Monday, December 31, 2007

12-31-07: A New Year

It seems like every year, people struggle to come up with good New Year's resolutions. I tend to think of simple, straight-forward ones that are measurable. For instance, I'll say "I won't sleep more than 10 hours in any one day." That's reasonable, and achievable, and useful. It's when people start to get really creative that they run into problems.

The other scenario involves a bet between friends. That really makes things interesting. Say you bet your buddy $100 that he can't go without drinking for a month (as the guys on DiggNation did). Once you put money on the line, all bets are off. Or... they're on. Either way, you can't really predict what will happen, because it usually involves a behavioral issue with one of the friends. Or it's just something stupid and it will still be funny. People taken out of their routine tend to act strangely over the short term. It's funny how many people will find a new habit to fill the void. For example, my boss from high school and college (who owned two restaurants down the street from each other), tried to quit smoking a few times. Each time, he couldn't continue, because he'd replace the smoking with eating, and he'd gain weight. So, to keep off the pounds, he'd smoke again.

What I think I'll do is I'll make a resolution to try something new in my free time. I've decided therefore to try writing a book. Nothing crazy. Maybe a short story for now, but something. I'm hoping to start graduate school soon, so I don't really want it to take up all of my free time. There's no real rush. Unfortunately, the plot line so far is kind of cliche in that it involves a sort of alien culture within modern society. So far it's not making much sense. I just need to find a hook and I'll be all set. I'll keep you posted.

Have a safe and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

12-30-07: Undefeated Patriots

The year in Boston sports continues to improve. It's just unreal. Despite the 5-0 loss the Bruins suffered to the Atlanta Thrashers (I wonder how many bars in Boston were playing that game...), the night was still quite joyous, as the Patriots have gone 16-0, undefeated for the regular season.

The truly amazing bit in all of this is the attitude taken by the Patriots. The entire mentality, known as the "Patriot Way," is quite remarkable. They never lose focus on the next opponent, on the next game. I wonder what Bill Belichick would say after winning the Super Bowl and going 19-0 (not saying WHEN, just an if statement): "I'm just focusing on the plane ride home and the Combine in April." He's most likely a robot. I bet he's a riot at home: "Honey, I don't want to know what's for dinner. Just let me know all you've got for lunch and we'll devise an offense to get it done. I have nothing but respect for Oscar Mayer hot dogs. They've done great things in the past, and many people enjoy them. They gave me bad heartburn the last time we met, but if we can just get through and take some Pepcid quickly enough, we can overcome any problems. I just want to take it one bite at a time."

Heartburn aside, the real story is the youth of the Boston area. They're spoiled will all this winning. If you were born in 1995 or later, you have little to no recollection of the many losing and near-miss years that so many Boston teams have suffered. The Patriots made the Super Bowl twice in 40 years before winning it three times since 2001. The Bruins have won five Stanley Cups, but none since 1972. The Celtics were prolific winners in the late 1950's, 1960's, and 1980's, but haven't win a championship in over 20 years. Let's not forget about that little 86 year drought the Red Sox went through. Now, kids grow up in New England seeing all this winning. Even the MLS team is doing well! I'm not saying these kids should suffer like the rest of us. I just don't want them growing up and telling their grandkids about this era like the goddamn Yankee fans do with their grandkids. That would be almost as bad as losing again. But for now, I'll take the winning.

The quote of the night, though, goes to Randy Moss, who told the press after the game, in straight terms, that he was proud to silent his critics by breaking Jerry Rice's record for touchdowns in a season. Many people would call that selfish, maybe say the old Randy Moss is back, but I don't blame him. For a guy to take a pay cut to come to a winning team after failing in another city, it means he was probably not as selfish as he was back in Minnesota or Oakland. If anything, he did it to play for a team that could use his talents, and he'd be there to break the records. It's not something that is simply given away; he'd have to earn it. And he did. He deserves all the credit, and all the naysayers with any sense of humility will have to eat their words. It's too bad he'll be way too expensive to keep once his contract ends, but damn did he have a hell of a regular season. Good on ya, Randy.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

12-29-07: PC Job Names

Since my time on earth, it seems that many job titles have changed. Jobs themselves haven't really changed, just what they're called. I was on a flight the other day from Japan with flight attendants, who have gone by that name, as opposed to stewards or stewardesses, for several years now. You go into stores and speak with associates as opposed to salesmen. When you go to Disney World, you speak to cast members when you have a problem with something.

My only question is: what do they call the people who make up these names? I'm sure there's a clever title, but then again I doubt there's a dedicated position. Isn't that ironic, though... You'd have just a plain old "manager" come up with a catchy new job title. I'd think they'd want to be called Description Specialists, or maybe even Identity Engineers. Actually, the latter just sounds creepy. Let's just stick with Description Specialists.

The real issue is why the names are now different. It'd be simple to say it's all due to the political correctness craze that continues to sweep the nation, and world in general for that matter. But, I think it goes beyond that. I think it's just an overall new business practice to encourage employees to be more productive and proud of their job. If you're a team member and not just a sales rep., you can easily identify yourself as helping the business, even if you don't do anything different. You just feel different.

One of my Fraternity Brothers does business with a large insurance corporation. He doesn't work for them, but they are his employer's major client, so he deals with them intimately on a regular basis. He told me something peculiar about their business structure. Apparently, they have a plethora of Vice Presidents, along with (literally) thousands of Associate Vice Presidents, and several other levels of Vice Presidents. You can be a Senior Vice President, which is really high up, and have just regular Vice Presidents working for you. If you're just an Associate Vice President, you're small potatoes. Can you imagine working for one of those guys? You can work for a Vice President right out of college! That's just strange.

That's, of course, an extreme case, but it probably happens more often than you'd think. I'm an Associate Engineer, but I don't necessarily work for an Engineer, which is nice. It's just a pay grade thing. If you want a real chain of command, look at the Navy. My girlfriend is an Ensign. After a couple years, she'll become a Lieutenant Junior Grade (abbreviated as "JG"), then a Lieutenant a couple years later, then a Lieutenant Commander if she feels like continuing. After that, it's Commander, then Captain, then all sorts of levels of Admiral. BUT... there is a real chain of command, which you have to respect. They're very organized. If only business were like that..

Friday, December 28, 2007

12-28-07: The Joys of Jet Lag

Jet lag has to be the lamest part of travel. We ought to do away with it by going by a universal time (let's stick with Zulu time). You'd just wake up whenever it made sense according to Zulu time, that way if you wanted to travel, you wouldn't have to necessarily adjust your sleeping habits. But, that would be the ideal, and apparently travelers aren't as important nowadays.

I spent the bulk of my day running errands, at the dentist's, and coaching a hockey game. Well, that was after about 8 hours of consciousness, since I woke up just before 4:00AM. What fun, but I got a lot done. Ha, that rhymes. Anyway, one thing I noticed today, at Best Buy, is that it's fun to try to get the attention of Best Buy store reps in unexpected ways. My favorite is by hanging out around the expensive stuff, like the TV's, then asking about a computer-related issue I came to resolve. One time I said "I really like this 48 inch flat screen. Do you guys sell Firewire hubs?" It always throws them off. The funny part is that they're so helpful, yet they aren't paid commission. It's strange. There's no real pressure to buy, but if you do have a question, they seem to at least know where to go to find the answer. That's pretty remarkable.

Here's a tip for those of you who, like me, absolutely dread jet lag: take short naps. Keyword: SHORT. Long naps are what you DON'T want to take. Try to stay up late and not sleep too late, but get into a good rhythm. It helps cut down those sleepless early mornings. Those really suck.

I found a great album that I had forgotten about and wanted to buy: The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan & The Band. Great album. I downloaded it off iTunes today using up most of a gift certificate. It only cost me $9.99, which is a great price, and so convenient! My next target is Dirt Farmer by Levon Helm. I love that sort of music.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

12-27-07: Back from Japan

Well, all I can say is that it was a wonderful, pleasant trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. I got off the plane about three hours ago, and I haven't slept in almost 24 hours, but I think I'm good for now. Need a little nap, but I'll get over the jet lag eventually.

As far as immediate observations about Japan go, I have a few:

First, if you like sushi (or can even just tolerate it), I'd strongly recommend a sushi diet, especially if you're in Japan. Japan is expensive, but you can find good, cheap sushi places. My girlfriend lives near a good one that had really great sushi for 100 yen (~$1) per plate. 10 plates can feed two people, and it's really good stuff. That was definitely a shock.

