09 December 2009

Facebook relationship status/looking for: bothersome

I want you to stop and think about Facebook for a minute. It's weird! You enumerate all this stuff about yourself, so people know know that you're into the Canadian treatment of pre-rhotic vowels or fiber before you pronounce 'sorry' funny or show up with a box of high-fiber o's. Is this important? Is it killing the ability of one to describe oneself to strangers? Is it just plain wacky that people do this? I don't know. In any case it seems as though we have the ability to glean a great deal about people without even asking.

Do we?

I'm turning specifically to relationship status and looking for. Let's say you're browsing through and you see relationship status: single, looking for: friendship. What do you make of that? Someone who, at the present, is opposed to the idea of anything that could lead to romantic relationship? That's what it seems to read.

I bet, though if you were to take a stranger's or maybe even a friend's profile and see those fields, you wouldn't read it literally. I don't for sure. There's a healthy dose of denial being thrown around here. I suspect, you'd have to look long and hard to find people like that and if you did you'd probably find that they're robots, or eat their own poop, or are Martians. This isn't just some bitter guy who was told by a girl she didn't want a boyfriend and then the next time he saw her, doopsies she mentions her new boyfriend at the soonest opportunity. I can think of at least one film (don't judge me) at the moment that addresses this theme, and I'm fairly sure if you asked your friends you could dredge up stories like this. The denotation is no fucking good.

So what's the connotation? I think it could vary. The one that's striking me as pretty feasible at the moment is: I'm using a very strict filter, it's probably not worth asking me out. Or maybe there's some hidden relationship at play that's not being admitted because it's in some sort of trial stage or something. Yeah it's silly as fuck that one could interpret two pretty straightforward fields on a social networking site as having some weird other totally different meaning, but can't you see how this could happen?

On the other end of the spectrum, setting looking for to "anything I can get" can only be described as suicide, for guys anyway. It's honest, but what does it buy you? Are you going to positively change anyone's viewpoint on you? If so do they eat their own poop?

So basically what I'm saying is that these fields are used not as a representation as reality, but to generate some subtext. And that kinda sucks.

So I have my status set as relationship status: single, looking for: friendship, dating, a relationship. I think it's fairly honest. For the longest time it was friendship, a relationship. I didn't want dating if it went nowhere: too much risk of emotional turmoil. One day, my neighbor got into my Facebook account and in addition to setting it so I liked men, changed it to friendship, dating, a relationship. While I changed the men back to women, I thought about the dating addition and kept it. At that point did I undergo some revelation that made what I was looking for fundamentally change? Probably not. The real sticking point was should I really be demanding a relationship? My status could alienate some girl who just doesn't want to think about a relationship, but maybe through dating would develop an appreciation for one. So yeah boom subtext. And I don't see myself as subtexty.

So here's a puzzle. Say a girl seems to be taking a liking to you. Then you go without seeing her for about a month, for a variety of reasons. Meanwhile you see her Facebook relationship status stay single, but her looking for change from friendship, dating, a relationship; to friendship, dating; to friendship. What do you read from that? Anything? Honestly I'm not posing this as some sort of desperate plea to determine what to do, really I just want to see what sort of thoughts this evokes in others. It's horrendously interesting to read this stuff.

It's probably best to not even pay attention to it. But who likes rejection? As actually benign as it generally is, it generates immense fear, so why not be at least a little prepared. So you want to be informed before taking action. But you can't fully trust what's being said.

It really is bothersome! We're asked to be honest about what we want, and then it seem like we game it anyway.

31 October 2009

Of epic fails and Calm Mind Suicunes

I think 'epic fail' is dying out. I'm pretty happy about that. There was a time I was worry about it getting very popular and I would have to go underground. I thought the fact that there was House episode called 'Epic Fail' it was going mainstream and everyone and their mothers (and by extension my mother!) was going to be using it totally indiscriminately. Luckily I was wrong.

So I hate the expression 'epic fail'! 'Why' is a good question. There's some degree of gut-level repulsion, but that's not really a good explanation. I don't have much of a problem with the use of 'epic' (though John Milton may feel Paradise Lost cheapened by a comparison to a truck carrying cinder blocks rolling over). So that leaves us with with 'fail'. I like that considerably less. I have no problems with a little linguistic creativity, but the misappropriation of 'fail' as a noun when the word 'failure' is totally there to do that job seems outright lazy and for some reason really repulsive.

