Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Genealogy, I am doing it

This The Coolest Thing Ever is related to family history just like the last one, so you probably already don’t care. I have shared this and other details about our genealogy with my very own immediate relatives and haven’t elicited anything exceeding a “that’s cool” from the lot of them. How am I supposed to interest you, I wonder. You aren’t even related to me so how can you relate to this?

On a related note to this related note, I am starting to realize just how, shall we say, ”specialized” an interest in family history is. I find it endlessly fascinating but cannot seem to interest even my own flesh and blood in stories of where we came from.

I am worried that this hobby (obsession?) is akin to those with unhealthy fixations on Star Trek, Everquest, or political partisanship.

Some people are down with genealogy, but most are not. Maybe it’s just my family but I wonder if I have misjudged the potential for wide popular interest. Does that make me like those embarrassingly post-adolescent-fanboys-turned-fan-men, balding beneath their stormtrooper helmets? Am I blithely missing awkward brushoffs at parties when the topic turns toward this fascination of mine? Am I becoming “that guy”? You know, “that guy who can immediately pull out his family tree and show how he relates to Charlemagne”? Shudder. Nothing like devotion to obscure principles and practices to make a fellow insta-weird.

Are there any socially acceptable obsessions nowadays, healthy or unhealthy? I can’t think of any. In some circles, confessing a substantial interest in genealogy is rather like admitting to an awkward and embarrassing social disease.

Oh, wait – the Coolest Thing thing. To heck with it. Ask me about it at the sci-fi convention.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Old-Timey-Movie Review: The Third Man

The Third Man stars Orson Welles. It is a very well-made flick, but in a way that constantly brings attention to the craft of the filmmakers, rather than allowing the viewer to lose themselves in the flick.

Welles is the “main character” – the Third Man from the title, but does not appear until more than halfway into the film. Welles later said it was the perfect role to play, despite the lack of screen time: even though he’s not ON camera, the other characters spend all their time talking about him. So when he finally does show up, with all the waiting and expecting, all Welles has to do is twitch an eyebrow and grin condescendingly and we are bowled over.

I stop short of saying it is a masterpiece, though it really is well-made, and absolutely arresting to watch. It is about friendship and betrayal, and the futility of Yankee optimism and bellicosity in healing a crushed, cynical and jaded postwar Europe. Unfortunately, while being “about” these things, I’m not sure that it ever gets around to saying anything meaningful on those subjects.

The story revolves around the postwar black market and how some smugglers have hurt hundreds of little children. The protagonist is taken to a hospital where the miserable and luckless little ones are convalescing, and is so horrified that he agrees to betray a trust – but we don’t get to see the kids! We just see him looking AT the kids. Showing wee types all dewy-eyed and pathetic is perhaps an exploitation we are glad to be spared, but it’s like the filmmakers don’t want us to be unfairly influenced to hate the villain, or to see the world a little bit differently. It does little to make me think about the nature of friendship, or betrayal, or honor, virtue, or anything else. The people in it are very real but they don’t matter.

Anyway, I keep thinking I’ll be telling people it’s a masterpiece, but then I don’t. The Cuckoo-Clock-Speech is probably worth the price of admission alone. But it’s an empty pleasure.

I want to recommend it but worry that I am pushing a hollow experience onto you, dear reader. It’s an easy movie to respect, but it affirms nothing, inspires no one, and is in no way edifying or consciousness-enhancing. Is that enough? Maybe I am unfair to accuse a film of not having the ambitions I would have wanted it to.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Back from errantry

I just got back from Arizona. Light on the blogging because I have not been thinking very much lately. Or, at least not thinking about things that would make for an interesting essay or story. Storage shed unit mixes. Vertically oriented web sites. Valuations of pyramid scheme investments. Business is such utter banality sometimes, it’s a good thing there’s money involved or no one would do it.

Actually, that’s not true (about the banality, not the money…well, sometimes about the money, too). Right now I’m just in the thick of instruction that is all very well and good but not exactly voluntary. Nothing takes the fun out of learning like being forced to do it.

Normally, enterprise and economics are absolutely fascinating. I learned a funny thing while working in a bank a couple years ago. I learned that making money can be as subtle and creative as drawing a picture or writing a book. So far, I have loved finance and banking. The money and asset markets are organic computer systems that no one person can control. They represent the combined efforts, dreams, desires, abilities, and ambitions of most of earth’s population – directly or indirectly.

If you wanted to find the mind of God in earthly terms, I think you might just look for it on Wall Street.

Meanwhile, I’m out of town for a week and what have they done to my wonderful Wasatch Front? When I left it was all “crisp college football Saturday” and upon return this evening it’s a definite “early winter in Kemmerer, Wyoming” vibe. Not good at all, especially since it was 65 and sunny when I got into my car this morning.

Speaking of banality, I checked out the web site for a recent reality show that featured my cousin.

This show was bad. BAAAAADDDD. As in, so bad that even though my cousin was in it I couldn’t be troubled to watch anything after the first episode. The only redeeming feature (aside from my cousin), was the hosting setup where the judges all had to match American Idol Host personalities. So, going from memory, there was the roly poly nice guy, the attractive sweetheart woman, and most particularly the very elegant snarky ambiguously gay guy – you know, the sort that probably does ostentatious arm-waving finger snaps with no sense of irony at all.

