Thursday, December 29, 2005

What's In A Face?

Ok I have something really cool to show you all today. First, you may want to read my friend Chris Clark's blog (link on the right) for a funny introduction to this process. Basically, this family history website is beta testing a new face recognition software. You upload a picture of yourself and it matches you mathematically with celebrities that look the most like you. Chris made it seem like so much fun that I'm going to shamelessly plagirize his idea and show you my results, and then I suggest you all go try it yourselves. I'm not sure how accurate this program is, I got a few different results on the same pictures in multiple tries, but here's the highlights:


I started with this picture, which you may recognize from my blog profile. It was taken in London and I think its a very flattering picture. The site says the program works best with your face facing directly into the camera, but I thought I'd give this a try anyway.

And here were my results:

Wilhelm Roentgen, 64% A German-born winner of the Nobel Prize in 1901. Ok, I guess thats kind of flattering.... right? I mean, he looks like a polygamist, but at least he was smart.






Clark Gable, 53% Even though I personally never found Mr. Gable to be all that good-looking, he was quite the hot stuff back in his day, apparently. At any rate, this is much better than the Nobel nerd.






Jacques Chirac, 50% Oh no! Say it ain't so! Not the Head Frog himself, la Presidente de la Republique du Freaking France! Ok ok, obviously, I used a bad picture. Because I don't look like Chirac any more than I look like Bush or Blair or any other megalomaniac world leader.





After that, I decided to try another picture:

This is, of course, my old BYU ID photo, taken circa 2002. It is directly towards the camera with little background, which makes it ideal for this kind of analysis, but is, I think, far less flattering than the first picture.

Ironically, here were the results:


David Beckham, 51% The captain of the England football team ("soccer" for all you internationally-challenged) and quite the handsome devil, if I do say so myself - even if he is married to one of the Spice Girls (Posh Spice? Spicy Spice? I can't remember which one). At any rate, this is much much better...





John Updike, 49% Yeah, he's old, but this is a respected American author so, hey, I'm flattered.









Daniel Radcliffe, 49% That's right, folks: the one and only Harry Potter. No wonder my forehead is always hurting!








Keanu Reeves, 47% No surprises here. I've been getting this one for years. In the Philippines they called me "Elder Reeves." He's a good looking guy, but I'd be more flattered if he were a half-way decent actor. Still, he is THE ONE so I'm not complaining.






Alec Baldwin, 45% Another good-looking yet dubiously talented actor. Is this program trying to tell me something? On the other hand, it's waaay better than Jacques Chirac (for crying out loud)....






Out of curiousity, I checked to see what females I looked like. Here's what came up:

Beyonce Knowles, 44% Huh. I really don't know what to say about this one. Never would have guessed in a hundred years. I like to shake my "groove thang" as much as the next guy, but still.... anyway, take the matches you get with a grain of salt, is what I suggest.





Try it out at www.myheritage.com. Let me know how it goes for you.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Retrospective and Resolution

Hi, everybody.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday weekend. I know I did. The gifts have been opened and stacked into a neat little pile to be properly inspected. The wrapping paper lies strewn about the floor – a forgotten casualty that stands as a testament to the orgy of commercialism that now is over. Your dear friends and family have gladly received your gifts and either broken or exchanged them by now. The tree looks less magical and more like a large plant dying slowly in your living room. There are no more Christmas songs on the radio, and thank heavens too because if you heard “Christmas Shoes” one more time you were going to barf. All this can mean only one thing: Christmas is over. And that can only mean one other thing: time to look forward to a new year! 2006 is almost here, but before we say goodbye to good old 2005 I thought we'd look back at the events of the past year in a brief and fairly reductive sort of way.

This year: I graduated from college. I experienced the real world work force first hand and found it to stink. I was in six plays and had three jobs. I went to Vegas and Disneyland once each. I moved to Orem, and so did my family. I began to worry about things I had never worried about before: insurance, my weight, car problems, graduate school applications, US foreign policy, etc. etc.

