Archive for April 2004

Quoting people is easier than coming up with something entirely original

Sue says

Is this how we define happiness to be now? That to be fully happy and successful in your life, you have to be married or in a long term relationship? Maybe I’m naive (or just been single for too long), but I would like to think that happiness isn’t fully defined by whether or not you have a significant other.

I contend that it’s a matter of balance. There’s a tendency for people to compare the extreme cases, but reality is always somewhere in between. I don’t think anyone at either of the following two extremes for a prolonged period of time would really be happy. Given the choice, I would choose neither.

  1. The person who is wildly successful in relationships, but doesn’t actually have an education or job worth noting.
  2. The person with PhDs coming out their behind and makes a six figure salary, but has never experienced a long term relationship.

The first person is missing out on the joys of accomplishment, peer recognition, working to help others, etc. The second person is missing out on a level of emotional and physical intimacy that you just can’t get from friends and family. A balanced person is a happy person.

Switching gears, she goes on to say: “We were talking about whether we would settle for someone subpar out of desperation because we had hit our 30s and still didn’t have the idealized wife/husband, two kids, dog, and house with a white picket fence.

I’ve always found the term “settling” to be kind of funny in this kind of context. To “settle” implies that you know for certain you can achieve something better, but you decide not to for whatever reason. In other words, if you don’t know for certain, then how do you know you’re actually settling? For all you know, you could already be achieving the best you’re capable of, in which case you’re not settling, you’re at the peak.

Well that’s the thing. During the course of your life, you’ll meet a finite number (N) of people that are “relationship material”. Let’s say that there is some omnipotent grading system. That is, for each choice, if you were to select that person, you’d end up with some quantitative value (H), representing your happiness in the end.

Now clearly, you want to maximize H. However, you only get a single pass over all N people you will meet, the H values of each person you encounter will be random with an unknown distribution, and you don’t know how large N is. Upon reaching a local maxima, if you decide to stay, can you really call it “settling”? What if the local maxima turns out to be the top of the heap?

All of this assumes that you’ll find at least one positive H value. If every H value you come across happens to be negative, you probably need to recalibrate your scale.

Such hard work, part two.

The cover story for this month’s Toronto Life is “What you get for $500,000“. The pictures on the front cover range from a 3000 square foot 4 bedroom monster in Oakville, to a 1 bedroom low-rise Yorkville condo, to a 94-year old towering detached Edwardian in High Park.

Visually, I think it drives home the point that very little of what we buy can actually be considered an asset. It’s definitely not the accountant’s definition, but things I consider assets are those that appreciate in value. Everything else can conceptually be thought of as expenses with differing properties. Some require a large initial outlay that depreciates over time, others are small, recurring payments. Usually it’s some combination of the two.

Almost everyone classifies their house as an asset, but I think that’s a misnomer. A house requires constant maintenance, repairs, and upgrades. Just looking at the individual parts that make up a house, I think it can be pretty clearly seen that the contents either lose value, or stay the same (excepting antiques or other limited, collectible items, which people have very few of anyway). There’s certainly no appreciation going on. The thing that does appreciate is the land the house is built on. This is one of the reasons why a 20 year old high-rise condo apartment is usually worth less than a 20 year old house that both had the same value initially. The condo cannot be torn down and rebuilt, each person only owns a portion of the land that the building sits on. The land underneath a detached house is like gold though – you can always rebuild the aging, “depreciating part” of the land/house combo.

Going down the list, I think at this point most people realize that a car is definitely not an asset. It’s one of the worst offenders in terms of large initial outlay and large recurring payments versus useful lifetime. The strange thing is that even though this is obvious, there are still so many people around my age (plus/minus a few years) spending lavishly on BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, etc. cars. Off the top of my head I can name at least 5 people I know or know of who have done something like this. Within 5 years, at least 33-50% of their original purchase price will be lost to depreciation. Add to that the cost of insurance, gas, maintenance, repairs, traffic tickets, etc., and it makes less and less sense.

