This blog is still alive, just in semi-hibernation.
When I want to write something longer than a tweet about something other than math or sci-fi, here is where I'll write it.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Paying it forward: The blog roll adds another name.

This happy icon, both light and somewhat dark at the same time, belongs to Enriched Geranium. Just as Dr. Zaius was not aware that he was on my blogroll until today, I didn't know that Ed over at E.G. had me on his blogroll until today, so I gladly add his name to mine. Ed's a musician, which scores many points on the Matty Boy scale, so I am glad to have him on board.

Mahalo, Enriched Geranium!

Note: Dr. Zaius this weekend did a post about Village of the Giants, and several of our mutual acquaintances asked, "So where's Matty Boy?" The answer, of course is... Here I am! Hiding in the shade of the giant go-go girl!

Where else would I be?

I hang my head in shame.

The amazing catch by the ball girl? Total fake. I'm removing it from my website with apologies. It's an ad for a product I never use and will not name. Thanks to my sister Karlacita! for catching this.


In lieu of a formal apology and being pressed for time, I present not one but two lolz with the bun-buns.

This first one is obviously a cute overload lolz.















This second one looks like a bad lolz, posed to the detriment of the creature's dignity, but we have to consider the possibility that it is part of a deranged experiment to create Dr. Bunny von Bun-bunstein, some kind of cross-species pet/mascot/doppelganger.

Like all right thinking sentient beings, I raise my voice in protest to this sort of tampering with the natural order of things.

Shame!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Buena suerte a España, al país de los campeones y de las gigantas encantadoras.

(Translation: Good luck to Spain, the country of champions and beautiful giant women.)

Euro 2008 is down to the final game today, Spain versus Germany. If an international game doesn't include Brazil or the United States, I don't have a natural favorite, but I am going to root for the slightly underdog Spanish, in part because of their brilliant 3-0 dismantling of the Russians in the semifinals and in part because of Spain's progressive and positive attitude towards colossal females in their advertising.

You may recall from earlier posts that the idea of a woman being gargantuan in the workplace is a recurring theme. Here, a lovely young five meter tall executive is calling co-workers to remind them that the penalty for being late to a meeting is being crushed underfoot. It's a strict guideline, but fair.

The Spanish are also fond of the metaphor that men make excellent house pets, but should not be allowed to wander around, since they are likely to make a mess.

And then there's the twenty story tall honeys in lingerie and boots. Giant lingerie ads are fairly common, but the boots are a nice Spanish touch. With my high school Spanish, I am confident that I can translate the caption. Blocking out the sun at noon is the other power of the Latin woman.

Okay, I'm sold!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Gettin' in for free and STILL walkin' right out.


The digital arts school where I teach had a little team building perk last night of free tickets to the Giants and A's at the Oakland ballpark, McAfee Coliseum, with a bus ride from work to the game. Besides the game, there were free beers on the bus and a food voucher. I like baseball, so I signed up.

I decided not to drink too much on the bus, so I only had one beer on the bus, figuring I'd have a couple at the game and that would work out fine. This was my first mistake.

Prices at the ballpark were insane. I think I only saw one game live last year at AT&T Park, the Giants' home stadium, but the sticker shock at this game was like a slap in the face. A glass of beer is $7.75, and this is for American corporate piss beer like Bud or Coors. The bargain, if you can call it that, is that a real beer with some flavor costs just $8.00. A small glass of off brand merlot was $7, which I paid for to go along with the free food from my food voucher. Without the voucher, some brisket, a hot link, beans and cornbread would have been $13.50.

I thought about getting a glass of whiskey instead, but that would have been $11.

Of all the major sports, baseball tickets are the most reasonably priced, but given the way fans are robbed at the concession stands, this form of entertainment could easily find itself getting hammered by the economic downturn. The Friday night crowd was sparse, and that's being generous, which is hardly a surprise given the lackluster product both teams are fielding right now.

In early May, I wrote a post about a cultural evening I had with sfmike, who shared his bounty of free tickets with me. After a shortish program at the symphony, Mike got us into the end of the long program next door at the Ballet, and asked me to buy him a drink. Given the great deal I was getting, two shows for the price of none, I happily complied, and the ballet bartender, seeing that I was a friend of Mike's, gave us both a generous pour. I spent $20 on the two drinks, leaving a liberal tip. The point I make here is that it's cheaper to get liquored up at the ballet than it is at the ballpark! The world has officially gone mad.

Then there was the game. The Giants' and Atheletics' roster are exceedingly depleted this year, and looking at the stats of the players, only a few of whom I knew by name, it felt like watching a Triple A game at big league prices.

Even that isn't a fair statement, because I have enjoyed Triple A games much more than I enjoyed this. The Coliseum was always kind of generic as a ball park, but since the addition of Mount Davis in center field the place is now officially a pit. The Sacramento ballpark where the minor league Rivercats play is ten times more charming and the minor leaguers put in more effort. It took a full hour to play three innings of 1-0 baseball. I could almost forgive the teams if it took an hour to score four or five runs total, but the pace was excruciating. My brother predicted that the drug ban that would take a larger toll in baseball was not banning steroids but amphetamines, which used to be regularly available and never mentioned by the press. Without the greenies, the players are dragging badly. I left after three innings.

I said the game was slow and boring, but I want also to add that I am a lifelong baseball fan. I enjoy a well played game and some of the favorite entertainment moments in my life have been at ballgames. I also want to give a shout out to minor league games, where the quality of play can be very strong and the smaller parks give the game a more intimate feel.

A Tale of Two Amendments.

In some ways, James Madison, the author of the Constitution, might be thought of as a proto-blogger. If he were a regular paid author, he would have had an editor, and an editor would have asked him to clean up some of the writing.

Let's look at the Second and Third Amendments, shall we?

Amendment II

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

No question about it, Li'l Jimmy Madison had a thing for the commas. Some of these little bastards make the sentences harder to read, not easier. The Second Amendment starts with that dependent phrase cut in half with a comma about the importance of a well regulated militia, and the debate has raged ever since just how important that was. 207 years later, Antonin "Fat Tony" Scalia has decided he's the editor, and the Second Amendment isn't about militias at all. It's guns for everybody! Yay, guns!

The Third Amendment is another three comma slice o' heaven, but much clearer. You can't be forced to take in soldiers unless there's a war, and even then, there will be laws. Ever hear about people complaining about their Third Amendment rights being violated? Nope. Clear writing makes for clear rights.

These two amendments are connected. The First Amendment stands alone as to the kinds of things the government can't do halt people's free expression. The Fourth through Eighth are about what the government can't do to you once you are arrested. Half of the Bill of Rights is about criminal suspects. Imagine that! Amendments Nine and Ten are clean up.

But Amendments II and III together are about the defense of the nation, and how it will be handled. After prevailing in the Revolutionary War, a classic case of asymmetrical warfare where David bests Goliath, the often contentious Founding Fathers were united in these two popularly held views.

1) Militias work.
2) Standing armies are invitations to tyranny.