In broader news, the year was full of events: the Iraqi consititution and general elections, the London bombings, Hurricane Katrina and the mess that followed it. In entertainment, a number of big movies were released this year, not the least of which was Star Wars Episode III, which finally, after twenty eight years, brought George Lucas' science fiction epic to its final conclusion with a resounding “eh” from audiences worldwide. In sports, a number of teams played a number of other teams, and about half won and half lost. In weather, it started cold, got much much warmer, then got cold again. Thats about it.

Actually, I got curious earlier today about how I had spent my time this year. I crunched some numbers and came up with this graph:


As you can see, an overwhelming amount of time was placed into the category “Other,” which means I have no idea what the heck I was doing. This is over 3,000 hours worth of unaccounted time. A big chunk of that is probably video games, some of it is movies, reading books, and hanging out with friends, some is vacation and weekends, not to mention household chores, errands, grocery shopping and the like. It is the filler time, the little stuff you do in between the major things. It all adds up to about one third of my over-all time. I find this a bit surprising. I know some of it was necessary fact-of-life type stuff, but still: I had 3,000 hours worth of free time, and what do I have show for it? What did I really accomplish this year?

New Year's resolutions are fast approaching, and that means last year's resolution (not to make any resolutions) has nearly reached its expiration date. At that time, I'll be free to make a new resolution, to start fresh and really take control of my own destiny. And this time I'll do it, I really will. I feel charged with a new sense of purpose and motivation. I swear by all that I love that in 2006 the number of wasted hours will be changed!

I think I'll shoot for 4,000. Its nice to have goals.

Monday, December 19, 2005

"Thus goes everyone into the world but I...."

This weekend a good friend of mine from high school got married. The ceremony was in Arizona, and though I could not take the time off of work to drive down there and offer him my condolences in person, my parents (who consider him as their own son) were in attendance and assured me it was a lovely experience. I'm happy for him, honestly. He couldn't have chosen a better bride to keep him out of trouble. They are heading to Salt Lake City for their honeymoon (which seems a bit unfortunate to me but nobody asked my opinion) and so they were in town last night where I was able to see him for a few hours. He seemed happy and, more or less, the same as always; it's still early.

I think of marriage rather like I think of bungee jumping: I'm sure it's great if you like that sort of thing, but I don't really have much of a desire to give it a try. It's the big craze these days; everybody's doing it, even members of my own gender who I had previously expected to have better sense. As President-for-Life of the Bachelor Club, it has been my solemn and sad duty from time to time to formally excommunicate members of our noble brotherhood who take the final plunge into everlasting matrimony. I wish them well in their new-found life, but it is my responsibility on these occasions to serve as a reminder to them that with this drastic change of lifestyle many doors are now closed to them. No longer will they stay up until four in the morning partaking of Playstation and pizza in equal proportions, surrounded by their brothers who will never ask them if their butts look big in the sauce-stained jeans they are wearing. I suppose one eventually outgrows this sort of thing and no longer has any problem giving it up in exchange for married bliss, but to those of us still lacking the “maturity” to do the same this so-called institution of “marriage” amounts to nothing less than treason and betrayal of the highest order.

As I am now twenty and four years old, well within reach of the official “danger to society” age limit set by my conservative community, many friends of my age have now been married and they are all, without exception, far less fun than they used to be. Therein lies the axiom I convieniently coined just moments ago off the top of my head: “The price of marriage is everything cool.” My newly-married buddies promise to still hang out sometime, but it never happens. Usually we lose all contact for several years until I receive an announcement that they have successfully procreated. The only exception to this is my friend Aaron, who was married already when I met him, and whose wife is so phenomenally awesome that she not only encourages him to do cool things but participates herself. Not all men are so lucky.

