Thursday, December 30, 2010

Welcome to the Grid

Yes, that title was inspired by my recent TRON post. But it also has another meaning. Read on, reader.

I'm a computer person. I typically use computers that run Windows, but I'm getting comfortable on the Mac OS X, and, let's face it, a computer's a computer, either way. The parts are the same, even the programs (Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, Mozilla Firefox) are essentially the same. But there are some differences, and they're important too.

TRON: Legacy Quasi-Review

I didn't set out to review TRON: Legacy, but after reading Max's article on the subject, I wanted to re-post my reply on my Blog, so that you guys can chip in with your thoughts. (Hint, hint: Comment! Add opinions! C'mon, I know you're reading this stuff...)

So, go read Max's article; it's pretty good stuff. And now, the (significantly shorter) reply:

TRON: Legacy (2010)

" [Applause] Overall, excellent work. I have to disagree with the earliest part of your premise though; the original TRON was better, because, quite frankly, the notion of PERSONIFYING computer programs was freaking BRILLIANT. The second time around? Not particularly witty.

The concept that the programs we write become single-minded souls on a mission is awesome, the notion that the larger, overarching code that sets the rules and regulations functions as the law enforcement is equally awesome, and the notion that users throw a wrench into the whole thing is EXACTLY what you already agree with, and EXACTLY the point of TRON. Programs exist FOR THE USER, and the user undoubtedly screws it up, and has to go fix it.

Sure, sure, there are problems. But it's metaphorical; it's imaginative. The very scenario you presented, with the suited guys around the table, wouldn't have been possible to CONCEIVE of if TRON hadn't first presented the personification-of-computer-programs idea.

That said, many excellent points. WALL-E does a great job, but it's not Pixar's first attempt at an important message: Monsters Inc. talks about corporate greed and fear-mongering, WALL-E tackles obesity and the environment, etc. Happy Feet, which I believe was done by different people, deals with animal endangerment. The animated movies are good at it, as they should be.

So what purpose does TRON serve, in light of such powerful, meaningful competition? It serves to broaden our imaginations, to get us to look at our world, even our digital world, in new ways, and to think about the things we are creating with our new technology. There were messages of corporate greed even in this latest TRON movie, pitting "free" operating systems against profits built on changing the 11 to "a 12" (remember that?). This TRON asked us to think about open-source software, and downloads and piracy, all issues facing our future, both in a programming and economic sense.

Do we create movies like TRON because we, as you say, "find computer programs so boring"? I think not. I think we create movies like TRON because we find the possibilities of the technological age so incredible, so endless, so EXCITING. We create TRON because we need to, in some small way, begin to express the magnitude of what we imagine and barely understand. We represent a new frontier in terms of our world, for we have no other way to comprehend it. We're haven't run out of things to say about technology. Rather, we can't find the means to say enough. "

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tufts 4 the Cure

It's winter break, and so, since not much is going on at Tufts, I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you all about something I'm getting ready to promote once I'm back.

Presenting: Tufts 4 the Cure. I encourage everyone who reads this to take part; it's easy!

What is it? Simple: When you're not using your computer, it's screensaver can be saving the world, with the help of BOINC and the World Community Grid.

How? When your computer is idle, this program from Berkley connects you to a database of scientific research, downloads a small packet of mathematical data, and crunches numbers, sending solutions back to the database. Your computer and thousands like it around the world contribute to the research project, shaving years off the time it takes scientists to analyze and interpret laboratory data. Already, the program has produced a ton of research, which is publicized freely to the worldwide community to help advance our knowledge of:
  • Cancer
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Influenza
  • Dengue Fever
  • The Human Genome
  • Climate Change
  • Clean Water
  • Clean Energy
  • ...and more!
Want to help save the world? It's really, really easy, safe, and (most importantly) FREE.

Read all about it and sign up for an account through our portal website:

https://sites.google.com/site/tufts4thecure

And, if that's too long and annoying to remember, just send your friends to tinyurl.com/tufts4TC

You get to use the computer when you're around. Let the world harness the excess energy when you're not.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Save on School Books

How to Purchase College Textbooks (for Less)

1. Find out what you need in advance.
Don't wait until classes begin to get your books, or else you're stuck getting them from the bookstore at the last minute for ridiculous prices. To get the list early, try:

(a) The bookstore's website. They'll tell you what books you need; write down titles, editions, or ISBNs. You don't need to buy from them.

(b) http://getchabooks.com/ A non-profit website started by Tufts University and Brad College. It supports book listings for a dozen or so schools, including BU and Georgia Tech, and the list is growing.

UPDATE (21 Dec. 2010): Ricky Mondello of GetchaBooks and Tufts University informs me that the website is not actually a non-profit service; although it won't cost users anything extra, the retailers do give referral commissions to GetchaBooks. I'm just impressed he found this post.

(c) Last Semester. Ask upperclassmen, find a syllabus online from the last semester, or talk to professors; they'll know from last time what you'll need.

2. Compare prices.
Getchabooks has built-in price comparison between a few competitors, but go further. Consider buying your book used (cheaper, rarely contains problematic markings) or renting your textbook (reduced price, you must return the book at the end of the semester; works best if you will not need the book again). Great places to find your books cheap are:

Buy (New and/or Used)


If you do buy from the bookstore, double check; chances are, they're a Barnes & Noble company, and likely take all those gift cards you've accumulated. That's no reason to pay higher prices at the bookstore, though. B&N cards don't expire; you have 8 semesters to use them. Only buy from the bookstore when they have the best price.

Rent


If you've never rented books before, don't worry; it's easy. Simply be aware of the date that the book is due back. Then, before that date, use the box they gave you and their pre-paid shipping label that they email you to send it back vis UPS. I find that Chegg tends to want books back before BookRenter; if you're concerned that you'll need your textbook through finals, mind the dates of finals and the dates due back.

3. Sell back.
For books you didn't rent, you're going to want to turn them back into cash once your done. Your bookstore will likely buy them from you, but the price may not be so great. Consider:

The downside to selling online is that you'll need to ship the books, but anything's worth it if you can get some or most of the book's cost back in cash.

There you have it. Happy shopping!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Political Misnomers

During my studies, I have found the following phrases to be amusing in the American political system. Or, at least, the American political textbooks. Presenting a dictionary of modern political terms.

Congressional Oversight Committees
These are responsible for overseeing the ways in which legislation is being implemented. Easily misconstrued as committees who frequently miss things entirely. As in, "Oops! Did we forget to appropriate funds for your agency? Sorry, it was a small oversight. We'll have to refer you to the Congressional Oversight Committees."

Pork Barrel
This refers to money distributed by Congress via grants or subsidies for various discrete projects. This is not to be confused with any actual barrels of bacon that may or may not be sitting outside the congressional chambers for certain congressmen. That just wouldn't be kosher.

