Friday, December 28, 2001

Home, On-line Home
Puttered around and added a bunch of links. Maybe someday I'll host content there.
Home, Rainy Home

It's pouring out there. Flash floods abound. I am sleepy.

One year in the mid-to-late 1980s I started reading enough about football to become aware that rain and mud would be a factor at Candlestick Park for some 49ers playoff game. An entire week of rain, maybe two. Then a year later the same thing happened. What a coincidence! Or was the Stick just that poorly drained? Now that I know what I know about weather patterns here, it all makes sense. Candlestick should have mud-spattered playoff games every year.

Maybe I'm thinking of the 15-13 game, the one that broke the hearts of a couple people I know who grew up here. (Not nearly as badly as the infamous "Speed Limit 55, Broncos 10" Super Bowl, though.)

Bad news on the radio front: I'm losing my '80s stations and I'm unhappy about this. Blame ClearChannel for this. When 101.3 officially switched to all '80s, sister station 104.9 switched from unofficial '80s predominance (think of The Cure and Erasure) to a new-alternative format. A net wash. Now the '80s experiment is going away and 101.3 is turning back into the crappy "Adult Contemporary" station that it always was when I heard it on Kubi's dial. Hmm, the day I hear them bring back Celine Dion is the day I'll kick them off my pre-sets.

Also on the radio front, if the new Sox owners really get rid of Jerry and Joe then I'll actively root against them, even if that means rooting for the Yankees. Sorry, but heinous acts are heinous acts.

Home Again

My computer remained on all week, clearly a waste of electricity, although I did shut the monitor off. Windows that were still open from when I last used this thing before going to the airport:
Document1 - M... - unsaved MS Word doc with exactly one tossup intended for NAQT, a random trash question
C:\WINNT\Sys... - what they used to call a "DOS prompt"
Network and Di... - not sure why I had this open, probably from trying to set up my computer to work from home two weeks ago
igor - Microsoft... - directions (saved) to where I played poker two weeks ago
Trip Details - Mi... - my Chicago itinerary, on Travelocity
Now That Ever... - what you're reading right now
Little Gray Girlf... - the aforementioned Kitty Porn
Jennifer Georg... - some home page that one of my political blogs had linked to
54 (1998) - Mic... - IMDB listing for the movie 54
edit your blo... - the window I'm using to type this thing

Conspicuously not open: MS Outlook, which is good since otherwise I couldn't have gotten Silicon Age mail from Chicago even if I wanted to. Yahoo! for that matter. Confession: I've gone two days or so without reading Yahoo! mail and maybe since before Christmas without the Silicon Age account. Not sure why, just sometimes I don't feel like facing whatever in the inbox. When I was sitting at home unemployed I made a move to consolidate my e-mail into the Silicon Age account. This may yet be unwise depending on how many computers I end up using in life and how much I grow to despise Outlook (convenient though it may be to see your e-mail as it comes rather than having to hit the button on the Yahoo! page and/or forget to hit it for awhile).

Already I miss mom and dad. For a change I called home right when I got here. Most people would take for granted that you do this, if not bring a cell phone to make the "home safe" call from the destination airport. I... at some point it became the routine that "no news was good news" and that a phone call from me meant an emergency or a change of plan. Actually in this case the imperfect news was my missing watch. I got it for Christmas and wasn't yet in the habit of noticing if I'd forgotten to put it back on after a shower.

From memory, things I got for Christmas; I'm no doubt forgetting something: A Peanuts anthology, this one centered on the art of Charles M. Schultz rather than just strips per se (Sarah). A set of binoculars with a Swiss army knife in the same box; regift of Age of Kings (Dad). A watch (Mom). Clothing (Santa wrapping paper and no "From" specified, so effectively Mom and Dad, selection by Mom): Two pairs slacks, a waist size smaller than what I currently wear but actually no tighter than my current pants are loose. Two dress shirts. A belt. Pajamas: Two tops, three bottoms, since through unexplained attrition my pajama tops currently outnumber my bottoms. Stocking (nominally Santa, effectively Mom): three or four pieces of chocolate; another Swiss army knife (this one with the BP logo on it); a 2002 pocket calendar/planner (also BP logo); a couple of traveler's checks. Other Tree (my parents have a two-tree household: the artificial tree we've had for years and always put presents on, in the family room, plus a tree, possibly real, in the box-laden and mostly unused front parlor room; both had a full complement of lights and ornaments on them) Nestled within the branches, as if they were ornaments, envelopes addressed to Matt and to Sarah. Mine had a check in it; presumably hers also did.

