Saturday, May 29, 2010

Now Celebrating: Fetal Awareness Day

The baby surprised Nicole today by kicking vigorously for most of her shower--surprising, since he usually waits to kick until she's lying down and relaxed (11 pm is his most active time).He continued to swim and squirm throughout the day, wiggling and kicking inside of Nicole so much during dinner that she finally put down her fork and asked if he was trying to get her attention.

The baby did not respond. We've decided that today is simply Fetal Awareness Day. It's a sort of holiday, we think, which takes place on any day when the fetus is particularly aware.

The baby Kira is calling Balraj is in a celebratory mood. You would
be, too, if you spent all your time in a private, heated indoor pool.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Birthday present!

Technically my birthday isn't until Thursday, but we celebrated Sunday night at my parents-in-law's anyway--why not stretch out a good thing to cover the whole week?

In the midst of the festivities, Kira came from playing outside and brought something to me.

"Here Daddy!" she said "It's for you birthday."

"What is it?" I asked.

"A dead slug" she said happily.

She was wrong--it was actually a dried cocoon--but I still found it strangely touching that she'd found what she thought was a dead slug and had been willing to give it to me.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I'm not an economist, but....

Let's say the housing market begins to collapse. Let's say that affects other sectors of the economy, and people get upset. Let's say that many of those upset people put pressure on various levels of government to crack down on illegal immigrants--or at least those who haven't left the country on their own already because there are no longer as many jobs.

Now let's suppose that the government actually succeeds in throwing out the nation's estimated 12 million remaining illegal immigrants. Let's also suppose that those illegal immigrants lived in apartments, perhaps even houses.

Now let's suppose that you have lost your job and would like to rent out your basement as an apartment, or even sell your house, but now have to compete with an extra 12 million people's worth of empty dwellings. Or else let's suppose that an evil senator we'll call B. B. voted for a bill through which the government bought some failing companies in the real estate sector and is hoping they will stop failing and can be sold off as private businesses again.

Won't you be glad then that all those immigrants are gone?

Our Glorious Democracy (Bye Bye Bob Bennett)

Reading the news often gives me a warm, familiar, numbing sense of deja-vu. It's spring, and my favorite basketball player (Steve Nash) is on court bleeding into his eyes again. A President is nominating someone with no direct judicial experience to the Supreme Court. Some prominent, charismatic Christian evangelical religious leader and political activist has been paying a man to spend time with him. Ah, sweet familiarity!

If Steve Nash isn't getting stitches, it's not Playoff Basketball.

And then I happen to run across an article that says one of my state's Senators, Bob Bennett, didn't get enough votes at the Republican Party Convention to even make the primary election because he's not conservative enough and my jaw drops.

In a way, this is also deja vu: it wasn't too long ago that my district's ultraconservative Congressman, Chris Cannon (who had a rating of 96 from the American Conservative Union) was defeated in a primary by Jason Chaffetz, whose politics are just to the right of Shiv Sena. The hot new thing in Utah is apparently to throw out anyone who will shake hands with a Democrat, an immigrant, or anyone who has ever lived in or near Washington, D.C.

Bennett tries to convince convention delegates that he is not now,
nor has a ever been, a member of the Communist Party.

That Bob Bennett didn't even make the primary, though, still manages to disturb me.

How does something like this happen?

It's simple, say the analysts. The general pattern goes like this:

1) Seasoned statesman listens carefully to weeks and weeks of expert testimony, makes hard choice to support controversial bill for the good of the country.
2) Ultraconservative voters listen to weeks and weeks of talk radio, decide that controversial bill is Satanic, Communist, or both, and decide that only purity can save the nation.
3) Out-of-state-group pays to get handpicked delegates selected at local caucus meetings while normal people are out watering their gardens.
4) Seasoned statesman is told "the party doesn't want you anymore."
5) Primary and general elections are held--in Utah, this is done for fun, but it's already been decided that a case of rabies will be sent to Congress in lieu of the outgoing eighteen years of experience.

Welcome to the current chapter in our glorious democracy. Aren't you glad that in November, you will get to vote?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Next Up in Facebook's Bid for World Domination

Few companies have the audacity to try to take over the entire internet the way Facebook intends to with its new "Open Graph" approach to hegemony. But then again, few companies can get 80 million people to publicly admit that they play a game called "Farmville." So instead of asking themselves if it's a good idea to rule the internet, Facebook's managers are asking themselves: is taking over people's experience of the internet really enough? Why not become the nation's top cellular service by next year, too?

Introducing: the FacePhone.

"The idea began in a happy accident," says Facebook board member Jim Breyer "when my profile got hacked. Phishers sent a message to two thousand or so of my friends asking if they'd like a Facebook phone number. The next day, I've got something like 600 messages complaining about emptied bank accounts and I thought--Wow! That's a sad scam, but there's obviously a lot of interest in this!"

Breyer took the idea to fellow board member Peter Thiel, and within twenty-four hours what might prove to be the idea of the decade was born.

"We'll be giving out FacePhones for free," says Thiel. "Using the FacePhone will also be absolutely free with no limits on pictures, texts, or even picture messages--to other FacePhone users."

And how much to call outside of the FacePhone network?

"The FacePhone will be like Facebook itself in that way," says Breyer, "your friends will have to join if they want to contact you. It's not possible to call out."

Thiel is confident, however, that this limitation won't be much of a concern. "On any given day, an average of 200 million people log into facebook. That's nearly 4% of the literate people in the world every day. Start offering them free cells phones linked to their accounts, and it won't be long until you can talk to everyone who's not a total techno-hermit on your FacePhone."

"Imagine never having to call anyone without checking their status line and most recent personal information first," says Breyer. "This is a big, big idea."

So how will Facebook pay for this?

"Ads are a factor, of course" says Thiel. "We're developing a system in which ads will be generated based on recent calls--if you've just spent an extended period with one company's customer service line, we'll bring up ads for their competitors. What company wouldn't pay top dollar for an opportunity like that? We'll also be charging for corporate accounts in the first place. Once we have a hundred million private users, most companies won't have much of a choice but to sign up for their own FacePhone lines--no matter what rate we set."

Won't companies be a little upset by that?

"Oh, I think the perks will outweigh the costs," says Breyer. "For a premium fee, we'll provide companies with some tools that help them make the most of user information. Let's say you run a movie theater: imagine being able to automatically send a message or coupon to every one of your contacts whose status includes the word 'bored.'"

"These aren't just free cell phones," says Thiel, "we're talking about a new and lucrative way to organize the world."

And what does Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg think of the plan?

"He's excited," says Thiel. "He's always looking for one more reason for the average person never to quit Facebook--we're confident that this will make Facebook even more essential not just as a product, but as the only socially acceptable 21st century way of life."

Like it or not, it seems clear that with its latest innovations, Facebook is doing just that. Geniuses like Napoleon, Hitler, and Pinky & the Brain may have failed, but Zuckerberg & Co. are showing that it's still possible to take over the world.

"Does this smile make me look evil?" -Peter Thiel

Monday, May 3, 2010

Thesis Defense

The classical thesis defense, I am told, used to look something like this:

The brilliant professor sits, blowing wisdom out of his nostrils, while the student peaks over the edge of a mushroom nervously, hoping to be allowed to pass. Grad students to this day have nightmares that their defense will be this way.

Students: never fear. All you have to do to prevent that is to come up with a thesis idea so preposterous that only nutcases will be willing to serve on your committee and you can have a defense that looks like this instead:

Trust me. I had one Thursday. It was wonderful.
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