Friday, January 29, 2010

Pedant's Corner

My internet connection is important to me - it's the main conduit to that girlfriend of mine whose position relative to the Atlantic ocean is more noticeable when the broadband is on the fritz. What ought to be the highlight of my day becomes a bit of a chore, as we unsuccessfully play games of "guess the missing words", or test the other's endurance by seeing how many times they're willing to repeat what they just said (it turns out that we're not really as interested in each other's day as you might think).

As the connection hasn't been reliable lately, I've taken to running a speed-test before we chat; this means that my expectations for the following conversation are already low. While my speed-test of choice is Blacknight's Irish ISP Test, tonight I thought it prudent to run the Imagine speedtest, as they're my service provider.

Sure enough, the download speed was just over half what it should be (jitter rates and QOS aren't reported by Imagine), but the red boxout over the speedtest drew my eye:

Not only are they shilling WiMax by denigrating "slow broadband down your phone line" (which is what they're currently providing me with), they've also packaged this bold proclamation with the authority and gravitas of a pre-pubescent secondary schooler who is hedging her bets through an English assignment.

To say "you are" do I use "your" or "you're"? I know! I'll stick one I think is right in the title, and use the other one later!

Hmmm... How do I say "It is"? Maybe an "Its" without an apostrophe will do. But what about "that is"? Better stick in an "apostrophe S" to be sure.

It's stupid, it's unnecessary, it's inconsistent. If you're going to be wrong, at least have a sense of style about it! Lazy efforts like this annoy me immensely - I'm sure you'll find plenty of stupid mistakes and oversights and nonsense on this very blog, but you can take solace in the knowledge that I didn't get paid for them!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Just look at my raaange!

It may shock you to read this, dear reader, but I'm not just a lazy blogger who struggles to upload 5 poorly-articulated, ill-conceived nonsensical rants a month. I'm a lazy blogger guilty of the aforementioned who once had to cobble together a song for his Introduction to Radio Production class!

SullydidthisforcollegeinAmereeka by ubersully

Yes, the song is utter dreck, and it consists entirely of loops from Garageband, but this still counts as one of my 5 for the month.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why Nondrinkers May Be More Depressed

Even though I'm only getting around to writing about it now, an article that appeared on Time Magazine's website a few weeks ago caught my attention as it spoke of a study in which it arose that “those who never drink are at significantly higher risk for not only depression but also anxiety disorders, compared with those who consume alcohol regularly.”

As a teetotaller, this article provided me with an opportunity to reflect on my friends’ perpetual goading in the light of this scientific evidence – were they really just worried about my happiness all along?

"People in the top fifth percentile of drinkers had the highest odds for anxiety. But it was abstainers who were at the highest risk for depression — higher even than the heaviest of drinkers."
Abstaining from alcohol is worse than being the heaviest drinker? Christ! That’s pretty bleak, and certainly seems counter-intuitive. Before I decided to repent for a poor life-style choice, I decided I’d better drilling down a little deeper into the article, and sure enough, some equivocation arose.

It turns out that “the abstainers in the study sample were more likely to have illnesses such as osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia”, or “were formerly heavy drinkers” - “It makes sense that they would have more psychological distress than others, but only 14% of the abstainers in the Norway study fit this category.”

"The most powerful explanation seems to be that abstainers have fewer close friends than drinkers, even though they tend to participate more often in organized social activities. Abstainers seem to have a harder time making strong friendship bonds, perhaps because they don't have alcohol to lubricate their social interactions. After all, it's easier to reveal your worst fears and greatest hopes to a potential friend after a Negroni or two."
My reaction to the ‘fewer close friends’? Seems right on the money – it may be the cognitive dissonance speaking, but I’m happy with the number of close friends I have. The statistical probability that I ‘participate more often in organized social activities’ than non-drinkers just seems laughably absurd when viewed from an Irish perspective. What other social activities are there in this country?

The conclusion from the study itself states:
"The risk of case-level anxiety and depression is elevated in individuals with low alcohol consumption compared to those with moderate consumption. Individuals who label themselves as abstainers are at particularly increased risk. This increased risk cannot fully be explained by somatic illness, social activity or 'sick-quitting'."
Curious - it seems that it's hard to peg why abstainers are quite so miserable. This bit makes sense to me, when reflecting on personal experience. It doesn’t happen particularly often, but every now and again my teetotalling ways are exposed to someone at a social function who insists on introducing me to another who shares my disposition. What typically follows is a painful interaction with a person whose personality is fundamentally broken, who is abstaining from alcohol to please their parents / please Jesus / safeguard their chastity, and is trying to piece together a rag-tag band of non-drinking renegades to overthrow the status quo! These people typically strike me as being on the brink of alcoholism.

I’ve casually mentioned that I don’t have the slightest interest in sports, or cars, or homosexual sex, but have never been introduced to another who doesn’t share my disinterest in these topics, why should drinking be any different?

Stupid social encounters aside, I don’t believe that I fall into the mental-health risk category because twice a week I refuse to imbibe expensive beverages that override my motor control, disable my autonomy, coax my bodily effluvia onto the pavement, and convince me that boisterously singing and dancing along to cheesy songs from the 80s is a really compelling proposition.

Remember the last time I butted heads with fellow teetotallers? [and how much more worthwhile it was than this blog entry?]

