Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Big Show

Most days, I’m pretty well fed up with humanity.

Other days, I am immensely grateful to be part of such a vastly entertaining group.

Case in point.

Executive Summary: a 13-year-old boy has a very treatable type of cancer.  But the first round of chemo made him sicker.  (It’s called “nausea”, and is a common side effect of the chemo.)  So the family declined treatment on religious grounds.  The boy is a Medicine Man in some kind of native-American-ish cult.  A judge ordered him to undergo chemo.  Now he and his mother are fleeing.

For those who don’t know me at all well, I vote Let Him Die.  Darwinism, remember?  Let’s flush some of these substandard genes out of the system.

The funny part to me is that they want to rely on alternative treatments that they discovered on the internet.  Science is bad when it comes to medicine, but good when it comes to technology to use in order to prove that science is bad.

I love it so much that my heart grew three sizes today.  Love love love love.  You just do your thing, Humanity.  I’ll make popcorn.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Den of Uniquity

Here’s something for the “I want to be unique, just like everyone else” crowd: Where all boys end up nowadays

If everyone runs in the same direction, it’s called a stampede, and you are still part of the herd.  Take that, Austin, Jaydin, Jordan, Brendan.  Et al.

Recommendations and Caveats 3

TV Show:  24: Season 7

Okay, so Tony Almeida is back.  Yes, he died in Season 5, but that is easily overcome when ratings are on the line.  The day starts out with Jack appearing before a Senate committee to answer for all his crimes against humanity, but then of course he must dash off to save the world yet again.  A key subtext to the entire season is the debate between lawfulness, represented by some by-the-book FBI agents, and pragmatism, as demonstrated by Jack and Chloe.

We have a new President, Allison Taylor, whom I liked (although not as much as David Palmer).  And the President has a daughter, which brings us to-

Caveat:  Olivia Taylor

Dumb Chicks must be part of some Hollywood formula of which I am unaware.  (Maybe that’s why they are having such trouble with the Harry Potter movies.  They probably refer to it as “The Hermione Granger Dilemma”.)

At any rate, if Olivia Taylor and Kim Bauer ever actually met, the edifices of order would simply collapse to dust.  Instaspontaneously.

The two hour finale aired last night, and the entire season is available on DVD today.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Leave Nothing But Footprints

2 Yellowstone workers fired after watering geyser

Two seasonal Yellowstone National Park concession workers have been fired after a live webcam caught them urinating into the Old Faithful geyser.

Shocked, I am.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts general manager Jim McCaleb says the former concession workers were hired at the Old Faithful Inn and that such incidents were rare.

When I worked at Yellowstone, it was called the IPOF (I Peed in Old Faithful) Club. We even had IPOF t-shirts. And I wouldn't describe such incidents as "rare", although I admit we didn't have to contend with a live webcam back then.

Although I never made it all the way out to Old Faithful (the ground feels really weird out there, like you might fall through), I did manage to get into some trouble. I still have the summons. Did you know that any crime you commit in a national park is automatically a federal offense? Even public intox?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Recommendations and Caveats 2

Comic:  Louis CK

Caveat:  Louis CK

He’s not for everyone.

TV Show: The World Series of Poker

This is a fairly recent discovery for me, considering that I enjoy poker.  Poker is actually fun to watch.

Caveat:  Norman Chad

Norm is one of the two announcers on the show.  And he’s really annoying.  I don’t like his voice.  I don’t like his lame, self-deprecating jokes.  But for me at least, the poker is entertaining enough to overcome that and end up as a slight positive.

Movie: Koyaanisqatsi

I finally got around to watching that this weekend, thanks in large part to the fact that you can watch the whole thing at YouTube (click the link to watch).  It’s about an hour and a half long.  Inspirational and depressing.  Visually perhaps the most stunning movie I’ve ever seen.  The moonrise scene is my favorite.

Caveat: Original music by Philip Glass.  I won’t be rushing out to buy the soundtrack. If that name sounds vaguely familiar to fans of the TV show Frasier, here’s why.

Postal Rate Increase

I just read this article on the postal rate increase that goes into effect Monday.

Pre-emptive disclaimer: I work for the post office.

This story points out that the post office does not receive taxpayer assistance.  Then it makes this comment about one of the ways the post office is trying to cut costs:

Postmaster General John Potter has asked Congress for permission to reduce mail delivery to five days-a-week.

First, somebody tell me why we have to ask Congress for anything, given that we don’t get any funding from them.

Second.  I don’t remember if I read this in a news story or an internal memo (if this part disappears later, you’ll have your answer), but the day of the week they want to do away with is Tuesday, which is typically the slowest day of the week for us.

Picture letter carriers getting Sunday and Tuesday off.  Now picture them coming on to work on Monday.  Hard to do, yes?

Now, whenever we raise our rates by two cents or so, there is inevitably talk of getting rid of our monopoly on first class mail.  (I haven’t seen anything yet this time, but if you look at the comments in the news story I linked to here, you’ll see a bunch of people calling for this exact thing, after reading the tragic tale of how we misdelivered one letter.)