Logrolling
There are no dead trees involved, unless someone is trying to pass an anti-Lorax law. This merely means that, in order to get anything accomplished, congressmen must be willing to support one another's legislation. You scratch my log, I'll scratch yours. Or something.

Sophomore Surge
Not to be mistaken for a super-sized freshman fifteen, this is merely the notion that recently elected officials tend to win their second (first incumbent) election by much higher margins than their first election (as a challenger). This helps ensure their future reputation of invulnerability.

Franking
Related neither to hot dogs nor speaking sincerely, franking is getting free mail services for being in Congress. Why wealthy representatives cannot help fund the US Postal Service is beyond me.

Electoral Misfire
This is what happened in 1888, and more recently in 2000, when the Electoral College selected a president who didn't win the popular vote. This has nothing to do with your Colt M1911 .45 caliber locking up when you tried to shoot President Ford.

Faithless Elector
Someone who votes but does not believe in G-d is an atheist voter. A faithless one participates in the Electoral College but, instead of representing his state's vote, defies the public and votes in a different direction. Personally, you would think they would have made that illegal by now. It's a disaster waiting to happen.

Grass-Roots Campaign
An organization dedicated to the election of graminoids. Just kidding; a movement orchestrated by the community, not the candidate, typically focused on one-on-one interactions with voters.

Senate Deliberation
Quite opposite to the removal of liberties (de-liberation), this just means discussion. The Senate gets to argue bills indefinitely; there's no time limit (exception: cloture).

Cloakrooms
This is not where congressmen keep their coats, nor their invisibility cloaks. Rather, it's where they socialize, converse, and take naps. The Wikipedia article said differently, so I checked it sources. Its source confirmed my knowledge, not, in fact, what the article stated. So I edited Wikipedia. Hopefully they don't revert the changes.

Coattails
Here we have the notion that a successful president makes the whole party look good, allowing members of that party to get reelected more easily, especially of those members supported him. And here I was hoping it related back to the cloaks.

CREEP
This was Nixon's Committee to RE-Elect the President. Cause that doesn't sound shady. Turns out, they were about as creepy as the acronym implied (see: Watergate).

Watergate's Plumbers
How could this possibly mean anything other than people working with wet clear liquids, abundant in the ocean? Well, it does. These were the guys who bugged the Watergate Hotel for Nixon's staff. The importance here was not the bugging, but whether or not the president was lying.

Saturday Night Massacre
Nobody died, but people got fired. Mainly, Attorney General Richardson and prosecutor Cox.

The Cabinet
This is actually a collection of 15 department heads, not a place for storing blenders and peanut butter. The president basically selects these guys, with the Senate's advice and consent. Cabinet members can, however, oppose the president if their agency's ideals differ from the administration's agenda. This is known as "going native," which, unfortunately, does not relate to tribal rituals.


The Kitchen Sink
A tactic of throwing every available argument out, hoping one will "stick" even if others are rejected, rather than focusing on bolstering one or two important points. Again, a disappointment; not a dish repository.

Note: I struggled for a few minutes between repository and depository. Google results indicate that the former is to be used for places where things are kept for exhibition (eg. library, museum) and the latter for any place where things are stored. Other definitions consider the repository the part of the depository where the storing takes place. I am still uncertain; thoughts? Connotations? I selected repository here because I find it more aligned with the notion of giving and taking; it is unlikely one would only deposit the knives, but, having to re-posit them after having used them...

Judicial Restraint
No, Chief Justice John Roberts isn't holding down a criminal while the police slap on the cuffs. This just means the Court is trying not to make policy, as they are, after all, unelected. "If in doubt, don't." Under this philosophy, we're gonna read the Constitution literally (strictly constructionist or originalist). This usually applies to modern conservative justices. Usually.

Docket
The cases the Supreme Court will hear. I thought it could make a cute name for a tiny dock for tiny paper boats, perhaps spelled "dockette."

Standing
Parties in a case both need standing. This doesn't mean they need to be on their feet, but rather that they need to be affected by the case at hand. If you accept a settlement, there goes your standing.

Free Rider Problem
No railroads, just regular people who get common goods without joining the providing group. That is to say, people who breathe the fresh air that environmental organizations fight to protect, people who watch the public TV that members donate to pay for, or people who sleep safely at night without ever joining the national defense services. It's like people who use Wikipedia without clicking on those "urgent pleas" for donations.

Or, more directly, those of you reading this public Blog without becoming a member, by clicking "Follow" on the right and signing up. Hint, hint.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Tonight I'm attending a Yule Ball at the university whose Quidditch team placed second in the collegiate World Cup. Is it possible that I've ended up at a modern-day, American Hogwarts?

Perhaps. If that's the case, it's probably important to clarify a few changes in terminology. We don't do it quite like the Brits here. And so, for everyone at Hogwarts, here's the official guide to visiting your sister school:

DISCLAIMER: If you are not a current or past student of Hogwarts School, or have not otherwise thoroughly educated yourself on its history and customs, you are unlikely to appreciate the following.

JP Licks (Honeydukes) in Davis Square (Hogsmeade)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Happy Holidays!

First and foremost, or at least for-most-Jews, Happy end of Hanukkah!

Gelt and dreidels!

8th night, candles shining bright(ly)
And another gift of the holidays...NO MORE CLASSES! Just got out of my last Spanish class of my life, and the class class of the semester! Woohoo! Just some finals, now. But that's okay, this dreidel video makes everything better:

video

As does this 2010 year-in-review. Happy New Years, early, from Google:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Week in Photos

What's up at Tufts? Let's check it out...through photos!

HilleLOL
"Cheap Sox" performing at HilleLOL. During one game, one of them lied down on the floor, pretending to be dead. We were asked to shout out "Give us something that this person died of!" Best response: "A wrench."

Tufts Dance Collective
2 hours of non-audition performance groups, guest-featuring Sarabande and Irish Dance (starring Abby)

Ballroom
Ballroom competition at the gym - wait, we have a gym? Great job, MayaBea.

Brasil Club
The Brasil Club performing awesome martial-arts dance. It's reminiscent of a future time in which fighting has evolved into choreographed motion and art, because they don't have use for real fighting anymore. 
video


S-Factor

"S-Factor" (a capella) doing "impromptu"-style singing at Dewick to promote their upcoming show.
video

Monday, December 6, 2010

Published: Daily Op-Ed

Peacelight Proudly Presents: My First Published Piece in the Daily!

That's right loyal readers, without making it publicly known, yours truly had secretly submitted an Opinion-Editorial (Wikipedia claims Op-Ed does not stand for that, I argue that, through common misconstrual, it has come to) to the Tufts Daily.

