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Generic Confusion

When you leave, my blog just fades to grey
Nu ma nu ma iei, nu ma nu ma nu ma iei

News? Check. Politics? Check. Music? Check. Random thoughts about life? Check. Readership? Ummm.... let me get back to you on that. Updated when I feel like I have something to say, and remember to post it.

Monday, January 30, 2006

This is how January should be!

Skeptics in December may have had good reason to doubt predictions for a warmer-than-normal winter, but January has proved the experts right.

This month is on track to become Indianapolis' second-warmest January on record, forecasters say. And if history is any indicator, the coming months also will be warmer than normal.

Through Saturday, the month's average temperature was 39.9 degrees. If the forecast for today and Tuesday holds, this January would be Indianapolis' warmest since 1880, said Ed Terrell of the National Weather Service. The weather service began tracking data in 1871.

All hail global warming! Or, if you're smart, you recognize this warm month is well within the bounds of normal weather variations.

(The 1880 record is such an anomaly, and so long ago, that I question its accuracy.)

A better Super Bowl pool

It's the last week of January, and that means you've likely dropped $10 or $20 to pick a square in the office Super Bowl pool. The typical pool involves each person getting a pair of numbers, and if the last digit of the scores at the end of a quarter matches your numbers, you win $200.

By Friday, about half of you will regret joining the pool, when you get "quality" numbers like 2, 8, and 5.

I remember, years ago, playing a different pool, where at the beginning of the playoffs, you put money on any of the teams. For each team that makes the Super Bowl, anyone who put money on that team shares part of the pot (say 70% for the winner, 30% for the loser). This leads to an interesting choice: do you put money on the team that's sure to make the Super Bowl, and receive less of a reward, or put a dollar on the #6 seed, and share a larger portion of the pot if the team makes it? Normally, the #6 seed is a sucker bet, but not this year!

So if you're staring at the power combination of 5 and 8 in your Super Bowl grid, consider a new pool next year, combining the traditional grid with this second pool.

Instead of the traditional grid with the numbers for each determined randomly after the fact, let each person choose their own spot on the grid! Have each person's entry be divided among 101 known buckets: each of the AFC X, NFC Y combinations, and Not Chosen. You could drop $5 on 0-0, $2 on 3-0, $2 on 0-3, and $1 on 3-3.

Scoring would be as normal, at each quarter and at the end of the game (20% each quarter, 20% for the final score). For the winning square, the prize would be divided among all people who dropped money into the square, in proportion to their bet. (If 1 person bet $2 and 2 people $1 on the square that wins $200, one person would get $100 and the others $50.)

If no one chose the winning square, then everyone who selected the Not Chosen bucket would split the prize.

This kind of pool would not rely on being lucky and getting 3-3 or 0-0. You would rely on your prognostication. You could choose any combination you thought likely to come up. But then comes the "metagaming" prognostication. What is the return really worth for your 0-0 pick, considering the number of people who will select it? Do you play for the rarer combinations (8s, 1s, 4s) that are more likely to come up in the final score? And how many squares are likely to be unpicked for the Not Chosen bucket?

This pool can also run with any number of participants, for any level of contribution from $1 up.

If you try it, let me know how it goes!

Update: Welcome, Carnival of the Vanities readers.

In an interesting twist, I got the desirable 3-3 in a slightly modified grid pool (it pays on each scoring change, so if one team gets a field goal, there's a chance for payoff on both a field goal and two touchdowns (13-3 before 14-3)).

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Survivor: U.S. Congress

An open casting call happened recently for the TV series Survivor. An interesting detail was included in the newspaper writeup:

Also, if you are selected as a contestant, you cannot run for public office
until after the show your are on is broadcast.

That's a rather strange prohibition.

Now, in a sane world, such a statement wouldn't be necessary, as no one would be willing to vote for someone who was on reality TV. But with fame the way it is, it's probably a necessary clause.