That last one is interesting. It's the second time in two years that I got a surprise like that. The best thing to do is probably save or invest it to get a head start on either sending kids to school or caring for elderly parents. My parents -- nowhere near elderly, although Dad has developed a stunning and highly amusing vacation devotion to the 3 p.m. showing of Murder She Wrote -- have saved up some money over the years. This stands to reason given the hours Dad has worked, the vacation time accrued, and the corporate politics he's put up with. They make almost no extravagant purchases: I grew up in a household that was very frugal, with the specific and extreme exception of education, where no expense was too great. Lately they've started taking longer vacations in the summer, taking cruises (Alaska in 2000, Northern Europe/Baltic Sea in 2001) with their longtime friends. (For what it's worth, R. Robert Hentzel travels to insanely exotic locations annually. Software developing does pay a ton of money but he's too young to have a huge nest-egg. Then again he spends practically nothing during the rest of the year.)

Slowly they've begun spending more on themselves from day to day. Winfield has a reasonable restaurant/pub called John's, right by the village square and the train station. Suburban Chicago (not sure which town it technically lies in) has a great steakhouse called J. Alexander's, although if it weren't for google I wouldn't have realized this was a chain. On previous visits of greater than a week, we may have gone to John's a couple times (that or a pizza delivery), probably not J. Alexander's except for a special occasion. This time we went directly from O'Hare to J. Alexander's the day I got in, then never needed to go to John's because we had a ham and a turkey and a brisket's worth of leftovers.

In any case, I've benefited way more than I should from a combination of three factors: Sarah has expenses unique to her life that retail book sales can't possibly cover. (It's like if I were still trying to live in Boston on a baseball statistics salary only worse.) My parents have money to cover her. But all through childhood, my mom was vigilant that any time they did something for me or Sarah, they'd do something equally nice for the other one. I hope in this case that they dispensed with that rule because Sarah needs the money more than I do. I hate the way that sentence comes out, because it's easy for it to sound cocky or sound like a put-down. Rather, computer geekery pays astonishingly well; I'm just lucky to be here.

From memory, things I gave for Christmas: Nine cards sent via USPS; about that many more e-greetings to people whose physical addresses I didn't have. A $500 American Airlines travel voucher to Sarah. Most of a car kit for Mom, although Dad made most of the selections and then forgot to actually take my money for the things I bought. The Skeptical Environmentalist for my Dad, probably the best I've done in a long time for getting the right gift for someone. It's right up his alley for both subject matter and viewpoint; it turns out he'd really wanted this specific book. He spent most of this week reading it.

A week seemed like a long time when we booked the airline reservations but it passed way too quickly. Sarah's time out from the city passed especially way too quickly. Fluffy, our part-Siamese cat (she looks just like Bucky only shorter, wiry, and female), turns 17 this spring. I really hope that wasn't the last time I get to see her. Mom assured me it won't be, although I still remember coming to Chicago for Sarah's graduation in June 1997 and finding out that Lucy (1989-1997) was sick at the vet but presumably fine in a week or two; Lucy actually had a fatal renal failure. I also happened to be out of town, for a June 1993 weekend chess tournament, when Herbie, our collie dog (1981-1993), finally had to be put to sleep because the arthritis had put him in too much obvious pain.

(Several blogs back I said something completely ridiculous about the greatest emotional disappointment of my life. The death of pets is clearly a bigger disappointment than some stupid poorly-handled unrequited crush. Maybe it's all in the handling: What do you do when a pet dies? You remember the happy times, sigh, and hope they're in a better place. It's not easy to deal with but it's almost impossible to mess up at.)

It would not be at all surprising if Fluffy passed away before I made it home again. I'd be highly sad and dismayed; I'm furiously hoping and praying the previous sentence wasn't a jinx. Then again, who knows? It's theoretically possible that something could happen to my mom, my dad, or even Sarah between now and the next time I'm there. All the more reason to do things with them and have good conversations with them. Since my first day of work after this break will be January 2, my parents' anniversary, I got to hear my mom tell wedding stories while we were both up late last night.

That "next time" will be no later than December 2002, although it makes sense to schedule a visit earlier than that. Or have them come back here in the summer or early fall, when San Francisco is at its prettiest. What sucks compared to this time a year ago is that I don't have an on-line calendar to put my vacation hours in, nor a fixed allotment. Hmm, maybe that part doesn't suck. In theory I could schedule myself for thirty days of vacation, and the only thing it hurts is the bottom line of this sole-proprietorship consulting business that I've theoretically fallen into. (Heh: Should I incorporate? Silicon Age incorporated but for just me, probably not. Maybe form a partnership with Chris, if Vectiv still wants us both but neither of us end up as W2 employees?) It's just the uncertainty. Setting up tons of vacation just about guarantees that I'll end up with the perfect job offer yet have to do without some of that time off.

So many things I want to do in 2002; I'll write about them soon, although first I'd kind of like to subject you all to ponderous paragraph sequences about each month in turn from wherever I left off the 2001 recap. For now, errands. Already far more has been written than what a reasonable audience attention span would be.