Now there’s of course something to be said about enjoying your youth, “you’re only young once”, yadda, yadda. And I agree to a certain extent. Given the choice of only one of these two scenarios:

  1. Spending recklessly and enjoying years 18-30, then working like a dog the rest of your life to pay off your debts; or
  2. Working like a dog in years 18-65, saving up enough to spend recklessly in years 65+, but leaving most to your offspring

I’d choose the first one any day. But I think these are two extremes, and most people are scared of the second one because that’s the trap their parents fell into. So they lunge head first into the first scenario instead, vowing not to repeat the mistakes of their elders.

I think there can be a balance between the two though; something along the lines of working hard (though not killing yourself) from 18 to 35 to start yourself off with some sizable seed capital, then “coasting” in the sense of managing your investments wisely. Doing the latter is not likely to be as time consuming as a full time job, and if you do it right, it shouldn’t be as stressful either. That leaves the better part of each day for you to do whatever it is that you want, free of the daily grind.

The trick is to partition your time from 18 to 35 appropriately to maximize your starting capital. Some portion of that will be education, some portion in the workforce. That’s one of the reasons I go bug-eyed when I hear of friends planning to spend the next 5-7 years adding to their education before starting work. Some will even come out tens or hundreds of thousands in debt. I don’t think I could stomach that kind of cost without a large enough payoff. Most will eventually make more than their peers on an annual basis, but in total terms, it pushes their whole timeline forward at least 10 years, much more for those with non-forgivable debts.

I’ve written before about how after graduation last year and starting full time work I became disillusioned. In terms of timeline it was looking more and more like I would follow the path of my parents, albeit owning slightly nicer stuff along the way. Well screw that. This is the new plan, wish me luck.

Blessed are the forgetful, for they get the better even of their blunders.

Saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind over the weekend. It was enjoyable in the same way that it’s fun to “stare at a train wreck“, as Tim would say.

Don’t misunderstand, it’s difficult to argue with a movie that features a scene with Kirsten Dunst in her undies, dancing recklessly on Jim Carrey’s bed[1]. The movie is definitely unconventional, and I think it tries to be smart, but it ends up being more eye candy than brain food.

Charlie Kaufman’s projects tend to deal with things that most people have wished for at some point in time, but are pretty much the realm of fantasy/science fiction. In Being John Malkovich, it’s the ability to be someone else, to be inside their head and know what it feels like to be rich, famous, important, etc. We all know how that turns out.

Eternal Sunshine is in a similar vein, though I found its subject matter less universal. The premise is: meek, quiet, boring boy Joel (Jim Carrey) meets quirky, spontaneous, outgoing girl Clementine (Kate Winslet). They fall for each other the way they tell us that opposites attract. As the relationship progresses, it becomes apparent that their differences are too large to overcome, and they split after a heated argument. Clementine being the impulsive one, undergoes a procedure to erase all memory of Joel, in order to help her move on with life. Joel finds out shortly thereafter, and demands the same procedure out of spite. We relive his memories in reverse chronological order (Memento style) as they are being erased. As we progress toward his earlier memories from the puppy-love, infatuation phase of their relationship, Joel realizes he doesn’t want to forget Clementine and wackiness ensues as he attempts to have the procedure aborted in his drug-induced stupor.

He of course fails, and both Joel and Clementine have each other completely erased from their respective memories. Both seem to be strangely left with the feeling that they’ve lost something, but they don’t know what it is, and wouldn’t mind having it back. Thanks to the magic of Kirsten Dunst, they soon find out what happened, and are both in the uncomfortable position of listening to pre-erasure tape recordings of the other person listing their faults. Despite this, the initial spark that brought them together the first time around is back, and they entertain the thought of getting (back) together.

And there’s the rub – these tapes are like a gift from the gods, but the characters completely ignore them. Imagine that you were about to embark on something that would end up being a collossal waste of time and energy. Irrefutable evidence lands in your lap telling you that you’ve already tried once, and the outcome of your efforts was a failure. Would you try again anyway?