View (and "like," for facebook users) the official article titled "The race card: Maybe we jumped the gun" available on the Daily's website.

I would take a picture of the paper, but the Daily has kindly provided a simpler alternative; full-page online previews of the print publication. Here's a screen-grab of today's edition:


Pages 6-7 of the 6 Dec. 2010 Tufts Daily, featuring my article in the bottom right, complete with large photograph.
As it would happen, the front page of the Daily contained a full headline article chronicling the postering events which took place last Friday, after the Daily had published its Friday issue. Included in this issue were also: one editorial piece on the subject, one cartoon on the matter, and two Op-Eds, of which mine was the latter. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the other Op-Ed was co-authored by the actual creators of the gun/wrench posters, defending their actions. My piece, located directly below theirs, unintentionally refuted some of their points, giving the last word on the issue.

The poster people contend that they are not trying to ridicule anyone and reference a variety of historical examples of times when discrimination was an overlooked but important issue. I still contend, however, that they are making an issue of something that was never racially motivated, and that we should be focused on safety in this case. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that, had a white man been carrying around the same object, the caller would have still called in. Quite frankly, although racial biases do exist, this isn't an example of one

Granted, not everyone will agree with my take on the incident, and that's fine. I think we can all agree (1) that racial/gender dialogue is important, but also that (2) campus safety and the reporting of suspicious activity is also important.

Ironically, a Safety Alert today (we don't get them every week, seriously; just sometimes) warned us of an off-campus robbery. The suspect was described as white.

Back to point, read the article(s), enjoy, and remember: if you ever feel like any of my posts should become an Op-Ed, let me know. I'll rewrite them so as to submit original, unpublished work, and then send them in. Who knows, one of these days I could end up on staff.

Thanks to the Daily for publishing so many diverse viewpoints, thanks to Max for all of the great posts, conversations, and posters, and thanks to our mysterious caller for helping keep us safe.

Hanukkah at Dewick

I've been saving these for when I didn't have any fun videos to post. Here are the shots from Dewick's awesome Hanukkah celebrations. They've been decorated since the first night, with a special dinner Thursday night. Those latkas were yummy!

The main entrance, decorated. Note the error on the dreidel on the poster.
Presents? What's inside?
Latkas! Apple sauce!
Happy 5th Day of Hanukkah!

I, Lorax

Today, I'm the Lorax,
I speak for the trees;
I ask you to listen up closely now, please.

I brought a new printer,
The laser-jet kind,
'Cuase running to Tisch I was starting to mind.

And yet, this new printer,
Though nicer than most,
Doesn't do one thing the Tisch printers boast.

For, when printing at Tisch,
It had been all the rage
To print every paper on both sides of each page.


But I've found a good method,
Of loading and flipping,
That keeps all the blank sides of pages from skipping.

And so I would ask you,
Whoever, wherever,
To please kindly join me; don't skip pages ever!

Find a way, a new way,
To print two-sided, like me;
So that you, like the Lorax, may speak for a tree.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Have a Rockin' 4th Night

Nothing says miracle of lights like electric guitar.


This is pretty awesome. When's it comin' out for Rockband? Oh, just kidding - they already have Hanukkah Blessings for Rockband.

Monkey-Wrenching Around

This post is a follow-up to my original comments on the matter, posted yesterday. By the way, here's the official story from Tufts Daily.

After discussing the topic with friends, and online, I decided to go add a comment below the wrench poster plastered to the door of my dorm building. I discretely added an index card, urging students to report all suspicions to TUPD, no matter what.

The next time I walked by that door, both my index card and the original poster were gone. In fact, all three posters in the surrounding area had vanished. Interesting.

Then I got to Shabbat services, where I had the opportunity to talk with Max, with whom I had already spoken about the subject. His adventures are detailed in his humorous and intriguing blog post on the subject. He took a somewhat comic approach to the issue, posting his own posters. In short, his posters pointed out the flaw in the original batch: they used an adjustable wrench; the real individual was holding a ratchet wrench.

The counter (or clarification) poster
Alright Max, that's kinda funny. Apparently, the original poster people didn't think so (he had a conversation with them; read more in his blog). And what the heck, you made the daily's online follow-up report! They're calling you a "piggy-back protester". But Max actually has an interesting point to make: was the call to TUPD made because the man with the wrench was black, or, perhaps, because people are unfamiliar with ratchet wrenches, which kinda look like guns.

Holding a ratchet wrench like a pistol
Well, gee, folks. Maybe the social activists are convinced that this was a case of "discrimination," but I'm not. Looks to me like anyone walkin' around with one of these looks pretty creepy. Even white guys.

Moral of the story? Of course gender/race discrimination exists. But don't go creating it where it doesn't. The real solution to all of this? Educate people about what tools look like. That being said, definitely take time to have a dialogue about race and gender. But not in this context. This isn't fair to people trying to do the right thing.

Remember: Report suspicious behavior to TUPD! It doesn't make you look stupid, it helps keep us safe. Also remember: Computer science students get free printing; make friends with them.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Chicken Soup

I remember this! =)

Who knew it was a song? Mom, you never sang it...

Throwing a Wrench Into It

Yesterday at approximately 4:00 PM, Tufts students received an email from TUPD: a man with a handgun had been reported to have been spotted on campus at 2:35 PM. Although the police never found him, a warning with his description was included: African American, male, approximately 40 years old, etc.

At around 5:00 PM, an update came. Someone had replied to the original alert, explaining that he was at the location during the time described, matched the description, and was in fact carrying a silver ratchet wrench, likely mistaken for the gun. The police interviewed him and determined that there was not, and had never been, any actual danger.

But that wasn't the end of it. Today, plastered all over campus, appeared the following fliers:

The popular on-campus poster, seen the day after the incident.
At first, I was amused. A social statement: a white woman holding the tool doesn't get questioned, but a black man is suddenly suspected of wielding a gun; it's talking about sexism and racism. Clever.

But then I thought about it more. What are the implications of this message? That students shouldn't report suspicions? That guns on campus are a joke? That reporting suspicious people is being a bigot, not a good citizen?

The more I considered it, the more I came to believe: this flier is very wrong. It's actually a danger to the campus. Because if it is to be taken seriously, it's telling students to ridicule the person who reported this incident. Suspicious activity is serious, and it should always be reported; no student should have to fear being labeled a racist/sexist for having tried to do the responsible thing.

Note that the flier, of which dozens, if not hundreds of copies exist on campus, contains no information explaining who put it there, as is regularly required by university policy. In other words, the people who put this out did so in secret, overnight, without identifying themselves. That's a good thing, I think. Because if I worked at TUPD, I'd be kinda pissed at the hot-shots who think it's clever to make fun of handguns on campus, or reporting suspicious activity.

