Matt Heard

Software developer and philosopher in Berlin

On Amir's Egoism

Lonely and Horny was a web video series created and acted by Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfeld. Amir plays an obnoxious character named Ruby who only cares about himself. There’s an interesting speech made by Ruby in Lonely and Horny. He gives a spirited, funny, and coherent defence of philosophical egoism that I haven’t seen often.

"I'm the only one that I am, dude… I don't care about other people, because they're not me. … Me is the only feelings I know and can have, so I’m invested in my feelings being good for me."

Ethics' Divine Suspension

An old Bible-style
                illustration of Abraham and Isaac at the moment of divine

Søren Kierkegaard wrote in "Fear and Trembling" about Abraham sacrificing his son. Despite its contradiction with universal moral norms, Abraham was willing to obey God. This is Kierkegaard's example of "teleological suspension of the ethical". Here, the duty to obey God supersedes moral duty. I'm interested in coherent moral codes, which allow for determinate decision-making. I would frame this obedience to God as a "trumping" duty within a pluralistic moral framework. Reasoning drives quotidian decisions but a command from God would override that all. Kierkegaard appears to object to fitting this sublime duty of obedience into morality. Seems odd.

Holding Strong Opinions

An abstract representation of decision-making complexity, featuring a maze illuminated by a guiding light, surrounded by symbols of wisdom such as an open book, a compass, and interconnected nodes.

"Strong opinions, held lightly." Indecision is paralysing. Knowledge is unreachable. Without certainty, how do we decide?

Effective decision-making requires:

  1. Pragmatism: favour action over perfection.
  2. Probabilistic reasoning: balance possible outcomes.
  3. Fallibilism: accept that you will often be wrong.
  4. Ethical consideration: link your options to your moral values.
  5. Community wisdom: seek feedback and collective experience.

By factoring these into each choice we make, we build habits and intuitions. As we reflect and practice, we gain speed and accuracy. Poor decisions also guide us to invest more in learning and discovery. In the end, we gain humility, empathy, and confidence to move forward.

Appreciating Moral Pluralism

Artistic representation of the Trolley Problem in a surreal environment. The tracks twist and turn in impossible ways, emphasizing the complexity of the decision. On one track, five figures stand with linked arms, while a lone figure stands defiantly on the other. Above, a constellation in the shape of scales balances the ethical concepts of harm caused and harm allowed.

In the Trolley Problem, a runaway trolley is about to kill five people. You can divert it to another track, but if you do, another person will die instead. Many disagree about whether to divert the trolley. Some would choose to divert the trolley to minimize the number harmed. Others would refuse to divert the trolley, possibly because harm caused is worse than harm allowed. The lack of consensus can teach us about moral pluralism. Moral pluralism means different people have different moral values and moral codes. The Trolley Problem offers a framework for discussing and appreciating actual moral pluralism.

Competing Environmental Causes

Oil painting illustrating the central role of battery technology in combating climate change. A large battery connects a polluted, smog-filled world on one side to a cleaner, greener world on the other. Miners labor in tough conditions while a parched landscape depicts the water-intensive nature of lithium extraction. Adjacent to this, a technologically advanced battery production facility stands tall, symbolizing hope.

Battery technology is crucial for mitigating climate change. But the materials often come from countries with lax environmental and labor protections. For example, there are reports of child labour and forced labour in the extraction of cobalt in the DRC. Lithium extraction is also water-intensive, impacting local ecosystems. Pausing or delaying the mining isn't the solution. Mining is essential for the transition away from fossil fuels. Instead, the focus should be on improving conditions and ethical sourcing. Failure to raise environmental and labour standards will extend our fossil fuel dependency. This will only entrench the harm of fossil fuel mining.

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An Unpredictable Future

robots working in a factory next to human supervisors, saturday morning cartoon

AI is taking off, and this year brought new developments like GPT-4, Stable Diffusion XL, and llama.cpp. Even if all progress paused, the tools we already have could reshape society. Guessing what ten more years will look like is hard. We already struggle to predict the current pace of technology. We also can't be sure how people or governments will respond to these new tools. We don't know how they might want to direct its development. We should be careful and thoughtful, taking responsibility for how we use it. All while assuming everyone else will rush to use it.

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John Wick's Justice

John wick, in a shootout in
                Berghain, with water pouring all around him, digital art

There's a funny scene in John Wick 4 where Wick is climbing a staircase, only to have to fight his way up against assailants. He gets kicked all the way back down, and has to repeat the ascent.

As he climbed those stairs, the music rang familiar. Listening closely, I realized it was a remix, but this was Justice! Justice is one of my favorite French electronic bands, and it made perfect sense since the scene was set in Paris.

The pulsing music of Justice is in line with the film's electronic vibe, and I was just totally loving it.

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Across the Pond

the continents of earth made from
                an arrangement of fossils

Look closer. The right side of South America once snuggled into the left side of Africa. For hundreds of years, since the development of good global maps, we suspected it but didn't know it.

A century ago, geologists too were in a process of upheaval. In 1915, Alfred Wegener outlined this theory in The Origins of Continents and Oceans. But Wegener had more than a map: he had fossils.

Mesosaurus was too little of a croc to swim across oceans, but lived on both sides.

And Glossopteris was a seed fern whose seeds were too fat to blow so far.

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A Brain Fog

a messy desk, digital art, black and white

I'm tired. It's not so bad. Others have it worse. But I'm tired.

Last year was quite a year, but my close friends and family didn't get COVID-19. My relationships have strengthened despite the stress. Worrying about elderly neighbours and isolating with bored children didn't wear me down.

But it wore me out.

Every day is on autopilot with dozens of easy 5-minute tasks left undone for days. A brain fog smothers me from morning til night.

The thing about walking through a fog is that you don't know where it ends. How much further do we have to go?

The Sixth Extinction

the Panamanian rainforest, oil painting

Free will has a problem. Either one chooses for a reason or for no reason. Either it's not a choice but an effect or it's not a choice but a dice roll. Either way, it's hard to blame someone like that.

