9Sep/1141

File Transfer

by Berg

Image Text: Every time you email a file to yourself so you can pull it up on your friend's laptop, Tim Berners-Lee sheds a single tear.

Hello, all! Berg here again. Jeff is... actually, I don't know why Jeff couldn't do today's post, but I think it's pretty safe to assume that it's because he's having a hemorrhoid removed. Now then, onto xkcd!

Today's post is poking fun at the inability of many people to share large files via the internet, despite the fact that the internet was arguably developed to ease the sharing of large files between geographically distant computer users. Granted, what constitutes a "large file" has changed significantly over the years (my family purchased a 250 MB external drive when I was a youth, and we fretted that we wouldn't ever need that much space. We were wrong), but still- the inherent irony in being unable to use the internet for the purpose the internet was developed for is the engine driving today's xkcd. Now then, let's dissect it, shall we?

Cueball, whom I presume is on the phone with Cutie (Black Hat shouldn't have a hard time with any of this stuff), is trying to help a friend help their cousin send them a 25 MB file. This exceeds most email programs' 20 MB attachment limit (note: Gmail increased their attachment limit to 25 MB in 2009, though many email programs still top out at 20 MB. If anybody knows a reason behind that number, let me know in the comments), and so simply attaching the file to an email is out of the question.

The next option is to upload the file to an FTP server (file transfer protocol, as opposed to HTTP, hypertext transfer protocol), used to transfer files between computers on a shared network, such as the internet. However, FTP servers are a touch more esoteric than a mere email attachment, and many internet users (myself included) don't have one of their own. Indeed, I've only even used FTPs a handful of times (unless FTP is automatically used every time you download a file. This is honestly much more of a Jeff "I do computers for a living and can afford to have my hemorrhoids removed" Roman field than an Alex "Barely making a living as a comedian so thankfully I don't have any hemorrhoids which I would have to pay to have removed like Jeff does" Berg field).

Web hosting is simply the ability to create a website and store all the data for said website on a server which is connected to the internet. If Cutie's cousin (CC?) had the ability to do that, sharing the file would be as easy as making a website for it, then having Cutie visit said website and download said file. But no, the adventure continues.

MegaUpload is one of many, many sites on the internet that recognizes most users' inability to host large files on their own, and so offers to host large files, sometimes for free, sometimes for a small fee. The payoff is that in order to make such a service profitable, many of these sites are cluttered with banner and pop up ads in a mad effort to squeeze as much ad revenue out of every page view as possible. It's not a dealbreaker for some, but Cueball seems to think it'll be too much for CC to handle.

AIM direct connect was a file sharing system on AOL Instant Messenger that I think was dying out in popularity even by the time I got to college in the fall of 2000. Clearly, Cueball is grasping at straws here- anybody desperate enough to invoke the name of AOL as a solution instead of a problem must be at their wits' end.

But then- the perfect solution arises: Dropbox. A simple, easy to use program with an intuitive GUI that will automate file sharing between two computers using the internet, just like the internet was designed to do. But alas, by the time Cueball arrives at a solution, CC has used a mix of old and new technology, namely the car and the USB drive, to physically transport the file to Cutie's house, thus circumventing the internet all together. It's not an elegant solution, but sometimes brute force is the easiest way to get something done.

...and this, this inability to use the internet for its intended purpose, is why Tim Berners-Lee, the arguable inventor of the internet (take a hike, Al Gore), sheds a tear: His creation cannot be appreciated by the masses it was intended for.

That's it for me! But before I go, I'd like to take this opportunity for a shameless plug that Jeff has in no way endorsed. I've started a blog called Berg and Bot where I do text-based improv with Cleverbot a (supposedly) advanced piece of AI chatting software. If you wanna check it out, head to BergAndBot.tumblr.com. If you don't, I understand.

29Jul/1120

Lanes

by Berg

Image text: Each quarter of the lanes from left to right correspond loosely to breast cancer stages one through four (at diagnosis).

In the comments on wednesday it was pointed out that xkcd is a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language- humor isn't necessarily guaranteed. Today's comic, depressing as fuck and just as poignant, underscores that point.