The new nation saw two major threats to security: the major remaining British colony Canada and the native population. Pretty much everybody knows how the struggle against the native Americans went in the following centuries, but few today can imagine Canada as much of a threat. A quick reading of any account of the War of 1812 will show that they were more than a match for the newly born United States.

Of all the ideas laid out in The Bill of Rights, the two that are most clearly antiquated are that militias are vital and that twenty dollars is a serious amount of money, which is in the middle of the Seventh Amendment. But just to make things clear to Fat Tony Scalia, militias were a very important part of the Second Amendment and the ideas of how to make a just and lasting governmental system at the end of the Eighteenth Century.

It wasn't written to be just about owning guns.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Could we do worse?


Yes, we could, especially if we allowed cartoon characters to run. The chubby young fellow "picking a winner" is Ralph Wiggum, the developmentally challenged son of the Springfield police chief. In an episode from last season, Ralph was put forward as a favorite son candidate for president by the Springfieldians. "How hard is it to be president?" Homer asked rhetorically. "You just point the army and shoot."

We can see in an older picture of two actual future presidents that Bush the Younger also had difficulties with where he should put his hands when the photo is taken, though in a different direction than young Master Wiggum.

~

Friday means Random 10!

Crawling From The Wreckage Dave Edmunds
Bye Bye Love The Everly Brothers
Your Racist Friend They Might Be Giants
Something To Sing About Sarah Michelle Gellar
(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher Jackie Wilson
Motherless Child Eric Clapton
5 Months, 2 Weeks, 2 Days Louis Prima
And Your Bird Can Sing The Beatles
My Girl The Temptations
Fell On Black Days Soundgarden

Definitely a poppy, peppy random selection this week, though it might be subtitled Misery You Can Dance To. Jackie Wilson and The Temptations didn't get the memo, but everybody else is singing upbeat tunes about car wrecks, racism, the desire to be dead and of course, pop music's favorite topic, love gone bad. The list includes my favorite George Harrison guitar performance and that great simple guitar phrase that starts My Girl. But then, the guy who stands in the corner and doesn't talk to anybody requests some Soundgarden, and the party takes a turn for the considerably darker.

Have a nice weekend, y'all!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Matty Boy, Investment Advisor to the Stars* anticipates future trends!


The Chicago Cubs are the best team in baseball as of the standings today, June 26, with about half the season over. It's much too early to predict October, especially given the Cubs' long and rich history of spectacular crashes, fadeaways and slumps, but they could very easily be in the World Series.

The Boston Red Sox have already won the World Series this decade. Twice. If the Cubs should also prevail before 2010, Matty Boy, Investment Advisor to the Stars*, recommends a diversified portfolio of bottled water, ammunition and welding tools, because that would be pretty much a clear sign of the Apocalypse being just around the corner.

* Warning: Matty Boy knows no stars, unless you count Internets stars like Fred the Cat, Niblet and Red Mr. Peanut Bank. No sensible person would put their money in the hands of Matty Boy, since his is both a broke-ass mofo and probably crazy. For example, would a sane person talking about "anticipating future trends" put a picture of a book about the 1908 baseball season as a sign for having his finger on the pulse of today? No, dear readers, he would not.

Just sayin'.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wednesday Math, Vol. 29: Distance on a sphere

(By request from friend of the blog DistributorCap.)

It's well known that the shortest distance between two points is a line segment. That's true in two dimensions or three dimensions. To get all technical and math-y, it's true in more dimensions as well. But if we have two points on the surface of a sphere, we can't use the straight line between them, because the sphere gets in the way. What's does "shortest distance" mean then?

Two points determine a unique line in three dimensions, but infinitely many planes contain that line. If the two points are also on the surface of a sphere, any of those infinite planes will cut the sphere into two parts, and the shape of the intersection is always a circle. Think about marking two points on an orange and making a cut. You have infinitely many choices on how the straight cut works, depending on the angle of the knife to the surface of the orange.

If instead we think of the globe, we know that for any point on that globe there is a unique point that is exactly at "the other side of the world". The two most obvious such points are the North and South poles. For me, sitting here in Oakland, California, the other side of the world is near Madagascar off the coast of southeast Africa. On this transparent globe picture I nicked off the Internets, the point in about the middle of the picture somewhere in the North Atlantic is opposite the island of Tasmania, which is shown in dark bluish gray. The technical term is that the two points are antipodal, and every point has a unique antipode.

If I were in an aircraft with a huge gas tank, and I started flying "straight" in any direction, never changing my heading, I would eventually fly over the antipode of Oakland, and then if I flew even farther would eventually pass over my own house again. The path I would fly is called a great circle, which is to say that on a sphere, while any intersection with a plane creates a circle, the biggest possible circle is the one that cuts the sphere into two equal parts. The equator is obviously such a great circle, but any plane that includes two antipodes creates a great circle. If we think three dimensionally, it also includes the center of the sphere. This is how we measure distance on a sphere, the shortest path from point A to point B. Think of making a cut on the plane that includes point A, point B and the antipode of A, call it A'. If, for example, I wanted to visit Padre Mickey, the shortest flight path from Oakland to Panamá would be the one that if it continued on without changing direction would take me to Madagascar. Likewise if I were to visit New York to see my Internets buddies, the unique shortest path is the one that is on the great circle that includes Oakland, New York and that point near Madagascar we can call the Matty Boy South Pole.

This is the reason that on long trips between points in the Northern Hemisphere, the flight plans are called polar routes, since they fly farther north than seems to makes sense intuitively, though they don't actually go over the North Pole.

Hope this helps.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

George Carlin, 1937-2008


There's a scene in The Seven Little Foys where Bob Hope and Jimmy Cagney, as Eddie Foy and George M. Cohan, are having a dance contest. Cagney does a particular step and Hope says, "I did that first."

Cagney replies, "Yeah, but I did it right."

That's how I feel about Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. Bruce swore on stage first. Carlin really made it funny.

Carlin had an advantage over Bruce. He was funny before he started swearing. There's a great documentary about Lenny Bruce that shows some of his act before profanity. It was amazingly lame, a collection of stale old mother in law jokes.

Here's a line of Carlin's back when his act was clean, playing a sportscaster pressed for time: "...and the scores from around the league 8 to 5, 7 to 3, 6 to 4, and a partial score in from the west coast, Los Angeles 5."

Now that's funny.

Carlin had another advantage over Bruce. Being first, the authorities came down on Lenny Bruce very hard, and the persecution destroyed him. Bruce's act near the end of his life, if you can call it an act, seemed like paranoid ramblings, but it's not paranoia when cops around the country were coming into nightclubs with the express intention of arresting a foul mouthed entertainer. Carlin was arrested a few times, but the cops gave up on trying to arrest every swearing comedian by then.

Unlike many cutting edge comedians, George Carlin lived long enough to collect Social Security if he so desired, but instead he kept working. His later act combined the counter culture sensibility with a generous helping of ALL YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN, but he could still find the funny. As foul mouthed comedy had become an institution, Kevin Smith, one of the best of the rude and funny people working today, gave Carlin frequent work in his films. My favorite role of Carlin's is as Cardinal Ignatius Glick in 1999's Dogma, talking about the new Catholic church and introducing the Buddy Christ statue. Here's hoping the cheerful Savior is waiting at the Gates for this very funny sinner.

