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culture

Air-Brushing Your Facebook Image

Catherine Cullen

Posted: Jan 10th 2009 10:48AM

Filed Under: Culture, Featured Stories, Brown University

What's more important than having fun in college? Making sure everyone knows about it the next day. Oh yeah, and grades... but that kind of ruined the punchline.

The "oh man, guess what I did last weekend!" story has a long and colorful history, especially for the undergraduate crowd, but the Facebook-era has added a new wrinkle: visual aids. Now you can share your weekend adventures with 500 of your closest friends. And maybe your future employers and admissions committees.

By now everyone is pretty familiar with the drill: admissions directors and employers do look at social networking sites to check out candidates' backgrounds. So while you may want all your buddies from the frisbee team to see your keg stand from Saturday night, that picture won't make quite the same impression with your potential boss.

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politics

The Most Insulting Names of 2008

Catherine Cullen

Posted: Dec 26th 2008 1:29AM

Filed Under: Politics, Brown University, Odd News

In honor of the holiday season, the DC-based blog Wonkette is celebrating peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Or not.

As 2009 approaches, the site has published a top-10 list celebrating the most elaborate, offensive monikers for 2008's leading ladies and gentlemen. The so-called "Children's Treasury of Terms of Abuse" is worth a look and a laugh to see President Bush described as a "bellicose twat of a president" (when the situation with Russia was escalating) and to read about ol' "orange-skinned dog-torturing Scientology-loving Frenchman" Mitt Romney.

Harsh? Yes. Fair? Depends on who you ask. Orange-skinned is of course a matter of taste. Dog-torturing however evokes one of the more colorful stories dug up during Romney's bid for president. Apparently on a family vacation in 1983, Romney strapped the family dog in a kennel to the roof of the car for a 12-hour drive. Scientology-loving Frenchman is a bit of a stretch - according to Wonkette Romney paid a visit to the Scientology center while on the campaign trail and also, on an unrelated note, lived in France for two years.

You get the picture: the titles are hyperbolic to the point of overblown, but if you're in the mood for some witty and not-so-witty ("National Review" conservative columnist Kathryn Jean Lopez is called a "mouth-breathing fart-sack") reminders of the past year, it's a nice send-off into the new year. You may even learn a little something: I, for one, was unaware that Joe Lieberman was interchangeably referred to as the "mutilated carcass of a baby rat-child." Sarah Palin being a "barely functioning idiot" and a "Snowbilly dingbat" however, was hardly new news.

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Would You Trade Your Privacy for a Smartphone?

Catherine Cullen

Posted: Nov 30th 2008 5:58PM

Filed Under: Brown University, Odd News

Yes, you say? Then you're in the same boat as the one hundred MIT students who voluntarily gave up their privacy for free smartphones.

The students are participating in new research project tracking a web of information called "collective intelligence." This data is comprised of all the digital interactions and linkages the students will make, tracked through their smartphones.

Every song they listen to, every Web site they visit, every file they download will be recorded and relayed to a central computer which will create a map of their activity.

The 100 students in the study are providing research fodder on a micro-level: demonstrating social and technological interaction within a college dorm. The data from their phones will create a dynamic look at the dorm's "social network."

Sound a little too Big Brother-y for your tastes? You're not the only one. Even the people who developed the software acknowledge that it has the potential to do some serious harm. Collective intelligence could potentially allow people to format profiles on individuals without ever tracking an individual directly. Technology now allows for the analysis of massive amounts of data that can show general trends, yielding results for an entire group of people, based off one person's activity.

Rather than relying on survey respondents to track trends, analysts can now use more reliable and accurate metrics from collective intelligence pools to predict things from the next hot night club to the future of the stock market. The field of collective intelligence also has potential implications for insurance coverage and response time to health epidemics.

Using the "PageRank" algorithm that made Google famous as a starting point, analysts can begin to predict people's wants and needs based on their usage of certain technologies. Smartphones, cell phones, and GPS systems are just the beginning, showing how, when, where and how often people are using their technology. By creating blanket analyses, researchers can begin to formulate a picture of people's general wants and needs, and what they will want and need next.

I'm not sure I'd be willing to let researchers track my every phone call and text message for a year... but I do want a new smartphone. Maybe THEY already knew that.

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politics

Interior Decorator Obama?

Catherine Cullen

Posted: Nov 24th 2008 11:53AM

Filed Under: Politics, Environment, Brown University


Now that Barack Obama is set to take over the presidency, he may soon find himself in another role: White House Interior Decorator.

