And so it begins...

On my 29th birthday, I gave myself...a 3 month leave of absence from work. Mostly what I feel is overwhelmed by all the possibilities. I'm ready to just start diving into everything, but first I need to slow down and get a plan in place. My appetite for life is bigger than my stomach for it all.
Mom and Dad sent me a book from my wishlist called Setting Up Your Shots: Great Camera Moves Every Filmmaker Should Know. I think I'll stay up late glancing through that, all while blasting my favorite version of La Boheme, my favorite opera. Everytime I listen to it I feel like I'm waltzing through some crowded, festive European street, falling in love with the world. What I most treasure having again is the time to stay up late reading. So many books, so much time. Who would've thought.
Regret minimization--that's the framework for living life which Jeff always talks about. I don't regret this one bit.


George Bush passed a bill through Congress yesterday that replaced all affirmative action programs in education, business, and government with pure meritocratic systems. Today he was replaced as the President of the United States.

Condi, Colin, and George and affirmative action

The whole Michigan affirmative action flap is intriguing for having revealed a spectrum of opinions among the Republican party. George is against the affirmative action system at Michigan, while Colin Powell is for it. Condoleeza Rice? Stands behind George Bush, though no one knows what she herself thinks.
Condi is a tough lady. When she was the Stanford Provost I heard her address an entire room of angry students who were protesting something having to do with treatment of minority students. She held her ground and shot down a few students with some sharp words. She's an imposing and impressive speaker in person. Still, I get the sneaking suspicion she's always serving, never acting on her own or willing to stand on her own merits.
Affirmative action and issues of race are the most intriguing of America's issues because people on each side of the debate either view it as the most American or most un-American of policies. American because it encourages diversity and creates opportunity for those who might not otherwise receive such opportunity, or un-American because it judges people by more than just pure merit and diminishes opportunity for some. When I debate the issue with my friends, most of whom are very tolerant and accepting people, it's easy to see where both sides come from.
I myself am in favor of affirmative action, for many reasons. First of all, I'm really shocked that more people aren't outraged that Trent Lott and Strom Thurmond, overtly racist senators, held their posts until just recently with little or no press coverage. For years they were among the most influential leaders of this country. I'll admit I didn't know much about Lott, though I knew Thurmond because he was such a fossil. We are naive to think that racial discrimination doesn't pervade the most hallowed corridors of this country. That Bush would actually curry votes by speaking at a school that bans inter-racial dating and get away with it indicates perhaps that we've become too complacent about racism.
Trent Lott's speech at Thurmond's birthday didn't draw a lot of coverage by the mainstream press in the days after. A bunch of bloggers were the first to jump on it and draw attention to his incendiary quips. Maybe the nation thinks that listening to rap music and seeing folks like Eminem adopt black culture indicates that we've achieved some racially integrated nirvana.
Secondly, the most common argument against affirmative action is that it allows students with lower SAT scores to take positions from students with higher SAT scores. I've yet to meet one intelligent person who considers the SAT an accurate gauge of their intelligence, let alone the worthiness of others to attend a school or bring something of value to that community. Strangely enough, we find it's absolutely okay to allow someone in with an absurdly low SAT score if he/she can throw a football accurately or play basketball really well. Because of course they contribute so much to the campus before they take off after two years without a degree to make their millions in the pros. Everyone always seems to think affirmative action means hiring a bunch of uneducated, incompetent minorities into positions which they're unsuited for. In fact, studies have been done on college admissions which show that being it's often the environment which foster students' performance more than their own individual talents. In a groundbreaking study which researchers have been unable to replicate (for obvious reasons), a statistically significant percentage of the entering class at a college in Texas were chosen specifically from the bottom 10% of that year's applicants. Researchers followed their performance over the next four years and compared it with that of their classmates, who were hand selected by the admissions committee and deemed to the most promising of that year's applicant pool. It turned out that the students from the bottom 10% of the applicant pool were, by any conventional set of measures, much more successful than their other classmates.
Third, everyone argues that affirmative action is not perfect, that occasionally some white, American male will be shafted, and that therefore it needs to be abolished. To argue this point assumes that all admission programs, interview processes, and all such programs are perfect. If anyone knows of such a perfect hiring program, please let me know. I'll pass it along to Amazon, they'll hire nothing but the exact best people for the rest of this century and the worth of my stock options will rise a hundred fold and I'll retire to some foreign country with the title of Sultan.
I do think some instances of affirmative action are too severe. But to accuse affirmative action of being as bad as the problem it attempts to cure is intellectually lazy. Affirmative action achieves more good than bad. To compare it to racism, with the trail of tears and tragedy and bloodshed it has left behind our country's footsteps, is some type of math in which someone missed a few decimal points.

Projection keyboards

One of the latest cutting-edge technologies is the projection keyboard, for use with PDAs. Red lasers project an image of a keyboard on any flat surface, and you can type on it. Personally, I think these will be less than ideal because typing depends so much on tactile feedback to know where to place your fingers, when you've made a mistake. But for big buttons and switches it would be convenient. For example, if I could just project some volume controls on my desk for my stereo at home, or light switches for all the lights in my room, I wouldn't need to wander around my room while working.

More man vs. machine

Garry Kasparov is challenging Deep Junior to a chess match this Sunday. Amazingly, you can buy Deep Junior for home use and stage your own epic battle of man versus machine. You can even buy a copy of Deep Fritz, which battled world chess champion Vladimir Kramnik to a draw in October.
Sometime if you're really feeling lousy, something you can do to cheer yourself up is to go into an online chess site and challenge someone to a match. Then turn on Deep Junior or Deep Fritz in the background and have the program play your opponent while you use all of Deep Junior and Deep Fritz's moves. After you've kicked some uppity chess nerd's ass, you'll feel a strange sensation come across your face. A smile.