videos projected during their set.  The images were by no means horrifying, but there were certainly some strange looking children or animals in most of them.  Jonas must have some weird things going on in that head of his...

Tom noted that Jonas looked "dainty" on stage, something he had not noticed during their Pitchfork performance because he was people-watching then.  At that show, Robert had described Jonas' stage persona as "meek".  I would agree more with the latter than the former, as I was not led to question Jonas' manhood in the way "dainty" connotes.  Strangely, though, I did think that he was a little less meek during this show than the last one.

So, what could have made the show better?  For one, the sound mixing seemed off on a few songs, during which I could barely hear Jonas' vocals.  This is a shame, as Tom describes his singing as "instrumental".  Bo could have also played a couple of the songs a little cleaner, though I can certainly understand the difficulty in reproducing the riffs used in "Introducing Palace Prayers" and "Repeaterbeater" in a live environment.  They had a couple of mini-jams (we all know that I don't like jams), but they were usually appropriate as intros or interludes - there wasn't a case where they just refused to end a song, which is one of my pet peeves.  They also left out a couple of my favorite songs: "An Envoy to the Open Fields" and "Cartoons And Macramé Wounds".

Overall, though, I was quite pleased.  If it wasn't for the freezing cold conditions and the fact that I had an early flight back to St. Louis the next morning, I would have insisted on waiting around afterward to try to meet the band.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Inspirational documentary of the month: Food, Inc.

First came An Inconvenient Truth, which turned me into a tree-hugging, earth-loving hippie for a couple of years.  And then I changed my mind and pondered making my own documentary entitled "So Spring Comes a Little Earlier Each Year: What's So Bad About That?".*

Then I saw Sicko, and jumped on the universal health care bandwagon.  Yeah, I've pretty much done a "John Kerry" 180-degree flip-flop on that one.  While I definitely like the idea of covering as many people as possible (I'm a softie for taking care of the people), Tim convinced me that health insurance should basically not be treated differently from car insurance, home insurance, or any other type of disaster insurance.  I could go on more about this, but that's out of scope for this blog entry.

Now, it's about the food we eat.  This topic was first broached by King Corn, which documented the industrialization of corn, how it has killed the family farm, and how corn now permeates the majority of the food we eat.  Food, Inc., further, "examines large-scale agricultural food production in the United States, concluding that the meat and vegetables produced by this type of economic enterprise leads to inexpensive but unhealthy and environmentally-harmful food" (description stolen from the linked Wikipedia article because I'm too unoriginal to come up with a better one).

Food, Inc. is definitely a movie worth seeing, if only to raise awareness and/or stimulate discussion.  My first instinct after seeing it is to become a vegetarian or only eat organic produce.  But I've had this reaction before, and it didn't last very long.  It seems that the lifestyle that I prefer (often on the go, never cooking for myself) is not very compatible with this choice.  And then there's the worry (briefly dismissed by one of the organic farmers in the movie) of whether we could feed everybody if the system shifted to organic policy.  I have some other solutions to the overpopulation problem that drives this concern, but I fear those are too radical for dissemination.

In any case, I invite anyone who has not seen this movie to do so.  Afterward (or if you've seen it already), you can engage me in rational discourse to convince me that I am overreacting, or underreacting, to it.

* - I should confess that I'm still a bit of an environmental hippie, but not for the same reasons.  In general, I think reusing, reducing, and recycling is a good thing, but a lot of my motivations are more financial these days (even though I still pay more for electricity), as opposed to attempting to save the world from impending doom.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Here at the Blog, we rarely take time go to get in touch with our inner feelings.  This is no exception to that generalization.

about:me is a Firefox add-on that "provides a fun way to see personalized patterns in browser usage, including trends in browsing history and download activity".  Some of you fellow nerds might notice that the name is a clever play on the about: URI scheme used in many web browsers.

I installed this add-on a few months ago, but rarely remember about it.  Of course, when you run out of ways to procrastinate instead of writing that philosophy paper, you remember all sorts of neat things that "deserve" to be blogged about.

So what truths has about:me revealed about my surfing habits on my main home computer?  You can see the results directly below (click to enlarge):

For one, I am in denial about how much I use Facebook.  It seems that I can't go around anymore saying condescendingly, "Oh, no.  I *only* get on Facebook whenever someone does something on my wall or sends me a message."  The same seems to go for OkCupid, though to a far lesser extent.

Other than that, the sites listed are for the most part what I would expect.  Google (and its various subdomains), Wikipedia, GMail (which is broken out from Google for some reason), (because I obsessively want to view the charts about my recently listened music), and ESPN Soccernet are all mainstays in my Internet routine.  I'm a little surprised to see CNET, YouTube, and Blogger on there - I definitely use those sites fairly frequently, but I don't feel like I'm on them *that* often.  The one notable absence, though, is Yahoo!.  I feel like a check my Y!Mail often enough for it to beat out a few of the sites listed.

In addition to the sites I browse, the times at which I browse are also interesting, though there are no real surprises there.  I apparently hit the web hard sometime around 9 PM after a long day of doing whatever I do in the "real" world.  It's not unusual for me to still be surfing up until 1, or even 2, in the morning.  I'm guessing that the daytime surfing is mostly from weekend activities, when I'm not at work/school/soccer.  The graph also confirms that the period between about 4 and 7 AM pretty much does not exist to me.

So there you have it...a little insight into Obi.  But because it's somehow tech related, that's probably about the most you're gonna get here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Join the Wave!

