Friday, September 28, 2007

Interesting article on Barry Bonds's former trainer

Here is an interesting article on Greg Anderson, the former personal trainer of Barry Bonds.

The beginning of the article discusses one person who spent some time as Anderson's cellmate in prison. His crime spree, resulting from junk food addiction, was quite a strange one. Describing his arrest, this guy commented, "The fucking pie filling went everywhere."

Oh, and the elk semen thing is just gross.

Leaving on a jet plane

Well, I'm still in Pasadena until sometime on Saturday (and I will then be in LA until my flight on Sunday evening), but I'm now heading out imminently and all the I'm-about-to-leave feelings are setting in a bit more than they were before. Obviously I'm going to miss all my friends (and the city and campus), though relatively recent events also make it important that I'm starting over again.

It's still hard to leave, but I've now done this so many times before that it's partly old hat by now. So, it's hard but not as hard as it used to be. (The one that was really hard was in August 1998 because I had agonized over my Caltech versus Cornell grad school decision right until the last minute. I ultimately left because I decided that if I stayed, it would have been for the wrong reasons. That's why I knew I had to go somewhere else for grad school even though my heart was still in Pasadena.) I'll miss everybody, but I feel like I kind of know how to start over at this point (leaving aside the fact that I'm bad at meeting people) and the magic of e-mail, IM, and other convenient technologies make things like this much more palatable than they otherwise would be. Basically, I'm simultaneously wistful and excited. So it goes.

I was born in LA and grew up in Beverly Hills. But ever since I spent time at Caltech as an undergrad (I don't know exactly when during my 4 years that I realized this), my heart has been in Pasadena (especially on the Caltech campus). It was the first place where I was ever truly accepted and remains the place where I've felt the most like I belong. It was really great to be back for a couple years! After I left, I never thought I'd have the chance to come back for anything other than a visit.

Now, it's time to show those Oxonians what I'm made of.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

2007 Random Walker Rankings

Our 2007 random walker rankings are now online.

Bonds record homerun ball to be affixed with asterisk

The votes from the fans are in, and the person who won the auction for the ball Barry Bonds hit for his Major League record 756th homerun will be affixing an asterisk to the ball and then sending it to the Hall of Fame. I approve!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mike Mussina wins 250th career game

Mike Mussina won his 250th career game today.

You can see Mussina's career stats here. I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame, though he's not a shoo-in. And deserving pitchers like Bert Blyleven are gettings screwed over by the voters, so we'll see what happens. Of course, Mussina is going to get extra credit for being a Yankeee...

Meanwhile, the National League pennant races continue to be interesting. Maybe the Rockies will continue to steamroll past everybody (they just swept the Padres this weekend and have now won 8 games in a row!) and sneak their way in. (Those bastards completely nailed the Dodgers, but given that we have no hope, it would be nice for the Phillies to overtake the Mets, the Padres to overtake the Diamondbacks, and the Rockies to also overtake the Diamondbacks. We'll see what happens.)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Four movies and a musical

I am going to get some reviews out of the way.

8/19/07: The Simpsons Movie: This movie was really good. (The mugging on the way home from it sucked, however.) I was going to write a review of the movie on the night I watched it, which I tend to do for many of the really good movies I see, but that got superceded (as all of you know). The movie redoes several jokes from the tv series (which I haven't watched regularly for close to 15 years, though I catch an occasional episode now and then), but it does them very well and I appreciated the chance to see The Simpsons on the big screen. Plus, the meta- jokes were really great! Anyway, I highly recommend this movie.

9/14/07: I want someone to eat cheese with: This movie was pretty good but not great. It was written and directed by Jeff Garlin, who was also the main star, and it contained a lot of members (and former members, I guess) of the Second City comedy club. In fact, I recognized many of the people in the movie as people who were really good actors but not necessarily huge stars. There were some good moments (and some high-quality one-liners), but as Lemming writes, there was tedium in between these moments. The protagonist's best friend was fantastic, Sarah Silverman played a crazy young women (umm.. she's getting kind of typecast now, although it seems at least partially by choice), and Richard Kind was awesome in his bit role. Anyway, the movie's worth seeing, but it's not great.