I strongly encourage any Tufts residents reading this to combat these posters. Post, alongside them, your own statements. Encourage the reporting of suspicious activity. Support doing the right thing. Plaster "better safe than sorry" or "campus safety > political correctness" or "calling TUPD isn't racist, it saves lives." Don't go ripping anything down; that's not fair, but feel free to exercise your own freedom of speech.

ALWAYS report suspicious activity. Worst case scenario, some unnamed graphic designers think you're a racist. But if you don't, the worst case scenario is that someone ends up dead.

UPDATE (11/4/10): Article continued in new post.

3rd Night's the Charm

Tonight's Hanukkah video comes from Abby. Hope you enjoy, and happy third-night-of-Hanukkah!

Balch Arena Theater

Over the months, there have been some incredible performances at the BAC. And now, a recap (of the ones I attended).

The mind-blowingly elaborate set of The Alchemist.
The Alchemist
November 6

Summary: Written by Ben Jonson in the early 1600s, the play sounds Shakespearean, as well it should; apparently, William wasn't the only one writing that way in that time period (he just gets all the credit). The performance was the comedic tale of two con-men (and one con-woman, operating multiple schemes simultaneously, from the same house. The balancing act and ensuing panic was delightful, and, as my first show, I was very impressed with the extensive set, especially considering they removed a portion of the theater's seating in order to build it. Little did I know that shows do this all the time. [Related Article: Tufts Daily]

Oleanna
November 8

Summary: Previously described as the scariest theater experience of my life, this two-character play brought the incredibly real, raw, and gut-wrenching agony of one male schoolteacher and one struggling female student to life on the B.A.T. stage. The emotions were breathtaking, and it literally left me with a headache, a buildup of suppressed rage, and tears just barely repressed. The actors were, of course, wonderful, but the script was especially compelling. Themes included gender roles, political correctness, and power struggles. [Related Article: Tufts Daily]

The stunning life-sized trees constructed for Uncle Vanya.
Uncle Vanya
November 18

Summary: A Russian piece, this play told the tale of some passionate people, and some not-so-passionate ones, living relatively useless lives. It plays with environmentalism, failure, and peace in afterlife. My friends Abby, Mayabea, and Sydney were involved in the production, so props to them for a job well done! [Related Article: Tufts Daily]

Pretzel Night
November 22

Summary: An original show written by Tufts students, this short comedy featured yours truly. Details are available in its own post. The Tufts Daily has no related article; tsk, tsk, tsk.


The brightly-lit set, populated even before the show began.
Assassins
December 2

Summary: The first musical I saw here, Assassins tells the tales of assassins, or would-be assassins, who succeed at or attempted to kill a president of the United States. The show culminates in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the assassins sing about their "rights" to do as they please, to seek fame and happiness, and to peruse their dreams (although the failures of the American Dream is a prevalent theme of the production). The show included a handful of real guns and real gunshots, which made for an engaging (and somewhat terrifying) view from my seat a bit stage-left of center. [Related Article: Tufts Daily]

If you're ever at Tufts, I strongly encourage you to come see a performance. They're cheap (or free!), and always worth it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Two Lights, Two Lights, L'Chaim!

Happy Second-Night-of-Hanukkah, everyone! Tonight's special video comes from the hosts of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear; Colbert and Stewart. Referral credit: Grandmom.


Happy Hanukkah, everyone!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy Hanukkah

Happy Hanukkah everyone! Here's the electric Hanukia:

First night of Hanukkah; shamash in blue LED, candles in white
It's not the best picture in the world (thanks to the camera flash), but, unfortunately, it looks even stranger without the flash:

Blur and white noise! Yay!
Yeah. But you get the idea. It's a brilliant white LED on the far right, and a less bright blue in the center. Rain reflects the colors on the glass windowpane. It's pretty.

I wrote to Rabbi Merow, incidentally, asking if we can bless an electric Hanukia. She said yes. That's okay; I already did.

Here's memories of last year at home:

8th night and Shabbat. Maximum candles possible - so pretty! Photographed with a Sony Walkman w580i cell phone.
Clearly, I have to work on my camera photography skills; my cell phone skills, on the other hand, are superb.

Happy Hanukkah to all! Listen to the Hanukkah Song.

Update (7:41 pm): I have to share this awesome Hanukkah songs remix video by NCSY:

CAPTCHA This, Internet

I was recently posting a comment on a Blog when I was struck (for the umpteenth time) at the overwhelmingly annoying nature of CAPTCHAs. For those behind on the lingo, a CAPTCHA is that pain-in-the-butt word verification doohickey that virtually every website uses to check that you're human before you can post anything.

You know, they look like this:


Facebook actually does an excellent job; it's CAPTCHA uses two English words, "contribute" and "of," which a real human being should be able to read. Psychologists and computer scientists alike agree that human beings have an incredible ability to recognize objects even when skewed.

In other words, we can read the letter "f" in a million different fonts, even though no two "f"s look the same. And let's face it, cursive "f"s look nothing like print ones. But, having learned just a few basic examples of "f," we can extrapolate what is and isn't one. That's the basis of these tests: we can extrapolate, computers cant. It really throws 'em off to have wavy letters with lines thru 'em; they can't figure out the letter that's buried in there.

The point, ultimately, is to stop people from creating programs to automatically post things to websites; the CAPTCHA ensures that a human being is doing it manually. This reduces spam.

So, what's the problem? Well, while Facebook may have a decent CAPTCHA system, not everyone does. In particular, technological superstar "Google" has about the worst verification system invented. Could you solve this?


Right. Didn't think so. And that makes the internet frustrating. So what's the solution? I say, a new CAPTCHA system. Many have been proposed, but few implemented. All we need to do is identify something computers can't do that humans can. Letter recognition was a nice idea, but it's a little confusing. What else can we use?

Well, we know that people can recognize things that computers can only, at the very best, compare to a database of existing knowledge. The nice thing about letter CAPTCHAs is that there is no database of skewed words; computers have nothing to base their answers on.

This means that some proposed ideas, such as asking users to identify famous paintings, isn't going to work. Computers can match the CAPTCHA to a database of existing images and look up the most relevant related text in order to determine its title. Besides, people aren't smart enough to handle this system in the first place.

Relevant humor.
What else, then? For a time, Google tried object orientation, in which people had to correctly rotate objects; a computer shouldn't know which way is up in any given original picture. Nice idea, but check out the result:


First off, what in the world is that second image? And secondly...this is madness! That's a really inefficient system for clearing a security checkpoint - it takes too long, it's too confusing, and no one above a certain age is going to have any idea what's going on.

My solution: (it's mine, mine I say; don't even think about stealing it)...Cartoon Verification.

