Saturday, June 30, 2007

Beware the Fanboys

Ok, here’s something I just don’t get.

Learn about a new consumer product, swallow every bit of marketing hype that’s forced on you, accept rumors and conjecture as fact…Then camp out in front of a store for a week, all for the privilege of being one of the first to own a completely unproven piece of technology.

For the people who do this, I have one word:


Why not stay home, relax, let everyone else get the ‘first’ ones. Then buy your own a little later when all the bugs have been worked out and the price has dropped a little.

I’m talking, of course, about the iPhone. Is it just me, or is everyone going batshit crazy about a phone with a touchscreen? Even if this is ‘the greatest phone ever’, (and plenty of people are pointing out that it’s not), is it worth a week sitting in front of a store? Is it worth camping out for any consumer product?

In a word, no. If you have that deep a need for any gadget, you need to rethink your life a little.

The worst thing is that this fanboy-ism only hurts us all in the long run. Even if the iPhone turns out to be the worst thing ever, they’re still going to completely sell out…which means they can pat themselves on the back on what a success they’ve made.

Yes, I’ve seen the ads, but do you know what? I bet the touchscreen isn’t really that accurate. I bet the internet doesn’t really run that fast…and why in the hell would I feel the need to carry around a bunch of pictures on my fricking cell phone?

Big point here…ads are designed to make things look perfect. You can’t judge how good something is by what the creators say about it (Daiktana anyone?)

Stop being sheep and actually and objectively decide if something is worth the cash, before you sit in front of a store for three days…and hand over your hard earned cash for something that probably won’t be good, and will certainly not be as good as you think it is.

We could talk about track-records and brand loyalty...but I think Sony has already proven that one great product doesn't mean the next is going to be worth crap

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Reverse Brain Crack

I suppose I should start by explaining what ‘Brain Crack’ is.

Brain crack (Invented by Ze Frank) is when you have an idea, but convince yourself you don’t have the time, money or resources to actually implement it. You’re convinced you have an amazing idea, but never actually implement it. Maybe it’s that great idea for a novel you never get around to writing, or that painting you’ve always wanted to create, or that song you’ve always wanted to write.

In other words, you protect the idea, because you’re afraid if you actually go ahead with it, it’ll suck. Basically, you’d rather sit there and ‘know’ you could write that best-seller if you only had the time, rather than actually write it and face the possibility of failure.

So, are we clear on what brain-crack is?

Well, today I want to talk about the opposite of brain crack, or at least another facet of it.

I’m talking about when you have a good idea, and rather than protect it, convince yourself that your good idea is actually a bad one.

This is when you come up with an idea for an invention, or maybe a story, and then go through all the reasons why it would never work, and why you shouldn’t bother going ahead with it.

This is something I do all the time. Rather than convince myself that my idea is awesome and I don’t have the time or resources to do it justice, I rip it apart in my head until I’m convinced my idea is terrible.

For example, I often decide not to implement an idea because it’s too close to something that’s already been done. I’ve sat and written the first few chapters of hundreds of novels, before I’ve decided it was “Too ‘Star Wars’” or “Too ‘Lord of the Rings’”.

Keeping up with the current trend of riffing off things Kato writes, I realized this idea after a comment he made on my new Podcast:

“It reminded me of a cross between a Monty Python sketch ("How Not to Be Seen" came to mind) and an entry in the Hitchhiker's Guide.”

Here’s the thing, the Monty Python comparison I just take as a compliment. Monty Python was one of my favorite things growing up and it definitely shaped my sense of humor, and you can find elements of it in pretty much every comedy ever made… but the Hitchhiker’s Guide comparison made me stop and think. In fact it made me think these exact words:

“Holy shit, it’s pretty much exactly fucking like Hitchhiker’s Guide! How the holy hell did I not see that?”

Well, this is where reverse brain-crack comes in.

I was trying to come up with an idea for a Podcast, and had decided on pretty much the same format as this blog, with a focus on the “stupid people” angle. I’d just seen the news report on the woman who wanted Harry Potter banned from schools despite the fact she’d never read them.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), the idea of me sitting here on my own, poking fun and bitching about how stupid people are didn’t work as an idea for me. I’d tried it before in a one-off podcast I did…and I just didn’t like it. It might have worked if it was a ‘discussion’ kinda show where I had someone else to talk to…but just sitting on my own, being a smart-ass isn’t exactly what I’d consider ‘entertainment’. Basically if you have a following, you can be a smart ass, and people will likely laugh and agree with you. If you’re just some random guy, most people are just like “Who gives a fuck? Who the hell are you?”

Then the idea hit me, what if I had to explain that concept to someone who was a complete outsider and had never run into that concept before, what would I say?

“Ok, she doesn’t like that book because she says it promotes witchcraft to kids. What’s Witchcraft? Oh, it’s…uhh, doing magic. Magic? Well, it gives you special powers, but it doesn’t actually exist…just superstition and stories So why is she bothered about it? How does she know it’s bad if she hasn’t read it? Uh, I dunno.”

It gave me a format. It wasn’t just me being a smartass, I could do the Podcast as a sort of ‘educational primer’ for aliens. It took it away from being ‘random dude being a smartass’ to a sort of radio sketch that could be repeated and had a ton of material to use. Everything’s a little absurd when viewed from the viewpoint of a complete outsider, and I like to idea of looking at things we take for granted from a new angle. It also has to option of ‘getting things wrong’, giving the point of view of what that outsider might assume was the truth, to comic effect.

A construction worker shouts at women because he’s afraid and wants to keep women as far away as possible. A mobile phone is a device that gives you an excuse to shout at the top of your voice in public places…geddit?