Second, they're extremely efficient and believe strongly in conservation. Their recycling is widespread, and they're very good with the space they have. It's cramped, but it's not too bad. My girlfriend's apartment is quite big for a single person to have by Japanese standards, but it's not necessarily huge. It is quite nice, though.

Third, the internet there is faster than you can imagine. It's simply outrageously, disgustingly fast. And, there's wireless nearly everywhere you go. It's really neat. And, from what I heard, their cell phone coverage is second to none. For a mountainous country, that's remarkable. If you've read The World is Flat, the author talks about this, but you have to see it firsthand.

And finally (as far as initial observations from me in my jet-lagged and exhausted state), they're the safest people you'll ever meet. You can leave you car unlocked and running, and you're more likely to come back to it with some one watching it for you than stealing something. They're a wonderfully safe people. Now if only they'd catch on to nuclear power, they'd be all set (though I can see why they'd be testy with that; sorry, that's an awful joke, in poor taste).

Do try the sushi. I recommend the salmon. Check out my slide show of the trip, by the way (it should be up within a day or two).

Friday, December 14, 2007

12-14-07: Off to Japan

This will likely be my last post for a couple weeks or so. I am off to Japan tomorrow to visit my favorite person on earth, who is proudly serving her country in the United States Navy.

So, when you settle down for your meal on Christmas Day, please think of our troops overseas who can’t be home to celebrate the holiday season. Or, do what I’m doing, and go visit them!

Have a Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Mix

This is just a mix I made of some of my favorite music using a new site called Mixaloo. You don't have to buy it or anything, just enjoy.

12-13-07: $500 for College for Maine Newborns

The holiday season seems to really bring out the heart-warming stories. I only wish more of these came out during the year, but it’s just what holidays do.

A guy from Maine, who owned the prestigious Dexter Shoe Company, set up a fund that would allow parents of newborns born in Central Maine hospitals (born in 2008 and afterward) to sign up for a $500 grant towards the down payment on their child’s college education.

First, this is one of the most amazing displays of charity I have ever seen. It reminds me of what Ben Franklin did for Philadelphia, but this one has a really personal touch. The interesting part is that Harold Alfond, the deceased benefactor, never went to college himself. Simply amazing. This is a first in the United States, and it really is just a fantastic idea. I have no idea what Alfond was like when he was alive, but he had to have been a great guy to do this.

What I also like about this, and I don’t know if this was done deliberately, is that it’s focused on Central Maine hospitals only. If you aren’t familiar with Central Maine, let’s just say the population isn’t exactly booming. I doubt he could have done this in New York or California. But the other thing is that it’s not near the border, so it wouldn’t be easy for people to abuse this and just drive across to Portland and have their baby there. If you want to screw with the system, you really have to make the effort and drive pretty far, which would lead me to believe you really want your kid to go to college. There’s nothing wrong with that.

On a side note regarding yesterday’s post, I’ve come up with a goofy come-back for you kooky environmentalists: “Cry me a river and blame it on global warming.™”

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

12-12-07: New Study Questions Human Role in Global Warming

I found an article on a new study performed concerning global warming. But, instead of the same ol' story, it says we probably aren't as involved in the change as we think.

There’s a lot of confusion out there regarding global warming. It’s becoming more of a personal choice than anything, not unlike religion. But what is it that people are choosing to believe in? Ah, that’s part of the confusion.

The common misconception is that a lot of people seem to assume that global warming has to be caused by humans, and that if you don’t believe that humans are the main cause, you don’t think the planet is getting warmer. That’s just ridiculous. There are plenty of climatologists out there who believe the planet is getting warmer, but are skeptical about mankind’s role in it. People like Al Gore have done a fantastic job at scaring the shit out of people with clever line graphs and presentations. A lot is inferred, and emotions are heavily involved (“You wouldn’t want to drown a polar bear with your bear hands, would you? Well, that’s what you’re pretty much doing when you turn your car on.” [Exaggeration, of course]).

Then you have the people who go on and try to give the “unbiased” approach, like a guy did in a video I saw a few months ago. What he did was he made a grid with four scenarios: 1) It is our fault and we do something, 2) It is our fault and we do nothing, 3) It isn’t our fault and we do something, and 4) It isn’t our fault and we do nothing. Ideally, it would be great if it weren’t our fault and we did nothing but cope with it, but this guy had “unbeatable logic” on his side. He simply assumed (the first mistake) that all the money we’d spend on cutting down CO2 emissions would be less than the net cost of doing nothing. No data to back that up. Just his logic. He claimed no one had come up with an argument to beat that, though a few of the comments are pretty well stated. I bet the guy wins a Nobel Peace Prize for his brilliant display of flawed Game Theory.

Anyway, the basic truth is that there’s a ton of money going towards research of mankind’s role in global warming, and it seems like the news outlets are biased. I don’t hear too much about this sort of thing in the news (skepticism, that is). I don’t think it’s necessarily a deliberate bias, but more of a simple overload of information. There’s so much new stuff out there saying we are responsible that it simply outweighs the alternative. Plus, the news does like scaring people, but saying “We can’t do anything about it,” would just be too much. After all, if there are possible ways to fix it, that would fit in quite nicely into a new segment on the 10:00 News in Spartanburg

This reminds me of a discussion in a course I took in my last term in college. It was a business class, which consisted of mostly senior engineering students. A guy with years of industry experience came in to talk to us one day about pretty much anything we wanted to know regarding the workplace environment. It was great, and the guy was very engaging. We just sat in a circle and talked. One of the topics the guy brought up was global warming (just out of curiosity on his part), and what we thought about it. You’d be surprised what senior engineering students said.

The biggest surprise was how little personal research had been done by some of the students who had already formed opinions. The few of us who had all pretty much said the same thing: there’s evidence to prove that humans aren’t a significant factor. People spoke about how they’re scared that coastal homes will be flooded out. Others said “I haven’t done much research, but it has to be humans if it’s happened so recently.” Mind you, I went to a very good engineering school, and most of these students were quite bright. When I spoke, I mentioned a book I had read, a video I had seen, and other research I had done, and concluded (using references) that changing patterns in solar winds (sun spots) are much more likely to be a cause for warming than human CO2 production (which is also a small contribution compared to natural components like the oceans and volcanoes). The guy leading the discussion also posed the question: “Did you know they used to grow grapes in Greenland?” On a side note, one of the students in the class made a remark one day that our service academies were a drain on our economy. Wow. She also spoke at our graduation… I guess she has to be right, then. Kidding, of course.

Let me just say that I am very happy that the United States did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Even some of those who advocate reduced CO2 emissions admit that the restrictions proposed by the Protocol aren’t nearly enough to do anything significant, especially since China and India are pumping more and more CO2 out each day.

I’m a big fan of alternative fuels, by the way, since it could be cheaper (and just way more neat) if we could rely more on renewable energy. But, that doesn’t mean I support the deliberate reduction of CO2 because of global warming. I just think electric cars are neat. I had one when I was a kid and just loved it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

12-11-07: Interesting Analogy: Confusion vs. Awkwardness

Sometimes I think of really weird, but seemingly appropriate, analogies. You can use this one in the event that your child, or a friend, need to know the practical difference between confusion and awkwardness:

Think of the difference like notes played on a piano. Let’s say some one plays a C and a G. They sound OK, but you’re not sure where it’s going. If they add in an E, you get a C major chord, and it sounds good. That’s equivalent to confusion, as all that’s needed is a little extra information to fix the situation.

Next, let’s say they play a C and a C#, which are right next to each other on the piano. When played together, they sound terrible, as any one who’s fooled around on a piano for 5 minutes has experienced. Sure, they’re OK on their own, but it’s not easy to fix the situation without changing or removing one of the notes. That’s awkwardness.

I’m referring to these two in a social setting, of course. Awkwardness has multiple definitions and applications. But, in a social setting, which is common, it’s when two people or personalities really don’t mix well in a certain situation. Social confusion is more obvious, like if you don’t know some one is a vegetarian and is the only one not eating a hot dog at a barbecue. You have an idea that there’s a good reason for them not eating, but you still need to ask some one. Then, it’s resolved.

