Sunday, February 28, 2010

Finally finished it...

Following up on KT's post, I feel compelled to assure people that I have read more than Wheel of Time books in the last month. I have finally finished a short book by Paul Krugman called "The return of depression economics." It was a short book, as I said, but it took a long time to read because, frankly, I didn't follow all of it. I got the broad themes, and gleaned a lot from it, but this style of thinking and writing is still new enough to me that I didn't track it as well as I'd like. That made it slower to read but also made me less enthused to read it - I hate doing things I'm not doing well, including reading a book.

But if you have a smattering of economics background, my opinion, uninformed by a lot of economic knowledge, is that it is a very informative and interesting book. Whatever else you can say about the guy, he's smart and he's well informed. I've probably mentioned that he's won the Nobel prize for economics, specifically I believe his macroeconomic work, with which this book was loaded. A few of the factoids I picked up are that 1) we're in an economic situation when "the normal rules do not apply" and if we don't realize it we're going to get in a lot of trouble, 2) situations like this have arisen before, not just in the Great Depression but also in Asia in the 1990s, Mexico, and other areas, and 3) that a "tight" fiscal policy at this point could be disastrous (such as an insistence that spending rates be sharply curtailed - thinking like that was partly responsible for the depression).

One of the interesting facts discussed was the "shadow banking system" that has arisen in recent decades. This is a system of credit that performs functions that used to be performed by consumer banks but that evolved to perform them cheaper and better. It includes things like the auction-rate security system. These parts of the shadow banking system were profitable because they were not regulated by the Federal Reserve system, which let them operate with less capital on hand and also take much larger risks. As long as nothing goes wrong, this works great and everybody makes money. But if something does go wrong then 1) the system is very vulnerable to problems because it takes big unregulated risks, 2) it cannot be directly bailed out by the Federal Reserve because it is not a normal bank so is not ensured by FDIC and so 3) you can have "runs" on this system just like they used to have runs on banks prior to the establishment of the FCC. This shadow banking system took a huge hit when the housing bubble burst, and was a huge source of credit that essentially dried up. That actually helps explain why TARP had such limited effects on credit - the deposit banks that are regulated by the Reserve were not the only, or even the major, sources of credit. The "shadow banking system" got no TARP funds and is still not lending. An obvious implication, pointed out by Krugman, is that anything that performs the functions of a bank, including this shadow system, should be regulated like a bank - to avoid exactly this sort of thing happening. This is not stuff I've seen covered in the news!

So, if you're up for a little work, I'd recommend Krugman's little book. It's not as fun as Freakanomics, but it's just as fact filled, and probably, sadly, more pertinent.

I Do Read, Honest

So this year I made a resolution to try to read more. I love reading, and I tend to just go home and sit on the sofa, then I go upstairs and read about a paragraph before I pass out, which means it can take a long time to get through a book. On weekends I make up for lost time, but generally, I figured it would be a good idea to turn off the TV and read a bit more.

And I have been doing that. I just haven't been updating the little photo widget. For one thing, I've been reading the collected works of Jeffrey Deaver. I wasn't super impressed with the first book I read by him, which was one of the Lincoln Rhyme books. It was okay, but I didn't really appreciate the difficulty of producing multiple books where your protagonist is in a wheelchair--imagine Rear Window with Jimmy Stewart in a body cast and Thelma Ritter as a man, and you're on the right track. Well, all I can say is that I'm a convert. I've read nearly everything he's written over the past few months, devouring many of the books in under a day. Yeah, it's cheesy reading and it's not developing my mind like all the econ books and history that Shifter's reading, but they're well worth reading. My favorite Deaver book so far is The Vanished Man, which I think has an interesting perspective on predators and why some of them are so successful.

