Thursday, February 06, 2003

Important Announcement

I have relocated my blog presence to and am switching to Movable Type.

I am in the process of relocating posts. By the time you see this everything from February 1 onward should be there. By a day later I may or may not have all of my archives migrated.

Please set your bookmarks accordingly.

What's been posted here to this point (and comments, if relevant) will probably stay but as archival sources go this blog is deprecated. The "official" archival source (alas, excluding comments) will be on the new site.

Thank you for reading!

P.S. Many thanks to blogger for getting me started. The time had come where Movable Type functionality made more sense for me.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Journalism 101: A clearer exposition of what's frustrated me with today's media coverage
According to the mainstream news sources, today's big stories are:
Powell accuses Iraq of doing bad, bad things

Iraq vehemently denies those accusations

Are either of those storylines even remotely surprising? If you didn't actually have to back up your stories with content, this is exactly how you'd present the news if you were phoning it in. Real news would be, and here I admit a value judgment is taking place, an assessment: How did Powell's presentation compare to what we expected it to be? Was the evidence stronger than people thought it would be? Weaker? About the same?

Was there anything new there? (And no, CNN, pointing out that Iraq claims there's nothing new here doesn't come close to answering that question, especially since my interpretation is, yes, there was a whole lot of new stuff here.)

This column is an example of what I find newsworthy. Slate, as far as I can tell, has no horse to back in this race. Thefore, their columnist's assessment means a lot more to me than, say, what someone from The Weekly Standard or The New York Times would say.

(And yes, that parallel is the appropriate one. Times coverage of the Iraq situation has been stridently anti-war, even in the "news" section.)
What nearly every news source missed when they framed the headlines
Read what Powell actually said. (Even if you don't think you have time, it's important enough that you should do it anyway.)

My lead, if I were writing the headline and feature paragraph, would at the very least mention the alleged truck-and-rail-based bioweapons facilities and the N tons of anthrax/nerve gas.
Colin Powell's presentation and the front pages of various news sites

Drama at the U.N.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell used electronic intercepts, satellite photographs, and other intelligence at the U.N. today to back up White House claims that Iraq is defying weapons inspectors. Iraq's ambassador dismissed Powell's claims as "assumptions and presumptions" which offered "no new evidence."
(photo of Powell from the back, apparently pounding his fist)

My take: Blatant pro-Iraq bias that gets even worse with the choice of language in the article itself. Just go read this festering pile and you'll immediately understand why Fox News exists in its current form. Speaking of which...

Powell Makes His Case to U.N.
Secretary of state shows Security Council 'irrefutable and undeniable' evidence that Iraq still hides weapons.
(photo of Powell holding a vial of something)

My take: Seemingly neutral presentation, between the lines skewed in favor of Powell.

"Web of Lies"
Powell says recordings, photos reveal Iraq arms
(head shot of Powell)

My take: The most sensationalistic so far (a result of MSNBC's page layout?) but also the most neutral.

USA Today:
Iraq: Allegations not true
Ambassador dubs Powell's presentation 'stunts' and 'special effects.'
(photo of Powell with his left hand raised, probably same as the CNN photo but view from the front)
Much smaller headline, below photo: Powell: Iraq facts 'undeniable'

My take: I'm heartbroken. MSNBC presented things exactly how I thought USA Today would, where USA Today seems to have fallen into the CNN trap.

U.S.: Tape, Photos Show Iraq Defies U.N.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, methodically making his case that Iraq has defied all demands that it disarm, presented tape recordings, satellite photos and informants' statements Wednesday that he said constituted "irrefutable and undeniable" evidence that Saddam Hussein was concealing weapons of mass destruction.
(accompanying photo shows evidence from the presentation)

My take: I want to stand up out of my seat and applaud.

Google News:
Iraqi MP: Powell evidence 'lies'
A senior Iraqi member of parliament has dismissed US Secretary of State Colin Powell's evidence to the UN Security Council ...
(with a hyperlink to "and 2102 related")

The worst thing about left-wing media bias is when it fools the robots. I'm appalled.
Strange song congruence
The lyrics to The Offspring's "Self-Esteem" fit the tune of Puddle of Mudd's "She Hates Me."