Not that Carlin was completely sold on the existence of the Gates. Just covering all the action here, George. You know, being a pal.

Yay, Flags of Many Lands™! Yay, Suriname!

Just three more to get my South America badge.

Monday, June 23, 2008

An ancient and intentional brush with future greatness.


Last week, Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open, then announced he needs surgery on his knee and will be out for the rest of the year. He hurt his knee last year after the British Open. With a bum knee, he won two major championships and finished second in another. My best wishes for a speedy recovery. Also, I publish this picture of his celebration because it includes his daughter Sam, and I have been remiss in publishing pictures of cute babies in recent weeks. As we know, pretty girls, babies and lolz cats are the Three Pillars of Successful Blogging.

That's a cute baby.

Eighteen years ago, I saw Tiger Woods lose a match as an amateur. Not many people can say that. I know it was eighteen years ago because I am twenty years and one day older than Tiger Woods, and he was fourteen when he lost. The tournament was the U.S. Junior Championship, which in 1990 was held at the Lake Merced golf course in Daly City, just south of San Francisco. It's a match play tournament and Tiger had made it to the quarterfinals, which were played on Saturday morning. The U.S. Juniors is open to golfers under the age of 18, and all the other quarterfinalists were 17. Tiger did not hit driver that day. I'm guessing he must have had trouble keeping it straight, but even hitting 3 woods and long irons, he was outdriving his opponent. Even so, he wasn't hitting greens in regulation every time and he was doing a lot of scrambling, and fell behind in match play. He was at dormie, which means he was down as many holes as there were holes to play. I think he was down three with three to play, but don't hold me to that. He hit driver, didn't find the fairway, scrambled but missed the par putt.

I followed him after the match. He was despondent, but I shook his hand and told him if he kept playing, his name would be remembered long after everyone else at the tournament would be forgotten. He said thanks. I tell this story to make the post Kinda About Me™, but of course Tiger did all the hard work that made him the best golfer in the world, and if he stays healthy the best golfer of all time. Also, my prediction is probably incorrect. While no other golfer in that field has a record anything like Tiger's, one guy named Notah Begay Jr., who was Tiger's teammate at Stanford a few years after, once shot 59 in a round when he was on the Nike tour, which as a single round score is as good as any pro has ever done, and one of the few things Tiger has not done yet in his career.

Again, best wishes for a speedy recovery to Tiger Woods, world's best golfer and father to a very cute baby.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A million dollar idea, blabbed all over the Internetz.

I recently had lunch with Rob Fulop, my friend from my videogame designing days. He recommended Tulan, a really good hole in the wall Vietnamese restaurant in the middle of the Tenderloin, a section of San Francisco where slum meets business district. As usual, we had a wide ranging conversation, which included an update on a really good idea Rob had long ago, which he has refined somewhat over the years, but not yet implemented.


The original idea was for backgammon tournaments, but now would make more sense at poker tournaments. At a tournament, hundreds or even thousands of players get together, pay an entry fee, maybe around $50 for a minor tournament and sometimes thousands of dollars for a tournament like The World Series Of Poker, which is now a bunch of tournaments over several weeks. The way large tournaments are set up, maybe about one person in ten will see a profit, while the vast majority of players will have lost their entry fee, and nearly all of them will feel they lost only because the fates conspired against them.

Here's Rob's idea, which he calls The Bad Beat Bettys. Hire hostesses, not hookers or strippers but hostesses. Attractive, well-groomed young women in sharp and flattering business appropriate attire, each sporting a bright, friendly button that reads Hi! I'm Betty. For a nominal fee, and that fee might change depending how much the entry fee for the tournament is, you pay a Bad Beat Betty and she will listen sympathetically to your tale of woe for five minutes. If you need more time, you pay her for a second five minutes. It might go something like this.

Hi! I'm Betty. What's your name?

Hi, Betty. I'm Matty Boy. This is my first time. Do I pay you now?

Yeah, that's how it works.

(Hands over money.) Okay, so it's the first hand of the tournament and I wake up in next to last position with pocket kings.

Good way to start the day!

I certainly thought so. The guy under the gun puts in a raise about four times the big blind, one guy calls and the rest fold. I triple the original raise. The button folds, the guys in the blinds run away, and action is on the original bettor.

You've made a very strong play. He should fold.

That's what I think, but instead he goes all in. The other guy who called now folds and it comes to me.

You think he's got the aces?

It's a distinct possibility, but I can't fold pocket kings now, can I? I go all in. I say that if it's a cold deck, so be it. It's not a cold deck. He has pocket nines.

What a donkey! He re-re-raises all in on the first hand with nines? He deserves to be horsewhipped!

Well, I'm not sure horsewhipping is in order, but I am a 4 to 1 favorite to win. Here comes the flop. Q, J, 3.

Three blanks. He's putting on his coat now, isn't he?

No, he doesn't have enough sense to do that.

Donk.

Next card is a 8.

Oh, no. He doesn't get a nine on the river, does he?

No. The river is a 10. He makes an inside straight on the river with his pair of nines, and me with my cowboys, I'm here talking to you. The deck wasn't cold before the flop, but it was a cold, cold river.

(Places her hand sympathetically on my shoulder.) Matty Boy, I've been working here for a few days now, and I have to say that is the saddest story I've heard yet.

Thank you, Betty. I knew you'd understand when I related this true story, because this week, It's All About Me™.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A first time for everything.

Today's forecast in Oakland is for mostly sunny weather with a high of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I've lived in the Bay Area for more than 50 years, and I have to say that mostly sunny and 90 degrees are two phrases that are not supposed to go together. In Miami or Phoenix or even Sacramento, that's to be expected. Not in Oakland. We're supposed to have the most moderate weather on the planet, and this isn't it.

For the first time in my life living in the Bay Area, I'm going to buy a home air conditioner. I've lived all over the place in this region, from San Rafael in Marin County to San Francisco to several towns in Silicon Valley to the central East Bay from Oakland south to Fremont. The standard weather pattern is that there are a few days a year, maybe two weeks or so, when you wish you had an air conditioner but you get through it. Those days are usually in August or September. It's just turning to summer, and I've already had my allotment of days when I wanted an air conditioner this year. My apartment has windows facing west and it gets hot by mid afternoon and doesn't cool down until the middle of the night.

Maybe it's just the way the apartment is designed, but I'd have to say we are getting weather very different from what I grew up with, and like I said before, I've lived here for over 50 years. If it's a multiple choice question, I'm going to go with "climate change" as the most reasonable explanation.

Friday, June 20, 2008

It's All About My Schedule™.

For the next six weeks starting on Monday, my teaching schedule will change. I'm teaching statistics at two schools, Berkeley City College and Laney College, Monday through Thursday. The BCC gig is 8-11 am and Laney is 3-6 pm. I also have some lab hours at Laney in between on Mondays and Wednesdays, so I should be plenty busy and I'll have to leave the house earlier than I have been for most of this year. I'm an early riser, usually between 4am and 5am, so this shouldn't be much of a problem.