So what’s this got to do with Reverse Brain Crack?

Well, I actually like my Podcast idea and think it has a lot of potential. However, if I’d spotted the Hitchhiker’s Guide similarity starting out, I never would have done it.

Why do something that’s already been done?

It’s only after making a couple of episodes that I see that at the very least, I’m writing a comprehensive Hitchhiker’s entry, as opposed to the “Mostly Harmless” entry that already exists. Also, even though the format is superficially similar, I don’t recall a Hitchhiker’s Guide entry that stated the point of a game of Counterstrike is to see how many times you can type “Lol UR A FAG!!!” in a single round.

Basically the ‘aliens’ angle is just a device that lets me be satirical in a fun way. I could just as easily have done an “America for Immigrants” podcast, but that would have limited me a lot more than “Earth for Aliens” would.

I think that’s one of the most prevalent forms of Reverse Brain Crack, dismissing an idea because something already exists that’s similar. If everyone did that, there wouldn’t have been a single Fantasy genre book written since Lord of the Rings.

Something to think about.

PS “Simpsons did it! Simpsons did it!”

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Because I Want You To Know How Difficult It Is.

Well, first things first, Episode 2 of “Earth Concepts For Aliens” is up. Check it out here.

I thought just as a one off, I’d go through how I make each episode. I received a pretty good response for the first episode (15 downloads…WOOT! I’m famous!), so I just thought some of you might be interested in how it all works.

Well, is pretty intuitive, so I won’t go into that, but shall we say, the “production” of it.

Obviously, the first thing I do is come up with an idea. I chose the Earth Concepts idea, because it’s an extremely easy way to make fun of things, or point out how absurd they are. I also think it’s a pretty funny idea anyway. If aliens did make contact tomorrow, exactly how would you explain some of the crazy shit that’s going on?

Basically, I like the idea of looking at things like a total outsider, and it makes it much easier to be (arguably) funny.

So, when I come up with an idea, I write a script. I write very quickly and very roughly, and turn off the computer as soon as I’m done. I only go back a few days later. It’s amazing how much this helps. First of all, re-reading what I’ve wrote when I have some distance from it (IE, I’ve forgotten a lot of what I wrote) can fire off ideas I hadn’t thought of at the time, and sometimes it turns out something was only interesting and funny because it was 4am and I was exhausted when I wrote it.

Basically, after a few days, I re-read and do what I can to polish the script. Then I do a timed reading. I’m shooting for about 5 minutes per show, but I’ll go into the reasons for that time length a little later.

If it’s in the ballpark, I go ahead and record it.

I use Adobe Audition, it’s fairly easy to use, and has a lot of great features, as well as a ton of features that I have no idea what they do. Unfortunately, I’m stuck with a regular headset microphone, so sound quality isn’t great.

I do the recording as soon as I can after the timed reading, so it’s still fresh and I don’t stumble over words, but I try to avoid reading and re-reading it, because if you do, by the time you get to the recording stage, you’re bored shitless of it and want to go do something else…and that shows.

After recording, I line everything up in the timeline (making sure everything still flows where I fucked up and re-recorded sections). Then I add the music.

The music was a real problem and still is. It’s also part of the reason I stick to roughly 5 minutes a show. I wanted something in a 1940’s educational film. The kind of “Don’t do drugs” and “A woman’s place is in the home” movies they used to show at schools. The one I use on the podcast was the only one I could find online that was a) Free, and b) public domain.

In other words, I don’t want to fork out $50 bucks for a stock-music collection, and I don’t want to get sued either.

The problem with the track I have is twofold. The first is that it’s only about 2 minutes long, meaning I have to cut, copy and paste the same sections over and over…which is really tough trying to make it seem like one seamless piece of music. I also can’t pre-prepare it and use it over and over, because the actual podcast can vary by as much as 3 minutes per episode.

The second problem is that the piece has a freaking ton of range. Some parts are incredibly soft and barely audible, other parts are extremely loud and powerful. So, what I have to do is use the mixer the alter the volume as it goes up and down, walking the tightrope between audible and intrusive. (As Kato pointed out, it lends a certain ‘authenticity’ to the recording, without it, it’s just some dude talking…but it can also be distracting as hell if it isn’t mixed right.)

Finally, when I’ve got everything lined up, I listen to the whole thing start to finish to make sure I didn’t miss any lines, or have any ‘overlap’ between the tracks. Basically, if you move one of the sections in the timeline it could cover or be covered by another part of the track. I make any changes if needed, then go to the cleanup.

I stated at the start I’m stuck using a crappy headset mic, which means at this point the sound is very tinny and crackly. Luckily, audition comes with preset ‘restoration’ settings, which means just a few mouse clicks gets rid of the hiss and any pops and crackles, then I just use the EQ to remove the tinnyness and give my voice some bass.

I’m not 100% happy with the way the dialogue sounds, but it’s basically a case of the lesser of two evils. I can either have slightly muffled or tinny, weak sound with a lot of hiss. I prefer muffled.

Then, it’s just a matter of mixing the multitrack session down into an mp3, and uploading it to Luckily, Mypodcast automatically re-samples the audio into a compatible mp3 for you, so I don’t worry about setting the bitrate etc. For completeness sake, the MP3 I upload is a 128kps stereo Variable Bitrate file. I’m not sure what it is you actually listen to.

Then, I just fill out the submission form, which is the title of the episode, a brief description and rating, and it’s good to go.

Anyway, just before I get accused of being totally up myself, I posted this just for interest’s sake. I’m not intending this as a ‘how do guide’ or a ‘look at how good I am’ post.

I hope you find this post interesting, and I hope you listen to the podcast and enjoy it.