LifeHacker had another Google Wave donation thread today, and I was fortunate enough to score an invitation (thanks Daniel!).  Now it's my turn to share.  I originally had 8 invitations to give out, and I've sent out 3 so far.  If you would like an invitation, let me know by commenting or by sending me a message.  If you don't know what Wave is, you can find out all about it here.

I honestly don't think Google Wave will be terribly useful in my daily life, but it definitely has a cool factor.  Maybe once some friends join up and start collaborating I'll see things differently.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Google Location History - my new favorite thing.

First there was Google Latitude, which allows you to share your location with your friends using your cellphone's GPS and your data plan that connects you to that nebulous interweb thing.  This seems to draw polarizing opinions from people, as some think it is the coolest thing since sliced bread, while the paranoid among us think this is tantamount to life in Orwell's Oceania (despite the fact that you have control of who can see your location data, and to what level).

Latitude now has a feature called Google Location History, where Google tracks and maintains a history of your location in your account.  The coolest part is that you can play it back like a movie.  Here's where I went today:

You can see that I got a late start to my day, and that I made trips to City Hall (where my attempts to renew my driver's license and license plates resulted in epic failure on both counts...but I'll leave my complaints of government incompetence for another post), Qdoba (free burrito!), and the dry cleaner before heading in to work.  Curiously, my GPS triangulation is not perfectly consistent throughout the day, as I appear to have made a dash to the airport at some point even though I'm pretty sure my phone stayed in my stationary car the whole day...

This was a bit of an accidental discovery, as I normally do not keep my location shared after I'm done using Google Maps on my phone. However, I left it shared last night while I was trying to get Google Location Alerts to work with Steve.  Location Alerts is another cool feature, where Google will send you a message when you come within proximity of a friend on Latitude.  Unfortunately, I have yet to succeed in causing an alert despite two attempts while sitting next to or across from a friend.

Anyway, if you are not one of those privacy advocates who think this is the work of Big Brother, friend me up on Latitude.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Who else loves Tim Lincecum's hair?

So it was announced today that Tim Lincecum barely beat out the two Cardinals aces for the NL Cy Young award in what was one of the closest votes in history.  I'm not that big a baseball fan anymore, but those three pitchers (Lincecum, Adam Wainwright, and Chris Carpenter) have to be three of my favorites in the game.  Two of them are obviously so, because they play for my hometown team...and they're really good.

Lincecum, though, has other interesting characteristics.  By complete coincidence, I happened to catch his first career MLB start on May 6, 2007.  I'm not even sure why I watched that ESPN Sunday Night Game between the Giants and Phillies, because by that time I had already lost most of my interest in baseball, which had peaked during the golden days of fantasy baseball in college and a little after.  In any case, I remember being impressed by the Giants starter, who had a shaky first inning debut but ended up striking out 3.  He was a young guy of relatively slight build (for a pitcher anyway), and he had some lights-out stuff.  In my mind, he immediately drew comparisons to Roy Oswalt.

Anyway, it's about two-and-a-half years later, and that kid has two Cy Young awards to his name.  Since that day, I've seen Lincecum pitch in person - I was lucky enough to draw his starting position in the rotation when I went to a Giants-A's game in San Francisco earlier this summer (June 12).  He didn't absolutely dominate that day, but he tossed a complete game without giving up any runs.

So when it came time to decide who to root for in the Cy Young race, I had a tough time choosing.  I figured that one of the Cardinals would get it, since the Giants didn't do very well this year and Lincecum had a low win total.  But between the two Cards pitchers, I couldn't pick either - Wainwright tossed more innings and had more wins, but Carpenter had mostly better statistics otherwise.  I was pretty surprised to learn that Lincecum took the award, but in a way I way was glad.  It would have been nice for a Cardinal to win it, but I couldn't choose one over the other.  And my favorite pitcher over the last couple of years did win after all.

Oh, and did I mention how awesome his hair is?  I mean, look at that thing:

This is a screenshot of the video of his reaction after winning the award today, which you can check out here.  Maybe his hair is the reason he won it.  You don't see mops like that on many major league players.

Friday, November 06, 2009

A stroll through PC World's top 100 products of 2009

Around this time of year, PC World releases their list of the top 100 products of the year.  The list is a combination of products from many varied categories: social networking websites, desktop applications, operating systems, gadgets, consumer electronics, and pretty much anything tech related.  You can check out the 2009 edition by pointing your computer in this direction.

As I went through the list, I certainly encountered many familiar items (I'd list some of my favorites here, but there are just too many).  However, I also found others that I was either previously unaware of or had previously dismissed as uninteresting.  Here are some new gems that kept me up late tonight:

#8. Canon PowerShot SX200 IS
I'm in the market for a new "pocket megazoom" camera.  My requirements are at least 10x optical zoom and HD (720p) video.  I can now add this to the shortlist, which was previously occupied only by the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3.

#25. Boxee
A free open-source media center application.  This will come in handy for my office PC, especially while my media center PC is down with a faulty hard drive.  One of the big selling points of Boxee is the integration with online content, including Hulu.

#39. Qik
I've had their application installed on my Nokia N97 since I got the phone, but I never really knew what it did, besides that it was somehow related to video sharing.  Turns out that I can use it to stream live video from my phone to the interwebs.  Yes, seriously.  Stream.  Live.  Video.  From my phone.  To the web.  You could sit anywhere in the world with an Internet connection and watch live video streamed from my phone.  I tested it out.  It works.  And it's blowing my mind right now.  Oh, and you can share your videos on YouTube, Facebook, etc. after you're done recording.