The Sixth Extinction surveys human irruption and decimation of other species. It doesn't lay blame. At a species level, the course of human history seems to be a mix of mere causality and being lucky. There's no call-to-action at the end of the book, because it's not clear there is an action anyone can take to reverse human nature.

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Climate Change Optimism

hundreds of protestors in front of the brandenburger tor, dancing, red pencil sketch

Climate change is likely to cause hundreds of millions of extra people to die this century. Billions more will suffer. It cannot be “stopped”. In the face of this, grief is reasonable.

But preventing climate change is not binary: not only success or only failure. It is a matter of degree. With every degree increased, millions more suffer. 6° is worse than 5° and 4°.

In turn, 4° is better than 5° and 6°. With every degree averted, millions more avoid suffering. So, even small actions have tremendous impacts. Choosing to avoid meat, or cycle, or catch a train helps.

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Cost of Glue

a tangle of yellow and black woollen yarn

Modularisation in software design is about breaking down simple collections of complicated components into complex collections of simple components. A complicated component acts incorrectly when you cannot understand its internal behavior. A complex collection acts unexpectedly when you cannot understand their external interactions.

All non-trivial software is both complicated and complex, and we can refactor to trade-off between complicated and complex designs. Object-oriented programmers explored these trade-offs for the last few decades and now microservice architects are exploring them too.

Since working with a few microservice designs, I'm starting to see some trade-offs, especially with tracing interactions and serialisation overhead.

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Failed to Vote

european flags, flapping gently in the wind, nighttime photograph

I missed the deadline to register to vote in Germany for the European Union elections. I am very proud of having voted in every national and local election I could, until now. I’m not proud of every vote, but proud that I voted.

I have lots of excuses for missing the registration deadline:

But they’re all bad excuses.

I knew that I could have been eligible, and should have sorted out my registration well in advance. I’m ashamed now.

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Opportunity Cost Considerations

muted colourful overlapping triangles, digital art

Benjamin Franklin said that time was money. You could have earned ten shillings today, but you spent half of it sitting idle. You only got five shillings for the half-day you did work. To Franklin, you spent (or threw away) the other five shillings in front of the television. Suppose we talk about ten thousand dollars instead. You would likely save a child’s life by donating ten thousand dollars worth of mosquito nets. Have you spent (or thrown away) that child’s life by not fighting for a raise? Or upgrading a good car for a newer model?

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Questions for Reflection

a victorian woman resting in a garden, hugging her knee, looking wistfully into the distance, oil painting
  1. What single thing could you do differently that will have the biggest positive impact?
  2. When was the last time you should have admitted you were wrong, but didn’t?
  3. Did you discover a hobby that you need to make more time for?
  4. Are there any books you wish you had read earlier?
  5. Any books you wish you had never read?
  6. Is there anybody you keep meaning to catch up with?
  7. Do you have any good habits that you are struggling to make stick?
  8. Do you have any bad habits that you are struggling to drop?
  9. Are you happy?

Muted Star Trek

a desert planet with rocks in the background and a colourful sky, pencil and watercolour

Our daughter is almost two, and we now also have a two-month old son. As I settled him back to sleep after his night feeds, I watched the original series of Star Trek on mute with subtitles. After a great first season I ordered some wireless headphones and continued watching. When they arrived I excitedly set them up, but the sound was jarring; I felt like somebody had taken Kirk, Spock, and McCoy and dubbed over their original voices. Of course I knew these were their voices, but I couldn’t continue watching without feeling like the show had become corrupted.

My favourite Star Trek episodes so far:

Permitted Moral Actions

an infinite loop of small buddha statues made out of gold

There are three categories of moral actions: forbidden, required, and permitted. Forbidden actions are those which one must not do. Required actions are those which one must do. Permitted actions are those which one may or may not do. When searching for a moral code to guide their lives, people look for a system of principles, justifications, and directions for how to act. This makes restrictive religious standards popular and powerful. Alternatively, if a moral code primarily consists of only permitted actions, people can't use the moral code to make decisive choices because they are given too much wiggle room.

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Provoking Islamophobic Backlash

a nighttime aerial view of inner paris, with the eiffel tower lit up in the background, photograph

If we assume that the Islamic State coordinated the November 2015 attacks on Paris, it should be quickly obvious that such an attack intended to encourage a backlash against Islamic refugees. The cynic in me entertains the possibility that the Syrian passport found by one killer’s body was a prop to brew distrust of all Syrian refugees. It is unknown whether it belonged to the killer. All of the other suspects or identified killers appear to be Belgian or French. To retaliate against refugees who are fleeing these killers would compound the tragedy. I hope for a calm, measured response.

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First Birthday Cupcakes

a tray of birthday cupcakes, cubist painting

My daughter Evelyn turns one today. It's a celebration for my wife and I as much as it is for our daughter, so I made cupcakes. I did the mixing with Evelyn. (She kept eating the flour.) I want to show my daughter that baking is not a "mum" activity, and cupcakes have little chance of error. They turned out slightly dry, but still great.

The only party hats the Warehouse had were "princess" themed. I was wanting something more gender-neutral, so I grabbed some gold wrapping paper and covered one. Another day in the life of a feminist dad.

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The 'Wow Factor'

a lego dinosaur diarama

The second trailer to Jurassic World shows Beth (Bryce Dallas Howard) telling Owen (Chris Pratt) that the scientists have genetically modified a dinosaur to keep the park audiences interested. Owen scoffs that dinosaurs are already interesting. "Corporate felt genetic modification would up the 'wow factor'." "They're dinosaurs. 'Wow' enough." I reacted similarly and rolled my eyes when they mentioned genetic modification in the first trailer, but now think that maybe the filmmakers are commenting on the nature of the Jurassic Park film franchise. The filmmakers clearly thought that the new film also needed something extra to keep their audiences interested.

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Snow Crash Thoughts

cyberpunk vr motorcycles racing to deliver pizza, digital sketches

Immersive virtual reality experiences may be only years, if not months, away. Despite enthusiasts' suspicion and hostility to the announcement, Facebook's acquisition of Oculus gives it a prime position for hosting the Street-like public hub. However, the majority of social interactions will be in private rooms like the Black Sun and Hiro Protagonist's office in Snow Crash. A federated social network could allow a heavy user to self-host and a casual user to connect through Facebook and both share the same virtual space. Rooms could establish realism standards and exclude avatars which break the immersion, encouraging investment in new designs.