I've also read two of the Dexter books. They're a little less satisfying than the Deaver books, but the dark humor of the TV series is obviously well-grounded in the original book, it's an eerie pleasure to observe Dexter's weirdly alien perspective up close and personal. I really appreciate the audacity of taking the flawed detective trope to its logical conclusion. It all started with Holmes's cocaine habit, and alcohol and broken marriages have been standard accessories for any really serious detective ever since. But writers danced for years now around the idea that detectives need a little of the beast in them to beat the baddies, and it's admirable satire to take that all the way. For me, the TV series offers a complex and nuanced commentary on what it is to be good and even what it is to be human--TV-Dexter is almost an ontological Ulysses, and that dimension is pretty flat in the novels so far. Then again, TV-Dexter has had something like 50 episodes to develop him--these things take longer in novels, and hopefully the character has a few years ahead of him.

Finally, I've been reading Sway and A Perfect Swarm. I'll try to give them a blog post of their own at some point--both books encourage random dipping into, which is both an asset and a hindrance, in that I don't feel finished with them even though I'm not sure I haven't read them both in their entirety by now.

So I haven't actually just quit at one book.... I just never said to myself, "there, I finished Sway" and got on with the next thing.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

My Android Phone--The Ultimate Timewaster

I'm loving the Eris. It is all I can do to stay off it while I'm at work and to add apps slowly enough that I'll have some traceability if something crashes my phone--I don't exactly want to come home from software testing all day at work and have to painstakingly try to figure out which of the 30 apps I added in the last 3 days is causing relentless rebooting of my phone. Not that I've experienced that. I have had a couple of reboots, but they all occurred when the battery was spectacularly low (I'm trying to drain the battery completely before I recharge the first few times).

I probably won't write about all the app coolness for a while because a) anyone who was really all that interested in cool phone applications has probably had an iPhone for years, and b) I'm really starting with the basics, and there are thousands of reviews out there, all of them better and more informed than any blog post I could write on the topic. But there is app coolness, and it is cool.

On the one hand, I am very sorry that I waited so long to get a new phone--I really underestimated how much I would enjoy it (at least, so far--any technology toy runs the risk of decreasing awesomeness over time). On the other hand, AT&T actually did me a favor by sticking me with my sad old free Nokia for an extra two years, because the thrill of an Android phone is probably sweeter when contrasted violently with technology half a decade old.

There is a very small Luddite part of me that occasionally reminds me that it is insane to be this obsessed with a phone. But then I show it an exciting app and it shuts up for another 3 or 4 days. I'm sure in a few weeks I'll have beaten it into submission altogether.

One little thing I forgot to mention about the tri

Today on my run I remembered something about the tri I should have included in my report post. I almost flashed the entire aquatic center. I don't think I mentioned it, but for the past 4 months I've been telling myself I needed to buy a new swim suit. But suits are hard to find in the middle of winter in the Frozen North, for some reason, and my old suit was still servicable. It had started out as a dark blue and after many years and a whole lot of chlorine was now no color at all. It was maybe a bit thinner and a bit more shapeless than it had been, but it covered all the right bits and it was in no way a Speedo so I was happy with it. I do believe it was the rattiest suit of anyone I saw at the event, and I was kind of proud of that. I may blow zillions of dollars on linux boxes (this post hosted by LB2TR, btw), but I'm quite frugal when it comes to things like clothing. Mostly because no matter how carefully you dress me up, there's still me underneath, and it that's good it's good anyway and if it's bad well I'll just look like an idiot who is trying not to look like an idiot by dressing up. So I did the swim and all and was just climbing out of the pool, ready to go to the locker room and change into my running/biking gear, and riiippppp. I looked down. And uhm, I looked right back at myself if you know what I mean. Oops. I quickly squished my legs together which had the effect of hiding the really big rip right at the crotch of the suit, and kind of waddled off to the locker room. Very lucky me - the locker room was very close to my lane. Nobody seemed to see, or if they did they were too polite to point and stare, so it didn't stand out in my mind as a Most Embarrassing Moment, but it certainly went into the Near Miss category. It's also interesting to note that in the middle of an event, when you're working hard and focused on a goal, you don't embarrass very easily. I'm not saying I wouldn't have freaked if my suit had fallen off, but I only would have freaked with part of my brain, and the rest would be thinking that I only have 10 minutes to pick up the pieces of the suit, get changed, and get to the bike before the next event. One of my friends said that I had gone so fast in the swimming that it shredded my suit. That is vaguely true. In the same way that you can run so fast your shoes fall off your feet, if your shoes are made of wet toilet paper.