But that gives me an idea for a reality TV series I'd watch. Send Jack Abramoff and other corrupt lobbyists and Congressmen to a remote island. Let the winner come back to Congress with a full pardon. The others get to leave Washington for good.

The Hippocratic Oath

A bill is being debated in Indiana to restrict illegal immigrants from "receiving most types public assistance along with all but emergency medical care." One doctor isn't happy.

Sarah Stelzner, a pediatrician with the Indiana University School of Medicine
and Wishard and Riley hospitals, said the legislation goes against the
Hippocratic oath.

I'm curious if this doctor minds when doctors go against this part of the Hippocratic oath:

Nor will I give a woman a pessary to procure abortion.

I think the spirit of the oath would apply to drugs and surgical approaches, as well as pessaries.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Bush meets ZORK

If you played any text-based adventures in the Stone Age of personal computers, you'll appreciate this recasting of the Bush years. It's written from the wrong political viewpoint, but this format could easily be adapted to criticize any politician.

(That's a challenge for the blogosphere!)

Oval Office
You are standing inside a White House, having just been elected to the presidency of the United States. You knew Scalia would pull through for you.
There is a large desk here, along with a few chairs and couches. The presidential seal is in the middle of the room and there is a full-length mirror upon the wall.
What do you want to do now?
You are not able to do that, yet.
Self-reflection is not your strong suit.
It's not that kind of seal.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A bad influence?

I'm through the S's in my months-long task of listening to all my CDs. One of the S CDs is a greatest hits compilation by Rod Stewart. One of my favorite songs is Young Turks. Read the lyrics:

Billy left his home with a dollar in his pocket and a head full of dreams
He said somehow, some way, it’s gotta get better than this
Patti packed her bags, left a note for her momma, she was just seventeen
There were tears in her eyes when she kissed her little sister goodbye

They held each other tight as they drove on through the night they were so excited
We got just one shot of life, let’s take it while we’re still not afraid
Because life is so brief and time is a thief when you’re undecided
And like a fistful of sand, it can slip right through your hands

Young hearts be free tonight
Time is on your side
Don’t let them put you down, don’t let ’em push you around
Don’t let ’em ever change your point of view

Paradise was closed so they headed for the coast in a blissful manner
They took a two-room apartment that was jumping ev’ry night of the week
Happiness was found in each other’s arms as expected, yeah
Billy pierced his ears, drove a pickup like a lunatic

Billy wrote a letter back home to Patti’s parents tryin’ to explain
He said we’re both real sorry that it had to turn out this way
But there ain’t no point in talking when there’s nobody list’ning so we just ran away
Patti gave birth to a ten pound baby boy

Now think how many times you hear a politician complain how violent music (or television, or movies, or video games) endanger our kids, leading them to become violent, and urging bans or restrictions on suspicious content.

Yet, if you're going to credit a song about killing cops with encouraging kids to kill cops, then shouldn't you also claim that Rod Stewart's optimistic portrayal of high school lovers running off and eloping will encourage this often destructive behavior?

Why, exactly, would music only lead kids to do certain bad things? Shouldn't Young Turks be banned, just like Cop Killer, Jackass, and Grand Theft Auto?

It's a bipartisan obsession (with Tipper Gore probably most famous for attacking musicians), and politicians of all parties should stop this pathetic pandering. In my view, there are two clear facts:

1. Media clearly influences its viewers. If if didn't, people wouldn't pay to advertise on TV or radio.
2. However, the choice to do something stupid or break the law rests solely with the person doing it.

Claiming "TV made me do it" might dupe gullible parents from focusing on your crime, but it absolutely does not absolve you of your personal responsibility. Millions of people watch the same scenes of violence, but no more consider killing someone than they consider using a magical curse after watching Sabrina, the Teenaged Witch. For almost everyone, both are equally acts of fantasy.

Your laugh for the day

Purdue University's men's basketball team played at Indiana University yesterday. One obvious IU fan in the stands held a sign which read:

What's that smell?
With how the team has played, that's quite the appropriate sign.

