Archive for April, 2009

We interrupt this midlife crises moment

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

I love my iPod…it has so many thousands of things on it.

But I was listening to a podcast today about the economy and the flu stuff and I was getting pretty down about it all. I was sitting there thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I have about 20 things I want to do, and about 5 things that I really could do, and -5 things that I should do.

So I was watching Scout looking for a game of fetch and pondering this.

And I was throwing the bumper and Scout was fetching…and I shook the damn iPod and it randomly went from this really cool breakdown of analytical news that was neither bullish or bearish to, but had me pondering stuff, to…

(wait for it)

(Now, if you don’t have an iPod…this is a feature that when the thing shakes, it just jumps to ANYTHING random you have. It annoys me. But I am too not interested to ever turn it off.)

“Jack & Diane” by John Cougar Mellancamp.

For some reason, the randomness of it felt good and right. And that made it feel good. I was the opposite of annoyed for once with “random shaker on my iPod thingy.”

But the thing that caught me at the moment it shuffled was that it was almost a theme to what I was thinking.

“Two American kids doing the best they can.”

I’m not even a big Mellancamp person…but the weird thing is that I can tell you the moment I heard that song for the first time two decades-plus ago.  And the fact that it got there randomly from a podcast today…there is something just, ummm, “cool” about it.

It jumped me out of my funk of the moment.

I’m not trying to beat a dead horse, really.

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

But frost on April 30. Here? This is the garden nightmare. It’s officially 34 degrees at a local airport, but it’s about four degrees colder here. Granted, it’s going to warm up fast and get into the mid-60s, but it’s like Mother Nature is playing a joke.

Mt. Rainier is pretty in the morning in this weather, but I don’t have a camera show I can’t show you.

(So, Mother Nature, I call it a tie. I’m mad at your cold winter and bad weather, but you also create mountain ranges that would make a Swiss Alps oil painter look at with envy.)

How I learned math…or why I love fantasy baseball

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

My friend Brian and I are in a fantasy baseball league, and I love it. It’s a 20-plus-year old league and I still like to crunch all the numbers in my own way before we draft, and I like looking at things a little different and make some personal decisions about the game based on how I read a box score when I have time to sit and read it.

And that literally fell into my lap yesterday when a 1981 copy of Bill James’ Baseball Abstract fell out of a box while I was looking for another baseball book doing research on pitch counts to help understand this year’s fantasy team (geek alert). (I KNOW there is an article in a book I have from the 1990s that points out the whole idea of how many total pitches a pitcher can throw and then the drop off the table afterwards. Found it! It’s not in a book though but a newspaper article I clipped and shoved in a book. It’s a math breakdown of what happens after a pitcher throws 100 pitches in a game and what happens to them after multiple consecutive 100-pitch games…yawn. But I just wanted to remind myself of those stats. I fear for my fantasy team’s pitching staff.)

It’s getting all hip now and mainstream with sabermetrics, etc., which is basically the study of baseball and math. It’s the ultimate geekdown.

But I was looking at a book from when I was 10 years old in before the 1981 season. Now, this is important, there was a baseball strike that year that clobbered my psyche. I had fallen in love, just a year and a half earlier with the 1979 Pirates (who should be my second favorite team, but then I lived in New York and Boston and decided that I had to choose one, so I chose Boston…you have to remember the Mariners sucked — bad.)

Speaking of the Mariners sucking, this all could not have happened at a better time for me, personally, when I was 10. I loved baseball. My home team sucked and I had a father who would take me to games. And this freak of a book appears to me in a book store in Binghampton, NY. It didn’t even really look like much of a book, but I was 10.

Looking at the fact I absolutely made enough notes in it to inspire Einstein, it’s pretty funny. The book I saw yesterday has notes in it that look like a bad student playing with numbers on a chalkboard. But I played, and played, and played with the numbers in that Baseball Abstract. I would sit and use 1979 and 1980 baseball cards to plug numbers in with different ideas and changing around the theories about predicting things. No internet to update it or something, just the same 1981 book over and over until I could tell you crazy fact about the 1980 season that will make you laugh if I mention them.

But then I kind of tried to keep updating the theory of numbers for a few seasons. And this is key to the timing and my intellectual development. I began to look at the “hard math” as being less important than the theory. The hard numbers in my head became very easy. The theory was more important. And I still wasn’t even a teenager.

Skip forward…

I got into high school and it was the first time I realized that not everyone could divide 156 by 12 in their head. Hmmmmm…and that you’re batting .188 if you go one for eight. And all the big numbers were just basic idea of a bunch of small numbers.