So today I was sitting in front of the TV, wondering just how much trouble I’d get into if I put all the clocks in the house forward by two hours, ran into the bedroom, and told Sunny she had to get up because she was late for work.

Then I decided I quite like my testicles where they are, so decided to read the blogs instead.

So, I read Kato’s latest, and it struck a chord with me, especially as I’d just watched Tom Hanks on “Inside the Actor’s Studio”.

Tom Hanks said that for any actor, Artifice and self-consciousness is poison.

I want to take that and apply it to podcasting and Video-podcasting. (Incidentally, if you’re reading this on Tuesday morning, Episode 2 of ‘Earth Concepts for Aliens’ should be up. Check it out here).

You see, Blogging is one thing, podcasting is a totally different animal. With blogs we have that nice screen of anonymity. If you get popular, you have the option of being recognized. Don’t provide a picture of your face or your real name, and no one knows you’re ‘that blogger’ unless you tell them.

If we get into podcasting, we’re definitely putting ourselves a lot more ‘out there’.

This is where self consciousness comes in. I, like pretty much everyone else on the planet, hate my voice. It’s the classic ‘tape-recorder syndrome’. We hear ourselves speaking every day, but when we hear it played back, we all ask the same question:

“Do I really sound like that?”

The truth is, yes you do. But it only sounds weird because we’re not used to it. The way I like to look at it is that everyone else knows what I sound like. If they heard what I thought I sounded like, that’s what they’d think was weird.

It’s the same with our looks. Everyone’s a little insecure about the way they look, and we all have the same reaction when we see ourselves on camera. We have this self-image that the camera totally destroys:

“Does my profile really look like that?” “When did I put on so much weight?”

We get embarrassed because we know other people are seeing us at what we think isn’t our best. The kicker is the same as not liking our voice. That’s what everyone else sees all the time.

Even looking in the mirror we don’t see what everyone else sees. What we see in the mirror is backwards because it’s…well, a mirror image. If you don’t think I’m right, get someone to stand next to you when you look in the mirror. They’ll look slightly odd because no-ones face is symmetrical. The thing is, the ‘odd’ version you see in the mirror is what they think they look like.

Long story short, notice how when you watch a home movie, everyone looks normal except you? Everyone else watching thinks they’re the ones who look strange.

So where am I going with all this?

The point is, if you’re self conscious in front of a camera, it shows. The trick is just to relax and not worry about it. The only person you look weird to is yourself. Just watch TV for a while. Plenty of people on there are far from perfect. (Look at Jim Brass from CSI, Huge eyebrows, beer gut and he’s balding. Ever looked at him and thought “What where the casting people thinking???”)

In other words, the only person hung up on what you look like is you.

This brings us to artifice. If you’re on camera and start thinking about being in front of a camera and trying to look or sound cool, it comes across as really forced and fake. This doesn’t just apply to acting, but any time you’re in front of a camera.

Go and watch a podcast, any podcast. Most of the ones you’ll see will demonstrate my point. I’ve listened to a ton of podcasts where people for some reason people try to talk in a ‘radio-guy’ voice. It sounds like someone trying to be someone else, and it just doesn’t work.

It’s the on-camera paradox. The more you think about the way you want to look or sound, the less likely you are to achieve it.

I remember making my college show-reel, and I had a scene to shoot where someone had to walk through a door, turn left and walk off camera. Unfortunately, as soon as the camera went on, the guy did it, but held his hands all weird at his sides like a robot, stared directly ahead the whole time and kept looking at the camera out of the corner of his eye. He was that focused one being filmed, he couldn’t even ‘act’ a simple thing he probably does a hundred times a day.

So this brings me to my point.

If you’re making a podcast, which is just you and a buddy sitting on a couch talking about the latest tech stuff, that’s exactly what it should be. Look at Diggnation. When it’s funny, it’s funny because…well, it just happened to be funny. Kevin and Alex aren’t sitting there trying to be funny.

If you decide ahead of time that you’re going to be the ‘funny wacky one’, you’ll come across as being ‘the douche who tries way too hard to be funny and fails’.

In other words, be honest and be yourself. Otherwise you’ll look stupid. When people try to act, or are in front of a camera, they tend to over act.

For example, if you’re reviewing a movie, in real life you might say:

“It was an awful film, I just didn’t buy Joe Actor as an action hero after all the comedies he’s made.”

In a podcast, most people end up sounding like:

“OH…MY…GOD! This film was TERRIBLE!! And JOE ACTOR??? Go back to COMEDIES DUDE!!!! YOU SUCK!!!” (High-fives the co-host) “Joe Actor? More like SHMOE Actor!”

To close today, I just want to give one final example.

There’s an advertisement on television here in SC for a law office. In order to ‘appeal’ to the SC people the guy in the ad decided it would be a really good idea to wear a cowboy hat in order to be ‘country’.

Instead, he looked like a lawyer in a cowboy hat. It was just absurd. No Southern accent, just a lawyer giving a very stiff performance about personal injury…in a big cowboy hat. It stopped being a hat, it became a HAT. Something that sat on his head and screamed for attention because it was so out of place.

A high-school principal can’t ‘be fo’ realz’ with the kids at his school by wearing a backwards baseball cap and a huge dollar sign bling chain along with his suit. He might think it makes him look street, but it just makes him look like a tool.

Long story short, ‘forced’ doesn’t work.

So, while I can hardly claim expertise in this area, if you’re starting a video podcast, relax, be yourself and forget the camera. Otherwise you’ll look like a tool.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Stargate Finale

Like many people I tuned into the series finale of Stargate SG1 today.