Try it (presupposing you know the lyrics to one and the tune to the other):
"I wrote her off for the tenth time today..."

Side effect: This exercise cleared up a Mondegrin that I'm too embarrassed to elaborate on.
Miss Manners has an important message to parents...
...about homework.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

PSA: National Academic Quiz Tournaments 2003 sectionals this weekend
Are you into trivia? (Most of my known audience is.) Want to go help out at a tournament this weekend? I don't know what staffing levels are at sites around the country (Caltech apparently will have plenty of people) but it's possible you'd come in handy and you might get anything from cameraderie to free food out of it depending on how the hosts are doing things.

Here are locations and contacts -- and still more locations and contacts. (The one most relevant to a plurality of my known audience is at Boston University.)

Note: For the benefit of any lurkers... this is the stage right before the national championship. Teams will be invited to our national championship based on how they do this weekend.
Today's Poker Probability Problem
Let the game be five-card stud, low in the hole wild.

(That is, your lowest hole card is wild for you, as is any other card you hold of that rank. For low-in-the-hole purposes, aces are high only.)

You have 10 of hearts and Q of hearts showing, J of hearts down. Opponent has Ace of Hearts and 8 of diamonds showing. First round of betting: Opponent bet the maximum to start, everyone before you folded, you called, everyone after you folded. (Of the folded hands, nobody's up card was higher than a jack; the only folded heart up-cards were a 2 and a 4.) Second round: Opponent bet the maximum, you called.

Third face-up card: 9 of hearts up for you. Ace of clubs for opponent. Opponent bets the maximum. (At this point his worst possible hand is three aces.)

1. How should you respond? Do you raise? If so, and if opponent raised your raise, and if this is were table where a one-on-one showdown has unlimited raises, how many times would you keep re-raising?

2. Making whatever assumptions you need to make (standard, unmarked 52-card deck, for example), what are your odds of winning? (Remember that your final card and his final card will both be face down. Remember that five of a kind beats a straight flush, which beats four of a kind, which beats a full house, which beats a flush, which beats a straight, which beats three of a kind, etc.)

3. Suppose the next-to-last round of betting goes bet-raise-call. On the last downcard you get the K of spades. Opponent bets the maximum. Now how should you respond and what are your odds of winning (with a straight -- a natural straight, since your low-in-the-hole, the jack, ends up just being itself)?
In praise of nuclear power
...and in opposition to policies that literally kill people. Go read this letter.
Heartfelt Rant of the Day
This is what my roommate sounds like, late in the evening, when he sees some particular outrage, usually in a magazine or on-line. I don't think I've ever heard him this angry though, or this powerfully correct.
956 Kbps
According to this site, my connection's raw download communication speed is 956787.64 bits per second.

This computer's storage speed is only one tenth that. (Moral: It's about time to go get that built-it-myself Windows 2000 machine repaired. I've been using this Win98 machine "as a temporary measure" for approaching two years now.) All in all, downloading a 1meg file takes me eight seconds.

"Compared to all connection types worldwide, yours is FANTASTIC."

Second test: 966 Kbps
Third test: 977.5 Kbps

Relevance: for the new place I think I'll pay $10 extra per month for the "768 Kbps to 1.5 Mps downstream" DSL package rather than the "384 Kbps to 1.5 Mps" package.
I just consolidated my student loan
This was long overdue. I'm locking in a 4.xx% interest rate, where it's .25% cheaper if I set up my checking account for automatic payment.

Automatic payment is my friend. Automatic payment is a godsend. I would be a significantly better customer to my auto loan company, my insurance company, and even the Department of Education if more of them had convenient automatic payment systems.

Other things on my to-do list in no particular order:
-1. Respond to a backlog of e-mail

0. Relocate this blog to the Moveable Type installation

1. Write a handful of NAQT high school questions

2. Catch up on (or at least prioritize) a backlog of NAQT development work

3. Order DSL. I have my new home phone number sitting in front of me.

4. Actually use my free four days and three nights at the Las Vegas Hilton (or find out what the catch is and whether the catch is a deal-breaker). Expires February 28. (Not sure if that means I have to book it by then or use it by then.)

