Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Election, self-reflection

I was reading a transcript of the Larry King interview with John McCain, and something occurred to me when McCain made the comment that the last president to win the election while still losing Ohio was John Kennedy. He was saying it in a way that was justifying his heavy campaigning there, but I kind of wonder if he is misunderstanding the role that the swing states play. It occurred to me that there might not really be a connection between how much time and money is spent in a particular state and how many popular votes one receives, that instead it might be that the reason that you can't win an election without winning Ohio is because Ohio reflects the national mood. Obama is apparently wiping the floor with McCain right now, and even Texas is not guaranteed to go Republican now. If I'm right then Obama will win Ohio just as he's winning all those other states, whether or not he's spent a lot of time there. I say this while knowing that the candidate with the most money almost always wins the election, and since Obama has enough money to make a Scrooge McDuck style silo of gold coins to swim in the fact that he's winning might be merely a reflection of the money he's got to spend. But I think that all the money he's getting is another reflection of the national mood, that so many people want him to win that lots of people are giving him a lot.

We forget almost everything that we experience, and commuicate or record even less than what we remember, so I think everything is a lot more mixed up than we like to admit. It makes me really bad at arguments since I have a hard time convincing myself that I'm absolutely right and spend most of my time trying to convince the other guy that they aren't as right as they think they are. Considering that, and that I freely admit that I don't follow election statistics as closely as those who are paid to do so, I will freely admit and actually suspect that I am probably missing something very obvious here. But at the same time as I say that, I can't help but think that while I might be completely wrong, the people running the election might be going about their job in the wrong way.

The above paragraphs are a fine example of writing that I wish to stop. When I write naturally I throw in a lot of "I"s and "me"s. I'm not sure if it's because so much of my writing lately is for cover letters and purpose statements for jobs and graduate school applications, respectively, or updating people on my life through emails, or writing things out to smooth out my internal monologue from a nebulous cloud of vaguely connected ideas to something more solid. I'd like to think that it's a reflection of the constant knowledge that what I experience is a tiny slice of reality and therefore subject to misjudgement and an inexact memory. As I mentioned above, I'm aware that nobody has a monopoly on the truth, and I think that my nonvariance from the first person is a result of the knowledge that everything I think I know is eventually subjective. Even if something is laid out in a boring black-and-white line graph, the source of the data, the organization's intent in collecting it, and the methods of data collection all have to be considered along with it. A truly comprehensive collection and consideration of all the variables involved in any set of data or opinion can never be assembled, and knowing this I feel compelled to throw in lots of qualifiers to any statement I make.

It's kind of a positive spin, and viewed in this light I think it makes my writing more solid than others', but I am also aware that it makes me seem self-interested and self-doubting. I can't help but wonder if it discourages people from reading anything I write to completion. If I read something I want it to be something relating to me, after all, and someone reading my writing gets constant reminders that it's not about them. I'm not sure how to fix it without ignoring the little voice that tells me that I shouldn't make unqualified statements of fact when nobody knows the unqualified truth. If anybody knows the unqualified truth, then do let me know.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Science and shit

Teaching English to preschoolers and hanging around with non-native speakers has taught me to examine my own language use. I’ve realized that I have two really bad habits. I slur my words together so that the final sound in one word tends to sneak into the beginning of a word that begins with vowel, for example “I’m going out” turns in to “I’m goin gout.” If there’s a hard sound, I tend to drop it. I want to be more precise, but actively thinking about what I’m saying makes me 1) sound unnatural and English Teachery, and 2) probably more restrained in what I say since it slows me down and forces me to think about what I’m about to say. I can’t figure out why exactly speaking more clearly and thinking about what I’m going to say is a a bad thing, but for some reason it turns me off.

The second habit is that I use far more profanity than is usually called for. I’m sure there are more words that I can use for emphasis than “very” and “fucking,” and I intend to find out what they are.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the way I speak because I suspect it will be a big factor in my upcoming interview for a teaching job with Nova, the once-giant, then fallen, and now rising up again English teaching giant of Japan. It’s a job that is mostly to help me stay with my fiancee until finally her American visa is approved and we can live happily ever after in suburbian USA, but while I’ve been looking for jobs in Japan for the meantime I’ve also been firing apps all over the globe for something that lets me use my science background but outside of the lab. I discovered that lab work is tedious and shitty and boring, and after years of experience I can’t help but think that the only reason undergraduates are allowed to work in them is because the robots to do the work are too expensive or haven’t been made yet. Anyway, I don’t want to work in a lab anymore, and between actually applying for jobs and continuing my Japanese studies, I have been quietly imagining what it might be like to actually be interviewed for one of the jobs that I actually want.