The comic is built around a dialogue between two friends about cancer, presumably cancer that cueball number two's (hereafter Twoball) wife has been diagnosed with. The conversation itself is about as straightforward as a conversation can be. It details the maturation of Twoball's understanding of cancer diagnoses, knowledge which we can presume he has gained, reluctantly, by watching a loved one suffer. It is probably safe to say that either Randall or somebody close to him is currently in Twoball's position, and we, the readers, are the beneficiaries of this new understanding of cancer diagnoses without having to watch somebody close to us suffer. So... thanks, I guess?

The comic's title, Lanes, comes from the two panels which illustrate either end of the spectrum of Twoball's mental representation of how cancer treatment proceeds. In that there are many possible outcomes for cancer treatment, the image of a multi-lane freeway seems an apt metaphor to represent this understanding visually.

In the first freeway diagram, there are several paths, but the system is very simple, and easy to take in. Only a few lanes lead off into the oblivion which surrounds the freeway, a single offramp circles back from the path to survival to treatment, and survival is a visible endpoint.

In the second freeway diagram, however, things are much, much more complex, and much more bleak. Even six years out, survival isn't visible, and many lanes end in oblivion, sometimes not veering off for years after treatment. The image text informs us that this is meant to be loosely representative of breast cancer stages one through four, proceeding by quarters from left to right. It's a grim outlook, hence cueball number one's understated but completely fitting reaction to this plethora of new knowledge:

Fuck cancer.

Filed under: Death, Illness 20 Comments
27Jul/1119

Days Of The Week

by Berg

Image text: Not pictured: The elongated Halley's-Comet-like orbit of every Rebecca Black lyric.

First off- sorry all for the late post. I went to a Fucked Up concert last night, got jump kicked in the face, and didn't have it in me to tackle this when I got home last night. Without any further ado, let's dive in, shall we?

Since today's post is in itself a kind of explanation of social trends one is able to uncover using Google, I'm going to focus more on how to read the graph, and delve into an insight or two one is able to glean from it. Also, the real image is ginormous, so click on the tiny image above to see the full-size one in all it's glory.

As explained in the image, the graph is a polar graph, charting the relative strengths by which certain phrases are associated with certain days of the week. The closer a phrase comes to the center of the graph, the less the phrase is associated with whatever day of the week that is. Conversely, the further out a phrase is, the more associated with that day of the week it is.

Perhaps the clearest example of this in the above graph is the ladies night line, which has such a strong peak on wednesday that it goes clear out of the bounds of the picture. Likewise, church is so strongly associated with sunday that it goes off the chart there. And, not pictured but mentioned in the image text are the lyrics to Rebecca Black's mind-numbingly poppy hit "Friday," which I can only assume peaks so far out that no perspective which would show it would be of any use to us.

Also of interest are the the less eccentric orbits, for instance "big day" and "so drunk." The fact that these don't clearly peak on any one day indicates that (according to Google, at least) big days are spread out fairly evenly throughout the week (with a minimum on mondays), and so drunk tends to peak on weekends, though it seems fairly evenly split between fridays and saturdays (except in my household, where it peaks on monday afternoons).

Is there a lot of stuff I've missed here? Yes, but that's intentional- the fun of this one is finding the correlations and trends on your own. Hopefully I've given you enough insight on how to read the graph to enable a satisfying level of exploration. Share whatever you find in the comments!

25Jul/1135

Speculation

by Berg

Image text: 'I was pretty good at skeet shooting, but was eventually kicked off the range for catching the clay pigeons in a net and dispatching them execution-style.'

Hello all, Berg here.

You might remember my goings-on from last summer around this same time, when Jeff went on sabbatical. As he has once again been lured away by the siren song of vacation, I'll be filling in for him this week. Let's get started, shall we?

I am perhaps the worst person on the planet to try to explain today's xkcd, as I don't use Google +, IRC, or even Facebook (Though I do have a profile, I've never logged in. It's a long story). Luckily, I think there's only one real joke here, and it occurs in the fourth and fifth panel. That, I can handle.

