Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Epiphanty

So you guys.

I've come to the relaization that the only time I really have to bolg is late at night when I come home and I'm kinda tipsy and I'm still pretty wired and can't go tto sleep.

Other times I jsut have so much shit to work on, that bolgoing becomes second fiddle, so it ain't gonna hpapen on a greulgar basis.

The only problem wtih tthis realicitnon is that the moemnt I have just ONE beer in me, I completely lost eh abilty to type.

Like righ now, my mind is complety coherent! I have many many interesitn g things to say that would BOW YOUR MIND at an intelleicutal, spiritual, and LOLcat level. But my fingers just won't move in the way I wnt them to to express the geniusu in my brian. WHY MSUT YOU BETRAY ME, BRIAN.

Also, short paragraphs.

Hi.

This turtle is humping a croc.



Thursday, March 25, 2010

On Ann Coulter, Tolerance, and the Subjectivity of Morality

Ann Coulter, the conservative political commentator from the U.S., recently made a visit to Canada. First she visited my fine school, UWO, to talk then avoid questions and make a few racial slurs. Then she tried to talk at Ottawa, but backed down when she discovered a shocking truth: people here don't really like her.

Everyone is talking about this. A lot of the discussion goes like this:
  • I support free speech.
  • I support free speech but I do not want you to speak.
  • I support free speech but I do not want you to speak about me not wanting to speak.
  • I support free speech but I do not want you to speak about me not wanting to speak about you not wanting to speak.
Etc., forever. But such discussion isn't really productive. I think we need to get more meta, and look at some higher-level questions that Coulter's visit brings up:

1. Is indiscriminate tolerance a good thing?

2. If not, what should be tolerated, and what shouldn't be?

3. Once we figure that out, what should we do with people we don't tolerate?

These may seem like matters of opinion, or moral questions without any objective answers. For example, while most people, when pressed, would agree that the answer to #1 is "no," they can agree to disagree on #2. Some think homosexuality is wrong, others think worshiping a false god is wrong, and that's just their opinion. Same with #3; acting on those opinions, is it better to stage a peaceful protest, or "invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity"1? Some argue that's a moral question with no precise answer.

I don't buy that. Never have.

Some actions are objectively right and other things are objectively wrong, and it doesn't take an omnipotent being writing rules on stone tablets for that to be true. When we disagree on which of two actions is best for humanity, one or both of us is wrong. An individual person is extremely unlikely to have all the answers, whether she is a priest or a physicist, but we should never deny that there are answers. And I believe that with enough time, science, and careful critical thought, many of these answers will be revealed to us.

In a recent TED talk, Sam Harris expresses a similar viewpoint (thanks Ronny for directing me to this):



The only wrinkle is defining morality to begin with. However, there is an objective answer for any given definition, and I think the one Harris provides—maximizing the well being of conscious creatures—is one that most people (and if they could be asked, animals) would agree on.

So what about Ann Coulter? Well, I believe that free speech is objectively good. History has proven that the open flow of information from all sources maximizes human well being. I fully support her right to speak, and while you won't find me out there protesting, I fully support their right to protest as well. But much of the content of her speech is objectively false. For example, should we invade countries and convert them to Christianity? No. There is no God, many Christian beliefs are harmful, and regardless, the very act of violently converting people to any belief system is repugnant.

I am open to being proven wrong about my moral stance. However, while it's nice to see people using Coulter as a staring point for discussing moral questions (even writing blog posts about it), part of me thinks her ideas are so comically evil that it would be better to just ignore her. After all, what's worse: being scared off a campus by a group of peaceful protesters, or arriving without fanfare to an empty room, then leaving without selling a single book?

Regardless of whether it's inspired by Coulter or not, we do need to keep questioning and requestioning our morals, because it is possible to find answers.

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1 Coulter, 2001.