Some might gripe that teaching six hours a day has to be easier than working a job eight hours a day, but I've done both in my life, and I know which one is more work. Others might think they would be glad to have a four day work week. To those people, I would say, "Yes! Figure out how to get a four day work week! It's great!"

How will this change my blogging? Since I'm going to have less time in the morning, expect posts to be shorter and with more reliance on pandering. If I were in advertising, I might say "There's a change here at Lotsa 'Splainin'! The writing is crisper, cleaner and livelier, more in tune with what you want in your busy blog reading life!"

But really, it's just gonna be more lolz and pretty girls, quicker rants and 'splainin' simpler stuff, or 'splainin' stuff more simply. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays shouldn't see that much of a difference.

~

Fridays will still mean Random 10!

Another Hundred People Angel Desai
Hello Mabel Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band
Panic On Madder Rose
Love is a Stranger Eurythmics
You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me Dusty Springfield
Angel Band The Stanley Brothers
The Rose of England Nick Lowe
The Day The Devil Laurie Anderson
(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Get On Our Own Buzzcocks

Ever since I watched Into the Woods, I've been on a Sondheim kick on Netflix. I rented the documentaries on the cast recording of Company and the rehearsals and performance of Follies in Concert. Another Hundred People is a non-random starting point I bought on iTunes this week, and the recording is from the recent revival of Company, not the original cast recording with Dean Jones, Donna McKechnie and Elaine Stritch. Unlike last week, where the tunes were on the slow side, there's plenty of pep in these ten. Madder Rose and Buzzcocks give it some Punk Pop street cred, The One True Living Elvis gets pretty punky his own bad self, Nick Lowe has one of my favorite anti-war songs ever, and to top it all off, whose day wouldn't be brightened by about three minutes of bombastic lesbian? As much as I love all the artists here, Matty Boy is going to pick Miss Dusty as the headliner, because this week, It's All About Me™!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

It's All About Me™ Week continues. Among my souvenir.

I am not by nature a collector of keepsakes. From my time in the video game biz, I have none of the few awards my games won. I have none of my old games around to play. To do so, I'd also have to have old hardware on which the games were played and I don't own a single video game console, not even one of the new ones. Some of the projects I worked on early in my career were All About Me™. On games like Submarine Commander, Dolphin, Zenji and Double Dunk, everything on the screen was my idea, for good or for ill. Later in my career, I was part of a team on projects, often not the lead programmer. The one keepsake I have is from one of those games.

I worked as a second programmer on a Sega Genesis title called Ballz. It was a 3-D fighting back when the hardware had a difficult time doing 3-D games. Each of the characters was made up of different sized balls, so they looked something like a cross between The Michelin Man and a balloon animal. This caused technical problems, because while the Genesis had a lot of movable screen elements called sprites, the game used more that the system could handle, so the picture would break up. An extra hardware chip had to be installed on the cartridge to fix this problem. Someone may come by the blog to chide me for speaking ill of the project, but looking up info on the game, it ranks #3 on a list of the Ten Worst Fighting Games Of All Time.

I deserve extremely little credit or blame for the project. I was only responsible for the background billboard that put up messages. No technical fuss doing that.

My one souvenir from my time in the business is due to this project because somebody, I can't even recall who, asked me to speak at a middle school career day about being a video game designer. It went very well and could be seen as a preview of my later career as a teacher, though obviously not at middle school. The students wrote thank you notes to the people whose presentations they liked best. I was sent a manila envelope full of them, but there is one I kept and framed. Here is the text.

4-21-94

Dear Mr. Hubbard,

Hi! Thanks for coming to our Career Day. Your demonstration of the video game called "Ballz" was really cool. You know, I am really thinking about becoming a video game designer. Really, I am. Not just because you get to sit around all day and play video games and still get paid, but you also get to work in a big building. THANKS AGAIN!

Sincerely,
=) Susan C. Richner (=


If I ever go back into the software business, a very unlikely event by now, and I make a company it will be called Big Building Software, in honor of Susan C. Richner.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wednesday Math, Vol. 28: Margin of Error and Confidence of Victory

A few weeks ago, I discussed normal distribution and the bell shaped curve. The idea is that you can take a raw score from a test, find the average and the standard deviation and create a z-score that corresponds to the raw score. From there you can see how that z-score relates to the rest of the population. For instance, from the picture on the left, we see the light blue area from -1 to 1 standard deviations accounts for 68.2% of the population, so about two thirds of the data of a normally distributed set will have z-scores between -1 and 1. On the right, it says that if a raw score turns into a z-score of 1.18 standard deviations, about 88.1% will be below that z-score and 11.9% will have a z-score higher than that.

This is also the idea behind the margin of error in polling data. If a poll says margin of error is +/- 3.2%, this has to do with the idea of a confidence interval. If the polling number says 46%, that's the best estimate given that particular sample, but the data says that 38 times out of 40 the true number is between (46-3.2)% = 42.8% and (46+3.2)% = 49.2%. The other 2 times out of 40 are evenly split, 1 time it will be too high and 1 time too low. 38 out of 40 is usually written as 95%. This is the confidence interval number, though few newspapers take the time to explain this, the New York Times being a major exception. This is measuring the center, like the multi-colored picture on the left.

I came up with a different way to look at the data in a two way contest that I call the Confidence of Victory number, which measures a left section and a right section of the normal curve. It works best when the top two vote getters are pulling in 95% or more of the votes, but is still useful even if they are getting at least 85% of the vote. Let me do an example from a recent Obama-McCain poll in Virginia.

Obama out-polled McCain 45% to 44% in a poll of 500 likely voters, with 11% undecided or voting for some other candidate. Since the two numbers add to 89%, we can use the Confidence of Victory method. Multiplying the percents with 500, there were 225 Obama voters and 220 McCain voters. In this new smaller sample of the decided, Obama has a lead of 50.6% to 49.4%, and the standard deviation is square root of (50.6% * 49.4%/425) = 2.4%. This means Obama's z-score is (50.6% - 50%)/2.4% = .24. A z-score of .24 corresponds to a percentage of .5948, or about 59.5%. This says that if the election were held today, this poll result as close as it is, still lets the pollsters say with 59.5% confidence that Obama will win Virginia's 13 electoral votes, while McCain's confidence of victory number is 40.5%.

After both conventions, if there isn't a serious third party candidate pulling in a lot of votes, I'll be keeping track of the confidence of victory numbers in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. to keep my loyal readers abreast of how the electoral college battle is going, since that's what a presidential race is all about. But today, I'm just 'splainin' a particular math idea I had, because this week, It's All About Me™!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

It's All About Me™ Week continues. I'm an old punk!


So yesterday, I was looking at the Sitemeter page for this blog, minding my own bidness, when I see that someone got here from a link I didn't know about at Old Punks Web Zine, a website devoted to the music of the late 70's and early 80's. At the very bottom of the front page right now, though that could easily change, there's an MP3 of Let's Start a Rumour, a song Padre Mickey and I recorded together about 26 years ago. I got in contact with the guy who runs the blog, and he was very happy I had no intention of suing him, which I don't, of course. If more people hear and like The Wonders of Science, this is perfectly jake with me, and I think I can speak for the Padre as well, because this week, of course, It's All About Me™.