I have nothing against the female species, but I must admit that most of them have absolutely no sense of what is cool. Mention the X-box in mixed company on BYU campus and you'll see what I mean: cold, level stares of disdain from girls who see Microsoft's little electronic device as competition on a very personal level. I could provide a long list of reasons why video games are preferable to the fairer sex, but I would hardly be the first to do so and I have no desire to be labeled a chauvinist (perhaps its too late). I'm a liberal, after all; I'm 100% for women's rights. I shout, “You go, girl!” when I read feminist literary theory. And yet in situations of love and dating I find myself, like Shakespeare's Benedick, to be “a professed tyrant to their sex.” In fact, the similarities between this famous character from “Much Ado About Nothing” and the women-hating persona I frequently adopt are so striking that I often use lines from the play to express myself:

“I do much wonder that one man, seeing how much another man is a fool when he dedicates his behaviors to love, will, after he hath laughed at such shallow follies in others, become the argument of his own scorn by falling in love.... May I be so converted and see with these eyes? I cannot tell; I think not!” (Act 2, Scene 1)

The problem is, however, that in Shakespeare's story Benedick does end up falling in love and getting married, saying:

“In brief, since I do purpose to marry, I will think nothing to any purpose that the world can say against it; and therefore never flout at me for what I have said against it; for man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion.” (Act 5, Scene 4)

Does Shakespeare have a point, or is he only another traitor to the Bachelor Club? Does even the President-for-Life (PFL) burn with a inner passion for another's touch? Does he fear to live his life alone? Does he scorn and mock that which he only fears he will never obtain? Or does he love already, secretly, and hides his love beneath a mask of frivolity? We cannot tell, and to say too much would be a violation of the standards of his high office, but of this much we can be sure: he is but human, at the end of the day, and video games and pizza aside, it is the human predisposition to love and seek love in return. It may be that one day you will hear him say with Signior Benedick, “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married.”

But don't hold your breath.

Friday, December 09, 2005

God Bless Us, Every One

Call me a Scrooge, but I've found that the last couple of years Christmas just hasn't carried the same sense of wonder and excitement it once did. When I was a kid, I was ready to pee my pants every day in December just thinking about the twenty-fifth, which crept closer so slowly that the month was always filled with blissfully tortuous anticipation. The sense of suspense, the agony of not knowing what the fantastically wrapped boxes contained, was only heightened by the lights, the music, the snow, and everything you knew meant it was Christmas time. Back then, my heart's desires cost about twenty bucks and, tragically, seemed both completely unobtainable and the key to my whole life's happiness. This was the season, then, when miracles of a very practical kind could happen; objects only admired on the shelf, or at a friend's, or in some abstract sense of obsession could literally become my own and wind up, eventually, in pieces somewhere in my closet.

I like to consider myself a little more sophisticated now, and consequently it takes a bit more than a cheap toy to make my day. And anyway, anything I really want that badly I can just go out and buy – that's why I force myself to go to work every day. So what does Christmas have left to offer me? Many adults seem to enjoy the season as a time to be with family, but now my family lives five minutes away and I see them once a week, so there's hardly anything special there. All this adds up to make Christmas seem very anti-climatic this year. The thing thats seemed the most appealing so far is the two days off of work, and thats a depressingly low drop on the anticipation scale from ten, fifteen years ago.

Perhaps this is another symptom of a greater problem in my life: I just can't seem to grasp the fact that I'm a grown-up now. I'm constantly having to remind myself of this fact. When I was twelve, twenty-four seemed impossibly old and mature, a time in life when work, bills, sex, and babies would all seem natural and appropriate - not video games, practical jokes, sleepovers, and the word “cooties.” But now that I'm here, I find myself pulled in two separate directions: the pull to become a man and put away childish things, and a deep reluctance, I daresay a total phobia, of parting with those remnants of a simpler age and dealing with the complicated mess of the adult world. This explains, at least in part, my disappointment with Christmas lately: I want so desperately to experience it the way I did as a child, but am finding it increasingly difficult if not impossible to do so. You can't go back to Neverland.

Yesterday, I decided that it was time to do a little Christmas shopping. This is the first year when I've had a full-time job with a decent income, so this rightfully is the first year that I need to take buying gifts seriously. Nobody really expects a poor college student to buy many presents, but now that I'm graduated and working its a whole new ballgame. When my roommates put nicely wrapped packages under the tree for me, I remember quite suddenly that I would be expected to do the same for them. I knew this, of course, somewhere in the back of my mind, but I'd grown so used to not being expected to give many gifts for one reason or another that it took a little time for the idea to impress itself upon my mind. I don't want anybody to think that I'm selfish or stingy with money or anything. On the contrary, I have no problem spending money on my friends and family – I am more than happy to do so. But buying presents for people is difficult and exhausting, as I was to find out on my trip to the mall last night.