5. Finally look into going on the game shows I want to go on.

6. Finish the laundry process I began Sunday. (Whites, reds, and pants are washed. There are two more loads in the blue/green-to-gray spectrum, where gray refers mostly to t-shirts and pajamas.)

7. Detrashify this room: Throw away papers I don't need; dispose of junk food containers and empty plastic bottles.

8. Put things in boxes; figure out when I'll be driving out to Concord (default plan: tomorrow, next Monday, then two more times before the 22nd)

9. Order a moving van while there's still a decent amount of lead time

10. Fill out change-of-address forms as relevant
Why affirmative action is good, even if quotas are bad
Remarkable Virginia Postrel column here. (The best economic writing seems so obvious once you've read it that it's easy not to realize how profound it was.) Her examples -- toothpaste brands and action heroes -- turn out to be remarkably illustrative.

Postrel also has extremely insightful comments about one pitfall of Bush's State of the Union address.
The SiliPalace is sold
Chris wanted me to look over a draft e-mail that he's sent to the people who will potentially contract with us.

(Short version: They, the buyers of Vectiv's intellectual property, want to hire us to do knowledge transfer. Duration TBA and negotiable, likely a month or two. Their offering price is lower than our original asking price but as of Chris's response we're only $5/hr apart. I told them I'm not available this week, partly in case of NAQT emergency but also partly because, mentally, it's possible I wouldn't have been ready. Chris will to go to L.A. on Thursday while I stay here honoring my prior commitment -- which in practice will be either writing questions, packing my worldly goods to prepare for the move, or farting around with Moveable Type. I do honestly still plan to do that this week although I admit the presence of more posts here makes my commitment look dubious. In theory I'm just procrastinating from NAQT work.)

One tidbit I saw in his e-mail that I hadn't realized until reading over his shoulder: The people who came to look at our place yesterday afternoon apparently bought it. Touring the place were a group of five, who spoke to each other in Russian. I'd say one married couple about my parents' age and three people in their early twenties. Almost certainly a family, though not necessarily two parents and three kids.

Chris, bless his heart, wrote in his e-mail that he might have to move at the end of the month. I asked him (thought it was rhetorical but I probably wasn't smart-alecky enough given that I barely have a pulse today) whether he thought the new owners would be renting the place out or just living here. To me the answer seems obvious, although maybe I'm jumping to conclusions. In any case, apparently he left a message with the landlady.

It looks to me as though the balance of power (wherein, previously, our landlady had wanted to give us an absurdly good deal to stay month-to-month) has shifted. Then again right as I was typing this she called, asking for him. We'll know soon enough.

Bottom line, I definitely made the right decision to firm up a new arrangement. If I were Chris, between (almost certainly) having to move and having temporary work in L.A., I'd honestly be flummoxed. In my opinion the correct move is for him and Scott to find a two-bedroom in the Berkeley/Albany/El Cerrito area.

(Surprised that the phone rang three times when Chris was home, I picked it up. It was the landlady asking for him. Told her to hold on; ran downstairs to call for him, only to find he was exactly where I should have known he was. Right as I was telling her that he was unavailable and asking if he could call back in five minutes, he became available after all.)
Budgetary Zen
If I get the contract work we've been discussing this week then, for a short while at least, my ratio of monthly rent to hourly (pre-tax) compensation will be slightly more than six (6).

The bad news is, it's in L.A. (specifically, Santa Monica). The good news is that they cover transportation and perhaps also lodging. (The lodging part is unclear.)

Yet another reason to focus on price-minimization when you decide where to live: If you end up air-commuting a lot anyway then you'll see so little of your place that amenity is almost irrelevant. Of course by that standard I should have moved to rural Nebraska. (Then again surely airport proximity is relevant.)
Your contract law exam
Does Dan Savage owe Katie a magic wand?

As legal obligations go, the answer seems pretty obvious to me but I'll leave the elaboration as an exercise for the reader. There are at least three current or former law students in the known audience.

As ethical obligations go it's a little closer but I happen to agree with Savage.
"It sucks less than before"
Unusual side effect of being unemployed: I may have a new favorite radio station. When I've worked full-time, this station has never been much of an option: Depending on the time of day I'd either be avoiding Howard Stern or avoiding Loveline. My subjective impression was that what little music it did play was of the late 1990s lame-ass guy metal variety, like a certain Boston station that had been in the process of getting rid of actual music.

