CMU Triathlon

Posted September 13, 1998 at 9:09 am | 1 Comment

Last year I finished the CMU Triathlon with a unimpressive time of 1:17:51, placing me 11th in my category.  My plan at that time was to train intensively over the summer, improve my time, and finish a few places up this year.  Instead, I spent most of the summer doing computer graphics research, which is fun but not very athletic.  So this year I copped out and decided to do the triathlon as part of a team.  However, I had a “secret plan”: since last year only two co-ed teams entered the triathlon, I knew that if I entered as part of a co-ed team, we were guaranteed to place.  I convinced Brendan and Angela to join me and we sent in the registration form.

Today was the big triathlon day, but things didn’t quite go as expected.  Here’s what happened:

  • 7:00 AM
    I wake up and pull on my cycling gear.  Brendan comes up to my room as I’m putting air in my bicycle tires.  I grab our registration packet and we head out.
  • 7:45 AM
    The race information meeting begins.  Strangely enough, there’s no sign of Angela.  While the race coordinator is outlining the course routes I head out to attempt to track her down.
  • 8:10 AM
    I leave frantic messages for Angela at the lab and at her apartment.  The race is supposed to begin in 20 minutes and neither Brendan nor I want to swim.
  • 8:17 AM
    Still no Angela.  In desperation, we call Casey.  He wakes up after the phone rings three times.  Unbelievably, he agrees to swim for us in the triathlon.   The only problem is that he just woke up and the triathlon begins in 13 minutes.
  • 8:27 AM
    Casey arrives, somewhat out of breath after running all the way from his off-campus apartment.  He jumps in the pool just as the swimmers are heading to their marks.
  • 8:30 AM
    The race official fires the starting gun and we begin.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?  It turned out that Angela had gone to the hospital with severe abdominal cramps, so I guess that she had a pretty good excuse.  The race actually went pretty well for us, but since we no longer had a female on our team, we could no longer take advantage of my “secret plan”.  The Male Team division is more competitive and has a greater number of entrants, so we ended up finishing fourth.   We did win two free large pizzas in the post-race raffle, however.

Etch-A-Sketch

Posted September 12, 1998 at 9:00 am | No Comments

Now that Alex, Mitesh and I have returned from our traditional Saturday morning trip to Chic-Hens, I’d like to point you to the Etch-A-Sketch web site.  Etch-A-Sketch is a popular toy from the Ohio Art corporation that for decades has provided youths across the nation with countless hours of frustration.  The main attraction of the web site is a unique Java applet designed by the clever staff of Ohio Art.  You type your name into a small text field, and on the next page, your name is drawn by an Etch-A-Sketch.  The real enjoyment, however, does not derive from seeing your name drawn.  The real enjoyment is in the attempt to come up with dirty words that the Etch-A-Sketch applet will print.  You see, the programmers of the applet evidently didn’t want people typing in inappropriate words, so they designed the applet to recognize these words and print the word “KIDS” in their place.   What amazes me is how thorough the programmers were — I haven’t found a single “mainstream” dirty word that isn’t caught by the powerful Etch-A-Sketch drawing engine.  It’s astounding that the staff of a children’s toy company could have a dirtier mind than a college student.  If you do manage to “trick” the applet, drop me an e-mail or write a note in my guestbook, and you’ll win a special prize!  If you are bored this Saturday afternoon, or are simply looking for things to do while you postpone your homework, this game can provide up to a half-hour of diversion.  Just remember, the word “dick” doesn’t count; since it is also a name, it will be printed by the applet.

Babelfish

Posted September 11, 1998 at 9:00 am | No Comments

Have you ever played with the Babelfish Translator at Altavista?   It’s really quite fascinating.  You type in a passage or the address of a web page, select a source language and a target language, and all of the text is translated for you, to a reasonably high degree of accuracy!  Naturally, every translation is riddled with tiny errors (mostly due to words with dual meanings), so you can’t really use it to write your French papers.  However, it’s definitely very useful as a tool for understanding writings in a language with which you’re not familiar.

That’s not what I like best about it, however.  My favorite part of the Babelfish Translator is that you can use it to translate a passage from English to another language, and then back to English again, and it makes the passage sound as if it was written by someone with an extremely poor command of English.  For example, consider the previous paragraph in this daily update.  Translating it to French, and then back to English, lends it the formal, stylized, slightly erroneous quality of English text written by a foreigner:

Did you ever play with the translator of Babelfish at Altavista? It is really completely attractive. You seize a passage or addresses of a Web page, to choose a source language and a target language, and any text to translate for you, reasonably a high exactitude degree! Normal, each translation is solved with tiny errors (most of the time due word with duelles significances), thus you cannot truth employ it to write your French papers. However, it is certainly very useful as tool to include/understand writings in a language with which you are not well-informed.