The conversation in the first three panels is fairly banal- it's a quick rumination on the nature of social networking platforms, and a brief reflection on their evolution. Whether or not everybody switches over to Google+ or stays on Facebook is of no matter, as evidenced by the fact that AOL and IRC still both have devoted (if dwindling) followings.

And then, Black Hat shoots a crossbow bolt through the basketball.

It's a symbolic gesture. When Black Hat says he's not the 'catch' type, what we're really meant to take away from the comic is that Black Hat will do what he wants to do, regardless of what his friends are doing. They're shooting hoops, he's on his phone. They're playing catch, he's got a crossbow. In the image text, we hear of another instance of him playing by his own rules at a skeet shooting range. Given how good his aim with the crossbow is, it's a bit surprising to hear he was kicked out.

The point is that Black Hat doesn't care about universal acceptance. Black Hat cares about Black Hat. The fact that he's not the catch type symbolizes that while statisticians may portray social networkers as a sort of hive mind that will gravitate towards one platform over another, at the end of the day that hive mind is made up of innumerable individuals, many of whom will share Black Hat's easily summarized world view: My way.

Thanks for reading, guys! I'll be here all week while Jeff cruises around the Pacific Northwest. See you in a few days!

6Aug/1017

Still No Sleep

by Berg

Image Text: I'm not listening to you. I mean, what does a SQUIRREL know about mental health?

As I begin writing this post, it's 1:30 in Los Angeles. By the time I finish writing it, it'll be at least 2:00. When I finally stop poring through Google reader it'll be 2:30, and when I've read enough of A Clash Of Kings to fall asleep it'll be well past 3:00. Insomnia and I are bosom buddies, and so I feel that I have a special connection to today's xkcd.

The comic starts simply enough- Cueball lets us know that a) he is going mad from sleep deprivation, and b) it's getting worse. Sleep is an important physiological function that gives your body and mind time to recharge (and yes, I'm well aware that you probably already knew that). Going for too long without sleep can be fatal, and even going for short periods without sleep (or even without enough sleep) can have deleterious effects on your cognitive ability. Even putting aside the negative effects on attention, mood, and general ability to think clearly that even minor amounts of sleep deprivation can bring about, the body will try to counteract prolonged sleep deprivation with microsleeps, periods of about 10-60 seconds where the brain essentially blacks out. If you're microsleeping, you might not even realize it, but your consciousness will be broken into tiny chunks nonetheless. When your sleep-deprived brain tries to fill in the gaps (much in the same way lasers "fill in" the scratches on CDs), your narrative of what's going on in the world around you can be adversely affected, as it is for Cueball.

Cueball's particular brand of sleep deprivation psychosis manifests itself as an uncertainty as to which state of consciousness his brain is currently in. REM sleep (dreaming) and normal consciousness are very close to one another (as opposed to normal consciousness and delta wave sleep). If you'd care to get a sense of what it might be like to confuse your waking state and your dreaming state, go see Inception. If somehow you read xkcd, explain xkcd, and you haven't seen Inception, congratulations- you're the most specific intellectual on the planet.

Back to business- Cueball's grasp on reality is weakening, due to his chronic lack of sleep. When he encounters a tree, therefore, he cannot be certain whether or not the tree exists in the real world, or if it's some hallucination, an artifact of his mind "filling in" the gaps in his consciousness caused by microsleep. Cueball then slides further down the rabbit hole, wondering if perhaps his hallucination is itself a hallucination, making the tree real, and Cueball sane. Of course, if this is the case, he's still hallucinating, which opens up the possibility that his hallucination of a hallucination is itself a hallucination, making the tree not real, and Cueball insane. Clearly, Cueball is having a hard time parsing his subjective perception of reality apart from any objective reality around him, and he needs a second opinion in order to sort things out. Luckily, a talking squirrel is here to save the day!

Wait- a talking squirrel?

Squirrels can't talk. Helpfully, the squirrel tells Cueball not to worry about the tree. Now, we the only semi-sleep deprived reader know that if this squirrel is talking to Cueball, and squirrels can't talk, then the squirrel must only be talking in Cueball's mind, confirming the fact that he's hallucinating. The squirrel's advice is still solid, though- it's not worth worrying about whether the hallucination is a hallucination or not, since clearly hallucinations abound. Cueball might as well just sit back and enjoy the ride.