It turns out they really do play good music in the midday and afternoon drive time. At the very least, their tag-line, "it sucks less than before," works for me. They take a lot of requests (not just sequestered to an "all-request lunch hour"), play The Streets a whole lot, and make fun of other stations for using voice-tracking.

At some point a few weeks ago my clock-radio got set to Live 105. I've never felt the need to change it. In the car it's still about the nth option but then lately I've managed to time my errands to that point in the early afternoon when KSJO plays a really good Metallica song and a really good AC/DC song back to back. (Not an official feature, that I know of, it just happens to work out that way surprisingly often.)

Kickass hypothetical Metallica CD: Would consist only of "For Whom The Bell Tolls"; "One"; "Master of Puppets"; "Harvester of Sorrow"; "Fade to Black"; and maybe "The Memory Remains" if there were space left over and you wanted something newer. (Speaking of which, did that one track from S & M just drop off the face of the radio dial? Not that it was all that good.)

Ooh, Live 105 is playing that Linkin Park remix now. (This post is the musical/aural equivalent of "bright shiny things!")
"the Senator denied being intoxicated but could not explain his nudity"
(bonus points if you remember which TV show's lead-in briefly contained that phrase)

"[Clara] Harris has claimed that her husband's death was an accident, but that version of the events is rather difficult to sustain in view of evidence indicating that after striking him down, she ran over him at least twice more. (Ironically, the grisly scene was also captured on video by a private detective Harris herself had hired to spy on her husband.)"
--Cathy Young, writing on an infamous murder case
Cristie Kerr Award: Nominee
This speaks for itself. (Bleats for itself?)
The limits of libertarianism
"Democrats now so fear gun control that they probably couldn't muster a majority to ban private ownership of tactical nuclear weapons. "
--Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, in an article that's actually mainly about why affirmative action is such a third-rail issue.

Mmm... tactical nuclear weapons... who wouldn't want one of those? Maybe not a real one, but I'd love to have a button that, whenever I pushed it, for a split second I'd think I was nuking someone. By the time it occurred to me, well, that was actually just a pretend nuke, my thirst for sweet vengeance would have already been quenched.
Stroll through the comics
Cute team reference here.

April's getting hosed. Right before I read the latest installment, I asked myself: Will it be amusing and slightly off-color, or just preachy and tendentious? Diagnosis: Preachy. Lynn Johnston at her worst. Mitigating factor: Good use of instant messaging technology. I don't think even Dilbert has incorporated that into a comic.

Finally, paean to a machine I hope I never have to use again.
Death by Faint Praise
Seems my state has quite the governor:
"[Gray] Davis held his first Cabinet meeting in two years, and, participants said, he smiled and took notes and didn't interrupt or launch into obscenities."
--SF Chronicle

Monday, February 03, 2003

Medal inflation
Sign that this year's NAQT SCT packs should be pretty good: I am only the fourth-most prolific writer. (Into triple digits but just barely.)

Based on the e-mail that just went out, somehow fourth place nets a fictitious, metaphoric silver medal -- for figurative medal purposes, R. always ignores his own contributions; this time, the two most prolific non-R. writers happened to end up with the same # of questions.
Leading indicator
I'm about to trade for Darin Erstad in a (scoresheet) fantasy league. Make of this what you will.

Of all my fantasy ups and downs, I've done better than anyone I know at buying Erstad low and selling him high. It's what my record on Amazon stock would be if, in addition to buying low a year ago, I'd been fortunate enough to buy five years ago and sell near its peak.

Thesis: Teams that inexplicably give their players big contracts aren't totally on crack. Everybody ridiculed the deal the Cubs gave Sammy Sosa a few years ago, being as it was a deal based on potential performance (and, even at that, potential the Cubs saw that other people disagreed with) rather than track record. I'm going to roll the dice and claim that Erstad's 92 runs above replacement in 2000 weren't a one-time fluke -- and that the Angels knew something everyone else didn't know, when they gave him that absurd contract extension.
Technical Note
Pending the completion of various and sundry NAQT work, I will relocate this weblog to the site where both Coen and Captain Fancy keep theirs. The point is to wean myself from blogger and get into moveable type.

