Sunday, September 30, 2007

Kal and I Discuss Animals and Pickups

Good friend Kal Man [Last Name Removed for Googleproofing Purposes] recently purchased a MacBook, and now has a spiffy little video camera staring at him all the time. I have an iSight camera wedged in between my two flat panel monitors. So tonight Kal and I decided to join our respective web cams together in a little experiment I like to call, "PICTURE TALKING THROUGH THE CYBER NETS!"

At Kal's insistence, I am posting this decidedly amusing footage for all to see. Join us as we introduce our pets, in what is almost certain one of the first Parrot-Cat Picture Talks ever recorded. Join us as I demonstrate my tried-and-true pickup techniques in an attempt to woo Kal over. And join us as ONE OF US gets nekkid. After all, that's what you do with web cams on the Internet.

Yeah, baby.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Out of the Ordinary

Clean Shaven with Rudy
Originally uploaded by CaseWriter21
Some quick updates:
  • I shaved my beard. Why? I was bored. I wanted to remember what I looked like clean-shaven. I think I look pretty cute - from the front anyway. Profile views are a bevy of double chins, but what can ya do.
  • I had excruciating hiccups the other day. After a few minutes of torture, I decided to try my standard remedy: drinking water upside down. This entails holding a cup or bottle of water in my hand, bending forward at the waist and placing my mouth on the opposite side of the cup, and drinking the water by tilting my head forward. Normally this works like a charm. This time, it succeeded in getting rid of my hiccups, but there was an unexpected hiccup: I GOT WATER INSIDE MY HEAD. Yes, I'm serious. It seemed to go through an opening up by my sinuses, and ended up in the post-nasal-drip area. And it wouldn't leave. Whenever I shook my head, I heard sloshing, like the ocean. (Okay, that last part isn't true, but my head did feel oddly filled with liquid.) That night, it was very difficult to fall asleep, and in the morning, I awoke with a bad sore throat from where the water had irritated me. Luckily, things are starting to get better now as the water -- mercifully -- is draining away somewhere. But yesterday, I didn't know if the water would ever go away, so to urge it along, I purchased a...
  • Neti Pot! See Wikipedia for details. I had been terrified of trying this thing ever since I first learned about it from a hippie heath store worker friend last year. But I finally took the plunge and did it. And ya know what? I didn't accidentally waterboard myself! VIDEO COMING SOON. Hahahaha, that will gross so many people out.
Addendum: My bird picks his nose.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Software review: iListen voice recognition program by MacSpeech

I have been using a voice recognition program called iListen for several weeks. Overall, I am satisfied but it can be extremely frustrating at times.

First, the good part: it allows me to effectuate one of the main rules espoused by my legal writing instructor during the first year of law school. That rule is as follows: start writing. Just get something on paper. You see, my first year writing instructor was very similar to me. That is, he was a major procrastinator. And if there is one thing we procrastinators are good at, it is not starting to write when we should. The solution to that ailment is simply to start writing, even if you know nothing about the topic. This will accomplish two things: first, you learn that you did know something about the topic - more than you thought you knew. Second, more importantly, you will have started. And starting is half the battle. Procrastinators - chronic procrastinators - get that way because they become paralyzed by a feeling of dread.And has the deadline approaches, and nothing has yet been written, the dread only increases, as does the paralysis. By getting something on paper, even if you have to, as my instructors so colorfully put it, "vomit eight pages onto the screen," you now have something to work with. You now have a first draft. And it is much easier to revise and start tweaking when you have something already written. Even if it sucks.

Take, for instance, the letter that I wrote to the commissioners of the FCC. For the last two months, since my indecency paper was published, I had been intending to send a copy to each of the five commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission, along with a brief introductory letter explaining what this paper was about. Yes, I intended to write this letter every week. But the blank screen was staring at me, and even though I had just written and gotten published a 15,000 word essay, this simple 200 word letter was eluding me. There's something about hands on a keyboard, with a flashing cursor staring at me, that simply serves to clear my mind, like some sort of Zen-like trance.

The voice recognition software solves that problem. Yes, it makes simple mistakes, because it misunderstands the easiest words. But it gets most of the thought onto the screen. And I have found that speaking something aloud is far more natural and quick than trying to force my fingers to type the same thoughts. (I now see the appeal in dictating memos and letters!)

So, where it had taken two months and I had not written anything, with the help of the voice recognition software I now had a complete letter - personalized for each Commissioner - written in the time span of approximately half an hour. As I speak this entry, five copies of my article are sitting in a mail truck somewhere, and tomorrow they will be sitting on the desk of the commissioner (or at least the commissioner's assistant).