So I’m going to pre-emptively take those people on, too.  I have given this idea a lot of thought, while on break, visiting with coworkers, or just daydreaming at my desk.

I simply don’t believe that UPS or Fedex can do it for less than a dollar.  For that matter, I don’t see how they could afford the start-up infrastructure.  I know they have an existing infrastructure, but they would need more.  More machines, more people, more trucks.  Lots more.  A quick check of Wikipedia indicates that we employ about twice as many people as UPS and three times as many as Fedex.

So imagine that the floodgates were opened, and these two companies started competing for first-class mail business.  Three companies would then employ enough drivers to go to every house every day.  Since the total mail volume would be about the same, how long do you suppose this arrangement would last?

Further suppose that UPS or Fedex wins the “postal war”.  How long do you suppose they would continue delivering to Podunk, Alaska?

Oh well.  Screw the Podunkians.  There aren’t very many of them, so who cares?

And to give you an idea of the magnitude of the mail, when postal workers went on strike years ago, the national guard was called in to handle the mail, but they couldn’t do it.  (I said, with a hint of pride.)

Anyway, feel free to whine about the postal rate increase in the comments.  Or tell the story of the really important postcard we lost just because we don’t like you.  Believe me, with 700 million pieces of mail each day, we don’t have time not to like you.

And if you want to find out how relatively exciting your job is, ask me what I do sometime.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Recommendations and Caveats

These are not necessarily favorites.  Just things I enjoy that I feel like sharing with you all.

TV Show:  Boston Legal

Caveat:  It’s a wee bit over the top.

Caveat #2:  It contains William Shatner.

Shatner really pulls off the role of Denny Crane, an aging yet undefeated legendary defense attorney.  And James Spader as Alan Shore is at the top of his game.  Candace Bergen is outstanding as well.  After watching my first episode, I thought it was too ludicrous.  By the second, I thought it was just ludicrous enough.  It’s off the air now, but available on DVD.

Movie: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Caveat: Cast Interviews

This is one of my all-time favorite films.  Written by Tom Stoppard, it catalogues the adventures of two minor characters from Hamlet.  You should definitely buy the DVD and watch the interviews with the cast and Mr. Stoppard.  I say that because I did, and I want to spread the pain around.  Truly awful.  But the film is still awesome.  Heck, I even liked Richard Dreyfuss in it.  Gary Oldman and Tim Roth also star, and are just perfect.

Caveat #2: Maybe they are undead now.

Snack Food: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

I realize this isn’t exactly a groundbreaking revelation, but only Haagen-Dazs improves the Chocolate/Peanut Butter combo.

Caveat: 4 out of 5 nutritionists surveyed cliam that Reese’s and Mountain Dew should not comprise your entire diet.  But your dentist sends you Christmas and Birthday cards.  How cool is that?

Books: Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels

This series, especially the earlier ones, are a bit dated, but still pretty damned good.  I recently reread most of them (something I tend to do every few years, which is why I keep them around), and enjoyed them again.

Caveat:  There is a lot of locker-room-style male-bonding going on.  This was particularly noticeable in The Sum of All Fears.  Lots of references to “big brass ones”.  It can get tedious.  The series is recommended anyway.  There is no reason to read beyond Executive Orders, unless watching the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead interviews wasn’t tedious enough.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Some Stuff You Might Not Know About Gambling For A Living

  • Professional blackjack players have an average advantage of about 1.5%, according to the books I’ve read.  And yet, even with that edge, at most 1.6% of the time, you reach an all-time high.  The rest of the time (over 98%) your bankroll is lower than it was at some point in the past.  Meaning, most of the time it seems like you’re losing.
  • For a given size of bankroll, and a given percentage advantage, there exists an optimal-sized bet amount.  Bet lower than this, and you won’t be making as much money as you could be making.  Bet higher than this, and your risk of ruin increases.  In fact, if you exceed this by too much, your risk of ruin becomes 100%.  To see how this might work, start with an imaginary bankroll of, say, $100.  Flip a coin twenty times, betting 50% of your bankroll on each outcome.  (Remember to adjust the bet size for each flip.)  This would seem to be an even-money proposition, yet your bankroll will trend downward.
  • For a given size bankroll, a given precentage advantage, and a given bet size, your risk of ruin can be calculated.  (No, I’m not going to show you how here.)  Imagine a poker player with a $10,000 bankroll playing a $20-$40 Holdem game.  Imagine his edge yields, on average, $40 per hour.  Interestingly, if he takes $40 per hour out of his bankroll as his pay (you know, to eat and pay the bills and such), his risk of ruin is 100%.  (Depending on the size of his bankroll, this may take a long time, but it WILL happen.)  So that’s what professional gamblers have to cope with.  (The way they do that is by taking a smaller amount out of their bankroll, and if they do experience a large downturn, finding another game with lower stakes.)


Professional Blackjack, by Stanford Wong

The Mathematics of Poker, by Bill Chen