Kudos to the fancy one for giving me the space and (almost certainly) giving me technical advice once I get around to doing this.
Networking, Sad Ironies, and Blog Growth
Mark had an extra ticket for the Beanpot. Jon needed a ticket for the Beanpot. These facts came out in the comments section of this weblog, of all places. Unfortunately, the timing of the revelations was such that they just missed each other instead of making the connection.

(Apropos of nothing: My radio alarm just came on with an Alice Cooper song. Not sure what's more worthy of comment, that it's an Alice Cooper song or that my alarm is set so late in the day. "One look could kill--my pain, your thrill.")

Guess it goes to show that the readership is here, although it's all people I know in real life, mostly from the same venue. Guess that makes sense: Where did I think the total strangers would come from? Seeing my blog on the Blogger "most recently published" list? I certainly don't go out and find new weblogs that way.

I'd love for this weblog to have a huge audience but I'm too much of a snob to go out and promote it. So it goes.
Pop Philosophy and Tax Withholding
"I know you're basically giving the government a no interest loan when you overpay during the year, but frankly, if I had that money all year I'd have blown it on coffee at Starbucks or something. This way I pay off debt and get a TV."
--Matt Boggie

The simplest way to approach the situation is one's instinctive joy at getting a refund or pain at owing more money.

The slightly more sophisticated approach is to point out that for the same tax burden, you'd rather owe money at the end than get a refund, since the latter amounts to a no-interest lone.

The still more sophisticated approach is to point out that, from a taxpayer's January perspective, the fixed variable isn't the tax burden but rather the withholding. If Joe Blow has had $20,000 withheld, then that's still the amount he's had withheld whether his actual burden was $15,000 or $20,000 or $25,000. He'd much rather get $5,000 back (meaning his actual burden was $15,000) than have to pay $5,000 more.

This probably goes in the Department of Duh but I imagine a lot of people don't quite make it from one step to the next.

Along those lines I once seriously blew a job interview because I remained dead convinced that the conventional wisdom on the Monty Hall problem was right and that the people with the unintuitive right answer were the ones who had messed up. When the interviewer gave me the question (the only thing remotely approaching a brainteaser; it was a law firm), I immediately recognized "Monty Hall problem" but I hadn't thought about it in awhile. I remembered concluding that there was something wrong with the unintuitive answer but suddenly, in the interview, I couldn't point it out -- because the unintuitive answer is right after all.

The basic highlights:
1. No matter which of N doors you choose, the prize has a 1/N chance of being behind that door regardless of the host's future behavior, assuming (big assumption!) that the prize distribution is completely random

2. If the premise is that the host always chooses (arbitrarily) N-2 doors to reveal after your initial selection, then the probability that the door neither you nor he choose is the correct one does indeed go up.

2a. But, this only works if the N-2 doors can be (from your perspective) any of the N-1. Important distinction for the case where N=10,000 and you run the game 10,000 times: Is the remaining choice just between door #1 (which you picked) and some other of the doors, varying with each trial? Or does the remaining choice always happen to be between door #1 and door #10,000? In the second case the prize distribution wasn't random after all.

(Or, as close as I could come to defending the conventional wisdom in the interview: instead the host always choosing to reveal door #2 or door #3, it may be that the host chooses to reveal door #2 if and only if door #2 is actually empty, and happens never to choose to reveal door #3. If that were the case then you really would have a 50/50 chance.)
If I wait long enough to write what I've been thinking, somebody else will say exactly what I would have wanted to say...
...saving me the trouble of organizing my thoughts myself.

This time, Dwight does the honors.
A left-wing rant, reprinted verbatim, because it speaks for itself
(What it says is, "be very very careful what you post. The stupidest things you write often come back to haunt you.")

From some random forum, via Tim Blair (who does find a similarly asinine right-wing rant):

Can't these Republicans run NASA without getting our astronauts killed? We have had 2 towers, part of the pentagon destroyed with 2823 people and now a shuttle with 7 people killed under this illegitmate administration.

Next shuttle, how bout sending up a Jew and a Palestinian together, instead of arrogantly slapping a lot of people in the face at this time of Arab bashing by sending up a zionist.

I feel so shallow. I was actually upset about those Astronauts in the morning and now I'm already totally over it!