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The Post-Apocalyptic Microchip

Post-Apocalyptic Microchip, mixed media installation

If World War III ended with a few scrappy scavengers in a desolate, nuclear wasteland, I can imagine several technologies being easy to rebuild. A wheel is simple and could be crudely constructed by anyone. With some engineering experience, you could likely find the scraps and basic tools needed to build something like a water pump. But could even the greatest engineer in electronics rebuild or repair a CPU? Blunt tools would be insufficient for the nano-scale precision required. Some materials, such as rare earth metals, might be impossible to find. Some technology production clearly relies on multibillion dollar infrastructure.

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Feminist Film Villains

blonde white woman looking away, gone girl, blue david fincher lighting, artistic photo

Emily St. James claimed that Gone Girl is a feminist film, but her article seems more interested in shocking up page views than in making a convincing argument. While I can see Gone Girl as a favourite of MRAs and red-pillers, I see it as a film advancing feminism too. Gone Girl presents a strong female villain which almost never exists. If actresses need better roles to prove they are as talented as men, better roles need to be written. No matter how you feel about the character, it is clear that Gone Girl's Amy is such a role.

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Right of Way

a cyclist navigating through an intersection in the middle of a city with lots of traffic, telephoto lens photo

I was thinking about victim-blaming and consequentialism as I walked home yesterday and as I crossed a pedestrian crossing, a cyclist was coming quickly down the road. The cyclist stopped to let me cross, and then pedalled hard to regain his lost momentum after I was across. This isn’t very sensible. Cyclists have a much harder time decelerating and accelerating than pedestrians and drivers. Pedestrians should give way to cyclists so that they can maintain their momentum and use rolling stops instead of actual stops. It’s arguably safer, too. Accidents might happen if a pedestrian assumes cyclists can stop quickly.

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Victim-blaming and Consequentialism

a sketchy person in a trenchcoat in a dark alley, noir lighting, charcoal sketch

A student wishes to take a shortcut through a dark alleyway and knows they risk being attacked. They take the shortcut anyway, and get mugged. Deontologists blame the aggressor entirely: the victim had a right to not be harmed. Consequentialists might argue that the student knew the risks and is partially responsible for the consequences of their choice. This is uncomfortable logic. In response we can either (1) reject consequentialism, (2) accept that we should blame victims (at least privately), or (3) refine the consequentialist calculus to stop victim-blaming. Maybe we could argue that optimal consequences require systems of rights?

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Effective Vegan Advocacy

a happy person making food for friends, health food ad poster

I try to eat lots of vegan food. The livestock industry produces somewhere between 18% and 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions and eating less meat and dairy is the easiest way to reduce the pollution you cause. Pure veganism, though, can be a chore when you are pelted with advertising for beef and milk. Applying the Pareto principle, 80% of the reduction could probably be done for 20% of the effort, and vice versa. Convince others that 80% veganism is easy and more emissions will be reduced than trying and failing to convince people to go straight to 100%.

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Mandelbrot's in Heaven

mandelbrot fractal, digital art

Yesterday, I heard that Benoit Mandelbrot had died and I heard the news in a peculiar way. Jonathan Coulton plays an excellent song called "Mandelbrot Set" and I really liked the line

Mandelbrot's in heaven, at least he will be when he's dead.
Right now he's still alive and teaching math at Yale.

I listened to a recent album where Coulton played the song to an audience in Dallas. When he reached the line, he sang "Mandelbrot's in heaven" and then didn't sing any of the rest of the line. It reminded me of my former teachers who had died.

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Fossil Fuel Divestment

a protest at wall street with lots of bankers holding picket signs decorated with dollar signs, telephoto lens

I'm not convinced that divestment from fossil fuel companies is effective. I think the financial arguments being put forth are very convincing: fossil fuel companies likely have a lot of reserves which are going to be stranded as people take climate change more seriously and investment funds which have a long-term focus should be calculating this into their investment strategies. But if the purpose is to starve fossil fuel companies of investment, can it ever succeed? Part of my scepticism comes from a worry that other investors will happily buy the divested shares because their price-to-earnings ratio is slightly lower.

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Inclusive Feminist Labels

men standing up for female colleagues in a meeting, stock photo, colored pencil drawing

Adam Grant wrote about the scepticism that men face when exploring feminism. ("Was he trying to ingratiate himself with women to improve his dating prospects?") I worry about this myself. What I found most interesting in what he wrote, though, was the effect of inclusive group names and labels. Labelling an organisation "Princeton Men and Women Opposed to Proposition 174" encouraged more advocacy for other genders than "Princeton Opponents of Proposition 174". Feminism is a label used to describe advocacy for women's rights. But it also extends to the promotion of gender equality for everyone. Is the label "feminist" exclusive?

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The Great Depression

historic sepia photo of a wagon in the great depression going down a dusty road with rows of orange trees

I was sitting by a pool in a sunny resort in Fiji. Next to me there was a piña colada with condensation beading on the glass. And I couldn’t put down The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The pain and poverty of its heroes was jarring against the luxurious, tropical backdrop. After adjusting for inflation, someone in 1937 would need to have picked over half a US ton of peaches to pay for the piña colada I had. Nonetheless, the novel has unrelenting optimism about perserverence through hardship. Meanwhile, Benjamin Graham made 14.7% per annum during the Great Depression.

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Trust in Expertise

We are all jacks of many trades and experts of only a few, if any. Despite this, opinions about everything are easy to develop and even easier to publicise. We encounter difficult questions about subjects unknown to us, such as climate science. In these situations, it is unreasonable to expect us to find our own answers. Instead, we rely on experts and we trust their judgment about their topics of study. Suppose that you cannot trust experts; they might be colluding to mislead you. Can you trust yourself to understand the complex topics more than you can trust the experts?

