Monday, August 23, 2010


Since I wrote some controversial things about fonts, people send me font-related stuff. For example, comics:

(thanks @Tedhealy)

(thanks Dan)

Also, a lot of people are mad about my quotes in that BBC article. Which doesn't bother me much, because people who get mad about fonts are not the type of people whose approval I seek out. 

I'm snobby about certain things myself. I like particular beers more than others. There are statistic techniques that I hate to see abused. But if I see someone drinking Budweiser or failing to apply a Bonferroni correction, it doesn't make me angry unless it's hurting someone. Font snobs should, in my humble opinion, take a step back, chill out, and realize they are freaking out about letters

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

99 Problems But a Fish Ain't One

Yesterday I saw a turtle squashed in the middle of the road. It's not something you see every day in downtown London, so I figure it was an omen that it would be one of those days when everything that could go wrong would go wrong.

My first of two thesis defenses was scheduled for 1:00. I gave myself an hour after I got to school to have lunch and go over my introductory presentation. I'd written it the night before, but hadn't practiced it yet. Last minute I guess, but I work best under pressure and there was much procrasturbation to be had. 1

When I picked up some sushi and a drink, the server made fun of my "bucket of coffee." It's true though, a venti is approaching a litre of friggin coffee. On my way back to my office, my labmate told me that I looked really chill. Which I mostly was, because all my preparation plans were in place, and all I could do was my best.

I got to my office, then flipped on my computer.

I didn't know Apple computers could have a blue screen of death, but there it was: a blank blue screen. It was perfectly fine just 30 minutes earlier when I left the house, and now, it's giving me sass with this blue screen. I reset it, and the blue screen was fixed! Except now it was this grainy rainbow screen of death.

I frantically Googled on my phone. I safe-moded and start-up-item-altered and make-verbs-out-of-phrases-ized as fast as my fingers would allow, but nothing that the internet suggested would help.

I took a moment to bite into my sushi. I say "bite into" because the salmon sashimi was this stringy unchewable mess. But as I stared at the spit-out wad of rancid meat, in the light of what was now a grey nonfunctional screen, feeling less than chill, a supernatural clarity came over me. I found myself reaching for a video adapter thingy. I poked it into a hole in the side of my laptop, then removed it.

No more screen of death. Like many grumpy people, my computer just needed something hard shoved into a random orifice.

I quickly loaded up my presentation. Even though I hadn't worn a tie in a year, I let my fingers figure out how to tie it while I practiced my presentation at quadruple speed.

I got to my defense with sushi breath (I was out of gum, naturally) and a screaming bladder full of venti ounces of caffè. Of course, one of the people who needed to be there didn't show up, so we started late anyway. But the bottom line is that I got through the presentation and the rounds of difficult questioning, and passed like a boss. Revisions, one more defense, then I'll be a doctor.

The lesson here is that even when things go horribly wrong (in a first-world-problems sense, anyway), let them go wrong, and it will probably turn out fine anyway. They might even give you a PhD.

1 Thanks @wintr for introducing me to that wonderful word.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

iPad Review


I've had an iPad for a few weeks now, and I think the best way to review it is to tell you how it's been integrated into my life.

I'm currently preparing for my first PhD dissertation defense. That means reading over and taking notes on my written dissertation, rereading the articles I cite, and preparing a short presentation.

So for the last few days, I've left the house with only my iPad. I have Dropbox on my laptop computer1 (now my "home computer"), so before I leave I copy the files I'll need into my internet-situated Dropbox folder. When I get somewhere cool (literally cool, like an air conditioned coffee shop, or figuratively cool, like a park bench), then I whip out my iPad and start up the Dropbox application. From there I can open up files in whatever application supports them.

So I open up my thesis in Pages. I make minor corrections when I find them. When I see something that takes substantial effort, like rewriting a paragraph or looking up an article, I open up Evernote. Evernote is a simple application for taking notes that, like Dropbox, is in the cloud and can be accessed on any computer. I've set up notes there with a list of articles to look up later and a list of major corrections to be made.

When I get back to my home computer, I can easily access my notes, make corrections, and look up articles to read. I slap the PDFs of articles onto my iPad, then take it to the couch to sit back and read them (I use Goodreader for PDFs).

I'll inevitably get distracted and go catch up on my RSS feeds (Reeder) or Twitter (Twitteriffic). If I find a long article or blog entry I'd like to remember to read later, I'll hit the Instapaper button that's built into a lot of apps. This easily saves the link and text of an article, again in the cloud, to be read later on any device. If I'm still needing distraction, I can go play Words With Friends or Osmos or use Adobe Ideas to draw cocks all over my iPhoto library.