When you translate passages including slang and idiomatic expressions, the results are even more humorous!  For example,  consider the following passage from the classic American rap hit Baby Got Back by Sir Mix-A-Lot:

I like big butts and I cannot lie,
And you other brothers can’t deny
That when a girl walks up with an itty-bitty waist,
And a round thing is your face you get sprung,
Wanna pull out that tongue,
‘Cause you notice that butt is stuffed.

Watch what happens when we translate the passage from English to Spanish, and then back again:

I have taste of great tops and I cannot lie,
And you other brothers cannot deny
That when a girl crosses above for with a waist itty-bitty,
And a round thing is its face that you obtain loosen,
Wanna removes tongue-piece,
‘Causes the warning to him that the top is filled up.

Internet vs. Beer

Posted September 9, 1998 at 9:00 am | No Comments

Today, I’d like to examine two seemingly unrelated articles recently extracted from two different publications. I will then analyze their implications.

  • From the New York Times, August 30, 1998:

THE LONELY NET

A two-year, $1.5-million study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, funded by the National Science Foundation and major technology companies, has concluded that Internet use appears to cause a decline in psychological well-being. A director of the study says, “We are not talking here about the extremes. These were normal adults and their families, and on average, for those who used the Internet most, things got worse.” One hour a week of Internet use led on average to an increase of 1% on the depression scale, an increase of 0.04% on the loneliness scale, and a loss of 2.7 members of the subject’s social circle (which averaged 66 people). Although the study participants used e-mail, chat rooms, and other social features of the Internet to interact with others, they reported a decline in interaction with their own family members and a reduction in their circles of friends.

  • From Information Week, August 31, 1998:

INTERNET OUTRANKS BEER-DRINKING IN WHAT’S COOL ON CAMPUS

A survey of 1,200 students at 100 colleges and universities nationwide, conducted by research firm Student Monitor LLC, shows that when asked what was “in” on campus, 72.5% of the respondents answered “the Internet,” whereas only 70.8% named “drinking beer.” Up until now, beer-drinking has held the top spot since the biannual surveys began in 1988.

Although at first glance these articles may seem unrelated, upon closer inspection an obvious linkage is revealed. Less beer, more internet. More internet, more depression. It’s clear that the internet is not the problem here, but rather the shortage of beer. Since internet usage is particularly prevalent at Carnegie Mellon, I believe it is crucial that we take steps to alleviate this problem. Carnegie Mellon has the highest suicide rate of any American university. Why? Simple. Too much internet, not enough beer. By imposing a three-beer minimum at all lectures and recitations, I am convinced that we could attack the root of the depression problem. President Cohen, if you are reading this, please take my idea into consideration.

Lecture Cheerleading

Posted September 8, 1998 at 9:00 am | No Comments

My ML class has two professors.  One of them is this German guy who talks sort of like Ranier Wolfcastle (MacBain) of Simpsons fame.  If the other instructor were a character from the Simpsons, he would definitely have to be that nerdy scientist guy.  So if you close your eyes in class, you can pretend that you’re watching an episode of the Simpsons… only it’s a really boring episode in which MacBain and the nerdy scientist guy get together to talk about polymorphic type checking.

Sometimes I wish that CS lectures could be more exciting.  One way to possibly accomplish this would be to have a designated cheerleader section in Wean Hall 7500.   The designated cheerleaders would encourage the crowd to cheer when various key elements of the course’s subject matter were introduced.  For example, when the lecturer completed a proof by structural induction, the cheerleaders would scream “YEAH!  STRUCTURAL INDUCTION KICKS ASS!”  Or when the professor rewrote a function to be tail-recursive, they could shout “GO ML!  COMPILER OPTIMIZATION IS THE FUCKING SHIT!”  If they coordinated with the professor before each lecture, they could even design their cheers to reinforce the crowd’s understanding of important concepts by exclaiming things like “HOORAY FOR THE CONCATENATION OPERATOR!  IT’S LEFT-ASSOCIATIVE!”

Ad Campaigns

Posted September 7, 1998 at 9:00 am | No Comments

Has it ever struck you as unusual that there are magazine ads for milk? It wouldn’t seem so strange somehow if the ads were for a particular brand name of milk, but to advertise the idea of milk somehow seems silly. I realize that the milk ads are paid for by the American Dairy Association, which is funded by dues from dairy farmers across the nation, who in turn profit from increased milk sales… but I wonder if it really helps the farmers that much. Having an advertisement for milk seems so vague, somehow. Sort of like those television commercials for beef. Do those commercials really convince people to eat more beef?

