Monday, July 27, 2009
Thursday, July 23, 2009
From time to time I like to comment on a random picture.
Courtesy of the Caltech Archives
Physicist extraordinaire riding a bike. He looks so happy, like, "Whoa, physics is actually doing something for me..." What you don't know is that immediately following the picture, he lost his balance and fell off the bike.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
A while ago, I saw one of the nicest people I know whack her computer on the side of the monitor as if it were just an emotionless piece of machinery. She complained to me that "the piece of crap" took five minutes to open iTunes and deserved some punishment. I replied, "Well, that one time when it opened iTunes in only five seconds, did you give it a cookie?"
Human slavery was abolished 144 years ago, and I think that it's time for artificial slavery to go as well. What I mean is that when you buy a quad-core processor laptop, you have to treat it as a thinking being with limitations. It does math faster than any math whiz you know, plays fifty different kinds of media, and needs less sleep than a CS major at MIT. But that doesn't mean you should abuse it when it can't keep open eighty Firefox windows and wipe your ass at the same time without a little bit of hesitation. Without these beauties of engineering, you'd actually need to learn how to write legibly and read things called books.
Don't think that computers will take all your crap. The next time you get a blue screen of death, think back to the time you threw your Frappuccino at the screen, left it out in the snow, or took it for a swim - there's your reward. Even if you don't do any of these things, you've probably called it names you would never say to a real person, or left it running since you installed iTunes 1.0. Well, when you give your computer too much to do, it gets stressed out and gasps for air (put your ear next to the CPU fan and listen closely). Like all of us, it thinks, feels, and cries - just in binary.
Love your computer and it will love you back. I'm proud to say that I still own a decade-old desktop that has never given me a blue screen of death**. It's not hard. You don't have to give it daily massages or take it out for dinner on its birthday. But before you hit it again, think about what you would do tonight without the Internet.
**Maybe because it doesn't run on Microsoft Windows.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
You can tell that I don't have much of a social life right now when I start writing about eye contact.
It may be a small and insignificant thing, but we make eye contact all the time, inadvertently, purposefully, casually, nervously, confidently, shyly, or with special meaning... (that last one is a little creepy sometimes, yes). I think that in most situations, eye contact is better than no eye contact, because it shows confidence and curiosity in yourself, and who knows, you might get a nice smile in return. When people are deeply in thought or in a hurry to get somewhere, that's a different story, in which case they look ahead or look down. But when you have nothing on your mind, avoiding eye contact is just disappointing. I find that the dirty floor or the fire extinguisher fifty feet away is never as interesting as the moving person passing me by. So I look at people sitting around me in a room, I look at people walking past me in the hallway, I look at people biking past me on the sidewalk, I look at people driving past me on the road, and I look at airplanes flying by overhead (just kidding).
We aren't all actors and actresses, but we still try to give specific kinds of looks and interpret the looks we receive. I tend to give (or think I give) a few different looks. When I'm in a relative hurry and walking fast, I give a casual, quick glance, in an almost businesslike way, kind of like, "Morning, partner." When I'm wandering around slowly and aimlessly, I tend to give an extended, curious look at people passing me by, kind of like, "That's a very interesting hair tie you got there..." In this case I try to accompany it with a smile, which is to say, "Don't get me wrong, I like your hair tie, especially because it matches your shoelaces."
Interpreting other people's looks is interesting. Well, actually, most people give me a generic "mind your own business" look, which doesn't say much. But sometimes, maybe because I've a penetrating stare, I induce a kind of deer-in-the-headlights response, i.e. "why are you staring at me." It's not hostile, just a caught-off-guard look. My response to this is to return the same look and a micro-staring contest ensues for about 1.5 seconds. My friends tell me that I'm having "eye sex" (urban dictionary it), but for me, it happens so unintentionally with anyone that I refuse to believe that I'm doing such a creepy thing.
Eye contact is a convenient way to approach someone and start a conversation. I find that tapping people on the shoulder tends to startle them and make them drop their drink and crick their neck in trying to turn too fast. And if you're standing right in front of them and still can't make eye contact, they probably don't want to talk to you.
Anyway, I've written and you've read enough nonsense about eye contact. But I think it's an interesting interaction in everyday life, even though it won't get you new friends like having a good conversation would. If you have any piercing insights that can illuminate the way we perceive eye contact though, please share.
Last thing - I once made eye contact in the bathroom mirror and proceeded to have a conversation with the person looking only through the mirror, and then I turned and saw he had ridiculous tattoos all over his body and the conversation ended awkwardly.
Over the years, I've come to realize that I'm not photogenic (this is one of several reasons that I have a paper airplane for a profile picture). Of course, the quality of being photogenic is relative to how good you look (or how good you think you look) in real life, because compared to Brad Pitt, I (and most people) look hopelessly unphotogenic.
I've tried to figure out what exactly makes you have or lack beautiful features in photos. Wikipedia tells me that because photos are two-dimensional, we perceive only a projection of the three-dimensional face that lacks depth and angle. Well, duh. So I guess we can't reshape our jawbones (without surgery), move our eyes closer to the bridge of the nose, or turn our ears back farther. But there must be something that we can change to look a tad better in that next picture, right? Maybe your bangs aren't as cute as you thought, or maybe that attractive sideways grin actually looks more like a crooked frown of cluelessness. But facial blemishes sometimes appear out of nowhere on your cheeks, and those mesmerizing eyes lose their glimmer and turn into red spots. Maybe your face is just more attractive in motion...
There's also the issue of subjectivity. This isn't common, but sometimes what you think is Facebook-profile-picture quality might look ridiculous to everyone else. I won't post pictures of me trying to pull off gangsta looks, but you can imagine - or can't imagine - how that worked out. I know some people who would sit there with their cameras and take hundreds of pictures of their best puppy faces or stud looks, but once they pick out the best picture and show it to me, I'd immediately say, "Do you realize that you have a poster advertising Yoga Booty Ballet® in the background?"
The next time you're disappointed at how some pictures turned out, just remember that the purpose of a picture is to capture you in a special context. The context (the Taj Mahal) matters more than how you look (eyes closed). So unless you're a model, don't worry too much about your pictures. People who judge you by that piece of spinach between your teeth obviously haven't been acquainted with your shining personality.