That leads me to more science. I am an extremely lazy person, so if I was someone hiring for the positions that I want, I would probably ask a couple of throwaway/character analysis questions like “what do you see as the future of medicine,” or something like that. Judging by my progress thusfar, I don’t have much of a chance of getting these jobs, so I am going to share my secret answers with you.

Just so you know, I’m applying mostly in the world of information retrieval for big databases and stuff that make papers accessible for smarter people than me.

It’s going to go very, very fast. Education inflation (a painful subject for me, I kind of resent that I can’t get a job with a supermajor like biochemistry and wish that someone had told me early on that I really need to add an -engineering suffix to my major to be in demand) means that people are going in to the job force with a lot of knowledge. Lots of these people are crossover computer-whatever people who are going to harness increasingly intelligent, untiring, and independent computers to do the “grunt thinking” (like taking raw data and churning it through some of the easier but time-intensive calculations for the most obvious conclusions) for them.

There are two technologies to watch over the next 10-15 years, long enough to make a real difference but far enough that the business-educated folks can’t touch them just yet. There’s Dr. Craig Ventner, a guy who has a kind of weird place in my respectometer for kind of stealing half of the data from the government-financed Human Genome Project and setting up his own company to start working on sequencing lots and lots of different creatures’ genomes. He’s since then done a lot of amazing things, the biggest and most exciting one being that of making significant steps on making customized life. Still in its early phases, it will before too long result in cells that people can build with their own experiments in mind. People doing proteomics or genomics or toxicology or the laaaaarge majority of life science will be able to reduce all of the nasty side-effecting stuff out of their cells and work one piece at a time to give them more predictable and stable systems. Not Real Live Cells, but though you can’t quite call it in vivo I think it will merit a new Latin phrase’s introduction into the common academic lexicon. In synthetica I guess. I don’t know Latin, but that feels right. His work also will lead to easy-to-control bioremediators with off switches. Good for the environment for several reasons.

There’s also some other guys, whose names I don’t know and the source for which I don’t care to google right now, who have just gotten diabetic mice to switch some of their cells to insulin-producing ones. This will, eventually, spread out to incredible tools for non-infectious diseases (diabetes for example) that will, I guarantee you, freak out the pharmacy industry like nothing else has. This means that the pharma guys are going to have to watch reeeeeally carefully what happens to the group of scientists who have done this and those who are influenced by them, and either buy them up really fast or work superdoubletime to catch up. It also means they are going to have to find a way to make the currently less-profitable but more prevalent diseases profitable.

And that brings me to the less-profitable but more prevalent diseases. I saw on one of the TED talks a speech by a guy who was promoting fairly traditional control measures against malaria. Malaria is spread by mosquitos, and in its more virulent form leaves you sick and bedridden for quite a while before it finishes you off. Thinking from the eye of the disease, he realized that the form it takes hijacks the bedridden state by making the victims vulnerable to mosquitos biting the immobile patient, then the mosquitos spread it around more. The disease LOVES people when they’re sick. But if you can keep mosquitos from biting people in bed, by putting some nets around the places where people sleep, the strains that keep people in bed won’t be as successful in reproducing. Put some nets around, and the strains that don’t make you so nasty, that let you move around freely without severe symptoms, are more successful. By keeping the poor saps that are super sick from being bitten, they promote the less deadly strains of the virus. Disease not cured, but god damn if that isn’t an improvement. He did something similar with diarrhea in South America.

So there you have it. Anybody want to hire me?

Friday, August 1, 2008

My crappy computer crapped out on me

Which means I lost alllll my old papers, all my music, all my software, and my computer back home crapped out at the same time and my backup CDs for the software are all in America. I got my lappy fixed (in one day - here's a well-earned shout out to Shinsaibashi's Apple store) but it is a hollow shell of the amazing machine it once was. I'm in the process of trying to get back what I once had, but the heartbreak was great and I don't think I will ever love a computer again.

