The Hall of Fame

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They looked like this. That was back when computers were big enough for a cat to take a nap on top of the monitor.

Once upon a time, when I was a small child, my family had two old Macintosh computers that were used exclusively for playing games, mainly simple arcade games like Glypha III. (I use this game as an example because it was especially awesome and because it’s the only name I remember offhand) Those games were a lot of fun; they defined a significant portion of my existence for several years of my life. When we moved and got rid of those computers, my mother said it wasn’t such a big deal and we’d eventually get over it, but it’s been nine and a half years, and I still think about those games frequently with feelings of bittersweet nostalgia and great sadness. But I digress.

Glypha III, one of the awesomest computer programs ever to be invented

The point is, the real reason that those types of computer games are so addictive is that you can always live in hope of getting a new record and putting your name at the top of the hall of fame. (Some of the games just called it the “high scores”, but we always preferred the term “hall of fame” for some reason) Thus, the hall of fame on a current favorite game would become a measure of achievement, a quantification of accomplishment, and an outlet for sibling rivalry.

The greatest offense a person could commit would be to clear the hall of fame without the express knowledge and permission of all other players. Such an act of villainy would be met with fury and heartbreak. Not only had the tangible results of the accomplishments been erased, but the very memory of them had been savagely destroyed. Never could they be regained; even if the exact same score was achieved at some other time, it would be a separate occasion worthy of a second placement in the hall of fame. Deleting another person’s records of accomplishment is an ultimate act of cruelty.

Sometimes, though, we would mutually agree that the time had come to clear the hall of fame. After a period of time of obsessive game-playing, the high scores would inevitably reach a pinnacle that would be well-nigh impossible to surpass. As we failed to match or beat our previous achievements, frustration would set it, and sooner or later, we would realize that something had to be done. Of course, it was important that, before such a drastic deed should be done, the current hall of fame must be written down and the paper must be reverently deposited in a computer desk drawer. There, it would be forever available for reminiscence of former glories. Then, with mingled feelings of remorse and relief, the “clear high scores” button would be clicked, and the hall of fame would become blank.

Thus, the potential would be opened for many future victories. At first, any score would be guaranteed a spot in the hall of fame, and even after the hall of fame filled up, winning a spot on the list would be easy for a few days. Eventually, there would be high scores that would merit pride and joy equivalent to or greater than those of the previous high scores. The hall of fame would sooner or later reach another plateau, but in the meantime, winning would be possible once more.

It’s hard to set new high scores when you’re competing against everything you’ve ever done before. The best way to set new high scores is to take the old ones and hide them away in a drawer. They’re still there if you want to see them and remember them nostalgically, but they won’t clog up your hall of fame and prevent you from setting future high scores.

What metaphor? I’m just talking about computer games.

The Confusing Thing about Random Facts

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Every now and then, I see something on facebook, tumblr, or some other sector of the internet that asks participants to list a certain number of random facts about themselves. I rarely do this. It is not necessarily because I believe such surveys to be cliché or pointless; it is rather because I am confused about what determines the randomness of a fact. Does “random”, in this context, mean trivial? Does it mean that the person constructing the list is not to spend much time thinking about the facts or putting them in any particular order? Does it simply mean that the facts do not necessarily need to be related to each other in any way? My observations of things that other people post on the internet has led me to come to the conclusion that the word “random” is defined in many different ways, and that the tone and nature of a list of “random facts” will differ greatly from individual to individual. Some examples of things that can be classified as “random facts” include personal anecdotes, opinions, self-descriptions of personality or physical traits, details about one’s family or pets, personal biographical information, or a detail about one’s hobbies or interests. It would seem that the entire point of “random fact” lists is that everyone has a different idea of what kinds of facts should be on these lists. You may not learn a lot about a person by what facts about themselves they choose to share in this type of context, but what you do learn about them might be interesting.