Parting thought: Some day I should overhaul this blog and give it actual multi-source content. In particular, give Mom a voice in it since she writes well, much better than she probably realizes. What do you get when someone who's jarringly straightforward and direct with her words marries someone who's jarringly straightforward and direct with his actions? If they have kids, you get me and Sarah.

"[Oprah's books] all have that emotional chord to them, except one. [The Pilot's Wife] was worthless dreck. This woman's husband dies in a plane crash, only he was in league with these terrorists and then we also find out he had an affair in London. Except the book goes on and on and on about her pain when she finds out this and that, what it all means to her. He was a total jerk and then he died; just move on already!" --Mom gives Anita Shreve an unfavorable review; the context is our conversation while watching Jonathan Franzen talk about his Oprah controversy on Charlie Rose

P.S. Mom doesn't actually know this thing exists, at least not that I know of. Telling her would be awkward, not because I talk about her but because of certain entries. She's at least vaguely aware of the existence of everyone in my known audience and probably met all y'all at the 2000 Terrier Tussle. There's someone else we all know whom she's never met but already definitely doesn't much care for. It's that part of my life that I allude to way too often here, and spent several years telling particular of you about in painful, embarrassing over-detail. There's just something that intensely worries me about the idea that one human being would have a low opinion of another human being based solely on the things I tell the first person about the second person. I refuse to believe that I'm any kind of reliable source, especially about anything where I have too much vested interest. It's completely unfair to the second person. So from here on out pretend I never mentioned any of this. :-)

So what's Ellie gonna tell Elizabeth anyway? Hmm, guess we've moved past that conversation and back to her high school sweetheart. At least this means the damn thing will get resolution soon, although I still think at least one more time (maybe two) she'll be just about to dump him and then suddenly we're off on an April-and-Grampa tangent again.

Thursday, December 27, 2001

Flyin' back to SF tomorrow bright and early...


Does New York have any airports left to name after Rudy Giuliani? If anyone deserves that treatment it's him.

Then again, I'm actually somewhat nauseated about the idea of a Reagan Airport in Washington and a Bush Airport in Houston. (Saw the latter on a "Departure" screen at O'Hare last week.)

Specifically, symbols of big government spending shouldn't be named after government-limiting Republicans; it sends a mixed message. The GOP isn't about massive gub'ment projects; it's about letting people fund their own enterprises. Also, seeing people lobby so hard (mainly in Reagan's case) is just embarrassing. This is all Grover Norquist's fault. Norquist is also the guy who tried so hard to make the Republican Party reach out to Muslims last fall. Smooth move, although in fairness it's decent strategy, just bad tactics/bad timing.

(So many demographic groups who blindly vote Democratic ought not to. Getting any of their votes would be great. Targeting specific appeals to them as though they're somehow different is probably the wrong way to do it. If anyone can succeed at the "we're all Americans, in this together" mindset, you'd think it would be the GOP, at least you'd think that if -- by contrast -- you saw what happens on college campuses in the last decade or so.)

Anyway, just saw Rudy on his final appearance on Letterman as mayor. I wish I could find a transcript of his farewell speech on-line.

I really hope he runs for president someday. Very few Republicans would make good presidents -- even fewer Democrats (the latter is purely my own opinion) but still. Right now I can think of exactly three people who would make good presidents this decade; anyone else from either party would give me, if not great fear, then at least some trepidation.

In almost any time in U.S. history, it really doesn't matter who the President is. It can be a total laughingstock, as it was the previous eight years, and as long as Congress manages not to pass any ridiculous laws, the country will go on the way it always does, partly because it's the people themselves who make this country great and partly because -- the libertarian strain here -- most things the federal government attempts result in more harm than good.

Anyway, the current times are one of those rare exceptions, one of those times when it actually does matter who the president is. It looks easy from here: Say all the right things, show your humanity, rake in a 90% approval rating. Yet the things that seem like no-brainers often seem that way because the person doing them makes it look so effortless. An example by contrast is how bad I suck at running my stupid baseball team.

The three people I'd trust as U.S. president these days: George W. Bush (of course), Rudy, and John McCain. Shouldn't have been hard to guess. I'm thankful for a party that managed to get guys like them into leadership positions and show guys like Pat Robertson the door.

(Answers to quiz questions from awhile back that nobody cared about: When I was 13 years old I was a big fan of Jack Kemp. What can I say? I read National Review precociously and I knew a little football. In 1996 I think I voted for Harry Browne on the theory that Dole stood no chance in MA. It's possible that I change my mind at the last minute out of sympathy. In 1992 I was three months shy of 18; I honestly don't know who I would have voted for because it was a dreadful decision. Time and perspective have made Bush pere the best choice by default, mainly by leaving both his opponents thoroughly discredited. I'm probably actually madder at Perot than at Clinton. It's one thing to be born and bred a scoundrel and never clean your act up; quite another for your own personal vanity quest to enable a guy like that to take power. Last but not least, in the 2000 GOP primary I would have voted for Alan Keyes. He's an amazing speaker, though I readily admit he's further to the right than America would put up with. Either Bush or McCain would have made a fine nominee, if not a perfect one; voting for Keyes would have done... something, I'm not sure what.)