I’d recommend using this analogy when a piano is present. Even if the person doesn’t need to know the difference, it’d be a waste if you didn’t take the opportunity to educate. Bonus points if you do it at a party where awkwardness is present: “You see, Jim, you’re a C, and Bill is a C#. It just doesn’t work. Here, let me show you on this keyboard…”

Monday, December 10, 2007

12-10-07: Name Ownership

Freedom has been coming under fire for some time now. It’s nothing new, and technology has its role to play, but it’s essentially the result of “good business.” People scream out against the Federal government and how it’s destroying our privacy rights and whatnot, but you don’t really hear too much about another major cause: corporate greed.

I am a firm believer in a free market economy. I think it works well and drives our economy. But I cringe whenever I hear stories like I heard this morning. A charitable organization based out of Potsdam, New York, was contacted by General Mills and told it could not call its annual bake-off a bake-off. The Potsdam Food Co-op has run its “Holiday Bake Off” for charity for nine years, and all proceeds go to the help feed the hungry. No government support, just good people out to help the needy. But that doesn’t fit the business model that Pillsbury, owned by General Mills, wants. After all, they “own” the term “bake off.”

I understand when companies go after product names that violate intellectual property of original names or brand names. If some one is trying to make a buck off a name, like iPod or Frostee, then the company has the right to go after the people. But wouldn’t a charitable organization, which had no idea the term “bake off” was owned by a multinational corporation, be the exception to the rule? Laws are in place to protect people from loss. But how much loss is General Mills suffering because of a local fundraiser? I’d think the negative publicity they’re now getting is costing them more than whatever profits they hope to make by denying the use of the name.

I wonder how this whole process came about. Did some one from General Mills see a sign for the event, and just instinctively say “Oh God no! We own that word!” ? Did some one lose because of a bad submission and take it out by reporting the event? If it’s been going on for nearly a decade, and only now is it being changed, it can’t be that big of an event. Is there some sort of new policy at General Mills to go after any and all “opponents”? It’s just strange. It’s not unlike how Apple has been going around trying to shut down iAnything. Oops (please don’t tell Apple I said that…).

This sort of thing infringes upon a basic freedom, and it’s in the name of “good business.” You’d think they would have thought this thing through at General Mills a little beforehand. I’m all for protecting the company against illegal profit by other companies, but when they show no heart and go after a charitable organization, it just upsets me. You have to know where to draw the line. It’s not like companies that size are 100% all-legal all-the-time. They know how to bend rules. Why not go easy on people who are trying to help feed the hungry? Why not sponsor the event? Isn’t that good business? I’m not calling for any government involvement, just a little common sense on the part of the businesses who profit off of good American consumers.

The organizers of the event are now scrambling to come up with a new name, but they’ll have to settle for “Holiday Baking Contest,” and they’re clever enough to make a suggestion box in the shape of a Pillsbury Doughboy. One suggestion is to call it a “Bake On” next year. I hope no one owns that one!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

12-9-07: Afterthought Book

Did you ever walk away from a situation where you needed a clever response, but couldn't think of one? I'm sure you have, as it happens all the time. There's a French saying for it that I don't remember, but it seems to happen a lot to me. So, I thought something up that might be helpful: an afterthought book. You'd keep this book in your pocket and use it as a reference whenever and wherever necessary.

Now, an afterthought can be about almost anything, so the title can be as specific as you want. You could even split it up into sections. One could be about stuff you simply forgot about, or simply don't know, and need to look up ("Were Sodom and Gomorrah people or cities...?"); another could be just reminders to yourself ("Don't forget to bring your A game."); and another could be clever sayings broken down by subject.

Let's take a look at what sort of subjects you could break this down into. You might think it should just be at different types of locations, like at a bar or at a coffee shop. But, wouldn't it make more sense to break them down into simply the type of situation? There are a surprising amount of common elements from different locations. People tend to set other people up no matter what the location. For example, let's say you order something and they're out of that item. This could happen at a bar, coffee shop, or any restaurant. You could theoretically use the same, or similar, line at all locations. Here are a few examples: "Well that settles it, I'm becoming a Vegan," or "This has happened every time I've come here, and the server always looks like you. Is there a conspiracy or something?" or "Who had the last one? Did they have a smile on their face? I hope they did, the bastards." See, you can use those anywhere! It doesn't even have to involve food (and yes, I am including the Vegan line, which would be doubly funny if mentioned in a hardware store).

It all breaks down to KISS, which stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. If you aren't quick enough to come up with a line, it's usually because of the type of situation, like a fast paced environment of a store or a bar or anywhere. When coming up with a set of clever lines for your afterthought book, remember to keep them simple and universal. It looks really bad if you screw up the general, broad ones. Make them easy to remember.

Here are some that you might want to consider:

Scenario 1: Some one cuts you off in line and takes forever to order what they want.

- "So that's what jerks eat. I never knew." (after they're done ordering food)
- "I sure hope my medication doesn't wear off. The last person looked just like you, and that arrest just never seems to go away."
- "This isn't actually a line, you know. We're all just paid extras in the direct-to-TV movie of your life story. The title is The Asshole Who Cuts In Line and Orders Slowly."
- "This isn't actually a line, you know. We all just meet up here every week to catch a glimpse of our biggest hero. You're a minute late!"

Scenario 2: While you are ordering something, some one in line behind you becomes very impatient and starts to get rude.

- "Oh, it's you! I am so sorry. If only you had said you were in line, I would have dropped to my knees and allowed you to order your food, which I like to refer to as The Meal That Was."
- "I'll tell you what, if you tell me exactly what you want in 5 seconds or less, I'll buy it for you." (then just turn around and keep ordering while they sputter; if they accomplish the feat, say "Well it appears that you're probably not in a hurry to get anywhere important" and ignore them)
- "You look familiar. I can't quite put a name to the face, though, but I recognize you. It was either in Asshole Magazine's December issue, or it was on the hit reality TV show called 'The Impatient Line-waiters.' Are you famous?"

Scenario 3: A salesman is obviously trying to rip you off and sell you something you neither want nor need in any way

- "If you can give me 10 reasons why I have to have this today, in under 1 minute, I'll consider buying it. And each reason has to start with a different letter of the alphabet. No repeats!"
- (If it's an extended warranty) "You know, the last extended warranty I bought was for my pet armadillo. Killer sure was a great pet. He'd always put a smile on my face whenever I'd get home, even if I ran over something. Do you think this could replace Killer?"
- "So let's say I buy this from you. What's in it for me? Because I certainly don't want it, and I sure don't need it, but you obviously have done my thinking for me already. So, I can only assume that since you've done so much thinking for me already, you'd already know what is in it for me."

Look for my book in stores next spring.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

12-8-07: Christmas Shopping

The other night, I was reminded of how much I dislike holiday shopping at malls. I had to buy a couple things on an errand, and the mall was the easiest place to go on the way home. I wouldn't say it was crowded, but there was a good amount of people walking around for a Wednesday night. There wasn't any real frenzy or mad dash to any store. It was pretty tame.

But then I remembered all of the TV coverage of Black Friday shoppers, hurling themselves into the great mass of other, equally inspired shoppers to get their part of the savings. The very next day after Thanksgiving, a day that people sit together and spread the good feelings, people fight and clutch and grab for items they need to buy for loved ones. It's downright disturbing, and so many people participate!

I'll bet that 90% of America knows what they want for Christmas, what they want to buy for their friends and loved ones, and where and when they will buy them, right now. But I would bet that only 30% can remember the gifts the kings brought to the birth of Christ: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The numbers might be a bit skewed since not every one is a Christian, and not every one actively practices their faith, but you'd think that at least you'd remember some of the details of the holiday, right? Even if you only buy gifts and don't religiously celebrate, wouldn't you be at least curious? To be honest, I don't go to church nearly enough to be remotely considered a religious advocate. But that doesn't hide the obvious point: Christmas has turned into a shopping holiday with religious overtones. It's sad, but that's America.

Friday, December 7, 2007

12-7-07: Snow

Big win for the Trumbull High School Girls Hockey Team tonight. Despite a 4-0 deficit at the end of the first period, they hung in there and pulled out a fine 6-5 win. Good way to start the season.

There was also a bit of snow today, which always makes for a fun adventure on the roadways. It wasn't really too bad, but the first major snowfall of the year always throws people off. There were a few accidents here and there, but I didn't see any blood or anything.