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Women Aren't Crazy

Yashar Ali wrote a good summary of how dismissing women's negative reactions to sexism can make women feel like they are being irrational. There is an unfair stereotype that women are crazy, so if a woman responds to sexism in a negative way, she must be 'overreacting'. Saying "you're so sensitive!" undermines her perspective. Some people see this rejection of women's opinions as inconsiderate, most don't notice it at all. But it fuels a cruel stereotype by muting women's viewpoints, as it seeds self-doubt and self-censoring. If this causes women to be hesitant to speak up, communities lose valuable voices.

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Sorted by Colour

I was reading the newly-launched FiveThirtyEight blog today (it's not difficult to notice my nerd crush on Nate Silver) and he used his bookcase as an example of the "trade-off between vividness and scalability". My wife and I have our main bookcase sorted by colour as well, but its size is not quite as impressive. I have been curious about "objective" algorithms for sorting by spine colour because some multi-colour books, like Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Antifragile, just refuse to be cleanly categorised. What about fitting spine rectangles into a 2-dimensional bookcase rectangle, optimising for minimal distance between similarly coloured pixels?

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Dungeons and Dragons

I met my wife playing Dungeons & Dragons. The world-building, improv, and camaraderie made it feel like the perfect hobby for me, but a few factors have caused me to drop it. I'm geographically further away from my D&D group than I was during university (albeit most players still live in the same city as me) and I don't have as much free time to waste on map-making, which was one of the best parts. Finally, the stress from juggling increasingly powerful players alongside expanding permutations of game-breaking abilities burned me out. Even so, I'm feeling drawn to DMing again.

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Black Milk Overload

I was scrolling through my friends’ Instagram photos and noticed that most were of girls wearing Black Milk leggings. I rolled my eyes and thought about how overrated they were, but then felt bad. The patterned leggings actually look pretty cool, and I reckon that Instagram has worked well as a word-of-mouth platform. I don’t wear them myself, but I think I might be the kind of person to post photos of how they looked if I did. I don’t particularly care about leggings, but I just thought it was interesting how I reacted negatively to a stream of photos.

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"O Frabjous Day!"

One of the sexiest things I've ever seen was one of my best friends impressing a girl by reciting Lewis Caroll's "Jabberwocky" to her from memory. The poem shows why Alice's pair of books are incredibly insightful into the puzzles of language. Half of the words (like "vorpal" and "chortle") are made up, but the words still have meanings (even if Alice doesn't "exactly know what they are"). We derive meanings from context, allowing us to learn new vocabulary. Even when half of the words are made up, we can understand them from how they reflect off of known words.

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Regulating Hate Speech

Where does the line get drawn about what can be said? Dissent? Ignorant hatred? Inciting imminent violence? Trolling religious zealots? I generally believe that the better response to hate speech is more speech, presented in a civil manner, to expose the ignorance of the haters. But how does that protect the victims of hate speech? When racial slurs are aimed at children, how should a liberal respond? A hedonistic liberal would say that liberty is virtuous only for the sake of making people happier. Freedom of speech almost always does that, but I can imagine situations when it does not.

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Losing Formatting Data

As I hope you have noticed, I put at least as much effort into visually laying out my blog posts as I do into writing them. I carefully use Markdown to format my text and GIMP to shoop my decorative images maybe obsessively. So, when the Tumblr app on my phone strips my drafts of their formatting, it frustrates me. Back when I was a teenager, I would evangelise as a reasonable alternative to Microsoft Office, but it was difficult to justify making my documents look nice if exporting to Word was just going to butcher the layout.

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Sucker Punch Thoughts

Sucker Punch suffers from problems like poor pacing and shallow character depth, but while the form has obscured the message, the message is much more interesting than the story or visual effects. On one side of the coin, you are presented with a criticism of modern female exploitation: these animated exaggerations are not real women -- they are geek fantasies. But on the other side, the film is shamelessly indulging in the very fetishes it criticises. The sucker punch is thrown at the audience, drawing them in to see a video game fantasy, and then reprimanding them by breaking their toys.

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Indoor Vegetable Garden?

A month ago we put an avocado stone and some spring onion stumps in water and placed them on the window sill. They are growing faster than I thought and my delusions of grandeur are giving me dreams of an indoor vegetable farm. My girlfriend bet me that the avocado stone would sprout within four weeks and I bet that it wouldn't. It sprouted a week later. Because I lost the bet, I'll have to run up to the top of the street in my underwear, and I don't know when she will make me do it. Dumb, over-achieving avocado!

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Drinking and Driving

When someone is criminally punished only for driving while intoxicated, they are not being punished for an action which caused harm but because they performed a combination of actions which are statistically significantly linked with harm being caused. Due to an element of moral “luck”, it is certainly possible for a drunk or high driver to drive somewhere without causing harm but we still consider that criminal. How does the act consequentialist reconcile this? Argue that driving drunk is not intrinsically wrong? Or develop a possibly convoluted argument for how each individual action of driving drunk somehow causes harm indirectly?

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Code as Art?

I was arguing/discussing with my future wife about what is considered "art". I believe that the artist's intentions are irrelevant and that whether something is "art" is determined by how the viewer observes it. Looking for counterexamples and illustrations, I asked her: would you consider it possible for a computer program to be "art"? I would, but she wasn't sure. Undoubtedly, almost all computer programs are primarily functional, but there is elegant code and there is inelegant code. Does elegance make code artistic? If it does, I should start a gallery of clips of elegant code from open-source software.

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Reverence for Sacrifice

I attended a dawn memorial service for ANZAC veterans this morning and thought about how annual commemoration for military personnel serves as a type of intangible compensation for their unusually sacrificial employment. A soldier going to war risks much more than I do when I go to work, but I do not believe they get a "heroism" bonus in their paycheck. Instead, our social contract teaches us to "pay" them our respect. A similar honour is bestowed upon public servants with life-threatening careers such as firefighting and law enforcement. Do we have a duty to remember and enshrine our valiant?

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Jay-Z's Christ Complex

In "Why I Love You", Jay-Z plays a rapper at the top of the game, frustrated by former followers rooting for his downfall:

Didn’t I spoil you?
Me or the money, who you loyal to?