What I've been doing since the tragedy -

Using my fiancee's computer. I was just getting used to all the weird key placements and now I have to re-train my muscle memory so I don't have to look at the keyboard for the punctuation keys.

Looking for jobs! I really want to find something that calls for a scientific background without being a lab tech. I'd really like something in writing, and I've seen some very juicy-looking ones that call for translating academic language into something more accessible. However all these writing jobs need sample writing, and though I was a "science correspondant" for a student newspaper, I've lost all of my articles that I wrote for them with the hard drive failure of my old computer in America. Bad luck for sure.

Working at the preschool. I wrangle kids and try to keep them from fighting each other while hoping that they pick up English when I speak it at them. Frequently when I ask them a question, they just stare back up at me with the biggest, cutest eyes in the world with a face that tells me they either didn't understand a word or are too scared of me to answer. One of the kids' dads is the Japanese sales representative for Independent Fabrications and he said he'd let me on one of the demo bikes, which is exciting.

Today, though, I've been doing none of those things. Everything has taken a side seat to figuring out who left me this mystery message on my phone last night. What a mystery! I have no idea whose number it is, though it's a Japanese cell phone number, and don't recognize the voice at all. Japanese phones have a nifty infra-red thing that makes exchanging information effortless so I am almost certain that everyone I've given my number to has given me theirs in turn. The caller addresses me by my first name, and then tells me to answer the phone in a slightly disappointed, slightly aggrieved tone, as if we had agreed to get in touch at that time (about 1:00 am here) and I failed to be there for him. It's a guy, it's an American, and he knows me and my phone number. Who is it!?! I called the number back after listening to the message a few more times, but it was 5:30 in the morning at that time (living with Keiko means I keep kind pretty much the same hours as her) and I got no answer.

Mystery man, if you're reading this, reveal yourself! Also, sorry for calling you at 5:30 in the morning. You were probably sleeping, and if you're like me you turned off the ringer and went back to sleep without waking up.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What up, Elijah Wood?

I've been looking for a job for a while now, and at the same time finding less about Japan that I like. Noh is boring, Jpop is worth little beyond kitsch value, and the shrinking population and economic troubles they foretell paint a bleak picture of Japan's future. Mostly what I don't like is how nobody wants to hire me, so I will be going back to America. I'll be sad to leave the takoyaki and the trains, but very happy because I will be bringing my lovely girlfriend with me! Several of the other students here have already or will have to endure a prolonged separation from their significant others, and I thankfully will be spared it.

This one's not finished but I sent it to some friends, so for the other friends I will put it up here.

1 - Best Fwends - M.Y.S.E.L.F (Spank Rock Remix)
2 - Pase Rock - Sexy Motherfucker ft. Amanda Blank (Nate Day Remix)
3 - Hail Social - No Paradise (Hot Pink DeLorean Remix)
4 - Hot Chip - Ready for the Floor (L.A. Riots and Villains Remix)
5 - Cirez D. - Knockout
6 - Jamelia - Something About You (Crookers Crunky Remix)
7 - J-Kwon - Tipsy (Radio Slave Remix)
8 - Soulwax - Miserable Girl (Shinichi Osawa re-edit)
9 - Dragonette - Competition (Ocelot Remix)
10 - Rod Stewart - Do Ya Think I'm Sexy

enjoy please

Monday, February 4, 2008

1, 2, 3, 4

It gets a bit silly with the LCD/Technotronic/Bonde transition, but this might be one of my favorites. It's also the first time I've put something together without any Daft Punk.