Now for the most frustrating part (other than the constant incorrect words): the vocabulary of this software program is simply not large enough. Friends, my vocabulary is not that sophisticated. I don't think I should have to teach the software what the word sneeze is. Or what all the derivations of the word are - sneeze, sneezed, sneezing, etc. This problem happens so frequently that I continue to spend several minutes during each dictation session teaching the software words that it simply has no excuse for not knowing. The programmers say that if they included all possible words, it would be harder to dictate correctly, because the computer we have so many more choices - so many more words to choose from. But folks, honestly, this is too much. Below is a list of the words that I have had to teach the computer during this blog entry alone:
  • espoused
  • procrastinators
  • colorfully
  • vomit
  • eluding
  • Zen-like (okay, this one I can understand not including in the Standard dictionary)
  • misunderstands
  • aloud
  • sneeze
  • sneezing
Honestly, there are more, but I have forgotten which ones I had to teach the computer. This happens all the time. Obviously, as I continue to use the software more frequently, my particular brand of language will be incorporated into the vocabulary database, and I will have to make these additions less frequently. Until then, it is incredibly frustrating.

And there is the fact that sometimes the program will be almost 100 percent accurate, and sometimes the accuracy will offer somewhere around 60 or 70 percent. The biggest variables that determine how accurate the software is all our position of the microphone, and background noise. Surprisingly, the program is still fairly accurate even when there is light music playing in the background. But move the microphone one inch away from the proper position, and watch out!

And then there are the smaller annoyances (edit: I just had to add the word "annoyances" to the dictionary! how ironic!) -- this software uses a special correct mode in order to fix incorrect transcriptions (edit: I just had to add the word "transcriptions" -- it had the singular but not the plural!). It gives you a list of words to choose from - alternate possibilities - and use select the correct word, and you hit done. Now, the way this software actually makes those corrections is by constantly keeping track of where the cursor is on the screen. However, this method does not work very well. Help files that come with the software remind us not to manually reposition the cursor at any point during the transcription or else problems will occur. However, I have been very careful to not manually move the cursor, and I still see frequent incorrect placements of the cursor when coming out of correct mode - either one space too far off, or one space too far back. The end result in is odd spacing on the final product, such as too many spaces or too few spaces between words or sometimes even inadvertently cutting off some leading or trailing characters.Simply put, you have to be very careful and attentive when using the transcription software. It is tempting to simply close your eyes and lean back and let out a stream of consciousness. But you may not be pleasantly surprised at the end of your beautiful stream.

Even with all of those caveats, I have found the voice transcription software very useful. I may just have to take the precaution that one of my communications law professors took: include as part of my e-mail signature a line that sense, "please excuse any odd errors caused by voice recognition software."

Now, if you will excuse me, I have been sitting here talking long enough. I am sorry for the inordinately long post, but voice recognition will tend to do that!

Warning: Escaped prisoner on the loose!

RudySo, funny story: I wake up, take Rudy out of his cage, play with him for awhile, and put him back in his cage so that I can leave and go to Starbucks. So far so good. Here's the funny part: three hours later, when I return and open the door, I hear Rudy screaming at me like usual. Only he is not screaming from the right, where his cage is located. No, he is screaming from the left, where my bedroom is located.

That's right - he had escaped! It seems the little goof ball had pushed out his food door, flown around looking for me, and when he couldn't find me, decided to spend the day in my bedroom on my chair looking out the window. He was so pleasantly happy to see me, I simply couldn't be angry. But I have learned my lesson: secure the food door!

Rudy is indeed a handful. I recently took several videos of his refusing to go to bed at night. That will be up soon.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Re-Introducing Matt's Fitness Blog!

Many of my visitors are not aware of the row of links of the very top of the page. I encourage you to peruse them at your leisure. There, you will find links to basically all of the videos that I have put up, either on Google or YouTube. You will find thousands of pictures going back several years. You will find an outdated page of music links -- which will be updated soon. You will find an "about me" section, which links to my Wikipedia biography. And, the newest edition to the list, "fitness," which I would like to discuss right now.

Fitness has been important to me for several years. I was a chunky youth but in high school my body grew, and I flattened out. When I graduated from high school, I weighed around 166 pounds. Unfortunately, college was not friendly to my waist line. Meal plans included dessert, and seconds were fair game. After the first few years of college, I had gained 40 pounds. Yes, my "freshman 15" did not end after the first year of college.