Like many men, I find the concept of secretly buying things for people very difficult, though I personally enjoy the suspense of not knowing what somebody has given me. The problem is figuring out what that person would like. If it were simply a matter of somebody pointing out what they wanted, then buying it and giving it to them, this would all be a piece of cake. But I am also aware, in theory, that the effort and stress put into finding a suitable present is as nice to get as the gift itself. We like to know that somebody cares enough to put time into it. When I arrived at the mall, I decided I would just browse the various shops while trying to think like the people on my gift list until I found something they would like. This turned out to be very difficult, and when I wandered into the video game store, I knew I was failing.

“OK,” I said to myself, “What would Person A want, if he were here? Let's see... he's very practical. He's probably one of those people who likes getting socks and underwear for Christmas. And every time he comes to the mall he looks at clothes. Lets try that.”

It was a breakthrough - I'd never think of looking at clothes when shopping for myself. Encouraged by this progress, I entered the Gap and began searching for something suitable. It was at this point I realized that all the clothing looked the same to me. This sweater seems nice, but would he like it? What size does he wear anyway? I have no idea! Socks are one size fit all, practically, but can I really live with myself if I got somebody socks for Christmas? I looked around, dazed and overwhelmed and not at all sure what the heck I should do. I fingered a few shirts as if considering their texture and quality, but really I was just stalling.

“Can I help you, sir?” asked the salesman/clothes model.

“I doubt it,” I said, and shuffled out of the store. I tried three other stores with exactly the same results. The last thing I wanted was to buy something that had to be returned on the twenty-sixth because it was the wrong size or some hideous color that clashed with somebody's entire wardrobe, so, being unable to make an informed purchasing decision, I decided to try something else. I wondered through most of the mall with largely the same result. Eventually, however, I did make a few purchases, though far fewer than I had planned. I told myself I'd try a different mall next week, or maybe look online, but secretly I knew that I was only procrastinating the difficult process. Before leaving, I stopped a little booth to have my merchandise gift-wrapped.

It was here, while waiting for the nice lady to wrap up my presents, that I began to feel very grown up and mature. Here I was, buying presents like an adult, like my parents. I'd have real presents to put under the tree, nicely packaged with a little bow and ribbon. I leaned against the booth, trying to look very suave and sophisticated. I'm buying presents, I emoted, with my own money and on my very busy schedule because I'm a successful but generous man with many friends and relations. I promptly knocked over several display gifts at the booth and spent a few moments trying pathetically to set them back upright and looking as perfectly placed as they did before, which I think probably ruined the whole image I was trying to set up. I laid a ribbon I had accidentally torn off on top of one of the boxes in the nicest way I could, took my packages, and left the people at the booth a big tip to apologize.

When I got home and placed the packages under our admittedly beautiful Christmas tree, I realized suddenly how excited I was for the big day. I didn't much care for the boxes with my name written on top. I wasn't imagining, as I did as a kid, their possible contents, or the fun and pleasure I would derive from them. I was thinking about the look on my friends' and family's faces when they opened the gifts that I had laboriously picked out for them. I was thinking about the joy and happiness they would get from my efforts. Suddenly, Christmas seemed a wonderful and beautiful and perfect thing that made me shake with excitement from head to toe, and I felt filled with love and light and happy to be alive. I understood, perhaps for the first time in my life (despite all the TV specials, despite all the talks in church and lectures in school) the magic of Christmas, the joy of the season, and the fulfillment of giving. I drank a glass of Egg Nog in celebration of my newfound enthusiasm for the holidays.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a lot more gifts to buy....