The scams never cease!

This time, it's the National Awards Advisory Center, promising $1.9 million in cash and awards! Elsewhere, they append the words "Prize Payment-opportunity" to the dollar figure.

Of course, I need to send in $19.99 to get it. If they're not willing to deduct this cost from my "winnings," I'm not interested.

Unfortunately, this one doesn't come with a postage-paid envelope.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

*cower, whimper, cry*

It seems that, after making his unthoughtful remarks, Mayor Nagin was scheduled to appear on Tuesday's Anderson Cooper show on CNN. His staff confirmed his appearance at 6 PM, but backed out at the last minute, citing an emergency.

Trouble is, he was caught lying and hiding. Check out the transcript!

COOPER: Sean, thanks for that.

It was here on the program that we expected to speak with Mayor Nagin, even though getting the mayor to come on the program is only a little easier than herding cats. When we -- when he last appeared on 360, which was about four months ago, shortly before Hurricane Rita, he promised he would be back.

Since then, we have put in dozens of requests for interviews. He's always declined them. Twice, he has agreed to appear, then canceled shortly before airtime, as he did tonight.

This morning, he agreed to appear. And, then, around 6:00 p.m., he confirmed he would appear. Then, shortly after, his office told us the mayor had an emergency to deal with. They said he would not be showing up.

Now, they didn't say what the emergency was. And we're not here to judge a person's emergencies. But, last we checked, the mayor was eating dinner at a restaurant called Bourbon House on the corner of Bourbon Street.

And Sean Callebs is actually standing outside the restaurant right now. Sean, is the mayor still inside having dinner?

CALLEBS: Well, as best we can tell, Anderson, he is, indeed. I can you how this evening played out. After we got the call that the mayor was going to cancel the interview, we had a crew out here. Somebody went upstairs to the second floor in a private dining area. They saw the mayor greeting members of the Commission to Bring Back New Orleans.

Now, we had people out here the entire time. There are still a number of city vehicles out here. We went up a short while ago to check once again to see if Mayor Nagin was upstairs on the second floor. This time, those doors were shut, and the mayor's press officer is standing out in front -- Anderson.

COOPER: Well, tell her I -- I left her a message as well. I would love to talk to her, when she gets a chance. To your knowledge, are there any emergencies happening in Bourbon House right now?


And, to our knowledge, there was not an emergency Stafford meeting. And it was the kind of thing -- we asked the press officer, look, is this the kind of thing that we should be at to cover, to talk to the mayor, to see what came up at this 11th hour, to see what could be so critical about getting possible funding for this area, some kind of congressional action?

We got no real answer from that. So, we're waiting out here. There are a number of cars out here as well. And if the mayor is indeed still upstairs and comes down, Anderson, we hope we can bring it to you live and explain exactly what happened.

COOPER: Well, that would be great. We would love to talk to him, as we always would love to talk to the mayor. And if he's watching, maybe up there in Bourbon House, feel free to come out any time. Sean Callebs will be there. We are on for the next two hours.

Snow returns

And here I thought we'd go through January with no snow on the ground!

Snow returned last night, with enough of a dusting to leave a few centimeters on the ground. Yet tomorrow's forecast shows temperatures jumping back up to 10°C (50°F).

Given the coming warmup, I took one look at the ice-rink that is my unplowed, unsalted side street, and decided picking up the mail could wait until tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Persistent idiots

The Las Vegas, Nevada Actionable Award Program, the people who run the apparent scam I highlighted previously, aren't giving up. I got a second mailing, and I promptly took the postage-paid return envelope and dropped it in the mail.

I got TWO mailings from them today, one with a different name, but both requesting the familiar $20.00 payment. There are two more pieces of mail to send out tomorrow!

On top of that, I got a different notice, from Sweepstakes Clearinghouse, saying I won a TV, if only I submit a payment of $37.96. They're so kind as to offer a payment plan of 2 payments of $18.98.