And then I got into calculus, and I scored a respectible four on my AP test, but I thought it was the dumbest theory ever applied to teaching it. Bill James had already taught great theories about numbers that would someday be useful. I’m not kidding, that is how much I disdained the math taught in schools. It was silly…other than the fact I could apply “baseball math” that my teacher’s didn’t understand or care about, but in my head, it was like dealing with the mental torture of the whole process.

My math career, for all intent and educational purposes ended there…I ended up acing through a freshman class in college and because of the AP test never took another math class to get my degrees.

But baseball is the only thing that ever really taught me anything during the whole “math education process.” And that’s what seeing the 1981 Abstract reminded me about. I treated those numbers like homework.

So in our fantasy baseball league we’re doing really well. Yeah, fine, great…but what I am good at is putting a team together that, barring injury, is going to be good. So, it all comes full circle. I still get a kick out of looking at a newspaper boxscore and picturing a better way to do it that would be more accurate.

It’s not about doing well in fantasy baseball, but the fact I can play with numbers in my head that are concrete and applicable. I can juggle numbers really, really fast. Baseball statistics gave me theory to make it important as a base, and it will be for the rest of my life. I get number theory because of it. So, not only can I do the math in my head by breaking it down into smaller numbers and ideas and then combining them into a bigger picture, I can do it in my head pretty fast, and tell you why. My parents did not know this when they bought me that book for $5 when I was 10.

 If some math teacher had the will or ability to throw out the textbooks when I was in high school and figure out how to show the simple corelation between calculus and anything other than thin air, I might have had a math-inclined degree of some kind from college. Who knows. I was happy with my AP 4 and getting out. The point was that it was all taught with some “theory I can’t explain any use for.” Statistics, when you are about nine or ten, combined with sports, is a crucial age. Now, literally, hundreds of millions of dollars are being wagered on the base of that chicken scratch. If someone told me when I was 15 that just by doing math I could make upwards of a million dollars a year…my point.

Yeah, I know that’s a lot to take out of all my scribbles in margins from when I was ten. But Big A is getting into games and I feel like I could almost teach her math theory.

Hey…maybe it begins with blackjack!!!!!!!

I get the US Air flight, but…

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

…I have always thought this was more interesting and it happened 21 years ago today. It blows me away that time goes by so swiftly.

If you read the pilot and co-pilot discussion, it’s one of the great documented cases of the pilot taking complete and total control and calling off suggestions. It’s obvious he can “feel” the plane and he really sums it up when he says “let’s fly” or something like that. He is in the zone with a really massively crippled plane.

This should never be forgotten in the world of airline pilots and, well, pilots and passengers in general. It was before, for the most part, 24-hour news and all that stuff. These guys were in a world of hurt. Look at some of the pictures if you go back to investigation stuff from the site I linked to. And they only lost one passenger? Are you kidding me?

So there…a kid born on that day is old enough to have a toast to that entire crew.

A great fundamental phrase

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

If you don’t watch GPS with Zakaria on Sunday mornings…you’re missing out on perhaps one of the great hours on TV every week. Put an exclamation point on that sentiment.

Malcom Gladwell, for instance, had this great quote today: “Talent is the desire to practice.” And then he proceeded to explain it all.

But “Talent is the desire to practice” is an awesome phrase. It doesn’t even mean you’ll be the greatest at what you practice, it’s just that with the desire to practice you will be better than most.

These are the golden nuggets that seem to come out of CNN’s GPS…the same way they used to come out of a Tim Russert-hosted Meet the Press. Smart and thoughtful on a Sunday morning. It’s like getting an entire Sunday newspaper full of television when you watch it and listen to it.

I’m not declaring MTP dead, just saying that Fareed Zakaria is almost as good as Russert, which makes it better than MTP post-Russert.

She thinks I play dirty

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

I have this game that is nine dice with letters and numbers. I have written about it before here, but it’s the coolest thing you can have shoved in a pocket and just play on an airplane.

So here’s the thing…P accuses me of cheating because I gab throughout the whole thing and I give good advice.

So we got into a best-of-five match last night, and she declared I was an “irritating idiot savant.” But you know what? She got better as the games progressed. I annihilated her in the first two games with my heckling and advice, but by the third and fourth games, she was beating me.

So now we are tied 2-2 because it got so heated, it was better to just cool off for the night.

