Friday, July 31, 2009

dancing

God invented dancing to make me look bad.

Okay, wait, I apologize. I know there are debates about creationism and evolution, so a less controversial statement would be:

The human race produced dancing through an evolutionary process over thousands of years in order to extinguish my genes from the good ol' gene pool.

It's comforting to think and realize that millions of years of evolution (or fewer years of creationism) have had their main focus of keeping me from finding a mate. It's almost like I am the zenith of creation. That or the human race has been fumbling for the bottom, and they've finally found it.

Dancing is the process whereby people move themselves in loose patterns to a specific rhythm, at times in conjunction with another individual. These patterns can involve mimicking historical cultures1, mimicking common everyday motions2, and moving from side to side offbeat, while clapping3.

If dancing doesn't strike fear into your heart, well, then, you're not me. To make matters worse, and to make sure I never show my face in public, sadistic people everywhere banded together and made up actual formal patterns for use in dances. Hence the prevalence of Salsa, Ballroom, Polka4, Swing, and others.

Swing, by the way, is the devil's footwork5. Any dummy can waltz, but just try to come up with new ways to entertain your dance partner when you know all of three moves. Admittedly, I'll confess to trying to learn swing at one point in my life in order to woo a woman. Sadly, that was before I realized the purpose of dancing, and neglected to register that by showcasing my abject failure to move in any rhythmically-approved fashion, I was just pounding another nail into the proverbial coffin6.

I know what you're thinking--that you just have to try it and learn. This is, in my case, categorically untrue. I cannot tell you the millions of times people have said this to me, and have likely said it to you as well. Just like some people will never be pro athletes, some people will never push their chairs in, and some people will never be dancers. Some people will just sit and watch movies and eat donuts. That, I can do.

Case in point: last time I fell for the whole try-and-learn philosophy, I found myself on the wrong end of a fiendishly giggling bottle rocket during a country swing lesson. With complete disregard to beat, rhythm, and human decency, I was spun around the room like a rag doll. There was no dancing. Just me acting as a counterbalance to keep this gyroscope in the northern hemisphere. The last time I looked that bad in public involved me puking root beer. I think I'm still working off the rotational inertia in order to obey the principle of conservation of angular momentum.

You're likely better off than me when going dancing, but be warned: the point of dancing is to make you look bad. It's not about feeling good or making connections, it's about eliminating potential mates from the gene pool. Evolution people. Remember, evolution7. One wrong step, and Jorge over there goes out with the chica, and you're getting a ride home to blog about it.

1. e.g., Egyptians and their methods of walking.
2. e.g., starting a lawn mower, or the movement of a sprinkler. The saddest day of my life was last month; while at my sister's house, my niece and her friends started dancing in the room adjoining ours, and I watched as they flawlessly performed these motions which I have tried for years to replicate on a dance floor. They are ten. I have been trying these moves for longer than they have lived.
3. That's actually a lie. I couldn't think of other dance moves (duh, I can't dance) so I went with my old tried-and-untrue standard, the Chris Perry Old Man Shuffle.
4. I once had a seasoned dancer try to teach me polka. It involved her bouncing/flying around the room in a circular pattern while I stumbled over myself and sweat like John Candy on a race track chasing a ding-dong. I think that was one of the most unpleasant moments of my dancing career.
5. It's actually the preferred mode of transport in hell.
6. This seems like an appropriate moment to state my favorite aphorism: to a man with a hammer, everything is a nail. This doesn't have anything to do with the current post, but hopefully it will play a prominent role in the future.
7. If you can't tell, The Third Chimpanzee was on my reading list this week.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

fraud detection

Fraud detection is a fraud.

No, really.

No, really. Serious.

You think I'm joking.

Okay, maybe kind of. Maybe it's not actually a fraud, but it's definitely not fraud detection.

I feel I'm not explaining the subject very well, so let's start from the beginning.