I did buy a new suit after that, by the way. It was, and so far still is, blue.

A Poem By Taylor Mali

I love this, even though a jury armed with the text of this poem would lock me up and throw away the key.

I learned at some point fairly early in my life that if you speak in a grammatically correct and articulate way, two things happen. One, people find you insufferable. And two, nobody listens to you. I have, I know, overcorrected, and it's tragic, because my flabby brain no longer knows any interesting nouns, adjectives, or verbs, and I can't help but feel, every time I have to spend more than twenty seconds finding a word that got lost in my subconscious by the age of 14, that it's the equivalent of being morally bankrupt.

But that's a beautiful poem, and a lovely visual to go with it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Why I Will Be Pissed If Congress Fails to Reform Health Care

On the radio this morning I heard congressmen (sorry, no women, so yes, really congressmen) debating whether America would be pissed off if they failed to deliver on health care reform. Well, I can't answer for America, but I'll be hugely pissed. (Click to embiggen.)

We spend a boatload of money on health care and get ludicrously little to show for it. Our life expectancy is below average. We get fewer visits to the doctor for our money.

When we have a situation like this in IT, where we need to improve a system and two groups disagree over what needs to be done to fix it, we usually lock them in a room with a pot of coffee and no food and don't let them out until someone wins. Get some friggin' depends and buckle up, congress.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

In Case You Missed the Curling

This is just a brief accompaniment to Shifter's post on curling:

Hoist that rag reconsidered.

A while back I said that this song was awesome:

TOM WAITS lyrics - Hoist That Rag
Well I learned the trade
From Piggy Knowles
Sing Sing Tommy Shay Boys
God used me as hammer boys
To beat his weary drum today

Hoist that rag [2x]

The sun is up the world is flat
Damn good address for a rat
The smell of blood
The Drone of flies
You know what to do if
The baby cries

Hoist that rag [2x]

Well we stick our fingers in
The ground, heave and
Turn the world around
Smoke is blacking out the sun
At night I pray and clean my gun
The cracked bell rings as
The ghost bird sings and the gods
Go beggin here
So just open fire
As you hit the shore
All is fair in love
And war

Hoist that rag [4x]

And you know what? It still is. That's not what I'm reconsidering. I'm reconsidering what it is supposed to mean. Based on some ideas I'd seen posted on one of those lyrics/what does it all mean websites, I had thought it was about the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This wasn't my idea, but I liked it. You've got the obvious "open fire" stuff, "hoist that rag" refers to lifting up a flag, you've got the Weary drum today, and so on. As I recall, the guy with that interpretation was a marine or something, but it fit well, and I was happy with it.

Then I read Paradise Alley, by Kevin Baker. Paradise Alley is a very well researched, well written historical novel set in New York at the time of the Civil War and the draft riots. It's all about the various cultures at the time, from the high brow to the Irish immigrant to the African American. Two things came clear to me as I read it. First, Jay Cox, who wrote the screen play for Gangs of New York, must have had read that book. I know they're both based on the same set of urban legends and history, but the overlap is really very clear throughout. The same fire companies, for example - not just both involving fire companies, but the same companies, the same focus on the immigrants, of course the draft riots but covered in such a similar fashion. If one isn't at least based on the other, it's quite a coincidence.

The other is that Tom Waits had probably read the book as well, or at least based the song on the same era. A number of things hit me. First, Paradise Alley was the first time I've seen the phrase "Hoist that rag" in print, aside from the song. Based on how well the rest of the book is researched, I believe it was a phrase from that period. The gangs mentioned at the start of the song - the Sing Sing Tommy Shay Boys, and I believe PIggy Knowles are both part of that period of New York history and mentioned explicitly in the book. The book depicts a mob carrying a cracked bell from a cathedral that they had looted in their rioting ("the cracked bell rings as the ghost bird sings") and of course involves the retaking of the city by the Union Army as they break up the riots ("open fire as you hit the shore"). So when you put all that together it seems at least as likely that Waits is referring to that period of history as much as anything else.