I've talked mostly about reading content on the iPad, rather than creating it. For reading, you will sometimes see people say things like "I can't imagine reading all day on a backlit screen." Note: you usually see this from people who have spent all day trolling technology forums on their netbooks. Enough said. But I do think that its primary use is taking in content, not pumping it out. I've gotten used to the touch keyboard and can type at maybe 70% of the speed I do on a physical keyboard, but it's still not quite fast or accurate enough for writing a whole paper or novel on. I may try preparing my defense presentation on it in Keynote and see how that goes.

I can't get enough of the internet-based storage that the iPad encourages. It's ideal to start reading something on the iPad (feeds, Twitter, even a book), then pick up where you left off on another device, like a desktop when you're sitting at home, or a phone when you're sitting on the toilet. All without having to physically plug anything into anything else. I think "cloud computing" is more than a fancy buzzword; it's the future of where our information will be stored and manipulated.

I could have done all these things without an iPad. It's just a lot more pleasant with one. Tablet computers are finally finding their niche; not one where they were absolutely needed, but one where certain tasks are just a bit easier than with a full computer or phone (e.g. attending London city council?). My life hasn't been drastically changed by the iPad, but the bottom line is that, for now, it's a luxury that makes some everyday activities just slightly better than they used to be.

1 If you don't have Dropbox, you totally should; it's like a free hard drive on the internet. If you sign up with this link, we both get an extra 250 MB for free. Woot.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rihanna and Ke$ha at the Molson Amphitheatre

I went to see Ke$ha and Rihanna. Yes, I am a teenage girl in a man's body. Whatever. Popular music is popular for a reason.

Anyway, they put on a good show. The Molson Amphitheatre, being an amphitheatre, is half outdoors. The tickets we could afford put us way back on the lawn, which is, relative to the stage, in buttfuck nowhere. So it was hard to see the performers and the sound wasn't great, but still, I had a great time.

We arrived late for Ke$ha but the few songs we caught were decent. She sounded pretty good, considering she barely even sings in her recorded music. But she didn't even seem drunk, and wasn't covered in come as far as I could tell, so it could've been more entertaining.

Rihanna put on a far more elaborate show. Video vignettes covered up the frequent changes in costumes and sets, with each group of songs being performed among a different fancy setup. For example, Disturbia had a horror-themed set, with giant monster thingies on stilts towering around Rihanna. Such acrobatics accompanies a lot of the show, though there were a few subdued moments as well.

Musically, I was impressed by the band backing her; the live instruments gave her songs more of a rock vibe than the electronic pop on her albums. Although she sometimes seemed to take breaks and let the backup singers take over more than she should have, her voice was strong when she belted it out.

Here's a shitty iPhone video:

You can hear all the high pitched voices around us. The constant cries of OH MY GOD I AM HAVING SUCH A GOOD TIME; I LOVE HER SO MUCH; SHE'S SO PRETTY could have been annoying, but the unadultered excitement was kind of infectious. And yeah, we were pretty much the oldest people there other than (bizarrely irresponsible) parents. I don't know if that makes me a D-I-N-O-S-A, U-R a dinosaur or a Mr. Watson, but I've never been one for limiting my music consumption based on my age.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Should People With Disabilities Get in Free?

The Western Fair is London's annual showcase for carnies and dangerous rides. Recently, its organizers announced that, unlike previous years, people with disabilities would be charged admission to the fair. There was immediate public outrage. So much that the Western Fair reversed its decision.

I just have one question: why should people with disabilities get in free?

On an emotional level it certainly makes sense. Also,  I think a major reason for the outrage was the change from free to not-free, rather than the absolute policy. If everyone had been charged all along, I doubt many people would be considering a boycott. However, are there any deeper rational / ethical reasons for letting some people in free? Here are several possibilities.

1. Disabled people can't fully enjoy the fair.

Probably true in most cases. Maybe admission prices should be proportional to the percentage of attractions that one can take advantage of.

But wait, that's not how admission prices generally work.

Someone being dragged to a concert or movie they hate still pays full ticket price. Pregnant women still pay to get into an amusement park even though they don't (/shouldn't) go on the rides. People who don't drink still pay cover.

It's not up to the Western Fair to make guesses about how much individual attendees will enjoy it and adjust prices based on that. Like everything else, they set a fixed price, and it is up to the attendees to decide if that price is worth paying. If people aren't willing to pay it, the fair can either drop prices, or improve it so that more people will enjoy it more (e.g., by increasing accessibility for disabled people).