Credit card companies typically employ boring Statisticians1, like myself, to wear thick plastic glasses, tell bad jokes at parties2, and analyze millions of transactions and look for fraudulent ones. They are sort of like superheroes, or knights in shining armor, or furry cats, or whatever your vision of the apogee of greatness is3. For the record, the coolness of a Statistician is inversely proportional to the length of the name of his or her data analysis software of choice. SPSS: Super not cool, SAS: Pretty darn cool, R: TOO HOT TO HANDLE4.

Anyways, these Statisticians, when they're not telling jokes dissing on Economists, build these models and get automated robots to call you when something suspicious is happening. If you travel to a different state or country and start making purchases, they may freeze your account and try to contact you, which is why you should always check in with mommy before you go somewhere crazy, so she doesn't worry about you out with those strange friends5.

This is all well and good. A great system, and credit card companies are wise to employ it, and well, I can't speak higher of Statisticians. Normally.

Sadly, it doesn't really work. Take, for example, my trip to Utah a few months back. The powers that be noticed some odd transactions, and called me up. An automated voice took me through a few transactions that had been flagged: $15.24 for gas in Utah, $2.40 for something at Target, and $9.55 for some extra charges at a car rental company. I was super happy to get the call, and I told them all was well. This is the kind of caring company with which I like doing business6.

Except, I took a look at my account a week later and spotted the following transaction, just a day before my trip to Utah:

05/14/2009CBAUSSIEBUM LEICHHARDT$242.62

For those who can't read creditese, that would be two hundred forty two dollars and sixty two cents spent at aussieBum, an Australian men's underwear store.

So, Mr. Credit Card Company, let me get this straight. You'll call me on the ten bucks I spent on gas in my home state to which I travel frequently, and yet neglect to mention the TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS at an Australian underwear retailer? WHO BUYS TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS OF UNDERWEAR7?

Funnily, they later failed to catch the three transactions at Target in Manteca, CA which summed to $400. I've never been to Manteca, never plan on going to Manteca, and never plan on visiting the same store three times in a row on one day.

WHO DO YOU HAVE BUILDING YOUR FRAUD MODELS PEOPLE? ARE YOU DENSE? MY DEAD GOLDFISH COULD DO A BETTER JOB.

Obviously, my credit card company employs statisticians who analyze data with SPSS. Which company, by the way, was purchased by IBM today. Short IBM people. Short it. That's all I have to say.

1. I'm obviously joking here. Seriously. A boring Statistician? Ha ha! I laugh at the concept! That's an oxymoron if I ever heard one. Could a subject be boring if it contained such a concepts as the Cramér–Rao lower bound, and UMVUE (uniform minimum variance unbiased estimator). Ha! I submit it can NOT!
2. My favorite one is the definition of an actuary: someone who didn't have the personality to be an accountant.
3. Granted, your vision of greatness might include someone capable of writing that sentence without ending in a verb. Ending in 'is' can't possibly be grammatically correct, can it?
4. Take a guess as to my favorite. Also, though I referenced heat, I really meant it as a compliment, as in, both excessive amounts of heat and cold are indicators of a maximized social status function.
5. And, if you're planning on going to the midnight showing of the digitally remastered Star Wars while on a sleepover, you might think about telling your friend to NOT IMMEDIATELY VOLUNTEER THAT INFORMATION on the phone when your mom calls so she doesn't find out that you've left the house specifically to get out of her definition of curfew. Just a suggestion.
6. It's an awkward sentence, sure, but do you think I was going to end with a preposition? HERESY.
7. On second thought, don't answer that.

Friday, July 17, 2009

the green solution

Two days ago, I callously posted on the green revolution, and neglected to include the solution to our current carbon conundrum. How could this be called the complete guide to everything if it neglects to guide you in your daily life? How can this purport to purvey knowledge without wisdom as well?