If you don’t follow the series, let me point out that I mean series finale, not season finale. The last episode ever.

I gotta say, I was pretty disappointed. It appeared the whole season was building to a massive confrontation between Earth and the Ori. I was expecting a huge space battle between the Ori Motherships, Earth ships and maybe a good few Jaffa and Asgard ships thrown in for good measure.

Instead…nothing was resolved. Three episodes ago, SG1 got the Ancient’s weapon to the Ori Galaxy and killed the main bad guys, but left the bulk of their forces untouched. Hence my expectation of a huge showdown.

Instead, it just sort of…petered out. I won’t go into detail in case you haven’t seen it, and to be clear, it was actually a good episode…just not a good finale.

SG1 was all about escalation. It started out with the Goa’uld being the ultimate badguys. One Goa’uld mothership could have decimated Earth with no problems. But then things escalated to the point where one mothership wasn’t a huge threat. In fact, it was hardly a threat at all. Every time the defeated the bad guy in a huge set-piece battle, a new enemy would take their place who was ten times as powerful.

To end the show’s run with such a weak ‘throwaway’ episode was disappointing. There was also a rushed feeling to a lot of it. The amount of time from the announcement of the impending doom of the Asgard to their actual demise was about 6 minutes. I felt like they got short changed… badly. It was like the skated over the top of the important stuff we cared about to make space for an incidental story, which if you saw the episode had absolutely no impact other than to give Teal’c a patch of grey hair.

Thor dies along with the whole Asgard race, and it was like “Oops, that’s a shame…nevermind.” Considering much of last season was about battling the Asgard’s worst enemy just made the whole ‘Death of the Asgard’ seem like a really badly thought out plot device.

“Why would the Asgard give all of their knowledge and technology to Stargate Command?”

“Ummmm, they’re all about to die from a genetic disease?”

“Yep, that’ll do”

…and all this despite the fact we’ve seen the Asgard can store their minds in computers over and over again.

I know you can’t completely resolve everything because Stargate Atlantis is still going, but they have their own badguys to worry about. It just seemed like a normal ‘middle of the season’ episode that left a bunch of unanswered questions.

However, what really pissed me off is that the promos for the next season of Stargate Atlantis ruined not only parts of the SG-1 finale, but huge chunks of the Atlantis Finale.

The best part about a season finale is that all bets are off. Mid season you always know the heroes are going to get out of a sticky situation. You know the bad guy is probably going to get defeated. In the last episode, however, it’s perfectly possible for a major character to die, or for something that would be unthinkable mid-season to happen.

The Atlantis finale ended up with the City itself in space with its power failing, with Dr. Weir in critical condition and her survival in the balance.

Which is why I was pissed off that in the first ad break during the SG-1 finale, the promo for the next season of Atlantis said that Samantha Carter from SG-1 was going to be taking over command of Atlantis.

So right away, I know that Carter will definitely survive and Weir probably won’t. I also know the huge cliff-hanger that Atlantis ended on will be resolved with no other casualties than Weir (Who even if she survives will leave the show anyway).

Look, if you’re watching the season and series finales, you’re obviously a fan of the show and will watch the next season anyway. The whole point of a cliff-hanger ending is so that the fans will be eagerly awaiting the resolution in the next season. So why ruin the whole damn thing by giving away the biggest surprises in the promos?

Speaking of that, why do they always give away the death of a character, or the arrival or return of a new one in the promos? The whole point is that “No freaking way!” moment when the character who left two seasons ago walks into frame…why give it away?

Bad TV Execs! Bad!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Black and White

I’ve been thinking a lot lately. This post may be a little deep, and quite a few of you will probably think I’m so full of shit that my eyes are brown and my breath smells like farts, but hey! What’s new?

I read an ‘outraged’ comment on someone else’s blog about the whole Evolution vs. Creationism debate, which went roughly as follows:

“The theory of evolution has been changed tons of times over the past few years. When will it end? We all know it’ll probably change again in the future, so we know we’re not teaching kids the truth. It’s just a theory and shouldn’t be taught.”

I’m not going to get into the Evolution vs. Creationism debate here, but the sheer stupidity of that comment left me open mouthed.

If you read nothing else in this post, read this. The reason theories change is because we’re learning more about the subject matter all the time. This is not a weakness, it’s a theory’s greatest strength. A ‘theory’ is just a way of saying “Right now, to the best of our knowledge, this is how we think this thing works.”

I don’t want to get philosophical here, but isn’t it said that the first step towards true wisdom is realizing how much you don’t know? Isn’t it better to keep an open mind than to just decide something is right and stick to it?

Suggesting we don’t teach something because it’s just a theory is the same as saying “I choose not to learn.” It’s basically declaring defeat and deciding that we’ll just go on the information we have now and stick with it, and forget what new information comes along.

I personally think this is a serious problem. It’s the same as looking at the ground, seeing that it’s flat and deciding that the Earth is flat, that we’re at the center of the universe and everything else orbits us. That’s what it looks like, and it’s ‘common sense’, you can see the sun move across the sky. Luckily, a few people were courageous enough to risk imprisonment or torture for heresy for suggesting that the universe works in the way we know today.

The problem is too many people see the world as black and white, right and wrong, and leave no room for theories and learning.

Here’s the thing. Most of the things we cling to as ‘true’ and ‘natural’ are just plain illusory. We build up an idea, a mental picture of what the world is like and cling to it, simply because the real world is nothing but barely controlled chaos…and we don’t like that idea.

In many ways, I blame the way we choose to educate our kids. Most school classes don’t teach kids to think, in fact, in many ways active thinking is actually discouraged. The way we educate kids is give them tons of facts to remember. I’ve said this before, but all you need to graduate as a straight A student is a great memory. Listen in class and just parrot back what you’re told in the tests.