In the image text, Cueball recognizes that something is amiss with the squirrel, but he's juuuust a touch off the mark: Cueball discounts the squirrel's advice not because squirrels can't talk, but because even a talking squirrel can't possibly be an authority on mental health. Cueball's got a point there- in a fairly influential paper on the philosophy of mind published in 1974 called "What is it like to be a bat?" Thomas Nagel advances the argument (and forgive me if I'm butchering this) the mental state of being a bat and the mental state of being a human are so thoroughly defined by the differing sensory apparatus through which humans and bats interact with the world that a human can not in any meaningful way truly imagine what it is like to be a bat, and vice versa. In this view, a squirrel could not possibly have any meaningful insight into Cueball's mental state, in that Cueball's baseline mental state is so far removed from a squirrel's baseline mental state that at best the squirrel can only experience the mental state of a squirrel imagining what it is to be a human. Pile on top of that a mental state that Cueball himself is having a hard time understanding, and squirrel's advice becomes resoundingly hollow, in that it comes from a mental state several degrees of removal away from what Cueball is currently experiencing.

The lesson? Get some sleep, otherwise you'll wind up digging through every Philosophy of Language and Cog Sci course folder you have on your hard drive in an effort to derive meaning from the misadventures of an insomniac stick figure.

Filed under: Sleep 17 Comments
4Aug/1015

Savannah Ancestry

by Berg

Image Text: She's a perfectly nice lady from a beautiful city, and there's no reason to be mean just because she thinks a quarterback is a river in Egypt.

Relatively quick one today, folks- I've got to be up in the morning and evolutionary psychology is a deep rabbit hole for a former psych major to tackle. At any rate, here goes nothin':

Evolutionary psychology is a branch of psychology that seeks to justify contemporary human behavior using forces that acted upon us during our evolutionary history. It has come under some fire from the psychology community because it frequently seems to be justifying what are seen as stereotypical gender roles. A quick example is evolutionary psychology's explanation of attraction/mate selection between males and females. Males are attracted to signs of fertility, because these are clear markers that their genes will have a higher percentage of being passed on. Thus, men like plump breasts, wide hips, and barely legal cheerleaders. Women, on the other hand, are attracted to men with resources. Thus, women like men with money, and men who are older clearly have the resources necessary to carry on a long life. This is a quick example that I'm certain my major adviser would chide me for butchering, but hopefully it still serves the purpose of outlining some of the basic philosophy behind evolutionary psychology.

In today's xkcd, Cutie jumps to the conclusion that when Cueball refers to her Savannah ancestors he means the primitive hominids living in Africa nearly 2 million years ago (probably Homo ergaster). Therefore, Cutie presumes that Cueball is invoking evolutionary psychology, and instantly launches into a withering attack on what may be fundamental biases in Cueball's line of reasoning. Cueball, however, is taken aback- he merely meant Cutie's ancestors from Savannah, Georgia (a city which was supposedly too beautiful for William Tecumseh Sherman to bear burning down). Cutie is flummoxed, naturally, in that she's now been attacked from an unforeseen angle, and in the image text struggles to defend her mother.

Here's where I'm a bit stumped- is there a river somewhere in Egypt I've been unable to track down that sounds anything like "quarterback," or is good ol' R.M. just having a bit of fun with a non-sequitur? Either way, since we know darned well that a quarterback is a kind of football player and NOT a river in Egypt, we can take Cutie's image text defense as an oblique admission to her mother's idiocy. Her defensive tone indicates that this is a bit of a sore spot for Cutie, and mayhap some of said idiocy has been passed down to her either culturally or genetically. Sure, she may be able to knock evolutionary psychology down a peg or two, but she doesn't understand abstract mathematics after all. Does anybody win? No, not really, but Savannah certainly seems to take an unnecessary beating.