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Goodnight, Sweet Prince

It's not every day that you get to spend four hours with people you really like, laughing at everything and anything, bask in the adoration and the occasional scorn of hundreds of elementry school children, and take on the persona of one of the most famous dramatic roles ever. For me, its every Tuesday. For the last year and a half I have been part of a traveling Shakespeare show that performs for children in elementry schools all over the area, and today is my last day in the group.

I auditioned for the group two years ago, to play Orlando in "As You Like It." The director of the group, my friend Chris, said I was good but there just wasn't a part for me. Once I had spat out the bitter bile of failure, I moved on with life and tried again in the spring for the next year's show, "Cymbeline" and got in. I did that for two semesters, and of course had to do it again this year when I heard we'd be doing "Hamlet."

What was it about the idea of performing Shakespeare to children that intrigued me enough to keep auditioning for this group? In fact, I had been told by several fancy-schmancy acting type people that it would be a waste of my time and talent, and was advised to avoid the group at all cost. I have a nasty habit of ignoring advice, good or bad, but in this case I'm glad that I did. Not only was performing the show often fun and rewarding (excepting only that one junior high school in Magna) but I met some of the most amazing people and laughed more than in the rest of my week combined. Some of the friends I made are no longer in the group, like Adrian and Tim and of course Celeste, but some of those who were with me that first year are still part of the team I will be performing with in just a few hours. My darling Spencer, my dear friend Laura who is mad at me right now and has every right to be (I'm sorry, Laura), the delightful Debra, the ever irreverent Chris Clark, and our amazingly efficient and patient stage manager, Becky. We've been joined this semester with two new friends who have made this past semester so much fun: David and Fallon.

I can't quite explain how much I have looked forward to Tuesday afternoons for the past year and a half. Especially in the past semester, when performing the show has been such a joy. Our version of Hamlet is a bit goofy and simple, but I think its really solid with real substance to it that the kids really enjoy. There was a lot of concern that a stuffy old tragedy like Hamlet could never hold the attention of 2nd through 6th graders, but I'm here to tell you that every school we've been to so far has told us how amazed they were that the kids were as interested and focused on the play as they were. I think we underestimate kids, we expect little of them, we don't think them capable of very much. Most of them handle Hamlet just fine; true, we help them out and make it easier to understand, but in the end its still difficult material and they are getting it! They haven't been filled with notions of "Shakespeare is boring and impossible to understand" that so many adults have to get over. They are a blank canvas, and I'd like to think in my idealistic way that we are shaping their perceptions of the Bard and theater in a postive way that will last the rest of their lives.

And to be Hamlet! Even in a one hour children's theater adaptation, there is such a thrill to perform those famous lines, to take upon me the mantle of that mythic figure. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. But being Hamlet is only a small part of the fun of my Tuesday afternoons. The best part of the whole experience is riding in the van to and from the school, when we as a group of friends can talk and laugh and bring up old jokes and make new ones, make fun of cheesy Christmas songs, hear embarrassing stories from Chris's past, discuss inappropriate and awkward subjects with ease, spread gossip about famous people, and argue about where to eat.

That's what I'll miss most, my friends, when I'm stuck at work on Tuesdays from now on. I'll miss Arctic Circle, I'll miss singing in unison at the top of our lungs, I'll miss screaming "We're going to roll over!!!" every time Becky makes a slightly sharp turn, I'll miss the way Chris covers his mouth while giggling at something he knows is scandalous, the way Spencer enjoys being the ever-present butt-grabbing threat. I'll miss picking out the hot teacher, trying to convince jaded and cynical children that yes, this is a real sword, miss delivering the most famous lines of the English language right into the faces of ten year-olds, miss the inside jokes, the stories, the pranks, the bathroom humor (being delivered, as it is, in the bathroom). But most of all I'll miss you, my friends. I know most of you aren't doing the play next semester, but to those of you who are I just want to say: I hate you.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Tis the Season to Be Blogging....

It's that time of the year again. If you hadn't been indoctrinated with Western culture since your birth, you might think everybody collectively goes insane in the month of December. We put electric light on the outside of our houses and bring trees inside. We listen to the same set of about twenty different songs over and over in countless variations. We scarf down candy, rush to the store to buy junk we'd never look at any other time of the year, and force our children to sit on a strange old guy's lap. It's like the world is upside down!

