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: A Sense Of History: I was reminded of things that have happened in the last nine years, and happened to mention to Joel that I've known Seth for about that long. And then I ran across Alexei's old diary from Japan in 2001.

If you ever get a chance to take the monorail in Tokyo, please, by God, do it. I felt like I was five years old, my face pressed to the window pane, watching as Tokyo, the real Tokyo, jewel-bright and faster than light, unfolded in front of me...

It sounds dumb, but something about today (we didn't do anything out of the ordinary) just failed to terrify me....

This place is so internally contradictory that it tends to defy description. Just about any statement that I can make about Japan, I can either negate or contradict and the statement is still true...

It can be nice to think about the long-term, backward and forward.


(1) : MC Masala on Comics:

I eventually developed a theory of comic strips: The more punchlines in the last panel, the better they were. The likes of "Shoe" or "B.C." have maybe one punchline per strip. "Dilbert," "Zits" and "Foxtrot" have two. "Get Fuzzy" will have three or more punchlines per strip. "Luann" or "The Born Loser" have about zero.

"The Family Circus," "The Lockhorns" and "Born Loser" often start off disadvantaged in this metric, with their single-panel format. At least "They'll Do It Every Time" and "The Family Circus" try innovations in divvying up that one panel.

There's more here but I figured I should provide you a list of links to the gateway webcomics I recommend in the article.

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: Epistemology, Utilitarianism: Sometimes I ask, "Is this true?" Sometimes I ask, "Is this useful?" But in either case I wonder whether my actions are true or useful.

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: Cylonmania: By all rights, Caterina Fake is a Cylon name. But she's real and her last name gets her into trouble when automated systems think she's, well, fake. Others chime in with hilarious name difficulties.

Speaking of Battlestar Galactica -- if you're willing to give up a lot of personal information, you can view a big episode on the big screen a day before it airs.


: Classes Update: I just finished taking a class with Arthur Langer at Columbia. I'm almost done with the Corporate Finance class with Charissa Asbury (sadly, no appropriate link exists) -- just one assignment left to turn in.

Asbury taught us the basics of corporate finance, starting with the basics of Net Present Value, and ending up with a simple application of the Black-Scholes option pricing model. Professor Langer tried to teach us to think about technology development from a variety of business/organizational perspectives. His theory of Responsive Organizational Dynamism was in there, along with various stories about his days back before he was a muckety-muck.


(2) : Nerdy Party Game: Possibly the new Googlewhacking! One person looks at a Wikipedia entry that's in several categories and reads them off. The other person has to guess the person, place, or thing. Example:

Articles with large trivia sections | English actors | English film actors | English stage actors | English Americans | English American actors | Best Actor Academy Award nominees | Bisexual actors | People from Bristol | Naturalized citizens of the United States | 1904 births | 1986 deaths | People known by pseudonyms | Hollywood Walk of Fame

I think I'd have to hear about eight of those to correctly guess.

A few other good candidates: here, here, here, here, and here.


: Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms: Pick Two: This week's MC Masala advertises neither alcohol nor tobacco nor firearms nor fish nor game. It's just a consumeriffic "offbeat holiday gifts" tip sheet.

Soap might seem old hat, but it's new to me. Lots of people give special scented soap. My freshman year of high school was the first time a friend gave me a bath soap basket for Christmas. I wondered for weeks whether she was trying to tell me I smelled bad. The Irish Spring in my shower disappeared in a week as I scrubbed like a post-"Fear Factor" Lady Macbeth. But now I understand that if people want to passive-aggressively tell you that you stink, they'll put a plastic ribbon on a big bottle of Dial and leave it on your desk, and not shell out for artfully arranged shells.

As long as you're spending money on holiday stuff, you should read the Frontline credit expose, even if you've seen it before.

Seen in a Garment District shop window today: various signs, handwritten and printed. "Sale," "Going out of business," "Must sell inventory," "We're serious."


: Buttons Being Pressed, Sleeves Being Ravelled: I've been hanging out with people and going new places recently and you can read my husband's site for details if you so choose. Not feeling so hot. "Does anyone have anything worth saying anymore?"


(2) : Cheery: Woke up today grumpy and Leonard cheered me up by making up songs and playing them on the guitar. Then I bought four cans of Herdez Salsa Ranchera and ate the whole thing with bread and chips at work this morning. Perspiring, and feeling much better! On the Irish national standardized test:

The week of those exams, I dreamed I was flying. It marked the height of my sense of competence; the time when I was good at what the whole country seemed to value as the most important thing in life. In secondary school I knew exactly what was expected, and it barely troubled me to deliver it. I had a butter-wouldn't-melt demeanor and the only key to a school costume room, and most days I skipped a few classes there with selected pals. Schoolwork came so easily to me that I expected everything else to, and so when it turned out that I lacked natural talent at the violin, I refused to practice. Because I was uncoordinated, I dossed PE class every chance I could, and barely tapped a volleyball when I did show up. When I came fifth instead of first in a national school fiction contest, I gave up writing short stories.

It took a long time to unlearn this refusal to fail.

And of course, to my disappointment, life has been nothing like school. Only one company -- whose obsession with SAT scores pointed to their eventual implosion -- ever asked for my Leaving Cert results. In the self-inventing industries of the last ten years, there were no set texts.