But this isn't the first time this happened. Back in 2002 or 2003 I was on some pokemon message board and apparently some guy in an IRC channel used uttered the fateful words 'CALM MIND SUICUNE HAS NO WEAK!!' and it become an object of mockery, making its way into several signatures. I thought, 'man, look at this doofus who can't even use the word 'weak' properly'. I really wasn't playing any contemporary pokemon games at the time, but shortly later I read some team ratings (these are when you post your team of pokemon with their moves for use in competitive battles and other users critique you.) and the first one I looked at started referring, in all seriousness, to 'weaks'. I looked at more threads. More 'weaks'. I've never seen the movie, but I imagine the effect is something like the end of Planet of Apes when they see the buried Statue of Liberty and realize the bizarre world they are on is actually Earth. Apparently, the mockery of the quote was not the word misuse, but the hyperbole.

So I think the overarching theme here is that I sort of get in disbelief about the popularity of these sloppy linguistic constructs that really don't add any new expressiveness to language. I don't see why something like this would spread beyond more than a very small group. The whole perceived phasing out of the expression is another interesting wrinkle that I'm totally not complaining about.

And yeah I have no idea why Calm Mind Suicine has no 'weak' either.

15 October 2009

Welcome to Paradis (Paradis by the Dashboard Light)

I don't even remember how it started.

Maybe it was just because UMass was building a new heating plant. Or maybe it all started when Ilya and Klotz claimed to find a stairway to hell in Chenoweth. Or maybe when my mom told that she had used a tunnel between the Campus Center and Morrill. Something about that got me interested in tunnels on campus. That, in turn, inspired interest in steam tunnels, which let me to the steam plant that led me to this.

A power plant on Orchard Hill?! Something seemed fishy about that. I lived in upper central at the time so I was on the hill a good deal and I saw nothing remotely looking like an old power plant or the defunct remains of one. Then I found the evidence I needed: pictures from the university archives depicting a structure decidedly unlike the UMass steam plant. A legitemate mystery was unfolding: where was this phantom power plant and why didn't anyone seem to know about it.

I started hard-core googling. And my next clue I think was a post on a UMass Basketball fans forum. I can't find it any more, but it described a power plant built in the 70s at Tilson that suffered a ruptured steam line and was never used. Using google maps, I found something that looked an awful lot like a power plant.

This was huge.

With the location in hand new information poured forth. A letter from the online archive of UMass Magazine proved absolutely invaluable. We had a real coverup on our hands!

So what's there to know? Unfortunately many of the sources I used to compile this I can't find online anymore, but here's a crack at it. A 1969 report of federal grants show a $9 million line item for UMass to build a steam plant at Tilson farm. It got finished around 1973, I saw a report that the EPA had a lawsuit out against UMass for continuing to operate the old plant past its slated date of decommission. So what went wrong? It seems like there was an issue with pumping the steam down hill. Tilson farm is the highest area of campus, and its worth noting that the new plant is built in probably the lowest. A steam line on Eastman Lane burst when initially powering up the plant. This neatly coincided with the oil crisis and the new oiler burning plant was shelved in favor of the old coal burning one. Furthermore, utility deregulation, which was the reason why previous steam plants were not used to cogenerate electrical power, pushed the issue for UMass to build a larger plant, which seems to have been operating seamlessly for some months now. The Tilson farm plant is now used as a maintenance building.

What does UMass have to say about this? Officially, nothing. The earlier-referenced letter was in response to an article where a higher-up in campus planning made no mention of the Tilson farm plant when directly asked about the history of steam on the UMass campus. I guess it's understandable. 9 million 1970 dollars is nothing to sneeze at, especially when the result is unmitigated failure. Unofficially, there are some clues. Look at the 15th picture on this page. The description doesn't seem to match, but doesn't the signage took like it could say "University of Massachusetts Tilson Farm Boiler Plant"? Look at the online request form for a fire extinguisher. In the list of locations there is a curious item "Paradis Boiler Plant (Tilson)". Or the mention of the "Tilson Power Plant" on a page listing union stewards. Recent Physical Plant maintenance scheduled have referenced the Tilson Farm/Paradis plant and Paradis Road.

Therein lies the last mystery. Why "Paradis"? Is Paradis a person? The construction company that built the plant? I feel like it's one of those things I'll just never find out.