Filed under: Uncategorized 15 Comments
2Aug/106

Atheists

by Berg

Image Text: 'But you're using that same tactic to try to feel superior to me, too!' 'Sorry, that accusation expires after one use per conversation'

Evenhandedness is an important conversational tool. When an opinion is presented, demonstrating how broadly it can be applied implies that said opinion was reached logically and given thought, rather than being the result of some impassioned rant. In today's xkcd, Cueball deftly dances around taking sides with either Atheists or fundamentalist Christians by disparaging them both equally.

'Annoying' is a subjective term. Whether or not something is annoying can not always be agreed upon by two different observers, in that the state of annoyingness depends as much on the observers themselves as it does on the observos (no, that's not a real word, but I think you get what I mean and it's fun to say). However, by claiming that two groups as philosophically opposed as Atheists and fundamentalist Christians both exhibit the trait of annoyingness, the suggestion is made that annoyingness isn't correlated with any particular stance. Instead, annoyingness must be some fundamental property of both of the observos in question, not merely an artifact of a mismatch of philosophies between the observers and the observos. Cueball has now taken his stance on annoyingness from the hazy, uncertain world of subjectivity and placed it in the magical land of objectivity, where science is king and every question has a correct answer. Point: Cueball.

But then, Cutie reveals Cueball's ruse of objectivity to still be subjective at it's core, thus drop-kicking his stance on annoyingness all the way back to the world of subjectivity, where The Secret built a sprawling condominium complex. Annoyingness isn't an objective quality that Cueball measured in both groups, Cueball's subjective criteria for annoyingness are merely broad enough to engulf both groups entire. Presuming that Cueball isn't annoyed by himself, we can infer that Cueball must not exhibit the property of annoyingness as defined by Cueball. Given that annoyingness is a negative quality (4th Ed: CHA 8, no training in diplomacy), Cueball must be better than an observo exhitbiting annoyingness. Point: Cutie. Win: Cutie.

In the image text, Cueball tries to steal victory from Cutie, but Cutie points out that the argument for superiority can have only one use per conversation. Otherwise, a feedback loop of potentially infinite length would derail the conversation about the observos to a back and forth exchange of arguments of superiority. Using Gricean conversational maxims to help derive meaning and intent from utterances, we can see how Cutie's investment in the conversation at hand as a participant wouldn't lead her to say something that would create a conversation destroying feedback loop. In order for the argument for superiority to be conversationally relevant, it must be being used in such a way that a feedback loop would not be created, which can only happen if it is used only once. Extra Point: Cutie.

Filed under: Uncategorized 6 Comments
30Jul/104

University Website

by Berg

Image Text: People go to the website because they can't wait for the next alumni magazine, right? What do you mean, you want a campus map? One of our students made one as a CS class project back in '01! You can click to zoom and everything!

First off, an apology- this post should have gone up 24 hours ago, but I've been distracted by a wedding. Some advice- if you ever get married, just get married. Don't ever have a wedding. From my experience, the actual ceremony is more trouble than it's worth. Or, stay single. That's even easier.

Secondly- yesterday's xkcd. Pretty easy one this time, so hopefully you haven't been going too crazy trying to figure it out. This comic is all about the vast gulf between what people who design university websites think is wonderful about their university, and what people who visit university websites think is relevant information. Naturally, this information is best presented in the form of a Venn diagram, so that we can see what (if any) is the overlap between these two groups.

In the case of university websites, it's simple- the full name of the university. Folks who design the website think it's a piece of information that is interesting, and it's also a piece of information that people who visit the website are interested in finding. Sadly for prospective college students and their parents, that's where the similarities end. I would go through and list the reasons why each item is useful or useless and the philosophies behind them, but as I said- weddings are more trouble than they're worth, and I've got some trouble to attend to.

Ah- the image text, and then trouble. It's clearly written from the point of view of one of the folks who design the website, singing the praises of their well-laid out and helpful site. Clearly, they are wrong, and the folks who design the website are just drooling morons who, apparently, have never tried to use a website to find anything.

One last thing- I'm aware that the folks who design the website are often not the same as the folks who decide what information goes on the website, and that many a web designer has made an awful web page because they've been instructed to do that and nothing else. However, for ease of reference, I made the two one up above. Web designers, please accept my apology.

