Ridiculum

Attire Emoji

Posted in Ridiculum on April 12th, 2016 by Nathan – 1 Comment
Attire Emoji

Clearly I'm not a great attire emoji designer…

Weddings, Birthdays, Special Events: I'm at a point in my life where I'm increasingly receiving invitations that have the same basic format: who/what/when/where/attire. That last one being the newcomer, and a confusing newcomer at that. "Cocktail attire," "semi-formal," "business casual," and many other descriptions all serve the same purpose: to very loosely and confusingly tell me something that my latest idea, attire emoji, could have told me better.

What, for example, is meant by "cocktail attire"? Wikipedia ignores this concept altogether and redirects directly to the article on "Semi-formal." The only picture on that page, however, is decidedly formal: a Canadian historian in black tie. Indeed, the same article lists black tie as a suggestion, though that is also listed on the page for formal. Most other sources (sorry, Wiki, I usually turn to you first) provide a wide range of options for cocktail attire: slacks with a jacket, suit with no tie, and suit with tie are all considered options, though this is a fairly wide spectrum.

Or take, for example, "business casual," which in some parts of America means jeans with an untucked button-up are acceptable but in other parts implies French cuffs and slacks. And in both of these examples, I'm only touching on men's fashion; where women are concerned, these labels are even more cryptic.

My solution is simple: when you create an invitation, do away with the complex gibberish phrases that normally adorn the bottom right, and replace them with attire emojis. If men are expected to wear a suit and tie and women would be comfortable in a little black dress, you can try to get that across through age-old code-words like "evening informal" (as apparently that's what that means), or you can instead provide a set of two emoji that accomplish the same task.

I should clarify here that I don't intend to suggest a specific set of emoji; any custom images will do as long as they serve the emoji purpose of conveying information in a single simple character. These pictographs or hieroglyphics (which is really all emoji are) can get across a lot more information, perhaps a thousand times as much, as the old adage suggests, as the words we use today.

I Demand More Potato Chip Flavors!

Posted in Ridiculum on November 3rd, 2015 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

Oh how I wish we had the Walker's flavors in the USOn a recent trip to London, I consumed more than my fair share of Kettle Sweet Chilli [sic.] & Sour Cream crisps, as they were plentiful at several bars I visited after work. The sweet chili was quite nice, as were other flavors I managed to try, including Walker's Prawn Cocktail. Years ago, on a visit to Canada, I enjoyed many interesting flavors of Lay's potato chips, including Dill Pickle and Ketchup, both of which eventually made it to the US years later, but not without some delay. The Dill Pickle flavored potato chip was by far, at that point in my life, the best chip I'd ever had, and I still mourn the loss of them in the US after a short-lived chip career.

All of this is to say: America, we are being cheated, bamboozled, and robbed, by BIG CHIP, in their withholding of amazing flavors. Most Americans probably cannot fathom that another country could beat the US in the realm of gluttony, but this certainly appears to be the case. Not only are we being beaten by our neighbors to the north and our former oppressors across the pond, but also by other countries unrelated to American history or geography at all! This is a travesty of epic proportions. And worst of all, the greatest offender is Frito-Lay, a company headquartered right here in the US. Frito-Lay, of course, owns Lay's, which are marketed in the US and Canada as such, but elsewhere under slightly different names with the same logo.

Though we have been blessed in recent years to see an insurgence of Lay's flavors in the US, including such specialties as Greektown Gyro, Chicken & Waffles, and even, though I never saw this anywhere,  Cappuccino, there is a serious potato chip-flavor gap between the US and other countries. This is an abomination, and I hope you'll join me in demanding that Frito-Lay bring some of their interesting flavors from other countries to the US. We should not stand idly by while other countries get to enjoy these amazing flavors, while our American taste buds remain unsatisfied. Here's just a small sample of what we are missing out on:

  • Belgium: Indian Curry, Hamburger w/Mayo & Onions & Pickles, and Cucumber & Goats (what an amazing combination)
  • Canada: Tzatziki, Bacon Poutine, Montreal Smoked Meat, Grilled Cheese & Ketchup, Perogy Platter, and Cinnamon Bun (!!)
  • China: Cucumber, Kiwi, Blueberry, Cherry Tomato, Italian Red Meat, Mexican Tomato Chicken, Texas Grilled BBQ, Black Pepper Rib Eye Steak, Hot & Sour Fish Soup, Finger Licking Braised Pork, Seafood Barbecue, Spicy Seafood, and Numb & Spicy Hot Pot (again, !!)
  • India: Magic Masala, Spanish Tomato Tango, Swiss Grilled Cheese, Macho Chilli, and Sunkissed Tomato (incredible naming over there)
  • Netherlands: Bolognese, Bell Pepper, French Fries w/Joppiesaus, and Stokbroodje Kruidenboter Smaak (Dutch is so awesome – this is a baguette with garlic butter)
  • Russia: Mushroom & Sour Cream, Crab, Red Caviar, and Salted Cucumber (though I bet that last one is just Dill Pickle)
  • Thailand: French Mayonnaise, Garlic Soft Shelled Crab, Soy Sauce, Salmon Teriyaki, Lobster, Bacon & Cheese, Tom Yum, and Thai Seafood Dip (seriously, Asia is KILLING it in the potato chip flavor game)
  • The UK: Lamb & Mint, Worcester Sauce, Beef & Onion, English Roast Beef & Yorkshire Pudding, Sizzling Steak Fajita, Australian BBQ Kangaroo, and Ranch Raccoon (wut)

And that's just the tip of the iceberg! There's seriously tons of potato chip flavors denied to Americans, and I say it's enough. Frito-Lay, I demand more potato chip flavors!

If I were to apply for a Stanford MBA

Posted in Ridiculum on January 7th, 2015 by Nathan – 1 Comment

"What matters most to you, and why?" – Stanford MBA Application

Triumph over social injustice is a theme that is often discussed in response to questions such as these; many think that equality begins with equal treatment, that acknowledging privilege can go a long way toward solving incongruities between groups. Personally, I agree with this, but believe privilege extends beyond just action or behavior and into language itself. Take for instance the words "savage" and "barbarian," both often used in the past to disparage groups (often groups native to an area reached by conquering peoples) and therefore to view them as "lesser" not only within the confines of action (imprisonment, enslavement, etc.) but also within language itself.

Language is of course crucial to the development of culture, society, and behavior; the way people talk informs their attitudes. Thus the label "barbarian" allows one to justify maltreatment. While on its face it only means "someone from a foreign land," the implication, and therefore the accepted and understood meaning, is one of low intelligence, one who is rude and wild. In short, a "barbarian" would lack the social graces to answer this question eloquently, or perhaps would even lack the complexity of thought to formulate any response at all.

But I personally believe that such labels are not only unreasonable (and perhaps an indication of rude, wild thought themselves) but a relic of an archaic time in which social injustice was not only omnipresent, but acceptable as well. Today, I believe, while injustice persists, the desire to stamp it out is nearly universal. Allowing labels to persist through our language is not only hurtful toward those that are labeled but toward this goal as well. We have, as a society that desires equality, an obligation to drive these labels out of our language, out of our speech, out of our minds, and perhaps to honor those who have been unfairly labeled in the past.

So, "what matters most to you, and why?" I think it's time to give voice to the answer provided by a great man who was himself thusly labeled.

"Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women." – Conan the "Barbarian"

I'm not into revolving doors

Posted in Ridiculum on August 16th, 2012 by Nathan – 1 Comment

There's a surprisingly high number of revolving door cartoons. So I guess that's a plus.Revolving doors are not a convenience. They are a nuisance. I understand that they help with indoor climate control, but seriously, they are just annoying and I prefer not to use them. Frequently, I encounter revolving doors with rugs underneath (presumably to allow one to wipe their feet while entering a building) which makes the problem even worse, as the added friction, combined with the usual poor weighting of these doors, makes it an oddly herculean effort to open a door. Ridiculous.

The purpose of a door is to provide a portal between two zones. In the case of rotating doors, those zones are almost always "indoors" and "outdoors." You never see a revolving door between two inside zones because it would take up too much space and be unreasonably difficult.