Some people talk about cutting back carbon emissions, but they'll never eradicate carbon emitters like hummers from this planet so long as icons of style like the Governator drive them. Some people suggest seeding the ocean with minerals to speed up carbon absorption by the sea. Other ideas include giant sunshades, painting roofs white, or pumping CO2 underground.

No, no, these are all the bad ideas of sissy girlie men. There's only one way to absorb all of this carbon we've been emitting over the past two hundred years.


Don't you see? It's all so simple. We've been burning coal and oil like mad, which has been emitting this carbon into the atmosphere. And where does the oil come from? From decayed dinosaurs. So how do we save the planet?

BRING BACK THE DINOSAURS.

Not only would Jurassic Park be an incredible commercial success, but it would also allow us to neutralize our carbon emissions. Furthermore, it would bring us great advances in chaos theory, revitalize our museum industry by providing new dinosaur fossils, and be a major stimulus for computer security networks, bequeathing future generations with a program written containing about two million lines of code and a pixelated version of Newman saying, "ah ah ah, you didn't say the magic word!"

Saving the planet requires--no, demands--resurrecting the dinosaurs. Let all further green investments be calibrated to produce that end result. Our motto shall be:

The Dinosaur Stimulus: Saving the World by Creating Smart Jobs for Smart People Who Will Avoid Smart Raptors by Also Designing Claw-Proof Door Handles. And Carrying Large Guns. With Attractive Females Nearby. Female Humans, That Is. Not Necessarily Female Dinosaurs. But There Will Be Some Of Those, Even If You Explicitly Only Make Males. This Because of Frogs. Somehow.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

the green revolution

The modern green movement, like many a great idea, can probably trace its origins back to a pre-1980s Republican president. In this case, Theodore Roosevelt, the man who gave us teddy bears and cameos in bad Disney musicals. It likely got a start on life when humanity realized that it could demolish the world rather easily, by logging the entire state of California, and killing millions of bison1. Through fits and bursts it has reared its emerald head through anti-nuclear demonstrations, anti-whaling activities spearheaded by the oh-so-fiercely named Rainbow Warrior, and various and sundry lame movies, the worst of which being Free Willy.

There's no need to rehearse for the average reader the latest incarnation of the green revolution, that is, the global warming crisis2. This, like most fads, will die off when the average person realizes he or she will actually have to change his or her behavior, rather than preach to other people why they need to change their behavior. Previous incarnations of the green movement probably lasted as long as they did because it required no actual change on behalf of the average person, only change on the part of some random person thousands of miles away, cutting down a perfectly good tree, or eating some delectable whale
3.

But I digress.

Today I had an inkling that maybe my whole cynical way of viewing this movement is incorrect, and that the greens are winning. As part of my new keep-Chris-sane-while-he-doesn't-have-work program, I headed up to visit the California Academy of Sciences on their once-a-month free day. It ended up being a huge failure--the line was a half mile long (literally), and I lost five dollars to a broken fare machine on my way, but I did happen to witness the victory of the green revolution.

Some kids were standing in line in front of me (before I gave up and went home), and one of them started insulting the other. This isn't very out of the ordinary, as kids live to make fun of each other, but this guy was different. He starts taunting the other kid by telling him he (the tauntee) cuts down trees. He then begins to swing an imaginary axe and yells brusquely, "I cut down trees because I want more money!"

Now, in my elementary school, that sort of taunting would have resulted in your serious injury and perpetual shunning4. But if kids these days are making fun of other kids for chopping down trees, well, the green revolution is upon us. Victory is theirs. Al Gore has won.

PAX VIRIDIS!

