Good Idea, Bad Idea

Good Idea: Finally getting rid of Norman Chad in the WSOP broadcasts. He was cute for a while, but it's been old for years now.

Bad Idea: The whole "showing the WSOP live" thing. Maybe I'm not doing it right, but I Tivo-ed a bunch of it, and tried watching it last night, and man. I was hoping that "live" would mean "we jump around a lot and show you cool things around the room as they're happening", but instead they keep the action at one table for a half-hour at a time, and you're stuck there. Watching the dealer shuffle. Watching hands get folded around to the blinds. Watching an occasional flop taken down by a c-bet. Watching the dealer shuffle some more. And the worst part is that they don't show the hole cards during the hand, and often don't show them afterwards either. I've heard rumors that it's because of some kind of Nevada gaming regulation, but it really drags from the enjoyment.

Now I'm not the first person to talk about this (see, for example, here and here), but I was watching it, thinking it would be cool to have "live" action (even if it's "DVR live"), and about5 minutes in I said to myself "Gee, this is all the excitement of sitting down at a poker table for hours at a time and not playing a single hand!". The other problem that I haven't heard much about, though, is that these broadcasts are long. Recording the shows from Day 3 through the final table pretty much killed the storage space on the Tivo, and each day has 6-8 hours of stuff. Who is the audience for this? If I had 6-8 hours a day to watch poker, I'd spend that time.. well, I was going to say "I'd spend that time playing poker", but that's not true anymore. I'd spend that time doing something fun, though! And if the point is to get a feel for the table dynamics and things (which I can't imagine the casual fan wanting to do) then you really have to pay attention and can't be doing something else while having this on in the background.

So, I don't know. Maybe it would be a fantastic thing if we could see the hole cards. I do see the problem they're trying to solve- you don't get a sense for how the match is really going if you just show a few giant pots. But I don't think this is the correct fix.

Do as I say, not as I do

It occurs to me that the way I live my life is not the best example to set for a growing kid. It doesn't matter a whole lot now, but as I think about the various non-standard ways I do things, I can see that "leading by example" is probably not going to be my strong point.

Take for example the way I work on big projects (creating tests, writing large-ish programs, grading large assignments, ...) I've evolved this strategy of spending a lot of time doing what outwardly looks like goofing off- surfing the web, playing mindless flash games, taking long car rides, watching TV (actually not so much of the TV- that actually requires too much concentration. Having some sports on in the background helps though).

Anyway, the point is that to all external appearances it looks like I'm not doing anything, and then as the deadline gets close, I kick it into gear and whip something out in a couple of hours. What's happening underneath, though, is something pretty different. I think the reason I can do the work "so fast" when I sit down to actually do it is that all of my goofing-off time is being spent organizing my thoughts and my ideas and my approach to the problem. Partially consciously, but a lot unconsciously too. So, when I'm done goofing off and ready to go, my work is already close to finished, because it's mostly formed in my head already.

It sounds a little self-serving ("No, really, I'm not playing stupid games. I'm working!"), and I'm not sure people really believe me when I explain it to them, but decades(!) of history has borne this out by now. I was famous in college for whipping out a term paper in an hour and a half and getting an A on it. People were jealous I could work "so fast" when they had to spend days on the same paper. The difference was that I already knew what I was writing when I sat down, while they spent hours in front of the computer agonizing over their introductory paragraph.
In grad school, I got into mild amounts of trouble for playing Othello and doing other things so much during "official work hours" (I think the problem there though wasn't that I was spending less time working than other people- it was that I spent more time looking like I wasn't working than other people), but I thought up the idea for my thesis while watching the college basketball tournament one year.

Now that I have my own office at work, and my own area at home, worrying about what other people think isn't as big a deal. Though I'm not entirely convinced my wife believes me yet, and I can't imagine what kind of example I'm setting for our child. Because really, the way I do things isn't what you should do. It's just what has ended up working for me (mostly) because my brain is wired so weird. One of the big lessons of High School is how to develop good study habits for yourself so that when you get to college (and are on your own) you have a skill set to fall back on. I can't imagine I'd be a credible source of enforcing the Right Way To Do Things.

Me: Joe, if you have a project due next week, you need to start today or it won't get done?
Joe: Why? You don't start anything early!
Me: I start working on things early, it just doesn't look like it.
Joe: Well, then that's what I'm doing too. Now let me go back to texting my friends while I'm "working".

Luckily, my wife is much more organized than I am, and should be a better role model. But I wonder how many other things I have that are like this and will mess him up as he gets older..

Where's my darn pretzels?

Last Friday we went to the Columbus Beerfest , which apparently is a Columbus Tradition that has been going on forever, that we just found out about. We're a bit out of the loop.