As a nerd and a smart-aleck, I am incapable of simply accepting this. The reason for my objection is that the word “random” has a specific mathematical meaning. Granted, this mathematical meaning differs from the word’s standardly used definition as given by English dictionaries, which say that “random” means purposeless or haphazard. Normally, it is my policy to trust dictionaries. However, I believe that the official mathematical definition of the word “random” is worth noting. According to the statistics class I took a year ago (and in which I got good grades, thereby justifying my insistent use of the concepts and definitions I acquired from it), “random” means that any possible outcome has an equal chance of occurring. For example, the roll of a fair die is random because each of the sides has an equal chance of being the side facing up when the die lands. Picking a card out of a standard deck is random because each card has an equal chance of being selected. Using a random number generator is random because any number within the selected range has an equal chance of being produced. Listing facts about yourself is not random because, no matter how purposelessly and haphazardly you are doing it, you are deliberately selecting the facts that you will use.

The only way to make a list of facts random is to randomly select these facts from a larger list of facts. That is to say, in order to generate a short list of random facts, a person should first write a long list of facts and then use a completely fair method to randomly choose the predetermined number of facts from the long list. This raises another question, though. How comprehensive should the long list of facts be? It can’t actually contain every possible fact about the person in question, because such a list would be infinitely long. I think that might actually be literally true, but even if it isn’t, the list would be extremely long and therefore inconvenient to use. Thus, I suggest that the list should contain only those facts which the writer of the list deems internet-worthy based upon its coolness and the likelihood that others would be interested in reading it. For example, I might include some facts about my musical preferences or my favorite books or movies, but not a fact about my favorite brand of peanut butter. Alternatively, someone who considers peanut butter to be a fascinating or important topic might use such a fact.

It’s too bad I have a lot of homework to do tonight.  Otherwise, I would love to spend some time compiling a long list of facts about myself in order to prepare for the next time the internet wants to know some random facts about me.

Number One Hundred: A Top Ten List

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This blog post is a landmark because it’s Number 100, and 100 is a significant number because it’s the square of ten and we count in base ten. Personally, I think that bases seven, eight, and nine are cool, but I stick with convention and use base ten. I’m not smart enough to translate from one base to another very easily. Anyway, I’ve decided that the best way for me to observe the occasion of my one hundredth blog post is to make a top ten list of my favorite older posts. Last night, I went through and chose my ten favorites, and I will now list them and add links to them. It is worth noting that these are not necessarily the ones that got the most views or likes; it’s just my personal opinion that these are the best.

10. Logic dictates that I should vote for a third party candidate– from October 27. This is the only relatively recent one that made the list.

9. Cadbury Eggs and Calculus– from April 4. Conclusive proof that I’m a nerd.

8. Thoughts on Time Travel and Stuff– June 14. I felt like this one kind of had to make the list, because parts of it discuss the book that I’m using for my English senior seminar paper.

7. Stuff that Martin Luther didn’t say– from July 11. I wish I’d done a better job writing this. I liked it at the time, but now I don’t think it was very well organized.

6. A picture tells a thousand words, but most of them are lies– from April 27. Actually, the title is the best part. I thought that was a lovely title; it’s pretty much the only reason this one made this list.

5. Logic is a Logical Fallacy– from February 10. Another one that I like mainly for the title, but I also think I made some good points in that one.

4. Why We Celebrate the Fourth of July– from July 4. I had fun with this one. But even now, I can’t decide whether I’d classify it as silly or serious.

3. An unreasonable explanation for an unexplainable reason– from June 30. Have you ever wondered why, every now and then, something hurts a little for just an instant? I have an explanation, and it involves science fiction terminology, so it’s automatically cool.

2. Peace, Love, Jesus– from July 19. I wanted this to come in at number one, because it discusses some of the most important stuff I’ve written about on this blog. But looking back at it, it’s just not quite as well-written as it could have been, so I couldn’t justify putting it at the top of the list.

1. Correct Use of Furniture– from July 18. Before I started making the list, I wouldn’t have guessed I’d be putting this at number one, but I do remember having a lot of fun writing it. Actually, I think that’s the real reason I like it; it entertained me a lot at the time and now it represents some good memories.