P.S. This is kinda off topic, but another thing I have a problem with is making fun of Coulter's physical appearance. Yeah she's a celebrity and thus opens herself up to it to some extent. However, pointing out her adam's apple because you disagree with her political stance is coming from the same base, ugly, immature side of human nature that her crass racial quips come from. Don't stoop to her level.

P.P.S. Try putting anncoulter.ca into your web browser.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Book Review: Some Girls Are, by Courtney Summers

I've been a huge Courtney Summers fan for about a year.

I don't mean a fan of her books, but of Courtney Summers herself.

As soon as I heard her interview on I Should be Writing, with her brutal honesty about the struggle between writing and internet distractions, plus her palpable passion for zombies, I knew I had discovered someone after my own heart.

So when Some Girls Are, Summers' second (published) novel, came out, I was all over it. It follows the life of high school student Regina Afton, who begins as part of an elite clique of popular mean girls, but soon finds herself on the other side of their bullying. Given the teenage characters, the book is stuck under the "young adult" genre, but that doesn't tell you much about what kind of story the characters experience. For that, I make what is perhaps an unexpected suggestion: Some Girls Are is a horror novel.

It's not the horror of your former friend come back from the dead to chomp on your guts; but rather the horror of your former friend come back from apparent betrayal to shove you down the stairs. Is that any less threatening? Plus, mean girls have a weapon that monsters rarely possess: the ability to socially mortify their enemies. To me, that's a prospect as chilling as a knife in the dark.

Enhancing the discomfort is the present-tense first-person narration. Such immediacy makes every blow, bruise, and blush really felt. The writing is sparse, yet with room for a distinct voice that breathes life into the main character (though some supporting characters could be better developed). With her short chapters (some just one word), Summers excels at something that I think a lot of writers struggle with—and I know I struggle with this—this ability to string readers along, waiting upon every letter to know what comes next—this all-important concept of ... pacing. Some Girls Are has that elusive "I'll just read one more chapter" factor.

A possible complaint is that the main character isn't very likable. However, I think there is an ambiguous theme about karma running through the story; you know the main character deserves everything she gets, yet you root for her to overcome it, and empathize with her desire to perpetuate the cycle of bullying. It takes a bit of sadism (or is it masochism?) to get embroiled in such a story, but I think anyone can relate with that, and it's a lot more realistic and human than some saccharine Nicholas Sparks novel.

Obviously I'm not the target demographic of Some Girls Are (being a 30 year old dude, rather than a 17 year old chick), but I gotta be honest: I loved the hell out of this miserable little story. I can now say I'm not only a fan of Courtney Summers, but a fan of her work as well. I can't wait to see what she comes out with next. Zombie novel pls k thx?

(apparently the title of her next book is Fall For Anything, which I am hoping is a clever double-reference to how zombies are both very stupid and very easy to kill)

UPDATE 03/23/10:


OMFG, be still my heart. ALL MY DREAMS HAVE COME TRUE.

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(I'm trying a new thing where I include these links to buy the books I review, and I'll make a few bucks if anyone does. I'm still not afraid to say if books suck though, obv. If this annoys you, let me know).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Phraunke Project

Since I'm a celebrity now, I do a lot of interviews. The latest occurred spontaneously at a local gathering of geeks, where a young woman with a microphone asked me about social media and PWTIC.

I received this troubling email a few days later, and I think I should share it with you, dear readers:


Yo Phraunke,

My gf is [a young woman with a microphone] - who I understand did a little story on you recently. The piece turned out nicely, so thanks for being involved.

Two issues:

1) On the whole I do like what you're doing at Phronk.com, but you're actually not spelling your name correctly as I originally created it. The correct spelling is Phraunke. I suggest you apply this proper spelling to your blog URL right away or risk undermining the whole meaning of the Phraunke experiment as I initially intended it.

2) As the sole inventor of your moniker, I rightfully claim a 10% royalty fee on any financial compensation gained from your crafty and slick self-promotion. I'm not sure how you've been leveraging your notoriety through the monetization of your blog, but if indeed you have, I demand my full 10% - which is more than reasonable. In fact, I could rightfully sue you for copyright infringement on my intellectual property if I wasn't such a forgiving person.