The idea is that they take out a giant hall in the convention center, bring in a lot of beermakers (some local, some national "microbreweries" like Rogue. Miller Lite was there too, humorously placed next to the water station. They were the only ones who brought Booth Babes), and they'd all give tastings of the various beers that they made.

I think if I was 10 years younger, and gone with all of my grad school drinking buddies, I would have loved it. As it was, I think it wasn't really for me.

First of all, the "tastings" were (we measured the glass when we got home) 5 ounces, or about 1/3 of a bottle. Which adds up over time, especially since lots of the beers we tasted were pretty high in alcohol content. Theoretically, you could get 25 tastings (they gave you tickets), but really you could probably have as many as you wanted, because hardly anyone actually took the tickets. There were dump buckets around, but it took us a while to a) find them, and b) get over our innate dead of WASTING BEER(!). I think if you wanted to spend an evening drinking lots of good beer, this format works great. If you're interested in tasting, it doesn't work so well.

The other problem was that it was hard to decide what to taste- the place was pretty packed, they didn't really have maps of who was there, and when you could find a sheet of the various breweries, you had no idea what kinds of beers they brought. So you had to plow your way through a ton of people, get to the front, see what they had, and even then, the names of the beers don't tell you much about what kind of beer it is. Sure, it's cool that you named your beer "Original Sin", but what sort of beer is it? Karen wishes they had programs, and while I think that would be an organizational nightmare, I wish there was something. Some of the breweries had large posters describing all their beers, so you could read it from far away, and that was a good idea. Other places didn't seem to put much thought into things. Once place had 2 different kinds of ciders, and I asked them what the difference was. His response was "They told me to say that this one was organic, and the other was more pasteurized". Which doesn't really enter into my decision making at all, so that was useless.

Also, I was hoping for a lot more.. wacky beers, I guess. Some mead, some blueberry beer, stuff you couldn't get normally (one guy had cranberry cider, which looked cool, but he ran out before I got to him). Instead, most places had a stout, and IPA, an ale of some kind, and maybe a porter if you were lucky. And what I learned was that it doesn't much matter (to me, anyway) what the differences are within a category, as long as I choose the right category. So, I'm not a fan of IPA (too bitter), so none of the IPA was worth trying. I was hoping to see some new _categories_, but it was pretty straight-foward.

But it was a fun experience, even though we went in with the wrong kinds of expectations. I wouldn't mind going back, and just treating it as an excuse to drink lots of good beer, which is probably the right approach to have.

Variations on Politeness

This was going to be a "These darn kids nowadays" rant, but I think it's more of a "people are weird, who can figure?"

So today's the last day of classes, and everyone's stressed and tired (including me, including my wife- what can I say, I have an aura).

In the last hour, I've had:
- A student barge into a class (of 5 students) while I was teaching it, asking one of the students to borrow his laptop. Not at the beginning or end of class either, right in the middle. That's never happened before.
- A student come flying into my office, whip a bunch of papers out of his bag, grab across my desk into a back corner where I had a stapler, staple his papers together, and run out. The kicker is that the homework he was stapling wasn't even for my class! His only attempt at asking or apologizing was to say "Well, your office is the first open one I saw".

But then..
- I got an email from a student I worked with a few summers ago who asked me to be a reference for him when he applied to be a Navy pilot. I barely remember this happening, and the Navy never contacted me or anything. Anyway, his email today was long, described the process and his future plans, and went out of his way to thank me several times. Since I'd almost forgotten all of this, it was nice to be reminded.

So, lots of different personalities out there, and I need to remember that I shouldn't get all crotchety and stuff when the students act like jerks. Especially at the end of the semester- I'm not much of a prize when I'm stressed either.

Why I like baseball better than football

I was going to title this "Why sports with a clock are always inferior to sports without them", but that's probably overstating my case. I'd much rather watch football than golf. And I don't dislike football, don't get me wrong. I'm in a couple of pools, and running one for my family this year. But I think that the reason that it's seen as such a huge success of a sport is because they only play one game a week.

But anyway, I was watching some games on Sunday, and in most games, the game is over with time still on the clock. Mathematically, irreversibly, coaches-on-the-field-shaking-hands over. And that's always upset me.

I hate that a team losing by just one point can sit there helpless for 2 minutes of a game- over 3% of the entire action!- and have no chance to do anything but watch the other team tale a knee and run the clock out. I remember as a kid making up all kinds of crazy scenarios:

"Ok, we're down by 10 with 15 seconds left. We need them to fumble the snap, and have us run down and score. Then we need an onsides kick, and to run that back for a touchdown, then we can win. Let's go!"