#86. Hillcrest Labs Loop Pointer Remote
I've wanted a device like this ever since I heard of the Logitech Air Mouse.  This crazy design has me pondering whether I would prefer a mouse form factor (but movable in the air like a wand) or another potentially more ergonomic shape.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Our Lady Peace @ The Pageant (10/30/2009)

During the show Raine (OLP's lead singer) claimed that the last time the band was in St. Louis they were going through a rough patch, the show that night sucked, and the show tonight would be much better. I was also at that show four years ago, and apparently I disagree with Raine.

I don't remember exactly why I rated their show back then so highly (4.5). Contributing factors might be: (a) Augustana opened for them that night, and I went backstage to visit with Josiah, and I caught some of the OLP performance from the side of the stage (b) I tend to overrate bands the first time I see them, and then decrease the rating on subsequent viewings. In any case, the show tonight is not getting nearly as high a rating.

When Christy and I showed up around 8:20 (20 minutes after the concert started), we found out that there would be two bands playing before OLP took the stage at 10. Instead of sticking around we headed across the street to grab dinner, where she had her first taste of Thai food (which is surprising for a young, hip, CWE resident). We returned to The Pageant a few minutes before OLP started.

The performance itself was disappointing, especially Raine's vocals. Part of it seemed to have to do with the sound setup, which did not seem to be mixed quite right. More to the point, though, might have been the way that he was "oversinging", as Christy put it. His unique way of singing is part of the band's schtick, but he seemed to be overdoing it with the level changes. We were both distracted during much of the show by the way he tilted his head back as he oversang every few words. It doesn't bode well that this was not the only thing that we were distracted by. We shared a few chuckles watching the dance movements of some of the members of the crowd who were enthralled by the band.

Other criticisms include Raine trying too hard to get the crowd to sing along - I'm not a big fan of the forced singalong...or the forced clap-along...or the forced stand-up. He also ruined one of my favorites of theirs, "One Man Army", by singing it wrong (in my opinion, at least). And they played the first half of "Is Anybody Home?" acoustically, which did not please me.

They played a few songs of their newest album, which I have but had only partially listened to. Unfortunately, the new songs that I didn't know did not inspire me to go listen to the rest of it.

Other noteworthy events included when they threw in a cover of MGMT's "Kids" during the "Naveed" interlude (Christy hated this, but I was fine with it). They also had one of their friends, a fellow musician, fill in for Raine for one song ("Automatic Flowers") during the encore - he did a decent job.

Perhaps I'm being too harsh on the band. After all, I do like a good number of their songs, and I think Happiness...Is Not A Fish That You Can Catch is a great album. So a disappointing show for Our Lady Peace means that they barely fail to make 80%.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mute Math @ The Pageant (10/23/2009)

Remember the season premiere of The Office where Michael, Dwight, and Andy try to make a Parkour video, and Andy ends up getting hurt? Well, that could be me for the next week or so. Except instead of yelling "Parkour!" like an idiot, I'll be yelling "MUTEMATH!!1!". More on that later.

The show started off on a good note, as the first song by unknown (to me at least) As Tall As Lions appeared to portend a new surprise find. Sadly, though, this turned out to be their best song of the evening. The rest of their multi-instrumental performance wasn't bad, but it didn't inspire me to check out more of their music. A few of their songs had pretty interesting riffs and melodies, but the singer often appeared to be singing to a different song, as his key didn't quite match the music. Perhaps he did match, but I just wished that he had gone in a different direction.

The main performers made up adequately for the misfiring openers. They played a good mix of songs from both the first and the new albums, with their biggest hit, "Typical", showing up somewhere in the middle. It was during this song that we saw the first glimpse of the crazy acrobatics that these guys had up their sleeve, as Paul (the lead singer) started off the song by jumping off the top of his main keyboard stand. Some high moments included "Odds" (my favorite song off the weaker new album) and their first jam session, which was one of the best that I've seen live. It consisted mainly of a danceably furious pounding beat and some synchronized light work. It's too bad that their other jam sessions were more like the typical (pun intended) fare that most bands provide. They also had a few nice props, including a moment when Darren (the drummer) beat the first half of one of their songs on 4 virtual drums set up by the big screen.

By the end of the show, the guys realized that they had to prove that they are totally nuts. First, Paul did some hand/shoulder stands on his keyboard stand during one of the songs. And then on the very last song of the encore, which was announce as "Reset" but ended up segueing into "Break the Same", all hell broke loose. By the end of the song all of the following had happened:

(a) Paul hopped his keyboard stand
(b) Greg (the guitarist) walked on Paul's keyboard stand
(c) Darren took the bass drum to the crowd, had them hold it up, and then climbed onto it and stood up on it. After a few gestures indicating that we could not deny his supreme awesomeness, he hopped off it and back onto the stage.

So it's only natural that after the show I took every opportunity I encountered to hop off a railing, curb, chair, or some other furnishing in a manner that allowed me to practice my own brand of freestyle walking. And each time that I did it, I yelled out
"MUTEMATH!!1!" in the spirit of "Parkour!". We'll see how long this fad lasts.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that Darren duct tapes headphones onto his head during the show. Crazy, I say!


Monday, October 12, 2009

Online dating statistics show that we're a bunch of racists.

OK, so maybe that characterization was overly harsh. But perhaps not by as much as you might think.

In the process of checking on some recent activity on my OkCupid (a free on-line dating and networking website)
profile, I stumbled across the site blog, which has a few posts that provide interesting insight into patterns in online dating.

For example, one article shows how their users of different races and religion match other potential partners. The statistics suggest that religion plays a significant role in the matching potential, but race does not.

