Computers Life Ubuntu

Anonymity on the internet

A recent discussion on the Ubuntu Forums (the link will work only if you are logged in) has got me thinking about the role of anonymity in online discussions. Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing?

Well, the answer, of course, is that it’s both good and bad. And I think I would rather take the cons of anonymity for the sake of privacy than take the pros of full disclosure for the sake of civility.

Basically, the idea is that if (on discussion forums, for example) people gave their actual names, genders, pictures, geographic locations, and other personal details, then online discussions would be more civil and online communities would be better bonded. I think to a certain extent that would be true. If you’re Gertrude Chang from Cherry Hill, NJ with a picture to match, you’re far more likely to post something civil in response to a post you disagree with than if you’re lozahsux3583 with an Elvis Presley avatar. There are few people who would say Keep complaining. I’m sure the internet will listen to me in person, but someone felt it was perfectly okay to post that as an anonymous comment on my blog.

Of course, increasing likelihood is all you can do. After all, some people, even in person can be rude to you, no matter if they know what you look like, no matter how many personal details they know about you or how many personal details you know about them. Also, as anyone who has seen the post-it episode of Sex and the City knows, it’s far easier for someone to write something nasty to you than to say it to your face, so even if people have to disclose personal details, they may still feel freer to let loose their meanie inhibitions if they can type to you instead of talk to you in person.

This all is also on the assumption that you can force people to be honest about who they are. After all, I could say I’m Gertrude Chang from Cherry Hill, NJ and actually be Gemma Maguire from New Castle or Sanjay Gupta from Queensland. I could also post up a photo of my niece instead of posting up a photo of myself. There really isn’t a lot of gained trust you get from forcing people to reveal personal details.

And then there’s the issue of privacy. With identity theft rampant and many online discussions being open ones (Google searchable, browseable by anyone or any bot), there is a real danger in saying who you are and in giving out too many personal details.

In the end, I have found that ultimately anonymity isn’t such a terrible thing. Sometimes it brings out the worst in people, and they’d say things they wouldn’t ordinarily say in real life. Other times, it brings out the best in people and allows people the freedom to speak their minds thoughtfully about things they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to talk about in real life (for fear of losing their jobs or offending family members, etc.). I’ve recently been reading Yao Ming’s autobiography, and he said he likes to hang out on the internet to see what people are saying about him, because he knows the anonymous folks on the internet are likelier to be honest about whether he’s doing a good job or not.

At least on the Ubuntu Forums and on my blog, I’ve found most discussions and comments to be quite civil, despite the relative anonymity people are afforded. The exceptions are a few spambots and trolls that are quickly taken care of.

Life Movies Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

Stupid husbands and smart wives on TV

If you’ve seen any American sitcoms featuring het couples in the past ten years or so, you’ll probably have noticed that it’s common for the show to portray the husbands as a stupid but endearing oaf who likes beer, barbecues, watching TV, hanging with the guys, and ogling women; and the wife as a smart, attractive, career woman who is also a housewife… and who generally just puts up with the man.

Some people have tried to use this as evidence that feminism has gone too far, but I have seen no indication from feminist writers or bloggers that they approve of this dynamic. Granted, I don’t hear a lot of feminist outcry over it either, but it is worth nothing that feminists do not celebrate the gender dynamic in popular husband-wife sitcoms like King of Queens, The Simpsons, George Lopez, or Rules of Engagement.

I do think the dynamic comes from a combination of sociological factors and political light-stepping, though. First of all, there are several types of humor—slapstick, irony, insult, shock… just to give a few examples. Sitcoms, especially those featuring a family, have decided to go the insult way. Slapstick humor still packs the theaters (think Will Ferell and Ben Stiller), but it cannot sustain a several-seasons-long show for adults. Irony takes too much set-up time, and my feeling is that people are sick of seeing too many Three’s Company and Golden Girls episodes to put up with more of that Shakespearean “smart” humor. Shock humor is better suited for stand-up comedy, and at least on American non-cable television (where swear words are verboten) cannot be utilized to its fullest extent… which generally leaves (with the exception of Seinfeld) insult humor.

Now, as we have seen on Will and Grace, insult humor can go multiple directions (basically come from any character directed at another character), but I think it isn’t feminism per se that’s informing studios’ choices about how that humor takes its form as the studios’ perception of feminism. They know if the woman insults the men that men will take it because they don’t want to be perceived as having thin skins or not being able to take a joke (after all, those would be “unmanly” reactions), and they know if a man insults a woman, women will find it ungentlemanly and feminists will be up in arms about the woman-hating on television.