Relative Degrees of Christmasness

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Today is Black Friday, which means that many Americans who spent yesterday acknowledging how thankful they are will now act like greedy consumers by spending a whole day obsessing over the acquisition of material objects. I realize that I’m being unnecessarily cynical in saying that; there’s nothing immoral about choosing to go shopping on a certain day because of the fact that most stores offer excellent bargains on that day. In fact, I think that the day after Thanksgiving is a good day for the Christmas shopping season to begin in earnest. My objection to the shopping tradition of Black Friday is that it sometimes seems to overshadow Thanksgiving, which doesn’t make any sense. Whether you consider Black Friday shopping to be a special occasion in its own right or a preparation for Christmas, there’s no reason that it should be more noteworthy and facebook-status-worthy than the major holiday the day before.

With that being said, it is now officially getting close to Christmastime. Unlike Christmas and Easter, Thanksgiving is a holiday that really only lasts for a day, or for the weekend at most. Christmas, on the other hand, is a momentous occasion that deserves weeks of preparations, followed by weeks of celebration. I’ve never been in favor of extremely early Christmas decorating or of Christmas store displays in October, but life is too short and years are too long to restrict Christmas to just a few days in December. Personally, I think that it’s cool to observe Christmas in one way or another year round. After all, Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ incarnation, and Jesus was incarnate for more than a few days.

But, of course, a holiday celebration isn’t so special if it literally lasts all year. The twenty-fifth of December is still the apex and zenith of all Christmasness. And the twelve days of Christmas are still to be considered more Christmasy than, for example, a random day in the middle of the spring. I therefore propose the point of view that it’s always Christmas, but some times of year are more Christmas than others. According to this way of looking at the calendar, I have helpfully constructed the following diagram that demonstrates the spectrum of Christmasness. I have thus divided the year into seven distinct phases of Christmas, although it should be noted that some of these, particularly the Advent season, also contain a subspectrum of Christmasness according to the exact day or week within the phase. Like most cool things, this diagram has been color-coded. It has not, however, been drawn to scale, nor has it been drawn neatly, for the simple reason that I am lazy.

As seen straight-on

Angled to emphasize the right-hand side

Dark green: The period of time that begins at about sunset on December 24 and ends in the early-to-mid afternoon on December 25

Red: The range of days that begins on December 25 and extends to January 6, that is to say, the twelve days of Christmas plus Epiphany Day

 

Dark Blue: The period of time before Christmas that includes four Sundays and the intervening weekdays and Saturdays, that is to say, the season of Advent

Orange: The period of time beginning a few days before Thanksgiving and extending to the first Sunday of Advent

Light Blue: The range of weeks between the beginning of Epiphany and the beginning of Lent, which occurs at different times in different years, with the result that this phase varies in length from year to year

Purple:  A few short phases, usually located in the mid-to-late summer or sometime in October, in which one inexplicably finds oneself desiring to listen to Christmas music, wishing it would snow, and thinking it would be cool to put Christmas lights in one’s room

Light Green: The majority of the time of year between the beginning of Lent and the approach of Thanksgiving

My life has taken a sudden turn for the randomer

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The conditions of my life have entered a state in which a regular schedule is impossible, sleep is unusual, and time of day is irrelevant. I concluded this when I woke up to discover that 1) it was 3:00 in the morning, 2) I was still dressed for church even though I had left church many hours previously, 3) I had unexpectedly fallen asleep at about 9:00 the previous night, 4) The alarm I had set to keep such a thing from happening had failed to wake me up at 10:00 as I had intended, and 5) I had consequently failed to accomplish the homework that I had been aware I would need to stay up all night to do. Additionally, I realized that I had a fever and a headache and my nose was running. Taking all of this into consideration, I acted in the only possible logical manner, which was to get up and get the coffee machine going.

Here is a picture of Mariah Carey that Google gave me when I searched for pictures of 80s hair. I selected this picture because this is more or less what my hair looked like. Except it was even curlier, and less symmetrical, and much less neat. So basically, it didn’t really look like this at all.