I don’t by any means want to discourage these sorts of commercials. I think that it’s fantastic that dairy and cattle farmers everywhere can unite to support their cause — and imagine how annoying it would be to see commercials for three different brands of milk! In fact, I think that this idea should be extended into other industries as well. For example, consider the following advertisement campaigns:

  • Candy: “It’s sweet as can be!”
    Feel like something sugary and delicious? Why not head over to the nearest convenience store for a bar or box of your favorite candy product? Remember, candy tastes great!
  • Air: “You’ll die without it.”
    Next time you stop breathing, think about this: the majority of your body’s life-sustaining processes are unable to continue without a constant influx of oxygen! Air isn’t just a good idea, it’s a biological necessity.
  • Smoking: “It’s what the outside is for!”
    Thanks to modern technology, we no longer have to stand outside in dirtiness of nature very often. In fact, many people wonder why they should bother going outside at all. To smoke, of course! Think about it: why would God have created the outdoors if He didn’t want us to smoke?
    This campaign stolen from Ethan Bold.
  • Sleep: “The Poor Man’s Food”
    Hungry? Why not go to sleep? Not only is it free, but it lets you forget about your hunger for as long as you can avoid waking up. When you do wake up, you may even feel less hungry. Food is nice, but sleep is free!
  • Caffeine: “The Rich Man’s Sleep”
    Tired? Why not ingest a commercial product containing caffeine? This 100% legal drug is a safe and effective alternative to sleep which takes considerably less time. Why waste eight hours a night lying in bed when, thanks to the wonders of caffeine, you could be accomplishing great things? Caffeine: it makes sleep obsolete.
  • Bacon: “Nature’s Candy”
    Mother Nature has graced us with a rich bounty of foods, but not one of them is as rich or as thoroughly delectable as bacon. Next time you start to reach for the licorice, think again, and head to the butcher shop for some fresh marbled bacon. Nothing beats the taste of some crispy fried strips of bacon, the candy of Nature.
    This campaign stolen from Brendan Brelsford.

Olive Garden

Posted September 6, 1998 at 8:00 am | 2 Comments

The Olive Garden is a great place to eat. I used to think that it was kind of overpriced, but it’s actually quite reasonable provided that you plan your meal carefully. You see, I’m a huge fan of free refills, and the Olive Garden offers free refills not only on soft drinks, but also on fruit juices, breadsticks, garden salad, and even pasta, provided that you order their special “Unlimited Pasta” entree.

monzyeat.jpg (51571 bytes)

Dan at the Olive Garden. Note all of the
empty glasses, representing the free drink
refills that he has consumed.

Here’s the drill:

  • Head to the Olive Garden at around 2:00 PM with a sizeable pack of friends.
  • Order a drink and the unlimited pasta special.
  • Start packing it away! Make sure to keep those refills coming.
  • Stay as long as possible, preferably up to dinnertime, thereby combining two meals into one.
  • The bill: only $8.20 plus tax and gratuity! What a deal. Make sure to leave a nice tip for the poor harried server.

Circle Dick

Posted September 5, 1998 at 8:00 am | No Comments
Saturday night on a three day weekend. What a feeling.Casey and Danny stopped by this evening to share their humor with us. Casey was particularly amusing since he was not as close to passing out as Danny. He took a pen and busied himself for awhile by defacing the posters outside of Mitesh’s room.”Circle K?” he would smirk, a snide look on his face. “NO, not Circle K,” he would exclaim, crossing out the letters on the poster, “Circle DICK!” Laughing uncontrollably, he would then look at us expectantly, as if waiting for us to acknowledge his comedic genius.

Just so that you don’t get the wrong impression of Casey, he’s normally an extraordinarily bright physics student.

comrades.jpg (39350 bytes)

Casey and Danny, attempting in vain
to complete their sentences.

Is it Saturday night where you live? It is? Then why are you sitting at home reading web pages? Check out Ethan’s new guide on how to get chicks, and head out on the town!

Pretty Good Race

Posted September 4, 1998 at 8:00 am | No Comments

Every September, thousands of Pittsburgh fitness enthusiasts flock to Point State Park for an annual event known as the Great Race. A 5K cross-country race, it winds though the streets and hills of Pittsburgh to the finish line in neighboring Frick Park.