The song on the website is from the first EP we recorded before we added more band members to make it possible to go on stage. A lot of people can say accurately that they were in The Wonders of Science, but for any Wonders of Science reunion, it has to include Padre Mickey and me or it doesn't count. The most famous ex-Wonder, who is not pictured here, is our drummer after Nathan Lindsay. Lex van den Berghe, who we called Lexi back in the day, got famous not through music, but because he finished third on Survivor in one of the early seasons. I'd gladly tell you more Lexi stories, but this week, It's All About Me™.

So, just to be clear, The Wonders of Science was a collaborative effort. On Let's Start a Rumour, I wrote the song, I sang lead vocals and I paid for the recording session because I was the bachelor with disposable income and the Padre was a father of two living on a budget. Why do I bring this up? Because this week... oh, I think you get the point.

WARNING: There may be spyware called Zinaps attached to the mp3 file. Use your anti-spyware protection software after downloading the tune.

Monday, June 16, 2008

It's All About Me™ Week begins. My favorite Jeopardy story.

Everybody's blogging style is different. A lot of people have stuff about their daily lives or interesting stories from their pasts. Me, not so much. I rely on the Three P's, Punditry, Pedantry and Pandering. But this week, I'm going to tell exciting stories from the real life and times of Matty Boy!
It's certainly old news by now but I've only brought it up once on the blog in 62 weeks, so I can say the most interesting thing I ever did by most people's measure is going on Jeopardy! back in 1984. I played for four days, won $25,550 and some fabulous parting gifts.

It's hard to get lucky on Jeopardy!, but in one way I did. On the show before I got on, they crowned a five day champ, who then was retired. No chance to be a Ken Jennings back in the day. This means I didn't have to play against a champ on my first show, and I breezed through that show. I was the only one with positive cash at the end, and so I answered my first Final Jeopardy question alone. I bet big, $5,000 out of $7,100, and I got it right. Truman Capote was paid a big advance to write Answered Prayers, but never finished it. Yay, Final Jeopardy!

So we go to the second show, I'm feeling pretty good and I'm blazing through the early questions when I hit an Audio Daily Double in the category of Toys & Games. Okay, I design games for a living, I'm a musician AND a stunted adolescent. Is this perfect or what? I bet the whole $2,000.

"A true Daily Double!" Alex Trebek says in admiration. I think he really likes saying that. "Listen to the lyrics of this toy titled song."

I should have known you'd bid me farewell
There's a lesson to be learned from this and I've learned this very well...


And... I got nothing.

"What is Little Toy Balloon?"

"Ooooh, I'm sorry. What is Red Rubber Ball?" Alex corrects me.

Yes, the 1966 hit Red Rubber Ball, sung by The Cyrkle, because back then it was all about the funny spellings. Did you know that it was written by Paul Simon? Of course you did. I, too, know nearly everything important to know about this song now, but when it could have made me a couple grand, I knew bupkiss!

So it's months after the taping and the show is airing. I'm at home taping the shows for myself, and the commercial break was just moments after I cratered.

The phone rings.

"Hello." I answer.

"You think you're pretty smart."

"Excuse me?"

"You think you're pretty smart, don'tcha?" The voice repeats.

"Do I know you?" I ask.

"No. And you didn't know Red Rubber Ball, either!" BANG goes the phone on the other end.

Yes, someone went to the trouble of looking up my name in the Palo Alto phone book, called me just to remind me that, Hey Mista Jeopardy! Champ. I GOTCHER DAILY DOUBLE RIGHT HERE!

I was kinda sorta famous for about a week. People from my past called me and I was asked at supermarkets if I was that guy on Jeopardy! But this particular moment of fame is the one I remember best, and as you should recall, this week It's All About Me™!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Changing his tune, still getting it wrong.

Bob Barr, one of the managers of the Clinton impeachment, has left the Republican Party and will be the standard bearer for the Libertarian Party this year. On the Huffington Post, he wrote a blog entry this week saying he was wrong about The War On Drugs. Gosh, that took him a while, didn't it? I don't make many comments about the drug policy of this country, as it's not my most pressing concern, but anyone consciously in favor of the status quo holds an indefensible position. Thanks for coming around, Bob, though now your voice is so weak it no longer matters.

Showing his love for the private sector and the solutions it creates, he applauds Vince McMahon, owner of the WWE, for the organization's newly instituted Wellness Program, testing for steroids and other drugs and giving treatment to those who abuse them.

Sorry, Bob, wrong answer.

Steroids in sports are the unrestricted free market. McMahon closed this barn door long after the horses escaped, though he is still unable to take the blame for the massive number of deaths in his industry. Several people on this list died at an advanced age, but look at how many are less than 50 when they die, and how many are from cancers. Not all of these people worked for the WWE, but that hardly matters. Wrestlers took steroids because all their competitors took steroids. They didn't take them to win matches. That is a predetermined outcome. They took them to get matches. You needed "the look" to be a wrestler, and that look by the 1980s was defined by Hulk Hogan. He told the little Hulkamaniacs to say their prayers and take their vitamins, but he himself was taking steroids. He might have fooled the duller segment of the public, but he didn't fool his competitors. That's what you had to look like to get the jobs, and taking steroids was the way to look like that. Pro wrestling is a series of live stunts, and the risk of injury is real. Taking steroids is a medically accepted way to recover from injury quicker. The negative effects, especially from unsupervised usage, are a very long list of many things that kill people.

McMahon's "private sector solution" is just as top-down as any government program, and there's no real evidence it isn't just a show for the public. McMahon's business is in serious jeopardy, as younger viewers are switching away from boxing and wrestling to mixed martial arts competitions. To give him any credit for this sham when he ran a business that killed his employees for decades is just another example of why Bob Barr, even when he changes his mind, still can't come up with the right answers.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Best supporting giantess: the nominees are...

If you are not one of My People, you are probably not aware that there was a Golden Age of Giant Woman movies, the late 1950s through the mid 1960s. In that era, there are four major films where giantesses are the stars, as well as some giantess cameos, some stuff on TV and several commercials.

Good times.

This decade, there have been no movies all about giantesses or shrunken men, but there have been brief scenes in movies about other stuff. Here are six that have come to my attention, either through my own research or that of My People who have posted the information so that we all could share.

Bedazzled (2000)
Giantess played by: Elizabeth Hurley
Reason for giantess appearance: She's the Devil and she wants to scare him, so she takes him to Hell where she appears as a giantess in a bikini. Very short scene.
Movie in general: Cute, but clearly inferior to the Peter Cook-Dudley Moore original.

Dude, Where's My Car (2000)
Giantess played by:
Jodi Ann Patterson
Reason for giantess appearance: A gaggle of hot alien chicks turn out to be evil, and when denied what they want morph into a single Super Hot Giant Alien, who goes on a rampage at a miniature golf course. Again, scantily clad and exceedingly attractive giant woman is supposed to be scary, though there are some gags about her obvious hotness.
Movie in general: Feh. It's no Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle.