9/17/07: Chess: I had been waiting to see this musical for something like 15 years, and after seeing it, I feel like I am still waiting to see a proper version of it. Don't get me wrong --- I enjoyed what I saw because the music was catchy, so the overall night was decent. However, the acoustics were horrible in the first act and only marginally better in the second act. (I missed nearly all the lyrics in all but a few songs. It was very frustrating!) One could hear clipping from the mikes on multiple occasions! Oh, and they butchered One Night in Bangkok, which is only one of the very best songs of all time. They did the opening part of the song well, but the singer really didn't capture the flavor of the song and one particular lyrical change was a complete failure. (The line "Thank God I'm only watching the game" got changed to "Thank God I'm in the game." The reason that is broken is that the game being referenced at this point is not chess the board game but rather the political machinations going on, with which this character is not involved at all whereas his opponent and former manager are. So, in addition to a stylistic change I don't like, it completely fails in the context of the play itself. Whose idea was this? And, yes, I can go all Comic Book Guy when it comes to a song I like as much as this one!) The visual that went with the line, "I get my kicks above the waistline, Sunshine!" was, however, fantastic. Apparently, the musical Chess has massively different incarnations depending on the London performance, the Broadway performance, and many others, so I'm going to have to see another version of this (with reasonable acoustics, damnit!). I'm glad I saw the musical, but I still need to see it for real.

9/18/07: Balls of Fury: As Lemming wrote on his blog, this is what is known as a fun/entertaining movie rather than one that is "good" per se. I expected that the movie would be like this, and it didn't disappoint. That's what I wanted from it. Christopher Waalken was fantastic, by the way! And there is a comment about women in ping pong that I have the urge to use as a reference to this movie, though more likely than not I'd get a swift kick in the butt if I actually bothered. I should note that LA Weekly's review of this movie was in the form of a multiple choice quiz, which gives you an idea of what the reviewer thought of the film. It was about the most scathing review of a film I've read in LA Weekly, although I have since read the short synopsis of their review of Dragon Wars, which suggests that the reviewer was even harsher there. (One of the lines in the synopsis states that Dragon Wars was made for people who make it a point to go to premier showings of Uwe Boll movies. Ouch!) The Maggie Q question in LA Weekly that Lemming mentioned proceeded as follows:

"What role does Maggie Q play in this movie?

A. A pair of breasts.
B. A pair of breasts that knows kung fu.
C. Who's Maggie Q?"

Anyway, Balls of Fury is a fun movie that doesn't even remotely take itself seriously. One can see Caltech table tennis coach Wei Wang (the film's technical consultant) very briefly as a ping pong-playing nun (though practically the entire shot is shown in the trailers). I didn't see her name in the credits, though I zoned out during part of it, so it's probably just my fault. Indeed, Wei is listed under 'other crew' in the IMDB page, so she now has her own IMDB page. (I'll let you know if I get one from the Eddie Murphy flick on which I consulted.)

The ping pong quality in the movie didn't seem very good, and I remember Wei mentioning that they didn't even use real balls but rather video effects. (Also, the number of points it took to figure out that Christopher Waalken didn't have a backhand was far more than it would have taken in a real game. One doesn't learn all of forehand first before learning any backhand --- that's preposterous. Also, anybody playing me who doesn't have a backhand won't be able to return my serve at all...)

Flaws aside, the film is very fun and I definitely recommend it. It might also be a good movie to use with a drinking game.

9/21/07: King of California: On my third solo "date" with Lemming in a span of 8 days --- I guess we're going back to our old patterns --- we saw this movie, which I enjoyed very much. I recommend it highly! A certain part of the ending is really sweet! In the spirit of tv's best dramedies, the movie includes a mixture of light-heartedness and seriousness that was executed extremely well. The main actors (Michael Douglas and Evan Rachel Woods) both gave really good performances (I've heard rumors of a possible Oscar nomination for Douglas). As for what this movie is about, I'd say it's mostly about the relationship and bonding between an out-of-touch (in this case, literally) parent and their child, although there is certainly some adventure thrown in. Anyway, I hope that the rest of you get a chance to see this film at some point.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Courtesy Justin, here is lolthulhu, which is about as wrong as it sounds. (It does have some amusing stuff, however.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Thoughts on temporary `Nay Parking` signs

I be walkin' along San Pasqual an' noticed th' temporary `Nay Parking` signs that ben thar fer a while, an' me recently-acquired knowledge on th' topic compelled me t' eyeball them in more detail an' notice a wee things (which included some PS12in' t' find loopholes).