I do think, to combat this notion that it’s feminism that’s behind this depiction of men as oafs, feminists should speak up in objection to this phenomenon. Nevertheless, I don’t believe feminism is responsible for this dynamic ultimately, for two reasons.

When is it “okay” to make fun of someone? I work in a school. If some students did a skit making fun of the faculty, I’m sure everyone would enjoy it, including the faculty. If some faculty, however, did a skit making fun of the students, no one would find that funny, not even the other faculty. That isn’t right, since the faculty are in authority and would be abusing their power. Likewise, we as citizens of our government can safely make fun of politicians and draw caricatures of them in cartoons. If a politician made fun of a political cartoonist or regular citizen, however, it would be viewed as being in bad taste, since the politician is in a position of power and is abusing that power. It’s the same reason kids can make fun of their parents and parents shouldn’t make fun of their kids. In other words, backwards as it may seem to some who would like to think of the poor husbands as victims, the husband-wife sitcom is about as antifeminist as you can get, since it still shows men to be the “head of the household” that can take a joke.

Also it is a traditional marriage (not one of equality or even of female domination), in which the men fit traditional gender roles (ogling women, drinking beer, sitting on the couch watching TV) and the women fit traditional gender roles as well (putting up with men, cooking dinner, shopping, henpecking). It’s actually the perfect situation for men, for several reasons.

  • It reaffirms traditional gender roles.
  • It allows for men to identify with the husbands as being henpecked.
  • It allows men to complain that feminism has made it so men look stupid.

If studios really wanted to take feminism into account, they wouldn’t make sure to have the woman be attractive (she could be, but she wouldn’t have to be), the marriage would be more evenly divided (the man could take care of the kids or cook dinner), either party could be ogling other people or actually be totally faithful (not just “I work up my appetite elsewhere, but I always come home for dinner” sexuality). Stop blaming the feminists for this one, seriously.


I’m no longer afraid of death. I’m still afraid of dying, though.

You know when you hear a news story about a young person who has died and the reporter writing it has to go on and on about all the potential that person had? Oh, she was going to be a scientist, a movie star, a businesswoman. She was popular and well-liked. All that jazz. When I was a teenager, I never wanted to be one of those people. I didn’t ever want a newspaper (even if it was just the local town newspaper) saying my life ended too soon.

I’m in the beginning of my fourth decade of life, and I feel okay about things. I’m no Superman. I’m not Mother Teresa, Malcolm X, Susan Brownmiller, Greg Mortenson, or John Lennon. I’m sure there are cool things I could have done up to this point in my life that I haven’t yet done. Nevertheless, I have no lingering regrets, and I feel I’ve lived a pretty full life.

I’m not saying I want to die. I look forward to whatever God has planned for me in the future. I wouldn’t want to leave my wife widowed or our cat fatherless. I’m sure there would be people saddened by my death, so I don’t really relish the idea of dying any time soon. Nevertheless, I don’t fear it any more. If I die, I die. There are worse things that could happen to the human race than losing me. Death isn’t scary to me now.

The actual process of dying I do fear, though. Recently, there was a news story about some dude in Canada who decapitated and partially ate another passenger on a bus ride. The other passenger had been sleeping when he was stabbed and beheaded. I’m sure he woke up when he was stabbed. What a way to wake up! I don’t really know how I want to go. A violent death isn’t particularly appealing to me. Nor do I want to slowly wither away fighting cancer or Alzheimer’s. Would I want to know I was dying as I died? Or would I want to just go to sleep and not wake up? This post is getting morbid. Let’s not dwell on the dying bit to much, shall we?

Well, thank the Lord I’ve lived this long at least. I’m glad for what I’ve been able to experience and accomplish so far. And all the friends I’ve made along the way (both in-person and online) I consider blessings.

Life Movies

I guess she looks trustworthy

The other day, we were in the video store, and my wife gave her opinion to two random couples on Lars and the Real Girl (thumbs up) and Batman Begins (thumbs down), and I think their reactions went just a tad beyond mere politeness, especially the Lars couple. They actually seemed to really take her recommendations and opinions seriously. She’s a stranger. Why would they trust her?

For just about every movie I’ve hated, I know at least one person who loved it. When someone recommends a movie to me, I always am a bit cautious about taking her up on her recommendation unless I know what other movies she likes.

I suppose my wife just looks like someone you can trust. Or maybe the Lars couple was just being extra polite and later walked out of the video store and said to each other, “Do you think she’s right?” “I have no idea. This movie probably sucks.” I wish we could follow up with them and find out if they’ll ever trust her again.


Thank me for bagging?