The Freshman 15 would have continued indefinitely were it not for high school chum Ian. Ian, a fatty by no one's definition, had taken it upon himself to participate in a "body for life" challenge. After losing a bit of weight, becoming even skinnier, Ian did me a favor and sent me an Amazon link to the book. After a couple of failed tries, I successfully lost about 25 pounds in a three-month period.

That was six years ago. Since that time, I have longed to get back to my svelte look of yesteryear. The past several years have been an uphill battle, as the graph shows... but recently I have been making some gains. Er, losses. :-) For several years, I regularly documented my exercise and fitness progress in a sister blog, "primal eloquence". I told few people about this blog, because weight loss is a fairly personal journey. For several years, I regularly documented my exercise and fitness progress in a sister blog, "primal eloquence" I told few people about this blog, because weight loss is a fairly personal journey. But every now and then, when I would get on a fitness kick, I would update it regularly and remind my closest friends to visit every now and then for an inspirational story or a tale of despair - whichever feeling was more prevalent on that date.

Well, I am at it again. My exercise tendencies have resurfaced, and I am eager to share my before and after pictures with the world yet again. :-) It is with that long introduction that I had formally and officially introduce the newest link at the top of the page. Feel free to visit it -- or ignore it -- at your leisure.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Our Father, Our King

In honor of Yom Kippur, the church I sing at performed a bunch of Jewish music this morning. I sang the solo in Avinu Malkeynu, which is a plea for forgiveness and compassion for our transgressions. Here's the rough translation:
Our Father, our King! Hear our voice
Our Father, our King! We have sinned before You
Our Father, our King! Have compassion for us and for our children and our infants
Our Father, our King! Of pestilence, and sword, and famine rid us
Our Father, our King! Of every oppressor and adversary rid us
Our Father, our King! Our Father, our King! Inscribe us in the book of good life
Our Father, our King! Anew for us, Anew for us a good year
Hear our voice, Hear our voice, Hear our voice
Our Father, our King! Our Father, our King! Anew for us, a good year
Our Father, our King! Hear our voice, Hear our voice, Hear our voice, Hear our voice
I am relatively pleased with how it went, although I must make sure that in my quest to infuse the piece with emotion, I do not sacrifice musicality. I was singing my little heart out, but in focusing on the words, I let my technique slip a bit, especially up high. BAD MATT! Still, it's acceptable so here ya go. :-)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Segway Reaction of the Day

Okay, I apologize for not having posted any Reactions in God-knows-how-long. I assure you, there have been PLENTY, and I will get to them soon enough. Until then, I will present you with just a couple from tonight (both while gliding back from Georgetown):
  • 20-something guy to his friend: "That guy's got a fuckin' Segway!"
  • attractive woman talking to friends outside my apartment: "That's awesome." ("Thanks!") "Do you ride that everywhere?" ("Yeah, pretty much.") Look of awe.
I swear, every time I am about to give up gliding because I don't like the constant attention and occasional snicker, I get comments like this that buoy my spirits...

I am pretty sure my Segway experience, coupled with my writing skills, would be enough to get me published in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine. Stay tuned. ;-)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Mandela is not dead: Deconstructing a Bushism

It seems there has been some confusion over a recent remark by President Bush. At a news conference yesterday, President Bush pounded his lectern with ferocity and said, "I heard somebody say, 'Where's Mandela?' Well, Mandela's dead because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas."

Now, this caused immediate derision among comedians and bitter left-wing activists. Bush is an idiot! Look, see what he just said? Buffoon!

Well, I am not so sure. After almost seven years, I am starting to think that perhaps our president is not as dumb as he appears. On the contrary, it is possible that he is far smarter than anyone gives him credit for. Indeed, I am fairly certain that President Bush speaks in metaphors -- which would no doubt cause confusion among liberals determined to malign him at every opportunity. Further, the president probably does not say what he is thinking, and when he does pick up a thought in the middle, it is even more confusing for the rest of us, who were not privy to his original internal discussions. ( I am fairly certain he does this, because I used to be guilty of the same offense. in my freshman year writing composition course, I never provided enough background exposition, and my grade suffered for it.)

So let's go ahead and break down the president's remark:

It probably made perfect sense to the president, because he was thinking of a recent discussion he had had, and so to him, the context of his statement was clear. To the rest of us, it was not, at least not initially. But, clearly, the president had been discussing freedom in Iraq, and somebody had probably asked him, why are there no Iraqi revolutionaries stepping up? Why won't anyone stand up against the violence and the injustices -- Where are all the Iraqi Nelson Mandelas?