Update: Baby Found
CNN doesn't have it on-line yet but local news just showed it and you can read all about it here. The kidnapper's boyfriend was getting out of prison. She'd claimed to him that she had his baby while he was in prison. (I'm guessing that the alleged conception happened in a conjugal visit or something.) When he got out of prison and wanted her to visit him, she needed to get a baby. Need a mixed-race baby? Just head on down to the bus station.

All's well that ends well though. I feel like an ass but I don't mind feeling like an ass if the alternative was that I was right and something far worse happened. That poor baby needs help though, since her mom doesn't seem like the brightest bulb.
Miscellaneous Blondes
Maybe you've seen the commercial I've seen. If you've watched TV at all in the past week or so then surely you have. Which brings up the question: Who on Earth buys their teenaged daughter a Lexus? ("We got you a CD player..." -- "I cannot believe this!")

It's unclear from the commercial (taking it too literally) how old she's supposed to be. The actress is probably early 20's. Blonde hair, green eyes, pretty enough to be on TV.

My extended family is much blonder than you'd expect if you saw my nuclear family. This came up yesterday when my dad and I went to get haircuts at the stylist my mom likes and she hung out in the cutting room making smalltalk. Apparently I don't look like either of my parents -- too brown-haired and brown-eyed. I was the first non-blonde child in my mom's family.

More specifically, the Hursh family (and the Arntz cousins, since my mom has a sister to go with her three brothers) is quite blonde. The Bruce family, I really don't know much about. No, none of these Hurshes or Arntzes were here for the holiday but so many of them are on my parents' refrigerator.

I looked it over my first night here, identifying Jed and Trevor (my cousin who shares my birthday!) and various girl-cousins. The prettiest picture of all was one I couldn't place. A young girl and an older one, the latter with a nice smile, tan overall-short outfit. Big toothy smile, great legs. I felt sheepish admiring a cousin like that (especially one so young) but she was really pretty! I asked which one she was and it turns out she's actually the daughter of one of the people my mom trades with on eBay. Both daughters that is, ages 4 and 14. So I still shouldn't think that highly of a 14-year-old but at least she's not a blood relative after all.
Miscellaneous Riffage

Bill Simmons knows something about Sweet Child O' Mine that I didn't know:

When Axl, Slash and Izzy were putting the finishing touches on "Sweet Child O' Mine," did one of them say, "Some day this will be remembered as the greatest strip joint song of all-time"?

This would probably surprise people who think they know me but actually don't -- but I've never in my life been to a strip joint, "gentleman's club," house of ill repute, Maison Derriere, house of Mo, or whatever you call one. When I stayed in the Hyatt last week, I caught a little bit of some HBO special on strippers. It was interesting at first but I didn't find it appealing.

More from Simmons: "You never hear anyone utter the sentence, 'My wife used to be the catcher on her college softball team.' " Maybe someday I'll disprove that. Come to think of it, how many softball catchers do I know?

I knew Harvard's, Ms. Danielle Belanger '95, although I couldn't find her on google because she seems to have at least one Canadian namesake. Danielle is not, in fact, Canadian. Local to Massachusetts if I remember right. Nice build, nice smile, nice accent, lived in Eliot. Not related to great Oriole shortstop Mark Belanger, at least not that she knew of.

Every year Eliot House held a Dutch Auction to raise money for house activities, maybe also for charity. Don't ever drink at an auction. This is, of course, why they always held a special Stein Club at the auction. One thing that I way overbid for was the right to "throw out the first pitch" at the Harvard softball team's season finale some year (1994? 1995?). Late spring, threat of rain. Harvard skunked UMass in the first game of a double-header; the second was rained out. Hanging out around the team was awesome, my personal League Of Their Own moment. (Please don't call me Stilwell.)

If catching in slow-pitch softball counts then I know myself and I had a brief e-mail correspondence with one Heather Fennell, Yankee fan and devoted Strike Three reader. What do she and Steve Stone have in common? If you do the right google search on Stone (you might need some form of the word "broadcast") then link 17 is a piece I wrote. For the google search on Fennell, my link is in the top 10. She and I wrote for awhile in 2000 and then she inexplicably stopped writing shortly after the World Series. Then again, every now and then I inexplicably stop writing for Strike Three. This is one of those times; what happens is I get too busy and fall out of the routine of sending them anything.
Baby Come Back...
The big local news is the woman who lost her baby. It's probably national news by now. Far be it from me to sound heartless but a couple things don't make sense to me (some of these originally didn't make sense to my sister or my mom, so I'm being derivative here):

1. The itinerary: A mother and two children try to get from St. Louis to Milwaukee. Apparently they flew to Chicago, took a taxi from O'Hare to the Greyhound station, then planned to bus to Milwaukee. If this was the most cost-effective way to make that leg of the trip then I'll eat my boarding pass as soon as I'm on the plane home tomorrow. If TWA still exists in name (they're owned by American now) then there ought to exist a St. Louis to Milwaukee direct flight. Even if not... is the difference really more than taxi fare and bus fare combined? In fairness, maybe the St. Louis to Chicago leg is subject to a Southwest type fare war. And if you're going to bus at all, why not bus all the way? It's gotta be less than 10 hours. Checks Mapquest... Make that six hours, maybe eight to allow for bus inconveniences.

