Tuesday, July 28, 2009


what makes someone the "greatest" or the "best" at something? i've mainly been thinking about this recently in terms of tennis, as in who's the best: federer or nadal? but i noticed that a lot of the same basis for the debate between those two was repeated in the NBA debate about kobe and lebron. it seems like at the root of it, there's an acknowledgment that these guys dominate their sport, but in different fashions. federer (or kobe) is typically represented as developed talent, the result of hours of practice combined with their natural ability for the game, meanwhile nadal (or lebron) are seen as raw skill, their athleticism carrying them to the top and the actual sport-specific skills having only been developed as an afterthought. federer is the artist, nadal is the bashing brute. kobe has the mid-range spinning fadeaway, lebron drives to the hoop with the ball cradled under his arm like a football player.
first of all, i want to point out how unfair these stereotypes are to both sides, as they typically get locked into them without consideration for the overlap that occurs. sure, federer might be the best improviser and nadal the best retriever. but people rant about that so much that they completely ignore the fact that nadal is the second best strategist out there and that federer goes from defense to offense just as easily. federer even went so far as to point this out at the french open, when his matches lasted longer than they had in the past and he seemed to struggle more. he didn't see this as a bad sign; he even was happy about it because of how it forced people to acknowledge his ability to scrap like nadal. he said that finally people got to see how much time he devotes to building endurance, both mental and physical, and he liked that he got to show off his ability to play for hours without wearing down.
ultimately, both men are achieving tennis feats that i will never be capable of. and in my mind, they are really on an equal footing in terms of quantity of greatness. but, despite my address above pleading for people to look at the players as individual wholes, instead of simply seeing where they differ from each other the most, the difference in their styles and abilities does exist. and it is there that the difference in the type of greatness that each man has is seen. if i were to try to simplify the difference as much as possible, i would say that when they hit their respective mind-boggling and awe-inspiring shots, what gives rise to those adjectives is the exact opposite for each of them. federer makes it look so damn easy, and nadal makes it look so damn hard. federer never seems in trouble, and nadal wins points even when stuck between the sideline and a hard place.
in terms of general perception of who is better, federer is already at a disadvantage. he undermines his own case, for by making the tennis look easy, he also makes it easy to forget how hard it is to replicate what he does. meanwhile when watching nadal, it's impossible to ever forget how hard he's working. a 100 mph forehand hit from his shoestrings while on a dead sprint is at first glance, especially to the uninformed, much more impressive than a federer touch volley. (mid-rant side-note: as i said above, don't forget that their positions in that sequence could easily be switched. federer has power and nadal has soft hands. they simply make use of each with different frequency). in the end the question remains, who is more impressive? the man who does the impossible while making it look like you could do it? or the man who does the impossible despite its obvious impossibility?
it's tempting to simply label federer the better tennis player and nadal the better athlete. but that's bullshit, and is a not so clever way of avoiding the question. and, because i do what i want, i'm going to brazenly ignore their head-to-head record and anoint federer the best. and by the way, that goes for kobe over lebron, as well (although bear with me for another mid-rant side-rant here. tennis clearly has two dominant stars, and they are the only ones worth considering in the debate. with basketball? not so much. it helps that tennis is an individual sport, while basketball players also have to deal with the constraints of their team or position. but there are at least 5 worthy candidates for basketball's best) anyway, here's my reasoning behind choosing federer. assuming that federer and nadal each do things that nobody else could do as consistently as them, and also assuming that they could do what the other does (which i think is fair, they've demonstrated the ability at any rate, the rest is just strategy), i have to choose the guy who does it without having to try hard. because that apparent lack of effort, represents a greater ability. it represents the footwork federer has to get into position well ahead of the ball, so that he doesn't have to hit on a dead run, even if he can. it represents the muscle memory federer has so that he can crank up his serve to 128 mph from 120 with no change in motion. and so on. anyway, at the end of it all, i thoroughly enjoy their rivalry (as long as federer is winning), and recommend that you watch them face off whenever possible. definitely try to check out their aussie open final, by the way, i've been outraged by how little attention that got, that match was amazing. here's some video from that:

and here:

also, for further reading on the subject, i never get tired of reading david foster wallace's article on federer. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/20/sports/playmagazine/20federer.html.

p.s. federer's wife recently gave birth to twin girls. the bookies already have odds set at 100-1 that one of them wins wimbledon before age 25. that's totally worth a $10 bet, right?