25 August 2009

A very hasty (but timely) Chris Carter Comics


Disclaimer: I don't know Chris Carter, Michael Bowden, or Charlie Zink, but I have all the respect in the world for their careers and I doubt they act any like their foul mouthed, angry, analogues in Chris Carter Comics. It's all in good fun. These were drawn by Ilya, based off some photographs I found of a Paw Sox game. If that's a shameable offense, I'm duly shamed.

Bye Chris... I had high hopes of you making everyone forget the name David Ortiz.

20 August 2009

Share the Road

A couple of weeks ago my friend Yuriy showed up at my parents' house on his bike. I pulled out my dad's bike, pumped up the tires and we set out for a ride. We ended up doing a pretty substantial loop down through downtown Framingham to Ashland then cutting over to the center and taking 135 back into Framingham. It was a nice temperate Sunday and there were few cars on the road. I was some fears of a harrowing adventure battling all sorts of traffic, but things went very smoothly.

The ride really got me thinking about biking more. Within the next two weeks, I made plans to bike to Riverside and take the green line into Boston. These ended up getting scrapped when I got sick, but I still like the idea quite a bit. The weekend after that aborted ride, I decided I'd bike instead of drive to my friend Matt's house in Saxonville since we had made plans to play catch in the field by his house.

This ride was not as nice. I basically took 126 the whole way, which presents two major obstacles: the route 9 overpass and the intersection with route 30. I'm sure to an experienced biker these are no problem, but they really threw me. For the overpass I ended up riding on the sidewalk the wrong way and then crossing on the bridge. For the route 30 intersection I ended up getting off the bike and just walking it across, which took several light cycles.

What really intimidated me was a lack of a clear plan for approaching those intersectiosn. For route 30, I probably should have wedged myself between the cars in the right turn lane and those going straight onto 126. I'm a bit less sure about how to contend with the fork before the overpass. When do I start cutting into the middle of the street?

I think one of the primary problems is a lack of education. What little I know about bike protocol I got from Boy Scouts. Furthermore, it would be nice to know how much motor vehicle operators know about how bikes are expected to maneuver in traffic. It's worrying that a driver could misunderstand what you're expected to do on a bike and plow into you. Maybe these are topics that should be broached in a driver training class, but I don't remember anything about it. They probably already have enough to worry about.

And the education problem is not just with people in cars. Yuriy and I weren't exactly law abiding citizens on our bike adventure. We went through a couple of red lights when the situation looked safe. We rode on the sidewalk and I'm still not sure if that's completely disallowed or just prohibited in downtown areas. And I've seen kids riding around in middle of busy streets with no regard for the situation. Even law-abiding bicyclists can be disconcerting to me when I'm driving on narrow streets.

Luckily, I think this is a problem that town and city governments can address fairly cheaply and relatively effectively. I'm not really thrilled with what Framingham has done thusfar though. Signs have gone up on various roads with a bike and car alongside accompanied with the text "Share the Road." This is pretty weak gesture, and while it's likely cheap it's not something that I'd consider effective. Besides alerting people to the fact to watch out of bikes, there's little information transmitted. What I'd like to see is to paint in bike lanes on newly paved roads, where the wideness of the road permits. These are especially critical at intersections to direct bicyclists of where to make their turns and inform motorists of bikes crossing lanes of traffic. This sort of marking, with signage indicating the presence of the bike lane indicates to motorists and bikers that there are clear rules to follow. Furthermore it might be effective to designate certain roads as bike routes and highly discourage bike use on narrow roads.

I hope that bike accessibility is a priority among local governments. I think a lot of people have bikes, but need it to be established as a normal thing before they start using it as a frequent means for local transit. Setting up bike lanes seems like a pretty low risk investment, worst thing that happens are the lanes for cars are a little more narrow, that could really indicate to people that biking is welcome here.

10 August 2009

Supertime Radio Revisited

My buddy Eric and I did internet radio for awhile. It didn't really work. I think we maxed around seven simultaneous listeners and among those seven were mostly family and close friends.

I flirted with internet radio for a good while. I started playing with Apple's internet broadcasting stuff back in high school, but that required a multicast backbone to get multiple listeners. Later on in college I found icecast and liveice, but didn't really do a whole lot with them. There were some technical problems with Linux sound servers and that scared me off a little.