He alludes to crucifixion

They want me dead

and resurrection

When the grief is over
Beef is over
I’ll be fly when Easter’s over

but admits that

Truth be told
After all that said
N****, I still got love for you.

Jay-Z (and Kanye) conclude by crudely paraphrasing Jesus:

Please Lord
Forgive ‘em
For these n*****
Not know
What they
Do, ooh.

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Multiculturalism and Competition

My understanding of compassion in free market economics is that reducing the prices of goods and services through increasing market efficiency will help poor consumers more than government intervention will help poor workers. But there are barriers to entry which are avoidable and are not caused by government intervention. Does aversion to multiculturalism act as a barrier to entry? When a fat, white woman yells "Speak English!" at a Chinese shopkeeper, the shopkeeper pays a hidden cost to continue working. In a maximally competitive market, where race shouldn't affect labour, neither should foreign cultural expression. More tolerance brings more competition.

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Wellington Red Carpet

I took some photos of actors I like when I visited the red carpet today for the premiere of the first Hobbit film. When I was in high school, I rushed with my friends down Kent Terrace towards the Embassy Theatre to see if we could get a good spot to see Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellan, Elijah Wood and others at the premiere of The Return of the King. It was good fun: I remember yelling "Viggo! Viggo! Viggo!" in adoration at the top of my lungs. My reaction was more subdued today, but I enjoyed seeing glamourous actors again.

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Slowly Floating Downstream

My future wife and I took were given a free scenic rafting trip down the Rangitikei River for Christmas last year and earlier this year we picked a random weekend to take the trip. That random weekend turned out to be warm and sunny, and perfect for a relaxing drift down a river a few hours away from home. As expected, the escape from the city made us consider quitting our day jobs, even though I haven't even properly started mine yet. I'm definitely more at home where there are paved roads and cellphone service, but I need adventures too.

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Nate Silver Wins!

Whether their leaders admit it or not, Republican losses across the board in US elections of legislative and executive branches indicate a shift away from the Tea Party. But considering the issues needing immediate attention, the Democrat gains are not enough to deserve substantial celebration: the election doesn't solve the problems with the ongoing political stalemate. But there was one clear winner: Nate Silver, who stood at the foreground of the battle between statisticians and pundits, led the number-crunchers to an overwhelming victory. I feel more vindicated as long-time reader of Silver's blog than as an Obama supporter.

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Avoiding Presidential Politics

After closely following the US presidential election for at least the last year, I am actively avoiding reading any news about the results today. I am attending an "election party" this evening where we will watch the news and tally electoral votes ourselves as the states report their results. Unfortunately, because I live in New Zealand, the party is effectively time-shifted several hours after the actual election. Our party starts at 6pm, when the election will actually be wrapping up (waiting only for inconsequential results from a few West Coast states, Alaska and Hawaii). Thank god for the DVR!

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Policing Protests Better

As I showered this morning, I imagined how I would act as police chief in charge of maintaining law and order during an "Occupy Wall Street"-style protest. Balancing the goals of prosecuting trespassers and keeping the peace is undeniably a difficult task, but I think that *perception* of police brutality against protesters creates a Streisand effect by rallying more support for the protesters and encouraging rioters and violent opportunists. Wouldn't it be better to videotape any non-violent crimes (like trespassing) and not evict protesters, waiting for them leave out of boredom? The police can then prosecute peacefully later.

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Rhetoric Through Repetition

Reading Joseph Romm's Language Intelligence has led me to pick up my previously put-aside interest in practicing effective rhetoric. With my background in philosophy and computer science, I have overvalued the role that unemotional logic has to play in crafting convincing speech. Just as I repeated my lines again and again and again when learning to play Friar Lawrence in school, I have been repeating the lines of Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream". Starting with anaphora and alliteration, I am keeping a keen eye on figures of speech that focus my future approaches to effective arguing.

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Arctic Sea Ice

This Arctic summer has broken records for the least sea ice in recent history. Lots of that melted ice will return this winter, but the total thick ice is decreasing. There are two issues to note. First, this melting trend exemplifies the clarity of the physical evidence for global warming. While Arctic sea ice levels alone do not establish human attribution, they identify much-needed climatic research. Second, the distinction between single- and multi-year ice highlights feedback loops. As more ice thaws and refreezes, less remains thick enough to maintain the albedo needed to prevent extra absorption of sunlight, accelerating warming.

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Blogging About Myself

Wouldn't only a narcissist create a website about themselves? I benefit and suffer from an inflated ego, of course. I wouldn't consider my opinions worth blogging about if I didn't. But I don't think that my blog was intended as a soapbox for me to grab attention. 21st century identities are forged much more so on the internet than 20th century identities, and with a blog and a Twitter handle and a Facebook wall and a Google+ profile, I can manage the definition of "Matt Heard" more effectively. If I don't, computers will deduce my personality from my search terms.

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Introducing Political Philosophy

I have a habit of reading in sprints, consuming several books in one month and then not picking up any for the next several months. My future wife and I challenged each other to read more by starting from one end of our bookcase and reading each book one at a time. I just finished my second book: Introducing Political Philosophy. I was cheating, though, because it is short and each page has a large picture. But it's interesting and seems to be a good summary of the history of political thought. My next is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

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"Why Must Everybody Like You?"

"Why must everybody like you? Who liked J. P. Morgan? Was he impressive? In a Turkish bath he'd look like a butcher. But with his pockets on he was very well liked." (Miller, 72)

First of all, I was disappointed by Circa's 3rd of May performance of "Death of a Salesman" - not because the play was so badly done (it was great), but instead because my expectations were so high. For the few days before viewing it, I received the notion that the play in general, and also this Circa presentation of it were brilliant. I heard nothing but criticism for both, and so my expectations ran rampant and free.

I criticise the play in general for trying so hard to be depressing, and although it succeeded at achieving this, it seems like a cheap attraction for audiences. We go to horror films to watch people in situations we wouldn't enjoy being in ourselves - watch Saw or its sequel. (I haven't watched Saw but from the impression I get from others who have watched it, it's addictive in a disturbing way.) I believe that people watch depressing films and plays to cheer themselves up, and I disagree with how a lot of people believe that making a film or play depressing makes it a better film or play.