It should be a nice and easy weekend. Hopefully the weather will hold up and the roads will stay clear. Drive safe, America.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

12-6-07: Mormonism and Mitt Romney

A while back I made a post that poked a little fun at people’s concern over Mitt Romney being a Mormon. It was a bit over the top, which was deliberate, and I was criticized via a comment from a Mormon with no sense of humor. Let me just say that I am not planning on apologizing for my attempt at humor, only that it offended some one. See, that’s known as a coward’s apology. If you were offended, I am sorry for that, but I don’t apologize for my statement. It was meant to be funny.

What isn’t funny is that people are legitimately concerned over Mitt Romney's candidacy simply because he is a Mormon. He’s making a speech today to talk about his religion, which many, particularly Evangelicals, refer to as a cult. I could care less, since I’ve never had a problem with a Mormon. If people want to practice one faith over another, and it doesn’t hurt my bottom line, it’s not my problem. So long as they aren’t an atheist, I have almost no problem with some one being President who has different religious views than me. I’d say “absolutely no problem,” but there is the off-chance some one will run for office who belongs to the Wicca religion. That’d be creepy.

Mitt Romney is a nice guy, and he seems to be a pretty smart and practical man. He’s been a lifelong Mormon, and he even went around the world promoting his religion when he was a youth. So he’s devoted to his faith, which is fine. What’s the big deal, then? Does he have a history of brainwashing people to become Mormons? I don’t remember hearing about anything like that happening when he was Governor of Massachusetts, and I strongly doubt he’d try something like that as President. Though, when I think of Romney… all I can picture is a strange flashing image of Brigham Young with the word “OBEY” above his head…

The issue is fear. People are simply afraid to elect a Mormon President. It’s not unlike the concern when Kennedy was running for the office as a Catholic back in 1960. Yet, he got elected, but only after saying: “I’m not the Catholic candidate for President. I’m the Democratic candidate, who happens to be Catholic.” Then, as if by magic, people liked him. I have a feeling Romney is going to say something similar. He shouldn’t have to come out and say it, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Sound bites are important.

So long as he’s morally strong and doesn’t come out and say he’ll be swayed by his church, which would be political suicide if he did, I have no problem with the guy. I don’t feel that strongly either way regarding abortion, since I don’t see everything as a black and white issue. Some people do, but most of the time they’re either hypocrites or ignorant. Politics, and life in general, are far too complex to base your entire decision on one issue, which in itself is not black and white. If Romney is fiscally conservative and believes in the powers of the states over the Federal Government, that’s more important to me than most moral issues.

With that being said, this isn't an endorsement of Mitt Romney. I'm still not sure who I'm going to vote for, but he's in my top three or four right now (also included: Fred Thompson, Mike Huckabee, and Ron Paul; Rudy Giuliani is starting to slip a bit, but there's no guarantee I won't vote for him, either). All I'm saying is his religious views will not be a factor in my decision.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

12-5-07: Mickey Mouse Subpoenaed... in Italy

Every once in a while you hear a story that really brightens up your day. For me, it’s usually not something inspirational or heart-warming; it’s just something goofy enough to get me thinking about interesting scenarios.

This morning, on the radio on the way into work, I hear about a funny story out of Naples, Italy involving a court case that, through a clerical error, had Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, and Tweety Bird as key witnesses. They were given summons to appear in court to testify against a man accused of selling counterfeit Disney merchandise.

First of all, it was a clerical error, and no characters were seriously expected to show up. But still, wouldn’t it have been great if it had gotten that far? Wouldn’t that scene in court be outright hilarious? I can only imagine what the interchange would have been:

Prosecutor: Your Honor, I would like to call my first witness: Tweety Bird.

Judge: Very well, Mr. Bird, please approach, swear in, and be seated.

[Swearing in]

Prosecutor: Mr. Bird, you are an employee of The Walt Disney Company?

Tweety: Why yeth, I am.

Prosecutor: And how long have you been an employee of that company?

Tweety: Ooh boy, 65 yearth.

Prosecutor: 65? Why, that’s quite a number of years. That’s longer than many of us in this courtroom have been alive. So for 65 years, you’ve dedicated your life to The Walt Disney Company. Do you like working there?

Tweety: Why yeth, I love it.

Prosecutor: Of course. So, Mr. Bird, what did you think when you heard about the defendant’s horrific counterfeiting scheme?

Tweety: I was vewwy angwy!

Prosecutor: And rightfully so. How much is this sort of merchandise worth to your business?

Tweety: Well, quite a lot, but it would depend on the country of origin.

Prosecutor: Let’s just focus on Italy, then. How much?

Tweety: Euroth or dollarth?

Prosecutor: Euroth… I mean Euros. Sorry.

Tweety: 1942 money?

Prosecutor: No, Mr. Bird… 2007 money.

Tweety: Future money?!

Just imagine the possibilities.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

12-4-07: The BCS

Big win for the Patriots last night. It came down to the wire, but they somehow pulled it off. Even if they lose one game, at least they’re making it fun.

Well, the BCS bowl selections came out the other day, and, as usual, there are flaws in the system. I’m not a huge college football fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I can see why a lot of people get pissed off every year. In particular, I can see why fans of Missouri are upset. They got robbed.

I understand why the BCS exists. It is incredibly difficult to determine which teams are better than which since there are so many leagues. The rankings take many things into account, including coaches’ polls, AP polls, number of losses, computer rankings, and strength of schedule. But, despite all of this, a simple head-to-head matchup doesn’t seem to have a lot of effect on the system. That’s why Kansas is in a BCS bowl and not Missouri. That makes for some good complaint fuel for Missouri fans.

The strange thing is how, no matter how many people call out for a playoff, it never sticks. They say “It makes the season too long,” or “it’s not necessary; the system works.” Let me pick on those two.

First, the season is long as it is with the bowl games being played in January, and it doesn’t help the teams who have to wait that long. Ohio State is going to go 51 days between their last regular season game and the BCS National Championship game on January 7th. Fifty one days. No games. Do you think they’re going to be at their sharpest? Does it really do the system justice? Wouldn’t the season be just as long with two games in between? Even with the extra week because of other league championships, it could work. Pick the top eight or so teams from various polls and have them go into a playoff. You could even keep the BCS rankings intact and use those. Have three rounds: quarterfinals on the second Saturday in December; semifinals on the third Saturday; championship game in early January. You’d think players who go on to handle a 17 week season in the NFL would be able to handle the extra two games, right?

The second point, that a playoff would be unnecessary, is just wrong. I remember a few years ago there being co-national champions. Two champions! Lame! Shouldn’t the winner of the National Championship be… the National Champion? Well, ideally, but it depends on how big a team wins in another bowl game, and maybe (just maybe) if it rained 3.5 vs. 3.6 inches in Anchorage, Alaska. Maybe. With a playoff, it’d be all head-to-head. Put all of the games in neutral sites. Keep all the lower bowls intact and pump some money into the playoff.

The real issue is money. There’s simply too much money in the bowl system now to justify any real change. Not enough people are pissed off at the flaws to spend any serious money to fix them. I guess that’s what you get with top-notch AMATEUR athletics. But seriously, if all other major college sports thrive on a playoff system, just look at the money that schools rake in during March Madness, and the NFL uses one, why can’t college football do a playoff?

Monday, December 3, 2007

12-3-07: Ron Paul

I saw an interesting video of a Ron Paul appearance at Google back in July. It’s a 65 minute video of him answering questions. It was pretty much a big love-fest, with only a few exceptions. Paul was, for the most part, very good. By “good,” I mean he was very consistent and straightforward. His answers were concise and well thought out, and he certainly wasn’t at a loss for words.

I agree with a good amount of what Ron Paul stands for. My only question is how realistic his plans are. He’s not crazy. He knows it would take some time. One of the best questions from the Google crowd (all employees) was which parts of his plan would be addressed first and which would be overall goals for his term in office. He did acknowledge that some of his goals would be difficult to achieve, like the elimination of the IRS and other government institutions.

I don’t think Ron Paul is electable, but I do think his ideas are refreshing. He’s not coming out of left field; he’s been a Congressman for some time. He is a very capable legislator. He’s a Libertarian running on the Republican ticket, which some may say is dishonest, but I see nothing wrong with him trying to get as many votes as possible. He’s playing to win, which is fine.