So, if any IR's have more information for or against this view let me know, and if you want to read a good book check out Paradise Alley. Nuff said.

An abortive timewaster

Shifter here.

I purchased the $10 Age of Empires bundle from Best Buy a few weeks ago. Age of Empires is now a well established franchise, on it's third version with several expansion packs, but the first episode came out probably about 10 years ago or so. I didnt' play it at the time because it was real time strategy (RTS) and I don't like the pressure of RTS - I prefer to take my time and go turn based. But I distinctly remember my brother showing me the game and thinking it looked fun, and I wanted to try something old school (me? No, never!) and it was only $10.

I installed it last week. I deleted it yesterday.

I deleted it not because it was bad, but because it turned out to be too good. The graphics are of course primitive (imagine that -they're a decode old) but the game play is fast and fun and it's got just enough complexity to suck you in. Two days ago I was home sick from work and I played it for about 6 hours and barely noticed I was doing it. I kept wanting to get just another wave of Heavy Infantry ready to raid the Sumerian barracks with, or get another armada of galleons in the sea so I could attack those guard towers the Greeks had put up. And then I had to respond to their incursions to my gold mining operations, and fight them out of my capital! And each of these was going to take jsut one more minute, and the minutes piled up, and the hours, and then it was close to midnight. That's when I knew I was in trouble. It had to stop.

When I was in high school, or college, I could afford to spend 6 hours on a game in a day and come back the next day and blow another few hours. That's how I learned Master of Orion, and Civilization 1 and 2, and so many many RPG's. But now if I try something like that my life is pretty much going to explode. I won't get any of the work done that I have to bring home at the end of the day, I won't see my family, my wife will hate me, and it just won't work. Over the years I've learned myself well enough to know that this was a Bad Idea. I also know that the longer I wait to stop playing, the harder it would be. So: Start -> Microsoft Games -> Age of Empires Gold -> Uninstall Age of Empires. And now I'm a free man again. Less enthralled, but free.

My recommendation is that if you have time to burn, and you like older games, and you've got $10, pick up Age of Empires. Otherwise step away from the bargain bin and walk on, citizen. There's too much to play here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Well said Mr. Krugman

Krugman again put his finger on exactly what I think is happening with Republicans and the bipartisanship issue. His blog post is here. What's particularly frustrating about this is that I happen to know, because my beloved is of the Other Party, that conservative pundits are absolutely screaming about how Obama is driving a pure left wing agenda and absolutely unwilling to compromise or listen to their point of view. As usual, Beck, Limbaugh, and the rest of the hobgoblins are uninterested in that little thing called reality, and so the show goes on. *Sigh*

A new and ridiculous project

Ok, so fantasy fans will probably know of the Wheel of Time. That mammoth series of novels by the late Robert Jordan that started back in the late 80s and he was still writing when he died. WoT was a rollercoaster of a series. And by that I mean it climbed up, and up, and up, and then rolled on downhill for far too long. The first 5 to 6 books, each of which was huge, were awesome. Like you couldn't put them down. They did involve swords, and magic (of a particularly interesting sort), and prophecy and fate, but in a relatively new way and told in a very compelling fashion that made them just great. But Jordan had a flaw, in my opinion. He kept biggering. He started with a full cast of 3 male characters, 2 female characters, 1 sorceress, 1 warrior, and was doing well with it. He started with a huge world with many cultures that were interesting, and a lot of history to the world (nowhere near as much as the Malazan books, but more than most settings). This was pretty big. But then he started adding new characters, and new obstacles, and new descriptions of all these myriad cultures and so forth in each book. So the cast grew and grew, the plot lines multiplied almost exponentially, and somewhere along the lines it wasn't fun any more. It wasn't compelling, and it was repetitive. The main character, the doomed hero, would be down, almost out, then take over another kingdom. Oh, and he'd kill an evil sorcerer or 2. Next book he's down, almost out, then kills a sorcereress and takes a new kingdom. And on. And on.