(unless it was actually roger having nadal's babies...no homo)

Sunday, July 26, 2009


check out the sweet fish i'm probably going to get.
Endler's Livebearers :Green Cobra Guppies:

Pepper Cory Cat:Fish rule, and dogs drool. Also, I went to Petsmart the other day, which reaffirmed my desire for fish, by the way. Especially salt-water fish, these ones are pretty cool, and they're only the medium-cool for fresh-water, i'm getting them because they're nice and small. the super cool salt-water fish are mind-blowing. but while at the store, i also decided that i want a parrot, and a ferret, and a turtle. they're so rad, dude. and to wrap up the list of stuff i want when i'm rich and famous, mark took me to this cool fossil type store. they had a cave-bear skeleton, a stuffed giant cobra, a stuffed iguana, dinosaur eggs, and a display case with pinned flying lizards, which is only the highlights, pretty much everything there was cool. but expensive...why is that always the case? final cool animal story. apparently tokyo is having problem with jungle crows. they're big gnarly dudes, that can form their claws into fists, and will punch people in the head. they also like doing fly-bys, which have been reported to scare people off their bicycles. how embarrassing would that be to tell people? oh, what happened to your knee? i skinned it when a crow made me fall down the stairs. some of them are apparently really smart. petra even managed to tame hers. although the better money is on that being some guy's trained bird.


what is the point of musical conductors? i'm talking about professional, full-scale award-winning orchestra conductors? i don't see how they do anything useful. i have also recently seen Leonard Bernstein do conducting, so i have a little exposure to it (admitted emphasis on little). it really seems like they are only there for the audience's enjoyment. the musicians at that level are ridiculously well-trained. you don't see the conductor telling one section to be quieter, or another to play faster, like you might in a high-school ensemble. and the conductor doesn't even keep time, his arm movements are mainly flailing and expressive, not actually what i would call useful. in fact, all of the directions for the musicians are pre-written into the music, by the guy who wrote the damn thing. it tells them where to speed up, do staccato, pluck, bow, suddenly get louder, the works. and by the time they're performing, i imagine they've rehearsed so many times that the physical sheet music isn't even needed. i would refer people to the scene in mr. holland's opus where richard dreyfuss pretends to conduct (and of course it looks pretty good, because conducting is only pretending to do something useful anyway), and his deaf son keeps conducting along with him after the music has stopped, although also doing a fair job along the way. but i don't want to be too much of an a-hole. party alla time.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Books and shit