Well, the president must have responded, "No one is stepping up because all of the potential democratic reformers were killed in Saddam's regime. There are no more Nelson Mandelas..." (and this is where he started the story with the reporters) "...Mandela's dead because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas."

In the president's mind, "Mandela" is a symbol for any outspoken Democratic activists. Now, I'm not sure if the president actually believes that there are no more potential activists in Iraq because Saddam killed them all, or whether he is simply speaking in hyperbole. But either way, he is clearly not unintelligible.

The key, then, to understanding the president, is to think like the president.

Review of Greens+ ... Delicious and Good For You? Awesome!

Highly recommended. Amazon linkage...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Rumors of my death...

Several people have asked me, Where have I gone? I cannot blame them. According to my Web site, I have not updated in about two weeks now. For that, I apologize. Where have I been? Why have I not updated? the simple truth is that I have been busy with life and work. It is the new choir season, And I have been attempting to develop a worthwhile routine, and as anyone who is familiar with me knows, any routines that I develop will not have a lot of time built in for messing around. (The whole point of a routine for me, is to be the most productive I can in the fewest hours available. Unfortunately for all my loyal before I sleep visitors, updating my Web site is not the most worthwhile use of my time.)

Last week I realized that attitude is everything. I came to this conclusion while riding my Segway. I was going to write a very long and detailed post discussing my newfound take on life.I still may write the post. (The long and short of it is that I had been looking for all of the negative reactions that I got when riding the Segway, instead of looking for all the positive reactions. It turns out that there are ten times more openly positive reactions than openly negative reactions. The shift in view point has profoundly affected the way in which I go about my daily existence.)

However, that is an important post. As with most important things that I desire to write, they tend to get put on the back burner because I want to give them as much time as possible to make them worthwhile. That time usually never comes. So my most worthwhile posts, ironically, never get written.

Perhaps there is a pattern to my silence. Let me look at my archives and see when I have traditionally gone the most silent. (Checks archives.) Aha! Exactly as I had predicted. It turns out that last year I was also silent for a period of approximately two weeks at the end of September 2006. I wonder if this holds true for the year prior to that... indeed! In September 2005, I posted only one time. Admittedly, during the last two years I was attending classes in September of each year. It was the new academic year, and as such, I was understandably preoccupied. This year I
do not have the same excuse, and yet, I am still the process of going through a rebirth of sorts.(Looking for a job, trying to get my new routine all settled in, trying to come to grips with the gym monster that lives two blocks away, etc.)

Although the responsibilities that I have in real life are mounting, I continue to feel a responsibility to you, the reader. To that end, I am going to give you a wonderful little treat right now. It is a video that was taken just yesterday, pitting my two friends Gweepay and Rudy against each other in a battle of wills. Who will be able to force the other to sing for him? The answer shall soon be clear.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Emerging from my cocoon after ten years

Everyone goes into their high school reunions with the goal of making a positive impression on former classmates. (Well, assuming one goes to the reunion at all.) "Positive" means different things to different people. Some demonstrate their generosity, buying drinks for everyone in the house. Some play up their status as a family man (or woman), pulling out pictures of their adorable children. (Children? Wha? We ARE children, for Chrissake!)

Still others go to the reunion with the goal of proving, once and for all, that all that high school awkwardness and insecurity was just a phase. The larval phase, if you will. And in the ten years since we walked across the stage in our ugly green robes, we have been metamorphosing -- growing and maturing and working out the kinks -- in our own little cocoon that I will dub "the early 2000's."

Well, my friends, I was one of those larvas. Larvae. Whatever, it doesn't matter how you spell it, because I am not a larva anymore. I am a freakin' butterfly. I went to my reunion with the sole purpose of proving to myself that I didn't need to surround myself with familiar faces and close friends to have a good time. I cared about proving to myself that even though I score a 95% "Introvert" on the Myers-Briggs scale -- think Milton from Office Space -- I do indeed have a wellspring of charm buried somewhere inside me that I can turn on when I need to. I wanted to shed the shy, socially-awkward Matt of years past, and just let loose and have fun with all the people I didn't get to know well enough ten years ago.

Well, as the banner on GWB's aircraft carrier put it four years ago, "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!" The difference now, of course, is that I actually did accomplish the mission. The Osama bin Ladens of my past have officially been captured or killed, and I'm claiming the $25 million bounty, baby.

