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.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Numbers 2.0, Vol. 2:

90 degrees. Rectangular or square corners. Perpendicular. Vertical meets horizontal. All these words and phrases mean the same thing, and just to add to the confusion slightly, mathematicians will refer to it as orthogonal. But really, there is little confusion in the general public on this mathematical concept because we see it so often.

In some ways, the 90 degree angle is more a part of human nature than it is of "nature" nature. There are a few crystals that naturally place a flat surface perpendicular to another flat surface, and in studies of electrical fields, an electric current creates a second current that flows orthogonally to the original. But in nature, other forces interact with perpendicular surfaces, so even a tree that wants to grow straight up and down from the level surface of a prairie will be bent by the wind or rain or erosion.

In contrast, humans make any of a number of things with nice right angles, including the computer screen you are reading this post on and most the corners of the room where you are reading this. Rectangular two dimensional shapes and rectangular solids show up everywhere in human designs.

One of the reasons for the ubiquity of the 90 degree angle is that we know so much about it. The Pythagorean Theorem is ancient wisdom, sussed out by every civilization worth being called a civilization. There are proofs from the Chinese, the Indians, pre-Colombian American tribes like the Mayans, the ancient Egyptians, the Persians and, of course, the Greeks. There is a nice useful example of a² + b² = c², 3² + 4² = 5². Archeologists has found sticks of length 3 units, 4 units and 5 units in ancient Egyptian ruins, and the best guess is that these were used to make sure walls were perpendicular to the floor and to each other.

Of course, vertical meets horizontal is just one way to make two lines perpendicular. In the picture above, all the lines of length c are perpendicular to the ones they touch and parallel to the opposite side of the square.

In three dimensions, perpendicular still exists of course, and in fact it expands a bit. If we are drawing a line on a plane put a point on that line, there is exactly one line perpendicular to it, according to Euclidean geometry. (There is something called non-Euclidean geometry, but it assumes we aren't dealing with a flat plane in general, so we can just leave it be for now.) In three dimensions, mathematicians deal with vectors of the form [x y z], which is a straight line segment from the origin (0, 0, 0) to the point (x, y, z), but stands in for all line segments of the same length pointing in the same direction. Mathematically, orthogonality is most easily represented by the dot product of two vectors. u · v. If u =[a b c] and v =[p q r], then u · v is the sum of the products of the three corresponding entries to the vectors, ap + bq + cr. Two vectors u and v in the same vector space are orthogonal if and only if u · v = 0.

In three dimensions, three vectors can be constructed so that each is orthogonal to the other two. The simplest three vectors in three dimensional space that are all orthogonal to each other are
= [1 0 0]
j = [0 1 0]
k = [0 0 1]

This is called an orthogonal basis for three dimensional space, but it is only one of an infinite set of bases.

Four dimensions or more are much harder to visualize than two dimensions or three, but the idea of orthogonality based on dot products is still the same relatively simple math. Multiply the vectors together element by element and add those products. If the sum is zero, the vectors are orthogonal. Dot products also let us define distance. Take a vector and do the dot product with itself u · u. Since this is the sum of squares, it must be non-negative and unless the vector is the all zero vector, the dot product will be positive. The length of the vector is the square root of the dot product, also known as the magnitude. This is a direct corollary of the Pythagorean Theorem and it works in as many dimensions as you might want to create. Mathematicians even have ways to talk about infinite dimensions, but the ideas of orthogonality and distance remain the same, and both of those ideas come from our basic understanding of perpendicular and the most important discovery we have made about perpendicular line segments, the Pythagorean Theorem.

Next week: continuity, mathematician style.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Google changing gears. Bad for Matty Boy?

According to a story on the Huffington Post, Google is changing their search engine to favor sites that produce original content and downgrade "low quality sites" that do not.

I haven't seen the nuts and bolts of their new method, but that should mean they would favor this site and show less interest in The Other Blog, where I take the headlines from the supermarket gossip rags every week and publish them in a easy to find place that cross references stuff. It's not completely without original content. Sometimes I make jokes I call Extra Bonus Mocking, where I add an allegedly clever quip to the story.