Chemical Bros – Star Guitar
Chemical Bros – Star Guitar (Shinichi Osawa rework ft. Au Revoir Simone)
Positive K – I Got A Man
St. Germain – Alabama Blues (Todd Edwards Vocal Remix)
Seal – Amazing (Kaskade Remix)
Justin Timberlake – My Love (XXXChange Remix)
Supercar – Wonder Word
LCD Soundsystem – Get Innocuous (Soulwax Remix)
Technotronic – Pump Up The Jam (Chopped by me)
Bonde do Role – Office Boy (Brodisnki Remix)
DatA – Aerius Light
Feist – 1, 2, 3, 4 (My!Gay!Husband! Get Up Kid Edit)
Digitalism – Pogo (Shinichi Osawa Remix)

Thursday, January 31, 2008

What happens in Bangkok

A cool thing about Thailand is that you can haggle for almost everything. You get quoted a crazy high price because you're foreign and have no idea how much their monopoly money is worth, but you can talk them down at least a few dollars on something that costs no more than a few dollars in the first place. You get better at it the more you do it, too. I started out getting three dollars off a linen shirt, upgraded to a pair of diesel jeans for $30 from $37, and finally as the jewel in my haggling crown talked a guy down $20 per ticket on the ping pong show.

It started by asking the gentleman at the door if he could bring the price of 800 Baht down a bit, then taking his offer and pushing it a bit more with a "I was hoping more like this price" and punching numbers on his calculator. He gave a final offer of 1200 Baht for two people including a drink ticket. We weren't drinking and asked if he could let it go for a thousand, which he couldn't. I apologized for wasting his time and turned around to leave, and after two steps back towards the tuk tuks he acquiesced. Ping pong show for roughly $14 each. Awesome.

I was a little disappointed at first as there was just a girl dancing around on a stage with black undies and bra on, and though it got a little more interesting as she took them off, nothing more happened for a minute. Just as I was wondering if I'd been had, the girl reached down and pulled 30 feet of fluorescent ribbon out of her hoo-ha, waved it around like an olympic ribbon dancer, and then tied a cat's cradle on the five poles she was supplied with while the end of the ribbon still hidden somewhere inside her.

After this came the coke bottle colonic, starting with water and coming back out roughly the color of coca cola, appropriately enough, back in to the bottle from whence the formerly clear liquid came. As she exited the stage she gave one of the guys a cheers and clinked her bottle against his beer. Then came a lady extracting a daisy chain of jingle bells from her secret spot, the one pulling out a string of razor blades and then cutting stuff with them to show that they were still sharp after their journey into the unknown.

All the girls started out like the first one, dancing around in underwear which was eventually removed and tossed to the stage. The ping pong lady was by far the best actual dancer, even after she fit 7 of them inside her before squirting them back out one by one, cradling them between her knees, and then dropping them back in the jar like an endangered sea turtle shitting its eggs into a lovingly prepared nest. She dropped a couple of them on the floor, picked one up and popped it right back in before dropping it again as she danced around the stage a bit. 7 was the maximum number she had in at any point, but even though she had more available I can't imagine that she could get much more since they all came out pretty dented from the crowding of her womb.

The quief artists were impressive. There was one who did some kind of reverse one to smoke cigarettes (side note - cigarette boxes in Thailand accompany their surgeon general's warning with actual pictures of blackened lungs and rotting teeth printed on the boxes, but don't show a single cancerous womb). The best one was definitely the banana lady. With an audible pop, this lady fired a banana five feet into the air, caught it, and then reloaded twice before one shot went astray and her banana went too far for her to catch it and it bounced off the stage. She tried to get the audience people to hand it back up to her but nobody seemed to want to touch it.

I see that I'm leaving out the brief lesbian act (to the tune of "I will always love you") where they mimed every position from behind I had ever heard of and a few that I never thought of, and the time when they calmed the soundtrack down from DJ Sammy's version of "heaven" to that James Blunt song "You're Beatiful" for an actual-insertion love scene between an underweight hexagenerian man and a 20-something lady. I'm leaving out that the crowd was about half couples and young folks clearly there for the spectacle and half skeezy businessmen who seemed genuinely in to it. I'm leaving out that my trip to Thailand was a lot more about raft-hotels, spicy curry, cave temples, swimming with elephants, and petting tigers (not a euphemism) with orange-robed monks. All of this was amazing, and all of it will stay in my memory forever, but the thing that will stand out for me is when I became for one moment Charlie, Master Bargainer, witnessed firsthand how many amazing things the vulva is capable of, and discovered how easy it is to wipe all other memories you have attached to a song with the fabled shows in Bangkok's Pat Pong.