2. You have two kids. You decide (for some reason) to give one to a complete stranger. Wouldn't you keep the baby with you (assuming you couldn't keep both) and leave the four-year-old? Or, better yet, if this woman is kind enough to give you a ride, you really think she'd mind just standing in line with you?

Obligatory conspiracy theory detail: The "tattoo on her neck that says 'Christina'" makes it almost impossible that any innocent person will be arrested by mistake. If this kidnapper actually doesn't exist then that's a nice touch.

Monday, December 24, 2001

Riddle: Why does my mom have a calendar tapestry on the wall of the laundry room with the year "1973"? Hint: When I was home two years ago the calendar showing was for "1971" -- that should be a dead giveaway.


FOX Sports Chicago
Now that Sarah (my sister) is in from the city and since I have a handful of e-greetings to send, no time for the rest of April 2001 now but some quick notes before I forget 'em.

Today on TV, after watching A&E long enough to find out just how big a jerk King David was, we flipped around and caught some 2001 encore baseball. "Great Comebacks," it was billed. We saw the very end of this Sox game followed by all of this Cubs game.

Sarah asked why the latter even qualified to be shown on Christmas Eve; basically I see her point. Also, in the top of the seventh inning, ex-broadcaster Steve Stone (best known as Harry's partner) color-analyzed the pants off of poor Dave Otto. In all fairness Otto is no worse than, say, Jerry Remy. But no better. And that's a problem if WGN still wants its Cub games to be the beacon that they used to be and that WTBS Braves telecasts continue to be. Then again, WGN seems to have walked away from that, the fools. They're also fools in that, although Stone now does want to return to the booth, both Dave Otto and Joe Carter are in the middle of two-year deals.

If FOX were smart then they'd reunite Stoney with Thom Brennaman for the Saturday games. Not that the Brennaman-Lyons pairing isn't already excellent, light years ahead of T*m McC*rv*r and the Bad Buck. (It's always a shame when a father has great broadcasting talent and the son manages to inherit none of it: See also Chip versus Skip Caray, though in my humble opinion Skip managed to become far better than Harry.) And with Lyons in the booth, Thom can refer to "Steve" and I can pretend it's like old times.

As for the White Sox: Darrin Jackson has no cute nickname that I know of, so it's "Hawk and Sidekick rather than Hawk and Wimpy. Nonetheless, he has exactly the same... enthusiasm... as Harrelson does.

Namely, the "yes" part of "you can put it on the board... yy-yes!!" now comes in stereo. At least on game-winners. Mom says this tag line gets very annoying very quickly and I believe her. Having said that, I have to get my Hawk-and-Wim... uh, my Hawk fix at least once a year. It's a Chicago thing.

(Was I blogging yet the day that ESPN Classic had that 1993 Mariners-at-White Sox game? The point was it was the day the Sox clinched the AL West, which is the closest to a "classic" moment that team has had since before TV broadcasts were watchable-in-posterity. I thought that at the time was my Hawk-and-Wimpy fix for 2001.)

Last but not least, not about baseball but definitely about Fox Sports Chicago:
The Bulls. The Grizz. Wednesday at 6:30 This could very well be the only NBA game I watch all year. I'm unbelievably excited about this. Check the standings page to see why I... oh my goodness! Tim Floyd was canned today and I just found out, all because of this blog. Wow. (My parents say they heard it on the radio.)

Oh, did I mention the Grizzlies are my favorite NBA team? I can afford that sort of quirk since I really don't care for the NBA anyway. Still, it's like... my random little burden to bear or something. On paper they're a really interesting team this year though: They got White Chocolate and Shane Battier and Rookie of the Year Pau Gasol and one of Stuart Scott's all-time favorites, Michael Dickerson. I'll readily admit they need a real center, which is embarrassing given that Reeves is the biggest reason I became a Grizz fan their maiden year. They're hurting without 'reef, of course, but how can you possibly lose if you have Brevin Knight at the point? This team shouldn't be so bad!

April 2001: Fantasy Sports Edition

At some point in the spring the (fictional) Oklahoma Outlaws made their only simbase world series appearance to date. Only post-season berth, for that matter. I love the setup in general but I've come to hate the franchise. My own damn fault, really, for making all these ruinous trades. It's a massive ego blow for someone who once aspired (still aspires?) to be a major league GM.