Again, a quick Google search finds immediately that it's a scam.

Someone needs to do the math!

I received a fundraising letter from my alma mater, soliciting donations to help fund the new Physical Science Complex. Among the departments to use the new building will be the mathematics department.

In discussing how a one-to-one match will work, the letter states:

"A multi-year pledge, as well as a one-time gift, qualifies for the one-to-one match. A $1,000 pledge paid over five years at $250 annually, for example, will provide $2000 for the campaign."

Ummm... $1000, paid over five years, would be $200 annually.

I swear, the mathematics department isn't that bad! My degree is worth something!

Double standard alert

It's a double double standard alert, courtesy of the mouth of one failed politician! Here's what Ray Nagin, ineffectual mayor of New Orleans, had to say to commemorate Martin Luther King's birthday:

"Surely God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it's destroyed and put stress on this country."


Nagin also promised that New Orleans will be a "chocolate" city again. Many of the city's black neighborhoods were heavily damaged by Katrina.

For the first comment, will Nagin receive the same negative attention as Pat Robertson does when he attributes things to God's wrath?

For the second comment, will Nagin recieve the same negative attention as a white supremacist calling for racial purity?

Monday, January 16, 2006

On batteries

Every battery I have seems to drain far faster than it should. I can't leave batteries in my deactivated .mp3 player, lest the power be drained next time I use it. Portable phones lose their charge quickly. The same thing is true for my cell phone and digital camera.

But there's one battery that's a champion performer. The tiny battery in the NES "The Legend of Zelda" cartridge, which preserves saved game information, still works. The game manual said the battery should be good for five years. The game is nearly 20 years old, and yet the still works.

The NES is over 20 years old. Now THAT makes me feel old.

World War III, coming 2007

Niall Ferguson has a chilling future history of how troubles in the Middle East developed into World War III. The lesson: preemption is necessary.

(Via Instapundit)

Classic Composers

I received a free CD in the mail! It's a promotional item for the Classic Composers series, one of those CD-of-the-month, keep only the ones you want, cancel anytime things. The CD (of Mozart compositions) is presented in a miniature book format, and includes information on the composer's life and times.

While a nice item, and while I'm interested in picking up some classical music, paying $17 for music that is out of copyright is borderline ridiculous. So, I won't be a customer.

Kids these days....

Dr. Samuel H. Cox is the chair of the actuarial science program at Georgia State University, one of the nation's top schools for actuarial science. If you're an actuary, you probably recognize his name. If you're just a blog reader, you probably don't.

At least, you don't recognize HIS name, but there's another Cox out there you might recognize. RiskProf points out that his daughter is named Ana Marie, and is better known as Wonkette (or rather, the original Wonkette).

You may recognize another actuarial daughter. Rachel Corrie, best known for teaching Palestinian children how to burn the American flag and for being crushed by a bulldozer while protecting a Palestinian weapons-smuggling tunnel, is the daughter of an actuary.

Rebelling against your parents is cliched, but in these cases, seems perfectly accurate.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

I'm Hooked on You

My first stab at opinion writing came through a stint on the Daily Tar Heel editorial staff my junior year in college. I saved the editorials I wrote, and will someday post them to my Web page.

One of the benefits of writing for a college paper is the work wasn't always treated seriously. Here's one editorial I wrote, essentially making fun of a study that pointed out the obvious: caffeine is addictive.

Now that caffeine addiction shares similar traits with alcoholism and drug addiction, perhaps it's time for the federal government to ban caffeine. Javaheads at college campuses around the country would then found branches of NORCL (National Organization for the Reform of Caffeine Laws). Students would stage sip-ins in the Pit. Some caffeine dealer would get rich supplying South Campus from the comfort of his Ehringhaus dorm room.

Follow the link to read the rest.

Too obvious

Senator Charles Schumer wants to criminalize the sale of cell phone records.

Jason Smith at Generation Why? is the first to point out the obvious hypocrisy.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

I want one of these!