What I like about Ron Paul, though I can’t say I’d vote for him, is his mentality for small government. He’s very laissez-faire, which makes it really easy to predict what he’ll say about many issues. I like that. You’d think a Google employee would be smarter than this, but one of them asked him about rural pharmacists. It was a loaded question, and he addressed it pretty well by acknowledging how it was loaded, then citing his anti-restriction policy. That takes balls, and it was well played on his part. He’s also remarkably good at citing historical precedents, which I like as a history buff.

I do think Ron Paul would do a fine job as President, since he’s been consistent for years and has “old-time” conservative views. He believes strongly in the Constitution, which is fantastic. Even if he doesn’t win, the fact that he’s getting this kind of attention is good. Fortunately for him, there isn’t a front-runner in the Republican race. If he does well in New Hampshire, we’ll see. Right now I’m supporting Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney, but I do wish Ron Paul all the luck in the world.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

12-2-07: First Snow

I meant to post on Friday, but must've forgotten to do so. I'll put something up tomorrow about the topic I was planning on writing about, which was Ron Paul.

Busy weekend, but a fun one nonetheless. Friday night was Bids Night up at WPI. It's the end of the Greek community's Rush period, and is the night that potential members sign their bids to choose the Fraternity they wish to join. It's also a night of celebration, and graduate members like myself like to visit to join in on the fun. It's a good time. Last night was a hockey jamboree for the high school team I coach. It went pretty well, which was very good. We played two of the best teams in the state, and stayed very competitive. Some obvious work needs to be done, but it's manageable. Should be an interesting season.

Today was the first snow of the year. Pretty normal, early December. It's definitely the start of the winter season. It may not officially be here for a couple weeks, but snow is snow. I don't think it cares if it's official. Unfortunately, we still have some leaves to take care of, and even though it's just a light covering of snow, it doesn't make things any easier. Oh well. Gotta do it.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

11-29-07: Electric Bike Gets 110 Miles Per Charge

I was watching DiggNation the other day and saw an interesting article about a Japanese scooter-like motorbike that was entirely electric-powered and got 110 miles to the charge. Pretty decent, especially considering the price tag of $2100. That’s pretty remarkable. Imagine what the price would be if this thing was mass produced.

Things like this bike get me thinking about how much money we could all save if more people bought in to this sort of innovation. I’m not referring to how this could save our environment or stop global warming or any of that bullshit. I’m talking about saving some cash. What if companies started to offer incentives for employees to use these bikes to commute? You’d need to charge them up, so why not let employees do that at work? There’d have to be some logistics to work through, but it’s an idea. What about a tax break for people who buy these, like they already offer for hybrids? Give the people a $500 tax credit. That’d cut the price by ¼, probably over 1/3 by the time these things hit the streets in the U.S. Even if it’s just for the summer, I’d ride one of those puppies to work.

There are situations where this doesn’t make a lot of sense, such as winter time in the Northeast. That’d be just insane, unless these things could handle the snow really well. I’d doubt it. But still, if more people used electrically powered transportation, it would at least cut down on fuel consumption. It would also reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Sure, it would require some fossil fuel burning (nuclear power, anyone?), but the net cost of coal is lower than oil.

On the other hand, there are situations where this is ideal, like for those people who live in or near cities. If your city has public transportation, that should be your first option, but how about one of these neat bikes? You can probably take these on the highway, too, because from what I’ve heard they can go over 90 miles per hour. That should be fast enough for anyone.

This may just be an electrical engineer talking, but this sort of innovation is going to help move society forward. Look out for more of this in the near future.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

11-28-07: Negative News

I haven’t done much reading on this, so it’s pretty much just speculation. It’s amazing to me just how negative the news is. It’s constant murders and accidents and corruption scandals and court cases and product recalls. You sometimes will see something nice pop up, but not nearly as frequently as murder and mayhem.

It’s not like this is anything new. News has been like this since I can remember, and long before that. One could point out the obvious that life is normally boring and most people aren’t murders or thieves, so when a story comes out about a murder or a theft, it’s new, so put it on the news. But murder isn’t new, either, and it’s frustrating to constantly see the same sort of bad news on TV.

The news is meant to inform the viewer about the goings on in today’s society. One would hope this would be a fair and balanced report of the daily grind. It’s not going to be all about death and injury, as important things do happen every day in business and sports. Those are things people really care about. That’s not my concern. My worry is that all the filler material that news agencies use to finish up their 60 minute broadcast is all negative news meant to scare people. Is that truly how society is? The very news one broadcasts is subjective, so it would be easy to say “Well, it’s there to promote some one’s agenda.”

Everything is there to promote an agenda; otherwise human thought wouldn’t produce anything. If I wanted to have a perfectly balanced news broadcast, that would be my agenda. If I wanted to have a right wing or a left wing broadcast, that would be my agenda. Pointing out an agenda is pointless, since bad news isn’t exclusive to any particular political philosophy.

I think it’s just human nature. People want to hear bad news so that they feel better about themselves. It’s also why people also need good news, since that gives them hope and inspiration. You could easily exist with just good news. You’d probably get a little bored of it, but I don’t think it would kill you (well, unless you became too na├»ve to think you’d live after running in front of a bus or something like that). Bad news can kill you. You’d worry yourself sick. But, if you hear a little bad news every day, you’d at least feel better knowing that the bad news didn’t affect you directly. It might hurt you in the long run, like with the current housing crisis, but if you’re in the right situation now, you won’t feel anything.

So how does this fit in to the programming of major news organizations? Simple: they’re not idiots. They know what people want to hear. They know what people are afraid of. So, that’s how they choose their topic of the week. I was watching something on TV at lunch the other day, and realized the following rule: something is only as harmful as the public’s prior knowledge of its existence. Look at that staph infection scare several weeks ago. Do you see that in the news? Of course not, because once people realized it’s a common thing to have, they stopped worrying about it. This seems to happen too frequently. A news organization, desperate for something new, will manipulate the perception of a story to blow it way out of proportion. Those stories tend to always come right after a commercial break. My mentality is: if I’m really going to die, they probably won’t wait until the Geico commercial is over to tell me.

One thing I’ve learned from watching the news in 10 or 15 minute bursts is that you can easily fit all of the important facts of an average 60-minute broadcast into a segment about 5 to 10 minutes in length. If you cut out all the commercials, which account for about 20 minutes, or 1/3 of the broadcast, and the useless transitions, which I would guess take about 5 or 6 minutes depending on how much bullshitting your favorite broadcasters do, and the filler stories about some guy whose car was broken into and his pet armadillo was stolen, and the “expert analysis” given by people who for some reason no longer work in a particular industry but claim to be experts, you’d probably cut the broadcast down to its bare essentials: the weather, business news, and sports scores. That would be a hell of a broadcast. How often do you turn on the TV just to see the weather or the score of last night’s game? I’d bet it’s more often than when you want to see Jane Fonda, Political Advocate, talk about the dangers of war and how it has everything to do with the Clean Air Act.

If you are interested in such a broadcast, check out the following:

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

11-21-07: Etymology Revisited; Body Clock

Several weeks ago I made a post about the science of etymology, which is basically the study of the origin of words and linguistics. I’ve always been fascinated by the origin of words. I became even more interested while studying Spanish in high school, in that I would find out that certain words have Latin origins, or German, or Old English. It’s just interesting.

I found a neat website called the Online Etymology Dictionary. Check it out. Look up your favorite word. It’s probably in there. It even has the history of some popular profanities.

This morning was an interesting awakening. Every once in a while, I wake up exactly when my alarm clock is supposed to go off. I’m not sure what happened, but I just remember sitting up and it being 6:40AM. What’s strange is that I don’t think my alarm went off. I have a program on my Mac called Aurora, which is pretty neat. It turns on iTunes and plays a specific play list for a specific amount of time at a specific volume. It’s great, and if you turn it on random it gives you a nice surprise.

Monday, November 26, 2007

11-26-07: Absolutely the Most Absolute Time Ever

Absolutes are nothing new. Absolutes sell newspapers and get TV programs the kind of ratings they want. But absolutes aren’t realistic. It’s just not possible. I mean… it’s highly unlikely.