1. Sadly, Utah missed out on the whole green thing, and over the years, I've watched the Oquirrh Mountains turn from a nice-ish mountain range on the west end of the Salt Lake Valley into a pile of mine tailings from the Kennecott Copper Mine. Seriously. The entire range is turning into a large pile of tailings. Does anybody else happen to notice how ugly that is?
2. For the record, I'm a declared agnostic on the issue, but I'm supremely entertained by my sisters who believe that Al Gore et al. are trying to brainwash their children and take over the world. Now, that alone isn't necessarily entertaining because a lot of people think that5, but these two sisters happen to be the greenest people on the planet. Like, one of them doesn't ever turn on her heater or air conditioner, and both walk as much as possible and use the car as little as possible. So, they don't like greens, but they're...uhhhh...green.
3. I'm sorry, but could someone explain why whales are sacred again? So I understand we shouldn't be extinguishing species, but I sort of get the idea that if it were up to the Rainbow Warriors of the world, we would never eat whale, ever? I don't know about you, but it sort of sounds delicious. Like a big non-genetically modified cow marinated in salt over the period of several decades. Mmmmmm...tasty...
4. I once witnessed a kid eviscerated for eating refried beans at lunch. Seriously.
5. The south, for one. For the other record, let me just state, the south, I love you and all, but I think if we were to wipe your political record from the history of the world, we'd all be much better off. Slavery, Jim Crow, and George Bush II never would have plagued our society. That is all. Please stop ruining politics for the rest of us. Love, everyone else in the world. P.S. Send us more bacon.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

road signs

As you travel this summer, you'll probably come across a series of road signs, indicating dangers, regulations, and information. As some of these could be considered confusing, I've taken the liberty of explaining the most confusing of the signs below1. I refer you to Brian Regan. The sign should actually read 'Road Closed Ahead'.
Some dude is having a rough time with a very curiously misshapen shovel. It could possibly actually be an anvil on a stick.

Children being abducted ahead2.
Guy with mousetrap stuck on hand needs help ahead.
If you're in the right lane, immediately merge to the left. If you're in any other lane, make your way to the right when it clears up, and zoom to the front of the line.
Street filled with snooty people who can't bear the thought of living on a dead end road. Therefore, it's not a dead end, there's just no outlet. Also, no electricity here. Or creative methods of expression.
As a child, for the longest time, I thought xing was another word for zone. I don't think I figured out the meaning of this sign until the age of 24 8.

The joke is so old it's worn out, but I just had to post it. Them must be some fat children if they need a sign announcing their sluggishness.

It has no morals! Save yourself and your children from its depravity!

A dude in a '78 Cadillac is up ahead, drunk and swerving.

You need to hit up the gym. Your stomach is probably soft too.

8% of drivers actually know how they calculate the percentage grade. Could you devise a more opaque measure of steepness?
People are dropping boxes from the leaning tower of Pisa. That or there's an aviary ahead with a wacked out birdhouse.

Stop a head (my brother always reaches over and pushes my head back against the headrest at this point).Inebriated engineers designed this road.

An escaped couple from the fifties is crossing the street ahead.


The aforementioned brother is not allowed on the next section of road.


And the mean! And the mode! And every measure of deviance! Heaven forbid you touch the kurtosis!3

People beyond this point don't want to see you naked.

Immediately start judging anyone parked here. Leave angry self-righteous notes if necessary.


We hate the environment here.


'Round these parts, we listen to Sublime.


Old folks live in these parts, and block the fast lanes of traffic. This is our futile attempt to brush them to the side.
Seriously, old folks inundate this stretch of road. Please, go faster. We beg you.


Cops won't bat an eye until you're over 30. That and you might as well start biking, because there's no point in having a car if you're restricted to 20 mph.

Keep your eyes on the road, and pretend you don't see them waiting for you to stop. Justify it to yourself any way possible.
Invitation to play chicken.

Read it backwards. You will laugh for the rest of your driving days 4.

Some dude is tossing ice cubes into a horse trough up ahead.