As it turns out, it really isn't very hard to be a Fun Guy at parties. Put together a fine outfit (as you can see from the picture at right, I chose to go as a Jewish Gangster, complete with a golden chai hanging from my neck), smile at everyone you meet, and don't take anything too seriously. (A few drinks and a recent refresher course in the Mystery Method don't hurt either.)

Most importantly, take lots of photos with beautiful women, and post the photos on your Web site along with video showing what a stud you are. ;-) (It helps if you fail to mention that almost every attractive woman was married or engaged.)

Seriously though, I don't know if I have gotten more social in the last ten years, or if everyone has just gotten a lot friendlier -- it's probably a bit of both. All I do know is that all the old cliques and barriers of yesteryear seem to have melted away. As I mentioned to a few people on Saturday night, "This is so much better than high school!"

From an organizational standpoint, it wasn't a very elaborate affair; the reunion committee had taken our $25 entry fee and used it to rent out an atrium and patio, and provide us with some fairly tasty hor dourves. Apparently there was a projector set up showing pictures from high school, but most people ignored it. The highlight of the evening was the cash bar that served very very strong and tasty drinks, and pretty much everyone was tipsy or drunk by the end of the night. Of course, this was the first time everyone had gotten drunk together, because my peers didn't have any parties back in high school.*

The turnout was surprisingly low. There were 252 people in my graduating class, but only around 75 showed up. But from what I could tell, the 25% who were there had done fairly well for themselves. Some financial analysts, a nurse, a dentist, and some bearded legal types whom I quickly gravitated toward. But I'd say the most impressive of all was Jeff K., whose business card says he is a Vice President of Production at a major movie studio out in L.A. I am at once proud, in awe, jealous, and pissed off. It's okay though, because ten years ago I was chosen over him to give the high school graduation speech. So there! Cry about THAT, Jeff! Cry all the way to the bank! To your private vault where you no doubt wile away the hours diving naked into stacks of gold coins! (That is what rich people do, isn't it? All I have to go on is the popular perception of Scrooge McDuck, but I think I've got the picture.)

In the end, though, no one really seemed to care what we "do" for a living. Law, medicine, business, or movie producing, that's just a job. Frankly, I didn't even remember what most peoples' day job turned out to be. You know what stood out? How happy they seemed to be. And, on the whole, the class of 1997 seemed to be fairly content.

A recurring theme in my life is the desire to go back and do things differently, knowing then what I know now. Were I to go back and do high school over again, I'm sure I would have a much better time, and gotten a lot more out of it. But you know what? I could say that about most periods of my life. And I think that's a good thing: It means I'm getting better at This Thing Called Life. And it makes me excited for the future.

A lot of people don't plan to go to their high school reunion, because (as one friend put it in an e-mail recently), "My philosophy is that I already keep in touch with all of the people from high school that I have any desire in seeing." I used to think that too, but it turns out there are a lot of friends from high school who I simply lost track of over the last ten years, and it was great to see them again. Plus, in addition to reconnecting with people, it is great to get to know others who I never really got to know the first time around.

A few choice quotes (Click here for a brief audio snippet!)
Random girl to me: "You look a lot different -- you look great!"

Guy: "How many companies do you own?"
Matt: "I've got partial stakes in seven, I've got --"
Jeff: "NOT counting the adult entertainment companies."
Matt: "Zero then."

Drunk Girl: "What's your name?"
Matt: "Matt [redacted], nice to meet you."
Girl: "Maaaatt? For reeeeal?"
Matt: "Were you at Groves?"
Girl: "Holy God dammit -- you look sooooooo different!"
Molly (to the girl, matter-of-factly): "Facial hair and smaller glasses."

Matt to a girl he doesn't know: "I did so many drugs over the last ten years, I don't remember anybody."
Guy: "That's bullshit."
Matt: "Okay, I've never done any drugs."
Guy: "You didn't fool me for a second."
Matt: "I wanted to do drugs. I almost did marijuana once. I think I got a contact high."
Jeff: "I think I almost didn't do marijuana once."

Almost five hours after I arrived, I got into my car and drove home with the biggest smile on my face. My 10-year reunion had been a rousing success. I'm already looking forward to the 20th -- not just because the current committee asked if I want to be involved in planning the 20th, but also because some of the married hotties might be divorced by then. ;-)

*Yes, I know of the rumor that if one THINKS there were no big parties back in high school, it actually means one was not invited to the big parties back in high school. I firmly believe in the falsehood of this rumor. Nothing to see here. Carry on.