And now, off to help a distressed sibling/bride find a missing piece of her wedding dress. Cross your fingers for me.

Filed under: Uncategorized 4 Comments
28Jul/1016

Frogger

by Berg

Image Text: I understand you and your team worked hard on this, but when we said to make it more realistic, we meant the graphics.

In case you’ve been living under a rock your entire life, Frogger is a classic video game in which you, the frog, are trying to cross a freeway (or a swamp). Your crossing is fraught with danger, so you’ve got to dodge traffic in order to make it across safely. It’s a simple game, and doesn’t deal with the real world consequences of stepping out in front of a truck, as today’s xkcd does.

When the comic starts, everything’s fine. There’s a frog on the side of the freeway, and he’s not bothering anybody. When he hops out to make his crossing, however, the driver of the semi swerves to avoid him, causing the sedan to his right (more on that in a moment) to slam into his cab, causing a pretty severe traffic accident. The frog then retreats back to the side of the freeway, though whether or not he’s fleeing carnage or a guilty conscience is up for debate.

Now then, concerning the truck driver. There’s a large grassy area off to his left, and yet he chooses to swerve to his right, into traffic. Given that we can see the freeway at a resolution fine enough to make out lines on the road and that the frog seemed to have no barrier to hop onto the freeway, we can presume there’s no guard rail preventing the truck driver from swerving left. Even if there was, it would be hard to imagine a scenario in which this truck driver is risking more by going through a guard rail than he is by swerving into traffic. The most plausible explanation is that the grey car was in his blind spot. Our truck driver is in this way redeemed, for rather than making an illogical choice to swerve into traffic when he didn’t need to, he’s made a logical choice to keep his truck on the road by merging into what he thinks is an empty lane. This way, he minimizes damage to his truck and any interruption to traffic flow. Of course, he’s miscalculated, and carnage ensues.

…or does it? The image text adds another layer to the reality here, suggesting that what we’ve been watching isn’t real, but a hyper realistic Frogger game being presented for evaluation. Apparently, the memo to make it “more realistic” was misinterpreted. Konami had wanted better graphics, not a more real simulation of what would happen if a frog jumped out in front of a truck. Of course, that’s not even a real Konami- it’s a fake Konami that exists in the xkcd universe, which is of course a series of scenarios imagined in Randall Munroe’s mind. And even Randall Munroe might not exist as more than a mental illusion, produced by some sort of coordinated data parallax put on the web, but if THAT was the case then he’d be-

You know what? I’m gonna go gargle with Thorazine and call it a night.

Filed under: Video Games 16 Comments
26Jul/105

Period Speech

by Berg

Image Text: The same people who spend their weekends at the Blogger Reenactment Festivals will whine about the anachronisms in historical movies, but no one else will care.

Ah, language- the great social agreement of symbolic representation which enables someone like me, sitting in Los Angeles to communicate with someone like you, who I presume lives somewhere on the internet (nice place, by the way, but you should put your porn away before you have people over). Today's xkcd is about the inherent slipperiness of language, and how very little of what we say today will sound coherent to a future observer.

Consider English. Modern English is thought to have settled into it's current form (more or less) sometime in the 16th century. Before Modern English, however, were Middle English (mayhap you've heard of the Canterbury Tales?) and Old English (mayhap you've heard of Beowulf?). Middle English is close enough to Modern English that you can almost read it, but Old English is far enough away, linguistically, that it requires some study to be able to read.

The point xkcd is making, then, is that 400 years from now, bits of dialect and slang that to us seem quite disparate ("forsooth" is hundreds of years old, while "grok" entered the lexicon in '61) will seem quite similar to all but the most avid linguistic scholars. After all, if you were presented with 5th century slang and 9th century slang, chances are you wouldn't notice any difference.

Those who would notice the difference are addressed in the image text- they'll be the folks at the Blogger Reenactment Festivals. Those aren't a thing yet, but we can imagine that these would be fringe affairs, attended by only the most devoted of nerds (a term brought into the language by none other than Dr. Seuss in 1950). As such, their opinions as to the accuracy of slang presented in historical movies from the future represent the minority view, even if it is correct.

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