Such is the phenomenon of the American Christmas season. Each year it starts a little earlier, though the majority of people still complain if you start listening to carols or put up your tree before Thanksgiving. But once the turkey's cold its no holds barred all out Yuletide action. But in all the furvor of the holiday, have we forgotten the true meaning of Christmas? Do we remember how and why it started in the first place? Gather round children, and hear the old familiar story.

You see, kids, thousands of years ago, long before baby Jesus was born, the pagans held a great celebration every year at Winter Solistice. There were many different kinds of pagans, and they each had their different traditions for this occasion, which we have inherited. For example, the Norse people gave us the Yule log and the Romans gave us the special spirit of hedonistic eating and drinking that makes the holiday so special today. And then Christianity came along and gobbled up all the older traditions, combining them into the Christmas we know and love. So remember, as you enjoy your holiday season this year, don't forget the inspiring story of the pagans; or as I like to call them, proto-Christian-Americans.

Seriously, though, we do some weird things this time of year which have nothing to do with the reasons we claim we are celebrating. What on earth does mistle toe have to do with baby Jesus? Not that I'm complaining, mind you, or suggesting that mistle toe should be banned... Its just that most people, including me, have no idea how these things really started, but its a tradition! You have to do it, you see, even if you are confused about why. Perhaps thats why we're constantly being reminded every year to keep in mind the true meaning of Christmas. We are warned that we'll get so busy getting and spending that we'll forget the stuff that really matters. There are plenty of people willing to be critical of the commercialization of the season, and to sell you their book or tape or video to help you keep in in the true spirit. But a lot of the confusion about the meaning of Christmas comes from the fact that the holiday is a hodgepodge of traditions and symbols from varying and conflicting mythologies, and you can't blame commercialism for that. And besides, its not the job of the corporations to remind you of things with a deeper metaphysical significance; the system doesn't work that way. It's their job to make money, and they do this very well. That is called capitalism, and if you want the luxury cars, playstations, designer clothes, and comparatively steady employment that comes along with it, you have to give up some things. Here's another, practical and sensible way to look at the situation: my roommate told me he doesn't mind all the commerical hype of Christmas because its good for the economy! And we want the economy to be good, don't we?? It's the American way!

Honestly, the commercial parts of Christmas are now such a integral part of the mood of the season that, were they suddenly taken away by a green furry grinch, it just wouldn't be the same. Never mind the presents, I just can't imagine anybody wanting to sing "Dah Boo Doray" if there were suddenly no carols on the radio, no candy canes, no decorations or TV specials or Rudolph - all products of the commercialization of Christmas. I know its a bit out of character for me to defend consumer culture, but all I'm saying is that its a bit tricky to hold the fond feelings most of us have for the season and our childhood memories of it while at the same time blaming business for taking advantage of it to sell products. We're perfectly capable of celebrating the holiday in a deeply and profoundly religious way on our own, with our families. Just don't be expecting the business world to do the same. It's a whole different ballgame.

And another thing - big companies, faced with an ever more diverse and particular consumer base, have began replacing the belief-specific "Christmas" with a more neutral and all-encompassing "holidays," to the shock and horror of many traditionalists. Soon, they cry, Christianity and all it stands for will be FORBIDDEN, and after all this is a CHRISTIAN country!!! Celebrating Christmas should be mandatory for all Americans! I think we can all agree that such people need to calm down. Last time I checked, the obscure Latin motto of this nation was "E Pluribus Unim," or, "From Many, One." America is supposed to be the big melting pot where people of all relgions, races, and walks of life co-exist peacefully. What is so wrong with big companies prefering to use more inclusive language? Does it deny you the right to celebrate your beliefs in the way you desire to in your own home? Most of what is called "political correctness" can also be called "good old-fashioned politeness and consideration for other people."

So if I can wave at my Jewish neighbor and say, "Happy Hanukkah," and he can smile and say to me, "Merry Christmas," and we can both really mean it... well, I don't know what else to call that if not peace on earth, goodwill towards men.