Let me know about all this ASAP Phraunke. I'm not impressed that you've been secretly profiting wildly from my artistic handiwork behind my back.

Your behaviour is not only sneaky and deceitful, it's outright shameful considering I was the one who imbued you with your magical nickname powers, giving you exponential coolness throughout your adolescence and, apparently, even now.

The Phraunke project started as a fun and enjoyable commentary on your personal idiosyncrasies, one that was entirely benign. Evidently you have commercially exploited your (or shall I say my) pseudo-identity somewhere along the way, creating a profit-hungry monster without any regard for the benevolent intentions that began this shared experiment in our adolescence.

I'm sure you fancy yourself the pied piper of iconoclastic commentary, an incendiary 'thought leader' who gleefully doles out scathing reprisals and ironic "insights" to the sheer delight of everyone. Not one of your readers knows that you've been cheating the creator of your name, the very source of your supposed handle on cool, out of his just due all along.

Utterly disgraceful "Phronk".

I want every last red cent that is owed me.

- Drew

I can't believe I've been outed.

(In case it's not clear, I went to high school with Drew, which is where I acquired the nickname "Phronk" (/Phraunke) )



Saturday, March 13, 2010

Fonts Don't Matter

If you're a graphic designer, a typographer, or an amateur font enthusiast, this might piss you off. That's okay. Channel that anger towards flawless kerning.

I've seen people vomit because the Papyrus font was used for subtitles in Avatar, or get a boner every time a poster is in Helvetica. These people, they know they're talking about fonts, right?1

Here is a guide to simplify the judging of fonts:

Click for larger version, to print and hang on your wall.

A font's job is to display words. So sure, that means being neutral and getting out of the words' way; cutesy curls and flourishes are excess. But it also means that as long as you can read the words, excess stylistic touches don't matter at all. Just breathe.

Now that I'm done being provocative (and should it really be possible to be provocative about fonts?), let me back off a bit. Professionals working with displaying words put a lot of thought and effort into making and using nice fonts, as they should. I, too, like to surround myself with beautiful things, and some fonts are more beautiful than others. What I really mean to say is: to the average person (like me), we have only the tiniest subconscious aesthetic reaction to any given font. It barely matters.

What does matter is clear communication. It doesn't matter what font you're using if you still haven't figured out how to use quotation marks, what an apostrophe does, or how double negatives work. A bad font doesn't sink a well-written message. Bad writing, however, makes the most gorgeous font into gibberish. Focus effort on what matters first.

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1 E.g., here is an article that bitterly analyzes the personality of users of different fonts and celebrities that would probably use them. Here is a typo-ridden tirade against certain fonts. This is an entire blog devoted to banning Comic Sans.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Horrors of Internet Dating, Volume 5

My real-life romantic life remains only sporadically eventful. But on the internet—on the internet— just look at all these lovely people who are waiting for me to contact them and rock their worlds.

(click for embiggening, as usual)


She is such a master poet that she can be playful with the English language.


So many poets looking for love! How romantic.


Always good to know what you want. But um, f*c*k*? Fucuku?



"Speaking" of knowing what you want. This was someone's main headline; the thing everyone sees even before clicking on them. And they chose to put "nice voice" as a requirement? That's fine and everything—everyone's got things they look for—but I've never heard that one before.


(click)

1. TMI.
2. "I don't steal" isn't really something to brag about. Do you want a cookie for every person you don't murder?
3. SUMTIME.
4. I see this outrage about posting kids' pictures a lot. Do the same people complain about bringing kids out in public? Because I'm pretty sure pedophiles would have better luck stalking real people rather than trying to identify kids from their mom's anonymous internet dating profile.
5. FRENZ.

But enough mocking people's grammar and spelling. Not everyone can be all book-learned. Instead, they gotta express themselves through pictures.