So the first 6 books were great. The next 5 books were, well, not so great. Almost mediocre. In my opinion. And I hate to say that because the first 6 books were so very very great. So Jordan was still writing these, and they were still selling wonderfully (mostly because so many of us wanted to know how the hell he was going to wrap this thing up, which he swore he would do), and he was, in fact, writing what he swore would be the final book. It looked impossible to do. He had so many plot lines, so many characters, and aside from one memorable event each of the last 5 books seemed to make things muddier and harder to resolve instead of showing a progression towards a climax. But I hung in there, boy did I.

Then he died.

Note to those who have read earlier posts - I had never met nor had any contact with him in any way. This was not my fault.

But when he died, the empire of his novels was such that it could not be allowed to fade into the gray. Instead, the publisher and Jordan's wife, who I gather had been his (not always so skilled, perhaps?) editor, sought out a new author to finish the series based on Jordan's extensive notes, stated plot line (which he had shared with his wife and family), and those fragments of book 12 that he had written. Jordan had been quite ill and knew his time was limited, I think, and so had kind of paved the way for this.

The guy they got to write this last, mammoth book was Brandon Sanderson. I'd never heard of him until he was chosen, but once he was I read about 5 of his books (maybe his only 5, I'm not sure) and found 3 of them to be just awesome and the other 2 to be very good. And for the first time in a decade I was excited for the next WoT book. No offense to Mr. Jordan, actually. I think that he was sick, and tired, and that it was just getting away from him. Or maybe it's just me and my awful taste in novels, and the last 5 books were really great, and I'm being fickle. Always possible, but all I can do is share my own opinions.

So all of this, ALL of it, is just my little preamble for the new project. Book 12, by Sanderson and, posthumously, Jordan, is out. Surprise! It isn't the last book. The last book was so huge, as laid out by Jordan, that Sanderson was only able to squeeze the first third of it into book 12, so there will also be a book 13 and 14. I'm sure the publisher is really broken up about that. Again, given the state of affairs prior to book 12 it's not at all surprising, really, that this will take a 3 part "final book." I bought book 12, sat down to read it, and then it hit me. I couldn't read this. I could barely remember the events from the first 6 books, and I could literally remember ONE of the events from the last 5 (they were just that non-memorable). So if I wanted to read this right, and see how Sanderson had done, I would need to start back at the beginning.

I debated this, because hey, that's a lot of reading, and at least half of it will be not great stuff (though I hope that I'll see things I like that I missed before) but I started this new project about a month back. I've now read almost 3 of the first books and am liking them just as much now as I did the first time I read them. I'm looking forward to the next 3 at least, and then we'll see how it goes. I don't think I'll eschew all other reading in the meantime, though. There's still nonfiction and, as importantly, a new Malazan book I need to devour. But I'll work through the WoT books as soon as I can. I am going to avoid all reviews of Book 12, so when I do read it I won't be expecting Great Things or dreading another Disaster. Reviews can really ruin things sometimes.

In many, many months I'll let you know how book 12 is. Then I'll read the reviews. I expect that book 13 will be out by then, and then it'll just be about a year before the final, final book is out.

What I won't do is subject you to a summary of each book as I read them, partly because I'm not that cruel and partly because Sanderson already did that long before he was chosen to write book 12. The really great thing about imaginary readers is I can imagine that you're even interested in looonnggg rants about series's you either never will read or already read and know about. I love my imagination!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Triathlon results

Ok, so you all had to read a lot of posts about the damn thing, so I figure I owe you a breakdown of how it went.

First, neither I nor any of the 2 guys I signed up with put together that the event was on Superbowl Sunday and our slot would go into the beginning of the game. Whoops. Not that I'm a huge football fan, mind you, but both of my friends are. It's a mark of their devotion that they competed anyway.

Second, the swim was disappointing. Although I swam the whole way through, I swam slow. Slower than the last time I did it, in fact. So that sucked. I didn't train as long or as hard for the swimming this time around, and I didn't try all that hard, but still. I ended up 13th of 18 on the swim.

