Monthly Archives: November 2008

You’re a Part of Something

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

This tired old adage sounds accusing and incriminating, like you’re supposed to feel guilty for not working towards a solution, a better world. It’s a bold, shaming aphorism.

Here’s my version.

“If you’re not part of the problem, you’re part of the solution!”

Optimism. Relief. Exoneration.

Mine sounds so much more optimistic than the original. Yet, they are exactly logically equivalent.

Both of them state that “you” are “part of the solution” or “part of the problem” (and maybe both). There are two sets: “problem”, “solution” and you are a member of at least one.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a rough guide to a formal proof.

Let S = “you are part of the solution” and P = “you are part of the problem”.

The first statement translates to “~S => P”.

The second statement translates to “~P => S”.

We will show that one implies the other. First, we will prove that (~S => P) => (~P => S).

1. ~S => P  (assumption)
2. ~P (assumption)
3. ~S (assumption)
4. P (1&3, implication, depends on 1,3)
5. P & ~P (2&4, depends on 1,2,3)
6. ~~S (RAA, 5&3, depends on 1,2)
7. S (double negation, depends on 1,2)
8. ~P=>S (2&7, implication, depends on 1)
9. (~S=>P)=>(~P=>S) (1&8, implication, no dependencies)

The proof that (~P=>S)=>(~S=>P) is virtually identical (just swap the roles of P and S).

My Obsessive Behaviour Finally Pays Off

I record all my comedy sets obsessively. I’ve done over 340 sets and I’ve recorded all but a handful. A few days ago, I listened to my first set on a whim. It was, shall we say, “interesting”. I definitely sounded like one of those new comics I’ve heard so many of since then. But once in a while, a flash of brilliance peeked through which made me happy (although you might have had to have been me to know what they were, since most people don’t such direct insight into my brain).

I decided to come up to Vancouver for a while and because I have more time than income these days, I drove. It’s about a thousand miles in fifteen hours. Because I hate wasted time and doing just one thing at a time, I was trying to figure out what else I could do while I drive.

I think you see where I’m going with this. I decided I would take advantage of my obsessive recording of my sets and listen to them as I drove.

Any comic will tell you that listening to yourself is torture. It turns out though that after a few sets, you become numb, and it become a lot easier. All in all, I listened to show 17 (my first few shows were WAV files and iPod wouldn’t play them) to around show 102 in about fourteen hours. I heard a few jokes and tags I’d forgotten about and thought of a few new twists. I brought my voice recorder with me and made about 30 or 40 notes to self. And it actually helped the time go faster by keeping my brain occupied.

I reviewed my first year of comedy (I started in November 2004, although I suppose technically I did maybe three or four shows at UCLA in the early 90s that I am quite certain were terrible). A lot of these shows were simply awful. My set-ups were often too long. I was incoherent and rambly. There were premises with no punch lines. My diction was poor. My speech was peppered with useless “Ums” and way too many “So…” transitions.

My set-ups were filled with lies. For example, in my very first show, I had a set-up that talked about something that happened when I was married. But I’ve never been married, so when I listened, I just sounded like a lying idiot. I guess I couldn’t figure out any other way to set it up, but I mean, come on, that’s just lazy.

I was surprised how many jokes I still use were in these early eras, although many have been improved beyond recognition after going through quite a few iterations.

I also talked quite frankly about the shoulder surgery I went through in August of 2005, and it was really interesting to hear what I had to say both before and after the surgery. It was almost like I was doing it more for me than for anyone else.

Early on, I’d leave my voice recorder on a table when I went up, and I often ended up in the background. Once in a while someone sitting near my recorder would make a comment about a joke or something that I’d strain to evaluate. Or other comics would see the recorder and leave a cute message for me. I don’t know if they realized I wouldn’t hear it until 2008.

I would really strongly recommend recording all your shows. Bring the recorder up to stage with you, and just put it on the stool with any notes you might have. It might seem weird, but if you don’t make a big deal out of it, no one cares. You don’t have to listen to it, but if record all your shows, you at least have the option.

Near the end of my trip, I fast forwarded to listen to some sets I have done in the past few weeks. I was so relieved to hear how much better they are. I really have improved noticeably. I mean, this is no surprise; you would expect that practicing something several times a week years would yield improvement. But it was a relief to actually have some evidence.

I suppose I’ll review my second year of comedy on the drive back. Fourteen more hours of torturous self-realization. I can’t wait!

Free Stuff! Come ‘n Git It! (Part 2)

I’ve created a couple more git depots with some rather old code that has been written and open sourced for quite some time… but just never shared.

One is a simple C-based command-line utility to quickly fix line endings for text files. It can read and write text files that have DOS, UNIX or Mac line endings. It’s very simple and quite peppy, and does a simple check for binary files before proceeding, so you can use it with confidence. It’s called “fixle”… very quick to type, fast to use. It replaces files in place. Developed on Mac OS X, it should work on any UNIX.

Another is a pair of Core Audio utilities for Mac OS X that provide a sort of “device” for audio: speakerpipe (which lets you dump data to the speaker) and mikepipe (which dumps data from the mike).

Ideally, the functionality in speakerpipe should be integrated into the Mac OS X build of the very useful command-line utility sox so it can play sounds on the Mac. (Hmm, some browsing of the project seems to indicate that this functionality is coming.)

Both of these were written years ago and just never released into the wild. I release them, with BSD-style licenses, with the hope that they will be useful. No warranties though suckah!

The Chair That Melted

It’s not too often that one gets the chance to experience a sensation that is completely new and unexpected, and even less often that it comes from completely mundane circumstances. But it happened to me.

The other day I was having dinner with my comedian friend Ben at a Thai restaurant in Sunnyvale that shall remain nameless. We had been there for a few hours, and had already finished eating, just discussing a multitude of topics. I was rocking my chair a little bit, when suddenly, something seemed wrong.

I felt as though I was losing control. Like something was wrong. Maybe there was an earthquake, or I was having a stroke, but I couldn’t hold myself up. I started to lilt to the left, then sink lower. Not in a symmetrical way. I was completely confused and baffled as to what was happening, and not just on a conscious level — my body had no intuitive knowledge how to respond or stay up.

Soon, I found myself, sitting on the floor. Balance restored, I finally felt normal again. It was just a few seconds, but it was remarkably bizarre and weird. I looked around in an effort to figure out what happened.

It quickly became obvious that the left front leg of my chair had failed. It had twisted off and broken. Not cleanly, either. It was as though the leg had rotted or been eaten by termites, and finally been weakened enough to just slowly give up.

I was completely uninjured, and confused enough that I was not even embarrassed.

Ben pointed out that the detached leg looked like a pepper mill, so I picked it up and mimed doling out fresh pepper in the way that fancy waiters do (although not generally at a Thai restaurant).

I swapped the broken chair with another at a nearby table, and we resumed our conversation.

On the way out, Ben, being nonstandard, said to a waiter “You’re sorry that happened,” and the waiter, who was not quite fluent, responded with “That’s okay.”