The play presents the idea of the "American Dream" and how it fails to transfer from an idealistic perspective of the social and economic world to a realistic perspective. The main fault of the idea is that although everyone may be capable of achieving success and reaching the top of the metaphorical mountain, not everyone can be on top, so people must fail for others to succeed. And this is where the majority of criticism of capitalism comes from: for one person to become richer, another must become poorer.

I disagree with the idea that the "American Dream" is a failure, as it is based on ideals which are applicable to a realistic perspective of the social and economic world - ideals such as needing to put in hard work to succeed and that if everyone is treated fairly, everyone has the ability to become successful.

Another aspect of the "American Dream" is that America is where dreams come true. Before dismissing this as illogical because geography cannot determine 'luck' or 'ability', the statistics need to be looked at:

In 2004, the US had an average income of $41400US ($64703NZ) while New Zealand had an average income of $20310US ($31747NZ). That's right, the average income of the US is double of that of New Zealand.

I'm not trying to show off or anything; my point is that the US is a land of opportunity because there is a different atmosphere of competition and hard work.

In California, school was all about competition. You had to get better than a B (85%) on every test to stay in the top class, and that isn't easy. I had a friend who was scared to tell his parents that he got less than 90% on a Biology exam.

I must admit that it's to the other extreme, but the lack of competitive attitude and the idea of "she'll be right..." has caused New Zealand to fail to achieve its potential. Of course, I'm speaking in generalisations. There is a group of extraordinary New Zealanders who manage to break through this lacking atmosphere to reach their full potential. And I hope to be one of them, one day.

An explosion for Calum.

Scary Movie IV / Closer

Editor's 2023 note: This hasn't aged well...

Scary Movie 4:

I went to the theatre and it was packed with 13-15 year olds. I almost wanted it to be less of a spoof movie and more like the original Scary Movie (more violent and sexually vulgar) so that those damn kids wouldn't keep laughing at the wrong times. Oh, well.

I can't really make any analytical commentary of it, as all allusions to other films are parodies and are meant to be blatent and obvious.

One thing that I can say is that there wasn't enough of Leslie Nielsen, the king of spoof acting. If you like watching parody films such as Airplane! and the Naked Gun, you'll remember Nielsen's great contributions to the spoof genre. As the President of the US of A, Nielsen brought back this amazing humour, but I must say that there wasn't enough of it.

A funny scene with the President listening to a girl reading a story about a duck when he finds out about the alien invasion, parodying when Bush kept listening to a story about a goat after hearing about the September 11 attacks.

Aide: "Sir, our planet is under attack by an alien invasion."
Pres: "Okay, but I just want to see what happens with this duck."


I know it's an old film, but I've been wanting to see it because I love Natalie Portman (films), if you didn't know.

Natalie Portman was great, but then again, I'm biased.

What I loved about the film was Portman's character, "Alice". The character had the irony that while being the most honest and virtuous character, she had the least socially acceptable occupation (as a stripper).

"Alice"'s real name is Jane Jones, and that's what she calls herself when she's a stripper. But when she meets Dan (played by Jude Law), she takes on the pseudonym of "Alice Ayres", and stops being a stripper. When she strips for Larry (played by Clive Owen), she returns to the name of Jane Jones, with her pink wig. At the end of the film, she returns to New York with her dyed hair and her real name. But every time she's around Dan, she has a natural hair colour, has a job as a cafe waitress, and calls herself "Alice". What I'm trying to say is that since her coloured hair and wigs and stripping job are linked to her real name, those things are what defines her.

I must say, she makes a damn fine stripper, and apparently there were deleted shots of full frontal nudity. Hah hah... Calum knows what I'm talking about.

V for Brilliant!

I saw V for Vendetta today, just like I said I would. Damn, Natalie Portman's hot -- even with a shaved head. (I have a thing for shaved heads, you may know.)

First of all, I loved it. There are three reasons why I loved it:

  1. Natalie Portman is hot, and a damn good actress.
  2. Hugo Weaving is cool, and a damn good actor.
  3. The Wachowskis are geniuses, and damn good writers.

This film has reaffirmed my beliefs that Natalie Portman is my favourite actress and Hugo Weaving is my favourite actor. And the Wachowskis made my favourite movie back in 1999.

I'm only going to say one more thing about the film, before I get into the philosophical ideas which underline it. I loved the Matrix for reasons including great action, lots of special effects, and deep philosophical ideas. But one big reason why I loved the Matrix was because the Wachowskis packed so much symbolism and meaning into every bit of the script that every time you watch it, you pick something new up, despite having watched it hundreds of times. For example, at the beginning of the Matrix, when the police officers break into the room where Trinity is on the computer, there are three torches shining on her, create a triangular shape, on the wall. This is obviously linked to the idea of the Trinity. Damn good stuff.

In V for Vendetta they put in just as much depth into the script. For example, near the beginning of the film, when asked by Evey Hammond (played by the distractingly beautiful Natalie Portman) who we was, V (masterfully played by the brilliant Hugo Weaving) makes a monologue littered with words starting with 'V'. In fact, he uses 55 words beginning with 'V'. This is interesting because this can loosely be translated to the Roman numerals "VV", assuming that you consider each digit, rather than the whole number (which would be "LV"). What else is interesting is that 55 is equal to 5 x 11 -- the 5th of the 11th is the 5th of November, which is the date of Guy Fawkes' attempt on the Parliament, and also the date when V blows up the Old Bailey, and then Parliament is blown up a year later. Damn good stuff.

Now for deeper things. The first question that you walk away with after watching this film is "Terrorist or Freedom-fighter?" Like Rob has said, this is rather late to be asking this question, as it has been asked and over-asked for the last several years. And so, I find a different but related question: "Is it justifiable if you use violence to do something good?"