A little later, Eric and Ilya found this podcast that they liked and through that I found out that Eric was into radio. I asked him if he wanted to do live internet radio and I think he was pretty psyched about it.

I'm not really sure why I was really drawn to radio. I hated morning commute radio since I started commuting. I'm not exactly the most gregarious person around. I think some of the technical stuff drew me into it: it was neat to be able to reach a lot of people from your computer. Plus there was sort of a thrill of being able to say something to the computer without looking someone in the eye. It took some of the edge off and the self-cencorship away. The gimmicky answer is that it's in my blood: my grandfather and longtime Boston DJ Charles Laquidara were cousins.

Nevertheless, on an April Friday we did a short test run calling parts of a Red Sox game as a couple of friends listened remotely. I think the next Sunday we did our first real show. It was a decent turnout for the first show: we had probably in the neighborhood of 5 or 6 listeners and several entertaining exchanges with impromptu studio guests. It was, unfortunately, an early peak.

Our format for the show was really just a conversation between friends. I don't think such a format is a terrible idea (more on that later), but the casual nature probably wasn't good radio hygiene. Eric and I had come up with a list of ideas of ideas before our first show (I recently uncovered the tattered piece of paper they're on, the other side is adorned with scratch work for an assignment for a computation theory class). We ran through basically all of them on the first show. Subsequent shows hardly got this level of preparation.

Our second show was canceled because Eric was dealing with some personal stuff. Here's the part where I reluctantly shit on Eric. You give me (or in this case I give myself) some sort of hour long obligation once a week and matter how I'm feeling I'll be there, fairly punctual and reasonably prepared whether I like it or not, with rare exceptions. Eric doesn't work that way. If he wasn't feeling up for a show, he wouldn't do it. Now I mean this not the sort of prima donna way, but more so to him, it didn't have the obligatory priority for him that it had for me. And while Eric always brought a lot of enthusiasm once he got on the air, he seemed sort of tepid about developing ideas for the show together off the air. That's not to say he didn't bring in material though: his concert reports were superb and he managed to find hilarious Craigslist posts. He'd also tend towards the late side, meaning it would be an absolute rush to get everything set up for the show, with no time beforehand to plot out the direction of the show.

I was annoyed, but I didn't want to let it show. To me it's totally unacceptable to tell your friends to act differently. Just completely unwarranted. You accept your friends for what they are and have no delusions of having any justification in thinking you should change them. Eric is a good friend of mine with a natural charisma and poise that far exceed what I brought to the show. Eric's inconsistency was hardly Supertime's largest problem.

We finished out the year pretty stagnant in terms of listenership. I had big plans for next year: fliers around campus, a domain name, a new weekday timeslot that I thought would make the show good background entertainment for people doing homework. I wanted to start right away. Eric wanted time to gage his schedule. After three or four weeks, I posted up the fliers and he started broadcasting. Eric proposed playing some music during the show. I was reluctant because of copyright concerns, but relented in an attempt to shake things up. The number of listeners stayed flat. I started up a Facebook group. Eric missed more and more shows. By the second semester, things got so discouraging that I basically stopped caring. Shows nearly stopped happening, maybe happening once a month. Listenership had basically declined to Ilya and our moms.

I had a hard time understanding why Supertime had failed. To me we were doing something novel and exciting. We were radio where anything could be said and no corporate agenda dictated anything. We were a podcast where you could listen live while things unfolded and call in and impact the show as it was happening. We had fliers around campus. We had a Facebook group with 50+ members. We implored our listeners to tell their friends. And yet we never broke out.

I think some of the recent stuff happening with WBCN has put some Supertime stuff in perspective. As mentioned before morning commute radio has been unappealing to me for quite some time. The first two years I commuted, I tried to find 60s/70s rock without enduring Karlson and McKenzie on ZLX. Third year, it was mainly WBOS. This year BOS lost steam fast, it became a summer of scanning with BCN serving as home base until the inevitable commercial block.

When the announcement was made that BCN's would format was to switch to WBMX's "Hot Adult Contemporary," freeing up WBMX's old frequency for sports talk, BCN's morning show Toucher and Rich abandoned playing music at all, in preparation for their move to new sports talk station. Frustrated with music on the radio in general, started listening to their show fairly exclusively. It was a little sophomoric and rather unfocused. If you started listening it at the wrong time you'd have no idea what was going on the entire ride to work. It was Supertime with more preparation and the occasional interview with someone of significance. But it turns out that therein lies the critical difference.