As it stands right now, four people show up at the Other Blog for every one who shows up here. The only consolation I have for this blog is that people who show up here stay a little longer on average, 38 seconds compared to 24 seconds. In any case, we will see if my silly tabloid blog is an example of the sort of thing The Google frowns upon over the next few weeks, and if this "high quality/low quality" split is really targeted at bloggers or not.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Flashback Friday:
Creep by Radiohead

I heard an a capella version of Radiohead's Creep this week and the song is now playing in heavy rotation in my brain. I thought some of my readers might enjoy having this song rattle around their heads for awhile, so click on the video and hear the clean version.

Usually I emulate Padre Mickey with a Random 10 on the weekend, but here I am stealing a page from Tengrain's playbook instead because... well, I'm a creep. I still think of this song as being cutting edge alternative, but a kid born when this thing came out could well be finishing his senior year in high school now.

As Casey Kasem might say but probably never did, from their 1993 album Pablo Honey, here's Radiohead and their song Creep.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Something's going on but I don't know what it is.
Do I, Mr. Jones?

Since late in 2006, I've been following the price of silver and gold. I haven't had enough money to invest, I just was surprised at how high gold was and decided to pick something to compare it to.

If I had been serious about investing, I might have looked at other stuff, like the guys in Michael Lewis' book about the last gigantic crash, The Big Short. But I wasn't nearly as diligent as those guys. The problem that would bring the whole economy down was the bursting of the housing bubble. In effect, I was just watching a few corks bob up and down on the tumultuous sea that was the financial markets.

I'm still watching the corks bob, and I'm here to report they are bobbing in new weird ways I haven't seen before.

The big idea of gold is that is the hedge against bad times, but when everything went to hell in 2008, gold took a hit as well, just not quite as bad as everything else. In 2007, gold seriously outperformed silver, 35% to 17%. In the beginning of 2008, gold was still rising even though anyone watching the financial markets knew there were troubles like never seen before. When the dust settled, gold was up a very modest 1.4% at the end of 2008 while silver had taken a 30% hit.

Since then, both have been rising, but not in lockstep. When silver was at its worst, it would take nearly 80 ounces of silver to equal an ounce of gold, a far cry from the standard exchange rate of 50 to 1. In the past 26 months, the market has decided that silver was underpriced in comparison to gold. In 2009, gold rose 27% and silver rose 50%. In 2010, gold improved by 30% and silver by 83%. Now, silver is at its best position in many years compared to gold, where it only takes 40 ounces of silver to buy a ounce of gold.

This may just be the market finally realizing that silver is actually much more useful than gold, but when I see numbers I've never seen before, I start worrying about a correction.

And then there's the third thing I've been watching, crude oil. It had been trading between $85 and $90 a barrel this year after being in the seventies most of 2010, but now it's sneaking back up to the $100 a barrel range. Smart people are in consensus now it was the financial markets that caused the big crash, but the cost of the life blood of the world's economy can't be ignored. As bad as high unemployment is, high fuel prices are often the cause of stagflation, that dreadful economic effect that means the economy isn't growing but prices rise anyway, a pair of symptoms many useless by still popular economic models says cannot happen at the same time.

I don't know what's the cause of all of this. I don't even know if the numbers I'm looking at are worth a rat's rectum. But I do get the feeling that a new tsunami is coming, and the class warfare we are seeing now is just the start.

A quick reminder of which side I'm on. Class warfare is better than class genocide.

Fight back, y'all.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Separated at Birth or Same Plastic Surgeon?

As I have said before, I'm kinda busy during the week now, so just time for a quick speculation.

Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi doesn't make the news much, but the recent pictures made me think he has to be put on the Rourke Rubber Mask scale, a completely subjective measure I invented to say how far someone is from looking like Mickey Rourke.

I am not the first person to notice this. The "totally looks like" picture is at least a year and a half old, so it's possible both of them look even worse today.

I'd say Gadhafi is about at .85 RRM to .90 RRM, which means Mickey Rourke is still marginally uglier than Qaddafi.

In Mickey's favor, everyone agrees on how to spell his name. (Three spellings taken from Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo and CNN.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Fashion and family.

It was Fashion Week earlier this month in New York City, and one of designers at the Academy of Art University show was none other than my adorable niece Holly Smith-Smith, who you will find out more about if you click the family photos label at the bottom.

She's the cute girl in the big picture.

Okay, I'll play nice. The other woman is a runway model, so she's cute, too. Holly is the cute one in black waving to the crowd.