Malena (2000)
Giantess played by: Monica Bellucci
Reason for giantess appearance: Young boy obsessed with Ms. Bellucci's character fantasizes that she is Cleopatra about to commit suicide, and that he is the asp she places on her breast. Why do young boys fantasize? Hypothetical question asker, I think we all know why, don't we?
Movie in general: I never saw it. It's made by the same guy who made Cinema Paradiso.

Talk to Her (2002)
Giantess played by:
Paz Vega
Reason for giantess appearance: One of the characters is explaining a silent movie he saw to another character, where Paz Vega is a scientist and her boyfriend drinks a potion she has concocted and shrinks down to tiny size and wanders over her now giant body.
Movie in general: It's the best movie on this list, though it may not be the masterwork of the director, Pedro Almodóvar.

Ella Enchanted (2004)
Giantess played by: Heidi Klum
Reason for giantess appearance: It's a story about a fairy tale world, and Ms. Klum plays a giantess who falls in love with an elf. It's a Disney movie, so falling in love means looking longingly into another person's eyes and sighing, but it's the most screen time that any giantess gets in a movie this decade. As a side note, in the Golden Age of Giant Woman movies, almost all the giant honeys were blonde. In this decade, Ms. Klum is the only blonde on this list.
Movie in general: Cute enough for an adolescent chick flick.

Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)
Giantess played by:
Naomie Harris
Reason for giantess appearance: Ms. Harris plays a witch named Tia Dalma, who turns out to be a sea god. She morphs into a giantess, then into a school of fish. Ms. Harris is certainly attractive, but playing a witch/hag, she gets uglied up with bad teeth and makeup that gives her dark circles around her eyes.
Movie in general: Didn't see it. My friend Jodi, who is very keen on pirate movies, liked the first Pirates a lot, but the second one... not so much.

So, that's the list of movies from The Oughts that deal with topics of interest to My People and Our Agenda. If there are others, I would be glad to amend the list.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Shirking in my duties as a panderer.

I was skimming through my past few weeks of posts, and I saw that I had been living lolz free for nearly ten days. I can assure you, this abstinence was caused by forgetfulness, plain and simple.

Lolz and Tetris. Two great tastes that go great together!


It has also been waaaay too long since I posted a picture of Indira Varma. Her nigh perfect collarbone is discreetly hidden, but we do get a good gander at her legs (very nice) and her nekkid footsies.

I'm not really into the foot fetish, so I don't know how the guys who like That Sort Of Thing would rate her feet. She has a pretty big gap between the big toe and the little piggy who stayed home. Matty Boy also has such a gap.

Stop the presses! I have something in common with Indira Varma!

Maybe I can talk her lawyer into lifting the restraining order.

Happy Birthday to my brother Michael.


Many are the Michaels referenced here at Lotsa 'Splainin'. There's Padre Mickey and sfmike, both of whom are blog buddies and folks with whom I have actually broken bread. But the birthday I celebrate today is that of the first Michael I ever met, my older brother Michael Bradford Macrae. Many happy returns, bro!

There's gonna be a family get together this Saturday up in Sacramento as a birthday/Father's Day combo celebration and barbeque, and I will do my best to get some of those ever popular Hubbard Fambly Photos that I can put on my blog.

Yay, fambly photos!

~

Friday means Random 10!

Only the Lonely Roy Orbison
I’m Not Fooled So Easily UB40
No Surprises Radiohead
China Girl David Bowie
All the Way Down Glen Hansard
Il Mio Ben Quando Verra Cecilia Bartoli
Share What You’ve Got (But Keep What You Need) William Bell
If You Don’t Know Me By Now Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
The Other Woman Nina Simone
This Offer Is Unrepeatable Elvis Costello and The Brodsky Quartet

Obviously, the Random 10 shuffle has taken a job as a late night DJ. If you think the shuffle is here to get the party started, think again, my friend. It's possible to dance to the UB40 and the Bowie, but the rest of the time, the DJ thought it might be nice if everybody got back to their drinks, finished them and ordered another round just because the music is so damn depressing. Yes, it's the Misery Loves Company segment of our show, where you can think about relationships that didn't work out, or ones that are currently working but you know deep down are doomed, doomed, doomed.

Jeez, DJ, you are good. I do need a drink.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Regrets. He has a few.

You may have heard that speaking to the Times of London, George W. Bush regrets some of the things he's said. Because some of his statements like "Bring 'em on" and "Bin Laden dead or alive", some people think he likes war, when he is really a man of peace. As proof of his peaceful intentions, he meets often with wounded soldiers and the families of the dead to console them. He has said in the past that he sees himself as the consoler in chief, as well as his main job as The Decider.

Given my experience, Bush reminds me of a D student. He could be a C student if he gave it a real effort, but can't be bothered. The deeper problem with a D student is that a lot of ideas will be beyond his grasp even if he does apply himself.

He is supposed to be the commander in chief, and in the final analysis, it is his job to conduct the war, no matter how many levels of silly business school bureaucracy he adds, like a war czar and The Office of Special Plans. Wars are supposed to end, because wars are expensive, brutally expensive the way Americans conduct wars. I took this graphic from 2005 and updated it. Officially, the Bush wars now cost more than Vietnam, but if you listen to the Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, the real cost is on the scale of World War II. We "won" World War II not just because the Germans and the Japanese surrendered, but because even with the high price we paid, everyone else who was directly involved, including most of Europe and much of Eastern Asia, paid an even higher price in destroyed cities that would have to be rebuilt. In these wars today, we have decimated Iraq and deeply wounded Afghanistan, two small nations that have little standing on the world stage, but we have drained our own treasury at a phenomenal scale, while the rest of the major countries in the world are at peace.

We came out of 1945 as the world's only superpower, and when the Cold War ended, we saw ourselves as the world's only superpower again. If being a superpower means having the ability to invade a country halfway around the world, then the list begins and ends with the U.S. of A. In the real struggle of the present, the economic battle, we are one of four superpowers, along with Europe, China and the not as unified OPEC, and we are last place in that battle right now, given how deeply we are in debt and how addicted to debt we have let ourselves become. The burden of the war has helped ruin our economy, though according to the D student Bush, that connection is nearly impossible to see. In repeated statements, including one just yesterday, John Sidney McCain sees no need to leave Iraq and Afghanistan any time soon either.

The country has desperate problems, most pressing now is to figure out how to wean ourselves from petroleum. The only president who ever made that a priority was Jimmy Carter, and since him we have been heading down the wrong path for thirty years. This is a change in course we must make now, if not sooner. We should have been making this change in public policy for at least a decade. Working people who can afford it will make the change out of necessity, now that $4 a gallon gas is the best case scenario. The Republican proposals in Congress in response to the current situation show that they are stuck somewhere in the middle of the 20th Century.

The government does not always have to lead, but it can't keep working against us. My father the Goldwater Republican now calls himself a yellow dog Democrat. People of conscience have to follow his wise lead. There is no Republican at any level of government who deserves the vote of anyone who wants what's best for this country.

Here endeth the lesson.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hittin' fitty.