First, at least one or two o' th' signs be set t' expire on "Septembree 31" rather than Septembree 30th. While this t'ain't a loophole, th' mistake amused me. (I be more amused when I thought that all o' them had th' error, but that turned ou' t' be mistaken.)

Second, some o' th' signs only go until 4pm on a gi'en tide rather than 5pm. Th' swabbies who put th' signs thar really ortin' t' ben more careful about that, but that`s a pretty minor loophole.

Third, one o' th' signs be attached t' a tree, which I found ou' be actually illegal on Mondee while talkin' t' th' appropriate civic folks. (That had been what I be plannin' t' do. After returnin' homeport an' noticin' that thar weren`t poles on which t' post th' signs, Lemmin' an' I sailed' o'er t' OSH t' buy some stakes. We tried t' find a local "Magic Box," but we be unable t' do so an' I thus had t' settle fer some ghetto stakes.) Accordin' t' th' swabbies at Pasadena parkin' enforcement, th' `Nay Parking` signs be nay enforceable when they be put on a tree. (I doubt that`s how 't would work in practice, but technically....)

Fourth, I also found ou' on Mondee that each temporary `Nay Parking` sign in Pasadena be good fer nay more than twenty feet o' space. I saw today on San Pasqual that thar be a gap that be much more than twenty feet long. Strictly speakin', a couple o' cars could fit in th' part in which 'tis technically legal t' park (tho, again, I doubt that`s how things would work in practice).

After countin' inaccuracies, 't dawned on me that I nerehad t' present any verification o' needin' t' reserve th' spots in order t' get things t' happen. This made me imagine a scenario (mind ye, nay a specific algorithm fer doin' this) in which a relatively wee squadron o' swabbies could cause major portions o' a city t' be severely disrupted by ary th' same time removin' a large number o' parkin' spaces from normal use. (I assume --- an' hope! --- that in practice th' city would naice a large spike in requests fer temporary `Nay Parking` signs an' prevent this sort o' skullduggery.)

I then moved on t' more important considerations. Namely, be thar some way t' exploit these rules fer an interestin' prank? Th' only things that came t' mind be either simply th' convenience o' usin' th' parkin' spot (in which case 't wouldna be a central part o' th' prank itself) or stuff that wouldna be funny at all but would rather be really nasty an' obnoxious t' th' city`s residents an' business (obviously nay a cool thin' t' do). Does ere be havin' any ideas o' how this could be used fer a prank without bein' obnoxious? I couldna think o' one, tho I moved on t' other topics after a wee while.

Oh, an' in case any o' ye doubt th' veracity o' me OCD afflication, let this blog post put them t' rest.

(Thanks t' this url.)

Baseball Update

After today`s debacle, 't seems that th' Dodgers be intent on breakin' me heart yet again.

Th' Rockies swept us in a double header, puttin' us 4.5 games behind San Diego fer th' wild card an' 5.5 games behind NL West division-leadin' Arizona. Both th' Padres an' Phillies won (again!), an' all three divisions in th' National League be still up fer grabs. Th' Mets lead o'er th' Phillies be now only 1.5 games, th' Diamondafts be 1 game ahead o' San Diego, an' th' Cubs an' Brewers be tied fer th' NL Central lead. We only be havin' 11 games an' we be now in dire straits. (Sometimes ye`re th' windshield an' sometimes ye`re th' bug.)

Meanwhile, things be much more settled in th' American League. Th' Angels be havin' a giant lead o'er th' Mariners, an' th' Indians be havin' a large lead o'er th' Tigers. Th' Red Sox lead o'er th' thrice-blasted Yankees be reduced t' jus' 2.5 games (damnit!) an' th' Yankees be ahead in th' wild card race by 4.5 games o'er Detroit.

Thar be some interestin' teams that will make th' playoffs, but unfortunately th' Yankees will very likely be one o' them an' th' Dodgers won`t be. At least th' Giants be in last...

