Latest 3 Things

Thursday, January 28, 2010

3 Bad Arguments

I often make the mistake of assuming that some of the things that I learned long ago are ubiquitous bits of knowledge; as though once something becomes a part of my cognitive lexicon, it similarly does so for everyone else. I imagine this is a function of how anything, now matter complex, seems simple once you understand it; or how people who are really good at something always seem to "make it look easy." And so it goes, for me, with logical arguments. I've spent a lifetime debating, persuading and arguing - and, in large part, now do it for a living - so the rules of logic and argument are almost second nature to me. And as a result, hearing a poorly framed or logically incorrect argument has the same maddening and enraging effect on me as someone simply banging on piano keys might have on a virtuoso pianist.

Nevertheless, I hear faulty arguments put forward each day; within political rhetoric, opinion writing, personal disputes and elsewhere. I'm often compelled to advise these armchair advocates of the faults inherent in their argument's structure or form - but I rarely have the time. So from the mind of one overly-busy but well intended logician, here are the three worst arguments I hear, and what's wrong with them.
  1. They're doing it, too. This is the poor argument that I hear most often, and probably the most maddening. It is exercised usually in the defense of partisan politics, and it is used in equal measure by both sides. Unfortunately, it has the same amount of efficacy as it did when you used it as a child with regard to your siblings, or as it might in defense of a criminal action. Imagine, for a moment, if it were a legitimate defense of rape or murder to simply identify an as-yet-to-be convicted other individual who committed a similar crime but isn't being simultaneously indicted. In reality, this is only a good argument for convicting both parties, and not for allowing the whistle-blower some measure of deference.
  2. That's the way we've always done it. This presupposes the correctness of the status quo, which is often a dangerous, and usually an incorrect, assumption. What's more, the amount of time that anything has been done lends little independent credibility to its intrinsic value. Slavery was practiced for hundreds of years in the United States, and enjoyed the endorsement of some of our most storied founding fathers. That didn't make a good idea, or even a defensible one. Truth is, periodic re-evaluation of how things are done is essential to innovation and social development. To fail to do so makes you the sort of mindless lemming that political leaders, pundits and large corporations are hoping you'll be.
  3. Lack of disclosure/explanation presupposes a conspiracy. It's truthfully frightening how often I hear this. But, it is true that nature abhors a vacuum, and in the absence of an explanation, people will come up with their own. However, the "absence" in most circumstances is not a real one, but rather one self-imposed by the sloth inherent in not being willing to go and find out, the explanation not being obvious or immediately understandable, or there simply being no public right to the knowledge. To assume a conspiracy under these circumstances is to be exactly the same sort of loony who wears a tin-foil cap to avoid having their brain waves stolen by aliens/governments/etc. A failure to be informed or to have the intellectual capacity to understand does not lend validity to your fantastical explanation. Or in other words, no one is out to get you.
Unfortunately, there are great many other bad arguments out there, and I look forward to seeing some others posted by you, dear reader, in the hopes that we can continue to rid the world of meaningful discourse of these ignorant cancers. In the meantime, if you find yourself engaging in the any of the above-listed rhetorical practices, do us all a favor, and shut the hell up.

Monday, January 25, 2010

3 Bad Accidence

I had no idea how widespread this problem really was until I casually posted on Facebook about my frustration with a day of receiving particularly bad grammar. This innocuous action touched off a firestorm of commiserating comments from friends with dozens of examples that were much more egregious than the ones I had cited. In this era of real-time spell checking and centuries of grammar expertise literally at our fingertips, writing like a poorly educated first grader seems more inexcusable than ever. I'm the first to espouse the virtues of forgiveness, but at some point, enough is enough.

Like it or not, you will be judged on the things that you write. And more and more, our communications, both business and personal are occurring in written form (albeit 144 characters at a time). There's never been a time when it's been more important to learn how to write in a way that doesn't make you look like a moron - and as it turns out, there's also never been a time when it's been easier. But to get you started on your road to grammatical recovery, here are the three most egregious grammar errors (believe me, there was a longer list to choose from):

1. Homonym Confusion. Now that you've come back from to look up "homonym", I think we can all agree that if you don't know that there are a large number of words in the English language that sound identical, but are completely different words in both spelling and meaning, you've got no business writing anything at all. Seriously, your inability to tell the difference between these words makes everyone think you're an idiot. What's more if you think there are only two versions of the word "to", you might be too stupid to bother counting any higher.

2. Two Words, or Not Two Words... that is the question. Let me be perfectly clear about one thing, just because your beloved spell check didn't catch a mistake, doesn't mean you didn't make one. The spell-check algorithm only makes one check with hyphenated words, and that is to make certain that the words on either side are spelled correctly. It therefore can't tell you that "week-end" is supposed to be one word, or that "thank-you" or "a-lot" should be two. As a general rule of thumb, hyphen are like guns: if you don't know how they should be used, you probably shouldn't be using them.