What I mean by absolutes are assertions of grandeur, such as “This is the best team in history,” or “This is the worst time in history.” I’m referring to subjective assertions, of course. If it’s the coldest day on record, that’s a straight numbers issue, and can’t be argued. But when people, especially political and sports pundits, go on record and say things that are obviously blown out of proportion, there’s some cause for concern.

Again, these statements are entirely subjective. There aren’t any standards or enforcement agencies out there saying “You can’t say every week that a different team is the best ever.” I don’t wish there were an agency, either. I think it’s good entertainment, but it gets old unless it’s said in jest, and even that gets old.

What got me on this train of thought is the New England Patriots. I’m a fan of the Pats, and even I’m getting a little tired of the hype. They are a great team, no doubt. They’re having a great year. I’d like to see them go undefeated, because it would be something new. They’ve won three Super Bowls since 2001, and won all three in a four year span. They’ve been dominating before in recent history. They haven’t been undefeated, although they do hold the record for consecutive wins, just not all in the same season.

What gets annoying is comparing great teams. That’s obviously how people compare greatness and assert a team as “the best ever.” There are too many wildcards. The ’85 Bears were a great team, but their offense isn’t as good as the ’07 Patriots. The ’91 Redskins were a marvelous team, but could they beat today’s Patriots? Who knows? The game has changed so greatly in just the past 15 years that it’s difficult to say. I think the Patriots would beat both teams, and I think the Colts could, too. They’re both great teams. I think they’re both better than the undefeated ’72 Dolphins, who are crowned as the greatest ever, despite their relatively weaker schedule of games and fewer games played. If the Patriots go 17-0, they’re better.

I think this plays right in to our tendency to think that modern athletes are, on average, better athletes than in the past. That’s very much a possibility. It’s sort of an evolution in athletics, and technology plays a major part. Technology, and just straight knowledge. Athletes today have a myriad of resources to help them achieve their peak, and the breadth of sports that young children play is amazing. I grew up playing ice hockey, baseball, and soccer. I never played football, but my friends did. I loved playing all three sports, and even added on lacrosse and golf in high school, though I stopped playing soccer and baseball in middle school. They’re still fun to play now, though.

Back to my point: how do we determine if athletes are actually better nowadays? What does “better” even mean? Does it mean if you put them on a level playing field, with rules both could live by, that one would beat the other? Is that really a good indicator? No one knows for sure. It’s a reasonable form of measurement, but it’s not perfect. Personally, I don’t think the average athlete is necessarily better nowadays, since I’m sure athletes of older days would have been better had they been given the same opportunity. I think the superstars of today’s game are better, on average, because they’ve taken advantage of the technology better than before. I’ll leave the focus on superstars to another post.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

11-25-07: FOX News on Digg

I am a frequenter of Digg, and it seems to me that a lot of articles have been posted recently that blast FOX News. If you aren't familiar with Digg, it's a social news website. Users submit stories that they find interesting, and if other people like it, they "digg" the story. The popularity of a story is determined, obviously, by its number of diggs. It's pure democracy, and it sometimes produces some interesting results. Stories do vary, but not as often as you'd like to see. There seem to be a lot of liberals and Ron Paul fans (don't know how that happened), but I visit it more often for the Technology section. There are a lot of Mac fans on the site, which is good. Another similar site, which is in an earlier stage of development, is Thoof. Think of Digg, but with a few filters put in to keep out some of the crappier stories. Thoof uses "personalization algorithms," which are surprisingly good.

The interesting part about the recent blasts against FOX News on Digg is that they're probably not achieving what the story submitters are intending them to do, which is to prevent people from watching FOX News (or maybe protest against it). That's a guess on my part. If they want to have people watch the channel to poke fun at it, then they're getting the result. But, it's not going to do anything but boost FOX News' ratings. Personally, I don't particularly favor cable news stations over anything, because they're all ratings driven. Whether one is worse than another is not my concern. I don't watch any of them exclusively, but when I do watch the news, I often watch FOX News.

This goes back to the timeless saying "There's no such thing as bad publicity." Sure, you might be able to point something out to some one who already agrees with you anyway. That's not much of a victory. It's like posting a "Yankees Suck" sign outside of Fenway Park. You're not going to open too many minds. I'm exaggerating, I know, but how many people are going to objectively say "You know what, I had no opinion on FOX News before, but now that you pointed out this particular instance, I hate them and want to watch CNN from now on" ? People are brought up watching one station over another, or have no particular favorite. Those who fall into the latter category, like me, find the station that fits with their point of view. I like FOX News because they have an anchor (I forget her name) who had a minor stroke, but still sits behind the desk. That shows me that her journalistic ability was more important than other traits, like whether she looks prettier than 95% of America. I could give a shit how she looks or sounds. If she reports the news well, then put her on the air. I'm sure you could poke holes in my reasoning quite easily, but that's not the only reason I watch that station over another. To be honest, I only watch the 30 minute news broadcasts, not even the 60 minute shows and most especially not the pundits. I listen to radio pundits. They're usually funnier and smarter.

So go ahead and Digg that story about some crazy caller on FOX News, or a Youtube compilation on select clips from broadcasts. At worst, you'll watch their next broadcast, boost their ratings a little, and that guy you think is an idiot will get a raise next year. I hope he does.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

11-24-07: Googled Justice

Every so often, whenever people wonder how much good has been brought by the whole "internet craze," it's interesting to see something positive. In this case, a woman who had been suspicious of the possibility that her husband of two years was hiding some money from her discovered that he did indeed win some money in a lottery. It, of course, happened in Florida.

The guy has since disappeared, and the wife is looking to sue him for the winnings. I don't exactly know her legal standing on this, but the fact that the guy hid the money from her makes it justified in my book. Apparently the guy is a habitual gambler, and loser. But, thanks to Google, the wife now knows that he won at least once, and she's looking to get some of the $600,000 he won in a 17-way lottery win. It's not exactly the kind of money that would set some one for life, since it'll be closer to $300,000 after taxes, but that's still a shitload of money to hide from some one like your wife. I can see where the guy is probably thinking "It's my money," but to hide that from your wife, and just spend it on your gambling addiction, is just wrong. I hope they find the prick and she gets some of the money.

I'd feel slightly different if he were hiding the money for a short period to buy something nice for the both of them, like if he was buying them both a new home (in fact, the guy did buy a new home, because the wife found a post-card in the mail congratulating him for the purchase but I doubt he was being charitable). Or, if he was planning a surprise big vacation trip for the family. That would be nice to hide, but just for a short time. If I won the lottery, I might do that, but I'd be too pumped about winning it to keep it hidden for long. They tend to publicize those things pretty well. I'd have to actually play the lottery to win, though.

What this most reminds me of is the saying about the lottery: it's a tax on the stupid.

Friday, November 23, 2007

11-23-07: History of Flight; Black Friday

I found a neat website that has a pretty interesting animation on the history of manned flight. It won't exactly blow your socks off or anything, but it's still pretty neat. Unfortunately, it doesn't have much in the way of helicopters, which is unfortunate. But, it starts in ancient China and goes all the way up to 2007 with the first flight of the Airbus A380. Pretty neat.

Well, today is Black Friday. Always an interesting day. Nothing but shopping for most people. I don't get it. Why would you want to get up at 4:00AM (or earlier!) and go shopping? I'm sure the deals are good, but not only are you up at an ungodly early hour, but so are 5,000 other people, most of whom are either as eager or more eager to get the goods as you. You'd think people would cut back on the tradition with the invention of internet shopping, but doesn't it seem like it's gotten worse and worse every year? It's unbelievable. I'm going away for Christmas, so I need to get my shopping done earlier. But, I'm going to be relying mostly on the ol' internets to get my shoppings done.

In case you were wondering, I do have my list of favorite shopping sites: for most things, especially books and music; used most frequently for anything computer related; not used much for other people for things I want to save money on; used frequently
Ebay for personal items that aren't needed right away for most things, though I rarely use it for some decent savings; used infrequently
Google Maps to find the stores that sell expensive things that I don't trust being shipped

Thursday, November 22, 2007

11-22-07: Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! I always enjoy this most festive of days. It doesn't matter where you come from, what language you speak, or what faith you follow, there is always a reason to give thanks. I'm especially thankful for my wonderful family, my friends, and most especially my girl in uniform, who proudly serves and works her cute little butt off in the United States Navy.