Update (9/19/07, 10:30 pm): Th' Dodgers lost t' th' Rockies again tonight. Fer th' second game in a row, our vaunted (an' deservedly so, recent failures notwithstanding) bullpen mainstays blew a lead. Th' Rockies be havin' now leaped ahead o' his in th' standings, leavin' th' Dodgers in 4th place in th' National League West an' a full 5.5 games behind th' wild card-leadin' Padres. (Th' Padres beat th' Seafarin' heartys again tonight! Th' Seafarin' heartys canna e'en win on International Talk Like a Seafarin' hearty tide! What kind o' bullsh'tis that!?!) Thar be only ten games port in th' season, so th' Dodgers be pretty screwed at this point. We had a shot, but th' Padres an' Phillies be havin' played really well an' we completely choked. Also today, th' Yankees won an' th' Red Sox lost, so th' Sox be now only ahead o' th' Yankees by 1.5 games. If th' Yankees win th' AL East, this choke (in terms o' th' size o' th' lead that will ben lost) will end up bein' one o' th' historically monumental ones... In that game, Andy Pettitte earned his 200th career victory.

Update 2 (9/19/07, 10:30 pm): I reckoned that I wrote this post on Septembree 19th, so I changed th' "language" I used in order t' properly celebrate today`s holiday.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Moving my stuff to make room for somebody else's shit

The movers are currently at my apartment. I am moving my stuff to make room for somebody else's shit.

The next stop after the apartment will be my office. Then I'll take a bath and maybe get some work done (or maybe I'll just watch the Dodgers game, though I suspect we'll be between games when the movers finish).

Monday, September 17, 2007

Brief Notes

George Carlin has a section in his routines called "Things that piss me off!" and Bill Maher has a section called "New Rules" of a similar vein at the end of each episode of his current show.

Well, here's a new rule: When the checkout line in the market is an express lane that requires you to have "15 items or less", then you should have no more than 15 items. In particular, this means that having more than 30 items is right out! Similarly, the people who work at the market should enforce this! If you want to not have such a line, that's perfectly fine. But if you're going to have this kind of line, there's no bloody point unless you actually enforce the damned requirement. (It's worth mentioning as well that it is a regular occurrence to see somebody with too many items in these lines.)

In terms of bureaucracy, I am still waiting to get my contacts that were supposed to arrive at my apartment a week before Wednesday. Apparently, they were mailed out on Tuesday, which is the last day I called about them. The doctor's office has a shipping number, so if they don't arrive today, I am to call them and ask them to call the post office with the tracking number to see what's up. There were previous things associated with buying my contacts through them now that my doctor is part of an office with another person. The way I used to order contacts is that I would make one phone call and the contacts and bill would both arrive on the same day. In this case, I am at 5 phone calls and counting (and my credit card was charged over 2 weeks ago and about 3 calls ago).

On a similar note, I didn't have my Blue Cross information with me when I got some shots a little while ago, so I paid directly and then filed a claim with Blue Cross (that I have through Caltech) to get the appropriate subset of that reimbursed. I followed the instructions (and provided exactly the information shown in the sample filled-out form that was included!) only to find out that the sample they include is utter tripe and that there is more information I should get from the doctor. After a couple of rounds of that before I found out what they really wanted, I got the information from the doctor and filed the claim again. On Saturday, I got an incomprehensible statement that didn't indicate that I had overpaid what I was required to pay. I called them today to find out that they had sent the money to the doctor directly and that the doctor is supposed to, in turn, send me a check to reimburse the overpayment. I then called the doctor's office and the person I talked to said she didn't think it worked that way, so she would talk to her boss (the doctor) and then get back to me. I hate insurance companies. Remind me never to forget to bring my insurance information with me when I go to a doctor's office (and, I guess, to have it with me as a standard deal in case there's an emergency). The number of hoops one has to go through is just ridiculous. And I still am not actually done. Sigh...

Enough ranting for the day. I may have more later. Let's hope the moving company stuff goes smoothly. Can you tell that I'm optimistic?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Jim Thome hits 500th career homerun

Jim Thome joined the 500 career homerun club today, joining an increasingly long list of players to achieve a milestone that has become far more run-of-the-mill than it used to be. Thome's achievement today was done in a particularly dramatic fashion, as it was a walk-off job that gave the also-ran White Sox a victory over the Angels.