I remember being a kid in an English Literature class, and the teacher read a passage from “To Kill a Mockingbird” and then told us what that passage ‘meant’. I put my hand up and said I disagreed, then I told the teacher what I thought it meant. I was told that I was wrong, and the ‘correct’ answer was the one written in the syllabus.

See what I mean? Even in an area that is completely open to interpretation, we still teach kids that there’s a right answer and a wrong answer, and nothing in between.

Right answer, wrong answer. I can’t stress this point enough. In the real world there can be a ton of ‘correct’ answers. It depends on your point of view…yet in school we just pick one answer as ‘right’ and anything else is incorrect.

I think the most damning evidence of this is the fact that all of the ‘exceptional’ people of the last few centuries, the ones who made a major difference were all mediocre students or flew in the face of conventional thinking.

Einstein’s teacher said he’s never amount to anything and spent too much time ‘daydreaming’ (and he came up with the theory of relativity while daydreaming about riding on a beam of light). Galileo was tried and convicted of heresy for suggesting the world was a sphere and orbited the sun.

Long story short, conventional thinking said people couldn’t ride in trains because the rush of air at 40mph would cause their heads to explode. People said it was impossible for man to fly. It was impossible to break the sound barrier It was impossible to fly in space. The internal combustion engine would never work. The atom was the smallest thing in existence and it would be impossible to split it. No one would ever want a computer in their home, etc, etc.

Long story short we like to learn something and decide that it’s a perfect immutable truth and then resist any and all changes to what we’ve come to believe is true. We’re not interested in theories because they’re not definitely ‘true’, and teaching something that could change as new information is gathered is something to resist.

We’ve hobbled ourselves in this way, because any new idea is drowned out in the ear-splitting roar of orthodoxy. In order to progress we have to have those individuals and small groups who are willing to be ridiculed or ignored while they work to prove their new ideas.

Think I’m exaggerating? When John Logie Baird, the inventor of the television visited the Daily Express newspaper to promote his invention, the news editor was quoted by one of his staff saying: “For God's sake, go down to reception and get rid of a lunatic who's down there. He says he's got a machine for seeing by wireless! Watch him — he may have a razor on him.”

Basically, everyone knows seeing pictures over the radio is impossible, so the guy’s nuts…just like what people said to Galileo and countless other inventors.

My question here is, why aren’t we teaching our kids to think? Because it would make tests much harder to grade? Surely it shows more intelligence when a child questions a fact and gives a well thought out explanation of his idea, rather than just parroting back what the teacher wrote on the blackboard.

Instead we cling to our black and white thinking, the right and wrong answers and the total ignorance of any grey areas or room for interpretation…and we’re not supposed to teach evolution is schools because it’s ‘just a theory’, despite the fact that at one point, the earth being a sphere was ‘just a theory’.

To close, I want to give the example I like to give about just how bad our school system is.

I left highschool science knowing that “When a wire is moved through and electromagnetic field and potential difference is set up across its ends.” I wrote that down in my exam and got an A+ on the test.

The problem is I have absolutely no fucking idea what it actually means.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Advertising Slogans That Weren't Thought Out #87

Midas, the brake and tire mechanics.

Their slogan is “Trust the Midas Touch”.

Midas and the ‘Midas Touch’, of course, coming from the legend of King Midas who made a wish that everything he touched would turn to gold. A wish that came true.

He soon discovered that he could no longer drink or eat anything because as soon as the food touched his lips it would turn to gold. Then he made the mistake of touching his wife and child, only to have them turn into golden statues.

In other words, the whole story of Midas is a cautionary morality tale that’s supposed to teach you that greed can be destructive, as well as to be ‘careful what you wish for’.

So basically, Midas’ ‘Trust the Midas Touch’, basically means “Greed is great!”

Awesome idea, guys!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

First "Earth Concepts For Aliens" is up!

Yep, I got bored so decided to give it a go.

You can listen to the first episode here

You can either download it or stream it from the site, or subscribe via iTunes, Google, Yahoo, or just plain old vanilla XML.

I'll admit, this first episode was a little rushed just to make sure I actually did it. Have a listen and give me some feedback, either here or on the podcast page.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Blogosphere, your advice please.

I’ve had an idea percolating for a while that I’m not sure whether to implement or not. I’ve been considering (deep breath), starting a podcast.

Here’s the basic idea for the format.

The podcast would be called “Concepts for Aliens” (or something a little snappier when I put a little effort into thinking of something better).

The concept is imagine that aliens have landed, and you have to explain basic concepts to them. (Ok, I know this sounds dumb as a sack of hammers, but let me explain). For example, the concept of ‘Concerned Parent’.

On the one hand, this is exactly as it sounds, a parent who is concerned. But if we put this into the context of someone who writes to a local paper and signs their letter ‘A Concerned Parent’, we know we’re probably talking about a knee-jerk reactionary, AKA, an asshole.

Oh, did I mention I’d try to be funny?

So, short 3 to 5 minute casts once or twice a week, in an after-school special style.

So now we come to the problems:

1) I’ve been told once or twice that I’m a funny guy. Unfortunately if I try to be funny, I come across as about as humorous as open-heart surgery.

2) Material. I deliberately left this blog as ‘open’ as possible so I’d always have something to write about. This is a little more specific, and it wouldn’t be long before I ran out of ideas.

So, whaddaya think? Worth a try? Or just another crappy podcast that no-one would listen to?

Let me know your thoughts, thanks!

The Paulius.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

It's not you, it's me.

Last Tuesday I went grocery shopping.

