Thursday, May 20, 2010


We tend to think that if we are louder about something, it makes us more right. This is absurd. The louder we say something bears no correlation on the accuracy of the statement. So why do we continue to think that? It's because it seems to work.

I know by experience that the more confident you sound about something, the more confidence others will have it what you say. I've used this strategy to my advantage on a number of occassions, regardless of whether or not I've been right. It has also backfired on me. It has, in fact, backfired more than enough times for me to have learned my lesson and stop being so loud about everything all the time, but I have found this easier said than done. Sometimes I just have something to say that's so important I have to share it with everyone around me as quickly as possible and at as high a volume as possible.

But why do we think that when something is loud, it's right? Why do we put faith in the loudest thing we hear? Maybe it's because most of us are so afraid of looking like idiots and so afraid of being wrong that--thinking that everyone shares this insecurity--we (wrongly) conclude that for someone to make such a confident proclamation, they surely must be right. In other words, we underestimate the number of obnoxious morons in the world.

The cure for this is simple: stick to your guns! Most people who appear to be good at life are in fact only good at pretending to be good at life. In fact, it's often those that don't spend so much energy on looking like they know what they're doing that know what they're doing. Unfortunately, society tends to notice the first group. So what good could possibly come from knowing something if you can't make people pay attention to you? Well, if you are like plenty of other people who will readily deny they are this way and judge the quality of your life based on the opinions of others, nothing. However, if you are unique like the aforementioned people will try to tell you they are, and judge yourself without the input of your peers, the answer is simple: you do it because you want to.

I am in the shallow group of people who care what others think of them. For this reason, I will continue to be loud and confident and wrong until I either die or suffer a dramatic mid-life crisis. Stay tuned.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Unlucky Duckling

I am not a superstitious person. The only bad luck that comes from walking under a ladder, for instance, is the significant increase in the probability of something (like paint) landing on your head. But tonight was not my night.

It started at dinner. I ordered a beef brisket. They were out. In fact, they'd sold out an hour before we'd even arrived, when someone apparently ordered sixteen pounds of the stuff. Really? Fine, I'll have barbecue instead, thank you. It was okay, once I put hot sauce on it.

The waitress eventually rolled back around to ask us if we wanted dessert. As a matter of fact, I'd seen the board on the way in (strategically--indeed, successfully--placed, of course) and the blackberry cobbler sounded just fabulous, so I'll have one of those, please. Sure, she answered cheerfully, and disappeared.

She reappeared with my sister's apple something-or-other and more bad news. Guess what else they were out of? I took the opportunity to remind my mother that I had not wanted to eat at this restaurant in the first place.

Now, I should back up a little. Before dinner, we were next door in the Radio Shack buying some gadget my mother needed. I have been needing a new phone, and it just so happened that on display they had the very phone I've got my heart set on, and for twenty dollars cheaper than at the AT&T store. We decided to wait until after we'd eaten then possibly return for the phone.

Now, after dinner, I stood quite between the two storefronts, considering heavily the fact that as soon as I bought the phone the price would drop significantly. I also considered heavily the fact that this would be the case regardless of when I bought the phone. So I made some philosophical comment about not waiting for life to happen to you but to make life happen instead, and went back inside the Radio Shack. Today was as good a day as any to get a new phone, right?

Now, you've probably already been able to surmise how events proceeded from here. According to the clerk, they actually had every phone from the display in stock... except for the one I wanted. Why I was unable to see this coming, I do not know.

My thoughts inevitably retreated to a penny I found a week or so ago in the school parking lot, face down. I thought "Ha, a penny is a penny, and now I'm one cent richer," and picked it up. Like I said, a penny possesses no supernatural powers. It is also of note that the day before that I'd picked up a face-up penny in a nearby spot. Now, the lesson in this is clearly not one of universal forces or the positive and negative energies would have balanced, no? I think it's a lesson in the pursuit of money. Two pennies two days in a row is shameless excess, and I certainly reaped the consequences of being so blatantly materialistic. Never. again.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Chair Chair Chair Chair Chair

It's a well-known fact that if you take any word, particularly the simple, familiar ones, and say it over and over and over again, it begins to sound foreign and eventually quite unlike a word at all. Whenever this happens to me, it leads me to question the entire idea of speech. Why do we communicate using our mouths? Why does this unintelligible collection of sounds make sense when we hear it? Speech is something we are all taught beginning in infancy. We don't usually pick it up for a while, but it's not a process we tend to ponder over croissants and orange juice. We accept it as a normal part of life. So why, when we repeat a basic word enough times, does it sound like we don't know it at all?