There's a note at the end about Paul Graham. I want to write a scathing essay on why Paul Graham's notes make my blood boil, but no one would listen and it wouldn't change anything, including the temperature of my blood.

But the salsa has cheered me.

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: Applying Capsaicin Topic: Today I ate most of a small can of sliced pickled jalapeno peppers. A colleague commented that I looked flushed. Yes, I'm fine. Hoo boy.

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(2) : Inspiration: Kevan Davis has set up an online game that I inspired.

John Donaldson is the awesome prof who gave us a lecture on Black-Scholes option price modeling. Incidentally, despite what some may tell you, neither Excel nor Gnumeric nor OpenOffice nor Google Spreadsheets have built-in functions for pricing call options using Black-Scholes. Bah! How are we supposed to figure out whether Google's corporate governance is failing?


: Two MC Masala Columns: Tips on small talk and my experience seeing "The Daily Show" get taped. Mildly entertaining.

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: Misc: "It's usually difficult for vegetarians to vindictively order the most expensive thing on the menu."

Also: Remember that bit in the Mahabharata where Yudhisthira makes an opponent believe that the opponent's son has died by naming an elephant the same name as the kid and then killing the elephant? Then he can say, factually but misleadingly, "Ashwattama, the elephant, is dead."

Yeah.

Also: people got me very nice gifts for Christmas! For example, Susie and John got me a cute wooden bookmark with an igloo on it, and Rachel got me a cool book that's part of the Open University curriculum. And Leonard gave me a bunch of stuff and I'm embarrassed. Yay non-wimpy paper shredder!

Paul Ford, Paul Ford, Paul Ford.

The Brazilian dub of "Perfect Strangers" said that Balki was from Brazil. Fan protest got "Mr. Belvedere" uncancelled in 1987.

The Cheesecake Factory, a force for peace.


: Consumption & Responsibility: Saw The Devil Wears Prada (intriguing) and Rushmore (sort of slight, actually, after all the buildup) for the first time this weekend. Saw Brick for the second time (still awesome). Saw Rock And Awe: Countdown to Guitarmageddon (i.e. the last episode of the year of The Colbert Report) for the first, second, and third times. Hoo boy, what a show!

More end-of-year linkage: feminist anger, defusing it, and responsibility.


: Swingline, Sweet Stapler: A sensical-in-context quote from a friend: "I feel like Milton in Office Space, but people are piling staplers on my desk."

More Miltonage.

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(1) : Overdose: I just stayed up a wee bit too late, waiting for the Internet to work again and finishing up In the Company of Cheerful Ladies and Blue Shoes and Happiness. Blink, blink. I bet my mom would like them.

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: MC Masala on Sister-Sister Talk: MC Masala this week is something I actually like. My dad used to say that the private or inexplicable conversations between me and my sister were "sister-sister talk." This column has some of that flavor.

On Saturdays in Stockton, we waited half an hour after our parents left for prayer rituals, then sneaked off to the S-Mart for videos, licorice ropes (me) and cookie dough (her). We picked one film each, and like Grade Point Averages, our Video Point Averages went up or down as our choices turned out great ("Clueless") or horrible ("Article 99"). And then there was the time I rented "Glengarry Glen Ross" and our parents came home and heard the cussing and never let me finish. Maybe I'd actually understand that movie now.

I rode the subway with my sister the day after Christmas, delivering her to her bus back to D.C., marveling that she can make me laugh as no one else can. We've been hanging out for 20-odd years, watching movies good and bad, entertaining ourselves on long car rides and making up play universes for those long afternoons when we were too young to sneak off to S-Mart.


(1) : Jonathan Coulton Song Reminds Me Of Leonard Blog Entries: "The Future Soon" reminds me of

"Oh but it's not the future yet Giblets" you say, "You just need to wait til the video of the present becomes the kitchen of the future." Maybe it was the present this afternoon but now it's the future and still no kitchen!

Coulton is sort of an uncredited coauthor of John Hodgman's career. Leonard just bought and read Hodgman's The Areas of My Expertise while I was finishing Asimov's Foundation and Empire and starting on Second Foundation. I ended up taking a New Year's Eve nap.

I used to lurve Asimov. I used to be a twelve-year-old girl. Susan Calvin is, after all, cranky and brilliant and awesome, sort of Housian. It's only after growing up and trying to read stuff written between 1942 and 1953 that I feel the datedness. People untold centuries from now talk and act like middle-class white US men from the 1950s, as though the most revolutionary technology only inserted the word "space" into our sentences and grew tobacco on Vega instead of in Virginia. I know, it's supposed to be a retelling of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but still. At least Battlestar Galactica is nearly self-parodying in its present-referentiality, without as much self-indulgent wish-fulfillment.

Cause it's gonna be the future soon
And I won't always be this way
When the things that make me weak and strange get engineered away
It's gonna be the future soon
I've never seen it quite so clear
And when my heart is breaking I can close my eyes and it's already here

Nonetheless: Happy New Year!

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: I Am Not A Janus: Leonard reassured me that the baby Nixon did not exist and look who's talking now!

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: Phrases With The Same Rhythm As "Blister In The Sun":


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