Also worth noting is that the fellow owners against whom I'm biting the big one include some of the same people who schooled me at poker a week ago. For a supposedly smart person, I feel pretty demoralized when I can't actually outwit anyone. Just what is it that I do well? Standardized tests, sure: Think of that as problem solving. Quiz questions: Anticipation and recall.

I don't think of any of this as direct competition (this absurd hair-splitting debate came up when this crackpot high school teacher I had asked rhetorically how any Christian -- I think he was an atheist -- could enjoy the act of competition), since it's more a matter of maximizing individual or team performance than necessarily outplaying a particular opponent. On the best quiz teams I've been on, for any given game the other team's presence or nature wouldn't matter much. Listen to the question, know when to buzz, just play the pack instead of the opponent.

Rather, what I can't seem to excel at is any game that requires negotiations of sorts with another person -- not just acting and reacting but any sort of non-discrete, chaotic sequence of interpersonal give-and-take. As a former law student this is embarrassing. As a wannabe game theorist this is humiliating.

"Now wait a minute," you say (or at least I put the words into your mouth) "what about chess?" Everything in a chess game happens on the board. Everybody takes turns and plays one move at a time. Actions have measurable consequences. You don't know or care whether your opponent is "bluffing."

<Pointless Chess Digression>
Well, no, this doesn't really cut it after all for two reasons. First, if it's all on the board and not between the minds of the players, then why do I do significantly better against human opponents than against computers? Something about my favorite kind of play leads to complicated positions. Computers refute risky play by brute force; humans often can't defend everything or don't recognize what's about to hit them.

Second, if you didn't know a thing about chess you'd get the impression that it's all calculations, when in fact I'm the least calculating chess player I know of anyone of around my performance level. Authority-type chess players (master or Eastern European or old-and-wise or some combination; the sort of people who make good money to coach chess, though I've never had a coach) have chided and cajoled me on this, dismissing the advantage that I "think" have with the claim that to play certain moves you have to know they'll work. (Part of this is just that I'm entirely too deprecating in post-game analysis; I'm never willing to say anything with authority because there's just not enough time to prove anything.)

I play a very intuitive game. I visualize more-or-less what I want to happen and try to make that happen in as few moves as possible. I try to waste as few moves as possible, playing in such a way that no matter what the opponent does, my series of moves will look like it was what I meant to do all along. Someone of that mindset should probably play quiet, positional games, but those are boring.
</Pointless Chess Digression>

Anyway the short version is I'm good at chess but astonishingly bad (lately) at both poker and fantasy baseball. And -- here's where they theory about getting completely outwitted by other people comes in -- I am arguably the worst Diplomacy player ever to attempt that game. I'm still somewhat traumatized by the experience. Yes, if you follow the link, it all looks really complicated, but I'd bet a modest amount of money that anyone in my known audience could -- after learning the rules and getting into a game with someone -- play it much better than I did.

So where do fantasy sports come into play here? Well, for one thing if you have a fictional universe where every player is a card with numbers on it and each of those players is on some team, it's a zero-sum game. For another, in a league like that trades are key. My trading record in even "real" fantasy baseball (MLB players) is pretty bad.

Quick digression on zero-sumness: You may have noticed that all the games I suck at are the ones that most closely resemble real life. My practical people skills are shot; that is, I utterly lack the innate talent of relating to people. So I work harder on that part (maybe too hard?), understanding what's supposed to happen for people to get along. To overcome my lack of social talents, I try to be nice to people (without kissing up to them though because that's fake) and hope they're nice back, to be honest to people and hope they're honest, to trust people and hope they trust back. You'd be surprised how well that works in most situations in life; the situations where it doesn't work so well are the ones I've learned to avoid or would have avoided anyway. Alas, very little of this would help you be a better lawyer and none of it would help you play better poker or run a better fictional baseball team. Spontaneously treating someone to dinner is a wonderful idea; spontaneously treating someone to your second-round draft pick is a blunder. :-)

The trick seems to be to actually be at the draft (I signed up for a Yahoo! quiz league, missed the draft, and finished around 12th or 13th of 19 teams based on the Y! default rankings and some modest waiver pickups) and get the best available player at any given round. Just ignore what other people are doing.

Apart from that Yahoo! entry I joined a keeper league with some Arizona State guys. For a long time I was leading the league but I faded late when other people made key stretch-drive acquisitions. What hurts is that I traded too much to solidify my grip on first place, then didn't even win. But I suppose there was already a long digression on fantasy sports, back several blog-days ago.

Anyway, next entry: Real baseball, NAQT ICT, "Quality Assurance," and so on.