Another post, however, reveals that message response rates don't correspond to match potential when segregated by race. A couple of interesting points of note: black women are the most responsive yet are the least responded to, while white men are the least responsive even though they are the most responded to.

I think it's fantastic that OkCupid publishes studies like this. I echo the blog author's sentiments in wishing that the major online dating sites would do the same.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Chinese people know how to throw an effing parade.

I've never really liked parades. But maybe that's because I've only seen the weak sauce that they use here in the States. In comparison, China's 60th anniversary parade puts anything that we do here to shame. Check out pictures here:
Reminds me of the awesomeness that was the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics.

But then again, would I rather be Chinese and have awesome parades, or be American and have weak ones? Hmmm...I guess I'm good after all.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Michelangelo's David might not be the coolest statue any more...

Those crazy Japanese people have built a 60 foot Gundam statue in Tokyo. And it moves. I wish that (a) this had been started when I was in Tokyo last year (b) I had known about it at the time. You can probably find better pictures and videos elsewhere on the web, but here are a couple of links:

Unfortunately, the statue has recently been disassembled.

Friday, August 28, 2009

How many of these mispronounciations do you use?

I'm guilty of about 5%, which isn't too bad (assuming the source is authoritative). Thanks to Jen for the link.

Monday, August 24, 2009

No, I did not change my mind about not wanting that desktop shortcut.

Dammit, Apple...why do you have to be so insidious about shortcuts to your software? When I first installed Safari (which I must admit is actually a pretty good browser - perhaps good enough to displace Opera and IE in my hierarchy), I deleted the desktop and taskbar shortcuts that you placed there without asking me. Now, after updating Safari, and having to uncheck the box that would install iTunes (which I never wanted in the first place) as a tag-along, you have replaced the desktop and taskbar shortcuts once again without asking me. Why can't you just:
(a) only install what I ask you to?
(b) ask me before placing shortcuts?

Your current behavior is not helping you to win me over.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Even government employees can appreciate my racially charged jokes.

We had a technical review with the government today for our USAF suite update. The presentations were running late, so the guy who was slated to go after me wasn't around to give his presentation. His name is Mike Eschweiler, and he's white...this will be useful information later. So I volunteered to give his presentation for him, since I was working on that item, and was familiar with it. When I got up to the podium after the meeting reconvened, these were my first words: " I guess I'm the younger, darker version of Mike Eschweiler...". Thankfully, I received many laughs (a.k.a. LOLz), so I didn't have to worry too much about having offended someone.

P.S. - I also found out today that I was promoted. W00t! Oh, wait...that doesn't really change anything, except for the number after my job title...and a little extra change. So I guess I can't complain.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Phone tech update.

A couple of developments regarding phone tech over the past few days...

First off, I received my coveted invitation to Google Voice. The mass message with my new phone number will be sent out shortly.

Secondly, I acquired a new cell phone - the Nokia N97. I selected this because it was one of only a few phones currently available that had all the features I was looking for (3G/GSM, GPS, Wifi
, Bluetooth, touch-screen, physical QWERTY keyboard). I had to wait until my trip to Chicago to get it because I wanted to actually use it before I committed, and they are only available at Nokia stores. One advantage of this is that it is unlocked, so I can use it on any GSM carrier - which fits in with my desire to avoid cell phone contracts for the rest of eternity. After reading a few reviews, I was fearful that I would be disappointed with the phone because of the "archaic" Symbian S60 operating system and the inconsistent menus (some take one tap to select, some take two). However, I'm pretty pleased with it so far, though the UI is not as fancy as the iPhone or Android. Overall, it's a win.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Africans in America.

CNN ran a story about Africans in America ( that was interesting to me for a few reasons (thanks to Greg for the link).

First of all, I am a second (or first, depending on how you define it) generation American with Nigerian roots. I can definitely relate to some of the experiences that the subjects discuss in the story (e.g., relating more to values of white Americans, and being teased because of this).

Another hilariously interesting point the article makes is how (in addition to stereotypes black Americans have about Africans) Africans have stereotypes of black Americans - Africans portray them as a bunch of gangsters and criminals.

Lastly, as a kid I lived in the same neighborhood in Nigeria as one of the guys mentioned in the story: Chinedu Ezeamuzie.

This brings me to the my dislike of the misnomer "African-American". Not only is it too many syllables when a simple word like "black" would do, it does not accurately describe the group it is used to represent. Not all Africans are black (see this related story). In addition, black Americans in general have pretty much no connection to the continent of Africa these days. I don't object to being called an African-American - because I indeed am one. However, if all you mean to say is that I am black, just call me that instead.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

5 people that I wish had accounts...

...and used them...and were my friends on there. In case you don't know, is an online social cataloging website that tracks the music that you listen to.

  1. Brian George. He basically introduced me (though I had heard one of their songs before) to my most favoritest band in the whole wide world. He's also turned me on to quite a few other good bands.
  2. Chike Orjih. After living with my bro for almost a year, I'm realizing that our musical tastes are more alike than I had previously thought. I've definitely had a few "Hey, what's that you're listening to?" moments that have resulted in pleasant discoveries.
  3. Adam Tsacoumangos. Although he hasn't yet given me any referrals, we have significant overlap in our musical collections. We also have a lot of the same interests in general.
  4. Jason White. Similar story to Adam, and a top concert companion. I'm still waiting for him to blow my mind with something.
  5. Robert Schwartz/Tom Musick. What top-5 list isn't complete without your best buds? So what if that's technically 6 people?