First rule of thumb at Fashion Week. Models don't wave.

Anyway, there were also write-ups on the show in Kenton magazine, the Blashonista website and a piece about Holly's stuff exclusively in Bobbin Talk, which includes this backstage picture of Holly getting the dresses ready.

I'm so happy she got this opportunity and I send her all my best wishes for future success, which I am sure regular readers will want to second.

Yay, Holly! Yay, hoodies and boobies! Yay, fashion!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Demeaning and offensive.
But not for the reasons you might think.

NBA commentator David Aldridge wrote on the CNN website that the weekend of the NBA All-Star game is known as "black Thanksgiving". Though CNN has taken it down, it has been posted in many places around the Internets, with lots of comments on websites from black folks who had never heard the phrase before.

Of course, it's demeaning and offensive, most especially since the NBA All-Star Game is often the same weekend the Daytona 500, the opening race of every NASCAR season.

Or as it is known in the former Confederate States of America...

Cracker Christmas.

Sunday Numbers 2.0, Vol. 1:
Return to football and mortality.

Over the past few weeks, I've received e-mails from readers saying they missed the Wednesday Math posts. I was a little surprised, but I did do 130 of them, so I could see how folks felt like it was part of the routine.

Right now, prepping classes is cutting into my precious blogging time during the week, so I am going to resurrect the Wednesday tradition on Sundays instead, calling it Sunday Numbers 2.0 to distinguish these new posts from the first set of Sunday Numbers in 2008 that used my system called Confidence of Victory to predict the result of the presidential election, predictions that were remarkably close to the actual landslide electoral victory of Obama over McCain, thank Odin, Krishna and the li'l baby Jesus.

About a year ago, I did a couple posts on professional sports and mortality. This week, a fellow named Jim Zimmerman who runs added a comment to the thread from last year, so I gave his site a visit.

A website full of numerical data sorted in an easy to understand way.

Honestly, I couldn't be happier if you sent me beer.

I took a couple hours to get the data, change the dates of birth and death to years instead of specific days and sorted it both by year of death and year of birth. Here are some of my early findings.

How has the Age of Steroids effected mortality of NFL players? This chart shows the average age of players who died in the years from 1980 to 2010. The general public started noticing steroid use in the late 1990s in baseball, but the premature deaths of John Matuszak and Lyle Alzado a decade earlier made steroid use in football a topic of conversation then. I took the average age of football players who died in the years from 1980 to 2010, and as we can see, the general trend is upwards, as it is for the public in general.

There is a fact that skews the in favor of longer life expectancy in more recent years that has nothing to do with improved health. More football players are living to be 90 or more because there more professionals as time goes on. If a man died in 1980 and he was more than 90, he had to be born in 1890 or earlier. If a man in his nineties died last year, he was born between 1910 and 1920, and probably played football in the 1940's or 1950's. There are more football players in that era than in the earlier era simply because the league started in the early 1920s.

Are more football players dying young as we move forward in time? Again, I looked at the years of death 1980 to 2010. If someone died in 1980, they likely played the game in the era from 1950 to 1980, which was not the age of steroids. For those who died young in 2010, their playing days would have been in the era of 1980 to 2010 when steroid use is assumed to be more prevalent. Looking at the graph to the left, we see the percentages of NFL players dying before the age of 50 fluctuates quite a bit year by year and the trendline (or line of regression) is almost flat. More than that, the correlation coefficient is incredibly weak, so the data does NOT let us state that steroid use has been a significant factor in premature death of the population of NFL players.

How do the ages at death of NFL players compare to the general population? For this question, I needed some sample from the general population that would be fair to compare to the list of NFL players who died in 2010. My method was to look at recent obituaries from the Associated Press. Both these data sets would be very different from a list of the deceased at a hospital because neither of the lists of celebrated people are going to have any infant deaths or deaths of teenagers. In the A.P. obituaries, I excluded anyone whose celebrity was being the Oldest Living Person, and I only took the obits that mentioned the age at death in the first paragraph. Here are the statistics I used for my tests.