Because 500 homeruns doesn't have the significance that it used to, it is no longer considered a milestone that comes makes somebody a "lock" for the Hall of Fame (issues like steroids notwithstanding; I mean a lock in the absence of such extracurricular activities). The reason this milestone has lost its former significance is simply that baseball's current era is much more oriented towards offense than previous ones, as one can see (among other means) by how many home runs it now takes to lead the league. (With this context, we can also see how truly amazing the accomplishments of pitchers like Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez have been!) Of course, one simple number shouldn't be more than a surrogate for a more exacting analysis. Jose Canseco and Dave Kingman both his about 450 homeruns, and you can't tell me that they would be a Hall of Fame "lock" in any era just by achieving a particular round number. A much more accurate statement is that most people with 500 homeruns (again, ignoring extracurricular activities) tend to have careers that make them Hall of Fame locks, but it's not the number itself that makes them a lock.

So, whither Jim Thome? Here is a very interesting article by Rob Neyer on Thome's Hall candidacy. Neyer compares him to other MVP candidates and notes correctly that the MVP voters haven't treated him that well, so one would expect the Hall of Fame voters (a similar crowd in spirit and containing, I believe, some of the same people) to treat him similarly unless his counting stats (numbers of homeruns, RBIs, and so on) are overwhelming. That's not a statement of whether he should be in the Hall of Fame but rather whether he'd be voted in if he stopped playing today. Given the inflation in the numbers of homeruns in recent years, the expectation is that he would not be voted in if he retired today. Instead, Thome will probably have to get up to 600 homeruns, which some people claim is "the new 500 homeruns."

Do I think Thome should get elected to the Hall if he retired today? I'm not sure. Thome is one of the canonical examples of what has become known as a "three outcome player": a majority of his at bats result in a homerun, a walk, or a strikeout. This gives Thome a very high OPS, but he is very much a one-dimensional player. He contributed negatively on defense until he became a DH, he lumbers around the bases, and so on. Thome is currently 37 years old and still hits very well, so there's a very good chance that he has a few good years left. He likely will hit 600 homeruns and compile enough counting stats to get himself deserved enshrinement in the Hall of Fame by virtue of being very good for a very long time (see Don Sutton for an example of a pitcher who elected in that way). Thome has never really shined the way Frank Thomas did for several years*, but by the time he retires, I believe that Thome's counting stats (collectively, not just the homeruns) will be sufficiently overwhelming that (barring information surfaces about performance-enhancing substances; see Rafael Palmeiro for a player who would have gotten elected via the 'very good for a very long time' route if that stuff hadn't surfaced) he'll eventually have a spot in baseball's Hall of Fame.

* Frank Thomas deserved first-ballot election to the Hall long before he got his 500th homerun. Anybody who looks at his stats and doesn't see just how much he dominated the game for over a decade has not been paying attention. Frank Thomas is not a marginal Hall of Famer. he is a mortal lock and on the short list of the very best hitters of all time.

There I was; they rocked me like a hurricane.

I just got back from a concert by The Scorpions (it let out late enough that the Gold Line was already done for the night, and I needed to take a bus [which was 30 minutes late]).

The concert was both fun and loud, and the band was excellent when it came to interacting with audience members (among the best I've seen in that regard). There was a particularly amusing moment when the drummer was doing his solo (each member of the band was given a chance to shine; aside from the lead singer, this was especially true of one guitarist and especially the drummer, who each had extended solos). He kept trying to get different parts of the audience to be louder. Finally, some woman (his wife or girlfriend, maybe?) runs on stage to give him a beer. He stands up, takes a break, and starts chugging the beer; meanwhile, the woman starts rocking on the drums and then they did a duet on the drums (banging them together, so to speak). It was pretty sweet!

I heard all the songs I really wanted to hear except one ("Winds of Change", in an extremely surprising omission). During a couple of the power ballads (in particular, "Send Me an Angel", which is my favorite song by The Scorpions), there was the usual lighting and swaying of lighters and cell phones. Does anybody know how the original tradition (the lighter or, I suppose, candle version) started? I understand that the visual effect is cool and all that, but if anybody knows the origins of this, please let me know.