Another thing that I noticed upon waking up was that my hair had decided that it was ‘80s hair day. It had already been unusually curly the day before, but while I was asleep, it had rearranged itself into an array of disorderly curls with a big asymmetrical poof that didn’t seem like it should have possibly been able to form without a deliberate effort on my part. This amused me so greatly that it temporarily distracted me from my homework. Shortly thereafter, my hair changed its mind about ‘80s hair day and decided instead to go for a Medusa look, as various sections of my hair decided independently which direction they wanted to point and how tightly or loosely they wanted to curl. I was greatly tempted not to do my homework and instead to laugh at my hair while pacing around in my darkened dorm room and pondering the question of which decade I ought to live in, taking into consideration my taste in music and fashion, my thoughts on matters of feminism or its absence, and the tendencies of my hair. It is worth noting that I never determined a conclusive answer to this question.

A surprisingly accurate picture of what my hair often looks like when I wake up

These events happened over twenty-one hours ago, and in that time, I have read a couple hundred pages, written a few thousand words, gone to a few classes and work, taken care of some paperwork, eaten a couple times, wasted some time lamenting the tragic fact that my life isn’t entirely as joyous as I could imagine it being, and used the internet to send my mother some squirrel emoticons. Throughout the day, there has not been a single moment at which my perception of the time of day has been accurate. Also, my hair has suddenly and spontaneously changed its appearance several more times.

In Defense of Stereotyped Labels

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The rules of political correctness tell us that labels are bad. Sorting people into categories is discriminatory and unkind, and it results in prejudiced and even bigoted treatment of other people. The phrase “There are two kinds of people. . .” should only be used as the beginning of a joke and not as the introduction to an observation about real people in real life. That rule is not contingent upon the number used; it’s just as wrong to claim that there are three or ten or seven billion different kinds of people. (For the record, here is a website where you can find an estimate of the world population and the population of the United States. As you can see, there are more than seven billion people in the world. That is a fairly recent development. Last I had known, there weren’t yet quite seven billion.)

As you might have guessed by my slightly sarcastic tone, I disagree with this rule of political correctness. Of course, it’s wrong, in both senses of the word, to make assumptions about people based upon things like race or socioeconomic status. But that doesn’t mean that generalizations are always wrong. (If they were, it would be wrong to say that generalizations are always wrong. Because that’s a generalization. Just sayin’.) I think that some methods of categorizing people are valid, particularly in cases where a person is somewhat responsible for putting themself into that category.

According to my logic class, this Venn Diagram is upside down.

Take the label of “nerd” for example. That’s a term that implies certain stereotypes so strongly that there isn’t really any correct way of using it without intentionally drawing upon those preconceived notions. The accompanying Venn Diagram helpfully shows that nerds are people who are intelligent, socially inept, and obsessed. The other accompanying picture shows that nerds are people who wear funny glasses and plaid shirts. For further explanations and definitions of nerdiness, I refer you to this webpage. The noteworthy thing is that there really are people who fit this stereotyped definition of nerd. In fact, for the most part, I would identify myself as a nerd, although this classification does not extend to funny glasses or other elements of fashion choice, and I am about as technologically knowledgeable as a pineapple ring. (No, there is no particular reason that I chose a pineapple ring for this comparison. There doesn’t need to be a reason. I claim writer’s prerogative on word choice for my random comparisons.)

According to Google, this is what hipsters look like.

Of course, there is a semi-infinite number of stereotyped labels like that. (Note: I claim personal ownership of the term “semi-infinite”.) There are dumb blondes, hipsters, goths, rednecks, gangsters (otherwise known as gangstas, which I notice that spellcheck considers to be a valid word) and all sorts of others, which I’m not going to take the time to list. Although, come to think of it, it would be really fascinating to conduct opinion polls to come up with an exhaustive list of stereotyped labels and to define each one with a concrete list of personality traits, habits, interests, and preferences in music, fashion, and art.