2010 deaths of former NFL players
n = 134, average = 73.28, standard deviation = 16.82
% under 50 = 10.4%
% between 50 to 59 = 9.0%
% between 60 to 69 = 19.4%
% between 70 to 79 = 16.4%
% between 80 to 89 = 32.8%
% over 90 = 11.9%

100 deaths from A.P. obituaries, late 2010 to early 2011
n = 100, average = 77.65, standard deviation = 14.99
% under 50 = 5%
% between 50 to 59 = 7%
% between 60 to 69 = 13%
% between 70 to 79 = 23%
% between 80 to 89 = 28%
% over 90 = 24%

5% of celebrities who died were under 50 compared to 10.8% of football players. Is that significant? Good question, hypothetical question asker. With sample sizes this small and splitting into two groups for each set, under 50 and 50 or over, the chi-square test does not give us a test statistic that reaches even the 90% significance level. (test stat = 2.278, 90% threshold = 2.706.)

If instead we do a chi-square test and split both data sets into six categories, (Under 50, 50-59, 60-69, 70-79, 80-89, 90 and over), we get a test stat that does cross the 90% threshold, but not the 95%. (test stat = 10.368, 90% threshold = 9.236, 95% threshold = 11.071). The categories that add the most to the test stat are the over 90 numbers, and this can be at least in part attributed to league expansion. In 1960, the American Football League began, effectively doubling the number of professional football teams. When the leagues merge in 1970, there were 26 teams. There are now 32, but this increase is not as significant as the big jump ten years earlier.

The general celebrity list had an average age at death four years higher than the NFL list from 2010. Is that difference significant? Yes, it is. The test statistic t = 2.093 does get above the 95% significance threshold. Part of this is because of the greater percentage of celebrities dying over the age of 90 than football players over 90 dying, and again that can be partly attributed to league expansion. If instead we try to factor this out by looking at only the deaths at ages of 89 or less, of course the average ages of both groups go down dramatically. Here are the new numbers for those two data sets.

2010 deaths of former NFL players, 89 and younger
n = 119, average = 70.52, standard deviation = 16.0

deaths from A.P. obituaries, late 2010 to early 2011, 89 and younger
n = 76, average = 72.45, standard deviation = 13.32

Besides the averages going down, the difference goes from 4 to 2, the data sets get smaller and the standard deviations shrink slightly. The shrinking standard deviations would tend to increase the test statistic, but that small pressure to go up is overwhelmed by the smaller difference and sample sizes. The test statistic t = 0.911, which is not statistically significant at all.

What if we leave the NFL players alone and remove half the over 90 deaths from the A.P. list? Hypothetical, that's not a bad idea of how to adjust the data to compensate for league expansion. Let's give that a shot.

2010 deaths of former NFL players
n = 134, average = 73.28, standard deviation = 16.82

100 deaths from A.P. obituaries, late 2010 to early 2011, half the over 90s removed
n = 88, average = 75.65, standard deviation = 14.66

The new test stat is t = 1.11, not statistically significant at these data set sizes.


I want to thank Jim Zimmerman once again for maintaining this very nice website for mortality statistics of former professional football players. I still have all the info in an Excel file, so there may be more data mining in the future for my Sunday Numbers 2.0 posts.

Whew, that's lotsa 'splainin'. Glad it's a Sunday.

Next week: Perpendicular.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Judging books by their covers.
And maybe a little inside information as well.

My dad, may be he blessed by Odin, Mithra and the li'l baby Jesus, often treats me to breakfast, but this week he offered a lunch where I got to pick the place. I suggested Buffalo Bill's in Hayward, a brewpub down on B Street. The weather this week has been cold and wet, so sitting outside was not an option, but it's still a great place to get a beer or wine and some hearty simple food.

I've lived in Hayward several times in my life, first in college back in the seventies and then in the nineties through the early aughts when I was finishing my career in video games and then going back to Cal State Hayward to get my master's.

Whenever I eat at Bill's, I always make sure to stop in at The Book Shop down the street. It's a locally owned bookstore that has been there for quite a while, and I first stopped by back about fifteen years ago. The original owner Hank died a few months back and the place is now being run by a woman named Renee who has been working there for many years. Renee is sweet as honey, smart as a whip, cute as a button and tall as a willow tree. Longtime readers of this blog can figure out how many points that scores on the Matty Boy scale.

(Hint: many.)

Times are tough for people in my profession in general, but right now I know I have enough work until the end of the year, which is an amazing level of security for a part timer like me. With a few extra bucks in my pocket, I'm doing what I can within reason to support local businesses. With this in mind, I decided to stop by The Book Store and pick up about a hundred bucks worth of reading material.