Friday, July 10, 2009

A racial divide in online social networking?

This article is an interesting read. The author hypothesizes a white flight of sorts from MySpace to Facebook (or, as I refer to them at times, MyFace and Spacebook). I think I was part of that flight. Does that mean I'm white? Don't answer that.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Tired of junk mail?

I know I am. I came across a website with some tips on how to stop people from sending you junk mail: I've done a couple of the things on there and it seems to have helped a little bit, though not too much. They also provide a link to the website of an organization that you can pay $41 to significantly reduce your junk mail (by about 80-95%) for 5 years. A novel idea, but I don't think I'm quite ready to pay someone to do that just yet.

Friday, July 03, 2009

What is Google's civil responsibility?

Here's an interesting article about a two-pronged lawsuit that's being brought against Google:

The first claim that Ascentive makes (though they are not the first to do this type of thing) is that Google wrongfully allows other companies to purchase ads using Ascentive's trademarks. More on this in a bit.

The second claim (this is where they are trailblazers) is that Google unfairly removes their websites from search hits. The article goes on to explain why Google had dropped their sites (due to a malware warning), but to me this is immaterial. As the legal expert quoted in the article says, there's no way this claim gets anywhere in the lawsuit. I don't see how Ascentive can allege to have any say in how Google provides search results. Despite the ubiquity of Google search in society today, we must remember that this is a service provided by a private company - the pages of are not owned by the public. As a side note, not many people realize the possible implications of having so much of their data on the servers of such private companies. And those that do don't seem to care (e.g., yours truly). But that's probably a separate blog post...

Back to the first claim. At first glance, it might seem wrong for Google to allow advertising with registered trademarks. But who's really doing wrong? I submit that the fault lies solely with the company that advertises using a trademark that they do not own. Google simply provides a service - it is the other company that misuses the service. It shouldn't be incumbent on Google to check that every ad they sell does not violate a trademark.

If I were the judge on this case, it would get tossed out faster than Matt Levine at a country line dancing bar (inside joke).

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A wiki for Nigerian names.

I just stumbled across this:

There aren't that many names currently, but both my first and middle names (Obinna Chukwuemeka) are listed. So people should believe me now when I say that my name is pretty common in Nigeria.

Speaking of which, there seems to be some Obinna Orji guy who may have as much of, if not more of, a web presence as I do. I'd take him on, but he seems to have studied at Harvard, so I don't think I have a chance (Harvard is the singular university I was not admitted to when I applied as an undergrad).

Sunday, June 28, 2009

There might be a reason that singles are chosen as singles.

Tim Mason once asked me an interesting question along these lines (I am paraphrasing because I don't recall the exact question):
Do singles tend to be people's favorite songs off an album because they're the best songs, or because they're popular (since they are the singles)?

While we pondered this, one approach we took was to consider the experience of discovering a new band. When this happens, I tend to latch on to a song or two that become immediate favorites. These are the songs that I look forward to, and perhaps repeat, while listening to the album. These usually end up being my favorites even after I have become fully familiar with the album (though that is not always the case). We wondered how often these favorite songs, end up having been released as singles (unbeknown to us). A hidden assumption here is that we didn't discover the band as a result of hearing the single, as this would increase the chances of a correlation.

I guess the point of this post is to point out a recent correlation. I have been downright obsessed with the song "My Girls" by Animal Collective (whom I recently discovered) for the last couple of months. It turns out that it is the first single off their most recent album, Merriweather Post Pavilion. Reviews of the album (their 8th) suggest that it is their most accessible to date. I would agree after going back and listening to a few of the earlier ones. I still wouldn't have expected to hear them on the radio since their sound is definitely not mainstream (though I never listen to radio). I was pleasantly surprised when I heard this song on the radio last weekend while visiting in KC. Since then I looked up some info on the band and found out, in addition to the singles, that the album has done fairly well on the U.S. charts (peaking at #13). I will say, though, that the second single, "Summertime Clothes", from the album is not my other favorite - that distinction goes to "Brother Sport".

So is there any real conclusion from this? I guess not. Perhaps I should commission a study to see how often this actually occurs in my music experience...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Your web browser can soon be your web server.

At least that's the goal of Opera Unite ( I can definitely see the web headed in that direction, though I doubt (unfortunately) that Opera will be leading the charge...I'm sure Microsoft, Google, or some other bigger name company will steal this idea. My question: will such browser/servers provide enough functionality for me to ditch my paid hosting service?

The Amtrak experience.

This weekend I rode on Amtrak for the first time for a trip to Kansas City to visit Justin and Ashley. I have to say that I was quite satisfied with the experience. The round-trip ticket from StL to KC cost $52, about $10 more than I would expect to pay for gas. The trip was also longer (5 hours and 40 minutes vs. ~4 hours), but I didn't have to drive (w00t). The accomodations on the train were pretty good - there's lots of space between the seats, and a 120-volt outlet is provided for every seat. The ride was also surprisingly quiet - the loudest part was when they would blow the horn. I would definitely consider using Amtrak more in the future, but the only major cities with direct service from the Lou are KC and Chicago.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Yet another web browser - but this one is kinda interesting...

Flock - The Social Web Browser

Why it's interesting:
It integrates many aspects of your social web presence into the browser.  For example, there are widgets built into the browser to manage a myriad of your accounts, including Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, GMail, Yahoo! Mail, Blogger, etc.  In fact, I'm using the blog post feature of the browser to create this very post.

Other points of note:
It is based on Firefox, and has a somewhat similar feel...sorta.