Sunday, December 23, 2001

"So on with the boots, back out in the snow
To the only all-night grocery,
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
In the line is that guy I've been chasing all year!"
--The Waitresses, Christmas Wrapping

If you're some random stranger in the audience (I continue to doubt such a thing exists but if it does, what the hey, write to me or something) then don't waste too much time trying to decipher the cryptic... ah hell, you know what? It's a lot easier to be cryptic if you don't call attention to it. :-) Anyway, I'll probably just take this to e-mail. If that fails to clear things up then assume either that I never got around to the e-mail or that you're not the sort of person to whom I'd send an e-mail like that, whichever comes closer to floating your boat. Onward...

January 2001 Post-Script
Until lying awake last night I'd completely forgotten about this tragedy. With everything else that happened this year, especially September 11, I guess it got buried in even my conscience. Nonetheless, take a moment of silence, light a candle or something, give the survivors a sympathy pat on the back. Especially Eddie Sutton.

February-March 2001
And you know what? The real reason I write stuff down at the end of the year is so that things like that won't fall through the cracks. So why not just write stuff as it happens? Well hey, lookee here, a blog. Then again, I can't wave my hand and say "November-December 2001: Just read the archives," because nobody has that kind of attention span, least of all me.

In any case, despite that motivation, I'm having trouble remembering non-work highlights of February-March 2001. It'll start coming to me. January seemed like a blur until I started to type.

In mid-February, NAQT had its Sectional Championship Tournaments. I drove (solo) down to USC and crashed at Tim Woodward's and Joe Wright's place. The trip was an adventure that involved my getting lost (I mistakenly tried to go south without taking I-5) and coming in way later than Joe and Tim expected. The trip home was a breeze though. The USC people are good folk and they run a tight ship.

Think of USC as the West Coast BU, if only for quiz-team purposes. The analogy is far from perfect but you can almost complete the analogy with twoodwar as the West Coast joncooch and Wright as the West Coast Coen.

Chad and Shelly moved to Walnut Creek at the end of January. That's when our new lease began, the 13-month lease that Udo hadn't been aware was 13 months. Right as they left, Scott Williams (aka SWill, to avoid confusion with SCoon) came back to town for a week or so. I forget whether this was before or after Swill left Silicon Age but it's right around when he decided that, being already married and in Minnesota and all, it was time to relax a bit.

Swill paid for the master bedroom under the old lease. He spent, what, a grand total of less than a month sleeping there? Poor guy. (He was the one who stayed by far the longest on the BodyMedia project.) Since he'd begun subletting to Udo in the fall, when he was back in town he slept in a sleeping bag in Kubi's-going-on-my empty room.

Under the new lease, my old bedroom would become Chris's study in a massively sweet deal for him. After the four of us agreed to a rent distribution, everyone claimed he got a steal, since essentially he'd have the whole basement to himself. Then again, for Chris's time at BodyMedia I had the whole basement to myself and paid by far the smallest rent of the five of us given how crappy my room was. (For example, the door that looked like a closet door was actually the door to the back yard.)

In any case, it was okay for me not to move right away (obviously I couldn't with Swill in town), since Chris had gone to Iowa for a family emergency. Like me, Chris had bought a car in December (a PT Cruiser); work was rough for him since he got stuck with the TOPLink problems. The point of this paragraph is that he joked about how he was having all the warning signs of stress at the same time.

Gratuitous Food Digression

A brief, relatively pointless note about the places we ate lunch. Chris and I ate lunch together a lot, especially since we were sitting next to each other once Vectiv finally completed renovation on its main office. (Dex and Ben were downstairs from us but with all their meetings, sometimes their food timing just didn't mesh with ours. Or maybe they just ditched us; Dex and Chris sure ditched me a lot after Chris moved to Ben's old workspace.) Places we went to, in no particular order:

Sugar Bowl bakery was in the heart of the overpriced shopping district around the block from the Vectiv office in North Berkeley. Speaking of overpriced... well, the meal I always got there was a Caribbean chicken soup with a pastrami half-sandwich. Counting the 12 oz soda ("soda" - happy Allyson?) this came to, oh, $7.04. Always exactly $7.04. The pennies were annoying sometimes. After awhile we never ever went there. Probably Chris got sick of the prices.

Around the corner from Sugar Bowl was a Manhattan Bagel franchise. Chris never liked to go there because he dislikes bagels. I went every so often, and the ladies who served food there just adored me for some reason. Alas, the place smelled funny (to me) and one of the servers smoked and it's just... not sure how rational this is but I just never felt comfortable with the food quality there.

In the same shopping area was this pasta market place that other Vectiv'ers liked to go to. Chris and I never went there but sometimes it was convenient if I hadn't eaten by mid-afternoon. Like everything in that square block, pretty overpriced.

Closer to Vectiv, at 6th and University, was a decent Vietnamese place. At some point between the Vectiv layoffs/contract termination and my triumphant return, that place closed. An Indian restaurant is about to open in the same building.