I started with a pile of eight books total, but I knew that was over my limit, so I reluctantly returned a few to the shelves. Going to the counter with six, the total was around $150, so two more got cut from the final roster. Here's what I bought on Friday.

They had a used copy of the recently printed Autobiography of Mark Twain. Anyone wondering why this made the cut cannot be a longtime reader of this blog.

Michael Lewis' The Big Short is out in paperback, and this was an easy decision as well. This book is about the people who caused the financial crisis we now find ourselves in. It started as an article in the now departed online magazine Portfolio, which I linked to way back in 2008.

I like Lewis' writing style a lot and I'm always happy to read about something I don't know that well. He has also written several other best sellers including Moneyball and The Blind Side, so you may already be acquainted with his work. I also love the opening quote from Leo Tolstoy just before the table of contents.

The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be explained to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of a doubt, what is laid before him.

The next two books were much more about the covers, since I didn't know exactly what to expect. The anthology series The Best American Comics of 2010 has guest editor Neil Gaiman, who has written a lot of comics and movies that I have enjoyed. I flipped through the book and found several strips of which I was completely ignorant. Trusting Gaiman's taste, I decided to pick this book up.

Right now, I have a job that is about a fifteen minute BART ride away, and I picked several of these books with the specific idea that I would be able to read them during the commute. Some of the artists in the anthology I was already acquainted with, like Peter Bagge, the Hernandez Brothers and Robert Crumb, but most I haven't read before. There is an excerpt from the well-regarded series Scott Pilgrim Versus The Universe by Brian Lee O'Malley, which has been turned into an indie film that most people consider a weak substitute for the original comic book. I'll let you know what I think.

The last book really was bought almost entirely based on the cover. Hellhound On His Trail is the story of how the lives of escaped prisoner James Earl Ray and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. happened to cross, and what happened to Ray after he assassinated King. The author Hampton Sides was a boy of six living in Memphis when the murder took place. After writing several other successful books on many topics in American history, he decided to write about the event in American history that took place closest to him. I skimmed a few paragraphs before I decided to buy, and the writing style reminded me of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, which is high praise indeed.

But in all honesty, it was the title that jumped out at me. When I went to the counter, Renee was very happy that I was going to buy the book, since it had sat on the shelf for some time and would soon be released in paperback. She gave a discount given the situation, which is the kind of business this place has always been. I asked her if the title rang a bell with her, and she said no. It was the great blues performer Robert Johnson who wrote the song called Hellhound On My Trail, and Dr. King was quoted in the last year of his life as saying "Discrimination is the hellhound that gnaws at Negroes every waking moment of their lives."

Renee spun a little display at the counter and picked out a bookmark with the famous picture of Robert Johnson sitting with his guitar, smiling at the camera and wearing a suit and hat. I of course added this to my purchase immediately.

There will be reviews of all these books as I get through them over the next few months.

Leaving the professional ranks under a cloud of scandal!

There are no longer ads over on the Other Blog.

You know when I asked folks to go click on ads? Google frowns on that so they suspended my account.

I'm still going to report on the tabloids, but I am going to have to figure out some other way to become fabulously wealthy now that my steady stream of $100 a month from my silly, tacky blog has dried up.

The struggle continues.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pouring cold water on this whole giant planet in our neck of the woods thang.

So Tuesday, I was like all excited about this idea that there was a massive planet relatively close to us called Tyche. When I say "relatively", I mean that it's relatively close by astronomical standards, which means about a quarter of a light year away.

Even big objects like the Sun and Tyche have next to no gravitational pull at those kinds of distances, so there's no way Tyche is "orbiting" the Sun or vice versa. It would take the fastest spaceship we can build many decades to get there and the journey would definitely be risky.

My more science-y pal Ken Rose sent me a link that says it's pretty damned unlikely Tyche is actually hanging out in the Oort Cloud. Even the Oort Cloud itself is just a "probably exists" kind of thing.

Boy am I bummed.

From what I can tell, there are some astrophysicists who like the idea of giant planets as much as Matty Boy likes the idea of giant women.

Which means they like the idea A LOT!!!!!