Will it become my new default web browser?  Highly doubtful.  But it's still pretty neat.  Perhaps the new order of preference will be:
Internet Explorer
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Compton Hill Water Tower

After 2 years, I finally made it up to the Compton Hill Water Tower, which is only a few blocks away from my house. The tower is open on the first Saturday of the month during the spring, summer, and fall, and admission costs $5. While it's nothing terribly impressive, it was probably worth the 5 bucks to go up once. Here are a couple of shots from my excursion:

My first official Wikipedia edit.

I've made a couple of minor anonymous edits before, but I just made my first edit (actually, 2) with my Wikipedia account. I was reading a story on CNET about Jeff Moss (a.k.a. Dark Tangent) being named to the Homeland Security Advisory Council, and decided to look up his Wikipedia page. I noticed that the page did not have too much information on it, and lacked this recent piece of news. I dutifuly added this to the page with a reference to the source article. Go me! You can see my contributions here:

Monday, May 25, 2009

World stats


Anticipated tech: Google Voice

Since I can't take my cell phone into work with me, some people have a hard time reaching me (because they don't have my work number, and because they don't realize that I'm an e-mail addict). With Google Voice, I would be able to have one phone number dial all three of my phones. Brilliant! Unfortunately, Google Voice is only in a closed beta right now. However, the FAQ page indicates that they will opening it up in a matter of weeks. You can learn more about it, including its other cool features, here:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram Alpha is the new "computational knowledge engine" that everybody's talking about (well, all the nerds are). If you don't know what this is or haven't seen a demo, check out this video: It's kinda long, but you'll probably get the idea after a couple of minutes.

I don't think this is gonna put Google out of business or anything, but it does look pretty awesome.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Meat poisoning and geeking out.

Note to self: don't enter another eating contest against Steve Mitori. A group of 11 coworkers (and some friends/family) got together last night for dinner at Bacana, a classy churrascaria buffet. Steve and I wanted to settle once and for all who had the bigger appetite, as we were uncertain after past dining experiences together. Despite his slight stature (I would guess 5'-5'', 130 lbs), the man can put the food away. This time, I was to match him bite for bite - everything he ate, I had to eat as well.

I hung with him for a good hour or so through many cuts of meat (my favorites were the garlic fillet and the bacon-wrapped chicken), a plate of sides, and a plate of salad. In the end, however, he prevailed by eating an extra cut of tenderloin and a lime mousse desert. The triumphant moment was immortalized in picture, and I don't look forward to its appearance on Facebook. Congratulations, Steve.

After dinner, a few of us joined a few others (11 in total) for the Star Trek movie. The movie was pretty solid (3/5 on the Netflix scale) and I didn't throw up during it from meat poisoning, but there was a guy sitting in front of us whom I wanted to punch in the face several times for making annoying comments that I'm pretty sure only he thought were humorous. Being the grinch that I am, I was also annoyed when the audience erupted into an ovation at the end of the movie - this is one of my pet peeves.

Speaking of Star Trek, I was surprised the other day to find a Star Dates calendar had been added to my Google Calendar account. I later found out that those tricky Google folks had done this automatically for anybody with a Star Trek event in their calendar. Sneaky, sneaky...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How good are you at eyeballing stuff?

Play this game and find out:

I'm not bad, but then again I'm not as good as I would have hoped.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Believe it or not, my presence on the Internet is not so unique.

As of right now, if you do a search for "Obinna Orjih" on Facebook, I will not be the only result that shows up. This is because my name on there is "Obi Orjih". But this raises the question of whom exactly is this other Obinna Orjih on Facebook. I wondered this, so i sent him a message to say hello. As a consolation, if you search for "Obi Orjih", you get both of us.

Real-time shoe sale tracking.

This one's for the real nerds out there. Zappos, the online shoe retailer, has an application which shows the location of shoe purchases in real time on a map of the United States. Enjoy:

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The scariest good deed that I've done.

I've always wanted to help out a stranger by giving him/her a ride. In fact, it is on my list of goals/accomplishments. Today, I can check that one off the list.

I was driving home from Boeing, where I had left my car for the weekend (I had gone to New Orleans to visit Brandon, and Tim graciously gave me a ride from the airport to my car), when I realized that I was low on gas. I stopped at the BP on Florissant right off I-70 to fill up. After I was done, I had to go inside to get a receipt because the printer on the pump was broken. On my way back out to my car I was stopped by a dingy-looking Caucasian fellow who asked if I could give him a ride to the Denny's at I-270 and Dorsett. I replied that this was in the opposite direction from where I was headed. He countered that everybody so far had said the same thing. I gave in and decided to give him a ride. Besides, this was a clear opportunity to accomplish one of my goals...even if it was 21:30 on a rainy Sunday night. Every time I've considered doing this before, it had been a hitchhiker or someone walking on the side of the road and by the time I truly entertained the idea I either was already too far down the road or realized that I was in a hurry to get somewhere.

In any case, the ride to Denny's was fairly uneventful. He introduced himself, though I don't remember his name, and thanked me a few times. I would guess he was probably in his 40s. He smelled badly of cigarrettes and beer. He talked profusely, though I could only understand half of what his raspy voice said. It was actually a pretty uncomfortable experience, and I second-guessed myself the whole ride over...especially after he started talking about how he had been in many different jails over the last few years. He even scared me once when he reached into his jacket pocket, but he was only retrieving a 32-ounce can of Miller High Life, and not a gun. After arriving at the Denny's parking lot, I have him 3 bucks (to buy a cup of coffee) and bid him farewell before heading home. I guess it all turned out OK.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Another $800 oil change.