so i'm in new orleans and mostly i've been spending my time reading. on the plane ride down, i read a whole bunch of diana wynne jones, she writes fantasy for young adults. the books were mostly good, they went fast and kept me entertained. but i also had a major bone to pick with them, and it applies to actually most books i read (maybe because i don't read very good books, or something). why do so many books rely on the main characters (usually it's with kids) being really stupid to move the plot along? it's especially frustrating in serial type books like harry potter. maybe we'd believe that dumbledore is too scary to talk to in the first book. but after that? you don't fool me, j.k. rowling. i know that dumbledore is kind and awesome from then on. so why doesn't harry just go tell him everything on page 25 and get him to fix it? obviously because then she wouldn't have a book anymore. but really, that's no excuse.
anyway, in ranting about book structure, i also came up with another idea. this one may take a while to explore all the parts of it. part the first: book endings. why do the good guys always win? it's amazing to me, and i guess impressive, that authors can create suspense at all, when if you think about while you're reading, you know the good guy isn't going to be killed, even when things are at their worst. what if someone just had the bad guys shoot the good guys immediately, without first delivering their monologue explaining their whole plan? i think it'd be depressing as hell (see H.M.S. Ulysses by Alistair McLain, for example), but still a refreshing change of pace. well maybe not actually refreshing, but at least a change.
phase deux: this part also kind of deals with TV sitcoms, or at least it's connected to them in my mind. so it seems like another classic plot device to present the regular life of a character, radically change it during the course of the book, but then ultimately return it to the status quo by the end. for example, someone in the show is a big time loser, then can never do anything right, comedy of errors, etc. but then in one episode it turns out they are a piano genius, and that particular episode explores that. and then by the end, they've someone ruined their piano playing career, and they are a loser again. like charlie, with his juggling. only he was never good at that. he did almost drop a brick on his toe once, though. i always feel bad for these guys when they have to return to normalcy. so what if there was a book about someone who just never fucked up. either they're perfect from start to finish, or they start out a loser and then turn out to be awesome, i don't care, as long as they don't end up a loser again. the main point is that there's basically never any conflict created by their mistakes, they can solve any problem in a couple pages, etc. would that work? i'd read it. (see I Wanna Go Home, by Gordon Korman. do i care that that book is for 10 year olds? no, i want to be the kid in that book who's good at everything without trying.)
Three: doesn't anyone else ever wonder why books are always so conveniently set in time when something exciting happens to the character. they lead a normal boring life for 20 pages, and then the author of the book, presumably recounting a story, just happened to capture the moment when everything changed for the person. isn't that just a little hard to believe? of course it's fiction, so they can do whatever the fuck they want chronologically. but would people actually be completely disinterested in reading a book about a person's everyday life, where we don't happen to be looking in at the exact time when they do something they've never done before? (sure there's Jim's journal, but that kind of proves my point, people read that, and that's even more boring than what i had in mind)
anyway, maybe all of these different innovations have been tried before and everyone hated them. but i still would be interested in reading things like that. i could only come up with maybe one or two examples for each thing i'm talking about. so if anyone else can think of anything like that, let me know.
finally, i want to respond to wiley, who dared go toe-to-toe with me on immortality. first of all, i've already found the immortality potion.
but remember, you promised not to tell annie. secondly, i can see your point, but i present this counter-example: every teenager ever. we're convinced that we won't die, because we're young and beautiful, and that doesn't happen to us, just people on the news. so in fact, we only do a lot of things because we're NOT scared of death, or even our parents. like skydiving, whatever. not a sermon, just a thought.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

test run

my reason for starting this blog is to have a place to record all of my random rants and megalomania. it's the same reason i started keeping a daily journal (i refuse to call it a diary). side bar: whenever you read biographies about cool famous people, they always have all these important quotations taken from their diary. how do they do that? mine was like jim's journal, only more boring and without pictures. do you ever think about what about your life would be put in a biography/movie about you? because this blog had better damn well feature prominently in both of mine once i'm rich and famous. however, i have promised annie that i wouldn't take myself too seriously, because she needs something to entertain herself with at work. plus i would feel like a douchebag if i tried to be all serious. anyway, i have all sorts of good random and revolutionary musings that i've tried to remember for when i did start this blog, but i'll just start with one for now.
i want to live forever, immortality seems like the coolest thing ever, and i fundamentally don't understand how the majority of people don't agree with this. in fact, i honestly don't even believe them when they tell me that, i think they just haven't thought about it enough. living is fun, and death is not, and that will always be the case. but the cool and new information about this is that apparently the lab that kristine works for is doing research into aging. fantastically, it's not research about causing aging, but actually how to stop it. so she said i could totally get an internship there next summer. so we'll see who i deign to share my immortality potion with once i discover it's secret after you all denied that you wanted it in the first place. the other cool thing about immortality that i recently discovered is that there's this thing called calorie restriction that has been repeatedly proven to work pretty well towards preventing aging. (just not in humans yet) just by cutting calorie intake by 20%, everything about you functions better as you get older. you look younger, your brain works better, you stay stronger longer. how cool is that? i am convinced that my mom has known about this for years, she eats like a bird, like a giant bird, and she looks like she's about 30 years old and she could totally beat me up. too bad for the rest of america, you fatties.
look at those monkies and tell me which you'd rather be....exactly.