3. A Case Against Phonetics. There comes a time in every person's life when trying to spell something phonetically (when they haven't a clue how to spell it) goes from being an innocent mistake to being a reliable indicator of a single-digit IQ. That time was the fourth grade. With the world wide web being broadcast to every corner of the globe via satellite, and spell check being included on everything with a keyboard, the excuses for spelling like you did when you were writing primarily in crayon and punctuating your afternoons with "nap time" have all but vanished. Nothing invalidates the use of a fancy word like misspelling it, so just go with the words you know, or look the damned thing up. If you got it so wrong that even the spell checker can't help you, you probably shouldn't be using it anyway.

* * *

I'm confident there are more inexcusable and inexplicable grammar crimes out there than those I've listed here. All of them being committed every day, much to chagrin of you and I. For the record, if English isn't your first language, you get a pass on all of this. In my experience, however, those are the people least likely to commit these violations. No, these affronts to a decent secondary education are committed by people who look and sound just like you and me. And if you've just finished reading and still have no idea what I'm talking about, do us all a favor, turn off your computer and back slowly away from the keyboard. Nobody has to get hurt today.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

3 New Maxims

I'm not a big fan of cliches. I find them mostly to be intellectually lazy, and on the few occasions they're not, they're just downright stupid. They're often times misinterpreted and then misapplied, which can be maddening to the point of shutting down my brain entirely. Usually they're just a vast oversimplification of a real emotion/position/observation or a substitution for one that doesn't exist. Of course, this makes my love for sports talk radio all the more inexplicable - because without overused cliches, such radio would be 75% silence. And to be honest, the number of times per day I can hear "it is what is is" or "at the end of the day..." without going completely postal is getting down to single digits.

But perhaps our reliance on age old sayings is simply a function of there not being any newer, better, and more applicable sayings which more accurately reflect the times we live in - and that won't get old any time soon (or at least any faster than the latest Britney Spears album). So in order to fill that void, I'm happy to offer three new "old sayings":
  1. You cannot use intelligence to fight stupidity. This is the post-modern version of "Never wrestle with a pig - you get dirty and the pig likes it." Trying to have an intellectual argument with dumb people (e.g. Tea Party Republicans, religious zealots, or Twilight fans), is akin to trying to do the same thing with a 5 year old. All of the ideologies that have stupidity as the primary characteristic of their participants also have it as a prerequisite. If these folks could be swayed with intellect, fact and/or logic - they wouldn't believe what they do. So save your breath, shake your head, and remember, the natural enemy of stupidity isn't intelligence or education, it's natural selection.

  2. It's o.k. to not care what anyone thinks; it's not o.k. to not care what everyone thinks. In this age of moral relativism and "live and let live" it's become wildly popular to regard all outside input, no matter how overwhelming, universal or convincing, as ill-intended and without merit. Unfortunately, this self-absorbed delusion has nearly eviscerated the concept of shame from our youngest generations. It is actually a good practice to not allow the opinions of one individual, especially one you don't know well, to affect you in any significant way. However, if everyone in the room thinks you're an asshole... guess what?

  3. If you can't be smart, be cute; if you can't be cute, be funny. This is an excellent maxim for use in business or school, and it's come from years and years of observation. The reality of any purported meritocracy is that there are always "other" ways to make it to the top - this should be evident from the fact that if you've ever been involved in one, you're well aware that the people at the top of that organization are rarely the most talented or capable people within it. But with a little (honest) self-evaluation, and the daily use of this particular saying, you've got a recipe for success. And, as it turns out, an excellent explanation for why I'm always telling jokes.
I expect there are more out there (especially since I made these three up on my own), so I'll leave it to you, dear readers, to comment with the best ones I left out.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Those 3 Little Words

I often catch a little hell for my apparently exotic vocabulary. Now, I've never thought of my particular lexicon of words as anything particularly impressive, but I've heard from more than a few people that when they're either reading my work or listening to me talk, they feel as though they need a dictionary. I mean, I remember the kids in school that I used to feel that way about - and, trust me, I'm not comfortable with any of my friends looking at me like that. So rather than be persistently obtuse, I thought I'd share the three words you aren't currently using, but should be.

1. Ostensibly. Without a doubt, my favorite adverb. Most people that do use adverbs either overuse or misuse them, and many people don't use them at all. In fairness, they're often unnecessary, but in the right place, they can be some of the most efficient words you'll ever use. According to the dictionary, ostensibly means "from appearances alone or in a manner that is declared or pretended." And if you can't find a good example of that in our modern world, you've got bigger problems than vocabulary development.