So what is the moral of the story then? In the case of Being John Malkovich, the point was that it doesn’t make a difference if you get to be somebody else. You’ll still be you on the inside, not that “perfect” person you’re dying to be instead. At first things will be different, but they’ll eventually regress back to the way they were. You can take the girl out of the honky-tonk, but you can’t take the honky-tonk out of the girl, as a sales guy at work says.

The point of Eternal Sunshine? There’s no point in trying to erase the memories of your past mistakes, because even if you did, you’d just go back and repeat them again? Which would almost be believable if it weren’t for those bloody tape recordings that Joel and Clementine choose to ignore. The ending would have been much more poignant if it just showed them screwing up all over again, without any knowledge that they’d done so already.

Instead, I walked out of the theatre just thinking that Joel and Clementine are such dumbasses.

[1] That, and the portrayal of Frodo Bagginses as a (clean) panty stealer is almost worth the price of admission alone. Boy, I bet that answers a lot of questions for Liv Tyler.

Strangely naked people

Old news, but I just saw it mentioned on PvP. Some gal on TechTV took nekkid pictures of herself, then cropped out the naughty bits in an attempt to make something artsy-fartsy. Problem being that she used Photoshop, which saves thumbnails in the comment section of each JPEG file. If you just open, crop, then save, it doesn’t update the thumbnail, so the thumbnail still shows the uncropped version. More on it here.

Strange though, if you have every intention of cropping out your nekkidness, why would you leave yourself uncovered during the “photo shoot”. At least she had the good sense to wear a bottom.

Which sort of brings me to a question I’ve wondered about before. In the sex scenes of non-R-rated movies, there are always either strategically placed bedsheets, or the camera only focuses on parts from the neck up and the thigh down. Are the actors/actresses actually naked though? For example, I’ve heard of the costume designers for some movies being total purists. Meaning that if they’re filming a period piece, they’ll force the thespians to not only wear outer clothes from that era, but underthings as well.

All fine and good, but how far does it go? Does a purist director insist on nakedness during PG sex scenes? Penetration? ’cause you know, Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally aside, an orgasm just isn’t the same if it’s faked. The camera knows.

An old man hits you with an ugly stick… you lose one charm point!

Dang it, I just wasted the last week re-living late middle school to early high school by playing Legend of the Green Dragon, a web-based knockoff of the BBS door game Legend of the Red Dragon. BBSes were the nerdy pre-cursor to the Internet, which is what ate up the majority of my free time from grades 7 through 10.

This is why I don’t play games. A relatively small, text-based game was able to eat up an entire week’s worth of my free time; I’m scared to think of what might happen if I got sucked into some huge blackhole like UO, EverQuest, The Sims Online, Final Fantasy XI, WoW, etc. Probably something like this.

I think the biggest problem I have with these online role-playing games is that they’re structured in such a way that they force the investment of large amounts of time in exchange for a gain that amounts to a few rows within some huge SQL database. Those rows get accidentally zeroed out and you have absolutely nothing to show for your time. They get accidentally maxed out and you’re suddenly better off, but it’s strangely unsatisfying because you didn’t "earn" it. Not only that, but your in-game accomplishments have no meaning in the "real world". To the majority of people unfamiliar with the game, they couldn’t really care less whether you’re a level 80 red mage with armor +50 and charisma +12, or a level 1 pooper scooper with stink +3.

Now I suppose the devil’s advocates in the crowd would just turn everything around and say that in real life, you invest huge amounts of time and money in exchange for what amounts to a row within your bank’s SQL database. And that it hardly matters to the players in the game what you do in real life. Whether you earn 6 figures as a brain surgeon, or minimum wage microwaving burgers at McDonalds, they couldn’t really care less. And I suppose that’s the allure of online RPGs, escapism at its best.

Difficult to escape the bills though. Which makes online RPGs the domain of those with philanthropic backers, or the privileged few endowed with the parental safety net. Unfortunately, I have neither, so it’s back to being a nerdy computer programmer with squinty eyes +2.