Another Republican, another recession, another Space Shuttle disaster.

What about Duuuuhhhbya? Shittt!! I hate to think how this giggle monkey is gonna comport himself!

Republicans fuck up EVERYTHING.

I think my favorite part is the anti-Israeli slur. Also, bonus points for the post coming out the same week as this Onion column.
By the way, who saw this? I liked it in spite of myself.

Ted O'Neill did well enough that I'll no longer snicker at him and think of him as Al Bundy. At least, not quite as often. He did still flub one line (too many big words) and badly overact in a climactic scene. (Okay, I'll spoil it, since they've shown it in previews anyway: The one where he says, "Talk, or I'll make sure you can never talk again!")

Oddly appropriate that in the first show the villain would be, in essence, a deviant. In the original my understanding is that the big menace was usually either potheads or hippies or both. In this episode the big menace... well, obviously there's no excuse for killing prostitutes but as the show went on it became pretty clear that the perp was doing it because of just how abnormal he was.

People probably get offended by that angle. (That is to say, I can't blame anyone who took offense.) Instead I just kind of laughed along with it. I wonder whether there's a second group of people who see that sort of knee-jerk anti-deviancy as camp.

UPDATE: "Oh, Al!"

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Tortured Syntax
Sentence (fragment) I just spoke out loud:

"Or lack thereof if relevant?"

For 30 points and a certificate of being psychic, that was in response to Scott's explanation to Chris of a key plot element of what movie, currently showing on our TV set?
Against Perfectionists
My pet cause right now is to get people to tolerate a tiny bit of error in exchange for making things work faster and more conveniently.

It's probably left over from the end-of-the-bubble dot-com startup mentality, when what mattered most was whether you could get a usable product out to market as soon as possible, setting ridiculously compressed design schedules but still releasing something useful.

Of course, as we now know, every piece of conventional wisdom from the dot-com bubble era has now been thoroughly discredited. (Mild sarcasm.)

I almost feel sheepish railing against perfection[ists] because most people who do this come off as slobs who have no pride in their work. The problems are two-fold:
1. Many, many times being a perfectionist is counterproductive. This is especially true when you spend so much time trying to hone your work that the sheer amount of effort involved still can't be justified by even a perfect end product, or worse yet, when the effort and schedule slips more than cancel out the increased quality of your work.

Consider those artists who spend years on end recording an album, going over every little detail in the studio time and time again, until by the time their product finally does hit the market, their fans have been disappointed (disillusioned) to go without new material for so long, and their non-fans are that much less likely to become fans since they've become irrelevant. Sitting on an album in the studio too long might make a net positive difference on your album but it makes a far greater negative difference on the music around you.

2. You could almost call me a recovering perfectionist. This is a really cheesy claim to make, because it sounds like a blatant attempt at topping, but in my gut I think I'd actually start out with standards still that much higher than the people I know who are perfectionists, standards so painfully high that falling short of them would lead to near-total dispair. (I probably get that from my mom.) So the trick in life figuring out how much imperfection to live with.

(People more exacting than me in any given field would point to, for example, my almost-pathological refusal ever to revise (or even proofread? -- well, I'll fix glaring errors) anything I write and claim that unlike me, they've found a happier medium in terms of cutting slack but still having hardcore standards.)

I'd wax more about this but as mentioned below you already have way more to read here than you have time to cover fully. In particular there's a quiz-bowl angle that I don't yet feel comfortable articulating because I'm not quite convinced that I'm not just on crack.
By posting this I may inadvertently knock out the backlog and send out a gusher of weekend entries...

UPDATE: That worked surprisingly well. I guess it wasn't inadvertent either. You all have quite a bit of reading to do if you so desire.
A new kind of blood libel
Who died and made Aaron McGruder the arbiter of what black people are(n't) allowed to say and think?

Seriously, between how certain black celebrities treat Powell (Harry Bellafonte's favorite "house negro") and how they treat Rice, it's pretty obvious to me that the powers-that-be can't stand that someone would dare be black, conservative, and far more politically powerful than any African-American before them.

(Frivolous presidential campaigns by no-talent ass-clown demogogues don't count.)
Heard about it on the radio on the way there this morning. What is there to say? Rest in peace...