The bike went ok. I am still surprised that the miles for the bike were not higher for the competitors overall. I expected a lot of 10 miles or more, and there were very few. I finished just over 9 miles, and that scored reasonable well in my age category (I was 9 out of 18 for the bike).

The run, I felt, went well. I did over 3.5, which is a good pace considering I'd been swimming and biking for the hour before. I was 6 out of 18 on the run.

Overall I was 8 out of 18 for the 30 to 39 group, which was the 2nd most challenging group (the 25 to 29 people were insane). My totals were:
Swim: 0 .79 Bike 9 .05 Run 3 .56 Total 1 3.40

By way of comparison, the previous time I did this I was 21 out of 29 (for the whole thing - they had too few people to break it up by age group) and my totals were:
Swim: 0.88 Bike: 8.77 Run 3.09 Total 12.74

I am now officially above average. Honestly, for a professional couch potato like me, to be above average in any event is a good feeling.

So some definite improvement. I'm particularly proud of the bike, because I literally sat on a bike 4 times to train for this one, so it just goes to show my legs are stronger and my overall cardio is better, and the run, because that's an almost half a mile increase and it's a nice jump. I even had one of the organizers tell me it was a nice run, which made me feel all warm and slightly less nauseous inside when I finished up.

So, thanks for reading all the complaints and observations along the way. I'm hoping, hoping, to keep some swimming going but I'm not going to count on it too heavily. I'd do another tri if it didn't get in the way of the marathons, so we'll see.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A New Phone...Finally

So a couple of years ago, my contract was up with AT&T. It had actually been up for ages and I hadn't bothered to replace my now 3-year-old phone yet. I went to visit my folks over the holidays, and I forgot my phone at home (it happens when the cab driver calls you at 4 a.m.--no, really). I thought, well, why not just go to the store and pick myself up a new phone. Answer? Because you don't do your research and you end up with a Samsung brick that doesn't make calls. But of course, I didn't know that. So I went and got my shiny Samsung brick and brought it home. It dropped some calls. I updated its firmware. It dropped some more calls. I turned off 3G so that it could use only the 2G network. It dropped fewer calls but still dropped at least 20% of them. I tried to return it, but AT&T would not take it back, not even within the 30-day period, because there was "nothing wrong with it." I considered insuring it and running it over with a bus, but the AT&T clerk assured me that wouldn't help.

So I went back to my old phone, which was a free phone that had been a modest upgrade from my very first cell phone. I had always loved the phone anyway, so it was fine. Except of course that now I lived in New York City, the land of no AT&T service. OK, ok, don't sue me. The land of extremely limited and spotty AT&T service. And I counted the days until my contract was up.

The thing is, when my contract was up I totally choked. Since the last time I chose a phone, phones have become another thing entirely. I mean, yes, there were smartphones when I got my phone. The iPhone was already around, etc. But I swear it wasn't nearly this complicated. You have to pick a platform and an operating system and a plan and it is just seriously insane. And because I spent the last 2 years with the evil, evil Samsung, all of these decisions were freighted with crushing "I will have a new phone!" anxiety. I have been trying to make this decision for two months.

So after a ridiculous amount of time spent on research, I have gone and done what is almost certainly the wrong thing. I always buy the wrong thing, or the right thing at the wrong time. I bought an iPod mini right before Apple consigned the form to the scrap heap. I bought a certain popular computer days before it was announced that my employer was going to get a whopping discount on said computer. It has been very frustrating. So I look at it like investing in art. You don't buy art because it's going to be a smart investment. You just buy what you think will make you happy.

I got a Droid Eris, which means I've changed my service to Verizon. AT&T is simply not the smart choice for the NYC metropolitan area, and they've voiced concerns about their 3G network, so I'm steering clear. I'm not really down with Verizon, because its technology isn't international-travel-friendly, but I will just get a cheap GSM phone to take with me to Europe should the need arise. So far I am thrilled, but I have only had the phone for 6 hours, so it's hardly definitive. I'm not even sure the Samsung drove me crazy this fast. I am having a lot of fun messing with apps and trying to figure out whether I want a Google Voice number, which sounds tailor-made for me--I have not known my home phone number by heart for about 8 years.