So, on this day of thanks, make sure to take note of what you have and what you are thankful for. We often go through life bickering and moaning about what we want, or what we think we should have. That's not the path to happiness. What is important is to acknowledge what wonderful things we Americans do have, and why we have them. Make sure to say a prayer for our troops and loved ones on this wonderful Thanksgiving Day.

I love you, sweetheart!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

11-21-07: Kerfuffle

Have you ever heard the word “kerfuffle” used in a sentence? Well, I hadn’t until about five minutes ago. I’ve since heard it used twice in two separate instances. The first was by Fred Thompson in a speech in Rochester, NH; the second was in an NPR podcast. Both involved political situations.

The word itself isn’t the issue. It’s a goofy word, and is the equivalent of a commotion or a state of disorder. Thompson used it to describe the mess surrounding the restructuring of several states’ primaries, and how at end of it all, New Hampshire will still be first. Just some politicking on his part, I know, but I don’t remember ever hearing the word before. Then, just a few minutes later (if that), I heard it used in an NPR news podcast. Strange.

That reminds me of something that pops up every once in a while: have you ever heard a word or phrase used for the first time, then begin noticing it frequently? It’s a strange phenomenon. It’s not as if you’ve never heard the word before; you probably just never noticed it. Once you start paying attention to it, you notice it used all the time. One of my high school friends said she had a number haunting her. She had a really clever story associated with it, too. It kept popping up in various situations. I forget the number, but I’m pretty sure it’s not quite like in the movie 23 with Jim Carrey. My friend didn’t end up having a sinister alter ego, at least none that I know of.

Has that ever happened to you? Do you have any phrases or numbers “haunting” you?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

11-20-07: Politicians vs. Businessmen

I was talking with some family friends last weekend about something quite peculiar. Have you ever noticed how poorly businessmen often do when running for public office? Look at Steve Forbes as a great example. He’s a bright guy, knows what he’s talking about, and has some practical views on issues. He seems very organized, which is important.

But, he’s a businessman. He’s used to absolutes, which is what business is all about. Politics has a lot of schmoozing and gray area to manage. If Steve Forbes wants something done, it gets done. If Jack Welch said “It will be this way,” it was that way. If George Bush says “It will be this way,” it might be that way, depending on how the House votes and if it can make it through the Senate without any pork being attached to it. There’s a lot of bullshit to deal with, but that’s politics.

Personally, I think having a CEO run the country is fine. People always scream about how Dick Cheney is a tyrant and is nothing but a corrupt politician because of his career with Halliburton. I think that’s a load of bullshit, because what made him successful in industry helped get him elected: his work ethic. He’s a brilliant guy. His operational ability is outstanding, which is why he is Vice President. That’s admirable. Why shouldn’t successful businessmen run the country? It’s not like lawyers are any less corruptible. I’d rather have a guy who wants to make a buck and doesn’t know all of the ins and outs of the law than some one who has the ability to be devastatingly sneaky. Business professionals want to get things done. They’re better at managing people. Have the lawyers do the dirty work.

The United States is the largest economy in the world. It’s what makes us move forward. People flock to our country because of the economic opportunity, not because of Roe v. Wade or Plessy v. Ferguson. They come because we’re the U$A, and there’s nothing wrong with that. People want to support their family, and if our economy can allow people to legally enter our country to do so, by all means, let it happen. But, what’s important is that our economy stays on the up and up, which is where businesses come in. Wouldn’t it make sense to have a businessman at the helm?

Monday, November 19, 2007

11-19-07: Plymouth Rock

I have the odd privilege of having been born in the easily-recognizable, historical small town of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Usually, when I tell people where I was born (usually for paperwork), I get “Oh, isn’t that where the Pilgrims first landed?” I used to reply with “Yep, that’s the one,” but as years have gone by, I’ve moved on to “Allegedly. There are those who say they landed in Provincetown first.” Age does that, I suppose.

The town, the namesake of the surrounding county in which I first resided (not in Plymouth, though; I lived in Duxbury), is home to the Plymouth Rock. The story of the rock is rather peculiar, both in how it came to be known as “the Plymouth Rock” and how it came to reside at its current location. Many from the area know it’s a bunch of bullshit, but tourists love visiting the plantation and seeing the rock. It’s probably not from where the pilgrims first landed. William Bradford’s foot did not likely set down on it, at least not as early as legend tells. People have spent millions of dollars to come see it, and the commonwealth has recently invested (hold on) $680,000 of taxpayers’ money to renovate the steel and granite portico protecting the broken rock.

The rock came to be famous in 1741 because a 94 year-old man named Thomas Faunce said that his father had told him decades earlier that it was located where the pilgrims landed. That was 121 years after Bradford’s people had landed. The guy’s father likely wasn’t even alive then, so there had to have been an additional source involved. But, the people bought the idea (who in 1741 Massachusetts Bay wouldn’t?), and it became a cultural icon of the area. People still love seeing it.

The other part of the rock’s history is how it came to reside in its large, expensive granite and steel portico. It’s been moved, and cracked, twice: once in 1774, another time in 1834. Some even say it’s not even the same rock that was originally moved from shore. When people ask me if I’ve seen the rock (which I have), I always make sure to point out its screwy history. It’s interesting to see, and I encourage you to visit there, if you can. Your dollars are always welcome in Plymouth County.

Friday, November 16, 2007

11-16-07: Gene Simmons: “College Kids Killed Music Business”

I read an interesting interview this morning between Billboard and KISS lead Gene Simmons. It was pretty short, and started off with just a couple questions on the usual “What have you been up to?” and “Are you guys planning on touring any time soon?” Then, when asked if he was planning on recording new material, Simmons jumped into a tirade about how it’s simply not worth it any more because the recording industry is in a shambles. He blames college students who have downloaded countless millions of songs illegally for years.

Most of his responses have been said before by other artists, namely Metallica, for years. He called it criminal and awful, and has put “millions” of people out of business. But then he said something that I thought was pretty interesting. Here’s that bit:


Well therein lies the most stupid mistake anybody can make. The most important part is the music. Without that, why would you care? Even the idea that you're considering giving the music away for free makes it easier to give it away for free. The only reason why gold is expensive is because we all agree that it is. There's no real use for it, except we all agree and abide by the idea that gold costs a certain amount per ounce. As soon as you give people the choice to deviate from it, you have chaos and anarchy. And that's what going on.

You can say all you want about how “they shouldn’t be in it just for the money,” but that’s beside the point. It is a business, just like any other. Gene Simmons isn’t exactly hurting financially, but that doesn’t make him wrong. He’s a bit extreme in his punishments, since you can’t realistically sue all illegal downloaders (only single mothers who download 24 songs, apparently). But his analogy of the worth of gold is quite interesting. Is music just like gold, though? It’s far from rare, and “good” music is entirely subjective. I make up a song in my head, which I do almost every day, that I think is fantastic, but I doubt it would sell as many copies as the next 50 Cent album. Still, it’s an interesting analogy, despite its obvious flaw.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

11-15-07: Imus Returns to Airwaves

On Monday, December 3rd, Don Imus will be back on air. This time, it will be at WABC. His new workplace is 1.4 miles (by car) away from his old one at WCBS. Hell, it might even be a shorter commute. In addition to a new contract from WABC, Imus is looking to get some cash from Rural Free Delivery, to the tune of $25 million over 5 years.

What does this all mean? Did he learn his lesson? Did he receive his due punishment?

I think he did learn his lesson, but it’s not necessarily just what he said was wrong. He did say something dumb. He did deserve some harsh criticism. But he apologized to the Rutgers team in person, and even went on Al Sharpton’s radio show to give his side. Al Sharpton is another issue. I have no problem with his message. That’s fine. What I have a problem with is his hypocritical nature. He cries out against Don Imus calling a team of predominantly black female athletes “nappy headed-ho’s,” but when a team of predominantly white male athletes is found to be innocent, Sharpton doesn’t feel an apology for calling them rapists is even necessary.

What Imus likely also learned is how fickle and bogus members of the media can be. His employer only fired him after advertisers left, but cited his racial slur as the reasoning. His opponents cry out, without listening, and refuse to reciprocate any sort of integrity when the time comes. One of the Rutgers players is even suing him for slander. What happened to their innocence? Weren’t they heralded for their response, and unity? The whole situation has turned into a sad betrayal of values. Imus has a new job. He’s still in New York. All he had to deal with was some severe criticism for a few weeks, and some free time at his ranch.