Visitor 50,000 showed up this evening from Peru.

What was he (or she) looking for?

He or she, very probably he, is one of My People.

¡Bienvenidos, hermano!

Wednesday Math, Vol. 27: The trig functions


One year and one day ago, I wrote a post about the trig functions. Back then, I think the only people reading my stuff were just a few blog buddies and some family members, though I did get flags from Poland and South Korea that day. Still, it's not exactly repeating myself to do another post about trigonometry, which is an important part of mathematics, especially since I have a new and hopefully less confusing picture. (Click on the picture for a bigger version.)

Translating the roots of the word, trigonometry means "triangle measure", and if we have an angle, it will define a set of similar right triangles when combined with the horizontal axis. We are interested in three of the similar triangles, the ones where one side of the triangle has measure equal to 1.

When the hypotenuse is equal to 1, the horizontal side length is equal to cosine and the vertical side is equal to sine. The prefix "co" is short for complementary, which in geometry means two angles that add up to 90 degrees. So, for example, since 37 + 53 = 90, the sine of a 37 degree angle is the complementary sine (cosine) of a 53 degree angle, and vice versa.

In the second picture, the side of length 1 is the horizontal edge, and the other two line segment lengths are tangent and secant. In trig, students are usually taught that tangent = sine/cosine and secant = 1/cosine, which in some ways make it trickier to remember, because it would be easier if secant was related to sine and cosecant related to cosine, but they aren't. Tangent goes by another name in coordinate geometry. It is rise/run, which means it's the slope of the line.

In the third picture, the vertical edge is of length 1, the hypotenuse is cosecant and the horizontal is cotangent. The major trig identities, each one listed under the corresponding picture, are all versions of
the Pythagorean Theorem, since it's all about right triangles.

It's very old school, and I mean before-the-birth-of-Christ old school, to measure angles by degrees, and in trig classes the new way, and I mean new as in Newton, to measure is in radians. All the way around the unit circle is 2π instead of 360 degrees, and radians are often given as multiples of π. For example, 45 degrees is 1/8 of the circle so 2π*1/8 = π/4.

So that's what you should know after your first hour of a trig class, which means that's what you should remember 20 years after you take a trig class, if you're lucky.

Hope you were taking notes.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

How much do I love this little guy?


Almost as much as I love his gigantic elven wife, which is a whole heck of a lot.

Dennis Kucinich introduced articles of impeachment against George W. Bush yesterday and I say, good on ya, Dennis!

Sadly, Ms. Nancy "impeachment is off the table" Pelosi is still Speaker of the House, and she won the Democratic primary against Shirley "ITMFA" Golub by 89% to 11%, so there's no chance she will listen to reason.

But things change. Vincent Bugliosi, who convicted Charles Manson all those years ago, has spelled out the details of criminal proceedings against George W. Bush which could take place when he becomes a private citizen. Wouldn't that make for a nice change?

Yes, hypothetical question asker, it would.

A new movie quote game. UPDATED.


A while back, there were people searching my blog trying to find the answer to a trivia question about a pig, a rock band and the cartoon shows Invader Zim and The Simpsons. I published the answer and the people running the online trivia game got miffed at me. I got rid of the direct answer and left a hint instead.

This got me to thinking about trivia quizzes online. How can you Google-proof one of these things? It seems like all information everywhere is in the World Wide Web somewhere, it's just a matter of asking the right question to the right search engine.

Here's my idea. Take a well-known movie with a lot of great lines. Take several of those lines and ask the folks who want to play to identify who said the lines (either by the actor's name or the character's name) and to put the lines in chronological order from first to last in the film.

The movie I've chosen to do this with first is The Princess Bride. With this movie, one of the greatest lines is unavailable for use, because Mandy Patinkin says "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." several times in the film, so putting it in chronological order becomes difficult.

Of course, if you've never seen this film you are totally hosed, but every trivia contest has that problem to some extent. Here are the lines. Good luck.

We have a winner! Please no more calls.

My niece Holly, who watched the video of The Princess Bride a jillion times when she was a kid, nailed the whole thing. Trinket999, one of My People, was very close but missed one actor and the order on two quotes. Here are the complete answers.

b] “Farm boy… fetch me that pitcher.” Robin Wright as Buttercup

g] “Is this a kissing book?” Fred Savage as The Boy

a] “Do you want me to leave you where I found you? Unemployed… in Greenland?” Wallace Shawn as Vezzini

f] “I want to say that she doesn’t die here. The eels don’t kill her. I say this because you look worried.” Peter Falk as The Grandfather

j] “Unless your opponent has studied his Agrippa. Which I have.” Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya

h] “Life is pain, Princess. Anyone who says different is selling something.” Cary Elwes as Westley/The Dread Pirate Roberts

c] “Hmmm, look who knows so much!” Billy Crystal as Miracle Max

i] “Mawwiage…” Peter Cook as The Impressive Clergyman

d] “I could be bluffing. Pig.” Cary Elwes as Westley

e] “I found these four white horses just in case you found the lady. Hello, lady!” Andre the Giant as Fezzik

My apologies to Chris Sarandon and my adopted actor Christopher Guest for not including any of their quotes.

When next my niece Holly and I see a movie at the Parkway, the first drink is my treat.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Strange tales from the neighborhood and show business

The Parkway Theater, a cool local movie house that shows second run movies and has a beer and wine license, is now dark on Monday nights every week, though it is available for private parties. I hope they are doing okay, because it would really suck if this place closed down. The neighborhood near the lake has a few major chain stores - Lucky, Walgreens, Kragen Auto Parts, Church's Chicken - but what makes the place livable is the local businesses like the Parkway.

Yay, small business!

So I had a few hours to kill and a few bucks of disposable income (yay, disposable income!), and I strolled down to the Parkway and saw Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. I saw the first movie on DVD, and I thought it was on the enlightened and thoughtful end of sexist, drug addled entertainment for men who are overgrown adolescents.

Does that sentence make sense?

Yes, hypothetical question asker, it does. You should get out more.

So Harold and Kumar escape from Guantanamo Bay, truth in advertising pays off in the long run, and have an adventure that takes them from Florida to Texas through way of Alabama. In Alabama, they meet a character played by a very pretty actress who I was sure I had seen someplace before. I went home and looked up her name, Missi Pyle, on imdb.com. She has been in a lot of movies and had guest spots on a lot of TV shows, mostly in comedies, notably as the alien Laliari who falls in love with Tony Shaloub's character in Galaxy Quest. Remember when I was talking about how few roles the actors in Into the Woods had since that play was filmed? Missi Pyle has 59 credits in a career that spans twelve years. I think it's fair to say she probably will not be an overnight sensation, but if you're really pretty and can deliver a funny line and you're about six feet tall, you can work in Hollywood if you have a mind to.

Did I forget to say she's 5'11"? She's 5'11".

Sunday, June 8, 2008

John McCain's two-headed nightmare


As a steely eyed optimist, I worry about the effect of race in America on the presidential race this year. There are many states I think Obama can't possibly win because he is black, but everybody has figured out by now that it's all about getting enough electoral votes, not winning all 50 states. The thing that makes me optimistic is that these two guys, who have the ear of a lot of people who call themselves conservatives, appear to have genuine antipathy for John McCain.