I did briefly consider the Nexus One. It looks incredibly sexy. But since I've gotten by until now with a phone whose most advanced feature was the alarm clock, I think it would be overkill. If I enjoy this phone, I might upgrade to whatever follows the Nexus One in the future. We shall see....

All's I know is, Shifter, now I have my own linux box. Hooray!

Curling. WTF?

I was at a bar last night and looked up at the big screen TV and saw a weird, weird thing. There was this girl, in an ice rink, who was very very carefully sliding this thing that looked like a metal urinal cake across the ice. And as soon as she released the urinal cake, these other 2 girls with what looked like squeegees ran in front of the urinal cake, squeegeeing for all they ere worth. They squeegeed right in front of the cake until it got to this circle and then stopped and it slid into the circle. And this, as it turns out, is the Olympic sport known as "Curling."

Now I've heard of curling but I'd never seen it and so I never knew just how, well, how WTF it really is. This makes the biathalon, that wondrous combination of cross-country skiing and target shooting, look downright normal. BTW, isn't that a fairly random combination for the biathalon? I'm thinking they should do unicycle riding, cross-country unicycle riding, followed by billiards. You're still "shooting," after all.

So that's what curling is. My apologies to any curlers out there. I truly know, and accept, that you'll watch a marathon runner at mile 23 limping and sweating along and think "distance running, WTF?" and you're just as right about that as I am about this. But squeegees?

HCR not dead??

A few posts, by Krugman, then Obama's speech, and then another by Jonathan Chait that is linked to by Krugman, have me thinking now that healthcare reform is not actually dead. Which is both hopeful and alarming. It's hopeful because, well, it's hopeful. It's alarming because why the heck didn't I realize that these options were still out there? It's a confusing system, and I guess I'm not tracking it anywhere near as closely as I thought. Too many books on tape, I suppose.

BTW, this is not to say that HCR will necessarily to succeed, but it's probably too early to hold the funeral if those two posts are on target.

Also BTW, Krugman is not at all an Obama fanatic - he gets really irked at his fiscal policy (he thinks he should be doing still more stimulus), but the author of "the Conscious of a Liberal" is going to at least share some viewpoints.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Black Adder is a great show.

I figure with an opener like that I can't go wrong. But seriously, Lord Black Adder I, II, III, and IV all rocked. (I rocked less than II, III, and IV, but still rocked - Baelzibubbles got a lot of cool points). Seriously funny humor. Sarcasm so thick you could use it as a mattress. Just cool.

One episode had this German prince/spy named Evil Prince Ludwig, with the worst accent ever. He swore he'd have his rewengee, for example. He also offered "many many a - pull - o - gees" (not sure how to get across how he said it) which is the tie in to the post.

So anyway, my apologies for not posting much at all in the past few months. I was chatting with my sister on Facebook (can you believe it - I'm facebooking!!! Damn weird of me) and she put her finger right on it. In essence, when all I've got to say is "f@#k, f@#k, f@#k!" then I don't tend to write very good posts. As I don't think people want a diary blog, and I think even less do they want a whiny diary blog ("Did I tell you I was grumpy today?"), I end up with nothing. If you can't say anything nice, and all that.

So I owe you guys a post summarizing the triathlon, at any rate, as you all had to read about the training for it. And yes, i have read some other books than the one I posted about 3 months ago. And I had one economics blog post that I really liked (not my own, but I was going to link to it) so those things should be coming at some point. In the mean time, I shall have my rewengee!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Books on tape

Shifter here, back from the dead, or the overwhelmed, at any rate. Back until I'm overwhelmed again.

