Wednesday, February 24, 2010

First Person Plural

We need to abandon the idea that each of us has one cohesive identity.

Everyone possesses multiple personalities, each with their own set of motivations, goals, and quirks.
Call them what you want, but there's always the rational part, the mind, driven by cool rationality, always thinking it's calculated what's best for you. Then there's the emotional part, the heart, driven by irrational passion. Always close by is the libido, driven by the desire to fuck and be fucked.

These identities don't always agree with each other.

John Mayer put this eloquently in his infamous Playboy interview:

"I've got a Benetton heart and a fuckin' David Duke cock. I'm going to start dating separately from my dick."

We don't all have racist cocks, but we've all experienced conflict in our attractions. A person can be perfect on paper—attractive, smart, lots in common—but the heart just doesn't supply the thumpity thump that the mind insists it should. Worse is the vice versa; someone's who's objectively oh so wrong, but the heart's on one shoulder whispering sweet lies of encouragement, while the cock's feverishly tugging on the other shoulder, insisting, yeah, the heart is right.

The research I'm doing for my PhD lends some empirical support to these ideas. The answer to a question often depends on how you ask it. If you ask someone to think the question through then write down a response, it's mostly the mind, with its smarty-pants ability to handle language, that answers. But if you ask too quickly, or too indirectly, for the mind to interject, the other identities get more of a chance to answer. And sometimes their answer is completely different than the mind's. 1

Almost literally, each person is people. "I" is a plural pronoun.

It's why we love the werewolf (ok, maybe not all of us), and his relatives, Dr. Jekyll, Bruce Banner, and Tiger Woods. We all recognize that struggle between the rational side and the unfettered emotional side. But we're also repulsed by it; we wish there was only one cohesive personality calling the shots.

But it's the mind that figured out language, so it's the one you hear from. It's the one writing this post. The heart and libido are still on our shoulders, whispering things the mind forgets to say, but it's still the one that controls which words get out. Maybe that's why we have this illusion of a cohesive identity. The mind is the loudmouth of the group, doing all the talking, pretending it's got its shit together. But that doesn't make the others any less important in determining our actions. When it comes down to what it really means to be human, they're all equal partners.

Maybe that's okay. Maybe we should just accept it. Go with the heart's opinion one day, go with the mind's another, and let them work out a mutual agreement based on the consequences. Can't I all just get along?



Note: The title of this post is stolen from Stephen Braude.

1 More concretely, I am speaking about implicit measures of attitudes. The technique used in my research is called the Affect Misattribution Procedure (AMP); for more information, Google up articles by Keith Payne.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Book Review: Marvellous Hairy, by Mark A. Rayner

The copy on the back of Marvellous Hairy bills it as a novel about a man who is turning into a monkey. However, it goes far beyond that. The story revolves around a giant, evil corporation nicknamed Gargantuan Enterprises, the people who want to bring it down, and before you know it, there are ghosts, kidnapping, lizards, sex, and drugs thrown in for good measure.

Let me make a confession: I don't find monkeys inherently funny. Their similarity to humans is amusing, sure, but it's been overdone. Given the premise of Marvellous Hairy, I was a bit worried that its humour would rely on the "anything is funny if you mention the word monkey alongside it" school of thought. Luckily, its absurdity is only partially monkey-based, and it delivers some genuine funny. Many scenes had me smirking as hard as I have at any Douglas Adams novel (yeah, just smirking; it takes a lot for me to physically LOL at text).

A lot of the books I've reviewed recently, they've been trashily entertaining (see: Charlaine Harris), or had great ideas despite mediocre writing (see: Cory Doctorow). But Rayner is actually a damn good writer. Every paragraph is packed with clever wordplay and subtle allusions. E.g., "He had long greasy black hair that clung to his head like an octopus humping his skull" (ok ok, maybe not always subtle).

Not all is warm and fuzzy. The novel could have used some edits; the language can be wordy, the plot takes a while to get going, and a certain subplot doesn't feel like it fully connects with the rest of the story. Also, the quasi-omnipotent first-person narrative is jarring, especially when it needs to be explained, though it does add to the surreal bizarreness of the whole thing.

That is where Marvellous Hairy shines: it is such a bizarre barrel of words that you can't help but have fun reading it. Mark (full disclosure: I can go all first-name-basis because we've met IRL) recently tweeted that his next novel may be even sillier, and if that's the case, I can't wait to get my paws on whatever he comes up with.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lenzr Update: A Tangled Web of Gourmet Food in Action

Hey remember yesterday when I said I was a sellout? Well, I'm being paid to write this post, so don't say I didn't warn you.

Lenzr is holding another set of contests where you can win some great shit just for taking pictures and entering them. The first one is Best Gourmet Food, in which, for submitting a picture of food, you can win a wine tour trip with The Wine Ladies, who run a wine blog. Not many entries yet, so with some well-placed begging for votes, you can pretty easily win. I've been encouraged to enter an ugly cake, so get on it quick.

