What Is Real? What Is Phony?

In What Is Real?, Evelyn Rodriguez writes:

I’d rather be real than great. I have never gained anything I truly wanted from a pure pursuit of greatness. I’m not saying these two are mutually exclusive, but the focus can lead one astray. Nothing kills relationships – personal and professional – quicker than when I stop being real. It’s costly in the tangible cash realm too.

If phoniness is so harmful, why is it so common? Here’s my guess.

Being real carries a tremendous social risk. For every Evelyn receiving praise for writing a heartfelt blog post, there are plenty of children being scolded by their mothers for vocalizing a embarrassing observation; and junior-highers being ridiculed by their peers for revealing an affection for an unpopular classmate; and employees being labeled a renegade for pointing out a fact that makes their managers look bad. From a very young age, we are trained to shut up about every uncomfortable truth we discover, and in the process learn to punish those that don’t.

It takes courage to be real, but every attempt fortifies the soul, building more courage for the next attempt.

Phoniness works the same cycle in reverse. Being a phony doesn’t require any special effort, but every act of phoniness kills a bit of one’s soul, draining one’s courage for the next opportunity until one slowly turns into Bill Lumbergh (who has my disdain and pity in about equal measure).

So here’s my theory on why phoniness is so prevalent: as it requires no special effort to be a phony and there are many social forces pushing people towards it, phoniness becomes the common style of interaction.

Why Blog Now?

On the Applied Improvisation Network, Denzil Meyers asks:

Everyone and their dog seems to be blogging, except for me. What’s the big deal?

I can’t speak for everyone or their dogs, but I can tell you why I blog. Here are my motivations:

  • to connect with others who share my interests
  • demonstrate some ability in my profession (i.e. personal marketing)
  • improve my writing skills
  • learn more about the world
  • Aw, who am I kidding? I’m in it for the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, baby!

Can’t say I’m making much progress, though.

Sending a Trackback Ping with HaloScan

Hats off to How To Blog for tipping me off to Haloscan’s trackback sending feature:

According to their tutorial on sending a trackback ping, each time you want to send a trackback from Blogger (or similar tool), you have to

  • login to HaloScan
  • click ‘Manage Trackback”
  • click “Send a trackback ping”
  • Paste the TrackBack ping URL into the edit box for ‘URLs to Ping’
  • Fill in your blog name
  • Paste YOUR permalink URL
  • Paste a copy of your Post Title
  • Paste (or write) an excerpt from your post
  • Click the ‘Ping Now’ button.

Yikes – that’s more work/typing/copying & pasting than I want to bother with.

Worth trying out, I’d say.

TI C55x Greatest Innovation in 15 Years?

I nearly fell off my chair laughing when I saw this come across my blogline:

Texas Instruments Incorporated (NYSE: TXN) (TI) today announced that its digital signal processors (DSP) that helped spawn the wireless communications revolution were named the “Greatest Innovation of the Past 15 Years.” Honored by EDN magazine, TI’s TMS320C55x DSPs were heralded as the most significant design innovation in the last decade and a half, beating out the likes of Intel’s Pentium processor and products from HP, ADI and others.

The reason I laughed so hard doesn’t come until the end of the press release:

A panel of EDN technical editors meticulously worked to identify the list of finalists in each category before EDN readers crowned TI DSP products winners in an online ballot [emphasis added].

When I was an employee at TI I would occasionally receive an email from some unknown marketing droid in Texas informing me of an online “reader’s choice award” survey, encouraging me to vote early and often for all the TI products listed. If I wasn’t terribly busy, I’d go to the website and fill it out. If I remember correctly, rumour at the time was that some of the marketeers had written a script to continuously submit ballots until the polls closed, but I could never bring myself to believe they could ever be that smart. Anyways, it seems that whatever they did paid off for them this time. They produced the greatest innovation of the last 15 years, even if it is by virtue of having the largest number of bored employees.

Alright, alright… To be fair, TI DSPs have had a huge impact on the world we live in. When I left TI in 2001, they dominated the cell phone market. I’m just having trouble imagining that any magazine readership would ever recognize it.

The Long Road to MathML

Anybody following my progress with the exercises in SICP will have noticed that it’s been a while since I last posted a solution. I’m at problem 1.13, which turns out to be a mathematical proof. A mathematical proof requires a mathematical notation, so I’m taking a small diversion into the land of MathML to learn how I might present the equations on this blog. Fortunately, the W3C has an article on how to embed MathML in a website.

I’ve been using OpenOffice to generate MathML, but I’m not entirely happy with the output, which contains several mysterious unprintable ASCII characters; parentheses, I think. Any suggestions on a better MathML editor? The W3C maintains a list of MathML editors, none of which seem particularly remarkable to me. Basic requirements: free of charge, for Windows.

Update: After wrestling with MathML for most of the morning, I’ve completely given up on it. In order to work (on Firefox, at least), the page containing MathML must be named with an .xml extension. Compare this XML MathML test page from the W3C MathML site versus the HTML equivalent. Same contents, different renderings.

Note: Do not attempt running either one through the W3C HTML Validator.

So why don’t I just rename my files to have the .xml extension? Besides the fact that there are gobs of files to rename and as many redirection pages to create, if I were to rename all my files to xml, I could no longer use PHP, because my webserver uses the .php extension to identify PHP files. Even though I don’t use PHP for anything right now, it is the only server-side scripting language available from my hosting service and I’m not ready to throw it way so I can display a few equations.

I’ve started looking into image-based solutions. Eric Raymond’s eqn2graph seemed very promising until I ran it under Cygwin and discovered that ImageMagick’s convert tool was inexplicably generating blank images.

I’d consider using MathType if it cost a little less. The $129 they are asking is too steep for the amount of use I plan to get out of it.

There is some almost helpful information in Math Typesetting for the Internet, which has me almost considering manually manipulating screenshots of OpenOffice, though the very thought sickens me.

Dinner at Bhima’s Warung

When Mandy and I were married in June 2003, we received some gift certificates for Bhima’s Warung as wedding gifts. We finally got around to using them on Thursday night. The food was remarkable; quite possibly the best meal I have ever eaten in Waterloo. For an appetizer I had what turned out to be a gargantuan spring roll stuffed with smoked chicken and other vegetables served on a spicy chutney. For an entree, I had some monkeyfish tail with a cashew curry sauce with pineapples. Dessert was some dark chocolate ice cream. Excellent food! It was quite reasonably priced, too… if you happen to have a $100 gift certificate. If not, it is a little pricey, but you get what you pay for.

Vonage Adds 911 Dialing in Canada

When I logged on this morning, I was happily surprised to see that Vonage Canada has finally added 911 Dialing. Mandy and I have been using the Vonage VoIP service as our primary phone service since we moved in October. At $19.95, we pay much less than we would for a traditional line with Bell, but I was always a little uneasy about not having 911 service. Now that we have it, I can rest easier, though I realize their service isn’t perfect: if I dial 911, my location will not be automatically transmitted to the operator so I’ll have to tell him my address in the call.