I don't like either Dr. James Dobson or Rush Limbaugh, but there's a difference between them. Dobson's use of religion promotes a world view I find appalling, but he genuinely believes it. Limbaugh, on the other hand, doesn't believe in anything but Rush Limbaugh. Dobson in February said if McCain was the nominee, he would not vote for him in November, and it is very unlikely he will backpedal on this. A little reported phenomenon during the primary season was that when Clinton and Obama were slugging it out, McCain would win primary after primary, but there would be a substantial protest vote, usually for Huckabee and between 15% and 25%. The right wing is not a monolith, and McCain has not convinced a lot of people who call themselves conservatives that he is conservative.

I posted earlier this year about nasty comments made about McCain by El Gordo y La Flaca de Fascismo, and a friend of mine speculated that this was just to whip the senator into line and they would be on his side when the general election came around. Technically, it's general election time now, and Rush Limbaugh is still going after McCain, questioning his manhood after the speech McCain gave on the evening Obama sewed up the nomination.

With a crap economy and two easily won wars that became uneasy and endless occupations, the Republicans don't have much good news to run on this year. McCain is stuck with the unenviable task of proving he's the candidate of change, and even the small change he represents is disliked by two people who carry a lot of weight with McCain's hoped for "base".

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Jim McKay: 1921-2008


"When I was a kid my father used to say our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized. Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They have now said there were eleven hostages; two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They're all gone."

Jim McKay did a lot in his career, but that moment in Munich is etched in the hearts and minds of everyone who saw it live. Like Cronkite getting emotional when JFK died and during the moon landing, this was a memorable moment in live television news brought to you by a newsman, not a live feed.

God bless and keep Jim McKay. Amen.

We have geese.


My first month in my new digs, I wrote a post about the appearance of geese in my neighborhood.

In March, I published a rebuttal from the geese, saying they liked it here and had no plans to go to Canada.

Now, in June, around Lake Merritt we have geese. We have geese like dogs have fleas. We have geese like John McCain's campaign has lobbyists.

There is a greenbelt of lawn almost all the way around Lake Merritt, which is a couple of miles around, and much of that area has now been annexed to Gooseland for an undetermined duration. The geese will not say when they are leaving, for as we know, timetables encourage terrorists.

The correct plural term for geese is gaggle. Has anyone ever considered "infestation" instead?

Just sayin'.

Friday, June 6, 2008

A life on the boards? A cautionary tale.

This week, I rented the 1991 recording of James Lapine's and Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, with the original Broadway cast from when it opened in 1987. I'm coming a little late to this party and may be telling you something you already know, but Into the Woods is a fantastic musical. The tunes are great, the story is clever, there are lots of laughs and surprises. One of the tunes is still rattling around in my head, and I will give a YouTube link to it below. It won several Tony awards in a year dominated by Phantom of the Opera. I've never seen Phantom, but I'm sure I wouldn't like it as much as I liked this. I often watch DVDs twice if there's a commentary track. There are two DVDs I watched twice this year that had no commentary track. One was the Korean monster movie The Host. Into the Woods is the second.

There are ten major roles in Into the Woods. The box lists five names. The five not named played the younger roles. Let me say that everyone was fantastic. Lovely voices, great diction, good with the funny, and there's plenty of funny on this show. I did a little research to see what happened to folks in the intervening seventeen years.

Bernadette Peters. She played the witch. She was a star before this, she is a star now. She will be a star on Broadway as long as she wants to be, and amen to that.

Joanna Gleason. She's Monty Hall's daughter, did you know that? I didn't. She played the baker's wife. Another long and successful career in the theater, and good for her.

Chip Zien. Another New York actor who keeps working and working. He played the baker. If you don't know the name, I'm pretty sure you'd recognize the face.

Tom Aldredge. Played the narrator and the mysterious man. Character actor. You've seen him a jillion times, but modern audiences will recognize him as Carmela's dad on The Sopranos.

Robert Westerberg. He played the prince who wooed Cinderella. Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) says he's had nine screen roles since, which isn't a lot in seventeen years. The Internet Theatre Database didn't recognize his name, but that's the fault of the database, not Westerberg. Technically, he's still a working actor, and I wish him all the best.

The five that aren't named are younger actors.

Chuck Wagner: He played the younger brother of Prince Charming, also charming, and he won the hand of Rapunzel. Chuck Wagner, as you will see in the clip, is just too damn good looking, and he's been stuck in the ghetto of the good looking in show biz, which is to say he's had four roles on soap operas. He also played Gaston and the Beast in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway in the 1990's. I've read that he is now the ringmaster for Ringling Bros./Barnum and Bailey, but I haven't confirmed that.

Kim Crosby: She played Cinderella. She married Prince Charming. No, really, she married Westerberg and hasn't done any work on film since.

Pamela Winslow: She was Rapunzel, the smallest of the major roles. She got work on film a total of six times after Into the Woods, and those six include a recurring character that shows up on three episodes of Star Trek: The Next Pajamas. Her career ended in the 1990's as far as imdb knows.

Danielle Ferland: She was Little Red Riding Hood. She looked more like a child star than an ingenue princess. In fact, in 1987 she had a role in Woody Allen's Radio Days whose name was "Child Star". She is still getting work, but only six roles on film in seventeen years.

Ben Wright: He played Jack from the Jack and the Beanstalk story. He's had two roles on film as an actor, and worked twice as a stunt double. The old joke with the punchline "What? And leave show business?" comes to mind.

So, some hits and some misses, with most of the misses in the younger cast members. Recall that every one of these people got the thing that actors want most. Every one of them was on Broadway in a role that put them on stage by themselves singing a fantastic tune.

While I can't praise the show enough, let me give it one more plug from The You Tubes, with the two princes singing the song that explains them best, Agony.



If you go to YouTube and search for Into the Woods, almost all the songs are there, including a reprise to Agony in the second act that might even be funnier than this. Seeing all the songs separately is nice, but rent or buy the DVD, 'cause it's nicer.

~~

Friday means Random 10!

All Grown Up Elvis Costello
Baubles Bangles and Beads Nina Simone
Sign of the Times The Belle Stars
Every Breath I Take Gene Pitney
Breaking Us In Two Joe Jackson
Downtown Train Tom Waits
Something to Sing About Sarah Michelle Gellar
Maggie’s Farm Bob Dylan
Sunday Kind of Love Etta James
Papa Was A Rolling Stone Was (Not Was)

If a person under 30 were to look at this, that person's first reaction would be, "Jeez, they let old farts buy iPods, too!" Leaving aside the comments of this hypothetical whippersnapper, only the song from the Buffy soundtrack dates from the era after the invention of the MP3 player. Still, there's the One True Living Elvis and Our Tom, two of my favorite artists in the whole wide world, so I'm pretty happy about this list. And while my musical tastes are scattered all over the place, the inclusion of Gene Pitney is there to say "Why, yes! I am a white boy born in the suburbs! How did you know?"