Let's do some role-playing. There is a generic bad guy who is about to kill two innocent people, and the only way you can stop him is to kill him. Do you kill him? Most will answer yes. Now here's a similar, but much tougher question: There is a generic bad guy who is about to kill two innocent people, and the only way you can stop him is to kill an innocent person yourself. Do you kill the innocent person to save the two other innocent people? You can't just look at it logically and say "Which is the lesser evil?" because you are the one making the choice on which set of innocents die. Ponder...

But that's no where near as interesting as one of the philosophical themes or motifs (or whatever the hell they call them) of the film: coincidence. Many of the characters of the film, especially V, don't believe in the notion of coincidence: "There is no such thing as coincidence, just the illusion of coincidence." But if you do not believe in coincidence, then you must believe in something connecting events, whether it be Fate or God or Gaia. Do you believe that you have Free Will to choose what to do with your life, or do you believe that every choice you make is not really a choice, but just causality playing its role on the neurons in your brain, causing you to make a certain 'choice' because of the way your brain is wired? I would hate to live with the idea that everything is run by causality.

I'm just going to ramble on a tangent for just a moment longer. The idea of causality is flawed, as it implies that every event is caused by a stimulus, which in turn would be its own event. This means that a giant tree of events would exist and there must've been an initial event at the start of time (ie. the Big Bang) which was caused by something. Either something outside of the existence of the universe from 'before' the existence of the universe must have started the Big Bang.

Wow, that's really off-topic.

"Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is it vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished, as the once vital voice of the verisimilitude now venerates what they once vilified. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose vis-à-vis an introduction, and so it is my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V."

Late Night Rantings

Do you say that Reloaded and Revolutions suck because they do suck, or because everyone else says they suck?

Elvis doesn't have pants on!

Another note: rebellion.

I'm off to see "V for Vendetta" tomorrow, which I expect to be good, which in some way is tied to rebellion.

Irony #2 of the evening: Rebellion is socially cool.

Elvis Presley, Eminem, and even Michael Jackson used rebellion to increase the volume of their image and succeeded. Elvis Presley is famous for going on the Ed Sullivan show without any pants on. (They had to film him from the waist up.)

But in the sense that rebellion is non-conformity and popularity is conformity, you arrive to the conclusion that the contradiction is too great for the rebellion to be honest.

There are four types of people in this world:

  1. The first group is all the people who do something that is socially "cool" because everyone else is doing it. This is blatant conformity. This includes all the 3rd Form girls with short shorts and short skirts at Edgefest, who stand out in the foyer the whole time, because the only reason they went was to socialise instead of listen to music.
  2. The second group is all of the people who say "Fuck Edgefest" because everyone else is saying it. Sadly, this is blatant conformity. I must admit that I hate these people more -- the people who call themselves non-conformists, but are actually conforming to the idea of non-conformity (if that makes sense).
  3. The third group is all of the people who go to Edgefest because they honestly like POD and the Presidents of the USA. This group is all of the people who wore a t-shirt and jeans to Edgefest. These are what I call honest non-conformists. They go to Edgefest -- not to socialise, but to listen to damn good music. I would like to consider myself in this group, but I did stand in the foyer during the crappy music.
  4. The fourth and most interesting group is all the people who say "Fuck Edgefest" and mean it. They say "fuck" not because it's rebellious, but because they mean it. These are the guys who are willing to take on the world over what type of music they listen to. So... cool... in an ironic kind of way.

Instead of doing something because everyone else is doing it, instead of not doing something because everyone else is doing it, forget about what everyone else is doing, and just do what you want.

Wow, I've never said "fuck" so many times in a manner of five minutes!

A Philosophical Pondering...

Editor's 2023 note: This hasn't aged well...

Isn't it ironic that although we exist in a society that teaches us to tolerate everyone, this same society doesn't tolerate those who don't tolerate others?

In this post, "society" is basically the idea of the sum of the public voice when mob mentality is set in place.

Society used to tell us "Don't be homosexual."

Society now tells us "Don't be homophobic."

Society hasn't become tolerant. Society has just changed its view on who it should accept.

So I say, "Rebel!" I'm going to be homophobic, racist, sexist, and prejudice in everyway I can, because I deserve the right to hold an opinion that may offend others.

Look up at the sky.

Look up at the sky.
I'm thinking of you,
As the clouds float on by.
On grass-stained backs they lie.
Quiet peace comes to those who
Look up at the sky.
I know it's hard not to sigh
When you hear that I flew,
As the clouds float on by.
Maybe you'd like to fly,
And lost in a mellow blue,
Look up at the sky.
But when you get too high,
It starts to lose it's hue
As the clouds float on by.
And if you're wondering why
I'm thinking of, waiting for you,
Look up at the sky,
As the clouds float on by.

Presented to all by popular demand (by Rob).

Well, here it is!

I've begun 2006's Scholarship English class with the launch of my English blog. As most of you know, and are probably doing the same, I will critique what I read and watch here as requested for this year. Actually, it's less of a request and more of a requirement...

r'view: "schmack" (steriogram)

Steriogram hit it big with "Walkie-Talkie Man" to become international stars in the musical world, especially when "Walkie-Talkie Man" was selected as the 'spokes-song' for the international Apple IPod ad campaign, and when the music video for "Walkie-Talkie Man" (directed by Michael Gondry, who's famous for directing Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind) was nominated for an MTV Music Video Award, which is considered the highest achievement you can get for a music video (the award, not the nomination).

Schmack is the Steriogram album that rides the "Walkie-Talkie" wave, with the hit at the wheel at track 2. But this isn't like all those other bands which make one or two top hits and then fizzle out. Most, if not all, of this CD is great to listen to, and never gets boring, except for maybe "Walkie-Talkie Man" which reaches its limit when you've memorised all the fast-paced lyrics without using the internet. Other great songs on it include "Go" and "Tsunami", which was written before Boxing Day (December 26th, for all you Americans) has no relation to the devastating catastrophe that hit the world at the turn of the year.

Of all the songs on the CD, my favourite would obviously be "Walkie-Talkie Man" because that song is on a completely different level of excellence compared to the other songs. Not that the other songs are sub-par, they're brilliant. "Walkie-Talkie Man" is just better than brilliant. But other than "Walkie-Talkie Man", my favourite would definitely be "Tsunami".