I feel for these guys in some odd kinship, and I understand how they could sell some folks in the media on the idea of some exciting unexpected magical thing, kind of like an astronomical version of Bigfoot or the chupcabra.

p.s. If anyone knows this girl's cell phone number, do a brother a favor and hook us up.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Science fun for February 2011:
Tyche, the mysterious giant planet

I've seen this story floating around some websites I read, and I find it fascinating. There may be another planet in our solar system. Not some tiny rock like Pluto or Sedna, this new hypothetical fellow traveler Tyche is four times bigger than Jupiter, the biggest planet in our neck of the woods, so it may be a brown dwarf, a small sun that has burned out.

How can something so big still be uncertain? It's really far away. The distance from the earth to the sun is called an Astronomical Unit or A.U. for short. Pluto, which has a very elliptical orbit, is sometimes as close as 29 A.U. and sometimes as far away as 49 A.U.

Tyche, if it exists, is 15,000 A.U. away. The handy picture above is NOT drawn to scale as far as the orbit of Tyche is concerned. It's speculated to be out in the Oort Cloud, the asteroids, rocks and comets that make up the very edge of our solar system.

The guys claiming the discovery are John Matese and Daniel Whitmire from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. According to them, it might take about two years of study of data that has already been gathered by NASA to prove their conjecture.

I have to admit, this is kind of cool. I'm not as hip to astronomy as a nerd should be, so I didn't even know about the Oort Cloud until yesterday. Now, I'm looking for ways to pepper it into my conversation.

Oort Cloud. Say it today to someone you love.

And to add a little bit of politics to a completely apolitical topic, I found this stuff on Talking Points Memo, a left-wing politics blog, the Huffington Post, a left-leaning general news source and Slate magazine, another website leaning left of center. I couldn't find it on any right wing websites.

The evidence is strong. Our side really does want to learn how the universe works. Their side kinda likes sticking their fingers in their ears and humming loudly. Guys like Bill O'Reilly don't even know that Mars has two moons, so a giant planet orbiting the sun a long way away is completely off his radar.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The speed of the Internet.

Former major league player and manager Chuck Tanner died today. He is best known for managing the Pirates to the World Series championship in 1979. The message on is dated 25 minutes ago. A.P. obituaries is not carrying the story yet.

His Wikipedia page has already been updated.

God bless the nerds who work for free.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I read it for the articles.

Silvio Berlusconi is prime minister of Italy. He also runs a major Italian television network, and always seems to be "hands on" when hiring the honeys that will be on his network.

And we are definitely talking "honeys", as in very pretty and very plural.

Think Newt Gingrich's politics, Donald Trump's ethics and Hugh Hefner's horny-ness, with more money than all of them combined.

Talking Points Memo has a slideshow of the many women involved in the multiple brewing scandals, including this young lady who got a lavish gift from Berlusconi for her 18th birthday. Berlusconi turns 75 this year.

Enjoy the slideshow. You may want to turn the lights down. Some Marvin Gaye might also be in order.

"There's... nothin' wrong with me-eee... lovin' you-oo!"

(I take it back. There might be something wrong, like certain laws.)

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Apostate

In this week's New Yorker magazine, Lawrence Wright tells the story of writer/director Paul Haggis leaving Scientology in an essay entitled The Apostate. There are links all over the Internet to the story, including on the Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo, but putting it here on my humble little blog means it's gone viral, which I guess is supposed to be a good thing.

If you've read The New Yorker, you know what to expect in an essay. It's long and meticulously researched. If someone tells an anecdote, everyone involved in the story is given a chance to state their recollection. Wright has a fondness for simple declarative sentences. Though emotions run high both in church members and in those who left the church, the tone of Wright's writing is so calm, it almost feels like a dissection.

Nearly everyone living mentioned in the article is given a chance to respond. The notable exception is David Miscavige, the man who at the age of 25 took the helm of Scientology after the death of founder L. Ron Hubbard and has helped it grow remarkably in the past 25 years. If we accept the official version from Scientology, Miscavige is a wonderful human being. If we listen instead to the formerly high placed defectors, he is a violent bully with terrifyingly quick mood swings.

Miscavige declined to be interviewed. While other Scientologists who knew Haggis are quoted by Wright, the only official who goes on record is Tommy Davis, son of the actress Anne Archer, who has been practicing Scientology since Davis was a young boy.