This is a good indication that revolving doors shouldn't exist elsewhere either. The space issue is usually ignorable when these doors are installed in large buildings with correspondingly large lobbies, but it's an issue nonetheless. The difficulty issue, however, cannot be ignored. These doors are harder to open, they take longer to accomplish the goal of moving between zones, and they are not worth the trouble. If a building has a large enough lobby for these doors, they have a large enough lobby that a second or so of an open door will not drastically change the temperature inside.

Whenever possible, I try to find an alternative. For example, at work, I avoid the myriad revolving doors and opt, every time, to instead use the regular doors, ignoring as I do so the message emblazoned upon the normal everyday doors: "Please use revolving door."

No.

Should we abandon the apostrophe?

Posted in Ridiculum on August 7th, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

It might seem ridiculous, but consider how much more ridiculous the apostrophe itself is. People never get the usage right, it doesn't actually add much value, and it seems to be a relic of a time in which things were very different than now. If anything, the apostrophe today serves the same purpose as other prescriptive measures: to keep classes differentiated within writing.

History

We have used the apostrophe in English since the 1500s, after taking it from the French. It was initially used only for the purpose of elision, either in the case of contractions (e.g. I'm, aren't) or when words lost their vowel sounds that they had previously had (lov'd versus hated, for instance). Later, the adoption of the apostrophe for possessives (Nathan's) came into use, and eventually the second version of elision dropped out of use (we just write "loved" now).

Misuse

The most common misuse of the apostrophe is the greengrocers' apostrophe. This is the practice of using it to pluralize words, especially words that definitely do NOT need an apostrophe in any case. The common joke is to label these not as greengrocers' apostrophes but greengrocers apostrophe's. Apple's, orange's, one dollar per pound. Banana's thirty-nine cents each.

To the trained eye, those usages are clearly incorrect. But they are so frequently used, it is obvious there is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Another common misuse is between its and it's. This is particularly difficult because the apostrophe is supposed to be used for possessives, and its is definitely a possessive. But since it's is a contraction, and since contractions came first, somehow its (the possessive) doesn't get the apostrophe. And you can see how confusing that can be.

Abandonment?

There are a few solutions to this apostrophe problem. We could complain endlessly about its misuse, allow it to be used willy-nilly with no set rules, or abandon it altogether. The first solution, which seems to be the strategy of most grammar commentators on the internet and elsewhere, has clearly not worked. The second solution is hateful to those same people, as without any semblance of rules, the whole idea of grammatical structure falls apart. The idea of arbitrarily using a punctuation is ridiculous.

And then there's abandonment. Eradication of the apostrophe. This plan is not without merit. An apostrophe cannot be misused if it is never used. And it would clearly have structure, appeasing those who need rules in grammar. The rule would be simple: there is no apostrophe. The major uses of the apostrophe would survive fine without it. Consider this sentence:

"Im going to Jimmys store to pick up apples, oranges, and if he hasnt sold all of them, a package of Nathans hotdogs."

Easily readable. Not encumbered by unnecessary punctuation.

Contractions

Consider the major contractions and their apostrophe-less variations. Which are difficult to parse or read? In only a few cases would the loss of the apostrophe clash with existing words. For example, "let's." Without the apostrophe, one could argue that it looks too much like the verb "lets." How much confusion would there actually be, however, between a verb and a verb-noun combo? "Lets go to the store" is not difficult to understand. There are not similar complaints for the myriad legitimate homonyms whose meanings can become confusing.

Possession

The only major problem facing the loss of the apostrophe in the structure of possession is for words or names that end with 's'. However, one cannot argue that the current solution for this is reasonable. There are too many rules to figure out whether or not you should add an 's' after the apostrophe, and it seems to me that this could be easily solved without the apostrophe to confuse things: never add an 's'. Consider:

Correct: I went to James's house.
Incorrect: I went to James' house.
Proposed: I went to James house.
Correct: The people followed Moses' commands.
Incorrect: The people followed Moses's commands.
Proposed: The people followed Moses commands.

Bam. No confusion. Sure, it doesn't fit the rules that we currently have in place, but it is a rule, it is easy to remember, easy to read, and easy to implement.