Here is my suggestion. I think that these labels should be considered appropriate to use in describing people, but according to a spectrum rather than to a binary. In other words, I wouldn’t necessarily say that I am or am not a nerd, but I might say that I’m more or less nerdy than someone else, or I might say that I’m more of a nerd than a hipster and more of a hipster than a redneck. Basically, the difference between my proposed system of stereotyped labels and the normal system of stereotyped labels is the same as the difference between the Myers-Briggs personality types and the Big Five personality traits. As I think I have indicated before, I am a much bigger fan of the Big Five system than the Myers-Briggs system, mainly because it acknowledges that there are subtle differences between all individual people.

This is where the data from the aforementioned hypothetical polls would be useful. Just as personality can be measured according to a personal survey, a person should in theory be able to measure things such as their nerdiness or hipsterness (etc.) according to such a survey. I don’t mean an internet or magazine quiz that somebody quickly wrote up just for the fun of it; I mean a scientifically accurate questionnaire. But that would require a very specific definition of each stereotyped label. And since these labels are socially constructed, it would take a sociological study with a large number of participants in order to properly define them.

Someone needs to organize such a study. If I was a sociologist, I would totally do it. If any sociologists are reading this, I request that you do it, and I hereby volunteer to participate. You’re welcome.

The perils of climbing trees while wearing high heels

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You know that sinking feeling you get when you suddenly realize that not only is the dead log you’re standing on very weak and unstable, but it’s also a good five or six feet off the ground? In case that’s not a feeling you’re familiar with, I will point out that there’s a reason I used the word “sinking”. For the record, I did not fall off of that particular log at that particular time. It did turn out to be strong enough to support my weight long enough for me to get up higher onto a branch of a nearby tree. I think that at that exact point, I couldn’t have fallen anyway. My skirt had been firmly stuck in a tangle of thorns, and the heel of my boot had gotten trapped on another branch.

Why, you may ask, was I climbing in trees and thorns this morning while wearing a nice skirt and high-heeled boots? The answer is simple. I was looking for an owl.

A few minutes earlier, I had been aware of a large bird flying overhead and had naturally stopped to watch it. At first, I assumed that it was a hawk or something like that, but when it landed in a tree, I could clearly see that it was an owl. “How odd,” said I to myself, for it was not night. I stared at the owl, and the owl stared at me. Then I took a picture of it. As you can see, it wasn’t a very good picture, so I went closer to try to get another. The owl flew away and was no longer visible from where I was standing. Clearly, I had no choice but to climb onto a log and venture into the unknown territory between the paths. Unfortunately, I failed to locate the owl again.

This picture was taken at great personal risk, for the branch I was holding turned out not to be attached to a tree.

It is perhaps worth noting at this point that the location of this story was not actually a real forest. It’s a fairly small wooded area on the edge of campus, and the habitat isn’t exactly the same as that of a more natural forest. I mention this partly to emphasize how weird it was to see an owl there, and partly to explain why there was a jungle gym of logs and unrooted trees for me to climb on. I’m not good at climbing trees; I need low branches and easy footholds to get off the ground at all, and this might be the highest I’ve gotten in a tree. (Or a stack of dead trees) The whole time, I was mentally pretending that I was a character in a movie, because in real life, one doesn’t often find oneself in a situation where one is climbing trees in a long skirt and knee-high boots, using the boot heels as climbing tools, and carrying a bookbag and camera the whole time.

It wasn’t until I was working my way back to the path that I fell. It was such a spectacular fall that I wish I could have somehow caught it on video. My foot caught in a vine, causing me to lose my balance, stumble sideways, and, in slow motion, descend into the network of thorns and branches below me. They were so thick that I was never actually airborne; they pulled at my skirt and hair so much that they somehow managed to flip me over before depositing me headfirst on the ground so slowly that I didn’t actually get hurt.

Then I pulled the thorns out of my clothes, took the leaves out of my hair, washed the blood and dirt off of my wrists, and went to class.

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