The thing is that I thing talking smack helped her actually get better. I thnk I screwed up. Now, when it comes to word games, you have to put it in context…she has lost at Scarbble 232-2. But with a strict three-minute time limit on this word game, I am running into problems.

My fatal error in the game was challenging “pox.” I know it’s a rash, but I really thought it had to be used as a compound word like “chickenpox” or “smallpox.” She pointed out that I had used it a dozen times in Scrabble and I pointed out it was like playing a bluff in poker.

So I end up looking it up just because you have to call your own bluff sometime. Yes, it’s a great word for a wordgame. I was drawing dead. I know it’s a word.

But here’s the thing I may have lost…the bluff. You play a word game and declare a word and just confidently say it is what it is…that’s golden. That is how I have lost less one percent of Scrabble games against her…I lie sometimes!

People…this is a giant shift in our wordgame playing. If she’s really starting to get IT, I am screwed. She even accused me of playing every word game like poker. And I gave a tell…basically, it was my “Duh?” face.

My last thought…don’t buy a $1000 dictionary unless you’re prepared to use it. This is my other recent wordgame problem in the last year. I use to be able to point at 200 pounds of dictionary and say, “Test it.” And no one ever did. Hell, I could use the word “zurquick” and delare it a “compound mineral from Africa” and get away with it. Now my cover is blown. If I do “trehala” I bet it’s in the dictionary, and I have no freaking clue what it could mean…it was simply a matter of putting parts of two words together that sounded kind of correct.

(OK…I had to look it up: trehala. Not what I thought it would be, but there just the same. Which means I’d win the challenge.)

P thinks this is all dirty play because it’s not nicey -nice. Cry me a river. It’s all a game and as long as you don’t cheat, you can win. She still can’t stand that I hide money under the table during Monopoly. But no where in the rules does it say you can’t hide money. It’s just a sleek savings account. You earned the money, and you didn’t cheat.

So today, at some point, I am probably going to get my ass kicked by her in the deciding game. But I’ll always have Scrabble. (She is only 230 games behind during the last 20 years. Think about that. That’s four years of her winning one game every week.)

Fooling with greatness

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

Are there guys that screwed around with girls in high school and college that still sit around the water cooler and brag about it because she became famous?

I would bet yes. That would be an interesting reality show.

I was thinking of this because of something on TV last night and it brought back memories of a date my first semester in college. And the fact I never said much of a thing about it later in life. But that would be funny if you had a group of people that are completely defined in their own minds about copping a feel of someone who went on to be famous. You could call it “Touch of Greatness” and just interview people that screwed around with famous people when they were in high school or college. And you could probably realize what losers they are for mentioning it. But that’s what reality Tv is all about, right?

Bratty Behavior Can Be Dangerous

Friday, April 24th, 2009

My cats and dogs don’t REALLY know how good they have it. Three square meals a day, plenty of water and exercise, doding at all hours, nice chew-things to fiddle with when they want, best health spa facilities in the area when we have to leave them behind for a few days…and then they act like idiots sometimes.

They just end up doing dumb stuff. But here is the problem between a cat or a dog that acts like a brat and does stupid stuff…you can’t even hope to reason with the animals. They really have no fear of acting like turds because, I have come to believe, they really don’t care. Now, I say that with all due respect, but it’s not like you could ever break them through interrogation or something. You can yell at them. In fact, you could hit them on the nose. But the thing is that what reason there is behind any of that changed behavior because of it is, well, not using reason, per se.

I was thinking about this watching COPS last night. People are generally reasonable and logical. They can do heinous things, but they generally “get” what the bad behavior is and the reason why its bad (granted, some are just nuts).

But a cat that wants to steal beef jerkey from a bag and realizes that she can just claw through to get it when you’re not home is a problem. There is no possibility of reason or cause and effect two hours after the crime. The cat is just happy with the treat.

I have no idea of the point to any of this, either. Oh, wait…yes I did…

There was a joke on the news this morning about pets being electricuted because they like to play with wires. A person, with reason, understands that the idea of eating a hot electrical wire is just dumb and dangerous. But to a pet, it’s just amusing with no reason. And that’s what made me think of the COPS-thing. Some people really don’t understand the danger of playing with the wire because no one ever told them no to play with it.

I hope there is a point in this. If not, consider this just a not-well-thought-out ramble.

If you read a history book this year…

Friday, April 24th, 2009

…read Plain, Honest Men by Richard Beeman.

These 55 people did in less than a session of congress what no other democracy has been able to accomplish by creating a single script that is more than two centuries old and governs nearly 300 million people. Beeman details it fascinatingly well in kind of a blow-by-blow account.