Oh yes. It's brilliant. You see, computers may be able to compare real-world images to a database, but what about artistic (original cartoon) representations? A human being can extrapolate the features in a caricature; a computer can't identify them. And it's so easy for people. Check it out:

Verification Technique: "Please enter the number corresponding to the penguin."
Ha! Take that, bots! There's no way to know which one the penguin is. I mean, unless you're going to have the computer go define penguin, learn its predominant colors, and deduce that of these five choices, #3 is most black and white - but, seriously? The program would need to be able to separate the shapes (made much harder if the animals were overlapping one another), and the above proposed "solution" could be rendered ineffective by ensuring frequent color similarity (throw in a zebra and a panda).

The beauty of the system? Any 5-year-old can get by, and no bots can. It's super-easy for people. And, most importantly, it's nothing like this:


Google, you're ridiculous. This post, brilliant. Now quick, someone find me a patent lawyer.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Oh, Brother!

Today, the printer I ordered over Black Friday arrived. It's a lovely Brother HL-2240 Monochrome Laserjet. And I had the wonderful experience of lugging it from the tippy top of upper campus (read: Mail Services) to the very bottom of lower campus (read: my dorm).

My new alternative to running to Tisch before classes.

Good thing it's a tiny box.

LOST IX: "Treading on Thin Ice"

EX-0009: LOST as Literature
Namaste. As you may well know, I am currently enrolled in a course titled "LOST as Literature." In class, we take a look at the storytelling of ABC's LOST and break down the plot-line and narrative techniques. Each week, students are responsible for watching 2 specific episodes from the series on their own time and writing a 1-2 page essay from a prompt related to the viewing. In our 2.5 hour class, which meets each Monday night, we discuss a theme or technique as it applies to our episodes, watch 1 additional episode, and discuss larger meanings and choices.

Introduction to Essay Collection
For your reading pleasure, I have selected, at this time, a single essay from my portfolio to share with you. If it is well received, I would be happy to continue sharing my work. In the future, time-permitting, I would consider narrating the essays (embedded Quicktime player), or, should I truly have the opportunity, cut together a video (embedded Youtube player) with useful visual illustrations. But for now, the transcripts.

This post's essay comes from the ninth week of class, for which we were asked to write about a "mystery" that was eventually "solved" (or not); we were to asses its significance. The class is pass/fail, and each essay is graded on a scale of "√-, √, or √+." For our purposes, I will transcribe these marks into grades "A, B, C". The following essay received an A.

Treading on Thin Ice: The Undue Significance of the Fluffy White Monsters
They’re present from the very beginning. They storm the jungle, attack the unwary, and aren’t very good at fitting through small cracks. That’s right, I’m talking about polar bears: the single most essential element to LOST. Or not. 
It seemed, when first introduced in “Pilot, Part 2,” that Sawyer’s cowboy bear-hunting was going to be the first of many close encounters with the creatures. And, in the beginning, there was some hope for this arctic subplot. In the first season, we’ve got Walt running from the beasts, hiding in trees while the bear rams it. But, just as Walt virtually vanished in importance to the storyline, so did the bears. The problem was, no one told the audience. 
From the moment viewers were first introduced to the polar bears as one of the first and most bizarre things (at the time) on the island, they fell in love. People began wondering where they came from and what role they would play. Why were bears appearing in Locke’s dreams (“Further Instructions”) or Hurley’s comic books (“Special”)? Was there a snowy part of the mystical island from which the bears wandered? Did killing a bear signify danger, either from its friends or the people who put a collar on it? 
Eventually, the mystery was resolved. As many had suspected, the bears were, it would appear, brought to the island by the Dharma initiative for testing purposes. The collars, cages, and fish-biscuits give enough information to explain that. But it wasn’t enough for the fans. The fact that so much emphasis was placed, or perceived to have been placed, on the ursus maritimus meant that the simple guinea-bear explanation was not satisfying enough. This was one mystery that LOST waited a bit too long to address.
The bears, therefore, continued to remain in the mind of the most loyal and even most casual viewers of the show. In class, we frequently comment that LOST isn’t just about “survivors of a plane crash, on a crazy island with polar bears.” Funny, isn’t it, that we pick out polar bears as a memorable motif, when, in actuality, the bears only appear in a handful of the series’ 6 seasons. We’re not the only ones: in How it Should Have Ended’s mockup LOST finale, the very final scene features the Coca-Cola polar bear, agreeing that he had expected something “different” from LOST’s progression.
Eventually, somebody got the message. Sure enough, LOST’s bonus-feature epilogue takes the time to put polar bears in the spotlight. In one of the most revealing, or, for some of us, most disappointing moments of the episode, the second of two questions Benjamin Linus has agreed to answer is asked: “So explain this. Polar bear biscuits. How is there a polar bear on a tropical island?” (“The New Man in Charge”). Was this the most necessary question to be answered for the LOST audience? Were we unable, seasons earlier, to infer the exact answer, as explained in the orientation video: that the bears were test subjects of the Dharma initiative?
Perhaps their inclusion throughout the series was simply a clever way of treating dedicated viewers to an old treat, a sort of fish-biscuit for fans. In that respect, the bears were welcomed with warm smiles at every appearance. Nonetheless, the attention the beasts demanded was unsettling. Having played virtually no role in the plot or symbolic value of the series, it seems unfair that the legacy of LOST is so tightly tied to them. The fault, I think, lies in the failure to quickly and properly resolve what, at first, seemed to be one of the most intriguing mysteries of the show. Putting the suspense into hibernation for so long wasn’t the greatest call.
Brian, 15 November 2010
Your comments, either on the class, the writing, or LOST itself, are welcome below. In particular, a discussion on polar bears would be enjoyable, and I would be happy to debate or explore their significance.

 Might I add that this fan art is adorable.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mock Trial (Delayed)

Howdy Y'all.

So someone finally posted a picture from Mock Trial; here's the team shot at MumboJumbo (the Tufts invitational competition from 3 weeks ago):

(Top:) Dustin, Me, Dan, Krista, Elley; (Bottom:) Jessica, Anisha, Hayeon

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pretzel Night

Monday night was Pretzel Night at the Balch Arena Theater - an all freshman play! Cast size: 6, including yours truly! The show was hilarious, tons of fun, and completely unique. The script was an original, written by Tufts students (who attended!), and the performance was one-time-only - if you missed it, your loss.

But wait! Here to save you from your loss - pictures!

The play opens with Dan and I doing some cool scenes together. In the beginning, Dan is "depression," and I'm a depressed person. Setting: my brain.

The show includes me drinking. A lot. Humor is enhanced by spit-takes, in which I (eventually) build up to spraying a large mouthful of my beverage all over Yessi.

This is an awesome action shot. I win the thumb wrestle.

It's a pretty funk play. We know.