AN EXTRAORDINARY "hyperspace" engine that could make interstellar space travel a reality by flying into other dimensions is being investigated by the United States government.

The hypothetical device, which has been outlined in principle but is based on a controversial theory about the fabric of the universe, could potentially allow a spacecraft to travel to Mars in three hours and journey to a star 11 light years away in just 80 days, according to a report in today's New Scientist magazine.

The theoretical engine works by creating an intense magnetic field that, according to ideas first developed by the late scientist Burkhard Heim in the 1950s, would produce a gravitational field and result in thrust for a spacecraft.

Also, if a large enough magnetic field was created, the craft would slip into a different dimension, where the speed of light is faster, allowing incredible speeds to be reached. Switching off the magnetic field would result in the engine reappearing in our current dimension.

To paraphrase (appropriately) the Magnetic Fields: "Baby you could be famous / If you could just get out of this solar system."

I don't expect to see anything like this in my lifetime, but it would be an awesome sight to behold. It would be just one more thing science fiction writers envisioned that would be later developed.

One problem I see with the proposal: wouldn't magnetic fields of this power wreak havoc with the electronics necessary to control the field?

(Via Instapundit and Professor Bainbridge)

Texas 41, USC 38

Congratulations are due to the University of Texas' football program and to coach Mack Brown for their victory in the Rose Bowl.

I'm sure the coach considers this victory and #1 national ranking his greatest accomplishment, but I think something else he did in the past was more impressive: he gave the University of North Carolina a successful football program. That team didn't have the same level of success before, and it hasn't had it since.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Desk calendars

I picked up my normal desk calendars for 2006 (Dilbert and Get Fuzzy) today. If I hold to history, I'll have peeked ahead to all the strips by the middle of the month.

I picked these up after the new year because they're predictably 50% off at Borders after the start of the year. It makes me wonder why anyone would buy them in December, unless it was a Christmas gift?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

New Year's Resolution

It's a simple and common one. I need to lose weight. I started 2005 too heavy, and gained weight by the end of the year.

So I'm resolving to stick to a diet without cheating, and exercise every day I'm at home. And to help me on the task, I'll post the results here. The prospect of publicly admitting defeat should help keep me honest.

The "stretch goal" for the year is to get to bed earlier (like, before the time of night when I'm posting this), and get up earlier. That will help with the exercise part.

A late Christmas present

Here's a classic holiday tune you can sing at your next Christmas gathering:

Little Gunner Boy
A parody of that classic Christmas carol... guess!
(No, you guessed wrong. It's a parody of Do You Hear What I Hear?)

Said the gunner boy to his targeter
Do you see what I see? (Do you see what I see?)
Flying through the night, targeter
Do you see what I see? (Do you see what I see?)
A sleigh, a sleigh, and lots of reindeer
Flying through our airspace tonight
Flying through our airspace tonight

Said the gunner boy to his targeter
Forty degrees left (Forty degrees left)
Turn the howitzer, targeter
Forty degrees left (Forty degrees left)
And fire, and fire, and bring him to the ground
Gun down that fat jolly elf
Gun down that fat jolly elf

Said the gunner boy to his targeter
Do you hear what I hear? (Do you hear what I hear?)
A hit, a hit, sure and true
And big black clouds of smoke
And big black clouds of smoke

Said the gunner boy to his targeter
Do you think what I think? (Do you think what I think?)
Let's check their pockets for change
Do you think what I think? (Do you think what I think?)
Salvage, salvage, from the crash
Maybe they'll have car keys or cash
Maybe they'll have car keys or cash

Said the gunner boy to his targeter
Do you see what I see? (Do you see what I see?)
Lying in the rubble, targeter
Do you see what I see? (Do you see what I see?)
Everywhere, lots and lots of toys
For all the boys and the boys
For all the boys and the boys

A classic (did I already say that?) from a no-fi Chapel Hill duo known as Acceptable Losses.