2. Hyperbole. A fantastic noun, that has nothing to do with math (that's the hyperbola, and really isn't as scary as you think) and is one of the most mispronounced words I can think of. Phonetically it's hahy-pur-buh-lee, and it's really just a more artful way to say "exaggeration". In my mind, it's a step above simple exaggeration - in that, it's truly not intended to be taken seriously or literally. So, it's nice to have a word to use when you mean something a little stronger than simple pushing of the truth but also something that's also not intentionally deceptive - but rather illustrative in its outsized scale.

3. Enigmatic. My favorite adjective, and a deliciously artful word that conveys a subtle beauty that its synonyms all fail to. It has nothing to do with the downtempo electronica world beat music project that taught us all that sadness had more than one part. But it does have that same sort of old-world feel to it; like a word from a different time - back when mystery still had some cache. I think it's probably best used to describe a woman's personality (or a failure to have one), but it's certainly the sort of word you should use sparingly; it doesn't really occur that often and neither should the word.

A vocabulary is like a life-long book collection that tells the story of your intellectual development. We get words from and endless myriad of places, events, and other people; some we keep forever, others we (thankfully) discard when they become tired, affected or simply useless. But wherever they come from, they cognitively link our past to our present and future, and tell the story of who we are just as reliably as the stories themselves.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

3 Gadget Porn Stars

Last Thursday I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. For those of you that aren't familiar, the CES is the largest electronics trade show in the world, and is widely considered to be the preeminent event for the announcement and demonstration of the cutting edge technologies by the world's foremost tech companies. In other words, for a gadget geek like me, it's pretty much the coolest thing ever. As luck would have it, I only had one day (though the show lasts for four) to walk through this hall of wonders, where over 2,500 companies were exhibiting and the 3.2 million square feet of floor space in the Las Vegas Convention Center wasn't enough so it overflowed to neighboring hotels. But after ten hours of walking, one very expensive and hastily eaten chicken sandwich, three vicodin, a mountain of glossy handouts and a whole lot of cell phone camera shots, I'm happy to report that it was everything I could have hoped for and more - so here are the three best things at the 2010 CES.

1. The Samsung Booth - I wasn't particularly excited to see the big television companies at the CES. Once you've seen a 100" plasma screen HDTV, I just didn't think anything was really going to amaze me about TVs. I was wrong. With literally paper-thin, ultra-bright and sharper than reality televisions as a centerpiece, the visual impact of the Samsung booth was simply stunning. Watch a video of it here that doesn't really do it justice. But aside from the presentation, every corner of their section was stocked with an amazing piece of new technology and a charismatic, knowledgeable presenter. I spent over 20 minutes playing with the new Samsung Optima II phone with the help of a Samsung rep, and for the first time since I bought it - I actually doubted the supreme awesomeness of my iPhone. This was the booth that I dreamed of when I dreamed of the CES.

2. The You Rock Guitar - The gaming section of the CES was relatively small, and with good reason, gaming has it's own convention, the E3, which I was fortunate enough to attend last summer. But in the few gaming booths, there lurked some of the show's coolest new gadgets, and amongst them was the You Rock Guitar. Ever since I heard Nuno Bettencourt on stage tell me to put down my Guitar Hero toy and pick up a real guitar, I secretly yearned to do just that. But guitar lessons were daunting and I still loved to rock out with the help of my Xbox 360. The You Rock Guitar is exactly what I've been hoping for. A real guitar (6 strings, frets, etc.) that plugs into either your gaming system, your computer or an amp - and that works with all 3. And at $175, it was just too good to be true... and yes, I've already pre-ordered one that will arrive in February.

3. The Jaybird Bluebuds - Ever since I found out that my new iPhone would support bluetooth stereo headphones (not to be confused with the douchetastic bluetooth earpiece) I've been searching for a pair to wear to the gym. The Motorola S9 (which I actually beta tested four years ago) was promising, but weren't sweat-proof and, sure enough, a month in began to short out during my workouts and finally quit altogether (who makes a headphone set for athletes that isn't sweat-proof?). The other offerings since then always seemed cumbersome and silly, or clearly not built for gym use - until now. Jaybird, a company that has been making one of the aforementioned large and silly bluetooth sets has come out with a set that is perfect - the BlueBuds. They're small, guaranteed waterproof, with great sound, good controls and even come in black. The only downside? I have to wait until April to get them... and get them I will.