On a personal note, it's cool to see a New Zealand band do so well on the world stage, and is just more evidence that all talent comes from New Zealand and that New Zealand rules the world, or the future of the world, at least.

It's a great CD and although I haven't got it yet (I'm borrowing a friend's copy), I whole-heartedly guarantee that you'll not regret getting it too.

achievement and torture

As I've just completed my homework for tonight, I smile and frown, knowing that I'm finally at my level of achievement and torture. I'm at a standard which I've been climbing to get back to, ever since I left California all those years ago. But now things are different. I may not be swimming as much anymore, but I have a job now, and I play multiple instruments, and sing with a barbershop quartet chorus now. Two more years until my hard work in this endless pit of a hole called "college" (or in American: "high school") will be paid off.

But I look forward to this year. I've picked up guitar and Drama and also Chemistry and am learning new things everyday. I thank God for the talents he has given me, and more importantly the time on this Earth to use them. Now I need some sleep.

good sense

"Good sense is, of all things among men, the most equally distributed; for everyone thinks himself so abundantly provided with it, that those even who are the most difficult to satisfy in everything else, do not usually desire a larger measure of this quality than they already possess."
- Rene Descartes
A Discourse on Method

batteries killing themselves

Editor's 2024 note: This post was imported from another blog.

Oh, man. I can't wait to tell you guys about my boring life.

I can completely see this blog turning out like my "Saving Drowning Furbies" newsletter. (Just wait a second. The batteries on my CD player just killed themselves on me. I'll go get new ones from the charger. Hooray for rechargables.)

Never mind. There weren't any in the recharger, so I had to steal some out of my mum's camera. Ah, Steriogram.

Where was I? Oh, yes. "SDF". It was New Year's Eve, two years ago, when I decided to document my fabulous* life. Well, obviously I was distracted from the fact that my life was utterly boring, except for when I saved my brother from the jellyfish, but that's a story for another campfire. I would spend two and a half hours every Saturday writing and formatting my newsletter to bore the public with. (Writing took half an hour and formatting took the rest.) The problem was that I would try to turn it from a page document into a page image, which was stressful, especially with a lack of understanding of all the processes.

*I'm obviously, unfortunately exaggerating.

Anyway, after fifteen people or so gave up putting up with it and got new e-mail addresses, I realised that it would only work if I was James Bond or Santa Claus or someone like that with an interesting life. (Actually, Santa would probably have a boring life, just sleeping and manufacturing, except for the odd rush at the end of the year.) But now that my life is getting interesting, other than just being "homework, homework, homework" like most guys back in California, I might have something to offer. You guys can let me know when I'm getting boring. I refer to you because I know that you're reading this blog, because you'd have to be reading this blog to read these words.

I'm babbling again.

I have so many things to say, yet so little time... and I don't want to end up living my life through a video camera, or through a web blog.

I'll start with an introduction to this blog you're apparently attracted by. Or maybe it's just the centred text.

My name is Matt, and that is all you need to know about my name, for now. I may tell you my last name if you're lucky. Or someone my post it, and then I'll have to flog them. And that's a warning to all y'all. I'm going to keep this blog relatively casual, unlike some of my other writings. My writing is often rather formal, although I hate "Formal Writing" in English. In all my writing (except for this one,) I call my "mum and dad" my "mother and father". I even talk like that. The main reason was that I didn't like being laughed at in NZ for saying "mom" and I didn't like being laughed at in California for saying "mum".

Just laugh and get it over with.

Anyway, as you can tell, I live in New Zealand. Wellington, actually, which is the capital of NZ and also the new film-making centre of the world, amateur film-making at least. I go to school in the middle of the city. An all-boys school with uniforms. The problems with an all-boys school with uniforms:

They go on about how "recent studies prove that boys do better when there aren't girls to distract them", but I say "bollocks!" (Actually, I don't say "bollocks", but it's such a fun word to say.) I've been to a co-ed school with many pretty girls and I must say that... oh, sorry. I thought I saw a pretty girl.

The uniforms aren't that bad. I just became a senior at my school, so I got a new, better uniform, which is much less "bleuh" than what my brother has. Mwua hah hah!

I like to make amateur films, but would like to start doing it part-time professionally. You know, with a profit. When I make films, I get my high from the whole production process, not the art, like my friends. That's why I can spend six and a half hours non-stop in one night writing my screenplay. I'm fascinated by all the different jobs of all the technicians you see the names of when you squint at the end of a movie, when you're looking for your friend's uncle, who "supposedly" worked in that movie. (That was a long sentence.)

This blog is called "F @ T M @ T" because if you replace the "@" with "at", you get "fattmatt" which originated from one of the short films I worked on. First of all, the reason why I used "@" is because I figured out that I could spell my name "Matt" with three characters, which I needed to figure out how to do when I once got a hi-score on some arcade game. M@T. Matt. Anyway. We were at my friend George's house, and we had a rugby ball and a video camera. So we naturally decided to make a horror film about a seriel (sic) killer getting revenge on me because he didn't get to play rugby. As you would.

We were filming one of the last scenes, and the sun was beginning to go down. We filmed the silhouette of the killer crossing against the white wall of the house. In the corner, there I am, crying because one of the other kids beat me up because I sucked at rugby. Along comes the killer and whacks my guts in and out as if the blanket stuffed under my sweater did any good in protecting me.

Editor's 2024 note: There was originally an image inserted here but that was hosted on a now-defunct website called Hiveports. It was likly a still from the mentioned short film.

When Dan, my fellow beater of an actor, would bludgeon me with the hockey stick, the blanket would be pushed aside, and he would start beating me full contact. Out of self-preservation, like any sane person, I instinctively pulled my hands in front to protect me. Subconsciously, I was pulling my hands forwards, and consciously, I was pulling them back, not wanting to get them hit. It was funny wiggly dance, like the mix between a chicken with convulsions, and a boy with his foot jammed in an escalator.

Afterwards, I had bruises all the way down the side of my ribcage. But I shrugged them off. "For the sake of the movie", right?