An awesome pose. This doesn't happen during the performance.

The cast: (clockwise) Me (Pat), Yessi (Taylor), Tyler (Angel), Avery (Sydney), Dan (Sam), Emily (Morgan)
There were soft pretzels afterward.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

TMT Invitational: UMass Amherst

Hey y'all!

Just got back from an awesome weekend-long tournament at UMass.

For those who haven't read (or can't remember), Tufts Mock Trial is scored by 2 judges per case, and we take turns being Defense and Plaintiff.

My Tufts team (2 teams, 6-8 people each from Tufts competed) went 4:4. We went up against such schools as Boston University, Fordham University, Villanova, and Case Western.

Yours truly earned the nickname "The Barrister," coined by Tufts Mock Trial member Nicholas LoCastro. Although our team did not place in the tournament's top 5 trophy-wining slots, we did have a few winners of overall outstanding awards. Of the 16 Tufts members competing, 3 won awards (there were approximately 150 students at the tournament, about 24 won awards).

To place, students needed to attain 17 ranking points from the judges of their matches. If, in any given trial (of 6 attorneys and 6 witnesses), a student was ranked as the #1 attorney/witness, s/he received 5 points. #2 got 4 points; #3, 3; #4, 2, and there are no #5 or #6 rankings. That said, to win an award, one would need either three 1sts and a 4th, two 1sts, a 2nd, and a 3rd, or one 1st and three 2nds.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Supplies and Demands

It struck me today, as I attempted to staple together two pieces of paper on which I had scrawled my most recent calculus answers, that staplers are excellent metaphors.

You see, I went to staple the pages together, but was struck by the sudden realization brought about by the ringing of hollow metal against hollow metal: my stapler was out of staples. Now, here I was, having stapled many, many papers in weeks past, unable to recall the last time I actually refilled the stapler. It struck me, then, that I had imagined the supply of staples, on some level, to be infinite. Although, somehow, I was obviously aware of their finite quantity, I operated from day to day as though they would never run out. Each time I pressed the stapler, I expected a staple. It shocked me to find that my supply was depleted.

This, I think, serves as a metaphor for the environment, economy, and even emotions. We go through life tricking ourselves, acting as though we have a limitless supply of natural resources, of financial wealth, or of emotional reactions to induce. We expect that no matter how much oil we burn, money we spend, or insults we dish out, we can always find more oil in a deeper well, more money in a deeper pocket, or more sympathy from a deeper apology. Somewhere, though, there is a breaking point: we run out of fuel, out of cash, out of forgiveness. At some point, we go too far, take the last straw, break the camel's back.

Life, like a stapler, is comprised of things in sometimes limited supply. It is important not to forget this, lest we go one day to staple and find ourselves stunned by our inability to do so.

That being said, it is valuable to note that, as is the case with staplers, in life, we can work to replenish resources, renew wealth, and resolve problems. We cannot continue to use and use and use without giving and giving and giving, but if we are willing to give, then we can also be permitted to get.

And so, I advocate a surplus of spare staples. I recommend action taken to bring new life to the environment before we ever consider taking life away. I suggest securing income before considering expenditures. I support building trust and doing favors before asking for trust and requesting favors.

Because, after all, I believe that life is a collection of staplers.

Now don't get me started on pencil sharpeners...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Spring 2011

And the courses are in. Ladies and gentlemen, a drum-roll please. Presenting:


From the Drama department...

ACTING I: INTRO TO ACTING
"A basic course in acting, aimed at enhancing self-confidence, oral expression, and creativity."


From the Philosophy department...

RATIONAL CHOICE
"We will cover the basics formal frameworks of probability and game theory and their application to problems in decision making and strategic thinking."

SPECIAL TOPICS: LANGUAGE, THOUGHT & CULTURE
"This class examines debates over "linguistic relativity,"...the critique of these views by Chomsky and his students, and on to the modest revival of linguistic relativity in recent years."


From the Political Science department...

INTRO INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
"The major philosophical, theoretical, and methodological approaches to the study international relations from the perspective of political science."


From the Sociology department...

INTRO TO SOCIOLOGY
"Sociological analysis of selected areas of social life, such as the family, religion, large-scale organizations, minority relations, mass communications, and crime."


The beauty of it? No class before 10:30 AM, and nothing on Friday but recitations. These guys also knock out my 2 Humanities requirements and 1 of my 2 Arts. Damn I'm good.

Mumbo Jumbo

This past weekend: Mumbo Jumbo, Tufts' 3rd Annual Mock Trial Competition.

Tufts A (not my team) placed 1st (w00t!) - Tufts B (my team) didn't place. Ah well.

It was fun stuff, and I gave a pretty sick closing argument by 2nd trial. Made some mistakes by 4th trial, though. Like using the completely wrong piece of evidence during an examination - and no one noticed! Opposing council approved it, the witness played along with what it was supposed to say (props to Dustin!) - and I casually swapped it at our table before bringing it to the judge. Whew.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Blog Stew

Sometimes, it's just too consuming to condense my conscious conceptualizations into a concise and creative copy of correspondence for my caring cult of cohorts to consume. Damnit I used consume twice. It's hard, I'm tellin' ya'. So here's what you get instead: disjointed stream of consciousness! Well, not quite that bad...more so "breadth without depth".


Snyder Lecture
Some wealthy alum (alumni? alumnus? aluminum?) donated a bunch of money to get good speakers to come and talk about controversial things.Well, lots of rich people do this, actually, but in particular, I attended one of these funded by Mr. Snyder. The speaker was a Harvard professor (stop booing) Michael Sandel. He spoke about Aristotle, flutes, golf, and gay marriage (in that order). It was interesting (don't yell at me, Moxey); the overall messages were (1) we should discuss/debate more, not feat it and debate less, in order to better society, and that (2) when discussing an issue, it's useful to get at the heart of the matter which, according to him, is the purpose of the matter being discussed (in a gay marriage conversation, one must discuss the purpose or function of marriage). Simple enough, cool comparisons, though. He called on a dozen or so of the few hundred of us to give opinions, I was among them. I said something about the purpose of marriage being legitimacy, seeing as two need not marry to procreate (nor need two procreate if married), but seeing as people like having their partnership recognized (usually prior to procreation; that's aside the point), and so, if the point is legitimate recognition, we can't abolish marriage recognitions (a proposed compromise to the debate) as that helps no one. My Politics professor was there for that. Yeah.