(P.S. The bloody Padres and Phillies won again. Damnit! Thankfully, the Dodgers kept pace with them.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Baseball's Worst Hitters and Pitchers for 2007 (by position)

The season isn't over yet, but here is the current list of baseball's worst of the worst for 2007.

The list is compiled by position, with OPS+ as the metric of choice for position players and ERA+ as the metric of choice per pitchers.

OPS, which stands for on-base percentage + slugging percentage, is an excellent quick and dirty method for measuring the quality of somebody's offense. OPS+ just means what one's OPS is realtive to the league average. (I don't know if the National League and American Leagues are being separated in the quoted stats.)

ERA+ refers to what one's ERA (earned run average) is relative to the league average. ERA is computed by taking a pitcher's earned runs, multiplying by 9, and dividing by innings pitched. (That is, it measures how many runs does a pitcher allow during a full-length game that are determined to be his fault.)

Do you want to guess at which player is the worst in the Majors in center field? Here's a hint: he sucks! I can't believe we're going to end up paying this guy over $9 million a year for several years. Yuck. (By the way, Nomar Garciaparra isn't even close to worst among third baseman in terms of OPS+ because Nick Punto's stats are historically bad.) If Nomar were still playing first base as he was for about half of the year, then he would rank worst by a large margin. He currently has an OPS+ of 75 and the listed first baseman, Lyle Overbay, currently has an OPS+ of 85.)

Basically, this is a rather poignant reminder that the Dodgers have had two gaping holes in important spots in the lineup for the entire year. We have better players on the roster, and we should be playing them!

Pictures from PAX (and other stuff!)

I've uploaded 3 rolls of film onto Flickr. This includes many (but not all) of the pictures taken on my camera at PAX. (The others are in the roll currently in the camera, so I'll post those later.) Each roll of film has 25 pictures, so there are 75 unique pictures to see.

You can find all 81 of the pictures I uploaded on this page (assuming I didn't screw up the url... I have this vague feeling that the public url should be different; let me know if this works). How did I get to 81, you ask? Well, 81 is 9^2, you see, because base 9 is just like base 10... if you're missing 1 finger! (I accidently uploaded the same roll twice and wrote some snarky comments I didn't want to erase. I'm such a winner.) The rolls include stuff from Zurich, PAX, Colorado, Florida, Caltech, and the Dallas airport.

Here are a couple of pictures we discussed previously:

1. Me + Microsoft PR guy.

2. The model from the booth at PAX.

I didn't discuss this picture from PAX, but I think it came out well.

Now it's Lemming's turn to post his pictures from PAX. :)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"Uses and Abuses of Mathematics in Biology"

Science invited Robert May, one of the leading mathematical biologists of our time, to contribute an essay to its special section on mathematical biology for its 2/6/04 issue. This link has excerpts from the article, which was very interesting and which I plan to assign the next time I teach a mathematical modeling or mathematical biology course. (I have previously taught one of each type of course.)

May goes through several important examples of both good and bad uses of mathematics in biology. For example, he presents some of the b.s. that occurs in systems biology about which I've ranted before. He makes essentially the same points as I have, but he does so much more cogently and he provides some excellent examples. (One of the sins, for example, is to have a huge set of equations that try to model every single mechanism with a differential equation but then have tons and tons of parameters that one has no hope of measuring with any degree of accuracy. All the supposed "accuracy" one gets from having a complicated set of equations is thereby completely wasted, and one has a system so big that it's impossible to understand everything. Now, there is good systems biology research as well, but one has to be very careful with things like which quantities one can measure and which quantities one can't.)

You can go here for the article's abstract. If you want to use your institution's electronic access to Science, you can follow the link to full text of the article.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Today's News: I get to keep the G5 in my office (oh, and some stuff about books)

Today I got the official word that I can take my Macintosh G5 desktop with me to Oxford. The Center for the Physics of Information had bought it for me, so it wasn't obvious a priori that I'd be allowed to take it with me. Anyway, it looks like I'll be able to use it to start my computer cluster and I'll have something immediately available for students of mine to use. That computer is called "Arkham" and its admin is "Cthulhu", so I guess my first computer cluster is going to be the Lovecraft cluster. So I'm thinking that Dunwich, Ipswich, and so on will be the names of the subsequent computers and their admins will be Elder Gods.