After the Obamas tour of the White House on November 11, people are speculating about what changes they will make to the building. Last week Slate published an article on the changing decor of the White House over the years. Apparently there is a Congressional budget set aside every four years for the first family to redecorate their new digs. (Or not so. George and Laura Bush were given $100,000 to revamp the rooms for his second term.)

The presidential family has significant control over their private apartments, which comprise the top two floors of the White House. Everything from paint color to wallpaper and furnishings is subject to change.

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ADVERTISEMENT

New Word Enters Dictionary... Meh

Catherine Cullen

Posted: Nov 19th 2008 8:28AM

Filed Under: Brown University, Odd News

While some may think that I'm merely expressing apathy at a new entry into the official lexicon, they're wrong. I'm expressing dictionary-sanctioned apathy.

"Meh," a word whose origins have been attributed to a 2001 episode of "The Simpsons" has been officially entered into the Collins English Dictionary after reportedly, "generating a surprising amount of enthusiasm among lexicographers."

Frankly, I would assume that any amount of enthusiasm among lexicographers would be a surprising amount, but that's beside the point.

As an English major I have to cringe at every expression popularized by the Internet making it into the dictionary because it completely degrades language and blah-blah-blah. However as a person with a scrap of a sense of humor, I can definitely appreciate the new Collins entry. One of their chosen examples is particularly spot-on: "The Candadian election was so meh." Perhaps this explains why Sarah Palin didn't follow Canadian politics.

Other potential good uses:

"The economy is so meh right now."

"How's the comatose guy doing today?"
"Meh."

"And in other news, the Israel-Palestine situation is a little meh this morning."

Add other examples as you see fit!

So in honor of this lexicographical expansion, go out and celebrate apathy. (Wait, can you do that?)

Full Article »

A Day Without Gays

Catherine Cullen

Posted: Nov 16th 2008 10:53AM

Filed Under: Breaking News, News, Brown University

In the wake of Proposition 8's passage, gays across the country are mobilizing. Following the example of Latino immigrants in 2006, there is a widespread gay boycott planned for December 10, 2008.

I first read about this protest in Joel Stein's column in the LA Times. I'm not sure how much truth is at the heart of Stein's actually coming up with this scheme, but that's irrelevant now. The protest is officially on.

JointheImpact.com, a Seattle-based site that was created after the election to organize protests, has enthusiastically offered their support. The strike's official site DayWithoutAGay.org is filled with tips and links for people to get involved.

The strike has reached out to social networking sites like Twitter and the all-important Facebook.

In his column Stein jokes, "People, we figure, will have no assistance at libraries or gym class and will madly butcher their hair. Subaru dealerships shouldn't bother opening. Entertainment journalism will take such a hit, TMZ will have to report hockey scores."

Despite the obvious jokes about hairdressers and fashionistas, Stein has a point. The entire philosophy behind the immigrant worker strike in 2006 was to show the public how much they relied on the services of the workers. Here, hopefully, America will realize how much of the economy is supported by LGBT dollars and efforts. This is an important step in the voting public recognizing just how significant a population they are marginalizing.

The gay-out organizers have taken into account some obvious concerns. For people not out at work, just call in sick. For people who absolutely positively canNOT miss one day of their job, okay fine, they can still do their part. Go to work, but don't take part in the rest of the national economy. Don't spend any money, don't buy anything, don't go to bars, the gym, or anywhere else for the matter. That said, December 10 will not be a day to disappear. Day Without A Gay has pages of available volunteer opportunities so people can put their time off to good use and high visibility.

So be ready for December 10. No only is it Day Without A Gay, coincidentally-- or not-- it's also International Human Rights Day. Whether you're calling in gay or going about your business as usual, take a moment to think about what others might be missing.

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Obama Mania, European Style

Catherine Cullen

Posted: Nov 15th 2008 7:05AM

Filed Under: US Elections, Featured Stories, Brown University

Catherine Cullen is writing for Bright Hall from Galway, Ireland where she is completing a study abroad program and enriching herself in Anglo-European culture.

Barack Obama's historic presidential win means a lot for the United States and all Americans. The change in executive regime, the revitalization of the White House, the palpable change in public political perception: all good things.

Additionally, Obama's election has meant a lot to us Americans abroad. It also means a lot to Europeans in general, triggering what the New York Times dubbed a "European euphoria" over the election results. The imminent end of the Bush era has ushered Americans back into the good graces of our European counterparts.