Oleanna
It's a play. I went to see it. Actors (2) were incredible. Drama was crazy scary. Premise? Erm, teacher/student, frustration, struggle to learn; all of the sudden: anger, retaliation, sexual harassment claims, legal action, emotional harm, heated argument, cursing, physical violence...! It was intense. And frustrating! Each character was so - human. They made mistakes; didn't listen to one another, mixed up priorities, exaggerated or misread the situation, angered one another - the escalation was incredibly well created, but overall, I came out of that thing angry, as though I had just been in the worst fight of my life with my parents and friends. It was so real it was scary, and so scary it was real. I encourage reading Wikipedia's summary; it's short enough. Anyway; best performance I've ever seen. Everything else (especially pesky musicals) seems like child's play after one realizes what theater can really be used for.

Alchemist
Incidentally, I also saw "The Alchemist". In particular, the set was amazing. They took apart the theater and built staircases and large windows and chandeliers. And they painted the floor. Kind of intense. Acting great of course. But compared (retrospectively) to Oleanna, it can't compare.

Bubs + Glee
Glee is a TV show. The Beelzebubs are an a capella group on campus. They recorded music to be lip synced the show, because apparently Glee can't find actors who can sing (as well as Tufts students). Apparently their song then proceeded to top the iTunes download charts. That might just be a rumor. I'm occupied and can't investigate further right now (comment below if you have a link). Another rumor: more of their stuff to appear in future episodes.

Pretzel Night
It's a show. By freshman. I'm in it. It's funny. And odd. Premise: Tufts student writers were given beginning and ending lines, had to create scenes between. When put together, each scene opens with the closing lines of the previous scene. Makes for a cool effect. Makes for crazy story-telling. Is fun. Rehearsals involve drama games. I miss those. We didn't do much of that in high school. But they're fun.

Mock Trial
Competition this weekend. Thus; gotta go.

Shout Out (in advance)
It's my brother's 14th birthday Friday. In case this is my last Blog post until then, HAPPY BIRTHDAY. I command all readers to wish him a happy birthday below:

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Showered with Ideas

It occurred to me, today, that a significant quantity of my most intelligent thoughts occur to me in the shower. I should note that this thought was no exception.

And so, logically, my next thought was: What can I do to increase by ability to remember the thoughts I have in the shower? After all, by the time I finish showering, drying, and changing, such that I am in a position to write the thoughts down, it may be too late to properly recall them.

I have considered the following.
  • Bringing pen and paper into the shower. Paper will get wet
  • Laminating the paper. Then I can't write on it.
  • Writing on the laminated paper with dry-erase. It's called dry erase; it won't work in the shower.
  • Forget paper; bring a laptop. Because that does better in water?
  • Alright then, an Etch-A-Sketch. Holy cow I'm a genius.
 And now, to procure an Etch-A-Sketch...

(A what? Click here if your childhood was lacking.)

How to Use "Misunderestimate"

Peacelight Presents: A Grammar Lesson.

Some people go around saying "misunderestimate." Other people go around telling them that it's not a word. Well, what do you think?

According to the "internets," "misunderestimate" is a Bushism: a misstep in communication born from the mouth mouth of ex-President George W. Bush. (Other notable Bushisms include "Is our children learning?" and "The human being and the fish can coexist;" see amusing collection below:)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Why Tufts is Perfect

Disclaimer: This is based off of Wikipedia information. This information includes statistics factoring in some graduate programs, which, although they may have an indirect influence on undergraduate education, should technically have no bearing on my experience.

Tufts Students are Smart
"In the 2011 U.S. News & World Report college rankings, Tufts ranked as one of the top 20 most selective schools among national universities in the United States. Tufts accepted 24.5% of 15,437 applicants to its undergraduate class of 2014, the lowest since 2001. For the matriculating class of 2014, ninety-one percent of incoming freshmen rank in the top 10% of their high school class (up one percent from the previous year)." So, not only are the kids here smart, but 2014 was the most selective class in over a decade. So, of all students on campus, we're the smartest?

It's Yummy Here
"Tufts in its "Best Campus Food" category since 2005, ranking it as high as second."

The Alumni are Everything I Want to Be
Lets face it, what interests me? Business? Government? Media? Politics? Publication? Sound about right? Of course, we can't forget technology, right?

Let's take a look at Tufts' notable alumni:
"eBay founder Pierre Omidyar
former Prime Minister of Greece Kostas Karamanlis
United States Senator Scott Brown
New Mexico governor Bill Richardson
journalist and TV personality Meredith Vieira
The New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr.
JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon
Pfizer CEO Jeff Kindler
DuPont CEO Ellen J. Kullman"

So, again, that's the founder of eBay (business/technology), prime ministers, senators, and governors (politics/government), journalists and publishers (media/publication), and various successful CEOs (business as it relates to economics and chemistry, respectively).

So...um. Yeah. That's that.

Ghosts of the Past

No, no, no. Not the Starcraft 2 trailer. Blog ghosts, in fact.

I would like to announce that I have been the author of not one, but three distinct Blogs over the past few years. The one which you currently read, Peacelight, is undoubtedly the most successful: a (current) public following of 10 members, over one hundred hits on select posts, and a healthy number of comments-per-article (though I would love to see more).

My previous two Blogs, which I have stopped writing, nonetheless sit out there in cyber-space, waiting for weary internet-travelers to stumble upon them (no reference to stumble-upon intended).

Therefore, presenting links to two other (smaller, no longer expanding) treasure troves of insight:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

No "Daily Show" for "The Daily"

As per one reader's (read: Abby's) request, supported by positive feedback for my last post (on the subject of the "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" by Jon Stewart of the "Daily Show"), I submitted an edited version of my work as an Op-Ed to Tuft's newspaper, aptly named the Tufts Daily.

My submission was sent late Monday night; the reply came Tuesday afternoon: We will be aiming to publish your work in Thursday's paper. Fantastic! All I needed to do was write back, verifying my graduating year, major, and the originality (and unpublished-ity) of my work.

My exact reply:
Year: 2014
Major: Undecided

This has been adapted from my original Blog post on the subject. Otherwise, I have not submitted or published this work through any other publication.
That was it. I waited, and Thursday morning opened the paper to find...nothing. I checked each page; no Op-Ed. I check online; no Op-Ed. I searched their online database for all articles with "sanity" in the text. A few turned up, but not mine.

Did they change their mind? Or had I been mistaken; did I have the wrong date of publication in mind? I decided to go back to the emails and check.

Nothing was wrong; they said Thursday. What was it, then? That's when I noticed the small, faded message at the bottom of the conversation: "1 deleted message in this conversation. View message?"

You see, not long ago I was suffering from a plague of undesired emails from "Major: Undecided," a comedy group on campus. There was no way to unsubscribe and I had gotten sick of asking them to take me off their mailing list (no no avail). Therefore, I created a Gmail filter, that is to say, a rule for my email account: Any forwarded emails containing "Major: Undecided" should be automatically deleted.