The CES certainly didn't disappoint, and there are some amazing things that were so pervasive and common in the show that they're destined to be a part of our lives before we get to 2011; including 3D TV, easy home media servers, tablet PCs and lots and lots of eReading. There are a lot of great recaps and "Best of" awards out there to help you experience some of the amazing innovations that bringing tomorrow to our today - but I can say, without reservation, if you've ever thought about going to this spectacle of gadget porn, go. I promise you won't regret it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

3 Fashion Lessons

I've often thought about the things I might go back and tell a younger version of myself, to avoid some of the hurt, the failure and the embarrassment that I endured as a young man. Then I realized that were I do so, I would likely never become the man I am today, because as many of you know, it is precisely those hardships, hang-ups and hurts that make us who were are. Of course, there was one set of things that I think I could have avoided with a little well-placed advice from future me that would only have made things better. A set of things which, though I can't pass on to the Glenn of long ago, I can pass on to the newest generation in the hopes they might benefit similarly and those are the three things I should have told myself not to wear.

1. Ball caps. Listen, unless you're playing actual baseball or are resting your head from other athletically-required headgear, there's really never a good reason to be wearing one of these. You get a slight pass if you're attending a sporting event, but even then, c'mon, who are you kidding. It's not like the coach is going to call you into the game. Comb your hair. Additionally the only people who should ever be wearing a ball cap backwards are actual catchers. There isn't a more reliable sign of douchebaggery outside of Affliction t-shirts.

2. White socks. For the majority of my adolescence, white athletic socks were the only thing I would willingly put between my feet and my shoes. Which is a good thing, because wearing white socks to do anything besides athletics is a great way to look like you haven't quite outgrown your adolescence. On the flip side, this may be the easiest and most inexpensive way for a young man (or an older man for that matter) to look like there's more culture in his life than just the bacteria growing in the expired milk in his fridge.

3. Facial hair. I remember being in a big hurry to grow up or at least look grown up when I was younger, and so I get the reason behind the compulsion for young men to grow facial hair as soon as they're able. But, looking at it from the other side of the Mason-Dixon line of adulthood (i.e. 30) I can tell you there's no better way to be certain that you don't look grown up than to sport marginally viable facial hair. If you want to look grown up see #2 above (i.e. buy some non-white socks). By the time you're old enough to grow facial hair that doesn't make you look like a radiation survivor, you'll understand why it's a bad idea.

I can point and laugh at these things because I, at one time, participated in all of them. But, to be fair, even if I didn't I'd laugh at them anyways. And I encourage you to do the same. After all, it's that very thing that caused me to finally take my damned hat off, put on a pair of black socks and shave. Think of it as public service, or at least the peace of mind you'll get from knowing that while the newest generation may be undereducated to the point of abject fatuousness, self-absorbed to the point of borderline sociopathy, and completely incapable of supporting themselves let alone the older generations as they age, at least they'll be better dressed.

Friday, January 1, 2010

3 OTHER Things

So, when I went to set up "Three Things" on blogger, I found that the blog sites,, and were taken. I was immediately fearful that someone had already created a blog of lists of three and that I would, in fact, be one of those posers that I've dedicated my life to pointing out, ridiculing and eradicating. But after a quick stop by the three doppelganger blogs, I happened upon my very first list: three things that "Three Things" isn't.

1. A blog about three mundane details from my day. To be honest, I really thought the navel-gazing blog was a thing of the past. Because, to be honest, unless you're famous - no one really cares about what you watched on TV, how hard your afternoon workout was, or how much you miss your exes. As much as I'd like for that last sentence to be hyperbole, those are all actual examples of the things listed by the author of Yes, seriously.

2. A blog that only ever lists three one-word unrelated things. Ever. I'm not sure how lazy one has to be to start a blog that purports to be about three things, to actually name those three things, and then to never write another thing at. Like "Pizza. Harpsichord. Green." or "Lamps. Enchiladas. Curling." or "Politics. Sports. Music." Only one of those is the actual list, I'll let you decide which. Way to go, Matt. I'll bet you're somewhere wearing Crocs, eating a KFC Famous Bowl and planning on someday getting around to that elusive first posting on

3. A blog by three unpopular Asian 12 year-olds. You can tell this because my blog will never use the phrases: "We RAWK alot.", "KickSumPpl'sAss", or "miss you heaps!" Oh, how I wish I were joking. You will, however, be able to find evidence of social decay and hopelessly self-absorbed generations on both my site and I've got fifty bucks that says all three of these girls won't have a boyfriend until college - of course, they've been spending their time doing something besides blogging - because there's only ever been one maddeningly vapid entry.

I'm not saying you shouldn't visit these blogs - I'm just saying the only reason you should do so is to get at least one of them to abandon the name so that I have something that you all can remember more easily to get to my blog... or to try and figure out how Sam - "The Cool Dude" didn't make my list with