I plan on listening in on the 3rd to see what he’s been up to. Can’t wait.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

11-14-07: Cy Young to Sabathia

First, I do think C.C. Sabathia deserved the Cy Young Award. Second, I bet he’s happy as hell that the post-season doesn’t count towards the award. If it had, Beckett would’ve won it, no doubt.

The primary source of debate is how poorly Sabathia performed in the post-season, specifically his abysmal showing in the ALCS. Beckett, the series MVP, simply dominated the Indians. But the Cy Young Award is for the regular season only. On top of that, Beckett pitched 200.2 innings compared to Sabathia’s 241.0. But Beckett went 20-7, and Sabathia went 19-7. Despite pitching 40 few innings, Beckett garnered one more decision. That’s not necessarily Sabathia’s fault, though, and innings pitched are a large factor in Cy Young consideration. As Tim Kurkjian of ESPN also pointed out, those extra innings pitched might have caused some fatigue in Sabathia’s arm, which led to his poor ALCS performance.

I’m biased, so it’s obvious I would’ve awarded it to Beckett. It’s a close call, though. In this case, both pitchers had nearly identical records (though Beckett led the league in wins), and Sabathia had a lower ERA (by 0.06). The only difference is that Sabathia started four more games than Beckett, and, on average, pitched slightly over 7 innings per start, with four complete games. Beckett averaged about 6 2/3 innings per start, with only one complete game. Both were aces of their respective staffs. Both led teams to division titles. Both have hit home runs in inter-league play within the past few years (does that count?).

Though it was close, I don’t see why an unbiased voter wouldn’t vote for Sabathia. Despite the similarities, he did have a better regular season. I suppose Beckett will have to settle for the ALCS MVP Award and that little World Series ring. Poor guy.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

11-13-07: Why Modern Day Professional Athletes are Better than Past Athletes

In a conversation at lunch, I got to thinking of something that I’ve pondered from time to time. With the infusion of so much money and resources into professional sports, it seems obvious to me that modern teams (i.e. teams within the past decade) are better than teams of old. More specifically, the average professional athlete is better.

There are various reasons why this is so. With modern training techniques and the myriad of technologies that go into the game planning and execution, it allows the athlete to improve their skills and overall performance far easier and in greater depth than ever before. A great example is in baseball. It took the likes of Tony Gwynn to make video big with batters. Today, both batters and pitchers can get customized compilations of their past performances against that day’s opponent. Pitchers can see how they pitched to the other team’s batters, and vice versa. It makes both pitchers and hitters better.

But, the source of all this is money. If teams weren’t raking in billions of dollars per year in revenue from ticket sales, marketing programs, and merchandise sales, they wouldn’t be able to afford all the bells and whistles. On top of that, they couldn’t afford to pay their players the millions of dollars to play for their team. Part of this was the invention of free agency, but a lot of it was just good marketing. People are willing to pay the exorbitant amounts of money it takes just to get in the park, so why not pay the players more?

The high salaries are the key. My grandfather was an All-American football player for Holy Cross back in the early 50’s. He played professional football for the Marines. He even tried out for the New York Giants (baseball team), and was offered a contract. But the money was no good, so he became a teacher. How many top athletes stayed away from professional sports before it was such a lucrative occupation? There’s no way of knowing. I doubt the very best athletes didn’t play at the top level, since they’d be recognized as great players, but you never know. Let’s say Joe Schmidt from Port Lexington, Kentucky would have been the best football player in history back in 1958. But, he knew that he would never make any money then, so be became a lawyer after college. He could have been the best had he tried harder, but he didn’t. He knew football would have its limits, and his dream school had a lousy football team (or none at all).

With the higher salaries, today’s players also have more competition for each position. You’re not just going against other excellent American players. You’re playing against the best from Europe, Asia, South America, or anywhere in the world. So much money is going into sports that scouting is a worldwide profession, so the undiscovered talent is now being tapped. Teams are competing against each other for market domination, and fans are eating it right up. It’s a system with a great deal of positive feedback, and it makes the games more exciting and the athletes better every day.

Who do you think would win in the following scenarios?

2007 New England Patriots vs. 1982 Miami Dolphins

2007 Boston Red Sox vs. 1975 Cincinnati Reds

2007 Ottawa Senators vs. 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens

Monday, November 12, 2007

11-12-07: Busy Weekend; Happy Veterans Day

First, Happy Veterans Day, America. Having a loved one in the military isn’t easy, but it’s something I’m extremely proud of. Whether it’s a moment of silence, sending a postcard to a soldier, or donating to charity, it’s important to give back to the men and women in our armed services. They do fantastic work and protect our freedom 24 hours a day. Keep it up, sweetheart!

It was a busy weekend. I traveled close to 500 miles in two days, by car, train, and on foot. It was fun, though. I had a great time up in New Hampshire with my girlfriend’s parents. We went to a meet and greet with Mike Huckabee, Presidential candidate, at the house of some family friends. Over 100 people turned out for the event, and it was packed. Huckabee was pretty good. He went around the whole place shaking hands, then gave about a 10 minute stump speech covering various topics. It was pretty impressive, but some of his policies are a bit controversial. The one I don’t quite get is the Fair Tax. I first heard about it a couple years ago on the Neal Boortz radio show. It’s basically a national sales tax on consumption. Ideally, it would work, but it seems to be difficult to enforce. Huckabee spoke out against the “underground economy” that doesn’t pay any taxes, like prostitutes and gamblers. With a consumption tax, they’d be contributing. But, how would to enforce that? My buddy Scott had a great line: “If you can enforce the tax, shouldn’t you be able to stop them from breaking the law?” Makes sense.

Huckabee is a very nice guy with good conservative principles, most of which I agree with. I’m not huge on pro-life or pro-abortion. I’m more on the pro-life side, but I don’t see it as a black-and-white issue like most people. One thing Huckabee said that I thought was particularly interesting was his view on healthcare. Some years ago, Mike Huckabee was told by a doctor that he needed to get in shape or die in less than 10 years. Well, he went on a diet and lost a ton of weight. That inspired him to try to incorporate a diet and exercise program in the state of Arkansas. His national plan would involve more preventive care funding and exercise, which I think is a good idea. It’s also cheaper in the long and short term. That would be interesting to see.

I don’t know if I’d vote for Huckabee, but he seems to have a good head on his shoulders. I’d have to learn more about the Fair Tax program to see how I feel about it. I don’t know a lot about it. Either way, getting to meet the guy was a great experience.

After the meet and greet, we went to a Manchester Monarchs hockey game against the Lowell Devils. Decent game. The Monarchs scored first, but let in four goals in the 2nd period. Three of the goals were scored on the back-up goalie because their starter had to leave with a minor injury. The 3rd period was entertaining, and the Monarchs almost pulled off a great comeback, but fell short. The final score was 5-3, with Lowell scoring an empty net goal with 2 seconds left.

After a long drive back to Connecticut (3.5 hours) on Saturday night, I headed in to Manhattan with two of my buddies on Sunday. We took the train in, which is always nice. Our first stop was Carnegie Hall, where we went on a tour. It was pretty neat to see. We even got a chance to listen to a few minutes of the rehearsal going on. It was just us three and three older ladies from Sacramento, who were there for the show that afternoon. The tour guide was wondering what three twenty-somethings were going on the tour, to which our reply was “Our company gets us free tour tickets.” He was a nice guy.

The rest of the day included stops at Rockefeller Center, Wall Street, Bowling Green, Battery Park, Greenwich Village, and Times Square. A lot of walking, but it was nice to see the city. Wall Street was eerily empty, since it was a Sunday. Bowling Green was nice, though it was disturbing how many people wanted to take a picture with the bull from behind. That reminds me that I need to send the picture I took of my buddy to him.

We ate dinner at a place called Phebe’s in Greenwich Village, because McSorley's was packed with old people and college kids. Decent bar. Not sure about the $7 for the Guinness, but it’s a bar. Food was good. It was an odd crowd, though, because there seemed to be more people watching the Bengals game than the Giants game. Maybe it’s a Bengals fan meeting place. Who knows.

After a long weekend, the rest was nice to get. Thanksgiving is next week!