Also, one of the books I wanted to read (that I knew was coming out this month) is now out, so I need to head over to a bookstore to buy it. Another one I want is coming out on September 25th, so I'll also pick that one up before I leave. Both are set on Toril, and both are about drow.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Nature's Casino: Catastrophe Insurance and Heavy Tails

Courtesy David Richard, here is an interesting (but very long!) article on catastrophe insurance.

The part that was most interesting to me was the discussion of heavy-tailed phenomena like catastrophes and how one prices insurance for them as a result of that. (The mathematical problem is that the events are so rare that one does not have a large amount of data to get good results by itself. One of the things around this at which the article hints briefly is to use physical models to generate tons of data and then use that to help with the predictions, though that was tangential to the article's crux.)

Also, while the article is interesting, I do find it a bit creepy that there are basically gamblers betting on future Katrinas and that that has become an enormous business since that disaster struck. (The cynic in me isn't surprised, but I do feel somehow disappointed.)

Finally, the author of the article, Michael Lewis, also wrote Moneyball (which has a more baseball-oriented theme).

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Baseball box score of the day

Only in September do we see baseball box scores like this one, in which the Rockies set a National League record and tied a Major League record by using 10 pitchers in a nine inning game. (Similar things sometimes occur in early spring training games, but one typically also gets a lot of position player substitutions in those.)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Old school broadcast: Bill Murray filling in for Harry Caray

On Rob Neyer's blog on ESPN on Wednesday was a link to five clips of the Cubs-Expos game from 1987 in which Bill Murray filled in for Harry Caray. The play-by-play announcer for that game was Steve Stone, who is a really good announcer.

I actually saw parts of this game many years ago, but I had completely forgotten about this. Bill Murray was hilarious, and he said some things that would get people in trouble nowadays if they said them during a broadcast. (Actually, Murray said things that would be considered much worse than things that have gotten people in trouble. Of course, many of those comments were funny. Naturally, we would still be able to see that stuff in a stand-up comedy routine.) This game was a famous one in which the umpires' uniforms didn't arrive, so the game was delayed as they tried to find a mish-mosh of things to wear. Also noteworthy is that one player on the Cubs roster that day, Jamie Moyer, is still pitching in the Major Leagues.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Adventures in Moving Insurance

I just spent an hour and a half futile hours trying to fill out several pages of insurance forms pertaining to my upcoming move to Oxford.

As stated explicitly in the insurance forms, spontaneous combustion is not covered by this insurance. It was listed among several things known collectively as "inherent vices", which means "the inherent nature of the goods to become easily destroyed". (What they're really getting at here is death by natural causes --- such as battery decay in old iPods, rust, and so on --- as opposed to their breaking something, but I find their phrasing to be pretty curious, and I find the explicit statement about spontaneous combustion to be particularly odd.) My goods must repent their sins! Now, damnit! No more spontaneous combustion! I won't stand for it!

Another weird thing is that cordless phones are apparently considered restricted/prohibited goods in the UK. I'm going to have to ask (Mike)^2 about that one. I was hoping to continue using one, because I really like those. Maybe they can only be in certain frequency ranges?

Anyway, I want to insure my stuff by filling out this shit. (OK, that joke didn't work, but there really has to be a way to properly allude to George Carlin's "A Place for my Stuff" with this shit.) I filled this out to the best of my ability (which isn't actually saying much), but when it asks for the quantity of various shit, my case of OCD is no even close to extreme enough to count my books one by one. That's just way too much of a pain in the ass. (I basically did separate estimates for textbooks and other books.) Moreover, prices for a lot of this stuff is different in the UK, and I am not going to spend tons of hours investigating the precise differences. Doing my best to approximate things makes the most sense to me.

The customs part of the form wants you to write down everything bought in the 6 months prior to the move. For me, this would include a bunch of books, and I can't even nail down the precise number of them I'm taking with me that I've purchased in this time frame.

Well, I'll fax this to the people at the UK insurance company and we'll see if I need to be more specific about anything.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The King of Kong

Tonight I saw the movie The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters with Lemming and James Yoon.

This movie is right up there with Stardust, The Namesake, and The Transformers as my favorite films of the year. The movie was fantastic, and I encourage all of you to see it.