BCN has been a little different this week. They've called in a litany of DJs from the past. BCN seems like it was an institution through the 70s and 80s. It was before my time, but from what I can glean, they were responsible for breaking many international bands into America, launching the punk scene in Boston into the spotlight, and generally captivating Boston for good couple of decades.

I think good radio gives you a window into a world that you might not otherwise see. It lets you experience something that's beyond what you could do in your daily life. It's getting some underpaid production assistant to interview the most drunk person they can find after a Red Sox game. It's some unpaid intern investigating some new developing music scene in exchange for used records and discounts for concerts. It's having the cachet to interview someone who people really want to hear about.

There's also an issue with the medium. There's no scan button for internet radio. You can't rely on dumb luck to find you listeners. So the 'good radio' bit is even more critical for internet radio. It really needs to be something people feel they can't get anywhere else and be so compelling they feel that they need to inform others about it. Unfortunately, it would seem as though jokes where the punchlines are obscure baseball players or a discussion of that beggin' strips commercial doesn't do the job.

So I'll probably let the domain name for Supertime lapse, let the Facebook group and the blog sit idle, and keep the shows in a local archive (I don't have the free electricity to run a server anymore). It was a fine experiment. I don't regret doing it in the least. But I wasn't right for the gig. You give me some free time and I'll create some familiar work to fill it. I have to force myself to explore now things, and I wouldn't recognize a burgeoning trend if it tapped me on the shoulder. I can't address a small audience of my peers without breaking into a sweat. Maybe with some time and direction, Supertime could have been something, but the situation wasn't right.

04 August 2009

If I were Casey Kotchman I'd have my foot up so many asses right now

Yeah I was confused by the LaRoche/Kotchman trade at first too. But I just don't understand how the Boston media continues have such a poor sense of it.

NESN after the trade: Tom Caron feeding Jim Rice the 'Kotchman is more suited for part-time play' line and Rice, of course, agreeing. That's tolerable, I mean you're entitled to think that. Today I was listening to Toucher and Rich on BCN on the way to work and they were talking to the Boston Globe's Amalie Benjamin. I've recently taken a liking to their morning show and I have this recollection of Amalie's work in the Globe being alright, so I thought it could be neat. Talk immediately goes to the Laroche/Kotchman trade. Interesting.

One of the hosts asks what's with the Kotchman trade. Amalie does the part-time playing time thing. Host says 'so it's a downgrade, getting a part-timer for a full-timer, but it's better roster construction for the team'. I'm crossing my fingers that she's going to say that that's at least a little unfair.

Amalie instead agrees with them. I decide it's better to put up with whatever mediocrity WBOS is playing.

Kotchman was intended to be a a full time player ever since the Darin Erstad at first era came to a fortunate close. In 2006 he missed a lot of time with a bad bout of mono. Before that he'd been up and down, if my memory serves, mostly for injury replacement. He's started neighborhood of 140 games per season since. Not really part time stuff. LaRoche has been a full time player longer, but that may be more the result of the Braves not being married to playing a center fielder at first base. Just sayin'. It's also worth noting that at the beginning of his career LaRoche was platooned with Julio Franco, the oldest man alive. If we're going to split hairs over who has more the make-up the part-time player, LaRoche probably has more of a claim.

To me, the situation is pretty clear. LaRoche and Kotchman are very similar players (same career OBP, Kotchman's slugging is somewhat lower). Kotchman is 26 whereas LaRoche is 29, so if we assuming they're on typical career paths, Kotchman is poised to peak, LaRoche is at his peak and likely to trend down. Furthermore, Kotchman is now Red Sox property for two more seasons, whereas LaRoche is a free agent. The Braves were willing to make the trade because LaRoche was a known quantity to them. The Red Sox saw this as an opportunity to get a younger player to play the same role for the remainder of the season and perhaps be a underrated and improving bargain in subsequent ones.

There's nothing really that controversial or analytical about this, so I'm really not sure why sports journalists have created this alternate reality when a perfectly nice one already exists! I mean the whole 'I'm smarter than the media' thing is pretty hackneyed and obnoxious, but I'm really at a loss here!

All I know is that if I were the Kotch, next person to call me better suited as a part-timer would get a part-timer's foot up their ass.