Somewhere in there, it feels like they changed the rule that the play ends right when you take a knee (as opposed to having to be tackled). I may be wrong about that, but now it seems like everyone just gives up (with good reason) when run-out-the-clock time rolls around.

And, I'm sorry, but that's just boring. And lame. And it makes me think about baseball. Since baseball's not timed by a clock, you have to actually go out and fail 27 times before you've lost a game. It's always theoretically possible that a team down 15 runs in the ninth inning will come back and win. Sure, it's very unlikely (as it should be), but the chance is there, and you have to go out and earn your win, rather than just walking off the field and killing time. I guess it appeals to my sense of fairness more, I don't know.

Can it be fixed? I don't know (and really, it's not like anyone is going to listen to me anyway). Someone told me that if you time it, there is only about 10 minutes of actual plays happening in a football game. Maybe if you changed the rules so that you had 4 quarters that were 2-5 minutes each, and stopped the clock after every play, that might help things. At least then "running out the clock" would involve people running plays that took a long time on the field, giving the other team a chance to do something about it.

Parental Annoyance Toys

Some toys look good in the store, but their flashing lights and repetitive sounds quickly grate on an adult's sanity. I think my parents have been waiting for years for a grandchild so they could inflict on us the misery that was inflicted on them when they were new parents.

In some ways, either through luck or by semi-intentional design, we've avoided a lot of the problem. The baby's almost a year old now, and since we haven't seen a reason to put any "child-friendly" shows on the TV, I'm pretty sure he doesn't really view the television as something that's for him. When I'm holding him watching TV, he's more interested in the lights and buttons on the DVD player than anything actually on the screen.

But you can't avoid it entirely. In a fit of sadistic glee, my parents bought an "Interactive storybook", where the book has buttons that play songs, and recognizes when you turn pages, and that kind of thing. Also, in a fit of weakness in the store, I bought a push-button farm thing that plays songs and talks when you press the keys, the animals,whatever.

Both of these are by the same company, and they have some disturbing similarities. For one thing, the language is kind of stilted sometimes. Maybe it's because I've heard it a million times, but when I hear "Join the barnyard jamboree!", there's a half-second pause between the words "barnyard" and "jamboree" that grates on me, and only gets worse the more that I hear it.

Also, the toys nag you to play with them. If the baby wanders off, after a few seconds, it says something like "Hey! Press the button of the dog!". Eventually, it switches itself off, but it sort of sounds desperate for a while there: "Hey! Don't you leave me, you baby! What, are you playing with some other, lesser toy? Come back and play with me!"

There are some good (well, less bad) things about these toys, though. As computer chips get cheaper, it's cost-effective to have lots more sound samples in a cheap baby toy. Which means that where in my parent's generation, they'd probably only hear one or 2 things over and over and over again, we at least get 25 or 50 different saying repeated. Which is good for our sanity.

I'm a little worried though- his first birthday is coming up, and who knows what craziness the grandparents will spring on us, get the baby hooked on, and then leave town laughing as our ears bleed..

My favorite administrative line of the week...

From the Provost's office about our yearly self-evaluations..

In response to the increasing number of faculty who prefer to prepare their self-reports with a word processor...


Really? There's an increasing number of people who don't want to break out the old typewriter? It's not 100% yet?

Actually, the sad thing is that it probably isn't 100% yet. I'm a bit of a Luddite myself, and that makes even me go "yikes"..

Security is our top priority

So we hired this company to manage all the tax forms and stuff that we need to pay the person who watches the baby. (This, by the way, is what makes me a little sympathetic to the Tea Party type people- if I have to pay someone extra money to deal with all the forms because I want to be honest and actually pay taxes on our minimum-wage part-time babysitter, there's something wrong with our tax system).

Anyway, they do everything on the web, which is nice, but their "secure server" was down for a few days, and so I couldn't get to the forms. They were very apologetic, but didn't want to send the files I'll need over email, because it's so insecure. Which, well, ok, I guess I understand. I don't really think anyone's sniffing my packets, but I guess it never hurts to be safe..

So today, their server is back up, and the send me -via email- my account information to the "secure server", including my password in red text in the body of the email message. The password itself is... well, let's just call it "remarkably insecure" and leave it at that. And there doesn't seem to be an easy way to change the password, either.

I'm not really that upset (well, I am a little upset about not being able to change the password- what the hell?), but I think it's interesting how people get all paranoid about people reading your email, but think that adding one (easily defeatable) step of distance from that makes everything secure.

"We can't send you these private documents by email, because its insecure, but we'll tell you over that insecure system exactly how to get to them. We pay attention to your security!"