I was standing in an aisle in front of the spices, searching in vain for Chinese Five Spice, when I heard someone yell from the other end of the aisle.

“Hey!” He shouted.

I looked over, in case he was talking to me.

“Hey Phillip! Karen!”

I looked behind me to see two people looking at the selection of barbecue sauces.

The guy came over, and all three of them started talking. They obviously knew each other. The guy who yelled from across the store (it turns out his name was Austin) was obviously fairly close to these people. He asked about their kids, how work was going…you know, the usual boring stuff.

At this point I stopped listening, and continued my futile search for what I needed for the stir-fry I’d been craving for months.

It was only when Austin wheeled his cart back down the aisle that something sparked my interest again. It went something like this:

“Well, it was great seeing you two again. Gimme a call and we’ll do something.”

“Sure thing, Austin, see ya later.”

He wheeled his cart back down the aisle, and the very second he was out of earshot, Karen and Phillip’s smiles vanished like an inquisitive ferret in a lion cage. I heard Karen mutter to Phillip:

“God, that guy is such a dick!”

“Phhht! I know.”

At the time I just thought it was a little funny. It was only last night, as I was lying in bed that the sheer weight of this event actually struck me.

We lie to each other all the freaking time, and the sad part is that we actually need to in order for society to function.

I’m not one for paranoia, but it really did make me think about what people say about me when I’m not around. Maybe some of the people I said goodbye to when I left England, the people I sometimes miss were actually glad to see me go.

For all I know, half the people who I worked with, the same people who signed my Bon Voyage card, went out on the town for a drink with me, gave me a hug and wished me the best of luck, said “God that guy is such a dick!” when I got into the taxi home.

It’s weird because we’ll never know what people actually think about us.

I mean, I’m a pretty straight forward guy, and if I think you’re a dick, I’ll say it to your face, but on the other hand I’ve had ‘friends’ in the past who I was only friends with because no-one else would be. On the one hand, I thought I was doing a nice thing, but I have to ask myself…What would these people think if they knew I only hung around with them at school because I felt sorry for them?

Probably not great.

I suppose the biggest question here is that if you could somehow know what everyone really thinks of you, would you want to know?

I mean, as far as Austin knows, he and Karen and Phillip are friends. From their conversation they knew too much about each other to just be casual acquaintances. What would he do if he knew the entire time he was talking both of them were just nodding politely, waiting for him to go away?

It’s a natural feeling to want to know what people really think about you, but I think for the most part, finding out would be a mistake.

Imagine if we all woke up tomorrow, and suddenly found we could all hear what everyone else was thinking. The Boss finds out that his ‘dedicated staff who worship him like a God’ all actually think he’s a total douchebag. The smitten teenager finds out his girlfriend is only going out with him until someone better comes along…and Little Timmy discovers that despite everything his parents have said, they really do have a favorite…and it’s not him (I’m not saying that a parent will love one child more than another, but I’m pretty certain they’ll think one is funnier, easier to get along with and has more potential than the other).

It’s a weird situation. We’re all brought up to believe that the truth is always preferable to lies and we all agree that lying is a Bad Thing…yet without those lies, our entire society would just crumble. I’m not exaggerating here. Just think about it.

Everybody lies, most of the time it’s in order to protect other people’s feelings. You tell someone you’re breaking up with that you ‘need space’ or ‘it’s not you it’s me’. No one’s going to look their boyfriend or girlfriend in the face and say “We should break up, I’ve realized that you only look pretty because you’re caked in makeup, you’re boring as hell, and I think I can do a lot better.”

The weirdest thing is that everyone does this, whether pretending to like someone more than you actually do, or lying to protect someone’s feelings…but everyone assumes that no one else is doing the same to them. Sisters A and B get together and bitch about sister C. Then Sisters A and C get together and bitch about sister B…yet, sister A never considers for a second that the other two will bitch about her when she’s not around.

It’s odd…very odd.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The answer to ALL crime.

I don't care how fearless you are, how 'gangsta' you are...there's always one person who you're afraid of.

It doesn't matter if you don't give a crap what the police think, whether someone pushing a gun in your face is as scary to you as an exceptionally cute kitten...every time someone says "I'm not afraid of anything", a little voice in the back of your head says "As long as my mum doesn't find out."

Look at the following story:

A Czech armed robber who targeted McDonald's restaurants was grabbed by the ear and marched to the police station by his mum.

Katka Zahradnikova, 44, from Prague, recognised her 20-year-old son Michal on CCTV footage screened on the local version of Crimewatch.

A police spokesman said: "He admitted he was responsible for robbing a number of the fast-food stores and put up no resistance when she marched him down here by the ear and made him give us a full statement.

"We couldn't have done it better ourselves."

That's the answer to all crime, forget the death penalty or jail time, just have the penalty for everything as "We'll tell your mum."

Crime would drop to zero in days!

Monday, June 11, 2007


Yup, I was bored.

My camera is great for full light shots (For the curious its a Nikon Coolpix 4300), but the flash tends to white out the pictures unless you set it just right. Anyway, I started experimenting and came up with some good shots. Hope you like!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

My Brain Hurts.

Earlier today I was channel surfing.

I landed on a particular channel and instantly started to feel irritated. Not in my usual way of stumbling across yet another crappy reality TV show, but something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I was watching a show I liked, and despite the fact the volume wasn’t too low or high, I felt a headache coming on.

Not realizing at this point it had anything to do with the TV, I changed the channel, and I felt ok again. Changing back, I started to feel irritated again.

It’s tough to describe the actual feeling, but it was a sort of mild-claustrophobia. Imagine trying to work out a complex math problem with someone standing over your shoulder, reciting random numbers and you’ll know what I mean.