The second one is Everyday Tangled Web, sponsored by office phone system dudes SeTeL. Post a picture of tangled junk, and you can win a bluetooth headset that looks very futuristic. Just don't wear it at Starbucks and talk to yourself about portfolios and social media strategies, or you will be a douche. Seriously.

The third is Kids in Action, sponsored by Toronto dentist Natalie Archer. You're supposed to take pictures of kids with "devil may care attitudes." Like this kid, who seems to be falling off a skateboard. Yeah, he'll probably need a dentist soon. Anyway, sacrifice your kids and you can win a tooth whitening kit. Anything to look beautiful.

These end on March 1st.

Phew, now I can afford groceries. All I've eaten today is chocolate, peanut butter, potatoes from a box, and this fish that had been sitting in my freezer for a year and exploded when I tried to microwave it. Seriously, there is fish everywhere.

...maybe I shouldn't enter that gourmet food contest after all.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Faaaaame (FAME), Lets Him Loose, Hard to Swallow

So I don't know if all y'all know this, but I'm kind of a big deal.

My other blog, Putting Weird Things in Coffee, continues to soar in popularity, bringing me the sweet thrill of hollow attention.

Today it's featured on The Seattle Times' coffee blog (of course the Seattle Times would have a whole blog devoted to coffee). Also, it seems that Spanish people love it; I don't understand half of the incoming links. Like this site, which is apparently very popular somewhere, and even comes with its own PWTIC illustration:

Reactions from my Spanish fans:

I've also done a few interviews with reporters. And one with a shock jock. 96.5 The Buzz in Kansas City had me on the Church of Lazlo show. This was my first live radio (or any media) interview ever, so I really didn't know what the hell I was doing. I sound mumbly and boring, and I accidentally lied at one point, but while the interview took a few weird turns, I think I managed to not let them make me come across like a complete freak. Find it here if you really wanna put yourself through that.

I am also happy to report my first financial benefit from the blog too. I threw up a Paypal donation link instead of putting Adsense on there (which I kinda regret now), and one very kind person took the "every cent helps" plea literally. I'm one cent richer, motherfuckers.

By the way, yes, it has gone to my head. And yes I am a complete sellout. If you're not famous, a blabbering sycophant, and/or a member of my entourage, we are no longer friends.

(In case it's not clear, I am being sarcastic. All this attention feels very strange to me, especially given how gross and stupid the whole idea of Putting Weird Things in Coffee is. I figured that it might catch on with some stranger internet folk, but the more mainstream attention is messed up. What is wrong with people? But hey, I'm just gonna enjoy this and and all the other ch-ch-changes going on right now.)


Friday, February 12, 2010

Book Review: Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

I'll keep this short, because Freakonomics is a pretty simple book. It takes a look at various topics—the effect of names on success, drug dealer salaries, cheating in sumo wrestling, etc.—through the eyes of an economist.

This book is a few years old (and has a sequel out now), and it took me a while to get through it, mostly because it's been my "sit on the bedstand and read for a few minutes before bed" book for a long time. And that's the ideal context for it. Read a few interesting facts, go "huh, that was interesting," then put it aside and go to sleep.

There's some weird deifying of Levitt that just feels out of place, but aside from that, the authors do a good job of merging interesting anecdotes with potentially dry number crunching. The accuracy of the conclusions is sometimes questionable, though. While there is a section about the difference between correlation and causation, causal claims based on correlational data are still presented with more certainty than is warranted.

Much has been made about some of the more controversial topics in here, such as racism, and abortion. For example, they claim that legalizing abortion can lead to a drop in crime rates years afterwards. This may be true (or may not)—and certainly this fact should inform moral judgments about abortion—but the fact itself has no morality attached to it. Presenting such a fact is not a moral stance. Information itself is neutral; it's what we do with it that determines morality.

Anyway, I'd recommend Freakonomics as a nice little entertaining read for anyone interested in some offbeat conclusions that have been drawn from studying economics. I wouldn't take it any further than that.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Concerts, Connections, Careers, and Coffee

At the beginning of 2010, I sorta half-wished for a less boring, more dramatic year than 2009. So far the universe has not failed to bend to my wishes.

Case in point: this past weekend was chock full of good times with many of my favourite people1. After a night of drinking with my besties and a morning of hung-over proctoring (a.k.a. hell), my dear friend Sarah traveled all the way from Toronto for various good times, such as seeing Andrew Austin perform at the Black Shire.

I've known Andrew and his music for a while, but it was my first time seeing him (and his band); I was blown away by how awesome it was. I highly recommend checking him out, especially live.

Here's a crappy video that doesn't do it justice.

The variety of people who showed up to the concert was staggering, especially because the night was full of mindblowing coincidental connections between them. It's a small world, and the internet makes it even smaller.