Conclusion

I would support eradicating the apostrophe. I'll continue to use it for now, but I seriously think that English, as a language should move toward abandoning this essentially useless punctuation mark. It's certainly a lot better than the alternatives: chaos or endless but futile complaining.

Library fees are a relic of a different era

Posted in Ridiculum on July 26th, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

Houston has two libraries, actually. HPL and HCPL. HCPL is infinitely better in every way.I recently read an article that claimed that some libraries were getting rid of overdue book fees. Apparently the fees are hard to collect, don't provide much income for libraries (if at all), and do very little to get people to return books on time. Personally, I pride myself on my lack of fees at HCPL, my local library, though this hasn't always been the case. I believe I may have a warrant for my arrest in New York due to the exorbitant fees I still owe at the NYPL. (Which sucks, for the record.)

I kid about the warrant, but not about the fines. And now I'm facing an interesting problem. My previously spotless record at HCPL is about to be tarnished by the length of George R.R. Martin's A Clash of Kings and the even longer waiting list behind me preventing me from renewing the book.

I'd like to finish the book, and maybe in the future, I'll want to buy it, but not necessarily right now, for the high price the hardcover is fetching. It may be easier to pay a week of late fees, and the whopping $0.70 probably won't hit that hard.

But this makes me think that the idea of removing fees altogether is a good one. Essentially, seventy cents will not speed up my return of the book. It's too small of an amount for me to pay much heed. Every extra day is an extra dime, a coin so small I can't be bothered to pick one up on the street. Does the HCPL derive significant revenue from this small change? I can't believe they can, even if it does all go back into the library coffers.

Much more likely to get me to return the book as quickly as possible is the thought that there's someone waiting in line behind me. But this effect is the same whether or not I pay pennies in fines.

The other thing about library fines is that they punish people for reading. Libraries across the country are seeing budgets slashed, hours cut, and locations closed because they don't have a lot of support from city governments who can see that fewer and fewer people are using libraries. The library should encourage more reading, more patronage, and in order to do this, eradicating late fees may be a good idea.

I'll pay the fines that this book will cost me, happily. But I also question the utility of such a fee. I think that these overdue fees are an ancient relic from a different past and it's probably time to get rid of them.

This rain is seriously crazy

Posted in Ridiculum on July 20th, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

Awesome.Yesterday, as I was ready to leave work, I asked a friend by the window if it was still raining outside. He told me that it wasn't, and so I headed downstairs in an attempt to beat the rain's return. I lost. When I got downstairs, it was pouring outside. A rain of epic proportions. I took the downtown tunnels a few blocks over to the building across the street from the Flying Saucer, waited for the light outside to change, and then ran across the street to wait out the deluge with beer. In crossing the street I was drenched to the bone.

I'm used to summer rain. I grew up with it, basically setting my clocks in the summer by the 3:00 pm rain shower that would occur daily. But what was awesome about those summer rains was that by 3:15 they were over and by 3:30 you couldn't even tell it had rained. Those were good summer rain showers.

These are not good showers. These are insane storms. There's flooding, the rain has been going on for more than a week, and every time you turn around, bam!, a fresh black cloud has shown up to ruin the day. It's simply insane.

Consider this for a minute: the average rainfall for Houston for year-to-yesterday is 26.9", according to Weather Underground (the meteorologists, not the terrorists). Last year, only 10.1" had fallen by that time, due to the horrible drought we had to bear. This year? We're up to 31.88". And it doesn't look like it's stopping anytime soon. We're basically five inches ahead of schedule, and it doesn't seem to be letting up. At this rate, we could potentially see almost a foot of rain we don't usually see by the end of this year.

I recall last year that meteorologists suggested that our horrible drought would continue at least another year, possibly through 2015. Yet here we are and clearly that drought is gone. At least in this part of the country. Elsewhere, there is drought indeed. Though since I'm here and not elsewhere, I find it a little hard to imagine. Perhaps we can send them some of our rain? We've got a couple extra inches.

This is crazy. It rained a little this morning, it's supposed to rain again tomorrow, Sunday, Monday, and possibly Tuesday. If it really lets up Wednesday, it'll be a miracle. I'm ready to send out doves to see if there's any dry land, because this rain is ridiculous.