A event that is slightly less well-known (but certainly every bit as enjoyable) is the Pretty Good Race, an annual competition organized and sponsored by the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science. Also 5 kilometers in distance, this race traverses the Schenley Park trail system, starting and finishing at the base of the Panther Hollow Bridge. Registration for this race, however, is open only to students, faculty, and staff of the School of Computer Science.

Today Ethan and I took part in the 18th Annual Pretty Good Race. The approximately 30 competitors were divided into teams such as Software Engineering, Artificial Intelligence, and Computer Vision. After warming up, stretching, and pinning our numbers to our shirts, we stepped to the line. The whistle blew and the race was off.

monzyrun.jpg (63207 bytes)

Trailblazing through the wilds
of Schenley Park.

According to the race official, we were to continue running along the main trail until we came to the turnaround point. At the turnaround point we would see a marker cone and another race official flagging us to turn around. After about a mile of running, I had fallen behind the lead pack, but remained ahead of the pack behind me, so I was running alone. Soon I saw the lead pack returning in the opposite direction. I assumed that I would hit the turnaround point soon, but after several more minutes I still hadn’t seen it. “Oh well,” I thought, “I suppose that I’m just further behind than I had imagined.” But another half-mile passed and there was still no sign of a turnaround marker or another race official. “This is getting strange,” I began to think, “but I can’t really turn around yet until I get to the marker or I would be cheating.”

Another mile later, I knew that I must have missed the turnaround. It was frustrating because I was feeling good and expecting a nice time. After a while I somehow ended up in front of Phipps conservatory and found my way back to the finish line.

Ethan finished second in the “undergraduate” category with a quite respectable time of 22:30. I fared a bit differently, arriving at the finish line about 15 minutes after everyone else and from the wrong direction. Nevertheless, I had fun, even though I ended up running more of an 9K than a 5K. I sure felt silly when I arrived and the official announced my time of 38:40. I almost shouted something like “I’m not that slow! Really! I just got lost!” Anyway, there’s always next year.

Inexpensive Rush Events

Posted September 3, 1998 at 8:00 am | No Comments

In the continued spirit of stealing Ethan’s ideas to provide fodder for my daily updates, here is an interesting topic: inexpensive fraternity rush events. Suppose that you want to start a new fraternity, but you don’t have much money. Until you get people to pledge and pay you fraternity dues, you still won’t have much money. But you can’t get pledges without spending money on rush events like bowling and baseball games! Sounds like a vicious cycle, right? Wrong.

Traditional fraternity rush events are expensive, but they don’t have to be. Here are some suggestions for rush events that are sure to keep you within budget:

  • Forty and Blunt
    A common rush event for fraternities at Carnegie Mellon is “Forties and Blunts”. The basic idea here is that the fraternity brothers and the prospective pledges get together at the fraternity house to drink forties and smoke blunts. Naturally, the official rush event calendar never says “Wednesday: Forties and Blunts”; instead a clever euphemism is used such as “Wednesday: Fun Nite”.

    The concept behind “Forty and Blunt” is that it preserves the spirit of “Forties and Blunts”, but is much less expensive. Instead of purchasing beer and marijuana in large quantities, you need only purchase one bottle and one blunt. You then pass the bottle and blunt around, so that everyone can take a tiny sip of the forty and a tiny hit off the blunt.

    Still sound too expensive? How about “Forty and Cigarette”, or even better, “Can of Beer and Used Cigarette”?

  • Ritter’s
    Another common thing for fraternities to do is to take their pledges to Hooters for chicken wings. Since each order of 10 chicken wings costs $4.95, this sort of thing can add up quickly in cost. As an alternative, try visiting Ritter’s, a small neighborhood diner. Although they don’t serve chicken wings, they do offer excellent pierogies, an order of which can be purchased for for only $2.50! Sounds like a deal to me.

  • Beers of Milwaukee
    CMU fraternities often hold a “Beers of the World” rush event, during which pledges are offered a choice of quality beers and ales from around the world. Unfortunately, drinks such as Corona, Heineken, Dos Equis, and Guinness are quite expensive. Instead, why not offer selections from Milwaukee, such as Milwaukee Light, Milwaukee Ice, and Milwaukee’s Best? These beers can be purchased in convenient packs of 12 for only $4.99.

  • Fun With Toilet Paper
    Are all of these ideas still a little bit outside of your price range? No problem! Here’s an event that’s absolutely free. Make a trip to the public bathrooms around campus and collect some rolls of toilet paper in a bag. Then, when your potential pledges come to visit, play with the toilet paper! This is a great activity because it really allows you to bond with the prospective pledges in a creative atmosphere.
mikepaper.jpg (14940 bytes)

Mike Gerome, demonstrating the
“Fun With Toilet Paper” rush event.

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