When I was growing up, I was used to (being an American) having cashiers bag groceries for me. I wait in line, wait for the cashier to scan my groceries, and then wait for the cashier to bag my groceries, and then pay for my groceries.

Then I studied a semester in England and found none of the grocery stores had cashiers who bagged groceries for customers (at least not on a regular basis—there were some exceptions). At first, I thought this was outrageous. I want customer service. I’m paying for these groceries. You bag them for me.

Now I don’t know if things are different in England now (it’s been a few years since the last time I was there), but recently I’ve been bagging my own groceries and the cashiers all thank me (“Thanks for bagging”). They always act surprised and a little relieved. The line moves faster. They have a little less stress, and it didn’t really take that much effort on my part.

Now, I guess, I have a little different perspective. Instead of feeling entitled to having people bag my groceries for me, I think it’s ridiculous when I see people stand around doing nothing while their groceries are being rung up and then standing around even longer while their groceries are being bagged. I always appreciate a good thank-you, naturally, but they are my groceries, after all. If anything, I should be thanking them when they bag my groceries for me.


The Car-Free Life: One Year in Review

Last year, suburbanites from birth, my wife and I gave up our car and took a leap into the car-free life void.

I have to say a year later that I have no regrets about that decision, even after my dad came to visit and waited with us for 20 minutes for a bus that was extremely crowded, and that had a broken backdoor and ticket machine. Yes, there are bus nightmares. Sometimes the bus driver is scary or rude. Sometimes there are people who will yell racial epithets at you or anybody else nearby. Sometimes the bus just doesn’t come. Sometimes you wish you could just hop in your car and zip to a location and sing along to the CDs in your car.

For the most part, though, I don’t miss the costs of owning a car—both psychological and financial. I don’t miss worrying about whether the car got broken into the night before, whether we have a ticket or not after forgetting about street “cleaning,” whether the car now makes a funny noise and has to be repaired, or how much the gas prices have gone up. I don’t miss scouring for parking, feeding the meter, paying the car insurance premium, or taking the car for oil changes.

Without a car, I’m walking more, I’m reading more, and I’m generally more relaxed. With the advent of NextBus, I also rarely have to wait too long for the bus (they haven’t quite perfected the system yet, so sometimes I do have to wait a long time). If we need to drive somewhere for a few hours or the day, we can rent a Zip Car. And if we’re really so desperate to get home, it’s cold out, a bus is nowhere in sight, and we’re not dressed to walk long distances, we can call a cab.

It was a scary step to take last year, but as long as we’re living in a city (not the suburbs or a rural community), I think we’re going to stay without a car… and reap the benefits.

Life Music I Like

Celebrity Performers

I’ve been to a few rock/pop concerts over the years, and I find the celebrity performer phenomenon intriguing. The word celebrity I’m using rather loosely here to refer to anyone the audience is a big fan of. So, for example, at a Dance Hall Crashers or Hoi Polloi concert, the performers are “celebrities”—even though most people have never heard of either group—just because the audiences attending the concerts are fans of the group. It’s usually the opening act that is the group of non-celebrity performers.

With audiences and celebrity performances, the energy and gratitude and applause are mainly for celebrity, not musicianship. If the opening act is unknown to the audience and walks on stage, there will be courtesy applause and clapping, and the opening act really has to prove itself with musicianship and showmanship. If it makes reference to the headliner, that’s a sure way to get the audience riled up (Thank you. We’re so grateful to be touring with [name of headlining act] tonight). I love, though, seeing the audience get won over by an opening act. I love it when the audience starts off thinking Who are these people? and ends up thinking Oh, my God! I love these people!.

The converse reaction for a headlining act is sad, however. I love Liz Phair’s studio work, but her live performance left much to be desired (she’s also openly admitted to having stage fright, and it shows!). When she came on stage, the audience was really excited and, naturally, cheered her walking on stage, even before she played any music. When she walked off stage, the audience was still cheering (I guess for the honor of being in her presence?).

Recently, I saw Sara Bareilles in concert, and she was good. She was good at playing music and singing, but she knew how to play that crowd, too. Every mention of San Francisco (or even the much-reviled abbreviation ‘frisco in her cover of Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ by the) Dock of the Bay”) whipped the audience into a frenzy. She kept thanking all of her fans, and while she needs her fans more than her fans want her, she’s definitely the one, as the celebrity performer, with the power in the relationship. She could suck as a musician and probably still work the crowd. The mere mention of her name at that event got people excited. It’s all about her. When she said, “I want to give you all a hug,” some random guy in the audience screamed, “Hug me, Sara!”