One of the things that has gotten me through the last few weeks has been the discovery of something that every one else discovered about 15 years ago. Books on tape. Well, book on tape anyway. A long time ago, a friend of mine, who cowrites this blog, got me the first Harry Potter on CD. Well, got it for my wife, who was on bedrest at the time, and who could have used it. Except that my wife didn't end up using it, and I ended up shelving it many years. But then a month ago I popped it in the car while driving my daughters, both of whom are Harry Potter fanatics, around town. They loved it, of course, and I just kind of ended up leaving it in the car as I was driving elsewhere. At first it kind of annoyed me hearing someone else's voice reading what my own inner voice had always read, but after a while I got over it and just started to enjoy the story. And then I found that listening to the book on CD was not only not that bad, it was better than listening to 90% of the things I could find on the radio. And the only things better than it, all on NPR, tended to be things that stress me out (such as news and politics). Whereas the book did not, not even a bit. What's more, the book is distracting. So distracting that I can drive through snowstorm traffic jams, which I can't even describe if you haven't been in a few, without feeling my blood pressure increase exponentially as a function of time. So here I've got an engaging story, that takes my mind off things, and lets me negotiate Frozen North traffic without risk of myocardial infarction! Bloody brilliant, I tell ya. I listened to the whole book twice.

So now I'm on Good Omens, a personal favorite of mine, and I'm getting over the same discomfort of hearing another person reading it outloud instead of myself reading it in my head and starting to enjoy it as well.

So turns out they had some good ideas 20 years ago. Who know?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Airlines All On Time Today

According to the FAA website, everything is right on time:

Apparently if all your flights are canceled, you're green, green, green.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Superbowl Ad Smackdown

To be fair, it doesn't look like much of a smackdown--the ads are sort of dull. I'd say Google is the hands-down winner, with an ad that reads like a short film and probably cost them 99 cents (plus airtime). In other years they'd have had some arresting competition, but this year it seems like everyone was pretty preoccupied with how emasculated men are by their vampire-show-watchin', lip-balm-wearin', book-clubbin' bitches. JP at Time, as always, has a nice analysis on his blog and in a piece which has all the commercials and his grading:
Question: Why would CBS turn down a Super Bowl ad from a gay-dating service, then run a bunch of ads with the message that men can't stand to be around women?
As always at TunedIn, the commenters bring a lot to the party, like this one which deserves high-fives from gnatalby:
Dodge Charger: The spacious interior you need for multiple garbage bags of your wife's remains. You won't have to watch her damn vampire show ever again.
(Michael C. Hall from Dexter does the voiceover for the Dodge commercial.) It's also in the comments that JP notes that misogyny isn't just about hating women, it's also about misogynists hating being men. So if you're one of those people who was so turned off by the "bring the crazy" of commenters on, say, YouTube, these comments are mostly safe to read.

Good News For Geeks

I'm probably the only person reading this blog who's geeky enough to be excited by this, but just on the off chance...

Saturday, February 06, 2010

There are those days...

I love this. It's from an email, and, as it turns out after a quick google search, from this site.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

High on Lack of Pain

For the last couple of months I've been battling pain. Until about yesterday I would never have said severe pain, but I guess the human body can get used to a lot. I had an untreated medical condition and it was just getting worse and worse while I tried to convince people to treat it. Finally today I got desperate enough to just walk into a hospital emergency room where a doctor heard what I had to say and believed me enough to give me surgery. The PA who did the surgery was absolutely wonderful, and after she finished I had the weirdest feeling.

I felt like a million dollars. I had a gaping wound and a giant pressure bandage, but I felt capable of absolutely anything. Left to my own devices, I would have gone to work or gotten on the treadmill, but she advised me to go home and rest. I left the hospital and went grocery shopping (because it was on the way home). I went to the pharmacy and got my prescriptions filled. I went home and sat down for ten minutes before getting on the treadmill (no kidding, that was actually my plan). As soon as I sat down on my own couch, exhaustion overtook me and I went to sleep for hours.

I woke up with slight pain from the surgery, but honestly? The freedom from the pain that had gradually ratcheted up over the last 60 days feels like a drug. I find it very hard to believe that the painkillers I've been prescribed will improve this feeling at all, although they might take the edge off the anger I have at all the medical professionals who denied it to me until today.... Maybe.