Then I started to realize that somehow the audio was making me feel claustrophobic. Even though I had the sound fairly quiet so Sunny could sleep…it somehow still felt too loud, but if I put it any lower, I’d be unable to hear it.

I’d noticed this on and off for a good few months, but this was the first time I suspected the TV of being the problem. Sometimes I’d be feeling just peachy, and within moments of turning on the TV, even if it was a show I’d been looking forward to, I’d start to feel irritable and ‘boxed in’.

Today the answer hit me. Audio compression.

This video explains what I’m talking about.

For the bandwidth impaired, or people who can’t be bothered watching the video, I’ll give you a quick rundown.

It’s become the ‘fashion’ recently to compress the hell out of audio tracks. This compression gives the audio track and much ‘thicker’ and fuller sound by increasing the overall loudness of the track.

For example, when I worked in a clothing store, we had a multi-CD player that piped music into the store. However, we couldn’t mix newer CDs with older ones for one reason; When the volume was set to have the newer CD’s playing at an appropriate level, the older ones were too quiet to hear. Why? The newer CDs were much more compressed and therefore much louder.

So what’s the big deal? If compressing makes the sound louder, you can just turn it down, right?

Well…no. The main side effect of over-compressing audio is that it ‘flattens’ the overall track. Basically, every instrument and vocal is played at the same loudness level.

This doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but it’s more important than you think.

The human ear isn’t really equipped to deal with this type of sound. With natural, non-recorded sounds, we’re used to hearing a large range of different volumes. For example, when listening to music, it’s likely the drum hits will be louder than the vocals, the lead guitar slightly louder than the rhythm guitar. When all of these sounds hit our ear at the same loudness level, it’s incredibly tiring.

Basically, imagine driving along and the sound of your engine, the music on the radio, the person next to you talking and even the sound of the other traffic and birds singing outside all reach you at exactly the same volume level. You automatically try and focus on a single sound, but this is made a lot more difficult because everything else is at the same level.

Focusing on a particular sound is something we do automatically with all sounds, and because we expect to hear certain things louder, our brains fool us into ‘hearing’ certain sounds more loudly. It’s the auditory version of an optical illusion. (For an example of this, get two or three people to talk to you at the same time. Whichever one you focus on you’ll be able to understand, and the other two will suddenly sound like unintelligible background noise).

You may think I’m talking complete do-do here, but a few minutes research on Google backed me up. The problem is that it’s one of those problems that’s hard to detect. At the back of your mind you know that something isn’t quite right, start to feel the symptoms, but don’t actually know why.

As one audio expert put it “It takes a while to notice over-compression, but once you notice it, it becomes incredibly difficult to un-notice it.”

If you think about it, you probably own a lot of music that you find tiring to listen to but don’t know why.

So, when watching TV shows with compressed audio, the dialogue, background noises, gunshots or whatever all reach your ear at the same volume. You don’t really notice it because if you’re watching ‘Star Trek’ you’re focusing on what Picard is saying and not on the background thrumming of the warp-engines.

Essentially, you’re trying to focus on one thing, and everything else is jumping up and down for your attention.

In the end, I checked my cablebox settings. It turns out that there’s an option to adjust the compression level of the audio…and mine (The factory default) was set to high. I turned compression off completely, and noticed the overall volume drop considerably.

So I adjusted my sound system to compensate and can honestly say I instantly felt better. I switched back to the channel that had started to give me a headache and found it sounded much better, and it also didn’t feel like I was trying to breathe through cotton-wool.

To close today, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this. Have you ever been watching TV and started to feel headachy or irritated? If your cable box allows you to adjust compression settings (it should be under the main menu under ‘audio options’), see what it’s set at and try setting the compression to ‘off’ and see if you notice a difference.

Long story short, the idea that longish periods of over-compressed audio is tiring isn’t a theory but proven fact. If you’re just listening to a single 3 minute track, it’s likely not to bother you, but a whole album or two-hour movie?

It’ll be interesting to see how many people this actually effects, and how many people have felt something is wrong, but not known what.

Let me know your thoughts!

Saturday, June 09, 2007


Today, I’d like to talk about something I heard from one of the TED conference talks.

The talk was about Evolution, but before you click that little cross button in the corner, let me assure you that I’m not going to harp on about that again, I’ve done that enough. What I want to talk about is one of the issues raised in this talk and how it applies to other things.

The speaker had an amazingly simple idea. Teach all the major religions in school. He said avoid the values and judgments, and just teach all our kids the facts about each religion.

I thought this is an idea that was outstanding in its elegance. It allows children to learn about spirituality as a whole, would breed much more understanding and tolerant viewpoints, and leave the bulk of teaching morality to the parents, where it belongs. For example, if you’re a Christian you’d learn the facts about Christianity at school and leave it up to the parents to fill in the blanks and values.

This was almost how I was taught about religion in school, with the difference being every time my religious education teacher touched on another religion it was swiftly followed by “But this is wrong because…”

However, the speaker went on to say that this idea was not received very well. He said people called it ‘ridiculous’ and ‘hilarious’.

He answered these criticisms by saying how disturbed he was that this idea could be called ridiculous when the idea is the very foundation of democracy. It’s informed opinion that makes democracy work, not blindly following one idea because you’ve been told to do so.

Moving away from religion for a second, think of it this way: If I go to vote, and have researched the candidates and weighed up the differences, I’m voting for who I believe will act in my best interests. If everyone else does the same, we end up with the best leader.

However, if we only learn about one candidate and ignore the others, because that’s who my parents or friends vote for, it’s nothing but a coin toss. We’re voting for one person despite the fact we have no idea if another candidate is better.