So I showed up at the dealer this morning for my oil change appointment (15 minutes late, of course), and I asked them to also look into this vibration my car's been having when driving at high speeds and braking. About an hour later, Craig (the service associate) called me over and told me that I had two bad tires (which he showed me) and a third that appeared to have a leak. I opted to have them replace the two (for $300) and fix the third while I waited. A little later, Craig came back and told me they've figured out why the third tire was low - its wheel is bent (he demonstrated this on the wheel-spinner-thingy). Of course I had to get this fixed as well.

So I ended up paying over $800 for two new tires, a new wheel, and an alignment...oh, and an oil change. Plus I didn't get out of there until after 13:00, five hours after I arrived. At least my drives to work and home were the smoothest that I've had in months. Tina's coming up on her 5th birthday, so maybe it's time to start thinking about her successor.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Intelligent design is not science.

This article, about yet another debate over whether evolution is the the only theory of human origin to teach in science classes, caught my attention. As a good atheist, I have long thought that creationism is BS. The intelligent design argument has never sat well with me, but until taking a Philosophy of Science class this semester I have not had a good reason to argue why it should not be taught in science classes.

Creationism is blatantly religious, and most educated people would recognize that it has no place in science. Intelligent design, however, has more subtle supernatural undertones. Many people would argue that it is a viable theory, and that it is pretty much impossible to disprove. Therein lies the rub. One of the fundamental requirements of a scientific theory is that it is testable. Although, the balance of the currently available evidence supports the theory of evolution, if we were to discover fossils that demonstrated that humans lived before the early primates that scientists believe were our ancestors, the theory would no longer be justified. There is no corresponding test for intelligent design. One could claim that any evidence fits into this theory. This is not science. See here for more insight on this issue.

Another angle the proponents of intelligent design take is that they claim to be skeptical about the evidence for evolution. I tend to be skeptical about many things, so I can appreciate this position. However, in this case there seems to be very little to be skeptical about. The evidence supporting evolution is bountiful and coherent. There is no disagreement about this issue in the scientific community. Attempts to claim this is not the case are worse than claiming that there is no scientific consensus on climate change, and probably on par with the ad campaign the tobacco companies undertook years ago to try to convince people that scientists did not agree that smoking is harmful.

Although I disagree with intelligent design, I have no problem with people posing it as a possible explanation for our long as they don't do it in a science classroom. If someone can come up with a better *scientific* explanation than evolution, I'm all ears.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Time traveling.

I have long vehemently contended that time travel is impossible. Facebook has just proven me wrong:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I am the definition of yuppie.

–noun (often initial capital letter)
a young, ambitious, and well-educated city-dweller who has a professional career and an affluent lifestyle.
Also, yuppy.

1980–85, Americanism; y(oung) u(rban) p(rofessional) + -ie

If there was one word that described my lifestyle, this has a high probability of being it. I don't know how I feel about that, especially since I would like to consider myself as transcending labels.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Time to switch toilet paper?

I'm a fan of the Charmin Ultra cuz it's so soft. However, it looks like it's not so good for the environment. Check out a comparison chart here: It also looks like Bounty paper towels, my brand of choice, are pretty bad in that respect. I don't think I can switch from Bounty unless the "greener" brands make select-a-size rolls.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Kid A, no. Kid B, no. Kid C, yes.

Apparently we are now capable of screening human embryos for diseases and other characteristics, thus allowing potential parents to select their desired children: click. While this is not a trivial (or cheap) procedure, it raises some controversial questions.

This takes natural selection to a whole new level.
I like the idea of being able to screen for debilitating or fatal genetic diseases, but I'm not sure how I feel about the idea of designer babies, i.e. choosing gender and other physical characteristics. I don't think I can say that I'm opposed to it, though.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

An interesting essay on the impossibility of reconciling science and religion.

Jerry Coyne's piece, entitled "Seeing and Believing", in The New Republic is a review/critique of two books which attempt to unite science and religion in a Darwin Year (the 200th anniversary of his birth). The article is a pretty long read, but there are quite a few portions that are worthwhile if you have any interest in the topic.

A few excerpts that caught my attention:
"It is a depressing fact that while 74 percent of Americans believe that angels exist, only 25 percent accept that we evolved from apelike ancestors. Just one in eight of us think that evolution should be taught in the biology classroom without including a creationist alternative. Among thirty-four Western countries surveyed for the acceptance of evolution, the United States ranked a dismal thirty-third, just above Turkey."
"True, there are religious scientists and Darwinian churchgoers. But this does not mean that faith and science are compatible, except in the trivial sense that both attitudes can be simultaneously embraced by a single human mind. (It is like saying that marriage and adultery are compatible because some married people are adulterers. ) It is also true that some of the tensions disappear when the literal reading of the Bible is renounced, as it is by all but the most primitive of JudeoChristian sensibilities. But tension remains. The real question is whether there is a philosophical incompatibility between religion and science. Does the empirical nature of science contradict the revelatory nature of faith? Are the gaps between them so great that the two institutions must be considered essentially antagonistic? The incessant stream of books dealing with this question suggests that the answer is not straightforward."
"In other words, God is a Mover of Electrons, deliberately keeping his incursions into nature so subtle that they're invisible. It is baffling that Miller, who comes up with the most technically astute arguments against irreducible complexity, can in the end wind up touting God's micro-editing of DNA. This argument is in fact identical to that of Michael Behe, the [intelligent design] advocate against whom Miller testified in the Harrisburg trial. It is another God-of-the-gaps argument, except that this time the gaps are tiny."
"Most scientists can tell you what observations would convince them of God's existence, but I have never met a religious person who could tell me what would disprove it. And what could possibly convince people to abandon their belief that the deity is, as Giberson asserts, good, loving, and just? If the Holocaust cannot do it, then nothing will."
"And they fail for the same reason that people always fail: a true harmony between science and religion requires either doing away with most people's religion and replacing it with a watered-down deism, or polluting science with unnecessary, untestable, and unreasonable spiritual claims."
"It would appear, then, that one cannot be coherently religious and scientific at the same time. That alleged synthesis requires that with one part of your brain you accept only those things that are tested and supported by agreed-upon evidence, logic, and reason, while with the other part of your brain you accept things that are unsupportable or even falsified. In other words, the price of philosophical harmony is cognitive dissonance. Accepting both science and conventional faith leaves you with a double standard: rational on the origin of blood clotting, irrational on the Resurrection; rational on dinosaurs, irrational on virgin births."
"So the most important conflict--the one ignored by Giberson and Miller--is not between religion and science. It is between religion and secular reason. Secular reason includes science, but also embraces moral and political philosophy, mathematics, logic, history, journalism, and social science--every area that requires us to have good reasons for what we believe."
You can also read some interesting responses to the article (including posts from both authors that were criticized) here:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Some of the best words that I could ever hear from my father...