There seems to be a sense throughout the EU that Americans have finally come to their senses. General goodwill now meets me in stores when the clerk hears my American accent. "Ah, American! How about that election, huh?" This is followed by big smiles all along, sometimes a fist-pumping in the air (by the clerk, not me) and a quick "Obama!" chant. The Irish students are even less subtle. At a house party the other night, I was standing with a group of other American students when a slightly... ahem... inebriated Irish guy comes over to our group, gives us the once-over and nods. "Americans!" he cried. And then, drawing the attention of everyone else in the crowded kitchen, he began to yell "Obama! Obama! Obama!" And people joined in. Enthusiastically.

Although the full-fledged fervor of the moment reminds me of the recent South Park episode parodying Obama's acceptance speech-- more accurately, it reminds me of the parody of the excited viewers running around shouting "Yeah! Obama! It's change!!"-- I'll take it. It's certainly a nice change (ha) from telling people I'm Canadian.

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money & finance

How to Make the Econ Crisis Worse? Factor in the Exchange Rate

Catherine Cullen

Posted: Nov 10th 2008 7:06PM

Filed Under: Money, Brown University

Catherine Cullen is writing for Bright Hall from Galway, Ireland where she is completing a study abroad program and enriching herself in Anglo-European culture.

The best advice I heard before studying abroad was to bring half as many clothes and twice as much money.

I listened-- or so I thought. I pared my wardrobe down to the bare essentials, converted my savings into traveler's checks and got on a plane to cross the Atlantic. Now, two and a half months later I have three dresses and a handful of shirts I haven't worn, two pairs of jeans that are on their last legs (pun intended) and 43 euro in my checking account to get me through the next three weeks. Oops.

The clothing issue is an obvious one: my idea of the bare essentials is a little too liberal. The money issue is a more complicated one.

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culture

Zombies Attack Reality TV Stars. What More Could You Want?

Catherine Cullen

Posted: Nov 2nd 2008 7:41AM

Filed Under: Culture, Brown University

Catherine Cullen is writing for Bright Hall from Galway, Ireland where she is completing a study abroad program and enriching herself in Anglo-European culture.

As far as apocalyptic b-movie zombie flicks go-- and that's a tall order-- "Dead Set" is one of the best.

Despite being poorly acted, ridiculously premised, and peopled with characters so unsympathetic I found myself cheering aloud as one of them was torn into bite-size zombie snacks, the British miniseries was absolutely brilliantly conceived.

Maybe I've just been an English major for a little too long, but between the bloody and gore-y lines of the typical flesh-eating fare, there is a searing portrait of modern day pop culture. And it's entertaining, I swear!

The show follows the stereotypical zombie plot made popular by "Dawn of the Dead": humanity has been besieged by a zombie plague and no one knows where it came from or how to stop it. The only solution is to kill as many of the undead as you can and stay alive as long as possible. Now some genius British television producer must have considered this stock plot and noticed something eerily familiar. "Survivor" anyone?

And there's the twist that makes "Dead Set" so brilliant. Humanity has been besieged by a zombie infestations yadayadayada BUT they've all converged on what seems to be the last stronghold of the living: the closed set of the reality TV show "Big Brother."

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C'est La Vie Sarah Palin

Catherine Cullen

Posted: Nov 1st 2008 7:32PM

Filed Under: US Elections, Brown University

Vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin got a phone call from French President Nicolas Sarkozy this morning. No. Not really.

Palin joined the long line of public figures who have fallen victim to prank phone calls in recent years. Or so the McCain campaign justified in a statement released several hours later.

As understandable as it may be that Palin was taken in by the comedians, a duo from Quebec who call themselves the "Justiciers masques," the phone call is still very funny. The ridiculously thick French accent of the "President" and several outrageous statements didn't seem to clue Palin in to the scheme.

The faux Sarkozy, played by Canadian comedian Marc Antoine Audette, led Palin through a series of ludicrous topics, from hunting out of helicopters-- "I just loving killing those animals. Taking life away, that is so fun," he said while Palin laughed-- to the President's similarities with the governor-- he can see Belgium from his house, apparently. (As opposed to Russia.)

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Prepping for the Election

Catherine Cullen

Posted: Nov 1st 2008 5:49PM

Filed Under: US Elections, Brown University

Catherine Cullen is writing for Bright Hall from Galway, Ireland where she is completing a study abroad program and enriching herself in Anglo-European culture.

Election Day is looming. Just in case you haven't heard.

As big of deal this November 4th is shaping up to be in America, it's as big if not bigger of an event here in Ireland. Not for the whole country perhaps, but for those Americans studying abroad this is the event of the semester.

While this Tuesday may be a hugely divisive day for the majority of Americans, split nearly 50-50 along party lines, preparing for Election Day (or rather Night, with the time difference) has been a great source of unity of we temporary expatriates.