Humans are the only animals that learn to talk. Other animals learn things; even things that are instinctive (flight, for instance, or swimming) must be introduced and tutored. The image of a mother bird pushing her chicks out of her nest is not an unfamiliar one. Humans learn these types of things, too. Walking is only one example. We aren't the only animals that communicate through sound, either. Other animals make different noises with different meanings: mating calls, warning sounds, and distress signals. Even we laugh, cry, snort, cough, guffaw, or cry out without any thought at all sometimes. But speech is another element entirely, and it belongs solely to us.

I once watched a video on the human brain in a science class, and remembered this line: "The human brain is the only brain capable of studying itself." It was rather poetically put, but really, the human brain is the only brain capable of studying anything. We are the only creatures on earth capable of abstract thought (although I harbor theories about a secret civilization of whales deep beneath the ocean's surface). While other creatures can certainly perceive notions such as hunger, or the need to find a suitable home for winter, they never think, "I'm hungry," or "I need to find a suitable home for winter." But we do. In fact, we tend to think in whatever language comes most naturally to us. Have you ever wondered what a baby's thoughts look like? What language does a baby think in, or does the stage of brain development allowing specific thoughts go hand in hand with speaking?

Still, the way our brains work does not seem unnatural, while these repeated words remain a mystery. Maybe a perfect race of humans would communicate telepathically. Maybe the connection between our brains and our mouths is deteriorating. Maybe each person has a natural language that's as much a part of who you are as your eye color or whether or not you have freckles, and any other language sounds weird to our brains. These are weak hypotheses, I know. But I can't think of any other reasons. I don't know what it is about spoken language that makes the most basic of words sound awkward when we say them again and again. And again, and again.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rods, Cones, and Galaxies

When I was in elementary school, my class took a field trip to a planetarium (which, at the time, sounded to me like it ought to be an aquarium for plants). With her laser pointer, the instructor indicated a cluster of stars on the ceiling. She said it was easier to see if you focused your eyes a little off to the side. This mystified me. Why on earth--or not, I guess--would you ever be able to see something more clearly by not looking at it?!

This cluster of stars might be the Triangulum Galaxy, based on a few quick Google-searches. I'm not sure, though, and I wish I'd paid closer attention to that presentation years ago. The night sky continues to fascinate me, and I love to spot constellations and galaxies, planets and stars whose names I know. My little brother and I once spent some time on the hood of my car outside, looking at what constellations we could see through the trees. The sky is a symbol of hope, wonder, the unknown, the future, the past, and it's also an art display, a free light show that everyone can see all at once, and it's not exactly the same in any two places. Have you ever looked out and wondered who else might be doing the exact same thing, maybe not just on this planet?

That galaxy seemed to possess this weird, magical, unexplainable quality. It was surely some space-magic that made it easier to find out of the corner of your eye. Wasn't it? Some otherworldly, starry, extraterrestrial pixie dust that played tricks on your eyes or brain or whatever. I think a small part of me believed that aliens were controlling my mind from that far away and had some hi-tech cloaking device that hid their entire galaxy from view when any earthling stargazer tried to look directly at it.

Today in physics class we talked about eyes and electromagnetic waves. Colors, light, radios, and microwaves were all part of the docket. We performed a couple of labs involving color and optical tricks, after images, diffraction of light through an opening, and doing exactly what your mother told you not to do while watching TV--getting so close to it you can see the little colored lights.

Then we discussed the nerve endings in the eye that perceive color, and along with them, the ones that perceive light. Cones and rods, respectively. As it turns out, we have more cones in the center of our eyes, and a higher concentration of rods on the edges. For this reason, it is often difficult for us to determine color when viewing objects in the periphery. (I've never noticed this, but I wear glasses, so my peripheral vision is pretty useless as is.) The other thing it means is that we are better at seeing dimmer lights at the edges of our field of vision.