2. Charging disabled people is essentially charging the government. Plus, they're poor.

People with disabilities are usually aided by the government, with programs like ODSP and CPP. That's obviously great; I am proud to live in a country where we have these in place. However, I fail to see why the source of income matters when spending it. If these assistance programs don't take discretionary spending into account, then the problem is with the programs, not the Western Fair.

Maybe we should give poor people a break. Okay, so why are people on welfare charged admission? They're both government-funded and poor.

The Western Fair isn't a universal human right. It's a luxury for people who can afford it. If we want more people to be able to afford it, then we should be pushing for higher taxes to assist them with.

3. The Western Fair can easily afford it if they funnel money from their casino to the fair itself.

This is barely worth addressing. It's not the public's job to decide how the Western Fair should spend their money. It may not be the best move financially, and even if it was, there would probably be outrage because they're using dirty gambling money to fund a children's fair.

4. Disabled people have a rough life, so we should give them a break.

This is the most compelling for me. Emotionally, I'm fully on board with this. I believe that a good measure of a society is how it treats its most disadvantaged members. Society should be set up so that everyone, no matter what, can live as comfortably as possible and be able to reach their full potential.

But the Western Fair isn't society. It's a business.

More importantly, there is a fine line between helping our fellow man and meaningless expressions of pity. Essentially giving someone a $10.00 gift because we feel sorry for them is, I would think, almost insulting.

These reasons are, at the very least, problematic.

I think the biggest argument against the fee waiver is this: it's discrimination. Plain and simple, it's treating an individual differently based on their group membership.

There are some cases where discrimination is okay, but we must be very careful when we start going down that road, because it's hard to get off. There are a lot of reasons for having a rough life, or for being in a bad place physically, mentally, or financially. When we pick one category to help/pity, it raises the question of why all the others are left out. Unless there is very good reason for doing otherwise, the most ethically defensible policy is to treat all people equally, then let individuals decide if they wish to accept that policy.

I do think the Western Fair made the right decision. Having the exception then taking it away was a bad move, and they should have foreseen the outrage. However, other than as a marketing ploy that caters to the easily-angered masses, I am not fully convinced that there were rational reasons for having the admission fee waiver there in the first place.

Caveats: I have little personal experience with disabilities, and have not spent a substantial amount of time researching this. I may have missed arguments, or clarifications to the ones above. I am only reacting to what I have seen. I think it is important to fully reason through such ethically loaded issues rather than reacting with blind outrage based on shallow initial reactions.

Also, the issue of allowing people who HELP disabled people to get in free is a completely different one. In that case, while it's still muddy, I'm more solidly on the side of allowing the helper in for free. To put it bluntly, the helper is acting as a device that allows the other person to attend, rather than themselves attending.

I just read somewhere that the Western Fair ONLY considers someone "special needs" if they require another person. So maybe their policy makes more sense. I still think the above reasoning is relevant, though, as I have seen these poor arguments made in relation to the Western Fair affair.

P.S. I am not heartless. Heartless would be reacting without fully thinking through the implications for all people involved.

NOTE: Blogger's comment system seems to be messed up today. Be sure to copy your comment before pressing post and/or try again later and/or Tweet it to me.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Emotional Ramifications of Bleeps and Bloops

The iPhone needs more options for the new text message sound. There are only six beeps, bongs, and honks available, with no ability to add new ones.

I say this not out of a vain need for customization, but for the emotional well-being of iPhone users.

This is modern life:

You meet someone you like, and she likes you enough to give you her phone number. You send her an innocuous text, then wait with breath abated for a reply. BONG, an innocuous text in return. You do this back-and-forth a few times and soon each message contains not just neutral words but embedded emotion.

Eventually it's BEEP BEEP here are your plans for the evening; DING! here comes a compliment you'll remember for the rest of your life. You precede those consequences with that sound enough times, and they become inextricably linked. A smile hits your lips and your heart leaps into your throat with every buzz of your pocket.

Maybe you go on a few adventures. Maybe you screw. Maybe you make plans for the future. But nothing lasts forever, and when things inevitably go sour, all the positive associations with that tone become ambivalent, then negative. Finally, DONG! we need 2 talk.

Those associations are embedded deep, and they never quite go away. Alerts for even the most frivolous texts now make your mouth go dry; they're Pavlov's bell in reverse.

It doesn't take long to cycle through all six tones.

Technology is so embedded in our lives that we must increasingly consider not only its practical ramifications, but the full spectrum of human emotion as well.

Monday, August 02, 2010

If I had a horse, I think I'd name him Bacon. Because then I could say "I'm going to get Bacon the horse."

Get it? Because that sounds sort of like "back on the horse."

Which is an idiom.

Fuck, never mind.

My favourite AC/DC song is Bacon Black.