Monday, January 18, 2010

"Curious Spell"

Part of my identity as an equal-opportunity ridiculer of the irrational means that I will gladly turn my ever-present scepticism inward, re-examining certain episodes in my life with a critical slant, and this blog entry is another example of this endeavour.

Sit a little closer, dear reader, as your champion of rationality rebuker of the deluded shares a tale of how he came to be so disgracefully mawkish that he had sentimental feelings towards a unit of legal tender.

Back in the spring of 2005, I made the acquaintance of a girl called Caitlyn, an exchange student who was spending a semester at the University of Limerick, and we managed to strike up a fairly solid friendship in no time at all. Before returning to her native Wisconsin, Cait went wandering around Europe to cap off her sojourn. During this trip, she sent me an e-mail asking me to top up her phone with €10 credit, and I happily obliged.

She had organised her trip in such a way that she’d only be home in Ireland for an overnight stay before getting up early for the transatlantic flight home, and mine was the house that made sense to crash in, in terms of airport proximity. The next morning, as she was loading her bags into the taxi, she remembered the €10 that she owed me, and insisted on paying me back. As all she had to hand was a ten-pound note from the Bank of Scotland (worth at least 40% more than what she owed me at the time) that was what she gave me. Whilst conceding my failed-attempt at refusing reimbursal, I gave her a mischievous look and promised her that I’d spend it on her next time she was around, and I slipped the foreign note into my wallet. It was June 2005.

Over a year and a half later, after a few funny weeks of awkward transition, this friend of mine became my girlfriend. While it was a surprise at the time, when I reflect on how utterly arrested I was by the currency she gave me from our last interaction, I realise how blind I was to the obvious.

The tenner stayed in my wallet for years, folded away into an otherwise-uselessly small compartment, and came with me during my stint in Belgium, my year of college in Pittsburgh, and my trip to Hong Kong. When I bought a new wallet in 2006, the note jumped ship with everything else. Even though I was aware of its presence, the £10 was never spent over the course of three trips to Northern Ireland and Britain. Eventually, last May, after returning from a trip to Oxford in which I realised I had carried around dollars, euros, and pounds in my wallet, I decided to sort out my currencies, and the £10 was placed in the small pot in my room, where it would remain for the next eight months.

When Cait and I were packing for our trip to England last fortnight, I grabbed my UK-currency pot, and brought her attention to the tenner. It came with us on our trip, riding in the main compartment of my wallet for the first time in years. For the first day and a half of our two-day trip, when making purchases that came to just under a tenner, I’d open my wallet, and find a few twenty pound notes and the one ‘special’ note, and hand over the twenty every time.

This situation presented itself numerous times, until the final few hours of our time in London, when my wallet contained just a £20 note and the one seemingly imbued with magical powers. Stepping in out of the cold at a Starbucks just off Regent St., we ordered two hot beverages, a rocky road bar and a blueberry muffin. The total came to around £9.65.

The deliberation must have confused our server.

“Hey Cait - I have a twenty and a ten”

“So use the ten... Oh.”

“Well, it makes sense to use it, it is legal tender”

“Oh... Okay.”

“And I did say I’d find a way to spend it on you”

I gave Cait a mischievous look as I handed over the note, which was snatched away from my grasp and replaced with coins, just like any other note I’ve ever handed to a cashier, and we shuffled out of the way of the queue to wait for our drinks.

It was gone.

It deserved to be put on a raft and set ablaze with flaming arrows to signify its eternal glory in the note afterlife, or used as a clever prop in a profound romantic gesture. Instead, the note that was bestowed upon me by my significant-other, which had accompanied me on more of my adult life than any living person was just another note in just another cash register in just another Starbucks.

As we sat at the table, nursing our coffees, I struggled to make the occasion momentous:

“So Cait, this is an appropriate end, right? I mean - we’re together now, we’re in the UK, we spent it on us”.

She smiled weakly.

“In a way Cait, this is it. This is us shedding the last remnant of Sullard and C [asinine nicknames we subjected each other to before we started dating], and embracing our new...-”

She rolled her eyes at me.

“Okay, so that’s a bit of a stretch alright.”

We both looked over towards the till for a minute, watching money changing hands, watching the customers shuffling along, thinking that any one of them was potentially inheriting the item that held a curious spell over me for over four and a half years which would now resume its utilitarian purpose. As I observed, I briefly entertained using my remaining £20 to get the £10 back, but in the end, reason prevailed.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Steamy feet

When she isn't sending me blogging grist from afar, my ladyfriend often comes and falls in step with my life for a week or two at a time in the land of Ire. After gleaning immense enjoyment from our two weeks of being tethered together, the operating conditions of our long-distance relationship has sharply snapped back to 'famine' from 'feast', so I'm starting to think about this poor, neglected blog of mine for the first time in 2010.

Since my ever-patient girlfriend makes a point of making me do stuff I wouldn't normally do, the past two weeks have been eventful, but haven't quite left me feeling as though I've two weeks' worth of blogging to catch up on. But to quickly summarise:

We went ice skating! [Pictured: my post skating foot]

We went to see The Lion King on the West End!

We stood in front of buildings in a fashion befitting that of a lowly tourist!

Most importantly, we survived The Big Freeze
with only minor disruptions to our hygiene practices!

Now that my girlfriend has gone back from whence she came, I can relapse back into the cantankerous bloggering bastard who tries not to subject his four readers to too many holiday slideshows. Here's to a miserable 2010!