Oh, he didn’t make a very good Simon Cowell at all, but it was funny that the producers thought that’s what made American Idol a success – a certain specific combination of judge personality and chemistry along with liberal dollops of snarky gayness, and nothing else to the mixture. “They’ve got an effeminate ponce? Well, so do we! Let’s get cracking on those Emmy acceptance speeches!” I really like those moments where the engineering of these “reality” shows is laid bare and you can see the machinations and manipulations—however poorly wrought—in action.

Anyway, so it turns out cuz was kicked off after a few episodes for being arrogant, I think. Since he is personable and polite, any conflict (and anything else that happened on the whole stupid show) was probably engineered by a desperate group of producers that could envision their jobs being exported abroad and done for 50% less by Indian engineers that can make reality shows that don’t stink.

By that point the show was being shown at 6 AM on Sundays on their Mexican affiliate. Or something. The sixth and last episode was never even aired. Not good enough to compete with Guadalajara’s early-morning weekend farm report? Ouch.

I love how the website turns this rather substantial liability into an asset. The unaired final episode is recapped thus: “In a result revealed exclusively on, Chris and Sammy, inventors of the Hydromax System, won the coveted grand prize and had their lives changed forever!”

Nothing like declaring a defeat a victory and bugging out as quick as you can.

That’s probably how we end up getting out of Iraq.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

How to Brag About Your GMAT Score

When I walked out of the Testing Center on the campus of the University of Utah a few years back, I didn’t immediately realize that the events of the few hours previous would change my life. You see, I had sat in front of a terminal, clicked a few dots with my mouse, pushed a pencil across some scratch paper a bit, and had a rather unaccountable jag of giggling. The net result was pleasing as well as surprising: a General Management Administration Test score (basis for entry into an MBA program) of unusual quality.

I got my first inkling that things were to be different from there on when I talked to a fellow test-taker who finished at the same time.

“How did it go?” I believe I asked.

“Sigh, not so well. I was really hoping to top 600, and wasn’t very close.”

“Oh,” I answered. “That’s too bad.”

“So, how did you do?”

“Uh, pretty well.”

If he only knew. My score was of a sort that could transform a young man’s resume into a story of untapped genius waiting to be trained, molded, and leveraged, rather than the tale of limited achievement and similarly proportioned potential it had previously spun, inconsistent and full of sudden starts and stops, generally describing the sort of unmotivated fellow that doesn’t even bother to prepare for important standardized tests.

This lone bright spot perched at the top of the document. I did everything but draw circles, arrows, and stars all about it when I applied to the Brigham Young University MBA program. And it got me in.

It is so rare that we jump through all of the hoops with such success. Wouldn’t you expect people to be happy to hear such a happy tale of standardized brilliance?

Well, they aren’t. Those that haven’t taken the test must take my word for it that this was indeed a special feat. And many that have taken the test do not care one bit to hear me brag about taking it cold; rather, when they contrast my experience with the time, energy, and exquisite anxiety they invested in preparing for and enduring the endeavor, they don’t have anything pleasant at all to say in response. I have learned to answer little and volunteer less.

Still, as touchy as the subject appears to be, it is nonetheless easy enough to find out how classmates did – just ask them. Many are just as eager to brag if not more. Those that demonstrate embarrassed reluctance will require more subterfuge. “To what other schools did you apply?” is a good tack. If they answer with places like New Mexico State and Wyoming; well, they’ve told you all you need to know.

Unfortunately, asking other students outright how they did is not a good strategy for getting them to ask you in return. People rarely reciprocate the solicitous inquiry (being generally more content to talk about themselves), so you must either continue to keep your peace or blurt it out insistently, like the arrogant fool you are.

And what about their performance? If they did better than you there isn’t much to crow about, is there. And heaven forbid they bombed the GMAT – for then social felicity requires you to pooh-pooh the importance of the exam, it’s only a number, no reflection of your intelligence, just a big popularity contest, blah blah blah lies lies lies. How could you possibly bring up your score after that? “Sure the score means nothing. Why, my 830 has done very little to enrich my life.” Rings hollow, doesn’t it.

So really, when it comes to these tests there’s not much to talk about. Your score doesn’t make you a good person. Additionally, your efforts to weave an entertaining tale about the events and particulars of the examination sound akin to that schlubby cousin of yours that is convinced everyone else finds World of Warcraft as fascinating as he does. And, bottom line, you didn’t get it because of any extraordinary effort or feat of learning. You didn’t learn to think any more than you learned to breathe – God and your parents made you that way, and since when is that something to brag about?

So why bring it up at all? Are we so uncertain and insecure that we seek solace from a number that will tell us what we are worth? Apparently the answer is yes. But why fight it – we should enjoy it while we can for the evaluation has an expiration date. There are few things more pathetic than that overweight jock that still trades on his glories long-past. The forty-five-year-old manager that adorns his resume with the glory of a decades-old standardized test score is similarly pathetic. Has nothing valuable happened since then?

Perhaps it would be appropriate to hold a GMAT appreciation day some time at the end of the MBA program, where all graduating students wear a badge showing their score and then compliment each other on their test-taking prowess. Sure, the event may be unbalanced, with most of the recognition going to finance students (and many OB/HR’s not bothering to attend at all). But it would be grand, a general celebration of the last day of life where the GMAT score actually means something, before the big numbers that people brag about start to have dollar signs in front of them.