In his whole time at Vectiv, Dex had a continuing quest to find the perfect burrito. He finally settled on Picante Cocina Mexicana, a place that was a long but scenic walk from the office. Sometimes a group of us would go there. Their burritos just the size that one was never enough but even 1.5 often felt like too much. Still, pretty unambiguously the best burrito in Berkeley.

For my solo lunch trips I became partial to three places around the San Pablo and University intersection (five blocks north of the office), all of them bad for my health. There was the Subway franchise whose mid-afternoon employees were these South Asian women who served great sandwiches but spoke almost no English. The Everett and Jones was your basic family-run barbecue joint, the kind that Tulsa has dozens of but I never did find even one in Boston. (Hell no, Buzzy's Roast Beef doesn't count.)

Finally, the Cheesesteak Shop. When you think of good cheesesteak, I bet you think of Philly and don't think of some medium-scale Bay Area franchise chain. But this place was wonderful. Every tenth time you made a $5+ purchase, you'd get a free 10-inch cheesesteak (or chicken -- "cheesechicken"?!)! I'll add it to Frito Lay and Hickory Farms on my "fat and happy" list.

End of Gratuitous Food Digression

Apparently my birthday came and went completely without incident. I think I just failed to mention it to anyone and even forgot about it myself. This made me surprisingly happy.

Vectiv 2.0 coding was to be done March 16. There were some setbacks. The stuff originally assigned to me was on-time but then I got all cocky about claiming that some other stuff they wanted could be done with clever code reuse. Oh, the pain. The bad rep I have for time estimates has nothign to do with the original Site List Management requirements and everything to do with what-all went down that March and into April.

After some postponements, possibly related to feature creep and possibly related to map room problems that were outside our part of the project, we had this one late-March deadline. I remember we all worked a long Sunday, then slept a bit and worked an even longer Monday. Kubi begged me for a ride home (he was taking BART to work after moving to the 'burbs) and offered me crash space since we'd get there so late. The next day was essentially a day off, which is good since by then none of us smelled that good.

This was actually the second time I'd seen Chez Kubi/King. The first was the night of some sort of Vectiv open house party thingy, which he brought Shelly to. This was the Thursday that the NCAA Tournament opened. When we ducked out, OSU vs. USC was on the radio and he taunted me a little about it in the rush hour traffic. Of course, we both were expecting Iowa State to roll against Hampton later that night.

The end of that game was the saddest I've ever seen Kubi. He was just stunned.

He recovered in time that later that month he and Shelly and I went to a spring training game at the Coliseum, A's hosting the Cardinals right before the season began. I remember boldly predicting that we were watching the MLB Rookies of the Year in that game. Of my two predictions -- Albert Pujols and Jose Ortiz, the one who looked like a far surer bet was Ortiz. Yes, Pujols had torn up the Midwest League the previous year as a 20-year-old but he wasn't even supposed to start the season on the big-league roster. Ortiz, meanwhile, had been International League MVP at age 24 and was simply taking his rightful place in the middle of one of baseball's best young hitting infielders. Tejada... Chavez... (we need not even mention Giambi)... Ortiz was just going to be the next of many.

In any case, that's the night that I bought the miniplan that I mentioned earlier in this space. Although I made a big show of remembering which Giants games I went to in 2000, don't even ask me to do that for 2001. Not sure why; partly more on my mind, partly it wasn't the novelty of the Pac Bell inaugural season. (A's 2000, for what it's worth: Two regular season games. On a scorching day in May, Eric Milton outdueled Mark Mulder. Then came that September showdown I've mentioned in this space a lot.)

So that's February-March 2001. What's a little sad in hindsight is nothing special for my birthday or even for Valentine's Day. Also, in the 1990s the NCAA Tournament was a big deal for me. My high school girlfriend often gave me an oversized poster with the bracket in pen, results and everything, as a belated birthday present. While at Harvard, I had fantastic luck combined with terrible chokes in consecutive year's pools. Sweet 16 and Elite 8 I could pick really accurately but nothing past there. In 1995 (a year OSU fans still rejoice about and UMass fans still bitterly lament), I had all eight quarterfinalists right but none of the Final Four. (Yep, my pool had UMass over OSU, oh me of little faith.)

In the BU years of course, I had a birthday lunch with Allyson three years in a row, always a day or two past my birthday but right on a tourney day. (I guess if you're not Allyson then the "of course" doesn't apply but still, hey, it was a cool tradition. One of those little things that makes life rock. One day we came back from Uno's (was it always Uno's? was it three years in a row? I think so on both counts but am not positive) and the game was Texas-Wisconsin.

"Badgers?! We don't need no stinkin' Badgers!"

One of Allyson's finest moments, right up there with (January 1998, newsroom of the Woonsocket Call, that week when all those news events at once overshadowed John Paul II being in Cuba):
"Hey, how'd the Pope do?"
"1-for-4 with an RBI!

Dinner time. More on 2001 (like, April?) later, or maybe just more on Allyson. Heh.