I should have been thrilled to hear this. Finally, a (literally) galactic mystery solved! The aliens had been foiled, and the secret of their cloaking device unveiled!

But I was disappointed. Being a logically-oriented person, I usually analyze and seek an answer from everything I ever come in to contact with. This answer, however, I rejected. I mean, I didn't actually refuse to believe it, but it was an unwelcome solution to a familiar mystery. Like the ancient Greeks, unable to explain sea foam, decided it was Poseidon's horses, pulling his chariot through the water. It's absurd, but it's a lot more interesting than entrapped gasses, as are aliens than light receptors in the eye.

Now, it's probably a good thing that someone, somewhere, knows the right answer. But there are some things I'd rather leave a mystery. I'd also like to point out that just because we do have more rods than cones on the edges of our retinas, it doesn't mean there aren't aliens in the Triangulum Galaxy. And maybe they have theories about the Milky Way. And maybe they're wrong.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Radio Commercials

I have a car. It's awesome. As a result of its being so awesome, I spend a lot of time driving it. Actually, it's also (coincidentally) very convenient when I need to get somewhere. But I digress.

Whenever I drive my car, I listen to the radio. I understand that radio stations, just like all other, less necessary businesses, have to make money, and I have no issue with the number of commercials played or the time allotted them over the music. I have an issue with the quality. If that sounds ridiculous, it's because it is. I don't care. If the radio station I listen to is going to bombard me with commercials, then I have every right to say what I think of them.

Some commercials (a few of which I just heard today, actually) make claims so ridiculous it should be criminal. The people in charge of advertising these companies should be fired, because they failed even to leave me remembering the name of the company, or sued for "false advertising" or the like. Among these redonkulous (yes, I did just use that word) claims were these:

A good haircut is the key to male happiness.

A deck is like a living room without walls.

And finally, wireless internet is like a water park.

I don't know about you, but it's hard to believe a good haircut is the key to anyone's happiness, my deck in no way resembles a living room, and water parks and computers don't seem like a good mix to me. But maybe that's just me.

But of course, you cannot have one extreme without the other. Some commercials make statements that are so believable that they become obvious. For instance, ninety-nine cents is "not even a dollar," just in case you were wondering. That was a Coke commercial, so at least they succeeded on the memorability front.

There is a third category. It spawned from my inability to categorize one statement I heard. is "newer that new." Now, "" is the worst possible name for a website, regardless of its purpose, but that's beside the point. At first I thought it was so redundant it had to belong to the "obvious" category. But how can anything be "newer than new"? What does that even mean? It doesn't seem like it should be possible. It means absolutely nothing, that's what it means. It means wasted sixty-or-so seconds of my life on that advertisement, and far more than that given the amount of time I've spent thinking about it. That's what it means.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Flowery Things

I took these around our garden while out planting and watering and such.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Coasters, Dots, and Life

Tonight my family and I ate dinner at California Pizza Kitchen. Unsatisfied with the dots-and-boxes game the kid's menu had to offer, I flipped over a drink coaster, grabbed a crayon, and started drawing dots.

I am an expert at dots... when playing against only one person. When a third person is thrown into the equation, my genius strategy suffers a fate comparable to that of toilet paper. The game progressed normally, with the "playing field" eventually becoming a network of trails. This is a volatile mine field waiting for someone to draw the right line and set off an explosive chain of square-completion (I know, sounds scary, right?). My mother quickly began to collect dangerous numbers of boxes. I--as you may have guessed--was failing miserably.

I needed a new plan, and fast. Regardless, I couldn't let my mother win. "Sometimes, it becomes less about winning, and more about defeating your opponent," I said cryptically.

As soon as mother had uttered the words, "What is that supposed to mean?" I topped off the longest trail, handed the coaster to my sister, and said, "Go for it." The look on my mother's face was so priceless it could have been a Mastercard commercial.

She fought fruitlessly for one more round, but I made a final, game-ending move, handing my sister the rest of the empty squares. She cleaned up. I began to worry that my mother's face was stuck that way permanently. It was awesome. I realized it's important to recognize when it's over, and focus your efforts someplace where they could benefit someone else for the accomplishment of the same goal.

Disclaimer: This idea is a purely strategic one. The author of this blog is not responsible for any adverse effects of attempting to apply it in real life. Use at your own risk.