Let us return to the story at hand. The Daily, in replying to me, had left the previous conversation material attached to the end of their email. In other words, there was a "forwarded" email in their reply containing my message to them, which contained, by odd coincidence, "Major: Undecided." Therefore, Gmail had deleted it.

The Daily's reply had been sent Tuesday. It read:
Posting it in a blog still counts as publishing. Can you please give me a link to the blog post? If it is significantly different than the blog post it might still be ok to run.
I don't know which is more depressing: that my filter prevented me from seeing this in time to do anything about it, or that sharing my purely original writing with friends and family disqualifies it from being shared with the Tufts student body.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear)

Because who wants to go to sleep at 3 am when the bus returns home, when one can blog instead?

You will hereby ignore my spelling errors. I am tired, and you are about to appreciate a first-hand account of an historic event, however sloppy that account may be.

The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was amazing. If nothing else, it refreshed my faith in humanity. Every single human being crammed into the National Mall that day stood together to represent, not ideology, but humanity. People were there to smile, talk, and cheer, not frown, yell, and jeer. It was politics at, I would contend, its best: a gathering of the people, not in protest, but in celebration of life in this great nation.

The rally at 7:00 AM, when we arrived. People already are getting spots. We decided to get coffee instead. Technically, I got apple cider.
I'm not sure how it's going to be portrayed in the media; knowing the networks, it'll either be "a modern Woodstock for peace-lovers of the 21st century" or "a socialist left-wing hippie march that was much to do about nothing." Either way there are hippies involved.

Here's basically what went down: People gathered on the Mall. They brought signs that urged America to either relax, laugh, or get along. We're talking things like "I love cheese" to "I'm not afraid of Muslim people," and "This sign is spelled correctly" to "I don't think anyone likes taxes but I understand their importance to society." It was satire meets - well - sanity. And that was the point.

The point was to stop yelling at people and start talking to people.

Satire and sanity, the messages of the rally.
Two men from LA we met while getting our drinks. They made signs urging people to get their facts straight.
Perhaps the most amusing of the group is the "No Sings" sign. Three cheers for irony.
That's the spirit: let's chill.
A sane sign if I ever saw one: the perfect rallying call. Instead of yelling, how about listening.
The rally wasn't an anti-Tea Party rally, though there were people there who might have thought it was. It wasn't an anti-conservative rally, or an anti-discontent rally. It wasn't for Obama supporters and it wasn't for liberals: it was for people who wanted to stop yelling. It was a rally to be civil and sane, a march to say no to, to borrow the phrase, the politics of hate.

As John Steward noted in his strikingly moving closing remarks, "This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith, or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument or suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear; they are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times.  And we can have animus and not be enemies."

"The press," he said, "can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous flaming ant epidemic. If we amplify everything we hear nothing."

Our view, more or less. Jumbo-Trons and the Capitol. You can make out the stage past the white thing on the left.
That, perhaps, most truly stuck at the message of the event: we can't look at everything and be scared. During the comedic proceedings of the rally, Steven Colbert, the "supporter of fear" (for the purposes of the show, of course), demonstrated the horrible state of the country though media montage, mocking, incidentally, the insanity with which our television networks operate, constantly crying that the end is near, that the "other side" is evil, that we are unsafe. And when they do that, when they tell us how bad everything is and could be, we get scared, and we listen. But it's not right.

The duality theme "sanity vs. fear" which served as the driving force of the rally's message.
Stewart detracted from Colbert's examples. He brought onto the stage examples of good people, and good actions. He exemplified Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga for remaining calm and civil in the face of one of the worst calls in baseball history; he awarded Velma Hart for facing the President with tough questions in a town hall meeting but for remaining civil, and speaking to him, even though the two disagreed; he applauded Mick Foley, a professional wrestler who stands up Make-a-Wish and RAINN, a man who appears violent on television but in the real world is actually saner, a comment, I think, that Stewart was trying to make on the reality of America; and he brought Jacob Isom to the stage, a YouTube sensation famous for having simply ripped the Quran out of the hands of book-burners, shouting simply, "Dude, you have no Quran."

The last example may have been the most important, for two reasons. First, a note on the media. Do we hear about book burnings? You bet. Do we hear about failed book burnings that fail because noble people intervene? Of course not. That's not news. That's not controversy. That's civility. No one said it at the rally, but I think this example really highlights something: we heard about this event on YouTube. Real Americans, doing real, honest, everyday things, on YouTube. Why? Because the news is extreme. The "news" tells us the wost of things, not the truest of things. Everyday heroes are found in the real world, not the news world. It takes a local news station or a self-broadcast YouTube video to remind Americans that 90% of us are real, good, reasonable people. 10% are extreme, 5% on each end. They get the news coverage, that's for sure. But Saturday, some of that 90% turned out to voice their lack of frustration. That's what the rally was, I would say. A demonstration of the masses (over 200,000) of Americans willing to stand up and say: "I'm not with crazy. I'm with sanity."

200,000 Americans. Well, you can't see them all.
More Americans (behind us) that couldn't get quite as close as we did before barricades were put in place.
It's not a picture of escalators. Look behind: those are masses of people leaving DC.
But I have strayed. The second reason for awarding Isom is the obvious: because, as the rally did make the political effort to stress, time and time again, Muslims are not evil. There was no dancing around the issue: Colbert literally said they are evil, that they attacked us on 9/11, and Stewart literally said no. He replied that non-Americans attacked us on 9/11, and they happened to be Muslim. Just as thousands of Americans happen to be Muslim, and they aren't evil. To drive the point home, he brought Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, basketball star and, sure enough, Muslim. Colbert admitted that, perhaps, his generalization had been mistaken.

And that's where they let it be, until Stewart's remarks at the end. "The inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe not more," Stewart contended, to resounding applause, "The press is our immune system.  If we overreact to everything we actually get sicker--and perhaps eczema."

But the tone of the rally was not negative, ultimately:

"And yet, with that being said, I feel good—strangely, calmly good.  Because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false...We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is—on the brink of catastrophe—torn by polarizing hate and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do.  We work together to get things done every damn day!

The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV.  But Americans don’t live here or on cable TV.  Where we live our values and principles form the foundations that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done.  Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives.  Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do—often something that they do not want to do—but they do it--impossible things every day that are only made possible by the little reasonable compromises that we all make."

The free rally-towels, essential because one should always carry a towel.
We were really there. See?
My wall souvenir. That totally makes the 9-hour-each-way drive(s) worth it.
The message to take away was this: Americans, all Americans, are real people who work together. We already do it. We don't see it in partisan politics, we don't see it in the media, and we don't see it from extremist rallies. But that's not really America, that's a distortion. Real Americans, real people, have the capacity to come together, to rebuild cities, to ensure a brighter future, to not merely coexist peacefully and sanely but to truly thrive in the "greatest, strongest country in the world."