Tuesday, February 27, 2007

This Explains A Lot

Last week's New York magazine had a fascinating cover story about the effects of praising children.

The gist is that if you praise kids for being smart, rather than for working hard, they don't do as well, and in fact give up more readily, while kids praised for working hard rise to challenges more resiliently. The effect is pronounced and visible immediately.

This explains an awful lot. It explains a large number of people I saw in college (way more years ago than I care to admit now), and a lot of people at the dot-com where I started working at the leading edge of the bubble. It also explains a lot about my wife's (high-school) students.

Of course, everyone always thinks the next generation is callow and stupid and whiny and all that. But still. This time we have data.

Monday, February 19, 2007


I watched Mike Judge's Idiocracy on DVD yesterday, and while it was no Office Space, it's still an amusing way to spend an hour and a half.

The plot setup of the movie is that Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson, playing a low-echelon army librarian who is dead-average on all measures, including IQ), and Rita (a similarly dead-average prostitute [she's a prostitute for the slimmest of plot threads]) are put into hibernation coffins, ostensibly for a 1-year tes sleept. Due to a bunch of mistakes, they wake up 500 years later instead.

In the intervening 500 years, the story goes, the average intelligence has plummeted because stupid people breed so much faster than smart people -- such that Joe and Rita are the smartest people in the world. The future is garbage dumps the size of cities, gatorade knock-offs replacing water, and Jackass-type shows ("Ow! My Balls!") as the height of pop culture. You know, fiction.

The movie was released in a tiny number of theaters (reports vary on the number), for a week, before being dumped to DVD. This might have something to do with the sheer trashing of major corporations (Fuddruckers morphs into Futtbuckers, and thence to Buttfuckers, Starbucks becomes a brothel chain, and so on).

I'm hardly the only one to remark on the similarity of the movie's plot setup to C.M. Kornbluth's "The Marching Morons" (and "The Little Black Bag"), first published in 1951. That's only in the plot setup, though. Kornbluth's story, which posits a few million "elite" smart people running the world behind the scenes while the billions of "normals" think that it is they who are running it, is actually much darker and nastier than Idiocracy.

By the way, I strongly recommend against googling "idiocracy kornbluth". That seems to pick up every insane right winger who ever read (and seemingly masturbated to) the Kornbluth story. I'm still feeling nauseated after reading some of those.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Greetings Fellow Drivers

Via BoingBoing: you can trick out your car with a device that plays audio files over your horn. It only holds eight audio files, but that's probably enough.

I've been wanting this product for years. My choices would be

  • "I would like to pass."
  • "The left lane is for PASSING", in that 1950s documentary voice
  • "Green means GO", in the same 1950s documentary voice
  • "Your left turn signal has been on since the battle of Verdun" (documentary voice)
  • "Asshole!" -- Kevin Kline from A Fish Called Wanda

I'm sure I can come up with a few more over time, but those are the ones I really want now.

What would you want?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Greetings, Zetetical Society

A warm Blogospherical welcome to the Zetetical Society Meeting Notes. (Also added to blogroll.)

Why isn't it elench.zetetical.org, though, just to make the Iain M. Banks reference? <grin>

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Charles Stross is a GOD. Or at least a Demi-god. Or maybe a Fiend.

WARNING: Geek content ahead. Get ready to roll a saving throw.

A friend likes to tweak me about our years playing Dungeons and Dragons, especially our fascination with some of the more obscure Fiend Folio creatures. (The new Fiend Folio cover is hideously Harry Potter-ized. Feh.)

So he sent me some snark about whether I remembered what githzerai were. I could only remember that they were related to (or next to in the Fiend Folio) githyanki, which is one of my favorite names from the entire D&D bestiary. (Not least because I can make stupid jokes to annoy my friends, like "Githyanki." "You're welcome." <rimshot>)

I of course went googling and found the githzerai WikiPedia entry, which mentions that they were invented by Charles Stross. This was a major surprise, because Charles Stross is now a hotshot SF writer whose stuff I've been reading recently, and enjoying immensely. (I strongly recommend The Atrocity Archives, especially if you've ever been a sysadmin.)

I feel like I've come full circle in some deep way. Some incredibly nerdy, sex-and-dating-impairing, deep way.

Thanks, Charles Stross!