This is in direct opposition to the non-celebrity performer who walks on stage nervous and with absolutely no power. The non-celebrity performer—unproven, unknown—gets no whoops and hollers for merely walking on stage or having her name mentioned. She has to start from scratch and hope her musicianship and showmanship alone can win the crowd over.

I will say as an audience member, my most satisfying concert experiences have always been from watching a non-celebrity performer become a celebrity performer for several hundred people in the course of half an hour. The least satisfying experiences are, of course, when my own personal celebrities fall from grace… apparently tone-deaf and lacking in showmanship. If you can’t sing in tune, at least know how to work that crowd.


My allergy went away?

When I was a kid, I knew lots of kids who had allergies, and I was quite smug about not having allergies. Little did I know that you can, over time, develop allergies. Apart from a freakish allergy to a certain antibiotic and a sensitivity to poison ivy and poison oak, I didn’t really experience allergies until after college. Suddenly, I was allergic to pollen. Worse yet, I developed an allergy to certain kinds of my favorite fruits.

Apples, pears, peaches, and apricots all gave me this weird itching in the back of my throat. I also was allergic to mango skin all of a sudden. This new fruit allergy bummed me out for years, and I was able to eat the aforementioned foods in only a processed fashion (poached, baked, marinated in sugar water).

Recently, though, I ordered a fruit plate from a restaurant and almost all the fruit was fruit I was allergic to. My wife thought I should ask to have it sent back, but I was so tempted by it that I said I’d just eat it and put up with the itchiness in the back of my throat. No itchiness. What happened? Then, a couple of days later, I ate some peaches I’d bought from the grocery store. No itchiness. Nothing.

Did my allergy just disappear? When did it happen? Why did it happen? Well, I hope it’s gone for good. Until the itchiness does come back, I’m going to be eating my fair share of peaches, pears, apples, and apricots!


You can vote with your wallet, but you can’t segment the economy

I get messages all the time—whether they’re from feminists, environmentalists, Christians, or Linux users—about how to spend my money and what businesses to support. This has been going on for years. Even in high school, my friend Shannon used to chastise me for using Papermate pens because Papermate did animal testing. My pastor told me that he supports Barnes and Noble online because Amazon gives a lot of its money to conservative political organizations. Linux users say to buy from vendors who provide Linux-compatible hardware (open drivers or ported drivers).

I do believe in voting with your wallet. I do believe that my general support of local businesses makes a difference in my neighborhood. I do think it matters whether I eat at a mom-and-pop restaurant instead of a large chain. I do think it matters whether I buy a comic book from the local comic book store instead of off Amazon. I do think the money you spend on computers sends a message to hardware vendors.

Of course, it’s only true to a certain extent. The economy is the economy. It’s interlinked. Organizations are interdependent. You can’t just take yourself out of the “bad” economy and make sure you’re in only the “good” economy. Every school or non-profit you believe in receives donations from very rich people who got very rich doing things you may not believe in. Even those rich people who are nice enough to donate may not themselves believe in what their company does. But their company pays the bills.

The interesting thing is that corporations (as I learned from the excellent documentary The Corporation) are not evil or good. They may appear to some people to do a lot of evil things, but they basically are, as the documentary puts it, “amoral and dangerous.” They exist to work for the good of their shareholders. That’s their main point of existence. If they’re not meeting that goal, even founders of corporations can be fired. These corporations may at the same time be polluting the water, kicking the poor out of their neighborhoods, building commercial buildings in place of public parks, laying off employees by the thousands… while also sponsoring fundraisers for charities, and donating large sums of money to non-profits and environmental organizations.

It would be convenient to think we live in an easy world of economic good and bad—that you can say “My money goes to only good companies and good causes” and know what you’re saying is true. The truth is you do what you can. You can make little bits of difference. You cannot ignore our interdependence, though. We’re all in this together and we all, in little ways, either support “the man” or benefit from support of “the man”—regardless of who “the man” is for you.


Let’s take a moment for the short males

Occasionally, I do some “tag surfing” and just see what other WordPress bloggers are blogging about. I happened today to stumble upon two posts that are related and make me sad when I think about the great guys I know who also happen to be short. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge het short men.
People Cannot Help Being Short
Dating Deal Breakers

On the one hand, I think a little bit of superficiality makes sense. You should find the person you’re with attractive. Nevertheless, I think a lot of het short men really get a raw deal in the dating game. Het tall women get a little bit of that as well, but at least they can go for a taller man. A lot of short men even get the shaft from short women! Well, not much to say here. There’s no accounting for tastes or personal quirks, but it is sad when that leads to sociological widespread discrimination.