1. I'm sure this has been done before by somebody else, but I've never seen it, therefore, I'm going to pretend that I'm original.
2. Confession: I've seen all of these signs before, except this one. I can't actually think of what the real meaning of the sign is (I happened upon it while trolling for graphics). If that IS actually the definition, ummm, are you even serious? There exists a corner of hell on this planet where the frequency of said occurrence necessitates a sign? Couldn't we just bulldoze whatever part of town that is, and put in a nice park? One without insane adults around?
3. Although all of these jokes are lame, this one takes the cake. I'm sorry. I can't help it if I laugh about aspects of distributions.
4. Though it'll probably closely approximate the maniacal, crazed laughter of the insane.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

nevada

Nevada is the 36th state of the union, being admitted in 1864 by Lincoln partially as a way to secure enough votes to win his second election. When drawing up the borders of Nevada, congressmen of the day followed a strict process--if the land was ugly, it went to Nevada. Otherwise, it was allocated to one of the surrounding states (for example, Utah or California).

This process is apparent when driving I-80 through that miserable place of death. Almost immediately upon entering the state from California you leave the land of milk and honey and get lost somewhere in the Sahara1. You're welcomed into this circle of hell with a sign of a cowboy, evidence that the heyday of Nevada occurred sometime in the 1800s. The fact that people stopped paying attention to Nevada circa 1887 is evident by its insistence on touting the mining and cowboy culture, which only now exist in small pockets. However, Nevadans, like their Texan brethren, have deluded themselves enough to think they are cowboys, and hence the plague of boots and wide-brimmed hats. In truth, most residents of Nevada are currently involved in the state's main industry: escaping California's taxes.

The architecture of the second largest city, Reno, follows the design of the ancient boundary setters. Just like the field of dreams, if you build it in Reno, it will be ugly. It's a bad sign when even your casinos are hideous. Actually, that's a little unfair. There are some decent houses in Reno, and they were all built and are now currently owned by tax-evading Californians.

Outside of Reno, the scenery goes from ugly to ugly, where you find yourself driving through the "Great Basin", which is entirely populated by unnamed mountain ranges. True to form, in the old tradition of let no native exist on decent land, we somehow forced several tribes to live in reservations out there in complete desolation. So if the ugliness doesn't get to you, let your repressed guilt kick in as you journey through misery.

The sole attraction in mid-northern Nevada is the initials of the town of Battle Mountain chalked into a hill. I don't know if that's actually a joke, or just a hilarious inadvertent truth.

All is not rotten in the state of Nevada. Even with the implosion of the world's economy, they have enough money to reconstruct the entirety of I-80. At the same time. Refugee orange traffic barrels line the freeway, probably all on their way to California. This is likely to produce a new sort of crisis in the Golden State, as there are more traffic barrels in Nevada than atoms in the known universe.

Speaking of atoms, a Nevadan traveler will have a hard time empathizing with those who don't want nuclear waste stored in Yucca Mountain. I mean, the state is pretty ugly. There's not a whole lot you'd ruin. Could we find a better location for the waste? And no, Canada is not an option.

Arriving at Wendover, and looking out over the beautiful salt flats, you will grow a bit wistful for the great desert you left behind. Time spent in the wilderness of Nevada is time spent with the divine, because there truly is no other living thing out there2.

Believe me3. I looked4.

1. That's not entirely correct, as the Sahara can be beautiful with its waves of perfect sand dunes, whereas Nevada is just brown mountains covered in sagebrush, the state flower/tree/bush/living thing.
2. This is obviously a lie for dramatic effect. There were several horses and cows, which I mooed at. I mean, I mooed at the cows. You don't moo at horses. You whinny.
3. More of a joke, given the brazen lie that the statement is. There are several people living in Nevada. Tens. Possibly dozens.
4. I'm suddenly stricken by guilt for so mercilessly insulting the state. It's not THAT bad. There is some green on the drive, and the drivers I encountered were courteous and respectful, and aside from the kid who (forcefully and seriously) claimed they once found a catfish the size of a Volkswagen New Beetle at the bottom of Lake Mead, I've never met a Nevadan I didn't like.