Oh and Sarah was like "we need a picture together for your blog." So uh, the lighting wasn't so good, but here is a rare picture of myself, and Sarah, looking like we're in a horror movie or something.

Oh and then, AND THEN, last night I met with even more friendly friends for a sushi party. I rolled sushi for the first time (after many hilarious "this is how I roll" and "let's roll" jokes), and it's really not as hard as they say. I could totally open a sushi restaurant.

Today I am figuring out how to find a career and spend the rest of my life. I do want my remaining days to be pleasant, so I guess this is important and exciting.

By the way this is now a blog where I just casually list everything that I've done lately. Here are 50 pictures of a shiny object I found that is pretty!

No. Never mind. It wasn't that shiny.

What else has been exciting is that Putting Weird Things in Coffee has taken off in popularity. I've been answering fan mail and even done an interview about it; it kinda feels like I'm getting my 15 minute allotment of fame. It's being linked to from all over the internet, such as, but also this weird-ass video, in which a (n extremely hot) German chick and her baby discuss PWTIC (at about the 2:00 mark). Apparently "Phronk" is still "Phronk" in German.

So yeah. If 2010 continues being eventful, it should be one for the history books.


1 Another new years resolution is to use more expressions that I don't understand, such as "case in point", and "chock full." Why do cases go in points? What the eff is a chock?

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Guest Post: Who Were You Born to Be?

Hello, fellow lovers of Phronk. Not that kind of lover. Actually, maybe, I don't know all of you. It's Blondie here from Welcome to the first guest post I have ever done on anyone's blog. Ever.

If you've been reading this blog longer than oh, a month, you'll know that Phronk just turned 30. To me, landmark birthdays are little more than numerical benchmarks in our lives. To some, they are defining points, by which we measure our life's success. Along with the man on the moon, JFK's assasination and September 11, we think we'll always remember what we were thinking on our 25th, 30th, 40th and 50th birthdays, among others. As generations come up behind us and turn these landmark ages, it spurs thoughts and memories of that time in our own lives and, in turn, bring us to how our lives are so much different now than we thought they would be.

When you were younger, where did you think you were going to be when you were 30? First of all, I thought 30 was what “old” people were like. I mean, my teachers (teachers = old in a kid's mind) were 30! In Up in the Air with George Clooney, he talks to a young coworker about where she thought she would be when she was 23, and how none of it happened. Have you ever found yourself in this situation? Have you set lofty long term goals for your life and then been disappointed when they just weren't happening?

I frequently am reevaluating my life and looking at myself objectively. I always wonder “is this who I was born to be?” and I always conclude with a resounding “yes.” I believe if I am constantly seeking a road that brings out my passion and plays to my strengths, that it will be leading me to new opportunities; I will always be who I was born to be, but that will always be changing.

In the [tremendously annoying, discouraging and frustrating] dating world, I find I am always asked “what are your goals for your life?” by new men. I hate this question. I am tremendously driven and determined, held back by very little, and have taken charge of my own life, but because I refuse to set lofty long term goals about my life, I never have an answer to this question.

While I'm only 26 and just as naive as I've always been, I'm smart enough to see that setting goals “for your life,” isn't really the answer for me. I'm not talking about “I'm going to get my PhD" (while you're starting school for it). I'm talking timeline “by the time I'm ...” What if I grow up and those goals just don't happen? I don't want to spend my time dwelling on how I don't have a husband and family, but instead I want to spend my time living to my full potential and being as happy, vibrant and satisfied as I can possibly be. I want to be who I was born to be, and I will.

What do you want to be?

- Blondie

[Phronk here. Thanks so much to Blondie for the wonderful post. Check out her and CJ at Blonde Monde; it's one of the best blogs out there. Today it features a sexy nose cast. Like a cast on a broken nose. Not a broadcast of someone's nose. Yeah.]

Tuesday, February 02, 2010


Sad news, everyone. My beloved Chia Pet, who has stood by my side through thick and thin for nearly an entire month, has passed on to ceramic statue heaven.

Here he is in his last days. Still smiling! I always enjoyed his positive attitude.

Yeah, maybe he would have been able to squeeze in a few more weeks if I'd provided him with luxuries like warmth and water. But sometimes you just feel when it's time for your loved ones to go. Like when you gradually replace grandpa's heart medicine with sugar pills. Oh come on, we've all been there.

I've still got quite a few seeds left. I was going to scrape him off and create a new best friend, but then I came across What I Like to Do With Chia Seeds.

Spoiler alert: what she likes to do is eat them.

All you do is add a "liquid of your choice" to the seeds, then eat up. I'll feel bad munching on Homer's little brothers' and sisters' gametes1, but apparently it's nutritious. Of course, my liquid of choice has always been coffee, so don't be surprised if you see this on Putting Weird Things in Coffee.

By the way, with that blog and this one, there are many exciting things happening right now. The first of which you will probably see the fruits of tomorrow, if you come back, WHICH YOU WILL.


1 Speaking of which...