I have friends who are already rearranging their sleep schedules so that they are optimally prepared to be up all night on Tuesday. Anyone suggesting an activity for November 4th that doesn't include gluing their eyes to the nearest television tuned to a news channel is scoffed off as a lunatic. And if you cannot answer positively as to the status of your absentee ballot... persona non grata.

Even my Irish campus is accommodating the American patriotic fervor. The College Bar is hosting a late-night party devoted to the election, with news channels streaming on every big screen television. In a country devoted to the latest minutes changes in rugby and football standings, this is a huge concession.

Surrendering screen time isn't the only big event slated for Tuesday night. In the spirit of the event, the College Bar is also hosting "American-style" drinking games to help pass the time. Beer pong, flip cup and a complicated version of Kings that centers on states going Red or Blue are on the proposed agenda. In a country where the age to drink and the age to vote line up, apparently there is a lot of fun to be had.

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culture

I Want My MTV!

Catherine Cullen

Posted: Nov 1st 2008 5:46PM

Filed Under: Culture, Brown University

Catherine Cullen is writing for Bright Hall from Galway, Ireland where she is completing a study abroad program and enriching herself in Anglo-European culture.

I want my MTV! Well, not really. More like I want my ABC-NBC-CBS-and-local-affiliates! A slight modification of the 80s tag-line still works though: "I want my (m)TV!"

You don't realize what a TV-addicted culture we live in until you are yanked out of it. To be even more honest, I didn't realize what a TV addict I was until I had to quit cold turkey.

There are many things you miss out on as a study abroad student. Despite all of the amazing opportunities you have to explore a new country and cultures, there are certain things that just can't be replicated outside the good ol' US of A.

While some people might put serious occasions like grandma's birthday and on-campus frat parties on the top of the things-they-miss list and others might put more intellectual fare like real-time access to the election run-off, what I really miss is being keyed in to fall TV premieres.

Full Article »

Rock, Paper... Obama!

Catherine Cullen

Posted: Oct 19th 2008 3:07AM

Filed Under: US Elections, Featured Stories, Brown University

Catherine Cullen is writing for Bright Hall from Galway, Ireland where she is completing a study abroad program and enriching herself in Anglo-European culture.

There is a lot of advice given to American students abroad on how to fit in with the European culture. One popular bit is to say you're from Canada. Another is not to wear anything with an American flag on it. One British comic once joked that universal key to acceptance was mentioning Shaggy and Scooby-Doo, because who doesn't love them?

All of these methods may have been tried and true at one point, but right now there is only one sure-fire method of fitting in, especially here in the British Isles. Say that you support Obama.

There is a very strong anti-American sentiment out here in the world right now. This may seem like commenting that the water is particularly wet today, but I can say from experience that things are certainly much worse than most people would reasonably expect.

My Irish housemate and I had a conversation one night that literally, in the span of two questions, jumped from "So how are you liking Galway?" to "So what makes you Americans think you have the right to go around killing anyone you please?"

Full Article »

Ireland Responds to the Presidential Debate

Catherine Cullen

Posted: Oct 18th 2008 8:21PM

Filed Under: US Elections, Brown University

Catherine Cullen is writing for Bright Hall from Galway, Ireland where she is completing a study abroad program and enriching herself in Anglo-European culture.

Irish students and university faculty alike praised Barack Obama for his performance in the final presidential debate Wednesday night.

Some students praised Obama for simply being "awesome" while others articulated their interest in his debate points. One point of pride for an NUI Galway sociology professor was Obama's emphasis on "the family" in his talking points. "You could just feel the applause meter rising," she remarked before a lecture hall full of students.

The Irish Times proclaimed Obama the winner of the "tense debate," although the paper's coverage also focused on the much-discussed references to Joe the Plumber that John McCain brought in to score some points.

Although the Times article remained as unbiased as possible, the pro-Obama sentiment did manage to leap off the front page. The now infamous picture (see right) of McCain's exit gaffe was a nice little reminder of who the press thought came out on top in this professional exchange.

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Chaplain Labels Homosexuals a Health Hazard

Catherine Cullen

Posted: Oct 12th 2008 9:49AM

Filed Under: Religion, Brown University

Catherine Cullen is writing for Bright Hall from Galway, Ireland where she is completing a study abroad program and enriching herself in Anglo-European culture.

An English clergyman has called for gay men to be labeled as health hazards in the same manner the government marks cartons of cigarettes. Seriously.

In place of prominent bold-print stick-on labels, Reverend Doctor Peter Mullen suggests tattoos. He debuted the plan on his blog, writing "Let us make it obligatory for homosexuals to have their backsides tattooed with the slogan SODOMY CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH and their chins with FELLATIO KILLS."

Full Article »

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