"Just keep it up, you are in no way falling short of what I am hoping that you would eventually become."

Thanks, Pa.

Boeing cafeteria goes green.

When I went to the cafeteria at work today, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they had replaced the styrofoam plates with ones that are made out of 100% recycled paper (and are compostable). The only downside is that there is no convenient plastic cover for these plates like there was for the old ones, though they did have some plastic wrap available to cover food. I guess this is part of our commitment to ISO 14000.

Monday, February 09, 2009

If I ever become a vegetable, please let me die.

A recent article about the death of an Italian woman who had been in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) reminded me of the Terri Schiavo case. I'm pretty sure I fall on the "right to die" side of that argument. It seems to me that in these cases one thing that made the choice of whether to disconnect life support (or not) more difficult was that the conscious parties involved did not know what the vegetative person would have wanted. So this is my attempt to make my preference in that undesireable event clear: if I am in a PVS for more than a year, please pull the plug. And after I'm done, go ahead and donate my organs and cremate my remains.

Friday, February 06, 2009

A humurous take on the "base" metaphor.

What does it mean when someone says that he reached second base with another person? Today's XKCD may help answer that question, and is sure to entertain in the process. Check it out here: I think some of it will be lost on non-techies, but it is worthy nonetheless.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

More proof that wikis are awesome.

Even the U.S. intelligence community uses one to share information: I'm pretty sure the vast majority of the general public will never see an article on there, though.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Free e-file with no strings attached.

I have always felt that the ability to electronically file your taxes for free should be a right as a citizen of the United States. If the government makes you pay taxes, you shouldn't have to pay someone an additional fee to figure out how much you need to pay. It looks like the Free File program has finally achieved something close to how I think things should be.

For years there have been ways to e-file taxes (both federal and state) for free, but there have been stipulations that limit access to these options, such as caps on income. For the past couple of years I have semi-manually filled out my tax returns because I refuse to pay to have my taxes done. Thankfully, the IRS had PDF forms that you could fill in, though you had to perform the calculations yourself. Missouri went a step further and provided PDF forms that automatically performed the calculations. The drawback was that I had to print out my tax returns and mail them in.

It now looks like the IRS is offering Free File Fillable Forms that perform calculations and allow e-file! It is completely free for the federal return and there are no limitations, including on income. I should note that this option is similar to filling in the paper forms, except that it is all done electronically. People who are not comfortable with crunching the numbers or deciding which schedules to fill out are probably better off with the commercial software packages/websites that guide you through the process, though usually at a cost. In any case, you can bet that I will be utilizing this service this year. Unfortunately, this does not apply to state returns, so I would have to either pay for a Missouri e-file (head shake) or mail in the state forms as I have done in the past (head nod).

Monday, January 19, 2009

An interesting take on the U.S. rail system.

I've been an advocate for enhancing the national rail system in the United States, especially after riding the trains in Japan. I knew at least one person (Michael Schwartz) shared my sentiments. I now know that there are others. This article has some interesting ideas on the issue. The guy who is interviewed basically wants to create a system modeled after the European one. It would be viable, more efficient, and more eco-friendly alternative to flying.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

That's why you get a battery back-up.

I was using my office PC almost 2 hours ago when the power went out. This was the first time I had experienced a power outage since I moved into my house. I didn't understand why it had happened, because there was no snow or rain outside, though it had drizzled a bit the night before. Fortunately, I have a battery back-up for my office computers and my media center PC, so they did not experience a power interruption. Since I no longer had a working Internet connection, I decided to shut down my computers.

I called up Ameren, and their automated system helpfully informed me that there were about 650 houses without power in my area, and that the problem was being worked. The estimated completion time was 15:00, which wasn't too bad. I'm now at my mom's house, but hopefully the power has been restored at mine.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Everybody's got an online social network.

...even Boeing. Only theirs is supposedly for networking and collaboration within the company. It's called inSite, and it was rolled out the last scheduled work day last year...which is good cuz you can't expect productivity to be very high at that time. Unfortunately my productivity has not improved this year because of it. In order to help put an end to my addiction, I set a goal of 100 connections by the end of the week. I already reached this goal at 15:59 Tuesday afternoon, so I guess I have to go back to doing real work for the rest of the year...