But the wowzer thing to me is that it was done in a time that these dudes could not have dreamt about in 250 years how changed things would be in 2009. This is still one of the most astonishingly mind-boggling things about the American constitution. They gutted out writing a freaking script that still plays on Broadway. This is why the book is geekishly brilliant. For people like me that are geeks, it’s got all the geek stuff. But it’s not a geek book…it’s even smarter than that. Hard to describe correctly, but I would add it to your book collection if you see it on the shelf some day at Border’s for $2.98. Or, if you have a Kindle, download it at Amazon and read it on the airplane.

This almost trumps “Founding Brothers” and I never thought I’d say that about another book regarding the late 18th century. It may trump it on another reading in five or 10 years, I don’t know. These guys are fascinating to no end.

Birthdays

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

I like a birthday as much as the next person…but quit wondering why I really could care less about most of them.

To me, if you’re lucky, you get 12 important birthdays in your lifetime.

1-3-7-13-16-18-21-30-40-65-80-100

This list has been a moving target with me when it gets to the later years. But more than half of your important birthdays are done by 21. For a while, I had 65 at 55, because, well, let me explain each one…

1: No brainer. First birthday is important. It means you are pooping and eating on a schedule, most lifely, and we can kind of all see the face of what your blob is going to become.

3: This is a biggy. Now you can probably walk and talk and even have a sense of humor about certain things. You’ve gone from being a complete pain in the ass to being kind of humorous to have around. And chances are you quit wanting to eat things out of the litterbox or something.

7: Now you’ve got style and are being a smart alec. But you have fulltime school. You can read. You don’t need me to screw around with taking care of you every single minute. If things have done well, your out of diapers and maybe just being a bed wetter on occaision. Your humor is more developed, and this is the age you kind of get your game legs under you.

13: Puberty and all that stuff. Plus just being a teenager now. Argh. This is the first of my ages on my chart that is only there as a marking place for the fact it’s something to bull through. It is important enough that I hear some Jews have a celebration over it.

16: In Washington, this means driver’s license. For girls the country over, it means “Sweet 16″ for reasons I cannot understand. For boys, “IT MEANS DRIVER’S LISCENCE.”

18: You can buy tobacco and porn. Oh, and you can vote. Yeah, that’s important, too, I guess. And, if you’re my kid, and you do something completely stupid, I don’t HAVE to bail you out of jail or anything. You broke it you own it. And you can take a trip to Europe and call it “educational” while getting sloshed or stoned in 25+ major cities.

21: Gun ownership and beer. No…seriously, this is really when you are emancipated beyond rebuke. Personally, I think this is also when people should stop being called a “kid.” I mean, I was reading something the other day about something someone did at 40 and they said it was because “he was a kid.” Give me a break. I am not saying you don’t screw up from here on out because your’re yound or naieve, just don’t say it was youth for the excuse.

30: If you made it this far…worth a night of youthful indiscretion. Because now you’re 30s are a ticking time bomb of figuring out what you want to be when you grow up while knowing you have some of your best training behind you. And you’re probably married. And you probably have kids. This one gets a special birthday party because I call it the “OH FUCK BIRTHDAY.” If I’m lucky, I’m about a third of the way into life and then suddenly it hits…life is hard.

40: This is like 30 on steroids, but in someways much much much better. You have spent your 30s figuring things out, it doesn’t mean you have all the answers, but now you have an idea of the questions and it starts to make sense. And the cool thing is that you get another 20 years to futz around with it, if you’re lucky. And, technology is better, kids are older, and you can kind of just find a groove.

65: Honestly, I have never been comfortible that this is actually the right birthday for the sentiment. I meant it to be about retirement and panic, like a more comfortible version of “What the FUCK?!” But it floats around in terms of what that number is exactly. It’s my most flawed birthday number. It is also meant to show a panic year. What if you get here and it didn’t go according to plan? I even have tagged it at 55 before, and also 75. This is like the deep dark woods of ages where you just don’t know.

80: Easy. You get here, you should be back to everyone being there to change your diapers if you need it. Plus, you have now entered a fifth generation. This is really important. My favorite example is that people who were 80 could have a memory of Kitty Hawk and the space shuttle. Granted, not by much, but they did. You have seen some serious shit at that point. People that turn 80 are walking and talking interesting stories.

100: Duh.

There, that’s my list and justification.

If you invite me to your 37th, 19th, or 64th birthday party, I won’t be all that interested and I wrote here why.