It’s this idea that turned me away from religion. It’s the fact that religions tend to be mutually exclusive. The way it stands right now, 75% of us are going to hell no matter what we do. Why? Because a Muslim can’t go to Christian heaven and vice versa…and the vast majority of religions say there is one God, and it’s the one we worship.

As a brief aside, this is why reasoning such as the ‘Atheist’s Wager’ makes no sense. Someone once said that it’s more reasonable to believe in God, because if you believe in God and you’re wrong, you’re just going to die, which is what you expect as an atheist anyway…but if you’re right, you’ll go to heaven instead of hell. In other words, being an atheist means either just dying or going to hell, whereas being a believer means either just dying or going to heaven.

Sounds perfectly logical, until you factor in that 75% of the world doesn’t believe in the same God you do.

But I digress.

Unfortunately, religious education today is teaching ignorance, and unfortunately, the extremist religious right has an awful lot of power. For example, George Bush senior during his presidency stated that it’s impossible to be a true patriotic citizen and an atheist because this is ‘One Nation Under God’.

This brings me neatly back to politics.

Scott Adams used this reasoning applying to terrorists, but I believe it applies to government as well.

During the start of any organization you have a core group of intelligent, rational people which in turn attracts more intelligent people to join. However, as the organization grows its overall IQ drops and the power of identifying with the group overcomes the power of reason.

This is something that I believe is hard-wired into our brains. Humans are social animals and we naturally want to join a ‘tribe’, to be surrounded by a group, and the more powerful that group, the better.

In other words, we become far more pre-occupied with being part of a group than we are with what that group’s direction and values are.

It’s like the radio DJ who stated on-air that not supporting the President, no matter what he does, is un-patriotic and un-American, when if fact the exact opposite is true. America is based on freedom and democracy, and that includes the freedom to disagree with the leadership. If we all supported any president blindly, it quickly stops being a democracy and becomes a dictatorship. The President is, and should always be, answerable to the people.

Long story short, this guy was so preoccupied with being ‘American’ and showing that he was an ‘elite’ member of this group, that he either didn’t realize or care that he was going against everything that being ‘American’ actually means. IE “I support our leader no matter what he does, and this makes me more American than you!”

Basically, for this guy, belonging to the group was more important than the values of freedom, free speech and choice…the core values of the American way of life.

If we switch back to religion for a second, this phenomenon explains why an organization that is supposed to be our moral compass and ‘How to live well’ guide is concerned with such petty, ridiculous rules such as not eating meat on Fridays.

In other words, reason goes out the window and we start obeying ridiculous, petty rules because we’re essentially fighting for a position within the group. Going to church and living well is great, but you’re obviously not a serious member of the group unless you obey the more unusual rules.

In other words, the more extremely and literally you follow your Holy Book or Political Dogma, the more ‘hardcore’ you are, and your position in that group rises.

Unfortunately, and the main point I want to make here, is this has somehow become twisted into the idea that the more extreme and unforgiving you are, the greater power within your group.

I want to talk for a quick moment about a fictional character from Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None”. She’s a purely fictional character, but emphasizes my point quite nicely, and is indicative of attitudes at the time.

Basically, this woman finds one of her maids is pregnant out of wedlock and kicks her out of the house, leaving her homeless. The maid, homeless and nowhere to go, kills herself.

The character is completely non-apologetic about this, and believes she acted like a ‘good Christian’ because she refused to tolerate ‘immorality’ under her roof.

This illustrates two things. The first is the same as the ‘patriotic’ radio DJ. Religion is meant to be about caring for your fellow man. This character could just as easily have treated this girl much better and allowed her to stay, and simply said that the Bible emphasizes forgiveness and that she was helping this girl change her ways.

Instead, by acting cruelly and disregarding forgiveness, she gets more power and status in her group. For some unknown reason, the act of punishing people who stray, and fighting people who don’t believe the same thing as you do carries much more power than forgiving and helping those who stray, and accepting that other people have viewpoints that can be just as valid as yours.

In politics as well as religion, we’ve built this awesomely effective ‘ignorance machine’. Most religions say that if you listen to or contemplate an opposing viewpoint, it’s the devil we’re listening to who’s trying to tempt and confuse us…and you’re not a ‘real, patriotic American’ if you listen to what the other side say.

In conclusion, when we talk about either religion or politics, we have a system set up that lets us act in a diametrically opposed fashion to the way these organizations were set up…while fooling ourselves into thinking we’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to.

As I stated earlier, informed choice is the bedrock of democracy, yet ignoring the other side’s opinion and blindly following the party line is considered patriotic.

I just think it’s a sad critique on the human race that we can so easily believe that blind obedience is democracy, and use Holy books that tell us all to be nice to one another as an excuse to go to war.

Finally, a closing thought:

At the start of all this we held the values of our religions and governments to be most important, but over time we’ve let these values fall away and have started paying more attention to the organization itself.

We listen to politicians tell us what we want, need and what it means to be an American, rather than following the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We ignore what our Holy Books say, and instead listen to what the priesthood tell us they mean. We’re happy to use “It’s in the Bible” as an argument against the things we don’t like, but ignore the core values and the parts of the Bible we don’t like. The Ten Commandments are very straightforward and transparent, but a quick Google search will show you there have been millions of words written on what they really mean.

As a final point, which I think sums up my whole argument, the original Bible said “Thou Shalt Not Kill”…seems straightforward, right? Don’t take someone else’s life. However, more recently this has been changed to “Thou Shalt Not Murder”.

In other words, it’s wrong to kill, unless we tell you to, because then it isn’t murder.