The basic premise involves a battle between two middle-aged men to obtain the world record in the arcade game Donkey Kong. (I spent a decent number of quarters on it, and it's pretty damned hard in my opinion. I found many of the older arcade games to be much easier than this one.) One of them, Billy Mitchell, is one of the hotshots from the "Golden Era" of arcade games. (The story of what they've done with their lives is told in the upcoming film, Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade, which is currently making the rounds in the film festivals and which I also really want to see. One of Mitchell's contemporaries was Steve Harris, the founder of a little magazine I like to call EGM.) He was depicted in the movie as a total asshole, which is also how I've read various articles depicting him over the years. The other is a newcomer to competitive gaming, Steve Wiebe, who (to put it mildly) was depicted in a much better light.

The film was amazing. The topic was really interesting, and the humor was rampant. (Wiebe's little girl had the funniest --- and wisest --- line of the film about people ruining their lives to get themselves into the Guinness Book of World Records. The background music included several songs that were both appropriate and awesome --- including Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows" and Animotion's "Obsession". There were some other recognizable tunes as well, such as the one that plays during the closing credits for which I wasn't properly braced (Techers: you've been warned).

We also saw some awesome trailers before the movie, so I now have a few more films that I am eagerly anticipating.

Anyway, The King of Kong gets my highest endorsement. Go see it!

Quote of the Day (Vin Scully edition)

I have frequently waxed poetic about Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully's eloquence and sheer awesomeness. His voice is smooth and his broadcasts are replete with metaphors, history and allusions (from baseball, literature, and so on), and lots of other great things. Baseball, he is an artist behind the mike.

The Dodgers are routing the Chicago Cubs today (as I write this, the score is 11-2). Vin described the crowd in Chicago simply as "Sullen if not mutinous."

I have listened to Vin announce games for 28 years now. IMNSHO, he's the best announcer ever! (By the way, in looking up his wikipedia article, I see that its neutrality is disputed. Given how awesome he is, that doesn't surprise me at all.)

Fact of the Day (I get my kicks above the waistline, Sunshine!)

As most of you reading this know, the character of Giles in the show Buffy is played by Anthony Head. The last name is a bit of an odd one (IMO) and it occurred to me a few minutes ago that I know of only one other person with that last name --- Murray Head, the singer of One Night in Bangkok, which is only one of the best songs ever.

Following this whim, I just looked both of them up without really expecting that they have anything to do with each other. As it turns out, however, they're brothers. Awesome!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

20th Anniversary of Baseball's Famous Potato Incident

My brother sent me a link to this article that reminded me that August 31st was the 20th anniversary of baseball's famous potato incident. (I remember reading about the incident and seeing it on the local newscasts back in 1987, but I hadn't thought about it for a while.)

The link tells the story really well, but here's the synoposis. Dave Bresnahan, the back-up catcher for a minor league team, had been planning this particular prank for a while. (The article discussions some of his preparations.) There was a runner on third base and he was catching. He threw a potato (that he had prepared) --- that was shaped roughly like a baseball and on which he had drawn appropriate markings --- to third base ostensibly to try to pick off the runner. Bresnahan purposely made a bad throw and the potato sailed into left field. Meanwhile, the runner tried to score because he thought the catcher had thrown the ball away. However, Bresnahan tagged him with the actual baseball when the runner got to the plate. The umpire ended up awarding home plate to the runner and Bresnahan was released the next day. (Note that Bresnahan was likely going to be axed very soon anyway and is now much more famous than he otherwise would have been.) The potato is proudly displayed in the Baseball Reliquary.

Hu's at Shortstop

I've been waiting for this day ever since the Futures Game during the All-Star break.

The rosters expanded on September 1st, so a lot of players have been called up from the minor leagues. In the September 1st game against the Padres (in which we got shut out 7-0 because Jake Peavy pitched yet another masterpiece), Dodger farmhand Chin-Lung Hu made his Majoe League debut, coming in as a defensive replacement for Rafel Furcal at shortstop.

Of course, I'm still waiting for Hu to get his first single or walk so that the announcer will be able to say that "Hu's on first". Ahhhh... I enjoy the simple pleasures in life so very much.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

RIP Alfred H. Peet (1920-2007)

Alfred H. Peet, founder of my favorite coffee franchise, died on August 29th.