What the fuck is this shit?

You're floating over a pit of lava while your creepy-ass moon-clone stares at me? Is this supposed to subconsciously tap into "steamy" twin threesome fantasies? Sorry lady, but the heavenly bodies I do aren't made of rock. ZING.



Nothing particularly wrong with these. The tattoos are only a little bit terrible. The weird part is that I seem to attract people with creepy wing tattoos on their backs. Three or four others messaged me or viewed my profile before I noticed the pattern and started taking pictures.


Here is an (apparently) counterintuitive little tip for dating profiles: you shouldn't post pictures of yourself being fondled by other men. It's not a jealousy thing; it's a throw-up-in-my-mouth thing.

But hey, I always end these things on a positive note, so here is someone I would wine-dine-sixty-nine:


Not sure if it's the veiny arms or the blackface, but something's got the politically incorrect cockles of my heart all hot like lava.

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P.S. The next installment of this series is going to be a doozy. It's a case study in WTF. Stay tuned.

See also: Volume 4More Horrors of Internet Dating

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Mornin'

So I've been wondering:

When people say "good morning," are they wishing that you will have a good morning, or are they telling you that it is already a good morning?

In support of the latter, I notice that people tend to say "good morning" more on days like today; sunny springy weekends. If that's the case, then an appropriate response would be "yes, it sure is."

But people don't say that. They say "good morning" right back. If the greeting is a statement of fact, then that's a bit odd. It would be like if I told you "Greece is the world's largest (per capita) consumer of cheese," and you responded with "Greece is the world's largest (per capita) consumer of cheese."

It must be more about well-wishing, then. That's a lot of pressure; morning only lasts a few hours, and it's tough to raise it up to a standard of goodness just because a stranger on the street told you to.

Maybe the most appropriate response to "good morning," then, is "screw off old man, I'll do what I want with my morning."



Thursday, March 04, 2010

Blonde Moment

Hello, you have reached Mike's blog. Mike is not in right now, but you can leave a message after his guest post at Blonde Monde.

It's about my first real date ever.

(Thanks so much, Blondie and CJ!)

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See also: Who Were You Born to Be? (Blondie's guest post on Phronk.com).

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Edit 03/05/10: The formatting & missing text on my guest post are fixed now.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Lessons From The Bachelor, Volume 2


WTF, Jake. Vienna? Really?

We drank Old Vienna and watched in horror as Jake chose her over Tenley. I know it is the cool thing to hate Vienna, but the thing is, I really don't. There's nothing wrong with being tactlessly blunt in my books, and I'm sure she'd make a perfectly good friend in everyday life.

But there are two contradictory things wrong with the relationship between her and Jake: 1) She's way uglier than he is; and 2) He seemed to be thinking with his cock when he chose her.

When Jake first appeared on the last Bachelorette, I thought he was a douche. I retract that opinion. Jason Mesnick became a douche last season, because he made conscious choices to engage in douchebaggery. Jake, however, gives off douche vibes simply because he doesn't know any better. He is constantly putting on an act; the "too perfect" song and dance that turned Jillian off. But it's not douchey, because the act isn't covering anything substantial up. His hollow center wouldn't even exist without the candy shell.

The thing is, healthy relationships require a rich creamy center. Not just "oooh we had our first kiss while bungee jumping, isn't that too perfect?!"

But speaking of people who are dead inside, Ali is the next Bachelorette?! She's got corpse eyes. Even when she's crying it's like a robot trying to affect humanity. Who would apply?

And that is the main lesson to be learned here: a healthy relationship will never develop on reality television, because healthy people don't look for a relationship on reality television. Um, I'm not sure what the lesson is about people who watch these disasters waiting to happen. Probably nothing good. Damn.


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See also: Lessons From the Bachelor Volume 1

Note: These opinions are of television characters more than real people. I'm aware that you can't really get to know someone through a heavily edited, partially scripted TV show.