It will be interesting to see how the church responds to this story. According to Haggis, a tenet of Scientology is to listen to all sides before making up one's mind, but not surprisingly, every Scientologist will find a dozen good reasons not to believe anyone who leaves the church.

I've never been in the church. I think most of you can figure out whom I believe.

It's a very good read. Matty Boy says check it out.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Stuff I like:

For some time now, I have been in need of a hobby that would get me out of the house. I like to play a lot of board games, but several of my board game playing buddies have moved away and those that are still around don't get together as often as we used to. I watch the documentary Word Wars a while back, and though it was obvious professional Scrabble was no way to make a living, I decided to give Scrabble as a hobby a try.

I bought the game to play on my computer a while back, and today I went for the first time to the Oakland Scrabble Club, which meets at the game store It's Your Move up on Telegraph in the Temescal district, an easy walk from the MacArthur BART station. I was greeted by a very nice lady named Cynthia, who runs the club both because she is president and a natural born queen bee. She very cheerfully and helpfully beat me like a red-headed stepchild while keeping track of all the other games being played, correctly answering any and all questions about challenges of possibly fake words (known as phonies by the hardcore Scrabble players), while casually clearing her rack twice (known as a bingo) to easily outpace me, though I did get both blank tiles in my rack at the same time and hoarded them until I could make a bingo of my own. After our game was over, she told me I had potential and needed to have the two and three letter words down pat, as well as the ways to add to two letter words to make three letter words and the ways to make the three letter words into four letter words.

So that's my homework assignment.

After our game was over, another newby came in, an attractive young lady named Shea whom I played twice, winning both games. In my first three games, I went 2-1 with an average score of 317 (not great, not completely sucky either) and had outscored my opponents by 74 points overall. I had fun and I will definitely go to the Oakland Scrabble Club again.

If you like the game, the club meets on the 1st, 3rd and 5th Saturdays of the month. It's easy to find an opponent and the store is a nice environment. There are also plenty of good places to grab a bite nearby afterwards.

If you are an East Bay person like me who likes games, Matty Boy says check it out.

Doubling down on teh stoopid.

Let's stipulate for argument's sake you say something stupid or offensive or just something you didn't want to say. If your momma raised you right, you then say something like "I was wrong" or "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that".

But if you were raised by wolves or you have some congenital problem that makes it impossible for you to admit error, you say something along the lines of "I meant to do that!" or "No, YOU'RE wrong!" or "Jeez, but you're sensitive and politically correct."

This is what the young people on the Internets call "doubling down".

A few weeks back, Bill O'Reilly thought he completely pwned an atheist by saying that no one could explain the tides, and therefore God must exist. Stephen Colbert did an amazing smackdown of this with the aid of astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson. In the Colbert bit, his crack staff found footage that shows O'Reilly has been using this argument for years and years.

Okay, stupidity over. Done and done!

Not so fast, my friend. Remember earlier when I spoke of people raised by wolves or congenitally incapable of admitting error? Bill O'Reilly is the grand marshal of that parade.

Now that someone explained gravity and the moon to Bill, his next inexplicable miracle no human can explain is "How did the moon get there?"

Here's the thing. We are all ignorant of something. You kind of expect this of people who got third rate educations, like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. But Bill O'Reilly graduated Harvard and he's still this Sofa King stupid.

Guys like this make it harder for me to type the sentence "I believe in education". It also makes me wonder exactly how many classes he slept through on his way to his high school and college diplomas.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My connection to John Barry, 1933-2011

Composer John Barry died this week at the age of 77. He was famous for his film scores, notably several James Bond films as well as Out of Africa and Dances With Wolves, and unlike some film score masters, he could also write pop tunes. My blog buddy Abu Scooter has a nice tribute. Actor Alec Baldwin put up a good essay on the Huffington Post.

For me, I started teaching myself piano many years ago. The first tune I remember figuring out all the chords and changes for was the theme from Born Free, one of Barry's great pop tunes. I played it over and over again until I felt I got it right, playing the melody with my right hand in octaves and breaking the chords into simple arpeggios with my left. No one was in the piano room with me, but it could be heard all over the house. When I got up and went to the kitchen, my mom asked why Chris, one of my older brother's musical friends and a much better pianist than I was, was playing Born Free over and over. I told her it was me, I had just learned it. I still remember feeling proud about the comparison.

Best wishes to the family and friends of John Barry, from a fan.